Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Women in the Performing Arts

I am so excited to welcome Carol Cram to the salon today with a favourite topic of mine... women in the performing arts!


Women in the Performing Arts
Carol M. Cram
Author of The Towers of Tuscany and A Woman of Note

The opportunities for women to make contributions outside the home dwindle significantly the farther we move back into the nineteenth century. There is one exception—the performing arts. In the theater and on the concert stage, women in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries had the opportunity to be seen and admired for their talents as actresses and musicians.
In this blog, I’ll discuss how women conquered the stage from the late eighteenth century to the middle of the nineteenth century. During this period, thousands of women dedicated their lives to the performing arts. Then as now, most of the actresses and musicians—and their male counterparts—barely scraped out a living. Few women attained fame and fortune, but those who did are still known today. I’ll focus on the brilliant careers of four women—two actresses and two musicians.
Women in the Theater
In England, women first appeared on stage alongside men in the 1660s. Prior to that time, men and teenage boys played women’s roles. When women finally began to appear on stage as professional actresses, they were not considered respectable. Clouds of scandal followed the careers of many actresses who were also mistresses and sometimes even prostitutes. In the eighteenth century, the stigma associated with acting slowly began to fade thanks in large part to women such as the indomitable Sarah Siddons, the greatest actress of her age and some say of any age.
Sarah Siddons
Sarah Siddons
 Dubbed The Tragic Muse, Sarah Siddons dominated the London stage for almost forty years from 1775 to her retirement in 1812. Her performance of roles such as Lady Macbeth caused women to swoon and men to suck back tears. “The Siddons” was idolized in the same way pop stars are today. In comparison to many actresses of her day, Mrs. Siddons led a remarkably respectable life. She bore seven children and outlived five of them. She often performed while pregnant, sometimes within weeks of giving birth, and occasionally brought some of her children onstage. 
An argument can be made that in no other public sphere apart from royalty, could a woman attain the level of fame, adoration, and income that Mrs. Siddons enjoyed at the peak of her career as an actress. Unfortunately, she was also one of the first victims of fan culture. Her legions of admirers considered her private life fair game, just as people today feel they have a right to information about the private lives of pop stars and other public figures. Although more respectable than many of her contemporaries, an unhappy marriage to William Siddons, who was also her business manager, led to the occasional whiff of scandal—most of it unwarranted.
In my third novel, Upstaged, set in early 19th Century London, Mrs. Siddons makes a cameo appearance on the stage of the New Theatre Royal at Covent Garden in September of 1809. She was a force to be reckoned with and certainly paved the way for the many famous actresses who followed her, such as Fanny Kemble, actress-singer Eliza Vestris who also managed the Olympic Theatre in 1830, and the divine Sarah Bernhardt fifty years later.
Dora Jordan
Dora Jordan
While Sarah Siddons was, most of the time, considered the very soul of respectable womanhood, another very famous actress of the period combined a brilliant career with a not-so-successful personal life. From 1779 to about 1810, Dora Jordan was to comedy what Sarah Siddons was to tragedy. Dora Jordan excelled in the “breeches” parts—roles such as Rosalind in Shakespeare’s As You Like It where the actress disguises herself as a boy. Like many of her sisters in the theater of the period, Mrs. Jordan’s private life provided great fodder for the scandal mongers. For over two decades, she was the mistress of the Duke of Clarence, George III’s third son. Together, the couple had ten children. Throughout her time with the Duke of Clarence, Mrs. Jordan continued acting on the London stage, although sometimes in front of audiences openly hostile about her personal life.
Poor Mrs. Jordan did not fare as well as Mrs. Siddons. The Duke of Clarence needed a wife capable of providing royal heirs. In 1812, he separated from Mrs. Jordan who died destitute in France in 1816. Two years later, the Duke of Clarence married Princess Adelaide of Saxe-Meinigen in Germany and in 1830 ascended the throne as William IV. His niece was the Princess Victoria, later Queen Victoria. To his credit (and there isn’t a whole lot of good to be said about the Duke of Clarence, a known supporter of slavery), he and his wife did support the ten children he had with Mrs. Jordan. 
Women in Music
