Posts Tagged With: Napoleon

Tiddy Doll

At the British Museum today I went to see ‘Bonaparte and the British’, I urge you all to go (also it is free so there really is no excuse). I came across this rather marvelous print from the British Museum’s own collection, by James Gillray:

Tiddy Doll: The new French ginger bread-baker, drawing out a new batch of Kings

‘Tiddy Doll: The new French ginger bread-baker, drawing out a new batch of Kings’ Image: British Museum

In this caricature Napoleon is depicted in the guise of an extravagantly dressed ginger bread seller, as it turns out this was actually based on a real person. Tiddy Doll (I’m guessing this was not his real name) famously marched the streets of eighteenth century London selling his delicious gingerbread. But his preferred attire was much more akin to the despotic Emperor depicted in the above image. He famously wore a hat with an enormous ostrich feather (making him instantly recognisable and easy to spot through a crowd), a laced ruffled shirt, a white gold suit and white stockings, with a white apron to top it off. He must have showed up even the flashiest dandy walking the streets of the London in that get up. Tiddy was such a well known character to real Londoners that he was included in the print ‘Southwark Fair’ by none other than William Hogarth.


Hogarth’s ‘Southwark Fair’. Tiddy Doll is seen in the middle with his huge ostrich feather hat. Looks like he is getting into a spot of bother with the man to his right!

Tiddy Doll so got his name for the various ballads and popular songs which he would sing as he sold his gingerbread; to which he often included his own lyrics. For example:

‘Mary, Mary, where do you live now Mary?
I live, when at home, in the second house in Little Ball Street,
Two steps underground, a wiscum, a riscom, and a why-not.
Walk in ladies and gentlemen, my shop is on the second floor backwards
With a knocker on the door
Here is your nice gingerbread, your spice gingerbread
It will melt in your mouth like a red-hot brick-bat
And rumble in your insides like Punch and his wheelbarrow’

These verses invariably ended with the refrain ‘Tiddy Diddy Doll, lol, lol, lol’, hence the name (still think ‘lol’ is a modern saying?!) Such was his fame that his name was coined in the saying ‘You look quite the Tiddy Doll’, meaning to dress tawdrily or above your station.

In Gillray’s print Napoleon as Tiddy Doll is drawing out of the oven several fat Kings of Europe that he has just produced. More puppet Kings and Queen’s wearing crowns peer out of a basket in the bottom left. A cornucopia beside it is inscribed ‘Hot Spiced Gingerbread! all hot- come who dips in my lukey [sic] bag!’. From the cornucopia pours crowns, coronets, orders and a cardinal’s hat. Such a cutting depiction of Napoleon as the mad and bad King-Maker, controlling Europe through his puppets, who he then discards when he has no further use for them, would have had enormous appeal to London’s working men and women. This was the kind of image which they could read, and relish. I am sure that Tiddy would have enjoyed the recognition and further fame that being named in a Gillray print would have bought to his gingerbread business!


Categories: 18th Century | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lady Georgiana Lennox, later 23rd Baroness de Ros of Helmsley (1785-1891)


Image: NPG Collection: NPG Archive

Lady Georgiana Lennox was born on the 30th September 1795 at Molecombe, the Dower House on the Goodwood Estate. She was the third daughter of the 4th Duke of Richmond and the former Lady Charlotte Gordon. She was one of fourteen children, seven sons and seven daughters.  In 1806 Georgy’s father succeeded to the titles and estates of Goodwood, Lennox and Aubigny.

The financial strain on the Richmond family resulting from their ever growing number and the spendthrift habits of the Duchess meant that the Duke was forced to close up Goodwood, and keep the family in Europe where living costs were cheaper. In 1807 The Duke of Richmond was made Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, and reluctantly he left England for Phoenix Park in Dublin. His posting was a success, and the family remained in Ireland until 1813.

