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  • Gavin Whitehead

Fright Night at the Lyceum (S3E4)

Updated: Feb 22



After marrying and starting a family, Madame Tussaud accepted an offer to partner with another showman and exhibit her handiwork in London. To her dismay, she soon realized that she had teamed up with a snake. Despite a rough start in the British capital, Tussaud scored a major hit with a wax effigy of Colonel Edward Marcus Despard, a convicted traitor who was hanged, drawn, and quartered in February 1803.



Above: Audience Reaction to the Phantasmagoria at the Cour des Capucines in 1797. Taken from Étienne Gaspard Robertson, Mémoires récréatifs, scientifiques et anecdotiques du physicien-aéronaute E.G. Robertson (1813). Washington, DC: Library of Congress, Harry Houdini Collection (Call # GV1545.R75 A3)


 

SHOW NOTES


Engraving of the Lyceum Theatre by an unknown artist from the eighteenth century. As Philipsthal’s companion act, Madame Tussaud displayed her collection in the basement of the theater.



Mrs. Salmon’s Waxworks, Fleet Street, London, in 1812. Though dead many years before Madame Tussaud came to town, Mrs. Salmon (1670-1760) remained the biggest fish in London wax modeling in the early nineteenth century.


Anonymous Depiction of Edward Marcus Despard at his execution. This line engraving, which depicts Despard on the scaffold, was published in 1804. London: National Portrait Gallery (Catalogue # NPG D2266).


Hand-colored etching, from The Life of William Cobbett. This image, created by James Gillray in 1809, depicts a group of radical British politicians (including MP and journalist William Cobbett) at a Republican-themed drinking party. On the wall in the background are busts of Despard and Robespierre. Likenesses of the two men also appeared in Madame Tussaud’s collection of wax figures. London: National Portrait Gallery (Catalogue # NPG D12930).


 

SELECT BIBLIOGRAPHY

---“Aleph,” London Scenes and London People. London: W.H. Collingridge, 1864.

---Berridge, Kate. Madame Tussaud: A Life in Wax. New York; London; Toronto; Sydney: Harper Perennial, 2006.

---Brookner, Anita. Jacques-Louis David. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1997.

---Chapman, Pauline. Madame Tussaud’s Chamber of Horrors: Two Hundred Years of Crime. London: Constable, 1984.

---Jay, Mike. The Unfortunate Colonel Despard. London: Batam Press, 2004.

---Pilbeam, Pamela. Madame Tussaud and the History of Waxworks. London; New York: Humbledon and London, 2003.


 

TRANSCRIPT


The convent of Capuchins almost frowns at you, quiet and grim as the reaper himself. A nun hasn’t prayed here since the revolutionaries drove out the order a few years back. Now, instead of masses, the nunnery plays host to nightly séances, or at least shows that resemble them. You pay the price of admission and stroll into the courtyard, passing gravestones and crumbling walls. Soon, you enter the defunct cloisters, now an exhibition space, an uncanny laboratory conceived to confound the eye and the ear. Distorting mirrors stretch, contort, and compress your body into inhuman shapes. A ventriloquist stands before a group of patrons, his lips unmoving as he throws his voice and seems to speak from all directions. Finally, you pass through an ancient doorway, engraved with Egyptian hieroglyphs, finding yourself in the main auditorium. The hall is dark, lit by a single lantern, the walls covered over with coal-black funeral palls broken up only by the white of human skulls. Eerily angelic tones emanate from nowhere as a hidden musician runs his fingertips along the rims of a glass harmonica, an assortment of glasses with differing tonalities. As you and the other spectators take their seats, the music fades, and the lamp is extinguished. The darkness is everywhere. The spirits are near.


First, you hear the rumble of thunder and the patter of rainfall, church bells pealing, as if at a distance, followed by the hum of the glass harmonica. Then, you see them, one after another, gliding toward you out of the shadows, phantoms of both real and fictional personages. Those who spearheaded the Reign of Terror only to lose their heads to the guillotine—Georges Danton and Maximilien Robespierre—are among their number, as is the Bleeding Nun, a blood-stained phantasm made famous by English Gothic novelist Matthew Lewis. Some of the ghosts turn and vanish into the dark as they return to the spirt world. Others transmogrify into skeletons. The spectral encounter comes to a heart-stopping climax. Rather than receding into the inky distance, a horde of wraiths suddenly rushes toward the audience, bearing down on them, as if to sweep them up and off to the afterlife. Women faint while a man rises, waving his cane at the army of spooks. In a flash, they’re gone, and the solitary lantern glows again. The show is over.

What you just experienced was the phantasmagoria, an entertainment popularized by the Belgian painter and physicist Étienne-Gaspard Robertson. If you were living in Paris in 1799, you almost certainly would have heard of—and maybe even attended—one of these fright fests. Though horrifying enough to seem real, Robertson’s phantoms were illusory, images born of a magic lantern. Invented near the end of the seventeenth century, the magic lantern worked like a modern-day slide projector. Consisting of a lamp and a series of convex lenses, the device could project pictures painted on glass slides onto a screen or even a column of smoke. Robertson mounted his apparatus on wheels that could roll backward and forward along brass rails. When he pushed the magic lantern toward the projection surface, the phantoms appeared to advance on the audience. When he pulled it back, they retreated.


Robertson was not the only necromantic showman in Paris. Another, known variously as Paul Philipstahl and Paul Philidor, came to the city in the winter of 1792-93 and came dangerously close giving up the ghost. We have less information about how Philipstal ran his show, but it seems that, like Robertson, he projected images of the recently deceased. In one instance, Philipstahl conjured the spirit of Louis XVI on the screen, not long after the king’s execution. Until this juncture, spectators had relished the pleasing terrors of the phantasmagoria. However, an uproar erupted when Philipstahl’s assistant lifted the slide with the monarch painted on it out of the magic lantern. From the audience’s perspective, the spirit of Louis floated skyward, as if ascending to heaven. In a tense situation that should sound familiar, anti-royalists went apoplectic—if anywhere, Louis belonged in hell, they insisted. Madame Tussaud recounts the incident in her memoirs: “M. Philipstal was immediately arrested by the gens d’armes, and conveyed to prison.” For all Philipstal knew, his next stop could have been the scaffold. With no one else to turn to, Tussaud claims, Philipstal’s wife went to the home of the influential artist, Phillippe Curtius, begging him to help free the magic-lantern operator. Curtius pulled some strings and secured his release. If Tussaud’s story is true, Philipstal owed the wax man his liberty—perhaps his life. About a decade later, he would come back to the wax museum on the Boulevard du Temple in need of help again. But this time he would ask it from Madame Tussaud.


