Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Queen Victoria’s Big Sister

We’ve talked a lot in previous posts about Queen Victoria’s children, and now her grandchildren. But it’s easy to forget that she had other close family members who weren’t descendents: the Queen actually had a half-brother and sister. They were much older than their little half-sister and did not live in England. But that doesn’t mean they didn’t play an important role in the Queen’s life…especially her sister, Feodore.

As you may recall from posts on the Great Matrimonial Race of 1818, King George III’s sons had to marry quickly in order to provide an heir to the throne. Edward, Duke of Kent, found his bride in the widowed Princess of Leiningen, Victoire. Victoire had two children from her previous marriage: a son, Charles, and a daughter—Anna Feodora Auguste Charlotte Wilhelmine, usually known as Feodore.

Feodore was born on December 7, 1807, the second child of Prince Emich Charles, at her father’s pocket-handkerchief-sized principality around the town of Amorbach, some fifty or so miles south of Frankfurt. Much older than Feodora’s mother, he died when his daughter was only seven. But in 1818, the little girl gained a new step-father, and in April 1819 was whisked away to England, where one month later her baby sister was born.

Feodore seems to have settled happily enough into her new home, learning English rapidly. A governess was found for her in the form of a Fraulein Lehzen (who is perhaps better known as her sister’s governess), and the little family settled down in Kensington Palace after the Duke of Kent’s sudden death from pneumonia only eight months after baby Victoria’s arrival. Baby Victoria was the center of the household, and Feodore adored her plump, cheerful little sister.

But as her teen years came on, she was less content with the highly circumscribed life they led: “When I look back upon those years, which ought to have been the happiest of my life, from fourteen to twenty, I cannot help pitying myself. Not to have enjoyed the pleasures of youth is nothing, but to have been deprived of all intercourse, and not one cheerful thought in that dismal existence of ours was very hard,” she wrote to Victoria decades later. Feodore would have loved to mingle in society but her mother, the Duchess of Kent, loathed King George IV and his profligate court.

The result, of course, was that Feodore rebelled. She conducted a secret flirtation with the son of one of the King’s brothers which was quickly quashed, but a bigger flirt soon occupied her attention—no less a person than the king himself, who paid the pretty nineteen-year-old a great deal of attention on a rare visit of the Kensington family to court—so much attention, in fact, that rumors started to fly that he was considering remarriage—to Feodore. The Duchess of Kent had no intention of seeing one daughter’s right to the throne endangered by her other, so Feodore was packed off to Germany to visit family. The following year, when the rumors hadn’t died away, the Duchess hastily a marriage to a man Feodore had met during her visit to Germany: Prince Ernest of Hohenlohe-Langenburg. The King was gracious enough to agree to give the bride away at their wedding in February 1828 (though in the end he sent his younger brother William to do the task).

The two sisters were desolated by their separation, and soon became faithful correspondents. Unfortunately, though Feodore became fond of her rather older husband (he was her senior by twelve years), married life was not easy. There was little money, and their home, Schloss Langenburg, was large, drafty, and very uncomfortable. Six children were eventually born to the couple; Feodore brought two of them to visit their little aunt in England in 1834. When the little aunt became Queen Victoria in the wee hours of June 20, 1837, one of her first acts that morning was to send Feodore a note assuring her of her undying affection. She also paid Feodore’s way whenever she was able to visit England.

Of Feodore’s children, her eldest son was something of a disappointment, renouncing his throne on the death of Prince Ernest in order to marry a village girl; second son Herman instead became the next Prince of Hohenlohe-Langenbach. Youngest son Victor entered the British navy and served all his life, including during the Crimean War. Feodore’s daughters were frequent visitors to England, where they spent a great deal of time with their cousins; the eldest died young but the second, Adelaide, was proposed to by the new French Emperor Napoleon III but refused him, marrying instead into another German ducal family (and eventually becoming mother-in-law to Kaiser Wilhelm II), as did her younger sister.

Feodore and Victoria remained close all their lives, corresponding frequently and visiting whenever possible. The two shared widowhood together, both losing their husbands within a year of each other; and when Feodore died in 1872, she left Victoria a farewell letter which read in part, “…I can never thank you enough for all you have done for me, for your great love and tender affection. These feelings cannot die; they must and will live on with my soul—till we meet again, never more to be separated—and you will not forget.”

