A Taint in the Blood

On the whole, I’d rather risk my chances than put myself in the hands of 18th Century doctors. All I find are horror stories, particularly around childbirth. Who can forget Sir Richard Croft, accoucheur to Princess Charlotte? After starving and bleeding the girl in the late stages of her pregnancy, he failed to intervene when the baby was in trouble and then warmed the mother up when she showed signs of haemorrhaging (the accepted method then was to apply a cold compress, so goodness knows why he decided a fire and blankets were in order). Just look at the unpromising trio above! As George III was to find out, 18th Century doctors may have been foolish when it came matters of the body, but they were even less equipped to deal with matters of the mind.

Blistering, leeches, mustard plasters, purges: these are just some of the miseries George had to endure. There were other favoured methods for treating madness: plunging the suffer in cold water repeatedly, restricting them to a diet of only apples for a month. As you can imagine, none of these really worked. But even if they had been effectual, it doesn’t follow they would have helped the King. Personally, I lean towards the theory that George III had acute porphyria. It was something his doctors stood no chance of diagnosing.

It is interesting to speculate who else in the royal family may have suffered from this metabolic disorder – or indeed, madness, if that truly was the trouble with George. Porphyria’s symptoms can include purple urine, skin sensitivity, abdominal pain, mood swings, delirium, sensitivity to sunlight, weakness, insomnia, and breathing problems. When I look at other members of George’s family who were accused of being “mad”, some of these crop up too.

Firstly, let’s consider George’s daughter, Princess Sophia. Sources confirm she was troubled with ill health all her life, but if we look at the symptoms in closer detail, we can see hints of porphyria. Described as a “moody” Princess, she certainly experienced the mood swings and insomnia detailed above. We also see repeated “spasms”, particularly in her stomach. She and George both experienced visual symptoms with their illnesses, and indeed both were to die completely blind. Interestingly, there was a period in 1793-4 when Sophia started to show alarming symptoms of her father’s “madness”. Her correspondence from the time shows a worrying tendency to paranoia; she writes to tell her father unpleasant things are happening and she is sure “Princess Royal is behind everything”. Her family was certainly worried enough to ship her away from sight for rest and recuperation; in a tactic that echoed the removal of King to Kew in his madness, she was not told she was going away and simply woke up one day to find her family had deserted her and a carriage ready at the door. What porphyria doesn’t account for are the fits Sophia used to fall into or her “swallow”, as she refers to it.  She never really elaborates on what this was – it could literally be a problem with swallowing, a sore throat or a breathing difficulty.

From Sophia it’s natural to move on to Ernest, a brother with whom she shared a close relationship. By his behaviour, Ernest certainly merited suspicions of mental instability. But I can locate no physical symptoms or episodes of delirium; on the whole, Ernest was fit as a fiddle, always well amidst ailing brothers at Gottingen University. I think we simply have to accept Ernest was boisterous and a bit of a rotter. The reports that he supposed attacked women and wanted to seduce nuns may or may not be true. But with Ernest, I can see only character flaws – no hint of the “King’s Evil”.

Travelling from “characters” in God Save the King to those in A Forbidden Crown, we find a wealth of new material. I have written in other posts about Caroline of Brunswick’s eccentricity; I literally cannot count the sources I have found from contemporaries swearing she was mad. Even her mother broke down in tears before Queen Charlotte and asked her to excuse Caroline because she was (tapping her head) “Not quite right in here”. Could the same be said of her sister Augusta, who Friedrich of Wurttemberg was so eager to separate from? It’s also interesting to note some of Caroline’s brothers played a shadowy role in the court of Brunswick because they were “idiots” (18th century term, certainly not mine). But with Caroline we can chart the physical symptoms too. From an early age, she had “cramps, nervous debility and hysteria. All that excites her arouses the disorder”.  Her mother was terrified. Indeed, all the way up to her death she suffered with pains in her stomach, although the symptoms could point towards a cancer that eventually killed her.

But what of Caroline’s husband, George IV (who I will refer to as Prinny to avoid confusion with his father)? We often laugh at Prinny for behaving like a toddler and mock his severe mood swings. Few people have considered his behaviour in the light of an illness. I find it extremely telling that Prinny was always eager to conceal any illness that befell him (I mean real illness – he was keen for people to know about the ones he staged for attention) for fear of rumours that he suffered with his father’s malady. It’s hard to tell with a flamboyant character like Prinny what is fact and what is fiction. But he certainly had worrying mental symptoms; contemporaries joked that he could tell a story so many times that he actually came to believe it. This has darker undertones than the light Regency banter suggests. Prinny really did believe his fantasies and definitely suffered from acute paranoia. At the first Regency crisis, Prinny turned on his hitherto (and later) adored mother, convinced she was out to poison the government against all her children. When he married Caroline, his suspicions took on farcical proportions. Again, a contemporary declares that “nothing but madness” could explain the way he treated his wife.  Prinny’s physical symptoms are difficult to extract – so many could be caused by the opulent lifestyle he led. All the same, he was addicted to opium in later life and repeatedly bled himself – he even had a special lancet secreted for the purpose when the doctors refused to cut him.

It’s easy to see how the gene pool had got into this state – and a state it was, regardless of whether anyone had porphyria or not. Continual intermarriage had brought things to a level where even George III disapproved of unions between first cousins. The necessity to marry within their Protestant religion and royal blood limited most Hanoverians to Germany, where they hailed from. It was impossible to marry someone who was not at least distantly related. Moreover, if you follow the madness theory, this strict circle of acceptable spouses was mentally suffocating. For each royal that showed signs of delirium, there were certainly surrounding circumstances that could conceivably have driven a person “mad”.

What I find most interesting is the way madness stalked George III through life. I don’t mean just his own disorder – I am talking the mental derangement of others. His sister Caroline Matilda (later referred to as Caroline Mathilde) married Christian of Denmark, another famously mad King. Christian’s disorder was perhaps more disturbing than George’s, given the violent nature of it. George himself declined marrying the Princess of Hesse-Darmstadt for fear that her father, who claimed to be able to talk with the spirit world, was mad. Oh, the irony! And then there were  the assassins lurking in the shadows. The first, Margaret Nicholson, who tried to stab George outside St. James’s Palace, was carted off to the mad-house. She thought England’s crown was hers by right and the country would be deluged in blood for a thousand years if she didn’t get it. Poignantly, the King – who had not experienced “madness” himself at this point – urged people not to hurt her, because she was only a poor mad woman.  There was another man ruined by the war-time effect on the stock market that killed himself right in front of George. More famously, we have the case of James Hadfield: the man who tried to assassinate George at Drury Lane Theatre. His trial led to the Criminal Lunatics Act 1800 which is rather fabulously represented in one of my favourite programmes, Garrow’s Law.

As you can see, poor George was pretty much surrounded by “madness”. If you would like find out more about him and his illness, and read fictionalised accounts of some of these events, look out for my novel God Save the King at the end of September 2012.

 

Charlotte’s Lost Boys

There are few things sadder in life than the death of a young child. For parents in the Georgian period, it was a devastatingly common occurence.  Although Queen Charlotte bore fifteen children, she was not considered a “proper mother” by contemporary standards until the death of her ninth son, Prince Alfred, at barely two years old.

Charlotte’s relationship with Alfred didn’t start in the most promising way. Already exhausted from constant dashing between London, Windsor and Kew, Charlotte found her fourteenth pregnancy a trying one. Her body was worn out with more or less constant childbearing over a period of twenty years. Confiding in her brother Charles, she wrote

No prisoner could wish more ardently for liberty than I do to be quit of my burden and to see the end of my condition. If I knew it was for the last time, I should be happy…

And indeed she was extremely happy when, four months after Alfred’s birth, she found the new year was starting without the need to employ another nurse. Once Alfred was out of the womb, he was much more agreeable to Charlotte. She called him her “petit ange” and was very protective of his delicate health.

