About Laurie Benson

Regency Romance Author with Harlequin. Antique Treasure Hunter. Hot Coffee Lover. Probably writing in a cozy sweater and avoiding laundry.

Romance Cares Giveaway

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I’ve teamed up with 39 other romance authors to offer you a special giveaway, in light of the recent natural disasters that have affected parts of the United States, Mexico, and the Caribbean Islands. To enter, just email us at romancecares@gmail.com showing proof of a donation to any disaster relief organization (please remove sensitive information), and you will receive 1 or more free ebooks – chosen at random – from the list of books of participating authors. Some people will even receive an entire series!

A special thank you to Mia Sosa and Rachel Lacey for organizing this! Our hearts and thoughts are with everyone who’s been affected.

Entry Details:

  1. Please email romancecares@gmail.com by Friday, October 13th showing proof of a donation to disaster relief dated between August 1 and October 13, 2017.
  2. In your email, please indicate your preference of Kindle or Nook copies for your gifted ebooks and your genre preference.
  3. If you’ve already read any of the books included in the giveaway, please let us know in your email, and we’ll do our best to gift you a book or books you haven’t read yet.

Participating Authors and the Books They Are Giving Away:

  1. Laurie Benson – An Unexpected Countess
  2. Jennifer Bernard – Setting Off Sparks
  3. Marnee Blake – Altered
  4. Asa Maria Bradley – Viking Warrior Rising
  5. Laura Brown – Friend (With Benefits) Zone
  6. Celeste Castro – Homecoming
  7. Olivia Dade – Ready to Fall
  8. Alexis Daria – Take the Lead
  9. Jen Doyle – Calling It
  10. Kate Forest – Interior Design and Other Emotions
  11. Calista Fox – His Angel of Starlight Bend
  12. Megan Frampton – the Dukes Behaving Badly series
  13. Codi Gary – Crazy for You
  14. Mia Hopkins – Cowboy Rising and Cowboy Karma
  15. April Hunt – Hard Justice
  16. Ryvr Jones – Shadow and Bones
  17. L.J. LaBarthe – The Archangel Chronicles (complete 9 book set)
  18. Rachel Lacey – Crash and Burn
  19. Ruby Lang – Hard Knocks
  20. Jessica Linden – Fight for Me
  21. Tracey Livesay – the Shades of Love series and the In Love with a Tycoon series
  22. J.L. Lora – Boss
  23. Sarah MacLean – the Scandal and Scoundrel series
  24. Kelly Maher – The Bridesmaid and the Hurricane
  25. Tif Marcelo – North to You
  26. Liz Maverick – The Transporter
  27. Harper Miller – The Sweetest Taboo
  28. Steph Nuss – the Love in the City series
  29. Priscilla Oliveras – His Perfect Partner
  30. Tamsen Parker – Rogue Desire and In Her Court
  31. Annie Rains – Forbidden Kisses
  32. Sara Rider – Going for the Goal
  33. Lydia San Andres – A Summer for Scandal
  34. Susan Scott Shelley – Making His Move
  35. Sabrina Sol – Delicious Satisfaction
  36. Mia Sosa – Acting on Impulse
  37. Elisabeth Staab – Losing the Fight
  38. Mia West – Marked by Fire
  39. Tara Wyatt and Harper St. George – Dirty Boxing

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.

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

Amazon
Barnes & Noble
iBooks
Kobo

 

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.

An Unexpected Countess is out now and here’s a chance to win a signed copy!

My third regency romance book, An Unexpected Countess, is out now and I’m excited to share the news!  Since you’ve been along on my journey while I did my research for this book, I’m happy to give subscribers to this blog a chance to win two signed paperback copies! To enter, simply send me an email here and let me know you want me to enter your name in my Cozy Drawing Room Giveaway. Two winners will be chosen at random on Sunday, June 11 2017 and notified by email. You have to be a subscriber to this blog to enter, so if you haven’t subscribed yet, now is the perfect time.

