Friday, August 16, 2013

Happy (Belated) Birthday, George!

Today, I am reminded of birthdays.  For one, we have a little one who will be celebrating his first birthday shortly in my family.  For another, my grandmother would have been 102 today.  And August 12 marked one of the biggest birthday celebrations in the early nineteenth century, for it is the natal day of His Royal Highness George, the Prince of Wales, affectionately known as Prinny.
Marissa covered the interesting life of the man who would one day become George IV in several posts beginning here.  He could be as inquisitive and as capricious as a child, which is no doubt one of the reasons he sometimes insisted on a major blowout of a party on his birthday. 

For example, in 1814, he commissioned activities in all the public parks in London.  In Hyde Park and Green Park, he had booths and tents erected for a major fair with food, music, and dancing.  Little ships enacted a mock Naval battle on the Serpentine, and a balloon ascended from Hyde Park. The night ended with fireworks from an illuminated "temple." 

Meanwhile, over in St. James's Park, boats paraded in a regatta, and the military held an encampment through which the fashionable might promenade.  A Chinese pagoda built over the canal launched fireworks at the end of the night.

And while all this entertainment was open to everyone of any class for free, certain advertisements of the event stressed that the wealthy might purchase tickets:

"The rich may purchase the accommodation of a less occupied space, while the amusements of all will be equal and indeed universal," promised the Tradesman, an economic journal of the time.  "And the fund raised by the sale of the tickets (issued only, to be understood, for the due accommodation of certain classes) will be appropriated to some great and benevolent endowment, suited to the occasion and commemorative of it."

The rest of the cost, noted the Tradesmen, would be taken out of government funds, with each department contributing.  I guess that's one way to fund a birthday party!

And speaking of parties, Marissa and I will be doing something a little different than celebrating for the next two weeks as we prepare to tackle several important familiar milestones like the first year of college for two very special young ladies.  So, there will be no blog posts between now and September 6.

Time for a party, perhaps?

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Victoria’s Grandchildren: Empress Alexandra of Russia

Along with Kaiser Wilhelm, Empress Alexandra of Russia is probably the most famous of Queen Victoria’s well as one of the most tragic.

She was born in Darmstadt on June 6, 1872, the sixth child of Princess Alice and Grand Duke Louis of Hesse, and christened Victoria Alix Helena Louisa Beatrice (though her family nicknames were Alicky or Sunny, because of her cheerful disposition). The Hesse household was a close one; Princess Alice was a loving, involved mother who paid close attention to her children’s upbringing...until tragedy struck in 1878, when diphtheria raged through the ducal house, killing Alicky’s younger sister Marie...and her mother as well. Six year old Sunny underwent a radical personality change as a result, becoming withdrawn and brooding and able to relax only with her closest family members.

Louis loved his children, but he was a soldier and could not replicate his late wife’s care. So the Hesse children began to spend a great deal of time in England at their grandmother’s or various aunts and uncles’ houses. The Queen took a deep interest in their lives, minutely directing their education and upbringing. The Hesse girls grew to be attractive young woman, especially Alix, who drew the matrimonial attention of not only her cousin, the Duke of Clarence (and son of Bertie, Prince of Wales) but also of Ferdinand of Roumania. Both were refused, for Alix was in love with yet another cousin, Nicholas, Tsarevitch of Russia.

But when Nicky proposed, Alix refused, for marrying him would mean converting to the Russian Orthodox church and giving up her Lutheran faith. She suffered agonies of conscience, madly in love yet unable to say yes, until at her brother’s wedding in 1894, with most of the crowned heads of Europe gathered for the event, she relented. Alix and Nicky married just months later, following the death of Nicky’s father, Tsar Alexander III. The orphaned princess from a tiny German principality became Empress of Russia at the age of 22...and took the first steps on the road that would lead to tragedy 23 years later.

Life was difficult for Alix; she remained painfully shy and withdrawn in a country that admired showmanship and appearance. She kept as isolated as she could from the free-wheeling, licentious court and encouraged Nicky to withdraw too, absorbing herself in her children and a small number of trusted friends and, increasingly (and ironically in light of her initial reluctance) in religion. Nicky, kindly but almost painfully weak-willed, followed her lead. Multiple pregnancies (not only the birth of her four daughters and son, but miscarriages as well) undermined her health, and in time she became a semi-invalid, shutting herself away from public view (much as Queen Victoria had after Prince Albert’s death. Coincidence?) Her melancholy nature led her to the mystical end of the Orthodox church; the hemophilia of her long-awaited son pushed her further into withdrawal and religion, including her reliance on an uncouth peasant priest named Grigori Rasputin, who had an uncanny ability to ease her hemophiliac son’s suffering.

