Lady Pendleton, Damian Ashby’s eccentric aunt (see the epilogue to Treasuring Theresa on Susana’s web site), is visiting Susana from the early 19th century. She’s intrigued by life in 21st century Toledo, Ohio, and, of course, Susana is thrilled to have the opportunity to pick her brain about life in Regency England. It certainly gives her a great deal to write about in Susana’s Parlour!
Susana: Lady P and I recently returned to Ohio after spending a month in Florida where she enjoyed taking daily “constitutionals” around the retirement village where my parents live, and eventually condescended to take a dip in the heated pool, although the bathing costume she rigged for herself raised more than a few eyebrows from the other swimmers.
Lady P [indignantly]: My dear Susana, I could not possibly have appeared in public in those-those underthings you and your mother wore. I should have been utterly humiliated!
Susana: They are called swimsuits, Lady P. Bathing costumes. And that’s what everyone else wore.
Lady P [with a hand to her head]: The gentlemen—such as they were—were much worse. I thought I would swoon when I saw those naked chests!
Susana [chuckling]: But surely you have seen a bare-chested man before, Lady P. Why, you and Lord P were married for nearly twenty years, were you not?
Lady P: Well, of course I did, but not in public, Susana. Why, my Pendleton was exceedingly conscious of propriety. He would never have appeared in public half-dressed; why his valet would have slit his own throat before allowing it!
Susana [biting her lips to keep from laughing at the thought of the suicidal valet]: These gentlemen are from the 21st century, Lady P. Frankly, what these men wore was quite modest compared to some of the younger gentlemen. Don’t you remember that day when we went to the beach and saw—
Lady P [shuddering]: Do not even remind me, Susana. The young women’s attire…why they were nearly as naked as the day they were born! Where is their sense of modesty?
Susana [making a mental note to avoid beaches and pools in the future]: Perhaps we should get back to today’s topic—the Luddite revolt in 1811-12. Can you tell my readers what you recall of that uncertain time?
Lady P: Indeed I can, although one could wish to forget it.
Susana: It started in the Midlands with the stocking industry, when stockingers, using looms and equipment leased from their employers in their homes, lost more than half their income when they were forced to produce cheap stockings that their employers could sell in larger quantities and increase their profits. Is that correct?
Lady P: How could I forget? Those stockings fell apart after barely a week of wear, and even the servants disdained them!
Susana: That was the same year the harvest failed, and food prices rose to an alarming level, and more and more people were suffering in economic distress.
Lady P: A shilling for a loaf of bread! It was outrageous!
Susana: People became desperate, and before long, gangs of disguised men started going around destroying the frames and looms used to produce the stockings to protest the treatment of the workers and the poverty more and more of them were forced to endure.
Lady P: That may be how it started, Susana, but it escalated into so much more than that. Why, many of us feared an uprising against the monarchy comparable to the French Terror of barely two decades past. And there wasn’t much to be done about it; Pendleton told me that fully half of the militia had taken up the cudgel for General Ludd in stealth and would turn against their officers in a trice if ordered to put down the revolutionaries.
Susana: I’m curious to know what Lord P thought should be done about it. He was a Tory, and the Tories were in power. Did he approve the decision to make frame-breaking a capital offense?
Lady P [shaking her head and sighing]: No, of course he did not. He thought it was incredibly stupid to think that masses of starving insurgents could be deterred by fear of the gibbet if they were caught. [Swallowing hard] He was, in fact, quite moved by Lord Byron’s speech in the House of Lords, where he decried the Tories’ attempt to solve the problem by force. He insisted—quite eloquently, Lord P admitted—that the Midland workers were being exploited to increase the profits of a few hosiers, and that the resulting misery benefitted no one.
Susana [thoughtfully]: The more things change, the more they stay the same. [Seeing Lady P’s raised eyebrow]: I was just thinking of how the Ohio House of Representatives just voted to eliminate the forty-hour work week so that employers won’t have to pay overtime—pay them double—for working more than that.
Lady P: As to that, I can’t say, Susana. But that is one reason I became a Whig. I would never go so far as to overturn the entire government and plunge the country into turmoil and terror such as what happened in France, but I have always believed that certain reforms to prevent the poor from being exploited could be instituted without much upheaval, and that the entire country would be the better for it. [Sighing] Dear Pendleton felt the same, but he was unable to persuade his colleagues to listen to reason. As afraid as they were of a revolution, the only solution the Tories could agree on was to threaten the insurgents.
Susana: It wasn’t long after that the Tories fell out of power, didn’t they? After the assassination of the Prime Minister?
Lady P: Indeed, and it was well-deserved too. Not because the Whigs’ ideas were much better, although they certainly used the Tories’ imprudence to their advantage. The Prince Regent’s intemperate behavior and his treatment of his wife made him vastly unpopular, so the Whigs took up the cudgel for Princess Caroline, proclaiming that she was being badly treated, and causing more riots, spreading to the north.
Susana: And didn’t the people actually cheer the assassin as he was led to his execution a week later? There was that much dissatisfaction with the government that they cheered the murderer of the Prime Minister?
Lady P [tight-lipped]: Poor Lord Perceval. He was a good man. Had twelve children, you know. A family man. He could have gone far, if it weren’t for that Bellingham fellow shooting him in the House of Commons. Do you know the government wouldn’t even give him a public funeral because they were fearful of riots? I hardly knew what to say to his wife Jane when I saw her after that.
Susana [sighing]: Some things seem so unfair, don’t they? Like my friend whose daughter just died of breast cancer at age thirty-seven. Or many of my friends whose husbands lost their jobs and couldn’t find anything comparable afterward because of their age and the cost of health insurance. What do you say? How do you help them?
Lady P [clucking]: I suppose there will always be misery and injustice, no matter how diligently we try to eliminate it.
Susana: But that doesn’t mean we should stop trying.
Lady P [smiling]: Exactly. Now, Susana, don’t you think something should be done about all the weeds in the back garden? Since the weather turned warmer, they seem to be popping up all over the place.
Susana [leaving the room]: Have at ’em, Lady P. There’s a hoe in the shed and some work gloves in the drawer over there.
Lady P [frowning]: And where might you be going, then?
Susana [from the office]: I have a Christmas story to write. Deadline, you know. Can’t be bothered with weeds for awhile.
Lady P makes a beeline for the back door, audibly grumbling about “misplaced priorities,” “writing Christmas stories in May,” and that she “really should go back to the 19th century where there were gardeners to do such onerous tasks.”
As always, please do comment if you have any questions you’d like to ask Lady P about the late Georgian/Regency era. She does love to chat!