Book Reviews: The Rise Of Thomas Cromwell & Billie Holiday The Musician And The Myth

Hello everyone,

here are today's reviews. Enjoy:

The Rise of Thomas Cromwell: Power and Politics in the Reign of Henry VIII, 1485-1534 by Michael Everett
Thomas Cromwell is often portrayed, both by historians, novelists, and film makers, as a Machiavellian politician and revolutionary evangelical who rose to power by masterminding Henry VIII's split with Rome. While it makes for an intriguing story, Everett thinks we've been exaggerating his importance, and his influence on Henry VIII. By combing through historical documents and primary sources, he retraces Cromwell's early career, from his humble beginnings to his rise at court. The figure that emerges from these pages is that of a very skilled, highly efficient, and hard-working administrator to whom Henry VIII could delegate all kinds of matters, knowing they would be taken care of. It was the King who made all the important decisions. Cromwell only executed them.
Because the book deals with Cromwell's early career, as a lawyer and merchant first, and later as a servant of the King who was responsible for various Crown lands (it was this work, Everett argues, that brought him to the attention of Henry VIII), it is sometimes dry in places. Some topics, like law, just aren't that engaging, unless you have a passion for them. But that doesn't mean the book is boring. On the contrary, it is full of fascinating insights into Cromwell's work and personality that give us a better understanding of who this man really was and how he managed to rise so quickly at court. It's a must read for anyone interested in Cromwell and the Tudors.
Available at: Amazon
Rating: 4/5

Billie Holiday: The Musician and the Myth by John Szwed
Never title was more apt. When I picked up this book, I expected to read a regular biography of Billie Holiday. A chronological account of her life and work, starting from her birth, to her rise to fame, her turbulent love life, and her death. Instead, what I got was a study of Billie as a musician and an investigation into the myths that still surround her. The first part of the book is dedicated to debunking all the lies and misconceptions about Billie, including those she herself told in her autobiography. Szwed skilfully separates fact from fiction to reveal what really happened, both in her personal and professional life.
The second part of the book focuses on Billie, The Musician. Szwed brings back to life the musical world Billie inhabited and its protagonists. Her voice, her creative process, her performance style, the songs she wrote and sang, and the impact she had on the music world are all analysed to explain what made her so incredibly talented and loved, even decades after her death.
Well-written and engaging, the book is a fascinating study of Billie's life and work, providing lots of interesting insight into a bygone era and one of its main protagonists. You can tell how much Szwed loves his subject. His passion exudes from every page. Unfortunately, the book also confused me. Billie Holiday: The Musician And The Myth is only for die-hard fans (or detractors) of Billie. Because the book doesn't follow a chronological order and is more a debate on Billie and her art, only they have the necessary background information to fully appreciate it. If you, like me, simply wanted to know more about her life, this book isn't for you. It did, however, made me curious to discover more about Billie Holiday and listen to more of her songs.
Available at: Amazon
Rating: 3.5/5

Are you going to pick up these books?

Disclaimer: this book was sent by PR for consideration. In addition, this post contains affiliate links.

Louise & Artois

The Comte d'Artois, younger brother of Louis XVI, loved beautiful women, but only one completely captured his heart. Her name was Louise d'Esparbès de Lussan. Born in 1764, Louise lost her mother shortly after her birth. Her grandmother raised her until she was 12, when she was then sent to the convent of Panthemont, where she remained for 5 years.

At the tender age of 17, Louise left the convent to marry Denis, Vicomte de Polastron, the brother of Gabrielle de Polignac, Marie Antoinette's best friend and governess of the royal children. Gabrielle took an instant liking to the shy, sweet, and modest girl and got her a position as lady-in-waiting to the queen, with an apartment in the palace. "We shall be always together; she shall be not only a sister to me, but a cherished child," Gabrielle said of her sister-in-law. Louise must have been grateful for that, especially because right after the wedding ceremony her husband, promoted to the rank of colonnel, had to leave to take command of his regiment. He'd be away for a whole year.

Although Louis had Gabrielle to help her out at Versailles, her life at court didn't start well. Her introduction to the Queen was a disaster. Everything had been carefully arranged. Louise was sumptuously dressed, her hair powdered, and instructed on how to curtsey. But when the fatal moment came, Louise forgot everything she had been taught. She simply stood there, frozen. She didn't move even when the Queen embraced her. Her behaviour was a disgrace and soon became the talk of the court. All the courtiers avoided her, not wanting to be associated with her.

One man, however, approached, and started talking to her. A dashing, charming man who chased all the pretty women at court, Artois was instantly smitten with the shy, gentle, and virtuous Louise. Suddenly he started spending a lot time in Madame de Polignac’s apartments to be close to Louise. Everyone knew what this meant (Marie Antoinette even warned Louise to be wary of the Comte's attentions), but not Louise. She was too naive to understand what Artois' intentions were.

A year went by and Denis came back to court, and got his wife pregnant. She gave birth to a son, Louis. Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette stood as godparents. Motherhood suited Louise. It brought her happiness and gave her a new-found confidence. Rather than being deterred, Artois was now more in love than ever before. He wrote Louise a passionate love letter, which only confused and distressed her. She showed it to a few trusted friends and the Queen, who told her to leave the court and move to Paris, and return to Versailles only on the days when she was "in waiting".

Artois was in despair, but didn't give up. Instead, he took every opportunity to meet her, even if he couldn't speak to her. One night he even disguised himself, wearing a big wing and riding coat, to attend the opera, knowing Louise would be there. His disguise didn't fool anyone. It only managed to create a stir and confirm what everyone else already "knew": the two were lovers. Louise felt very humiliated by these false rumours. Virtuous and faithful, she had no intention to betray her husband. Even though Denis could be difficult to live with, she was determined to avoid all temptations to stray.

Things went on like this till July 1789, when both Artois and the Polignacs fled the country. Louise and her family went to Turin, where they heard of the money problems the Comte and his colony of émigrés, now in Germany, were facing. Louise asked her grandfather for her dowry money (it had never been paid), and, with her son and two servants in tow, went to Coblentz. Her arrival caused as a sensation. Artois couldn't believe his eyes. He had resigned himself to never see her again, and there she was. He was touched by her gesture, but also understood that her actions would be interpreted by the gossips as proof she was his lover.

And soon, she really would be. By the time Artois and his court had settled at Holyrood Palace, Edinburgh, the couple was openly living together. Their relationship brought Louise joy but also sorrow. A deeply pious and virtuous woman, living a life that went against her moral principles didn't allow her conscience to rest easy. But she and Artois were so much in love, there was no turning back now.

Louise and Artois would occasionally go to London, where the Comte would gamble, hoping to raise some money, as his income was so small and his debts mounting. It's on one of those trips, in 1804, that Madame de Gontaut, a cousin of Louise who hadn't seen her in ages, realised there was something wrong with Artoi's mistress. Louise was pale and coughed a lot. Apparently noone else, not even Artois had noticed. Madame de Gontaut, though, took Louise to the King's doctor, who diagnosed her with consumption. She didn't have long left to live. Artois was devastated.

Louise needed rest and calm, so Madame de Gontaut found a house in the country for her. But her conscience couldn't find peace, so a priest was summoned. He reassured Louise that God would forgive her sins, but only if she gave up Artois and never saw him again. The poor woman agreed on one condition. That she might at least be able to see him one last time on her deathbed. The priest agreed. Artois, his heart broken, left.

He would be back a week later, when he was quickly summoned at her bedside as Louise lay dying. As a last favour, Louise asked Artois to give himself entirely to God. He agreed. After her death, Artois repented and even took a vow of chastity, which he kept for the rest of his life.

Further reading:
Memoirs of the Duchesse de Gontaut, gouvernante to the children of France during the restoration, 1773-1836
Tea At Trianon

Historical Reads: The A to Z of life in Pompeii

What was life like for the Romans who lived in Pompeii? History Extra investigates:

C is for cafe culture
The latest estimate reckons that there were about 200 cafes and bars in the town altogether – about one for every 60 residents. A counter usually ran along the street to catch the passing trade, selling cheap takeaway food from large jars.

