Louis XVII in the Temple

During the French Revolution, the Royal Family was imprisoned in the Temple. After his father's execution, little Louis Charles, who was only 8 years old, was dragged away from his mother's arms. He was then abused, beaten, often woken up in the night to deprive him of sleep and given alcohol to force him to accuse his mother and aunt of incest. After the fall of Robespierre, the French people started to become concerned again with the fate of the two orphans in the Temple (his sister Marie-Therese was still imprisoned there too but the two children were kept in separate rooms and forbidden to meet). J. B. Harmand, together with Reverchon and Mathieu went to visit the child in the Temple Prison in early 1795. Herman wrote down his account of the visit. Let's listen to him.

"We arrived at the door, the bolts of which confined the innocent, the only son of our King — our King himself. — The key turned with a grating noise in the lock, and on the door being opened, we discovered a small ante-room, perfectly clean, with no other article of furniture in it but an earthenware stove, communicating, by an opening in the wall, with the adjoining room, and which stove could be lighted only in the ante-room. The commissaries observed to us that this precaution had been taken, in order not to leave a fire in the power of a child."

Adjoining that room was Louis Charles' chamber, which contained his bed. They unlocked the door and found the child "sitting near a small square table, on which were scattered a number of playing cards, some turned up into the shapes of trunks and boxes, and others raised into houses. He was occupied with these cards when we entered, and did not leave off his play. He had on a sailor's dress, new, and made of slate-coloured cloth; his head was uncovered; and the room was clean and well lighted. The bed was a small wooden one, without curtains, and the bedding linen seemed to us to be good and of a fine quality. The bed was behind the door, on the left hand on going in; and farther, on the same side, was another bedstead, without bedding, placed at the foot of the first. Between them was a door, which was shut, leading into another apartment which we did not see. The commissaries told us that the second bed had been that of the shoemaker Simon."

Now, Harmand "approached the Prince; but our motions did not appear to make any impression upon him. I told him that the government — informed too late of the bad state of his health, and of his refusal to take exercise, or to answer the questions put to him upon that subject, as well as his rejecting the proposals made to him to take some remedies, and to receive the visit of a physician — had sent us to him to ascertain these facts, and, in its name, to renew all those proposals; that we hoped they would be agreeable to him, but that we should take upon ourselves to offer him advice, and even to add reproaches, if he should persist in remaining silent, and in not taking exercise; that we were authorised to offer him such objects of diversion or recreation as he might desire; and that I requested he would tell me whether that pleased him. Whilst I was thus addressing him, he looked at me steadfastly, without any change of position, and he listened to me apparently with the greatest attention; but not one word in reply."

Harmand though Louis-Charles hadn't understood him and repeated his proposal: "I have perhaps explained myself badly, or perhaps you have not understood me, sir: I have the honour to ask whether you wish for a horse, a dog, birds, toys of any kind what soever; or one or more companions of your own age, whom we will present to you previously to their being permanently attached to you; will you, at the present moment, go down into the garden, or ascend the turrets? Do you wish for sweetmeats, cakes, &c.?" Again, Louis Charles didn't utter a word in reply. He didn't move either, but simply looked at Hebert with a look of utter indifference.

"I then took upon me to assume a more decided tone, and I ventured to say to him, "Sir, so much obstinacy at your age is a fault that nothing can excuse: it is the more surprising, since our visit, as you must perceive, has for its object the affording some relief to your situation, some attentions and succours to your health; how can we attain this object, if you persist in refusing to answer, and to say what is agreeable to you? Is there any other way of making the proposal? have the goodness to state it, and we shall adopt it."

Still the same fixed look and the same attention, but not a word. I resumed:

"If your refusal to speak, sir, involved none but yourself, we would wait, not without pain, but with more patience, until you might be pleased to speak, as we must conclude that your situation is less displeasing to you than we imagined, since you will not change it: but you do not belong to yourself; all those about you are responsible for your person and your condition: do you wish that we ourselves should be blamed? For what answer can we give to the government, of which we are only the delegates? Have the goodness to answer me, I entreat you, or we must finish by commanding you."

Not a word, and always the same fixedness. I was in despair, as well as my colleagues: that look had especially so strong a feature of resignation and indifference, that it seemed to say, what does it matter to me? despatch your victim."

Harmand couldn't bear it anymore. He was now on the point of tears and started pacing the room to compose himself. Once recovered, he "resolved to try the effect of a tone of command. I tried it accordingly, placing myself close on the Prince's right hand, and saying to him, "Give me your hand." He gave it me; and, extending mine up to his arm-pit, I felt a swelling at the wrist, and one at the elbow. It seems that these swellings were not painful, for the Prince gave no sign of their being so. "The other hand:" he gave it me likewise: but there was nothing. "Allow me also to touch your legs and knees." He rose; and I found the same swellings under both knees.

In this position, the young Prince had the appearance of rickets, and a bad formation: his legs and thighs were long and thin, his chest raised, his shoulders high and narrow; his head was in every respect finely formed and beautiful; his complexion clear, but without colour; his hair long and handsome, well kept, and of a light chesnut colour. "Now have the goodness to walk." He did so immediately, going towards the door, and returning at once to his seat.

"Do you think, sir, that that is exercise? And do you not perceive, on the contrary, that this apathy is alone the cause of your ill-health, and of the disorders with which you are threatened? Pray believe in our experience and regard for you: you cannot hope to recover your health but by attending to our proposals and advice. We will send you a physician, and we trust that you will consent to answer him; at least make us a sign that it will not be disagreeable to you."

Not a sign, not a word!

"Be so good, sir, as to walk again, and for a little longer time."

This time, Louis Charles refused to obey and remained on his seat. Harmard and his colleagues, looking at each other in amazement, were about to exchange their opinions and reflections when  Louis Charles' dinner was brought: "a porringer of red earthen-ware contained a black soup, on the top of which floated a few lentils; and on a plate of the same material lay a small bit of boiled meat, also black and shrivelled, the bad quality of which was sufficiently apparent. There was a second plate of lentils; and a third, in which were six chesnuts, rather burnt than roasted; a pewter fork, but no knife. The commissaries told us that this was by order of the council of the commune: and there was no wine."

The little prisoner started eating his dinner, while Harmand and his colleagues left the room and expressed their indignation about this poor and unhealthy diet and gave orders to improve his dinner, and give him some fruit. Harmand also ordered that some grapes, although scarce at that period, should be procured for the child. "Having given these orders, we went back into the room, and found that he had eaten every thing. I asked him whether he was satisfied with his dinner?

No answer.

Whether he wished for some fruit?

No answer.

Whether he liked grapes?

No answer.

Shortly after the grapes were brought; they were placed on the table, and he eat them without speaking.

Do you wish for more?

No answer.

We could then no longer doubt that every effort on our part to induce him to speak would be useless. I told him the conclusion we had come to, and I said to him that it was the more painful to us, as we could attribute his silence, towards us, only to our having had the misfortune to displease him. I added, that we should, in consequence, propose to the government to send other commissioners who might be more agreeable to him.

The same look, but no reply.

Do you wish, sir, that we should withdraw?

No answer."

The commissioners now retired. In the ante-room, Harmand enquired "whether that silence really began on the day upon which that atrocious violence had compelled him to sign the odious and absurd deposition against the Queen. They repeated their assertions on that point, and protested that the Prince had not spoken since the evening of that day! My colleagues and I agreed, that, for the honour of the nation, which was ignorant of these unhappy circumstances — for that of the Convention, which, indeed, knew them not, but which ought to have known them — and for that even of the criminal Municipality of Paris, which knew all, and which caused all these evils, we should confine ourselves to the ordering some steps of temporary alleviation (which were immediately carried into effect); and that we should not make a report in public, but in a secret committee; and it was so done."

Louis XVII died just six months later, on June 8, 1795.

Further reading:
Louis XVII In The Temple: Report of Jean-Baptiste Harmand

Book Review: Five Days in Paris by Danielle Steel

As president of a major pharmaceutical empire, Peter Haskell has everything. Power, position, a career and a family, which mean everything to him, and for which he has sacrificed a great deal. Compromise has been key in Peter Haskell’s life, and integrity is the base on which he lives.
Olivia Thatcher is the wife of a famous senator. She has given to her husband’s ambitions and career until her soul is bone dry. She is trapped in a web of duty and obligation, married to a man she once loved and no longer even knows. When her son died, a piece of Olivia died too.
Accidentally, on the night of a bomb threat, they meet in Paris, at the Ritz. Their totally different lives converge for one magical moment in the Place Vendôme, as Olivia carefully, silently, steps out of her life and walks away. As the two strangers meet, their lives become briefly enmeshed. In a café in Montmartre, their hearts are laid bare. Peter, once so sure of his path, so certain of his marriage and success, but suddenly faced with his professional future in jeopardy. Olivia, no longer sure of anything except that she can’t go on anymore.
When Olivia disappears, only Peter suspects that it may not be foul play. And if he finds her again, where will they go from there? Five days in Paris is all they have. They go back to their separate lives, but nothing is the same. At home again, they both must pursue their lives, despite challenges, compromise, and betrayal. Everything they believe is put on the line, until they each realize they must stand fast against compromise and face life’s challenges head-on.

