Titles – It’s different for girls

The royal weddingNicola here! Today I’m dipping into the subject of titles
once again. This is a hot topic in the UK at the moment because there is a bill
before parliament to change the laws of succession to the throne. You would
think in this day and age that a proposal to change the law to allow a
first-born princess to take the throne with precedence over a younger brother
would not be controversial. Not so. It has stirred up a great deal of debate,
not least as to whether the same rules should apply to the aristocracy.

 Kings are different

The rules pertaining to the succession to the monarchy have
always been different from those that apply
William Rufus
to aristocratic titles. At present
succession to the British throne is by what is called male-preference cognatic
primogeniture. This means that if the reigning monarch has a son, he will
inherit regardless of whether he has elder sisters. If there is no male heir
then the eldest daughter will succeed as in the case of the current Queen. This
wasn’t always the case, of course. Originally in England and Scotland there
were no fixed rules governing succession to the throne. Witness William the
Conqueror willing the throne to his second son William Rufus whilst his eldest
son Robert got the Duchy of Normandy. Robert didn’t like it, and invaded, but
he was paid off. Then there was the anarchy when Henry I named his daughter
Matilda as his successor but his nephew Stephen took the throne instead.
Stephen and Matilda fought it out over a period of years and it was her son,
not his, who inherited next. Richard II named his nephew Arthur as his heir
rather than his younger brother John. Then there were all the primogeniture
squabbles of the Wars of the Roses. A little known fact is that Henry VIII’s
will proposed that his daughter Elizabeth should be succeeded by Lady Anne
Stanley, descendent of his sister Mary, Duchess of Suffolk and Charles Brandon.
That, of course, never happened.

Out of all this confusion came the Act of Settlement of 1701
which still governs succession to the throne, with various other pieces of
legislation also in effect. The current amendment proposes that the first-born
child of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (Prince William and Princess Kate)
should one day inherit the throne regardless of whether it is a girl or a boy.

The oldest of the old boys’ clubs

In contrast to the monarchy, inheritance in the aristocracy
has in the main part been governed by male primogeniture. This means that in
most cases the title – and the entire estate – descends in the male line only to
the exclusion of women. So if the Duke of Dastardly has six daughters and no
sons then his title will go to his eldest surviving brother and from there to
the brother’s sons. If there are no close male relatives it will go to the
fifth cousin twice removed rather than to the daughters.

Inspiration for Plots

Lady MaryWe all understand this. It is the basis of any number of
plots in historical fiction. The Downton Abbey story begins with the fact that
the Earl of Grantham has three daughters and no son, his close male heir is drowned
in the Titanic and the title is going to descend to Matthew, a distant relative
and (shock, horror!) a member of the middle classes who works for a living. How
different it would all have been if Lady Mary Crawley had been the heir!

Then there is Pride and Prejudice. The only reason that the
odious Mr Collins is sniffing around Longbourn is because he is Mr Bennet’s
heir. The five Bennet daughters cannot inherit the estate. So Mr Collins is
looking to smooth matters over by marrying one of them. Implicit in this is the
idea that as he is taking their inheritance, one of his responsibilities is to
look after the disenfranchised females of the family.

The idea of male primogeniture is pretty heavily embedded in
a lot of families, witness the number of aristocrats who keep on having
children until there is a male heir. I loved the story of the Sackville-Wests.
In 1954 Lionel Sackville-West and his wife Jacobine had their first daughter.
Lionel’s great-aunt Vita, who had been barred from the succession because she
was female, wrote to congratulate them. When a second daughter was born she
wrote to say how lovely it was that the first had a playmate and hoped that
they weren’t too disappointed she wasn’t a boy. By the birth of a fifth
daughter, all she could find to say was “oh dear.”

Male primogeniture is a fruitful source of plot ideas for a
historical romance writer. The idea of the spirited but penniless daughter in
conflict with the new heir is a very powerful one and it’s one of my
favourites. And of course any change to succession laws now would make no
difference to what happened historically. (Though wouldn’t it be fun if all the
heirs in the female line came forward to make a claim on their inheritance!)
According to an account I read recently, opinion within the ranks of the
aristocracy seems split on whether or not it would be a good thing to change
the laws of inheritance. More than one duke has deemed it a good idea.  Some have suggested that daughters should be
allowed to inherit only if there is no son. Others have rejected the idea
outright, warning that it would lead to the break up of landed estates. Some,
rather bravely in the current climate, have stuck to the traditional view that
all men (and women) are not equal, that women are not as good at running
estates and that “the first duty of a married woman is to have babies.” To
which I can only say – well, it’s a point of view.