Wine was stacked up behind it and there were tables in a back room for sit-down eating and drinking. It was the reverse of today’s society, where the rich eat out and the poor cook up at home. In Pompeii, the poor, living in tiny quarters with no facilities, relied on cafe food.

D is for diet (and dormice)
Rich Pompeians did occasionally eat dormice. Or so a couple of strange pottery containers – identified, thanks to descriptions by ancient writers, as dormouse cages – suggest. But elaborate banquets were a rarity and just for the rich.

The staples were bread, olives, beans, eggs, cheese, fruit and veg (Pompeian cabbages were particularly prized), plus some tasty fish. Meat was less in evidence, and was mainly pork. This was a relatively healthy diet. In fact, the ancient Pompeians were on average slightly taller than modern Neapolitans.

E is for education, education, education
One of the puzzles of Pompeii is where the kids went to school. No obvious school buildings or classrooms have been found. The likely answer is that teachers took their class of boys (and almost certainly only boys) to some convenient shady portico and did their teaching there.

A wonderful series of paintings of scenes of life in the Forum seems to show exactly that happening – with one poor miscreant being given a nasty beating in front of his classmates. And the curriculum? To judge from the large number of quotes from Virgil’s Aeneid scrawled on Pompeian walls, the young were well drilled in the national epic.

To read the entire article, click here.

The Sad Life Of Princess Elisabeth Of Romania

Elisabetha Charlotte Josephine Alexandra Victoria, the daughter of Ferdinand, Crown Prince of Romania, and his wife, Marie of Edinburgh, was born on 12 October 1894 at Peleş Castle, near Sinaia. Although her father was a Roman Catholic, he was forced to obey the Romanian constitution and baptise his daughter in the country's official religion, Greek Orthodox. The Pope wasn't very understanding, and had Ferdinand excommunicated.

Elisabeth's mother was a granddaughter of Queen Victoria and a supporter of all things British. She hired English governesses to take care of her children (although, when her parents were away, Elisabeth, as the eldest daughter, was often required to look after her siblings), and British tutors to educate her children at home. An avid reader, Elisabeth loved literature, but also painting, embroidery, singing, and playing the piano. But the outbreak of the First World War put an abrupt halt to her education.

During the war, the princess, together with her sister Mignon and their mother, took care of the wounded soldiers at hospitals located in the Moldova region, the only part of Romania that hadn't been occupied by enemy troops. She also kept drawing and painting. Some of her pictures were printed in the “Calendarul Regina Maria”, whose proceeded were used for the war relief effort. After the war, in 1919, Elisabeth spent one year in Paris to study music and painting.

Marie was now old enough to get married, as her grandmother, Maria Alexandrovna of Russia, kept pointing out. It seems the old lady was the first to suggest an union with George, Crown Prince of Greece. Queen Sophie of Greece was ecstatic at the idea. In a letter to Marie, she wrote: "We found her lovely most sympathetic and charming. Upon our dearest son Georgie she has made a deep impression. We are most anxious to know whether Nando and you would have any objections to a marriage between the two young people, who seems to have a deep feeling for each other.” The couple tied the knot on 27 February 1921.

Elisabeth loved her husband, but she found life in Greece difficult. She was homesick, "mentally starved [...] hungering for the music and art and affection that were showered on her in Romania", and often left home alone as her husband spent long periods at the front. Greece, at the time was at war with Turkey. The internal political situation was in turmoil too. The republican party was busy trying to gain power and sought every opportunity to diminish the power of the monarchy and its reputation with the people.

Soon, Elisabeth's health grew worse. The princess suffered from typhoid fever and pleurisy, and had to undergo, without anaesthesia, two operations. Her parents, fearful for her life, rushed to her bedside. But, luckily, the princess recovered, although her heart, from then on, would always be weak. That year, King Constantine I of Greece, also had to abdicate in favour of his son. Upon hearing the news, Elisabeth, burst in tears. The throne she was suddenly thrust on was very shaky, and, to make matters worse, the monarchy had no money. Elisabeth was forced to economize, and struggled to pay even for necessary expenses. Still, Elisabeth did her best as Queen, even helping to raise money for the poor.

In December, her reign ended. Elisabeth and George went into exile in Romania, where they settled at the Cotroceni Palace. But her husband kept spending long periods in England, and, slowly, the couple started growing apart. In 1935, they divorced. Now, Elisabeth, who had lost her Romanian citizenship when she got married, asked to regain it. She then bought a house, which had always been a big dream of hers, to decorate as she pleased, and entertain her friends in, and founded, at her own expense, a hospital and home for children in Bucharest. It was one of the most modern institutions of its type.

But the peace she had found was shattered again by the outbreak of World War II. The Russians, who now controlled the country, forced King Michael to abdicate in 1947. The whole royal family, Elisabeth included, was forced to leave Romania in a hurry. Elisabeth died in exile, at Cannes, on 15 November 1956.

Further reading:
Lost In The Myths Of History
Roumania and her Rulers by Mrs Philip Martineau
The Story of My Life, vol. II, by Queen Marie of Romania

Courtship and Marriage

Today, dating seems to have no rules anymore. But, once, in Victorian America, if you wanted to court a woman, you had to do it properly. Here's how:

Young people of either sex, who have arrived at mature age, and who are not engaged, have the utmost freedom in their social intercourse in this country, and are at liberty to associate and mingle freely in the same circles with those of the opposite sex. Gentlemen are at liberty to invite their lady friends to concerts, operas, balls, etc., to call upon them at their homes, to ride and drive with them, and make themselves agreeable to all young ladies to whom their company is acceptable. In fact they are at liberty to accept invitations and give them ad libitum. As soon, however, as a young gentleman neglects all others, to devote himself to a single lady, he gives that lady reason to suppose that he is particularly attracted to her, and may give her cause to believe that she is to become engaged to him, without telling her so. A gentleman who does not contemplate matrimony should not pay too exclusive attention to any one lady.

A young lady who is not engaged may receive calls and attentions from such unmarried gentlemen as she desires, and may accept invitations to ride, to concerts, theatres, etc. She should use due discretion, however, as to whom she favors by the acceptance of such invitations. A young lady should not allow special attention from anyone to whom she is not specially attracted, because, first, she may do injury to the gentleman in seeming to give his suit encouragement; and, secondly, she may keep away from her those whom she likes better, but who will not approach her under the mistaken idea that her feelings are already interested. A young lady should not encourage the addresses of a gentleman unless she feels that she can return his affections. It is the prerogative of a man to propose, and of a woman to accept or refuse, and a lady of tact and kind heart will exercise her prerogative before her suitor is brought to the humiliation of an offer which must result in a refusal.

No well-bred lady will too eagerly receive the attentions of a gentleman, no matter how much she admires him; nor, on the other hand, will she be so reserved as to altogether discourage him. A man may show considerable attention to a lady without becoming a lover; and so a lady may let it be seen that she is not disagreeable to him without discouraging him. She will be able to judge soon from his actions and deportment, as to his motive in paying her his attentions, and will treat him accordingly. A man does not like to be refused when he makes a proposal, and no man of tact will risk a refusal. Neither will a well-bred lady encourage a man to make a proposal, which she must refuse. She should endeavor, in discouraging him as a lover, to retain his friendship. A young man of sensibilities, who can take a hint when it is offered him, need not run the risk of a refusal.

It is impossible to lay down any rule as to the proper mode of courtship and proposal. In France it is the business of the parents to settle all preliminaries. In England the young man asks the consent of the parents to pay addresses to their daughter. In this country the matter is left almost entirely to the young people.

It seems that circumstances must determine whether courtship may lead to engagement. Thus, a man may begin seriously to court a girl, but may discover before any promise binds them to each other, that they are entirely unsuited to one another, when he may, with perfect propriety and without serious injury to the lady, withdraw his attentions.

