Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Forerunners of the Crystal Palace

By Judith Taylor

The Crystal Palace was a greenhouse on steroids. It was only possible to build such an edifice because two industrial processes came of age at roughly the same time, cast iron and plate glass, both benefiting from mass production with its reliable reproduction of an infinite number of identical components. Iron work in Britain goes back to antiquity as does glass, even before Roman times. What was new were the refinements in their manufacture. The eighteenth century may have been the Age of Enlightenment but in my opinion, the nineteenth century was the Age of Improvement.

Joseph Paxton, the man who conceived of the Crystal Palace, had already produced one masterpiece of its type at his employer’s estate in Derbyshire: Chatsworth, seat of the dukes of Devonshire. The “Great Stove”, as it was known, actually a very large heated greenhouse, can now be seen as a forerunner or rehearsal for ever larger such buildings. Paxton worked on it between 1836 and 1840, using wood as the framework. (“Stove” was a shorthand way of referring to these houses. Dutch gardeners had discovered that artificial heating was essential to maintain sub-tropical plants.)

Great Conservatory at Chatsworth: built between 1836 and 1840.
Finally destroyed 1920

The duke was devoted to tropical orchids and then by extension to all exotic plants. He asked Paxton to create the greenhouse as a way of accommodating all his treasures. At the time the Chatsworth greenhouse was the largest glass building in Europe. A few years later Richard Turner constructed the Palm House for the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. It too was magisterial. Turner also used a wooden frame.

What was different about the Crystal Palace was not only its scale but the fact that it was the first, or at least one of the very first, major public buildings to be prefabricated.

The architectural competition for the design in 1850 produced 245 entries none of which anyone liked. Paxton was going about his own affairs when one day, while sitting in a board meeting of the railway company in which he now owned shares, everything came together in his mind. He sketched out the design on the only paper he had, blotting paper.

Joseph Paxton's original sketch for the Crystal Palace
on blotting paper

From this rough sketch a whole corps of architects, engineers, draftsmen and manufacturers prepared detailed drawings which were enough to persuade the royal commission in charge to go with it. Time was very tight. They only had about a year in which to build the building and equip the exhibition halls. Because of prefabrication it was completed in 190 days, just over six months. One of the reasons this was possible was that they only used two lengths of girder and similarly standardized other parts.

Not only was the design radical and ingenious but the team solved a number of new technical problems very efficiently, like draining water off the roof down through hollow tubes inside the cast iron girders.  This system was not perfect and leakage was always a nuisance.

Certain public structures were inspired by greenhouses of one sort or another. When the railways began in the early decades of the nineteenth century the owners turned to this type of construction for the termini. The buildings needed to be very large to accommodate both trains and people, they needed to be light and airy and they needed to withstand the elements.  Liverpool Street Station was built in 1836. Modern city planning would probably not have placed St Pancras Station within a few blocks of the Euston Terminus (1839). At least the Great West terminus was on the other side of town at Paddington, also constructed in 1839. The stations were built of wrought iron.

Euston Station 1839: early use of wrought iron in a public building

Greenhouse is a very capacious term for many different types of enclosure designed through the ages to nurture both edible and ornamental crops. A useful concept with which to view all the various methods employed is “protected cultivation”. The Romans understood how to do this. The ancient Chinese had effective methods about two thousand years ago.

The Italians discovered that placing a fruit tree against a south facing wall helped to protect it against cold winds. The wall received the sun’s greatest heat for a longer time and this radiated back into the air around the tree. From this it was only a short mental leap to covering the plants.

In the Early Modern era (if I may be allowed to use this now denigrated term) in Western Europe enclosures were initially needed to keep orange trees alive in an alien environment, “orangeries”. The arrival of orange trees in England via Spain and Italy led to the first buildings created for this purpose in the colder climates: orangeries. Orange trees originated in sub-tropical parts of China and required careful attention. Spain and Italy had quite cold winters yet oranges imported from Spain were available in London very early. They were a popular treat.  Nell Gwynne was an orange seller.

Origins of Greenhouses, EWB van der Muijzenberg:
A History of Greenhouses (with permission)

The first record of orange trees in England was at Beddington House in Surrey.  Toward the end of the sixteenth century Sir Francis Carew obtained saplings somehow, possibly from Paris and grew them outdoors.  The great diarist John Evelyn visited Beddington on his garden tours in the mid seventeenth century and noted that Carew had erected a shed over the trees in the very cold weather. Carew died in 1611. Soon after that era the next significant change was planting the small trees in moveable pots.

The first orangery was an open brick loggia forming part of the main house. Enclosing the open side was the next move. At first the ratio of brick wall to transparent spaces in the orangeries was more than fifty percent. With time they whittled that down until one side of the building was covered solely with glass panels fitted into narrow supports.  The Dutch had found this out, modifying the conditions as the seasons changed.

In summer the potted plants were wheeled outside into the open air. When it grew colder they were wheeled back in. The structures began to be heated, first by small localized braziers and later by large centralized stoves. One difficulty was the poor quality of early glass and its cost. It could only be made in small seizes and had chromatic and spherical aberrations. For many years transparent sheets of mica were preferred to let the light and warmth in.

Separating the plant house, no longer solely for oranges, from the main house was another step on the road to the classic greenhouse now so widely in use.  The next logical move was making a completely transparent house with the narrowest of supports. The walls and roof were now entirely glass panes in a supporting frame. Changes in building methods allowed this to be done.

John Claudius Loudon was the first person to experiment with wrought iron as a frame for greenhouses. He patented his narrow sash which had the additional advantage of being slightly malleable in 1816. How to get the most out of the exposure through the roof led to some controversy. Loudon came up with his “ridge and furrow” system, alternating the tilt of the glass panes depending on the axis from east to west. It seemed to make sense for many years but was eventually quietly dropped as not being really useful though Paxton did use the system for the Crystal Palace. (Addis) Later users also realized they needed to shade the interior at the hottest times of the day and came up with moveable fabric covers or a light opaque wash on the actual glass.

Floor Plan of the Crystal Palace

Ventilation was an important issue. Because many exotic plants were coming from hot countries the owners of greenhouses assumed that the plants could only flourish if the   greenhouse were kept at its highest temperature. Paxton was one of the first people to recognize that this was not true. By creating adequate ventilation he could cool down the interior at will and previously fragile and skittish orchids began to grow well for him.

Cast iron was the material which gave architects and builders the greatest
opportunity to do new and radical things. Loudon criticized Paxton for using wood in The Great Stove. They had a very complex relationship but Paxton was clever enough to learn from anyone. Loudon felt threatened and was jealous of Paxton but had the more original mind.

“Pig iron” was the by -product of early iron smelting and at first seemed to be useless. The ironmasters needed the soft pasty form of iron which could be wrought into many forms. If the initial pour from the furnace was not at the right temperature they had to let the mixture run off, putting it into containers, later known as “pigs’. It was disappointing as it had to be re -smelted, using up time, labour and fuel. At some time in the fifteenth century they realized this was a valuable material in itself. By modifying the receptacle at the furnace lip they could produce all sorts of parts, such as cooking pots, railings, weapons of varying kinds and tools.

