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Monday, January 31, 2011

On The Shelf - Discovering New Authors - Part One

Occasionally, life treats us to rare gifts: a perfect summer's day, a hug when you're needing it most, an excellent pinot noir. If you're like me, perhaps one of life's greatest treats is the discovery of a new author. I'm always looking for them and recently I found a blog called My Porch, which I've added to the "Amusing Blogs" section found in the righthand sidebar of this blog. Written by a young man named Thomas who lives in Washington, D.C., it is a testament to his reading stamina, which beats my own with a very big stick. I enjoy his `voice' and his book reviews, but My Porch also boasts a long list of links to yet more book sites, many with a British bent. One can troll them for hours. Which one did until, finally, it dawned on me that Victoria and I might do a post on favorite authors, with healthy backlists, that could then be our gift to you. So here goes. One disclaimer before we continue - you won't find any romantic fiction here, not because we don't read it but because many of its authors are friends and once one begins naming friends one inevitably leaves someone out and then one finds oneself in the soup, so to speak. So. . . here are a few of my favorites, in no particular order, beginning with a category of books I term gentle reads. Victoria's picks in the same category will follow in Part Two. We sincerely hope you find a new author or two amongst them.

Rebecca Shaw has written two cozy village series, the Barleybridge novels and the Turnham Malpas books. The Barleybridge series consists of three titles that deal with the lives and clients in a rural veterinary clinic. More prolific, the Turnham Malpas books, which number 15 titles, are set in a small village and opens with The New Rector. Here's the blurb: When Peter Harris arrives in Turnham Malpas as the new rector, he finds the village people welcoming but set in their ways. Yet despite his own weaknesses and the sadness of his childless wife, he comforts and advises his new parishioners, growing more and more involved with the rural way of life. Then the whole village is rocked by a spiteful trick that goes terribly wrong, and a gruesome murder that points to a killer in its midst. Now, more than ever, Peter's pastoral role is crucial - and yet he is wrestling with his own private hell that may still wreck his own life. Don't be turned off by the fact that the central character, at least in this title, is a member of the clergy. Shaw's books are rather like an adult version of the Miss Read books, more on which later. Peter's arrival in the village sets the stage for our introduction to a cast of quirky and mostly

Sunday, January 30, 2011

The True Story of Regnecy Eccentric "Mad Jack" Mytton

John `Mad Jack' Mytton was born in 1796, the son of a Shropshire squire. Though he had a rather typical upbringing, John Mytton seems to have gone out of his way in order to earn the name "Mad Jack." He drank several bottle of port each morning to "forestall the bad effect of the night air" and was also known to drink eau de cologne when nothing else was to hand. He drove his four horse gig recklessly, often stripped bare whilst fox hunting and arrived at one dinner party on a bear and dressed as a highwayman to hold up his guests as they left his house on their ways home. He is reputed to have kept 2,000 dogs and more than 60 finely-costumed cats, but Jack's specialty seems to have been horses - A favourite horse 'Baronet' had full and free range inside Halston Hall, and would lie in front of the fire with Jack. And, he is said to have ridden his horse into the Bedford Hotel, up the grand staircase and onto the balcony, from which he jumped, still seated on his horse, over the diners in the restaurant below, and out through the window onto the Parade.

Once, he set fire to himself once in order to cure his hiccups. He survived, inherited Hallston Hall estate and a fortune worth about £500,000 a year by today’s standards, but ended his life at the age of thirty-seven in the King's Bench debtor's prison in Southwark.

                                                                         Copyright@Hallston Hall Estate

From the Halston Hall Estate website:

John 'Mad Jack' Mytton 'invested' £10,000 to become MP for Shrewsbury, handing out ten pound notes in order to buy votes, but spent less that half an hour in the House of Commons. Madcap pranks made Mytton a legend in his own lifetime. A drunken friend was put to bed with two bulldogs and a bear. Mytton went duck shooting by moonlight on Halston's frozen lake, dressed in only his nightshirt. Disguised as a highwayman, complete with his blazing pistols, he ambushed departing guests on the Oswestry road. One biographer relates further details regarding the bear incident, adding that Mytton  rode the bear into his drawing room in full hunting costume. "The bear carried him very quietly for a time; but on being pricked by the spur he bit his rider through the calf of his leg." 'Mad Jack' lost his money, but not his friends. Three thousand people attended his funeral. He is buried in the Chapel at Halston."

