Happy New Year Everyone!

2012 is almost over and a new year is about to start. I want to take this opportunity to thank all of you for reading this blog, for your comments and your emails.. Your support is very appreciated, thank you!

I wish you and your families a wonderful 2013, filled with joy and happiness! May all your wishes come true!

Christmas In Italy

A few days ago, one of my readers, Elisa, asked me to write a post about Christmas traditions in Italy. This is not as easy as it seems because every Italian region has its own Christmas customs, many of which I've only briefly heard about but never personally experienced. So here, I will only talk about those few traditions that are common to pretty much the entire country, and those that my family follows. In Italy, the Christmas season begins on December 24 (Christmas Eve) and ends on January 6 (Epiphany), and many of its customs are dictated by and find their origin in the Catholic Religion.

One of the main Christmas decorations, which can be found in most houses, pretty much every church and sometimes, but always less often sadly, in schools and squares, is the presepe, which is simply a representation of the Nativity scene. It can be really small, with only little statues of Mary, Joseph, Jesus (which is usually placed in his manger on 25th December), a donkey and an ox, or, if you have more space, can also include statues of the angels, the shepherds and their sheep, and all the other inhabitants of Bethlehem and the surrounding regions on their way to pay homage to the newborn baby. On 6th January, the statues of the Magi, who have finally arrived with their gifts, are also added. Some of the decorations for the presepe can also be handmade. This can be quite fun, especially for children. I remember that when I was little, me and my sister would go out in the garden to pick up musk, grass and pebbles to make the earth and roads, then we would get some aluminium foil and shape it like a river, and finally we'd colour a big piece of paper blue and draw some stars upon it to make the sky. This tradition is very old. San Francis of Assis is credited with having realised the first live presepe, using real people, in 1223. Soon, this custom spread all over the country and is still very popular nowadays, especially at Naples, where the inhabitants craft beautiful, and very detailed, statues for it that are really little works of art.

Christmas Tree
The other most popular decoration is the Christmas tree, which is embellished with tinsels, balls, and other little decorations, while on the top is usually placed a star. This tradition originated in Germany and became popular in Italy only at the end of the 19th century, when Queen Margherita of Savoy introduced it at the Quirinale Palace. The tree is usually decorated on 8th December, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception and put away on 6th January, the Epiphany. I prefer to put it away the next day though, as I love to see all the Christmas decorations around the house and want to make that festive atmosphere they create last a little bit longer.

Most families gather together on Christmas Eve for the cenone (it means big dinner), which involves several fish courses. Catholics can't eat meat on Christmas Eve, a custom that dates back to the Roman Catholic tradition of abstinence, which forbade the consumption of meat and milk on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, Lent and on the eve of specific holy days, such as Christmas. Meat is instead allowed on Christmas Day. The most popular dishes for the occasion are stuffed turkey, lamb and cappelletti (they're similar to tortellini and stuffed with pork and Parmesan cheese) in broth. There are several delicious Christmas desserts too. My favourite is Panettone, which is a cake filled with candied fruit and raisins (some can contain only chocolate, but they're not very tasty, oddly). Then there's Pandoro, which is a Panettone without fruits and raisins, but dusted with sugar on top; Torrone, also known as Nougat, which is made up of honey, egg whites and toasted nuts; and Panforte, a gingerbread with hazelnuts, honey and almonds. Families and friends also reunite on New Year's Eve for another cenone. Typical dishes include the zampone (the skin of the lower pig leg filled with ground pork meat and rind mixed with spices), cotechino (a large size sausage filled with pretty much the same type of mixture) and lentils.

Santa Claus
Santa Claus (called Babbo Natale in Italy) doesn't really need any introduction. He brings gifts to children all over the world, Italy included. Although many foreigners believe that it's the Befana (more on her in a bit) that brings presents to people and that thus presents here are exchanged on 6th January, this is not exactly true. It may have been true once, and it may still be true in some parts of the country, but these days children believe that it's Santa Claus that brings presents and it's to him they write letters asking for toys or anything else they wish (Befana brings something extra as we'll see in a while though). The presents are opened on Christmas morning, after they've spent a sleepless night well tucked-up in their beds, full of the excitement for what they are gonna find under the Christmas tree. And the next morning, they wake up their parents really early to open them. Some people, however, prefer to swap presents on Christmas Eve.

The Befana is a kind of old witch who flies on a broom and, on 6th January, brings children sweet and toys if they've been good or charcoal (these days she actually brings carbone dolce, a rock candy that looks like coal) if they've been bad. According to the legend, the Three Wise Men stopped at her hut to ask directions on their way to Bethlehem and invited her to join them, but she refused. Later, a shepherd asked her the same thing and she said no again. That evening, Befana saw a great light in the skies and thought that she should have gone with the Three Wise Mean after all. So, she gathered some toys that had belonged to her own baby, who had sadly died, and went out to look for Baby Jesus, but she wasn't able to find him. Every year, she keeps looking for him, and each year she can't find him. So she leaves her presents (or charcoal) to the children of Italy. Some people also believe that Befana, who lives at the South Pole, is Santa Claus' wife and that she brings gifts to those children who, for lack of time, her husband hasn't been able to reach. In some parts of Italy, Santa Lucia or Baby Jesus are the ones who bring presents to children instead than Santa Claus or the Befana. However, in my neck of the woods, we open Christmas gifts (brought by Santa) on Christmas Day and receive sweets (or charcoal) and only sometimes toys on the Epiphany.

I hope you enjoyed this post. How is Christmas celebrated in your country?

Best Posts Of 2012

Hello everyone,

as 2012 is drawing to a close, I thought it'd be fun to take a trip down memory lane and highlight some of the best posts of the year. Here we go:

Marie Therese Of France: a series of posts about the life of the sole surviving child of King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette. She led a long extraordinary life full of tragedies, against which she bore up with courage and dignity.

Edith Cavell: Edith Cavell was a British nurse who, during World War I, helped allied soldiers escape from German-occupied Belgium. Because of this, she was arrested and executed.

The Execution Of Thomas De Mahy, Marquis De Favras: a fervent royalist, the Marquis De Favras was condemned to death for trying to save the royal family from the horrors of the French Revolution.

The Escape Of Charles II: after the Battle of Worchester, Charles II was a wanted man. Despite his tallness, which should have made him easy to spot, he managed to make an extraordinary escape and flee the country.

Brunhilda Of Austrasia: Brunhilda and her sister Galswintha married two brothers. But while Brunhilda's marriage was happy, Galswintha's was a disaster. She was killed by her husband and his mistress. Brunhilda decided to get revenge on them.

Captivity At the Tuileries: an extract from "Marie Antoinette at the Tuileries, 1789-1791" by Imbert de Saint-Amand, describing how closely guarded the French royal family was when imprisoned at the Tuleries.

Queen Elizabeth's War Work: during World War I, the Queen of the Belgians did everything she could to help her people. She visited the hospitals, took care of the wounded soldiers, consoled their families, and much more. And she rarely disclosed her identity to those she helped.

Madame Tallien: Madame Tallien is one of the most famous social figures of the Revolutionary and Empire periods. She was thrown in prison, where she met the future Empress Josephine, for being an aristocratic; caught the eye of Tallien, whom she used to save other Revolutionary prisoners; dictated the fashions of her time; and had, in the words of Napoleon, "two or three husbands and children with all the world".

Strafford's rise, fall and execution: Charles I's most able adviser became a scapegoat for Parliament's many grievances against the Church and State. He was condemned to death and executed. Even the King couldn't save him.

Catherine De Valois: after her husband, Henry V of England, died, Catherine decided to follow her heart and marry Owen Tudor. It's from her that the Tudor dynasty descended.

The Execution Of The Agasse Brothers: when the Agasse brothers were condemned to death for forgery, the French Revolutionaries, who had just passed a law decreeing that no blame nor prejudice should be attached to any friends or family members of any offender, went to great lengths to show their "friendship" to the Agasse family.

An Englishwoman In Germany During World War I: a few extracts taken from the journal of Lady Harriet Julia Jephson, an Englishwoman living in Germany when World War I broke out. Here, she related what living in a country that suddenly became hostile to foreigners meant and how difficult it was for them to go back home.

I hope you've enjoyed these posts!

