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.

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.

 

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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.

 

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:

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How to Smell Like a Regency Era Gentleman

I fully admit to having a thing about the way my characters smell. I kinda get a bit obsessive about it. Maybe it’s because I can still recall which cologne each of my ex-boyfriends wore and, if I smell them today, the scent will bring back a distinct memory. And before you question that statement, I’m referring to smelling the cologne, not an ex-boyfriend.

Creating a distinct smell for a female character that lives during the Regency era is much easier than figuring out how I’d like my heroes to smell. I’ve read about so many male characters smelling of Bay Rum, that I was beginning to question whether there were other scents available to men. So during my recent trip to London I was on a mission to find out what scents gentlemen favored during the Regency era. There were two shops, in particular, that I wanted to visit because they’re chemists and perfumers who have been around since the late 18th century and catered more to a male clientele. Lucky for me, each shop had very helpful salesclerks that were happy to show me some of their oldest scents.

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My first stop was D.R. Harris & Co., Chemists and Perfumers on St. James’s Street. This shop was established in 1790. During the Georgian era they gained a reputation as purveyors of Lavender Water, Classic Cologne and English Flower perfumes. While I was there, I sampled some of the men’s fragrances that were around during the Regency era. Here is what I discovered. Classic Cologne is a typically fresh fragrance, Freshening Cologne has a tangy lemon note, and Traditional Cologne is a warmer scent with subtle orange notes.

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Two of their other oldest fragrances caught my eye. They were  Albany, named after the fashionable bachelors’ residence on Piccadilly, and Mayfair, named after the exclusive area of London where the Regency era elite resided. It was surprising to see such a modern technique of naming a product. I liked both of these fragrances so much, that I brought bottles of them back with me. Albany is a blend of lavender and citrus, and Mayfair had a sweeter floral fragrance.

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I also did smell Bay Rum. It was not to my taste at all and, for the record, none of my heroes will smell like it. I expected a very warm fragrance leaning more towards spicy rum. It actually smelled more like bay leaves.

 

 

Another shop I visited is Truefitt & Hill, which is also on St. James’s Street. This is the oldest barbershop in the world and was established in 1805.

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Famous Regency era men who were patrons of this shop include the sons of George III, the Duke of Wellington, Lord Byron, and Beau Brummell. Aside from the services of the barber shop, they also sell men’s cologne and shaving products. Sadly, I was not able to find out which scent was favored by Brummell.

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Statue of Beau Brummell on Jermyn Street in London

 

It was amusing to learn that their Freshmen Cologne was specifically blended in 1805 with fashion conscious Cambridge and Oxford students in mind. According to the shops description, it has “top notes of Lemon, Bergamot, Rosemary, Mint and Orange Blossom surrounding a heart of Clary Sage, Lily of the Valley, Jasmine and Ylang-Ylang which comfortably rest on a base notes of Musk and Oakmoss.”

Their Spanish Leather cologne dates back to 1814. I’ll often have my heroes smelling like leather, depending on what they are wearing or if they’ve been riding. To find a fragrance named leather made me laugh. It is described by Truefitt &Hill as “a rich, but subtle blend, with top notes of Fruit, Bergamot, Orange and Pimento, with a heart of Carnation, Cinnamon, Patchouli, Rose, Orris and woody notes, all resting on a base of Amber, Moss and Musk, Vanilla and Tonka.”

So now I have different scents to distinguish my characters, and you now know what a Regency era gentleman might have smelled like if you were standing beside him under the glittering chandeliers of a London ballroom. And best of all, you can still buy these fragrances today!

If you’re interested in learning more about these shops or buying some of there products, here are the links to their websites:

D.R. Harris & Co.

Truefitt & Hill

 

 

 

 

 

London’s Albany: An Exclusive Address for the Regency Era Bachelor

One of my favorite parts in developing a character is trying to determine where they live. I’m currently writing An Unexpected Countess and my hero, the Earl of Hartwick, would rather chew glass than live under the same roof as his father. After looking at a number of options, I decided Hart would live in one of London’s most exclusive addresses during the Regency era for a fashionable bachelor, an apartment-type building known as Albany. One of the best things about this building is that it has survived and continues to be one of London’s most exclusive residences. It’s located on Piccadilly next to the Burlington Arcade and is set back from the street by a private courtyard. For over two hundred years a sense of privacy has been valued here. Today, I’d like to tell you a little bit about it.

