The Six Daughters of George III

© Cheryl Bolen

In the century and half since the last princess died, no one has ever before had the fortitude to chronicle the lives of the six daughters of George III (1738-1820) and his wife Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (1744-1818). Until Flora Fraser.

In 2006, she published Princesses: The Six Daughters of George III. One of England’s premier biographers of the late Georgian era, Fraser (Beloved Emma) first became acquainted with the princesses when doing archival research for her biography (Unruly Queen) of their sister-in-law, the Prince Regent’s wife.princesses

“Given other circumstances, the letters of these six royal sisters might have been filled only with Court gossip, pomp and fashion,” Fraser writes. “Instead their correspondence makes harrowing reading, revealing the humility with which they met pain and horror, the tenacity with which they pursued their individual dreams, and the stratagems they devised to endure years of submission and indignity.”

The circumstances which catapulted their lives onto a sorrowful trajectory, of course, were the intermittent bouts of the king’s insanity which terminated in a nine-year regency after he was declared incompetent to rule.

His first occurrence of the illness was in 1788; it was another 23 years before the regency became official. Sadly, it was during those years the princesses came of age, only to be denied the opportunities for gaiety and marriage. The king’s illness turned a concerned mother into a domineering tyrant who deprived the princesses of any hopes for happiness.

During those years, the princesses were forced to forgo personal pleasures or aspirations for matrimony for fear it would incite another relapse in the father who was so excessively fond of his daughters.

To a one, all the princesses wished to marry, to have their own homes, to have children. Most of them would be denied these simple pleasures.

The king himself said in 1805 — when the Princess Royal was 39 and the youngest princess, Amelia, 22 — “I cannot deny that I have never wished to see any of them marry: I am happy in their company, and do not in the least want a separation.”

When he spoke those words, “Royal,” as the eldest sister was always called, was the only sister to have married. Her father had refused many offers for her hand, a fact that embittered her. She finally succeeded in marrying a widow, the Hereditary Prince of Wuttemberg, when she was thirty.

She was thrilled to escape “The Nunnery,” a title the princesses themselves dubbed their residences at Kew Palace and Windsor Castle. She never regretted the decision to marry. While she never bore a live child, she was an indulgent mother and grandmother to her step-children and may have been the happiest of the sisters.

None of the sisters would ever become a mother, though the fourth princess, Sophia (1777-1848), gave birth secretly to an illegitimate child sired by her father’s equerry, who was more than thirty years older than she. She never married.

Amelia died of tuberculosis at the age of twenty-seven, which many think contributed to her father’s final fall into hopeless insanity. Even on her deathbed, her family would not allow Amelia to marry the young officer she had been in love with for eight years.

Her sister, Princess Augusta (1768-1840), also fell in love with a military man, Gen. Sir Brent Spencer. When she was 43 she wrote a letter to the regent that begged to be allowed to marry the man who had shared her “mutual affection” for twelve years. Request refused, she died a spinster.

Princess Mary had more luck. She demanded the regent allow her to wed her cousin, the Duke of Gloucester, whose father was her father’s brother. The regent reluctantly agreed. At age forty, she finally married. While it is doubtful she was in love with her husband, she relished the first liberty she had ever tasted.

The sister who had most wanted to marry and had dreamed of bearing a child, Princess Elizabeth, finally was granted one of her wishes. At age forty-eight and well past child-bearing years, she married the Landgrave of Hesse-Homburg and had a happy marriage for eleven years.

Fraser’s research is meticulous, right down to the names of the royal wet nurses and the salary paid to them. Almost all of the research is original, delving into letters in collections, archives, and libraries across the globe, a feat that had to have taken several years.

For the casual reader, there are a few problems. First, it is difficult to chronicle six lives at once chronologically. We get a snippet of one sister, but the narrative thread drops while there is an awkward transition to another sister because of chronological constraints. Therefore, the book makes for dry reading and lacks dramatic structure.

For the historian, this work is a gem.

ex-spinster-by-christmasCheryl’s newest release is Ex-Spinster by Christmas (House of Haverstock #4).

http://kindlel.ink/Ex-Spinster

 

http://nookl.ink/Ex-Spinster

 

http://ibooksl.ink/Ex-Spinster

 

http://kobol.ink/Ex-Spinster

The Life and Loves of Madame Recamier

© Cheryl Bolen

(Cheryl originally wrote this for A Covent Garden Gilflurt’s Guide to Life.)