Philipstal’s unexpected resurfacing altered the course of Tussaud’s career, ultimately uprooting her from France. Today, we’ll hear the story of how she left Paris for London, how she met with fierce competition there, and how she capitalized on the case of Colonel Edward Despard, the last man to be hung, drawn, and quartered for high treason in England. This is The Art of Crime, and I’m your host, Gavin Whitehead. Welcome to episode 4 of Queen of Crime . . .


Fright Night at the Lyceum

Adieu to Curtius

In the mid-to-late 1760s, Curtius had set Tussaud on the path to renown by inviting her and her mother to live with him in Paris and teaching her everything he knew about wax modeling. In 1794, he ensured that his nominal niece would stay on that trajectory when he passed away.


From the early days of the revolution to the Reign of Terror, Curtius had never taken his survival—or that of his business—for granted. His continued success depended on the frequent and public realignment of his politics. When the revolution heated up, for instance, he joined leagues with the radical Jacobins, rising to prominence in the organization. Not long after, he reshuffled the museum’s collection to bring it in line with Jacobin sensibilities. Some of his contemporaries questioned the sincerity of such rearrangements. One observer declared, “Curtius always takes advantage of the situation. He is wily, this German! He changes all the time according to the wind, the situation, the government, the people in power.” Referring to the tableau of the grand couvert, the same commentator goes on, “He removes the King at Dinner and replaces it with figures of the deputies of the Gironde.” Later in life, Tussaud would implicitly back up this assessment, repeatedly claiming that Curtius had always been a royalist at heart.


For all his self-preserving metamorphoses, Curtius would not live more than a year beyond the Terror. By September 1794, he had left Paris for some much-needed rest and relaxation in the country. By now, he had accrued considerable wealth, allowing him to purchase a second home in Ivry-sur-Seine, a rustic riverside village. He kept a fruit-and-vegetable garden there along with a populous, ever-clucking chicken coop, both major assets in a time of recurrent food shortages. It was here that Curtius died on the twenty-sixth of September. In her memoirs, Tussaud makes a vague, sensational, and unsubstantiated claim that he died of poisoning. The death certificate, however, cites natural causes. (That said, whoever completed the official document made several alterations, including crossings-out.) One day after Uncle Phillippe’s passing, Tussaud journeyed to his deathbed, accompanied by two neighbors.


Curtius had clearly anticipated his death. About a month earlier, on August 24, 1794, he had prepared his last will and testament. Using the honorific, “Citizeness,” he refers to Tussaud as “Citizeness Anne Marie Groshotz, spinster of full age, my pupil in art who has lived with me under my roof for more than twenty years.” To his pupil in art Curtius bequeathed “everything that the law allows me to give, in view of my not having an heir.” For her entire adult life, Tussaud had poured her heart and soul into the wax museum. Now, she owned it.


Tussaud Takes the Helm


Yet she took possession of the establishment at a time when business was sagging badly. Indeed, the years of 1794-95 would stretch her to the brink of bankruptcy.


The political climate was volatile as ever, and Tussaud needed to tread with the utmost caution if she wanted to stay in the people’s good graces. This required changes to the public-facing facets of the business. Throughout the wax museum’s Jacobin phase, the doormen had dressed in the austere attire of the sans-coulottes, the man-in-the-street workers and rank-and-file revolutionaries who generally espoused the Jacobin agenda. In the wake of the Terror, however, public sentiment had turned against the Jacobins because they had fanned the flames of the bloodletting. Just as light on her feet as Curtius, Tussaud gave her doormen a politically freighted makeover. The sans-coulottes get-ups went straight in the bin and were speedily replaced with the garb of a new, more conservative social group, the Gilded Youth. Far more flamboyant than the sans-coulottes, the Gilded Youth sported colorful frocks, cravats, and buckled shoes. Though cheery in appearance, members of this clique carried not only a grudge against any and all who had supported the Terror but also canes with which they could bludgeon them. Many a sans-coulotte wound up on the receiving end of these cudgels in street fights.


The economy also imperiled the wax museum. As we discussed in the previous episode, France had gone to war with other European powers, and this conflict stopped up supply chains, resulting in a candle shortage. In an age before electric—and even gas—lighting, candles were essential to Tussaud, allowing her to illuminate the paintings, busts, and full-length sculptures in her collection. But then inadequate lighting mattered little if much of the populace could not afford a ticket. Inflation conspired with a dismal harvest in 1794 to drag many Parisians to the verge of starvation. Women waited in line at the baker’s for six hours straight only to come away with a quarter of a biscuit. In her memoirs, Tussaud recalls how the needy scavenged for scraps of food in the garbage, overjoyed to fish out the stump of a cabbage. Earnings at the wax museum proved so low that on May 16, 1795, Tussaud was forced to take out a loan of 60,000 livres to keep the business afloat. She struck a bargain with exacting creditors, and a few years later, she had no choice but to put up the family home on the Boulevard du Temple as security.


François the Freeloader


Up until now, I’ve mostly called Tussaud by that name instead of by her maiden name, Grosholtz. Well, in the autumn of 1795, Marie Grosholtz officially became Marie Tussaud.


Her husband was named François Tussaud. François’s ancestors hailed from the easterly region of Mâcon and had labored in the metalworking industry for several generations. The son of an iron merchant and one of seven brothers, François packed up and moved to Paris on the eve of the revolution, pursuing a career as a civil engineer. It’s uncertain how and when he made the acquaintance of Marie Grosholtz, eight years his senior, but he eventually proposed marriage. On October 18, 1795, the couple took their vows during a no-frills ceremony witnessed by four parties—a theater owner and merchant on behalf of the bride and a building inspector along with a painter on behalf of the groom.


Before agreeing to marriage, Marie addressed the delicate issue of the wax museum. At this time in France, married women traditionally forfeited control of their property to their husbands. This would have caused concern for Marie—and perhaps accounts for why she had waited until her early thirties to marry. The wax museum was not just her livelihood—it was her life and had been since girlhood. In a striking breech of custom, Marie negotiated an agreement allowing her to retain ownership of her assets, including the wax museum and its collection.


