The Armstrong Girl: A Child For Sale: The Battle Against The Victorian Sex Trade By Cathy Le Feuvre

In Italy, the age of consent is 14. I never questioned it. If anything I wondered why in the UK it was 16. Now I know. It is thanks to the efforts of many reformers, including William Stead, editor of the Pall Mall Gazette and inventor of the modern tabloids, who exposed the trade in young girls in Victoria Britain, and created a huge scandal in the process.

At the time, the age of consent was 13. This allowed innocent young girls to be sexually exploited, both at home and abroad. To demonstrate to the country how easy it was to buy a girl for the sex trade, and even smuggle her abroad to work in Belgian brothels, William Stead decided to purchase one of these unfortunate souls. He then featured her story in his revealing, shocking, and eye-opening series of articles, "The Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon". That forced the lawmakers, many of which were against reforms, to change the law.

But the story doesn't end there. Although Stead didn't hurt the girl he bought, but entrusted her to the care of the Salvation Army, he still ended up, together with his accomplices, in court, on trial for abducting her. Some were absolved, while others went to prison, and even died there, martyrs for justice.

The Armstrong Girl is a great piece of social history that should be taught in every school. It opens our eyes to a side of Victorian England that's still hidden in the shadows, enlightens us on how the problem was dealt with in the UK, and encourages us to reflect on what we can do today to end the sex trafficking trade, which, sadly, shows no sign of disappearing for good. Captivating and engaging, this is a book you can't miss.

Engaging and captivating, The Armstrong Girl is a great piece of social history that should be taught in every school. It enlightens readers about the horrors of the sex trade and what the Victorians did to fight it.

Available at: Amazon UK and Amazon USA

Rating: 4/5

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

Was Mary Boleyn Really The Mistress Of King Francis I Of France?

Eric Ives once famously commented that everything we know about Mary Boleyn "could be written on the back of a postcard with room to spare". So, basically, we know nothing. Only a few random facts historians have been painstakingly trying, for centuries, to stitch together. One of these facts is Mary's relationship with King Francis I of Francis. She was his mistress. Not his official mistress, but one of his many lovers.

Or so all the history books say. But was that really true? Mmmm... When we start examining the evidence, we appallingly realise how flimsy it is. Let's take a look at it, shall we?

Evidence N°1: The Bishop Of Faenza's Letter

The oldest piece of evidence used to support Mary's sexual relationship with the French King is found in a letter written by Rodolfo Pio, the Bishop of Faenza, to Prothonotary Ambrogio, dated 10 March 1536. The Bishop said:

"Francis said also that they are committing more follies than ever in England, and are saying and printing all the ill they can against the Pope and the Church; that 'that woman' pretended to have miscarried of a son, not being really with child, and, to keep up the deceit, would allow no one to attend on her but her sister, whom the French king knew here in France 'per una grandissima ribalda et infame sopre tutte.'". (That's old Italian for "a great prostitute and infamous above all", by the way.)

As it is obvious, Pio was no fan of the Boleyns. A papal nuncio at the French court, Pio was obviously against the religious reforms the Boleyns helped promoting, and Henry VIII's break with Rome.

Historical Reads: Cheating Valets and Tricks of the Trade

Valets knew many tricks to enrich themselves at the expense of their masters. Author Geri Walton shares a few:

Valets, similar to a household steward, used a variety of tricks to enhance their income. One trick was to complain to those they patronized—tailors, bootmakers, milliners, laundresses, and so forth—about the exorbitant amounts they charged. At the same the valet would then try and get his master to pay as much as possible. This then allowed the valet to pocket the difference.

Another trick valets used was to convince those they patronized of their importance. They accomplished this by claiming that their masters were fanatical and impossible to please. They also claimed that because of their (the valet's) influence, they were able to keep patronizing the less than perfect shop owner. Such claims resulted in the valet being granted discounts, concessions, or allowances that financially benefited them.

When valets worked for a master that was careless about his wardrobe, valets used other tactics to get money. For instance, valets were known to "commit sad depredations on the wardrobe." These depredations allowed valets to acquire articles that they could keep for themselves or they sometimes sold them. They accomplished this because they made friendships with wardrobe dealer who would purchase what they brought to sale.

To read the entire article, and discover many more tricks, click here.

Hair Fashions In Ancient Rome

(C) Shakko

The 1816 edition of the Belle Assemblee featured a very interesting article about the headdresses of some of most famous women in ancient Rome, and how hair fashions changed throughout the centuries. Here it is:

She knew how to arrange her hair in the most elegant manner, without any high toupet, and without even the ornament of an aigrette. A very narrow bandeau divided her hair in front from that behind, where it was tied underneath, the bow negligently appearing towards the uncovered ear; and two little bows of rib band fell on the nape of the neck behind. The front hair waved seemingly without art, and four braids of very long hair was wound in a kind of serpentine wreath all over her head, all equally divided, without touching each other; neither the roots or ends could be discovered, and seems plainly to shew that she was indebted to art for this ornament. If the reports of Claudieu may be credited, it was customary to shave the heads of every prisoner taken in battle, who was of distinguished birth, as a symbol of his loss of liberty; and Sidonius asserts, that this hair was scut to Home, to be fabricated into head-dresses for women of quality.

