Wednesday, 20 November 2013

A Female Soldier - Mother Ross V

Life without Richard

Prince of Orange
Christian was lost without Richard and would not look after herself; the Prince of Orange, whose tent was pitched close to Christian’s, had his servants take her meals that she refused to eat. Eventually Colonel Hamilton’s wife took Christian in hand and after six weeks Christian started her return to a new normal.

‘I had neglected everything, and left my tent in the care of a drummer and his wife, who were so good as to consume my whole substance by sinking the produce of my effects, and their generosity to such as came to sponge under the pretence of visits of condolence.’[i]

Christian’s horses were looked after by one Hugh Jones, whose interest in Christian was more than kindly. He provided the horses with forage and offered their mistress his heart. Hugh’s pursuit of Christian had started well before Richard’s death. He and Christian were married eleven weeks after Richard’s death[ii]. Hugh had promised not to have sex with his new wife until they were in winter quarters in Ghent; a promise he kept.

The 1710 Campaigning Season
Earl Stanhope
In Spain the 1710 campaigning season did not go well for the Allies, with an army under General James Stanhope[iii] reaching Madrid, but which was then forced to capitulate at the battle of Brihuega, to an army led by the Duc de Vendôme. This was the last time the Allies would campaign in Spain.
Marshal d'Artagnan
In the Low Countries Prince Eugene and the Duke of Marlborough took to the offensive on 20th April, seizing the bridge at Vendin and the upper grounds at Courieres. The French quitted their lines throughout Walloon-Flanders; allowing the Duke of Württemberg and Lieutenant General Cadogan to seize them without unsheathing their swords. For the French; Marshal d’Artagnan[iv], with his forty battalions and thirty squadrons, abandoned the river and four defensive towers, withdrawing to the protection of Arras.
Marshal Villars
There then followed the siege of Douai[v]. In an attempt to raise the siege Marshal Villars let it be known that he was going to march to the town’s rescue. This offer raised the hopes of the defenders, who fought bravely but nonetheless surrendered on 25th June.
De Vauban
On the 6th July the Allies invested Bèthune which was commanded by de Vauban[vi]. The town, which had strong defences, was protected on one side by water. But the Allied engineers were able to drain off the ditches, leaving that side of the town vulnerable. Accordingly the town surrendered and the garrison marched out on 30th and was conducted to Arras.
During the siege Christian and other foragers were cut off from the main army by French troops assigned by Marshall Villars to attack the besiegers from behind. The foragers were rescued by Allied pickets. But Christian’s foraging was more than successful;
‘I got out of a barn a large bolster full of wheat, two pots of butter, and a great quantity of apples, all of which I carried safe to my tent. The wheat I got ground at a mill the enemy had deserted, and made pies, which I sold in the camp: of the bran I made starch.’[vii]
End of A Short Marriage
Prince d'Anhault-Dessau
On 4th September the Prince of Orange invested St Venant[viii] on the same day as the Prince d’Anhault-Dessau invested Aire-sur-la-Lys[ix]. St Venant was attacked on 28th September and Hugh Jones was one of the wounded. The wound was originally judged slight, but on a second consultation, finding the bone in question broken, the surgeon adjudged the wound as mortal. Hugh was carried with the other wounded to Aire.
The garrison at Aire fought for every inch of ground and it was not until the 8th November that the governor beat the chamade. On the 11th the garrison marched out of the town. The army was now ordered into winter quarters and the wounded were taken to the hospital at Lille.
‘Where my husband grew daily worse, had his wound often laid open; but at length it turned into a mortification, and in ten week’s time after he received it, carried him off.’[x]
After less than a year Christian was a widow again; she was not as devastated as she had been by Richard’s death. Christian received protection from a Brigadier Preston, whom she claimed she had nursed after the battle of Ramillies[xi]. Preston paid her a crown a week[xii] and a dinner every Tuesday. For assisting the cook when Preston entertained Christian was allowed to carry off sufficient food to keep her for three or four days afterwards.

Marlborough’s Last Campaign
Robert Harley
Marlborough’s political enemies were now in favour at home; Robert Harley and Henry St John were engaged in secret talks with the French throughout 1711[xiii]. The 1710 general election had seen the Tories replace the Whigs as the party of government. To gain public support for their policies the skills of the satirist Jonathan Swift were utilised. Marlborough’s powers as commander in chief had been severely restricted by his political enemies.
Joseph I
In April 1711 Emperor Joseph was stricken with the smallpox; there was an epidemic cutting a swathe through Europe and it did not spare the powerful. In France Louis, the Grand Dauphin, died leaving his son the Duke of Burgundy as his grandfather’s heir[xiv]. Joseph was succeeded as Holy Roman Emperor by his brother Charles. The Prince of Orange drowned in a canal on a visit home in July.
Duke of Burgundy
The new campaigning season gave Christian the opportunity to obtain a new horse, one abandoned by a French soldier, following an attack by the Allies on a French fortified position near Arleux[xv]. In August Marlborough and the army crossed the Sensée River, allowing the army to besiege Bouchain, which fell on 12th September

Earl of Stair
During the siege Christian was employed as a servant in the kitchen of Lord Stair[xvi]. On one occasion a Colonel K attempted to kiss her and Christian defended herself with a knife. The attempt on her virtue was interrupted by Lord Forrester[xvii]. Lord Forrester gave Christian a piece of gold. A few days later Colonel K was wounded and Christian took him some fowl and in return he gave her some three barrels of beer. 
A Peace Treaty
It was decided that a fresh commander for the army was necessary to ensure that the deal with the French went ahead. Swift’s deadly journalism was used to tarnish Marlborough’s reputation at home; his pamphlet ‘The Conduct of the Allies and of the Late Ministry in Beginning and Carrying on the Present War’ sold over 11,000 copies in under three months.