Before long, the Tussauds started a family. In September 1796, aged thirty-four, an age more often associated with death than first-time motherhood in eighteenth-century Paris, Marie gave birth to a girl called Marie Marguerite Pauline. Devastatingly, the infant died after just six months. The grieving mother memorialized her firstborn’s brief life as only she could. Dipping the tips of her fingers in plaster and gently coating her little girl’s face with it, she fashioned a tiny death mask, which she later displayed in her exhibition. Two boys followed in rapid succession: Joseph on April 16, 1798, and François on August 2, 1800. (François would later go by Francis, and I will use that name to distinguish him from his father.) Both Joseph and Francis would survive into adulthood, and both would become crucial to their mother’s success.


Yet married with kids was not happily married. Most biographers make it sound as if Monsieur and Madame Tussaud were doomed from the get-go because of François and his myriad flaws. He was a ghastly mismatch for his supremely competent, career-driven wife. He was a civil engineer of dangerous ineptitude. In 1801, the municipal authorities slapped him with an injunction demanding the demolition of an unstable building that he had erected, a late-game Jenga tower just waiting to collapse. With strikes like this on his record, contractors were hardly queuing up at his office. To make matters worse, François had a gambling habit, which added to the debt that Marie was already shouldering because of her business loan. With time, he expanded his financial indiscretions to include theater speculation, hoping for a payday that never came. Not surprisingly, perhaps, Marie and François were seldom on good terms. The rockiness of their union was no secret to their children and their children’s children. In 1903, the couple’s grandson, Victor, sent a letter to his nephew, John Theodore, summing up the marital disharmony as follows: “I have always understood that in addition to incompatibility of temperament [between Marie and François], your great-grandfather was a confirmed gambler, which propensity he afterwards however varied by becoming miserly.”


The Corsican General


Marie had watched France transform from a monarchy to a republic. Soon, the nation would turn into an empire. In 1799, a young Corsican general named Napoleon Bonaparte staged a successful cop d’état, becoming First Consul. For Tussaud, Napoleon’s seizure of power signified “the true end of the history of the Revolution, which resolved itself into a government of military despotism under the guidance of a talented but arbitrary dictator.” Most historians would certainly agree with her.


The First Consul’s ascent was Tussaud’s cue to break out the plaster. In her memoirs, she tells us that Napoleon’s wife, Joséphine, personally invited her to take a life mask from her husband. But running a country is time-consuming, and the First Consul could only pencil Tussaud in at six in the morning. The wax modeler rose before the sun and made for the Tuileries palace, where she received a cordial reception from Joséphine. (If we take Tussaud at her word, the last time the pair had hung out together was in prison during the Terror, which we talked about last episode.) In contrast, Napoleon was gruff and gave Tussaud lip when she explained the process of taking a mask from life. To do so, she would have to cover his entire face in plaster and stick two straws up his nose so he could breathe. When she instructed him not to be alarmed, he shot back, “Alarmed? I should not be alarmed if you surrounded my head with loaded pistols!”


Though amusing, this anecdote is more than likely apocryphal, as are many of Tussaud’s most memorable stories. Whether or not she did so at the Tuileries, Tussaud did fashion effigies of both Napoleon and Joséphine shortly after his rise to power, probably working not from life but rather from portraits or other media. At the time, she could not have foreseen how large Napoleon would loom on the international stage or within the showrooms of her wax museum. He became emperor in 1804, but by that time, Tussaud was no longer living in France.


Farewell to France


In 1802, a man from Tussaud’s past returned to Paris and changed the course of her future. This was none other than Paul Philipstal, the magic lantern maestro who landed in the slammer over the Louis XVI snafu. Philipstal came fresh from London, where he had become the talk and terror of the metropolis thanks to his spectral extravaganzas. Unfortunately for him, his horror shows spawned a host of imitators, causing ticket sales to tank. A victim of his own success, the showman announced that he would close “for a short time, to make way for an entire new set of amusements.”


This temporary closure coincided with an easing of tensions between England and France. These neighbors had long been adversarial, but their relationship had hit a new low since the outbreak of the French Revolution, especially after the trial and execution of the king. Throughout the 1790s, France attempted to invade England on three separate occasions without success—first in 1793, again in 1797, and finally in 1798. During this period, travel between the two countries slowed to a trickle. That all changed in March 1802, when the warring nations ratified the Treaty of Amiens, ending hostilities, at least for the time being.


Philipstahl took advantage of the tentative truce to return to Paris. He set his sights on Tussaud’s wax collection, particularly her macabre relics of the French Revolution, which would pair nicely with his phantasmagorical offerings. After scheduling a meeting with Tussaud, he proposed that she join him in London as a supporting act. As much a salesman as a showman, Philipstahl would have pitched this collaboration as a no-brainer. In the British capital, Tussaud could introduce her handiwork to a brand-new clientele. Moreover, Philipstahl already had pull in the city, and with his help, she would have no trouble getting her name out there. Yet he drove a hard bargain. If Tussaud agreed to this partnership, she would be expected to cover her own transportation expenses, and Philipstal would be entitled to half of her takings. Furthermore, he appears not to have specified when her contractual obligations would expire; it was unclear how long he wanted her to say in London.


Tussaud was faced with a daunting decision. Business had never picked back up in Paris, and partnering with Philipstahl had plenty of allures. Yet the collaboration also entailed major downsides. It would mean leaving her home on the Boulevard du Temple, the only home she had known since age six. It would mean moving to a foreign country where she could hardly speak the language, a country that had been at war with her own until just recently. Finally, it would mean splitting up her family. François would have to stay in Paris to manage their property. That was no drawback—in fact, some time away from this freeloader might be a perk. But what about Marie’s mother, now quite elderly? Would she be healthy enough to make such a journey? And what about the boys? Would Marie be able to provide for both Joseph and Francis if they came? Would their father even allow her to take them? That Tussaud would remain abroad for an uncertain amount of time only made these considerations weightier.


After much contemplation, Tussaud informed Philipstahl of her final decision: she was all in. Wasting no time, she boxed up her collection and arranged transportation to the British capital. She also made tough choices about who would come with her. François and her mother would stay at the house on the Boulevard du Temple. Joseph, aged four, would accompany her to London while Francis, just two, would remain in Paris. When the day of her departure finally arrived, Tussaud made her farewells without any inkling of their finality. She would never see François or her mother again, nor would she ever return to Paris.


Fright Night at the Lyceum


After docking at Dover and proceeding to London, Philipstahl and Tussaud set up in the Lyceum Theatre in the West End. Together, they dished up a bona fide fright fest.


