A Fashionable Way to Deal With the Heat in the Regency Era: Sleeveless Gowns

There are times you go to research one bit of information and then you get sidetracked by something else. This blog post is a snapshot of an afternoon when I should have been researching the location of my next book but instead, became obsessed with early 19th century dresses.

While browsing Pinterest, I came across this beautiful summer weight gown that’s part of the historical clothing collection at the Museo del Traje in Madrid. I was struck by the very modern look to it and realized that it had to do with the sleeves…or the absence of them. I couldn’t recall ever seeing a woman with bare arms in any of the portraits or fashion plates I’ve looked at over the years. Was this dress worn with something over or under it in order to cover a woman’s arms? Was it proper to bare your entire arm? Down the research rabbit hole I went, abandoning my original research question, to pursue a new one. I decided to dig a bit deeper and search for more examples of these dresses. I came up with a few interesting conclusions.

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Even though I would wear this gown today without anything under it, all the gowns I could recall that were sleeveless had been shown to be worn with a long or short sleeved chemise under it. The gown in the portrait below is a perfect example. It was painted in 1813 of The Hon. Mrs. Thomas Hope by renowned English portrait artist, Henry Bone (1755-1834) who is known for his work on enamel. Notice how the small sleeves peek out from the dress. I had also seen this look on numerous fashion plates of the day.

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As I continued to search for examples of sleeveless gowns, I found this gorgeous black number. The embroidery is exquisite and I love the detail of the cut on the back! Obviously from the sheerness of the bust and the practice of the day, a chemise and stays underneath would have been essential. But did the chemise have sleeves? I think it would have looked far better if it didn’t. But I still had yet to find evidence that it was acceptable to wear a gown like that.

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When I searched the Museo del Traje, I found another option a woman had while wearing a sleeveless gown. They show a sleeveless dress paired with a matching spencer.

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I also found this sheer cotton embroidered white empire bodice from 1805 that was part of the Tasha Tudor Historic Costume Collection. It would be perfect to pair it with a sleeveless gown in hot weather.

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My search for sleeveless gowns also uncovered this fashion plate of a blue dress from 1798 that appeared in the Costume Parisian. This sleeveless gown was worn with a sheer shawl. Another way to combat the heat while possibly remaining fashionably proper.

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And, then there was this pink shawl-like Spencer from 1797.

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I was beginning to believe it was not proper for early 19th century ladies to bare their arms, until I saw this portrait from The Princely Collection in Vaduz-Vienna and knew I had my answer. This portrait of two young women said to be of the Baroness Picnon and Mme. de Fourcroy by Riesener Henri-Francois (1734-1806) depicts a seated woman in a white sleeveless gown, holding a green shawl while exposing her bare arm.

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And, then I discovered this adorable fashion print that shows a sleeveless chemise under a sleeveless dress that was printed in the Costume Parisian!

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So I would say in very warm weather, it would have been acceptable for women to wear sleeveless dresses. And, at a time when there was no air conditioning, I’m sure it gave a bit of relief.

*******

One Week to Wed - Laurie BensonMy book ONE WEEK TO WED, takes place over the course of the summer of 1819 and I could very easily see my heroine wearing gowns like these. And to be honest, I would love to wear them, as well.

ONE WEEK TO WED is the story of widowed Lady Charlotte Gregory who believes you can’t fall in love twice in a lifetime. But that belief is tested when she meets the dangerous Lord Andrew Pearce and he brings her respectable, quiet world back to life. One night, they find themselves alone and give in to their desires only to find their secret passion leads to shock, scandal…and a sudden marriage of convenience.

It is the first book in The Sommersby Brides trilogy and you can pick it up at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Google Play, iBooks, and kobo.

Protests and fake news during the Regency era: The Peterloo Massacre

Lately, when we open a newspaper or turn on the television, we’re frequently presented with images of people taking to the streets in protest. And while this might feel like a relatively modern phenomenon, people banning together to try to fight an injustice goes back centuries, if not thousands of years.  Today, I’m going to talk to you about one of the most memorable protests in British history, the Peterloo Massacre.

