The Two Wives of George IV

©By Cheryl Bolen

Before England’s King George IV became prince regent (a title more identifiable with him than his eventual monarchy) at age 48 in 1811, he had taken two wives–and neither of the marriages were ever dissolved and neither woman ever truly shared his reign.

How can he have legally had two wives? He didn’t. One of his wives was illegal. As a young man of 21, he fell madly in love with Maria Fitzherbert, a wealthy and beautiful widow six years his senior. The fact that she was a Catholic was not the only obstacle in their path of matrimonial harmony. There was also the Royal Marriage Act prohibiting any member of the royal family from marrying without the king’s permission. As an act of Parliament, the Royal Marriage Act superseded any law of church; to violate it would be a crime.

For over a year the Prince of Wales courted Mrs. Fitzherbert and even resorted to a botched suicide attempt to gain her hand. Eventually she relented, and in 1785 they were secretly wed by an Anglican minister and fancied themselves married. But cognizant of the criminal act they had committed, the two never publicly acknowledged the marriage, nor did they ever live in the same residence. The prince was willing to let his brother Freddie (the Duke of York) sire children who would be heirs to the throne, and he planned to do away with the Royal Marriage Act when he became king. (Freddie, by the way, never had any children.)

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Maria Fitzherbert and the Prince of Wales (later George IV)

Troubles precipitated by Mrs. Fitzherbert’s hot temper, the prince’s wandering eye, and–most of all–his vast debts sent the marriage into the skids less than a decade later. Prinny had decided to take Brunswick’s Princess Caroline for his wife, an action that would increase his annual income and clear his exorbitant debts.

Though he had never met Caroline, a first cousin, the prince married her in 1795. He took such an instant dislike to her slovenly appearance he had to get himself excessively drunk in order to beget a child on her (Princess Charlotte, who died in childbirth in 1817). With that duty dispatched, he turned his back on his true wife, and they lived apart for the remainder of their lives.

Five years after his “legal” marriage, the prince persuaded Mrs. Fitzherbert to return to him. They stayed affectionate for almost a decade, parting ways because of his infidelity the year before he became regent.

Caroline of Brunswick

Caroline of Brunswick

Caroline died shortly after his coronation as King George IV, but he never remarried, and when he died ten years later in 1830 he wore about his neck a miniature portrait of Mrs. Fitzherbert. –Cheryl Bolen’s newest release is the first in the Brazen Brides series, Counterfeit Countess. Fans of her Regent Mysteries can preorder the newest installment, An Egyptian Affair, only on iBooks.

On a Regency Exhibit

Cheryl Bolen toured the Regency Exhibit at California's Huntington Library in 2011, the two-hundredth anniversary of the beginning of the Regency.

Cheryl Bolen toured the Regency Exhibit at California’s Huntington Library in 2011, the two-hundredth anniversary of the beginning of the Regency.

©By Cheryl Bolen

As an author whose first Regency historical romance was published in 1998, I’ve long been a student of the period, and in 2011 I had the opportunity to visit a fabulous exhibit on the English Regency at the Huntington in Los Angeles County.

The Huntington (Library, Art Museum and Botanical Gardens) offered the exhibit to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Regency, which began in 1811 when George III was declared too mad to rule. His eldest son served as Prince Regent until his father died in 1820, whereupon the regent became King George IV.

I particularly enjoyed reading the era’s newspapers. The following advertisement (these were intermingled with news stories) I think must be geared to men, but could also apply to women:

HAIR

A new oil which gradually changes white, gray or red hair to a beautiful brown – gives softness, elasticity, curl and thickens – 7 shillings, 6 pence per bottle  

A loan office, located at 2 Craven, Strand, advertised that it gave loans “to persons of fashion, promisary notes to persons of known credit and consequence.” The office was open from 10-4.  
The most well-known jewelry store of the era offered this advertisement:

Rundell, Bridge, Rundell

Goldsmiths & Jewelers

to Their Majesties

Their Royal Highnesses the Prince of Wales

and the Duke of York and Royal Family

Ludgate Hill  

And the last advertisement I’m going to feature was for an on-premises auction by “Mr. Christie.” Yes, that Christie’s auction house!

Valuable Library Richmond Surrey – By Mr. Christie on the premises by order of the Executors of Miss Hotham deceased, 6,000 volumes. Catalogues are preparing.  

