Fifes and Drums of Colonial Williamsburg

This is the "Red Carriage." (Yes, I know. It's a CW thing.) This is an open carriage, with facing seats. It's something like the landau that Ripley and Olympia travel in (in A Duke in Shining Armor) when she takes him back to Camberley Place after he tries to run away to London. But the landau has folding hoods, while this is completely open.

Whenever I'm in Virginia, I try to spend some time in Colonial Williamsburg. This year, our schedule allowed me to have two full days of exploring the site. It's not nearly enough time. For instance, I could have stayed in the Print Shop's Press Room for hours, the presentation was so fascinating. And that's just one shop!

Even though I write books set in England in the before-Victoria part of the 1800s, CW is incredibly helpful. Things changed more slowly a few centuries ago, and British influence is there, whether one is talking about the colonial period or afterward. Until the American Revolution, much of what appeared in the shops was imported from England. The latest fashion ideas traveled across the ocean from Paris and London. Of course, Americans gave things their own distinctive approach, but for a researcher like me, there's always historical gold in CW. All the interpreters have something to teach me.

Among other things, I took a carriage ride and pestered the driver with questions, because, while horse-drawn vehicles changed over time, basic principles remain: the way the harness works, the correct way to hold the reins and whip, etc. And of course, horses are horses. I had studied all this in books—a lot of books—but there's nothing like experiencing the real thing. For someone like me, with no personal experience of horses and driving a carriage, simply watching the coaches at work was educational, and will, I hope, make my stories feel more authentic. I watched and watched. And took pictures.

And then, when I was still hanging around, late in the day, came the Fifes & Drums.  Remember that my thing is Great Britain and its aristocrats some fifty-plus years after the War of Independence began. But the first sound of the fifes and drums had me at attention. People crowded along the sides of Duke of Gloucester Street to watch and listen. And I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one who found the experience deeply moving. You can watch some video clips here.

Next time I will try to have the presence of mind to shoot my own video. Meanwhile, here are my photos. I have to say, it was a terrific, unexpected experience.

 

 

 

Difficult Dukes #2 and Other Things

 from Egan, Pierce & Cruikshank, Isaac Robert,   The Finish to the Adventures of Tom, Jerry, and Logic

from Egan, Pierce & Cruikshank, Isaac Robert, The Finish to the Adventures of Tom, Jerry, and Logic

Sometimes the writing gods gaze down benignly upon me and send encouraging rays of sunlight and gentle breezes to waft me on my way from the beginning to The End of the story.

Sometimes I have all I can do to launch my boat. Then, having launched, it promptly sinks. Or I fall overboard.  Repeatedly.

“There is always a point in the writing of a piece when I sit in a room literally papered with false starts and cannot put one word after another and imagine that I have suffered a small stroke, leaving me apparently undamaged but actually aphasic.”—Joan Didion, Slouching Towards Bethlehem

All of this is to say that Ashmont’s story is still in the process of being written and he’s being a ducal pain in the neck about it.

In other, better news:
A Duke in Shining Armor has continued to receive stellar reviews, most recently in the current (9 April 2018—Naomi Judd on the cover—lots of red) issue of First for Women, currently on the shelves of many, many supermarkets. (Yes!) The review is titled “7 books we’re loving now.” There I am with the likes of Margaret Atwood and Jodi Picault.

The image was sent by my dear friend Claudia on Cape Cod.

And what do you think my amazement (and fear) was when I found out it had been reviewed in the New York Times Book Review? And when I discovered only mild snark in the review?

Another happy moment was seeing the book reviewed by the Historical Novel Society, which covers all historical fiction, not romance exclusively.

From the writer’s traveling cave:

Between storms

I’ve lived in New England all my life, but must say that the cold, snow, and dark started wearing on me a few years ago, and my husband and I started heading south during late winter. This year, due to an unfortunate series of events, we left later than we liked. But we did narrowly escape the cascade of blizzards.

We are in our last days in South Carolina. We’re on an island, and there’s a lot of marshland. Plus we have a golf course, more or less  in the back yard, which has the usual water features. In this part of the world, though, the water features harbor critters you don’t see on New England golf courses.

As I write this, it’s early evening. Today we’ve had a series of thunderstorms and we’re on the lookout for tornados. My computer is unplugged from the electrical outlet, and we’re listening to thunder, thunderous rain, and intermittent hail.

An alligator. Not ours. This one's from Florida

During the late morning thunderstorm, we watched an alligator swim toward our side of one of the golf course’s lagoons. It’s still a looong way away from us, but it was pretty thrilling. We have counted three alligators so far, on the golf course, in whose lagoons they lurk when they’re not lying on the bank, sunning themselves. The island is chock full of the kind of swampy territory they enjoy. I know this isn’t a plus for most people, but I have great respect and admiration for alligators and crocodiles, who’ve managed to survive all this time.

I feel lucky to be able to travel and make a writer’s retreat just about anywhere I go. What a job! So, yes, I bang my head against the wall, as indicated above, but you know I’ll keep at Ashmont’s story until it’s done right.

 

 

What's Blonde Lace?

The following is an expanded version of a blog post that appeared at Two Nerdy History Girls.

1833 Bridal Ensemble that appeared in several ladies' magazines. This is what Olympia wore.

There was a time when blonde lace was ubiquitous, as we learn if we look at ladies’ attire for court events. Certain magazines listed not only the attendees but also what they wore. For example, if you type “blonde” into the search box for this 1831 Royal Lady’s Magazine, you will notice that nearly every single lady wore blonde or blonde lace to the Queen’s Drawing Rooms.

