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Friday, May 29, 2015

The Secret Wife of George IV

© Cheryl Bolen
Since there's such a scarcity of work on Maria Fitzherbert, I was eager to get my hands on this James Munson’s 2002 biography of her (Maria Fitzherbert: The Secret Wife of George IV), which I purchased in Great Britain. But after reading all 372 pages, I still don't feel all that well acquainted with the woman who secretly married the Prince of Wales (later to be prince regent, and later still, King George IV) in 1785.

One of the reasons for this scarcity is the absence of the lady's letters and diaries, which have enriched other biographies of Mrs. Fitzherbert's contemporaries, such as Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire. In fact, I felt somewhat cheated by Munson, who touted his work as the only one having the letters from Mrs. Fitzherbert's intimate friend, Lady Anne Lindsay. "Previous biographers knew nothing of these letters or of Lady Anne's journal," Munson tells us. Oh boy, I thought, new information!

Very few of Mrs. Fitzherbert's letters to Lady Anne are revealed in these pages. There are, however, snippets from Lady Anne's diaries which give some insight into Mrs. Fitzherbert.

Another disappointment was lack of details about the relationship between the prince and Mrs. Fitzherbert, a twice widowed Catholic he married in a secret, illegal Anglican ceremony. They acted as husband and wife for almost twenty years (non-consecutively), yet there is little information about this remarkable relationship. The first 150 pages of the book are background on the two; the last 50 pages deal with the years after the couple's final break. That leaves about a third of the book to deal with the 20 years they were together.

Not all of the blame for this vagueness rests on Munson's shoulders. Credit Mrs. Fitzherbert herself and her "husband" when he became George IV for ordering the destruction the evidence of their illegal marriage. Upon George IV's death he entrusted the Duke of Wellington, then prime minister, with the task of burning all correspondence between himself and Mrs. Fitzherbert.

Mrs. Fitzherbert complied, asking that only four documents be spared. The duke and Lord Albermarle met at her residence, she handed them packets of papers, then left. Her actions prompted Wellington to say she, "was the most honest woman he'd ever met." The two peers burned letters in her fireplace for many hours afterward. It is said her house smelled of burnt paper and sealing wax for many weeks, and the stain to her white mantel stayed for years. Five years later, Wellington was still burning the prince's love letters to Mrs. Fitzherbert.

The four documents she insisted on keeping were the mortgage on the Royal Pavilion at Brighton (which the prince claimed to have given her but which she never took possession of); her marriage certificate; a will the prince wrote when they were estranged in 1796 (a year after he legally married Caroline of Brunswick) in which he said Maria Fitzherbert was his true wife; and an affidavit from the clergyman who performed their marriage ceremony. These documents were deposited in Coutts bank, where they stayed until the early twentieth century when they were placed in the Royal Archives.

So why all the bloody secrecy? From the very beginning of their love affair both the prince and Mrs. Fitzherbert knew they could never legally marry, not just because of her Catholicism, but because the Royal Marriage Act adopted by Parliament at the behest of King George III forbade any member of the royal family from marrying without the king's permission.

Because an act of Parliament took precedence over any church law, this illegal marriage was a criminal act.

When the twenty-one year old prince met the twenty-seven-year old wealthy widow (how they met is not revealed in this book) he fell madly in love with her. She was flattered but not interested. Then he attempted to stab himself to death to show that if he couldn't have her, he did not wish to live. Drenched in his own blood, he summoned her. She did not come. Ever mindful of her unblemished reputation, she finally consented to come if the Duchess of Devonshire (who was close to the prince but not to Mrs. Fitzherbert) would accompany her. Thus, properly chaperoned, Mrs. Fitzherbert approached his bedside, the duchess produced a ring, Mrs. Fitzherbert agreed to take the ring as a symbol of being pledged to the prince, then she promptly fled the country with her friend, Lady Anne.

A constant flurry of letters from the prince besieged her wherever she went. When she returned a year and a half later, they wed in a secret ceremony. Within months all of London knew of the secret wedding, but neither party ever publicly admitted it, nor did they ever live together in the same house. For the next nine years, Mrs. Fitzherbert would be the chief woman in the prince's life. As time went by, his affairs with other women and her bad temper transpired to cool off the relationship, which terminated when Frances, Lady Jersey became his lover. Under Lady Jersey's influence, he agreed to legally marry Caroline of Brunswick in order to have his monstrous debts settled and to acquire a larger annual income.

Even before his marriage, he missed Mrs. Fitzherbert. Before he had been married a year, he rued his real marriage and hungered for the renewal of his sham marriage to Maria Fitzherbert. It took him another four years before he won her back. There is some evidence that when she returned to him in 1800 she stipulated that theirs be a non-sexual relationship.

This second time they were together also lasted just under a decade, at which time the prince took up with the married Lady Hertford and dropped Mrs. Fitzherbert. A year later, he was named regent.

He and Mrs. Fitzherbert would never speak again, but financial settlements to Mrs. Fitzherbert increased.

There is no evidence that Mrs. Fitzherbert ever bore a child, though she did adopt two daughters to whom she was very kind and who were devoted to her.

Shortly after he became king in 1820, his legal wife died, but he never remarried. When he died 10 years later, he wore about his neck a miniature of Mrs. Fitzherbert, the wife of his heart.

Mrs. Fitzherbert died in 1837 and was buried in Brighton.—Cheryl Bolen’s Countess by Coincidence, a sequel to Duchess by Mistake, releases this summer.

Monday, May 25, 2015

An English Spy in Paris During the American Revolution

By Regan Walker

When I write historical romance, I like to let the history lead me. In the case of my new Georgian romance, To Tame the Wind, the story of an English privateer and the daughter of a French pirate, it led me straight to a spy in Paris in 1782, the last year of the American Revolution. 
Edward Bancroft
Edward Bancroft was an American scientist born in Massachusetts in 1744 but raised in Connecticut. While growing up in Hartford, Bancroft studied under Silas Deane, a lawyer.

After some years, and a jaunt in Surinam, Bancroft went to live in London where he met Benjamin Franklin who was then the agent for several of the Colonies. They became friends and Franklin used Bancroft to spy on the British to support several of Franklin's colonial activities.

In June of 1776, Bancroft’s former instructor, Silas Deane was sent to France by Congress to induce the French to lend their financial aid to the Colonies, which were about to declare their independence. Just after Deane arrived, he sent a letter to Bancroft asking that he come to Paris, which Bancroft did. They met in July and established a close relationship, so that Deane confided to Bancroft the true nature of his mission.

Benjamin Franklin
Deane told Bancroft that he was attempting to obtain France’s aid for the Colonies and to motivate a Bourbon-Prussian coalition against England to force the British to redirect their power to a continental conflict and leave the Colonies alone. The Americans expected France to come to their aid, which they ultimately did. It may have seemed odd that the Americans would approach France. It had not been that long ago as British colonies they had fought alongside England against France. However, France was humiliated after its defeat in the French and Indian Wars. England was its enemy so France was happy to help America in order to check the British.

Toward the end of July 1776, Bancroft returned to London. Before he left, he agreed to provide Deane with intelligence gleaned from his contacts in England. But Bancroft’s new role did not sit well. He had always supported British interests while adhering to the belief that the Colonies and the crown had to come to some compromise. Now he realized that such a compromise was impossible and he worried that French entry into the conflict could destroy the British Empire.

In London, Bancroft met with one William Eden, a character in my story, who became England’s spymaster, presiding over its agents in Europe. They were joined by Lords Suffolk and Weymouth for a discussion on “the colonial rebellion.” It was at this meeting that Bancroft was recruited as a spy for the British. He later wrote of his decision:

I had then resided near ten years, and expected to reside the rest of my life in England; and all my views, interests and inclinations were adverse to the independency of the colonies, though I had advocated some of their claims, from a persuasion of their being founded in justice. I therefore wished, that the government of this country, might be informed, of the danger of French interference, though I could not resolve to become the informant. But… I at length consented to meet the then Secretaries of State, Lords Weymouth and Suffolk, and give them all the information in my power, which I did with the most disinterested views.

When Benjamin Franklin arrived in Paris in December 1776, Lord Suffolk told Bancroft to move to Paris and inject himself in Franklin's circle, which he did, becoming the secretary to the American Mission. In that role, Bancroft was privy to many secrets.