Buried at Halston he may be, but the Mytton & Mermaid Hotel at Atcham is not only named for Mad Jack, but claims to be home to his ghost, which is reputed to appear each year on September 30, Mad Jack's birthday. His funeral procession stopped at the Mytton, then a coaching inn, on the way to Halston Chapel. Fittingly, the Jack Mytton Way was opened in 1993 and covers 100 miles of spectacular Shropshire countryside. It is one of the longest bridleways in the country and is used by horse riders, cyclists and walkers, none of whom, we presume, have a penchant for leaping from balconies.

More anecdotes of Mad Jack's life from Famous Racing Men by Willmott-Dixon Thormanby coming soon.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Regency Reflections: The Death of King George III

This post may appear a bit backwards, since before we begin our series on the regency of George, Prince of Wales, in a few days, we will mark its ending! The Prince Regent, upon the death of his father, King George III on January 29, 1820, became George IV.

George III, 1809, NPG
George III had been incapacitated for at least nine years. He was blind and  deaf; sometimes he knew what was happening around him, other times he was far away in a world of his own.  It has been widely accepted that he (and perhaps other members of the Hanoverian royal family) suffered from porphyria, a disease that combined symptoms of both physical and mental illness. The King did not know Queen Charlotte had died in 1818.

Since 1811, his eldest son, George, Prince of Wales, had ruled in his name.

First Victoria Cross - Post in Sidebar

V&A new award for gallentry, highest in britain - {ut link to Wikipedia entry in sidebar

Friday, January 28, 2011

The Wellington Connection - The Tower of London

It was a cold, wet, foggy day when we visited the Tower of London - a day chock full of atmosphere and history.

Of course, the Tower is a must see for any first time visitor to London and that's why it was on our agenda, so that Greg could take it all in. Not surprisingly, the Duke of Wellington made an appearance here, as well, having served as Constable of the Tower for 26 years. As I said to Greg, "You've got to give it to Artie, he had his fingers in so many pies."

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Story Behind True Soldier Gentlemen by the Author, Guest Blogger Dr. Adrian Goldsworthy

Writing historical novels is a long cherished dream. I love history, and if the Romans have always had a special place in my heart, I find plenty of other periods almost as fascinating. For all that widespread interest, the Napoleonic and Regency has long been a particular obsession.

It probably began as a boy, watching the film Waterloo on television, and then when Bernard Cornwell's Sharpe's Eagle - the first of the series - was released. I devoured this and all its successors, along with C.S. Forester and his many imitators, as well as Patrick O'Brian who gave such a unique take on the genre. The fiction quickly led me to the real history of those times, and especially the wealth of letters and memoirs left by the men and women of those years of Regency in England and Revolution and Empire in France. So many of the real events and characters were stranger and more dramatic than anything a novelist would dare to invent, and there is so much human detail of everyday life during peacetime and on campaign. It was such a remarkable age, gaudy and inspiring, filled with larger the life characters and epic moments.

There is a lot of naval fiction out there, and new series seem to begin almost every year. Oddly, in spite - or perhaps because of - the success of Sharpe in books and on TV, there are very few adventure stories about Wellington's men. Allan Mallinson's series about the Light Dragoon Matthew Hervey begins in 1814, and apart from a few flashbacks, deals mainly with the world after Waterloo. Cornwell has on the whole moved on to other periods.

Let's Play Telephone Contest Winner

We're pleased to announced that the winner of the contest is Louisa Cornell, who submitted the following (most amusing) telephone conversation:

Hello? Maria, dear, I told you never to call me here. I know dearest. I’ll try my best to be home for dinner, but affairs of state and all that, you know. Wait a moment, dear, I’m getting another call. ---- Mary! How did you get this number? I mean, aren’t you in rehearsals, dear? No, of course not. Of course there’s not another woman. Who can compare with my lovely Perdita? Tonight? Oh… Uhm … I have another call. Let me call you back. ---- Maria, I really need to get to a meeting with – Who? Oh, no of course not, Grace. Maria is my … housekeeper in Brighton. Grace, how did you get this number? What? Tonight? Well, I don’t exactly- I have another call, Grace, dear. You’ll hold? Wonderful. ---- Hello? Who is this? Of course this is George! Who else would it be? Oh! Lady Jersey, what a surprise. What? Caroline who? Caroline of Brunswick. I thought you said she looks like a horse and smells like one as well. …. You’ve changed your mind? I see. Well, I am certain the privy council will agree with you. This afternoon? I’m not exactly sure what I’ll be doing. Getting another call. Let me call you back. --- Brummell! You unmitigated ass! I should have known. Who else have you given this number to, you overdressed . . .  All of them? Oh God!

