Thursday, February 28, 2019

Dresser to the Queen: Miss Marianne Skerrett

By Lauren Gilbert

In the television series VICTORIA, Mr. Francatelli had a relationship and married Nancy Skerrett, known as Mrs. Skerrett, who was the Queen’s dresser. She was a young woman with a sketchy past who tragically died young. In real life, Miss Marianne Skerrett rose to be the Queen’s principle dresser, and was with Queen Victoria for twenty-five years. You can see multiple images of Miss Skerrett on the Royal Collections Trust Website. One can be found HERE.

Miss Skerrett was born about 1793 in London; she was baptized in St Martin-in-the-Fields. Her parents were Walter Frye Skerrett and Albinia Mathias Skerrett. Walter had links to the West Indies (including Antigua, Barbados, Bermuda, Montserrat and what is now Guyana), and was a slave owner. He was born in 1762, possibly in Liverpool. By 1791, he was in London where he married Albinia Mathias in that year in St.-Martin-in-the-Fields Church. Albinia, who had been born about 1760, was a friend of Charlotte Burney (a sister of author Fanny Burney).

Interior of St. Martin-In-The-Fields 1810 (Plate 79 of MICROCOSM OF LONDON by Thomas Rowlandson)

There are indications that Mr. Skerrett had been a colonel in the British Army during the Peninsular Wars, and that he was mentioned in William Francis Napier in his HISTORY OF THE WAR IN THE PENINSULA. However, in Napier’s book, the colonel in question is named only as “Colonel Skerrett”, and there is no indication of Walter Frye Skerrett or a W. F. Skerrett or even W. Skerrett in the London Gazette or other sources that military appointments, promotions etc. are mentioned. (It seems likely that the Colonel Skerrett in Napier’s book was actually John Skerrett. There are a couple of other Skerretts who made rank as well.) It seems unlikely that Walter Frye Skerrett served in the British Army. However, records indicate he was very active in litigation as there are numerous court cases in which he was involved relating to business matters in the West Indies. It appears he may have owned a business in London, as one of these cases refers potential litigants to his representatives in the West Indies or to W. F. Skerrett and Co. in London. Walter Frye Skerrett died January 27, 1828.

Marianne was the older daughter born to Walter and Albinia. A second daughter, Henrietta, was born in London about 1796. So far, I have found no information about Miss Skerrett’s childhood or youth, including her education. However, it is reasonable to assume that it was respectable, and that she received some form of education. Multiple descriptions of Marianne indicate she was intelligent, well-read, and fluent in multiple languages (Danish, French and German). Additionally, artist John Callcott Horsley, in his RECOLLECTIONS OF A ROYAL ACADEMICIAN, described Marianne Skerrett as small (under five feet tall), thin, plain and a devout Christian.

In 1837, at approximately age 44, Marianne Skerrett was appointed head dresser with the care of jewelry. Data indicates that Laura Petty FitzMaurice, Marchioness of Lansdowne (principal Lady of the Bedchamber from August 1837 to September 1838) recommended Miss Skerrett to the queen. (There are indications that the Lansdowne family was also known to the Burney family.) This appointment put Marianne Skerrett in the Queen’s household at the time of Victoria’s coronation on June 28, 1838, so (in her capacity as head dresser with the care of jewelry) it is very likely that Miss Skerrett would have been involved in the preparations for that event.

Queen Victoria in Coronation Robes 1838 by George Hayter

Marianne Skerrett became head dresser and wardrobe woman. Available information suggests she was in that position about 1841. Her duties included ordering the Queen’s clothes and accessories, maintaining the wardrobe accounts, supervising hairdressers, seamstresses and others involved with the Queen’s wardrobe and appearance. In September of 1842, when Victoria’s former governess Baroness Louise Lehzen finally retired from the Queen’s household and left for Germany, Miss Skerrett took on some of Lehzen’s duties in addition to her own.

