Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Flora and Fauna of Regency Britain - May

May 1. Spring has sprung. So much so that this morning I was trapped. I could not move out of my front door for fear of disturbing the robins who have made a nest in the flower pot outside my front door-four pretty blue eggs so far-or move around my kitchen for fear of disturbing the cardinals visiting my feeder.

But what of spring in England.

As always, we consult the naturist first. "The goatsucker, orfern-owl (caprimulgus
Europaeus), (nightjar or nighthawk or Jar-owl (old form of nightjar) makes its appearance only in the dusk of the evening, to search for prey, uttering a dull jarring noise caused by wind rushing out of the sides of it's mouth as it hunts.
Okay, who can resist that kind of sentence.The name goatsucker is based on an ancient belief that these birds fed on goats' milk by night, but their presence near such animals was no doubt due to the insects attracted by the goats. The stuff of nightmares here. Another interesting thing about this bird is that it sits along the branch, parrallel to the limb, rather than at rightangles the way most birds do. And as you can see from the picture, it is not really an owl, although it does feed at dusk and during the evening.

Another bird remarked upon by the naturlist is The spotted fly-catcher (muscicapa grisola), the most mute and familiar of all our summer birds, builds in a vine or sweet-briar, against the walls of a house, or on the
end of a beam, and sometimes close to the post of a door.
Can you guess what caught my attention about this particular bird?

The horse chestnut comes into flower at this time, these are huge trees covered in conical white blossom. One will often find them planted as avenues on great estates, or even along roads. Sadly they are being devastated by a virulent bacteria at the moment, something like dutch elm desease.

About the commencement of this month, the flowers of the lily of the valley (convallaria maialis)

There are of course lots more. But you will have to wait until next May. Until next time, Happy Rambles.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Searching for Regency England II

And the winner is, Wendy Davis. Wendy, you take home a copy of Brides of the West. I will be in by email touch real soon!

Back to Knole Park. One thing I should mention. Quite often the family lived in simpler apartments just as they do today in fact. This door looks like a secluded entrance. I wonder where it goes.

I often wonder what it must be like to live in one of these great houses.

The rooms we see as visitors are usually State rooms or show rooms, kept specially for important guests. Something like our parlors or best rooms, only used for special guests and containing all the best furniture. That is not to say they did not use them at all. The second floor galleries were great for ladies to walk in in inclement weather, and I shouldn't wonder if they weren't great for children to roller skate in, or for bike riding in more recent times. In fact, I do recall the current Prince of Wales mentioning roller skating in Windsor Castle.

On the topic of furniture and fittings, Knole is a treasure trove. Knole was mostly unoccupied since the end of the seventeenth century and the furniture remained as was, under dust covers. Unfortunately one cannot take pictures.

Most of the rooms have dark wood paneling. The great hall's floor is black and white tile laid in a diamond pattern, pretty much as you will find in Hugo's great hall, in my new book, The Lady Flees Her Lord, out in October 2008. It still has its screen, the wooden wall which blocked the view to the kitchens, and a dais, where the lord and lady would eat in early times. It would only have been used for parties in the Regency era, and if you have read No Regrets, you will know that Lucas rode his horse through the great hall.

This bedroom dates back to the 1620's and gives you a sense of the quality of what you can see at Knole House. One fascinating piece of equipment is the hundred-eye-lantern. They are cylinders pierced with holes in which candles were stood to prevent accidents, throwing a patten on the walls and ceilings which give rise to their name. The tapestries are mid 17th century Flemish verdure and the capet is English turkey-work, so now you know what is referred to in a book that cites a Turkey carpet. The chairs look quite uncomfortable with those heavily carved strings, but I expect they used cushions, don't you. I also really like that little table with the washing bowl. Reminds one of the lack of running water. Although that was becoming more prevalent in our era.

There were also examples of x-frame chairs, and early couches or setees, both terms are ancient. Stools were also much in evidence in the bedrooms. Beechwood was commonly used for furniture

One also finds early nineteenth century Worcester china in the house, though much of the porcelain is French, Sevres and Vincennes acquired in the late eighteenth century.

Another room of interest was the billiard room on the second floor off one of the long galleries. The ivory tipped cues are a curved stick, called maces, something like a hockey stick, and the balls were pushed through a hoop rather than struck.

Straight cues came into being in 1800. So it might be not be rare to find this old game at a country house, as well as the newer version.

The table has an oak base, making it not exactly flat! The next picture is of the nineteenth centurey version. Just look at that huge table!

A sad story -- the balls were made of wood or of ivory. Only female elephant tusks could be used because of their smooth grain, and it took one elephant to make six balls. I must say I did not feel too happy about that one. I'm pet crazy. Right now we can't use our front door, because a robin has built a nest in the flower planter on the wall right next to the door.

I hope some of these artifacts give you an idea of Knole and if you ever have a chance to visit, please do. You will not be disappointed.

Well, Thursday is May 1, and we will start the month with our usual articles on fashion and flora and fauna. Then we will return to our search for Regency England.

