The Splendors of Blenheim Palace

Blenheim 12
Andrea here, As you probably know, a number of the Wenches traveled through England, Scotland and Ireland in the last fortnight (and got to spend time together, both exploring and speaking at the RNA Conference, which was so much fun!) So here is the first of many “show and tell” blogs from our experiences. But as most of you love history as much as we do, I hope you’ll enjoy these vignettes of places that captured our fancy.


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A Crowning Achievement

1433292688086_Queen-Elizabeth-official-photoAndrea/Cara here,
I’m not a regular television watcher. When I have down time, my first choice is to get comfy with a good book (okay, chocolate might also be involved, but no snide remarks on Pavlov, if you please.) However, at the urging of numerous friends to tune into the extravagant production of The Crown, I broke down and got a subscription to Netflix (yes, I’m one of the few people in this digital world who didn’t yet have one.)

And oh, am I glad I did!

O-QUEEN-ELIZABETH-PATTERNS-2-facebookMaking history come alive is something I feel is vitally important on so many levels. Understanding the past, of course, is fundamental to seeing the challenges of the present and the future more clearly. I think most of us would agree with the old adage “those who do not know the past are doomed to repeat it.”

But beyond the grand scale of events over time—wars, revolutions, social change, economic stresses, artistic developments, to name just a few—a nuanced view of the human factor—the people who shaped the course of history and the very real and personal challenges they faced in doing so—resonates on such a personal level.

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What We’re reading — November

Anne here, hosting our monthly feature "What We're Reading"

We'll start with Jo Beverley, who says: I recently dived into my keeper shelves, and I've been re-reading Dorothy Dunnett's Lymond Chronicles. I used to read the whole series frequently, but I haven't for a while now and I decided it was time. Six big books and not as much reading time as I used to have, but I'm enjoying them tremendously. Gok

For those who don't know them, they're based around a central character, Francis Crawford of Lymond, a Scotsman whose adventures we follow around Europe and up into Russia in the mid-16th century. The books are about him, but stretches are about other important characters and from other points of view and the plots involve most of the significant historical characters and events. The Tudors, the de Guise, Ivan the Terrible, Suleiman the Magnificent, Nostrodamus!

Despite being all about him, we're only in his point of view once, so our picture of him comes through the view of others, which I think is key to the fascination Lymond holds for many. We have to learn him as we learn people in real life — from the outside.  I'm not aware of anyone else having written about a  series character in that way and it was daring for sure back in the '60s.

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Jamaica Dreams

Cat 243 Doverby Mary Jo

I've long believed that much of the impetus behind the British empire was a desire to own lots of warm, sunny real estate.  And very successful they were, too!  Jamaica was one of the earliest possessions, taken from the Spanish in 1655.  

The island is rich and fertile and beautiful, and it became the world's greatest producer of sugar for a very long time.  (With all the evils of the slave system that produced that sugar, but that's not the subject for the day.)  

For this year's winter sunshine break, the Mayhem Consultant and I wanted to go Pina Coladasomewhere easy: only one flight so we wouldn't experience the many colorful transportation problems that can happen.  (Once we emerged from Tortola to find that our airline carrier had declared bankruptcy and stopped flying.  Exciting times!)

On the advice of an excellent travel agent, we rather warily decided to try Jamaica.  Warily because long ago we spent a week in Jamaica, and no sooner did we start our first beach walk when a local poled up his boat and offered us drugs.  ("No, thank you," we said politely.)

The low point of that trip was when I took an over the counter drug for an upset stomach, and half an hour later passed out on the breakfast table.  The MC thought I'd died and the restaurant owner thought I must have drunk way too much the night before.  

Neither of these things were true.  I discovered that the fifth listed ingredient was laudanum, which is how I learned I was hypersensitive to even the faintest trace of opium.  So much for being a Regency lady quaffing bottles of laudanum!

Our VerandaBut the Jamaica Inn looked gorgeous and the agent assured us that all her clients loved the place, so we decided to give it a try. 

Indeed it was wonderful (that's our veranda on the left)–and very, very British.  What better place for a Regency historical writer to relax?  Because not only is Jamaica beautiful, warm, and sunny, but it's lavish with history.

Built in 1950 and presumably named after the Daphne DuMaurier novel, the Jamaica Inn quickly became an elite destination.  As in, Arthur Miller brought Marilyn Monroe to the Jamiaca Inn for their honeymoon. (!!!)

Even more, it became a hangout for other distinguished Britons.  Our room was right next to the White Winston ChurchillSuite, the best suite in the inn–and Winston Churchill had stayed there.  

WINSTON CHURCHILL!!!  I had some serious fangirl moments.  It was easy to imagine him lounging on the veranda, smoking a cigar and drinking, though I'm having trouble imaging him in shorts and a polo shirt.  And I'm pretty sure he didn't go for rum drinks with fruit on sticks.  <G>

Churchill, Noel Coward, and Ian Fleming all drank at the bar there, quite possibly at the same time. Churchill, an accomplished artist, taught Coward how to paint.  

Captain Morgan rumOn a visit to his pal Ian Fleming's estate Goldeneye (where Fleming wrote his first James Bond novel), Noel Coward fell in love with a ruined limestone building with a magnificent view.  It had once View from Firefly estatebelonged to Henry Morgan, the seventeenth century privateer, pirate, and later lieutenant-governor of Jamaica.  He used the property as a lookout, and you can see why.   

Morgan was to some extent the inspiration for Captain Blood, the Sabatini novel and movie that made Errol Flynn a star.  Forbes magazine rated Morgan as the 9th richest of historical pirates.  These days, a romanticized image of him is used to sell that fine Jamaican product, Captain Morgan Rum.  As I said, history is everywhere!  

Noel Coward statue at FireflyNoel Coward bought his piece of paradise for £150 and built the Firefly Estate as his winter vacation home. It's a surprisingly simple hilltop house with amazing views.  Despite the simplicity, he had A-list guests, from the Queen Mother to QEII herself and Sophia Loren.  In fact, he died at Firefly and is buried on a hill looking over the bay.  A wryly amused bronze statue of him sits on the lawn and contemplates the view he loved.

Luckily, it isn't necessary to be rich and famous to visit Jamaica, or the other islands of the Caribbean.  But I must say that I like visiting a place that has some history.  Do you enjoy that, too?  What unexpected pieces of history have you found while traveling?

Sea SwansMary Jo, showing the lovely towels swans the maids left on the railing of our veranda.  Do you blame us for heading south?  <G>