His Chief Secretary during this period was Colonel Sir Arthur Wellesley K.B., who had just returned from a successful military campaign in Southern India. It was here that Georgy first met Arthur. They rode out together daily, accompanied by some of Georgy’s many sisters. They called him the ‘great Sir Arthur’. The Richmond’s house in Phoenix Park was the centre of many evening events which Sir Arthur attended, socialising closely with the Duchess and her daughters.

In 1815 the family relocated again as Richmond was placed in command of the reserve forces in Brussels preceding the Battle of Waterloo. The entire family, including the three eldest brothers, all followed their father to Brussels. They moved into a large house on the Rue de la Blanchisserie, on the site of a 17th Century laundry. Wellington nicknamed it ‘The Wash House’. During the day Georgy would attend Reviews, as well as ride out with her sisters to visit other families who had settled in Brussels. There was a plethora of concerts, picnics, dinners, assemblies, and dances which filled the Richmonds’ diary. Balls were held two or three times a week. As Lady Caroline Capel wrote ‘Balls go on here as though we had had none for a year.’ The Duchess of Richmond was often out and more often than not took her eldest daughters with her. Wellington left for a time to attend the Congress of Vienna, having taken the place of Lord Castlereagh. Everyone was anxious for the great commander to return, as rumours grew about Napoleon’s plans to escape from the Isle of Elba.

The epic conclusion to the battle against Napoleon’s forces was drawing near. Daily rumours of an imminent French invasion were flying from letter to letter and house to house, with no one knowing which report to believe. Wellington returned from Vienna and set about making ready the troops. Lord March, Richmond’s eldest son, was A.D.C. to the Prince of Orange, and the two younger brothers George and William were also to be involved in the fighting in a similar capacity.

The Duchess intended to give a ball, to which Wellington agreed whole-heartedly. The now famous event took place in a large room previously used to build coaches in by the previous owner of the house. Its usual function was as a playroom in which Georgy and her siblings spent hour playing games of battledore and shuttlecock when the weather kept them indoors.

It was to this ball that Wellington arrived late and announced to Georgy that the French had crossed the border into Brussels, and that war which Napoleon was imminent. Many of the men attending there, the majority of which were officers, left immediately to join their regiments. Others stayed, danced and drank, attempting to enjoy what could be their last night as free men. As Georgy later recalled

‘When the Duke [of Wellington] arrived, rather late, to the ball I was dancing, but I went to him to ask about the rumours. He said very gravely, “Yes, they are true; we are off to-morrow.” This terrible news was circulated directly, and while some of the officers hurried away, others remained at the ball, and actually had not time to change their clothes, but fought in evening costume’

Wellington remained calm and collected. At dinner he sat with Georgy and Lady Frances Wedderburn Webster, seemingly unperturbed by the reports being bought to him. Requesting a map from Richmond, he retired into the library with his other Generals. Pointing with his finger on the map, he said that the small village of Waterloo would be the spot where the battle could be fought, and with luck, won. He knew the ground well, having covered the area during reconnaissance trips the previous year. Wellington remained at the ball until around 2.30am. Georgy went with her brother George to his house in the grounds to pack his belongings and bid her farewells. She, her sisters and her mother parted with painful goodbyes, not knowing if they would ever see their beloved brothers or father again. It was the same for many women in Brussels that night.

Some of the battle could be heard from the houses in which wives, mothers and sisters waited, but information was limited and often inaccurate. Over the next three days Georgy waited anxiously for news of their fate. Yet as a young woman from a sheltered background, it must also have been thrilling to be present at such an important and historic moment.

Writing to her aunt Lady Bathurst Georgy exclaims ‘We had a great ball last night, and fancy the horror of hearing this news in the middle of it, and seeing all one’s friends fly to the right and to the left’. Despite putting a brave face on her fear, Georgy knew she was lucky.  Most of her family, friends and admirers had survived the onslaught. Her brothers and father had seen a good deal of action. Acting as A.D.C’s to the Prince of Orange and then Wellington himself, the latter was able to keep the Richmonds’ out of trouble.

