Dec 15th: Daughters of the Winter Queen by Nancy Goldstone

“From the great courts, glittering palaces, and war-ravaged battlefields of the seventeenth century comes the story of four spirited sisters and their glamorous mother, Elizabeth Stuart, granddaughter of the martyred Mary, Queen of Scots.

Upon her father’s ascension to the illustrious throne of England, Elizabeth Stuart was suddenly thrust from the poverty of unruly Scotland into the fairy-tale existence of a princess of great wealth and splendor. When she was married at sixteen to a German count far below her rank, it was with the understanding that her father would help her husband achieve the kingship of Bohemia. The terrible betrayal of this commitment would ruin “the Winter Queen,” as Elizabeth would forever be known, imperil the lives of those she loved, and launch a war that would last for thirty years.

Forced into exile, the Winter Queen and her family found refuge in Holland, where the glorious art and culture of the Dutch Golden Age indelibly shaped her daughters’ lives. Her eldest, Princess Elizabeth, became a scholar who earned the respect and friendship of the philosopher René Descartes. Louisa was a gifted painter whose engaging manner and appealing looks provoked heartache and scandal. Beautiful Henrietta Maria would be the only sister to marry into royalty, although at great cost. But it was the youngest, Sophia, a heroine in the tradition of a Jane Austen novel, whose ready wit and good-natured common sense masked immense strength of character, who fulfilled the promise of her great-grandmother Mary and reshaped the British monarchy, a legacy that endures to this day.

Brilliantly researched and captivatingly written, filled with danger, treachery, and adventure but also love, courage, and humor, Daughters of the Winter Queen follows the lives of five remarkable women who, by refusing to surrender to adversity, changed the course of history.” (Amazon blurb).

Why read Daughters of the Winter Queen?

daughters of the winter queenI’ve spent a lot of time thinking about 17th Century women over the years – from Madame de Montespan in Charlatan to Anne Thompson in The Road to Newgate but I realise I know very little about these lovely ladies – the granddaughter and great-granddaughters of Mary Queen of Scots.

This fits right in with my interest in famous sisters (have I mentioned that lately??) and, of course, my love of Scottish History.

Will be reading this one sooner rather than later!

Day 10: The History of Underclothes

“Underwear — practical garments with a utilitarian function or body coverings that serve an erotic purpose? As this fascinating and intelligently written study shows, the role played by underclothing over the last several centuries has been a varied one.
In a well-documented, profusely illustrated volume combining impressive scholarship with an entertaining, often humorous style, two distinguished clothing historians consider undergarments worn by the English over the past 600 years. Beginning with the Middle Ages, the authors cover centuries of clothing history, including the Tudor period, the Restoration, the Victorian and Edwardian eras, and the twentieth century up to the eve of World War II. Drawing on extensive, research, the Cunningtons illuminate the role and function of underwear: it protected the wearer against the elements, supported costume shapes, served as an erotic stimulus, symbolized class distinctions, and fulfilled other social, sanitary, and economic functions.
Enhancing the detailed, comprehensive text are more than 100 period illustrations and photographs depicting a laced-up bodice of the twelfth century, embroidered linen drawers of the sixteenth century, a hooped petticoat support in bentwood (c. 1750), footed long drawers (1795), nineteenth-century bustles, early nineteenth-century corsets for men, “Frillies for the Tiny Lady” (1939), and much more. A bibliography, appendix, and index complete a valuable reference work that will appeal to costume historians, sociologists, and other readers.” (Amazon blurb)

Why read The History of Underclothes?

history of underclothesDo I even need to answer that? I can’t wait to read this book. Even if I’m not planning on mentioning my character’s underwear, I really think I ought to know what’s going on (or not) in this department. I’ve recently ‘jumped’ period and been writing a novel set in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries so I’ve had a lot of new stuff to learn. One of the things I like about this new book is that the two time periods – although only thirty years apart – are quite different. Think cars, the telephone, electric light. But also think goodbye corsets and hello bras. I’ve had a lot of ground to cover and definitely think I could do with this book to make sure I’m not making any major gaffes. Plus what if I jump period again? Maybe back in time, I’m thinking. Way back. Watch this space…

Day 9: The Witches by Stacy Schiff

“The panic began early in 1692, over an exceptionally raw Massachusetts winter, when a minister’s niece began to writhe and roar. It spread quickly, confounding the most educated men and prominent politicians in the colony. Neighbors accused neighbors, husbands accused wives, parents and children one another. It ended less than a year later, but not before nineteen men and women had been hanged and an elderly man crushed to death.Speaking loudly and emphatically, adolescent girls stood at the center of the crisis. Along with suffrage and Prohibition, the Salem witch trials represent one of the few moments when women played the central role in American history. Drawing masterfully on the archives, Stacy Schiff introduces us to the strains on a Puritan adolescent’s life and to the authorities whose delicate agendas were at risk. She illuminates the demands of a rigorous faith, the vulnerability of settlements adrift from the mother country, perched-at a politically tumultuous time-on the edge of what a visitor termed a “remote, rocky, barren, bushy, wild-woody wilderness.”With devastating clarity, the textures and tensions of colonial life emerge; hidden patterns subtly, startlingly detach themselves from the darkness. Schiff brings early American anxieties to the fore to align them brilliantly with our own. In an era of religious provocations, crowdsourcing, and invisible enemies, this enthralling story makes more sense than ever.” (Amazon blurb)

Why read The Witches?
thewitchesFor me, first off, I want to read this because this is ‘my’ period. I’ve written two book sets in the 17th Century – one in Paris and one in London – and it would make a lot of sense to continue by writing a novel about the Salem witches. But… I feel like it has already been done. Oh and then there’s the fact that I’m just polishing my third book which isn’t set in the 17th Century at all so maybe it’s not ‘my’ period any more!
But (again) I do have a fondness for anything with witches and particularly the Salem lot since my husband and I aged 14 or 15 had to act out the parts of Proctor and Annabel in The Crucible in English class – way back when we had of course no clue we’d get married and have 3 kids together. And then there’s my side project on sisters. The Towne Sisters are a definite for that piece of work and so Stacy Schiff’s book is near the top of my planned reading pile for 2019!

Dec 2: The Sugar Barons by Matthew Parker

“For 200 years after 1650 the West Indies were the most fought-over colonies in the world, as Europeans made and lost immense fortunes growing and trading in sugar – a commodity so lucrative that it was known as white gold.

Young men, beset by death and disease, an ocean away from the moral anchors of life in Britain, created immense dynastic wealth but produced a society poisoned by war, sickness, cruelty and corruption.

The Sugar Barons explores the lives and experiences of those whose fortunes rose and fell with the West Indian empire. From the ambitious and brilliant entrepreneurs, to the grandees wielding power across the Atlantic, to the inheritors often consumed by decadence, disgrace and madness, this is the compelling story of how a few small islands and a handful of families decisively shaped the British Empire.” (Amazon blurb)

 

Screen Shot 2018-12-01 at 9.34.06 PMWhy read The Sugar Barons?

This book was recommended to me recently by my father-in-law and he was really enthusiastic about it. Of course, I love the period – 17th & 18th centuries – and the transatlantic aspect really appeals to me as a Brit living in the States. I’m also pretty sucked in by the subtitle: Family, Corruption, Empire and War.

One of the reviews I read has this line which really is what I’m always looking for when I’m first getting to know a period/event:

What I really enjoy about Mathew Parker’s style is his ingenious way of getting you hooked with one or two personal stories of individuals and families; And once he has you, the process of historical extrapolation becomes much more readable.”

Definitely think this is the kind of book that might inspire a really fascinating historical novel…