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Greenwood’s Map of London, 1827

Albany was originally designed by Sir William Chambers in 1774 as a residence for the first Lord Melbourne and his wife. In 1791 the Duke of York and Albany proposed a house swap to Lord Melbourne and an agreement was reached. The Duke, who was the second son of George III, and his wife lived there until 1803, when compounding debt forced him to sell the house to a young developer named Alexander Copland for £37,000.

Copland recognized the need for small London residences for fashionable gentlemen who didn’t wish to live alone in large townhouses and wanted to be close to the clubs and shops of St. James, as well as the Houses of Parliament. He worked with the architect Henry Holland to convert the mansion into a subscription house with a small garden behind it. Holland added two parallel buildings to the mansion and divided the entire structure into 69 apartments (or sets as Albany residents refer to them). The sets in the attached buildings are accessed from a 100ft. passageway known as the Rope Walk.

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Drawing by Thomas H. Shepherd, c. 1830, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The sets were marketed exclusively to wealthy, well-connected gentlemen who were either bachelors or men who did not live with their wives. Some of the notable residents in the early nineteenth century include Matthew “Monk” Lewis, Lord Byron, and George Canning. Residents had an option to lease or buy a set. In 1814 Lord Byron took a seven-year lease at £110 per annum, with the option of purchasing the set for £1900 within one year.

Occupants were, and still are, subject to certain rules and regulations established by a group of Trustees who are elected from among the residents. Some of the original rules stipulated that residents could not alter any part of the building structure and owners could not rent or sell chambers without the consent of the Trustees. And it was understood that no women or children were permitted on the premises, although there is a rumor that Byron’s lover, Lady Caroline Lamb, managed to enter this forbidden land dressed as a page-boy. It wasn’t until the 1880s that the ban on women was finally lifted and beginning in the twentieth century women were permitted to reside there.

In the early nineteenth century a standard set contained an entrance hall, two main rooms in the front of the unit, and two or three smaller rooms in the back. Each set came with a wine and coal cellar in the basement and accommodations for a servant on the upper floor. In 1818 gaslights were installed in the building, and in June of 1820 the Trustees agreed that the parish should light the entrance from Piccadilly, the courtyard and the portico of the mansion.

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London’s Albany. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Regency history buffs might find it interesting to discover that in 1804 Henry Angelo’s fencing school was located in Albany’s courtyard, and in 1807 the pugilist John Jackson might have used the same apartment. For a short time Jane Austen’s brother Henry, of the banking firm Austen and Maunde, also had his office in the courtyard.

I love that this building has retained its sense of the past and hasn’t changed much in over two hundred years. According to one of its current residents, there is such a sense of decorum that uttering a friendly hello to a neighbor as you pass on the stone stairs or the Rope Walk is frowned upon. For the residents of Albany, a nod or a hat tip to a lady is the appropriate greeting.

References:

British History Online: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/survey-london/vols31-2/pt2/pp367-389

Georgette Heyer’s Regency World, Jennifer Kloester. 2010. Print.

New York Times Magazine, London’s Best and Most Secretive Address. November 11, 2013. Print.

Works by 18th Century French Artist Vigée Le Brun at The Met

A few days ago I went to see the Vigée Le Brun: Woman Artist in Revolutionary France exhibition at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Elizabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun (1755-1842) is considered to be one of the finest eighteenth-century French painters and among the most important women artists of all time. She was known for her expressive portraits of French royalty and the aristocracy. She was the same age as her patron, Queen Marie Antoinette, and their association caused Vigée to flee France during the Revolution. According to the exhibition catalog, “Vigée Le Brun exemplifed success and resourcefulness in an age when women were rarely allowed either.”

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Self-Portrait with Cerise Ribbons by Vigée Le Brun, ca.1782 (Kimbell Art Museum)

This exhibition was stunning, and I highly recommend seeing it if you’re in the New York City area. There are restrictions on photographing many of the beautiful paintings, including those of Marie Antoinette, and honestly, the photos I did take do not do justice to Vigée’s fine brushwork. Nevertheless, I thought I’d share a few pieces with you, along with some fun tidbits about the paintings and the women who sat for them.

