Book Review: Mistress Of The Revolution by Catherine Delors

An impoverished noblewoman, Gabrielle de Montserrat is only fifteen when she meets her first love, a commoner named Pierre-Andrè Coffinhal. But her brother forbids their union, forcing her instead to marry an ageing, wealthy cousin. Widowed and a mother before the age of twenty, Gabrielle arrives at the court of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette in time to be swept up in the emerging turbulence and to encounter the man she never expected to see again. Determined and independent, she strives to find her own freedom as the Revolution takes an ever more violent turn.

This is one of the most difficult reviews that I've ever written. Why? Because Mistress Of The Revolution by Catherine Delors is one of my favourite books ever and, even though I did my best, I'm not sure I managed to do it justice. Mistress Of The Revolution is a very captivating book that you just can't put down so prepare to spend a few sleepless nights while you hasten to reach the last page! The book is written in the format of a memoirs. In it, Gabrielle, a beautiful minor noblewoman from Auvergne now living in England recalls her childhood, youth and the French Revolution that dramatically changed her life and those of millions of other people.

As a teenager, Gabrielle falls in love with a commoner, Pierre-André Coffinhal. The two want to get married but Gabrielle’s family won’t hear of it and force to her to wed an old and abusive Baron instead. As a result, Pierre-André leaves for Paris with an implacable hatred for the Old Regime and all aristocrats. As for Gabrielle, her marriage is short-lived as her husband dies soon afterwards, leaving her with a daughter and very little money. She then decides to seek her fortune in Paris where she will have to make difficult choices and accept compromises in order to support herself and her little girl while striving for independence and freedom.

While at first the book is slow, but by no means ever boring, the pace quickens when the Revolution breaks out and it becomes a real-page turner. Because of the memoir format of the book, most events are only briefly described as Gabrielle herself wasn’t there to witness them. But other times she was caught in the middle of the storm. She’s there when the mob storms the Tuillieris and is again present at the prison massacres that occurred in September 1792 for example. At this point, being an aristocrat in France has become really dangerous and to avoid the guillotine, Gabrielle is forced to seek out the help of her former lover Pierre-André, who has become a judge of the Revolutionary Tribunal. Their love was genuine, passionate and sweet but he holds a grudge against her. What will happen when they meet again?

Not only is the story enthralling but Delors also describes the settings of the novel with such a richness of details that the reader feels like he/she is there with Gabrielle, following her around Paris and the French countryside. Also rich is the language used by the characters of the book. In the 18th century, conversations were a form of art, a way to exercise and sharpen the mind and bring pleasure to yourself and others. And that’s exactly what it did for me, I felt great pleasure in reading the skilled and elaborate conversations among the characters and it’s all the more astounding since English isn’t Delor’s mother tongue.

But it’s not only the story, the characters and the settings I enjoyed. I also learned a great deal about the French Revolution, whose rapidly turns are briefly but well-described in this book and gives the reader a better understanding of this tragic historical period. Like many other nobles of the time, Gabrielle greets the Revolution with excitement, as she sees it as a way to positively change society and improve people's lives, which later turns to fear and apprehension as the Terror begins.

Gabrielle is a fictional character but lots of historical figures make an appearance in the book, from the Chevalier De Huttes, a devotee of Marie Antoinette, to the Duc De Lauzun who becomes friends with our heroine to Robespierre whom Gabrielle briefly meets. King Louis XVI and Queen Marie-Antoinette also make brief appearances in the book and they are portrayed through the point of view of the people, making it easy to understand why they were so misunderstood and hated.

Mistress of the Revolution is a book that I highly recommend. It tells the story of Gabrielle, an impoverished noblewoman who tries to survive in a changing, hostile world and whose life will be tragically affected by the French Revolution. Delor’s style of writing is captivating and enthralling, the world she evokes vibrant and realistic, and the story full of romance, drama, love, tragedy, passion and history that, at times, will make you cry your eyes out. It is also very historically accurate and full of details of what life was like at the time. The fact that this is Delor’s first work and, especially, that is written in her second language, blows my mind even more. A definite must-read.

Available at:, Amazon UK and Barnes & Noble

Rating: 5/5

Book Review: Edda, Una Tragedia Annunciata by Antonio Spinosa

Antonio Spinosa, a journalist and historian, was a very prolific writer. He published a lot of books and articles throughout his life but most of his work focuses on the various forms of dictatorship throughout history, and Fascism in particular. Unfortunately most of his books are now hard to come by and I'm not sure if all of them were even translated in English, but if you can find them, I highly recommend them. Especially his biographies on less known, but still intriguing, characters such as Edda Mussolini.

Aptly titled Edda. Una Tragedia Annunciata (An announced tragedy), the book tells the tragic life of Mussolini's eldest daughter from her birth till the murder of her husband, Galeazzo Ciano. Edda was an independent, strong-willed, passionate and rebellious woman who was nevertheless adored by her father. Benito would say about her "I managed to subdue Italy, but I'll never manage to subdue my daughter" and forgive her things he wouldn't tolerate by anyone else. And these were many. For Edda was very anti-conformist, especially for the standards of her time, and lived her life the way she wanted too without caring what other people thought.

Spinosa portrays Edda as a woman with both good qualities and faults. He doesn't idolize and defends her subject, but neither dislikes or finds unnecessary faults with her. He simply paints a very realistic and honest portrait of this controversial woman. However, even though the book is full of anecdotes about Edda and her life, most of it is actually about Mussolini and Fascism. While it is obvious that a biographer can't talk about his subject without explaining the political and cultural situation of the time, I felt like I was reading a book about Mussolini in which Edda made her appearance every now and again.

Maybe it is due to the fact that the author didn't have a lot of material to work on, and what he tells us is enough to understand who Edda was, but I just can't help but think that when you write a biography, the subject needs to take center stage. I guess I just wanted more information really as I felt that some of the events in Edda's life, such as how her relationship with her husband Galeazzo Ciano started, were quite rushed. In any case, the book is a quick read, written in a straightforward and easy to understand style that reads more like a novel at times, and I would definitely recommend it to those who want to know more about Edda Mussolini Ciano.

Edda, Una Tragedia Annunciata by Antonio Spinosa is a honest biography of a very controversial but fascinating woman. We follow Edda from her birth till the death of her husband, which her father Mussolini couldn't or wouldn't stop and get to know the independent, anti-conformist and strong-willed woman that she really was. However, I felt like some of the events of her life were rushed in the book, while the main part of it was dedicated to Mussolini and the historical and political situation of the time. Still, a very interesting read for anyone interested in Edda Ciano Mussolini.

Available at:

Rating: 4/5

An Example Of Marie Antoinette's Generosity And The Levity Of The Nation

Marie Antoinette was a very generous and compassionate woman who did what she could to help the poor and needy. One of her good deeds, which are sadly often forgotten these days, was to give a dowry to 100 poor girls so that they could get married. In addition, she promised to pay for the nursing of their first born children and further beenfits to the mothers who chose to breastfeed them:

At the birth of the princess, when their majesties visited Paris, the queen did an act of benevolence which awakened the affection of the Parisians. And since we have few such anecdotes to give, it would be unjust to pass over this pleasing scene. The queen desired that a part of the money reserved for the public rejoicings, might be employed in marrying one hundred poor and virtuous girls with honest tradesmen; a choice was made from each parish. The future spouses formed two rows when their majesties passed the nave of the church of Notre Dame. The new married couples appeared uniformly dressed. The portion of each was five hundred livres; and the queen engaged to pay for the nursing of the first fruits of their marriages; and promised a greater benefit to those mothers who would suckle their own children: And the whole exhibition was crowned by the marriage of an honest couple, who had lived together above half a century, and who now renewed their vows of affection, which they had sworn, at so distant a period. This venerable pair was attended by all their children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren; they wore the same uniform as the younger ones, and they received the same portion. The marriages were celebrated before their majesties; and the scene melted the sympathetic Parisians into tears.

