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Including Important Events, Scientific Discoveries, The Lives of Significant Personalities, Cultural Milestones, and Sundry Oddities.

This is the third installment and conclusion of “Incidents and Scandals of the 1810s”. The last few years of the decade witnessed the genesis of two of the most influential works of Gothic fiction, while Europe recovered from disasters both natural and man-made. While the series is intended to provide story ideas for Gothic role-playing, it can be useful resource for any game set in Napoleonic-era Europe.

See also Part I and Part II.

FrankensteinDraft

A Page From the Original Manuscript of “Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus”

1816
“The Year Without a Summer”

  • January: In Hungary, brown snow falls over the course of two days.
  • January 30: 1,000 drown off Ireland when three ships run aground during a gale.
  • April 25: Lord Byron flees England to escape debts and scandals (including the revelation of his bisexuality, and his incestuous affair with half-sister Augusta Leigh). He will never return.
  • May 18: Iconic English Dandy “Beau” Brummell flees to France to escape his debts.
  • May 25: Samuel Coleridge releases “Christabel, Kubla Khan, and the Pains of Sleep”. The narrative poem “Christabel” prefigures the lesbian vampirism of La Fanu’s “Carmilla”, “Kubla Khan” is a fragment of an otherwise forgotten opium dream, and “The Pains of Sleep” recounts restless nights consumed with guilt and foreboding.
  • Summer: Unusually cold temperatures and heavy precipitation across Europe. Crops fail, leading to widespread starvation. The weather is widely blamed on unusually large spots observed on the sun. Panic erupts in Europe due to the “Bologna Prophesy”, which predicts that the sun will be be extinguished and the world end on July 18th.
  • June 6: Reports of snow falls in the United States of America. Extreme cold, snow, and ice plague that country all summer.
  • June: Mary Godwin, Percy Shelley, and Mary’s stepsister Claire Clairmont spend the summer visting Lord Byron at his rented chateau near Geneva, Villa Diodatti. Also present is Lord Byron’s physician, John Polidori. Seventeen-year-old Claire eagerly wants to pursue a relationship with Byron, who alternates between apparent interest and cruel dismissal of the girl. Constant rainfall keeps the group indoors much of the time, so among other things, they tell each other ghost stories at night. After midnight on June 18th, Byron reads aloud Coleridge’s “Christabel”, which causes Percy Shelley to experience a terrifying vision of a woman with eyes in place of her nipples. After her own nightmare vision, Mary creates a memorable tale about a scientist who experiments with the reanimation of dead flesh. The same summer also includes a visit from Matthew Lewis, author of “The Monk”.
  • July 18: The predicted end of the world does not occur. Nonetheless, religious fanaticism increases.
  • August 13: Scotland struck by an earthquake.
  • Autumn: Publication of Lord Byron’s apocalyptic poem “Darkness”, depicting Earth after the death of the sun. He had written the poem in early June.
  • September 2: Snow begins falling in England.
  • September 5: King Louis XVIII of France dissolves the “Chambre introuvable” (Unobtainable Chamber). New elections are called.
  • November 10: Lord Byron arrives in Venice. There he becomes the cicisbeo (recognized lover and escort) of his landlord’s wife, Marianna Segati. As is usual for Venice at the time, Marianna’s husband knows about and approves of the arrangement.
  • December 15: Percy Shelley learns that his abandoned wife Harriet, pregnant by an unknown man, has drowned herself.
  • December 30: Percy Shelly marries Mary Godwin, who legally becomes Mary Shelley.
  • Publication of Lady Caroline Lamb’s Gothic novel “Glenarvon”, containing many thinly-veiled portraits of her fellow aristocrats. The character “Lord Ruthven” is a blatant caricature of Lord Byron. Lady Lamb is barred from Almack’s Assembly Rooms in London, and becomes persona non grata in English High Society.
  • As in 1812, the Chase family burial vault in Barbados is opened for an internment, and the coffins inside are again found to have been seemingly thrown about. Strange sounds are heard emanating from the vault, and local horses begin drowning themselves.
  • Income tax of 1803 abolished in the United Kingdom.
  • Dramatic, colorful sunsets are seen all year as a result of volcanic material in the air.
  • Joseph Bonaparte, former King of Spain and brother of deposed Emperor Napoleon, relocates to a country estate in Bordentown, New Jersey. He lives there until 1832. While out hunting one night he encounters a strange animal that he is afterwards told is the legendary “Jersey Devil”.

Illustration facing page 44, Devonshire Characters and Strange Events

The Mysterious “Princess Caraboo”

1817
The Uncertain Year

  • January 12: Claire Clairmont gives birth to Byron’s daughter Alba, later renamed Allegra.
  • February: In Vienna, Franz Schubert composes the lied (piano song) “Der Tod und das Mädchen” (“Death and the Maiden”), inspired by a poem by Matthias Claudius. The song is not actually published until November of 1821, however.
  • April 3: A mysterious, strangely-dressed woman appears at the door of a cottage in Gloucestershire, England, speaking an unknown language. She is taken to the magistrate, Samuel Worrall, who brings her home to Knowle Park in Bristol. A man who claims to be a Portuguese sailor named Manuel Eyenesso translates the woman’s language as Malay, and says her name is “Princess Caraboo”. Many members of the “Ton” (British High Society) come to see Princess Caraboo over the next ten weeks, until a woman claiming to be the Princess’ mother come forward to say that Caraboo is actually Mary Willcocks of Devonshire.
  • April 16: An earthquake strikes Palermo, Sicily. A glowing ball of fire is seen streaking towards the epicenter.
  • June 21: Heat wave strikes England, with temperatures over 100 degrees Fahrenheit (about 38 degrees Celsius).
  • June 30: An earthquake strikes Inverness, Scotland, and hot rain falls.
  • July 14: Death of Madame de Staël, after a surprising conversion to Catholicism.
  • November 7: Put back on trail for murdering Mary Ashford after a dance party (a crime for which he had already been previously acquitted), Abraham Thornton claims the medieval right to have his guilt decided by combat. Since Mary’s older brother William declines to fight to the death, Abraham is again acquitted. The ancient practice of “appeal to murder” under which Thornton was re-tried, and its associated right of trial by combat, are not abolished in the United Kingdom until 1819.

