I’ve been guest posting again! The lovely ladies at All Things Georgian have invited me to talk about Queen Caroline of Ansbach’s bathing habits on their blog. You can read the post here.
I’ve been guest posting again! The lovely ladies at All Things Georgian have invited me to talk about Queen Caroline of Ansbach’s bathing habits on their blog. You can read the post here.
Followers of my blog will know I am always bewailing the fate of the Georgian queens. Or, more accurately, bewailing the fact that so few people know about them. This looks set to change, for Queen Charlotte at least, with the birth of the Princess of Cambridge. Huzzah!
My publisher has asked me to write something in honour of royal Charlottes. I am therefore pleased to present a potted biography of my very favourite Georgian, Princess Charlotte of Wales. You can see the full article below.
On 2 May 2015, a tiny baby took the nation by storm. TV channels went wild and the fountains in Trafalgar Square ran pink to celebrate her birth. Leaving St. Mary’s Hospital in her mother’s arms, she managed to charm without even opening her eyes. It seems fitting that this little princess should be called Charlotte. She shares the name with one of the most beloved heirs to the British throne.
Princess Charlotte of Wales was born on the morning of 7 January 1796, following a ‘terrible hard’ labour. Her birth was much anticipated; despite raising a family of fifteen with his faithful consort, another Charlotte, George III had yet to become grandfather to a legitimate child. He was delighted with the arrival of this little girl, who secured the succession as third in line to the throne. ‘If the Prince of Wales is blessed with such a daughter as mine are to me, he will be a very happy man indeed,’ he wrote.
But all was not as it seemed. Princess Charlotte had arrived in the midst of a failing marriage. Her mother, Caroline, was living a life of slow humiliation. Her indifferent looks and coarse manners had estranged her from Charlotte’s father, who now paraded a mistress before her. Not that the Prince of Wales was without his own troubles. He had illegally married a Catholic widow before Caroline, and the birth of his first child caused a crisis of conscience. He spent the night of Charlotte’s birth writing a wild and passionate Will – one suspects under the influence of much alcohol. In this strange document, he made it very clear that he wanted his new daughter to be protected from what he saw as the evil influence of his wife.
This was to be an ill omen for Charlotte’s childhood. She lived as a continual bone of contention between her parents, who fought for control of her. It is no wonder that she grew up to be an unconventional princess. Her laugh was too loud; she wiped her nose on her sleeve. She did not mind showing her drawers when she climbed out of the carriage. As a horse-mad tomboy, she picked up habits from the grooms in the stables, nodding at people rather than bowing to them and adopting a slouched standing position.
Despite, or perhaps because of these eccentricities, Charlotte was immensely popular with the public. After a few failed love affairs a broken engagement, she finally found happiness with Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg. The nation rejoiced over the marriage of this golden couple. Their fame grew to such a degree, that Charlotte’s father became jealous.
Tragically, on the eve of starting her own family and providing another male heir to the throne, Charlotte’s life was cut short. She delivered a stillborn son on 5 November 1817 and experienced complications after the birth. Less than twenty four hours later, Charlotte was dead, aged just twenty-one.
The outpouring of grief from the British nation was unprecedented. Shops closed for a fortnight, even the poor went into morning. ‘It is difficult for persons not living at the time to believe . . .’ wrote Henry Brougham. ‘It really was as if every household throughout Great Britain had lost a favourite child.’
But Charlotte’s legacy lives in. Her death paved the way for one of Britain’s most famous queens, Victoria, to take the crown. Victoria’s beloved consort, Albert, was coached in his role by none other than Charlotte’s widower, Leopold. The stage was set for another great royal love story. And now, this generation has its very own Princess Charlotte to love. She looks set to become every bit as popular as her namesake.
If you would like more in depth information about Charlotte of Wales – I am your girl! You can read about her relationship with her mother, trips to Brighton, her death, her husband’s life, a longer biography and a particularly unpleasant Christmas for a start. Also, look out for my novel about Charlotte and her mother, which will be coming in the Georgian series. Provisional title is Queen of Misrule.
Every novel has its minor characters. Sometimes, they can be even more interesting than the protagonist. In fiction these ‘bit part’ characters can create spin offs, but in fact-based historical fiction they are real people with rich lives of their own. Today I want to consider the life of Henry Howard, who features in my story about his mother, Henrietta, titled Mistress of the Court.
On New Year’s day 1707, Henrietta Howard gave birth to a son. First child and heir to his father, Charles, who was in turn the son of an Earl, you would think his future would be bright. Unfortunately, the boy was to live a confusing and emotionally traumatic life.
Named for his maternal grandfather, the young Henry Howard arrived in a family already at odds with one another. His father Charles was in the process of suing Henrietta’s brother over her dowry. Money was short, and so was the love between the two parents. From Henrietta’s writings, we know that Charles was a drunkard, gambler and abusive husband. When his lawsuit failed, the family were left more in debt than ever. Depositing Henrietta and the infant Henry in ‘mean lodgings’ in Berkshire, Charles returned to London to live his life unencumbered by their presence.
This abandonment lasted some two years. Henry was deprived of a father for the earliest part of his life – and any form of financial aid from that father. Even when Henrietta, finally at her wits end, set off in search of Charles, the family did not enjoy a happy reunion. They boarded with Charles’ brother at Audley End house for a year and a half. However, Charles was again frequently absent, deserting mother and child for months on end. They were finally expelled from Audley End for failing to pay the rent. It is testimony to Charles’s bad behaviour that he was evicted by his own brother.
