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Benjamin Franklin House

benjamin-franklin-house1A 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.

imagesI 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!

glassHopefully 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.

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Death by Cricket?

Frederick as Prince of WalesI was so sad to hear about the recent deaths of cricketer Philip Hughes and umpire Hillel Oscar in tragic mid-game accidents. With our modern safety equipment we no longer expect these awful occurrences. I guess that these days we think of cricket as rather gentle game compared to heavier contact sports. But back in 1751, the sport was blamed (falsely, in this instance) for another death –  one that changed the history of Britain.

Frederick, Prince of Wales, was the cricketer in question. As heir to the British throne, he did all he could to please his future subjects, but having spent the first 21 years of his life in Hanover, he started at a disadvantage. Nonetheless, he soon became the darling of the Londoners by flying in the face of his unpopular father’s rules. He took care to charm the ‘common folk’ by interacting with them  – whether he was walking in local parks or playing popular sports. When he became father to a large family, it was only natural that he spent more time playing games like tennis and cricket with his little ones.

However, all this joy and popularity was to be cut short when, at the age of just 44, Frederick died after a short illness. His death left his 12-year-old son, a minor, as heir to the throne. Considering that the present King was 68, an approaching Regency seemed all too likely. Amidst the rumours that swirled – one being that Frederick’s wife, Augusta, poisoned him to boost her own importance –  came the report that the cause of death was a burst abscess in the prince’s side. Supposedly, the abscess had been broken by a blow received while playing cricket at Cliveden some years earlier. But if we look at the facts of Frederick’s death, this theory seems unlikely.

FrederickSince his birth, Frederick had suffered from indifferent health. As I mentioned in a previous post, he was considered a slow and sickly child. It was his reliance on restoratives such as ass’s milk that led to his mother concluding he would be an impotent man. It is possible he was never destined for a long life. In fact, in 1750, there were signs that he at least suspected his impending doom. He visited fortune tellers but would not reveal what they saw. When reproached for working too hard in his garden at Kew, he replied that he wanted to finish the work as soon as possible, for he was persuaded he would not live long. Most importantly, he wrote out instructions to his eldest son George ‘for his good, that of my family and for that of his people’. This letter, which I have seen with my own eyes (eeek!) was essentially advice on how to be a good king and seems to assume that Frederick would never inherit. One quote is all too poignant, given the circumstances:

Retrieve the glory of the throne. I shall have no regret never to have won the crown, if you but fill it worthily.

No wonder the future George III was to feel continually under pressure! But in spite of, or perhaps because of, these bleak forebodings, Frederick took very little care of his health. His adviser, Bubb Doddington, records in his diary ‘Went to Leicester House where the Prince told me he had catched cold the day before at Kew.’ Rather than nursing his ailment – a course of action that would have been wise considering he had suffered from pleurisy before – Frederick continued life at a hectic pace. He spent a busy day in the House of Lords sweltering under state robes. Ironically, he went there to assess his father’s state of health, for their were rumours the King was on his way out. After this, he changed into thin clothing and worked in his gardens at Kew in a brisk March wind. Then, tired out, he came home and fell asleep for three hours on the couch. The rest would have done him good, except that he left the window open onto the bitter air. (For all readers not resident in the British Isles, it can get very cold here in March. We’ve had snow.)

Unsurprisingly, Frederick’s cold grew much worse and he was confided to bed. There he endured the ever unhelpful eighteenth-century treatments of being bled and blistered. At this time Augusta was about 5 months pregnant with her last child but refused to leave her husband’s side. Moreover, she would not let many people come near him. Of course these actions would fuel the later rumours about poison, but when questioned Augusta revealed that she had an inkling the end was near – Frederick had confided in her about his suspected short life span. Indeed, Frederick’s symptoms must have been prolonged and disturbing, for the King actually sent to inquire after his health. Father and son had long been at daggers drawn. Frederick was so touched by this olive branch that he burst into tears.

Young George
Young George

After a while, things seemed to be improving. Frederick slept for a solid eight hours and was well enough to desire a little entertainment. For his amusement, the children’s French dancing master Desnoyers took up station in a nearby room and played softly on his fiddle. The family themselves were playing at cards, and in this happy state of affairs the doctors prepared to leave. But just as they were going, Frederick was seized by a coughing fit. He was not able to stop. Dashing to his side,  one doctor became alarmed and said ‘Here is something I do not like.’ Frederick clutched his stomach, gasped ‘I feel death,’ and expired.

Much as I like the idea of British history being altered by a ‘cricket ball of doom’, I think it is more likely that Frederick’s abscess burst naturally or through violent coughing. Furthermore, it seems clear there were underlying health problems, particularly pleurisy and lung complaints, that would have caused mischief without cricket balls. Frederick’s descendants were to suffer from tubercular and scrofulous illnesses, and these conditions were blamed for the deaths of his grandsons Octavius and Alfred, and his granddaughter Amelia.

Sad as this taint in the blood would turn out, the immediate aftermath of Frederick’s death was even more tragic. Clearly, his young family were devastated, with little 12 year-old George likening the sensation in his chest to the one he felt watching construction workers falling from the scaffold at Kew. The King received the news somewhat more calmly. He was playing cards with his mistress when the fatal note was passed to him. He exclaimed, ‘Why, they told me he was better!’ before explaining simply to his mistress, ‘Fritz is dead.’ While it is terrible for a father to have such a lack of emotion over own his son, it’s somewhat pleasing to know that the King, who had long despised Frederick, did not have the hypocrisy to put on displays of grief. He was, however, genuinely sorry for the little fatherless family and shed tears when he saw them, telling them they must be ‘brave boys’.

Despite this, the King still managed to bungle Frederick’s funeral. It wasn’t for lack of money – the expense was only £500 less than the King’s own funeral would cost 9 years later. But invitations were sent out only eight hours before the ceremony, with the result that no English lord or bishop was able to attend. In the pouring rain, poor Fred, the king that never was, was laid to rest without even a family member to see him off (it was not customary for women or children to attend funerals). While court mourning was prescribed, there was one glaring omission: coloured ribbon was allowed. This was practically unheard of in the past and I cannot imagine how hurt Augusta would have been. Whatever she felt, she was wise enough to disguise it – she had to stay on good terms with the King to survive. It seems this crotchety old King spoke truly when he later said, ‘I lost my eldest son, but I was glad of it.’

The widow Augusta
The widow Augusta

 

 

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.

 

A Nervous Disposition

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Today I have the lovely Maria Grace in my Georgian parlour, talking about a subject close to my heart: nerves. We all remember Jane Austen’s Mrs Bennet and her whimsical illnesses, but what of those who suffered genuine problems? What were the treatments available and how were they viewed at the time?

