WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Gentleman of Three Ins

WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Gentleman of Three Ins

Lots of things come in threes.

Little pigs. French hens. Little kittens. Feet in a yard. BLT ingredients. Brontë sisters.

Sometimes frightening things come in threes: witches in Macbeth, Cerebrus’s heads, Hanson brothers. And this week’s slang.

Gentleman of Three Ins

In debt, in gaol, and in danger of remaining there for life; or, in gaol, indicted, and in danger of being hanged in chains.

I wrote several posts last year concerning the perilous nature of gaols and imprisonment in Regency England, which can be found here, here, here, and here. I won’t rehash the past, but instead rely on my dear Mr. Gillray to provide some period figurative illustrations rather than literal interpretations of this week’s slang.

In debt:

John Bull ground down by James Gillray, published by Hannah Humphrey 1 June 1795, National Portrait Gallery.

From the British Museum:

John Bull’s head and shoulders emerge from a gigantic coffee-mill. He is being ground by Pitt into guineas which pour from the spout of the machine into the inverted coronet of the Prince of Wales, held out by the Prince (left). The Prince points out his harvest of coins to a row of creditors. John Bull, his hands clasped, shrieks “Murder! Murder!” Pitt (right), both hands on the handle, is working hard, stripped to his shirt. His coat lies across an enormous heap of guineas on which he rests his left knee. He says: “God save great George our Ki . . .” Behind him, and in the upper right corner of the design, is the crown, the centre of a sun whose rays extend behind Pitt’s head, with the words: “Grind away! grind away grind away Billy! never mind his bawling! Grind away.” Other words from the crown are directed towards the victim: “What! – What! – what! Murder hay? why, you poor Stupe, is it not for the good of your Country? hay? hay”. Between Pitt and the post of the mill Dundas and Burke are grovelling for guineas: Burke, frowning, uses both hands; Dundas, who wears a plaid, fills his Scots cap.

In gaol:

Exaltation of Faro’s Daughters by James Gillray, published by Hannah Humphrey 12 May 1796, British Museum.

From the British Museum:

Lady Buckinghamshire (left) and Lady Archer (right) stand side by side in the pillory, heads and hands closely confined, their heads in profile to the right, weeping angrily. Both wear tall feathers in their hair and large pendent ear-rings. Lady Buckinghamshire is forced to stand painfully on tip-toe, a short petticoat exposes her fat legs. On the front of the platform is a placard: ‘Cure for Gambling Publish’d by Lord Kenyon in the Court of Kings Bench on May 9th 1796’. This is raised above the heads of the crowd, with grinning upturned faces in the foreground. Eggs, a cat, &c. fly through the air; the pillory and the dresses of the victims are bespattered. On the right is a house with spectators in the windows.

Hanging in:

Hanging. Drowning. by James Gillray, published by Hannah Humphrey 9 November 1795, National Portrait Gallery.

From the Historical and Descriptive Account of the Caricatures of James Gillray:

Fox. Pitt. Dundas. Another allusion to the love of the two Ministers for the bottle. It represents the different feelings with which the different parties in this country were supposed to have looked upon the decline of Republican principles in France at this time.

And lest we forget, three is a magic number.


Slang term taken from the 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue.

WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Long Meg

WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Long Meg

I happen to adore this week’s Word of the Week. I’ve been taller than average since my eight-week, well-baby checkup. I’ve been asked how the weather is up there, to put things up or take things down from high shelves, and I wore flats when I married.

But from whence did this week’s slang arise?

Well … it’s a sobriquet that has no definitive origin, but plenty of definitive documentation. It first appeared in a play, but it’s unclear whether the term was the creation of the writer, or an allusion to a real person. So unlike other words I’ve chosen, this slang term has always been slang. It’s merely been moved from the realm of the written into the physical.

Long Meg (noun)

A very tall Woman [sic]. Also a jeering name for a very tall woman: from one famous in story, called Long Meg of Westminster.

The Admiral’s players (actors Alleyn, Jones, and Singer, supported by Lord Admiral, Charles Howard) premiered “Long Meg of Westminster” on 14 February 1595. Performances spanned the spring and fall seasons and, according to Henslowe’s thorough record-keeping, we know the returned receipts avereaged more than 34s. “Long Meg” returned to the stage sporadically over the next several years before fading into obscurity.