In the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, women could distinguish themselves as musical performers, primarily as singers or pianists. One of the most famous singers of the early 19th Century was Madame Catalini, an Italian diva who wowed London crowds for several seasons and received huge sums for her performances. Her high pay was her undoing. Angry crowds in 1809 booed her from the stage with cries of Nasty Pussy and Cat. Madame Catalini also makes a cameo appearance in Upstaged.
Most well bred ladies were taught to sing and play, and many performed at local balls and house parties as we know from the novels of Jane Austen. Inevitably, a handful of women, particularly those born into musical families, became proficient enough to perform professionally. Two of these women are Louise Farrenc in France and Clara Wieck (later Clara Schumann) in Germany.
Louise Farrenc
Louise Farrenc
Born Louise Dumont in France in 1804, Louise Farrenc was a French composer, concert pianist, and teacher. Her parents recognized her talent as a pianist and ensured she studied with some of the top concert pianists of the day. Her marriage to Aristide Farrenc, a music publisher, enabled her to pursue her career both as a concert pianist and a composer. In 1842, she was appointed as Professor of Piano at the prestigious Paris Conservatory, a position she held for thirty years. Madame Farrenc makes a cameo appearance in my second novel A Woman of Note about a woman composer and concert pianist in 1830’s Vienna.
Clara Weick (Schumann)
Clara Weick (Schumann)
Clara Schumann (nee Wieck) is probably the most famous woman composer of the 19th Century. Every time I give a presentation on A Woman of Note, I ask the audience if they can name at least two female composers from the 19th Century. Most of the time at least one person can name Clara Schumann. Another very famous composer of the period is Fanny Mendelsohn, sister of her more well known brother Felix, but a talented composer and performer in her own right.
Born in 1819 in Leipzig, Germany, Clara Wieck was destined almost before she could walk for a professional career as a concert pianist. Her father was a piano maker and teacher and recognized young Clara’s talents very early on. He virtually ignored his sons while lavishing most of his time and energy on training Clara. By the time she was twelve, Clara was performing in Paris to great acclaim. One of her concerts as a twelve-year-old in Paris is described in A Woman of Note.
Throughout her long career as a performer, Clara was considered one of the top pianists in Europe. Contemporaries such as Brahms and Liszt called Clara a “priestess” as a result of her devotion to music. Clara married the composer Robert Schumann when she was just eighteen. They often composed together and after Robert died in 1856 at the age of 46, Clara supported herself and her seven children by touring Europe as a concert performer. She often featured Robert’s Schumann’s music in her concerts and was instrumental in helping to ensure his place in history as a great composer. 
Both Louise Farrenc and Clara Schumann, along with several other performers and composers of the nineteenth century, inspired the character of Isabette Grüber in A Woman of Note. Like both Louise and Clara, Isabette is a talented concert pianist who also has aspirations to be a composer. A Woman of Note follows Isabette’s struggle for recognition in a music world dominated by men. 
While researching the theater and the music worlds for Upstaged and A Woman of Note, I was struck not by how few women were involved in the performing arts, but how many. Women played an integral role in shaping the development of music and theater in the 19th century—both as performers and as patrons. Rich and influential women hosted glittering music salons in Paris, Vienna, and London, while the boxes at theaters all over England and the continent heaved with avid and informed female fans. 
The performing arts provided opportunities for women to shine as brilliantly as their male counterparts.
A Woman of Note was released in September 2015 by Lake Union Publishing. Upstaged is still in production, but will hopefully be released by the end of 2016. A Woman of Note was designated an Editor’s Choice by the Historical Novel Society: Cram’s writing is so vivid, you can hear the music in your head as you read. She paints an amazing portrait of a woman who desires to succeed in a field that was closed to women, with a few courageous exceptions, at the time.
Carol’s first novel, The Towers of Tuscany (Lake Union Publishing, 2014) was also designated an Editor’s Choice by the Historical Novel Society: The twists and turns of the plot, and the fast pace of the writing, make it a book that is very hard to put down. I cannot praise this novel highly enough. It is a story that lingers long after you have reluctantly reached the last page. 

