Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The Children of George III: William, Duke of Clarence (and later King William IV)

Poor Prince William Henry, third child (and third son) of George III. A girl was supposed to make her way into the world on August 21, 1765 at  Buckingham House—or so his parents had hoped. After two bouncing boys, they were ready for a sweet little daughter to join their nursery.

Not this time.

As George was already heir to the throne and Frederick slated for the army, it was decided that William should make the navy his career, so at 13 he was sent off to be a midshipman—and actually functioned as one, doing the same work as his fellows, though on any shore visits he was generally received as the King’s son. He visited New York during the American Revolution (where a kidnapping plot approved by Washington was discussed but not carried out), and over the course of his active naval career also visited the Caribbean and Canada on multiple occasions. A good friend of Admiral Nelson, he loved the naval life and was a good sailor, if not a terribly bright officer, bur his active duty ended upon his being made Duke of Clarence at 23. William would have liked to settle down and marry—he was one of the most domesticated of George III’s sons, unlike his two elder brothers—but didn’t particularly wish to marry a foreign princess. So he compromised, wooing and winning the favor of one of the most popular comedic actresses of the day, Dorothea Jordan—and spent the next twenty years with her in non-wedded bliss, eventually raising a family of ten children with her.

Those twenty years were also spent in a bit of a funk; William constantly offered his services to both the Navy and as a political figure, and was consistently refused. In many ways he was his own worst enemy, because he simply couldn’t shut up—while his basic views on a topic might be sound, he talked so much nonsense around it that any meaning was lost. So he puttered around his estate at Bushey while Mrs. Jordan became the bread-winner, and so things went—until the  problem of the lack of the next generation of legitimate heirs to the throne began to loom very large indeed. William was next in line after his two elder brothers, and of those two brothers, only one had a child capable of inheriting the throne. So William parted (unhappily) with Mrs. Jordan and went in search of a wife—preferably a wealthy one. The death of the Prince Regent’s daughter, Charlotte, sent him into high gear, and eventually he was accepted (after being turned down by others) by Princess Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen, twenty-seven years William’s junior. But to everyone’s surprise, they had a happy marriage, though neither of their children lived more than a few months.

William became king upon his elder brother’s death in 1830; his reign is notable chiefly for the passage of the Reform Act of 1832, which cleaned up the rotten and pocket boroughs and more fairly apportioned representation across the population, and for the abolition of slavery through British territory. And of course, he’s known for staying alive long enough to hand the throne directly to his niece, who became Queen Victoria in 1837.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Booksellers, Then and Now?

Admit it—you walk into a bookshop and time stands still. I can spend hours that feel like minutes wandering the stacks, finding treasures I never knew existed. The History of England by Jane Austen and Charles Dickens (a book I’ll discuss at a later date), The Lore of Ships, and The American Country House. If you are truly fortunate, you may meet a bookseller who understands your tastes and your reading history and so can recommend your next great read. But in nineteenth century England, booksellers might have a different job indeed.

Take this passage from A Book of English Trades: Being a Library of the Useful Arts, originally published in three volumes between 1804 and 1805:
“The Bookseller of the present day is a person of considerable importance in the republic of letters, more especially if he combines those particular branches of the trade denominated Proprietor and Publisher: for it is to such men our men of genius take their productions for sale: and the success of works of genius very frequently depends upon their spirit, probity, and patronage.”
[Stops for a moment. Basks in the thought of being a creator of “works of genius.”]

Now, the writer knew whereof he spoke. His book was printed for Tabart and Co., of 157 New Bond Street, London, and sold among the school and juvenile books. Without Tabart’s patronage, the book might never have reached a reading public. And I admit that I find it interesting that a book to help children know whether they wanted to be such things as a brick-maker or a cooper would sell so well (it was in its 7th printing by 1818) on a street reported to cater to the aristocracy.