Conforming with the pattern established by the elder Princes and Princesses, Alfred was inoculated against the smallpox. This was a different procedure to the one we know – Dr Jenner had not yet made his great discovery. Two small holes were made in the arm with the point of a lancet. The smallpox virus was then “inserted” by drawing a thread several times under the skin. This happened in both arms. But little Alfred did not bounce back with the vigour of his siblings. He continued weak and had to be sent to Deal for the benefit of sea air.

Alfred endeared himself to the inhabitants of Deal by waving at them when instructed by his governess. He took baths and went for rides on a pony – the “four-footed doctor”, as his mother would call it. Yet the eruptions from the smallpox did not abate as they should, and clung particularly to his eyelids and face. His chest also seemed weak. He returned to his family no better and the royal doctors were summoned.

Sadly, the pomp and wealth of Alfred’s position couldn’t save him. The doctors shocked his parents by confirming he could only survive a few weeks. After several bouts of fever, he spent a few days free of pain and passed tranquilly into death. As you can imagine, Charlotte “cried a vast deal” and was “very much hurt by  her loss”.

With the brave resignation her daughters would show in later life, Charlotte tried to accept what had happened to her son. She took comfort in thinking he had escaped a life of ill-health and pain. She thanked God for the children she had living and attempted to move on.

It must have been doubly hard for Charlotte, since she wasn’t allowed much outlet for her grief. Mourning was not prescribed for the death of children under the age of seven, so she had no dark clothes to suit her mood and no excuses to free her from public engagements. Moreover, her blunt husband  offered the most backhanded comfort – his words basically conveyed the sentiment “Oh well, at least it wasn’t Octavius.” This is not to say the King wasn’t upset  by Alfred’s death – he certainly was – but one of the first things he could think of to write was that if it had been Octavius that had died, he would have died too.

The King didn’t know it, but his words were to be the kiss of death for young Octavius. There was no reason to suspect the healthy, boisterous little boy would lead anything but a long and robust life. He was a beautiful child, the apple of his father’s eye. Consequently, it came as a tremendous shock when just six months after Alfred’s death, Octavius fell sick.  Within just forty-eight hours he changed from a perfectly health child into another small Prince in the winding-sheet. His cause of death may well have been tuberculosis or scrofula, which ran in the family, but the doctors were unsure. It’s worth noting this tail end of the family – Sophia, Octavius, Alfred and Amelia – was not strong. The only one of the four to live  past 27 was Sophia, and she suffered a martyrdom to ill-health before dying blind and all but deaf in 1848.

Octavius’ death would have been crippling at any time, but coming as it did, so swift on Alfred’s demise and the loss of the American colonies, it nearly levelled the family. When portraits of the two deceased toddlers went on display at the Royal Academy that summer, the Princesses broke down in tears before the public.  Although the King didn’t die as he had predicted, he continued to dwell on his bereavement. I often wonder if Charlotte felt a little indignant on Alfred’s behalf ; the King’s grief for Octavius far outstripped his sorrow for that younger, first child in the grave.

By the time Octavius died, Charlotte was already six months pregnant with her fifteenth and last child, Princess Amelia. What must she have felt at this moment, knowing her last two babies met premature ends? Did she fear for the new child and try not to get attached to it? It is at this time of uncertainty and fear I introduce her in God Save the King. I really wanted to open up the mind of poor Charlotte at this crucial place in her life. So many accounts dwell on the reaction of George to the boys’ death, using the grief they caused to support a theory that he was driven slowly mad by sorrow and stress. But what of the poor mother trying to hold it all together? What of the woman who put aside her own grief to care for her husband in his?

As it happened, Amelia became a balm to the family. She was the only symbol of hope in a very bleak time and quickly took up the role of family pet. For a while, she brought happiness. But I often think about those two little Princes and wonder what they would have turned out like. I can see Octavius as a heart-breaker, every bit as roguish and wild as his brothers. Alfred I imagine a little like his brother Augustus: quiet, sickly, with liberal views and passionate feelings flowing underneath. I can only imagine how many times Charlotte sat and did the same thing: remembering those she had lost and dwelling on what might have been.

A King’s Obsession

I first came across Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg in a book about Jane Austen’s life. As the book detailed Royal antics shortly before Jane’s death, it mentioned the wedding of Princess Charlotte to this obscure German Prince. It also included a picture of the couple. I was smitten.

Leopold was devastatingly handsome. Napoleon described him as “the handsomest man that ever set foot in the Tuileries”. How appropriate that poor Princess Charlotte, doomed to a short and turbulent life, managed to catch such a man. But aside from his good looks, and the fact that he made Charlotte happy, what else do we know about Leopold?

I recently read James Chambers wonderful book “Charlotte & Leopold” to discover more about my historic crush. My findings have only increased it. I knew before that Leopold was uncle to Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, and I had heard that Leopold trained Albert for the difficult role he was to undertake. What I didn’t realise was how poignant that really was, given Leopold’s life after Charlotte.

The marriage of Charlotte and Leopold was by no means a fairytale romance. She wanted him to gain independence and avoid the Prince of Orange; he wanted her for her social position. Leopold travelled to England solely with the hope of catching Charlotte if he could, even though he had never met her. It is clear that his great advocates, the Tsar of Russia and the Grand Duchess, strategically placed him in situations where he would meet Charlotte. But what started off as a marriage of convenience swiftly become a love match.

Leopold was a wonderful husband. To quote Charlotte, he was “the perfection of a lover”.  He was attentive, caring and corrected his wife where she needed it. While I, as a modern woman, would probably throw things at Leopold for trying to correct my posture and speech, Charlotte was delighted. She was, after all, destined to become Queen of England and needed to deport herself accordingly. Up until now, she had fought against all instruction,  because she couldn’t respect those who gave it to her. Now she had Leopold to look up to and admire, she was ready to be obedient. And besides, the whole thing was done lovingly. He would not openly upbraid, but whisper to her “Douchemont, chere, douchemont”. The fact that Charlotte then nicknamed her husband Douchemont shows that the advice was taken in the affectionate spirit it was given.

It would be easy to suspect that Leopold’s devotion rose out of motives of self-interest. After all, the more power he had over Charlotte, the more power he had over England. He did certainly drive a rift between his wife and her long-term friend, Mercer Elphinstone, when he disapproved of her husband. But we can see, from Leopold’s behaviour after Charlotte’s death, how genuine his love really was.

Throughout Charlotte’s long labour, he had been a model husband. He walked her up and down in front of the fire, he lay down on the bed with her. In fact he exhausted himself so greatly that, after consoling her for the loss of their stillborn son, he was dosed up by his doctor and went to bed. Due to the opiates, he was not present for Charlotte’s actual death. But when his doctor, Stockmar, broke the news, he sat by her bed kissing her cold hands. At last, he threw himself into the doctor’s arms and whispered: “I am now quite desolate. Promise to stay with me always.”

In the years of grief that followed, Leopold’s focus was on the wife, not the Kingdom, he had lost. He sat with her corpse constantly until it was buried. He walked around the gardens with Stockmar, weeping and clutching her portrait. He refused to let Charlotte’s bonnet and cloak be moved from the screen where she had flung them, and could not suffer her watch to be taken off the mantlepiece. He still felt he was destined to be a King. He tried to join in the social scene as the years passed. But he was always happiest at his marital home at Claremont, lost in memories of happier times.

Leopold had taken mistresses before he met Charlotte, most notably Napoleon’s step-daughter Hortense, and continued to take them after she died. But his heart had by no means healed. No matter how old he grew, the women he selected were around the age of Charlotte when she died. He even took up with Caroline Bauer just because she looked like Charlotte. There’s a lovely anecdote of Ms Bauer adopting Charlotte’s parrot, Coco, and taking it on her Continental travels. But while Coco found an adequate replacement for his dead mistress, Leopold could not.

