The Scandalous Rector of Stiffkey in Norfolk
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                Link.s.They seek him here, they seek him there, those Frenchies seek him everywhere, Is he in Heaven? Is he in Hell? That dammed elusive Pimpernel!

Most people have heard this rhyme used in connection with the fictional character 'the scarlet pimpernel'. Sir Percy Blakeney of England with his duel personality, in public a foppish English aristocrat yet behind the scenes a masked hero for the French aristocracy. A man, who would at a moments notice, rush over to rescue French nobles from the infamous madam guillotine.

But how many of you have heard of Lady Charlotte Atkyn, Norfolks own Scarlet Pimpernel and not a fictional character?

Charlotte Walpole was a beautiful Irish actress, who could both sing and dance and toped the bill at Drury Lane in London. It was here whilst performing on the stage that Charlotte caught the eye of Edward Atkyns of Ketteringham Hall in Norfolk.

Romance blossomed and Edward proposed and Charlotte accepted and the two were duly married. Unfortunately Charlottes pedigree and background meant that the Norfolk gentry back in Ketteringham never accepted her.

So her and husband spent most of their time abroad travelling Europe rather than on their Norfolk estate. It was during their travels that Charlotte meets and struck up a close friendship with the Queen of France, Marie Antoinette.

Marie Antoinette born 2nd November 1755 wife of King Louis XVI. An extravagant and frivolous queen with elaborates over the top hairstyles known as towers that often reached some 2ft in height. She was named by the French People as Madam Deficit and blamed by many for the countries financial problems.

Whether this is a correct assessment it is hard to say. As the Queen grew older and had children she went to great lengths to try to change her image in the eyes of the French people. Wearing simpler clothes and having her portrait often painted surrounded by her children.

Unfortunately all to no avail as in 1789 the King and Queen were forcibly removed from Versailles by the French people to Paris and so began their incarceration. Finally after a trial of sort King Louis was taken from his prison on 21st January 1793 and executed.

Marie, who was now to be called 'Widow Capet' knew then that it was only a mater of time before it was her turn.
It is at this point that Charlotte Atkyns enters stage left. Upon hearing of the fate of her friend she decided to attempt to rescue the Queen. She travelled to France and dressed herself up as a French Soldier of the National Guard in scarlet coat, breeches and the three-cornered hat. She went to where the Queen was imprisoned and tried to gain an interview with her, but her attempt failed and she had to give up.

On 16th October 1793 Marie Antoinette, striped of all her finery and adornments was taken in an open cart through the streets of Paris to the Place de la Revolution. Originally known as Place de Louis XV, then renamed Place de la Revolution and nowadays known as Place de la Concorde.

There surrounded by soldiers and tens of thousands of onlookers Marie Antoinette, Queen of France, darling of the French court ascended the platform to the jeers of the bloodthirsty crowd. On the platform stood Charles-Henri Sanson the Executioner who ten months earlier had dispatched the King of France, Marie Antoinettes husband and who went on to execute a total of just under three thousand people during 'his reign'.

Marie Antoinette her end in sight had tried to retain her dignity throughout the ordeal, to the extent that when she accidentally trod on the executioners foot, she is reputed to have said, "Monsieur, I ask your pardon. I did not do it on purpose."

Charlotte Atkyns was devastated at the death of her friend she spent the next few years and all of her late husbands fortune (he having died) trying to free the dauphin. Louis Charles son of Marie Antoinette and now by right King Louise XVII was held in a filthy cell in complete darkness.

Once again Charlottes efforts were in vain, at one stage a child was delivered to her but it turned out to be another child, a deaf mute and not the dauphin. Charlotte a broken woman eventually died in poverty in Paris. 

In the Ketteringham church there is a memorial to her, the brave Charlotte Atkyns our very own Norfolk Scarlet Pimpernel.

Madam Guillotine - consisted of a tall upright frame with a heavy triangular blade suspended inside it. The victim had their head placed inside the frame and held in place by a restraining bar. The blade was then hauled up to the top of the mechanism by a heavy cord, when it reached the top of the frame the blade was released and fell some 2.3mtr until it hit!