Humanising King George

George II

Bust of George II

There’s no denying it: the Hanoverian kings were an odd bunch. But while this makes them fascinating to study, it also makes them difficult to write. I recently attended a talk by Tracy Borman, in which she described George IV as the ‘most normal’ amongst the Hanoverian monarchs. When the ‘normal’ one is a vain fantasist addicted to drink and opium, you know you have a problem.

It is amazing just how readily these kings lend themselves to farce. Now, while I like a little bit of comedy in my novels, I also want people to take the characters seriously as human beings. When working on George III for Queen of Bedlam, I had to prize away the image of a tyrant passed down in American legend and the anecdotes of his madness, such as the one where he shook hands with a tree (this didn’t actually happen, but many people still believe it did). Fortunately, George III had so many good qualities and such tragically bad health that it was not hard to redeem him. But what of his predecessor, George II?

I have to admit that George II has been my greatest challenge yet. Many of his failings were just so . . . funny. At the time of his reign, he was the subject of intense satire. Every contemporary account has some comic element; his short temper, his obsession with lists or his boring conversation. It was important to me that I got this peppery character across and made use of the comedy, but I was not content with letting him become a mere caricature. As I considered him through the eyes of his women, he began to change.

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Bust of Caroline

George’s wife Caroline was a clever woman who undoubtedly used her beauty to manipulate him. In her last years, she endured cruel insults and humiliation from him. But I found that some elements of George and Caroline’s relationship could have come straight from a romance novel. At their first meeting, George was in disguise. He visited her court posing as a travelling count – rather like the games Henry VIII used to play, but with much more success. He was able to observe Caroline and decide she was the wife for him. Despite  taking many mistresses over the course of his life,  George never really lost his devotion to Caroline. He wrote her beautiful love letters and was inconsolable when she died. One account says that all the queens had to be removed from his deck of cards to save him from bursting into tears. He asked to be buried beside her with the side of his coffin removed, so that their ashes might mingle. These actions do not tie up with the coarse, unfeeling man that history has traditionally presented to us.

Then we have Henrietta Howard, George’s long-serving mistress. It is generally agreed that George and Henrietta shared a highly cynical relationship; she needed his money, he needed a mistress for his masculine pride. But I think there may have been a little more to it than that. George was famous for being a miserly king, yet he gave Henrietta many gifts, long after he was supposedly tiring of her. One present was a whopping £11,500 in the stocks. This was specifically designed to free Henrietta from dependence on her abusive husband – a special contract was drawn up to specify that he could not touch it. Thanks to George’s foresight, Henrietta was able to build Marble Hill, her home for the rest of her life.

Henrietta’s awful husband continued to plague her for money, but miraculously her allowance increased by just the sum he was demanding each year. Since it is recorded by Hervey that Caroline turned down all Henrietta’s requests for pecuniary aid, we are safe to assume that the extra money came from George. It would have been easy for him to leave Henrietta to her fate and take up with a new mistress, but he didn’t. In fact, even when she left him in disgrace, she still received a court pension.

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Marble Hill

None of this ties up with the comical George II so often portrayed. While we usually see a king that no woman could tolerate, let alone love, the real man seems to have inspired some affection in return. Caroline may have relied on him mainly for power, but during a time of crisis she preferred to sacrifice her children rather than leave him. In her own words, they were not worth ‘a grain of sand’ in comparison to her husband. To Henrietta, George was ‘dearer than my own brother’. And while we must allow for some court sycophancy, the last letter she wrote to him suggests that real feeling had once been there. She writes of ‘the honour of [his] esteem’ and how it had made ‘the happiness of my life’. She ends mournfully, ‘The years to come must be employed in the painful task to forget you as my friend; but no years can ever make me forget you as my King.’

So was there something about women that softened George? I found my own key to his character in this portrait.

Sophie Dorothea and children

Sophia Dorothea and her children

Isn’t it beautiful? It’s not difficult to see who the favourite child is. The son and heir is lovingly held in his mother’s arms and clings to her in return. The daughter is somewhat in the shadows, a little apart from the group. Well, this little boy is George II and the woman is his mother Sophia Dorothea.

George was close to his mother, resembling her in feature and quick feelings. But his world was torn apart when, at the age of nine, his parents separated for good. Caught in adultery, his mother was banished to the Castle of Ahlden and never saw him again. Her portraits were taken down; he was not allowed to mention her. His father mocked him for his grief; the only comfort left was his grandmother. I don’t think we can underestimate how fundamentally this episode would have affected a child. It could offer an explanation for both his gruff behaviour and his softer attitude toward some women. Is it too much of a leap to conjecture that he saw his mother in Henrietta Howard, another desperately unhappy young wife? Was Caroline, with her firm advice and unswerving loyalty, the maternal figure he yearned to replace?

While the legends of George trying to swim across a moat to reach his mother have been proved false, I think the spirit of the story is very true. He certainly intended to free Sophia Dorothea and make her Regent of Hanover if she outlived his father. Sadly, this did not happen. Mother and son were kept apart by less than a year; she died at the end of 1726, he gained his throne too late in June 1727.

Where George's mother was imprisoned

Where George’s mother was imprisoned

Interestingly, George’s mother crops up in my research again a few years after her decease. Once more she seems to herald a change to her son’s behaviour. On a trip to Herrenhausen, George stumbled across his mother’s personal papers. He evidently found something he did not like there. Perhaps he had always believed her innocent of adultery and had a nasty shock. Whatever it was, it shattered his image of her. He never spoke of his mother again.

Perhaps it is a coincidence that his behaviour toward Henrietta and Caroline deteriorated after this trip. However, I think that George’s discovery about his mother may have had a direct impact on his relationship with the woman he clung to for reassurance, and the woman he was trying in some small degree to save.

