Friday, October 29, 2010

Grand Duchess Catherine of Oldenburg
by Maggie MacKeever

Katharina Pawlowa von Russland

In the course of doing historical research, one encounters intriguing characters. One of my current favorites is the Grand Duchess Catherine of Oldenburg.

In June of 1814, the allied sovereigns of Russia and Prussia arrived in London on a visit to the Prince Regent. With them came the two sons of the King of Prussia and a large number of victorious field-marshals, generals, princes, dukes, barons and the like.

They were a colorful cast of characters. Among them was the Grand Duchess of Oldenburg, favorite sister of Czar Alexander of Russia. She had actually been in London since March. On her arrival, the wife of the Russian ambassador, Countess Lieven, immediately foresaw trouble. ‘The Grand Duchess has an immoderate thirst for authority and a very high, and possibly excessive, opinion of herself. I never saw a woman so possessed of the need to stir, act, put herself forward and eclipse others’.

In other words, the Grand Duchess was a pill.

She was also politically influential and during 1812-15 formed and paid to outfit a special regiment of chasseurs. She dominated a reactionary political group. In 1812 a group of conspirators unsuccessfully planned to depose Alexander and put her on the throne as Czarina Catherine III Pavlovna.

She was ‘seductive in glance and manner’, had ‘a dazzling brilliance and freshness of complexion, a bright eye, and the most beautiful hair in the world... She expressed herself directly, with eloquence and grace, but she never abandoned the tone of command. Her mind was cultivated, brilliant and daring; her character firm and imperious’.

Catherine had a fondness for personal adornment. ‘She was dressed in the most magnificent pearls I ever saw – scattered all over her head in large bunches and drops. She wore a necklace of egg-shaped pearls of enormous size.’

At the time of Catherine’s arrival in London, the Regent was anxious for a match between his daughter Charlotte and the Prince of Orange. Such an alliance was regarded with alarm in St. Petersburg. Some believe that the Grand Duchess had been sent to London on a secret diplomatic mission, and that she was instrumental in the match being called off.

Another theory is that she came to England to cement the Anglo-Russian alliance by a second marriage. However, though impressed by Britain’s material achievements (particularly the steam-engine) she was less enamored of its reigning house. The Dukes of Clarence and Sussex struck her as uncultivated boors. She and Prinny took each other in immediate dislike.

Her brother agreed. Alexander called the Regent ‘a poor sort of prince’.

The Grand Duchess derived great pleasure from putting Prinny in positions of acute embarrassment. She stirred up trouble with regularity and created countless scenes; for example, leaving the room immediately the Prince’s orchestra struck up. She was also subject to fainting fits. Her nerves had allegedly been ruined during the burning of Moscow, during which she was confined in a palace along with her youngest child.

The Grand Duchess outdid herself during a banquet held by the City of London at the Guildhall on June 18th. The occasion was supposed to have been exclusively masculine, but Catherine insisted on attending. When the musicians struck up a tune, she threatened to pitch one of her fits. Prinny was forced to beg that she allow the national anthem to be sung. At length she conceded, causing Lord Liverpool to remark that if people didn’t know how to properly behave, they should stay at home.

No one was unhappy when the Grand Duchess departed English shores.

Catherine Pavlovna of Russia was the fourth daughter of Czar Paul I of Russia and Princess Sophie Dorothea of Württemberg. In 1809, she married Duke George of Oldenham, who died of typhoid in 1812. While in England she met Crown Prince William of Württemberg, who was married to Princess Charlotte of Bavaria. He divorced his wife and married Catherine in 1816, thereby making her the Queen of Württemberg.

She had two sons with her first husband and two daughters with her second.

Catherine died in January 1819 of a bacterial skin infection complicated by pneumonia. She was forty years old.

Maggie MacKeever is, under various pseudonyms, the author of forty-three novels, most of them set in Regency England. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two very spoiled housecats, and takes great pleasure in the fact that they share their back yard with a family of feral felines, a pug-nosed possum, and several raccoons.

Her newest book, THE TYBURN WALTZ, will be published by Vintage Ink Press in November.

Julie expects she will end up dangling on Tyburn gallows, hanged as a thief.

Ned expects he will die on the battlefields of the Peninsula, hanged as a spy.

But then Julie takes on the trappings of a lady, and Ned unexpectedly becomes an earl, both players in a deadly game that will take them from the heights of London society to the depths of the Regency underworld — a game in which not only necks are risked, but hearts as well.

According to Romantic Times Book Reviews: ‘MacKeever expertly combines romance, humor, passion and mystery to create a gripping and entertaining novel. The primary and secondary characters are well developed and will elicit multiple emotional responses from readers throughout the novel. This book is a keeper you’ll want to re-read often.’

