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"I don’t change the facts to enhance the drama. I think of it the other way round, the drama has got to fit the facts,
and it’s your job as a writer to find the shape in real life."
Hilary Mantel

Friday, August 12, 2016


A very productive summer so far for writing, interspersed with travel and author activities. I haven't much to share about the work-in-progress, except that it's progressing. So here are some highlights from my professional and personal life

A booksigning

A photo shoot

Feeding a friend

Sunset at my lake cottage

My companions

A bloom on one of my 90+ rose bushes

Research for the current book

I hope you're having a lovely summer as well!

Friday, July 22, 2016

Characters in Motion Series spotlights A Pledge of Better Times

I'm featured at the wonderful Layered Pages blog, sharing insights about the characters in A Pledge of Better Times.

My thanks to Stephanie for some wonderful interview questions for this series! I've so enjoyed reading other authors' contributions and highly recommend them.

Characters in Motion: Bestselling Author Margaret Porter

Friday, July 15, 2016

Monmouth's Execution Anniversary & More

 On this date in 1685, the Duke of Monmouth--a half-brother of my protagonist the Duke of St Albans--was executed on Tower Hill. Here is my article on the event for the English Historical Fiction Authors blog:

An Execution Timeline: The Duke of Monmouth's Last Days

It is the second time I've written in detail about this gruesome event, also depicted in A Pledge of Better Times.

Here are links to other history blogs I've written lately:

Playing the Provinces: 18th Century Actors on the Move, Part 1 (Liverpool & Manchester)

Playing the Provinces: 18th Century Actors on the Move, Part 2 (York, Bristol & Bath)

The Tragic Tragedian: William Brereton of Drury Lane

The Herbal in England: A Brief History

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Recent Travels and Writings

At Easter I travelled to a part of the US where spring was fully unfurled and history is alive. It was a holiday rather than a research trip, but I had opportunities for book promotion.

Beautiful Savannah!

One of Savannah's many squares.

One of the city's many historic houses

Faux bois panelling in the dining room

Bonaventure Cemetery

Camellia  blossom

I've lately done more blogging at English Historical Fiction Writers than I've done here. Some links to the latest:

Mistress of More Variety: Actress Susanna Verbruggen

English Garden History: Spring Guide

Valentine's Day History

And I offered some book reviews on a book blogging site:

Author Margaret Porter’s Five Top Reads

Enjoying wild roses

Saturday, February 6, 2016

The Death of King Charles II

The precise cause of His Majesty's death, which occurred on 6 Februrary, 1685, is uncertain. His autopsy revealed fluid in the brain. This led to the relatively recent conclusion that he suffered acute poisoning from proximity to mercury vapour in his laboratory.
What is known is that he suffered an apoplectic attack (now referred to as an "epileptic seizure") on the morning of 2 February. This date is considered the birthday of mistress Nell Gwyn, mother of his son Charles Beauclerk, Duke of St Albans--who at that time was nearly fifteen years old. Although the young duke spent much of his adolescence in Paris, where he was educated, he happened to be in England at that time and was present as his father lay dying at Whitehall Palace.

The king had slept badly and on waking on the morning of the 6th was "pale as ashes." At the time he was suffering from a sore on his legs, and the royal doctors had come to his rooms to change the dressing. Rather than joining them, Charles returned to his bedchamber. His speech was somewhat impaired. He took a glass of sherry and, still in his nightgown, prepared to be shaved.

Before the razor was applied, he let out what was later described as "the most dreadfulest shriek" and fell back unconscious into his barber's arm.

All the usual 17th century medical applications were attempted--bleeding, blisters--and perhaps it was the agony they produced that revived the king. He asked to see the Queen. The doctors continued torturing the patient with potions containing cantharides, vitriol, sal ammoniac, and one containing spirits of human skull.

Occasionally he would rally, but finally succumbed to another convulsion followed by a fever. Word of his decline was spreading beyond the palace walls.

Anti-Catholic sentiment was so great that many people assumed that the king had been poisoned. Sir Charles Lyttelton reported "his disease being, as is supposed, has fallen upon his lungs which makes him labour to breathe." Some modern authorities speculate that he was a victim of a kidney complaint, resulting in uraemia. Others propose that many hours he spent in his laboratory led to some form of chemical poisoning. The onset of his complaint was characterised by an epileptic seizure, which apparently affected brain function. The original post-mortem was destroyed when Whitehall Palace burned to the ground in 1697. A copy quoted in the British Medical Journal is inconclusive, as the autopsies of that era were less sophisticated than those of today.

Whatever felled the king, in his final hours he was surrounded by doctors, clerics, and family members. At that time a royal death, like a royal birth, was extremely public. Those in attendance included, at intervals, Queen Catherine of Braganza, various royal mistress (thought Nell Gwyn was excluded from the sickroom), and the royal bastards--though not the Duke of Monmouth, who was living in exile at the Dutch court of his cousins, Prince William and Princess Mary of Orange.