The Huntington Library and Art Museum itself is a treasure to visit. The former estate of rail magnate Henry Huntington, it’s nestled on a few hundred acres of lush botanical gardens in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains. The Huntington collections of rare manuscripts and old master paintings is particularly geared for English history. It houses Gainsborough’s Blue Boy (as well as Pinkie), first editions of Jane Austen, and an original Chaucer manuscript. And almost half a million rare manuscripts.

This article was first published in The Regency Reader in September 2011.

Jane Austen’s Bath

jane austen center

Bath’s Jane Austen Center

© Cheryl Bolen

Cheryl wrote this for Mary Gramlich’s blog last year

It’s no coincidence that the Jane Austen Center is located in Bath, England. The city has so many associations with her. She visited there several times, so it was only natural she set two of her novels (Persuasion and Northanger Abbey) there.

Jane Austen

Jane Austen

The Georgian era in which she lived is reflected in the city’s Palladian-inspired architecture more than in any other town. Few cities in the world are graced with the uniformity of architecture that Bath has. Throughout the famed watering city, most of the graceful buildings are clad in the pale, golden Bath stone.

Architects John Wood the Elder (1704-54) and his son, John Wood the Younger (1728-1782), designed some of the city’s most prominent buildings, including the Royal Crescent, the Circus, and the Assembly Rooms. These building are well maintained in the 21st century. The Assembly Rooms look as they did when Jane Austen visited and can be toured today. The lovely townhouse at Number 1 Royal Crescent is also offered for touring.

The Romans built a city on Bath’s seven hills much as their own Rome had been built on seven hills. Like Rome, Bath is dissected by a river, the Avon. The heart of the city lies to the west of the River Avon. That is where the old Roman baths, Bath Cathedral, most shopping, the Circus, Queen Square, the Royal Crescent, and the Assembly Rooms are located. The beautiful Pulteney Bridge, built by Robert Adam in much the same style as Florence’s Ponte Vecchio, links the two parts of the city.

Bath's Pulteney Bridge, which crosses the River Avon, was designed by Robert Adam.

Bath’s Pultney Bridge, which crosses the River Avon, was designed by Robert Adam.

Visitors can easily walk the compressed city, though double-decker tour buses will provide interesting commentary.

Cheryl Bolen standing in front of Bath's Royal Crescent.

Cheryl Bolen standing in front of Bath’s Royal Crescent.

A two-time visitor to the city , I was excited to set my popular Brides of Bath series there. The latest installment is the novella, A Christmas in Bath, which brings together most of the characters of the earlier books—with a brand new love story that was hinted at in Book 2, With His Ring.

 

Horace Walpole’s Strawberry Hill House

© Cheryl Bolen

One of the most well-known men in Georgian England was Horace Walpole (1717-1797), a younger son of the first British Prime Minister, Robert Walpole. Horace would have been assured a certain notoriety because of his family connections, but he also blazed his own trail as a man of letters, a Whig politician, art connoisseur, and builder of Strawberry Hill House.

Horace Walpole

Horace Walpole

Horace Walpole’s greatest source of fame came from his immensely bestselling novel, The Castle of Otranto, which was first published in 1764. At first released under a pseudonym and purported to be a translation from old Italian documents, Walpole soon took credit for the unique work, which established the genre of the gothic novel.

The rich details of Georgian life in his erudite letters are a valuable resource to historians.

Walpole started building his “gothic castle” in Twickenham in 1749 and continued on it for nearly 30 years, expanding from the original five acres to 46 acres while designing gardens befitting his showplace house. During his lifetime, Strawberry Hill House drew throngs of visitors.

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Strawberry Hill in the 18th century

Though Strawberry Hill was considered in the country during Georgian times, it is located in the present London borough of Richmond-upon-Thames and was one of a proliferation of Thames-side villas erected by aristocrats and other wealthy men during the eighteenth century.

As an aesthete, Walpole filled his beloved Strawberry Hill House with art treasures, mostly antiquarian.

Described as a “natural celibate,” the effeminate Walpole never married and died childless.  After his death, Strawberry Hill passed to his cousin Anne Seymour Damer, then to the Waldegrave family. Losing the Waldegrave family fortune, two Waldegrave brothers authorized a huge auction of the treasures of Strawberry Hill House in 1842. This left the house stripped of all its contents.