Friday, October 22, 2010

Mr. Chawleigh, Mr. Driffield and Mr. Luckcock:
the new middle class

Mr. Jonathan Chawleigh and Mr. Josiah Driffield are fictional characters; Mr. Luckcock is an historical figure. They were all of the new middle-class that arose in the Regency era. They were all manufacturers; men born in modest circumstances who rose to business and community prominence through their own efforts and skills.

Mr. Chawleigh is a creation of Georgette Heyer--a caricature of a man: bluff, raw, and uncouth. He is a model for all the middle-class manufacturing men in the Regency fiction that followed Heyer's book "A Civil Contract". The middle-class became a class without elegance, without delicacy and without understanding.

When I began to formulate my book "Daughter of Trade", I was thinking about this unforunate characterization. I did not believe that all of the new middle-class were crass bumpkins, and started to create a family of charming, educated, thoughtful people, happy with their lot in life, caring of their dependents, and proud of their origins and their accomplishments. The Driffield family was born, with Josiah Driffield the patriarch of seven children, ably partnered by his lady.
The above drawing by Jean-Auguste Ingres illustrates the sort of middle-class family the Chawleighs, the Driffields, and the Luckcocks embody.

The other day I began to read a book that has been in my research library for a year or two. "Family Fortunes: Men and Women of the English Middle Class, 1780-1850" is an in-depth study of the role of gender in creating the middle class of the industrial age. In the prologue, I discovered Mr. James Luckcock of Birmingham, a manufacturer of jewellery, who was born in 1761 and died in 1835. He might have been the prototype for my Josiah Driffield.

James Luckcock was born in humble circumstances, apprenticed at a young age, rose to manager, and finally to owner of his own manufactory. Like Josiah Driffield, he was a Dissenter in religion, a radical in politics, and a beneficent employer who ran Sunday Schools and Brotherly Societies for his workers. He was a respected member of the community, wrote poetry, and desired nothing more than security for his family, and a pleasant old age. Josiah Driffield was, like James Luckcock, "committed to anti-slavery and to defense of the weak and of animals, and to representation of the people."

These middle-class gentlemen were as worthy of respect as the aristocracy so beloved of Regency fiction authors. In a genre over-loaded with dukes and rakes, I think it can be a good thing for authors to look beyond the cliches and the obvious to take on the realities of the new classes of society that the Regency saw develop. Readers appreciate the change, and I know my fellow authors have risen to the challenge with great books like The Weaver Takes a Wife by Sheri Cobb South. I'd like to hear about your favourite middle-class Regency characters!

~~Next week, Regency author Maggie MacKeever will join us to discuss the Grand Duchess of Oldenburg, favorite sister of Czar Alexander of Russia. Maggie MacKeever is, under various pseudonyms, the author of forty-three novels, most of them set in Regency England. Her new release, The Tyburn Waltz, will be published in November by Vintage Ink Press.~~

'Til next time,

Reference: Davidoff, Leonore and Catherine Hall. Family Fortunes: Men and Women of the English Middle Class, 1780-1850. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991.

Friday, October 15, 2010

The London Art of Cookery

I found another wonderful cookery book of the Regency period at Google Books recently. It has a number of unique and fascinating features; here's the title:

The London Art of Cookery
Domestic Housekeepers' Complete Assistant,
The Principles of
Elegance, Taste, and Economy;
and adapted
to the Use of Servants,
 Families of Every Description.
John Farley
Formerly Principal Cook at the London Tavern

The Twelfth Edition

I love the title pages on these old books, and couldn't resist trying to reproduce it. But back to content!

I have a feeling there will be at least one more post on this book, but for today, one of the first features in the book caught my eye. There is a bill of fare laid out for each month of the year. It is an illustration of a table-top with the dishes marked for a first and a second course. Here is the Bill of Fare for October:

Many of the dishes require no explanation: custards, ham, broccoli, even turkey and oysters is not far from our everyday cooking. But some items are unusual to say the least.

Scotch Collops are a cut of veal "the size and thickness of a crown piece", done up in a mushroom, anchovy and lemon sauce. Beef Olives are rolled rump-steaks cooked with fat bacon and served with a gravy containing port wine, cayenne and ketchup.

Tongue and Udder caused me to shudder, but they were parboiled and then roasted with cloves. Almond Soup contained veal and mutton as well as almonds and cream.

What, I wondered, were the Chardoons on the top left corner of the the second course? Well, I think they are the edible 'flower' of a large thistle-type plant. I went to the index and found the following:
Cut them about six inches long, string them, and stew them till tender. Then take them out, flour them, and fry them in butter till they are brown, Serve, with melted butter. Or you may tie them up in bundles, and boil them like asparagus. Put a toast under them, and pour a little melted butter over them.
And the biggest mystery of all was one of the two central dishes of the second course--Silver Web. I went to the Index with anticipation. There was no entry for Silver Web. I went to the Internet and did a search--nothing came up for Silver Web. I thought it must either be a fish or a sweet. Feeling stymied, I considered my options, and I recalled a great blog I often read--The Old Foodie. I emailed Janet and asked for her help. She was most generous with her information, and here it is:

"'Silver Web' was a spun sugar decoration for sweet dishes and puddings. It was considered very elegant indeed.