These additional duties included acting as a personal secretary to the Queen, in that Miss Skerrett wrote to tradesmen, commissioned artists and engravers, responded to solicitations for assistance from former servants, paid the bills incurred for creating and maintaining the Queen’s wardrobe, and wrote recommendations for other dressers and maids, all on the Queen’s behalf. Miss Skerrett may also have written some of the Queen’s personal correspondence to various family members on Victoria’s behalf. She also assisted Victoria with her etchings. In the years that Miss Skerrett was in Victoria’s household, she became a fixture on whom the Queen and other members of the household relied to get things done.

On February 1, 1847, Miss Skerrett even testified at court against a man named Francis Olifieres who had been indicted for stealing jewelry in 1845, in the course of which theft he alleged a connection to the royal household. Miss Skerrett’s brief testimony established that Mr. Olifieres had had one commission for the royal household in 1842, had had no interview with the Queen and had not been employed in the royal household. After other testimony, Mr. Olifieres was determined to be guilty and sentenced to be transported.

The time finally came when Marianne Skerrett was ready to resume life outside of the royal household. She retired from the Queen’s service in 1862 at the age of 69, and was given a pension of 70 pounds. She went to live with her sister in Marylebone in London, where she apparently lived until her death July 29, 1887. During her retirement, she remained in contact with Queen Victoria through letters and visits. Aged about 94 years at her death, Miss Skerrett left an estate valued at over 5000 pounds, and a will which was probated on October 8, 1887. She left Queen Victoria a painting by William Hogarth called The Popple and Ashley Families, which was a painting of a Bermuda family that showed Miss Skerrett’s grandmother as a child. This painting is still part of the royal collection and you can see it HERE.

Sources include:
Troide, Lars E. and Cook, Stewart J. THE EARLY JOURNALS AND LETTERS OF FANNY BURNEY Vol. V, 1782-1783. 2012: McGill-Queen’s University Press.  P. 256. (Reference can be viewed in preview on Google Books HERE.)

Georgian Papers Programme.  “Introducing the Georgian Goodies Series” (date posted and author not shown).  HERE

GoogleBooks.  THE GENTLEMAN'S MAGAZINE (London, England) Vol 143 (The Gentleman’s Magazine and Historical Chronicle From January to June 1828 Volume XCVIII by Sylvanus Urban, Gentleman.  1828: London, England.) P. 188. HERE;  Horsley, John Callcutt, R.A.  RECOLLECTIONS OF A ROYAL ACADEMICIAN.  Mrs. Edmund Helps, editor. 1903: E. P. Dutton and Company, New York.  Pp. 126-131.  HERE; Napier, William Francis Patrick.  HISTORY OF THE WAR IN THE PENINSULA and In the South of France from the year 1807 to the year 1814. 1836:  David Christy, Oxford.  HERE

Gov.UK  Find A Will.  Here. (Select Wills and Probate 1858-1996 and put in Surname Skerrett, Year of death 1887.)  

OldBaileyOnline. Old Bailey Proceedings. 1st February 1847.  HERE

The Gazette Official Public Record. HERE

The National Archives.  Discovery. Annual Army Lists, 1700-1799 and 1800-1899.  HERE

University College London. LEGACIES OF BRITISH SLAVE-OWNERSHIP. “Walter Frye Skerrett, Profile and Legacies Summary 1762-1828.”  (No author or post date shown.) HERE

Unofficial Royalty.  “Marianne Skerrett” by Susan Flantzer.  Posted October 9, 2018.  HERE

Image of Miss Skerrett:  Royal Collections Trust.  Photograph of a full-length portrait of Miss Marianne Skerrett, Albumen print, RCIN 2906440.  HERE; Copyright information HERE 

Wikimedia Commons Images:
St. Martin-in-the-Fields (Public Domain) HERE
Victoria in Coronation Robes (Public Domain) HERE

A special thank you to Dr. Jacqueline Reiter, who steered me to the London Gazette and the Annual Army lists at the National Archives regarding Walter Frye Skerrett’s Army service.  She was also gracious enough to check data in her own possession.   


