Tuesday, 30 September 2014

The Premiere of The Magic Flute

After attending the premieres of The Marriage of Figaro and Don Giovanni, it seems only right that we take a carriage to the theatre once more and watch the curtain rise on The Magic Flute, the first opera I ever saw on stage!

Detail of the face of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart by Johann Nepomuk della Croce, 1780
Detail of the face of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart by Johann Nepomuk della Croce, 1780

The story begins in 1780 when Mozart met the impresario, Emanuel Schikaneder, when his troupe visited Salzburg and befriended the composer's family. The two men saw in one another kindred spirits and when the company took up residence at the Theater auf der Wieden in 1789, Mozart often visited the theatre. The company staged a serious of fairytale productions were staged that appeared to culminate in The Magic Flute, which tied together many themes and concepts seen in other pieces. 

Schikaneder and Mozart collaborated on the opera and Schikaneder wrote the libretto, working closely with the composer to ensure that his vision might be adhered to and that each of his company would see their particular talents showcased appropriately. With the premiere scheduled for 30th September 1791, the production became the must-have theatrical ticket of the season and when the curtain rose, Mozart himself conducted whilst Schikaneder performed as Papageno. The Magic Flute was an enormous success and went on to play for over one hundred performances, usually to packed houses as audiences flocked to see the celebrated new opera. Critics lauded it as a triumph, with Mozart himself attending on numerous occasions simply to enjoy the work he had helped to create.

Schikaneder as Papageno
Schikaneder as Papageno

Schikaneder and Mozart's success was to be darkened by tragedy as on 5th December, Mozart died. Devastated at the loss of his friend and collaborator, Schikaneder staged a benefit performance of The Magic Flute for the composer's bereaved family and it has been performed all over the world ever since, bringing a fairytale world to life for centuries. 

Monday, 29 September 2014

For the Patient Who Has Everything...

Last week we learnt a little of silver nipple shields, a topic that certainly caught the imagination of visitors to the salon. Today is another silver-themed snippet from the Georgian apothecary, though I cannot promise nipples on this occasion!

In the long 18th century, fashionable sorts were always looking for a way to set themselves ahead of the pack and in and era when money and affluence were celebrated, even a period of sickness could be used by the canny patient to further cement their social standing. The rather finely turned little curio pictured is a boxwood pill silverer, a useful weapon in the arsenal of any society apothecary who administered to the monied classes.

boxwood pill silverer

Pills were made by hand in the Georgian era and were not the most attractive of items but this fascinating silverer could change all that. Once complete, the handmade tablets were coated in mucilage, a sticky gum, and placed inside the silverer, along with a silver or gold leaf lining, depending on the intended finish. After sealing the silverer, the apothecary would them gently shake it and the pills within would eventually be covered in sparkling silver or gold, making them fit for the finest of sickrooms.

boxwood pill silverer

Although this made the tablets very glitzy, it had the unfortunate side effect of reducing the effectiveness of the medicine as it made absorption much more difficult and in some cases, rendered it useless - not exactly a small price to pay for pretty pills!

Sunday, 28 September 2014

A Fatal Fall: The Death of Thomas Day

Thomas Day (London, England, 22nd June 1748 – Barehill, Berkshire, England, 28th September 1789) 

Thomas Day by Joseph Wright of Derby, 1770
Thomas Day by Joseph Wright of Derby, 1770

I had my first horse riding lesson at the age of seven and in the thirty years since then, have taken more than a few tumbles from the saddle. I've been bruised, bumped and broken but happily lived to tell even the most painful tale, though the same cannot be said for my guest today. Indeed, Thomas Day, erstwhile children's author and abolitionist, had such a nasty fall that it finished him off in his fortieth year.

Day lived a somewhat unorthodox life, attempting to train foundlings to make them into perfect wives or expounding the virtues of isolation and the vices of all things French. He found literary fame for his book, The History of Sandford and Merton, which was written to espouse the ideals of Rousseau, the same theories by which he lived his life. He wrote passionately on the subject of abolitionism and was, to all intents and purposes, a singular sort of chap.

One thing that Day believed without question was that horses should not be broken but, instead, should be treated with kindness. In time such an animal would become used to its rider and settle of its own accord, saving both man and beast a lot of unnecessary stress and effort. In order to demonstrate this system, he purchased a colt that only he was allowed to care for and ride and, on 28th September 1789, rode out on the animal at his estate. His intention was to show the benefit of his theories but the horse had other ideas and threw Day from its back.

