Wednesday 30 April 2014

Georgian Gambling: Loaded Dice

Thomas Rowlandson: 'A Gambling Table at Cavendish House'
‘A thousand meadows and cornfields are staked at every throw, and as many villages lost as in the earthquake that overwhelmed Herculaneum and Pompeii.’
Horace Walpole.

The Georgian era heralded many changes in society, including the blossoming of leisure activities. It was an era when the aristocracy liked to show off their wealth, to entertain and hold house parties. At the latter, card games were especially popular and the host would set up tables for guests to play faro, quadrille, piquet or whist. But where there was gaming, there were wagers to be made, and money to be won or lost. For those less scrupulous members of society, cheating was one option to get-rich-quick.
The Drawing Room in the Queen's State Apartments,
Hampton Court Palace.
Note the gaming table on the right
Dice were an integral part of many games, and key to cheating. Most of us have heard the expression, ‘loaded dice’, meaning that the dice have been tampered with so as to land a specific way up. Also known as ‘gourds’, these were altered dice were the stock in hand of cardsharps or ‘blacklegs’ (more them in another post.) 

To make a gourd, a die was partially hollowed out and mercury added, so that when thrown, the die favored either low, or high, numbers. Dice that always threw a low number were known as low-fullams, and those high, as high-fullams.  The latter term goes back to Elizabethan times and the London suburb of Fulham, where all the most notorious cardsharps liked to gather.
A Georgian gaming table
Another method of cheating was with bristle-dice. These involved making a die with a short, firm bristle in one corner, such that when the die was thrown, it couldn’t settle on that corner and tip over. The technique is described in some detail, but Charles Cotton, in The Complete Gamester (1726)

‘By Bristle-Dice, which are fitted for that purpose, by sticking a hog’s bristle so in the corners, or otherwise in the Dice, that they shall run high or low as they please; this Bristle must be stonrg and short, by which means the Bristle bending, it will not lie of that side, but will be tript over.’ 
Are black cats unlucky?
That'a a whole different blog post! 

Wednesday 23 April 2014

Henry VIII or George I : Who Dined With More Style?

To celebrate 300 years since George I acceded to the throne of England, the Queen’s Chambers, Hampton Court Palace, have been opened to the public. I was particularly struck by the dining room, where King George I dined alone, but with an audience watching his every move – Somewhat reminiscent of a chimps tea-party! 
A table set for one - King George I dines before an audience
at Hampton Court Palace
This in sharp contrast to the Great Hall, where Henry VIII presided at the top table, over what must have been boisterous and rowdy mealtimes.
In contrast, Henry VIII sat at the top table in
the Great Hall, at Hampton Court.
‘Banketynge Braynlesse’
The excess of Henry VIII’s banquets and feasts are legend. In an earlier post we looked at the Tudor kitchens at Hampton Court Palace, and the industry required to produce such feasts.  
From the perspective of the 21st century, we get the impression of a feast being a cross between binge drinking and a brawl, but the impression Henry had poor table manners is erroneous. A Tudor saying advises, ‘leaving one’s manners at the table’ – but here ‘manners’ refers to the left-over food, which would be fed to the poor waiting at the gate.
King Henry's view, watching over proceedings
 Indeed, in Babee’s Book (1475) of sage advice to those wishing to dine at court:
Wash your hands before you eat
Don’t let children linger at the table
Don’t fart
Don’t pick your nose, your teeth or any part of your body whilst at the table,
Don’t wipe your hands on the tablecloth or your clothes.
Perhaps Henry used these occaisions to watch the factions at court, or listen for gossip, but whatever his motivation, he was frequently at the centre of things when it came to eating in public.
Alone, and yet surrounded by a crowd.
George I was the only diner, whilst the watching audience were
corralled behind a barrier.
Contrast this, with King George I in the 1720’s. George was a much more private man. He preferred to dine privately but could not completely avoid the show of dining in regal splendour at a table of plenty, as previous kings had done.
‘Persons of good fashion and good appearance that have a desire to see us at dinner.’ Charles II
Detail of the barrier re-created by historians from the Historic Royal Palaces

