The Cambridge Five: “We need people who could penetrate into the bourgeois institutions. Penetrate them for us!”

51T3CBEFG2L._SY445_.jpg If you are a great lover of all things British, as am I, you are likely familiar with the BBC2 mini-series, Cambridge Spies. It starred four of my personal favorites: Toby Stephens, Rupert Penry Jones, Tom Hollander, and Samuel West. Also, I adore Benedict Cumberbatch, Simon Woods, and David Savile in the cast. Cambridge Spies is a four-part BBC television drama, broadcast on BBC2 in May 2003, concerning the lives of the best-known quartet of the Cambridge Five Soviet spies, from 1934 to the 1951 defection of Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean to the Soviet Union. (Cambridge Spies)



Anthony Blunt


Guy Burgess


Donald Maclean


Kim Philby

The Cambridge Spy Ring passed information to the Soviet Union during World War II and was thought to be active until the early 1950s. The members were strong believers of communism being superior to capitalism. Four members of the ring were originally identified: Kim Philby (cryptonym: Stanley), Donald Duart Maclean (cryptonym: Homer), Guy Burgess (cryptonym: Hicks) and Anthony Blunt (cryptonyms: Tony and Johnson). The group supposedly operated during their years at Cambridge University.  Debate surrounds the exact timing of their recruitment by Soviet intelligence; Anthony Blunt claimed that they were not recruited as agents until they had graduated. Blunt, an Honorary Fellow at Trinity College was several years older than Burgess, Maclean, and Philby; he acted as a talent-spotter and recruiter for most of the group save Burgess. Both Blunt and Burgess were members of the Cambridge Apostles, an exclusive and prestigious society based at Trinity and King’s Colleges. John Cairncross, whose identity was not revealed until 1990, was the fifth member of the Five. (Cambridge Five) 

John_Cairncross.jpg Cairncross reportedly leaked details of the Bletchley Park facilities efforts at code-breaking, which permitted the Soviet Union to alter their codes to prevent the British group from discovering them. He also is known to have provided the Soviets with information on atomic weapons research, giving the Soviet efforts to set up their own nuclear program a boost. As a Soviet double agent, he passed to the Soviet Union the raw Tunny decrypts that influenced the Battle of Kursk.

According to a BBC News article from July 2014, “Among the thousands of pages of documents are profiles outlining the characteristics of Britons who spied for the Soviet Union. They include references to Donald Duart Maclean and Guy Burgess, two of the five men recruited while studying at the University of Cambridge during the 1930s. A short passage describes Burgess as a man ‘constantly under the influence of alcohol’. Written in Russian, it goes on to recount one occasion when Burgess drunkenly risked exposing his double identity. ‘Once on his way out of a pub, he managed to drop one of the files of documents he had taken from the Foreign Office on the pavement,’ translator Svetlana Lokhova explained. Moving on to Maclean, the note describes him as ‘not very good at keeping secrets’. It adds he was “constantly drunk” and binged on alcohol. It was believed he had told one of his lovers and his brother about his work as a Soviet agent while he was the worse for wear, the file adds. The notes also provide an insight into the extent of the group’s activity as they helped the KGB penetrate the UK’s intelligence network at the highest level. They describe how Burgess alone handed over 389 top secret documents to the KGB in the first six months of 1945 along with a further 168 in December 1949.”


Wish to Know More? Try Some of These Articles: 

MI5 and MI6 Cover-Up of Cambridge Spy Ring Laid Bare in Archive Papers. The Guardian

Newly released evidence on the Cambridge Spies reveals how, among other revelations, inaction and incompetence on the part of the authorities enabled Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean to make their escape to Moscow.   History Today: New Revelations on the Cambridge Spy Ring

The Cambridge Spy Ring and the Myth of an Upper-Class Cover Up. The Spectator 

The Cambridge Five.  International Spy Museum

First Person Singular: Cambridge Spies? The Truth is Far More Interesting. The Telegraph


Posted in American History, British history, film, history, military, political stance, real life tales, war, world history | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Scandal Abounds in Brocket Hall’s History

The official Brocket Hall website tells us, “Brocket Hall has one of the most intriguing of any of the great houses of Britain. Indeed the scent of scandal can be found in the fabric of the building back to its roots in the 13th Century right up to the present day.” If you are a fan of the PBS series “Victoria,” you know something of Brocket Hall. 

The house is located near Hatfield in Hertfordshire. It was built by renowned architect James Paine for the owner, Sir Mathew Lamb in 1760. The grounds were laid out by the most prestigious landscape architect of the time, Capability Brown However, the Hall stands on the site of two predecessors, the original of which was built in 1239. 


Sir Penistone Lamb ~ Artist George Stubbs – National Gallery, London ~ Public Domain ~,_1st_Viscount_Melbourne#/media/File:George_Stubbs_007_(cropped).jpg

Sir Matthew’s son was Peniston Lamb, 1st Viscount Melbourne (29 January 1745 – 22 July 1828), known as Sir Peniston Lamb, 2nd Baronet, from 1768 to 1770. He was a British politician, who sat in the House of Commons from 1768 to 1793.   He succeeded in the baronetcy on his father’s death on 6 November 1768 and inherited Melbourne Hall  in Derbyshire. He married Elizabeth Milbanke, daughter of Sir Ralph Milbanke, She was a young woman of great beauty, intelligence and strong character, who quickly came to dominate her husband completely, and steered them into the centre of polite society.  Lady Melbourne was known for her political influence and her friendships and romantic relationships with other members of the English aristocracy, including Georgiana . Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire and George, Prince of Wales (later King George IV). Because of her numerous love affairs, the paternity of several of her children is a matter of dispute. Lord Melbourne became Lord of the Bedchamber in 1812. In 1815 he was even further honoured when he was made Baron Melbourne, of Melbourne in the county of Derby, in the Peerage of the United Kingdom, which gave him a seat in the House of Lords. He died on 22 July 1828, aged 83 and was succeeded in his titles by his son William. 