The man who intended to to train his mount with kindness suffered massive and fatal injuries; he died almost instantly and was laid to rest in at St Mary's Church, Wargrave.

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Lancaster, Pennsylvania: Capital for a Day

As I sat down to write my tale for today, it occurred to me that sometimes we go for weeks without a trip to America and other times, well, we seem to be there all the time. Today we return to my colonial gentleman's homeland to learn of the city that, on 27th September 1777, was the capital of the colonies for just one day.

The flag of Lancaster, Pennsylvania
The flag of Lancaster, Pennsylvania

As Revolution swept America, the political and physical landscape underwent a transformation. With British forces under General Howe and General Cornwallis laying claim to Philadelphia, the Continental Congress had no choice but to abandon the city and they found themselves, for a twenty four hour stopover, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Here they gathered in the County Courthouse and debate began as to where the Congress might find a more permanent home.

Sixty miles lay between Philadelphia and Lancaster and the members of congress were perhaps a little too close for comfort, as the saying goes, and Lancaster struggled to accommodate the new arrivals. With these factors in mind, the Continental Congress roadshow rolled on again and settled twenty miles further along the road, finally coming to rest in York. Here it would remain for over a decade, ending Lancaster's day in the political spotlight.

Friday, 26 September 2014

A Must Have for Nursing Mothers

I am very pleased to welcome Doctor Dillingham back to the salon today, fresh from a jaunt home to Edinburgh. Always a most reserved man, he nevertheless knows a thing or two about a thing or two and has shared a glimpse at an intriguing treasure  from Georgian medical history with me today.

Silver nipple shield

The rather perfectly formed item pictured above is not, as a salon visitor wrongly guessed, a tea strainer. It is, in fact, a silver nipple shield. This would have been used to ensure the comfort of a nursing woman during months or years of breastfeeding, preventing any unpleasant chafing or soreness and hopefully ensuring that this particular element of motherhood went as smoothly as could be!

This is a beautiful example of a rather wonderful piece of domestic history and one can only imagine that it would have been used in a very fine household. No doubt the lady to whom it belonged was grateful for the respite her silver nipple shield brought, let alone the rather fine craftsmanship that went into creating it!

Thursday, 25 September 2014

The Unusual Abdication of the Qianlong Emperor

The Qianlong Emperor (née Hongli, Beijing, China, 25th September 1711 – Beijing, China, 7th February 1799)

The Qianlong Emperor, 1736

We are going very far afield today, far from the salons of Europe and all the way to China to learn of an Emperor who abdicated in favour of his son. Well, officially, anyway.

Qianlong, the 6th Qing Emperor of China, came to the throne in 1735 and ruled absolutely over his territories. His grandfather, the Kangxi Emperor, had enjoyed a record-breaking sixty one year rule, the longest in history and in the year he inherited the title of Emperor, Qianlong swore that he would not attempt to rule for longer than his grandfather.

In fact, as that date approached, Qianlong showed no sign of slowing down so, in autumn 1795, he officially declared that he would abdicate in 1796, just before he broke Kangxi's more than six decade record. With remarkable forward planning, he had already ensured that he had the perfect retirement property in 1776 when the Qianlong Garden was completed, held in readiness for his eventual abdication.

As he had promised, Qianlong did indeed abdicate the throne in favour of his son and prepared to move into the Palace of Tranquil Longevity within the Qianlong Garden, though in reality he never actually got around to moving after all! He passed the title of Emperor on to his son, the Jiaqing Emperor, in 1795, and took the title of Retired Emperor for himself.

However, Qianlong might have given up his title, but he did not give up his power. His abdication was in name only and he continued to rule absolutely until his death in 1799, keeping his promise to his grandfather in a most canny fashion indeed!

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

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Wednesday, 24 September 2014

"Only ordinary men die, not heroes": The Death of Pedro I

Pedro I of Brazil (aka The Liberator, Lisbon, Portugal, 12th October 1798 – Lisbon, Portugal, 24th September 1834)

Pedro I of Brazil, 1834

We make a trip to South America today to witness the last act in the life of Pedro, Duke of Braganza, founder of the Empire of Brazil and former king of Portugal. His life was far from long but it was never anything but eventful and in less than forty years he packed in two marriages, over a dozen children, war, abdication and intrigue.

By 1833, however, the king's remarkable life was drawing to a close. He had abdicated the throne of Portugal in favour of his daughter and that of Brazil in favour of his son. However, events took a turn for the disastrous in Lisbon as that same daughter, Maria II, found herself usurped by Prince Dom Miguel, her paternal uncle. Determined to take back Portugal, Pedro I sailed for his homeland and invaded in the summer of 1832.

