biography · english history · european history · history

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu- Advocate for Vaccines

Vaccines have long been important in our current medical care. As children, we are protected from harmful diseases due to the development of these vaccines like measles, tuberculosis, meningitis, etc. The list goes on and on. Most recently, the development of the COVID-19 vaccine has allowed many of us to take steps in ending the pandemic that has changed the face of our world this past year. Many deadly diseases have been eradicated due to the development of vaccines which allows for better living conditions and longer lifespans. As of 1980, smallpox was declared to be eradicated. That would not have been possible without some of the work that Lady Mary Wortley Montagu did in order to fight for inoculation. As an upper class English woman of the 18th century, most of the public sphere was off limits. This included the medical field where women were not given the education or taken seriously. They would have to trust in men knowing what was right for their bodies. Yet, Montagu was different. As an early feminist, she was extremely bold. She did what she felt she needed to do and fought for the causes that she thought were important. This included the early smallpox vaccination.

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu was born in 1689 in London to an aristocratic family. As she was the eldest daughter, her expectations were to use her beauty to marry well and become a model woman in her society. Yet, Montagu found her passion was for education. She believed that education was the way for a better life that she envisioned for herself. She wanted to be a part of that public sphere that was barred from those of her sex. “The Careless education given to women of quality [makes it]….so easy for any Man of Sense to corrupt them,” Montagu later wrote in one of her numerous essays/letters. She became an avid reader and taught herself many different languages. She also focused on making social connections with those who she could have intellectual conversations with and who would better her own educational journey. These connections placed her in a visible position in public/political society.

Montagu was a bit of a rule breaker. She was clever, headstrong, witty, and was not afraid of how the public may view her. In 1712, against her father’s wishes, she eloped with Edward Wortley Montagu which caused a great scandal in the gossip of high society. Her husband actually encouraged his wife in her writing career and her goals of making an influence in politics ( as this would be to his advantage as well in his rising career).

In 1713, Montagu’s younger brother died from the disease smallpox. Smallpox was a common endemic in London and other parts of England and it was making its fatal rounds again. In 1715, Montagu caught it herself and, luckily, survived. Unfortunately, it left her with bad scarring and the loss of her eyebrows. The death of her brother and her condition after her recovery had a big impact on Montagu. She became extremely interested with the rumors of inoculation practices in China and Turkey that she overheard Doctors and other intellectuals in her circle speaking about it.

Women were some of the most affected by the smallpox disease. They had to deal first hand with the death of their family members and with the disfigurement of themselves. This may not seem to be such a loss, since they survived after all, but the scarring and disfigurement from the disease was detrimental to a society girl’s prospects. For women of this time, physical beauty was often deemed one of the most important thing to secure future advantageous marriage proposals. Montagu would write poetry about her experience with the disease and her recovery (amongst many other topics that she was passionate about). In her poem, Flavia she writes:

Thus breath’d the anguish of a wounded mind ;
A glass revers’d in her right hand she bore,
For now she shun’d the face she sought before.

‘ How am I chang’d ! alas ! how am I grown
‘ A frightful spectre, to myself unknown !
‘ Where’s my Complexion ? where the radiant Bloom,
‘ That promis’d happiness for Years to come ?

Yet, women were excluded from the practice of medicine or even discussions with medical elite (even though they had almost more to lose due to the disease). Women were often even excluded from learning Latin as well. Montagu began to write a great deal about topics she was passionate about. She wanted to influence others with her writing and it gave her some agency in the public sphere.

In 1716, Montagu’s husband was appointed to be the English ambassador in Turkey. This was a great promotion for him and opened Montagu to a whole new world. She had the opportunity now to travel and she would write one of the first travel narratives through all of her letters during her time there. She took a great interest in the culture of Turkey and embraced it fully. She took it upon herself to learn the language and learn more about the culture. In her travel writings, she wrote about what she learned from the art and the culture. She had an appreciation for the dress and would wear the current styles. She also talked a great deal with her Turkish hosts and held intellectual discussions with them. She wrote about the differences she saw in gender expectations (the good and the bad) to her friends in England. Yet, what she was extremely interested in was the inoculation process.