It’s interesting to see from Maria’s article that some modern day stereotypes date back to the early nineteenth century. It seems some doctors considered those affected by panic attacks to blame – they were “indolent” and didn’t go out in “cheerful company” enough. How infuriating!

Take it away, Maria.

Nervous conditions

The fine sensibility prized by women in the 18th century gave rise to an epidemic of nervous disorders in the early 19th century.  Maladies of affluence and sophistication, nervous disorders paraded one’s wealth, refinement and sensibility. Women were particularly susceptible to nervous because of their ‘more delicate physiological network’.  In fact, ‘Nerves’ were a woman’s claim to superior social status, the mark of being a lady.

The wealthy and indolent were not the only suffers though.  Given that during the early 19th century people lived in a world where a small ache or upset stomach could be the harbinger of something far worse, or even fatal, it is not really surprising that hysterical diseases, hypochondria and melancholy—what we would call depression—were prevalent, especially when legitimized as disorders by respected doctors.

While doctors agreed that they existed, “there’s no Disease puzzled Physicians more than the Vapours, and Hysterick Fits. These complaints are produced by so many Causes, and appear in so many various Shares, that ’tis no easy Matter to describe them.” (Tennet) “The Annual Review” said that after doctors started taking nervous disorders seriously, everyone was taking medication for them, outdoing each other with exaggerated symptoms and buying an array of medical equipment to deal with them. How strangely 21st century it all sounds.

Symptoms and Types of Nervous conditions

According to William Buchan in his book  Domestic Medicine, 1790, “Of all diseases incident to mankind, those of the nervous kind are the most complicated and difficult to cure. A volume would not be sufficient to point out their various appearances. They imitate almost every disease; and are seldom alike in two different persons, or even in the same person at different times. Proteus-like, they are continually changing shape; and upon every fresh attack, the patient thinks he feels symptoms which he never experienced before. Nor do they only affect the body; the mind likewise suffers, and is often thereby rendered extremely weak and peevish.”

The symptoms of nervous disorders were often thought to begin in the stomach which was thought to be the center of the nervous system. Buchan suggested, “They generally begin with windy inflations or distensions of the stomach and intestines, the appetite and digestion are usually bad; yet sometimes there is an uncommon craving for food, and a quick digestion. The food often turns sour on the stomach; and the patient is troubled with vomiting of clear water, tough phlegm, or a blackish colored liquor resembling the grounds of coffee. Excruciating pains are often felt about the navel, attended with a rumbling or murmuring noise in the bowels.”

These symptoms might be accompanied by difficulty breathing; violent palpitations of the heart, sudden flushes or a sense of cold in various parts of the body, pains throughout the body, variable pulse, fits of crying and convulsive laughing, poor sleep and night-mares.

Progression of the disease would bring headaches, body cramps, mental disturbances including terror, sadness, weak memory and failure of judgment. “Nothing is more characteristic of this disease than constant dread of death. This renders those unhappy persons who labour under it peevish, fickle, impatient, and apt to run from one physician to another; which is one reason why they seldom reap any benefit from medicine, as they have not sufficient resolution to persist in any one course till it has time to produce its proper effects.” (Buchan)

By the beginning of the 19th century, hysteria was no longer attributed to a wandering womb, but the nervous system. Other forms of nervous conditions were also recognized including: melancholy, nightmare, swoons, low spirits, hysteric affections and hypochondriac affections.

Causes of Nervous Disorders

Doctors did not agree as to the cause of nervous conditions.  Some, like Tennet, argued the stomach was at core of the disorder. “Because the Stomach is suspected to be much in Fault, I would have That cleans’d in the first Place, with a Vomit of Indian Physick; the next Day, purify the Bowels, but a Purge of the same; which must be repeated 2 Days after.”

Others, including Buchan believed the causes more complex.  Indolence and other things that relaxed or weakened the body like drinking tea, frequent bleeding or purging could lead to nervous disorders. While those things which hurt digestion could contribute to the problem, unfavorable postures of the body and intense application to study were equally likely to cause difficulties. “Indeed few studious persons are entirely free from them. Nor is this at all to be wondered at; intense thinking not only preys upon the spirits, but prevents the person from taking proper exercise, by which means the digestion is impaired, the nourishment prevented, the solids relaxed, and the whole mass of humours vitiated. Grief and disappointment likewise produce the same effects.” (Buchan)

Treatments for Nervous conditions

In many ways, the recommended treatments for nervous disorders were quite progressive. They included a multipronged approach that included diet, exercise, and adjustments of daily routine as well as medication.

Since digestive troubles were considered a large contributor to nervous disorders, careful attention to diet was a major part of treatment.  “Persons afflicted with nervous diseases ought never to fast long. Their food should be solid and nourishing, but of easy digestion. Fat meats, and heavy sauces, are hurtful. All excess should be carefully avoided. …Wine and water is a very proper drink at meals: but if wine sours on the stomach, or the patient is much troubled with wind, brandy and water will answer better…All weak and warm liquors are hurtful, as tea, coffee, punch, &c. People may find a temporary relief in the use of these, but they always increase the malady, as they weaken the stomach and hurt digestion.”

As some doctors argue today, exercise was seen as superior to all medicines. Horseback riding and walking were considered ideal, but simply being quick about one’s business and active in their chores was recommended as well. When these were too much, even riding in a carriage could produce beneficial effect.

“A change of place, and the sight of new objects, by diverting the mind, has a great tendency to remove these complaints. For this reason a long journey, or a voyage, is of much more advantage than riding short journeys near home. Long sea voyages have an excellent effect; and to those who can afford to take them, and have sufficient resolution, we would by all means recommend this course.” (Buchan)

Patients were also advised to avoid great fires and seek cool dry air to brace and invigorate the body, though chills were to be avoided. Regular cold baths as well as frequently rubbing the body with a special brush, or a coarse linen cloth should be incorporated into the patient’s routine. Further, “they ought likewise to be diverted, and to be kept as easy and cheerful as possible. There is not anything which hurts the nervous system, or weakens the digestive powers, more than fear, grief, or anxiety.” (Buchan)

Though not seen as actual cures, a number of medicines might be recommended to render the patient’s life more comfortable. Mild purgatives to relieve constipation were recommended as were elixirs to improve digestion and strength the stomach.

Though laudanum was easily available, doctors cautioned against their overuse as opiates “only palliate the symptoms, and generally afterwards increase the disease (and) habit render them at last absolutely necessary.”