Visit Carol Cram at www.carolcram.com
Written content of this post copyright © Carol Cram, 2016.

Thursday, 26 May 2016

A Real Georgian Merman!

From the press of 1710, a report of a merman!

British Apollo (London, England), April 24, 1710 - April 26, 1710; Issue 13.

 A Crowned Merman by Arthur Rackham
Q. Gentlemen, Ferdinand AlvaresSecretary to the Store-house of the Indians, says he saw a Young Merman come out of the Water to steal Fishes from the Fishermen, and Eat' em. In our English Chronicles, it is recorded a Man-Fish was taken in Suffolk, kept six Months on shore, and then stole out to Sea. But the most Memorable and Authentic Story, that I know of this kind is the Mermaid taken by some Milk-maids in Dermer-mere near Campen in 1403. Her Picture hangs in the Town-house of Harlem, with a Subscription in Gold-letters, of the time when she was taken, how long she Lived, when she Dyed, and in what Church Buried. A more particular Relation may be found in the History of the Netherlands. As, a Description of her Person, her Learning to Spin, and shewing Devotion at Prayers; and when Women came, for their Diversion, to the Town house, where she was kept, to Spin with her, she wou'd Laugh, and signify by signs she knew the meaning in some sort, tho' she could never be taught to Speak; with other particulars too many to Ennumerate. But not a Word of that fine Singing common Fame reports of these Creatures.

, Gentlemen, I wou'd desire you to inform me, of the Credit of this last Story, and whether the being Merman and Mermaids is not meer Fable, for I cannot persuade my self to believe there ever were such Creatures, and chiefly for this Reason, that none in out time has seen any, that ever I heard off. And it is plain to me if there had been such in past times, there wou'd be such now, and surely then some or other must have seen them.

A. The Story of the Harlem Mermaid is Attested by Historians of so good Credit, that it wou'd be Injustice not to believe them. It is not to be wondred that a Creature having so much of Human shape shou'd have Reason enough to be made capable of appearing Devout, when a Grave Historian tells us of a very Devout Dog at Corbie in the Year 897, that Assisted at Mass with great Reverence and Modesty, and in all the Decent Postures. He Religiously observed Fish on Fast-days, and bit such Dogs as Pissed against the Walls of the Church, or Barked during Divine Service. There can be no doubt made but there are such Creatures as Mermaids, being frequently mentioned by Ancient Writers under the Name of Tritons and Syrens. Whether there are any Testimonies of Modern Authors concerning them we have not had leisure to Examine. The latest Instance of any that we remember in our Reading, is Related by Gossendus in his Life of Peireski

"That Noble and Curious Person (says this Learned Author) being Informed of a Merman, which was seen at Bell-Isle in France, procured Henricus Gondius, Governor of the Isles, to make Enquiry, and Certify him concerning it. Now the Information was, that as much as was seen of him, was in the shape of a Man, only the shortness of his Arms was not proportioned to the thickness of his Body. His Hands were also disproportionately large, and very White in the Palms. He had thick white Hair hanging down over his Shoulders, and a Beard reaching down to his Stomach. His Eyes were great and fierce. His Skin as for as cou'd discerned rough, neither white nor black. He was reported to have been at first delighted at the approach of Vessels, with the Sight of Men and Women and light coloured Clothes; so that he suffered himself to be inclosed in the Nets; but as soon as they began to use Violence, in endeavouring to draw him forth, and before it could be discerned of what shape he was below the Navel, he easily brake through the Nets and over-turned the Vessels. Afterwards he appeared at a great distance off, Sunning himself upon some inaccessible Rocks, his lower Parts being always covered with Water; sometimes clapping his Hands and making a hissing Noise, which was supposed to be his manner of Laughter. Which Custom he continued, till some Body shot at him with a Musquet Bullet, from which time forward whether frighted or killed, he was never more seen. However it was reported, that there was another seen which was supposed to be a Female (because without a Beard) ending beneath with a forked Tail, like that of a Salmon. 

We thought it wou'd not be unpleasant to give this Story at large to the Reader, since it is from an Author of undoubted Credit, and may serve not only to confirm our Belief that there are such Creatures, but also to give us an Idea of them. Besides, this thing happened within the Year, being as we collect, about 1636.

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Essie Fox Live in Ledbury

Don't miss this chance to see the marvellous Essie Fox speak live in Ledbury; Essie's novels are an absolute delight, and this is sure to be an evening to remember.




The Master's House, Ledbury

Essie Fox will be returning to her childhood home of Herefordshire, for a talk at The Master's House in Ledbury on the evening of Friday 17 June.

Herefordshire features strongly in The Somnambulist and Elijah's Mermaid, and Essie will be discussing how the reality of her memories has been merged into her fiction.

The evening starts at 7pm.