Looking through the eyes of a little boy caught in a family crisis, I hope I have managed to make George into a more three-dimensional and believable character. But I am conscious that in doing so, I have come down rather hard on the father he despised, George I. Rest assured that George I will get his own humanising treatment – watch this space!

Travelling again . . .

The Constant Couple

It’s exactly two months since Queen of Bedlam launched and my life has been busy! But busy in a good way. I’ve had the honour to feature on some wonderful history blogs and even a national newspaper. I thought you might like to follow me on my adventures and read my articles.

The Six Daughters of George III

Royalty and Literature

Queen Charlotte’s Dogs

Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz

Queen Charlotte’s Ladies in Waiting

10 Shocking Facts about Georgian Women

The King’s Palaces

When we think of the British royal family, Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle immediately spring to mind. But it’s interesting to discover both these iconic residences owe much of their modern prominence to a relatively recent king: George III.

George III came to the throne in 1760, determined to live in a different style from his forebears. He disliked the formal, stately palaces of Kensington and Hampton Court, which he associated with his hated grandfather. While he was happy to perform ceremonial duties in St. James’s Palace, he wanted a peaceful home for his wife and children. To this end he purchased a modest red brick house from the Duke of Buckingham, informing his Prime Minister it was “not meant for a palace, but a retreat”.

Naturally, Buckingham House required some remodelling to become “Queen’s House” – the name it went by during George III’s reign. But rather than vamping it up, George actually had the house toned down. Grand iron screens were replaced by simple railing, while the elaborate formal gardens were simplified.

This was in keeping with George’s modest tastes. His apartments, on the ground floor were sparsely decorated by royal standards, painted green-grey “without the smallest affectation, ostentation or meanness.” The grandest rooms were the King’s great libraries; the two storey octagon library that could only be entered through his bedchamber and the west library, connected directly to the weather-vane so the King could see how his fleet fared at sea.

However, George and his young wife Charlotte were not adverse to a little splendour. The Queen’s rooms, on the next floor, were a show case for her collections of watches and curiosities. Mrs Powys notes the queen had “the most capital pictures, the finest Dresden…besides the gilt plate, innumerable nick-nacks”.It seems that then, as today, decorative touches and fashionable décor were considered part of the women’s realm. We can glimpse red damask walls and marble chimney pieces in paintings of Charlotte with her young children, as well as black and gold “japanned” panels in her breakfast room. Antique roman ceilings and crystal chandeliers blocked out the next storey, which held the nursery and the servants. Rather usefully, the upper storey had “floors so contrived as to prevent all noise” from disturbing the queen.

Although George and Charlotte succeeded in making Queen’s House a family home, where the majority of their children were born, it didn’t fulfill their need to improve and develop. Windsor Castle was another project taken up by the royal couple. Long disused, the castle itself was unfit for habitation, so they bought up two lodges nearby, one of which used to belong to Queen Anne, the other to Charles II’s mistress Nell Gwynn. Vast extensions were made to accommodate George and Charlotte’s swelling family, giving the buildings the look of a barracks. Nonetheless, only the finest decorations were to be found inside; paper hangings, carved gilt frames, curtains of white dimity with cotton fringes, Portland stone staircases and chairs knotted with floss silk.

Once more, Windsor became a focal point of royal life, as it was in the Stuart days. George liked the country life at Windsor, building his own mill and miniature farm. I get the feeling that Charlotte was less keen, staying indoors with a migraine while her husband took the children on long, muddy, “barbaric” walks about the countryside.

George III

Between 1781 and 1804 renovation work took place at the castle. While apartments remained unfinished, courtiers often urged one another to bring warm cloaks for the drafty corridors and thick boots for the gravel of the terrace. Even when building was complete, the rooms remained cold. Charlotte complained of needing to huddle up with her daughters in furs beside the fire. She was not allowed carpets as the King said they harboured dust. I imagine she would have rather stayed in her lodge, but alas it was demolished. Luckily for Charlotte, she was able to buy Frogmore House as her little retreat within the grounds of Windsor, and decorate it more to her own taste.

Charlotte and George’s son, George IV, remodelled Queen’s House into Buckingham Palace and restored Windsor Castle to a state of pure opulence, making them the grand houses we know today. However, amongst these success stories for the family there is one poignant project that was never finished: George III’s “Castellated Palace” at Kew. A gothic wonder of turrets, the Castellated Palace was conceived in one of George’s many bouts of illness. He was to make “Ludlow Castle, improved”, a fortress in stone. But with an eccentric, sick king, an architect with “a certain lack of diligence” and a shortage of workmen, the plan was doomed to failure. Running up bills of £100,000 – over twice its original estimate- the Castellated Palace was finally abandoned when George became incurable in 1810. The shell remained, “an image of distempered reason”, until George IV demolished it in the late 1820s, using the building materials for other projects.

The Duchess joins the ranks

220px-Vicky_of_KentYesterday I was researching at Kensington Palace (my second office, as I like to think of it), which has a wealth of Hanoverian connections. My main reason for going was to see Past Pleasures, who are putting on a wonderful series of Georgian re-enactments for the 300th anniversary of George I’s accession. I was lucky enough to meet the Duchess of Richmond (later mother to the infamous Lady Sarah Lennox) and assist her in dressing Queen Caroline. Unfortunately, I don’t have any photos for you. To protect the precious history inside Kensington, flash is not allowed and my camera refuses to take anything but a black blur without flash. So you will just have to go and see it for yourself!