The description about being a bookseller goes on to talk about how the trade also sees to the creation of encyclopedias.
“These bulky and valuable volumes . . . would never have made their appearance had not a Bookseller, or a combination of Booksellers, entered upon the speculation of employing men of science and learning in the various departments of these works and embarking large capitals in the undertaking.”
I am intrigued as to how these booksellers a) identified the men of science and learning, and b) convinced them to write for the encyclopedia.

[Stops for a moment, creative wheels turning, as she considers the matter.]

Today, of course, actual stores selling books are harder to find in America, and none that I know of commission the creation of encyclopedias. On the other hand, we have online a wealth of ways to purchase and develop books.

For example, Google Plus has an option to rent a book for a short time. In fact, three of my Love Inspired Historicals, Would-Be Wilderness Wife, Frontier Engagement, and Instant Frontier Family, are on sale through February 2, 2017, for only 99 cents each for a 24-hour period. 

How fast can you read? J

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Regency Fabrics, Part 13

Here’s another post in our ongoing series on Regency fabrics.

As I have in previous posts, I’ll be examining actual fabric samples glued into several earlier editions of Ackermann’s Repository, samples supplied by the manufacturers and published by Ackermann in order to boost the British cloth-making industry at a time when exporting British goods to Europe was almost impossible because of the Napoleonic war. I'll give you a close-up scan of each sample, the published description if available, and my own observations of the color, weight, condition, and similarity to present-day materials, to give you as close a picture as possible of what these fabrics are like. So here we go!

Today’s three samples are from the June 1810 issue of Ackermann’s Repository. Their overall condition is excellent, though there is some brown spotting visible.

Nos. 1 and 2 are a permanent lilac chintz furniture, never before produced in this country. It is an article comprising much appropriate elegance for the decoration of drawing-rooms, &c. &c. We are indebted to the ingenuity and invention of Mr. Allen, of Pall-Mall, for this novel and useful manufacture. Mr. Allen has reason to pride himself on the inspection and approval of her Royal Highness the Princess Elizabeth, of whose taste and genius the public have been favoured with many specimens. Her Royal Highness, we understand, was pleased to express her commendation on the superior designs, union, and delicacy of colours, as well as permanency of their shades, which distinguish the calico furniture of Mr. Allen.

My comments: You have to hand it to Mr. Allen: after 207 years his chintz is still quite color-fast, though the lilac has suffered some browning. This is a nice, weighty glazed chintz, very smoothly woven. No wonder Princess Elizabeth, the artsy-est of George III’s daughters, was impressed.

No. 3. A Persian lace muslin, particularly appropriated to the ball or evening dress. The lightness of its fabric, and lacy richness of its appearance, add to the beauty of its effect, when extended over white satin or sarsnet.  The trimmings and decorations of this elegant and unique article should either consist of white lace, beads, or satin. We recommend the sleeve to be made long and full, with a cuff of white satin, and with correspondent ornaments. This very attractive article is to be purchased of Messrs. Waithman and Everington, No. 104, Fleet-street.

My comments: I think this one has yellowed somewhat with age, but it is very dainty and feminine. It almost looks as though the holes were sort of stamped in—up close, you can see the distortion of the (very light and loose) weave of the fabric around the openings. Interesting method of production.

No. 4 is a permanent blue striped twill jean, manufactured expressly for the waistcoats and trowsers of men of fashion; it is also particularly well adapted for the trowsers and waistcoats of young gentlemen, under their hussar jackets, during the summer season. Its whiteness, and delicacy of shading, will be found superior to any other article before introduced, and is greatly to be preferred to the blue wove stripe, of antecedent production, which exhibited, at best, but an uncongenial and ordinary appearance. This simple article, which at once combines neatness, elegance, and utility, is manufactured for, and under the immediate direction of, Mr. F. Dietrichsen, of Rathbone-place; whose superior style of cutting men of fashions’ clothes, ladies’ riding habits, and young gentlemen’s hussar and other dresses, has deservedly obtained for him the patronage and orders of a large portion of the nobility and gentry, in town and country.

