Monday, 24 November 2014

A Sailor's Valentine

It is not unusual for the Guide to feature the occasional grisly story, with executions, crime and one to two gruesome deaths cropping up now and again. I am, however, not entirely without a heart and it is my pleasure to feature a nautical, romantic keepsake today in the colourful form of this sailor's valentine.

This valentine was auctioned in New York eight years ago for over $13000. It dates from the early nineteenth century. Quite unlike the rather more mundane paper valentine cards so popular today, this is a double mahogany frame in which dozens of shells have been carefully arranged to send a message of love to a lucky recipient. 

A Sailor's Valentine

On the left, the shells form the shape of a heart topped with a rose, a pair of symbols that can hardly be misinterpreted as anything but adoring. However, should there be any room for confusion the artist has decided to be absolutely clear in the message they wish to send and really highlights the point in the opposite frame. Here on the right, the message Forget Me Not has been carefully picked out in colourful seashells with another heart to seal the deal, leaving this is a most romantic token to be gazed at and cherished whenever the lovers concerned are parted. 

This is an utterly beguiling little artefact that marks a moment in history. Though we cannot know the story of this shell-studded valentine, I do hope it ended more happily than some of the tales I tell here at the Guide!

Sunday, 23 November 2014

A Sick Syphon

It is my pleasure to take tea once more today with Dr Dillingham of Edinburgh and hear his medical tales. I must admit that, when I first encountered the item that has caught my eye today, I was rather misled by its name; happily though, the sick syphon is not quite the gruesome instrument I took it to be!

Upon my initial reading of the name of this rather fine implement, I found myself wondering how on earth it worked. How could such a thing be used to syphon vomit form a patient? My mind fairly boggled at the many, varied and ever more unpleasant methods by which it might be employed and yet, as the good doctor quickly assured me, it has nothing to do with vomit.

In fact, the sick syphon is rather more like a very elaborate, very well turned out straw. Its shape allowed it to be placed in a vessel such as a bowl or mug and even the weakest patient could then carefully suck up whatever (mostly liquid) foodstuff was on offer.

This particular syphon is dated 1790 and was made by silversmiths Edward Robinson and Thomas Phipps. In its fine case it makes for a most unusual medical curiosity; if only it could talk!

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Victims of the National Razor

I have, it would appear, acquired something of a reputation for liking the more grisly aspects of history. Perhaps it is my prized miniature guillotine, perhaps the number of salon visitors who ended their days beneath the blade of that iconic instrument of death, I can hardly tell! Whatever the cause, these past months I have received a few queries from readers who would like an easy way to track down all the guillotine posts here at the Guide.

I always aim to help if I can and for this reason, I have introduced a new guillotine tag for just such an occasion. To make things even easier though, here are the links to all of those guillotine posts - I hope they prove ghoulishly diverting!

A model of the 1792 guillotine
A model of the 1792 guillotine

To kick us off, who better than Joseph-Ignace Guillotin? This gentleman championed the guillotine, little imagining just how often it would come to be used!

The French Court During Revolution
Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette: The iconic king and queen of France.
Princess Élisabeth of France: A loyal sister to the end.
Madame du Barry: Mistress to a king.
Anne d'Arpajon: The woman mocked as Madame Etiquette by Marie Antoinette.
Lamoignon de Malesherbes: The man who defended Louis XVI at his trial, forced to watch his family die before his own execution.

The French Revolution
Maximilien Robespierre: The Revolutionary politician who presided over the Terror.
Charlotte Corday: Assassin.
Jean-Sylvain Bailly: Architect of the Revolution.
Louis-Antoine de Saint-Just: This confidante of Robespierre died alongside him.
Georges Danton and Camille Desmoulins: Powerhouses of the Revolution who fell foul of the Jacobins.
Olympe de Gouges: An ardent revolutionary and thinker who rethought her politics as the Reign of Terror took hold.
Friedrich von der Trenck: Spy, adventurer and man of action.
Adam Philippe, Comte de Custine: The military man better known as Général Moustache.