The Prince Regent often stayed at Brocket Hall to visit his mistress. Supposedly, the first Lord Melbourne turned a blind eye to the affair. After all, his extolled position and title was likely a result of his wife’s lustful endeavors. In the ballroom of the house hangs a Joshua Reynolds painting presented to Elizabeth, Lady Melbourne. Prince George also created the Chinese suite of rooms, known as the Prince Regent Suite, still in use today by residential guests. 

2nd_V_Melbourne.jpg The second Lord Melbourne was the one we know as the Prime Minister for Queen Victoria. William Lamb, 2nd Viscount Melbourne, succeeded his eldest brother Peniston to the title when Peniston died of tuberculosis before their father had passed. William Lamb’s name was often surrounded by scandal. His wife, Caroline (neé Ponsonby) Lamb, had a very public affair with Lord Byron. She coined the famous characterisation of Byron as “mad, bad and dangerous to know”. The resulting scandal was the talk of Britain in 1812. Lady Caroline published a Gothic novel, Glenarvon, in 1816; this portrayed both the marriage and her affair with Byron in a lurid fashion, which caused William even greater embarrassment, while the spiteful caricatures of leading society figures made them several influential enemies. Eventually the two were reconciled, and, though they separated in 1825, her death in 1828 affected him considerably.

 It is said that Caroline introduced the waltz to England, it being performed first at Brocket Hall. Lady Melbourne was known for her scandalous behavior. Supposedly, she emerged from a soup tureen at her husband’s birthday party and danced naked upon a ballroom table, a table still in use today for banquets at the house. Bryon was 24 when he and Caroline began their affair. His fame had increased for he had just published Child Harolde. He attempted to end their affair after only four months, but she would have none of his rejection. In Christopher Winn’s book, I Never Knew That About England (page 130), he tells us, “At Brocket, she (Caroline) gathered together all the local village maidens, dressed them in white and made them dance around a burning funeral pyre on which she had placed a bust of Lord Byron. Then she tore up his letters and cast them into the flames while reciting sad elegies. She turned her bedroom into a shrine to Byron, and her ghost can apparently still be heard in there, playing Chopin, late into the night.” The story becomes sadder when one learns that Lady Melbourne fell from her horse at the shock of seeing Lord Byron’s funeral cortege passing the Brocket estate; she had by all accounts, not known of his death until that moment, for he had died abroad and his body was being returned to his home seat. 

Caroline_Norton_(1808-77)_society_beauty_and_author_by_GH,_Chatsworth_Coll..jpg Lord Melbourne knew more scandal in 1836. This time he was the victim of attempted blackmail from the husband of a close friend, society beauty and author Caroline Norton. The husband demanded £1,400, and when he was turned down he accused Melbourne of having an affair with his wife. At this time such a scandal would be enough to derail a major politician, so it is a measure of the respect contemporaries had for his integrity that Melbourne’s government did not fall. William IV and the Duke of Wellington urged him to stay on as prime minister. After Norton failed in court, Melbourne was vindicated, but he did stop seeing Mrs Norton. Nevertheless, as historian Boyd Hilton concludes, “it is irrefutable that Melbourne’s personal life was problematic. Spanking sessions with aristocratic ladies were harmless, not so the whippings administered to orphan girls taken into his household as objects of charity.” [Boyd Hilton, A Mad, Bad, and Dangerous People? England 1783-1846. 2006, p. 500.]

On the death of Melbourne in 1848, Brocket Hall passed to his sister, who was to marry Lord Palmerston. Palmerston went on to become Prime Minister and was to die in somewhat bizarre circumstances at Brocket Hall, on a billiards table, allegedly involved with a chambermaid at the time. More recently Baroness Thatcher spent time at the Hall where she wrote her memoirs.

The current Lord Brocket is Chales Nall-Cain, 3rd Baronet  Brocket. He, too, has had an interesting past. According to Wikipedia, “He became known as a playboy, and collected classic cars, once owning forty-two Ferraris, which he became known for in the eighties and early 1990s. He was convicted of insurance fraud in 1996 and sentenced to five years in prison, of which he served two and a half years. In 2004, he was a contestant on the third series of I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here! Finishing in fourth place, his newfound fame made him a popular TV celebrity, making almost £1 million in offers. His autobiography, Call Me Charlie, was published in hardback, coming in the Top 10 Best Sellers list of 2004. He hosted the ITV game show Scream! If You Want to Get Off and presented Privates Exposed, a behind-the-scenes programme for ITV’s Bard Lady Army on ITV2. In 2007, he launched his own Brocket Hall Foods range of groceries. In 2017 an episode of the Channel 5 series Can’t Pay? We’ll Take It Away! featured High Court enforcement officers seeking to recover a debt of £8,000 owed to a firm of accountants from him, although he was out of the country on holiday, and thus not seen on screen.” Brocket Hall was at the time of the 3rd. Baronet’s succession, in a bad state of repair, and he has since converted it into a hotel and conference venue. Today he still owns the hall in Hertfordshire through a trust which leases it to a German consortium and billed as a luxurious hotel and country club. The lease expires after fifty years.

