Wednesday, February 24, 2010

A duel on bicycles, 1897

So, there they all were, a 'large party' returning to Paris after a day out cycling, 'all very hilarious' (I think we can assume, better lubricated than their bicycles), 'when two of them quarrelled' (never get anything like that in my club, what, only two of them quarrelled?) 'They decided to settle the dispute with swords on their bicycles' (not a good idea, unless you really are a trick-cyclist). This in the Boulevard Ney.

The combatants lined up fifty yards apart and were then ordered to charge. The account, which might all be embroidery for an audience capable of believing anything about the French, fails to say where they suddenly got swords from - knocked on a few doors, maybe? 'They rode at one another at a furious pace, but overshot the mark and failed to meet. Wheeling quickly round, they returned to the charge, and this time came together with a terrific shock. Both were thrown, whilst the seconds, who were following behind, also on bicycles (it could have been llamas, after all) fell in their turn, and were both injured. Neither of the combatants touched each other with his sword, but in falling one ran his weapon into himself and his opponent injured his leg'.

Plus-four and Norfolk jacket louts, or what?

Illustrated Police News, December 11th 1897.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Senora Paxodol treats herself for injury, Madrid, 1897

Back with the Illustrated Police News (Dec 11th, 1897) and a rather less grim duel in prospect between 'the notorious mistress of Senor Donvaldez and the well known Spanish dancer, Carmen Paxodol'. The former threw a bunch of onions on stage during a performance by the latter. That's not really anything anyone could forgive and forget, and it led to more than tears.

I have included the write-up, as it is priceless, with its 'great laxity of morals is prevalent here' (says our panting correspondent in Madrid) - "duelling, bull-fighting and assassination are by no means uncommon" (sometimes all three at once) alongside this latently pornographic image ("interesting", as the paper puts it) of Senora Paxodol practising (she's the implausible tiny-footed hourglass on the right), which the newspaper claims to have based on a photograph.

Again, one has to suspect publicity-seeking, and that the duel itself (despite Senora Paxodol's stated eagerness to avoid the police) may never have taken place.

The Illustrated Police News is by this date a fruity source for those who might want to seek evidence of the secret lives of late Victorians: adverts for 'Rubber Specialities' ('the Capote Anglaise' is described in one small ad as 'the most wonderful appliance of the 19th Century for Married Ladies only', at a pricy five shillings and sixpence 'complete in box'), 'Spicy Books', imports of French and American 'specialities' for 'those about to marry', and bottled cures for (implicitly) venereal disease. No wonder the illustrations are so dubious.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

"Frightful and deadly strife between these two Amazons"

Back with duelling women, and the Illustrated Police News for Saturday 15th March, 1873. This reports from the Figaro for the Thursday before, and provides an account of that rare thing, a fatal 'duel' between women ("the two women agreed to decide their dispute by means of a duel with knives"). I suppose it counts as a duel, rather than a knife-fight, if they actually did agree to meet at some future time rather than fighting spontaneously. The women are not named, but the conflict was over a man called Juglin. One was mortally wounded, the other seriously. Juglin was arrested: "in what way he has offended against the law has not yet been manifest", says the report, which cannot say if he was present, or in any way promoted the duel ("if so, he deserves heavy punishment").

The 'field of honour', such as it was, is specified, and is interesting: it was inside a house at 84, Boulevard de Courcelles. The British scandal-rag's image is thus far accurate, though the special frisson the hypothetical image seems to aim for is of mortal strife breaking out in a prosperous home, with a salon full of respectable folk dithering in horror. The artist has in part made the fight look spontaneous: an opened letter lies on the ground between the combatants. There may be a little more of the suggestion of a pre-arranged duel in the way the two women crouched behind the fighters both hold a bag - are they meant to be seconds, who have had care of the chosen weapons?

"The encounter was marked by an amount of savageness and ferocity rarely met with, and it is surprising that the spectators who were present at so singular and unnatural a conflict should have allowed it to proceed for so long a time", says the newspaper, with teeth-sucking disapproval neatly extended by the suggestion that this is precisely the sort of thing tolerated in France. 'Unnatural' perhaps betrays that the writer thinks duels between men to be allowable.

