Friday, November 27, 2015


Hi, Jo Beverley here talking about names.

I recently posted on Facebook asking for suggestions for a first name for my current hero. He's an earl, so I know his title, Lord Kynaston, and because he has a sister I knew his surname. She's Lady Phyllis Delacorte. But first name? It had never come up. However, I'm sure that soon there'll be a scene with Phyllis and I assume she'll use his first name, so I need to know.

I do have a page on my web-site for period names, but I compiled it decades ago, simply taking names as I came across them in primary sources. There are so many more, but it'll give you an idea.

I had so many suggestions! Many were excellent, and some surprised me because to me they didn't seem "heroic" names. It might seem limiting to think that way, but names, and titles, have power in a story and even a simple sentence can be powerfully affected. Consider these.

Rafe entered the room.
Cecil entered the room.

Lord Ravenscar was watching her from across the room.
Lord Puslock was watching her from across the room.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The Inspiring Miss Jane Austen - Jane Odiwe

Jane Austen
Someone asked me what had inspired my new book, Jane Austen Lives Again, the other day, and it took me a moment to think about just where the ideas came from and how I ended up writing about my favourite writer in 1925.
Firstly, I love Jane Austen, the person, or the idea of the personality she represents to me. She is wonderful to write as a character because there is an element of mystery about her. For all that we think we know about the woman who penned Pride and Prejudice, there is so much that is uncertain, and even when we are given tantalising clues to pieces of her past, they’re usually snuffed out, to disappear like curling smoke from an extinguished candle flame, whenever we try to get too close. I’ve been very lucky to meet several descendants of Jane’s brothers, and I’ve always hoped I might stumble on some precious nugget of information, a secret never told before. Whilst some have provided me with several intriguing ideas and the occasional unanswered mystery, sadly, the hard evidence for such tantalising tidbits is never really there - though I have often wondered if they’re not spilling all the beans! If I was a non-fiction writer, this might make the job of bringing Jane Austen to life a much harder job, but as a novelist, part of the fun is in being able to use your imagination to make her into a character, whilst trying to remain respectful to her memory, and drawing on the wonderful material we have in the form of her letters and books. Everyone thinks they know Jane Austen - every reader feels she is their special friend, which is partly what makes our greatest novelist a true genius. Her ability to connect with every reader so that they feel it’s a personal experience is part of the wonderful charm of her books. I’ve tried to convey how I feel about her in my own writing, and I hope that readers will like my idea of how I see ‘Jane’.
Lydia, Wickham and Kitty
It goes without saying that her novels are a great inspiration to many people, whether as readers or writers. Her books can be returned to time and again, and every time we read them we find something new to love. Another aspect of Jane’s genius is that we identify with her characters as much today as they did 200 years ago. Everyone knows a couple who seem impossibly matched, like ‘Mr and Mrs Bennet’, we’ve all met a silly ‘Lydia’, or been stung by the barbs of a ‘Caroline Bingley’. We all wish we could go back in time and meet the enigmatic Miss Austen, and have a conversation with her, and this desire of my own has taken me on a journey with my own books. I’ve written a couple of dual time novels, Searching for Captain Wentworth and Project Darcy, where contemporary heroines go back to the 1800s to interact with Jane Austen and other characters inspired by those Jane wrote about in Persuasion and Pride and Prejudice. This time, I thought it would be interesting to place Miss Austen in 1925, an era I thought she might enjoy (like me) and I wanted to explore how she would react to a different time, a new and exciting age where women were becoming more independent. Jane still had firm fans in 1925, and her novel, Sanditon was edited and published at the beginning of the year. Rudyard Kipling and E. M. Forster waxed lyrical on her talents, describing themselves as Janeites, penning articles and poems on their love for her work.
I am a Jane Austenite, and, therefore, slightly imbecile about Jane Austen. My fatuous expression, and airs of personal immunity—how ill they set on the face, say, of a Stevensonian. But Jane Austen is so different. One's favorite author! One reads and rereads, the mouth open and the mind closed. Shut up in measureless content, one greets her by the name of most kind hostess, while criticism slumbers. E. M Forster 1924
Rudyard Kipling wrote The Janeites around this time and Jane's Marriage, a poem which alludes to a mysterious gentleman who loved Jane Austen.

