Including Important Events, Scientific Discoveries, The Lives of Significant Personalities, Cultural Milestones, and Sundry Oddities.
The following is an excerpt from “Incidents and Scandals of the Ghastly Age”, to be part of the upcoming hard-copy edition of the “Ghastly Affair” role-playing game. The 1810’s were a momentous decade that witnessed the institution of the British Regency, the height and fall of Napoleon’s empire, and the subsequent attempt to destroy the legacy of the French Revolution. In the middle of the decade Europe was struck by disastrous weather that contributed to the creation of an enduring classic of Gothic fiction. As with the “Incidents and Scandals of the 1780s”, I have chosen to emphasize the weird, lurid, and shocking. Use the chronology to inspire stories and backgrounds for characters, or to suggest the characteristics of an imaginary world inspired by Napoleonic Europe.
The Year of Rot
- January 12: Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte formally divorces Empress Joséphine, because she is unable to produce a male heir.
- January 14: Earthquakes in Hungary.
- January 16 – 17: Red snow and live insects fall in the Taro départment of France (current day Emilia-Romagna in Italy).
- January 23: In Hamburg, a newspaper states that British diplomat Benjamin Bathurst, who mysteriously disappeared last November while traveling with a courier in Perleberg (west of Berlin), is alive and has contacted friends. The supposedly contacted friends deny receiving any correspondence.
- January 29: The French government publicly disavows any involvement in the disappearance of Benjamin Bathurst.
- February 16: An earthquake strikes Crete, and is felt as far away as central Italy and Syria. 2,000 die in the Cretan city of Heraklion (Candia).
- February 20: Andreas Hofer, leader of the Tyrolean Rebellion against the Bavarians and their French allies, is executed by firing squad in Mantua. He becomes a symbol of resistance to the French Empire.
- March 11: Napoleon marries Marie Louise of Austria by proxy at a ceremony in Vienna. The Emperor does not actually meet his new wife until March 27. Her parents, Emperor Francis II and Empress Maria Theresa (of Naples and Sicily), are the niece and nephew of executed Queen Marie-Antionette (and Queen of Naples in exile, Maria Carolina).
- May: A mysterious blood drinking beast begins draining sheep in Ennerdale, England, near the border with Scotland. Villagers begin massive hunts for whatever is responsible.
- May 31, Early Morning: Ernest Augustus, Duke of Cumberland, and the fifth son of King George III, calls for help from his servants. He claims that he was awoken by a man striking him in the head, who then also wounded him in the leg with a saber. A search of the palace reveals one of the Duke’s valets, Joseph Sellis, is lying on the bed of his locked room with his throat slashed. The inquest into Sellis’ death will find that the wound was self-inflicted, but the public widely believes that the unpopular Duke murdered Sellis. Proposed reasons range from the Duke killing Sellis to cover up an affair with Sellis’ wife, to Sellis being silenced after discovering Ernest with a homosexual lover.
- June: Publication of the first book to describe the principles of modern canning, “L’Art de conserver les substances animales et végétales” (“The Art of Preserving Animal and Vegetable Substances”). The author, Nicholas Appert, is the winner of a cash prize of 12,000 francs offered by the French army for method to keep food from rotting.
- July 8: In London, the Bow Street Runners (London’s only professional police force) raid “The White Swan”, a “molly-house” (gay male social club/brothel) located on Vere Street. They arrest 27 men (called the “Vere Street Coterie”), and 8 are formally charged with attempted sodomy.
- July 9: The Kingdom of Holland is formally incorporated into France.
- August 21: Because King Charles XIII has no heirs, French Marshal Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte is elected the next King of Sweden by the Riksdag of the Estates.
- August 25: Peter Durand is granted a British patent for preserving food using tin cans, in contrast to the glass jar employed by Nicholas Appert.
- September 12: A dog shot in Ennerdale is reputed to have been the blood-drinking beast that terrorized the area.
- September 16: Mexican priest Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla issues a tract calling for revolt against Spain. Peasants take up arms and begin a war for independence.
- September 27: In London, 6 members of the “Vere Street Coterie” arrested at “The White Swan” molly-house on July 8 are pilloried in the Haymarket (ironically a well-known haunt for prostitutes). The men are savagely pelted with decomposing animals, rotten vegetables, and mud.
- October 12: The citizen of Munich in Bavaria are invited to a festival celebrating the marriage of Crown Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen. The event includes feasting and horse-racing. The next year the festival is repeated, creating the Oktoberfest.
- November: King George III of the United Kingdom slips back into madness. He will never recover.
- December 22: The British ship HMS Minotaur breaks up after running aground off the island of Texel in Holland. About 400 sailors die, and the remaining 130 are taken as French prisoners of war.
- The Paris Catacombs are reorganized and remodeled, with the bones stacked in aesthetically pleasing patterns. Morbidly curious visitors begin touring the tunnels.
The Year of the Comet
- February 5: Due to the obvious and persistent insanity of King George III, the British Parliament formally asks George, the Prince of Wales to act as Regent. This marks the legal beginning of the English Regency.
- February 5: French forces begin laying siege to Cádiz, capital of the anti-French Spanish government. The Siege of Cádiz continues until the French retreat in August of 1812.