Book Reviews: Rome's Revolution & 365 Reasons To Be Proud To Be A Londoner

Hello everyone,

I have two history books, one more engaging than the other, to introduce to you today. So, let's get started:

Rome's Revolution: Death of the Republic & Birth of the Empire by Richard Alston
On March 15th, 44 BC a group of senators killed Julius Caesar, hoping this way to save the Republic. Instead, they unleashed a revolution that plunged Rome into civil war and led, eventually, to an absolute monarchy. How was this possible?
In his new engaging book, Alston tries to answer that question. Using primary sources whenever possible, he provides fascinating insights into the minds of the men involved in this process of change, both the main figures and leaders such as Augustus, Octavian, Brutus, and Cicero, but also the soldiers and common people who, over the course of the years, became more and more accepting of an absolute monarchy. He also investigates the events that have prompted these people to act the way they did, and sets the record straight on some of the myths that still circulate about this period.
This was a brutal and complex time in the history of Rome. Alston skilfully manages to convey the violence and uncertainty of the period. And he does so in an engaging, almost friendly tone. This is no boring history book. You can feel how passionate Alston is about his subject. It shows through every page.
If you want to know more about this brutal but fascinating period in Roman history, I highly recommend you pick up this book. You won't be able to put it down until you've reached the last page.
Available at: Amazon
Rating: 4/5

365 Reasons to be Proud to Be a Londoner: Magical Moments in London's History by Richard Happer
London is my favourite city in the world. It's exciting, fascinating, and steeped in history. Wherever you turn, you can see a piece of the past. Having just moved to London, I see one or two of them daily, but I don't always know what they are and what they mean. There isn't always a plaque to tell you. But since picking up this book, I discovered the history behind a few of them. And a lot more.
The book features 365 historical events and people that made London special. One for every day of the year. Each entry is short (only a few lines), but concise, straight-to-the-point, and funny. This is not a book for academics (at least not for those academics without a sense of humour). It's aimed at the casual reader who wants to know more about the British capital in a fun way that won't put him to sleep after a couple of minutes. If that's you, you'll love this book.
Available at: Amazon
Rating: 4/5

Are these books tempting you?

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

The Lady Mary Submits To Her Father

22 June 1536 was a black day for the Lady Mary, the only surviving child of Henry VIII and his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. She finally submitted to her father's request to accept him as the Supreme Head of the Church in England, and, even worse for the young girl, the invalidity of her parents' marriage.

Mary had stubbornly refused to do so for years, enraging her father who, as punishment, had refused to see her and prevented her from having any contact with her sick and dying mother. If Mary now agreed was because members from her father's council had started threatening her and even arrested a member of her household.

Even Chapuys, the Spanish ambassador and her and her mother's champion, had advised Mary to make the sacrifice and submit. He was worried for Mary's safety and that some harm may come to her if she kept refusing. Bitterly and with a heavy heart, Mary signed her submission:

Moste humbly prostrete before the feete of Your most excellent Majestie, your most homble, faythefull, and obediente subjecte, which hath so extremely offended Your most gratyous Highnes, that my heavie and fearfull hert dare not presume to calle you Father, ne Your Majesty hathe any cause by my desertes, saving the benignetye of your moste blessed nature dothe surmounte all evelles offences and trespasses, and is ever mercyfulle and redy to accepte the penytente callynge for grace, in any convenyente tyme.

Havinge receaved this Thursdaye, at nighte, certene letteres from Mr. Secretary, aswell advisyng me to make my homble submyssyone immedyatly to your selfe, which because I durste not, without your gracyous lycence, presume to doe befor, I latly sente unto him, as sygnefyenge that your moste mercyfull harte and fatherly pyttye had graunted me your blessyng, with condissyone that I should persevere in that I had commenced and begoone; and that I should not eftsones offend Your Majesty by the denyall or reffusalle of any suche artycles and commaundementes, as it maye please Your Highenes to addresse unto me, for the perfite triall of myne harte and inward affectyone, for the perfait declaratyon of the bottome of my herte and stomake.

Fyrste, I knowledge my selfe to have most unkyndly and unnaturally offended Your most excellent Highenes, in that I have not submytted myselfe to your moste juste and vertuous lawes; and for myne offence thearin, which I must confesse wear in me a thousand folde more greevous, then they could be in any other lyving creature, I put myselfe holly and entyrely to your gratyous mercy; at whos handes I cannot receave that punishment for the same, that I have deserved.

Secondly, to opene my herte to Your Grace, in theis thinges, which I have heartofore refused to condiscend unto, and have nowe writtene with myne owne hand, sending the same to Your Highenes hearwith; I shall never beseeche Your Grace to have pyttye and compassyon of me, yf ever you shall perceave that I shall prively or appertly, vary or alter from one pece of that I have writtene and subscribed, or refuse to confyrme, ratefy, or declare the same, wher Your Majesty shall appointe me.