Friday, February 22, 2013

The Consequences of Using Nine Pins All the Time

All right, I admit it. I like the game of Nine Pins, what some of us call Table Skittles. My brother and I had a set when we were young, and we loved the sound of those wooden pins hitting the block. The game dates back to the 1700s, when what was an outdoor or pub game similar to lawn bowling was miniaturized for parlor play. So it’s no surprise that when I need someone to play a parlor game in the book I’m writing, Nine Pins is usually top of my mind. Vaughn and Samantha play a round or two in The Rake’s Redemption, and my widowed hero and his daughter will play a round in my August 2013 book, The Courting Campaign.

But in the book I’m currently writing, which won’t be out until December, I have a whole bunch of people ranging from 20 years of age up to 60 stuck at a country house party with rainy weather outside and feeling a bit at loose ends.  Nine Pins simply wasn’t going to work either logistically or from an interest factor.  So what should I have them do?

We’ve talked about using an electric shock as a party game, but I couldn’t see my fifty-year old marchioness unbending for such a display.  There were rhyming games, but one of my younger gentlemen was much too likely to get carried away, and then bluestocking in the group would have to take him to task. 

The game, however, that I thought would cause the most laughter, and the most havoc between the hero (the poor fellow who tumbled into the Blue John cavern) and heroine, was Consequences.

In Consequences, players take turns answering a series of questions, one question per player, and each player has no knowledge of what the others have written.  Questions involved the name and characteristic of a lady, the name and characteristic of a gentleman, how they met, what they wore, what they said, and what the consequences were.  You can imagine the results:

Wobbly Bill met skinny Alice at an ice cream parlor.  He was wearing a footman’s livery, and she was wearing an ostrich plumed hat.  He said “I have an itch under my right elbow,” and she said, “Does this outfit make me look fat?” The consequences were that they both called before the magistrate.


Now, I wasn’t sure how to keep previous words from you in a blog post, but I thought perhaps we might play, if you’re willing, and see how very silly we can get.  So, I’ll start:  “Pock-marked Charles met . . .”

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Fashion Forecast: 1827, Part 2

What was the well-dressed young woman wearing in the second half of 1827?

If she were on holiday after the season (don’t forget, no one who was anyone lingered in London much past mid-July) she might wear this very pretty apricot-colored Promenade Dress, with its leg o’mutton sleeves, lace van dyke falling collar, and tiers of ruffles around the hem…and a truly striking bonnet lined with what looks like a tattersall pattern and adorned with artificial flowers and ribbon ruchings (Ackermann’s Repository, August):

Pink seems to be popular this season, as it appears again in this Evening Dress from August’s Ackermann. Here it’s in the form of puffed appliques on a white gauze overskirt, edged at the hem with a double row of dagged trim. The appliques repeat on the bodice, and there is a neat pink belt or sash to finish it off. The headdress features loops of ribbon and a dyed heron’s plume as well as a lace veil. I must say that I definitely fancy this dress!

Ruffles make an appearance again in this Evening Dress from the September issue of the Lady’s Magazine, both around the hem and on the long-tailed scarf-like thing called a fichu-pelerine. Notice the width of the shoulders in this dress, a tendency that will only increase over the next few years until, in the 1830s, women will be forced to go through doors sideways:

More pink…and another striking Evening Dress, from the September edition of Ackermann’s Repository. This one features a deep, scalloped band of pink around the hem, pink scalloped cuffs, and a pointed bodice also of pink. Her hat seems large for an indoor event, but headgear gets quite daring over the next few years…and I love her feather fan!:

Speaking of daring headgear…this Promenade Dress is almost overshadowed by and astonishing hat with a tall crown, broad brim, ostrich plumes, and a veil! The dress itself is handsomely restrained, though, with triangular decorations around the hem, puffy leg o’mutton sleeves, and another fichu-pelerine collar. (Ackermann’s Repository, October):

Here’s a sweet Ball Dress, also from October’s Ackermann’s, dainty in yellow and white with festoons and bows of ribbon decorating the skirt, a yellow ribbon sash, large bows on the sleeves, and what looks like a flounce of eyelet around the neckline. Ruffled gloves finish the look…but a heavy armlet on her left upper arm that looks like it was borrowed from Cleopatra makes a daring statement:

And now an equally dainty Dinner Dress, with a lace and embroidery gauze overskirt on top of a blue underdress, a ribbon sash with what looks like gold embroidery on it, a lace van dyke falling collar, and gauze oversleeves atop small puffed sleeves of blue. Her headdress is a more restrained turban, and her shawl looks almost like a guazy plaid—not very good for keeping the chill off, but very pretty (Ackermann’s Repository, November):