Delightfully unexpected plot twists, with lively dialogue and witty repartee, this adventure and treasure hunt romance is a charmer. Benson pits an independent American heroine with a

This is what An Unexpected Countess is about:

Miss Sarah Forrester, an American diplomat’s daughter, 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 to find the diamond. Little does he know the feisty young lady he met on a rooftop 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.

To read an excerpt, click here.

An Unexpected Countess is available now in paperback and ebook from these fine retailers:

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

iBooks

Kobo

 

St. James’s Square: A Fashionable Regency Era Address

Researching locations to use in my novels in one of my favorite things to do when I’m preparing to write a book. An Unexpected Countess, my upcoming book, is a historical romance that pits my hero and heroine against each other in a race to find a piece of the missing French Crown Jewels. Before I wrote the book, I traveled to London to search out interesting locations to use in that story and became enchanted with another of its picturesque squares.

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St. James’s Square was the first of London’s west end squares and was conceived and created by Henry Jermyn, Earl of St. Albans when he was granted a freehold by the Crown in 1665. The Earl wanted to build thirteen or fourteen houses, “fit for ye dwellings of Noblemen and other persons of quality”. By the time of the construction, his plan was enlarged to include twenty-two houses to be built on the north, east, and west sides of the square with an large unpaved area in the center. The south side wasn’t included in the Earl’s design since there were properties already there that fronted Pall Mall.

By 1726, the south side of the square was an eyesore. It included a 30-foot long coach builder’s shed, and piles of garbage and cinders littered the area. Needless to say, the genteel residence of the square weren’t happy and petitioned the House of Commons to address the situation. An Act of Parliament was passed that year which appointed Trustees from the properties fronting the north, east and west ends of the Square to clean, adorn, and beautify it. That Trust still exists today.

A year after the Trust was formed, the Square was paved and Charles Brideman was commissioned to design an aesthetically pleasing central open area. He created an octagonal space that included a round water basin in the center that spanned 150 feet in diameter and was 4 feet deep. He enclosed the space with outer railings and made walkways extending straight from the corners of the railings to the basin.

In 1799 the octagonal was changed to a circle, and in 1807 an equestrian statue of William III was set in the center of the water basin. The basin was demolished in 1854, but the statue continues to dominate the center of the park today.

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By 1817, the Trustees wanted to revamp the Square and called in John Nash to redesign it. Nash kept the above-mentioned basin but surrounded it with curving walks, added shrubbery around the outside perimeter, designed a summer house beside the south entrance, and added additional serpentine paths through rich landscaped gardens. He enclosed the Square with handsome cast iron railings set on a Portland stone base. Nash’s plan was implemented that year and completed in 1818.

 

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Today, seventeen of the houses that overlook St. James’s Square are “listed” properties of special importance. The Square has had some notable residents. Here are a few and where they lived:

#4 was built in 1728. This was the home of the Astor family for thirty years. It is now home to The In and Out, Naval and Military Club and is the only remaining building that has a mews at the rear.

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#5 was built in 1749 and the second story was added in 1854. This was the London residence of the Byng family (The Earls of Stafford) for 260 years.

#9 & 10 were both built in 1736 and today they’re combined to form Chatham House, which is the office of the Royal Institute of International Affairs. No. 9 was originally occupied by the Hoare banking family until 1836. And, No. 10 was the home to both William Pitt, the 1st Earl of Chatham and Prime Minister of England (1708-1778), and Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone (1809-1889).

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#15 was built in 1766 and designed by architect James Stuart. This was the London residence of the Earl of Lichfield for fifty years.

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#16 is an important building for those of you who love the Regency era. On the evening of June 21st, 1815 a soiree was being held in this home hosted by Mrs. Edmund Boehm that included the Prince Regent, later George IV. The festivities were interrupted when the Honorable Major Henry Percy, 14th Light Dragoons, an aide de camp to the Duke of Wellington, knocked on the door. He traveled from Brussels with a dispatch from Wellington that informed the Prince Regent of the victory at Waterloo and laid two French Imperial Eagles that were captured on the battlefield at the feet of the Prince. Imagine being able to boast that news of this important victory was announced first in your home.