Lauren Gilbert is the author of HEYERWOOD: A Novel.  A long-time member of the  Jane Austen Society of North America and life-long reader of history and historical novels, she has a Bachelor of Arts in English with a minor in Art History.  She lives in Florida with her husband, where she is working on her second novel A RATIONAL ATTACHMENT, to be released this year and the research for a biography.  Visit her website HERE for more information.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Giveaway: Earl of Huntingdon (Outlaw's Legacy Book 3) by NB Dixon

Author NB Dixon is offering a paperback copy (UK) or an e-book worldwide of Earl of Huntingdon (Outlaw's Legacy Book 3)

He was once Robin Hood, bold outlaw of Sherwood; now he is Robin of Huntingdon, one of the most powerful earls in England.

Sir Roger of Doncaster, an enemy from Robin's crusading days, is back in England and determined to take Huntingdon for his own. Caught in a desperate struggle for survival, Robin's only solace is Will Scathelock, the man he has loved and resisted for years. Surrendering would be easy, but the stakes have never been higher. Roger has the might of King John behind him, and he will not rest until Robin is dead. Win or lose, Robin's life will never be the same.

For a chance to win, simply leave a comment below - Don't forget to leave your contact details - and a winner will be selected at random when the giveaway closes at midnight on Sunday 3 March Pacific Standard Time (which equates to 8am Monday 4 March GMT)

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Editors Weekly Round-up, February 23, 2019

by the EHFA Editors

Enjoy this Editor's Choice from the English Historical Fiction Authors archives.

by Richard Denning

Every week our contributing authors tell of saints or sinners, politics or war. Read about kings and queens, the common people, and legends from ancient to post-WWII. Never miss a post - follow us on Facebook, Twitter, or subscribe via email.

Friday, February 22, 2019

The Last Invasion of Britain - Battle of Fishguard 1797

by Richard Denning

On the 22nd of February in 1797 the UK mainland was invaded by soldiers of a foreign enemy. The attack would fall on Fishguard in Wales. This would be the last time that Britain was invaded (although British held Ireland would be invaded again a year or two later).

The Invasion Plan
After France declared war on Britain in 1793 a plan was conceived to attack Ireland. The idea was that of General Hoche. He believed that a landing by a strong force of 15,000 would lead to a widespread uprising by the Irish who had been under British rule since Cromwell's war of over 150 years before.

General Louis-Lazare Hoche 1768-1797

However it was likely that the British would react swiftly and send troops to Ireland to suppress this uprising. So to prevent this happening Hoche organised two other small expeditions. One would head to the Northeast of England and march across to Lancashire. The other would land in either south or North Wales. It was hoped that in both cases the working class would rise up in revolutionary zeal.

The Irish invasion goes wrong.
Hoche's main force set sail in December 1796 but almost at once it got into trouble. Severe storms scattered the fleet and the remnants limped back to Brest harbour. A similar fate occurred to the force destined for the North east.

But what of the third force. What of the Welsh expedition?

In Command - an American.
It was an Irish-American, Colonel William Tate, from South Carolina, who was given command of the Expeditionary Force. He was a veteran of the War of Independence but had fled to France after his involvement in a failed attempt to capture New Orleans. He commanded La Seconde Legion des Francs or "The Black Legion"named after their dark brown/black uniforms. The force consisted of 600 regular troops and another 800 men in a sort of penal regiment of deserters, convicts and Royalist prisoners of dubious loyalty.

Commodore Castagnier commanded the French Fleet which consisted of four warships of good quality. The fleet flew the British flag but this ruse was seen through as the fleet sailed up the Bristol channel and alarm was raised. The initial target of Bristol was abandoned as tides were too strong so the Fleet sailed round to their second choice at Cardigan Bay, on the west coast of Wales. 