It was most interesting to me—and it is a part of my story—that, in order to communicate with the British, Bancroft was told to compose a series of letters about gallantry (ostensibly the writer's exploits with ladies), which he was to address to a “Mr. Richards.” He was to sign the letters as “Edward Edward.” (A bizarre moniker given his own name.) Between the lines of his letters, he was to write in secret ink the information he acquired. The letters were to be placed in a bottle in the hole of a certain box tree in Paris. A man working for Lord Stormont then retrieved these messages. (In my story, it is the hero, Simon Powell, who retrieves the messages.)

Using this method, Bancroft supposedly provided copies of hundreds of documents to his superiors in London. In one instance, the French-American treaty was in King George's hand a mere 48 hours after it was signed, courtesy of Bancroft.

Bancroft’s final work as “Edward Edwards lasted from the start of peace negotiations in the spring of 1782 to the signing of the preliminary peace accord on November 30 of that same year.

Whether Franklin knew of Bancroft’s perfidy is not clear. Franklin did not write about it and Bancroft's personal papers were later destroyed by a family member. (Bancroft’s missives were not discovered until seventy years after his death when the British government provided access to its diplomatic archives.)

In the end, while the British had effectively inserted a spy within the American Commission in Paris, even with Bancroft the British were unable to destroy the relationship Franklin had established with the French, nor diminish France’s considerable support that led to America’s victory and its independence.

All Claire Donet knew was the world inside the convent walls in Saint-Denis. She had no idea her beloved papa was a pirate. But when he seized Simon Powell's schooner, the English privateer decided to take the one thing his enemy held most dear... her.

The waters between France and England roil with the clashes of Claire's father and her captor as the last year of the American Revolution rages on the sea, spies lurk in Paris, and Claire’s passion for the English captain rises.

Friday, May 8, 2015

The Age Before Mass Chemical Cleaners

    Today we buy our cleaning goods and our remedies in ready-made bottles and cans and boxes. Prior to the era of mass manufacturing, which started after the Regency, all these items were manufactured in the household. This stands out at once in the household books from the late 1700's and early 1800's.
     The variety of 'tips' offered is astonishing, covering everything from cookery for the sick, to making pomades, to how to blacken fire grates and clean marble, to how to keep the rot off sheep. ("Keep them in pens till the dew is off the grass," advises Mrs. Rundell in her book on Domestic Cookery.)
     Some directions are quite straightforward. To keep a door from squeaking, "Rub a bit of soap on the hinges." Other directions can list either products not readily available today, such as the orris-root and storax listed in a recipe for potpourri, or the spermaceti (from whales) to be used to make ointment for chapped lips. Also, amounts are often inexact. For chapped lip, "twopenny-worth of alkanet-root" is also required--probably a small amount, unless alkanet-root came very, very cheep.

    Amounts are often listed as handfuls, as in the rue, sage, mint, rosemary, wormwood and lavender for a "recipt against the plague" given by Hanna Glasse in The Art of Cookery made Plain and Easy. She also offers not one, but two certain cures for the "bite of a mad dog, one of which is both given to the "man or beast" bitten as well as recommending to be bound into the wound.
     Within the household, items would be made for beauty as well as practicality. Recipes are given for Hungary Water (early cologne), which took a month to actually make. There is also Lavender Water, a recipe to prevent hair from falling out and thicken it which includes using honey and rosemary tops, a paste for chapped hands, and pomades for the hair.
     The time spent on making up these recipes could be considerable. To make black ink with rain water, bruised blue galls, brandy and a few other items meant stirring the concoction every day for three weeks. Other recipes, such as Shank Jelly for an invalid, requires lamb to be left salted for four hours, then brushed with herbs and simmered for five hours. Time passed differently in the 1800's.
     Sick cookery is an item of importance, from recipes for heart burn to how to make "Dr. Ratcliff's restorative Pork Jelly." Coffee milk is recommended for invalids as is asses' milk, milk porridge, saloop (water, wine, lemon-peel and sugar), chocolate, barley water, and baked soup.
     An interesting distinction is made in that recipes pertaining to personal appearance and sick-cookery address the reader--and owner of the book. However, recipes for household cleaning and those not related to a person--such as how to mend china--are listed under "Directions to Servants." This shows clearly the distinction that the mistress of the house also acted as mistress of the still room, tending to the really important matters, and leaving the heavy work to her staff.