‘The supposed existence of a wealthy pig-faced lady living in London’s affluent Manchester Square.‘
In the 1600s, the idea of a celebrated pig-faced lady existed and captured people’s imagination in England and France. The idea was rooted in a legendary woman named Tanakin Skinker. She was evidently born with a pig snout because of witchery.
Stories of women born with a pig’s face first materialised in British popular culture in the 17th century. They were part of the public hunger for human curiosities that lasted well into the 1800s.
In summer 1815, London’s night-skies were lit up to rejoice Britain’s victory at the battle of Waterloo. But not all eyes were on the bright lights. A beautifully dressed woman was seen sitting in a carriage driving about the sights, but on closer examination, it stunned onlookers to see she had the face of a pig.
Gossip swept London, and her existence was reported as fact, and many alleged portraits of her were published. A pamphlet published in 1815 details the supposed existence of a wealthy pig-faced lady living in London’s affluent Manchester Square.
Allegedly only 20 years of age, of Irish noble birth and in possession of a small fortune. Stories of the woman’s lifestyle were stirred up by newspaper reports and rumours of her existence. Including her practice of eating from a trough and speaking in grunts. Stricken by a facial disfiguration, she covered her face with a veil whenever she travelled.
‘The Times’ editor rejected an advert from a gentleman proposing marriage to the woman as being too ludicrous. Though other papers did, in fact, publish the proposal. Other suitors called on the woman in person, only to find she was far from wife material. One baronet was reported to have called upon the ‘great lady’, only to retreat from her with screams of horror as she attacked his neck, causing an injury that required treatment by a surgeon.
Her blend of beauty and beast inspired various artists, such as the famed caricaturist George Cruikshank, who drew her playing the piano in an alluring white dress, with a transparent veil covering her snout.
With a belief in pig-faced women commonplace, unscrupulous showmen exhibited living ‘pig-faced women’ at fairs. These were not genuine women, but shaven bears dressed in women’s clothing.
For over 200 years in western Europe, there was a belief among portions of the population; the upper classes were hiding something. Crowds gathered to pester pig-faced women and chase their carriages, and they evidently made appearances at fairs. This is an incredibly bizarre series of events that are all but forgotten in the modern-day. Belief in pig-faced women soon declined, and the last significant work to treat their existence as genuine was published in 1924. Today, the legend is almost forgotten.
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