My comments: A densely-woven twill, of a weight somewhere between today’s shirting twill and lightweight denim. The stripes are printed, not woven. It seems a little lightweight for “trowsers” (love that spelling!), and unless human nature has changed greatly in two hundred years, giving “young gentlemen” white trousers to wear in summer-time will simply result in a great deal of laundry to be done!

Friday, January 20, 2017

Nineteenth Century Heroines: Schooling the Others

As many of you know, my most recent series, Frontier Bachelors, involves a number of heroines who were Mercer Girls, ladies who came with Asa Mercer to help settle Seattle after the Civil War. My fictional heroines are among the real-life second batch of approximately 60 ladies Mercer brought in 1866. His earlier trip in 1864 netted him a 11 women, all of whom married and helped civilize the frontier. All, that is, but one. 

I first started researching the Mercer Belles when I was in high school. At the time, one of the reports I found stated something along the lines of the following: “I always wondered why Lizzie Ordway never married. Then I saw her picture.” I thought the comment unkind then. Now I know it’s untrue on every level.

Mary Elizabeth “Lizzie” Ordway, was born on July 4, 1828, in New Hampshire. Perhaps arriving into the world on such an auspicious day imbued her with a certain spirit of independence. Certainly no one would have expected a small woman with somewhat protruding gray eyes and dark hair to be quite so outspoken, but Lizzie was no shrinking violet.

The oldest of Mercer’s group at 34, she came West to be a schoolteacher. Though gentlemen came calling as she stayed with Seattle pioneer Henry Yesler and his wife, Lizzie wanted to work. As her comrades were wooed and wed, she taught at Coupeville on Whidbey Island, then returned to Seattle as the first teacher at the newly built Central School. When more than 100 children showed up the first time she rang the bell, she “sent the youngest home to ripen” and convinced the school board to hire another teacher. After serving in other schools around the area, she ran for Superintendent of Schools for Kitsap County, a remarkable feat for a woman in those days. One of the regional newspapers even ran an editorial claiming that putting a woman in such a position only served to diminish the role. Lizzie was elected nonetheless.

Her other accomplishments are no less impressive. She joined with Susan B. Anthony to found the Female Suffrage Society in Seattle and lobbied in the state capitol for women’s rights. She was part of the County Education Board, examining and certifying teachers. She helped prepare Washington State’s educational exhibit for the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago.

Lizzie passed away at 69. She is said to have called herself “The Mercer Girl who reserved her affections for her students.” Aptly, an elementary school on Bainbridge Island across from Seattle is named for her.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

So What Did You Think?: Victoria

I think it’s probably safe to assume that a number of NineteenTeen readers watched the new offering on PBS’s Masterpiece, Victoria, this past Sunday evening (or, as I did, streamed on-line at pbs.org). And c’mon, you knew I’d be watching it.

The seven-part series is a dramatization of the first three-ish years (1837-1840) of Queen Victoria’s reign. It opens with her reception of the news that her uncle, King William IV, had died and that she, at just over eighteen years of age, is queen.

I’ve more or less come to the conclusion that I should probably not watch television or movie dramatizations of historical events, because, inevitably, the “dramatization” part wins out over the “history.”  History simply doesn’t make very good television: it’s too slow, too messy, too often lacking in the cohesion that makes for good storytelling.

And that was decidedly the case with Victoria. While there was oodles of conflict in the events around Victoria’s coming to the throne—the years between 1835 and 1837 were drama-filled indeed—Victoria chooses to make stuff up (I’m sorry—dramatize) and moves it to the years after 1837. So we basically ended up with a first episode here in which there wasn’t a lot of history.

  • Unlike what is shown in Victoria, Sir John Conroy was more or less out of Victoria’s life the minute she became queen: she barely saw him again, and after a matter of months Lord Melbourne managed to negotiate him out of Victoria’s mother’s household and into retirement (it took a little longer to repair the relationship between Victoria and her mother, but it did mend.) And while Conroy spent considerable time and effort before her ascension to try to force a regency on her, there was no question of it once she became queen.