Avoiding Nervous Disorders

Not only were doctors concerned with treating nervous conditions, they also advised in how these disorders might be avoided. “Excessive grief, intense study, improper diet, and neglect of exercise, are the great sources of this extensive class of diseases…Grief indulged destroys the appetite and digestion, depresses the spirits, and induces a universal relaxation and debility of the whole system… (While) misfortunes indeed are not to be avoided, but surely their effects, by a vigorous and proper exertion of the mind, might be rendered less hurtful…

The effects of intense study are pretty similar to those occasioned by grief. It preys upon the animal spirits, and destroys the appetite and digestion. To prevent these effects, studious persons ought… never study too long at a time; nor attend long to one particular subject, especially if it be of a serious nature. They ought likewise to be attentive to their posture, and should take care frequently to unbend their minds by music, diversions, or going is to agreeable company.” (Buchan)

Attention should be paid with regard to proper diet, which avoided extremes of all forms. Regular exercise and fresh air should be a part of one’s routine. “BUT the most general cause of nervous disorders is indolence. The active and laborious are seldom troubled with them. They are reserved for the children of ease and affluence, who generally feel their keenest force. All we shall say to such persons is that the means of prevention and cure are both in their own power. If the constitution of human nature be such, that man must either labor or suffer diseases; surely no individual has any right to expect an exemption from the general rule.” (Buchan)

References

Buchan, William. Domestic Medicine: Or, A Treatise on the Prevention and Cure of Diseases by Regimen and Simple Medicines, 11th ed. , 1790

Parissien, Steven. Regency Style. Phaidon Press Limited (2000)

Sales, Roger. Jane Austen and Representations of Regency England.  Routledge (1994)

Shoemaker, Robert B. Gender in English Society 1650-1850 Pearson Education Limited (1998)

Tennet, John . Every Man his own Doctor: or, The Poor Planter’s Physician,   Williamsburg, VA, 1736.

Wilson, Ben. The Making of Victorian Values, Decency & Dissent in Britain: 1789-1837

The Penguin Press (2007)

Wiltshire, John   –   Contrib. to Jane Austen in Context. Cambridge University Press (2005)

Author Bio

Though Maria Grace has been writing fiction since she was ten years old, those early efforts happily reside in a file drawer and are unlikely to see the light of day again, for which many are grateful.

She has one husband, two graduate degrees and two black belts, three sons, four undergraduate majors, five nieces, six cats, seven Regency-era fiction projects and notes for eight more writing projects in progress. To round out the list, she cooks for nine in order to accommodate the growing boys and usually makes ten meals at a time so she only cooks twice a month.

She can be contacted at:

email: author.MariaGrace@gmail.com.

 Facebook: facebook.com/AuthorMariaGrace

Find her books on Amazon.com: amazon.com/author/mariagrace

Visit her website Random Bits of Fascination

On Twitter @WriteMariaGrace

Maria Grace

The Year of the Georgians

We’re a whole week into 2014 and I’d like to take this opportunity to wish all my readers a very happy new year! It looks to be an exciting one, both personally and historically.

Whilst we mark a tragic centenary in remembering the start of World War I, there are also happier anniversaries. Chief amongst these for me,  of course, is the tri-centenary of the Hanoverian ascension to the British throne. That’s right; it was a whole three hundred years ago that the House of Stuart handed the reins (or reigns, if you’ll excuse the pun) over to a brand new dynasty. However, that wasn’t the last we heard of the Stuarts – they certainly weren’t going without a fight!

Actually there is some doubt as to whether Queen Anne really wanted to settle her country on the Hanoverians. She didn’t hold a high opinion of her intended successor’s son – later George I – and she fell out with the House of Hanover over the Treaty of Utrecht. There was enough prevarication to make the Hanoverians anxious Anne would change her mind before she died. Indeed, many Jacobites were later to claim Anne repented of her decision on her death bed, but didn’t have time to alter the legal succession. If that’s true, it’s very lucky for me!

A monarch from the House of Hanover sat on the British throne between 1 August 1714 and 22 January 1901: George I, George II, George III, George IV, William IV and Queen Victoria. Although the name of the royal house changed with Victoria and Albert’s son, our current royal family remain descendants of the Hanoverians.

There have been tantalising rumours about Victoria, which suggest she was actually a bastard child and not Hanoverian at all. With this particular theory, the visual evidence speaks for itself. I only have to look at a portrait or a photography of Victoria, no matter her stage in life, and I see the House of Hanover stamped all over her face. She has the protruding eyes, fleshy chin and high forehead characteristic to the family. She often reminds me of her grandfather George III, or her cousin Princess Charlotte of Wales.

I look forward to sharing more stories from the lives of  these fascinating monarchs with you over the coming twelve months. Remember to celebrate the anniversary by visiting Historic Royal Palaces, who are planning many events!

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Hanoverian Mothers Part 4 – Augusta and George III

Augusta and her brood

I’ve been rather unfair to Augusta of Saxe-Gotha in God Save the King. Since I had to show her through Queen Charlotte’s point of view, she comes across as a controlling and bullying mother-in-law. While it’s documented that the pair had run-ins during Queen Charlotte’s early married life, there’s much more to Augusta than the in-law from hell. In fact, judging by the devotion with which Charlotte attended Augusta’s sick-bed in her last days, it seems she also came to appreciate these other qualities.

If you look at Augusta through the political propaganda of the 1760s and 1770s, you are encouraged to see a harridan, a woman with her son firmly tied to her apron strings. There’s a caricature of her as “The Wanton Widow”, instructing her great friend Bute to pour poison in the sleeping George III’s ear. Augusta and Bute were burnt in effigy in the streets of London many times, most famously in the riots stirred up by John Wilkes and his seditious paper the North Briton. Even in death, Augusta couldn’t escape censure. At her funeral the mob huzzaed for joy and stripped the black cloth from the wooden platform at Westminster Abbey.

So who are we examining – some kind of dominating, devil’s consort, surely? Well, no. Actually, Augusta was a mild-mannered, shy princess when she washed up on English shores in 1736 to marry the eldest son of George II, Frederick. She arrived gawky, long-limbed, unable to speak a word of English and clutching a doll. She was fortunate in her new husband, who took an immediate shine to her, but the rest of the royal family regarded her as a dullard. Queen Caroline grew exasperated with her tedious conversation, while Princess Caroline had to explain very carefully that while there was nothing wrong with playing with dolls per-se, Augusta really shouldn’t do it in front of the windows where the public could see her. This naivety was something George II had hoped for when he selected a wife for his son; he wanted a woman who would pose no threat. He was already tired of his son trying to outwit him, without enlisting a clever wife’s help. Augusta seemed a good choice. Far from standing up to the King and Queen, she threw herself trembling at their feet.

Queen Caroline took Augusta under her wing by explaining the words of the Marriage Ceremony to her and offering to make a sign when she ought to kneel. The terrified Augusta clutched Caroline’s skirts and said, “For Heaven’s sake, please don’t leave me.”  A far cry from the controlling hag the late Georgians dreamed up! Indeed, Augusta behaved so well in submission to the King and Queen that she earned the nickname “Princess Prudence.” Even when the King and Queen came to blows with Frederick, Caroline attached no blame to Augusta. She said that even if Augusta were to spit in her face, she would only pity her for being under the direction of a fool (ie Frederick).