Other images of women fighting to the death in the same source do depict lower class combatants: they are not automatically promoted to being middle class fashion plates. The modes worn here look very unsuited to the purpose. It is generally fights between frenchwomen that the Illustrated Police News finds to report. There's a carry-over here from earlier wars: the women have acquired Franch revolutionary faces as they fight in clothing one might see in a painting by Tissot.

Friday, February 19, 2010

The Basilisk Eye of the Witch: John Bell, 1697.

I was reminded of John Bell’s ghastly little pamphlet Witch-craft proven, arreign'd, and condemn'd in its professors, professions and marks by diverse pungent, and convincing arguments, excerpted forth of the most authentick authors, divine and humane, ancient and modern. By a Lover of the truth (Glasgow, 1697) while reading P.G. Maxwell-Stuart’s Witch Hunters (2003). The modern scholar cites (p. 98) the case of Margaret Atkin in 1597, who was arrested on suspicion of being a witch, threatened with torture, and confessed. She then offered ‘to detect all of that sort, and to purge the Country of them, so that she might have her life granted’. She claimed that she could do this because ‘they had a secret mark, all of that sort, in their eyes, whereby she could surely tell, how soon she looked upon any whether they were witches or not’. To save herself, she set about judicially murdering other women, being taken from town to town to inform against the local suspects. In Glasgow, backed by a credulous minister, she had yet more innocent women executed, until she exposed her own imposture by declaring the same women guilty one day and (when they were presented to her again in different attire) innocent the next.

Maxwell-Stuart notes blemishes in the eye, or the rare condition of a double pupil as possible ‘marks’ that were notionally looked for: but anyone could see these. I think it’s possible that John Bell gives a full account of what the witch-finder alleged he or she could see.

Bell’s work shows him to have been a die-hard demonologist of the old school. He promises to give “some vive and shrewd Marks, and some unquestionable tokens … by what means, a Witch (in League, and Covenant with the Devil) may be discerned to be so”.

The first is the witch’s mark “the insensible or dead nip of a blea colour”; the second

“that such can by no means be drowned, tho' tyed hand & foot together, & thrown into a River … having renounced Baptism”. Then, inevitably, Sprenger and Kramer’s sadistic allegation is the third: “They cannot weep, not even torture can draw “from them the least tear, though to that end they often distort, throw, and wring their faces, making as tho' they were weeping”.

But it is Bell’s fourth mark which is of interest here:

“The Fourth Mark is, the Basilisk, or Serpentine sight, wherewith they be endued to kill, poison, and destroy, what, and whensoever they please … which sight is in them above all other men and women in the world most remarkable, for while as in the Apple of the Eye there is to be seen in all and every one, the Image of a man … with the head up and the feet down; the quite contrary is to be seen in them, to wit, the feet up, and the head down; God as it were hereby making open show to the World, that He who keepeth His own as the Apple of the eye, taketh no such thought for ye Slaves of Satan, but suffers the Devil whose Image they bear thus (by inversion) as an external Sign.”

To complete this dismal litany, the fifth mark is that they will not repeat the Lord’s prayer, ten commandments or the creed without “several minckings, eikings, or inversions”, burning salt ‘in the Pipe of a Kye’ [I think he means within the tube of a key] will cause them to urinate if they see the blue flames is the sixth mark, and lastly, that they smell with “a peculiar scent or smell, which is to be found in them, beside all other People in the World, and which neither flows from the nastiness of Clothes, Vermin, or the like, but a contradistinct smell from any such thing … the Devil being in full Possession of their Soul, must needs emit his own scent even that of the Pit.”

The investigator has to notice whether his or her reflection is inverted in the pupil of the true witch’s eye - this seems a suitably ‘secret’ mark to me. You could easily persuade yourself, if you had taken against the accused, that you had seen yourself upside-down. Not could you be cross-checked, as you were looking for this far more metaphysical mark than any blemish in the iris.