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The Maréchale-Comtesse de Mailly in Van Dyck Costume by Vigée Le Brun, 1783 (Private Collection)

Blanche Charlotte Marie Felicite de Narbonne-Pelet, the Maréchale-Comtesse de Mailly (1761-1840) was a close friend of Queen Marie Antoinette and was known for her kindness and sense of mischief. Her husband was marshal of France and was guillotined during the French Revolution in 1794. Blanche and their son barely escaped the same fate and went into hiding in Paris. In 1797 the administration of Sarthe returned to her all the marshal’s unsold properties and the money raised from the properties already sold. On Napoleon’s orders, she was obligated to spend her time at the imperial court and to send her seventeen year old son, Adrien, to the Ecole Militaire. When he was wounded during the Russian campaign in 1812, Adrien was saved by Napoleon, who would not allow the last of the Mailly line to perish. Blanche lived to the age of seventy-nine.

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The Comtesse de Gramont Caderousse Gathering Grapes by Vigée Le Brun, 1784 (The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art)

Marie Gabrielle de Sinety, Comtesse de Gramont Caderousse (1761-1832) was also a close friend of Queen Marie Antoinette. The comtesse is depicted as a grape harvester in keeping with the Queen’s love of contrived rusticity. Vigée persuaded Marie to forgo powdering her hair for this painting, wishing to show her ebony black locks. This was a radical departure from the powered hair usually worn by women of court and the privileged classes. After one particular sitting, Marie left and went to the theater as she was. According to Vigée, this action set the fashion of unpowered hair, which became wide-spread.

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Comtesse Du Barry de Cérés by Vigée Le Brun, 1784 (Toledo Museum of Art)

The Comtesse Du Barry de Cérés was born Anne Marie Thérèse de Rabaudy Montoussin (1759-1834) and she married the comte Jean Baptiste Du Barry de Cérés, thirty-six years her senior when she was eighteen. According to Vigée, Anne had a “charming and sweet face though you could see something false about her eyes.” That falseness was evident when she diverted public attention away from her liaison with Charles Alexandre de Calonne, controller general of finances, by spreading rumors that it was Vigée Le Brun who was engaged in an affair with the man. This rumor hurt Vigée’s reputation.

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The Marquise de Pezay and the Marquise de Rougé with Her Two Sons by Vigée Le Brun, 1787 (National Gallery of Art)

This portrait was commissioned by the Marquise de Rougé, who appears in the center of the painting with her two sons, Alexis and Adrien. By the time this portrait was painted she had been widowed about four years. Her husband, Colonel Marquis de Rouge died while returning from a distinguished military career. The other woman in the painting is her dear friend The Marquise de Pezay, who was also a widow. This is one of my favorite paintings in the exhibition. I love the iridescent gown of the Marquise de Pezay, and there is a sweetness in the way the boys are snuggling up with their mother. But I think the aspect of the painting that touched me the most was that it includes two girlfriends. It is a sweet tribute to what must have been a very close friendship.

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Countess Ekaterina Vasilievna Skavronskaya by Vigée Le Brun, 1790 (Institut de France, Musée Jacquemart-André, Paris)

When Vigée arrived in Naples in 1790 she met Ekaterina Vasilievna, née Engelhardt (1761-1829) at dinner. Ekaterina was the wife of the Russian plenipotentiary in Naples. Vigée recalled her as “sweet and pretty as an angel. I remember her telling me that in order to go to sleep she had a slave under her bed who told her the same story every night. She was utterly idle all day, had no education, and her conversation was quite empty. But in spite of all that, thanks to her lovely face and her angelic sweetness, she had an incomparable charm.” Ekaterina is believed to be staring at a miniature of her husband in this portrait.

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The Princess von und zu Liechtenstein as Iris by Vigée Le Brun, 1793 (Private collection)

This is my favorite story about any of the paintings in this exhibition. When Vigée was in Vienna, Prince Alois I von und zu Liechtenstein (1759-1805) requested two enormous paintings. One of his wife Princess Karoline Felicitas Engelberte von und zu Liechtenstein (1768-1831) and the other of her sister. Vigée decided to paint the princesss of Liechtenstein as Iris. This is Vigée’s recounting of this painting in her Souvenirs: “That young princess was very shapely; her pretty face had a sweet and heavenly expression, which gave me the idea to represent her as Iris. She was painted full-length, soaring into the air. Her scarf, in the colors of the rainbow, fluttered about her. You can well imagine that I painted her barefoot; but when that painting was placed in the prince’s gallery, her husband and the heads of the family were very scandalized to see the princess without shoes, and the prince told me he had a pretty pair put under the portrait, telling the grandparents that the shoes had just slipped out and fallen onto the floor.” At the time, the prince was thirty-four and the princess was twenty-five. Prince Alois liked the painting so much, he also commissioned the present bust-length version that is displayed in this exhibition. I found it sad the cheeky prince died at the young age of forty-six.

