Victorian Wedding Cards

During the nineteenth century, the bride and groom would give their friends and acquaintances wedding cards to invite them to their new home. The form and wording of these cards changed throughout the years, but usually they contained the new home address and the days when the bride would be at home to receive the good wishes of anyone who wanted to visit her. At first these cards were an invitation to a banquet during which sweetmeats (usually including the wedding cake) and wine were served, with the announcement of the marriage and the new address of the couple.

In time, this banquet and the invitation to come and congratulate the bride were abolished and the wedding card simply stated the new address and when the couple would come back from their honeymoon. As time went on, these cards became even simpler: at first the address wasn't included anymore, then the date was left out as well and the card sent in a very plain white envelope and then they were substituted by the ordinary calling cards of the bride and groom joined together with a silver tread.

The Household Cyclopedia of Practical Receipts and Daily Wants, published in 1873 says about wedding cards: "though fashions are continually changing with regard to wedding cards, the plainer they are the better. Silver-edged cards, or cards tied together with a silver cord, are quiet and pretty. A much-to-be commended fashion has of late years been largely adopted of dispensing with the use of wedding-cards. When this is so, the friends are at liberty to call as soon as they please after the return from the honeymoon. These various calls, whether by invitation or simply as morning calls, must be returned by the bride and bridegroom; or if that is not possible by the bride and her chief bridesmaid."

Further reading:
The household cyclopædia of practical receipts and daily wants
Marriage Customs Of The World by George P. Monger

How To Meet John Law

John Law was a Scottish economist who became the financial adviser to the regent of France in the early 18th century and was appointed Controller General of Finances of France under King Louis XV. When he was at the height of his power, people would come up with all sorts of crazy schemes to meet him. Here are two examples:

One Madame de Bouchu had strained every nerve to be admitted to a dinner at Madame de Simiani's, where Mr. Law was to be present; but all her endeavours were ineffectual, it being known he did not choose to see her. She then bethought herself of ordering her coach to be driven before the house at dinner time, and directed the coachmen and lacqueys to give the alarm of fire, which made all the guests rise from table and run into the street. On Mr. Law's appearance, she jumped out of her carriage to accost him, but he took to his heels the moment he beheld her face.

Another lady, more adventurous, gave orders to her coachman to overturn her carriage whenever he came near Mr. Law. She, however, was the first that perceived him, whereupon she roared out, "Overturn the carriage now, you rascal, overturn the carriage." The man did so accordingly; and Mr. Law courteously coming to her assistance, the lady confessed that she had given such orders, in hopes thereby to have a chance of procuring the honour of speaking to him, an honour to which she could not otherwise have presumed to aspire.

Further reading:
Memoirs of the life of John Law of Lauriston

Short Book Reviews: Dangerous Passions, Lion's Bride & Petals On The River

Hello everyone,

today I'm reviewing three old historical romance novels, two of which are actually quite enjoyable. Ready? Let's get started:

Dangerous Passions by Kat Martin
It doesn't happen often that I come across a historical romance novel that I like, but I did like Dangerous Passions by Kat Martin. A lot. The story takes place at the time of the Napoleonic wars. Elissa's brother has been murdered while trying to capture a spy and so she decides to go to Austria, pretending to be a young widow so she would enjoy more freedom of movement, and discover the culprit, thus avenging his death and saving her country. Her brother in a letter sent before his death had mentioned the names of those he suspected and so Elissa tries to get close to them, but as a spy, she's a complete disaster. She clearly doesn't have a plan and almost gets caught more than once. In addition, she is distracted from her mission by dashing Colonel Adrian Kingsland, a man that seems interested only in soldiering and bedding women, but he behaves like that because he's been badly scarred in the past. Despite the blurb of the book that leads you to believe that Elissa can't get too close to him because she thinks he could be the spy, she actually only suspects him for 10 minutes or so. And despite her own faults as a detective, what really made me enjoy the book was the relationship between Adrian and Elissa and how she helps him heal the scars his childhood left him. There was also a sudden twist at the end. I thought I knew who the spy was, but turns out that I was wrong and the revelation of the true culprit completely caught me by surprise. Overall, Dangerous Passions is a well-paced novel full of danger, passion, twists and turns that you won't be able to put down.
Available at:
Rating: 4/5

Lion's Bride by Iris Johansen
What attracted me to this book was its locations and time period: the Middle East and Scotland at the time of the crusades. Thea, a slave and accomplished needlewoman, steals some silk worms and escapes to start a new life in Damascus, where she plans to open a silk shop. But the caravan she travels with gets attacked and all are killed but Thea who is saved by a gloomy warrior, Wren, a former Knight Templar hunted by the members of the order for the secrets he knows about them. Wren is a gloomy man who seems to be interested only in bedding women. He has a deeper side, but he rarely shows it. His main fault is that he's not very communicative. He doesn't explain his actions and orders but expects everyone to obey them. Despite this, Thea and Wren fall in love and she even convinces him to save her sister Selene, who's still at slave back home. This mission is entrusted to his friend Kadar, who, together with Selene, are the most interesting characters in the book. They certainly display more depth and are slightly more developed, while Thea and especially Wren remain kinda flat. However, the course of true love never runs smooth, and Wren's enemies are still determined to kill him, and now Thea too, and the two will have to face lots of obstacles before they can be happily reunited. The book is well-written, full of action, violence and love. It also accurately portrays the awful situation of women at the time. Overall, a very enjoyable read.
Available at:
Rating: 3.5/5

Petals On The River by Kathleen E. Woodiwiss
I have really tried to like Woodiwiss books but I just can't. The stories aren't that bad, just unnecessarily long (usually have more than 400 pages) and several times, throughout her books, I stop and wonder: "what now? why aren't you finished already?!". Petals On The River was no exception. Everything is minutely described and even the dialogues are at times unnecessary and pointless really. And although they are well-done, they slow down the book a lot. I guess this I-have-to-decribe-and-explain-absolutely-everything style is better than the too-concise-straightforward-and-rushed style that gives the impression the author couldn't care less about writing the book in the first place but the style I like is in between: explain what needs explaining, describe what needs describing, but don't bog down the book with unnecessary details and scenes that don't add anything to it. But what about the story? Shemaine O’Hearn, an half Irish and rich young woman, is mistakenly imprisoned and condemned to be shipped to the colonies where she will be sold as an indentured servant. Luckily for her, she is bought by Gage Thornton, a lovely widower with a young son. The two soon fall in love, but Shemaine has already made lots of enemies that constantly try to kill her throughout the book. And while at first I felt sorry and worried for her, after a while it just gets too repetitive, predictable and boring. The only thing I enjoyed about the book was the relationship between Gage and Shemaine. Although they are kinda flat and two dimensional characters, I like that they don't hate each other nor have big fights or misunderstandings. They are just happily in love and live (when noone tries to kill Shemaine) a simple life in a cabin near a river in the woods. Overall, a nice story that's spoilt by the repetitive incidents and unnecessarily descriptive and boring writing style.
Available at:
Rating: 2/5

Have you read these books? What do you think of them?

Four Ancient Roman Recipes

Have you ever wondered what the ancient Romans ate? Poor people usually ate only what was available locally, and thus cheap, but rich Romans could afford to buy expensive food that came from all parts of their vast empire. Here are four recipes you would have very liked tasted if you had been invited to one of their sumptuous banquets:

Marinated hare
The hare will be marinated in a sauce thus prepared: thinly cut and chop up together onion, rue, thyme and pepper. Add some garum. Take a hare that has already been cleaned and spread the sauce on it, then put it in a pan and into the oven. While it is cooking, either spread or pour on it, repeatedly, another sauce, that you would have prepared beforehand, made with oil, wine, garum, onion, rue, pepper and four dates.