The history of this industry does not lend itself to glib claims of originality but Abraham Darby of Coalbrookdale is supposed to have started cast iron on its path to indispensable industrial material. He recognized the value of coke to do a better job of heating the furnaces than charcoal. This was well established by the mid-eighteenth century and cast iron was in general use by the nineteenth century. Great engineers like Isambard Kingdom Brunel used it to build the longest bridges ever seen over the most daunting rivers and chasms.

Plate glass was the other ingredient in this heady mix. In 1847 James Hartley patented his method of making large clear sheets of plate glass. His family had been glaziers for three generations and he went to France and Germany to learn their methods. After growing up near Birmingham he opened his own works in Sunderland in 1833 and produced plate glass using the German method of rolling the molten mass over a cylinder. Glass was still taxed at 7s 6d a hundred weight so the manufacturer had to be scrupulous in using very last bit of it. The repeal of the tax in 1845 was very welcome. In spite of this kind of plate glass being obviously so superior he met a lot of resistance in the building trades and had to work incredibly hard to sell it.

The foregoing indicates that all this development was only accessible to the very richest families. Nothing said opulence or luxury like the ability to grow pineapples in the chilly English countryside. The fruit was highly symbolic in several ways. One was its use as an architectural ornament. The actual fruit was way out for reach the average person. A stable boy gaping at a glittering gathering in Mayfair could only pine for “a cut of that there pine” as Thackeray says in “Vanity Fair”. The fruit’s modern ubiquity in tins says something for the forces of democracy after all.

Middle class and upper working class families were able to benefit from the reduced cost of a mass produced greenhouse later in the century. Smaller houses holding a modest number of plants became widespread. An unheated glasshouse gave enough protection for temperate plants even if they could not handle exotic ones. We cannot imagine the excitement caused by begonias when they first appeared in the 1880s. They are the most ordinary of flowers today but back then they were coddled like orchids. 

John Ruskin and his brethren inveighed against the soullessness of mass production but it played its part in allowing ordinary people to enjoy life more fully. While he was probably correct in theory this access to wholesome pleasure was a powerful counterbalance.

I have only skimmed the surface of a huge topic but hope I have said enough to start readers thinking.


Addis, Bill 2006     The Crystal Palace and its place in structural history
International Journal of Space Structures  vol 21 (I) March

Colquhoun, Kate 2006    The Busiest Man in England: a life of Joseph Paxton, gardener, architect and Victorian visionary
Boston        David R. Godine

Desmond, Ray 1993    Kew: the history of the Royal Botanic Gardens
London           The Harvill Press for the Royal Botanic Gardens

Gloag, John and Derek Bridgwater  1948 A History of Cast Iron in Architecture
London        George Allen and Unwin Ltd

Muijzenberg, E. W. B. van der    1980      A History of Greenhouses
Wageningen, The Netherlands      Institute for Agricultural Engineering

Ruskin, John 1851 – 1853 (reissue 2008) The Stones of Venice
London      Euston Grove


 Judith M. Taylor MD is a graduate of Somerville College and the Oxford University Medical School and is a board certified neurologist. She practiced neurology in New York and since retiring has written six books on horticultural history as well as numerous articles and book reviews on the same subject.
Dr Taylor’s books include The Olive in California: history of an immigrant tree (2000), Tangible Memories: Californians and their gardens 1800 – 1950 (2003), The Global Migrations of Ornamental Plants: how the world got into your garden (Missouri Botanical Garden Press 2009), Visions of Loveliness: the work of forgotten flower breeders (Ohio University Press 2014) and An Abundance of Flowers: more great flower breeders of the past (Ohio University Press  2018).  In 2019 she published A Five Year Plan for Geraniums: growing flowers commercially in East Germany 1946 – 1989.
Dr Taylor’s web site is: www.horthistoria.com

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Editors Weekly Round-up, August 25, 2019

by the EHFA Editors

Linda Root has the spotlight this week with a comparison of the screenplay and the source material for the 2018 film "The True Life of Mary Queen of Scots". How does the film stand up?

The True Life of Mary Stuart and the Movie Version

by Linda Fetterly Root


Wednesday, August 21, 2019

The True Life of Mary Stuart and the Movie Version: Part II

 by Linda Fetterly Root

At the end of Part One of my review of the Queen of Scots Movie, Marie Stuart, Queen of Scots and Dowager Queen Consort of France, has arrived at Holyrood Palace, ready to assume personal rule.  According to legend, in spite of the ordeals of her North Sea Crossing, she stays awake into the night, waving to the crowd assembled below her window as they serenaded their young queen. It could have been a great triumph had it ended there.

What Happened to Scotland in this Story?

The fast and loose historical treatment of Scottish history in the movie does not end with the queen's arrival, although many of the oversights and errors are sins of omission rather than significant deviations from the truth. For example, the Queen's arrival at Holyrood Palace was not the first meeting between Marie Stuart and her half-brother James Stewart. He had traveled to Scotland with the five year old queen in 1548 and had attended her wedding at Notre Dame de Paris on April 24, 1558, as a member of the Scottish delegation. Later when his half-sister's husband Francois II died, and Marie had despaired of husband shopping, he spent five days in closed conference with his sister with an aim to persuade her to return to Scotland on terms agreeable to the Protestant lairds rather than sailing to Glasgow where the rival Catholic faction lead by John Leslie and the Northern Catholic promised their support and a Restoration of Catholicism. By omitting the competition between the factions, the scriptwriters write Scotland and the Scottish Reformation out of the story.

While some writers suggest Marie was anxious to please her brother and not that committed to her Catholic faith, her decision was likely made to avoid escalating hostilities between the religious factions on the brink of civil war until her position could be secured. It also bought her time to establish better relations with Elizabeth and the Protestant government in England. This required a level of statecraft requiring her to balance the power of her Reformation government against that of the Northern Catholic Earls.

James Stewart, Earl of Moray

The political quagmire in which she found herself is reasonably accurate. She could not have achieved any degree of success without the support of her powerful brother James Stewart and  Secretary William Maitland of Lethington, who Elizabeth I dubbed 'the flower of the wit of Scotland' and who had the best chance of affecting a meeting of the queens. Marie Stuart had a good sense of theatre, and she made her self visible when her subjects serenaded her on the evening of her arrival, even though she was thoroughly exhausted.

The movie accurately displays her personal charm and her popularity with the people. The Scottish court was probably not as austere as portrayed, thanks to Marie's mother Marie d' Guise, a member of the powerful House of Guise and the Queen's father James V, who had improved his southern castles to please his French-born wives. Holyrood was not at all like a chateau on the Loire, nor was it as opulent as the convent of Saint Pierre les Dames du Rheims where she spent much of her time after her husband Francois's death, but it was not a carved out bat cave as portrayed in the movie.