Tuesday, 24 May 2016

An American in Nottingham: Writing Robin Hood at Nottingham Castle

I am delighted to welcome Char Newcomb, who writes about her visit to my hometown of Nottingham!


An American in Nottingham: Writing Robin Hood at Nottingham Castle

On my first visit to Nottingham in 2010 I was a tourist, not a researcher. I didn’t know I would be writing a novel that would include scenes at Nottingham Castle in the late 12th century. What I knew about Nottingham and the Castle came from movies and television shows – exclusively Robin Hood in its various incarnations. We don’t have medieval castles in the United States. The closest I had come to a castle was Cinderella’s at Disney World and Biltmore House in North Carolina.

Biltmore House
Biltmore House
Cinderella’s Castle
Cinderella’s Castle
The year 2010 was a hectic time. I was on sabbatical that spring and preparing for nine weeks in the United Kingdom, planning site visits to university libraries. Nottingham was centrally located so I planned to spend three weeks there before I moved on to Edinburgh. I could not wait to see the legendary “home” of Robin Hood, but I had little time prior to departure to explore the history of Nottingham and its castle. I was ecstatic when I saw the gatehouse and excavated areas of the stone curtain wall. Disappointment hit when I walked through the gatehouse and up the stairs. (Apparently, I am not alone.) After visiting Edinburgh Castle in 2008, I had anticipated seeing stone curtain walls, a keep, towers, and battlements in Nottingham. No such luck. The ducal palace, occupying the site on what would have been part of the upper bailey of Nottingham Castle, is a beautiful building and now a museum. But it was 17th century.

The museum has a model of the castle, but I learned it is representative of the site circa 1500.

Model of Nottingham Castle circa 1500
Model of Nottingham Castle circa 1500 
I drowned my disappointment in bangers and mash and a Robin Hood ale at Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem, which does date back to 1189. I had my photo taken with the Robin Hood statue and was witness to the Nottingham tradition of freemen celebrating their right to herd sheep (at no cost) across the River Trent. Private Derby, the mascot of the Mercian Regiment, was in attendance, along with the Lord Mayor and other officials. Robin Hood even served me a free ale at The Trip that day.

Private Derby with the Lord Mayor, Robin Hood and others
Private Derby with the Lord Mayor, Robin Hood and others 
Flash forward three years. I was probably halfway through writing Men of the Cross, my Third Crusade novel, when its sequel called to me. I had read a scene at my writers group featuring a couple of teenaged thieves. The group said “I hope we see those boys again,” and suddenly their names struck me. I needed to continue the story of the knights who served King Richard and the three secondary characters I had introduced: Robin (a knight) and the two camp followers named Allan and Little John, who someday will become the gang we know as the Merry Men. 

In For King and Country, my fictional knights and these characters of legend would fight alongside King Richard the Lionheart at the Siege of Nottingham in March 1194. M.K. Tod’s Historical Fiction Reader Survey notes that readers’ favorite historical novels immerse the reader in the time and place. I needed to know the people, politics, weaponry, and culture, as well as “the place,” i.e., 12th century Nottingham Castle.

There are a multitude of images of the Castle online, almost all from post-1500 and similar to the model on display at the Museum. Fortunately, Trevor Foulds had published a detailed article on the siege in 1991. Buried in his end notes was a reference to a 1989 article entitled “Nottingham Castle: A Place Full Royal,” by Christoper Drage, which led me to the book of the same name, published in 1990.

I had found gold! Drage’s book is based on historical records beginning with William the Conqueror and a major project from 1976-1984, which included excavations of the middle bailey. The book provides information and illustrations about the building program at the Castle from the late 11th century through its evolution to the present day and provided me the opportunity to show what my future Robin Hood and King Richard and his knights would have seen there. 

Nottingham was in a prime location to control routes from south to north and along the River Trent. It gained prominence with William the Conqueror’s castle building program, taking advantage of the natural rock outcrop. By the mid-12th century, the upper bailey of the Castle was surrounded by a timber palisade and separated from the middle bailey by a deep ditch. Henry II undertook major improvements to it to strengthen the defenses. The construction of a stone keep in the upper bailey is credited to his reign. According to the Pipe Rolls, over £1800 was spent in the 1170s and 1180s to construct the stone curtain walls of the upper and middle baileys and for other enhancements and repairs. Drage suggests that by the end of Henry’s reign, the upper bailey also contained king and queen’s apartments, a long chamber separating the two, a chapel, kitchen, as well as a few other buildings. A great hall built of stone was constructed in the middle bailey in the early 1180s.

