Saturday, December 24, 2016

Merry Christmas to all our readers!

One of the wonderful things about Jane Austen's novels is that they give us a realistic portrait of family life in the Regency period. This extract is taken from Persuasion. It gives us a cheerful image of lively children, indulgent parents and conflicting views on what does and doesn't make a perfect Christmas!

Immediately surrounding Mrs Musgrove were the little Harvilles, whom
she was sedulously guarding from the tyranny of the two children from
the Cottage, expressly arrived to amuse them.  On one side was a table
occupied by some chattering girls, cutting up silk and gold paper; and
on the other were tressels and trays, bending under the weight of brawn
and cold pies, where riotous boys were holding high revel; the whole
completed by a roaring Christmas fire, which seemed determined to be
heard, in spite of all the noise of the others.  Charles and Mary also
came in, of course, during their visit, and Mr Musgrove made a point of
paying his respects to Lady Russell, and sat down close to her for ten
minutes, talking with a very raised voice, but from the clamour of the
children on his knees, generally in vain.  It was a fine family-piece.
Anne, judging from her own temperament, would have deemed such a
domestic hurricane a bad restorative of the nerves, which Louisa's
illness must have so greatly shaken.  But Mrs Musgrove, who got Anne
near her on purpose to thank her most cordially, again and again, for
all her attentions to them, concluded a short recapitulation of what
she had suffered herself by observing, with a happy glance round the
room, that after all she had gone through, nothing was so likely to do
her good as a little quiet cheerfulness at home.
Louisa was now recovering apace.  Her mother could even think of her
being able to join their party at home, before her brothers and sisters
went to school again.  The Harvilles had promised to come with her and
stay at Uppercross, whenever she returned.  Captain Wentworth was gone,
for the present, to see his brother in Shropshire.
"I hope I shall remember, in future," said Lady Russell, as soon as
they were reseated in the carriage, "not to call at Uppercross in the 
Christmas holidays."

Whatever your own idea of a perfect Christmas, whether it's a noisy family gathering or something more sedate, everyone here at Historical Romance UK hopes it will bring you whatever you wish for.

A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from all of us at Historical Romance UK

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Trials and Punishments in Eighteenth Century England.

Specifically England, because the process was different in Scotland.
Recently I’ve been researching trials for crimes in the mid eighteenth century, and oh my, how different they were!
We wouldn’t recognize the legal system then. From a system dominated by the Waltham Black Acts (the ones that said you could be hanged for almost any offence) to the way criminals were caught and prosecuted, it was all very different.
For trials, first of all prosecutions had to be brought by somebody. The state did prosecute some crimes, most notably treason. Not petty treason, though, which was killing a spouse. There had to be an accuser and an accused, and in most cases the Crown didn’t stand in for that. I’m still coming to grips with what all that meant.
If this was your first offence, you could claim Benefit of Clergy. That meant if you could read a passage from the Bible, then you were let off. It was meant to encourage literacy and education. The trouble was, they used the same passage every time. And there were no centralised records. So if you were taken in a different passage, or you gave a different name, you could get away with it as long as you didn’t come in front of the same magistrate and he happened to remember you.
There was no police force, no civilian law enforcing organisation. There were thief-takers, but they were often corrupt, and took money from both sides. The populace were against setting up a police force. In short, it was a vote-loser, and it wasn’t until the 1790’s that England had any kind of police force; the Thames River Police, a privately funded organisation in its early years. The great reforms instituted by Sir Robert Peel in the 1830’s included the establishment of a civilian police force, so all through the Georgian period, there was exactly nobody to keep the peace.
So that meant there was nobody, barring the parish constable and the magistrate to enforce the law. The parish constable, the night watchmen and the beadle did what they could, and if anyone was taken, imprisoned and brought to trial, there were officials for that. The magistrates were generally drawn from the gentry, but the Lord Lieutenant of the county was usually an aristocrat. County and Country were at loggerheads for much of the century, providing checks and balances, but once the population began to move to the city, and Britain slowly became an urban country instead of a rural one, that had to change.
I’ve read over fifty accounts of murder trials in the Old Bailey records (that’s where I’ve set the trial in my story). You can read them online, and I do. They’re real slice of life accounts, freezing moments in time. That’s probably why they are so popular. One thing they have in common; they pass with dizzying speed. A man could kill his wife, be tried and executed in the space of a month. No waiting months for a trial, prepping for it, or having time to consider. It was done and dusted.

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

The Phantom Tree's Wiltshire Roots

It started with a picture, a small portrait of a lady in Tudor dress that I saw on the wall of my uncle’s house in Wiltshire. It fascinated me She looked demure but with a little smile, as though she was hiding a secret. There was one pearl missing from her headdress. The portrait was inscribed with the name of Anne Boleyn but it wasn’t a copy of any picture of Anne that I had ever seen. I started to speculate, as writers do. What if the inscription was false and this was quite a different lady, the same era, and with royal connections, but someone whose story was yet to be told.

