The Affecting History of Louisa

The Affecting History of Louisa, the Wandering Maniac, or, ‘Lady of the Hay-Stack;’ So called, from having taken up her Residence under that Shelter, in the Village of Bourton, Near Bristol, in a State of Melancholy Derangement; and supposed to be a Natural Daughter of Francis I. Emperor of Germany. A Real Tale of Woe.

Author: Unknown
Publisher: A. Neil
Publication Year: 1804
Language: English
Book Dimensions: 10cm x 17cm
Pages: 36
University of Virginia Library Catalog Entry, Sadleir-Black Collection: PZ2.A388 1804



Material History

The Affecting History of Louisa, the Wandering Maniac, or, ‘Lady of the Hay-Stack;’ So called, from having taken up her Residence under that Shelter, in the Village of Bourton, Near Bristol, in a State of Melancholy Derangement; and supposed to be a Natural Daughter of Francis I. Emperor of Germany. A Real Tale of Woe. If you are still here after reading this vehement title, congratulations—you have what it takes to dive into this 1804 gothic chapbook.

This “shilling shocker” is more popularly known as The Affecting History of Louisa. Though an unsung art by many, this novel does possess a special role at the University of Virginia by existing as an individualized, treasured lens of history in the Sadleir-Black Collection presented by Robert K. Black. The Sadleir-Black Collection’s version of the novel is a fragile, well-worn 10cm by 17cm. A beautiful yet dreary illustration adorns the primary page of the coverless and boundless novel. There is evidence of past stitching and binding of the pages, which possibly suggest that the novel was removed from a larger accumulation of gothic novels. 

The pages of Robert Black’s The Affecting History of Louisa are brittle, yellow, and stained, yet they hold many secrets to the publishing and history of the unique novel. Throughout a series of 36 pages (the pages are numbered; however, the numbering begins six pages in with 8, and ends with 38), there are details including catchwords (a repeated/prewritten word located on the following page of a subsequent paragraph) and signature marks (numerical/alphabetical markings) which were used to assist the bookbinders and printers and to ensure correct book assembly on their part.

The precision and care that went into the assembling of the book is also reflected in the structured form of the printed words. With 1.5 cm side margins and a 2.5 cm bottom margin, the dainty 2 mm letters with their didonesque font are able to flow across the page and make an impact through their meaning more so than through their appearance. Several of the letters do attempt to make their own statements by being unconventional compared to current norms. Throughout the novel, the character “s” is depicted in multiple forms; sometimes taking on the conventional “s” form, but also sometimes being printed as a long S that looks more like an “f.” This printing trend began to dwindle following the eighteenth century. Between the cultural switch, there were some words where the flow of calligraphy followed the shape of a modern day “s,” and several words still followed that of an “f.” The printing of this novel simply adhered to those social norms of orthography. 

Not only does the interior of this chapbook portray the textual effects of social change, but the exterior does as well. On the cover page of the novel, there is a small, handwritten “5” on the top-left corner. This handwritten “5” could represent several things: perhaps a monetary value, or perhaps a set volume in a more mass pamphlet. Either way, it is evident that this novel has had its experiences with society. The Affecting History of Louisa appears to have been worn and appreciated by previous readers. 

Textual History

This image presents an advertisement for a drama by James Boaden titled The Maid of Bristol. The advertisement is entirely text, with no illustrations, and bordered by a double line above and below the text.
This image presents an advertisement for a drama by James Boaden titled The Maid of Bristol, which inspired the reiteration of its story via this chapbook. 

The Affecting History of Louisa is a petite chapbook with an extensive title within its first pages: The Affecting History of Louisa, the Wandering Maniac, or, “Lady of the Hay-Stack;” So called, from having taken up her Residence under that Shelter, in the Village of Bourton, near Bristol, in a State of Melancholy Derangement; and supposed to be a Natural Daughter of Francis I. Emperor of Germany. A Real Tale of Woe. There is no author listed for this chapbook.

