Presents For The Duke Of Wellington

The 1819 edition of The Repository Of Arts, Literature, Fashions etc describes two presents the Duke Of Wellington received from the King of Saxony. To quote:


On the 11th of October, the present destined for the Duke of Wellington, of a superb dessert-service from the King of Saxony's porcelain manufactory, was exhibited to the public, and this beautiful specimen of Saxon art was afterwards packed in four morocco cases, which had been prepared for it. The sight was most interesting, and the hall was crowded with visitors. The ice-pails, which are of the most elegant and graceful form, are embellished with allegorical paintings, executed in the first style. The fruit-dishes, of various shapes and sizes, consisting of twenty-four pieces, are without painting, but magnificently gilt. The plates, one hundred and eight in number, constituted the most admirable part of the display: many of them were adorned with views of the different places where the duke has particularly distinguished himself, and others with designs from the first masters; and the whole affords a proof of the unrivalled excellence to which the art has been carried in that kingdom.

This present will be accompanied by another from his Majesty from the damask-manufactory at Zittau, completed under the direction of M. Von Der Brehling. This was not publicly exhibited, but those who have seen it at the house of the banker, have been astonished at the perfection of the fabric, and the infinite taste and ingenuity displayed in the design and execution of the pattern. It consists of six table-cloths, of the amazing length of twenty ells, each six ells in breadth. On one of them, the ground of which is ornamented with beautiful stars, appear the arms of the Duke of Wellington, encompassed with laurel, and various other insignia; at each end are grouped the emblems of War and Peace; a rich and uncommon arabesque border encircles the whole. The beauty of the effect consists principally in the apparently high relief of the figures on the clear silvery ground. The newly discovered method of shadowing, which may be termed a kind of painting in linen, has been carried to wonderful perfection. The napkins, on a small arabesque pattern ground, have also the Wellington arms, encircled by the order of the Garter, in the centre.

I really wish the magazine had printed some drawings of the presents too as I would really love to see them. They sound beautiful, don't they?

Further reading:
Repository Of Arts, Literature and Fashions etc, 1819

Historical Reads: Top 10 Tourist Attractions in London, 1780

Mike Rendell, over at the English Historical Fiction Author Blog, reveals what are the top 10 attractions tourists in London in the eighteenth century would have visited. To quote:

Pictures at Spring Gardens (otherwise known as Vauxhall Gardens)
For his one shilling admission in 1780 Richard would have been able to see all London life. The gardens were frequented by anyone who was anyone (the Prince of Wales and his aristocratic buddies were regular visitors) as well as by the lowest of the low. Promenading gave the opportunity to see and be seen, and as darkness fell the place was illuminated with oil lamps, music would be played and guests would take their seats in the fifty or so supper boxes. Each was adorned with a different painting and in the daytime these were available for the general public to view.

Cox’s Museum
James Cox was a jeweller who made fabulous bejewelled automata (i.e. with clock-work moving parts). At one stage he claimed to have a thousand silversmiths and jewellery workers in his employ, turning out objects for places such as the Imperial courts in Russia and China. He opened a museum at Charring Cross to display some of his wares. Entrance was not cheap (Richard would have paid ten shillings and sixpence per head to go in – and then forked out the same again for the official catalogue). But what a spectacle! He would have been greeted by a gold dais, surmounted by giant paintings of King George II and his Queen, painted by the court painter Zoffany. From there he would have been led through to a succession of salons, each exhibiting things such as full sized tigers and elephants made of silver and gold, studded with precious stones. He may have seen the gorgeous life-sized silver swan, with its articulated neck which enabled it to bend forward and appear to pull a silver fish from the water (still in working order today, and nowadays to be seen at the Bowes Museum at Barnard Castle). Time and time again Richard went back to see the display, taking a succession of guests with him throughout the 1770s.

Mrs Wright’s waxworks
Before Madame Tussaud came to London (and got trapped here because of the war with France!) there had been a succession of wax-works. The one Richard favoured was in Pall Mall and was run by an American woman called Mrs Wright. She created a sensation with her models of the Great and the Good, and reportedly enjoyed playing tricks on people by arranging her models in life-like poses on a settee, and watching as the visitors tried to strike up a conversation! Mrs Wright later sought a pension from the US Government, claiming that she had in fact been acting as a spy while in England, sounding out politicians about their plans during the War of Independence, and smuggling notes back to America, rolled up inside the wax effigies which she had made.

To read the entire article, click here.

Book Review: A Day In The Life Of Ancient Rome By Alberto Angela

Books on Ancient Rome usually focus on its political, literary, military and economic aspects. They discuss the wars fought to protect and enlarge the State, the transition from monarchy to republic to empire and how all these different institutions functioned, the commercial relationships the ancient Romans had with other people and how they helped their civilization prosper, and how great writers such as Seneca and Cicero interpreted and influenced the society they lived in. Which is all very interesting, but also limiting. After all, there's more to history than dates, battles and names.

If like me, you're more interested in the day to day life of a people, then A Day In The Life Of Ancient Rome, by Italian TV documentary host Alberto Angela, is a book you just can't miss. It is more of a novel than a history book. Angela imagines he's walking through the streets of Rome in 115 AD, during the reign of the Emperor Trajan, giving us an unique glimpse into the daily life of the Ancient Romans from dawn to dusk. He takes us into the homes of the Romans, showing us how both the poor and the rich lived, to the law courts where disputes were settled and lawyers would stop passers-by looking for potential clients, and to the thermae, where people relaxed, socialised and did business.

He tells us how the ancient Romans dressed, what, where and how they ate (not always lying down), what toys children played with, what their shops were like, and what religion and cults they followed. But he also discusses the cruel and gruesome aspects of their daily life. We learn of how slaves were treated worse than animals, of the bloody games played in the Colosseum and other arenas where many gladiators found their deaths to entertain the people, and what the life of a prostitute was like.

We all know how the ancient Romans shaped and influenced our modern society, but I hadn't realised before reading this book how the most pressing everyday problems are still the same today as they were in 115 AD. Just like today, Ancient Rome, too, was very chaotic and expensive. Traffic congestion, difficulty in finding a place to live in the city, the dirt and garbage in the streets, the perils of walking alone at night, mass immigration are all problems that still plague the Italian capital today and are far from being solved..

Overall, this is a wonderful book for lovers of history and novices alike. The book is broken down by hours describing what the Romans did at a particularly time of the day in a brief and simple way that's never boring. If you are an expert on Ancient Rome then this book won't tell you much you already don't know, but everyone else will be left wanting to know more details. But in any case, it will give modern readers a very good understanding of what life in Ancient Rome was like.

A Day In The Life Of Ancient Rome by Alberto Angela is a wonderful book full of details and information on how the Ancient Romans lived. The book explores every aspect of daily life such as fashion, architecture, religion, food, family life, games, prostitution and slavery. The writing style is simple and engaging. This is a nice novel that will leave you wanting more, not a boring history book.

Available at: Amazon and Barnes & Noble

Rating: 4/5

Fashions For Winter 1817

Hello everyone,

today's prints are particularly interesting because they don't just show what dress styles were fashionable in the winter of 1817, but they were taken from clothes actually bought and worn by one of the magazine's subscribers. Apparently, they were purchased from a certain Mrs Bell's in St. James's-street. I can't help but wonder who the buyer was and in which occasions she donned these beautiful gowns. Don't they all look gorgeous? My favourite is the ball dress. And yours?



A soft white satin slip, over which is worn a dress composed of white spotted gauze. The body, which is cut extremely low all round the bust, is finished by a light quilling of blond, which stands up round the bosom, and a full bow of ribbon in the centre of the breast, which has an effect at once tasteful and delicate. Long sleeve, composed of transparent gauze, which is striped with satin; these stripes are byas, and they are each ornamented in the middle of the arm with a pearl button: it is finished at bottom by a single fall of blond. Half-sleeve, to correspond with the body. For the trimming of the skirt we refer to our print; as we are not permitted to describe it: we can only say that the materials are extremely elegant and novel. The hair is dressed rather high behind. The front hair is parted on the forehead, and disposed in light loose ringlets on each side of the face. Head-dress a fichu a la Marmotte, composed of rich blond and satin, and tied at the side in a bow of the same materials. Earrings and necklace pearl and topaz. White satin slippers, and white kid gloves.


