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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

Dec 4, 2014

Promotional Items

There will be giveaways, before and after the book launch. 

Sticky Notes

Coffee mugs

Luggage Tags

Also bookmarks, postcards, free books . . .

 Reminds me of an old favourite Dire Straits tune, Badges, Posters, Sticker & T-Shirts.

Nov 14, 2014

The Death of Nell Gwyn

Nell Gwyn (private collection)
When recently in England, I was able to view several portraits of Nell Gwyn, the actress-mistress of
King Charles II and mother of the 1st Duke of St. Albans,
the male protagonist of A Pledge of Better Times. This is one of them, less well known than others painted by Lely, Kneller, and other artists.

I won't attempt to recount her full biography, but any version makes for interesting reading. In short, she was a child of the slums, an orange- and apple-seller in a London theatre, a popular comic actress, mistress to England's lustiest king, and mother to two of his sons.

After her royal lover's death in February 1685, her health rapidly deteriorated. The previous year she wrote from her house in Windsor to a correspondent, "I have continued extreme ill ever since you left me, and I am so still. I have sent to London for a doctor. I believe I shall die." It is supposed that complications from intermittent or undiagnosed venereal disease was responsible for her frequent maladies during her last years. In the spring of 1687, a time of great worry and strife, a series of strokes left her incapacitated and bedridden. She composed her last will and testament in July, and added a codicil a few months later, on October 18th, with specific instructions about her burial and a few final bequests.

Nell died at 10 in the evening on 14 November in 1687 at her mansion in Pall Mall. She was thirty-seven, and had crammed a lot of living into a relatively short life.

She requested burial in the chancel of St. Martin's-in-the-Fields. She wanted Dr. Tenison, who was her support and her confessor during her months as an invalid, to preach the funeral sermon. He did, basing his text on the parable of the Lost Sheep from the Gospel of Luke.

Her charitable bequests included:

£100 to be distributed to the poor of the parishes of St. Martin's and St. James's by Dr. Tenison, especially for clothing the poor and the release of debtors from prison. (In today's money, this could be as much as £8500 or $14,500.)

£50 to be delivered by Tenison and her personal chaplain John Warner to two Roman Catholics to be given "for the use of the poor of that religion inhabiting the parish of St. James's"

£20 to be applied annually by her son the duke to release poor debtors out of prison every Christmas Day.

King Charles II (private collection)
 Her burial service took place three days after her death, on 17th November, when she was interred in the Vicar's Vault. The funeral expenses were £375, paid by Sir Stephen Fox.

Her debts were massive. Immediately after King Charles's death she was in grave danger of being outlawed as a debtor. While the King lived, she spent freely from the income he provided for her maintenance and that of her son. Although he died before he was able to elevate her to the peerage as Countess of Greenwich, he had bestowed several valuable properties upon her. Her son, who had to contend with her creditors, was obliged to sell her fine house in Pall Mall. Burford House in Windsor, where she usually passed the summer, was leased to Princess Anne and her husband Prince George of Denmark while the duke was a minor.

King James II (private collection)

Bestwood Park in Nottinghamshire, a hunting lodge, was heavily mortgaged, and in compliance with his late brother's deathbed request that he "not let Nelly starve," King James II paid off the mortgage after his accession.

Nell's death inspired many verses, of dubious quality but with the intention of expressing her "whore with a heart of gold" persona.

From "Laurinda, a Pastoral on the Lamented Death of the Incomparable Madam Gwyn":

'Twas always spring, for when the sun retired,
Her warmer beams the vocal groves inspired
Her cheerful looks the winter's rage beguiled,
Her smiles made summer, and she always smiled.

And "An Elegy in Commemoration of Madam Eleanor Gwyn" declares:

. . . some may cast objections in and say
These scattered praises that we seek to lay
Upon her hearse are but the formal way.
Yet when we tell them she was free from strife,
Courteous even to the poor, no pride of life,
E'er entertaining, but did much abound
In charity, and for it was renowned . . .

I recently had an interesting conversation with one of her descendants, who speculated about the reaction of the court if King Charles had lived to transform the lowly, brothel-reared playactress into Lady Greenwich. If he had done so, her enduring legend might have been a different one. In the popular imagination, she seems to live on as "the people's mistress," the commoner who consorted with a king, amusing him and his courtiers with her spirit and her wit.

Charles Beauclerk evidently exhibited his parents' flair for repartee. As an adult, the duke was described as having inherited the King's "humour and entertaining Wit, which none of his other Children can boast." In Queen Anne's reign, another former royal mistress observed "the Duke of St. Albans a-jesting" one dull evening when the court was at Windsor.

Charles Beauclerk, 1st Duke of St Albans
(private collection)

Nell makes a few appearances in A Pledge of Better Times. Writing about the decline and demise of so vital a creature was moving and challenging.

Sep 30, 2014

How to Help--and Receive Rewards!

I've inaugurated a Kickstarter campaign to fund the promotional activities and the launch of A Pledge of Better Times.

Background about the novel, a little film, and more information here:

A Pledge of Better Times on Kickstarter

Sep 27, 2014

My Book Has A Cover!

And what a cover it is! I'm so thankful that H.M. the Queen and the Royal Collection granted a licence so that I could use the portrait of Diana, Duchess of St Albans. It hangs at Hampton Court Palace where I visit it--her--at every opportunity.

More information about the book will be forthcoming. It is scheduled for release in April 2015.

Aug 28, 2014

How I've Spent My Time

It has been a very long blogging hiatus, which of course means I've been busy novel-writing and travelling.

In connection to my previous post, so many months ago, I've got more portrait news.

The Royal Collection/Her Majesty the Queen have granted a licence for me to have the Godfrey Kneller portrait of the Duchess (made before she was a duchess) on the cover of my novel. To say I am delighted and thrilled is a huge understatement!

The title of the novel is to be A Pledge of Better Times, which happens to be the Beauclerk family motto.

My next UK trip is in the final stage of planning. I will, as usual, be re-visiting many of the sites that appear in the novel. I expect also to pay my respects to the Duke and the Duchess at their burial sites--which is always emotional for me. I imagine it will be even more so now that I am putting the final touches on their story!

This is not the book cover Kneller portrait. Since discovering the existence of this one and the one mentioned in my prior post, I've found out about one more. Not surprising that a reputed beauty should be such a popular subject for the artist!

Jan 15, 2014

Search for a Portrait

Today is the day the duchess died. Because her birth date went unrecorded, this is when I commemorate her. What better time to share my great discovery?

I knew I wanted to write about the duchess and her duke long before the time was right. The idea came to me when I was bound by a multi-book contract. In one of those novels I created a fictional descendant of theirs as heroine. The most intensive period of research and the writing of an early draft took place while I served as an elected official.

An important part of my process, whether writing about historical or fictional characters, is collecting people pictures. For real people, prominent people, I have the advantage of searching out their portraits. And because the duchess was an aristocrat--and a beauty--she was a popular subject. Same for the duke, because his father was a king!

Godfrey Kneller, the popular court portraitist of the late 17th and early 18th century, painted the duchess at least 4 times. First as a child, with her younger sister. Next as maid of honour to Queen Mary II, at Her Majesty's request. Then as a young bride. And another time (I'm trying to find out more.)

The portrait that posed a great mystery was what I refer to as "the wedding portrait," painted in 1694. Kneller licenced John Smith the engraver to make a mezzotint, and copies were sold to the public. The National Portrait Gallery in London has one of the prints, though not on display. I considered myself incredibly lucky to obtain one for myself, which had turned up in a car boot sale!

Staring up at the sepia tones of the engraving, I wondered what had become of the original oil painting. What colour was her dress, her shawl? A little research proved disappointing--the picture's fate was a mystery. I could only theorise about what happened to it. One of the duke's 18th century successors was forced by debt to sell or auction some of his possessions--in Brussels, no less! In the 19th century, a great fire broke out at the family's country estate. And I'm sure there were other dispersals over time.

I assumed it was forever lost...until a week and half ago, when I found it.

The duchess was a victim of misidentification. It was that simple. Her portrait was correctly attributed to Kneller, but someone, somewhere, sometime had decided that she was a French aristocrat rather than an English duchess.

Here she is, in her lovely yellow silk dress and shimmering blue satin shawl.

And here is my engraving. As you see, John Smith felt free to make slight alterations in the shape of her face, and he softened the arrangement of her hair.

My work as a art sleuth isn't over yet. I'm still trying to obtain information--and, I hope, a study print--of that fourth portrait. The only description of it refers to her as wearing a white gown with a red mantle. I'm sure it must be stunning...I hope one day to see it!

Jan 10, 2014

All Sorts of News

A very Happy 2014 to you. So much has happened since my last post, not all of which is pertinent to my writing.
In November I made my annual trip to the UK. As soon as my plane landed, I hastened to the London Historians' monthly pub night, taking place only a short walk from where I was staying. I received a very warm welcome, met people I'd known chiefly via email and Facebook and their blogs, and made new friends.

Either intentionally or by chance, I'm forever coming upon locations where I've set the action of my novel, or places connected to my characters. The duke, his royal father, his father-in-law, mother-in-law, and some of his children are buried in Westminster Abbey, also the setting for coronations and funerals.

Actress Anne Bracegirdle appears in one scene. I always pay my respects when there.

When meeting a friend for lunch at the Army and Navy Club in St James's Square, as usual I photograph the house in which the duchess lived during childhood, before her father moved their household to Whitehall.

Although I took this photograph in Hyde Park, King Charles II took a personal interest in the fowls in St James's Park, as demonstrated in an early scene in my novel.

This splendid gilded room in the Victoria & Albert Museum was the music room of Norfolk House, also in St James's Square.

On my visit to the V&A I saw the "Pearls" exhibition. Of particular interest to me was Queen Mary II's pearl necklace, as she is such a significant character in the book.

Other exhibitions I visited were "The Cheapside Horde" at the Museum of London (it was a very bling-y trip!), "Georgians Revealed" at the British Library (where I also accessed and transcribed 17th century letters written by the Earl of Oxford), a Victoriana installation at the Guildhall Art Gallery, "Elizabeth I and her People" at the National Portrait Gallery, and the Gillray caricature exhibit at the Bank of England Museum.

It wasn't all museums and research, however. I did lots of my Christmas shopping, saw author and non-author friends, dined in favourite restaurants, and wandered streets and parks.

It was rather a muted Christmas, as my father passed away only days before. In addition to being an unexpected loss, I'm sorry and sad that he'll never have a chance to read this novel. As a military man he'd have particularly appreciated the Siege of Belgrade!

At the start of this week, I solved a mystery that has puzzled me for nearly a decade. I'll share that revelation in an upcoming post . . . .