The protest that became known as the Peterloo Massacre took place in Manchester, England in 1819. But before I tell you about the events of that day, I need to take you back a few years earlier to March of 1817. That’s when newspapers reported that 30,000 men marched into Manchester and seized the North Mail, demolished two factories, and set fire to an entire street of buildings. However, this was Regency era propaganda or as some people might refer to it today, fake news. It simply wasn’t true and the Manchester Mercury, the local paper for the area, set the record straight. One reason the piece of propaganda might have been created was that Manchester did not possess a volunteer force of yeomanry cavalry that existed in other smaller towns in Britain. It was defenseless against unruly mobs of people and, at that time in British history, there had been social and political unrest. So, not long after this story was released in the papers advertisements were posted for volunteers to form a unit and by September of 1818 the Manchester and Salford Yeomanry cavalry was formed. The Manchester Cavalry assisted the civil power in the area and was under the leadership of Major-Commandant Thomas Joseph Trafford, Esq. This group of men wrote themselves into history less than one year later.

Unrest had been growing among working people in manufacturing areas since the end of the Napoleonic war. When the war ended, these people had hoped their lives would improve, however they still were faced with high taxes, rising food prices, and unemployment. They first tried to address this with angry riots. Journalist William Cobbett wrote pieces that explained that misgovernment was responsible for these problems and helped them see that parliamentary reform was the key to improving their situation. People sympathetic to reform began to organize into local clubs. They wanted less waste of public money by both the government and the Church of England, fair taxation, and an end to restrictions on trade. In order to do that, they knew they needed to have a voice in government with workers’ interests represented in Parliament. At the time, Manchester did not have representation in the House of Commons. They knew they needed to change that.

In July of 1819, a notice went out in Manchester announcing a meeting that would be held in St Peter’s Field on August 9th. The point of the meeting was “to take into consideration, the most speedy and effectual mode of obtaining radical reform in the Commons House of Parliament and to consider the propriety of the unrepresented inhabitants of Manchester electing a person to represent them in Parliament.” The local magistrates feared they would have a riot and posted a notice banning the meeting, stating it was an illegal meeting. Reformers discovered the only illegal aspect of the meeting was the intention to elect a representative, so they proposed another meeting on August 16th. This time the intention was to determine what were the legal and effectual means of obtaining reform in the House of Commons. With the removal of the election, the meeting was not contested.

The meeting was to be chaired by Mr. Henry Hunt, the famous radical speaker. Mr. Samuel Bamford (1788-1872), who was another leading radical, wrote about his experiences that day in his memoirs and recounted that Mr. Hunt advised them that the meeting should be as morally upright as possible. He stated that this time they would disarm their opponents with a display of cleanliness, sobriety, and decorum. “In short, we would deserve their respect by showing that we respected ourselves.”

The people planning on attending this meeting met on evenings and Sundays on local moors to practice walking in time with each other so that they would arrive at St Peter’s Field in an orderly manner. This was to be a peaceful assembly where, according to Mr. Bamford, those that brought sticks were told to leave them behind. Some of the working-class radicals who were seeking reform had frequently been taunted by the press about their ragged, dirty appearances. Men, women, and even children walked together to the Field that day wearing some of their best clothes. Women who were active in trying to bring about reform were often ridiculed and called whores for being involved in something that wasn’t their business. On this day, many decided to wear white as a sign of purity of character and motive. It was to be a pleasant summer outing. At a number of trials that took place afterwards both objective and radical observers recalled that the crowd had been peaceful until the Manchester cavalry rode in. It was then that this peaceful assembly took a horrible, deadly turn.

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“Britons Strike Home!!” Illustration by George Cruikshank, 1819. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Mr. Bamford wrote about the day in his memoir, Passages in the Life of a Radical. This is his account of what took place.

“In about half an hour after our arrival the sounds of music and reiterated shouts proclaimed the near approach of Mr. Hunt and his party; and in a minute or two they were seen coming from Deansgate, preceded by a band of music and several flags.

Their approach was hailed by one universal shout from probably 80,000 persons. They threaded their way slowly past us and through the crowd, which Hunt eyed, I thought, with almost as much of astonishment as satisfaction. This spectacle could not be otherwise in his view than solemnly impressive. Such a mass of human beings he had not beheld till then. His responsibility must weigh on his mind. The task was great, and not without its peril. The meeting was indeed a tremendous one.