The Lewis Walpole Library at Yale University has a database of all Horace Walpole’s art treasures, their current location, and descriptions of those whose ownership has not been traced.

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Strawberry Hill House today

In 1923, St. Mary’s University purchased Strawberry Hill House and held it for more than three-quarters of a century. In 2007 Strawberry Hill House was leased to the Strawberry Hill Trust, which raised £9 million for the restoration and subsequent reopening of the house.

After two centuries, the house re-opened to the public in 2010 and is administered by the trust. It can be reached by a variety of London transit options. Since it is currently just a three-minute walk from the Thames River Walk around Richmond, it is suggested that visitors walk along the river path from Richmond in order to tour Strawberry Hill House.—Cheryl Bolen’s newest release is A Christmas in Bath (Brides of Bath series)

Sisters of Ill Repute

© By Cheryl Bolen

The names of very few members of the demimonde from Regency England survive. A noticeable exception is Harriette Wilson (not her real name). Her entre´ into history was provided by her own witty pen. The women who once moved in the same circles with Lord Byron, the Duke of Wellington, and other aristocrats penned her tell-tale memoirs some years after age and circumstances robbed her of her once-lofty position. And those memoirs are still interesting reading today — even though the bedroom door stays closed.

harriette

At the age of fifteen, Harriette became the mistress of Lord Craven. Though she had been born Harriette Dubouchet, she adopted the surname Wilson, probably in an effort to protect the respectable members of her family. She was one of fifteen children born in London to John Dubouchet (a Swiss) and his wife Amelia, who was thought to be the illegitimate daughter of a well-to-do English gentleman.

Four of the Dubouchet sisters were to become Cyprians. Besides Harriette, these profligates included Fanny, Amy (who bore a son of the Duke of Argyle), and the youngest, Sophy (who brought the family a degree of respectability by marrying a peer).

At age thirteen, Sophy became the mistress of Lord Deerhurst but while still very young managed to persuade Lord Berwick to marry her.

During Harriette’s brief reign over London’s demi rep, she lived in fashionable houses with a staff of servants, patronized the best modistes, and even had her own box at the theatre (where all of London could view the notorious woman).

In her memoirs, Harriette writes of her mother with great affection, explaining that what her mother lacked in fortune she bestowed tenfold in giving her children a fine education. All the children were as fluent in French as they were in English.

Harriette insists that no blame for hers or her sisters’ lifestyle should attach to the mother. “The respect I feel for the memory of a most tender parent,” Harriette wrote, “makes me anxious that she should be acquitted from every shadow of blame, which might, by some, perhaps, be imputed to her, in consequence of her daughters’ errors, and the life they fell into.

It was some consolation to the parents when Sophy snagged a title.

Sadly, the other sisters did not fare as well. Fanny died a painful death after the love of life left her. The circumstances of Amy’s later years are not known, and though little is known of Harriette’s later years, it is thought she died in poverty.

Do You Know Welch Surnames?

©Cheryl Bolen

It’s amazing how mail-order retailers know how to tap into demographics. I’m not quite sure how I got recognized as an Anglophile—which I am—but I regularly get interesting catalogues with all manner of offerings from the British Isles. Today’s had an interesting page offering Welch tartans.

A lot of us are familiar with Scottish names, like Campbell, Douglas, Hamilton, MacKay, Mac Kenzie, and a lot more surnames that start with Mac.

Many of us know the Irish names like Fitzgerald, McConnell, O’Connor, and O’Malley. If it starts with Mc or O’, it’s gotta be Irish.

But I have to plead a certain ignorance of Welch names, even though I knew my maiden name of Williams had Welch origins. Because I read a lot of books by British authors from all eras, I knew a handful of Welch names, like Thomas, Jones, and Evans.

The Welch poet, Dylan Thomas

The Welch poet, Dylan Thomas

For those of you not fortunate enough to get these catalogues, here is a list of Welch names:

St. David, Davies, Edwards, Ellis, Evans, Beynon, Griffiths, Gwynn, Harris, Hopkins, Howell, Hughes, James, Jenkins, Lewis, Llewellyn, Lloyd, Meredith, Morgan, Morris, Owen.

Also, Powell, Phillips, Pope, Powys, Price, Pritchard, Prosser, Reece (or Rhys), Rice, Richard, Roberts, Rosser, Thomas, Vaughn, Walters, Watkins, and Wynn.

