Friday, 28 February 2014

Louis Godin, A Forgotten Frenchman

Louis Godin (Paris, France, 28th February 1704  – Cadiz, Spain, 11th September 1760)

Louis Godin

Another trip to France today to hear the story of Louis Godin, an astronomer and seismologist who saw much of the world during his lifetime. Travelling in Europe and South America he made a name for himself in Peru and Spain even as, at home, he was gradually forgotten!

Born to François Godin and Elisabeth Charron, Godin was a bright and inquisitive boy with a fascination with science and astronomy. Showing a marked and prodigious talent for the field, as his teenage years progressed, Godin began studying with Joseph Delisle and by the age of 20 he had already published a seminal set of astronomical tables.

This endeavour proved important in Godin's life as he was made a member of the French Academy of Sciences, who also employed him to complete a seven-volume history of the Academy and other publications. In addition, the young man was granted permission to put forward a proposal for exploratory missions across the globe in pursuit of scientific discoveries, particularly methods for measuring longitude at the equator.

The plan was approved and Godin was chosen to accompany Charles Marie de La Condamine and Pierre Bouguer to Peru in 1734, where they remained for four years. The mission was not always happy and Godin broke from his colleagues to perform his own experiments. At the conclusion of the expedition Godin was invited to remain in Peru as a professor at the University of Lima and accepted the position. Following the 1746 earthquake he made scientific studies of the disaster, as well as assisting casualties and helping design replacement, safer buildings.

Godin returned to France in 1751 to find himself virtually forgotten; his role at the Academy had been taken by another and much of his money had been lost due to careless investments. Although he would be readmitted to the Academy after five years, Godin decided for now to leave the land of his birth and travel to Cadiz to take another academic position. Here he proved himself invaluable when the Lisbon earthquake caused tremors throughout Cadiz.

In the final years of his life, Godin's health failed and he embarked on a whirlwind of astronomical experiments, finally observing Halley's Comet a year before he died and leaving a wealth of unfinished and unpublished works amongst his papers.

Thursday, 27 February 2014

Kajinosuke Tanikaze, Sumo Champion

Kajinosuke Tanikaze (né Kaneko Yoshiro; Sendai, Japan, 8th September 1750 – Miyagi, Japan, 27th February 1795)

Yokozuna Tanikaze at Kōtōdai park

Today we travel far afield to pay a visit to Japan and hear a tale of a sumo wrestler who was an icon of his day, rising through the ranks from a humble birth to the very top of his sport. Starting out as an amateur intent on taking advantage of his considerable height and weight, Kajinosuke Tanikaze would become a sumo legend.

Born into humble circumstances, Tanikaze's future path was decided partially by the startling rate at which he grew. Once he was in his teens it became apparent that the young man was going to be a fairly sizable chap and by the time he made his sumo debut at the age of 19, Tanikaze was over six feet tall and weighed in at more than 25 stones. I cannot think that he was popular with the sedan bearers of his day, celebrity or no! Although not a professional sumo at this point his enormous size made him an ideal candidate for amateur bouts and Tanikaze soon proved to have a natural talent for the sport.

Given his skill, it was no surprise that Tanikaze turned professional and he enjoyed an unbroken run of 63 victories, a record that was not broken for over a century. In fact, over nine years of his career, Tanikaze lost only one bout. Following a spontaneous dance of celebration upon winning a title, he became one of the first two wrestlers to be granted a licence to perform a special solo ring-entrance ceremony, as opposed to taking part in the traditional ceremony with many other wrestlers.

The famed sumo wrestler's career never flagged and he well-embarked on another run of victories when he fell victim to influenza at the age of just 44.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

The Scandalous Life of Princess Juliane of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld

Princess Juliane Henriette Ulrike of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld (Coburg, Germany, 23rd September 1781 – Elfenau, Switzerland, 15th August 1860)

Princess Juliane of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld by Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, 1795
Princess Juliane of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld by Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, 1795

The most dashing Edinburgh doctor I have previously mentioned is nothing if not well-travelled and one place he knows very well is Russia; indeed, he is on medically intimate terms with many of the royals of that vast land but that is a story for another time. It was the always-welcome presence of Doctor Dillingham in my salon this weekend that set me thinking of Russia and Princess Juliane of Saxe-Coburg, who was to become known as Grand Duchess Anna Feodorovna, wife of Grand Duke Constantine Pavlovich, a marriage that was destined to be considerably less happy than the devoted union between the good doctor and his lady. 

Juliane was born to Franz Frederick Anton, Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld and his wife, Countess Augusta Caroline Reuss of Ebersdorf. With illustrious family connections throughout Europe, Juliane's parents were determined that their daughter would continue to increase their dynastic influence and began searching for a husband for the girl, known for her beauty and her musical acumen. As they cast their eye over the royal houses of Europe, Empress Catherine II of Russia was likewise looking for a match for her grandson, Grand Duke Constantine. She was searching for a very particular sort of girl and dispatched General Andrei Budberg to compile a shortlist, the matter of marrying the second in line to the Russian empire a very serious one indeed.

