Friday, 2 March 2018

Prinny's Dreams (Prince Regent)

It was 1786 when the Prince of Wales (later Regent) gained the lease on Thomas Read Kemp's farmhouse on the site of the present Royal Pavilion. 

By 1802, while in partnership with John Nash, Humphry Repton (1752-1818) was hired to oversee the landscaping work in the Pavilion grounds. In those earlier days the Prince acquired/purchased the land which formed the Royal Pavilion estate. Thus Repton was invited to advise on the site in November 1805. Whilst his designs for a garden surrounding the Pavillion at Brighton had illustrated proposals both (Indian-style pavilion), neither was executed. But by 1808 the Royal Stables and the Riding School (present day Dome and Corn Exchange) were completed. 

John Nash went on to build the Royal Pavilion in its present form between 1815 and 1822, the gardens too, though the original gardens were redesigned in the 1900s.

Ostentatious is probably the best word to  define the architecture of Brighton Pavilion - a combination of towering domes, minarets, and two eminent roof structures depicting tented pavilions. the latter oft seen within mediaeval English etchings in reference to battles and jousting tournaments. Thus the Pavilion has a decidedly Middle and Far Eastern influence, namely Turkish, Persian (Iran), so not altogether Indian as such in design, but Islamic.      

Map of  Bright Helmstone - latterly known as Brighton. 

In the blue ring box is the location of The Pavilion Mews (Stable Block) - not only commodious and able to house 60 horses, it was a glamorous building in its own right. 

In the red ringed oval is the Pavilion itself.

The Pavilion Mews and Riding School in its original state. 

Again we can see a Moorish influence, but it's interesting to note, ladies fashions at this time were also influenced by an idealistic Eastern romanticism. Thus ladies wore turbans decorated with jewels and feathers, and even wore Banyans as over garments for day wear, whilst gentlemen wore Banyans as bedchamber robes, though nothing new in that for Banyans were popular long before.  

As with all Prinny's grand dreams he set out to refurbish and extend what we now recognise as 
Buckingham Palace

One can see the architectural changes in comparison to the original Buck House - below. 

Buckingham House 1773 - the home of the Duke of Buckingham, a notorious rake amidst many within the court of Charles II. 

The saddest aspect of Prinny's dreams was the fact he never lived in the newly refurbished Buck House, nor did he enjoy the fruits of the extension of the original house that became  his personal Brighton Pavilion. When George became king in 1820, increased responsibilities and ill-health beset him. 

Albeit the interior of the Royal Pavilion was finally finished in 1823 he made only two further visits (in 1824 and 1827).

The noise and building construction had driven him distant to others houses, namely that of courtiers and friends, and houses of his mistresses. All the while he despaired and fretted over the length of time the two builds were under construction, and as months ticked into years he fell to morose countenance. 

Contrary to many beliefs, Prinny hosted far more parties in his original Brighton Farmhouse - more than he ever did within the Pavilion. 

Barely a few months, all told, did he enjoy parading about within the completed pavilion, for he was becoming so grossly obese and unwell, he as good as retired into obscurity until his demise, and would only receive ministers of state, his mistress, and close friends.   

26 June 1830, Prinny died at Windsor Castle, Windsor. 

His favourite tipple was Cherry Brandy. 

Sadly he despised his wife, Caroline of Brunswick, and as good as banished himself from Carlton House. 

His living issue was that of Princess Charlotte. 

Note the design of the Taj Mahal - the jewel of Muslim Architecture in India.

Monday, 26 February 2018

Darcy's Mistress - The Devil Be Damned!

Picture copyright Francine Howarth

Just occasionally wicked stories come to mind, and with the plethora of Jane Austen Fan Fiction novels, in particular those associated with Pride & Prejudice. Subsequently, all those spin-off novels - or if you prefer follow-on P&P novels, all rather sweet in context, the wicked devil in me couldn't help but wonder who Darcy may have flirted with before he met Elizabeth. Thus, what of the dire consequences of one long-lasting friendship, or could it be more?  

