King’s Lynn and The War of the Spanish Succession

We recently told you about our new project, working to transcribe the Hall Books of the King’s Lynn Borough Archives. This blog is an example of something of interest found as part of that project, showing how worldwide events were affecting the borough, and how the Town Council in turn were responding to them.

On Wednesday 19th June 1706, in the midst of the War of the Spanish Succession, it was decided that the Town Council would write a letter to Queen Anne, reacting to the events happening on the continent. The war was a European-wide conflict, lasting from 1701 until 1714, which was triggered by the death of the childless Charles II of Spain in November 1700. Thanks to the tangled web created by various European royal families intermarrying and producing offspring, it was unclear who should succeed. Charles II’s will designated Louis XIV of France’s second grandson, Philip (a member of the French Bourbon dynasty) as heir. However, concerned about the European balance of power, England, the United Provinces (or Dutch Republic) and Austria-Hungry formed a ‘Grand Alliance’, and pushed instead for the succession of the Archduke Charles, the younger son of Leopold, the Holy Roman Emperor. This led to war between the Grand Alliance, and the Bourbon Alliance of France and Bourbon Spain.

Queen Anne Letter 1

Queen Anne Letter 2

The Council’s “Address to the Queen’s Most Excellent Majestie”. NRO, KL/C 7/12

By 1706, when the letter was written, Allied victories in Italy and the Low Countries had forced the French army back within their borders, and control of the sea allowed the Allies to conduct successful offensives in Spain. On the 23rd May, an Allied force under the Duke of Marlborough shattered a French force at the Battle of Ramillies, today located in Belgium. The Allies were able to exploit their advantage, and managed to capture the majority of the Spanish Netherlands.

The letter begins as follows:

To the Queen’s Most Excellent Majesty.

The humble Address of the Maior, Recorder, Aldermen and Com[m]on Councill of Yo[ur] Ma[jes]ties Ancient Bur[rou]gh of Kings Lynn May it pleas Yo[ur] Ma[jes]tie

Having ever since our hap[p]y Revoluc[i]on (w[hi]ch Restored our English Constitution) undergone the various Events of a Long Warr with the utmost Chearfullness and Alacrity. Our Zeale can never Slacken (but Encrease) under Yo[u]r Ma[jes]ties Reigne of Wonders, Who is Raised by Providence to Extricate Us out of the greatest Difficulties, And to put a hooke into the Nostills of that great Leviathan who hath soe long sported himself upon our Waters.

The “hap[p]y Revoluc[i]on” referred to is the Glorious Revolution. This occurred in 1688-89 when Queen Anne’s Protestant sister, Mary, along with her Dutch husband, William of Orange, overthrew their father, the Catholic James II. In the period leading up to this, King’s Lynn was unsettled, with various factions competing for power within the Town Council, and letters arriving from James II purging the Council of those he saw as undesirable, and instructing those that remained who to elect as Mayor. Thanks to the Revolution, however, the Protestant faction were victorious – indeed, the idea that Queen Anne was “Raised by Providence” is a particularly Protestant statement. The invasion, however, was considered a declaration of war between France and the Dutch Republic, leading to the Nine Years War from 1689 until 1697.


Engraved portrait of Queen Anne. NRO, Y/C 2/15

The idea of France as a “great Leviathan” was particularly common in the 18th century. The Leviathan was a great sea monster mentioned in the Bible, and was often used to refer to a seemingly insurmountable enemy, or an overwhelmingly powerful person or thing. In 1651, Thomas Hobbes had written a book of political philosophy, entitled ‘Leviathan’, which argued for rule by an absolute sovereign. In 1706, France was ruled by King Louis XIV, known as the Sun King, one of the most powerful French rulers in history, and who helped to create an absolutist monarchy in France. With the former James II in exile at the French court, and King Louis opposing the new king of England, the French monarchy supported the various attempts of James and his descendants to regain the throne. Being a maritime borough, close to the east coast, it is easy to see why the inhabitants of King’s Lynn were concerned about the French “sporting” upon English waters – whilst the Battle of Beachy Head (1690) had been in the distant English Channel, the Battle of Dogger Bank (1696) was perhaps a little too close for comfort. Such battles could also have an impact on the trade which was a vital part of the borough’s economy.