That was the first inspiration for The Phantom Tree, my new timeslip book that
is out at the end of the month. Tudor history had been my first love as a child and it was exciting to return to it. I write about women from history who have fascinating, but less well known stories and one of the people I had been interested in for a long time was Mary Seymour. Mary was the daughter of Katherine Parr, the sixth wife of Henry VIII and her second husband, Thomas Seymour, of the Seymours of Wolf Hall in Savernake Forest. Mary was born at Sudeley Castle in 1548 but it isn’t long before she disappears from the historical record. I wanted to research her story and imagine the life she might have had.

I live on the border of Wiltshire and first visited Savernake over twenty years ago. I’ve have seen it in all the seasons, when the trees are ghostly winter skeletons and the frost is thick on the bracken, through the new life of spring, the drowsy heat of summer when the Purple Emperor butterfly darts through the leaf canopy, and into the vivid colour of autumn. I love the atmosphere of the forest and the sense of peace. There aren’t many places left in the British Isles where you can lose yourself for hours amongst green lanes and oaks that have stood for a thousand years.

Researching the local roots of the Seymour family was a fascinating process. I love looking at the story behind the story and here was a family that rose from being country gentry to be one of the most prominent dynasties in the land. What better way to get a feel for their journey than to walk in their footsteps in Marlborough and Savernake and the villages around?

I made several trips to Marlborough and to Savernake during the year that I was writing The Phantom Tree. The first was in the summer and we took the dogs and a flask of tea and homemade chocolate brownies. Several years before we had started to visit and map all of the ancient named oaks. This was difficult in the summer because many lie in the heart of the forest off the beaten track. The paths become overgrown with brambles and bracken, strands of wild rose and honeysuckle, and tiny, sweet raspberries and strawberries growing wild in the clearings. They were a delicious supplement to our afternoon tea. We followed tracks whose names recall a lost age and a mysterious past: The Charcoal-Burner’s Road, Long Harry, Postwives Walk. We found the Big Belly Oak beside the modern A346 Marlborough to Salisbury road. It is the oldest tree in the forest, a sapling at the time of the Norman Conquest. It is not known when the convention of giving the oldest oaks names was introduced although the King Oak is recorded in a document of 1634. It is matched with The Queen Oak, in honour of Henry VIII and Jane Seymour, his third wife, the aunt of my heroine Mary.

In the depths of the forest, standing near the ancient park pale that once marked the boundary of the medieval hunting ground, we found the Green Fluted Oak, so named because the vertical grooves in its trunk look like a Grecian column. I was on the hunt for one particular tree, The Duke’s Vaunt. This is another thousand year old oak deriving its name from Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset and Lord Protector of England, the elder brother of Jane Seymour. In its prime it was a huge tree but today it is in decline, having split, and is only a shadow of its former glory.

The dogs love visiting the forest in autumn and winter, as do I. The scents are different, the paths
coated in frosty leaves and the ponds frozen over. You catch a glimpse of the deer disappearing through the bare trees like wraiths, or hear their sharp bark on the cold air. The Savernake of today looks different from the forest of Tudor times. In the 1740s Capability Brown landscaped large parts of the woodland, creating ornamental lawns and planting vistas of trees, designing the grand avenues and rides. Yet beneath the landscaping and the hum of traffic you can still sense the longevity of the forest and the myths and legends stretching back into time.

Once upon a time, Wolf Hall, the medieval manor of the Seymours, was in Savernake Forest but today the woodland covers a smaller area than it did in the sixteenth century and to seek out Wolf Hall I had to take the road to Burbage. On the corner of a minor road is Wolf Hall Farm, built near the site of the earlier timber-framed manor house. Jane’s father, Sir John Seymour, had served with Henry VIII in France and the family were ambitious for advancement at the Tudor court. In 1535 Henry VIII stayed at Wolf Hall as part of a royal progress and it is said he courted Jane Seymour there.  Rumours that Henry and Jane were married at Wolf Hall are false but it is certainly the case that he returned there in 1539, when there was a lavish feast in one of the old barns at the manor.

By the time my story, The Phantom Tree is set, some twenty years after King Henry hunted in Savernake Forest, Wolf Hall had become an old, draughty, inconvenient manor that was no longer considered grand enough for the status of the Seymour family. In the book, I write about it as a house in a state of ramshackle neglect, ignored by the Duke of Somerset’s son, who had plans for a magnificent house nearby at Tottenham Park. Stone from Wolf Hall was taken to build the new house; eventually Wolf Hall became derelict and fell down. There is a trace of overgrown earthworks still visible that mark the spot of the original manor and I found another remnant of the original Wolf Hall when I visited the church of St Mary at Great Bedwyn. It is a stained glass window that features a crown, Jane Seymour’s heraldic device of a phoenix rising from a castle between two red and white roses, the Prince of Wales feathers, and a Tudor rose, and it is said to have been taken from the medieval manor. This is also the place where Jane's father Sir John Seymour is buried.

The Phantom Tree, like Savernake Forest itself, has its roots set deep in the history and landscape of
Wiltshire, drawing on this fascinating part of the county for its inspiration. Wolf Hall may be long gone leaving only a name and a legend, but Savernake Forest is a place whose ancient oaks and woodland paths lead us in the footsteps of the past.

