Madame Vigee Lebrun On Madame Du Barry


Madame Du Barry was the last mistress of King Louis XV. After the King's death, she retired to the Château de Louveciennes and it is here that, a few years before the start of the French Revolution, Madame Vigée LeBrun, one of the most famous and successful portraitists of her time, painted the former courtesan. It is also here that she was arrested during the Terror. On 8 December 1793, Madame Du Barry was guillotined. Madame Vigee Lebrun remembers her famous model in her Memoirs:

It was in 1786 that I went for the first time to Louveciennes, where I had promised to paint Mme. Du Barry. She might then have been about forty-five years old. She was tall without being too much so; she had a certain roundness, her throat being rather pronounced but very beautiful; her face was still attractive, her features were regular and graceful; her hair was ashy, and curly like a child's. But her complexion was beginning to fade. She received me with much courtesy, and seemed to me very well behaved, but I found her more spontaneous in mind than in manner: her glance was that of a coquette, for her long eyes were never quite open, and her pronunciation had something childish which no longer suited her age.

She lodged me in a part of the building where I was greatly put out by the continual noise. Under my room was a gallery, sadly neglected, in which busts, vases, columns, the rarest marbles, and a quantity of other valuable articles were displayed without system or order. These remains of luxury contrasted with the simplicity adopted by the mistress of the house, with her dress and her mode of life. Summer and winter Mme. Du Barry wore only a dressing-robe of cotton cambric or white muslin, and every day, whatever the weather might be, she walked in her park, or outside of it, without ever incurring disastrous consequences, so sturdy had her health become through her life in the country. She had maintained no relations with the numerous court that surrounded her so long. In the evening we were usually alone at the fireside, Mme. Du Barry and I. She sometimes talked to me about Louis XV. and his court. She showed herself a worthy person by her actions as well as her words, and did a great deal of good at Louvecienes, where she helped all the poor. Every day after dinner we took coffee in the pavilion which was so famous for its rich and tasteful decorations. The first time Mme. Du Barry showed it to me she said: "It is here that Louis XV. did me the honour of coming to dinner. There was a gallery above for musicians and singers who performed during the meal.


When Mme. Du Barry went to England, before the Terror, to get back her stolen diamonds, which, in fact, she recovered there, the English received her very well. They did all they could to prevent her from returning to but France. But it was not long before she succumbed to the fate in store for everybody who had some possessions. She was informed against and betrayed by a little Negro called Zamore, who is mentioned in all the memoirs of the period as having been overwhelmed with kindness by her and Louis XV. Being arrested and thrown into prison, Mme. Du Barry was tried and condemned to death by the Revolutionary tribunal at the end of 1793. She was the only woman, among all who perished in those dreadful days, unable to face the scaffold with firmness; she screamed, she sued for pardon to the hideous mob surrounding her, and that mob became moved to such a degree that the executioner hastened to finish his task. This has always confirmed my belief that if the victims of that period of execrable memory had not had the noble pride of dying with fortitude the Terror would have ceased long before it did.

I made three portraits of Mme. Du Barry. In the first I painted her at half length, in a dressing-gown and straw hat. In the second she is dressed in white satin; she holds a wreath in one hand, and one of her arms is leaning on a pedestal. The third portrait I made of Mme. Du Barry is in my own possession. I began it about the middle of September, 1789. From Louveciennes we could hear shooting in the distance, and I remember the poor woman saying, "If Louis XV. were alive I am sure this would not be happening." I had done the head, and outlined the body and arms, when I was obliged to make an expedition to Paris. I hoped to be able to return to Louveciennes to finish my work, but heard that Berthier and Foulon had been murdered. I was now frightened beyond measure, and thenceforth thought of nothing but leaving France. 


Further reading:
Memoirs of Madame Vigée Lebrun

Philip De Laszlo Paints Princess Victoria


Philip Alexius de László was a painter born in Budapest in 1869. He became one of the most prolific and famous artists of the 19th and 20th centuries, painting portraits of the powerful, rich and famous of his time, from Kings and Queens to Presidents and Indian chiefs, from musicians to military heroes and even the Pope! He received so many commissions that Lord Selborne, talking about the portraitist asked: "Has any one painter ever before painted so many interesting and historical personages?". In 1907 the painter moved to England.

That year he was summoned to Buckingham Palace to paint the portrait of Princess Victoria, King Edward VII's daughter. One day, the king was present during a sitting and noticed something unusual. On the opposite side of the board De Laszlo was painting on was the portrait of a man he knew! De Laszlo was horrified. He couldn't believe he had been so careless! But the King was amused and said that future historians, when examining the double portrait, would probably assume his daughter and the man had been in love but he had kept them apart! "At least they had the gratification of being on the same board", concluded the King!

Further reading:
DE LA'SZLO': A Brush with Grandeur by Sandra De Laszlo

Historical Reads: Lizzie Siddal - Victorian Supermodel


At Scandalous Women, Elizabeth Kerri Mahon relates the story of Lizzie Siddal, the first of the beautiful models painted by the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and lover of the artist Dante Gabriele Rossetti. To quote:

But there was once another woman, during the Victorian era, which also could be said to be deserving of the title supermodel. Her name was Lizzie Siddal, and she was the face of the Pre-Raphaelite painters. You may not know her name but you know her face, floating down the river in John Everett Millais’s painting of Ophelia, or in any number of Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s works.

Lizzie Siddal was born Elizabeth Eleanor Siddall on July 25, 1829. Her parents were lower middle class but with pretensions to the middle class. Like Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Lizzie’s father believed that he was the rightful owner of a successful couching inn called Crossdaggers in Derbyshire. Unfortunately he spent a fortune trying to unsuccessfully prove it. Like something out of a Dickens novel, the case dragged on for years. Finally, Lizzie’s sister Clara threw all the relevant documents on the fire one night to finally end the disasterous lawsuit. Still Lizzie and her brothers and sisters were raised with the knowledge that they were somebody, despite the fact that their father made his living making and running a cutlery business.


To read the entire article, click here.

Edda Ciano Mussolini: The School Years


Mussolini didn't want his daughter to go to school. Instead, he had planned to home school Edda after his return from the war. His wife Rachele didn't agree with this plan and enrolled their daughter at a primary school near their house. Both her parents, though, opposed Edda's idea of enrolling at a dance school to become a dancer. When her father had returned home earlier than expected because he had been wounded during a military exercise he had taken Edda to the theatre. She didn't like the opera nor the plays and the only time she enjoyed herself was when she saw the Excelsior Ballet. Once home, she would spend hours talking about it and had shown to have a talent for dancing but her parents put an end to her dreams. Benito thought the profession of dancing led straight to prostitution.

But there was also another reason for his refusal. Dance schools enhanced femininity in a girl and that's exactly the opposite of what he wanted for his daughter. Edda had to have a male education. He made her wear her hair short like boys, ordered her never to cry and never to be scared of anything. He would oblige Edda to hold a frog in her hands, or to get back on a carriage whose horse had got frisky, to win her repugnance and fear. He also decided his daughter had to learn how to play the violin and hired Edvige Fiscina Tretti, a teacher from the Scala, to teach her. The lessons would go on for hours but with little improvement. In the meantime the family grew bigger. Rachele had given birth to another boy, Bruno, in 1918.

Even though she was still a little girl, Edda already had a "boyfriend". He was the son of a medium Mussolini had a brief affair with and was a few years older than Edda. He would give her small presents, such as a walnut or a liquorice, and the two would kiss in a little cellar. He promised Edda that he'd marry her one day. But her father found out and put an end to the relationship. He ordered Edda not to see the boy anymore but she still accepted the presents he managed to secretly send her. However, soon even this ended and Edda and her family moved to a richer part of Milan. In 1919 Mussolini and the fascist party took part in the political elections but not a single deputy from their list was elected. It was a disaster. At night, the socialist would march under the window of his house carrying a coffin with the words "Here lays Mussolini" written on it. Poor Rachele and Edda were shocked and distraught when they saw it. They had believed Mussolini had really died! She would then sometimes wake up in the middle of the night after dreaming about her father's real funeral.