Line drawing of Nottingham Castle in the 12th century castle.
Line drawing of Nottingham Castle in the 12th century castle
The Pipe Rolls report approximately £70 were expended during King Richard’s reign. The Siege of Nottingham lasted three days and apparently the castle suffered very little damage, assuming the Pipe Rolls reflect all costs associated with repairs. King John spent several hundred pounds on enhancements and repairs. On the north and east (which faces the town), the large outer bailey was surrounded by a timber palisade and a wooden gate until the middle of the 13th century when John’s son and successor Henry III replaced the timber gate in the 1250s with the stone gatehouse visitors see now as they enter the castle grounds.

Nottingham Gatehouse
Nottingham Gatehouse
One of the Castle’s most famous incidents was the capture of Roger Mortimer, lover of Queen Isabella (wife of Edward II, mother of Edward III) in 1330. Mortimer and the queen ruled in her son’s name after overthrowing Edward II. Concerned with Mortimer’s influence, seventeen-year old Edward III, ordered the arrest of Mortimer. There are several accounts of his capture, but one relates that Edward’s men infiltrated the Castle through a secret passage, which has come to be known as Mortimer’s Hole. The passage likely existed earlier as caves and cellars are known to have been built in the area earlier than the Conquest. Some versions of the capture note the passageway opened into the middle bailey; others, the upper bailey. But the route led to the base of the castle rock in the Brewhouse Yard and near the River Leen. The passageway may have been used to retrieve stores and water rather than what we tend to think of the romantic secret escape route, and though no written records of 12th century escapades exist, I employed the writer’s creative license to take advantage of the tunnels. 

My quest for information for For King and Country could have ended with the 12th and 13th centuries, but understanding what happened to Nottingham Castle was important to me. Continued improvements to the Castle are recorded through the late 15th century, but a survey in 1525 reported numerous problems and neglect. A proposed meeting between Mary, Queen of Scots, and Queen Elizabeth I in 1562 prompted some £500 of repairs and additional work was also completed during the last 20 years of the 16th century. Unfortunately, the once gem of a royal castle continued to fall into disrepair. It was little more than a shell by the time of the English Civil War in the 1640s, uninhabitable according to one biography by a man appointed governor of the Castle in 1643 though it was strengthened at the time to accommodate troops. As the Civil War ended, the Castle was ordered to be demolished in 1651.One drawing dated 1660 shows ruined walls and towers without roofs. William Cavendish, Duke of Newcastle, purchased the site in 1661. The remaining ruins were cleared for the construction of the current ducal palace in 1674.

Nottingham Castle (2002)
Nottingham Castle (2002) 

Images Credits

Cinderella’s Castle - by Matt H. Wade (Own work) CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=30601374 via Wikipedia

Biltmore House – by JcPollock - Self-published work by JcPollock, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1220643

Model of Nottingham Castle circa 1500 – photo by Cathy Young. Used with permission.

Private Derby with the Lord Mayor, Robin Hood and others – author’s photo, CC BY-SA.

Line drawing of Nottingham Castle in the 12th century castle. In Nottingham Castle: A Place Full Royal, Thoroton Society of Nottingham, c1990. Used with permission.

Nottingham Gatehouse – author’s photo, CC BY-SA.

Nottingham Castle (2002) by Patrick A Griffin, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9131196


Drage, C. (1989). Nottingham Castle: a Place Full Royal. Nottingham: The Thoroton Society of Nottinghamshire.

Foulds, T. (1991).  “The Siege of Nottingham Castle in 1194” in Transactions of the Thoroton Society of Nottinghamshire, volume 95.

About the Author

Charlene Newcomb is the author of Men of the Cross and For King and Country, two historical adventures set during the reign of King Richard I, the Lionheart, though her writing roots are in a galaxy far, far away. She has published 10 short stories in the Star Wars universe and written one contemporary novel. She is a member of the Historical Novel Society and a contributor and blog editor for English Historical Fiction Authors

Charlene lives, works, and writes in Kansas. She is an academic librarian by trade, a former U.S. Navy veteran, and has three grown children. When not working at the library, she is still surrounded by books and trying to fill her head with all things medieval. She loves to travel, and enjoys quiet places in the mountains or on rocky coasts. But even in Kansas she can let her imagination soar. Connect with Char: Website  |  Facebook | Twitter | Amazon

Written content of this post copyright © Char Newcomb, 2016.

