Saturday, January 31, 2015

Answering the Call of Duty: Britain, 1940

by Eli Kale

For some, the Second World War is history. For others, it is a part of their lives. Regardless of who you are, you can learn something from history, and right now, specifically from those who helped turn the tide of war away from the shores of England.

It is fairly well known that the Battle of Britain was an important battle in the timeline of the Second World War, in that Hitler’s planned advance into the British Isles was halted. This is significant because it showed the world that the Nazi war machine was not all-powerful. The reason for this halt in German war operations is due to the efforts of the Royal Air Force pilots.

While writing my book Unguarded, I researched some personal accounts (mostly through the BBC) of those who joined up in the fight in order to get a real idea of what it was like to stand up to evil in that way. Drawing from accounts of those who joined both before and after the blitz of 1940, I found that the experience was rooted very much in the idea that community and collective strength would allow the British forces to overthrow their enemy. And not just community and collective strength across the ranks of soldiers and pilots, but also on the home front—between civilian men, women, and children. The firefighters, the constables, the auxiliary workers, and everyone in between would help when and where they could, however they could. This was how the blitz was beaten on the ground.

Persevering through the relentless bombardment of the Luftwaffe, and having the wherewithal to continue the fight back over the Channel and into enemy territory, proved that the British people stood behind their fighting men and women in the skies. It also proved that the people believed in the fighting cause which, in turn, helped those doing the fighting to believe as well. Fighting for one’s country was the fuel that fed the fire in the hearts of those who felt the need to join in that fight.

The support of the armed forces, notably the R.A.F., was fantastic. In one account, the author tells of when he joined up and stated that his boss gave him his outstanding weeks’ pay and even threw in a pound out of his own pocket. Wishing him luck, the boss inherently was telling the author to “go get ‘em.” In another account, this one from after the blitz, the author tells of the community between himself and those in his unit. He tells of doing things together as a unit, such as viewing instructional films on gas warfare and security, eating meals in the mess hall, and to church. Private matters were always dealt with as a group. This level of camaraderie goes to show that the notion of “get the back of the man next to you, and he’ll do the same” really meant something to the pilots of the R.A.F.

There were many instances where pilots were shot down and survived to fly another day. One account I researched, found in the book Ten Fighter Boys, told of a time when the pilot was shot down in a dogfight in the skies above England. His plane crashed and he survived, being taken in and cared for by a local man who witnessed the plane fall from the sky. The next day, the pilot was able to contact his superiors and was picked up by the M.P.s soon after and taken back to his aerodrome. The pilot’s tone when telling this story was as if it was no big deal—just part of the job. To me, that’s amazing!

It is hard to imagine doing anything abnormal to everyday life, unless you actually experience it one way or another. With regards to R.A.F. pilots, I can say with confidence that they experienced a great deal of emotions and thoughts while up in the air, something that people who aren’t pilots will never fully understand. Imagine the adrenaline coursing through their veins as the rush of excitement pumped their blood. Imagine the G-forces pushing and pulling against the pilots as they chased down enemy planes, all the while unleashing a fury of lead bullets in their direction. Imagine the relief they felt when they returned from a mission and safely landed at their aerodromes. And this was something people volunteered for, which again goes to show just how important it was in that time.

The events of the Second World War forever changed the world as we know it today, and will have a ripple effect even farther for years to come. It was certainly a different time back then, rather set apart from the world of today in many ways. It is my hope that the history of that time period will never be forgotten or unstudied. For to understand ourselves and where we came from, we have to understand the past.


Eli Kale is an author, educator, and traveler. Unguarded is the second book in his collection entitled “Faces of the War,” where the Second World War is seen through the perspectives of different people. In addition to his WWII historical fiction, Eli writes short stories for one of his ongoing projects, The Short Story Collection. Eli graduated from the University of Mount Union with a history degree and a teaching license. He lives in Ohio with his wife, Sarah, and their pets, Nika and Zazu.

If you’d like to check out his work, you can find it all on his website.

To go directly to the Amazon pages of his books, click the following links:
Volume 1 (Short Story Collection)

Friday, January 30, 2015

St. Wulfstan and St.Wulfric

by Lauren Gilbert

These two saints were both native Englishmen living during the upheaval of the period after the Norman Conquest. They were found in the same general area and are celebrated a month apart in the calendar: Wulfstan on January 19 and Wulfric on February 20. Their times may have overlapped, and it is not beyond reason to think that they may have been acquainted or at least may have known of each other. Yet how different they were, with one an influential bishop and the other a hermit. Both, however, were venerated during and after their respective lives.


Wulfstan was born approximately 1008 A.D. during the reign of Ethelred II and was a native of Long Itchington, Warwickshire. He studied at Evesham and Peterborough, and his education supposedly concluded at Peterborough about 1024. Subsequently he came under the direction of Brihtheah, Bishop of Worcester. Wulfstan joined the Benedictine monastery at Worcester and was ordained a priest in 1034. His first responsibility at the monastery was teaching children. He then advanced to precentor (a precentor’s duties at this time including being first or lead in chant, recruiting and teaching the choir, and ordering the Divine office), and subsequently became treasurer of the church. However, Wulfstan was drawn to a life of purity, and his main focus was prayer, often keeping vigil whole nights in the church. He was noted for living his life dedicated to God and was advanced to prior of Worcester in 1055 A.D. in spite of his protests.

In 1062, Wulfstan became bishop of the See of Worcester. Wulftstan was not famed as a scholar for his learning but was an affecting and impressive speaker, often leaving the congregation in tears. His duties included acting as magistrate for the Shire Court and attending seasonal gatherings of the royal court at Dover. He was credited with halting a heinous practice in Bristol which involved kidnapping men then selling them into slavery in Ireland. His duties required a lot of travel, and, while travelling, he recited psalms along the way and was known to visit every church and chapel he passed to pray. In the course of his duties, he met with influential people, including Harald Godwinson. Wulfstan was present at the crowing of Harald at Westminster Abbey after the death of King Edward in 1066. He was also present for the coronation of William the Conqueror after the death of Harald and the Battle of Hastings later the same year.

Wulfstan was unusual in that he was a Saxon bishop at the time of the Norman conquest and managed to maintain his office when English officials and dignitaries, in and out of the church, were being replaced by Normans. He was supposedly the only Englishman still holding his office in 1071. William the Conqueror came to respect and trust Wulfstan. Lanfranc (priest and counsellor of William the Conqueror, who held many offices, including Archbishop of Canterbury from 1070-1089) sent Wulfstan to visit the diocese of Chester as his deputy. Wulfstan apparently considered the Normans to be a punishment from God to be accepted patiently and chided any native English complaints about the Normans with this thought. He also tried to mediate with the Normans to lessen the harshness of the decrees against the Saxons. He set an example of humility and service. He even defended Worcester Castle for William during the barons’ uprising of 1074 and against the Welsh in 1088 when William II was king.

About 1086 A.D. the old cathedral at Worcester had to be demolished, and Wulfstan built a new one. He died in 1095, having served as bishop for 32 years, and was canonized in 1203 A.D. by Pope Innocent III, becoming known as St. Wulfstan. He was buried in Worcester Cathedral.