Mussolini was very disliked at this time, especially by the socialists and communists, who would sing indecent songs about him and how they would kill him. Rachele was scared they would one day attack her and her children and whenever they passed near her house, she would sprang the door and hide with them in the attic. She also had a gun to defend herself with. But Mussolini's political career was, unfortunately, far from over, as we all know. In the meantime, Edda was growing into a teenage girl. She attended the Parini Grammar School and her marks were good but she got a poor one in conduct, to show that even though she was growing up she was still a restless and stubborn rebel. Edda and her best friend Amelia Perrone were the only two girls attending the fascist section, which had been founded by Edda's herself. Her schoolmates retaliated by founding another section inspired by the Popular Party and the two groups would often fight. In the meantime, the fascists section had gained two more students.

A few short years passed. The economic crisis, the social unrest and political instability of Italy after the war paved the way for Mussolini's rise to power. He was now the Prime Minister of Italy. Mussolini had always been anticlerical and because of that he had refused to have his kids receive the sacraments. But now that he was in power, he realized how important it was for the Fascist regime to gain the support of the Vatican. The first step was to baptize his children, an event which took place privately. He also decided it would be good for his political career to wed Rachele in a religious ceremony. Before the event took place, the three children received both the Holy Communion and the Confirmation. However, all was not well in the Mussolini family. Tired of her husband's continuous infidelities, Rachele moved to Predappio, near Forlì, with their children.

The man who wanted to personally educate his daughter now decided to send her to the Regio Istituto Femminile Della Santissima Annunziata, a very exclusive school were royals and noblemen sent their daughters to receive a good education (Princess Marie Jose of Belgium had studied there too). The headmistress of the school suddenly received a telegram from Mussolini ordering her to prepare everything for Edda's arrival and to treat his daughter just like everyone else. The real problem, though, was that the other pupils, proud of their birth, considered Edda inferior to them and treated her accordingly. But that wasn't the only reason why she didn't enjoy her time at the school. Edda was a rebel and it was really hard for her to get used to the rules and formality of her new school. Her studies didn't improve either. Finally, summer holidays arrived and she spent them in Cattolica, where she saved a girl who was drowning. The papers praised her courage and her generosity and Edda received a medal for it. That summer she also managed to convince her parents to send her to her old school, the Parini Grammar School. However, she soon dropped out of school altogether.

Further reading:
Edda, Una Tragedia Italiana by Antonio Spinosa

Economy Of Bethlem Hospital


Bethlem Hospital, which is short for Bethlehem Hospital, is the world's oldest institution for mental illness. It was founded in London in 1337 and although it already admitted some mentally ill patients from 1357, the treatment of these unfortunate souls will become the sole focus of the institution only years later. But Bethlem Hospital wasn't just a place where you could lock mental people up for life like it may at first be thought. They actually tried to cure their patients. However, the purpose of this post is not to talk about their treatment (that deserve its own post) but about some particulars of the internal economy and rules. Who was admitted? How much did the hospital charge? And who could visit? The Repository of arts, literature, Fashions etc, August 1817 answers these questions for their readers:

This hospital is designed for the admission of all poor lunatics, except cripples and such as are afflicted with certain bodily diseases. Upon security being given that they shall be taken away when required, and have clothes found them, all admissible patients, except those from parishes and public offices, are admitted without fee or expense. Parishes and public offices pay three guineas for each, and enter into the same engagements. For incurables must be paid a deposit of five pounds, and nine shillings a week, besides their clothing; but if sent by poor friends, the weekly payment is reduced to six shillings. Patients remain till cured, or for twelve months, when they are to be discharged, unless there be then a prospect of cure.

According to the rules of this institution, no person whatever, except governors, or those in company with a governor, is to be permitted to view the hospital and patients; but the president or treasurer may give written orders for the admission of any member of either House of Parliament at convenient hours. The keepers and servants are forbidden to receive any fee or gratuity whatever, either from visitors or others, on pain of dismission. The official return of the state of this hospital as delivered to the lord mayor. according to custom. on Easter Monday last. was as follows:

Remaining in the hospital, 1815 118
Buried last year 8
Cured and discharged last year 102
Patients under cure 115
Incurable 81


Further reading:
Repository of arts, literature, Fashions etc, August 1817

Book Review: Wideacre by Philippa Gregory


Synopsis:
Wideacre Hall, set in the heart of the English countryside, is the ancestral home that Beatrice Lacey loves. But as a woman of the 18th century, she has no right of inheritance. Corrupted by a world that mistreats women, she sets out to corrupt others.


I read Wideacre when I was a teenager and while I completely forgot all about most of the not-that-good books I read at the time, this one I still remember all too well. And not for good reasons. I think I can safely say it is the worst book I have ever read and it took me ages to finish it. You just need to read it in small doses and even then, have a very high tolerance for ickiness, which I don't. I was so disgusted by it that I refused to read the other two books in this trilogy. So, why didn't I like this book?

I loathed the protagonist, Beatrice. She is completely obsessed with the family estate, Wideacre, and wants to live there for the rest of her life. But we're in Georgian England. Beatrice is expected to marry some nobleman and go live with him in a new, big house while Wideacre will be inherited by her brother Harry who never showed any interest in the house and land she loves so much. Her frustration and her determination not to resign herself and do something about it is perfectly understandable. But what isn't is that she's willing to go to extreme lengths and won't stop at nothing - including incest and murder - to get what she wants.

First, with the help of her lover Ralph, she hatches a plan to kill her father and manipulate her brother to keep control of the property. She regrets this and wants to stop Ralph but it is too late. Once her daddy and her lover are out of the picture, she needs to come up with a plan to exercise control over Harry. She finds out he has a fetish (he likes to be beaten) and decides to seduce him. This really disgusted me. Beatrice is often compared with Scarlett O'Hara but while both girls were obsessed with their lands and did some nasty things to keep them, Scarlett (who would never do half the things Beatrice did anyway) had known war, hunger and poverty. Beatrice, instead, is not driven by poverty, she’s not plotting and scheming cos she or her kids are starving, she wasn’t abused as a child… Simply, she’s just a horrible, despicable and vile lady who's determined to get control of a stupid piece of land, even if that means destroying the lives of all those around her. She just doesn’t have a single good quality. None.

And we're only at the beginning of the book. She will do a lot more nasty things as the story goes on (it has more than 600 pages!) but I don't want to reveal too much in case you decide to read it. That's the gist of it, anyway. It could have been different. She could have come up with other methods to manipulate her brother (I realize women didn't have a lot of options at the time and sex is probably the quickest way but still I can't help but think there must have been something, anything, else she could have done instead) or she could have been a good woman forced to do bad things because of the situation she was in. What a shame. The only thing that kept me reading is the curiosity to find out whether she would get her comeuppance or not in the end. But to know that, you'll have to read the book.

Summary:
To say that Wideacre by Philippa Gregory wasn't my cup of tea would be an understatement. The "heroin" of the book, Beatrice is a selfish and spoiled woman who won't stop at nothing, including murdering people and having sex with her brother, to keep living in the house she grew up in. The incest takes up a huge chunk of the book which is why, unless you have a very high tolerate for ickiness, you'll have to read it in small doses. But then there are lots of better books you could read instead that I can't really recommend this to anyone..

Available at: Amazon.com

Rating: 1/5

What Did Marie Antoinette And Georgiana Duchess Of Devonshire Have In Common?