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Happy Birthday, Queen Charlotte!

On this day in 1744, Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz was born. She is better known as Queen Charlotte, the devoted wife to George III and one of the leading characters in my book, Life in the Georgian Court. You can order the book at the links below, and scroll down to find all of my posts on this remarkable lady.

Pen and Sword
Amazon UK
Amazon US
Book Depository (free worldwide shipping)

I hope you will enjoy this digest of posts here on the Guide regarding Charlotte and her illustrious family.

The Death of Queen Charlotte
By Thomas Lawrence, 1790
Queen Charlotte's diamonds: A romantic tale of George's wedding gift to his bride.
Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz by Laura Purcell - The early life of the young princess.
The Portrait of Queen Charlotte - When Thomas Lawrence painted the queen in a poignant pose, she was not happy with the result.
Queen Charlotte's Notebook - The stunning stationery of the queen!
The Death of Queen Charlotte

The Children of Charlotte and George

The Long Life of Princess Mary, Duchess of Gloucester and Edinburgh
The Frail Life of Princess Louisa of Great Britain
A Regal Disagreement: Charlotte, Princess Royal
"Tell Charles I die blessing him": Princess Amelia of the United Kingdom
A whole host of tales of George IV...

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

Pen and Sword
Amazon UK
Amazon US
Book Depository (free worldwide shipping)

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

The Coronation Feast of George IV

On Thursday 19th July 1821, George IV entered Westminster Abbey for his coronation, kicking off a day of ceremony, celebration and, because it was our Georgie, excess. You can read all about that magnificent occasion here; the day closed with an enormous banquet... but what was on the menu?

Coronation portrait of George II by Thomas Lawrence
King George IV by Lawrence, 1816

Hot Dishes 
160 tureens of soup: 80 of turtle, 40 of rice, 40 vermicelli
160 dishes of fish: 80 of turbot, 40 of trout, 40 of salmon 
160 hot joints: 80 of venison. 40 of roast beef with three barons, 40 of mutton and veal 
160 dishes of vegetables: potatoes, peas and cauliflowers 
480 sauce boats: 240 of lobster, 120 butter, 120 mint,

Cold Dishes 
80 dishes of braized ham 
80 savory pies 
80 dishes of daubed geese, two in each 
80 dishes of savoury cakes
 80 pieces of beef braised 
80 dishes of capons braised, 2 in each 
1,100 side dishes of various sorts 
320 dishes of mounted pastry 
320 dishes of small pastry 
400 dishes of jellies and creams 
160 dishes of shell fish 80 of lobster and 80 of crayfish 
161 dishes of cold roast fowls 
80 dishes of cold house lamb 

Total Quantities 
7,442lbs of beef 
7,133lbs of veal 
20,474lbs of mutton 
20 quarters of house lamb 
20 legs of house lamb 
5 saddles of lamb 
55 quarters of grass lamb 
160 lambs sweetbreads 
389 cow heels 
400 calves' feet 
250lb of suet 
160 geese 
720 pullets and capons 
1610 chickens 
520 fowls 
1730lbs of bacon 
5501bs of lard 
9121bs of butter 
84 hundred of eggs 

All of which are independent of the eggs, butter, flour and necessary articles in the pastry and confectionary departments.

The total supply for serving up the Banquet was 6704 dinner plates, 1406 soup plates, 1499 dessert plates, 288 large ale and beer pitchers. 

You can find out more about George's magnificent life of largesse in Life in the Georgian Court, now available to order worldwide!

Pen and Sword
Amazon UK
Amazon US
Book Depository (free worldwide shipping)

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Weaving Fiction Around the Tale of the Lusitania

Last year, I was lucky to be involved in the inaugural MM Bennetts Award for Historical Fiction. The award was won by Greg Taylor's Lusitania R.E.X.; today then we venture far, from from the Georgian era and learn a little more about this remarkable tale.

Tomorrow we return to the 18th century and the enormous coronation feast of George IV!