Caspar David Friedrich - Wanderer above the sea of fog

Caspar David Friedrich’s “Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog”

1818
The Year of Dark Powers

  • January 6: The British East India Company gains control of most of India following the defeat of the Maratha Empire at the Battle of Koregaon on January 1.
  • February: The Laufmaschine (also known as the “velocipede”, “draisienne” or “dandy horse”) is patented by Baron Karl Drais. An early forerunner of the bicycle, it is not pedaled, but propelled by kicks from the the rider’s feet on the ground. The machine is meant to address a shortage of horses caused by the poor harvests of the previous two years.
  • February 23: Storm over most of Europe, with gale-force winds.
  • January 11: Percy Shelley anonymously publishes “Ozmandius”, his poetic take-down of the pretensions of the powerful, in Leigh Hunt’s weekly London newspaper, The Examiner.
  • March 11: Publication of “Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus”, by Mary Shelley (née Godwin). The first edition is published anonymously, and generally savaged by critics. Many critics discover that they dislike the book even more after they eventually learn the gender of its author.
  • July: Thomas De Quincey becomes editor of the conservative newspaper The Westmorland Gazeette, which began publishing earlier in the year. He attends to the work in between bouts of opium consumption. By 1819 the owners begin to complain of De Quincey’s erratic behavior.
  • April 10: John Cleves Symmes Jr. of Saint Louis, Missouri sends his “Circular No. 1” to all the governments and major universities of Europe. In it he states that the earth is comprised of hollow concentric spheres that are open at the poles, and all inhabitable.
  • November: Publication of Thomas Love Peacock’s Gothic satire “Nightmare Abbey”.
  • Founding of the Royal Coburg Theatre in London. In 1834 it will become Royal Victoria Theatre, eventually known as the Old Vic.
  • Caspar David Friedrich paints his melancholy masterpiece “Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog”, The work depicts a mysterious man with his back to viewer, standing atop a high peak and staring off across the mist-shrouded rock before him.
  • Jacques Collin de Plancy publishes the first edition of his “Dictionnaire Infernal”, a catalog of demons and occult lore.

Francisco de Goya y Lucientes - A Procession of Flagellants - WGA10086

“Procession of Flagellants” by Goya

1819
The Year of Opened Veins

  • January 22: In Ravenna, Lord Byron meets newly married, nineteen-year old Contessa Teresa Guiccioli. He soon becomes her official cicisbeo.
  • August 16: British cavalry charges a crowd demanding parliamentary reforms in Manchester England, killing 15 people and injuring hundreds.
  • March 23: Outspokenly conservative writer August von Kotzebue is stabbed to death by German nationalist student Karl Ludwig Sand in Mannheim.
  • April 1: First publication of John Polidori’s “The Vampyre”, in the New Monthly Magazine. The work is wrongly credited to Lord Byron. Polidori names the Vampyre “Lord Ruthven”, after the thinly-veiled caricature of Lord Byron in Lady Caroline Lamb’s novel “Glevarvon”.
  • April 16: Near the town of Ostrach in the Grand Duchy of Baden, notorious bandit Xaver Hohenleiter is arrested with his gang, who had been terrorizing the southwestern German states since 1817.
  • Summer: Kick-propelled velocipedes become briefly popular in France and Great Britain.
  • July: For a third time the Chase family vault in Barbados is opened, and the coffins inside are found to have been mysteriously moved around. The vault is sealed.
  • July 4: Hailstones up to 15 inches (38 centimeters) across fall on La Baconnière in France.
  • July – August: A great comet appears in the Northern sky.
  • August 25: Théodore Géricault’s painting “Le Radeau de la Méduse” (“The Raft of the Medusa”) causes a sensation at opening of the Paris Salon. The work depicts the survivors of the frigate Méduse which had been wrecked off Mauritania three years prior. Viewers are alternately shocked and thrilled by the sublime depiction of death, desperation, and Nature’s overwhelming power. Ingres’ “Grande Odalisque” also premiers, and is heavily criticized for discarding naturalistic anatomy.
  • Late Summer: Women in Paris are targeted by a serial stabber (or group of stabbers) employing rapier blades fastened to umbrellas and walking sticks. Attacks continue until December.
  • In Augsburg, Bavaria the “Madchenschneider” (Girl-cutter) begins slashing young women on the street.
  • September 20: At the behest of Austrian Minister of State Prince Klemens Wenzel von Metternich, press censorship is imposed throughout the German Confederation, new restrictions are placed on universities, and committees to investigate “revolutionary plots” against the government are created.
  • November 2: Red rain falls in Blankenberge, Holland.
  • John Keats composes his poem of dark fantasy and fatal love, “La Belle Dame sans Merci”.
  • Francisco Goya completes his paintings “Escena de Inquisición” (“Scene of the Inquisition”), “Casa de locos” (“The Madhouse”), and “Procesión de flagelantes” (“Procession of Flagellants”), three protests against superstition, cruelty, and religious fanaticism.
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