He finally fulfilled the destiny he knew was his by becoming King of the Belgians. He married again, although this time round he was not the ideal husband. By degrees, Leopold had been growing colder and colder. He infuriated his mistresses with his indifference. While his wife, Louise-Marie, continued to love him, she knew she would never take the place of his first wife. She was married to a man in love with a ghost. She knew this so well that she raised no objections when Leopold insisted on their only daughter being named Charlotte.

Leopold’s daughter, known more often as Carlotta than Charlotte, would make a wonderful subject for historical fiction. Despite being the name-sake of her father’s one true love, she was never high up in his affections. The only child he seemed capable of loving was his niece Victoria.  I have a few theories as to why this was. Firstly, Victoria was Charlotte’s replacement as heir presumptive, filling the exact same position Charlotte had occupied before her death. Then there is Victoria’s appearance. Her fleshy cast and large eyes were typical of the House of Hanover, which linked her to Charlotte. Lastly, Leopold would have remembered the days he sat at Claremont with Charlotte and her uncle, the Duke of Kent, Victoria’s father. He would certainly remember recommending his sister, Victoria’s mother, as a suitable bride for the Duke; advice that was swiftly followed.

Carlotta did finally manage to please her father by becoming the Empress of Mexico, but  she inherited the tragedy of her name-sake. Mexico did not want their new Emperor and Empress. While Carlotta ran about the courts of Europe, begging for help, her beloved Maximilian was captured and shot. The ordeal drove her mad. She ended her days in a Belgian castle, gabbling on about her husband and her Empire. How apt, that Leopold’s daughter should also obsess over the spouse she lost. It was a family trait; Victoria was never to recover from the loss of Albert.

As for Leopold, his obsession lasted until the end. He died whispering “Charlotte, Charlotte.”  He wanted, of course, to be buried in England by his first wife and still-born son, but it was not permitted. He was King of the Belgians; although in his heart, he was still Consort to a Queen who never was.

 

 

 

The Strange Death of Queen Caroline Part 2

I promised in my previous post about The Strange Death of Queen Caroline that I would keep you updated with the evidence I found.  I’ve unearthed many interesting facts, but as always with Caroline, the truth is unclear.

In support of a suicide theory, we have the opinion of her contemporaries. Henry Edward Fox certainly thought her capable of harming herself, during the trial for adultery in 1820, when he wrote: “Poor maniac! They say she means to kill herself. I should not be surprised.” We also have the rather gruesome information that Caroline’s body was swollen and black a few hours after death. One of her physicians, suspecting poisoning, wanted to open the body and establish the cause of death. He was told the Queen herself had forbidden any post-mortem. That, in itself, suggests she had something to hide.

Her physicians suspected a blockage in the bowels. They specified “a blockage of magnesia”. Given the paste-like mixture of magnesia and laudanum Caroline had forced down shortly before her illness, this seems very likely. Did that hideous do-it-yourself medicine, which her ladies urged her not to take, end her life? If it caused the blockage that the physicians diagnosed, then the answer seems to be yes.

The records say Queen Caroline seemed “much surprised” to discover her illness and asked “Do you think I am poisoned?” While I can’t discredit the idea that she was genuinely shocked, I don’t trust Caroline. The question is so inflammatory, so aimed at her husband. It seems typical that, whether she was dying through natural causes or her own intervention, she would make sure to implicate George in a scandal.

Historians agree that she was mentally unbalanced around the time of her death, and even refer to her as “the manic-depressive Queen Caroline”. But would she really, through motives of vengeance, go so far? The correspondence that could answer our questions has, frustratingly, disappeared. As foolish at it was, Caroline wrote to Pergami frequently during her trial for adultery with him. It seems to me that, while Caroline loved and had a hope of returning to Pergami, she would be unlikely to commit suicide. But life wasn’t that simple.

Despite her new Queenly allowance, Caroline had to remain in England following her trial, as she was too deep in debt to travel back to Italy. She was separated for goodness knew how long from the man she loved. If in fact, she did still love him. It’s bizarre to consider that through the delirium during the last hours of her life, she never mentioned Pergami. She mentioned his daughter and the children of Alderman Wood. But no Pergami. Is it possible the pair had quarrelled? Had she ceased to think of him with affection? Or had she simply trained her tongue not to mention him?  There is always the possibility, of course, that the witnesses to her death lied. They were her most loyal supporters. Still, I would expect at least one source to creep out if Caroline had actually talked about Pergami when she died.

We also have to balance Caroline’s motives for suicide against a long history of stomach spasms and cramps. About two years before her death, she was suffering acutely with pain in that area. This would suggest a slow-forming blockage or tumour. As I mentioned before, Caroline faced her death with remarkable calmness. Perhaps she had suspected the illness for some time and felt it increasing. Perhaps she had hastened it. Or perhaps she was just showing the Brunswicker courage that remains of her more loveable characteristics.

The verdict I have come to is that Caroline was partly to blame for her own death. It appears she originally became ill through natural causes, but she lost the will to fight against the disease. I also believe she did all she could to make it worse and hasten the inevitable, through her strange medicines and her failure to consult a doctor early on. Whatever the truth, we can be sure her end was sudden and painful. I sincerely hope the “unruly Queen” is now resting in a well-deserved peace.

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An Interview with David W Wilkin

It’s always nice to hear about other authors,  but especially ones who dabble in the Regency! Today I’m lucky enough to have David W Wilkin on my blog. Although David writes in many genres, he’s been kind enough to focus on his Regency writing for us.

1)What moved you to become an author?

Well, I have always liked stories for as long as I can remember. I don’t really remember the first adult reading experience, but when I was 12 I went to summer camp and my counselor recommended the Lord of the Rings back then. What a great book, and this was 38 years ago, 1974. Long before we had the animated movie, or the more recent movie (which a high school friend was the producer on!) It didn’t change my life, but it certainly gave me an appreciation of wanting to turn my stories into stories for everyone.

So when I graduated college, I had already sold an article for a gaming magazine. I started playing around with longer work. My short stories have always been hard for me. I just have something to say and it takes a lot of words to say it. (I think maybe I am a little verbose.) I sat down and wrote Tranquility Hilton. The story of the first moon colony, where the hotel franchise is to the Hilton chain. Yet, what happens when a wealthy couple, fallen on bad times, also sees their very valuable diamonds and other jewelry stolen from the vault on opening weekend.

They have to be wealthy, since it isn’t cheap to go to the moon and be tourists there (though with the way sales are going for spaceshots, there are a lot of rich people.) I wrote that, and now, in hindsight over 25 years later on with a lot of classes on writing and a lot more practical experience. I know why it was rejected and what it needs to be made viable. I even managed to transfer the digital data from many computers and backup systems so I still have access to it. (The real main theme of a novel about those living and manning the first hotel on the moon isn’t the robbery. It is the longing for Earth that they are separated from.)

As I mentioned in some other interviews, the reason I write Regency Romance is all about Cheryl, my wife. We met at a Regency dance and wooing her involved my writing a few pages of a story and sending it to her, until I won her heart.

 2) Tell us about your current novel.

The current novel that I am excited about and think that everyone should come and get a copy, is Jane Austen and Ghosts. I wrote it very quickly because the idea came to be quickly and the story was just all there. Then nuance came as I started typing.

There are a host of novels about Jane and our Regency/Victorian era writers and novels now meeting the supernatural, zombies, sea monsters, and of course the very timely favorite Vampires. I had never read any of these, having read through Dracula twice in my life. That is quite a tale, and I tackled my project and then delved into one of the others. I can see where there is a fascination for the material.