Posted in British history, buildings and structures, George IV, Georgian England, Georgian Era, peerage, real life tales, Victorian era, William IV | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The “Comedy” Found in Jane Austen’s Novels

According to Literary Devices, “Comedy is a literary genre and a type of dramatic work that is amusing and satirical in its tone, mostly having a cheerful ending. The motif   of this dramatic work is triumph over unpleasant circumstance by creating comic effects, resulting in a happy or successful conclusion. There are five types of comedy in literature:

Romantic comedy involves a theme of love leading to a happy conclusion. We find romantic comedy in Shakespearean plays and some Elizabethan contemporaries. These plays are concerned with idealized love affairs. It is a fact that true love never runs smoothly; however, love overcomes difficulties and ends in a happy union.

“Ben Johnson is the first dramatist who conceived and popularized comedy of humors. The term humor derives from the Latin word humor, which means “liquid.” It comes from a theory that the human body has four liquids, or humors, which include phelgm, blood, yellow bile, and black bile. It explains that, when human beings have a balance of these humors in their bodies, they remain healthy.

Comedy of Manners deals with intrigues and relations of ladies and gentlemen living in a sophisticated society. This form relies upon high comedy, derived from sparkle and wit of dialogues, violations of social traditions, and good manners, by nonsense characters like jealous husbands, wives, and foppish dandies. We find its use in Restoration dramatists, particularly in the works of Wycherley and Congreve.

Sentimental drama contains both comedy and sentimental tragedy. It appears in literary circles due to reaction of the middle class against obscenity and indecency of Restoration Comedy of Manners. This form, which incorporates scenes with extreme emotions evoking excessive pity, gained popularity among the middle class audiences in the eighteenth century.

Tragicomedy contains both tragic and comedic elements. It blends both elements to lighten the overall mood of the play. Often, tragicomedy is a serious play that ends happily.”

English literature has a long history of comedic novels. “The phrase Romantic novel has several possible meanings. Here it refers to novels written during the Romantic era in literary history, which runs from the late 18th century until the beginning of the Victorian era in 1837. But to complicate matters there are novels written in the romance tradition by novelists like Sir Walter Scott, Nathaniel Hawthorne, George Meredith. In addition the phrase today is mostly used to refer to the popular fiction genre that focusses on romantic love. The Romantic period is especially associated with the poets William Blake, William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, George Byron, Percy Shelley and John Keats, though two major novelists, Jane Austen and Walter Scott, also published in the early 19th century.” (English novelLater, England gave us the likes of Charles Dickens, Lewis Carroll, Oscar Wilde, etc. 


One thing that is obvious when studying Austen’s works is that her books are not all great comic hits. Let’s face it: Persuasion, Emma, and Mansfield Park lack the comedic elements found in Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Northanger Abbey, and my comedic favorite, Lady SusanPride and Prejudice provides us with a parade of comedic characters: Mr. Bennet (charming , but indolence), Mrs. Bennet (obsessed with marrying off her daughters), Lydia and Kitty Bennet (silly girls), Mary Bennet (moralizing), Jane Bennet (too good to be true, crafted in Cinderella’s image), Caroline Bingley and Louisa Hurst (snobbish and conniving women), Sir William Lucas (living beyond his means), Mr. Collins (bungling and long-winded), and Lady Catherine de Bourgh (proud beyond reason). Only Darcy and Elizabeth escape the stroke of the comic elements for they are the “romance” in the romantic comedy. Although often they do not act with reason at times in the story, especially with their initial dismissal of each other as a potential mate, they are not characters to be laughed at. Note Austen’s many hints to that fact: 

“I am excessively diverted. ” 

Elizabeth laughed heartily at this picture of herself, and said to Colonel Fitzwilliam, “Your cousin will give you a very pretty notion of me, and teach you not to believe a word I say. I am particularly unlucky in meeting with a person so well able to expose my real character, in a part of the world where I had hoped to pass myself off with some degree of credit. Indeed, Mr. Darcy, it is very ungenerous in you to mention all that you knew to my disadvantage in Hertfordshire — and, give me leave to say, very impolitic too — for it is provoking me to retaliate, and such things may come out, as will shock your relations to hear.”

“I am not afraid of you,” said he, smilingly.

“She began now to comprehend that he was exactly the man who, in disposition and talents, would most suit her. His understanding and temper, though unlike her own, would have answered all her wishes. It was an union that must have been to the advantage of both: by her ease and liveliness, his mind might have been softened, his manners improved; and from his judgement, information, and knowledge of the world, she must have received benefit of greater importance.” 
The acknowledged lovers talked and laughed, the unacknowledged were silent. Darcy was not of a disposition in which happiness overflows in mirth; and Elizabeth, agitated and confused, rather knew that she was happy than felt herself to be so; for, besides the immediate embarrassment, there were other evils before her. She anticipated what would be felt in the family when her situation became known; she was aware that no one liked him but Jane; and even feared that with the others it was a dislike which not all his fortune and consequence might do away.
“But, Lizzy, you look as if you did not enjoy it.  You are not going to be missish, I hope, and pretend to be affronted at an idle report.  For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn?” 
“Nothing so easy, if you have but the inclination,” said Elizabeth. “We can all plague and punish one another. Teaze him — laugh at him. — Intimate as you are, you must know how it is to be done.”

“But upon my honour I do not. I do assure you that my intimacy has not yet taught me that. Teaze calmness of temper and presence of mind! No, no — I feel he may defy us there. And as to laughter, we will not expose ourselves, if you please, by attempting to laugh without a subject. Mr. Darcy may hug himself.”

“Mr. Darcy is not to be laughed at!” cried Elizabeth. “That is an uncommon advantage, and uncommon I hope it will continue, for it would be a great loss to me to have many such acquaintance. I dearly love a laugh.”

“Miss Bingley,” said he, “has given me credit for more than can be. The wisest and the best of men, nay, the wisest and best of their actions, may be rendered ridiculous by a person whose first object in life is a joke.”

