London’s Devonshire House–Gone

© Cheryl Bolen, 2014

Though it was demolished 90 years ago, Devonshire House was one of London’s most fabulous aristocratic homes for a couple of centuries. One of the things that set it — and a handful of other aristocratic homes — apart from typical town homes of the nobility was the plot of land that surrounded it. While many of London’s grandest houses were terraced (what Americans might refer to as “row houses”), Devonshire House sat on three choice acres on Piccadilly, with a view of Green Park from the front and a view to the garden of Berkeley Square from the rear (across the gardens of Landsdowne House).

Devonshire House, late 1800s

Devonshire House, late 1800s

As with Melbourne House (now Albany), Burlington House, and Landsdowne House (all significantly altered), Devonshire House was entered through gates large enough for a carriage to pass, and gardens and outbuildings were located within the walls.

Cheryl Bolen with Devonshire House Gate behind her

Cheryl Bolen with Devonshire House Gate behind her

Today, the gates of Devonshire House have been relocated across Piccadilly to serve as an entrance to Green Park. (In the photo, I’m seated within Green Park with the Devonshire House gates behind me.) A London underground ticket office now lies beneath what was once Devonshire House, and now the Ritz is across the street. (In the photo below, the French-looking Ritz Hotel is on the right, abutting Green Park, and the office building that replaced Devonshire House in the 1920s is the larger building in the picture.)

Home to the Dukes of Devonshire, the Palladian house was completed in 1740 for the 3rd Duke, with William Kent serving as architect. This structure replaced the former Berkeley House, which burned. Berkeley House, bordered by Piccadilly and Berkeley Street, had been built in 1665-1673 by Lord Berkley and was later the residence of Charles II’s mistress, Barbara Villiers before the 1st Duke of Devonshire bought the classical mansion.

Though the exterior of Kent’s Devonshire House was plain, the interiors were said to be sumptuous, with a 40-foot long library the highlight of the three-story house.

It also housed what was said to be the finest art collection in England. Many of these paintings can now be found at the current duke’s opulent country house, Chatsworth House.

Devonshire House was famed in the late 18th century as the nucleus of Whig politics, presided over by the duchess Georgiana, wife to the 5th duke. A hundred years later a grand dress ball to celebrate Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee was held there. Also during Victorian times, the house was altered by James Wyatt, who was one of the most fashionable architects in the late 19th century.

Large white building replaced Devonshire House in the 1920s; French building at right is Ritz; white, flat building in foreground is for London Underground. Taken from Green Park.

Large white building replaced Devonshire House in the 1920s; French building at right is Ritz; white, flat building in foreground is for London Underground. Taken from Green Park.

Following World War I, Devonshire House was abandoned in 1919 as the 9th Duke was the first to be required to pay high death duties. These amounted to £500,000 (approximately $16 million today). The 9th duke sold off much of his fine library, including a Caxton and many first editions of Shakespeare. In 1921, he sold Devonshire House and its three-acre garden for $750,000. The house was demolished in 1924, and an office building–also called Devonshire House–now stands on the site–Cheryl Bolen. See http://www.CherylBolen.com for more articles.

Lord Nelson’s Pitiable Wife

  Every Regency history buff knows about Lord Horatio Nelson’s love for Emma Hamilton, and many of us have felt sympathy for poor Sir William Hamilton, the most openly cuckolded man in England. But few have spared a thought for Nelson’s pathetic wife, the former Frances “Fanny” Nesbit.

Fanny Nesbit
Fanny Nesbit

 

  Nelson met Fanny when he was 26 and in commanded of the Boreas while it spent time in the West Indies.  Just a few months older than Nelson, Fanny had been widowed three years previously when her son, Josiah, was only two years old. Upon her husband’s death, she returned to the Indies to live with her uncle, a planter who was the largest land owner on the island of Nevis.
  Nelson was good with the lad, and a romance with the mother blossomed. On the outside, the plain, slender woman appeared the perfect wife for a man who had grown up in a country parsonage with a curate father, like the senior Nelson, who sired five sons and three daughters. Fanny certainly was the complete antithesis to Emma Hamilton, a former courtesan.
  The romance between Nelson and Fanny began, on his part certainly, as somewhat of a love match. Prince William of the Royal Navy would write, “Poor Nelson is head over ears in love.” When Nelson and Fanny had to be apart, he wrote affectionately to her with phrases like this: “At first I bore absence tolerably, but now it is almost insupportable.” Not exactly bursting with the passion that would later scorch the pages of his letters to Emma, but affectionate nevertheless.
  They married on March 22, 1787, and set sail for England. Five peaceful years at his father’s parsonage (which Edmund Nelson turned over to the newlyweds) followed before he was called back to active duty after the French Revolution. One wonders if the marriage may have been different had Fanny been able to conceive her husband’s children.
  Horatio and Fanny Nelson would be apart a great deal over the next six years – and indeed the remainder of their marriage – though all that he was and all that he felt (mostly about his career) he would impart to his wife in letters – even after he lost his right arm.
Lord Nelson