Philipstahl performed on the ground floor. He exhibited an array of mechanical curiosities, including a miniature, self-propelled windmill, but the main attraction was his phantasmagoria. Writing in 1832, Sir David Brewster recalled an 1803 performance: “The curtain rose and displayed a cave with skeletons and other terrific figures in relief upon its walls. The flickering light was then drawn up beneath its shroud and the spectators in total darkness found themselves in the middle of thunder and lightning. This was followed by the figures of ghosts, skeletons and known individuals whose eyes and mouth were made to move.”


With Philipstahl upstairs, Tussaud took the basement. By now, you’re well-acquainted with the grisly highlights of her collection: a model guillotine, death heads of decapitated revolutionaries, as well as the tableau of Marat in his bath. These displays tapped into visitors’ morbid fascination with how disastrously the French Revolution had spiraled out of control.


Despite the strength of her artwork, Tussaud was hardly raking in the money she had hoped to. Part of this was down to the stiff competition in the metropolis. In Paris, Tussaud had enjoyed a de facto monopoly on the commerce of wax modeling. In London, by contrast, she was a newcomer to a long-established market.


The biggest fish in this pond was a lady by the name of Mrs. Salmon. (In case you’re wondering, it’s no coincidence that the name of London’s best-known wax modeler belonged to a woman. According to historian and Tussaud biographer Pamela Pilbeam, wax became “a medium of choice for women” throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.) Mrs. Salmon died decades before Tussaud came to town, but, as with Tussaud, her business long outlived her. Born in 1670, Mrs. Salmon ran a waxworks along with her husband starting as early as 1693. When Mr. Salmon passed away in 1718, she assumed ownership of the enterprise. If you listened to last season’s Ask Me Anything episode, you might remember that a listener asked me which of the artists I covered that season I would hang out with for a day if I could. This season, the answer is definitely Mrs. Salmon. By all accounts, she was eccentric. Reportedly morbid, she wore a white bonnet tricked out with coffin trimmings and was said to sleep with a funerary pall as a coverlet. From 1711 onward, she exhibited her more than 140 life-sized figures in a building on Fleet Street. In a display of delightfully whimsical branding, she painted a gargantuan salmon on the façade. Maybe her most talked-about model depicted Mother Shipton, a folkloric figure variously portrayed as a soothsayer or witch. This effigy stood near the exit of the waxworks and made quite an impression as customers left. Something of a practical joker, Mrs. Salmon installed a spring-loaded booby trap in front of Mother Shipton, and when patrons stepped on it, the mechanized waxwork booted them in the backside, playfully telling them to get the hell out. In 1740, she died at the ripe old age of ninety, but her business continued under new ownership though still under the name of Mrs. Salmon’s Waxworks.


Thanks to the 1863 book, London Scenes and London People, written by a man who calls himself “Aleph,” we have some idea of what Mrs. Salmon’s was exhibiting around the time of Tussaud’s arrival. Thinking back to boyhood visits fifty or sixty years earlier, the author recalls the collection, spread across three rooms on as many floors. Politicians, royals, national heroes, and A-grade celebrities featured prominently. Visitors inspected likeness of King George III, Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger, Admiral Horacio Nelson, and the Meryl Streep of contemporary theater, Sarah Siddons. One exhibit staged an Arcadian scene, complete with shepherds tending their flocks. The tableau was explicit about where kids come from in the most literal sense: as Aleph writes, it featured “a goat or two, making violent love, in a mode scarcely proper; to our politer notions.” Somehow, this outré pastoral vista shared a room with a celebration of the British navy. In the center of the space, a tableau depicted a miniature wax man-of-war, or frigate, sailing on a sea of what Aleph refers to as “crown glass,” an enormous Union Jack waving above the display.


Tussaud was not the only wax modeler around, nor was she alone in exhibiting horror shows about the French Revolution. Replica guillotines could be found across the city, sometimes billed as “The French Bleeding Machine.” At the “Grand Exhibition of La Guillotine,” customers paid sixpence to watch a simulation of a decapitation. According to one observer, “The execution is performed on a figure as large as life: the head is severed from the body by the tremendous fall of the axe and the illusion is complete.” Mrs. Salmon’s was also exploiting the Francophobe fixation. The waxworks featured “the horrible cells of the Bastille with the man in the iron mask, the Queen of France and the Dauphin in distress.”


The competitor who must have rankled Tussaud most was also her business partner. Unable to speak or write in English, Tussaud relied on Philipstahl to advertise her waxworks. He was unwilling to do so, however, if it meant less publicity for him. After the two opened for business at the Lyceum, Philipstahl announced his return to London without so much as a word about Tussaud—this, after forcing her to work out of the basement. Tussaud was well aware that she had taken a risk by coming to London. But she had made a much dodgier deal than she could have imagined. That Christmas season was cold and lonely. Tussaud and Joseph took humble lodgings on Surrey Street, a stone’s throw from the Strand in Central London. Maybe they wished for new opportunities in the new year.


Tussaud certainly saw one. In February 1803, she exploited a cause célèbre that gripped the populace that winter: the trial and execution of Colonel Edward Marcus Despard.


Into the Jungle


Colonel Despard may have died a traitor, but he had proven himself both a patriot and hero by the time he hit thirty. Born in Queen’s county, Ireland, on March 6, 1751, he hailed from a military family and seemed destined to join the British army from an early age. Edward enlisted as an ensign in 1766 and was soon thereafter deployed to Jamaica, a British colony that harvested mountains of sugar each year. There, using his innate facility for science and mathematics, Despard became an engineer.


In 1780, Despard’s service went from humdrum to high drama. After the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War, tensions flared between the British and the Spanish in the Caribbean and Central America. With the British distracted by the breakaway colonies, Spain perceived an opportunity to enlarge its colonial holdings in those areas by seizing British territories. When the Spanish initiated their offensives, however, the British responded not just by defending their precious gems but also by retaliating in kind. Intent on taking control of Spanish strongholds in Central America, the governor of Jamaica, John Dalling, hammered out what became known as the San Juan raid. The plan went like this: aided by African slaves and members of the indigenous Miskito population (that’s spelled M-I-S-K-I-T-O), the British would land on the Miskito Shore, which stretches along the eastern coast of modern-day Honduras and Nicaragua. After trekking inland to the San Juan River, the insurgents would proceed upstream to the Fortress of Immaculate Conception, the Achilles heel of Spanish America, Dalling maintained. Once they commandeered the fortress, the British could capture the city of Granada, diminishing Spanish influence in the region while also granting Britain access to the Pacific Ocean.