Cambric muslin high dress, the lower part of the body made full, and the upper part, which is tight to the bust, composed entirely of rich work. A row of pointed work forms a narrow pelerine, which is brought rather high on the bosom, and ends in a point in front. The bottom of the skirt is finished by a deep flounce and heading, composed of the same material, which is surmounted by a row of soft muslin bouffone let in at small distances from each other. Over this dress is worn a spencer, composed of grits de Naples, ornamented with figured buttons, which are intermixed with a light, novel, and elegant trimming. For the form of the body we refer our readers to our print. The sleeve, of a moderate width, is finished at the wrist, by a double row of buttons and trimming intermixed. The epaulette, of a new and singularly pretty form, is edged with trimming, and finished with buttons on the shoulder. Autumnal bonnet, the front rather large, and of a very becoming shape; the crown low: it is tied tinder tire chin by a large bow of ribbon. We are interdicted from describing either the novel and elegant materials bf which this bonnet is composed, or the ornament which finishes it in front. Swans-down muff, lilac sandals, and pale-lemon colour kid gloves.



A black crape frock over a black sarsnet slip. The skirt of the frock is finished by full flounces of the fashionable chevaux de frise trimming. The body, which is cut very low round the bust, is elegantly decorated with jet heads. Short full sleeve, ornamented to correspond with the body. The hair is much parted in front, so as to display the forehead, and dressed lightly at each side of the face; the hind hair is drawn up quite tight behind. Head-dress a jet comb, to the back of which is affixed a novel and elegant mourning ornament; and a long black crape veil placed at the back of the head, which falls in loose folds round the figure, and partially shades the neck. Ear-rings, necklac, and cross of jet. Black shamoy gloves, and black slippers.


A high dress composed of bombazeen; the bottom of the skirt is ornamented with black crape, disposed in a very novel style. The body, which is made tight to the shape, wraps across to the right side; it is adorned in a very novel style with pipings of black crape disposed like braiding, and finished by rosettes of crape, in the centre of each of which is a small jet ornament. Long sleeve, tastefully finished at the wrist to correspond with the body, and surmounted hy a half sleeve of a new form trimmed with crape. A high standing collar partially displays a mourning ruff. Claremont bonnet, so called because it is the same shape as the one recently worn by the Princess: it is composed of black crape over black sarsnet, and is lined with double white crape. The crown is rather low, the front large, and of a very becoming shape; it is tastefully finished by black crape, and ornamented by a bunch of crape flowers placed to one side. Black shamoy gloves, and black shoes.

Further reading:
Repository Of Arts, Literature, Fashion &, 1817

Book Review: The Captive Queen By Alison Weir

Nearing her thirtieth birthday, Eleanor has spent the past dozen frustrating years as consort to the pious King Louis VII of France. For all its political advantages, the marriage has brought Eleanor only increasing unhappiness—and daughters instead of the hoped-for male heir. But when the young and dynamic Henry of Anjou arrives at the French court, Eleanor sees a way out of her discontent. For even as their eyes meet for the first time, the seductive Eleanor and the virile Henry know that theirs is a passion that could ignite the world.

Eleanor of Aquitaine is a very interesting and fascinating historical figure. She became duchess of Aquitaine, one of the largest and richest duchies in Europe, at the young age of 15, was the wife of two kings, Louis VII of France and Henry IV of England, and mother of three more. She went on crusade with her first husband and during Henry's absences, she acted as regent, ruling the vast empire they had carved out. She was a patroness of the arts, a clever woman who wasn't afraid to speak her mind and who supported her children's rebellion against their father. When they lost, Henry imprisoned her. She survived her husband and died aged 82, during the reign of her younger son John.

This sassy and intelligent woman led a very unique life and I was very much looking forward to read Alison Weir's take on it. But once I got the book in my hands, I really struggled to reach the end. Weir has reduced Eleanor to a sex-crazed woman who is driven by her lust and passion rather than ambition and realpolitik. It's not just the fact that there is so much sex in this book to make it almost resemble a romance novel that bothers me, nor that some of the sex scenes sound very improbable (Henry manages to spend 3 nights with Eleanor while she's still married to Louis and no one notices what the Queen of France is doing? Not very likely, is it?). No, I don't mind sex in novels, but I mind independent and complex women being turned into sex maniacs.

And it gets worse. Eleanor often disappears from the chronicles of the time for months, which can be a good thing for writers as it gives them the opportunity to give free reign to their imagination. Although I belong to that class of people who prefer their historical novels to be as historically accurate as possible, I don't mind authors taking poetic licence as long as it is done in a believable and plausible fashion. In this case, Weir has chosen to fill the gaps with gossips and rumours surrounding Eleanor, such as her having affairs with her uncle Raymond of Antioch and Geoffrey of Anjou, Henry's father, which just reinforces the image of Eleanor as a woman who had only sex on her mind.

The writing style is awful too. I usually like the way Weir writes her biographies, which is clear and accessible. The style of this book is too, but not in a good way: it is just too modern. Now, I didn't expect Weir to use the language used in Medieval times because that of course would have made the book hard to follow and put readers off, but in her effort to make it appealing to a modern audience, she overdid it and made her characters talk like young people do nowadays. The characters talk like they are all the best of friends, often using very modern and colloquial expressions that I doubt even existed back then.

However, the book is not all bad. Although, as the title suggests, Eleanor spends a huge chunk of the book imprisoned, which undoubtedly slows the pace down in the second part of the novel, what Weir really wanted to explore was her marriage to Henry and how their relationship evolved during the thirty-something years they were together. In this regard, her take on Henry's relationship with Thomas Becket and his mistress Rosamud, and of how he kept the reigns of power well secured in his hands, allowing very little of it to his wife and children and the frustration this provoked in them, gave me interesting insights into what might have gone wrong in their marriage and why they behaved the way they did. Of course there's no way of knowing if Weir's speculation on the topic is correct, but it does offer interesting food for thought.
New York Times bestselling author Elizabeth Chadwick brings Eleanor of Aquitaine to life with breathtaking historical detail in the first volume of this stunning new trilogy.

Eleanor of Aquitaine, the legendary 12th century queen of France and later of England, is one of the most powerful and irrepressible women in medieval history, and her story of romance, scandal and political intrigue has fascinated readers for centuries.

Young Eleanor (or Alienor as she was known) has everything to look forward to as the heiress to the wealthy Aquitaine. But when her beloved father William X suddenly dies, childhood is over. Sent to Paris and forced to marry Prince Louis VII of France, she barely adjusts before another death catapults them to King and Queen. At the age of just 13, Eleanor must leave everything behind and learn to navigate the complex and vivacious French court. Faced with great scandals, trials, fraught relationships, and forbidden love at every turn, Eleanor finally sees what her future could hold if she could just seize the moment.

The first in this highly anticipated trilogy, The Summer Queen follows Eleanor through the Second Crusade to the end of her marriage to Louis VII. The author's meticulous research (including delving into the Akashic records) portrays the Middle Ages and Eleanor with depth and vivid imagery unparalleled in historical fiction that will keep readers riveted and wanting more.

Overall, The Captive Queen isn't on par with other Weir's books. The writing style is too modern, the pacing slow and the author has chosen to fill the gaps in Eleanor's life with the clichés and rumours that surround her. Eleanor herself is portrayed as a sex-crazed floozy, instead than the sassy, strong-willed and cleaver woman that she was, which is very frustrating. However, the book offers some interesting insights into her relationship with her second husband Henry of England and what may really have gone wrong between them.

Available at: Amazon

Rating: 2.5/5

Catherine II's Death

Famous French portraitist Madame Vigée LeBrun spent six years in Russia, a country she seemed to have genuinely loved. During her stay she got to meet the Empress Catherine II several times. I have already posted about their first meeting and her recollections and thoughts about this autocrat. In this last instalment, Madame Vigée LeBrun talks about Catherine's death and funeral:

The Sunday preceding her death, I went to Her Majesty after church to present her with the portrait that I had made of the Grand Duchess Elisabeth. She congratulated me upon my work and then said: "They insist that you must take my portrait. I am very old, but still, as they all wish it, I will give you the first sitting this day week." The following Thursday she did not ring at nine o'clock as was her wont. The servants waited until ten o'clock, and even a little later. At last the head maid went in. Not seeing the Empress in her room, she went to the clothes-closet, and no sooner did she open the door than Catherine's body fell upon the floor. It was impossible to discover at what hour the apoplectic shock had touched her; however, her pulse was still beating, and hope was not entirely given up. Never in my days did I see such lively alarm spread so generally. For my part I was so seized with pain and terror when apprised of the dreadful tidings that my convalescing daughter, perceiving my state of prostration, became again ill.