Book Review: Madame De Lamballe by Georges Bertin

The Princess De Lamballe, a close friend of Marie Antoinette, was one of the most famous victims of the French Revolution. Because of it, I've always found it odd that there aren't many biographies written about this tragic and fascinating figure. So, when I've found "Madame De Lamballe" by Georges Bertin, which is available for free online, I've eagerly download and devoured it.

What an interesting read it was! Born Maria Luisa of Savoy, she was married at a very young age to Louis Alexandre de Bourbon, Prince de Lamballe, the heir to the greatest fortune in France, but soon became a widow. The Princess, who never remarried, remained in France, where she met and became close friends with the young Dauphine, and later Queen, Marie Antoinette. The Queen would eventually become even closer to the Duchess De Polignac, but yet the two women remained good friends.

And when the Queen needed her, Madame De Lamballe was always there. She remained loyal to Marie Antoinette till the very end. When the French Revolution broke out she was sent to prison and during the September massacres, after refusing to "swear hatred to the King and the Queen and to the monarchy", she was brutally murdered. Her head was then cut off and carried on a spike all the way to the Temple so the Queen could see it.

To tell her story, her relationship with her family and the Queen, Bertin uses mostly unpublished documents and articles taken from the newspapers of the day. The biography is thus full of interesting but little-known anecdotes about the Princess. However, the portrayal of the Princess that comes out of the book is not unbiased. Bertin justly stresses that Madame De Lamballe wasn't the frivolous beauty many think she was, but was intelligent, well-educated, "enlightened", devoted to those she loved and did many charitable deeds.

But the author is a bit too enamoured with the Princess to fairly portray her faults. He seems to blame the Princess' loss of favour with the Queen mostly, but not solely, on the Duchess the Polignac, who apparently schemed to destroy her rival. He also often complains about the Duchess using her influence to obtain privileges, titles and money for her family and friends. While it is true that the Polignacs benefited greatly from Gabrielle's friendship with the Queen, Madame De Lamballe often asked favours of Marie Antoinette as well, which however weren't always granted.

Bertin says that all these requests were another of the reasons why Marie Antoinette grew tired of the Princess but if so, shouldn't the Queen have grown tired of the Duchess De Polignac as well? In my opinion, the author is trying too hard to justify Marie Antoinette's preference for the Duchess over the Princess. The reason is probably much more simple. We all get along with and like some people better than others and I think Marie Antoinette simply found herself more at ease with the frivolous Gabrielle than the intellectual Lamballe.

Despite these minor flaws, the biography is still a fascinating read. It was written in 1901 so the style is somewhat archaic and convoluted but by no means difficult to follow. On the contrary, it flows easily and is very engaging and captivating. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who wants to find out more about this tragic princess.

Madame De Lamballe by Georges Bertin is a must read for everyone interested in this tragic historical figure. Engaging and captivating, the biography, which uses mostly primary sources, is full of fascinating and little-known tidbits about the Princess. However, the author is a bit too biased towards his subject and the style is somewhat archaic.

Available at: archives.org

Rating: 4/5

Elizabeth Farren

Elizabeth Farren, Countess of Derby, was one of the most famous actresses of her time. Born in Cork around 1759, she was the daughter of George Farren, a surgeon and apothecary turned into actor. He was also an alcoholic who squandered all his money on drinking and so, after his premature death, his bankrupted widow decided to go back to her family, who resided at Liverpool. Here, she became an actress to support her family.

Her daughter Elizabeth soon followed her on the stage. Although she was very young, she was also very talented and she became a favourite with the public. After touring the provinces, in 1777 Elizabeth debuted in London, where she received a favourable, but not too enthusiastic, reception. But her talents were fully appreciated when, the next year, she played at the Drury Lane Theatre.

When Mrs Abington left that theatre in 1782, Elizabeth took her place, playing the female leads. She played Juliet, Hermione, Lady Fanciful, Lady Teazle (a characters in Sheridan's School of Scandal based upon the Duchess of Devonshire) and other aristocratic ladies. A slender girl with blue eyes and a lovely smile, Elizabeth also had refined manners. These traits, and her talent, gained her many admirers, among whom were Charles James Fox and Edward Smith-Stanley, 12th Earl Of Derby.

Thanks to Lord Derby, the actress obtained the patronage of the Duke of Richmond and presided over a series of private performances at his house in Whitehall. Lord Derby also introduced Elizabeth to many of his female friends. The Earl, who was separated from his wife, fell in love with Elizabeth. And when the Countess died in 1797, the Earl wasted no time in making a honest woman out of Elizabeth. Two months later, they were married.

A few days before the ceremony, on 8th April, Elizabeth appeared on the stage for the last time. Her final performance of Lady Teazle attracted a large audience and, at the end of it, she spoke a few words of farewell before bursting into tears. As a couple, the Earl and his new Countess also attracted gossip and ridicule, with Elizabeth often being portrayed as a gold-digger in satirical prints. Edward and Elizabeth had three children together. Elizabeth died on 23rd April 1829 at Knowsley Park in Lancashire.

Further reading:
Library Ireland

Merry Christmas Everyone!

I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas and enjoy the holidays with your families!

Fashions For Winter 1814

Hello everyone,

I hope you like my fashion posts because today I have more pretty pictures of clothes to show you. These were drawn in 1814. I love the huge miffs women used to keep their hands warm (I could so use one right now!), and the evening dress is really nice, but I'm not sure how I feel about the morning dress. It looks like a nightgown, doesn't it? Let me know what you think of these outfits!


A Plain cambric robe, with long gathered sleeve and high arched collar, trimmed with net lace or muslin. A Spanish lappelled coat of fine orange Merino cloth; full epaulette ornaments on the shoulders: the whole lined throughout with white sarsnet, and trimmed with a raised border of white velvet or swansdown. A small, provincial bonnet of the same material as the coat, ornamented with a full curled ostrich feather. White spotted ermine or Chinchilli muff. Gloves grey or light blue kid. Half-boots of orange-coloured jean, or velvet.


A round robe of plain jaconot muslin, with spencer bodice, and rounded falling collar, edged with lace or needle-work; the same ornamenting the bottom of the dress. A loose robe pelisse of Indian muslin, thrown quite open in front, trimmed entirely round with a full gathered border of muslin or lace; the back confined at the bottom with a lemon - coloured ribband, brought round the waist, and tied in bows and ends in front. The Flushing mob cap, composed entirely of lace, ornamented with lemon-coloured ribband, which also confines it under the chin. A small rosary and cross of amber, twisted round the wrist, and a broach of the same confining the dress at the throat. Slippers and gloves of lemon-coloured kid.


A White crape petticoat, worn over gossamer satin, ornamented at the feet with rows of puckered net, with a centre border of blue satin, or velvet, in puffs. A bodice of blue satin, with short full sleeves,: and cuffs to correspond with the bottom of the dress. A full puckered border of net, or crape, round the bosom. Stomacher and belt of white satin, with pearl or diamond clasp. Hair in dishevelled curls, divided in front of the forehead, and ornamented with clusters of: small variegated flowers; a large transparent Mechlin veil, thrown occasionally over the head, shading the bosom in front, and falling in graceful drapery beneath. Earrings, necklace, and bracelets of Oriental pearl, or white, cornelian. Slippers of white satin, with blue rosettes. White kid gloves; and fan of spangled crape and blue foil.


A round high robe, with long full sleeves, of fine cambric; a high, collar, and deep border of needlework round the bottom. A Russian mantle of pale salmon-coloured cloth, with spencer bodice, lined throughout with white sarsnet, and ornamented with a border of morone velvet and white silk cord; the spencer seamed to correspond, and the mantle confined in front of the bosom with a broach. A small helmet bonnet, composed of the same material as the mantle, lined with morone velvet,and edged with white silk cord, ornamented with a double curled ostrich - feather. Half-boots of pale salmon-coloured kid, edged and laced with morone cord. Gloves of lemon-coloured kid.

Further reading:
The Repository of Arts, Literature, Commerce, Manufactures, Fashions and Politics, 1814

Historical Reads: Queen Mary's Dolls' House

Photo source: The Royal Collection

Author Melanie Clegg describes Queen Mary's Dolls' House and how it was created:

Queen Mary’s dolls’ house was dreamt up by her childhood friend and cousin of her husband, Princess Marie Louise of Schleswig-Holstein, the youngest daughter of Princess Helena and grand-daughter of Queen Victoria. After the annulment of her marriage, Marie Louise had returned to her family at Cumberland Lodge in Windsor Great Park and was in the custom of spending a great deal of time with George V and Queen Mary. It was during one of these visits, at Easter 1921, that she decided to commission a wonderful dolls’ house as a present for Queen Mary, who had an absolute passion for miniature objects.