Monday, December 05, 2016

The Savoy Chapel: A John of Gaunt whisper

Some years ago, at a Romantic Novelists’ Association conference, I heard Professor Jenny Hartley give a talk on popular Women’s Fiction – she was researching it at the time. At the end, after the questions, she said, ‘I’d now like to ask you a question: how many of you have read Katherine by Anya Seton?’


Cover of ‘Katherine’ by Anya Seton (1961)

A forest of hands shot up. The entire conference had read it. I myself read it as a teenager and loved it. It’s a terrific read. First published in 1954, it’s the story of a herald’s daughter, Katherine Swynford, who was first the mistress and then the third wife of John of Gaunt, a marriage which scandalized all Europe. It is one of English History’s great love stories and it truly changed the course of history; for Katherine became the ancestor of the Tudors and thus of Queen Elizabeth II.


Alison Weir’s ‘Katherine Swynford’

More recently, at a Historical Novel Society conference, the historian Alison Weir spoke about her new biography of Katherine Swynford. She was aware that most of the audience had probably read Anya Seton’s book, and she began by telling us she, too, had learnt of Katherine’s existence from Katherine, and paid a graceful tribute to Anya Seton’s research and the power of her story-telling. Research, however, has moved on and now we know much more about Katherine's life.


The Queen’s Chapel of the Savoy

So, when the opportunity came up to visit the Queen’s Chapel of the Savoy, standing on the very site where John of Gaunt had built the Savoy Palace which features largely in Katherine, (who can forget that love scene in the Avalon Chamber?) I jumped at it. I knew that the Savoy Palace had been ransacked and burnt during the Peasant’s Revolt in 1381 but I assumed that the chapel must have survived.

Before the tour, our guide, Squadron Leader Thomas Leyland, asked me if I knew anything about the Chapel. I said, ‘Yes, wasn’t it part of John of Gaunt’s Savoy Palace?’ He gave a sigh and said, ‘I don’t know how many times people have asked me that question - dozens of times. The answer’s “No.”’ 


John of Gaunt: a 17th century copy of an earlier painting, now lost

I thought, and I bet all of them were female, had read Anya Seton’s Katherine, and were in love with that golden-haired, sexy Plantagenet, John of Gaunt. (Except that now I see that he probably wasn't golden-haired and sexy, but dark, saturnine and sexy. Still, I can live with that.
Having said all this, and despite my initial disappointment, the Queen’s Chapel of the Savoy doesn’t disappoint. The Savoy Palace remained a ruin until the site was cleared on the orders of Henry VII (John and Katherine’s great-great grandson) in order to build a charitable foundation for a hundred ‘pour and nedie’ men, including the present chapel, in 1515.


The elegant 19th century ‘Gothic’ font

Two hundred years of subsequent neglect (it was never properly endowed) followed. In the early 19th century, the most of it was demolished and in 1820-21, the ruinous chapel was restored by Sir Robert Smirke, architect of the British Museum. Only the east, west and north walls and the perpendicular windows of Henry VII’s chapel survive. (Unusually, the chapel is orientated north-south rather than the usual east-west.) It was engulfed by another fire in 1864. The chapel we see today is the result of sympathetic post-fire reconstruction by Sir Robert’s brother, Sidney; I think he did a good job.

The altar
The early 16th century perpendicular style is a sort of airy Gothic which I find very attractive. I love the view towards the high altar with the delicate 19th century Gothic-style reredos behind the altar.

The ceiling

The wonderful blue and gold ceiling is believed to be a copy of the original Tudor building and it’s decorated with shields within quatrefoils with the coats of arms of various dukes of Lancaster associated with the Savoy, including, of course, John of Gaunt’s, with its gold on red Plantagenet lions quartered with the gold on blue fleur de lys of France.


Geoffrey Chaucer

To my pleasure I realized that there were, in fact, a couple of small reminders of John and Katherine’s story. As well as John’s coat of arms on the ceiling, one of the chapel windows has Geoffrey Chaucer’s coat of arms. Katherine had known him well; he had married her sister, Philippa, who was lady-in-waiting to Queen Philippa, Edward III’s wife, and John of Gaunt’s mother.  


Plantagenet shield

The chapel itself is, and always had been, a private chapel of the Sovereign, and thus independent of Church of England jurisdiction. Like Westminster Abbey, it is a ‘royal peculiar’. It is an integral part of the royal Duchy of Lancaster and its coat of arms is everywhere.


Princess Anne’s banner with her coat of arms

Since 1937, it had been the chapel of the Royal Victorian Order, an order which is solely in the gift of the sovereign for exceptional service to the crown. Princess Anne is the current Grand Master of the R.V.O. and her banner hangs from the chapel wall.   

It is very much a working chapel with regular services and a fine men and boys’ choir which the public are welcome to attend. There are also special services for members of the Royal Victorian Order, for examples, weddings and memorial services, where members of the Royal Family may be present.

It’s a lovely and tranquil place to visit.

Elizabeth Hawksley






Saturday, November 26, 2016

Summer Wedddings free over the Black Friday weekend

It's fascinating how different ways of celebrating travel around the world. In the long Regency period,  German Christmas traditions began to take hold in England, with the most notable being the introduction of the Christmas tree. More recently - much more recently! - we have seen Black Friday move to England from the US and now all the shops have an event. We're marking this in our own way on Historical Romance UK by offering our Summer Weddings box set for free. We love making our box sets. It's a way of saying thank you to all our wonderful readers, who are helping us to keep the traditional Regency romance alive. Our Summer set contains 5 Regency romances for you to enjoy.

