Mary Lucy’s Marriage and Courtship

The memoir of Mary Elizabeth Lucy, the mistress of Charlecote Park, a fine old Elizabethan house now in the care of the National Trust, gives the modern-day reader a glimpse into the education and courting of a Welch heiress during the Regency period.mistress

The daughter of Sir John and Lady Margaret Williams of Biddlewyddan, Mary Elizabeth was born in 1803, and in her eighties set down her remembrances for her grandchildren.

Her childhood centered around piety and strict discipline. When she was very young, her grandmother taught her prayers, and after her grandmamma died, her pious mother undertook her religious instruction.

The children—there were eight in all—were taken care of by a nurse in their early years. “Whenever we were naughty,” Mary Elizabeth writes, “she used to say a witch would come and take us through the window.”

The nurse wasn’t all frights. She slept in the nursery with the children, and it delighted them to climb in her four-post bed once she vacated it in the mornings, and they would draw the curtains and have a game of romps, where they would knock each other down with pillows. Their old nurse was devoted to the children throughout her life.

Throughout her childhood, Mary Elizabeth would read Scripture to the illiterate nurse who doted upon her.

Long, rough schooldays

 When Mary Elizabeth’s younger brother went off to school, a governess was brought in for the girls. Lessons began at six each morning in summer and seven in winter. If she was late, she had to forfeit a penny. At eight, they broke for breakfast which consisted of a bowl of bread and milk.

Her governess was very strict. If Mary Elizabeth missed even a single word in a page of history memorization or in a poem, she would be locked in the schoolroom closet where the exercise books—and the governess’s loaf of bread—were kept. This terrified Mary Elizabeth because mice, attracted to the bread, made their home within the dark closet.

The children had a half-holiday on Saturday and a whole one on their birthdays. Though children’s birthday parties were unheard of, on their birthday they were allowed to dine with their parents, and their old nurse would be allowed to come and take desert with them—dressed in her silk gown and lace cap.

The birthday of the firstborn son was an occasion to be celebrated with a dance for all the neighbors to attend.

There was a “schoolroom boy,” a servant whose chief duty was to clean the shoes of the children of the house. The lad was eager to learn to read, and Mary Elizabeth would meet him in her play time, armed with her spelling book and a slate. She said it took the patience of Job to teach him because he was “so stupid,” he could not remember the alphabet.

From her governess, Mary Elizabeth learned French and Italian as well as needlework.


Gatehouse in front of Warwickshire’s Charlecote Park

Every morning Mary Elizabeth would read psalms to her mother, and each evening she read the evening psalms to her governess, who encouraged Mary Elizabeth to give a third of her pocket money to the poor. She also encouraged the children to give up what they liked best for Lent.

Her grandmother had read the children an old-fashioned book, Cobwebs to Catch Flies, and her brother would tell her tales of the Arabian Nights.

As she grew older, she became passionate about the study of music and drawing. Everyone in the family played musical instruments, and Mary Elizabeth played several, including the organ and the harp.

Coming out

 At the annual ball to celebrate her eldest brother’s birthday when she was sixteen, dancing began at nine o’clock and continued until four in the morning. “The waltz was not yet known outside London Society,” she wrote. “We danced only country dances, quadrilles and reels.” The end of the ball was signaled by the Sir Roger de Coverly.

In her teens she started studying with a new governess who had her read Shakespeare, Sir Walter Scott and the French works by Racine, Corneille, and Moliere, and in Italian, Tasso and Petrach.

Her first introduction to society away from her North Wales neighborhood occurred when she and her three sisters went to Lancashire for the Preston Guild, a fortnight celebration that occurs once every 21 years. Balls were held every night, and there was a Mayor’s Reception where everyone wore court dress.

It was here she met and fell in love with Wilson Patten, who also fell in love with her for Mary Elizabeth outshone all her sisters.  When the underage Patten went home to beg permission to marry her, his father sent him abroad and wrote Mary Elizabeth’s father a letter to tell her to forget his son.

A year later George Lucy, the 34-yer-old owner of Charlecote Park, which included land that had been in the Lucy family for 600 years, came to Mary Elizabeth’s home in Wales at the invitation of one of her brothers. In London, one of her sisters had greatly admired him, and it was thought he was coming to Wales to see her.

