Transcript for Cavendish 14

Last time then were heard about Margeret the controversialist, ready and happy to take part in the great scientific debate, ready to challenge and be challenged. And that along with her work in natural philosophy, she had spent some time on a bit of fun, ‘to divert my studious thoughts’.

This diversion was called The Blazing World, and she described it as ‘a work of fancy’. We might describe it also as science fiction; and while she can’t quite claim to be the person that invented the oeuvre, she can claim to be the first woman Sci Fi author. Though you know what – arguments like  this always end up in a contortionist’s struggle; Mary Shelley has been claimed to be the first real Sci Fi author with Frankenstein. Anyway as an ardent fan of Sci Fi, though rather lapsed I have to say, I am grateful to Margaret and all of them.

So, the Blazing World. Since it’s not Natural Philosophy which is frankly, way too hard to handle, maybe I could briefly describe the plot? There’s this young lady, right; she’s abducted, and taken to the North pole where there’s this whole new planet. She a bit of a genius, so she becomes the Empress PDQ of a country, called ESFI. The planet is an amazing place full of wealth and wonders. Margaret has fun creating this world and with the book in general, settling a few old scores. It obviously has just one absolutist monarch – since any other form of government is like ‘a monster of many heads’ so clearly no good, and it has just one religion too. So it’s all wonderful. But into this world has come discord – the optics were not good. I mean the optics were really not good, because telescopes and microscopes had brought discord confusion and controversy and new theories without bring any blessed benefit; specifically microscopes able to inspect fleas but not stop the darning things from biting. She asks for help from strange creatures called licemen; they are mathematicians and the Empress asks them for help – and the licemen are absolutely useless.

So their is only one person with the glory, intelligence and magnificence capable of helping. Obviously this was Margaret herself, and her soul is called to help the Empress. They debate philosophy together with

‘such an intimate friendship between them they became platonic lovers although they were both females

Which is an odd statement which flirts with lesbianism, but in the midst of this intimacy the Empress is called away to the planet and back to ESFI, because things are going to hell in a microscope case; so the Empress returns in glory, and harnesses all this technology to create a navy and airforce and conquers it all, and peace returns.

It’s core sci fi with its imagined world and technology. But it’s also analogy and satire. So ESFI – obviously that’s England Scotland France and Ireland, the kingdoms Charles II claims as his own. Clearly the only way to rule it is an absolutist monarchy – so that’s one in the eye for the rebels. And there’s the culmination of Margaret’s ambition stated so long ago:

Though I cannot be Henry the Fifth, or Charles the Second, yet I endeavour to be Margaret the First.

And then there are all those microscopes and licemen – all thoroughly useless. Just like the Royal Society.

However, interestingly, despite her rather critical view of the Royal Society, Margaret is about to become the first woman to pay them a visit. Which is interesting. She is also going to hit the peak of her celebrity and become the talk of London Town. Let me explain what why and how.

So, to go back a bit, William the Marquis of Newcastle had become increasingly peeved with the monarchy he loved so well. Not in a revolutionary, John Pym kind of way, but definitely cheesed off, to a permagiano regiano level of cheesy ness, or maybe Stiltonian levels would be better. Since the restoration, he’d been trying to get some of his money back; both the loans he’d paid to Charles Senior, which he’d never been repaid in full, and for loans he’d taken out to fight the good fight for all his might until Martson Moor, after which he hadn’t any more. Anyway, he was owned at least a furlined sheep skin jacket, or at very least a packet, and Charles II resolutely refused to fork out the necessary, which is a feature of princes. Margaret was duly outraged, and would make sure her view was clear in her biography of her husband. In this work, Margaret presented herself as the impartial, critical historian, though the title rather gives away the story that it wasn’t going to be a hard hitting expose – it was called The Life of the Thrice Noble, High and Puissant Prince William Cavendish.

It is indeed generously generous to its subject; and it seems Margaret would like to have been much more outwardly aggressive to his enemies than William allowed her to be – really only George Goring is visible in her unnamed criticisms of the royalist failures. But in Book 2 of the 4 book work, she does a series of financial calculations and comes up with the news that William had spent close to a million squid for the cause of the house of Stuart.

The argument with Charles II though had come down to the interest Cavendish had incurred on money he’d raised for Charles I, and when all was said and done he claimed to be out of pocket by £9,249, which, spookily is about £1m in modern money. In the end, in 1665 Charles Junior came up with a plan – he’d make the Marquis of Newcastle a duke, Duke of Newcastle. That normally cost £10,000. So, bob’s yer uncle.