She witnessed a “ritual engrafting party” where an older woman would inoculate 15-16 people. This was to protect against smallpox. This had such an impact on her that, in 1718, she hired a Greek woman to inoculate her own son. No one in the West had been inoculated at this point. This practice in Turkey was also interesting because it showed that women were the ones taking on the role of doctor. They were the ones trusted with the knowledge of this early vaccination method. This was very different from the way things were in England at this time.

Who Discovered the First Vaccine? | WIRED

When they returned to England later that same year (her husbands time at that post had expired), another smallpox epidemic had begun. Montagu was determined to have her daughter inoculated as well. She wrote to a surgeon, Charles Maitland (who had been present at her sons inoculation in Turkey), to assist. Her letters were written vaguely in a way that would not be traceable if intercepted. This is how risky it was for her to be trying something different behind the backs of her husband and the medical elite of the day. Maitland did insist to have three physicians present, as this was the first experiment of its kind in England. They obtained a sample of smallpox matter and then opened small wounds in her daughter’s arms and legs. A small amount was introduced to the wound. Her daughter was sick for a short time then quickly recovered. One of the doctors present ( Dr. James Keith) was so influenced by this that he actually had one of his own sons inoculated as well.

In order to spread the word of the successful operation, Montagu would write essays about the importance and the benefits of the inoculation. That it would have such an positive effect to their society, would improve health, and would save lives. Montagu and her daughter began to travel to households of the elite and Montagu would hold discussions about the benefits and spread the word about the process. Montagu eventually received support from Princess Caroline (wife of future George II) when she became interested in the results of the experiments. The Princess helped to set up a larger trial of the process. Six prisoners were also inoculated and proved that the procedure was safe and they remained smallpox free. Princess Caroline proceeded to have her children inoculated.

Throughout the 1720s, many other aristocratic families followed suit and Montagu’s experiments were widely reported in the newspapers. Naturally, there would be a great deal of criticism which she had predicted all the way back in Turkey. Some in the medical field did not support it as they would be losing a great deal of money from the fees they collected treating the same patients multiple times for smallpox. They also did not trust in Montagu’s “findings” as she was a female. Some just wanted more evidence. The Church viewed this early vaccination process as going against God’s will. On a few of Montagu’s cross-country travels to the elite households, she was met with looks of disgust. Her own sister refused to inoculate her own son (who would later die of smallpox).

By now Lady Montagu was famous and her writings were well disbursed. The newspapers also associated her with all the discussions about the medical practice. She would address her critics as well through her essays. She clearly explains every detail of the inoculation process and talk about what she witnessed in Turkey. She discussed how thousands there have gone through the process and the good it had done for their cities. She also addresses how she “shall sell no drugs, nor take no Fees … I shall get nothing by it, but the private satisfaction of having done good to Mankind.”

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu would go on to live her life to the fullest (and never to society’s rigid expectations). At the age of 47 ( now separated from her husband), she would travel to Europe after falling for a 24 year old Italian man. Sadly, that relationship did not last long, but she continued to travel the continent meeting new people and learning about different cultures. She did this for just about 20 years. She died in 1762 in England.

Lady Montagu was extremely influential in early vaccinations. She did not invent the process, but she was key in spreading the knowledge to the West. She was the first Briton to prove that inoculation was safe and effective. Without her writings and her headstrong spirit, these ideas and this progress may have taken much longer to reach England and the rest of the West. She also did not back down to society’s expectations and instead found her own ways to become involved politically. She would be viewed as an influencer and intellectual in today’s eyes. Lady Mary Wortley Montagu was an early advocate whose work helped make vaccines, like the COVID 19 vaccine, to be possible.