Young Augusta

It seems to me Augusta really was under Frederick’s control, though it was devotion that kept her loyal, not force. For example, when their first child was due, Frederick left off telling his parents until very late in the pregnancy. He didn’t want them to know of his cowardly delay in announcing the news, so bid Augusta to answer Caroline’s questions about her health and the due date with “I don’t know.” Naivety and a lack of guile were cloaks Augusta hid behind, and they worked to fabulous effect. Caroline was so astounded by Augusta’s lack of knowledge that she began to suspect there was no baby at all.

As I explained in earlier posts, Frederick did not wish his child to be born under the same roof as his parents. In the middle of the night, he rushed the labouring Augusta from Hampton Court to St. James’s Palace. She was in great danger and suffered extremely, according to all accounts crying and begging to go back. And yet, when Fred was blamed for his actions, she took his part. Her letters insist it was her express wish to be carried to St. James’s. Caroline came to visit her new grandchild the next day. She’d heard of Augusta’s ordeal and commiserated with her, only to receive the blunt reply, “It was nothing.” Caroline tried to reach out to her and asked “My good princess, is there anything you want, anything you would have me do? Here I am – you have but to ask and whatever is in my power, I promise you I will do”. Augusta said she had nothing to trouble her with.  It’s here, I believe, that we begin to see the real determination of Augusta’s character. Ever polite and respectful, she still refused to be won over with emotional entreaties or tricks. She knew her part and she played it.

Over the years, Augusta proved herself an able hostess to Frederick’s friends and opposition politicians. She returned every entreaty with a sweet answer, saying she knew nothing about politics but would pass the request onto her husband. In truth, she probably knew a lot more than she let on. When Frederick died in 1751, Augusta showed herself prudent again, casting herself and her children on the mercy of the King. It was a wise move – the King came to commiserate with her, weeping and looking at his two grandsons. “They must be brave boys,” he said, “obedient to their mother and deserve the fortune to which they were born.”

This was the first of the intensively heavy expectations piled on George, the new heir to the throne. A puny, premature child, he had not been expected to live and was Christened in haste. He was given to a gardener’s wife to nurse, and it was said she saved the sickly baby’s life – this is corroborated by the fact he paid her and her descendants a pension throughout his reign. But it was clear Frederick expected his frail baby boy to “restore honour to the crown”. He sent him endless advice about being the perfect prince. It was all kindly intentioned – but Frederick’s untimely death made these injunctions something more: a duty to one beyond the grave, a legacy that must not fail. I believe Augusta felt this pressure just as acutely as George. Determined not to disappoint her sainted husband, she kept George close – too close.

younggeorge

Caution was the key word for Augusta. Raised in obscurity herself, she was keen to keep her children sheltered from the wicked, sinful world. George was the only one inclined to listen to these warnings. Amongst his siblings there were unsuitable marriages, divorce scandals, early death from binge-drinking and the most salacious of all, his sister Caroline Matilda’s exile. George was, according to his grandfather “fit only to read the Bible to his mother”.  I believe it was care and not a lust for power that made Augusta keep George under her thumb. George himself evidently felt so too; in later life he was to complain about the press, “They have treated my Mother in a cruel manner, which I shall never forget nor forgive until the day of my death. I do therefore … promise that I will remember the insults and never will forgive anyone who shall venture to speak disrespectfully of her.”

Augusta clearly feared for George: he was considered a slow child. She fretted he was not progressing well enough in his lessons and constantly despaired of the comparisons made between him and his precocious younger brothers. In fact, he seemed much like Augusta in her youth. Both George and his mother felt what he needed was a “dear friend, who will always tell you the truth” – something that had been recommended by Frederick before his death. This friend was not to come from the royal family. After all Frederick’s quarrels, Augusta continued to eye them with mistrust. The natural choice of friend and adviser would have been George’s uncle, the Duke of Cumberland. Yet Augusta hated the Duke and resented the lack of attention he paid to her. She effectively brain-washed George into thinking his uncle meant him harm. When the young George went to visit the Duke, his uncle thought he might like to see one of his swords from his recent army campaign. As he drew it from its scabbard, George turned pale and began to tremble. The Duke was horrified that his nephew not only lacked trust in him, but feared murder!

This wasn’t Augusta’s only stand against the Duke of Cumberland. When the King’s health began to fail, it was deemed prudent to draw up a Regency Act, lest he should die before George attained his majority. While the King chose the Duke to act as Regent, Augusta again showed the steel in her nature by protesting until the bill of 1751 was changed to name her as Regent, supported by a council including the Duke. So much for knowing nothing of politics! But while it was admirable that Augusta fought for the right to her son and guarded him against what she felt to be threats, she inadvertently harmed George by this display. George’s relations with his grandfather went from bad to worse and each time, she had a hand in it.

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The “friend” chosen by Augusta for George was the 3rd Earl of Bute. She and Frederick had met Lord Bute when stuck in a picnic tent on the Epsom race course in the midst of torrential rain. They asked him to make up a fourth at their whist table. The friendship that blossomed led to Bute becoming a Lord of the Bedchamber in Frederick’s household, although Bute had more in common with Augusta than her husband, including a love of botany and a grave manner. No doubt, Augusta wanted a friend and adviser every bit as much as her son did, and consulted her own personal inclination when selecting Bute.

I do not believe, as the press of the time did, that Augusta and Bute were lovers. They may well have felt love for each other, but the rigid moral code and horror of vice that Augusta showed make an affair inconsistent with her personality. However, her infatuation and trust in Bute were to cause perhaps the greatest troubles of her son’s early reign. Augusta told George that his own capacity was limited and he should trust Bute, who had remarkable talents. Ever obedient and self-effacing, George took her advice. His letters to Bute show the extent of his trust and indeed, the pressure Bute was under to be a second father to this heir to the throne.

Alas, this devotion to Bute was to prove another sticky issue with the King. In 1756, George was generously offered his own establishment with Lord Waldegrave acting as Groom of the Stole. Not only did he refuse to leave his mother’s neighbourhood, he managed to insult Waldegrave by saying the head of his household must be a man in whom he could confide or he would consider those “placed about him as his enemies”. It’s telling that the fumbling George had to get his mother to apologise to Waldegrave on his behalf. At this point, it truly does seem George was being warped by his mother’s close watching, however well-meant. Such strong expressions as “enemies” were to define him in later life and clearly show a child raised to mistrust. As evidence that Augusta and Bute encouraged George to reject the new establishment and appoint Bute as his Groom of the Stole instead, historian Christopher Hibbert lists the young man’s unguarded expressions of gratitude: “What! Has the King granted me both my requests? He has always been extremely good to me. If I have ever offended him I am extremely sorry for it. It was not my own act or my own doing . . . ” After which words George bit his tongue.