After dinner I hastened to Princess Dolgoruki's, whither Count Cobentzel brought us the news every ten minutes from the palace. Our anxiety continued to grow, and was unbearable for everybody, since not only did the nation worship Catherine, but it had an awful dread of being governed by Paul. Toward evening Paul arrived from a place near St. Petersburg, where he lived most of the time. When he saw his mother lying senseless, nature for a moment asserted her rights; he approached the Empress, kissed her hand, and shed some tears. Catherine II. finally expired at nine o'clock on the evening of November 17, 1796. Count Cobentzel who saw her breathe her last sigh, at once came to inform us that she had ceased to live.

I confess that I did not leave Princess Dolgoruki's devoid of fear, in view of the general talk as to a probable revolution against Paul. The immense mob I saw on my way home in the palace square by no means tended to comfort me; nevertheless, all those people were so quiet that I soon concluded, and rightly, we had nothing to fear for the moment. The next morning the populace gathered again at the same place, giving vent to its grief under Catherine's windows in heartrending cries. Old men and young, as well as children, called to their "matusha" (little mother), and between their sobs lamented that they had lost everything. This day was the more depressing as it augured so sadly for the Prince succeeding to the throne.

The Empress's body was exposed six weeks in a large room at the palace, lit up day and night and gorgeously decorated. Catherine was laid out on a bed of state and surrounded by shields bearing the arms of all the towns in the empire. Her face was uncovered, her beautiful hand resting on the bed. All the ladies – of whom some took turn in watching by the body – bent to kiss that hand, or pretended to. I, who had never kissed it in her lifetime, did not dare to kiss it now, and even avoided looking at Catherine's face, which would have left too bad an impression on my memory.

After his mother's death, Paul at once had his father Peter disinterred; he had been buried for thirty-five years in the convent of Alexander Nevski. Nothing was found in the coffin but bones and a sleeve of Peter's uniform. Paul desired the same honours rendered to these remains as to Catherine's. He had them exhibited in the middle of the Church at Kazan; the watch service was performed by old officers, friends of Peter III, whom his son had pressed to come, and whom he loaded with honours. The day of the funeral having arrived, Peter III.'s coffin, on which his son had placed a crown, was put with great ceremony beside Catherine's, and both were conveyed to the Citadel, Peter's preceding, it being Paul's wish to humble his mother's ashes. I saw the marvellous procession from my window as one sees a play from a box in the theatre. Before the Emperor's coffin rode a horseman of the guard, clad from top to toe in golden armour; but the man riding in front of the Empress's coffin wore only steel armour. The murderers of Peter III. were, by order of his son, obliged to act as pall-bearers. The new Emperor walked in the procession on foot, bareheaded, with his wife and the whole court, which was very numerous, and attired in deep mourning. The women wore long trains and enormous black veils. They were obliged to walk in the snow, at a very low temperature, from the palace to the fortress, where Russia's sovereigns were laid to rest, a long distance on the other side of the Neva. Mourning was ordered for six months. The women's hair was brushed back, and their headgear came to a point on the forehead, which did not improve their looks at all. But this slight inconvenience was insignificant compared to the deep anxiety to which the Empress's death gave rise throughout the whole empire.

Further reading:
The Memoirs of Madame Vigée Le Brun

Madame Louise Antoinette Laure de Berny

Madame Louise Antoinette Laure de Berny née Hinner was Honore De Balzac's first love, and a loyal and steadfast friend who had a huge influence on his life. Yet she is little remembered today. So, who was this woman behind the great author?

Laure Antoinette Hinner was born at Versailles on 24th May 1777. Her father, Philippe Joseph Hinner, was a German musician and Marie Antoinette's harpist, and her mother, Louise Guelpee de Laborde, one of the Queen's ladies-in-waiting. The baby also had two very special godparents: Their Majesties, King Louis XVI and his wife Queen Marie Antoinette. The child grew up in the dazzling and extravagant world of Versailles. In 1784, when she was only 10 years old, her father died and her mother remarried. Her new husband was Francois Regneir de Jarjayes, a fervent royalist. When the Revolution broke out a couple of years later, he would do all he could to save the royal family, including devising a plan to free Louise XVII from the Temple, but sadly his efforts were in vain. He would survive the Revolution, but like everyone else, including his step-daughter Laure, would never forget its horrors.

In 1793, aged only fifteen, Laure married Gabriel de Berny, but their union was unhappy. He was 20 years old, quite reserved and cold, whereas his young wife was very sensitive, warm-hearted and caring. Despite their differences, they still managed to have nine children, although five died in infancy and only two survived their mother. In 1815, the family bought a house in Villeparisis, in northern France, where they spent the summers. It was here that Laure first met Honore De Balzac. Laure was 42 at the time and already a grandmother, but this didn't stop the young Balzac (he was only 22) from falling in love with her. At first she resisted him, but Balzac wouldn't give up. He courted her for months and in the end, she gave in. The two become lovers.

Of course nothing could remain secret for long in a small town. When Balzac's parents learned of it they tried to break off their scandalous relationship, but to no avail. Laure's wasn't just Balzac's lover. She was his confidante, his muse and his benefactress. She gave him the love, security and confidence he hadn't received from his parents as a child, she supported his literary career (she inspired the characters of Madame de Mortsauf in The Lily In The Valley, and Pauline in Louis Lambert) and helped him out financially when he needed it. She assisted him in his business ventures, which always failed, and helped him pay his debts.

"La Dilecta", as Balzac called her, also told him many stories about the ancient regime and of how some of her aristocratic friends and acquaintances managed to escape death during the Revolution, while others weren't so lucky. His royalist principles would be strongly confirmed by Laure's influence and it's from her he also acquired his aristocratic longings. Thanks to her help, he also managed to meet several influential people and would sometimes make an appearance in high society. Balzac would also talk to her about his relationship with other women, such as Madame de Hanska, who he would end up marrying a few months before his death.

And it is in a letter to Madame Hanska, written in 1837, that Balzac thus describes Laure:
"I should be very unjust if I did not say that from 1823 to 1833 an angel sustained me through that hideous battle. Mme. de B..., although married, has been like an angel to me. She has been mother, sweetheart, family, friend and counsellor; she has formed the writer, she has consoled the man, she has created my taste; she has wept and laughed with me like a sister, she has come day after day and every day to lull my sorrows, like a beneficent sleep. She has done even more, because, although her finances are in control of her husband, she has found means to lend me no less than forty-five thousand francs, and I paid back the last six thousand francs in 1836, including five per cent. interest, of course. But it was only gradually that she came to speak of my debt. Without her I should certainly have died. She often became aware that I had had nothing to eat for several days; and she provided for all my needs with angelic goodness. She encouraged me in that pride which preserves a man from all baseness, and which today my enemies reproach me for, as being a foolish self-satisfaction, and which Boulanger has perhaps somewhat exaggerated in his portrait of me."

Laure De Berny died on 27th July 1836 at La Bouleaunière, her country house at Grez-sur-Loing. Balzac was in Italy at the time, but when he returned, he visited her grave.

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

Historical Reads: Jane The Meek And Mild One?

Author Claire Ridgway has written a very interesting post about Jane Seymour. Was she really the good, innocent and boring woman she's portrayed to be?

Bound to Obey and Serve – Jane the Meek and Mild?

It is clear from Jane’s motto that she wanted to be the submissive wife and queen, in contrast to the “Most Happy” Anne Boleyn who had a “sunshine and showers” relationship with Henry, one of passion and rages. Antonia Fraser describes her as “naturally sweet-natured” and writes of her main characteristics being “virtue and common good sense”. Fraser goes on to say that “Jane was exactly the kind of female praised by the contemporary handbooks to correct conduct; just as Anne Boleyn had been the sort they warned against,”. However, Alison Weir points out that “Beneath her outward show of humility, there was steel, even though it was confined to the domestic sphere only” – she may have been mild-mannered but she was capable of being strict with her household and also capable of standing up to her husband at times, although her common sense told her when to shut up, i.e. she listened to Henry when he threatened her, by reminding her of what had happened to wife number two, and learned to be submissive to her husband and master. Where Anne would have told Henry just what she thought, Jane curbed her tongue and accepted her place as the dutiful wife, but then she did have the benefit of knowing what Henry was capable of! Henry was bad-tempered and had mood swings and Jane was sensible enough to realise that he needed humouring and needed his ego massaging – where Anne could be impatient, Jane was soothing.