Recamier by Jacques-Louis_David_016

Madame Recamier on the piece of furniture which came to bear her name

The Duke of Wellington and Napoleon opposed each other not only on the battlefield but also for the affections of a certain beautiful lady. That lady, Madame Recamier, spurned both of these powerful men. Napoleon was so outraged, he banished her from France and her famed Parisian salon where authors and intellectuals—most of whom despised Napoleon—gathered.

In an era when, as Lord Egremont said, “Women considered it a stain upon their reputation if they hadn’t taken a lover,” Juliette Recamier (1777-1849) went four decades without knowing a lover—not even the wealthy, much-older banker she had married at age 15.

Called a frigid coquette, Madame Recamier directed her sensuous flirtations on virtually every man who came to her salon on rue du Mont-Blanc—and most of them became captivated by her beauty and voluptuous charm. Author and political philosopher Benjamin Constant said, “Madame Recamier takes it into her head to make me fall in love with her . . . My life is completely upset.” For the next fourteen months, he was tortured by his unrequited love for her.

He was one of dozens over the years.

Lady Bessborough, who was among the English aristocrats who flocked to Paris in 1802 after the signing of the short-lived Treaty of Amiens, gives this interesting account of meeting the beautiful Madame Recamier.

I must tell you [Lady Bessborough wrote to her lover, Granville Leveson Gower] tho’, a nasty and an indelicate story, but how distress’d I was at Mad. Recamier’s. We went there and found her in bed—that beautiful bed you saw prints of—muslin and gold curtains, great looking glasses at the side, incense pots, &c., and muslin sheets trimm’d with lace, and beautiful white shoulders expos’d perfectly uncovered to view—in short, completely undress’d and in bed. The room was full of men.

During her salons, Madame Recamier commonly reposed on a chaise longue—a piece of furniture which would later be named a recamier in her honor. A famed portrait by Jacques Louis David of her on her chaise longue hangs in the Louvre.

The only child of Marie Julie Matton and Jean Bernard, the king’s counsellor, Juliette was born in Lyon, but the family later moved to Paris. During the Reign of Terror, she married  Jacques-Rose Récamier, who was 27 years her senior. Mystery surrounds the marriage. There is some credence that Recamier married to pass on his fortune if he should fall to the Terror. It was said he was very close to Juliette’s mother. Some suggested Juliette remained a virgin because Recamier was her natural father, but this has been discounted.

As she neared the age of thirty, Madame Recamier finally fell victim to Cupid’s arrow when she fell in love with Prince Augustus of Prussia, a nephew of Frederick the Great. They met in the Swiss home of her friend, the famed Madame de Stael, who encouraged the romance. Juliette Recamier wrote to her husband to ask for a divorce, but at the time he was besieged with financial woes (he eventually went bankrupt). His response appealed to her sensibilities while telling her she could not have picked a worse time. He also expressed regret that he had respected her virginal susceptibilities.

Writing years later about her lover, Madame Recamier said, “We were convinced that we were going to be married, and our relationship was very intimate; even so, there was one thing he failed to obtain.”

Prince Augustus, many years later, in front of his portrait of the love of his life, Madame Recamier

Prince Augustus, many years later, in front of his portrait of the love of his life, Madame Recamier

Before the two lovers parted, they exchanged written promises. Prince Augustus wrote, “I swear by my honor and by love to preserve in all its purity the sentiment that attaches me to Juliette Recamier, to take all steps that duty allows to unite with her in the bonds of marriage, and to possess no woman as long as there is hope that I may join my destiny with hers. AUGUST, PRINCE OF PRUSSIA.”

Madame Recamier wrote, “I swear by the salvation of my soul to preserve in all its purity the sentiment that attaches me to Prince August of Prussia; to do everything that honor permits to dissolve my marriage, to have no love nor flirtation with any other man, to see him again as soon as possible, and, whatever the future may bring, to entrust my destiny entirely to his honor and his love. J. R.”

The Recamiers did not divorce, and Prince Augustus never married, though two of his long-time mistresses bore him eleven children. Ten years after he fell in love with Juliette Recamier, he had his portrait made standing in front of her portrait.

Back in Paris, the Recamiers were forceed to sell their house on the rue du Mont Blanc, their silver, and Juliette’s jewelry. She suffered the losses with the same languid serenity that governed her life. By 1809, Recamier was once again in business but on a much smaller scale.

