In the middle of editing Ben Alexander’s play The Siege of Manchester I took a holiday and accidentally came across this picture on a visit to the National Trust’s Blickling Estate in Norfolk. The woman in question is Charlotte de La Trémoille, the wife of James Stanley, the Seventh Earl of Derby. Ben’s play has more to say about her husband (who was the besieger of the title) and, whilst Charlotte appears as a character, the play does not cover the later events that earned her this epithet. (Ben mentions it as an aside in his production notes.)
The description was a gift from the Parliamentarians in the English Civil War, against whom she commanded a company of marksmen in defence of Lathom House. She refused to surrender and held out in the last bastion of Lancashire Royalists until the seige was broken by Prince Rupert. One assumes that the champions of parliamentary democracy took a dislike to strong, independent women (although they were more polite to Mary Bankes after her defence of Corfe Castle).
So, if Charlotte de La Trémoille is third, who outranked her in evil? Second place went to her contemporary, Henrietta Maria, Queen Consort of King Charles I. She was considered to be interfering politically and swaying her husband in the direction of Catholicism – so both an enemy of parliament and an enemy of Protestantism. And first place? Eve.
We’re back to Genesis, chapter three for that one. In the King James version, God’s interrogation of Adam runs:-
… Hast thou eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat?
And the man said, The woman whom though gavest to be with me, she game me of the tree, and I did eat.
So Adam, failing to admit to his own agency, blames Eve. The Parliamentarians seem to have taken this view without thinking about it. Never mind that Adam had a choice and could have applied his own judgement. Never mind that Eve was tricked. He was clearly right to blame her. It was her fault. She is evil.
This way of thinking has a long and unglamorous history. In some – many – quarters, it persists today. What an irrational lot we are.