Unfortunately, the deteriorating political situation in Russia inspired her to encourage her husband to take a stand and oppose those of his ministers who wanted to curtail imperial powers and introduce some degree of democracy into government. The outbreak of World War I rang the death peal of many monarchies in Europe, Russia’s included. Nicholas abdicated in March 1917, making his younger brother Michael the actual last Tsar. The royal family were placed under house arrest; a plan to send them to a life of exile in England was discussed, nothing came of it. They were shuffled from one place to another as differing faction battled for control of Russia; in the fall the Bolsheviks gained the upper hand. Nicky and Alix were temporarily separated from their family, but reunited with them several weeks later near the city of Ekaterinburg. Their living conditions grew grimmer with each move; by the time of their stay in Ekaterinburg, they had little left and only a servant or two willing to stay with them.

In July 1918, with different factions still struggling for power in Russia, the Bolsheviks who held Nicky and Alix and their family decided that they were too dangerous to be left alive. The entire family—22 year old Olga, 20 year old Tatiana, 19 year old Marie, 17 year old Anastasia, and 14 year old Alexei—were horribly executed in the cellar of their house...on the site of which today stands a cathedral. The devout Alix and Nicky, as well as their children, were made saints in the Orthodox Church.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Quiz for Free Book: When Was That Invented?

As you probably know by now, Nick the hero of my August release, The Courting Campaign, is a natural philosopher specializing in the properties of materials.  I was amazed by what I learned when researching the state of science in 1815.  Some things were definitely discovered or invented earlier than I thought, and some things weren't known until much later! 

So here's a quiz about inventions in nineteenth century England.  I'll post the answers in the first comment. Anyone who comments after me to let us know how you did will be entered in a drawing for a free signed copy of The Courting Campaign.  If you already have it, I'll give you a choice of any of the books for which I still have copies.  Or you can have me sign it and give it away to someone you love!  Ready?  Here we go!    

1.  Which of the following was NOT invented before 1814?
a.  Submarine
b.  Plastic surgery
c.  Safety lantern for mining
d.  Hot air balloons

2.  When was the earliest it was possible for a typical Englishwoman to light a candle with a match?
a.  1815
b.  1825
c.  1830
d.  1835

3.  Although used in the Netherlands since the 1700s, the first tin can was patented in England in 1810.  How was it opened?
a.  With a can opener
b.  With a knife
c.  The top peeled back
d.  With a hammer and chisel

4.  When was the first waterproof raincoat available in England?
a.  1807
b.  1823
c.  1846
d.  1899

5.  When was the first calculator patented?
a.  1835
b.  1822
c.  1805
d.  1800

Let us know how you did!  I'll announce the winner next Friday, August 16.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Going Courting?

This week marks the launch of The Courting Campaign, which should be on the shelves of bookstores near you as well as available at many online venues. Why is that exciting? For one, it's my 25th work of Regency-set romantic fiction, a fact that humbles me. For another, it's the first book in a new series, where downstairs servants play matchmaker for upstairs aristocracy. And for a third, the reviewers seem to really enjoy it. Huntress Reviews gave it a rare five stars; RT Book Reviews, romance's premiere industry magazine, gave it four and a half stars and a Top Pick; and an online reviewer says it's my best book yet. I hope you agree!

Emma Pyrmont has no designs on handsome Sir Nicholas Rotherford--at least not for herself. As his daughter's nanny, she sees how lonely little Alice has been. With the cook's help, Emma shows the workaholic scientist just what Alice needs. But making Nicholas a better father makes Emma wish her painful past didn't mar her own marriage chances.

Ever since scandal destroyed his career, Nicholas has devoted himself to his new invention. Now his daughter's sweet, quick-witted nanny is proving an unexpected distraction. All evidence suggests that happiness is within reach--if only a man of logic can trust in the deductions of his own heart.
Want more? Here's a short excerpt of when Emma and Nick first meet:

Out in his laboratory, Sir Nicholas Rotherford placed another damp cloth over the glowing wool and stepped back to cover his nose with the sleeve of his brown wool coat. Carbon always turned acrid. He knew that. He'd figured it out when he was eight and had burned his first piece of toast over the fire. He should have considered that fact before treating the wool and attempting to set it ablaze.

Now the smoke filled the space, and he could no longer even see the locks of black hair that tended to fall into his face when he bent over his work. His nose was stinging with the smell, and he shuddered to think what was happening inside his paisley waistcoat, where his lungs must be laboring.

But he had work to do, and nattering on about his health wasn't going to get it done.