In fact, the invasion proved to be a drawn out and painful affair and the the ensuing war proved to have terrible consequences for Pedro as his usually rude health began to deteriorate at an alarming rate. When peace was reached in 1834, Pedro was already suffering from tuberculosis and though he took up residence in the Queluz Royal Palace, he was unable to move far from his sickbed.

Pedro I of Brazil on his deathbed, 1834

The ailing Duke of Braganza knew that the end was drawing near and concerned himself with putting his affairs in order. He wrote an open letter to the ruling classes of Brazil in which he outlined his plans for the abolition of slavery, which he described as "a cancer". It was his final constitutional act and fourteen days later, in the middle of the afternoon, Pedro I died.

In accordance with his wishes, Pedro's heart was placed in Lapa Church at Porto whilst his body was laid to rest in the Royal Pantheon of the House of Braganza, his adventurous life 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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Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Madame Gilflurt's Georgian Gallimaufry: Dr Samuel Johnson

Today, the estimable Mr Gareth Southwell and I are proud to reveal the first name to be honoured with a place in Madame Gilflurt's Georgian Gallimaufry. We threw open the salon doors and asked readers for their nominations and one character in particular proved popular. A gentleman of words, singular habits and legendary status in the history of English language, we are proud to welcome Samuel Johnson and the tale of his 1755 masterwork, A Dictionary of the English Language.

A man of letters who lived a most eventful life, Dr Johnson had already known a somewhat checkered few years when he was approached by a group of immensely influential publishers and invited to write an exhaustive dictionary of the English language, in order to finally lay to rest the numerous incomplete works already in existence. In return, Dr Johnson would be bound by a contract worth 1,500 guineas (some £210,000 today) ​and in June 1746, the debt​-​ridden lexicographer signed that same contract with a promise that he would deliver the book before three years had passed. This proved to be a somewhat optimistic aim but nevertheless, Johnson's dedication did not waver.

At the start of the process, Johnson wrote his work, A Plan for a Dictionary of the English Language, under the patronage of Philip Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield. The Plan set out his methodology and goals and clearly set out the reasons behind the work. Alas, his relationship with the Earl was not a happy one as Johnson saw little of his illustrious patron and received little or no assistance from him. Finally, seven years after their relationship began, Johnson wrote to Chesterfield and asked him famously, "Is not a patron, my lord, one who looks with unconcern on a man struggling for life in the water, and when he has reached ground, encumbers him with help?" 

For nine years, the dedicated gentleman worked tirelessly to complete the work for which he had been commissioned and, perhaps unsurprisingly, the impact on his home life was not a happy one. Johnson's eleven year marriage to Elizabeth Jervis Porter, known as "Tetty", had not always been harmonious and the disruption of the Dictionary proved somewhat unsettling to the household. Tetty, by now suffering from the illness that would kill her, was concerned that her home would be disrupted by Johnson's noisy copyists and assistants but a move to Gough Square placated Tetty and provided valuable extra breathing space for all concerned.

Tetty died in 1752 and the devastated Dr Johnson worked on, filling the void left by his beloved wife with words and toil. Thousands of hours were devoted to the compilation of the book, with 42,773 entries populating 2,300 densely-packed pages. Johnson's personality is writ large throughout the Dictionary and he never missed a chance to stamp his mark on the definitions therein, with the entry for own profession of lexicographer famously reading, "a harmless drudge".

On 15th April 1755, some nine years after Johnson began work on A Dictionary of English Language, his monumental work was finally published to enormous acclaim. Not only was it vast in terms of the scope of the project, but physically too, and the sheer size of the book meant that it came with a hefty price tag. Yours for the princely sum of £4 10s​ (more than £400 today)​, Johnson's work would not see a profit for years.

Original illustrations featured in Madame Gilflurt's Georgian Gallimaufry can be purchased direct from Gareth Southwell. To find out more about Gareth and his work, please visit him at www.patreon.com/woodpig and www.woodpig.co.uk.

Monday, 22 September 2014

"I only regret that I have but one life to give for my country": The Execution of Nathan Hale

Nathan Hale (Coventry, Connecticut, America, 6th June 1755 – New York, America, 22nd September 1776)

Statue of Nathan Hale

Once again today we find ourselves in the land of my colonial gentleman's birth and, in fact in the very state from which he hails. This is not a happy occasion though, as we are here to mark the execution of Nathan Hale, a Yale graduate executed by the British for espionage after being apprehended during an intelligence-gathering mission that ended in failure.

