Monday, February 28, 2011

Your Favorite King or Queen Story?

Let's talk about real British Kings and Queens here. Many of them led lives that in the interest and intrigue department were larger than life. Most everyone knows about Henry VIII and his poor hapless wives. It may not have been all about lust... what intrigues me is that he seemed to believe that in order to please God, he had to come up with a wife that could produce a son, and yet God seemed to accept the daughters that he left to the throne as being adequate. Lol. I'd love to hear from some of you historians about Henry VIII and his views. And his wives.

Another favorite of mine is the wife of the Regent, later George IV. Her name was Caroline of Brunswick, Princess of Wales. George hated her from the first time he set eyes upon her, and shortly after their wedding night, about the time she became pregnant, he retired her to her own house with her own staff, never to take her back to his own home. Their daughter, Charlotte of Wales, was also given her own house and household as a child! She was not allowed to see much of her mother, who was rumored to be living a life of excesses. Caroline adopted several children and sent them off to foster homes, but she kept one boy at her side that people felt was her own son. Due to pressures from their troubles, Caroline left for the Continent, where she was living when her daughter, Charlotte, died in childbirth after her stillborn son. This left the nation without an heir to the throne in a younger generation, and the brothers of George IV had to go about dumping their mistresses and "bastards" to find a suitable princess to marry, young enough to have a child. Charlotte's widower, Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld provided his sister to the Duke of Kent, and they became the parents of the future Queen Victoria. Caroline stayed on the Continent, where she spent her time until George III died and her husband was to take the throne. She then returned, hoping to be crowned alongside him, but was rebuffed at the entrance to Westminster Abbey where the coronation was held. She had to leave, humiliated, and died within a few weeks. What a world, and no wonder William has been allowed to marry the girl he loves!

The disastrous marriage: A study of George IV and Caroline of BrunswickThe disastrous marriage: A study of George IV and Caroline of Brunswick

Period Movies- You Love Them Too?

Today, the day after the reign of Colin Firth at the Oscars began, I searched the phrase "I love British movies" on Twitter. Needless to say, there were a great abundance of such comments, and most of them were about period movies, many directly about The King's Speech. Yummy period movies: which is your favorite?

I recently talked about one of my favorites on Teresa Bohannon's blog, where the question was asked about our favorite romantic movies. I brought up that I love Gilbert and Sullivan's Pirates of Penzance with Linda Ronstadt, Kevin Kline and Rex Smith. Everything from the music to the costumes and dancing was amazing! Linda and Rex have fantastic voices and Tony Azito was incredible as the leader of the crazy dancing of the bobbies. I don't mean to downplay everyone else; they were great, too.

My kids liked the movie so much while they were growing up that they watched it so often that they knew every part backward and forward, including every pause. When my daughter met her future husband, it turned out that he, too, had grown up memorizing the movie. As a surprise for them, we put together the play, getting the sets and costumes ready and having their friends learn their roles by watching it, learning to lip sinc the songs to the soundtrack, and then we put on the play with my daughter and her fiance in the leading roles! They had a little time to practice before the big day, and we wound up doing the show twice, instead of once, by popular demand. It was the greatest fun we've had in a long time!

So, your favorite period movie is.... ?

The Difference: Barrister and Solicitor

In Period novels and movies, we often come across the terms Barrister and Solicitor. I'm sure you British and Commonwealth readers know very well what the difference is/was, but this is English Epochs 101, so bear with us Americans and others, and even inform us, please! Much of my information is from Wikipedia. What I discuss below is the use of the terms in period times, especially before 1873 when the Judicature Act made changes.

Solicitor~ A solicitor dealt with the public, with individuals who needed assistance with a will, Chancery, divorce or other day to day legal matters. They received their training in a five year apprenticeship. Socially, they did not fit into upper class life, as did the barrister.

Barrister~ A barrister did not deal with the public, but would argue in higher courts matters that were prepared and brought to them by solicitors. To become a barrister, one would attend dinners at one of four Inns of Court for three years, after which they might be recommended or "called to the bar" by senior lawyers. There was no exam required. A barrister's wife could be presented at court and they could attend the highest social events.

Bleak House, by Charles Dickens, revolves around a case in Chancery Court. Chancery was notoriously slow in bringing forth decisions, and since it was about the placement of orphaned and abandoned children, and monies from their parent's estates (from what I can tell), that was not a good thing.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Your Favorite Character (Spoiler Alert)

Dear Readers, in your experience of reading authors who wrote during the Elizabethan through Edwardian eras, yes, that includes Empire, Regency and Victorian, who is your favorite character, and why? Do not read on if you don't want to see certain books opened.