Henry’s True Love

Henry VIII called Jane his true love and true wife, he chose Jane’s image to be portrayed as his wife and queen in the Whitehall Family Portrait, even though he was married to Catherine Parr at the time, and he chose to be laid to rest next to Jane, so it is hard to argue with that and say that she was not Henry’s true love. However, he was only involved with Jane for around 18 months, if that, so the relationship cannot be compared with his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, which lasted for nearly 24 years, and his relationship with Anne Boleyn, which lasted about 10 years. Henry did not have time to get tired of Jane and the fact that she died after giving him the precious gift of a son probably made Henry look back on their relationship with rather rose tinted spectacles! There is no doubt, however, that he loved and respected her and his behaviour after her death, locking himself away from the world, shows that he really was grief-stricken.

To read the entire article, click here.

Marie Therese Of France: Childhood

Marie-Therese's birth was a disappointment for everyone but her parents. It took Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI seven years to conceive, and when, on 19th December 1778, courtiers crowded in the Queen's bedchamber to witness the birth of the baby, it wasn't the long-awaited dauphin that made his appearance into this world, but a healthy, fair-haired and blue-eyed baby girl. Her parents were, much to the astonishment of the court, absolutely besotted with her and celebrated her birth like she had been a boy. As the Queen was recuperating from her arduous labour, Louis XVI spent many hours at her bedside and in the nursery with their newborn baby. Marie Antoinette from the start decided that she was gonna take care of her children herself as much as it was possible for a Queen to do, and for 18 days breastfed her daughter, an act that horrified many, including her mother, the Empress Maria Theresa. Upon hearing this news, the Empress sent a letter to her daughter, ordering her to cease such "barbarism", warning her that breastfeeding would prevent her from getting pregnant again. Marie Antoinette obeyed.

Both the King and Queen would spend as much time as possible with their daughter when they weren't busy attending to matters of state. The baby was growing up strong, healthy, active, clever and gracious and Marie Antoinette, like every proud mother, couldn't stop talking about her daughter to everyone who listened. Even her letters were full of news and anecdotes about her little girl. All the while, though, the Queen was trying to get pregnant again and, on 22nd October 1781, Louis Joseph, the heir to the French throne was finally born. Unfortunately, the little boy would suffer ill-health throughout his life, which deeply worried both his parents. In 1785, Marie Antoinette gave birth to another boy, Louis Charles. He looked like a little angel, with his long blonde hair and cerulean blue eyes. Marie Therese doted on, and pampered her little brother a lot. The two were practically inseparable. A year after Louis Charles' birth, the Queen gave birth to her last child, a daughter named Sophie. Sadly, the baby would only live a few months. Her death was a really hard blow for her 8-year-old sister Marie Therese.

The children grew up in the dazzling court of Versailles and, from the moment of their birth, they were always at the centre of attention. Everyone they met, apart from their parents, had to bow and curtsey to them. Marie Therese also had to take part in the daily rituals and ceremonies that marked life at Versailles, often in very heavy, although expensive and beautiful, gowns. For such a little girl, this must often have felt really exhausting! But she also got to meet sovereigns, dignitaries, intellectuals, musicians and other public figures that every year visited the court, and they were all charmed by the little Madame Royale, as Marie Therese was called. Versailles was both an exciting and stifling place to grow up in. Marie Therese learned how to behave impeccably in public, but on those occasions, she often had a serious and even glum demeanour, which caused her mother to nickname her Mousseline Serieuse. However, she thrived when she was left free to play and act like the child that she was. Unfortunately, this duality in her personality caused a lot of people to consider her haughty, selfish and just a spoiled brat, but she was also an intelligent and strong-willed little girl who found having to act like an adult so often quite hard.

Marie Therese was always very close to her father. The Marquis de Bombelles writes in his journal of how the little princess told him that she loved her father better than her mother because the Queen always walks "straight ahead of me and doesn't even look to see whether I am following her... whereas Papa takes me by the hand and looks after me". The relationship with her mother was more complicated because it was the Queen that imparted discipline and punishment to her children. The little Madame Royale shocked everyone who heard her when, informed that her mother had not died after a bad fall from her horse, replied that if she had, she would have been free to do whatever she wanted when she wanted. But this does not mean that she hated her mother. Sometimes, for instance, she would sneak into Marie Antoinette's room early in the morning so she could spend some time alone with her before the crowd of courtiers arrived to demand the Queen's attention.

Marie Antoinette was a sensitive and attentive mother who taught her children to be considerate of others and do what they could to help those less fortunate. Marie Therese was taught to make socks for the poor and donate to them a part of her allowance. One New Year's Day, Marie Antoinette showed some exquisite and expensive toys to her children, who thought they could choose whatever they wanted among them. But their mother told them they could only look at them. They'd be returned, and the money that would have been spent to buy them would instead be used to buy necessities for poor children, who were struggling more than usual to make ends meet after a particularly harsh winter. Madame Royale learned her lesson and she would be known throughout her life for her kindness to others. Another time, the Queen gave her 4-year-old daughter a doll dressed in the Carmelite habit to prepare her to meet her aunt Louise who had taken the veil. This prevented the child from being shocked once she reached the convent. The nuns were charmed with her. Marie Therese was also encouraged to play with and wait on poorer children. One of them was called Ernestine. When her parents died, she was adopted by the royal family and the two girls became inseparable.

Marie Antoinette also paid close attention to her children's education. When the Dauphin was about one, the Princesse de Guemene resigned from her post as Governess to the Children of France due to a scandal involving her husband's debts. The Queen decided to entrust her children to friendship and gave the job to her best friend, the Duchess De Polignac. This move attracted lots of criticism because traditionally at Versailles jobs were assigned to people based on their ranks and that of the Duchess just wasn't deemed high and noble enough for such a prestigious position. The royal children also had several tutors, which were supervised by their mother. Their father, instead, often attended their geography's lessons (it was a subject the King particularly loved), and he even commissioned a huge globe for them. In addition, Louis XVI also made up "games" to help his children retain the information they had learned. Madame Royale was taught religion by a very special teacher: her very pious aunt Elizabeth. Needlework, she learned from her mother, Marie Antoinette.

As she grew older, Marie Therese, who often accompanied her parents on their social outings, began to witness the disrespect and hatred the people felt for her mother. The country was on the brink of bankruptcy and the people, who needed a scapegoat, blamed their foreign Queen. Her father wasn't spared criticism either. When she attended the ceremony of the opening of the Estate Generals with her family, Madame Royale noticed that the members of the Tiers Etate refused to kneel in front of their King. She was also shocked when the Duc d'Orleans, refused the invitation of his royal cousin to sit with his family. These were insults and the child felt confused. She couldn't understand why people would thus mistreat her beloved papa. But there were much bigger sorrows in store for Marie Therese. The Estate Generals also coincided with the death of her older brother, the Dauphin Louis Joseph. It was a blow deeply felt by everyone, but the royal family wasn't allowed a lot of time to mourn. The Estate Generals failed to solve the problems of the country. The people were growing more restless and violent with each passing day and, on 14th July 1789, the Bastille was stormed. French nobles started to emigrate abroad. Among these were the king's brother, the Count d'Artois with his wife and children, who were close friends of Madame Royale, and the Polignacs. The royal children needed a new governess and the job was given to Madame de Tourzel. The Queen welcomed her with these words: "Madame, I had entrusted my children to friendship; today, I entrust them to virtue".