Below I give you a taste of the  story that unfolded, and there is a fair bit of mystery attached to it, and for any reader who has read my Georgian or Regency murder mysteries, will  know nothing is as it seems. Thus, when Elizabeth becomes suspicious of Darcy riding out with some regularity, and irregularity in another quarter, namely the bedchamber,  she  happens upon a letter, and although momentarily shocked and uncertain in what to do, she garners strength from letters back and forth between her sister, Jane, and duly sets out to discover where Darcy goes and who he is meeting in clandestine manner.  Oh lordy! 


Two days at Pemberley with his new bride, the rigours of marital obligations had taken its toll on Darcy. His ability to concentrate on estate matters so sorely neglected for several weeks, were quite overshadowed by the delights of Elizabeth in his bed. ‘Twas, as he reflected, the natural consequence of marriage and the ever unencumbered delight of indulging carnal pleasures at will. Whilst it was true to say life at Pemberley would be wholly different than prior unfettered existence, timely observance of his wife’s needs would ensure against misapprehensions, would it not? Heaven forefend worst case scenario involving cataclysmic personality clashes would occur, for the very thought set him on edge. There was no doubting he had indeed married a firebrand of sharp wit and clever retort in tongue, and to a great extent, affronted by the arrogance of the inner man, why then had she sought to wed him? What was done could not be undone, and marriage was no excuse for ignoring the wont of a third party, or that person’s unstinting loyalty. Thus, having excused self from his wife’s company, he hastened to his private study, a little prick of conscience causing him to unlock a drawer in the desk and peruse a copy of his last letter dispatched to Farthingly.
Dearest Belle,
I shall endeavour to pay visit as soon as can be set in place, and explain more. It is with sincere regret I have to inform you wedlock to a Miss Bennet has transpired. How talk of marriage arose remains somewhat as baffling as my stupidity in frequenting Longbourn in company with Bingley. Damnation –as one would say in person– for my impeccable hide is finally besmirched by insanity. The sheer joy of walking out in company with others, I had avowed to self as the safest measure in likelihood of compromise for the ladies. No onlooker could surmise the devil’s hand at play. Why then did I dawdle in pace and indulge in one young lady’s fanciful notions, my own vague utterances thence part taken out of context? I shall not mince words, for that damnable Wickham is the cause of my present dilemma. If you will forgive me for this rant I shall bear your scorn with fortitude when next I am able to attend upon you at Farthingly. Alas, I am now looked upon as akin to a ridiculous gallant of old from within Morte de Arthur, or some such nonsense tale. What can I say in despairing of this situation from which there is no escape? Dash it all, for now committed to a Miss Bennet, it is unconscionable for a gentleman to renege on betrothal. To say I barely recognised the juncture whereby it was presumed I had offered for Elizabeth, and so rapidly announced to all and sundry afterwards, I trust you will understand marriage will in no way curtail my visits to Farthingly. Be assured, the love we share will be no lesser than the past four years of indulging Bonnie at every given opportunity. After all said and done, Farthingly is but a short ride from Pemberley.
With sincere affections,
Secreting the letter once again to the locked drawer, he then rifled through a stack of letters awaiting perusal, and there, as hoped, a reply from Belle. With speed he unlatched the wafer and there to his consummate pleasure was:
My dearest Fitz,
How could you think I would be other than forgiving, albeit informed of your betrothal after the event? Whilst marriage has always been a rather contentious issue, for you, I never expected otherwise. It is the way of life and to continue as a bachelor when you have Pemberley; and as your aunt proclaimed on several occasions– you are sorely in need of an heir. So dearest man, aside from any sense of immediate guilt that may arise as you settle to your new life, you will embrace the new found existence with a deal of familiarity in no time at all, and on occasion utter despair when things go awry as they do in marriages. It is expected your wife and events will curtail planned excursions without notice, thus I shall miss your company dreadfully on those days though never to the extent of making life difficult for you. Should I ever have cause to send for you in haste, I shall dispatch a stable hand with a perfectly innocent errand of seeking your advice on a matter of equine interest at Farthingly. Whilst responsibility for Bonnie rests solely upon my shoulders, and at four years she is quite the handful, I am much in admiration of your generous allowance for all her needs. There is no cause to prevaricate on the bond we both share from the day she was born. It exists, and will in the years to come deepen, I feel sure. Love the magnitude of which you bestow upon her gladdens my heart, for with each day that cometh she ceases to amaze me with her beauty. Evidence of her sire is apparent from the moment of setting eyes upon her, as our mutual acquaintances oft remark with knowing nods from the gentlemen, and much fluttering of fans by the ladies. So my dearest Fitz, I shall bid a fond adieu until next I see you.
Your affectionate confidante,