Mr. Hunt, stepping towards the front of the stage, took off his white hate, and addressed the people. We had got to nearly the outside of the crowd, when a noise and strange murmur arose towards the church. Some persons said with was the Blackburn people coming, and I stood on tiptoe and looked in the direction whence the noise proceeded, and saw a party of cavalry in blue and white uniform come trotting, sword in hand, round the corner of a garden wall, and to the front of a row of new houses, where they reined up in a line.

‘The soliders are here,’ I said; ‘we must go back and see what this means.’ ‘Oh,’ someone made reply, ‘they are only come to be ready if there should be any disturbance in the meeting.’ ‘Well, let us go back,’ I said, and we forced our way towards the colours. 

On the cavalry drawing up they were received with a shout of goodwill, as I understood it. They shouted again, waving their sabres over their heads; and then, slackening rein, and striking spur into their steeds, they dashed forward and began cutting the people…

‘Stand fast,’ I said, ‘they are riding upon us; stand fast.’

The cavalry were in confusion: they evidently could not, with all the weight of man and horse, penetrate that compact mass of human beings and their sabres were pied to hew a way through naked held-up hands and defenceless heads; and then chopped limbs and wound-gaping skulls were seen; and groans and cries were mingled with the din of that horrid confusion.

Many females appeared as the crowd opened; and striplings or mere youths also were found. Their cries were piteous and heart-rendering, and would, one might have supposed, have disarmed any human resentment: but here their appeals were in vain.

In ten minutes from the commencement of the havoc, the field was an open and almost deserted space. The sun looked down through sultry and motionless air. The curtains and blinds of the windows within view were all closed.

The hustings remained, with a few broken and hewed flag-staves erect, and a torn and gashed banner or two dropping; whilst over the whole field were strewn caps, bonnets, hats, shawls, and shoes, and other parts of male and female dress, trampled, torn, and bloody.

Several mounds of human beings still remained where they had fallen, crushed down and smothered. Some of these still groaning, others with staring eyes, were gasping for breath, and others would never breathe more.”

I found conflicting reports on the number of people killed that day. The numbers ranged from 10 to 20 people that were killed and there were approximately 654 people injured. After being horrified by the events, John Cam Hobhouse, a politician and friend of Lord Byron, joined efforts with other radicals and established the Metropolitan and Central Committee to financially assist those who were injured or lost the bread winners of their families. The pamphlet they put out to help them solicit donations listed the deceased as follows: John Ashton and John Ashworth were sabred and then trampled on by the crowd. William Bradshaw and Joshua Whitworth were shot. Thomas Buckley was sabred and stabbed with a bayonet. Robert Campbell was a Special Constable and was killed by a mob in Newton Lane. Mary Heys, James Crompton, and William Evans were trampled on by the cavalry. John Lees, Margaret Downes, and Edmund Dawson died from sabre wounds. William Dawson was sabred, crushed, and killed on the spot. Two-year-old William Fildes was ridden over by cavalry when his mother was carrying him across the road when she was struck by a trooper of the cavalry galloping towards St. Peters Field. Sarah Jones was killed and had a bruise to her head. Arthur Neil was inwardly crushed. And, Martha Partington was thrown into a cellar and killed on the spot.

Samuel Bamford was imprisoned that day for inciting a riot along with Mr Hunt, Joseph Johnson, Mr. Knight, Mr. Saxton, Dr. Healey, Mr. Jones, Mr. Swift, Mr. Wilde, Mrs. Gaunt, and Mrs. Hargreaves. He remained in prison for one year.

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Mr. Samuel Bamford led a group from his native Middleton to St. Peter’s Field. Following his imprisonment, he emerged as a prominent voice for radical reform. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

After all that bloodshed, the magistrates and the cavalry gave justification to the Home Office for their actions and faced no consequences from the British government who believed they were justified in using military force. In January of 1820 new laws were introduced that banned any meeting of more than 50 people without the consent of the local magistrate. But as news of the massacre spread, people across Britain were outraged of the indiscriminate killing of men, women and children. Even George Cruikshank, who had once mocked the female radicals, now created cartoons highlighting sympathy for those who gathered together to stand up for fair treatment by the British government.