Being of an artistic and literary bent, Marie Louise immediately set to work floating the idea around her circle of arty friends, many of whom were amongst the best known artists of the age but her biggest coup was getting the wonderful architect Sir Edwin Lutyens on board after approaching him with her idea at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. Luckily for us all, Lutyens was not at all stuffy and was instantly enraptured by the idea which appealed immensely to his own childlike sense of fun (exemplified by his making the banisters of the crypt stairs at his never to be completed Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King suitable for the choirboys to slide down them).

Lutyens immediately and with great enthusiasm set to work drawing up plans for what was to be an elegant, harmonious and yet still very grand miniature house. He was aided in this by his friends, most notably the celebrated gardener Miss Gertrude Jekyll, who designed the small garden for the house, which a teeny birds nest, birds, a snail and colourful butterflies. The plans were also given an immense boost when Sir Herbert Morgan, President of the Society of Industrial Artists got involved, seeing in the dolls’ house an opportunity to show case British craftsmanship at the upcoming British Empire Exhibition at Wembley Park in 1924. His involvement ensured an even wider amount of external help and interest in the scheme and eventually a Committee was formed to formally oversee the project with Princess Marie Louise taking on the rôle of intermediary between the committee and Queen Mary, who was completely thrilled and excited by the whole thing.

The house took around three years to put together, with the majority of its contents being custom made to a one inch to a foot scale. A team of around 1,500 craftsmen and artists worked on the building with most of the furnishings copied or at least inspired by originals in the royal collections and those at stately homes like Knole and Harewood House as well as scaled down copies of the royal dining services, paintings in the royal collections and so on. Everything was done with almost military precision as artists worked on the intricate ceiling designs, others carefully laid the marble, mother of pearl and wooden parquet floors and Lady Jekyll, Gertrude Jekyll’s sister-in-law, took charge of stocking up the miniature kitchen and larders with tiny provisions provided by companies like Frys, Tiptree jam and McVitie.

To read the entire post, click here.

The London Season

If you have ever read a historical novel set in 17th, 18th or 19th century England, you've probably heard of the London Season. The aristocracy considered it so important that for them the year revolved around it. But what was this Season? And when did it take place?

The London Season did not fall between two specific and set dates, but coincided with the Parliamentary session, which usually started sometime after Christmas (depending on when the haunting season came to a close in the country), and ended in July, when it adjourned for the summer. During that time, anyone who was anyone rushed to London to see and be seen, entertain and be entertained. And of courses, women rushed to their seamstress and milliners to buy new gown, hats, gloves, shoes and any other piece of attire they could think of to show off during the season!

In the morning, house calls were made, while in the evenings there was a plethora of parties, dinners, balls, musicales, operas, plays, and soirees to attend. And of course during the day, you could also visit the beautiful sights of London, ride in Hype Park or go to see a horse race.. Then like now, there were many things to do in such a big city like London.

But the Season wasn't all fun and play. Pretty much all those who sat in Parliament attended it so politics were discussed, deals made and alliances forged. The Season was also a marriage market. All those parties and events were the perfect occasion to introduce young ladies to suitable potential husbands. Debutante balls were held to introduce the daughters of the nobility and the gentry into society. Young women were presented at court too. The Season's popularity started to decline after the First World War, when many aristocratic families gave up their London mansions.

Further reading:
Edwardian Promenade

Princess De Lamballe's Last Possessions

In his book, Madame De Lamballe, George Bertin shares the official report of what was found in the clothes of the just murdered Princess:

On the 3rd of September, in the year 1792, the fourth year of Liberty and Equality, there appeared before the Permanent Committee of the district of the Quinze-Vingts Sieurs Jacques Charles Hervelin, drummer of the gunners of the district of the Halles, former battalion of Saint Jacques de la Boucherie, dwelling number 3 Rue de la Savonnerie, opposite the little street of Avignon au Cadran Bleu; Jean Gabriel Quervelle, cabinet-maker, at the corner of the Rue du Fauxbourg Saint-Antoine and the Rue Saint Nicolas, Maison a Bouneau; Antoine Pouquet, gunner of the district of Montreuil, number 25 Rue de Charonne, at Sieur Vicq'sj and Pierre Ferrie, dealer in fancy goods, number 39 Rue Popincourt. These men were bearers of the headless body of the ci-devant Princesse de Lamballe, who had just been killed at the Hotel de la Force, and whose head was carried by others on a pike through the principal streets. They stated that in her clothes they had found the following articles—namely, a small volume bound in red morocco with gilt edges, entitled ' Imitation de J.-C; a red morocco portfolio; a case containing eighteen national assignats ' of five livres each; a gold ring with a bezel of changeable blue stone, in which was some blond hair tied in a love-knot with these words above it: ' Whitened through misery '; an English bulb; a small ivory pencil-holder containing a gold pen with two small gold rings; a small two-bladed knife, the handle of tortoise-shell and silver; a corkscrew of English steel; a small pair of pincers of the same metal; a small card attached to a vignette bearing undecipherable words; a bit of paper on which was written a laundry list; two small glass flasks used for inkstands, with gold tops, and some sticks of different colored sealing-wax; a sort of double-faced image, on one side representing a bleeding heart surrounded with thorns and pierced by a dagger, with these words below: ' Cor Jesu, salva nos, perimur,' on the other a bleeding heart with a fleur-de-lis above, and below the words: ' Cor Mariae unitum cordi Christi'; a medallion on light blue cloth, on which was painted a bleeding heart pierced by a dagger, embroidered in blue silk. These articles were verified by us in the presence of the above-named and the undersigned to whom we gave them all, in order that they might be laid before the National Assembly. This the undersigned promised and swore should be done. All this having been arranged they gave us a written receipt and signed with us, commissioners.
Caumont, Borie, Savard, Commissioners. Renet, Clerk of the Secretary.

Further reading:
Madame De Lamballe by Georges Bertin

Vintage Books, Vol.3

Hello everyone,

today I want to share with you some more interesting books written in the days of yore which, despite having been largely forgotten, are still very informative and enjoyable:

Memoirs Of The Life Of John Law Of Lauriston: including a detailed account of the rise, progress and termination of the Missisippi system by John Philip Wood
The story of this Scottish economist is truly extraordinary. Rake, gambler and founder of modern finance, Law was appointed Controller General of Finances of France under King Louis XV. Although his scheme to solve the financial crisis seemed at first to succeed and enrich people, in the end it just bankrupted the nation, forcing him to flee. Some of the economic passages in the book aren't too easy to understand, and the archaic language used only makes things worse, but it is still well-worth a read for those who want to know more about this man and the Mississipi system he created.
Available at: archive.org

Popular Rhymes and Nursery Tales by James Orchard Halliwell-Phillipps
Curious to find out with popular rhymes and nursery tales children were entertained with in the nineteenth century? Then this book is for you. It features plenty of tales and rhymes divided by sections such as Game Rhymes, Riddle Rhymes, Alphabet Rhymes, Nursery Songs and many more. The book is also full of notes to explain how some of these games were played, how they originated and many more interesting tidbits. A very entertaining and enjoyable read.
Available at: Project Gutenberg

Memoir Of Queen Adelaide by Dr John Dorian
A short memoir about one of the less remembered Queens of England, Adelaide of Saxe Meiningen, consort of King William IV. I believe this Queen has been so neglected because her life wasn't particularly eventful and she didn't make much of a mark while on the throne. She led a simple, parsimonious, some may say boring, life. She was also very religious, modest and did many charitable deeds. She was dedicated to her husband and improved his coarse manners, but the couple had no surviving children together. Very beloved by the people, she was however hated by the reformers for being a Tory supporter. If you want to know more about her, read this memoir. It's a lovely way to spend an afternoon.
Available at: Project Gutenberg

Six Years In The Prisons Of England by A Merchant - Anonymous
Written by an anonymous merchant who ended up in prison for committing a crime in order to save his business. His book gives us an interesting insight into what life was like in Victorian prisons, where all convicts were assembled together, regardless of what crimes they had committed. The author describes the interactions among all these different criminals, their daily life, the work they had to do and just any aspects of prison life. He also had to spend some time in the hospital prison where the doctors, suspicious of prisoners faking illnesses to gain some small privilege, treated him so badly that his leg had to be amputated. The author also offers some suggestions on how prison life could be improved and explains how difficult it was for an ex-convict to lead a honest life. A thought-provoking, highly interesting read I recommend to everyone.
Available at: Project Gutenberg

History Of The Guillotine. Revised from the "Quaterly Review" by John Wilson Croker
A short book about the history of the Guillotine. Its discusses when and how it was created, how and why the French Revolutionaries decided to use it, who the first victim was, and lots more interesting tidbits. The book also contains short accounts of the deaths of some of the most famous victims of the guillotine, such as Louis XVI, his wife Marie Antoinette and his sister Madame Elizabeth. At the end, there is some information on the executioner Sanson and his family, plus an account written by Sanson about Louis XVI's behaviour on the scaffold. A must read for anyone interested in the French Revolution.
Available at: archive.org

Have you read these books or are you planning to?

