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Wednesday, June 29, 2016

ONCE AGAIN WEDNESDAY: The Witty Lord Alvanley

There were so many un-witty imitators of dandyism in the days of the Prince Regent that the appearance of Lord Alvanley with his delicate manner and exquisite style always caused a quiet sensation. To Lord Alvanley was awarded the reputation of being able to say as smart a thing as even Richard Brinsley Sheridan could rap out, whose repartee on all occasions was equal to any need. Captain Gronow alleges that Lord Alvanley had the talk of the day completely under his control, and was the arbiter of the school for scandal in all the St. James's district. A bon mot attributed to him gave rise to the belief that Solomon caused the downfall and disappearance of Beau Brummell; for on some friends of the prince of dandies observing that if he had remained in London something might have been done for him by his old associates, Alvanley replied, "he has done quite right to be off; it was Solomon's judgment." The real point of this remark is that one of Brummell's chief creditors was a gentleman of the Jewish persuasion whose name by chance happened to be Solomon.

The success of Lord Alvanley's casual observations, which were evidently delivered as though he were not conscious of what the effect would be, was due to their cynical aptitude. For example, Sir Lumley Skeffington, who had been a considerable lion in his day and whose spectacle "The Sleeping Beauty" attracted much attention when it was produced at the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden, excited Alvanley's wit. Sir Lumley, after having met with many misadventures and a "seclusion in the Bench," hoped that by gay attire and a general jauntiness he would be able to get back into fashionable life once more. But his old friends were not very kindly disposed towards him once his stint in debtor’s prison had been completed. Observing this, Alvanley, being asked on one occasion who that smart looking individual was, answered, "it is a second edition of the 'Sleeping Beauty,' bound in calf; richly gilt and illustrated by many cuts."

Alvanley used to say that Brummell was the only dandelion that flourished year after year in the hot-bed of the fashionable world: he had taken root. Lions were generally annual, but Brummell was perennial, and he quoted a letter from Walter Scott : " If you are celebrated for writing verses, or for slicing cucumbers, for being two feet taller, or two feet less, than any other biped, for acting plays when you should be whipped at school, or for attending schools and institutions when you should be preparing for your grave, your notoriety becomes a talisman, an "open sesame," which gives way to everything till you are voted a bore, and discarded for a new plaything."

Lord Alvanley had one very great advantage over all the wits of the Regency. He had travelled in France and Russia and had the command of languages. He was equally at home in French society and Russian as he was at the Court of the King of England. We have it on record that he was one of the best examples of a man who combined a genial wit with the utmost good-nature. The slight lisp became irresistible and added zest to his piquant sayings. He was what we should term in these days a jolly man, because as he grew old he also grew rotund. And he excelled in all manly exercises, was an ardent rider to hounds, and was plucky to the core. He has been described as having the happy face of one of the happy friars, whose portraits are always a joy to look upon. He had, of course, his peculiarities, and one of them was that he would have an apricot tart on the sideboard the whole year round, no matter if apricots were not in season, and he always invited eight people to dinner, when, as can be understood, they feasted of the best. Yet this good-humoured epicure was once in a risky affair.

It happened that Lord Alvanley made some strong allusions to O'Connell in the House of Lords, which resulted in a duel on Wimbledon Common. Morgan O'Connell said he would take his father's place, and did so. Alvanley's second was Colonel George Dawson Damer, while Colonel Hodges acted for Morgan O'Connell. It appears that several shots were fired without effect, and the seconds then interfered and put a stop to any further hostilities. On their way home in a hackney coach, Alvanley said, "What a clumsy fellow O'Connell must be, to miss such a fat fellow as I am. He ought to practise at a haystack to get his hand in." When the carriage drove up to Alvanley's door, he gave the coachman a sovereign. The man was profuse in his thanks, and said: "It's a great deal for only having taken your lordship to Wimbledon." "No, my good man," said Alvanley, " I give it to you, not for taking me, but for bringing me back."

One of the greatest charms of Alvanley's manner was its easy naturalness. He was an excellent classical scholar, a good speaker, and whatever he undertook to do he succeeded in. He preserved his wit and good-humour to the last; notwithstanding the gout, from which he suffered. He died "quite agreeably," as he said to friends at his bedside, in 1849.