‘The ruin of the public interest, and the advancement of a Private, increase the Wealth and Grandeur of a particular family, to enrich Usurers and Stock-jobbers, cultivate the pernicious Designs of a Faction, by destroying the Landed-Interest.’[xviii]
Earl of Orrery
Marlborough’s plans to overwinter the armies in the captured French fortresses were dismissed. Dissident officers in the army such as the Earl of Orrery[xix] were in correspondence with Harley and undermining Marlborough’s authority from within. Marlborough considered the terms of the treaty Harley was making with the French disastrous; he was dismissed on 31st December 1711, to be replaced by the Duke of Ormonde.
Duke of Ormonde

The 1712 campaigning season was overshadowed by the loss of the Allies’ most brilliant general. The Duke of Ormonde was reluctant to commit his troops to fight and the Duc de Villars was able to recover much lost ground, increasing Louis’ bargaining position. Throughout March and April 1713 the belligerents of the war signed the Treaty of Utrecht[xx].

Life After the Army
Christian was given a pass back to England by the Duke of Ormonde and ten shillings[xxi] to defray her costs. Arriving in London Christian, now pregnant, took a lodging in Charing Cross and paid a visit on the Duke of Marlborough. As he was bereft of influence at court Christian then turned to the Duke of Argyle. Argyle suggested that Christian raise a petition and take it to the Duke of Hamilton, promising that the petition would have his backing.  

Duke of Hamilton
Argyle presented Christian to the Queen and was granted the sun of fifty pounds[xxii] towards her lying in. Christian was also granted a pension of one shilling per day[xxiii]. Sometime after the birth of a daughter, when walking in Hyde Park, Christian stumbled across a duel[xxiv] between the Duke of Hamilton and Baron Mohun and saw both men killed.
Lord Mohun
Not long after this Christian returned to Dublin to find that her eldest child had died at the age of 18; and the younger child was in the workhouse. The nurse having run out of money had placed the child in the workhouse. Christian’s public house had been taken over by one Bennet as, in her absence, there had been no-one able to contest his claim.
Christian decided to open another pub and she fared well until she fell in with her third husband an ex-soldier named Davies. When Davies re-enrolled in the army and was sent to assist in the putting down of the Pretender’s rebellion against George I[xxv] in 1715, Christian followed. Her allowance of one shilling a day had been reduced to five pence per day and Christian now had her full allowance reinstated by the new king.
George I
Christian returned to Ireland for a time, but returned to live with at the Royal Hospital Chelsea; her husband was also given a home there.
‘She was long before her death afflicted with a complication of distempers, as dropsy[xxvi], scurvy &c., at length her husband being taken ill, she would sit up with him at nights, by which she contracted a cold that threw her into a continual fever, which carried her off in four days.’[xxvii]
Christian died on 7th July 1739. She was buried, with full military honours, with her fellow military pensioners at the Royal Hospital Chelsea.

Mother Ross – Daniel Defoe, Oakpast Ltd 2011

Queen Anne – Edward Gregg, Routledge and Kegan Paul 1980
The Marlboroughs – Christopher Hibbert, Penguin Books 2002

Marlborough – Richard Holmes, Harper Perennial 2009
Marlborough – JR Jones, Cambridge University Press 1993

[i] Mother Ross- Defoe
[ii] While Christian could more than hold her own as a man, as a woman she was disadvantaged by being on her own and her best chances of survival as a ‘camp follower’ was to have a man of he own again
[iii] He was made a prisoner of war
[iv] Made a Marshal of France for his conduct during the Battle of Malplaquet the previous year
[v] Captured by the French in 1667, Douai had been regularly fortified by Louis XIV since
[vi] Early 18th century Europe’s foremost military engineer
[vii] Mother Ross - Defoe
[viii] A town in the Pas-de-Calais region of France
[ix] 10 miles south-east of St Omer
[x] Mother Ross - Defoe
[xi] Given that she spent ten weeks recovering from her own head wound after the battle of Ramillies this seems a little surprising
[xii] In 2011 worth £26.80 (£1393.60 pa) using the retail price index or £492.00 (£25,584 pa) using average earnings
[xiii] Harley and St John accepted the necessity of retaining Louis’ grandson as King of Spain
[xiv] Louis, le Petit Dauphin, died the following year and it was his son Louis, the Duc d’Anjou who succeeded his great-grandfather in 1715
[xv] In the Pas de Calais region, where the Sensée River joins the Canal du Nord
[xvi] The Earl of Stair , a Lieutenant General and later ambassador
[xvii] George Forrester, 5th Lord Forrester (1688–1727)
[xviii] Marlborough - Jones
[xix] The orrery, a mechanical method of showing the relationship between the planets and the sun, was named after him
[xx] With the exception of Austria who continued hostilities with France until the following year
[xxi] In 2011 worth £61.40 using the retail price index or £945.00 using average earnings
[xxii] In 2011 worth £6,110.00 using the retail price index or £94,200.00 using average earnings
[xxiii] In 2011 worth £2,220.00 using the retail price index or £34,100.00 using average earnings
[xxiv] Over a disputed inheritance
[xxv] Anne died on 1st August 1714, a few months after George’s mother Sophia
[xxvi] Accumulation of fluid under the skin or in cavities in the body; known as oedema
[xxvii] Mother Ross - Defoe


  1. You couldn't make it up, could you? Richard didn't deserve such devotion. I'm glad she had the recognition of a stipend as well as being buried with full military honours. Though what her children thought of her abandoning them I do wonder.

  2. What a remarkable life, amazing until the end. Thank you very much for sharing this special piece of history.