War on the Home Front: living in a wartime economy 1792-1815

Painting

The Morning After the Battle of Waterloo by John Heaviside Clark, 1816

On 18 June 1815, a coalition under Wellington, consisting of troops from the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Belgium, Hanover, Brunswick, and Nassau, combined with a Prussian army under Blücher to meet and defeat Napoleon’s army at Waterloo.  This victory, while not immediately ending the war, effectively put an end to almost a quarter of a century of continuous warfare between England and France.  By the end of the Napoleonic Wars, the national debt of England stood at £848,000,000, almost 240% of GDP.  How, with a population only about half that of France, was the United Kingdom able to finance 23 years of worldwide war and how did it affect the British economy and the average citizen?

Financing the Wars

As 1792 ended, the British economy already was responding to the challenges caused by previous war spending.  Unlike America, where the printing of large quantities of paper money during the Revolutionary War led to hyperinflation, an undermining of public confidence, and almost brought the American war effort to a halt, Continue reading

In Honor of the King’s Birthday

Yesterday was the birthday of George III.  In honor of that, we bring you proof that the Georgian monarchs did not spring to life fully grown!

Drawing of George III of England as a small boy.

George III of England as a small boy. Royal Collection Trust / © HM Queen Elizabeth II 2015

The drawing is of a small boy seated on the floor, reading, under a tent constructed from two chairs and some fabric. A banner bearing the initials ‘GR’ is to the left. A sword, dagger and gun lie on the floor and a bell is suspended above the boy’s head. An inscription records that the picture was taken from the life on Monday 6 July. The boy has been identified as Prince George, later George III. The drawing was probably made in 1747, when 6 July fell on a Monday, and therefore shows the Prince at the age of nine.

© Chuck Hudson  2015

The Irish Rebellion of 1798

Engraving of McArt's Fort-Cave Hill

Cave Hill

 

In June of 1795, several Irish Protestants gathered on top of Cave Hill, overlooking Belfast. They swore, “never to desist in our efforts until we had subverted the authority of England over our country and asserted our independence“.  Three years later as many as 100,000 rose against Britain in the first Irish republican insurrection.  (Quinn, 2002)

Ireland during the 1790s was a land of uncertainty, much of which caused by the dramatic interplay between the Society of United Irishmen (UI) and the Irish government.  The Society’s stated goals of Catholic emancipation and parliamentary reform were contrary to the conservative administration’s aims, but the Society enjoyed much popular support and its numbers increased throughout the decade.  UI activities culminated in the ultimately futile 1798 rebellion.

The Origins of the Rebellion and the Society of United Irishmen

During the 1780s, a few liberal members of the ruling Protestant Ascendancy, led by Henry Grattan, organized as the Irish Patriot Party and campaigned for: reform of the Irish parliament; a lessening of British interference in Ireland’s affairs; and expanding the rights and voting franchise for Catholics and Presbyterians.   Continue reading

Weather, Famine, Disease, Migration and Monsters: 1816-1819

 

Thomas_Jefferson_by_Rembrandt_Peale,_1800

 

“We have had the most extraordinary year of drought and cold ever known in the history of America. In June, instead of 3 ¾ inches, our average of rain for that month, we only had ⅓ of an inch; in August, instead of 9 1/6 inches, our average, we had only 8/10 of an inch; and still it continues.  The summer, too, has been as cold as a moderate winter. In every State north of this there has been frost in every month of the year; in this State we had none in June and July, but those of August killed much corn over the mountains. The crop of corn through the Atlantic States will probably be less than one-third of an ordinary one, that of tobacco still less, and of mean quality.  The crop of wheat was middling in quantity, but excellent in quality.  But every species of bread grain taken together will not be sufficient for the subsistence of the inhabitants, and the exportation of flour, already begun by the indebted and the improvident, to whatsoever degree it may be carried, will be exactly so much taken from the mouths of our own citizens.  My anxieties on this subject are the greater, because I remember the deaths which the drought of 1755 in Virginia produced from the want of food.”

Thomas Jefferson writing to Albert Gallatin
September 8, 1816  (Jefferson, 1904-5)

 

1816 was known as ‘The Year Without a Summer’ or ‘Eighteen Hundred and Froze to Death’ because of severe climate abnormalities that caused temperatures to decrease resulting in social, economic, and agricultural dislocations across the entire Northern Hemisphere.  These unusual climatic abnormalities had the greatest effect on New England and the Mid-Atlantic states, Atlantic Canada, The United Kingdom, and large parts of Western Europe. The effects were also felt in parts of Asia.