Girls can multitask

Arguably the case of the traditionalists is weakened by the
fact that there are already titles and estates
Wrest Park with provision to descend down
the female line. There aren’t a huge number of them but they do exist. I came
across one the other day when I was visiting Wrest Park in Bedfordshire. Wrest
had been in the De Grey family for over 600 years. During that time there were
a number of female heirs in the succession including Jemima Campbell,
Marchioness Grey in the Georgian era, her daughter Amabel Yorke, Countess de
Grey, her granddaughter Anne Florence De Grey and her granddaughter Nan
Herbert, Baroness Lucas. The estate at Wrest passed from the family not because
of female inheritance but because like many others it was simply too huge and
expensive to maintain after the First World War.

Forbidden_350In Forbidden I turned the male primogeniture plot around and
had a title and estate that could pass in the female line. The heroine returns
from the dead to dispossess the male heir. Perhaps it says something about me
and the heroines I enjoy writing that I really loved putting a strong heroine
into a situation where she was only doing what the men were habitually doing!

So what do you think? Do you enjoy stories where male
primogeniture leads to daughters losing out on inheriting a title and estate?
Does the inequality of it bother you in a historical context or does it lead to
good conflict in a story? And do you think that in the real world, daughters
should be allowed to inherit the dukedom?

The Life of the Lady’s Maid

Forbidden_350Nicola here. The third series of Downton Abbey starts in the UK this week and so today I thought I would look at the role of the lady’s
maid. The lady’s maid has frequently had a bad press. Dramatists of the 18th
century portrayed her as a vain, twittering creature. Lower servants tended to
dislike the lady’s maid, partly for her affectations to gentility and partly
for the fact that she had the ear of the mistress of the house. Certainly in Downton Abbey Lady Grantham's maid O'Brien is a complicated and interesting creation who reflects many of these elements but has a few saving graces. However the
role of a lady’s maid was an exacting one.

 The maid of all work

 Margery, the heroine of my latest book, Forbidden, was a
lady’s maid when her life was turned upside down with a sudden and unexpected
inheritance. It was interesting to study the sort of work Margery did and the
way her life had progressed up until that point in order to see how
dramatically it would change with her elevation to the Ton.

Margery’s story is fictitious, of course, but it is based on
the kind of life any number of women might
Laundry duty have had in service at the turn of
the 19th century. She started her working career at the age of
twelve as a maid of all work in a modest household in a small country town.
(Her back story is given in an earlier book in the Scandalous Women of the Ton
series, One Wicked Sin.) Her employer, Mrs Goodlake, was the wife of a
successful tradesman. As such Mrs Goodlake had a small staff, much smaller than
one would find in a grand country house. Rather than having a specific
function, such as scullery maid or housemaid, Margery had to turn her hand to
most jobs, from working in the kitchens to carrying the water up to the
bedrooms. These “general maids” played the part of housemaid, parlour maid and
cook as the need arose. Whilst a nobleman and his family might employ twenty or
more indoor servants (there were, for example, twenty eight indoor servants at
Ashdown House in the Regency period) a gentry or middle class household might
be able to afford only two or three.

The fact the Margery could turn her hand to anything came in
useful when she went to work for Lottie in One Wicked Sin. Lottie had a small
cottage and only one female servant to answer the door, do the cooking and take
care of just about everything else. Margery performed much the same role for
Susanna in Notorious. The benefit of such a role was that she became close to
her employers and was warmly appreciated, as much a friend as an employee. It
was through the connections of these ladies that Margery progressed in her
career because next she went to be lady’s maid to the Marchioness of Darent and
then to Lady Grant and so became a senior servant in a large household at the tender
age of only twenty three, with the potential to become a housekeeper in good
time. This was a huge leap for maid-of-all-work.