Certain authorities insist that the consent of parents must always be obtained before the daughter is asked to give herself in marriage. While there is nothing improper or wrong in such a course, still, in this country, with our social customs, it is deemed best in most cases not to be too strict in this regard. Each case has its own peculiar circumstances which must govern it, and it seems at least pardonable if the young man should prefer to know his fate directly from the lips of the most interested party, before he submits himself to the cooler judgment and the critical observation of the father and mother, who are not by any means in love with him, and who may possibly regard him with a somewhat jealous eye, as having already monopolized their daughter's affections, and now desires to take her away from them altogether.

Parents should always be perfectly familiar with the character of their daughter's associates, and they should exercise their authority so far as not to permit her to form any improper acquaintances. In regulating the social relations of their daughter, parents should bear in mind the possibility of her falling in love with any one with whom she may come in frequent contact. Therefore, if any gentleman of her acquaintance is particularly ineligible as a husband, he should be excluded as far as practicable from her society.

Parents, especially mothers, should also watch with a jealous care the tendencies of their daughter's affections; and if they see them turning toward unworthy or undesirable objects, influence of some sort should be brought to bear to counteract this. Great delicacy and tact are required to manage matters rightly. A more suitable person may, if available, be brought forward, in the hope of attracting the young girl's attention. The objectionable traits of the undesirable suitor should be made apparent to her without the act seeming to be intentional; and if all this fails, let change of scene and surroundings by travel or visiting accomplish the desired result. The latter course will generally do it, if matters have not been allowed to progress too far and the young girl is not informed why she is temporarily banished from home.

Parents should always be able to tell from observation and instinct just how matters stand with their daughter; and if the suitor is an acceptable one and everything satisfactory, then the most scrupulous rules of etiquette will not prevent their letting the young couple alone. If the lover chooses to propose directly to the lady and consult her father afterward, consider that he has a perfect right to do so. If her parents have sanctioned his visits and attentions by a silent consent, he has a right to believe that his addresses will be favorably received by them.

Respect for each other is as necessary to a happy marriage as that the husband and wife should have an affection for one another. Social equality, intellectual sympathy, and sufficient means are very important matters to be considered by those who contemplate matrimony.

It must be remembered that husband and wife, after marriage, have social relations to sustain, and perhaps it will be discovered, before many months of wedded life have passed, when there is a social inequality, that one of the two have made a sacrifice for which no adequate compensation has been or ever will be received. And so both lives become soured and spoiled, because neither receives nor can receive the sympathy which their efforts deserve, and because their cares are multiplied from a want of congeniality. One or the other may find that the noble qualities seen by the impulse of early love, were but the creation of an infatuated fancy, existing only in the mind where it originated.

Another condition of domestic happiness is intellectual sympathy. Man requires a woman who can make his home a place of rest for him, and woman requires a man of domestic tastes. While a woman who seeks to find happiness in a married life will never consent to be wedded to an idler or a pleasure-seeker, so a man of intelligence will wed none but a woman of intelligence and good sense. Neither beauty, physical characteristics nor other external qualifications will compensate for the absence of intellectual thought and clear and quick comprehensions. An absurd idea is held by some that intelligence and domestic virtues cannot go together; that an intellectual woman will never be content to stay at home to look after the interests of her household and children. A more unreasonable idea has never been suggested, for as the intellect is strengthened and cultured, it has a greater capacity of affection, of domesticity and of self-sacrifice for others.

Mutual trust and confidence are other requisites for happiness in married life. There can be no true love without trust. The responsibility of a man's life is in a woman's keeping from the moment he puts his heart into her hands. Without mutual trust there can be no real happiness.

Another requisite for conjugal happiness is moral and religious sympathy, that each may walk side by side in the same path of moral purpose and social usefulness, with joint hope of immortality.

Rules in regard to proposals of marriage cannot be laid down, for they are and should be as different as people. The best way is to apply to the lady in person, and receive the answer from her own lips. If courage should fail a man in this, he can resort to writing, by which he can clearly and boldly express his feelings. A spoken declaration should be bold, manly and earnest, and so plain in its meaning that there can be no misunderstanding. As to the exact words to be used, there can be no set formula; each proposer must be governed by his own ideas and sense of propriety in the matter.

A gentleman should evince a sincere and unselfish affection for his beloved, and he will show as well as feel that her happiness must be considered before his own. Consequently he should not press an unwelcome suit upon a young lady. If she has no affection for him, and does not conceive it possible even to entertain any, it is cruel to urge her to give her person without her love. The eager lover may believe, for the time being, that such possession would satisfy him, but the day will surely come when he will reproach his wife that she had no love for him, and he will possibly make that an excuse for all manner of unkindness.

It is not always necessary to take a lady's first refusal as absolute. Diffidence or uncertainty as to her own feelings may sometimes influence a lady to reply in the negative, and after-consideration cause her to regret that reply.

Though a gentleman may repeat his suit with propriety after having been once repulsed, still it should not be repeated too often nor too long, lest it should degenerate into importuning.

No lady worthy any gentleman's regard will say "no" twice to a suit which she intends ultimately to receive with favor. A lady should be allowed all the time she requires before making up her mind; and if the gentleman grows impatient at the delay, he is always at liberty to insist on an immediate answer and abide by the consequences of his impatience.

A lady who really means "no" should be able to so say it as to make her meaning unmistakable. For her own sake and that of her suitor, if she really desires the suit ended her denial should be positive, yet kind and dignified, and of a character to let no doubt remain of its being final.

A man should never make a declaration in a jesting manner. It is most unfair to a lady. He has no right to trifle with her feelings for mere sport, nor has he a right to hide his own meaning under the guise of a jest.

Nothing can be more unfair or more unjustifiable than a doubtful answer given under the plea of sparing the suitor's feelings. It raises false hopes. It renders a man restless and unsettled. It may cause him to express himself or to shape his conduct in such a manner as he would not dream of doing were his suit utterly hopeless.

As a woman is not bound to accept the first offer that is made to her, so no sensible man will think the worse of her, nor feel himself personally injured by a refusal. That it will give him pain is most probable. A scornful "no" or a simpering promise to "think about it" is the reverse of generous.

In refusing, the lady ought to convey her full sense of the high honor intended her by the gentleman, and to add, seriously but not offensively, that it is not in accordance with her inclination, or that circumstances compel her to give an unfavorable answer.

It is only the contemptible flirt that keeps an honorable man in suspense for the purpose of glorifying herself by his attentions in the eyes of friends. Nor would any but a frivolous or vicious girl boast of the offer she had received and rejected. Such an offer is a privileged communication. The secret of it should be held sacred. No true lady will ever divulge to anyone, unless it may be to her mother, the fact of such an offer. It is the severest breach of honor to do so. A lady who has once been guilty of boasting of an offer should never have a second opportunity for thus boasting.

No true-hearted woman can entertain any other feeling than that of commiseration for the man over whose happiness she has been compelled to throw a cloud, while the idea of triumphing in his distress, or abusing his confidence, must be inexpressibly painful to her.

The duty of the rejected suitor is quite clear. Etiquette demands that he shall accept the lady's decision as final and retire from the field. He has no right to demand the reason of her refusal. If she assign it, he is bound to respect her secret, if it is one, and to hold it inviolable. To persist in urging his suit or to follow up the lady with marked attentions would be in the worst possible taste. The proper course is to withdraw as much as possible, from the circles in which she moves, so that she may be spared reminiscences which cannot be otherwise than painful.

When a couple become engaged, the gentleman presents the lady with a ring, which is worn on the ring-finger of the right hand. He may also make her other small presents from time to time, until they are married, but if she has any scruples about accepting them, he can send her flowers, which are at all times acceptable.

