The Scandalous Life And Mysterious Death Of The Beautiful Venetia Digby

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Venetia Stanley, the third daughter of Sir Edward Stanley and his wife Lady Lucy Percy, was born in December 1600. Venetia grew up into a beautiful woman. "She had a most lovely and sweet-turned face, delicate dark brown hair…," wrote contemporary writer and philosopher John Aubrey, "Her face, a short oval; dark brown eyebrow, about which much sweetness, as also in the opening of her eyelids. The colour of her cheeks was just that of the damask rose, which is neither too hot nor too pale." One of the most celebrated beauties of her time, her looks didn't fail to catch the attention of a lot of men when she went to court. It was rumoured Venetia had had several lovers by the time she was 20.

I doubt this is true, though. Maybe she committed some indiscretions, but such a behaviour would have been very scandalous even at the lascivious Stuart court. What's certain is that she fell in love with Kenelm Digby, a charming and goodlooking noblemen three years younger than her and a Catholic. Both families were horrified by the match and hasted to separate the couple. Digby's mother had him sent abroad on diplomatic missions hoping he would soon forget Venetia.

The plan didn't work. Once Digby returned home, he was still determined to marry Venetia, even though by then the young woman, left alone and without protection, had become the mistress of Richard Sackville, Earl of Dorset, and even had had children with him. Kenelm and Venetia married in a secret ceremony in 1625, and for a few years, they didn't mention their union to anyone. Poor Venetia even gave birth in secret and silence, without groaning and crying out in pain not to alert the servants in the house about what was going on. The couple had three more children, two of which sadly died young. Marriage seemed to have done her good, though. The rest of her short life, dedicated to her family and the Catholic religion, was scandal-free.

Rumours of marital problems between the couple surfaced, though, when Venetia was found dead on the morning of 1st May 1633. It was her maid who found her dead, her husband having gone to sleep in a different room after returning home in the early hours of the morning so as not to disturb his wife. What had killed Venetia? Theories abounded. Had Digby murdered his gorgeous wife in a fit of jealousy? Had she repented of the marriage and committed suicide? Or was the toxic ingredients in her cosmetics, concocted by her husband to preserve her beauty, that had killer her?

Whatever the truth, Kenelm was devastated. He asked Anthony Van Dyke to paint a deathbed portrait of Venetia, which he kept with him at all times of the day and night. Like that weren't morbid enough, he started writing letters to his dead wife, which were later published in a book titled "In Praise Of Venetia". He also wore mourning for the rest of his life and became more reclusive and unkempt as the years went on. He died on 11 June 1665.

Further reading:
Memoirs of Eminent Englishwomen, Volume 3 by Louisa Stuart Costello

The Mysterious Fair One, Or The Royal Introduction To The Circassian Beauty

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

George, the Prince Regent, loved women. All but his own wife, Caroline of Brunswick. The Prince was disgusted by her coarse manners and poor personal hygiene and refused, after their wedding night, to consummate the marriage again. For the rest of her life, he would try to get rid of her, which elicited people's compassion for the slighted Princess, and instigated a slew of satirical prints about their marriage.

One of these prints, created by Isaac Robert Cruikshank, is titled The Mysterious Fair One, or – the Royal Introduction to the Circassian Beauty. The Persian Ambassador introduces a fair Circassian to the Regent with the hope she will join his harem. At first, the Prince is enthusiastic and declaims, "Oh what a form? What Symetry, what Elegance of manners ; in every gesture dignity and Love, --Oh how I long to have my Eyes gratified with a sight of that much injured fair one – a Slave indeed –no she shall not be a Slave to any Mans Passions, I’ll take care of that; for I’ll Marry her myself!!!"

At this the fair Circassian raises her veil and exclaims, "you have married her!". The exotic foreigner turns out to be none other but his wife, the Princess of Wales. The Regent is horrified and cries out: "What, what, save me, hide me from – from –from – Myself." Only the Persian ambassador isamused. He laughs: "What your own Wife ha- ha".