The Suicide of Lord Castlereagh

© By Cheryl Bolen

Since I strive for authenticity in my Regency-era historicals, especially in my Regent Mysteries, I try to use many personages who actually existed. English Foreign Secretary Lord Castlereagh makes a few appearances in my A Most Discreet Inquiry (Regent Mysteries, Book 2).

Born Robert Stewart in Ireland in 1769, he was elevated to Viscount Castlereagh at the age of 26 when his father became the Earl of Londonderry. Two years earlier he had entered the English House of Commons, where he would serve until his death in 1822 and which he would lead for the last decade of his life.

Lord Castlereagh

Lord Castlereagh

The same year he entered the English Parliament, 1794, was also the year in which he married Amelia (Emily) Hobart, daughter of John Hobart, 2nd Earl of Buckinghamshire. Castlereagh’s maternal grandfather (Francis Seymour Conway, 1st Marquess of Hertford) as well as his father-in-law had both served as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. Lord and Lady Castlereagh were devoted to each other but never had children. Lady Castlereagh became well known in London as one of the patronesses of Almack’s.

As Secretary of War in 1809, he challenged Foreign Secretary George Canning to a duel at Putney Heath. In the duel, he shot Canning in the leg and had to leave government for the next three years.

He returned in 1812, at the age of 43, becoming Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, a position her held for ten tumultuous years, while also leading the Tories in the House of Commons. Despite that he worked tirelessly for his country to ensure a lasting European peace, he was extremely unpopular not only with the populace he served but also among newspaper editors and political cartoonists.

He succeeded his father as Marquess of Londonderry in 1821, but since it was a non-representative Irish peerage, he could still serve as leader of the House of Commons of Great Britain.

Two weeks before his suicide the next year he began suffering from paranoia, which could be attributed to the years of abuse by an angry citizenry and press, overwork, or even gout. He imagined himself persecuted from every quarter and became irrational and incoherent. His devoted wife continued sleeping with him but removed pistols and razors from his reach and kept in close contact with her husband’s physician, Dr. Bankhead, who had cupped him.

Three days before his death he met with King George IV, who became upset over Castlereagh’s mental state, as did the Duke of Wellington, with whom he was close. Knowing that he was losing his mind, Castlereagh left London for Loring Hall, his country estate in Kent.

The morning of his death he became violent with his wife, accusing her of being in a conspiracy against him. She left their bedroom to call the doctor. That was when her husband went to his dressing room with a small knife which he had managed to hide. He stabbed himself in the carotid artery. Just as Dr. Bankhead entered the room, he said, “Let me fall on your arm, Bankhead. It’s all over!”

The suicide of Lord Castlereagh

The suicide of Lord Castlereagh

The nation was shocked. Even his bitter parliamentary opponent Whig Henry Brougham mourned him. “Put all their other men together in one scale, and poor Castlereagh in the other – single he plainly weighed them down,” Brougham said. “Also he was a gentleman, the only one amongst them.”

Lord Byron did not agree. He wrote over his grave:

Posterity will ne’er survey
A nobler grave than this:
Here lie the bones of Castlereagh:
Stop, traveller, and piss.

Despite the circumstances of his death—attributed to insanity—the longtime Foreign Secretary was buried in Westminster Abbey near his political ally and mentor William Pitt. –Cheryl Bolen, whose novella, A Christmas in Bath, continues her Brides of Bath series set in Regency England.

A bit of writing news

Though I normally address English historical events rather than writing news on this blog, I’m veering over to writing news today because the delightful Regina Scott, who has published dozens of sweet Regencies, has tapped me for a blog tour with just a few special friends. Be sure to visit Regina’s blog, Nineteen Teen. And since this is my only blog, I’m posting the pertinent info here.

Here are the questions I was asked:

1. What am I working on?

I’ve had readers request sequels to Falling for Frederick (A Stately Homes Murder) and Regent Mysteries, and I’ve begun both projects. However, I have decided to build a series around my most popular book, a stand-alone originally published in 2000 and titled A Lady by Chance.

2000 edition at left, new edition on right. A Duchess by Mistake coming in late 2014.

2000 edition at left, new edition on right. A Duchess by Mistake coming in late 2014.