Behind him, he heard footsteps on the marble floor he'd had installed in the old laundry outbuilding when he'd made it into his laboratory. No doubt his sister-in-law Charlotte had come to berate him again for missing some function at the Grange. She couldn't seem to understand that his work was more important than observing the social niceties.

Of course, it was possible she'd noticed the smoke pouring from the building and had come to investigate.

"It's all right," he called. "I have it under control."

"I'm certain the good Lord will be glad to hear that when you report to Him an hour from now in heaven," a bright female voice replied. "But if you prefer to continue carrying on this work here on earth, I suggest you breathe some fresh air. Now."

Nick turned. The smoke still billowed around him, made more visible by the light from the open doorway. He could just make out a slender female form and . . .a halo?

He blinked, and the figure put out a hand. "Come along. You've frightened the staff quite enough."

It was a kind tone, a gentle gesture, but he could tell she would brook no argument, and he was moving before he thought better of it.

Once outside, he felt supple fingers latching onto his arm and drawing him farther from the door. The air cleared, and he sucked in a breath as he stopped on the grass closer to the Grange.

It was sunny. He could see the house, the planted oak forests on either side, the sweep of fields that led down the dale toward the other houses that speckled the space. Odd. He was certain it had been pouring rain when he'd set out for the laboratory that morning, the mists obscuring the peaks behind the buildings.

How long had he been working?

"Take a deep breath," his rescuer said.

The advice seemed sound, so he did as she bid. The clean air sharpened his mind, cleared his senses. Somewhere nearby he thought he smelled lavender.

"Better?" she asked.

"Better," he agreed. His gaze traveled over her, from her sturdy black boots to her muddy brown eyes. She appeared to be shorter than he was, perhaps a little less than five and a half feet. What he'd taken as a halo was her pale blond hair, wound in a coronet braid around a face symmetrical enough to be pleasing. Her brown wool dress with its long sleeves and high neck hardly looked like heavenly apparel.

But then how could he be certain? He'd been avoiding thoughts of heaven and its Master for several months now.

"Who are you?" he asked.

She dipped a curtsey, but her pink lips compressed as if she found the question vexing. "Emma Pyrmont." When he continued to wait for clarification, she added, "Your daughter's nanny."
Be sure to come back Friday for a chance to win a free copy. If you simply cannot wait, here are links to some of the sales sites online:

Love Inspired
Barnes and Noble
An Independent Bookseller Near You
The Book Depository (free shipping worldwide)

Friday, August 2, 2013

How to Win the Lottery, Nineteenth Century Style

Millions of dollars at stake, thousands of people lined up for tickets, dozens of schemes covering which tickets to buy and whether to share tickets in a pool of people for maximum impact--sound familiar?  It wasn't unfamiliar to those in early nineteenth century England either.  The government regularly held lotteries from 1566 to 1826, all to help fund state programs such as the development of the British Museum.

In the beginning, the state lottery was actually more of an investment program.  Only so many tickets were sold, and many to wealthy families.  The government held the money in trust and drew interest on it for up to 3 years, then each ticket holder received a share of the prizes.  Imagine--no losers!  Prizes might include silver plate and china as well as money.  But all that changed in the late 1700s to a system more like what we have today--merely a chance to win a certain amount of money.

At the same time, the government awarded contracts to brokers to sell the tickets.  These brokers in turn hired agents who could be rather bold in their attempts to sell the tickets.  Broadsheets advertised the opportunities, and many were quite creative.  One lamented that love was difficult to come by, but money wasn't--just buy a lottery ticket!  Lottery "insurance" men went around badgering people to subscribe, offering the lure of quick riches to a populace sunk in poverty.  Some called the desire to participate "lottery influenza" because it was widespread and pernicious. 

If you couldn't afford the price of a full ticket, you could buy a half, quarter, eighth, or sixteenth, with your prize being commensurately lower.  Though August was a favorite month, with a drawing every Monday and Thursday, other lotteries were held at other times of the year, such as Valentine's Day (not my idea of a romantic way to celebrate!). 

Some felt it immoral to gamble on the lottery.  Others took advantage of the practice.  An entire side industry grew up allowing people to wager on various aspects of the lottery, such as which ticket was more likely to win.  Police advocate and magistrate Patrick Colquhoun estimated that the money raised by such secondary schemes was equal to what the government was getting from the lottery.

Evangelical protests finally led to a change in policy, with the last state lottery of this sort held in England in 1826.  However, the previous activities had influenced the Colonies.  America used a lottery to help fund the War for Independence, which was not quite the winning outcome England had hoped for. 

And if you'd like a chance to win a free book, come back next week for the launch of The Courting Campaign!

(Picture of lottery ticket by Ron Shelley and used under a Creative Commons License)