How England Learned of the Battle of Trafalgar

On October 21, 1805 the Battle of Trafalgar was fought between the English Navy and the combined fleets of France and Spain.

The Battle of Trafalgar, by George Clarkson Stanfield.

England’s chances for victory were slim. The British force had twenty-seven ships; the enemy had thirty-three.

But England’s secret weapon was the gallant Lord Nelson, commander of the fleet.

Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson, 1st Viscount Nelson, 1st Duke of Bronte.

The engagement lasted four hours, and in the end, twenty Spanish and French ships were sunk or destroyed, the French commander-in-chief was captured, and two Spanish admirals were taken prisoners by the English.

It was a decisive victory, but it came at a cost. Nelson was wounded midway through the action and died nearly at its close.

The Evening after Trafalgar, by Claude Thomas Stanfield Moore.

But the victory forever removed any threat that Napoleon Bonaparte might invade England.

So if the battle was waged and won on October 21, why am I telling you about it on November 6?

Because November 6 is the day news of the victory finally reached England.

In our modern world of instant newsfeeds and alerts it’s sometimes easy to lose perspective about the speed with which information traveled during Jane Austen’s time. News traveled slowly, and, in this case, Mother Nature added to the fifteen-day delay.

The Battle of Trafalgar was fought and won on October 21. No sooner was victory assured, than “a gale of wind” blew in. The storm that followed was of such ferocity, the fleet had no choice but to hunker down. They were so busy ensuring the safety of their own and captured ships, they had no chance to send word to England, or even count their casualties.

The storm lasted five days. Finally, on October 26, the British commander despatched a ship to England. On board, Lieutenant John Richards Lapenotiere carried written reports of the battle.

A miniature, believed to be of John Richards Lapenotiere

Nine days later, Lapenotiere arrived at the harbor at Falmouth. From there he traveled overland to London by “express in a post chaise and four.”

He covered the distance of 271 miles in 38 hours, making 21 stops to change horses.

A fast-traveling post-chaise and four upsets a gig.

His overland journey was well documented, and today, there are plaques along route—now known as The Trafalgar Way—that commemorate Lapenotiere’s journey, as well as the men from each location who fought in that decisive battle.

One of the Trafalgar Plaques, this one in Salisbury.

On November 6, Lapenotiere finally delivered reports of England’s victory into the hands of the Admiralty and the King.

That very day, newspapers printed the story. Click here to read one of those newspaper stories.

And if you’re interested, Wikepedia has an interesting page about The Trafalgar Way that documents the distance, horse-changes, and cost of Lapenotiere’s travels.

I love reading all the details about Lapenotiere’s journey. It’s a reminder to me to be mindful of the limitations of Regency-era travel when I write my own stories set during that time period.

It’s also a fascinating true-life story of heroic men who always kept duty to country uppermost in mind, and risked all to serve their country and its citizens. I applaud them.

On My Bookshelf: Beau Brocade

I own several copies of each of Jane Austen’s novels, but my favorite edition is a compilation of Austen’s novels that include wonderful illustrations by C. E. Brock and Hugh Thomson.

Hugh Thomson created the illustrations for another book I own: The Ballad of Beau Brocade by Austin Dobson.

Beau Brocade was published in 1893. It’s a light-hearted collection of poems about imaginary characters of the Georgian era. Here’s the title page, designed by Hugh Thomson:

One of the poems is titled “A Chapter of Froissart.” Hugh Thomson’s whimsical illustrations grace the first page:

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The language of this poem is a sometimes difficult to follow, but I love all the sly little references to Hogarth, Murray, Bonaparte, and Ann Radcliffe.

Although I’ve had the book for many years, it was very well read by the time I gave it a home. The pages are yellowed and loose, and there’s some foxing here and there; but this slim little book is definitely one of my favorites. I hope you enjoyed reading an excerpt.

How about you? Have you seen Hugh Thomson’s illustrations in other books? Did you enjoy this poem?

 

 

 

 

Did Your Ancestor Serve in a Royal Household?

Ever wonder if your ancestor worked at Buckingham Palace? Or maybe at Windsor Castle?

Windsor Castle

Perhaps one of your forebears held the title of Yeoman of the Mouth; or Laundress of the Body Linen, both of which were real titles of positions in royal households.

There’s a way you can find out. A few years ago the Royal Archives teamed up with genealogy website Find My Past to make the Royal Household Staff Lists available to the public.

Edwardian Era household servants.