Can a moment change your life forever? That's exactly what happens to Peter Haskell and Olivia Thatcher. Happily married with kids, Peter is the president of a pharmaceutical company (owned by Frank, his father-in-law), which is working on Vicotec, a new drug that could revolutionize cancer care and save millions of lives. Olivia is the beautiful but very unhappy wife of a politician with high ambitions. Their only son has died and the couple has grown apart but she stays with him out of duty and obligations.

When the Ritz, the hotel they both are staying at, is evacuated because of a bomb threat and all the guests are forced to wait in the streets until the police has finished its job, Olivia starts walking away on her own in the middle of the night through the streets of Paris. No one notices her but Peter, who, not knowing exactly why himself, decides to follow her and the two end up talking about their lives, their hopes and fears and how unhappy they are for hours. Thanks to Olivia, Peter will also realize that his life, although perfect on the outside, isn't as good as he always thought.

The next morning, Olivia disappears. Her husband doesn't seem to be too worried about it, but Peter decides to look for her and quickly tracks her down. The two become lovers but they know their relationship can't last. Five days is all they have and soon, it's time to go back home. Olivia agrees to stand by her husband as he launches his US presidential campaign while Peter will have to fight with his father-in-law to delay the Vicotec release on the market: as it is, the drug is a potential killer, but Frank is more interested in the profits they could make than in saving people's lives. I don't wanna reveal the ending (I really hate when reviews do that) but I'm afraid it is very predictable anyway. In fact, you'll just have to read just a few chapters to know how it's gonna end.

There really is no suspense in this book and not much action either. And if the word Paris in the title is catching your eye, well, the city is not described that much, really, and only a small part of the book actually takes place there. The writing style is simple and straightforward, but also quite repetitive at times (this is very common in Danielle Steel's books, she loves repeating things over and over again). The book, although nothing special, does explore some interesting issues: what happens when you marry money or power? How much can we compromise without betraying our beliefs and integrity? And would you leave a life you hate and break up your family for a woman you barely know?

These questions may seem very easy to answer at first sight, but life isn't always black and white and there are lots of shades of grey in between to explore. However, this time it wasn't that nicely done. I just couldn't get into the story. I guess that's because it is just too predictable and you don't really need to turn the page to know what's gonna happen next. Overall, a very light read but if you're interested in Danielle Steel's books, I would recommend you read Zoya or Vanished instead. They have interesting storylines and are written much better!

Overall, Five Days in Paris by Danielle Steel has a predictable storyline, little action and an obvious ending. While the book poses some interesting questions, it does so in a quite superficial manner. It is also poorly written with lots of repetitions and only a small part of the story takes place in Paris so don't let the title deceive you. The cover is beautiful though.

Available at: Amazon.com and Amazon UK

Rating: 2.5/5

Sir Francis Weston

Sir Francis Weston was the son of Sir Richard Weston, former Under-Treasurer of the Exchequer, and his wife Anne Sandys, one of Queen Katherine's ladies. We don't know the exact date of his birth but it is thought he was 25 when he was executed, placing his birth around 1511. He belonged to a family of old lineage and high respectability, whose family home was a beautiful Tudor house in Surrey, donated by Henry VIII to Sir Richard in 1521. Weston started his career as a page and by 1532, he had become a gentleman of the Privy Chamber. He would often sleep in the King's chamber to attend any needs he may have had.

Weston was a talented lute player and a very athletic man. He often played tennis, bowls and cards with Henry VIII. A member of the Boleyn faction, he was not only loved by the king, but was also a favourite of Anne and his brother Lord Rochford. At Anne's coronation, in 1533, he was made a Knight Companion of the Order of the Bath. Three years before, he had married Anne Pickering, the daughter and heiress of Sir Christopher Pickering. In 1535, their son Henry was born.

But why was Weston accused of adultery with the Queen and, eventually, killed? Because Cromwell knew he couldn't bring down Anne without destroying the Boleyn faction at court too and, just like Norris and Brereton, he was a member of it. He, therefore, spent a lot of time with the Queen and it was very easy for Cromwell to twist his innocent flirtation with Anne, which was simply part of the courtly love tradition of the time, into something more lurid and sordid.

It seems, for instance, that Anne, like she herself would later say when imprisoned in the Tower to her attending lady Mrs Coffing, had teased Weston "because he did love her kinswoman Mrs Shelton, and that she said he loved not his wife". To this, he "made answer that he loved one in her house better than them both". The Queen asked who. "It is yourself", replied Weston. Weston also confirmed Anne's suspicions that Norris hadn't yet married her cousin Madge Shelton because he was in love with her. On 25th April, Anne had reproached Weston for flirting with Madge and wondered why Norris hadn't married her yet. Weston replied that Norris "came more to her chamber for her than for Madge".

Sir Francis Weston was interrogated by the Privy Council on 3rd May 1536 and, the following day, arrested and taken to the Tower. He was accused of illicit intercourse with the Queen at Westminster on 20 May 26 Hen. VIII [1534] and at Greenwich on 20th June but these dates just don't make sense as Anne was actually in Richmond and Hampton Palace with the King on those days. No one really cared though and the outcome of the trial was a foregone conclusion. Weston was found guilty and sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered. The sentence was later commuted to beheading by the king. On 17th May, Weston, together with Rochford, Brereton, Smeaton and Norris, was executed.

Further reading:
The Lady In The Tower by Alison Weir
The Anne Boleyn Files

Vintage Book Review: The Princess Of Montpensier by Madame De Lafayette

The Princess Of Montpensier is a short story written by Madame de Lafayette and published anonymously in 1662. It is the story of a young heiress of extraordinary beauty that makes everyone fall in love with her. But marriages were arranged at the time so she ends up marrying the Prince of Montpensier instead of her first love, the Duc De Guise. The Prince, though, is rarely at home. The story, in fact, takes place in the 16th century at the time of the Wars of Religion when the Kings of France were fighting the followers of Protestantism (in this case, the Huguenots). The historical events are, however, barely mentioned and mainly to explain why the Prince was always away from home to fight wars.

Despite being in love with another man and being often left home alone, the Princess at first vows to honour her marital vows and remain faithful to her husband. But when years later, she again meets her first lover and the two realize they still have feelings for each other, they embark on an affair (mind you, this is a story written in the 17th century so the affair is conducted mainly by letters and there are no intimate scenes between the two, not even a kiss), aided by the Comte De Chabaness, who acts as a messenger between the two. The poor Comte is the most sympathetic and interesting character in the story. A good friend of the Prince, he too is in love with the Princess who knows how he feels about her, yet, showing a complete disregard for his feelings, she still asks him to help her conduct her affair! He accepts but will end up paying a very high price for it.

As will the Princess. I don't want to give away too much for those who aren't familiar with the story but suffice it to say that the story is both a cautionary tale about what happens when a woman is forced to marry someone she doesn't love and the dangers of having an extramarital affair. It's a nice story but if you like books packed with actions or dialogs (or both), you won't find it here. In fact, there is barely any action in the story, it's mostly a recollection of a series of events. The style too, elaborate and typical of that time, can put modern readers off. I didn't mind it though and I think the story, although nothing exceptional, is still good and a nice way to spend a hour.

The Princess of Montpensier by Madame De Lafayette is a short story about a woman who, forced in an arranged marriage, decides to have an affair with her first love. However, don't expect sex scenes or the classical happy ending with the two lovers running away in the sunset. It's a story that warns women against the dangers of having an affair but it is also a reminder of what happens when they aren't allowed to chose their husbands. The story is short, lacking in action and dialogue and written in an elaborate style but still enjoyable.