Waterloo Wedding is a stand-alone novel by Amanda Grange, but it is related by character to one of her most popular Regencies, The Six-Month Marriage. It tells the story of Philip's friend, Jack, who now has a chance to find a love of his own. Jack and Annabelle were childhood friends, and then sweethearts, but they are now strangers. Can they make up for the mistakes of the past as they move from the glamour of London to the Battle of Waterloo? As with all of Amanda's Regencies, love conquers all.

Knight for a Lady by Elizabeth Bailey tells of Niall Lowrie, who is burdened with an earldom he did not want, He is distracted into knight errantry on behalf of the vicar’s niece, Edith Westacott, who is being menaced by the philandering Lord Kilshaw. Will Edith succumb to Niall’s unconscious charm? Dare she dream of a promising future? Or will Kilshaw’s terrible plans for her prevail?

In Lady Emma’s Revenge by Fenella J. Miller, Lady Emma Stanton is determined to discover who killed her husband even if it means enlisting the assistance of a Bow Street Runner. Sam Ross is not a gentleman, has rough manners and little time for etiquette, but he is brave and resourceful and Emma comes to rely on him - perhaps a little too much?

For Want of a Reputation by Wendy Soliman concerns Pascal Devonshire, Earl of Walsea, who is drawn to Ophelia Montague the moment she returns to English shores. But the young lady is persona non grata in the eyes of English society. Besides, Pascal is committed to marrying Ophelia’s best friend . . .

Maid of Honour by Melinda Hammond has the Battle of Waterloo as its backdrop. When Lucilla Chambers attempts to protect her sister from the attentions of the notorious Dominic Vanderley, she finds her own honour is threatened and flees to the safety of her home. But Bonaparte is marching through France towards his fate, and the shadow of war will touch Lucilla's young life with tragedy and suffering before she can find the happiness she is seeking.

We hope you enjoy this set! If you have news of any Regency romance offers - including Austenesque fiction - for Black Friday, you are welcome to leave details in a comment below. Authors are welcome to leave details of their own Regency and Austenesque offers for the Black Friday weekend. Please say when the promotion ends.

The Summer Weddings box set is available from Amazon UK  and Amazon US as well as other Amazons. We hope you enjoy it! 

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Veiled In Blue

Veiled In Blue is the next to last Emperors of London book, and one readers have been waiting for. Julius’s story!
In all the series I write there is one character readers write to me about the most, and there are two in Emperors of London. One is Julius Caesar, Lord Winterton, the son and heir of the Duke of Kirkburton. He’s at loggerheads with his unfeeling mother, trying to keep his sister Helena out of her clutches. She has set the future roles of all her children, and Helena is to be the helpmeet.
But Julius finds a distraction. He wants to check on one of the children of the Old Pretender, a young woman adopted by a country vicar and his wife. Because he doesn’t want to make waves, he goes as plain Mr. Vernon.
And it’s there that Julius meets his fate, in the little village of Appleton. He desires her, then he falls for her, but he makes a fatal mistake that could cost him the love of his life.
Writing this story was a delight, not least because I got to write an aristocrat-in-disguise story. Julius is forced to face discomforts he doesn’t usually encounter in his normal life. People don’t bow and scrape to him, and they don’t immediately fuss over him. Being Julius, this comes as a relief, rather than a problem. He looks on the visit as a holiday.
Until danger strikes. Of course danger strikes. It wouldn’t be any fun if it didn’t!
Unlike most of the children, Eve knows she is a daughter of the son of King James II. She doesn’t really believe it, and being a practical woman, she doesn’t care very much. It doesn’t affect her day to day life in this, to her, boring part of England. She has suitors, one in particular, but when Julius bursts into her life, everything goes to hell in a handbasket.
One of the sources for this book was Fielding’s “Tom Jones,” although there isn’t anyone quite as vulgar as the Squire. I’d loved to have done my version, but there wasn’t a place for him. But Tom starts his journey in a rural community very much like the one in Tom Jones. People who knew their places living their lives and occasionally indulging in scandal. The other thing I couldn’t put in the book was the number of spankings! Children were regularly punished, and it was very much “spare the rod and spoil the child” that prevailed. Putting that into a modern book would lead to accusations of cruelty. In one of the earlier Emperors books, I put how the father of the heroine chastised her in that way. The readers didn’t like it, and hated the father far more than I’d planned!
So when I write the books I do have to bear the modern reader in mind. What was perfectly acceptable then isn’t any more. But I try to make my books authentic. It’s problems like that that make the writing process fascinating. I won’t write anachronisms, like the aristocratic lady wandering around London on her own or refusing to marry on principle, but I do temper the stories to suit the modern reader. 
You can get Veiled In Blue here:
Buy the Book and read an extract:
Publisher - Kensington Books
Amazon USA
Amazon UK
Barnes and Noble Nook
Google Play Store

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Candlelight Courtships - Regency Romantics best selling box set.