If this constant movement and upheaval was confusing for the young Henry, it was about to get worse. He was dragged across the roughest parts of London under the assumed surname of Smith to avoid his father’s debtors. Every so often, his father would run away under fear of arrest and leave him with his mother. Unsurprisingly, mother and child grew close. Henry was Henrietta’s only comfort and gave her the affection she did not receive from Charles. They were both ‘under the pressure and smart of hunger’ most of the time.
In Mistress of the Court, Henrietta travels to Hanover in order to make money and a future for her son. While this probably was her main motivation for going abroad, it is distressing to think that she must have further traumatised Henry by depriving him of his only friend. She only raised enough money for herself and Charles to go to the Hanoverian court and woo the next monarch. Henry was left behind, though it is not clear with whom.
My knowledge of Henry’s life comes solely from Tracy Boreman’s excellent biography of Henrietta and Henrietta’s published correspondence. I have not seen any letters Henry wrote about his childhood, if indeed any survive. But it is hard to conceive that he was not deeply affected by these strange early years of his life. He had been passed from pillar to post like a package, half-starved through most of his formative years. He was a frequent witness to the abusive relationship between his parents. At the age of barely seven, he was abandoned by them both for just over a year. Little wonder he appears as a strange and rather prickly child in my book.
Prospects improved for Henry with the death of Queen Anne in 1714. His parents arrived back in England shortly before the coronation of George I and were granted places at court. However, their new lodgings in St James’s palace were not as grand as they sound. It was a horrid place, rife with damp and the necessity of sharing chamber pots between families. One wonders if Henry was altogether pleased to be reunited with his parents under these circumstances.
The domestic situation certainly did not ease up. Henrietta and Charles were constantly coming to blows. He disapproved of her clothes and her friends. He was annoyed that her service to the Princess of Wales interrupted her attendance on him. Henrietta confessed to getting out of bed several times a night for fear he would kill her. Not precisely an ideal environment for a child under 10 to grow up in.
Things finally came to head with the split of the royal household in 1718. Henry’s parents worked for different factions of the court and were both unwilling to give up their roles. After a furious row, Henrietta stormed out without even stopping to take her belongings. Charles sent a bitter letter after her, saying he no longer considered her to be his wife.
In Mistress of the Court, I have Henrietta separated from her son unwittingly. But the sad truth is that she actually made the decision to leave him. It was certainly not something she did lightly. Her writings show she agonised over the choice and genuinely feared for her life if she stayed with Charles. But what a blow it must have been for Henry, just eleven years old! It was a breach of trust that he would never forgive.
Henrietta was in fact, extremely naive about her son. At first she thought Charles would allow her to visit him – an illusion which he quickly dispelled. She then remained convinced that Henry would take her side, despite her actions. She was determined not to pressure him but ‘leave all to his natural inclinations’. What she actually did was leave him to the insidious ways of Charles. And Charles, accordingly, was raising the child to despise his mother.
This was all the easier when Henrietta became mistress to the Prince of Wales. While it was necessary for her survival, you can imagine how it looked to Henry. He probably thought his mother had deserted him to run off with her lover. And though it was far from the truth, Charles would have encouraged the idea. Charles wrote to tell Henrietta that their son was forced to ‘hear the reproaches of your public defiance to me, and what the world will interpret as the occasion of it.’
Henrietta was only able to obtain sketchy details of her son’s life over the next few years. She discovered he was at a school near Salisbury and sent her cousin to visit, but he was removed to a private school before she arrived. In 1720, he attended Magdalene College at Cambridge. His studies were followed up at an academy in Paris. Henrietta’s friend Lord Peterborough sent his son to the same academy, hoping to glean some further information. It does not seem he was successful. Whether in or out his father’s company, Henry made no effort to contact his mother.
It appeared that Charles was right when he wrote that ‘No artifice or temptation . . . will every prevail with [Henry] to desert me.’ This is surprising, considering Charles’ behaviour through Henry’s childhood. Henrietta was certainly shocked, and disbelieving. ‘I wish to God [Henry] was of a riper age to be judge between us,’ she wrote. ‘I am not willing to suppose he will long neglect a parent who has not forfeited the duty he owes her.’ Nor was she alone in her hopes. From Alexander Pope’s letter of 1727, we can see that Henry was not treated particularly well by his father:
And yet, as to the last thing that troubles you (the odd useage of Mr H towards his son) I would fain hope some good may be derived from it. It may turn him to a reflection, that possibly his mother may be yet worse used than himself; and make him think of some means to comfort himself in comforting her.
It was not to be. Henrietta legally separated from Charles in 1728. This proceeding was highly usual at the time, considered as something only resorted to by ‘blasphemous, trouble-making’ women. Henry would have felt humiliated by this public end to his parents’ marriage, and the wide spread gossip of his mother’s infidelity.
This separation was the final nail in the coffin of the mother/child relationship. Charles died just five years later in 1733, but still Henry made no contact. In fact, Henrietta appeared afraid of seeing him. Lord Bathhurst could only convince her to visit by assuring her that ‘my castle is not molested by your son.’
Henry became Earl of Suffolk upon Charles’ death and enjoyed some success in his life. He was elected. Member of Parliament for Bere Alston and married a wealthy heiress, Sarah Inwen, on 13 May 1735. Her dowry cleared Audley End house of its debts. It was the kind of shrewd action Henrietta herself would take.