I will be putting out my newsletter in a few days. If you are not subscribed and would like to be so, now might be a good time. this link is on the side bar.

Until next time. Happy rambles.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Searching for Regency England

Well RT was fun. I had a sign up for a draw for a free book and I will be posting the winner's name on Monday. In the meantime, I want to start sharing all the sights I collected on my last research trip to England, Wales and Jersey.

Before we start, one piece of big news. I have seen my cover for my next book! And it's gorgeous. The moment I am allowed to give you a sneak peek, I will.

Let's get ready to ramble!! (couldn't resist): The first place we visited, after the snow, was Knoll House. This house is in Seven Oaks, in Kent, not very far from where I grew up. This was not my first visit, I went there with my now husband when we were courting. I think this time it made a much greater impression.

This first picture is from 1880, but as I compare it to my picture from a similar angle, the only thing missing is the cars! The house belongs to the Sackville family, who still live there, with the National Trust owning the house itself, and the family still owning the estate and gardens. The estate is a 1000 acre deer park. And although many trees were lost in 1987 in a great storm, it is still beautiful. Here is a picture of some of the deer.

Knole house is pretty well as it was in the seventeenth century. Yes, I do mean the 1600's. This means it is very rare and very beautiful. It also means that it looks the way it did during the Regency.

Reading the history of the house and it's inhabitants, one comes to realize that the Regency era was the least auspicious for the family and the house. The 3rd Duke of Dorset, a true Georgian era rake, and well worth a story one of these days, married and had a son only nine years before his death. His son, the 4th Duke and our Regency Duke, died months after he came of age in a hunting accident in Ireland. Accounts of his youth, make it sound very lonely and unhappy.

This is him, George, his father died when he was eight in 1799 and he had only just come of age when he died in 1815. So much for the glamorous life. Still, I bet he had fun as a teenager.

This sketch gives a good idea of the layout of the house itself, which is magnificent, and the following picture of a section of the Green Court, which is surrounded by low buildings on two sides and entered through the magnificent archway. It is just so seventeenth century, one can almost imagine Elizabeth the first arriving here -- or Prinny for that matter. The house is a series of courtyards, all leading towards the great hall.

One of the things I noticed on the inside of the house, was the thickness of the internal walls. When you move from one room to the next, that wall thickness creates a short passageway, only a step or two, but way grander than our doorways which are only a few inches thick. They are usually lined with ornate oak paneling and of course there are doors at both ends. Quite often they are very low and one has to duck.

Much of the furniture dates back to the seventeenth century and I will try to describe some of it in my next blog.

One of the custodians pointed out a building outside of the house, and said it was a gaol where workers who misbehaved - stealing, drunkenness - were kept until the next assizes. Only trouble was, the owner of the house was the judge.

The other thing that is beautiful about this house are the galleries. Most houses dating back to this period have them. They were used as connecting corridors from one major part of the house to the other, usually a side wing of the courtyard. They were also great inclement weather and exhibiting family portraits. This particular gallery is known as the Brown gallery, is Jacobean and is in one of the earliest parts of the house.

There you have it. A glimpse, a very small glimpse of a very grand house. Until next time, happy rambles.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Romantic Times Conference 2008

I just returned from the Romantic Times conference last night. I found Pittsburg, what I saw of it, a very beautiful city downtown. The river ran right past the hotel and the opposite bank is so high the locals call it a mountain.

The highlight of this conference for me was of course the booksigning and meeting old and new friends whereever I went. I signed No Regrets, which you all know was my American Title finalling book for the 2006 contest. I sold out!!!! squeeee!!!!

I was especially grateful to the ladies who bought my book including booksellers and those who brought my book from home, what a humbling experience. I am also grateful to Rebecca York, a very gracious lady, who was my only signing companion, since I was the last person on the list, and we chatted throughout the four hours of the signing.

I severely damaged my car while driving around Pittsburg looking for the hotel, losing the bottom door panel of the car when I made a tight turn and hit a very high curb. I heard it go clunk, but there was no stopping in the middle of such a busy city. It wasn't until I got to valet parking that I saw what I had done. A huge strip of skirting gone from my beautiful grand prix.

As you can imagine, I was so mad at me. And kept thinking about that big piece. Maybe I should find it. But I didn't have a clue where it had happened by the time we had driven around the down town twice. But I couldn't let it rest. So I put on my running shoes and walked the nearby streets.

Well I finally found it. Some kind person had picked out of the road and put it against a building on the sidewalk. It was at least six foot long, but made of fibreglass, so I picked it up and marched back through the fancy downtown core of Pittsburg with it under my arm, trying to look as if it was the most natural thing in the world. Lord knows what the valet guys thought when I calmly asked them to put it in my car, which of course had disappeared to who knows where valeted cars go. But he smiled sweetly, and said yes ma'am and leaned it against his booth.

And I marched into the hotel with cheeks blazing. Anyway when I told my husband what I'd done, I was able to announce with some pride that I had the missing piece. No, I'm not going to tell you what he said. lol. Actually he was much calmer about it than me.