When the Queen did something, everyone else followed suit. And when the opera dancer Mademoiselle Guimard learned of the mass wedding, she decided to imitate Her Majesty:

It is curious to add that Mademoiselle Guimard, the queen of the theatre, resolved to give an entertainment at the Vauxhall, and to imitate her majesty in forming, in that public assembly, a marriage. Every one hastened to purchase a ticket; the benevolence was rendered doubly attractive by its frivolity. The portion was to consist not only of twenty-five louis by a contribution from the opera dancers, but also by the sale produced of the entertainment; of which the number of tickets sold amounted to 30,000 livres. The rigorous archbishop of Paris, would not permit the celebration of this marriage at Vauxhall, pretending that it would be a public offence to decency and morals; and he procured in consequence an order from the court to hinder the celebration of the marriage in this temple of pleasure. Mademoiselle Guimard, however, would not lose the glory of this wedding; and it took place at her palace, which was always in a proper state to exhibit a festival. This is a curious instance of the levity of the nation, and the aspiring genius of Mademoiselle Guimard.

Further reading:
Domestic anecdotes of the French nation during the last thirty years by Isaac Disraeli

Historical Reads: Eliza de Feuillide

At Madame Guillotine, author Melanie Clegg has written an interesting post about Jane Austen's cousin, Eliza de Feuillide. To quote:

Eliza and her younger Jane Austen first got to know each other properly in 1786 when Eliza returned to England to pay her Austen relations a visit. It seems like a remarkably ill timed venture to be honest as Eliza was heavily pregnant at the time and ended up giving birth to her son, Hastings, before she had even managed to leave Calais. Nonetheless, the intrepid Eliza continued with her journey and went on to Hampshire, where she bewitched her Austen cousins with her charm and tales of glamorous, exciting Paris and Versailles.

Along with Jane, Eliza also became very close to Henry Austen, Jane’s favourite brother and the two spent rather too much time flirting with each other, despite the fact that Eliza was ten years his senior. You can imagine them walking together in the garden – handsome Henry and the vivacious little Comtesse with her Anglo French accent and charming, flirtatious ways. It must have been a wrench when she had to return to Paris.

Eliza was to return to England with her mother and son in tow in 1790, after the outbreak of the French Revolution and in one of the first waves of French emigres who landed on English shores at this time. Her husband remained behind in Paris and would be arrested and guillotined in 1794 – an unfortunate tragedy that imbued his pretty little widow with even more tragic glamour in the eyes of her cousins.

To read the entire article, click here.

King Charles II Helps Fight The Great Fire of London

In 1666, a major and devastating fire, which would later be known as the Great Fire of London, ravaged the city for days. The medieval city, 13,200 houses, 87 parish churches, St. Paul's Cathedral and most of the buildings of the City authorities were destroyed and hundreds of people left homeless. King Charles II instead than leaving London and giving orders from afar, helped in the fire fighting operations, displaying great courage and bravery which increased his prestige and the love his people had for him.

At the time, most of the city buildings and constructions were made of wood. Small fires were a frequent occurrence and, in the April of the previous year, the King had warned the Lord Mayor of London of the dangers posed by the narrow streets and overhanging timber houses and wanted to tear them down. But noone heeded him. In addition, the summer of 1666 had been very long and very hot and, as a result, the city was dry and its water reserves depleted. The Great Fire of London was an announced tragedy, yet, because of how common fires were at the time, no one grasped the extent and gravity of it until the next day, when it had become very difficult to extinguish it considering the inefficient means available at the time.

The fire started before dawn on 2nd September in the bakeshop of Thomas Farynor, the king's baker in Pudding Lane, near London Bridge. The family managed to escape but one maid remained trapped in the house and became the first victim of the fire. Because of how close the houses were, the fire soon took hold but when the alarm was given, it wasn't taken seriously. "A woman might piss it out", declared Sir Thomas Bloodworth, the Mayor. Diarist Samuel Pepys had seen the fire too that night, but he didn't think much of it either.
But the fire was still raging in the morning and Pepys decided to go to Whitehall to inform the King and his brother James, Duke of York.

The King straight away ordered to tear down the houses to contain the fire (something the Lord Mayor had hesitated to do until then because he was worried of the high rebuilding costs), but the wind was blowing so strongly that it was difficult to create a clear zone. The King also sent his guards to help, and later he too, together with his brother, went to the site of the fire. The royal brothers travelled by royal barge all the way to Queenshithe, stopping once to watch the fire from the roof of a tall building. The Duke took charge of the fire-fighting operation while Charles too gave orders, imperilling his life in the effort. But the fire wasn't quenched. The flames, now headed to Cheapside. The smoke could be seen from Oxford and Londoners had begun to flee to the open spaces of Moorfields and Finsbury Hill.

The next day, it reached Blackfriers, the whole parish of St Bride's and Ludgate Hill. The Cathedral of St. Paul, which was covered in scaffolding that soon caught fire, was destroyed in a few hours. As contemporaries put it, you would have thought it was Doomsday. The King and his brother went to the City on horseback early in the morning to again help in the fire fighting operations. Charles, armed with a spade and a bucket, and up in his ankles in water, helped both throw water on flames and demolish houses. He encouraged the soldiers and workmen to the same, offering money to those reluctant to tear down the houses. By the end of the day, Charles was dirty and muddy, his face black and his clothes soaked. But he had gained the love and respect of his people by fighting the fire with them.

Finally, that night the wind dropped and the clear zones began to be really effective. The next morning, there were still outbreaks of minor fires as the smouldering amidst the ruins of the city continued, but the Great Fire Of London had been quenched. In all, an area of about one-and-a-half mile long and a half-mile deep had burned. A member of Lincoln's Inn recorded: "you may see from one end of the City almost to the other. You may compare London (were it not for the rubbish) to nothing more than an open field." There is no accurate recording of how many people died. The official death toll is very low, but the deaths of poor people weren't always recorded at the time, so the number of victims could be higher. The only positive effect of the fire was that also the rats who carried the plague were burned and so this horrible disease declined.

Most of the survivors had set up camp at Moorfield and the King ordered the Victualler of the Navy to send them food (however,the biscuits provided from the sea stores were sent back as inedible). And then announced that markets selling bread would be set up all over the perimeter so that people could buy it. The King also went to Moorfield himself to reassure the people the fire had not been set up by Papist as rumours spread by his political opponents claimed. Still fearing a rebellion, he encouraged the homeless poor to move away from London and settle somewhere else, ordering "all Cities and Towns whatsoever shall without any contradiction receive the said distressed persons and permit them the free exercise of their manual trades." In addition, he appointed a day of fasting accompanied by collections in aid of the poor.

It was now time to rebuild London. The King appointed six commissioners to redesign the city and Christopher Wren as the principal architect (he would design about 50 new churches, including St. Paul's Cathedral). The new city that literally rose from its ashes after 4 long years of work was cleaner and safer, with wider streets and brick buildings with better water supplies. Charles II had also asked Wren to design a monument to commemorate the Great Fire, which still stands today at the site of the bakery that started it, although the street has now a different name, Monument Street.

Further reading:
BBC History
King Charles II by Antonia Fraser

Photo source:

Fashions For November 1831

Hello everyone,

are you curious to know what dress styles were fashionable in November 1831 in England and France? Then, let's take a look at some of these dresses below, shall we? I have to admit the only dress I like is the English dinner dress. The color is beautiful and I love the ferroniere on her head, although I'm not too keen on the sleeves. And the sleeves are the reason why I don't like the other dresses (love the skirt of the French opera dress though). I don't know what they were thinking making sleeves so big, they just look silly. What do you think?



A dress of white chaly, finished round the back part of the corsage, which is of a three-quarter height, with a triple fold disposed en pelerine, and descending on each side of the front in the form of an X; immediately above this trimming a light bouquet is embroidered in the centre of the bosom, in pearl-grey silk. The sleeves are of the gigot shape, embroidered at the hand in pearl-grey silk. A Grecian border is worked in light waves above the hem, and bouquets issue from it at regular distances. The pelisse worn over this dress is of pearl-grey gros de Tours. The corsage, made up to the throat, but without a collar, has a slight fulness at the bottom of the waist, before and behind. The pelerine is of moderate size, and very open on the bosom: it is trimmed with a satin rouleau, to correspond, placed at some distance from the edge. The sleeves are of the gigot shape, and of the usual size. The pelisse is open in front, and a little rounded before in the tunic style. It is trimmed down the fronts, and round the border, with a satin rouleau. Collerette fichu of white tulle, trimmed with the same material, and sustained round the throat by a neck-knot of straw-coloured gauze ribbon. The manchettes are also of tulle. The hat is of straw-coloured gros des Indes; a round crown of moderate height: the brim, deeper and wider than they have lately been worn, is trimmed on the inside with light bows of rich white gauze ribbon; a band of ribbon crosses the crown, and a profusion of bows are placed in front.