 

This book has sold so well that Amazon Crossings is currently working on a German translation that should be available by the end of the summer. The new series will be the Haverstock Chronicles, and I’m about 30 percent finished with book 2, to be titled A Duchess by Mistake. Look for it later in 2014.

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

My books are not built around a sexual premise as are so many of today’s Regency-set historicals. Whenever I start a book, my goal is to build a sigh-worthy romance. Sure, there are conflicts, but I seldom have my hero and heroine at dagger-points with one another. As I’ve matured, I’ve been more conscious of writing books that appeal to me, therefore there must be humor. Humor, touching romance, and perhaps a little mystery. (And like so many readers, I confess to loving marriage-of-convenience stories!)

3. Why do I write what I do?

I love the whole experience about falling in love and hope that I can convey that thrill in my books.

4. How does my writing process work?

When I start a new book I revisit some of my favorite books about plotting — Christopher Vogler (Writer’s Journey), Blake Snyder (Save the Cat), Deb Dixon (GMC) and start playing “what if?”. I try to write every day (upon returning from the gym) and typically stop at the end of a scene. I spend just as many hours editing my work as I do writing it.

Now next Monday–if not before–I’d like you to visit the blogs of my friends Ella Quinn and Joan Reeves.

Amazon and Barnes & Nobel bestselling author Ella Quinn’s studies and other jobs have always been on the serious side. Reading historical romances, especially Regencies, were her escape. Eventually her love of historical novels led her to start writing them.

She is married to her wonderful husband of twenty-nine years. They have a son and granddaughter, Great Dane and a Chartreux. After living in the South Pacific, Central America, North Africa, England and Europe, she and her husband decided to make St. Thomas, VI home.

Ella is a member of the Romance Writers of American, The Beau Monde and Hearts Through History. She is represented by Elizabeth Pomada of Larsen-Pomada Literary Agency, and published by Kensington.

Blog http://ellaquinnauthor.wordpresscom

And now for contemporary author Joan Reeves: Joan, who writes funny, sexy romance, is a bestselling ebook author and is multi-published in print. Her popular romantic comedies are available as ebooks and audio books. Joan has published the popular blog SlingWords — Reading, Writing, & Publishing — since 2005. She offers free newsletters for writers and readers. Subscribe links can be found on her blog. Joan can be found online at: Blog: http://SlingWords.blogspot.com, Website: http://www.JoanReeves.com.

© Cheryl Bolen, 2014

 

Top 15 Reasons to take Wellington Tour

image001The Duke of Wellington Tour

Presented by Number One London

September 4th to 14th, 2014

Join Kristine Hughes and Victoria Hinshaw – authors, bloggers, and Wellington aficionados – as they travel through the English countryside on a one-of-a-kind tour visiting locations connected to Arthur Wellesley, the first Duke of Wellington, including London, Walmer, Brighton, Hampshire, and Windsor.

Top 15 Reasons to Join The Duke of Wellington Tour:

15. Take advantage of hassle free travel to some of England’s top tourist destinations. Upon arrival at the Grosvenor Hotel, our base in London, you can leave the rest of the trip to us: private coach transportation is provided for the entire length of the tour, as are baggage handling, hotels, site entrance fees and most meals.

14. Soak up the English atmosphere.  With an unhurried itinerary that includes country homes, museums, castles and more, you’ll have plenty of time to tour each site, have a meal or a cuppa and, of course, visit the gift shops at your own pace.

13. Travel with a group who share your interests and passion for British history and enjoy a convivial dinner most nights with your travel companions as you discuss the days’ sights and events.

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12. Walk the White Cliffs of Dover. Follow the windswept trail and gaze out to sea as we experience the grandeur and wild beauty of the Cliffs. Julius Caesar wrote about them in the Commentarii De Bello Gallico, Shakespeare used them as a setting in King Lear, and the Duke of Wellington himself gazed upon the Cliffs when returning home from his numerous military victories.   So romantic are the White Cliffs of Dover that they were chosen as the backdrop for the final scene in the 2009 BBC version of Jane Austen’s “Emma,” which you can watch here.

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11. Participate in exclusive events arranged especially for our group, including dinner at the historic Grenadier Pub in London, lunch at the Duke of Wellington’s country home, Stratfield Saye, and a boat cruise down the River Thames in Windsor.