Marie Antoinette, Queen of France, and Georgiana Cavendish nee Spencer, Duchess of Devonshire were two of the most famous women of the 18th century. When the Duchess visited France and met the Queen, the two women discovered they had a lot in common and became life long friends. So, what are the similarities between them?

Overbearing mothers: both Countess Spencer and Empress Maria Theresa loved their daughters very much, but this love was very often suffocating. The two women were convinced they always knew what was best for their daughters and often sent them letters full of advices, instructions and reproaches. Can you imagine how these poor girls must have felt like every time they received a letter from their mums? Both wanted to please their parents, but this wasn't always an easy task. They were put under a lot of pressure, resulting in an uneasiness in the relationship with their mums. Marie Antoinette in particular, was said to love her mother dearly but to also be in awe, and even sometimes scared, of her.

They married a position: Marie Antoinette's marriage was arranged by her mother, Empress Maria Theresa, to solidify a political alliance between Austria and France. Georgiana, instead, was happy at the prospect of marrying the Duke of Devonshire but soon after the wedding she realised how cold her husband really was. Even though overtime the couples grew closer (Marie Antoinette refused to leave her husband during the French Revolution and William was said to be completely devastated when Georgiana died), both women were trapped in a loveless marriage. In addition, they hadn't just married a man, they had a married a position and had to deal with all the expectations, restrictions and duties their status imposed upon them. Some people may have envied them for their positions and the privileges that came with them, but if they had looked more closely, they would have realised how deceiving appearances can be and that they didn't have an easy life..

Love for gambling: both Marie Antoinette and Georgiana loved gambling. They would spend entire nights at the gaming table, gambling away enormous fortunes and piling up huge debts. Their husbands weren't happy about it. The economical situation in France was disastrous and so Louis XVI forbade his wife from gambling. He granted her permission to play one last time, though, and the game went on for three days! Louis was disgusted. Georgiana instead, never stopped. She kept borrowing money from her friends (and never repayed them) to pay off her creditors, in the hope they wouldn't demand money to the Duke. She was constantly on the verge on bankruptcy and feared her husband's reaction should he find out the extent of her debts. Even when he came really close to demand a separation because of her debts, Georgiana wouldn't neither tell him the exact amount of her debts, nor stop playing.


Queens of fashion: both women became fashion icons and trendsetters. Women would wait to see what clothes and hairstyles these two fashionable women, who had exquisite but also extravagant tastes, would wear so that they could imitate them. It was Georgiana who first wore big ostrich feathers on her hair and pretty soon, all the ladies followed suit, to some ridiculous extents at times. And when her painting by Gainsborurough (shown at the top of this post) was unveiled, women rushed to their milliners requesting their "picture hat". As Queen of France, Marie Antoinette was required to wear elaborate court gowns, although she preferred to switch to simpler styles of clothing when possible (in any case, both got her in trouble). Her chief modist was Madame Bertin. The popularity of this talented modist really soared when she started designing clothes for the Queen. Marie Antoinette often gave her input on the gowns, suggesting alterations and proving she too had a talent for fashion. Her fashion choices often had a political message like the ship ornament she wore in her hair to show her support to the Americans revolutionaries.

Affectionate mothers: both women were under great pressure to beget an heir but years would pass before they finally gave birth to their first children (Georgiana had trouble conceiving while Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI didn't consummate their marriage for years). Marie Antoinette had lived a hectic lifestyle, staying up late every night dancing and gambling, but she settled down when she became a mother. The Queen of France lived only for her children and she personally saw to their education and upbringing. Georgiana too was a very affectionate mother who nursed her children and she even raised her husband's illegittimate daughter.

Victims of slanders: vicious pamphlets and gossips, all unfounded, circulated about both women. Marie Antoinette was accused of everything, including bankrupting France with her spending on clothes, exercising complete control over the king, having sex with anyone she met, both male and female, and even incest with her own son. This bad propaganda completely destroyed her reputation and eventually led her to the scaffold. Georgiana too was a celebrity of her own time, so papers and pamphleteers would often print malicious gossips about her. She was accused to kiss or bribe electors with favors and was made fun of for her hairstyles.

Charming women: the Queen of France and the Duchess of Devonshire were both pretty, charming and lively women who were always kind to everyone. And because of it, they were loved by everyone they met. Even those people who believed the calumnies circulating about these women and were determined to dislike them, ended up loving them once they met them. A man who was thus charmed by Marie Antoinette was Barnave, one of the three appointed to bring the royal family back to Paris from Varennes. During the trip, he started to feel sympathy for the Queen and became a supporter of the royal family. Unfortunately, this wasn't enough to save them.

Wow, I knew Georgiana and Marie Antoinette had a lot in common, but I didn't really realize how much until I started working on this post. New similarities between the two kept popping up as I was writing. What about you? Do you know of anything else that the Queen and the Duchess shared?

Further reading:
Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire by Amanda Foreman
Marie Antoinette: The Journey by Antonia Fraser

Sarah Kemble Siddons


Sarah Siddons was a renowned tragic actress of the 18th century. She was born on 5th July 1755, in a room above a small tavern in High Street in Brecon (Brecknockshire, Wales) into a theatrical family. Her father was Roger Kemble, the manager of the touring theatre company the Warwickshire Company of Comedians, and her mother was the actress Sarah Ward, daughter of the comedian John Ward. Five of their children (they had 12 in total; Sarah was the oldest) and several grandchildren all became famous actors. Sarah was the most famous of them all. Acting was in her blood and, from an early age, she appeared on the stage in her father's shows.

Sarah bloomed into a beautiful young woman and, at 15, caught the eye of a member of her father's troop, a certain William Siddons. Her parents weren't happy at this match and decided to take Sarah off the stage and send her to work as a lady's-maid to Lady Greathead, of Guy's Cliff (near Warwick) for £10 a year, hoping the couple would fall out of love. Two years passed before her parents realised how deeply her daughter and William cared about each other and finally consented to their union. In 1773, the couple tied the knot. They had seven children, but only two of them survived childhood, and the marriage eventually ended in a formal separation.


Acting was an important part of their lives and marriage. It was while she was on the stage with her husband that she was noticed by David Garrick, which resulted in her being engaged to act at the Drury Lane theatre. However, her fist appearance as Portia in the Merchant of Venice wasn't successful and she was fired. For the next six years, Sarah toured the country, appearing in provincial theatrical provinces. It was at this time that she acquired her reputation as the Queen Of Tragedy. When she returned to Drury Lane in 1782 in the role of Isabella in the The Fatal Marriage, she got a very different reaction. This time she was a huge, and instant, success.

But her most famous role was that of Lady Machbeth. She made it her own, perfectly portraying Lady Macbeth's vicious passions and character. But her personal favourite role, the one she most enjoyed to play, was Queen Catherine in Henry VIII. She had become one of the most famous actress of her time, and just when acting was becoming a respectable job for a woman. She had her portrait taken by the most renowed artists of the time such as Reynolds, Gainsborough and Lawrence and mixed in social circles with the rich and famous of her age, such as Edmund Burke, Samuel Johnson and the Duke of Wellington.


In 1802, she left Drury Lane for Covent Garden, on whose stage she appeared on and off for 10 years. But on 29 June 1812, aged 57, Sarah retired. The public was said to be so moved during her last performance (she was playing Lady Macbeth) that they refused to let the play go on after the sleepwalking scene, where her character makes her final appearance. The curtain had to be closed and, when it reopened, Sarah was sitting in the middle of the stage, dressed in her own clothes, and addressed an emotional farewell speech to the crowd. It lasted almost 10 minutes.

However, that wasn't her final appearance. Over the next few years, she sometimes appeared on the stage again. Her real final appearance was in the role of Lady Randolph in John Home's Douglas on 9 June 1819. Sarah Siddons died on 8 June 1831 in London and was interred at St Mary's Cemetery in Paddington. Over 5,000 people attended her funeral to pay their tribute to one of Britain's greatest actresses.