Apprehended by the British whilst seeking information, Hale was brought before General William Howe. A cursory search of the Captain revealed sketches of fortifications, notes and other intelligence information and Hale admitted to his mission, knowing the game was up. Immediately upon learning of his purpose, General Howe sentenced Hale to execution by hanging the following morning and the young man was taken to his temporary prison.

In fact, he spent the night before his execution held in a greenhouse at Beekman House, Howe's Manhattan home. With no hope of clemency, he awaited the coming dawn with stoicism, preparing himself for that final day. The prisoner's requests first for a clergyman and then for a copy of the Bible were refused and instead Hale resigned himself to a long, no doubt unhappy night.

Early in the morning of 22nd September, 1776, Hale composed two final letters, writing one to his mother and one to a fellow officer. As eleven o'clock on that Autumn morning he walked along Post Road to the Park of Artillery with dignity and composure. Here he made a short speech, the content of which has been discussed ever since, went calmly to the noose and passed into American history.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

A Salon Guest... David Ebsworth and The Last Campaign of Marianne Tambour

Today I welcome a guest to the salon once more as David Ebsworth joins us to to tell the tale of the remarkable women of Waterloo and how two in particular inspired him to set pen to paper and write The Last Campaign of Marianne Tambour.


On the bloody fields of Waterloo, a battle-weary canteen mistress of Bonaparte’s Imperial Guard battalions must fight to free her daughter from all the perils that war will hurl against them – before this last campaign can kill them both.

I enjoy telling stories that I wish somebody else had written for me but which have so far been overlooked. They are therefore generally set outside the most “popular” periods of historical fiction. Yet, with the bicentenary of Waterloo coming up – and the Napoleonic era remaining one of my personal favourite periods of history – it was inevitable that I would be drawn towards setting my fourth book around this most famous and important of battles.

But from which angle? I like the view that the role of historical fiction writers should be to “identify the gaps” and then fill them. 

So it became instantly obvious to me that, while there have been several famous novels with Waterloo settings written by foreign writers (Les Misérables and The Charterhouse of Parma, to mention just a couple), I wasn’t really aware of any English-language tales of the battle from a French perspective. And yes, I know that this will probably invite a whole pile of brick-bat responses to correct my ignorance, but such was my perspective – that there was a “gap” for readers wanting to know how the Hundred Days campaign might look from a French viewpoint. I was personally intrigued by this too, and it didn’t take me long to realise that the perspective is very different indeed. For one thing, even the best of our English-language historians pay scant regard to anything except the three “main” battles, at Ligny, Quatre Bras and Waterloo itself. But what about the other battles fought by the French armies over the same four or five days? At Charleroi, Gilly, Genappe and Wavre? Barely a word.

Similarly, there are plenty of classic novels that put women at the centre of their Waterloo stories. These are typically plot lines about English camp followers, or aristocratic lovers of Wellington’s officers. Nothing wrong with any of that, but hard to see a “gap” that might need filling. Yet what about French women who may have actually fought in those battles? How might they have seen things? In the wake of French Revolution, for example.

Hence the basis on which I began writing The Last Campaign of Marianne Tambour.

And I love this story. It was really inspired when I read a factual account of French Napoleonic cantinière, Madeleine Kintelberger, who served with Bonaparte’s 7th Hussars during the Austerlitz campaign and was caught up in fighting against the Russian Cossacks while protecting her children who were also with her on the battlefield. Her husband had been killed by cannon fire and Madeleine held off the Cossacks with a sword that she had picked up, losing her own right arm in the process, being slashed and speared by lances on several occasions, and being shot in each leg. She was pregnant with twins at the time. The Russians took her prisoner and she eventually returned to France with her children, where she was received in person by the Emperor and awarded a military pension. Yet the most astonishing aspect of all this was the fact that Madeleine was simply one of hundreds of women serving in such positions in the French army’s front lines, many of them with similar incredible tales and yet largely ignored in fiction and non-fiction alike. Madeleine did not serve at Waterloo, but other cantinières, like Thérèse Jourdan and Marie Tête-du-Bois certainly did so.

And then, almost immediately afterwards, I also came across the real-life exploits of Marie-Thérèse Figueur who had joined the French revolutionary army in 1793 in her own right as a woman and who served with distinction in various Dragoon regiments through most of Bonaparte’s major campaigns until 1814 when she retired and opened a table d’hôte restaurant in Paris. Once again, her story was not particularly unusual. She also did not fight at Waterloo but we know, for example, that at least one or two women soldiers died on the battlefield – including the unidentified “beautiful” woman whose body was found in the aftermath of the fight by Volunteer Charles Smith of the 95th Rifles.