Thurdly, as I have and shall, knowinge your excelent learnynge, vertue, wisdome, and knoledge, put my soulle into your directyone; and, by the same, hathe and will, in all thinges, from hence foarthe directe my consyence, so my body I do holly commyte to your mercye and fatherlye pyttye; desiringe no state, no condissyone, nor no mannore degre of lyvinge, but suche as Your Grace shall appoynte unto me; knoledging and confessynge, that my state cane not be so ville, as ether the extremyty of justice wold appoynte unto me, or as myne offences have required and deserved.

And what soever Your Grace shall comaunde me to doe, touchinge any of theyse pointes, ethere for thinges paste, presente, or to come, I shall as gladly doe the same, as Your Majestie cane comaund me.

Moste homblye, therfor, beseeching your mercy, most gratyous Soveraine Lord and benigne Father, to have pyttye and compassyon of your myserable and sorowfull child; and, with the aboundance of your inestymable goodnes, so to overcome my iniquitie towardes God, Your Grace, and your holle realme, as I maye feele some sensyble tokene of reconsyllyation; which, God is my judge, I onely desyre, without other respect, to whome I shall dayly praye for the preservation of Your Highenes, with the Queenes Grace, and that it may please him to send you issue. From Hownsdon, this Thursdaye, at 11 of the clocke at nighte.

Your Graces moste humble and obedient Daughter and Handmayd,


Further reading:
Calendar of State Papers, Spain, Volume 5

Historical Reads: Bonaparte the Bookworm

Over at Military History Now, author Shannon Selin talks about Napoleon's love for reading and his favourite books. To quote:

According to his classmate (and later secretary) Louis Bourrienne, Napoleon read avidly from an early age. Whenever they had free time at the military school at Brienne:

[Napoleon] would run to the library, where he read with great eagerness books of history, particularly Polybius and Plutarch. He also especially liked Arrian, but had little taste for Quintus Curtius.

At the École Militaire in Paris and as a young artillery officer, Napoleon continued to read classical scholars, as well as more recent French and Italian authors. He also read a number of English works in translation. An idea of his favourites might be judged by what he chose to bring with him during a leave of absence in Corsica in 1786-87. His brother Joseph recounts,

[Napoleon] was then a passionate admirer of Jean-Jacques [Rousseau]; … a fan of the masterpieces of Corneille, Racine and Voltaire. He brought the works of Plutarch, Plato, Cicero, Cornelius Nepos, Livy and Tacitus, translated into French; and those of Montaigne, Montesquieu and Raynal. All of these works filled a trunk larger than the one that contained his toiletries. I don’t deny that he also had the poems of Ossian, but I do deny that he preferred them to Homer.

Napoleon soon parted ways with Rousseau, but his admiration for Ossian continued throughout his life.

To read the entire article, click here.

47 Washington's Maxims

1. Every action in company ought to be with some sign of respect to those present.

2. In the presence of others sing not to yourself with a humming voice, nor drum with your fingers or feet.

3. Speak not when others speak, sit not when others stand, and walk not when others stop.

4. Turn not your back to others, especially in speaking; jog not the table or desk on which another reads or writes; lean not on anyone.

5. Be no flatterer, neither play with anyone that delights not to be played with.

6. Read no letters, books or papers in company; but when there is a necessity for doing it, you must not leave. Come not near the books or writings of anyone so as to read them unasked; also look not nigh when another is writing a letter.

7. Let your countenance be pleasant, but in serious matters somewhat grave.

8. Show not yourself glad at the misfortune of another, though he were your enemy.

9. In visiting the sick do not presently play the physician if you be not knowing therein.

10. In writing or speaking, give to every person his due title according to his degree and the custom of the place.

11. Undertake not to teach your equal in the art he himself professes; it savors arrogancy.

12. When a man does all he can though it succeeds not well, blame not him that did it.

13. Being to advise or reprehend anyone, consider whether it ought to be in public or in private, presently or at some other time, also in what terms to do it; and in reproving show no signs of choler, but do it with sweetness and mildness.

14. Mock not nor jest at anything of importance; break no jests that are sharp or biting, and if you deliver anything witty or pleasant, abstain from laughing thereat yourself.

15. se no reproachful language against any one, neither curses or revilings.

16. Be not hasty to believe flying reports to the disparagement of anyone.

17. In your apparel be modest, and endeavor to accommodate nature rather than procure admiration. Keep to the fashion of your equals, such as are civil and orderly with respect to time and place.

18. Play not the peacock, looking everywhere about you to see if you be well decked, if your shoes fit well, if your stockings set neatly and clothes handsomely.

19. Associate yourself with men of good quality if you esteem your reputation, for it is better to be alone than in bad company.

20. Let your conversation be without malice or envy, for it is a sign of a tractable and commendable nature; and in all cases of passion admit reason to govern.

21. Be not immodest in urging your friend to discover a secret.

22. Utter not base and frivolous things amongst grown and learned men, nor very difficult questions or subjects amongst the ignorant, nor things hard to be believed.

23. Speak not of doleful things in time of mirth nor at the table; speak not of melancholy things, as death and wounds; and if others mention them, change, if you can, the discourse. Tell not your dreams but to your intimate friends.