Here’s an outfit that would do a much better job of keeping its wearer toasty warm! This Carriage Dress from December’s Ackermann’s includes what looks like a velvet cloak, lined with ermine and topped with a capelet of darker velvet, worn over a green dress trimmed with bands of embroidery. An ermine muff contribute to the general warmth, and the whole is topped off with a white wide-brimmed hat trimmed with plumes and loops of pink ribbon. Very cozy!:

Equally cozy is this Walking Dress from the December edition of the Lady’s Magazine. I have the original description for this one: A PELISSE, of dark-grey satin, with a broad border and facing of black velvet, is fastened down the front with gilt oblong buckles. The body is made quite plain, and the sleeves, which are en gigot, terminate at the wrists with very broad black velvet bracelets, confined by a gold buckle. A pelerine cape of black velvet is worn with a white blond colerette, falling over, of a rich Vandyck pattern. The hat is of black velvet, lined with Canary-yellow, and large bows of black velvet and stain are placed over the crown, each bound with yellow satin, as is the edge of the bonnet, round which is a black blond. The bonnet is tied down close on the right side, with yellow strings in a bow. A reticule of Indian painted taffeta accompanies this dress:

One more pink-and-white confection, this time a Ball Dress in white decorated with long loops and knots of pink ribbon and a wreath of tiny roses and leaves, which also appear around the short puffed sleeves. The bodice is pink, with a sort of Van Dyke effect at the waist and lacing across the front. Note her hair, which is dressed in curls and loops of hair standing up…I wonder how they managed without hair-spray? (Ackermann’s Repository, December):

What do you think of 1827’s fashions?

Friday, February 15, 2013

Today, My Heart Belongs to . . . the Letter Carrier

I hope you had a lovely Valentine’s Day yesterday! It was a day eagerly awaited by many a young nineteenth century lass and lad in England. Thousands of Valentine letters were exchanged in London alone. In fact, the 1835 Post-Master General’s report cites an additional 50,000 or 60,000 pieces of mail through the London Twopenny Post around Valentine’s Day. The hundred or so letter carriers in London had to be given additional money for refreshments just to see them through their arduous work. In a bigger city, they might make deliveries as many as six times a day!

However, even with their help, figuring out how to get your Valentine from your fingers to your true love wasn’t for the faint of heart. You could hand it to the postman, if you caught him on one of his rounds, or you could take it to the Post Office near you, which could be at a shop or an inn if you were in a smaller town or village. Later in the century, post boxes appeared to collect letters in certain areas. Some villages didn’t even have post offices or boxes, requiring you to walk miles to post a letter or to take the chance of paying a private firm to deliver your message for you. Many such firms went bankrupt before letters were even delivered.

Then too, each sheet of paper cost money to send, to be paid by the person who received it. While England was at war with France, postage costs kept increasing. Postage was also higher the farther the letter had to travel. As you can imagine, the cost put a burden on the average working man or lady, not to mention the underemployed teen.

So, letter writers got creative. Instead of using more than one sheet, they wrote on both sides of the one, vertically, horizontally, and then kitty corner! Such cross writing was notoriously difficult to read, particularly squinting over candlelight. Then too, some friends or family who lived far apart arranged a code. If a letter arrived from the friend with your name misspelled or perhaps the address lettered wrong, why you knew that the friend was well and you could refuse to pay for the letter. There were also tales of people writing with milk along the margins of newspapers, which were free to mail, so that a friend could read the note over the heat of a flame.

Letters that were refused ended up in the Dead Letter Office. I can imagine it looking something like the Library of Congress in Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, although this is what one looked like in America in the early twentieth century. (Tires? Really?) Post Office employees often had to open the mail to determine how else it might find it rightful home. But in the early nineteenth century in England, Post Office employees were allowed to open and read your mail under other circumstances too, such as if you were suspected of being a traitor to England (“Dear Napoleon—I love you!”), evading Customs (“Dear Aunt Charlotte, that case of Brussels lace is safely stored in the cave under Peasbury Abbey.”, or involved in a robbery (“Dear Susan, I am delighted to relate that I was able to make away with that diamond ring you always wanted.”). If you were in jail for bankruptcy, the Post Office even sent all your mail to the solicitor in charge of prosecuting the case!