This brings me to another source of inspiration - the wonderful books written by women authors written between the 1920s and 1940s. Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons, I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith, and Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson are just three of my favourites - if you haven’t read them you are in for a treat, and if you haven’t time to read them there are very good films of them all to watch. All these authors admired Jane Austen - if they don’t actually mention her by name, it’s easy to see her influence in their writing. Family dynamics are at the heart of the first two books, and I liked the idea of creating a family that didn’t quite sit well together, in true Jane Austen style. There are five girls, all inspired by Jane Austen’s heroines - you might be able to guess which
ones from their names, though they’re not carbon copies. Alice, Mae, Beth, Emily and Cora all have problems to overcome, and whilst some are resistant to Jane’s help, she is determined to do all she can. I loved the idea of placing the Milton girls in a crumbling castle on the edge of the sea in Devon, as part of an eccentric and bohemian family. As Jane ‘teaches’ us a model for good behaviour throughout her books, I wanted my novel to show her doing this as she tries to reform and influence the different characters within the Milton family and beyond.
Every one of the books mentioned above has a fairy tale element in the descriptions of the worlds created or in their happy endings, and I very much wanted to mirror this idea and write a grown-up ‘Cinderella’ story of my own. I will just briefly mention the heroes in my novel - there are several, all inspired by Jane's heroes to some extent or other, and Jane has admirers of her own.
 Finally, I love doing the research for a new novel and Pinterest can be very inspiring for creating mood boards. I had a wonderful time putting this board together
Following on is an excerpt from Jane Austen Lives Again - I do hope you enjoy it. 
A descendant of her Winchester doctor, John Lyford finally perfects the latter’s work on transdifferentiation, though it takes until 1925 to do so, and in accordance with her last wishes and the help of her sister Cassandra, she’s given a new lease on life. She looks and feels about Elizabeth Bennet’s age, but has all the wisdom from her past life. The only problem is that with little money she has to get a job, and so the young doctor manages to place her in a household as a governess, which is not her idea of an exciting prospect. She soon finds out that the family don't really need a governess as such, but they very much need her help. As she adjusts to her new life, Jane’s memories often intrude, and there are flashbacks to the past. In this scene, at a party, modern life threatens to overwhelm her, and she can’t help harking back to her former life, and an old love.

