Wednesday, September 30, 2015

John Stow - Chronicler of London in the Tudor Age

by Mark Patton

Previously on this blog-site I explored London through the eyes of a 12th Century chronicler, William FitzStephen. The city would have to wait for more than three hundred years before another writer appeared on the scene to document its fortunes with similar care and attention to detail.

John Stow was born in London in 1525, the son of a tailor. Growing up in Threadneedle Street (now synonymous with high finance but, in Stow's time, with his father's trade, as the name suggests), he would walk along Leadenhall Street to fetch half-penny jugs of milk from the farm at the Franciscan nunnery that lay just outside Aldgate. His father suffered the indignity of having half of his garden appropriated by Thomas Cromwell (no legal process was involved, Cromwell's workmen simply removed the fence and erected a brick wall twenty-two feet further south): Stow's father, however, continued to pay rent on the whole property, "because no man durst go to argue the matter."

Like Cromwell, however, and like Cromwell's mentor, Cardinal Wolsey, Stow seems, somehow, to have received an education enjoyed by few boys of his social status. Literate in both English and Latin, he served his apprenticeship as a tailor without enthusiasm. At the age of forty, despite having few financial resources to fall back upon, he gave up the trade altogether in favour of a scholarly life. He built up a substantial private library, including the works of Geoffrey Chaucer (a version of which he edited) & Geoffrey of Monmouth,  and the Latin texts of Julius Caesar & Tacitus. He travelled the length and breadth of England, always on foot, since he could not afford a horse.

He published his Annals (a history of Britain, drawing both on the work of earlier historians and on his own observations) in 1580. Only at the very end of his life, as his health declined, did he devote himself specifically to the history of his native city. His Survey of London (1598) is an important document, not least because many of the archives he consulted would subsequently be lost to the Great Fire of 1666. He gives both a vivid account of the London of his own day and a historical commentary, drawing on the archives of the Guildhall, the Livery Companies and the Churches.

Stow was among the first English historians to recognise the unreliability of his Medieval predecessors. Writing of the Tower of London, he has this to say:
... it hath been the common opinion - and some have written - but of none assured ground, that Julius Caesar, the first conqueror of the Britons, was the original author and founder, as well thereof as also many other towers, castles, and great buildings within this realm; but ... Caesar remained not here so long, nor had he in his head any such matter, but only to despatch a conquest of this barbarous country, and to proceed to greater matters.

London Bridge he describes as
... a work very rare, having with the draw-bridge twenty arches made of squared stone, of height sixty feet, and in breadth thirty feet ... compact and joined together with vaults and cellars; upon both sides be houses built, so that it seemeth rather a continual street than a bridge; for the fortifying thereof against the incessant assaults of the river, it hath overseers and officers, viz, wardens as aforesaid, and others.

London Bridge in 1483, British Library
Royal Manuscript 16, Folio 73

He also documents the various tributaries of the Thames, now largely hidden, and the ways in which these had been engineered, even in his time, to provide fresh water for the population of the city (then numbering around a quarter of a million people):
The first cistern of lead, castellated with stone, in the City of London was called the great Conduit in West Cheap, which was begun to be built in the year 1285, Henry Wales being then mayor ... Bosses of water at Belinsgate, by Paul's Wharf, and by Saint Giles's Church without Cripplegate, made about 1423. Water conveyed to the gaols of Newgate and Ludgate, 1432.

London's rivers, most of them now underground.
The Open Guide to London (licensed under CCA).

Like William FitzStephen before him, he also describess the enjoyments of Londoners (skating, sports, theatres), and the many festivities that took place at particular times of the year.

Perhaps most significantly, he provides a detailed account of each of the city's Wards. Over the coming months, as I research a series of historical novels based in London, I will be walking the streets that Stow walked and exploring each of the Wards in turn, both here and on my own blog-site.

The wards of the City of London, as recorded in 1870.
Image: Doc77can (licensed under CCA).

John Stow lived much of his life in poverty and his later years in poor health but was nonetheless described as a "merry old man." On his death he was buried at the church where he had worshipped, Saint Andrew Undershaft (coincidentally, one of the few city churches to have survived largely intact from his time).

The Church of Saint Andrew Undershaft,
built in 1532, over an earlier Medieval church.
Photo: Elissa.rolle (licensed under CCA).

The monument to John Stow.
Photo: John Salmon (licensed under CCA).


Mark Patton blogs regularly on aspects of history and historical fiction at His novels, Undreamed Shores, An Accidental King and Omphalos, are published by Crooked Cat Publications and can be purchased from Amazon.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Crazy Customs from the Past Blog Hop and Book Release

by Debra Brown

To our way of thinking, people of the past have had some crazy customs. Packing a picnic lunch to attend and cheer on a hanging comes to mind. Or is it that different than a jumbo popcorn in the center seats to see the gore in full color and best of all, larger than life?

We are used to doing things our way, as people were Then. It comes with practice. I was always confounded by the fact that ladies once wore dresses that dragged in the mud. Surely society would have understood if just a tad of ankle showed to keep the spendy fabrics from becoming filthy and ragged? Or not? It was unfathomable to me until I attended a Renaissance Faire in full dress (to the top of my foot, thank you) and watched more realistic women dragging their acres of fabric in the dust. As my contract required me to hang out for the duration, I adjusted to the sight and with practice learned to accept it as if it were fully normal. I may adjust my social standing for the next event and drag some velvet in my train.

Time traveling is fun. One of the fabulous EHFA writers mentioned the convenience of relieving oneself when attending a Regency banquet--since there were no rooms set aside for the purpose as we have today, a duke or duchess might (would, actually) simply step behind a partition and make use of a chamber pot. How handy is that?

For those of you who enjoy stepping into the past from the safety of your modern day reading room just down the hall from your flushing toilet, we proudly present the beautiful Volume Two of Castles, Customs, and Kings: True Tales by English Historical Fiction Authors, edited by myself and Sue Millard and published by Madison Street Publishing. As an extra treat, several of our contributors and friends have shed light on various customs, from "Hunting the Wren in Wales and Ireland" to the "17th Century Marriage Day". See below for links to their blogs. We hope you enjoy this blog hop in celebration of our new release.

