• History

    An Unconventional Princess

    Happy Monday, everyone!  (is that even a possible thing??)  It’s been a while since I sat down with the Riskies, since there have been some back-to-back deadlines here and lots going on, so I am extra excited to be here this week.  And I am also working on a new project that I am VERY excited about, concerning Queen Victoria’s most beautiful, rebellious, and interesting daughter, Princess Louise, who was sort of the Princess Diana of her time.  Princess Louise, the future Duchess of Argyll, who was born March 18, 1848.  As well as being the most beautiful of the princesses, she was a talented artist and sculptor (of a professional caliber), friend of Pre-Raphaelites and other avant-garde artists, as well as a supporter of the suffragist movement and women’s rights.

    Princess Louise Caroline Alberta was born at Buckingham Palace, the 6th child and 4th daughter of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, in the middle of a year of revolutionary upheaval in Europe, which led her mother to say Louise would surely turn out to be “something peculiar”.  She was always lively and vivacious–her family nickname was “Little Miss Why,” and her artistic talent was recognized early on.  She was even allowed to attend classes at the National Art Training School in South Kensington, and even though as a royal she could never be a professional she later sculpted many memorials, among them a memorial to the Boer War and one for her brother-in-law Prince Henry of Battenberg, as well as a famous sculpture of her mother now at Kensington Gardens.

    Her liveliness was strained after the death of her father in 1861, when the royal court went into prolonged mourning.  She wasn’t allowed a debutante ball, as her older sisters had, and she was bored and dissatisfied.  She served for a time as her mother’s personal secretary, writing letters and attending to duties Victoria was unable to.  Her mother, who had sometimes despaired of her pretty, energetic daughter, said, “She is (and who would some years ago have thought it?) a clever dear girl with a fine strong character, unselfish and affectionate.”

    After an unsuitable attachment to her brother’s tutor, a clergyman who late became Canon of Westminster Abbey, and proposed marriages to the Crown Prince of Denmark, Prince Albert of Prussia, and William, Prince of Orange (all shot down by her mother!), Louise decided she wanted to break with tradition and marry a British subject, John, Marquess of Lorne, heir to the Duke of Argyll.  Her brother, the Prince of wales, objected, but Queen Victoria liked the idea of “new blood,” writing to her son:

    “That which you object to [that Louise should marry a subject] I feel certain will be for Louise’s happiness and for the peace and quiet of the family … Times have changed; great foreign alliances are looked on as causes of trouble and anxiety, and are of no good. What could be more painful than the position in which our family were placed during the wars with Denmark, and between Prussia and Austria? … You may not be aware, as I am, with what dislike the marriages of Princesses of the Royal Family with small German Princes (German beggars as they most insultingly were called) … As to position, I see no difficulty whatever; Louise remains what she is, and her husband keeps his rank … only being treated in the family as a relation when we are together .. “

    Louise and Lorne were married on March 21, 1871 at St. George’s Chapel, Windsor, where she wore a lace veil of her own design.  The couple had no children, and though happy at first were later estranged (there have since been rumors Lorne was a homosexual).  Lorne was the only royal son-in-law with his own political career, and in 1878 was made Governor General of Canada.  Louise was homesick in Ottawa, appalled at the “rough” accomodations at Rideau Hall.  But she redecorated, became a social sensation in Canada, enjoyed the outdoors activities like skating and sleighing, and was patron of several charities as well as founder of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts.  After a serious sleigh accident on February 14, 1880, her health was never quite the same, and she spent more and more time in England, apart from her husband.  Lorne returned to England in 1883, where his hopes of growing a larger political career were frustrated and the marriage grew more remote.

    Louise moved into the apartment at Kensington Palace where she lived for the rest of her life, and became preoccupied with her own artistic work, as well as family quarrels (especially with her sister Beatrice, who thought Louise was too close to her own husband, the handsome Prince Henry of Battenberg).  She became obsessed with physical fitness and diet (her family made fun of her for it, but she lived longer–and looked better–than any of them!).  She also became interested in women’s suffrage, and made a point to patronize female physicians.

    Her husband was in failing health and declining finances from 1911, and she was reconciled to him and nursed him until his death in 1914.  After World War I she mostly retired, except for some charity work. and lived at Kensington next door to her reconciled sister Beatrice.  She died Dec. 3, 1939, and was the first royal to be cremated.  Her ashes were first deposited at the Royal Crypt at St. George’s, but were then moved to Frogmore with her siblings and parents.  Her sculptures can still be seen in London, a monument to a princess who lived her own life within the strict restraints of her birth and times.

    For more info, Jehanne Wake has a great biography of the princess, Princess Louise: Queen Victoria’s Unconventional Daughter (1988), and a brand new biography was just released, Lucinda Hawksley’s Queen Victoria’s Mysterious Daughter.  I hope some of you find Louise as fascinating as I do!

  • Risky Regencies

    Queen of the Regency Goth

    Hello, Riskies!  It’s been much too long since I visited our drawing room, and once again I am on a deadline and have fallen behind (oh my!)  Let’s take a look at a re-post of a blog I did in 2009, which is just as much fun now.  Gothic writer Ann Radcliffe died on February 7, 1823, and I always like to take another look at some of her tales….they would be perfect for a Halloween theme party!

    Author Ann Radcliffe died on this date in 1823. She could be called “Queen of the Gothic novel,” as many of the standard elements of her plots can still be found in novels today, such as innocent heroines, dark, mysterious heroes, dramatic settings, and wicked villains. (And she was the most popular writer of her own day, influencing Keats and Scott among others, and forming the centerpiece of Catherine Morland’s literary obsessions in Northanger Abbey).

    She was born in London in 1764, the only child of William and Anna Ward, and married William Radcliffe at age 22. (Radcliffe was a lawyer, and later editor and owner of The English Chronicle). Ann was said to be shy and reclusive, so not much was known about her private life, which gave rise to many rumors. (She had gone mad as a result of her terrible imagination and been sent to an asylum! She had been captured as a spy in Paris! She ate rare pork chops before bed to stimulate nightmares for her novels!)

    J.M.S. Tompkins writes that in all Radcliffe’s novels “a beautiful and solitary girl is persecuted in picturesque surroundings, and, after many fluctuations of fortune, during which she seems again and again on the point of reaching safety, only to be thrust back again into the midst of perils, is restored to her friends and marries the man of her choice.” Sounds like the Victoria Holt stories I was addicted to as a teenager

    Her best known works include A Sicilian Romance (1790), The Romance of the Forest (1791), The Italian (1796), and of course The Mysteries of Udolpho. She also wrote a travelogue, A Journey Through Holland and the Western Frontier of Germany (1795) and various poems, which were published by her husband after her death along with the historical romance Gaston de Blondville.

    More information can be found (mostly on the books, since the details of her life are still obscure–though I doubt the pork thing) in Deborah Rogers’ Ann Radcliffe: A Biography-Bibliography(1996).Have you ever read any of Radcliffe’s works? Have any favorite modern Gothic authors?? I’m thinking aMysteries of Udolpho-theme Halloween party would be lots of fun…

    Have you ever read any of Radcliffe’s books? Have any favorite modern Gothic authors? And what might you wear to my Halloween party???

  • Risky Regencies

    An Old Fashioned Christmas

    Happy December, Risky readers!  It’s been a busy month around here, with family visits and some lovely concerts (like Elena, there are aspects of Christmas that always make me feel a bit melancholy, but music is one of my favorite things about the season).  I have also had a flurry of new releases.  The latest is the 4th in my Elizabethan Mystery series, Murder at Whitehall (which takes place, of course, at Christmastime 1560).

    So, how did the Elizabethans celebrate Christmas?

    MurderWhitehallCoverOne thing I learned as I researched Murder at Whitehall is that the Elizabethans really, really knew how to party at the holidays! The Christmas season (Christmastide) ran 12 days, from December 24 (Christmas Eve) to January 6 (Twelfth Day), and each day was filled with feasting, gift-giving (it was a huge status thing at Court to see what gift the Queen gave you, and to seek favor by what you gave her), pageants, masquerades, dancing, a St. Stephen’s Day fox-hunt, and lots of general silliness. (One of the games was called Snapdragon, and involved a bowl of raisins covered in brandy and set alight. The players had to snatch the raisins from the flames and eat them without being burned. I think the brandy was heavily imbibed before this games as well, and I can guarantee this won’t be something we’re trying at my house this year!)

    Later in Queen Elizabeth’s reign, she mostly kept Christmas at Greenwich, or sometimes at Hampton Court or Nonsuch Palace, but in the year my story is set, 1559, she spent the holiday at Whitehall in London. Elizabeth had only been queen for a year, so hers was a young Court full of high spirits. This was also one of the coldest winters in memory, so there would have been a lot of sledding and ice skating . It was fun to imagine this scene, and put my characters, Kate and her friends (including the real-life Lady Catherine Grey and her suitor Lord Hertford) into the action!

    Even though there were no Christmas trees or stockings hung by the fire, I was surprised to find we would recognize many of the traditional decorations of the time. Anything that was still green in December would be used–holly, ivy, yew, bay. The Yule log was lit on Christmas Eve using a bit of last year’s log saved for the purpose. It was brought in by the men of the household, decorated with wreaths and ribbons, and set ablaze so everyone could gather around and tell tales of Christmases past.  Music, as it is now, was one of the big mood-setters of the season, and since Kate is the queen’s favorite musician I listened to many CDs of period music and imagined what she might play every day.

    ElizabethIFood was also just as big a part of the holiday as it is now! Roast meats were favorites (pork, beef, chicken, fricaseed, cooked in broths, roasted, baked into pies), along with stewed vegetables and fine whit manchet bread with fresh butter and cheese. Elizabeth was a light eater, especially compared with her father, but she was a great lover of sweets. These could include candied flowers, hard candies in syrup (called suckets, eaten with special sucket spoons), Portugese figs, Spanish oranges, tarts, gingerbread, and figgy pudding. The feast often ended with a spectacular piece of sugar art called (incongrously) subtleties. In 1564, this was a recreation of Whitehall itself in candy, complete with a sugar Thames. (At least they could work off the feasting in skating and sledding…)

    A couple fun reads on Christmas in this period are Maria Hubert’s “Christmas in Shakespeare’s England” and Hugh Douglas’s “A Right Royal Christmas,” as well as Alison Sim’s Food and Feast in Tudor England and Liza Picard’s “Elizabeth’s London.”  Be sure and visit my website,http://amandacarmack.com, for more Behind the Scenes history on Kate and her world, and a few Christmas traditions and recipes.  (Anyone going to try and cook the roasted peacock??)  If you’d like to give Murder at Whitehall a read, or see an excerpt, you can find it right here….

    BlusetockingXmasCoverAnd And–if you are more of a Regency fan (I told you I had a flurry of new things out!), I have a little Christmas novella, The Bluestocking’s Christmas Wish!  If you’re like me, you don’t have a lot of time for deep reading this time of year, and I’ve always found a Regency Christmas novella fills the slot nicely.

    What are some of your favorite holiday reads???

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