[by Laura Boyle and reprinted here with the kind permission of The Jane Austen Centre, celebrating Bath’s most famous resident and reporting the latest Austen-related news. ]
In his diary entry of May 21, 1778, Parson Woodforde (Diary of a Country Parson) notes a trip that he took to Weston in order to see a “Famous Woman in Men’s Cloaths”:
This curiousity was none other than Hannah Snell, subject of The Female Soldier; or The Surprising Life and Adventures of Hannah Snell, 1750.
Born in Worcester, England on 23 April 1723, locals claim that she played a soldier even as a child. In 1740, Hannah moved to London and married James Summs on 6 January 1744.
In 1746, she gave birth to a daughter, Susannah, who died a year later. When her husband deserted her, she borrowed a male suit from her brother-in-law James Gray, assumed his name, and began to search for Summs. She later learned that her husband had been executed for murder. According to her account, she joined John Guise’s regiment, the 6th Regiment of Foot, in the army of the Duke of Cumberland against Bonnie Prince Charlie, and deserted when her sergeant gave her 500 lashes. However, the chronology of her life makes it very unlikely that she ever served in Guise’s regiment and this part of the story is likely to have been a fabrication. (more…)