Taken ill whilst passing through Coburg, Budberg immediately added Juliane and her sisters, Sophie and Antoinette, to the list of likely candidates, much to the delight of their parents. However, not everybody shared their enthusiasm. For some there was disappointment that their own daughters had not been chosen whilst for others, the concept of a German princess marrying a Russian Duke was unthinkable, the young women viewed almost as lambs to the imperial slaughter.

Grand Duke Constantine Pavlovich of Russia by George Dawe, 1834
Grand Duke Constantine Pavlovich of Russia by George Dawe, 1834

The three girls travelled to Russia with Countess Augusta and found themselves welcomed by Catherine, whilst Constantine was somewhat cooler in his reception. Far from keen on the idea of marriage to anybody, he eventually took his grandmother's advice and agreed to marry Juliane, the 14 year old girl taking the name Anna Feodorovna in preparation for her new life. Baptised in a Russian Orthodox ceremony, the young Princess married the Duke on 26th February 1796, securing the strength of the Saxe-Coburg dynasty.

Although the marriage may have been politically astute, it was utterly miserable. Bad-tempered and disinterested in his wife, Constantine grew resentful of the young lady's popularity at court and he exercised a tight control over his bride. She was confined to her rooms, denied friends other than Elizabeth Alexeievna, and rarely appeared at court. Desperately unhappy, when Juliane fell ill in 1799, she seized the chance for escape with both hands.

Juliana travelled to Coburg, ostensibly for medical care, and initially intended to remain there but she found her family utterly unsupportive. Horrified at the damage a marital breakdown might do to the reputation and influence of the family, they pressured the Grand Duchess to return to her unhappy life in Russia. Once again she was confined to her rooms, utterly in the control of her husband and almost immediately, her health declined again.

Princess Juliane by Franz Xavier Winterhalter, 1848
Princess Juliane of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld by Franz Xavier Winterhalter, 1848

By 1801 it became apparent that Juliane was in desperate need of a change of air and her mother finally consented to a trip back to Coburg. This time Juliane flatly refused to leave her native land and began divorce proceedings against Constantine. With the divorce hampered by legal and constitutional considerations, Juliane found unexpected support from the royal houses of Europe, their sympathies gained by the conduct of Constantine and his intransigent family. Trapped in a web of legality, the unhappy Grand Duchess indulged in extra-marital affairs and in 1808 gave birth to a son, Eduard Edgar Schmidt-Löwe. Four years later she had a daughter, Louise Hilda Agnes d'Aubert with Rodolphe Abraham de Schiferli, a Swiss surgeon.

Though Constantine's family constantly pursued a reconciliation between the estranged couple, Juliane utterly refused to even countenance it, the memory of her unhappy years in Russia too keen. Instead she made a life and home of her own in Switzerland, her house on the Aare River becoming a beacon of art and music. She and Rodolphe maintained a lifelong friendship, though their daughter was adopted by a French family in order to protect Juliane's already somewhat tarnished reputation.

Nearly two decades after she fled to Coburg, Emperor Alexander I finally dissolved the marriage of Juliane and Constantine, allowing the Grand Duke to remarry. This small victory was followed by years of unhappiness as Juliane's life was beset by tragedy. One after the other she was plunged into mourning for her parents and siblings, her illegitimate daughter and Rodolphe, her devoted friend and former lover. Juliane never quite recovered from these losses and lived on in quiet solitude, throwing herself into charitable works. Loved and respected by those who knew her, the princess passed away peacefully at home at the age of 79. She lived a life beset by scandal and unhappiness yet one cannot underestimate the strength it took to leave the powerful Russian court and strike out alone, resisting all efforts to force her back to the life she hated. 

Life in the Georgian Court, true tales of 18th century royalty, is available at the links below.

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Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Politician, Poet and Prisoner: Louis-Jules Barbon Mancini-Mazarini, duc de Nivernais

Louis-Jules Barbon Mancini-Mazarini, duc de Nivernais (Paris, France, 16th December 1716 – Paris, France, 25th February 1798)

Louis-Jules-Barbon Mancini-Mazarini, duc de Nivernais by Allan Ramsay, 1763
Louis-Jules-Barbon Mancini-Mazarini, duc de Nivernais by Allan Ramsay, 1763

We return to France today to meet a nobleman who was a soldier, diplomat and celebrated author. Louis-Jules Barbon Mancini-Mazarini, duc de Nivernais lived a long and eventful life; he tasted both highs and lows, living to see revolution sweep through his country.