After such an inauspicious start, the rest of the conference was great. Busy. But very enjoyable. I met lots of old friends and made some new ones who I hope to meet again, either here or on line.

I had lunch with writers I admire very much, Gaelen Foley and Barbara Pierce. Both historical writers and both of them were getting awards and I met them in the line up for lunch and they asked me to join them.

My critique partner Molly O'Keefe received an award for best superromance of the year, so that was a thrill and thoroughly deserved might I add. Here she is making her acceptance speech.

There was so much packed into four days, I can't really begin to tell it all in such a short space. But I did want to share the flavor of it all with you. I guess I will leave you with one more image, the blue fairies! This is me and Helen Scott Taylor the latest American Title winner at the Fairy Ball. Who said writers are introverts?

I will announce the winners of my draw for a copy of Brides of the West on Thursday. Until then, Happy Rambles.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Flora and Fauna of Regency Britain - April

One thing it does in England in April, it snows. It snowed over Easter at the end of March and again on the day we left in April. So that is one thing to keep in mind, while the grass is green and the fruit trees were in blossom, they were covered in snow.

The Naturist from 1817 has this to say about April.

Many and lovely are the flowers which are showered, in profusion, from
the lap of April which adorn our fields, at this time:Among them are the checquered daffodil (fritillaria meleagris); the primrose; the cowslip (primula veris); the cuckoo flower (cardamine pratrensis); and the hare-bell
(hyacinthus non scriptus). The yellow star of Bethlehem (ornithogatum
luteum) in woods; the vernal squill (scilla verna) among maritime
rocks; and the wood sorrel (oxalis acetosella), are now in full flower.

I certainly saw primroses on all the banks. They are a protected flower. I also saw cowslips and daffodils aplenty.

Indeed the first picture through the window, is of daffodils in the snow. And the second a bank on the roadside covered in primroses. I realize as I type this, that both of these flowers are yellow.

So to complete the picture for April, I will show you a cowslip. Now it is an odd name for a wild flower, but it is a pretty flower and a countrified name. Perhaps more importantly are its herbal qualities. It is used medicinally as a diuretic, an expectorant, and an antispasmodic, as well as for the treatment of headaches, whooping cough, tremors, and other conditions. However it can have irritant effects in people who are allergic to it. It was also made into wine.

Willow trees start to show their green leaves, as do birch trees at the beginning of the month. The larger trees come into leaf by the end of April when wild violets also appear.

And that is it for this week, except to show you what Toronto looked like when we left for England. Teaser was not impressed when he tried to go for a walk.

Until next time, when I will be sharing some of the sights I visited on this last trip, Happy Rambles.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Regency Fashions for April

I had a wonderful time in England and Wales searching for signs of Regency England, to share. I will be at Romantic Times next week. I will sign No Regrets. I do hope you will drop by. Now we need to take a peek at what our Regency lady would be wearing in April. By the way, we had snow in the south of England! Yes, and enough for the folks to drag out their toboggans. Not that they got more than a slide or two before they hit mud. Anyway, more of that later.

Regency Fashions for April

I chose this image because it not only has a lady, but it also has men. We do not often get fashion plates of our Regency gentlemen. Unfortunately, I do not have a description, I only have the year, which is 1809. Just a little before the actual Regency, but noteworthy are the frill on the shirt of the man on the left. Also note, he is wearing a chapeau bras, literally "hat arm", a hat he could flatten and tuck under his arm when indoors. He is very much dressed for the morning call. The other gentleman looks as if he is dressed for riding, with his boots and buskin breeches and of course that wonderful plaid waistcoat peeking out from his coat. Note the pin in his cravat and the fobs hanging from their pockets. The brushed forward hairstyle is typical of this era.

And what of the lady, you might ask. Well I would say, this is an afternoon dress. she is wearing the classic high-waisted white muslin, with just the smallest amount of embroidery around the hem, but the train suggests to me that it would not do well for walking, especially not in rain and wind and snow, although the coat, which is quite short is quite lovely and certainly would get her from the carriage to the house. Her bonnet is very plain, almost more like a cap to be worn under a bonnet. I could certainly see using this as a gown one of my heroines might wear.

These are from 1812 and again we are missing the magazine descriptions, but they are so lush I wanted to show them. This is an afternoon gown and and morning gown. The latter is clearly intended for walking given the length. The heavy shawl and closely buttoned spencer with its warm looking trim indicate that cool weather is to be expected.

The afternoon gown is blatant in its classical origins, right down to the bracelet around her upper arm. The cap sleeves with inserts of lace which make the drape are quite delightful, in my opinion. I do wonder about the hair ornament though. It is supposed to represent a crescent moon, but I think it might poke out an eye if one bowed ones head at just the wrong moment.

That is all from me for this time. We are going to have some flora and Fauna, next Thursday and then we will be back on track and I will start posting my the pictures from my Travel. Until next time, happy rambles.