The Senior Servant

The lady's maidA lady’s maid was a personal servant and as such was senior,
highly-prized and comparatively well paid. One of the perks of being a lady’s maid was that you received your mistress’s cast off clothes to wear or sell as you pleased (which gave Margery the original idea for exchanging her confectionery for cast offs in the bawdy house.) A noblewoman of the highest rank
might in fact possess several personal servants. In 1772 the Duchess of Marlborough had a lady’s maid, three housemaids, two footmen and a male French
hairdresser in her personal entourage. The hairdresser was very skilled and
earned £42 per annum, almost at the top of the servant pecking order, but more modest households than Blenheim Palace would expect the lady's maid to pick up the hairdressing responsibilities. 

So what were the requirements of a good lady’s maid? She had
to be discreet, cheerful, obedient, healthy enough to be able to work long
hours, considerate enough not to fall asleep on her employer in the carriage,
virtuous enough to withstand the attention of male servants, honest enough to
care for the jewellery, educated enough to read to her mistress, and have an expert
knowledge of needlework, hairdressing and fashion. In return she would be rewarded with a room of her
own, she would take her meals with the housekeeper and in a superior household
she would be expected to attend only one lady. 

Contemporary opinions on the nationality of lady’s maids are
very amusing. French maids were considered to be the height of chic for their
fashion sense and their skill with a needle and comb. However in times of war
they were a liability in case their loyalties were compromised. Swiss maids
were considered safer and more trustworthy but were criticised for lacking

The lady’s maid had to dress, undress and re-dress her
mistress as many times as was necessary during
Tight_lacing the day. She would lay out her
mistress’s clothes in the morning and tidy the room after the mistress was
dressed. She would then occupy her day with sewing and ironing unless required
to accompany her mistress on an outing. She repeated these activities during
the day as required until it was time for her mistress to retire to bed,
whereupon she would brush her hair for a half hour as well as help her undress.
It doesn’t sound very exciting unless one was maid to a lady who travelled a
great deal, in which case you would get to see the world.

One aspect of the maid’s work that did sound rather more
interesting was the creation of various concoctions to help a lady with
problems such as freckles and sunburn. These potions would be made in the
stillroom using anything from herbs such as lavender and rosemary to milk,
lemons, lard and bullocks’ gall, which the housemaids also used to clean

A lady dressingA rather sad reflection on the role of the lady’s maid comes
from one contemporary writer: “Your elevation into comfort and luxury – your
better clothes, your seat in the dressing room and in your master’s carriage –
are only circumstances in your service and are not given to you to last…” It is
a clear indication that as a lady’s maid got older not all could rely on the
loyalty of their mistress in keeping them at her side.

Some lady’s maids did become housekeepers but this was not common
and it was a promotion resented by the housemaids who felt that they had more
appropriate experience. Some also married above their station but again they
were warned on the dangers and temptations: “If you have any personal
attractions, beware of the least familiarity with any of the gentlemen of the
family. Anything of the kind will lead to improper consequences.”

AbigailI have collected a pretty extensive collection of books
about life below stairs and it was fun to be able to draw on this for the
background to Forbidden. It was such a different world from that of high
society and to explore it gives a very different perspective of Regency
society. It also emphasises how different life was with servants in the sense that there was a lack of privacy that was taken for granted at the time whereas these days many of us would shudder at the thought of a personal maid who had so much intimate knowledge about persons and our lives! I think I would much prefer to have been an outdoor servant (if only they had employed women gardeners) or perhaps the stillroom maid!

Do you think you would you have enjoyed any of the roles in the Servants' Hall? Do you have the skills – or the patience – to ba a lady's maid? Would you have preferred living in a large aristocratic household or a small one?

Forbidden: The Last Scandalous Woman of the Ton!

Forbidden - USNicola here! Tomorrow sees the official publication of Forbidden, the
last in my Scandalous Women of the Ton series (although the book has been
sighted online and in various retailers already!) It’s been huge fun to write
this series and I can’t quite believe that it’s over. I started with the idea –
inspired by my research – that during the Regency period there were many women
doing extraordinary and exciting things such as travelling and working for a
living which would also have been considered scandalous at the time. I also
threw in some more “conventional” scandals – a heroine who had been divorced
and now, in this final book, a pretender.

