Sunday, June 23, 2013


I absolutely love long hair – both on men and women - which is probably part of the reason why I write historicals.  But I have to admit that some of the hairstyles of the past have been less than flattering, which is why I never allow my heroes or heroines to follow hair fashions slavishly.  I prefer to let them be more natural.  And as for wearing wigs – no way!

Just the thought of my heroes having something so itchy (and probably full of lice) on their heads is seriously off-putting.  Imagine trying to run your fingers through it, only for the entire wig to end up in your hands while you’re left looking at a head full of stubble?  No thanks.

Everyone laughs at the “Roundheads” from the English Civil War, although in reality not all that many of them actually sported the so called “pudding bowl” hair cut.  On a battlefield, it would have been difficult to distinguish them from the Royalists as they mostly all had long hair.  Instead they’d wear some sort of token to show which side they were on.  I was very pleased when I came across that piece of information, because in my novel The Gilded Fan the hero has be on the Parliamentarian side (for various reasons) and I couldn’t imagine finding him handsome with his hair shorn just below his ears.  It’s just not a good look!

Women too, can get it wrong.  Take the Regency ladies, for example - Jane and Lizzy Bennett in the TV adaptation (yes, the one with Darcy in his wet shirt coming out of the lake) looked pretty enough.  Personally, I thought that whenever they let their hair down to brush it in the evenings it was so much nicer!  And having tried it myself a while back, for a Regency Day organised by the RNA, I have to say that an ordinary Regency hair do, with plaits close to the head and a little top knot, made me look at least ten years older, if not more!  I didn't like it at all.  If I ever dress up again, I’ll have to find a better style.

Long hair on men seems to be something readers either love or hate though – what do you think?  Love it or loathe it?

Christina x

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Time Travelling With the Lunar Men

We went to Birmingham the other week to look at one of the few remaining genuine stage coaches which is is in Birmingham Museum Service’s Reserve Store. I’m working on a book about stagecoach travel, but more of that when I’m a bit further along!

While we were in the city we took the opportunity to do some exploring and the highlight for us was the Soho House Museum in Handsworth. The photograph above shows the garden frontage. I'm not sure what Matthew Boulton would have thought of the satellite dish - he'd probably have been fascinated!

This, from 1761, was the home of pioneering industrialist Matthew Boulton. It stood proudly above the vast Soho Manufactory, “The most complete Manufacturer in metals in England”. Boulton had inherited the family workshop producing buttons and buckles, but that was too small for him and when he leased Soho Mill he had the space to expand on a vast scale, spending £10,000 on the factory that became a must-visit sight for travellers from all over Europe. Boulton set up a tea and souvenir shop to cater for them and encouraged donations to the Soho Insurance Society, one of the first workplace sick-leave insurance schemes in the world benefitting his 1,000 workers.

Boulton was manufacturing high quality silverwares, silver plate, buttons, buckles, dress swords, even the Nelson memorial mourning rings. But water power was simply not able to cope, so he went into partnership with steam power pioneer James Watt. Boulton & Watt manufactured steam engines for over 30 years and set up their own foundry to supply a world-wide trade. As Boulton said to James Boswell, “I sell here, Sir, what all the world desires to have – POWER.”

Boulton was a member of the Lunar Society, a group of like-minded pioneer industrialists, scientists and inventors that met for dinner and scientific discussion. They became known as the Lunar Society because they met on nights close to the full moon in order to drive home more safely. Members included Dr Erasmus Darwin (Charles’s grandfather), Mathew Boulton, James Watt, Samuel Galton, Dr Joseph Priestley and Josiah Wedgwood. If you want to find out more about them, Jenny Uglow’s book The Lunar Men, is a brilliant read. The dining table the used is still in the house and is shown above.

The manufactory has gone and only a small plot remains from the original 200 acres of park, garden and farm. There is a small, but interesting, museum next to the house itself and a charming garden planted with 18thc flowers. The manufactory site itself is buried beneath housing and Time Team carried out an excavation in the 1990s.