Louisa - Email us off line with your snail mail address and we'll get your prizes in the post to you!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

On The Shelf - NOOK Color Kicks Off Our Author Recommendations

I was once out shopping with a friend when I spotted a killer pair of Ralph Lauren sunglasses. When I told her that I really liked them, but that at the same time I already had many pair of sunglasses and didn't need yet another, she sniffed and pronounced, "My dear, it's not a matter of need. It's a matter of want. Buy them."

While I've lived by her words many times over the years, I must admit that I dragged my feet when e-readers first came out. Why buy something that's the size of a book, that you can hold in your hand and read like a book when you could just read a book? And why pay for a book, when you could get it free at the local public library?

Then, Barnes and Noble came out with the NOOK color, an Android tablet fronted by a 7-inch color touchscreen with 8GB of internal memory and a microSD card slot for cards up to 32GB. It functions as both an e-reader and a web browser. All for $249.00 - much cheaper than an iPad or notebook. Curious, I went on the Barnes and Noble website in order to invesigate and found that it offered lots of capability. The NOOK sounded like a good deal. It sounded like something I didn't absolutely need, but certainly wanted. And what do you know - Greg took it upon himself to surprise me with one for Xmas. Here are a look at the features:

1. You can download books into the NOOK in seconds. Using the NOOK to read a book is so easy, you don't even need the instructions. Just tap on a book cover and it opens. A swipe at the corner of the screen turns the page, just like a "real" book. When you're done reading, turn the NOOK off and when you turn it on again, it remembers what page you were on and opens to it. Downloaded books are stored on your "shelves," which you can customize. My NOOK shelves are named tbr and done. Yes, tbr, as in to be read. No more tottering piles of tomes by the side of my bed. Still a pile, true, since every book ever written is not offered as a NOOK download as yet and since some books, especially non-fiction titles, were simply not meant to be read in any other format than that of a good, old fashioned hard-bound book. I plan on using my NOOK for fiction only. But that may change.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Royal Wedding on the Telly

With just 90-something days to go till the Wedding of the Year/Decade, you can bet that news outlets and television stations on both sides of the pond, and elsewhere, are plotting their strategies and schedules for the weeks and days leading up to the big event at 11 a.m. on April 29th. So far, TLC is the only channel that's given out any information on their royal line up - during the five days leading up to royal wedding, TLC said on Wednesday that it will air specials featuring archived and other footage, interviews and a round-table discussion with experts on royalty. The U.K.-themed week, in partnership with ITV Studios, also will include a show focusing on both British and American hoarders and "extreme" collectors of royal memorabilia. One hopes they'll focus on the lady featured in our right sidebar and not on, er, one.

TLC also plans live coverage of the wedding, with a condensed version of the event set to air April 30-May 1. But you won't have to wait till April - beginning next month, TLC will show "The Queen," a new two-hour special that explores romance, weddings and divorce among members of Queen Elizabeth II's family. The special will air Feb. 13 (9 p.m. EST). The program will be preceded by repeats of two specials about William and his fiancee: "William and Kate: A Royal Love Story" (7 p.m. EST) and "William, Kate and Royal Weddings" (8 p.m. EST).

Monday, January 24, 2011

Do You Know About the Forsyte Saga?

While Downton Abbey has recently premiered on Masterpiece Theatre, we thought we'd tell you about another great period drama, The Forsyte Saga. Whether, like me, you prefer the older version (1967) or the new (2002), settling in to watch the Forsyte Saga is like snuggling up with a brandy in front of the fire - comfortable, cosseting and considerably entertaining. Like all good costume dramas, the Forsyte Saga provides romance, drama and skull duggery based on a series of three novels - The Man of Property, In Chancery and To Let -and two interludes published between 1906 and 1921 by author John Galsworthy, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1932. The twenty-six episodes cover the history of the aristocratic Forsyte family between the years 1879 and 1926. You should be aware that the 2002 version only covered the first two of Galway's novels and only ran for seven episodes. The plot revolved around the feuds and machinations of the Forsyte family and their London merchants' business, with each episode culminating in a melodramatic cliffhanger ending. Together with the fact that the original version was filmed in black and white, the series has a decidedly "soap opera" feel to it, and we say Bravo!

