Episode 249: Gertrude Bell

Gertrude, 1910 via Encyclopaedia Britannica

Gertrude Bell, a daughter of privilege took her enormous intelligence, unfathomable bravery, and an entire set of Wedgwood china into the uncharted parts of the Middle East, making maps, discoveries, and friends along the way. Her work helped pave the way for the establishment of the modern country of Iraq.

Gertrude Margaret Lowthian Bell was born on July 14, 1868, in County Durham, England. She was the first child and only daughter of Sir Hugh Bell and Mary Shields Bell, and, after her mother passed away, was raised since childhood by her stepmother, Florence Olliffe Bell. Gertrude grew-up in a wealthy family of fairly progressive thinkers and was educated at Queens College and Oxford University (where they had only recently begun enrolling women and still didn’t give them actual degrees.)

She did follow some convention and, after being denied marrying the man she loved for the conventional reason of him not making enough money, she did her conventional debutant time doing traditional debutant activities. But, once she had aged out of “marriageable” and became “chaperone” age, her life really got going.

Gertrude traveled extensively for most of the rest of her life. And not all posh, typical travel (although she did travel with an entourage and glamping supplies) we’re talking about activities like mountain climbing and desert wandering in the Middle East. This was her favorite area to explore and live, made easier by being fluent in Arabic and not holding back from speaking her mind.

Her adventures were numerous, at times her numerous friendships were lifesaving, and her documentation of the people she met and the lands she loved aided in the establishment of modern-day Iraq and divvying up the freshly fallen Ottoman Empire, and guiding Great Britain through WW1.

Gertrude Bell, CBE: author, adventurer, archaeologist, museum creator, unofficial but effective diplomat, political advisor, and a woman who put (parts) of convention aside to live her life by her own rules died on July 12, 1926, at her home in Baghdad. She was 57 years old.

By Janet Wallach
by Liora Lukitz
By H.V.F. Winston
By Pat Yale

An entire site dedicated to her: The Gertrude Bell Society

A timeline of her life from Women in Exploration.

Despite what appears to us as an easy yes, Gertrude was not in favor of women getting the vote, she was (as were many in her class) anti-suffrage. Find out why in this article from a Newcastle University blog, dig into their archive on her, and more about her life in another from the same school.

This is the museum that she helped establish, The Iraq Museum.

A discussion about her death from an overdose of sleeping pills.

The history of “Cook’s tour” (which isn’t about someone who cooks going on a tour.)

An explanation of the Balfour Declaration after WWI

Sigh. Watch it if you must, but it’s not a favorite over here.

Instead, watch this documentary series from PBS, Letters From Baghdad, it’s much…much better.

And if you know Greta Gerwig, maybe she should get her eyes on Gertrude’s story.

We have a Pinterest Board for every subject! Check all of them out on Pinterest!

Break music: Spy vs Spy by Sound of Seventy-Three. End music: Intrepid by Love Amplifier

(used by permission from Ilicense Music)

Episode 231: Dido Elizabeth Belle and Sarah Forbes Bonetta

Dido Elizabeth Belle and Sarah Forbes Bonetta

*The beginning section of part two of this episode, the story of Sarah Forbes Bonetta, has the strongest Little Ears warning we’ve ever had. Adults, please preview this before kids (or really, anyone who is sensitive to violent content) listen. You can pick her story back up at the 48:00 minute mark.*

After our discussion about the heritage of Queen Charlotte, we decided to divide and conquer with two mini-episodes on aristocratic women of color in the Georgian and Victorian eras.


Episode 230: Queen Charlotte of Great Britain, Part Two

How Charlotte looked at the beginning of this episode in 1782. Thomas Gainsborough, public domain.
A more mature Queen Charlotte seven years later by Sir Thomas Lawrence circa 1789

We left Charlotte in a very sweet place: her family was growing, she was able to indulge her love of botany and other sciences through her many homes, her husband, King George III, was on a high note on the favorable scale…life was pleasant and lacked (much) drama.

But all that is going to change. She does keep having children in this final episode of our series, 13 of them reach adulthood. Okay, so her boys–especially the heir, the Prince of Wales- were growing into rogues but in an almost cute way and when things went sideways they went sideways hard.

In this episode, we tracked the mental illness of King George III (which didn’t really strike until he was in his 50s) and the impact it had on Charlotte, the family and the country. Charlotte goes from a sweet shepherdess of a mother who has her stuff together to a frazzled, confused, suspicious, and ever-stressed-out queen.

Within the two episodes, we cover her entire life and try to make it easy for you to separate the fact from the fiction on Netflix’s limited series, Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story.

Time Travel With The History Chicks


The new one by Catherine Curzon

Old one by Percy H. Fitzgerald
By Andrew Roberts
By Janice Hadlow
Lots of very short essays about a lot of royals by Alison Rattler and Allison Vale
By Adrian Tinniswood
Children’s book by Nancy Churnin and Luisa Uribe
by Constance Hill


Was Queen Charlotte black? How far back in her family tree did this ancestor live and what is the story behind why people think so? This Smithsonian article will give you a place to start you tumble down a rabbit hole. SMITHSONIAN

The Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew

For the whole heartbreaking story of Princess Charlotte of Wales, the heir that never was, we covered her back when we were newbie podcasters, in 2011! Episode 13.

Historic Royal Palaces has a treasure trove of information on all things British Royal, here’s Kew Palace (well, the rebuilt one) you can see why it was a favorite of the family (and why we need to go there when we visit London this fall!)