Further reading:
English Caricaturists and Graphic Humourists of the Nineteenth Century. How they Illustrated and Interpreted their Times, by Graham Everitt

Book Reviews: How To Ruin A Queen, Tackling Selective Mutism, & Retrain Your Anxious Brain

Tuesday, 28 October 2014
Hello everyone,

ready for this week's book reviews? Here we go:

How to Ruin a Queen: Marie Antoinette and the Diamond Necklace Affair by Jonathan Beckman
It was the greatest scandal of 18th century France. An almost unbelievable story that novelists would have been afraid to write for fear of being accused to be too unrealistic. And yet, it happened for real, and it left the Queen's reputation in tatters. For some, it was even the beginning of the Revolution. I'm talking of the affair of the Diamond Necklace.
Jeanne de Saint Remy is born in an impoverished family descended by royalty that abuses and abandons her. Filled with resentment and repenting of marriying the good-for-nothing Nicolas de la Motte, she heads to court to try and reclaim her family lands or petition for a generous royal pension, but her efforts fail. But Jeanne is determined to live in style, even if that means lying, cheating, and taking advantage of everyone she knows. She befriends the Cardinal of Rohan, whose political ambitious have been thwarted, he thinks, by the Queen's dislike of him. Jeanne is willing to help. Pretending to be a good friend of the Queen, she makes Rohan believe Marie Antoinette needs his help to buy a necklace so expensive that's threatening to bankrupt its jewellers. Desperate to believe the Queen is ready to forgive him, he falls for it. Only when the jewellers, tired of waiting for a payment that never arrives, contact the Queen directly, the whole scam is uncovered. But who is to blame? Was Rohan a victim or an accomplish of Jean?
A trial ensued. Of all the conspirators, only Jeanne and the forger were found guilty and punished. Rohan was acquitted, which was a real blow to the monarchy. He wasn't just acquitted of stealing the necklace, but also of the more serious crime of lese majeste. The court, apparently, found it very possible that Rohan could have believed the Queen would ask him to do her such a favour and even meet with him at night in the garden of Versailles. Once her reputation was so sullied, it was possible for the French people to believe all kinds of bad, vicious, and salacious things, about their Queen.
Beckham does a great job at presenting this complicated affair in a clear manner that allows the reader to understand how the story unfolded and why, despite its absurdity, so many people fell for it. We are introduced to the main players and their lives, both before, during, and after the affair (although those who want to know more about Marie Antoinette will be disappointed; there's not much biographical information about her here). The author also frequently cites literature of the time to help us understand what people might have been thinking back then, providing valuable insights into Jeanne's psychology and the public's opinion of the trial and its infamous protagonists.
The book is widely researched and full of interesting details weaved seamlessly into the story. Well-written, it flows easily almost reads like a thriller. It's a story of greed and ambition, crime and passion, prison breaks and assassination attempts, credulity and extravagance that captures your attention from the very beginning. Once started, it's impossible to put down. It's a must read for any fans of Marie Antoinette or French history.
Available at: Amazon
Rating: 4.5/5

Tackling Selective Mutism: A Guide for Professionals and Parents by Benita Rae Smith, Alice Sluckin
I wish this book had been written 30 years ago. I suffered from selective mutism since kindergarten (the typical age of onset is between 3 and 5, although some develop it earlier or later), but at the time, no one knew what it was. Even know, it is too little known. Selective mutism is an anxiety disorder that causes people to remain silent in certain situations but talk in others. Usually, these children are very chatty at home or with close relatives and friends, but find it impossible to utter a word at school, with distant relatives, or strangers. As a result, they often appear rude and are labelled difficult and stubborn.
If left untreated, like in my case, selective mutism can become so entrenched to make it very difficult to have a social life and hold a job, causing low self-esteem and depression. The good news, though, is that, if caught in time, it is easy to treat, and remission is very rare. That's why books like this are important. Written and edited by a wide array of experts on selective mutism, and sharing stories from sufferers and their families, the book explains what selective mutism is, what causes it, and the many therapies that can treat it. There is also a section about selective mutism in adults. Although more difficult to treat the longer left undiagnosed, there's hope for them too.
The book also explains what rights children and parents have under UK law, and lots of tips on how families, teachers, friends, and anyone else who knows a person affected, regardless of where they live, can help. At the end, you'll find lots of resources you can consult and organizations you can turn to for help.
Because the book is written by professional, the writing style is mostly academic (but not boring). The sections written by sufferers and their families are in a more colloquial and engaging style that allows the reader to better relate to them. Their stories are very touching. It really moved me to read about how these children were helped and eventually cured. Too many aren't and, I hope that as awareness towards selective mutism, even thanks to this book, rises, their positive stories will be the rule rather than the exception everywhere.
This book is an invaluable resource to anyone who is affected by selective mutism. But everyone else should read it too. If you don't think you need to because you don't know anyone with this disorder, then reading it may make you realise that you actually do. This disorder is more common than people think and highly misunderstood. And if you really don't know anyone with it, you can still help by raising awareness. The more people know about it, the easier it will be for families and teachers to identify sufferers and help them seek appropriate help.
Available at: Amazon
Rating: 4.5/5

