Character: Christian Cavenaugh/Welsh/Jones/Davies
Text: The Life and Adventures of Mrs. Christian Davies (which is an abridged title!)
I had 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 If the character in ‘Kit’ had not been based on a real-life woman, perhaps I wouldn’t have withdrawn my sympathy for the story.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…
So. 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 insinuation 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…
WHERE ARE MY DRAGOONS?