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#20 was built in 1774 and designed by architect Robert Adam. Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother lived here from from 1906 to 1920.

#32 was built in 1818 and for much of the 19th century this was the residence of the Bishops of London.

To find out how I used St. James’s Square in An Unexpected Countess, order your copy today.

An Unexpected Countess

Sarah Forrester, an American diplomat’s daughter, 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 to find the diamond. Little does he know the feisty young lady he met on a rooftop 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.

 

  • Amazon: getBook.at/UnexpectedAmzUni
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  • Kobo: http://bit.ly/2jUOFiK

 

The Allied Sovereigns’ Visit to England in 1814

It’s my pleasure to welcome back Joanne Major and Sarah Murden to my cozy drawing room today. Joanne and Sarah have recently released their second book, A Right Royal Scandal: Two Marriages That Changed History. I was thrilled to receive an advanced reader copy of this book and highly recommend it. If you enjoy reading biographies about fascinating people from the 19th century, you should check it out.

So without further ado, take it away Joanne and Sarah.

Thanks for having us, Laurie. We thought this tidbit about the Regency era might interest your readers. The Prince Regent was the figurehead for the visit of the allied sovereigns to England during the Napoleonic Wars. The Tsar of Russia, the King of Prussia and other European sovereigns landed at Dover on the 6th of June 1814 to celebrate the Peace of Paris and the abdication of Napoléon Bonaparte, who had been exiled to Elba. Lord Charles Bentinck who was the prince’s friend, equerry, and putative former son-in-law was a constant presence throughout the festivities and was often found at the prince’s side. This painting of the visit shows the young Prince Augustus of Prussia (on the left hand side of the portrait) turning his head to speak to Lord Charles who is standing directly behind him.

The Allied Sovereigns at Petworth, 24th June 1814 by Thomas Phillips, National Trust, Petworth House.

Lord Charles Bentinck was a widower. His late wife Georgiana Augusta Frederica Seymour was the daughter of the infamous eighteenth-century courtesan, Grace Dalrymple Elliott and–reputedly–the young Prince of Wales, later George IV. The prince certainly thought Georgiana was his daughter and privately–if not publicly–acknowledged her as such. The Bentincks had one young daughter. Tragically Georgiana had died in December 1813 following complications after a fall when once again pregnant.

Lady Charles Bentinck, formerly Georgiana Augusta Frederica Seymour by Mrs Joseph Mee, 1813. Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017

When the ship carrying the sovereigns docked at Dover and the crowned heads of state were met by Lord Yarmouth, the Earl of Rosslyn and Lord Charles Bentinck, who escorted their guests, together with a detachment of the Scots Greys, to a nearby house marked for their reception while the guard of honour discharged their cannons. The Prince Regent’s younger brother, William, Duke of Clarence (later William IV) was also in attendance and gave a sumptuous banquet. The next day the retinue started for London and more celebrations. Lord Charles played a role in coordinating the festivities, particularly looking after the Prussian delegation led by King Frederick William III for whom he was appointed the temporary chamberlain. At the ensuing court at Carlton House, the Prussian king and his family were conducted to the regent’s side by Lord Charles Bentinck.

The Banquet given by the Corporation of London to the Prince Regent, the emperor of Russia and the King of Prussian, 18th June 1814 by Luke Clennell. Guildhall Art Gallery. Could that possibly be Lord Charles Bentinck seated second from the left on the left-hand side table?

