Tuesday, 25 February 2020

The Imprisoned Princess: Out Now


My new book, The Imprisoned Princess, is available to buy now. I'm so delighted to have written the biography of this remarkable woman!

When Sophia Dorothea of Celle married her first cousin, the future King George I, she was an unhappy bride. Filled with dreams of romance and privilege, she hated the groom she called “pig snout” and wept at news of her engagement.

In the austere court of Hanover, the vibrant young princess found herself ignored and unwanted. Bewildered by dusty protocol and regarded as a necessary evil by her husband, Sophia Dorothea grew lonely as he gallivanted with his mistress under her nose.

When Sophia Dorothea plunged headlong into a passionate and dangerous affair with Count Phillip Christoph von Königsmarck, the stage was set for disaster. This dashing soldier was as celebrated for his looks as his bravery, and when he and Sophia Dorothea fell in love, they were dicing with death. Watched by a scheming and manipulative countess who had ambitions of her own, it was only a matter of time before scandal gripped the House of Hanover and tore the marriage of the heir to the British throne and his unhappy wife apart.

Divorced and disgraced, Sophia Dorothea was locked away in a gilded cage for 30 years, whilst her lover faced an even darker fate.


Buy it now:

Pen and Sword
Amazon

Monday, 3 February 2020

The Ghost Garden Award Nomination News!

I'm thrilled to announce that  The Ghost Garden has been shortlisted for the RNA’s 2020 Romantic Novel of the Year Awards. Awarded each year by the Romantic Novelists’ Association, the RoNAs are the romantic fiction equivalent of the BAFTAs. And yes, we’re very pleased and very excited!

Sunday, 2 February 2020

On This Day...

Each day on my Twitter at MadameGilflurt, I share a variety of stories of Georgians who were born, died or otherwise became notable #onthisday, under the hashtag #GloriousGeorgians.

Here's a particularly choice one, to kick you off - don't read whilst eating!


Antonio Maria Valsalva, pioneer of ear anatomy, died #onthisday 1723. He analysed bodily fluids by taste and observed, "Gangrenous pus does not taste good, leaving the tongue tingling unpleasantly for the better part of the day.”

Yum!


Monday, 13 January 2020

Being Mr Wickham: New Dates Added


I'm thrilled to announce that booking for Being Mr Wickham, starring Adrian Lukis, is now open at for three additional dates. There are also still a very limited number of tickets available for the show's two-night run in Bath next week. We hope to see you there!

Oundle Literature Festival, 14th March Click here to book 
Huddersfield Literature Festival, 21st March Click here to book (includes Q&A)
The Haymarket, Basingstoke, 1st July Click here to book (includes Q&A)

Written off as a rake and reviled as a rogue, join George Wickham on the eve of his sixtieth birthday to discover his version of some very famous literary events. From childhood games at Pemberley to a run-in with Lord Byron, via marriage to Lydia and just a little bit of matchmaking for Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy, Mr Wickham is ready to set the record straight.

This brand new production by Catherine Curzon and Adrian Lukis sees Adrian return to his celebrated role as George Wickham, Jane Austen's most quintessential trouble-maker. 

Tuesday, 7 January 2020

Homosexuality in 18th Century England

It's my pleasure to welcome Lucy May Lennox, to life the lid on a little-explored part of 18th century life!


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With the prominence of gay identity today, there is sometimes a misconception that homosexuality is modern, but in reality that could not be further from the truth. There is abundant evidence of a flourishing gay subculture in eighteenth century London, despite attempts to outlaw it. As I was researching my novel, The Adventures of Tom Finch, Gentleman, which is set in the opera world of Covent Garden in 1735, I kept coming across surprising, fascinating details about gay, lesbian, and bisexual people. Although the title character is straight (this is not a m-m romance), the novel explores many different types of marginalized people, so I decided to include some gay and bisexual characters, with references to real practices and people of the time. 

My main source of information was the fantastic website by Rictor Norton. He provides detailed contemporary descriptions of the molly-houses, which were essentially eighteenth century gay bars. These are the roots of modern gay culture, particularly camp and drag performance. Men would dress as women and act out the marriage ceremony, followed by a trip to the marriage bed that everyone witnessed, then an elaborate lying-in and pantomime birth of a wooden doll. As sodomy was a capital offense, men who visited a molly-house were literally risking their lives, and they were frequently raided. Despite the danger, it sounds like there was an atmosphere of fun and freedom, and we can see some element of gay pride, as in this song:

Let the Fops of the Town upbraid
Us, for an unnatural Trade,
We value not Man nor Maid; 
But among our own selves we'll be free

Transcripts of court cases are an amazing picture of how ordinary people talked and thought at the time, and there were, sadly, many cases involving gay men. In 1726, William Brown was tried and found guilty of attempted sodomy in a popular cruising ground north of London called Sodomite’s Walk. He was a victim of what today we would call entrapment: Thomas Newton, a male prostitute, had been sent there to entice other men, in exchange for avoiding prosecution himself. The trial transcript includes this remarkable line:

We asked the Prisoner [Brown] why he took such indecent Liberties with Newton, and he was not ashamed to answer, I did it because I thought I knew him, and I think there is no Crime in making what use I please of my own Body.