A dress of rose-coloured gaze Polonais, over a gros de Naples slip of a similar colour. The corsage is cut low; it sits close to the shape behind; the front is arranged in folds which cross so high in the centre of the bosom, that very little of the blond lace chemisette is seen. The sleeves are between the gigot and Amadis form, but incline more to the latter shape. The chemisette is made with a round collar, which falls low over the back and shoulders, and is trimmed with a double fall of blond lace. The hair is parted on the forehead, and arranged in a platted braid en couronne on the summit of the head. The ends of the braid, disposed in corkscrew ringlets, fall over the comb placed behind the couronne. A ferroniere composed of gold chain, with a ruby agraffe, is brought rather low upon the forehead. The jewellery worn with this dress should be of gold and rubies. Swansdown boa tippet.


It is composed of green satin; the shade is that called vert des Indes; it is of the capote shape, but the brim is somewhat larger than usual, and is lined with white satin, upon which blond lace is arranged en evantail. The crown is trimmed with sprigs of foliage, composed of a mixture of satin and gros des Indes, and intermixed with ears of ripe corn, of the natural colour. The curtain at the back of the crown is formed by a wreath of leaves. The mentonnieres are of blond lace.



A dress composed of rose-coloured chaly, a low corsage finished by a lappel of a perfectly novel shape, which falls very far over the sleeve, and is embroidered in a light running pattern in white floize silk. The sleeves are between the Amadis and gigot shape. The fronts and border of the dress are embroidered en tunique in white floize silk. The embroidery, narrow at the waist, becomes progressively broader, and is very rich round the border. The chemisette, which falls, en pelerine, over the bust of the dress, is trimmed with a double fall of blond lace, set on with very little fulness; it is fastened in front by a richly-chased dead gold brooch. A rose-coloured crape hat; the crown is low, and round; the brim, short at the ears, and rather deep, is ornamented on the inside with palmettes gauze ribbon to correspond: on the outside is a blond lace drapery which falls a little over the left side of the brim, turns back en bavolet, and passes under the right side, where it meets the palmettes. This drapery is ornamented with a loose rouleau of gauze ribbon, terminated at each end, by a full bow. A bouquet of rose-coloured ostrich feathers, is placed near the top of the crown on the right side. The hair is parted on the forehead. Ear-rings, bracelets, and ceinture buckle dead gold.


A high dress composed of gros de Naples; the colour, a new and extremely rich shade of brown. The corsage, made to sit close to the shape, is ornamented in a very novel style with a row of points lightly embroidered, which forms it in a heart shape before and behind. The sleeves are a l'Amadis. The pelerine is made with a standing three-pointed collar, which descends in front in the lappel style. A very broad trimming is set on full round the border of the pelerine: it is surmounted by a row of pattes with a gold button in the centre of each. Satin hat of the same colour, lined with white satin but bordered with the material of the hat round the edge of the brim, the inside of which is trimmed with coques of lilac and white striped gauze ribbon. Bands and bows of ribbon arranged in a novel style decorate the crown. Neck-knot to correspond with the dress, fastened by a gold clasp. Bottines of chocolate-coloured gros des Indes. A sable boa tippet, or cachemere shawl, should be thrown carelessly round the shoulders.

Vintage Books, Volume 1

Hello everyone,

with so many books coming out each day, old ones printed decades, if not centuries ago are easily forgotten and that's a shame. Old books can be very interesting too and usually they are also available for free on the internet as their copyright has expired. I've read a few of them lately and thought I'd share them with you. These are not reviews, just quick overviews to let you know what's out there, in case you're interested. So, let's get started:

A Mother's Advice To Her Son And Daughter by Anne Thérèse de Marguenat de Courcelles Lambert (marquise de).
Madame de Lambert was very interested in education and she wrote first A Mother's Advice To Her Son, and later A Mother's Advice To Her Daughter for her children as they prepared to leave adolescence and become adults. She wrote them for private use and was very upset when the books were published from copies she had given to her friends. They were both written at the beginning of the 18th century so a lot of the advice is now outdated as it centers on those virtues that were necessary to aristocratic men and woman at the time: glory and honour for men pursuing a military career and humility and domestic and intellectual virtues for women. But there is also a lot of advice that's still useful and very relevant today and focuses on values and morals, the importance of being honest and polite, and warns us against gambling, envy and the dangers of a life of pleasures only without duties. The book is very enjoyable but still makes you reflect on what's really important. It is also very short and flows easily. You can easily read it all in an hour.
Available at: Google Books

Domestic anecdotes of the French nation during the last thirty years: indicative of the French revolution by Isaac Disraeli. This book investigates the causes of the French Revolution by sharing anecdotes, taken from memoirs, books and journals of the time, of the French nation in the thirty years prior to the French Revolution. The anecdotes are divided into different sections (philosophers, clergy, King, Queen, to name a few) and portray the injustices the rich perpetrated against the poor and the extravagance and luxury of their lifestyle at a time when most of the population was starving. It's a very interesting read and would be quick too if it wasn't for the use of the long S, which may make reading a bit difficult for the modern reader.
Available at: Google Books

The Letters of Queen Victoria, Vol 2 (of 3), 1844-1853. This is a selection from Queen Victoria's correspondence between the years 1844 and 1853. Some are private letters, like those she sends to her uncle, King Leopold I of the Belgians, in which she discusses both personal and state matters, others are letters addressed to her ministers or foreign sovereigns. Some of their replies are also included. You can read about her frustrations with some of her ministers, the endless discussions about the corn laws and the difficulty in creating new governments, but also get a glimpse of a more personal side of this Queen and of the unbounded love she felt for her husband Albert. A very interesting and wonderful read for all interested in Queen Victoria.
Available at: Project Gutenberg

Legendary fictions of the Irish Celts by Patrick Kennedy
In this book Patrick Kennedy collects and narrates, in a straightforward and entertaining manner, stories and legends of the Ancient Celts. There are stories about ghosts, fairies, witchcraft, changelings and other local beings and legends. But my favourites were the Ossianic legends, stories about the ancient and legendary heroes of Ireland, the Fianna warriors and their chief Fann Mac Cuil. If you like legends and myths, I highly recommend this short but very entertaining book.
Available at: Google Books

Honore De Balzac by Albert Keim and Louis Lumet. A biography of one of the greatest French novelists and playwrights co-authored by Albert Keim and Louis Lumet. They explore De Balzac's childhood, his relationships with his family and the important women in his life, his business ventures that always seemed to end badly, his passion and zeal for his work and just every aspect of his life. The language is somewhat archaic but easy to understand and the book flows easily. I recommend it to all those who are interested in learning more about Honore De Balzac.
Available at: Project Gutenberg

Have you read any of these books? If so, what do you think of them?

Queen Rani Mangammal

Rani Mangammal was the daughter of Tupakula Lingama Nayaka, a general of Chokkanatha Nayak, ruler of the south Indian kingdom of Madurai Nayak (now called Tamil Nadu). She caught the king's eye, and he decided to marry her. The couple had a son. When in 1682, Chokkanatha died, their son, now fifteen years old, ascended to the throne. But he didn't occupy it for long. He died in 1689, while his wife was pregnant with their son, Vijaya Ranga Chokkanatha. Unlike Mangammal, her daughter-in-law, after giving birth to her child, chose to commit suttee*. Mangammal instead, became regent for her grandson.

The Madurai people weren't happy to be ruled by a woman but in time, Mangammal, proved a capable and efficient leader, both in times of peace and war. She was a good military leader, had great diplomatic and political skills, and knew how to administer a country. She also built many roads and temples, many of which are still in use nowadays, repaired irrigation channels and in 1701, made large grants for a public feeding institute. Although she was Hindu, the Queen regent was tolerant of other religions and, during her reign, Christian missionaries could carry out their works more freely than in the past. Mangammal was a popular and loved leader and many towns were named after her.