I love being part of this talented group of Regency writers. Writing is a lonely business and being able to work with others is a real bonus.
Here is the opening section from my contribution - A Most Unexpected Christmas. This was written especially for this box set as were three other books.

Chapter One

Mrs Emily Delaney read the letter a second time as if scarcely believing what was written there. She waved the paper at her sister-in-law, Lydia. 'I have here an invitation to spend the Christmas period at Fakenham Manor.'
Lydia put down the book she had been engrossed in. 'I thought Lord Fakenham no longer communicated with this side of the family.'
'And so did I, but his mother has written to invite all of us to stay. She says here that Papa and Mama have already agreed to attend the house party.' Emily's smile was radiant. 'The children have been invited too. I expect I would have gone even if they had been left behind, but it will be so much more pleasurable to have them with me.'
'Will my brother be prepared to trek across the countryside? David is not overfond of travelling, especially at this time of year.'
'That is quite true, my love, but he will make an exception for this invitation. As you know my cousin hasn't spoken to my father since the accident. To have the family reconciled is reason enough to make the journey even in such inclement weather.
'We have had several most enjoyable visits to Hertfordshire in the past. My Cousin Theo is a charming gentleman and adores the children. He will make a fortunate young lady an excellent husband one day.' Emily pursed her lips and Lydia knew what was coming.
'I wish to hear no more about him. I shall not be accompanying you but will remain here. As you know I'm not comfortable in society anymore.' She scrambled to her feet and headed briskly for the door. 'I told you when dearest Jonathan passed away that I would never marry again. I have more money and homes than any young lady could possibly wish for. The only reason I could have for marrying is to have children of my own which you know is impossible for me. So why should I give away my freedom and wealth and gain nothing in return?'
This was a conversation she'd had several times before and she was heartily sick of being forced to explain how she felt about a second marriage. Jonathan had been twenty years her senior, a friend of her father's, who had promised to take care of her when her dearest parent had passed away. Their relationship had been loving, rather than passionate, but she had never regretted her decision for a minute.
Her husband had been an intelligent, amusing, gentleman and a considerate and tender lover. Her only regret was that they had not been blessed with children in the three short years they had been wed. He had died from a congestion of the lungs around the same time that Emily's uncle had drowned so tragically.
'Please don't run away, dearest Lydia, I promise not to mention the subject of marriage again. But David will not hear of you remaining here alone over the Christmas period.'
'I have never met any of the Fakenhams – they are strangers to me and I'm quite certain they would object most strenuously to having me foisted upon them.'
As she was about to escape further inquisition her brother walked in. He was five years older than her but they both had the same nut brown locks and striking tawny eyes. 'Upon whom are you about to be foisted, Lydia?'
Emily rushed across and pushed the letter into his fingers. He quickly read it and smiled. 'Excellent – it's far too long since I've seen the other side of your family. Please don't pressure my sister into accompanying us, my dear. She must make up her own mind if she wishes to come.'
'Am I included in this invitation?' Lydia addressed this question to her brother.
'No, of course not. How could they possibly know you were residing with us? If you wish to come then there is ample time for me to send a letter and have you included.'
She shook her head vehemently. 'I shall do very well here. Of course, if you wish me to return to Halstead Court then I am quite happy to do so. I've been here for three months already.'
He frowned and put his arm around her, then hugged her close. 'You will do no such thing. Your home is here with us now – I don't want you moping about that empty place being reminded of what you've lost.'
For a moment she allowed herself the luxury of resting her head against his solid shoulder. 'Thank you, David. I would much prefer to be here even if you and the children are elsewhere.'

I hoe this tempts you to borrow/buy the box set. CLICK HERE

Monday, November 07, 2016

The Mystery Portrait Part 1

I’ve always found paintings fascinating and inspirational, wanting to know the stories behind the faces and to understand the symbolism. Recently my curiosity took me to a fine art dealer’s studio in London where I had a wonderful time deciphering the tale behind a picture that has always intrigued me.

The painting, known as The Triple Dobson Portrait, hangs at Ashdown House. It dates from the period of the English Civil War. The names of the sitters, Prince Rupert of the Rhine, his brother Prince Maurice and the Duke of Richmond are helpfully painted onto it. It definitely has a story to tell. Prince Rupert’s scarlet cloak lies discarded over a chair; his faithful dog looks on, and in his hand is a document of some description. One of his companions is dipping a cockade into a glass of red wine. The royal colours and those of Prince Rupert, the grey and the black, are swathed around the pillar and on the cockade.

The Ashdown picture is unfinished. There is no glass for the wine and a lot of the details of the clothing in particular have not been completed. That is one of the mysteries about the painting: Why was it never finished?

In London I saw a finished version of the same picture hanging on the wall in the fine art studio.The
difference took my breath away. Where the Ashdown painting was a draft, this was simply stunning, huge, beautifully detailed and so fine. The lace was exquisite. There were even wrinkles in the table cloth! It made “our” painting seem rather clumsy! My expert told me that this finished version had a full provenance and they knew its entire story. It was painted in the winter of 1645-1646, in Oxford, by William Dobson, court painter to King Charles I. It is indeed Prince Rupert in the portrait, but not Prince Maurice or the Duke of Richmond. The soldier on the right, Colonel John Russell, had commissioned it and it had been in his family ever since. The identity of the man in the middle was still in question.