24. Speak not injurious words, neither in jest nor earnest. Scoff at none, although they give occasion.

25. Be not forward, but friendly and courteous, the first to salute, hear and answer, and be not pensive when it is time to converse.

26. Detract not from others, but neither be excessive in commending.

27. Go not thither where you know not whether you shall be welcome or not. Give not advice without being asked; and when desired, do it briefly.

28. If two contend together, take not the part of either unconstrained, and be not obstinate in your opinions; in things indifferent be of the major side.

29. Reprehend not the imperfection of others, for that belongs to parents, masters and superiors.

30. Gaze not on the marks or blemishes of others, and ask not how they came. What you may speak in secret to your friend deliver not before others.

31. Speak not in an unknown tongue in company, but in your own language; and that as those of quality do, and not as the vulgar. Sublime matters treat seriously.

32. Think before you speak; pronounce not imperfectly, nor bring out your words too heartily, but orderly and distinctly.

33. When another speaks, be attentive yourself, and disturb not the audience. If any hesitate in his words, help him not, nor prompt him without being desired; interrupt him not, nor answer him till his speech be ended.

34. Treat with men at fit times about business, and whisper not in the company of others.

35. Make no comparisons; and if any of the company be commended for any brave act of virtue, commend not another for the same.

36. Be not apt to relate news if you know not the truth thereof. In discoursing of things that you have heard, name not your author always. A secret discover not.

37. Be not curious to know the affairs of others, neither approach to those who speak in private.

38. Undertake not what you cannot perform; but be careful to keep your promise.

39. When you deliver a matter, do it without passion and indiscretion, however mean the person may be you do it to.

40. When your superiors talk to anybody, hear them; neither speak nor laugh.

41. In disputes be not so desirous to overcome as not to give liberty to each one to deliver his opinion, and submit to the judgment of the major part, especially if they are judges of the dispute.

42. Be not tedious in discourse, make not many digressions, nor repeat often the same matter of discourse.

43. Speak no evil of the absent, for it is unjust.

44. Be not angry at table, whatever happens; and if you have reason to be so show it not; put on a cheerful countenance, especially if there be strangers, for good humor makes one dish a feast.

45. When you speak of God or his attributes, let it be seriously, in reverence and honor, and obey your natural parents.

46. Let your recreations be manful, not sinful.

47. Labor to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire called conscience.

Further reading:
Our Deportment Or the Manners, Conduct and Dress of the Most Refined Society John H. Young

Book Reviews: Caesar's Not Here: The Inauguration Of Pompey's Theatre & The Witches Of Avalon

Hello everyone,

I have two new novels for you today. Enjoy!

Caesar's Not Here: The Inauguration of Pompey's Theater by Alex Johnston
Did you miss Marcus Mettius? I certainly did. Our favourite Roman salesman is one witty character who always finds himself in trouble. Usually because of Julius Caesar. But, as the title gives away, Caesar's not here this time. But that doesn't mean that Mettius can rest safely...
It does seem so at first. He has been invited to the inauguration of Pompey's theatre, an enormous complex that also features a dining area, a shopping centre, and a temple of Venus! Our Marcus is enjoying the gory games and the delicious food together with his beautiful date, the tavern maid Portia, some of his best friends, and a few of the most influential figures of his time. When, suddenly, something unexpected and dangerous happens...
This novella is a bit different from the others in the series. All the action occurs on the few days the festivities take place, and a huge chunk of the story is dedicated to their description. But that doesn't mean the book is slow and boring. Johnston can't do boring. His new novella is just as funny as all the others. It just provides a snapshot into a specific, limited, event that took place in the final years of the Republic, allowing the reader to enjoy it as if he/she were there.
As always, the characters talk in an anachronistic, modern way. That's something that usually bothers me in historical fiction works, but not here. It just fits, and makes the story more engaging.
If you've enjoyed the other Marcus Mettius' adventures, or just like a short, funny story, pick this one up. I promise you'll enjoy it.
Available at: Amazon UK and Amazon US
Rating: 4/5

The Witches Of Avalon by Lavinia Collins
I remember thinking, when I was reading the Guinevere trilogy, what an intriguing character Morgan, the half-sister of King Arthur, was and how I wished she had her own book. So, you can imagine how happy I was when, a while ago, Lavinia contacted me to ask if I was interested in reviewing the first book of her new trilogy, The Witches Of Avalon, starring Morgan as the lead. I said yes straight away!
As always, Lavinia Collins doesn't disappoint. This first book sees Morgan grow from an innocent child to a young woman who discovers betrayal, the cruelty of a men's world, and sex. War is looming, and danger seems to lurk behind every corner, especially when Merlin is around. A witch, Morgan turns to her magical powers to keep herself and her loved ones safe. But, even then, it seems only dark magic can give her the freedom and safety she craves. But is she willing to embark on a road from which she can't turn back?
Once again, Collins has created complex, intriguing characters, and a vivid world that makes you forget the Arthurian legends are just that, legends. They seem real. It's also refreshing to see them told, for a change, by the female protagonists who are often relegated to one-dimensional characters in the background. Here, Morgan comes forward to tell her own story. And it's a very compelling one.
If you like the Arthurian legends, or even just a good story, check it out.
Available at: Amazon UK and Amazon US
Rating: 4/5

What do you think of these books?