Life was changing for Madame Royale but it was on 5th October 1789 that her idyllic childhood came to an abrupt end. She was dining with her brother and mother at the Petite Trianon, after a morning spent playing happily in the gardens, when they were told a mob was marching on Versailles. They went straight back to the Palace. Confusion reigned as no one really knew what the best thing to do was. Finally she went to bed at midnight, when everything was still quiet. Mayhem exploded around 5am when the mob forced open the gates and entered inside the Palace. Marie Antoinette managed to narrowly escape from the blood-thirsty mob into the King's room and, once she had made sure her husband and son were together and safe, she went to fetch her daughter, who was sleeping in Madame de Tourzel's apartments. It was clear now that the royal family had no choice but to go back to Paris with the crowd. But first, a last test awaited the Queen. The mob demanded her to come to the balcony. Although she was advised not to, she took both her childrens* by the hand and stepped onto the balcony. But the crowd wasn't pleased. They wanted her alone. She took the children back inside and out she stepped again. Alone. She curtsied to the people, which really impressed them and a few of them cried "Vive la Reine!". Finally, she went back inside again. Madame Royale was deeply impressed by her mother's bravery and her example would guide her throughout her life. At two o'clock in the afternoon, after they had witnessed horrors, abuses and obscenities, the royal family left for Paris. They would never see Versailles again.

*Marie Therese later recalled that the Queen only brought her brother on the balcony with her, but she also says that she was very shocked and anxious at the time, so her recollections about the event may have been somewhat confused.

Further reading:
Marie Therese: The Fate Of Marie Antoinette's Daughter

The Last Letter Of Mary, Queen Of Scots

Mary, Queen of Scots was executed at Fotheringhay Castle on 8th February 1857. She was only 44 years old and had spent half of her life imprisoned. A few hours before her death, she wrote a letter to her brother-in-law, Henri III of France. In it, she declares she is to die for her Catholic faith, is innocent of all crimes, and shows her concern for her servants, asking Henry to provide pays and wages for them. Henry didn't honour her last wishes. Philip II of Spain did. Here's the letter:

8 February 1587

To the most Christian king, my brother and old ally,

Royal brother, having by God's will, for my sins I think, thrown myself into the power of the Queen my cousin, at whose hands I have suffered much for almost twenty years, I have finally been condemned to death by her and her Estates. I have asked for my papers, which they have taken away, in order that I might make my will, but I have been unable to recover anything of use to me, or even get leave either to make my will freely or to have my body conveyed after my death, as I would wish, to your kingdom where I had the honor to be queen, your sister and old ally.

Tonight, after dinner, I have been advised of my sentence: I am to be executed like a criminal at eight in the morning. I have not had time to give you a full account of everything that has happened, but if you will listen to my doctor and my other unfortunate servants, you will learn the truth, and how, thanks be to God, I scorn death and vow that I meet it innocent of any crime, even if I were their subject. The Catholic faith and the assertion of my God-given right to the English crown are the two issues on which I am condemned, and yet I am not allowed to say that it is for the Catholic religion that I die, but for fear of interference with theirs. The proof of this is that they have taken away my chaplain, and although he is in the building, I have not been able to get permission for him to come and hear my confession and give me the Last Sacrament, while they have been most insistent that I receive the consolation and instruction of their minister, brought here for that purpose. The bearer of this letter and his companions, most of them your subjects, will testify to my conduct at my last hour. It remains for me to beg Your Most Christian Majesty, my brother-in-law and old ally, who have always protested your love for me, to give proof now of your goodness on all these points: firstly by charity, in paying my unfortunate servants the wages due them - this is a burden on my conscience that only you can relieve: further, by having prayers offered to God for a queen who has borne the title Most Christian, and who dies a Catholic, stripped of all her possessions. As for my son, I commend him to you in so far as he deserves, for I cannot answer for him. I have taken the liberty of sending you two precious stones, talismans against illness, trusting that you will enjoy good health and a long and happy life. Accept them from your loving sister-in-law, who, as she dies, bears witness of her warm feeling for you. Again I commend my servants to you. Give instructions, if it please you, that for my soul's sake part of what you owe me should be paid, and that for the sake of Jesus Christ, to whom I shall pray for you tomorrow as I die, I be left enough to found a memorial mass and give the customary alms.

Wednesday, at two in the morning

Your most loving and most true sister
Mary R

Further reading:

Classic Books: A Doll's House, The Prince & Hamlet

Hello everyone,

today I want to talk to you about 3 classic books we all know: A Doll's House by Ibsen, The Prince by Machiavelli, and Hamlet by Shakespeare. These aren't proper reviews though. For that, you'll have to read what more learned scholars than me have written about them. Instead, I'll talk about the impressions and considerations I was left with once I finished reading the books. Let's get started:

A Doll's House by Henrik Ibsen
Fully understanding a classic book is still no guarantee that you're gonna like it. For me, that was the case with A Doll's House by Ibsen. It tells the story of Nora, an upper-middle class woman happily (or so it seems at first) married to Torvald, who has just got a promotion. She is empty-headed and silly because she has never been encouraged to think and be her own person, and was happy to be only the docile daughter and wife his father and husband expected her to be. In the course of the play, she comes to realise that she's only the shadow of what she could be, that her marriage is a sham and her husband treats her like a child and will never be able to understand her. In the end, she chooses to put herself first and leaves her husband. This really shocked the audiences of the time, who considered it an attack on the sanctity of marriage, but what shocked me was the easiness with which Nora leaves her children too. At the time, a woman who left her husband gave up every right to see her children again. I cannot conceive how a mother could do that. Sure, she probably knows they will be well-cared for, but I can't help but wonder if there was another way for Nora to become her own person, without having to abandon her children. Maybe she could have taken up a hobby, study, write books and try to publish them using a man's name, (maybe if she had done one of these things her husband would have started seeing her as a person rather than as a child too), or just live a separate life from her husband while still being married to him, which is what a lot of married couples did anyway. She could also have tried to save their marriage and try to better the situation of women in society from the inside instead than just leaving, which may help her, but what about all the other women facing the same situation, and of her children who will grow up with the values she refused and have a very low opinion of their mother? I understand that that way the book wouldn't be as shocking, that Ibsen's ending is much more effective at portraying the hypocrisy of the upper classes and the awful situation women found themselves in at the time, being considered only the property of men and good only to be wives and mothers. But still, I don't like it. I just think that her decision of abandoning her children and her responsibilities was really selfish, especially because it came just after her big secret (forging her father's signature, a serious crime) was discovered and Torvald failed to help her in the way she wanted him to. It was a decision made more out of humiliation than anything else, and it was very rash and irresponsible. And let's face it. She just isn't capable to fend for herself. I expect she ended up either in another doll's house, or just dead under some bridge. So, yes, I understand the themes and message of the novel, and the importance it had on society, but I can't help but feel that Nora is a very irritating character who, instead than facing responsibilities for her actions and finally start to behave like an adult, chose the easy way out.
Available at:
Rating: 3/5

The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli
First of all, if you wanna read this book, get a modern translation. My edition is written in the original, old Italian and it was quite hard to follow at times, which is why I hated it the first time I read it, which was in high school. I reread it recently, and although the language is still quite complicated, I appreciated it a lot more. Machiavelli was a diplomat, humanist and writer that lived in Florence during the Renaissance. He wrote the Prince as a little guidebook for an aspiring prince. In it he discusses matters of states, and mainly how to gain power and how to keep it. A lot of his ideas are still relevant today, while others are terrifying and controversial. But it is also true that Machiavelli lived at a time of political instability, during which wars and coups were very frequent occurrences. What he aspired at the time was stability, even if that meant adopting ruthless means to achieve it. Machiavelli discusses realpolitik and his advice is very, if not always right and fair, pragmatic because, like he says in the book, "how we live is so different from how we ought to live that he who studies what ought to be done rather than what is done will learn the way to his downfall rather than to its preservation". Also, he supports his political advice by relating history episodes relevant to the matter in question. This makes the prince not just a political guide, but also a course on ancient, Medieval and Renaissance history. Although the book is very short, it is also chock full of information, so take your time to read it and fully absorb and understand all the different concepts discussed in it. Overall, a very insightful book that will make you think about politics and power.
Available at:
Rating: 4/5

Hamlet by William Shakespeare
What can I say about Hamlet that hasn't already been said? We all know the story. Hamlet discovers that his father, the King of Denmark, was murdered by his brother, who then married his widow. He goes crazy and a lot of people die (ok, it's more complicated then this, but if you wanna know more you'll have to read the book or watch the play; that is, if you haven't already). Hamlet is a very good story because it deals with very powerful themes, such as love, death, life, anger, madness, passion, politics, revenge and happiness, that every human being, doesn't matter in what century they are born in, will always be able to relate to. It's a bold and dark play, written in an excellent style. I love Shakespeare's quick wit and subtle ironies, although they aren't always easy to understand for modern readers, which is why you should get an annotated edition. Overall, one of Shakespeare's best works and a masterpiece.
Available at:
Rating: 4/5

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

Bundling, Or Courtship In Bed

These days, thanks to mobile phones, emails and skype, we can easily and often communicate with our sweethearts even when we find ourselves on the opposite sides of the ocean. But it wasn't always like this. In the past, even when a couple lived only a few miles apart, seeing each other was difficult. Men had to walk miles, or ride a horse, to reach their lover's house, which could take hours. In winter, with the inclement and frigid weather, things were even worse and, once a man arrived at his destination, it wasn't always possible for him to go home until the next morning. The rooms were cold, the houses small and there just weren't that many beds. Thus, it made sense for the two lovers to bundle up together in bed at night.