After Waterloo

After the battle the family went to live in Paris, where Georgy and her family continued to socialise with Wellington at numerous grand galas, balls and operas. After Georgy recovered from a serious illness, the family returned first to Brussels, and then to England. During these years many letters passed between Georgy and Wellington, often passing on local gossip about love sick officers in Wellington’s staff.

In 1818 Richmond was made Governor General of British North America, and travelled with his two eldest daughters to Canada. Georgy stayed behind and went to live with her beloved Aunt, Lady Georgiana Bathurst. Tragedy struck the family the following year when Richmond was bitten by a pet fox which he caught fighting his spaniel, Blücher. Richmond contracted rabies, and after several days of writhing in agony, died. The whole family, who had adored their brave and kind-natured father, were devastated. The title was succeeded by Georgy’s beloved brother George, who became the 5th Duke.

In 1824, at the age of twenty-nine, Georgy married William Lennox Lascelles Fitzgerald de Ros, who would later succeed his brother to become the 23rd Baron de Ros of Helmsley. But why did Georgy wait so long to marry? She was certainly not without suitors. Perhaps she was still holding a flame for Wellington, who she adored for his brilliance, his celebrity, and his attention to her over all her other sisters.

William de Ros was a military man, a diligent officer and a fine husband. After Georgy’s marriage the de Ros’ continued to socialise with the Wellesley’s, attending dinners and opera’s together, and visiting Wellington at his country estate of Stratfield Saye. Together William and Georgy had three children: Dudley, later 24th Baron de Ros (1827-1907), Frances Charlotte, (c.1840-1851) who died tragically young at the age of twenty-one, devastating both her parents; and Blanche Arthur Georgina (1832-1910). Wellington was named Blanche’s godfather, and they developed a touching friendship as Blanche grew up.

Georgy's son Dudley after he had inherited the title from his father. 'Spy' drawing from Vanity Fair

Georgy’s son Dudley after he had inherited the title from his father. ‘Spy’ drawing from Vanity Fair

The year after the premature death of Frances de Ros, Wellington himself died. Although ill and infirm, his passing caused a great shock to Georgy, herself now fifty-five years old. She wrote in her diary

‘From childhood I loved and venerated him and invariably received the most unremitting kindness from him and so many years of unclouded friendship cannot be given with without much suffering’.

Commiserations poured in from friends and relations. Georgy had known the Duke for forty-six years. William was charged with organising and executing the funeral with military precision. This he did with his usual flair and attention to detail.

After William’s died in 1874, Georgy left the family seat in Strangford, Ireland and lived permanently in London. Cherished as one of the last surviving personal friends of the Great Duke, every Waterloo Day she enjoyed receiving scores of guests, flowers and telegrams rejoicing in the victory. In her 93rd year she produced, at the behest of many friends, two articles in Murray Magazine entitled ‘My Recollections of the 1st Duke of Wellington’, which continues to be one of the most important first hand recollections of the Duke. Georgy’s description of the ball-room in Brussels and of Wellington’s actions in the days during and after the battle has become a vital source to historians.

Georgy continued to receive friends and relatives, as well as producing brilliant illuminations and keepsakes, until her health and sight began to fail her. Georgy died on 15th December 1891 in London and is buried in the family vault at the Old Court Chapel, in Strangford. Two years later her daughter Blanche published ‘A Sketch of the Life of Georgiana, Lady de Ros, With Some Reminiscences of Her Family’, which is the only source where a small portion of the de Ros family archive has been made public.

Categories: 19th Century, Amazing Women in History, British Political Figures, Heroes | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

‘The Black Count’- by Tom Reiss. The tale of the black half-slave hero of the French Revolution

Tom Reiss, an American writer best known for his international bestseller ‘The Orientalist: In Search of a Man Caught Between East and West’, has succeeded yet again in producing this squash-buckling tale of a man so brave, so strong, and filled with such Revolutionary heroics, that he was immortalised in some of the best loved French novels of all time. I am talking of course of General Alexandre Dumas, the real life inspiration behind his son’s novels ‘The Three Musketeer’s and ‘The Conte of Monte Christo’. Dumas’ story is so incredible and so unbelievable that it is hard, at times, to believe it is non-fiction, and that the events that shaped his life really took place.

