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Monthly Archives: October 2009

Deadline Status: Done! (Almost–the writing-writing is done, now I’m hammering it into some kind of coherent shape. Lucky for me my editor is on vacation until the 3rd…)

Movie Status: Good! I saw two excellent movies in the last couple of weeks, which is much higher than average for me. After Diane’s review, I had to go see Bright Star, which was beautiful. (I must have a ballgown with a standing ruffled collar! I did a little post about the movie on my own blog, too). And I went with a friend who writes reviews to see a preview of An Education, starring Carey Mulligan who was so great in Bleak House and Northanger Abbey. This was the best movie I have seen all year. I predict both movies will see Best Actress noms when the Oscars come around (and probably Best Costumes, too!)

And in honor of Halloween, my subject for this post are the ghosts of the Tower of London! Needless to say, there’s no shortage of haunted places in England to talk about (see info on Borley Rectory, the “most haunted place in England” here, and info on London ghosts here), but when I went to the Tower last year there was such a sad, melancholy feeling about the place. I suppose that’s inevitable for a spot so old (over 900 years) and so full of sad, tragic stories. Here are just a few of the tales (which the Beefeater guides are happy to expound on at length!):

The first reported sighting of a ghost at the Tower was, surprisingly, Thomas a Becket (who was killed far away at Canterbury and, as far as I know, was never imprisoned at the Tower!). During the construction of the Inner Curtain wall, it’s said Becket was angry about the construction and appeared to reduce the wall to rubble with his cross. It was the grandfather of Henry III, who had ordered the wall built, who was responsible for Becket’s murder, so maybe that was his problem? Who knows. But Henry ordered a chapel built at the Tower and named it after Becket, and there were no more problems from the Archbishop.

The Bloody Tower (possibly the most obvious building name in all England!) was the scene of the disappearance of the Two Princes, Edward V (age 12) and his brother Richard, Duke of York (age 10) who are thought to have been murdered in 1483 (possibly on the orders of their uncle, the Duke of Gloucestershire, later Richard III). Late in the 15th century, two guards passing the Bloody Tower saw two small figures gliding down a staircase clad in the nightshirts they had on the night they were last seen, holding hands. They faded into the stones. These apparitions are still sometimes seen.

The most commonly seen ghost is Anne Boleyn, beheaded at the Tower in 1536. She’s seen in the Queen’s House, where she stayed before her death (probably the most haunted spot in the whole place; along with Anne, Jane Grey, Catherine Howard, and Arbella Stewart hang around there, too). In 1864, a guard saw her float out of the Queen’s House, and charged at her with his bayonet only to have it go right through her before she disappeared. He fainted, and was court-martialled for dereliction of duty. Luckily, 2 others saw what happened and he was acquitted. Anne can sometimes be seen gliding across the execution spot, or leading a procession down the aisle of the Chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula, ending at her resting place under the altar. I did not see her, though I wouldn’t have minded if she wanted to show herself to me!

Lady Jane Grey, who was 17 when she was executed at the Tower (after being queen for 9 days), is often seen as “a white shape, forming itself on the battlements.” She was reportedly last seen in 1957, though, so maybe she has moved on. Her husband, the unfortunate Guildford Dudley, is sometimes seen weeping in Beauchamp Tower. Catherine Howard is said to scream in her old room at the Queen’s House (though how they know it’s her screaming and not some other poor spirit, I don’t know)

One of the worst stories of the Tower is that of the Countess of Salisbury, Margaret Pole, friend of Katherine of Aragon and one of the last of the Plantagenets. When she was in her 70s, her son Cardinal Pole (who was safe in Rome, and would later be Queen Mary’s chief advisor) started mouthing off against Henry VIII. In retaliation Henry brought Lady Salisbury to the block. The feisty elderly Margaret refused to put her head on the block like a common traitor, and the inexperienced, flummoxed executioner chased her around the scaffold, hacking at her until she was dead. It’s said every day on the anniversary of her death this gruesome, ghostly scene is reenacted.