Causes

Evidence suggests the anomaly was predominantly a volcanic winter event caused by the April 1815 eruption of Mount Tambora in the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia).  Tambora is just one of many volcanoes in the archipelago of Indonesia and once was a mammoth peak – almost 14,000 feet high, believed to have been silent for 5,000 years before the explosion occurred.  Then, in 1812, Tambora awoke from its slumber and small eruptions of steam and ash began to emanate from the mountain, accompanied by significant earth tremors.  This continued until 5 April, 1815, when the first great eruption occurred, generating a volcanic column over 15 miles high. This blast was heard over 600 miles away.  Five days later, on 10 April, a several colossal explosions occurred (heard almost 1600 miles away), creating columns of volcanic material that stretched up to 25 miles into the sky. Continue reading

Theatre in Colonial and Federal America

Historic Marker for the 1st Play performed in America

 

Last month we looked at the history and development of English theatre, beginning in the Middle Ages, and carrying up through the Regency Era.  In today’s post, we are going to look at theatre in England’s American territories during the Colonial period as well as in the early years of the American Republic.

Beginnings

Exactly when the first dramatic performance in America took place is impossible to say.  There are records in of a play being acted on the Eastern Shore of Virginia as early as 1665.  A play, known as “Ye Bare and ye Cubb,” was acted by three citizens of Accomac, Cornelius Watkinson, Philip Howard, and William Darby.  As soon as the report of this performance reached the King’s attorney, John Fawsett, he summoned them to court, where he subjected each of them to a rigid cross-examination.  At this session, the justices contented themselves with ordering the culprits to appear at the next meeting of the court in the costumes, which they had worn in acting the alleged play.  They were also required to bring with them for inspection a copy of the “verses, speeches, and passages” which they had performed on that occasion.  Continue reading

Richard Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington’s Older Brother

 

Richard Wellesley in his red East India Company Uniform

Richard Wellesley in his East India Company Uniform

Almost everyone knows the name of Sherlock Holmes’ older brother Mycroft, and most people probably know something about his employment.  Likewise, those who study the Georgian era, particularly the period of the Napoleonic Wars, know something about Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, one of the leading British military and political figures of the 19th century.  Famous for his adaptive defensive style of warfare that resulted in several victories against numerically superior forces while minimizing his own losses, he is regarded as one of the greatest defensive commanders of all time, and many of his tactics and battle plans are still studied in military academies around the world.

Fewer are familiar with Arthur’s older brother, Richard, who may actually be responsible for Arthur’s success.  Due to his mother’s concern for Arthur’s future, Richard asked his friend, the 4th Duke of Rutland (then Lord Lieutenant of Ireland), to consider Arthur for a commission in the army.  Soon after, on 7 March 1787, he became an ensign in the 73rd Regiment of Foot.  In October of that year, again with the Richard’s assistance, he was assigned as aide-de-camp to the new Lord Lieutenant of Ireland Lord Buckingham at a salary of ten shillings a day (twice his normal pay as an ensign), thus kick starting his illustrious career. Continue reading

Theatre in Georgian England

 

Hannah Pritchard as Lady Macbeth and David Garrick as Macbeth at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane in April 1768

Hannah Pritchard as Lady Macbeth and David Garrick as Macbeth at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane in April 1768

 

During the Georgian Era, Great Britain’s population grew rapidly, from around five million people in 1700 to nearly nine million by 1801.  Many people left the countryside to seek out new job opportunities in nearby towns and cities.  Others arrived from further afield: from rural areas in Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, and from across large areas of continental Europe.  Young people were drawn to urban areas by the offer of regular and full-time employment.  The increased income that came from this steady employment allowed these new city residents to take advantage of the entertainments offered in these urban areas: the theatres, inns, and pleasure gardens, as well as the shops featuring the latest fashions.

In today’s post, we are going to look at English theatre – its roots and development over time, the social forces that shaped it, and what it was like attending the Theatre in the Georgian Era.

Medieval Drama

Between 925 and 975, theatre was “reborn” as drama reappeared in church services.  By 975, it had become a small drama within the service, often played by altar boys, used to illustrate various lessons from the Bible.  These “dramas” had little sense of history – reflecting the limited knowledge of the people, and anachronisms were quite common.  In The Second Shepherds’ Play, for instance, the stolen lamb becomes the baby Jesus, although the Shepherds had been using Christian references even before this “baby Jesus” arrived).  Comic elements appeared in plays that were otherwise quite serious, and had as their purpose to teach Biblical stories and principles to the people.  The medieval mind looked at the temporal world (Earth) as transitory; Heaven and Hell were the eternal realities. (Northern Virginia Community College, 2008)

In the 12th century, the fighters, returning from the Crusades, brought traditions from other cultures to Great Britain.  It was during this time that religious dramas began to be performed outside the church in the vernacular [native language].  In the beginning, the church had control of the drama outside of the church, but then it gradually became more controlled by secular groups.  The Guilds took over in some cities, and often certain Guilds retained control over certain plays/stories, all based in some way on the Bible or religious teachings.  For instance, the Bakers’ Guild might control the play about the Last Supper, and the Shipwrights’ Guild would do plays about the Ark. Continue reading