Disclaimer: these books were sent by the authors for consideration. In addition, this post contains affiliate links.

George Stubbs' Horse Portraits


Aristocrats didn't just commission portraits of themselves and their families. They also commissioned portraits of their beloved horses. In the 18th century, the man for the job was George Stubbs, a Liverpudlian painter with a fondness for these magnificent animals, which he perfectly captured in his pictures. Here are a few examples:

Bay Horse With A Groom

Captain Samuel Sharpe Pocklington With His Wife Pleasance And His Sister Frances

Countess Of Conings By Livery Of Charlton

George IV When Prince Of Wales

Horse And Rider

William Banderson With Two Saddle Horses

Baron De Robeck Riding A Bay Hunter

Joseph Smyth Esq Lieutenant Of Whittlebury Forest

Mares & Foals

Wedgwood And His Family

John and Sophia Musters Riding At Colwick Hall

The Phaeton Of The Prince Of Wales

Bay Horse And White Dog

Molly Long Legs With Her Jockey

The Life Of Female Pirate Mary Read

One of the most famous female pirates of all time, Mary Read was born in 1691 in England, the illegitimate daughter of a captain's widow. She had a legitimate brother from her mother's marriage. When he died, worried about how to make ends meet, her mother dressed Mary as a boy so the family could keep receiving financial support from the boy's grandmother. That's how Mary became Mark.

Grannie was fooled and kept paying until her death. Then, much to her mother's dismay, Mary decided she preferred the clothes and life of a man to those of a woman. Men had more freedom and more opportunities. But her shocked mother didn't agreed with her choice and disowned her.

Undaunted, Mary found work on a ship, and then she joined the army, where she proved her worth as a soldier. It was on a campaign that she met her husband. A Flemish soldier, he took an early retirement and together they opened up an inn called The Three Horseshoes in the Netherlands. Happy and in love, Mary started dressing like a woman again. But her marriage was short-lived. When her husband died, a sad Mary closed the inn and put on her favourite men's clothes again.

She joined the army again, but when peace was declared, opportunities for advancement ran out. So, Mary, still disguised as a man, boarded a merchant ship bound for the West Indies. When her ship was taken by pirates, she joined them. She then took the King's pardon and a commission to privateer, which came to an end when she joined the crew in mutiny. She then joined the famous pirates John "Calico Jack" Rackham and his companion, Anne Bonny.

Anne soon developed a crush on Mark, aka Mary in disguise. So Mary, both to avoid Anne some embarrassment and being killed by the jealous Jack, revealed to them her secret. The truth didn't ruin the women's friendship. They were now closer than ever.

Then, Mary fell in love again. He was a sea artist forced to join the pirate's crew. One day her lover was challenged to a duel by another, more experienced pirate. To save him, Mary started an argument with the pirate, which turned into a duel. She killed him.

In October 1720, pirate hunter Captain Jonathan Barnet captured their ship. Rather than fight, the crew hid inside. Only the two women, Mary and Anne remained on deck, ready for battle. Mary was livid at this and shot two sailors and injured Captain Jack. An hour later, Mary was a prisoner.

Taken to a Jamaican jailed, the two ladies pleaded to be pregnant to avoid execution. We'll never know if Mary really was with child. That may have saved her from the noose, but not from illness. Mary, while in prison, caught a bad fever and died.

Favours Refused

The Austrian Emperor Joseph II, Marie Antoinette's brother, received a lot of petitions and requests for favours. But he only granted them when he thought the men (or women) were worth them. Here are two examples to favours he refused to two mothers and their sons:


I do not think that it is amongst the duties of a monarch to grant places to one of his subjects merely because he is a gentleman. That, however, is the inference from the request you have made to me. Your late husband was, you say, a distinguished general, a gentleman of good family, and thence you conclude that my kindness to your family can do no less than give a company of foot to your second son, lately returned from his travels.

Madam, a man may be the son of a general and yet have no talent for command. A man may be of a good family and yet possess no other merit than that which he owes to chance,—the name of gentleman.

I know your son, and I know what makes the soldier; and this twofold knowledge convinces me that your son has not the disposition of a warrior, and that he is too full of his birth to leave the country a hope of his ever rendering it any important service.

What you are to be pitied for, madam, is, that your son is not fit either for an officer, a statesman or a priest; in a word, that he is nothing more than a gentleman in the most extended acceptation of the word.

You may be thankful to that destiny, which, in refusing talents to your son, has taken care to put him in possession of great wealth, which will sufficiently compensate him for other deficiencies, and enable him at the same time to dispense with any favour from me.

I hope you will be impartial enough to see the reasons which prompt me to refuse your request. It may be disagreeable to you, but I consider it necessary. Farewell, madam.

Your sincere well-wisher, JOSEPH LACHSENBURG, 4th August, 1787.

