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Friday, December 26, 2014

Princesses: the 6 Daughters of George III

Princesses: The Six Daughters of George III
Flora Fraser
Anchor Books, 2006
478 pages; $16.95

Review © Cheryl Bolen

In the century and half since the last princess died, no one has ever before had the fortitude to chronicle the lives of the six daughters of George III (1738-1820) and his wife Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (1744-1818). Until Flora Fraser.

One of England’s premier biographers of the late Georgian era, Fraser (Beloved Emma) first became acquainted with the princesses when doing archival research for her biography (Unruly Queen) of their sister-in-law, the Prince Regent’s wife.

"Given other circumstances, the letters of these six royal sisters might have been filled only with Court gossip, pomp and fashion," Fraser writes. "Instead their correspondence makes harrowing reading, revealing the humility with which they met pain and horror, the tenacity with which they pursued their individual dreams, and the stratagems they devised to endure years of submission and indignity."

The circumstances which catapulted their lives onto a sorrowful trajectory, of course, were the intermittent bouts of the king’s insanity which terminated in a nine-year regency after he was declared incompetent to rule.
King George III

His first occurrence of the illness was in 1788; it was another 23 years before the regency became official. Sadly, it was during those years the princesses came of age, only to be denied the opportunities for gaiety and marriage. The king’s illness turned a concerned mother into a domineering tyrant who deprived the princesses of any hopes for happiness.

During those years, the princesses were forced to forgo personal pleasures or aspirations for matrimony for fear it would incite another relapse in the father who was so excessively fond of his daughters.

To a one, all the princesses wished to marry, to have their own homes, to have children. Most of them would be denied these simple pleasures.

The king himself said in 1805 — when the Princess Royal was 39 and the youngest princess, Amelia, 22 — "I cannot deny that I have never wished to see any of them marry: I am happy in their company, and do not in the least want a separation."

When he spoke those words, "Royal," as the eldest sister was always called, was the only sister to have married. Her father had refused many offers for her hand, a fact that embittered her. She finally succeeded in marrying a widower, the Hereditary Prince of Wuttemberg, when she was thirty.

She was thrilled to escape "The Nunnery," a title the princesses themselves dubbed their residences at Kew Palace and Windsor Castle. She never regretted the decision to marry. While she never bore a live child, she was an indulgent mother and grandmother to her step-children and may have been the happiest of the sisters.
Princess Sophia

None of the sisters would ever become a mother, though the fourth princess, Sophia (1777-1848), gave birth secretly to an illegitimate child sired by her father’s equerry, who was more than thirty years older than she. She never married.

Amelia died of tuberculosis at the age of twenty-seven, which many think contributed to her father’s final fall into hopeless insanity. Even on her deathbed, her family would not allow Amelia to marry the young officer she had been in love with for eight years.

Her sister, Princess Augusta (1768-1840), also fell in love with a military man, Gen. Sir Brent Spencer. When she was 43 she wrote a letter to the regent that begged to be allowed to marry the man who had shared her "mutual affection" for twelve years. Request refused, she died a spinster.

Princess Mary had more luck. She demanded the regent allow her to wed her cousin, the Duke of Gloucester, whose father was her father’s brother. The regent reluctantly agreed. At age forty, she finally married. While it is doubtful she was in love with her husband, she relished the first liberty she had ever tasted.

The sister who had most wanted to marry and had dreamed of bearing a child, Princess Elizabeth, finally was granted one of her wishes. At age forty-eight and well past child-bearing years, she married the Landgrave of Hesse-Homburg and had a happy marriage for eleven years.

Fraser’s research is meticulous, right down to the names of the royal wet nurses and the salary paid to them. Almost all of the research is original, delving into letters in collections, archives, and libraries across the globe, a feat that had to have taken several years.

For the casual reader, there are a few problems. First, it is difficult to chronicle six lives at once chronologically. We get a snippet of one sister, but the narrative thread drops while there is an awkward transition to another sister because of chronological constraints. Therefore, the book makes for dry reading and lacks dramatic structure.

For the historian, this work is a gem.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Regency comedy GOOSED! OR A FOWL CHRISTMAS is Here!

Goosed! or A Fowl Christmas, the first in my Regency The Feather Fables series, is now available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, Kobo and Apple.


The Feather Fables--where birds twitter and chirp and bring romance.

Ah, Christmas, what a glorious season. Decorations, friends, good will to all, a time of magic and miracles.

But not for Miss Julia Shaw. She is new to the area, her farm desperately needs upkeep, and the pittance she earns from her artwork doesn’t pay the bills. And then her pet goose escapes. Making matters worse, when she first meets the devastatingly attractive Lord Tyndall, the abominable man insults her as he returns her goose. No peace and good will for her this Christmas.

Exhausted from a year of business travel, Robert, Baron Tyndall, returns to London only to fall prey to his mother’s matchmaking attempts. Escaping to his country estate, he finds solace with the birds in his aviary. Except that a plague of a goose that belongs to his new neighbor, Miss Shaw, has somehow entered his aviary and wreaked havoc. That disagreeable lady had better keep her misbegotten bird to herself. Too bad she is so lovely. What a horrendous Christmas this season has become.

But even in the blackest depths, a spark of light can glimmer. For at this wondrous time of Christmas, miracles and magic can and do happen.

A sweet, traditional Regency romance with fantasy elements. 61,000 words.

What was that infernal din? Catching up her shawl, Julia dashed down the stairs and then out through the front door. Winding her shawl around her, she rounded the house and almost slammed into an unfamiliar gig.

The vehicle blocked her view of the goose pen, from which the honking emanated. But no one was there—her pet goose had run off. She ran around the conveyance and stopped dead.

Her pet had returned! Flapping, honking and biting, the flying goose—He could fly? She had never before seen him do so—attacked a large, stylishly dressed gentleman.

The man, his arms high to protect his head, flailed at the goose. His back was to her, his upended hat lay in the dirt and white feathers covered his black greatcoat. He swore. Loudly.

Julia’s ears burned. “Do not hurt my goose, sir!”

The man batted at the goose again and turned toward her.

Julia gasped. He was the man on the road a few days ago. His dark eyes blazed, his brown hair was mussed, and his sharp cheekbones had flushed from the effort of warding off the goose.

Her pulse raced. He had looked handsome at a distance. Up close, he was magnificent. Tingles raced over her skin.

“This spawn of Satan is your property, madam?” He jerked his head back from the goose’s open bill as the bird dove in for a bite.

“He is, sir, and you will not harm him!” She jumped between the man and the goose.

The goose, breathing heavily, plopped to the ground. Eyes afire, he angled his head around her. He hissed at the man.

“Gracious, what is the matter?” She stroked the goose’s head.

The bird went limp, as if he had been pumped full of air and all the gas suddenly escaped.

She tipped her head back to glare up at the man. Good gracious, he was tall. “He has never acted this way before. What have you done to him?”

The man’s jaw dropped. “I? This feathered blackguard has tried to bite me ever since I saw him. And just now he attacked me.” He scowled at the goose. “If he is your property, you are welcome to him.”

Available at

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Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Thank you all,
Linda Banche

Welcome to My world of Historical Hilarity!

Friday, December 19, 2014

The Origin of Hanging Stockings at Christmas

The origin of hanging stockings by the fire for Santa Claus, or St. Nicholas, to fill is difficult to pinpoint. Like so many traditions, the true origin can be traced back to more than one source, all based on folklore and legend with so many variations, we may never know how it all really started. But there are some fun stories.

Possibly as far back as the Third Century A.D., there was a happy family whose father was either a nobleman or a merchant, depending on who tells the story. Anyway, the mother of this family died, leaving the father so distraught that he absentmindedly made some poor investments which ultimately led to the family's ruin. The family had to leave their comfortable home and move to a humble cottage where his three daughters (have you noticed three seems to be a preferred number for stories?) took over all the cooking, cleaning, laundry, and other household chores. The father worried his daughters would never marry well without a dowry to offer a new husband. This painted a bleak picture of their futures.

Into this sad tales steps a kindly bishop named Nicholas. He had a particular sympathy for the downtrodden and a pure love toward children. Nicholas had been traveling, teaching people about God and bringing hope, and sometimes gifts of food or money, to those who needed them. Nicholas stumbled upon the plight of this man and his daughters and was moved by compassion. According to some accounts, Nicholas waited until the family slept, slipped down the chimney, and placed a bag of coins on the fireplace mantle. As Nicholas climbed back up the chimney, the bag of coins tipped over, rolled off the mantle and fell into one of the stockings that the daughters had left along with other laundry drying by the fireplace. In the morning, when the family arose, they found the bag of coins. They rejoiced, for now they had enough money for the eldest daughter's dowry. She promised to marry a good man and take care of her father in his old age.

Duringt this time, Nicholas covertly peeked into the window. When he saw the joy and hope he'd brought to the family, he returned the following night, bringing another bag of coins. This second bag of coins provided a dowry for the second daughter.

The third night, the father, suspecting their unknown benefactor would return again, waited up for him. When Nicholas arrived with the third bag of coins, the father fell down at the feet of the bishop and thanked him for his generosity. This bishop later became sainted for this and many other acts of charity. We know him today as Saint Nicholas.

Some accounts say Nicholas came in through the door instead of down the chimney; others say he tossed the coins in through the window, either with accurate enough aim for the coins to land in one of the hanging stockings, or with bad enough aim that they fell off the mantle, which was his original target, and into a stocking. The stories also vary in that some claim he visited the family only once and others that he came three times. It is also suggested that the bag of coins was actually a large golden ball. This may have prompted the custom of children getting oranges in their stockings, in remembrance of that golden ball, or perhaps of the ball-shaped bag of coins.

In Norse folklore, a god named Odin, who rode a mighty horse named Sleipnir, visited children's houses on Christmas Eve. If the children left their boots filled with hay, sugar, or carrots for Sleipnir, Odin left candy and gifts for the children to thank them.

The Dutch have a similar tradition. As far back as 16th Century Holland, Sinterklaas arrived by ship and rode a white horse (or a reindeer, again depending on who you believe). The children left a treat for him near the hearth and placed their shoes called clogs by the fireplace filled with hay and carrots for his horse (or reindeer). Sinterklaas left treats in the children's shoes.

Eventually, legends and customs merged, changing the custom of hanging stockings instead of boots or shoes.

In the famous poem " 'Twas the Night Before Christmas" the Christmas stocking is mentioned twice. Near the very beginning of the poem, it says, “The stockings were hung by the chimney with care” and, again, near the end: “He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work, And filled all the stockings then turned with a jerk."

So this Christmas, when you hang your stockings, spare a thought for a kindly bishop who helped those in need.

In my short Christmas story, there aren't stockings or gifts under a tree, but two lovers torn apart by war and heartache, get the best gift ever...a second chance.

A CHRISTMAS REUNION, the Gift of a Second Chance, pictured to the left, is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, The Wild Rose Press, and everywhere digital books are sold.

Or, if you're in the mood for a collection of short historical stories, all by different authors including yours truly, and which take place during the winter (some take place during Christmas), try A TIMELESS ROMANCE ANTHOLOGY: Winter Collection pictured to the right. In my short romantic tale,  A Winter’s Knight  a young lady’s fascination with a murdering earl and his dark castle lands her in the heart of an ancient and terrible  secret.  It  will  take  more  than a Christmas kiss underneath the mistletoe to break the curse and find a happily ever after.This collection is available in both print and ebook on Amazon.

Friday, December 5, 2014

The Glass Armonica

Although Benjamin Franklin was an American and therefore not part of my usual Regency geekiness, I have to admire his brilliance.  Every few years I learn of another invention of his. This time, I discovered that he invented an unusual musical instrument called the "glass armonica." No, it's nothing like a harmonica--it's more like playing wine glasses with a wet finger, only these glasses are on their sides, all attached, and the glass does the spinning.

According to Franklin originally named his invention the 'glassychord', but changed it to "armonica" after the Italian word for harmony.  The Armonica hit the musical scene in London in 1762, launched a tour of Europe, and captured the interest of both Mozart and Beethoven who wrote pieces to be played on this unusual glass instrument.

Below is a fascinating YouTube video of "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy" on the Glass Armonica played by William Zeitler who is one of few musicians who have mastered playing this unusual instrument. It love the magical, almost ethereal notes of the glass armonica and hope you find this a fitting way to kick off a magical Christmas Season.

BTW, if you're in the mood for a short historical romance and you like the sweeter side of romance, check out my brand new short story A Christmas Reunion, the Gift of a Second Chance for only $.99, available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and directly from my publisher, The Wild Rose Press.