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Countess Ekaterina Vasilievna Skavronskaya by Vigée Le Brun, 1796 (Musée du Louvre)

After receiving a number of commissions from Russians in Vienna, Vigée decided to travel on to St. Petersburg in 1795. This portrait of Countess Ekaterina Vasilievna Skavronskaya was painted after Ekaterina had been widowed for three years. It is considered a boudoir painting due to the relaxed nature of her dress and is believed to have been painted for her younger sister, Tatyana. Providing a seat and something to lean on were comforts that Vigée liked to give her sitters.

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Countess Anna Ivanovna Tolstaya by Vigée Le Brun, 1796 (Private Collection)

Anna Ivanovna (1774-1825) was married to Count Nokolai Alexandrovich Tolstoy, a renowned collector of books and prints and an intimate friend of the future Tzar Alexander I. Anna was well known for her tall stature and her friends nicknamed her “La Longue”. She commissioned this portrait by Vigée in keeping with her mother’s preference for women artists. The chemise dress is reminiscent of the attire Queen Marie Antoinette favored in the 1780s.

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Luise von Mecklenburg-Strelitz, Queen of Prussia by Vigée Le Brun, 1802 (H.R.H. George Friedrich, Prince of Prussia, Hohenzollern Castle)

When Vigée left St. Petersburg she traveled to Berlin, capital of the Prussian kingdom. Three days later she was summoned by Queen Luise (1776-1810) to Potsdam Palace to paint her portrait. The queen treated Vigée more like a hostess than a patron. She offered rooms to Vigée at the castle, but the artist declined preferring to rent a room in a modest hotel. The queen sent her coffee, provided her with a loge at the theater, invited her to visit Pfaueninsel and its castle in a carriage supplied by the court, and gave Vigée two bracelets that the artist had admired. Sadly, the thoughtful queen would die at the young age of thirty-four.

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Tatyana Borisovna Potemkina by Vigée Le Brun,1820 (Private Collection)

Tatyana Borisovna Potemkina (1797-1869) suffered from lung disease and, accompanied by her husband, left Russia to seek medical treatment abroad. While they were in Paris she posed for Vigée. The painting suggests the sitter’s reserve and withdrawn personality.

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The Duchesse de Berry in a Blue Velvet Dress by Vigée Le Brun, 1824 (Private Collection)

The Duchesse de Berry is a woman who I keep running across in my research and in a few of the antiques I’ve purchased. In fact, I’ve written a number of blog posts that include her. Marie-Carolina Ferdinanda Luisa di Napoli e di Sicilia, princesse de Bourbon-Naples (1798-1870) was married at seventeen to the second son of the future Charles X, Charles-Ferdinand d’Artois, duc de Berry. Destined for the throne, he was assassinated two years after their marriage by a fanatic bent on eliminating the house of Bourbon. Shortly after her husband’s death, the duchesse gave birth to their son, Henri, duc de Bordeaux, later comte de Chambord. She was a fashion trend-setter of her day and after her husband’s death, she devoted the rest of her life to trying to restore the Bourbons to the French throne, in the form of her son.

Viewing art is such an individual experience, even if we are standing in a gallery surrounded by other people. When we look at a painting, we bring our life experiences with us and see the work through our own unique perspective. I’ve told you about some of my favorite paintings from this exhibition. I’d love to know what your favorite is. Make a note in the comments section and let me know.

Reference:

Vigée-Lebrun,  Joseph Baillio, Katharine Baetjer, Paul Lang, New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2016. Print.

‘Mother M.’ at the Ridotto in 1777

A number of years ago, I met two women who share my love of Georgian history, and we became fast friends. Their names are Sarah Murden and Joanne Major, and they’re historians and genealogists. If you’ve been reading this blog, or follow me on Twitter or Facebook, you know an ideal day for me is one spent at a museum. And one of my favorite museums is The Metropolitan Museum of Art. I’m there every chance I get.