Retrain Your Anxious Brain: Practical and Effective Tools to Conquer Anxiety by John Tsilimparis
While a small amount of anxiety has its pros (read the book to find out more), worrying too much about things can cause unnecessary fear, even panic attacks, and doubts that negatively impact your self-esteem and every area of your life. John Tsilimparis know this only too well. He suffered from severe anxiety and, once he learned how to free himself from it, he became a therapist to help others who are still battling with it.
In this book, he first explains how anxiety works and then shares the tools and techniques that helped him recover. They are all cognitive, and range from challenging old beliefs to replacing negative thoughts with more positive ones, from focusing on gratitude to changing the way to interact with other people. He proposes lots of exercises to try. Not everything will work for everyone, so you are encouraged to choose those that best apply to your situation and needs. While these tips are all, undoubtedly, extremely useful and will greatly help sufferers reduce their anxiety, some people may be disappointed by the lack of alternative and holistic treatments.
The book flows really easy. The writing style is clear and engaging and, because the author shares his experiences and those of his (anonymous) patients, it is easy to relate to. I highly recommend it to anyone who suffers from excessive anxiety. Anyone here will find at least a few tips that can help them get better.
Available at: Amazon
Rating: 4/5

Have you read these books, or are you planning to?

Disclaimer: this book was sent by PR for consideration. In addition, this post contains affiliate links.

Historical Reads: Ages Of Consent

Monday, 27 October 2014

When were 19th century teenagers considered old enough to work and marry? Regina Scott, over at Nineteen Teen, explains:

--7 or 8: a boy might be sent to sea, starting his Naval career as a cabin boy and going on to become a sailor or officer.
--9 or 10: boys might be apprenticed to learn a trade
--10 or 12: aristocratic boys might be sent to boarding schools like Eton or Harrow
--12: girls from poorer families might be apprenticed to learn a trade (although they often weren’t dignified with the name apprentice)
--12: girls can marry with their parents’ permission (but note that very few actually married this early)
--16: aristocratic young men with ambitions for politics, law, or the Church might head off to Oxford and Cambridge
--16 to 18: aristocratic young ladies are introduced to Society
--21: a young lady or gentleman could marry without parents’ permission
--30: a woman is considered “on the shelf” (given up all hope of ever marrying). Note that some people put this age considerably lower (like 26 or even 20), but that real-life examples don’t seem to verify this

To read the entire post, click here.

The Costs of Living Abroad in London

Friday, 24 October 2014

Living in London has always been expensive. Evangeline Holland, author of Edwardian Promenade, gives us an idea of just how expensive it was in the Edwardian era. To quote:

Life in London “chambers” has romantic associations with the old Inns of Court and ancient and somnolent city squares, where one can live in the atmosphere of dead memories and associations, features that tend to add considerable to the charm of London for the American. Usually “chambers” are to be had at a cheap rental, but also with a few attendant disadvantages. In the Adelphi Terrace, a little backwater just off the Strand that the flood of modernising which is sweeping over London threatens annually to blot out, one can still hope to find vacant “chambers” in a house decorated by the famous Adam Brothers.

From the windows of many of these houses one may look out over the Embankment Gardens and the foggy stretches of the Thames. The Royal Chapel of Savoy is a near neighbour, and ghosts, of Dickens’ characters float around every corner. On a winter’s day at four o’clock the muffin man, ringing his bell, still makes his round of the district. Muffins and crumpets for afternoon tea at twopence each are a pleasant interlude and quite in the spirit of this old-time atmosphere.

Hereabout one ought to be able to find five rooms, distributed over two unevenly laid floors, for five to six pounds a month, which is not out of proportion for such genuine historic associations as the rental includes. To discount this there will be a lack of water, hot and cold, except that which flows intermittently from an adapted kitchen sink, and your heat, what does not go up the chimney, is all radiated from grate fires. In these old buildings there are no elevators, no dumb waiters even, and coal, wood and everything else must be lugged up the front stairs, though plenty of willing hands are to be found, and at a small price, to do one’s fetching and carrying. Ashes and garbage must be carried down to a tiny, well-like courtyard, and within the week the dustman will come along to remove it, of course demanding a tip. You may ask why, but he couldn’t tell you if he would, except that it is in accordance with precedent, the thing that governs all walks of English life. The tenants collectively contribute towards the cost of the lighting of the front hall and of the keeping of it clean, the tenants of each floor attending to their own hall.