OK ladies and Gents, there is more, but should I finish the novel, or do you think it will garner hate mail? 

Thursday, 8 February 2018

7 Shades of Sin - A Cardinal's Nightmare Begins

On occasion I do endeavour to write a Historical Romance that is a little different than the norm of tried and tested Georgian and Regency tropes. So where better to set the story than Italy 1796, just as Napoleon begins spreading his wings farther east across Europe.  Whilst northern Italy resided under Austrian overlords there were Italian nobles who mingled with their Austrian overlords and despised their very presence. But the noble Italian elite for the most part despised the French revolutionary forces even more, and a great many rose up against the French by allying themselves to the Austrians in hope of regaining former independent status for the differing regions. In the end after many years of war between the French, the Austrians and other countries who allied with Britain, Napoleon was  finally vanquished for the second time in 1815 following the Battle of Waterloo. The only region in the meanwhile to gain independent status was that of Venice.

This novella has one illustration for every chapter so it is priced accordingly at 1.99 as opposed to  0.99. Is it a love at first sight plot, well it is for the heroine, and the hero is soon smitten! Whilst it is all about sin, this is not an erotic novel in the vein of 50 shades of Grey. No, no, no. it does reveal dark practices, but wholly different than 50 shades, but that is for the reader to discover! 

Aside from history and all that befell Italy, it has an abundance of beautiful villas with spectacular gardens, and beautiful Fontanas. Thus a Fontana has a part to play in this love story, as does one statue.

The book's blurb: “...It would be unforgiveable for him to break his oath...”

Presented with a dreadful and frightening fait accompli, the Contessa de’ Medici is ordered to commit to a shameful act to beget an heir to her husband’s fortune. In defiance of the laws of the church and the sanctity of marriage, her husband has determined only one direct de’ Medici bloodline is acceptable. Fearful she can never lure her husband’s chosen man to her bed, she seeks to deceive him. But war comes to Italy, scandal rocks the foundations of the nearby village, dark secrets are unveiled, and Portia is finally blessed with true love.

Excerpt: An excerpt:
Drawing breath, the air was cooler than expected for September. Nonetheless, she ventured down the steps, and through the courtyard garden where the walls radiated sense of stored heat, but again the air fell cool whilst traversing along the lower path to the Fontana.
...The gardens basking in moonlight were so familiar no sense of fear befell her. Every shadow, every bush, every tree, lay mapped in her mind.
...In the distance Lodovico’s statue shone stark and ghostly white against the evergreens hedging the walkway. All the while the sound of cascading water grew louder as she drew nearer to the path that circumnavigated the Fontana’s pool.
...She walked on and paused beside the statue of her husband but momentary, his beauty forever carved in stone. But the olive grove beckoned; the statue of the young man with a drying cloth slung over his shoulder, the cloth itself as though blowing in the wind and concealing his back was so lifelike it always seemed as though animated, walking toward one. 
...It was strange to compare the statue of Vincenzo against the real blood man. Here naked, and in real life shrouded in papal robes.
...The memory of him standing under the cascading waters of the Fontana leapt to mind, and she now pondered...

This Fontana features in the story!

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Why Author notes are a good thing for historical novels

When a Fiction romance novel is read and the reader views the story line as unreal and unbelievable, how does an author view that kind of criticism? There can be no comeback as such, for how the reader has assessed the story is that person’s POV, and it really would be extremely arrogant of said author to respond with a scathing remark. However, the story, though not exactly biographical, was indeed inspired by two historical persons of note within the Georgian period, therefore the characters are representative of the lives of the aristocracy in their time. Would author notes have helped in providing the reader with more in depth knowledge of the period in general?    

After all, the Georgian period was renowned for men who acquired mistresses at will resulting in hard-done-by wives, and of course, in many cases, a string of illegitimate offspring. One of the most notorious of the Georgian aristocrats was William Cavendish, 5th Duke of Devonshire, whose wife, Georgiana Duchess of Devonshire suffered the indignity of her husband’s mistress residing within the family abode along with the illegitimate fruit of his loins. It was her story, read long ago, that indeed inspired the writing of The Reluctant Duchess, though unlike Georgiana's heartbreaking story, the character Liliana has a happy ever after!  

Georgiana was young, beautiful and vibrant and as good as sold into marriage to William Cavendish, a man of good dress, outwardly brusque though charming in manner, and with a considered eye to the prospect and acquisition of future heirs. When married to Cavendish poor Georgiana soon realised his charm was a mask, his tongue cruel, his actions no less cruel. Of course Georgiana’s story is recounted within many biographies, and she did become a popular English socialite, style icon, political activist, and author:   "The Sylph" is attributed to Georgiana Cavendish.

So what are authors to do when readers have little or no knowledge of a historical period and cannot envisage events as they unfold, e.g. a character who flaunts his mistress before his wife, albeit essentially as a means unto a purposeful and happy ending! The simple answer is to include author notes to enlighten the less historically well-read, and I have no desire to belittle the reader, I just wish I had thought to include author’s notes at end of novel. 

Aside from the notorious Cavendish household; what of Prinny, the Prince Regent and his string of mistresses? What of Admiral Lord Nelson the great Georgian naval hero, and his mistress Emma Lady Hamilton, who was another fashion icon of her day and forever on view within numerous portraits. Go a little farther back in time to the Restoration of Charles II, for he and the Duke of Buckingham acquired a string of mistresses as did others of their ilk, and again the Duke of Buckingham’s wife suffered the indignity of more than one mistress residing under the marital roof.

One could blame Jane Austen for having given a false impression of Georgian society as that of a twee idealistic world in which gossip, humour, and social mores were far from blighted with immoral sins and indecent behaviour. But when all is said and done, Jane Austen was writing escapist fiction, escapism from the real-life aspect of her time: when poverty could be but one unpaid debt away, when sickness could mean death in days, when war was raging across the channel – The French Revolution, The Peninsular Wars, The Napoleonic era until 1815 when Napoleon was finally dispatched into exile on the island of St Helena situated in the South Atlantic Ocean.

As an aside, it is said by experts that all the portraits supposedly depicting Jane Austen are idealistic artists impressions derived from her biographer, James Edward Austen (1869), who commissioned a local artist James Andrews of Maidenhead to recreate Jane from a description of the lady herself.

In reality not only did Jane Austen write idealistic escapist fiction, images in her name are equally idealistic impressions of a young Jane Austen.

Friday, 12 January 2018

The minuetiae of Historical Research

The minuetiae of research detail = one simple object that is often taken for granted within a Regency novel. Take a carafe as opposed to decanter - one and the same but in which country would it be a Carafe not a decanter, and who when visiting England may refer to it as a carafe? 

Did you think clothes hangers didn't exist during the Georgian period, that coat hangers were much later inventions. They were markedly different than coat hangers of today but existed as far back as the 1700s if not before - If you've seen meet hooks of old (from a smithy) then you are looking at precisely how robes, gowns during the late 17th century (1600s) were kept crease free from being hung inside out from hooks. That said, make a note of the next paragraph. 

Simple meet hooks became the forerunners to early clothes hangers? Now that is a fact discovered by a couple who purchased a  French chateau and there by chance during internal renovations a hidden closet was found behind a spring-loaded hinged panel; itself adjoined to one of the bedchambers. Inside were numerous hangers similar to this one - why the extra hook? Good Question, but not all had that extra hook, so it was supposed gowns etc., were hung from the ribbon loops (as sewn into the shoulders of gowns much as they are today) and made life a good deal easier for a mistress of the robe when selecting gowns!  