This practice was called bundling, but also "courtship in bed" in England, and tarrying in the United States, and was practised mostly by the lower classes. And apart from practical reasons, it also served another important purpose. It allowed the couple to get to know each other better. The man had the consent of the girl's parents to share a bed with her so that he could court her. The couple would take off their outer garments, and keep only their underclothes or a shift on, to prevent any "illicit" activity. Other methods to prevent the couple from having sex were placing a low board or a bolster in the middle of the bed, or even tying the girl's ankles together. They were supposed to talk all night, and nothing more.

But of course, when you put two young people who fancy each other in bed together, it is to be expected that they won't remain chaste for long. In fact, wherever the custom of bundling prevailed, the bride usually gave birth to a child only a few months after the wedding. This doesn't seem to have been a very big deal though, because usually when two people bundled in bed together, their relationship was already serious and a marriage was likely to follow anyway. In any case, if a woman got pregnant after bundling, the man had no choice but to make an honest woman out of her.

However, not every couple that bundled in bed together was already talking of marriage. In some parts of America, they'd decide whether to get hitched or not after spending the night together. The Reverend Andrew Burnaby thus described the practice in his book, Travels in North America, published in 1775:

A very extraordinary method of courtship is sometimes practiced among the lower people in Massachusetts Bay, called Tarrying. When a man is enamoured of a young woman and wishes to marry her, he proposes the affair to her parents, without whose consent no marriage in this colony can take place. If they have no objection, they allow him to tarry with her one night, in order to make his court to her. At the usual time, the old couple retire to bed, leaving the young ones to settle matters as they can; who, after having sat up as long as they think proper, get into bed together also, without pulling off their under-garments, in order to prevent scandal. If the parties agree, it is all very well; the banns are published, and they are married without delay; if not they part, and possibly never see each other again; unless, which is an accident that seldom happens, the forsaken fair one proves pregnant, and then the man is obliged to marry her, under pain of excommunication.

This practice also a biblical basis. In the Book Of Ruth, it is written that Ruth and Boaz laid together on the floor all night and later, they were married. However, not everyone condoned bundling. In 1869 in New York, the parents of a young girl sued a man for seducing her. The court ruled: "that although bundling was admitted to be the custom in some parts of the State, it being proven that the parents of the girl, for whose seduction the suit was brought, countenanced her practising it, they had no right to complain, or ask satisfaction for the consequences, which, the Court say, naturally followed!”

Further reading:
Marriage Customs Of The World by George P. Monger

Photo source:
The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation

Leopold I, King Of The Belgians, On His First Wife, Princess Charlotte Of Wales

Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld could have become British Prince Consort instead than the first King Of The Belgians. His first wife was Princess Charlotte of Wales, heir to the British throne and their marriage was a love match, something very rare among royal couples. Sadly, their union was also very brief. Princess Charlotte died about a year and a half after their wedding, giving birth to a stillborn son. Leopold was distraught. He went on to become King of The Belgians and married again, this time to Louise of Orleans. But even though he cared and respected his new wife, he never forgot Charlotte.

Years later, he would give his niece, Queen Victoria, Charlotte's portrait as a birthday present. In this letter, which accompanies the portrait, Kind Leopold I remembers his beloved Charlotte. His love for his first wife is evident in this short but touching epistle:

The King of the Belgians to Queen Victoria.

Laeken, 21st May 1845.

My dearest and most beloved Victoria,—Receive my sincerest and most heartfelt good wishes on the happy reappearance of your birthday. I need not dwell on my sentiments of devotion to you; they began with your life, and will only end with mine. The only claim I make is to be remembered with some little affection. Thank heaven, I have little to wish you, than that your present happiness may not be disturbed, and that those who are dear to you may be preserved for your happiness.

My gift is Charlotte's portrait. The face is extremely like, and the likest that exists; the hair is a little too fair, it had become also darker. I take this opportunity to repeat that Charlotte was a noble-minded and highly gifted creature. She was nervous, as all the family have been; she could be violent, but then she was full of repentance for it, and her disposition highly generous and susceptible of great devotion.

I am the more bound to say this, as I understood that you had some notion that she had been very imperious, and not mistress of her temper. Before her marriage some people by dint of flattery had tried to give her masculine tastes; and in short had pushed her to become one day a sort of Queen Elizabeth. These sentiments were already a little modified before her marriage. But she was particularly determined to be a good and obedient wife; some of her friends were anxious she should not; amongst these Madame de Flahaut must be mentioned en première ligne.

This became even a subject which severed the intimacy between them. Madame de Flahaut, much older than Charlotte, and of a sour and determined character, had gained an influence which partook on Charlotte's part a little of fear. She was afraid of her, but when once supported took courage.

People were much struck on the 2nd of May 1816 at Carlton House with the clearness and firmness with which she pronounced "and obey," etc., as there had been a general belief that it would be for the husband to give these promises. The Regent put me particularly on my guard, and said, "If you don't resist she will govern you with a high hand." Your own experience has convinced you that real affection changes many sentiments that may have been implanted into the mind of a young girl. With Charlotte it was the more meritorious, as from a very early period of her life she was considered as the heiress of the Crown; the Whigs flattered her extremely, and later, when she got by my intervention reconciled to the Tories, they also made great efforts to please her.

Her understanding was extremely good; she knew everybody, and I even afterwards found her judgment generally extremely correct. She had read a great deal and knew well what she had read. Generous she was almost too much, and her devotion was quite affecting, from a character so much pushed to be selfish and imperious.

I will here end my souvenir of poor dear Charlotte, but I thought that the subject could not but be interesting to you. Her constancy in wishing to marry me, which she maintained under difficulties of every description, has been the foundation of all that touched the family afterwards. You know, I believe, that your poor father was the chief promoter, though also the Yorks were; but our correspondence from 1814 till 1816 was entirely carried on through his kind intervention; it would otherwise have been impossible, as she was really treated as a sort of prisoner. Grant always to that good and generous Charlotte, who sleeps already with her beautiful little boy so long, where all will go to, an affectionate remembrance, and believe me she deserves it.

Forgive my long letter, and see in it, what it really is, a token of the great affection I have for you. Ever, my dearest Victoria, your devoted Uncle.

Leopold R.

Further reading:
The Letters of Queen Victoria, Vol 2

Historical Reads: Footmen In The Regency Era

Jane Austen's World has written a very interesting post about footmen in the Regency Era. What were their duties and what was their life like?

Footmen acquired their names from their running duties, accompanying their masters or mistresses alongside carriages or horses. They carried a long cane containing a mixture of eggs and white wine for sustenance, but many accounts talk of thin, gaunt footmen who became too old before their time.

By the 18th century, footmen began to work under the supervision of a butler, taking on such duties as “carrying coals up to rooms, cleaning boots, trimming lamps, laying the table for meals, answering the front door and, at Erddig, sleeping in the butler’s pantry to ensure nobody stole the family silver” (Willes, page 18). The footman’s life was not an easy one. He arose at the crack of dawn and worked until 11 p.m. at night almost without pause.

To read the entire post, click here.

Clothing In Ancient Rome

The Ancient Romans wore very simple clothes similar to those worn by the Greeks, but developed into styles of their own. We're all familiar with their tunics and togas, which we've seen in lots of movies and TV shows set in Ancient Rome and pictures painted at the time that have withstood the centuries, but that's not all the Romans wore. All their clothes though were very simple and draped around the body or fastened with clasps and brooches. That's because needles at the time were coarse and unwieldy, and so sewing was something done only when strictly necessary.