In May 1665 then the Cavendishises made their way down to London to pick up the paperwork and stuff. They did not go quietly, they went in grandeur, in the style to which Dukes are acustomed. They were met by many of the nobility and William’s son Henry outside the capital, then to court to see the king. It cost an absolute bundle. This is when Maragret has her picture painted by Peter Lely the one I use all over the place on this podcast. It is super fashionable of course; a few wrinkles about the picture are notable though. One is the fact that she’s pointing at her ermine robe – ermine was wearable only by the peerage ,so was an object of great pride. But more interesting is that she’s wearing a back cap topped with feathers. I just assumed this was a natty piece of head gear, but apparently it is significant. It has a distinctly masculine and classical vibe; this is Margaret’s self image as the heroic, and yet feminine aristocrat. As in the rest of her life she cut across the normal gender boundaries of the time. Another example is that she was noted for making a leg and giving a bow, rather than the courtesy.





This visit was short; but once the shark has tasted human blood it wants more, and so it was with William and Margaret; they resolved that despite Margaret’s love of the quiet life in the country, yet they should visit London once more. And as their plans unfolded Margaret let it be known that she would appreciate an invitation to the Royal Society. I wonder at that. Why, when she was so critical did she want to go? It’s possible historians are making too much of her criticisms – after all despite all the talk about ivory towers and dreaming spires and all that, academia is red in tooth and claw and you need the hide of a Rhino to survive your first symposium. So maybe in her criticisms, Margaret was just taking part as she knew should be the right of any person. Or maybe she wanted acceptance, equality, recognition. Or maybe even she wanted to show the charlatans up. I do not know. Anyway, she was proposed by a fellow peer who was a member, seconded, a vote was taken at the Royal Society – and an invitation duly sent.

So in the summer of 1666 the faithfull factorum Francis Topp was sent down to London to Newcastle house, a palladian pile in Clerkenwell, to get the place ready to receive the leading family of the country. Close to a year later, April 1667, the Cavendishes and entourage set out from Welbeck Abbey on the journey down to London. Presumably a London still looking pretty gappy from the Great Fire of the year before.

You know that expression about the journey being more important than the arrival? Well that may not be quite the case here, but none the less they would have been wined and dined by local gentry on their way, there would have been much tugging or forelocks and making of legs; but a week layer they duly arrived in Londin. Immediately people came to call, and I am not talking Jehovah’s Witnesses, or the neighbour to borrow some sugar, we are talking the great and the good – the Marquess of Dorchester, a Percy scion of the Earls of Northumberland, Lord George Berkeley, Margaret’s sponsor in the royal society and then oh yes, – the king; who came to see Margaret specifically and was entertained in her private apartments.

There was now a social round that Margaret was still poorly equipped to deal with, emotionally speaking. She was on the one hand very keen to cut a dash and make an impression, and dressed accordingly. And she did indeed impress; the Diarist John Evelyn for example was fascinated with a person

Who has not her equal possibly in the world, so extraordinary a woman she is in all things…extraordinary fanciful habit, garb and discourse

He was a fly in sight of a blueberry jam sandwich; he couldn’t stay away, went back 4 times in 3 weeks. The thing is, on the other hand, Margaret despite her growing confidence in print was still horribly shy in person, and as socially awkward as a hormone drenched teenager at their first party. If she was prepared, for a set piece event in advance, that was one thing, but if hit by a surprise visitor her head exploded. It drove her up the wall and she write about it, her frustration and annoyance eating at her, Shaking, blushing, stammering, turning pale, worse than something out of an Avril Lavigne ballad

I have been so often out of countenance as I have not only pitied myself, but others have pitied me, which is a condition I would not be in.

She rationalised  it all to herself furiously, and decided she was afraid of people, that they would be rude or critical. So she over compensated; rattling on at length, being a bit eccentric, being over attentive; she was very conscious that some had whispered that she could not possibly be capable of writing these books, so she memorised sections and quoted at length. She felt compelled to talk, to entertain; and then felt guilty at taking all the conversation and attention. Sounds excruciating, sort of like Hangxiety by the sounds of things.

It seemed to work with the blokes funnily enough, if John Evelyn and Walter Charlton’s recollections are anything to go by.  They liked all the attention and the subject matter of natural philosophy. If Mary Evelyn was anything to go by, it was the women who thought it all vanity and egocentricity

My part was not to speak, but admire; especially hearing her go on magnifying her own generous actions, stately buildings, noble fortune, her lord’s prodigious losses….what did she not mention to his or her advantage? Never did I see a woman so full of herself, so amazingly vain and ambitious

Margaret once again outdid herself with the excess of her clothing, in which again, a distinctly masculine flavour recurred.