The Tichborne Claimant

There have been pretenders to titles for as long
as there have been titles. There have been pretenders
Orton (1) to thrones: Perkin
Warbeck, who claimed to be (and may well have been) Richard Plantagenet the
younger son of King Edward IV. One of my favourite books, Brat Farrar by
Josephine Tey, deals with a young man who claims to be the long lost son of a family who thought that he was dead. On Friday, Wench Jo blogged about
a different sort of pretender, Princess Caraboo. And there is the case of the
Tichborne claimant, which was the case that inspired me.

Roger Tichborne was born in 1829, the eldest son
of Sir James Tichborne. In 1854 the ship he was sailing on to the West Indies
foundered and it was presumed that all on board were lost. Roger was declared
dead and his younger brother inherited the title. Roger’s mother, however, was
certain that her son was still alive and placed advertisements in the national
and international press seeking information about her son. Eventually in 1866 a
man contacted Lady Tichborne from Australia, claiming to be Roger. He said that
he had been rescued from the wreck, taken to Australia, where he had become a
postman and a butcher. His story seemed very unlikely but was given credence by
the fact that Roger Tichborne had suffered from a genital malformation and so
did the claimant. Lady Tichborne was certain that he was her lost son.

“Roger” came to England with his wife and child and set out
to prove his case in the courts. In both a civil and subsequent criminal trial
he was identified not as Roger Tichborne but as Arthur Orton (pictured on the right) son of a ship’s
victualler from Wapping. You can read more about the case here. Roger/Arthur
ended up as a celebrity and a music hall act!

Would you like to win the lottery?

Cakes and pastriesIn Forbidden, Margery isn’t really a pretender to the
Earldom of Templemore because she never sets out to claim it for herself. It is
other people who identify her as the heir. In fact in the first twist to the
story Margery is actually pretty happy with her life as it stands – she may be
a maidservant but she is a senior one and she has plans to open a
confectioner’s shop when she has saved enough money. One of the ideas I enjoyed
playing with was that perhaps being the most sought-after heiress in the Ton
isn’t all a bed of roses. Some people have suggested to me that it’s unrealistic
that Margery wouldn’t be thrilled to discover she’s granddaughter to an Earl
but I’m not sure it’s so straightforward. To me it’s a similar thing to winning
the lottery. Yes, it would be great in some ways but it would change your life
completely and not all of that would necessarily be good. In Margery’s case as
well she had so much more freedom as a maidservant that she does as a
closely-chaperoned heiress. Suddenly she is a Regency celebrity, a Cause
Celebre, the heiress who has come back from the dead. It’s a huge shock to
someone who is a very private person, who has grown up in a close-knit family
which turns out not to be her family at all. I think that would be an enormous adjustment for anyone to make and there would be times when you would wish you
could just go back to the way things used to be.

 The Fairy Tale

Buscot HouseThere is also a fairy tale element in the transformation of
a maidservant into a Cinderella and I had a lot of fun with Margery’s new
wardrobe and all the other trappings of her new life. I gave her a beautiful
country house to live in, based on Buscot Park (in the picture) packed full of
priceless objects. Margery doesn’t care for it too much because it
feels like a mausoleum to her. There’s a twist in the fairy tale, though: in
becoming the heiress, Margery displaces Henry, her very own Prince Charming,
because he was heir to the estate until she was found. So as her fortunes rise,
Henry’s fall. I liked that Henry paid the price for Margery’s social rise
(maybe I just enjoy making my hero’s life as difficult as possible!) and Margery's wealth and Henry's fall become a big
stumbling block in their relationship because Henry is not
the sort of man who wants to appear a fortune hunter.

 A note on titles

I'm expecting some comments along the lines of "a woman can't inherit a British title – can she?" because this does confuse some readers. I made Margery heiress to a title that could be inherited in
the female line. Most British titles “remainder” as it is called to male heirs
(hence the whole inheritance plot at the centre of Downton Abbey) but it is
entirely possible for a woman to inherit if that has been agreed when the title
was originally established. In this case a title would pass to a female heir if
a peer has daughters but no sons (or in this case, a granddaughter.) Again Wench Jo give more information here.