The house has been beautifully restored and furnished with many of Boulton’s own possessions and items made in his manufactory. The stunning ormolu sidereal clock - a very accurate 'star' clock - was made at the Soho Manufactury in 1771. It is shown above in the Drawing Room. In 1776 Boulton sent it to Riussia, hoping that Catherine the Great would buy it but it was returned eleven years later. Apparently the court thought that such an expensive clock should also play tunes.

Boulton had hot air central heating in the house, thought to be the first domestic  system since Roman times. From a ‘cockle’ stove (one encased in a metal jacket) hot air rose to grills set in the hearths and through holes bored in the staircase risers as shown in the photo below.

If you get the chance, do visit. It was virtually deserted when we were there and deserves far more visitors than it appears to receive. In the tea room you will meet the pair of sphinxes that Boulton bought for the garden in 1795. They have their own Twitter account @TheSohoSphinxes
Louise Allen


Saturday, June 15, 2013

Napoleon and the Queen of Prussia

On display in Charlottenburg Palace in Berlin are the crown jewels of Frederick the Great and his successors. If you look closely, you'll see that there are no actual jewels in the crowns. It's not clear what happened to them. It reminds me of the fact that, when George IV was crowned, he had to rent the jewels for his regalia, and send them back after the coronation. There's no hint, though, that the Prussian royals were that hard up when these crowns were made, so the jewels probably went missing much later.

Crown Jewels of Frederick the Great of Prussia

The only jewels that do survive in Charlottenburg are these diamond earrings, dated to about 1800, which belonged to Queen Luise, the consort of King Frederick William III, the king who was so closely involved in the Napoleonic Wars. Queen Luise was much loved by her people, partly because she did not maintain a separate court, but stayed at her husband's side. She also produced nine live children, even though she died at the age of only 34.

Diamond earrings of Queen Luise of Prussia c 1800
 In spite of being almost constantly pregnant, she operated as advisor to her husband throughout their marriage, which was reputedly a happy one. He was rather cautious and, possibly, not very bright. Luise, on the other hand, was very clever and much more prepared to take risks, including advocating war against the French.

Of course, Prussia's battles against the French were not often successful! So perhaps there were sensible grounds for the Prussian King's caution. However, encouraged by his wife, he did take part in the campaign against the French from 1806. His army was crushed at the Battle of Jena in 1806 and the royal family had to flee. They took refuge at Königsberg under the protection of Tsar Alexander of Russia, who was rumoured to be enamoured of Luise. But then Alexander, too, was defeated by Napoleon.

Napoleon made peace with the two rulers at Tilsit in 1807. His terms for Prussia were particularly harsh. Luise tried to intercede with Napoleon during the Peace of Tilsit. It is said she fell on her knees and begged for more lenient terms for Prussia. She certainly tried to intercede with him. Napoleon was reputed to have said that she was "the only real man in Prussia" – but he didn't give her better terms. Perhaps because he was worried about what Josephine might say?

Tilsit: Napoleon, Tsar Alexander, Queen Luise of Prussia, Frederick William III of Prussia

Frederick William III was very much the junior partner against the French, but he was eventually victorious over Napoleon, in alliance with Austria, Russia and Britain. But by then his beloved queen was long dead and he did not remarry for over a decade after he lost her. He wasn't short of heirs – seven of their nine children lived to adulthood – so there was no great pressure. Eventually, in 1824, Frederick William III married his mistress, Auguste von Harrach, but she was not made queen as she was not of royal blood. They remained married until his death in 1840. Though she nursed him through his final illness, the establishment clearly did not approve; she was not allowed to attend her husband's funeral. Very sad.

Crown Princess Elizabeth

Fabulous Curls even in 1824
 This is Frederick William's daughter-in-law, Crown Princess Elizabeth, in a bronze bust dating from 1824. I've included these photos more for the hairstyle than anything else. The three-dimensional bronze shows the hair detail beautifully, don't you think?