There were banquets, state visits and jaunts to the racecourse at Ascot, and all the while Lord Charles danced attendance on the Prussian party until finally the sovereigns arrived at Portsmouth ready to embark on board their ship to return to mainland Europe. The Duke of Wellington, who looked extremely well, if a little thin and sunburnt following months of campaigning on the battlefields of Spain and France, arrived in a coach and four to the sound of a band playing See the Conquering Hero Comes and shouts of ‘Long live Wellington’. Before the Prussian king left England, he presented Lord Charles with a boxed set of diamonds worth £500 in gratitude for his attendance as chamberlain upon him.

Lady Abdy as a Bacchante, painted in 1813 by Mrs Joseph Mee for George IV when Prince Regent. Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017.

Perhaps, in time, these diamonds were worn by the second Lady Charles Bentinck? A year later Lord Charles was conducting a clandestine affair with the married Lady Abdy who was thought to resemble his first wife. Her husband, Sir William Abdy, was reputedly the richest commoner in England but he was no match for his spirited wife. Anne, Lady Abdy and née Wellesley, was the niece of the Duke of Wellington. Her father was Wellington’s elder brother, Richard, Marquess Wellesley and her mother a former Parisian opera dancer, Hyacinthe Gabrielle née Rolland, who had been Wellesley’s mistress for many years; he had only married her after the birth of their five children. When Lord Charles Bentinck and Lady Abdy eloped in 1815, only a short time after Wellington’s victory at Waterloo, the gossips whispered that it was no wonder Lady Abdy had behaved as she did…

Thanks, ladies, for introducing us to Lord Charles Bentinck and his scandalous life. As an aside, when Tsar Alexander I came to England for the celebration, he stayed with his sister Catherine Pavlovna, the Grand Duchess Oldenburg, at the Pulteney Hotel in Piccadilly. If you’re interested in finding out more about the hotel, I wrote an article about it. Just click on the name of the hotel to read it.

More about Joanne and Sarah:

Almost two books in one, A Right Royal Scandal recounts the fascinating history of the irregular love matches contracted by two successive generations of the Cavendish-Bentinck family, ancestors of the British Royal Family. The first part of this intriguing book looks at the scandal that erupted in Regency London, just months after the Battle of Waterloo, when the widowed Lord Charles Bentinck eloped with the Duke of Wellington’s married niece. A messy divorce and a swift marriage followed, complicated by an unseemly tug-of-war over Lord Charles’ infant daughter from his first union. Over two decades later and while at Oxford University, Lord Charles’ eldest son, known to his family as Charley, fell in love with a beautiful gypsy girl, and secretly married her. He kept this union hidden from his family, in particular his uncle, William Henry Cavendish-Scott-Bentinck, 4th Duke of Portland, upon whose patronage he relied. When his alliance was discovered, Charley was cast adrift by his family, with devastating consequences.

A love story as well as a brilliantly researched historical biography, this is a continuation of Joanne and Sarah’s first biography, An Infamous Mistress, about the eighteenth-century courtesan Grace Dalrymple Elliott, whose daughter was the first wife of Lord Charles Bentinck. The book ends by showing how, if not for a young gypsy and her tragic life, the British monarchy would look very different today.

For more information about Joanne and Sarah’s books, just click these links.

 

The Evolution of Men’s Fashion in the 18th Century

When I was writing An Uncommon Duke, I had fun playing with a character quirk of my hero, Gabriel Pearce the Duke of Winterbourne. Gabriel heads up an undercover group of operatives that protect King George and the Prince Regent. His work is dangerous and much of what occurs protecting the crown is out of his control. One of the things he can control is his wardrobe and because of that, Gabriel is a bit obsessed with his clothes. Someone referred to him as the Regency version of a sharp dressed man. Researching men’s fashion in the Regency era was fun and I spent many hours on Pinterest and museum sites looking for inspiration for Gabriel’s wardrobe.