 To add to the confusion, Margery’s real name is Lady
Marguerite and she has the prefix of “lady” because her father was a French
Count and so as a courtesy she is granted the same title as the daughter of an
Earl would have. Phew!

Golden slipperHere’s an extract from Forbidden:

“Thank you for your kindness,”
she said quickly, “but there was no need-” She stopped abruptly as Henry took
her hand. Her breath caught in her throat. Her pulse fluttered.

“No need to see you again?” He
said softly. His thumb brushed her gloved palm and she shivered.  She felt hot and melting, trembling on the
edge of something sweet and dangerous. “But perhaps,” Henry said,  “I am here by choice. Perhaps I am here
because I wanted to see you.”

Margery closed her eyes against
the seduction of his words. She wondered if she had run mad. Maybe there would
be a full moon tonight to account for her foolishness. For she knew she was
being very, very foolish.  There was nothing
more imprudent than a maidservant who succumbed to wicked temptation and a
rake’s charm. Margery knew exactly what Granny Mallon would say. She could hear
her grandmother’s words as clearly as though she was standing there.

“You mark my words, my
girl. You’re asking for trouble and you’ll get all you ask for and more.”

Trouble. She knew exactly the sort of trouble that might take
place between a man and a woman and it had never tempted her before. Now she
craved it.

Her life had always been busy but
somehow it had lacked excitement. All the adventures had happened to other
people. She had merely watched. But tonight felt different. For a little while
at least she was having a small adventure of her own and she was going to enjoy
it. She would be careful. And she would make sure she did not get into trouble
no matter how tempted she might be.

She took the arm that Henry
offered her and they started to walk again, more slowly this time, her hand tucked
confidingly into the crook of his elbow. She had thought it would feel like
walking with Jem or another of her brothers. She could not have been more
wrong. Even through the barrier of her glove she could feel the smoothness of
Henry’s sleeve beneath her fingers and beneath that the hardness of muscle. The
sensation distracted her; she realised that Henry had asked her a question and
that she had failed to answer.

“I beg your pardon?”

“I asked where we were going.”
Henry sounded amused, as though he had guessed the cause of her disturbance.
She blushed to imagine that he knew the effect he had on her.

I am going to Bedford
Square Gardens.” Margery said. She hesitated and cast him a shy glance at him
from beneath her lashes. “I suppose you may accompany me if you wish.”

He slanted a smile down at her
and her wayward heart did another little skip. “That,” he said, “would be
entirely delightful. Do you go there often?”

“As often as I have an evening
free and good weather,” Margery said.

“Alone?” Henry said.

“Of course I go alone,” Margery
said. “It is only a step. I am not going to sit inside on a beautiful evening
because I lack a suitable escort.”

Henry’s lips twitched. “How very
practical of you,” he murmured. “I hope that you are not troubled by importunate
men when you are out alone.”

Margery looked at him. “Only
tonight,” she said dryly.

His smile was rueful. “Touché,”
he said.

“It is not a problem because I do
nothing to draw attention to myself,” Margery said. “A maidservant is nothing
more than a fool if she does. Besides-” She stopped on the edge of further
confession. It seemed fatally easy to confide in Mr Henry Ward.

Henry looked at her. “What is
it?” He asked.

Margery blushed. “Oh, it is

“You were going to say that no
one notices you,” Henry said. “But I do. I see you.”

They had stopped walking, though
Margery had not realised. “How did you know?” She demanded. “How did you know I
was going to say that?”

Henry smiled. He put his fingers
beneath her chin and tilted her face up to his. Margery met his eyes and felt
fear as well as excitement shimmer down her spine. There was something in his
expression that was as bright and hot and searing as on the night in the
brothel. She shivered.

“You are always trying to hide,”
Henry said quietly, “but you cannot hide from me. I noticed you from
Forbidden_350 the

I am offering a copy of Forbidden to one commenter between
now and midnight Tuesday. The question: How would you feel if your life changed
overnight as Margery’s does – if you inherited a fortune, won the lottery or
became a celebrity? What would you do with your new-found money or fame? Or
would you prefer your life to stay just as it is?