The Forsyte Saga chronicles the ebbing social power of the upper-middle class Forsyte family through three generations, beginning in Victorian London during the 1880s and begins with Soames Forsyte (right, played by Eric Porter), a successful solicitor who buys land at Robin Hill on which to build a house for his wife Irene and future family. Little does he suspect (at first) that Irene has only married him for his money. Beneath his very proper exterior lies a core of unhappiness and a string of brutal relationships. Eventually, the Forsyte family begins to disintegrate when Timothy Forsyte, the last of the old generation, dies at the age of 100. Soames' cousin Jolyon abandons his distraught wife and won't see his children again for some years, whilst architect Philip Bosinney, besides having an affair with Irene, plays fast and loose with Soames' money while building him a house.

A much darker and condensed version of the novels appeared in the movie That Forsyte Woman (1949), which starred Errol Flynn as Soames, Greer Garson as Irene, Walter Pidgeon as young Jolyon, Robert Young as Philip Bosinney and Janet Leigh as June.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Spencer House

All of us are familiar with the name Spencer in the British aristocracy, e.g. Lady Diana Spencer, aka Diana, Princess of Wales;  Winston Spencer Churchill; Georgiana Spencer Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire;  the Earls Spencer. It’s an old and historic name and family.  Spencer House was the London town house built in the 1750's by the 1st Earl Spencer; it is now owned by a corporation (headed by Lord Rothschild, to whom we must give thanks for its preservation and  care). In the BBCTwo series by Amanda Vickery on Georgian Taste, the house and its principle rooms and furnishings were described as the epitome of Georgian style and elegance. The Spencer House website is here.

It isn't always easy to find the entrance. Though the west facade faces Green Park (above), you must wander around in the cluster of streets west of St. James's Street.   There are several little twists or turns to take, but don't despair if you don't  find it right away. The scenery is delicious -- and though there are few pedestrians or autos, the people watching CAN be excellent.  Watch for top hats-- these will be the doormen  at the hotel!

One day, on my way to Spencer House, I took this picture of a perfect
house in a row of 18th century buildings.  It shows the torch snuffers on the lamp poles, for the footmen to extinguish their guiding torches after travel at night. Also, the fan light above the door would serve as an address before there were numbers on the houses.  The picture of the unique fan light would be shown on your invitation to identify the proper venue!

Also nearby, The Stafford Hotel

Someday, I want to stay at the Stafford, a truly elegant establishment now part of the international Kempinski chain. I admit to entering its portals once to have a drink in the bar. Delicious.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Queen Victoria - In Memoriam

22 January 1901 - The death of Queen Victoria (Alexandrina Victoria German: Alexandrina Viktoria; B. 24 May 1819), who was the Queen regnant of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland from 20 June 1837, and the first Empress of India of the British Raj from 1 May 1876, until her death. Her reign as the Queen lasted 63 years and 7 months, longer than that of any other British monarch before or since, and her reign is the longest of any female monarch in history - Queen Elizabeth's reign is coming up on 59 years.

God save the Queen!

Another interesting aspect of Victoria's life was her role as a mother of nine and grandmother of dozens, In two generations. Her progeny ruled a huge chunk of Europe, not to mention the places where the sun never sets.

Right, the Princess Victoria, Princess Royal (1840-1901) was Queen Victoria's first born. She married German Emperor Frederick III and  was the mother of Kaiser Wilhelm II and seven other children who married into a variety of Europoean royal families. This portrait was painted by Winterhalter in 1867 when she was Crown Princess of Prussia.


Edward Albert, Prince of Wales, and later Edward VII (1841–1910) was Victoria's second child, the longed-for male heir to the throne. He spent most of his life waiting to become king but he reigned only nine years after his mother's death in 1901.

He and his Queen, Alexandra of Denmark, had six children who also married royals.

Among the  descendents of Queen Victoria are the royal families of the United Kingdom, Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Spain. Among those families formerly on thrones, count the ex-royals of Greece, Russia and Romania, not to mention a passle of former principalities.