John_Stuart__Earl_of_Bute

Marriage was a further obstacle. The King proposed Sophie Caroline of Brunswick as a bride for George, but this was rejected. George seems to have been reluctant anyway, but he was certainly encouraged in this by his mother. Both Augusta and Bute wanted a dull-witted bride who wouldn’t have too much influence over their boy. In this one instance, it does appear Augusta’s jealousy and desire for pre-eminence outweighed her care for George.  She snubbed Lady Sarah Lennox, who George fell in love with, and as I have intimated, was keen to keep George’s eventual wife Charlotte firmly in her place. Even Bute was emotionally manipulating George. “I have often heard you say you don’t think I shall have the same friendship for you when I am married as I do now,” he wrote to Bute. “I shall never change in that.” Indeed, George kept his word and made Bute his first Prime Minister. It lead to nothing but disaster for both of them.

Stella Tillyard has described Augusta as “an undemonstrative mother, aloof and nervously obsessed with protocol”. I feel this is a little harsh. She did love her children, and this is shown not only in her care for their intellectual and moral progression, but by her trips to Denmark, despite failing health, to remonstrate with Caroline Matilda over her affair. However, the words “nervously obsessed with protocol” ring true. Inexperienced and relying on her husband, she suddenly found herself in the role of  protector and teacher to the next King of England. For Frederick’s sake she wanted to keep George under her care and make sure he grew up to be the man his father intended. Sadly her own fears and ill-judgement hampered her son. She tried her best by providing him with Bute, but didn’t foresee the political outcry that would arise over such favoritism.  In short, she molly coddled a boy who needed experience of the world above all else for his future role in life.

I do believe Augusta came to like her position of power and, bereft of a husband, was fiercely jealous of George’s love. However, in the main, her intentions were good. Far from resenting her parenting methods, George adopted a similar system for his children: raising  them in ignorance of vice and sin – and as we can see from the way George IV turned out, it had equally poor results. But whatever Augusta’s virtues and failings, she was instrumental in forming the character of George III, and he always loved her for the care she took of him.

Augusta in later life

A Fragrant Court

HogarthWanstead

When historical novelists try to the capture the past for readers, they have to skilfully manipulate the senses. Dress looked different, speech sounded different, food tasted different. But I think the change we’d notice most, coming from the 21st century, would be the smell.

Let’s face it: our characters were stinky. For the most part, their fellows wouldn’t notice it, being in an equal state of uncleanliness. Who knows, perhaps they would think a freshly bathed person smelt strange, since they weren’t used to it. In general, it was only the hands, face and sometimes the feet and personal areas that were washed everyday. Full immersion in water was rare, as was laundering the heavy, expensive materials that made up court dress. For the most part, they would have been packed away with herbs in hopes of keeping both smells and parasites away. I’m in a unique position at the moment, writing about Caroline of Ansbach, who was a frequent bather. Some contemporaries found her washing excessive and blamed her of putting her health at risk. As someone so careful of her own hygiene, she must have been particularly sensitive to smells. It therefore beholds me, when I’m writing from her point of view, to understand the olfactory world in which she lived.

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I recently attended a workshop at Historic Royal Palaces called Fragrances of the Georgian Court, lead by Tanya Moulding. Tanya fully earned her title of “The Perfume Mistress”, opening our nostrils to a whole new world. I get the feeling some of my classmates didn’t enjoy sampling the unpleasant side of the court smells quite as much as I did – of course, they were repugnant, but I need to write about them, so I was sniffing to my heart’s content. I always prefer it in historical fiction when heroes are ascribed realistic scents, such as horses, sweat and leather than fresh lye soap and cologne. Yes, gentlemen of the court, particularly in the Regency period, may have used heavy feminine scents – but we have to remember this was screening something muskier and altogether less sweet beneath.

In particular, London was little better than an open sewer. With everything from human waste to rotting animal carcasses in the kennel, there was also the heaving, poisonous Thames. Although it hadn’t yet reached the proportions that would lead to “The Great Stink” in Victorian times, the odours that the river carried with it would have been sharp and pungent. Think rotting fish and plant matter and you’ll start to get an idea. To help recreate these smells for us, Tanya made concoctions featuring the stale, acidic scents of civet and castoreum . Both these come from the anal glands of animals – cats and beavers respectively – and were certainly stinky. What is surprising, however, is that these aromas were sometimes used as base notes in fragrances of the time – apparently, some people relished the warm musky quality at the heart of these animal scents.

Victorian cartoon showing the stinky Thames

So, how to mask all this unpleasantness without a can of  modern-day Febreeze? Well, firstly there was the Royal Herb Strewer. Although the role became more ceremonial as the Georgian age progressed, this busy figure would have been wafting her way around the court, trying her best to sweeten the air. The herbs she would lay amongst rushes and sometimes straw would depend, firstly, on the nature of the floor – no ruining expensive Turkey carpets! – and then the use of that room. For example, southernwood or wormwood was considered to be an aphrodisiac and may well have circled the royal bed.  To repel insects, chamomile, lavender, penny royal and rosemary would have come to the fore. Another lovely little gem was sweetflag – it smelt fatty and almost cinammony, with a seductive quality about it. So much for the rooms But what did the people use to hide their own bodily odour?

Orange blossom

Pomanders and scented gloves were dropping out of fashion, but everything from the pomade to the face powder of the Georgian toilette would have carried a scent. Men might favour spicier aromas such as clove, cinnamon and nutmeg, while women went for header notes of orange and rose. At Tanya’s workshop, we were given some of the following scents to sample and use to make our own Georgian inspired perfume. I wrote down my thoughts and descriptive words as I sniffed – you may well find these descriptions in some of my books now! – but I thought I would share them with you.

Top Notes – mainly citrus and sweet

  • Orange – As you would expect, sweet and zesty
  • Grapefruit – Like orange, but juicier and less overpowering
  • Lime – Fresh and sharp
  • Bitter orange – This one smelt like Christmas. Think orange peel, a deeper smell with a decided tang
  • Bergamont – A green smell, more delicate in nature than the others

Middle Notes – Flowers, herbs and spices

  • Lavender – Always a favourite of mine, powdery and soothing.
  • Jasmine – Delicious and heady but sickly sweet
  • Rose Otto – I’ll go into more detail on this later, but Rose Otto is not the same as a simple rose scent. It is deeper, slightly less floral and has notes of honey and wax to it.
  • Orange blossom – This didn’t smell like I thought it would. I expected the zing of the original orange, but this was less zesty and more musky
  • Geranium – Surprisingly unlike the geraniums I sniff in my mum’s garden. Minty and peppery.
  • Rosemary – Lemony, a little peppery. It has a very strong undertone and screams “I am a herb!” Again, this oil smelt different from the fresh rosemary you would crush in your hands to get the scent of.
  • Violet leaf – A wet scent, putting me in mind of leaves after a downpour.
  • Black pepper – Smokey and chocolatey, this was another scent famed as an aphrodisiac.