“Certainly,” replied Elizabeth — “there are such people, but I hope I am not one of them. I hope I never ridicule what is wise or good. Follies and nonsense, whims and inconsistencies do divert me, I own, and I laugh at them whenever I can. — But these, I suppose, are precisely what you are without.”

“Laugh as much as you chuse, but you will not laugh me out of my opinion. My dearest Lizzy, do but consider in what a disgraceful light it places Mr. Darcy, to be treating his father’s favourite in such a manner, — one, whom his father had promised to provide for. — It is impossible. No man of common humanity, no man who had any value for his character, could be capable of it. Can his most intimate friends be so excessively deceived in him? oh! no.”

hugh grant edward ferrars.jpg In Austen’s works and others that followed, the comedy is used to depict a series of stumbles before the hero and heroine are joined in a “happily ever after” type marriage. The couple manages to fall into one mess after the other and climbs over, through, and around a number of obstacles before they can claim what the reader hopes will be an ideal marriage. Those obstacles follow a particular pattern or motif: 

  1. intervention by a busybody, know-it all (i.e., Darcy and the Bingley sisters’ intervention in the life of Charles Bingley and Jane Bennet in Pride and Prejudice and Emma’s intervention in the life of Harriet Smith and Robert Martin in Emma)
  2. prior commitments (i.e., Darcy’s supposed engagement to his cousin Anne de Bourgh in Pride and Prejudice and Edward Ferrars’s engagement to Lucy Steele in Sense and Sensibility)
  3. opposition of the old to the idea of young love (i.e., Lady Russell opposes Anne Elliot aligning herself with Captain Frederick Wentworth in Persuasion; Fanny Price’s coming to live at Mansfield Park was originally argued by Sir Thomas, who worried about his sons’ approximation with a girl of no fortune. Also in Mansfield Park,  Mrs. Norris is far more concerned with rank and status than her sister, Lady Bertram. She doesn’t view Fanny Price with same respect and care she reserves for her Bertram nieces, Maria and Julia. She is generally dismissive of Fanny especially, and is very callous about Fanny’s health and well-being—much to Edmund’s intense annoyance and displeasure. 
  4. initial hostilities between the hero and heroine based on misunderstandings (i.e. Darcy and Elizabeth are placed behind the eight ball due to their faulty first impressions.)
  5. misjudging the true hero, preferring instead the “perfection” of the conniving pretty boy (i.e., Elizabeth Bennet’s preference for George Wickham and Marianne Dashwood’s preference for Mr. Willoughby)
  6. manipulations of the hero’s rival (i.e., George Wickham’s tales of woes to destroy Darcy’s reputations, George Wickham’s elopement with Lydia Bennet, and John Thorpe’s keeping Catherine Morland from Henry Tilney)


Some often criticize Austen for not adding more social commentary to her stories—the slave trade, the lack of rights of women, etc.—but such does not fit the characteristics of the romantic comedy. That does not mean that Austen does not address the realities of life during the Regency era. Austen includes characters such as Lady Russell in Persuasion, who speaks of Anne’s inability to live on her own while Captain Wentworth is away at war. Then there is James Morland in Northanger Abbey. James is a bit naive, though he seems to suspect that something is seriously amiss with Isabella’s behavior fairly early. James definitely learns a harsh lesson about trusting people and forming relationships in the book, and it is a lesson that he imparts to Catherine, like a good, protective older brother. We see the same sensibility from Charlotte Lucas, who in Pride and Prejudice, agrees to marry Mr. Collins, although she would rather remain unmarried. She accepts what she cannot change and makes the best of it. All these characters bring social injustices to light, but these failures of humanity do not swallow up the tale. The simply remind the reader of what could happen in the real world. They do not take away from the happy ending expected in a romantic comedy. 



Posted in books, British history, Georgian England, historical fiction, Inheritance, Jane Austen, Living in the Regency, marriage customs, Persuasion, political stance, primogenture, publishing, reading habits, Regency era, Regency personalities, Regency romance, Vagary, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Fleet Prison Marriages of the 1700s

Marriage ceremonies associated with the Fleet Prison is London were many in the mid to late 1700s. It is estimated that in the 1740s over half of London’s marriage ceremonies took place in “marriage shops” surrounding the Fleet Prison. By some accounts, 800,000 people named in the marriage records of the times were married in this manner. These were what some termed as “clandestine” or “irregular” marriages. According to GenGuide, “A marriage without banns or licence or conducted away from the parish of residence of both parties was considered ‘clandestine’ and a marriage that took place in one of the party’s parishes without banns or licence or away from the parish of either party by banns or licence was considered ‘irregular’. Whichever way was chosen, the union was in the eyes of the law a legally binding contract. Many nonconformists married in this manner often in their own meeting houses.

“Marriage registers from ceremonies conducted in and around the Fleet Prison in London, with many taking place in local taverns and coffee houses. As clergymen were often confined to the Fleet as debtors, they performed marriage ceremonies for other inmates for a fee without licence or other formalities. This practice was stopped in 1711, but clergy carried on conducting irregular but legal marriage ceremonies in nearby taverns. These so called ‘marriage shops’ could also be found in the grounds of the May Fair Chapel and the King’s Bench prison and other centres such as the Holy Trinity, Minories and St. James, Dukes Place. The ceremonies were conducted by individuals who had taken holy orders without licence who could legally marry two people at any time and at any place. Although they ignored the official rules on using banns and licences the marriages were still legally valid.” 