So the proposition was simple. What if two fictional women, but based on the real-life characters of Kintelberger and Figueur, were brought together by something more than a simple twist of fate during Bonaparte’s final campaign, in June 1815, that culminated in the Battle of Waterloo? And what if that “something” had a mystical element that would have been very typical of the age’s flirtations between the scientific and the spiritual?

In addition, since I was thinking about the battle from a French perspective, I began to consider bringing into the tale some of those characters from French literature, as I’ve already mentioned, who also have a Waterloo connection. So you may find the Thénardiers (from Hugo’s Les Misérables) or Fabrizio del Dongo (from Stendhal’s The Charterhouse of Parma) wandering through these pages also. I hope you can forgive their intrusion and my presumptions! Indeed, if you should notice any other cameo appearance that may or may not resemble an additional literary figure or two, I hope you might forgive that also. 

David Ebsworth

David Ebsworth has published three previous novels: The Jacobites’ Apprentice, Finalist in the Historical Novel Society’s 2014 Indie Award; The Assassin’s Mark, set during the Spanish Civil War; and The Kraals of Ulundi: A Novel of the Zulu War. Each of these books has been the recipient of the coveted B.R.A.G. Medallion for independent authors.

More details of David’s work are available on his website: 

The Last Campaign of Marianne Tambour is due to be published on 1st December. As an indie author, David uses a crowd-funding platform, Pubslush, to help finance his projects. His campaign page contains lots more information about his own background and information on the novel itself. It’s possible to pre-order copies, to support the crowd-funding process, gain some special rewards, or simply become a fan.

Written content of this post copyright © David Ebsworth, 2014. 

Saturday, 20 September 2014

The Star Spangled Banner Flies Over Baltimore

As regular salon visitors will know, I share my tottering abode with a colonial gentleman and on occasion, his limited influence results in a story with an American flavour. Today is one of those days as I combine my gent's county of origin with one of my passions, music, to tell the tale of an important moment in publishing.

In 1814, amateur poet, Francis Scott Key, found himself so moved by events he had witnessed at the Battle of Fort McHenry two years earlier that he set pen to paper and poured out his feelings in the poem, Defence of Fort M'Henry. I have never been a poet and hold a certain regard for those who work in the medium, so I am hardly surprised that Key was pleased enough with his composition to pass it on to his brother-in-law, Judge Joseph H Nicholson.

One of two surviving copies of the 1812 broadside
One of two surviving copies of the 1812 broadside

Now, I have dear brothers-in-law of my own but I doubt that any of them would have made the connection that Nicholson did when he read the four stanza poem by Key. He noticed that the words fit perfectly to the tune of The Anacreontic Song, a work written by John Stafford Smith in the 1760s, a melody that had already known various lyrics and versions. So imposed was he by Key's work that  Nicholson had anonymous broadsides of the poem printed and distributed in Baltimore on 17th September 1814.

However, it was three days later on 20th September that The Baltimore Patriot and The American printed the verses once more, noting that they should be sung to the tune of  The Anacreontic Song. The poem became wildly popular and within days Thomas Carr in Baltimore published the words and music together under a title that would become legendary and, form humble beginnings, The Star Spangled Banner was born.

Friday, 19 September 2014

Maria Anna of Savoy: A Quiet Queen

Maria Anna of Savoy (Maria Anna Carolina Pia di Savoia; Rome, Italy, 19th September 1803 - Prague, Czech Republic, 4th May 1884)

Empress Maria Anna of Austria by Johann Ender
Empress Maria Anna of Austria by Johann Ender

On this day we mark the birth of Maria Anna of Savoy, a lady who attained a few somewhat impressive titles throughout a life that was, by any standards, long-lived. Empress of Austria, Queen of Hungary, Bohemia, Lombardy and Venetia, Maria Anna did not actively seek the limelight and enjoyed a long, happy marriage which I cannot say for all my guests!

Maria Anna and her twin, Maria Teresa, were born in Palazzo Colonna in Rome, Italy, to Archduchess Maria Teresa of Austria-Este and King Victor Emmanuel I of Sardinia. As we have seen so many times before, the girls were both prepared for a noble marriage and at the age of 27, Maria Anna was married by proxy in Turin to King Ferdinand V of Hungary, who would one day be crowned Emperor Ferdinand I of Austria. The couple met on 27th February 1831 in Vienna and were married in person, beginning a union that would last over four decades.