Lord Nelson

  Then in the summer of 1798 their lives would dramatically change when he demonstrated his superiority in naval battle strategy and gained fame across Europe as the Hero of the Battle of the Nile. Not only did he earn a peerage, but during his subsequent posting in Naples (while Fanny was glorying in the accompanying fame back in England) the beautiful wife of the elderly English ambassador at Naples threw herself at Nelson’s feet – or, more appropriately, in his bed.
  Nelson and his “Beloved Emma” would remain passionately in love until a musket ball killed him at Trafalgar in October 1805.
  While Lord Nelson never had any compunction about later shunning his own wife at every turn, strangely, he never wished to estrange Sir William; therefore, Nelson, Lady Hamilton, and her husband would thereafter live together in a bizarre triangle – even while Emma attempted to conceal her pregnancy with Nelson’s child (whom he later adopted – and adored).
  Nelson did not return to England until a year and half after the Battle of the Nile, and he would return accompanied by the Hamiltons. He would tolerate Fanny’s company only for a few weeks before he formerly separated from her. For her part, Fanny had attempted in every way to do all that was pleasing to her hero husband.
Emma Hamilton

Emma Hamilton

  Though Nelson’s last thoughts and last concerns were about Emma, Fanny came out the winner. Of sorts. Emma was denied the pension Nelson begged that she receive and died in poverty. Fanny would forever be Lady Nelson and receive a generous pension from a grateful nation. Sadly, both women died heartbroken.– Cheryl Bolen, whose next Brides of Bath novel, Love in the Library, can be preordered now at all sites.

Casting Judgment from White’s Bow Window

White's_Club_St_James's_Street_-_geograph_org_uk_-_1375768

White’s Note the bow window on the ground floor

The following poem takes a tongue-in-cheek peek at the arbitrators of fashion who sat in the infamous bow window of White’s on St. James. The author is Henry Luttrell (1765-1851) who Byron referred to as “the best sayer of good things, and the most epigrammatic conversationalist I ever met.”

Indeed, all the diaries and letters I’ve read from the era refer to Luttrell as the great wit. The most recent edition of the Englilsh Dictionary of National Biography says that, unfortunately, most of Luttrell’s wit does not translate well two centuries later. It’s one of those cases where ya had to be there.

Luttrell was the illegitimate son the 2nd Lord Carhampton.

The Bow Window at White’s

By Henry Luttrell

Shot from yon Heavenly Bow, at White’s,
No critic-arrow now alights
On some unconscious passer-by
Whose cape’s an inch too low or high;
Whose doctrines are unsound in hat,
In boots, in trousers, or cravat;
On him who braves the shame and guilt
of gig or Tilbury ill-built;
Sports a barouche with panels darker
Than the last shade turned out by Barker;
Or canters, with an awkward seat
And badly mounted, up the street.
Silenced awhile that dreadful battery
Whence never issued sound of flattery;
That whole artillery of jokes,
Levelled point-blank at hum-drum folks;
Who now, no longer kept in awe
By Fashion’s judges, or her law,
Strut by the window, at their ease,
With just what looks and clothes they please!

Since George “Beau” Brummell was known to occupy a seat in that most well-known of bow windows, I suspect Luttrell is poking fun at him in this poem which first appeared in Luttrell’s Advice to Julia, published in 1820, four years after Brummell fled to France to keep from debtor’s prison. I found it in my little 1909 gem, The Lure of London.—By Cheryl Bolen, who’s delighted to announce the release of a Christmas novella (The Theft Before Christmas) in the Regent Mysteries series is now available in print and eBook.