Even though her circumstances were reduced, Madame Recamier’s salons were as popular as ever. Later she resided in apartments in a former convent, now demolished, at 16 rue de Sèvres in Paris.

It is believe she finally lost her virginity at age 40. Her lover was the 50-year-old author Chateaubriand.

Her husband died in 1830. She lived another nineteen years before cholera claimed her at age 71. She was buried in the Cimetiere de Montmarte.

Resources

Herold, J. Christopher. Mistress to an Age: A Life of Madame de Staël. The Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc., 1958.

Lady Granville, The Private Correspondence of Lord Granville Leveson Gower, 2 vol., London, John Murray, 1917

Crossing the English Channel during the Regency

© Cheryl Bolen

For most of the Regency era, sailboats were the only way to cross the English Channel. These depended upon the kindness of the winds. An exceedingly swift crossing could breeze along in three hours. Reports of 18-hour crossings are not uncommon. It was said the journey from Dover to Calais was much speedier than the one from Calais to Dover because of the winds.

Factor in that crossings could be delayed for days because of unfavorable winds. Fanny Burney’s father once waited in Dover for nine days before the winds were obliging for his sailing to Calais. Sailing must commence during low tide, also.

Polish scholar Krystyn Lack-Szyrma, whose London Observed (from 1820-1824) was published in English in 2009, recorded comprehensive details about his stay in Calais and crossing the channel. His voyage, for which he paid one guinea, took six hours—most of which rendered him very seasick. (From another source, I found out the record during that era was two hours and forty minutes, set in 1802.)Layout 1

He gives us readers two centuries later a glimpse of the interior of these packet boats with his thorough word pictures. He tells us the spacious cabins are illuminated by a window which faces the deck. Each side of the cabin is fitted with rows of compartments, stacked two high. The bunks are furnished with clean, white bed linens, which Lack-Szyrma says is the only color linen the English will have. The bunks are curtained with either green or red. Men’s cabins are segregated from women’s.

Here is Lack-Szyrma’s account of seasickness.

The ship was rolling on the waves more and more, causing the unbearable suffering called seasickness and those who are used to sailing are spared. Even to describe the symptoms of the sickness in not pleasant. Sufferers have stomach cramps and are prone to vomiting. They suffer from vertigo and see coloured spots before their eyes, especially green ones. The most unpleasant feeling is when a huge breaker, having raised the ship high, brings it crashing down. Your whole body feels numb. The weakness is so tormenting, that it almost makes you lose interest in life. In case of a violent storm, it must make people insensitive to danger, thus mitigating the horror of a shipwreck.

He goes on to report that even after reaching land and standing on firm ground, the seasickness does not promptly go away. (Oh, dear, I got that wrong in more than one of my books.)

The first steamboat appeared on the English channel in 1818 but these weren’t widely used until nearly a decade later. Lack-Szyrma tells us that by 1827 England had almost 200 steamships, but in America, where they were built, the number was much greater. Not all these 200 were used for crossing the channel. Steamboats were a common means of transport to and from Edinburgh from points south, especially London.

Lack-Szyrma gives an account of a steamboat owner in Calais inviting a few members of the municipal council for a short sail in his steamer. “They agreed to his request, but when it was time to go on board, they got frightened and each of them looked for an excuse not to take part in this trip. Such an important invention aroused people’s anxiety in those days!”

If you’re interested in knowing things like how much it cost to sail from Dover to Calais or the price of gentlemen’s lodging in London, I highly recommend reading Lack-Szyrma’s journal. Of all the ones I’ve read from the era, this one is THE best. He spent several years studying British government, penal system, courts, history and almost every aspect of the country and explains them in clearly understood layman’s terms. Titled London Observed: A Polish Philosopher at Large, 1820-24, it’s annotated and edited by Mona Kesslie McLeod, a retired lecturer at Edinburgh University.—Cheryl Bolen’s newest release is Pride and Prejudice Sequels: 3 Novellas.

Divorce Regency Style

©By Cheryl Bolen

Divorces, while not unheard of in the Regency, were extremely rare. Only the wealthiest could afford the expensive process of filing a bill of divorce, which must be approved by the House of Lords before moving to the House of Commons. It sometimes took years for Parliament to grant a divorce.

 
As women had few legal rights, the divorce petition had to originate with the husband, and in almost all cases was initiated because of the wife’s adultery.

 
Because few men wished to own they had been cuckolded, only the most furious of husbands would set themselves up for such notoriety.