The Landing

At first a scouting ship from the French fleet tried to sail into Fishguard Harbour but gun fire from Fishguard Fort forced the vessel to turn around. Tate ordered the landing to be at Carregwastad Head three miles from Fishguard. The landings started on the 22nd February 1797. Tate advanced inland, captured a number of farms and set up his HQ at Trehowel Farm on the Llanwnda Peninsula about a mile from their landing site as well as taking the high ground at Garnwnda and Carngelli, which gave him an unobstructed view of the surrounding countryside. Things appeared to be going well for Tate.

Carregwastad Head, the landing site for Tate's forces

However whilst his regular troops were behaving well and had a good position, the 800 men of the penal regiment deserted in droves, found wine in the various farms and got drunk and would take no part in any battle. Some of them broke into St Nicholas church away to the south and burned bibles.

The Welsh inhabitants were outraged by the French pillaging and louting and started attacking Tate's men. Tate had hoped the Welsh would rise up to throw off perceived English oppression but instead he found that his men were being picked off if they wandered about in small groups.

The British Response.
Local landowner William Knox had raised the Fishguard & Newport Volunteer Infantry in 1794 and placed his own son Thomas Knox in command of the four companies totalling 300 men. The younger Knox had bought his commission and had no combat experience. When learning of the invasion Colonel Knox ordered the  regiment to muster and set off towards Fishguard from Newport. In addition  200 men of the local Cardiganshire Militia were already mustered at Haverfordwest having been on an exercise and so their commander, Colby  also prepared to march towards Fishguard. Meanwhile word was sent to Lord Cawdor,  who commanded the Pembroke Yeomanry Cavalry which was stationed thirty miles away at Stackpole Court. On learning of the invasion Cawdor set off, linked up with Colby, assumed command and together the force moved towards Fishguard.

Knox, meanwhile had sent word to Colby of his intention to attack the French on 23 February if he was not heavily outnumbered. Unfortunately for Knox, a hundred men had still not arrived and as far as he could tell the French numbers getting on towards 1500 men (he did not know that the penal regiment was running away) and so he decided to retreat. 

Knox came across Cawdor and Colby eight miles south of Fishguard at 1:30 p.m. Despite Knox's protests Cawdor assumed command and led the combined force back towards Fishguard.

Tate surrenders

Cawdor set up his HQ in this pub.

Cawdor arrived in Fishguard during the afternoon and set up his headquarters on Fishguard Square. Despite the French desertions Tate still had over 800 men and cannons at his disposal and actually still outnumbered Cawdor's men. But Tate could see that the situation was not good for him.  He had now recieved word that his naval support had withdrawn (having themesleves become aware of Royal Navy vessels closing in. With half his force deserting and a substantial body of enemy getting ready to engage him AND with the hoped for Welsh uprising not having materialised, it was clear that this expedition was ultimately doomed.

Tate sent two officers to negotiate with Cawdor, hoping to be allowed to withdraw.  Cawdor bluffed that his forces were superior and  demanded  unconditional surrender of the French forces. He ordered Tate to assemble on Goodwick Sands by 10 a.m. on the 24th or he would attack.

Welsh Headgear plays its part

The following morning the British lined up on the sands whilst above them the local townsfolk assembled, many wearing their national dress of tall black hats. It is possible that some of the French thought that the Welsh Women were in fact Grenadier guards as from a distance that mistake might be made. Indeed a local woman, Jemima Nicholas became famous that day as she advanced down to the sands with a pitch fork and persuaded 19 French soldiers to surrender!

Tate tried to delay but eventually accepted the terms of the unconditional surrender and ordered his men to march in and pile their weapons. By 4pm it was all over and the French were being marched away to captivity.

Two of the four French ships were captured in an engagement with the Royal navy and the other two made it back to France. Tate's captivity was brief as in 1798 he and most of his little army was exchanged with British prisoners and sent back to France.