The letter continues:

It is Yo[u]r Ma[jes]ties Genius that Inspires, ‘Tis Yo[u]r Choise yt Enables Yo[u]r brave Generall the Duke of Marlborough to make our Streets Thus often resound with the Joyfull Noise of Victories, Those Strokes are Masterpeeces not to be found in the Louvre at Versailles. Whilst with One Blow he Reduces the Treacherous Bavarian and makes him Fly his Owne Country, With This Other he drives him out of his French Governm[en]t too…

The Duke of Marlborough was John Churchill, later described as Britain’s finest general in a biography written by his most famous descendant, Winston Churchill. In 1704, Marlborough had triumphed at the Battle of Blenheim (and as a reward had received the palace of the same name), and in May 1706 had overseen the victory at Ramillies, which we can assume this letter was responding to. The “Treacherous Bavarian” is presumably Maximilian II, Elector of Bavaria. He had a stake in the Spanish inheritance, and had allied himself with the French. However, he was disastrously defeated at Blenheim, and forced to flee to the Spanish Netherlands, and again at Ramillies, when he found refuge in the court at Versailles.


John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, artist unknown

…But noe less wonderfull are All the rest of ye Steps of Yo[ur] Ma[jes]ties Governm[en]t upon the Main Continent (Even the furthest parts of Spain nearest France) Wee See the Large Provinces of Catalonia & Valentia (with an Amazeing Success) Reduced to their Lawfull Sovereigne; where our Brave English Peterborough’s Zeal for the Honour of his Prince & Country hath Rivalled even the Longest Experience…

From 14th September 1705, the Allies had been besieging Barcelona. On 19th October, Charles Mordaunt, the 3rd Earl of Peterborough, captured the city from its Spanish Bourbonic defenders. Following this, on 24th January 1706, Peterborough led a handful of English cavalrymen into Valencia after riding south from Barcelona, captured the nearby fortress at Sagunt, and forced the Spanish Bourbon army to withdraw. The English held the city for sixteen months, defeating several attempts to expel them – as the council concede,

… it is as Difficult to Preserve as Gaine…

This was proving to be the case by 1710, when the Allies were expelled from central Spain. Casualties and costs were mounting, and the aims of the various powers involved in the Grand Alliance were diverging. The Tories came to power in Britain in the same year, and vowed to end the war. In 1712, the British ceased fighting, and in 1713, the Treaty of Utrecht recognised Philip, Duke of Anjou, as king of Spain, confirming the will of Charles II, but on the condition that he renounce any right to the French throne.

The address ends with a fawning statement somewhat typical of addresses towards monarchs of the 18th century (despite the best efforts of Oliver Cromwell sixty years previously):

Wee are thankfully convince[ed] Yo[u]r Ma[jes]tie is the best Protector as well as the greatest Ornam[en]t and Benefactor of our Established Church, And are best Judge of w[ha]t is for its Advantage. And If any party, Faction (out of a Private Ambition) should Endeavour to Insinuate any Groundless Fears, Or Erect us any other Guarantees (that Yo[ur] Ma[jes]ties Dayly Actions) As Wee are satisfyed It is Endeavouring to Alienate & transfer from Your Ma[jes]tie the Affection of Your Subjects and their just Dependency on Your Person Soe It is to Robb us of Our Peace & Quiett.

That Yo[u]r Ma[jes]tie may be alwayes feared & honoured abroad Beloved and Reverenc’t at home, As It shall be alwayes (In our low Spheer) Our Utmost Wishes & Endeavours Soe may bee deemed unworthy the name of an Englishman That doth not heartily say Amen.

There is also a slightly defensive tone, as the authors distance themselves from anyone who might be wishing to cause trouble for the crown. In the past 100 years, the inhabitants of King’s Lynn had seen a monarchy, Civil War, a republic, a restoration of the monarch, and what was effectively an invasion by a foreign prince. There had been only three peaceful successions between six monarchs (and two Lord Protectors). It was, then, perhaps best to ensure that they were in the good books of the current sovereign.

Queen Anne only lived to be flattered by her subjects for another eight years. In December 1713 she became seriously ill, and the country dreaded a civil war. The events of the previous thirteen years had shown what could happen on the death of a childless monarch. Anne hung on until 1st August 1714, when she died, and a remote German cousin, George of Hanover, was invited to take the throne.

Proclamation of King George I

Proclamation of King George I. NRO, KL/C 7/12

For your chance to find out about other events like this, try your hand at transcribing the King’s Lynn Hall Books here.