Wulfric was born at Compton (now Compton Martin), near Bristol, which was part of the diocese of Worcester. His parents were apparently English (Saxon). His date of birth is unknown, but there is speculation that he may have been born about 1090 A.D. It is not impossible that he may have actually seen or met Wulfstan; it is certainly likely that Wulfric knew of Wulfstan. Wulfric was trained for the priesthood and was ordained, but that did not stop him from enjoying a very secular life full of hunting and hawking. He was serving as a priest at Deverill, not far from Warminster, when he experienced a transfiguration of faith and radically changed his life.

Wulfric looked for a place to live a solitary, austere life devoted to God, and William FitzWalter offered him a cell connected to the church at Haselbury in Somerset approximately 1125 A.D. Living as an anchorite, Wulfric scourged himself, immersed himself in frequent and long cold baths, fasted, and wore a chain mail hauberk next to his skin, frequently prostrating himself and spending the night in the church in prayer. One of his miracles involved cutting his hauberk shorter with ordinary scissors as it interfered with his devotions. Wulfric served Mass daily and occupied himself in the copying and binding of books.

Although he was known for many miracles, including healing a mute man who was suddenly able to speak both both English and French, Wulfric was famous for prophesy and was visited by many from near and far, including King Henry I and King Stephen. He was credited with having accurately prophesied King Henry’s death to the King himself and subsequently lectured King Stephen for the iniquities of his rule. There is no record of Wulfric being canonized after his death on February 20, 1154. However, he was greatly venerated for his wonders and prophesies. He was buried in the cell where he had lived, which is now the site of the vestry of the present church at Haselbury. Stories of his works were perpetuated by a strong oral tradition, and his tomb was a popular pilgrimage site into the Reformation.

Sources include:
Catholic On-line. “St. Wulfric.”
Catholic On-Line. “St Wulfstan.”
Catholic Herald (on line). “The hermit who informed an English king he would soon die” by Spiritual Life, posted 2/21/2013.
A Clerk of Oxford (blog). “A Miracle of Wulfric of Haselbury.” Posted 2/20/2013 by A Clerk of Oxford.
Diocese of Shrewsbury (on line). “Saint of the Week St. Wulfstan 19 January.” Posted for week starting 1/14/2012.
John of Forde. The Life of Wulfric of Haselbury, the Anchorite. Introduction, translation and notes by Pauline Mattaraso. 2011: Cistercian Publication, Liturgical Press, Collegevlle, MN. (Originally written in the 1180’s according to some sources.) Google Books:
St. Wulfstan Millenium (on line). “The St. Wulfstan Story.”
Walsh, Michael, ed. BUTLER’S LIVES OF THE SAINTS Concise Edition Revised & Updated. 1991: HarperCollins, New York, NY.


Lauren Gilbert, author of Heyerwood: A Novel, lives in Florida with her husband. She will be attending the Amelia Island Book Festival 2/21/2015-look for her there!


Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Last Dance at Tyburn

By Catherine Curzon

In the world of Georgian highway robbery there are some names that have stood the test of time. "Blueskin" Blake, Plunkett and MacLaine and, of course, Dick Turpin himself are characters who have passed into English legend. They have appeared in literature, film and theatre, inspired fashion and music and, particularly in Turpin's case, become virtual folk heroes since their most notorious days. Less well known is the name of John Austin but, though he was not the most famous highwayman history has known, he does hold the dubious honour of being the last man to swing from the Tyburn tree. What were the circumstances though brought him to his sorry fate, and how did the matter of a hat lead a man to the infamous gallows?

The Tyburn Tree
On 23rd October 1783 a man named John Spicer was making his unassuming way to London, dreaming of a new start and hopefully, new opportunities. He had come from Grays in Essex and was something of an innocent abroad, with little experience in the city. So, when he encountered two very friendly chaps who promised to show him the way to decent lodgings where a man might fill his belly, Spicer was happy to go along with these new, heaven-sent friends. For a couple of days all was rosy on the road to London, yet on the third night things took a sinister turn. Spicer's companions invited him to follow them to their new lodging, promising a pleasant evening in good company. No doubt looking forward to a warm bed and good food, the hapless traveller instead found himself in the middle of open fields near Bethnal Green.

Out in the middle of nowhere and with no chance of rescue, Spicer must have thought his time had come when one of the men drew a cutlass and demanded that he hand over his valuables. Despite being outnumbered and unarmed, Spicer fought furiously, but Austin and his accomplice were able to wrestle him to the ground, binding his hands tightly and taking all of his possessions, or so they thought. The Proceedings of the Old Bailey record that he was relieved of:
" silver watch, value 30 s. a steel chain, value 1 s. a steel key, value 2 d. two silk handkerchiefs, value 4 s. two pair of worsted stockings, value 4 s. one linen shirt, value 12 d. one man's hat, value 12 d. the property of the said John Spicer."
If not for the intervention of a local man named James Strong, it might be that the attack could have been even worse. Strong was working in the garden of his employer, Giles Wells, when he heard the altercation and interrupted the assault, even giving chase to the felons when they fled the scene. Unable to catch either of the men, Strong instead helped the badly beaten Spicer to the local infirmary where his injuries were tended; luckily, he was not fatally wounded and was able to tell his rescuer exactly what had happened.

Upon hearing of the attack, Wells asked Strong to return to the scene of the crime by daylight and see if the men had dropped any of Spicer's stolen belongings. Instead, what he found was the clearly very dedicated John Austin searching the field where the robbery had taken place for Spicer's hat, which was left behind after the attack. Challenged by Strong, Austin told him that he was an innocent man, forced to participate in the robbery by his unnamed accomplice under threat of death should he not go along with the scheme. Strong found the explanation unlikely to say the least and locked Austin in a stable whilst the authorities were summoned. When Austin was taken from his makeshift cell, Wells found the stolen shirt and stockings concealed in the stable, reaching the inescapable conclusion that Austin must have concealed them there in an effort to rid himself of any damning evidence.

The Tyburn stone
The case was presided over by a Mr Eyre, who showed no hesitation in passing the death sentence on Austin, and on 7th November 1783 he was taken by cart to the Tyburn gallows through a mob of enthusiastic spectators. His dignified composure failed him at the last, and as the noose was placed around his neck he implored the crowd:
"Good people, I request your prayers for the salvation of my departing soul. Let my example teach you to shun the bad ways I have followed. Keep good company, and mind the word of God. Lord have mercy on me. Jesus look down with pity on me. Christ have mercy on my poor soul!"
With his final words uttered, Austin's head was covered by the cap. He seemed to speak again, but his words were silenced as the cart started forward. In a final cruel twist Austin's neck didn't break immediately; instead, he was slowly strangled to death over ten excruciating minutes.

John Austin was the last person to die on the near legendary Tyburn gallows. Though the Tyburn Tree has long since been dismantled, and a busy road covers the place where so many died, it remains an iconic image of Georgian England, and one with many stories to tell.


Gatrell, Vic, The Hanging Tree: Execution and the English People 1770-1868 (OUP, Oxford, 1996)
Brooke, Alan and Brandon, David, Tyburn: London's Fatal Tree (The History Press, 2013)

Glorious Georgian ginbag, gossip and gadabout Catherine Curzon, aka Madame Gilflurt, is the author of A Covent Garden Gilflurt’s Guide to Life. When not setting quill to paper, she can usually be found gadding about the tea shops and gaming rooms of the capital or hosting intimate gatherings at her tottering abode. In addition to her blog and Facebook, Madame G is also quite the charmer on Twitter. Her first book, Life in the Georgian Court, is available now, and she is also working on An Evening with Jane Austen, starring Adrian Lukis and Caroline Langrishe.