I was so impressed by this sentiment that I borrowed it for one of my characters, although under happier circumstances. While the court cases show the suffering caused by homophobia, we don’t have the same clear record of ordinary gay people living their everyday lives, although we can imagine it. Brown’s sense of self hints at a rich private life.

Cross-dressing was very popular with people of all classes and persuasions, particularly in theatrical performance and at masquerade balls, where straight men frequently dressed as women. While cross-dressing in daily life was less common and riskier, it did still happen. A man who went by the name Princess Seraphina shows up in a trial in 1732, and the comments of witnesses make it clear that she used female pronouns and dressed as a woman often. But this was not a sodomy trial—Princess Seraphina sued another man for stealing her clothes. Aside from this case (which she sadly lost), she was never troubled by the law again. Unfortunately we know very little about her life, but I included her as a minor character. 

There is less information about female homosexuality but it definitely existed. Unlike sodomy, which was illegal, sex between women was not a crime, and seems to have been considered more of a quirk than a moral failing. There are accounts of women (especially actresses) alternating between male and female lovers, such as Elizabeth Ashe who had a fling with Caroline, Countess of Harrington. The common practice of well-to-do women keeping a lady’s companion also allowed sexual relationships between women to hide in plain sight, as society would assume they were merely friends. I reflected this more relaxed attitude towards bisexuality in women in the character of Tess Turnbridge, an aspiring opera diva who has male and female lovers.

While femme women who took female lovers seem to have been somewhat tolerated, the same was not true of women who dressed as men in daily life. There are some tragic cases of women attempting to pass as men who were publicly whipped or pilloried, including Mary Hamilton in 1746 and Ann Marrow in 1777. It’s interesting to note they were convicted of fraud, not lesbianism (which was not a crime), but the viciousness of their punishment speaks to a deep-seated anxiety about women taking on a male role.

The slang term for lesbian sex was “a game of flats” or “a game at flats.” There was a charming love poem with the title “The Game at Flats” published in 1715, with the footnote “These Stanzas were made on Mrs. B––le, and a Lady her Companion, whom she calls Captain.” How enticing to wonder who this couple might have been.

The Joys of either Sex in Love
          In each of them we read,
Successive each, to each does prove,
          Fierce Youth and yielding Maid.

Even in previous eras with less personal freedom than we enjoy today, there were people who did not conform to society’s rules. I think it’s important to include LGBT characters even in novels that are not specifically about homosexuality, because they have always existed.

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London, 1735. Covent Garden offers a world of pleasures and diversions, even for a blind man. Tom Finch approaches life with boundless good cheer and resilience, whether he’s pursuing a musical career or pursuing women. And as for his blindness, to him it’s merely an inconvenience. Join Tom for a picaresque romp through high and low Georgian society among rakes, rovers, thieving whores and demireps, highway robbers, bigamists, and duelists, bisexual opera divas, castrati, mollies, and cross-dressers, lecherous aristocrats, and headstrong ladies. This meticulously researched, witty and lively tale overturns stereotypes about disability and revels in the spectacle and excitement of 18th century opera.

Tuesday, 17 December 2019

Merry Christmas!

Today the salon doors close for a Christmas break as my rakish colonial gent and I devote ourselves to festivities. 

I hope you have a wonderfully merry Christmas, however you choose to spend it. I shall see you for more glorious Georgian tales in 2020!



Christmas Eve by William Allan
Christmas Eve by William Allan



Tuesday, 10 December 2019

A Tyrant and a Demon

It's a pleasure to welcome Lucienne Boyce, author of Death Makes No Distinction, for a tale of two women from different worlds.


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A Tyrant and A Demon

In Death Makes No Distinction one of the subjects I was particularly interested in was the relationship between the rich and poor. One of the ways I explored this was by looking at the relationship between two fictitious women writers – Louise Parmeter, a bluestocking who had been mistress to the Prince of Wales – and Agnes Taylor, her protégée. 