Margaret Beaufort's Advice To Catherine Of Aragon

Just before Catherine of Aragon married Arthur, the heir to the English throne, his grandmother Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond, who was Queen Mother in all but name, sent her a series of instructions about life at the English court. Antonia Fraser remembers a couple of them in her book, The Six Wives Of Henry VIII:

Catherine should attempt to learn French by speaking it with her French-educated sister-in-law, the Archduchess Margaret, in order to be able to converse in that language when she came to England.

The next request was for Catherine to accustom herself to drink wine. ‘The water of England’, wrote Elizabeth of York sadly, ‘is not drinkable, and even if it were, the climate would not allow the drinking of it'.

Further reading:
The Wives Of Henry VIII by Antonia Fraser

Historical Reads: On The Origins Of "Let Them Eat Cake"

Over at The "Treasure For Your Pleasure" blog, Anne Amber discusses the origin of "Let Them Eat Cake", the catchphrase wrongly associated with the tragic queen Marie Antoinette. To quote:

Erich Kaestner’s books were translated into numerous languages, although I was unable to find out of this particular book was translated into English, and it is possible that by including the story in his book, Kaestner helped to cement the connection between Marie Antoinette and “Let them eat cake!” in the eyes of readers and eventually, in popular culture. I hesitate to say that Kaestner was the catalyst of the cemented connection between Marie Antoinette and “Let them eat cake,” … however, most of the early newspaper records which connect Marie Antoinette to the phrase began in the 1930s. It is possible that by including the story in his popular book, it was spread to more children’s books and from there into the minds of parent—teachers, editors and journalists, and from there into newspaper articles to newspaper reader, etc etc, until it became a larger part of popular culture as a whole. What was once an anecdote sometimes associated with Madame Victoire, sometimes Maria Theresa, sometimes Marie Antoinette became associated with just Marie Antoinette. Countless newspaper articles, ad campaigns and other popular culture pieces from the mid-1930s until modern day include the phrase “Let them eat cake” being attributed or associated with Marie Antoinette, although once in a while they do add the caveat “She may have never said it, but…”

But why Marie Antoinette? Why don’t we, for example, read “Is This Female Politician the New Madame Victoire?” in our headlines? Interestingly enough, the reasons for the insistence of “Let them eat cake!” sticking to Marie Antoinette may be those same reasons that calumnies against Marie Antoinette made during the revolution stuck to her so hard that they were considered evidence at her trial. In the 20th century—and in particular, in the 1930s—Marie Antoinette was once again being transformed in the eyes of the public. But instead of a transformation into a harpy-like she-beast or a hated bloodthirsty Austrian by caricatures and satirical pamphlets, Marie Antoinette was transformed into a glittering, dazzling queen who was capable of capturing public attention in a big, big way. She was not just a queen who was executed during the French Revolution, the constant subject of romantic 19th century biographies. She became the tragic but oh-so-frivolous queen who wore gauzy ball gowns on book covers, whose memory sold replica earrings to housewives and who engaged in a dramatic, love-torn affair with a dashing count in a major MGM motion picture. She became the French queen, the queen associated with French history, with the downfall of the monarchy. How could Madame Victoire, Maria Theresa, Madame Sophie or any other royalty to whom the phrase has been latched compare?

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Caroline Of Brunswick Meets Her Future Husband

It was a match made in hell for George, Prince of Wales, and Caroline of Brunswick, which caused the bride heartache and humiliations from the very moment she set her foot on the English soil. Caroline, whose personal hygiene hadn't improved at all during the long sea voyage that took her to her new home, arrived on board of the royal yacht August at Greenwich on noon on Easter Sunday. But there was no one there to greet her. Although the Prince of Wales had sent carriages, Caroline's lady-in-waiting, whose job it was, according to protocol, to greet her mistress and escort her back to London, delayed their departure.

Lady Jersey wasn't afraid to be reproached for this. She was the Prince's mistress and had been appointed lady-in-waiting to Catherine thanks to him. Poor Caroline had to wait for an hour before the carriages arrived and when they did, instead than the warm greetings and apology she surely expected, she was criticised for her clothes. The Princess had never paid much attention to her appearance, but that day, thanks to the help of Mrs Harcourt, she looked better than usual in a muslin gown, blue satin petticoat and little black beaver hat decorated with blue and black feathers.

Lady Jersey insisted that this outfit was appropriate only for travelling in a carriage and that the Princess should instead be dressed as if she was about to be presented at court. And she said so in such a rude manner that Lord Malmesbury had to scold her for it. But in the end, it was Lady Jersey who won this battle and the Princess was forced to change into a tight white satin dress and a turban embellished with tall ostrich feathers that the lady-in-waiting had brought with her. Needless to say, this outfit was less than flattering on Caroline.

The royal party finally left for St. James's Palace, where Caroline was to reside until the wedding day. Here the betrothed couple met for the first time. Malmesbury thus recalled this meeting in his diary:

She very properly, in consequence of my saying to her it was the right mode of proceeding, attempted to kneel to him. He raised her (gracefully enough), and embraced her, said barely one word, turned round, retired to a distant part of the apartment, and calling me to him, said, "Harris, I am not well; pray get me a glass of brandy." I said, "Sir, had you not better have a a glass of water?" - upon which he, much out of humour, said with an oath, "No; I will go directly to the Queen," and away he went...

The Prince may not have been impressed by his wife, but the feeling was mutual. Shocked by his rudeness, Caroline exclaimed: "My God! Is the Prince always like that? I think he is very fat, and nothing like as handsome as his portrait". Caroline made no secret of how hurt she had been by this reception at dinner. The Prince was disgusted by her behaviour and her vulgar and coarse conversation. Instead than providing an occasion for a reconciliation, this dinner only managed to increase the dislike they already felt for each other.

Three days later, they were married.

Further reading:
Charlotte & Leopold: The True Story of The Original People's Princess by James Chambers

Etiquette In Public Assemblies

At the theatre or opera, at concerts, or popular lectures, at "commencements," and other prosperous and happy public entertainments, a certain gayety of manner may be in harmony with the occasion; but it should be under control, a smiling cheerfulness, not a free-and-easy jollity. Before the play, or the programme, begins, social conversation is usually allowable in quiet tones that do not disturb the surrounding people. A gentle hum of lively voices is not an unpleasant overture on such occasions. But the moment the orchestra begins, if at the theatre, or the instant that the meeting is called to order by any initial feature of the programme, silence should fall upon the assembly, and not a whisper be heard. Polite attention should be given to each feature of the hour. Programmes should be folded and arranged for easy reference before the exercises begin, so that no rustling of papers shall mar the effect of the music, or interfere with the speakers or listeners. The noisy handling of programmes is a most exasperating exhibition of thoughtlessness, and can easily be avoided by a little caution.

It should be accounted a matter of good form not to be late in arriving at the theatre, opera, etc. People sometimes think that because their seats are secured by their ticket-coupons, it makes no difference whether they are in their places before the curtain rises or not. But it is inconsistent for people who would be thought to be well-mannered, to inflict on others so much annoyance as is the result of coming late and making a commotion arranging seats, etc., after a drama is in progress, or a lecture or concert begun. When this happens, it should be the rare and unavoidable accident of detention, not the habitual and perhaps even ostentatious custom that it seems to be with some people. The noise about the swing-doors, and the rustle in the aisles, the banging of hinged seats, and the occasional parley with the usher, render the seats under the galleries practically valueless during the first half of the performance, since the speakers cannot be heard in the midst of the confusion. The "sense" of the opening act being lost, the entire play is marred simply because forty or fifty people are ten or fifteen minutes late. If managers would combine and agree to order the doors closed several minutes before the performance begins, it would soon remedy the trouble, and a host of patrons would applaud their course. The most aggravating thing about annoyances of this kind is that they are inflicted by the very few, and suffered by the very many.

