Let’s talk about the macabre: was Byron truly so original

Dressing up in macabre costumes and seeking to frighten others for pleasure has been

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Lord Byron

considered as entertainment for centuries. The Victorians loved their gothic reconstructions and the Tudors loved the intrigue of hiding behind masks and dressing up so they could pretend to be someone else. Then the infamous Lord Byron set up his group of wild friends at his ancient, mostly fallen down, Newstead Abbey. There they drank their toasts from the crown of a monk’s skull while playing blind man’s buff with his pet bear. Byron also loved to dress in false monks’ robes and to lead his friends in ceremonies. There is also the picture of him in his Turkish costume which again professes how much he liked to lead fashion and act a part.

Byron liked to be one of the ringleaders in shocking others with his macabre behaviour. For instance setting Shelley, his young mistress and her sister to writing ghost stories on a dark stormy night abroad;  the tale that became Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. But was Byron really as original as he would have had his friends think? Or was he flattering another man, a man, by his actions, I would guess he revered for achieving shocking acclaim years before Byron.

IMG_1004You may have heard of the Hellfire Club, set up by Sir Francis Dashwood, Lord le Despencer. The Hellfire Club was established long before Byron’s birth. To the left is Dashwood, dressed as both a monk and in eastern attire.

 

But the similarity in Byron’s behaviour extends not only to his choice of costumes but also his choice of macabre games and there setting.

Sir Francis also loved a mock ceremony and while Byron had inherited his abbey, Sir Francis had rented one solely to host his ceremonies. You can read more about Medmenham Abbey on the board in the picture below.

When the Hellfire Club met the men wore their monks’ robes the women wore masks to cover their identity and they went by pseudonyms.

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Byron’s last supper in England, that he ate in the company his closest friends (those who knew his most shocking secrets and overlooked them), is often spoken of. Yet Sir Francis took his ceremonies much further towards the shocking by naming his clubs superiors as twelve men, the apostles. These twelve men wore different robes to those who were deemed inferior. Sir Francis saw himself as the group’s antichrist and toasted the devil.

Sir Francis began clearing out the tunnels of the former mine in 1748 to create his network of caves. He dug down into a hill beneath his family church and set up his inner temple, where only his apostles might go, 100 meters, exactly beneath, the church. He rented Medmenham Abbey in 1750 probably about the time the caves were also finished and the clubs pattern of macabre ceremonies began.

The Hellfire Club’s gatherings in the caves began in the banqueting hall, where after a dinner, served by Dashwood’s servants, they entertained themselves in the niches about the room. Then the twelve superiors separated themselves from the crowd and walked on through more symbolic tunnels, over an underground stream (the river Styx) to the inner temple where no one knows what they got up to because none of them told the tale.

 

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The Marlow Intrigues: Perfect for lovers of period drama

The Tainted Love of a Captain #8 – The last episode in the Marlow Intrigues series

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The Lost Love of Soldier ~ The Prequel #1 ~ A Christmas Elopement began it all 

The Illicit Love of a Courtesan #2 

The Passionate Love of a Rake #3

The Scandalous Love of a Duke #4

The Dangerous Love of a Rogue #5

The Jealous Love of a Scoundrel #5.5

The Persuasive Love of a Libertine #5.75  now included in Jealous Love, (or free if you can persuade Amazon to price match with Kobo ebooks) 😉

The Secret Love of a Gentleman #6 

The Reckless Love of an Heir #7

Jane’s books can be ordered from most booksellers in paperback

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Go to the index

For

  • the story of the real courtesan who inspired  The Illicit Love of a Courtesan,
  • another free short story, about characters from book #2, A Lord’s Scandalous Love,
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Jane Lark is a writer of authentic, passionate and emotional historical and contemporary stories, and the author of a No.1 bestselling Historical Romance novel in America, ‘The Illicit Love of a Courtesan’.Click here to find out more about Jane’s books, and see Jane’s website www.janelark.co.uk to learn more about Jane. Or click  ‘like’ on Jane’s Facebook  page. You can also follow Jane on twitter at @janelark

Fascinating Historic Graffiti at Fountains Abbey, Helmsley Castle and Sudeley Castle

People who have read my blogs for a while know I have two slightly eccentric passions for history. One’s old trees – definitely a bit of a mad obsession – and the other is graffiti.