The conduct of the fiancee should be tender, assiduous and unobtrusive. He will be kind and polite to the sisters of his betrothed and friendly with her brothers. Yet he must not be in any way unduly familiar or force himself into family confidences on the ground that he is to be regarded as a member of the family. Let the advance come rather from them to him, and let him show a due appreciation of any confidences which they may be pleased to bestow upon him. The family of the young man should make the first advances toward an acquaintance with his future wife. They should call upon her or write to her, and they may with perfect propriety invite her to visit them in order that they may become acquainted.

An engaged woman should eschew all flirtations, though it does not follow that she is to cut herself off from all association with the other sex because she has chosen her future husband. She may still have friends and acquaintances, she may still receive visits and calls, but she must try to conduct herself in such a manner as to give no offense.


The same rules may be laid down in regard to the other party to the contract, only that he pays visits instead of receiving them. Neither should assume a masterful or jealous altitude toward the other. They are neither of them to be shut up away from the rest of the world, but must mingle in society after marriage nearly the same as before, and take the same delight in friendship. The fact that they have confessed their love for each other, ought to be deemed a sufficient guarantee of faithfulness; for the rest let there be trust and confidence.

A young man has no right to put a slight upon his future bride by appearing in public with other ladies while she remains neglected at home. He is in future her legitimate escort. He should attend no other lady when she needs his services; she should accept no other escort when he is at liberty to attend her. A lady should not be too demonstrative of her affection during the days of her engagement. There is always the chance of "a slip 'twixt the cup and the lip;" and over-demonstrations of love are not pleasant to be remembered by a young lady, if the man to whom they are given by any chance fails to become her husband. An honorable man will never tempt his future bride to any such demonstration. He will always maintain a respectful and decorous demeanor toward her.

No young man who would shrink from being guilty of a great impropriety, should ever prolong his visits beyond ten o'clock, unless it be the common custom of the family to remain up and to entertain visitors to a later hour, and the visit paid is a family one and not a tete-a-tete. Two hours is quite long enough for a call; and the young man will give evidence of his affection no less than his consideration, by making his visits short, and, if need be, making them often, rather than by prolonging to unreasonable hours.

Sometimes it is necessary to break off an engagement. Many circumstances will justify this. Indeed anything which may occur or be discovered which shall promise to render the marriage an unsuitable or unhappy one is, and should be accepted as, justification for such rupture. Still, breaking an engagement is always a serious and distressing thing, and ought not to be contemplated without absolute and just reasons. It is generally best to break an engagement by letter. By this means one can express himself or herself more clearly, and give the true reason for his or her course much better than in a personal interview. The letter breaking the engagement should be accompanied by everything, in the way of portraits, letters or gifts, that has been received during the engagement. Such letters should be acknowledged in a dignified manner, and no efforts should be made or measures be taken to change the decision of the writer, unless it is manifest that he or she is greatly mistaken in his or her premises. A similar return of letters, portraits and gifts should be made.

Further Reading:
Our Deportment by John H. Young

Book Reviews: The Death Of Caesar, Secrets Of The Tower, & Six Men

Hello everyone,

what have you read recently? Here are my picks:

The Death of Caesar: The Story of History’s Most Famous Assassination by Barry Strauss
August 45 BC. Julius Caesar is heading towards Rome in triumph, to declare the end of the Civil War. Three men are riding with him: Decimus, Mark Antony and Octavian. Seven months later, one of these men will betray him. But wait, wasn't the betrayer Brutus? While he (and Cassius) certainly played a key role in the assassination, his betrayal wasn't as deep and shocking as Decimus', a man who had always served Caesar faithfully, had been amply rewarded by him, and had become a close friend. When Caesar had refused to go to the Senate on that fateful day, it was Decimus who convinced him to change his mind and led him to the slaughter by the hand.
To allows us to understand why he, and so many others, betrayed Caesar, Strauss begins his story several months before the Ides of March. He illustrates the complex political situation of the time, the jostling for power, the thwarted ambitions of politicians, and the fear that Caesar would soon proclaim itself king, thus dealing the last blow to the tenuous Roman Republic. The second part of the book deals with the assassination itself. The plotting, the assassins, and the events of that fateful day. But the story doesn't end with his assassination. Caesar's assassins, supporters, and relatives all fight for power and revenge afterwards. But there can be only one winner.
The book is well-documented and relies mostly on primary sources. We're lucky that, thanks to Cicero, this is one of the most documented times in Roman history. But, even so, the sources are few, often conflicting, and lack important details. Strauss has done a wonderful job with the limited material at his disposal, piecing together the pieces of the puzzle that have survived to tell an engaging and thrilling story. I highly recommend it to all those interested in Julius Caesar and his death.
Available at: Amazon
Rating: 4/5

Secrets of the Tower by Debbie Rix
The Leaning Tower Of Pisa is one of the most beautiful, iconic, and famous buildings ever created. But who designed? Michael Campbell was working on the answer for his documentary on the Tower when he had a stroke. His wife, Sam, flies to Pisa to be by his side. But her mind, and heart, are in turmoil. Just a few days before, Sam had discovered Michael had cheated on her. Confused, bored, and hurt, Sam decides to pick up his research, and discovers the woman behind the creation of the Tower...
1171. Berta di Bernardo, the wife of a rich merchant, has two passions. Gerardo, the young master mason her young maid Aurelia is in love with. And architecture. As she embarks on her love affair, she is also determined to see the Tower built at all costs.
Based on a true story (Rix's husband really had a stroke while making a documentary about the Tower in the 1990s), Secrets Of The Tower is a story of mystery, intrigue, betrayal, and love. The love of a woman for a younger man. The love of a young girl for a man who can't be hers yet. The divided love of a man for two women. But, mostly, the love of a woman for her beautiful city.
Pisa, both ancient and modern, is a character in and of itself. Its inhabitants and customs, its architecture and landscape, its sights and sounds, are vividly evoked and brought back to life. You feel like you're there, next to the characters, as they go about their daily lives. The other, human, characters are equalling compelling. Particularly the women. They are strong and determined to leave their mark on the world, despite the limitations society and their menfolk impose upon them.
Although slow at the beginning, the story quickly picks up speed and hooks you in. My only gripe is that some of the Italian expressions used aren't 100% correct, even when uttered by Italian characters. Italians nouns and adjectives can be made masculine or feminine, singular or plural, by changing the last letter. This wasn't always done here. Sometimes the masculine form was used in place of the feminine form and vice versa. But I only received an advanced review copy, so these errors may have been fixed in the final copy. In any case, only Italian speakers would notice them.
Despite its shortcomings, Secrets Of The Tower is an enchanting, engaging tale that I recommend to anyone interested in Italian history and architecture, or just a good novel.
Available at: Amazon
Rating: 4/5

Six Men by Alistair Cooke
Over the course of his 60 year career, broadcaster and reporter Alistair Cook met many, sometimes even became friends with, famous and influential men of the 20 century. Six of them he profiled in a book. They are an odd, but intriguing, bunch. Charlie Chaplin, the greatest movie star of all time; Edward VIII, whose love affair threatened the survival of the British monarchy; Humphrey Bogart, the first anti-hero on-screen and a sensitive gentleman at home; H. L. Mencken, one of the most influential American writers of the first half of the 20th century; Adlai Stevenson, a "failed saint" who ran for President twice, and was, both times, defeated; and Bertrand Russell, the British philosopher and political activist who managed to insult pretty much everyone (and could read a whodunnit in 15 minutes!).
Cooke didn't write their biographies. He wrote sketches, glimpses of their lives. Although he offers the background information needed to understand the world in which these men operated (finally I got why the constitutional crisis brought on by Edward VIII's love affair was such a big deal), Cooke shares with us his own personal experiences, those parts of the men's lives that he witnessed first hand. But his personal feelings for these men didn't skew his judgement. At least not much. Cooke skilfully captured their remarkable, but flawed, essence. By the end of each chapter, these giants are shown for what they always were: human beings.
Cooke's prose is as beautiful as it is intelligent. His style is now considered old-fashioned, but still feels fresh. In an age when many journalists are more interested in controversy than evidence, and pen shallow exposés in a too colloquial style, Cooke's engaging, insightful, and fair work makes you long for a time long gone. Highly recommended.
Available at: Amazon
Rating: 4/5

What do you think of these books? Will you pick one (or two, or three) up?