Further reading:
Bbc.co.uk
La Belle Assemblée, 1831
Wikipedia

Historical Reads: Marie Antoinette Saves A Seat For An Expecting Mother


Nobility.org has an anecdote about Marie Antoinette's kindness and concern for a pregnant woman. To quote:

When the student realized that one of the ladies was the Queen herself, Marie Antoinette, he stood up in dismay, apologizing, and trying to justify his intrusion.

Filled with goodness, the Queen set him at ease, saying: “Look here, go and bring her quickly! I’ll make sure no one takes her place.”

When the expecting mother was about to sit down, the Queen called over a servant and said: “Go to my bedroom, and bring a cushion for this lady,” and then explained her gesture, saying, “Many cares are required when in your condition. This marble bench is too cold for you to sit down on.”


To read the entire post, click here.

George Boleyn


George Boleyn was the son of Thomas Boleyn, an English diplomat, and his wife Elizabeth Howard, a member of one of the most powerful families of the time. We don't know his exact date of birth but it is thought he was the youngest of the three surviving Boleyn children. George was always close to his sister Anne. They were both bright and well-educated, shared a love of poetry and the arts and were both passionate about religious reforms. Unlike his sisters, which were probably educated at home, George went to Oxford and then, still young, started his career at the court of Henry VIII as a page.

In around 1525, (or maybe in late 1524 as Alison Weir writes in her book, "The Lady In The Tower"), George married Jane Parker, the daughter of Henry Parker, Baron Morley. The marriage has generally been considered by future generations to have been very unhappy. It is also allegedly thought that Jane, jealous of Anne, gave evidence against both her husband and sister-in-law at their trial. However, we don't really know anything about the relationship between husband and wife so we can't really say whether their union was so miserable as usually portrayed or, instead, relatively happy for Tudor standards. In any case, like many husbands, George wasn't faithful to his wife and had affairs with other women at court. Some go as far as to say that he wasn't just a womanizer but also bisexual and had sexual relationships with men too, which was considered a hideous sin at the time. Again, this is just speculation and we don't know if there is any truth in it.

George was a popular member of Henry VIII's court and, like other members of his family, greatly benefited from his sister's relationship with the King. He was a leading diplomat at the court and received many offices including Gentleman of the Privy Chamber (1528), Constable of Dover, Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports and master of the Buckhounds. In 1529 he gained a place in the Privy Chamber and the courtesy title of Viscount Rochford. From the king, he also received the Palace of New Hall, renamed Beaulieu, in Essex. He was a talented court poet, and often accompanied the king shooting and played bowls, cards and other games with him. He was a very influential man at court, at the centre of the Boleyn faction and Henry VIII obviously held him in high regard. So, what went wrong?

The King was tiring of Anne and falling for Jane Seymour. While the Seymour's fortune was rising, the Boleyn family was starting to lose royal favour. Proof of this came on 29th April 1536. On this day, George Boleyn was supposed to be made Knight Of The Garter, but the king decided to appoint Sir Nicholas Carey, a supporter of Jane Seymour instead. This was a huge shock and blow to the Boleyns but the worst was still to come. Cromwell was plotting Anne's fall and was determined to bring down with her all her supporters too. He managed to extort a confession out of Smeaton and soon afterwards, Lord Rochford was arrested discreetly. So discreetly that very few people knew about it. It seems that he was taken to the Tower to await trial without being interrogated.

George Boleyn was accused of having committed incest with his sister Anne. One of the dates cited on the indictment was 5 Nov.27 and it may have been chosen to imply that it was George, and not the King, the father of the baby Anne miscarried in 1536. The dates chosen didn't really make any sense as Anne was with the King and or in a different place but none of that mattered at the trial. George wasn't a commoner so, unlike Norris, Brereton, Smeaton and Weston who were tried by a commission of oyer and terminer, he, together with his sister, was tried by a jury of his peers on 15th May. The other men had already been found guilty three days before so George and Anne couldn't possibly be found innocent, could they? Lord Rochford proclaimed his innocence and strongly defended himself but to no avail. He was found guilty and beheaded on 17th May 1536.

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

How To Fill Up A Column In A Newspaper


Freedom of the press is an important right in a democratic society. The public has a right to be informed on what's going on in the world and the media the right to publish those information without fear of punishment. We all know, though, that we just can't believe everything we read in the papers. Unfortunately, sometimes "journalists" will withhold, twist or exaggerate facts or even completely make stuff up in order to sell a few more copies without caring about who's gonna get hurt by their lies. It is also sad to see that this is nothing new, as this anedocte which appeared in the Rambler's Magazine of June 1823 demonstrates:

Not long ago we read a very laconic notice in the newspapers, that twentyfive men women and children were drowned near Leeds, by the ice giving way under them; upon enquiry, we found the whole to be a fiction. Such wanton lies merit severe reprehension; as many who have friends near the spot suffer great anxiety of mind, and the inventor enjoys a brutish satisfaction by raising a laugh at the expence of humanity. This reminds us of the editor of a Dublin Newspaper, when applied to for a few lines to fill up a column, exclaimed, "There is no public news of interest; so burn a child to death at Waterford, and if that is not enough, break the neck of a Welsh Justice over a cliff, in pursuit of smugglers, during the night." We firmly believe that one half of the news with which our catch-penny newspapers are filled, have not such a good foundation as that of the Dublin editor to rest upon; his lies might have happened, whereas those we often read are beyond all probability.

Further reading:
The Rambler's Magazine, June 1823 Edition

Book Review: I Am Of Irelaunde by Juilene Osborne-McKnight


Synopsis:
St. Patrick has been enshrined in myth and history as a benign and beloved figure, a native Irish miracle worker who drove out both the snakes and the Druids and gently issued in the age of Christianity. Nothing could be further from the truth. Magonus Succatus Patricius was of Roman heritage; captured into slavery in Ireland at the age of sixteen, he escaped at the age of twenty-two. Now, the forty-year-old "Padraig" returns to the site of his shame. Full of anger, he is determined to bring Christianity to Ireland, even if he has to beat it into the Irish. But then something happens to change Paidrig . . . something shrouded in mystery and wonder.


I’ve always been fascinated by Ireland, its traditions, culture and lore so I was delighted to receive this book as a present for Christmas. In it, Irish legends are intertwined with the story of Saint Patrick, creating a tale that, albeit not very historically accurate, is nevertheless highly enjoyable. And to make the book flow easier and allow the reader a more comprehensive read, at the beginning of the book you can find a list of the characters and places explaining who and what they are, together with their correct pronunciation!

Magonus Succatus Patricius, a Roman Citizen and a Christian priest, goes back to Ireland, the land where he was brought after he was kidnapped to be sold as a slave, to convert its inhabitants. Although he has resigned to do the will of God, he is determined not to like neither the country nor its people: he considers them inferior, uncivilized and refuses to acknowledge even his Irish name, Padraig (pronounced Par ig). But to be successful in his mission, Patrick needs to understand the Hibernians and their traditions, and to speak their language. To help him achieve this, God sends him the poet Ossian (O Sheen). The son of the great Finian leader Fionn Mac Cumhail (fin mac cool), Ossian represents the old Eire, with its traditions, legends and druids, that is being swept away by the coming of Christianity.

The stories Ossian tells about his father and the Fianna warriors, which is a story within the story, are also relevant to the situations and struggles Patrick is facing and guide him, helping him decide the right thing to do. But it's not just his prejudices that Patrick will have to fight to accomplish its mission, he also needs to come to terms with his feelings for the female druid Ainfean (an f' an). The two fall in love but Patrick has taken a vow of celibacy and he is determined to keep it. The book also ends with a twist that I won’t be revealing here, obviously. But it is a fitting end for a book that flows smoothly and enchants the reader mixing history and legends. If you’re interested in Irish lore or on the story of Saint Patrick and how he converted the Hibernians (although we don’t know much about this so most of it is made up by the author) I really recommend this book.