Chloe Phillips, Project Officer.

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The Work of an Archivist

At the very beginning of this month, the Education and Outreach team were out and about delivering our new The Work of an Archivist workshop to the Year 5s at Mundesley Junior School.

The workshop explores the work of not only the archivists but the conservators, the searchroom team, the digitisation team, the strongroom team and of course the education and outreach team here at the Norfolk Record Office.

We started by playing a game based on a type of document called an indenture,  this was an agreement between two people written on one piece of parchment and then cut with a zig zag line so both could keep a copy of the document without fear of fraud.   The game involves finding the other half of your question/answer, having fun and finding out more about the Norfolk Record Office (NRO).  The children discovered many interesting facts including;   the NRO looks after over 12 million documents and that our oldest document is over 900 years old.

Mundesley Nov 2018 (3)

Palaeography skills in action

Our second activity  gave the children the opportunity to look at copies of documents and put them into chronological order.  The documents included letters from Nelson, a 19th century letter from a child to an uncle and a document to fill in if you were injured during the First World War and our oldest document.  The children showed impressive palaeography skills.

We next explored how to handle documents, thinking about what we could do to prevent the documents from any damage e.g.  having clean hands, using pencils not pens, not leaning on documents.


Mundesley Nov 2018 (4)

Putting into practice what we have learnt today.

The final activity put into practice what we had learnt during the day, thinking about the Journey of a document from attic to archive.

Find out more about our free workshops for schools here 





Quotes from Mundesley Junior School Year 5

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The Mad Monk of Hickling Priory

The Priory

Hickling priory plat 1

Hicking Priory. NRO, MC 530/8/21

Hickling Priory was founded in 1185 by Theobald de Valentina and was occupied by around 10 Black Canons, a denomination that worshipped the Virgin Mary, St. Austin and All Saints who lived communally with no possessions. The priory in Hickling was a pillar of the community as the monks ran schools and hospitals and were involved in farming in the surrounding areas.

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Hickling tithe map showing the priory and surroundings. NRO, DN/TA 748

The Mad Monk

There was once a monk from Hickling Priory who was responsible for keeping the records of the priory’s accounts. After supposedly being unable to keep the records consistent and forging the numbers, he feared detection and went mad.

After his death, the Mad Monk was reportedly seen by swindlers and profiteers in the area. The monk scared them away, warning that their misdeeds and unsavoury occupations would result in terrible consequences. A group of explorers looking for a high altar in the area reported seeing an aged, haggard, “woefully thin” man holding a in a tunnel near the priory who would yell in terror and flee further into the passage (NRO, RYE 139). It was said that he appeared with a scroll and would pace the tunnel, trying to add up columns of numbers.

To this day, the Mad Monk wanders around the premises of the priory and there have been a number of sightings over the years.

Rosie Barrie

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Did Cromwell come to stay, and what’s Beadle about?

A local legend came to light in an early meeting of the fledgling Hapton History group; Oliver Cromwell stayed in the village during the English Civil War. The story had been passed around by word of mouth, one current resident remembering the shopkeeper having removed a plaque from the local stables citing the fact. But how to go about proving a local legend?

Continue reading

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The Witches of Lynn

It’s strange how one thing leads to another. When I was researching the French POWs in King’s Lynn, I came across Devil’s Alley, where the warehouse that was used for temporary accommodation was situated. This led on to the legend of Devil’s Alley- related in the King’s Lynn All Saints Church website:

“It is said that the devil’s hoof print is to be seen in Devil’s Alley off Nelson Street in Kings Lynn. The devil arrived by ship to the town, and disembarked to steal some souls, but he was spotted by a priest who drove him away with prayers and a dousing with holy water. The infuriated devil stamped his hoof with anger so hard that he left his imprint.”


The Devil was all too real back in those days- people believed he was a physical entity who chased souls and with whom certain people- witches- could communicate. The Witchfinder General didn’t just exist in Hammer horror films. For 14 terrifying months he ran amok throughout East Anglia at considerable profit to himself “clearing towns of witches”, and indeed was invited to King’s Lynn to do just that.

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Extract from the King’s Lynn Hall Book, f 187. KLBA, KL/C 7/10

It seems that, once he had reduced his victims to complete submission with techniques we now call sleep deprivation and water boarding, he asked when it was that the “witch” first communicated with the Devil.