*****

 

My story ideas often come from historical events and the Peterloo Massacre played a part in the plot of ONE WEEK TO WED, the first book in The Sommersby Brides Regency romance series. This is the story of widowed Lady Charlotte Gregory who believes you can’t fall in love twice in a lifetime. But that belief is tested when she meets the dangerous Lord Andrew Pearce and he brings her respectable, lonely world back to life. One night, they find themselves alone and give in to their desires only to find their secret passion leads to shock, scandal

…and a sudden marriage of convenience.

You can pick up ONE WEEK TO WED at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Google Play, iBooks, and kobo.

Resources and more information:

Bamford, Samuel, Passages in the Life of a Radical. (1844)

Hobson, James, Dark Days of Georgian Britain. (2018)

Anonymous, The Metropolitan and Central Committee Pamphlet. (1820)

Sarah Irving has done some great research on Women at the Peterloo Massacre. You can read about her findings here on the Manchester’s Radical History Blog.

The Regency Era Wedding Gown of Princess Charlotte of Wales

Since there has been a lot of speculation on Meghan Markle’s royal wedding dress, I thought I’d show you the oldest royal wedding dress that still exists and, appropriately enough, it dates back to the Regency era. It is the wedding gown of Princess Charlotte of Wales, who was the only child of the Prince Regent (later George IV) and Caroline of Brunswick. She was born on August 7, 1796 and married Leopold of Saxe-Coburg at Carlton House in London on May 2, 1816.

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Her wedding dress was made up of a white and silver petticoat that was worn under a net dress that was embroidered with silver lame. The neck and the sleeves of the gown were trimmed with Brussels lace while her train was the same silver and white material as her underdress. The gown was made by Mrs. Triaud of Bolton Street and reported to have cost £10,000. For her wedding, Charlotte wore a headdress of rosebuds and leaves made out of diamonds and a pair of large drop earrings.

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Princess Charlotte and her husband, Leopold of Saxe-Coburg. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

An interested fact about Charlotte and Leopold’s wedding is that this was the first royal wedding that had commemorative souvenirs that were widely available for people to purchase. Sadly, Charlotte’s life did not end happily. On November 6, 1817, the Princess died in childbirth at the age of twenty-one.

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An engraving based on a portrait of Princess Charlotte done by Sir Thomas Lawrence completed not long before she passed away. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

This is my favorite royal wedding gown. When I was writing An Unsuitable Duchess, I based my heroine’s wedding gown on Princess Charlotte’s.

* * *

AN UNSUITABLE DUCHESS

For American Katrina Vandenberg, the rules of London society are stifling. So, when a rare moment of solitude at a particularly tedious ball is interrupted, she’s disappointed…until she lays eyes on a very handsome stranger!

Julian Carlisle, Duke of Lyonsdale, is destined for a dull marriage of convenience, and Katrina couldn’t be further from the aristocratic British bride he needs. Following his heart should be easy, except he’s one of the first English noblemen to fall for an American. Is he willing to risk his political career and family’s standing to make this highly unsuitable woman his perfect duchess after all?

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Reference used:

Arch, Nigel and Marschner, Joanna, Royal Wedding Dresses. 2011.

The Secret Behind the 18th Century Hot Chocolate Pot

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“The Early Breakfast” by Jean-Etienne Liotard, 1753. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

If you’ve read my books, you know that most of my heroines prefer to drink chocolate the first thing in the morning instead of tea. Drinking chocolate was introduced to Europe by the Spanish and by the late seventeenth century it was a popular morning beverage. It was served warm, like it is today, however it was not as sweet as the hot chocolate we’re accustomed to. The painting above shows a servant girl presenting a cup of chocolate and a glass of water to a young French noblewoman as part of her breakfast.

One of my favorite parts of writing historical fiction is picturing how things looked two hundred years ago. Going antique hunting and visiting museums plays a big part in helping me step back in time. Since there were special pots designed for fixing hot chocolate, I thought I’d give you a glimpse at what they looked like.

