Tuesday, June 10, 2008


I’ve just finished His Reluctant Mistress, the second book of The Aikenhead Honours Trilogy. Much of the story takes place during the Congress of Vienna but it involves quite a lot of travelling. How did people get from A to B, and how long did it take, especially when the weather was bad?

We tend to assume that travel in those days was very slow. It didn’t have to be. When the Duke of Wellington was sent to take command of the allied forces in Flanders, he left Vienna on 29th March 1815, arriving in Brussels on 4th April. His mode of travel was not easy, though. He travelled by carriage with two companions, Colonel Fremantle and fourteen-year-old Lennox. Their meals were cold, though splendid: foie gras and fine claret are mentioned. They were allowed exactly 4 hours of sleep a night. Wellington remained as well turned out as ever. No wonder he was called the Beau. But the other two slept by the fire in their clothes and probably looked thoroughly disreputable by the time they reached their destination.

Even ladies could travel at an astonishing pace when it suited them. The Duchess of Courland, ex-mistress of King Louis XVIII’s foreign minister, Prince Talleyrand, was in Paris on 19th March 1815 when the King fled the city for exile in Flanders. Napoleon was reported to be approaching Paris. (The reports were right. The following day, Napoleon was carried shoulder-high into the Tuileries palace.) The Duchess fled for Vienna to seek refuge with her daughter and Prince Talleyrand. She reached there late on Friday 24th March, having covered the distance in just 5 days. Her daughter was less than pleased to discover that, in her panic to escape, the Duchess had left her two small grandsons behind!



Melinda Hammond said...

Fascinating, Joanna. It is the detail that makes these stories so interesting!I pity Wellington's companions, though - to travel at breakneck speed and then to have to sleep on the floor, poor things!

I look forward to reading this latest book.

Inspire said...

So interesting, Joanna. Thank you for all that you share. I will add a link to your blog from mine.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I find it all fascinating too. I discover all this stuff when I'm doing the research and then, usually, I don't have a chance to use it in the book. Neither of these incidents is in His Reluctant Mistress, though the Duke of Wellington does appear, I'm delighted to say.


Jane Odiwe said...

A fascinating post-I love to hear all about the sort of detail into research that writers do!

Melinda Hammond said...

A little earlier than Regency, I know, but I remember reading that Casanova specifically ordered an English travelling carriage because it could be dismantled and packed on to mules for crossing the Alps! I haven't used this yet, but I'm working on it!


Georgie Lee said...

Louis the XIV was also known for traveling fast. He would take his mistresses with him in the royal carriage and he wouldn't stop for breaks. A lady had to be quite strong to travel with the sun king.

Anonymous said...

Wow. Interestinger and interestinger, as someone said. (Lear?)

I was doing some research last night and came across a sentence that made me laugh. Georgie's comment reminded me of it. It was at the Congress of Vienna where there were plenty of sexual goings-on. On one occasion, the Tsar sent for the Grand Duke of Baden in order to reach a deal about part of Germany. The Grand Duke could not come "being severely indisposed as a result of strenuous nocturnal activities". Possibly the Sun King got tired by his travelling activities, too?