The confrontation between the Queen and John Knox is one of many that occurred soon after her arrival, and it is reasonably well done. Knox was one of the few people who could bring Marie to tears in a public setting. It is reasonable to believe the conduct in the queen's apartment was far too relaxed to please the Calvinist lords and clergy. The authenticity of the frolicking is documented. The scene between Marie and Knox is a reasonable portrayal of what transpired between them, enhanced by the strength of the actors. David Tenant's Knox is a good match to Ronan's Queen of Scots, but both are cinematic constructs. Knox was indeed a rabble-rouser, but he did trim his beard and behaved with some restraint when it behooved him. As for other members of the Scottish powers of the time, I find the lumping together of bitter enemies such as William Maitland and his arch-enemy James Douglas, Earl of Morton, an offense to most Scots.

Switching mid-scene from the Scottish to the English court may seem awkward to the general audience, but allows for parallel glimpses of Elizabeth and Marie and is easy for the experienced Marian historian to follow. The influence of William Cecil on Elizabeth's actions and in engineering the execution of her cousin is underplayed but present.  Elizabeth and Leicester provide the only viable romance in the story. The killing of Davie Rizzio places the wrong people present but does display Darnley's complicity and Marie's shock and horror. But from that point to the death of the Queen of Scots many of the most poignant pieces of 16th Century Scottish history are omitted in favor of dwelling upon a dialogue between principals that is unnecessary to the plot. The details of Darnley's murder, two military confrontations between the Marians and the Rebels who base their legitimacy on the pretext of avenging the infant prince James, and ensuing Douglas Wars are excised to allow screen time for a fabricated meeting of the queens.

The political climate and factionalism that resulted in Marie Stuart's death require at least some attention to the circumstances of her flight from Scotland after two military confrontations --the first in 1567 at Carberry Hill, and the second, at the Battle of Langside following nearly a year of incarceration and a miscarriage at Lochleven Castle. Unfortunately, omitting them leaves the viewer with little understanding of Marie's abdication in the late summer of 1567 or her flight to England after  Langside.  Her abrupt fall from favor of her people after Darnley's death, the controversy over the marriage to Bothwell and the dynamic of their relationship are all left out of the story, when in many respects, they are the story.

Also, we are left knowing that Darnley was a drunken rake, which is accurate, but the impression that Marie despaired of her marriage because of his possible sexual relationship with Davie Rizzio, perverts the story. The queen who once sought to wed the mentally deranged and homicidal Don Carlos would not have dumped Darnley for a homosexual encounter with her favorite. She dumped him because he was conspiring with her enemies with an eye to seizing the Scottish throne in a coup.  The Scots would have overlooked Darnley's faults if he had been malleable and controllable. What finished Darnley was his intriguing with the militant Catholic factions in Europe when Marie refused to convey a grant of the crown matrimonial to her increasingly dissipated and probably syphilitic spouse. What killed him was his thirst for power and his unsuitability to wield it. If truth be told, Bothwell did not fare much better.  For those who controlled the infant king, Marie as a widow was easier to manipulate, at least until Bothwell made his move. But the film wastes no time on Bothwell or explaining who he was, nor does it allude to the many months of her imprisonment at Loch Leven while the queen reflected on her fall from grace. After fleeing the battle at Langside without a definitive defeat, Marie Stuart refused to risk another imprisonment like the one she had escaped. She believed  Elizabeth would place their positions as sister monarchs above their politics, a decision that spelled her doom.

Minor Issues:

For acting, the movie gets a five-star review based on the performances of actors Saoirse Ronan  and Margot Robbie as the queens, with strong support from Guy Pearce as Elizabeth's minister William Cecil, David Tennant as a sufficiently odious Knox, and Ishmael Cruz Cordova as Davie Rizzio, the queen's lutenist and correspondence secretary. The casting has raised an issue in some quarters as to how far filmmakers should go to achieve ethnic diversity. I applaud the concept when it is done without adversely affecting historical authenticity. The major complaint seems to focus on the casting of Adrian Lester, a Jamaican, as ambassador to Scotland, Sir Thomas Randolph, who historically had an affair with Marie Beaton, one of the Scottish Queen's Four Maries. Both queens were offended and worked together to solve the problem. Elizabeth had him recalled and sent to Russia to the court of Ivan the Terrible. Beaton was quickly married off to one of Marie Stuart's lesser courtiers. Sir Thomas Randolph did not return to Scotland until James VI began his personal rule in the mid-1570s.  I do not see the distinguished Shakespearean actor Lester's presence in the film as an issue.  Audiences are aware they are attending a display of Twenty-First Century cinematic art.


A viewer with a keen eye to what it is and is not and able to sympathize with the filmmakers acknowledgment of ethnic diversity and political correctness by making Elizabeth Tudor's ambassador to Scotland a man of color, and framing the story as a feminist dialogue between two powerful women, neither of whom were feminists, and finally, by realizing that the principal force at play in the plot--Reformation Scotland--is omitted altogether, then by all means enjoy the scenery and the costuming and the stagecraft. The movie is well worth the price of the ticket and the time.

Visitors to my post who are familiar with my studies of the life and times of the Queen of Scots and who know my interest in all things associated with Marie Stuart have asked some penetrating questions about the film. One is whether Marie Stuart was progressive and tolerant of religions other than her own, as depicted in the film. My answer has to be, no. Her last words, as translated from the letter she wrote to her brother in law, Henri III, King of France, paints her as being strong in her Catholic Faith and in the legitimacy of her claim to the English throne. Her actions in her later years indicate she was willing to endorse a regicide to achieve a Restoration of Catholicism.

However tolerant she chose to be during her years of personal rule and during her almost twenty years of imprisonment in England, the Queen of Scots still prayed for a  Catholic Restoration in Scotland, if possible, with herself holding the scepter, and if that could not be affected, with it in the hand of James. If her acts sometimes masked that purpose, I believe it to be more a matter of timing than one of tolerance. She had, however, learned some temperance of her Stuart impetuousness as she aged, and was careful not to endorse lost causes. Early in her life, she watched the slaughter of Huguenots at Amboise with reluctance. During her own personal rule, she witnessed the execution of the heir to the Huntly earldom and the desecration of his father George Gordon, Earl of Huntly's body after the battle of Corriche Burn, a striking down of one of the principal Northern Catholic Earls. In that battle, she rode beside her protestant champions, her brother James Stewart, soon to be declared Earl of Moray, and a longtime knight-at-arms  Sir William Kirkcaldy of Grange.  That did not make her a champion of Protestantism or a warrior queen, and she lost nights of sleep because of it. She was compelled to mask her Catholicism in dealing with Elizabeth at first, but when their meeting  never happened, and  Elizabeth sought an English marriage for her defiant cousin--one that would guarantee an English succession to the Scottish throne, Marie Stuart continued to hope for the Catholic powers of Europe to come to her rescue before the English prevailed. These were not fly-by-night episodes of wishful thinking. Her nephew Francis Stewart, 5th Earl of Bothwell and the exiled Northern Catholic Earls vigorously campaigned for such an outcome in France, Spain and the Hapsburg Netherlands.

What Marie did not appreciate, and she was not alone in her miscalculation, was the atmosphere of change rising on the Continent, especially in what is now knows as the EightyYears War.  The volatile developments in France during the Religious Wars and the rise of independence in the Low Countries made an invasion in Britain less likely with every passing year. Whether it was frustration with her son's politics, her continuing restricted freedoms or natural aging, the Queen's discretion failed her with the Babington Plot and unfounded hints of support from Hapsburg Spain. In essence, she deceived herself in looking to France and Spain for a military solution.