Recently I had the opportunity to see the fashion exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art entitled Masterwork: Unpacking Fashion. I knew I’d enjoy taking a look back at 300 years of fashion history and I’d learn some new things. I was disappointed to find it did not include men’s fashion from the Regency era, however it did include 18th century men’s fashion and some of those styles did carry over into the Regency era. The collection highlighted garments from France and Great Britian reflecting the roles these nations played as centers of textile production and as styles leaders in Europe and America. Fashions from the 18th century are from an era shaped by political and industrial revolutions as well as expanding global trade. The examples given in this exhibition reflected that.

So sit back and enjoy this peek at what fashionable men wore in the 18th century.

Banyan

Beginning in the 18th century, British gentlemen wore loose, informal gowns in the privacy of their homes as a comfortable alternative to the stiff and physically restrictive suits they wore in public. These gowns were made of imported materials from the European East India companies and went by various names such nightgowns, morning gowns, India gowns, and banyans. This banyan is made of Chinese silk that was quilted for warmth and has a fitted cut which became popular in the mid-18th century. The fitted banyan combined Persian, Turkish, and Indian influences but followed the silhouette of contemporary European coats, making them well suited to wear informally when receiving guests at home. The banyan was an essential garment for fashionable men and suggested sophisticated, worldly masculinity. This banyan was made in England in 1760-1770, and is made of blue diamond-quilted silk satin.

A Gentleman’s Suit

The suit above was made of red wool-silk poplin in England between 1770 and 1780. It is an example of the relative simplicity in appearance of 18th century English menswear, which influenced fashionable men’s style throughout Europe in the latter half of the century. The plain style was an alternative to the elaborately embroidered and ornately patterned men’s wear in France. This reserved style of dress became linked with broader political values and greater personal liberty that French philosophers, such as Voltaire, associated with England. Just like the banyan above, this garment has a slim silhouette which was fashionable in the 1770s. English tailors were expert in making these tailcoats appear simple, while actually doing an excellent job emphasizing a man’s physique. The fine details of this coat include a gracefully curved front, narrow sleeves, and side seams that arch toward the center of the back, creating the impression of a tapered waistline. While the suit appears simple, the color shows a lingering taste for bold color.

The tailcoat above is French and was made in the 1790s from dark brown, gray, and blue warp-printed plain weave silk with green ombré silk satin stripes. With its high turned down collar, narrow back and wide lapels, it’s typical of the exaggerated silhouette that was fashionable in post-revolutionary France. The museum curators placed it alongside the redingote (the dress) to show the harmony between men’s and women’s fashions during this period that extended to fabric as well as cut. For men, stripes were a decorative substitute for the ornate embroidery of earlier suits. It was interesting to find out that in centuries previous to the 18th, stripes had been associated with the clothing of socially marginalized groups. I think it’s worth noting that even though embroidered suits went out of fashion, embroidery on waistcoats was still popular.

 

The exhibition also included a suit of a French Incroyable (Incredible) that made me smile. The Incroyables were rakish men who lived in France following the French Revolution. They stood out among fashionable men of the time due to their tightly fitted clothing which took on extreme proportions. This coat was made in France of red wool broadcloth between 1787 and 1792, and predates the most exaggerated styles embraced by the Incryoyables in the late 1790s. As the decade progressed, the cut of their clothing became even tighter than this. The high, turned-down collar, narrow sleeves, and sharply curved coat front of this coat still manages to create the impression of an elongated figure. I think the high cut of the top of the waistcoat also helps.

The banyan featured in this exhibition is close to the one I put Gabriel in in An Uncommon Duke. It seems to be the perfect thing for a sharp dressed man to wear while lounging in the doorway of his wife’s bedchamber.

 

St. James’s Church – A Fashionable Place to Marry During the Regency Era

Not too long ago, I traveled to London to celebrate the release of An Unsuitable Duchess. It seemed an appropriate place to celebrate since my Secret Lives of the Ton series takes place there during the Regency era. While in London I had fun searching out locations to include in the third book of the series entitled An Unexpected Countess, which will be released June 1, 2017.

