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Tag Archives: Country House

One of the unexpected pleasures of writing Regency Historicals for me is researching how people lived. I’m fascinated by the mundane details of life, like what flowers grew, what food would be eaten, what furniture would be in what room. On my England tours, I asked questions everywhere about the details of carpets that were on the floors.

I tend to forget that my lovely Virginia Commonwealth  has a lot of history, as well, dating back to the 1600s when Jamestown was founded. (We aren’t a state, by the way; we’re a commonwealth–according to the Hornbook of Virginia History, “A commonwealth is ‘a state in which the supreme power is vested in the people.’ The term was first given to Virginia in the 1600s)

IMG_0531Last Monday, the dh and I celebrated our wedding anniversary with a trip to Westmoreland County in Virginia’s Northern Neck, the peninsula bounded by the Potomac and Rappahannock Rivers and the Chesapeake Bay. See more about our trip here.

This area was filled with wealthy tobacco plantations and was the birthplace of many of our important historical figures: George Washington, James Madison, James Monroe, the two Lees who signed the Declaration of Independence, and, at Stratford Hall, the place we visited, Confederate General Robert E. Lee.

IMG_0096Stratford Hall was built in 1730 by Colonel Thomas Lee who was then acting Governor of the colony. Two of his sons were the Lees who signed the Declaration of Independence. The house was built in the Georgian style, which would have been much the fashion in England at the time–very symmetrical. The main floor of the house included a Great Hall for grand entertaining, the dining room, bedchambers, parlors and the library. In the library, books were kept under lock and key; they were considered quite precious.

IMG_0082We had a fabulous guide to take us through the house and explain its features and history. (that’s me in the pink. The people in hats were, coincidentally, from England!)

I saw many familiar-looking tables, chairs, bureaus, wardrobes, beds. The house was furnished much like the English country houses I’d visited on my tours.

I noticed, though, that the floors were bare. When I went on those tours of country houses in England, remember, I always asked about carpets. Almost every room had carpets of some kind. Our guide to Stratford Hall said they kept the floors bare, because the carpets would have been hard to keep clean. They might have had painted sail cloth (oil cloth) floor covering, but no carpets.

I can just imagine some wealthy gentleman from England visiting a house like Stratford Hall in the Colonies. What the Virginians would have considered quite opulent, such an English visitor must have thought very provincial. The wealthy Virginian visiting a country house in England, like Chatsworth or Burghley House, must have walked around with his mouth open.

What “great houses,” historical or otherwise, have you visited lately?

I’m still doing my Goodreads Contest!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

A Lady of Notoriety by Diane Gaston

A Lady of Notoriety

by Diane Gaston

Giveaway ends June 17, 2014.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

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Like Elena, this past weekend I was at a Retreat–Washington Romance Writers Spring Retreat. Not to work, but to be “In the Company of Writers.” We had speeches and workshops and Romance Jeopardy and much conversation. More about that on Thursday at Diane’s Blog.

Melissa James, my Aussie friend who lives in Switzerland, and I started being “in the company of writers” even before the official start of the Retreat. We joined my critique partners, Lisa Dyson and Darlene Gardner, for lunch and a visit to an historical estate in Leesburg, VA, Morven Park. (L to R: Lisa, Melissa, Darlene)
Morven Park reminded me so much of English country estates in Regency times, not that its heyday was in the early 1800s. Rather, its grand days were 100 years later, in the first half of the 1900s. Westmoreland Davis and his wife Marguerite Inman Davis were a wealthy couple originally from Old South families who had made fortunes in New York. In 1903 they purchased Morven Park, a Greek revival house originally built in 1750, and 1000 acres surrounding it. Davis was an engineer and a lawyer, but he embraced the role of farmer, publishing a farming journal and utilizing the latest farming techniques. His wife ran the house and designed the gardens.
What reminded me of a Regency estate was the way Davis conceptualized the role of gentleman farmer. He felt a great deal of responsibility for his farm workers and for the owners and workers of the surrounding farms. Like a Regency lord might feel a sense of responsibility for an entire village, Davis made certain his community prospered along with him. During the Depression, for example, Davis never laid off any workers. He funded the town’s library and paid the librarian during the Depression. He even served in government. He was governor of Virginia from 1918 to 1922.
It was that sense of responsibility for others in the community that reminded me of a Regency lord. Like Davis, the best Regency lord would have known that people around him could either prosper or suffer, depending upon the decisions made. Like a Regency gentleman, he would have been a farmer, his fortunes rising or falling due to the crops grown there.
Morven Park was a surprise and a delight. And the perfect start to a wonderful weekend. But more about that on Thursday.
How was your weekend?
Later today visit my website for new news and a new contest!
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My husband leaves things around sometimes. And sometimes I pick up after him. One item he left around recently was a 1985 issue of National Geographic (because, doesn’t every husband?). Imagine my surprise when I leafed through it and found an article on England’s Country Houses, called The Great Good Places. I was even more surprised to see it was written by Mark Girouard.

Mark Girouard is more known to me for writing books on my research shelf, books like The Country House Companion or Life in the English Country House .

Girouard begins the article:

When I was an undergraduate in the 1950s, I used to stay with my old great-aunt, the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire, at Hardwick Hall…

The idea of visiting such a house as a relation boggled my mind! Perhaps Girouard’s love of English architecture began with such visits. He later read the old account books, letters, and other documents from Hardwick Hall, piecing together what happened there.

In the time of Bess of Hardwicke, for example, Girouard described how, in the early 1600s, the Earl of Rutland would arrive on horseback, the gate opened by the porter, the servants who could take away the horses, the greeting by the Usher of the Hall. Girouard goes on to describe a meal and the entertainment.

In addition to Hardwicke Hall, the article includes photos (by Fred J. Moon) of several other Houses, such as Blenheim, Penshurst Place, Knoll, Burghley House, and Castle Howard, mentioning that Castle Howard was the location for the recent (in 1985) TV miniseries, Brideshead Revisited

Girouard talks about the 1700s as the most pompous age of the country house. He discusses Queen Victoria setting the style for “elegance and importance without ostentation.” He moves on to another country house heyday, the Edwardian Age.

What does he leave UNDONE?
Not a mention of the Regency era, not one. Not even a peep about the Pavilion.

Do you have a favorite English Country House? I remember loving Stratfield Saye, Wellington’s house, because it still seemed like a real home. In fact, members of the family still lived there. I also was amazed by Chatsworth.
How about you?

Remember, I’m still giving away prizes this week at Diane’s Blog. My plans for Wednesday are UNDONE, but Friday I’ll feature my story in Pleasurably Undone, The Unlacing of Miss Leigh.
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