Disclaimer: this book was sent by PR for consideration. In addition, this post contains affiliate links.

The Murder Of David Rizzio

On 9th March 1566, David Rizzio, Mary Queen of Scots' private secretary, was assassinated in front of the heavily pregnant Queen. Many consider it the beginning of the end for Mary. But why? And who was Rizzio? What had he done to deserve such a fate?

David Riccio di Pancalieri was born in 1533 in the duchy of Savoy. The son of a poor musician, Rizzio inherited a strong musical talent and a beautiful singing voice. He was hired by the Duke of Savoy as valet and musician and, in 1561, together with his master's ambassador, the Marquess of Moretto, went to Scotland. Here, the Marquess encouraged Rizzio to try and land a job at court.

It just so happened that Queen Mary was looking for a bass singer. Rizzio performed for her and the Queen was so impressed, she hired him as a gentleman of the privy chamber. But if Mary was smitten, others were less than impressed. Many at court considered Rizzio ugly, thought him arrogant and conceited, criticized his taste for expensive clothes, and were jealous of the favour the Queen showed him.

Few were pleased when, in 1564 Mary fired her French secretary Raulett, a retainer of the Guise family (her relations on her mother’s side) and gave the job to Rizzio. Rizzio was constantly in the Queen's presence, carrying out this or that duty. The other courtiers soon learned that the best way to receive a favour from Mary was to bribe Rizzio. Many did, but resented his influence. Mary was aware of this, but she didn't take their resentment seriously enough. She thought it was unjustified.

The following year, the dashing Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, arrived at the Scottish court. Mary quickly fell in love with him, and wanted to marry him. Rizzio, who, if rumours are to be believed fancied Darnley too (the two men were apparently caught in bed together!), supported the marriage. The wedding was celebrated on 29 July 1565 at the Palace of Holyroodhouse. But the Queens' hopes for a good and peaceful union were soon disappointed.

Any happiness she may have felt at becoming pregnant with the future James VI of Scotland and I of England was marred by her husband's outrageous behaviour. Shortly after the wedding, Darnley started showing his true colours. He was immature, weak, loved drinking and whoring, and longed to be made king of Scotland. Mary didn't think he deserved it, which just infuriated Darnley more.

It didn't take long to the Scots lords to realise they could use his resentment against Mary to their advantage. When Mary had married Darnley, some of the noblemen feared he, together with Rizzio, would change the religion of their country. They had started making trouble, but failed and a few of them, including Mary's half-brother the Earl of Moray, then fled to England. In the next Parliament, their lands would be confiscated. To avoid it, they hatched a plot:

"If they would agree to grant Darnley the 'crown matrimonial' in the next Parliament, and so make him lawfully King of Scots, then Darnley would switch sides, recall the exiles home, pardon them, and forbid the confiscation of their estates. Finally, he would perform the ultimate U-turn and re-establish the religious status quo as it had existed at the time of Mary’s return from France… Darnley would become King with full parliamentary sanction, Moray and his allies would be re-instated as if they had never rebelled, and the Protestant Reformation settlement would be restored."*

For the plan to work, the Scottish Lords needed a scapegoat. After promising him they would make him king, they convinced Darnley that Rizzio had mislead him, orchestrated the rebellion, and even slept with his wife. They started spreading rumours that the baby the Queen was carrying was Rizzio's, not Darnley's. Her husband soon became suspicious of all the time Mary was spending with her secretary. Even when they weren't working, they were always together, dining and playing cards into the early hours of the morning. Darnley felt ignored, and complained bitterly to Mary. Then, he decided to join the plotters.

As soon as Parliament opened, the conspirators acted. On 9 June, Rizzio was having dinner with the Queen and her half-sister, the countess of Argyll, in a small closet just off her bedchamber in the tower of the Palace of Holyroodhouse. Suddenly, Darnley joined them, sitting down next to Mary, embracing her and chatting amiably with her. He was supposed to reassure her, but probably just unnerved her.

Next, the earl of Ruthven, deadly pale and still sick (he had just arisen from his sickbed and was still wearing his nightshirt under his coat of armour), came in too and shouted that Rizzio had offended her honour. Both the Queen and Rizzio suddenly realised the gravity of the situation. Terrified, Rizzio hid behind Mary, clinging to her skirts for protection. But the Queen was helpless. Her attendants tried to get rid of Ruthven, but now the Earl of Morten’s barged in too.

As Andrew Ker of Fawdonside aimed his pistol at the Queen’s pregnant belly, George Douglas, Darnley’s uncle, using his nephew's dagger, stabbed Rizzio. The victim, still begging Mary for help, was then dragged into Mary's outer chamber, and stabbed 56 times. His corpse, upon Darnley's orders, was thrown down the main staircase and taken into the porter’s lodge. Mary was traumatised by the event, but still lucid enough to realise she had been the real target.

She also knew she would now be a prisoner and, so started planning her escape. She managed to see Darnley alone and convinced him the child she was carrying was his. At this point, Darnley had also begun to realise the Scottish Lords had used him and had no intention of ever making him king. Two nights after the murder, the royal couple escaped, through an underground passage, from Holyroodhouse to the fortress of Dunbar Castle. But Mary never forgave Darnley and, when a year later, he was killed, people thought she had something to do with it. She was forced to abdicate. But that's a story for another post.

*My Heart is My Own: The Life of Mary Queen of Scots by John Guy

Further reading:
Mary Queen of Scots and the Murder of Lord Darnley by Alison Weir
*My Heart is My Own: The Life of Mary Queen of Scots by John Guy
The Elizabeth Files
The Freelance History Writer

Bonnie Prince Charlie: Romantic Hero Or Tragic Villain?

Bonnie Prince Charlie, the most famous royal pretender in history, was a sad and tragic figure. Vilified by the Hanoverians, who replaced the Stuart dynasty on the thrones of England, Scotland, and Ireland, he was turned into a romantic hero by the Jacobites, who saw him as the symbol of royal legitimacy. Both these depictions are false and grossly exaggerated. So, who was the real Bonnie Prince Charlie?

Prince Charles Edward Stuart was born in Rome on December 31, 1720. His father was James Francis Edward Stuart, son of the dethroned King James II, and his mother Maria Clementina Sobieska, the granddaughter of the Polish king John III Sobieski. Both believed in the Divine Right of Kings and the justice of their cause, which was a constant topic of conversation in their household. The loving parents (for all their faults, all the Stuarts loved their children dearly) expected their son Charles to regain their lost thrones and raised him with that end in mind.

Therefore, from an early age, he was given military training and, in 1734, was present at the siege of Gaeta. Ten years later, the French royal family agreed to help the Stuart regain their crown. So, Charles, who had been made regent by his father to grant him the necessary power to act in his name, went to France, from where he was supposed to lead an invasion army to Britain, but the invasion fleet was scattered by a storm.

Undeterred, he went to Scotland, the home of his ancestors, where, in Glenfinann, he raised the highland clans, both Catholic and Protestant, that were still faithful to his family. Not all of them were. Some saw the Stuart cause as hopeless and preferred to remain loyal to the House of Hanover, by now quite firmly established on the throne. Still, the force he raised was enough to capture Edinburgh, which surrendered without a struggle. Later, the poorly armed Jacobite army managed to take by surprise and defeat the British army of Sir John Cope.

Energized by his victory, Prince Charles marched south into England, hoping to rouse the populace to his side. But few joined his cause. The Prince didn't care and was determined to keep marching on, but Lord Murray and the highland chieftains, fearful they didn't have enough men to win another victory against the British army, urged him to go back to Scotland. Reluctantly, the Prince agreed.

