Tarts, Pasties, and other Georgian Delights



Sing a song of sixpence,
A pocket full of rye.
Four and twenty blackbirds,
Baked in a pie.

When the pie was opened,
The birds began to sing;
Wasn’t that a dainty dish,
To set before the king?
(Traditional English Nursery Rhyme)

After all the posts on social media, I expect that most of my readers are aware of International Pi Day, which occurred on March 14 — or 3/14. This annual observance celebrates the mathematical constant of pi. While often abbreviated as 3.14, pi has an infinite number of digits beyond the decimal point, starting with 3.141592653.

Last year’s Pi Day was a special one to celebrate since it was 3/14/15, matching perfectly the first numbers past the decimal point of pi. Last year, hardcore math fans even started celebrating the day at exactly 9:26 a.m. and 53 seconds. This year, math enthusiasts celebrated what they are calling “Rounded Pi Day” since rounding pi to the ten-thousandth (that is four numbers past the decimal point) comes out to 3.1416, matching this year’s date — March 14, 2016.

So, what does all this have to do with the Georgian Era? Certainly, the Georgian Era had its share of mathematicians, but pi was a well-established value long before the Hanoverians came to power in England. Around 150 AD, Greek-Roman scientist Ptolemy, in his Almagest, gave a value for π of 3.1416, which he may have obtained from Archimedes or from Apollonius of Perga (Boyer, 1968). What all this talk of pi did do,however, was to get me thinking of another type of pi – pye or pie – a sweet or savory filling encased in a pastry crust! Continue reading


Spying for the Crown – Part 4: Civilian Spies for Wellington




“Tell me Mr. Robertson, are you a man of courage?”  “Try me Sir Arthur.”  “That, is what we mean to do”  –  Conversation between Sir Arthur Wellesley and Father James Robertson  (Longford, 1969)

“The French armies have no communications and one army has no knowledge of the position or of the circumstances in which the others are placed, whereas I have knowledge of all that passes on all sides.” – Sir Arthur Wellesley  (Esdaile, 2004)

Civilian Sources of Military Intelligence

During the French Revolutionary/Napoleonic period, there were a number of churchmen who served as agents for the British military.  During the Revolution, the French Republicans adopted policies, targeting the Church, attempting to de-Christianize the country.  These included:

  • Confiscation of Church lands, which were to be the security for the new Assignat currency
  • Destruction of statues, plates and other iconography from places of worship
  • Destruction of crosses, bells and other external signs of worship
  • Institution of revolutionary and civic cults, including the Cult of Reason and later the Cult of the Supreme Being
  • Enactment of a law, on October 21, 1793, making all nonjuring priests and all persons who harbored them liable to death on sight
  • Celebration of the goddess “Reason” in Notre Dame Cathedral on 10 November 1793

On the surface, Napoleon appeared to restore the Church to France through the Concordat of 1801, which established complete reorganization of the dioceses and declared Roman Catholicism France’s chief religion.  At the same time, the Church renounced their claim to the previously confiscated Church lands, and asked surviving bishops to resign their French sees. However, in 1802, Continue reading

Spying for the Crown: Part 3 – Military Intelligence During the Peninsula Campaign




“A great part of the information obtained in war is contradictory, a still greater part is false and by far the greatest part is of doubtful character.” – Carl von Clausewitz  (Clausewitz, 1908)

“All the business of war, and indeed all the business of life, is to endeavour to find out what you don’t know from what you do.” – Sir Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington  (The Quarterly Review, 1877)


Exploring Officers

When Napoleon named his brother Joseph as the ruler of Spain he created the impossible alliance; a  British, Spanish  and Portuguese coalition that turned into a catastrophe for the French.  For five years, the war in the Iberian Peninsula sapped the strength, resources and morale of the French soldiers and their officers.  The average French conscript saw a posting to Spain as a one-way ticket to hell.  Aside from the British regulars under Wellington’s command, Spanish irregulars, known as ‘guerrillas’ fought what they called Guerra a Cuchillo – ‘war to the knife’, a war of brutality, assassination, torture, and revenge.  (Crowdy, 2006)

When Wellington landed on the peninsula with 30,000 regulars, he found himself outnumbered and, by all accounts, without even a proper map.  He also knew almost nothing about the French forces except that they were more numerous than his forces and were largely undefeated.  He was also unsure about his allies, the Portuguese and Spanish, and had no idea what level of support to expect from them.  Wellington quickly realized that what he needed was accurate intelligence.  With no specialized operational intelligence service, Wellington became his own chief of intelligence.

Those Wellington employed for secret service work were people he personally trusted, an assorted bunch of British officers, Spanish irregulars, and clergymen.  Continue reading

The War of 1812 and the Treaty of Ghent

American and British Representatives at the Signing of the Treaty of Ghent

Signing of the Treaty of Ghent

On 21 February 2015, the Norfolk (VA) Historical Society will sponsor a series of events to commemorate the ratification of the Treaty of Ghent by the US Congress in February of 1815 and 200 years of peace and friendship between the United States and Great Britain.  The capstone to events will be the Treaty of Ghent Bicentennial Gala.  Held at the Norfolk Yacht Club, this will include dinner, a 19th-century dance demonstration, a short talk on the Treaty of Ghent, and a chance for the public to try their hands at 19th-century dances. For reservations, please go to the event webpage

In honor of this anniversary, we will take a short look at the War, the Treaty of Ghent, and the aftermath of this last conflict between the US and the UK.

 The Causes of the War of 1812

The real origins of the War of 1812 were in the conflict that raged in Europe for two decades following Napoleon Bonaparte’s rise to power.  Britain gained mastery of the seas from Nelson’s naval victory at Trafalgar 21 October 1805.  On 21 Nov 1806, Napoleon ordered a blockade (the Berlin Decree) of shipping aimed at crippling British trade.  He ordered all European ports under his control closed to British ships.  He further decreed neutral and French ships seized if they visited a British port before entering a continental port (the so-called Continental System).  Britain responded with a series of Orders in Council (1807) that imposed severe restrictions on vessels trading with the continent, including requiring all neutral ships to get a license before they could sail to Europe.  Because of Nelson’s previously mentioned victory, Great Britain had the sea power to enforce its blockade. Continue reading