However, once he saw Mary Elizabeth, no other Williams daughter would do. He soon asked her father’s permission to marry Mary Elizabeth.

When her father told her, she fell to her knees and begged him not to have her marry George Lucy. Such a ploy had worked before when another of her sister’s callers had asked Sir John for his Mary Elizabeth’s hand.

The difference this time: the wealthy George Lucy came from one of the oldest families in Britain, and his ancestral home, Charlecote Park, was one of the finest old homes in the kingdom. Sir John wasn’t about to let his daughter forgo an opportunity like that.

No amount of tears could dissuade him.

Many years later she wrote: “I had been brought up to obey my parents in everything and, though I dearly loved Papa, I had always rather feared him. I felt I dared not disobey him.”

After her quick meeting with “Mr. Lucy” who officially proposed to her, Mary Elizabeth flew upstairs to her mother and wept.

“My sweet Mary,” he mother said, “love will come when you know all of Mr. Lucy’s good qualities.”


Cheryl Bolen with lovely Charlecote Park in the background

Being so pious, Mary Elizabeth prayed that she would become of good wife.

Several weeks later they wed at the cathedral near her home, and when she rose from her knees after the ceremony, she fainted away.

Despite the rocky beginning, the marriage was a happy one that produced eight children. In a very short time her mother’s prophecy had come true. Mary Elilzabeth fell deeply in love with her husband. — Cheryl Bolen (pictured right at Charlecote Park, summer 2013)


London’s Holland House — Then & Now

This photo of Holland House was taken around 1900 -- before German bombs destroyed most of it.

Holland House in Victorian times

What Devonshire House was to the late eighteenth century, Holland House was to the early nineteenth century.  And then some. Holland House has been called the closest thing England ever had to a continental salon.  For Holland House, in the first 40 years of the nineteenth century, referred not only to the house built in 1605 but to a gathering place of the era’s movers and shakers.

Holland House was built in the seventeenth century by Sir Walter Cope and was originally called Cope Castle. The baronet’s gracious, turreted three-storey structure was placed upon a hill surveying his vast parkland in what is now Kensington.

Though only two miles from the present Marble Arch of central London’s Hyde Park, that part of Kensington was considered “country” even later in Regency times.  In fact, the 3rd Lord Holland (whose 40 plus years of dinners made Holland House internationally famous) always rented a house in the city during Parliamentary sessions. (Three miles through bustling London with its hundreds of toll gates was an arduous journey well into the nineteenth century.)

Sometime after Sir Walter Cope’s death, the house passed to the first Earl of Holland, whose title became extinct. However, the title was revived by eighteenth-century politician Henry Fox (1705-1774), who became the first Baron Holland after purchasing the house. Enormously wealthy (until his sons squandered his money gambling), Fox eloped in 1744 with the Duke of Richmond’s daughter, Lady Caroline Lennox, who was 18 years his junior.

The most famous of their three (spoiled) sons was Charles James Fox, who was elected to Parliament before he was 21 and led the Whig party until his 1806 death. After the early death of Charles James Fox’s older brother, Stephen, the Holland title passed to his young son, the 3rd Lord Holland (1773-1840). It is he who brought prominence to Holland House. He enjoyed an especially close relationship to his uncle, Charles James Fox, who had no legitimate children.

Having succeeded to the title while still a boy, the 3rd Lord Holland fell in love with Sir Godfrey Webster’s wife while traveling in Italy before his twenty-first birthday. After her divorce, she and Holland married in 1797—but not before the birth of their first child, Charles Fox, named for the uncle Holland idolized throughout his life. (Her first husband kept the children from that marriage.)

 Likely because as a divorced woman, Lady Elizabeth Holland (whose journal review can be found on my website) could not be received in polite society, she began presiding over dinners at her new home with other “Foxite” Whigs. These dinners grew to include the most interesting men of the era: important Tories, visiting Europeans of prominence—including heads of state—and some of the greatest writers of the nineteenth century.

The massive home was filled with portraits of nineteenth-century notables who exchanged portraits with the Hollands, which was a custom of the day. (The exchanged portraits were typically copies of portraits by more well known painters.)

Lady Holland kept “dinner books” for 40 years—virtually a People magazine of early nineteenth-century England.