In 1853 the Pembroke Yeomanry, despite the almost non existant battle, gained the battle honour 'Fishguard.' and is unique in being the only regiment in the British Army, that bears the name of an engagement on British soil.

After her death a memorial was raised for Jemima Nicholas, the lady who confronted the French invader armed only with  a pitchfork!

In my time travel novel Yesterday's Treasures, Tom sees an alternate version of history where the invasion is a success and North Wales is in French hands.

Bringing his camera with him he had strolled along the battlements stopping every so often to take a photo of a cannon, the fort, Anglesey across the bay in one direction and the distant mountains in the other. On the top of the fort a Union Flag fluttered in the breeze and he snapped that. Then he checked the image in the small screen on the back.

What he saw when it came into view made him stare in amazement.

"Uh?" he muttered as he studied the picture, which clearly showed a flagpole with a flag hanging on the top. However, this was not the familiar red and blue crosses on a white background that he expected to see, but an altogether different flag: one with three broad stripes of red, white and blue. It was the tricolour of France!

He peered up at the standard that flapped about in the gentle wind coming in off the Irish Sea. It was, without a doubt, still the Union Flag. Baffled, he turned his head to glance around the fort, but he could not see a second flagpole anywhere nearby.

"That's stupid!" he muttered. Then he slapped his forehead and smiled. This image was obviously an earlier photo left on the memory card from another day. He checked the image date and time and then frowned when he saw that the date it recorded was today and it had been taken only a few minutes before.

Shaking his head, he looked back at the flagpole and gaped as he now saw the French flag up there, where moments before he was certain it had been the British one. Behind him he heard footsteps coming closer, so he looked around but there was no one in sight. As he stood and stared at the empty battlements he felt something brush past his right arm and heard the footsteps pass on by.


An Editor's Choice from the EHFA Archives. Originally published on February 21, 2012. 
Richard Denning is an historical fiction author whose main period of interest is the Early Anglo-Saxon Era. His Northern Crown series explores the late 6th and early 7th centuries through the eyes of a young Saxon lord. Explore the darkest years of the dark ages with Cerdic.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Editors Weekly Round-up, February 17, 2019

by the EHFA Editors

Never miss a post on English Historical Fiction Authors.

by Michael Bayus

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

The Lady Jane Grey

by Michael Bayus

It was on this day, 465 years ago, at approximately 11 hours UTC: that Jane, the rightful queen of England, France and Ireland, was judicially murdered.

As there are countless re-tellings of the events of Lady Jane Grey's execution on that day, I won't make you read another.

Rather, I would like to take a few moments to reflect on Lady Jane's life.

Lady Jane Grey, was born in June of 1536 to Henry and Frances Grey, later Duke and Duchess of Suffolk. Lady Jane was the granddaughter of Henry VIII's sister Mary. Under the terms of Henry the eighth's will, the Suffolk family stood fourth in the line of succession to the throne. Consequently, Lady Jane received a princess's education. She was precociously intelligent, reading Greek, Latin and Hebrew by the time she was 9 years old, and was a staunch advocate of the newly established Protestant faith. With the accession of the nine-year-old Edward VI in 1547, the English court became embroiled in a sequence of complex power struggles in which Lady Jane, Edward's cousin, became a pawn. As Edward's health deteriorated in 1553, the powerful nobleman John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, persuaded the young king to exclude his half-sisters Mary and Elizabeth and decree that the crown should instead pass to his cousin Jane. She was then hastily married to the Duke of Northumberland's son, Lord Guildford. Northumberland's hold on power seemed secure when Jane was proclaimed queen on Edward's death in July 1553. However, Mary's Catholic supporters staged a rising, Northumberland's army melted away and just thirteen days later the reign of Queen Jane was over. Although her innocence was never doubted, Jane's existence as a possible figurehead of Protestant revolt made her an unacceptable danger to the new regime. She was executed on February 12th 1554, aged 17.