Parthian kid
Choose a nice kid. Prepare it and put it into the oven. In the meantime, chop up onion, rue, savory, laserpicium and Damascus plum without stone. Add oil, wine and garum. Cook and once the kid is ready and out of the oven, pour the sauce over it and serve it.

Hypotrimma (salad sauce)
Chop up some pepper, mint, lovage, raisins, pine nuts, dates. Add some fresh cheese mixed with honey, vinegar and cooked must.

Homemade sweets (dulcia domestica)
Remove the stone from some dates and stuff them with minced pepper, walnuts or pine nuts. Pour some salt over them, cook in honey. Serve them.

What do think of them? There are some unusual food combinations, aren't there? I'm not sure I would have had the "guts" to taste them, although if the Ancient Romans loved them, they must have been quite tasty. Would you have tried them?

Further reading:
A Day in the Life of Ancient Rome: Daily Life, Mysteries, and Curiosities by Alberto Angela

An Englishwoman In Germany During World War I

Lady Harriet Julia Jephson, an Englishwoman, was living in Germany when World War I broke out. In a short war diary that she kept during that period and which she later published, titled A War-time Journal, Germany 1914 and German Travel Notes, she described the awful situation she found herself in, being unable tor some time to leave a country that had suddenly become hostile to foreigners, forced to read papers that reported false information about war proceedings and slanders against her native land, wondering what's gonna happen to her and what the situation in England really was, and having run out of all her money . Here are a few excerpts from her journal:

August 3rd
Alas! all steamers on the Rhine are stopped and motor-cars are impossible, because an order has come out that petroleum is to be reserved for the Government. I made another attempt to cash a cheque to-day, and again the bank refused. A Russian who stood beside me was desperate. He spoke execrable French, and cried excitedly: "Comment donc! je ne puis pas quitter le pays et j'ai une famille et trois femmes!" Poor Bluebeard! his "trois femmes" (wife and daughters) looked terrified and miserable. Our position is incredible and most serious. Still, one cannot but admire the glorious spirit of sacrifice and patriotism which animates all classes of the German people. Just what it was in the war of 1813, when women even cut off their hair and sold it to help their country.

August 5th
Our baker has gone to the war, and Dr. G—— 's butler; the schools have shut up, so many masters having been called upon to fight. Even learned professors turn soldiers in this country, and most of the weedy cabhorses here have left Altheim to serve their "Fatherland." My Bade-Frau's husband has gone to the front, and so has our Apotheke; there are no porters left at the station, and a jeweller is doing duty as station-master! The Red Cross Society meet daily, and make preparations for the care of wounded men. Hospitals, private houses, and doctors' houses are getting ready, and all motors have been put at the State's disposal. Insane hatred against Russia exists, and the Russians here are not enjoying themselves! My position is most serious: no money, and no return ticket!

August 7th
Still no help! Innumerable wild rumours are flying about. They say that those who left Altheim have all come back, unable to get farther than Frankfort. We are beginning to feel hopeless. Nothing about England is in the German papers, and, of course, we see no others. It is quite terrible being without news. Last night there was great scrubbing and scraping of Altheim shop windows, and all the notices: "English spoken here" have disappeared.There is a mania about spies in Frankfort, we hear, and some Americans yesterday were very roughly handled because their motor bore a French maker's name. The Americans have returned to Altheim, and their motor has been taken to fight for the Fatherland! Our situation is dreadful, but we are keeping up brave hearts. Every day a fresh "Bekanntmachung" (notice) appears; that of to-day was addressed to the children and called upon them to gather in the harvest, the workers having gone as soldiers and turned their "pruning hooks" into swords. My postcards written in German have all come back. One cannot communicate with anyone outside Altheim. What a position! God in His mercy help us! It seems so strange to see German troops marching to the tune of "God Save the King," yet it is Germany's National Anthem too, and these are the words they sing to it:—
"Heil Dir im Sieger Kranz, Herrscher des Vaterlands, Heil Kaiser Dir!" etc.
A "Warnung" has now been affixed to trees in the Avenue forbidding Russians, English, French or Belgians to go within 100 metres of the station. The Russians are being hardly used, but so far Germans are quite nice to us. Mrs. N—— tells me a gruesome tale of a Russian lady who left her hotel for Russia smiling, well dressed, and happy. At Giessen all Russians were turned out of the train and put into a waiting-room, and locked up there without any convenience of food, drink, or beds for the night. The following morning they were told to come out and soldiers marched them several miles into the country to a farm-house. Some of the poor creatures were faint from want of food, and others had heart disease, and fell exhausted in the road, the soldiers prodding them with their bayonets to make them get up! After several hours' detention there, they were brought back to Altheim, where the poor lady arrived a pitiable wreck! What an experience! I have been packed up for days!

September 5th
The "Times" of the 5th August has turned up in Altheim. It has gone the round of our little community until such a worn, creased remnant reached me, that I had much ado to keep it together until I could master its contents. One felt a second Rip Van Winkle, awaking after a long sleep, our world being so confined here. At last I have discovered how to get money from England. One writes to the American Embassy in Berlin, and encloses a telegram (with postal order for the same) to one's banker in London, instructing him to pay the sum of money wanted to the American Embassy in London, to be forwarded through their kind offices to the Embassy in Berlin. The telegram to be written on a sheet of foolscap paper, with the full name and address of the sender, and the name also of the nearest American Consul. No letters can be sent through this channel.

September 12th
The Germans seem depressed, no flags, no bands. [...] Life in Altheim has changed under war conditions. The Kur Haus is closed, there are no teas on the Terrace or promenadings to the strains of Grieg or Strauss, or theatrical performances. The German Kur-Gäste have left, and only the Russian, English and a few Belgian prisoners of war remain. Russians here are chiefly of a very low class. Most of the women go about bareheaded, and all are rough and unkempt and dirty-looking. I fancy some of them have suffered much privation, but happily their order of release has come. They will have to travel by Denmark, Sweden and across to Petrograd. The weather is autumnal, and they have only summer clothes, like us. We cannot help them, having so little money ourselves. I have had to borrow twice, and tried to sell my jewellery without success, but I have developed a latent and unsuspected talent for laundry work. The pretty summer shops in the Park Strasse are now closed, and the sound of beating mattresses is heard everywhere; the blinds of most of the villas are drawn down, and the families having no longer lodgers have descended to their winter quarters on the ground floor. Only a few einspänners are left, as both Kutschers and horses are gone to meet a "Heldentod" for their Fatherland.
One sees white-capped nurses and Red Cross Ambulance men and wounded and bandaged warriors everywhere. When recovered, the soldiers get three days leave to visit their families, and then return to the Front. Poor souls! Shops are chiefly tended by women nowadays. [...] The weather is cold and rainy, and there is no fire-place in my room.

September 22nd
If we may believe such good news we are to be released from this irksome life, and set at liberty next Saturday. Our joy is much damped, however, by hearing that none of the men are to be allowed to leave, and, of course, their wives stay with them. Mr. Ives has made a special journey to Berlin on behalf of our poor men, but the authorities are obdurate.
People say that the loss of life in this terrible war is beyond belief as far as the Germans are concerned. To hide this the Emperor requests that no one shall wear mourning for the dead until the war is over. Also, no complete catalogues of casualties are issued, only lists for each kingdom, or duchy, so that the bulk of the people have no idea of the waste of life. The wounded being so numerous, the doctors now have little time to attend to them on the spot, and therefore they are put into trains and sent off to "Lazaretts" sometimes before even their wounds are washed.Belgian lady who had a special police permit to go to Frankfort, returned this afternoon in a train full of wounded soldiers. One of these was put into her carriage. He had been badly shot in the arm; his sleeve was soaked with blood, and that had coagulated; his wound had never been washed, and French earth was still on his boots, and yet he had been sent in this condition from Rheims to Giessen!