And So to Bed

Forbidden_350Nicola here. 

“Margery slipped from the vast bed – it had almost engulfed her and the mattress was so soft…”

Last night as I was lying in my bed with soft feather pillows but a very hard mattress, I thought about beds in general and beds in historical romances in particular. I almost always model the beds in my stories on ones I’ve seen in stately homes so they are usually grand testers or fourposters with embroidered hangings. I tend to make them huge as well, which isn’t strictly accurate since the beds I’ve seen in the majority of grand houses are pretty small, possibly too small to share comfortably and so high you might roll out if you indulged in any strenuous activity!

Margery, the heroine of my new book Forbidden, out later this month, is a former maidservant. As such she has been accustomed to sleeping in a narrow bed in an attic room shared with other maids. Elizabeth of Bohemia's bed
When she was promoted to be a lady’s maid she had her own small bedroom near that of her mistress. It is only when Margery goes to her grandfather’s stately home, Templemore, that she is given an entire suite of rooms of her own, and a bed like a huge galleon that she, a small woman, almost gets lost in. I used the suite of rooms that I stayed in at Coombe Abbey to inspire me. This was the bed (in the photo on the right) and I didn't get a wink of sleep because I fully expected the ghosts of previous occupants of the house to waft past at any moment!


Servant's bedroomIn contrast, I’ve seen servants’ bedrooms at Ashdown House and they were tiny. In fact they weren’t really bedrooms at all, just narrow strips of space partitioned off from one large open attic. There was little privacy, but then no one expected it. This servant's bedroom in another National Trust house is palatial in comparison.

 The Tudor Bed

In Medieval and Tudor times the bed was one of the most valuable items in a household so when Mary Queen of Scots bedroom
Shakespeare left his best bed to his daughter and heir and only his second best bed to his wife that would have been totally understandable to his contemporaries. Beds from this period were usually “box beds” with rope stretchers that supported boards on which the mattress would lie. They had to be tightened regularly (from which we get the saying “sleep tight” and the bed itself was too complicated a contraption to move so it remained in the chamber whilst all the movable pieces – hangings, mattresses, pillows, bed linen – travelled around with the family. Servants tended to have pallet to sleep on in the same room or a truckle bed that pulled out from beneath the main bed. The hangings started off separate from the bed, hanging from hooks on the ceiling, but soon became a part of the bed structure. This is a picture of Mary Queen of Scots' bedroom from my recent visit to Holyroodhouse Palace. (Incidentally the "state bed" of a monarch was not a functional bed as such, but a representation of royalty. No one, whatever their rank, was allowed to lean on Henry’s VIII’s bedpost because it represented the royal person. The state bed was used for the ritual of going to bed in the evening and rising in the morning, but then the monarch would often slip away to a smaller, more comfortable bed elsewhere!)

The best mattresses were sacks of wool that were stuffed with down and feathers, although other stuffings including straw, gorse, seaweed and wigs (yes, really) have all been found in medieval mattresses. I’ve tried straw mattresses and found them very prickly. Gorse, I imagine would be unbearably scratchy and I can’t imagine anyone wanting to lie on it and even the best feather mattresses I have sampled from this period were very lumpy but then I am like the Princess and the Pea, a very poor sleeper.

Of course the average person had only a pallet on the floor of a cottage to sleep on. Babies slept in drawers and people shared beds not from choice but because they had no choice. I do wonder if I had been a medieval peasant whether I would have got used to sleeping in very cramped conditions. I suspect I would probably have been so tired all the time that I would have been able to sleep anywhere!

The Great Bed of Ware

The great bed of wareOne of my favourite beds is the "great bed of Ware", which was built in the Elizabethan period. It is almost ten feet wide and was probably built not to sleep in but as a tourist attraction for an inn in Ware, Hertfordshire. Shakespeare used is as a byword for hugeness in Twelfth Night and 26 butchers and their wives allegedy spent the night in it for a bet in 1689. It was made of oak and was therefore considered only "middling grand" because the best beds of the time were made of walnut.