Friday, 21 November 2014

History as a Character in Historical Romance by Regan Walker

Once again it is my pleasure to welcome a guest author to the site to share tales of writing and history. Without further ado I shall leave you in the delightful hands of Regan Walker and the fascinating topic of history as a character in historical romance.


For me, writing historical romance must include real history—and it’s a character in each of my stories. What do I mean by that? First, the historical element is not just setting or “background.” Rather, the historical events of the time are woven in along with real historical figures. Unlike historical fiction, because I write romance, there is always a main love story in the foreground and a happy ending.

Typically, I begin with an idea, a scene or a character. For the first in the Agents of the Crown trilogy, Racing With The Wind, it was the character Lady Mary Campbell. I have always believed that women in past times were no different in character, hopes and dreams than women are today. There have always been women who were happy to conform to the expectations of their times and there have always been women who did not. Perhaps because of their intelligence and curiosity, those who do not conform become bored with the role carved out for their sex and so they push the envelope of what is acceptable. I wanted to take a woman like that and look at her through the lens of Regency England. What would she do differently than the women of her age?

Racing with the Wind

While Regency England (the period from 1811-1820), was characterized by a Prince Regent who lived a debauched lifestyle where courtesans might have been treated better than the wives of arranged marriages, still a young lady of the nobility would be raised in a certain manner with certain expectations of proper behavior. My heroine is one of those but she will rebel. She will ride astride in men’s clothes (as some, in fact, did); she will be educated and read the classics; and she will be adventure seeking. So armed with that information, I went looking for history that would make for an interesting setting. And I found it in Paris in 1816.

With Napoleon exiled to St. Helena and Louis XVII restored to France’s throne, much was happening in Paris. The allied troops were still encamped around the city and the officers frequented Louis’ Court. Knowing what I do about governments, I knew there would be spies as well as statesmen. And that brought me to my hero. He had to be strong enough to handle Lady Mary Campbell, and wise enough to appreciate her unique personality. Of course, while drawn to her beauty and spirit, he would find her independent nature most troublesome. Enter the Nighthawk, a mysterious figure—a legend in France during Napoleon’s reign—who stole secrets in the dead of night, secrets that were at the heart of Napoleon’s military campaigns.

Then I had to have other characters, a best friend for Mary, a colleague or two for the Nighthawk, also known as Hugh, the Marquess of Ormond. The interesting thing to me was that I found a woman who actually lived in Paris at that time who was so like Lady Mary that I decided to incorporate her into my story. Thus, the real person of Germaine de Stael became a friend and mentor of sorts to my fictional heroine. And the rest, of course, is the romance!

Germaine de Stael
Germaine de Stael

For the third in my trilogy, Wind Raven, a seafaring Regency, I started with the hero, Jean Nicholas Powell, a sea captain and an arrogant Englishman who gave up on love (and virgins in particular) some years ago. Now he loves only his ship, his crew and his life at sea. For this man, I needed a woman he would come to respect who would defy convention and give him a major run for his money.

Wind Raven

Enter the American patriot, Tara McConnell from the shipbuilding family of privateers who built the Boston Clipper ships that helped America run the British blockades in the War of 1812. Tara, who grew up on her father’s ships, disdains the English even though the war has been over for a few years. Yet she was forced by her father to spend a year in London with her aunt, a dowager baroness, and to have a Season. I had a real, historic model for Tara in Anne Chamberlyne, a scholar’s daughter and member of the gentry who, declining offers of marriage in 1690, at the age of twenty-three, donned a man’s clothing and joined her brother’s ship to fight the French off Beachy Head. Tara was just such a woman. Once Tara becomes a passenger on Nick’s ship, the sparks start to fly. She wants to act a member of his crew and he wants her far from the action.