Their relationship is inspired by the story of Hannah More and Ann Yearsley. Both women were born in Bristol. Hannah More (1745–1833) was brought up in comfortable surroundings. Her father, a school teacher, encouraged her to pursue a wider education than that usually allowed to girls. He taught her Latin, and she also learned French, Italian, and Spanish – though he did draw the line at too much mathematics, which was not considered appropriate for a girl. 

After her wealthy fiancé, William Turner, jilted Hannah, he compensated her by settling an annuity on her which gave her financial security and independence. She became a renowned playwright who moved in bluestocking circles, counting Dr Johnson, David Garrick and Elizabeth Montagu amongst her friends. She also befriended William Wilberforce and supported his campaign against slavery. 

Unlike Louise Parmeter in Death Makes No Distinction, however, she was strict in her own morals – and in the standards she set for others. She wrote several books exhorting women to lead virtuous and Christian lives. She later turned her moralising and evangelical attention to the working classes, setting up charity schools for poor children and lecturing the poor on their duties in a series of tracts.

Ann Yearsley (née Cromartie) (c1753–1806) was also born in Bristol. Her mother was a milkwoman, and it was from her that Ann learned to read and write. Nothing is known about her father. She married a labourer, John Yearsley, and they had six (some sources say seven) children. In 1784, the family was destitute and living in a stable in Clifton. A Mr Vaughan rescued them from near-starvation. Ann then worked as a milkwoman, selling milk from pails she carried about the streets. Hannah More and her sisters were running a school on Park Street at the time and it was their cook who showed Hannah some of Ann’s poetry. Hannah was so impressed she took Ann under her wing, taught her grammar and spelling, and collected subscribers to fund the publication of a book of poems. 

Ann Yearsley (British Library on Flickr, No Known Copyright Restrictions)

However, it was not More’s intention that Ann should give up selling milk. She was very careful to ensure, as she pointed out in her introduction to Ann’s Poems, on Several Occasions, published in 1785:

“It is not intended to place her in such a state of independence as might seduce her to devote her time to the idleness of Poetry….as a wife and mother, she has duties to fill, the smallest of which is of more value than the finest verses she can write: but as it has pleased God to give her these talents, may they not be made an instrument to mend her situation, if we published a small volume of her Poems…?...if I did not think her heart was rightly turned, I should be afraid of proposing such a measure, lest…by exciting her vanity, [it should] indispose her for the laborious employments of her humble condition…” 

Hannah More, A Prefatory Letter to Mrs Montague. By a Friend, Bristol, 20 October 1784 

The power structure was very clear: Hannah was Ann’s patron and Ann must know her place. And to keep her control over the poet known as Lactilla, More tied up the profits from her writing in a trust fund to which neither Ann nor John had access, and only doled out so much money as she thought was appropriate. Worse, Hannah would not return Ann’s manuscript poems to her, and told her they had been burned at the printers. 

When Ann protested, Hannah accused her of being insane or drunk. It was a painful situation for both women, with Hannah More disappointed by what she saw as the working woman’s ingratitude, and Ann infuriated by Hannah’s attempt to control her. 

But Ann was in the unusual position of being able to tell her own story. In 1787 she published her version of the quarrel, claiming she had been rushed into signing the Deed of Trust: 

“I had not time to peruse [the deed of trust], nor take a copy; and from the rapidity with which this circumstance was conducted, I feared to ask it…My feelings were all struck at – I felt as a mother deemed unworthy the tuition or care of her family…Even the interest was not allowed me, but on the capricious terms, that she should lay it out as she thought proper…”

Ann Yearsley, To the noble and generous subscribers, who so liberally patronized a book of poems, published under the auspices of Miss H More, of Park-Street, Bristol, the following narrative is most humbly addressed, in Poems on Various Subjects, 1787. 

The two women parted company, Ann found a new patron, Frederick Augustus Hervey, the earl of Bristol, and the trust funds were later made over to her. She used some of the money to set up a circulating library in Hotwells, Bristol. She published more poems, a play and a historical novel. After the death of her husband in 1803, she moved to Melksham, where she died in 1806. 

In spite of all Hannah More had done for Ann Yearsley, she ended up being accused of being a “tyrant”. As for Ann, from being Hannah’s “meritorious woman” she changed into a “Demon”. For Hannah and Ann, it was a sad end to a relationship that, as Yearsley suggested, could never develop into true friendship because of its deep-rooted inequalities. The same tensions underpin dealings between Louise Parmeter and Agnes Taylor in Death Makes No Distinction – but it’s up to Bow Street Runner Dan Foster to decide if they have any connection with Louise’s murder.  


Contact:

Twitter: @LucienneWrite
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/LucienneWriter

Buying Links:
Death Makes No Distinction is available in paperback and ebook.

Amazon  
For more information see my website.