Performance records of the play Long Meg of Westminster from Henslowe's Diary 14 of febreary 1594

Performance records of the play Long Meg of Westminster, from Henslowe’s Diary, 14 of Febreary 1594

The next incarnation of Long Meg turned narrative: The Life of Long Meg of Westminster (1635) is the oldest extant copy of literary Long Meg. The book features eighteen adventures of Meg, “a woman … of late memory, and well beloued, spoken on of all, and knowne of many. This tome is valuable in itself for the fantastic subtitle alone:

“The life of Long Meg of Westminster: containing the mad merry pranks she played in her life time, not onely in performing sundry quarrels with divers ruffians about London, but also how valiantly she behaued her selfe in the warres of Bolloingne”

The Life of Long Meg of Westminster by an Unknown Author, 1635.

The Life of Long Meg of Westminster by an Unknown Author, 1635.

Our next visit from Meg sounds thorough: The Whole Life and Death of Long Meg of Westminster (1750). Ironically enough, while this edition brings terrific illustrations, there are actually fewer “mad merry pranks.”

Long Meg of Westministe rplay: Meg with her Laundry Paddle.

Long Meg of Westminister, play: Meg with her Laundry Paddle.

Long Meg of Westminster play: Meg beats Willis the Carrier

Long Meg of Westminster, play: Meg beats Willis the Carrier

This incarnation does include the stories from the original stage play, but omits five of her adventures.

The Whole Life and Death of Long Meg of Westminster, 1750.

The Whole Life and Death of Long Meg of Westminster, 1750.

So we have Long Meg of the written world, but what of the physical?

According to 17th Century English historian Thomas Fuller, the term “Long Meg” is applicable to anything “of hop-pole height, wanting breadth proportionable thereunto.”

Thomas Fuller on the attributive "Long Meg" in The History of the Worthies of England, 1662.

Thomas Fuller on the attributive “Long Meg” in The History of the Worthies of England, 1662.

The large, blue-black marble over the grave of Gervase de Blois is known as the “Long Meg of Westminster Abbey.” According to the site’s searchable database, Gervase de Blois was the natural (i.e., illegitimate) son of King Stephen, and served as abbot of Westminster from about 1137 until he was deposed in 1157. He has no effigy, so I could not find this allegedly tall drink of marble.

The Mons Meg of Scotland, that mightiest of medieval bombard cannons, sits proudly outside St. Mary’s Chapel at Edinburgh Castle. “Mons” from the city in Belgium where it was forged; “Meg” from the vertically blessed Long Meg. This siege cannon dates from 1449, when Phillip III, Duke of Burgandy, ordered its manufacture. It has fantastic associated folklore:

When James the Second arrived with an army at Carlingwark, to besiege the Castle of Threave, the McLellans presented him with the piece of ordnance now called ‘Mons Meg.’ The first discharge of this great gun is said to have consisted of a peck of powder and a granite ball nearly as heavy as a Galloway cow. This ball is believed, in its course through the Castle of Threave, to have carried away the hand of Margaret de Douglas, commonly called the Fair Maid of Galloway, as she sat at table with her lord, and was in the act of raising the wine-cup to her lips. Old people still maintain that the vengeance of God was thereby evidently manifested, in destroying the hand which had been given in wedlock to two brothers, and that even while the lawful spouse of the first was alive. (from The True Story of the Mons Meg; link below)

In The Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, the September 1769 Edinburgh Antiquarian Magazine writes of “Peter Branan, aged 104, who was six feet six inches high, and was commonly called Long Meg of Westminster.” Now that’s and insult!

The Edinburgh Antiquarian Magazine

Finally, in Penrith, Cumbria, we find a circle of 67-77 stones (depending on what year you count them), some up to six feet in height. Off to the southern side, by itself, is a single stone some seventeen feet tall. For the purposes of this post, I won’t speculate on origin, purpose, or potential alien involvement. I’ll simply mention the arrangement has been dubbed Long Meg and Her Daughters.

Long Meg and Her Daughters: Little Salkeld, Penrith, Cumbria.

Long Meg and Her Daughters: Little Salkeld, Penrith, Cumbria.

Long Meg. Little Salkeld, Penright, Cumbria.

Long Meg. Little Salkeld, Penright, Cumbria.

Stand tall, Long Megs! (Pun intended)