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Chocolate pot made by Joseph-Theodore Van Cauwenbergh. 1774. Photo courtesy of Walters Art Museum and Wikimedia Commons.

A chocolate pot is taller than a tea pot and looks similar to a coffee pot. You can tell the difference between a coffee pot and a chocolate pot by the finial. A chocolate pot’s finial is either removable or it slides to the side. Chocolate needed to be stirred often in order to prevent it from settling to the bottom of the pot. This removable finial would allow you to stir the chocolate with a long swizzle stick without having to open the lid which would cause the heat to escape.

Some chocolate pots had straight handles, like the one in the photo above. Chocolate was an expensive commodity in the 17th and 18th centuries and associated with expensive things, so the pots were either made of silver or porcelain. You can usually tell something about the location of where the pot was made by what it was made out of. In Austria and Germany, the courts favored porcelain pots. In France the pots were either made of porcelain or silver. The American colonists began their love affair with drinking chocolate in the mid 17th century when England acquired Jamaica in 1655, an area where chocolate was grown. Chocolate pots weren’t produced in the colonies though, and pots made overseas were sold in the colonies at a very high price.

The chocolate pot above was made out of silver and amaranth wood by Joseph-Theodore Van Cauwenbergh in 1774 in Paris, France. The records at the Walters Art Museum show that this pot was owned by John Alfonse Walter who lived in Haiti. John and his wife Susan brought this pot with them when they moved from Haiti to Baltimore, Maryland sometime after 1793.

In 1828, Coenraad Johannes Van Houton invented the cocoa press, which removed the fat from cacao beans and turned the beans into cocoa powder, the basis for most hot chocolate produced today. Chocolate prices fell, and soon chocolate became a luxury most people could afford. With the development of cocoa powder the design of the chocolate pot changed. Chocolate powder eliminated the need for constant stirring of the pot, therefore pots made after 1828 have their finials permanently affixed to the lid of the pot.

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This mid-18th century enamel and glazed porcelain chocolate pot was made by the Meissen Porcelain Factory in Germany. Photo courtesy of the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum.

Drinking chocolate was so popular that not only was it depicted in paintings, but also in decorative items like this lovely Meissen porcelain couple created by Johann Joachim Kandler in 1775 that are sharing a cup of chocolate.

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Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

 

In An Unexpected Countess my heroine, Sarah, enjoys a cup of chocolate with her breakfast.

Nominated for Harlequin's 2017 Hero of the Year!-3

Sarah Forrester is an American diplomat’s daughter who must locate the fabled Sancy Diamond or her family will be ruined by a mysterious blackmailer. But the Earl of Hartwick has also been tasked by the Prince Regent with finding the diamond. Little does he know that the feisty woman he meets on a roof top is his competition. As they each follow the clues hidden in a bracelet, Sarah and Hart realize they will have to work as a team. Being together may be as dangerous to their hearts as the hunt is to their lives…and finding the jewel is only the beginning.

Available in print and ebook. Click on the links below to pick up a copy of this Regency romance today.

Amazon
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A Regency Era Christmas Parlor Game You Might NOT Want to Try at Home

Discovering the Christmas traditions of the early 19th century is one of the fun things about writing a Regency Christmas story. While I was looking into ways families would entertain themselves on Christmas Eve, I discovered one game that took me by surprise. It’s called Snapdragon and was a winter parlor game played around Christmas.

Snapdragon was played between the 16th and 19th centuries, first in England and eventually in the United States, as well. In Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language published in 1755, Snapdragon is described as “a play in which they catch raisins out of burning brandy and, extinguishing them by closing the mouth, eat them”. This was not a game for the faint of heart and it took a brave person to participate.

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Christmas celebration with people playing Snapdragon in the lower right corner. Engraving by T. Hollis after R.W. Buss, curtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

 

To play Snapdragon, you fill a large shallow bowl with brandy and place it in the middle of a table. Then you toss in raisins and light the brandy on fire. The effect is similar to burning brandy over a Christmas pudding. The brandy does not burn at a high enough temperature to turn the raisins to ash, and they almost appear as small wicks. The raisins were called snapdragons, giving the game its name.