At one time, the Tower also housed the Royal Menagerie (lions, leopards, bears, monkeys, etc). One night in January of 1815 a sentry saw a giant bear emerge from a doorway. He lunged at it with his bayonet, which passed right through the (understandably) enraged ghost bear. The sentry passed out with fright, and later died of the shock.

The Salt Tower is one of the oldest and most haunted spots in the Tower. It’s said dogs won’t enter there, and neither will the guards at night, after one was nearly throttled to death by an unseen force. There are also reported sightings of phantom funeral carriages, and “a lovely veiled lady that upon closer look proves to have a void where her face should be.”

Happy Halloween, everyone! This is my favorite holiday. What are you going to do to celebrate? What’s your costume? (I may get a blond wig and pull out a cocktail dress and call it Betty Draper…)

And be sure and join us this weekend as I launch my Elizabethan Christmas book, The Winter Queen! (The Tower makes a brief appearance, but no ghosts). Megan will interview me about the book, I’ll have a post about Christmas traditions of yore, and there will be a book giveaway…

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Here is a tale from:

(Google Books)

It is the tale of Lord Lyttleton. Not the “great and good” Lord Lyttleton, but his “witty and profligate” son, who in 1778 (a little before the Regency- I exaggerated) “retired from the metropolis, with a party of his loose and dissapated companions” to his country house, Pit Place, near Epsom in Surrey.

One day his friends noticed that Lord Lyttleton’s mood had turned depressed, putting a damper on their debauchery. At their urging he finally told them what had altered his mood.

Two nights before, on his retiring to his bed, after his servant was dismissed and his light extinguished, he had heard a noise resembling the fluttering of a dove at his chamber window. This attracted his attention to the spot; when, looking in the direction of the sound, he saw the figure of an unhappy female, whom he had seduced and deserted, and who, when deserted, had put a violent end to her own existence, standing in the aperture of the window from which the fluttering sound had proceeded. The form approached the foot of the bed:—the room was preternaturally light; the objects of the chamber were distinctly visible:—raising her hand, and pointing to a dial which stood on the mantelpiece of the chimney, the figure, with a severe solemnity of voice and manner, announced to the appalled and conscience-stricken man that, at that very hour, on the third day after the visitation, his life and his sins would be concluded, and nothing but their punishment remain, if he availed himself not of the warning to repentance which he had received. The eye of Lord Lyttelton glanced upon the dial; the hand was on the stroke of twelve:—again the apartment was involved in total darkness:—the warning spirit disappeared, and bore away at her departure all the lightness of heart and buoyancy of spirit, ready flow of wit, and vivacity of manner, which had formerly been the pride and ornament of the unhappy being to whom she had delivered her tremendous summons.

Lyttleton’s friends laughed at his superstition and tried to cajole him into believing he’d merely had a bad dream. Later when he retired to his room, they had a brilliant idea. They turned all the clocks ahead an hour and kept Lyttleton busy enough that he did not notice.

When eleven o’clock on the appointed day came, Lyttleton again became depressed, fearing his death, but soon enough the clocks all struck twelve. “Thank God, I’m safe,” exclaimed Lord Lyttelton. He and his friends celebrated with a lot of wine. He retired to bed and his friends waited out the hour for twelve midnight designated by the vision. Lyttleton’s bell rang violently as the clocks struck one. The men ran up to the room and found their friend. Lyttleton “lay extended on the bed before them, pale and lifeless, and his countenance terrible convulsed.”

Two years later Lyttleton’s stepmother painted the scene of the apparition appearing to him. The painting hung in her drawing room and showed the dove in the window and the female figure in white.

Do you have any Regency ghost stories?
What’s your favorite ghost story?

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Thanks to the Riskies for inviting me to share their elegant space! As I settle into my Chippendale chair and wait for them to pour tea, let me muse a bit on what prompted this topic.

First, I’m excited that the next book in my on-again, off-again Wellingford family series, FROM WAIF TO GENTLEMAN’S WIFE, is now on the shelves. The story of Ned Greaves, good friend of Nicholas Stanhope, Marquess of Englemere, hero of my first book, had simmered in mind for a number of years. I was delighted to give Ned, a self-proclaimed “simple country gentleman” a chance to encounter and win a bewitching lady while they both try to save a failing agricultural property and solve a mystery.