A second question I have been asked concerns her relationship with Darnley and whether Elizabeth was behind his trip to Scotland.   Evidence on that score supports the idea that the Queen was infatuated with Darnley when she maneuvered a meeting when she was visiting Weymms Castle in Fifeshire. They had probably met earlier in France when Francois II died, but it was a state visit of no consequence.  At the time, Marie was husband shopping, and the English had suggested Leicester, who Marie found beneath her station.  Darnley, however, was another great-grandchild of Henry VII, a bonafide Tudor, son of Lady Margaret Douglas, Countess of Lennox, Marie's Aunt.  As a couple, they would have a double claim to the English throne.  Add to that the fact he was taller than she, well-mannered when it suited him, and an elegant dancer.

No matter how much Elizabeth might have savored placing a rake-like Darnley in her rival's bedchamber, it is disingenuous to think she would have hatched a plot against her own throne.  I do, however, suspect Margaret Douglas was delighted to send her mollycoddled son Henry Stuart (Darnley) to Scotland to join his father. Elizabeth probably had her own suspicions about her Cousin Margaret's motives and sent her to the Tower. By the time of the marriage, Marie was viewing Darley somewhat more objectively but proceeded with the wedding.  When we recall her earlier hopes of marriage to insane Don Carlos because of his pedigree, it is not hard to imagine the Queen of Scots going forward with marriage to a rakish man with a claim to the English throne equal to her own.  Guy's book and lectures pinpoint that decision as her downfall, which is not quite so evident in the movie.  In essence, there was more to Marie Stuart's destruction than her rivalry with her cousin. The tragedy was her reliance on Elizabeth on saving her crown.

Those who have seen the film often ask if the Queen of Scots considered Elizabeth her inferior, as indicated in the dialog of their non-existent meeting. The answer, of course, is yes. She was born to a station Elizabeth had struggled to attain and fought to keep. In Marie Stuart's mind, only God could create a queen. And Marie Stuart's God was Catholic. In the long view, it is hard to determine which of the queens won. Marie Stuart has the larger tomb, but  Elizabeth has an age named in her honor, and the many European monarchs who have a Stuart in their ancestry also have a Tudor in the shadows.  The most notable among them are buried in the Henry VII Chapel.

In closing, I thoroughly enjoyed the movie and will no doubt acquire a copy when it becomes available. I grew up wishing I had been Elizabeth and only marginally familiar with the Queen of Scots. That all changed when I read Antonia Fraser's book, but it was John Guy who gave me the Marie Stuart of my novels. I am a member of the Marie Stuart Society and venerate her memory, but I do not consider her a warrior queen. Nor do I not consider myself a militant feminist, but a vocal feminist when it comes to social causes.  To me, the contrast between the queens in Marie Stuart's story highlights the feminist dilemma presented to competent women in a world controlled by men. Perhaps neither of the cousins was truly free.  Perhaps that is the true story of the Queen of Scots, and if so, it gives the film its modern significance as a story which remains a work-in-progress.

RECOMMENDATION:  See the movie for its elegance, but also read John Guy's book.  I make the same suggestion to Professor Guy, not entirely in jest. I am thoroughly enjoying his 2016 biography ELIZABETH The Later Years, and he remains my favorite historian.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

The True Life of Mary Stuart and the Movie Version: PART 1, by Linda Fetterly Root

(Republished from my Blog at lindaroot.blogspot)


When I heard John Guy was going to consult on the script for the 2018 version of the life of Marie Stuart, Queen of Scots, I was a pre-determined fan.  I should have known better when I heard the movie included a scene portraying a meeting of the Queen of Scots and her cousin Elizabeth Tudor, Queen of England, an event that never happened.  I considered an argument offered by the filmmakers that the scene could be interpreted by historians as a dream sequence and in any case, what transpired between the royal cousins could be excused because the views and sentiments expressed at the mythical meeting were consistent with their letters and public declarations.  Nevertheless,  a generation who learns its history at the cinema will be left with an impression of an encounter that is at best a fantasy, and at its worst, inaccurate.

When Elizabeth removes her wig in the presence of a rival queen whose legendary beauty was a thorn in the hand that held the scepter, I wanted to scream aloud.

The fictional meeting of the queens is not the movie's only sin nor the fatal one: I am only one among the several people who know their history who applaud the cinematography, the casting and the costuming, but are left wondering if the movie somehow missed the point. Others who saw it felt the scene portrayed Marie as the stronger character, which was never the case. The queens came from the same bloodline but as very different women.

 Marie Stuart was a divine-right monarch and upon her father James V's death when she was six-days-old she did not need to fight for a thone ostensibly given her by God, but during a childhood spent in France, her country was ruled by others in her stead. Although she was an anointed queen, she was an absentee ruler. By the fall of her mother's regency and death, the Reformation had altered the political thought of those left behind in Scotland, bringing changes Marie never entirely grasped. On the other hand, Elizabeth's ascendancy was an entirely different situation. Upon her father Henry VIII's death, she stood third in line to the English throne under the terms of his Will and disqualified entirely by her bastardy in the eyes of many, including many of the powerful Northern Lords. Under the rules of succession, her young brother Edward inherited the crown and sought to disqualify both of his sisters in favor of his adamantly protestant Lady Jane Gray. Even when Mary Tudor asserted her claim and ousted Jane, Elizabeth's succession was far from settled.  When Mary Tudor was in declining health, a faction sympathetic to a Catholic succession favored the dying queen's Catholic cousin, Margaret Douglas. But Elizabeth had grown cautious during her Catholic sister's reign. Her survival and ascendancy required an entirely different skill set --one necessarily sensitive to the Winds of Change. Most English had no desire for another Catholic Queen.  No one understands the difference between the histories of the two British Queens than historian John Guy. If I take a poke or two in this post, my barbs are not aimed at John Guy, the historian, but at  John Guy, the script-consultant, screenwriter.

 The movie attributes more progressive thought to the Queen of Scots than it's co-screenwriter Guy reports in his excellent history.  During the early months of her personal rule, she accepted the guidance of her brother James Stewart, known to history as the Earl of Moray, and her foreign secretary, Sir William Maitland.  Their influence kept her ardent Catholicism in check and allowed her to achieve a strained but working relationship with Scotland's firebrand Reformer, John Knox, but not for long.

(David Tennant, John Knox in the Queen of Scots film.)

The Mary Queen of Scots screenplay is not the 'True Life of Mary Stuart' of John Guy's book.  In a sense, the title of the movie is itself a misnomer.  Those who have read Guy's stellar biography of Marie Stuart and followed his lectures will have come away with two strong messages to help us understand the tragedy of the iconic queen: 1) The youthful queen who returned to her birthplace to begin her six years of personal rule was a French girl; and 2) her marriage to her English cousin Henry Stuart, commonly known as Lord Darnley, was her downfall.   The movie makes neither of these points apparent, and thus, the Marie Stuart in the movie, however superbly acted by Saoirse Ronan, is not the queen in Guy's history, The True Life of Mary Stuart, QUEEN OF SCOTS, first published in the UK as ''My Heart is My Own' - The Life of Mary Queen of Scots.  I concede the commercial necessity of making the cinematic Mary Stuart a construct fashioned to please an audience, a premise with which I have no quarrel. Focusing on her relationship with her regal English cousin makes good sense if the objective is box office appeal. There is something almost magical about the Tudors. However, I do take issue with a script that needlessly distorts or omits portions of a history every bit as dynamic and intriguing as the fictionalization that displaces it.