 
For the divorce hearings—where witnesses gave testimony to prove adulterous liaisons—generated tremendous notoriety. Printings of the transcripts made bestsellers.
Few woman wished to expose themselves to such scandal. A divorced woman was barred from court and from almost all aristocratic functions. She could not obtain custody of her children, either. And if she went on to remarry (some divorce decrees forbid the wife to marry her seducer) she would be prohibited from presenting legitimate daughters from the second marriage.

This happened to Lady Holland when her first husband (with her full support) divorced her so she could marry Lord Holland. (She also had to sign away her fortune to the first husband, Sir Godfrey Webster.)

 
Some men braved the notoriety the absorbed the expense of divorce in order to ensure they would not have to give their name to a child fathered by the wife’s lover. By English law, any child born during the marriage was the legitimate issue of the marriage and could claim titles, land, or other inheritances.

 
A much cheaper—and more common—option for a couple trapped in a miserable marriage was an ecclesiastical separation. The drawback to separation was the inability to remarry.—Cheryl Bolen’s latest novel, Oh What a (Wedding) Night, continues the Brazen Brides series of Regency romances.

Subscriptions raised money for charities–and for destitute friends

© Cheryl Bolen

In the days before organized non-profits and charity fetes, the British raised money for the less fortunate through subscriptions advertised in newspapers. Subscribers could donate an amount with which they were comfortable. The higher the person’s rank, the more they were expected to give. It was a coup to use the name of a member of the Royal Family as having donated.

Here are a few subscription notices that appeared on the front page of The Morning Chronicle in 1817.

Subscription for Poor Irish laborers

Donating £50

 HRH the Princess Charlotte Auguste of Saxe Coburg

His Serene H the Prince Leopold of Saxe Coburg 

Donating £20 

Right Hon. G. Ponsonby

the Right Honorable Viscount Castlereagh 

Donating £10 

the Hon. Louisa Cavendish

A Case of Real Distress

Rt. Hon. John George—Lord Arden, Registrar of the Admiralty, Ld of the Bedchamber, etc., etc. It appears from the most unexceptional authority this truly unfortunate nobleman is now actually out of pocket by his sinecure. This case is recommended to all charitably disposed persons. . . the smallest sums will be thankfully received—Messrs. Curtis & Co. Downing Street: Rev. Dr. Sidmouth, Spring Gardens. . . the following subscribers have already been received . . .

It is likely that Curtis & Co. on Downing Street would have been solicitors who handled the subscription and its dispensation.

Friends would often come to others’ aids with subscriptions, such as in the case of statesman Charles James Fox. In a 1793 letter to his wife, who was on the Continent, Lord Bessborough wrote, “We have had a subscription for Charles Fox, who was in distress; Dudley North (Whig M.P.) and Charles Pelham (another M.P.) were the chief movers of it, and they have got as much money as will buy him annuity for his life of £2,000 a year. I should have thought it would have better to have done it without a publick meeting, as they had got nearly money enough without it. However they chose to have it. I had not much to give (huge gambling losses had decimated the Bessborough’s fortune) so I only subscribed £200.”

A week later he wrote

I have been this morning to a meeting about Charles fox’s affairs. We had a very handsome letter from him, & his politicks this years have been kept clear of in what was said; I understand they have got £33,000 paid, which is very extraordinary at this time, & £10,000 more promised. they are in hopes of paying his debts & having enough to get him annuity of £2,000 for his life. I understand they have agreed to buy the annuity of the Duke of Bedford & Ld. Spencer at 11 years purchase.

The grandson of a duke, Fox had inherited enormous wealth from his father, Baron Holland, but squandered it away at the gaming tables. Twice. An annuity of £2,000 would have been an extremely comfortable income. In Fox’s case, subscribers generously reached into their pockets because he was so affable, clever, and well liked.

Still, Fox’s debts, in today’s dollars, would have been roughly $4.5 million. It is doubtful the poor Irish laborers received anything approaching that hefty amount.—Cheryl Bolen, the NY Times and USA bestselling author of two dozen Regency romance novels, has just released Oh What a (Wedding) Night.

Resources

Morning Chronicle, February 6, 1817

Lady Bessborough and Her Family Circle, Earl Bessborough in collaboration with A. Aspinall, John Murray, London, 1940.