Summary:
I highly recommend I Am Of Irelaunde by Juilene Osborne-McKnight to anyone interested in Irish culture and the story of Saint Patrick. The figure of S.Patrick that emerges from this book is different from his Christian portrait we all know. A stubborn and prejudiced man, something will happen that will make him grow, evolve and start to understand Ireland and its people. Although it's not very historically accurate (but then we don't really know that much about S.Patrick), it's a light and enjoyable tale.

Available at: Amazon.com

Rating: 3.5/5

Edda Ciano Mussolini: Early Childhood


At about three in the morning on 1st September 1910, in Forlì', the first daughter of Benito Mussolini and Rachele Guidi was born. The baby was given the name Edda Rosa Edvige. Rosa was the name of Benito's mother, Edvige that of his younger sister. Edda, instead, was inspired by Hedda Glamer, a play by Ibsen and the Heroes of Carlyle and the adventures of princes in the Norwegian mythology. When Edda was born, her parents weren't married yet because Mussolini was an atheist who disliked the Church and didn't want to have anything to do with it (the child wasn't even baptized). So, on her birth certificate, Edda was indicated as Mussolini's illegitimate child and, instead, in the place of her mother's name, only the letters N.N. appeared. Because of this, many thought that Angelica Balabanoff, a Russian Jewish socialist Mussolini had a relationship with in Switzerland, was her real mother. It wasn't true but this legend would be often exploited for political reasons against Mussolini by his enemies.

Benito loved his daughter and she seemed to have a calming effect on him, but like any father, he was also anxious for his baby. When she was only a few days' old and still sleeping in her parents' bed, Mussolini wouldn't move for the entire night for fear of squashing and hurting her. Pretty soon, he bought her a cot. If the baby wouldn't go to sleep, Benito would start playing the violin to get her to sleep but with poor results. He would also play when the baby was already asleep, thinking the music would soothe her, but Edda would wake up and, once her dad had finished, scream for more. So he would turn the candle off hoping she would just cry herself to sleep. One night, though, the screaming went on for so long that Mussolini started throwing shoes, pillows, books and anything he could get his hands on at her cot!

When Mussolini's father, Alessandro, died, Annina (Rachele's mother and Alessandro's lover) moved in with her daughter and her family. The Mussolinis were poor and so was their diet. Their meals consisted mainly of vegetable soups, while meat was rarely served on the table. Edda soon acquired the nickname "daughter of poverty" but nevertheless the family was relatively happy. Their economic situation improved when Benito started working at the "Avanti!" newspaper. But in 1911, Mussolini was jailed for five months, having advocated a general strike against the military expedition to Libya, and shared a cell with Pietro Nenni. When Edda with her mother Rachele visited them, the two men would hide messages in her clothes to communicate with their comrades.

Once out of prison, Mussolini became the editor of the Avanti! and the family moved to Milan. Because of their precarious economic situation they didn't have the money to take their furniture in their new small three-room house in Milan and had to sell it. The house was so small that if Rachele wanted to have a bath, she had to go to a public bath. She would take her daughter with her but like many children, Edda didn't like baths. She was a bit of a tomboy and a rebel, but could also be very generous. She had her father wrapped up around her little finger but her mother was stern and would even hit when she misbehaved. To avoid it, Edda would hide under the bed until her father returned home.


When she was older, Benito would take his daughter with him to work at the newspaper and even to party meetings. In 1914, World War I broke out. The socialist party was against Italy entering the war and initially Benito supported this view. Pretty soon he changed his mind as he saw in the war the opportunity to liberate North Italy from the Hapsburgs. His support for the war cost him the expulsion from the socialist party and his job at the newspaper. Soon, with the financial help of French socialists willing to support those that advocated Italy to join the war on France's side, he founded another newspaper, "Il Popolo D'Italia". Rachele and her mother Anna went to every newsagents in the area, asking them to make sure the paper was in a visible, prominent position. When Italy finally entered the war, Mussolini joined the arm and went to fight.

During the war, he had an affair with a woman called Irene Dalser who gave him a son. Even though she knew about Rachele, she believed Benito when he promised her he would marry her. Irene decided to face her rival and visited Rachele. The two women had a row in front of Edda, with Irene asking the child if her father really loved her mother! Irene also told everyone she was married to Mussolini and people believed her. When Benito got sick during the war, they notified Irene instead than Rachele. The woman rushed to his side with her son. Rachele had had enough! Together with her daughter, she managed to reach Benito before Irene and the couple were married in a civil, and secret, ceremony.

After the wedding, Rachele got pregnant again. On 27th September 1916, the couple's first son, Vittorio was born. Edda was jealous of the newborn baby and the attentions he received from their parents. She started throwing tantrums, played tricks on everyone and even demanded to be breastfed like her brother! Because of her dislike of Vittorio, she wanted to join a tribe of gypsies that had temporarily moved near her place. She was fascinated by their roulettes, their picturesque clothes and hoop earrings, the music they played and the adventurous stories they told. Instead, her mother forced her to stay at home making scarves for the soldiers. She warned her the gypsies were nice to her because they wanted to kidnap her but Edda wouldn't stop talking about them. One day, fed up with her daughter's stubborness, Rachele told Edda she could join the gypsies. She rushed to the spot where they were staying at but they were gone. A pile of smouldering ashes was all they left behind.

Sad, she went back home but, on her way back, she was run over by a bike. She remained still on the ground, with blood pouring out from a wound on her eyebrow. She wasn't seriously hurt, she was just obeying her father's orders: never cry and never complain. She was taken to a doctor who wanted to apply stitches to the wound. This scared the little girl, who reacted by kicking the poor doctor on the chin, wounding him! Rachele would write to Mussolini, still fighting in the war, about this and other mischiefs, but he didn't seem to be too worried about them and would just try to calm his wife down. I'm not sure it worked but Benito's letters served another important purpose: Rachele would use them to teach her daughter to read.

Further reading:
Edda, Una Tragedia Italiana by Antonio Spinosa

Fashions For 1818

What would we be wearing if we were well-off women in 1818? The Empire-style dresses, with very high wastlines gathered just under the breasts and skirts falling loosely below, were still popular. While I find this style very pretty, I have to admit I don't care much for the day and walking dresses of 1818. The ball dresses though are stunning and so are the bonnets. And aren't those feathers an outrageously fashionable touch? Here are the dresses, let me know what you think of them in the comments!

AUGUST 1818


SUMMER RECESS BALL DRESS

Frock of white crape, Venetian gauze, or fine net, richly embellished at the border with small double Indian roses of a beautiful pink colour, and mingled with leaves of crape and pearls: the body finished in the Oriental style, with short sleeves, which approach nearer to the elbow than formerly, and which are finished by a trimming of broad blond. The head-dress consists of a double wreath of Indian roses, interspersed with the braids of hair that are wound round the summit of the head. White satin shoes and white kid gloves.


PARISIAN BONNETS

Fig 1 represents transparent bonnets of crape or net, crowned with bouquets of flowers, and trimmed at the edges with broad blond and a cordon of flowers. Fig 2 represents bonnets of satin or gros de Naples, both white and coloured, crowned with a profusion of lilacs or small double poppies.

SEPTEMBER 1818


PARISIAN WALKING DRESS (FRENCH)

Round dress of printed muslin, of a cerulean blue spotted with black, with bordered flounces of the same material to correspond: between each flounce a layer placed of black brocaded satin ribband. Bonnet of straw-coloured gossamer satin, ornamented on the left side with a single full blown rose, and a plume of white feathers. Cachemire santoir, and parasol of barbel blue, fringed with white. Slippers of pale blue kid, and washing leather gloves.



