18th century

Dec 172016

Because it’s finally December and we need to get jolly (and because I have a terrible sense of humor) I’m posting a Christmas video I made over at JibJab, featuring a bunch of historical people
(click the image to watch it).


Of course, these faces do have a common historical denominator – they all took part in the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1713) in one way or the other.

Do you know who they are? Most likely not. They don’t really look like they usually do. But you might have seen the guy in the red bandana looking something like this?

King Louis XIV of France. Source: Wikipedia

That’s right – I’m talking about Louis XIV of France, aka The Sun King. He made it to this video because in 1701, he decided to let his grandson become King of Spain despite earlier agreeing that all his heirs should forfeit the right to the Spanish throne. Also I included him because he liked the sort of hair they have in that video and because he has this cute little moustache that makes him look like an overaged Casanova from the 1930′s, bless his little heart.

John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough by Godfrey Kneller, ca 1702. Source: Wikipedia

Our next contender had to be the main singer for no other reason than blatant favorism. I adore the Duke of Marlborough, see. I adore him more when he’s young and pretty (because I’m shallow like that), but heck, I adore him old and saggy-chinned  as well. The fact that I hold him close to my heart isn’t the only reason I added him though – he was also the British commander for most of the war and kicked French butt on a regular basis, such as at Blenheim and Ramillies for example.

Queen Anne of Great Britain

So this is Marlborough’s boss, Queen Anne of England. She supported the ousting of her father James II, had 14 children during her lifetime (none of which survived their childhood) and loved chubby Danish guy to whom she was married. She was also bosom buddies with Marlborough’s wife Sarah until they quarrelled. Queen Anne was the last Stuart monarch and she fought tooth and nail against the idea of recalling her half-brother James and letting him inherit the throne, instead preferring it to pass to distant German relatives.

James FitzJames, 1st Duke of Berwick. Source: Wikipedia

If I say this is James FitzJames, Duke of Berwick, you’re all likely going to think he’s on the British side. Well, it ain’t so. Young Berwick, you see, was an illegitimate son of James II and he trailed after old Papa after they’d kicked said James out of England during the so called Glorious Revolution. That means that Berwick, half-brother of Queen Anne, was actually a general on the French side during the War of the Spanish Succession; a damned good general too. What makes the story even more quaint is that his mother was Arabella Churchill, sister of the Duke of Marlborough.

Eugene of Savoy, ca 1712 (school of Godfrey Kneller). Source: Wikipedia

Finally, we have the second allied commander of the war – Prince Eugene of Savoy. He was apparently brave and had quite a temper and people would say it was uncanny how he and Marlborough worked together like they could read each other’s mind. The man had a strong personal dislike of Louis XIV for complicated family reasons, and is generally considered one of the most successful military commanders in modern European history. Unfortunately, it seems he didn’t realise how good he’d look in red hair or think to learn to play bass.

And now you’ll never forget who the main players in the War of the Spanish Succession were, right?

Sep 022016

One of my favourite example of creative cursing is Charles Churchill in a letter to John Wilkes in August 1762 (obviously meant as friendly banter as Chas and Jack were tight bros):

I wish [you to] always be frigg’d but never have an emission [and four] times a week ride in a Stage Coach.

A fate worse than death, obviously!

Mar 222016

Hedvig Elisabeth Charlotte of Holstein-Gottorp, shortly after her wedding. Portrait by Alexander Roslin, 1774.

Why today: Hedvig Elisabeth Charlotte was born on this day in 1759.

Name: Hedvig Elisabeth Charlotte of Holstein-Gottorp
Character class:Queen
Lived: 1759-1818
Also known as: Duchess of Södermanland, “Little Duchess”, “Duchess Lotta”, Queen Charlotte
Special powers: Malicious gossip (+5 reputation damage on all rolls)
Known affiliates: Sophie Piper von Fersen, Fabian von Fersen, King Charles XIII
Quote: “You have to admit, my dear friend, that woman is truly an unhappy creature: while men have their complete freedom, she is always burdened by prejudice and circumstance”. Continue reading »

Sep 242013

by John Giles Eccardt
oil on canvas, 1754
NPG 988
© National Portrait Gallery, London (used under a Creative Commons License)

Why today? He was born on this day in 1717
Name: Horace Walpole
Class: Politician and writer
Lived: 1717-1797
Also known as: Horatio Walpole
Special powers: +3 on all initiative rolls involving gossip
Known affiliates: Robert Walpole; George Montagu-Dunk, 2nd Earl of Halifax; Henrietta Howard
Continue reading »

Sep 182012
One musician/fencing-master with excellent cheekbones, sometimes referred to as “the Black Mozart”

Feast your eyes on that, girls and boys. Ain’t that a pretty face? But wait, there’s more to him than that!

Born in 1745 on Guadalope  as the son of a former slave girl and a plantation owner, little baby Saint-George had the odds stacked against him. Things didn’t exactly improve when his father was accused of murder and they had to flee in order to keep Saint-George and his mother from being sold.