Beyond were French doors leading out onto a terrace, with wonderful views over the valley and steps leading down to a sunken garden. Roses bloomed over an arbour fixed at points along the terrace,
and the scent on the evening air made Jane feel she’d been transported to some foreign clime she’d once read about. There was no one else in sight and leaning on the balustrade she watched the sun lowering in the sky sending blue shadows over the black and white tiles, setting the pots of white lilies aflame. A few Chinese lanterns bobbed in the warm breeze above her head, blushing pink as if lit by glow-worms. It was incredible to think she’d found such a peaceful haven, and though she knew she couldn’t stay there all night, at least it gave her a little respite from all the frenzied activity inside. The music floated out on the scented air, and she could imagine them all kicking up their heels, until there was a pause and tumultuous applause broke out, and a loud voice announced a foxtrot to slow down the pace so they could get their breath back. Jane couldn’t imagine what that dance could be, and couldn’t help picture a sly fox with a waving bushy tail trotting his way down a henhouse full of plump birds. She laughed out loud for it really was a ridiculous picture.
‘Is it a good joke?’ said a voice behind her.
Spinning round she came face to face with Will, the last person she expected to see.
‘I’ve never heard of a foxtrot and I’ve got a wild imagination.’
As soon as the words were out she thought how gauche she must sound.
‘Goodness, you’ve led a more sheltered existence than I thought,’ Will exclaimed. ‘I was just coming to ask you to dance.’
‘I’m not sure that would be possible or appropriate, Mr Milton,’ Jane answered, searching for the right words. ‘I cannot dance, nor do I have any wish to make an exhibition of myself.’
It was an attempt to put him off, and even though she knew the reverse was true, that she loved nothing better than to dance, she’d already decided that to start again by having to learn modern dances to the music that was starting to jangle noisily and persistently in her head, would be impossible. She liked to be the best at everything, to excel at all she endeavoured to try. Failure was not a word she liked or allowed in her vocabulary, and besides all that, the memories of the past were crowding in on her.
She saw a line of eager young bucks, all waiting to take her hand in the dance. As if seeing
Jane Austen and Tom Lefroy
from a distance, a familiar room glowed with candlelight and exquisite chandeliers, as Tom Lefroy took her arm, squeezed her hand, and led her through the intricate patterns, whirling her round in a country dance. The room throbbed with passions unspoken, of bodies meeting, fingers touching, hearts and minds open to tacit thoughts and caresses. And later, stolen kisses and a sweet promise beyond the confines of the house, now blazed across her memory and the gulf of time, as swift and searing as if it had happened yesterday.
‘I don’t believe you,’ Will was saying as Jane jerked back to reality when she heard his insistent voice. ‘You have the definite look of a dancer to me. Come on, let me teach you.’
He came to stand next to her leaning his weight with crossed arms on the balustrade as she did, and Jane hoped he wouldn’t see the tears that sprang to her eyes blurring her vision and thoughts. It was silly to be so stirred up and emotional at thoughts of the past, but she was overwhelmed by a sudden desire for all that she had ever known, and for all those she had loved. She longed to share a conversation with someone who spoke the same language in the cadences and timbre of her youth, and to feel a kinship and connection with every living creature in her own time, sharing an appreciation of what was expected, whilst operating within a familiar system. And although she’d often railed against such conventions, she almost craved such customary restrictions now. Knowing she couldn’t go back made her feel worse, and she had to focus her mind to bring herself back from sudden despair. Blinking back the tears she turned to see Will looking into the distance, and for the first time she thought she saw a look of vulnerability. There was an expression of sadness in his eyes as if he might be far away in his thoughts too.
‘I’ll be a poor pupil, I’m certain,’ she said, finally giving in to his pleading expression. ‘And I’m supposed to be chaperoning your sisters, not trotting about.’
She nearly added, ‘like a fox’, but the uncharitable thought crossed her mind that if anyone were like a fox it was Will with his chestnut brown hair, and she cast herself as a plump hen with ruffled feathers waiting to be snaffled up after one easy pounce.
‘Are you changing your mind?’ he said, turning to face her with a smile that spread to his velvet eyes, sloe black and glittering in the dying light. ‘Have I convinced you to dance with me?’
‘I hardly know,’ she muttered before he caught hold of her, pulling her arm gently towards him until she released her tight grip on the stone rail, and took her hands in his own.

If you could go back in time and meet Jane Austen, what question would you most want to ask her?

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Tracing Jane Austen's Footsteps: Sevenoaks by Monica Fairview

Knole at  Sevenoaks
Virginia Woolf  at The Knole
I visit Sevenoaks, Kent, several times a year since I love to picnic or walk in Knole. The grounds include a deer park with an ancient herd roaming around, which, along with the rolling hills, makes for a wonderful backdrop for a meal on a pleasant summer day (if you can find a spot that doesn’t have deer droppings, that is). Knole is partly owned and inhabited by Lord Sackville and partly by the National Trust. One of its claims to fame is that it is one of England top five largest houses, with 365 rooms and 52 staircases. Another is its Elizabethan association with Robert Dudley. A third is its association with writers like Rudyard Kipling, Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West. 
Sevenoaks itself has a lovely well-preserved old town. It's well-worth a visit in and of itself but its particular interest for me is that it's associated with  several of Jane Austen’s relatives, most particularly Jane’s Uncle Francis Austen (Frank) who lived at the Red House whenever he was at Sevenoaks. Frank Austen was a lawyer and a wealthy landowner with a number of large estates in Kent and Essex. 