When in London recently,  I once again visited Mark Sullivan Antiques in Cecil Court. And once again, Mark told me that I'd just missed seeing the current Duke of Wellington by a few days. Sigh. Mark and I chatted for a bit about Florida and we finally got down to the business of Artie-Facts, also known as Wellington commemoratives or memorabilia. There was nothing on hand that was as earth shattering as the Staffordshire figurine I'd purchased from Mark in June (above), so I was just about to reluctantly pass on buying anything when Mark told me that he had a few pieces in the basement that he'd been saving for a dealer, but seeing as how I was regular customer and the dealer was not, he'd bring them up for me.

The first item was the tankard below, made by Lambeth Potteries.

The second item was this small bust of the Duke of Wellington

Reader, I purchased both. And, inspired by the display of commemoratives on show in the basement of Apsley House, I've grouped them all together with those pieces I already own in a lighted cabinet in the living room. You can read about my Wellington collection in a prior post here.  

Friday, January 21, 2011

Downton Abbey - The Series That Refuses to Die

This topic will simply not go away. Are you ready for the latest? ITV has just announced that Downton Abbey - Series Two has been commissioned. The new eight-part series is expected to be broadcast next Autumn.

Unbelievable, right? Can you think of anything more unlikely - or unlikable? Well hold on to your mob caps, Downton Abbey will then return for Christmas 2011. The Christmas special will continue where the second series ends. I promise you I'm not making this up.

Gareth Neame, Executive Producer and Managing Director of Carnival Films says, “The public’s reaction to the first series of Downton Abbey was gratifying. With a combined audience of 12.8 million people tuning into the last episode we are delighted ITV have decided to return with all the main characters of Downton at Christmas.”

If that's not bad enough, Laura Mackie, Director of Drama, ITV said: “Julian has come up with a fantastic story that will give the audience the chance to enjoy the experience of the festive season at Downton Abbey. We’re delighted to have this as part of our Christmas schedule for December 2011.” I can't be certain, but with Fellowes writing the script, it's a good bet that the Christmas special might feature three ghosts. And a crippled youngster named Tim. Maybe even a kid who gets his tongue frozen to a pole. A lamp shaped like a woman's leg would be too much to hope for.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

A Pictorial Stroll to Apsley House

Here we are together on another London stroll. This time, we'll be taking in the views as we approach Apsley House whilst walking north on Grosvenor Place.

Our first glimpses of Apley House through the trees.

The Wellington Arch! And many double decker buses.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Let's Play Telephone

We're putting a new twist on the old game of "Telephone." Instead of seeing how garbled a message becomes as it's passed from ear to ear, we challenge you to create the message. Just think how the availability of the telephone could have changed lives - and history.

Enter our contest by creating a historical telephone call - it can be one sided or two, it can be funny, filled with pathos, earth shattering or just plain amusing. Place your entry by leaving it in the comment section below. Limit is 3 entries per person, each no more than 500 words. The contest is open for one week - until January 26th. On the 27th we'll announce the winner, who will receive books (fiction and non), recent issues of Country Life Magazine and a Country Life wall calendar.

In order to get the ball rolling, here's my own (ineligible) entry - a conversation between Wellington and Blucher:

"Hello? Hello? Blucher? It's Wellington . . . I say, it's the Duke of Wellington . . . I know there's a lot of background noise on my end, old man, but I'm afraid that can't be helped. Listen, where are you? What? I beg your pardon, I had my face buried in Copenhagen's neck when I ducked just then. Can you hear me now? Where are you? Oh, for God's sake man, turn on your GPS! . . . . . that's the ticket. And Blucher? . . . . . Hurry!

Please Note: Only registered followers of this blog shall be eligible to win. You may register now by using the link in the right sidebar under "Those Who Call Number One London Home."

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Minster Lovell Church and Ruins

So, here we are at St. Kenelm's Church on a cold, wet, foggy December day when our surroundings look for all the world like a Hammer Studios horror movie set. On the day we visited, the air was crisp and cold and the place was as deserted as it looks in the photos below. There was nary a footprint to be seen in the graveyard and it was so quiet that you could hear the snow crunch beneath your boots with each step. . . no one spoke . . . . . no one dared to break the eerie silence as we made our way through the ancient tombstones . . . . .  don't be afraid - I'm sure the legends of the Minster Lovell Hall ghost are just rumour . . . . . . . .