Maybe it's because she knew she was doing such a great job that, in 1704, when her grandson became of age, she refused to abdicate. She was supported in this by the chief minister, who was said to be on too intimate terms with her. But her grandson had his supporters too. He and his general locked her up in prison where she died of starvation.

*the Hindu custom of a widow burning herself on her husband's funeral pyre to purge their sins and elevate herself into a deity

Further reading:
Doomed Queens: Royal Women Who Met Bad Ends by Kris Waldherr

A Scent Bag Recipe

Have you ever wondered how people in the nineteenth century prevented moths and other insects from ruining their clothes? They would use scent bags filled with plants which kept the insects away and made clothes smell lovely too. The Repository of arts, literature and fashion shares a recipe used to make these scent bags:


Take the tops of rosemary, lavender, rose-leaves, the chippings of cedar, cassia lignea, and sassafras wood; reduce these substances to a coarse powder, sprinkle them over with a few drops of otto of roses, and sew them up in a coarse muslin or silken bag. These bags, when laid in the wardrobe among garments, not only impart to them a pleasant scent, but contribute also to preserve the clothes from being injured by moths and other insects.

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

Photo source:
Le Petit Poulailler

Historical Reads: Princess Beatrice

At NineteenTeen, author Marissa Doyle talks about Queen Victoria's youngest daughter, Beatrice. To quote:

That pretty liveliness, however, was not destined to remain. The deaths of both the Queen’s mother and husband in 1861 plunged the Queen into gloom, and levity was not welcomed in her household. Gradually, Beatrice’s bright personality and intelligence were worn down, until by her teens, she had become very shy and almost tongue-tied in public and her natural grace dulled. Victoria’s older daughters had, one by one, escaped into marriage, but if the Queen had any say in the matter, Beatrice would not: she would remain at her mother’s side, serving as her personal secretary and companion for the rest of her life.

And so matters continued until 1884. Though Victoria assured everyone that Beatrice was quite content to remain “the daughter of the house”, there had been thoughts of marrying her off, possibly to Louis of Hesse, her late sister’s Alice’s widower. Finding a groom for Beatrice did not appear to be an easy prospect: she was chunky, awkward and gauche in public, and just not very attractive. But at a family wedding in that fateful year, Beatrice fell in love. Her choice was Prince Henry of Battenburg, a minor German princeling. In many ways, he was the perfect choice: he was more or less penniless and landless, and could therefore quite easily move to England and become Beatrice’s husband, rather than her leaving England to become his wife. So after six months of the Silent Treatment (quite literally!) on the Queen’s part, promises were extracted from Henry (nicknamed “Liko”) and Beatrice that they would always live with her, and the pair were allowed to marry in 1885.

To read the entire post, click here.

Madame Vigée Le Brun on Caroline Murat née Bonaparte

Being a renowned portrait painter can give you lots of satisfactions: you're involved with your sitter but also spend quite a lot of time working in peace and solitude and can get paid quite a lot of money too. But sometimes, you'll have to deal with a client who keeps changing his/her mind, doesn't respect punctuality and just doesn't show much consideration for the painter. That's what happened to Madame Vigée Le Brun, when Napoleon asked her to paint a portrait of her sister Caroline Murat:

One of the first people I met, upon my return from London, was Mme. de Ségur, and I frequently went to see her. One day her husband told me that my journey to England had displeased the Emperor, who had curtly remarked, "Mme. Lebrun went to see her friends." But Bonaparte's resentment against me could not have been violent, since, a few days after speaking thus, he sent M. Denon to me with an order to paint his sister, Mme. Murat. I thought I could not refuse, although I was only to be paid 1,800 francs – that is to say, less than half of what I usually asked for portraits of the same size. This sum was the more moderate, too, because, for the sake of satisfying myself as to the composition of the picture, I painted Mme. Murat's pretty little girl beside her, and that without raising the price.

I could not conceivably describe all the annoyances, all the torments I underwent in painting this picture. To begin with, at the first sitting, Mme. Murat brought two lady's maids, who were to do her hair while I was painting her. However, upon my remark that I could not under such circumstances do justice to her features, she vouchsafed to send her servants away. Then she perpetually failed to keep the appointments she made with me, so that, in my desire to finish, I was kept in Paris nearly the whole summer, as a rule waiting for her in vain, which angered me unspeakably. Moreover, the intervals between the sittings were so long that she sometimes changed her mode of doing her hair. In the beginning, for instance, she wore curls hanging over her cheeks, and I painted them accordingly; but some time after, this having gone out of fashion, she came back with her hair dressed in a totally different manner, so that I was forced to scrape off the hair I had painted on the face, and was likewise compelled to blot out a brow-band of pearls and put cameos in its place. The same thing happened with her dress. One I had painted at first was cut rather open, as dresses were then so worn, and furnished with wide embroidering. The fashion having changed, I was obliged to close in the dress and do the embroidering anew. All the annoyances that Mme. Murat subjected me to at last put me so much out of temper that one day, when she was in my studio, I said to M. Denon, loudly enough for her to hear, "I have painted real princesses who never worried me, and never made me wait." The fact is, Mme. Murat was unaware that punctuality is the politeness of kings, as Louis XIV. so well said.

Further reading:
The Memoirs of Madame Vigée Le Brun

Bernard-François Balssa

Bernard François Balssa (or Balsa) was the father of the great French novelist and playwright Honore De Balzac. He was also the first to add a "c" and the particle "de" to his surname, something his son would often be reproached with throughout his life. But who was Bernard François Balssa? Born on 22nd July 1746 in the small village of Nougaire, in the south of France, he came from a family of peasants. At 14, he left the village and never returned there again. What became of him?

Francois became secretary to the Grand Council under Louis XV, and attorney to the Council under Louis XVI. During the revolution he was secretary to the minister of the navy, Bertrant de Molleville, and then director of the commissary department in the first division of the Armée du Nord, stationed at Lille. Because of his work, Francois had to travel a lot all over the country. Maybe that's part of the reason why he married when he was already quite old, at 52. The bride, Laure, was only 18 and the daughter of one of his superior officers, Sallambier, attached to the Ministry of War and director of the Paris hospitals. She was cultured, with a distinction of manner and attitude, and beautiful.

Francois instead had a large head, "a smooth-shaven face and florid complexion, a powerful chin and full cheeks, framed in short, brown 'mutton-chop' whiskers, a small mouth with thick lips, a long straight, slightly bulbous nose, an energetic face lit up by black eyes, brilliant and slightly dreamy, beneath a broad, determined forehead overhung with stray locks of hair, gathered back in the fashion of the Republic [...] François Balzac had furthermore an agreeable presence and a self-satisfied manner, and it pleased him to boast of his southern origin."

He was also a reformer and had many new ideas that were different from those accepted by public opinion at the time. These characteristics made him stood out from the crowd when he and his wife moved to Tours, where the commissary department of the twenty-second military division, of which he had got the direction thanks to his father-in law was stationed. The inhabitants of Tours were calm and placid and they soon started to call him eccentric, something that really annoyed him. But what were these new and original ideas he had?

He was a disciple of Rousseau. He was very critical of existing governments. But he was most of all obsessed with the idea that men could live 100 years or more if they took proper care of themselves (and of course he believed himself to be one of the few destined to live that long). He praised the Chinese for their longevity and sought means to maintain a good health. But while Francois was right to believe that by taking proper care of your health, you can live longer, this turned into an obsession for him and he developed more sinister ideas. He believed, for instance, that governments should apply a method of eugenic selection to marriage, so that in a few years every human being would be healthy, strong and robust! There was no place in his world for weak, crippled or invalid people. He also wrote several essays and pamphlets such as An Essay regarding Two Great Obligations to be fulfilled by the French (1804, in which he proposed to build a monument to celebrate the glory of Napoleon and the French army), An Essay on the Methods of preventing Thefts and Assassinations (1807) and The History of Hydrophobia (1819).