Mancini-Mazarini was born the son of Philippe Jules François Mancini, duc de Nevers, and his wife, Maria Anna Spinola. By the age of 14 he was already married to Hélène Françoise Angélique Phélypeaux de Pontchartrain, and just three years later, was a professional soldier serving in continental campaigns. However, Mancini-Mazarini's military career was ended by failing health and he moved into politics, serving as ambassador to Rome, Berlin and London, where he was instrumental in negotiating the Treaty of Paris, which formally ended the Seven Years' War.

In 1742 Mancini-Mazarini composed a poem named Délie that gained him a number of plaudits and as a result, he was elected to the Académie Française. He wrote original and translated pieces throughout his life and many works were published posthumously, though he never again approached the success of this earliest poem.

As a member of the Council of State, Mancini-Mazarini refused to flee Paris in the face of Revolution and was imprisoned, his assets and finances seized. Although he was freed after Robespierre's death, the Duke never recovered his earlier office or influence and died in 1798.

Monday, 24 February 2014

Fire at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane

The theatre in the Georgian era was a bustling, vibrant place. Scandalous, exciting and truly entertaining, it was not without its risks. In 1809 the Theatre Royal Covent Garden burned to the ground and debris from the fire very nearly took its Drury Lane counterpart with it. Luckily, on this occasion, disaster was averted and no doubt those involved in the theatre breathed a sigh of relief. However, fate was not done with the theatre, and fire would once again come to Drury Lane.

The Theatre Royal, Drury Lane had opened in 1794 and, mindful of the risk of fire that was ever present in Georgian theatre, it is little wonder that its owner,  Richard Brinsley Sheridan, took precautions against such disasters. Water tanks were installed above the auditorium and an iron safety curtain was erected, leaving the builder, Henry Holland, confident that no conflagration could occur.

The fire at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, seen from Westminster Bridge, 1809
The fire at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, seen from Westminster Bridge, 1809

Unfortunately, well-laid plans rarely turn out as expected and on 24th February 1809, fire took hold of the Theatre Royal. Sheridan was in the House of Commons as the flames rose higher at his playhouse and when the House adjourned in response to reports of the catastrophe, he objected to this interruption of matters of public importance, believing that parliamentary business should take precedence.  

Nevertheless, upon leaving the Commons he went straight to Drury Lane and there watched his theatre burn. With no hope of saving the building he enjoyed a glass of port in the company of a friend, commenting as he sipped his drink that he should be "allowed to take a glass of wine by his own fireside." The fire ruined Sheridan, sending him spiralling deeper and deeper into debts from which he would never escape.

Sunday, 23 February 2014

A Twist of Fate for Dick Turpin

Sometimes, just as life is rolling along, the smallest quirk of fate can make all the difference and our tale today tells of one such quirk. It is the story of a notorious criminal, a trip to the post office and a hand-addressed letter, of all things!

Smith's statement against Turpin
Smith's statement against Turpin

In February 1739 James Smith was visiting the post office in Saffron Walden, expecting nothing remarkable to befall him as he went about his business. There was little remarkable about Smith other than the fact that, as boy, he had been a classmate of a certain Dick Turpin, and had taught the younger boy to read and write.

Whilst collecting his post, Smith noted a letter written by a prisoner at York Castle, whose name was supposedly John Palmer. Palmer's missive was addressed to the brother-in-law of Turpin, Pompr Rivernall, who lived in Hempstead. Upon seeing the letter, Rivernall refused to pay the delivery charge, claiming that he knew of nobody in York and had no desire to be associated with it.

However, Smith happened to chance a look to the letter and recognised the handwriting not as that of the unknown John Palmer but of his former fellow, the notorious Dick Turpin.

Smith took his suspicions to local magistrate Thomas Stubbing, who opened the letter and found it was indeed from the highwayman. Armed with this evidence of the so-called Palmer's true identity, he travelled to York Castle with Smith in tow. Here, on 23rd February 1739, the men identified the prisoner as none other than Dick Turpin, sealing his grisly fate and setting him on the path to execution.

Smith returned home to Saffron Walden as a rich man, having claimed a reward of £200, akin to almost £30,000 in today's money; whilst Turpin went to the gallows... all for the sake of an unwanted letter!

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Charles Rivington, Publisher

Charles Rivington (Chesterfield, England, 1688 - London, England, 22nd February 1742)

Charles Rivington by Sir Emery Walker
Charles Rivington by Sir Emery Walker

Today we meet a man who left his midlands home for London and a new life as a bookseller. Surrounded by the printed page, Charles Rivington truly found his niche and branched out to establish a hugely successful publishing house that endured for centuries.

Rivington was born in Chesterfield to butcher Thurston Rivington and Mary Wynn. However, the young man had no wish to follow his father's trade and in his early twenties he moved to London, where he took a position as apprentice to bookbinder, Emanuel Matthews. He remained with Mathwes for some years before moving into book selling when he took over the business of Richard Chiswell. His new venture specialised in educational and ecclesiastical literature with some success, eventually gaining particular note for Methodist texts as the years drew on.