The Jacobites managed to win another battle at Falkirk Muir, but their luck soon turned. The Duke of Cumberland, George II's son, pursed the Jacobite army, and annihilated it at the heroic battle of Culloden. A devastated Prince Charles had no choice but leave the country as soon as possible. His escape became legendary. Always barely ahead of the British army, at one point he disguised himself, with the help of Flora McDonald, as an Irish maid to evade capture. Despite the generous bounty on his head, noone betrayed him, and the Prince managed to sail to safety back to France aboard the L'Heureux.

In France, he had numerous affairs, including one with his married cousin Marie Louise de La Tour d'Auvergne, who gave birth to their son Charles. Sadly, the baby lived only a few months. In 1748, Charles was expelled from France under the terms of the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, which ended the war with England. Charles also had a relationship with Scottish Clementina Walkinshaw, which probably began during the 1745 rebellion. The couple, who lived together for many years, had a daughter, Charlotte. But, the Stuart cause now lost, Charles was now a broken man. Plunged into depression, he began to drink heavily. Clementina took her daughter and left him.

In 1759, during the Seven Years' War, the French were planning an invasion of Britain. They summoned Charles to discuss his participation, but nothing came of it. An intoxicated Charles, who had heard French promises before and knew how worthless they were, reacted badly to the proposal, making a very bad impression. The French decided not to deal with him further. The invasion never happened either.

In 1766, Prince Charles's father died. His faithful supporters proclaimed him King Charles III, but, this time, the Pope didn't recognize his title. In 1772, Charles married Princess Louise of Stolberg-Gedern. They lived first in Rome and then in Florence, where he began to use the title "Count of Albany". But his marriage wasn't happy. His wife, who had begun an affair with the Italian poet Vittorio Alfieri, left him in 1780, claiming he had been abusive. The broken, abandoned man once known as "Bonnie Prince Charlie" finally died in Rome on January 31, 1788.

Further reading:
Bonnie Prince Charlie: A Life by Peter Pininski
Bonnie Prince Charlie: Charles Edward Stuart by Frank McLynn

The Dutch Toy

Before her marriage to Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, Princess Charlotte of Wales, the heiress to the British throne was betrothed to Prince William, the Hereditary Prince Of Orange. That was an union the Princess, much to her father's chagrin, had never been too keen on. Both her mother's hatred for the Orange family, and her reluctance to leave England and live abroad, even for a few months a year, eventually prompted her to end the engagement.

Of course these events were closely observed by the satirists of the time, who had a field day (or year) with it. Here are a few of the satirical prints making fun of the whole thing:

A Dutch Toy!!!-Or, a pretty Play-thing for a Young Princess!!! Huzza

Sitting under a canopy, Princess Charlotte is pulling the strings on a jointed puppet representing the Prince of Orange in military dress, holding a flag inscribed "Orange Boven". Across her knees rests a miniature portrait of a man, inscribed "Fitz Mo" (the rest of the name is illegible). At her feet lies an open book inscribed "Clarence's Dream". In the garden, we can see a fountain, with water spurting from a cupid seated on a swan. Is Charlotte serious about the Prince of Orange, or is she just toying with him?

The Dutch toy

Princess Charlotte is raising a whip to lash a top spinning on the floor, on which sits the Prince of Orange smoking a pipe. In his pocket, he carries a piece of paper inscribed "Contract". The Princess says: "Take this for Ma! and this for Pa!—and this! and this! for myself, you ugly thing you!—"

From the open door, we can see the leg and arm of the concealed Prince Regent, Charlotte's father. He's holding a birch-rod tied with orange ribbon, and, with a threatening voice, says: "If you don't find pleasure in whipping the Top, I shall whip the Bottom!"

Behind Charlotte, there's a piano, on which lies a copy of "School for Wives", a comedy by Hugh Kelly, and an open music-book, inscribed with the words and music of a song:

"An Obstinate Daughter's the plague of you [sic] life
No rest can you take tho your rid of your Wife
At twenty she laughs at the duty you taught her
Oh! what a plague is an obstinate Daughter."

On the wall, hangs a portrait of Cupid. He's standing on his head on a terrestrial globe, in the country of Holland, aiming his arrows at England.

Miss Endeavouring to excite a glow with her Dutch Play thing-

Printed one month after the previous print, Miss Endeavouring to excite a glow with her Dutch Play thing depicts Charlotte, still with a whip in her hand, standing over and pointing at the "Dutch Toy", who is falling forward. The Prince of Orange is still smoking and carrying the contract in his pocket, but he's now resigned he's never going to marry Charlotte. Between his knees, he holds a bottle.

The Princess says: "There, I have kept it up a long while you may send it away now, I am tired of it, Mother has got some better play things for me." The Regent replies, "What are you tired already? Take another spell at it, or give me the whip." But Charlotte refuses: "No, No, you may take the Top, but I'll Keep the Whip."

At the Regent's feet lies an open book titled The Way to Teaze him a Play in V acts'. On the wall hangs another portrait of Cupid. This time the god of love, who has dropped his bow and broken arrows, is resting his head on a large orange inscribed "Orange Boven".

What do you think of these prints?

Book Reviews: Women Heroes Of The American Revolution, Behind Every Great Man, & Enough

Hello everyone,

today's books all celebrate women, and are a must read for all those who are interested in their stories and well-being. Here's why:

Women Heroes of the American Revolution: 20 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Defiance, and Rescue by Susan Casey
The contribution women made to the American Revolution has been largely forgotten. Until now. Susan Casey has brought back to light the stories of 20 women who fought, in different ways, alongside men for the independence of their country. Their stories are divided in 5 sections, based on the role these women played. Supporters, like Mary Katherine Goddard, the publisher who first printed the Declaration of Independence with the names of the signatories. Spies, like Lydia Darragh, who passed information to George Washington. Saboteurs, like Sybil Ludington, who made a Paul Revere style ride to gather scattered troops to fight the enemy. Soldiers, like Deborah Sampson Gannett, who served, disguised as a man, in the Continental Army. The stories are beautifully illustrated with images of the heroines, while small sidebars help put their accomplishments, and the situations they found themselves in into context.
Some of the stories are so intertwined with, even submerged by, myths, that it is difficult to separate legends from reality. But, drawing from primary source documents and interviews with eminent historians, Casey did the best job she could under the circumstances.
My only complaint is that some stories are quite dry. Maybe that's due to the substantial lack of information about some of the heroines, but half the stories failed to fully engage my attention. And it's a shame, cos they involved some amazing accomplishments. If the writing style had been as exciting as the feats it describes, I would have given it a higher rating. But, even so, it is a fascinating little book that anyone interested in the history of women and/or the American Revolution should read.
Available at: Amazon
Rating: 3.5/5

Behind Every Great Man: Women in the Shadows of History's Alpha Males by Marlene Wagman-Geller
Behind every great man, there's a great woman. She  supports him, encourages him, fights with him, and helps him achieve his dreams. Yet, she's often in the shadows, forgotten. Her contributions vanish from history, while the man takes all the credit for their success. Marlene Wagman-Geller thinks it's high time we rectify that (I so agree!). In her new book, Behind Every Great Man, she brings back to life, and the spotlight, 40 women who stood, for better or worse, behind their alpha males.
The wide mix of women is fascinating. Some of them are tragic figures, others free spirits. Some were super patients, others evil. Some put up with all sorts of indignities to support their men, others were discarded after years of marriage for younger women. But they were all strong, passionate women, and all helped shaped their men's destinies. Some of the women, like Constance Wilde and Eva Braun, are quite famous, but others, like Mrs C. S Lewis, Mrs Samuel Becket, and the first Mrs Albert Einstein, are familiar only to a very few. Until now.
Each chapter is short, and to the point, giving us just enough information to help us gain an understanding of who these women were, and what their relationships with their men were like. Wagman-Geller doesn't gloss over their flaws, peccadilloes, and even crimes, but infuses their stories with a dash of humour that will have you laughing out loud.
Entertaining and informative, Behind Every Great Man is a must read for every fan of her-story.
Available at: Amazon
Rating: 4/5