Ferdinand suffered from a variety of neurological problems that led his physician to pronounce that he would not be able to consummate the marriage and though the couple were to remain childless, they were happy together. It was not necessarily passion at first sight but as the years rolled on, the couple did indeed come to love one another deeply, swiftly discovering that they were an ideal match.

When Ferdinand succeeded to the throne as Emperor of Austria in 1835, he benefited greatly from the devoted support of his wife. With his epilepsy worsening, he took great strength from Maria Anna but their reign was not to last and, in 1848, ended in revolution. Following Ferdinand's subsequent abdication, the couple took up a peaceful residence together in Hradčany Palace, Prague, where they settled into a sheltered domestic life.

Here they remained for the rest of their days together and when Ferdinand died in 1875, his widow was bereft. She followed her husband less than a decade later and the couple now rest together in the Imperial Crypt in Vienna, united once more.

Life in the Georgian Court, true tales of 18th century royalty, is available at the links below.
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Thursday, 18 September 2014

The Great Fire of Moscow

On this day over two hundred years ago, the terrible fire that swept through Moscow for days finally calmed, leaving behind vast swathes of utterly destroyed city. The true cause of the blaze remains unknown but the fact that the blaze coincided with the departure of Russian forces and the arrival of French led a lot of people to suspect that those retreating soldiers had set the fires themselves, leaving a warm welcome for the new arrivals.

On 14th September 1812, the Governor General of Moscow, Count Feodor Rostopchin prepared to lead his troops out of Moscow and apparently gave orders that all major public buildings should be burned or otherwise destroyed, whilst he ensured that the fire services had been relieved of any firefighting equipment that might vex his plans. At the same time, several smaller and unexplained fires began to spring up around the city as they had for several days leading up to the Russian retreat. However, the fires set on Rostopchin's orders were not helped by further, smaller blazes started by the Grande Armée as they set up camp in Moscow.

French in Moscow, 1812
The French in Moscow, 1812 

The French built campfires all over the city and as these began to burn out of control, the city was soon on fire.  Although the majority of citizens had already left the city ahead of the French arrival, thousands had no choice but to stay behind and as these people fled their homes, looting broke out and seen the streets were in chaos. Napoleon watched the city burn from the Kremlin until, with concerns for his safety growing, he left Moscow to take refuge outside the city.

More than 6000 homes, 800 shops and 100 churches burned, whilst 12,000 people died in the conflagration, with many precious buildings and treasures also consumed by the fire that Rostopchin was adamant he had not ordered. The process of rebuilding was slow and expensive and for years thereafter, the city and its people continued to count the cost.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

A Musical Theft: The Death of Francesco Geminiani

Francesco Saverio Geminiani (Lucca, Italy, 5th December 1687 – Dublin, Ireland, 17th September 1762)

Francesco Geminiani

Our tale today tells of the death of Francesco Geminiani, an Italian violinist and composer. Nicknamed, Il Furibondo (the madman) by his pupils due to his all-consuming methods of composition and performance, his enormously successful career ended on a sad note during a trip to Ireland.

Geminiani enjoyed the support of numerous most illustrious patrons in Europe and travelled the continent assuming high profile positions and sharing his skills with pupils who often went onto celebrated careers of their own. He wrote books on the theory of violin playing and composition, and composed for that instrument in addition to others.

As suggested by his nickname, Geminiani was devoted to music to the point of obsession. He would spend long hours labouring over his work, seeking perfection in every endeavour and he taught his pupils the importance of striving for perfection.He moved to Dublin in 1760 and spent his time working on an exhaustive book of musical theory, devoting many, many hours to this new manual and pouring himself into it tirelessly.

Disaster struck when a domestic servant, in the pay of an unknown party, stole the manuscript whilst in Dublin and made so good her escape that the book was never recovered. Geminiani sank into an unhappy decline from which he did not recover and he died a broken man in 1762, unable to mentally deal with the loss of his life's masterwork.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

"The king rotted on his throne": The Death of Louis XVIII

Louis XVIII (Louis Stanislas Xavier; Versailles, France, 17th November 1755 – Paris, France, 16th September 1824)

Louis XVIII in Coronation Robes by Robert Lefèvre, 1822
Louis XVIII in Coronation Robes by Robert Lefèvre, 1822
On this day we mark the anniversary of the death of another king of the house of Bourbon. The last French monarch to die on the throne, Louis XVIII's reign was not even a decade in length and he spent more than twenty years in exile as his wife lived life at her own pace. 