DINNER DRESS (ENGLISH)

Round dress of fine Bengal muslin, with a superbly embroidered border; the border surmounted by two flounces richly embroidered at the edges, and headed by muslin bouilloni run through with Clarence blue satin: Meinengen corsage of the same colour, with small pelerine cape, elegantly finished with narrow rouleaux of white satin and fine lace. Parisian cornette of blond, with a very full and spreading branch of full-blown roses placed in front.


NOVEMBER 1818


WALKING DRESS

Garter purple poplin pelisse, ornamented with black velvet: Mary Scot bonnet of garter purple reps silk, ornamented at the edge with a cordon of purple and black flowers, and surmounted by a full plume of tropic birds' feathers variegated in black and purple. Fan corsette placed under the bonnet; and Castillian double ruff worn under the black velvet cape of the pelisse. Waterloo half-boots of garter purple and black, and lemon coloured kid gloves.



BALL DRESS

Ceres frock, with a very broad border of wheat ears in straw, worked on tulle, and worn over a white satin slip. Toque turban of tulle, elegantly worked with straw to correspond, with Turkish foldings in front of crape and straw interspersed. Henrietta ruff of fine lace, fixed low, and terminating at the shoulders. White satin shoes, and white kid gloves.


DECEMBER 1818


CARRIAGE DRESS

Round dress of Bombazine, elegantly finished at the border with broad black velvet, surmounted by a flounce of fine white muslin, headed by a rouleau of the same. Black velvet spenser, with a sautoir, or half handkerchief, of mourning shawl manufacture. Bonnet of white crape, with full plume of black ostrich feathers. Bouilloné ruff of fine muslin. Black chamois slippers and gloves.



EVENING DRESS

Andalusian robe of black crape, worn over a black satin slip, ornamented at the border with crape flirtings. The robe van-dyked with black velvet, richly ornamented with trimming of twisted crape, down each side. The sleeves confined at the mancheroms by a superb knot of jet. Henrietta ruff of white crape broad hemmed. Black velvet toque ornamented with jet, and black cypress feathers. 

Further reading:
La Belle Assemblée, Volume 18

Historical Reads: Princesse De Lamballe


Melanie Clegg, author of Madame Guillotine, has an informative post on the Pricesse De Lamballe, Marie Antoinette's friend, who was brutally murdered during the French Revolution. To quote:

The Princesse was born Maria Theresa Luigia di Savoia-Carignano in Turin on the 8th September 1749 to Luigi Vittorio di Savoia-Carignano, Principe di Carignano and his German wife Christine Henriette of Hesse-Rheinfels-Rotenburg. She was a cousin of the Savoyard royal family, which included the future Comtesses de Provence and Artois. Therefore this Princesse, who is often regarded as the ultimate French aristocrat was actually half Italian and half German.

She was married by proxy on the 31st January 1767 to Louis-Alexandre de Bourbon, Prince de Lamballe, the only son of the Duc de Penthièvre and great grandson of Louis XIV and Athénaïs de Montespan. The young prince was a dissolute libertine and died shortly after their marriage, presumably of venereal disease, leaving the unfortunate Princesse a widow at the age of nineteen.


To read the entire post, click here.

George Prince of Wales Secretly Weds Maria Fitzherbert


George, Prince of Wales (the future George IV, also nicknamed Prinny) loved women. He had a tendency to fall in love easily and had affairs with numerous ladies. But the only woman he really loved was Mrs Maria Fitzherbert. Six years older than George, Maria was a pretty woman with a nice figure and beautiful complexion, who had already been widowed twice. When her second husband died, she moved to London where she entered its society and one day, while at the opera, she was introduced to the Prince of Wales. George was instantly smitten with her and Maria, though flattered by his attentions, wasn't interested in becoming a royal mistress and kept him at arms' length for months.


Undeterred, the Prince decided to employ more drastic measures. In 1784, Maria received a visit from the royal physician and two messengers. They told Maria the Prince had stabbed himself and that his dying wish was to see her. Maria agreed to go but only if Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, agreed to come with her. Georgiana was having a party when she was called away but, feeling she really had no choice, she agreed to go with them, leaving her sister Harriet in charge at Devonshire House. It was dark when they arrived at Carlton House, the residence of the Prince of Wales.

Here, the two women found Prinny sprawled across the sofa and covered in blood, crying and breathing with difficulty. Moved at the scene, Maria agreed to marry him. All that was needed to seal the pact now was a ring which Georgiana reluctantly provided. Now, Prinny fell back on the sofa and seemed to rest more easily. The two women returned home. In the morning, Maria fled the country and went to France. It wasn't just the realization the stunt was probably staged that made her pack her bags, she also knew their marriage wasn't valid for the law.


The Royal Marriages Act, a law passed by George's father, stated that members of the Royal Family couldn't marry without the King's consent. In addition, Maria was a Catholic and the English law banned those in the line of succession to the throne from marrying a Catholic. But in this case the saying "out of sight, out of mind" didn't prove true for Prinny. He was still in love with Maria, who, tired of spending time on the continent, returned to London in November 1785. She now agreed to marry him properly. On 15th December 1785, in her London home, the couple was married by Mr Bart, an Anglican priest. It was rumoured that he agreed to celebrate the wedding because the Prince had promised to pay his debts or even bail him out of prison.

The Devonshires had been invited to the wedding but thought best not to go. Instead, the bride's brother Jack Smythe and uncle Henry Errington served as witnesses. Although the marriage was null and void by English law, both the Catholic and Anglican Churches considered it legal and, for the rest of her life, Maria considered herself George's true wife. After living together (but not openly) for several years, the Prince, who had extravagant tastes and spent lavishly, was forced by the government to marry Princess Caroline of Brunswick and beget an hair in exchange for his debts being paid off. The marriage was a disaster though and Prinny continued to see Maria. When he died he wore a miniature of her. He was buried with it.

Further reading:
Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire by Amanda Foreman
Mrs.Fitzherbert: A Biography
Maria Fitzherbert: The Secret Wife of George IV

19th Century Remedies For Contagious Fevers


In the early part of the nineteenth century, contagious fevers were one of the most common causes of death. Because of poor hygienic and environmental conditions, these diseases spread rapidly and there was only so little medicine and science could do at the time. But what did doctors prescribe to cure people and stop the dissemination of the illness? A medical authority in Edinburgh recommended the following remedies for contagious fevers:

1. As few persons as possible should be employed in attending upon the sick. The sphere of the action of contagion being in general very limited (perhaps to a few feet), a great deal of the risk of infection may be avoided by the attendants being aware of this circumstance, and therefore, though in the same apartment, taking care not to stand long very near to the sick person. They ought also to avoid breathing over the person that is ill, that they may not inhale the vapour arising from his body, and therefore should turn their backs to him as much as possible. When near him, a handkerchief moistened with vinegar may be kept to the nose and mouth; where there is a free circulation of air, they should stand to the windward. The infected should be approached as little as possible in the morning, as the contagion is then more concentrated, and then also absorption more readily takes place. Those who wait upon the sick, or have any intercourse with them, ought to undergo daily ablution with cold water.

2. A constant and free circulation of air should be kept up through the apartment by means of proper ventilation. The greatest attention to cleanliness in every respect ought to be observed. All superfluous furniture should be removed from the chamber of the sick, and likewise clothes, especially those which are woollen, as these are found to attract and retain contagious matter forcibly.