Sadly, Henry’s life was not destined to be long. He had no children and died in 1745, aged just 39 years old. I like to think his young widow was deeply in love for him, for she left it a good seven years before remarrying. She became the second wife of Lucius Cary, 7th Viscount of Falkland, though still remained childless.
It is so sad to consider that Henry’s short and tragic life is completely of a piece with the miserable, tempestuous marriage that created him. The one good thing to come of the union, he did not survive long enough to carry on the bloodline or find reconciliation with his mother. We can only imagine Henrietta’s feelings when she lost her son, some twenty-two years before her own death. But I hope that at least, in his earldom and his marriage, Henry was able to find some of the happiness that eluded his early days.
I’ve now read two books by Michelle Moran and absolutely loved both of them! She is undoubtedly an author that keeps you turning the page. Madame Tussaud enthralled me with its depiction of the French Revolution, skillfully portraying the struggle from both sides of battle line. I galloped through The Second Empress in an even shorter time and, as it handily fits into the Napoleonic era, I thought I would tell you a little bit about the book.
I was thrilled when I found out that this novel existed, and not only because it was by Moran. I had long thought that the story of Maria Lucia of Austria was just waiting for its own historic novel. This was a young woman who, despite strong personal feelings against the match, became Napoleon’s second wife to save her country. Rather than sinking into a depression or becoming obstructive, as many a princess would in her position, she actually made the marriage a success. If this wasn’t a good enough reason to admire her, she also grew up in my favourite palace, Schönbrunn.
Moran brings Maria Lucia to life masterfully. We meet her as an artistic young woman who loves her family and is being raised as the future regent for her unwell brother. Her political astuteness and strong nature are clear from the start – she wishes to be a credit to her homeland of Austria. Through her eyes, we also learn of the toll the Napoleonic wars have taken on the land and grow to understand how hated an enemy the French were at the time period. This only heightens the conflict we feel when, to get her country out of its difficulties, she is forced to leave the man she loved and become the bride of Napoleon, a man she despises. I say she is forced – I mean by her conscience. Perhaps the most inspiring thing of all is that Maria Lucia is under no compulsion from her loving father – she makes the sacrifice for her people.
We join Napoleon’s court as fellow newcomers, equally dazzled and appalled by its excesses. Whilst Napoleon does not come across positively in the story, his behaviour is perfectly in keeping with the accounts I have read of him. Furthermore, we must remember that Moran is portraying him through the eyes of his enemy – ancient royalty looking down on what they perceived as an upstart solider. While Maria Lucia settles into her strange marriage, well aware that Napoleon is still in love with Josephine, we meet the other narrators of the story.
Napoleon’s most scandalous sister, Pauline, takes up the tale. I found her point of view immensely fun and wonderfully disturbing to read. While at times I thought the voice sounded a little modern, Moran’s choices seem to be supported by further reading I have undertaken about Pauline. Pauline is a bold woman, wildly ambitious and the closest of all the family to Napoleon. While she is bitchy and clearly mentally unstable, it is impossible not to feel a kind of affection for her. Her obsessions with Egypt and – worryingly – her brother, push her beyond the means of her health as she strives to become a queen worthy of legend. Slyly manipulating the split between Napoleon and Josephine, she is also instantly jealous of the success of his second empress. In her distracted state of mind, she begins to think that she will one day wed Napoleon herself. We learn that this bizarre love/hate relationship between the siblings goes back a long way; in his need to be beloved, Napoleon has exiled all of his sister’s lovers. It’s all rather disturbing, but it’s fascinating to read about.
Our third narrator is Haitian man whose name, for the moment, is Paul. He has given up his given name, his family and his heritage to serve Pauline, While he loves her, he is able to see her faults and condemn her treatment of Maria Lucia. Through his struggles, we see the price that the conquered have paid for Napoleon’s wars. We learn of Paul’s once beloved country, laid to ruin, and his identity crisis following the move to France. While he has made a good life for himself, he is reaching the end of his patience. He cannot put up with the hollow pretense of the French court for much longer. So far, his heart has kept him in France, but as times change he begins to take on courage. Pauline with have to choose between him and her brother – a contest he rather hopes than expects to win.
Full of drama and conflict, this is a book that will appeal to most readers of historical fiction. I do not mean to imply that men cannot enjoy the story, but I feel that women would perhaps appreciate it more, bound up as it is with the intricacies of female relationships and squabbles. The beginning of the book lacked pace for me, as it was full of backstory for the three narrators. However, this soon picked up and I found myself enthralled. A must for lovers of the French court and those who want to read about women in history who have dared to defy convention.
A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to take an architectural tour around the Benjamin Franklin House in Craven Street. A delicious little Georgian townhouse hidden off the Strand, it is full of wonderful period features.
I have to admit, I knew very little about Franklin before attending the tour. Obviously I knew about his experiment with lightning and his involvement with the Declaration of Independence, but that was about the sum of my knowledge. The visit really piqued my interest; Franklin was a man at the center of diplomacy who lived through an astonishing time. Part spy, part scientist, diplomat, inventor and philosopher, he was a fascinating man. Franklin lived in London for nearly sixteen years in his role as Postmaster for American, returning home in 1775 with the outbreak of the Revolutionary War. Sadly, his Craven Street house is the last of his residences to survive.
I have visited many Grade II listed buildings, but Benjamin Franklin House tops the bill at Grade I – a place of exceptional interest to our heritage. The restoration project completed to bring the house up to its present condition was a huge undertaking. Fortunately for us, lots of love and devotion have rescued the place from dereliction and you can now see a genuine example of an everyday Georgian townhouse.