The desire to ogle the masticating king seems to know no bounds, and in order to contain the crowds a barrier, or rail, was erected around the royal table to confine the spectators. Even so, incidents occurred where the barrier gave way, causing injury.  No records exist of exactly what these fences looked like and so the historians at Hampton Court Palace have used contemporaneous sources to re-create the barriers.
The view from George's chair
What George I hadn’t grasped, was the importance of royal feasts and entertaining as a means of drumming up support. George didn’t get on with his son and heir, the Prince of Wales, and in a battle of popularity, the future George II hosted feasts and made his table a place of entertainment and influence. The son’s popularity then dangerously eclipsed the father’s, who had his hand forced into more public revelry than he felt comfortable with.
Dine with Henry or George?
Which would you prefer?
Anyhow, I feel sure you will agree that royal dining at Hampton Court was a sight to be seen. Which do you prefer? George's refined luxury or Henry's boisterous opulence? Do comment and tell us!

Wednesday 16 April 2014

A Visit to the Georgian Court at Hampton Court Palace

The Georgians have arrived!
It is nearly 300 years since an obscure German prince, acceded to the English throne. As part of a raft of events to celebrate the start of this fascinating period in history, the clever people at Hampton Court Palace, have re-created what it was like to visit the Georgian court. 

I was thrilled to be invited by the Historic Royal Palaces (the guardians of HCP) to preview the rooms, before they open to the public this Easter weekend. Within the Georgian court there were too many interesting stories to cover in one post, so let me start this week, with a tour of the rooms.

Let's pretend you are a wealthy aristocrat, seeking to petition the King on a matter of personal importance. King George is in residence at Hampton Court Palace, so that's where you must go. As part of the court circle you are allowed into the palace, but where is the king? You are told he is in the Queen's Royal Apartments, so off you go to seek an audience. 
The Georgians, it seems, had a sense of humour.
A smiling yeoman guard ornaments the fireplace in the
Queen's Guard Chamber.
Note the 'GR' on his livery.
The portal to the royal apartments is the Queen's Guard Chamber. You knock on the door and because of your wealth and status, the Yeoman Guard allow you admittance. You enter a large room, filled with courtiers who all have the same goal, of seeing the king. 
The fireplace in the Queen's Guard Chamber
Fortunately, you are selected to pass deeper into the apartments and are escorted into the Queen's Presence Chamber. This is another large room, this time lined with impressive portraits, including one of King George in his coronation gown, a strong reminder of his sovereign power. 
The Queen's Presence Chamber
You have arrived a short time before the king dines in public, and so you are escorted through the Dining Room. The table is set for one person - the King- and the barriers already erected to keep those watching him eat, at a distance from the royal person. 
The Dining Room - set for one - the King!
You are ushered through the dining area into the inner Privy Chambers. The room is packed with courtiers dressed in their finest clothes. The decor is spectacular, the paintings on the ceiling and walls designed to emphasise the new king's legitimate claim to the throne, and reinforce his stately power.

The Privy Chamber - the King would receive petitioners whilst seated
in one of the chairs to the left of the picture.
However, your petition is of a more personal nature and so you are one of the favoured few who transit into the Drawing Room. This is a more intimate place, where the royal family can relax and play cards, or gamble, with their favourite courtiers. 
The Drawing Room - set with tables at which guests could play
card games
But today, the King is not in the Drawing Room, but next door in the State Bedchamber. This is where the monarch, whilst he is being ritually dressed, receives visitors and starts the business of the day.
The State Bedchamber -
The bed is hung with original drapery
But you are sent beyond the State Bedchamber, into the private rooms and beyond into the Gallery.On wet days, should the King wish to exercise, he can promenade, or play sports, in this long gallery. You catch up with the King here, and he is in a generous mood, and suggests you speak to one of his retinue who can be found in the private chambers. 
The Gallery - a lovely place to promenade and take exercise on a wet day.
Your mission continues as you visit the room belonging to the Women of the Queen's Bedchamber,  and pass on into the Queen's Bedchamber itself. Since King George's wife is absent (that's a whole new story) pass through and into her Dressing Room, then into her private Oratory
The Queen's Private Bedchamber -
where she sought a little privacy.
Hey ho, the man you needed to speak to is not there, so you are escorted back out into the corridor, and find  you have travelled full circle.
Next door to the Queen's Bedchamber is the room where she
takes her bath.. 
Hey ho! It seems you have had a wasted trip, but at least you saw the sights on the way round.
If you would like to visit the Georgian Chambers at Hampton Court Palace - just click the links.

