Above painting: Louis Jean Francois - Mars and Venus an Allegory of Peace
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Wednesday, January 24, 2018

It All Started With a Cartoon by Virginia Heath



It All Started With a Cartoon
Guest post by Virginia Heath



I adore weaving real history through my stories, and this book is crammed full of genuine medical practices from the time. Researching it was eye opening. A Warriner to Tempt Her takes place during a deadly smallpox epidemic. Smallpox had been an indiscriminate killer throughout history, often killing hundreds as it worked its way around the towns and villages of England. By the Regency, physicians did know that it was highly contagious and quarantined victims to avoid passing it on.

The big breakthrough came thanks to a country doctor called Edward Jenner in the late 1800s. He decided to test the validity of an old wives’ tale which claimed all those who worked with cows were immune to smallpox. Over the course of many years, he discovered that those new to working with cattle- such as milk maids- often caught a relatively harmless disease from them. Cowpox caused a mild fever and an irritating skin rash in humans which quickly cleared up of its own accord. Jenner began to suspect cowpox was the key to the immunity from smallpox. However, to test his theory he would need to infect a human with cowpox who had never come into any contact with cows before.

In 1796 he paid the parents of James Phipps to use the child as a guineapig, and then injected the pus from a cowpox pustule into the boy. A few weeks later, he exposed the boy to smallpox and when nothing happened declared it a resounding success. He called his new treatment vaccination as the word vacca is Latin for cow and was convinced it was the only thing capable of defeating the ‘speckled monster’. However, the Royal Society did not welcome his research with open arms. They declared it too revolutionary and asked for more proof. It took until 1798, and several more experiment with cowpox including one on his own baby son, before they published his findings.
Although conclusive, the people were less enthusiastic to this new miracle. There was an enormous backlash against Jenner’s vaccination accompanied by extensive propaganda. Aside from the fact the new prevention was more expensive than the old-fashioned inoculation, the widespread resistance came because of two things. Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, vaccination was seen as ungodly. The very religious masses listened to the anti-vaccination sermons preached from pulpits the length and breadth of the British Isles. After all, in Corinthians is stated quite clearly “All flesh is not the same flesh: but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of beasts”. Mixing the two things was grossly unacceptable according to the scriptures.

Secondly, although Jenner was able to prove vaccination did work with none of the risks caused by inoculation, he had no earthly idea why. Even the educated struggled to justify agreeing to vaccination without knowing the science behind it.


This anti-vaccination cartoon from the period is my inspiration for A Warriner to Tempt Her. If you look closely, you can see Jenner holding down the reluctant patients and injecting them with stuff clearly scraped off the stable floor. Women are giving birth to cows. Men are sprouting horns and udders, and a biblical image of the followers of Moses making a fake idol to worship in the shape of a golden cow hangs front and centre on the wall. I adore this picture. I decided to use all those blinkered beliefs in my story and poor Dr Joseph Warriner and the intrepid heroine Bella have a battle on their hands trying to convince the locals to be vaccinated.

While history proved Jenner correct, vaccination remained unpopular with the masses and continued to be during Edwards lifetime and beyond. He died in 1823 with his vaccination still as controversial as it had been in 1796. It was only once the brilliant French scientist Louis Pasteur began to do more experiments on vaccination in the late 19th century, and was finally able to explain why it worked, that public objection lessened. Smallpox vaccination became widespread and the catastrophic epidemics died out. The last known case of smallpox was in Somalia in 1977 and in 1980 the World Health Organization declared the diseased eradicated. And all thanks an old wives’ tale and a tenacious country doctor from Gloucestershire.

(Gilray cartoon is out of copywrite and in the public domain. This copy came from The British Museum)


When Virginia Heath was a little girl it took her ages to fall asleep, so she made up stories in her head to help pass the time while she was staring at the ceiling. As she got older, the stories became more complicated, sometimes taking weeks to get to the happy ending. Then one day, she decided to embrace the insomnia and start writing them down. Fortunately, the lovely people at Harlequin Mills & Boon took pity on her and decided to publish her romances, but it still takes her forever to fall asleep.




A shy innocent She's wary of all men.

In this The Wild Warriners story, shy Lady Isabella Beaumont is perfectly happy to stay in the background and let her sister get all the attention from handsome suitors following a shocking incident. However working with Dr Joseph Warriner to help the sick and needy pushes her closer to a man than she’s ever been before. Is this a man worth trusting with her deepest of desires…?

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