In crowded theatres and lecture halls, heavy coats and wraps must be disposed within each owner's own territory. They should not lie over the top of the seat or bulge over into the adjoining seats to encroach upon other people. Nor should the owner of a big overcoat double it up into a cushion and sit upon it, to raise himself six inches higher, to the disadvantage of the person seated back of him--a selfish preparation to see the sights which we sometimes observe, even in the parquet centre.

The fashion, now almost universal, of removing hats at all spectacular entertainments, does away with what was formerly a conspicuous source of annoyance. For awhile this downfall of view-obstructing millinery promised a "square deal" to the occupants of the back rows. But of late vanity has re-asserted itself in the guise of elaborate hair-dressing, until the aigrette and the bow have become as great an imposition as was their predecessor, the flaring hat. This evasion of the issue will be more difficult to control by public prohibition. It remains for the polite woman to avoid adopting, for such occasions, the towering head-dress that evokes not admiration but execration from the people seated behind her. No woman need risk annoying others in order to be attractive herself; there are numerous styles that are both unobtrusive and becoming. Moreover, the woman in good society has ample opportunity to exhibit her elaborate coiffure at private social functions.

People who wish to leave the theatre between the acts should make it a point to secure end seats and not scrape past half a dozen other people three or four times during the performance. If it is necessary to trouble other people to rise and step aside to allow one to take or to leave his seat, the person thus obliged should preface the action with "I beg pardon," or "May I trouble you to allow me to pass;"--and should acknowledge the obligation by saying "Thank you." This may not lessen the inconvenience to other people, but it may mollify the feeling of irritability that such things naturally arouse.

It ought to be superfluous to say that talking aloud, or continuous whispering during the progress of a play or opera or concert, usually on topics foreign to the occasion, is a rudeness to the performers and a bold impertinence to the rest of the audience. Some people are guilty of this insolence wittingly and unblushingly. For such we have no word of advice. Such instances should be met by something more effective than "gentle influence." But many, especially young people, talk and laugh thoughtlessly, and from mere exuberance of animal spirits. It is to be hoped that on pausing to reflect they will carefully avoid forming a habit of public misbehavior that will ultimately rank them in the social scale as confirmed vulgarians. An intelligent listener never interrupts. Between the scenes of a play, or the successive numbers of a concert programme, there are pauses long enough for a brief exchange of comment between two friends who are sharing an entertainment, and they may enjoy the pleasure of thus comparing notes without once disturbing the order of the time and place.

At a spectacular entertainment, it is very rude for those in front to stand up in order to see better, thus cutting off all view for those back of them. The disposition to do this is very strong in rural audiences, where the flat floor of the school-house or hall gives little chance for the observers seated back of the first few "rows." But one may better lose part of the "tableau" on the stage than to furnish another one on the floor of the house.

At a lecture, a special personal respect is due to the speaker. This is shown by a courteous attention and a general demeanor of interest and appreciation. If applause is merited, it should be given in a refined manner. The stamping of the feet is coarse, and the pounding of the floor with canes and umbrellas is as lazy as it is noisy. The clapping of hands is a natural language of delight, and, when skillfully done, is an enthusiastic expression of approbation. Some effort is being made to substitute the waving of handkerchiefs as a symbol of approval or greeting to a favorite speaker, but it is quite probable that this silent signal will not take the place of the more active demonstration of clapping the hands, except on very quiet and intellectual occasions.

Shall ladies join in applause? As a matter of fact, women seldom applaud, but not because propriety necessarily forbids; it is chiefly because the tight-fitting kid glove renders "clapping" a mechanical impossibility. Feminine enthusiasm is quite equal to it at times, as, for instance, when listening to a favorite elocutionist or violinist. There is no reason why ladies may not "clap," if they can. It certainly is quite as lady-like and orderly as for them to give vent to their enthusiasm, as many do, in audible exclamations of "Too sweet for anything!" "Just too lovely!" etc., all of which might have been "conducted off" at the finger-tips if hand-clapping had been a feasible medium of expression.

Applause may be a very effective and graceful exponent of gentlemanly appreciation if given with discrimination; but if too ready and frequent, it ceases to have any point, and becomes commonplace. While a man of taste will applaud heartily on occasion, he will refrain from extravagant and continuous clapping.

The observance of the proprieties of time, place, and occasion are nowhere more urgent than at church. Much of the liberty that is granted on secular occasions is entirely out of place in church.

While quiet greetings may be exchanged at the church door, or in the outer vestibules, before and after service, it is not decorous to chat sociably along the aisles, or hold a gossiping conference in whispers with some one in the neighboring pew. I have in mind one woman, who ought to have known better, whose sibilant utterances--just five pews distant--came to be a regular part of the five minutes' pause immediately before the service began. Her conversation was usually directed to another woman, who, likewise, should have known better than to listen. The silent vault of the church roof echoed to the vigorous whispering up to the instant that the clergyman began, in low monotone, "The Lord is in His holy temple"--a fact which the whisperer had obviously forgotten--"let all the earth keep silence before Him"--an injunction which she never seemed to be able to remember from week to week.

It is one of the worst violations of good form to behave with levity in church. To devout people the church is the place for meditation and prayer, and nothing should be allowed to disturb the restful calm that is sought within its sacred walls. A well-bred agnostic will respect the religious sentiments of other people, whatever his own beliefs or disbeliefs in matters theological. If no higher law is recognized, at least every one will regard the etiquette of the case, which requires that the demeanor of every one within the walls of the church shall be reverent.

It is proper to dress plainly and neatly for church; to enter the portal quietly, to walk up the aisle in a leisurely but direct way, and be seated at once with an air of repose. If cushions or books require rearranging, it should be done with as little effort as possible. Every movement should be quiet, and the rattling of fans and of books in the rack, and "fidgeting" changes of position should be avoided. The movements in rising, sitting, and kneeling should be deliberate enough for grace, and cautious enough to avert accidents, like hitting the pew-railings, knocking down umbrellas, or kicking over footstools. No sounds but the inevitable rustle of garments should attend the changes of posture during the service. Not unfrequently several canes and as many hymn-books clatter to the floor with each rise of the congregation, because of somebody's nervous haste. Children are often responsible for these little accidents, and of course are excusable, but they should be early taught to observe caution in these little matters.

The clergyman should have the undivided attention of his hearers. During the lesson and the sermon, one should watch the face of the reader, or speaker, and give to the minister all the inspiration that an earnest expounder may find in the face of an intelligent listener. It is probably thoughtless, not intentional, disrespect--but still disrespect--for a person to spend "sermon time" studying the stained-glass windows or the symbolical fresco, interesting as these things may be.

The singing of the choir may be good; if so, one should not listen to it with the air of a connoisseur at a grand concert. Or the singing may be very poor; that fact should not be emphasized by the scowling countenance of the critic in the pews. A mind absorbed in true devotion does not measure church singing by secular standards. The spirit may be woefully lacking in the most artistic rendition: it may be vitally present in the most humble song of worship. While we may with righteous indignation condemn the sacrilege of a spiritless or irreverent singing of the sublime service of the church, it is very bad form to sneer at the earnest and sincere work of a choir whose "limitations," in natural gifts or culture, render their work somewhat commonplace. It is good form to respect all that is honest in religion, and to reserve sharp criticism for the shams and hypocrisies that cast discredit on the church.

A regular "pew-owner" in a church should be hospitable to strangers, and cheerfully give them a place in his pew, offering them books and hymnals, and aiding them to follow the service if they seem to be unaccustomed to its forms. At the same time it is only fair to say that this duty becomes a heavy tax on generosity and patience when, as in some very popular churches, a floating crowd of sight-seers each Sunday invade the pews, to the serious discomfort of the regular occupants. People who attend church as strangers should remember that they do so by courtesy of the regular attendants. A broad view of the church opening its doors to all the world is theoretically true, but practically subject to provisos. A church visitor who observes much the same care not to be intrusive which good form would require him to observe if visiting at a private house, will usually be rewarded with a polite welcome.