Enough: 10 Things We Should Tell Teenage Girls by Kate Conner
Kate Conner is a 20 something year old mother, married to a pastor, who has been working with teens for years. One day, before going to church, she published on her blog a post titled "Ten Things I Want To Tell Teenage Girls". The post quickly received more than two million views in two weeks. Its message struck a nerve and resonated with many people, so Conner decided to turn it into a book.
The book contains 10 sections, each of which expands on a point made in the blog post. Therefore Conner addresses issues such as modesty, tanning beds, drama and social media, and explains why following your heart is pretty much the worst advice ever. But the main theme of the book is being enough. We are already enough. Already beautiful. Already valuable.
Teenager girls usually just roll their eyes and tune out when adults start talking about these issues with them. No one likes preaching, teens least of all. But we all like to have someone in our corner. Conner is that someone. She's funny, witty, and wise, and tells teens what they need to know in a language they can understand and appreciate. Yet, it's unlikely they'll pick up a copy on their own. That's why this book is aimed mostly at mothers (or teachers, or guardians, or anyone else who cares for teen girls). Conner helps you figure out how to communicate with your teen and teach her valuable lessons in a way that won't make anyone cringe.
Entertaining, truthful and inspiration, Enough is a transformative read that may change your teen's life. I can't recommend Enough enough!
Available at: Amazon
Rating: 4.5/5

What do you think of these books?

Disclaimer: this book was sent by PR for consideration. In addition, this post contains affiliate links.

Last Night At The Opera

Grace Dalrymple Elliott was a Scottish socialite who resided in Paris at the time of the French Revolution, which almost cost her her head. Although she had been the mistress of the Duke of Orléans, she felt sympathy for the rest of the French Royal family, as this passage, taken from her autobiography Ma Vie Sous La Révolution, shows. In it, Grace remembers the last time the Queen appeared, with her children, at the opera:

After the 20th of June, the people who wished well to the King and Queen were desirous that her Majesty should sometimes appear in public, accompanied by the Dauphin, a most interesting, beautiful child, and her charming daughter, Madame Royale. In consequence of this she went to the Comédie Italienne with her children, Madame Elisabeth, the King's sister, and Madame Tourzelle, governess to the royal children. This was the very last time on which her Majesty appeared in public. I was there in my own box, nearly opposite the Queen's; and as she was so much more interesting than the play, I never took my eyes off her and her family. The opera which was given was Les Evénemens Imprévus, and Madame Dugazon played the soubrette [female servant]]. Her Majesty, from her first entering the house, seemed distressed. She was overcome even by the applause, and I saw her several times wipe the tears from her eyes.

The little Dauphin, who sat on her knee the whole night, seemed anxious to know the cause of his unfortunate mother's tears. She seemed to soothe him, and the audience appeared well disposed, and to feel for the cruel situation of their beautiful Queen. In one of the acts a duet is sung by the soubrette and the valet, where Madame Dugazon says: Ah! Comme j'aime ma maîtresse [Ah! How I love my mistress]. As she looked particularly at the Queen at the moment she said this, some Jacobins, who had come into the playhouse, leapt upon the stage, and if the actors had not hid Madame Dugazon, they would have murdered her. They hurried the poor Queen and family out of the house, and it was all the Guards could do to get them safe into their carriages.

Further reading:
Journal of my life during the French revolution by Grace Dalrymple Elliott

Historical Reads: Isabella the Catholic brings change to Chess

How did the most powerful of all chess pieces gain its name and properties? Nobility explains:

Today, the Queen is the most powerful piece on the board, but it was not always this way. Nor was this piece always called “Queen.” It was the King’s “adviser” [...]

All this changed with Isabella the Catholic’s dramatic intervention in the siege of Baza, in 1489, seven years into her ten-year war of reconquest of the Muslim Kingdom of Granada.

Her husband, King Ferdinand of Aragon, was one of the best generals of his time and he had excellent generals helping him in this siege, but it all seemed “a bridge too far.” The city was too powerful, defended by a strong, 20,000-man garrison, and well provisioned to withstand the longest siege. The Catholic troops and artillery seemed woefully disproportional to the task and after six months of siege warfare, the King called his generals to a council of war, and they recommended lifting the siege and withdrawing. Before striking camp, however, Ferdinand sent a messenger to Isabella who was then at Jaen, 90 miles away. She sent back word that a retreat would demoralize all Spain. They should continue the siege and she would go herself to their assistance.

To read the entire article, click here.

Marie Josephine Louise of Savoy, Countess Of Provence

On 2 September 1753, Marie Josephine, daughter of the Italian Crown Prince Victor Amadeus Of Savoy and his wife the Infanta Maria Antonia Ferdinanda of Spain, was born in the Royal Palace of Turin. The little girl had a privileged childhood, and was raised to become the wife of some important prince.

That prince turned out to be the Louis Stanislas of France, Count of Provence and King Louis XVI's younger brother. The couple was married on 14 May 1771 at Versailles, in a magnificent ceremony attended by more than 500 guests.

The marriage had been arranged with the help of the Princess de Lamballe, a cousin of Marie Josephine. The alliance between the two royal houses was further strengthened by two more marriages. Louis XVI's sister Clotilde married Prince Charles Emmanuel of Savoy, Marie Josephine's brother and heir to the throne. His brother, the Count of Artois, instead, married Maria Teresa, Marie Josephine's younger sister.

Therefore, soon a Piedmontese party was formed at the French court, and a rivalry with Queen Marie Antoinette and her party soon emerged. Marie Josephine would spend hours gossiping about the Queen, spreading absurd and exaggerated stories that were, however, believed by many. It's unfortunate the sisters-in-law couldn't get along better, because Marie Josephine was given a hard time at the French court too.

She was considered ugly, boring, stupid, and totally ignorant of the customs and etiquette that regulated life at Versailles. Her husband was said to be repulsed by her, and vicious gossip spread that he avoided her bed because of her lack of personal hygiene (apparently she disliked bathing, never used perfumes, and didn't even brush her teeth) and the stench that emanated from her body.

If the Count of Provence really felt such a profound dislike towards his wife, he was able to overcome it and do his duty. In 1774, Marie Josephine fell pregnant, but lost the child. Her second pregnancy, in 1781, also ended in a miscarriage. The couple remained childless. Life at Versailles, though, went on as usual, with the couple trying, at every opportunity, to prove they were better suited to rule than Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.

Life changed when, on 5 October 1789, women marched on Versailles demanding the King and his family move to Paris. While the King, Queen, and their children settled at the Tuileries, Marie Josephine and her husband resided at the Luxembourg Palace.

When things took even a worse turn, the whole family attempted to escape. While Louis XVI and his family were caught at Varenne and sent back to Paris, the Count and Countess of Provence managed to reach the Austrian Netherlands safely. The couple later moved to Germany, but exile didn't bring them closer together. On the contrary, they fought all the time.

After the deaths of Louis XVI and his son, Louis XVII, the Count of Provence was proclaimed by the exiled court King Of France. Marie Josephine was now Queen, but this new development did nothing to reconcile the couple, and the two spent more and more time apart. Marie Josephine became very close to one of her ladies-in-waiting, Marguerite de Gourbillon, and soon rumours spread that the two were a couple.

The two women shared a home in Germany while Louis Stanislas resided at the Russian court. Louis eventually asked his wife to join him for the marriage of his niece Marie Therese, the only surviving child of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. They were supposed to show a united front, but instead, Marie Josephine created a scandal.

First, she refused to travel without Marguerite. Then, when before entering the palace, the two women were separated, Marie Josephine installed herself in her new rooms and refused to leave them. After this incident, the two women would never live alone together again, although they would continue to exchange loving letters.