An anthology of essays from the second year of the English Historical Fiction Authors blog, this book transports the reader across the centuries from prehistoric to twentieth century Britain. Nearly fifty different authors share the stories, incidents, and insights discovered while doing research for their own historical novels.

From medieval law and literature to Tudor queens and courtiers, from Stuart royals and rebels to Regency soldiers and social calls, experience the panorama of Britain’s yesteryear. Explore the history behind the fiction, and discover the true tales surrounding Britain’s castles, customs, and kings.

Volume I
Volume II

The Kindle copy and links from other venues will be available soon.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Sir Thomas Trowbridge

by Lauren Gilbert

Sir Thomas Trowbridge (Wikimedia Commons)

A snippet of news from 1807 as noted in Jane Austen's Regency World Magazine caught my eye.
Admiral Drury is to proceed immediately to India, in the Monmouth, on which vessel he has hosted his flag.  The Admiral has been appointed to succeed the gallant, but unfortunate Sir Thomas Trowbridge in the command of the East India Station, there being now too much reason to believe that the Blenheim is lost. (1)
I was immediately curious as to who Sir Thomas Trowbridge was and what happened to the Blenheim.

He was the son of Richard Trowbridge, esq, of  Cavendish Street, in Marylebone.  Thomas spent the bulk of his life in the Navy, starting out under the tutelage of Admiral Sir Edward Hughes, K. B. in the East Indies.  He obtained his lieutenancy in 1780 and proceeded to rise steadily through the ranks.  As captain, he was sent to support Lord Nelson and participated in the Battle of the Nile under the Admiral, in which the French navy was destroyed August 1, 1798.  Nelson wrote in praise of Captain Trowbridge's conduct in the battle to the Admiralty.  Thomas subsequently became a commodore, then Rear Admiral of the White and continued to serve.  He was made Sir Thomas Trowbridge, Baronet in November of 1799, because of his action in the Battle of the Nile.  Sir Thomas continued to rise in profession and was appointed a Lord of the Admiralty.

On the personal side, he married Mrs. Frances Richardson (described in one source as "relict" so she appears to have been a widow).  They had a son, Edward-Thomas, who became the 2nd Baronet, and followed his father into the Navy, and a daughter Charlotte, who married Major-General Egerton (brother of Sir Philip-Grey Egerton, Baronet).  Sadly, there appears to be no record of Sir Thomas's date of birth, any additional information about his wife, or their marriage date.There is also no annotation of the birth dates of his children, only their marriage dates.

On April 23, 1804, Sir Thomas was promoted to admiral and was sent in 1805 to the East Indies, where he was assigned to the Cape of Good Hope as commander-in-chief of the east portion of the East India Command.  His ship was the Blenheim, which had 74 guns but had seen much service and was in poor condition following damage in the Straits of Malacca. Although Sir Thomas sailed the Blenheim successfully from Pulo Penang to Madras (after some badly-needed repairs), the ship was still in very bad shape.  Sir Thomas was told of the ship's condition, but would not alter his plan to sail her to the Cape.  The Blenheim was accompanied by the Java and the Harrier.  On February 1, 1806, they were caught in a severe gale, and the last sight of the Blenheim revealed her to be sitting low in the water in obvious distress. The ships were separated, and the Harrier made it to the Cape on February 28, 1806.  The Blenheim and the Java were lost. Captain Edward-Thomas Trowbridge was sent to look for his father, but no trace was found.

Jane Austen's Regency World Magazine.  "What Made the News In Sept and Oct 1807." Compiled by Judy Boyd.  Sep/Oct 2015 Issue 77, p. 34  (Footnote 1)

Google Books.  Debrett, John and Courthope, William.  Debrett's Baronetage of England: with alphabetical lists of such baronetcies as have merged in the peerage, or have become extinct, and also of the existing baronets of Nova Scotia and Ireland, edited. p. 282.  1835: J.G. & F. Rivington, HERE

GoogleBooks. Lysons, Rev. Daniel and Lysons, Samuel.   MAGNA BRITANNIA: Being a Concise, Topical Account of the Several Counties of Great Britain, Volume the Sixth containing Devonshire, p. cxxxi (131).  1822: Thomas Cadell, London,  HERE

GoogleBooks.  The Picture Magazine, Volume 7.  "Portraits." page 74. January -June.  1896: George Newnes Ltd., London., HERE

Image: Wikimedia Commons,  from Thomas Mante's NAVAL AND MILITARY HISTORY OF THE WARS OF ENGLAND, including those of Scotland and Ireland, 1795(?)-1807, Vol. 8, published in London, HERE


Lauren Gilbert is the author of Heyerwood: A Novel. Her second book, A Rational Attachment, is due out this winter. She will attend the Jane Austen Society of North America's Annual General Meeting in Louisville, and will be participating in the author signing. Stop by and say hello! She lives in Florida with her husband. Visit her website at for  more information about her.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Navigating the Strange Dichotomy of an Author’s Life

by Andrea Zuvich

I recently gave a lecture about the Stuart influence upon Kensington Palace’s gardens to a lovely group of people at the Kensington and Chelsea Forum recently. During the course of that lecture, I explained that a historical writer’s life was a strange life – to be mostly alone (be it in archives, typing away on a computer, etc) and then to suddenly have to switch into a polar opposite mode: public speaking. I was very stunned and delighted to learn that, as interest in the lecture was greater than expected, they had to change venues to accommodate the larger audience. That’s great, but if you don’t like public speaking, a larger audience may make the whole experience that much more daunting.

That’s the thing that I would advise potential authors about: you need to be ready, and comfortable, to do both. Without live events, you tend to not reach members of the public who would otherwise not have heard about you. Even in 2015, there are many who do not have access to the Internet (or choose not to use it). Public events are excellent ways of interacting with potential readers. Despite being inherently quiet and sometimes shy, I’m really pleased that I find public speaking relatively easy (this is probably because of my background in acting). Don’t worry if you find it hard at first; like most things, it gets easier with practice.

It was this sort of thing that made me think of the other things a historical fiction/nonfiction writer has to keep in mind, and I’ve listed them below:

Socialise in real life, not just on the Internet.

I’ll be the first to admit that the Internet has made it so much easier to find like-minded friends. Skype is great because you can see and talk to someone in real time. That being said, there is nothing like a face-to-face chat in person. Do not underestimate the importance of basic human contact. Go out for lunch or coffee. Go see a film, go to a concert. Just get out of the house. This way, you can relax your mind and get back to your writing with renewed zest and energy.