The painting tells the story of a moment in time. After Rupert had given up Bristol to the Parliamentarians he quarrelled badly with his uncle Charles I who thought he had relinquished the city too easily. Rupert was court-martialled, and though he was cleared, unpleasant rumours hung over his loyalty and that of his troops.

The portrait is a refutation of those claims. The scroll in Rupert’s hand is the ruling of the court martial, clearing him of all accusations. The combination of his own colours and those of the King underline his loyalty, as does the glass of wine, which is to be raised in a loyal toast, and of course there is the dog – the ultimate symbol of steadfastness.

So if this portrait had been painted for John Russell, who had commissioned our copy? My expert pointed out to me something that should have been obvious but that I hadn’t appreciated before, that since a triple portrait featured three people there were usually three copies of it. This raised the intriguing possibility of a third version, the whereabouts currently unknown. But since we already have sufficient of a puzzle with our own version, that one will have to wait!

Here we come to the heart of our mystery. The most likely suggestion is that our portrait is the one
intended for Prince Rupert. His connection to Ashdown House, via his mother Elizabeth, the Winter Queen, and as a friend of Lord Craven makes this plausible. Again, we can guess at why the portrait was never completed. It was painted in wartime, the fortunes of the Royalists were falling apart and there simply wasn’t time. As for the names, they were painted on – incorrectly - in the Victorian period.

Until we can find proof of the painting’s history we cannot be sure. But I do love a good mystery and I feel the plot of another timeslip story shaping up!

As a footnote, today is the 397th anniversary of the coronation of Elizabeth of Bohemia, whom I wrote about in House of Shadows. Here’s a toast to Her Majesty!

Saturday, November 05, 2016

Georgette Heyer: the problem with 'April Lady'

I’ve always loved the novels of Georgette Heyer for their wit, well-researched period detail, terrific story-telling and escapist fun. And I am not alone. When, in June 2015, I went to the Blue Plaque ceremony at 103 Woodside, Wimbledon, where she was born, Stephen Fry, a great fan, did the honours, opened the red curtains to reveal the plaque and spoke enthusiastically of Georgette Heyer’s stylish and witty novels. He’d discovered them at school and has loved them ever since; he finds them great comfort reading if ever he’s under the weather. 


Georgette Heyer by Howard Coster, 1939, National Portrait Gallery

There were many appreciative messages from people who couldn’t be there, including Antonia Byatt and Nigella Lawson.

I also met Professor Mark Noble from Aberdeen University (an authority on the science of the cardiovascular system), who’d come down from Scotland especially for the ceremony. He’d been given a Georgette Heyer to read when recovering from flu as a teenager, and has been a fan ever since. He looked very dapper, as befitted the occasion – I’m sure Georgette Heyer, very stylish herself, would have approved.


Professor Mark Noble awaiting the ceremony

So why am I having a problem with April Lady when so many eminent people probably disagree? It has more or less the same plot as The Convenient Marriage (1934); and the heroine, Nell, is rather too quiet and subdued. Her personal problems (debt, her husband’s supposed mistress, thinking he doesn’t love her, and so on) make it difficult for her to be proactive. As a novelist myself, I can see the technical problems here.  

However, I can cope with all this. What I find very difficult, though, is that, in the last few pages of the book, the hero Giles, Nell’s estranged husband, allows his very young and flighty half-sister, Letty, to marry the proper but ineligible Jeremy, and go with him to Brazil of all places. Letty is headstrong, self-centred, spends money like water (fortunately, she’s an heiress) and, frankly, is a pain.


 Stephen Fry speaks before pulling the cord

Jeremy Allandale is a very proper young man of good, but impecunious, family. He has a mother and sisters to support, and must make his own way in the world. When he’s offered a position (he’s in the Foreign Office) as a secretary in Rio de Janiero, he accepts it. It’s a step up for him but it means he will be in Brazil for a couple of years.

Very sensibly, Giles has hitherto refused to allow an engagement between Letty and Jeremy. She, after all, is only seventeen when the story opens. So why does he backtrack in the last few pages and allow them to marry and Letty to sail to Brazil with Jeremy?

First edition cover for 'April Lady'. My own copy is a first edition, costing 45p

It’s bonkers! She doesn’t speak Portuguese, she’ll know nobody, she won’t have a clue how to go on in diplomatic circles (crucial if Jeremy is going to get on in his career), or how to run a house or organize servants, and she is completely ignorant about money. What happens when she gets pregnant?  Remember, Jeremy will be at work all day.


Yours truly outside 103 Woodside. Georgette Heyer's family on stairs behind.
When I was a teenager, none of this worried me; I just thought that Nell and Giles would be relieved to be free of the constant worry about what Letty was getting up to.

Nowadays, I think that Giles abandoning his responsibilities towards Letty is disgraceful. OK, she is tiresome, badly-brought up, etc. but she is very young, and, like it or not, he is responsible for her.