Next week: Dining: Henry VIII vs George I

Wednesday 9 April 2014

Mary, Queen of Scots, and her Dogs

Mary, Queen of Scots
Mary, Queen of Scots, was born in 1542, during the reign of King Henry VIII. She led a turbulent life of which the most constant factor was her loves of dogs, specifically Maltese terriers. These small, white dogs were her constant companions from infancy to the scaffold and this is their story.
As a 5 year old child, Mary was betrothed to French dauphin, Francis, and sent to live with him abroad. Uprooted, disorientated, and unable to speak French, Mary would only talk to her Scottish governess or one of the twenty-two dogs at Francis’s court. Mary confided in those dogs, a collection of pugs, spaniels and Maltese terriers, and in turn, Francis used them to teach his bride the French language. Her early love of dogs was established.
Francis, with Mary. King and Queen of France.
When she was just 18, Francis died, leaving Mary a widow in a foreign country. Devastated by the loss of the husband she had grown to love, she returned to Scotland to reclaim her throne.  She took with her some of her favorite Maltese dogs. 
But things were very different from when she left as a child. Scotland had become a Protestant country, and Mary was a devote Catholic. Queen Elizabeth I sat on the English throne and was deeply suspicious of her cousin, Mary’s motives. Added to that Mary unwisely married another Tudor, her cousin, Lord Darnley, which put further pressure on Elizabeth to recognize Mary as successor to the English throne.
Mary and Darnley
Darnley, however, turned out to be a brute, and Mary feared for her life. When he died under suspicious circumstances the finger was pointed at Mary and her lover, the Earl of Bothwell. This murder enraged the Scottish nobility and population in general, and Mary was forced to abdicate in favor of her baby son with Darnley, James (later James I of England).
Mary eventually fled over the border to seek the protection of her English cousin, Elizabeth. But Queen Elizabeth could not ignore the scandal dogging Mary’s heels and imprisoned her. It was politically expedient to keep the former queen safely under lock and key, and for 18 years Elizabeth kept Mary a prisoner.
A Maltese Terrier
Whilst in prison, Mary was not allowed contact with friends or relatives, for fear of her plotting against the queen. Her only companions and source of comfort were her Maltese lapdogs. Her jailor, Bess of Hardwick, reported her charge spending hours talking to these dogs; about her estranged son, James, and religion. Mary even sent a portrait of one of her favorite dogs to James – but the picture was intercepted and never reached him.
Things went from bad to worse for Mary, when she was charged with being an accomplice in the 1586 plot to murder Queen Elizabeth, (Mary would have been next in line for the throne.) Mary was moved to Fotheringhay Castle and brought to trial. She was found guilty and sentenced to death by beheading. Fotheringhay was a damp, dark, miserable place and her only comfort were her lapdogs – after she appealed directly to Elizabeth in order to keep them with her.
Mary walking to the scaffold.
As Mary took her final walk to the scaffold, she moved slowly in order to keep pace with a small white dog concealed beneath her skirts and petticoats. No one realized the dog was there, until after Mary’s death when the executioner, Mr Bull, was removing the body. The dog refused to leave the corpse and had to be forcibly removed, where upon he ran back and settled between the severed head and shoulders.
Mr Bull had orders to wash or burn anything that was soiled with Mary’s blood, “for fear someone might dip a piece of linen in it…who keep it as a relic of this act [execution], to incite to vengeance those concerned for the death of the dead person.”

The white dog was now covered in blood, but Mr Bull acted kindly and had him washed clean. The dog was then given to a French princess, on the condition that he left the country.

Thursday 3 April 2014

Guest Author, Regan Walker : The Ship's Cat

The Ship’s Cat
by Regan Walker

What’s a ship without a ship’s cat, right? So, of course, my latest Regency WIND RAVEN, a pirate adventure set on a schooner (and other places) in 1817, had to have a cat. And it had to be a special cat.