The Red House where Jane Austen stayed with her uncle

We know that Jane stayed with her uncle on at least one occasion, namely in 1788, when she was 12, where she met other (more privileged) members of the Austen family. It is claimed that it was during that visit her uncle commissioned Ozias Humphry to paint the Rice Portrait. John Frederick Sackville, 3rd Duke of Dorset (residing at Knole) was particularly fond of Humphry, and Jane Austen's uncle had already had two portraits of his own commissioned from the artist.
Portrait believed to be of Jane Austen aged 12
Since much of the area around Red House has remained unchanged, it isn't too difficult to follow in the footsteps of Jane Austen during her visit. There's a plaque that names the Red House and there's also a plaque in the ground outside the house and this is the obvious starting point. 

As a twelve-year-old child she would have been eager to leave the adults to their conversation and explore the outside. She would have crossed the street and looked down into the closely clustered cottages in what was intriguingly called Six Bells Lane. Who could have resisted a lane with a name like that? Jane would probably have wanted to find out if the six bells were still there. 

I walked down the steep lane and didn’t find the bells, but found some lovely old cottages with small doors, tiny windows and unexpected corners. I even found a cottage with the address spelled out in handmade white lace. Jane would have shuddered at the many hours of work that had gone into it and thanked providence that no one had made her embroider something like this.
A pretty doorway

The path continued at an incline, leading eventually to Rectory Lane and to St. Nicholas’ Church which was built in the 13th century and featured the famous poet John Donne as its Rector in 1616 for almost twenty years. On a Sunday, of course, Jane would have attended the service there, passing the lovely medieval window as she went in. Would the duke have been in attendance, or did he only attend the private chapel at Knole House? For Jane Austen, perhaps, seeing cousins and acquaintances of her uncle may have been a reminder that she was the poor relative, the one who didn’t live in a grand house and didn’t have a large estate like many of her relations at Sevenoaks did. Or perhaps she delighted in making fun of her more prim and proper family members. She might even have been too busy thinking up her Juvenile writings to listen to the sermon. Perhaps in that very church the germ of an idea came to her that later took form as Mr. Collins. There is speculation that a village close to Sevenoaks was the model for Mr. Collins’ parish Hunsford and that Rosings was based on an estate in the area, possibly Chevening, where Jane’s cousin John became rector in 1813. It would have been a steep climb up to the Red House after the service, unless, of course, Uncle Frank had provided transportation.

When were the cottages built and named?

Just to the side of the Red House I came across a sign with captured my attention at once. A row of cottages borders the house and can be seen from the windows. Perhaps the twelve-year-old Jane looked out of the window and spotted one with an intriguing name. Look at the last name on the sign. I wonder which came first, Netherfield in Sevenoaks or Netherfield in Meryton?

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Shaw House

On the outskirts of Newbury, not far from the Great Bath Road (or the A4, now that we are no longer travelling in horse-drawn carriages) there is a very old house with a chequered history – Shaw House.

It was built towards the end of the 16th century by Thomas Dolman, whose father and grandfather had made a fortune in the cloth industry.

The Dolmans were going up in the world. Eleven years after their grand new house was finished, they were hosting Queen Elizabeth I. She was the first but by no means the last monarch to visit. Over the years, the house was to welcome James I, William of Orange on his way to London to be crowned as William III, and later on Queen Anne. For many years it was also said that Charles I had used the house as his headquarters during the Civil War. To this day, on the embrasure of a first floor window, there is a plaque that marks the spot where a musket ball fired by a Parliamentarian soldier was allegedly embedded, having narrowly missed the king. Historians now think that in fact Charles I did not stay at Shaw House during the conflict. Nevertheless, the plaque is still there and the legend is still told.

When I first visited, it was not the plaque that caught my eye, but some casual reference that in 1728 the house became the property of James Brydges, 1st Duke of Chandos. And why should that put a smile on my face? Because the Duke’s sister Mary was Jane Austen’s great-grandmother.

The Duke spent most of his time at his townhouse in Albemarle Street and in the vast mansion at Cannons (now the site of Canons Park, Harrow). At both these houses he entertained his political and business acquaintances with lavish hospitality.

Shaw House was not purchased for the same purpose, but as a quiet retreat from the bustle of London and also as a convenient stopping place, on his frequent trips to Bath.