To read the entire article, click here.

Madame Sophie Of France

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Born on 27 July 1734, Sophie Philippe Elisabeth Justine is the lesser known of the surviving daughters of Louis XV and Marie Leszczynska. Even art historians hardly know who she is. For years, one of her portraits (below) was thought to represent Marie Antoinette, and was only correctly identified recently thanks to the parquet in her library! I'm not sure Sophie would have minded though.

Sent to the Abbey of Fontevraud with her two younger sisters, Thérése and Louise, to be educated, Sophie returned to Versailles only 12 years later. Lacking both social skills and a strong, dominant personality, the shy girl was happy to appear in public only when etiquette required it. Like Madame Campan, reader to the daughters of Louis XV, wrote in her memoirs, she much preferred to be alone or with a small group of favourites ladies:

"I never saw anyone having such a frightened look; she walked at an extreme speed, and to acknowledge, without looking at them, the people who gave way to her, she had acquired the habit of looking sideways, in the manner of hares. This princess was so shy that it was possible to see her everyday for years without hearing her pronounce a single word. One asserted, though, that she displayed wit, even graciousness, in the society of some favoured ladies; she studied much, but read alone; the presence of a reader would have infinitely bothered her.

Yet on occasion this princess, so unsociable, suddenly became affable, gracious and showed the most communicative kindness; it was during thunderstorms: she was afraid of them, and such was her fright that she would then approach the least important persons; whenever she saw lightning, she would press their hands, for a thunderclap she would have embraced them; but once fair weather was back, the princess went back to her stiffness, her silence, her fierce look, passed everyone without paying attention to anyone, until the next thunderstorm brought back her fear and affability."

Madame Sophie died like she had lived, unnoticed. She passed away of dropsy in Versailles on 2 March 1782. She was buried in the royal tomb at the Royal Basilica of Saint Denis, which was plundered and destroyed during the French Revolution.

Further reading:
Memoirs Of The Court Of Marie Antoinette, Queen Of France, by Madame Campan

Etiquette Of Travelling

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

There is nothing that tests the natural politeness of men and women so thoroughly as traveling. We all desire as much comfort as possible and as a rule are selfish. In these days of railroad travel, when every railway is equipped with elegant coaches for the comfort, convenience and sometimes luxury of its passengers, and provided with gentlemanly conductors and servants, the longest journeys by railroad can be made alone by self-possessed ladies with perfect safety and but little annoyance. Then, too, a lady who deports herself as such may travel from the Atlantic to the Pacific, from Maine to the Gulf of Mexico, and meet with no affront or insult, but on the contrary receive polite attentions at every point, from men who may chance to be her fellow-travelers. This may be accounted for from the fact that, as a rule in America, all men show a deferential regard for women, and are especially desirous of showing them such attentions as will render a long and lonesome journey as pleasant as possible.


However self-possessed and ladylike in all her deportment and general bearing a lady may be, and though capable of undertaking any journey, howsoever long it may be, an escort is at all times much more pleasant, and generally acceptable. When a gentleman undertakes the escort of a lady, he should proceed with her to the depot, or meet her there, a sufficient time before the departure of the train to attend to the checking of her baggage, procure her ticket, and obtain for her an eligible seat in the cars, allowing her to choose such seat as she desires. He will then dispose of her packages and hand-baggage in their proper receptacle, and make her seat and surroundings as agreeable for her as possible, taking a seat near her, or by the side of her if she requests it, and do all he can to make her journey a pleasant one.

Upon arriving at her destination, he should conduct her to the ladies' waiting-room or to a carriage, until he has attended to her baggage, which he arranges to have delivered where the lady requests it. He should then escort her to whatever part of the city she is going and deliver her into the hands of her friends before relaxing his care. On the following day he should call upon her to inquire after her health. It is optional with the lady whether the acquaintance shall be prolonged or not after this call. If the lady does not wish to prolong the acquaintance, she can have no right, nor can her friends, to request a similar favor of him at another time.


The lady may supply her escort with a sum of money ample to pay all the expenses of the journey before purchasing her ticket, or furnish him the exact amount required, or, at the suggestion of her escort, she may allow him to defray the expenses from his own pocket, and settle with him at the end of the journey. The latter course, however, should only be pursued when the gentleman suggests it, and a strict account of the expenses incurred must be insisted on.