September 23rd
We are much depressed, and our depression is aggravated by the want of occupation here. We dare not sketch for fear of being "verhaftet" (arrested). It is no good writing because every scrap of paper will be taken from us on the frontier; nobody I know plays bridge, and so I read and walk all day long. Miss H—— tells me that a rude young clerk in the "Löwen-Apotheke" refused to talk English to her this morning, "You will have to learn German now, because we shall be in London within a fortnight," said he! No German I have yet known foresees any other result of this war but success. The Fatherland Commissariat, according to the Italian papers, leaves much to be desired. The unfortunate soldiers are almost starving, and often live for days together on raw carrots, turnips, herbs, or any other vegetable they can root up out of the ground. The doctors are puzzled because men have died of such seemingly slight wounds. One case seemed so incomprehensible that an autopsy was decided on, and a raw root with fragments of earth upon it was found in the poor creature's stomach. The Russians left at 5 a.m. this morning, men and women. It is more than hard that our poor men should be left behind.

September 24th
Joyfully packing! A last meeting was held at the "Prince of Wales' Hotel" where kind Mr. S—— presided, and we all received instructions for our journey, and our long detained passports! Fifty women and children go. We sleep in Frankfort, and cross from Flushing to Folkestone. Oh! that terrible mined sea, and the "untersuchung" of the Frontier. I tremble for this Diary, all letters I have destroyed.

Further reading:
A War-time Journal, Germany 1914 and German Travel Notes by Harriet Julia Jephson

Historical Reads: Did Marie Antoinette really say "Let them eat cake"?

Marie Antoinette is still believed by many to have said, when told people were rioting because they had no bread, "Let them eat cake". On his blog, Gareth Russell dispels this myth. To quote:

There is even firmer evidence, however, that not only was Marie-Antoinette not the kind of girl to make a comment like "Let them eat cake," but she actually couldn't have. Not only was there no opportunity for her to do so, there are also some very interesting pieces of evidence from the time that prove she couldn't have said it. The story of a princess joking "let them eat cake" had actually been told many years before Marie-Antoinette ever arrived in France, as a young princess of fourteen in 1770. Her brother-in-law, the Count of Provence, who hated her, later said that he heard the story as a child, long before his brother ever married Marie-Antoinette. The count claimed that the version he heard was that the woman who made the comment had been his great-great-great grandmother, Maria-Teresa of Spain, who advised peasants to eat pie crust (or brioche) during bread shortages. A French socialite, the Countess of Boigne, said she'd heard that it had been Louis the Sixteenth's bitter aunt, Princess Victoria, and the great philosopher, Rousseau, wrote that he had heard the "let them eat cake" story about an anonymous great princess. Rousseau wrote this story in 1737 - eighteen years before Marie-Antoinette was even born!

If Marie-Antoinette didn't make the "joke," then how did it end up being associated with her for 200 years? Some historians think it's because the story had been going around for years, getting attributed to different royal women, but because Marie-Antoinette was the last Queen of France, it stuck with her. After her, there was nobody else to pin the story to. Others think that because the French Revolution was able to dress itself up as the force that brought freedom and equality to Europe, it had to justify its many acts of violence and terror. Executing Marie-Antoinette at the age of thirty-seven and leaving her two children as shivering, heart-broken orphans in the terrifying Temple prison, suggested that the Revolution was a lot more complicated than its supporters like to claim. However, if Marie-Antoinette is painted as stupid, deluded, out-of-touch, spoiled and selfish, then we're likely to feel a lot less pity when it comes to studying her death. If that was the republicans' intention, then they did a very good job. Two hundred years later and the poor woman is still stuck with a terrible reputation, and a catchphrase, that she certainly doesn't deserve.

To read the entire post, click here.

Thessalonike, Queen Of Macedon

Thessalonike was the daughter of king Philip II of Macedon, also father of Alexander The Great, and his Thessalian concubine, Nicesipolis. We don't know her exact date of birth but most historians seem to believe that she was born in 342 BCE. Her name is made up of two Greek words, Thessaly and nike, which means "Thessalian Victory" and she was said to be thus called because, on the day of her birth, her father had won a significant battle against the Phoceans in Thessaly. When he received the news of his child's birth, he is said to have exclaimed "Let her be called victory in Thessaly!".

Nicesipolis died shortly after her daughter's birth and so Thessalonike was raised by her stepmother Olympias. It seems that Olympias really did care for the poor child and taught her the ways of Dionysus. However, Thessalonike wouldn't spend much time with Olympia's son Alexander as the boy was under the tutelage of Aristotle when she was born and then he went to conquer the world. Upon Alexander's sudden death, his successor fought for power and a war ensued. Olympia took refuge with Thessalonike in the fortress of Pydna. Cassander, who had grabbed Alexander's throne, besieged the castle, promising to spare Olympia's life if she surrendered, but didn't keep his promise.

Next, Cassander married Thessalonike to make his position more secure and give some kind of legitimacy to his reign. It seems that Cassander always treated his wife with respect and even named a city after her. The couple had three children, Philip, Antipater and Alexander. In 297BCE Cassender died of dropsy and was succeeded by his elder son Philip. But a mysterious illness cut both his life and his reign short. Antipater was next in line to the throne but Thessalonike wanted him to share power with Alexander, her youngest son, under her own regency. But Antipater wouldn't stand for that and, in 295BCE, had his own mother killed.

Further reading:
Doomed Queens by Kris Waldherr

Fashions For July, August And September 1819

Hello everyone,

today I want to show you some prints of beautiful dresses fashionable women would have worn in 1819. Unfortunately, they are all in black and white, but I hope you will enjoy them anyway. I really like this style of dress. The waist is still very high and the sleeves aren't as huge as they will become in just a few years' time. What do you think of them?



A Jaconot muslin round dress, with a chemisette body, and long sleeves made rather full, and finished at the bottom with a fulness of muslin in front of the wrist; the fulness confined across by narrow bands, which button in the middle. The bottom of the skirt is richly embroidered, and the embroidery is surmounted by a full trimming of muslin. The spenser worn with this dress is composed of primrose-coloured figured poplin: it is made in a new style; is partially high behind; the back is of a moderate breadth, and has a little fulness at the bottom of the waist: there is no collar. The spencer turns over in the pelerine style; it just meets at the bottom of the waist, and partially displays the front of the under dress: it is ornamented round the bust by a narrow band of the same material, finished with a double edging of satin, and buttoned over at rather more than a nail distance. Long sleeve, nearly tight to the arm, finished by an epaulette of white satin, divided into full puffs by bands of poplin placed lengthwise: the bottom is ornamented to correspond. Head-dress, a bonnet com Ssed of primrose-coloured satin, covered with fine clear India muslin: it is trimmed with full bows of ribbon, which are covered with white net laid on full; a bouquet of natural flowers is placed to one side; it ties under the chin. Gloves and shoes, to correspond.