The stranger attending church should wait at the foot of the aisle until an usher conducts him to a seat, as the usher will know where a stranger can be received with least inconvenience to others in the pew. The stranger should not take possession of family hymn-books, or fans, or select the best hassock, or otherwise appropriate the comforts of the pew, unless invited to do so by the owner, whose guest he is, in a sense. If attentions are not shown him, he must not betray surprise or resentment, nor look around speculatively for the hymn-book that is not forthcoming. If the service is strange to him, he should at least conform to its salient forms, rising with the congregation, and not sitting throughout like a stolid spectator of a scene in which he has no part.

The head should be bowed during the prayers, and the eyes at least cast down, if not closed. To sit and stare at a minister while he is praying is a grotesque rudeness worthy of a heathen barbarian, yet one sometimes committed by the civilized Caucasian. The incident may escape the knowledge of the well-mannered portion of the congregation, who are themselves bowed in reverent attitude; but the roving eye of some infant discovers the fact, and it is at once announced; and worst of all, the child unconsciously gets an influential lesson in misbehavior in church from the "important" man who thus disregards the proprieties.

Further reading:
Etiquette by Agnes H. Morton

Short Book Reviews: The Deception, The King's Pleasure, & Thief Of Hearts

Hello everyone,

today I'm briefly reviewing three historical romance novels I've read a while ago. Enjoy!

The Deception by Catherine Coulter
This is one of my favourite romance novels. When her father is kidnapped by Bonaparte's supporters, who wish to reinstate him on the throne, Evangeline de Beauchamps is forced to act as a spy. She thus finds herself at the castle of her cousin's widowed husband, The Duke of Portsmouth, asking him to hire her as a nanny for his son, while waiting for instructions. The two fall in love, which makes Eve feel even more guilty for her betrayal. She would like to confide in the Duke and ask his help, but she's afraid her enemies will hurt both her father and her little charge if she does. There is great chemistry between the hero and heroine (but not much sex) and reading the scenes where they are together is simply a pleasure. Coulter also has a talent for creating likeable characters. Most heroines of romance novels are vain and selfish spoiled brats who throw a tantrum when things don't go their way and always get themselves in trouble for not listening to good advice, but Coulter's female characters are instead clever, sensible and just very likeable. And Eve is no exception. The Duke is fun and smart too. Although the book is a bit too long, it is highly enjoyable.
Available at: amazon.com
Rating: 4/5

The King's Pleasure by Shannon Drake
14th Century. Castle Aville, situated in Aquitaine, is captured by the English King Edward III, who then begets a daughter, Danielle, with the conquered countess. Danielle is a ward of the English King and thus bound to obey him, but has also made a vow to be loyal to France which will cause a lot of trouble for her. Years later, her father forces her into a betrothal with the Scottish knight Adrien MacLachlan. Although she vows to despise him, in the end she falls in love with him and will have to figure out how to be loyal to England, France and her husband. It's not gonna be easy and the misunderstandings that ensure from this situation seriously risk to ruin her marriage, especially because Adrian has a tendency to always think the worst of his wife. And like most men, he's not good at talking and communicating, which makes things even worse. Danielle instead is quite childish. Although there are moments when she acts like a mature adult, most of the time her behaviour is just childish and immature. Danielle and Adrian are one of those couples that argue all day and have sex all night (and the sex is mostly rape), which I find quite annoying. In addition, the book also at times feels like a history lesson, which is good if you're interested in the history of this period, but not if you're looking for a hot romance. Overall, I'd recommend it to those who like romances full of history snippets and who aren't squeamish.
Available at: amazon.com
Rating: 3/5

Thief Of Hearts by Patricia Gaffney
Anna Jourdaine marries Nick Balfour, her father's right hand man and the man she's been in love with for ages. But the groom is murdered the night of their wedding. Anna wants to find the killer and prove that the rumours about Nick selling her father's ships to the Confederates are false, so she enlists the help of his dead husband's twin, John Brodie. John is supposed to pass for Nick, but although they look identical, they couldn't be more different. Nick was elegant and refined; Brodie is vulgar and curses a lot. Nick was a successful businessman; Brodie ended up in jail accused of murder. Of course Brodie and Anna will fall in love and it's interesting to see how they relationship progresses. Anna is a true lady while Brodie is no gentleman. They have nothing in common. Although the plot and the characters are interesting, the story isn't well-executed. The book is kinda slow and boring at times, which really spoiled it for me. I find this is the main problem with Gaffney. She just doesn't know when to stop and thus puts way too much stuff in her books that's just unneccessary and doesn't allow the story to flow as easily as it should.
Available at: amazon.com

Have you read these books? If so, did you like them?

The Christening Of Marie Antoinette

On 3rd November 1755, the day after her birth, the little Archduchess Maria Antonia Josefa Johanna von Hapsburg of Austria, Alsace and Lorraine was baptised. Her first name, which she shared with all the Hapsburg Princesses, was given in honour of the Virgin Mary, for whom the family had a particular veneration. Her other names were given in honour of Saint Anthony (one of the patron saints of Portugal), her godfather Jose, King of Portugal, and Saint John The Evangelist.

The ceremony took place at noon in a beautiful and recently-built ante-camera in the Church Of The Augustine Friars, which was the traditional church used by the Austrian court. The entire Imperial family, with the exception of the mother, the Empress Maria Theresa, who was recovering from the birth, sat in the front pew, looking on as the Archbishop of Vienna, Cardinal Von Trautson performed the ceremony. Usually, it was the Papal Nuncio who baptised the Imperial children. But because the new Nuncio, Cardinal Visconti, hadn't been formally presented at court yet, that wasn't possible.

The baby's godparents were the King of Portugal Jose and his Queen, Mariana-Victoria of Spain, who obviously weren't present at the ceremony. At the time, royals weren't expected to travel such distances to be present at a baptism. The baby's eldest siblings, Joseph and Maria-Anna, were appointed proxies for the royal couple. Although it was not known at the time, the King and Queen of Portugal had been forced to flee their capital, which had been devastated by an earthquake, just the day before. When news reached Vienna, superstitious people considered it a bad omen for the future of the little Archduchess.

However, this was a day for celebration in Austria. A gala was held later in the day to celebrate the birth and a few more took place in Vienna and other important cities of the empire, such as Prague, in the following days. But because Marie Antoinette was only the last daughter to be born in a very big family, these celebrations were toned down and not particularly extravagant.

Further reading:
Confessions Of A Ci-Devant
Marie Antoinette: The Journey by Antonia Fraser

How To Dye Fabrics

To me, one of the most fascinating aspects of history is discovering how people did things in the past. Like clothes for instance. These days when we need a new dress or blouse, we go to a shop where we can choose between a vast array of clothes in all kinds of fabrics, styles and colours. But it wasn't always like this. In the past, people either went to a dressmaker or made their own clothes themselves. But what did they do when they wanted to change the colour of a garment? I've found the answer by perusing the 1816 edition of the Repository of Arts, Literature, Fashions &c:

To dye Wool a permanent yellow

Boil the yarn or cloth with one-sixth of its weight of alum, in a sufficient quantity of water, for half an hour; and then, without rinsing, plunge it into a copper, containing a decoction of twice as much quercitron bark as equals the weight of the alum employed, and agitate it in the dye liquor till it has acquired the intensity of colour wished for. This being accomplished, a quantity of powdered whiting or chalk, equal in weight to part of the wool, must be thrown into the copper, and the mixture suffered to boil very gently for about a quarter of an hour longer. By this method a bright lively yellow is produced.

To dye Silk a bright clear Yellow

First impregnate the silk by soaking it for a few minutes in soap and water; then rinsing it, and immersing it in a solution of alum and water, and then passing it through a decoction of weld till the desired shade of colour is produced. The weld is to be tied up in a coarse bag, and put into the copper, with a sufficient quantity of water; and after having boiled for about half an hour, and the fire slackened, the silk, previously impregnated with alum, is passed through this bath.

Gold or deep Yellow

Add a small quantity of pearl ash towards the end of the process; or still better, add the pearl ash to a second decoction of weld, and pass the silk through it, after having been first dyed a bright clear yellow, in the manner before stated.