A lady should give her attendant as little trouble and annoyance as possible, and she should make no unnecessary demands upon his good nature and gentlemanly services. Her hand-baggage should be as small as circumstances will permit, and when once disposed of, it should remain undisturbed until she is about to leave the car, unless she should absolutely require it. As the the train nears the end of her journey, she will deliberately gather together her effects preparatory to departure, so that when the train stops she will be ready to leave the car at once and not wait to hurriedly grab her various parcels, or cause her escort unnecessary delay.


A lady, in traveling alone, may accept services from her fellow-travelers, which she should always acknowledge graciously. Indeed, it is the business of a gentleman to see that the wants of an unescorted lady are attended to. He should offer to raise or lower her window if she seems to have any difficulty in doing it herself. He may offer his assistance in carrying her packages upon leaving the car, or in engaging a carriage or obtaining a trunk. Still, women should learn to be as self-reliant as possible; and young women particularly should accept proffered assistance from strangers, in all but the slightest offices, very rarely.


It is not only the right, but the duty of ladies to render any assistance or be of any service to younger ladies, or those less experienced in traveling than themselves. They may show many little courtesies which will make the journey less tedious to the inexperienced traveler, and may give her important advice or assistance which may be of benefit to her. An acquaintance formed in traveling, need never be retained afterwards. It is optional whether it is or not.


In seeking his own comfort, no passenger has a right to overlook or disregard that of others. If for his own comfort, he wishes to raise or lower a window he should consult the wishes of passengers immediately around him before doing so. The discomforts of traveling should be borne cheerfully, for what may enhance your own comfort may endanger the health of some fellow-traveler.


See everywhere and at all times that ladies and elderly people have their wants supplied before you think of your own. Nor is there need for unmanly haste or pushing in entering or leaving cars or boats. There is always time enough allowed for each passenger to enter in a gentlemanly manner and with a due regard to the rights of others.

If, in riding in the street-cars or crossing a ferry, your friend insists on paying for you, permit him to do so without serious remonstrance. You can return the favor at some other time.


If a gentleman in traveling, either on cars or steamboat, has provided himself with newspapers or other reading, he should offer them to his companions first. If they are refused, he may with propriety read himself, leaving the others free to do the same if they wish.


No lady will retain possession of more than her rightful seat in a crowded car. When others are looking for accommodations she should at once and with all cheerfulness so dispose of her baggage that the seat beside her may be occupied by anyone who desires it, no matter how agreeable it may be to retain possession of it.

It shows a great lack of proper manners to see two ladies, or a lady and gentleman turn over the seat in front of them and fill it with their wraps and bundles, retaining it in spite of the entreating or remonstrating looks of fellow-passengers. In such a case any person who desires a seat is justified in reversing the back, removing the baggage and taking possession of the unused seat.


A gentleman in traveling may take possession of a seat and then go to purchase tickets or look after baggage or procure a lunch, leaving the seat in charge of a companion, or depositing traveling-bag or overcoat upon it to show that it is engaged. When a seat is thus occupied, the right of possession must be respected, and no one should presume to take a seat thus previously engaged, even though it may be wanted for a lady. A gentleman cannot, however, in justice, vacate his seat to take another in the smoking-car, and at the same time reserve his rights to the first seat. He pays for but one seat, and by taking another he forfeits the first.

It is not required of a gentleman in a railway car to relinquish his seat in favor of a lady, though a gentleman of genuine breeding will do so rather than allow the lady to stand or suffer inconvenience from poor accommodations.

In the street cars the case is different. No woman should be allowed to stand while there is a seat occupied by a man. The inconvenience to the man will be temporary and trifling at the most, and he can well afford to suffer it rather than to do an uncourteous act.


While an acquaintance formed in a railway car or on a steamboat, continues only during the trip, discretion should be used in making acquaintances. Ladies may, as has been stated, accept small courtesies and favors from strangers, but must check at once any attempt at familiarity. On the other hand, no man who pretends to be a gentleman will attempt any familiarity. The practice of some young girls just entering into womanhood, of flirting with any young man they may chance to meet, either in a railway car or on a steamboat, indicates low-breeding in the extreme. If, however, the journey is long, and especially if it be on a steamboat, a certain sociability may be allowed, and a married lady or a lady of middle age may use her privileges to make the journey an enjoyable one, for fellow-passengers should always be sociable to one another.

Further reading:
Our Deportment, Or the Manners, Conduct and Dress of the Most Refined Society by John H. Young

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