A white satin slip, over which is a round dress, composed of white gauze with small pink spots: the bottom of the skirt is finished by a band of white satin, terminated by a full flounce of blond lace; over this is a trimming of a very novel and pretty description (for which we refer to our print), and this is surmounted by a lace flounce to correspond. Frock body, cut low round the bust, which is ornamented, in a novel style, with lace and bows of ribbon; there are two falls of the latter, one of which is disposed in such a manner that, with the bows, it forms a tucker. The back is full; the sleeve short, and very full. A lace scarf is thrown round the shoulders. Headdress, a bandeau of pink satin, covered with a net-work of pearl, and finished by a pearl tassel. A superb plume of ostrich feathers is placed to one side. The hind hair is disposed in plaits, which are twisted round the top of the head, and intermixed with small bows. The front hair is curled very full on the forehead, but is much divided. Necklace and earrings, pearl. White satin shoes, and white kid gloves.



A round dress, composed of jaconot muslin; the body is plain, tight to the shape, and the waist of a moderate length; long sleeves; the skirt is ornamented at the bottom with a trimming of muslin bouillonne: there are three rows, each is finished with a cord at top, and the upper row is surmounted by a rich letting-in of work. A round pelerine is attached to the dress, which falls very low over the shoulder; it is trimmed with two rows of broad lace, which give a very elegant finish to the bust of the dress. Full lace ruff, put on so as to display the throat in front. Head-dress, a cornette of white British net; the caul is moderately high; the ears are very small; it has a full border of Mechlin lace, and is trimmed with evening primrose ribbon covered with net: it fastens under the chin by a bow to correspond. White kid shoes. Limeric gloves.


A white lace skirt over a white satin slip; the bottom of the skirt is ornamented with a fulness of white satin, confined at each edge by a narrow satin rouleau; above this is a trimming composed of satin stars; in the centre of each is a rose, and between every one a full satin leaf: this trimming is surmounted by a fall of blond. The corsage is composed of white satin; it is cut rather low, and sloping down a little in front of the bust, which is trimmed with a blond ruche. Short sleeve, of a singularly novel and pretty form, for which we refer to our print. The hair is dressed in full curls in front; the hind hair is disposed in bows intermixed with plaits. The only ornament of the head is a full plume of beautiful white ostrich feathers. Necklace and ear-rings pearl. White satin shoes. White kid gloves. Carved ivory fan.



A Jaconot muslin round dress; the skirt is moderately full, and trimmed round the bottom with four flounces of the same material; these are of different widths, the bottom one is the broadest, the top the narrowest; these flounces are each finished by a double tuck, and set on full: their effect is extremely pretty. The body is high, the front is tight to the shape, the back full; a double fall of rich work goes round the throat. Long sleeves, finished with epaulettes of rich work, and trimmed at the bottom to correspond. Head-dress, a morning cornette, composed of British net, and trimmed with lace: the caul is low; it is ornamented with full puffs of net on the crown of the head; these puffs are formed by satin, and edged with lace; the border is set on full; the ears do not reach above halfway under the chin, where the cap fastens with a large bow of ribbon. The bonnet worn over this cornette, for walking, is composed of white figured gros de Naples; it is large and of a novel shape; there is a mixture of net let in on one side of the crown, in a very new and tasteful manner, and the trimming of the edge of the brim, for which we refer to our print, is at once singular and tasteful. A superb plume of feathers is placed on one side, and it ties with white ribbon under the chin. A white lace scarf, lined with rose-coloured sarsnet. White shoes. Limeric gloves.


A plain white transparent gauze frock over a white satin slip; the trimming of the skirt consists of a rich fall of blond lace at the bottom, which is surmounted by two rows of the most novel and tasteful trimming we have seen for a considerable time; it is a mixture of white satin and transparent gauze; there are two rows of it: we refer for the form to our print. It is surmounted by a row of puffs en rouleaux; they are composed of white satin. The corsage is cut very low round the bust, which is finished by a double row of blond. The sleeve is short and full; it corresponds with the trimming of the skirt. The hair is dressed very full on each side of the forehead; the hind hair is brought up in a full tuft on the crown of the head: a bunch of flowers, intermingled with grass, is placed on the left side. Necklace and earrings, rubies. White satin shoes, and white kid gloves.

Further reading:
Repository of arts, literature, fashions &c, 1819

Book Review: Watching The English by Kate Fox

A bestseller in the UK, Watching the English is a biting, affectionate, insightful and often hilarious look English Society. Putting the English national character under her anthropological microscope, Fox finds a strange and fascinating culture, governed by complex sets of unspoken rules and bizarre codes of behavior. Through a mixture of anthropological analysis and her own unorthodox experiments-even using herself as a reluctant guinea-pig-Fox discovers what these unwritten codes tell us about Englishness.

Although I'm born, bred and still living in Italy, I always felt out of place here and that I should have been born in England instead. I had attributed that to the fact that I am an anglophile who has always been fascinated by English history, culture, language and everything else about this country really, and thus hoping I would make a good Englishwoman myself, but after reading Watching the English by English anthropologist Kate Fox, it seems that I have quite a lot in common with the English after all. Maybe that's why I've always had such a strong and passionate interest for all things English.

Fox has "a rather wimpish aversion to the dirt, dysentery, killer insects, ghastly food and primitive sanitation that characterize the mud-hut ‘tribal’ societies studied by my more intrepid colleagues", and so she has decided to conduct her research on her own people, the English. Her aim is to discover what it is that characterises the English, what are the unwritten rules that define their national character. In her quest to discover that, she conducts experiments which include breaking the rules, such as jumping the queue for instance, to see how those around her will react. Usually, not that well. She explores every aspect of Englishness, from speaking about the weather to sports, from food to clothing, from pets to holidays, from their sense of humour to work rules, to anything else you can think of, while also covering gender and class differences.

So, what has Fox discovered? According to her, the English are affected by a social disease which causes them to become either very reserved and buttoned-up or loud and violent. Thus, English reservedness and English hooliganism are both sides of the same coin. Other aspects of Englishness are class consciousness (mixed with a sense of hypocrisy as they pretend not to care about such things), self-deprecating humour (they use irony to cope with everything), general moderation, modesty, fair play, politeness, the tendency to moan about absolutely everything and how they need rules and props to function socially (ie how they are bad at greetings and don't really know how to introduce themselves especially now that the "How do you do" expression used to break the ice has become outdated and hasn't been substituted with anything yet).

As you progress, you'll find that at times the book gets a bit repetitive, but that's to be expected as the rules of Englishness pervade every aspect of their life and so, as each one is covered, you'll find the same "culprits" will pop up over and over again. But what makes the book such a wonderful read is the witty and funny writing style. The self-deprecating humour so typically English pervades all of it. Overall, this is a wonderful read for everyone who wants to understand better the English people. Now I wish we had a book like this for every country and every people!

Watching The English by Kate Fox is a very funny, informative and enlightening book that explores the unwritten rules of Englishness to find out why the English behave the way the do. It is quite long and, at times, repetitive, but the witty and funny writing style makes it a very enjoyable read overall.

Available at: Amazon UK, Amazon US, Barnes & Noble and Waterstones

Rating: 4/5

A Party Trick Gone Wrong

Famous painter Elizabeth Vigée Le Brun recalls, in her memoirs, how a party given by the Duchess Of Mazarin went wrong..

Not long before that event I painted the Duchess de Mazarin, who was no longer young, but whose beauty had not yet faded. This Duchess de Mazarin was said to have been endowed on her birth by three fairies, Wealth, Duty and Ill-luck. Certain it is that the poor woman could undertake nothing, not even so much as entertaining a party of friends, without some mishap befalling. A number of tales of all sorts of untoward happenings were current. Here is one of the least known: One evening, having sixty people to supper, she conceived the plan of putting on the table an enormous pie, in which were imprisoned a hundred tiny living birds. At a sign from the Duchess the pie was opened, and the whole fluttering flock beat their wings against the faces of the guests and took refuge in the hair of the women, making nests of their elaborately built-up head-dresses. It may be imagined what consternation and excitement there was! It was impossible to get rid of the unfortunate birds, and at last the company was obliged to leave the table, while they blessed such a silly trick.