It was important to me that I get all the ship scenes correct and use all the right terminology, particularly since both Tara and Nick well understood the workings of a schooner. I read my 4-inch thick Sailor’s Word Book and studied drawings of schooners of the period until I was seeing them in my dreams. I also took a ride on a schooner of the period, the Californian (pictured below) to get a feel for the movement of the ship—and in doing so, I found a friend and my consultant in the person of the ship’s gunner to whom the book is dedicated.


I did extensive research for this book. It included not just schooners of the period and the War of 1812, but what was happening on Bermuda (where Nick makes a stop and they dine with real historic figures living there in 1817), how a schooner would weather a major storm at sea, and, most importantly, the real pirate Roberto Cofresi, who is a character in the story and falls in love with Tara. A tall, blond giant of a man from Puerto Rico, Cofresi preyed on merchant ships not flying the flag of Royal Spain. And he had reason to do so, as you’ll see in my story. While you are reading a romance, you are also learning something about a real pirate who plagued the seas at the time.

My latest novel, The Red Wolf’s Prize, is a medieval set in England in 1068, two years after the Norman Conquest and features the Siege of Exeter, the Battle of York and a love story for the ages.

The Red Wolf's Prize

About the Author

Bestselling author Regan Walker loved to write stories as a child, particularly those about adventure-loving girls, but by the time she got to college more serious pursuits took priority. One of her professors encouraged her to pursue the profession of law, which she did. Years of serving clients in private practice and several stints in high levels of government gave her a love of international travel and a feel for the demands of the “Crown” on its subjects. Hence her romance novels often involve a demanding sovereign who taps his subjects for “special assignments.” In each of her novels, there is always real history and real historic figures.

Regan lives in San Diego with her golden retriever, Link, whom she says inspires her every day to relax and smell the roses.

Written content of this post copyright © Regan Walker, 2014.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

The Death of Caroline of Ansbach

Wilhelmina Charlotte Caroline of Brandenburg-Ansbach (Ansbach, Holy Roman Empire, 1st March 1683 – London, England, 20th November 1737)

Caroline of Ansbach by Jacopo Amigoni, 1735
Caroline of Ansbach by Jacopo Amigoni, 1735

Just a couple of days ago, we peeked in at the final hours of Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz and today we once again the share last moments of a queen. Caroline of Ansbach was, of course, the wife of George II and had enjoyed several successful periods as regent that won her the admiration and respect of the English people throughout her ten years as queen.

Like so many women of her era, Caroline underwent no small measure of trauma during her ten pregnancies and it was to be a trauma to her womb that would eventually kill her. Although she began to suffer a number of ailments as she grew older, the fatal blow came on 9th November 1737 when she attended a reception and was struck down by a terrible pain in her abdomen.

Although the queen tried to carry out her duties she was forced to retire to her private rooms at St James's Palace where the royal physicians descended, led by Dr John Ranby. The doctors decided that Caroline's womb had ruptured and set about treating her in their tried and tested way. When bleeding produced no solution they attempted surgery and the queen endured these unaesthetised procedures without complaint, growing weaker with every passing day.

Eventually Caroline and George told the doctors that, many years earlier, the queen had suffered from  an umbilical hernia. With this knowledge, Ranby could finally take action and went to work on the hernia, which over the years had caused part of her bowel to decay. In the gruesome operation that followed, the doctors sliced out the decayed flesh, completely opening her bowels and causing catastrophic damage. From that day on her fate was sealed; raw excrement oozed into her abdomen and out through the surgical wounds as Caroline clung weakly to life, suffering untold agony with every moment.

For a week the queen lingered on, well aware that her death was swiftly approaching. She begged her husband to marry again once she was gone but he refused, saying that he may take a mistress, but never another wife. In his eyes, no woman could truly match her and as she faded from life, he maintained a vigil at her side.

At ten o'clock on the evening of 20th November 1737, attended by her husband and daughter, Caroline's unimaginable suffering came to an end. She took George's hand and told him with her final breath, "I am going."