Hairdressers must have been very skilful in those days, considering there was no hairspray to keep those gorgeous curls in place.

That's the last of my stories about Berlin and the royals from Charlottenburg.  Next month?  The Royal Rat Catcher and other stories... 


Sunday, June 09, 2013

Percy Bysshe Shelley

University College Main Quad

Shelley Memorial
 I visited Oxford recently and was fortunate enough to get a conducted tour inside Univ (University College). I was shown the Shelley Memorial in which it is situated.
Shelley came up to Univ in 1810 but was expelled following year. The College Register said he was sent down for, "contumaciously refusing to answer questions proposed to him, and also repeatedly declining to disavow a publication entituled The Necessity of Atheism". The college believed they had got rid of a troublesome student and only realised later it had just expelled one of England's greatest Romantic poets. Shelley's daughter-in-law spent her life devoted to the poet's memory, but carefully downplayed the aspects of his character that late Victorians would disapprove of – his atheism. She commissioned a grand memorial to be placed on the Protestant cemetery in Rome where he was buried.
Unfortunately this item was too large to the plot and Lady Shelley was forced to find another home for it. 
View from student rooms of Main Quad.
Eventually she offered to sculpture to Univ but had to agree to pay towards an enclosure in which to put it. It took some time for the college to agree and leaned Shelley Memorial was formally inaugurated in 1893.
The monument was done by Edward Onslow Ford, a prominent member of the so-called "New Sculpture", and the enclosure was designed by Basil Champneys. Recent restoration work has restored the original colour scheme so that it now looks as the sculptor intended. A few years ago a group of students ran a house pipe down from one of them runs and filled the sunken enclosure with water and filled it with goldfish. I think that would be an improvement. The figure is life-size and naked  – this is because he died by drowning. It's tucked away inside the College and mostly visited by students and their guests.
One of the colleges.
I enjoyed my day in Oxford; even the train journey was pleasurable as I had Jean Fullerton's new book, "Call Nurse Millie" to read. I noticed I was the only person reading an actual book – everyone else was using a reader of some sort. I wonder what Percy Bysshe Shelley would have thought about modern technology. I expect he would have embraced it for he was a forward thinker of his time.
Fancy gate in Oxford (forget what it's called)

Friday, June 07, 2013


Peacocks have been in the news this week. Firstly there was the mischievous peacock causing mayhem in a Derbyshire village, then we heard about Henry the peacock who was so tired of being the only male in a flock of peahens (exhausting work!) that he flew away for some rest.

The peacock is a familiar sight at many of our stately homes in the UK. The one at the top was displaying for us at Corsham Court in Wiltshire. The peacock is a native bird to India and was probably introduced into Britain by the Romans. It has many sacred connotations. The name derives from the Old English. The earliest example of it referred to in writing comes from 1300: “Foure and xxti wild ges and a poucock.” In the 14th century Chaucer first used the word to describe ostentatious people who strutted about and it still carries this meaning to this day. In art a peacock feather in a painting was used as a symbol of pride and vanity.

I’ve been trying to discover how peacocks first became associated with stately homes. Perhaps it was their
designer plumage that the lord of the manor first identified with. Or perhaps it was simply that they were popular to eat at medieval banquets and a peacock on a table was a sign of wealth.

The other notable thing about peacocks is their call, a mournful cry you often hear echoing around the gardens at mansions or haunting the ruins of castles. When we went to Kirby Hall in Northamptonshire earlier this year the cry of the peacocks as they perched on the walls seemed perfect to the setting of a half-ruined Elizabethan mansion. Above is a picture of the bad-tempered Kirby peacock which would try to bite you if you got too close!

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Ninfa: the most romantic garden in the world

My excuse for writing about the garden at Ninfa – which I was lucky enough to visit last week – is that it’s been called the most romantic garden in the world. It may well be true; I found it magical.