I say ‘everyday’ – in fact, it seems 36 Craven Street was far from ordinary! Not only did you have Franklin lodging there with his experiments and important dinners, but there was an anatomy school running downstairs. A collection of bones found during conservation were on display, from where the school had practiced cutting up bodies – either obtained from the gallows or the resurrection men! I rather feel for the poor landlady, Margaret Stevenson, with such strange lodgers, but it seems she rather enjoyed her eccentric household.
One of my favourite parts of the tour was a chance to play Franklin’s famous glass armonica. You can get some seriously spooky sounds from this instrument, but also great music – Mozart and Beethoven both composed pieces for it. My musical skills were sadly lacking – still, I had fun!
Hopefully I will be returning to Benjamin Franklin House later this year to take part in their Historical Experience. Through this attraction, the house is brought to life in its Georgian splendour. Actors read excerpts from Franklin’s writing and recreate every day scenes from the house. Using light projectors, the interior is returned to something like its original decoration, immersing you in the smells, sights and sounds of the era. I can’t wait!
You can find out more about Benjamin Franklin House here.
It’s time for another Georgian book review! I’ve been reading a lot lately, so I thought I would share with you my thoughts about Emma Donoghue’s Life Mask.
I was drawn to the book, not only but its eighteenth/nineteenth century setting, but the fact that one of the heroines was Elizabeth Farren. I grew interested in Elizabeth after seeing her spectacular portrait at a Thomas Lawrence exhibition. The catalogue explained that she was a famous actress who went on to become a Duchess. How could such a fairy-tale fail to capture my imagination? I was also interested to learn that Elizabeth was a great comic actress, a rival to Dora Jordan. Jordan’s long-term relationship with the Duke of Clarence, late William IV, has ensured her prolonged fame, but Elizabeth Farren has disappeared into some obscurity.
In Life Mask, Emma Donoghue brings Elizabeth to life as determined and proud character. We learn that her life was far from easy as she forged a path for herself from a poor background. Through all her trials, she is shown as guarding her hard-won reputation with jealousy. She keeps the Duke she will eventually marry at arm’s-length until he is single, defying the contemporary stereotype of actresses with loose-morals. Through Elizabeth, we get to explore the world of the eighteenth-century theater in all its bawdy glory, braving rowdy audiences and meeting some of the leading lights of the age. Donoghue shows that Elizabeth could be ruthless and was prepared to sacrifice friendships for the sake of her career. But in spite of, or perhaps because of that, I rather liked her.
Life Mask is not written entirely from Elizabeth Farren’s point of view. One of the narrators is the Duke of Derby, her future husband. His part of the story provides a fascinating insight into Georgian life and politics, especially the expectations on the Georgian man. Although Derby was caricatured for being short and ugly, his wealth and status ensured him a good position in society. He is represented as a man of his time, taking us into the bloody world of cock fights and the fast-paced arena of horse-racing. What appealed to me most about Donoghue’s portrayal of Derby was his state of flux – at once a reformer and an aristocrat, he often finds himself in a difficult position. Doggedly loyal to the Whig Charles James Fox, he is nonetheless jealous of his ancestral rights. It was interesting, from my perspective, to see the inner workings of the Whig party. After spending my time studying Pitt and George III, I got the chance to sit in the other side of the camp, where they were referred to as ‘the Eunuch’ and ‘Old Satan’. I have to say, I came to understand Fox and his party much better. Derby’s political sympathies appeal to the reader and his devotion to Elizabeth is touching. While he is shown as being somewhat harsh to his first wife and indifferent to his children, this romantic worship of an actress rather wins us to his side.
The star of this show, however, has to be the sculptress Anne Seymour Damer. A widow, estranged from her husband before his death, she has grown used to governing her own life. She is first introduced to us as she befriends Elizabeth and begins work on her bust for display at the Royal Academy. However, as the story progresses, we find that the Life Mask of the title is the mask that Anne is wearing, hiding her progressive attitudes from the world. Somewhat outcast by her single state and daring to enter the realm of the arts, Anne focuses her life on sculpture and friendships. Sadly, these friendships begin to fall away before distressing gossip. She has to re-evaluate all the relationships she has known and come to terms with the fact that the rumours about her could be true. Her struggle provides a wonderful exploration of the female state and sexuality in the eighteenth-century, covering such diverse topics as intense friendships through to the legal nonentity of a wife. It is only towards the end of the story that Anne is finally able to embrace what she truly is and live the life she wants, in spite of society. She is helped along in her journey by the blue-stocking Mary Berry and Horace Walpole.
I have to admit that Donoghue made rather too much use of her research in this book. I did feel like I was being hammered with facts at times. There were parts that dragged for me and, had I not been interested in the period to start with, may have made me give up reading. Much could have been edited, however the excellence of Donoghue’s writing shines through in some truly beautiful phrasing. What is more, she makes you truly interested in the lives of the people she writes about. I was keen to do my own research and find out more about the real historical figures straight after reading. I particularly enjoyed her representation of Horace Walpole and Strawberry Hill. I am now very eager to visit his Gothic mansion and see some of the scenes from the book with my own eyes.
On the whole, I would say that perhaps Life Mask does not work as a novel – I would struggle to tell you the story or the plot. It meanders and does not compel you in the way a novel should. Nonetheless, it is a great piece of creative biographical writing, and one I think her subjects would be very flattered by.