Marie Stuart did not wish to return to Scotland when her husband Francois II died.

I should have sensed problems from the first scene, which is not at all what happened when the Queen of Scots returned to Scotland to occupy the throne. The truth was far more humiliating to the Queen than merely being cast from a landing craft into kneedeep water at the tideline. After surviving a brutal North Sea Crossing, the Queen of Scots was faced by a colossal snub that would have played every bit as well as the fiction scene of Ms. Ronan on hands and knees in murky water.

Marie Stuart was more than the French Dowager. In her own right, from the time she was six days old she was an anointed queen. As such, she enjoyed a position at the French court that even the consort Catherine de Medici could not claim, and indeed, she rubbed it in. Adolescent Marie Stuart was said to have called the French king Henry II's consort 'the Italian shopkeeper's daughter.' Also, her display of the English Arms at the French Court while Dauphiness and Consort left no question she considered Elizabeth a bastard, an inferior and a usurper. All of modern Europe knew she claimed the English throne, a claim she never abandoned although at one point after her imprisonment in England, she agreed to do so if Elizabeth named her son James VI her heir.  When her sickly husband Francis II died, Marie did not decide to return to Scotland until her European marriage prospects failed to materialize.  Her first choice and that of her powerful French family, the Guises, was Don Carlos, the eldest child and heir to the King of Spain.  The fact he was known to be mentally unstable and likely homicidal did not matter.  He had the proper pedigree. Contrast this with the disaster of Elizabeth's sister Queen Mary Tudor, a lesson of which her younger sister Elizabeth took heed. However, the King's Mother, Catherine d' Medici, as Regent for her son, Charles IX, jinxed the marriage because it threatened the position of Catherine and the late King Henry's daughter Elisabeth, who had married Phillip in 1560.  The Queen of Scots deemed all other candidates inferior, including those advanced by her uncles, the Guise. With a suitable European marriage thwarted, the Queen of Scots looked favorably on a return to Scotland because she had run short of choices. She may have considered her return a temporary measure until she could place one of her Guise uncles' probably Renee, as Regent. Catherine must have been delighted to send the Queen of Scots and several of her Guise male relatives on their way to Scotland.  And since Marie was Dowager Queen of France, she embarked on the journey with considerable pomp and circumstance and a sizeable French fleet. The question was the route.

Elizabeth and her chief minister William Cecil were not unmindful of the threat of having a committed Catholic on the neighboring Scottish crown. When negotiations between  Cecil on behalf of the English Queen and William Maitland of Lethington on behalf of Marie Stuart failed, dashing hopes of smoothing over issues caused by the Queen of Scots publicly flaunting her claim to Elizabeth's throne, the English retaliated. Elizabeth refused to grant safe conduct to the Scottish Queen's party, which would have permitted her to sail from Calais to Dover.

By the time Elizabeth's temper cooled and the passports were issued, a formidable French fleet carrying the Queen of Scots and her household had embarked on the perilous route to Leith.  But Marie Stuart left France with trepidation and a heavy heart, with expectations of a warm welcome from Elizabeth and the English dashed.  And the disappointment was not over yet.

The Queen of Scots was not dumped in knee-deep water on a deserted beach like a homeless refugee as depicted in the movie. She arrived at Leith in full regalia aboard a  French flagship commanded by Nicholas Villegagnon, the same notable admiral who had piloted the ship carrying her from Dumbarton thirteen years earlier. Nevertheless, it had not been an easy crossing. They had lost the ship carrying their horses and another bearing their household accouterments in a North Sea storm. The survivors had fallen behind the flagship, which entered the harbor alone. Admiral Villegagnon ordered his flagship to fire its cannons to announce the queen's arrival, but no one of consequence came. Her principal Scottish ministers were at Saint Giles listening to a sermon, no doubt delivered by John  Knox or his protegee John Craig, both committed anti-Marians.  The crestfallen queen rested in a house commandeered by her attendants while the Four Maries found someone who would provide horses for the journey to Edinburgh.

The Lamb House. Leith
After a brief rest at what is known as The Lamb House in Leith, with evening approaching, the queen left for Holyrood Palace on a borrowed horse and simple saddle. And thus, the first hours of her personal rule of Scotland began with an insult, not a mishap.

In a recent interview, John Guy reminded us that Marie Stuart was a charmer with the ability to focus her attention on someone and make them feel as if they were the only other person on the planet. By the time she reached Edinburgh on her borrowed horse, however briefly, Scotland was hers to win.

  TO BE CONTINUED tomorrow:

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Friday, August 16, 2019

Joseph Paxton, Creator of the Crystal Palace

By Judith Taylor

I have paid homage to two great Victorian men so far in this column but Joseph Paxton, 1803 – 1865, may be the granddaddy of them all. He rose from being the son of a middling farmer who died when the boy was only seven years old to a knight of the realm and confidant of one of the wealthiest and most powerful noblemen in England at a time when such things counted, the Duke of Devonshire.

Joseph Paxton

A slight digression on the topic of the duke, George Spencer Cavendish, sixth duke of Devonshire, 1790 – 1858, is in order here. It was the duke who ignited the latent forces in Paxton and fostered his development all his life. Throughout her married life, Sarah Paxton knew that whatever the duke wanted would always take precedence. She was a sensible woman and understood the situation. The duke’s mother was the infamous Georgiana, duchess of Devonshire. In spite of his great wealth and position he was a shy man, hampered socially by being deaf. That could be the reason he never married. He suffered from the occupational disease of dukes, boredom.

That ended when an Oncidium orchid pierced his soul and he was smitten for life. The careful reader will remember that this was what happened to Dean Hole, only in his case it was a rose. The duke was always a very dutiful steward of his great estates but he began to improve his gardens and devoted his life to creating lasting beauty.

His home in London lay next to the London Horticultural Society’s garden at Chiswick. He enjoyed wandering around that garden and asked the superintendent in 1826 if he could recommend a suitable young man to take charge of his grounds at Chatsworth in Derbyshire. The estate is near the town of Chesterfield in the foothills of the Peak Country. The superintendent recommended Joseph Paxton, still young and untried but clearly ready to take on larger responsibilities.

Chatsworth, Derbyshire

Poor children were not always able to spend much time at school in country villages but perhaps because Joseph was the youngest child he stayed in school long enough to learn to read and write proficiently. This gave him an edge when he applied to become a gardener at the society’s premises. There is a record of his entry in their literacy test. In it he also wrote that he was three years older than he actually was. By the time the duke took him on he was still only twenty.

Paxton left an accurate account of his first day at Chatsworth which is quoted very frequently but which is nonetheless worth repeating here for its great charm.