As she had been so many times, the queen was proved right. Plunging the public, court and her own family into mourning, Caroline of Ansbach passed away. She was buried in Westminster Abbey and when her husband joined her in death, their coffins were placed side by side and the sides removed, so that they might rest together for eternity.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

The Death of the Man in the Iron Mask

One of the most intriguing mysteries in French history apparently reached its final act on this day in 1703. Deep within the walls of the Bastille a man breathed his last but as he passed away, he ignited centuries of speculation, conspiracy theories and a host of fanciful and fictional tales. That near-legendary prisoner, face hidden by black velvet, has found his identity in the austere title of the Man in the Iron Mask.

Anonymous, 1789
Anonymous, 1789

The masked prisoner had been incarcerated since approximately 1680, held in the more or less permanent custody of Bénigne d'Auvergne de Saint-Mars at Pignerol. When Saint-Mars found a new billet at the Bastille in 1698 he took the mysterious figure with him, where he took up residence alone in the Bertaudière tower. Treated well and clad in velvet, not iron, the unnamed prisoner passed his years in the Bastille in relative calm and died a peaceful death by all accounts on 19th November 1703.

The following day the masked man was laid to rest under the name, Marchioly, apparently aged somewhere in his mid-forties. His cell was stripped back to the bricks and all trace of him erased from the world, if not from history. Indeed, efforts to keep the prisoner anonymous fuelled the fire that raged around him and now, more than two hundred years after he breathed his last, we still remember the Man in the Iron mask. 

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

My Wonderful Salon Guests!

I thought the time was right to sing the praises once more of my wonderful salong guests, who have visited the Guide to share their stories with us. As new guests visit, you will find the page listing their contributions updated but I why not peruse the list below and dip into their wonderful historical worlds! Should you wish to share a guest post here at the salon, do let me know!

Although the Guide never strays far from history, those who write on the subject of the long 18th century in both fact and fiction are always welcome! If you are a fan of historical fiction, you will enjoy Judith Arnopp's post on writing for the genre, whilst Jacki Delecki let us in on the secrets of turning her fiction into an audiobook. 

Anna Belfrage offers an insight into faith and David Ebsworth does likewise in a very different way, examining the life of a remarkable military lady. Somewhat less dangerous was the Regency love of flowers as discussed by Kathryn Kane, whilst Maria Grace remains at home with a look at toys and games of the long 18th century and Sarah Shaw invited us to join a Georgian picnic in 2014! Should you be in more of a mood for a night on the town, why not visit Vauxhall Pleasure gardens in the company of  Grace Elliott or Alicia Rasley for a Georgian masquerade?

Further from the safety of home and hearth, CW Lovett brings the Siege of Louisbourg to life and Sarah Murden and Jo Major  lift the scandalous lid on a spy, traitor and trigamist! Also scandalous was Marie Antoinette's approach to etiquette, as discussed by  Ginger Myrick, whilst Laura Purcell brings us the somewhat less polarising life of Charlotte of Mecklenbug-Strelitz.

If you prefer things a little calmer, join  Christine Plunkett for her tale of the restoration of Ralph Allen's tomb or perhaps take a stroll in a Georgian garden in the heart of Sheffield in the company of Adam Smith. Still outdoors, though not quite pastoral, is Willow C Winsham's Halloween tale of a ghost ship whilst Nick Smith talks pirates, though not of the ghostly kind!

Last but not least we come to the Pitts in the company of Jacqui Reiter and Stephenie Woolterton, whose multiple posts on this remarkable family make for fascinating reading!

Jacqui Reiter
Mary Elizabeth, Countess of Chatham 
The Collapse of the Earl of Chatham in the House of Lords 
John Pitt, 2nd Earl of Chatham

Stephenie Woolterton 
Re-thinking the Death of William Pitt the Younger: His Legacy
 Humphry Repton’s Memoirs of Two British Prime Ministers 
Happy 255th birthday, William Pitt the Younger: Remembering Hayes Place 
Lady Hester Stanhope on Board the H.M.S. Salsette     

I hope you find something to enjoy, it's an honour and a privilege to feature so much wonderful work!