St Kenelm's church in Minster Lovell (above) is mainly 15th century, built on the foundations of an earlier priory minster. This explains the unusual cruciform shape with a central tower. The whole church is “almost entirely unaltered and has handsome details” (Pevsner). It is situated next to the ruins of Minster Lovell Hall, pictured below.

Monday, January 17, 2011

A Walk Through Minster Lovell

On one of our day trips out of London, Greg and I took a train to Oxford and the Cotswolds on a London Walks tour. The day was cold, the ground was covered in snow and the view from the train was obscured by heavy fog. After arriving in Oxford, we boarded a private coach for the village of Minster Lovell, located to the west of Oxford. The village is approached via a bridge over the River Windrush.

Disembarking, we had time to take in the chocolate box cottages with thatched roofs that line the single main road of the village that will probably never make it to an episode of Midsomer Murder, as apart from the charming houses, there is only a pub, a church and a ruin. Narrative here isn't really necessary . . . . let's just stroll quietly up the frozen road together and admire the view . . . . . .

Downton Abbey - Again

Okay, Episode 2 was much better.  Some characters seemed better defined, others were less annoying. I know, I know - I love these period pieces and no one wants to love this one more than me. I don't know what the problem is. I have to say that every time I see either Jim Carter as Mr. Carson

or Brendan Coyle as John Bates

I'm transported back to Lark Rise. Seeing them together in the same scene makes me think that Laura is going to come running into view at any moment.

However, the appearance of Turkish houseguest Kemal Pamuk, played by Theo James, made me think that things were, indeed, picking up. And then he died. Which, as a plot device, was hysterical.

And which prompted Maggie Smith to utter one of the funniest lines so far - "No Englishman would ever dream of dying in someone else's house." Thank goodness I wasn't drinking anything when I heard it.

If you can't wait until the conclusion this Sunday - and I admit that I'm now looking forward to it myself - the ITV website offers exclusvie features, click here. And, of course, you can visit the Masterpiece Theater site, where you can watch the first two episodes again.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Syon House

Syon House is one if the venues listed in the article in the December issue of BBC History magazine as part of their coverage of Amanda Vickery's BBC Two program "At Home with the Georgians."  The Percy family, now dukes of Northumberland have lived at Syon House for many years. To follow the fortunes of the Percy family is to travel the twists and turns of British history.  From their arrival with William the Conqueror in the 11th century, they held a stronghold at Alnwick Castle in far Northumberland and frequently ran into conflicts with the English kings.  Because of their support for Mary Queen of Scots, they were commanded to live in the south, at their property at Petworth in Sussex.  There were many periods of imprisonment in the Tower for various earls over the centuries.

Syon House had its ups and downs as well. It sits on the banks of the Thames across from Kew Gardens. Built in 1550 by Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset, Lord Protector during the short reign of Edward VI, son of Henry VIII, the property had been a very wealthy nunnery with abundant fertile lands and a fine location. The name, Syon, is a form of Zion, and is pronounced SZEYE-un, a mix of the two words.

In its first few centuries, Syon seemed to exist under a dark cloud. Lord Somerset died on the scaffold before it was finished; Lady Jane Grey resided here; it served as a prison for the children of Charles I for a time. In the picture above, note the very dry brown of the usually parsley-green lawn -- summer drought a few years ago when I last visited.

Syon came to the Percy family through the marriage of Henry Percy (1564- 1632) to Lady Dorothy Devereux (d. 1619), a sister of Robert, Earl of Essex, a favorite of Elizabeth I.  From a previous marriage, Lady Dorothy owned the lease to the valuable Syon estate.  When James I came to the throne, he gave Syon outright to Henry Percy, 9th Earl of Northumberland.  In 1605 the 9th earl himself landed in the Tower, where he lived for sixteen years, improving his estates and studying scientific topics from his prison.  He was known as the Wizard Earl for his many interests in science and the occult.  His wife Dorothy regularly sent him baskets of fruits from the Syon orchards.


Friday, January 14, 2011

The Long Lost Story of Prinny's Tailor by Guest Blogger Charles Bazalgette

Charles Bazalgette is at present writing the biography of his great-great-great-great-grandfather Louis Bazalgette (1750-1830), who was tailor to the Prince of Wales (later George IV) for 32 years, but who is quite unknown and has never been mentioned in any books. The only reason why he has been able to piece together his life story is because he researched him from the genealogical angle, a task that has so far taken him 15 years. As Charles told us:

This biography, which is planned to be ready to publish next year, had its origins in my genealogical research into the British branch of the Bazalgette family, of whom Louis (who was born in the Cevennes in southern France) was the patriarch. When researching Louis’ life, apart from the usual vital records, I hit the proverbial brick wall. He was an unknown man. He never got his name in the newspapers, apart from the odd modest donation to charity, and was never mentioned in contemporary accounts, diaries etc., of which I ploughed through a great number. He never advertised, probably because the Prince’s orders for clothes took up all of his manufacturing capacity. The fact that over many years I have been able to piece together his life story is due mainly to the ‘snapping up of unconsidered trifles’ and to painstaking detective work, plus those few measures of luck that lead the researcher up the right path, against the run of the play, which usually consists of Dame Fortune blithely pointing him down the garden variety.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Elegant Taste of the Georgians

Victoria here. I subscribe to a number of British publications -- and always save them until I can sit down with a cuppa -- and enjoy them without pressure. Needless to say, they pile up. The BBC History magazine for December 2010 had to wait until last weekend when my DH was immersed in football games. I had much more fun reading "All in the best possible Taste" on p. 42, which was written to accompany the BBC Two series At Home with the Georgians, presented by Amanda Vickery. Her book, Behind Closed Doors: At Home in Georgian England, was published in the U.S. by the Yale University Press in 2010.

Amanda Vickery is a professor of history at Queen Mary, University of London. While investigating the subject of taste, she discusses Lady Shelburne.  Faithful readers of this blog will already be familiar with Lady Shelburne's taste, as shown in her homes.  Lansdowne House, London, and Bowood, in Wiltshire, were the topics here last March 29 and 31 and April 4, 2010.   As Earl and Countess of Shelburne, William and Sophia established prominence in Georgian social and political circles. Later, after Lady Shelburne's early death at age 25, the earl was named first Marquess of Lansdowne.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Downton Abbey

It was very strange watching Downton Abbey on Sunday night. I kept experiencing this feeling of deja vu, convinced that I'd actually been in some of the rooms at the fictional Downton Abbey.  And then I remembered that Burghley House was used for some of the filming and of course I'd been there and that explained that - one wonders if turtle skulls will be making a below stairs appearance. Anyways, stranger still was the feeling of expectation, the waiting for something marvelous to happen. And waiting. And waiting. You and I both know that I live for this type of television fare and even I was a trifle bored. The UK papers had touted DA as "the surprise drama hit of 2010." Articles were written and opinions given that DA was hands down better than Upstairs Downstairs. Having seen both, I strongly disagree. So far, DA is pretty much a yawn.

Some critics slammed DA writer Julian Fellowes for his script, acusing him of having lifted tried and true plot lines straight from the works of well known authors, a charge Fellowes vehemently denies. Stolen or not, the plots were hardly worth the effort. Other detractors say that DA is nothing more than a pale imitation of the original U/D. The question is - Why was DA such a runaway hit? Frankly, The Telegraph's report boggles the mind, saying that DA "attracted a large audience of 8 million viewers and, in a development almost unheard of for a serial drama series, it actually gained viewers through its run. Its final episode, at the end of November, attracted an audience of 10.8million - putting it in the top 10 highest-rated TV shows of the entire year."  Huh?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Regency Power & Brilliance at the National Portrait Gallery

Hard on the heels of Jo's wonderful series of posts on Sir Thomas Lawrence, I thought I'd share with you the fact that whilst in London recently I had the chance to take in the exhibition of Sir Thomas Lawrence's works entitled Regency Power and Brilliance. You can read all about the Exhibition itself in a prior post on this blog by clicking here. This has really been a banner year for me as during my past two trips to London I've been fortunate enough to have seen many iconic British paintings in person. My visit to the Lawrence exhibition reminded me just what a brilliant artist he was.

Ironically, the paintings below were hung side by side on the same wall.

Queen Charlotte

Elizabeth Farren, later Countess of Derby

These are each enormous, full length paintings and it was possible to get up really close to each. The detail was stupendous.