I don’t know about you, but I love the history of the British monarchs—from the mythical tales of King Arthur, to Henry VIII, to Elizabeth I, and beyond. Probably one of my most favorite monarchs is Queen Victoria. Up until the current reign of Queen Elizabeth II, Queen Victoria was the longest ruling monarch in Britain, reigning for 63 years. But not everyone wanted it that way. During her time as Queen, Victoria endured eight assassination attempts—eight because one of the would-be murderers tried to kill her twice.
The first attempt occurred in 1840, when Victoria was pregnant with her first child. Victoria and Albert were enjoying a carriage ride when a man by the name of Edward Oxford fired a pistol at the couple. Twice. And twice he missed. Unflustered, Victoria demanded the driver drive on, so they could continue their ride.
Two years later, a man named John Francis made an attempt on the Queen’s life while again, she and Albert were out in their carriage, but Francis either did not pull the trigger, or his gun didn’t fire. He then crossed the mall and ran into Green park. Victoria figured the best way to capture the man was to lure him out of hiding by yet another carriage ride the next day. But, this time, she ordered the carriage to ride faster. It probably saved their lives as Francis fired on them for real, this time.
There were five more attempts on Victoria’s life, but, unafraid, she never let it stop her from riding in an open air carriage, or attending outdoor events, to see and be seen by her adoring public. While such attempts are usually met with a death sentence, Victoria wouldn’t have it. None of her would be assassins suffered that fate—but they suffered another one, imprisonment for life.
1853 marked the beginning of the Crimean War. Allied with Turkey, the British and French joined the effort to prohibit the expansion of Russia. The sick and wounded troops were sent to Scutari, a city near Constantinople (Istanbul.) London Times correspondent William Howard Russell wrote articles depicting the horrendous disorganization of the hospitals. The British public demanded that their soldiers receive better treatment.
Sidney Herbert, called back to his position as Secretary of War for the British Government, called on Florence Nightingale to lead a group of nurses to Scutari. She gathered a party of 38 working nurses and traveled to Scutari where she would set up shop at the Barrack Hospital in 1854. What she found appalled her. Overcrowding, filthy conditions, a lack of supplies, and an uncooperative staff needed her immediate attention and talents. At first, the medical officers and army surgeons thwarted her attempts, but when injured soldiers from the Battle of Balaklava and the Battle of Inkerman flooded the hospital beyond capacity, they had no choice but to give Florence her way.
She revolutionized nursing
Nightingale set to work making reforms at Scutari. She reached out to the London Times for aid and obtained the funds for necessary medical supplies. She had the wards cleaned and created a laundry with the help of the soldiers’ wives to provide clean linens and bandages for the sick and wounded. Florence insisted on patients receiving baths, clean clothing, and adequate nutrition. The nurses were instructed to help the soldiers write letters home to aid in their psychological healing. Nightingale herself kept a vigilant watch day and night on her wards and became known as the “Lady of the Lamp” due to her nighttime rounds.
Nightingale’s reforms reduced the mortality rate at Scutari to less than 2 percent. Word of this got back home to England and Nightingale became a celebrity.
She affected positive change
After Florence returned to England, her legacy lived on. Nightingale was not only instrumental in reforming hospital care throughout England and the world through her works and her writing, she also established training for district nursing, where patients could receive adequate care at home. In 1855, she established the Nightingale Fund, and in 1860, she founded the Nightingale School of Nursing at St. Thomas Hospital in London. She was also instrumental in the forming of a school for midwives at King’s College Hospital in London.
Based on Nightingale’s statistical data (she developed the Coxcomb chart which assessed mortality rates) a Royal Commission was sent to India to examined health conditions there, and major reforms were established.
She received the highest honors
King Edward honored Florence with the esteemed Order of Merit, making her the first woman in history to receive it. She also received the title “Lady of Grace” from the Order of St. John of Jerusalem. In 1907, Queen Victoria presented Nightingale with an engraved brooch that later became known as the “Nightingale Jewel.” She also granted her $250,000 to continue her legacy.
She is part of present-day nursing program graduation and pinning ceremonies today
Florence Nightingale is still an important figure in the medical community today. At many nursing programs and schools the “Nightingale Pledge” is recited, followed by a “lighting ceremony.” Candles or lamps are used to signify the “lamp of knowledge” and also pay tribute to Nightingale herself, the “lady of the lamp.”