It's a very funny anecdote, isn't it? But I feel really sorry for the Duchess! It must have been really heartbreaking for her to see her fabulous plan ruined like that, although she should have guessed it was never going to work that well...

Further reading:
The Memoirs Of Elizabeth Vigée Le Brun

Some Particulars Illustrative Of The Character Of Prince Leopold Of Saxe-Coburg

The July 1816 edition of the Repository Of Arts, Literature, Fashions, Manufactures &, contains an interesting article on the education, hobbies and personality of Prince Leopold Of Saxe-Coburg, who had recently married the heiress to the British throne, Princess Charlotte Of Wales. The unfortunate princess would die the following year, shortly after giving birth to a stillborn child. The devastated Leopold would go on to become the first King of the Belgians. Here's what the magazine says about him:

The chief merit of the education of this prince belongs to the privy-counsellor Hohnbaum. This gentleman was in 1799 appointed teacher to Leopold and his two brothers, and consequently had the former, who was then between eight and nine years old, constantly about him. He soon discovered the capacity and good qualities of his pupil.; at the same time he could not but perceive, that the prince was rather delicate. The tutor therefore directed his first cares to the means of strengthening his constitution: he accustomed him to gymnastic exercises, proceeding from the easiest to the most severe; not a moment was left unemployed ; and this system proved so successful, that the prince was enabled, at a subsequent period, to support, without difficulty, all the hardships and dangers of war.

During his childhood the prince had no play-fellows; his two brothers were both too much older than himself, the one being his senior by seven, and the other by upwards of five years. It was, therefore, impossible to prevent them from sometimes exercising the right of the stronger upon their younger brother, when he mixed in their youthful sports; and this treatment was so far from according with Leopold's notions of right and justice, that he chose rather to seek diversion by himself. Till he was turned of nine years two squirrels were his chief amusement: he not only regularly fed and attended to them, but had the curiosity to see what natural history had to say concerning his little favourites. The accidental present of a pair of pigeons next led him to make himself acquainted with the peculiarities of the different varieties of birds of that family.

These innocent attachments were supplanted by a fondness for flowers, which he indulged in a garden that he rented, and which led him into the extensive field of botany. His passion for this science was, however, first excited so early as in his fifth year, by the contemplation of the prints in the natural history for children, published by the Industrie Comptoir at Weimar, which has produced so many other useful works for the instruction of the youthful mind. By his intimate acquaintance with botany, combined with his noble character and pleasing manners, he very strongly recommended himself to the Empress Josephine during his first visit to Paris. A connoisseur herself, and possessing a collection of plants unrivalled upon the Continent, she particularly distinguished Prince Leopold, and presented him with various rare articles out of her garden. The love of what is grand and beautiful in nature next led him to landscape-painting, in which he is a very great proficient, and for his skill in this art he is indebted to himself alone; for though his master, Rauschert, was celebrated in Germany, and England also, as a practical artist, yet he was deficient in theoretical knowledge, and died before the prince had made any great progress. With these pleasing pursuits he combined the study of music, which he learned with the same ease and celerity as every thing else to which he addicted himself.

The history of Saxony inspired Prince Leopold with a love of history in general: from the history of his ancestors, which made a deep impression upon his mind, he proceeded to that of the states connected with the history of the Saxons; and therefore studied at an early period of life the history of England, and conceived a decided predilection for the constitution, manners, and literature of this country. In the history of Germany he was particularly struck with Schiller's History of the Thirty Years War. The noble and chivalrous spirit of the heroes described in that work animated his bosom; but the deeds of that champion of religious and political independence, Gustavus Adolphus, excited his highest enthusiasm. In the contemplation of the life of this prince his heart and imagination found a rich treat, and he often wished to be in the place of Gustavus Adolphus, that he might protect the rest of the Continent from the despotism of Napoleon.

The young prince was often quite absorbed in these speculations, and when he fancied himself contending as Gustavus Adolphus for the liberties of Germany, he would sometimes affectionately call his faithful tutor Hohnbaum, his good Oxenstierna. From this time the prince began to read military works and to study mathematics, as necessary for his future destination. Though he at first found some difficulty in this science, yet he soon overcame and made himself complete master of it. The languages he learned as he had occasion for them: here again he was infinitely less indebted to formal instruction than to his own assiduity. He learned Latin at an early age; in his native language and French he has acquired extraordinary perfection; of Russian he made himself master so far as was necessary for him as a Russian general; English he learned later, but studied it with a diligence and perseverance that soon overcame all the difficulties of that language. As the prince learned from early youth to be economical of his time, he was also habituated to be frugal of his money: his tutor encouraged him to keep an account of his receipts and expences; he soon took upon himself the management of his money, and kept his accounts in the most regular manner. The poor never failed to share his bounty, and though he never contracted debts, he was far from penurious.

A letter from the Rev. Mr. Hoflender, dated Coburg, May 13, 1816, says:—"From 1797 to 1811 I was one of his tutors, and for near fourteen years I gave him instruction on every subject. In the first year I taught him biblical history, Christian morality, religion, and the history of Christianity. On the 12th of September, 1805, the prince was confirmed according to the custom of the Lutheran church, and partook for the first time of the Holy Communion. What I said on this occasion before a numerous assembly, in my discourse previous to the confirmation, on the moral and religious character of the prince, could not but tend to his commendation, as he always manifested the most serious attention to my instructions, and was not only thoroughly acquainted with the truths of our holy religion, but his heart was deeply penetrated by them."

Further reading:
Repository Of Arts, Literature, Fashions, Manufactures &

Historical Reads: The Prince De Ligne

Novelist Elena Maria Vidal has written a wonderful post about the Prince De Ligne, a Belgian nobleman and a good friend of Marie Antoinette. Here's how he described the unfortunate Queen in his Memoirs:

As for the queen, the radiance of her presence harmed her. The jealousy of the women whom she crushed by the beauty of her complexion and the carriage of her head, ever seeking to harm her as a woman, harmed her also as a queen. Fredegonde and Brunehaut, Catherine and Marie de' Medici, Anne and Theresa of Austria never laughed; Marie Antoinette when she was fifteen laughed much; therefore she was declared "satirical."

She defended herself against the intrigues of two parties, each of whom wanted to give her a lover; on which they declared her "inimical to Frenchmen;" and all the more because she was friendly with foreigners, from whom she had neither traps nor importunity to fear.

An unfortunate dispute about a visit between her brother the Elector of Cologne and the princes of the blood, of which she was wholly ignorant, offended the etiquette of the Court, which then called her "proud."

She dines with one friend, and sometimes goes to see another friend, after supper, and they say she is "familiar." That is not what the few persons who lived in her familiarity would say. Her delicate, sure sense of the becoming awed them as much as her majesty. It was as impossible to forget it as it was to forget one's self.

She is sensible of the friendship of certain persons who are the most devoted to her; then she is declared to be "amorous" of them. Sometimes she requires too much for their families; then she is "unreasonable."

She gives little fetes, and works herself at her Trianon: that is called "bourgeoise." She buys Saint-Cloud for the health of her children and to take them from the malaria of Versailles: they pronounce her "extravagant." Her promenades in the evening on the terrace, or on horseback in the Bois de Boulogne, or sometimes on foot round the music in the Orangery "seem suspicious." Her most innocent pleasures are thought criminal; her general loving-kindness is " coquettish." She fears to win at cards, at which she is compelled to play, and they say she " wastes the money of the State."