And then there’s Samuel Pepys of course, at that point a rising clerk at the Navy Office, who was all agog I mean seriously there was nothing left about the lad that was not gogged.

The Duchess of Newcastle is all the pageant now discourses on. All the town talk is of her extravagancies

He heard of the Newcastle’s visit to see William’s play ‘the Humerous Lovers’; everyone decided it was actually written by Margaret not William – so that’s a 180 degree turnaround. But her garb was the thing; she’d designed her own dress, on a classical theme; and completely bared her breasts; it was Margaret’s chosen identity as a woman author again – classical, heroic and romantic. Didn’t half cause a stir though; I think in very smart private events women could where dresses revealing their  breast on occasion; but in public it was wildly daring.

So Pepys’ blood was now really up, desperate to see her. He went to Whitehall where Margaret was expected to visit the Queen; and the court was packed out with hopefuls; but the poor man’s diary recorded

Lost my labour, for she did not come this night

But 10 days later she did; the outrageous ostentation of her servants had everyone gasping  – they were not dressed in woollies as was the normal cost-effective solution, but instead in silk velvet, one suit of which could keep a family in bread for a year. And Margaret was also accordingly dressed, with a massive train, carried by a young lady – which apparently was a breach of protocol when making royal visits – something to note if you are invited to a garden party at Buck House. Everyone one thought it all extraordinary. So much so that when later a prank caller dressed up as a Babylonian prince and tried to call on the king, Charles said hmm…

I bet it is the Duchess of Newcastle




And so on and so forth, including a visit to the Duchess of York; and on 26th April finally Pepys got his wish and caught a glimpse, in her procession of coaches

With her velvet-cap, her hair about her ears, many black patches because of pimples around her mouth, naked necked…

He tried again with William Penn in Hyde park, but there were too many other sight seers on that day; but he got his wishes on 23rd May, because he was at Arundel House, at the meeting of the Royal Society; the meeting to which Margaret was invited. The place was rammed.

The meeting from the start was expected to be extraordinary. And Margaret clearly went dressed again to cut a dash,

With glorious train and gilded coach and horses with many a tassle

She had eight feet of train, with 6 waiting women, and masculine jacket so that John Evelyn took her for

A cavalier but that she had no beard

The Society had come in their intellectual Sunday best, no effort had been spared in choosing which foot to put forward to impress the great lady. Boyle’s famous air pump was put through its paces, including weighing some air; there was a magnet demonstration with iron filings, a louse was put under a microscope so she could look at it, some of Boyle’s best colour mixing experiments. And others.

Margaret sank under the weight of expectation, poor lamb. It was just the sort of occasion that would have phased her – it was off her home ground, massive expectations; a social occasion in person, and the people present who she’d attacked in print – Robert Boyle and Robert Hooke, and Henry More to boot.

It was just too much for her, or indeed most people I’d guess. Presented with all these things she could think of nothing to say, no intelligent questions to place, no insightful contributions to make; all her learning, intelligence and creativity deserted her in her hour of need. All she could say was that

She was full of admiration, full of admiration

This wasn’t the forum where her undoubted talents could fly, and she fled in her carriages. Pepys was as ever something of a tough crowd, and his verdict to his diary wasn’t positive

The Duchess hath been a good comely woman, but her dress so antic and her department so unordinary, that I do not like her at all, nor did I hear her say anything that was worth hearing.

It wasn’t a great success story, but look; the fact that she had been invited as an eminent society was in a sense an achievement. But that was not the place where her talent was able to shine; that lay more when she was with her thoughts and her books. None the less she had been an extraordinary celebrity during her visit; resolutely and unfailingly individual, she’d played the romantic heroine for all she was worth and drawn huge crowds and interest. Ashe had without doubt earned her celebrity status.

Early in July 1667, the Newcastles finally shook the dust of London from their feet. But by this stage, no one was watching – not because Margaret was any less fascinating, but because the Dutch had stolen everyone’s attention with their naval raid on the Thames, and everyone was running about in  panic and finding popes under the bed with various traitors.

Margaret had enjoyed herself. Enjoyed herself despite the social awkwardness and the disappointment of the Royal Society visit – which it should be noted may have been a disappointment for Pepys, but was not necessarily for Margaret, we do not know. She persuaded William to add the Clerkenwell pile to her jointure, obviously hoping that there would be many other visits; after all she was only 44, nobbut a young thing. For the moment though, it was back to home, to Welbeck Abbey.

Next time, then, the last time, we’ll talk about Margaret’s home life and approach to estate management; she still has some contributions to make to the publishing world. But plot spoiler; the next time she goes to London will be in a casket.

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