It probably seems fundamental that a cat could be, and was, a valued member of the crew, particularly for ridding a ship of mice and rats. In addition to cats, sailors in the 18th and 19th centuries kept a plethora of animals as pets, anything they took a fancy to and could buy in any foreign port they happened to visit. No doubt such pets offered the seamen who were away from their homes for long periods a companionship the longed for. Of course, some of these pets ended up dying from lack of their normal diets, but that didn't stop the sailors from bringing them aboard. And there were other problems. Back then, no one spayed or neutered cats so a female cat might produce a litter from a shore leave liaison. Then, too, a shipboard tomcat would be inclined to spray urine, which probably added to the general scent belowdecks. That is one reason the cat in my story is a female!

Cats being cats, there were probably ship's cats that were aloof and half-feral, and then there were other ship's cats that were social lap-cats. The cat in WIND RAVEN is somewhere in between. Named “Dutch Sam’ for the English boxer Samuel Elias, who died the year before my story begins, and who was known as having the deadliest fists of any boxer in London, my ship’s cat has two huge white paws (with extra toes, don’t you know!). The crew of the Wind Raven thought it a fitting tribute to name their unusual after the boxer they revered.

Did you know that sailors believed that cats had an influence on the weather? Some believed these cats could start storms through magic stored in their tails. If a ship's cat fell or was thrown overboard, it was thought that it would summon a terrible storm to sink the ship and that if the ship was able to survive, it would be cursed with nine years of bad luck. Other beliefs included: if a cat licked its fur against the grain, it meant a hailstorm was coming; if it sneezed it meant rain; and if it was frisky it meant wind. Some of these beliefs are rooted in reality. Cats are able to detect slight changes in the weather as a result of their very sensitive inner ears, the same characteristic that allows them to land upright when falling. Low atmospheric pressure, a common precursor of stormy weather, often makes cats nervous and restless.

Traditionally the ship's cat was allowed to come and go at will when the ship was in port. If the cat was not aboard when the ship sailed, it might be there the next time the ship was back in port. After all, there are always plenty of rodents and garbage along the waterfront for the cats to survive in between ships. For an independent cat like Dutch Sam, the arrangement was perfect, and she promptly attached herself to the Captain Nicholas Powell, the hero in my story, following him back to his ship when it was in port in St. Thomas. Of course, during the story, her attachment to the heroine grows and she begins to take naps in the heroine’s cabin.

There are many famous ship’s cats, but perhaps my favorite is Blackie and that’s because of the man he impressed enough to set aside the cares of a world war to greet him. A man who impressed me enough to name my son after him. Blackie was the ship’s cat on the HMS Prince of Wales during the Second World War when the ship carried Prime Minister Winston Churchill across the Atlantic to Newfoundland in 1941, where he secretly met with the American President. As Churchill prepared to step off the Prince of Wales, Blackie (obviously recognizing a man worthy of his attention) approached Churchill. And, Churchill (obviously recognizing a discerning cat) stooped to bid the cat farewell. The moment was captured on camera and reported around the world.

In honor of the encounter, Blackie’s name was changed to “Churchill.’ Churchill was known to love cats and kept a succession of them at Chartwell, his home. His best-known cat during the war years was a big gray cat named “Nelson’ after England’s famous admiral. How wonderful is that?
Click for link
 Ordered by the Prince Regent into the Caribbean, English sea captain and former privateer Jean Nicholas Powell has no time for women onboard the Wind Raven, especially not Tara McConnell. The impudent American forced herself aboard, and so she’ll get more than she bargained for: Instead of a direct sail to Baltimore, she’ll join their quest to investigate a rampaging pirate, the infamous Roberto Cofresi.
But the hoyden thinks she can crew with his men, and though he bans her from the rigging, Nick is captivated watching her lithe, luscious movements on deck. Facing high seas, storms, cutthroats and the endless unknown, he must protect his ship, his passenger, his crew. But on this voyage, with this woman, there is a greater danger: to his heart.