Despite his radical ideas, he became, in 1804 the administrator of the General Hospice and several years later, he refused the mayoralty, to keep working with the sick and convalescent. He also introduced there a reform to provide paid work for old men. In the meantime, his family grew. His first child died, but four more - Honoré, Laure, Laurence, and Henri - survived. His relationship with his children, and in particular with Honoré, wasn't always easy. Honoré knew from a very early age that he wanted to become a famous writer and had the talent to achieve his dreams. But his family didn't think so. So, when Honoré grew and it was time for him to do something with his life, his father decided he should become a notary. François had a friend that was willing to to turn over his practice to him after a few years of apprenticeship,but Honorè refused. Writing was his life and that's what he would do.

François couldn't understand this decision. That of a notary was a remunerative and respected occupation, and because of this very sought-after too, profession. And the family needed this money too. He was now retired and had made some bad investments so his fortune had depleted and, as the eldest son, Honoré was supposed to contribute and help financially. And rapidly too. He and his wife considered Honoré's refusal scandalous. They thought he was an ingrate to throw away such an opportunity to follow his dreams, which, they believed he had little hope to fulfill. But in the end, they decided to give him two years to try his luck as an author. Hiding the news from their friends in the case he should fail, they sent him to Villeparisis with an annual allowance of fifteen hundred francs, which was quite a small sum. But when, two years later, Honoré presented his tragedy Cromwell to his family, they were less than impressed.

Undaunted, Honoré would keep pursuing his dream amid poverty and privations, although whenever one of his many business ventures failed, his family helped him out financially. And then reproached him for not pursuing a notary career. He could have been well-off and respected instead, now an adult man, he didn't seem any nearer to fulfill his literary ambitions. Yet, when François died, his son suffered greatly for his loss. François wasn't destined to live 100 years after all. He died on June 19, 1829, due to the side effects on an operation on the liver.

Further reading:
Honore de Balzac di Albert Keim e Louis Lumet

Book Review: Water For Elephants by Sara Gruen

As a young man, Jacob Jankowski was tossed by fate onto a rickety train that was home to the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. It was the early part of the great Depression, and for Jacob, now ninety, the circus world he remembers was both his salvation and a living hell. A veterinary student just shy of a degree, he was put in charge of caring for the circus menagerie. It was there that he met Marlena, the beautiful equestrian star married to August, the charismatic but twisted animal trainer. And he met Rosie, an untrainable elephant who was the great gray hope for this third-rate traveling show. The bond that grew among this unlikely trio was one of love and trust, and, ultimately, it was their only hope for survival.

Water For Elephants by Sara Gruen is a book I've wanted to read for a long time. I've read so many great things about it and I was curious to see what the hype was about. And it's a very enjoyable read indeed. The story is nice, well-written and well-researched and Gruen beautifully and realistically brings to life the world of the circus during the Great Depression in America. However, I couldn't help but feel a bit disappointed too. Maybe I was just expecting too much but I found the character too flat and some parts of the books, especially the beginning, quite slow.

Jacob Jankowski is a ninety-something year old man living in a nursing home. He's bitter, alone and wasting away and my heart really went out to him. This part of the book really made me reconsider how we treat our elderly, like when we hide from them our problems or other bad things that we think may upset them, or say soothing words and coax them, helping them do things they are still capable to do and want to do themselves because we think they should rest instead. We may have the best intentions at heart, but are really treating them like children and making them feel like they're useless and not good for anything anymore.

When the circus arrives in his town, Jacob starts recalling his life in the Benzini Brothers traveling circus, which he joined after the sudden death of both his parents. He had studied veterinary science and needed only to take his final exams to get his degree but that doesn't matter to the circus owner. He needs a vet and so Jacob got the job. By tending to the animals he meets the beautiful Marlena, an equestrian performer, and her psychotic husband August, the animal trainer. Along the road, they also pick up Rosie, an elephant who doesn't obey the commands of the trainer and is abused for it, which disgusts both Jacob and Marlena. And it's not just the animals the are being abused. Not all those who work in the circus get paid regularly and some even suddenly disappear during the night.

Reading the book it is clear that Gruen has done her research meticulously. The descriptions of what life was like in the circus at the time are spot-on and accurate. She uncovers the gritty, raw, nasty reality behind the glitz and glamour of the show that's all the spectators usually see. She shows us how the performers and workers were treated and exploited, their relationships, friendships and sympathies but also jealousies and enmities, and what happened when a circus went bankrupt. Even the language is accurate, with characters talking just like they would have done at the time. There is also a surprising twist in the end, when Gruen reveals the dark secret she had hinted at in the prologue.

Although the story is well-researched and has a nice and interesting plot, the characters are rather dull and flat. Marlena has a good heart and loves animals but apart from that, she seems pretty ordinary and boring, and I couldn't see why Jacob fell for her. And that's why I didn't care about their relationship. I didn't notice any chemistry there, no sparks flying.. Even her jealous husband August and Uncle Al, who are the baddies of the book, failed to make a big impression on me. I wish Gruen had developed the characters more, as that would have made the story both more enjoyable and more believable. But overall, it's an entertaining story that, despite its flaws, really pulls the reader in.

Water For Elephants by Sara Gruen is a well-researched book that brings to life the world of a Depression-era traveling circus, the glitz and glamour of an awe-inspiring show and the gritty and raw reality of abuse, cruelty and enmity behind the scenes. However, the characters aren't deeply and fully developed and because of it, the love story between Jacob and Marlena lacks chemistry. The baddies too don't make much of an impression. All in all though, Water For Elephants is a well-written and entertaining story that engrosses the reader into a world that many of us don't really know anything about.

Available at:, Amazon UK, Barnes & Noble and Book Depository

Rating: 4/5

Edda Ciano Mussolini: The War Years

On 1 September 1939, World War II broke out. But Italy didn't enter the war straight away. Its army wasn't ready and its people against the war, so for the moment Mussolini had no choice but to declare that Italy would remain neutral. Edda thought this was a mistake. She wanted Italy to join the war on the side of Germany immediately, thinking that failing to do so would dishonour her country and render it uninfluential. She argued with her husband about it. Galeazzo, who had hoped until the last minute that Germany wouldn't invade Poland, replied that she didn't understand anything about politics.

However, Italy's neutrality couldn't last forever and, on 10th June 1940, Italy declared war on France and Great Britain. Very few people in Italy wanted this war but Edda was ecstatic. Germany was winning, and rapidly too, it seemed at the time and Mussolini thought that soon the war would be over and they victorious. As we know, things turned out very differently. And so the war started for Italy too. And while the civil population and the soldiers were suffering because of the war, Edda was still enjoying a lavish and spendthrift lifestyle and eating pasta, steaks and other foods that were rationed. Not even news of her brother Bruno's death, on 7th August 1941, made her change her habits and ways.

However, after having supported Italy's entry in the war, Edda in the end decided to be actively involved in it in some way. She enrolled as a Red Cross nurse, despite not having acquired the necessary certification for it*. She headed to the French front without telling anyone of her intentions which infuriated her father but soon Petain firmed an armistice and she was forced to go to the Greek-Albian front to offer her assistance. She was very active, often working 12-14 hours a day and was liked by both doctors and patients. But this job was obviously dangerous and she risked her life once, when the hospital ship on which she was served was bombarded (probably to kill her) by the British and sunk. Edda managed to survive, spending five hours in the water before being rescued. She also served as a nurse in Palermo, a city that had been heavily bombarded. She was horrified by what she saw: the population without bread for 6 whole days and no water for a month, wounded people lying completely naked in hospital beds, while the survivors where sleeping on the side of roads or near rocks.. She wrote to her father that she had never seen so much suffering and pain, not even in Albania and Russia. She also gave money, cigarettes, soaps and clothes, among other things, to people in need. These charitable works were encouraged by the Fascist regime which used them as propaganda.

In 1942, Edda visited Germany again. At first the Germans, knowing her husband Galeazzo's anti-Nazi sentiments, weren't too happy about it but in the end decided that because Edda was still a supporter, they could find some ways to use her should the appropriate occasion arise. In Germany Edda visited the camps where Italian men had gone to work upon the request of the German government. She was horrified by what she witnessed here. The men were treated like slaves, were given only potatoes to eat and forced to work too much. In a hospital, she also found one of these workers, who had ended up there after being beaten severely by a watchman. She immediately related the episode to Hitler. The fuhrer seemed angry, ordering inquests and arrests but, like Galeazzo knew, things wouldn't change.