Dalling recruited Despard to take part in the expedition as chief engineer. In this capacity, he would act as both scout and mapmaker, exploring ahead of the rest of his regiment and charting the safest course up the San Juan. Despard would serve under John Polson. However, Polson and his men would require a naval escort from Jamaica to the Miskito Shore. To this end, the strategists called in a captain who was then little-known but who would rise to become one of Britain’s most venerated warriors: Horatio Nelson. Nelson would most famously fight and die at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, a pivotal showdown that stymied a French invasion of Britain. Both he and Despard would see field combat for the first time during this raid. We’ll hear how the expedition fared after a quick break.


By the end of March 1780, Despard and company had landed on the Miskito Shore and were making their way up the San Juan river. Nelson and his crew also undertook the journey. Walls of forest towered over either side of the stream, the shrieks of parrots and monkeys all around. It soon became clear that the going would be tougher Dalling had anticipated. (Dalling, of course, was back in Jamaica, in the comfort of his office.) The expeditioners would have to travel sixty miles upstream to reach the Fortress of Immaculate Conception. They were embarking on this ordeal at the tail end of the dry season, at which point the river was a web of shallow tributaries and shoals, rendering it unnavigable in anything but Miskito canoes. The boatmen had no choice but to disembark constantly and drag their vessels along the sandbars as they progressed. Already grueling regardless of the weather, this labor fast became unbearable in the punishing heat and humidity. Clouds of mosquitoes descended on Despard and his contingent on a regular basis, eating them alive and infecting them with sickness. As they progressed upriver, Despard and Nelson formed a tight bond, sharing a tent, taking their meals together, and waxing sentimental about crown and country.


Ten days into the expedition, Despard caught his first glimpse of the enemy. He and his companions were searching for a path on land that would take them around a stretch of white-water rapids. From the thick of the jungle, they espied a small island in the river, known as St. Bartholomew. A Spanish outpost stood on the islet, fortified with approximately ten gun emplacements mounted on ramparts. Despard notified others downriver of his discovery, urging them to send backup for an attack. After his comrades received his message, a detachment was dispatched, led by Nelson. On the way to Despard, the unit trudged through tangles of thorns and razor-grasses, the air abuzz with insects. One poor soul plodded headlong into a snake that was dangling from a tree branch. The serpent bit him beneath the left eye, killing him. By nightfall, Nelson’s party had met up with Despard, who proposed that they launch an assault at dawn.


The next morning, Despard and Nelson volunteered to command a boat out to the island. The vessel cut through the river without a sound until it crossed into a deep channel. The crew tensed as water splashed against their oars. Alerted by the noise, Spanish sentinels raised the alarm. Within seconds, musket fire was raining down on them. The boatmen rowed at top speed, and when they came aground on St. Bartholomew, Despard and Nelson led the charge. To Despard’s horror, when he leapt from the boat, he sank, knee-deep, into the russet mud on the shore. Unable to wrench his boots from the muck and with missiles zipping past on all sides, he yanked his feet upward and out of his footwear, resuming the siege, barefoot. As smoke drifted upward into the green canopy, Despard and Nelson scaled the ramparts. To their surprise, however, they found that the battle had ended before it began. The Spanish were retreating; the post was theirs. This battle was won, but they still had to take Fortress of Immaculate Conception.


The Death Trap of Immaculate Conception


Despard and Nelson spotted it at dawn a day or two later, on April 10, 1780. More than a hundred years old and the largest fort in Central America for most of its existence, the stone-wrought edifice featured massive bastions, one hundred feet wide by two hundred feet tall. Its walls were a solid four feet thick and outfitted with fourteen canon emplacements, while a moat provided another line of defense. Approximately two hundred Spanish troops were inside.


Despard and the rest prepared for a siege. The British had lost the element of surprise because of the St. Bartholomew shootout, and the Spanish were ready for them. The battle began with both sides exchanging cannon fire. At first, morale soared among the British, especially when Nelson hit the fortress’s flagpole with a well-aimed shot, knocking the Spanish flag to the ground. But the conflict soon turned into a stalemate, lasting for days. The Spanish were not in an ideal position, trapped as they were inside the fortress, unable to escape or defeat the attackers, sheltered as they were by the dense jungle. Yet the fortress’s walls were simply too strong for British cannonballs, and both ammunition and provisions were dwindling. Worse still for the British, the rainy season arrived right in the middle of the assault, slamming them with tropical downpours. On April 28, after more than two weeks of gridlock, the aggressors resolved to storm the fort. Per the rules of engagement, a Spanish-speaking fighter on the British side went to the front gates with a white flag and an ultimatum: surrender now or face an onslaught. To the astonishment of the British, a drum roll sounded inside the castle, followed by the waving of a white flag. The defenders had surrendered. Fluent in Spanish, Despard became the first of his party to set foot inside the fortress, negotiating the terms of capitulation.


The victory was pyrrhic. As became evident, the fortress was a cesspool of misery and illness, poorly provisioned and blighted with dankness and slime-covered walls. Hunkering down here was hardly more salubrious than camping in the wilderness. One medical officer characterized the castle as “not merely an improper hospital but a certain grave.” Within just a week or two, the Death Trap of Immaculate Conception was becoming a mass tomb. Many of the British had picked up diseases during the expedition, and now the rate of infection was accelerating. Soon, the sick outnumbered the healthy as the reek of dysentery and septic wounds saturated the atmosphere. At the pinnacle of the epidemic, nearly ten men were dying each day, with those left standing scarcely able to bury the fallen. Despard suffered intermittent fevers, so severe as to render him blind and unable to speak on one occasion. Likewise fever-stricken and bound to die if he stayed in this hellhole, Nelson was miraculously conveyed downstream, where a freed Black slave called Cuba Cornwallis restored him to health. In the meantime, torrential rains poured day and night, affording limited opportunity for the troopers to leave this squalid pit. When the weather permitted and he was well enough to walk, Despard ventured north to chart the contours of nearby Lake Nicaragua.


