Christian Davies: Mother of Dragoons

Character: Christian Cavenaugh/Welsh/Jones/Davies

Text: The Life and Adventures of Mrs. Christian Davies (which is an abridged title!)

I have the novel ‘Kit’, based on – or rather inspired by – the life of Christian Davies, to thank for leading me to this text. I actually didn’t much like the novel, as it was actually a pretty boring and placid, and primarily fictional, account of this woman’s life, venturing through a kind of mundane romance with Captain Ross, then some odd tangent about being a spy. The character in the novel was underpinned by some ill-fitting kind of forced virtue, which was off-putting, considering she did plenty of dishonourable or deceitful things. I assume this was probably the reason the author didn’t think having someone so brassy could attract someone like Captain Ross, though the real woman had no problem finding men to flock around her. She had also had at least ten years stripped from her age, for no apparent reason other than youth perhaps adds the possibility of naivety, and so fitted the model better. If the character in ‘Kit’ had not been based on a real-life woman, perhaps I wouldn’t have withdrawn my sympathy for the story. Perhaps, but not a guarantee. Unfortunately, when there is ample basis for a complex, though not constantly tasteful, and infinitely more interesting character, which is not undertaken when writing about them, I think it devalues, in this case, the adventure and any struggles within it.

I and four of my companions, were rolling ourselves down a hill, and turning heels over head, when the earl of C–d was passing by in his coach…: but finding we put an end to our pastime on our perceiving him (for the youngest of us was seventeen and consequently had sense enough to think that showing our naked tails not over-decent) he called to us, and promising to give us a crown apiece if we would begin and pursue our diversion…

moterrossSo. Christian Davies. What a gal. Not content with being a hardcore Irishwoman – who, after a top education wants instead to work the land because it’s more interesting – owning a bar and having three kids and a hot husband, she adds fighting in the British Army and gallivanting across Europe to her list of things to do before she dies.

Alright, not exactly the way it happened. Her hot husband gets plastered while running some errands and wanders off with some friends, finding himself in Irish troops of the British Army the next day (who has that not happened to, amirite?), and Kit, pretty distraught, decides to head off after him, as you do.

Thing is, Kit happens to be pretty damn good at being a soldier – and apparently damn hot, earning the nickname the Pretty Dragoon – and gets right into all the looting and flirting and duels and accidental fatherhood that many soldiers experienced. Seriously, she actually got accused of fathering a baby by some woman off-her-rocker, and so not to expose her femininity while she still hadn’t found her husband, complied, and treated it as her own! The baby didn’t live long it seems, and so she was released from that astonishing prospect.

When she does eventually find her husband, she proper scolds him for not only being in a relationship with another woman, but having caused her to leave her family and children behind to come and find him. She tells him he has to keep schtum about her being there, forcing him to pretend she was his brother, as she was enjoying herself too much. So they live army life together but separate for a while, continuing the fight with the dragoons. It wasn’t without its difficulties, like his running off to his mistress once in a while:

I was informed by a neighbour that he was at such an alehouse with his mistress. This news, setting me aflame, I ran directly thither… My rage was so great, that I struck at her with a case-knife I had undesignedly brought out in my hand, and cut her nose off close to the face…

What is amazing about this story is that, when she is discovered after being shot, not only do the troops accept Kit as a woman, she is fully complimented as being the best man they had, having earned her stripes, as it were, on the battlefield. She also gets to remarry Richard Welsh, and lotsa money and kisses and a new dress from her mates. And far from being sidelined due to boobs, she can’t help but get involved in stupid things like shooting up the enemy and carrying pots of broth across battlefields to feed her husband.  Obviously, the boys aren’t surprised at this woman turning up in the midst of some stake-outs.  She, too, doesn’t stray away from getting her revenge on arrogant little whelps, who slight her character by taking objection to her freedoms with the army, by seducing their ladies behind their backs.

You see, said I, what it is to affront me ; for I have made but two visits to your mistress, and in them have made such a progress, that you have been twice refused entrance.