The site lists over 50,000 staff records dating from 1660 to 1924.

And the best part is, you can search the records for free! Click on the Find My Past icon to be taken to their United Kingdom site:

There’s no charge for viewing the search results—I found names of my Cornell ancestors on the list—but if you want to see scanned images of the original records, you’ll have to subscribe to the site or use their Pay-as-You-Go feature.

Not all staff worked in the house itself. Some of my Cornell relations worked in the Royal mews.

Still, it’s a fun way to find out if you have a connection through your ancestors to a royal palace or country home.

Happy hunting!

Let’s Meet at the Meet

My current work-in-progress has a minor sub-plot involving a race meet in a county town.

Scenes on the Road, or A Trip to Epsom and Back, showing Kennington Turnpike-gate, by James Pollard

Since I’m a visual person, I went searching for images of race meets held during the Regency era. Specifically, I wanted to see if I could get a sense of the logistics of the meet. Did they use a starting line or an actual starting gate? How did they mark the course? Did spectators line the course or did they watch from a safe distance?

The Meet with Lord Derby’s Stag Hounds

I thought I’d share with you a few of the images I collected, so you can see for yourself what inspired me to write my own descriptions of a race meet.

The Betting Post at Epsom Races, by James Pollard

When you look at the style of clothing depicted in these images, you can tell they were painted in the 1830s, well after the end of the Regency era. Despite that, I think they’re relevant for my purpose.

Epsom Races: Preparing to Start, by James Pollard

Another question I hoped to answer through these art pieces: Did ladies attend race meets? In the first image above there is a woman in the foreground of the picture, but I think she’s merely watching the men, on horseback and in carriages, as they pass through the gate on their way to the meet.

However, I do see some feminine-looking figures seated in the viewing tower on the far left in the image below. That’s a good thing; if social conventions of the time didn’t prohibit women from attending race meets, I have more flexibility in writing my story and keeping my female characters where the action is.

Epsom Races: The Race Over, by James Pollard

Even if women were allowed to watch races, I know they would have been banned from setting foot on the premises of Tattersall’s. Tattersall’s was a famous bastion of masculinity where horses were bought and sold. I’ve searched the image below several times, and can confirm there isn’t even a hint of a bonnet or skirt. (Apparently, cats were allowed at Tattersall’s, but women weren’t.)

Epsom Races: Settling Day at Tattersalls, by James Pollard

These images did help me visualize what county race meets must have been like. Judging from these images, meets were popular events that caused large crowds of men to descend upon a town—and if that isn’t an inspiring premise for a fiction writer, I don’t know what is!

I hope you enjoyed viewing these images. You can click on each one to open a larger version.

 

U.S. Taxes and the Bank of England

I’m thinking about money today, because I’m getting ready to file my income tax return for 2018 (the deadline for filing is tomorrow here in the U.S.).

The Bank of England on Threadneedle Street, London. A 1788 engraving by Daniel Havell.

As I bid farewell to an admittedly small amount of money that I have to pay with my return, I was reminded (by my “On This Date” calendar) that today is the birthday of Charles Montague, first Earl of Halifax and founder of the Bank of England. He was born on this day in 1661.

The Bank of England rotunda, when it was used as a stock exchange; from a 1792 etching by Thomas Rowlandson.

My small neighborhood bank (which temporarily holds the money I’ll be paying to the IRS) is all steel and glass. It simply doesn’t have the imposing presence the Bank of England had in Regency London.

Lothbury Court, one of the Bank of England’s interior courtyards, 1801.

The images in this post show how the Bank appeared in Jane Austen’s time, although Jane was never a customer of the Bank of England. Instead, she deposited her hard-earned money at Hoare’s Bank in Fleet Street.

The rear facade of the Bank of England, known as Tivoli Corner. In 1807 the wall niches contained figurative statues.

Whenever I decide to visit my money in person, I go to my local branch, where the first thing I see on entering is wide open area, containing neat rows of desks and a line of teller windows. By contrast, here’s the Bank of England’s Doric Vestibule, as it appeared in 1803.

Interior of the Doric Vestibule, 1803.

My poor little neighborhood bank simply cannot compete with the Bank of England. The Bank’s magnificent exterior, the Great Hall, the vast Rotunda—they were all designed by architect John Sloan to portray wealth and elegance. It was an imposing building, meant to inspire trust and awe.

The Northwest corner of the Bank of England, as it appeared in 1808.