There are recipes from the mid-eighteenth century, but here is one from 1846 - the method did not change, and this cookery book is available on Google Books, in case you want to look it up. The Gold Web sounds gorgeous too.

From: The Complete Cook, J.M. Sanderson, 1846
To make a Silver Web.

Boil clarified syrup to the crack, using the same precautions as before observed, giving it a few boils after the acid is added; dip the bottom of the pan in water and let the sugar cool a little; then take the handle of a spoon, or two forks tied together, dip it into the sugar, and form it either on the inside or outside of a mould, with very fine strings, by passing the hand quickly backwards and forwards taking care that it does not fall in drops, which would spoil the appearance of the work. With this may be represented the hair of a helmet, the water of a fountain, &c. Take a fork or an iron skewer, and hold it in your left hand as high as you ca,n dip the spoon in the sugar, and with the right hand throw it over the skewer, when it will hang from it in very fine threads of considerable length.

To make a Gold Web.

Boil syrup to caramel height, colouring it with saffron, and form it as directed for the last. It can be folded up to form bands or rings &c. Fasten it to the other decorations with caramel. If any of the strings or threads of sugar should pass over those parts where they are not required so as to spoil the other decorations in the making of baskets or other ornaments, it may be removed with a hot knife without breaking or injuring the piece."
So now I have--perhaps--several new recipes for October meals! But I won't be making Tongue and Udder. And those who know my cooking skills won't be expecting Silver Web either.

'Til next time,


Friday, October 8, 2010

The Highwayman Came Riding, riding, riding...

The stuff of poetry and music, romanticized by fiction authors from Georgette Heyer to Jo Beverley, the highwayman has loomed large in Georgian and Regency mythology. The legendary Dick Turpin from the early 1700s was the most notorious in that century which was rife with thieves scouring the roads. Despite the glamour and the romance, however, the reality was that the highwaymen were desperate characters, driven by destitution and disillusionment with society, to steal and sometimes to kill.

Actual accounts from the period tell the real story. Highwaymen were thieves; they made travel hazardous, they were feared and despised, and there is no sign of the gentleman robber so beloved of fiction writers.

From The Year 1800, a volume of 'historical' newspaper extracts published in 1861, come these news items:

"A gentleman and a lady were robbed yesterday forenoon, on their way to town from Clapham, by two highwaymen."

"Tuesday, as Mr. Levien, of the City, was returning to town from Slough in a post-chaise, he was stopped in Butcher's Grove, on Hounslow Heath, about two o'clock, by two highwaymen, who robbed him of his watch, six guineas, and some loose money."

The Edinburgh Review of 1813 details several instances of robbery and retribution:

 "Yesterday, Joseph Gibson, convicted of highway-robbery, was executed at the ordinary place of execution in this city."

"Between seven and eight o'clock as Mr. Samuel Bayley, cotton-merchant, was riding towards home, on the Rusholme road, he was suddenly entangled by a rope stretched across the road for the purpose of robbery....They proceeded to rifle him of his property, and told him to proceed and make no alarm, or his life should pay for it."

"A gang of highwaymen, five in number, supposed to be the same who lately infested the neighbourhood of Wigton and Carlisle, made their appearance at the Candlemas fair of Dumfries, on Wednesday week; and betwixt seven and eight o'clock that evening, no less than nine different persons were attacked, seven of whom were unhorsed, and robbed of their pocket-books, watches, etc. betwixt the one and three mile-stones on the Galloway road. The villains were well armed with bludgeons, pistols, etc. and all escaped. Several of the people who were attacked are much hurt, and the cash taken amounts to upwards of 1000l. besides bills, etc."

Not romantic at all, I think. The decline of the trade of the highwayman was brought about by several causes. Improvements to roads, policing, and banking systems, led the way, aided by--surprisingly--land clearances, which offered fewer hiding places for thieves.

Despite the realities of the highwayman's profession, the aura of romance surrounding the villains will no doubt continue. Highwaymen, pirates, and outlaws--I must confess to a sneaking affection for the rogues, and I will read their fictional stories with enjoyment, ignoring the actual facts of their existence.

'Til next time,


Friday, October 1, 2010

An Unscheduled Absence

I do apologize for the lack of a new blog this week. A death in my immediate family has made it impossible for me to keep up with my usual commitments. I do hope to return next week with new Regency information!

In the meantime, here is a blog from my friends at Prairie Chicks Write Romance that you might find of interest -- The Naughty Ton Exposed--The Regency

If you have not had the opportunity to read Nicola Cornick's guest post from last week, I hope you will take the time now. It is an informative and entertaining column.

Thanks for your patience--I'll be in touch soon.