By the time he acquired Shaw House, the Duke was twice married. His first marriage was an arranged one. His second seems to have been a matter of choice.
And he chose Cassandra Willoughby, his first cousin (whom, incidentally, Jane Austen’s mother and sister were named after). 

The marriage was a happy one. They shared an interest in art and music (the Duke of Chandos was George Frideric Handel’s major patron), she was a perfect hostess and a great support in his political career. Sadly, they had no children (the Duke’s only surviving children were two sons from his previous marriage). When he lost Cassandra, twenty years later, the Duke wrote to his nephew Henry Perrot:

‘Somewhere I must go into the country for the air, and Cannons and Shaw I hate the thought and dread the sight of. Adieu, dear Sir, may you enjoy all the happiness this world can give, which is now taken away from me.’

Nevertheless, the Duke remarried for the third time. On his death, his widow retired to Shaw House and later sold it to Joseph Andrews, a strong supporter of the Speenhamland System (whereby the relief received by the poor of the parish was in direct proportion to the cost of bread). In fact, the Speenhamland System was instituted at a special meeting of the Berkshire Court of Quarter Sessions held at the nearby Pelican Inn – the famous and notoriously expensive Pelican that features in so many Regency romances and is lampooned in the well-known verse:

'The famous inn at Speenhamland
That stands below the hill
May well be called the Pelican
From its enormous bill.'

From Joseph Andrews, Shaw House passed to distant relatives and was eventually sold in 1905. It was even a school for a while – not a private school but the ‘local comprehensive’. The local council school was damaged in WWII and as a temporary measure the students were relocated to Shaw House. The temporary measure lasted 40 years and the local children were taught in Thomas Dolman’s house until 1983, when the school was moved to modern premises. After a long and expensive process, the house  was restored to something approaching its Elizabethan splendour. 

Unlike many similar properties, it remained unfurnished, but some would argue that as a result the visitors can better appreciate the structure of the house, the elaborately carved panelling or the delicate wallpaper in the ‘Chinese’ Dining Room, closely resembling the original decorations completed in the 1730s for the Duke of Chandos and his second wife.

This is not a grand dining room of stately proportions. The grandeur must have been saved for Cannons. This suggests quiet elegance and comfort, a cosy place where his grace might have enjoyed a good dinner before retiring to listen to his wife playing the harpsichord. A nearby information board lists some of the delicacies that would have been found at his table: ‘Pigeons in Scallop Shells; Stew’d Soles; Lobster Pye; Larks roasted; Collared pig and Truffles’

Sadly I can hear no harpsichord, there is no fire in the grate and no ‘lobster pye’ for dinner. 
But there’s tea and scones in the cafĂ© – and I can’t say fairer than that!

Wednesday, November 11, 2015



Last month I wrote about my early love affair with Jean Plaidy and her historical novels. Naturally after this introduction it was only a matter of time before I started reading the Victoria Holt novels – those tales of plucky Victorian heroines armed only with their wit, beauty and spirit to help them navigate the stormy seas of life as an impoverished governess/lady’s maid/companion. They often ended up in some exotic foreign location, their lives imperilled by an evil suitor, before being rescued by the dashing alpha male. My most favourite Victoria Holt, however, was ‘The Legend of the Seventh Virgin’. Determined Kerensa Carlee has only her resolve and wild Spanish good looks to further her fortune in the harsh environment of nineteenth century Cornwall. I loved everything about it: Kerensa’s exotic name, the descriptions of Cornwall, the mad grandmother who gave her a cherished Spanish comb to dress her hair with.  It wasn’t long before I was devouring any Victoria Holt book I could find.
I didn’t even care when after about a year I realised they were all basically the same girl, just different locations. Being transported out of my own life to those rocky Cornish coasts or, even better, foreign shores in search of love, adventure and romance wiled away many a long winter evening.  In fact I loved them so much that I based my first published novel around this format. The Scarlet Queen takes place in Egypt and involves my heroine Kate, an Edwardian bluestocking, trying to locate a fabled Egyptian statue, whilst battling the shadowy figures ranged against her, one of whom might even be the man she loves. I wrote it ten years ago (yikes!) and moved on to paranormal romances so it is with great pleasure that I can announce it is being republished by The Wild Rose Press and will be available from 4th December 2015. Long live the historical romantic thriller!