I think Mr. Sloan accomplished his purpose. Here’s a bird’s-eye-view drawing of the Bank of England after it underwent an expansion in 1810, under Mr. Sloan’s direction. After the expansion, the Bank of England covered over three acres of prime London real estate. In the drawing you can see the various courts and interior buildings contained within the Bank’s impressive outer walls.

A bird’s-eye-view drawing, showing the interior courtyards and buildings after the 1810 expansion.

It would be a treat to tour the Bank of England as John Sloan designed it. Unfortunately, the magnificent Bank of England was remodeled in 1933 by architect Sir Herbert Baker. In the remodel process, much of the original building was demolished, which, according to architectural writer Nikolaus Pevsner, was “the greatest architectural crime in the City of London, of the twentieth century.”

Despite that, I’d still like to see the Bank of England, and I hope to do so one day. Whatever it looks like now, I have a feeling its design is more inspiring than the dreary but efficient steel and glass  design of my little neighborhood bank.

A Regency-era Shooting Party

In my book Mary and the Captain, Charles Bingley’s younger brother Robert rescued a young boy named Daniel from a difficult situation. Robert took Daniel to Netherfield, and had to find a way to keep young Daniel busy during the day. Robert and Daniel spent as much time as possible out of doors, where Daniel could run and play to his heart’s content. Charles and Robert even took Daniel shooting with them in the high meadow at Netherfield.

The illustrations below helped me envision those Regency-era shooting parties.

In the story, I tried to convey the fact that shooting was a usual past-time for the men at Netherfield.

At one point in the story, beautiful Helena Paget complains that while she finds nothing to do in the country, the men get to enjoy shooting.

And Mr. Penrose, the vicar of Meryton, admits to Caroline Bingley that he has a been a guest of her brother Charles on one or two afternoons of shooting in the meadow.

I added these shooting-party illustrations to my Pinterest board; it contains many of the images that inspired me and sparked my imagination as I wrote Mary and the Captain. You can see all the photos and illustrations by clicking here to visit my Pinterest board.

A Dangerous Game of Billiards

Today I’d like to share with you an account I found of a 1798 billiard game that went horribly wrong.

This was a case that attracted a lot of attention at the time. The parties were:

Mr. Pitter, “a German” who had been a gentleman’s servant; and

Colonel Fitzroy, a man of some renown and, possibly (based on his surname), a man connected to the Royal Family.

Here’s the news account:

“It appeared in evidence that, on the third of August last, the plaintiff and defendant were at the library at Eastbourn. In this library there was a billiard table. Mr. North (the Bishop of Winchester’s son) and other gentlemen were present.”

Game of Billiards by August Serrure

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“The plaintiff . . . played several games with the Colonel.”

A Game of Billiards by Louis-Leopold Boilly, 1807

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“A dispute took place respecting the laws of the game, in the course of which the plaintiff contradicted the defendant.”

“The Colonel asked him how he dared to contradict a gentleman, and then beat him in so violent a manner, that he was under a surgeon’s hands, and kept his bed for several days.”

Game of Billiards by Theodore Levigne

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“The defence to this action was that the plaintiff had used very provoking language to the defendant, and that he had brought the assault upon himself by his insolent behaviour.”

“The learned judge of the court lamented that gentlemen of fortune and family should play with such men as the plaintiff. If they chose to make any men their companions, and get into scrapes, they must abide the consequences. His verdict: The plaintiff was entitled to a verdict, with reasonable damages. Verdict for the plaintiff—Damages Ten Pounds.”

The Billiard Game by Jean-Baptiste_Simeon Chardin, 1725

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I love reading accounts like this because they contain so much information about what it was like to live in Georgian England. The story is a compact little primer on societal prejudices, class distinctions, and monetary values in the late 1700s.  I was also intrigued by the reasoning the judge used to reach his verdict.

Who knew a simple game of billiards could have such consequences!

 

Geeking Out Over the Georgian Papers

Because I write historical romance, I do a lot of research. It’s part of the job, and I thank my lucky stars every day that I live in an age when a lot of what I want or need to know is only a mouse click away.

This week I found a new on-line resource for researching English history during the Georgian Era. It’s a website called The Georgian Papers Programme, and it houses the Royal Archives at Windsor Castle.

The project to make the Royal Archives available on the Internet was begun by Queen Elizabeth II in 2015. Workers are still digitizing documents, and the project is scheduled to be completed in 2020. By that time, there will be over 350,000 pages of Georgian diaries, essays, love letters, state documents and dinner menus spanning the years 1714 to 1837.

I’ve already spent many pleasant hours browsing the collection. Much of what’s been digitized so far centers around King George III and his family.

King George III in his coronation robes

One of the treasures I found on the site is a hand-written book of menus documenting the meals served to the Prince of Wales and his guests at Carlton House.

As an example, here’s a portion of the dinner menu for the evening of Tuesday, December 1, 1812:

It’s hard to read, but the first course consists of:

Soupe Rice with Pullets
Soupe Clear

Soles for Shrimp Sauce

Turkey boild with Oyster Sause 2 pints
Ham with Scotch Cale

Mutton Pullets a la Soubrasse
Croquets of Pullet
Pullets of Capon
Fillets of Whiting with Tarragon

There’s another entire menu book devoted to the day of the Prince of Wales’ (George IV’s) Coronation.

There are drawings of almost fifty different dining tables, showing the place setting for each guest and where on the table each individual serving dish was to be placed.

It’s this level of detail that makes my inner Royalty Geek incredibly happy!

Another find was a 1781 letter from King George III to his Prime Minister Lord North that reads, in part:

My eldest son got last year into a very improper connection with an actress and woman of indifferent character. Through the friendly assistance of Ld. Malden a multitude of letters past which she has threatened to publish unless he in short bought them of her …

The letter goes on to reveal just how much the king was willing to pay that Woman of Indifferent Character to hand over those letters Prinny wrote, and he asks Lord North to help him settle the matter.

The Prince of Wales in 1798, by William Beechey; (c) Royal Academy of Arts; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

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More treasures I discovered:

  • Records of spies working for King George III
  • Lovely letters written by Queen Charlotte to Lady Charlotte Finch, governess to the royal children
  • An abdication plan drafted by King George III
  • Princess Amelia’s will in which she (King George III’s youngest child) scandalized her family by leaving her possessions to Charles FitzRoy, her father’s equerry and the man she loved.

Princess Amelia

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I was even able to compare King George III’s signatures from 1787 to 1810, hinting at the progression of the disease that would eventually kill him.

King George III’s signature in 1788

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King George III’s signature in 1809

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King George III’s signature in 1810

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If you love digging into the details of royal life—especially royalty in the Georgian age—you’ll find plenty to delight you at the Georgian Papers Programme.

Here’s where you’ll find the website:

gpp.royalcollection.org.uk

Enjoy!

Bike to Work, Regency Style

Today is Bike to Work Day in Colorado. In honor of the day, I’m re-reading Frederica by Georgette Heyer.

Why re-read Frederica?

Reason Number One: It’s a darn good book. I love to read stories in which one or more of the lead characters is redeemed. In Frederica the Marquis of Alverstoke is a reluctant hero. But despite his reluctance, the selfish, entitled nobleman is slowly but surely transformed by of his blossoming love for Frederica and his growing affection for her younger brothers and sister.

Reason Number Two: Frederica—like all of Heyer’s novels—is packed with historical tid-bits about life in the Regency era. It was while reading Frederica many years ago that I first learned that an early form of our modern bicycle made its debut during the Regency.

In Regency England it was called a Pedestrian Curricle or Pedestrian Hobbyhorse; and in the novel, Jessamy (one of Frederica’s younger brothers) learns to ride “the ingenious machine” that was all the crack.

Here’s how Georgette Heyer described the Pedestrian Curricle in Frederica:

Of simple construction, it consisted of two wheels, with a saddle hung between them, the foremost of which could be made to turn by means of a bar. It was propelled by the rider’s feet on the road, and experts could achieve quite astonishing speeds, when, admirably balancing themselves, they would lift their feet from the ground and coast along at a great rate, and to the amazement of beholders.

Frederica’s younger brother Jessamy was one of those amazed beholders. Seeing the Pedestrian Curricle in motion for the first time, Jessamy made it his purpose in life to gain the mastery of the new machine and impress his family with his prowess. So he rented a machine, took lessons, and spent several hours practicing his new skill.

In Chapter 14 Jessamy sets off on one last solo ride before revealing his secret skill to Frederica and the rest of his siblings.

Unfortunately, things don’t go as well as planned, and Jessamy finds himself mired in a nightmare situation from which only the Marquis of Alverstoke can save him. What follows is a very sweet scene between Jessamy and the marquis that is one of my favorites in all of Heyer’s novels, because it shows just how much the marquis has changed for the better, without altering his true personality.

I won’t give away any more of the story, except to say that by the end of the novel, I was a little bit in love with the Marquis of Alverstoke myself. So if you haven’t yet read Frederica, I hope you’ll find a copy and read it right away.

And if you have read Frederica before, today might be a good day to re-read it—especially Chapter 14—in honor of Bike to Work Day in Colorado.


If you’d like to learn more about Regency-era bicycles, check out these links:

BicycleHistory.net

Beware the Draisine! by author Sharon Lathan

The Modern Bicycle and its Accessories; a Complete Reference Book

Sir Walter Elliot and Me

I’ve been fascinated by English nobility for as long as I can remember. And like most writers who pen stories set in the era of Regency England, I’ve made a study of the peerage with its ranks and titles, hierarchies and presidencies.

That explains why—whenever I read the opening paragraphs of Jane Austen’s Persuasion—I feel a strong connection with Sir Walter Elliot and his preoccupation with his own book about the baronetage:

Sir Walter Elliot, of Kellynch Hall, in Somersetshire, was a man who, for his own amusement, never took up any book but the Baronetage; there he found occupation for an idle hour, and consolation in a distressed one; there his faculties were roused into admiration and respect, by contemplating the limited remnant of the earliest patents; there any unwelcome sensations, arising from domestic affairs changed naturally into pity and contempt as he turned over the almost endless creations of the last century; and there, if every other leaf were powerless, he could read his own history with an interest which never failed. This was the page at which the favourite volume always opened:

ELLIOT OF KELLYNCH HALL.

“Walter Elliot, born March 1, 1760, married, July 15, 1784, Elizabeth, daughter of James Stevenson, Esq. of South Park, in the county of Gloucester, by which lady (who died 1800) he has issue Elizabeth, born June 1, 1785; Anne, born August 9, 1787; a still-born son, November 5, 1789; Mary, born November 20, 1791.”

There are plenty of instances in Persuasion where Austen gives readers reasons to dislike Sir Walter Elliot for his arrogance, or holds him up to ridicule for his vanity; but I have to agree with Sir Walter on one thing: I love a good book about the peerage.

Several years ago, I found my own copy of a book like Sir Walter’s Baronetage, and it’s one of my prized possessions.

In a used book store in southern California I found a battered 1806 edition of Debrett’s Peerage of England, Scotland and Ireland. Here’s the title page:

It’s a thick book, weighing in at over 400 pages of very tiny type; but it contains everything you’d ever want to know about the hereditary peers of Great Britain and Ireland in the early Nineteenth Century.

The book names each peer by rank, his wife (if married), his children (detailing whether they’re alive or deceased), and the name of the peer’s heir.

It even includes illustrations of the major peers’ coats of arms, and their mottoes. For example, the Marquis of Downshire’s motto is:

“Either attempt not, or accomplish.”

That sounds a lot like Yoda’s “Do or do not; there is no try,” doesn’t it? Here’s a page showing some of the coats of arms for English Marquisses:

And like Sir Walter Elliot, I enjoy browsing through the pages of the book whenever I have an idle moment.

In my novel Mary and the Captain, my copy of Debrett’s played a pivotal role in the story. Mary Bennet used the entries in Debrett’s to figure out the identity of a boy apprentice she and Captain Robert Bingley (Caroline and Charles’ brother) rescue from a cruel taskmaster.

But I don’t want to give you the impression that there’s nothing to Debrett’s but a long list of peers, their ancestors, and heirs.

My 1806 edition includes a handy explanation of heraldic terms. I’ve spent many enjoyable hours poring over these pages with a magnifying glass trying to reason out for myself what each symbol meant on a given coat of arms.

Every little detail on a coat of arms means something. For someone like me who enjoys solving puzzles, interpreting the arms shown in the book has been a fun challenge using the illustrations of terms.

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Like Sir Walter, my Debrett’s has given me “occupation for an idle hour” and I’m still discovering fascinating new bits of information in its pages; like this entry for Elizabeth Rawdon, Baroness Hungerford:

What?!? I was pretty startled to see a woman listed among the barons, since all my research showed noble titles were passed from male to male in each generation. But with Lady Hungerford’s entry, I charged off on a new flurry of research to figure out how it was possible that a woman inherited a baronetcy.

I’m still working my way through the book, and with each reading I seem to discover new revelations that fascinate me. That’s why I can whole-heartedly agree with Sir Walter: poring over the pages of a book about the peerage never fails to hold my interest.