Whenever possible, I like to use locations for my stories that still exist today so readers can visit them if they have the opportunity. I knew I needed a church for this story, and most Regency romances that I’ve read use St. George’s Hanover Square in Mayfair. I wanted to find a unique location and knew there had to be other churches from that time period that members of the British aristocracy would have gone to. I just needed to find one. My search led me to St. James’s Church on Piccadilly in the exclusive area of St. James’s, and I thought I’d give you an armchair trip to see it with me.

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The Piccadilly entrance to St. James’s Church.

When St. James’s Square and the area around it began to be developed in the 17th century, it created a need for an extra church to accommodate the additional parishioners of St. Martin in the Fields. Henry Jermyn, the 1st Earl of St. Albans, gave some of his land for an additional church and churchyard. In 1672 he hired noted architect Christopher Wren to design an Anglican church. It was finished in 1684, and in 1685 the separate parish of St. James was created.

Wren designed the church to be built of red brick with Portland stone dressings. Grinling Gibbons, who was a noted sculpture and woodcarver of the day, made the carved marble font and limewood altarpiece.

 

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According to the church’s website, “accounts by visitors to St. James’s during the eighteenth century stress the fashionable element in the congregation. John Evelyn remarked that a sermon which he had heard elsewhere on the subject of costly apparel would have been more appropriately delivered at St. James’s or some other of the theatrical churches in London, where the ladies and women were so richly and wantonly dressed and full of jewels. James Macky complained that a stranger had to pay for a convenient seat so that it cost one almost as dear to see a play, but he still thought the church worth a visit on a holiday or Sunday, when the fine assembly of beauties and Quality come there. In later years, James Boswell confessed that his mind was distracted when he attended a service at the church but excused himself because his warm heart and a vivacious fancy made him give in to love and to the most brilliant and showy method of public worship.”

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The back entrance of the church from Jermyn Street.

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The door leading up to the spire.

The interior of the church, which had been admired for its beauty by contemporary writers, owed its brilliancy not only to the richness of the congregation’s dress but also to the whiteness of the walls, the gilded fittings, and the handsome furniture all illuminated in winter by scores of candles.

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The English poet and painter William Blake was baptized in St. James’s Church in 1757 and the musician George Thomas Smart was baptized here in 1776.

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William Ince and John Mayhew, who were partners in a successful furniture business, married sisters in a double wedding in St. James’s in 1762. Fredrick de Horn married the artist Angelica Kauffman here in 1767. For those interested in scandal, the groom was an imposter who was already married. And Philip Hardwick, the architect, married Julia Shaw in St. James’s in 1819.

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James Gillray, the famous caricaturist was buried in St. James’s in 1815. Mary Beale, one of the first professional women artists, was buried here in 1699. And William Douglas, the 4th Duke of Queensberry, was buried here in 1810.

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A simple gravestone, now used as a paver stone at the entrance of the church.

In May of 1940, a bomb destroyed the rectory and vestry, and incendiary bombs also took out the spire and most of the roof. The churchyard and outside graves were destroyed as well. While I roamed around the churchyard, I had the opportunity to talk with Reverend Lucy Winkett. She informed me that after the explosion many of the tombstones were left scattered about the churchyard. Because supplies were scarce due to the war, the parish decided to use those tombstones in front of the church as pavers leading to the building when they rebuilt the church in 1947. You can see them today if you enter the grounds through the Piccadilly entrance.

 

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The churchyard is raised and behind this wall on Jermyn Street.

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St. James’s Church is the black square you see under the “i” in Piccadilly. Map courtesy of Greenwood’s Map of London from 1826.

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This is a map of the parish boundaries for St. James’s Church.

If you have the opportunity to travel to London and are in the area, it’s worth a stop to see this lovely church which I found a way to use in An Unexpected Countess. You’ll have to read the book to find out how.

 

George IV’s Collection of Items Owned by Napoleon

In my second book, An Uncommon Duke, the plot involves an assassination attempt made on the Prince Regent, who later become King George IV (1762–1830). In order to bring him to life in my story, I read a number of biographies about him before I began writing. One small little nugget of history stuck in my mind months later.

When the British defeated Napoleon Bonaparte in 1815, George, then the Prince Regent, became very enthusiastic about celebrating the victory. He collected prints, drawings, and works of art related to the battle. He even created the Waterloo Chamber in Windsor Castle and commissioned Sir Thomas Lawrence to paint portraits of all the key players involved in the defeat of Napoleon to display on the walls. But the one point that I couldn’t let go of was his interest in collecting items once owned by Napoleon.

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Coronation Portrait of King George, IV. Painted by Sir Thomas Lawrence, 1820. Courtesy of Wikimedia.

You might be familiar with this coronation portrait of George, which was painted by Sir Thomas Lawrence in 1820, but did you know that the table featured in the painting was made for Napoleon Bonaparte? That was the one historical tidbit that led me on a quest to find out what other items George owned that once belonged to Napoleon. Here is a sample of a few of them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Table of Great Commanders. Photo courtesy of The Royal Collection Trust.

Known as the Table of Great Commanders, it was one of four commissioned by Napoleon in 1806 to immortalize his reign and took six years to complete. It has an internal wooden frame covered in hard-paste porcelain with gilt bronze mounts. The image in the center of the top is of Alexander the Great and bears a striking resemblance to Napoleon. The table was given to George as a gift from Louis XVIII of France. There is a silent statement in having George’s crown on the table in the portrait above. It’s as if he is thumbing his nose to his enemy.

 

 

 

 

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Napoleon’s Writing Table. Photo courtesy of The Royal Collection Trust.

Maybe it has something to do with me being an author, but I adore antique desks and writing tables. This one, made by Jacob Frères and owned by Napoleon, does not disappoint. It’s made of elm and oak with gilded metal elements. There are two top drawers and each leg is carved with a winged, gilded lion. It is estimated to date between 1796-1815. George purchased it in 1820.

 

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Cloak once owned by Napoleon. Photo courtesy of The Royal Collection Trust.

Another item of Napoleon’s that came into George’s possession was this beautiful cloak. Out of all the items I discovered George owned that belonged to Napoleon, I think this is my favorite. I’d love to have it in my closet! I just might be a bit overdressed wearing it to pick up my son from school.

According to the Royal Collection Trust website, “It is recorded in July 1816 in the Carlton House Inventory as ‘Said to be a Cloak worn by Bonaparte’ and ‘A large cloak made of scarlet cloth with large hood.  The hood and front are embroidered with gold. Parts of the inside of the front of the cloak are lined with silk and also embroidered with gold.  It was transferred to Windsor Castle in March 1837.  It is recorded in the North Corridor Inventory at Windsor as being a ‘Cloak of Napoleon 1st said to have been brought by him from Egypt, and taken out of his carriage by the Prussians after Waterloo.  An Aide de Camp of Marshal Blücher who visited Windsor Castle about 1870 vouched for the truth of the above and said he himself took the cloak from Napoleon’s carriage’.”

 

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Bowls and stands once owned by Napoleon. Photo courtesy of The Royal Collection Trust.

These two silver-gilt bowls have an interesting story behind them. According to the Royal Collection Trust’s website, “These decorative bowls were said to have been modelled on the breast of Venus, although the more likely model was Napoleon’s sister, Pauline de Borghese (1780–1825). As Prince Regent, George IV acquired both bowls and one stand in 1815 and commissioned a second stand to match the following year.” The bowls are marked with a Paris guarantee mark of 1798-1809 and the maker’s mark is of Jean-Baptiste-Claude Odiot. The stand that George commissioned is struck with London hallmarks for 1816-1817 and a maker’s mark of Paul Storr.

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Robe sword and scabbard once owned by Napoleon. Photo courtesy of The Royal Collection Trust.