A Victorian Photographer: Tricks of the Trade

by Grace Elliot

My most recent bedtime reading is Henry Mayhew’s fascinating book London Labour and London Poor. First published in bound volumes between 1851-2, it is a fascinating glimpse into the lives of ordinary Victorians trying to scratch out a living. Mayhew's huge achievement is to create a written ‘snapshot’ of lives that would otherwise have been forgotten in the mists of time. I chose the word ‘snapshot’ deliberately, because the character that most recently caught my attention is the ‘Victorian photographer’. His name isn’t given, so let’s call him Mr. Snap.

Catherine Draper - 1839
One of the earliest known photographic portraits

This photographer tells with astonishing frankness of the antics and dodges Mr. Snap got up to.  Put simply, the man may not have been a good photographer, but he was certainly a talented salesman and had the gift of the gab. But let the man speak in his own words (as recorded by Mr Mayhew).

“I had a customer before I had even tried it [the camera] and so I tried it on him and give him a black picture (for I didn’t know how to make a portrait and it was all black when I took the glass out) and told him it would come bright as it dried. He went away happy delighted as anything.”

It seems the first weekend Mr. Snap opened his premises, he did a brisk trade taking “spotted and black” photographs for equally delighted customers. His tactic was to learn his trade on the job and seize trade while it was there. When he did a poor job the customer returned to complain, he simply took another portrait – which sometimes turned out better – “they had middling pictures for I picked it up quick.”

One customer posed smoking his pipe, not once, not twice, but three times – to be sent away each time with a black plate. Eventually the photographer’s will prevailed and the sitter appreciated that: “It’s the best he ever had took, for it don’t fade and will  stop black to the end of the world, though he remarks in that I deceived him in one thing, that it didn’t brighten.”

Frederick Langenheim -circa 1849
Note the hair: Highlights have been scratched out of the emulsion with a pin

Mr. Snap remains frank about why his portraiture was so poor. He reveals that when he bought the camera, the salesman showed how to use the device by taking his portrait and exposing the plate for 90 seconds. Our photographer friend then proceeded to take all subsequent pictures at an exposure of 90 seconds, regardless of whether it was bright sunlight or dusk. When, eventually, Mr. Snap realised his mistake (and it sounds as though this took a while), he at last referred to the instruction book (!)  and afterwards could take “a very tidy picture”.

Taking halfway decent photographs was good for trade, and the following spring he was taking upwards of 60 portraits a day! The photographer bemoaned that he lived in a religious neighbourhood and was therefore forced to close on a Sunday. Apparently the Sabbath was the best day for trade, because people had been paid the day before and had wages burning a hole in the workers' pockets.

The photographer was ingenious enough to maximise his profits with ‘add-on’ products. He invented the ‘American air-saver’, the purpose of which was to stop the photograph from fading. In actuality it was a piece of paper coated in varnish and applied to the back of the photograph. Trading on people’s gullibility, the air-saver was an instant success – although he did see a fall in sales when he renamed it a ‘London air-saver’, and swiftly reverted to the original name.

A photographer's studio in 1893.
Note the clamp to keep the subject's head steady during a long exposure

Another dodge was ‘brightening solution’, which it probably won’t surprise you to learn was water. The self-proclaimed ‘dodge’ was, when a client complained the picture was too dark,

“Why this isn’t like me there’s no picture at all” Then Jim says “It will be better as it dries and comes to your natural complexion.” If she grumbles, he offers to pass it through a brightening solution, which involves an extra fee.

With due deference the photographer passed the paper through water and then rolled it up, with instructions not to unroll until completely dry. If the client returned later to complain, he simply retook the picture and got yet more money out of them on the pretext of using superior chemicals.

And finally, taking and processing a photograph took time, but for those in a hurry, Mr. Snap had the answer. He simply took a photograph and then gave the sitter a picture he’d taken earlier. Frequently the dark and blurry image was so indistinct that the sitter didn’t realise the portrait was of someone else, and went away happy. This rouse failed once – when he gave an old woman a likeness featuring a man with a beard…


Grace Elliot is a veterinarian, freelance writer, and author of historical romance. Her latest release, The Ringmaster's Daughter is a story of a determined young woman trying to survive in male dominated Georgian England.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Unlucky in Love: John Ruskin's Disasterous Love Life

by Octavia Randolph

John Ruskin, self portrait, age 42
John Ruskin was one of the great figures of the 19th century, one of the truly seminal thinkers on art, architecture, and social justice. In this modest essay we are going to look at one small but fascinating aspect of the man, his disastrous romantic affairs.

The life of John Ruskin exactly mirrored that of Queen Victoria. They were both born in 1819, and died a year apart, he in 1900 and she in 1901. His parents were Scottish, but he was born late in their lives in London; his father John James Ruskin was thirty-four when their only child was born, and his mother Margaret was thirty-eight. John was a bright child; his early ability to see and observe and his fascination with what drawing and painting captured and actually meant drove the early part of his career, which was writing about what painting ought to do. In his first book, Modern Painters, he says “The greatest picture is that which conveys to the mind of the spectator the greatest number of the greatest ideas."

Ruskin always believed that JMW Turner was the greatest of all painters, and in fact the complete title of the first volume of Modern Painters (because it grew to five volumes over almost 20 years) was
Modern Painters: Their Superiority in the Art of Landscape Painting to all the Ancient Masters, proved by the examples of the True, the Beautiful, and the Intellectual from the works of Modern Artists, especially from those of JMW Turner, Esq., R.A., by a Graduate of Oxford.
John was twenty-four when the book was published, and his father did not want him to actually put his name on it in case it was ridiculed. It was not ridiculed; 500 copies were printed and only 150 sold, but the people who bought those copies were among Britain’s intellectual and creative elite, people such as George Eliot, Wordsworth, Charlotte Bronte, Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and so on.

Ruskin had a decidedly bifurcated career; the first half of which was largely devoted to thinking and writing and lecturing about art and architecture. He can be considered the godfather of the Arts and Crafts Movement, and he was a great advocate and help to the struggling young Pre-Raphaelite painters. Much of the second half of his career was devoted to issues of social and economic justice. In 1906, six years after Ruskin’s death, the incoming Labour Members of Parliament were polled as to whose books were most influential in their personal development, and Ruskin’s books came in first, besting those of the Bible, Shakespeare, Dickens, Carlyle, and many others.

So Ruskin was a man who was celebrated, respected, even revered for much of his lifetime – later in life as his economic views grew more controversial he was sometimes reviled – but he was a man who was a sought-after dinner guest, who society matrons vied to show off to their other guests – but Ruskin was a man alone. He was a heterosexual man unable to form a healthy romantic attachment with a woman. We are going to look at Ruskin’s three most important romantic attachments and see what kind of patterns we can find.

His first love: Adèle Domecq
London: 1836

The two young people had met first in Paris, but that was two years ago. Now John Ruskin was almost seventeen and Adèle-Clothilde Domecq was fifteen. Her sisters called her Clothilde, but at this second meeting John thought of her, and called her, Adèle. It rhymed with shell, spell, and knell and thus served his poetry, and Clothilde rhymed with nothing. Adèle had blonde hair and light eyes. She and three of her sisters had been staying at Herne Hill, and in four days the heart of young John had been reduced to a heap of ashes.

