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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 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

Nov 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

Sep 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!

Sep 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.]

Aug 25, 2015

Mary II: A Queen of Gardens

My article about Queen Mary's garden pursuits is posted on English Historical Fiction Authors' blog.

Her love of garden creation and the development of the Hampton Court Palace gardens in particular are featured in A Pledge of Better Times.

Aug 5, 2015

Historical Fiction & Meaning

The Layered Pages blog is hosting a series of interview on this topic. My contribution is posted today, including what I do, how I do it, as well as my thoughts about the genre and its readership.

Margaret Porter on Historical Fiction & Meaning

Jul 21, 2015

Catching Up

The summer is speeding past, due to book touring and author appearances, travels, and volunteer activities. I'm blogging again today at English Historical Fiction Authors, about what bloomed when in the historic English Garden: Garden Guide for English Historical Authors

I've had several lovely booksignings within driving range.

When at home, I have been thoroughly enjoying my gardens--when I tend the roses and perennials that grew in the 17th century, I think of Diana de Vere and Queen Mary, and their mutual love of flowers.


I was thrilled by a wonderful review of A Pledge of Better Times in Publishers Weekly. You can read it here.

Between now and my next UK trip, I shall be finishing a novel (I hope) that is a bit of a departure for me, before resuming my next historical biographical novel.

May 1, 2015

Real Book Tour & Virtual Book Tour

I've had two booksigning events so far. One at the "Made in New Hampshire Expo," in a large exhibition centre in Manchester. And another at my city's large independent bookstore, which is wonderfully supportive of local authors. It drew a large crowd, all the chairs were filled and many people were standing up through my talk. All the copies of A Pledge of Better Times sold, and it was a lot! (Some photos are posted below.)

My blog tour, arranged by Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours, begins on May 4th, with reviews, features, guest posts, and giveaways. Here's a list of the stops on the tour:

A Pledge of Better Times Blog Tour Schedule

Monday, May 4
Review at Just One More Chapter
Review & Giveaway at Broken Teepee
Spotlight & Giveaway at Mina’s Bookshelf
Tuesday, May 5
Review at 100 Pages a Day – Stephanie’s Book Reviews
Wednesday, May 6
Guest Post & Giveaway at Let Them Read Books
Thursday, May 7
Review at Book Drunkard
Friday, May 8
Review at Books and Benches
Sunday, May 10
Review at Reading the Past
Tuesday, May 12
Review at Flashlight Commentary
Thursday, May 14
Review at Impressions in Ink
Review at Caroline Wilson Writes
Friday, May 15
Review & Giveaway at A Literary Vacation
Review & Giveaway at Historical Fiction Obsession
Wednesday, May 18
Guest Post at Book Babe

And as promised, some photos from the book signing. (Many more are scheduled!)

Apr 14, 2015

Some Thoughts on Book Launch Day

For more than a decade their story has thrilled, obsessed, and consumed me. Today I am delighted to be able to share it with the reading public. A Pledge of Better Times is the story of Lady Diana de Vere, daughter of the 20th Earl of Oxford, Charles Beauclerk, illegitimate son of King Charles II and actress Nell Gwyn, and Diana's friend, Queen Mary II of England.

My heartfelt thanks to everyone who supported me in various ways during this lengthy effort to finish my 12th novel and see it published. Writing is regarded as a solitary occupation, but in fact no writer can be fruitful or sane without the presence and assistance of others. The phrase 'it takes a village' comes to mind. And it most definitely takes an entire writing community to nurture and sustain my creative life.

This photo from August 2005 shows my workspace view at our lake cottage. That pale pink binder was my earliest research notebook. When down by the water, I either composed on my Alphasmart keyboard or wrote in longhand.

The photos below were taken during the first of two UK trips in 2006. I was visiting Hampton Court Palace, to view the lovely full-length portrait of Diana de Vere, 1st Duchess of St Albans, a portion of which graces the cover of my novel.

No, it didn't take me all of 10 years to research and write this novel. Along the way there were distractions and other demands upon my time. I served two terms in my state's Legislature. I was involved with two diocesan bishop search committees. I volunteered with other nonprofits. I travelled--admittedly most often to England, Holland, Belgium, and France--in pursuit of my characters.

Discovering everything I possibly could about Charles Beauclerk, 1st Duke of St Albans, his relationship with Lady Diana de Vere, her father the Earl of Oxford, and Queen Mary II of England has been at times frustrating, humbling, and exhilarating.

In November, as the book was about to go to press, I discovered a hitherto unknown portrait of Diana. Was it my reward for at long last reaching the end of our journey together? I like to think so.

A Pledge of Better Times is available in print ($14.95) and ebook ($5.99) at the following vendors:

Mar 21, 2015

Historic Roses

My latest blog post at English Historical Fiction Authors, featuring historic roses from my own gardens.

By Any Other Names: Historical Roses

Feb 9, 2015

Jan 26, 2015

The de Vere Family in the 17th Century

For information about the illustrious family of Lady Diana de Vere, female protagonist of A Pledge of Better Times, visit my blog post at English Historical Fiction Authors: The de Vere Family in the 17th Century.

Diana, 1694

Diana's father, Aubrey de Vere, 20th Earl of Oxford

Diana's mother, Countess of Oxford

Diana's grandfather, Robert, 19th Earl of Oxford