As 1824 dawned, it was apparent to all those who knew Louis XVIII that the king was likely not long for this world. His weight had ballooned out of control and he suffered agonising pain from gangrene that had started in his foot and progressed into his spine, whilst his extremities were afflicted by painful gout. Barely conscious at times he struggled on nevertheless, battling his own deteriorating health in an effort to carry out his monarchical duties with some shred of dignity.

For long months Louis struggled on until, on 12th September, word was spread that theatres and business should close in expectation that the king was about to die. Still Louis would not accept his inevitable fate until Zoé Talon, comtesse du Cayla and the king's companion, prevailed upon him to receive the last rites. As the days drew on, a crowd of citizens gathered before the Tuileries to await word of their monarch's death whilst inside, courtiers and officials crowded into the king's private room where they were confronted by an almighty stench from the dying man's extensive gangrene.

Finally, mid-afternoon on 16th September 1824, Louis XVIII died. His exhausted, already partially rotted body was embalmed, dressed in fine garb and put on display. For a month the corpse of the king lay in state and before it was interred in the Basilica of St Denis, Louis XVIII's roaming 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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Monday, 15 September 2014

Meet My Character

Once again I am taking part in the Meet My Character blog hop, this time at the invitation of the estimable Francine Howarth.

Francine Howarth, the lady behind the hop!
Francine Howarth, the lady behind the hop!

Francine is not only a former mainstream-published author and former publisher, she’s now the self-published author of 17th century swashbuckling romances, lavish Georgian novellas and romantic Regency murder mysteries. Find out more about Francine by visiting her website at http://francinehowarth.blogspot.co.uk There you will find links to point of sale for all Francine's novels. You can read sample chapters, view images of places featured within novels, and discover links to many places of interest to historical novelists.   

Last time we met Madame Moineau, the eponymous Mistress of Blackstairs and today we meet the man who I have sent to disturb her happy Covent Garden life, Viscount Edmund Polmear.

1. Is Polmear fictional or historical?
Polmear is an entirely fictional character which, given some of his unpleasant proclivities, can only be a good thing. Though there were plenty of scandalous hellraisers in the long 18th century, Polmear has passed through bad behaviour and into outright criminality; he is, as my grandmother would have it, a thoroughly bad lot.

2. When and where is the story set?
It is set in London during the chilly autumn and bitter winter of 1785 and takes the reader from the finest salons to the heart of the darkest rookery.

3. What should we know about your character?
A true pillar of respectability and about to marry into one of the finest families in England, Polmear's place at the heart of the establishment is built on a foundation of violence, lies and broken promises. If you were to encounter him in a salon you would think him intelligent, charming and utterly well-bred company yet his cheerful exterior masks a dark heart and a secret that would destroy his carefully constructed social idyll.

4. What is their main conflict? What messes up his/her life?
Nothing can touch Polmear, it seems, until a bad debt, a disfigured woman and an artist with a secret of his own combine to shake up his privileged world. With the wedding of the decade just months away, he must risk everything to silence the gathering voices that threaten to unmask his villainy.

5. What is the personal goal of your character?
Pleasure, no matter how it is attained.

6. Is there a working title for this novel, can we read more about it?
The title is The Mistress of Blackstairs; you can read a short extract here.

On 22nd September the blog hop baton passes to the three fabulous ladies below, so do go and visit them!

Jacqui Reiter
Jacqui has a PhD in 18th century British political history. She is currently working on her first novel, which deals with the second Earl of Chatham's troubled relationship with his brother William Pitt the Younger. She blogs at http://alwayswantedtobeareiter.wordpress.com/.

Willow C Winsham
Willow is an author and blogger, currently working on her first series, The Virginia Dewhurst Trilogy. She is my personal writing partner in crime, puts up with my foibles and blogs on the witch, the weird and the wonderful at http://winsham.blogspot.co.uk/.

Stephenie Woolterton 
Stephenie has an MSc in Social Research, and a background in Psychology. She is currently researching and writing her first book on the private life of William Pitt the Younger. She is also working on a historical novel about Pitt’s ‘one love story’ with Eleanor Eden. 
She blogs at http://anoondayeclipse.blogspot.co.uk, and can be contacted via Twitter at  www.twitter.com/anoondayeclipse.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Some Fine Georgian Sauce: A Girl in a Kitchen

Nicolas Lancret (Paris, France, 22nd January 1690 – Paris, France, 14th September 1743)

I have previously introduced you to Nicolas Lancret, the master of fêtes galantes and a painter beloved of some most illustrious clients. It is my pleasure to revisit the work of Lancret today, on the anniversary of his death, to take a closer look at one of his more cheeky works of art, A Girl in a Kitchen, painted in the 1720s.