Even though the museum is massive, I have my favorite pieces I visit every time I’m there. So I was really surprised when I asked Sarah who they were writing a biography about, and she texted me a picture of a portrait I’ve stared at countless times. It’s the portrait of Mrs Grace Dalrymple Elliott, and I think she’s divine! When you study a portrait long enough, you begin to wonder about the person who sat for it. Now I knew two people who could tell me about Grace, and what I found out from reading their book was even better than I imagined! I asked them to stop by my drawing room and share a fun snippet from their research with you. So snuggle up with a cup of something warm. Mrs Grace Dalrymple Elliott and her relations were no wallflowers.

Ridotto - Grace (Met Museum)

Mrs. Grace Dalrymple Elliott, by Thomas Gainsborough, 1778 (The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

And now, I give you Sarah Murden and Joanna Major…

Thanks, Laurie, for asking us to stop by and tell you an interesting tidbit about what we discovered while researching our book, An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the Celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott. Grace Dalrymple Elliott (c.1754-1823), was a celebrated courtesan and reputed mother of the Prince of Wales’ child. She was also, for a time, the mistress of the Earl of Cholmondeley after she had been divorced by her husband, Dr (later Sir) John Eliot. Grace had hoped for a marriage proposal from her Earl but none was forthcoming.

Her maternal aunt, Robinaiana, had been luckier in her career as a mistress, for her own lover, also an earl, had eventually made her his countess. Charles Mordaunt, 4th Earl of Peterborough and 2nd Earl of Monmouth, married Robinaiana Brown at St James’s in Piccadilly on the 3rd December 1755, and so Grace grew up with her aunt’s example before her. Although Robinaiana had already borne several of the Earl’s children, it was their youngest surviving child, a son born after her marriage, who inherited the earldom. His elder siblings were left to make their way in the world as best they could.

And so Robinaiana, Countess of Peterborough, found herself during April of 1777 (a year after Grace’s divorce) one of the persons of ‘present fashion’ who were in attendance at a Ridotto at the Little Theatre on the Haymarket, chaperoning her daughter Harriatt, born illegitimately before her parent’s marriage.[1]

Ridotto - Haymarket (British Museum)

A Masquerade at the King’s Theatre, Haymarket, ascribed to Grisoni, ca 1724 (The Victoria and Albert Museum)

Also present at the Ridotto was Lady Worsley, who was to court controversy herself some five years later and become an important presence in Grace Dalrymple Elliott’s life.

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Lady Worsley by Sir. Joshua Reynolds, ca 1776 (Harewood House Trust, via Wikimedia)

Little Theatre, Hay-market

The RIDOTTO on Monday evening served at once to display the taste of the Director of the evening’s entertainment and the insufferable dullness of the polite world, when unmixed with souls of less fined composition. Nothing could be more splendid that the disposition of the lights and the stile [sic] of the theatre, which was wonderfully converted into a large, elegant and commodious room, capable of receiving at least four times the quantity of persons present, whose gross number could not have exceeded two hundred, or two hundred and fifty. It was at the same time hardly possible for the insipidity and want of cordiality observable in the company to be exceeded. The only way of accounting for this latter circumstance, is the recollection, that they were mostly persons of title and ton, there being only half a dozen ladies of known cracked characters and very few of the bourgeois discoverable. One of the latter, in order to mark beyond a doubt his habit of living and seat of residence, caught a well-dressed fille de joie round the neck and smacked her as loud as the sound of a double bass, in the sight of every beholder; and two of the former (Mother M. and Mrs. F) probably actuated by a fear that their shrivelled faces and coarse necks should make it be imagined that they were not votaries to Venus, came in apparently filled with the juice of the grape; indeed if they had but just staggered from the altar of Bacchus, they could not have seemed more ripe for riot and folly.

Ridotto - The Ridotto Pubblico (Met Museum)-2

The Ridotto Pubblico at Palazzo Dandle by Francesco Guardi, ca 1765-68 (The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Among the persons of present fashion, were the following:

The Duke of Dorset, Lord Carlisle, Lord Egremont, Lord E. Bentinck, Lord Malden, Lord Villars, Lord Palmerston, Lord Grosvenor, Lord Chesterfield, the Countess of Peterborough, Lady Worsley, Lady Harborough, Lady Cork and Company, Mrs Lascelles, Miss Mordaunt, Mrs Middleton and Mrs Phillimore, Lady Fleming, Miss Payne, Lady Sherrard, Sir Thomas Clergys, Mr Damer, Messrs Hares, Mr Smith, Mr Mead, Mr Middleton, Mr Stanhope and many others.