The application of another anxious and somewhat covetous mother was answered with still more decision and irony:


You know my disposition; you are not ignorant that the society of the ladies is to me a mere recreation, and that I have never sacrificed my principles to the fair sex. I pay but little attention to recommendations, and I only take them into consideration when the person in whose behalf I may be solicited possesses real merit.

Two of your sons are already loaded with favours. The eldest, who is not yet twenty, is chief of a squadron in my army, and the younger has obtained a canonry at Cologne, from the Elector, my brother. What would you have more? Would you have the first a general and the second a bishop?

In France you may see colonels in leading-strings, and in Spain the royal princes command armies even at eighteen; hence Prince Stahremberg forced them to retreat so often that they were never able all the rest of their lives to comprehend any other manoeuvre.

It is necessary to be sincere at Court, and severe in the field, stoical without obduracy, magnanimous without weakness, and to gain the esteem of our enemies by the justice of our actions; and this, madam, is what I aim at.

JOSEPH VIENNA, September, 1787

Further reading:
Memoirs Of The Court Of Marie Antoinette by Madame Campan

Book Review: Elizabeth I & Her Circle By Susan Doran

They say you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. Whether that's true or not, it is undeniable that your relationships with everyone you know, from your family to your friends, from your significant others to you co-workers, help shape who you are, how you see the world, think, and behave.

That's why, to fully understand Elizabeth I, we need to look at her relationships with the people in her circle. Susan Doran's new book does just that. It is divided in three sections. The first takes a look at Elizabeth's complicated relationships with her family, including her father Henry VIII, her stepsister Mary I, and her Stuart cousins, Queen Mary and King James VI of Scots, which were often fraught with danger.

The second part is dedicated to the courtiers most close to Elizabeth, first among all Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. His portrayal is very well-balanced and, while not playing down his faults, Doran doesn't paint him as the greedy and ambitious social climber who exploited Elizabeth's feelings for him, as many novels and movies do. Here, he comes across as a man of his time, who was determined to succeed at court but genuinely cared about the Queen.

Disappointedly short is instead, the section about the women who served Elizabeth. While each male courtier (Dudley, Sir Christopher Hatton, and Robert Devereux) get their own chapter, the Queen's women are all lumped together in the shortest chapter in the book. But this is not Doran's fault. There just isn't enough information about them in the historical record that survived.

But it was still one of my favourite chapters as it helped squash the myth of a jealous Queen who couldn’t stand to see her women happily married and in love. When she refused them permission to marry, she always had a good reason, like the unsuitability of the suitor.

The final section is reserved for the councillors, those men who helped her run the country. Sir William Cecil and his son Robert are well known, so my favourite section was the one about Sir Francis Walsingham, which helped me get a better understanding of who he really was and his often frustrating relationship with the Queen.

Doran uses private letters, state papers, as well as portraits and poems, to create an engaging and compelling story full of fascinating insights into Elisabeth's political and personal behaviour and that challenges many of the popular myths about the Queen and her relationship with those closest to her.

Because each chapter focuses on a different individual, the book doesn't follow a chronological order. I thought this would make it hard to read. But I was wrong. Doran writes clearly and avoids repetitions as much as possible. As a result, not only the book isn't confusing in the least, but the reader gets a better understanding of the particular impact a certain relationship and event had on the Queen.

If you're interested in the Tudors, Elizabeth I & Her Circle is a book you can't miss. It deserves a special place in your library.

Engaging and insightful, Elizabeth I & Her Circle is a must read for everyone who wants to know more about the relationships the Queen had with those closest to her and how they impacted her. Drawing evenly from original sources, the book also debunks many common myths about the Queen.

Available at: Amazon UK and Amazon USA

Rating: 4.5/5

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

The Wedding Of Prince Alfred & Grand Duchess Marie Alexandrovna

Prince Albert, the fourth child of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, had set his eye on the 17 year old Grand Duchess Marie Alexandrovna. But everyone seemed to be against the match. Marie Alexandrovna didn't want to leave Russia. Her parents weren't keen on that idea either. They much preferred to keep their daughter close. And Queen Victoria would absolutely never consent to her son and his wife to live in Russia, a country she never particularly liked.

In 1871, after a meeting with Alfred, Tsar Alexander II wrote his mother: "Your praises for our daughter, flattered us a great deal, but [Alfred] has surely told you, Madam, that while not in any way opposing a union between our two families, we have made it a principle never to impose our will upon our children as regards their marriages. Although speaking to him of a term of one year before taking any definitive decision, we expressly declared that neither he nor we would consider ourselves bound in any way, neither before nor after, and he seemed to understand this perfectly."

It seemed to poor Alfred that he would never get his wish. But about three years later, things changed. The Tsar's mistress bore him a son, which created a rift between him and the rest of his family. Family life was becoming hell, and Marie seriously began thinking about marrying Alfred and moving abroad.