But the inspiration came to me because of the success of this sub-genre and my cousin who finds ideas to make movies. Well the whole cult of these books and success of Twilight and others in the field suggested that Patrick was going to buy, or someone who did Patricks job at another studio, these stories and make a movie. And with my friend Mark (of Lord of the Rings Success) as well making successful movies, what would happen if one studio cornered the rights and had to now make that movie. Oy Vey! Jane like Billy Bigelow in Carousel should be allowed to come back to Earth…

Or even come back with a few friends. And in Hollywood, there are a lot of those who have passed to the next life that Jane might now know who could come back with her and provide inspiration on how these novels really should be made into movies.

 Though the authors of the novels within the novel are caricatures, like Mr. and Mrs. Bennet for instance, or Lady Catherine. The detail of Hollywood and the parallel plot lines to Jane’s work should provide anyone who likes Jane’s work with some fun along the way.

 3) How did the story begin to develop in your mind?

As I mentioned, the things that came together were the current fad in Regency and Victorian era writing with the supernatural and the realization of these movies coming out. But I did not just weave that into the story alone. Studios and production companies have more than one iron in the fire, else they won’t be able to go into production on the next project.

So as the main plot of our novel, to begin work on the screenplay for the Jane project is being discussed with the authors of these special novels, there is another movie project about to start shooting the next week. Not to say that Adam Sandler features in it, since he is a public figure. But that a character based on Adam and a project for him is a sub plot seemed like a lot of fun to also weave into the story.

That along with the succession plan of the production company which speaks to mirroring the success that Elizabeth Bennet might find with Darcy and his ten thousand a year.

 4) What did you find most challenging about this book?

Weaving in and out of the studio like feel to the novel. Setting the scene. The dialogue and interaction of the characters came nicely, as did the plot and subplots. But to give it a tone of Hollywood, (And I used to work for Dick Clark Productions many years ago) was the challenge.

 I try and take the reader on a journey that will keep them entertained and certainly make them feel they are getting bang for their buck. I lace my novels with humor, and maintain that my characters act consistent in the way I have established them. That they be true to themselves in their time. With Jane Austen and Ghosts that is easily done as it is modern era. With the Regencies I write, my characters can think philosophically of a world where slavery is no longer allowed, since Wilburforce was working towards that goal. Where the vote is for all men, and even women to an extent, since we have had the revolution, though even in America, only holders of land could vote. The Terror in France shows that giving away too much power to an uneducated proletariat could have a devastating effect, so my heroes can not be as modern of thought as democracies are today. (But then they will not be as corrupt then as politicians are today.)

 5) How did you choose your publishing method?

A few years back I started and completed a NaNoWriMo book. The one where you write 50,000 words in November. Except I write novels of one hundred thousand words. About 330 pages. And I completed that many words in November as well. But the point was I spent a month writing the book, and then a few weeks later, with the help and feedback of my writer’s group editing it.

They all thought it was at the level finally ready for publication. This was when the world of publishing was really changing. And where I found I could make about 30% to 70% publishing on my own, instead of splitting that with an agent, the publishing companies, the graphic artist, the promotion people. I did some research, and then thought I would see what would happen. After I did put this I found that several others were doing well with this method. And then the feedback I got after my first book went to press, speaking to reader’s groups, interviews on the internet. Good reviews. It made it worthwhile

 6) Tell us a little about yourself?

Well, I was 6 ft and almost 1 inch. Now I’m shrinking.

That was probably too little.

I’m a man writing Regency Romances. That has to be a little different.

So why? Why do I like the Regency?

I have written elsewhere about how Southern California at one time started a craze in Regency Reenactment. With that craze came the locals running a monthly dance practice so all would be ready for the two big events each year that are held. A Regency Ball held in Fall called the Autumn Ball, and then A Regency Assembly where the group would go to a hotel and take it over for a full weekend of activities, dancing, and another Ball.

A friend, thinking they had a woman to introduce me to, urged that I go to this dance practice, and though I did date the young lady once, I went back to the practice at various times because others knew of it. It was a good way for my friends and I to have fun doing these dances, and as time went on I became quite good and taught them, as I also did the dances I had mastered in my Medieval/Renaissance reenactment group.

I further became hooked on Regencies when one of my closest friends told me to read Georgette Heyer’s Frederica. Once into that and Heyer’s use of language I devoured a dozen more. (Well I didn’t eat them, but you understand.) Then I met Cheryl at the Autumn Ball. I had been writing in other forms, so as we maintained a long distance romance for a few months, I began to write her a Regency Story/Novel a few pages every few days until we were together.

My writing group thought that it was some of my best work and better than the Science Fiction I was sharing at the time, so I grew into Regency Romance.

 7) What is your next work, and beyond that, what do you want to work on.

My next Regency is Beggars Can’t Be Choosier. I have been looking for readers because I tackled some issues as a male writer I have needed women to ready. Basically if I handled a miscarriage and also childbirth correctly. I haven’t been in labor, so I wrote based on my interaction with women on the subject. It would still be good to have others tell me if I nailed this or not. So I am still looking to find that feedback. (Any Volunteers?)

But I want to put this through my editing cycle as well as Two Peas in a Pod, a humorous look at Regency Twin look a likes, as well as some mad cap humor. (I always want to capture a certain Beatrice and Benedict repartee in my hero and heroine.)

If I could do this full time, then I am sure we could see 4 new Regencies a year as well as several fantasies. I have two ideas for series that I want to develop. One in the early Regency era, when France is on the verge of the Terror, and then another much later. A Ruritanian Romance series.

 8) In the current work, is there an excerpt to share? Your favorite scene, a part of your life that you put into the work and think it came out exceptionally well that you would like to share.

In Jane Austen and Ghosts there is a reveal that takes place near the end. I don’t know if everyone can guess at it, but one can see how tricky I make my Jane as a Ghost. A little bit more of the willfulness we see in Elizabeth Bennet that we don’t see in many other of the Heroines of Jane’s.

It is so common for so many to have imaginary friends when we are young and a few times those friends have been portrayed as ghosts, well perhaps I linked that idea together, though as the late Robert Jordan would say RAFO! (Which means Read and Find Out) Designed to propel sales of the book. I think far more fun will be to look at the past Hollywood Icons and Legends who journey back over to visit us at DeMille Brothers Studios. Some of whom are not only famous, but infamous, and some you may have to be immersed in Hollywood lore and legend to identify.

I will say that the last few paragraphs I had a great deal of fun with and hope my readers appreciate it.

 9) Who do you think influenced your writing, this work, and who do you think you write like.

Well Jane Austen of course. For Regencies I am also influenced by Georgette Heyer. I have a few modern day writers of Regency Mysteries. The Beau Brummel and Jane Austen Mysteries. The late Kate Ross. If you love Regencies, run, don’t walk to find these 4 gems. (Oh and now, Galen Beckett but this series is got Fantasy elements, the prose is dynamite though.)

After that, I think Robert Heinlein and Charles Dickens helped to form me as a writer.  The late Brian Daley, the Late Robert Asprin, the Late Robert Jordan (There really isn’t a theme. I am just younger than the writers I read and whom I like and return to reading. For those who take a look at my Fantasy work and other work, they may see how I am influenced.

10) Who do you read? What are the things that a reader can identify with that you have grounded yourself in.

Aside from my influences, who I listed, this last year I have read Burt Golden who has a mystery dealing with the March Madness tournaments. Burt was a former College Basketball coach so knows that area pretty well. Nathan Lowell who has written a science fiction series reminiscent of playing the Traveller role-playing game, Patrick Rothfuss whose second book is not nearly as strong as his first book.

Dave Poyer who is a delight in Modern Naval fiction, ER Burroughs who I thought had written better when I read him as a teenager, and Michael J. Sullivan whose first two books were much better crafted than the third where he through in traditional fantasy elements without regard to logic.

11) When writing, what is your routine?