The tunic was the most basic item of clothing in Ancient Rome. Everyone, whether men or female, rich or poor, slave or free man, wore one, and it also doubled up as a pyjamas. Tunics looked like modern t-shirts, only longer (men's reached the knees, women's the ankles), and were very comfortable. They were made of cool linen, usually imported from Egypt, for the hot summer months, and of warm wool for winter. When the weather was really cold, people could wear up to 2 or 3 tunics to keep warm. The wool wasn't dyed and was usually of a beige colour, which easily disguised dust and small stains. Tunics could be worn plain or belted, and while they were the only garment worn by the poorer classes, the wealthy wore a toga over it.

Only male Roman citizens were allowed to wear a toga, which was usually made of wool. Although at first they were quite small, overtime they grew larger and larger, to the point that they became not only very expensive but also impossible to put on alone. The help of a slave was needed to drape them around the master's body and over one arm. Not all togas were the same and they marked the social status and title of the wearer. The toga virilis, worn by adult men, was a simple off-white toga; magistrates wore the toga praetexta, which was an off-white toga edged with purple; the toga pulla was black and worn only in times of mourning; the toga candida was a bleached toga worn by aspiring politicians and whose whiteness represented the purity of their intentions; and the toga picta, which was purple and embroidered with gold, was worn by victorious generals and, later, by emperors.

As mentioned above, women too wore a longer tunic. It was called stola and could have long or short sleeves, or even be sleeveless. It was kept in place by two belts, one around the waist and the other under the breasts, to enhance the figure. Underneath, they usually wore a longer tunic, called tunica interior, while over them, a palla, a sort of cloak that reached the knee. It was quite large and could also be used by women to cover their heads while walking in the streets. Unlike men's clothes, women's garments came in lots of bright and vivid colours and were often embroidered. Women's clothes were usually made from linen and wool like men's, but also of silk, which was very expensive as it was imported all the way from China and so worn only by rich women to showcase their wealth.

But what did people wear underneath their tunics and togas? The answer may surprise some of you, but they wore underwear. Both men and women wore a subligar, also called subligaculum, a type of underwear available in two forms: that of a pair of shorts, or that of a simple loincloth wrapped around the lower body. Women also wore a sort of bra. Called mamillare or strophium, it was shaped like a band and tied tightly around the body, either across or under the bust (in the latter case it was usually worn over clothing). Its purpose was to support the breasts and push them up. Even a two-piece costume, which resembles the modern bikini, was worn by Ancient Roman girls to exercise or bathe in pools.

The Ancient Romans wore different types of shoes. In the streets, the Romans wore calcei, which were a sort of cross between a sandal and a shoe made of soft leather. Indoors, they would change and wear sandals instead. They were made by fixing strips of leather to a tough leather or cork base. Usually, when the Romans visited a friend at their house or attended a banquet, they would carry a pair of sandals with them which they would put on once reached their destination. Another type of indoor footwear was socci, which were basically a pair of slippers.

Shoes could also mark rank and status: the shoes worn by consuls were white; patrician's red and had an ornament at the back; senators' were brown with black straps. Soldiers wore caligae, black boots whose sole was very thick and studded with hobnails. Women instead wore sandals or closed shoes that resembled small boots. The poorer classes and slaves only wore wooden clogs called sculponea.

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

Fashions For September & October 1817

Hello everyone,

curious to know what fashionable and stylish ladies wore in the autumn of 1817? Then take a look at these fashion plates. Aren't these dresses gorgeous? I love their style and colour. What about you?



Jaconot muslin round dressover a French grey sarsnet slip. The dress is richly worked round the bottom and up the front. High body, composed of alternate strips of byas-tucked muslin and letting-in lace. Long sleeve, finished at the wrist by rouleaus of worked muslin, each rouleau edged with narrow lace. Over this dress is worn the Blandford spencer, composed of white queen's silk. We refer our readers to our print for the form of this spencer; it is trimmed, in a very novel and tasteful style, with white satin and braiding. Fichu of white gauze, very full trimmed with tulle. Blandford bonnet, composed of Leghorn: the crown is rather high, the front of a moderate size, and square at the ears; it is lined with white satin, and trimmed with the same material and Leghorn tassels, a bunch of which is placed at the left side. A full bunch of blue fancy flowers ornaments it in front, and it is finished by white satin strings. The shape of this bonnet is peculiarly novel and becoming. Pale yellow slippers, and Limerick gloves.


Is composed of the finest pale blue cloth, and richly ornamented with frogs and braiding to correspond. The front, which is braided ou each side, fastens under the body of the habit, which slopes down on each side in a very novel style, and in such a manner as to form the shape to considerable advantage. The epaulettes and jacket are braided to correspond with the front, as is also the bottom of the sleeve, which is braided nearly half way up the arm. Habit-shirt, composed of cambric, with a high standing collar, trimmed with lace. Cravat of soft muslin, richly worked at the ends, and tied in a full bow. Narrow lace ruffles. Head-dress, the Glengary cap, composed of blue satin, and trimmed with plaited ribbon of various shades of blue, and a superb plume of feathers. Blue kid gloves, and half-boots.



White British net dress over a soft white satin slip. The body is composed of white satin, disposed in folds, and rich letting-in lace. The sleeve, which is very short and full, is composed of the same materials: the lace is brought very full in front of the arm, and divided by tucks into full compartments, which are finished by small pearl tassels. For the form of the body, which is truly novel, we refer our fair readers to our print. The skirt is elegantly ornamented with two falls of broad rich blond, laid on almost plain; each fall is surmounted by a full rouleau of white satin, the fulness of which is confined by pearls twisted round it. The hair is turned up a la Grecque behind; it is parted in front so as to display the whole of the forehead, and disposed in light loose ringlets. Head-dress, à la Francois, a full garland of roses and fancy flowers. Necklace and earrings, topaz mixed with pearl. White satin shoes. White kid gloves, and spangled crape fan.


A high dress of jaconot muslin, richly embroidered round the bottom of the skirt. The body is composed entirely of work. Long sleeve, finished down the arm in front by bouillons of lace. With this dress is worn the Charlotte spencer, composed of cerulean blue satin; it is tight to the shape, the back a moderate breadth, and the waist short. The sleeve is rather wide. The trimming is extremely elegant, and it is disposed in so tasteful a manner, as to give an appearance of perfect novelty to the spencer. We are not allowed to name the materials of which it is composed. The sleeve is ornamented at the wrist, and on the shoulder to correspond. Bonnet, à la Ninon, composed of French willow. The crown is fancifully ornamented with the same material, cut in small squares, edged with white satin, and turned a little over at the ends. The front is very large; it displays the front hair, which is simply braided across the forehead: it is edged with puffed gauze, disposed in points, and confined by a narrow fold of white satin. A sprig of acacia ornaments it on the left side, and it is finished by white satin strings. French ruff and ruffles of rich lace. Blue or white kid shoes and gloves.

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

Book Review: The Wedding by Nicholas Sparks

After thirty years, Wilson Lewis is forced to face a painful truth: the romance has gone out of his marriage. His wife, Jane, has fallen out of love with him, and it is entirely his fault. Despite the shining example of his in-laws, Noah and Allie Calhoun, and their fifty-year love affair (originally recounted in The Notebook), Wilson himself is a man unable to express his true feelings. He has spent too little time at home and too much at the office, leaving the responsibility of raising their children to Jane. Now his daughter is about to marry, and his wife is thinking about leaving him. But if Wilson is sure of anything, it is this: His love for Jane has only grown over the years, and he will do everything he can to save their marriage. With the memories of Noah and Allie's inspiring life together as his guide, he vows to find a way to make his wife fall in love with him...all over again.

If you're a regular reader of my blog, you will know that The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks is one of my favourite books ever. It tells the story of how Noah and Allie fell in love one summer, lost touch for 14 years and then found each other again. Their love story is truly inspirational and touching, and, despite all the hardships they had to face, they still managed to keep the magic in their relationship alive. Things, instead, turned out differently for their daughter Jane and her husband Wilson, whose story is told in the Wedding, the long-awaited follow-up to The Notebook.

