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Friday, March 28, 2014

British Architect--Vitruvius Britannicus

I have an inordinately huge interest in England's stately homes. I have studied them (both those open to the public and those which have been demolished) for many years. In my studies I  frequently ran across Vitruvius Bratannicus, (the British Architect) published first in 1715 by Scottish architect Colen Campbell (1676-1729). It was something I longed to see in a great library, like the British Library. 

Unbeknownst to me until recently, this volume has now been published in an oversized paperback by Dover Publications, which has reproduced it exactly as it appeared originally. The list price is $24.95, but my new copy was cheaper.  

The Newest Addition to Cheryl Bolen's Collection of Books on British Homes

The book features 100 fine plates depicting some of Britain's finest stately homes as well as some public buildings. The plates not only show the elevation of these buildings, but also many floor plans. Some contain renderings of the layout of the formal gardens, too. 

Campbell was a disciple of Italian architect Andrea Palladio, founder of Palladian architecture movement, which began to sweep the British Isles in the 17th century. Campbell's book is also full of praise for British Architect Inigo Jones (1573-1652), citing Jones' Banqueting House (depicted in this volume) constructed in 1515 at Whitehall as "without dispute, the first room in the world." Not surprising, Jones was also a Palladian disciple. 
Many ducal seats are represented in Campbell's book, including ones for the Dukes of Argyle, Buckingham, Devonshire, Marlborough, Powis, and Queensbury. 

An interesting facet of the work is the list of subscribers, which was a common practice in Georgian publishing. The subscription list here is a veritable Who's Who of early Georgian times. Nearly every aristocratic family of the era is represented among the 300-plus names listed here. 

If I have a complaint about this invaluable resource it is that the manner in which Campbell presented the material is not user friendly. He gives all the property descriptions and dates completed at the very front of the book along with all the other descriptions--not connected to the relevant plates. Therefore, the reader must flip back and forth to read about the property. Another irritation is that there is no pagination or index, making searches difficult.

I am still delighted to add it to my collection of books on British homes.--Cheryl Bolen (More Articles at

Monday, March 24, 2014

Pistols and Duels

In Regency England, gentlemen could settle any disagreement with pistols, and might well be acquitted by a jury of any murder charge. Duels, and a lady's muff pistol, became key in my Regency romance, BarelyProper. The dueling information came from research, but the lady's muff pistol, complete with safety latch to prevent accidental shots, came courtesy of my uncle who collects flintlocks.

The notion of a duel of honor first appeared in England in the early 1600's. The duel between Sir George Wharton and Sir James Stewart was recorded in 1609. Prior to that time, an Englishman could settle slights and quarrels by hiring a gang of assassins to avenge any slight. Throughout the 1700's duels tended to be fought with swords. This was due, in part, to technology.

Hand guns date back to the late 1300's in Italy and appeared in England around 1375. These used gunpowder, a mixture of potassium nitrate, saltpeter, sulfur and charcoal. It would take another half century, however, for a mechanical device to appear to actually fire a hand gun.The standard flintlock gun came then came about in the early 1600's, and by 1690 flintlocks has become standard issue for the English army.

The flintlock had been developed in France as a more reliable improvement upon matchlocks and wheel locks. The principal was simple--a trigger released a lock that held a flint which would then strike a spark in the priming pan. This pan held a small amount of gunpowder. When ignited, it then would ignite the main gunpowder charge in the barrel, firing a lead ball.

In contrast, the match lock had used a "matchcord," a braided cord of hemp or flax soaked in a saltpeter and dried. The slow-burning matchcord would then be lit. Pulling the trigger caused the lit matchcord to be pressed onto the flashpan causing ignition.

The wheel lock improved on the matchlock with a system that worked rather like a cigarette lighter. Pulling the trigger caused a rough-edged steel wheel to strike a piece of pyrite held in a metal arm called a dog head.

Misfires with matchlock and wheel locks had been common. And the effort to reload consumed time. While flintlocks still loaded the main gunpowder charge and ball from the front, the only addition work was to then pour a little gunpowder into the flash pan.

Around the 1750's, the practice of carrying a small sword or dress sword also died out, and with the advances in gun making, pistols became the standard for duels. Dueling pistols developed into matched weapons with a nine or ten inch barrel. Most were smooth bore flintlocks.

However, pistols could be as individual as the maker, or the owner. Jean-Baptiste Gribeauval made a pistol for Napoleon Bonaparte around 1806 that had a twelve inch long barrel. And a set of dueling pistols made around 1815 by W. A Jones and given to Duke of Wellington by the East India Company boasted saw-handled butts, which made it easier to steady the pistols, as well as "figured half stocks, checkered grips, engraved silver and blued steel furnishings."

By the mid-1700's London was well-known for its excellent gunsmiths. George Washington patronized a London gunsmith named Hawkins. As with many of the pistols from this era it offers silver decoration.

In the late 1700's, and during the Regency, Joseph Manton became one of the best and most fashionable gunmakers. Manton's shooting gallery on Davis Street was where a gentleman went to practice before he might use one of Manton's pistols in a duel. And an apprentice of Manton's left in 1814 to strike out on his own with a business in Oxford Street. James Purdey's company is still renown for its shotguns.

Part of Manton's success came from his first patent, taken out in 1777. Manton went on to open his shop in 1793 and was soon known for shotguns and pistols. His fame came from guns that "were light, trim, well balanced, fast handling, and impeccably fit and finished. Stocks were slender and of fine English walnut with a hand rubbed oil finish."

In the early 1800's, a new development came along when a Scotsman named Forsyth patented the percussion lock. This did away with the flashpan and flint. Instead, an explosive cap was used, so that when the cap was struck by the pistol's hammer, the flames from the exploding fulminate of mercury in the cap move into the gun barrel and ignite the main charge of powder.

With the advent of the percussion cap, guns with revolving chambers became reliable weapons. The revolving principle for a gun had been around for as long as the invention itself. "...There were repeating matchlocks as early as 1550, some capable of firing as many as eight shots with multiple barrels, each fired by a separate flash pan and operated by a sliding trigger mechanism....Both French and Italian gun makers as early as 1650 had developed magazine-fed muskets."

The "pepperbox pistol" had between two to six barrels that revolved upon a central axis. Examples of such pistols that still exist include a double-barreled turn-over flintlock pistol, a six-shot flintlock had been made in France in the late 1700's, a three-shot Venetian pepperbox dates back to the mid 1500's, and Twigg of London had even made a 7-barrel flintlock pepperbox in 1790. A three- barrel design made by Lorenzo some time in the 1680's exists that carries the Medici Arms upon it.

However, the pepperbox pistol was notorious for the mechanism jamming. Or worse, all the charges in the barrels might be ignited at once time by a flint strike, resulting in the entire pistol discharging at once--or blowing up in your hand. The first accurate chambered weapons date from the latter part of the Regency, around 1810 to 1820.

Multiple shot pistols, however, were not allowed in any duel.

The elegant matched sets of pistols manufactured for a gentleman might boast silver filigree or gold inlay. Their balance was paramount, for a pistol that could not be easily held up at arm's length might mean an inaccurate aim and shot. Also, the "hair trigger" or a trigger that responded to the slightest touch could mean the difference in being the first to get off a shot.

In the 1800's duels might be fought for honor, as in the case of a duel fought in Hyde Park in March 1803 between two officers, and reported to have been held to avenge a sister's dishonor. Or it might be an absurd affair, as in the duel fought in London on April 6 that same year. This second affair involved Lieutenant-Colonel Montgomery of the 9th Regiment of Foot and Captain Macnamara of the Royal Navy, and was reported to have started when the two men, both riding in the park and each followed by a Newfoundland dog, had their dogs start to fight. This led Montgomery to exclaim, "Whose dog is that? I will knock him down." That set off an argument that resulted in a meeting at seven that evening near Primrose Hill.

Even the Duke of Wellington fought a duel. During the Peninsular War, Wellington had been known to frown on dueling among his officers. However, in 1829, Wellington's support of the Catholic Relief Bill angered the Earl of Winchilsea, who then made public a letter that disparaged the duke accusing him of having, "...insidious designs for the infringement of our liberties, and the introduction of Popery into every department of the state." Wellington pushed for reparations, and would be satisfied with nothing less than a meeting over pistols at Battersea Fields.

"At the word 'fire,' the Duke raised his pistol, but hesitated a moment, as he saw that Lord Winchilsea had kept his pistol pointed to the ground." Wellington then fired at random, as did the earl. The press did not approve and reported, "...all this wickedness was to be perpetrated -- merely because a noble lord, in a fit of anger, wrote a pettish letter....Truly it is no wonder that the multitude should break the law when we thus see the law-makers themselves, the great, the powerful, and the renowned, setting them at open defiance."

Illegal as they were, duels were numerous, and were often not prosecuted unless proven fatal.

In the duel between Macnamara and Montgomery fought over their dogs, both were wounded, Montgomery fatally so. Macnamara recovered and was tried for murder, and his arguments for his motives being that of "proper feelings of a gentleman" carried enough weight that the jury returned a not-guilty verdict, even though the judge asked them to find Macnamara guilty of manslaughter.

Times and sentiment changed, however and in 1838 when a Mr. Eliot shot and killed a Mr. Mirfin in a duel, the jury returned a verdict of willful murder. The trial smacked of class prejudice, for in 1841 when Lord Cardigan was tried in the by his peers in the House of Lords for dueling, he was found not guilty.

By 1843, an Anti-Dueling Association had been formed and by 1844, Queen Victoria was discussing with Sir Robert Peel how to restrict duels in the army by "repealing an article of the Mutiny Act, which cashiered officers for not redeeming their honor by duel."
The Regency by then had long passed, and so had the era of pistols for two at dawn to settle affairs of honor, and so had the art of the elegant and deadly dueling pistol.

Friday, March 21, 2014

A Regency Pirate by guest blogger Regan Walker

A Regency Pirate
 by Regan Walker

With the end of the War of 1812 and the Napoleonic wars in 1815, an unprecedented wave of piracy swept the American seaboard and the Caribbean when some of the hundreds of captains who were privateers in the wars, now with free time on their hands, began preying upon the growing numbers of merchant vessels. Although some of these pirates, like Jean Laffite, were American, many came from farther south and Latin America.
 Roberto Cofresí was one of them. Born on June 17, 1791 in Cabo Rojo, Puerto Rico as Roberto Cofresí y Ramírez de Arellano, he became Puerto Rico's most famous pirate, better known as El Pirata Cofresí.” Cofresí's father is believed to have been Austrian, Franz Von Kupferschein, who changed his surname to Cofresí because it was easier for the people of Puerto Rico to pronounce. Just as I have portrayed him in my latest novel, Wind Raven, Cofresí was a tall, blond hunk with piercing blue eyes, and he wore dangling silver and diamond earrings any woman would covet.
Surprisingly, Cofresí was educated at a private school under Professor Don Ignacio Venero. He learned catechism and geography (his favorite subject), as well as literature and arithmetic. In his book “Cofresí, Historia y Genealogia de un Pirata,” Enriquez Ramirez Brau writes that at an early age, Cofresí sailed the waters of Mona Passage against the advice of his older brothers who discouraged his maritime adventures.
There are many legends about why Cofresí turned to piracy. Some believe it was his desire for independence from the Spanish regime (he is remembered as sometimes giving his prize ships to Simon Bolivar to help the cause of independence in Venezuela and Latin America). Some say Cofresí’s sister was raped by a group of sailors and others say he was slapped in the face by an English captain. Perhaps it was for all those reasons. In my novel, he has motivation enough. 
Cofresí began attacking ships in 1818, when he was twenty-seven, going after any merchant ships sailing under flags other than Royal Spain. His first ship was named El Mosquito. Wielding his hatchet, Cofresí would be the first to jump aboard the ships he seized. His audacity, commanding voice and his own acts encouraged his men, who followed him blindly. Later, he sailed a fast schooner named the Ana after his wife, Juana Creitoff. (In my story his ship is called the Retribución.) 
In response to his acts of piracy, Spain looked the other way, even encouraging his piracy against other nations—at least until 1824, when Captain John Slout of the U.S. Navy, aboard his schooner the USS Grampus, engaged Cofresí in a fierce battle. Cofresí was captured and bowing to pressure from its allies, Spain executed him. Cofresí’s wife died a year later, leaving their 5-year-old daughter Maria an orphan. 
Cofresí was famous for his generosity, sharing his booty with the poor so that he became a kind of Puerto Rican Robin Hood, idolized and admired by the people. The Puerto Ricans protected him and he had a network of spies who worked for him as well. In Ponce, it was a rural schoolteacher; in Mayaguez, a canteen waitress; and in Arecibo, the parish priest informed him of the civil guard and military activities. 
For all his piracy, Cofresí was kind to women, children and the elderly. It was said that after the boarding of one ship, he severely punished his crew for not showing proper respect for the old and the women and children on board. He was known for saving young ones taken from a prize ship to give them into the care of Catholic priests with money for their room and board. 
Contrasted with this, other writers say he was merciless and arrogant and never took prisoners. According to these reports, he scuttled the ships he seized and killed the crews or let them drown. Some even say he nailed hostages to the deck of El Mosquito, and he once captured a Danish ship and killed all aboard. (A scene in my story is based on this, though I have him attacking an English ship.) 
Some biographers have said he was a revolutionary, a patriot and a pioneer of Puerto Rico’s independence movement. Perhaps it is so for he flew the flag of the Free Republic of Puerto Rico, not that of Spain’s. 
Today there is a monument to Cofresí in Boquerón Bay in Cabo Rojo, and the town of Cofresí west of Puerto Plata in the Dominican Republic is named after him. Many poems, songs and books have been written about him for he is now consigned to legend.
Author Francisco Ortea wrote of Cofresí, “For his boldness and courage, he was worthy of a better occupation and fate.” Alas, I do agree. 

I hope you enjoy my pirate romance and that Wind Raven does justice to this legendary pirate.

Regan’s website:
Twitter: @RegansReview (