After the French royal family was kicked out of Russia, they started travelling throughout Europe, before settling, in 1808, at Hartwell House in England. But her travels had taken their toll on Marie Josephine, and her stay in England was plagued by ill health. During her final days, she tried to reconcile with her husband, who remained by her side. She died of an edema on 13 November 1810, a Queen in name only.

Further reading:
A Covent Garden Gilflurt's Guide To Life
Marie Antoinette's Gossip Guide To The 18th Century

The Théâtre du Palais-Royal On Fire

In 1781, The Théâtre du Palais-Royal, situated near Rose Bertin's establishment, was destroyed by fire, for the second time. Here's an account of the tragedy, which resulted in death of at least 11 people:

The Opera-house took fire. Rose Bertin's establishment in the Rue Saint-Honore was situated between the Rue Champfleuri and Rue du Chantre, both of which have disappeared; in fact, it was built almost on the spot where now stands the entrance to the Louvre, called the Saint-Honore Door. The Opera was at the corner of the Rue de Valois, quite near to Rose Bertin's shop.

The fire was very considerable, and there were various victims; but the number would have been much greater but for the presence of mind of the ballet-master, who was on the stage when the fire broke out. It was on the night of June 8. The air was heavy and stormy, and rain had begun to fall. The ballet "Orpheus" was being given, when the ballet-master gave an abrupt order for the dancing to cease, which caused a certain amount of murmuring among the audience; the curtain was instantly dropped.

Order was then given to cut the ropes which held the piece of burning scenery; the order was clumsily carried out, the ropes being cut on one side only. Hanging in this way the scenery burnt more quickly, and soon the whole theatre was in flames. The smoke had already driven the audience out, their cries awakening the whole district. People crowded to their windows, and the street filled quickly.

A fire in the Paris of olden days, with its narrow streets, was a terrible business. People could still remember the fire which consumed the Hotel Dieu on December 30, 1772, and cries of alarm arose as a column of flame more than 200 feet high shot into the air, "tinged with many colours, an effect due to the burning oil-painted scenery and gilded boxes." The Palais-Royal was in great danger; the roof several times caught fire, but was speedily extinguished.

Not only the Palais-Royal but, indeed, the whole district, was in danger from the continual shower of burning sparks and splinters which fell on the adjoining roofs. The reservoirs, which should have been full, were absolutely empty. Anxiety was at its height during the whole of that night, the panic being considerably increased about half-past nine by the falling in of the rafters, which caused a great shower of sparks.

Happily there was no wind, and, as rain continued to fall, the fire was confined to the theatre, which was completely burnt; it had been burnt before in 1773, and rebuilt on the same site. On June 15, a week after it had broken out, the fire was still burning in the foundations of the theatre.

There were, unfortunately, various victims, amongst whom were several of the dancers. Eleven corpses were found in the first instance, and taken to the Morgue. M. de Caumartin, Provost of Merchants, and Le Noir, Chief of the Police, were on the spot from the beginning, endeavouring to organize willing helpers in order to save what was possible; " but the firemen's efforts," says Mercier, were powerless to save anything but the facade on the Rue Saint-Honore."

Rose Bertin might have watched from her windows the sad cortege which bore the bodies of the victims to the Church Saint-Honore, facing her shop; and as the search in the ruins of the theatre continued some days, she was an eyewitness of the heart-rending scenes, no one being better able than she to carry news of the search to the Queen, who was at Marly expecting her second child.

The fire at the Opera-house, of all theatrical fires in Paris, has only been surpassed in horror by that which consumed the Opera Comique in 1887, when there was a holocaust of more than 200 victims.

Further reading:
Rose Bertin, the creator of fashion at the court of Marie-Antoinette

Book Reviews: The Accidental Empress & A Sinful Deception

Hello everyone,

today I'm reviewing two novels. Enjoy!

The Accidental Empress by Allison Pataki
Beautiful, romantic, tragic. The story of the Austrian Empress Sisi has captivated successive generations.
Born into Bavarian royalty, Elisabeth, who had received an informal upbringing, was suddenly thrust into the spotlight at the tender age of 16, when she married the young, dashing, and rich Habsburg Emperor Franz Joseph. Their union was an "accident". Sisi had gone to court to accompany and support Franz's betrothed, her sister Helene. But, once the Emperor set eyes on Sisi, he declared he would marry no one else. Her beauty and free spirit captivated him, and Sisi was equally infatuated. But did they really ever stand a chance? Probably not.
Young and naive, Sisi had no idea what she was getting herself into. A free spirit, she found it hard to follow the rigid rules that controlled life at court, resented her mother-in-law's interference in every aspect of her life and her husband's workload which kept him away from her for most of the day, and was devastated at not being allowed to raise her own children. Her attempts to enlist Franz's help against his mother only managed to drive him away. Franz was equally disappointed in their marriage. Brought up from the cradle to do his duty and serve his country, he saw the free-spirited Sisi as an antidote to all that was bad and wrong in his life and empire, threatened by wars and revolutions. Instead, he got stuck with a young girl who moaned and complained all the time. His attempts to keep her out of politics didn't help their relationship, and were short-sighted too. When allowed to exercise her influence, Sisi did a lot of good for the empire.
Both Sisi and Franz are very frustrating characters. Neither of them seem able to grow a backbone. He's too easy ruled by his mother and her faction. She too easily demoralized, to the point of despondence. Yet, given their upbringing and the positions they were thrust into, it's easy to see why they acted the way they did. I always wondered how an union that started under such auspicious circumstances could end so tragically. This novel, albeit a work of fiction, allows the reader to see what went wrong and why.
The Accidental Empress comes as close to the truth as a work of fiction can. Pataki has painstakingly done her research. Details of Sisi's gowns, beauty regime, the palaces she inhabited, and the etiquette she was subjected to are so seamlessly interwoven into the story that you feel like you're right there next to her. They make her world come alive without ever bogging the story down. To be both accurate and engaging is a struggle for any historical novelist, but Pataki has managed to skilfully pull it off.
If you too are fascinated by Sisi, you must pick up a copy as soon as possible.
Available at: Amazon
Rating: 4.5/5

A Sinful Deception by Isabella Bradford
Lord Geoffrey Fitzroy, the second son of the Duke of Breconridge, is a playboy with no intention of settling down. But all that changes when he meets the exotic Lady Serena Carew at a ball. Raised in India, Serena has a reputation for keeping most people at a distance, preferring to the company of suitors and strangers that of her old aunt. She even refuses to dance with anyone who asks. But that's not enough to put off Lord Geoffrey. He loves a challenge and bets with his brother that Serena will dance with him. But once the two are introduced, all thoughts of the bet disappear, as they quickly fall in love. But, for Serena, love is a privilege she can't afford. Her past contains a perilous secret that could destroy her. To protect herself, she must live a safe, solitary life. Yet, Geoffrey's seduction will prove hard to resist. But will he stand by her when he discovers her secret?
Both Serena and Geoffrey are charming characters. She's lovely, sweet, and unaffected, but still haunted by a past she can't seem to escape. Geoffrey may be a playboy, but not a cruel, selfish one. He's fun-loving, smooth, and really cares about Serena, but her secret creates a wedge that threatened to drive them apart.
I love how Bradford dealt with Serena's secret. She reveals it pretty early in the book, but rather than spoiling the story, it just adds to the excitement and allows the reader to better understand Serena's conflict. Her secret is a real bombshell that's bound to do a lot of damage should it come out, and you just know it will...
The book is beautifully written. The vivid descriptions of India can't fail to captivate readers, and the details of the women's gowns add a luxurious layer of authenticity to the story. Serena and Geoffrey's romance is steamy and sensual, but there's a lot more than that in this book, which makes for a fresh and interesting story. I highly recommend it to all lovers of historical romances.
Available at: Amazon
Rating: 4/5

Have you read these books are you planning to?

Disclaimer: this book was sent by PR for consideration. In addition, this post contains affiliate links.