The relationship between George II and his Queen, Caroline of Ansbach, was far from simple. The love they shared is hardly the stuff that dreams are made of – she manipulated him; he cheated on and humiliated her. And yet this partnership was the most successful of the Hanoverian dynasty, ending only with Caroline’s death after thirty-two years of marriage. In the spirit of Valentine’s day, I thought I would dwell on the romantic aspects of their love. There are many sweet anecdotes, not to mention George’s famous love letters.
Their story starts off like a fairy-tale. Caroline was a beautiful, orphaned princess growing up under the protection of George’s aunt, nicknamed Figuelotte. Figuelotte wanted Caroline to wed her own son, but the princess was not keen on the young man. As fame of Caroline’s beauty and intellect spread, she attracted many suitors, among them Archduke Charles of Austria. But the right marriage came in the most unlikely form.
In June 1705, Caroline received three unexpected visitors: Baron von Eltz, his servant and Monsieur de Busch. They stopped, supposedly, on their way back to Hanover, to present compliments from the Hanoverian Chief Minister. But in fact, ‘Monsieur de Busch’ was George Augustus in disguise. He came to spy on the princess he had heard so much about and see if she was as agreeable as everyone said. She was – George was instantly smitten. From then on ‘he would not think of anybody else’. He ran back home and told his father he wanted to marry Caroline. The proposals were made immediately, George being ‘seized with such an affection and desire for her, that he is most eager to marry her without delay.’ The ceremony took place on 2 September, just three months after the initial meeting of Caroline and ‘Monsieur de Busch’.
In February 1707, Caroline produced her first child, the desired son and heir, Frederick. But her health remained poor following the birth. By July she had come down with smallpox and pneumonia – a deadly combination. The distraught George refused to leave her side, nursing her through the illness and finally contracting it himself.This sacrificial devotion served to bring the couple even closer together and, thankfully, they both recovered.
By 1709 a second child was born, Anne. George was away at the time of the birth but wrote Caroline one of his fabulously romantic letters.
I have just received the good news of the birth of a daughter at which feel all imaginable pleasure… I am only a little bit angry that it caused you pain. You should know me well enough my very dear Caroline to believe that everything that concerns you is infinitely precious to me. This new token of your love attaches me the more deeply to you and I assure you dear heart that I love the baby without having seen it. Adieu my dearest heart, for God’s sake take care of yourself and the young family, particularly the new-born infant who at present has the most need of care. The peace of my life depends upon knowing you in good health and upon the conviction of your continued affection for me. I shall endeavour to attract it by all imaginable passion and love and I shall never omit any way of showing you that o one could be more wholly yours dear Caroline than is your George Augustus.
George would continue to show attention to his wife in her childbearing. In later years, he entered the birthing chamber itself to resolve a quarrel between her ladies and the midwife. And the letters didn’t stop, either. In his memoirs, Lord Hervey recalled couriers arriving weekly with ‘a letter of sometimes sixty pages, never less than forty.’
Caroline was to prove the strength of her attachment to George in 1718, when she was faced with an impossible choice: leaving her husband or her children. She was a fond and good mother, but she said her children were not worth ‘a grain of sand’ in comparison to him. Her sacrifice was rewarded richly by the time she became Queen . She was entrusted with the Regency of Britain on several occasions. George fixed her jointure at £100,000, then made Richmond Lodge and Somerset House over to her. Happily, by this time, she was also reunited with the children.
The last few years of Caroline’s life were not easy ones. Her relationship with George was rocky and he was frequently scolding her. He also sought her advice and opinion on his love affairs, of all things. But all this was forgotten when Caroline collapsed in November 1737. Once again George became the devoted husband, sleeping fitfully at the foot of her bed and kissing her hand repeatedly. This time there was no hope of recovery. The couple’s parting was both touching and comical. To quote from my previous post about Caroline’s death:
Caroline … urged him to marry again. Crying, he said he would have mistresses instead. Still unable to resist a joke, Caroline cried “My God! That never stopped you before.” But George would stand by his words – he never took another wife. As he explained, he never saw another woman “fit to buckle Caroline’s shoe”. Caroline removed the ruby ring placed on her finger at the coronation and put it in her husband’s hand, saying “This is the last thing I have to give you. All I ever possessed came from you. My will you will find a very short one: I give all I have to you.”
The strength of George’s grief took everyone by surprise. He ‘showed a tenderness of which the world thought him before utterly incapable’. He cried when giving speeches and left drawing rooms early. His daughter Amelia removed the queens from his pack of cards to save his feelings. George was once again ‘Monsieur de Busch’, devoted to his departed wife. In a frenzy almost worth of Wuthering Heights, he ordered a hackney chair to take him to the vault where Caroline was buried and spent hours by her tomb. Then, to end the love story with the romance that it had begun, George wrote down his wishes for his own burial. Not only did he want to be buried next to Caroline, but he ordered for the sides of the coffins to be removed, so that their ashes might mingle. It was a very sweet end to what was, undoubtedly, an extremely strange marriage.
If you want to find out more about George and Caroline, look out for my book Mistress of the Court in August!
I’m very pleased to announce that I now have a date for the second book in my Hanoverian series, Mistress of the Court. The good folk at Myrmidon books will be sending it out into the world on 4 August 2015!