Nightingale Pledge, (1935 version)
“I solemnly pledge myself before God and in the presence of this assembly, to pass my life in purity and to practice my profession faithfully. I will abstain from whatever is deleterious and mischievous, and will not take or knowingly administer any harmful drug. I will do all in my power to maintain and elevate the standard of my profession and will hold in confidence all personal matters committed to my keeping, and all family affairs coming to my knowledge in the practice of my calling. With loyalty will I endeavor to aid the physician in his work, and as a ‘missioner of health’ I will dedicate myself to devoted service to human welfare.
Called “the Lady of the Lamp” and the “Angel of the Crimea,” Florence Nightingale forever changed the face medical care in England and around the world. Her works and her legacy live on in history and are still relevant today. She was a woman who listened to her calling, knew her truth, and remained steadfast to her purpose until the end of her life.
In 1910, at age 90, Nightingale died in her sleep.
Born to William Edward and Frances Nightingale in 1920, Florence, and her older sister were both named after the cities of their birth. While on an extended honeymoon that lasted a few years, the couple gave birth to Frances Parthenope while they toured Parthenope, Italy, a Greek settlement which is now part of Naples, Italy. Shortly thereafter, they welcomed their second daughter into the world, whom we know now as the mother of modern nursing, Florence, while in Florence, Italy.
She came from inherited wealth
Florence’s father came into the world as William Edward Shore. In 1815, upon his great-uncle’s death, he inherited the family estate and changed his name to Nightingale. The family split their time between two grand homes in Embley, Hampshire and Lea Hurst, Derbyshire. They also spent the social season in London. As most wealthy girls in Victorian England, Florence was expected to marry a man of equal or greater wealth, live a luxurious life, produce children, and run the household. Florence knew early on her destiny lay elsewhere.
She was highly educated
Precocious as a child, Florence excelled in mathematics and languages. At a young age, she became fluent in French, German, Italian, Greek and Latin. Not only could she speak the languages, she could also read and write in these languages. Florence’s father took delight in his daughter’s intellect and encourage her education. He supported her in all of her studies including history, philosophy, and literature.
She felt “called” to her profession
As a young girl, Florence felt called by God to help people. She often took care of the sick and injured wherever the family lived.
Like many wealthy, educated, upper-class young adults, Florence embarked on several tours to finish out her education. While on these tours, she wrote about her experiences. She traveled to Greece and Egypt where she wrote of “spiritual grandeur,” and of being called to “do good for him [God] alone and without reputation.”
She became a published writer at 30 years of age
In 1950 she traveled to Germany where she visited a Lutheran community. The trip proved life-changing for her. She witnessed Pastor Theodor Fliedner and his assistant deaconesses serving the sick and deprived. In 1851 she wrote The Institution of Kaiserswerth on the Rhine for the Practical Training of Deaconesses and published it anonymously.
Her most famous literary contribution is her Notes on Nursing, What It Is and What It Is Not. It has been in continuous publication worldwide since 1859.
She rejected an exemplary marriage proposal after a 9-year courtship
As a wealthy, attractive, and charming young woman, Florence had the makings of a beneficial wife. She had several suitors, but the most ardent of them was Richard Monckton Milnes who pursued her for nine years. While she might have had mutual feelings for the politician who also had a romantic side and was an accomplished poet, Florence rejected him. She felt marriage and childbearing would interfere with her calling to nursing.
She knew influential people and was well connected
While traveling in Rome, Florence met Sidney Herbert, the former Secretary of War for the British government, while on his honeymoon. Nightingale, Herbert, and his wife became lifelong friends. Her friendship with Herbert would change her life and put her in the history books. She would later serve as his key advisor throughout the rest of his political career. She also became friendly with the influential theologian Benjamin Jowett who was Master of Balliol College at Oxford University
She Said Yes to Her Calling
Although Florence’s family had reservations about her calling to nursing, they eventually accepted it. Florence enrolled at the Institution of Protestant Deaconesses at Kaiserswerth in Germany. There she learned hospital administration and basic nursing skills. Later she became the superintendent of the Institution for Sick Gentlewomen in Distressed Services in London. There she honed her skills as an administrator. She realized she had a talent for organization and leadership and intended to apply for the superintendent of nurses position at King’s College Hospital in London. Instead, she received another call. (Continued next week!)
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Eleanor of Aquitaine, the most sought after daughter in medieval Europe, became the most wealthy and powerful woman during the 12th and 13th centuries. At 12-13 years of age, Eleanor inherited the Duchy of Aquitaine when her father, William X, died. Orphaned, Eleanor came under the guardianship of King Louis VI of France. Three months later, she married the King’s son, Louis VII. Shortly after the two teenagers wed, the King, known as Louis the Fat, died of dysentery leaving Louis the Younger and Eleanor the Kingdom.
