1649: Scottish women smell of pottage, piss, pig turds


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No many bonnie wee lassies in Scotland, a 1649 pamphlet claims

On the day when the people of Scotland vote on independence from Britain, some might like to reflect on a piece of literature from the mid 17th century. A Perfect Description of the People and Country of Scotland was first published in London in 1649 and reappeared in various forms over the next decade. Its authorship is open to question. Some historians attribute it to Oxford graduate and minor writer James Howell, better known for coining the phrase “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”. Others believe it was written by Anthony Weldon, a scheming courtier to Charles I. Whoever was responsible for its creation, A Perfect Description is unabashed propaganda, filled with anti-Scottish jibes and stereotypes. The people of Scotland, it claims, are lazy and incompetent farmers; they would “rather go to taverns” than cultivate the land around them. They are also coarse and uncultured and will “stop their ears if you speak of a play”. They fornicate as a “pastime”, laugh at blasphemy and wink at murder.

The writer reserves particular acrimony for Scottish women, of whom it claims “there are none greater [fatter] in the whole world”. Further, they have appalling personal hygiene and make terrible wives:

“Their flesh abhors cleanliness, their breath commonly stinks of pottage, their linen of piss, their hands of pigs’ turds, their body of sweat [while] their splay feet never offend socks. To be chained in marriage with one of them [is] to be tied to a dead carcass and cast into a stinking ditch.”


Source: Source: Author unknown, A Perfect Description of the People and Country of Scotland, 1649. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2016. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.

1941: The Nazis ban Jewish fonts


Bormann's memo under a Jewish font - ordering a ban on Jewish fonts
Bormann’s memo under a Jewish font – ordering a ban on Jewish fonts

Most printing in early modern and 19th century Germany used two font families: Antiqua and Fraktur. Both were ornate, old style typefaces that replicated calligraphic handwriting. Antiqua was employed mainly for printing Latin texts, while Fraktur was used more in German language documents. During the rising nationalism of the 1800s, many came to see Fraktur as a ‘German’ typeface and pressured the government and private printers to use it more. Otto von Bismarck refused to read books in ‘un-German fonts’ and Kaiser Wilhelm II also disliked them. When the Nazis emerged in the early 1920s they also opted for Fraktur and its derivatives. The cover of Hitler’s Mein Kampf used a hand-drawn Fraktur font; official Nazi documents and letterheads also employed it. This continued until January 1941 when there was a remarkable shift in Nazi attitudes to typography. In an edict signed by Martin Bormann, the Nazis called for a ban on the future use of Judenlettern (Jewish fonts) like Fraktur:

“…I announce the following, by order of the Führer:

It is false to regard the so-called Gothic typeface as a German typeface. In reality, the so-called Gothic typeface consists of Schwabacher-Jewish letters. Just as they later came to own the newspapers, the Jews living in Germany also owned the printing presses… and thus came about the common use in Germany of Schwabacher-Jewish letters.

Today the Führer… decided that Antiqua type is to be regarded as the standard typeface. Over time, all printed matter should be converted to this standard typeface. This will occur as soon as possible in regard to school textbooks, only the standard script will be taught in village and primary schools. The use of Schwabacher-Jewish letters by authorities will in future cease. Certificates of appointment for officials, street signs and the like will in future only be produced in standard lettering…

Signed, M. Bormann.”

Ironically, Bormann’s memo went out under Nazi Party letterhead – which was itself printed in a Fraktur font. The reason for the Nazi turnaround on typefaces has never been definitively explained. One theory is that Hitler had a personal dislike of more ornate Gothic fonts; his increased reading workload in 1939-40 may have tripped his fuse and prompted the ban on Fraktur


Source: NSDAP memo on Judenlettern, signed by Martin Bormann, January 3rd 1941. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2016. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.