I’m just thankful for mail carriers today. They deliver author copies, fan mail, royalty statements, and all manner of things designed to make a writer’s heart go pitter-patter, even when it isn’t Valentine’s Day.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Such Language! Part 11

We haven’t done one of these in a while, have we? Have fun!!

Snaffle: to steal. (“Did you hear all the commotion this morning? My little brother Nigel snuck into the kitchen and snaffled a plate of tarts that were supposed to be served at Grandmama’s card party tonight.”)

Tooth-music: the sound of chewing. (“No doubt Cook found him from the obnoxiously loud tooth-music Nigel was making; I do wish the lad would learn to chew with his mouth closed!”)

Ride a horse foaled by an acorn: to be hanged, as gibbets were, of course, made from wood. (“After she found him with the empty plate, Cook told Nigel that one day he would ride a horse foaled by an acorn if he persisted in his life of crime.”)

Kitchen physic: good food. (“Nigel replied that he was desperately in need of a good kitchen physic and would only take the best medicine, which immediately made Cook forgive him.”)

Within ames ace: to come very close. (“I had to hand it to Nigel for coming up with such a good wheedle on short notice, but still came within ames ace of wanting to throw up.”)

Betwattled: surprised, confounded, out of one’s senses. (“Uncle Homer was quite betwattled when he laid eyes on Aunt Lucy’s new bonnet…and was even more betwattled when he saw the milliner’s bill.”)

Ape leader: an old maid. (“Did you hear that Cousin Lucinda is now working at the Royal Zoological Gardens in the monkey house? She said that if no one wanted to marry her, she might as well be an ape leader in earnest.”)

Bookkeeper: one who doesn’t return borrowed books. (“I shan’t lend Agnes my new copy of Pride and Prejudice by A Lady, even though she begged me; she is a dreadful bookkeeper and still has my copy of A Lady’s first book, Sense and Sensibility.”)

Friday, February 8, 2013

Not Even for Marvelous Blue John

Oh, lovely, lovely research. I absolutely adore the things I find when I least expect them. My next series of books, the first of which comes out in August after I end the Everard saga in March, is set among the peaks of Derbyshire. While doing research on the area, I came across the mention of Blue John, so of course I had to work it into a story!

So what is Blue John, you might ask? It sounds as if it’s the title of a child’s nursery rhyme or maybe the horse that won at Ascot in 1815, doesn’t it? It’s actually a unique type of fluorspar or fluorite, found only a particular area of Derbyshire. The name is thought to be a corruption of the French words for blue and yellow, bleu and jaune. Bands of purple, blue, gray, and yellow run through the semiprecious stone in swirls, making each stone also unique. And when fired to a certain temperature, the stone can turn red or pink.

Blue John is mined from limestone caverns in the hillsides. It’s relatively easy to dig out and shape it into vases, candlesticks, jewelry, and cups or bowls. Beginning in the 1750s, it was very popular with aristocratic families.

And the legends about it abound. Supposedly the Emperor Nero had dishes made of the stuff, brought back from the Roman conquest of Britain. In more recent times, men exploring for lead were said to have discovered the caverns where it’s still mined today. Nearby Chatsworth, home of the Dukes of Devonshire, had two entire columns built from the stone as well as a number of other pieces such as the table at the left and the bowl to the right. In fact, articles made from Blue John can be found in the White House, Windsor Castle, and the Vatican.

So what did I do with such a wonderful stone in my current work in progress? Fashion it into a ring for my hero to present to my heroine? Create a set of goblets with which they could toast their love? Light a romantic dinner with Blue John candlesticks?

Nah. I sent my couple tramping through the cavern, where my hero was promptly pushed over a cliff. But not by the heroine. Though she did help rescue him.

Yes, I know. I’m hopeless. My agent keeps telling me I need to write a straight romance, no evil villains, no mystery or suspense. I can’t do it. Not even with all that lovely Blue John to tempt me.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Queen Victoria Goes to Kokomo

Well, not quite. But sort of. :)

I’m lucky enough to be looking forward to a visit to warmer climes in the near future—when you live in the chilly north, a few days spent in a place where it’s not necessary to wear heavy down coats is a Very Good Thing.

I’m not the only one to think so. Queen Victoria started taking an annual holiday somewhere in sunny southern Europe, usually for six or seven weeks from the beginning of March to mid-to-late April. Her first trip, in 1879, was shortly after the death of her daughter, Princess Alice; the Queen felt that she needed a complete change of scene, and decided it was high time she visited Italy, which she had never seen. She was lent a villa, Villa Clara, at Baveno, on Lake Maggiore, which though close to the Alps has a mild, Mediterranean climate year round.