Blue Plaque revealed
So, I've invented a scene where Giles asks Jeremy’s sensible mother to have Letty to stay with her while Jeremy is away. Jeremy describes Mrs Allandale thus: ‘Her understanding is superior, her mind of an elevated order, and her firm yet tender command over my sisters encouraged me to hope that over my darling also her influence would prevail.’ 

This is exactly what Letty needs. And, in return, Giles and Nell will give Jeremy’s sisters a splendid Season. I offer this in some trepidation but I cannot be the only person to find Giles’ behaviour here worrying. And I doubt if I’m the only novelist to invent further scenes featuring characters from her inimitable novels.

Photos by Elizabeth Hawksley apart from the first. 

Elizabeth Hawksley

Thursday, November 03, 2016

Melinda Hammond's Brand New Story on an Age-old Theme

The latest anthology in the Regency Romantics series is now published, containing six wonderful romances from myself and five fellow authors. My contribution to this edition is a brand new Regency romance, but I confess it is based on a very familiar theme.

Is there anyone who doesn't like the story of Cinderella?  It is certainly one of my favourite fairy tales and a re-working seemed perfect for this winter collection. Waldo, Duke of Charingden is reluctant to marry so his family decide they will bring  a selection of eligible ladies to the winter ball for him to choose from. Of course, nothing goes to plan, and Waldo becomes  entangled with the very ineligible young woman staying at Dove Cottage. Here is a short excerpt for you. I hope you enjoy it!

Waldo has just stepped out of his drawing room for a breath of air....

          And there, dancing on the snow-covered grass, was the girl he had met in the woods yesterday. She was so caught up with the dance that she did not see him and he stood for a moment, watching her. The strains of the piano music floated out into the still night air and she was turning and swaying, her cloak swirling around her. Then she swung around and saw him on the terrace and she stopped, her eyes widening in apprehension.
'Do not run away,' he ordered, when she turned to flee. He ran lightly down the steps and as he approached she slowly turned back towards him.
'I beg your pardon, I meant no harm,' she said breathlessly.
'Who are you?' he asked her. 'And tell me the truth this time. I mean no disrespect to the Goodliffes but I doubt any relative of theirs ever learned to dance like that.'
He watched as she caught her full bottom lip between her teeth.
'You are right, sir, I was given a good schooling, but I am an orphan, and my circumstances are now such that I am forced to throw myself upon the Misses Goodliffes' generosity. Miss Harriet was my nurse, you see, and I knew she would not turn me away. However, to avoid any awkward explanations I decided to remain here as their niece.'
'And not content with frightening my horse I find you spying upon my guests,' he said. 'You have no permission to collect sticks from here.'
          'No.' She hung her head. 'Your housekeeper sent over the remains of a game pie for our dinner and I promised Miss Hannah that I would return the dish. The snow and the moon made it light as day, so I thought I would bring it back tonight, rather than wait for the morning. Then I heard the music.' She glanced up at him. 'I love to dance,' she said simply. 'It is the one thing I have missed most since I came to Dove Cottage. I did not think you would mind if I just watched, through the window. But then, I just could not stop myself from dancing, too.'
She was looking so wistful that he came to a decision.
'Come along.'
He took her hand and she said in some alarm, 'What are you doing?'
'If you want to dance, you shall come inside and join us.'
'No, no, I cannot.' She dug in her heels and held back. 'Pray, your Grace, let me go.'
'But why? There is time for you to join in with one dance, at least.'
'No, no, I pray you, sir, do not humiliate me so!'
The anguished note in her voice made him stop.
'I have no wish to upset you,' he said gently.
'I should never have come here. Oh, your Grace, I beg your pardon.'
'Very well, I shall not force you to come indoors if you do not wish it.' Looking down into her face, pale and beautiful in the moonlight, a madness came over Waldo. 'But since you are here it is a pity to waste the music.' He pulled her closer. 'We shall tread a measure here, on the lawn.'
Distress was replaced by suspicion and a sudden contraction of her brows.
'Now you are making a May-game of me.'
Not at all. I am deadly serious. Well?' He smiled, at his most charming. 'Listen, another dance is starting. A waltz.' He took her hands. 'Come along, Clara, dance with me.'
'This is ridiculous.'
'Humour me.'

He was smiling down at her and Clara found it impossible to look away. His warm, strong fingers were wrapped around her hands and when he moved she followed him, dancing to the faint, sweet strains of the pianoforte that drifted out on the still night air. He led her through the dance, moving with a lithe grace as they glided across the lawn while the full moon hung like a silver lamp in the night sky. Clara forgot that she was wearing a red flannel petticoat beneath her old dimity gown, forgot the outdoor boots on her feet and the woollen cloak around her shoulders. She felt like a princess, dressed in the finest silks, skipping and twirling around the ballroom. The duke was still smiling and she found herself smiling too, laughing aloud as the joy of the music swelled within her. He lifted her hands high for the final rotation but at that moment a dip in the lawn caught Clara unawares. She stumbled and would have fallen if the duke had not caught her in his arms and pulled her against the hard wall of his chest.
She laughed up at him, breathing in the mixture of crisp, cold air, freshly laundered linen and a spicy rich scent. Then the glow in his eyes deepened and she could not breathe at all. She felt hot, giddy. Her heart was beating so hard she felt sure he must hear it. When he lowered his head she did not draw back, instead she turned her face up to meet him, her lips slightly parted. His kiss was soft, gentle as a breeze, but it sent a bolt of excitement zinging through to her core and she found herself reaching up, pushing up on her toes to prolong the moment.
When he ended the kiss and raised his head, she felt bereft. He was gazing down at her, a faint, puzzled frown creasing his brow and suddenly the chill night air rushed in, bringing her back to the reality of her situation. The duke was clearly ashamed of what he had done, disgusted with himself for kissing someone he saw as little better than a servant. And she had kissed him back! No respectable young lady would ever do such a thing. Tears were threatening. She must leave, before she made even more of a fool of herself.
She stepped away from him.
'Oh, I beg your pardon.'
Her anguished whisper hung on the night air.
'Clara, I – '
As he reached out for her she whisked herself out of reach, turned and fled.