The initial ambiguity of the chapbook’s authorship stems from the fact that the original work was a French text titled L’Inconnue Histoire Véritable; moreover, English translations included many different titles and forms. George Henry Glasse, a scholar and clergyman, first translated this text into English as A Narrative of Facts. A second edition of Glasse’s translation appeared in 1801 as Louisa: A Narrative of Facts, Supposed to Throw Light on the Mysterious History of “The Lady of the Haystack.” This book was popular enough that it “quickly reached a third edition” (Vian and Ellis). There exists another edition of Glasse’s translation with yet another title, A Narrative of Facts: Supposed to Throw Light on the History of the Bristol-Stranger; Known by the Name of the Maid of the Hay-stack. Translated From the French, which includes an introduction signed by Philalethes. 

Glasse’s translations also inspired a three-act play called The Maid of Bristol, dramatized by James Boaden. Boaden was a dramatist whose works revolved around the gothic genre. While The Maid of Bristol is not well-known for its popularity today, the play is still accessible and available for purchase online. The Affecting History of Louisa, the Wandering Maniac is a shorter chapbook version of Glasse’s translation and was, in particular, “induced” by the popularity of Boaden’s play; the advertisement in this chapbook states, “Mr. Boaden having, with so much success, dramatized the following interesting Tale, under the title of ‘The Maid of Bristol,’ induced us to present the Public with the original Narrative; which we are enabled to do, from the most authentic documents” (Affecting History 6). The Affecting History of Louisa, then, arrived on the publication scene after many translations and iterations of the original French text that aims for a genuine, historically accurate account of the mystery at the center of the story: the true natural daughter of Francis I. 

Narrative Point of View

The Affecting History of Louisa is narrated from a third-person perspective. The frame narration opens and closes with an anonymous third-person narrator who presents part of Louisa’s history with an objective and occasionally empathetic tone. 

Sample of Third-Person Frame Narration:

Some few years ago, a young woman stopped at the village of Bourton, near Bristol, and begged the refreshment of a little milk, There [sic] was something so attractive in her whole appearance, as to engage the attention of all around her. (Affecting History of Louisa 7)

This third-person frame narration also introduces two other embedded narratives. The first embedded narrative is an oral account by a man from Bristol who spoke with Louisa directly. The chapbook’s narrator explains that the “respectful gentleman in Bristol … has favoured us with some authentic memoirs” and then includes this oral account for several pages (Affecting History of Louisa 15). The narrative demarcates the Bristol man’s oral narrative with quotation marks at the beginning of each paragraph. 

Sample of Bristol Man’s Oral Narrative about Louisa: 

“I should have conceived her,” says the writer, “to be about five-and-twenty; and notwithstanding the injuries which her situation and mode of life must inevitably have occasioned in her looks, she had still a very pleasing countenance. Interesting it certainly was in a high degree; but it is not easy to say how much this impression was to be attributed to the previous knowledge of her story. She had fine, expressive, black eyes and eye-brows; her complexion was wan, but not fickly; her under jaw projected a little, and I fancied I could distinguish something of the Austrian lip; but it was not decidedly marked. Her nose had nothing particular; her hair was very dark, if not black, and in length about a year and a half’s growth, not being thick, but coming down on her forehead; her arm and hand were delicate, with small long fingers.” (Affecting History of Louisa 9)

The Bristol man’s oral narrative ends without additional commentary from the chapbook’s frame narration. Then there is a line indicating a break in the narrative, and then an italicized description of how a French narrative was found that suggests Louisa is La Fruëlen, and that the chapbook will now include the translation of this narrative. This translated narrative is presented in the third person and focuses on La Fruëlen’s tale for the next twenty-two pages. 

Sample of Translated French Narrative of La Fruëlen’s Tale: 

When the priest came to take her from her house in Bohemia, he told her, that he was going to conduct her to a convent in France. Ignorant as she was, the little which Catharine and her mama had told her of a religious life, taught her to consider a convent as an horrible prison, from which there was no escape: and this idea had so disturbed her mind, that from the moment of her quitting her habitation in Bohemia, she had formed the project of flying, as soon as possible, from such captivity. (Affecting History of Louisa 28)

By addressing the story with a frame narrative that includes two separately sourced tales (one an oral memoir, and one a translation from a French text), the story of Louisa becomes a type of reality or history that the reader is discovering. The frame narrative works well to connect the woman who claims to be La Fruëlen to the story of the late Emperor, as well as connecting that woman to Louisa, which ultimately connects their stories in a complete manner, defining the tragic, affecting history of Louisa. 