 

This robe sword and scabbard dates from 1802-1803. It’s believed the original copy of this sword was given to Napoleon when he was elected First Consul in 1799. The marks on this one makes one assume it was crafted as a replacement for the original. When George acquired this sword, a certificate accompanied it swearing that it had belonged to Napoleon. The sword is silver-gilt with enamel, ivory, gold and steel. The scabbard is made of wood, mother-of-pearl, and silver-gilt. Today it can be found in the Grand Vestibule at Windsor Castle.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Shooting gun once owned by Napoleon. Photo courtesy of The Royal Collection Trust.

And finally, this gun owned by Napoleon was presented to George by Lieutenant Brooke of the Royal Horse Guards in 1817. The note accompanying indicates that it was “constantly used by Bonaparte”. It was manufactured by Lepage as a sporting gun and is made of blued steel and carved walnut. You can also find this gun in the Grand Vestibule at Windsor Castle.

Reference Used:  The Royal Collection Trust.

If you’re interested in finding out more about An Uncommon Duke, check out my Bookshelf page or these fine retailers:

Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks , Kobo, and WHSmith

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The Connection Between a Favorite Drink of Regency Era Gentlemen and the Great Comet of 1811.

I’m writing the third book in my Secrets of the Ton trilogy and my hero, the Earl of Hartwick, is a man who appreciates fine brandy. I love creating personal details about my characters and wanted to include the name of Hart’s favorite brandy in my story. When I started my research, I thought I’d simply get the name of a notable brandy from 1819. What I discovered, gave me insight into the cognac I drink today and I thought you might find it interesting as well.

First let me explain the difference between the terms brandy and cognac. Brandy is made by distilling wine and aging it in barrels. Cognac is brandy which comes from the Cognac region in France.

During the Regency era, the finest brandy was produced during 1811 in France. The interesting thing is, still to this day, that vintage is considered to be one of the greatest in history. And the reason behind it is tied to a comet.

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The Great Comet of 1811, as drawn by William Henry Smith. Curtesy of Wikimedia.

In March of 1811, the Flaugergues comet began its trek across the sky in the Northern Hemisphere. Although the comet was visible to astronomers for 17 months, during September and October of  that year, it was visible to the naked eye. Accounts of the time describe the comet as illuminating the night sky and at one point it exceeded the diameter of the sun.

It’s believed the presence of the comet contributed to optimal growing conditions, particularly in France. The long hot summer and warm dry autumn of that year led to an abundant harvest of perfectly ripe grapes. People soon realized that the cognac, wine, and champagne of this vintage were exceptional. Even today, you can find bottles of cognac in your local liquor store that have stars on the labels. This isn’t a ranking. The stars are there as a tribute to the 1811 vintage, known as “The Comet Vintage”.

If you’re familiar with Courvoisier cognac, you’re probably aware it’s known as “Le Cognac de Napoleon”. According to the company’s website, not long after they were founded in 1809, the reputation of their cognac grew quickly among brandy connoisseurs and Napoleon visited their warehouse in Bercy to try it. He started giving a ration of cognac to his artillery companies to lift their morale during the Napoleonic Wars. When he was exiled to St. Helena, legend has it that he chose several casks of Courvoisier cognac to take with him as one of the luxury items he was granted by the British. The British officers on board the HMS Northumberland, who were tasked with transporting Napoleon, appreciated the cognac their prisoner shared with them and referred to it as “the brandy of Napoleon”.

And in case you’re curious which brandy the Earl of Hartwick favors in my upcoming book An Unexpected Countess, it’s an 1811 Croizet B. Léon cognac, which currently is selling for €25,000 for one bottle.

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References:

http://courvoisier.com/us/history

http://www.forbes.com/sites/sethporges/2013/10/10/6-things-you-probably-didnt-know-about-cognac/#3b2df53b7bf5

http://www.oldliquors.com/cognac-1811-croizet-b-léon-4837

The Daily Cognac: 1811 The Comet Vintage