I spend way too much time in front of my computer writing. Somedays I will sit and come up with well over 30 pages. I have sprints where I want to work on 100 pages a week. And then I have distractions where I have to take breaks and work on the website, or the blog.

It takes a good hour to come up with 3 pages in first draft, an about an hour to edit ten pages. In a three hundred page work then, that is about 100 hours to write the first draft. Thirty more to go through my edit. Then I enter the edits. At least another thirty and about a week of prep. About 200 hours? That seems low. If I sat here and was not distracted and got paid for that time, could I do a book every five weeks? 10 a year? Well probably. But then how much should I get back for each book?

Is $8 worth your time to read for two to three hours what took me 200 to write and polish and work on? So far, I think that my take on providing story, my interpretation of Boy meet Girls, Boy loses Girl and Boy then gets Girl, will take you on a journey you’ll enjoy.

12) Do you think of yourself as an artist, or as a craftsman, a blend of both?

I had not been thinking of myself as an artist until recently. Then I realized that these stories and tales are art. And that while I have fun with them, they are as much art as some of those writers I read. Then there is craft to this as well. Knowing how to string words together. But to weave in plot points and subplots so the characters become more than one dimensional. That has taken time to learn and develop.

So so be successful at storytelling, I have become both. But it is a kick to be an artist.

13) Where should we look for your work?

I can be found at the iBookstore, and Amazon, Nook and other online places for eBooks as well as physical books. I have created one webpage that sums it all up which I humbly (proudly, arrogantly, annoyingly) titled David’s books:

http://davidsbooks.regencyassemblypress.com/davidsbooks.html

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That Wicked Princess on the Heath

Put a Queen on trial for adultery and you’re bound to create factions. Even today, Anne Boleyn is represented alternatively as a pure innocent and an incestuous witch with six fingers. Similarly, Queen Caroline, consort of George IV, gets an uneven treatment in the history books. There are those that see an affair lurking with any man she spoke to, and those that naively discredit some strong evidence. Either way, no one seems able to entirely acquit this Princess who, in her own servant’s words, was “very fond of f*cking”.

The scandals about Caroline date right back to her youth in Brunswick. She often met a little shepherd boy out in her walks and went back to his “hovel” with him to see how his family did. To me, this fits in perfectly with Caroline’s life-long obsession with children and general inquisitiveness. Moreover, she was always generous to the poor. But rumours flew about that this little shepherd boy was actually her son.

It seems likely that Caroline did have a love affair while at Brunswick, though I doubt she went so far as to  bear an illegitimate child. She was kept under close guard by her parents and watched constantly, lest she talk to and flirt with young men on the dance floor. There must have been a reason for this. Her parents, the Duke and Duchess of Brunswick, were not the type of people to overreact and be needlessly strict. I imagine that Caroline’s winningly honest and open conversation got her into some early scrapes, from which they were keen to protect her in future.

Caroline spoke, with her usually lack of tact, of a man she had been very much in love with but was forbidden to marry, due to his low rank. Perhaps this was an Irish officer in her father’s army, who she was seen to be partial to. Or perhaps, as is often the case with Caroline, it was a blatant lie.  She said this to Lady Jersey, her husband’s mistress, almost immediately after her arrival in England, when Lady Jersey had openly insulted her. I consider it a proud backlash, a kind of “well, it doesn’t matter to me if the Prince loves you; he’s not my first choice.”

There was a Prince, however, whom Caroline insisted she had loved her whole life long. This was Prince Louis Ferdinand of Prussia. Her father wanted the match as badly as she did. But the Prussian suit, like so many others in Caroline’s teenage years, mysteriously dissolved. The very lack of evidence as to why the matches were given up is telling. It seems to me that there was some stain upon Caroline’s character that the European monarchies, once they discovered it, were unwilling to forgive.

George IV was later to state his conviction that Caroline was not a virgin when she came to his marriage bed in 1795. Unfortunately, his testimonies are about as trustworthy as Caroline’s. George’s friends admitted that, if he told a story often enough, he came to believe it was the truth. Not content with complaining about Caroline’s smell and generally horrid body, he insisted she was “not new” and mentioned that on the second night, seeing his suspicions, she mixed up some tooth powder and water to stain her nightgown. However, his only “evidence” of her experience is that she made a complimentary comment about the size of his wedding tackle (notice how George always manages to chuck in a comment about how great he is, even when slagging off others). One can’t help but feeling this is just a furious response to Caroline’s allegations that he was impotent. If Caroline did make the comment, I see nothing in it to suggest she wasn’t a virgin. It could either be another desperate attempt to win the affection of her stroppy husband or a natural remark of surprise; Caroline never was one to use the brain to mouth filter.

However, it was when Caroline moved to Blackheath, after her unofficial separation with George, that the rumours really started. Caroline delighted in pronouncing herself “that wicked Princess on the heath, she is such a rake, such a rioter, and such an irregular person, that she makes rebellions, and mutinies, in every well-regulated house – but she comes from abroad and so she is good for nothing”. It seems very natural that the affectionate Princess, who always was fond of flirting, went a little overboard when she found her freedom. Moreover, she loved to cause a scandal. But I don’t subscribe to the view that she pretty much humped anything in trousers during her years on the Heath. She had been told early on by Lord Malmesbury that she would incur the death penalty by committing adultery, and was clearly much struck by it.

George Canning, a promising Pittite MP, had known Caroline before her exile to the Heath and the pair were clearly in love. Some historians have decided the affair wasn’t very serious, given that he married another woman soon after. But Canning confessed that if he had not met his wife, Miss Scott, “I know not how I should have resisted, as I ought to do, the abundant and overpowering temptation to the indulgence of a passion which must have been dangerous, perhaps ruinous, to her who was the cause of it.” Apparently, Caroline and he agreed together that his marriage was the only “effectual remedy to all the danger and…our escape”.  Caroline continued friendly with the Cannings all of her life. When she was put on trial for adultery in 1820, Canning risked the fury of the King and refused to have anything to do with the proceedings.  His writing about escaping danger and ruin suggest that he and Caroline did not consummate their love, but there was clearly much foreplay. When she received a letter from George telling her they “should not be answerable to one another”, she showed it to Canning and asked what it meant. He told her it “freed her entirely” and they “took advantage of it on the spot”.

The next of Caroline’s lovers on the Heath was a dashing naval hero, Sir Sidney Smith. In character, he seemed much like Caroline and I am not surprised to two hit it off. But Smith came hand in hand with the friends he was staying with, the Douglases. And this is where it all gets a bit complicated.

The Douglases and Smith were Caroline’s bosom friends until, without much explanation, she threw them over and took up with Captain Mamby instead. The Douglases later insisted that Caroline had been pregnant and confided in them alone. But if that was the case, she would have kept thick with them. She may have been giddy, but Caroline was certainly not fool enough to tell someone such an explosive secret then make an enemy of them. It is my opinion that Caroline purposefully wound up the Douglases with tall tales, due to her own jealousy.

Her first attack on the Douglases was to send anonymous letters to Lord Douglas, featuring pictures of Lady Douglas and Sir Sidney Smith in amorous situations; or, as Caroline put it “Sir Sidney Smith doing your amiable wife”. Although Lady Douglas maintained that her husband always believed in her innocence, he didn’t act that way. He went storming over to Smith and demanded an explanation. Naturally, Smith denied everything – but was he telling the truth?

If Caroline had found out, mid-affair with Smith, that he was also a past or present lover of Lady Douglas, it would explain her sudden hatred of her friend. It would also explain why she purposefully infuriated Smith by playing footsie with Mamby at a dinner party. She was jealous, and wanted to make him jealous too. It seems that, after all the hoo-ha, she decided she liked Mamby better anyway.