While I was wandering round, I decided to visit the wonderful Victoria Revealed exhibition again. If you haven’t been I would highly recommend it. Victoria’s world is brought to life with her words stenciled on the walls and a wealth of her personal possessions. Her black baby boots are one of my favourite pieces, along with the bracelet of hearts commemorating the birth of each of her children. You also get to see Victoria’s beautiful wedding dress. What I love about this is that Victoria was only 5ft 1 and they have displayed her dress in front of a mirror. So if you stand before it and angle your head, you can see how you would look wearing the dress! (Yes, it did suit me rather well.)

The exhibition reminded me how much I love Victoria. Yes, she was neurotic, obsessed and a pretty bad mother but she was also brave, loyal and fiercely intelligent. The mix of good and bad in her is one that fascinates me. I remember reading long extracts from her earlier diaries and really connecting with the young lady who tried to be good and loved her dog called Dash (my dog at the time was called Splash, I like to think they would have been friends). It began to trouble me that this Queen, who interested me so much, was not included in my Hanoverian monarchs series. She was the last Hanoverian Queen – and she was Hanoverian through and through. From her protruding blue eyes to her lust, temper tantrums and hatred of her eldest son, she lived and breathed the family characteristics I have come to know so well.

Initially, I suppose Victoria missed my list because she was a queen, in her own right. My books were planned as a series covering the women who loved the Hanoverian monarchs, and this monarch was a woman herself. Moreover, she is still a well known figure today, not a forgotten heroine without a voice. But yesterday I considered the women in Victoria’s life and realised there was much to say. Many talented authors have already covered the stories of Victoria’s daughters – but what about her mother?

Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld married George III and Queen Charlotte’s fourth son, Edward Duke of Kent. She had already been widowed once and was to find herself a widow again before many years had passed. She first began to interest me when I was researching the life of Princess Sophia for Queen of Bedlam. Sophia and Duchess Victoria were close friends. They had two things in common: concern for the upbringing of little Victoria and a fascination with John Conroy. There came other family ties as the years progressed: the Duchess’s brother, Leopold, married my favourite Georgian princess, Charlotte of Wales. As you will know if you read my blog, I am completely smitten by handsome Leopold, so naturally I also take an interest in his sister! I came across Victoria of Kent yet again when looking into the life of Queen Adelaide. As the Duchess’s daughter was to succeed Adelaide’s husband, the two often came into close contact. Poor Adelaide had to smooth the way on many occasions between William IV and the Duchess.

These disagreements with the King hint to Victoria of Kent’s character. She was proud, controlling and shrewd. She has an infamous reputation as the ultimate pushy mother who wanted to rule through her daughter. But actually, she was a woman left in very difficult circumstances who fought for the rights of her daughter. I think it would be amazing to explore the real woman behind this dark legend. Even more thrilling would be the chance to see and write about Victoria through her eyes.  So I am adding Duchess Victoria of Kent to the Hanoverian Series. This will ensure I cover the dynasty from beginning to end (although Edward VII did have Hanoverian blood, and certainly the eyes, he was officially of the house of Saxe-Coburg Gotha because of his father). The book will be all the more interesting because it will start in the reign of George III and progress all the way to the beginning of the Victorian age. Quiet a fitting way, I think, to tie up the story. There are other novels to work on first, but I have to confess – I can’t wait to begin this one!

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An Appetite for Violets

violetsIt’s always a pleasure to read new fiction set in the Georgian era, but that delight is intensified when the story is written by a captivating new author like Martine Bailey. I was lucky enough to get chatting to Martine on Goodreads, where she told me about her upcoming Georgian release. As you can imagine, my ears perked up and I dashed to the launch party! Since this blog is the haven of Georgian historical fiction, I’d like to share my thoughts on Martine’s wonderful book, which I have just finished reading.

I have to admit that if left to my own devices, I probably wouldn’t have picked An Appetite for Violets off the shelf. The cover and the title struck me as a bit girly to start with – I couldn’t have been more wrong! This is not a twee tale of flowers and baking, but a dark mystery that explores the underbelly of Georgian life. Venereal disease, unwed mothers, a cursed jewel, slavery and poison all feature in this rich adventure across 18th century Europe.

Our heroine is Biddy Leigh, a straight-forward but kind-hearted undercook at the old estate of Mawton Hall. At the beginning of the story, Biddy’s life seems simple. She is planning to marry a local lad and save for a tavern of her own. But when the master of Mawton Hall takes a new wife, a rich young woman descends on Biddy’s world and changes it forever. Biddy’s good heart and ambition draw her deeper into her mistress’s life, until she is forced to leave all she knows behind. Stuck abroad with a secretive employer and increasingly shifty fellow-servants, she must use all her wits before she is entrapped.

Biddy has to be one of my favourite heroines to appear for a long time. Whilst hard-working and generous, she has a sharp tongue and will not be taken for a fool. She felt very realistic to me – in almost every situation, she acted as a normal person would do. Moreover, I found her a convincing representation of a rural eighteenth-century servant; keen to advance, loyal, gently mocking of the rich folk whilst envying their possessions. But the real triumph of Biddy has to be her language. As you know from my previous posts, I often struggle when historical authors use outdated words. Sometimes it seems they are just chucking them in to sound clever, or it distracts from the meaning of the sentence. Not so with Martine Bailey. Every Georgian slang word Biddy uses is clearly expressed, and is often used to marvelous comic effect. I have never seen language so lightly and skillfully interwoven into a historical character.

There are other voices in the narrative: that of Loveday, a slave forced to work as a footman; Mr Pars, whose correspondence Loveday reads to us and most importantly, the recipe book The Cook’s Jewel. I liked the touch of letters telling part of the story; it reminded me of the eighteenth-century epistolary novels. And while I am no cook, I found the old recipes intriguing. You do not have to be a foodie to love this book (although you will adore it if you are one!). Bailey’s descriptions and Biddy’s enthusiasm soon give you an appetite for a fascinating culinary world.