Lady Jane Grey, who was almost eighteen in February of 1554, had matured into a remarkable young woman, only averagely attractive, but with far better than average brains. She spoke Latin, Greek, French, Italian and some Hebrew. She was a patron of London’s Strangers Church for European Protestant exiles, and was admired amongst a circle of clever Protestant women that included William Cecil’s intellectual wife, Mildred. There is no evidence to support the later romanticized gossip amongst Italians that Jane married at the insistence of her mother and the threats of her father. It was usual for the daughters of the nobility to have an arranged marriage made around their sixteenth birthday, and even if Edward lived, Jane’s marriage had great promise. When her father died his title, Duke of Suffolk, was likely to pass to Jane's husband Guildford, who was close to her age and remembered by contemporaries as a comely, virtuous and goodly gentleman.”

Jane was informed that she was named Queen on the 9th of July 1553, three days after her cousin, King Edward VI, died. Once she realized how big the coup was and that it wasn’t going away,
Jane accepted her new role and signed many letters as "Jane the Quene". This came after Mary had declared herself Queen of England and denounced the coup. But while it was expected of Jane to give her signature to important documents and urge others to come to her aide, “The only action which Jane is known to have taken as queen was to deny her husband, Guildford Dudley, the Crown Matrimonial.”

 Jane had alleged that she had been forced into marriage by her parents and that “relations with her spouse were not good.” Yet I contend that it was common of noblemen’s sons and daughters to go into arranged marriages without question, and aware of her position and her lineage, Jane would have known that she had little choice in matters such as these. And being the religious woman she was, marriage was viewed as one of the most important things in a woman’s life. It is possible that Jane might have not liked being married to someone she barely knew, but due to her religious fervor, had come to accept it. But given how kings and queens saw themselves, it is not outside the realm of possibility that Jane might have said this in order to get her way. Jane would die on the 12th of February 1554, after her husband.

 Jane was made into a passive figure later on, a Protestant martyr who refused to accept the crown, who was the victim of her parents' abuse. Think of this distortion as a Snow White washing of Jane. The Victorians wanted to think of Jane as the poor royal trapped in the tower, at the mercy of her evil cousin, and older woman, envious of her beauty, and a dangerous mother who is lusting for power and sees her daughter as nothing more than a tool. And while everyone fights one another, poor Jane stays true to herself, unwavering in her faith, choosing death instead of being a sell-out. While this is partly true (Jane was a fervent believer who never wavered in her faith), it is largely made up. Jane had to be seen as the epitome of the good, Christian woman who was submissive, yet defiant when it came to her faith. During the Victorian age, this myth became bigger and it is one that has endured.

Jane was a strong woman, no doubt. One of the most educated women of her time, who was also independent and although she did not covet the crown, once she was in that position, she did her duty to the best of her ability, urging her father, her father in law, and many others to rally to her cause and stop Mary. When everyone abandoned her, she had no choice but to admit defeat. Jane accepted Mary's reign, so long as Mary would not bring back Catholicism. When Mary did this, Jane became angry and asked the people to "return to Christ's war!" Although her outburst might seem inconsequential to us, it didn't seem so to Mary and her councilors. Several urged her to deal with her right away and Mary often hesitated to do so, but after the Wyatt Rebellion, Mary signed her death warrant.

The Lady Jane, while she was a prisoner in the Tower of London during the last 8 months or so of her short life, took the time to write. Because she knew that what she wrote would be published posthumously, she wrote very carefully worded letters that she, I believe, conceived as performance pieces. She was careful to express her thoughts in a very special way. It was important to her that she be remembered, not just remembered but in a very particular way.

She was so good at it, that people who have read what she wrote, conscripted her for their own use.

I contend that she never expected that. When she knew her death was imminent, she wrote three epitaphs. One in Latin, one in Greek, and one in English.