Alex Dumas’s real name was Thomas-Alexandre Davy de la Pailleterie; he was born in a slave colony in Saint Domingue, to a slave mother and a French aristocratic father. Alex’s father, who was for all intents and purposes a total scoundrel, sold Alex’s mother and their three other children in order to pay for his own passage back to France. Incidentally, he also sold Alex in this way but arranged for his travel to join him once he had raised the funds, and successfully bought his son back out of slavery. This was in 1776. Slavery was illegal in the forward thinking France of this time, so Alex’s colour was no issue in his being educated, or in his decision to join the army.

What was surprising was that Alex chose to shrug off his noble background, which could have secured him a commission and a place in the army as an officer. Instead he enlisted as a common soldier in the Queen’s Dragoons. As well as his social position he also shunned his father’s name, adopting ‘Dumas’, which was the surname of his mother, whom he would never see or hear from again.


This is actually Alex Dumas the writer dressed up as his beloved father, but you get the idea of the strength and power of the heroic Revolutionary. Oil portrait by Olivier Pichat.

No one could have been prepared for Alex’s meteoric rise through the ranks of the French army, something that could only be facilitated by the social and political upheaval thundering through France at the time. Having joined the army at 23, Alex would become General in Chief of the Army of the Alps by his 31st birthday; in command of some 53,000 troops. From the Alps Alex went to Italy, and then joined Napoleon’s ill-fated expedition to conquer Egypt in 1798.

 In Egypt, Alex would soon realise he had a much more dangerous enemy than the Bedouin rebels in the unforgiving landscape of the desert. Napoleon himself quickly took a dislike to the handsome and tall, powerfully built and strong leader. It was easy to see why Napoleon felt threatened, when he stood at just over five foot, and Alex was well over six. The Egyptian campaign was an unmitigated disaster, with huge losses for the French and little ground won. Napoleon soon fled the hell-hole of his failures in Egypt and headed back to France in 1801 to take control of the rapidly deteriorating situation in Paris. Alex managed to arrange passage on a boat which proved to be unsound, and was forced to dock at Naples, which was at this time unforgivably anti-French. Alex was captured, thrown in a dungeon, and left there to rot for the best part of three years before his release could be arranged.

Finally returning to France in 1803, after many suffering and trials in lands far away from home, Alex was able to settle down with his adored wife Marie-Louise. They had a son, also called Alexandre, who would become one of France’s most beloved novelists. Alexandre hero worshiped his father, who would become the main inspiration for the characters and events in his stories.
Reiss tells a marvellous tale, with never seen before research that he uncovered by blowing up a safe in Villers-Cotterêts, France. Having heard an interview with him on Radio 4, and learning the tale of such a fantastically rich life, I knew I had to know Alex’s exceptional story. My only, very minor, complaint about this book is the lack of images included. I suppose this is a typical grievance for any Art Historian. Granted, images of Alex are few and far between. Reiss does however mention in a special chapter at the end of the book an old statue of the General in Paris. Sculpted by Alfred de Moncel, it showed Alex standing proud, like a ‘resolute patriot, grasping his long rifle like a walking stick’. Before the statue was destroyed by the Nazis in the winter of 1941-2 (I suppose it is easy to see why the Nazi’s would not want a statue of a strong and heroic black man standing proud) a few photographs were taken, and I would simply have loved to have seen one. Hell, I would have even liked to have seen the blown up safe!

 Please do read this book if you love history and adventure. Many thanks to my sister for buying me the book for Christmas.

 ‘The Black Count- Glory, Revolution, Betrayal and the Count of Monte Cristo’ by Tom Reiss was published by Harvill Secker, London, in 2012.

Categories: 18th Century, Biography Review, Heroes | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

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