On November 8, 1780, after almost seven months of this unlivable existence, Despard received final orders from Governor Dalling back in Jamaica. The grand plan to expand British influence in the region was glaringly untenable. The higher-ups directed Despard to salvage what he could food from the fort and then employ whatever explosives he had to bring about “the total and effectual demolition of the castle.” By New Year’s Day, 1781, Despard and the few able bodies he had at his disposal had dug twenty shafts into the hard bedrock underneath the fortress and loaded them with combustibles. Despard lit the first fuse the following morning, leveling the north wall. Alarming though not unexpected news arrived the morning after: the Spanish had observed the blast from afar and were fast approaching. At midnight that evening, with the Spaniards visible and closing in, Despard evacuated the Fortress of Immaculate Conception, sending his men downriver. After cramming the remaining explosives into subterranean hollows, he lit another fuse and sprang into the last boat down the San Juan. The ensuing fireball lit up the night as the fleeing boatmen rounded the first bend.


The San Juan raid was an unmitigated disaster. Of the nearly 2,000 British troops, Black slaves, and Miskito cooperatives who participated in the mission, only about 380 survived. Yet Despard came out looking pretty good. As Mike Jay points out in his biography, The Unfortunate Colonel Despard, the chief engineer was the first of the British inside the fortress and also the last to leave. He had demonstrated unquestionable bravery and continued to do so over the next two years, serving as commander in a number of battles with the Spanish. At the age of thirty-two, he attained the rank of colonel.


The Bay of Honduras Debacle


In 1783, Despard received a new appointment: Superintendent of the Honduras Bay Settlement. Britain and Spain had recently signed a treaty that reapportioned land in the area. Strictly speaking, Spain owned the territory, but a population of well-heeled, white, slave-owning British settlers known as the Baymen had lived in the vicinity since the late seventeenth century. Many of the Baymen made their living as loggers, taking advantage of the local abundance of mahogany and trading this valuable wood with America as well as Britain. It was Despard’s duty as superintendent to preside over the Bay of Honduras and ensure that the Baymen abided by the stipulations of the aforesaid treaty.


Despard’s post was neither glorious nor high-paying. He resided in a ramshackle shack, subsisting on pork and beef from Jamaica and making a most salary of 500 pounds. Yet a happy marriage may have tempered the disagreeable living conditions. Probably around 1784 or ’85, Despard married a native Black woman named Catherine. Before long, she bore him a son, James. Many years later, after Despard had returned to England with Catherine and James, family members erased or otherwise downplayed his uncommon, interracial union. They variously referred to Catherine as his “black housekeeper” or “the poor woman who called herself his ‘wife.’” In actual fact, Edward and Catherine loved each other profoundly. In the coming years, he would face existential legal perils, and far from simply keeping house, Catherine would become his most impassioned public advocate.


Despard’s slow decline into infamy began at the Bay of Honduras Settlement. Due to the recent agreement with Spain, the Bay saw an influx of ethnically diverse settlers from along the Miskito Shore. Often called the Shoremen, the newcomers vastly outnumbered the Baymen and alarmed these longtime residents, who worried about losing land and profits to the fresh arrivals. Tensions soon escalated between the two groups.


Despard sided with the Shoremen in several disputes. One such quagmire resulted from a housing crisis: the incoming Shoremen needed shelter, but there was nowhere for many to go. Despard’s solution was Convention Town, a new development owned by the local British authority. Together with his surveyor, the Superintendent demarcated one hundred single-family homes on the southern bank of the Belize River, each plot fifty feet by one hundred. The colonel invited homeless Shoremen to apply for these dwellings. The Baymen felt entitled to this land even as they had no lawful right to it—as part of the aforementioned treaty, Spain had ceded it to the British in general, not to any group in particular such as the Baymen. Indignant nevertheless, the Baymen fired off a petition to the Home Secretary in London, in which they accused Despard of “dividing up the newly ceded district after the manner of a lottery, without preference to those who had formerly cleared ground, or without any distinction of age, sex, character, respectability, property or color.” They singled out this last point as cause for outrage: in Despard’s scheme, “the meanest mulatto or freed negro has equal chance” as any white, Anglo-Saxon. One of the first Shoremen to draw a lot in Convention Town was a free Black man called Joshua Jones. The very next morning, Despard discovered an angry crowd of Shoremen outside the courthouse. The previous night, he learned, Baymen had come knocking at Jones’s property, armed with guns as well as cutlasses, and placed him under arrest. Fired up, the protestors considered liberating Jones by force, but Despard called for order. With the Shoremen in tow, he headed for the courthouse, where he found a security detail of Baymen outside, two of them equipped with bayonets. When Despard asked to enter the building, the sentries refused, claiming that it was not within the Superintendent’s authority to “accommodate men of colour calling themselves the people of the [Miskito] Shore.” This was untrue, and Despard knew it. Unfazed, he pushed his way past the guards and into the courthouse, where he found Jones. He placed his hand on Jones’s shoulder and exclaimed, “I declare this man free in the King’s name.” Almost absurdly, a Bayman countered by touching Jones’s other shoulder and declaring him captive. Outside, the assembly shouted, “To arms!” Fully aware they would lose in a fight to the Shoremen, Jones’s captors quietly released him. In a letter to Despard, the Home Secretary supported the Superintendent’s actions and condemned the Baymen’s conduct.


After this incident, the Baymen’s hatred of Despard smoldered, and they bombarded the Home Office with a series of hyperbolical letters denouncing him as an overreaching despot. They became so frequent and ferocious that they persuaded a new Home Secretary ill-acquainted with the history of the dispute to act. To Despard’s shock, this Home Secretary suspended him from his post, recalling him to London. He would receive half-pay as the proper authorities arbitrated this matter. The colonel left for the British capital on June 3, 1790. It was simply his intention to clear his name and get back to the Bay.


The Makings of a Traitor


He would not have much luck. To cut a long and bitter story short, after appealing to both the Home Secretary and at least one Member of Parliament, Despard met with an undesired outcome. He was cleared of any wrongdoing in the Bay. Yet it was also decided to eliminate the post of Superintendent of the Bay of Honduras entirely. Despard no longer had a job to return to, nor was he assigned to a new position. Soon, the colonel found himself deep in debt, due to a mixture of earlier financial mismanagement, his current unemployment, and costly lawsuits brought against him by the Baymen. In 1792, he was thrown into the King’s Bench debtors’ prison, where he would remain under lock and key until he could pay what he owed. He would spend two full years in confinement.