Orange Yellow

may be dyed, by adding to the decoction of weld a small quantity of annotto. The silk, being first dyed a clear yellow in the manner before stated, acquires a rich golden hue when passed through a bath of weld, to which a small portion of annotto has been previously added.

Jonquil Yellow

This colour is given to silk by adding to the decoction of weld a small quantity of crystallized acetate of copper (crystallized verdigris).

To dye Cotton Yellow

Let the article be first well cleansed by boiling it for about a quarter of an hour with a small quantity of pearl-ash; then impregnate it with alum, and dye it in a bath of weld, in which the quantity of weld is at least equal to the quantity of cotton to be dyed. When this is done, soak it in a bath of sulphate of copper and water for twenty-four hours; and, lastly, rinse it in water, and. suffer it to dry. Instead of weld, quercitron bark may be used; but the yellow dye which this bark gives, is not so bright and lively as the yellow obtained from weld.

To dye Silk Crimson, Poppy Red, Cherry Red, Rose Red, and Flesh Red

Silk may be dyed red, of various shades, by means of cochineal or carthamus. It may be dyed crimson by first steeping it in a solution of alum, and then dying it in a cochineal bath, prepared in the following manner:— In the first place, dissolve one part of sal ammouiac in eight parts of nitric acid; and add, by very small portions at a time, one part of granulated tin, and afterwards dilute the solution with one-fourth part of its weight of soft water. Then put eight ounces of this solution into an earthenware pan, with a sufficient quantity of water, and add also ten ounces of cream of tartar, and six of finely powdered cochineal, and boil this mixture. In this hath the article to be dyed must be immersed till it has received a fine bright colour. By adding a little turmeric root in powder, the red colour is rendered more brilliant. The colours known by the names of poppy, cherry, rose, and flesh colour, are given to silk by dying them with carthamus; that is to say, by keeping the silk immersed in an alcaline solution of the colouring matter of carthamus flower, into which as much lemon-juice, or instead of it a solution of crystallized citric acid, has been poured as produces the desired shade of colour. The solution of carthamus is prepared in the following manner:—Take any quantity of carthamus flower, put it into a bag, and squeeze it in water, to deprive it of all the extractive colouring matter which can thus be separated by the action of water; and repeat this process till the water, thus employed for extracting the colouring matter, ceases to be tinged. This being done, infuse the carthamus, thus deprived of its yellow colouring matter, in a weak solution of carbonate of soda in water, which will extract the red colouring matter that it contains, and which is soluble in the silk, whilst the acid of the lemon juice combines with the alcali of the carbonate of potash.

To dye wool brown, fawn, and Nankeen Colour

Wool may be dyed a brown or fawn colour by making a decoction of the green covering of the walnut. It is well known that walnut-peels strongly dye the skin. To dye brown with them, nothing else is required than to immerse the article in a warm decoction of them, till it has acquired the wished-for colour. The intensity of the colour is proportioned to the strength of the decoction. The walnut-husks may be kept for a long time, indeed for many years, in vessels filled with water. The root and bark of the walnut-tree give a decoction much resembling the fruit-husk: it may be employed to produce a very fast buff or fawn colour; if alum be added, the dye becomes somewhat lighter. A good bright and permanent nankeen colour may be given to cotton by iron liquor (acetate of iron). It is only necessary to soak the cotton previously in a weak solution of sub-carbonate of soda or of potash, and then immerse it into the iron liquor : or the article to be dyed may he soaked first in the iron liquor, and the fluid may then be super-saturated with a solution of a sub-carbonated alcali. It must afterwards be rinsed in a very weak solution of sulphuric acid.

To dye Wool, Silk, Cotton, and other stuffs, a permanent blue

Boil in a pipkin, or saucepan, nine parts, by weight, of pearl-ash, with as much bran, and one part of madder root, in a sufficient quantity of water, and add to this mixture nine parts of indigo, ground up with a little water, and keep the mixture boiling for about half an hour. Or a still richer blue dye will be obtained thus:—Mix up together one part of indigo, two parts of green vitriol, and two of quicklime, with a sufficient quantity of water; stir the mixture together, and suffer it to remain in a closed vessel for four or five days. With the clear liquor thus obtained, wool, silk, cotton, or any other article, may be dyed a permanent blue. The article comes out of the dye of a green colour, and turns blue by exposure to the air. When the article is thus dyed blue, it is necessary to rinse it in water very slightly acidulated with sulphuric acid. This heightens the colour, and extracts any earthy matter, which would give a harsh feel to the stuff, and impair the lustre. Every kind of stuff may be dyed blue with this dye.

Further reading:
Repository of Arts, Literature, Fashions &c, 1816

Historical Reads: The Maligned Frances Grey

Over at The Anne Boleyn Files, author Susan Higginbotham sets the record straight on Frances Grey, Jane Grey's mother. Was she really the wicked woman she's made up to be nowadays?

It is with Jane’s birth that writers of popular nonfiction begin to wreak havoc with Frances’s reputation. Hester Chapman writes that the “Dorsets were disappointed at not having a son” when Jane was born, and goes on to state that Frances Grey “could not forgive” her daughters for their sex. Alison Weir writes that Henry Grey “regarded [Jane] as a poor substitute for the son who had died young before her birth.” In her truly execrable biography of Jane Grey, Mary Luke devotes two entire paragraphs to Frances’s longing to bear her husband a male child, ending with her “sobbing heartbreakingly” when she discovers she has borne a girl. Mary Lovell in her biography Bess of Hardwick writes that after the death of the Greys’ son, Frances gave birth to her daughters, “to whom their parents made it abundantly clear that they were a major disappointment.” None of these writers cite a source for their claim, for the very good reason that there is none. Frances and her husband might well have hoped for a son—parents of their class generally did—but there’s simply no evidence that they did not greet the birth of a daughter with happiness, particularly when the infant thrived instead of following her siblings to the grave. As Eric Ives points out, Henry and Frances Grey were not in the public eye when their most famous daughter was born, and neither her date of birth nor her place of birth has been recorded, much less her parents’ reactions to her arrival in the world.

Henry VIII died in 1547. Shortly afterward, the Greys performed the first act for which history has damned them—agreeing to Thomas Seymour’s request that they put Jane Grey in his wardship, in the hopes that Thomas would broker a match between Jane and the young king, Edward VI. This has been taken as proof of the Greys’ insatiable ambition, but what noble parent, given the opportunity to match their daughter with a king, would have passed up the chance? Like any other girl of her class, Jane would have been brought up with the expectation that she would marry for the good of her family. This was a two-way street: Jane would have also expected that her parents do their best for her future by marrying her to a high-status groom. Whether Jane was aware of these plans for her is unknown, but there is no reason to assume that the possibility of marriage to the king, her first cousin, would have displeased her.

It was in August 1550 that Frances made the biggest mistake of her life, at least in terms of her historical reputation. She went hunting with the rest of the household, and left her daughter Jane behind to greet a visitor, Roger Ascham. It was then that Jane made her famous complaint about her parents, recalled by Ascham years later, after Jane and her parents were all dead:

“For when I am in presence either of father or mother; whether I speak, keep silence, sit, stand, or go, eat, drink, be merry, or sad, be sewing, playing, dancing, or doing any thing else; I must do it, as it were, in such weight, measure, and number, even so perfectly, as God made the world; or else I am so sharply taunted, so cruelly threatened, yea presently sometimes with pinches, nips, and bobs, and other ways (which I will not name for the honour I bear them) so without measure misordered, that I think myself in hell, till time come that I must go to Mr Elmer; who teacheth me so gently, so pleasantly, with such fair allurements to learning, that I think all the time nothing whiles I am with him. And when I am called from him, I fall on weeping, because whatsoever I do else but learning, is full of grief, trouble, fear, and whole misliking unto me. And thus my book hath been so much my pleasure, and bringeth daily to me more pleasure and more, that in respect of it, all other pleasures, in very deed, be but trifles and troubles unto me.”

The impact of Ascham’s recollection on Frances’s reputation simply cannot be understated. Historians and novelists alike have used it to construct an image of Jane’s entire childhood as more Dickensian than anything that Dickens himself could have imagined, brightened only by Jane’s brief stay at Katherine Parr’s household. Any possibility that the adolescent Jane, like other intelligent adolescents, might have been exaggerating her complaints, that she might have spoken less harshly of her parents with time and maturity, or that her parents might have had genuine cause (by Tudor standards) for disciplining her has been ignored by all but a handful of writers.

To read the entire article, click here.

John Spencer, 1st Earl Spencer

John Spencer was born on 19 December 1734. He was the son of John Spencer, a landowner, and his wife Lady Georgiana Caroline Carter, and had a younger sister, Diana. Due to his poor health, John wasn't expected to survive infancy, so his parents decided to hire tutors to educate him at home. But he survived and in 1746, when his father died of alcoholism, he succeeded to his vast estate. At only 11, John was in possession of a vast fortune worth £750,000 (about £45 million in today's money), 5 houses, 100,000 acres of land in 27 counties and a vast collection of jewels, plates and paintings.

His wealth further increased when he inherited the bulk of the property that belonged to his grandmother Sarah Churchill, duchess of Marlborough. But there was a catch: John would lose his right to the inheritance if he accepted any office or pension from the crown. However, he was too young to manage his fortune on his own and so trustees were appointed until he came of age. In the meantime, he decided to go on a grand tour of France and Italy, from which he returned with a huge passion for art and architecture.

On 20 December 1755, John Spencer married Margaret Georgiana Poyntz in a private ceremony at Althorp, the family's residence in Northamptonshire. The family had given a ball at the estate and, while the guests were busy dancing, only those who knew about the engagement were led upstairs to attend the ceremony. The marriage was publicly announced at Christmas and in the new year, John took his wife to court where they were presented to the King and Queen and became friends with the royal family. The marriage was a love match. John, which was a handsome man, and Georgiana had met the year before and they had fallen in love straight away.

The Spencers had a happy marriage and years later, Georgiana would tell David Garrick: "I verily believe we have neither of us for one instant repented our lot from that time to this". The couple had 5 children: Georgiana, who would marry the Duke of Devonshire, George John, Henrietta Francis, and two younger daughters, Charlotte and Louisa, both of whom died in infancy. Although he was a man of an amiable and generous disposition, he would sometimes burst in fits of anger, due to his ill-health, which nonetheless scared his children. He also had a shy and withdrawn temper when in public. Mary Lady Coke heard him speak in Parliament and thought "as much as could be heard was very pretty, but he was extremely frightened and spoke low". However, he opened up and became more loquacious when alone with his family and close friends.

Although Spencer, who belonged to the Whig party, could not embark on a political career, he could still influence politics thanks to his wealth and sit in Parliament. In 1756 he entered the House of Commons as MP for Warwick. On 3 April 1761, the King George III created him Baron Spencer of Althorp and Viscount Spencer and, four years later, Viscount Althorp and Earl Spencer. He was High Stewart of St Albans in 1772 and became Mayor of St. Albans in 1779. During these years, John also spent a fortune building Spencer's House, a magnificent Palladian residence in London, which overlooked Green Park and was designed by John Vardy. In this mansion the family would entertain the most famous and influential people of the time.

Writer and economist Arthur Young was one of the first to see the house: "I know not in England a more beautiful piece of architecture, superior to any house I have ever seen... The hangings, carpets, glasses, sofas, chairs, tables, slabs, everything, are not only astonishingly beautiful, but contain a vast variety." The house has an elaborate classical façade and its Painted Room, John's favourite room, was the first complete neoclassical interior in Europe. John would often travel to Europe, sometimes with his family too, and always brought back from every trip some work of art to decorate his house with. The Spencers would also spend some time in all of their residences every year but their favourite was Althorp, where John built an extensive library, and the children cold play in the vast ballroom during rainy days. Another passion of the Earl was hunting.

John suffered from ill health all his life. Throughout the 1760s and the 1770s he had gout, pains in his chest and stomach, nervous palpitations and fevers. He thus went frequently to Bath to drink the waters and to Scarborough to bathe in the sea, hoping by these means to restore his health. However, they didn't help much and on 3 October 1783, he died at Bath. He was only 48. He was buried in the family vault at St Mary's Church, Great Brington, Northamptonshire.

Further reading:
Georgiana: Duchess Of Devonshire by Amanda Foreman

Fashions For Autumn/Winter 1819

Hello everyone,

it's been a while since we've looked at images of pretty clothes. Here are some that were fashionable in Regency England.I don't really like much the fashion styles of this period cos I don't think they are very flattering, but I still love looking at these images. Aren't they delightful?


A Morning dress, composed of cambric muslin: the body is made high, and is richly trimmed with work both at the neck and the bottoms of the sleeves; it fastens behind; the back is full, but the front is tight to the bust. The bottom of the skirt is finished, in the French style, with a number of small tucks. The spencer worn with this dress is composed of pale fawn-coroured gros de Naples: the back is plain; the front is cut bias, and in such a manner as to display the form of the bust very advantageously. The sleeve falls low over the hand, and is wider than they have lately been worn; it is finished at the bottom by a trimming of the same material, laid on in full scollops: halfsleeve to correspond, the fulness of which is confined by straps. There is no collar, but a rich lace ruff supplies the want of it. Headdress, a bonnet composed of pale rose-coloured gros de Naples, and lined with white satin: the crown, which is very low, is set in in the same manner as the caul of a cap: the brim is of a round shape, and very deep; it is ornamented at the edge with a twisted rouleau of white and pink satin, and a similar one encircles the bottom of the crown. A bouquet of roses and lilies of the valley is placed in front, and it ties with white ribbon under the chin. White kid gloves, and pale rose-coloured kid slippers.


A white gauze dress over a very pale rose-coloured satin slip: the body is composed of satin; it is tight to the shape, but there is very little of it seen, because the bust is trimmed all round with a broad blond lace, which is set on very full; this trimming is headed by a wreath of intermingled white and red roses, surrounded with leaves. The sleeve is short; it consists of three falls of blond lace over a tight under-sleeve of satin; the lace is very full, and is not confined at all to the arm: this neglige style of corsage has a new and very striking effect. The skirt is trimmed with five flounces of the same material, placed one immediately above the other, and headed by a wreath of flowers to correspond with the bust. The front hair is disposed in curls on each side of the face; the hind hair is dressed extremely high, and brought very forward. The head-dress consists of a double wreath, composed of mingled white and red roses and golden wheat-ears: one part of this wreath is put low on the forehead, the other encircles the full tuft of hair on the crown of the head: a white lace veil is attached to the back of the head, in such a manner as to form a tasteful drapery. Necklace and ear-rings, rubies mixed with pearl. White kid gloves, and white satin shoes.
We are indebted for both our dresses to Miss Pierpoint, maker' of the corset a (a Grecque, of No. 9, Henrietta-street, Covent-Garden.



A Lemon-coloured pelisse of shagreen gros de Naples, or double twilled sarsnet. This pelisse is of a peculiarly novel and elegant fashion, being trimmed round the border with two narrow fluted full flounces, headed by a layer of white satin, which gives a splendid finish to the dress, and renders it more adapted to the carriage or public promenade: the collar and wrists of the sleeves are trimmed to correspond with the border. Large bonnet of pale pink gossamer satin, edged with two rows of blond,of a rich pattern, and crowned with a half-wreath of flowers. Double morning ruff of fine Mechlin lace. Marine boots, Parisian ridicule, and Limerick gloves.



A Pelisse composed of kerseymere: the colour is a peculiar shade of grey; it is lined with white sarsnet. The body is tight to the shape, the waist is rather long, and the sleeve is set in so as to just touch the point of the shoulder: the sleeve is wide, and falls very much over the hand. The skirt is moderately full, meets before, and fastens down on the inside. The trimming is composed of ruby-coloured velvet; it is of a new pattern, and exceedingly rich and elegant; it goes round the bottom, and up each of the fronts. The epaulettes and cuffs correspond with the trimming. High standing collar, trimmed in a similar manner. Head-dress, a bonnet composed of ruby velvet, intermixed with levantine: the crown is made of folds of these two materials, so disposed as to form a point in the centre, which has a light and novel effect: the brim is large, and of a singular but becoming shape; it is finished at the edge by a rich roll of ruby levantine, to which is attached a full fall of blond lace, set on narrow towards the ears, and broad in the middle of the brim: this style of trimming adds much softness to the countenance. A high plume of ostrich feathers, to correspond, is placed upright in front, and a rich ribbon ties it under the chin. Gloves to correspond with the pelisse. Halfboots, the lower part of black leather, the upper part grey levantine.

What do you think of these outfits?

Further reading:
Repository of Arts, Literature, Fashions &c, 1819