 

The Actress Who Married a Duke

© Cheryl Bolen

What a strange eventful life has mine been, from a poor little player child, with just food and clothes to cover me, dependent on a very precarious profession, without talent or a friend in the world – first the wife of the best, the most perfect being that ever breathed …and now the wife of a Duke! You must write my life… my true history written by the author of Waverley”

The passage above was written in 1827 by the Duchess of St. Albans to Sir Walter Scott shortly after her marriage to the 9th Duke of St. Albans, a man 23 years her junior.

How did a 50-year-old former actress attract so lofty a peer? It’s a good guess that her enormous fortune dazzled him.

How, then, did an actress at a minor London theatre become one of the wealthiest women in the British Isles?

Harriet Mellon (1777-1837) was nearing forty when she attracted the attention of the enormously wealthy banker Thomas Coutts (1735-1822) while acting at the Duke Street Theatre. She was noted for her beauty and was painted by George Romney and Sir Thomas Lawrence.

Harriet Mellon

Harriet Mellon

Coutts married her soon after his first wife died in 1815. This husband whom she described as “the most perfect being that ever breathed” was eighty.

Coutts had founded Coutts & Co., the royal bank, and he enjoyed close relationships with the highest ranking families and officials in the land. Both his first wife, Elizabeth Starkey, formerly in service at his brother’s house, and Harriet would have been considered beneath him, but such lack of consequence was apparently not of significance.

His three daughters—with encouragement from their father—were more cognizant of rank when selecting their mates. His eldest daughter, Susan, married the 3rd Earl of Guilford; daughter Frances married the 1st Marquess of Bute; and Sophia married Sir Francis Burdett.

When Coutts died seven years after marrying Harriet, he left his entire fortune to her. She hosted parties at her townhouse at 78 Piccadilly, her lodge four miles away in Highgate, and her place in Brighton.

Five years after she was widowed, she married the Duke of St. Albans.

When she died ten years later, she left the bulk of her fortune to a granddaughter of her first husband, the youngest daughter of Sir Francis Burdett. Harriet paid homage to her first husband in stipulating that her heiress adopt the name Angela Burdett-Coutts.—Cheryl’s newest book, the runaway bride story Oh What a (Wedding) Night, Book 3 in the Brazen Brides series, releases April 19.

Using Stately Homes as Book Settings

© By Cheryl Bolen

My copyeditor recently questioned a reference in one of my books he was editing. “Can this be?” he asked. “Over 300 rooms in this house?”

Yes, many of the British stately homes run to more than 200 rooms and some to over 300 rooms. And because I write a lot of novels about the English aristocracy (both historical and contemporary), I have made it a point to tour as many of these aristocratic homes as possible on my frequent travels to England.

Chatsworth House, home of the Dukes of Devonshire

Chatsworth House, home of the Dukes of Devonshire

One of my favorite of these stately homes is Chatsworth House, family seat of the Dukes of Devonshire, nestled in the foothills of Derbyshire’s Peak District. The “house” has 297 rooms! (It’s the one I use in the banner on my blog, Cheryl’s Regency Ramblings, http://www.cherylsregencyramblings.wordpress.com.)

Knole House in Kent

Knole House in Kent

Knole, in Kent, is home to the Sackvilles, cousins of the first Queen Elizabeth, and was once home to the Dukes of Dorset. This rambling “house” has 356 rooms, 52 sets of stairs, and seven courtyards!

I have toured more than 30 of these homes, and I add new ones each trip my husband and I take to England. They make good fodder for the fictional homes in my 20-plus books. While none of these homes is exactly replicated in any of my novels, I do borrow from different houses I’ve had the pleasure of touring.

Hever-Castle-Kent-great-britain-789258_1242_809

Hever Castle

My book which can most be identified with a particular property is probably My Lord Wicked. The abbey in which my not-so-wicked lord lived was somewhat modeled on Hever Castle, the girlhood home of Anne Boleyn. Instead of the drawbridge at Hever, my fictional abbey has a clock tower which was supposedly built to disguise the abbey’s former bell tower.

In my book, Love in the Library, my heroine lives at Number 17 Royal Crescent in Bath. Here’s a picture of me in front of one of the magnificent townhouses on Bath’s Royal Cresent in June of 2013.

IMG_5926

Me in front of Bath’s Royal Crescent

If you’d like to see what a Georgian townhouse (of the wealthy) looked like, you can tour Number 1 Royal Crescent in Bath. Or you can see the photos of Number 1 here: https://plus.google.com/115605333815650580996/photos?hl=en

—Cheryl Bolen’s newest release, Oh What a (Wedding) Night, Brazen Brides Book 3, releases April 19.