Sadly, the Holland title went extinct when the 3rd Lord Holland’s son and heir died childless in 1859, nineteen years after succeeding his father. He left Holland House to his widow, urging her to keep the historical structure and its priceless contents intact. Upon his widow’s death 30 years later, she left Holland House to the 5th Earl of Ilchester, a member of the Fox family. She had turned down opportunities to sell it or its contents in respect of her late husband’s wishes.


Holland House, Summer 2013, Cheryl Bolen peers at the part currently in use as a youth hostel. Most of the house was destroyed in World War II.

The wealthy Lord Ilchester had previously worked out an agreement with the last Lady Holland to give her a generous annuity and to be responsible for the upkeep on the house until her death. Also, he agreed that when he took possession of the residence he would keep the house and its immediately surrounding property as she left it.

That Lord Ilchester’s son, the talented author of the two-volume history of Holland House, came into possession of Holland House on his mother’s death in 1935. Little did he know when writing the saga of Holland House that German bombs would destroy it in 1940, two years after his second volume was published.

Only one of the rambling mansion’s wings was not destroyed, and this is now a youth hostel. (There I am checking it out in the photo, above right, on my recent trip to England.) Also, an original arcade and orangery remain. These structures are surrounded by a beautifully landscaped 54-acre park which is maintained by the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and which is now close to the center of bustling London.

The 6th Lord Ilchester sold the ruin and land to London City Council in 1952.

I have not been able to learn if he was able to save the house’s treasures or the dozens of  portraits it held.

One treasure that will always be preserved for posterity is Lord Ilchester’s painstaking research about Holland House.


Top British Authors’ Homes (of the past)

On her last trip to the United Kingdom, Cheryl Bolen wandered through the lovely grounds at Wordsworth's Rydal Mount in the English District.

On her last trip to the United Kingdom, Cheryl Bolen wandered through the lovely grounds at Wordsworth’s Rydal Mount in the English Lake District.

Those of us who love the Regency era would probably select Jane Austen’s house in Chawton as our favorite literary site in Great Britain. While it did make the cut in the recent 90 Places You Must See in Britain published by British Heritage, some of the choices are surprising.

Abbotsford is Sir Walter's Scott's newly refurbished home in -- where else? Scotland.

Abbotsford is Sir Walter’s Scott’s newly refurbished home in — where else? Scotland.

The British Heritage booklet is sort of a top 10 compilation. There are the top 10 gardens, top 10 castles, top 10 stately homes, etc.  British Heritage claims these must-see sites are selected by their editors. Anglophiles may take issue with some of their picks.

Though I don’t consider myself an expert on literary sites in Great Britain, I was surprised that the top pick under literary sites was D.H. Lawrence’s Birthplace in Eastwood, a Nottingham suburb. Because I have never visited Lawrence’s Birthplace, nor ever heard much about it, I cannot claim the expertise to pass judgment. But. . .

What about Stratford-upon-Avon, for pity’s sake? The city Shakespeare put on the map comes in at paltry sixth on the list.

For many years I’ve made it a point to visit authors’ homes when I travel in England. Of course I made the pilgrimage to the Wordsworth’s Dove Cottage in the Lake District, which fills the number 4 spot on the Literary Sites list. Outside of Stratford-upon-Avon (where I visited the bard’s birthplace as well as Anne Hathaway’s Cottage), the only other author residence on the top 10 list that I had visited was the Dickens House Museum in London’s Bloomsbury, which was the ninth pick.

Thomas Hardy's Cottage is one of the Top 10 Literary Sites in Great Britain, as selected by the editors of British Heritage.

Thomas Hardy’s Cottage is one of the Top 10 Literary Sites in Great Britain, as selected by the editors of British Heritage.

Two more homes that made list are high on my list of wanna-sees. They are Sir Walter Scott’s Abbotsford (5) and Rudyard Kipling’s Bateman’s in Sussex (7), both purchased after these two enormously successful authors made their fortunes writing.

The other sites rounding out the British Heritage list were Thomas Hardy’s Cottage in Dorchester, Dylan Thomas’s Boathouse in Laugharne, Wales, and the Writers Museum in Lady Stair’s former Edinburgh home. That museum honors Scotland’s three most noteworthy authors: Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott, and Robert Louis Stevenson.

Conspicuously absent from the list was the Bronte Parsonage in the West Yorkshire moors – which has always been high on my want-to-see list.