The object of Snapdragon is to snatch a raisin out of the flaming bowl and pop it into your mouth. Back then, all the candles in the room would be snuffed out, so you could easily see the blue flame burning in the bowl. If raisins weren’t available, you could use almonds, currants, figs, grapes, or plums. It was believed that the brave soul who took the most snapdragons out of the burning brandy would meet their true love within a year. What really surprised me was that in almost all of the illustrations I found of the game, small children were taking part. Just looking at the illustration below, with the little boy reaching into the bowl, makes me nervous that his sleeve is going to catch on fire.

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Snapdragon by Charles Keene, 1858. This illustration appeared in the Illustrated London News.

The game of Snapdragon is mentioned in Old Christmas by Washington Irving, and Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens. In my book An Unexpected Countess, both my hero and heroine are very daring people and have a highly competitive relationship. I could just picture Hart and Sarah challenging each other to a game of Snapdragon.

Nominated for Harlequin's 2017 Hero of the Year!-3

 

Sarah Forrester is an American diplomat’s daughter who must locate the fabled Sancy Diamond or her family will be ruined by a mysterious blackmailer. But the Earl of Hartwick has also been tasked by the Prince Regent with finding the diamond. Little does he know that the feisty woman he meets on a roof top is his competition. As they each follow the clues hidden in a bracelet, Sarah and Hart realize they will have to work as a team. Being together may be as dangerous to their hearts as the hunt is to their lives…and finding the jewel is only the beginning.

Available in print and ebook. Click on the links below to pick up a copy of this Regency romance today.

Amazon
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iBooks
Kobo

 

 

A Look at St. James’s Park in London: Then and Now

Strolling through St. James’s Park has become one of my favorite things to do whenever I visit London. And each time I’m there, I can’t help but stop on the footbridge to admire the view. But did you know that this lovely bit of heaven in a great metropolis didn’t always look the way it does today?

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Photo of St. James’s Park by Laurie Benson.

St. James’s Park is the oldest royal park in London and was originally a marshy meadow. In 1532, King Henry VIII acquired the land as a deer park and built St. James’s Palace adjacent to the land. James I was the first one to have the park landscaped, but it was King Charles II who hired French garden designer Andre Mollet to create a more formal look to the park similar to the French gardens he saw when he was in exile. The redesign included a straight long canal, lawns, and walkways. Charles opened the park to the public and was frequently seen there amongst his subjects. In 1664, the Russian ambassador gifted Charles with a colony of pelicans which he had placed in the park and whose decedents occupy the park today.

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Andre Mollet’s plan for St. James’s Park. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Beginning in the late 17th century, cows grazed on the fields of the park and up until 1925, you could visit the park and purchase a fresh cup of milk directly from the cows via the milkmaids.

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The Mall in St. James’s Park by Thomas Gainsborough, 1783. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

When George IV, then the Prince Regent, wanted to celebrate the end of the war with France in 1814 with Allied sovereigns, he invited them to London. Various events were scheduled in and around the royal parks. A Chinese-style bridge was constructed to span the canal in St. James’s Park, and on top of it was a striking seven storey pagoda. Although the bridge remained until 1825, the pagoda caught fire during the celebratory fireworks and was sadly destroyed.

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Chinese-style bridge with pagoda in St. James’s Park, 1814. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

In 1825, St. James’s Park went through a major change when George IV commissioned renowned architect John Nash to redesign the park in a more romantic style. The shape of the long canal was altered into the shape the lake takes today and many flowering plants and shrubs were installed.

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Photo of St. James’s Park by Laurie Benson.

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Photo of St. James’s Park by Laurie Benson.

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Photo of St. James’s Park by Laurie Benson.

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Photo of St. James’s Park by Laurie Benson.

If you venture into St. James’s Park today, you step back in time to a piece of early nineteenth century London and can thank John Nash and George IV for the beauty that surrounds you. I am so fond of this park, I included it as a key location in An Unexpected Countess.

An Unexpected CountessAn Unexpected Countess is out now!