The Regency Experience

 In a previous blog post I noted how surprised I was that when I visited the Georgian House in Ashdown bedroom Edinburgh the main bedchamber was on the ground floor and also doubled up as a parlour for receiving guests. I also visited Newhailes, a Georgian country house on the outskirts of the city where the "best bedroom" was also on the ground floor in a room off the drawing room.  By the Regency period, however, most houses had all their bedrooms upstairs and had moved away from the idea of bedrooms as public spaces to ideas of privacy. (The photo shows one of the interconnecting bedrooms at Ashdown, built in the 17th century when you would still expect someone to wander through your room on their way somewhere else!) Regency beds tended to be high because of the very fat mattresses and feather bolsters, and steps were provided to help you climb in.

A word about marriage beds (most appropriately for a historical romance blog.) The colour green was associated with Venus, the goddess of love, and therefore many bridal beds were hung with green. I also love the tradition of decorating the marriage bed with violets and jasmine. That would have smelled beautiful.

The last word on bedchambers goes to Margery, who is driven out of her bedchamber at Templemore when her bed hangings catch fire after she falls asleep reading in bed. The terrifying Dowager Lady Wardeaux offers her a new bedchamber:

"Eventually Margery was installed in the North Tower room, a circular chamber with walls covered in yet more family portraits and a spiral stair leading down to the ground.

“I wanted something smaller,” she wailed, feeling like a marble rattling around in a huge box.

“I’ve explained that there is nothing smaller,” Lady Wardeaux said with barely concealed exasperation. “We do not have small rooms here at Templemore.”

I hope I am not being too personal when I enquire into your sleep preferences! Do you sleep like a log or catnap lightly? Are you a feather mattress sort of person or would you like to try gorse (perfect for Scottish heroes and heroines?) Do you prefer Victorian brass or wooden fourposters?  

Forbidden Inspiration!

Forbidden - US My current work in progress is the final book in my Scandalous Women of the Ton series. Here is a sneak peek of the cover!  I hope you like it. I think it looks gorgeous! For this book, Forbidden, I have a heroine who unexpectedly inherits both an estate and a title. I’m braced for those readers who will tell me that it isn’t possible for women to inherit titles. In fact it is, as I’m sure you know. In the British peerage there are by my reckoning currently nine females who hold their title in their own right through inheritance, and throughout history there have been quite a number.

When I was researching an estate on which to base Templemore, the Earldom in the book, I wanted to find an existing estate that could be inherited in the female line and to my surprise found one just down the road from me in Wiltshire. The Manor of Savernake has not been bought or sold for a thousand years and the estate has passed down from father or mother to son or daughter during that time. I blogged about my visit to Savernake on my own blog a while ago but here is an updated blog post with additional material from a recent visit I made there.


There aren't many places in England (as opposed to the UK) where you can still get lost in a wilderness Savernake 1 and there are even fewer ancient forests where you can wander for hours without seeing another person. Savernake Forest is one of those few remaining places. It forms a large part of the Savernake estate, which currently belongs to the Earl of Cardigan.

No one can say how old Savernake Forest is. It pre-dates the Norman Conquest of 1066 and there is a reference to it as "Safernoc" in a Saxon Charter from King Athelstan in 934AD. After 1066 the wardenship of the forest was given to Richard Esturmy, a Norman knight, and Savernake Forest has passed down from father to son or daughter in an unbroken line for 31 generations, never once being bought or sold in a thousand years. Today it is the only forest in Britain still in private hands.

Wolf Hall

One of Savernake's claims to fame is that it was here, at the fabulously named Wolf Hall, that Henry VIII courted Jane Seymour although they apparently met at Littlecote House nearby. There is a stained glass window in the Great Hall at Littlecote with their individual crests on and also one royal one with H & J on it. Littlecote is well worth a visit if you are ever in the area – it’s a house of great antiquity with any number of ghostly sightings!