I am chomping at the bit to see one of the latest literary houses to open to the public: Agatha Christie’s Greenway near the South Devon coast. It just opened to the public in 2009. I will see it on my upcoming trip to Great Britain.

Greenway - Agatha Christie's home near the South Devon coast is now open to the public.

Greenway – Agatha Christie’s home near the South Devon coast is now open to the public.

Authors’ places I’ve enjoyed include Thomas Carlyle’s home in London’s Chelsea, Ruskins’ Museum in the Lake District as well as Wordsworth’s Rydal Mount, also in the Lake District, and Beatrix Potter’s Hill Top Farm, also in the Lake District.

I spent a fascinating couple of hours at Keats’ House in Hampstead. That wasn’t really Keats’ house since he was a boarder there, but the home is now used as a museum to honor the poet. He was engaged to marry the daughter of the house before he was claimed by tuberculosis at age 25.

I have also visited Dr. Johnson’s house in London’s old City and Churchill’s Chartwell in Kent, where he penned his bestselling non-fiction.

Discussing Britain’s literary associations is a whole other topic, which would fill a book. In fact, I possess that book. I highly recommend the The Oxford Literary Guide to the British Isles, touted as an A-Z of literary Britain. I got my copy at an Oxford University Press book store in the U.K. Mine is a 1980 paperback containing 413 encyclopedia-style pages, listed by locale rather than the author. In addition, it offers a map appendix.

Here is just one little sampling in the voluminous section on London:

St. George’s Church, Hanover Square is an early 18th-c. church where the following were married: Shelley and Harriet Westbrook in 1814 after a ceremony in Scotland following their elopement, Disraeli to Mrs. Wyndham Lewis in 1839, Marian Evans (George Eliot) to John Cross in 1880, and John Galsworthy to Ada Galsworthy in 1904.

If my home were in flames and I could save just one book from my extensive library, The Oxford Literary Guide would be that one book. – Cheryl Bolen, whose lighthearted romantic mystery Falling for Frederick (Book 1 in the Stately Homes Murders) is now available in print – and is available internationally for the first time

Britain’s Top 10 Castles

Corfe Castle

The ruins of Corfe Castle, selected by British Heritage as Britain’s top castle.

Can you guess which castle British Heritage selected as the number one castle in the country? Sadly for me, it’s not one I’ve been to. It’s Corfe in Dorset. The “ruin” dates to the 11th century.


I can’t imagine it besting Tintagle, a magnificent Arthurian ruin on Cornwall’s rocky north coast. The Ten Best Castles in Britain were selected by the editors of British Heritage.

Tintagle (My favorite ruin)

Tintagle (My favorite ruin) did not make the Atop 10 list.


Three of the Top 10 I’ve toured – and loved: Arundel in West Sussex, coming in third; Dover Castle, at fifth; and Kent’s Hever Castle, called the childhood home of Anne Boleyn, at tenth.

Arundel Castle

Arundel Castle


Hever Castle

Hever Castle

I’ve done a drive-by of two others: Stirling in Scotland, fourth; and Warwick Castle, which was selected eighth.


Rounding out the list were Conwy Castle in North Wales, second; Caerphilly Castle, also in Wales, at sixth; Alnwick in Northumberland, which celebrated 700 years as home of the Percy family, seventh; and Scotland’s Blair Castle at ninth.


The Grand Tour

© Cheryl Bolen, 2013

The eighteenth century was the golden age of the requisite Grand Tour wealthy young Englishmen took to finish their education. These weren’t tours as we know them today. They often covered several years and employed a small army of private tutors to facilitate the acquisition of knowledge and proficiency in European languages. These young men would also take valets and fencing masters.grand tour


Thomas Coke, 1st Earl of Leicester, 5th creation (1697-1759) took a six-year Grand Tour, returning to England in 1718 at age 21. At a time when a servant earned £6 a year, the 15-year-old Coke left England with a dispersal income of £10,000 for each of the six years he was gone.



Richard Boyle, 3rd Earl of Burlington at time of his Grand Tour

His contemporary, Richard Boyle, 3rd Earl of Burlington (1694-1753) toured the Lowlands and Italy in 1714 at age 20, returning with 878 caskets of art, clocks, and musical instruments. After the English publication of Andrea Pallidio’s architectural works, Burlington (the Architect Earl) was keen to follow in Pallidio’s footsteps as well as Inigo Jones’ and returned to Italy in 1718 and 1719.