I closed my eyes and skimmed back for X number of years, since my first classic in 7th grade, and the character that first came to my mind, thus, to me the most memorable, was Miss Havisham from Dicken's Great Expectations. Such a strange kitten! I think she was memorable partly because she remains in her wedding gown for the rest of her life after being jilted on her wedding day, and a wedding gown is the epitome of beauty in the costume department. How could I write a character in more memorable dress? Impossible. Though she was in her fifties during the early part of the book, all artists conceptions that I have seen of her have her still fitting beautifully into this size 6ish gown with a gorgeous headpiece and long veil. How immortalizing! Then add in her waxed, skeleton-like face for contrast, and the rotting wedding cake on the wedding table at her side for the rest of her life. Though she gives me the creeps, she makes me go back to Charles Dickens for more. Sadly, I see on Wikipedia that she was likely modeled after a real life woman and not exaggerated. Someone call in a therapist!

Please let us know what is interesting about your favorite character.

I accidentally deleted some comments, so am reposting them here:
Book Buff said:

Gotta go with Mr. Darcy. I feel such a connection to him because my personality is so very much like Elizabeth and my husband is Darcy to a t (except he looks like Russell Crowe, no joke, so bonus!) Just the honest almost to a fault and a bit gruff personality is the personality of my best friend/husband so I can't help but pick him!

Lady Liz said:

Hmm... I think my favorite Character is from the Romantic period... does that count? I always get my timeline mixed up so I'm going to feel dumb if the Romantic period is not included!

But my two favorites are Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. In the novel he is not the monster you think of when you hear "Frankenstein".

Also, I really love the Character Felicity from the short story of the same name by Gustav Flaubert, but he's not English. :)

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Window Tax

Though this does not play heavily into the books and movies of the era, in doing my research I was particularly astonished to learn about the Window Tax and had to have a shot at it. British readers may be well aware of this, but it was news to me!

The tax was introduced in order to avoid an unpopular income tax in England and Wales in 1696 under King William III. During different time periods, the number of windows per tax amount varied. Originally there was a 2 shilling tax on a house and additional tax if there were seven windows and more for a certain number of windows above that. Houses can still be seen that have bricked up windows, likely originally to avoid taxation. The wealthy put many windows in, sometimes likely to display their wealthy status.

The poor had small houses, or none. The tax was hard, though, on the middle class. Besides the obvious struggle to afford the tax, people had to be able to see to work, and if there were less windows, they had to buy more candles! The people felt that they were being taxed for light and air and the tax was very unpopular.

There was also a tax on bricks and wallpaper at times, and there is still a tax on doors and windows in France.

1911 Encyclopedia

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The London Season

All of London would gear up annually for The Season, which custom began to evolve in the seventeenth century. The Lords and Ladies would leave their country homes and come to town for the opening of Parliament and would stay through its run. In my research, I found Parliament opening on different months on different years, depending on the hunting season. That might seem odd, but the House of Lords, was of course, made up of Lords, and they must hunt! Many aristocrats owned homes in London as well; some would be invited to stay in the great homes of others.Certain servants came along; surely the valets and lady's maids, and any needed to run the town home. The Season meant shops and business of all sorts had a very busy few months. Debutantes dressed in beautiful gowns, always with a long train, and probably wearing diamonds and other precious stones, were presented to the King or Queen, after which they were considered to be in society and could attend events. After Prince Albert died, Queen Victoria turned this duty over to her eldest son and his wife. The upper class went from party to party- tea parties, dinners, balls, etc., which were where young ones hunted for their future marriage mate. Food for these parties was usually made in house by the kitchen staff. Ladies visited fashion houses where designers made clothing just for them; many events had dress codes. There were exhibitions, races, riding, sports, opera and concerts. The pace during that time was exhausting. The Season would end quite suddenly in August, and everyone would return to their country homes for hunting parties to begin again!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Books by Modern Day "Jane Austens"

You've read them all? Austen, Bronte, Dickens... We can't leave you sitting there with no book in your lap! Maybe we can find you something new. I invite British Period authors to use this post to discuss their books or other publications on the appropriate genre. I will be happy to add links to your books on Amazon, too. Message me from Twitter @kescah or leave me a request in your comments. Thanks for participating!

It's been a few days... it seems my author friends are a little shy about promoting their books! I'll break the ice here, and hope they follow. My book (soon to be published) is an early Victorian novel about a foundling girl who becomes a servant in a grand castle home. (I hope they make a movie of it, lol, I want to see that castle!) Her Mistress works at introducing her into genteel society, which causes quite a ruckus in some homes. Romances develop between some characters, along with the tribulations that seem to go hand in hand with love. Let me share the start of one such romance with you here:

"Now that the girls felt so much better about life at home, it was time to descend into what Elizabeth termed as the Inferno. Was Helena even aware of the situation downstairs? Anne insisted that Elizabeth go first, and used her as a shield. How glad she was to be just a bit of a thing and that Lizzy had a hearty appetite! Maids were still carrying food to the table when they arrived, and they received no greeting. They waited before sitting to see where it would be appropriate; heaven forbid they take the wrong seat, Lizzy whispered to Anne. Somehow, though, the servants managed to spread themselves out to cover all the benches adequately, and Elizabeth had to speak up for sitting space. Grantham, at the head of the table, barked for “Someone over there” to move over and make room. The wrong people moved, and it had to be done over again. There were neither flowers nor Flowers at this table, but, oh my, the good silver was out and Nobody was to say a word about it, Nobody being the girls from Holmeshire.
"Anne was terrified to eat for fear of her elbow touching the goddess sitting next to her, but was expected to manage. After all, there was nothing wrong with the food, and did she think she was the Queen? And how could Miss Elizabeth have gotten her napkin so soiled already? It’s a bit of work to get them clean, did she know? And did Anne have to tap her feet so relentlessly? There was no orchestra to keep time to, and they did not intend to hire one for her. And then, yes, it happened! The poor girl, in trying to push the butter across to a kitchen maid, knocked over a pitcher of milk that was, after all, not just for her but for all those at her end of the table! And now, besides the huge mess, some of which had splashed into other people’s dinners and even their frocks and hair, good people were going to do without milk! Anne covered her face with her hands, which, it was pointed out, was of no help whatsoever. Did she not know where the rags were kept? …No, she didn‘t…. She was just about to break down in hysterical tears when the building above them parted, and any clouds moved aside to permit warm rays of the sun to shine down upon the poor girl in the form of a handsome young footman who stood up and shouted for some decent manners in that place. He then stepped over the bench and got Anne some rags. “There,” he said, “It’s not so terrible, you see, Deidre (the goddess) did the same thing last week.” Harp chords and nightingales sounded and rendered everyone silent or Anne deaf. She glanced up at the man’s face for just a second with thankful eyes, but what a face it was, and it filled up her capacity for memory completely. What happened the rest of that meal she could not recall, not even whether she cleaned up the milk or ate another bite or if anyone commented on those subjects. In fact, never again did she fear mealtime, but greatly looked forward to it and often peered down halls in coming days to see whether any handsome being there was carrying the tea service down the wrong hall! That evening, Elizabeth had lost Anne entirely and had to talk to herself on the long climb back from the kitchen to the nursery to check on Gwyn’s fortunes with Hattie. She hadn’t meant the comments for herself, but had to reply anyway for lack of anyone conscious, dwelling inside Anne’s little body, who could."

Servants in Great Houses

This blog is truly at the 101 level, but please join in and add deeper information as you can!

Have you ever watched Pride and Prejudice and wondered how in the world they managed to take care of that enormous house, Pemberley? Wow! Grand houses had many servants. Many more servants than family. At times there were 50 indoor servants and 50 for the outside property. They received fairly low wages, but ate better than many of the other lower class people at the time and had a roof over their heads. They also worked very hard for that pay.

Servants were divided into a hierarchy. The largest houses had a steward who basically ran the home. He was the highest in class, and made by far the most money. Under him were the butler, cook and housekeeper. If there was no steward, the butler took charge. Under the cook were all the kitchen servants. She was called Mrs., whether or not she was married, or Cook by the family, and everyone under her had to obey. There were kitchen maids who worked with the food and scullery maids who did the dirty work, scrubbing pots and pans and floors. (Sorry, girls, no non-stick cookware for you!) Footmen, under the butler, carried food upstairs to the family table. They had been hired as ornaments, usually chosen by their looks and height. Often, they were to look as much alike as possible so as not to distract the family and their guests. And of course, they never looked at the family or heard anything that was discussed at the table. Under the housekeeper were the Nanny and the nursery maid under her, and housemaids. High up on the ladder were the Lady's Maids, who helped the Ladies with dress and grooming, keeping their clothing ready to wear and doing up their hair. They were much like the Valets who took care of the gentlemen.

Servants were to avoid being seen, even hiding inside a closet or leaving an area if they had advance notice of the arrival of a family member. However, they were to leave behind them fires lit and tended, clean rooms and a well cared for family. They were up, dressed and fed by 7, and then tended to getting the family up, dressed, fed and cared for all day. Guess who went to bed last? You got it! Servants usually got Sunday afternoons off to visit their families, and were expected to attend church in the morning.

Welcome to English Epochs 101!

Welcome to readers and authors! The purposes of this blog are twofold.

First, I want to write on the fascinating topics of times past in English history. Personally, I am intrigued by the class differences and how widely even the lower class accepted the situation and stayed in their place, as if it were a duty! Deference in times past made for a very interesting theme for my novels. Each post I write will discuss some aspect of life in the Elizabethan, Empire, Regency, Victorian and Edwardian times. Please feel free to add to each discussion! I want to learn from you, too. If your publications apply in some way, you may mention the titles in your comments, and briefly discuss them. At times I will invite an author to give a write up about his/her book, and I will create a post just for that subject. I reserve the right to delete any inappropriate posts or unrelated genre.

Secondly, authors are welcome to request that I link to their Amazon offerings in this genre, and if appropriate, I will do so.

Please recommend your favorite books and movies. There may be one I missed!

Thank you for coming today, and watch for my Tweets regarding new posts. @kescah.