Wolf Hall Wolf Hall, referred to as Ulfela, in the Domesday Book of 1086 was the ancestral home of the Wardens of the Forest, first the Esturmys and then the Seymours, who came to it via the female line. Local tradition states that Jane and Henry married in the ancient barn at Wolf Hall although it is more likely that a wedding feast was held there in celebration. The barn survived into the 20th century and when it burned down in the 1920s it apparently still had the hooks on which the wedding decorations and tapestries had hung. The Seymours had left Wolf Hall to live in Tottenham Lodge by 1575  (for a while it was given over to servant accommodation) and in 1665 it was partially demolished to help rebuild Tottenham Park after fire damage. The picture above left is a postcard of Wolf Hall from the early 20th century. You can see how much it has been changed and rebuilt over the centuries. The postcard on the right is the 16th Wolf hall barn century barn. The name Wolf Hall could have several derivations: either from "Wulfan -heall" (Wulfa's hall or palace) or "wulfan-healh" (a corner of land frequented by wolves). Wolves were common in the Savernake Forest until the 14th century, a fact which is all too easy to imagine as you walk along the leafy paths deep within green darkness.

Tottenham House

By the 18th century the forest had come into the ownership of the Bruce family through marriage with the Seymours and a "new" Tottenham House was built in 1742 to a design by Lord Burlington. The family rose in prominence and Thomas Brudenell-Bruce, 1st Earl of Ailesbury, was Governor to the Prince of Wales (later George IV) and Prince Frederick. The Earl employed Lancelot 'Capability' Brown to plant huge beech avenues in Savernake Forest including the Grand Avenue which runs through the heart of the Forest and at 3.9 miles (dead straight) stands in the Guinness Book of Records as the longest avenue in Britain. Capability Brown's intention was that the forest should be made part of the parkland Tottenham Houseof Tottenham House. The scattered coppices, meadows, scrub, and heath should be united, into "one great whole." Ancient ponds and wooded glades for animal grazing were all turned into landscape features and other drives and avenues cut through the forest. In 1820 Tottenham House was redesigned again, this time as a grand Palladian mansion, building a much larger structure around the older Burlington house and covering the old bricks with blocks of Bath stone. In 1870 two large symmetrical wings were also added completing the extraordinarily grand house that still stands today.

The Madness of King George

Facing Tottenham House, on a hilltop at the end of another long avenue, is the Ailesbury Column, 200px-Ailesbury-monument-savernake-2005-04-26
erected in the 1781. The inscription on its base reads: "This Column was erected By Thomas Bruce Earl of Ailesbury As a Testimony Of Gratitude To his ever honoured Uncle, Charles Earl of Ailesbury and Elgin, who left to him these Estates And procured for him the Barony of Tottenham, And of Loyalty to his most Gracious Sovereign GEORGE III Who unsolicited conferred upon him The honour of an Earldom; but above all of Piety To GOD, FIRST, HIGHEST, BEST, whose blessing consecrateth every gift And fixeth its true Value." Another inscription was added in 1789 to celebrate the "recovery" of George III from one of his bouts of illness: "In commemoration of a signal instance of heaven’s protecting providence over these kingdoms in the year 1789 by restoring to perfect Health from a long and afflicting disorder their excellent and belov'd sovereign George III this tablet was inspired by Thomas Bruce Earl of Ailesbury." I thought this was a splendidly ostantatious way to display one's loyalty to the King! It was by the column that we stopped to have our picnic in the sunshine. The view down from the hilltop towards Tottenham House was stunning.

Savernake milestone On our walk back through the forest (using GPS to find our way back to the car because the woods are so dense!) we passed a number of the huge, ancient oak trees for which Savernake is also famous. The oldest of these pollarded trees is the Big Belly Oak, which has a girth of 11 metres and is 1000–1100 years old. Of a similar age is the Duke's Vaunt Oak, and other veteran trees we saw included the King Oak, the Queen Oak and the Pointing Oak. Savernake apparently has the largest collection of veteran trees in Europe and it is an amazing feeling to be walking amongst trees that would have been standing when King Henry VIII came here to hunt over this same ground. I think that my heroine is going to feel a similar sense of grandeur and astonishment when she first sees Templemore as I did on my walk through Savernake. She will be overawed too, to inherit an estate that has not once been bought or sold in a thousand years! 

Do you like to know the "real" places behind historical romances? Which are your favourites? Would you like to inherit an estate as grand as Savernake or would you, like my heroine, find it overwhelming? And what would you do with it if you did? Open it to the public, turn the woods into pleasure gardens, or use it for some other purpose?