She laughed and sang and danced until she was twentyfive years old: they declared her *' frivolous." The affairs of the kingdom became embroiled, the spirit of party arose and divided society; she would take no side, and they called her "ungrateful."

She no longer amused herself; she foresaw misfortunes: they declared her "intriguing." She dropped certain little requests or recommendations she had made to the king or the ministers as soon as she feared they were troublesome, and then she was "fickle."

To read the entire post, click here.

Book Review: King Charles II by Antonia Fraser

Charles II is one of my historical crushes. He's usually portrayed as simply the Merry Monarch but I always thought there was more to his personality than meets the eye. He is quite a complex figure and Fraser, in the 600+ pages of this excellent biography, skilfully brings him to life.

Charles II was a survivor in a tumultuous era. He was the son of king Charles I of England and his Catholic Queen Henrietta Maria. The couple loved both each other and their children very much. Brought up as heir to the throne, his secure and tranquil existence was turned upside down by his father's problems with Parliament which plunged the country into civil war and eventually cost the King his head. And we now get to one of the highlights of the book: the story of his incredible escape from the country to France after the Battle of Worcester , during which he faced numerous struggles (he even had to hide in an oak tree once!). Years of exile followed, during which Charles II would try to regain his throne in vain, only to be welcomed back with open arms by the English people after Cromwell's death.

The book explores both the political and personal sides of Charles II. We're told of Charles' loyalty to his Catholic brother James and his Queen Catherine of Braganza whom he refused to divorce even when it became clear she wasn't capable of giving him an heir, of his loving relationship with his beloved little sister Henrietta Maria, whom he adored, and of his many mistresses. He was determined to do things his way, but without compromising the monarchy. Although he too had many problems with Parliament, and would sometimes act behind its back, he never forgot what had happened to his father and then to his country when ruled by Cromwell, so he was careful not to do anything to damage the monarchy, believing the country would be let to perdition once again without a monarch.

That's also the reason why he waited till he was on his deathbed to convert to Catholicism, even though he had very likely been a Catholic at heart for most of his life. His policies may have been machiavellic at times, but he was also a very pragmatic man and a patriot. And when his people needed him, he was there. For example, when the Great Fire Of London ravaged the city, instead than just giving orders from afar, he personally helped to quench the fire by handing out water and shovelling dirt on it, putting his own life in peril. He would also mix with his people, walking freely amid them without fear. Because of this and what he went through during his exile, he was always in touch with his people and could understand them better than most monarchs ever understood and knew their subjects. And in return, he was loved by them.

Of course he wasn't perfect. He was cynical, lazy and dissimulating, but after everything he went through in his life, that's hardly surprising. Overall, when I finished reading the book, I felt like I knew and understood who this King really was a lot better. But the book too isn't without faults. A huge chunk of the book is dedicated, obviously, to the politics of the time, from the Civil war to the Restoration, to all the problems and crisis Charles II had to face during his reign. While this is all very interesting and helps us understand both the times Charles II lived in and the effects all these events had on him, they are often related in a dry and, at times, boring way, that makes the book a bit hard to follow.

Overall, King Charles II by Antonia Fraser is one of the most (if not the most) throughout, detailed and well-written biography of this monarch. Fraser wonderfully portrays both Charles' political and human sides, showing us who he really was. It is also full of details and information about this entire period of English history which allows the reader to better understand the King. But because these events are related in a dry way at times, they may bore some people.

Available at: amazon US, amazon UK, waterstones

Rating: 4/5

Honore De Balzac's Death

Honore De Balzac's erratic and irregular lifestyle brought him to an early grave. He died, aged 51, during the night of 18th August 1850, just a few months after his marriage to Ewelina Hańska. Only his mother was with him while he died, while novelist Victor Hugo had visited him only a few hours before his death. Here's how he remembers it:

“We traversed a corridor, we ascended a staircase covered with a red carpet and encumbered with works of art, vases, statues, paintings, cabinets containing enamels; then another corridor, and I saw a door standing open. I heard a rattling breath, loud and sinister. I found myself in Balzac’s bedroom.

“A bed stood in the middle of the chamber. It was a bed of acacia wood, at the head and foot of which were cross-pieces and straps, apparently forming part of an apparatus for lifting and moving the sick man. M. de Balzac lay in this bed, with his head supported on a pile of pillows, to which had been added some red damask cushions taken from the sofa in the same room. His face was purple, almost black, and was turned towards the right. He was unshaven, but his gray hair was cut short. His eyes were wide open and staring. I saw him in profile, and, seen thus, he resembled the emperor.

“An old woman, the nurse, and a man-servant were standing, one on each side of the bed. A candle was burning behind the headboard on a table, and another on a commode near the door. On still another table a silver vase had been placed. The man and woman stood silent, listening in a sort of terror to the noisy rattle of the dying man’s breath.

“The candle at the head of the bed vividly lighted a portrait of a young man, high coloured and smiling, which hung above the mantle.

“An insupportable odour emanated from the bed. I lifted up the coverlid and took Balzac’s hand. It was bathed in sweat. I pressed it, but he did not return the pressure.

“The nurse said to me:

“‘He will die at daybreak.’

“I descended the stairs, carrying away that livid face in my thoughts; as I crossed the parlour I once again came upon the motionless bust (of Balzac, by David of Angers), impassible, proud and vaguely radiant, and I drew a comparison between death and immortality.

“On reaching my home, as it happened to be Sunday, I found several callers waiting for me, amongst others Riza-Bey, the Turkish charge d’affaires, Navarrete, the Spanish poet, and Count Arrivabene, an Italian exile. I said to them:

“‘Gentlemen, Europe is about to lose a great mind.’

“He died during the night, at fifty-one years of age.”

Victor Hugo also delivered an eulogy at the funeral. If you're interested, you can read it here.

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

Book Reviews: 5 In Condotta & Lettera A Una Professoressa

Hello everyone,

today I'm reviewing two books about the Italian school system, its main flaws and the challenges it faces. Even if you don't live in Italy, you have probably heard that academic standards here are at an all-time low and our students often fare among the worst in tests performed by organisations such as the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development to measure the effectiveness of school systems in Europe and the rest of the world. If you have wondered why that is, these books will provide the answers. And it is very sad to see how, with every passing year, things have got worse and worse.

5 In Condotta by Mario Giordano

5 In Condotta by Mario Giordano is a book about everything that's wrong with Italian schools and education. And although I finished high school more than 10 years ago now, by reading the book I realised that not much has changed since then. If anything, things have gotten worse. At least, I was taught maths, literature, grammar, geography and all those subjects that are taught in schools all over the world, while Giordano has found in his research that most teachers don't have the time to teach them anymore. Why? Because schools now organise short courses on ecology, healthy eating, ancient toys, kung fu, on how to analyze song lyrics or how to sew (but only for boys). While I agree that all these things are useful (some more than others obviously), they are extra curricular activities schools should provide courses on after the regular day of lessons is over.

Another problem is that even students who have serious gaps in several subjects are admitted to the next form. Unless they don't go to school for months or have really bad marks in all subjects, they won't fail, so they have no incentives to study and do well. And then there are the teachers. They can't be fired, not even when they pretend to be ill not to work or accept the job but never set foot in the school cos they are employed somewhere else as well. More worryingly, they are not fired even when they abuse students. They just get transferred somewhere else. Of course this is true only for permanent teachers. There are lots of other teachers who are hired for a few months or a year and don't know whether he/she will still work next year. They work just as hard but are underpaid, don't have any benefits and are always uncertain about their future. In addition, even when you find a good teacher, they have to take care of so much bureaucracy and paperwork that, when they set foot in class, are demotivated and slowly lose the passion for their job (it was really heartbreaking to see that happen to my English teacher).