As Despard languished, the French revolution took one radical turn after another. Since the storming of the Bastille in 1789, the revolutionary spirit had spread to England and Ireland, the latter a British colony. English and Irish revolutionaries came from different countries with different histories and thus had very different agendas. Broadly speaking, however, they had at least two traits in common: they favored republicanism over monarchy, and they also wished to extend the vote to a greater percentage of the population. In both countries, the overwhelming majority of the populace was prohibited from voting. Three interconnected groups sprang up: first, the London Corresponding Society (or LCS for short), a club devoted to reading and discussing political texts; second, the United Irishmen, a paramilitary organization devoted to obtaining universal suffrage in Ireland; third, the United Britons, another paramilitary society, many of whose members belonged to the LCS. Members of the United Britons met with delegates of the United Irishmen to coordinate activities. Alarmed by the rise in revolutionary sentiment, the British government grew increasingly repressive, under the leadership of Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger. Spies infiltrated the ranks of the LCS, the United Irishmen, and the United Britons. Parliament passed laws expanding the legal definition of treason and forbidding large, “seditious” gatherings. Along with these measures, Pitt suspended habeus corpus, enabling the state to imprison perceived threats without public charges or a formal trial. This political crackdown went down in history as Pitt’s Reign of Terror.


During his stint at the King’s Bench debtors’ prison, Despard inhaled the spirit of revolution. He got his hands on a copy of The Rights of Man by Thomas Paine, a no-holds-barred attack on monarchy. When the colonel finally left King’s Bench in 1794, he had no hope of resurrecting his military career. Instead, he committed himself to the revolutionary cause. He joined the London Corresponding Society, the United Irishmen, and the United Britons. Perhaps unsurprisingly given his experience as a soldier, he expressed support for the use of force in achieving the organizations’ ends, a divisive view among his fellow revolutionaries.


By the summer of 1795, anger over prolonged conflict with France combined with the scarcity of food at home had given rise to violence in London. Protestors hurled stones at Prime Minister Pitt’s residence on Downing Street, chanting, “No war, no Pitt, cheap bread!” Another crowd swarmed King George III as he processed into Parliament. Still another mob rioted at the Charing Cross train station. Despard was detained at the Charing Cross incident and briefly taken into custody for questioning.


If we’re to believe the testimony of spies, during this period, Despard frequented Irish pubs in London, where he recruited new members to the United Irishmen. Gentlemanly in bearing, he reliably carried a green silk umbrella—a genteel trend that set him apart from other customers at working men’s clubs. In addition, he liked to wear a dark-blue greatcoat to keep warm—he appears not to have readjusted to the colder climes after his time in the tropics. Brandy and water was his favorite drink. According to one informant who spoke with Despard at a pub, the colonel estimated that a force of 1,500 men could temporarily seize control of London, though ten times that number would be needed to hold it.


In the winter of 1797, British spy Samuel Turner filed a worrying report at the Home Office. A longtime mole in the United Irishmen, Turner was privy to plans of an armed uprising in Ireland. The French would invade in support of the rebels. There was also talk of a rising in London, backed by the French as well as the Irish. As planning for these insurrections advanced, United Irishmen sent delegates to London to meet with members of the United Britons. A key participant in these conversations was allegedly Colonel Edward Marcus Despard.


The government obtained concrete evidence of such a conspiracy on February 28, 1798. That day, two United Irishmen, Arthur O’Connor and James O’Coigley were detained, just as they were about to set sail for France. O’Coigley was caught with a damning message. “With the tyranny of England,” it proclaimed, “that of all Europe must fall.” If the French invaded, “myriads will hail their arrival with shouts of joy.” Both were tried for treason. O’Connor was acquitted while O’Coigley was hanged.


Investigating his possible ties to this plot, law enforcement picked up Despard on April 22. Remember, the government had suspended habeus corpus as part of Pitt’s Reign of Terror, so it was under no obligation to bring charges against the colonel. Despard could only sit behind bars until the state decided what to do with him. His purgatorial existence ran its course at Coldbath Fields, a purpose-built prison, where he lived under deplorable conditions. The window of his seven-square-foot cell lacked glass, and the guards had not given him so much as a candle to keep warm. Worse still, his room was situated beneath ground level and flooded when it rained. Forbidden to step inside his cell, Catherine could only speak with her husband through the bars in his door. Increasingly distraught yet no less determined to see her spouse liberated, Catherine undertook a letter-writing campaign to raise awareness of his mistreatment. One of her letters was read before Parliament and reprinted in the press. In November 1798, largely thanks to Catherine’s efforts, Despard was transferred to a cell with a fireplace upstairs and was also permitted visits from his wife. By now, he had wasted away to skin and bones on a near-starvation diet of water and bread, the early-winter frost having ulcerated his legs.


Despard spent the next two-and-a-quarter years at Coldbath Fields. Finally, in February 1801, it came time to renew the suspension of habeus corpus, and Parliament allowed the measure to lapse. Despard was released after three years of confinement, the state never charging him with a criminal offense.


Despard stepped out of the penitentiary as something of a hero. By now, much of the public had learned of his scintillating military service as well as the abominable conditions of his imprisonment. In the 1801-02 edition of the publication, Character Sketches, the author painted him as a victim of anti-revolutionary hysteria: “during the period of terror, when all men were taught to believe that some secret conspiracy was about to burst forth,” the writer declares, Despard was subjected to freezing temperatures in prison and “was obliged [. . .] to jump from his table to his bed, and from his bed to the ground, in order to produce such an increased circulation of his blood as should diffuse warmth through his half-frozen veins.” We’ll hear how Despard plunged into legal perils yet again and wound up represented in Tussaud’s wax collection after a quick break.


Despard’s Trial and Execution


By the latter half of 1802, Despard had vanished from the public eye, but government spies certainly had him on their radar. Intelligence linked him to yet another conspiracy. Acting on a tip from an informant at around nine o’clock on November 16, law enforcement raided the Oakley Arms pub in London. They burst through the front door and barged upstairs to the club room. Inside, they discovered thirty men, some dressed in workers’ apparel, others in regimental uniforms. Despard was among them, unmistakable with his green umbrella. “One and all, follow me,” the colonel allegedly shouted before striding over to the officers and demanding to see a search warrant. A constable flashed one in front of his face without allowing him sufficient time to read it while other lawmen searched for evidence of illicit activity. They found what they were looking for: Several men present were caught carrying “unlawful oaths.” They read as follows: “Constitution: The Independence of Great Britain and Ireland. An Equalisation of Civil, Political and Religious Rights; an Ample Provision for the Heroes who shall fall in the Contest.” Furthermore, each carrier would “endeavour to the utmost of my power to obtain the objects of this Union.” Under recent legislation, these illegal oaths were grounds for arrest. Despard did not have one of these in his possession. Still, before he knew it, he and all thirty or so of his confederates were on their way to the county prison.