As his professional stature grew, Rivington married Eleanor Pease, with whom he would eventually have 13 children. In fact, this was the start of a publishing dynasty that endured into the twentieth century.

However, Rivington was not content with his usually most respectable topics and branched out in 1724 by publishing the popular, A General History of the Pyrates. In 1736 he joined with a partner to found a company of booksellers named The New Conger, a response to the established company, The Conger. By now hugely influential in the publishing world, Rivington befriended Samuel Richardson and convinced him to write a novel in the form of letters, which would eventually become Pamela, or, Virtue Rewarded. Rivington published Pamela and it caused a sensation, becoming the must-read novel of the 1741.

Upon Rivington's death his publishing house passed into the ownership of his sons, John and James. John established a similar business in New York whilst James remained in London, making his name as the publisher of choice for the Church of England.

Friday, 21 February 2014

Princess Catharina Frederica of Württemberg, A Life in Exile

Princess Catharina Frederica of Württemberg (Catharina Frederica Sophie Dorothea von Württemberg; Saint Petersburg, Russian Empire, 21st February 1783 – Lausanne, Switzerland, 29th November 1835)

Wedding portrait of Catharina of Württemberg by Johann Baptist Seele, 1807
Wedding portrait of Catharina of Württemberg by Johann Baptist Seele, 1807

A whistle-stop return to Russia today to meet a noble lady, Princess Catharina Frederica of Württemberg. Raised by her stepmother, she would end her days in exile.

Catharina was born in Saint Petersburg to the man who would become King Frederick I of Württemberg and his wife, Duchess Augusta of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel. When the little girl was just five her mother passed away and her father married  Charlotte, Princess Royal, eldest daughter of George III. Catharina and her siblings enjoyed a close relationship with their stepmother, who raised them as her own and supervised their education closely..

Frederick allied with Napoleon and hit on a surefire way to strengthen the bond between nations, offering his daughter's hand in marriage to Napoleon's brother, Jérôme Bonaparte. She was 24 when she became his second wife in a lavish ceremony at Fontainebleau, France, held on 22nd August 1807 and eventually they would have three children, all of whom survived into adulthood. 

The King and Queen of Westphalia, 1810
The King and Queen of Westphalia, 1810

Catharina became queen consort of the Kingdom of Westphalia and, when the kingdom fell after the Battle of Leipzig, the couple were forced into exile together. They spent time travelling in Europe and Catharina rejected her father's efforts to convince her to leave her husband and return home to Württemberg  Instead she accompanied him to Austria and only returned to her childhood home when her father offered the family a home in the castle at Göppingen.

However, life at Göppingen proved far from ideal as King Frederick exercised a tight control over the couple's lives and they eventually returned to Austria and took the title of Count and Countess de Montfort. Never quite able to settle, the family spent time in Italy and Switzerland and it was here, in Lausanne, where Catharine died. She was laid to rest in Ludwigsburg Palace Church, Germany, her wanderings finally at an end.

Life in the Georgian Court, true tales of 18th century royalty, is available at the links below.

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Thursday, 20 February 2014

The Singular Life of "Mad Jack" Fuller

John Fuller (AKA Mad Jack Fuller, Honest John Fuller; North Stoneham, Hampshire, England, 20th February 1757 – London, England, 11th April 1834)

John Fuller by Charles Turner, after Henry Singleton, 1808
John Fuller by Charles Turner, after Henry Singleton, 1808
Today we meet a man with a very particular reputation; known to history as Mad Jack Fuller, though he preferred Honest John, our salon guest is John Fuller, politician, philanthropist and builder of pyramids!

Fuller was born the son of Reverend Henry Fuller and his wife, Frances; indeed, he was also cousin to one of our previous guests, Sir Hans Sloane. Fuller enjoyed a privileged education at Eton College and at the age of 20 came into a fortune in property both in Sussex and Jamaica on the death of his uncle, Rose Fuller MP. Chief amongst the inheritance was Rose Hill Estate, now known as Brightling Park.

Fuller took up residence as squire of Brightling, and in 1780 began his parliamentary career as MP for Southampton, a seat he held for four years before moving on to become Sheriff of Sussex. As the years drew on he set his cap in the direction of Susannah Arabella Thrale, daughter of Hester, but the young lady rejected his proposal and Fuller never married. Instead, he concentrated on his professional life and returned to Westminster in 1801, this time as MP for Sussex. 

In fact, it was in the House of Commons where Fuller created a dreadful scandal when, in 1810, he drunkenly harangued the Speaker of the House of Commons and was physically removed from the chamber by the Serjeant-at-Arms and a number of clerks. A passionate supporter of slavery, he spoke on the matter on numerous occasions in the House of Commons and was never short of an opinion on most matters.

Fuller's Tomb
Fuller's Tomb

In 1811, Fuller supervised the building of a pyramid in the churchyard of the Church of St. Thomas à Becket in Brightling, which was intended to serve as his final resting place. The following year he retied from parliament and transferred his interests to a passionate support of Royal Institution. Here he mentored Michael Faraday and in 1818 he built the Observatory at Brightling, going on to many philanthropic activities.