My odyssey writing a novel of historical fiction was launched when I turned to an author friend that was driving us along the Dover coast to a party and announced, “I am going to write a book about the sinking of the Lusitania.”  He nodded respectfully, thereby acknowledging my ambitious intent without having to express any misgivings of my inadequate grasp of what it would take to execute this task.  By the time we were walking uphill to our hotel in the warm summer sunrise that broke up the party, I was explaining to the weary revelers why I considered the tale of the Lusitania a worthy subject for historical fiction.

Weaving Fiction Around the Tale of the Lusitania

On May 1st 1915, the day the Lusitania sailed from New York, local newspapers carried a warning from the German Embassy.  Passengers confident the fastest ship in the world could outrun German submarines ignored this.  Among them was Alfred Vanderbilt, who exemplified the dashing, refined sportsman of his day.  Although I didn’t know yet, two years of research later, Alfred would emerge as my main character and occupy much of the following two years of writing and rewriting Lusitania R.E.X.

The facts are already dramatic: After being hit by a single torpedo on May 7th 1915, the Lusitania sank in only eighteen minutes.  A second, larger explosion ripped the ship apart and she sank with a list so severe that only eight of the forty-two lifeboats were launched.  Experts have debated the cause of the second explosion ever since and Imperial Germany immediately claimed the ship was loaded with explosives destined for the front. 

The factual evidence already suggested to me plenty of intrigue, such as the manipulation of testimony by the Admiralty during the official inquiry in order to make sure all blame fell on Imperial Germany.   The Admiralty had withdrawn the Lusitania’s escort ship and it was known that First Sea Lord Winston Churchill had remarked that the loss of an ocean liner might bring American into the war.  

However, I wanted more for my book.  I identified all the facts I found the most compelling and began to weaver around them a spy thriller dimension to the story, building on the factual record.  This included the experiences of one of its most famous victims, Alfred Vanderbilt, which became an uplifting story of Alfred’s personal development and a plausible explanation for the tragedy.

Alfred was only twenty-one years old and travelling in the Orient when he received the news of his father’s death. Alfred returned to the family’s Newport mansion, The Breakers, to learn that his older brother had been disinherited for choosing the wrong bride, leaving him, the third son, heir to the greatest fortune of the age.

Weaving Fiction Around the Tale of the Lusitania

I was immediately aware of the dramatic potential arising from Alfred’s membership in Yale’s Skull and Bones secret society.  In 1911, when my story opens, this society included Percy Rockefeller, Harry Whitney and other scions of America’s wealthiest families, as well as the President of the United States, the Secretary of War and the Secretary of the Treasury.  Gold dust.  

Alfred’s love of horses and coaching meant frequent trips across the Atlantic.  Once he even shipped a hundred horses to London for the Olympia Horse Show. In May 1915, Alfred booked passage on the Lusitania in order to attend a meeting of the International Breeders Association.

In my book, Lusitania R.E.X, Alfred has another reason to travel to England.  In my fictionalised account, he is smuggling aboard the ship a prototype rocket clandestinely developed with his Skull and Bones friends. Alfred believes this rocket technology has the potential to end World War One.  After the arrest of three German stowaways as the liner sails from New York, the Germans realize their plan to steal to rocket with help from Irish nationalists has failed and the Lusitania is targeted.  While this is fiction, the rocket technology existed and the group that funds the project are all real members of Skull and Bones, including the American President.

I had a terrific time doing the research for my book, sometimes losing all track of time and glancing at my watch only to realise I was due for dinner in half an hour and still in my pajamas after a full day pursuing leads.  My efforts ranged from reading everything I could find about the Lusitania to digging through old newspapers in the basement of the New York public library and the Imperial War Museum in addition to visiting all the locations of the book.  

Weaving Fiction Around the Tale of the Lusitania

The highlight of my research, however, was making contact with the grandsons of two of my characters.  I was fortunate to develop a relationship with Alfred G. Vanderbilt’s grandson, Alfred G. Vanderbilt III, who shared with me original material and personal anecdotes about his grandfather.  I also made contact with the 11th Duke of Marlborough, whose father and grandfather play a role in the story through their kinship with the Vanderbilts.   The Duke kindly wrote the forward for the book.

It was a huge commitment of time and resources but through dogged determination I eventually finished my book after four years of work. I benefitted enormously from the support and encouragement of my family and friends as well as new acquaintances equally fascinated by the tale of the Lusitania.  To those considering undertaking a historical fiction, I offer you all my encouragement and best wishes for your success.