“I left London by the Comet Coach for Chesterfield and arrived at Chatsworth at half past four o’clock in the morning of the ninth of May, 1826. As no person was to be seen at that early hour, I got over the greenhouse gate by the old covered way, explored the pleasure grounds and looked round the outside of the house. I then went down to the kitchen gardens, scaled the outside wall and saw the whole place, set the men to work there at six o’clock; then returned to Chatsworth and got Thomas Weldon to play me the water works, and afterwards went to breakfast with poor dear Mrs Gregory and her niece. The latter fell in love with me and I with her and thus completed my first morning’s work at Chatsworth before nine o’clock”.

One can only imagine the expression on the gardeners’ faces when their new boss appeared over a wall and gave them their marching orders. He married Sarah Bown the following year. She was a bit older than he was and not particularly pretty but she was a solidly good person with the added advantage of a substantial legacy. In the parlance of the time according to Trollope’s clerical hierarchy, she was “WOM” (wife own money).

The duke worked ceaselessly to improve his gardens with Paxton. As a torrent of rare and exotic new plants were flooding into Britain from the rest of the world the duke bought everything he could lay his hands on to satisfy this new lust. He even joined the movement for private individuals to send out their own collectors but in his case that ended in tragedy and he never did it again. Two of his nice young gardeners went to the Pacific Northwest region of America and were drowned in the Columbia River.

Many of the imported plants were either tropical or sub-tropical and that led to the need for glasshouses. Paxton had already shown his flair for architecture with other structures at Chatsworth. This was a fortuitous time. The ridiculous tax on glass was repealed in 1845. James Hartley patented his method for making large flat panes of glass which were vastly superior to any previous glass in 1847. Paxton had warmed up by building a wondrous huge glasshouse at Chatsworth, “The Great Stove”, a few years earlier. Dozens of people visited it to marvel at its beautiful structure.

The Conservatory/Glasshouse at Chatsworth

There was one influential person who did not share this opinion; our friend John Claudius Loudon. He spent a lot of time traveling throughout the country visiting gardens and writing about them. These systematic reviews led to improvements in garden design and function. It is possible he felt threatened by the rapid rise and success of Paxton and his “Horticultural Register and General Magazine” founded in 1832 but the review Loudon wrote in his “Gardening Magazine” was laced with bile and spite.

“(Chatsworth) has always appeared to us an unsatisfactory place” was just for openers. He found fault with everything of which Paxton was the proudest. One of his criticisms was that Paxton had used wood to frame the glass panes whereas Loudon had invented an iron glazing bar and believed that to be the better material. Paxton handled himself with immense dignity and eventually the two men saw the value in the other’s views. Paxton used iron to build the Crystal Palace.

Paxton had been steadily rising in the social scale by his sheer skill and ability to get things done. He was no longer a mere gardener in a nice cottage but a builder and a man of business. Before long the duke had invited him to dine at the big house and introduced him to useful people. The old saw about going to a busy person when you needed something done was true in his case. One could rely on Paxton. He was rewarded by increasing social acceptance as well as money. The duke never prevented him from taking on commissions outside Chatsworth. All this was the backdrop to him being chosen to design the Crystal Palace. The queen would knight him in 1852.

The idea of holding “The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of all the Nations” to celebrate the achievements of the British Empire in manufacturing and all associated arts had been mooted by very serious senior officials but it needed the imprimatur of royal involvement to get it going. Prince Albert stepped in.

He formed a royal commission in 1850 which promptly set up a competition for a building to hold the show. The committee received over two hundred and forty-five submissions in three weeks. Probably out of sheer frustration they ended up choosing a plan by Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Time was becoming very short. All of this was closely followed in the press and Paxton was paying attention. The exhibition was supposed to open in October 1851.

Brunel’s design was very pedestrian, mainly built of brick. Not only was it ungainly, the cost was astronomical. Another defect was that it would be permanent, destroying much of  Hyde Park for good. There was a public outcry. Even though the official entry period was over members of the commission listened to Paxton very carefully. Not only was his design very attractive it was also far less expensive than the others.

Prince Albert has never quite had his due, playing second fiddle to the queen but he was extremely intelligent and well informed. Once the exhibition had ended it was he who came up with the idea of creating the museums and other major institutions in South Kensington using the space and materials left behind.

In 1849 Paxton had built a small new glass house at Chatsworth when the duke received seedlings of the fabled giant water lily, Victoria amazonica, known at that time as Victoria regia,  from Sir William Hooker at Kew. Its leaves spanned six feet. A child could stand on one of them perfectly safely. There was a race all over Europe to see who could get it to flower first in a temperate country. The duke won.

Paxton's daughter on a leaf of Victoria amazonica in  1849

The story goes that Paxton was at a meeting of the board of the Midland Railway when the idea for the Crystal Palace came to him. He sketched out the now familiar design based on the model of the house he had built for the lily. There is also a possibility that part of the inspiration came from the extraordinary system of veins under the lily leaves’ surface, providing their tensile strength.

The genius of Paxton’s work was that all the parts could be reliably prefabricated of cast iron, vastly decreasing the time needed to erect the complicated building. It was possible to build on a gigantic scale and still support all the expected weight and maintain stability in the face of high winds across Hyde Park. Paxton worked rapidly with skilled draftsmen and engineers to get the drawings ready for the commissioners in a very short time.

A bald recital of the dimensions and materials for the exhibition building is very telling. It was 1848 feet long, (not 1851 which plays on the date), 456 feet wide and 108 feet high at the transept. The surface area covered more than twenty acres allowing for more than ten miles of actual exhibition space within. All this was supported by slender cast iron pillars.

The concept was not new. Glass houses went back a long way in British gardening history from the early orangeries with tiny panes of glass to Turner’s great Palm House at Kew in Britain. There were also fine glass houses on the continent.

The Crystal Palace

The building was constructed remarkably quickly in just seven months. The queen opened it on time. Both the building and the exhibition itself  were an overwhelming success. Paxton did not sit around basking in this new glory but was very busy with the vast number of new commissions it engendered. He worked on Mentmore for the Rothschilds and at one of their French estates. He traveled widely all over the continent and even visited the United States.

The new Lady Paxton remained steadfastly at Chatsworth with the children, five girls and one boy, overseeing the expenses of the garden for him and checking everything carefully. She knew she could not participate in his new social circles.

Paxton grew really rich and was able to hang onto this money unlike so many men of his class. He had one severe disappointment in the behavior of his only son, George. All his life the boy was rebellious and would not accept discipline at home or at school. His parents tried everything they could think of in those as yet unenlightened times but nothing worked. Occasionally Paxton would take George with him on one of his tours but was constantly embarrassed and chagrined by his ill-tempered outbursts and rude manners. One can invoke psycho-babble and consider how a boy would feel whose father was so consistently successful, completely eclipsing anything the child could accomplish.

Early in 1865 Paxton had what was probably a heart attack and never really recovered. Six months later, on June 8, he was dead. Very little is known of what became of George, even the date or place of his death though he did have some children that Paxton enjoyed seeing. The estate was valued at £180 000.