Try to lead an active lifestyle

Another, probably more important, aspect of a writer’s life is unquestionably a sedentary lifestyle. Unless you are one of the few gifted with a fast metabolism, you will notice a change in your weight. Some writers get so lost in their work that they forget to eat. Others, and I’m in this category, get heavy. That’s why it is imperative to do something active every day. I force myself to do at least 20 minutes on my cross-trainer and I also walk to and from the supermarket 15 minutes away. This helps to address the overwhelming majority of the time that one is seated writing. That being said, I have a few friends who have switched to standing desks. Whatever works for you is good, but staying as healthy as you can be helps a lot.

Take screen breaks.

I suffer from both migraines and very poor vision – the latter needs to be checked regularly. My ophthalmologist recommended that I look outside or towards the far side of the room every fifteen minutes to reduce eye strain, and this works (when I remember to do it). RSI and carpal tunnel are possible side effects to your work. I like to use a mouse pen instead of a normal mouse because I can get constant pain in my wrists when I am writing a book.

Love your subject.

I can’t emphasise this enough. When you love your subject, it shows. When you have enthusiasm and passion for your topic, it’s contagious. Why did I choose the 17th century? Oddly enough, I had been interested in that century even before I knew it. Like many, I was taught about the Tudors and found that really exciting. My teachers, however, went from the Tudors straight to the Victorians, whilst I personally enjoyed aspects of the 17th-century. It’s often said that nothing can kill your passion for a subject as quickly as formal study of it, and that happened to me. After several years of university (and one absolutely horrible professor who made my life so difficult, I labelled that time my “semester from Hell”), I had to have a break. It was – it later proved – to be fortuitous. Leaving the academic world was the best thing I ever did, because after a year of not having anything to do with the subject, my love of history returned. And it’s only increased and strengthened with time. Now that I’m older, I no longer believe that academic credentials are important. Passion and a rigorous determination to learn as much about your subject as possible are invaluable.

At the moment, I’m hard at work promoting my new release, The Stuarts in 100 Facts, which means I am constantly giving talks, interviews, and writing articles for magazines. It’s wonderful to get to interact with people in person and online. I’m fully on “public” mode, but that will soon change at the end of this month, when I go back into “hermit” mode to continue and finish writing my next book, A Year in the Life of Stuart Britain.


Andrea Zuvich (aka The Seventeenth Century Lady) is a seventeenth-century historian specialising in the Late Stuarts, historical advisor, and historical fiction authoress. She has degrees in History and one in Anthropology. Zuvich has been on television and radio discussing the Stuarts and gives lectures on them throughout the UK. She was one of the original developers of and leaders on The Garden History Tours at Kensington Palace. Zuvich lives in Windsor, England, and is writing A Year in Stuart Britain (2016).

Please visit her site at

Friday, September 25, 2015

Sumptuous Dressing in the Late Medieval Era

by Carol McGrath

I am fascinated by clothing and fabrics sold by drapers and merchants during the late medieval and early Tudor period. Wool was England's most valuable export. It was sold in quantity all over Europe.

I have been studying pictures of clothing that appear on illuminated manuscript work- those fabulous tiny figures dressed in gorgeous bright colours and in exotic fabrics other than wool. Velvet, silk and damask were the most expensive fabrics that were popular among society's elite.

Beautiful fabrics and colours for the elite

However, by the end of this period there was a market for what was known as the new draperies. They were made from wool that was combed out rather than felted and which at the weaving stage was mixed with silk, linen and even cotton. These new fabrics were often light and had a variety of interesting names such as serges, bayes, sayes, perpetuanas, frisadoes, minikins, bombasines, grosgraines, buffins, russells, sagathies, mockadoes, shalloons and tammies. They actually varied little from each other except in firmness, weight and size.

Notice the pattern woven into this new fabric

The woolen industry proper involved the manufacture of broadcloth, dozens, penistones and medley cloth. These names may seem complicated to our minds, and I have only mentioned a selection of them. Yet, I have no doubt that the medieval merchant knew what he or she was looking at when they purchased fabric in the great cloth fairs such as the September fair of St Bartholomew in London or The Northampton Cloth Fair in November.

One of the most fascinating aspects of the clothing and fashion industry are the Sumptuary laws.  In 1513 such laws were passed in England to define what different classes of people were allowed to wear. They should not just know their station, but they should look it as well. I often think as John Ball, the hedge-priest said at the time of the Peasant's Revolt,  'When Adam delved, and Eve spun, who was then a gentleman?' Equality was idealism. It could not exist within a society ruled by a feudal system.

Fashion was an important way in which identity, values and status could be displayed within society. Before the 14th century status was simply indicated by the quality of clothing worn. After this there were concerns about style and tailoring. Buttons were used from circa 1350. This meant that tight fitting garments were easier to wear. There was also an increased range of imported dyes and fabrics for the elite which could afford the latest trends. There was also a greater use of fur and embroidery. Head-dresses became more complex. The higher the rank, the more choice there was of materials and colour. The upper classes could wear taffeta, velvets, silks, furs and lace. Poor Tudors wore wool and linen.

The poor throughout the seasons
Thus, in England sumptuary rules dictated the colour and types of clothing allowed to persons of various ranks and incomes. An extremely long list of items specifying colour and materials existed well into the 17th century. Only royalty could wear purple. Gold, silver, crimson, scarlet, deep blue were for the nobility and royalty only. Poor Tudors wore browns, beige,yellow, orange, russet, green, grey and paler blues.

So, you see, the beautifully clothed figures we see in illuminated manuscripts did not represent the unfashionable poorer majority in society. Rather, they show societal elite.


Carol McGrath lives near Oxford. She is the author of The Daughters of Hastings Trilogy. Her latest novel is The Betrothed Sister. Her WIP is set in the early Tudor period. She can be found at:
Follow me on Twitter @carolmcgrath

Bessie Wallis Warfield Spencer Simpson: The Coronado Connection and Other Myths

by Linda Root

The Del Coronado Hotel, circa 1900

On April 6, 1951, my family piled into our hard-to-come-by post war 1948 Green Chrysler and left Cleveland for our new home in Coronado, California.  As I write this post I find it an ironic aside as I remember the model of our automobile was called the Windsor. I was the only person in the car unhappy to be leaving. We were headed to a suburb of a city without an opera, a decent symphony or major league sports. We were leaving Oz and heading straight to Kansas.

