Heirs and Spares

Houghton ExteriorNicola here, talking slightly tongue-in-cheek about a certain trope in fiction, that of birth order. The concept of the “heir and the spare” is something that has been discussed quite a lot lately and it’s a theme that those of us who read historical romance are very familiar with. The noble family is desperate to have an heir (usually male, since women can’t inherit the majority of British titles) and that person will be expected to carry on the traditions of the family, inherit the title and any entailed fortune that goes with it. They will be in line to take the responsibility for the crumbling stately pile and if it really is crumbling, find an heiress whose inheritance fortunately comes from trade or some other source, to prop it up. It feels like a heavy weight for the heir to carry. The emphasis here is on responsibility and continuity. However, there’s a snag. What if something happens to the heir? Then you will need a spare – two boys at least – to ensure the continuation of the family line. So, to be on the safe side, most families try not to stop at one.

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A Tale of Two Kings

Buckingham Palace in the snowLast week, on a cold and snowy morning, I went up to Buckingham Palace to visit an exhibition in the Queen’s Gallery. It was a brisk walk across Green Park (I hadn’t seen London in the snow for years) and I pitied the poor little green parakeets that live there. London isn’t exactly prime parakeet climate at the best of times and I imagine they are shivering at the moment.

There was a big crowd at Buckingham Palace for the changing of the guard, but we were heading around the side to the gallery entrance to see “Charles II: Art and Power.” This was a companion exhibition to the one I had seen a couple of weeks earlier at the Royal Academy which focussed on King Charles I.

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The Return of the Codpiece

PeacockNicola here, wondering if there are any fashion items from centuries gone by that are so outrageous they could never make a come back. Last week I read a very interesting article about the hot new trend for feather hair extensions. Peacock feathers are especially popular and as the trend grows from simple feathers to grand pieces, I'm reminded of those extraordinary creations made with ostrich plumes that ladies wore in the 18th century. It might not be long before we see those again. 

But surely there are some things that could never come back into fashion. Take the codpiece, for Henry8codpiece example. A codpiece is defined as a pouch attached to a man's breeches or close-fitting hose to cover the genitals, worn in the 15th and 16th centuries. Here is a picture of Henry VIII wearing one of his; this is relatively modest. There are some truly frightening images out there.

Originally the codpiece was designed specifically to hide the genitals when a man was mounting his horse. It’s a pouch, richly embroidered and lavishly upholstered, its shape deliberately designed to suggest virility. The codpiece was not anatomically correct (!) but the large size was intended to intimidate other men rather than impress women. A huge codpiece suggested that here was a man who could stand up and sport a pair of well-filled hose. Not only that, but it had a practical use as well. A man could keep his keys or coins in it.

Inevitably, there are records of men childishly competing to see who could create the best codpiece shadow until this was banned after ladies complained of what a chronicler of the time called "a very long and lewd codpiece of a barbarous and very impolite shape.” The codpiece died out in the 16th century but I doubt it's ever going to be forgotten.

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Oranges and Lemons, Say the Bells of St. Clements

The oraOrangeBloss_wbnge is another of those marvelous botanical productions of the Orient, like lychees and tea and peaches. They’ve been cultivated in China for four thousand years, in several varieties. The bitter or sour orange, Citrus aurantium– what we’d call a Seville orange — made a complicated journey overland to Europe, piggybacking its way from the Middle East to Italy and Spain with the returning Crusaders.

The Wine Glass over the Water

. . . talking about an interesting sort of drinking glass our hero and heroine might have encountered in their travels through Georgian or Regency England. The Jacobite Drinking Glass.