It wasn’t always so; Ninfa’s early history is violent and bloody. It’s first recorded in 750 AD when the Byzantine emperor Constantine V gave it to Pope Zacharias. It was strategically important in controlling the Appian Way and the coastal plain, which made it a target for 9th century Arab invaders. Subsequent popes fortified it and, by the middle ages, it was a walled city with towers, churches, and a castle. Two popes were crowned there: Pope Alexander III and the Anti-Pope Victor IV. The Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa sacked it in 1171.

When the Arab threat receded, Ninfa changed hands again and was owned by a succession of powerful Roman families. Eventually, in 1298, it was bought by the Caetani. They were a quarrelsome lot and in 1382 a family feud led to a war which virtually destroyed the city. Somehow, it stumbled on for another two and a half centuries but, in 1680, it was abandoned, fell into ruin and was soon lost amid the vegetation.

Fast forward to 1920 when Gelasio Caetani decided to turn the ruined city into a garden. He began by restoring the castle and stripping excess vegetation from the half tumbled-down city walls, churches, and numerous towers built by various wealthy families. He rebuilt them just enough to make them safe, leaving them as romantic ruins and a haven for wild life.

He brought in plants from all over the world and set about creating a garden like no other. The general impression is that it has grown organically. Wild flowers mix happily with exotic plants which move seamlessly from a stream with a Roman bridge, to a ruined church with fading mediaeval wall frescoes, to a bamboo wood. It is looked after by five gardeners – the jobs are hereditary being passed down to sons, and now, daughters.

Princess Lelia, the last of the Caetani, set up the Fondazione Roffredo Caetani to run Ninfa after her death, which it does, together with the World Wildlife Fund which looks after the 2000 acres of Nature Reserve. It is an organic eco-system which, with judicious tweaking, runs itself; for example, the fruit is left on the trees for the birds. As Estella, the curator’s wife who showed us round, said, ‘One barn owl can catch two thousand rodents a year’. She pointed to a nearby tower which was home to four species of owl.

I thought Ninfa was absolutely wonderful. It delights the senses: everywhere you look is beautiful, and scent and bird song fill the air. I can understand why it’s called the most romantic garden in the world. I hope my photos give you some idea of how very special it is.

Elizabeth Hawksley

Monday, June 03, 2013

The lovely summer weather encourages one to be lazy, so here is a little light reading for a hot summer's day (or, if the weather turns quickly, to read with a steaming cup of something relaxing).

This is an extract from my latest book, Behind the Rake's Wicked Wager.  Jasper, Viscount Markham, is used to getting his own way, but beautiful Susannah Prentess proves obstinately elusive. He therefore has to turn on all the charm to make her agree merely to join him for supper during one of her aunt's famous Bath card parties.

…As soon as he pulled her hand onto his arm she began to have doubts about the wisdom of being alone with him.
'Perhaps we should ask Mrs Logan and Mr Camerton if they would like to join us…'
'I have already ascertained that they would not.' Something of her disappointment must have shown in her face for he smiled. 'I vow, ma'am, I begin to think you are afraid of being alone with me.'
'Nonsense. Why should that be?'                                  
'My reputation, perhaps?'
'I know nothing of your reputation, Lord Markham. Is it so very bad?'
'Perfectly dreadful,' he replied cheerfully. 'At least it is in London. I am relieved that no one here knows of it.'
She stopped as a sudden worry assailed her.
'And just what is your reputation for, my lord, gambling?'
'No. Breaking hearts.' Again his smiling eyes teased her. He covered her hand with his own and held it on his sleeve. 'Do you wish to run away from me now?'
Susannah's chin went up.
'I do not run away from anything, my lord.'
It was still early and the supper room was empty save for the servants. The viscount guided her to a table at the far end of the room.
Where we will not be overheard.
She stifled the thought. This was her house, her staff were in attendance.  No harm could come to her here. The viscount insisted she sit down and went off to fill a plate for her. Susannah looked at the table, playing with the napkins and the cutlery. She would not watch him: she was all too aware of the graceful power of his movements. She would be better gathering her wits. The viscount had an uncanny knack of disconcerting her, she must be on her guard.
Susannah kept her eyes lowered until he returned and placed before her a plate filled with little delicacies.
'I congratulate you, Lord Markham. I gave you leave to choose for me, and I believe there is nothing here that I do not like.'
He slipped into the seat opposite and picked up his napkin.
'I took the opportunity to ask your estimable butler for his advice.' 
She chuckled at that.
'I give you credit for your honesty, at least, sir.'
She applied herself to her food, gradually relaxing. Lord Markham was the perfect companion, asking nothing impertinent, amusing her with little anecdotes. As her nerves settled so her appetite improved and when her plate was empty she looked at the single syllabub glass on the table.
'Is that for you or for me?'
'For you.' He picked up the spoon. 'But I hoped you might let me share the enjoyment.'
She sat back, scandalised.
'No, that is an outrageous idea.'
He glanced around.
'Why? The room is empty at present. Even the servants are not attending.' He scooped out a small spoonful of the syllabub and held it out to her.
Susannah stared at it. She must not. She dare not. Yet she sat forward, her eyes on that tempting spoonful.
'Go on,' he murmured, his voice low and inviting. 'While no one is watching. Tell me how it tastes.'
He held the spoon closer and automatically her lips parted. She took the sweet, succulent mouthful, felt the flavours burst upon her tongue. Nothing had ever tasted so delicious. Heavens, was this how Eve felt when she had tried the forbidden fruit?