Loveday’s character is excellent and again, his speech is convincing. He speaks imperfect English, but it is never hard or jarring to read. Bailey has clearly done her research on the island and culture Loveday would have come from, giving a wonderful glimpse into the man behind the slave. Through his foreign eyes we see oddities of eighteenth-century culture that Biddy would not remark upon as strange. We also root for him on his quest to discover the man he once was. But along the way, Loveday manages to discover one or two other things that thicken the plot . . .

It is very hard to find a genre for An Appetite for Violets. It is a historical novel with mystery, crime, romance, comedy and gothic elements. Whilst parts of the story are dark, the book has an overall cheerful feel to it. It is easy to read and never feels cumbersome. I suppose at the end of the day, it is like one of Biddy’s recipes. There are many ingredients, some of which you would hesitate to blend together, but when all is mixed and cooked, the finished dish is a triumph.

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The Other Caroline

Princess_Caroline_Elizabeth_(1713-1757),_by_Jacopo_AmigoniWhen you buy Queen of Bedlam next Tuesday (which you’re obviously going to do, right?) you will see an advert in the back for next year’s novel Mistress of the Court. This will tell the story of George II’s mistress Henrietta Howard and her formidable mistress Queen Caroline. There was literally so much to squeeze into this book that I didn’t get as much space as I wanted to explore the life of George II’s five daughters – maybe another novel in the future! But it’s George and Caroline’s third daughter, another Caroline, who I want to tell you about today. In Mistress of the Court I refer to her as Carrie to avoid confusion with her mother, and will do so here too.

Carrie was always a sickly child. In her infancy, her ill health forced her to remain behind in Hanover with Prince Frederick while the rest of her family went to take the British throne. Inured to suffering, she was an empathetic child who took on the role as peacemaker between her siblings. She was extremely close to her eldest sister Anne, but when Anne married Carrie became the confidante and main companion of her mother. Despite her mild nature, Carrie shared her mother’s disgust with the behaviour of her brother Prince Frederick and vowed she would leave the palace at a grand gallop the moment he became king. Another thing she shared with her mother was a tendency to hold onto weight. It doesn’t show in the portrait above, but Carrie became hugely fat.

Three of George II’s five daughters married – the spinsters were Amelia and Carrie. Amelia was quite content with her unmarried state, as she explained in an impassioned letter to her sister Anne, but Carrie was not. She had an affectionate heart and it seems she had bestowed it on her mother’s servant Lord Hervey. Not only was Hervey married, he took both male and female lovers. But Carrie was not one of them. While Hervey’s memoirs show he had a high respect and friendship for the princess, he had no romantic interest in her.

Carrie was devastated by the death of her mother and the love of her life, which came within a few years of each other. However, she managed to drag on her sad existence, taking comfort in charitable work before she died at the age of just 44.

In many respects Carrie is now a forgotten princess. Given her good nature and courage, she does not deserve to be so. To give her a voice, I have written as short story about her experience as I imagine it when Queen Caroline died. I hope you will enjoy it. Please remember, as always, it is my copyright.

Caroline’s End

Nothing prepares you for the loss of a mother. It is a secret terror; a scream locked deep inside your head. You are never ready; not even when the colour drains from her eyes and age folds her skin. It is always too soon.

I was with her inspecting work on the new library, dizzy with the scent of shaved wood and paint, when she fell. One moment she stood tall, barking orders to the builders. Then she collapsed, her limbs folding like a marionette with its strings cut.

Help. The word stuck in my throat, blocked by terror. She lay, a mountain of flesh with brocade puddled around her. I yearned to run, to help, to scream, but I could do nothing. My body froze to the spot.

Servants swarmed around my mother, calling. I couldn’t hear them. It all moved around me in a magic lantern show, as if I had no part in the proceedings.

At last, someone shoved me forward and I bent over her prone form. “Mama?” My voice came strangled. “Did your legs give way, Mama? Is it the gout?”

Her red, blotchy face gaped at me, a landed carp. She couldn’t speak. I had never known my indomitable mother lost for words before.

They put her to bed at St. James’s Palace, shutting daylight out of her room and burning sour vinegar. I took my usual place, the favourite daughter’s place: at her side. It was cruel to see pain carved into those beloved features. I thought of all the times I had fallen down as a child and she had picked me up, the many nights she’d sat by my sickbed. Now I had to be strong for her. Alas, I never had the steely character of my mother, the Queen. Soft as a bag of feathers, she called me. But I knew, as I watched her sweaty head toss and turn on the pillow, grey curls plastered to her forehead, that she was a part of me. Bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh. I was even named for her.

At last, Lord Hervey came. When his elegant form swept into the room, a vision of peacock silk and silver embroidery, my shoulders relaxed. This man I worshipped and admired in secret would make everything right.

Lord Hervey clamped his hat under his elbow. “My dear Princess Caroline! What is this? What ails the Queen?”

I started up, knocking my knees against the side of the mattress. My cheeks burnt, as they always did in his presence. “She fell,” I gasped. “She fell.”

My mother shifted on the bed, groaning. “My Lord Hervey, it is that nasty colic I had at Hampton Court. It’s intolerable to be plagued with a new distemper, at my age.” Her chest moved – she tried to laugh, but it turned into a retch. I grabbed a bowl and ran forward, turning her head as vomit spilled from her mouth.

Panic scrabbled inside me. “My lord, you suffer from colic. What do you take? The doctors will administer nothing until the King returns.”

He drew away, nose wrinkled at the stench of sick. “Er – snake-root. Brandy.”

My eyes filled with tears. “Fetch some, for mercy’s sake. Please. I must give her some relief.”