Beau Brummel

Beau Brummell

 

Georgette Heyer’s Biography: 10 years to research

Two years after it was published in Great Britain, Jennifer Kloester’s brilliant biography of Georgette Heyer has been brought out this year in the U.S. by Sourcebooks. Kloester dedicates the book to Heyer’s only child, Richard Rougier (1932-2007) and to the author of the 1984 biography of Heyer, Jane Aiken Hodge, both of whom gave her complete access to their letters, notes, and in the case of Rougier, remembrances. He also provided the author with many personal pictures of Heyer.Georgette Heyer

The new biography differs vastly from Hodge’s earlier effort. While both stress that Georgette Heyer (1902-1974) was intensely private, never gave interviews, never took a book tour, did not sit for autographing, refused to pose for author pictures, and never revealed her married name (Rougier), Aiken’s book attempts to reveal Heyer’s personality by analyzing her novels—and in many instances by supposition and inferences.

Kloester’s imminently readable book makes no inferences but lets Heyer’s extant letters, numbering over 1,000 pages, breathe life into the clever, erudite, humorous, and self-deprecating Heyer, who wrote 55 novels, six of which she later suppressed.

The heart and soul of Kloester’s 400-page book are the letters Heyer wrote to her agents and publishers over the course of her career. In her ten years of researching, Kloester managed not only to assemble these letters from the earliest days of Heyer’s 50-year career but also to present them in highly readable form with elucidating footnotes and helpful contextual information.

 A published author—at 18

            Heyer was a rare breed like J.R.R. Tolkein who invented a genre which has been widely imitated. Astonishingly, the first of her Regency romances was written when she was just seventeen. The Black Moth, her first book, debuted in 1921 and has remained in print for more than 90 years.

During those early years, she dabbled with serious contemporary, coming-of-age stories as well as an ambitious Restoration-era tome, but found her calling with her witty period romances that were noted for their humor and the thoroughness of her research.

Heyer’s research

             For Infamous Army, she read 26 books about Waterloo’s campaign, soldiers, officers, etc. and for four months filled notebooks with detailed information on the hundred days between Napolean’s escape from Elba and the clash at Waterloo. This included biographies of notables, troop movements, uniforms, weaponry, first-person accounts, maps, and a detailed chronology. She was flattered that her book was used by military students at Sandhurst.

Her personal library included more than 2,000 historical reference books, even though she preferred primary references.

In fact when she wanted her publisher to sue Barbara Cartland for a number of instances which Heyer considered blatant plagiarism, she said words she had used – and which had been copied—she had never seen anywhere else except in one of her unpublished sources. (The Aiken biography never names Cartland as the author imitating Heyer.) Though Heyer felt strongly Cartland had plagariized not only her plots but many of her characters as well as terminology, no lawsuit was ever filed, but her publishers must have been in communication with Cartland’s publishers because the “copying” stopped.Heyer2

The Breadwinner

            After a five-year, largely absentee courtship and two months after a heart attack claimed her adored father, Heyer at age twenty three married mining engineer Ronald Rougier. Her father’s sudden death left her mother in financial difficulties, and Georgette took on the burden of providing for her mother and paying for the education of the youngest of her two brothers.

Between 1921 and 1935 she published 19 novels, and from the time that Ronald gave up his engineering career to return to England, Heyer was never free of financial worries. Her letters to her agent are full of her blown-up fears of bankruptcy.

In 1935 she suffered a nervous breakdown, and the following year she backed her husband’s plan to study for the bar even though it meant she was the only wage earner for their family of three as well as her mother.

Her financial worries continued to mount. It is interesting to read her complaints to her agent about being treated like a midlist author, though that term was never used:

They [publisher] are only concerned with their high lights. . . First, they apparently regard me as a certain seller up to a certain number of copies, & see little point in trying to push sales beyond that maximum. Second, they do not advertize me. Third, they seem to be unable to get the book reviewed.

More of her discontent with her publisher was expressed to her agent in 1937 when she informed her agent she was quite sure her editors “or any member of the firm” ever read her books. “No one ever bothers me for a synopsis for the purpose of advertising.”  In that same lengthy diatribe, she writes that no one in the firm even realized Devil’s Cub was a sequel to her popular These Old Shades.

She was always encouraging her agent to get her books serialized in the magazines, which was not only a great way to build an author but also paid extremely well.