References: Colquhoun, Kate  2006  The Busiest Man in England: a life of Joseph Paxton,  gardener, architect and Victorian visionary
Boston      David R. Godine

All images: Wikpidia in the Public Domain

Judith M. Taylor MD is a graduate of Somerville College and the Oxford University Medical School and is a board certified neurologist. She practiced neurology in New York and since retiring has written six books on horticultural history as well as numerous articles and book reviews on the same subject. 
Dr Taylor’s books include The Olive in California: history of an immigrant tree (2000), Tangible Memories: Californians and their gardens 1800 – 1950 (2003), The Global Migrations of Ornamental Plants: how the world got into your garden (Missouri Botanical Garden Press 2009), Visions of Loveliness: the work of forgotten flower breeders (Ohio University Press 2014) and An Abundance of Flowers: more great flower breeders of the past (Ohio University Press  2018).  In 2019 she published A Five Year Plan for Geraniums: growing flowers commercially in East Germany 1946 – 1989.
Dr Taylor’s web site is: www.horthistoria.com

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

The Pinnacle of Country Entertaining

by Maria Grace

Summer vacation season is rapidly descending upon us. As we are trying to plan a bit of a vacation later in the summer, I naturally began thinking about the sort of summer vacations that might have been planned during the Regency era—because of course that is what everyone thinks about while contemplating summer travel, right? Yes, that is my husband shaking his head in the background.

Although trips to visit various natural and man-made wonders were certainly undertaken, one Regency era option struck me as very unlike modern options, the centuries old tradition of the country house party.

On the whole, during the Regency era, the upper echelons of society generally preferred to congregate in London whenever possible. After all, it was the center of all things cultured and good. But the heat of August made London extremely unpleasant—hot, sticky, and smelly. So, with Parliament out of session and the all-important ‘Season’ winding to a close (not to mention the hunting and shooting seasons starting soon), those who could afford to do so headed for the cooler climes of the countryside.

The fortunate few with country seats often invited friends and family to gather with them on their estates—an opportunity to lengthen the social season a bit, with limited and particularly chosen company in the comfort and slower pace of the countryside. These informal gatherings of friends could simply be convivial in nature, but it wasn’t uncommon for social, marital or political advancement to be underlying motives as well. (How better to gain the ear of an influential parliamentarian than to have him at your dining table and drawing room night after night? And who could possibly object to giving eligible young people the opportunity to get to know each other away from the London crush? So, yeah, they could also be the focal point for a lot of interpersonal drama, but I digress…)

House parties lasted anywhere from three to four days up to a month. With the difficulties and expense of traveling over dangerous and badly maintained roads, long stays made sense—at least for the guests. What the hostess thought of them could be an entirely different matter—and the subject of an upcoming post.

An Expensive Affair

While running a country estate was often an expensive prospect, hosting a house party brought that expense to a whole different level. Since the entire affair often amounted to calculated display of wealth, guests were often treated to the best of everything. Said guests also probably expected what they experienced to be the best the host and hostess could offer and likely made judgement accordingly. No doubt much talk would be generated by what was or was not provided to a house party’s guests.

Servants might be outfitted with new livery and additional servants hired for the duration to accommodate the needs of the guests. The best glasses, china, and silver were used for meals—which meant a lot of extra labor for the servants (or sometimes they were purchased for the occasion!)

Then there was the food! Gracious, just so much food. It wasn’t just a matter of the extra mouths of the guests and their servants to feed. That would have been far more manageable.

Hosts were expected to serve lavish dinners which could include dozens of dishes for each dinner, not to mention expensive (and often imported) alcohol and desserts. It was not unknown for families to live very modestly apart from the house parties in order to afford their guests when they came. The alternative might be incurring heavy debts for the endeavor.

Entertaining the guests also came with a cost. Indoor entertainments might seem inexpensive, but writing papers for letters, new sheet music for the pianoforte, fresh decks of cards, new games, and even the accoutrement for home theatricals could add up quickly. And if balls and parties were held as well, musicians, food, and candles to light the long evenings had to be acquired.

If outdoor amusements were pursued, then fishing tackle and shooting supplies might have to be provided. Horses and their tack would have to be managed for those who chose to ride or drive. Equipment for outside games like lawn tennis, croquet or lawn bowls might need to be obtained or at minimum maintained.

All this is not to say that guests’ pocketbooks escaped unscathed. Since house parties were often an opportunity for ostentatious displays of wealth, guests brought their finest fashions, many, many of them. Informal garments for morning, outfits for sport, attire for receiving visitors, apparel for balls, formal dress for dinner. Clothes. All of the clothes. So many, that new clothes might have to be acquired or older ones freshened up in anticipation of the visit. Even if a house guest did not incur expenses for new clothes, they still have to face the issue of vails.

Vails were tips for the servants who attended one while visiting. Every servant one interacted with from the porter who carried bags in from the carriage to the maid who made up the room each day, expected recompense from you for the extra work a guest caused them. The expense was heavy enough that some would forgo a house party to avoid the cost! While an invitation to a house party might be exciting to receive, it behooved one to count the cost before accepting.

Entertainment at a house party

If one braved the dangers of travel and the burden of the expenses, what did one actually do at a house party?

The reality was probably a bit different from what a modern guest might expect. During the day, guests were largely responsible for their own entertainment, availing themselves of the amenities of the estate. Typically, the day’s activities kept the gender’s segregated until dinner, although if a couple was determined to spent some time together, it could certainly happen.

Breakfast would be set out to be enjoyed individually, according to one’s preferred time to rise. The men were often up early, enjoying a substantial breakfast before heading out for fishing, shooting or hunting. Riding and boating might also be on the agenda. If the weather were disagreeable, billiards—which ladies generally did not play—might also be an option.

Ladies often rose much later, and sometimes kept to their rooms to write letters or read before breakfast. A majority of the activities open to the ladies centered around the house. They might read, write letters, practice their music, share patterns with the other ladies and sew. (Unless they were actively doing something else, women almost always had needlework in their hands, but that’s another post…) Often neighbors would call on the visitors. as polite society demanded. Those social calls would be repaid a day or two later. Visits to local places of interest might also be arranged.

If the ladies desired outdoor amusements, they might go for walks or carriage rides, or watch the men plays sports. Certain outdoor games were considered appropriate for ladies including croquet, lawn tennis, archery, shuttlecock, and lawn bowls. It should be noted, appropriate garments would be required for these activities.

Lunch was a relatively new innovation during the Regency. Oftentimes a midday repast was an informal meal set out on the sideboards in whatever room people gathered. The dining room would not be used for such a meal. The foods served and the time a midday meal would be served would depend on the dinner hour of the house.

Dinner was the main meal of the day and the major event of most days. It could be served as early as 2pm, although that would be considered rather low class, or as late as 6 or even 7pm. The later the hour, the more fashionable it was considered to be. Dinner was a formal occasion and required formal dress. Men and women were expected to dress accordingly and present themselves in the drawing room about a quarter of an hour before the dinner hour. Now at last, after a day of leisure, ladies and gentlemen enjoyed each other’s company.