Base notes – Woods and resins

  • Cedarwood – there were two varieties of the cedarwood, but the one I smelt reminded me of wax and leather. It had a watered-down sweetness to it.
  • Frankincense – Musky and spicy with the merest hint of lemon. A smell that goes deep down into your nostrils.
  • Benzoin – I loved this one! It smelt like caramel and alcohol, reminding me of liquers
  • Vanilla – Creamy and smooth as always
  • As described above, civet and castoreum were also an option, but they just reminded me too much of a kitty-litter tray.

For my own Georgian perfume, I wanted to get sweet scents throughout, nothing too floral. I find overly flowery perfumes don’t sit well on my skin – I’m better with vanillas and honeys. Tanya was on hand for advice throughout, and I started off with the following blend of my favourites:

Bergamont – 1 drop

Orange blossom – 4 drops

Lavender – 1 drop

Benzoin – 1 drop

Distilled in this way, the lavender wasn’t over-powering. While I like the smell, it has a tendency to sweep all others aside and that wasn’t what I wanted. Pleased with the results, I repeated the recipe to make it stronger. I still liked it, but wanted to add a touch more sweetness. Tanya recommended some mandarin. I added a drop of this and it worked, but something was still missing. There was a slight kick I needed that I couldn’t describe. I found myself sniffing the rose otto again and again. It’s another strong scent that claims its own ground and I was apprehensive of using it, lest I drown out all my hard work. Finally biting the bullet, I added just one drop. As I expected, it was a little too strong. By now my nose was accustomed to what would balance things out, and I added three drops of vanilla and another of mandarin and stirred . . . It was perfect! I had my own Georgian perfume, a mixture of seven very different scents that somehow combined together into something sweet, tangy and lightly floral all at once. For full Georgian effect, I will be wearing my new perfume when I appear dressed as a Georgian at the Festival of Romance in November. I’m  hoping it will complement my orange blossom pomade and lavender hair powder – you’ll certainly smell me from a long way off!

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Several members of the class had dizzy spells and needed to seek some air. In between sniffing, we were offered pots of freshly ground coffee to refresh the nostrils. I found myself thinking how overpowering it must have been to spend a day in the Georgian court. Not only would you have the nauseous smells turning your stomach, you would have all this fragrance fizzing in your brain, trying to mask it but probably just blending with it. It made me wonder how people managed to breathe! The only modern comparison I can think of is being on the tube in summer in rush hour, with a group of people who forgot their deodorant, and letting a big bottle of Chanel Number 5 smash on the floor and puddle around your feet. Feeling faint? I know I am.

Caroline's bathroom

I promised you a little bit more about rose otto. I think the reason I was drawn to it was that it reminded me of the scent in Queen Caroline’s bathroom at Hampton Court.  The best post I can refer you to about the Georgian rooms at Hampton Court is by the wonderful Brimstone Butterfly who has sadly passed away but continues to inspire me with her blog. I had always assumed the rose smell in Queen Caroline’s bathroom was added on purpose, but as you will read in the blog post, it seems to be something of a phenomenon that not all people can smell. Rosewater that seeped into the porous walls? Who knows? The funny thing is, the scent seems to travel. For me it is there on some days, not on others. On one trip to Hampton Court I could smell it the whole way through Queen Caroline’s private apartments, another only in the bathroom. The more superstitious suggest it is the dead queen’s lingering spirit. I can’t say I fully subscribe to this theory, but I can tell you of one rather odd thing that happened to me. I was visiting on a weekday and the apartments were practically deserted except for a few staff. I walked up and down again and again, taking notes and familiarising myself with the rooms and their order for my novel. No rose scent that day. I must have been there for the best part of an hour. Just as I walked up to the bedroom to make my final round, I said, rather sadly to myself, since there was no one nearby to think me a weirdo, “Oh, so you’re not with me today, then, Caroline?” Almost at once the smell of rose otto enveloped me, stronger than I had ever smelt it before. I wasn’t scared at all, but smiled. As I completed my last walk up and down the apartments, the scent lingered protectively around me and followed me all the way down to Fountain Court. Very strange, but I swear to you, entirely true. For this reason, rose otto will always be special to me.

Caroline : a sweet smelling companion

What’s new at Kew

Kew

You might have guessed from the header of my blog that Kew is my favourite palace. It might not be the biggest or the fanciest (the big fancy stuff was knocked down by George IV) but it has the best atmosphere. It’s strange because, given the history, the remaining palace shouldn’t have the feel of gentle contentment that it carries. It oversaw some strict training regimes for young princes, the illness of George III and the tearful death of Queen Charlotte. Yet even in the very room Charlotte passed away, all I feel is peace. It is fitting, then, that this year’s displays show the young family at their most happy and intimate.

If you watched BBC’s Fit to Rule series, you may have caught a glimpse of the lovely baby items recently acquired by Historic Royal Palaces. With a royal infant just arrived, these are particularly apt! The many, many tokens of George III and Charlotte’s fifteen offspring were often passed to the nurses – keepsakes, if you will, of their foster children. It is touching to report that the items just purchased at auction have remained in the nurse’s family for years, passed down from generation to generation. Having said that, I’m glad they finally sold so I could see the wonderful little relics!

Palace gardens

The first thing to catch my attention was the bonnet of the baby Prince Edward – Queen Victoria’s father. This is truly exquisite, so tiny and delicately made. It’s hard to comprehend the soft-skulled infant whose miniscule head fitted inside that grew up to acquire a reputation for harshness amounting to cruelty among the troops he managed! Alongside the bonnet is a case containing some of the hair that once was tucked under it, along with hair from other members of the family. There’s something about seeing locks of hair from long dead people that gives me the shivers, in a good way. You read about them, you see portraits and you imagine them but then you suddenly have an actual part of them before your eyes. I try to imagine how it curled round an ear, or bounced delicately about their shoulders.  Similarly, I was fascinated by a pair mittens belonging to the young Princess Royal. Having spent so long with Royal in research and writing, it was breathtaking to have something tangible of hers that she wore there in front of me. There were also sweet leather gloves belonging to the future William IV – those chubby, childish hands were to see action in the navy before finally holding a scepter. But perhaps the most poignant item was the measuring tape with the little princes’ heights marked on it as they grew. Such treasures really highlight that these royals were, after all, a human family, who relished seeing their little ones grow like any other parents. The curator of Kew, Polly Putnam, informed the group of us that came in for tea and a tour after hours that the previous owner of the measuring tape had it tacked up beside one for her own children and compared their growth to that of the Georgian princes. What a wonderful thought!