John Fuller died in London; in accordance with his wishes he was returned to Sussex and laid to rest beneath the pyramid.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

"The most learned female who ever lived"

Elizabeth Carter (Deal, Kent, England, 16th December 1717 – London, England, 19th February 1806)

Elizabeth Carter as Minerva by John Fayram
Elizabeth Carter as Minerva by John Fayram

It seems as though we have not seen many ladies here in the salon of late so today we are joined by a learned woman. One of the circle of bluestockings that includes previous guests, Hannah More, Charlotte Lennox and Hesther Thrale, Elizabeth Carter made her name as a writer and translator and moved in the highest intellectual circles. Described by Francis Lord Napier as "a fine old Slut", there was much, much more to her than just gossip.

Carter was born the daughter of a Margaret and Nicholas Carter, a clergyman who had pioneering ideas about the education of girls and encouraged the little girl to dedicate herself to her academic studies. Fiercely intelligent, as a child she taught herself a number of languages both classical and modern, whilst also studying history, the natural sciences and literature. Despite her later achievements, she initially found her academic studies challenging yet, despite being advised to give up some of her subjects, she persevered at the expense of her health, suffering from debilitating headaches throughout her life.

By the age of 21, Carter was already embarked on a number of academic translations and spent long hours working on her own original poetry, as well as publishing in journals and periodicals to some acclaim and celebrity.  For all her academic achievements, it would be as a translator that Carter made her name and in 1758 she published a celebrated translation of All the Works of Epictetus, Which are Now Extant. This pioneering philosophical work sealed her reputation and her provided Carter with financial security for life.

Like our previous subject, Hesther Thrale, Carter was a good friend to Samuel Johnson and had a number of suitors, all of whom she rejected in favour of her circle of friends. As the years drew on she divided her time between Deal and London, where she died as a respected and popular woman of achievement.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

A Triple Tragedy: The Death of Louis, Dauphin of France, Duke of Burgundy

Louis, Dauphin of France, Duke of Burgundy (Versailles, France, 16th August 1682 - Marly, France, 18th February 1712)

Louis, Dauphin of France, Duke of Burgundy by Hyacinthe Rigaud, 1704
Louis, Dauphin of France, Duke of Burgundy by Hyacinthe Rigaud, 1704

We welcome a short-lived royal visitor today, on the anniversary of his death. Louis, Duke of Burgundy was known as the Petit Dauphin and fell victim to an all-too-common disease, as did his wife and son.

In February 1712 Louis's adored wife, Princess Marie-Adélaïde of Savoy, contracted measles. As her condition deteriorated she took to her bed in the Château de Marly,  her adoring husband at her side. As Marie-Adélaïde's conditioned grew quickly more serious, Louis resisted all efforts to convince him to leave and escape the possibility of contracting the dangerous illness himself. Instead he spent every day and night with his spouse as, unbeknownst to the couple, both of their sons also became infected during these weeks.

Marie-Adélaïde succumbed to her illness on 12th February 1712, leaving her heartbroken husband to linger in his own sickbed. In fact he lived for less than a week, following his wife to the grave on 18th February, six months before his thirtieth birthday. 

Of the unhappy family, only the infant Louis, Duke of Anjou survived and he would one day become King Louis XV. For Louis, Duke of Brittany, there was to be no such respite and he too fell victim to the measles, passing away on 8th March.

Life in the Georgian Court, true tales of 18th century royalty, is available at the links below.

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Monday, 17 February 2014

Antoine Galland and One Thousand and One Nights

Antoine Galland (Rollot, Picardy, France, 4th April 1646 – Paris, France, 17th February 1715)

Antoine Galland

As a lady who wields a pen on a daily basis, it is always a pleasure to introduce another writer to the salon and today's guest is a gentleman who brought an iconic literary work to the public. Antoine Gallard was a writer, traveller and translator who introduced The Thousand and One Nights to an adoring European readership.

Whilst visiting Constantinople towards the end of the 17th century, the intrepid Gallard came into possession of a manuscript of The Tale of Sindbad the Sailor. Impressed by the thrilling narrative, he published a successful translation of the story in 1701 that enjoyed immediate success in his native land. 

Recognising the financial possibilities of the public's interest in such tales, he set about a translation of a 14th-century Syrian manuscript of tales from Mille et Une Nuit  or, in English, One Thousand and One Nights. This translation would eventually become a hugely influential twelve-volume masterwork some 13 years in publication, with the concluding volume appearing posthumously.

Gallard's work on the manuscript was further supplemented by more stories that were related to him by Hanna Diab, a monk from Aleppo. Diab shared a number of tales to the author that were incorporated into later volumes of his One Thousand and One Nights series. Some of Galland's stories appear to be of somewhat dubious origin and no Arabic manuscripts have been found that tell the tales of Ali Baba or Aladdin, leading to speculation that the enterprising Galland made these up himself!

