Category Archives: Curiosities


Strange news from the Deep

These fragments come from a mid 17th century account of a whale stranded in Essex. The author’s attempt to provide an explanation for the whale’s behaviour reveals much about the varying beliefs surrounding unnatural or unexplained events in early modern England.

On the 23rd of this present month April, the neighbouring inhabitants to a fair river in Essex, known by the name of Wivner River (whose mouth opens to the sea) perceived a great disturbance in the water. Country men threw down their shovels and spy’d the back of a fish of an extraordinary size who seem’d to quarrel with the river for more elbow-room.  She sometimes threw her prodigious head above the waves, at other times, with her spreading tail, shovelled the sands so high, that part of them fell on the spectator’s heads. While she floundered, they beheld the greatest part of her body, and with the ponderous squelch of her large bulk
falling into the water, she made the depressed waves out-swell their banks and threaten an over-flow of the Neighbouring meadows. In this discontented motion she continued to go up the river till she came within six miles of Colchester, where the sands being washt away by the proceeding tide, she was fain to struggle for life in a low water. With her extraordinary endeavour to quit herself, she brake off part of her tail and with a deluge of blood, coloured the whole stream.

At length, for want of both breath and blood, she dyed in the water, being of so large a bulk that the river could not cover her. He body strutted out of the waters like a hill, and when she was drawn out of the river and came to be measured, she was found to be no less than fifty foot in length, and twenty eight in thickness.

Pliny would persuade us that these unnatural wanderings are generally caused by sickness or indisposition of the body. Some hold that there are some tides so impetuous that by virtue of their strength alone they are able to hurl a young whale into the mouth of a fresh water river. A third appropriate a storm to the same effect. And a fourth would have whales to be brought to land for the same reasons that comets are placed in the sky, either as a certain signe of an ensuing judgment to fall upon a nation, or else a favourable warning given us by the Almighty.

© 2009-2012 All Rights Reserved
Curiosities Insanity

Mad Windham the Train-Driving Egg Enthusiast

In a departure from all things early modern, today we have some Victorian fragments, courtesy of my guest blogger, the celebrated cartoonist Adrian Teale, whose work regularly features both on television and in national newspapers. Here, for our delight and amusement, Ade presents the curious story of William ‘Mad’ Windham.

In 1861, wealthy Etonian William Frederick Windham, of Felbrigg Hall in Norfolk, married a notorious Rotten Row courtesan called Agnes Willoughby, promising her an annuity of £1,500 per annum, and spoiling her with jewels and gifts of hard cash. Windham’s uncle was greatly concerned about the damage this would do to the family name, and was very worried about the gold-digging credentials of the courtesan in question. He decided the best course of action was to prove, in court, that his nephew was insane.

In a celebrated case which kept the press on the edge of its seat (The Times alone expended 170,000 words on the story), Windham’s mental state was scrutinized by a Commission in Lunacy, which was presented with examples of his outlandish behaviour. This included his ordering seventeen eggs for breakfast, howling through open windows if his dinner wasn’t ready the minute he asked for it, running naked around the house, and dancing on billiard tables. He had also been known to dress as a police officer and patrol the beat in the Haymarket. His principal obsession was steam engines, however, and he often persuaded railway officials to let him collect tickets and drive the trains.

After his uncle had set out his case, the court subjected Windham to a four-hour mental test, and found him lucid, charming, and – more importantly – sane. At the conclusion of the thirty-four day enquiry, the uncle’s case had collapsed. However, ‘Mad’ Windham did eventually lose the family fortune, and to make ends meet he used to drive the Norwich-to-Cromer express coach for a guinea per week. His marriage to Agnes broke down soon after their nuptials, and she ran off with a short-arsed, sombrero-wearing, Italian opera singer called Antonio Guiglini. So perhaps the uncle had a point.

Subject to editorial approval, a cartoon about this case will appear in History Today magazine….keep an eye on my Twitter page (@adeteal) for details.
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Carnivalesque 64

Fragments is very pleased to be hosting the 64th edition of Early Modern Carnivalesque, a gathering of some of the most interesting blog posts from the early modern blogging community.

First up we have the fate of the Wedgewood Museum over at the award-winning Georgian London. Lucy Inglis considers the plight of the Wedgewood Collection, and its formation under artisan Josiah Wedgewood, who died in 1725.


From the decorative arts, to art of a very different nature, Caroline Rance at The Quack Doctor explores the unusual medicinal practise of diagnosis via urine from 1815.


Taking a detour from urine to royalty, Nick, at Mercurius Politicus, reveals some intriguing royalist graffiti in Cheam.


Odd fellows from Roy, at Early Modern Whale, who takes a look at the early modern Fortune Teller.


‘My appetite is sick for want of a capacity to digest your favours.’ Women in Medieval and Early Modern History offer up some extraordinary early modern chat up lines.

Once you’ve wooed your beloved, you might like to make them a John Evelyn salad. The Gentleman Administrator reveals all you need to know.


The World Cup may be over, but the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust have devised a means to keep your interest alive. Iago is in mid-field in Shakespeare’s Fantasy Football

From Iago to a villain of a different kind, Executed Today examines the hanging of pirate John Quelch.    
Speaking of villains, cartoonist Ade Teal kindly provides us with caricatures of two early modern rogues:


On the other side of the Atlantic, Warren, artistic director of early modern music ensemble Magnificat, recently visited Spain, and reports back on the 18th century composer Martini’s enormous collection of music manuscripts and partbooks  

More printing, this time from the Two Nerdy History Girls, who witnessed the early modern printing process in action.
Sally, over at Travels and Travails in Eighteenth Century England, has been exploring medicinal recipes, including the Lady Puckring’s salve for sore brests.
From sore breasts to slippery weather, Emily at The Artist’s Progress reveals the history of early modern caricature.


Art of a different nature from the engraver Mr Read, who entertains with more spectral escapades at The Cogitations of Read.


And Ben, at Res Obscura, has been getting to grips with some 17th century  apothecary poetry.


Finally, here at Fragments, I’ve been exploring the last will and testament of Mr William Shakespeare, gent. 

If you’re interested in finding out more about Carnivalesque, or would like to be a host, contact the lovely Sharon at Early Modern Web

At his backside he freely vents

These snippets are from an anonymous 17th century pamphlet aimed at Tobacconists. The illustration above is a detail from the larger woodcut, The Armes of the Tobacconist, below, the symbolism of which is explained by the author:

The Sable field resembles hells blacke pit,
Whereas the Divells in smoake and darkness sit:
The Man reversed shewes men, or beast indeed,
That doate too much upon this heathen weed,
Who smoake away their precious Time and Chinke,
And all their profit is contagious stinke:
The pipes and fume unto us doth disclose
How it leades coxcombes dayly by the nose:
The match or halter in the goblins pawes,
Portends that fatall period of the lawes:
That those that waste themselves in ayre and smoake,
May to the hangman leave both coate and cloake,
The Moores head shewes that cursed Pagans did
Devise this stink, long time from Christians hid:
The Topfull pisspot shewes the vaine excess,
Of men oer’charg’d with fume and drunkeness,
The Mantells shewes these fellows mighty skill,
That can turne money into vapours still:
The Tassells at the end depending here,
And have these vertues very hot and deare,
Are like to Whores that often hang upon,
Tobacconists, till all their moneys gone:
By the supporters, wisdome wisely notes,
Tobacconists want sweeping in their Throates.

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