I thought I’d be slightly less excited about the publication of my second book than I was about the first, but this is not the case. As you’ve probably seen from my numerous posts about them, Henrietta Howard and Caroline of Ansbach have become extremely dear to me. I simply can’t wait to introduce them to you in fictionalised form. It seems a very long time ago I was talking about Caroline’s rooms in Hampton Court on television. I feel like I’ve taken a huge journey with these ‘characters’ already, but it’s far from over!
We don’t have a cover yet, but if you would like a visual taster of the world you will enter in Mistress of the Court, please visit my Pinterest board. It’s a work in progress but already has some beautiful images. You can also explore my archives, which discuss Henrietta’s early feminism, Caroline’s quick and vengeful wit, and the gentler side of George II. However I must warn you – they may contain spoilers!
To further whet your appetite, here’s the blurb for the book. Roll on August!
Orphaned and trapped in an abusive marriage, Henrietta Howard has little left to lose. She stakes everything on a new life in Hanover with its royal family, the heirs to the British throne. Henrietta’s beauty and intelligence soon win her the friendship of clever Princess Caroline and her mercurial husband Prince George. But as time passes, it becomes clear that friendship is the last thing on the hot-blooded young prince’s mind. Dare Henrietta give into his advances and anger her violent husband? Dare she refuse?
Whatever George’s shortcomings, Princess Caroline is determined to make the family a success. Yet the feud between her husband and his obstinate father threatens all she has worked for. As England erupts in Jacobite riots, her family falls apart. She vows to save the country for her children – even if it costs her pride and her marriage.
Set in the turbulent years of the Hanoverian accession, Mistress of the Court tells the story of two remarkable women at the centre of George II’s reign.
Well another year is over, which means there’s a whole new calendar of books to look forward to in 2015! I’m pleased to say I’m seeing more and more releases set in the Georgian era. Here are the best I’ve read over the past year, both fiction and history. Not all of them were published in 2014, but that’s when I read them.
An Appetite for Violets – Martine Bailey
Let’s start with my favourite, the amazing An Appetite for Violets. I don’t think there’s much I can say about it that wasn’t covered in my review earlier this year, but I’ll just stress that it’s a must read for historical fiction fans. The exciting news is that Martine Bailey’s next book, The Penny Heart, (also Georgian) will be out on 21 May 2015. I can’t wait!
Slammerkin – Emma Donoghue
Donoghue is clearly a gifted author. Her book Room was listed for the Booker Prize and her Victorian novel The Sealed Letter was additively page-turning. In my eyes, Slammerkin is her best piece of all. Telling the tale of an impoverished Georgian girl who yearns for more than her lot in life, it takes us from the slums of London through to brothels and the wilds of Monmouth. The subject matter may be too shocking for some, but it is compelling and wonderfully written. Highly recommended.
Madame Tussaud – Michelle Moran
I’m cheating a bit with this one – since it’s not set in England, it’s not actually under the reign of a King George, but . . . I really loved this book. I picked it up because I wanted to know more about the famous female artist. I actually got a gripping story of the French Revolution, seen through both sides of the conflict. Horrifying, moving and beautiful in equal measures, the tale captivated me. Moran has a wonder style and I can’t wait to read The Second Empress.
The Devil in the Marshalsea – Antonia Hodgson
I don’t read many crime/murder mystery books, so I can’t tell you if this was a good specimen of that genre. However, I found this offering by Antonia Hodgson very readable and bursting with Georgian detail. My interest in the Marshalsea was sparked by Little Dorrit, but this book tells the more brutal truth of a corrupt prison split into a master’s side and the common side, where death is all but inevitable. The characters were lively and likeable, particularly the so-called ‘devil’ Fleet. I thought it was a stand-alone when I read it, but now it appears there will be a whole Tom Hawkins series – watch this space!
Longbourn – Jo Baker
It’s always going to be difficult to please die-hard fans when you meddle with a classic. Still, I enjoyed this take on Pride and Prejudice from the servants’ point of view. I think it painted an accurate picture of what life would have been like serving the Bennet household and it had some lovely descriptions of the English countryside. My favourite parts actually had nothing to do with Pride and Prejudice, so I’ll be interested to see what this author can do when not tided to another’s story.
Eavesdropping on Jane Austen’s England – Roy & Lesley Adkins
Non-fiction this time and a real treat. Full of quotes, anecdotes and snapshots from of all walks of life, this is popular history at its highly-readable best.
London in the Eighteenth Century – Jerry White
Wow. This non-fiction book is, quite simply, a masterpiece. I can’t imagine the years it took the research and write, examining every aspect of London life in great detail. While it’s great for the eighteenth-century lover, some readers may find it rather hard going and daunting due to its size. I skipped the section on architecture as it was a bit too dry for me, but the rest was amazing.
The Wideacre Trilogy – Philippa Gregory
The oldest of all the books mentioned here, but as I read two out of three of the trilogy during 2014 I had to give them a mention. I hugely enjoyed these dark, mystical and disturbing chronicles of a gentry family in the late 1700s to early 1800s. Some readers might find the amorality and ‘unlikeable’ heroine too unsettling, but I doubt they’ll be able to put the books down! For more, see my post Gregory and the Georgian era.
Lined up for 2015 so far I have more treats such as The Silversmith’s Wife and Ace, King, Knave. And of course my own Mistress of the Court will be out – I don’t have a date yet, but I’ll let you know.
Happy (Georgian) reading!
A little while ago I told you about the inspiration behind my short story for the HNS 2014 conference. As a treat for the New Year, I’m happy to share the tale with you at last. It was a nice change to write about ‘common-folk’ instead of royalty. I do hope you’ll enjoy it. Happy New Year!