My images, though, come from Christina Hole’s work, Witchcraft in England, 1977, which was illustrated by no less than Mervyn Peake 'over twenty years ago', the fly leaf says, for the first edition - it was in 1945:

Peake had just gone through great mental suffering after being on the scene at the liberation of Belsen. Yet his witches are just that, witches rather than victims, sinister figures as darkly imagined as anything in Jacob de Gheyn. Not that you would wish an imagination like Peake's to deny itself. I have looked along a long 'Cooliris' wall of Google images, but didn't see any from this book. he also did illustrations for a book by D K Haynes, Thou shalt not suffer a witch in 1949: it would be interesting to see the best of those.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Newcastle Witch-pricker, 1649, and other enormities

I got round to looking at the original source for the much-cited account of the authorities in Newcastle-upon-Tyne hiring a Scottish witch-pricker in 1649/1650. It’s in Ralph Gardiner’s Englands grievance discovered, in relation to the coal-trade (1655). Everything makes more sense in the context. Gardiner was very, very angry at the way the town was being run. His cogent objections to the imported witch-pricker appear alongside two other examples of arbitrary, cruel, and illegal local regulations: he follows the witch-finder with an account of a woman being paraded round the streets with an enhanced and augmentedly cruel scold’s bridle on her head, and another shame punishment, this one for drunkards, who had to go through the streets dressed in a barrel.

These tyrannies are just incidental illustrations of how bad things have got: Gardiner’s main quarrel concerns how the coal trade was fixed by the town authorities. Boats arriving to pick up coal were compelled to discharge their ballast (prior to loading coal) at Newcastle itself, and pay a tax on that discharge of ballast at 8 pence a ton. To get to pay this local imposition, ships had to make their way seven or eight miles up the Tyne, a river full of shifting sandbars, bends, and the ballast stones which those who profited by their local tax allowed nevertheless to slip back into the river, where it helped sink yet more ships. Gardiner wants all this reformed by Cromwell, to whom the book is addressed. North Shields, right at the mouth of the Tyne, should become a market town, he says, and the trade be run from there, without all this loss of shipping and lives as people struggle to comply with the local profiteers. (Just how hazardous the whole area was is perhaps captured in his assertion that if purchases of coal were permitted in North Shields, fewer people would run the hazard of falling down snow-concealed mine shafts on their way to Newcastle - when the Tyne is frozen, he means, and not open to river traffic.)

Anyway, here’s the witch-pricker about his appalling trade:

John Wheeler of London, upon his Oath said, that in or about the years 1649. & 1650. being at Newcastle, heard that the Magistrates had sent two of their Sergeants, namely Thomas Soevel, and Cuthbert Nicholson into Scotland to agree with a Scotch-man, who pretended knowledge to find out Witches by pricking them with pins, to come to Newcastle where he should try such who should be brought to him, and to have twenty shillings a piece for all he could condemn as Witches, and free passage thither and back again.

When the Sergeants had brought the said Witchfinder on horse-back to Town; the Magistrates sent their Bell-man through the Town, ringing his Bell, and crying, All people that would bring in any complaint against any woman for a Witch, they should be sent for and tried by the person appointed.

Thirty women were brought into the Town-hall, and stripped, and then openly had pins thrust into their bodies, and most of them was found guilty, near twenty seven of them by him and set aside.

The said reputed Witch-finder acquainted Lieutenant Colonel Hobson that he knew women, whether they were Witches or no by their looks, and when the said person was searching of a personable, and good-like woman, the said Colonel replied and said, ‘Surely this woman is none, and need not be tried’, but the Scotch-man said she was, for the Town said she was, and therefore he would try her; and presently in sight of all the people laid her body naked to the Waist, with her clothes over her head, by which fright and shame, all her blood contracted into one part of her body, and then he ran a pin into her Thigh, and then suddenly let her coats fall, and then demanded whether she had nothing of his in her body but did not bleed, but she being amazed replied little, then he put his hand up her coats, and pulled out the pin and set her aside as a guilty person, and child of the Devil, and fell to try others whom he made guilty.

Lieutenant Colonel Hobson perceiving the alteration of the foresaid woman, by her blood settling in her right parts, caused that woman to be brought again, and her clothes pulled up to her Thigh, and required the Scot to run the pin into the same place, and then it gushed out of blood, and the said Scot cleared her, and said she was not a child of the Devil.

So soon as he had done, and received his wages, he went into Northumberland to try women there, where he got of some three pound a piece. But Henry Ogle Esq a late Member of Parliament laid hold on him, and required Bond of him to answer the Sessions, but he got away for Scotland, and it was conceived if he had staid he would have made most of the women in the North Witches, for money.

