The Historical Birthday-Tea Party 31st January

Lets have a big hand and a whoop or two for Miss Tallulah Bankhead 1903-1968. Tallulah (her real name!) was a good actor who played a lot of bad women and I found this hilarious quote from Carl Elliot

I fear Tallulah has suffered from the sometimes swashbuckling, sometimes naughty characters she played on stage and screen.

While Tallulah had this to say

Only good girls keep diaries. Bad girls don’t have time.

I’m as pure as the driven slush.

I don’t think she was joking, and she was certainly unrepentant, leaving hospital after an emergency hysterectomy she said Don’t think this has taught me a lesson!

She has been linked with numerous women (Katherine Cornell for one) as well as men, described herself as ambisextrous, and I think basically would shag anything with a pulse, though she made a fuss when asked to play a lesbian on screen.

I’m not sure we’d get on, but she’d probably just gatecrash the party if she wasn’t invited, so I’m just sealing the envelope now!

The Historical Birthday-Tea Party 30th January

Anne Clifford, Countess of Dorset (1590 – 1676) by William Larkin

Today we celebrate Anne Clifford

30 January 1590 – 22 March 1676

I actually have a copy of her diary tucked away somewhere, but I haven’t yet got round to reading it. She had a bit of a tough time, her first husband  Richard Sackville Earl of Dorset forced her to entertain his mistress at their home, and threatened to take her child from her if she did not obey.

She has been tentatively identified as the true author of

A Chaine of Pearle, Or a Memoriall of the peerles Graces, and Heroick Vertues of Queene Elizabeth of Glorious Memory. Composed by the Noble Lady, Diana Primrose (London, 1630),

though based on what I don’t know.

She did come up with the most wonderfully ambiguous quotation:

I am like an Owl in the desert

Diary May 1616

I could read the diary and find the context, but I’m afraid to spoil it. She can definitely come to the party, provided she promises not to explain…

The Historical Birthday-Tea Party 29th January

Today’s birthday belongs to Robin Morgan, who is my first living invitee to the party. I did consider keeping it strictly historical, but she had and has such a big impact it seemed unreasonable to leave her out.

Robin is the editor of Sisterhood is Powerful, (1970) one of those books that change the world, kicked of the feminist movement in the US, and had a certain impact on me!

I’m not going to say a lot about Robin, you can read her work, but here are a smattering of quotes to get you thinking – she tells it like it is.

Pornography is the theory, and rape the practice.

There’s something contagious about demanding freedom.

Women are not inherently passive or peaceful.  We’re not inherently anything but human.

The Historical Birthday-Tea Party 28th January

Here’s a woman not afraid to call a spade a bleeding shovel. Born in 1695, Anne Stainton went to Virginia (famous as a hunting ground for women in search of a husband) with her sister who was married to William Gooch, the colonial governor. She described herself as

Two and thirty  years of Age, Ugly and Poor

Her brother-in-law said she was

cocky …openly declares she will never marry, this I imagine is rather her pride than her earnest, she constantly adding “I did not come here for a husband. I might have been married in England.”

Nor did she marry, despite women being at a premium in the colonies.

I find myself thinking she might have started a pressure group called Spinsters’ Lib.

The Historical Birthday-Tea Party 27th January

Another day another no show – no birthday and I’m late posting the birthday card too.  So standing in for 27th January is Mary Ann Talbot 1778-1803 also known as John Taylor, a famous cross dresser – so famous someone tried to impersonate her and was arrested for it!

Mary Ann was raped and forced to cross dress by her rapist so that they could travel freely, first in the navy and then the army. When the man was killed in battle Mary Ann was unable to  return to her previous life as she was stranded abroad, and instead continued in her role as John Taylor. However, she was in no hurry to get back into skirts once she was safe, and had a long career as a soldier and sailor before being wounded so severely it was impossible. She then resorted to a genteel form of begging and trying to get a pension out of the government, she ended up in and out of  prison for debt, and seemed to have a knack for getting into scrapes, often getting out of them again through the kindness of women who felt sympathy for her.

You can read her entire memoir here

Here are a couple of snippets to entertain you, she’s quite amusing.

The only circumstance of an unpleasant nature that occurred during my stay in America, arose from the strong partiality which the Captain’s niece conceived to my company, and which proceeded to such an extent, as to induce her to make me an offer of her hand in marriage.—I made several excuses, but could not divert her attention from what she proposed. Mrs. Field at length becoming acquainted with the circumstance, made great objection to my youth and inexperience of the world; but neither my excuses, nor Mrs. Field’s remonstrances had any weight, opposed to the young lady’s inclination, which she fondly cherished to the last hour of my residence at Rhode Island. She requested before Mrs. Field, that I would make her a present of my picture; for which purpose I sat for a miniature at New York, in the full uniform of an American officer—for this picture I paid eighteen dollars. The time of our departure for England being arrived, I took my leave, not without regret, of Mrs. Field, and family; but had scarcely proceeded two miles on the way to New York, before I was summoned back, being overtaken by a servant, who informed the Captain and myself, that we must return, as the young lady was in strong fits. We returned, and found her still in a fit, out of which, with great difficulty, we recovered her; and by making her a promise of a speedy return from England, she very reluctantly allowed me to depart.