Galland also made some changes to the stories to suit the tastes of the time, removing all poetic passages and heavily sanitising the eroticism of the original works. However, it appeared that Galland had perfectly captured the tastes of his readership and his works were enormously successful and influential, leading to numerous other translations that continued to popularise these well-loved tales for centuries to come. 

Sunday, 16 February 2014

From Tomboy to Tiaras: Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna of Russia

Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna of Russia (Saint Petersburg, Empire of all the Russias, 16th February 1786 – Weimar, Germany, 23rd June 1859)

Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna of Russia by George Dawe, 1825
Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna of Russia vy George Dawe, 1825

Today's noble visitor , Maria Pavlovna, was the daughter of Paul I of Russia and his wife, Maria Feodorovna (born Sophie Dorothea of Württemberg). Born into an illustrious dynasty, she could count two Tsars of Russia among her siblings as well as a previous guest at the salon, Anna Pavlovna of Russia.

As a little girl Maria was known for her tomboyish ways, liking nothing more than joining the boys in their games rather than favouring ladylike pursuits. A childhood brush with smallpox resulted in the young girl's face becoming scarred yet she did not allow this to hold back and devoted herself to the study of music under Kapellmeister Giuseppe Sarti  and Ludwig-Wilhelm Tepper de Ferguson, proving herself an exemplary pianist. 

Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna of Russia by Vladimir Borovikovsky
Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna of Russia by Vladimir Borovikovsky 

Intelligent and inquisitive, she gave her consent to her betrothal to Charles Friedrich  Hereditary Grand Duke of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach in at the age of 18 and the couple were introduced in St Petersburg. they spent time getting to know one another and were married on 3rd August. The newlyweds remained in Russia for a year settling into life together and over their long marriage had had four children, three of whom lived to adulthood.

On her much-celebrated arrival in Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach, Maria was shocked at the poor state of her new homeland and devoted herself to culture and philanthropy, putting in place a programme of social welfare and hosting celebrated literary and scientific salons. The people and court took a liking to the new arrival and she threw herself wholeheartedly into philanthropic and cultural activities, beginning a lifelong interest in the welfare of the people of her nation.

Charles Friedrich, Grand Duke of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach
Charles Friedrich, Grand Duke of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach

In 1806 Maria was forced to leave Weimar as Napoleon advanced and they fled to Bohemia, where they remained until the Battle of Leipzig. Finally able to return to their territory, the Duke and Duchess participated in the Congress of Vienna and enjoyed significant gains thanks in part to Maria's negotiating skills. In 1828 the death of Grand Duke Carl August saw Maria and her husband finally attain the rank of Grand Duchess and Grand Duke, their court one that celebrated cultural achievement in Weimar.

A devoted mother and wife, Maria retired from public life when she became a widow in 1853 and expressed a wish to be buried beside her late husband at her own death, yet somehow still rest on Russian soil. She returned to her homeland just once in her later years, to attend the 1855 coronation of her nephew, Alexander II of Russia.

Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna of Russia

Following her death she was buried in the Goethe-Schiller Mausoleum beside the Grand Duke. In accordance with her wishes, the casket was lined with earth brought from Russia and the Grand Duchess was mourned deeply by those who had known her.

Life in the Georgian Court, true tales of 18th century royalty, is available at the links below.

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Saturday, 15 February 2014

Charles-André van Loo, First Painter to Louis XV

Charles-André van Loo (Nice, France, 15th February 1705 – Paris, France, 15th July 1765)

Charles-André van Loo by Louis-Michel van Loo, 1764
Charles-André van Loo by Louis-Michel van Loo, 1764

Today we meet yet another member of the van Loo artistic dynasty. Like the others members of his family who have visited the salon, Charles-André van Loo enjoyed enormous success throughout Europe and became a favourite of the most illustrious and noble households.

The Marquise de Pompadour as a Gardener by Charles-André van Loo, 1754
The Marquise de Pompadour as a Gardener, 1754
As the son of Louis-Abraham van Loo and grandson of Jacob van Loo, the young man could not have asked for a better pedigree and he was raised and tutored by his elder brother,  Jean-Baptiste van Loo. Together the siblings travelled through Italy and onto Rome, where van Loo embarked on intensive studies of anatomy and technique under Benedetto Luti before undertaking study of sculpture with Pierre Legros, though it was as a painter where his true talent could be found.

Halte de chasse by Charles-André van Loo, 1737
Halte de chasse, 1737

Van Loo remained in Italy until the age of 18 and then returned to France to settle in Paris, where he enjoyed enormous success and was the recipient of a Grand Prix from the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture. Buoyed by this triumph he once again travelled to Turin and Rome, winning the Grand Prix de Rome. The painter's reputation soared as he gathered more and more plaudits and he became a court favourite of king Victor Amadeus II of Sardinia, who commissioned a number of large-scale works.