It’s interesting that her nickname, Mother Ross, is based on little more than the said Captain Ross finding grief in her grief after she finds her husband dead after battle – and after overturning 200 bodies. There is no question of a fling or anything like that. Christian married Hugh Jones, a soldier, eleven weeks after her husband’s death. He died the next year. Then once she returned home she married another soldier. She also met Queen Anne who gave her a massive amount of money and a pension for life. Technically, she became the first female Chelsea Pensioner, and was interred after her death in the Royal Hospital Chelsea cemetery.

It’s fair to say Kit is one of the most fun and brassy women in non-fiction. Her story is far from clean, and the anecdotes of her life are by far the best parts of the book. I say that because there is a lot of detail of the battle arenas and the politics going on, and so if you aren’t much into warfare these might require skipping. But don’t skip too speedily, as some of the best bits, like the officer taking a particular fancy to a mare, come in between the fights as asides.

The language he had given me was provocation sufficient to inflame me ; but a blow was an indignity never before put upon me, and enraged me to such a degree, that not considering I had the child in one arm, I flew upon him, and began to be labour him with my right fist.

For no feasible reason this text is sometimes attributed to Daniel Defoe. The Dictionary of National Biography 1885 had an entry for Christian Davies, which is a cute and brief read, and also questioned this assumption. The text of this book is available entirely for free online at loads of locations, but you can also click the image above and buy it in expensive paperback if you want…



Ada Lovelace: Bride of Science

Seriously, this is what she called herself.

In honour of Ada Lovelace Day – awarded nowadays with being the first computer programmer, but also daughter of the famed Lord Byron – I’m posting a picture of the brainy lady herself, and also an excerpt of a letter from Ada to Michael Faraday (my hero). Faraday and Lovelace had a brief friendship, not least because she died within a very short time of their meeting, though he was far older than she.One of my favourite openers of a letter he wrote to her, on 10th June 1851, was:

One of my favourite openers of a letter he wrote to her, on 10th June 1851, was:

“You see what you do – ever as you like with me. You say write & I write – and I wish I had strength & head rest enough for a great deal more for it would give me very great pleasure to move more earnestly for those young creatures whom I rejoiced to know as your children.”


1815 – 1852


Dear Mr Faraday,

I am exceedingly tickled with your comparison of yourself to a tortoise. It has excited all my fun (& I assure you I have no little of that in me).

I am also struck with the forcible truth of your designation of my character of mind:

“elasticity of intellect”.

It is indeed the very truth, most happily put into language.

You have excited in my mind a ridiculous, but not ungraceful, allegorical picture, viz:

that of a quiet demure plodding tortoise, with a beautiful fairy gambolling round it in a thousand radiant & varying hues; the tortoise crying out, “Fairy, fairy, I am not like you. I cannot at pleasure assume a thousand aerial shapes & expand myself over the face of the universe. Fairy, fairy, have mercy on me, & remember I am but a tortoise”.

Please go and have a look at the FindingAda blog where you can view more letters fully scanned (if you can read the swirly lettering!). Her personality leaps from the page and she must have been a whirlwind of vivacity not just for the ageing Faraday (who was, by the way, still rather attractive in his fifties) but for everyone who met her.

Ada has also been committed to comic format – along with naughty Charles Babbage – and so I can also count her as a genuine lady of literature.

Silence: Warrior Maiden of Honour

Character: Silence

Text: Le Roman de Silence, by Heldris of Cornwall – a 13th century poem in Old French.

This version is a translation by Sarah Roche-Mahdi.


“I swear that never again will a woman inherit in the kingdom of England.”

silenceLe Roman de Silence is bloomin’ amazing story for its age, and Silence more so as its lead. Warrior maidens have been sprinkled in fiction throughout history, and thankfully to a greater extent nowadays, but this tale in particular captured my attention because despite a true era where masculinity was, and forgive the expression, king, a positive story about a female who defies all the restrictions of her sex and enforces the notion that anyone can embody the ideal morality if they act with courage, honour, valour and humility, and also be revered for it (you heard it). This from the Middle Ages. The 13th century. Seven to eight-hundred years ago. I know, right?!

And so, first, Nature creates the most perfect female ever to have existed. So perfect in fact, Nature is quite aware that everyone will be jealous of the fact and does it anyway. She’s proud of herself because Nature knows she not only rocks but owns you from birth. Then, upon birth into a kingdom where women are barred from inheriting, Silence’s parents, of course, have her raised as a boy, properly exciting Nurture. Nature wants to backslap someone.