Sarah Forrester is an American diplomat’s daughter who must locate the fabled Sancy Diamond or her family will be ruined by a mysterious blackmailer. But the Earl of Hartwick has also been tasked by the Prince Regent with finding the diamond. Little does he know that the feisty woman he meets on a roof top is his competition. As they each follow the clues hidden in a bracelet, Sarah and Hart realize they will have to work as a team. Being together may be as dangerous to their hearts as the hunt is to their lives…and finding the jewel is only the beginning.

Available in print and ebook. Click on the links below to get your copy:

Amazon
Barnes & Noble
iBooks
Kobo

 

 

Where Did the First American Ambassador Live in London

When I began writing An Unexpected Countess, one of my favorite bits of research included where I wanted my characters to live. The Secret Lives of the Ton trilogy is set in London and in a previous article I talked about Albany, the fashionable residence of Regency era bachelors that is home to my hero the rakish Lord Hartwick. Well my heroine, Miss Sarah Forrester, is the daughter of the American Minister to the Court of St James. To determine where Sarah and her family should live, I needed to investigate where the first American Ministers lived in London.

Before I share what I learned, I’d like to explain the title of “American Minister to the Court of St. James”. Currently, the highest-ranking individual at the American Embassy in London is the Ambassador to the Court of St. James. His title does not reference Great Britain because Great Britain is a Constitutional Monarchy and he is appointed to the Royal Court. The Royal Court is where the Sovereign resides. When America gained its independence, George III’s residence was the Palace of St. James in London. George IV, and subsequent sovereigns have taken to residing in a number of palaces throughout the year. In order to avoid confusion, American Ambassador’s continued to reference their post as the Court of St. James.

The first American man to serve as the highest ranking envoy to England was John Adams. Mr. Adams was appointed American Minister by Congress on February 24, 1785 and was presented to King George III on the first of June. While in London, he found a modest property in the best part of Town. I was thrilled to discover the building is still standing—and it’s in Grosvenor Square in Mayfair, across the park from the current American Embassy.  

The American Embassy in London, which is also referred to as a chancery.

Grosvenor Square, London

For his residence, Adams chose the corner building that is 9 Grosvenor Square. There is a plaque attached to the building that informs you that in this house lived John Adams, First American Minister May 1785 to March 1788, afterwards served as President of the United States. From here, his daughter Abigail was married to Colonel William Stephens Smith, First Secretary of the Legation and an Officer of the Revolutionary Army and Washington’s Staff.

No. 9 Grosvenor Square, the London residence of John Adams.

Mr. Adams’s time in London was not an easy one. He had signed the Declaration of Independence which had been considered a treasonous act at the time, promoted America’s independence, and negotiated the treaty that achieved that. The London press had scorned his appointment and the public was not impressed. When Abigail joined him, she also was exposed to slights. The wife of an MP once asked her, “But surely you prefer this country to America?”

For all the bashing by the public, he appears to have had a cordial relationship with people in authority. Although, he had little diplomatic results to show for his time. In fact, when he left his position as American Minister in 1788, the American Government saw no need to fill it until Thomas Pinckney was appointed by President George Washington on January 12, 1792.

By the time Mr. Adams left, the press had softened on him a bit. On March 30, 1788, the Westminster Evening Post reported on his leaving and stated that he “settled all his concerns with great honor; and whatever his political tenets may have been, he was much respected and esteemed in this country.”

While I chose not to use No. 9 Grosvenor Square as Sarah’s residence, it did give me an indication of the size of the house and the location in Town that she should live in . And I did find a charming residence not far from there to serve as my inspiration for her home.

An Unexpected Countess is out now!

Sarah Forrester is an American diplomat’s daughter who must locate the fabled Sancy Diamond or her family will be ruined by a mysterious blackmailer. But the Earl of Hartwick has also been tasked by the Prince Regent with finding the diamond. Little does he know that the feisty woman he meets on a roof top is his competition. As they each follow the clues hidden in a bracelet, Sarah and Hart realize they will have to work as a team. Being together may be as dangerous to their hearts as the hunt is to their lives…and finding the jewel is only the beginning.

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Sources used for this article:

A Founding Father in London, John Adams’ Trouble, History is Now Magazine, July 7, 2015.

The American Embassy

Westminster Evening Post, March 30, 1788.