Jacqueline Farrell writes historical and paranormal romances with The Wild Rose Press. Her two paranormal novels ‘Sophronia and the Vampire’ and ‘Maids, Mothers and Crones’ can be purchased from Amazon. Her latest novel, a historical romance, ‘The Scarlet Queen’ is available to pre-order from Amazon and all good e-book stores.  Follow her on twitter @jacquiefw1 and on her website

Monday, November 09, 2015

Audley End - a magnificent English Heritage house.

Front view
This was my first visit to Audley End but it certainly won't be my last. When we arrived I felt like a child at a fairground and didn't know where to go first as there was so much to see.
Abram Booth, a Dutch envoy who visited in 1629, said – "Such a magnificent building and so splendidly furnished that it excels all royal residences."
Unfortunately you are only allowed to take photographs in the service wing and the nursery and coal gallery.
Audley End was considered one of the greatest it houses of Jacobean England. It had been built on the foundations of Walden  Abbey, a Benedictine monastery. Henry VIII granted Walden to his chancellor, Thomas Lord Audley, who converted the monastery into a house.
Audley's grandson, Thomas Howard, first Earl of Suffolk and Lord Treasurer to James I, rebuilt the house to accommodate the king who visited in 1614. Charles II bought the house from the third Earl in 1667 as a ready-made palace but it was already considered outdated. William III gave the house back to the Howards in 1701.
Over the next 100 years Capability Brown removed the remains of the formal landscape and Robert Adam was employed to build galleries behind the hall and create new reception rooms.
The final changes were made in 1820 by Robert Neville, the third Lord Braybrook. He wanted to make the house Jacobean again and moved the principal reception rooms back to the first floor. This is how the house remains today.
During World War II Audley End was occupied by the Polish section of the special operations executive. The house was purchased for the nation in 1948.
Boilers for hot water in coal room.
Coal gallery
I was fascinated by the unique coal gallery on the second floor. Coal was winched up from the ground and stored in this room which connects the two wings together. In here are the two boilers which provide hot water for the bedrooms. How convenient this must have made life or the servants. The hip baths can be seen in the picture and each one is labelled with the name of the bedroom from which it came.

Child's bed
The nursery floor was far more luxurious than I'd expected – and the children would have been warm and comfortable in their own domain with plenty to occupy them.
Stairs to nursery floor.

 The service wing is attached to the left of the main building and although the kitchens are magnificent I imagine the food was stone cold by the time it reached the table – even more so when the principal reception rooms were returned to the first-floor.

 We didn't have time to look at everything and I'm definitely going back next year. The only thing that I didn't like was the fact that they still keep horses in the stable block and I don't like to see these beautiful animals shut into stalls where they can't even look out and see the world go past. Horses are meant to be kept outside and preferably without shoes on.
Fenella J Miller

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Christmas at Castle Elrick $0.99  £0.99
Christmas at Castle Elrick is a Regency fairy tale - Miss Verity Sanderson the beauty and Sir Ralph Elrick the beast. He was severely injured in the Napoleonic wars and has been brooding in his castle for years waiting for Verity to reach her majority and come to him. Her father had promised his daughter to Ralph in return for his financial support. Verity decides marriage to a wealthy stranger is preferable to remaining with her step-mother and half-sisters so sets off, the week before Christmas, to become his wife. 
Castle Elrick is a cold, unwelcoming place situated on the bleak Northumbrian coast and Ralph and his small staff are not the only residents. Will Christmas be a celebration or will the ghosts of Castle Elrick force them apart?