We tried everything: Sir Walter Rayleigh’s Cordial, Daffy’s Elixir, usquebaugh, mint water. She brought them back up.

She held my arm, blue eyes shining like chips of ice. “Poor Caroline, you are very ill too. We will soon meet in a better place.”

By the time the King arrived, I was frantic. I don’t recall anything but the blare of his voice. I’d cried my eyes in to swollen, puffy slots. Exhausted pressure swam around my head until finally it erupted in a nosebleed. They sent me to bed, stained red and brown.

In the morning, my father unravelled. Enormous bags circled his eyes. He’d removed his wig to show a tender, stubbly scalp. His clothes were tousled; he must have laid the whole night beside her on the coverlet. “How the devil can you expect to sleep?” he barked. “You are always moving about.”

I bristled; would he continue to berate my mother, even now? But when I looked into his face I saw my own stark terror staring back at me. He shouted only from fear.

“It hurts,” the Queen gasped. “I have to move when it hurts.”

The doctors cut into the crook of her elbow and caught dark blood in a porcelain bowl. They heated cups and made blisters on her legs. My mother wept. With every tear that fell from her eye, another piece of my world crumbled.

The next day my father spoke to Dr Ranby. “I know what this illness proceeds from. But I promised the Queen I would never speak of it.”

A strange sound rose from the bed; something between a wheeze and groan. “What are you saying, you lying fool?” I’d never heard that venom in my mother’s voice.

The King’s face drooped and he shook his head. “She has a rupture.”

“I don’t! You blockhead! All the pain is here!” She clamped a hand to her stomach.

The King nodded to Dr Ranby. They moved forward; my father held her down as she screamed. Ranby probed her abdomen; his eyes grew dull. “It is a rupture. Your Majesty has concealed it too long already. There is no time to be lost.”

My mind twirled with the news, imagining a rupture in her stomach, in my family. How long had it been there? And my father knew? Jealousy teased my thoughts. My mother shared all with me – I couldn’t imagine why she’d conceal something like this.

Lord Hervey held my hand through the operation. In spite of everything, a chink of my soul rejoiced at his touch. It was a sickening business. The rupture swelled red and fierce, a rosebud pushing out beneath the skin. The surgeons cut away until sweat drenched through their clothes and they were obliged to change.

“You are the best woman in the world,” my father repeated. “The very best.”

He was right. My mother was braver than us all. Even when she groaned, there was an apology. “Don’t mind me. I know you’re only trying to help.”

I yearned to be like her. But I was a brunette to her blonde, plain before her beauty, weak beside her strength. They put me in the ante-room and bled me from both arms. My hope seeped away with the dark, red liquid. What was I without her? I cared for no other in my family. No one understood me.

When I awoke in the night, I found him, curled on a couch at the foot of my bed. My Lord Hervey; his soft feminine features, grey in the gloom. I longed to reach out and touch him, to plant a kiss on those delicate lips. He must care for me. Why else would he come? He couldn’t love his wife, when he spent so many hours here.I thought then that perhaps the operation would work. The Queen’s illness would turn into a blessing. I would lie in the same room as my secret love and watch him sleep, and tomorrow he would show his heart.

But it was a fantasy. All that met me in the morning was a hideous squelching sound. I dashed into the Queen’s room. Tangy, rotten smells clawed at the back of my throat. I danced back, eyes watering, as something wet seeped through the toe of my stockings.  It couldn’t be . . .

Horror possessed me. My mother’s stomach was a fountain, oozing brown filth. Reeking liquid soaked through her shift, her coverlets, and dripped onto the floor. My knees gave way. Crawling in muck, I vomited.

“I wish it was at an end!” she wailed, splashing her hands on the stained bed. “But my nasty heart will not break.”

Hers was the only one that did not. Dr Ranby whispered to my father with tears in his eyes, his voice like gravel. “Your Majesty, I fear there is no hope.”

My father whipped round and punched him in the face.

When they’d cleaned and stopped the vile flow, we clustered round her. Everything still smelt of manure.

My head buzzed. I couldn’t believe this would be the last time. How could I put what she meant to me into words, into a look? My mind groped the black void of a future without her. It was cold and airless. I would never survive.

“I leave you a legacy, Caroline.” Her watery eyes bored into mine. “You must care for your little sisters. Supervise their education.”

I would rather act like a soldier and follow my leader into death. I wish she’d asked it of me. But what she required was much harder: she wanted me to live. To go on, without her.

The King blubbered like a boy. I hadn’t consider, until then, that my parents were in love. Perhaps my mother meant as much to him as Lord Hervey did to me.

“I have nothing to tell you, my dear.” She reached out, wincing, to take his hand. “I always told you my thoughts as fast as they arose. You know all.”

Absurd jealousy prickled my ribs. She was mine, not his. She had been there every minute of my life, even before I drew breath.

She withdrew her hand. A large, ruby ring sat on her stout finger, a glob of blood. I recognised it as the one she received at her Coronation; that day when she’d sparkled like sunshine on water. She pulled it off with difficulty and held it out to the King. “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 King shielded his eyes. “Ah, God, let it alone! Is it not perfectly safe on your finger?” It occurred to me how solid the hand would turn after death. Waxy skin, frozen forever. Would we be able to prize her ring away? “You will grow well again,” the King said, leaning down to kiss her. Tears rolled down her cheeks, but they were not her own. “The doctors tell me you are better.”

Cruel hope shoved forward, seducing me with honeyed words. Why did it rear its head now, when I knew all was lost? Couldn’t it be kind and let me surrender?

My mother shook her head. “Remarry, when I’m gone.”

Sobs cracked from his chest. He cuffed his eyes again and again, but still the tears came. “No,” he panted. “Never! There is no woman fit to buckle your shoe! I will take mistresses.”