During this time, Edda didn't get on well with her father. She thought he demanded a too severe and austere behaviour from the soldiers and she felt sympathy towards the men who were returning from the front, saying they should enjoy life to the full before going back to fighting. But there was also a more personal reason that divided her from her father: she hated Claretta Petacci, Mussolini's lover, and her family. She thought they were exploiting Claretta's relationship with the Dux to further their own ends, make money and further their supporters' careers. Several ministers were nominated thanks to Claretta's influence, and thus gained the name of Claretta's ministers. Edda was furious and would report their dodgy dealings to her father, telling him to stop causing scandals. Benito, who had had a bad row with Claretta, agreed and promised he would end their relationship. He kept his word but only for a week or so. Then, they got back together. And the closer he became to Claretta, the more distant he behaved towards Edda. Father and daughter spent months without seeing each other and when they talked, they often rowed.

Edda also blamed the Petacci's clan for Galeazzo losing his job as Minister of Foreign Affairs in 1943. The real reason for the dismissal, though, was his anti-Nazi feelings. So it is odd that Ciano was next assigned as ambassador to the Holy See. It is true that this way, Ciano would have to stay in Rome where Mussolini could watch him closely, but in the Vatican Hitler and the Germans weren't loved either. In the meantime, Italy and Germany were losing the war. There were those, including Ciano and the Vatican, who wanted Italy to sign a separate peace with the Allies forces and finally end the war, but Mussolini wouldn't hear of it. He would keep fighting until the end. On 10th July 1943 the Allies soldiers landed in Sicily and started to liberate the nation.

It was now time to get rid of Mussolini. Ciano had been approached three years before already for that purpose but he wouldn't betray Mussolini then. Now, things were rapidly degenerating and there was no time to lose. Other prominent members of the Italian Fascist government, such as Dino Grandi, were turning against him and so Mussolini had no choice but to summon the Grand Council of Fascism on 24th July 1943. Grandi asked to pass a vote of no confidence in Mussolini and allow the King to resume his full constitutional powers. The motion passed and the next day King Victor Emannuel III dismissed Mussolini, who was arrested, and replaced him with Pietro Badoglio. The country rejoiced. Galeazzo though was scared and, once reunited with his wife and children, who were in Livorno at the time of the vote, told them they had to leave Italy straight away or they would be killed. But where to go?

They thought to head to Spain first but the new minister of the Foreign Office refused them the necessary documents. Then, they tried the Vatican, but here too they weren't welcome. It was now that Edda thought to ask the Germans for help. She still trusted them while Galeazzo thought that was an insane idea. But he didn't really have any other choice. But the Germans told Edda that they would gladly help her and her children escape, but not her husband. Hitler hated him and wanted him to stay in Italy. Still, with their help, the whole family managed to safely leave the house and get into cars that led them to the airport. They got on a plane, thinking they would be safely in Spain soon, but the Germans had tricked them: the plane was heading North, to Germany, where they met Hitler. At first the Ciano family was well-treated here but after Italy had signed the Armistice, they became prisoners. It was here, while waiting for the false passports that would never come, that Edda finally opened her eyes and realised that Hitler couldn't be trusted. But he kept one of her promises to her: the Germans, on 12th September, liberated her father, who was reunited to the rest of the family in Germany.

And straight away Hitler told him that, once in power again, he would have to sentence to death those who had voted against him at the Grand Council of Fascism, including Galeazzo. The fact he was his son-in-law only made the betrayal more serious, and thus more worthy of severe punishment, in Hitler's opinion. Mussolini agreed to return to Italy where he set up the Italian Social Republic (also know as the Republic of Salò). Most of his family went to live with him, while Edda would occasionally go to visit him to plead her husband's cause but to no avail. Finally, on 19th October, Galeazzo returned to Italy, but as a prisoner of the Republic, and was locked up in prison. Edda was allowed to write to and receive letters from her husband, but could seem him only rarely.

Edda fiercely defended her husband and pleaded her father to save him but he told her he couldn't. No one would understand, he said, him sentencing to death all the men that had betrayed him and saving Ciano only. Both the Nazi and the Fascists still faithful to him wanted Ciano's head and he felt he had no choice but give it to them. She had a furious row with her father, telling him the war was lost and that she didn't consider him to be her father anymore. Edda now had only one other option to try and save Galeazzo. She offered to the Germans Galeazzo's war diaries, which contained information they didn't want to be made public, in exchange for her husband's freedom. But this plan too failed. Ciano was tried and sentenced to death. He was executed, together with others who had voted for Mussolini's ousting, on 11th January 1944. Edda was devastated. Betrayed by the father she had loved, by the trust she had felt in Hitler and Nazism, Edda, now a vidow, escaped to Switzerland with her children.

* This certification had been denied to her by Princess Marie Jose of Savoy, who was the president of the Red Cross. To get it, it was necessary to complete an uninterrupted year of service and Edda hadn't done that.

Further reading:
Edda, Una Tragedia Italiana by Antonio Spinosa

Photo source
Museo Virtuale Dei Fratelli Saggero

A Contemporary Description Of Mary I

Giovanni Michieli, the Venetian ambassador to the English court, thus describes Queen Mary I:

She is of low rather than of middling stature, but, although short, she has not personal defect in her limbs, nor is any part of her body deformed. She is of spare and delicate frame, quite unlike her father, who was tall and stout; nor does she resemble her mother, who, if not tall, was nevertheless bulky. Her face is well formed, as shown by her features and lineaments, and as seen by her portraits. When younger she was considered, not merely tolerably handsome, but of beauty exceeding mediocrity. At present, with the exception of some wrinkles, caused more by anxieties than by age, which makes her appear some years older, her aspect, for the rest, is very grave. Her eyes are so piercing that they inspire not only respect, but fear in those on whom she fixes them, although she is very shortsighted, being unable to read or do anything else unless she has her sight quite close to what she wishes to peruse or to see distinctly.

Her voice is rough and loud, almost like a man's, so that when she peaks she is always heard a long way off. In short, she is a seemly woman, and never to be loathed for ugliness, even at her present age, without considering her degree of queen. But whatever may be the amount deducted from her physical endowments, as much more may with truth, and without flattery, be added to those of her mind, as, besides the facility and quickness of her understanding, which comprehends whatever is intelligible to others, even to those who are not of her own sex (a marvellous gift for a woman), she is skilled in five languages, not merely understanding, but speaking four of them fluently - English, Latin, French, Spanish, and Italian, in which last, however, she does not venture to converse, although it is well known to her; but the replies she gives in Latin, and her very intelligent remarks made in that tongue surprise everybody....

Besides woman's work, such as embroidery of every sort with the needle, she also practices music, playing especially on the clavichord and on the lute so excellently that, when intent on it...she surprised the best performers, both by the rapidity of her hand and by her style of playing. Such are her virtues and external accomplishments. Internally, with the exception of certain trifles, in which, to say the truth, she is like other women, being sudden and passionate, and close and miserly, rather more so than would become a bountiful and generous queen, she in other respects has no notable imperfections; whilst in certain things she is singular and without an equal, for not only is she brave and valiant, unlike other timid and spiritless women, but she courageous and resolute that neither in adversity nor peril did she ever even display or commit any act of cowardice or pusillanimity, maintaining always, on the contrary, a wonderful grandeur and dignity, knowing what became the dignity of a sovereign as well as any of the most consummate statesmen in her service; so that from her way of proceeding and from the method observed by her (and in which she still perseveres), it cannot be denied that she shows herself to have been born of truly royal lineage.

[She is also subject to] a very deep melancholy, much greater than that to which she is constitutionally liable, from menstrous retention and suffocation of the matrix to which, for many years, she has been often subject, so that the remedy of tears and weeping, to which from childhood she has been accustomed, and still often used by her, is not sufficient; she requires to be blooded either from the foot or elsewhere, which keeps her always pale and emaciated.