  • The Duke of Cumberland became King of Hanover the minute Victoria became queen, and was in Hanover by the end of the month, taking up his royal duties...not conniving against her back in London.

  •  Lord Melbourne had certainly been popular with the ladies in his earlier years...but by the time Victoria came to the throne, he was fifty-eight years old and looked it every bit of it. Though he undoubtedly adored his little queen and treated her gallantly, it was very much a paternal sort of affection...and hers for him was that of a girl who’d never had a father figure in her life (don’t forget, her father died while she was still an infant), not to mention a male friend.

  •  Sir Robert Peel wasn’t “common,” as he’s played here—he was the son of a wealthy mill owner and politician and attended Harrow and Oxford. Victoria didn’t much care for him at first, but eventually came to both admire and respect him.

However, they did at least a semi- creditable job with the Lady Flora Hastings scandal and with the Bedchamber Crisis, when Victoria’s stubbornness about losing her ladies because they were married to Whig ministers brought down Peel’s fledgling government. Within a decade, court appointments became more disassociated from party politics.

Overall verdict? I was...underwhelmed. The settings weren’t bad but the costumes were disappointing (The Young Victoria movie was much yummier in that regard). I found a lot of the acting stiff, and while Jenna Coleman as Victoria was very striking, there was simply far too much time spent with the camera lingering on her face while she emoted...stiffly.

But that’s just me...did you watch it? What did you think? Tell us!

Friday, January 13, 2017

Little House, on the Spanaway Prairie

Over the holidays, I had the privilege of visiting a local museum. I know, you’re shocked. I mean, I never spend my free time in lovely, lovely research. J

By local, I mean just down the road from me. The Prairie House Museum, operated by the Spanaway Historical Society, tells the story of the area just south of Tacoma, Washington, on the way to Mt. Rainier. Though tall firs surround the house now, when it was built the area was entirely prairie, hence the name.

The house, which looks similar to the one in the picture, was originally built in the 1890s and has been lovingly restored by the society. It was named a historical landmark in 1989. The displays focus on different eras of history, from the early farming days to World War I and World War II. Clustered around the Victorian farmhouse are a smithy, milk and wash house, a large covered shed holding early farming machinery, and a two-story barn.

I have only lived in the area for 2 years, so much of the history the well-informed docent shared with me on my guided tour was new to me. I knew about the large lake at the edge of the community—I live about 3 miles from its shores. But what I didn’t know was that the area was quite the resort at the turn of the century.

It had its own railway that brought visitors in from downtown Tacoma twice a day, led by Old Betsy, the steam engine. There was a streetcar as well, all coming down Park Avenue. (Regina Scott connection—I attended Park Avenue Elementary School in Tacoma.) The lake shore featured the largest open-air dance pavilion in the state, shooting galleries, a bathhouse, a boathouse, hotels, and numerous summer cottages of the rich and famous. 

The community that grew up around the resort included grocery stores, taverns, a cooper, a slaughter house, a creamery, a livery stable, and a sawmill and furniture factory. The area, which the developers hoped would be called Lake Park instead of the native name that had been Anglicized to Spanaway, even had its own newspaper, The Sentinel.

In 1922, a huge fire swept the area, taking with it many of the buildings in the business district. Spanaway never fully recovered. When I was a youngster, it was a wild place, known only for the large city park on its shores. The park still stands, but businesses once more clog it on the north and east, with a residential area to the south and Joint Base Lewis-McChord near the west. The homes that once belonged to the rich and famous for the summer now house more modest families year round.

But walking through the museum, you can hear the whispers of splashes from swimmers, the faint strains from the band at the pavilion. And you can catch a glimpse into a lovely past others might never know existed.

You can learn more about the Prairie House Museum at its website

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Happy New Year, Dear Readers!

First of all, Happy 2017 to you, our dear readers! Regina and I hope you’ll continue to read along as we squee over 200-year-old fashions, tell weird history stories, talk about our books, and generally have fun.