Excerpt – WIND RAVEN – The Storm begins

“You wished to speak to me, Captain?” Tara tried to remain calm, but being alone with the man who had kissed her twice was, to say the least, disconcerting. She tried not to look at his bed. He leaned against his desk, crossing one booted foot over the other. The sight of his black hair tousled by the wind and his golden eyes framed by his dark eyebrows scattered her thoughts.

“I want you below decks and in your cabin when the storm hits, Miss McConnell. You might even want to tie yourself to the bed so you’re not tossed to the deck. It’s going to be rough.”

“This isn’t my first storm, Captain.” Surely the man must know by now that she could pull her own weight with the crew.

“Perhaps not, but it’s your first storm aboard my ship, and I’ll not be taking any chances with your safety. Is that clear?”

“Perfectly.” He was staring at her as if he wanted to say something more but then shrugged and pushed away from his desk. A sudden lurch of the ship brought her careening into his chest. He steadied her with his hands on her upper arms and, for a moment, stared into her eyes, then at her lips.

Instead of letting her go, he drew her more tightly against his chest, his golden eyes boring into hers. “I don’t seem to be able to resist you this close, Miss McConnell.” She felt the heat between them as he bent his head and kissed her, a kiss as fierce as the storm she knew was fast approaching. Her body seemed to come alive as his arms held her. His lips lifted from hers.

“I wish I had time to show you more, but right now my ship requires my attention.” He set her away from him and, reaching for a chart from his desk, swept up the rolled document and strode from the cabin as if the ship wasn’t rolling beneath his feet.

Tara gripped the edge of his desk to steady herself, and not just because of the swells that had the ship constantly dipping and lunging. Damn the unmitigated gall of the man! What made him think he could kiss her whenever he wanted? More troublesome still, why had she let him?

Wind Raven - Amazon

You can find out more about Regan and her wonderful books here:
Regan's links:
Twitter: @RegansReview (

Wednesday 2 April 2014

Florence Nightingale and a Dog Called Cap

How did a sheepdog influence Florence Nightingale’s career?
Florence Nightingale as a young woman
Born in 1820, Florence Nightingale was an extraordinary woman who defied her parents’ wishes and became a nurse. Her work overseeing disease control and hygiene in hospitals was ground-breaking and laid the foundations of modern nursing.  Amongst the soldiers she cared for during the Crimean War she became affectionately known as ‘the Lady of the Lamp.’ After the war, Florence returned to England and established a school of nursing at St. Thomas’ Hospital, London. Such were her contributions to medicine that in 1907 she was awarded the British Order of Merit – the first woman to be so honoured.  Yet all this may not have happened had it not been for a chance meeting with a sheepdog.
Florence doing ward rounds at night.
The Lady of the Lamp
Florence came from a well to do family with homes in both Derbyshire and London. She lived at a time when women from wealthy families were expected marry and have children, and most certainly not work for a living. However, an encounter with a sheepdog called Cap, triggered a series of events that led to Florence defying convention.
Portrait of Florence Nightingale - approx 1854
When Florence was 17 she went for an afternoon ride with a clergyman companion, in the countryside near Matlock, Derbyshire. Florence liked dogs and often stopped at the cottage of a local farmer to fuss his sheepdog, Cap. However, on this occasion Florence discovered all was not well.

Earlier in the day Cap had been asleep on the cottage doorstep when some young lads happened past. For whatever reason, heaven only knows why, they threw stones at the dog. One rock hit his front leg and hurt the dog such that he couldn’t walk on the leg. The farmer, Roger, was a poor man and whilst he needed a working dog he could not afford to feed a pet. Florence was horrified to learn that Roger assumed the leg was broken and intended, later in the day, to put Cap out of his pain and hang him.

Florence’s companion convinced the farmer to let him examine the dog’s leg. He realized that instead of the bone being broken it was severely bruised. The clergyman instructed Florence on how to apply a poultice and bandage the limb, and she convinced Roger to let her return the next to change the dressing.
Happily, just two days later Florence encountered Roger and his flock on a hill, with an excited and only slightly lame Cap at his side. This was the first patient Florence nursed back to health. The following night she had a dream in which she believed God was calling her to devote her life to healing the sick. This became her life’s mission – even if it was nearly a decade before she realized that dream and trained as a nurse.