Ways that the zebra became shorthand for greed and stupidity through political cartoons: PRINCETON

A perfectly titled essay, King George III, bipolar disorder, porphyria, and lessons for historians from the Royal College of Physicians

Moving Pictures!

Did you know there is a Netflix limited series by Julia Quinn and Shonda Rhimes? (That’s sarcasm, of course you do!) There is and we both enjoyed it a great deal ( just remember: it’s not a documentary!)

1994’s movie with Helen Mirren as Queen Charlotte (also not a documentary.)

There are many Horrible Histories (no Drunk History though) on Charlotte’s era that we’ll just put this one episode here as a lovely example.

Break song: Handel’s End Song: Lost by Mary Ellen Lynch

Come with us to visit the world of Queen Charlotte (and centuries of others) this September as we take a Field Trip to London! Almost full! If you would like to sign up or learn more, visit our friends at Like Minds Travel!

Episode 229: Queen Charlotte of Great Britain: A true story, Part One

Season Three of Netflix’s Bridgerton series, Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story begins:

Dearest Gentle Reader, This is the story of Queen Charlotte from Bridgerton. It is not a history lesson, it is fiction inspired by fact. All liberties taken by the authors are quite intentional.

Cool, cool…but what is the true story of this very real figure in history? How much truth did Julia Quinn and Shonda Rhimes let into the series, what is entirely fiction…and what is open for debate? While we’re no Lady Whistledowns, we can confirm those truths, and reveal the fictions for what they are.

This isn’t a media recap, having seen the series or not really doesn’t matter, although we do reference the show a few times, it’s basically our usual Not A History Lesson chat about this oft-misunderstood 18th Century queen.

Time Travel With The History Chicks

All media sources and recommendations will be on the shownotes for Part Two

Episode 214: Nell Gwynn

Nell, circa 1675 by Peter Lely

First off, please know that this episode contains a very loud LITTLE EARS warning, so we do ask that adults preview it to decide if it’s appropriate for the kids in their life. Nell was a woman who grew up in poverty, learned how to charm people from a very young age, and found success in the culture in which she lived as an actress and a mistress to King Charles II of England. (There is a lot of sex and quotes have words in them that we don’t ordinarily use but it’s impossible to tell her story without these elements.)

Nell’s early history is a little fuzzy, she was most likely born on February 2, 1650, in Oxford, England. She was named Eleanor after her mother, but everyone called her “Nell.” She was definitely the second daughter of Eleanor Gwynn, and her father was Thomas Gwynn, perhaps a military man who fought for the King on the losing side of a war that ended with that king’s head…off, and his son and heir, Charles, on the run and in exile. There are a couple of theories as to who, exactly, this Thomas was but what really matters is that he was out of the picture, imprisoned, and dead when Nell was a tiny child.

Nell grew up in London, England, during a time of Puritanical rule but her community in the aptly named, Coal Yard Alley, was a seedy part of town where people didn’t care much for the “NO” laws. Nell’s school wasn’t academic- it was survival; it was street smarts and reading people. She was very good at her lessons.

King Charles II by John Michael Wright circa 1663

When she was 10, King Charles II came back into power, Hello, Restoration Era!  She worked her way from selling oysters to selling oranges at the newly opened theaters, and after women were allowed on stage (thanks, King Charles!) she stepped into the life of an actress…a very popular actress. Very.

King Charles II, like everyone who saw her, was drawn to and mesmerized by Nell. Yes, he was married and very devoted to his wife, and yes he had many other mistresses in his lifetime. Nell possessed qualities that the other women in Charles’ life didn’t, as a diarist of the time (Samuel Pepys) described her she was, “pretty and witty.” She gave birth to two of Charles’ sons and, most importantly, was loyal to him and unapologetically herself, for the rest of her life.

Showing a little nipple was a visual indication that the woman was the mistress of a powerful man. 

Don’t get us wrong, she was human and made some really poor Mean Girl decisions along the way. She had tragedy and loss and life setbacks. For the most part, though, she was happy and made others happy, too, with a big, good-natured, and playful personality.

Nell only outlived Charles by only two years and was survived by only one of her sons. She died on November 14, 1687, at the age of 37.

We took a tour via Google and lo! The modern-day location of the tavern/bawdy house where Nell’s Mom worked (and they lived..maybe, like we said, details are a bit fuzzy.) Sugar Sin, indeed.

Time Travel With The History Chicks


The big’un by Charles Beauclerk
Derek Parker
Sarah-Beth Watkins
by Bryan Beven
(The one that Beckett’s husband had given her for Christmas) by Eleanor Herman
by HRH Princess Michael of Kent
by Bee Wilson
by Ian Mortimer (this whole series is excellent)

To read the…colorful diary of Samuel Pepys (as well as other things related to the man) online: Diary of Samuel Pepys


Oliver Cromwell, hero or villain? (We don’t go into it too much in this episode, it’s not called History Dudes)

Here’s a list of the Nell statues in London (as well as other images of things we mentioned, it’s a good article) in THE LONDONIST

Death of King Charles I

History of female actors at the theeeaaater. First Actresses by Deborah Friedell

Moving Pictures!

Frock Flicks (also a podcast) has a rundown of all the Nell Gwynn movies here: Frock Flicks

And this is NOTHING like Susan’s version. She’s keeping her day job to the delight of theater goers everywhere.

Break music: Orange Sphere, by Future Former; End song: My Town by the Bell Hours used with permission from ilicense music