 Sells rights to books for £250

             At one point she was so desperate for money, she sold the rights to three of her books for £750—or £250 a book! In 1940 she signed away British Commonwealth copyrights to These Old Shades, Devil’s Cub, and Regency Buck to her publisher, Heinemann. Reflecting on that 30 years later when she was at the pinnacle of her success, Heyer wrote:

Doesn’t it seem fantastic thirty years later that £750 should have been considered by the valuers on both sides to have been a pretty generous price? It led me to rout out my old account book, and I see that it was generous! In those days my gross income very rarely got into four figures. It is now five figures. . . They got a very good bargain, but I don’t begrudge it them, remembering, as I do to what straits we were reduced at the time. 

The golden years

It had taken her more than twenty years to build her career to be lucrative, and by then—in the late 1940s—she had to pay the Inland Revenue approximately 85 percent of her annual earnings. At that time Ronald purchased a Rolls Royce, and they had moved into Albany, a quiet oasis in the heart of London. Albany had been the residence of several noted authors and a couple of prime ministers over its two-century history. The Rougiers would make their home there for a quarter of a century.

Though her books had sold moderately in the United States over the years, sales took off in the 1950s. From the late forties until her death in 1974, she was one of the world’s bestselling authors, though she had difficulty believing that “books of substance” did not sell better than her “fluff.” She was shocked when her publisher told her there was no other author who could rival her world-wide sales.

She had always aspired to write respected historical novels and never realized the witty Regency romance genre she created would immortalize her. Now, forty years after her death, her books are still bestsellers.—Cheryl Bolen, author of the Regent Mysteries

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

Culpeper’s Complete Herbal

© Cheryl Bolen, 2013

As one who haunts used book sales and old book stores, I’ve amassed a wonderful library of research books, but the one volume I’ve used the most since I sold my first historical novel in 1997 is Culpeper’s Complete Herbal.

In fact, I have two editions. The first one I purchased was a paperback, and I’ve marked it up excessively. Later, I found a hardback with illustrations, but I can’t part with the first one because I’ve highlighted passages with references to what ailments could be treated with a particular herb. Lots of hours of research went into all that highlighting.culpepper

Originally published by Nicholas Culpeper in 1653, the herbal is an impressive work. My original Wordsworth edition (1995) has 603 pages and combines the herbal with The English Physitian, both written by Culpeper. (Note: Culpeper’s original spelling of physitian has been retained.) My British hardback has 430 pages.

The latter book claims to be “a comprehensive description of nearly all herbs, with their medicinal properties, and instructions for making up the herbal remedies.”

The English Physitian, originally published in 1652, has been in continuous publication since its first printing and is the most successful non-religious English book ever published.

The Herbal catalogues most every plant that grows in Great Britain, giving descriptions of the plant, what time it needs to be harvested for medicinal purposes, and which physical complaints a concoction of it will help to alleviate.

The Physitian is a primer for physicians and apothecaries. It includes information on how to make decoctions, syrups, purging electuraries (like laxatives), pills, oils, ointments, and plaisters for a wide variety of ailments.

Since the information in this text was widely in use during the Regency, I’ve used these works as a resource for almost every book I’ve published.

Here are some examples of Culpeper’s delightful work:

My son was taken with the same disease (the body flux), and the excoriation of his bowels was exceedingly great; myself being in the country, was sent for up, with only I gave him, was Mallow bruised and boiled both in milk and drink, in two days (the blessing of God being upon it) it cured it.

On ground pine, which grows low, Culpeper has this to say: It is utterly forbidden for women with child for it will cause abortion or delivery before time.

On mint, he writes: Simeon Sethi saith it helps a cold liver, strengthens the belly, causes digestion, stays vomits and hiccough; it is good against the gnawing of the heart, provokes appetite, takes away obstruction of the liver, and stirs up bodily lust, but therefore too much must not be taken.

He says dill “is a gallant expeller of wind.”

So if you need to know what your characters would take if they are suffering from gout, sore throat, headache, tooth ache, to expectorate phlegm, treat asthma, or any infirmity you can devise, check out Culpeper.

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.

 

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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.”

George Romney: portraitist to rich and famous

George_Romney_-_Lady_Hamilton_as_Circe

Emma Hart (later Lady Hamilton), one of the many portraits Romney did of her

Take a look at Regency books and chances are several of the covers will feature paintings of Emma Hamilton done by George Romney (1734-1802) well over 200 years ago. In the period from 1782 to 1785, he painted some 60 different portraits of the beauty, who was at that time going by the name Emma Hart.