The names of the prisoners that were to be executed, being kept in prison till the Assizes, and then condemned by the Jury being Burgesses were, Matthew Bulmer, Eliz. Anderson, Jane Hunter, Mary Pots, Alice Hume, Elianor Rogerson, Margaret Muffet, Margaret Maddison, Eliz. Brown, Margaret Brown, Jane Copeland, Ann Watson, Elianor Henderson, Elizabeth Dobson, and Katherine Coultor. These poor souls never confessed any thing, but pleaded innocence; And one of them by name Margaret Brown beseeched God that some remarkable sign might be seen at the time of their execution, to evidence their innocency, and as soon as ever she was turned off the Ladder, her blood gushed out upon the people to admiration of the beholders.

John Wheeler, Elianor Lumsdel, and Bartholomew Hodshon, proves the like.

The said Witch-finder was laid hold on in Scotland, cast into prison, indicted, arraigned and condemned for such like villainy exercised in Scotland. And upon the Gallows he confessed he had been the death of above two hundred and twenty women in England and Scotland, for the gain of twenty shillings a piece, and beseeched forgiveness. And was executed.

The Judgement nor Execution is not in question, nor questioned, being ordinary; But only it being desired to know by what Law the Magistrates of Newcastle could send into another Nation for a mercenary person to try women for Witches, and a Bell-man to cry for them to be brought in, and twenty shillings a piece given him to condemn them?

Query, and by what Law men are hired to give evidence to take away peoples lives, and the convicted estates to come to the Jurors, being extraordinary?

The Lord Protector, commands all Judges, Justices and Witnesses to appear to execute Justice, and give evidence gratis.”

It looks as though the witch-pricker operated via shame and confusion. He exposes the woman’s upper body, apparently then surprises her and all onlookers by running his pin into her thigh, quickly letting her clothes fall so that no-one can tell whether he has actually done so or not. She does not know what has happened: she knows that she hasn’t been pricked, though it looks to everyone as though she had been. She is aggressively asked if she has the pin in her body without bleeding: she probably hasn’t felt anything, as nothing has happened, and she of course is not bleeding. In the simplest sleight-of-hand, the Scot then reaches up her skirts and produces the incriminating pin he has, of course kept in his hand. But here, prejudiced in her favour by her good looks, the Lieutenant-Colonel intervenes, and wants actually to see the operation performed. This time, of course, blood flows.

You will see that Gardiner doesn’t want to get side-tracked into a general argument about the justice of witchcraft charges: he evidently thinks these people were all innocent (he comes up with his own notion of why the good-looking woman failed to feel the pin and bleed) and rightly considers their persecutors to be driven by greed. Here he is on the woman forced round the town wearing the ‘branks’, and the drunkards similarly forced at rope’s end up and down the streets in the barrel:

John Willis of Ipswich upon his Oath said, that he this Deponent was in Newcastle six months ago, and there he saw one Ann Biulestone drove through the streets by an Officer of the same Corporation, holding a rope in his hand, the other end fastened to an Engine called the Branks, which is like a Crown, it being of Iron, which was muzzled over the head and face, with a great gap or tongue of Iron forced into her mouth, which forced the blood out. And that is the punishment which the Magistrates do inflict upon chiding, and scolding women, and that he hath often seen the like done to others.

He this Deponent further affirms, that he hath seen men drove up and down the streets, with a great Tub or Barrel opened in the sides with a hole in one end, to put through their heads, and so cover their shoulders and bodies down to the small of their legs, and then close the same called the new fashioned Cloak, and so make them march to the view of all beholders; and this is their punishment for Drunkards, or the like.”

Gardiner observes: “These are such practices as are not granted by their Charter Law, and are repugnant to the known Laws of England.” There’s a revealing detail when he goes on to cite the relevant laws: he has a law passed to punish drunkards which he can cite, but though he was a great searcher through statute books, cannot cite a law that decreed the ducking of scolds:

Drunkards are to pay a Fine of five shillings to the poor, to be paid within one week, or be set in the Stocks six hours, for the second offence, to be bound to the Good Behaviour, 1 K. James 9. 21. 7.