Negotiation were resumed and, in April 1873, Alfred visited Marie and her mother in Sorrento, Italy. This meeting was far from romantic. Marie fell ill with fever. But her mind was now made up and that June, their engagement was announced. "I know that you will be glad to know how much I love Alfred and how happy I am to belong to him," the bride-to-be wrote to an aunt. "I feel that my love for him is growing daily ; I have a feeling of peace and of inexpressible happiness, and a boundless impatience to be altogether his own."

The couple got married at St. Petersburg on January 23, 1874. Two religious ceremonies were performed, one Orthodox and one Anglican. Marie walked down the aisle dressed in a gown with a silver train and a purple mantle trimmed with ermine, as was customary for Russian imperial brides. On her head, she wore both a sumptuous tiara with pink diamonds and a sparkling crown. She looked "very pale but sweet and earnest and calmly happy". But for her father, it was a bitter-sweet occasion. "It is for her happiness, but the light of my life is gone," the tsar was heard saying.

Alfred and Marie stayed in Russia for several weeks before leaving for England. But their marriage, which looked so promising at the beginning, was an unhappy one. To add insult to injury, it didn't even improve Anglo-Russia relations, as it was hoped.

Further reading:
Dearest Affie by John Van der Kiste and Bee Jordaan

Rose Bertin, Minister Of Fashion

Chanel. Dior. Givenchy. Gaultier. Today French fashion designers are renowned and loved the world over. But the first to be celebrated, and to bring haute couture to the forefront of popular culture was a poor but ambitious young woman, Rose Bertin.

Born on 2 July 1747 at Abbeville, Picardy, Rose moved to Paris to try her luck. She was apprenticed to a milliner, Mademoiselle Pagelle, and was so good at her job that later she became her business partner. She dressed, and cultivated good relations, with some of the most influential women at the French court, like the Princess de Conti, the Duchesse de Chartres, and the Princesse de Lamballe.

When, in 1770, Rose opened her own shop, Le Grand Mogol, on the Rue Saint-Honoré, they, and many other ladies at Versailles, followed her and became faithful clients. But her real big break came two years later, when the Princesse de Lamballe introduced her to the dauphine, Marie Antoinette.

The young woman loved Bertin's work. After Louis XVI's coronation, Marie Antoinette and Bertin met twice a week to discuss the dressmaker's new creations. While talking about dresses and poufs, the two women became friends, and the Queen started confiding in her milliner.

Together, they also launched many fashions. At the time, women wore "pouf", raised hardos made possible by pads and pomades. For the Queen, Bertin went one step further (or better, three feet higher). Not only were poufs now insanely high, they were also decorated with all kinds of objects to showcase current events. The pouf a la circonstance commemorated the change of reign, the pouf aux insurgents was in honor of the American Revolutionary War, and a French naval vessel represented the Queen's support for the America in the war for their independence (France was helping them).

But the most famous was probably the pouf a l'inoculation, which celebrated the Kings' vaccination, which took place in June 1774. "It represented a rising sun, and an olive-tree laden with fruit, round which a serpent was twisted, holding a flower-wreathed club. The classical serpent of Esculapius represented medicine, and the club was the force which could overcome disease. The rising sun was the young King himself, great-grandson of the Roi-Soleil, to whom all eyes were turned. The olive-tree was the symbol of peace, and also of the tender affection with which all were penetrated at the news of the happy success of the operation which the King and the Royal Family had undergone."

Her hairdos were outrageous, but so were her dresses. They were so wide women had troubles passing through doors. Bertin had such an influence on the Queen's wardrobe, and as a result, on French fashion, to gain the nickname "Minister of Fashion". Her name became synonymous with sartorial elegance, not only in France, but all over Europe. Her dresses were commissioned from all corners of the continent, including London, Vienna, Venice, Saint Petersburg, and even Constantinople.

Pandores, dolls made of wax over jointed wood armatures or porcelain, were dressed in the latest fashions and sent to foreign courts and noblewomen so that they could keep up to date with the latest Parisian styles and commission them. This type of dolls remained popular until the appearance of fashion magazines.

Things took a turn for the worse when the Revolution broke out. When Marie Antoinette was imprisoned she couldn't afford Bertin's super expensive gowns anymore. But she continued to commission small orders, usually of ribbons and simple alterations, to her dressmaker. Bertin's also provided the mourning outfit the Queen wore after the execution of her husband, Louis XVI.

As the Revolution turned more and more violent, many of her customers, included the Queen, were executed. A lot of dressmakers were forced to close their shops. Not Bertin. She moved her business to London, were she sold clothes to the émigrés. Once the Revolution was over Rose returned to Paris. Among her new customers was Joséphine de Beauharnais, the future French empresses.

But the Revolution had changed things forever. Fashion, during the ancient regime, had been excessive and outrageous. Now people favoured simpler styles. As the century came to an end, she transferred her business to her nephews and retired. She died in 1813 in Épinay-sur-Seine.

Further reading:
Rose Bertin, the creator of fashion at the court of Marie-Antoinette by Émile Langlade
Titillating Titbits About The Life And Times Of Marie Antoinette

A Trifling Gift Scarce Worth Being Mentioned

One of the perks of being a queen is receiving lots of presents. In June 1842, Queen Victoria received quite a few from the Imam of Muscat, as the Earl of Aberdeen reveals in this short letter to Her Majesty:

Foreign Office, 28th June 1842

Lord Aberdeen, with his humble duty, begs to enclose for your Majesty's information a list of the presents brought by the Envoy of the Imam of Muscat for your Majesty.