Saturday, November 07, 2015

Lady Elizabeth Berkeley and private theatricals

Minor characters are always fun to write and in my new book, House of Shadows, I have an “offstage” character, Lady Evershot, who is modelled on a famous Georgian aristocrat, Elizabeth Berkeley. Lady Elizabeth, the daughter of the Earl of Berkeley, married the 6th Baron Craven and they lived at Ashdown House for a couple of years, their two eldest children being born there. Alas the Craven marriage was not a happy one; from the earliest times Lady Elizabeth was complaining that her husband was uncultured and uncouth whereas she was more creative, an artist and a writer. After not many years they drifted apart and she had an affair with the French ambassador whilst he set up a mistress who styled herself Lady Craven, much to the real Lady Craven’s fury. Eventually she left her errant husband and travelled abroad.
The author Sybil Rosenfeld, in her book Temples of Thespis, describes Lady Craven’s subsequent life:
“She travelled about Europe for some years until she finally settled at the court of the Margrave of Anspach in 1787 as his “adopted sister”. In 1791 only a month after she heard of the death of her husband she married the Margrave in Lisbon and persuaded him to give up the ruling of his principality and retire with her and his fortune to England. Her precipitancy was considered indecent and, on her return, she found herself cold-shouldered by the court and high society. The Margrave, a stolid German who seems only to have wished for a peaceful life, purchased Brandenburgh House a country villa on the bank of the Thames at Hammersmith and spent the rest of his days there. His wife built a theatre in the grounds where she could entertain him and at the same time indulge in her favourite past time of taking the centre stage….
Despite the fact that the Margrave was related to King George III his wife was not received at court
as she was considered too scandalous. Nothing daunted, she spent her time at the races and organising private theatricals, which were often performances of plays she had written herself.
The theatre at Brandenburg House (interior pictured right) was built as a faux castle in the manner of Walpole’s Strawberry Hill and the productions were lavish and extravagant with the Margravine frequently centre stage. As a larger than life figure of the era, she was lampooned by the caricaturists of the time and described my Walpole as entertaining but “infinitely indiscreet.”
Perhaps private theatricals suited the former Lady Craven’s need to be the focus of attention and gave her the opportunity to assume a number of different roles and act out her fantasies. In that she was not alone since it was a popular entertainment in upper class Georgian society. Nevertheless she snubbed her eldest son’s wife who was a “real” actress, Louisa Brunton. The two were said to cordially detest one another. Perhaps it was envy on the Margravine’s part rather than snobbery!

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Byron in Albania

In 1809, Lord Byron arrived in Albania. As I've just visited Albania myself - where I kept coming across him - I thought you might enjoy a post about Byron's time there.

Lord Byron in Albanian costume by Thomas Phillips, 1814.

Albania, at the time of Byron’s visit, was part of an ailing Ottoman Empire. In theory, Albania was ruled by the Sultan; in practice, much of it was ruled by a ferocious and able brigand leader who later became known to history as Ali Pasha (1740-1822). The Sultan, forced to recognise Ali’s diplomatic and administrative abilities, as well as his military prowess, persuaded him to abandon brigandage and serve the Ottoman Empire instead. Ali did so to great effect and was rewarded in 1787 by being appointed Pasha. In theory, he was under the Sultan but, in practice, he extended his Albanian territory considerably to include much of northern Greece and ruled it more or less as an independent territory.    

Ali Pasha reclining in a boat

Ali developed his own independent relations with Europe, initially with Napoleon, but his main interest was the extension of his own power, in particular, establishing a strong Mediterranean sea presence. When he discovered, in 1807, that Napoleon was discussing plans with the Tsar to dismantle the Ottoman Empire, Ali switched sides and made overtures to the British.

In 1809, Byron left England for the continent on what he called a ‘pilgrimage’. In effect, it was a Grand Tour, taking in Portugal, Spain, Sardinia, Sicily, Malta and Greece, and it seems to have involved a lot of drinking, sex and scenery. In September, he arrived in Albania and headed straight for the court of Ali Pasha in Tepelene. He was twenty-one and Ali Pasha was sixty-nine.

View over the River Vjosa

Bryon was impressed by the scenery. In a letter to his mother, he called it: ‘a country of the most picturesque beauty’. His travels inspired Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, the narrative poem which made his name as a poet, where his hero visits various countries and has adventures.