Scoulds are to be Duckt over head and ears into the water in a Ducking-stool.”

Gardiner concludes weightily:

As Sir Walter Raleigh, being to give a Character of Henry the Eighth, prefaceth his Description with this Introduction, “If all the Pictures and Patterns of a merciless Prince were lost in the World, they might all again be painted to the life out of the Story of that King”. So having given the world an account of the most unchristian, illegal, oppressive practices of the Magistrates of Newcastle upon the people of this Nation … I may safely say of them as that Noble Knight did of that King, If all the Pictures and Patterns of a cruel and merciless people were utterly lost in the world, they might be all painted to the life out of this Narrative, setting out the illegal Oppressions, arbitrary Exactions, barbarous Murders practised and committed by the Magistrates of Newcastle, both on their Neighbours, and the free people of this Nation.”

My illustrations are from Gardiner’s book (two separate images combined into one).

Monday, February 15, 2010

How do we solve a problem like Maria? Duelling nuns, 1869

Back with The Illustrated Police News, August 14th, 1869, and one of their more incredible yarns, a tale of two nuns from a convent near Genoa, who 'carried their animosity to such an extent that naught could pacify them save a duel with pistols. The combatants exchanged shots, but no blood was shed'.

Well, I suppose it is possible: the women involved might not have had any real vocation, but might have been placed in their convent to save a dowry having to be paid, or after an early indiscretion. Anyone might get tetchy in such circumstances. And perhaps you could say that the absence of detail in the story is in a strange way authenticating, for what convent would let details slip of such a scandal?

Anyway, here they are, as envisaged by the busy artist of this scandalous rag. The pistols are, I suppose, disappointing - could they have not gone at it with something more befitting their calling?

At least no-one was hurt. I wonder what they had to do for penance? Endure one another, I suppose.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Women as duellists (1)

I have been away from this blog for a while because my spare time has been spent preparing for whatever contribution I could make to a 'History of Duelling' programme forthcoming (as far away as May 25th) on Radio 4. I re-read edicts, and made myself acquainted with James I and Francis Bacon on the matter, also re-read Sir Edward Herbert's autobiography.

But the producer was also interested in duels between women, and asked me to have a little look for examples. Now the internet reveals a regular set of repeatedly cited all-women duels: the one Ribera depicted in 1636, 'The Duel of Isabella de Carazzi and Diambra de Pottinella' (depicting a duel 80 or more years before), and the 'petticoat duel' of 1792, in Hyde Park, between Mrs Elphinstone and Mrs Braddock, make particular favourites, copied from blog to blog.

The Illustrated Police News, a Victorian tabloid, faithfully covered duels of all kinds: between men, animals, boys, but particularly they liked fighting women. The format of this paper was settled: the title page featured lurid illustrations of the chief stories among the issue's contents, then the three remaining sheets (at least in the early years of the publication, for it expanded later) contained some kind of reportage. The Daily Sport of its day, provenance of some of the stories seems sketchy at best.

The illustrations tend to depict most of their lady duellists as fashion plate stunners: as much embonpoint as sword point. A pornographic intent is not far away, with more than a touch of sadism apparent.

Anyway, here in this engraving Madame Astie de Valsayre is duelling with an American girl, Miss Shelby. They had disagreed about the relative merits of French and American doctors, with the American girl calling the Frenchwomen an idiot. As if to give European doctors (at least) a chance to prove their merit, they agreed to meet and fight it out.

It's apparent that Madame Valsayre was an avid publicity seeker. She had just been thwarted in one attempt to fight a duel against a Madame Pierre, then Miss Shelby came conveniently to hand. The site of the duel was significant: on the field of Waterloo. Unable, as I guess, to find an Englishwoman, Madame Valsayre settled for an Anglophone, and fought for the honour of France.

The engraver here has cleverly represented both the sensational possibility (at first glance, one duellist looks to have been run through) and the less alarming actuality: Miss Shelby was wounded in the arm. At this point, Madame Valsayre accepted her apology, and then subsequently "warmly eulogised the conduct of the fair American", "and holds her up to the admiration and emulation of her sex".

Illustrated Police News, Saturday 10th April, 1886.