This is why blonde lace features in so many of my 1830s-set books. However, the term “blonde” can be a little puzzling when we’re confronted with a description referring to “black blonde,” as happens in A Duke in Shining Armor.

Blonde lace is a silk bobbin lace. A search on YouTube will show it being made, and give you an idea why the handmade version was so very expensive and highly prized. The “blonde” part refers to the silk’s natural color, which was ecru. Once a way was found to make the silk stronger, it could be lightened, for a white blonde, and dyed, for black blonde.

Still, terminology can be confusing. “Next to Chantilly the blondes are the most important among the silk laces.” Yet elsewhere we’re told that Chantilly is a blonde lace. My impression is, the blonde made in Chantilly was considered superior. Any textile experts reading this are invited to provide further enlightenment.

These fine details, however, don’t seem to be crucial to the magazines, and definitely aren’t crucial for my books. For the purposes of A Duke in Shining Armor in particular, what you’d probably rather see are examples.

The bridal ensemble (at top) I gave my heroine Olympia includes “a pelerine of blond extending over the sleeves” and “a deep veil of blond surmounting the coiffure, and descending below the waist.”

The “French” dress she donned at the inn was based on several images, but this pink carriage dress from the Magazine of the Beau Monde, though listed for August 1833 (my story is set in June of that year), about covers what I had in mind. She wears “a black blond pelerine with square falling collar, the points descending low down the skirt and fastened in front with light green ribbon noeuds.”

However, I do think portraits capture the look of the lace much better than the stiff, stylized fashion prints. The gallery below shows some examples of each.

Images: Queen Adelaide (consort of King William IV) by Sir William Beechey, courtesy National Portrait Gallery NPG 1533; Court Dress for May 1831; Countess Julie von Woyna by Friedrich von Amerling 1832; Court Dress for April 1832; Giovannia Pacini (eldest daughter of the Italian composer Giovanni Pacini) 1831.

The two examples of court dress give you an idea of just how much blonde lace was involved. The feathers and the lace lappets were a particular feature of court dress. You can see a sample of Belgian Bobbin Lace in this lappet.  And here is a sample of French Pillow-made Silk Blonde. And this is an image of a lady in what seems to be black lace.

Clicking on the image will enlarge it.  Clicking on the caption will take you to the source, where you can learn more and enlarge images as needed.

Putney's White Lion Inn isn't quite the same

White Lion Inn. Photo copyright 2018 Walter M. Henritze

Most of the locations in A Duke in Shining Armor are real—or as real as I can make them. Some once existed but no longer do, some have changed beyond recognition, and some are there, looking more or less the same. None are entirely the same, of course. For one thing, the extant buildings have indoor plumbing. And electricity.

The White Lion Inn, where several important early scenes occur, did and does exist, although my characters wouldn’t recognize it today, and may not have even known it by that name.

On my investigative tour of Putney, last summer, we came upon what seemed to be the right building.  At the time, though, I wasn’t sure this was the place. What I saw was clearly a late Victorian structure, and closer inspection confirmed an 1880s date. Still, the big lion on top was a clue, and I asked Walter to take some photos.

Once home, with various books at hand, I felt more certain of its identity. This did seem to be the White Lion, but extensively renovated and decorated or maybe entirely rebuilt at about the same time the new Putney Bridge went up. 

Reviewing my copy of the Panorama of the Thames, I found a place called the Putney Hotel, which a note in the text referred to as the Red Lion Inn. But this seems to be the same building Ralph Rylance refers to in his 1815 guidebook, The Epicure’s Almanack, as the White Lion.

View of Putney in 1829: Image from Inglis and Sanders, Panorama of the Thames

White Lion.
“Continuing on your way to town you come to the village of Putney, at the bottom of which, close to the Fulham Bridge, is the White Lion.[2] You may have a good dinner drest here to order, in which order you ought not to forget to include stewed eels, or fried flounders. The people here have a live stock of them in the wells of the peter-boats moored off the village.”
 

The footnote explains further:

[2] “The White Lion near Fulham Bridge (now Putney Bridge) dated from the early C17 and was rebuilt in 1887; it is still operating, as the ‘Australian Walkabout Inn,’ at nos. 14-16 Putney High Street.” (p. 203)

I can confirm that it (1) is no longer the Australian Walkabout Inn, (2) was closed, and (3) had been closed for some time. But its location and surroundings did fit what I'd pictured while writing the story. For the interior and stable yard scenes, I used a combination of imagination and research into 18th and 19th century coaching inns.

“Custom had decreed the arrangement of an inn plan.  There was the usual courtyard with its arched or beamed entry.  There was a hall for receiving guests, a main staircase, a coffee room and a dining parlour.  Some inns could boast a special apartment for dining coach passengers only.  In addition there were smaller apartments known respectively by the names Sun, Moon, Star, Crescent or Paragon.  From 1700 to the year 1760 the arched entries were low, for until the latter date outside passengers were not encouraged.  After the accession of George the Third, when outside travelling became more general, the inside passengers were treated as belonging to an inferior order.  Not only did landlords show increased respect to the outside passengers, but a subtle compliment was paid to the coach proprietors by the landlords when alterations to the arched entries were made to their respective inns.”
—Harold Donaldson Eberlein & A.E. Richardson, The English Inn Past & Present (1926)
 

Photograph at top by Walter M. Henritze, III. The image of 1829 Putney is a screen shot from the fabulous website connected with the Panorama of the Thames, a gorgeous book. I strongly recommend your visiting the website, for larger images, and tons of information. You can scroll along for the river view or search by specific locations.

These images of the White Lion at the Victorian Web show you how extremely Victorian the building is now.

Left to right: Putney Bridge & Church 1799; Putney Bridge 1793; the White Lion (my big clue).