And suddenly, there it was: my mother’s wry smile. Her thin eyebrows arched. “My God, that never stopped you before.”

I was asleep in my room when the death rattle began. Satin and soft pillows shielded me from reality. But then Mrs Purcell’s cold hand darted beneath my quilt and clamped on my arm. I woke with a start. My chest was tight; I couldn’t fill my lungs.

Her gaunt face swam toward me through the shadows. Her eyes were wild. “It is the end.”

Somehow I gained my feet and dashed through the palace. I had to see her before, before . . . Only one candle burnt beside the bed. By the flickering flame, I saw her face, puffed and blue.

My father was there, and my sister Emily. The Queen wheezed at them. “Open the window. Pray.”

As the King darted to open the casement, Emily dropped to her knees. “Our Father, which art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name.”

There was a long, low creak, like the groan of a ship.

“No. It can’t be.” Grabbing a hand mirror from the Queen’s dressing table, I ran to her side and held it before her parched lips. No mist came; no drops of damp. It was over.

Just then, a gust of wind blew through the window and extinguished the candle. She was gone, leaving nothing but the aura of royalty, the ghost of her orange-blossom perfume. With no one to remain strong for, I broke down, my life ripped at the seams.

The King wept. I wanted none of his tears, the louse. He’d never been faithful; he’d distressed my mother with graphic tales of his conquests and hung portraits of his mistresses in their bedchamber. Now he had the hypocrisy to sob his heart out, as if he were the one to be pitied.

Lord Hervey practically carried me to my room, somehow supporting my bulky frame with his slender arms. I clung to him, desperate. My anchor, the only shred of humanity I still cared about. We sat together on my bed in silence, letting time stretch.

Grief numbed me to the core. Like a leech, it drained my vitality until there was nothing but a raw absence. The truth rattled in my skull but I couldn’t grab hold; it was hot enough to sear the skin from my hands. “What will I do?” I croaked.

He started from his reverie. “I don’t know.”

“What will you do? Your office dies with her.” A chasm opened inside me. Surely he wouldn’t leave the palace, rob me of my last comfort? “Will you ask the King for a place?”

He shook his head. “I don’t think so. Without her . . .” He didn’t finish.

Misery took me in a stranglehold. Burning tears rushed from my eyes. I couldn’t endure it. Fevered from lack of sleep, beaten down with grief, and now heartbroken too. I wished God had taken me, instead of the Queen. “You cannot leave.” I looked earnestly into his face, trying to convey my need in a single glance. But even as I did it, I knew my countenance was too pudgy and plain to touch his heart. “Please don’t leave me,” I whispered. “Whatever would I do without you?”

He took my hand and squeezed. My skin quivered with excitement. “You will marry, my dear princess. Duty no longer binds you. Fly free.”

Cruel man. Didn’t he realise I wanted none but him? The idea he could so happily consign me to another man mortified me. “Duty does bind me. I promised the Queen I would care for the little ones.”

Hervey’s eyes filled. Tears for her, not for me. “She would have wanted you to be happy.”

I deflated onto my bed. “Marriage would not make me happy,” I told the painted ceiling. “Because I cannot marry for love.”

I heard Hervey shift on the bed. “It doesn’t signify. I married for love, yet I am not happy.”

My pulse skittered. It was rare that he spoke of his wife, that goddess of shining black hair and lively eyes. “You do not love her, now?” I whispered with hope. “Your passion has burnt out?”

His voice came soft as velvet.  “No. Transferred. The person I love is . . . unattainable.”

Every fibre thrilled. He couldn’t mean…? I propped myself up on my elbows, greedy for his words.

“You love another?” I panted, breathless. “A person barred to you from society and custom?”

He put one hand over his face. The other laced its trembling fingers through mine. “Oh, Caroline. It is such a relief to tell you at last.”

Joy rushed through me, warm as spirit. Only a few hours had passed since my mother’s death, but perhaps this was her last gift to me. My life would begin at her end.

I huddled against his arm, my heart in my throat. “The one I love is out of my reach, too.”

His hand squeezed mine. “Then, gentle Caroline, you will understand.”

“I do understand you.” Need throbbed through my voice. “I am always here to listen.”

He dropped the hand from his pale forehead and turned to face me. His eyes bore into my soul. Surely he saw my love, raw and naked in my look?

I swept down my eyelashes and wet my lips with the tip of my tongue. Blessed, blessed moment. It was going to happen at last: the dream I never dared hope would become reality.

But he kiss didn’t me. Instead, Hervey groaned. “It is churlish of me to burden you with my woes, at a time such as this.”

“No, not at all. Speak.”

He tilted his head in the shadows. I felt his breath, hot and sweet, brush my skin. “Sometimes I have thought you half-suspected the truth. But I couldn’t tell your mother. It would have slain me to see disgust or horror in her eyes.”

I couldn’t let him tread this path. He wouldn’t use my mother as an excuse to make us both miserable. He wasn’t so very low, to love a princess. Were it not for his wife, the Queen might have smiled on his suit.

“You should have confessed. She may have looked kindly upon you.” Upon us.

He shrugged. I wished I could make out his expression in the shifting darkness. “These things are too dangerous to speak of, without being sure.”

Words crowded my mouth. Hang the danger. I will run with you, anywhere. Defy the King. Defy them all. Let us be together.

“But now . . .?

He blew out his breath. “Now he is married. He loves his wife, and I have lost him.”

Reality slammed into me with the weight of a cannon ball. Tears pricked my eyes like tiny bayonets. “H-Him?” I stumbled. Then, the terrible image of Hervey, my love, holding another crystallised in my mind. “A man?”