Fountains Abbey Leisure Gardens

I think it’s my imagination which gets me going over these things because when I see trees I am thinking who walked past this, when, or leant against it or – I mean hundreds of people for hundreds of years could have had something happen in their lives near the tree and my head tries to get into their lives and picture what they were thinking, feeling and doing at the time. It’s very odd because of course it’s the same with houses, even more so, but my imagination is more intoxicated by trees and my other passion graffiti, than houses – odd I know.

The Tudor Mansion at Helmsley

But today anyway this little cheeky blog is on my other passion – for graffiti – I mean just think who was it who stood there and carved it out, what was going on in their lives, in their head? Were they laughing? Were they with a partner, or a friend, joking? Had they just had a tryst? Were they serious and thoughtful and seeking solitude? Angry? Contemplative? Afraid?

Sudeley Tudor Castle

I’ve said before the graffiti in The Tower of London is my favourite. Most of it dates from King Henry VIII or Queen Elizabeth I’s time when they would shut noblemen and women away for months in the tower rooms rather than in the dungeons. But I discovered loads more on holiday in Yorkshire this year (where some of the scene’s from my debut novel, Illicit Love are set)

Fountains Abbey Medieval Mill

So first there was this which I discovered at Fountains Abbey in the medieval mill – although the graffiti dates to the 1700 and 1800s not medieval times. A lot of 18th and 19th century graffiti is by tourists as it was fashionable for the more wealthy middle classes and the senior classes to idle away a day by riding out and exploring ruins. But on this door in the mill which the National Trust have preserved, are carved names they believe were workers. The fabulous leisure gardens which did bring many visitors at the time are beyond a gate from here so it’s believed it was not tourists.

Fountains Abbey graffiti from the 1800s

Fountains Abbey graffiti from the 1700s

Fountains Abbey graffiti from the 1700s

There is also another area of graffiti in the mill on a window frame.

Helmsley Castle Gatehouse

Then I found this even more exciting graffiti at Helmsley Castle. I love the town of Helmsley. The medieval castle, which was updated with a Tudor mansion in Queen Elizabeth I’s reign, is on the edge of the town it’s owned by English Heritage and like many castles is only a ruin thanks to the Civil War. In 1644 Helmsley Castle was besieged by 700 men on foot and 300 men on horseback and the siege lasted for 3 months. However at the end of the siege the Parliamentarian army let the 200 strong Royalist Garrison encamped at Helmsley leave peaceable through the gatehouse in a procession. They had been starved out and their defence of the castle had earned the respect of the Parliamentarians. So interesting then to see this graffiti dating to the 1600’s on the walls of the gatehouse.

Helmsley Castle graffiti from the 1600s

Helmsley Castle Graffiti from the 1600s

Helmsley Castle Graffiti from the 1600s

There are some 19th century tourist’s marks too. They were probably cut by friends of the family from Duncombe Park who owned the land Helmsley Castle was on then and who’d made the castle ruins a folly for them to view in the garden of their fashionable early 18th century mansion, or perhaps they were just people from the nearby town – some land owners allowed locals in their parks and one of the Duncombe family married a lower class woman he saw while out riding, having then spoken to her parents and sent her to school to learn how to be a lady.

Helmsley Castle graffiti from 1800s

Perhaps – perhaps – perhaps – it’s all imagination engendered by a few marks on a wall.

Oh and I might as well slip these in while I’m talking of graffiti – not from Yorkshire but from Sudeley Castle which was also ruined in the Civil War. Sudeley Castle was partly restored though and while half the castle is a ruin the other half is lived in. Actually Sudelely is another place I’ve drawn inspiration from for scenes in my debut novel – Mmm there’s a pattern forming here.

Sudeley Castle Graffiti from the 1800s

Sudeley Castle Graffiti from the 1800s

Sudeley Castle Graffiti from the 1700s

More Historic Graffiti from Sudeley Castle

More Historic Graffiti from Sudeley Castle

More Historic Graffiti from Sudeley Castle

 

Jane Lark is a writer of authentic, passionate and emotional love stories.

See the side bar for details of Jane’s books, and Jane’s website www.janelark.co.uk to learn more about Jane. Or click  ‘like’ on Jane’s Facebook  page to see photo’s and learn historical facts from the Georgian, Regency and Victorian eras, which Jane publishes there. You can also follow Jane on twitter at @janelark