The frenzy for witch hunting really began in the reign of James I, who apparently came into contact with it in Germany, but fear of witches had been rife decades before then- as witness the legend of the witch’s heart at number 17 Tuesday Market Place. The Market Place had long been a place for public execution, and the story goes that one witch who was burned alive in 1590 was Margaret Read. At the moment of death, her heart burst from her body, struck the wall, leaving the mark still to be seen today, then, with an energy all its own, bounced its way to the river, presumably via Page Stair Street, and plunged into the river, causing it to froth and boil.

Margaret Read was an actual person, and details can be found in the St Margaret parish register (NRO, PD 39/1). There are two possible candidates. One was baptised there on March 25th 1568.

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Parish Register for St Margaret, King’s Lynn. NRO, PD 39/1

This would have made her 22 in 1590. Most witches seem to have been old women, though not exclusively so, as witness the stories of the Witches of Salem, and of Pendle Hill. The other candidate was Margaret Hammond, who married Thomas Read at St Margaret on April 8th, 1562 (PD 39/2).

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Extract from Parish Register for St Margaret, King’s Lynn. NRO, PD 39/2

From researching my own family at the Norfolk Heritage Centre in the Forum in Norwich, my impression is that in those days, marriage generally happened around the age of 20, so in 1590, Margaret Hammond-Read would have been around 48 or 50, which perhaps makes her a more likely witch.

In his History of the Borough of King’s Lynn, Henry Hillen has something to say about witchcraft in general and about Matthew Hopkins. He also names a number of other witches who were executed in the 1590s.

4 Hillen p848

Extract from History of the Borough of King’s Lynn, by Henry Hillen, p848


Other executions included Mary Smith, burnt in 1616, Dorothy Lee and Grace Wright, hanged in 1646, and Dorothy Floyd, or Lloyd, in 1650.

But to return to the Witchfinder General- Matthew Hopkins began his career in Manningtree, Essex, and at a time when the average worker’s daily pay was 2 pence, he was paid £23 to cleanse the town of Chelmsford of evil, including the inevitable torturings and burnings. One of his techniques was to use a pricker to test whether bite marks, scars or nipples were immune to pain, as they were reputed to be after suckling the Devil. The pricker was a three inch spike which was plunged into the victim, who of course, felt no pain, and the pricker left their flesh not having drawn blood, which was further proof. Hardly surprising, as the instrument was something like the plastic dagger I had as a child, where the blade was spring-mounted and retracted into the handle under pressure.

As indicated above, on 11th May 1646, Alderman Thomas Revitt was delegated to approach Hopkins, and there is a transcript of “Extracts from King’s Lynn Borough records relating to Matthew Hopkins’ visit to Lynn in 1646 “

The Chamberlain’s Account of 1645-6 (KLBA, KL/C39/102) contains two entries under the heading ‘Gifts and extraordinary Charges’, for expenses of sending messengers to Matthew Hopkins.

5 kl-c_39-102 Hopkins-edit

Extract from the Chamberlain’s Account of 1645-6. KLBA KL/C 39/102

So Matthew Hopkins came to Lynn. On the 2nd September 1646 it was ordered that he be paid £15, “to be borne by the towne” (KLBA, KL/C 7/10).

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Extract from King’s Lynn Hall Book. KLBA, KL/C 7/10, f 193 verso

Though later in September it was ordered that he was paid £20 “for his pains and in full discharge of his demands”:

7 kl-c_7-10 f195

Extract from King’s Lynn Hall Book. KLBA, KL/C 7/10, f 195

There is a book in the Archive the minutes from the Quarter Sessions where the charges against those accused of witchcraft were heard (KLBA, KL/C 21/2).

8 kl-c_21-2 Session opening

Extract from King’s Lynn Unreformed Corporation sessions minutes. KL/C 21/2

There is an entry for each of the accused, a list of witnesses, several of whom, along with Hopkins himself, seem to be giving evidence against more than one of the accused- of which more shortly- and the verdict.

Grace Wright was found guilty, and she was hanged in 1646.

9 kl-c_21-2 Grace Wright

Extract from King’s Lynn Unreformed Corporation sessions minutes for Grace Wright. KL/C 21/2

Thomas Dempster, Cicily Taylor, Dorothy Griffin, Katherine Banks and Emma Godfrey were all found not guilty, while the trial of Lidiah Browne was postponed, as she was, unsurprisingly given Hopkins’ methods, “not of sound mind”.