Between 1613 and 1754, a legal loophole created a situation where on-the-spot marriages could be carried out in an area surrounding the Fleet Debtors’ Prison, known as the ‘Liberties of the Fleet’. There is suspicion that some illicit matches took place, against the will of one or other of the parties, but judging from the number of unions made (estimated to be almost 250,000 in just 60 years up to 1753), it seems more likely that the ability to marry without parental consent might well have been the more common motivation.

Clergymen  who were imprisoned for debt, set up shop in the Liberty of Fleet Prison  and conducted weddings. At the time, marriage needed only to be conducted by an ordained clergyman of the Church of England for the ceremony to be valid. Many of these weddings passed unnoticed into history.  Sometimes these marriages were bigamous  and quite often fraudulent. A man, for example, might marry a woman with a bit of money or property and  then relieve her of it before decamping. He might then go elsewhere and marry another with the due reading of the banns.

While the courts accepted all sorts of evidence that a couple had been joined together in a valid marriage, they were very reluctant to accept the certificate or register of a Fleet parson. This reluctance was based on numerous examples of fraud, forgery, and false entries.

s-l300.jpg The Lord Chancellor, Lord Hardwicke thought to close those loopholes. The Marriage Act 1753, full title “An Act for the Better Preventing of ClandestineMarriage“, popularly known as Lord Hardwicke’s Marriage Act (citation 26 Geo. II. c. 33), was the first statutory legislation in England and Wales to require a formal ceremony of marriage. It came into force on 25 March 1754. “The legislation stipulated that marriage must take place in a licensed Anglican parish church in the bride or bridegroom’s own parish and be recorded in a special book with a numbered space for each entry, to prevent fraud. Banns were read publicly on three separate Sundays, which allowed for objections to be raised possibly by parents of children under the age of 21 or previous spouses to call a halt to the proposed wedding. The legislation also allowed marriage by licence in a different parish to that of the couple’s residence. The only exceptions allowed were for Quakers and Jews, so all other non conformists including Roman Catholics had to marry in an Anglican church.

“As the Hardwicke’s Act did not apply in Scotland, English ‘runway’ couples were able to obtain a valid marriage certificate in the Scottish border towns such as Ayton, Chain Bridge, Coldstream, Gretna Green, Halidon Hill, Ladykirk, Lamberton, Mordington, Norham and Paxton. Less well known areas for ‘irregular’ marriages were the coaching inns in the Canongate district of Edinburgh and South Leith marriages which are transcribed in Marshall’s Calendar of Irregular Marriages in the South Leith Kirk Sessions Records 1697-1818. The English Episcopal Chapels in Scotland during the 19th century also married English runaways.

“In Scotland a marriage was considered ‘regular’ after the reading of banns and if the marriage ceremony was conducted by a minister of the established Church of Scotland. The 1834 Marriage (Scotland) Act extended ‘regular’ marriages by permitting dissenting clergy to conduct marriage ceremonies. If these requirements were not adhered to the marriage was deemed ‘clandestine’ and illegal but crucially could be valid in the eyes of the state. Under Scots Law a marriage was considered valid (but not legal) under certain conditions as follows:

§  Both parties declared themselves married in the presence of witnesses.

§  Marriage ceremony followed by sexual intercourse.

§  Simply living together with the status of man and wife – by habit and repute.

“Irregular marriages in Scotland were abolished with the passing of the Marriage (Scotland) Act 1939 which introduced civil marriages with marriages only becoming legal and valid on production of a certificate proving publication of banns or a notice of intended marriage and if celebrated in an office of an authorised Registrar. Irregular marriages were unrecorded in the statutory marriage registers.” (Fleet and Other Irregular Marriages)


Other Resources: (Extract from ‘Old and New London: Volume 2’ (1878) by Walter Thornbury entitled The Fleet Prison) (Guide to the Fleet registers held at TNA in RG 7) (Fleet Marriages of Hertfordshire People to 1754)

Posted in British history, buildings and structures, Church of England, customs and tradiitons, Georgian England, Georgian Era, marriage, marriage customs, marriage licenses, real life tales, Scotland | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

A Closer Look at “A Dance With Mr. Darcy: A Pride and Prejudice Vagary”

This novel came to me when I admit to being quite depressed. I wrote it over the Christmas holidays, and we all know how those can sometimes catch us off guard. I am customarily sad over the Thanksgiving break because my mother’s birthday lands smack in the middle of the long Thanksgiving weekend ever year, and I do no miss my mother’s wise voice whispering in my ear. However, I am not customarily sad over Christmas. In fact, I deal with the hoopla of it all relatively well. Perhaps, it was because we had a tense situation going on in the family during that particular Christmas. My youngest granddaughter arrived in the world on December 22, 2016, some two weeks before her due date. Then she spent five days in the hospital wrapped in a bili-blanket to control her jaundice. Perhaps it was because I am customarily alone over the actual Christmas to New Year’s holiday, and because of the baby’s early delivery, I found myself with children under foot and meals to cook and kitchens to clean. I pray I am not that selfish, but I admit at age 70 to enjoying my solitude when I have it. Perhaps it was because I learned over the holidays of the passing of one of my ex-husbands. Although he practiced deplorable acts, ones no wife could ever forgive, there had been a time—in my naive mind—that I had loved him. Perhaps it was because a man I thought I had loved for nearly all my life chose to marry another AGAIN. Who can say? Not that I had seen him for some ten years, but we women are not always reasonable in matters of the heart. 

Why do I preface my introduction of the book with this knowledge? It is because I find it one of the saddest books I have ever written. I understood the loss of that Darcy, Elizabeth, and even Lydia felt. 

The book incorporates a bit about the history handfasting in Scotland, the traditions surrounding St Agnes Eve, the possibility of having a marriage annulled in the church courts, something of the East India Company, etc.—my usual array of historical research mixed into the story line—but its strength is the deep emotional connection between Darcy and Elizabeth. Your heart will ache for them. You will cheer their successes and bemoan the obstacles still keeping them apart. 