Louis XV by Charles-André van Loo
Louis XV

More travels followed before van Loo returned to settle in Paris in 1735 as a member and later director of the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture, where he held enormous influence and respect. Appointed First Painter to Louis XV in 1762, he remained hugely popular and successful until his death, favoured by the richest names in Europe.

Life in the Georgian Court, true tales of 18th century royalty, is available at the links below.

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Empress Elizabeth Petrovna by Charles-André van Loo, 1760
Empress Elizabeth Petrovna by Charles-André van Loo, 1760

Friday, 14 February 2014

The Murder of Captain James Cook

Captain James Cook, FRS, RN (Marton, Middlesbrough, England, 7th November 1728 – Kealakekua Bay, Hawaii, 14th February 1779)

Portrait of James Cook by Nathaniel Dance-Holland, 1776
Captain James Cook by Nathaniel Dance-Holland, 1776

Well, it occurs to me that today's post should be one with a little romance but I've plumped for something a little darker! It is off to Hawaii for a tale of murder and the final hours of Captain James Cook.

By February 1779 Captain James Cook was well-embarked on his exploration of the Hawaiin Islands, then known as the Sandwich Islands, and had spent an enjoyable period at Kealakekua Bay where he participated in festivities for the Makahiki, a Hawaiian celebration. However as the Resolution resumed her exploration of the ocean her foremast broke, and Cook ordered her return to Kealakekua Bay.

With their festivities concluded the islanders did not welcome the returning crew and tensions rose between the Hawaiians and their visitors that reached a head on 14th February. With thefts not uncommon, the theft of one of Cook's smallest boats was hardly unexpected, nor was the method of taking hostages that would be held as collateral for the stolen property. However, Cook decided to make a point by taking the King of Hawaiʻi, Kalaniʻōpuʻu, as hostage against the stolen boat.

The Death of Captain James Cook, 14 February 1779 by Johann Zoffany, 1795
The Death of Captain James Cook, 14 February 1779 by Johann Zoffany, 1795

The Hawaiians furiously defended their king and in the confusion a chief named Kalimu was shot dead. Pursued by the islanders, Cook and his men were forced to retreat to the beach, intending to return to their boats. However, before they could flee Cook was struck on the head by the pursuing villagers and fell to the ground, where he was stabbed to death. According to Hawaiian lore Cook's killer was a chief named Kalaimanokahoʻowaha or Kanaʻina, and following Cook's death and that of some of his men, the murdered captain's body was carried away by the islanders.

Due to their earlier respect for Cook, the Hawaiians prepared his corpse according to rituals reserved for their most illustrious people. His body was first disemboweled before being baked in order for the flesh to be removed and boned cleaned to be presented as religious icons. Some of the captain's remains were eventually presented to his crew and were buried at sea.

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Count Peter von der Pahlen, Conspirator Against the Tsar

Count Pyotr Alexeevich Palen  (Palmse, Russia, 17th July 1745 – Mitava, Russia, 13th February 1826)

Count Pyotr Alexeevich Palen

We take a trip to Russia today to meet a courtier who became embroiled in a plot to assassinate an emperor.

The noble-born Pahlen came from a long and celebrated lineage and began his military career with action in the Russo-Turkish Wars, where he was decorated for distinguished service. Respected by his men and commanders, Pahlen was on the road to success from an early age.

With his reputation at a high, Pahlen moved into politics and in 1795 was appointed Governor General of Courland Guberniya. The year after his appointment Pahlen was appointed to command the Cuirassier Regiment of Riga, but found himself at odds with Emperor Paul, who questioned his involvement with the now disgraced Prince Platon Zubov. Although Pahlen hung onto office until 1797, Paul finally succeeded in having him discharged from the position as well as his place in the military.

Pahlen's fall from grace was short-lived, however, and he was soon back in the military as Commander of the Household Troops of Horse Regiment, winning back the favour of Paul and rising to the position of military governor of Saint Petersburg, on top of numerous other decorations. However, Paul's favours were fleeting and the capricious monarch and Pahlen enjoyed a fractious relationship. Fearing for the security of his position after a number of sackings and reinstatements, Pahlen joined a conspiracy against the monarch and eventually became one of the ringleaders.

Pahlen was present on the evening of Paul's assassination and incurred the lifelong wrath of his widow, Empress Maria Feodorovna. Although Pahlen's friendship with the new Tsar meant that he survived the ensuing court martial, he  had no choice but to go into exile to his country estate, where he remained until his death.

Life in the Georgian Court, true tales of 18th century royalty, is available at the links below.

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Wednesday, 12 February 2014

A Salon Guest... Jonathan Tyers – Creator of Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens

It is an absolute delight to welcome Grace Elliot to the salon today as part of her blog tour for her new novel, The Ringmaster's Daughter. Grace her a tale to tell of a true Georgian character; not only that, but she has shared more about her novel below too!