3. As nothing has been found so efficacious as fumigation by means of the vapour of nitrous acid, as recommended by Drs Johnstone and C Smyth, this should be constantly resorted to. The following is the method of practising it:- Take half an ounce of vitriolic acid, and put it into a cup, saucer, pipkin, or other earthen vessel, and warm it by placing it over a lamp, or in heated sand; then take one ounce of powdered nitre, and add a little of it from time to time to the warm acid: as it is added, red fumes will rise, which are to be diffused through the apartment by carrying the apparatus to different parts of it. Several such vessels may be employed and placed in various parts of the chamber, according to its size. One may suffice where the room is not very large. The process may be repeated several times a day. These fumes do not prove injurious, and are breathed with impunity by the sick and attendants, only occasioning at first a slight and temporary coughing. The instant any individual in a family is suspected to be attacked with fever, fumigation and ventilation ought immediately to be had recourse to, in order to prevent the propagation of the infection.

4. Clothes belonging to an infected person, or clothes or furniture suspected to be at all impregnated with any contagious matter, ought to be washed and fumigated before being used.


The author also expresses his opinion about amulets that were thought by some people to have healing properties..

As to the amulets worn by many individuals, containing camphor, &c. they can only be useful by inspiring confidence; but by inspiring a confidence beyond their merits, they may prevent the adoption of those means that are of real utility.

Further reading:
Repository of arts, literature, fashions &c, July 1817

Photo:
ancestryimages.com

Book Review: Bridget's Jones Diary by Helen Fielding


Synopsis:
"130 lbs. (how is it possible to put on 4 pounds overnight? Could flesh have somehow solidified becoming denser and heavier (repulsive, horrifying notion)); alcohol units 2 (excellent) cigarettes 21 (poor but will give up totally tomorrow); number of correct lottery numbers 2 (better, but nevertheless useless)..."
This laugh-out-loud chronicle charts a year in the life of Bridget Jones, a single girl on a permanent, doomed quest for self-improvement--in which she resolves to: visit the gym three times a week not merely to buy a sandwich, form a functional relationship with a responsible adult, and not fall for any of the following: misogynists, megalomaniacs, adulterers, workaholics, chauvinists or perverts. And learn to program the VCR.
Caught between her Singleton friends, who are all convinced they will end up dying alone and found three weeks later half-eaten by an Alsatian, and the Smug Marrieds, whose dinner parties offer ever-new opportunities for humiliation, Bridget struggles to keep her life on an even keel (or at least afloat). Through it all, she will have her readers helpless with laughter and shouting, "BRIDGET JONES IS ME!"


ALERT: The following review contains spoilers. If you don't want to know how the book ends, stop reading now (yes, that includes the summary too).

I'm not a big fan of chick-lit books (although these books are a nice, light read for when you travel as you don't really have to concentrate), but Bridget's Jones Diary by Helen Fielding is described as a defining books of this genre, which led me to believe it would be better than the rest. Boy, was I wrong! Yes, there are a couple of fun lines and the book is a quick read, but there is nothing else I like about it. It's not entertaining, it's not that funny and Bridget Jones is one of the most irritating and annoying characters I've ever come across!

Bridget Jones is a thirty-something year old woman who keeps a diary where she writes her hopes and dreams, thoughts and experiences, but also notes (in every entry!!) how much she weighs, how many cigarettes she smokes, how much alcohol she drinks and the number of lottery tickets she buys. Although she is by no means fat, she is obsessed about her appearance and losing weight, and is desperately seeking a man. In a nutshell, Bridget is a woman with serious self-esteem issues and probably an eating disorder too.

Normally I would feel sorry for someone like that but it was impossible for me to have any sympathy for her. Why? Because she does absolutely nothing to change and despite that, Mr Darcy, a good-looking, smart, sweet guy, still falls in love with her! How?! They met only a handful of times, and every time Bridget has managed to make a fool of herself and show what a superficial, shallow, vain and desperate for a man she is. I kept expecting a transformation from a superficial girl to a strong, smart woman like it happened to Elle Woods in Legally Blonde (a movie I love, by the way), who, after going to Harvard, realises that there are more important things in life than looks and men and by working hard, she becomes clever and successful while still retaining her love for pink and girly stuff (because a woman can be both pretty and smart). Bridget, instead, doesn't even attempt to improve herself, yet she gets the man she wants in the end.

The other characters aren't that much better. Just over-the top caricatures, while the storyline involving her mother and Julio is simply unbelievable. But that's not the only things that's unrealistic: the diary format is too. What woman would write every little mishaps that happens to her in her diary while she's getting ready to go out and is already late or is cooking? If she had written these things down at the end of the night/meal, it would have been more credible.

Summary:
Bridget's Jones Diary by Helen Fielding is a light but meaningless read. The protagonist is an annoying girl with no self-confidence, who obsesses about her appearance and is desperate to find a boyfriend and for some reason, manages to get the man she wants without even attempting to improve herself. The other characters are just caricatures and the storyline involving her mother just isn't credible. I'm sure fans of chick-lit books will enjoy it anyway but I really couldn't get into it and instead than having me in stitches, this book left me feeling annoyed and frustrated.

Available at: Amazon.com and Barnes & Nobles

Rating: 1/5

Mark Smeaton


Out of the five men accused of adultery with Queen Anne, Mark Smeaton was the only one to confess. In addition, unlike the other men, he was of humble origins and hadn't been a member of the Boleyn faction for very long before its fall. He wasn't English either. The son of a carpenter, he was born in the Low Countries and probably changed his name from de Smeat or de Smeadt to Smeaton once he arrived in England. A handsome young man, Mark was a talented musician (he played the virginals, the lute and the portable organ) who could also dance and sing well.

These abilities were rated very highly at Henry VIII's court and brought Smeaton to the attention of Cardinal Wolsey who recruited him for his choir. After the Cardinal's fall, he was transferred to the Chapelle Royal and later promoted to to the position of Groom of the Privy Chamber (1529). Mark was a favourite of the King's: Henry VIII supported him financially, provided him with smart clothes and gave him special rewards at Christmas and Easter. In addition, it seems that Smeaton was also allowed to keep horses at court and even had servants wearing his livery. Yet, his position at court was still quite low as he was addressed simply as Mark.

It was Lord Rochford, Anne's brother, who befriended Mark and introduced him into the Boleyn's circle. We know they were friends because in a manuscript of poems, “Les Lamentations de Matheolus” and “Le Livre de Leesce” by Jean Lefevre, appear inscriptions written by both men: “This book is mine. George Boleyn 1526″ was written by Rochford above the text, while on the bottom we find Smeaton's signature: “A moy [moi], M. Marc Sn”. This leads us to think that it was Rochford who gave the manuscript to Smeaton. Warnicke also suggestes that the two men were actually lovers, but there is simply no evidence (at least to the best of my knowledge) to support this theory. What is certain though is that Rochford was a lover and patron of the arts which is probably why the two men became close.

However, we don't really know why Thomas Cromwell decided to arrest him. According to a story that appeared in the "Spanish Chronicle" (which is not a very reliable source though) Smeaton had an altercation with Henry Percy. Percy then wrote to Cromwell about Smeaton being able to afford to buy clothes and liveries for his servants, implying the money came from the Queen in exchange for sexual favours. Or maybe it was because of his humble origins: the fact that the Queen could commit adultery with anyone, but especially with someone so beneath her rank like Smeaton, was deeply shocking. Very few people could understand that which made Anne look even worse. And being a favorite of the King's, he would have felt even more deeply hurt by their betrayal.

Whatever the reason, Smeaton was arrested on 30th April and brought to Cromwell's house in Stepney. We don't know what exactly happened there. Some sources say he was tortured but Weir thinks it unlikely that he was racked as he didn't have to be carried to his execution. It may just be that he was only put under enormous psychological pressure to confess or may have been promised a pardon or even a more merciful death instead than being hung, drawn and quartered (the usual traitor's punishment) if he admitted to adultery with the Queen. After 24 hours he confessed and the next day was carried to the Tower of London.

