Historical Tidbits: False Hands and Forks that Cut

One of the delights of writing historical novels is the justification for entering the research rabbit hole and, hopefully, the chance to share the historical tidbits we find there.

In The Lady in the Moneylender’s Parlour, the hero William Allen is a veteran of Waterloo whose life was inalterably changed by the slice of a sabre blade. The end of the Napoleonic Wars saw many veterans trying to reintegrate into British society. For the disabled, this was more difficult.

Like my fictional character William Allen, the real life Captain George Webb Derenzy lost a hand in the conflict. Being of an inventive mindset, however, he developed his own prosthetics. In 1822, he published Enchiridion: or A Hand for the One-Handed, which described the mechanical attachments he had invented.

Included in his book are diagrams for a fork with a sharp side for cutting, a vice for gripping pen nibs, and a contraption for holding playing cards (as well as more specialized tools for eating a soft boiled egg and brushing a beaver hat, and pulling on one’s boots).

Derenzy’s sketches and descriptions from Enchiridion are items that can’t be included in my novel, but they are historical curiosities that may interest the reader:

Through Derenzy’s innovations, many other amputees were enabled to lead a fuller life. William Allen, in my story, benefits from some of the inventions of George Webb Derenzy (whom I have included as the fictional Doctor Webb).

As he regains his independence at the dining table and at the card table, William realizes that it is his own self-pity contributing to the way that others view him. It is his own loathing for his disability that needs to be overcome if he is to regain his place in society. With the help of Webb’s inventions and the love of Margaret Blackburn, he gains the courage to stop dwelling on his limitations and focus on the things that really matter.


A small crowd began to gather in the corridor behind them—guests who had heard the noise and had come to investigate. One dandy in evening dress slipped by them and whistled at the sight of Russell spread out on the wood floor. “I say, Allen!” said the beaked nose that William recognized as Richie Ensfield. “You’ve laid him out cold.”

“It was my wooden hand,” said William matter-of-factly. “Seems to be quite effective.”
He tucked Margaret under his arm and smiled down at her.

“I’ll say! Bit of an unfair advantage, that!”

The Lady in the Moneylender’s Parlour

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