Luckily, his father received a royal pardon, and at 8, the boy was brought to France and enrolled in school. He studied both music and martial arts – from the age of 13 he was the pupil of a fencing master, and quite good too. When another fencing master mocked him as ‘La Boëssière’s upstart mulatto’, he fought and beat him, despite still being a student at the time.

At 19, he became a member of the royal guard and quite the darling of fashionable society. As further proof of his Historical Hottie status, he had enough romantic conquests for them to be remarked upon by contemporary sources (I mean, seriously; are we surprised?).

He played the violin and composed music, both concertos and at least one opera. He was also a successful director and was selected to be director of the Royal Opera. That came to nothing, however, when three Parisian divas petitioned the Queen in writing against the appointment, insisting that it would be beneath their dignity and injurious to their professional reputations for them to sing on stage under the direction of “a mulatto”.

For a while he was a rather renowned competititve fencer. His most famous match is undoubtably the one fought against rather interesting 18th century profile Chevalier d’Eon, who wasn’t just a spy and occasional lady, but also an excellent fencer.

After the Revolution, he took command of a regiment of a thousand free volunteer PoC, largely consisting of former slaves from the region of his birth, but was eventually dismissed from the Army and died in 1799, only 54 years old.

Sep 112012

Coming as I do from a long acquaintance with the War of the Spanish Succession, I find it fascinating when I read about World war I just how many battlefields those conflicts share. Also, just like World War I would prove to do, the War of the Spanish Succession marked the beginning of a new type of military warfare. Until then, war had to a large degree equalled sieging and storming, but the War of the Spanish Succession gave the first taste of the sort of mass battles that would come to full maturity during the Napoleonic Wars, most notably at Waterloo.  Among those usually mentioned are Blenheim, Oudenarde and Ramillies, but the biggest battle of the conflict took place today, exactly 203 years ago.

After a long and inconclusive summer campaign, the Allied forces under the British Duke of Marlborough and the Imperial commander Prince Eugene came together with the amassed French forces under Marshal Villars at the tiny village of Malplaquet in present day Belgium on 11 Sep, 1709.

 Image from Wikipedia


Continue reading »

Nov 282011

In the year 1754, William Pitt (who was later to be known as “the Elder”) suffered several disappointments. His career wasn’t really going anywhere and his health, never very good, failed him, forcing him to leave London and spend the spring and summer at Bath and Astrop. He was 46 years old, very troubled by his gout and while popular on the London streets, his disinclination to compromise (and to pass over the opportunity to score a rhetorical point) meant that he had no friends at court. In fact, George II harboured what can only be called a strong dislike for him.

William Pitt the Elder

William Pitt the Elder

His friends and allies could be found among the whig group that had originally formed around Richard Temple, 1st Lord Cobham. Two of the most prominent members of that group were George Grenville (who would later become Prime Minister) and his older brother Richard Grenville-Temple, 2nd Earl Temple. Other members included the Grenville’s cousin George Lyttleton, who had been to school with Pitt, and Thomas Potter, a son of a former Archbishop of Canterbury. Far on the fringes, you could even find John Wilkes, who would later rise to both fame and infamy.

Continue reading »

Nov 142011

Blenheim Palace
This is Blenheim Palace, the impressive heap of stone constructed for John, 1st Duke of Marlborough, by Vanbrugh. Like Sarah, the first Duchess, I think it’s rather unattractive, but you have to hand it to Marlborough and Vanbrugh – it’s built on an amazing scale. I fully mean to blog extensively on Blenheim and its construction one day, but in the meantime I couldn’t help giving a sneak peak of one of its many features – Louis XIV. Continue reading »

Nov 102011

Upon Complaint made to this House, That there is such an Interruption, by Hackney Coaches, Carts, Drays in King-street, and the Passages in The Old Palace Yard in Westm’r, that the Lords and others are frequently hindered from coming to this House, to the great Inconveniency of the Members of both Houses:

It is thereupon Ordered, by the Lords Spiritual and Temporal in Parliament assembled, That the High Steward of the City of Westminster, or his Deputy, together with the Justices of the Peace for the said City, shall, by their Care and Directions to the Constables and other Officers within the said Limits, take special Order, that no empty Hackney Coaches be suffered to make any Stay, between Whitehal and The Old Palace Yard in Westminster, from Eleven a Clock in the Forenoon until Three of the Clock in the Afternoon of the same Day, during the Sitting of this Parliament; and that no Carriages, Drays, or Carts, be permitted to pass through the said Streets and Passages, between the Hours aforesaid, during the Sitting of this Parliament; and herein special Case is to be taken, by the said Deputy Steward, Justices of the Peace, Constables, and all other Officers herein concerned, as the contrary will be answered to this House.”

Journals of the House of Lords,
Volume XVII, Beginning Anno Decimo Tertio Gulielmi Tertii, 1701