Written content of this post copyright © Greg Taylor, 2016.

Thursday, 12 May 2016

Georgian Pawnbrokers

I am delighted to welcome Pamela Lynne to the salon to lift the lid on pawnbrokers in Georgian England!
Mr. Gardiner led Darcy into a room guarded by two more men and what he saw there was bewildering. The walls were covered with exquisite paintings and tapestries. Tables lined the room, holding fine crystal and boxes that he could only assume contained jewels.
“The man I apprenticed for taught me many valuable lessons, one of which is that there is much profit to be made off the vices of the aristocracy. At the time, he meant brandy and silks, but the Prince Regent has set such an excellent example of debauchery the first circles are finding it hard to afford to stay in fashion.”
Darcy continued his perusal of the room.  When his eyes landed on the man in front of him, he nodded in understanding.
“You are a pawnbroker. You make high-interest loans so gentlemen can maintain their lifestyle of excess. The treasure before us is their collateral.”
“That’s about the size of it, Mr. Darcy. When they cannot pay, their treasures go to auction, so that men such as myself or Mr. Bingley can buy a piece of nobility at a reasonable price.”

Dearest Friends
This excerpt is from my first book Dearest Friends: A Jane Austen Inspired Novel. The line “the vices of the aristocracy,” came to me fairly early in the writing process as I was trying to create a Mr. Gardiner (a man of trade) whom the gentlemen of the London ton would begrudgingly accept into their society not out of liberality, but fear. Who would a gentleman of that time possibly fear? The man who owned his debt.
Though I may have taken dramatic license with the extent of Mr. Gardiner’s power in London, pawnbrokers had been in business throughout Europe for centuries. Early Judeo-Christian beliefs and practices regarding usury prevented pawning from becoming a thriving business until Pope Leo X gave it legitimacy. The early practice was intended to help the poor, but eventually, pawnbrokers earned a nasty reputation for charging exorbitant interest as well as being an outlet for stolen goods.
Officials in Georgian England attempted to stem this by regulating the practice. Pawnbroking came to England with the Normans and eventually Lombard merchants settled there, providing services to Edward III, who pawned the crown jewels to fund his war against France. By the time the Hanoverians came to the throne, however, the men providing these services were once again seen as less than savory individuals. 
In 1785, the Pawnbroker’s License Law was enacted, which required pawnbrokers to purchase a license. It also reduced the amount of interest they could legally charge. This was changed in 1800 when Lord Eldon (a wonderful figure if you like tales of elopements and political players) used his influence to increase that figure. The laws continued to change throughout the years with modern laws and practices growing from standards put in place during the Victorian Era. 
So, what were the vices of the aristocracy that sent them to these notorious individuals? Georgian and Regency society loved excess, but unpaid sums to shopkeepers could be ignored with little consequence. What could not be overlooked were debts incurred at the gaming tables. Debts of honor could get a man shot or run through. After a bad run of luck, a gentleman would likely prefer losing bits of his family history to losing his life. 
Thieves and the hungry were just as drawn to the doors of the pawnbroker. Whatever desperation led individuals, both privileged and not, there, debt was good business if you were on the right side of it. From the House of Medici to today’s Pawn Stars, need drives profit and vices can still be a broker’s best friends. 

About the Author
Pamela Lynne grew up in the American South, surrounded by Southern Gothic works by Faulkner, O'Connor and the like. These authors helped shape her evolving mind and continue to influence everything she produces as an adult. It was a Regency-era wit from across the Atlantic, however, who seeped into her being.
She often describes her developing years as "Longbourn, The White Trash Version," and credits Jane Austen for what little sense she brought away from that time. She has met her share of Willoughbys and Wickhams, Bingleys and Tilneys, and writes about them all.
Pamela’s debut novel, Dearest Friends: A Jane Austen Inspired Novel, won the Independent Publishers 2016 IPPY Awards Bronze Medal for Romance. This year, she began a person journey, A Janeite Looks at Forty, where she documents her re-reading of Austen’s beloved works, comparing her thoughts now to those when she first discovered Austen over twenty years ago. 
She currently lives in the rolling hills of Tennessee with her husband of more than a decade, three kids, two cats and one very blond dog. She is still a Marianne hoping to grow into Elinor, or Clairee from Steel Magnolias.

Written content of this post copyright © Pamela Lynne, 2016.