9 kl-c_21-2 Grace Wright

Extract from King’s Lynn Unreformed Corporation sessions minutes for Lidiah Browne. KL/C 21/2

In his History, Hillen also reports that Dorothy Lee was also hanged in 1646, and Dorothy Floyd or Lloyd in 1650- both due to the efforts of the Witchfinder. He also has a couple of other interesting facts to share. Going back to my point that a number of people seem to have given evidence against several of the accused, one is tempted to think that certain people considered themselves able to recognise witches. On page 848, Hillen mentions “the wonderfully omniscient Mrs Sparrow, who could not only detect those who had recently purloined goods, but point out the person who bewitched cows”. Was this a person of extrasensory talents, or someone with a grudge against the neighbours?

In spite of being paid handsomely by the town, though, the Witchfinder does not seem to have been very successful in King’s Lynn. If we look at the figures, seven people were brought before the court, but only one was found guilty. Apart from one who could not enter a pleas due to insanity, the rest were declared not guilty.

Vincent Price did much better!

Compiled by NRO Research blogger, Pete Widdows

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Volunteering Opportunity: The King’s Lynn Borough Archives Transcription Project

Image 1 - KLBA

Searchroom users at King’s Lynn Borough Archives

Thanks to a generous grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, we have been able to set up a new project, which aims to use crowdsourcing to transcribe the documents held at the King’s Lynn Borough Archives. These records have been under the administration of the Norfolk Record Office since 1974, when the King’s Lynn Borough Council agreed to become part of the county’s record service, but with the records remaining in the King’s Lynn Town Hall. The Norfolk Record Office has since worked with the borough to jointly care for the records. In 2016, the Town Hall was refurbished, with a new strongroom created to house the documents, and the public searchroom refurbished to be more comfortable for visitors. The new Stories of Lynn museum was also opened. More information about the King’s Lynn Borough Archives can be found in an earlier blog here.

Image 2 - kl-c_7-15_104

Hall Book, King’s Lynn Borough Archives. KLBA, KL/C 7/15

The initial project aims to transcribe a section of the Hall Books, which contain the minutes of meetings of the historic Town Council – the Mayor, Aldermen, and Burgesses. These include references to local issues, such as annual elections, the admission of freemen, business regulations, and orders relating to trade, public health, and amenities, as well as mentioning matters of national importance. The Borough Archives hold Hall Books dating from 1372 to 1902, under the reference KL/C 7. The plan is to focus on those dating from 1611 to 1822 (KL/C 7/9-15), as two separate projects – Georgian Lynn, followed by Civil War Lynn. The inhabitants of King’s Lynn during the Georgian period witnessed events such as the Napoleonic Wars, the American War of Independence, the passing of the Corn Laws, and the draining of the Fens, whilst those who lived during the Civil War saw the borough both fortified and besieged.

It is currently necessary to visit the King’s Lynn Borough Archives in order to view these documents. This project intends to make the contents of the Hall Books more accessible to researchers, with the ultimate aim being a catalogue which links to digital images of the books, accompanied by a relevant transcription. We are, therefore, also asking transcribers to tag both names and places that they come across, so that researchers in the future are able to find what they are looking for more easily. Already, there has been mention of street names and places within King’s Lynn itself – St Ann’s Fort and the Gaywood Road Almshouses – as well as elsewhere in the country, such as Great Yarmouth, Wisbech, and Cambridge. However, there have also been references to places and events much further afield, including great European battles at Barcelona, and English colonies in America. Similarly, the books contain references to local events, such as the sending for of the famous witch-hunter, Matthew Hopkins, and the fortification of the borough during the Civil War, as well as national events, such as victories during the War of the Spanish Succession, and the proclamation of George I as king.

Image 3 - Proclamation of King George I

Hall Book, King’s Lynn Borough Archives. KLBA, KL/C 7/12

Those interested in volunteering can visit the transcription website here, as part of the Zooniverse, which plays host to several crowdsourcing projects. High-quality digital images of the documents have been uploaded to the site, where the user is provided with a random page of the project and given the chance to transcribe it as free text. There is a tutorial and field guide, which should be able to help with any queries, but failing that, there is the ‘talk’ option, which allows users to discuss images with each other, as well as with a project administrator. It is not necessary to create a Zooniverse account in order to transcribe, but doing so prevents users from seeing the same image twice, and opens up the ‘talk’ message boards. There are also plans to host various sessions at the King’s Lynn Borough Archives, if users live locally and wish to socialise with fellow transcribers.