She had been born in Cadiz, in the shadow of her father’s vast vineyards––Pedro Domecq was the elder Ruskin’s partner in the sherry-trade; the growing partner. But the Domecq daughters had been raised in France; the eldest was soon to marry a count. The four younger now gaily descended upon the Ruskin household and upended it. They had bouncing curls with ribbons at the root, from Adèle on down to the youngest, Caroline.

Adèle’s frocks were from Paris, and her manners as well. She shrugged off her fur trimmed travelling cloak into John’s hands, and he tried not to goggle at her dress, short and with bewildering pantalettes. She turned to smile at him with small, brilliant teeth. She was like a heroine out of a novel or stepped down from a painting. Her face was oval, her nose upturned. Her complexion reminded John of fresh-poured cream. Her eyes glinted blue fire as she laughed, and they met his for one steady moment. He thought he might combust spontaneously.

...“But we cannot eat such things!” Adèle would laugh at breakfast, her little sisters smiling too. The sideboard was laid with oatmeal, black pudding, and stewed fruit. They must have the bread, so, and the fruit fresh and a comfit, and oui, they were allowed coffee, very strong and with much sweet milk,
merci. - Light, Descending, pp 5-6

Something subtle but important happens here: he re-names Adèle to suit his poetic structure. Her parents and sisters called her Clothtilde, but John renames her Adèle to suit his poetic needs. His idealization of Adèle, and her unobtainability, set the stage for a pattern of unfulfilled yearning in all later romantic attachments: The intense idealization and refusal to accept the realities of a real-life personality – then either fruitless longing when deprived of the love-object, or panicked withdrawal when granted the love-object.

He does not marry Adèle. When he learns, at Oxford, that she has wed a French Count, he despairs and goes into a physical decline so acute that he must leave the university. His mother by the way, had gone to Oxford with him – taken lodgings on the High Street, in an early and extreme example of helicopter parenting. When he is well enough his parents take him to Europe where he throws himself into the writing of what will become Modern Painters. Work was always a great refuge for Ruskin, as it is for many disappointed in love, and for Ruskin the connection between work and love was just that – a connection, not a contrast. John pleased his parents most when he was working, whether churning out childish poetry that his parents actually paid him to produce, or toiling ceaselessly and in a state of intellectual exhaustion to complete Volume V of Modern Painters before his father’s death. Working hard and being dutiful to his parents, even when they irked him or caused him immense pain, was ingrained at an early age.

Euphemia Chalmers Gray

This brings us to Euphemia Gray, or "Effie", the woman Ruskin did marry. Euphemia was the daughter of family friends, the daughter of an attorney from Perth, Scotland, where John James and Margaret Ruskin had lived before moving to London. Ruskin had met Euphemia several times in London, first when she was twelve, next year when she was thirteen, and he writes in his diary that he finds her beautiful, then again at age fifteen, when he finds her less attractive, and then at eighteen, when she comes and spends several weeks with the Ruskins in London. John was then twenty-seven. She was a very talented pianist.
The next morning he was writing up in his study, comparing actual cloud formation to the way in which artists depicted storm-clouds on canvas. The section was long and both subtle and technical, and he stood after a while and paced the floor, stretching his arms behind him. From below his feet he heard the faint strains of music. He paused for a moment, then thought he might go downstairs and see what Phemy was up to.
She was practicing Mendelssohn, alone. Her back was to him, and he stood motionless on the crimson patterned rug as she played. He approached silently and obliquely. She saw him when she turned the page of her score, and then heard his voice, quite near.
“It’s very cold in here, Phemy,” he said. John thought she played well, played strongly; didn’t plink away like most young ladies. He didn’t like to think of her fingers hurting from striking the cold keys. She turned her head to look at him. It was cold, and her fingerless gloves afforded no warmth. But she laughed.
“No more than in Scotland, rather warmer, I should say,” she answered, without stopping in her piece.
“Let me have a fire made up,” he offered.
“A fire, for one person?” He watched her lift her eyes to the length of the drawing room.
The purple draperies and ruby flocked wall-paper made the room no warmer.
“Two then, if you grudge the coal. I shall be your audience.” He reached for a chair and drew it close to her instrument.
She went on with her playing as he sat watching her. She did play beautifully, and he thought the Mendelssohn she had chosen maudlin and unworthy of her ability. He enjoyed music very much but had no facility himself to produce it. Several times at parties he had seen young men and women play four-handed pieces at the keyboard, and he wished of a sudden that he could do so with her. Her concentration on her task fascinated and somehow in that cold room warmed him, and he sat next her and watched her still profile and swift hands.
“Phemy doesn’t suit,” John told her when she ended, rather than the customary compliment on her skill. Her name too was unworthy, maudlin and silly.
She looked at him and laughed. “I have been Phemy all my life. What else can one do with ‘Euphemia’?”
“I shall call you Effie,” he announced. “’Phemy’ sounds nearly like Feeny, which is a kitten’s name. Or a puppy’s. Effie you are,” he ended, to her continuing laughter. Then he left her, back to his work.
She went on with more Mendelssohn after he’d gone. Effie, she said aloud. Effie. She repeated it silently as she went over a difficult left hand passage. She thought it did suit her. Effie. She liked it. John had named her. - Light, Descending, pp 38-40
What happens here? He re-names her – begins to re-make her, in name at least, closer to his ideal. Soon John decided he was in love with her. This occasioned the first serious falling out he had ever had with his parents. He wanted to marry Effie. At this point John was beginning to be well-regarded in intellectual circles – Modern Painters Volumes I and II were out, and he was already being asked to dinner parties in the upper echelons of society, including the aristocracy, which delighted his parents. For John James, who had laboured long in trade to make certain his son could be a “gentleman” – one who does not need to work for a living – and Ruskin’s books and lectures never provided him with that amount – John James felt it was perfectly possible and desirable that John marry into the aristocracy. After all it was the rich who collected pictures – that’s where paintings went when the left the easels of artists, with sometimes a brief stop at temporary exhibitions such as the Royal Academy Summer exhibitions. Most pictures were destined for the great manor or town homes of the rich. And at this point John wrote mostly about paintings, although he felt strongly that one could not appreciate a well-painted sky without understanding how actual clouds formed or enjoy a painting of an Alpine landscape without knowing the fundamentals of glacial movement – so his books had those things in them as well. His mind, his vision, was so large; he saw everything as interconnected and wanted and needed to share that.