Available at: Amazon.com, Project Gutenberg

Rating: 3.5/5

Historical Reads: Etiquette at Versailles

Versailles may have been one of the most glamorous courts in Europe, if not in the world, but living there wasn't always easy or pleasant. Every little aspect of life was, in fact, strictly regulated by an elaborate, and stifling, set of etiquette rules. Paris Atelier explores some of them. To quote:

*People who wanted to speak to the king could not knock on his door. Instead, using the left little finger, they had to gently scratch on the door, until they were granted permission to enter. As a result, many courtiers grew that fingernail longer than the others!

*When a gentleman sat down, he slid his left foot in front of the other, placed his hands on the sides of the chair and gently lowered himself into the chair. The practical reason for this procedure was that if he sat too quickly, his tight trousers might split.

*The king and queen always had a fauteuil (armchair) to sit on. In their presence, no one else was allowed an armchair, unless you were also a monarch.

* Only ushers were allowed to open doors. If you desired to leave the room, you had to wait for the usher to open the door.

*People of different rank were to enter a room in order, princes, then officers of the Court, and finally courtiers. The page opened both halves of the tall double door for a prince, but for lower ranked dignitaries, only one side swung open.

*The Grand~Couvert was a daily public ritual, where the King and Queen would eat their dinner in public. Anybody could attend (anybody of any rank) provided they were dressed properly, for men, this meant wearing a sword. You could rent one at the gates! Marie~Antoinette famously hated this ritual (meant to signify that the Sovereigns were at the disposal of the people) and was frequently criticized for not even removing her gloves. She often picked at her food and had a second meal served in her private chambers with her friends.

To read the entire article, click here.

No wonder Marie Antoinette found it suffocating and enjoyed spending a lot of her time at the Petit Trianon, where etiquette was more relaxed!

Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, Gives Birth To A Son

When William Cavendish, 5th Duke of Devonshire, married Lady Georgiana Spencer in 1774, he hoped he would soon have a male heir. However, years quickly passed by with no sign that the pitter patter of tiny feet would soon be heard at Devonshire House. In the meantime, Georgiana spent time partying and gambling and those around her soon started to blame her erratic lifestyle for her inability to bear children. Her husband's family was particularly furious (and let Georgiana know it) because they felt that not only the Duchess was failing in what was her duty towards her husband, but she was also gambling away the family's fortune.

Georgiana too had her reasons for wishing to have a son soon. She had accumulated enormous debts and the birth of a son meant that the estates would stay in that branch of the family, hence a mortgage could be raised to pay them off. After 16 years, 2 daughters and countless miscarriages, on 21st May 1790, Georgiana finally gave birth to a son. In Paris. During the French Revolution. How could that have happened? Why was an English Duchess giving birth in the French capital at such a dangerous time? To answer that question, we need to go back nine months before the birth.

In the summer of 1789, The Duke of Devonshire had decided to take Georgiana and their "friend" Bess to Spa, in Belgium, hoping the therapeutic waters there would help his wife to conceive. So, they set sail for Calais and decided to head to Paris and visit their friends there before continuing their journey. But they didn't stay there long. Pretty soon the Duke had had enough of the riots and revolts in Paris so the Devonshires left the city, just a few days before the storming of the Bastille and headed to Spa. To everyone's surprise, Georgiana got pregnant. The peaceful atmosphere and therapeutic waters must have helped her conceive. All plans to return to England were quickly abandoned for fear Georgiana would miscarriage during the trip.

They did move to Brussels though, were Georgiana spent most of her pregnancy, but had to leave when she was almost due. Revolutionary fever had spread there too. Although Georgiana was sympathetic to the patriot cause in Brussels, the Belgians were suspicious of her royal links and the Devonshires (Georgiana's children and their entourage had arrived in Brussels by this point) were ordered to leave immediately. She was due any time now and she obviously had difficulty walking, but that didn't move the Belgians to allow her to stay. So, the family returned to France (Lafayette promised them they wouldn't be hurt there but it must have been worrying anyway), not knowing where they would stay once there. During the trip, they bumped by chance into the Duc d'Ahrenbeg. He was fleeing away from the country and offered the Devonshires his house at Passy, just outside Paris.

A few hours after their arrival at Passy, Georgiana went into labour. Lady Spencer (Georgiana's mom) was with them and took charge of the situation. She summoned Lord Robert Fitzgerald, the secretary of the British embassy, and the dowager Duchess d'Ahrenberg, to be witnesses of the birth. Only the Duchess made it in time though. Finally, on 21st May, just after two in the morning, Georgiana gave birth to a baby boy. He was named William, like his father, and given the title Marquess of Hartington. Hart soon became his nickname. Everyone was overjoyed. Messengers were sent to England and church bells rang in Debyshire all day to spread and celebrate the news. Finally, the Devonshires had an heir!

Further reading:
Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire by Amanda Foreman

What did Louis XVI look like?

Louis XVI is often described as fat and ugly but when I look at pictures of this king painted in his youth, that's not what I see at all. Although I don't find him particularly good-looking, he's not ugly either and it's easy to see why his contemporaries thought him handsome. He was a tall, strong, athletic man with blue eyes, nice lips and an aquiline nose. Here's how Nesta Webster describes him in her book, Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette before the Revolution:

Five foot ten inches in height, heavily built but not yet too fat, with well-shaped legs, a pleasant ruddy countenance and pale blue eyes, of which the benevolent expression was veiled only by short-sightedness, Louis XVI at nineteen was not unpleasing. His voice, harmonious in its normal key, only rose discordantly under the stress of emotion. Unfortunately he walked badly, with the swaying motion peculiar to his family, trudging, instead of sliding smoothly after the fashion that was de rigueur, over the polished floors of Versailles. [...] Simple, honest, kindly, plainly dressed in his unenbroidered coat of brown or grey, he looked in no way regal. [...] Louis himself was delicate in childhood, and only by the age of sixteen had he begun to acquire the robustness and strength of muscle which drove him to find a vent for his energies in hunting, shooting and working at his anvil.

Louis XVI may have put on weight in his later years, but as a young price, he was nice-looking. I think the only thing he lacked to really look regal was a good dose of self-confidence. What do you think?

Further reading:
Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette before the Revolution by Nesta Webster

Book Review: Pagan Bride by Tamara Leigh

Pledging to smuggle a virtuous young woman from a harem in exchange for his freedom, slave Lucien de Gautier is unprepared for the greater challenge that is presented by the red-haired beauty who captures his heart.

In the harem:
Alexandra: can we have sex, Lucien?
Lucien: no, we can't. Everyone thinks I'm an eunuch. If they find out the truth, they will castrate me, or worse...
Alexandra: who cares? I wanna have sex! I wanna have sex! Please, Lucien, please!
Lucien: fine, but we can't go all the way.

On the ship:
Alexandra: we're out of the harem now so we can have sex, right?
Lucien: no, we can't. We're going back to England and over there it's important for young women to be virgins if they want to get married.
Alexandra: but I don't care about getting married. I don't care about England and its customs. I just wanna have sex with you now.
Lucien: Well, I care about it and I care about what may happen to you if we give in to lust so shut up!

Everywhere else:
Alexandra: Can we have sex?
Lucien: no, we can't.
Alexandra: Let's make love.
Lucien: no, we can't yet.
Alexandra: but I'm tired of waiting. Come on, let's do it!
Lucien: what part of "no, we can't" don't you understand, woman? Arrgh!

I have a love/hate relationship with historical romances. When they're good, they are a light read for when you travel and they transport you to a world where you know that, no matter what happens, everything's gonna end well, which feels nice. But when they're bad, they're really bad: they aren't historically accurate at all, have too far-fetched plots and are overly sexual. Pagan Bride by Tamara Leigh was one of those books and one of the worst I have ever read in my life. The story is very cliche. Sabine was kidnapped from home when pregnant and ended up in a harem. Years later, when she's seriously ill, she buys a slave, Lucien, promising him freedom if he takes her daughter Alexandra back to her father in England. Of course Alexandra and Lucien are very attracted to each other but nevertheless Lucien accomplishes his mission.

Only to find out they belong to two families who hate each other. Back home, they will have to deal with this hatred, Alexandra's evil stepmother and a priest who considers this young woman a heretic and wants to see her punished for it. Oh, and Alexandra's betrothed coming all the way to England to get her back. Unfortunately, though, these issues aren't explored in depth and they just seem like they were included to make the book longer. For instance, apart from staring at Alexandra in a menacing way and raising his voice once, the priest doesn't do anything else. I was expecting him to create real trouble for Alexandra but he didn't. He's just a completely useless character that doesn't add anything to the story.