Confectionery, wines and musick [sic] were provided. The first was good, the second but very la, la! and the third not only scanty, but most careless and indifferent.

About four o’clock all the company had retired.[2]

Ridotto - ticket (British Museum)

Admission Ticket to a Ridotto at the King’s Theatre, Haymarket, ca 1787 (British Museum)

Possibly not the best of nights, then! One hopes that ‘Mother M.’ the lady of cracked character was not ‘Mother Mordaunt’, Grace’s Aunt Robinaina, and ‘Mrs F.’, was not Lady Fleming, the mother of Lady Worsley who retained her former title after her remarriage to Edwin Lascelles, Baron Harewood. What is known, however, is that not many years after this Robinaiana’s son, Charles Henry Mordaunt (by that time the 5th Earl of Peterborough and 3rd Earl of Monmouth), was called as a witness in Lady Worsley’s divorce case. The purpose was to testify to her dissolute character.  And Lady Worsley’s lover, Maurice George Bisset, after abandoning her eventually married Robinaiana’s daughter Harriat (present at the Haymarket the night ‘Miss Mordaunt’ was listed above).

If Robinaiana was indeed ‘Mother M.’, her husband’s actions that year might certainly have given her cause to turn to the ‘juice of the grape’. For, proving the old adage that ‘there’s no fool like an old fool’ to be all too true, the 4th Earl of Peterborough gave the gossips of the day some scandalous revelations to pass around the drawing rooms and ballrooms of the ton.

And to find out what that gossip was you’ll have to read our book, An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the Celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott in which we reveal all, not only about Grace but also her hitherto unknown relatives. For Grace’s maternal family has been overlooked in every history of her ever written, until now, and they are central to Grace’s story and fascinating in their own right. An Infamous Mistress is available now in the UK from Pen and Sword Books and all other good bookshops, and in America it will be published in the springtime although it is available for pre-order now.

book cover front

http://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/An-Infamous-Mistress-Hardback/p/11613

http://www.amazon.com/Infamous-Mistress-Celebrated-Dalrymple-Elliott/dp/1473844835

[1]Ridotto, an entertainment consisting of music, dancing and sometimes gambling. The term was introduced to England ‘in the year 1722, at the Opera-house in the Haymarket.’ Oxford English Dictionary

[2]Morning Chronicle, 16th April, 1777

 

The Anglo-American Convention of 1818: An International Friendship Begins

My upcoming novel, An Unsuitable Duchess, is a historical romance about the daughter of an American diplomat and an English duke. The story is set in London in 1818. While I was researching what the relationship was like between the United States and Great Britain during that time, I came across information about the Anglo-American Convention of 1818. I’m certain it was covered in one of my history classes in Junior High School, but I had forgotten all about it. Now I can appreciate the importance of this convention that resulted in the Treaty of 1818, which determined, among other things, the 49th parallel as the border between the United States and British North America (Canada). Many historians believe the negotiations surrounding this Treaty were the beginning of congenial relations between the United States and Great Britain.

The convention is referred to by many names: The Convention respecting fisheries, boundary, and the restoration of slaves between the United States and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, the London Convention, Anglo-American Convention of 1818, Convention of 1818, and simply the Treaty of 1818. It was held in London in October of 1818 and the Treaty was signed on October 20th. Ratifications took place on January 30, 1819. The opening paragraph of the Treaty explains the purpose and who conducted the negotiations.

The United States of America, and His Majesty The King [George IV of the United Kingdom] of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, desirous to cement the good Understanding which happily subsists between them, have, for that purpose, named their respective Plenipotentiaries, that is to say: The President of the United States [James Monroe], on his part, has appointed, Albert Gallatin, Their Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to the Court of France; and Richard Rush, Their Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to the Court of His Britannic Majesty: And His Majesty has appointed The Right Honorable Frederick John Robinson [1st Viscount Goderich], Treasurer of His Majesty’s Navy, and President of the Committee of Privy Council for Trade and Plantations; and Henry Goulburn Esquire, One of His Majesty’s Under Secretaries of State: Who, after having exchanged their respective Full Powers, found to be in due and proper Form, have agreed to and concluded the following Articles.

The Treaty consisted of six articles. Here’s a breakdown of what each accomplished:

Article 1 – Secured fishing rights off the shores of Newfoundland Labrador for the United States.

Article 2 – Set the boundary between British North America (Canada) and the United States “along the line from the most northwestern point of Lake in the Woods along the 49th parallel of north latitude to the Stony Mountains (Rocky Mountains).” Great Britain also ceded the part of Rupert’s Land the Red River Colony south of the 49th parallel. Fun fact: The border between the United States and Canada is 5,525 miles (8,891 km) long. It is the longest international border in the world.

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Article 3 – Set equal control of the Oregon Country, which was the Colombia District of the Hudson Bay Company, for ten years. It was agreed that both countries would control the territory and their citizens were guaranteed free navigation through the territory without interference from the other country.

Article 4 – Confirmed regulation of commerce between the two countries for an additional ten years. It also extended the stipulation that vessels of the United States could not dock or hold communication with the Island of St. Helena as long as Napoleon Bonaparte was in residence there.

Article 5 – An agreement was reached that would defer differences over the United States claim in regards to the Treaty of Ghent would be resolved by “some Friendly Sovereign or State to be named for that purpose.” The United States claimed the British had taken some slaves belonging to Americans during the War of 1812. They wanted these slaves returned or compensation given for them.

Article 6 – Stated that ratification would occur within six months after the Treaty was signed.

James Monroe's note to the US Senate regarding the Treaty of 1818

James Monroe’s note to the US Senate regarding the Treaty of 1818, courtesy of Rice on History blog.

In reviewing the Treaty of 1818, I also found it interesting to see a map of what the United States looked like at the time.

A map of the United States by mapmaker John Melish, published in 1820, following the Anglo-American Convention of 1818. Courtesy of CBS News.

A map of the United States by mapmaker John Melish, published in 1820, following the Anglo-American Convention of 1818. Courtesy of CBS News.

If you are interested in reading the Treaty of 1818, this link from Yale Law School presents the document in its entirety: http://avalon.law.yale.edu/19th_century/conv1818.asp

References used:

CBS News: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/almanac-the-49th-parallel/

Rice on History:  https://riceonhistory.wordpress.com/category/diplomatic/treaty-papers/page/3/

Yale Law School

 

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and its Ties to Regency England

The Headless Horseman

With Halloween approaching, it seems like the ideal time to tell you the tale of how one of America’s best-loved ghost stories has its roots tied to Regency England. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is a short story written by the American author Washington Irving and was published in 1820. Many of you may be familiar with the story of Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman. If you’ve never read the story, this is a quick recap.

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is set in 1790 around Tarry Town (sic), New York and a secluded, nearby glen known as Sleepy Hollow. Schoolmaster Ichabod Crane comes to town and sets his sights on marrying the town heiress, Katrina Van Tassel. Unfortunately for Ichabod, he has competition for her hand from local bad boy Brom Bones. One autumn night, Ichabod attends a party at the Van Tassel’s and listens to the locals recount the tales of the ghosts that haunt the area. The most fearsome ghost is that of a Hessian trooper who had his head shot off by a cannonball during a battle in the American Revolution. Each night this Headless Horseman rides to the scene of the battle in search of his head.

As the party breaks up for the night, Ichabod fails to secure Katrina’s hand and rides from her home “heavy-hearted and crestfallen” toward his schoolhouse in Sleepy Hollow. After passing a tree supposedly haunted by the ghost of British spy Major André, Ichabod spots a large cloaked figure on horseback. He quickly realizes the man’s head is not upon his shoulders but on his saddle. Terrified, Ichabod races across the bridge adjacent to the Old Dutch Church with the Headless Horseman in hot pursuit. The specter hurls his severed head at Ichabod, and it crashes into the schoolmaster, knocking him from his horse.

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Ichabod Crane, Respectfully Dedicated to Washington Irving from William J. Wilgus, artist, c. 1856.

The next morning, the townspeople find Ichabod’s horse wandering around the cemetery of the Old Dutch Church along with his trampled saddle, and his hat lying beside a shattered pumpkin. Brom Bones goes on to marry Katrina, and the old Dutch wives believe Ichabod was “spirited away by supernatural means.” Years later, an old farmer arrives in town and informs them Ichabod is still alive. He fled the area because he was mortified by Katrina’s rejection and feared the Headless Horseman.

So how does a ghost story that takes place in a small Dutch hamlet in New York and written by an American, have a connection to Regency England? For that, we need to look closer at the author, Washington Irving.

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Portrait of Washington Irving by John Wesley Jarvis, 1809.

Washington Irving was born in New York City in 1783. At the age of nineteen, he began to write a series of satirical essays under the name Jonathan Oldstyle, Gent. and published them in New York City’s Morning Chronicle newspaper. Three years later, he passed the bar exam and became a lawyer. But his love of writing continued, and he published more essays, as well as a book entitled A History of New York under the pseudonym Diedrich Knickerbocker.

In 1815 Irving went to England to try to help save his family’s floundering shipping business, but in the spring of 1818 the firm was forced to file for bankruptcy. That summer he stayed in Birmingham with his sister Sarah Van Wart and her family. One night, his brother-in-law began reminiscing about New York, and an area Irving spent time in along the Hudson River known as Sleepy Hollow. According to accounts in Washington Irving, An American Original, in the middle of the conversation Irving bolted from his chair and ran to his room, slamming the door behind him. The words to a story were coming almost faster than he could get them down on paper. The conversations about Dutch New York and Sleepy Hollow had inspired and energized him. In that one day, Irving wrote the story of Rip Van Winkle. Soon after, still at Sarah’s house, he outlined The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Feeling motivated, he decided to move to London for a time and dedicate himself to a career as a writer.

He sent a collection of short stories to his brother in New York to be published in a series of volumes in the United States. On June 23, 1819, the first volume of The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. went on sale. Two thousand copies were printed and each ninety-three page book cost 75 cents, or about $11 in today’s money. The book was an enormous success. This volume contained the story of Rip Van Winkle but not The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Americans would have to wait for the sixth volume of The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. to read that tale.

John Murray's Residence in London

John Murray II’s Residence in London

Meanwhile in London, Irving feared his work would be pirated by British printers, so he set out to find a British publisher to protect his interest. At the recommendation of Sir Walter Scott, Irving appealed to renowned publisher John Murray II, but his work was rejected. He also tried Murray’s former partner Archibald Constable and was rejected again. Determined to profit from his work, Irving decided to take matters into his own hands and self publish his book using John Miller’s Burlington Arcade imprint. The British edition of The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent., which included the first four volumes of the American counterpart, was released on February 16, 1820. This edition included the following introduction to the British public:

The following desultory papers are part of a series written in this country, but published in America. The author is aware of the austerity with which the writings of his countrymen have hitherto been treated by British critics; he is conscious, too, that much of the contents of his papers can be interesting only in the eyes of American readers.

Irving was wrong. He was praised by British readers and critics alike.

A month later, the sixth volume of The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. was published in America. This is the volume that included The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Not long afterward, this story was released in Britain in the second volume of The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent.

People on both sides of the Atlantic agreed The Legend of Sleepy Hollow was Irving’s finest work. In fact it was so well received, many literary scholars believe it to be the story that propelled Irving from a man of letters to America’s first international literary celebrity. So while many people think of it as a quaint spooky story that has been immortalized in movies and TV shows, it actually is a significant work in America’s literary history.

I have one last bit of information about the connection between Regency England and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Irving’s original British publisher folded not long after his initial print run. John Murray, who had turned down Irving’s work, stepped in to buy the remainder of his stock and agreed to publish more of his work. So the man who published Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Byron’s Don Juan also published the second British volume of The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent., the one in that contained The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.

A few more fun facts:

  • In 1835, Irving eventually settled in Tarrytown and bought ten acres of land along the Hudson River. One hundred years prior to Irving’s purchase, a branch of the Van Tassel family had lived in the stone cottage that was on his property.
  • Washington Irving is buried in the family plot in the Old Dutch Church cemetery in Sleepy Hollow, New York. That’s the same cemetery where the Headless Horseman may, or may not, have attacked Ichabod Crane.
  • The idea for my first book, An Unsuitable Duchess, was inspired by Washington Irving’s life, and the story came to me while touring his home years ago. I even named my heroine Katrina.

Resources:

  • Butler, Joseph T., Washington Irving’s Sunnyside. 1974.
  • Irving, Washington, The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. 1820.
  • Jones, Brian Jay, Washington Irving, An American Original. 2008.