He hung his head. “Stephen Fox.” Nausea pushed at the back of my throat; a sickness borne of jealousy and profound disappointment. Not mine, after all. Never mine. “You won’t tell, will you?” he asked anxiously.

I thought of my love, pushing through the soil like a green spear in springtime. Without light or heat, it would decay before a single bud showed, tainting the chill soil of my heart. A secret no one must know.

“No,” I whispered. “I will never tell a soul.”

Caroline

Being Published

minionIt’s been a while since I last posted about being an author. I like to focus my blog on history, but I thought I’d take a break and tell you some more about the writing experience. After all, the publication of Queen of Bedlam is tantalisingly close!

When I started out writing, I loved reading blog posts from authors who had just signed with an agent or been offered a publishing deal. Not only did it remind me that it WAS possible, but it made me feel a bit like the Minion shown above. I was reading words direct from the special few who had made it over the hurdles I could not. They were demi-gods to me. Since they’d succeeded, they must have all the answers on their website? Right?

It’s been said before, but a writer can only tell you about their own publishing experience. Some people find success with an ease that makes the rest of us choke on bitter envy. Others are brilliant yet never catch a break. Of course there are things you can do to help your career and improve your writing, but at the end of the day nobody has a set of guidelines for you. They cannot say, ‘Do this and you will get published. Write like this and you will have a bestseller.’ But they try. I read many ‘top tips’ for submitting to agents along with writing ‘dos and don’ts’. Now, I wish people had posted less about ways to obtain success, and more about what to do with it when you actually get it. Sometimes you fight for something so long and hard that when you achieve your aim, you become a bit lost. You realise published authors are not demi-gods. They are people.

After my modest self-published success with God Save the King I had many people ask me what they could do to sell more copies of their own work. To be honest, I didn’t know what I’d done right. All I could suggest was to write a good book, package it professionally and talk about books with lots of people on the internet. I felt a bit embarrassed people were asking my opinion. I was just a self-published younger writer, after all. But what about now? My debut novel is hitting the shop in 11 days time. I’ve had good reviews from the public for my work, I’ve worked with two editors, been on TV, acquired an agent and been picked up by a publisher. Surely now I have confidence in my writing and feel invincible? Sadly, the answer is no. I remember being a child and thinking ‘When I’m 25, I’ll be able to deal with such and such because I’ll be mature.’ But then I hit 25 and still felt like exactly the same person: afraid and not really mature. The same is true of writing. You think ‘When I get a publisher, I’ll know my work is good.’ But the same self-doubt continues to plague you.

I’m not going to lie: being published is a hugely rewarding and exciting experience. When you see your cover design for the first time, you do the Snoopy happy dance. You cannot stop staring at it. Then your name appears in The Bookseller and the whole world seems to pause. Is this really happening? Will you walk into a bookshop and find your actual book on a shelf? Yes, of course you will, because you have two signings booked in the next month.

Snoopy_Happy_DanceThe problem is, you are not the super-confident author extraordinaire you thought you would be by this point. You are still the anti-social, hide in the corner with a book and cup of coffee type you always were. Only now you have to read out loud, do interviews and engage with the general public. Self-doubt is a funny thing; it warps your thoughts out of proportion. You handed in a draft of the manuscript you were pleased with, but now you re-read it and the stupidity of your own words overwhelms you. You have brilliant ideas about how you would write the whole thing differently if you could start from scratch. Then there is the angst. That’s one of the downfalls of being an author: imagination. You imagine everything that could go wrong. What if nobody buys the book? What if everybody buys it and hates it? What if no one turns up to your signings? What if your author signature looks stupid?

Then there are the people. Just being a blogger, I have encountered snarks and stalkers. I have no doubt there will be people who actively hate my book and make every effort to tell me so. But I also know that I have met all my favourite people in the world through books – whether working in a bookshop, attending a reading group, visiting a conference or using social media. They are the ones who will keep me going through the nerves. There will be people out there who adore my book. But in order to find them, I have to be brave and put myself out there. I have a launch party at Waterstone’s Ipswich on 11 June 2014 from 7-9pm and a signing at Waterstone’s Colchester on 21 June 2014 from 12.30pm. I do hope some of you will be able to join me there. Friendly faces in the crowd always help.

RabbidI’ve been very lucky with my publisher, but if you are aiming for a book deal, it is worth noting that things can and do go wrong. I have known authors who hate their cover, have a title that has little to do with the book or have been forced to make changes they do not want. There are those who have been dropped by their publisher after sales of the first book were modest. This is perhaps the most devastating thing of all. Working so hard, achieving your dream and then realising that it’s not all you thought it would be. That nobody really cares. Pursue your goals armed with the facts. Do not expect a sugar-coated world full of rainbows and fairy-dust. And most of all, have friends and family ready to help you through the ordeal. Even though my own experience has been positive, I think I would have imploded by now without my husband.

Having said all the above and made you aware of the pitfalls in the writing world, I must just add – look at my cover! Look at my beautiful cover! *squee*

QueenofBedlam

 

Meet My Main Character

I’m a little bit slow to join this Blog Hop, which has been going round for a few weeks now. The lovely Margaret Evans Porter has kindly tagged me to talk about my main character.

1. What is the name of your character? Is he/she fictional or a historic person? The heroine of my novel is Queen Charlotte of England, originally Princess Sophie Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz. She is a historic person that I admire.

Charlotte with George and Frederick2. When and where is the story set? The story covers a period of twenty-seven years between 1783 and 1810. Then there is an epilogue, set in 1818. Most of the action takes place in palaces in and around London: Buckingham Palace (then called Queen’s House), Kew Palace and Windsor Castle.