Book Blurb: 

The reason fairy tales end with a wedding is no one wishes to view what happens next.

Five years earlier, Darcy had raced to Hertfordshire to soothe Elizabeth Bennet’s qualms after Lady Catherine’s venomous attack, but a devastating carriage accident left him near death for months and cost him his chance at happiness with the lady. Now, they meet again upon the Scottish side of the border, but can they forgive all that has transpired in those years? They are widow and widower; however, that does not mean they can take up where they left off. They are damaged people, and healing is not an easy path. To know happiness they must fall in love with the same person all over again.


Book Excerpt: 

Although he did not think it possible for anyone to alter Elizabeth’s decision, Darcy was thankful to have his sister in residence at Alpin Hall, for Georgiana made a concerted effort to keep his mind off the misery that awaited him at Pemberley when he returned to Derbyshire. Despite his cousin’s objections, she had sent Fitzwilliam riding for Newcastle in search of information on Mr. Wickham’s disappearance.

“It has been five years, Georgiana,” the colonel protested. “I can learn more by addressing letters to the scoundrel’s former commanding officers.”

“You will do both,” she insisted. “Those in London overseeing the war’s end will simply examine their files on Mr. Wickham, while those remaining in Newcastle area will possess a more personal story to share, and you must be there to learn their tales. No one can deny such an imposing figure as my husband,” she added with a genuine smile.

Fitzwilliam sighed good-naturedly. “It is a good thing, Mrs. Fitzwilliam, that your husband holds you in affection.”

“It is an excellent thing, sir,” she responded with a blush to her cheeks. Darcy watched the pair with envy lodging in his heart. He would never know such contentment. Even if he could learn Wickham’s fate, it would not ensure that Elizabeth would reconsider his proposal.

In Fitzwilliam’s absence, Georgiana accompanied him as Darcy called in upon Daven Hall each day to learn more of the estate. While he examined the books and the various structures upon the property, his sister met with the housekeeper and toured the various rooms to note necessary repairs and required refurbishing. He was grateful for Georgiana’s presence. It was good to be with family. His hours alone at Pemberley had only added to his compounded sorrow.

“Dance with me, William,” his sister pleaded one evening, as she rose from the bench before the pianoforte. She had entertained him after supper with a variety of musical pieces. He always knew such pride when she performed, for he recalled the exact date when Georgiana claimed confidence in her performance. It was the evening at Pemberley when Elizabeth and her relations joined him and the Bingleys. Elizabeth encouraged Georgiana’s playing and remained by his sister’s side throughout the evening.

“I believe my dancing days are over,” he replied.

“Nonsense.” Georgiana caught his hand and attempted to tug him to his feet. “Perhaps you can no longer hop about in a reel or do a quickstep in a country dance, but surely you can manage a minuet or a waltz. Now, stand for me, William.”

“Georgiana, this is ridiculous,” he protested, but he permitted her to pull him upward.

Once he stood stiffly before her, she placed a hand upon his shoulder and waited for his hand to claim her waist. “Should I hum a tune?”

“I will likely send us tumbling to the floor,” he grumbled as he positioned his hand at her side.

Georgiana giggled. “It has been too many years since we took a tumble together.”  She nudged him into a slow step forward while continuing her tale. “I loved it when you would come home from school on holiday, for you would spend hours entertaining me. Do you recall how often I soiled my dress attempting to keep up with you and Fitzwilliam and Lindale or you and George Wickham? I was often quite clumsy and would tumble down the hill, but you always took the blame and Father’s punishments.”

“You were but a babe and always so thin. I could not permit you to know an evening without your supper,” he said in serious tones.

Georgiana’s cheeks dimpled with an impish smile. “You would sneak into the schoolroom and teach me something of how to swing a cricket bat or how to block a thrust from an opponent’s sword.”

“We destroyed a good many of your parasols. Your governess was never happy when you and I were about a new adventure,” he repeated in tenderness.

“Then you would sprawl upon the floor while I showed you my dolls or the new letters I had learned or a drawing. You would praise my efforts,” she said in contentment. “You were always so patient with me. I could not have asked for a better brother.”

Darcy halted their progress to place a kiss upon her forehead. It was only then that he realized they had made a full turn and then some about the room. “You have played me with your compliments,” he said in a tease. “You still have the means to divert me.”

She rose on her toes to place a gentle kiss upon his cheek. “I wish you to know happiness, William, but first you must again believe in your dream.”

Darcy attempted to keep the frown from his features. “I do not know whether I dare. Her husband passed two months after I married Amelia. If I had waited—had rejected Lady Matlock’s manipulations—if I had made it my business to learn more of Elizabeth’s life, things could now be different. She admitted to loving me, Georgiana; yet, she still sent me away. How can I keep hope alive when so much has changed between us? Sometimes, love is not enough.”

“Love is always enough,” Georgiana countered. “It must be, for the world would turn in upon its head without love. You must simply trust that Mrs. McCaffney knows your heart. The lady is the complementary part of your soul. She will support you upon your journey in the same manner as I supported your steps in our waltz.”

Posted in book release, George Wickham, Jane Austen, Living in the Regency, Pride and Prejudice, publishing, Regency era, Regency romance, Vagary | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

A Walk in Jane Austen’s Shoes, a Guest Post from Sophie Turner

This post originally appeared on Austen Authors on February 16, 2018. I thought you might enjoy the lovely images Ms. Turner shares. 