Parents have their faults too. They expect teachers to be also parents, yet when a teacher wants to punish a child, even with just a note on the register, they complain. And if their child isn't admitted to the next term, they'll sue the school. Even bullies can't be punished. No matter what they do, how horribly they torture their victims or damage school properties, the worst punishment that can be inflicted on them is being suspended for three days or forced to pay for the damages they caused (but these are usually paid for by their parents). Parents should teach their children manners, respect and how to behave, and make sure they do their homework when they get home, but if they want to delegate all these responsibilities to teachers, they should also give them the power to punish students as they see fit (without becoming violent or anything like that obviously). Otherwise, it's useless.

Fixing these problems is not easy, especially when, every few years the government changes and every new education minister comes up with his/her own reform. After they pass, they can only be implemented for such a short time before the new minister repels it and substitutes it with his own that there is not much time to see if they were effective in the first place. This also causes a lot of confusion for the students, especially those facing their final exams, as they never know what to expect. But still, whenever a minister announces a new reform, the students and teachers will protest before even knowing what it is about. They seem to want improvements without changes... So, what to do? That's the main fault of the book. While it realistically portrays the terrible and degraded situation Italian schools are in now, it doesn't suggest any solution to all these problems. But all in all, a very interesting, although frustrating, read.

Available at:
Rating: 4/5

Lettera A Una Professoressa by School of Barbiana

The situation of the Italian school system is alarming and serious today but things weren't better in the 60s. That's why the students of the School of Barbiana, founded by priest Don Milani to give an education to poor children, wrote, in 1967, a book about everything that was wrong with the school system at the time and proposed solutions to them. The book is without doubt an important historical document, but its critics say that it is greatly to blame for the reforms that followed and that plunged Italian education into the crisis it faces today.

I believe they partly misunderstood the message of the book, but it is also true that some of the reforms they suggested have been implemented with disastrous results. The students of Barbiana, a small and poor village in Northern Italy, for instance wanted a school where interrogations were abolished and everyone was admitted to the next term even if they had serious gaps in most subjects. Well, they got their wish and lots of students today finish schools without even being able to talk their mother tongue correctly, let alone another language, for example. Yet, to understand why they proposed something like this, you have to understand how things worked at the time.

Back then, schools accentuated the differences between poor and rich students. Rich students, because of the environment they lived in, already knew how to talk proper Italian and had already learned in their family most of the things then taught in schools. So, it was easy for them to be admitted to the next form. Poor students, on the other hand, could speak only their dialects and knew everything about agriculture, animal farming and the current political situation but, when they had to read a poetry written in archaic Italian or aulic language, they didn't know where to start. They thought it was useless to teach subjects like Latin no one spoke anymore, or complicated mathematical problems that just weren't useful in real life.

Add to that, that school hours were short and teachers often didn't have the time to help these boys overcome their problems, and you'd see why they would often fail. Teachers thought repeating the year would be helpful for them but, in fact, most of these students just never returned to school. They would just get a job, even if that was against the law. As a result, the lower classes would remain poor and uneducated, while the rich and educated classes got easy access to well-paid jobs. The students of Barbiana thought that, by admitting everyone to the next term, and teach only things that had practical use in real life, poor children too would have an education and a better chance in life.

Noble intentions, but the way to make them come true they indicated just wasn't always the right one. However, they did make some useful suggestions which sadly weren't as heeded. For instance, they believed newspapers should be read in classes and that school hours should be extended (in the school founded by Don Milani, school lasted from morning till evening). Overall, this is a great book to read if you wanna know more about the situation and problems of Italian schools prior to 1968, when reforms to shape the school as it is now started, but you need to keep an open and critical mind about the solutions proposed because, even though prompted by the best intentions, some of them would have (and have had) disastrous consequences.

Available at:
Rating: 4/5

Happy Easter!

Happy Easter everyone!

Brunhilda of Austrasia

Brunhilda, born around 543 in Toledo, was the youngest daughter of Athanagild, the Visigoth King of Spain, and his wife Goiswintha. Brunhilda and her sister Galswintha grew up and were educated in Toledo, where they remained until old enough to marry. Brunhilda was the first to tie the knot. In 567, she married Sigebert I of Austrasia (comprising parts of the territory of present-day eastern France, western Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg), who was enchanted by his wife's beauty, intelligence and virtue. Soon, the couple fell in love. They had three children, Ingund, Chlodosind, and Childebert.

Her sister Galswintha wasn't so lucky. She married Sigebert's brother Chilperic, King of Neustria (a kingdom next to Austrasia in France), a libertine who had bedded numerous women, some of which gave him children. His latest concubine was a serving woman named Fredegund. But upon his marriage he was asked to rid his court of concubine and prostitutes, which he did. For a little while. He soon tired of his wife and resumed his affair with Fredegund. She urged Chilperic to kill his wife and one day, Galswintha was found dead in her bed. A few days later Chilperic married Fredegund.

Brunhilda wanted revenge and convinced her husband to go to war against his brother. Sigebert wasn't too fond of Chilperic anyway so he didn't need much convincing. A peace of sorts was achieved for a few years, but Chilperic then broke it by invading Sigebert's territories. War broke out and Sigebert won. Chilperic fled to Tournai, which Sigebert set out to besieged. But he was killed with poisoned knives by two clerks sent by Fredegund. Brunhilda was then imprisoned in Rouen. All seemed lost for the Queen until one day Merovech, the son of Chilperic and his first wife Audovera, visited her. He was charmed by Brunhilda and married her. Because the bride was the groom's aunt, the marriage was contrary to canon law but before it could be annulled Merovech helped Brunhilda escape.

Now free, she became Regent of Austrasia in the name of her son Childebert II. She reorganized the royal finances, restructured the royal army, built fortresses, churches and abbeys and repaired the old Roman roads. However, the nobles resented to be ruled by her and so, to strengthen her position, she convinced the heirless Guntram, her late husband's brother, to adopt Childebert as his son and heir. In 583, Childebert came of age and started ruling Austrasia in his own name, and in 592, upon Guntram's death, he succeeded him on the throne of Burgundy. Chilperic was dead too and soon, the hostilities between Brunhilda and Fredegund and their children Childebert and Clotaire II started again. War again broke out.

But in 595 Childebert died and Bruhilda tried to seize the regency of Austrasia and Burgundy in the name of her grandsons Theudebert II and Theuderic II, respectively. Fredegund died too, in 597, but this didn't stop the hostilities between their kingdoms and war still raged on. Two years later Theudebert exiled Brunhilda from his kingdom. She was found by a peasant who brought her to Theuderic. He fell under her influenced and decided to wage war against his brother to avenge her. He defeated Theuderic but, threatened by their common enemy Clotaire, decided to become allies again.

In the meantime, Brunhilda stirred up more trouble. She took a lover, Protadius and, to make him mayor of the palace, had Berthoald, the man who held that office at the time, killed. The lovers urged Theuderic to go again to war against his brother. But the people had had enough of fighting to satisfy Brunhilda's thirst for vengeance. A long time had passed since her sister had been murdered and the crime had been forgotten by most people. But the horrors of war they remembered all too well. The Duke Uncelen so ordered the murder of Protadius. To avenge her lover's death, Brunhilda had the Duke executed. She had also had Desiderius, the Bishop of Vienne, assassinated because he had had the audacity of publicly accusing her of cruelty and incest.