Romney—who is related to the former Illinois governor of the same name as well as his son, presidential candidate Mitt Romney—actually changed the family’s spelling of the name, which was formerly Rumney.

At the age of 21, Romney was apprenticed for four years to a portrait painter. The apprenticeship (paid for by Romney’s cabinetmaker father) was to have lasted longer, but George Romney was able to buy himself out of the servitude and strike out on his own. In those early days when he was painting in the provinces, he charged six guineas for a whole-length portrait and two for a three-quarter figure.

In 1762 Romney came to London to make his fortune, leaving behind his wife and son. His wife, who was of a lower social class than he, never came to live with her husband in London during the nearly 40 years he was away. He provided generously for her—as well as helping out many of his ten siblings.

In London, he raised his prices to 8 guineas for a three-quarter portrait and began to receive many commissions from members of the legal profession, then from those in the theatre.

Ten years later he was making an exceedingly comfortable income of over £1,000 a year and was therefore finally able to travel to Italy to really study his art. He stayed abroad for two years.

Upon his return, he boldly took the large house and studio located at No. 32 Cavendish Square, an aristocratic neighborhood. One of his first patrons there was the Duke of Richmond, who commissioned him to paint his portrait—along with several copies of it, as was the custom in that day—and Romney also did portraits of various members of the duke’s family.

A long procession of aristocrats began to patronize him. This included Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire (whose portrait was never finished due to her unreliability); her best friend Bess, who succeeded her as Duchess of Devonshire by marrying the 5th Duke; the Duchess of Gordon; the actress Mary Robinson as Perdita; and Mrs. Fitzherbert, illegal wife of George IV when he was Prince of Wales. Soon Romney’s income grew to a lavish £3,000 a year.

It was in the summer of 1782 that Romney came under the spell of Emma Hart, when her “protector” Charles Greville (nephew to her eventual husband, Sir William Hamilton) requested that Romney paint the exquisite creature.

The 48-year-old painter was smitten. Most believe his relationship with Emma was purely platonic, more like that of a father toward a daughter. The age gap between them was 22 years.

In Emma, he had found the perfect model for his mythological works. The Prince of Wales, too, was enchanted. He purchased two of Romney’s paintings of her, one as Calypso and the other as Magdalen, paying the staggering sum of £100 for each of them.

Romney and Emma were genuinely fond of one another. When Emma returned to England in 1800 and inquired about Romney, who had chosen to spend the last two year of his life in the country with his wife, Romney said, “The pleasure I should receive from the sight of the amiable Lady Hamilton would be as salutary as great, yet I fear, except I should enjoy more health and better spirits, I shall never be able to see London again.”

Discoveries in Letters and Diaries

SedanChairDrawingI wrote this post a couple of weeks ago for the Historical Hussies blog.

Through reading diaries of those who lived in Georgian England one can glean any number of interesting things, things Georgians easily understood but which have passed almost into obscurity after two centuries of disuse.

For example, did you know that black wax was used to seal letters bearing news of one’s death? I learned this in a letter in which the writer apologized thusly, “I have sealed my letter with black wax for too good a reason, so don’t be alarmed. I have no red.”

There’s another factoid: letters were normally sealed with red wax. (This was verified by images on the internet.)

In the same book of letters, an aristocratic child wrote, “My mama writes in the carriage. She has a little table in it.” Of course, I had to steal that to use in one of my books!

That same child, in another letter, references the real wood fires they only had at their country home. That casual comment alerted me to the fact they did not have wood fires at the town house in London. Of course, they used coal in the city! Had I erred in an earlier book? I certainly know better now than to have wood fires in London.

Some of the more interesting of those little-known occurrences of two centuries ago revolve around travel. Englishmen traveling in Italy during the summer slept in the daytime and traveled in their coaches only at night because the heat in the carriages could be too oppressive.

Perhaps the most interesting travel tidbit is how the wealthy Englishmen crossed the mountains. Their entire carriages had to be disassembled and carried over the passes by crews hired for this purpose. Crews also carried the aristocratic passengers along these treacherous areas by sedan chair. Once the passes were cleared, the carriages were assembled.

I’m currently reading the Grand Tour journal written by England’s once-wealthiest commoner, William Beckford, and will share its enlightening facts in the next blog.

Cheryl Bolen is the romance launch author for Montlake’s Amazon serial, Falling for Frederick, which is now available, with a new installment (no additional cost) every two weeks.

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.