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10. Become swept up in military pageantry by visiting Horse Guards, the Wellington Arch, the Guards Parade in Windsor and the Household Cavalry Museum.

9. Visit Castles. Three of England’s grandest castles are included on our itinerary – Walmer Castle, the Tower of London, and Windsor Castle. Between them, these sites include portions that date from the 11th to the 21st centuries, allowing you to imagine life as it was from the Norman Conquest, through the Tudor and Georgian periods, and into the present day.  We’ll be visiting the Waterloo Chamber at Windsor Castle and the special exhibition at the Tower featuring the Duke of Wellington’s influence during his time as Constable of the Tower. In addition, we’ll be viewing the Duke’s private rooms, which have been preserved at Walmer Castle, used by Wellington during his tenure as Lord of the Cinque Ports.

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8.  Join a day-long walking tour through the fabled streets of St. James’s, London, with your guides, Victoria and Kristine. Take a leisurely stroll as you listen to tales about gentlemen’s clubs and famed personalities who frequented the area. Hear tales of bawdy houses, royal chapels, and courtesans. Explore hidden alleys and tucked away streets. Discover their connections to duels, downfalls, and dandies before we quench our thirst at some of London’s most historic and atmospheric pubs. The day also includes time to stop for snacks,  lunch, and a bit of shopping.

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7. Gain entrance to properties that are rarely open to the public. Stratfield Saye, the Duke’s home in Hampshire, is only open to the general public for two months of the year; Frogmore House in Windsor (above), a royal residence since 1709, is again open for just two months annually, whilst tickets to Highclere Castle cannot be secured for love or money until 2016. Fortunately, the Duke of Wellington Tour has taken advantage of a very narrow window during which these sites are open concurrently – and we’ve booked reserved tickets for all.

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6. Explore Stately Homes.  Here’s your chance to get up close and personal with the interiors and grounds of stately homes from various periods of English history. We’ll be seeing furnishings, works of art and personal collections at Apsley House, the Duke of Wellington’s London home; Basildon Park in Hampshire (used as Netherfield Park in the Keira Knightley version of Pride and Prejudice); the Regency Town House in Hove; and what is perhaps the most fantastic and fabulous stately home of them all, George IV’s Royal Pavilion at Brighton, pictured above.

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5. Enjoy a private, guided tour of Downton Abbey, also known as Highclere Castle, home to Lord and Lady Carnarvon. We’ll be given access to the State Rooms, the bedrooms, and various spaces in the Castle that comprise both Upstairs and Downstairs life, many of which have been used as sets for Downton Abbey. We’ll hear tales about the real life history of the Castle, as well as many anecdotes about the filming of DA and the fictional Grantham Family before visiting the Egyptian Exhibition, comprised of artifacts connected to the 5th Earl of Carnarvon, who famously discovered the Tomb of the Egyptian Boy Pharaoh, Tutankhamun, in 1922 with his archaeological colleague, Howard Carter.

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  1. Immerse yourself in the rich and varied history of the Georgian, Regency and Victorian eras whilst exploring the life and times of the Duke of Wellington.
  2. Visit the places and objects that have become the stuff of legends – the grave of Copenhagen, the stallion who carried Wellington over the battlefield at Waterloo – and had the temerity to take a nip at him when the Duke finally dismounted; the grounds of Frogmore House, where Queen Victoria and Prince Albert are buried; the site of Anne Boleyn’s execution; White’s Club, Lock’s Hatters, Hatchard’s, Berkeley Square, and other London landmarks; the Crooked House in Windsor; the playing fields of Eton and many more historic “must sees.”

2. Travel with your escorts Victoria Hinshaw and Kristine Hughes, writers, researchers,  Wellington aficionados and bloggers ( Number One London – one million page views!). Victoria and Kristine have both been to England numerous times and they look forward to sharing their next trip across the pond, as well as their knowledge of British history, with you. Travel through the English countryside and be regaled with tales from history and anecdotes of historic personalities. Did you know that the Duke of Wellington and his contemporaries ran blanket races down the hallways of the Brighton Pavilion?

  1. Celebrate this once in a lifetime opportunity to travel in comfort as you take advantage of a most unique itinerary in the company of friends.

Click here for complete itinerary and details of  The Duke of Wellington Tour .