1709: Virginian gent forces boy to drink “a pint of piss”


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William Byrd II, the early 18th century wife-flourisher and slave-torturer

William Byrd II (1674-1744) was a colonial lawyer, diarist and plantation owner, considered by many to be the founder of Richmond, Virginia. Byrd was born in the colonies but educated in Britain, where he studied law and obtained membership of the Royal Society. In 1705 he returned to the colonies after his father’s death. Back in Virginia, Byrd inherited 1,200 acres, the largest private holding in the area; he also married Lucy Parke, the beautiful daughter of another prominent British colonist. The two were sincerely fond of each other but quarrelled often, after which they generally made love (Byrd religiously recorded their sexual encounters as either “rogering” or “flourishing”). A staunch traditionalist, Byrd considered himself the lord and master of his plantation. He had no qualms about dispensing immediate and often brutal justice to those who disobeyed or displeased him. This included children, servants, slaves and even animals:

“July 2nd 1720… I took a walk around the plantation and shot an old dog with an arrow for flying at me…”

“July 23rd 1720… Jack told me of some horses that had destroyed a hogshead of tobacco and I gave him orders to shoot them as not being fit to live…”

But probably the worst to suffer from Byrd’s wrath were two of his slaves: a houseboy named Eugene, aged around 11 or 12, and a teenaged maid, Jenny. Byrd’s diary records the dispensation of several punishments:

“February 8th 1709… I ate milk for breakfast. I said my prayers. Eugene and Jenny were whipped. I danced my dance. I read law in the morning and Italian in the afternoon…”

“June 10th 1709… In the evening I took a walk around the plantation. Eugene was whipped for running away and had the bit put on him. I said my prayers and had good health, good thought and good humour…”

“September 3rd 1709… I ate roast chicken for dinner. In the afternoon I beat Jenny for throwing water on the couch…”

“December 1st 1709… Eugene was whipped…”

“December 16th 1709… Eugene was whipped for doing nothing…”

Even more inhumane was Byrd’s response to Eugene having wet his bed:

“December 3rd 1709… Eugene pissed abed again for which I made him drink a pint of piss…”

“December 10th 1709… Eugene had pissed in bed for which I gave him a pint of piss to drink…”


Byrd’s diary does not record whose urine was served up to the unfortunate houseboy.

Source: Diary of William Byrd, 1709-20. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2016. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.

1891: The foreskin: an “evil genie” that will land you in jail

Peter Remondino (1846-1926) arrived in the United States from Italy in the 1850s and was raised in rural Minnesota. He later studied medicine in Philadelphia and served as a doctor during the American Civil War. In the 1870s Dr Remondino relocated to California and became one of San Diego’s most prominent and sought after physicians. Though best known for his specialisation in respiratory illnesses, Remondino was also a vocal advocate for circumcision. His central argument was that the foreskin was a redundant organ. When man was a hunter-gatherer, the foreskin:

“…provided him with a sheath, wherein he carried his procreative organ safely out of harm’s way during wild steeplechases through thorny briars and bramble… This leathery pouch also protected him from the many leeches, small aquatic lizards or other animals that infested the marshes or rivers… or served as a protection from the bites of ants or other vermin…”

But now, Remondino argues, the foreskin is nothing but trouble, exerting:

“…a malign influence in the most distant and apparently unconnected manner. Like some of the evil genies or sprites in the Arabian tales it can reach from afar the object of its malignity, striking him down unawares in the most unaccountable manner; making him a victim to all manner of ills, sufferings, and tribulations… and other conditions, calculated to weaken him physically, mentally and morally… to land him perchance in the jail, or even in a lunatic asylum.”

It goes without saying that Dr Remondino recommended circumcision to treat or circumvent a number of ailments, including masturbation, nocturnal emissions, bedwetting, venereal diseases, timidity and insecurity, even cancer. Remindino also called for the “wholesale circumcision of the Negro race”, a measure he claimed would curtail the interest of black men in white woman – and thus reduce the United States’ “great number of lynchings”.

Source: Dr Peter Remondino, History of Circumcision from the Earliest Times to the President, Philadelphia, 1891; “Questions of the Day: Negro rapes” in National Popular Review, v.4, January 1894. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2016. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.