But Theuderic had gone to war again with his brother. He defeated and captured Theuderic, which was sent to a monastery by Brunhilda. He, and his son Merovech, were then murdered, probably on Brunhilda's orders. Theuderic was now king of both his and his brothers' domains, but he didn't enjoy them long. He died soon afterwards of dysentery. Brunhilda became regent for the third and last time, this time in the name of Theuderic's bastard son and only heir, Sigebert. But the nobles wouldn't stand for that. They joined arms with Chilperic to overthrow Brunhilda. The young king was killed. Chilperic was now ruler of both the kingdoms of Neustria and Austrasia. He accused Brunhilda, now almost 80 years old, of having caused the death of ten kings of the Franks. Her punishment was death. She was led through the entire army on a camel. Then, her limbs were tied to wild horses, which tore her apart.

Further reading:
Doomed Queens by Kris Waldherr

A Contemporary Description of Henry VIII

In 1515, the Venetian ambassador to Henry VIII thus describes the famous Tudor monarch:

After dinner, we were taken to the King [Henry VIII], who embraced us, without ceremony, and conversed for a very long while very familiarly, on various topics, in good Latin and in French, which he speaks very well indeed, and he then dismissed us, and we were brought back here to London....
His Majesty is the handsomest potentate I ever set eyes on; above the usual height, with an extremely fine calf to his leg, his complexion very fair and bright, with auburn hair combed straight and short, in the French fashion, his throat being rather long and thick. He was born on the 28th of June, 1491, so he will enter his twenty-fifth year the month after next. He speaks French, English, and Latin, and a little Italian, plays well on the lute and harpsichord, sings from book at sight, draws the bow with greater strength than any man in England, and jousts marvelously. Believe me, he is in every respect a most accomplished Prince; and I, who have now seen all the sovereigns in Christendom, and last of all these two of France and England in such great state, might well rest content.

[And later that year....] His Majesty came into our arbor, and addressing me in French, said: 'Talk with me awhile! The King of France, is he as tall as I am?' I told him there was but little difference. He continued, 'Is he as stout?' I said he was not; and he then inquired, 'What sort of legs has he?' I replied 'Spare.' Whereupon he opened the front of his doublet, and placing his hand on his thigh, said 'Look here! and I have also a good calf to my leg.' He then told me that he was very fond of this King of France, and that for the sake of seeing him, he went over there in person, and that on more than three occasions he was very near him with his army, but that he never would allow himself to be seen, and always retreated, which his Majesty attributed to deference for King Louis, who did not choose an engagement to take place; and he here commenced discussing in detail all the events of that war, and then took his departure....
After dinner, his Majesty and many others armed themselves cap-a-pie, and he chose us to see him joust, running upwards of thirty courses, in one of which he capsized his opponent (who is the finest jouster in the whole kingdom), horse and all. He then took off his helmet, and came under the windows where we were, and talked and laughed with us to our very great honor, and to the surprise of all beholders.

Further reading:
Tudor Primary Sources

Historical Reads: Harryo

Heather Carroll, author of The Duchess of Devonshire's Gossip Guide To The 18th Century, has written a very interesting post on Harryo, the Duchess' second daughter. To quote:

When Georgiana gave birth to her second child in 1785 everything was set up grandly for the birth of the Devonshire heir. What came out was another girl, to be named after her aunt, Harriet; although she would henceforth almost always be referred to as 'Harryo.' Not only was a girl born but a typical middle child. Harryo lacked the physical charms of her famous mother. She may have been fashionably pale but she lacked her mother's figure and her chubbiness was constantly commented on. She also decided to lack her mother's love of fashion, but this was more an act of defiance. In fact, Harryo seemed to be more cynical and perhaps a little bitter than her siblings Little G and Hart were. What physical charms Harryo lacked she made up with her cleverness and intelligence. Many would comment through the years on her interesting conversation and obvious smarts. Put all these aspects together and we have some very interesting perspectives on living with the Devonshires. We also have a big Bess-hater.

To read the entire article, click here.

Princess Of Lichtenstein's scandalous feet

In her memoirs, famous painter Vigée Le Brun recalls how her portrait of the Princess of Lichtenstein, which she painted in 1793 while in Austria, scandalized her family:

As soon as spring came I took a little house in a village near Vienna and went to settle there. This village, called Huitzing, was adjacent to the park of Schoenbrunn. I took with me to Huitzing the large portrait I was then doing of the Princess Lichtenstein, to finish it. This young Princess was very well built; her pretty face had a sweet, angelic expression, which gave me the idea of representing her as Iris. I painted her standing, as if about to fly into the air. She had about her a fluttering, rainbow-coloured scarf. Of course I painted her with naked feet, but when the picture was hung in her husband's gallery the heads of the family were greatly scandalised at seeing the Princess exhibited without shoes, and the Prince told me that he had had a pair of nice, little slippers placed under the portrait, which slippers, so he had informed the grandparents, had slipped off her feet and fallen on the ground.

Further reading:
The Memoirs of Madame Vigée Le Brun

Louise, Queen Of The Belgians, On Her Father King Louis Philippe Of France

In 1844, King Louis Philippe I of France visited England. He was well received there and during his stay visited Claremont (which he was destined to occupy in exile), Eton College and Woolwich Arsenal. In this letter his daughter Louise, Queen of the Belgians, gives some advice and recommendation on how to take care of her father to Queen Victoria :

Laeken, 5th October 1844.

My Dearly Beloved Victoria,

I have not much to say about my father's lodging habits and likings. My father is one of the beings most easy to please, satisfy, and to accommodate. His eventful life has used him to everything, and makes any kind of arrangements acceptable to him; there is only one thing which he cannot easily do, it is to be ready very early. He means notwithstanding to try to come to your breakfast, but you must insist upon his not doing it. It would disturb him in all his habits, and be bad for him, as he would certainly eat, a thing he is not used to do in the morning. He generally takes hardly what may be called a breakfast, and eats only twice in the day.

It would be also much better for him if he only appeared to luncheon and dinner, and if you kindly dispensed him altogether of the breakfast. You must not tell him that I wrote you this, but you must manage it with Montpensier, and kindly order for him a bowl of chicken broth. It is the only thing he takes generally in the morning, and between his meals. I have also no observation to make, but I have told Montpensier to speak openly to Albert whenever he thought something ought to be done for my father, or might hurt and inconvenience him, and you may consult him when you are in doubt. He is entrusted with all the recommendations of my mother, for my father is naturally so imprudent and so little accustomed to caution and care, that he must in some measure be watched to prevent his catching cold or doing what may be injurious to him.

About his rooms, a hard bed and a large table for his papers are the only things he requires. He generally sleeps on a horse-hair mattress with a plank of wood under it: but any kind of bed will do, if it is not too soft. His liking will be to be entirely at your commands and to do all you like. You know he can take a great deal of exercise, and everything will interest and delight him, to see, as to do: this is not a compliment, but a mere fact. His only wish is, that you should not go out of your way for him, and change your habits on his account. Lord Aberdeen will be, of course, at Windsor, and I suppose you will ask, as you told me, the Royal Family. My father hopes to see also Sir Robert Peel, Lord Stanley, and your other Ministers. You will probably ask most of them during his stay. He wishes very much to see again those he already knows, and to make the acquaintance of those he does not know yet.

In writing all this I think I dream, I cannot believe yet that in a few days my dear father will have, God willing, the unspeakable happiness to see you again and at Windsor, a thing he had so much wished for and which for a long time seemed so improbable. You have no notion of the satisfaction it gives him, and how delighted he will be to see you again, and to be once more in England. God grant he may have a good passage, and arrive to you safely and well. Unberufen, as you will soon, I trust, be able to see, he is, notwithstanding the usual talk of the papers, perfectly well.... Yours most devotedly,


Further reading:
The Letters of Queen Victoria, Vol 2 (of 3), 1844-1853