Alexandra herself is a very annoying character. All she does throughout the book is get herself into trouble because she refuses to listen to good advice from people who know better and she's demanding sex all the time from Lucien. Now, I know that when you are in love it's only natural to want to make love, and that living in a harem made her pretty curious about sex, but this woman is gagging for it all the time! She doesn't think about anything else! She doesn't care what the consequences will be for her or for the man she loves, she just wants to have sex and keep reminding us all from the beginning of the book till the very end!

The historical details aren't very accurate either but I never expect them to be in historical romances (although I always hope they are cos that's one of the main things that distinguishes a good historical romance from a bad one). Tamara Leigh herself knew her stories were lacking and she was worried her writing wasn't honouring God as it should (it definitely wasn't), so she has now made the transition from historical romance author to Christian fiction author. I haven't read these later novels yet but I'm really curious to. I'm sure that, because she now writes about something she's passionate about, the stories and characters will be better developed in her new books.

Pagan Bride by Tamara Leigh is one of the worst historical romances I have ever read. Not only are the historical details lacking, but the plot is very predictable and cliche too. The obstacles thrown in the way of the main characters seem just excuses to make the book last longer and spice up a very uninteresting story. I also find the protagonist, Alexandra, a very annoying character: a spoiled girl who gets in trouble for not listening to reason and so obsessed about sex to beg for it in practically every page of the book.

Available at: Amazon.com

Rating: 1/5

Sir William Brereton

Sir William Brereton (or Bryerton), of Alford, was the son of Sir Randle Brereton of Ipstones, Shocklach and Malpas, knight Chamberlain of Chester, and his wife Eleanor Dutton. The family owned lands, and was very powerful, in Cheshire. By 1521, he had become a Groom of the Privy Chamber.* A few years later, in 1529, he married the King's second cousin, Lady Elizabeth Savage, but that didn't stop him from seducing other women, gaining him the reputation of a womanizer. Nevertheless he was loved and trusted by the King and became a staunch Boleyn supporter.

Brereton was asked by the King to deliver jewels to Anne Boleyn. He also gave Anne her beloved greyhound called Urian, after Brereton's brother. Brereton was also given the job of riding up and down the country to collect signatures from the richest and most influential man in the land on a petition to persuade the Pope to grant the King a divorce. In addition, Brereton often accompanied Henry and Anne on hunting expeditions and, in 1533 he was one of the few witnesses present to their secret wedding. He also attended Anne's coronation. So how could a man so close and trusted by the king be charged with being the Queen's lover?

Because he was a threat to Cromwell. The Duke of Richmond, the king's illegitimate son, was one of Brereton's patrons (the other was the Duke of Norfolk, Anne's uncle). Brereton was his steward in the Welsh Marches, were he   “exercised virtually autonomous territorial power in Cheshire and North Wales”**. In addition, he was chamberlain of Chester and steward of Holt Castle. From his crown offices and the estates granted to him by the king, Brereton enjoyed an income of £1.200 (£401.850). He was a very rich and powerful men and he was opposing Cromwell's plans to replace feudal control in Wales with the establishment of english-style shires. He had to go.

Personal animosity probably played a part too. Cromwell wasn't the only one not to like Brereton, who didn't hesitate to use his power and influence to get what he wanted or save his friends when they committed any crimes. George Cavendish describes him as "a persecutor of the innocent, an administrator whose justice was rigorous and driven by personal animosity"**. In 1518, a certain Master Swettenham had been killed while playing bowls. Allegedly, one of the killers was a relative of Brereton. The other his servant. Brereton helped the men to escape justice but was only fined 500 marks (£52,150) for it. In 1534, Brerton was convinced that a man called John ap Griffith Eyton had killed one of his retainers. Eyton was acquitted by a London court but Brereton was determined to see the man dead and, with Anne's help, had him rearrested. Cromwell tried to save Eyton but he failed. Eyton was hanged. Like that wasn't enough, that same year Brereton was supposed to be investigating bribery and corruption at Valle Crucis Abbey in North Wales but it seems he was probably involved in it too!

Now, Brereton was around fifty when he was accused of being the Queen's lover but his bad reputation, even as a womanizer, meant that people were willing to believe the rumours. Brereton, though, had no idea of what was planned for him until the May Day jousts of 1536. The king left abruptly after he received a note (probably telling him Mark Smeaton had confessed to adultery with the Queen, also implicating Brereton, Smeaton, Norris, Weston and Rochford) and Brereton was detained for questioning. On 4th May, he was formally arrested and taken to the Tower of London.

The trial took place on 12th May. Together with Norris, Smeaton and Weston, Brereton was tried by a special commission of oyer and terminer, made up of men that had a grudge against the accused, owned favours to Cromwell or just didn't want to anger the king. Brereton was charged with being the Queen's lover but the dates in the indictment just didn't make sense. Either the Queen was pregnant or not in the same place as Brereton so nothing could have happened between the two. But that didn't matter. Just like Brereton proclaiming his innocence over and over again didn't matter. The verdict had already been decided: guilty. On 17th May, he was led to the scaffold on Tower Hill and beheaded.

* According to Alison Weir's The Lady In the Tower, he was promoted Gentleman of the Privy Chamber, but his position at the time of his death was still recorded as Groom.
** The Lady In The Tower by Alison Weird, chapter 5, page 131.

Further reading:
The Lady In The Tower by Alison Weir
The Anne Boleyn Files

Anedoctes And Advice From The Rambler's Magazine, Vol. 2, 1823

I was reading the 1823 issue of The Rambler's Magazine, as you do (yes I'm weird but I can't be the only one who enjoys old mags more than modern ones, or am I? Mmmm), and came across a couple of nice little pieces in the Anecdotes section that made me smile and decided to share them with you. I hope you enjoy them!


The plainest man, who pays attention to women, will sometimes succeed as well as the handsomest man who does not. Wilkes observed to Lord Townsend, "You, my Lord, are the handsomest man in the kingdom, and I the plainest; but I would give your Lordship half an hour's start, and yet come up with you in the affections of any woman we both wished to win: because all those attentions which you would omit, on the score of your fine exterior, I should be obliged to pay, owing to the deficiencies of mine."

Still, a very relevant piece of advice, don't you think? A charming personality, a bright mind and treating women nicely can get you as far as a pretty face, if not further.


False rumps, false teeth, false hair, false faces,
Alas, poor man! how hard thy case is;
Instead of woman, heav'nly woman's charms,
To clasp cork, gum, wool, varnish, in thy arms.

The more things change, the more they stay the same... makes you wonder what the author would think of so many women getting plastic surgery today...

Further reading:
The Rambler's Magazine, Vol.2

Historical Reads: When Was Anne Boleyn born?

Anne Boleyn is one of the most famous figures in history, yet we don't know much about her. One of the things we still ignore is her date of birth and how old she was when she was executed. Historians have been debating about it for ages and have put forward two dates: 1501 and 1507. If we believe the second date, then Anne Boleyn was 28 at the time of her death, while if we believe she born in 1501, then she died at 35, already past her childbearing years. There isn't any definitive proof on which date is right yet, but both have valid arguments supporting them.

Gareth Russel, author of the Confessions of A Ci-Devant Blog, believes Anne was born in 1507. To quote:

Because if she was 28, as one of her stepdaughter's ladies-in-waiting claimed, then the reasons behind her execution become infinitely more sinister - at 28, Anne Boleyn was still undeniably in her childbearing years. Yes, she would have been at the tail-end of them by Tudor standards, but she would have had at least four or five more years before she was considered infertile, and so the idea that it was just her "failure" to produce a son which led to her death in 1536 suddenly becomes a good deal less convincing and the idea that it was her husband who orchestrated her monstrously unfair death becomes infinitely more likely.

One question the 1501 side of the debate has never fully answered is the issue of Anne's suitability to be the mother of the King's children. In the half-decade-long battle with Rome between Henry's proposal to Anne and their actual marriage, every conceivable objection was thrown up at Anne Boleyn by those who did not wish to see her become queen. And yet, Anne and Henry did not go through a marriage service until November 1532 and she did not give birth to their first child until September 1533. If she had been born in 1501, she would have been 32 years-old at the time she gave birth to Elizabeth - over-the-hill, by Tudor standards. Why did no-one highlight the fact that she was simply too old to be the mother of the next Heir to the Throne? Thirty-two was the age when Henry's first wife, Katherine of Aragon, had gone through her last pregnancy and after that everyone assumed (rightly) that she would never fall pregnant again - why did no-one point out that the new Queen was going into labour for the first time at exactly the same age as the old "barren" Queen had gone through it for the last time?