In fact, this work is not entirely that of the French artist but owes its evocative kitchen scene to another, unknown artist, for the interior existed long before Lancret added the figure we see before us. The interior is the work of a Dutch artist whose identity has been lost to time. Lancret took this painting and decided what it really needed was a flash of flesh so, with this in mind, he painted in a girl to the right hand side and enhanced the still life beside her. 

A Girl in a Kitchen by Nicolas Lancret, 1720s

In her partially unlaced corset, the young lady is examining herself for fleas, a necessary evil in the 18th century kitchen! However, practical though the activity may be, Lancret's intention was not to show a scene of domestic life but rather to add a little titillation to the previously somber canvas. The girl's breast is partially exposed and she is touching her own bosom, no doubt to the delight of any onlookers who had the fortune to admire the painting.

The Wallace Collection's investigations into this painting have shown that the girl was painted in over the top of a small dog who was previously to be seen examining some food that sat on the seat of the chair. The dog and food are long gone, a little Georgian sauce added in their place!

Saturday, 13 September 2014

A Gruesome Tale of Self-Surgery

Major General Claude Martin (Lyon, France, 5th January 1735 – Lucknow, India, 13th September 1800)

General Claude Martin by Renaldi, 1794
General Claude Martin by Renaldi, 1794

For those of us who adore telling historical tales, the medicine of ages past is always a fertile ground for material. Regular visitors to the salon will have heard me tell of the estimable Doctor Dillingham before, known to the Hanoverian court and the denizens Versailles alike for his surgical skills,  and once again he has shard with me a story from Georgian medicine. I will warn at this point that it is possibly not suitable for the faint of heart!

Major General Claude Martin, who died on this day in 1800, was a man who knew no obstacles, only challenges. From humble origins he rose to the highest ranks of the British East India Company's Bengal Army, leaving behind a rich philanthropic legacy. Adventurer, educationalist, scientist and architect, this remarkable man lived a colourful and exciting life and when ill health threatened to slow him down, he was not about to surrender.

Martin suffered from bladder stones that blocked his urinary tract and, whilst trekking in the tropics in 1782, the pain grew so unbearable that he decided to take drastic action. Martin performed a self-lithotripsy, using a thin, sharpened metal file break the stones up. Half a dozen times a day for a number of months he inserted the device into his urethra and filed away at the stone until it was small enough to pass out of his body. When the treatment proved successful, he sent a report on the procedure to London for the attention of the Company of Surgeons.

Martin lived on for many years following this stomach-churning treatment and died a rich and celebrated man, larger than life to the very end.

Friday, 12 September 2014

A Fall from a Phaeton: The Death of Earl Temple

Richard Grenville-Temple, 2nd Earl Temple KG, PC (London, England, 26th September 1711 – Stowe Park, Buckinghamshire, England, 12th September 1779)

Richard Grenville-Temple, 2nd Earl Temple by Allan Ramsay, 1762
Richard Grenville-Temple, 2nd Earl Temple by Allan Ramsay, 1762

On a crisp Autumn day like today, I do like to take a turn through the streets in my phaeton, taking in the world and catching the odd moment of overheard gossip as I go. There really is no more exhilarating way to travel and thought it's a lot of fun, one must also be mindful that it can be a little dangerous from time to time!

Brother in law to our old friend, William Pitt, Grenville was a politician, intriguer and influential man who enjoyed vast wealth, as well as close friends and sworn enemies. His most eventful life came to a tragic end in 1779, whilst Temple was taking the air in at his estate of Stowe Park.

Lady, said to be Anna Grenville, née Chambers, Countess Temple by circle of Thomas Hudson
Lady, said to be Anna Grenville, née Chambers, Countess Temple by circle of Thomas Hudson 
Whilst travelling in his phaeton on 11th September 1779, Earl Temple was thrown from the vehicle. He suffered massive head injuries in the accident, fracturing his skull upon impact. The former Lord Privy Seal died the following day, the earldom passing to his nephew George Nugent-Temple-Grenville.

Temple was buried at Stowe but his remains were later moved to Wotton parish church to be laid to rest alongside the wife he adored, where he remains to this day.