Melinda Hammond

Candlelight Courtships is available now for you to enjoy from Amazon, with six spell-binding romances from Elizabeth Bailey, Monica Fairview, Amanda Grange, Fenella J Miller, Wendy Soliman and Melinda Hammond!

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

A Fast-paced Romp in the new Candlelight Courtships Regency Romantics anthology

It’s exciting to be releasing yet another new Regency in the winter anthology continuing the Regency Romantics series put out by myself and five fellow friends and novelists. I have a soft spot for this one. A Winter’s Madcap Escapade is a fast-paced romp and I’m hoping it will entertain readers as much as I enjoyed writing it.
The premise was all I had to begin with, an idea floating around for some years. A gentleman re-enters his coach to find a young damsel within who insists – at pistol point – that he take her to the next posting stage. By the time I came to write it I had a ready-made hero in Alexander Dymond who makes his first appearance as the friend and cousin of the hero Justin in the second story (A Chance Gone By) of my new Brides by Chance series.
As for Appoline, she leapt onto my stage like a crazy little whirlwind without warning or pause for thought. She was a delight to write and her antics drive Alex up the wall as he informs her several times. But all is not sweetness and light. There are skeletons in cupboards, heartache and a good deal of darkness before the dawning of an impossible happy ending.
We join our hero and heroine just after their journey together begins:

“I’m not running away. I am going to London to see the lawyer.”
Alexander began to feel a touch light-headed. What had he got himself mixed up in? Why had he let the wench persuade him into this?
“I must have taken leave of my senses,” he muttered. A tiny giggle drew his attention. He cocked an eyebrow. “Find that amusing? Suppose I should count myself fortunate if I don’t come out of this with a charge of kidnapping.”
“Oh, it will not come to that, sir. I shall slip out at the next stage and no one will know I was ever in your carriage.”
For a moment, Alexander allowed himself the luxury of relief, but it was short-lived. Under no circumstances could he let the silly chit go off on her own. She’d come to grief in no time. Best to keep this reflection to himself for the moment. Didn’t want her doing something idiotic, like trying to jump from the coach. She’d shown herself capable of any sort of crazy conduct.
“What’s your name?”
A wary look entered her face. “Why should I tell you?”
“Why shouldn’t you? Considering the way you were willing to trust yourself to a strange man, can’t see why you’d balk at telling me your name.”
“I didn’t trust you! Besides, I had the pistol.”
“Which wasn’t loaded, birdwit.”
“How dare you call me birdwit?”
“What else am I to call you if I don’t know your name?”
“Well, it’s Apple.”
Alexander let out a snorting laugh. “Wish you won’t be so stubborn! Apple? No one’s called Apple.”
Her eyes flashed. “I am called Apple. It’s my papa’s fault. He began it when I was a child and it stuck.”
“Oh, it’s a pet name? What’s your real name?”
“It’s Appoline, if you must know. Appoline Greenaway.”
“Ah, I see. Makes a bit more sense now.” He doffed his hat and made a little bow. “Miss Greenaway. I’m Dymond. Alexander Dymond. M’friends call me Alex.”
She inclined her head in a manner that struck him as a touch imperious. He tried not to laugh. A little out of place for a girl of her class. Though was it?
“What’s your station, Miss Greenaway? I mean, who was your father?”
“John Greenaway.”
“That tells me a lot.”
Miss Greenaway huffed a little. “I don’t see why I should tell you anything.”
“Suit yourself. Only I can’t help you if I don’t know the half of it.”
She eyed him with suspicion. “Why should you wish to help me?”
“Well, if that don’t beat all! Didn’t you throw yourself on my mercy?”
“No, I did not. I merely asked you to convey me a little way in your coach. That does not give you the right to demand the history of my life.”
“First off, you didn’t ask me. You ordered me at gunpoint. Second, if you don’t stop trying to run rings round me, I’ll set you down in the middle of the countryside and leave you there.”
Miss Greenaway’s obstinate little chin came up. “No, you won’t. You are not that sort of man.”

There are five more sparkling Regencies to enjoy in this anthology, which is available now from now from Amazon UK  and Amazon US as well as all other Amazons. Keep checking the blog over the coming weeks to find out more about the rest of the stories  included in the set.