Claire Ridgway, author of the Anne Boleyn Files website, examines, both dates, but she is more inclined to believe Anne was born in 1501. To quote:

Thomas Boleyn’s letter to Cromwell, dated July 1536 – In it, Thomas Boleyn refers to the financial hardship of the early years of his marriage, writing that his wife “brought me every year a child” LP xi.17 If we consider that the Boleyns married c1498/1499 then surely all five Boleyn children (Mary, Anne, George, Thomas and Henry) were born before 1505. Also, Thomas Boleyn became a wealthy man on the death of his father in 1505, so he must have been referring to Elizabeth’s pregnancies pre-1505.

A birth date of 1501 would make Anne around 35 years of age at her execution and it may explain why Henry VIII was worried that Anne could not give him a male heir and why he was so ready to replace her with the younger Jane Seymour. At 35, Anne was past her prime. Jane Seymour is thought to have been born around 1508, so if Anne was born in 1507, why would Henry replace her with someone just a year or so younger?

What do you think? I also believe the 1501 date, but Gareth Russel's comments do make me think that 1507 is a more valid option that I initially assumed... I'm not entirely convinced of it yet though. Mmm..

Georgiana, Duchess Of Devonshire: Childhood

Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, is a very important and famous historical figure of the eighteenth century. We all know her story. She entered into an unhappy and loveless marriage with a man she had nothing in common with, became the queen of fashion and of the ton, was an important figure in the Whig Party, was an affectionate mother, was always in debt because of her love for gambling and had the best friend from hell, Elizabeth Foster. But what is less known about Georgiana is her childhood. How was she as a child, and how those important years affected her?

Georgiana Spencer was born at Althorp, the Spencer's family home outside Northampton, on 7th June 1757. She was the eldest child of John Spencer and his wife Margaret Georgiana Poyntz. The couple had two more children, George, born in 1756 and Harriet, born in 1761. However, Georgiana, a precocious and affectionate baby, always remained her favourite child and the two women enjoyed a close relationship throughout their lives. The relationship with her father, instead, was more complicated. She obviously loved him but was also a little afraid of him at times. John Spencer was a very reserved man who showed his amiable disposition only in private, but he was also capable of an explosive, albeit not violent, temper, which was probably due to his ill-health.

The Spencers were one of the richest families in the country. Their estate was worth £750,000 (about £45 millions in today's money) which included 100,000 acres of land in 27 counties, five residences and a vast and beautiful collection of paintings, jewels and plates. The family would spend the summer at Wimbldon Park, a Palladian villa on the outskirts of the town, the autumn at their hunting lodge in Pytchley, outside Kettering,
the winter at Althorp, the county seat of the Spencers, and "the season" in a draughty house in Grosvenor Square in London. But when Georgiana was 7, the family moved to their new sumptous London residence, Spencer House, localed in St James's and overlooking Green Park. In 1765, John Spencer was created first Earl Spencer and thus little Gee, as her mother called her, became Lady Georgiana.

The Spencers were always entertaining. Her father was a lover and a collector of rare books and Italian arts, plays and concerts were often held at Spencer house and after dinner the most famous actors and writers of the time would display their talents to entertain the guests. All this was done to consolidate the power and prestige of the family, with many jobs obtained and government policies discussed at the house. But it also meant that Georgiana grew up in an exciting environment and surrounded by artists, politicians and writers. From an early age, she started writing little poems and stories she would recite after dinner and would put up little plays for her family in the evenings. Adults were charmed by this little girl and failed to see that she craved and needed attention, something that would affect her for the rest of her life.

She also received a good, but not overtly so, education. During the week, she studied languages (French, Latin and Italian), geography and deportment. She learned how to draw, to play the harp, dance and ride. She also received singing lessons. A good student who learned easily, Georgiana never had any problems grasping the complicated rules of etiquette and had great social skills, which pleased her mother a lot. When little Gee was 6 years old, her father had trouble with his lungs and his parents decided to go to Spa, in Belgium, hoping the warmer climate of the Continent would improve his health. George and Harriet were considered too young to travel abroad, but Georgiana went with her parents. Spa, however, didn't have its hoped effect on the Earl's health so they decided to try Italy instead. This time, her parents went alone, leaving little Gee with her grandmother in Antwerp.

This deeply affected Georgiana, who was already missing her siblings. She felt this abandonment was a punishment for something she had done, but didn't know what it was. As a result, in the year she lived with her grandmother, she became even more self-conscious and eager to please those around her. Lady Spencer noticed a change in her daughter when they finally reunited but she liked it and never realized how this lack of confidence would cause her to depend too much on other people as an adult. In 1766 and 1769, Lady Spencer gave birth to two daughters but they died after a year and three months respectively. The Countess and Earl were distraught and started travelling a lot. When at home, Lady Spencer would play billiards and cards, gambling at her house with her friends till the early hours of the morning. Sometimes, the children would creep out of their rooms to see what was going on at the gaming table. As an adult, Georgiana would lose exorbitant sums of money gambling.

But for now, she was just a little girl affected by her sisters' deaths. While it is true that she might have been a bit jealous of them soon after their birth because of all the attentions they received from their mother, their deaths made Georgiana worry excessively about her remaining siblings. She also became very sensible to criticism and would overreact, crying and screaming, at the slightest remonstrance. Her mother tried everything she could think of to calm her down, but to little avail. Time would help, though, and by the time she was a teenager, her reactions were more controlled.

Georgiana had a privileged childhood. She had parents who loved each other and their children very much, she was close to her siblings, she received a good education and her family never had any money problems. Yet, by examining her childhood it is clear to see that her lack of self-esteem, eagerness to please others, her tendency of being dependent from other people, and maybe even her love for gambling, developed at a very early age. Lack of self-esteem and addiction go hand in hand and when people are desperate to please others, they are very easily influenced and often end up doing whatever they are asked, even if that's gonna get them in trouble. But still, the question remains, how could she have had such a low self-esteem when everyone loved her and she didn't seem to have had anything traumatic happen to her?

I think Georgiana was simply a very sensitive child, more sensitive than most. Things that most people would consider normal, especially when taking into consideration the times and situations they happened in, like her parents travelling a lot (especially after the death of their two youngest daughters) and leaving her alone with her grandmother abroad for a year (it just wasn't feasible to take her with them), affected her more deeply than they would others. Yes, she was very loved but maybe she didn't think she was worthy of that love (maybe she felt that was why she was left with her grandma) or she thought she felt she had to behave in a certain way to deserve it (her mother was obviously pleased about Georgiana's social abilities - may it be that Georgiana felt under great pressure to be the charming and social girl her mum loved and not disappoint her?) . Whatever the reason, she felt that being herself just wasn't enough. And so, she needed to please others and gain her approval to feel loved. Unfortunately for her, no one, not even her parents, seemed to understand how vulnerable this charming girl actually was inside and so no one helped her. After all, to the outside world, she was a fascinating woman with a gambling addiction who just spent too much. Sad, isn't it?

What about you? How do you think her childhood experiences affected Georgiana? 

Further reading:
Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire by Amanda Foreman

Clara Fisher Maeder

Clara Fisher was a British child prodigy. Born in London on 14th July 1811, she was the fourth daughter of Frederick George Fisher, a librarian and, later, an auctioneer in King-Street, Covent Garden. She was a clever girl, with good memory and a musical ear: from a very early age, she could learn any air after hearing it performed just a couple of times on the piano. When she was only four years old, her parents took her to Covent Garden to see the play "The Tragedy of Jean Shore". Clara was very impressed by Mrs O'Neil's performance (she played the main character) and, once home, she retired in a corner of the room and repeated everything she had witnessed. Her love for the theatre and acting was born.

Clara made her debut on a London stage on 10th December 1817 (she was just six years old), in a play altered from Garrick's Lilliput. She played the character of Lord Flimnap. She was well-received by the crowd and the play ran for 17 nights. The following year, in 1818, she performed in front of the Prince Regent and other important personages in the pantomime Gulliver. Clara played Richard III. Known as the "child wonder", this talented little actress dazzled audiences all over the UK and Ireland:  Worchester, Bath, Bristol, Brighton, Southampton, Dublin, Liverpool and Edinburgh are just a few of the places where she performed.  

Even though very young, Clara was a talented actress and, when something went wrong on stage, instead than running away or crying, she maintained her composure and knew how to save the situation. It seems that, when she performed the part of Richard III at Birmingham, a little crown was made especially for her. But it was so small that it fell off her head upon the stage. Undaunted, she finished her speech and, once done, she beckoned to another actor to approach. "Catesby!" she called, and pointed to the crown. She remained erect, motionless and dignified, like beckoning the monarch she was playing, while he placed the crown back upon her head. No wonder, people loved and admired this little girl!

Clara also had two older sisters, both promising actresses who played together with her on stage. They were also invited at fashionable parties given by the nobility, where they were well-received and admired. But a talent like hers couldn't stay deprived of the artistic possibilities of a career outside her homecountry and so, in 1827, a teenage Clara made her debut on a New York stage. Here too she was a sensation. Clara mania exploded. Everywhere she performed, she got a rapturous reception. Poems were written about her, parents called their babies Clara, and horses, hotels and pretty much everything else in America was given her name!

Although not beautiful according to the standards of the time, everyone still thought her charming and fascinating. Her face, it was said "is all expression without being all beauty". She was a natural talent. She didn't just play a character, but while on stage, she became that character, forgetting everything else. Although she didn't have exceptional singing abilities, she still mesmerized crowds with her voice: she wouldn't just sing a song, she acted a song, conveying its meaning not just with words and music, but also with her face and movements.

Clara married James Gaspard Maeder, a composer and vocal coach who wrote an opera for her called Peri, or the Enchanted Fountain, in December 1834. The couple had seven children. They also opened a theatre in New Orleans together. Clara had earned an immense fortune throughout the years and so, in 1844, she decided to retire. However, her eccentric taste coupled with bad financial investements forced her to return to the stage six years later.

As she grew older, her popularity started to fade and she could only play the roles of older women. However, she was still very respected and referred to as "the oldest living actress". In 1988, she retired from the scenes again and started writing her autobiography, which she finished the following year. She spent the last years with her daughter, Mrs Post, in Metuchen, New Jersey. Here, Clara died on 12th November 1898. Only three of her children survived her. She is buried at the Woodlawn Cemetery in New York.

Furher reading:
Autobiography of Clara Fisher Maeder
La Belle Assemblée, July 1818
The Biography of the British stage

Emily Bronte

Emily, the fifth child of Reverend Patrick Bronte and his wife Maria, was born on July 30th 1818 at Thornton, Bradford in Yorkshire. Her mother died of cancer in 1824, shortly after the family had moved to Haworth. Her father, struggling to bring up his family, decided to send her, together with her sisters Maria, Elizabeth and Charlotte, to the Clergy Daughter's School at Cowan Bridge. The harsh regime of the school, the poor food and hygienic conditions took their toll on the girls. When a typhus epydemic broke out, Maria and Elizabeth fell ill, came back home and died. The other two girls were taken away from school too.

From that moment, their father took charge of their education. The Bronte children studied at home, read a lot and invented stories. Emily and Anne worked together on poems and stories about the imaginary world of Gondal. In 1834, Emily enrolled at Miss Wooler's school at Roe Head Mirfield, where her sister Charlotte worked as a teacher, and remained there for 3 months before going back home again. In 1839, Emily became a teacher at Law Hill school but left her job after six months.

Emily dreamed of opening her own school with her sisters and so, to improve her knowledge of foreign languages, she left for Brussels with her sister Charlotte. Here, she learned French, German and how to play the piano. A few months later, they received the news of their aunt Maria's death and went back home. Emily and her two surviving sisters, Charlotte and Anne, inherit £350 each. Thanks to this money, her project of opening the school became more realistic but despite all the sisters' efforts and hard work, they failed to attract students. The project was abandoned.

Emily started writing down all her poems into two notebooks. Charlotte found them and thought they should be published but Emily refused. A reserved and taciturn woman, she was furious at this invasion of her privacy. Eventually, though she relented. In 1846, the Bronte sisters published a book of Poems under the pseudonyms of Currer (Charlotte), Ellis (Emily) and Acton (Anne) Bell. The following year, her masterpiece, Wuthering Heights was published too. But in 1848, Emily's health deteriorated. She refused all medical help and died on 19 December. She rests in the Church of St. Michael and All Angels family vault, Haworth, West Yorkshire.

Further reading:
Wuthering Heights

Sir Henry Norris

We all know the sad story of Anne Boleyn. Lots of books have been written and films made about this unfortunate Queen and her tragic fall and execution. But we too often forget that Anne wasn't the only victim in the coup that took her down. Five men, including her own brother, were found guilty of having committed adultery and treason with her and sentenced to death. But who were these men? And why were they accused of such heinous crimes? In the upcoming weeks, I will try to answer these questions. Let's start with Sir Henry Norris.


Sir Henry Norris was the second son of Sir Edward Norris and his wife Frideswide, daughter of Francis, Viscount Lovell. We don't know the exact date of his birth, but he was thought to be several years younger than Henry VIII (born in 1491) and thus born in the late 1490s. By 1526 (again, we ignore the exact date), he was married to Mary Fiennes, daughter of Lord Acre. They had three children: Mary, Henry and Edward. Only Mary and Henry survived childhood. The marriage was short-lived as Mary died before 1530.

Norris was an attractive, trustworthy, discreet man and liked sports. He actively took part in court festivals and pageants and was very good at jousting. He started his royal career at a young age. In 1515 he received his first royal grant and two years later he was already serving in the King's Privy Chamber. In 1520, he attended the Field of the Cloth of Gold. In 1526, he became Groom of The Stool. His job required him to be present when the King performed his basic natural functions, which is just a "posh" way of saying he had to wipe Henry VIII's bottom really. However disgusting and humiliating this job seems to us today, it was actually a very important position. There were only 12 Gentlemen of the Privy Chamber and these posts were sought after because these man were very close to the king, having the right of entry to his private chambers, attending on him and just providing companionship.

As a results, these men could advice and influence the king and also controlled access to His Majesty. The Groom of the Stool was the Chief Gentleman of Henry's Privy Chamber and by attending the king in the toilet, Norris became closer and more intimate with him than most. Not only that, but anyone who wanted to present a petition to the king had to lay it before Norris instead than Cromwell. Cromwell mustn't have been too happy about that! The King trusted Norris and gave him numerous other posts: Chamberlain of North Wales, Keeper of The King's Privy Purse, Master of the Hart Hounds and of the Hawks, Black Rod in the Parliament House, "graver" of the Tower of London, collector of subsidy in the City of London, weigher of goods in the port of Southampton, High Steward of the University of Oxford, and keeper or steward of many castles, parks and manors. Because of this his income shot from £33.6s.8d (£11,650) to £400 (£139,700)!

Norris was also a member of the Boleyn faction and it seems he was present when the king secretly married Anne Boleyn in 1533. He was also courting Margaret (Madge) Shelton, Anne's cousin and, for a short period, the King's mistress. This courtship had gone on for quite a long time, so on 30th April 1536, Anne asked Norris why he hadn't gone through with the marriage yet. Norris replied that "he would tarry a time". Anne thought Norris couldn't commit to Madge because he was actually in love with her and said the words that would get her in trouble when reported to Cromwell: "You look for dead men’s shoes, for if aught should come to the King but good, you would look to have me." Norris was shocked. He knew that under the 1351 Statute of Treason even just imagining the death of the King constituted treason and could be punished by death. He hastily replied "if he should have any such thought, he would his head were off".

Upon realizing what she had said, the Queen asked Norris to go to her almoner John Skip to swear that she was a good woman but this backfired on her. Skip became suspicious and informed the Queen's chamberlain Sir Edward Baynton, who went to Cromwell. Cromwell realized how easily the words could be twisted to accuse Anne and Norris of having an affair. Considering how close Norris was to the King, the betrayal would have been extremely shocking.

On May Day, Norris took part in the jousts. When his horse became uncontrollable, Henry VIII gave him his. Did the king know at this point about the accusations against his Queen? We'll never know, but towards the end of the jousts, he received a message (probably informing him that Mark Smeaton had confessed to adultery with the Queen) and just left. While the Queen (and everyone else) wondered at his behaviour, Norris rode back with the King to Westminster. Henry VIII interrogated him, promising him he would be forgiven if he would confess the truth. But he maintained his innocence. When they arrived at York Place, Norris was placed in the custody of Sir William FizWiliam. He and other members of the Privy Council questioned him. On 2nd May, Norris was taken to the Tower.

On 12th May, Norris, together with Weston, Brereton and Smeaton, as commoners, were tried by a special sessions of oyer and terminer. Norris must have made some kind of confession before the trial had begun because he defended himself by saying that he had been deceived into confessing (we don't know exactly what he confessed to) and retracted it. In addition, the dates and places cited in the indictments as the occasions where the Queen was supposed to have cheated on the King with Norris were made up as there is evidence that either she or her supposed lover were in different places at those times. But nothing of this mattered. The verdict was a foregone conclusion and Norris and the other poor men were found guilty and sentenced to death. He was beheaded on 17th May.

Further reading:
The Lady In The Tower by Alison Weir
The Anne Boleyn Files

The Duke Superseded By His Servant

From The Rambler's Magazine of 1823, the story of a duchess who cheats on her husband with her footman and, eventually, settles down with him.. 


A celebrated duchess long renowned for her meanness at home, and her husband's arrogance abroad, has at length reached the final point of female disgrace; she has "fallen from her estate," and fallen "like Lucifer never to hope again." We could have mentioned this in our last, but we are never first to condemn a woman, we never wish to lay a hand upon them but in kindness, and with our pen would rather extenuate their failings, than set down aught in malice. The husband of this "stricken deer," holds a sinecure office in London of immense emolument, and he resides abroad as governor of a West Island, where he is famous for annual quarrels with the legislative assembly, he also makes up for the loss of his fair rib's society by substituting black beauties in her place.

The lady retaliated, as she could not have the master, took the man, who no doubt felt it his duty to obey his mistress in every thing with spirit and alacrity. The lady was at one time so stingy in her nature, that she actually, when she returned from court, made her footmen pull off their silk stockings and send them up to her, when she carefully folded them in a drawer, and made them serve again without washing. She also kept the key of the pastry larder, lest they should use her flour for hair powder; it is presumed that he who had got a key to admit him into the secret recesses of her grace's thoughts, was not locked out from such trifling luxuries. The man that is once locked in a woman's arms, will find every bolt and bar fly open at his approach, as if by magic.

He that has got the key of her heart and conscience, will find it open, - her purse - her bed-chamber - her wine cellar - in fact every thing but her eyes, which it is to his interest to keep shut. [...] Affection may subsist betwixt parties, though the Atlantic ocean divides their persons - a letter can

"Waft a sigh from indus, to the pole"

but practical proofs of love which either sex require, are rendered impossibilities. The duke heard, that his tired spouse had resorted to her servant for those duties, he had it not in his power to bestow, and he came home breathing out threatanings and slaughter; but the blood of the Gordons was up and ready to repel the heavy charge he had preferred. Her grace made no attempt at concealment [...] Whilst she admitted having committed adultery with her husband's servant, she taxed that husband with having committed incest with his wife's sister; and he shrunk from the charge - simple fornication, or double adultery, was not to be compared to this revolting crime - a judge and a jury was not to be faced on the occasion, and a private arrangement was made between the guilty parties, in which the interest of the footman was well considered. In case of a separation by an Ecclesiastical court, the parties would have had to give bond for remaining in a stale of continence, which both would have been sure to break, and her graces's open confession at first, was meant more for the good of her body than her soul, as her aim was to live incontinently with the object of her love.

Three thousand pounds per annum was settled upon her grace, and she has settled with her footman in an elegant cottage near London, where she has taken his name, and sunk the honors and title of a duchess in the humble name and brawny arms of her fortunate domestic. We are not of those who think real happiness consists in titles and honors, none can blame this lady severely, when we reflect, that for years she never saw her husband's face, so that she was only nominally a wife. [...] 

Further reading:
The Rambler's magazine: or, Fashionable emporium of polite literature ..., Volume 2

Maria Branwell Bronte

Maria Branwell was born in Penzance, Cornwall, on 15th April 1783. She was the eighth of eleven children (only six survived to adulthood though) of Thomas Branwell, a successful merchant, and his wife Anne Carne. The family owned many properties in the town and was involved in local politics (her brother Benjamin became the town's Mayor in 1809). They were also Methodists and helped build the first Wesleyan Methodist Chapel in Penzance. A plain and petite woman, Maria made friends easily. She was well-read, intelligent, witty and pious. She also wrote "The Advantages of Poverty, In Religious Concerns", but it was never published.

When her parents died, Maria had to look for a job. In 1812 her aunt Jane Fennell, who was housekeeper at the Woodhouse Grove School at Rawdon in Yorkshire, invited Maria to assist her. Maria accepted and left Penzance to start a new life. John Fennell, Jane's husband and Maria's uncle, was a methodist minister and the headmaster of the school. In 1812 he invited his former colleague Patrick Bronte to visit the school. Here, he met Maria and after a short courtship the couple were married on 29th December 1812. It was a double ceremony as John and Jane's daughter, Jane Branwell Fennell, also got married to the Reverend William Morgan. On that same day, but in Penzance, Joseph and Charlotte Branwell, two cousins of the brides, got married as well.

The couple first lived in Clough House, Hightown, where their first two children Maria (1814) and Elizabeth (1815) were born. In 1815, the family moved to Thornton, where the rest of their children was born: Charlotte (1816), Patrick Branwell (1817), Emily (1818) and Anne (1820). In 1820 the family moved again, this time to Haworth. Maria didn't enjoy her new house much though as within a year she developed cancer and died on 15th September 1821.

Further reading:

Marie Antoinette's Last Letter

When Marie Antoinette returned to the Conciergerie in the early hours of the morning of 16th October 1793, after being sentenced to death, she was allowed paper and ink. She used them to write a last farewell letter to her sister-in-law, Madame Elizabeth. The letter is very moving and in it Marie Antoinette expresses the sorrow she feels at leaving her children, she asks forgiveness for all her faults and the hurt she may have caused, without intending it, to all those she knows and asks Elizabeth to forgive her son for the accusations extorted from him by his jailers and declares she dies in the Catholic Apostolic and Roman religion.

Here's the original, in French:

Ce 16 octobre, à quatre heures et demie du matin.

C’est à vous, ma soeur, que j’écris pour la dernière fois. Je viens d’être condamnée, non pas à une mort honteuse – elle ne l’est que pour les criminels, mais à aller rejoindre votre frère. Comme lui innocente j’espère montrer la même fermeté que lui dans ses derniers moments. Je suis calme comme on l’est quand la conscience ne reproche rien. J’ai un profond regret d’abandonner mes pauvres enfants. Vous savez que je n’existais que pour eux et vous, ma bonne et tendre soeur, vous qui avez par votre amitié tout sacrifié pour être avec nous, dans quelle position je vous laisse ! J’ai appris par le plaidoyer même du procès que ma fille était séparée de vous. Hélas ! la pauvre enfant, je n’ose pas lui écrire, elle ne recevrait pas ma lettre, je ne sais pas même si celle-ci vous parviendra. Recevez pour eux deux ici ma bénédiction ; j’espère qu’un jour, lorsqu’ils seront plus grands, ils pourront se réunir avec vous et jouir en entier de vos tendres soins. Qu’ils pensent tous deux à ce que je n’ai cessé de leur inspirer : que les principes et l’exécution exacte de ses devoirs sont la première base de la vie, que leur amitié et leur confiance mutuelle en fera le bonheur. Que ma fille sente qu’à l’âge qu’elle a, elle doit toujours aider son frère par les conseils que l’expérience qu’elle aura de plus que lui et son amitié pourront lui inspirer ; que mon fils, à son tour, rende à sa soeur tous les soins, les services que l'amitié peuvent inspirer ; qu’ils sentent enfin tous deux que dans quelque position où ils pourront se trouver ils ne seront vraiment heureux que par leur union ; qu’ils prennent exemple de nous. Combien, dans nos malheurs, notre amitié nous a donné de consolation ! Et dans le bonheur on jouit doublement quand on peut le partager avec un ami, et où en trouver de plus tendre, de plus uni que dans sa propre famille ? Que mon fils n’oublie jamais les derniers mots de son père que je lui répète expressément : qu’il ne cherche jamais à venger notre mort.

J’ai à vous parler d’une chose bien pénible à mon coeur. Je sais combien cet enfant doit vous avoir fait de la peine. Pardonnez-lui, ma chère soeur, pensez à l’âge qu’il a et combien il est facile de faire dire à un enfant ce qu’on veut et même ce qu’il ne comprend pas. Un jour viendra, j’espère, où il ne sentira que mieux le prix de vos bontés et de votre tendresse pour tous deux. Il me reste à vous confier encore mes dernières pensées. J’aurais voulu les écrire dès le commencement du procès, mais, outre qu’on ne me laissait pas écrire, la marche a été si rapide que je n’en aurais réellement pas eu le temps.

Je meurs dans la religion catholique, apostolique et romaine, dans celle de mes pères, dans celle où j’ai été élevée et que j’ai toujours professée, n’ayant aucune consolation spirituelle à attendre, ne sachant pas s’il existe encore ici des prêtres de cette religion, et même le lieu où je suis les exposerait trop s’ils y entraient une fois. Je demande sincèrement pardon à Dieu de toutes les fautes que j’ai pu commettre depuis que j’existe ; j’espère que, dans sa bonté, il voudra bien recevoir mes derniers voeux, ainsi que ceux que je fais depuis longtemps pour qu’il veuille bien recevoir mon âme dans sa miséricorde et sa bonté. Je demande pardon à tous ceux que je connais et à vous, ma soeur, en particulier, de toutes les peines que, sans le vouloir, j’aurais pu leur causer. Je pardonne à tous mes ennemis le mal qu’ils m’ont fait. Je dis ici adieu à mes tantes et à tous mes frères et soeurs. J’avais des amis, l’idée d’en être séparée pour jamais et leurs peines sont un des plus grands regrets que j’emporte en mourant ; qu’ils sachent du moins que, jusqu’à mon dernier moment, j’ai pensé à eux.

Adieu, ma bonne et tendre soeur ; puisse cette lettre vous arriver. Pensez toujours à moi ; je vous embrasse de tout mon coeur ainsi que ces pauvres et chers enfants. Mon Dieu, qu’il est déchirant de les quitter pour toujours ! Adieu, adieu ! je ne vais plus m’occuper que de mes devoirs spirituels. Comme je ne suis pas libre dans mes actions, on m’amènera peut-être un prêtre ; mais je proteste ici que je ne lui dirai pas un mot et que je le traiterai comme un être absolument étranger.

An English translation, by Charles Duke Yonge

16th October, 4.30 A.M.

It is to you, my sister, that I write for the last time. I have just been condemned, not to a shameful death, for such is only for criminals, but to go and rejoin your brother. Innocent like him, I hope to show the same firmness in my last moments. I am calm, as one is when one's conscience reproaches one with nothing. I feel profound sorrow in leaving my poor children: you know that I only lived for them and for you, my good and tender sister. You who out of love have sacrificed everything to be with us, in what a position do I leave you! I have learned from the proceedings at my trial that my daughter was separated from you. Alas! poor child; I do not venture to write to her; she would not receive my letter. I do not even know whether this will reach you. Do you receive my blessing for both of them. I hope that one day when they are older they may be able to rejoin you, and to enjoy to the full your tender care. Let them both think of the lesson which I have never ceased to impress upon them, that the principles and the exact performance of their duties are the chief foundation of life; and then mutual affection and confidence in one another will constitute its happiness. Let my daughter feel that at her age she ought always to aid her brother by the advice which her greater experience and her affection may inspire her to give him. And let my son in his turn render to his sister all the care and all the services which affection can inspire. Let them, in short, both feel that, in whatever positions they may be placed, they will never be truly happy but through their union. Let them follow our example. In our own misfortunes how much comfort has our affection for one another afforded us! And, in times of happiness, we have enjoyed that doubly from being able to share it with a friend; and where can one find friends more tender and more united than in one's own family? Let my son never forget the last words of his father, which I repeat emphatically; let him never seek to avenge our deaths.

I have to speak to you of one thing which is very painful to my heart, I know how much pain the child must have caused you. Forgive him, my dear sister; think of his age, and how easy it is to make a child say whatever one wishes, especially when he does not understand it. It will come to pass one day, I hope, that he will better feel the value of your kindness and of your tender affection for both of them. It remains to confide to you my last thoughts. I should have wished to write them at the beginning of my trial; but, besides that they did not leave me any means of writing, events have passed so rapidly that I really have not had time.

I die in the Catholic Apostolic and Roman religion, that of my fathers, that in which I was brought up, and which I have always professed. Having no spiritual consolation to look for, not even knowing whether there are still in this place any priests of that religion (and indeed the place where I am would expose them to too much danger if they were to enter it but once), I sincerely implore pardon of God for all the faults which I may have committed during my life. I trust that, in His goodness, He will mercifully accept my last prayers, as well as those which I have for a long time addressed to Him, to receive my soul into His mercy. I beg pardon of all whom I know, and especially of you, my sister, for all the vexations which, without intending it, I may have caused you. I pardon all my enemies the evils that they have done me. I bid farewell to my aunts and to all my brothers and sisters. I had friends. The idea of being forever separated from them and from all their troubles is one of the greatest sorrows that I suffer in dying. Let them at least know that to my latest moment I thought of them.

Farewell, my good and tender sister. May this letter reach you. Think always of me; I embrace you with all my heart, as I do my poor dear children. My God, how heart-rending it is to leave them forever! Farewell! farewell! I must now occupy myself with my spiritual duties, as I am not free in my actions. Perhaps they will bring me a priest; but I here protest that I will not say a word to him, but that I will treat him as a total stranger.

The letter was kept by Robespierre. It never reached Elizabeth..

Giving Birth While Travelling, in 1818

Giving birth in the nineteenth century was a harrowing and painful experience. Women would just give birth at home, assisted only by a midwife or more commonly at this time by a physician. There were no hospitals, no drugs to ease the pain and the risk of dying was very high. Now imagine going through this while travelling on a coach or ship. Scary, isn't it? Well, that's what happened to two women in 1818. The birth of their children was announced in the Belle Assemblée magazine as follows:

Lately, a woman, who had taken her place to Newcastle, was delivered of a child on the Telegraph coach, just at the entrance Harrowgate. The coach was fortunately only about one hundred yards from a cottage, where the child, a fine boy, was taken in an apron. We are glad to state that both the mother and child are doing very well, in more senses of the word than one; as the ladies at Harrowgate have liberally supplied the poor woman with clothes, and a collection has been made for her to the amount of about 30l.

Lately, a woman, passenger in the Marin, Peebles, from Liverpool to Glasgow, was safely delivered of a fine female child. The child is named Maria Peebles; but as she was born at an equidistant point from Scotland, England, and Ireland, a difficulty will occur to say to country she may belong.

It must have been a scary and worrying experience for these women but thank goodness everything seems to have gone well!

Further reading:
La Belle Assemblée, Volume 18

Patrick Bronte

Patrick Bronte was born at Emdale, in Ireland, on 17th March 1777. A tall and slim man with red hair, Patrick was the eldest of 10 children of Hugh Brunty, an agricultural labourer, and his wife Eleanor (also called Alice) McClory. His family was poor and initially, he was apprenticed to a blacksmith and then to a linen weaver. But Patrick was an intelligent man who showed aptitude towards education, a love for literature and was self-taught in many subjects. This allowed him, by sixteen, to become Master of the village school. He then was also helped in his education by local clergymen, Revs. Andrew Harshaw and Thomas Tighe.

In 1802, Patrick entered St John's College, Cambridge. This was no small achievement considering the modest financial means of his family. It was also during this time that he changed the spelling of his name from Brunty to Bronte. No one knows for certain why he did this. Maybe he wanted to hide his humble origins? But what does Bronte mean? It is the name of a Greek god and means thunder, but he could also have chosen the name in honour of Lord Nelson, on which was bestowed the honour of Duke of Bronte by King Ferdinand of Naples. Patrick graduated from college in 1806.

After his graduation he went to Ireland to see his family. That was the last time he ever set foot on Ireland. The following year he was ordained into the Church of England and then held several curacies. In 1812, Patrick met Maria Branwell. The couple married in December of that same year and had six children: Maria (1814), Elizabeth (1815), Charlotte (1816), Brawell (1817), Emily (1818) and Anne (1820). The year his younger daughter was born, he was appointed perpetual curate of Haworth. His wife Maria died here of cancer the following year.

Maria's sister Elizabeth moved in with the Brontes to assist her during her illness and decided to stay even after her death to help Patrick take care of his many children. Struggling to bring up his large family and failing to remarry to give a mother to his children, in 1823 he decided to send his four eldest daughters - Maria, Elizabeth, Charlotte and Emily - to the Cowan Bridge school, a school for clergymen's daughters. During their second year there, Maria and Elizabeth contracted tuberculosis and died. Charlotte blamed the harsh regimen and the poor sanitary condition of the school for their death. After that, he personally took charge of his children's education.

Patrick Bronte campaigned on a wide range of political, social and religious issues, including the improvement of education and water supply in his district. His work paid off as he saw a change in education and sanitation for local people in his lifetime. In the last years of his life, after a series a tragedies had befallen his family (his wife and all his children died before him), he became a recluse. His eyesight deteriorated and the dyspepsia and bronchitis, two conditions he had been suffering from all his adult life, contributed to his death. He died on 7th June 1861, aged 84. His body was laid to rest in the family vault at Haworth church.

Further reading: