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Author Archives: Amanda McCabe/Laurel McKee

About Amanda McCabe/Laurel McKee

Writer (as Amanda McCabe, Laurel McKee, Amanda Carmack), history geek, yoga enthusiast, pet owner!

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!

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???

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,, 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???

MissManningCoverThe Halloween holiday has put me very behind schedule!!!  (though the stores seem to think it is already Christmas…)  The Demure Miss Manning, my latest Harlequin Historical Regency, is out NOW!  Brazilian beaches just in time for winter!  For the chance to win a copy today, just leave a comment on this post, or you can find more info on it here

I don’t know about where you are, but last winter here was long, cold, and gray (and I hate winter)! So I was very happy to escape into writing Mary and Sebastian’s story in the warmth of Brazilian sun and beaches (even though in 1808 it wasn’t exactly a beach as we think of it, with bikinis and drinks with tiny umbrellas—I was desperate enough to get out of the snow I would take any beach!)

I had heard of the story about the flight of the Portuguese court from Lisbon to their colony in Brazil, but not really the details. (Most of my previous research for the Napoleonic Wars centered on Spain and Waterloo). A few years ago, I came across Patrick Wilcken’s book Empire Adrift: The Portuguese Court in Rio de Janeiro, 1808-1821, in a secondhand book shop, and started reading right there in the aisle. What a fascinating tale! On November 29, 1807, just days ahead of the Napoleonic army under General Junot, almost 15,000 people (figures vary) sailed away from Lisbon harbor, under the protection of the British Navy, bound for Brazil, a land almost none of them had ever seen and which would prove to be a completely different world from winter-time Portugal. The royal court wouldn’t return to Lisbon until 1821.

Brazil1It was a tumultuous, complicated story of the “mad queen” Maria, her son the Prince Regent Joao, and his Spanish wife Dona Carlota (a cousin who he married when she was ten years old, and they proved to be a disastrous mismatch), British commercial relations with Portugal that needed to be preserved at all costs, a stormy, months-long voyage, and a landing in a new, strange world. It was like reading an epic novel, but it was all real, and I loved putting Mary and Sebastian right in the middle of it all!

If you’d like to know more about this period in history (and there is so much more to know!), these are some books I found very useful…

Patrick Wilcken, Empire Adrift: The Portuguese Court in Rio de Janeiro, 1808-1821 (2004)

Maria Graham, Journal of a Voyage to Brazil and Residence There, 1821-23 (1824)

Kirsten Schultz, Tropical Versailles: Empire, Monarchy, and the Portuguese Royal Court in Rio de Janeiro, 1808-1821 (2001)

Kenneth Light, The Saving of an Empire: The Journey of Portugal’s Court and Capital to Brazil, 1808 (2009)

Laurentino Gomes, 1808: The Flight of the Emperor (2007)

Sir Henry Chamberlain, Views and Costumes of the City and Neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro from drawings taken by Lt. Chamberlain, of the Royal Artillery, During the Years of 1819 and 1820 (1822)

Marcus Cheke, Carlota Joaquina, Queen of Portugal (1947)


I can’t believe it is Monday already!!  I have a book due on the 15th, and as always on the last week of deadline I am a bit wild-eyed and frantic.  I wasn’t sure what to blog about today except “OMG deadline!” which very boring.  Then I found this post I did for RR way back in 2008, when my book A Sinful Alliance, set at the Greenwich Palace of Henry VIII with a French spy heroine, talking about Greenwich Palace vs. Fontainebleau.  And this WIP is set at–Fontainebleau!  A bit later than Henry VIII, of course, in 1561, with Mary Queen of Scots and Catherine de Medici.  I hope you enjoy another peek at both palaces.  Also–a little look at the cover art concept for “Murder at Fontainebleau”…

Greenwich was originally built in 1433 by Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, a brother of Henry V. It was a convenient spot for a castle, 5 miles from London and Thames-side, and was popular with subsequent rulers, especially Henry VIII. His father, Henry VII, remodeled the place extensively between 1498-1504 (after dispatching the previous occupant, Dowager Queen Elizabeth, to a convent). The new design was after the trendy “Burgundian” model, with the facade refaced in red Burgundian brick. Though the royal apartments were still in the “donjon” style (i.e. stacked rooms atop rooms), there were no moats or fortifications. It was built around 3 courtyards, with the royal apartments overlooking the river and many fabulous gardens and mazes, fountains and lawns.

The Palace of Greenwich (Placentia)At the east side of the palace lay the chapel; to the west the privy kitchen. Next door was the church of he Observant Friars of St. Francis, built in 1482 and connected to the palace by a gallery. This was the favorite church of Katherine of Aragon, who wanted one day to be buried there (of course, that didn’t turn out quite as she planned…)

Though there are paintings and drawings of the exterior, not much is known of the interior decorations. The Great Hall was said to have roof timbers painted with yellow ochre, and the floors were wood, usually oak (some painted to look like marble). The ceilings were flat, with moulded fretwork and lavish gilding, embellished with badges and heraldic devices (often Katherine’s pomegranates and Henry’s roses). The furniture was probably typical of the era, carved dark wood chairs (often an X-frame design) and tables, benches and trunks. Wool or velvet rugs were on the floors of the royal apartments only, but they could also be found on tables, cupboards, and walls. Elaborate tiered buffets showed off gold and silver plate, and treasures like an gold salt cellar engraved with the initials “K and H” and enameled with red roses.

For the events in my book, the visit of the French delegation, two new structures were built at either end of the tiltyard, a grand banquet house, and a theater where there were masques and concerts.

Many important events of the era took place at Greenwich. Henry VIII was born there on June 28, 1491, and he married Katherine of Aragon there in May 1511. On February 8, 1516 Princess Mary was born there, followed on May 13 by the marriage of the king’s sister Mary, Dowager Queen of France, to Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk (a huge source of much gossip!). In 1527 came the French delegation which forms the center of my book. They were received with much pomp “and entertained after a more sumptuous manner than has ever been seen before” (according to one courtier). On September 7, 1533, Princess Elizabeth was also born there, followed nearly 3 years later by the arrest of her mother Anne Boleyn after a tournament. One of the last great events Greenwich saw in Henry’s reign was the wedding to Anne of Cleves in 1540.

It was a royal residence through the reign of Charles I (1625-49), but under the Commonwealth the state apartments were made into stables, and the palace decayed. In 1662, Charles II demolished most of the remains and built a new palace on the site (this later became the Royal Naval College), and landscaped Greenwich Park. The Tudor Great Hall survived until 1866, and the chapel (used for storage) until the late 19th century. Apart from the undercroft (built by James I in 1606) and one of Henry VIII’s reservoir buildings of 1515, nothing of the original survives.

Fon1Fontainebleau, on the other hand, can be seen in much the state Francois I left it in. On February 24, 1525 there was the battle of Pavia, the worst French defeat since Agincourt. Many nobles were dead, and king was the prisoner of the Holy Roman Emperor in Madrid. He was released in May, but only at the price of exchanging his sons (Dauphin Francois and Henri, duc d’Orleans) for his own freedom. In May 1526, Francois created the League of Cognac with Venice, Florence, the Papacy, the Sforzas of Milan, and Henry VIII to “ensure the security of Christendom and the establishment of a true and lasting peace.” (Ha!!) This led to the visit of the delegation in 1527, seeking a treaty of alliance with England and the betrothal of Princess Mary and the duc d’Orleans.

After his return from Madrid, Francois was not idle. Aside from plotting alliances, he started decorating. Having finished Chambord, he turned to Fontainebleau, which he loved for its 17,000 hectares of fine hunting land. All that remained of the original 12th century castle was a single tower. Francois built new ballrooms, galleries, and a chapel, and called in Italian artists like Fiorentino, Primaticcio, and Vignola to decorate them in lavish style (some of their work can still be seen in the frescoes of the Gallery of Francois I and the bedchamber of the king’s mistress the duchesse d’Etampes). The marble halls were filled with artworks, gold and silver ornaments, and fine tapestries. Unlike Greenwich, this palace was high and light, filled with sunlight that sparkled on the giltwork.

A few sources I used a lot with this book are:
Tournaments: Jousts, Chivalry, and Pageants in the Middle Ages, Richard Barber
Excavations of Greenwich Palace, 1970-1971, PW Dixon
Tudor Food and Pastimes, FG Emmison
The Six Wives of Henry VIII, Antonia Fraser (there are LOTS of books on this subject, of course, but Fraser’s is great!)
Prince of the Renaissance: The Life of Francis I, Desmond Seward
Food and Feast in Tudor England, Alison Sim (yes, I do like researching food!)
The Royal Palaces of Tudor England: Architecture and Court Life, 1460-1547, Simon Thurley
Henry VIII: The King and His Court, Alison Weir (full of wonderful info!)
Henry VIII and His Court, Neville Williams


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