Wilson couldn't be more different from Jane's romantic father Noah. He's not the romantic type, he's no good at expressing his feelings and worked so much during all the years of their marriage that, as a result, he and Jane have fallen apart. But despite all this, he's still madly in love with her. Unfortunately he realises that she doesn't feel the same way about him anymore. So he decides to win her love back and turns to Noah for advice. He wants to do something special for their 30th anniversary but a couple of weeks before that date, their daughter Anna announces she's getting married. She wants a small, no-fuss wedding and Jane, who has never had the white wedding she desired because her husband, not believing in God, convinced her to have only a civil ceremony, organizes it.

Anyone who's been in a relationship that's lost its magic (and let's face, who hasn't?) will relate to Wilson and Jane's story. They are two ordinary people; there is nothing remarkable about them that makes them stand out, and in a way, this makes them quite boring characters, but it also makes them real. Jane and Wilson could be absolutely anyone and to see the way he goes about to fix their marriage is very touching. And the end will absolutely surprise you. Although the book is a bit sappy, it also offers some interesting food for thought and makes you reflect on how a stale marriage can be saved if both parties are willing to work hard at it, instead than just giving up.

The book is not as engaging as The Notebook and quite slow, especially at the beginning. A large chunk of the book is also dedicated to the wedding arrangements, which some may found boring, but I really enjoyed it. The writing style is just poetic. Sparks really has a way with words that tugs at your heartstrings and, if you're the romantic type, this book will make you shed a tear or two. Overall, The Wedding is a well-written, romantic, and even sappy story, that will make you smile, cry and think.

The Wedding by Nicholas Sparks, tells the story of how an ordinary man, who has neglected his wife and finds it hard to show her how he feels, fights to save his stale marriage. It is a story that anyone can relate to and provides some food for thought. Although the story is a bit slow, especially at the beginning, it is still well-written. Nicholas Sparks has a way with words that makes even the most ordinary story seem unique and poetic.

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

Rating: 4/5

Madame Vigée Le Brun On Catherine The Great

A while ago, I posted Madame Vigée Le Brun's thoughts about her first meeting with the Russian Empress Catherine The Great. The portraitist spent a lot of time in Russia and had the chance to meet the Empress several more times and form her own opinion about this autocrat. Here's what she wrote in her memoirs:

The Russian people lived very happily under the rule of Catherine; by great and lowly have I heard the name of her blessed to whom the nation owed so much glory and so much well-being. I do not speak of the conquests by which the national vanity was so prodigiously flattered, but of the real, lasting good that this Empress did her people. During the space of the thirty-four years she reigned, her beneficent genius fathered or furthered all that was useful, all that was grand. She erected an immortal monument to Peter I.; she built two hundred and thirty-seven towns in stone, saying that wooden villages cost much more because they burned down so often; she covered the sea with her fleets; she established everywhere manufactories and banks, highly propitious to the commerce of St. Petersburg, Moscow and Tobolsk; she granted new privileges to the Academy; she founded schools in all the towns and the country districts; she dug canals, built granite quays, gave a legal code, instituted an asylum for foundlings, and, finally, introduced into her empire the boon of vaccination, adopted by the Russians solely through her mighty will, and, for the public encouragement, was the first to be inoculated.

Catherine herself was the source of all these blessings, for she never allowed any one else real authority. She dictated her own despatches to her ministers, who, in effect, were but her secretaries.

Catherine II. loved everything that was magnificent in the arts. At the Hermitage she built a set of rooms corresponding to certain rooms in the Vatican, and had copies made of the fifty pictures by Raphael adorning those rooms. She enriched the Academy of Fine Arts with plaster casts of the finest ancient statues and with a large number of paintings by various masters. The Hermitage, which she had founded and erected quite near her palace, was a model of good taste in every respect, and made the clumsy architecture of the imperial palace at St. Petersburg appear to worse advantage than ever by the contrast. It is well known that she wrote French with great facility. In the library at St. Petersburg I saw the original manuscript of the legal code she gave the Russians written entirely in her own hand and in the French language. Her style, I was told, was elegant and very concise, and this reminds me of an instance of her laconic manner of expression which seems to me quite delightful. When General Suvaroff had won the battle of Warsaw, Catherine at once sent him a messenger, and this messenger brought the fortunate victor nothing but an envelope on which she had written with her own hand, "To Marshal Suvaroff."

This woman, whose power was so great, was at home the simplest and least exacting of women. She rose at five in the morning, lit her fire, and then made her coffee herself. It was even said that one day, having lit the fire without being aware that the sweeper had climbed up the chimney, the sweeper began to swear at her, and to shower the coarsest revilements upon her, believing he was speaking to a stove-lighter. The Empress hastened to extinguish the fire, though not without laughing heartily at having been thus treated.

After breakfast the Empress wrote her letters and prepared her despatches, remaining in seclusion until nine o'clock. She then rang for her men servants, who sometimes did not answer her bell. One day, for instance, impatient at waiting, she opened the door of the room they were in, and, finding them settled down at a game of cards, she asked them why they did not come when she rang. Thereupon one of them calmly replied that they wanted to finish their game – and so they did. On another occasion the Countess Bruce, who was allowed in the Empress's apartments at all hours, came in one morning to find her alone at her toilet. "Your Majesty seems to be without assistance," said the Countess. "How can I help it?" answered the Empress. "My maids all went off. I was trying on a dress which fitted so badly that I lost my temper over it, and so they left me to myself. Not one of them stayed, not even Reinette, my head maid, and I am waiting for them to cool off.

In the evening Catherine would gather about her some of the people of her court she liked best. She sent for her grandchildren, and blind man's buff, hunt the slipper and other games were played until ten o'clock, when Her Majesty went to bed. Princess Dolgoruki, who was among the favoured, often told me with what good spirits and jollity the Empress enlivened these gatherings. Count Stachelberg and the Count de Ségur were invited to Catherine's small parties. When she broke with France and dismissed the Count de Ségur, the French Ambassador, she expressed deep regret at losing him. "But," she added, "I am an autocrat. Every one to his trade."

A few days later I went to a gala dinner at court. When I entered the room the invited ladies were all there, standing by the table, on which the first dish was already served. A moment after, a large door with two valves was thrown open, and the Empress appeared. I have said that she was short, but nevertheless on state occasions, her erect head, her eagle eye, her countenance so used to command – all was so symbolic of majesty that she seemed to be the queen of the world. She wore the ribbons of three orders. Her garb was plain and dignified, consisting of a muslin tunic embroidered with gold and enclasped by a diamond belt, a pair of wide sleeves being turned back in oriental fashion. Over this tunic was a red velvet dolman with very short sleeves. The cap set on her white hair was not adorned with bows, but with diamonds of the greatest beauty. When Her Majesty had taken her place all the ladies sat down to the table, and, according to universal custom, laid their napkins on their knees, while the Empress fastened hers with two pins, just as napkins are fastened on children. She soon noticed that the ladies did not eat, and suddenly burst out: "Ladies, you do not want to follow my example, and you are only pretending to eat! I have adopted the habit of pinning my napkin, as otherwise I could not even eat an egg without spilling some of it on my collar.

I, in fact, observed her to dine with a very hearty appetite. A good orchestra played during the whole meal, the musicians being in a large gallery at the end of the room.

Prince Bezborodko was a man of high ability. He was employed in the reign of Catherine II. and of Paul, first as secretary to the cabinet, and then, in 1780, as Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. In his desire to avoid the countless appeals by which he was besieged, he made himself as inaccessible as possible. Women sometimes followed him into his carriage. He would answer their demands with "I shall forget," and if it was a case of a petition with "I shall lose it." His greatest gift was a thorough and exact knowledge of the Russian language. In addition to this he boasted a phenomenal memory and an astonishing facility of putting his thoughts into words. I give a well-known instance in proof thereof. On one occasion the Empress ordered him to draw up a ukase*, which, however, a great pressure of business caused him to forget. The first time he saw the Empress again, after conferring with him on several matters of administration, she asked him for the ukase. Bezborodko, not the least bit in the world dismayed, drew a sheet of paper out of his portfolio, and without a moment's hesitation improvised the whole thing from beginning to end. Catherine was so well pleased with this presentment that she took the paper from him to look at it. Her surprise may be imagined at the sight of a sheet that was quite blank! Bezborodko began elaborate excuses, but she stopped him with compliments, and the next day made him Privy Councillor.

*Ukase: decree

Further reading:
The Memoirs of Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun