Sunday, February 28, 2010

Sunday Historical Etsy Find

I spend way too much time looking around on Etsy for fun, beautiful items, so I decided to I should share the time-wasteage! Every Sunday I'll post a favorite find of the week...

Austen Box (this store, Just Be Designs, has lots of lovely items, including an Anne Boleyn charm bracelet I covet...)

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Heroine of the Weekend

Happy Saturday, everyone! We wrap up our February of Irish heroines with a look at the actress Margaret "Peg" Woffington, born around 1720 in Dublin. Her early life is somewhat obscure, though her father was thought to be a bricklayer whose death left the family penniless, with only the money her mother could make as a laundress while Peg sold watercress in the streets.

About the age of 10 she became the "apprentice" of an Italian rope dancer named Violante, and found she had an aptitude for performance. She soon found a role as Polly in a "Lilliputian" production of The Beggar's Opera and her career was launched. Dublin was big theater city in the Georgian era--its residents loved to attend performances of all sorts, and there was much opportunity for actors and actresses in its many venues. Peg took on jobs there until about 1740, when her big hit as Sir Harry Wildair in The Constant Couple led to a job at London's Covent Garden. She later moved over to Drury Lane where she appeared for several years as one of their big stars (her biggest hit there was as Sylvia in The Recruiting Officer). Her career then took her back to Dublin.

Her best roles were comedic (she was said to have haf little aptitude for Sarah Siddons-style tragedy), breeches roles and ladies of fashion. She was also famous for her great beauty and bold lifestyle. She lived openly for many years with the famous actor David Garrick, and also enjoyed liaisons with men like the Earl of Darnley and the MP Charles Williams, which were the "talk of the town" and very scandalous! She was also friends and a sort of mentor to the notorious Gunning sisters (actresses and courtesans who went on to marry very highly), and a rival to Kitty Clive. She was president, and the only female member, of Sheridan's famous Beefsteak Club in Dublin. All this while looking after her mother and sister Mary.

She and Garrick split in the 1740s for mysterious reasons, and she took a house in Teddington which she kept until her death. On May 3, 1757, while onstage as Rosalind in As You Like It, she collapsed of an apparent stroke. She was mostly bedridden after that, dying on March 26, 1760 at her home in Teddington and was buried there at the church of St. Mary's.

A couple good sources on her life are:
Janet Camden Lucey, Lovely Peggy: The Life and Times of Margaret Woffington
Janet Dunbar, Peg Woffington and Her World

Friday, February 26, 2010

Portrait Friday

Today's portrait--Archduchess Marie Amalia of Austria, Duchess of Parma, who was born on this day in 1746

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


Today marks the anniversary of the death of John Keats in 1821. Keats is my favorite of the Romantic poets (and I loved the movie Bright Star last year), and it's hard to pick just one poem for the blog. Here is his La Belle Dame Sans Merci, published in 1820:

Ah, what can ail thee, wretched wight,
Alone and palely loitering;
The sedge is wither'd from the lake,
And no birds sing.

Ah, what can ail thee, wretched wight,
So haggard and so woe-begone?
The squirrel's granary is full,
And the harvest's done.

I see a lily on thy brow,
With anguish moist and fever dew;
And on thy cheek a fading rose
Fast withereth too.

I met a lady in the meads
Full beautiful, a faery's child;
Her hair was long, her foot was light,
And her eyes were wild.

I set her on my pacing steed,
And nothing else saw all day long;
For sideways would she lean, and sing
A faery's song.

I made a garland for her head,
And bracelets too, and fragrant zone;
She look'd at me as she did love,
And made sweet moan.

She found me roots of relish sweet,
And honey wild, and manna dew;
And sure in language strange she said,
I love thee true.

She took me to her elfin grot,
And there she gaz'd and sighed deep,
And there I shut her wild sad eyes--
So kiss'd to sleep.

And there we slumber'd on the moss,
And there I dream'd, ah woe betide,
The latest dream I ever dream'd
On the cold hill side.

I saw pale kings, and princes too,
Pale warriors, death-pale were they all;
Who cry'd--"La belle Dame sans merci
Hath thee in thrall!"

I saw their starv'd lips in the gloam
With horrid warning gaped wide,
And I awoke, and found me here
On the cold hill side.

And this is why I sojourn here
Alone and palely loitering,
Though the sedge is wither'd from the lake,
And no birds sing.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Heroine of the Weekend

We continue our February of Irish heroines with a look at Margaret King Moore, Countess of Mount Cashell (later known as Mrs. Mason), who was a big inspiration when I was working on Countess of Scandal. She was born in 1771 to one of the most privileged families in Ireland, the 2nd of 12 children of Robert King, Earl of Kingston, and his wife Caroline Fitzgerald, who was the greatest heiress in Ireland. She and her siblings seldom saw her parents (who disliked each other, but were immensely social and loved to travel), and were mostly raised by servants, doctors, and a succession of governesses (in later life, Margaret turned against this sort of upbringing for her own children and became an advocate for a more naturalistic style). Her relationship with her parents was not helped by the fact that she grew into a tall, awkward girl, uninterested in fashion and society, very different from what her mother expected of her daughters.

This awkwardness, which would be a liability in the marriage market, prompted Caroline in 1786 to look for a new governess, a woman of discipline and strong morals, who could get Margaret into proper shape. A friend recommended Mary Wollstonecraft. In retrospect this is a strange choice for the conservative Caroline--Wollstonecraft encouraged Margaret and her sisters to seek out education and abandon the elite way of thinking of their parents, believing children should be treated kindly and with a regard for their onw unique styles and ideas (ideas outlined in her 1788 book Original Stories from Real Life). She was only Margaret's governess for a year, but later Margaret wrote she "felt an unbounded admiration because her mind appeared more noble and her understanding more cultivated than any other I have known." Wollstonecraft was dismissed after arguments between her and Caroline escalated, but Margaret and Wollstonecraft kept up a correspondence for a long time after, and her influence was felt for the rest of Margaret's eventful life. (When Wollstonecraft's daughter Mary Shelley was traveling in Italy with her husband in 1819, she stayed with Margaret in Pisa)

At age 19, Margaret bowed to her family's wishes and married Stephen Moore, Earl of Mount Cashell. They were very unhappy together, with incompatible temperments and ambitions, though they had 7 children together. Margaret raised them according to her own ideas, nursing and looking after them herself, and they all grew into healthy adulthood. She found consolation in her children, in her writing, and during the 1798 Uprising she became active in Irish politics, supporting the United Irishmen, writing pamphlets demanding Irish freedom from British rule and Catholic emancipation (despite her privileged position). After the failure of the Uprising, she and her family set off on Continental travels, though this only served to show her more of the world and further drive her apart from her husband. She also met a man named George William Tighe in Rome and fell in love.

In 1805, Margaret and her husband separated in 1805, and she was left in Germany with Tighe and her youngest daughter Elizabeth (who was still nursing). She was forced to give up her children (even, later, Elizabeth) and did not see them again, though she went on to have 2 daughters with Tighe (Laurette and Nerina). She and the earl were legally separated in 1812, and when he died in 1822 she and Tighe were married. She called herself "Mrs. Mason" (after a character in Original Stories) and went on to write her own book of tales for children, Stories of Old Daniel: or Tales of Wonder and Delight, a volume of Advice to Young Mothers on the Physical Education of Children, as well translating medical treatises from German. She started, but never finished, an epic historical novel about Ireland. She attended lectures at a medical school while living in Jena (disguised as a man), and spent the rest of her life acting as a physician and pharmacist to the poor around her and her own family. They ended up living in Pisa, where the warmer climate was considered better for her health. She and Tighe eventually lived in separate households, but were friends and companions for the rest of their lives.

Margaret died in Pisa in 1835, an independent spirit to the end.

Some sources for Margaret King's eventful life include:

Edwin McAleer, The Sensitive Plant: A Life of Lady Mount Cashell (the title is taken from the poem by Shelley, dedicated to her)
Janet Todd, Daughters of Ireland: The Rebellious Kingsborough Sisters and the Making of a Modern Nation

Friday, February 19, 2010

Portrait Friday

Adelina Patti by James Sant, ca. 1886 (today is Patti's birthday, in 1843)

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Things I Love Thursday

I love perfumes, but it's been a while since I've found a new one to love! (So many of the new ones I try smell too much like a fruit salad, so I just go back to my old stand-bys, like Coco Mademoiselle! Though I'm looking forward to warmer weather when I can go back to using my bottle of DSH's Eau de Trianon every day). I was so happy to see this review of Balenciaga Paris at the Now Smell This blog.

I've been looking forward to this one because: 1) The name, of course! I'm a sucker for anything with "Paris" in the title (though I couldn't bring myself to try YSL Parisienne because Kate Moss is the spokesmodel...) 2) It's a violet chypre. I love violets (one of my favorite perfumes is Guerlain's Apres L'Ondee) 3) And because Charlotte Gainsbourg is the spokesmodel! I have such a girl-crush on her (shallow, I know). I finally got to do a sniff last weekend, and it smells wonderful. Not too heavy, not too fruity-sweet, modern but classic. As the review says, it's "quietly elegant," "modern and grown-up." And it smells "French" to me, perfect for a bike ride along the boulevards and dinner at a little neighborhood bistro. I will definitely be buying a bottle. Yay for new finds!

What are your favorite perfumes??

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

William Boyce

Yesterday, February 16, marked the anniversary of the death of composer William Boyce (in 1779). Not often performed today, in his lifetime he was organist of the Chapel Royal and Master of the Kings' Musick, one of the most influential British composers of the 18th century. Here is his Overture to Peleus and Thetis

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Happy Mardi Gras!

Today is Mardi Gras, yippee! Even if you're not in New Orleans, cook up some red beans and rice, mix some Hurricanes, and listen to some music (I just bought this new CD from Preservation Hall)...

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Heroine of the Weekend

This week we continue with our look at Irish heroines (to celebrate the release of Countess of Scandal!) with Constance, Countess Markiewicz, politician, revolutionary, Irish nationalist, and suffragist (and also the first woman in Europe to hold a cabinet position, as Minister of Labour of the Irish Republic from 1919 to 1922. She was also the first woman elected to the British House of Commons, though she did not take her seat).

She was born Constance Gore-Booth in London on February 4, 1868, daughter of the Arctic explorer Sir Henry Gore-Booth and his wife Georgina, who were also landowners in Ireland, at the estate of Lissadell in County Sligo. WB Yeats was a childhood friend of Constance and her sister Eva, and they were the subjects of his poem In Memory of Eva Gore-Booth and Con Markievicz ("two girls in silk kimonos, both beautiful, one a gazelle"). In 1892 she went to study art at the Slade School in London, where she first became interested in political activisim, joining the National Union of Women's Suffrage Society. When she moved to Paris, she met her husband, Kazimierz Dunin-Markiewicz, a Ukrainian count. His first wife died in 1899, and he and Constance were married in 1901, with their daughter Maeve being born at Lissadell (the girl was raised by her grandparents and was later estranged from her mother). Constance also raised her husband's son, Nicolas, who returned to Poland as an adult.

The new family settled in Dublin to enjoy the artistic and literary circles of the city, with Constance gaining a reputation as a landscape painter and a founder of the United Artists Club. She also became involved with the Gaelic League (founded by future first president of Ireland, Douglas Hyde), a group dedicated to the preservation of Irish language and culture and also a magnet for those interested in nationalist politics. One of the members was Sarah Purser, who held a salon for artists and intellectuals where Constance met revolutionaries like Maud Gonne, John O'Leary, and Michael Davitt. In 1906, a holiday cottage was rented where the previous tenant, poet Padriac Colum, left behind copies of Sinn Fein and The Peasant, which she read and was launched into action.

In 1908, she joined Sinn Fein and Inghinidhe na hEireann (Daughters of Ireland), founded by Maud Gonne. When Constance arrived at her first meeting straight from a ball at Dublin Castle (seat of British rule in Dublin) in a gown and tiara, she was looked on with a bit of suspicion, which only seemed to make her more eager to join! She became ever more active in the suffragist cause, along with her sister. In 1909 she founded an organisation to instruct young men in the use of firearms, Fianna Eireann, and was jailed for the first time in 1911 for speaking at an Irish Republican Brotherhood gathering of nearly 30,000 to protest the visit of the king to Ireland. She founded a soup kitchen to feed poor school children, and organized meals for demonstrating workers.

In 1913, her husband moved back to Ukraine and never returned to live in Ireland, though they were never completely estranged. In 1916, she found herself at the center of the Easter Rising, holding the rank of officer in the ICA as second in command to Michael Mallin at St. Stephen's Green. She supervised the setting up of barricades and was in the middle of the fighting, wounding a sniper who fired at them from the rooftops of adjacent tall buildings. After the retreat to the nearby Royal College of Surgeons, she and Mallin held out for 6 days. They were taken to Dublin Castle, and Constance was then transferred to Kilmainham Gaol where she was held in solitary confinement. At her trial she declared "I did what was right and I stand by it." She was sentenced to death, but the sentence was commuted to life in prison. She was released in 1917 when a general amnesty was declared for those who participated in the Rising.

In less than a year she was back in jail for anti-conscription activities. In the 1918 general election she was elected for the constiuency of Dublin St. Patrick's to the House of Commons, but in life with the other 73 Sinn Fein MPs would not take her seat. She was in prison when her colleagues assembled for the first meeting of Dail Eireann, the Parliament of the Irish Republic, where she was described as being "imprisoned by the foreign enemy." She was re-elected to the Seond Dail in 1921 and served as Minister for Labour from April 1919 to January 1922.

She left the government in 1922 in opposition to the Anglo-Irish Treaty, and fought for her cause in the Irish Civil War, defending Moran's Hotel in Dublin. This led to more jail time, though she was released after only about a month and returned to politics. She died on July 15, 1927, possibly of tuberculosis, with her family reunited at her side. She was buried in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin, with Eamon de Valera giving the funeral oration.

This is only the tip of the iceberg with this event-filled life! There are lots of great sources, including:
Anne Marreco, The Rebel Countess: The Life and Times of Constance Markievicz (1967)
Diane Norman, Terrible Beauty: A Life of Constance Markievicz, 1868-1927 (1987)
Anne Haverty, Constance Markievicz: Irish Revolutionary (1993)
Joe McGowan, Constance Markievicz: The People's Countess (2003)

Friday, February 12, 2010

Portrait Friday, Lady Jane Grey

Today marks the sad anniversary of the death of Lady Jane Grey, in 1554. If you're in England, the National Gallery is having an intriguing-looking exhibit, Painting History: Delaroche and Lady Jane Grey. (And there's an account of the execution here)

Thursday, February 11, 2010

One more review!

A nice Countess review today (thanks to Julia Justiss for sending me the link!), at All About Romance!

Busy History Week

So, this week is a busy one for historical anniversaries! First we have the sad ends of two Tudor women. The execution of Mary Queen of Scots in 1554 (February 8):

The execution of Catherine Howard on February 13, 1542:

And a happy anniversary, the wedding of Victoria and Albert on February 10, 1844!

(Funnily, the same actress, Emily Blunt, has played both Victoria and Catherine...)

And February 12 marks the execution of Lady Jane Grey--more about her tomorrow for Portrait Friday!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

What I'm Reading Now

A charming memoir about an American historian's romance and new marriage in France--with recipes that make me hungry (and make me want to visit Paris again asap!). I need a French boyfriend, and some of those almond cakes with raspberry...

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Elisabetta de Gambarini

Today marks the day composer Elisabetta de Gambarini died in 1765. Born in London to an Italian father in 1731, she became well-known as a composer, singer (especially as the soprano in the debut of Handel's oratorio Judas Maccabeus in 1747), organist, and harpsichordist. She published 2 volumes of works for harpsichord works in 1748 (including this one from YouTube):

Monday, February 08, 2010

Another giveaway!

And we have another review and giveaway of Countess of Scandal here! I love it that the reviewer likes Eliza, a "strong heroine" :)

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Big Sunday!

You all know what today is--Puppy Bowl! (I know, there's another game on, too, but for me it's all about the Puppy Bowl on Animal Planet. And about the buffalo wings and guacamole)

And for your Bowl party (either Super or Puppy), here are a couple interesting cocktail ideas (easy, too, because who wants to work hard at a Bowl game?):

The Pregame (because the pregame show starts hours before the game--you need something to keep you busy!)
2 oz. gin
Top off with Ruby Pomegranate Juice
A dash of orange bitters
A lime
Run the lime around the rim of a lowball or juice glass and press into a plate of salt. Fill with ice, pour in the ingredients and gently stir. (Or you can mix up a pitcher of this simply by filling a pitcher with ice, adding gin 1/3 of the way up and topping it off with the juice. Plenty for everyone! Add the orange bitters to taste, plant yourself on the couch, and enjoy)

The Sideline
2 oz. Apple Cognac
1.5 oz. Ginger Liqueur
1 oz. lemon juice
Run a lime or lemon wedge around the edge of a martini glass and press into a bowl of sugar (I like a chilled glass, too!) Fill a shaker with ice and ingredients, shake well, strain the cocktail into your glass.

(And there's the delicious-sounding Who Dat Cocktail...)

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Heroine of the Weekend, Mythology Edition

This month, to celebrate the release of my Irish-set Countess of Scandal, we're going to look at 4 Irish heroines, one each weekend! It's hard to narrow them down. We'll start with a mythological figure--Queen Maeve of Connacht, from the Ulster Cycle.

Maeve had several husbands, but the one she's with in most of the Cycle is called Ailill mac Mata, and one of her former husbands, Conchobar mac Nessa, is king of Ulster and now her mortal enemy (the best known of the tales is the Tain Bo Cuailinge, The Cattle Raid of Cooley, where she attempts to steal away Ulster's prized white bull...)

"The Battle of Boyne" tells the tale of how Maeve came to power in Connacht and married Ailill, and it's a pretty complicated one (as all Celtic mythology is). Before this marriage, her father, the High King of Ireland, married her to Conchobar because he had killed Conchobar's supposed father in battle. She had a son with him, named Glaisne, but she was unhappy with him and left. Her father then deposed the king of Connacht, Tinni, and set Maeve on the throne, but she and Tinni became lovers and he thus regained part-control of his kingdom, but then Conchobar killed Tinni in combat after Conchobar raped Maeve. She then married Eochaid Dala of the Fir Domnann, demanding 3 things of him--that he be without fear, meanness, or jealousy. He let her down on that last point, though, challenging her lover Ailill mac Mata, chief of her bodyguard, to a duel. The husband lost, and the lover became the new husband and king. (Got all that?)

They had 7 sons, all called "Maine", just to make this story even more confusing. (Actually, they originally had other names, until a druid told Maeve her son "Maine" would be the one to kill Conchobar, and since that was something she really wanted she changed their names, just to make sure one of them would do it. But the one who did kill Conchobar, killed the wrong one. Oops). They also had a daughter, Findabair.

In "The Cattle Raid of Cooley," Maeve started out by insisting she always be equal in wealth with her husband, and wasn't happy when she found Ailill had one studd bull more than her. She found that the only better bull around was named Finnbennach, owned by a vassal of Conchobar's. She sent messengers, offering money, land, sex, whatever in exchange for the bull, but the owner refused and Maeve made preparations for war. She raised an army from all over Ireland, including a battalion of exiles from Ulster led by Conchobar's estranged son Cormac and his foster father Fergus, former king of Ulster himself and one of Maeve's ex-lovers (of course).

Because of a curse on the men from Ulster, the invasion was opposed by one man, the young hero of Ulster Cuchulainn, who held up the army's progress by demanding single combat at river fords. Maeve offered her daughter Findabair in marriage to a series of men as payment for fighting Cuchulainn, but all of them were defeated. Maeve nevertheless managed to secure the bull, but after one last battle with Cuchulainn's army she was forced to retreat. And the bull was no great prize--it fought Ailill's bull, killing him and then dying of his wounds. Sounds like the bulls took after their owners. (Ailill was later killed after being caught by Maeve in an affair, and Maeve herself was killed by the son of a woman she had killed for having an affair with--someone). According to legend she's buried in a 40-foot high stone cairn on the summit of Knocknarea in County Sligo, upright facing her enemies in Ulster.

I do like stories where the women get to fight, have affairs, and kick ass just like the men...

"How is this, O Cualnge's Hound
Hero of the Red Branch, thou;
Great woe, Champion, has thou borne
Battling in thy land's defense!

Every morn a hundred slain,
Every eve a hundred more
While the host purveyed thy fare
Feeding thee with cooling food!

Five score heroes of the hosts,
These I reckon are in graves,
While their women--fair their hue--
Spend the night bewailing them!"

Some good sources:
Joseph Dunn, trans. The Ancient Irish Epic Tale Tain Bo Cualgne
David Bellingham, An Introduction to Celtic Mythology

Friday, February 05, 2010


The lovely Nicola Cornick is giving away a copy of Countess of Scandal to celebrate the re-launching of her blog! Go and enter to win, and check out all her great posts about history and living in England...

Portrait Friday

Lady Elizabeth Delme and her children, Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1777-80

Thursday, February 04, 2010


Listen to a Countess of Scandal excerpt here! (And watch the blog for a Valentine's Day giveaway special next week...)

Things I Love Thursday

When I was a kid, I had lots of Barbies but only a few Madame Alexander dolls (Snow White, Cinderella, Maid Marian, and maybe one other I don't remember). I wasn't allowed to play with them (though I did have a MA baby doll that was my favorite, I dragged her everywhere with me until she almost fell apart! But I still have her). And now I may have to buy a few of my own if they keep coming out with dolls like this! Anne Boleyn and the Duchess of Devonshire, yay! And no one can tell me not to play with them now...

(And if the Lucrezia Borgia doll was blonde, as she should be, I might have bought her, too)

Tuesday, February 02, 2010