The love-struck Caroline followed Mamby across the country to the docks of his ships and entrusted two of her “charity boys” to his care. She was later to claim that Mamby had smuggled an illegitimate son of her old flame, Prince Louis Ferdinand, across the seas for her. This was the boy Willy Austin, the “Deptford child”, whom the Douglases claimed was the Princesses own. I think both sides are lying here. I believe Willy was the son of Sophia Austin; Caroline, as always, loved making mischief and found she could do so here with a good excuse for trailing after Mamby.

It was around this point that George III reluctantly agreed to investigate her behaviour – “The Delicate Investigation” – and Caroline appears to have pulled her act together after this.  A few rumours circulated in the following years about Captain Hesse, who was courting Caroline’s daughter, Charlotte. Hesse followed Caroline on her Continental journey and remained a loyal attendant. Personally, I believe he was sincerely attached to the family and loved only Charlotte. But many people, Charlotte included, thought otherwise.

It was on this trip to the Continent that Caroline met the man who was to be her downfall: Pergami. This was the adulterous relationship she was put on charge for. She was lucky that, since it took place abroad, the death sentence could not apply. I, along with Georgian contemporaries, believe that the relationship was “pure in-no-sense”. But Caroline’s guilt or innocence was not what mattered to the mobs of the day; they were more concerned with humiliating the King.

But despite my belief in her guilt, I don’t think Caroline’s relationship with Pergami was as bad as it was represented. Her lawyer Brougham did a brilliant job of highlight that the witnesses against her were bribed for their evidence. They had been rehearsed for certain questions and answers and were completely clueless when asked things not on their script: “I do not remember” being a favourite answer. There were others who were downright liars. One mentioned riding beside Caroline’s coach, looking through the curtains and seeing her and Pergami with their hands placed on one another’s private parts. This was later exposed as complete nonsense; the man in question never rode beside the coach, the coach had blinds, not curtains, a third person always travelled with them and the set up of the coach made it impossible for anyone to sit in that position.

Brougham, who confessed to disliking Caroline, later decided that Pergami’s swift promotions through her household had more to do with his child than anything else. It is true that Caroline adored children and made friends with anyone who had them. Pergami’s daughter slept in her bed and called her “Mamma”. But while pictures of this little girl littered Caroline’s houses, so did pictures of her father. He was always moved into bedrooms near Caroline’s. And while his family were all invited to become members of Caroline’s staff, there was one glaring exception: his wife.

It is my belief that Caroline really loved Pergami and would have been happy living with her adopted Italian “family”. But her pride and her need to beat George IV summoned her back to England, where she ultimately died. She did not speak of Pergami at the end, although she wrote to him a few times while in England and remembered his daughter in her will.

As for the other lovers, I can’t be sure how far the relationships went. I am sure there was much kissing and, as Flora Fraser puts it,  “heavy petting” going on, but I’m not convinced Caroline would risk full on sexual affairs in England under the noses of her husband and uncle. But by the time she was with Pergami, free on the Continent and past the age where pregnancy was a risk, it was a different story.

Should she be condemned? England did not believe so; after all, her husband’s affairs were more numerous and sordid. And is it any wonder that a poor Princess, shunned and called ugly by the only man she was legally allowed to sleep with, was delighted to find others who thought her attractive? No; it seems quite natural to me that Caroline succumbed to Pergami and his wonderful moustachios.

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Prepare for Launch

I had to show you this beautiful screenshot from The Madness of King George. Not only does it capture the relationship between Charlotte and her husband; it is perfectly accurate to the smallest detail. There’s the King’s Windsor uniform, there’s the pearl bracelets Charlotte always wore, which are identical to the point of actually having George III’s portrait in them! Such a small, graceful touch. Did the costume designer have any idea there were geeks like me out there to pick up on and love these nods to the history books? It’s unlikely that many movie goers had even heard of, let alone studied, Queen Charlotte. But in went the bracelet anyway; firstly, as their homage to Charlotte and keeping her real, secondly because they believed there were people out there who would smile.

This brings me nicely on to the topic of this week’s blog post. I’ve been a little nervous about writing it, because I’m taking a bold move. As you know, God Save the King has been doing its round of queries over many months. I have to say I’m very pleased with its reception, even though I haven’t gained representation. I’ve had requests for more, praise of the characters and style, fascination with the subject matter. So why no agent?

The answer has come from the agents themselves: it’s a bit of a risk. I’m not saying there aren’t agents out there willing to take risks, but we have to remember times are difficult in the publishing industry. Many houses are only buying up sure sells, and for historical fiction, that’s mainly Tudors. If I’d written a book that just happened to be set in the Georgian period, I don’t think that would be a problem. But as I’ve gone into the depths others have only plunged with the Tudor, or more recently Plantagenet, royal families – who knows if it will appeal? Or, more importantly, sell?

I guess where others see uncertainty and risk, I see untapped potential. I think the only reason people don’t read about the Georgian royal families is that the books aren’t out there.  Personally, as a historical fiction reader, I’m bored to death of the same old stuff on the shelves. I leapt on Gillian Bagwell’s lovely The Darling Strumpet, because it was a different period with people I knew little about. While I love the Tudors, I’ve read about Anne Boleyn’s execution from every angle. I don’t need any more.

Now if I was thinking more of my writing career, I’d probably just dump the Hanovers and take up one of the ideas I have (and I have several!) for books set in the more popular Roman and Tudor periods. But I just can’t do that. I have a passion for the Georgian period and a strong belief in its relevance. I love these long dead women who I have spent literally years in the company of. I want their stories to be told. And I want to be the one to tell them.

Someone has to take a risk for the Georgians. If the agents and the publishers aren’t prepared to, it has to be me.  So with the help of the many professionals now available on the web, a lot of technical help from the husband and, I sincerely hope, your support, I plan to publish God Save the King as an ebook.

By doing so, I don’t mean to declare myself an irrevocable Indie author. In the long-term, I honestly want the support, imput, revisions, ideas and general wonderfulness of an agent and publisher. It is something I will aim for with each new book I write, and hopefully, by the time I’m midway through my series, I will have proved there is a market. So… here goes.

I’ve been doing some work in the background before announcing this, but I want to give myself plenty of time to make my product as perfect as it can be. With this in mind, my proposed launch date is 8 September 2012. This is a very special day indeed – George and Charlotte’s 251st wedding anniversary.

I will keep you updated with my progress, trials and tribulations. Thanks for reading. God Save the King!

Georgian Splendour

You often hear me whine about palaces and country houses that big up their Tudor and Victorian links, while virtually ignoring Georgian and other less “mainstream” periods. Not so with Historic Royal Palaces. I have to hand it to them, they do an excellent job of balancing the different eras of history associated with their buildings. Even Hampton Court, while clearly and quite rightly dedicated to Henry VIII, is rich in information about William and Mary, who started to renovate it, and the Georgians who held court there.

Kensington Palace is bursting at the seams with history, and in less capable hands, could easily have turned into a Victoria or a Diana fest. But while these wonderful Princesses are remembered and paid homage to, HRP are careful not to let them steal the show.

On Friday night, I attended a late night opening at Kensington for an evening dedicated to Georgian splendour. Tickets were a steal at £10 each and the entertainment lasted from 6 until 10. I was truly excited to find an event revolving around the Georgians; usually the best I can get is a Regency ball. Having said that, HRP are absolute stars and do Georgian dinners and talks at Kew Palace throughout the year; I REALLY want to attend the one on George III’s father, Prince Frederick, but with tickets at £100 a head it’s not likely to happen.

My plan was to amaze and astound you with photography of the great palace, but alas the combination of low lighting and a photographer with incredibly shaky hands (me, must have been the excitement) threw a spanner in the works. I’ll provide you with what useable photos I have, though, and talk you through my evening.

It would have been easy to merely run from talk to talk, so frequent were the pop up history sessions and workshops. Almost the moment we walked in the door (a little late, us office works can’t usually get anywhere before 7), we were viewing the “Trunk of Terror”, comically displayed by two charlatan “adventurers”. The worrying thing is such figures would be rife on the streets of Georgian London, with their “real” dragons, mummies and pickled embryos. My gentleman attendant, Kevin, proved himself extremely courageous and braved the mummy’s curse by touching it.