Top 12 Free Things to do in London

There are so many reasons why London is my favorite city in the world, not just the city’s obvious reverence of the past. No matter how many times I visit this vast, varied, and vivacious city I keep finding fresh things to do. And many of them are free–which is good since London is an extremely expensive city in which to stay and to eat.

Most of the great free museums ask for donations and have Plexiglas receptacles for these.

I was unable to limit myself to ten, so here’s my Top 12 List of Free Things to Do in London:

1. The National Portrait Gallery. Backing up to Trafalgar Square, this is my go-to place on every visit to London. The collection of Regency portraits is outstanding. I typically visit here several times each trip just to oogle.

This portrait of the Regent dominates one of the chambers dedicated to the Regency. Note Emma Hamilton next to him.

This portrait of the Regent dominates one of the chambers dedicated to the Regency. Note Emma Hamilton next to him.

You can also see the controversial (with only a hint of her spectacular smile) portrait of Kate, Duchess of Cambridge and a fabulous informal one of her handsome hubby with his devilishly cute brother. Remember, the gallery’s open late on Thursday and Friday evenings and be sure to check out the bar/restaurant at the top. The London views from there are spectacular.

2. The Wallace Collection. Yes, this is one of London’s great art museums, but what makes it a must-see for those of us who love the English Regency, it is housed in a London townhouse built in the late 1700s for the Duke of Manchester, when it was known as Manchester House. In 1797, Lord Hertford bought the lease, and the house in Manchester Square became known as Hertford House. The Regent visited here regularly since Lady Hertford was his mistress. In Victorian times, the house came into the possession of the illegitimate son, Sir Richard Wallace (1818-1890), of the bachelor 4th Marquess of Hertford. Wallace inherited his father’s extensive art collections and chose to display them in this home. His widow gave the house and its contents to the nation. Hertford House is located close to the Bond Street shopping.

One of the rooms at Hertford House

One of the rooms at Hertford House

3. Kenwood House/Hampstead Heath. Do I begin with the heath or the house? Oh, but I love Hampstead Heath! One can stand amidst natural vegetation unchanged in centuries and enjoy spectacular views of London below.

Kenwood House overlooking Hampstead Heath and London

Kenwood House overlooking Hampstead Heath and London

At the heath’s eastern edge stands the villa known as Kenwood House, which was remodeled by Robert Adam in the late 18th century. Kenwood houses another fabulous art collection bequeathed to the nation, along with the house, in 1927 by the Earl of Iveagh. Artists whose master works are here include Rembrandt, Romney, Turner, Van Dyck, and many others. The house has many attractions, including Adams’ incredibly elegant library, and an orangery–the first one I ever saw. No trip to London is complete for me without visiting the borough of Hampstead, and no trip to Hampstead is complete without a visit to one of my all-time favorite pubs, the Spaniards Inn, a 400-year-old inn adjacent to the vast heath.

4. The Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A). Even though it’s touted as the world’s greatest museum of art and design, it’s so much more–especially to those who love Georgian England. You’ll see jewels belonging to long-dead aristocrats and royals, clothing, furnishings, and you’ll even learn about some of London’s great houses that have been demolished.

One of the hundreds of displays at the V&A

One of the hundreds of displays at the V&A

Like at the British Museum, you can spend days here.

5. Primrose Hill. I read somewhere (probably in Georgette Heyer!) that duels used to be fought here during the Regency but have not been able to verify this. Now Primrose Hill is located in an extremely posh area of London near Regent’s Park and St. John’s Wood.

Primrose Hill

Primrose Hill

During one visit here with my son’s London friend, I was shown the nearby house of actor Jude Law. I have since come to understand many, many British celebs live in the Primrose Hill area, including Simon Callow, Daniel Craig, Kate Moss, Alan Rickman, John Cleese, and Robert Plant. The real attraction here–day or night–is the spectacular panoramic view of London.

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Mummy at the British Museum

6. The British Museum. One could spend weeks here. Even more memorable than the Rosetta Stone to me are the Egyptian mummies. And one cannot go to London and not see the Elgin Marbles.

 

7. London Parks. I couldn’t list just one. My personal favorite, though small, is Green Park. Begin adjacent to the Ritz on Piccadilly and head west all the way to Buckingham Palace. I never tire of the Palladian elegance of Spencer House, which backs up to the park. Hyde Park is huge, and I confess that I’ve never seen all of it, even though on two different stays my London flat was just across the street from it.