On April 24, 1951, I spent my 12th Birthday in California  at the Officer’s Club at Naval Air Station-North Island, which was part of man-made (can we say that now?) Coronado Island in San Diego Bay. Our host and hostess were my ‘Aunt Muriel and Uncle Guy' Patterson, not my actual aunt and uncle. Commander Guy Patterson was my first cousin once removed, one of my mother's few relatives. Guy could have fallen out of the pages of F.Scott Fitzgerald's Gatsby and Muriel was a perfect Zelda. He had been the bassist in the George Duffy Orchestra when he met and married a socialite who died of tuberculosis a month after I was born--my Godmother Helen Cooper Patterson. Brokenhearted, Guy joined the R.C.A.F and flew missions in the Battle of Britain, which is as close to suicide as his morals would allow. Amidst Welcome Home ticker tape parades in Manhattan and endless soirees, he met Aunt Muriel,who had been a show girl—not Ziegfeld Follies, but George White Scandals. Her first husband was actor-playwright Clark Twelvetrees, best known for dying mysteriously during the second of two marriages to screen siren Helen Twelvetrees. Muriel had met him somewhere in the middle. With all of this colorful history, I sometimes wonder why I chose to write historical fiction There is a a story waiting to be told, but it is not the subject of this post. This offering explores the evolution and devolution of a myth.

Steak Night at the O-Club was a bi-weekly social event for the Coronado A-List. Those who were not Naval Officers were local businessmen or politicians.Members and guests selected their rib-eye from a high pile of butchered meat, and from there it was DIY. The menu was simple—steak,Caesar salad and Open Bar. When Uncle Guy took my arm and escorted me through the line. I was relieved. My mother and steak were best not mixed. She believed since beefsteak and leather both came from cows, they should resemble one another in taste and texture. Our picnic table was outside the gallery leading to the ballroom, which is how we ended up discussing the Windsors and the Coronado Connection.

"Sometimes members of the Royal family on cruise with the Royal Navy visit here in time  to attend the Midshipmen’s Ball. When you’re older I’ll try to get you an invitation." My uncle was a man who liked to impress. He pointed towards San Diego Bay where the great Essex class aircraft carriers were anchored. "That’s the Bonny Dick," he said, pointing to the Bon Homme Richard,"and that is the pier where the English flagship Reknown was anchored when  Wallis Warfield Simpson had tea with the Prince of Wales". He spoke as if the events of April 7th and 8th, 1920, were etched in stone tablets.

Oh, I knew exactly whom he was talking about. The abdication of Edward VIII had been a topic of interest in our home. Many Americans are obsessed with the Royal Family. Besides, I had just read The Little Princesses by Marian Crawford, the future queen of England's nanny, and I knew how much Princess Elizabeth adored her Uncle David, which is the name the family called the erstwhile Edward VIII. The books revealed how disturbed she was when he estranged himself from the family when he abdicated  to marry the notorious American divorcee. The book had been a gift on my 11th birthday from my elementary school principal. By the time we left Cleveland, it was already dog-eared. 

"We don’t like her at our house," I commented as if our opinion of the Duchess mattered. My uncle frowned. 

"Some people say she was a Nazi but I’m not so sure. A lot of people were taken in by Hitler before the War." I don't know if he was defending her or the population of Germany.

"Mom says she was a social climber, and besides she was divorced." 

"Be careful what you say about that, Boots. Don’t forget Aunt Muriel was divorced when I met her. And so’s your Grandmother Fetterly."

"But Mom says the Duchess was not divorced from Mister Simpson when she took up with the King."

King Edward VIII vacationing with Mrs. Simpson.
I did not mentioned my mother’s comment about her being a social climber, because she said the same about Aunt Muriel. There were similarities, to be sure. The Duchess of Windsor and my Aunt Muriel were both social climbers who were married to handsome Naval Aviators with drinking problems, and both were prominent in Coronado Society. Both had a discriminating clothes taste and an affinity for designer labels and loved to play hostess at dinner parties. There is an active organization centered in Palm Desert,California, that produces a journal about the Duke and Duchess of Windsor and markets a recipe book of dishes served at her Coronado  parties during her first husband's posting at North Island Naval Air Station, circa 1917-1920. Maps to the Spencers' Coronado residences are still on sale. 

Wallis’s husband was the first commander of the nascent air wing at NAS-North Island, on Coronado. His name was Earl Winfield Spencer, Junior. His friends called him 'Win.' Wallis Warfield was just twenty when she married him in 1916. He was eight years older.

Several years earlier she had discarded her birth name, Bessie. One wonders if she would have acquired the same mystique had she kept it.

One of her rivals in the Coronado social scene said she was rather a wallflower at functions until the men entered the room.  In his noteworthy biography of Sir Winston Churchill, The Last Lion', William Manchester writes of Wallis:''If the man existed with whom Wallis had enjoyed a platonic friendship, his name is lost to history.

Lt. Commander Earl Winfield Spencer

With much rumor and gossip surrounding her, whether or not she met the Prince of Wales in 1920 at a dance seems trivial. Its significance is that she and an entire town of sophisticated people lied about it. Guy and Muriel Patterson, like most Coronado residents who were 'in the scene' during the few months my family lived in Coronado, were utterly convinced  the Duchess had been presented to the Prince of Wales at a tea aboard the English flagship and had likely danced with him at a ball held in his honor in the Crown Room of the famous Hotel Del Coronado, a property associated with the Speckles family with which she was acquainted. In later years when discussing the two days when the future Edward VIII was in Coronado on his Australian World Cruise, neither of the Windsors contradicted the legend surrounding a 1920 meeting.  

Perhaps the most authoritative endorsement of the meeting came from ex-husband Win Spencer, who described the evening as follows:

Practically all navy officers stationed here were present with their wives. We all went down the receiving line. My former wife [they divorced in December 1927] was with me most of the evening. Of course, I'm not quite sure but what she may have been introduced to him. As I recall she slipped away for a few minutes and may have been received by the Prince. . . .
 The above interview was reported as front page news in the San Diego Sun and thereafter was picked up by the wire services. As we would say using the current vernacular, the account went viral.