Once discovering she’s a girl, and though our hero has a little inner turmoil, Nurture practically high-fives Reason when Silence decides she doesn’t care and heads off on adventure. She goes on to become the finest jouster, fighter and hunter in the land, become a master of minstrelsy, knighted by the king of France, the winner of a great battle for the king of England and beloved by practically the entire world. She’s inadvertently exposed in the end by Merlin (yes that Merlin) by carrying out a deed only a woman should be able to do (but she doesn’t know that): bring the magician into court from his hiding place in the woods. By that point Silence is so far gone caring who knows the ‘deception’ she tells the king to bring it on and do what he must. But in a nice way, she’s polite, you know. So he marries her.

‘There never was a woman less reluctant to engage in armed combat.’


Joan of Arc by Jean-Jaques Scherrer – true-life warrior maiden and sometime heroine of France…until they, you know, betrayed and executed her…awkward.

What I love about Silence is that she proves herself not only equipped with marshal skills but charm and eloquence, primarily using words instead of the blade (unless absolutely necessary) to encourage change, even managing to stop her own murder in the process. Her status in hiding gives her the possibility of learning skills she definitely would not have but for the disguise. She’s also not trying to be male, everyone just decides she is purely because of her outfit – she’s just herself and the lifestyle suited her fine. It’s also interesting to see the dangers a male life of freedom brings to Silence, just as a female one would have brought a kind of imprisonment. People become jealous and possessive of his beauty and skills, even murderous, towards him, and feel they own him in some way because they are in awe or in love with him. It seems the perfection Nature put into creating the most superficially beautiful woman in the world was actually ‘reassigned’ into physical and mental skill once Silence had been denied the female sheen, and also brought on a different kind of envy. One of the most exciting questions in this tale is whether the narrator sees men and women sharing identical potential which itself is silenced depending on how they are assigned at birth. Seriously, I half believe this was written last year. It wasn’t, it was found with some forgotten letters from Henry VIII around the 19-noughties.

‘A woman’s role is to keep silent…’

And, so yes, the ending. The bit where she marries the king. Let’s do that because on first read it’s a bit…disappointing.

After all her feats of strength and honour Silence is returned to her ‘natural’ state – that of a woman. Nature wipes away all the blemishes of being male on the external and puts her in a dress and she hooks up with His Grace. But I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing – I don’t think it was written as her shunning all she was. Stay with me. And pretend you’re from the Middle Ages.


Agnes de Hotot, one-time jousting legend (as far as we know) – a genuine crest of the Dudleys of Northants. Seriously, go look this lady up.

Silence as a youth is afraid that being exposed as female will lose her the heights that she has gained as a boy, but as an adult, and when exalted to being the king’s chosen wife (thus queen) she has actually achieved the very highest status for a woman, and on the merits she has gained in masquerading as a man. But exaltation to queenship and being respected and honoured by the king (the supreme master of everything if you ignore God back then) would be the ultimate honour, especially for a woman, and unbelievably so for a woman who had disguised herself and been exposed. Silence would never have achieved this state if she was not given some autonomy in disguise, and so it is not necessarily being a woman that causes incapability, it’s just being seen as a woman where everyone’s prejudice lies, because women are automatically presumed as such. So Silence is not giving up who she is, she is just embracing all she is, as is everyone else by that point. Wearing a dress is not a euphemism for weak, it’s just a piece of clothing. Ironically, the king is actually pretty fecking weak, but nobody questions him because he is the king and a man and so beyond it. Maybe he can learn a bit from his new wife about…well, everything.

Silence was great on first read, and even though I thought, dammit, she’s totally sold out at the end, luckily human beings as we are gifted with perspective on further visits. Let’s not forget there are many, many ways to interpret words, from eras long gone and our own (and you should definitely go and and read more of Silence from other perspectives), and it’s not the way I would end this story. But like I said, eight-hundred years ago. We are blessed to be able to pull out the parts that inspire us most and sweep the other stuff under the carpet if it’s not to our taste, ’cause it’s fiction! Regardless, she continues to be one of my favourite and most inspiring fictional incarnations of a female knight, a warrior maiden, and a damn badass lady. Plus, you know, there’s dragons in it.