Next we were treated to a bit of gossip in the Queen’s apartments as a lady in a rather ravishing dress talked us through some of the Court’s secrets. I have to admit, as I’ve been focused on the later Hanoverians for my current projects, my knowledge of the early Georgians is sketchier than I would like. I was therefore thrilled to find out the woman at George II’s court who I’d instinctively felt I could write a book about, Henrietta Howard, was everything and more that I want in a “character”. I left almost desperate to put pen to paper and write her book. But of course she wasn’t the only interesting woman; Queen Caroline herself deserves a narrative, as does her predecessor, the lovely Sophia who was locked up in a remote castle for adultery.  You really couldn’t make up better storylines than the ones the Georgians actually lived through.

From here we went onto another talk – this one rather juicier. On the magnificent King’s Staircase, an “explainer” told us all about sex and the muckier aspects of life at a Georgian court.  I knew the men often urinated beside the fireplaces, but I hadn’t heard of the bourdaloue – a rather wonderful little pot shaped like a gravy boat that could go up ladies’ skirts for a discreet wee. Such contraptions were essential in a place where you couldn’t go anywhere without the Queen’s consent; we heard some mortifying stories of poor ladies who just couldn’t hold on and left truly gigantic puddles on the floor. Wetting  yourself in front of royalty; that has to be an all time low.

Of course the King’s staircase itself is a wonder just to look at, even if you aren’t listening to stories of Georgian wee at the same time. Kent painted it with the main characters from the court, some of which are still to be identified. The people who once traipsed or sallied up and down the stairs watch over you as you follow in their footsteps – how amazing is that?

Counting our blessings with modern lavatories, we went down the staircase straight into a dancing lesson. Having danced Tudor style for a few years, I managed to pick up the long set dance quite quickly and had the added advantage of a musician I was used to – my friend Lizzie Gutteridge on the fiddle, and I didn’t even realise she’d be there! My lord husband coped very well, I thought, and doffed his hat beautifully. Although it was tiring, I was quite relieved at the pace after my experience with quadrilles; those Regency girls must have had stamina!

After all that dancing it was time for a drink. Georgian inspired food and drink had been advertised but the only liquid I could see that seemed to fit the period was arrack punch. I took a glass in the gardens. It was lovely, but boy was it strong!  The gardens were just gorgeous, I wish we’d had time to explore them properly. Oh well, I suppose we’ll just have to go back….Shame!

There were plenty of other talks to listen to, but we chose to explore the King’s apartments for ourselves. This, dear readers, is where my photography skills truly failed. But I’m almost glad they did because it means you have to go and see it yourself! I loved the warren of rooms that wound deeper and deeper as you tried to approach the King in his innermost sanctum. My favourite for sheer beauty was the Cupola room; the very place where Prinny made poor Queen Victoria’s Christening an awkward business.

On display were some beautiful gowns and suits, complete with lappets (the essential headwear). I even saw King George III’s coronation robes. You know, the one from that famous portrait?  Many squeals from me, and groans from the long-suffering Kevin. Also of overwhelming interest to me was Prince Frederick’s chair, well-worn by time, holding court in the presence chamber.

As much as I enjoyed running around squeaking at Georgian things, I also took pleasure in the displays about William, Mary and Queen Anne. Perhaps the most poignant thing in the palace was Anne’s “Eighteen Little Hopes” – deserted chairs for her dead children. I’ve always fancied writing about Anne, but I think it’s one you have to build up to; there’s just so much tragedy to handle in the tale of the last Protestant Stuart. It was, of course, her failure to provide a surviving heir that opened up the throne for the House of Hanover.

But of all these wonders, I have to say, the thing that delighted me most was the amount of people who turned up. Nothing makes me happier than seeing people learning about Georgian history – and later Stuart history, for that matter – two periods often neglected. What’s more, they seemed to love it! I strongly believe people are interested in the eras, they just haven’t had as much exposure to them at school, or hit HBO shows like The Tudors, to point them in the right direction. While we still have Historic Royal Palaces, I can rest assured there are others out there defending “forgotten” history.

Click here to book your tickets for the next night of Georgian decadence!

The Strange Death of Queen Caroline

 

One of the joys of being a historical novelist is getting to sift through all the theories that have gone before, examine the evidence, and draw your own conclusions. When faced with the mystery of Caroline’s death, I can’t sit on the fence. I have to choose which version of “the truth” to put in my story and go with it.

Over the years, medical historians have tried to surmise the cause of Caroline’s death at the age of just 53. Stomach cancer, or a blockage of the bowels, are the most frequent diagnoses. There are good arguments for these, and it could be that Caroline’s demise was completely natural. But timed as it was, so soon after her victory at her trial and her shame at George IV’s coronation, I can’t help listening to the scandalous suspicions of the time. These are what I want to dwell upon today.

It is far too easy to cast George IV as the villain of the piece. I hope I show in my work that although he was one of the worst husbands ever to sully a marriage, he was generous and a good brother – even occasionally a good son, to  Queen Charlotte at least. I cannot credit the rumours that flew about, in true Regency style, that George poisoned his wife. Yes, he was conveniently out of the country when she died and prescribed the bare minimum of mourning for her – just three weeks. Undoubtedly he hated her with a maniacal frenzy. But poisoning just doesn’t seem like his style. Besides, what had he to gain?   He had already triumphed over her at his coronation, thwarting her attempts to gain access to the Cathedral while she was booed home. One might argue he wanted her out of the way to marry again – but he didn’t marry again. There was little in it for him but peace of mind, knowing she would not rear her ugly head again to make more mischief.

The person who stood to gain most through Caroline’s death was, bizarrely, Caroline herself. Which has led me to a rather disturbing theory: did Caroline, in fact, hasten her own death?

Perhaps I’m overly perceptive to signs of mental health, but it is safe to say Caroline was never completely stable. As early on as her exile at Blackheath, visitors reported her violent mood swings; prancing through the house in a wild conga one minute, despairing and repining over her lot in life the next. But it is not this aspect of her character which fuels my suspicions: it is her determination.

Contemporaries confirm that once she had set her mind on something, she would follow it through to the point of death. Worryingly, the things she set her mind on weren’t the products of careful deliberation. She was “caught by the first impulse”, “recklessness was central to her personality” and she would “risk solid  benefits” to gratify her desire to scandalise others whilst amusing and revenging herself. Could it possibly be that after the glory of her trial had faded away and she was nothing but a Queen snubbed at her own coronation, she took it into her head to revenge herself on George once and for all?

For Caroline’s popularity certainly did return with her death. Right up until her last breath, she was trying to get the sympathy vote from the people; she wanted her coffin to say “The Injured Queen of England”. Admittedly, it would be an extreme measure to go to. But this is the lady that sent obscene drawings by the penny post to revenge herself on a neighbour. Moreover, she was in a bad way.

For the first time in the many years of her horrid marriage, Caroline’s spirit was visibly broken.  She was disillusioned with even the victory of her trial, soon realising that no one had cared for her as “a poor forlorn woman”, but had followed their own political agendas. After being hissed away from her coronation (where, it is worth noting, her nervousness made her laugh hysterically) Caroline insisted on attending a pageant of the ceremony, performed at Drury Lane. Lady Anne Barnard, present at the show, reported the following:

“[The Queen] got up and curtsied to the manager, the pit, galleries and boxes in a manner so marked – so wild – with a countenance so haggard… I burst into tears to see royalty and pride so humbled and broken down.”