And speaking of reading along...believe it or not (yeah, I’m kinda struggling with believing it myself) the fact that it’s 2017 means we’ll have been writing NineteenTeen posts for ten years come September. I expect we’ll be posting our one thousandth post some time toward the end of the year, which is kind of mind-boggling...but you know, we wouldn’t do this if we didn’t want to. We hope you’re still enjoying reading as much as we enjoy posting.

Since this is a New Year’s celebration post, there are a couple of things I wanted to do...and one of them is to talk about the books we especially loved over the last twelve months. Are there any books with a historical slant, fiction or non-fiction, that you especially enjoyed last year?

My candidate for Most Awesome Historical Book That I Read in 2016 is this one:

The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage: The (Mostly) True Story of the First Computer by Sydney Padua is...well, I suppose that it gets categorized as a graphic novel, but it’s so, so much more than that. According to the introduction, Ms. Padua started it as a bit of a lark, but things soon got out of hand (oh, I so know that feeling...) It’s the imagined adventures of two real people, Victorian inventor Charles Babbage and amateur mathematician and celebrity offspring Ada, Countess of Lovelace (the celebrity part being that she was Lord Byron’s daughter.)  The historical part is that Babbage designed what was more or less a steam-powered calculating machine (two of them, actually)...and his friend Lovelace, writing a commentary on the designs, more or less posited what would become today’s field of computer science. In real life, Babbage’s engines were never built and Lovelace died tragically young of cancer...but in Padua’s “pocket universe” they’ve teamed up to use the engines to “to build runaway economic models, battle the scourge of spelling errors, explore the wilder realms of mathematics, and, of course, fight crime—for the sake of both London and science.”

There’s so much to love here—the illustrations are glorious and historically correct (omg, the clothes are right, and so is the Duke of Wellington’s nose!) The story-telling is witty and erudite but never stuffy (I totally want this illustration of Isambard Kingdom Brunel on a t-shirt for my engineer husband and son), but it’s also real and human—Lovelace and Babbage aren’t cardboard figures, but brilliant and funny and in many ways, tragic. If you have the least interest in technological history or science fiction or the Victorian era or or or...read this book!

And in the “Other Things that Require Celebration” department, may I present this: a new cover for By Jove, being re-released next month from Book View CafĂ©. Gotta say, I'm in love with it.  Look for more news about By Jove in February. 

Now, dear readers, what's your news? Please tell us about your favorite 2016 book, or what you're bookishly looking forward to
this year...and keep reading!

(Fireworks image courtesy of noppasinw at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

Friday, January 6, 2017

Escaping Unflappable Winter

It’s finally cold here. Temperatures have dipped below freezing, and we had our first snow. My youngest son, who is studying at the University of Idaho, chuckles as we shiver. The temperature there is below zero, with snow drifts up to his waist. It’s enough to make you dream of balmy breezes and sunny skies.

It was no different in nineteenth century England. During the early part of the century, Europe was in the Little Ice Age, and things could be chilly and damp. Those that could headed someplace that at least seemed a bit warmer: Bath.

Don’t get me wrong. Bath had its share of chilly days and snow, but the coziness of the town—with its river walks, assembly rooms, and spa, made it seem like just the place to be. You met old friends, became acquainted with new ones, drank the waters, and took in the entertainments.

I cannot send you to Bath, alas, but I can provide a cozy read for this winter weather. The Unflappable Miss Fairchild, which concludes in Bath, is free until January 15, 2017.

The ever practical Anne Fairchild knows the proper way to seek a husband. So why is it one moment in the presence of the dashing Chas Prestwick, and she’s ready to throw propriety to the wind? Chas excels at shocking Society with his wild wagers and reckless carriage racing. But his bravado masks a bruised and lonely heart. Can the sweet-natured Anne convince him to take the greatest risk of all—on love?

Find it at fine online retailers:

Barnes and Noble