The Tower of London, 1713
‘No, Tom, no! Don’t do it!’ Nelly’s shoes skittered over the slick cobbles as she tried to keep pace with her husband’s stride. Her heel turned; she swore under her breath but pushed forward, propelled by the screaming tear of panic beneath her ribs. ‘Stop!’
Her words were lost on the wind that blasted through the London streets and whipped up the flags on the parapets. Their colours stood out vivid against the grey brick and leaden sky: blood red; the blue of a tender vein. Swallowing a wave of nausea, Nelly ran on.
Why had she succumbed to this man? Since their hurried marriage ceremony at the Fleet, she had spent every day in tears. Tears of anger, of sorrow and of shame. His fool, trotting along behind him.
As she entered the bustling Tower Menagerie, Tom’s brown coat faded amidst a swarm of sight-seers. She shoved her way past the tittering ladies with their milk-white skin, the young bucks who slapped her rump. Well-bred children pointed her out to their nurses. On a normal day, Nelly would stop and give them an earful for their sauce. But the thought of Scamp kept her feet moving.
Her lungs heaved beneath her stays; the constricting whalebone fingers that Tom had made. She sucked in breath but the air was foul, tainted by dung and sickly sweet hay. God damn it, she’d never reach him like this. Kicking off her heels, she continued in her stockings. The cobbles were cold and damp against the soles of her feet. A piece of rough darning pressed into her little toe as she sped along. The crowd cleared; she saw Tom and the precious bundle within his arms. Her heart lurched.
‘Tom!’ she shrieked. ‘Tom, stop! Please!’
Scamp raised his head at the sound of her voice. Those soft eyes, the silken ears; her only comforts through a loveless marriage. Somehow she found the strength to accelerate. She drew up alongside them, her skirts bellying in the wind. ‘Tom!’
He didn’t turn. ‘I’ve warned you before, Nell. You knew this would happen.’
A keeper in a scarlet coat approached and stopped them with a raised arm. ‘It’s thruppence to see the beasts, sir. Unless . . .’ He caught sight of tiny Scamp, huddled against Tom’s chest. A look passed between the men. Tom nodded, once. The keeper stepped away.
‘No!’ Nelly howled. ‘You can’t do this. He’s done nothing wrong.’ It didn’t sound like her voice at all; wrung from the depths of her chest.
Tom forged ahead. ‘Look at my shoes,’ he said. Her eyes flicked to the floor. There was a ragged hole by his heel that let the water in. The latchets hung useless and threadbare, trailing in the puddles. ‘We can’t afford a new pair.’
‘I’ll take in more work. I’ll – ’
‘It’s not just the shoes.’ Scamp writhed in his arms, letting out a pitiful whimper. ‘Pissing on my newspaper. Scratching up the wood. Barking all bloody night so I can barely sleep.’
Nelly’s throat constricted. It was as if one of the snakes had escaped from its hut and was squeezing her tight. Words stampeded through her mind, but she knew none of them would persuade him. Tom didn’t care that Scamp was the only remnant of her dead family. It didn’t signify to him that she had raised Scamp from a pup, been there when his eyes opened. Tears spilled, hot against her frozen cheeks. ‘Please. He’s all I have.’
The corner of his mouth twisted cruelly. ‘I am all you have. Perhaps when this rat is out of the way you’ll be a proper wife. Bear me a child. A boy to take over the stay-making business.’
Somewhere inside the grey labyrinth of courtyards and towers, a wolf released its mournful wail.
Scamp looked to her with a melting appeal. ‘Good boy,’ she whispered, watching his tail thump against Tom’s arm. ‘Good boy, Scamp, don’t you worry.’
How easily the lies slid off her tongue. He had every reason to worry. They had reached the destination Tom promised would come: the Lion Tower. Whining, Scamp scrabbled his paws and tried to climb over Tom’s shoulder, but a swift jerk to the tail brought him down again.
A thick, meaty stench overpowered Nelly the moment they entered the tower. The hair on her arms prickled. She could sense the prowling beasts; their snorts and the grumbles echoing in their deep-barrelled chests.
They made their way by a strange, soupy light, passing other visitors on their way back out. Nelly heard the restless tick of claws on concrete, but she kept her eyes fixed on Scamp. His wet nose, the way his ears twitched. These were the last moments. She had to drink in every beloved feature before . . . She shut her eyes, squeezing out fresh tears. She couldn’t leave him, but how could she bear to watch?
‘Here she is,’ Tom said. ‘Magnificent.’
Her eyelids snapped open. They were in a long, stone room lit by arrow-slits. The floor was polished wood, adding the honey scent of beeswax to the animal musk. Cages were set into the wall like cabinets. One side of each opened out to the public, striped with rusty iron bars. Nelly exhaled in wonder. She had never seen anything like it. Jewel-coloured parrots hopped and whistled. A monkey sat, carefully picking through its mate’s fur. Two ladies stood close to the cage and marvelled at the animal’s deft fingers. But Tom had not stopped by the monkeys. He was further up the room, looking at something with frank admiration. Nelly took three paces forward. Her guts withered.
A lioness lay long and sleek on the straw. Muscle rippled beneath her wheaten coat. Light fell through the bars in blades, accentuating her dark, soulless eyes, the whiskers that twitched at the scent of meat. Her head alone was bigger than Nelly’s torso.