My series on resort towns and my travels has thus far only tangentially touched on Jane Austen, but in today’s post I want to write about her, particularly her health. You might, as was generally the case for me, think of it as being poor. After all, as Kyra Kramer writes in her guest post here, she was plagued by a somewhat bizarre set of maladies, from ongoing conjunctivitis to having whooping cough as an adult, before dying at the age of 41.

Yet other things suggest she had at least periods of very good health. A fondness for dancing in her youth meant country dances and reels, which require a goodly degree of stamina: they winded even professional dancers when the BBC attempted to recreate the Netherfield Ball. And as I discovered when I attempted to walk where she’d walked, she was much nearer Elizabeth Bennet than Fanny Price, when it came to a ramble.

I keep a running Google Map of all of the places I want to visit in the UK, and at some point Bath had acquired a pin for Charlcombe, based on one of the evening walks Austen took during her time in Bath:

I spent Friday evening with the Mapletons, and was obliged to submit to being pleased in spite of my inclination. We took a very charming walk from six to eight up Beacon Hill, and across some fields, to the village of Charlecombe, which is sweetly situated in a little green valley, as a village with such a name ought to be. Marianne is sensible and intelligent; and even Jane, considering how fair she is, is not unpleasant. We had a Miss North and a Mr. Gould of our party; the latter walked home with me after tea. He is a very young man, just entered Oxford, wears spectacles, and has heard that “Evelina” was written by Dr Johnson.

This made it seem like a pleasant after-dinner stroll, so I thought it would be nice at some point to walk to Charlcombe myself, and during this trip fixed on doing it on a Sunday, my last day in Bath. While “up Beacon Hill” does not suggest the exact path taken by Austen, I’d already been hiking up a portion of that hill to indulge my interest in architecture at other points during my time in Bath, and opted for a path that was a little more around the long way, thinking the grade of the hill would be a little less steep.

Map of the city of Bath. Charlcombe is due north.

It didn’t really matter. Either way you have to go a very long way up the large hill that serves as the basis for Bath’s cascading terraces of houses. By this point in the trip temperatures were un-Englishly warm, going into the 80s, and although I had been routinely doing more than 10,000 steps a day and usually more than 15,000 during my trip, and should have been fit for it, I was an exhausted, sweaty mess by the time I reached the top.

Uphill road into Charlcombe. It’s one of those charming village roads where pedestrians and cars are completely expected to share.

This was no after-dinner stroll, and the aplomb with which Austen writes of it indicates that she must have been incredibly fit by modern standards. This makes sense, when you think about it: in her country life, walking would have been her primary means of getting about, for presumably even when Mr. Austen kept a carriage, the young ladies were not constantly ordering it to go about (like at Longbourn, the horses would have often been needed for the farm). And then in Bath, she must have grown used to walking those hilly streets: one cannot imagine the expense of a chair would have been one commonly borne by the Austens.

The walk, however, was rewarding, both for the spectacular view and for the charming little church there, which had another of those holy wells from the old days of belief that such water had a miraculous rather than secular curative nature.

Church of St. Mary in Charlcombe.
Interior of the church of St. Mary.
Holy well on St. Mary’s grounds.

Charlcombe’s claim to fame, of course, is that Jane Austen once walked there, which says something in and of itself:

Quote from Jane Austen’s letter, at Charlcombe.

As for me, I continued on up the hill to the Hare and Hounds pub, where I enjoyed an even better view and consumed the most-earned Sunday roast I’ve ever had in my life.

View from the pub.

I walked more directly down the hill, down Lansdown Road, judging the grade of the hill and what it must have been like to walk all the way up it. This was further evidence – as though I needed it – of Austen’s fitness.

Old turnpike sign on the Lansdown Road.

Evidence of our dear author’s fitness also appears in her pelisse, which was on display at the Willis Museum in Basingstoke as part of the commemoration of Austen’s death. Based on studies of the pelisse, it’s estimated that Austen was 5’7 to 5’8 tall. It’s important to note that this doesn’t necessarily make her any taller at that time among her peers than someone of that height today (I am 5’8 myself). It’s a common fallacy that people were naturally shorter at that time, perpetuated in part because of the height of the decks of naval ships, which were not low because people were short, but instead low due to the needed weight distribution of the heavy guns; tall decks would have put the center of gravity too high on a ship. There certainly were people who were shorter, due to malnutrition – there were people surviving on bread at this time. But among the middle and upper classes, being as tall as Austen would not have been out of the norm.

As I mentioned, I am 5’8 myself, so it was interesting to look at the pelisse through that lens, and Austen was decidedly thinner than myself. I’d go so far as to say she had a light and pleasing figure!

Pelisse thought to have been worn by Jane Austen.
Pelisse from the back.
Aside from Austen’s pelisse, the exhibit featured other fashions, themed around going to a ball.

I went a number of the Jane Austen 200 exhibits, and also made a return to the house museum in Chawton. This was perhaps not the best year to do so, for it was rather crowded. Still, that gave the place a life, particularly since they were letting folks play the pianoforte (I love it when that’s allowed in historic houses) and it’s amazing to think of just how many people are making this particular pilgrimage.

360 view of Jane and Cassandra’s bedroom.

The walk to the great house. Mrs. Austen and Cassandra are buried in the cemetery on the right.
The house’s Elizabethan exterior.
The great hall at Chawton House.

360 view of the dining room at Chawton House.

Chawton House gallery.

It’s very interesting to walk through these rooms in the house Austen visited frequently during her life in the Chawton cottage. If the cottage was the place where she had her most productive output, was the great house the source of much inspiration, both in its spaces and in the rooms themselves? What heroines might she have envisioned peering out of those mullioned windows? What drama might she have imagined within these rooms?