Sources:

Willett, Jo. 2021. “Mary Wortley Montagu: The Scourge of Smallpox”. BBC History Magazine, July 2021.

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/44766/town-eclogues-saturday-the-small-pox

Barnes, Diana. 2012. “The Public Life of a Woman of Wit and Quality: Lady Mary Wortley Montague and the Vogue for Smallpox Inoculation”. Feminist Studies, Summer 2012.

Montagu, Mary Wortley. Edited by Teresa Heffernan and Daniel O’Quinn. 2013. The Turkish Embassy Letters. Toronto: Broadview Editions.

https://www.britannica.com/biography/Lady-Mary-Wortley-Montagu

biography · english history · european history · history

The Strength of Queen Katherine

In this post, I wanted to focus on Queen Katherine of Aragon, the first wife of Henry VIII of England. With all the focus on Anne Boleyn, Katherine is typically remembered for her struggles later in life. She is remembered as the old, unattractive, stubborn woman who was being replaced by her young and vivacious lady in waiting. In reality, Katherine of Aragon was an extremely strong woman, a very popular queen and a role model for many of her subjects. She was intelligent and educated. She was also loyal to a fault. She was born of Queen Isabella (who was the queen of Castile in her own right) and King Ferdinand. She was trained for queenship since she was a toddler and prepared entirely for her role as a leader. She was integral to the success at the Battle of Flodden. It is easy to see why she remained popular with England’s subjects even after the King had decided to put her aside.

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biography · english history · history · Scottish History

Battle of Bannockburn and Robert the Bruce (Part 3)

Part One ( The Great Cause (Part 1) )

Part Two ( William Wallace’s Rebellion (Part 2) )

In 1297, the Robert the Bruce was 22 years old. In part 1 of this series, his grandfather (also named Robert Bruce) was one of the contenders for the Scottish throne but lost to John Balliol. The Bruce family was still one of the most powerful Scottish families and were determined to see their claim to the throne fulfilled. They sided with Edward I when the first rebellions broke out.  This was because they refused to back their rival John Balliol and hoped others would support their claim. Now, the young Robert Bruce, against the wishes of his father, decided to join the Wallace’s rebellion in 1297. In 1298, Bruce was named Guardian of Scotland. His rival, John Comyn (the nephew of John Balliol), was also named co-Guardian. The men disliked each other and again were beginning to split into factions, just like their previous relations. Yet, despite these factions, in 1302 Edward received oaths of allegiance from all parties. Was young Robert the Bruce going to honor this oath?

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biography · english history · european history · history · Scottish History

William Wallace’s Rebellion (Part 2)

In part one of this series (The Great Cause (Part 1)), Edward I had forced the Scottish nobles and their King to swear an oath of allegiance to him as their “overlord”. As he believed he had finally subjugated Scotland, the English king attended to affairs in other parts of his kingdom. After the betrayal of John Balliol and a failed rebellion, Edward I completely occupied Scotland. He sent soldiers to ensure his rule would continue. The people of Scotland were taken advantage of and abused under this military occupation. Scotland needed a new champion to take up their cause for freedom. Their nobles had failed them with their infighting and military defeats, so it was time for one of their own to pick up his sword.

William Wallace’s background is hazy and was thought to be the son of a minor feudal lord in Renfrewshire or Ayrshire. He seems to have grown up with military training which contributed to his later success. He was a very tall man . He was over six feet when the average male height was about 5’6” (though this physical characteristic was highly exaggerated in legends). Walter Bower (author of  the Scotichronicon) describes him as having “a certain good humour, had so blessed his words and deeds with a certain heavenly gift, that…he won over to himself the grace and favour of the hearts of all loyal Scots.” Bower also described him as “fair in his judgments”, compassionate, patient, and a skilled orator. Yet, English sources would describe him as “a vagrant and a fugitive”, a “bloody man”, and “a chief of brigands” (Morris, pg 303).