Image 4 - Screenshot

Screenshot from Zooniverse.

Tips for transcribers:

  • The tutorial should appear at the beginning of your first transcription session – this will explain how to set out your transcript. If you are unsure about anything during a later session, the tutorial can be viewed again by clicking the ‘tutorial’ button, above the text box.
  • The Field Guide is a tab on the right-hand side at the page – this should be a fairly comprehensive guide to anything you might be stuck with. It lays out the format of the Hall Books, gives examples of common names (under ‘Members of the Congregation’), explains how to deal with tables, deletions, insertions, and notes added to the page, and contains guides to money, Roman numerals, dates, abbreviations and contractions of words, and a letter guide.
  • The project may seem intimidating at first, but it will become much easier with practice – you will get used to the handwriting of various town clerks, become familiar with common King’s Lynn names, and have a better idea of how the Hall Books are laid out and the information they are likely to contain. If you are unfamiliar with secretary hand (the style of handwriting common in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries), we recommend that you begin with the Georgian Lynn workflow. Once you become used to this, the Civil War Lynn workflow will hopefully seem much easier.
  • It is useful, whilst you transcribe, to have open a family history site (for example, FindMyPast or Ancestry) and the Oxford English Dictionary website. The former can help to confirm readings of names, whilst the latter is handy if you are unsure about any slightly archaic words.
  • If you are having trouble with a particular image, simply refresh the webpage, and you should be provided with a brand new one.
  • Don’t feel too much pressure to ‘get it right’ – each image is being transcribed three times in total, and the results combined and compared, so any mistakes that might be made will hopefully be caught by someone else.

If you have any queries about this project, please don’t hesitate to get in touch, at

Chloe Phillips, Project Officer.

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Life in Nelson’s Navy: An Account of Joseph Emerson, a Surgeon on board the HMS Agamemnon in 1793.

The wellbeing of the men in the navy, despite leading a rough and treacherous lifestyle, was considered superior to that in the army, especially now that scurvy was on the decline. Still, being out at sea for long periods increased the risk of disease and injury. Surgeons like Joseph Emerson were employed to aid the men during and outside of battle. The ship he worked upon, anchored at Spithead in the Mediterranean, was HMS Agamemnon which was captained by none other than Horatio Nelson. Launched in 1781, she was infamous for being in in constant need of repair but would participate in many battles, including Copenhagen 1801 and Trafalgar 1805. It is likely that she was only in operation for this long because Nelson was particularly fond of her, perhaps more so than HMS Victory.

While in dock at Portsmouth Emerson wrote to his brother at Swaffham (NRO, PD 337/161). Emerson starts his letter regretting that it could not meet his brother earlier. Depending on the amount of distance between the ship and land, letters could take weeks to get to their respective destination. He complains of mismanagement in the post service and that he has not heard back from his father ‘or anyone else’, likely because their letters had been detained. This was a frequent occurrence, possibly to stop potentially sensitive information from being intercepted by the enemy.

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Letter from Joseph Emerson to his brother at Swaffham (NRO, PD 337/161).


On the ship itself Emerson has ‘nothing to complain of’. There was currently no medicine chest on board, this is probably because the ship was away from the battlefield. In intense sea battles which defined the earlier stages of the Napoleonic Wars the surgeon would tend to the men around the clock, some of them with horrific injuries. Nelson’s right arm was famously put under the mercy of the bone saw during the disastrous battle of Tenerife and his surgical wounds would take months to fully heal. Outside of battle, nausea was commonplace and Emerson admitted to feeling ‘very sick for a day or two’. Nelson ironically, was also known to frequently come down with the seasickness.

Emerson reports the ship pursuing two French frigates and two brigs. They laid in wait for 3 days but did not venture out. Occasionally scuffles would break out between British and French vessels, such as the ‘Action of 22 October 1793’ in which Agamemnon was involved, but casualties were small. Ships spent time outside battle patrolling the waters, seeking out enemy vessels that could potentially cause trouble. With little to occupy him, Nelson’s depression would take its toll, as he felt his true home was on the battlefield. Being a man of pride and vanity, compared to the more down to earth Duke of Wellington, he wanted nothing more than to honour his nation, little of that was possible during these long and tedious cruises.