Summary

The Affecting History of Louisa is introduced as a recent tale of woe, as the narrative begins, “Some few years ago” (7). The reader is introduced to a woman of the past, in the village of Bourton, England, who is begging for milk. She is described as being young, attractive, and elegant despite her begging state. While she is beautiful, it is evident that over the years, she has experienced hardship, sickness, exposure to the natural elements, and misery. Due to the fact that no one is aware of the nature of her origin, they call her Louisa. She is infamous for her obsessive connection to sleeping in an old haystack rather than a home. As a woman who has experienced multiple episodes of insanity, there have been multiple times when Louisa has been relocated to different hospitals and villages. Despite being relocated, she always manages to find her way back to the haystack. Louisa did not put her worth in items, but spent her days interacting with the village children and going about on her own. 

After a while in the village, she is finally relocated to the village of Bitton in Gloucestershire, England, to be supported by Miss Hannah Moore and her sisters. It seemed evident that Louisa is a foreigner, so Miss Moore attempts to find out which country she is from. Miss Hannah Moore arranges for a Bristol man to visit and speak with Louisa in different languages. First, when the man speaks French, Louisa seems confused—but when he speaks German, she becomes over-emotional. When she can finally gain her composure, she denies knowing the language. The chapbook’s third-person narrator explains that this Bristol man “favoured us with some authentic memoirs” and goes on to include several pages of the Bristol man’s account of Louisa (9). The Bristol man describes Louisa as having fine, expressive black eyes, a pale complexion, a slight jut of the jaw, dark hair, delicate features, and lips that were perhaps Austrian. The Bristol man speaks to Louisa in the way a man speaks to a child. She is not dumb, but slow. He wants to know more of Louisa’s origin. While she is very guarded, he discovers that she responds well to kindness, and he learns that she is fixated on two people called mama and papa, that she understands French, that she is amused at his German, and that she has a large mark or wound on the lower part of her head behind the ear.

In the next section, the chapbook begins with italicized narration explaining that a “Narrative made its appearance on the Continent” showing “so many striking coincidences” that suggest that Louisa is actually La Fruëlen, the natural daughter of Francis I, the late Emperor of Germany (15). The narrative goes on to include the entirety of the supposed translation of this originally French narrative, which begins in 1768. The narrative first introduces the Count M. de Cobenzel, the imperial minister at Brussels. He receives a letter stating that he should not be surprised if his advice and friendship are sought after. The letter is written in French, and signed La Fruëlen from Bourdeaux. He receives other letters encouraging him to support La Fruëlen, from people such as Le Comte J. de Weissendorff from Prague and Le Comte Dietrichstein from Vienna. Cobenzel begins to write with La Fruëlen, offering his support. At the beginning of 1769, the Court of Vienna informs Versailles that La Fruëlen should be arrested and taken to Brussels to be examined by Cobenzel and the First President, M. de Neny, for being an imposter. The Court of Vienna had discovered Fruëlen’s existence because the King of Spain had received a letter encouraging him to defend her, which he then shared with the Emperor, who shared it with the Empress, who called for her arrest. 

As La Fruëlen arrives in Brussels, she is met with an unsigned letter encouraging her that there is an attempt to save her so she should not despair. Cobenzel and M. de Neny question her and her origin. They describe the woman who goes by La Fruëlen as being tall, elegantly formed, with simple and majestic brown hair, fair skin, and fine dark eyes. She also speaks French with a German accent. The two men dive into the story of her childhood. She explains how she is uncertain of her birthplace, but knows she was educated in Bohemia, and grew up in a sequestered house in the country under the care of mama, Catherine, and the priest – who opposed her learning to read and write for unstated religious reasons. She describes how a stranger in huntsmen clothes would visit periodically, and while he was a stranger to her, he seemed to know her. On one visit, she noticed a red mark on his neck, and when she questioned him about it, he explained that it was the distinction of an officer, and implied that she is the daughter of one. After their conversation, the man had to depart again, but promised to return soon. This promise was broken thereafter because he had fallen ill and could not travel. The novel goes on to explain how this is historically accurate to the life of the late Emperor. On his final visit, he leaves her with a photo of himself, the Empress, and her mother. On his departure, he makes her promise to never marry and that she will be and taken care of and happy. 