Have you assumed when purchasing a dress, evening gown, or even a humble T-shirt, that the ribbon ties attached to the shoulders are a handy device merely to prevent the item sliding from a hanger? I'll let you into a secret, those ties were once the hallmark of good in-house seamstresses, and most high ranking aristocrats had several within the household, who made shirts, chemise/sundries et al, and glorious gowns. Whereas for others a local modiste or a fashion house served purpose in provision of more regular clothing, and as today, the chances were likely two ladies may have ended up with similar if not identical gowns from a modiste. Tailors of course for the gentlemen. 

But I digress from those hangers, and where they themselves were attached = iron bars within dressing closets, much like the iron bars which supported drapes to tester beds. Dressing closets were purely for storage, sometimes quite narrow, sometimes spacious.     

This is a modern refashioning of an early Robe Closet, but it gives a fair example of curtains used as dust prevention! Bear in mind vacuum cleaners didn't exist in the Georgian period. And an armoire or two were often kept within the closet.  A royal closet resembled (according to a duchess' journal) a theatrical dressing closet with clothes strung from rails.  

Bear in mind ladies entertained within their boudoirs, so clothing on show was considered slutty within the bedchamber.    

A very basic Armoire.

Elaborate Armoir with lower drawers.  

So what did ladies of the robe to a Queen, and grooms to a King's bedchamber do with the clothes of their master's and mistresses. Given that Ladies of the Robe were the forerunners to a lady's maid (abigail), thus Ladies of the Robe were usually a duchess or countess in her own right. The latter "abigail/lady's maid" were a great deal lesser and merely of lower commoner order, many employed as servants to senior lady courtiers. 

Not all trunks had hasp catches. Many had iron rings to left and right of the chest, and when the lid closed it too had iron rings which fell in line with the rings on the chest. An Iron bar was threaded through the rings.  

Captains' trunks were great for storage and popular for travelling in earlier times when coaches were slower! 

Thus Flat-topped trunks became more popular for travelling because they stacked safer on the rear or the roof of the faster coaches/carriages of the 18-19th centuries. 

Light and winter weight clothing were interchanged with the seasons from packing trunks to those meet hooks within dressing/robe closets - the Grooms and Ladies of the Robe being "wards" of the royal clothing = modern terminology Wardrobe = a place to store hanging clothes. 

But, early armoires/wardrobe interiors consisted of shelves and drawers where shirts, chemise, neckties/cravats, hose, and accessories were stored. 

Similarly Grooms to the Bedchamber were rarely lesser than a knight/baron, though untitled commoners (squire) indeed often made it into the King's bedchamber staff and were oft knighted during service to that King - basically favoured subjects. Such rank was standard for many decades, most noticeable during the reign of Charles II and thence onward until the latter Georgian period and the coming of The Regent.

Positions within the Regent's entourage acquired differing titles recognised in earlier decades as quite other in respect of duties performed. A squire was no longer a servant, he was a lower gentry localised county landowner and often a Justice of the Peace. 

Thus valet's once again became in vogue for Dukes, Earls, and any gentleman of means who commanded or served in the military during the Georgian Period. Bedchamber staff became singularly intimate with their masters (one as opposed to many), and of those valets, many were formerly non-commissioned officers assigned duties of care and attendance to the former commander/officer's upkeep in turnout (dress). In general a valet's rank was from sergeant upwards to commissioned lieutenant: later referred to as a batman. In the navy from a cabin boy to flag lieutenant served as a valet to captain upwards to admiral - in differing ways from menial tasks to personal assistant.     

For the lesser gentleman Here's a pic of a dumb valet, and one can see where the design for a gentleman's wooden hangers originated in the latter part of the 19th century. But, iron and brass hangers were already popular in Continental countries.   

This particular dumb valet is circa 1800.