Continue reading “William Wallace’s Rebellion (Part 2)”

english history · european history · history · Scottish History

The Great Cause (Part 1)

This month I was supposed to be travelling to Scotland with one of my best friends. Scotland has been a dream trip of mine for a while, but it seems 2020 had other plans for me and so many others in similar situations. I hope to re-schedule, but, in the meantime, I would love to share some Scottish history in a new three-part series. This series will focus on the First Scottish War of Independence (1296-1328). This was a time that was filled with fascinating characters, intriguing military battles, and cunning tactics. On the English side, we have Edward I, “The Hammer of the Scots”. Edward was one of the strongest monarchs in English history, but also has a reputation of being a tyrant. Later, his weaker son, Edward II, will struggle to carry on his father’s legacy. There are some familiar names on the Scottish side such as: William Wallace and the legendary King Robert the Bruce. Along the way there will be a sprinkling of minor characters, including a brilliant sneaky re-capture of Edinburgh by Thomas Randolph, Earl of Moray. I am greatly looking forward to this series and I hope it will provide an interesting read!

The Lothians - East, West & Midlothian | VisitScotland
A photo of Edinburgh, which was our travel destination (https://www.visitscotland.com/destinations-maps/edinburgh-lothians/)

In 1286, Alexander III of Scotland died and ended what had been considered a golden age of the Scottish kingdom. At 45 years old, King Alexander decided to risk it all and take a dangerous ride through a stormy night in order to spend the night with his new young bride of twenty-two years old. The next morning, he was found dead at the rocks at the bottom of a cliff. It was a disaster for Scotland as Alexander III had survived all his children and his new young wife had not yet produced an heir. With the throne up for grabs, powerful factions began to form which threatened the stability that had been a constant in the prior Kings reign. The main players were John de Balliol and Robert Bruce (senior, his grandson will become the more famous Bruce). Rebellion and civil war threatened Scotland due to the succession crisis and infighting between the two factions.

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biography · english history · european history · history

Book Spotlight: The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper by Hallie Rubenhold

In this post I wanted to highlight a new book by author and historian, Hallie Rubenhold. The Five is a history that involves the now infamous story of Jack the Ripper. Jack the Ripper was a serial killer that terrorized Victorian London. In the modern area, it seems his killing spree has almost been glorified through the media and tourist attractions. It is all about Jack the Ripper, his mysterious identity, and his modus operendi. His victims are only remembered as “prostitutes”, but can any of us even recite their names?

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Ancient History · english history · european history · history

Roman Frontiers: Antonine Wall

The final season of the popular show Game of Thrones is almost upon us, but much of the world that George R.R. Martin created was inspired by true events. This would include Hadrian’s Wall in England and the Antonine Wall in Scotland. These walls were the boundary of the known world for the Romans during the second century. Just as fan favorite, Jon Snow, looked out into the great unknown from atop the icy Wall, it would have been just as intimidating for the Romans who looked over these historical walls at the expanse of Scotland. They were at the edge of their known world, which could have been very intimidating. So, while there may not have been white walkers, to the Romans, there could have been anything.

Image result for the wall game of thrones
The Wall from HBO’s Game of Thrones

With this post I wanted to pay more attention to the lesser known Antonine Wall rather than the more established Hadrian’s wall. The Antonine Wall was the furthest point that the Roman empire stretched into Britannia. It was only manned for about twenty five years before the wall was abandoned. The wall cut modern Scotland in half as it crossed the land between Clyde to Forth (about 37 miles long). It was made mostly out of layers of turf rather than stone (like Hadrian’s) with a deep ditch that ran along with it. Forts would have been laid out along the wall, including Rough Castle, which would hold the 7,000 men that would have been stationed there. There would have also been a military service road that connected those at the wall with the rest of the empire in Britain. Continue reading “Roman Frontiers: Antonine Wall”

biography · english history · history

Aethelflaed: The Heroine of Mercia

Aethelflaed has received a revival of interest with the popularity of the show The Last Kingdom and other media. She is a fascinating character, but, in this post, I wanted to answer two questions. Who was the actual Aethelflaed and why is she so important to English history? I believe she is an important female figure who is often overshadowed by others during the Anglo-Saxon period. In the year 911, Aethelflaed, known as the Lady of the Mercians, took over the command of the kingdom of Mercia after her husband’s death. She was not just a regent until the next male heir came of age but was viewed as the head of government by her own people. She is known as an effective military commander, diplomat, and a benevolent ruler. By the end of Aethelflaed’s reign, she contributed much to the eventual consolidation of Saxon England.