After this story, the woman called Louisa describes her departure from Bohemia. First, because she is scared to share her story in front of everyone, she conjures a grand lie that seems too good to be true. Cobenzel catches her in her lie, and she is forced to tell the truth in hopes of regaining his trust. The truth behind her departure from Bohemia is that her priest had planned for her to move to a convent, but she decided to run away instead out of fear of the stories she had heard about convents. She hid in the barn of a generous farmer who provided her with the necessities she required. She still needed to gain distance from Hamburgh, though, so she journeyed to Sweden. On this journey, she injured her head with a nasty cut and required a surgeon to heal it. She then joined a compassionate Dutch family who was journeying to Sweden as well. Once she reached Stockholm, she left the travelers and stayed in the house of a German woman. She became great friends with this woman, but one day, she overheard from her hairdresser that the imperial minister of Stockholm was wondering about an escaped girl. Her fear of poverty overcame her fear of the Convent, so she turned herself in to M. de Belgioioso. He took good care of her. He first gave her housing and money, and then he invited her into his own house for safety. Within those walls, she saw a portrait of the late Emperor Francis, and fainted. They struggled to wake her and she had a bad fever, which was almost fatal. 

La Fruëlen’s story becomes tragic as she explains how her supply of financial aid was cut off suddenly, and she accumulated a great amount of debt. In order to gain support, she herself wrote the letters to the people addressed at the beginning of this explanation, including Cobenzel and the King of Spain. She claimed, however, that not all the letters were forged by her, and that several had truly been sent.

Ultimately, M. de Neny is in denial that she is in fact the daughter of the Emperor. He believes that she is truly just a merchant’s runaway daughter. M. de Neny declares that she should return to her city and face her debtors as a punishment for her lies and sins. Cobenzel disagrees, however, he is near death. The day before Cobenzel dies, he receives an anonymous letter saying not to dismiss La Fruëlen, however, the note is burned and dies with him. Four days after Cobenzel’s death, La Fruëlen is released from prison, given a little bit of money for travel, and abandoned to her wretched destiny. 

At this point, the translation of the French narrative ends and the original chapbook narration resumes. This narration explains that “poor Louisa is no more” with her death on December 19, 1801 (37). The final resolution to this tale is announced in the simple fact that Louisa was discovered under the haystack in the year 1776.


Bibliography

The Affecting History of Louisa, the Wandering Maniac. London, A. Neil, 1804.

Boeden, James. The Maid of Bristol: A Play in Three Acts. New York, Printed and Published by D. Longworth, 1803.

Glasse, G. H. A Narrative of Facts: Supposed to Throw Light on the History of the Bristol-Stranger; Known by the Name of the Maid of the Hay-stack. Translated From the French. Printed for Mr. H. Gardner, Mr. Bull, Mr. Lloyd, Messrs. Evans and Hazell, and Mr. Harward. 

Glasse, G. H. Louisa: A Narrative of Facts, Supposed to Throw Light on the Mysterious History of “The Lady of the Haystack.” P. Norbury, 1801, wellcomecollection.org/works/a4226rdm/items?canvas=5&langCode=eng&sierraId=b22021437.

L’Inconnue Histoire Véritable. 1785.

Vian, Alsager and Mari G. Ellis. “George Henry (1761–1809).” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. July 9, 2020. Oxford University Press. https://doi-org.proxy01.its.virginia.edu/10.1093/ref:odnb/10803.


Researcher: Abigail Grace Kiss


How to cite this page:

MLA: “The Affecting History of Louisa.” Project Gothic, University of Virginia, 2020, https://gothic.lib.virginia.edu/access-the-archive-2/the-affecting-history-of-louisa/.