Whether they met then or almost a decade later as most records support probably matters to no one but the Coronadoans. Why, then, should it matter to lovers and writers of historical fiction? It matters because it is from twice told tales of mythic proportion that fancy becomes fact, and right or wrong, history is made. When authors do it, we end up with bad reviews on Amazon. When the royals do it, hardly an eyebrow is raised. Like the oft portrayed meetings between Elizabeth I and Marie Stuart, Queen of Scots, or memories of the idyllic marriage of another Spencer and another Wales, the Coronado myth is a non-event more romantic and compelling than the truth. 'Some enchanted evening,' or so the song goes.

But this post is not a capsulized biography of Wallis Warfield Simpson. Many have been written and some have made it to the silver screen. Even Madonna produced one which bombed. It is, however, a post written about her during her life in Coronado and the implications flowing from her lifestyle. But if there is a protagonist to this story it is neither the Duke nor the Duchess of Windsor or his mistresses and her husbands and purported lovers. It is a Stanford academic you have likely never heard of named Benjamin Sachs who wrote a two part series on her Coronado years for the Journal of San Diego History. His zealous historical research gives credibility to the trite old adage, ‘be careful what you wish for.’ (A less well known adage came to me from a trial judge when I was in law school. He once sat in Coronado when it had a justice court. He said, "if it snowed in Coronado, every reporter in San Diego County would be on the island before the sun came up, following the footprints".) Coronado of the middle years of the Twentieth Century was a very sophisticated enclave. It was a place where legends were born and not easily put to rest. But in 1987, a year after the Duchess of Windsor’s death at one of her homes near Paris, Sachs endeavors to do just that  in his two part articles The Duchess of Windsor and the Coronado Legend, Part I and Part II.

Sachs's interest in the Coronado legend was provoked when former communications officer Thomas J.Morrow was asked to comment on the Coronado connection by a reporter for the San Diego Union upon the Duchess’s death.  Morrow suggested a 1920 enchanted evening across a crowded ballroom at the “Del” could not have taken place, because the Prince had not attended the tea aboard the flagship Renown, and Wallis’ husband was in Washington D.C. at a time when aristocratic women did not show up at social affairs without an escort. Thus, Morrow speculated, Coronado's Cinderella could not have made it to the ball. Morrow was quoted in the San Diego Union as follows:

It did not happen that way [even] if Spencer said he and his wife attended the reception. On that day [April 7, 1920] Spencer was in Washington, D.C. Naval Officers did receive invitations to the reception and ball. At the private dinner [prior] there were eighty people present [to honor] the prince and she was not at the dinner. If she went to the reception she would have had to have an escort to pass through the receiving line. Not generally known is she was at a tea the following day, April 8, 1920, aboard Renown but the Prince was not there. 

That should have ended it, but it did not sound right to Sachs. He did a first class job of sleuthing and proved beyond doubt the Prince of Wales was at both events, and he reported his findings in Part I of his two-part series. However, in part two of his essay, he discloses that the flamboyant Wallis Spencer was in Pebble Beach visiting the Bay Area with a girlfriend. Bay area society columns confirmed it, not once but several times over. Later, the professor observed rather lightheartedly that he became a hero in Part I by proving the meeting could have happened, and a pariah in Part II by proving that it didn’t.

The English version of how the star-crossed lovers met -- at a party given by the Prince’s then current mistress Lady Furness, no less -- is the prevailing one. At the time Wallis was married to her second husband Ernest Simpson, who although likely gay probably adored her far more than any other man to enter her life. The Simpsons were included in the weekend because for the sake of propriety, the Royals insisted that the Prince of Wales and his mistress always be accompanied by married couples to act as chaperons. One cannot fail to think of the royal family encouraging Princess Diana to make friends with her husband's pal Camella Parker-Bowles who they anticipated would be a positive influence on the younger, less mature Diana.

Ernest Simpson, circa 1937
In 1937 when the photograph to the left was taken, Simpson was writing to friends expressing his undying love for Wallis. He was holding out hope she would come back to him in time. His tearful lament to a friend was reported in a letter to his wife which has survived :
''For the second time I am disgraced in the club, where I dined tonight,'' he wrote on Oct. 14, 1937, in a note to his ex-wife on the letterhead of the Guards Club, Brook Street, London. ''The first time was when George Sebastian insisted on holding my hand throughout lunch, remember? Tonight, I cried all through dinner. The tears are still trickling, even as I write. Isn't it all too unfunny?'' (Alan Cowell, New York Times,  June 18, 2004).

At some point of her life, the Duchess  denied ever having sexual intercourse with either Spencer or Simpson, hinting they achieved gratification through other means. 

The strange nature of her marriages including her third to the man  who was briefly Edward VIII has given rise to other bizarre rumors about the Duchess of Windsor, her other lovers and her relationship during her last years with her Svengali-like lawyer Maitre Suzanne Blum. 

Oddly, the most recent to surface is one she posthumously shares with Queen Elizabeth, not QE2 but QE1. In recent years there has been speculation that both of them were actually men. The latter makes the Coronado story pale by comparison.

The most significant aspect of the events on the Island in San Diego Bay is that not just the Duke and Duchess and Earl Spencer later lied about it, but an entire village bore witness to the falsehood. It is mind-boggling to writers of historical fiction who so frequently are accused of playing fast and loose with historical accuracy. The rules are different for the beautiful and the rich. When it comes to the Duke and Duchess of Windsor it is hard to envision a fiction more provocative than the truth.


For those of us who believe in karma, consider Benjamin Sachs, who died peacefully and respected in 2010 at the age of 104.