If Justice is done with my body, my soul will find mercy in God. [Latin]
Death will give pain to my body for its sins, but the soul will be justified before God. [Greek]
If my faults deserve punishment, my youth at least, and my imprudence were worthy of excuse; God and posterity will show me favour. [English]

I believe that %98 of what you read about the Lady Jane Grey is wrong, and it is my life's work to tell her true story.


Michael Anthony Bayus was born in Union town, Pennsylvania and became blind shortly after birth. At three years of age, he was given a small organ on which he began creating tunes and improvising chord progressions. Michael began formal lessons at age eight and began playing in church at fourteen. He has played numerous recitals throughout the United States.

Mr. Bayus earned a Bachelor of Music degree from Hope College in Holland, Michigan, and a Master of Music degree from The Catholic University of America, where he served as an assistant to Dr. Robert Grogan at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. He has been fortunate to study under Virgil Fox, Gunter Kaunzinger, Marilyn Mason, Marie-Claire Alain, and Jean Langlais.

At the age of eight years, Mr. Bayus was given his first Tape Recorder ostensibly to record, and track his progress as an Organist. Instead, Michael used his Tape Recorder to create and produce Sound
Plays for his own amusement and amazement.

Along the way, while in High School and College, Mr. Bayus participated in various Workshops and courses in Broadcasting and while in College, produced a Radio Drama about the Lady Jane Grey as a final exam for one of those courses. Michael first knew about Lady Jane after hearing a BBC produced radio drama about her at age 12, and became passionate about her from age 14. Mr. Bayus has made the study of Lady Jane Grey's life his life's work ever since.

To that end, Mr. Bayus has published Project GreyNoise, an Audio Book about the Lady Jane Grey.

In Project GreyNoise, Lady Jane Grey is trapped in the 21st century, but willingly. Because she knows that in order to affect change and to accomplish her goal, she must act. It’s hard for her because she knows that if she were to tell people that she really is Lady Jane Grey from 1554, people would think she is crazy. So she plays Miss Jane Dudley, and she oversees an exhibit about herself and dresses up in Tudor costume, and enjoys being herself twice a day, (morning and afternoon,) for her show. As the story goes on, Mike suggests that she put on shows about events in her life as short plays or vignettes in the evening. She does it all so well that she gains a reputation around town. She is very entertaining, and she talks Tudor History as though she really lived it, because she has.

We also get to know Jane, as she assumes the role of Miss Jane Dudley, a hard working modern-day young woman, as she interacts with those she meets when she is not working her exhibit. Only Mike, and Jess know for sure just who she really is. Mike is her best friend, and Jess is the caring Mother that she never had. Her goal is to debunk all of the myths, and misinformation that has grown up around her since her death in 1554. The Victorians really did a number on her, and she has a big job on.’

For further information or to purchase, visit

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Editor's Weekly Round-up, February 10, 2019

by the EHFA Editors

Never miss a post on English Historical Fiction Authors.

Stephanie Cowell gives us the story behind the story in this Editor's Choice. Enjoy!

Thursday, February 7, 2019

84, Charing Cross Road - The love story of a New York City woman and a London bookshop

by Stephanie Cowell

In New York 1949, in the years not long following the terrible losses in the world from the War, a young writer who had never gone to college sent a letter to a bookshop called Marks and Co. in Charing Cross Road, London. She was determined to be self-educated. She wanted a number of classic books, then only available in old editions; the great cheap reprints of today had not yet been envisioned. She sent the bookshop a list of what she wanted. Back came a letter from one FPD (Frank Doel) for Marks & Co. saying they had copies of a few things on her list and would send them book mail. The invoice would be enclosed with the books. Yes, there really was a world when you could order anything and the seller did not doubt you would pay for it. In England Lyons Tea Shops were all over, and Elizabeth would not ascend the throne for three more years.

Through the mail, Helene Hanff wrote, “I enclose $4 to cover the $3.88 due you, buy yourself a cup of coffee with the 12 cents…Now, do you have….” And back came more estate-quality editions so beautiful she hardly dared read them.