- March 11: Hand weavers in Arnold, Nottinghamshire smash knitting factory machinery, initiating the Luddite movement. For the next several year, England is plagued by anti-industrial riots and the vandalism of mechanized factories by people claiming to be followers of “King Ludd”.
- March 25: Percy Bysshe Shelley is expelled from Oxford University over his pamphlet “The Necessity of Atheism”, published earlier in the year.
- March 25: A Great Comet is discovered by Honoré Flaugergues. By September it is visible to the naked eye. It remains visible until August of 1812. There is great speculation regarding what the comet portends.
- May 12: In Derbyshire, England, chunks of ice a foot across fall from the sky.
- May 14: Severe thunderstorm strikes Glasgow, Scotland, leading to fatalities.
- May 27: The British census counts 12.6 million people living in England, Scotland and Wales, 1.6 million more than in 1801. As in the previous census, Ireland is not counted.
- July: A meteorite explodes over Heidelburg. A thick, gelatinous substance rains down from the explosion.
- Autumn: A particularly good vintage of wine is produced.
- October 30: Jane Austin’s first published work “Sense and Sensibility” is issued in three volumes, with “A Lady” listed as the author.
- December: A gale in the North Sea sinks several ships of the British Royal Navy, with 2,000 lives lost.
The Year of Fatal Whims
- Jan 1: A new civil code is put into effect in the Austrian Empire.
- February 12: In France, a new system of measures, called Mesures usuelles, is introduced for commercial use. The new system combines the new metric system with pre-Revolutionary units, and the people of France are now thoroughly confused about how they are supposed to measure things.
- February 27: Lord Byron addresses the British House of Lords, speaking against industrialism and defending the Luddites who have been breaking machines to protest the loss of their jobs.
- Spring: Romantic painter John Martin’s sublimely melancholic “Sadak in Search of the Waters of Oblivion” premieres at the Royal Academy Exhibition in London. The painting depicts a lone man desperately attempting to climb a dark landscape of jagged rocks, rushing water, and towering peaks.
- March 5: The Treaty of Paris makes peace and creates an alliance between France and Prussia.
- March 19: The Spanish Cortes (parliament) in Cadiz writes a new constitution for Spain, which would make it a constitutional monarchy. The constitution cannot be implemented, however, because Spain is still under French occupation.
- April: Lord Byron begins his affair with the cross-dressing Lady Caroline Lamb, the niece of Georgiana Cavandish, Duchess of Devonshire.
- April 6: British forces commanded by General Arthur Wellesley (the future Duke of Wellington) enter the Spanish town of Badajoz after a costly siege. Looting of the town commences, as British soldiers proceed to massacre Spanish civilians who thought they were about to be liberated. Although he records his disgust privately in his journal, the General praises his troops’ conduct in battle in a letter sent to the Secretary of State for War and the Colonies.
- May 11: At 5:15 PM British Prime Minister Spencer Percival is shot to death by merchant John Bellingham in the lobby of the House of Commons. Mister Bellingham is frustrated that the British government will not compensate him for his unjust imprisonment in Russia several years prior.
- May 23: In order to escape Napoleon’s power, Madame de Staël leaves her chateau in Coppet for Vienna. Securing an Austrian passport, she eventually makes her way to to Russia.
- June 18: The United States of America declares war on the United Kingdom over perceived mistreatment in trade matters, territorial boundaries in North America, and the impressment (kidnapping and enslavement) of American sailors to serve in the British Navy.
- June 24: Napoleon begins the invasion of Russia with his Grande Armée of over 600,000 men. Only 1 in 6 will return alive.
- August: A funeral vault belonging to the Chase family in the British colony of Barbados is opened, and the coffins within are found to be in an inexplicable state of disarray.
- August 6: British and Portuguese forces take Madrid.
- August 9: Lord Byron receives a letter from Lady Caroline Lamb, with her pubic hair enclosed.
- September 7: Napoleon wins a bloody victory in Russia at the Battle of Bordino, but loses over 30,000 soldiers.
- September 14: Napoleon enters Moscow, which has been set on fire by its Governor, Fyodor Rostopchin.
- October 19: After suffering significant defeats, the French Grande Armée begins retreating from Russia.
- October 23:In Paris, Claude François de Malet and several conspirators attempts a coup against Napoleon, under the false pretense that the Emperor has died. Malet is arrested that same day, and executed on the 29th.
- October 28: Witnesses in Havanah Park in England see a troop of phantom soldiers in the sky.
- December 30: A Prussian force under the command of General Ludwig Yorck enters into an officially unsanctioned armistice with the Russian army.
- First publication of “Kinder- und Hausmärchen” (Children’s and Household Tales) by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm.
- A London diamond merchant named Daniel Eliason has in his stock an enormous diamond over 45 carats in weight. The stone looks like it is cut from the French Blue stolen from the French Crown Jewels in 1792. According to rumor the stone is purchased by George, the Prince of Wales. By 1830 it will be acquired by Thomas Hope, and become the infamous Hope Diamond. Those who possesses the reputedly cursed gem are said to suffer great calamities.