This, we’ll never know, and alas, I must draw this post to an end with the melancholy promise that my next post will bring us to the inevitable end, for Miss Austen. So I shall see you all next time, when we go to Winchester.

Posted in British history, Georgian England, Guest Post, Jane Austen, Living in the Regency, real life tales, Regency era, Regency personalities | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Very Real” Estate ~ Whitehaven, A Port City on England’s Western Coastline

Whitehaven is a Georgian town situated on the west coast of Cumbria. It was one of the first post-Renaissance planned towns in England. At the end of the 16th Century, Whitehaven consisted of less than a dozen thatched cottages. By the end of the 17th Century, it had a population of 3000 and was the second largest port on England’s western coastline. 


Whitehaven 1873 via Wikipedia

The Lowther family were behind Whitehaven’s steady growth and success. The Lowthers were later the Earls of Lonsdale. It was was their vision for the village turned town turned busy port that turned Whitehaven into a port for shipbuilding and the exportation of Cumberland coal.


Built on the site of a medieval hall is the imposing country house ruin of Lowther Castle. Constructed of calciferous sandstone ashlar, the Castle was the design of the English architect Sir Robert Smirke. Lowther was built between 1806 and 1814 and designed as a majestic castle viewed from the outside and a luxurious contemporary home on the inside.

Sir John Lowther, 2nd Baronet “(9 November 1642 – 17 January 1706) was born at Whitehaven, St Bees, Cumberland, the son of  Sir Christopher Lowther, lst Baronet, and his wife, Frances Lancaster, daughter of Christopher Lancaster of Stockbridge, Westmoreland. He was educated at Ilkley, Yorkshire and Balliol College, Oxford (matriculated 1657) Lowther owned large coal estates near Whitehaven, and worked to develop the mines and the port. He spent over £11,000 in expanding Lowther holdings in the Whitehaven area, concentrating on the acquisition of coal-bearing land, of land which would allow his pits unhampered access to Whitehaven harbour, and land which would hinder the working of others’ pits. This, in turn, allowed him to improve the drainage of his pits, unworried by the thought that he was also draining his neighbours’.  He secured the grant of the right to hold a market and a fair to Whitehaven, and its recognition as a separate customs ‘member-port’ (under the ‘head-port’ of Carlisle) responsible for the Solway coast from Ravenglass to Ellenfoot (later Maryport). He also secured (against a rival grant to the Earl of Carlingford), recognition of his title to the foreshore (land between low-water and high-water) of the manor of St. Bees, containing ‘houses lands staythes & salt pans at Whitehaven’ valued at £400 a year. He oversaw the rise of Whitehaven from a small fishing village (at his birth it consisted of some fifty houses and a population of about 250) to a planned town three times the size of Carlisle. At his death the ‘port of Whitehaven’ had 77 registered vessels, totaling about four thousand tons, and was exporting over 35,000 tons of coal a year.”

Sir John was inspired by Christopher Wren’s designs for the rebuilding of London after the Great Fire of 1666. Wren came up with a plan that laid out the London streets on a grid, rather than have them turn in upon themselves. He also specified the types of houses to be built so that the buildings would not feed each other as they had done in the Great Fire.  Many historians believe that New York’s street system is inspired by Whitehaven’s grid system.


“On Flatt Walks, looking down Lowther Street is Sir John Lowther’s former home, known as “The Castle”since the beginning of the 18th Century. The building became Whitehaven Hospital in 1926, and is now housing. It was designed by Robert Adam, the most fashionable architect of his period.

“The port development was linked to the exploitation of rich local deposits of coal and iron ore. Some coal mines extended for several miles beneath the sea bed. The first undersea mine in England was constructed in Whitehaven in 1729. By 1931 it was the deepest undersea mine anywhere at the time.

“On 17th June 2005 a sculpture was unveiled near the Beacon, as a memorial to the town’s mining history. By Colin Telfer, it is a unique mix of coal, slate and casting resin, and features a pillar of coal with four figures – a deputy overman, representing mine management; a mines rescue man, representing safety and rescue work; a coal face worker, showing manpower; and a screenlass, to illustrate hardship and poverty.

whitehaven-d7-3776.jpg“Whitehaven was the last place in Britain to be attacked by American naval forces. On 23rd April 1778 during the American War of Independence, John Paul Jones arrived in Britain with the intention of setting the whole merchant fleet on fire. The alarm was raised, and he retreated forthwith. Another American link is that Mildred Warner Gale, the grandmother of the American president George Washington, came from Whitehaven. She was buried in the grounds of St Nicholas’ Church,  on 30th January 1700/1. Visitors may climb a narrow spiral stair in the Clock Tower,  to see the workings of the clock, and to see a small display relating to the Gale family.” (Visit Cumbria)

whitehaven-d2-0050.jpg  whitehaven-f90p3.jpg According to Christopher Winn in I Never Knew That About the English, 1729 saw the extension of the Saltom Coal Pit, which is south of Whitehaven out beneath the sea. It was the first coal pit in the world to hold that distinction. Winn goes on to provide us other tidbits of information. For example John Paul Jones, the American privateer during the American War of Independence, had once served as an apprentice in Whitehaven (1749). The Brocklebank Shipping Lines, founded by Daniel Brocklebank in 1782, was the world’s first shipping lines in Whitehaven. 1798 saw the opening of Jefferson’s Wine Merchants on Lowther Street. The business stood for over 200 years in the same shop. Finally, Mildred Gale, who was George Washington’s paternal grandmother, is buried in the churchyard at St Nicholas. Before Mildred was married to George Gale, a sea merchant, she was married to Lawrence Washington, by whom she had three children. 

Posted in American History, British history, buildings and structures, Living in the UK, real life tales | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments