I am just too excited about this to keep it to myself but HERE at last is the front cover art for my next novel set during the French Revolution, Before the Storm, which will be out next week!
How utterly beautiful is this painting? I was seriously stunned when I opened the email and saw it. I love the detailing on Clementine’s peach silk dress and look at Venetia’s scarlet hair! I also adore the mist that seems to envelop the landscape behind them.
Thanks so much to the extremely talented Lisa Falzon for all her hard work! I’m beyond thrilled with the results!
You don’t have to look far to work out where Marie Antoinette got her taste for informality and a cosy, intimate ‘normal’ family life, that the snobs of Versailles disapproved of so thoroughly. This charming painting by the Archduchess Maria Christina of Austria (‘Mimi’) shows the Imperial family at their leisure on Christmas Day 1762. In front of the fire sits the Emperor Franz-Stephen, still dressed in his dressing gown, night cap and slippers, while behind him stands the dread Empress Maria Theresa herself, looking thoroughly unregal in a plain blue dress.
On the floor lies Maximilian, the youngest of the Imperial children, enjoying a plate heaped with gingerbread biscuits, while behind stands Maria Antonia, proudly holding aloft a new doll, clearly a gift from St Nicholas. Maria Christina chose to paint herself in the work, dressed in a pretty pink dress and playing the part of a teasing, yet affectionate elder sister as she asks a crying Archduke Ferdinand to choose between the treat of some biscuits or the punishment of some birches inside a shoe. The paper that the Emperor holds in his hand is probably a list of the unfortunate Ferdinand’s misdeeds throughout the year and he is caught as he is about to pronounce sentence. Which will it be?
The other painting by Maria Christina, shows another intimate scene, this time the birth of her niece, the Archduchess Maria Theresa on the 20th March 1762. The new baby’s proud parents were the Archduke Josef (later Joseph II) and his adored wife, Isabella of Parma, the granddaughter of Louis XV of France. The young couple look thrilled and exhausted: Josef is wearing a dressing gown and night cap and is wholly and proudly concentrated on his wife, while she looks back at him fondly as she eats some sustaining and restorative gruel with a long handled spoon.
Again, Maria Christina has painted herself into the domestic scene and watches proudly, dressed in blue, as a wet nurse feeds the baby some milk with a spoon.
Princess Isabella Maria Luisa Antonietta Ferdinanda Giuseppina Saveria Dominica Giovanna of Parma was born in Madrid on the 31st December 1741, the daughter of Louis XV’s adored eldest daughter, Louise-Élisabeth, who was the only one of his beloved daughters to ever leave Versailles to become a wife and mother, creating a ‘little France’ in her new home Parma. Her son, Duke Ferdinand of Parma was to marry Marie Antoinette’s feisty elder sister, Maria Amalia while her youngest daughter, Luisa Maria was to become the Queen of Spain, so infamously depicted by Goya…
The Ten Bells is right next to Christ Church in Spitalfields and directly opposite the entrance to the now trendy and bustling Spitalfields Market. There has been a pub on the corner of Fornier Street and Commercial Street since 1752, but the Ten Bells as we know it now has only been in existence since Victorian times, when it served the locals of Spitalfields and the porters and clientele of the market over the road.
The pub has an unsavoury reputation thanks to its connections to the Jack the Ripper case as two of the victims, Annie Chapman and Mary Jane Kelly are known to have drunk there, although obviously it is not known if Jack the Ripper himself was a customer.
A charming miniature of Marie Antoinette with Madame Royale and Louis-Charles, painted in early 1790 by François Dumont. It was almost certainly commissioned in 1789 but was not destined to be completed until the family were already imprisoned in the Tuileries and such happy, bucolic pleasures were a distant memory.
On this day in 1810, Napoléon and Joséphine formally ended their marriage, which had lasted for over thirteen years and weathered all manner of storms such as the infidelity of both parties, war and extensive separation. In the end it was none of these things that contributed to the divorce, but instead the overwhelming desire of Napoléon to beget an heir for his empire.
Joséphine was forty six years old, some years her husband’s senior and unable to provide him with the child that he had decided he required. Napoléon gave every appearance of being reluctant to end his marriage with the woman that he still regarded as his lucky charm, his Notre Dame des Victoires, but in reality he was already looking around for a new, royal and hopefully fecund young bride.
The next day at two in the afternoon, Joséphine’s belongings were loaded into carriages and taken to her beautiful château of Malmaison. She sat alone in her former rooms, now empty of her belongings and waited for her husband to come to her to say a final farewell. It must have been a disappointment when he arrived not alone but with his secretary Meneval in tow, but despite this, Joséphine threw herself at him in tears once again and eventually became so overcome with woe that she fainted in his arms as he kissed her goodbye.
Napoléon, also in tears, put her into the arms of his secretary and hastened from the room while the no doubt embarrassed Meneval carried the former Empress from her rooms and put her, by now revived and sobbing wildly into her carriage.
I can imagine Napoléon watching from a window, tears running down his cheeks and one hand tucked into his coat as her carriage pulled away, taking her from the Tuileries for the very last time.
The couple continued to correspond after their divorce and Napoléon even visited her at Malmaison from time to time, unable to separate himself completely from the woman that he had loved so ardently for so long.
‘My Dear Joséphine,
I found you to-day weaker than you ought to be. You have shown courage ; it is necessary that you should maintain it and not give way to a doleful melancholy. You must be contented and take special care of your health, which is so precious to me.
If you are attached to me and if you love me, you should show strength of mind and force yourself to be happy. You cannot question my constant and tender friendship, and you would know very imperfectly all the affection I have for you if you imagined that I can be happy if you are unhappy, and contented if you are ill at ease.
Adieu, dear. Sleep well ; dream that I wish it.
This has been one of my favourite portraits ever since I was a little girl and came across it in a book about Waddesdon Manor. I was really thrilled to see the real thing a couple of years ago when we went there for the day and it was just as lovely as I had always anticipated.
The portrait is of the two year old Louis-Philippe-Joseph de Montpensier, the future Duc d’Orléans and was painted in 1749 by François Boucher. Lavish portraits of children have always been popular amongst royalty and the aristocracy, which may be surprising when you consider the high rates of infant mortality but when portraits by a master such as Boucher didn’t come cheap what better way to show off your wealth than by commissioning a painting of your toddler son and heir?
The boy in the painting grew up to succeed his father as Duc d’Orléans and would go on to, rather cynically perhaps, embrace liberal politics and ended up voting for the execution of his cousin, Louis XVI before ultimately being guillotined himself in November 1793.
Luckily, there are no grim foreshadowings of his awful fate in this lovely portrait and instead we can enjoy the shimmering silver brocade of his dress and the interesting paraphenalia of priveliged eighteenth century childhood that surrounds him such as his beautiful silver and coral teething rattle, his sweet little clumpy silver shoes and the splendid rocking horse at his side.
The Duc de Choiseul’s beautiful and exceptionally forgiving and sweet natured wife, Louise Honorine de Crozat, Duchesse de Choiseul.
This painting was described by Margaret Trouncer in her book about the Duchesse: ‘A Duchess of Versailles‘:
‘Greuze, who painted her in Rome… has caught her look of reserve – the eyes of a woman who has wept much in secret. A delicate pastel in the possession of Mademoiselle d’Orliac of Chanteloup in Touraine shows the charming hair style, with her chestnut coloured hair arranged in five natural widows’ peaks over her brow; delicate, sensitive eyebrows; a long, slender neck, small nose, full lips. There is an air of serene disenchantment in the eyes. In both portraits there is ample proof that the duchesse was very fastidious and fashionable in her dress and that her hair was arranged by skilled hands. (This was to be expected as she had four ladies maids.) Greuze tucks a bunch of full blown roses into her bodice and there are cherries painted on her ruched coatee. Her sleeves are full lace ruffles, and she has negligently thrown a filmy scarf around her shoulders.’
A beautiful portrait painted in 1775 by Jacques Wilbaut of the Duc de Choiseul with his mistress, the Comtesse de Brionne and best friend, Abbé Barthélmy, enjoying each other’s company in one of Choiseul’s beautiful salons in his château at Chanteloup.
The Duc, once such a favourite of Louis XV and Madame de Pompadour had failed to secure the good wishes of La Pompadour’s successor in the King’s bed and thanks to a falling out with Madame du Barry, he found himself banished from court and Paris in 1770 and exiled to his country estate in the Touraine. His last great diplomatic action was to mastermind the marriage of the Dauphin Louis and Archduchess Maria Antonia of Austria, which took place amidst great pomp in May of that year.
There was no Duchess of Cambridge for over a hundred years until the Princess Augusta of Hesse-Kassel married Adolphus, Duke of Cambridge on the 1st of June 1818 at Buckingham Palace. Adolphus was the tenth child and seventh son of George III and Queen Charlotte and as such had no real chance of becoming King and so had settled into the same indolent life of womanising, drinking and accumulating debts as the rest of his siblings. However, the sudden death in 1817 of his niece, Princess Charlotte, who was astonishingly the only legitimate grandchild and heir of George III, made them all spring into action and begin scouring the courts of Europe in search of suitably fecund and Protestant brides.
Not much is known about Augusta – the impression gained is of a quiet, modest woman with none of the scandalous eccentricities or extravagances of her in laws. Then again, unlike most of her husband’s family she managed to produce three children – Prince George (who inherited his father’s title of Duke of Cambridge and was the last Duke before Prince William), Princess Adelaide and Princess Mary (who was to be mother of George V’s Queen Mary and so ancestress of the present Royals) and a lasting legacy.
Happy birthday Duchess Kate.
There hasn’t been all that many Dukes of Cambridge and even fewer Duchesses, which is surprising as the title seems redolent of history and grandeur doesn’t it? In fact, half of all the Dukes of Cambridge were sons of James II who died in infancy.
The first Duchess of Cambridge was Caroline of Ansbach, wife of the future George II of England, who was given the title of Duke of Cambridge after the 1701 Act of Settlement made his grandmother, Sophia and father, George (later George I) the official heirs of Queen Anne.
Caroline and George immediately fell for each other when he visited the court of her guardian, the Elector of Brandenburg incognito to check her out. Of course, it helped that Caroline was no fool and immediately realised that the unknown Monsieur de Busch was the son of the Elector of Hanover, while he in his turn was dazzled by her fair haired prettiness and intelligence and declared that having seen her, he would not marry any other girl. Luckily for him, the match was approved of by everyone and the young couple were married only a few months later, in the Autumn of 1705.