Because of his confession, he was obviously found guilty. However, once again the dates when the two alleged lovers were supposed to have consummated their affair were chosen at random and don't make sense as Anne was either pregnant, recoveing from childbirth or miscarriage or with the King. Still, Smeaton never retracted his confession. Maybe he was scared that if he did, his sentence, already commuted to beheading, would be changed back to a traitor's death? On 17th May 1536 Smeaton, together with Norris, Brereton, Rochford and Weston, was led onto the scaffold and executed.

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

Fashions For July 1831

I have always been fascinated by the beautiful gowns wealthy women used to wear in the past. They are just so stunning (and quite uncomfortable too)! I thought it would be nice to share some of these dresses with you all and see how styles changed throughout the years. Let's start by having a look at what well-dressed women would have worn in 1831. I have to admit I'm not a huge fan of the dress style of this period. The sleeves are just too huge, which cheapen the dresses a bit imo, but the colors of the gowns and the head-wear are simply beautiful. The ball gown is also very pretty, love the bouquets of flowers that decorate it. Without further ado, here are the prints and descriptions:


DINNER DRESS

A dress composed of gros de Chine; the colour, a new and singularly beautiful shade of yellow. The corsage is plain behind, and disposed in crossed drapery in front; it is cut something higher than usual, and displays very little of the chemisette, which is of blond lace. Beret sleeves of moderate width, and very short, with long sleeves, a la Reine, over them, composed of white gaze de Soie, and terminated by a ruche of blond net. The head-dress is a toque composed of very dark violet crape. A bouquet of white ostrich feathers, with a knot of ribbon at its base, is placed under the brim on the left side, and two larger feathers attached to the right side of the crown droop to the left over the brim. The jewellery should be of burnished gold.

BALL DRESS

A dress of white satin striped gauze, over a white gros de Naples slip. Corsage a la Grecque, with beret sleeves, surmounted by a double fall of blond lace disposed en mancheron. The skirt is trimmed with a deep flounce of blond lace, above which is a trimming of plain gauze arranged in bouillons, by bouquets of roses and blue-bells, which are attached to the dress by knots of white gauze ribbon. A wreath of these flowers ascends from a bouquet on each side of the front of the skirt to the waist, en tablier. The hair is dressed in full curls on the forehead, and in bows of moderate height on the summit of the head. A chaperon of roses and blue-bells surrounds the base of the bows. Necklace and ear-rings pearls.


CARRIAGE DRESS

A dress composed of gros d'eté. striped in straw-colour, rose-colour, and blue, and the straw-coloured stripes lightly figured. The corsage is cut low and square, and finished round the lower part of the bust with a trimming of the same material, en pelerine. Long sleeves, nearly, but not quite, tight at the lower part, and enormously wide from the elbow to the shoulder. The trimming of the skirt consists of six blue gros de Naples rouleaux. Bonnet of straw-coloured crape; the crown is trimmed with rose-coloured gauze ribbons, and a bouquet of exotics. Knots of rose-coloured gauze ribbons adorn the inside of the brim. The scarf is China crape.

WALKING DRESS

A redingote of gros de Naples. The colour is a reddish fawn. Corsage uni, finished by a pelerine, en coeur, trimmed in a very novel manner with pattes of the same material. The sleeve sits close to the arm from the elbow to the wrist; the tipper part is of the usual size. Bonnet of rice straw, trimmed inside of the brim with coques of lilac gauze ribbon, and a light sprig of fancy flowers. A large but light bouquet of fancy flowers, and full noeuds of gauze ribbon, adorn the crown. The collerette is of tulle.

What do you think of these dresses? Do you love them? Hate them?

Further reading:
La Belle Assemblée, July 1831

Historical Reads: Weddings In The Edwardian Era


Evangeline, author of the Edwardian Promenade website, has written an interesting article on weddings in the Edwardian era. To quote:

The most important parts of the wedding were the bride’s gown and trousseau. The traditional attire for a bride was a gown of soft, rich cream-white satin, trimmed simply or elaborately with lace, a wreath of orange-blossoms, and a veil of lace or tulle. The skirt had a train, and except at an evening wedding, waists cut open, or low at the neck, or with short or elbow sleeves (unless the arms were covered with long gloves) were not approved for brides. A wedding gown was supposed to be sumptuous and of the most costly materials, for the bride was privileged to wear her wedding down for six months after her marriage at functions requiring full dress. The train averaged eighty inches in length, though very tall brides wore ninety-five inch trains.

The actual service was an equally lavish affair: the bride was driven to the church with her father, where relatives and guests awaited. Once the bride alighted from the carriage, the bridesmaids and ushers preceded her, two by two, as her father escorted her down the aisle. As the bridesmaids and ushers reached the lowest altar step, they moved alternately left and right, leaving space for the bridal pair. When the bride reached the lowest step, the groom took her by her right hand and conducted her to the altar where they both kneeled on an elaborate kneeling cushion. Formerly, brides removed the whole glove for the groom to place the ring on her finger, but by the turn of the century, gloves were made with a removable left ring-finger, to facilitate easy access. After the ceremony, the bride and groom marched down the aisle to a choir and strewn rose petals and were immediately driven home.

To read the entire article, click here.

An 18th Century Affair: Lady Derby And The Duke Of Dorset


Although in the 18th century it was common for a married woman to have an affair, it was only tolerated as long as she had already provided her husband with a heir and a spare and behaved with discretion. This wasn't the case with Lady Derby. Born Elizabeth Hamilton, she was the daughter of James Hamilton, 6th Duke of Hamilton and Elizabeth Gunning, Baroness Hamilton of Hameldon. In 1774, she married Edward Smith-Stanley, 12th Earl of Derby. The couple went on to have three children, but the marriage wasn't a happy one.

Just a few years later, Elizabeth fell for John Frederick Sackville, 3rd Duke of Dorset, a known womanizer. In December 1778, she left her husband's house, abandoning not only her spouse but also their children and all her belongings and moved in with her lover. This created a huge scandal at the time as the Countess had broken the rules of society which considered marriage sacred. As Lady Mary Coke said,"she had offended against the laws of man and God". Soon rumours started to circulate: there were those who thought Lady Derby was pregnant, others that the Duke of Dorset was tired of her and was already in love with someone else and already got her new lover pregnant, while it seemed that Elizabeth's brother, the Duke of Hamilton, was trying to convince the Duke of Dorset to sign a document agreeing to marry the countess as soon as her divorce came through.


Two months later, lady Derby was keeping quiet and out of the way in the country. Lots of members of good society shunned Lady Derby, but she still continued to receive a few visits from a few friends such as Lady Carlisle and Lady Jersey. Everyone though was waiting to see whether the Queen of the Ton, Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, would visit the unfortunate Lady Derby or not. Georgiana thought that cutting all ties with Lady Derby was hypocritical. She wrote to her mother: "I have the greatest horror of her crime, I can not nor do not try to excuse her. But her conduct has been long imprudent, and yet, I have sup'd at her house, and I have enter'd with her into any scheme of amusement, etc., and now it does seem shocking to me, that at the time this poor creature is in distress, that at the time all her grandeur is crush'd around her, I should entirely abandon her, as if I said, I know you was imprudent formerly, but then you had a gay house and great suppers and so I came to you but now that you have nothing of all this, I will avoid you".

Her parents, though, forbade her to have anything to do with Lady Derby ever again. If she refused, they would never allow her beloved sister Harriet to visit her at Devonshire House or Chatsworth. Georgiana gave in. But what about Lord Derby? How did he react to his wife's abandonment? In April, he finally announced he wasn't going to divorce her. This was a huge blow to the Countess. A divorce would have left her free to marry the Duke of Dorset and regain her position in society. Now, she was left separated, disgraced and without protection. This took her strain on her relationship with the Duke of Dorset and they soon split up. A couple of years later, she left for Italy with a certain Lord Jocelyn. The Duke of Dorset soon forgot about her. His reputation hadn't suffered at all and he even remained friends with Lord Derby!

Further reading:
Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire by Amanda Foreman