An extract of Titus Lives, a historical novel by Colin Sloan

‘He is in pitiful circumstances, exacerbated no doubt by that creature O’Sullivan. What say you Titus? You have sat there all evening soberly observing him,’ asked Lady Primrose.
‘I witnessed a broken man this evening. It saddened me. He is still capable of permitting us fleeting glimpses of regal charm, albeit flickering embers of his former self and what might have been that only tantalize us as to all that unfulfilled potential. But his spirit is broken nonetheless by conspiring circumstances and he now finds solace from insincere cronies and comfort through consuming ever increasing amounts of alcohol. I saw a young man with so much energy to give only to be brought down by the weight of expectation he has carried for so long and that he is unable to relinquish unless he imbibes himself to the very edge of oblivion. I saw a prince who was once within touching distance of greatness, of inheriting everything he was brought up to believe he had a right to, only to have it maliciously wrested from his grasp. A man without meaning, a man without a role, a man who has become austere and uncaring, kicking his heels in a room where people await without any hope or expectation for a door that will never open again. The frustration he must have felt has long since left him and been replaced if not by abject misery then at the very least by overwhelming melancholy. It’s a downward spiral and it will be a challenge.’
‘A challenge?’ asked Lady Primrose.
‘Yes. I know now the real reason why you wanted me here my Lady. You need my help, is that not so?’
‘Decidedly so Titus. The prince is surrounded by bad counsel and his life is increasingly disparate in nature, altogether transient. His retinue is continually gamboling from one foreign court or salon to another, using up favours, wearing out sympathies and patience by accruing debts as we have seen this evening. He seldom forms attachments that are long lasting or beneficial to him. He has instead withdrawn into himself, becoming harsh, dissolute, profligate, scathing and contemptuous.’
‘I couldn’t help but notice that he showed an innate fondness for you earlier in the evening if you don’t mind my saying so.’ I asked.
‘We share an uncommon friendship. It is no secret to those here present that I tell you I am a close companion of someone for whom the prince has strong residual emotions,’ said Lady Primrose.
‘Then this other woman, could she be a force for good in all this? Might she help us with our reclamation of Charles Edward?’
‘She would require a sea change in the Prince’s recent habits and behaviour to occur before even considering helping us.’
‘So that is perhaps where I can be of assistance? But you need to permit me to know more of the woman who has such a hold over Charles Edward.’
‘I can vouch for the trust and discretion of my good Lord the Duke and my god father, the Earl of Westmorland. What I tell you now will go no further than the confines of this dining room. My friend nursed the prince through a fever he contracted whilst he was on campaign near Bannockburn House back in 1745. Her father was a prominent Jacobite landowner and he followed their colours unfailingly until falling at Culloden. It was as if my friend was fated to meet Charles Edward as she was given the name of the prince’s own mother at birth. Clementina. Clementina Walkinshaw. She sat with him for a week he could scarce remember and then for another he would never forget. She slept holding his hand at the bedside, ate seldom and only if she could feed him a morsel from her plate as well. It was as if she willed the fever out of him as he slowly began to fight back from the sweats and delirium until it finally dissipated.’

Lady Primrose walked over to the double doors of the dining room where we sat and opened one to check if she was being overheard by one of the prince’s contingent. When satisfied that the rest of the house had retired for the night she closed the doors once again and continued in a lower tone than previously.

‘An attachment had been formed, a bond which inspissated through time, deeper than any girlish infatuation, an unspoken devotion that each would carry on their separate journeys into their later lives. She had saved his life and had done so selflessly. He had asked her to wait for him and that one day he would send for her. They had made love in a sacred place from antiquity to seal their pact with one another. The prince’s star was still in its ascendancy and as such he could have had the pick of the affections of all the pretty maids of Scotland and elsewhere, but Clementina had pierced his heart long before he let his father’s kingdom slip from his grasp. We can allow ourselves to imagine the tokens of love they must have exchanged, the lockets of hair, the keepsakes and amulets, portable heirlooms handed down from long dead lovers. Her love stoked his recumbent desires, she had restored his vigour at a propitiously fateful juncture and he took his leave of her full of optimism on the cusp of everything his birthright and lineage entitled him to wish for. He was not to see her again for five years. In that time and in secret he would place about him the keepsakes of their love; those cherished possessions which reminded him of a better world with love at its core and her by his side on the heather clad moor. The obstacles to her, both real and imagined were now subdued and alleviated by a new companion that had usurped and numbed his emotions, subjugating his thoughts to the lowest levels of darkness and decay. Clementina had become emblematic of what might have been and as time passed between them, he convinced himself that she was now treading on the path that had been denied to him by defeat. He had shown a congenital weakness by giving in to self-pity and this demise had sloughed his outlook, dry-stoned his heart, making him bitter and resentful with every sip he took. Clementina was still light in his darkness, an ever constant source of hope when the shadows of doubt closed in around him. He wanted her now more than ever.

Her family had paid dearly for sheltering and supporting the prince. Her father and brother both lay dead and their lands and property were confiscated by the government. Clementina chose to withdraw to a convent in Flanders. She had no intention of taking religious orders, choosing instead to withdraw to a place of confinement near her prince should he have need of her. She was aware that Charles Edward was leading a perilously fugacious existence. The nunnery offered sanctuary and a respite from the steady trickle of suitors who invariably came calling back in Scotland to take advantage of her reduced circumstances. As tiresome as it must have been to fend herself off from their advances, it paled in significance when compared to the dark intents of that ogre O’Sullivan. I had in my possession the encoded letters for the prince which I safely conveyed to Clementina at Dunkirk. It was imperative that I used her as my stratagem to cloak my real design in contacting Charles Edward Stuart.

Clementina’s sister, Emelia, though estranged from her late father, was no less close to her. She had embraced the new ruling elite by way of an advantageous marriage and had risen rapidly in favour, becoming a lady-in-waiting for the Hanoverian Princess of Wales. Frederick, the Prince of Wales, was openly contemptuous of his father George II and had established an alternative court at Whitehall. This he filled with liberal free thinkers, libertines and those with Jacobite tendencies. Frederick saw an opportunity to further ignite his father’s existing antipathy for him by taking soundings and opening lines of communication with Jacobites on the continent by way of Emelia. Frederick proposed the unthinkable and he would certainly have been carted off to bedlam if his father had got wind of his ludicrous intentions. He wanted to renege his succession in favour of the restoration of the Stuarts. Emelia did contact me, knowing of my Jacobite sympathies and furnished me with a purse full of gold coins, letters of transit as well as coded dispatches from the Prince of Wales for Charles’s attention via Clementina.
I found her in good spirits at the nunnery near Dunkirk. Her mood having been lifted on hearing that Charles Edward was presently residing nearby at Liège. After an interval of two days we were visited by his courier. I took an instant dislike to O’Sullivan, sensing him to have a Janus-faced predisposition. He had an overweening opinion of himself, an arrogance that belied his position in life. Furthermore he had an unhealthy disrespect for those he knew to be his betters and wore arrogance as if it were a badge of office. I was resentful when he tore open the secret dispatches and proved to be proficient at deciphering their codes of content within before resealing them with his own embossed sealing wax. His master must trust him without qualification to allow him such freedom of scope. He was privy to matters that were of national importance and of no concern to a mere message bearer. Furthermore he was insistent that we should dine with him that evening after helping Clementina compose a letter to the prince. I could read his designs through the folly of concern for how Clementina should construct her writings. Drink loosened his tongue over dinner and much later he was incapable of much else which compelled the mother superior to permit him a bed for the night.

I thought his behaviour reprehensible at best given the sensitive nature of the documents he was instructed to deliver. I noticed that he paid Clementina more compliments and attention than was healthy to expect in polite company. More than once I had to remonstrate with her for allowing herself to get carried away in discussions that loosely involved the prince, but in reality were O’Sullivans entrée into her affections. I could see that she was impressionable and vulnerable to his rough charm so I made it my purpose to keep O’Sullivan’s arrogant inroads to her person as remote as possible were applicable. I stayed with Clementina for five days, during which time O’Sullivan had numerous occasions to call upon her delivering letters from the prince. It was pleasing to see her spirits lifted by his writing to her, but it was vexatious to watch O’Sullivan try to take advantage of her joy. I collected the response from Charles Edward that was written for the attention of Prince Frederick and took my leave of the nunnery on the morning of the sixth day. I cautioned Clementina to resist the advances of this courier, reminding her that she was promised to his master. She assured me that it was just a flirtation and Charles’s name was etched on her heart. I left her happier than she had been at any time since 1745, but I knew O’Sullivan to be the type of creature who would not desist with his attempts to woo her at the expense of his unassuming backer. I reached Dover two days later and when practicable I conveyed my communications from Charles Edward to Prince Frederick by way of Emelia. As flattered as he was, even the Stuart Prince was not deceived by Frederick’s incredulous plan and urged great caution to George’s wayward son to give up such an idea as he was certain that it would only lead to further acrimony and worse with his own father. Charles Edward’s pride would not entertain the idea of recovering his father’s kingdom by such methods which were dishonourable and full of family betrayal. In His opinion it was ‘Using the servants entrance to gain access to the house when only the front door would suffice’ My journey wasn’t wasted as it gave me the opportunity to confront the malevolent miscreant who has subsequently cast such a dark spell over Charles Stuart. It is as if O’Sullivan is unable to permit others happiness without him first getting a taste of it himself. He seeks to control and manipulate situations to secure his advantage and exploit the weaknesses in others. It is under protest that am loathe to have this scoundrel under my roof. He makes my stomach churn with all his conceit and arrogance. Gentlemen I have tried to paint this picture for you of the dark forces now combining to corrupt and destroy our rightful prince of his health and inheritance. Titus what remedy if any do you proffer to prevent his further descent into utter desperation?’

The Mitford Society Annual Vol. 2

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The Mitford Society’s second annual is now available on Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com as well as various retail outlets. This year’s edition features lots of exciting features, photographs and tributes to Debo from those who knew her and admired her.  I have included a complete list of contents below…
The Horror Sisters: A Mitford Tease by Meems Ellenberg & Lyndsy Spence

Evelyn Waugh & Diana Guinness by Lyndsy Spence

An American’s Conversion to U-Speak by Nathan Duncan

How Do U Do Social Qs? A Mitford Quiz by Meems Ellenberg

The Making of a Modern Duchess by Katherine Longhi

Cooking and Eating Like a Duchess by May Tatel-Scott

The Kennedys & The Devonshires: A Family Intwined in History by Michelle Morrisette

The Mitfords & Hitler by Jane Thynne

The Mitfords in Love by Georgina Tranter

Tilly Losch & The Mitfords by William Cross

Sheila Chisholm: An Ingenue’s Introduction to High Society by Lyndsy Spence

Reviving an Icon by Robert Wainwright

Decca Mitford: Rock Star by Terence Towles Canote

Doris Delevingne: The Constant Courtesan by Lyndsy Spence

The Asthall Poltergeist & High Society’s Fascination With the Unseen by Lyndsy Spence

Tales From the Archive by Lucinda Gosling

Nancy Mitford: A Celebration by Eleanor Doughty

Lady Ursula d’Abo: The Girl with the Widow’s Peak by Lyndsy Spence

Wolf for Two: A Wartime Dinner with Pamela Mitford & M.F.K Fisher by Kim Place-Gateau

Only Connect by Lee Galston

The Rodds in Italy by Chiara Martinelli & David Ronneburg

The Mitfords & The Country House by Evangeline Holland

The Old Vicarage: Debo’s Closing Act in Edensor Village by Andrew Budgell

Memories of Debo by Joseph Dumas

Tributes to Debo

- Emma Cannon

- Emma Gridley

- Robin Brunskill

- Stuart Clark

- Leslie Brodie

Charles_HRH’s guide to Great Britishness

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This was one book that I wanted to like. Having skimmed through the content I noticed that the author (the fake Prince Charles of twitter, @Charles_HRH) included lots of topics that are quintessentially British, such as: Royal Mail, parliament (including the present Cabinet and past PMs i.e. Churchill and Thatcher), seaside resorts, British showbiz personalities, members of the Royal family, and tea. I did laugh as I read the first few pages, which began in the tone of the real Prince Charles and the topics seemed to stay within what one would expect Prince Charles to chat (or grumble) about. But then it veered off to a variety of random topics, and the tone of Charles began to slide, I began to wonder if the author was, in fact, a Leftie using the book to have a go at the establishment, especially with his insults of various members of the Royal Family, and of Thatcher. I know, not everyone admired her and the Duke of Edinburgh referred to her as ‘that bloody woman’ and ‘that grocer’s daughter’ – still, the author could have made it a light, amusing observation rather than a stinging insult/rant which broke the lighthearted tone. How do we know what Charles thinks of M.T.?

Granted, these sort of books aren’t everyone’s cup of tea – some people thought I was off my head when I wrote The Mitford Girls’ Guide to Life, but I did keep my themes within the girls own views (having waded through endless letters and memoirs to find their points of view!). The author of this book simply writes an etiquette book from HIS own perspective, and the humour of Charles is lost. Though, there were some laugh out loud observations:

  • “First one would like to congratulate you for making the right choice in purchasing a book written by a real member of the British Royal Family and not Pippa Middleton, who recently released a book containing tips on entertaining guests throughout the British year. One’s tip to you all: don’t bother reading it.”

 

  • “The Second World War started due to Adolf Hitler’s wish for world domination; something that One Direction are obsessed with today.”

 

  • “Her Majesty has been on the throne for sixty-two years, which means she’ll be entitled to a fantastic pension when/if she retires.”

 

  • “Might have to sell France to pay for Richard III’s car-park fine.”

 

  • “Margaret Thatcher was often compared to Florence Nightingale – the lady with the lamp. Unfortunately Thatcher’s lamp turned out to be a blowtorch.”

 

  • [On Northern Ireland] “It is the only part of Britain that shares a border with a foreign country, the Republic of Ireland (working title).”

I would have liked the narrative to have continued on in Charles’ voice. My brother glanced through the book and he found the author’s criticism of the British government to be hilarious. I suppose it really depends who is reading it and what their expectations are. I can’t, however, knock the effort that has gone into it. The cover is beautiful and just the type of pretty gift book one would be thrilled to receive for Christmas. Though it might be lacking in parody, it is a genius example of how the internet has shaped the publishing industry (Headline are behind this book), and shattered the once scared institution of the Royal Family. Imitation, after all, is the highest form of flattery.

One Last Dance by Judith Lennox

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Judith Lennox has written a sprawling tome spanning the Great War and the latter part of the twentieth century. In 1974, elderly Esme Reddaway prepares for a family gathering, she knows the get-together will prove difficult but she must follow through with her commitment. As she reminisces about her life thus far, the narrative takes us back to 1917, where her sister Camilla’s fiancé Devlin Reddaway is on leave from the Western Front. Having promised to rebuild his ancestral home, Rosindell, for Camilla, he is devastated to learn she is engaged to someone else. Angry and vengeful, he marries Esme, who has been secretly in love with him for years.

In a similar light to Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, Lennox has given us a sympathetic heroine who struggles to gain her husband’s love. Esme begins by reviving Rosindell’s annual summer ball but as the years pass, she begins to wonder if the house has a malign influence on those who inhabit it, and the revelation of a shocking secret on the night of the ball tears her life apart. Decades later, Esme knows it is she who must lay the ghosts of Rosindell to rest.

Fans of Downton Abbey will revel in Lennox’s tale of sibling rivalry, heartbreak, betrayal and forgiveness. A gripping family saga from beginning to end.

Books Are My Bag

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Sadly the days of the indie bookshop are in decline. Although Amazon and other online retailers do have their merits (the CreateSpace programme, for one) there is nothing quite like visiting a bookshop for some interaction with book enthusiasts and for sampling the goods in person. However, that being said, the retailers and pro-indies are in revolt! The movement Books Are My Bag is raising awareness of the importance of preserving our bookshops and they are spreading the message through the creation of this lovely shopper bag.

 

Books Are My Bag ask that we bloggers write about our favourite bookshops. The truth is, there was a second-hand bookshop in Belfast when I was growing up and it was a treat to take the bus into town with the purpose of visiting this shop. I loved walking down the cobbled side street to this hidden gem where customers loitered at the shelves where overflowing books were stacked hugger-mugger. It was in this shop that I first discovered Gone With the Wind and various film star biographies that fueled my love for classic cinema. It was also the shop where I found historical biographies that led me to the Mitford girls. The books were ridiculously cheap i.e. 80p for an Elizabeth Taylor biography and needless to say I bought books in abundance, which were carefully wrapped in a lilac tissue papered bag. Sadly I can’t remember the name of the bookshop, but the extortionate city rents forced it to close down. I don’t even think I looked at the sign hanging over the shop, I just knew it was there.

 

However, that being said, I would like to mention Heywood Hill in this post on indie bookshops. Situated on Curzon Street in London, this bookshop is a living museum to the era of Nancy Mitford, James Lees-Milne and Evelyn Waugh. Spawning a volume of letters between Nancy Mitford and her former boss Heywood Hill, Mitford fans recognise its significance in the sisters’ lore. But Heywood Hill does not wallow in its notoriety, the bookshop is always thinking up ways to revive how they reach their customers and coming up to Christmas they offer unique packaged books. You can visit their website by clicking here.

 

Follow on twitter @booksaremybag

The Crimson Ribbon

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Sometimes death comes like an arrow, sudden and swift, an unforeseen shot from an unheeded bow

 

England, 1646, the country is in the throes of a civil war, Oliver Cromwell leads an army of people against the ‘tyrannical’ King Charles I and witches are being hunted down. A young woman, Ruth Flowers, is on the run. After her mother, a healer, is dragged off to the gallows, Ruth must find a safe place. With a letter of introduction to the Poole family and an expected travelling companion in the form of Joseph Oakes, an ex-soldier who has deserted his regiment, she heads to London. As she had hoped, with her letter of introduction, she finds work as a servant in the Poole household consisting of Master Poole and his daughter, Elizabeth. A real life historical character, Elizabeth was an individual who claimed to have visions and who argued for the life of Charles I to be spared. Alongside the fictional storyline, Katherine Clements interweaves the factual events of Elizabeth and the trial of Charles I. Clements incorporates several themes into her novel: Joseph’s love for Ruth, Ruth’s unconventional love for Elizabeth. She explores religion, politics and fear – namely the fear of being labelled a witch – to drive her plot.  Although history has shown us the fate of Cromwell and the English Civil War, Clements’ novel is full of twists and turns, and this unpredictability ensures we have become invested in Ruth and her story.