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Chasing two French Frigates and two Brigs. NRO, PD 337/161.

Nelson’s son in law messed alongside Emerson which as commented by the latter, resulted in many advantages. Captain Nelson is described by Emerson as a ‘worthy, good man, & much lik’d by men on board’ and ‘is much of a gentleman’. Nelson would later become a national celebrity and memorabilia related to the navy commander was all the rage, especially after his death. He was admired for his aggressive tactics, as was demonstrated at the Battle of the Nile 1798 and in the case of Copenhagen, his willingness to do the ‘greater good’ for the nation, even if it meant defying his superiors’ orders. Nelson’s surging popularity in British society and the navy would prove to be crucial to him at the Battle of Trafalgar. Despite many casualties, the love for their commander, even as he lay dying below deck, successfully motivated the British navy to secure a victory, albeit a bittersweet one, and Napoleon’s weaker and disheartened navy would no longer present a major threat to British waters.


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Well liked by his men. NRO, PD 337/161


Emerson mentions that two of the servants on board consist of a black man and a boy. It was not uncommon to see black men acting as either sailors or servants in Nelson’s navy. Contrary to what is often depicted in history related media, they are frequently depicted in various paintings and monuments, including Nelson’s column. They are shown to be proudly fighting alongside their white comrades, presenting a rare example of racial integration in the British military. Given the amount of racial prejudice back on land, those enlisting in the navy would have likely seen an opportunity to prove their worth and honour, and that they could fight just as well as white men. Food and accommodation would have been provided too, as was the case for the servants mentioned in the letter. Sadly however, navy life was not free from racial prejudice. Like many in his society, Nelson spoke against the British abolitionist movement as he was acquainted with various plantation owners, his wife’s family included.

Emerson was able to sleep ‘very comfortably’. Compared to rough terrain that men in the army often slept upon, seamen slept in hammocks which cheap, light and could be packed easily. Food provisions for Emerson were good too, describing meals consisting of a roast leg of mutton, a plum pudding, and a beef steak pie. Emerson and his mess companions would receive a pound of meat a day, a hearty amount for the time period. The men were properly fed too, compared to life at home and indeed, life in the army. They would also receive a regular dose of lemon juice in order to prevent the spread of scurvy which had proved devastating to sailors during the previous Seven Years War. By the time of the French Revolutionary Wars, in order to ensure ultimate fitness and prestige, the government and the navy felt an increased sense of urgency to stop the spread of scurvy once and for all.

Accounts like Emerson’s prove that Nelson even before his ‘glory days’ was popular with the men of the British Navy and was well respected as a commander. While Nelson himself now lies in St Paul’s Cathedral, next door to Britain’s other great Napoleonic war hero, the Duke of Wellington, his influence around Norfolk remains strong. Emerson’s letter be read at the Norfolk Record Office. The Britannia monument commemorating Nelson stands in Great Yarmouth. The Church in which his father worked as a preacher as well as The Lord Nelson pub where he dined for the men of the village before setting sail on Agamemnon can still be visited in Burnham Thorpe, his birthplace. Last year many important historical artefacts, associated with Nelson, including a captured French tricolour flag which had not been shown to the public for a century, were reunited for the first time after more than 100 years, at a successful exhibition in Norwich Castle. Considering how important Norfolk was to Nelson, and the fact that he personally wished to be buried there, it seemed the ideal place for such an occasion.

Compiled by Rebecca Hanley, NRO Research Blogger.






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Mad Dogs and Englishmen: Homemade Remedies in the 18th and 19th Centuries.

Long before the NHS was founded, many households in 18th and 19th century Britain relied on home remedies to help them cope with various ailments. Healthcare was less accessible, especially for the poorer sectors of society and quack doctors would take advantage of this fact, often lying in wait to scam anyone who came to them in desperation. Home remedies on the other hand were a much less expensive, safer alternative, and families would often rely on them to cope with numerous ills. The ingredients needed for some of these remedies such as oil and laudanum, would have been readily available and could be bought over a counter quite easily. Laudanum, which was less regulated at the time, was often used to numb the pain of ailments such as toothache. Other plant based ingredients, especially herbs could be grown at home in a garden. All that would be needed is a pot of boiling water to make these ingredients safe for human consumption.