Day to day family occupations

There are, of course, sad connections with some of the items. A beautiful silver sipping cup (imagine a modern-day Tommy-Tippy in silver with fine engraving) was made for the young royals, but may have also been used to feed George III when illness rendered him incapable. The delightful gold breakfast set, newly on display, was purchased as a get well present from the princesses to George. However, even in these more sombre items, you get a feel for the family life behind them. The golden breakfast set includes an ingenious little egg cooker, complete with timer, which would exactly appeal to George’s taste for gadgets and new inventions. You can see him fiddling with it and the family laughing as he tried to use it.

One of the things I love most about the Historic Royal Palaces is the way the walls whisper.  Some new “whispers” have been added to Kew, amongst them many dialogues between George III and his children. These were lovely to sit and listen to. I was pleased to hear they covered the “nursery revolt” staged by Princes George and Frederick in an attempt to oust their tutor – an important reminder that little Kew Palace – or the Dutch House, as it was then – was originally used as a schooling place for future monarchs. The whispers of Queen Charlotte and Elizabeth arguing over newspapers have disappeared from the Queen’s Boudoir, but who knows, they may return in future!

Another set of fabulous items on display consisted of jewellery either belonging to or commemorating the family. My favourite were a set of elaborate buttons, once belonging to George III and later made into a necklace, bracelet and earring set by Queen Adelaide. Two royal connections in one! Despite all the books I’ve read about George III, I never knew that he had a passion for button-making as a young man.  You never stop learning! The rest of the jewellery was gorgeous – so sparkly! I loved the brooch with a profile of Queen Charlotte picked out in diamonds. I came across more hair samples, too – this time in a bracelet belonging to Charlotte. She had a little see-through section for each link, housing locks from her, George and every one of their children. Charlotte often complained about being separated from her children and I like to think she wore this bracelet when she missed them.

The Drawing Room

Perhaps the most exciting new acquisition at Kew is a flamboyant red suit, probably belonging to the young King George. I say probably . . . Polly Putnam explained it was picked up from a costume collection that had always referred to it as “George III’s suit”. Polly has been researching tirelessly to see if the claim is accurate. It seems highly likely – the velvet is the finest possible for that era.  The suit is lined with silk, unlike its contemporaries, and has leather pockets. The height and measurements are a good fit with the young George and it is well known that he liked to wear red suits for his birthday. Although the colour has faded, the restoration team at Historic Royal Palaces have done a wonderful job with the material. You can picture the young King, dapper, slim and handsome, striding around the drawing-room at St. James’s Palace, hands folded behind his back, nodding and talking to his courtiers. Definitely worth going for a look! I was thrilled to hear Polly say she wants to focus on the young George and his father, Prince Frederick, next year. Frederick spent time at Kew Palace and was famously painted in front of it with his three eldest sisters. His engraving is also on some of the locks. “Poor Fred”, as he was dubbed by the Georgians, is a sadly neglected figure in history. It will be wonderful to bring the spotlight onto him, and no doubt it will provide me with further inspiration for my book about his wife, Augusta!

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Aside from the displays in the actual palace, I must mention the kitchens. Although they opened last year, I haven’t had the chance to get down to Kew and see them until now. It’s always wonderful to glimpse any remnant of the sprawling complex that was once The White House and its attendant buildings. The kitchens add another layer of intrigue, hidden away through a twisting path behind a little kitchen garden – a real taste of the “downstairs”, servant aspect of the palace. Historic Royal Palaces have kept the kitchens in line with palace – restoring some rooms, while leaving others relatively untouched to show the original architecture. It’s an effective combination.

The clerk's office

The kitchens are focused around a particular date – 6 February 1789 – when George III was sufficiently recovered to eat with a knife and fork once more. You can see the preparation rooms for the ingredients before progressing to the Great Kitchen, where projecting figures on the walls give you taste for the hustle and stress that was going on behind the scenes! Upstairs, you will find the clerk’s office complete with ledgers, keys and prices for all the food purchased. In fact, you will find out so much about the meal the family ate on 6 February 1789, that when you go back to the palace you may well recognise it . . . In a particularly nice touch, they have replicated the dishes and laid them on the table in the King’s Dining Room.

The meal of 6 February 1789

I must just mention one more thing about the kitchens – George III’s bath tub. He chose to take his baths near the Great Kitchen, rather in the comfort of his own palace, so the servants wouldn’t be put to the trouble of bringing the hot water too far. “Oh yes,” I found myself saying about this man I have never met, “that’s just like him”. Funny, how well you feel you get to know a person from studying their reign.

George's bath tub

Vauxhall Gardens – A Georgian Elysium

Today we are lucky enough to have a guest post by author Grace Elliot! Vauxhall Gardens has to be one of the most splendid destinations of the Georgian/Regency era and one we all wish we could go to. Let’s allow Grace to take us on a journey back in time . . .

Vauxhall Gardens

Vauxhall Gardens – that marvel of Georgian design and creativity, a place to enjoy art, dancing, music and theatre, where the Georgian man or woman could forget the drudgery of daily routine and pretend themselves in an earthly paradise. Such was Vauxhall’s attraction that the gardens were linked to two of the 18th centuries creative geniuses- the artist William Hogarth and composer George Frederick Handel.

The force behind the creation of Vauxhall Gardens was Jonathan Tyers, who started out as a simple tradesman from Bermondsey in London. Tyers realised that the ordinary people who lived and worked in the crowded, dirty, smelly city of London, would pay to escape that environment, if even for an evening, in order to visit an ‘Elysium’ or paradise on earth.

It was through Tyers foresight and idealism that the woods around a former tavern were transformed into a veritable cornucopia of verdant delight. [On a different note, it seems likely Tyers suffered from bipolar disorder. Accounts suggest he oscillated between a state of euphoric exhilaration when he drove forward his designs, and deep melancholy when he withdrew from the world, including his family.]

“That delicious sweetness of the place; the enchanting charms of music, and the satisfaction which appears in every one’s countenance, carried my soul almost to heaven.” Henry Fielding’s ‘Amelia’ (1752)

vauxgdn

Part of the genius of Tyers design was that he made the gardens appeal to the senses. Take as an example, sound. The average visitor to Vauxhall lived in a city of constant noise;  clattering hooves, grinding cart wheels, shouting street vendors, coal tipped into cellars – day and night there was noise and bustle. But at Vauxhall there was peace sufficient to hear the birds, specifically nightingales, singing.