Jasper watched, entranced. He saw the flicker of her eyelid, the movement of her throat as she swallowed. She ran her tongue across her lips and he felt the desire slam through him. By God, no wonder Gerald was besotted. He tore his eyes away and sat back. He was meant to be seducing her, not the other way around.
'Well, Miss Prentess, did you enjoy that?'
She would not meet his eyes. That was perhaps as well.  He was not at all sure he could sound so cool if she was looking at him.
'Another spoonful, perhaps?' He dug the spoon into the syllabub again but she lifted her hand.
'No! There are too many people now. We will be seen.'
'But you would like to do it again?'
Her blush gave him the answer but she said hurriedly, 'Of course not. You are quite outrageous, my lord. We will forget that happened, if you please.'
Her voice was perfectly steady but he noted that her hand shook a little as she picked up her napkin and touched her lips. Good. She was off-balance, which had been his object. That he, too, was shaken by the moment was unfortunate, but it would not happen again.
'As you wish. But there is something else I want from you, something that is not at all outrageous.'
'What is that?'
'To play picquet with you.'
'Out of the question. You have already won more than enough from my aunt.'
'I am giving you the chance to win it all back.'
'No.' She rose and shook out her skirts. 'I must return to the drawing room.'
'As you wish.' He held out his arm. The fingers that she laid upon his sleeve trembled a little. He fought down the impulse to put up his free hand and cover them, to protect her. That was not his purpose at all. As they left the room he asked his question again.
'And shall we now play picquet?'
'I have told you, no, my lord.'
He threw her a teasing glance.
'After such a meal do I not deserve some reward?'
The look she gave him was indignant.
'After such a meal you deserve I should not speak to you again!'
Charles Camerton and Mrs Logan were descending the stairs and they waited to let them pass.
'We were just coming down to join you.' Charles addressed them cheerfully. 'Mrs Logan hopes the luck will change after a break.'
Jasper noted the rueful look the widow gave to Susannah as they passed.
'It seems your aunt and your friend are not doing so well this evening,' he commented as they went up the stairs.
'We shall come about.'
'You could recoup everything with a single game of picquet.'
'Or lose even more.'
'Not necessarily.' He had her attention. 'We need not play for money.' He glanced up and down the staircase. They were alone. 'I will wager my diamond pin against….' He paused.
'Dinner,' he said at last. 'You will join me for dinner at York House on Thursday night.'

Happy reading!
Sarah Mallory 
Behind the Rake's Wicked Wager – Sarah Mallory. Harlequin Mills & Boon
Coming soon –
Bought For Revenge – Sarah Mallory, Harlequin Mills & Boon August 2013.