Dinner was a lavish affair with typically two courses and possibly a dessert course served. Each course could consist of as many as two dozen different dishes. The meal could easily last two hours or more. After dinner, typically the hostess would escort the ladies to the drawing room to allow the men some time to themselves. (As though they did not have enough of that during the day—but I digress.) During this time, men would enjoy port, cigars, and manly conversation not appropriate in front of the ladies.

While the ladies waited for the men to join them in the drawing room, they might converse, play games, perform music, and for some, be glad not to be in the company of drinking men and coarse conversation. The men might trickle in as they saw fit or might join the ladies en masse for the evening’s entertainments.

Unless they were going out to attend a public assembly (ball) or other public entertainment, the group would remain in the drawing room until they retired. Tea and light refreshments would be brought to the drawing room for the company to enjoy as they focused on the pleasing art of conversation. Games, like charades and other parlor games, board games and cards often helped pass the time. Because high-stakes gambling wreaked havoc among the upper classes, it was not unusual for hostesses to limit the amount that could be bet on games in the house. Musical performances, home theatricals and informal dances could also be employed for evening entertainments.

House parties continued to be enjoyed well into the Edwardian era. However, as transportation improved, the events grew shorter, often just a few days in length. I can’t help but imagine hostesses would have appreciated that change immensely.


Lane, Maggie. Jane Austen and Food. London: Hambledon Press, 1995.

Pool, Daniel. What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew. New York: Simon and Schuster,1993.

Though Maria Grace has been writing fiction since she was ten years old, those early efforts happily reside in a file drawer and are unlikely to see the light of day again, for which many are grateful. 

After penning five file-drawer novels in high school, she took a break from writing to pursue college and earn her doctorate. After 16 years of university teaching, she returned to her first love, fiction writing.

Click here to find her books on Amazon. For more on her writing and other Random Bits of Fascination, visit her website. You can also like her on Facebook, or follow on Twitter.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Editors Weekly Round-up, August 11, 2019

by the EHFA Editors

Shaun Green takes the spotlight on the English Historical Fiction Authors round-up this week.

By Shaun Green

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Drest I - A Pictish King

By Shaun Green

If I was to say this article refers to a formidable warrior king of the fifth century, Arthur would spring into most readers minds. Some argue his existence, others suggest several influential figures have been conflated into one mythical legend.

The many legends of mythical King Arthur are widely known

However, there is considerable evidence that many legendary warlords existed during this period that could equal the popularised mythical man. Recently whilst reading about the Saxons who first came to Ebbsfleet, their first settlement, I discovered a fable in British history I had not come across. The importance of one man stood out.

The Saxons had been invited by a Briton King, Vortigern, as mercenaries to help dispel an invading horde led by King Drest I of the Picts. He was possibly the first man to hold this title, and certainly the first noteworthy King of Pictland. This region is also recorded as Pictavia in some documented sources.

He was a man revered above all peers, a leader with no equal. A Chieftain who not only united all the clans of his people but had ambitions of dominating all of Britannia. The Pictish chronicles, a historic record of Scottish kings dated somewhere in the ninth century, states that he 'reigned for one hundred years and triumphed in one hundred battles.'

A surviving copy of the ninth century Pictish Chronicles

John of Fordun, a fourteenth-century priest, records Drest as having reigned for forty-five years. This is a much more believable period than the earlier suggestion. Yet this is still a lengthy rule during such a time of unrest after the Romans sudden and complete withdrawal.

Sovereignty may not have passed from father to son, with some sources stating the Picts exercised a matrilineal heritage. The eldest male of the leader's daughter would inherit command so grandsons would succeed their mother's father. This ensured the legitimacy of the bloodline when true paternity could never be known.

However, other sources suggest the most formidable warrior would assume command. The Picts may have co-existed in smaller clans, or kin, presiding over little pockets of land. The most formidable warrior led rather than a sovereign inheriting the position through royal lineage.

They would have fought between each other, quelling their abilities to expand or conquer. With this in mind, any man skilled in swordplay could have challenged Drest during his rule, which probably would have occurred as he conquered more territories, stretching his loyalties.

An image of the legendary barbarian-esque Pict Warriors

He took control over a vast part of Northern Britain, from the Scottish North West coast, to disputably, as far south as Lindum. (A Roman settlement of great authority during this period, now known as Lincoln.)

A map showing the extent of this fabled conquest

Various sources state that it was this conquest into Briton that forced King Vortigern, possible High King of Briton, to hire two exiled Saxon chieftains to help fight against the Picts. These Brothers, Hengest and Horsa, helped push the Picts back into Pictland. The Angles never went back across the Channel, thus starting the conquest which would, in four hundred years, create England.

His existence is supported by Christian records, which place him around the time of Saint Ninian, Palladius, and Saint Patrick. The Pictish chronicles state that Saint Patrick left Scotland for Ireland in the nineteenth year of Drest's reign, which places him somewhere in the middle of the fifth century. However, the Picts left no personal written records, although a few stone carvings have been attributed to them.

Example of Pictish stone carvings

Another formidable figure during this time was Drest's brother, Nechtan. He was banished to Ireland during Drest's reign but returned a few years after his death to become King of the Picts.

There is a little more information about Nechtan, but the most interesting fact may also be an explanation for this. He is recorded to be the King when Christianity was first introduced to Scotland, quite possibly a Christian himself, so more noteworthy for Christian recorders. Sources dispute the cause for Nechtan's banishment. His faith may have been enough for Drest to disown him, or a failed coup for the throne may have been led by Nechtan. The fact he later reigned, coupled with several Christian landmarks bearing Nechtan's name, suggests it could have been either or both.

The lack of specific detail makes it difficult to confidently, or accurately, suggest Drest's period of reign, or his achievements. The few surviving records were written centuries later, mainly by Christian chroniclers as a way to record and synchronise the success of missionary work. 

The boast of reigning for one hundred years is unlikely, but any lengthy rule could have meant he outlived most of his original followers, many of whom would have fallen in battle. Thus no one who lived after his death could remember just how long he had ruled. One hundred triumphs also sound like an exaggerated boast.

However, if he was the chieftain that united the various Pictish clans before turning his attention to other kingdoms, it becomes less of a stretch of the imagination. One thing the majority of conflicting sources agree on is his numerous victories over Scots, Britons and Angles and that he is a legendary and noteworthy King.

Despite all of the above, I struggled to find much about this man, except for confirmation of his existence and the banishment of Nechtan. This factor reputedly coincided with the Saxon mercenaries challenging the Picts which resulted in the invasion being quashed, with Drest dying a few short years after the forgotten conquest.

Drest I may not have 'reigned for one hundred years and triumphed in one hundred battles', but the truth is, we will never know... 


Shaun Green was born in Peterborough. He studied at the University of Wolverhampton, gaining a BA (Hons) degree in criminal justice. He served in the Royal Navy for eight years as a submariner and then part of the commando helicopter force. He then pursued a lifelong ambition of being a prison officer.

Shaun has always loved to write and create. His imagination always took him to wondrous places with his wandering mind landing him in trouble on regular occasions, especially in childhood. Now he begins another ambition of putting his world into the realms of reality, for others to enjoy.

Available on Amazon as paperback and kindle unlimited as ebook

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