Back to Effie. His parents made things rather uncomfortable for Effie during that last visit. They noticed John paying more and more attention to her. Effie thought that given the tenuous financial situation of her family – her father had recently invested the larger portion of the family’s wealth in shares in a new French railway, and France happened to be in political uproar – the elder Ruskins were considering her a fortune hunter. She left and went back to Perth. Her leaving upset John considerably. He knew his father was unhappy about the idea of his marrying “down”– but when his parents saw John pining away they became truly frightened, remembering his break-down over Adèle, and relented. He eventually proposed marriage via letter, and Effie accepted. But I think that John never got over the fact that he had more or less forced his parents to capitulate out of love and fear for him. He was so much under their thumb, dependent on them financially, emotionally, and even editorially, as his father insisted on reading and editing everything John wrote, that defying them was truly painful. All his life he had been both over-indulged and bullied by them. Here he is about to write a letter to his father, years later, followed by some of the actual contents of the letter.
He realised now he had been baulked by them at every turn. His morning letter to his father began in an intentionally contentious manner, denying that his friendship with Thomas Carlyle had ever affected his revised thoughts about religion, and then went on to fever pitch in personal accusation.
"Men ought to be severely disciplined and exercised in the sternest way in daily life," he told him; "they should learn to lie on stone beds and eat black soup, but they should never have their hearts broken––a noble heart once broken never mends––the best you can do is rivet it with iron and plaster the cracks over––the blood never flows rightly again. The two terrific mistakes which Mama and you involuntarily fell into were the exact reverse in both ways––you fed me effeminately and luxuriously to that extent that I actually now could not travel in rough countries without taking a cook with me! ––but you thwarted me in all the earnest fire and passion of life. - Light, Descending, pp 227-228
And in fact neither senior Ruskin came to John’s wedding in Perth. It was a small wedding held in the parlour of the Gray house, and afterwards John and Effie climbed in a carriage to go to the Highlands for their first night, finally arriving at the inn at 10 pm. John had a head-cold, never a pleasant experience, and as the world was later to learn, the marriage was not celebrated that night. Or ever.

Again he had chosen someone singularly unsuitable for him. Not only was he aware that Effie’s ideal role in life would have been as an ambassador’s wife – she loved society and parties – he disdained all that and only wanted to work. I truly think Ruskin was panicked by the thought of how his work might be curtailed. Was he, as he told her, concerned about Effie’s dying in child-bed, as did so many young women, including his cousin Mary Richardson who had been raised with him? - of course. He also simply didn’t like babies, on aesthetic grounds. But the real problem as I see it was his inability to fully defy his parents in actually making Effie his wife initially; and then coming to the quick and unpleasant realization that Effie was in fact an intelligent, vital, opinionated and adult human being, and not the pliant adolescent he had first met and found attractive. Marriage makes all manner of demands, which Ruskin was unwilling and I think unable to meet.

I also believe he was one of those true unfortunates who ceases longing for the beloved the moment he has her. You see it almost immediately in his letters to Effie. After she accepts him, he opens his letters with extravagant fantasies – highly charged and only thinly veiled sexual imagery – before then abruptly beginning to boss her around. In his letters he tries to micro-manage everything, dictate all she should be doing to prepare for their marriage – mostly things which would aid him in his work – such as read a 16 volume work, in French, about Italian history – and he wants her to perfect her considerable foreign language skills, improve her drawing so she can sketch little things for him, etc. He begins even before their marriage to bully her. Why? Because that is what he knew of love. His parents bullied him, and so all he knew was to bully her. When bullying didn’t work he just ignored her. It was very difficult and very sad for both of them. But Ruskin just wasn’t emotionally equipped to enter into a marriage with probably anyone, let alone a high-spirited, outgoing girl like Effie.

At any rate, until 1857 it took an Act of Parliament to get a divorce, and soon both John and Effie wanted out. Because the marriage had not been consummated they could go through the courts – in a very public fashion, with plenty of reporters there – and Effie needed to undergo an examination by a physician, who was none other than Queen Victoria’s gynecologist, and be confirmed “virgo intacta” – it was very disagreeable. But both parties behaved well, and as discretely as possible. The grounds for annulment were “incurable impotence” and Ruskin did not refute it, even though he was perfectly capable of arousal, as we know from his letters to Georgiana Cowper-Temple, a good friend. An annulment was granted, and a year later Effie wed the young painter John Millais, who had holidayed with them in Scotland, and painted both their portraits.

The Order of Release, by John Everett Millais, 1853
He depicts Effie as a Scotswoman redeeming her husband
from prison following the Battle of Culledon 1746

On to Rose LaTouche.

Adèle and Effie belong to the youthful part of Ruskin’s life, when his chief concerns were paintings, architecture, geology, and the expression of the natural world in art. Rose LaTouche belongs to the mature period, when Ruskin’s concerns were increasingly turning to economic and social justice and educational and even religious reform. Rose came into Ruskin’s life during a period of disillusionment, struggle, and even despair. Instead of the youthful confidence, even arrogance that he possessed during his pursuits of Adèle and Effie – here I mean confidence in his intellectual gifts and his ability to influence others with them – Ruskin was frustrated and impatient with the rising levels of pollution and exploitation caused by the machine age – and frustrated and impatient with his earlier self, and earlier writings.

He had undergone an immense spiritual awakening in finally rejecting his parents’ narrow evangelical religious views – this happened in Turin, and part of it was brought on by studying a Veronese painting which he had earlier dismissed as decadent; he had experienced the labour of sifting through the 19,000 drawings and paintings Turner had left the State – and that meant his hero Turner had died, as had his own father John James, two great losses; and he was coming into the company of Thomas Carlyle, a rigorous, upright, and revolutionary thinker, to put it mildly.

When he met Rose she was ten years old. He was thirty-nine. She was one of three children of an extraordinarily wealthy Irish banker of French extraction. They had an estate of 11,000 acres outside of Dublin, where they entertained the Prince of Wales himself, and an elegant town house in London. Her mother Maria LaTouche was a strong minded, cultured, intelligent woman, more intelligent and more cultured than her husband.
London: Spring 1861 
"Dearest St Crumpet––You can’t think how fusty the carriage was from Prato to Florence––but of course you can, you can think of EVERYTHING, including fusty carriages should you like, but Mama says you’re too fine a gentleman to bother with such ––but we are here now and tomorrow we go and see Mr Giotto’s Campanile at the Duomo and I shall look at it with care just as you told me, and make Emily and Percy look too. And I am trying to draw what I see in the sketchbook you gave me and hold my pencil that way you showed me. And trying not to get scolded, I wanted to give my hat the blue one to a little dusty girl that was in the garden of the hotel but Bun––Miss Bunnett stopped me. She is Bun to me and so you are delicious Crumpet, but I think I should add the St for respect. I wish St Crumpet you were with me too. And that it were not so hot, it is too hot for Irish roses. Love––your Rosie-posie." 
Ruskin felt a sudden flush spring upon his cheek; his ears burned. “I am not alone,” he said aloud. “I shall not be alone.”
He read the letter again. She had never called him “Dearest” before, nor ended as she had–– “Love––your Rosie-posie.” His Rosie. His love. Rosie posie, Rosie fair, Rosie light and sweet as air. He thought of her oval face and more-slightly pointed chin; the tiny white-gold curls at the nape of the slender neck; eyes neither blue nor grey but some un-named alloyage possessing the smokiness of dusk; the lips perfect in profile but a little too full, almost petulant when she turned to you––a glistening rosebud, offering itself. The gravity of her gaze, like that, he imagined, of St. Ursula as a child. The face he had first loved when she was ten and he, nearing forty, had called at her mother’s request to meet the children and perhaps consent to give them a drawing lesson or two. - Light, Descending, pp 173-174
Notice: He does not re-name Rose. She already has the perfect name. She re-names him. And in fact she called him “St Crumpet” or “St C” all her short life.

Rose represented the ideal of purity and beauty to Ruskin – she was well-named.

Young Rose LaTouche, as drawn by John Ruskin

He was friends with the entire family but especially Mrs LaTouche and Rose – it was Rose who kept him coming back. He was invited for extended stays at their manor house in Ireland, and when the LaTouches were in London Maria LaTouche and Rose often came to Denmark Hill, the Ruskin home, to see Ruskin’s fabled collection of paintings, especially the Turner watercolours and oils.

As Rose was growing older Ruskin was, as noted earlier, experiencing increasingly difficult times – the death of Turner, the death of his father, and other personal losses. Ruskin was raised as an evangelical Christian; his mother in particular was narrow minded and bigoted, and ran the house like a tyrant. John had to cover all his paintings every Sabbath, so that he could not see or enjoy them, because nothing was to distract one from prayer and meditation. The first time John actually took a walk for pleasure on a Sunday – it happened in Switzerland, and he was quaking in his boots – he was in his 30’s. He never told his parents about it, and was ashamed to think they might have seen him from the window of their inn.

Finally John could no longer accept the tenet that everyone in the world was damned to eternal hellfire if they were not a particular type of Protestant. This was freeing for him, but also another sort of loss, that loss of certainty that his mother clung to.

One of the real challenges with the LaTouches is that Mr LaTouche was coming more and more under the influence of a charismatic Baptist preacher, Charles Spurgeon, a man who was a great orator and had a sort of portable mega-church form around him in London. John LaTouche forsook the Church of Ireland – the Irish version of the Church of England, was baptized personally by Spurgeon, and became convinced his entire family except him was destined for damnation unless they did the same. There began a battle for the soul of the children, with the more moderate Maria LaTouche insisting they continue to be part of the Church of Ireland, and her husband insisting they to endorse his version of evangelical Christianity.

Rose, who was both thoughtful and impressionable, was caught in the middle – and it was tragic. One can imagine Ruskin, on the outside, finally free of the fear of a vengeful God and fiery damnation, seeing this beautiful young creature Rose embrace what he had finally been able to reject.

For long and miserable periods he was forbidden to see or even write to Rose – she had had a serious physical and mental breakdown the day after she, against her mother’s wishes, received Communion before being confirmed – and it was only very gradually that Ruskin was able to see her again. And candidly, at times he didn’t want to see her, as seeing her was so disruptive to his work and thought processes. But at last he was invited to Rose’s 18th birthday party – he was 47 at this point – and a few days later he invited her to Denmark Hill, his home, and proposed to her.

She asked him to wait another three years for her answer, which was crushing, But every night in his diary he began counting down the days until her 21st birthday, when she would make her decision.

Her parents were much against the union, and again forbade him to see or write to Rose. Sometimes she would find a way to write, or send a few rose petals to him – things he clung to. He even had a special wallet made, of thin sheets of gold, and within this he kept her most precious letters, and wore this wallet in his breast pocket against his heart.

He tried to address her in lectures, so to speak, because they were re-printed, and he hoped she would read them. Especially when he lectured about religious extremism he hoped she would learn of it, and he wrote the little book Sesame and Lilies for her – it’s a book of instruction for young people, and it became one of his best-selling titles, as slight as it is.

Rose was more and more debilitated, in and out of nursing homes, and finally in hopes of ending it definitively, Maria LaTouche wrote to Effie, who wrote back, incorrectly, that if Ruskin wed and ever had a child, it would mean Effie’s marriage to Millais would be invalid and their eight children illegitimate.

It was heartbreaking, and Rose was so frail and oftentimes deranged that anything further was out of the question. Rose died when she was twenty-seven from the accumulated deleterious effects of anorexia nervosa. Her father, ever since he got religion, was always urging her to “fast and pray” and so she did, right into an early grave.

Rose’s death devastated Ruskin. He had been struggling with mental illness, and this was an irrecoverable blow. He had, during her lifetime, begun to associate her with St Ursula as depicted in the Life and Martyrdom of St Ursula by Carpaccio in Venice, and the two figures, the virgin Rose and the virgin Ursula, merged in his mind.

The Dream of St Ursula, by Vittore Carpaccio, Gallerie dell'Accademia, Venice

There were other women later in his life who were interested in Ruskin, some of whom were mere opportunists, others who shared his social justice aims and would have been well suited to taking care of him and loving him, but he was one of those unfortunates who only wanted what he could not have, or in the case of Effie, when he got what he wanted, withdrew.


Octavia Randolph’s new novel is Light, Descending, the story of the great and tormented John Ruskin. Available in paperback at selected book stores, and as paperback and Kindle at and; and as paperback and Nook at Barnes&

Monday, January 26, 2015

Elizabeth of York - Mother of a Dynasty

by Judith Arnopp

Elizabeth of York
All images rom Wikimedia*
Unlike her son Henry VIII and the granddaughter named in her honour, Elizabeth of York isn’t a household name. When viewed against the back drop of other Tudors she is far less splendid than her children; she is conventional and appears obedient, even cowed perhaps. Her portraits show a pretty, plump, and resigned looking woman who doesn’t adhere to our imagined picture of the mother of a king, the grandmother of a king and two queens. But, although her meek expression belies her harsh experiences she was in fact, the founder of a dynasty.

Elizabeth was born on February 11th 1466 into the bloody era now known as the Wars of the Roses. She was the first child of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville. To everyone but the couple involved, this was an unconventional and unpopular match but, unlike other queens, Elizabeth Woodville was to prove satisfactorily fertile.

King Edward IV
It was a time of upheaval and when Edward was forced to flee into exile in Burgundy, the Queen, along with her daughters, fled into Sanctuary at Westminster Abbey.  There, safe from conflict but estranged from the exiled King, the first of the younger Elizabeth’s brothers was born. (The boy Edward would later earn his place in history by ‘disappearing’, along with his brother Richard, from the Tower of London, igniting a mystery that continues to burn today.)

Meanwhile, boosted perhaps by the good news, the exiled king gathered his forces and with the aid of his brother-in-law, Charles the Bold of Burgundy, returned to England to resume the battle for his throne, finally defeating Warwick and Margaret of Anjou and having the old King Henry VI murdered in the Tower. This initiated a time of relative peace.

For Elizabeth, now five or six years old, it was time for her education to begin. As well as the skills of running a huge household, she was also taught to read and write and given some instruction in accounting. Contemporary reports describe her as pious, obedient, and loving, and dedicated to helping the poor.

In 1475 when Edward made his peace with France, it was arranged as part of the treaty that on her twelfth birthday she would go to France to prepare for marriage to Dauphin Charles. But, before this could take place, France reneged on the deal and married his son to Margaret of Austria instead.

Elizabeth Woodville
Things ran smoothly for a while, or as smoothly as they ever do in royal circles, until, on the unexpected death of the King in 1483, Elizabeth fled once more with her mother into Sanctuary at Westminster. Richard of Gloucester took his place as Lord Protector and Elizabeth's brother, the Prince of Wales, was brought to London to await his coronation, as was tradition, in the royal apartments at the Tower. 

Shortly afterward it emerged (whether true or not is another question) that Edward IV’s marriage to Elizabeth Woodville was bigamous due to a prior contract of marriage. All children of the union between Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville were pronounced illegitimate. As we all know, Gloucester was declared King Richard III, and at some point between 1483 and 1485, Elizabeth’s brothers disappeared from the record. (That is not proof however that they disappeared from the Earth – there are any number of possible explanations).

The Princes in the Tower
How must this have been for Elizabeth? One moment she is the Princess of the realm, Dauphine of France, and the next an illegitimate nobody living in exile from court in the squalor of sanctuary.

And what of her brothers' fate? She would have been ignorant of that, and the resulting uncertainty mixed with grief for her father can only have been hard. It is possible that her mother knew or believed the boys to be safe. Why else, after scurrying into the safety of Westminster in fear of her life, would she suddenly hand her daughters into the care of the very man suspected of injuring her sons? 

We cannot know the answer to that, but the uncertainties provide very tasty fodder for the authors of fiction.

Elizabeth and her sisters returned to court to serve Richard’s Queen, Anne Neville, where they were treated with every courtesy. Queen Anne was ailing and clearly dying. It was at this time that rumours emerged of a relationship between Richard and his niece, Elizabeth. It is now impossible to be certain of the truth behind the allegation, but at the time gossip was strong enough for Richard to publicly deny the accusation. Whether the claim was true or not, Elizabeth would have suffered some degree of shame, but she seems to have continued to be prominent at court, serving the Queen until her death in March 1485. 

In August, when invasion was looming, Elizabeth and other children from the royal nursery were sent north for safety while the King dealt with the threat from Henry Tudor.

Henry Tudor
Henry Tudor, the Lancastrian heir, was aided throughout his exile by his mother, Margaret Beaufort in England. Margaret had devoted her life to her son’s cause. She  untiringly devised methods to secure the throne she saw as rightfully her son’s. Prior to his invasion, in order to muster support from the Yorkist faction, Henry promised that, if he became king, he would marry Elizabeth of York and unite the warring houses of York and Lancaster, putting an end to the Wars of the Roses forever.

After Richard III’s defeat at Bosworth in 1485 Elizabeth was taken to Margaret Beaufort’s house at Coldharbour, but Henry was slow to marry her and slower to crown her. We should consider the logistics of arranging a royal wedding at short notice, but it not something that Henry VIII found an obstacle in the next reign. To some it is almost as if he wished to deny that Elizabeth had any influence on his claim at all. They were married in January 1486. Elizabeth gave birth to their first child, a son whom they named Arthur, in September of the same year scarcely nine months later. She had no further children until two years after her coronation which took place in November 1487.

Perkin Warbeck
Henry Tudor’s reign was fraught with rebellion. Pretenders emerged throughout, some were swiftly dealt with, but one in particular, Perkin Warbeck, claiming to be Elizabeth’s younger brother, Richard, harried the king for years. We will never know his real identity, although the King went to great lengths to provide him with a lowly one.

Elizabeth is always described as a dutiful wife and devoted mother. She took no part in ruling the country, and there are no reports of her ever having spoken out of turn or ‘disappointing’ the King. Henry appears to have been a faithful husband; his later relationship with Katherine Gordon, wife of Warbeck, was possibly no more than friendship, but Katherine did very well, both in status and financially, at Henry's court.

Although Prince Arthur was raised, as convention dictated, in his own vast household at Ludlow, Elizabeth took an active role in the upbringing of her younger children, teaching them their letters and overseeing their education.

Prince Arthur
When Arthur, the Prince of Wales, died suddenly in 1502, both Henry and Elizabeth were distraught, the King thrown into insecurity at having been left with just one male heir. Reports state that the King and Queen comforted each other and, although there are some hints of a possible estrangement between the royal couple, Elizabeth promised to give Henry another son. She fell pregnant quickly and, ten months later, gave birth to a girl, Katherine, but succumbed to puerperal fever and died on her birthday, 11th February 1503.

Elizabeth of York
Elizabeth deserves more credit. There is as much strength in resilience as in resistance, and I believe she was both strong and resolved, bound by duty to serve her country as best she could.

Her union with Henry negated the battle between York and Lancaster, and the many children she bore strengthened political unions with France, Scotland, and Spain. Ultimately, she died doing her duty to England.

When a king puts aside personal desire for the sake of his country or dies on the battlefield defending it, he becomes a hero; often, if he is on the right side, he is honoured throughout history.

Yet Elizabeth did all those things. She married dutifully; she quickly produced an heir, a spare, and several daughters to increase the king’s bargaining powers. At the tragic loss of the Prince of Wales, despite her age and the suggestion of medical problems, she took the most dangerous decision to try to give the King another son. She died a hero, in service of her King and country.



Elizabeth is the subject of my shortly to be published book A Song of Sixpence, in which I suppose that the younger of the princes was in fact rescued from the Tower in 1483 and re-emerges some years later as the man Henry names 'Perkin Warbeck'. 

The novel considers the division of loyalties a princess, born to the house of York, might have suffered in her union with the House of Lancaster. Would her support be for husband and her sons, or her long lost brother?

This is a massive issue to deal with in one blog, and I would encourage you to read more about Elizabeth in Alison Weir's book Elizabeth of York: The First Tudor Queen and Amy Licence's Elizabeth of York. 

For more information about my work please visit my webpage. 
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Giveaway: 1914 First Blood by John Hughes-Wilson

Mereo Books is giving away a print copy of 1914 First Blood to an international winner. You can read about the book HERE. Please comment below on this page to enter the drawing, and be sure to leave your contact information.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

The De Vere Family in the 17th Century

by Margaret Porter

The blood of the English de Veres, which still flows through the veins of Britain’s noble families—and some members of the present royal family—can be traced backwards in time to a Frenchman, Alberic de Vere. He accompanied William the Conqueror to England and in 1066 fought at the Battle of Hastings. Not long afterwards he was granted lands in Essex, the county most closely associated with his descendants. His grandson Aubrey, Count of Guines, was further ennobled as First Earl of Oxford by Empress Matilda when she was Queen of England. And down the centuries, through every reign, the de Veres were prominent as royal chamberlains, courtiers, and favourites.

Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford
The passage of five hundred years brings us to the 17th century and the waning days of the Seventeenth Earl—by far the most famous and illustrious member of his family. Edward de Vere was a shimmering star in Queen Elizabeth’s court, who referred to himself in his signature variously as "Oxford" or "Oxenford". For those who doubt that the genuine author of Shakespeare’s plays and poetry was a common glover’s son from Stratford, de Vere is most frequently proposed as their probable creator. He was a warrior-poet, in addition to being well-travelled, a gifted dancer, and a court officer. And, in the opinion of his wife Anne Cecil and her powerful father Lord Burghley, a terrible husband! It was his second wife, Elizabeth Trentham, who in 1593 provided an heir to his earldom.

Ten years later, at the death of his beloved Queen, Lord Oxford wrote to his brother-in-law of his grief, saying, “In this common shipwreck, mine is above all the rest.” On the accession of King James I, he asserted his hereditary claim as Lord Great Chamberlain and received from the King’s Wardrobe “forty yards of crimson velvet for the Earl’s own robes” to wear at the coronation on 25 July, 1603. Among his many duties on that date: delivering the uncrowned monarch's shirt, stockings, and underclothing to his bedchamber and dressing him for the coronation. As a perquisite, the Earl received “the bed on which the King had slept the night before the coronation and all his bedding, the coverlet, curtains, pillows, and hangings of the whole room, with the King’s nightgown.” During the coronation banquet, he presented the King's food. Oxford had but a year to enjoy his new possessions, for he died on 24 June, 1604.

Henry de Vere, 18th Earl of Oxford
His son and successor Henry was only eleven years old, the inheritor of a wasted estate. The boy's mother struggled to reclaim Hedingham, the de Veres’ ancestral castle in Essex, and other property in East Anglia. On attaining his majority he departed on a grand tour and spent five years in the Low Countries, France, and Italy. He later became Vice-Admiral of the Fleet, perhaps in order to keep him away from Parliament, where he was reportedly “one of the free-est speakers . . . .” He didn’t last long as a naval commander: disputes with the all-powerful Duke of Buckingham landed him in the Tower more than once. Like his father, he married a Cecil, but she bore him no children. He died at The Hague from a battle wound in 1625, two months after King James I, and was buried in Westminster Abbey.

Robert de Vere, 19th Earl of Oxford
As preparations began for Charles I’s coronation, Henry’s cousin Robert’s right of succession was disputed by another lord, preventing the presumptive Nineteenth Earl from taking part in the ceremony. Nearly a year later the House of Lords affirmed Robert’s status, and he took his seat in April 1626. In February of the following year his countess, Beatrice van Hemmema of Friesland, delivered their son Aubrey.

History repeated—like Edward and Henry de Vere before him, Aubrey became an earl when very young after his father fell at the Siege of Maastricht. Inheriting his title at the age of five, the Twentieth Earl of Oxford spent his childhood and early adolescence in Friesland with his mother’s family.

Aubrey de Vere, 20th Earl of Oxford
By the time Aubrey returned to England at age fourteen with his mother and sister, the de Vere properties were nearly all lost. He attended university at Oxford and began his long and rather distinguished career as a soldier—he loved a good fight on and off the battlefield and was a notorious duelist. In 1647 he took as his bride the ten-year-old heiress Anne Bayning, who brought him much-needed funds and a life interest in her Essex estates. A bright and promising future was dimmed by the execution of Charles I. Aubrey, a devoted royalist, fled to the Netherlands to join the court in exile. His estate was sequestered in 1651. Three years later he returned to England and landed in the Tower after being accused of plotting against Cromwell. This did not deter him--after his release, under the code name "Mr Waller" he participated in further royalist conspiracies and in 1659 was again imprisoned. His wife voluntarily joined him in the Tower, sickened, and died there. He was released a fortnight afterwards.

With the fall of the Commonwealth, the widower Aubrey, premiere earl of the realm, was among the six peers who invited Charles II to return to England. His good friend, the king he’d supported in exile, made him a Knight of the Garter, Lord Lieutenant of Essex, and gave him command of the regiment that was known as the “Oxford Blues.” He became a Privy Councillor and a Gentleman of the Bedchamber.

Aubrey, “the first of his Dignity in the Realm tho’ low in fortune,” was a gallant and courtly man, a gambler, and as lusty as Charles II’s other cronies—in other words, a very typical nobleman of the Restoration court. He arranged a false marriage to an actress who stirred his lust, employing one of His Majesty’s trumpeters to serve as “priest”. Despite the deception, the lady remained with him and in 1664 bore him a son. The mother referred to the boy Lord Bolbec, the courtesy title granted to an Earl of Oxford’s heir apparent, although he was the product of an unlawful marriage. Not surprisingly, the liaison didn’t last.

Aubrey proved himself a friend of the theatre in another way, by loaning out his coronation robes for a production of Shakespeare's Henry IV!

Diana Kirke by Peter Lely
His next mistress of note was the beautiful and immoral Diana Kirke, daughter of Whitehall Palace’s keeper and granddaughter of Aurelian Townsend, who composed court masques for King Charles I and Queen Henrietta Maria. When Di fell pregnant, the King offered the couple an annual pension of £2000 if they married. And so they did, in April 1673. Their first child, Charlotte, arrived not many months later.  She and her brother Charles, the true Lord Bolbec, died very young. Of the Oxfords' three surviving daughters, only one had an unblemished reputation—Lady Diana, the future First Duchess of St. Albans, who married Charles II’s son by Nell Gwyn. Lady Mary and Lady Henrietta, who were very possibly sired by Di's paramours, were as scandalous as their mother but did not succeed in marrying any of their lovers.

At James II’s accession in 1685, Aubrey was appointed Privy Councillor. At the coronation on 23 April his responsibilities were the same as when Charles II was crowned, and his wife took precedence over the other countesses. The Lord Chamberlain's instructions for the coronation clearly outline their positions: In procession of Countesses, four abreast, excepting Diana Countess of Oxford, alone….In procession of His Majesties regalia: The Sword of State in the Scabbard, born by Aubrey de Vere Earl of Oxford, Premier Earl of England, in his Robes of Estate, and Collar of the Order. 

Aubrey and James eventually fell out—the Earl refused to submit to the new King’s pro-Catholic policies and his stubborn intention to abolish the Test Act. Aubrey and his regiment supported the Protestant cause embodied in Prince William of Orange, and he welcomed the Dutch invader to England. After the accession of William and Mary, Aubrey participated in their coronation (his daughter Diana was one of the Queen’s train-bearers), and his former offices and honours were restored to him. He and the Oxford Blues fought against James II’s forces in Ireland, most notably at the Battle of the Boyne. In 1700 and and the following year he was commissioned as Speaker of the House of Lords, serving until William III revoked his privilege in September 1701.

Queen Anne was the last of the many monarchs Aubrey helped to crown. He succumbed to a serious illness in the winter of 1703 and died at his house in Downing Street, aged seventy-six. He was buried with his first wife Anne and many of his ancestors in Westminster Abbey's Chapel of St. John the Evangelist. The historic earldom of Oxford (first creation) died with him, as he had no legitimate son.

His daughter Diana, Duchess of St Albans, was a renowned beauty. Not long after her father's death, a member of the Kit-Kat club (a Whig drinking and discussion society) paid tribute to her and the de Veres' martial exploits by engraving these verses on a toasting glass:

1st Duchess of St Albans, 1694
Author's Collection
The line of Vere, so long renown’d in arms,
Concludes with luster in St. Albans’s charms;
Her conquering eyes have made their race complete,
It rose in valor, and in beauty set. 

Through Diana, the de Vere bloodline extended through her numerous offspring (eight of her nine sons survived) to the present day. Although the Beauclerks are more often described as direct descendants of King Charles II, they are equally connected to Aubrey the great 17th century courtier and his forbears. Murray de Vere Beauclerk, the current and Fourteenth Duke of St Albans, bears the name that Alberic brought to England in the 11th century, as does his eldest son, an author--and biographer of their ancestress Nell Gwyn.

Members of the royal family who carry de Vere DNA are William, Duke of Cambridge (through his mother Diana, Princess of Wales) and his son Prince George.


The de Veres of Castle Hedingham, Verily Anderson
Manuscript letters written by Aubrey de Vere, 20th Earl of Oxford, held by the British Library
Beauclerk family papers held by the London Metropolitan Archive
A Genealogical History of the Dormant, Abeyant, Forfeited, and Extinct Peerages of the British Empire, Sir Bernard Burke
The Diary of Samuel Pepys
The Fighting Veres, Sir Clements Robert Markham
Monstrous Adversary: The Life of Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, Alan H. Nelson
Dictionary of National Biography


Margaret Porter, who can claim a few tiny drops of de Vere blood, is the award-winning and bestselling author of several historical fiction genres, and is also published in nonfiction and poetry. A Pledge of Better Times, the story of courtiers Lady Diana de Vere and Charles Beauclerk, 1st Duke of St. Albans, and of Diana's father Aubrey de Vere, will be available in April 2015. Margaret studied British history in the UK and the US. As historian, her areas of speciality are social, theatrical, and garden history of the 17th and 18th centuries, royal courts, and portraiture. A former actress, she gave up the stage and screen to devote herself to fiction writing, travel, and her rose gardens.