Win Spencer died in Coronado while on vacation, on what may have been a sentimental journey to the glory days of his youth. He collapsed at the El Cordova Hotel on Orange Avenue, a spot less pretentious than the Del, but one I thought more charming. In 1951 it was owned by relatives of my six-grade best friend Sally, who could not join the same Girl Scout Troop as mine because her father was a Chief Warrant Officer and we lived on what was called 'Commander Row.'  That sort of snobbery and the compulsory 3 p.m. cocktail party ritual was not a good fit for my family. My father worked from 8-5 in the air-frame industry in San Diego, and my mother enjoyed a single vodka gimlet on birthdays and holidays. In six months we were living in a new house on the rim of a boxed-in valley called El Cajon in an environment where I thrived. 
El Cordova Hotel

Other interesting tidbits I learned in researching the Coronado Connection include:

The Duke of Windsor had his jackets tailored to hide his short stature and to allow for the many packs of cigarettes he carried in his pockets. While some official biographies say he was 5'7", he was probably closer to 5'5". (See the King's new clothes, below) "It was all manipulated,'' said Andrew Bolton, curator of ''Blithe Spirit," Exhibition of the Windsors' clothing and personalty at the Metropolitan Museum of Art: ''Whenever you see photographs, even if he is in kilts, you never notice how small he actually was.'' 

Allegedly, the Duchess died with little or no control of her physical or mental faculties, although access to her was closely guarded by her lawyer Suzanne Blum, who dealt with her property on the pretense she was following Wallis's orders. Reportedly at least one  of her physicians had said she was vegetative, but even that is questionable. Too bad we do not have a Benjamin Sachs to sort it for us. 

While the Duchess  was still lucid,  she tacitly endorsed the theory that Edward VIII used her as an excuse to quit a job he never wanted and did not like. According to the Duchess, the famous declaration explaining he was giving up the crown because he could not go forward without the aid of the 'woman I love' was a speech orchestrated by Sir Winston Churchill, who privately credited the Duchess of Windsor for unwittingly helping him rid England of someone he expected to be a bad king.


This was a difficult post to write because the Duchess of Windsor is still a contemporary figure for many of us. It would be pretentious to think a writer could hit even the high points of her life in a blog post.  Mine  is limited to one of the lesser controversies—the one involving the visit of the Prince of Wales to Coronado in 1920. I chose it because it is a poignant illustration of the power of legend in altering history, turning  historical fact into  historical fiction.

I am not an expert on the history of Coronado. If truth be told, I could not get out of there fast enough. During my brief stay, I realized a painful  truth about my family.  The Pattersons were elitists ,and my father’s family were egalitarian; and  I was very much my father’s child. I had always been treated kindly, almost lavishly, by the Pattersons, but always as the poor relation. I sometimes wonder if the same were not true of Bessie Wallis Warfield. Her father died when she was young, leaving Bessie and her mother socially and economically dependent upon her uncle Warfield’s largesse. Friends who remembered her in her youth commented on a certain lack of self-confidence, except in her relationships with men. Thanks to my father’s family, I was not so afflicted, but my mother had been. She grew up with a sense she was better than the Fetterlys  and Jamiesons (my father’s lines), but not quite a proper Patterson. Her weeks in Coronado must have been a living hell. I remember our next door neighbor remarking, "Poor Betty, you must be going crazy waiting for your good clothes to arrive." I remember it because I caught her crying, something she had not done since Roosevelt died.
Thus, in a certain sense, the main character in this post is Coronado, (1898-1967), may she  R.I.P.  She died in 1967, the year the Coronado Bridge came and exposed her to the diseases brought by common folk who would not have been able to endure the costs and delays of visiting her by ferry. Her descendant is a very different village than the one Wallis Warfield knew.

In researching this post, I visited a number of enjoyable sources and relied substantially on several.  The most relevant follow:

1. The Duke & Duchess of Windsor Historical Society Quarterly Journal on Issue 4-2009 (Issue 22) The WINDSOR'S SAN DIEGO CONNECTION.
Gaulding, Mark (publisher). A 80-page four color spiral bound news journal. The Duke and Duchess of Windsor Society is an exclusive Society of individuals interested in Wallis and Edward ("WE").
2. Sachs, Benjamin, The Journal of San Diego History Fall 1987, Volume 33,
Number 4,Thomas Sharf,Editor.
3. Sachs, Benjamin, The Journal of San Diego History Winter 1988, Volume 34,
Number 1
4. Toepfer, Susan, Good Wallis, Bad Wallis,MORE: for Women of Style and Substance, Nov.2011,
5. Treby, Guy, The King's New Clothes,for All to See. New York Times, October 29, 2002.
6. Manchester, William, The Last Lion Box Set: Winston Spencer Churchill, 1874 - 1965: 1,2,3 Kindle Edition


LINDA Root is the author of The First Marie and the Queen of Scots, The Last Knight and the Queen of Scots, and the series The Legacy of the Queen of Scots: 1) The Midwife’s Secret:The Mystery of the Hidden Princess 2) The Other Daughter: Midwife’s Secret II, 3) 1603: The Queen’s Revenge, and 4) In the Shadow of the Gallows, due on November 5, 2015; and as J.D. Root, the historical fantasies The Green Woman, a Scottish Fantasy, and her forthcoming The Curse of Fyvie: Green Woman II. She is a contributing author in the anthology Castle, Customs and Kings: True Tales by English Historical Fiction Authors, Vol II, coming September 30. Her books are available on Amazon in paperback and as Kindle e-books.Visit her author page at

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Duty first - of Philip II, his Tudor Matter and life in general

by Anna Belfrage

Philip II
Philip II of Spain tends to be remembered for two – well, three – things from an English perspective:

  • He married Mary Tudor – a match not exactly made in heaven between a love-sick woman and a man who married out of political obligations 
  • He wooed his former sister-in-law Elizabeth Tudor, supposedly hoping to marry her when Mary died 
  • He sent the Spanish Armada to conquer England.

One could think, based on this, that Philip had a special affinity for England, that his heart and soul longed to be an Englishman. I’m sorry to break this to you, but from Philip’s perspective, England was pretty insignificant – this was a man with more titles than would fit on the fly leaf of a Bible, ruler of a huge empire. No, Philip’s interest in England emanated from his irritation with this pesky Protestant kingdom and its determined support to those equally pesky Protestants in the Spanish Dominions.

Philip II comes down to us through the years as something of a bore. Too stiff, too dour, too fond of black…Rarely does anyone mention his impressive library in El Escorial, where the books were turned the wrong way so that instead of spines, the visitors saw only gold-edged pages. Rarely does anyone mention that Philip had read a substantial part of all those books – conversant in multiple languages, raised to rule, and from a family that set a high value on schooling their princes, Philip had received an excellent and thorough education. And rarely does anyone mention his other wives, his problems with his children, his affectionate letters to his daughters, his carefully chosen gifts to both his children and his wives – or his gruesome death.

So today, I thought we’d spend some time with Philip – or Felipe el Prudente, as those of us who speak Castilian prefer to call him.

Charles I&V
Being born the son of an extremely capable man is not always a blessing. In this case, Philip II had giant footprints to fill, but he doesn’t seem to have been unduly daunted. Philip was born the eldest son of Charles I & V, that powerful Holy Roman Emperor who was ever a champion of his aunt, Catherine of Aragon (see? Another, if indirect, English connection) who ruled an empire so vast he decided it was too big for any mortal man to manage well – which was why, upon Charles’ death, Philip did not become the next Holy Roman Emperor. Being King of Spain and its growing empire was enough of a challenge.

Charles married Philip’s mother to make his Spanish grandees happy. He himself was in no hurry to wed, but by all accounts he was happy with his Portuguese wife, and his son and heir was raised in a harmonious household. Once again, to appease those Spanish grandees, Philip was raised in Spain, speaking Castilian as his first language.

Philip was a serious man – and somewhat shy. Already as a boy, his distinguishing characteristic was his sense of duty. Duty to his father, duty to his mother, duty to his tutors – and as he grew, this would morph into duty to his country, to his family and wives.

Rarely did Philip do something for himself. Never did he caper about while warbling “don’t worry, be happy.” In Philip’s strictly regimented life, happy was not something a serious man aspired to, and as to worry, well Philip always worried. About being good enough. About the lack of sons. About the situation in England. About the Spanish Netherlands. About God. About the state of his linens – Philip had an abhorrence of anything dirty and was meticulous about his hygiene. Major plus, if you ask me…

Charles was quite taken with this reflective son of his, and once Philip was over his childhood years, father and son bonded as Charles tried to teach Philip everything he knew about ruling an empire consisting of various people, various languages, various cultures. There was one fundamental difference between Charles and Philip: Charles had been raised in the polyglot court of his aunt Margaret of Austria, had as a matter of course been exposed to various creeds, various cultures. Philip, on the other hand, had been raised in the tender care of devoted Catholics in a country that viewed all cultures but their own with a sizeable pinch of suspicion. Let’s just say that Philip’s upbringing left him somewhat less…flexible.

He was however, ever the obedient and dutiful son. So when Charles arranged Philip’s first marriage with Princess Maria Manuela of Portugal, Philip of course agreed. As an aside, being a prince – just as much as being a princess – meant little say in who you married. Royal marriage was for building alliances and consolidating power, not for something as ephemeral as love.

Purportedly Maria Manuela
Anyway: Maria Manuela and Philip were of an age – both of them were sixteen – and liked each other well enough. They were also very closely related: Maria’s mother was Philip’s paternal aunt, and Philip’s mother was Maria’s paternal aunt, plus Philip’s maternal grandmother was his father’s maternal aunt. Well: let’s just say it was complicated. Very complicated – and it didn’t help that the somewhat unstable bloodline of Juana of Castile  appeared all over the place. So when little Maria Manuela gave birth to a son in 1545, the baby had a DNA cocktail that did not exactly predestine him to greatness. Even worse, Maria died in childbirth, and Philip was left with a feeble if male heir but no wife.

Years passed. In England, that heretic of a king, the man who’d broken with the Holy Church, finally died – and it was Philip’s conviction Henry VIII was destined for hell. As we all know, Henry’s son was not long for this world, and in 1553, Mary Tudor became Queen of England.

Holy Roman Emperor Charles made happy sounds, as did the Pope. At last an opportunity to bring England back into the fold of the true faith! At the time, Mary was in her late thirties. She was more than aware that time was running out, and she desperately wanted an heir of impeccable Catholic lineage. Charles slid a look at his son – at the time 27 or so – slid a look at Mary, and suggested they wed, despite being cousins. Well: it was suggested to Mary – Philip was ordered to comply with daddy’s wishes.

Mary, wearing Philip's gift to her,
the famous pearl La peregrina
Mary was over the moon. Handsome Philip had everything she desired in a bridegroom. Whether the groom was as thrilled is debatable – his aide wrote that “the marriage was concluded for no fleshly consideration” – but as always Philip set his shoulders and proceeded to do his duty. In this case, his duty was to check the growing power of France and preserve control over the Low Countries. A fiercely Protestant England had offered succour to the Protestants in the Spanish Netherlands, but now, with Mary and Philip firmly in charge, such safe harbours no longer existed. Philip could therefore hope to quell the difficult Dutch before they all embraced the Reformation. That did not go so well for him, putting it mildly, but that is a story for another day.

Mary very much wanted to become pregnant. Here, yet again, Philip did his duty, but despite hope, prayers and effort there was no child – there was just a phantom pregnancy. Philip seems to have doubted all along that Mary was pregnant, and after the sad matter had come to an end, he left his bride for the restless Low Countries. Mary was inconsolable. What Philip felt is unknown, but he was courteous enough to bid his wife a tender farewell.

Philip and Mary
We are now in 1555, and this is when Philip supposedly was starting to regard Elizabeth Tudor as a potential replacement for his sister. Hmm. At the time, Mary was not yet forty, and while barren there was nothing to suggest she was about to die anytime soon. Not that Philip did not enjoy Elizabeth’s company – he liked intelligent and erudite women – and Elizabeth came with the added plus of being younger than Philip rather than eleven years older. But there were issues regarding Elizabeth’s faith, and Philip would never consider marrying a Protestant – his soul shrieked in pain at the thought.

Still, I imagine there was some attraction, and Elizabeth was smart enough to establish a cordial relationship with her brother-in-law, very soon to become one of the more powerful European monarchs.  In 1556, Charles abdicated in favour of his son and brother. Philip became king of Spain and all its dominions, his uncle became the next Holy Roman Emperor, based in the historical homeland of the Hapsburgs, namely Austria.

Mary’s reign was plagued by famine, by her cleansing of the heretics among her subjects, by dwindling trade as her Spanish husband forbade her from doing anything detrimental to Spain. Of course her subjects grumbled, and there were plots aplenty – even, in some cases, headed by her Catholic subjects. France and Spain were at loggerheads, and with Mary being married to Philip, France considered England an enemy too – rightly so, as per Philip, who wanted England’s help in defeating these upstart Frenchies who had the temerity to question just who was the most important Catholic monarch in the world. That’s why Philip popped by on a visit in 1557 – to convince Mary to support war with France. Mary hoped this conjugal visit would lead to other things, and lo and behold, some months later Mary declared herself pregnant. Yet again, a phantom pregnancy…

Poor Mary – no child, no loving husband, just a cool political union as expressed by Philip’s rather laconic comment upon hearing about Mary’s death in 1558. “I feel reasonable regret,” he said.

Elizabeth of Valois
Philip had other matters to concern himself, first and foremost the situation in France. And then there was the matter of his son, Don Carlos, all of thirteen and showing worrying signs of mental instability. Don Carlos had been proposed as a groom for Elizabeth of Valois, this as an attempt to heal the rift between France and Spain. At the Treaty of Cateau-Cambresis, Philip went one step further and offered to marry Elizabeth himself, despite an age difference of almost twenty years.

By all accounts, this was a very happy marriage. Philip was a devoted husband, entranced by his pretty and vivacious wife. She stood by his side during that most difficult time in his life, when his son went from bad to worse until at last Philip had no option but to incarcerate Don Carlos, by now mad as a hatter. Philip’s little wife might have been young, but she was wise, and in her company he found comfort and hope – plus she gave him children. Daughters, to be sure, but healthy living children. A son would surely follow. Unfortunately, that did not happen. Elizabeth died in childbirth – yet another girl, stillborn, and Philip was devastated.

By now we’re in 1568, and while relationships with France remained coolly cordial, Philip now had another mess on his hands: the Low Countries had risen in insurrection, protesting the heavy yoke of Spanish taxes and demanding the right to embrace the Protestant faith. England, of course, hastened to the aid of their religious brethren. Philip was pissed off, putting it mildly. Here he’d been advocating a lenient approach towards the upstart English and their Protestant queen, urging the Pope to cool down, not do anything hasty, and this is how the English dogs repaid him?

On top of the utter political mess in the Spanish Netherlands, plus the rather urgent matter of halting Ottoman expansion into Europe, Philip had the pressing matter of begetting an heir, which was why he married his niece, Anna of Austria, in 1570.

Little Diego
Anna was yet another young bride, more than twenty years his junior, but just like Elizabeth she was affectionate and kind, and Philip was as happy with her as he’d been with his French princess. Anna gave Philip sons – beautiful boys, and Philip had his heir, the Infante Fernando, who died at age six in dysentery. A grief-struck father consoled himself with the fact that there was the Infante Diego to take the dead son’s place. Except that four years later he also died, this time of small-pox. Fortunately, there was one son left, little Philip. Not that Philip was the son his father would have hoped for, being small and sickly, but at least he was alive.

Anna of Austria
Anna died in 1580, leaving Philip a widower for the fourth time. He was never to re-marry. Instead, he invested his efforts in his children and his empire, a lot of his energy directed at pacifying the Dutch now that the Ottomans had been adequately crushed at Lepanto in 1571.

In England, Elizabeth encouraged support to the Dutch, quietly applauded English pirates when they attacked the treasure-laden Spanish galleons, and in general caused Philip much irritation. But so far, Elizabeth had no children, and the obvious heir to the English crown was therefore Mary, Queen of Scots, at present Elizabeth’s prisoner. A light in the tunnel for Catholics everywhere, was Mary – a light brutally extinguished when Elizabeth was prevailed upon to sign the execution order for her cousin in 1587.

The situation in the Spanish Netherlands went from bad to worse, and with Mary dead, there was no hope the English would come to their senses all by themselves and turn from their heretic faith. No, it fell upon Philip to take responsibility for their souls – and, while he was at it, effectively squash all support for the Dutch reformers – which was why he decided to send the Armada, an effort to invade England and once and for all reinstall the Catholic faith. We all know how that ended, don’t we?

Philip in his younger years
Today, we tend to measure Philip by his few failures rather than his numerous successes. Partly because he was who he was, partly because of his turn-coat secretary Antonio Pérez, generations of Europeans have been fed an image of Philip as a cold-hearted fanatic who delighted in seeing heretics twist in torment. Philip has become a victim to the Black Legend, whereby Spain – and Philip – are depicted as infested by evil. Philip has been accused of killing his own son, of strangling prisoners with his own hands. He had been defamed and ridiculed – even in his own lifetime – and rarely has anyone risen to defend him, least of all Philip himself, who chose to never respond to the more ludicrous of Pérez’ accusations.

I would argue Philip was much more than this: in his private letters, we see a man who concerned himself greatly with the well-being of those he loved. In how he managed his empire, we see a man who eschewed absolute power, attempting instead to ensure there were future controls in place. Genuinely devout, he quelled some of the more fanatic aspects of the Counter-Reformation, he encouraged learning and education and brought Spain firmly out of the Middle Ages. Yes, he was the enemy of Protestants' champions such as William the Silent. But he was equally the hero of his Catholic subjects, the determined defender of Europe against the Ottomans, and a man who always tried to do his duty. Always.

Philip's favourite daughter, Catalina
In 1598, an old and weakened Philip fell ill. By now, he was a lonely old man – of his eleven children only three remained alive, and his favourite daughter had recently died, the single occasion in which Philip gave in to open despair, cursing fate for taking his loved ones from him. For 55 days, the king lay dying, covered in pustules and weeping sores. Incapable of rising from his bed, he lay in his stinking waste, any attempt at keeping him clean futile. A humiliating death for a man who abhorred being dirty. He died clutching the same crucifix his father had held when he died. At the moment of his death he was lucid, and it is said he saw Death coming and smiled in welcome, free at last from this life of duty and sorrows – so many sorrows.


Anna Belfrage is the successful author of eight published books, all of them part of The Graham Saga. Set in 17th century Scotland, Virginia and Maryland, this is the story of Matthew Graham and his wife, Alex Lind - two people who should never have met, not when she was born three centuries after him.

Anna's books have won several awards - recently, one of her books won the HNS Indie Book of the Year Award -  and are available on Amazon, or wherever else good books are sold.

Presently, Anna is working on a new series set in 14th century England - the first installment will be published in November 2015. Plus, after the above, she's thinking Philip II has potential as a character...

For more information about Anna and her books, please visit her website. If not on her website, Anna can mostly be found on her blog.