Kew 3. What should we know about him/her?  Charlotte has risen from an obscure upbringing to take one of the greatest thrones in Europe. She accepts her exalted role with humility and determination, but she still experiences self-doubt, especially over her plain looks. She is devoted to her husband George – a fact their fifteen children bear testimony to!

4. What is the main conflict? What messes up his/her life?  The death of Charlotte’s two youngest sons around the time of the American Revolution starts a downward spiral in her happy marriage. Her husband shows alarming symptoms of mental instability, which progress into violence and indecency. Her family is split into factions over the King’s treatment and she is left holding the reins of an unstable country. When revolutionary fever spreads to France, things only get worse . . .

5. What is the personal goal of the character? Charlotte desperately wants to do her duty. She wants to be a good queen, wife and mother, but her task proves impossible. Deep down she is just a woman who yearns for her beloved husband to recover, and feels she can do nothing until he is well again.

6. Is there a working title for this novel, and can we read more about it? Queen of Bedlam will be published by Myrmidon on 10 June 2014. It can be purchased at:

Amazon

Foyles

Waterstones

Barnes & Noble

WH Smith

BedlamI’ve tagged the talented Jen Black to continue the blog hop. She will post on 14 May 2014.

The First Georgians

Caroline

Last Wednesday, I made my way through the push of children enjoying their Easter holidays and a hive of tourists to the Queen’s Gallery at to Buckingham Palace. The gallery hosts a wealth of exhibitions – I remember particularly enjoying one about Victoria and Albert  – but this year its subject is The First Georgians. Huzza! The exhibition celebrates the House of Hanover’s accession to the English throne 300 years ago in 1714 and runs up until 12 October 2014. I would encourage any Georgian junkie to go and see the beautiful art and historic documents on display.

‘The First Georgians’ in this context are the early Hanoverian monarchs George I, George II and his wife Queen Caroline, and Frederick Prince of Wales. Although Frederick didn’t live to become King I am glad he got a mention, because he certainly deserves one as a connoisseur of art and literature. His tastes were to inspire his son George III, and in turn his grandson George IV, both of them avid collectors.One of the most poignant documents on display is a letter from Frederick to George III, advising him how to be a good King. He writes in a bold, clear hand – isn’t it wonderful when historic letters are actually legible?  It is as if Frederick knew he would not wear the crown himself and left these instructions to live after him. In fact, several sources I have come across mention Frederick’s premonitions of a short life.

Frederick

The first things you encounter when entering the exhibition are busts of Caroline and George II. I was ridiculously excited to see 3D representations of my royal ‘friends’, they really give you a feel for the features and you can imagine having a conversation with them. With so many paintings, our images of kings and queens tend to become cartoonish and two dimensional, but these busts help you to see the real people. Many of the busts on display were commissioned by Caroline herself to decorate ‘Merlin’s Cave’, a quaint thatched cottage she constructed at Kensington Palace. You entered the cave through a maze of clipped hedges to find wax works, allegorical figures, books and all manner of curiosities.

Caroline contributes further to the exhibition with her private collections. She greatly admired Queen Elizabeth I and owned many cameos of the Tudor monarchs. We also have to thank Caroline for rediscovering some of the most iconic images of the Tudor period – the sketches of Hans Holbein. It was while rummaging in Mary II’s bureau at Kensington that Caroline discovered Holbein’s work, along with drawings by Da Vinci. Caroline’s other pieces are charming miniatures of her children and acquaintance.

Speaking of Caroline’s children, there are also some document from the most infamous, William Duke of Cumberland. I think there is more to William than his title of Butcher of Culloden, but I will discuss this in another post. You get to see battle plans drawn in William’s own hand, guns of the period and many documents relating to the attempted Jacobite invasions of 1715 and 1745. I found a letter from James Stuart, ‘The Old Pretender’ to his son ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’ particularly touching. Much as I love the Hanoverians, I do feel bad for the Stuarts. I think they had the legitimate claim to the throne. However, my mum has been well trained and is firmly in the Hanover camp. She viewed a Jacobite handbill with a portrait of James, turned up her nose and said she didn’t like the look of him!

George I and George II have the reputation of Goths and Vandals, unable to appreciate art and literature. George II famously stated he hated ‘boets and bainters’. But in The First Georgians exhibition, you can see they were not completely adverse to the visual arts. George I in particular had great architectural plans, transforming Kensington Palace and improving the King’s rooms at Hampton Court. In later years, George II was to continue work and build a whole new suite of apartments in Hampton Court for his beloved son William.

George II

As someone interested in the day to day life of the royal family, I was fascinated with pieces such as the footstools placed in Caroline’s withdrawing room and George I’s dining chairs. There was also an exquisite gold dining set belonging to Frederick, decorated with mermen, shells and all manner of nautical motifs. I didn’t know before attending the exhibition that Frederick was a big fan of shellfish, particularly oysters. I will certainly be including this in my novel about his wife!

Again, many of my favourite paintings related to the royals. It was moving to see portraits of George III’s sisters Elizabeth and Louisa, who both died young. They tend to be forgotten in the mists of history and it was good to see them back in their rightful place. However, the paintings on display are by no means limited to royal people. You can see Hogarth’s original prints, paintings by Rubens and many other legendary artists. My favourite was the main image used for the exhibition, a playful portrait of Garrick and his wife.

Princess Elizabeth Caroline

When booking my ticket, I opted to visit the Royal Mews as well. I’m always a sucker for carriages. I particularly wanted to see George III’s state coach, now the traditional coronation coach. It didn’t disappoint! However, before you dream about riding in it, you might like to know it’s very uncomfortable! William IV, ‘the sailor king’, who would certainly know, likened his ride in it to being tossed in a tempest on the sea.

George III coach

To find out more about The First Georgians and plan your visit, click on this link to The Royal Collection website.

 

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