My name is Grace, and it’s lovely to pay a call on Madame Gilflurt. Since Madame has an appreciation for 18th century characters it seems appropriate to post about Jonathan Tyers, who in part inspired my latest release, The Ringmaster’s Daughter

In the mid 18th century, Jonathan Tyers became best known for making the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens into a spectacular success that lasted another hundred years. Under his ownership the gardens went from a fairly average recreation area on the south bank of the Thames, to the place to visit. From the sensational lighting to orchestral music, from plays to wooded walks, under his stewardship Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens became the haunt of everyone from the Prince of Wales to the common man. His creative innovations were ahead of their time, as was his canny instinct for marketing and publicity. Tyers achievements were many, but what interests us today is the man behind the hype. 

Tyers was born in 1702, into a family of leatherworkers – dealing in hides and skins.  Perhaps he was ashamed of his humble roots because a recurrent theme during his life was raising his social status from tradesman to gentry. Indeed, Tyers was adept at reinventing not only the gardens –but himself. 
At the age of just 27 Tyers acquired the lease for the Spring Gardens at Vauxhall (later renamed the Vauxhall Gardens) for an annual rent of £250. Over the next thirty years he bought out the lease, finally owning the gardens in 1758. A shrew business man with a talent for advertising, Tyers used the talents of eminent artists and musicians of the day. He enlisted William Hogarth to design season tickets, and Handel to compose music for the gardens. Some of his marketing techniques included having a special barge sail up and down the Thames, with musicians on deck playing Handel’s new pieces – to be played at the gardens that night.  

Tyers hung hundreds of lanterns (an unthinkably extravagant number in the 18th century) from trees lining the walks. Not content with illuminating the gardens, he developed a revolutionary technique of lighting the lanterns, all at the same time – a sight akin to magic in the 1750’s. This rouse was such a success that people flocked to the gardens – just to see the lights being switched on. 

But what of Tyers himself? He married a woman, Elizabeth, two years older than him and already a widow. Evidently, she was a woman of character and positivity, because, when in old age the house was burgled and a considerable amount of silver stolen – instead of complaining she marveled at the skill of the thieves in breaking in without waking anyone. 

Tyers was renowned for having a changeable character. For periods of time he was highly motivated and creative, but this alternated with periods of withdrawal and profound melancholia when he became suicidal. It has been postulated he may have suffered from a psychological condition such as bipolar disorder. 

Under Tyer’s ownership from 1729 to his death in 1767, Vauxhall became the haunt of the fashionable elite – from royalty to dukes, landowners and merchants. For the admission cost of one shilling, the visitor had the exciting prospect of rubbing shoulders with the celebrities of the day.

Tyers was passionate about Vauxhall right up until his death in 1767. When he was terminally ill, he insisted on being carried through the gardens to say farewell to the place he loved so much. He died at his house in the gardens on 1 July aged 65. He left behind a widow, two daughters and two sons (the younger of which took over the running of the gardens). Jonathan was buried in a churchyard near his family home in Bermondsey.  The grave  was not marked and the only commemoration to his life now existing is in the street names around the site of the old Vauxhall. 

So how did Jonathan Tyers inspire The Ringmaster’s Daughter?  The novel is based in the fictional setting of Foxhall Gardens – in part inspired by Vauxhall. The heroine, Henrietta Hart, is the daughter of one of the performers and our story starts when her father becomes too ill to work and somehow she must make a living…

About Grace
Grace Elliot leads a double life as a veterinarian by day and author of historical romance by night. Grace lives near London and is housekeeping staff to five cats, two teenage sons, one husband and a bearded dragon. 
Grace believes that everyone needs romance in their lives as an antidote to the modern world. The Ringmaster’s Daughter is Grace’s fifth novel, and the first in a new series of Georgian romances. 

The Ringmaster’s Daughter – synopsis

1770’s London
The ringmaster’s daughter, Henrietta Hart, was born and raised around the stables of Foxhall  Gardens. Now her father is gravely ill, and their livelihood in danger. The Harts' only hope is to convince Foxhall’s new manager, Mr Wolfson, to let Hetty wield the ringmaster’s whip. Hetty finds herself drawn to the arrogant Wolfson but, despite their mutual attraction, he gives her an ultimatum: entertain as never before – or leave Foxhall.

When the winsome Hetty defies society and performs in breeches, Wolfson’s stony heart is in danger. Loath as he is to admit it, Hetty has a way with horses…and men. Her audacity and determination awaken emotions long since suppressed.

But Hetty’s success in the ring threatens her future when she attracts the eye of the lascivious Lord Fordyce. The duke is determined, by fair means or foul, to possess Hetty as his mistress – and, as Wolfson’s feelings for Henrietta grow, disaster looms.

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This post copyright © Grace Elliot, 2014.