Here, Childe Harold describes the mountains in Albania:

Here roams the wolf, the eagle whets his beak,
Birds, beasts of prey, and wilder men appear,
And gathering storms convulse the closing year.

Wolves, bears and eagles are still found in the mountains.

Byron was even more impressed by the Pasha’s court. He wrote: ‘The Albanians in their dresses (the most magnificent in the world, consisting of a long white kilt, gold-worked cloak, crimson-velvet gold-laced jacket and waistcoat, silver-mounted pistols and daggers,) the Tartars with their high caps, the Turks in their vast pelisses and turbans, the soldiers and black slaves with the horses,…. The kettle-drums beating, boys calling the hour from the minaret of the mosque… formed a new and delightful spectacle to a stranger.’

He acquired an Albanian costume and wore it for his 1814 portrait by Thomas Phillips (see above), now in the National Portrait Gallery. And one must admit that he looks spectacular in it.

The Castle of Berat

Ali Pasha could not initially see Byron: he was besieging the castle of Berat. Perched on a precipitous crag, Berat is not a place to be besieged lightly, as you can see. 

View looking down from the castle of Berat.

When Ali Pasha returned, he received Byron with great honour in ‘a large room paved with marble; a fountain was playing in the centre; the apartment was surrounded by scarlet ottomans.’  Britain was now Ali’s ally and he may have viewed a visit by a British aristocrat as a compliment.  

Byron appreciated all that Ali Pasha did for him: offering him accommodation, servants, etc. and loading him with ‘almonds and sugared sherbet, fruit and sweetmeats.’  But he did not ignore his host’s other, darker side. As he wrote to his mother:

His highness is sixty years old, very fat and not tall, but with a fine face, light blue eyes and a white beard; his manner is very kind and at the same time he possesses that dignity which is universal among the Turks. He has the appearance of anything but his real character; for he is a remorseless tyrant, guilty of the most horrible cruelties, very brave, and so good a general that they call him the Mohametan Buonaparte.

Gjiokastra castle dominating the town.

At nearby Gjirokastra, another ancient castle substantially re-fortified by Ali Pasha in 1811, I came across Lord Byron again. There is a portrait of him in the castle but, alas, it is so dark with ancient varnish that it was impossible to photograph – but it is clear that Albania has not forgotten his visit.  

Ali Pasha spared no expense to make the castle impregnable as the huge vaulted rooms attest. It is built to withstand a siege with its huge water cistern, bread ovens, and bristling with weaponry.

Vaulted room, Gjirokastra Castle

Gjirokastra is a World Heritage site, not only for the castle but also for the unique series of late Ottoman houses that climb precipitously up the hillside. 

Ottoman house, Gjirokastra, built in 1811

We visited a typical wealthy Ottoman merchants’ house, built in 1811 by the Zekate family (who still live there). The reception room (men only) had a beautifully painted fireplace and elegantly carved wooden ceiling. There were divans skirting the room for guests, though not, alas, in scarlet. Women had their own quarters.

Fireplace in reception room.

Byron, in Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage has his hero come to the Pasha’s court and comments on women’s positon thus:

Here woman’s voice is never heard: apart
And scarce permitted, guarded, veiled, to move,
She yields to one her person and her heart,
Tamed to her cage, nor feels a wish to rove…

A view very convenient for men! Would the ladies of the harem have agreed, I wonder.

View from the castle of Gjirokastra

But Byron’s ‘pilgrimage’ was more than just an adventure and he wasn’t just a dilettante aristocrat traveller. He was honing his skills as a poet and working on Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage. (‘Childe’ is a young man of noble birth.) Harold is a young melancholy but defiant outcast with nameless sins in his past, traveling to distract himself. The first two cantos, which cover his Albanian travels, came out in 1812, and brilliantly depict the places, characters and events Byron saw. It also made his name as a poet. As Byron put it: ‘I awoke one morning and found myself famous.’  The rest is history.

Elizabeth Hawksley

Photo: Lord Byron by Thomas Phillips, courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery

Elizabeth travelled to Albania with Andante Travels: