A Regency Christmas Tree for You

There’s a long-held tenet in the romance community that people of the Regency Era didn’t have Christmas trees as part of their Christmas celebrations. That’s correct.

In general.

But the truth is that long before Queen Victoria and Prince Albert introduced the idea of Christmas trees to the British public, Queen Charlotte, the wife of George III, brought the tradition of Christmas trees to Britain from Germany.

Royal records show that Queen Charlotte celebrated the season by having yew branches placed in rooms at Kew Palace or Windsor Castle, which she then decorated with candles and ornaments.

In 1800 she hosted a Christmas party for the children at court. For the occasion she had an entire yew tree brought inside, “the whole illuminated by small wax candles.” She decorated the tree with “sweetmeats, almonds, fruits and toys” for the children.

While the queen’s Christmas tree tradition wasn’t widely known to the general public, it was definitely known by palace insiders and members of the nobility. Some of those nobles may even have adopted the practice themselves, and that’s the premise behind one of my traditional Regency romances.

In Once Upon a Christmas my heroine, Nerissa Raleigh, is attending a ball a nobleman’s London home, when she seeks a quiet place to escape the hectic whirl of the ballroom.

When the hero, Breck Davenant, follows her, he discovers her in a small drawing room in which the family has erected a Christmas tree.

Here’s Nerissa’s reaction to seeing a Christmas tree for the first time:

He closed the door and advanced farther into the room. It took a moment for him to realize that Nerissa had not replied, nor even turned to look at him. She remained curiously still, her attention focused upon one of the most dazzling objects she ever beheld.

In the far comer of the room stood a pine tree that reached just above Breck’s height. About its branches were hung a number of adornments. Perfectly round oranges, bowed ribbons, and small brass keepsakes decorated the tree from top to bottom. Set among the branches were short candles of purest white, held in place by small sconces of polished brass.

Breck moved toward one corner of the room, the better to see Nerissa’s profile as she continued to gaze at the tree, her brown eyes gone wide with wonder.

“Shall I light them for you?” he asked at last in a low voice that was just as mesmerizing as the tree itself.

He didn’t wait for her to answer, but drew a taper from the candelabrum and began to light the candles on the tree. Nerissa clasped her hands together and watched him with a feeling of deepening anticipation. When he was done, he stepped back, allowing her a full view of the results.

The candlelight amid the branches seemed to set the entire tree aglow; it reflected off the small brass tokens and bathed the room in the warmth of its beauty.

Nerissa couldn’t recall the last time she had been so dazzled. She closed her eyes for just a moment and breathed deeply of the scent of pine and oranges. “Could anything ever be more beautiful?” she asked appreciatively. “It’s almost as if a forest nymph had touched the tree with its magical fairy dust! It—it’s the most wonderful thing I have ever seen!”

She looked over at Breck and found his gray eyes upon her, his lips half-smiling, and an oddly arrested expression on his face.

“I dare say you think me quite foolish!” she said, steeling herself against the teasing she thought surely he would hurl her direction.

He took the time to draw a cigarillo from his vest pocket and light it from the flame of the candelabrum before he answered. “On the contrary,” he said slowly, “I think you quite charming.”

She felt a sudden and unaccountable wave of happiness sweep over her, and she was somewhat surprised by the feeling. She watched him cross the space between them with a few long-legged strides. He chose not to expand upon those brief, provocative words, electing instead to stand by her side and gaze upon the tree with her in companionable silence.

“Why is it here?” she asked after a few moments.

“It’s a Christmas tree. The Germans make them part of their holiday celebrations.”

“I—I’ve never heard of such a thing!” she said, looking up at him and finding the quizzing look had returned to his eyes.

“Barbaric, isn’t it?” he asked. “No doubt they erect it as part of a pagan ritual. Do you think they dance like heathens about it and—”

“Don’t!” exclaimed Nerissa, laying her small hand on his sleeve to still his words. “Please don’t make sport of it. It—it’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen!”

Breck, long inured to the lures of Christmas traditions, even those of German origin, thought better than to tease her over this admission.

He stepped back a little toward the fireplace, drew deeply against his cigarillo, and watched the play of emotions cross her expressive face. It had been a long time since he had seen anyone so lose herself to enchantment. In his social circle, one rarely encountered anything new. If, by odd circumstance, one did, it would never do to betray the thing.

Nerissa Raleigh, he was fast discovering, had no such compunctions. She gave herself up to the delight of her surroundings and gazed upon the softly glowing tree with wide-eyed, unaffected appreciation. He had the very distinct feeling that she didn’t even recall the Christmas Ball going on downstairs, or the fact that someone might have by now missed her. Were he to allow it, she would no doubt prefer to remain in the family saloon, staring at the tree for the rest of the evening.

“Miss Raleigh,” he said in a quiet voice that drew her attention, “it is time we were returned to the ballroom.”

“I suppose you are right,” she said, fighting back an odd pang of regret. She watched him move about the tree, extinguishing the candles, and she said rather impulsively, “Thank you! How gallant you were to have lit the candles and made the tree so lovely just for my benefit!”

He had just finished snuffing the last of the flames, and turned to send one of his quizzing looks her direction. “I dare say I was merely in one of my heroic moods.”

She wasn’t offended. “I dare say you are more often heroic than you may know!”

He looked down upon her, a speculative look in his eye, as if he had been about to say something but thought better of it. Instead, he offered his arm and said rather gently, “I’ll take you back now.”

Nerissa placed her hand on his arm and felt the warmth fly to her cheeks. Here was a side of Breck Davenant she had not yet seen. He was being extremely solicitous and surprisingly tender. When he led her back into the ballroom and she would have withdrawn her hand from the crook of his arm, he placed his other hand over hers, compelling her to stay.

“Will you dance with me, Miss Raleigh?” he asked.

She could hardly refuse. In fact, at that very moment she wanted nothing more than to remain by his side. They took their place in a country set. The music struck up and Breck clasped her hand lightly. He may as well have set her gloves on fire, thought Nerissa, for each time the movement of the dance caused her to place her hand in his, his touch left behind a most peculiar warmth. They had been together many times, but now, inexplicably, she was nervous in his presence and could barely bring herself to meet his eyes without blushing.

Breck noticed her behavior, and he was a little intrigued by it. Her whole demeanor had changed since he had lit the candles on the Christmas tree. He recalled how lovely she had looked—her wide brown eyes gazing upon the tree with an ingenuous light that was not at all unattractive. His impulse had been to tease her, but when she had directed that same gaze his way, he had felt something stir in his heart that was not mere amusement.

He had meant to twit her, but instead found himself feeling something quite tender for her. That, he knew, was dangerous ground.

I hope you enjoyed reading about Nerissa’s first encounter with a Christmas tree.

And I hope you liked Breck’s reaction.

Whatever traditions you and your family hold with, I hope they bring you joy this holiday season.

Merry Christmas to you and yours!

 

 

p.s. You can learn more about Once Upon a Christmas by clicking on the book cover:

Queen Elizabeth on the Moon

I was going down the research rabbit hole this week and came across this interesting factoid:

When Neal Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins boarded the spacecraft Apollo 11 in July 1969 they carried with them a sealed metal container.

In the container was a message from Queen Elizabeth II, which read:

On behalf of the British people I salute the skill and courage which have brought man to the Moon. May this endeavor increase the knowledge and well-being of mankind.

The message was deposited on the moon by the American astronauts on July 21, 1969, along with (among other things) an American flag and a plaque inscribed, “We came in peace for all mankind.”

I love the idea of Queen Elizabeth hitching a ride on Apollo 11 (even symbolically). And I’m also fascinated by the fact that her words (as well as those of other world leaders at the time) have a permanent home on our big beautiful moon the sky.

From SolarSystem.nasa.gov.

 

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!

It’s Official!

I’m thrilled to announce that I’m now an author on the Austen Authors blog!

I’ve been reading the Austen Authors blog for years, and I’ve always enjoyed the Jane Austen inspired stories its members create. So you can imagine how “over the moon” I was when they asked me to join their roster!

My debut post appears today and you can read it here. I hope you’ll join me on the blog as we chat about royal weddings past and present. See you there!

 

 

A Much Anticipated Wedding

The final count-down has begun! In less than a week American Meghan Markle will marry Britain’s Prince Harry, and I plan to spend the day watching every possible moment of TV coverage from the comfort of my home.

Royal marriages don’t come along every day; neither do royal marriages involving a bride and groom who love each other.

The last major royal wedding was in 2011 when Catherine Middleton wed Prince William.

That may seem like a strange thing to say in our modern times, but even modern British Royals didn’t always marry for love.

When it comes to choosing a spouse, the British Royal Family has to adhere to the pesky rules contained in the Royal Marriage Act of 1772. Instituted by George III after he was angered by his own brother’s ill-judged marriage, the Act decreed that no member of the Royal Family could marry without the reigning monarch’s approval. Those who defied the law risked losing his or her place in the line of succession. The Act even criminalized officiating at or attending an unsanctioned royal wedding.

George III

It didn’t take long for the King George’s eldest son, George, Prince of Wales, to defy his father (out of habit, probably, as he defied his father in many other ways, as well). Just thirteen years after The Act became law, the Prince of Wales secretly married the object of his affection, Maria Fitzherbert, a twice-widowed Catholic.

George IV, when he was Prince of Wales

Not only did the Prince of Wales violate the Royal Marriage Act by marrying Mrs. Fitzherbert without his father’s permission, he also violated the Act of Settlement of 1701, which forbade Royal marriages to “papists.” Eventually, their marriage was ruled to be invalid and the Prince of Wales later married Caroline of Brunswick. Theirs was a loveless marriage that proved to be a disaster.

Maria Fitzherbert

History records only one other instance of a British monarch refusing to grant a family member’s petition to marry. It happened in 1946 when King George VI refused to grant a cousin, Prince George William of Hanover, permission to marry Princess Sophie of Greece and Denmark. The couple married anyway.

Unofficially, Queen Elizabeth II had to withhold her permission in 1955 when her younger sister, Princess Margaret, wanted to marry divorced Group Captain Peter Townsend. After pressure from Parliament that included a threat to strip her of her income and royal privileges, Margaret ended her relationship with Captain Townsend, relieving the Queen of having to decide whether or not to approve their marriage. Princess Margaret married, instead, Anthony Snowdon; they divorced in 1978.

Captain Peter Townsend and Princess Margaret

Interestingly, in 1936, when King Edward VIII wanted to marry Wallis Simpson, the Royal Marriage Act didn’t apply to him. He was the reigning monarch, and had the ability to give himself permission to marry the twice-divorced Mrs. Wallis Warfield Simpson. Their love-match lasted 35 years, but it cost him the throne.

The Duke and Duchess of Windsor, formerly Edward VII and Wallis Warfield Simpson

In the generations since then, the Royal Family has taken great steps forward to keep up with the times. Although the rule is still in effect that prohibits Royals in line for the succession from marrying Catholics, The Royal Marriage Act was repealed in 2015.

That paved the way for this Saturday’s royal wedding, since Meghan Markle is a divorced woman.

Meghan Markle and Prince Harry

Queen Elizabeth has already issued an official Instrument of Consent, which formally declares her approval in writing of their marriage.

The Instrument of Consent, signed by Queen Elizabeth

So the scene is set, the paperwork has been filed, the dress and the cake have been ordered, and the guests have been invited. All that’s left is for Meghan Markle to walk down the aisle and exchange wedding vows with her prince.

I plan to watch every moment of television coverage, from sun up to sun down. I’ll also be sharing more about royal weddings on the Austen Authors blog on Saturday so please join me!

King Charles I: Art Collector Extraordinaire

King Charles I ruled England for 24 years before he was executed in 1649. During his reign he amassed a collection of over 2,000 works of art.

Portrait of King Charles I of England by Anthony van Dyck

His hoard included classical sculptures, oil on canvas portraits, enormous tapestries, and delicate miniatures. Charles even augmented the collection by commissioning artist Anthony van Dyck to paint a series of very flattering portraits of himself. This tri-view portrait of Charles I is just one example:

His discerning eye and royal patronage fostered a new and exciting culture of art and expression in England. But when Charles was executed in 1649, his massive collection was sold off, with individual pieces scattering across Europe’s museums and even some private homes.

This year the Royal Academy of Arts will reunite some of the legendary masterpieces of Charles’ magnificent collection in one exhibit.

The exhibition, titled Charles I: King and Collector embodies everything I love in a museum offering:

  • It has small pieces that invite you to stand close and drink in each delicate detail.
  • It has large pieces that demand you stand back in order to admire the whole.
  • It has that overall aura of royalty about it, and I love anything related to English royalty.

Unfortunately, I live on the wrong side the Atlantic, so I won’t be able to see the exhibit in London. I’m keeping my fingers crossed, though, that the collection will go on tour in the U.S. sometime soon.

Charles I: King and Collector opens January 27 at the Royal Academy of Arts in London and runs until April 15. You can find out more about the exhibit on the Royal Academy’s website here.

 

 

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!

When a Prince Turns 21

The Prince Regent, about 1790

The Prince Regent, about 1790

I have a friend whose daughter will turn 21 in about a month. They’re busily planning multiple parties: one for said daughter and her friends, and a second party for the family to celebrate the event together. With all the talk about pub crawls, trips to Las Vegas, and what kind of cake goes well with Champagne, I started to wonder how people during the Regency period celebrated birthdays.

To a large extent, turning 21 was just as much of a landmark event during the Regency as it is today. It was a milestone that marked an age when a person became truly independent and was old enough to make life-altering decisions. That was true, for the most part, for the Prince of Wales.

Queen Charlotte with her two eldest sons

Queen Charlotte with her two eldest sons

The future King George IV was born on August 12, 1762. To an American like me, the particulars of his birth are interesting because of the number of people involved. In those days, Queens of England gave birth to a room full of witnesses. From accounts at the time, the following people were either in Queen Charlotte’s bedchamber or in the room adjoining it with the door open between:

  • The Princess Dowager of Wales
  • The Archbishop of Canterbury
  • The Duke of Devonshire
  • The Duke of Rutland
  • The Lords Hardwicke, Huntingdon, Talbot, Halifax, Bute, Masham and Cantalupe
  • All the ladies of the bedchamber
  • The maids of honor

The only doctor present did not attend the queen. Instead, he remained in the adjoining room so he could attend to any of the witnesses who felt queasy. The future king was delivered by a midwife named Mrs. Stephen.

The Prince of Wales

The Prince of Wales

When the prince turned 21 in 1783, he had no official celebration. As it happened, the Prince’s mother, Queen Charlotte, had recently given birth to her fifteenth child; so while the King and the rest of the family congratulated the Prince in private (very heartily, I’m sure), there wasn’t a public commemoration.

So the Prince of Wales turned to his friends to help him celebrate, and they didn’t disappoint him. They joined together at the White Hart Tavern in Windsor. “A large turtle, of the enormous size of four hundred weight, was killed on the occasion, being a present sent to the Prince from the East Indies.” (Yes, you read that right. He killed his present and ate it. I wonder if that’s what the people of East Indies had in mind when they gave it to him?)

The White Hart, Lincoln. Perhaps this tavern is similar to the White Hart in Windsor where the Prince celebrated his birthday.

The White Hart, Lincoln. Perhaps this tavern
is similar to the one the Prince frequented.

One account of the party hints that not all the guests had the Prince’s best interests in mind. In his book The Private Life of a King, John Banvard wrote:

Deeply did every real friend of the Prince lament that of a pernicious class some had obtained an entire ascendancy over his ingenuous mind; and that, whilst they hailed his independence with hollow congratulations, they dreaded nothing so much as for his spirit to become as independent as his circumstances, and his opinions to disdain the restraint which his person had shaken off.

In other words, John Banvard believed the Prince hung out that night with a bad crowd. There were people at his party that would have a negative influence over the prince in months and years to come; but for one night, at least, the Prince of Wales drank wine, ate turtle and partied like he just turned twenty-one.

 

Welcome, Princess Charlotte!

It’s official. England’s newest princess is named Charlotte Elizabeth Diana. Of course, that’s the shortened version of her name. Officially, her name is registered as:

Her Royal Highness Princess Charlotte Elizabeth Diana of Cambridge.

Here’s the document that registered her birth:

New Babys Name

I love the way the “Occupation” field was completed for Will and Kate. And though it looks like the registrar completed the form (the handwriting seems to match), that’s HRH Prince William’s signature in field 14.

A new baby is always a blessed and thrilling event, but when the baby is a princess, too, it add a little extra touch of magic to the occasion.

A Princess is Born!

I was traveling yesterday but managed to keep up with news about Britain’s newest princess. She looked like a little doll in her mother’s arms.

Newborn Princess

Dad seemed pretty happy, too.

Now the big question is, what name will they give their new little princess? The odds are on Charlotte, which would go well with George . . . as the royal family demonstrated in the 18th Century.

King George III and Queen Charlotte

King George III and Queen Charlotte with six of their children. Their granddaughter was named Charlotte, too.

My vote is for the princess to be named Charlotte Elizabeth Diana. It gives a nod to Prince Charles, the Queen, and Prince William’s mother and (most importantly) it has a nice ring to it.