Not much is known about Hannah Neal (nee Burton) and her son John, but from information that is available it appears that Hannah was born in 1783 and died in 1855. It is believed that her son John (1816-1859) continued his mother’s book on home remedies as his handwriting has been spotted in parts of the book (NRO, MC 3291, 1067×1). As medical knowledge would been limited, they probably would have had to conduct various experiments with these remedies to test their effectiveness. Some food recipes are included in the book too such as ginger pop and lemonade. The recipe included for jugged hare contains tips on how to create the perfect garnish for it and how to boil the meat properly. The dish was largely popularised in Britain by the work of Hannah Glasse in ‘The Art of Cookery’, one of the most influential cookbooks in the 18th century. Pudding recipes are included too, such as various cakes and tarts, a rather simple variety included are Shrewsbury cakes, a small dough cake. It is recommended they are baked in a stone oven.

Lavender is listed as an ingredient in an antidote to help ease fever. In the 19th century lavender was often regarded as a therapeutic property, much of the time it was kept in little bags under pillows to create a sweet aroma, creating a calming effect, it could also help clear nasal passages. Also mentioned is sage, throughout history it was one of the most commonly used herbs in Britain and was also regarded as having positive effects. Beeswax is one of the more commonly used ingredients, likely because it is effective when it comes to skin treatment and is even today still popular in cosmetic products such as hand cream.

In a cough remedy liquorice is mentioned, which is ironic as it was well known for being added to tobacco to enhance flavour. While it is generally associated with sweets that children tend to avoid, it was commonly used in medicine. A type of resin called Dragon’s blood is one of the ingredients for making a plaster. It is known for being effective at stopping bleeding and for healing wounds. In the 19th century when superstition was rife it was regarded as a good omen by various cultures around the world. In American voodoo for instance, it was said to ward off ‘negative energy’ and it is still acknowledged for its healing properties.

Various alcohols such as wine and brandy are used often for various ailments and white wine vinegar is even recommended to cure a horse of a cold. Honey is also commonly mentioned, today it is regarded as a natural painkiller and can soothe sore throats. A medicine recommended for a consumptive horse advises that the remedy should be administered with 2 spoonfuls of it. A similar method is mentioned in curing the cold of a horse, most likely to create a more tolerable taste. It can also be seen in a remedy for green sickness, a condition in which red blood cells appear paler than normal.

One interesting remedy mentioned is a ‘certain cure’ to be used after being bitten by a mad dog. It involves the powder of crab’s claws and periwinkle being boiled in milk. It is recommended that a dose or two is taken for a period of 8 days after being bitten. Recipes for rabies have varied throughout history. Another guide for a cure appeared in an early 18th century guide (NRO, COL 5/19), this time involving the use of rue leaves, treacle and garlic among other things which would have been boiled in a strong ale, and recommends a dose being taken for 9 days after receiving a bite. According to a report written after the recipe, the solution allegedly did work on a number of people attacked by a mad dog in Lincolnshire.

In 1742 Dr. Mead wrote letters for various treatments of mad dog bites depending on who was bitten (NRO, HMN 4/8/1-2). The general solution involves bleeding first, a common medical practise at the time when the concept of the four humours was still taken seriously, before taking the powder in half a pint of warm milk. It is then recommended that for the first month since the bite, the patient spends around three minutes under cold water covering the head and ears. For a dog, the solution involves something similar to hiding a pill in peanut butter as it recommends that the powder is rolled into balls with some fresh butter. The dog should then be made to swim for a quarter of an hour every morning for a month. Both cases advise that the wound should be kept open and dressed with ungulntum basilicum mixed with some red precipitate. The powder itself is made using the prime ingredient, fire dried lichen. In his third entry Mead highlights a very specific case which gives advice on how to treat madness in a ‘Christian from China’, Mead claims that his method, a recipe containing local and artificial cinnabar, can cure ‘those that even bark like a dog’. According to Mead, this unique recipe came from the missionaries of Tonquin where dog bites were apparently a regular occurrence.

home remedy page

Extract from the Neal’s Notebook showing a Remedy for Dog Bites. NRO, MC 3291, 1067×1

Now that basic healthcare is free for all, homemade remedies, while they are still being used today are not as common as they once were, probably because they are not needed as much, although they remain relatively popular in countries that still charge for healthcare like the U.S. In the U.K. homemade remedies are generally for the most minor of ailments, like the common cold, and serve more of a therapeutic purpose.

Compiled by NRO Research Blogger, Rebecca Hanley

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