Helene Hanff,who fell in love with an English bookshop
But she was a writer and writers are often poor. The bookshop staff wanted her to visit, but Helene could not afford to go. Instead her best friend went and wrote back to her: “It is the loveliest old shop straight out of Dickens; you would go absolutely out of your mind over it. ….It’s dim inside, and you smell the shop before you see it; it’s a lovely smell….it combines must and dust and age, and walls of wood and floors of wood…the shelves go on forever; they go up to the ceiling….”

You never know what happens when you write a first letter to someone. “Gentlemen” which was the first salutation evolved into “Dear Frankie.” The request for books developed into a friendship with the whole bookshop staff. It led to her sending boxes of meat and dried egg and nylon stockings, things unavailable then in England except under the strictest rationing. 

The correspondence of Ms. Hanff and bookseller Frank Doel continued for twenty years. Their letters were collected into a small book call 84,Charing Cross Road which became an underground classic and earned Helene Hanff hundreds of fan letters from strangers in English-speaking countries around the world. It became a BBC live television play. It became a West End play and a Broadway play and eventually a movie with Anne Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins.

Anthony Hopkins as bookseller Frank Doel in the film
But Helene never met her friend Frankie; he died suddenly in 1968 . Almost the whole of the London antiquarian book trade attended his funeral on a bitterly cold day.

When Helene finally sold enough television scripts to go to England, she found to her great sadness that the bookstore she had made so famous in her little book had closed. Someone had saved the sign for her though. She subsequently wrote two charming small memoirs about her adventures seeing London and England at last, hosted by her huge number of fans and her English publisher. It was a dream come true. The books are The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street and Q’s Legacy, which is also about how an American girl who could not afford college fell in love with English literature.

Many people love the 1987 movie version but I feel it pales next to the vivid writing of the actual letters. So if you have not read the actual 84, Charing Cross Road, you can do it in much less than an hour and it will transport you back to the time when you wrote snail mail to bookshops for what you wanted if not available here and didn’t have to pay until after it came and when a London book shop could keep a staff of six or eight employees while selling books through the mail for about two dollars each and probably a lot less if you went in person.

Charing Cross Road as seen in the film

In 1997 my husband and I made our own pilgrimage to 84, Charing Cross Road. At that point, the shop was empty and there was nothing but the plaque commemorating it (see above) and the book Helene had written about it. It was very sad, but there were still a number of second-hand bookshops on the street, and I bought a book in one which I still have today. It was not an antiquarian book but a used paperback, but still I love it.

A few years before I had written Helene Hanff a fan letter; she still lived in the Manhattan apartment house whose address was listed in her books. She was then about 80 years old. She wrote me a lovely handwritten letter back which lies buried in one of the many boxes of papers or I would hope to scan it for this article. I was perfectly thrilled to receive it.

the original edition of the book of letters
I own almost all her books. Mostly they are the story of how one woman loved English literature so much that she made an ordinary Charing Cross antiquarian bookshop into one of the most loved bookshops in the world ever. And so it remains in people’s minds many years after the world it celebrated has changed forever.

This article is an Editors' Choice, originally published on Aug 13, 2015

Stephanie Cowell is the author of Nicholas Cooke, The Physician of London, The Players: a novel of the young Shakespeare, Marrying Mozart and Claude & Camille: a novel of Monet. She is the recipient of an American Book Award. Her next novel is on the love story of Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning to be followed by the conclusion of the Nicholas trilogy and an Edwardian love story between two men in the English midlands. Her work has been translated into nine languages. Her website is e-mail:

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Editors Weekly Round-up, February 3, 2019

by the EHFA Editors

This week on English Historical Fiction Authors, a timely look at the life of a man who cooked for Queen Victoria.  

by Lauren Gilbert

Join us every week when our contributing authors tell of saints or sinners, politics or war. Read about kings and queens, the common people, and social customs from ancient times to post-WWII. Never miss a post on EHFA.