King Charles famously remembered the Duchess of Portsmouth--the Frenchwoman, Louise de Kerouaille. He charged his brother (and successor) James, Duke of York, not to let "poor Nelly" starve and requested that he care for her son and ensure that his mother didn't spoil him.

It was to young Charles Beauclerk that the king gave a memento of his own father. While still lucid, he asked that a gold and carnelian ring be taken from his hand and given to his illegitimate son. Charles I wore the ring when he arrived at the scaffold with Bishop Juxon (later Archbishop of Canterbury.) Before his execution he presented it to the bishop, who later delivered it to Charles II. The ring is set with an intaglio depicting Charles I in the guise of a Roman Emperor, wearing armour, and the closed back is decorated with coloured enamel. This memento of two Stuart kings remains in the possession of the Beauclerk family.

The king's deathbed conversion to Catholicism was achieved by Father Huddleston, who had been with Charles at the battle of Worcester. When he entered the sickroom through a secret door, Charles supposedly greeted him with the words, "You who have saved my body are now come to save my soul." After making his confession, he received the sacrament, and Huddleston read the prayers for the dying.

At six o'clock in the morning of 6 February, the king asked that the curtains be drawn back so he could see the dawn breaking one last time. He also requested the winding of his clock. After that his speech failed him, and by ten o'clock he had fallen into a coma. He died between eleven-thirty and noon, aged fifty-five.

The King saw one more sunrise lighten the sky before he slept, never to wake again. By midday Charles Beauclerk, Duke of St. Albans, was no longer the son of a living monarch.

                        A Pledge of Better Times


Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Author Spotlight: Interview by David Cook

I'm delighted to be the inaugural subject in author David Cook's Author Spotlight series. David asks some wonderful questions, and I enjoyed answering them. And I appreciate the opportunity to share!

Friday, January 22, 2016

English Garden History: Winter

Today I continue my series of articles on seasonal garden activities of the 17th and 18th centuries in England.

Garden Guide for English Historical Authors: Winter

Bulb forcing in a glass is not a recent innovation! Even in the distant past, people needed fresh flowers in their homes during the harshest months of the year....

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Queen Anne and Duchesses

There were other duchesses in Queen Anne's life--Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough was not the only one! And Diana, Duchess of St Albans, is included. Of course!

This month's blog post for English Historical Fiction Authors:

The Trouble with Duchesses at Queen Anne's Court

Monday, November 16, 2015

The Return--from travels and to blogging

At the site of Liverpool's 18thC Theatre Royal
I spent part of October and November in England, researching another novel, visiting a collection of historic costume, wandering gardens, seeing friends, shopping, spending time with other researchers, and dinner with a descendant of Charles and Diana from A Pledge of Better Times.

While I was away, this interview about historical fiction writing appeared on Mary Tod's terrific blog:

 Margaret Porter on Historical Fiction

And today, her feast day, my article about Saint Margaret of Scotland, is published at English Historical Fiction Authors:

Margaret of Scotland: Saintly Queen, Queenly Saint

At the Platt Hall Gallery of Costume, Manchester

Aubrey de Vere, father of 1st Duchess of St Albans, Dulwich

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

And Thereto I Plight Thee: 17th Century Marriage Day Customs

Welcome to the English Historical Fiction Authors "Crazy Customs" Blog Hop, marking the publication of Castles, Customs, and Kings, Volume 2. (Ordering information posted below!)

Marriage customs of 17th Century England might or might not seem crazy today...although several of them could certainly be described as unusual.

The Ceremony


The marriage rite of the Book of Common Prayer came into being in the 16th century, and in 1660 a new version was publishedits language is familiar to us today. The woman received a wedding ring as part of the ritual (the man did not). The best description of its symbolism comes from Henry Swinburne, who wrote in 1686: The form of the wedding ring being circular, that is round and without end, imparteth thus much, that their mutual love and affection should roundly flow from one to the other as in a circle, and that continually and forever.

As the groom spoke the line, “With all my worldly goods I thee endow,” he placed a coin or a purse onto the cleric's prayer book. On one occasion in 1680, the purse contained 200 guineas—a small fortune! On a more mercenary level, this was equally symbolic of the fact that so many marriages—whatever the couple’s social class—were arranged by parents or guardians or even landlords or masters.

Princess Mary of England & Prince William
of Holland, married at ages 9 & 15
On leaving the house for the church, or the church itself, money was often distributed to people gathered in the street, and paid to the musicians (frequently they were trumpeters) heralding the newlyweds or playing at the wedding feast.

If the bride was extremely young, she and her groom might live apart for a period of time. John Evelyn, aged 26, left his 12-year old spouse and spent four years travelling before taking up the role of husband. The Princess Royal, daughter of Charles I, seen here at the time of her wedding in 1641, remained in England for a year after marriage. After joining her husband in Holland their marriage was not consummated for a further three years.

The Celebration  


Very little has changed since the 1600s. After the ceremony people gathered for a wedding feast, featuring wine and spirits, elegantly decorated and arranged tables of food, cakes, music, and dancing. The earlier ‘bride pie’ gave way to cake in the 17th century. Rather, cakes. The bride cake was larger and more elaborately iced, with egg white and sugar, and decorated. The groom cake was a plainer fruitcake, which was diced up and presented to guests in a small box, as a lucky souvenir.



Marriages weren’t supposed to occur during Advent and Christmas, though records reveal that this was not uniformly followed in the 17th century. Therefore late November, before the First Sunday in Advent, was a popular time for a wedding. After St Hilary’s Day, 13th January, marriages resumed.

There was a similar prohibition in Lent, the most solemn of liturgical seasons. Perhaps this fact, in addition to the popular lore connected with it, made Valentine’s Day the choice of some couples. Marriages were again permitted from the Sunday after Easter. April was therefore a very popular month—partly because Lent had ended, but also because May marriages were regarded as unlucky. Then, as now, June was also a month for weddings.

Also considered unlucky—and highly inconvenient—by country folk, was the period between haymaking and corn harvest, July through early September.

Weddings of Court and Commonwealth


The first Stuart monarch, James I, was mad for weddings. He played matchmaker to some of his courtiers, helping his male favourites to marry into money, and he hosted their marriage celebrations in his palaces—often with a masque as well as a banquet. On one occasion, in 1617, at the conclusion of festivities he commanded that the couple should extend their wedding night till noontime, adding that he would join them in bed in the afternoon to hear the details of the consummation. The bride was fourteen—how embarrassing it must have been for her—and the bridegroom twenty-six.

Charles I also hosted weddings at court. The beauteous Mary Townsend was daughter of Aurelian Townsend, poet and creator of court masques (and, incidentally, grandmother of Lady Diana de Vere of A Pledge of Better Times). Her 1646 marriage to George Kirke, Groom of the Bedchamber and Housekeeper of Whitehall Palace, took place in the royal presence during the Civil War, when the court was at Oxford. This wedding of courtiers took place in Christ Church Cathedral, and King Charles gave away the bride—a mere three years before his execution. Mary, who remained at court throughout the next three reigns, did not live up to her vows of fidelity:
A beautiful wanton whose reputation did not improve with the years.” 

During the Commonwealth marriage was no longer a church sacrament but a civil contract. To be legal, it had to be conducted by a justice of the peace. The banns could even be cried in the marketplace rather than in the local parish. Sundays, previously an acceptable day for a marriage, were disallowed—a prohibition still in force in the Anglican tradition. After 1656, weddings could again take place in church. 

Duke of York's wedding suit
Following the Restoration, during the riotous reign of Charles II, marriage was deemed a necessity for procreation and accessing a title or fortune. The ceremonies might be lavish and costly, but fashionable people sought sexual pleasure outside the bonds of marriage.

Royal marriages, when the couple lived in different lands, could take place by proxy in the bride’s location, with a second ceremony immediately upon her arrival in her new husband’s country, as with James, Duke of York (later James II) and his second wife, Mary of Modena. At their court wedding in November, 1673, her bridegroom wore this lavish costume, on display at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

The great painters of the day produced marriage portraits, either immediately before or immediately after the wedding. Normally the couple were painted individually, although double portraits can indicate a recently-wedded couple. The first double portrait below shows the 2nd Viscount Bayning and his wife in a gown very much like one a bride would have worn at her wedding, and the presence of Cupid presenting a floral garland hints at matrimony as well. The second, by Peter Lely, nearly a copy of the first, depicts the Baynings' daughter and heiress, Anne, with her husband Aubrey, 20th Earl of Oxford de Vere (father of Lady Diana de Vere, and a prominent character in A Pledge of Better Times). They married in in 1647 when Anne was ten years old and Aubrey twice her age. Their portrait, attributed to Peter Lely, is dated 1650, and could be indicative of their beginning to live together as husband and wife.

Private Marriage

 In contrast to the ostentatious court weddings, persons of distinction often preferred a very private ceremony attended only by the closest of family member and friends. The union was sometimes not made public until after it occurred. According to one letter-writer in 1667, “Yesterday the Earl of Manchester and the Countess of Carlisle were privately married. It is owned by them today.” And the timing of the private ceremony was less restrictive than a grand one, as reported by the same correspondent: “Today or tomorrow Sir Greville Verney will marry Lady Diana Russell.”

Those whose marriages lacked royal sanction also preferred to exchange vows covertly. A member of the Fleming family wrote from town in 1670, “On Saturday last, Lord Dunkellin, eldest son of the Earl of Clanricarde, was privately married to the Court Beauty, the youngest daughter of Mr. Bagnall. It has abundantly furnished the Court and the city with discourse, but has not at all pleased Their Majesties, who have suspended both of the Bagnalls, father and son, from their attendance at court.”

After wedding and bedding, a married couple would typically embark upon a journey to visit relations not present at the ceremony, as described by diarist John Evelyn:

27 April 1693. My daughter Susanna was married to William Draper, Esp. in the chapel of Ely House by Dr Tenison, Bishop of Lincoln. I gave her in portion £4000, her jointure is £500 per ann…Much of this week spent in ceremonies, receiving visits and entertaining relations, and a greate part of the next in returning visites.
11 May 1693. We accompanied my daughter to her husband’s house, Adscomb, near Croydon, where with many of his and our relations we were magnificently treated. There we left her in an apartment very richly adorn’d and furnish’d, and I Hope in as happy a condition as could be wish’d, and with the great satisfaction of all our friends…

Wedding Clothes

The bride’s family provided new clothing suitable to her status, and certain household items, in addition to whatever dowry she might have.  Early in the century souvenirs, or wedding favours, were obtained by cutting away the ribbons or embellishments of the bride’s gown. Later the family ordered true love knots made up in advance for distribution ahead of time or at the wedding feast. These colourful rosettes and cockades—usually blue—were pinned onto the hat or headdress or coat of friends and family and publicly worn for days afterwards. According to a French visitor: “The greatest Noblemen give them not only to those that are at the wedding, but to five hundred people besides; they send them about, and distribute them at their own Houses.”

Gloves, white or yellow, were also presented. At the wedding of John Manners to Lady Anne Pierrepoint in 1658, a dozen pairs of yellow gloves were ordered to distribute to the guests.

On the day, the bride wore her best gown, or a new one, depending on her status. The colour preferred by the wealthy was silver, which prior to the Victorian white wedding gown, symbolised purity. Her bride-maids’ attire would be similar to hers. The groom, his family, and his bride-men would also display their standing in society through their garments. 

Middling and Lower Classes

There are written descriptions of weddings for merchants and tradesmen, indicating that these are occasions of community coming together, as with the upper classes. These weddings were as much alliances of family interests as much—if not more—than simply the union of the two individuals at the altar.

There is a dearth of records of weddings for the unlettered masses. Most could be described as a ‘penny-bridal,’ in which a tavern-keeper might provide the couple with a gathering place—and a lodging for the night—in exchange for the money to be received by their guests for ale, wine, and food. The festivities were merry—contests, foot-races to and from the parish church—and generally included a bawdy bedding ritual, with jesting and serenading on the other side of the bedchamber door or beneath the windows.

Dutch and Flemish painters created vivid scenes of villager weddings and feasts during this era, and the Marriage at Cana was a popular subject for religious art, sometimes with the characters in contemporary clothing.  English wedding scenes are a rarity prior  the 18th century.

If you enjoy reading about customs of the past in England, this book is for you!

Castles, Customs & Kings on Amazon US
Castles, Customs, & Kings on Amazon UK

Be sure to follow the other Blog Hop links for fascinating information from all the other participants!

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Book Review: Effigy Hunter by Christy K Robinson

Genealogy enthusiast and historical author Christy K Robinson’s family history searches have taken her into the great cathedrals and obscure country churches in which her own ancestors—and those of the millions of other people sharing their genes—and other notables were either interred or commemorated. Her latest book is a treasure trove of information about the burial styles of her numerous subjects, primarily royalty and aristocracy of Britain and Europe during the Dark Ages and Medieval times. Not only does she analyse specific monuments and their symbolic elements, she describes the effects of civil wars and religious disputes on the physical contents of churches and examines discrepancies between burial records and popular legend. A brief section on Crusaders and pilgrims covers important personages who did not survive their journeys to the Holy Land.

A valuable reference for historians and genealogists, Effigy Hunter is equally a travelogue and travel memoir. Through anecdote, illustrations, and photographs, Robinson shares her extensive travels through England and other countries. Region-by-region sections contain charts of essential information on the location and dates of effigies and memorials, making this a useful field guide for those wishing to visit sites in person. As entertaining as it is informative, Effigy Hunter is very highly recommended for genealogists, historians, novelists, and travellers.

Christy's websites:
Rooting for Ancestors
William & Mary Dyer 

Christy's Amazon Author Page (purchase links for all books)
Christy K Robinson on Amazon

[I received a pre-publication copy of this novel in exchange for my honest review.]