As with most women of power, many of Eleanor’s critics claim she came by that power, and possibly held onto that power, through dubious and immoral methods–meaning, she used her feminine wiles and uncontrolled sexual passion to gain the upper hand. One of the most popular rumors about Eleanor is her alleged incestuous affair with her uncle, Raymond of Poitiers.
Historians agree that Eleanor, reputed to be beautiful, intelligent, and wise beyond her years, enchanted her husband Louis with her wit and charm. Despite his intense love for her, the couple’s 8-year relationship slowly disintegrated as they could produce no male heir. Of course, as with most infertile royal couples of the time, the fault lay with Eleanor, despite the fact she gave birth to a daughter, Marie in 1145.
When Pope Eugene III requested Louis lead a second crusade to the Middle East to rescue the Frankish Kingdoms from the Muslims, Eleanor encouraged her husband to rise to the occasion. She also requested to accompany him. It is debated whether Louis agreed to allow his beautiful, flirtatious bride to join him to keep her under close watch, or he simply desired her company. Eleanor, along with her royal ladies-in-waiting and 300 of her courtiers boarded the ships to Antioch for the campaign.
When the royal couple arrived, they accepted the hospitality of Eleanor’s handsome uncle Raymond, Prince of Antioch. Raymond and Eleanor spent constant time in each others company. It didn’t take long for rumors to spread that the two engaged in an incestuous affair. Louis, appalled and affronted with the rumors, pulled up stakes left after only two weeks in Antioch.
Eleanor implored her husband to let her stay under the protection of her uncle, but he refused her plea, and bade she accompany him on the rest of the crusade. When they returned to France, the rumors of Eleanor’s infidelity with her uncle further alienated her from Louis, and she asked Pope Eugene for an annulment. She claimed to want the annulment on the grounds of consanguinity—the close familial relation to her husband, her fourth cousin. The Pope refused and tried to reconcile the royal couple.
In 1150, Eleanor gave birth to another daughter—another disappointment that further alienated Eleanor from her husband. The Pope finally relented, and in 1152 gave Eleanor the annulment on grounds of consanguinity, but gave custody of her daughters to Louis.
The second famous rumor about Eleanor concerns the mystery of her Court of Love. After her annulment, noblemen and Kings lined up to win Eleanor’s hand. Still the most powerful woman in Europe, she again became a most sought-after bride. Even if it meant kidnapping her. Eleanor got wind of at least two of these plots, and sent word to Henry, her third cousin, the Duke of Normandy and future King of England, imploring him to marry her. He didn’t refuse.
Eight weeks after her annulment to Louis, Henry and Eleanor married. Although they had 8 children together over 15 years of marriage, the two often bickered and fought. Henry spent much time away from England, and also with other women. During this time, Eleanor returned to her castle in Poitiers, France, where she is said to have started the Court of Love.
Discouraged by her own two marriages, Eleanor set out to educate men in the areas of romance, love, and chivalry. Noblemen brought their relationship problems to a jury of nearly 60 women, (the Court of Love) including Eleanor and her daughter Marie, Countess of Champagne, in search of answers. The women directed the love-lorn men how to dress, speak, and act with their women, including writing poetry, playing music, and taking an interest in the arts–a far cry from manly behavior of the middle ages.
Many historians deny the existence of Eleanor’s Court of Love, but others say it contributed to the literature, music, and arts of the time, and into the future. The art of courtly love also grew in popularity from this period on.
Henry and Eleanor’s marriage would see greater decline when their son, Henry the Younger, led a revolt against his father for the crown of England. Eleanor sided with her son, and for this, Henry imprisoned her for the next 16 years. At the death of her husband, her third son, Richard, became King. One of his first acts as King of England? To free his mother from prison.
Though her critics, and her husbands, tried to discredit her time and time again, Eleanor proved to be a woman empowered, and a woman who found a way to survive and prevail. She lived into her early eighties. The mere fact that she obtained an annulment from a King who still ruled, is unfathomable—considering that a woman in the 12th Century, even a ruling woman, only existed as a means to an end—to better the lives of men.
We may never solve the mystery of Eleanor’s relationship with her uncle, or her reported infidelities in the French court, or whether or not she developed a “Court of Love” in Poitiers. We can only go by the records that exist in history, and no one knows whether all the records are true or not. Sometimes, it is up to us to decide. Despite the claims of her critics, Eleanor still remains one of the most beloved, and most empowered women in history.