It was on the return from this performance that she began to vomit and her pulse grew fast and erratic. It could be that she had been unwell for some time and her body was finally breaking down at this stage. But the scenes that followed  remind me vividly of the end of Madame Bovary. She dosed herself up, without consultation, bleeding herself profusely, taking opium and enough castor oil “to turn the stomach of a horse”. Lady Anne Hamilton said:

“Her Majesty put on the semblance of unusual gaiety…but while she laughed, the tears rolled down her face – tears of anguish so acute that she seemed to dread the usual approach of rest.”

The Queen finally retired at 3am, taking a glass of water with a huge quantity of Magnesia and a few drops of laudanum. Lady Anne tried to stop her from taking such a strange concoction but she downed it with the use of a spoon.

The doctors called to consult on her later suspected she had, herself, caused a blockage with all her weird mixtures of medicines. Whether this was true, or intentional, we will never know. What we can be sure of is Caroline faced her death with a remarkable bravery and resignation. Perhaps I am just mistaking her strong courage and confusing it with the idea that she had planned to bring her death about all along. But the following exchanges are rather speaking.

“I am going to die,” she told her lawyer Brougham, “but it does not signify.” He assured her that the doctors were of quite a different opinion. “I know better than they,” she said. “I tell you I shall die, but I don’t mind it.”

Lord Hood observed:

“I never beheld a firmer mind, or anyone with less feelings at the thought of dying.”

A controversial theory, but one I am surprised no one seems to have put forward before. I will keep on with the digging and let you know what I find!

A Princess at War

As you’ve probably noticed by now, it’s the psychology of historical figures that really interests me. I’ve covered many “characters”, but I believe there are few as fascinating as Princess Charlotte of Wales, only child of George IV and Queen Caroline.

Not only was Charlotte born in the midst of Revolutionary War, she entered life as a main playing piece in the battle between her estranged parents. Sadly for Charlotte, she took after both her mother and father and in different ways. Since they couldn’t live together happily, how was she supposed to juggle these irreconcilable personalities within herself? It wasn’t easy and there were few people to help her.

Both George and Caroline loved their daughter, but it was a love tinged with darker emotions. She was an instrument of revenge to use against the other. Moreover, she reminded them of their less than happy union. She looked very much like her father and her manners at times brought her mother vividly to life. Neither could love her without reserve.

Caroline doted on the young Charlotte. Throughout her life, she was obsessed with babies and children, but I can’t help feeling that as Charlotte grew up, Caroline’s interest waned. It was very clear that Charlotte was to be raised away from her “polluting influence” and though Caroline tried to gain more frequent access to her daughter, the struggle soon became more about annoying George than actually seeing Charlotte. Besides, Caroline had adopted countless other waifs and strays to live with her at Blackheath, all of a younger, cuter age. To some extent, poor Charlotte must have felt replaced.

In my post Sweet Caroline, I discussed how difficult it is to form an opinion of Caroline. It comes as no surprise to me that her daughter also struggled. On the one hand, Caroline was a slice of fun punctuating the dreary monotony of Charlotte’s school room life. It must have been blissful to be swept away from the dull aunts at Windsor to Blackheath’s riotous parties. Charlotte was soon telling her governess she didn’t mind showing her legs when she got into the carriage – she had nice legs, after all. This is pure Caroline talking; a sign that perhaps Charlotte looked up to her mother as a kind of role model, an outspoken woman amongst her more retiring aunts. But Charlotte was not solely Caroline’s daughter, and she began to doubt her mother was quite so wonderful as she first thought. The findings of the Delicate Investigation of 1806 shocked Charlotte to the core. She was enough of George’s daughter to disapprove strongly of her mother’s actions, and begin to question her motives.

Caroline had once helped Charlotte conduct a love affair with Captain Hesse, carrying correspondence for them. At this time, her mother probably seemed like a godsend, wanting her to find true love. It was only later that Charlotte began to wonder if her mother was trying to ruin her reputation, thus punishing George and the entire royal family. Her fears seemed justified when the time came to arrange her marriage. Charlotte asked her mother for advice about accepting the Prince of Orange, but Caroline refused to give any. She was far more concerned that Charlotte should cause a fuss about Caroline’s exclusion from the recent festivities at Carlton House. When, desperate to avoid the match, Charlotte fled her house and cast herself on Caroline’s protection, she was told to go back home! Soon after, Caroline quit the country and left Charlotte to cope with the fall out alone.

It was no easier to trust her father. Personally, I think that George did love his daughter and wanted to do the  best by her. But he had a remarkably short memory. As an heir to the throne who had chaffed under the strict education imposed on him, you would expect his rearing of Charlotte to be more liberal. Alas, he was so terrified of Caroline’s influence that he kept her on a tight rein. He made it very clear that Charlotte was to have “no will of her own”. I doubt anyone would like being told that, but for the spirited Charlotte it was doubly exasperating.  She began to see him as a jailor. Since he hated and banned visits to Caroline, they became a kind of illicit treat. Another rod George made for his own back was raising Charlotte with Whig values. As heir presumptive, he had subscribed to the party views, but the tables turned when he became Prince Regent. Not only were the Whigs infuriating him with their party squabbles but they were determined to end the war. For the sake of what he believed best for England, George was forced to break with his old party and stick with the Tories. This widened the gap between father and daughter; Charlotte burst into tears at dinner when he gave an anti-Whig speech.

We must remember that George hated Caroline with an almost inhuman frenzy. There were times when his daughter, as a reminder of that hated woman, was loathsome to him. It became far easier to spend time in Brighton with Mrs Fitzherbert and their adopted daughter, Minnie Seymour. Minnie was a winning child, dutiful and sweet – probably because she didnt have the Hanover genes in her. Once again, Charlotte was finding her place filled in a parent’s heart. She even began to suspect that George wanted her out of the country, married to a foreign Prince, so it would be easier to divorce her mother. In which case, he would probably marry again and produce an alternative heir to the throne. She stood to lose everything if she didn’t keep her father sweet – or, if she abandoned her mother. How was she supposed to do both?

Unsurprisingly, with all this pressure, Charlotte “played up”. She liked to be rough with her playmates, laugh loudly and swagger like an ostler boy. She delighted in a tom-boy image, yet never lost sight of the great situation to which she was born. When asked to close the door by her governess, she replied grandly, “Not I. If you want the door closed, ring the bell.” For a period of her childhood, she made herself as difficult as possible. Why not? Whatever she did, she was bound to displease one or other of her parents.

Charlotte did have true friends who cared for her, but she didn’t realise it. Her grandmother Queen Charlotte and the five of her daughters who remained in England were on her side. But as they all loved George, Charlotte suspected them of being nothing but his puppets. Moreover, they were all so boring to her youthful mind. She scarcely thought of confiding in them until much  later on in life. Meanwhile, her Aunt Royal frequently wrote from Wurttemberg with recommendations for Charlotte’s upbringing. If George had attended to them, Charlotte might have enjoyed a bit of an easier ride. The only one of the family Charlotte knew she could trust was her grandfather George III. They were devoted to each other. But the “madness” snatched him away from her so often, he was of very little use.

Charlotte did eventually find happiness with Prince Leopold, who she married. She calmed down from this point and truly seemed able to be herself. Her relationship with her father and aunts improved, and she wrote fondly to her mother on the Continent. It seemed she had at last reconciled some of the turmoil within. Yet when she was on the point of completing her own joy by adding a child to the family, and delighting the nation by giving birth to a Prince, Charlotte tragically died.

It seems so unfair that she was only able to enjoy a brief snatch of happiness. But from a literary point of view, it has the perfect symbolism. The rotten marriage of her parents tainted her luck throughout life. The only good thing to come of the union, like the marriage itself, broke down at an early age. Poor Charlotte. I often wonder what would have happened if she and her son had lived, thereby erasing the Victorian era. We will never know, but I certainly hope that she has found the peace she was seeking all that time, beneath this beautiful monument with her son and grandmother.

 

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