Originally published April 2010

Monday, June 27, 2016


One of the best perks of writing historical mysteries is the research!  I am a library junkie, and love spending time digging through dusty old books in search of just the right historical detail.  (Of course, this also means sometimes it's hard for me to stop researching and actually, y'know, use the research in writing!).  Travel is also a fun way to immerse myself in a period, to imagine how my characters might have actually lived in Elizabethan times.  Murder at Fontainebleau uses a sense of place even more than other stories I've written.  We glimpse two palaces in the story, one the is long demolished and one that still exists to be toured, and they were a perfect example of the differences between English and French life in the 16th century, which Kate Haywood discovers for herself when she's sent to Fontainebleau on a mission for Queen Elizabeth....

The English palace, Greenwich (above), was originally built in 1433 by Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, a brother of Henry V. It was a convenient spot for a castle, 5 miles from London and Thames-side, and was popular with subsequent rulers, especially Henry VIII. His father, Henry VII, remodeled the place extensively between 1498-1504 (after dispatching the previous occupant, Dowager Queen Elizabeth, to a convent). The new design was after the trendy “Burgundian” model, with the facade refaced in red Burgundian brick. Though the royal apartments were still in the “donjon” style (i.e. stacked rooms atop rooms), there were no moats or fortifications. It was built around 3 courtyards, with the royal apartments overlooking the river and many fabulous gardens and mazes, fountains and lawns.
At the east side of the palace lay the chapel; to the west the privy kitchen. Next door was the church of he Observant Friars of St. Francis, built in 1482 and connected to the palace by a gallery. This was the favorite church of Katherine of Aragon, who wanted one day to be buried there (of course, that didn’t turn out quite as she planned…)
Though there are paintings and drawings of the exterior, not much is known of the interior decorations. The Great Hall was said to have roof timbers painted with yellow ochre, and the floors were wood, usually oak (some painted to look like marble). The ceilings were flat, with moulded fretwork and lavish gilding, embellished with badges and heraldic devices (often Katherine’s pomegranates and Henry’s roses). The furniture was probably typical of the era, carved dark wood chairs (often an X-frame design) and tables, benches and trunks. Wool or velvet rugs were on the floors of the royal apartments only, but they could also be found on tables, cupboards, and walls. Elaborate tiered buffets showed off gold and silver plate, and treasures like an gold salt cellar engraved with the initials “K and H” and enameled with red roses.
It was a royal residence through the reign of Charles I (1625-49), but under the Commonwealth the state apartments were made into stables, and the palace decayed. In 1662, Charles II demolished most of the remains and built a new palace on the site (this later became the Royal Naval College), and landscaped Greenwich Park. The Tudor Great Hall survived until 1866, and the chapel (used for storage) until the late 19th century. Apart from the undercroft (built by James I in 1606) and one of Henry VIII’s reservoir buildings of 1515, nothing of the original survives.

Fontainebleau (above), on the other hand, can be seen in much the state Francois I left it in. On February 24, 1525 there was the battle of Pavia, the worst French defeat since Agincourt. Many nobles were dead, and king was the prisoner of the Holy Roman Emperor in Madrid. He was released in May, but only at the price of exchanging his sons (Dauphin Francois and Henri, duc d’Orleans) for his own freedom. In May 1526, Francois created the League of Cognac with Venice, Florence, the Papacy, the Sforzas of Milan, and Henry VIII to “ensure the security of Christendom and the establishment of a true and lasting peace.” (Ha!!) This led to the visit of the delegation in 1527, seeking a treaty of alliance with England and the betrothal of Princess Mary and the duc d’Orleans.
After his return from Madrid, Francois was not idle. Aside from plotting alliances, he started decorating. Having finished Chambord, he turned to Fontainebleau, which he loved for its 17,000 hectares of fine hunting land. All that remained of the original 12th century castle was a single tower. Francois built new ballrooms, galleries, and a chapel, and called in Italian artists like Fiorentino, Primaticcio, and Vignola to decorate them in lavish style (some of their work can still be seen in the frescoes of the Gallery of Francois I and the bedchamber of the king’s mistress the duchesse d’Etampes). The marble halls were filled with artworks, gold and silver ornaments, and fine tapestries. Unlike Greenwich, this palace was high and light, filled with sunlight that sparkled on the giltwork.
I know it’s hard to comment on a research-type post, but I’m curious–after reading about both palaces, which would you prefer to live in? (I’m torn, but I lean toward Fontainebleau, just because I was so awestruck when I visited!). Where would you like to see a book set?

For more behind-the-scenes history tidbits, and info on the KateHaywood Elizabethan Mysteries, please visit me at this link.