Still another of their contemporaries, Philip Dormer Stanhope (1694-1730), the bastard only child of the 3rd Earl of Chesterfield, spent just under six years on the Continent to acquire the attributes his father deemed necessary for him to take a position in Society and in the diplomatic corp. He left England at age 14, accompanied by another young aristocrat and his own master. In each country he visited, his father demanded his valet be a native speaker so Philip could become more proficient in each language. He spent time in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and Italy. At age 18, he took up residence in Paris, no longer obligated to study with his various tutors. At this time his father wanted him to learn the manly pursuits in Society: low-stakes gambling, attending salons, and operas. Also at 18, he received his own carriage, footman, a valet de chamber, and a valet de place.


A few decades later, Whig Statesman Charles James Fox (1749-1806), a grandson of the Duke of Lennox, was taken from Eton by his father so he could gain some “polish” on the Continent. In Spa at age 14, urged on by his father, he lost his virginity at the same time he embarked on his disastrous association with high-stakes gambling.


The Grand Tour was not just the privilege of the aristocracy. William Beckford (1760-1844), the once-wealthiest commoner in England, embarked on his Grand Tour at age 18. No expense was spared. It was said that because his entourage consisting of three carriages, outriders and relays of spare horses was so large, he was mistakenly taken for the Austrian emperor. Beckford’s Grand Tour journal was published, and a paperback edition edited by Elizabeth Mavor was published by Penguin in 1986. Those looking for an accounting of great excesses will be disappointed. As one whose greatest passions were directed at young boys and nature, Beckford’s observations are not very enlightening to today’s readers.


The French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars affected Englishmen’s Grand Tours, and the advent of rail travel a few decades later made the progression through the Continent available to the middle classes.—By Cheryl Bolen

Cheryl Bolen’s latest novel, Falling for Frederick, a contemporary romantic suspense set in England, is a Kindle Serial in nine installments. “Aided by lord of the manor, lovely graduate student archivist seeks priceless medieval artifact—just steps ahead of those who’ve already killed to get it.”

Chiswick House: quintessentially Georgian

© Cheryl Bolen, 2012

Chiswick House (the Brits pronounce as Chiz-ick) is today located in suburban London, but when it was built in the Georgian era, it was a palatial estate alongside the River Thames in Richmond and was accessible from London by boat. It was one of many Thames-side villas that had begun to be constructed from the early seventeenth century onward.

Chiswick House
Lord Burlington’s perfectly symmetrical gem in suburban London. (Photos by Dr. John Bolen)

For me, Chiswick is perhaps the most quintessentially Georgian of all the fabulous homes built in the era–even though it is neither of grand proportions nor was it intended as a family home.

The immensely wealthy Third Earl of Burlington (1694-1853) was an arbitrator of taste and style. He had traveled extensively on the Continent and was one of the earliest disciples of Italian architect Andrea Palladio, who was the primary influence of the clean classic lines that characterize Georgian/Palladian architecture.

So fascinated was Burlington with Palladian architecture, he designed Chiswick himself—something the idle aristocrats simply did not do. Construction occurred from 1726-1729.

Another of the significant Georgian associations with the house is that Chiswick passed to Burlington’s grandson, the Fifth Duke of Devonshire, whose wife Georgiana was an arbitrator of fashion and leader of English society the last quarter of the eighteenth century.

Interiors of Chiswick House

And the last significant Georgian association, at least for me, is that charismatic Whig leader Charles James Fox died at Chiswick in 1806, the same year Georgiana died.

Lord Burlington intended Chiswick House to serve as a temple of the arts to display his most significant works of art.

The perfectly symmetrical, perfectly classical structure’s most memorable feature is the octagonal saloon at the center, which soars up to a domed roof that is lighted by dome-shaped windows. Huge canvases have hung in this chamber for almost three centuries.

One reason Chiswick was not designed as a family home was because Burlington had inherited his grandfather’s Jacobean house on the property, which he continued to use. His grandson had that demolished and added wings onto Chiswick. The wings were demolished in the 1950s to restore Chiswick to Burlington’s original vision.

Today, the house is in the care of English Heritage and can be toured for a fee. The surrounding grounds—significantly reduced from what they were in Georgian times—are free to the public and cared for by the Borough of Hounslow.