Further reading:
Tudor Primary Sources

Historical Reads: Marie Antoinette's French Grandmother

Melanie Clegg, the lovely lady behind Madame Guillotine, has written a very interesting post about Élisabeth Charlotte d’Orléans, Marie Antoinette's French grandmother. To quote:

Élisabeth was eventually married at the age of twenty two, which was absolutely elderly by the standards of the day, to the Duc de Lorraine, who was a bit of a step down for a Princess who had been considered a suitable bride for a King and Emperor. The wedding was a very grand affair and took place on the 13th of October 1698 in the chapel at Fontainebleau in front of her family and the entire court, who were probably relieved to have her married at last and also to someone who wouldn’t prompt her terrifying mother to lose her temper with the King.

It wasn’t a love match and had been engineered by necessities of state, but Élisabeth and her new husband, Leopold fell deeply in love and were to be immensely happy together bar a rough patch in the middle of their years together when he had a bit of a mid life crisis and took up with a glamorous French noblewoman. Their chief residence was the Château de Lunéville, which her husband extensively rebuilt and which became known as ‘the Versailles of Lorraine’.

The proximity of Lorraine to Versailles and Paris meant that Élisabeth was a lot more fortunate than many other Princesses, including her own grand-daughters, the daughters of her son Francis and Maria Theresa, who were sent away from home at an early age never to return. Élisabeth, on the other hand, was still able to see her family if not as much as previously then more often than perhaps she could have hoped for before her marriage. She was even a guest at all the great events of the time, including the coronation of her cousin, Louis XV at Rheims Cathedral.

To read the entire article, click here.

The Escape of Charles II

The escape of Charles II is one of the best, most thrilling great escape stories of all time. It is all the more extraordinary because Charles was a very tall man (about 6 foot at a time when most men only reached 5'10) and so should have been easy to spot and recognize. Instead, thanks to the help of loyal supporters, who would have been declared traitors and condemned to death if caught, he managed to escape Cromwell's forces and reach the continent. But let's start from the beginning, shall we?

After he lost, on 3rd September 1651, the battle of Worchester, in which he had tried to recapture his dead father's throne, Charles II was a wanted man. With the parliamentary forces hot on their heels, Charles and a few of his loyal gentlemen, including Lauderdale, Backingham and the Earl of Derby, managed to narrowly escape through the northern gate of Worcester. They were heading north but didn't know precisely where to go. The party thought the King had a better chance to escape if he travelled almost alone and so, somewhere along the road, most of his men took a different direction. Among these men was the Duke of Derby, who would be captured by Parliamentarian forces and beheaded.

The King kept marching north without a precise destination until someone suggested to go to Whiteladies, a sympathetic Catholic house where they would be safe, at least for a little while. Charles arrived there at dawn. He was given some bread and cheese, which he really must have needed after such a long day and night. Then, he got rid of his well-recognizable clothes and put on a green jerkin, grey cloth breeches, leather doublet and greasy soft hat. He was now dressed “a la mode the woodman”. Next, his hair was cut off, the embroidered tops removed from his socks, his hands and face stained with walnut juice. He had to change his shoes too but the ones they managed to provide him with didn't fit him properly and hurt his feet. He also had to abandon his Order of St. George, while the gold he carried with him was given to the servants. Considering the generous reward that hang on his head, the King didn't want to take any chances.

Charles had now to decide where to go from there. He ruled out Scotland because he was afraid that its people, quick to follow him when successful, would have been as quick to desert him now he had lost. He thus decided to head to Wales. So, the King, accompanied only by Richard Penderel, surreptitiously left Whiteladies by the back door, shortly before a group of Parliamentarian solders arrived to search the house, and took refuge in a nearby wood called Spring Coppice, where he hid all day, hungry and thirsty. The pair also saw some troops who were searching for them but luckily they weren't seen, probably because of the heavy rain that was pouring down. They proceeded to the Severn, but, after spending the night in a barn, they discovered that the river crossings were well guarded and so they had no choice but to return to the Boscobel area.

Here, Charles, together with Major Carlis, a Royalist soldier, hid on an oak tree for an entire day, watching the Parliamentarian soldiers scouring the woods in search of them. Only in the evening, they decided to leave their refuge and go inside the house. After dinner, which he helped to cook, he spent the night in a small priest's hiding place at the top of the house. But it wasn't safe for him to stay too long in one place and so he left again, this time for Moseley Old Hall. Here he was fed and given dry, greasy clothes. Here, he also slept in a bed for the first time since his flight began. His room also had its own hiding-place nearby and was usually used by Father John Huddleston, a monk of the Order of St. Benedict, who would, years later, be present at the King's conversion to Catholicism on his death bed.

From there, the King then left for Bentley Hall, the home of a Colonel Lane. The Colonel had a daughter, Jane Lane, who was planning to visit her sister, who was about to give birth, at Abbot's Leigh, near Bristol. It was thus decided that Charles would travel with her disguised as her servant. He so became William Jackson, but this disguise wasn't altogether convincing as Charles had no idea how to ride on a double horse or doff his hat with the proper subservience, all things a servant should have been able to do. But the little party, which also included Lord Wilmont who carried a hawk on his wrist as a disguise, set off. They reached Abbot's Leigh on 12th September. Here he was forced to stay confined in his room, pretending he was recovering from a fever, after discovering that a member of the household had served in his regiment and could thus have been able to recognize him.

The Welsh ports were watched by the government and being thus unable to find a boat at Bristol, the party decide to proceed their journey to the South. Jane Lane went with them as she was still needed to provide a convincing cover story. Dorset would have been the next best point of escape, but the group had to bypass it as the place was crawling with soldiers. They then went to Trent, near Sherborne and spent a few days at Trent Manor, the home of Colonel Francis Wyndham, another Royalist officer. Here he witnessed a bizarre event: the people were celebrating his death, believing he had been killed at Worcester. While the King remained hidden, Wyndham and Wilmot were sent to find a boat leaving from Lyme (Regis was added later as a reward for its loyalty). After saying goodbye to Jane, Charles left for the nearby village of Charmouth were a boat was waiting for him to bring him to safety in France. But the ship never arrived. The skipper had been locked in his bedroom by his outraged wife, who suspected he was up to something dodgy with his nocturnal plan!

The party was left once again wondering where to go and to make matters worse, they were now in a part of the country were the King was well-known and he risked being discovered at every turn. They thus decided to go back to Trent Manor. On their way there, the party stopped at an inn in Broadwinsor, where about 40 soldiers decided to spend the night as well. Luckily for the King, one of the women travelling with the soldiers went into labour, and in the confusion that followed, no one paid attention to Charles, who was able to escape undetected. The next day he arrived back at Trent Manor, where he remained for a couple of weeks, while his supporters looked for a boat. On 6th October, the King, together with Juliana Coningsby and Henry Peters, Colonel Wyndham’s servant, left for Heale House, near Amesbury. It was the home of a Royalist lady named Mrs Amphillis Hyde. While there, he also spent a good day at Stonehenge.

After spending a few days at Heale House, he left for Sussex, where a boat had been arranged for his escape, at the price of sixty pieces of silver. The cover story was that the boat was to carry a party of illegal duelists. The King spent his last night in England in the little village of Bramber and then reached Shoreham harbor at the appointed time. On Wednesday, 15 October, at 4am, King Charles II finally departed from England on board of The Surprise. Just two hours later, the soldiers would come and search the port for him. But The King was well away by this time. On 16th October, he would lend in France, where he would spend the next nine years in exile.

King Charles II by Antonia Fraser

Tradesmen's Token: Toy Tavern in Hampton Court

In times of acute shortage of coins, English traders issued their own bona fide private coins to enable their trading activities to proceed. The Gentleman's Magazine, a Victorian magazine, wrote a series of articles on some of these tokens and the businesses that issued them. I thought it'd be nice to share those stories with you, so let's see what the magazine wrote about the Toy Tavern, a once very famous tavern in Hampton Court, and its token, shall we?

THE Toy Tavern at Hampton Court is one of the most ancient in England. It was a flourishing hostelry in the days of James I, and there is reason for believing it existed during the dynasty of the Tudors. It formerly stood close to the water-side, between the bridge-foot and the palace gates; but in 1840 the old building, being in a ruinous state, was taken down, and the name and business removed to its present position, opposite the Green or ancient tilting-ground, only a few hundred yards west of its former site. There has been some difficulty in ascertaining the origin of this singular designation "The Toy".

As the house lay close to the river, bordering the towing-path, it has been suggested that the name might be traced to this circumstance. On the other hand, it has been supposed that the original sign was "The Hoy" (which would be appropriate enough for a water-side tavern) and was gradually clipped or abbreviated, in the patois of the west-country bargemen, into "T'oy". But in Miss Strickland's "Lives of the Queens of England" (Anne of Denmark vol vii p. 461) an explanation of the origin of this name is given, which there can be little doubt is the true one. "Fronting the royal stables (now appertaining to the Toy Hotel) is a small triangular plain. This plain in the era of the Tudors and Stuarts was the tilting-place, and indeed the playground of the adjoining palace. Here used to be set up moveable fences, made of net-work, called toils or tois, used in those games in which barriers were needed, from whence the name of the stately hostel on the green is derived."

This is borne out by a passage in the Rev. D. Lysons's "Middlesex Parishes". "In the survey in 1653 (preserved in the Augmentation Office) mention is made of a piece of pasture-ground near the river, called the Toying Place; the site probably of a well known-inn near the bridge, now called 'The Toy'". This tavern stands directly facing the ancient Tilting or Toying Place, now commonly called Hampton Court Green, one side of which is bordered by "Frog-walk"*. The stables attached to it formerly belonged to the palace, and their dull and gloomy architecture contrasts strangely with the stately and handsome facade of the tavern. In these stables we may suppose the horses were housed, and the Tois kept prepared for the tilts and equestrian games which were held opposite; so that the present position and property of "The Toy" are in singular harmony with the origin of its name.

William III, who lived much at Hampton Court, patronized the Toy, and was in the habit of giving periodical rump-steak dinners to his Dutoh courtiers at the tavern, terminating no doubt with a glorious consumption of tobacco. It is well known that the king and his Dutch friends had an ardent passion for smoking, which was probably forbidden to be indulged within the palace walls. John Drewry, who issued this token, adopted the heart-shape; it is undated, but must have been struck between 1648 and 1672, the period to which this species of currency was limited. We have delineated, among our former examples, specimens of the square and the octagon. These were all departures from the ordinary circular form, and were probably devised to attract notice.

* This is noticed in the "Lives of the Queens of England," vol xi p 49. "The queen (Mary II) took up her residence at Hampton Court permanently for the summer in July 1689. She took a great deal of exercise, and used to promenade, at a great pace, up and down the long straight walk, under the wall of Hampton Court, nearly opposite the Toy. As her Majesty was attended by her Dutch maids of honour, or English ladies naturalized in Holland, the common people who gazed on their foreign garb and mien named this promenade "Frow walk": it is now deeply shadowed with enormous elms and chestnuts, the frogs from the neighbouring Thames, to which it slants, occasionally choosing to recreate themselves there; and the name of Frow-walk is now lost in that of Frog-walk."

Further reading:
The Gentleman's Magazine

Classic Books: Lady Chatterley's Lover, Fontamara & The Strange Case Of Dr Jekyll And Mr Hyde

Hello everyone,

today I want to share with you my impressions and thoughts on three classic books I've been rereading recently. I hope you'll like them and feel free to share your opinions. I'd love to know what you think about them too.

Lady Chatterley's Lover by D.H. Lawrence
Lady Chatterley's Lover is one of those books that caused a lot of controversy when they came out and were even banned by the government. The story is very simple: Lord Chatterley returns from World War I paralyzed from the waist down. His wife takes care of him but pretty soon this situation takes its toll on her and she starts to feel bored and stifled. So, she starts having affairs. First, with one of her husband's friends, next with their gamekeeper. And that's exactly what shocked society at the time. The fact that an aristocratic lady could love a commoner, together with the explicit sex scenes and the bad language used in the book. Now, I don't mind sex scenes and bad words if they are functional to the story, but in this case, I think the author relies on them too much. The relationship between Connie, Lady Chatterley, and Oliver, is mostly sexual and it's not really explained what else attracts them to each other. Also, the characters aren't well-developed and I just didn't like nor care for any of them. I do get that Lawrence is using this story to convey the meaning that human beings are animals and we need to accept this, our nature, and try to become more human, to resist industrialization and go back to nature, and stop thinking about making as much money as possible at the risk of destroying our world. It also contains a very interesting social commentary: Lawrence brilliantly captures the class divisions of his time and the problems and mores of his age. But the book focuses so much on these issues that the characters stay in the background most of the time and and I guess that's why they aren't properly developed. And that's also why I didn't enjoy the book. I felt like reading an essay on society in the early 1900s, with an affair thrown in. Had the book been either a love story or an essay, I would have liked it more. As it is, the essay part gets boring at times simply because you want to know what's gonna happen to the characters, while the love story is weak because the characters are weak. Overall, it's not a bad book, it's just very clumsily written.
Available at:
Rating: 3/5

Fontamara by Ignazio Silone
Fontamara tells the story of the inhabitants of a fictitious little village called Fontamara, situated in the Abruzzo region (in central Italy). The villagers are poor and uneducated people who have always been abused by the rich landowners they work for and the government, and they have come to see this situation as normal and are resigned to it. But with the advent of Fascism, their situation becomes even worse. First, their electricity is cut off and then a man comes to their village and, after a speech no one understands, asks them to sign a blank paper. When reassurred they won't have to pay anything, they sign. Next thing they know, the small river that irrigated their small, poor fields has been deviated from his usual course to irrigate the lands of a wealthy landowner. For the villagers, this means certain starvation and death. They ask for help to the institutions but all they get are meaningless compromises. This is also a time when people had to be very careful about what they said for fear that their speeches may be considered anti-fascist and they enemies of the State, which is exactly what happens to them. Then one day, one of the landless Fontamaresi, Berardo Viola, goes to Rome to find a job so that, once he's earned enough to buy his own land, he will be able to marry his sweetheart Elvira. However, no one is willing to give him a job and one day, he is arrested on suspicion of fomenting rebellion. Although innocent, he confesses to be the underground leader the police has been seeking for the past few months so that the real one will be able to escape and continue his mission. The book has a strong political agenda. It condemns Fascism, but, because Silone was a member of the Italian Communist Party, his solution to the peasants problem is strongly influenced by Marxism. They need to stop accepting these abuses as normal and God-given and unite to fight. While I agree that things need to change, I don't really think that substituting one totalitarian regime with another is a solution.. Some also say that Silone has exaggerated the peasants' hardships on purpose to further his political agenda, which may be true, but abuses of this kind and the peasants' mentality are sadly typical of the South Italy way of thinking and life, which is finally but slowly beginning to change. The book is narrated by a family of Fontamara - father, mother and son - who take it in turn to share the events they themselves have witnessed. A nice stratagem even if it can be slightly confusing at times. Overall, though, it is a good book that will make you think.
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Rating: 4/5

The Strange Case Of Dr Jekyll And Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
I had put off reading this book for the longest time because I thought it'd be morbid and dark and well, it is a bit dark, but it is also fascinating. I was also surprised by how short the book is. I was expecting a full novel and got a short story instead but I ain't disappointed at all as it is a wonderful tale and well-written too, although obviously the style is somewhat archaic. Dr Jekyll is a young, nice and well-mannered scientist who would like to let his wild side loose every now and then. And so he creates a potion that separates the good and evil in a human soul. When he drinks it, the good and mild Dr Jekyll turns into the evil and foul Mr Hyde. Jekyll sets up money and residence for Hyde and even mentions him in his will, which will prompt his lawyer to find out more about this mystery. However, soon the scientist loses control of his bad side with disastrous consequences. The novel is about the presence of both good and evil within all human beings and how these two sides are constantly struggling with each other inside us. There are times when all of us are tempted to do something we know we shouldn't, to satisfy our own wants and needs without worrying about the consequences and if someone else gets hurt in the process. But doing that would make us lose our sense of self, our place in a community and the love and respect of our fellow human beings. This book is a wonderful reminder of how we need to constantly balance both sides daily and, although it can be a bit patronizing at times, it's overall a well-written story with a strong message.
Available at:
Rating: 4.5/5

Have you read any of these books? What did you think of them?