‘Oh Tom!’ She dropped onto her knees, careless of the dirt. The ladies turned to stare at her. ‘You cannot!’
Tom held Scamp aloft, sizing up the gaps between the bars. ‘How do you like this, my pretty?’ he asked the lioness. ‘A tasty morsel for you.’ She shifted a paw. Nelly saw her deadly claws slowly emerge from their sheaths.
‘Oh, God!’ she sobbed. ‘Have pity! Slit his throat first! Don’t let her tear him limb from limb!’
Tom swallowed. His eyes flashed, wary, as he approached the lioness. Her lip curled back. Suddenly, the gaps between the bars seemed very wide.
Nelly shuffled across the floor and gripped Tom’s breeches. ‘Please! Let a neighbour take him. Turn him out on the street. Anything but this!’ She aimed a beseeching look at the ladies. Their painted faces were beautiful but blank. ‘Miss! Please. Won’t you help me?’
The lioness revealed the ivory spikes of her teeth. Scamp yipped. The parrots echoed his sound, throwing it down the room like a ball. Squealing, the ladies bustled out. A pair of cowardly milk-sops, for all their silk petticoats.
Tom sniggered. ‘Come now, Nell. If we don’t feed him to the beast, we’ll have to pay that three pence entrance fee, won’t we?’
‘Tom!’ She tugged so hard on his breeches, she was sure they would come down. Hatred lit her from the inside. ‘How can you be so cruel? If you do this, I’ll despise you for the rest of my life. I swear it. And I will never give you a son.’
He paused. Shadows expanded and shrank in the half-light. His eyes passed from Nelly to Scamp and back again. The lioness flicked her tail, scattering flies. ‘Perhaps . . .’
Nelly flinched as liquid dripped onto her hand. Instinctively, she released Tom and looked up. Scamp quivered uncontrollably. A yellow trickle wound its way across Tom’s shirt, down his legs, to dribble on the floor.
‘Blast your eyes, cur!’ Tom’s face scrunched and turned beetroot. ‘It’s the lion’s den for you.’
‘No!’ Nelly lunged but Tom was too quick. Seizing Scamp by the scruff, he darted forward and pushed the dog’s head between the bars. Before the lioness could react, he flung Scamp and rushed away.
Horror held Nelly paralysed. Scamp flew, a sailing cloud of white and tan. As the lioness turned her head, he landed sprawled out in the cage with a thump.
She wanted to cover her eyes, to run for help, but she was powerless. She could only gape, transfixed, as Scamp stood and shook himself. In one liquid movement, the lioness rose to her feet.
‘Now watch carefully, Nell. See what happens to those who cross me.’
Hunching her shoulders, the lioness slunk toward Scamp. He moaned. His pink tongue darted across his lips as he shifted from one foot to the other. Crescents of white showed around his chocolate eyes.
A deep rumble vibrated through the air. The lioness circled him, each twist tighter and tighter. This was it. Nelly drove her fingernails into the palms of her hands. She would never forgive Tom. Never.
Suddenly, the lioness lurched, thumping a paw either side of Scamp. He let out a sound like a human scream. The monkeys shrieked and banged against the bars. Nelly shut her eyes, bracing herself.
There was no sickening tear of flesh, no pitiful wail. Instead, she heard a soft bump and a groan. Lapping. A wet sound of mastication. Blessed God, the lioness had dispatched him quickly. There could not have been much pain.
Trembling, Nelly raised her eyelids. She was prepared for gushing blood, the body of her precious pet twisted at an angle – but not for this. What she saw made her gasp.
The lioness lay on her stomach with Scamp curled between her front paws. Alive. Slowly, methodically, she licked his coat until it stood up in wet spikes. Like a bitch with its pup she cleaned his nose, his eyes and his ears.
Tom staggered back. ‘What the devil? This is a lioness, isn’t it?’ He dashed to the corner and rummaged in a slop bucket. Producing a handful of offal, he threw it through the bars. ‘Go on, eat!’ A few hunks of grey sludge bounced back. A thick, clear juice ran down the side of the bucket and pooled on the floor. ‘Eat!’
The lioness nosed a slimy piece of offal. She turned it so Scamp could nibble on one end.
Tom removed his hat and held it, utterly defeated. ‘I don’t understand.’
Nelly stood. Triumph surged through her. Tom might think that he could control nature – that all women and beasts leapt to a man’s tune. But he was wrong. ‘I do. I understand now exactly what happens to those who cross you.’ All the loathing of the past three years was naked on her face. She took a step toward him. ‘But Tom, do you know what happens to those who upset me?’
He reared away from her. Focused on her glaring eyes, he didn’t see the offal spilled behind him. As he stepped back, his foot slid and he tripped on the torn latchet of his shoe. He fell with a smack against the bars. One arm slotted between the gaps. The lioness stopped licking Scamp and cocked her head.
‘Nelly.’ Tom’s voice was tight with panic. His fingers groped, trying to find purchase. ‘Nelly, my shoulder’s stuck.’
The lioness stood. Finally free, Scamp leapt up, slid between the bars and scuttled to Nelly’s side.
‘Nell, help me.’
She regarded Tom, pinioned. That sinewy hand that had slapped her face lay exposed, so fleshy and bare. ‘Come, Scamp. Let’s go home.’
As they turned, the lioness stirred. She sniffed; she could smell the rank scent of fear oozing from Tom. He tugged desperately against the bars. ‘Nelly!’
The lioness raised her hackles.
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