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english history · european history · history

A Christmas to Remember: The Truce of 1914

Image result for all together now statue
“All Together Now” by Artist Andrew Edwards.

Christmas Eve, 1914

“It must have been sad do you say? Well I am not sorry to have spent it there and the recollection of it will ever be one of imperishable beauty. At midnight a baritone stood up and in a rich resonant voice sang, Minuit Chretiens. The cannonade ceased and when the hymn finished applause broke out from our side and from the German trenches! The Germans were celebrating Christmas too and we could hear them singing two hundred yards from us. Now I am going to tell you something which you will think incredible but I give you my word that it is true. At dawn the Germans displayed a placard over the trenches on which was written Happy Christmas then, leaving their trenches, unarmed they advanced towards us singing and shouting “comrades!”. No one fired. We also had left our trenches and separated from each other only by the half frozen Yser, we exchanged presents. They gave us cigars and we threw them some chocolate. Thus almost fraternizing we passed the morning. Unlikely indeed, but true. I saw it but thought I was dreaming.” -Letter from a Belgian soldier printed in The Times, 1915

World War I began in July of 1914 with the expectation on both sides that it would be a quick victory. Over the course of 51 months the war would bring a devastating death toll of 15 to 19 million soldiers and civilians. This tragic event would practically destroy a whole generation and cause much pain to the families that had to endure. It is easy to remember the death and destruction this war brought, but it is also just as important to remember the positive points. There were moments that showed there was still hope, kindness, and generosity despite differences. In the spirit of Christmas, I wanted to dive into the unusual occasion of the Christmas Eve truce in 1914. This was truly brought on by the common soldier and the truce itself was unofficial and spontaneous. The men found that despite the death, destruction and bad feelings that had surrounded them since the summer; they could take the opportunity to still share a common experience with their enemy. It seems unbelievable to us now (and definitely to the soldiers then) that Christmas Carols were sung with their enemies. These were the same enemies that had fired shoots at them the day before. This is the story and experience of the Christmas Truce 1914.

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english history · european history · history

Will the Mystery of the Princes in the Tower Finally Have Answers?

Could the mystery of the Princes in the Tower finally be solved?

In 1674, workers (while remodeling the Tower of London) came upon two child skeletons that were hidden in box under a staircase. Instantly, to the 17th century contemporaries, these bones were assumed to have been the lost Plantagenet princes (Edward V and Prince Richard). Sir Thomas More, in his histories, wrote specifically that the princes were buried “at a stair-foot” (possibly this information came from interviews with those who lived during the time of Richard III or maybe More was just making assumptions). This was enough for Charles II who had the bones buried at Westminster Abbey where they have remained to this day.

But, these bones have never been tested. There is no proof that these were the Princes except that they were found in the last location that the Princes had lived and were bones of children. Now, there might be a chance to solve this mystery once and for all. A direct descendant of Jacquetta of Luxembourg (the prince’s maternal grandmother) has been found and has allowed a sample of her DNA to be used to test against the bones found in the tower. From what I have read, it has been very difficult search to find a direct descendant (which makes sense due to the over 500 year time gap). The only hurdle now is to get permission from Westminster to exhume the bones once again in order to complete this test. Again, from what I have read, it seems that Westminster has been unwilling in the past to allow this, but maybe with having this solid DNA sample they may be more accepting.

Continue reading “Will the Mystery of the Princes in the Tower Finally Have Answers?”