While thus situated, I was enabled to enjoy many comforts which this charitable institution does not supply, from the benevolent attention of Mrs. Emma Raynes, a lady to whom I shall ever confess my obligations, as, immediately on my obtaining a discharge from the hospital, she provided me with a decent lodging in Tottenham Court Road, and supported me for a considerable time at her own expense, though I had no other claim to her protection than my necessitous condition. Previous to my finding a friend in this lady, it was judged by several in the hospital, from the low state I was reduced to, (my bones coming almost through the skin) that I should not survive the illness under which I laboured, from the pain of my wounded limb, and I procured some little necessaries from a subscription made by the young gentlemen, pupils, who attended the hospital; one of whom, named Scaife, in joke, I imagine, offered me half-a-crown a week while I lived, to have my body when dead.


The Historical Birthday-Tea Party 26th January

(c) National Trust, Petworth House; Supplied by The Public Catalogue FoundationToday’s birthday belongs to Elizabeth Percy (26 January 1667 – 24 November 1722) the last of Queen Anne’s intimate lady friends.

Elizabeth was one of the richest heiresses of her time and as such was the centre of many intrigues. She was married at 12 to Henry Cavendish, widowed at 13 and married again aged 14, in 1681, this time to Thomas Thynne. She left him almost immediately and went to the Hague. When her husband was killed by Count von Koningsmark shortly afterwards, she was implicated. Supremely unconcerned, she returned to England and married the Duke of Somerset. (The owner of Syon House where Anne stayed when she was exiled from court by her sister Mary.)

She became Groom of the Stole in Sarah Churchill’s place when Sarah finally, finally went too far and got sacked.

Jonathan Swift (supporter/manipulator of Abigail Masham, another of Anne’s lovers) was of the opinion that:

 [she] quickly won so far upon the affections of her majesty, that she had more personal credit than all the Queen’s servants put together.

Swift also risked his chances of promotion to jibe at Elizabeth in his Windsor Prophesy

And dear England, if aught I understand
Beware of Carrots* from Northumberland;
Carrots sewn Thynne a deep root may get
If so be they are in Somerset.
Their Comyngs mark thou, for I have been told
They assassine when young and poison when old.
Root out these Carrots, o thou whose name
Is backwards and forwards always the same[Anna]
And keep close to Thee always that name
Which backwards and forwards is almost the same [Masham]
And England, would’st thou be happy still
Bury those Carrots under a Hill.

[*Elizabeth Percy had red hair.]

Anne chose to ignore this shamefully biased advice just as she had ignored the remarkably similar advice against Abigail in the final verse of A New Ballad to the Tune of Fair Rosamund.

It would seem that Elizabeth fared no better with the Whigs at court, certainly Sarah for once agreed with her enemies saying of Elizabeth:

She was never quite so kind as after she had taken the resolution  to supplant me, for then she not only came to dinner and made meetings for play oftener than before, but I remember she took it into her head to kiss me at parting which was quite new.

Of course it could be that Elizabeth had now become part of the inner circle of lesbians around the queen, and so felt an additional kinship with her old friend Sarah, but one can hardly expect Sarah to interpret her actions this way given her own lesbophobia and her capacity for putting the worst construction on any imagined wrong; the older the friend the more likely she was to take offence.

Elizabeth had plenty of opportunity to supplant Abigail, who was frequently away from court tending to her children,  there is no evidence to suggest any personal rivalry between Abigail and Elizabeth, but little survives of the correspondence of either.

Anne died in 1714. She left no will, and consequently Elizabeth never received jewels which Anne had promised her; she was, however, chief mourner at the funeral.

Following Elizabeth’s death:

A great number of letters from Queen Anne to Lady Elizabeth Percy, 1st wife of Charles Duke of Somerset had been burnt by his grace’s order.

I love a burnt letter, when you see what Anne wrote to other people, without them being burnt, you wonder.

The Historical Birthday-Tea Party 25th January

Well my dears, unless you don’t look at twitter etc at all, I suppose it might have escaped your notice that today’s birthday is celebrated on behalf of the magnificent Virginia Woolf.

I hope she needs no introduction? I’ve had her picture on my wall for about thirty years. If you don’t know who she is, go and read someone else’s blog, or even better go and read some of her books – you can come back when you are suitably impressed.

Virginia’s many talents, her feminism and her commonsense would be quite sufficient to get her an invitation, but happily we can add in an affair with Vita Sackville-West, (The inspiration for her novel Orlando); and one of the most delightful quotations known to woman:

My dear Vita, I have a perfectly romantic and no doubt untrue vision of you in my mind – stark naked, brown as a satyr and very beautiful. Don’t tell me this is all illusion. No doubt this bores you – but I cannot keep it to myself.

It might it be sacrilege to suggest that I enjoy Virginia’s essays, letters and diaries more than some of her novels, but there it is: I find the modernist novels a bit brittle, self-conscious and artificial, although despite that very readable – I’ve read The Waves and To the Light House several times – whereas her sense of humour and incisiveness are more apparent in her non-fiction – and I find the self she reveals in these works very appealing. So it is for herself rather than her fiction that Ms Woolf makes the guest list. I think she would be great fun to have around, providing she was feeling up to it.

Virginia is also the inspiration for two of my stories – Member of the Family (rather in passing – I wrote it after a trip to Rodmell -Virginia’s last home – with the Lesbian History Group. The house is not Rodmell, and Sarah is not Virginia, but all the modern-day characters are people I have passed on the stairs at places like Rodmell) and Neutral Territory, in which the house is an amalgamation of Rodmell and Small Hythe, and Greta isn’t Virginia, but Virginia could be Greta – there’s a nice post-modernist twist for you.

I don’t know why, but I have an urge to serve  Eccles cakes at that tea party.  Would Ms Woolf approve?