Within a few days, the colonel was fingered as the ringleader of a sprawling seditious conspiracy that soon became known as the Despard Plot. About a week after the arrest, the story went, King George III was set to open Parliament. Members of both the United Irishmen and the United Britons had infiltrated the Guard and planned to attack the king in his carriage. Bizarrely, at least one report held that they would fire on the monarch with a ceremonial Turkish cannon. After assassinating the king, the conspirators would take over Parliament, the Tower of London, as well as the Home Office. Then, they would block all mail out of the British capital, which would act as a signal to revolutionary cells actors the nation that it was time to rise.


At the ensuing trial, Despard faced charges of high treason. As the prosecution called witnesses to the stand, it became clear that a cabal of conspirators was indeed plotting to assassinate the king. What remained unclear—for a while, at least—was whether Despard was directly involved in this scheming and whether he had acted as the prime mover. Eventually, however, more than one witness implicated him. The most damning testimony came from Thomas Windsor, a veteran informant whose intelligence had led police to the Oakley Arms pub. Windsor first met Despard in the Flying Horse pub in Newington. Nursing a shilling’s worth of brandy and water, the colonel had supposedly detailed a plan to assassinate George III: “His Majesty must be put to death,” Despard declared. Despard was also claimed to have told Windsor to bring men of revolutionary convictions to a gathering in Tower Hill “to consult on the best mode of taking the Tower, and securing the arms.” Asked whether Windsor recalled any “other remarkable expressions” to have come from the colonel, Winsor answered in the affirmative. According to Windsor, Despard swore, “I have weighted the matter well, and my heart is callous.” With that, the prosecution rested.


This allegedly would-be regicide’s “callous heart” was the kind of bombshell that could dominate headlines. But Despard’s defense had equally heavy-duty ammunition. The entire courtroom held its breath as Despard attorney called the star character witness: the one-armed forty-something who commanded greater respect than almost any other man in the nation, the nautical juggernaut and master tactician who had bested Napoleon on the Nile in 1798 and would die a hero at the Battle of Trafalgar in two years’ time: Horatio Nelson. In his biography of Despard, Jay describes the importance of Nelson’s testimony like this: “Apart from the King and the Prime Minister, both of whom were bringing the prosecution, it would be hard to imagine another living Briton whose endorsement could have carried more weight.” Nelson could not have spoken more highly of Despard. “We went on the Spanish Main together,” he testified, “we slept many nights together in our clothes upon the ground. In all that period of time no man could have shown more zealous attachment to his sovereign and his country than Colonel Despard did.” While Nelson conceded that he and Despard had not kept in contact since the San Juan raid, he also added, “if I had been asked my opinion of him, I should certainly have said, if he is still alive he is certainly one of the brightest ornaments of the British army.”


Despite Nelson’s praise, the verdict came back guilty. The Lord Chief Justice pronounced the fate that Despard and six of his confederates would suffer as a result: “to be drawn on a hurdle to the place of execution, there to be hanged by the neck, but then, not until you are quite dead, to be cut down and your bowels taken out and cast into the fire before your faces; your heads to be taken off, and your bodies quartered.”


The trial bred confusion for a good deal of the public. Was Despard a traitor or a patriot? This question intensified public interest in the case and certainly hung in the air during the condemned man’s final hour. At about 8:00 a.m., on Monday, February 21, 1803, Despard stepped onto the flat roof of Surrey County Jail, dressed in his trademark greatcoat and a pair of gray breeches. Nearly a hundred officers, dignitaries, and guards stood around him. Below on the street was a sea of spectators, supervised by a large police presence though oddly silent throughout the ritual killing. Despard asked the Surrey County sheriff if he could make a farewell address and received permission to do so, provided he avoid inflammatory rhetoric. “Fellow Citizens,” he began, using an honorific with republic connotations, “I come here, as you see, after having served my country faithfully, honourably and usefully served it, for thirty years and upwards, to suffer death upon a scaffold for a crime of which I protest I am not guilty.” He went on, “But, Citizens, I hope and trust, notwithstanding my fate, and the fate of those who no doubt will soon follow me, that the principles of freedom, of humanity, and of justice, will finally triumph over falsehood, tyranny and delusion, and every principle inimical to the interests of the human race.” Here, he had crossed a line, and the sheriff stepped forward to silence him. A few minutes later, the hangman performed his solemn office. The colonel’s body hung in the air for thirty-seven minutes before the executioner cut it down. After a surgeon severed Despard’s head, the executioner picked it up by the hair and went to the edge of the parapet. As he did so, he implicitly refuted the dead man’s profession of innocence, calling out, “This is the head of a traitor. Edward Marcus Despard.”


Shortly after his execution, Tussaud introduced an effigy of the colonel, hoping it would bring in badly needed business. This likeness was remarkable for the fact that it was the first new addition to her collection in England. Despard was not entirely out of place. He was a revolutionary sentenced to death by the state, so he had something in common with Maximilien Robespierre, whose death head was mounted on the wall nearby. By sculpting Despard’s image in wax, Tussaud continued a trend of profiting on public interest in political crimes and criminals, a trend that emerged in the early years of the French Revolution.


The Despard model became a modest hit. If Londoners had missed the opportunity to see him in the flesh on the rooftop of the Surrey County jail, they could size up his likeness in the basement of the Lyceum, and plenty did. Encouraged by the model’s favorable reception, Tussaud kept it on display for several years.


As time passed, Despard stuck out from Tussaud’s expanding collection. Prior to the outbreak of the French Revolution, she and Curtius had displayed models of the French royal family and their associates. In the United Kingdom, Tussaud eventually unveiled figures of British royalty, including King George III as well as Queen Charlotte. These made potentially awkward companion pieces with the Despard likeness, implicated as the colonel was in a plot to assassinate George. This contrast would have become especially salient when Tussaud exhibited in Ireland, more on which next episode, since Despard was born there and had joined leagues with the United Irishmen. With models of both royals and anti-monarchical revolutionaries on display under the same roof, it’s easy to imagine that Tussaud’s handiwork aroused a wide range of powerful, politically tinged emotions among customers.

Back in London, Tussaud’s business prospects had greatly improved. Yet she remained at the mercy of her exploitative partner, Philipstal. Next episode, we’ll hear about her bitter struggle to escape his clutches as the two of them leave London for Scotland and Ireland. We’ll also hear about how Tussaud moved beyond political offenses with a sculpture of a killer who killed for purely personal reasons and shocked the nation.


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