The Queen was delighted with her decision. The scenery was gorgeous (though she invariably compared it to Scotland), so she spent a lot of time sketching and painting watercolors, went boating on the lake all the way up to its end in Switzerland, visited Milan to see the artwork (not a success as she was mobbed while visiting the cathedral). It whetted her appetite for more travels, and three years later, she went to the French Riviera, a trip that eventually became an annual event.

Her first visit there was to Menton, where she saw the Mediterranean for the first time. Once again she compared the scenery to Scotland, but as anything that reminded her of Scotland was definitely a good thing, it was high praise indeed. She was an indefatigable sightseer, taking little trips to Monte Carlo (though not to gamble) and other places, with her English coachman and Scottish servant, John Brown, in full Highland regalia (how the sight must have bemused the French!)…perhaps to visit a quaint nunnery, or a pottery factory, or to have a picnic in a secluded spot by the side of the road. In future years she stayed at Hy√®res, Grasse, and Cannes before finally settling on the Hotel Excelsior Regina (it added the “Regina” to its name with the Queen’s permission), in Cimiez, Nice. She always travelled “incognito” as the Countess of Balmoral, which of course fooled nobody but permitted her to avoid making visits of state—this was, after all, supposed to be a vacation. Family members descended on her for visits while on their own winter vacations, so that at times the poor Queen was quite exhausted from entertaining.

Her last visit was in 1899; the Boer War kept her home the following spring, which was her last before her death in January 1901. I’m sorry she had to miss that last year; she took great delight in her annual visits south, away from “the sunless north”. I know I’ll enjoy mine!

Friday, February 1, 2013

Where the Boys Are: Still Betting at White's

My dears, please forgive the recycling of an older post. It received a great number of hits, so I thought perhaps you might enjoy seeing it again. As some of you know, my father passed away last Sunday, and my heart is heavy. I hope to have more energy for blogging next week. Appreciate the kind thoughts! Regina

The nineteenth century saw the rising popularity of gentlemen’s clubs in London. There were clubs for military men, a club for men of Scottish descent, a club for men who had travelled outside England by at least 500 miles. But one of the most famous was the club for the fashionable: White’s.

White’s started out as a chocolate house, a place where one went to drink hot chocolate and chat with one’s equals (not too different from coffee houses today). In the late 1700s, the establishment took up rooms on St. James’s and limited membership to a certain number of male subscribers (300 at the beginning of the nineteenth century; 500 by 1814).

As a young man, you could only hope to breath the rarified air of White’s. You were allowed to visit as a guest of another member, say an older brother or father. To become a member, you needed a current member or two to vouch for you. All current members voted on whether to accept you, dropping a small white ball into a box to indicate favor and a small black ball to indicate disfavor. A single black ball was enough to bar you entrance to that hallowed hall. (Anyone heard of being "blackballed"?)

But if you were so lucky as to be invited to join, you had to pay a yearly subscription (11 guineas in 1814) and agree to abide by a set of rules. Once inside those doors, you might play cards to all hours, eat a good supper at precisely 10 each night, and read the Times in peace. But one of the most entertaining things about White’s was its infamous betting book.

Any member could bet any other member anything, at any time. The bet was recorded in the book for all members to ogle and gossip about, and the loser had better pay promptly or risk the wrath of his fellow members (including being removed from membership). Bets ranged all over the place, but generally covered events taking place (or not), people getting married or having children (or not), and, early in the century, the movements and defeat of Napoleon.

Some bets were easily identified, even in the shorthand used in the book: “Mr. G. Talbot bets Mr. Blackford five guineas that Mr. Walsh is transported.” Apparently Mr. Walsh was vindicated, for Mr. Talbot paid his wager.

Others were far more secretive. “Mr. B. Craven bets Lord Forbes 100 gs to 5 that an event between them understood takes place before another which was named. March 11, 1821.” So what event was that important to them both? Hm.

But this one caught my attention: “Mr. Bouverie bets Ld. Yarmouth a hundred to fifty that H.R.H. the Duke of Clarence has not a legitimate child within 2 years of this day (November 18, 1817).”

Mr. Bouverie must have won, as the Duke of Clarence, who became William IV, had no legitimate children, opening the way for Victoria to become Queen after him. I would be willing to bet that Marissa knew that.