The obligatory blurb: “When a destitute governess faints on Sir Edward Greaves’s threshold, chivalry demands that he offer her temporary shelter. However, the desire Ned feels when he catches her in his arms isn’t at all gentlemanly.

In spite of his attraction to her, Ned finds it extremely suspect that a lady claiming to be the sister of the fired estate manager happens to end up on his doorstep just after his carriage has been attacked by Luddite agitators. But Joanna Merrill’s large, troubled eyes and slender frame call to something deep inside this guarded man. For one who has purposefully shunned the conniving beauties of London society, just how much is Ned risking by allowing this intriguing woman under his roof?”

Though I truly love this story, in the odd time warp world of writerdom, it has been hard to fully wrap my mind around the reality of its release. While I’ve been doing some blogs and contests to promote WAIF (visit my website,, for a chance to win a sample of heroine Joanna’s exotic perfume,) I’m also simultaneously going through the final edits for next summer’s release, THE SMUGGLER AND THE SOCIETY BRIDE, (Book 3 of a first-ever 8-book Regency continuity series that features three main families, scandal, murder, a hanging and revenge that reaches into the next generation.) And at the same time, I’m struggling with an unusually recalcitrant Muse to write my next story—another Wellingford tale—that features Greville Anders, that fired-estate-manager brother of WAIF heroine Joanna Anders Merrill.

As for the edits, along with changing back to commas the copy editor’s strange predilection for colons—in the middle of sentences—I also scratched my head over the c.e. changing “Axminster carpet” to “soft carpet.” Although I knew these carpets were accurate to the Regency period, the copy editor’s questioning of the term spurred me to research them a bit further.

It’s true enough that carpeting as we think of it was unknown in Regency England. Wall-to-wall didn’t exist and woven carpets were still quite rare and expensive.

Knotted woolen and silk carpets were first brought back by Crusaders from the Middle East. Although elaborately embroidered and designed wall hangings had been made in Europe throughout the Middle Ages, not until the 17th century did monarchs there, eager to embellish their palaces with all manner of luxury items, begin to sponsor local craftsmen to produce such “Oriental” carpets.

Having taken over from the Italians the mantle of being Europe’s premier producer of luxury goods (when the Sun King Louis XIV imported Italian artisans to tutor French craftsmen,) it’s not surprising that the French were in the forefront of carpet-making. In 1627, by royal order, the Savonnerie factory was established at Chaillot in Paris to create pile carpets for use in the king’s palaces and as royal gifts. This establishment, which later merged with the famous tapestry-making firm Gobelin, created carpets with floral and architectural patterns, some based on designs (called “cartoons”) by famous painters. (The business continues today, still crafting exquisitely-made carpets for a discriminating and wealthy clientele.)

The carpets made at Savonnerie greatly influenced the designs of other firms, including the one established at Axminster by cloth maker Thomas Whitty in 1755. Like those produced in France, Axminster carpets often featured architectural or floral patterns that mimic those of Oriental carpets. And like fine carpets to this day, the Axminster designs were hand-knotted of wool on woolen warps with wefts of flax or hemp.

Although other carpet works were begun about the same time in Exeter and near London, Whitty’s firm in Axminster established itself as the premier producer of English-made carpets. King George III and Queen Charlotte visited the works, and following the royal lead, orders were quickly placed by others of wealth and high rank. Axminster carpets soon graced the Royal Pavillion at Brighton, Warwick Castle, Saltram House and Chatsworth.

Axminster, I discovered, is located in Devon—along whose smuggling-rich coast the story I’m currently working on, Greville’s story, takes place. In a further curious coincidence, Powderham Castle, the stately home outside Exeter in Devon I’d already chosen as the prototype for the dwelling of Lord Bronning, father of Greville’s heroine Amanda, happens to possess one of the first and finest of Axminster’s carpets.

Powderham Castle was built in 1391 by Sir Philip Courtenay and is still owned by the Courtenays today. The original castle, rebuilt and modified over the years, was further embellished by William Courtenay, third Viscount Courtenay and later Earl of Devon, with the addition of a Music Room designed by the famous architect James Wyatt. This handsome chamber also featured a carpet made by the newly formed Axminster Carpet Company–the biggest carpet ever made by the firm, until the Prince Regent heard of it and ordered a larger one. (Can we say “carpet envy?”)

Axminster dominated the English carpet market until 1835, when Samuel Rampson Whitty, grandson of the founder, declared bankruptcy following a disastrous fire which destroyed the weaving looms. With competition from Europe and the rise of high-quality but cheaper, machine-made carpets, it was too expensive to try to revive the works.

The Blackmores of Wilton, near Salisbury, bought the remaining stock and looms. Weaving had been a prominent trade in Wilton since the 17th century, and at the turn of the 19th, Lord Pembroke helped establish the Wilton Royal Carpet Factory. With this purchase, the firm extended their business to include patterned, hand-knotted carpets, which despite the change of location were still called “Axminsters.”

But in the mid-20th century, another curious development occurred. A carpet manufacturer named Harry Dutfield beguiled the tedium of a train journey by chatting with a vicar with a heavy West Country accent. Upon learning of Dutfield’s occupation, the vicar told him about the famous Devon town where carpet-making had thrived before the disastrous fire in the 1830’s. Intrigued, Dutfield followed up on the story and in 1937, began again to manufacture carpet in the town of its historic roots–Axminster.

In 2005, another event occurred to complete the merger of copy-edit suggestions, my research about Devon, Powderham Castle and the Courtenays. For the 250th anniversary of carpet weaving in Axminster, a special commemorative rug was produced. As in days of old, when church bells rang to signal the completion of each time-consuming, hand-made work of art, this special carpet was paraded by Axminster’s weavers through the town to the Minster Church, where it was blessed by the Bishop of Exeter. It was then presented to the Queen’s representative—the 18th Earl of Devon, William Courtenay–to be conveyed to its new home at Clarence House–the home of HRH the Prince of Wales.

I think “our” Prinny would be pleased.

(By the way, you can visit Axminster’s website,, to see a photo of the rug-carrying ceremony.)

There’s something inherently satisfying about discovering a family and a business that has thrived from early days through Regency times to our own. Inspired by those events, when I mailed in my changes to the copy edits, I instructed production to change “soft carpet” back to “Axminster carpet.”

So, what do you think? Will the odd place name pull you out of the story–or add to its richness? Do you prefer the boring adjective “soft?” Log in your comments for a chance to win an autographed copy of WAIF. (Though I should dearly love to offer one of Axminster’s finest carpets as the prize, I fear I shall have to limit myself to books!)

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So, what hooks you?

Is it a dynamic family? A writing style? A multi-book mystery? What makes you stick with an author for the duration of a series? I’m thinking about it for a couple of reasons; first is that I gave my friend Kwana my copy of Tessa Dare‘s Goddess Of The Hunt, she read it, and twittered that she is hooked, and is going to have to get the second and third books of the series. Me, too, I chimed in.

Next is that I am eagerly awaiting Lilith Saintcrow‘s next release in the Jill Kismet series, her fourth. Jill has a pretty smokin’ boyfriend, but it’s not romance, but urban fantasy (I think; I get so muddled up on genre). I followed Saintcrow through all of her Dante Valentine series, and have yet to take her off the autobuy list.

Last is that I am super excited for the HBO mini-series of George R.R. Martin‘s Game of Thrones, starring one of my fave dishes, Sean Bean. That series is a commitment, people! I’ve read two of the 900+ page books, with at least two more to go, and I know I’m going to make it. (Of course, I have visions of me lying on my deathbed with the last book in the series clutched in my dying hands, but that’s another story).

Many, many people read all the way through Julia Quinn‘s Bridgerton family; others (self included) read all of Mary Balogh‘s Slightly series; still others are getting through all gazillion books in Robert Jordan‘s Wheel Of Time fantasy series (I put my foot down on that one–over 11 books? No way. I WOULD be dead before finishing all of those).

So–why do you like or don’t like series? What series do you still follow? Which ones did you give up on?


PS: I’ll be in Jersey, too this weekend, listening to Janet‘s lovely accent. If you’re there and you see me, say hi!

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