Lord Aberdeen will attend to-morrow with the Envoy, at the hour your Majesty has been pleased to command; and he will suggest that the presents should be sent previously to the Palace, in order to be laid before your Majesty.

[List of Articles sent for Her Most Gracious Majesty, The Mighty Queen, a trifling Gift scarce worth being mentioned.]

Two Pearl Necklaces,
Two Emeralds,
An Ornament made like a Crown,
Ten Cashmere Shawls,
One Box containing four Bottles Otto of Roses.
Four Horses, before mentioned in a former letter, but for the transmission of which no opportunity offered in Bombay, but now sent in my own ship. Through your kindness have those things taken* from Ali bin Nassur, and make an excuse for me to Her Most Gracious Majesty, and peace be on you!

*ie accept

Which of these gifts would you have liked most?

Further reading:
The Letters of Queen Victoria, Volume 1 (of 3)

Book Reviews: Stalin & Our Mad Brother Villon

Hello everyone,

today I have two book reviews for you. Enjoy!

Stalin: New Biography of a Dictator by Oleg V. Khlevniuk
Can a biography of Stalin, one of the cruellest dictators the world has ever known, be both concise and exhaustive? I didn't think so, but Klevniuk proved me wrong. In 408 pages (not that many when you consider how much longer most books on Stalin are), he creates a compelling account of the dictator's rise to power and the ruthless way in which he wielded it. During his rule, millions of innocent people were imprisoned and killed. Many millions more died in the famines caused by his economic and societal polices. Using new documents, letters, and reports, and the account of Stalin's last day, which offers a revealing prologue to each chapter, Khlevniuk's shows how all this horror could occur.
Khlevniuk sets the record straight on many myths, undermined by lack of evidence, that many other biographies of Stalin promoted as truth, and paints an honest portrait of the man and dictator. Although he obviously dislikes Stalin and justly warns us about the dangers of nostalgia that are currently arising in Russia about his era, he doesn't depict his subject as a monster. Stalin was just a man, a shrewd, manipulative, and cold man driven by paranoia and deeply held convictions that turned him into a terrorist and dictator.
Informative and engaging, the book flows easily. It's not bogged down in unnecessary details, but provides fascinating insight into Stalin and its era. If you'd like to know more about that, but the thought of reading a long, boring history book scares you, give this one a try. You'll greatly enjoy it, I promise.
Available at: Amazon UK and Amazon US
Rating: 4/5

Our Mad Brother Villon by Kenneth Parsons
One of the reasons why I love historical fiction is that I enjoy discovering historical figures that have been forgotten by most. Like Francois Villon. A never-do-well who loved the hedonistic life and couldn't keep on the right side of the law, he was also a poet known for his talents both by royalty, thieves, and prostitutes. His criminal career starts "innocently" enough. With a bunch of his fellow university students, he decides to steal the "Devil's Fart", a huge stone that serves as boundary for the property of one Madame Bruyeres, who has made it her mission to rid Paris of prostitutes, drunkards, and, so it seems to them, all fun and joy. The theft is supposed to be a joke to spite Madame Bruyeres, but soon, Villon finds himself mixing with the wrong crowd, stealing much more valuable treasures. His exploits get him more than one death sentence, but even when he tries to reform, fate seems to conspire against him, landing him in trouble again. All the while, Villon never stops composing. His clever and fun verses are scattered throughout the book.
Although I would have liked to read more descriptions of Paris in the late Middle Ages (it would have helped to better evoke the era in which Villon lived), the book is fun, engaging, and fast-paced. It's a very nice way to spend the weekend.
Available at: Amazon
Rating: 4/5

Will you read these books?

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

Purkoy, Anne Boleyn's Beloved Dog

Anne Boleyn loved dogs. She doted on Purkoy, the little lapdog given her by Sir Francis Bryan, who had received it from Honour, Lady Lisle. When he brought him to court, the Queen fell in love with him straight away.

In a letter to Lady Lisle, Sir Francis explains: "…it may please your Lordship to give her hearty thanks on my behalf for her little dog, which was so proper and so well liked by the Queen that it remained not above an hour in my hands but that her Grace took it from me."

Anne called the lapdog Purkoy, the old French phonetic spelling for 'pourquoi', which means 'why?'. Could it be that the little dog had an inquisitive and curious nature? If so, Anne Boleyn must have found it very amusing.

As a royal pet, Purkoy was taken well care of. He would eat bread (the Tudors thought that kept dogs gentle) and bathe daily. Then, he would be perfumed too.

Sadly, this pampered existence didn’t last long. A few months later, in December 1534, Purkoy died in an accident. He "had fallen from a window". No one, knowing how much the Queen loved Purkoy had the heart to tell her. The King had to break the news to her. She was inconsolable.

Further reading:
The Anne Boleyn Files