Added to that there were pleasant sounds; an orchestra played in the middle of a grove.  Such was Vauxhall’s association with music that Handel composed new pieces to debut there. Later in the day, strolling singers serenaded the ladies – although after dark the songs became more daring and bawdy! In my latest release, Verity’s Lie, the heroine of the title has been told by her father that Vauxhall is a place of debauchery and best avoided. However, the hero, Lord Ryevale, is keen that Verity’s forms her own opinion:

They [Verity and Ryevale] moved on, subconsciously drawn to the sound of music.  Verity tried not to stare at the passers-by but it was difficult.  The gowns were so daring: transparent muslins and tissue-thin silks.  But Verity found she was no longer shocked, in fact, to see strangers laughing and smiling lifted her spirits.  Is this what her father sought to protect her from?  Did she have the same weakness for pleasure that her mother did? Suddenly, Verity needed to know.  She didn’t want to be protected, but to face the truth.  If Ryevale was her test, then so be it.

            Deep in thought, Verity drifted, letting Ryevale steer her along avenues, passing groves and grottos.  He seemed content to wander, assuming her lost in the wonders of the gardens.  The orchestra grew louder.  The chirp of violas and violins comfortingly familiar, and Verity rallied.  Surely there was a middle path where one could enjoy oneself but not be a slave to lust?  She lifted her chin, proud to be strolling on the arm of a handsome man and, for the first time, feeling the joy of being alive seeped into her consciousness.  Was this so very wrong?

            “This is the bandstand.”

            For the umpteenth time that evening, Verity caught her breath.  The bandstand put Verity in mind of a giant’s crown, rising out of a fairy tale grotto.  A tall, round building topped with spires where red, yellow and blue lanterns hung from the balconies, glittering like jewels.  The musicians played on the first floor, jolly in cockaded hats and red jackets, whilst below people danced amidst trees ringed by lamps.

            The swish of skirts and the thud of boots made Verity pause.

            “Would you like to dance?” Ryevale asked.

            She considered being held against his hard body, and suddenly the sounds of the gardens melted away, making her conscious only of her own breathing.  Dangerous.  Ryevale was far too dangerous to dance with.  Mustering a prim smile, she shook her head.  “No, thank you.”

            He hesitated, as if wanting to press her but changing his mind.  “Then, come.  I have something to show you.”

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Verity’s Lie

Charles Huntley, Lord Ryevale, infamous rogue…and government agent.

In unsettled times, with England at war with France, Ryevale is assigned to covertly protect a politician’s daughter, Miss Verity Verrinder. To keep Verity under his watchful eye, Ryevale plots a campaign of seduction that no woman can resist– except it seems, Miss Verrinder. In order to gain her trust Ryevale enters Verity’s world of charity meetings and bookshops…where the unexpected happens and he falls in love with his charge.

When Lord Ryevale turns his bone-melting charms on her, Verity questions his lordship’s motivation. But with her controlling father abroad, Verity wishes to explore London and reluctantly accepts Ryevale’s companionship. As the compelling attraction between them strengthens, Verity is shattered to learn her instincts are correct after all – and Ryevale is not what he seems. So if Lord Ryevale can lie, so can she… with disastrous consequences.

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About Grace

Grace Elliot leads a double life as a veterinarian by day and author of historical romance by night. Grace lives near London and is passionate about history, romance and cats! She is housekeeping staff to five cats, two sons, one husband and a bearded dragon (not necessarily listed in order of importance). “Verity’s Lie” is Grace’s fourth novel.

Author photo

 

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Dress like a Georgian Day

Georgian Laura

Here’s me in my back garden, playing at being a Georgian. Why? Well, thanks to the wonderful people at Huzzar, 6th of July is now dress like a Georgian day!

It’s significantly harder to find early Georgian clothing than Regency. What’s more, the outfits themselves require more effort. No simple muslin dress and spencer jacket will do – you need panniers! The hair is also tricky. Rather than a simple bonnet and curls, you want powdered hair – the bigger, the better. As you can see, I’m cheating by wearing a wig. However, I would LOVE to try the real thing. Check out this amazing post which shows Poppy Baker getting the full treatment. Poppy manages well on her own too, with all varieties of backcombing and powdering. I wish I had her talent.

If you’re not going for a towering hair-do, you also have the option of lace caps and beregres. I’m wearing a beregre in this photo – customised with yellow roses – which I purchased from Marion May. Marion has some amazing designs for the Regency and is starting a Georgian clothing line, so keep an eye on her website. My hat is suitable for promenading in the park, but for indoor wear I will really want a lace cap. I’m purchasing one by Duchess Trading on Etsy. You can view an example here –  you will see how closely the designs echo the caps worn by George II’s daughters.

Frederick with Anne, Caroline and Amelia

While I’m on the subject of Etsy, I have to say it’s been the most useful marketplace for Georgian supplies! Ebay is nowhere near as good. I bought my charming lemon and sea blue gown from Araby Designs and my panniers from Corsets and Costume. For those of you that don’t know, panniers were huge cage-like contraptions, sort of like a sideways crinoline, that held the gown out from the body and made it difficult for women to pass through doors. They were often made of whalebone. Again, I’m cheating and not going for the authentic outfit. My panniers are half-length, pocket panniers. This means rather than having a full length pannier and a separate set of linen pockets tied around my hips, I have panniers that have a secure bottom and a slot in them for me to keep my belongings. But pockets and panniers weren’t the only things Georgian ladies would conceal beneath their dresses. Queen Caroline donned a shift of Holland linen, a quilted dimity petticoat and stays with silver hooks before she even thought of putting on her crimson whalebone hoops. No wonder the court was described as a place of “sweating and stinking”.

What I haven’t attempted in my little garden party is cosmetics. However, I’ve made some purchases and will be perfecting my craft in time for my appearance in full costume at the Festival of Romance. LittleBits – again, on Etsy – does a great range of powder, pomade, rogue, scent and velvet patches, all made to authentic period recipies. What more could a lady ask for? The main smells are citrus, lavender and clove. Georgians also favoured ambergris and musk. I’m attending a workshop at Hampton Court about Georgian scents this month, so I’ll report back and tell you more about the things your nose would encounter at the Georgian Court.

A pair of silk or woollen stockings, complete with garters, is another essential item for any respectable lady. I was particularly excited to find these clocked stockings. In contemporary sources, you come across lace clocked stockings again and again, but these are the first I’ve found to purchase. And of course, when your foot is clad in fine silk, you need a shoe to slip it into. Sarah Juniper’s designs are pricey, but also the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. Ever. Another accessory you need is a nice pair of gloves. I have a sweet white crocheted pair made by my great-grandmother. I thought I was wearing them in the photo but it seems I forgot them! Whoops. Never mind, I will take more photos in future and show you the pretty little things.

I hope I’ve given you a little taste for the Georgian outfit and maybe even inspired some of you to join us in dressing up like a Georgian! Of course, I’ve focused on women’s wear, but if my male readers are feeling left out, they might like to visit Pimpernel Clothing. Stunning tailored waistcoats and jackets, along with an authentic cologne! Oh, it’s good to be a Georgian.

Full length Georgian Laura

 

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