Hyde Park

Hyde Park

Another great large park is Regent’s Park, which I will attest to seeing all of, and I had the sore feet to show for it! The neighborhoods around Regent’s Park are exceptionally posh. Expect to see homes belonging to sheikhs. A wonderful smaller neighborhood park is Holland Park in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (which I’ve blogged about when I wrote about Holland House–then and now). The gardens are lovely, and visitors can stroll through the old arcades left from Holland House, where the Barons Holland resided in Georgian times. Much of the house was destroyed in World War II.

8. Cheyne Walk. This is a rarity in London: a street of lovely, substantial mansions practically on the banks of the River Thames. This unforgettable street in Chelsea was home in the 19th century of many artists and authors, including Dante Gabriel Rossetti, George Eliot, JMW Turner, and Algernon Charles Swinburne.

This home on Cheyne Walk, overlooking the River Thames, is where Dante Garbriel Rossetti lived in Victorian times.

This home on Cheyne Walk, overlooking the River Thames, is where Dante Garbriel Rossetti lived in Victorian times.

In the 1930s Laurence Olivier lived here, and in the 1960s Mick Jagger lived at Number 48 with Marianne Faithful, and fellow band mate Keith Richards lived at Number 3. The houses have fences around them for privacy and locked gates, but their view of the bustling river has not been obstructed. The closest I’ll ever be to glimpsing inside one of these houses is rewatching a Jeremy Britt episode of Sherlock Holmes. One of Holmes’ fictional clients lived on Cheyne Walk, and a scene supposedly depicts the home’s great river views.

portobello

Portobello Road on a Saturday

9. Portobello Road. This antiques Mecca comes alive every Saturday when hundreds of stalls open. I’ve been coming here for two decades and I confess to being a bit disappointed in it in recent years. It’s been discovered by the masses, many of whom probably learned about it from the Julia Roberts film Notting Hill. It’s gotten very crowded, prices have skyrocketed, and a lot of cheap imports have wormed their way in. Still, it’s a great place to see all kinds of “small” antiques, ranging from fine silver and pottery to ladies’ dresser sets and artwork. Many shops and stalls start closing in the afternoon, so come early.

 

10. The British Library. Close to the British Museum, the new British Library doesn’t have the fabulous reading room of the old British Library, but it’s still worth a visit. I came armed with archival references, a pencil with which to write (no pens permitted), and applied for and received a card. The average tourist will want to see the Magna Carta and other priceless documents on display.

These ancient sacred writings are on display at the British Library.

These ancient sacred writings are on display at the British Library.

11. Kensington Palace Gardens–the street. This street on the north side of Hyde Park is the most expensive address in the world and is sometimes known as Billionaire’s Row. Case in point: the de Rothschilds lived here until 2000. One house recently sold for £90 million–$140 million in U.S. dollars. Many foreign embassies are located here, and while it’s pedestrian friendly, armed guards control vehicular access.

This is the entrance to Kensington Palace Gardens Street from Bayswater Road. Mansions line either side of the street, which abuts Hyde Park.

Billionaire’s Row This is the entrance to Kensington Palace Gardens Street from Bayswater Road. Mansions line either side of the street, which abuts Hyde Park.

12. London Walks. Not to be confused with the commercial London Walks (like Jack the Ripper’s London, or Beatles London, or any of those informative walks I highly recommend), I advocate walking London. Regency buffs will enjoy a stroll along St. James where they can pick out those famed clubs such as White’s or Brooks. There are also self-guided walks of Fleet Street and Legal London, Royal London, and many others.

Strolling on the South Bank of the River Thames

Strolling on the South Bank of the River Thames

I urge visitors to walk the city. When I first started going to London many years ago, the East End and south of the Thames were not that desirable. Not so today. One of the best walks in London is along the South Bank of the River Thames. We start at Westminster Bridge and go all the way to Tower Bridge. It can take a full day if one stops along the way to see the Globe or the Tate Modern or any of the trendy restaurants.

Now that I’m thinking about it, there’s not a part of this burgeoning metropolis I don’t enjoy walking. Or visiting. That’s one of the reasons why it’s my favorite city.–Cheryl Bolen, whose articles on Georgian England can also be found on her website, http://www.CherylBolen.com.

© Cheryl Bolen, 2014