A Time Traveler’s Guide to Dressing like a French Revolutionary

Okay, so in the event that time travel becomes a real technology (she says optimistically), probably not many people will want to visit revolutionary France. On one hand, I’d be tempted – I’d possibly get to meet some of the historical figures featured in The Wardrobe Mistress, and wear some of the fashions I pored over paintings and descriptions of, at least until the longing for modern yoga pants inevitably returned. But on the other…the guillotine. It’s a risky time period, that’s for sure, and that’s without even considering the advances in hygiene and medicine we have today.

Fine, maybe this is really more of “A Nerdy Costume Party Attendee’s Guide to Dressing like a French Revolutionary.” Whichever it is, I’ve got you covered. Here are my superfluous top tips for dressing like you belong in 1790s Paris.

Wear a hat

You’ve probably heard of the revolutionary bonnet rouge. King Louis XVI was forced to wear one when an angry mob of revolutionaries stormed through the Tuileries, but he submitted to the unwanted hat-wearing happily enough when he saw that it calmed their wrath. And he looked great in it:

Louis XVI, King of the French, 1792. The 1775 engraving was reworked in 1792 to record the king’s donning of the bonnet rouge during the invasion of the Tuilleries Palace

It wasn’t the first hat incident Louis had, though. In 1789, when the Estates General was opened for the first time since 1614, the representatives of the Third Estate (which made up the bulk of the population, excluding only royalty and clergy) put their hats back on at the end of Louis’ speech, even though custom dictated that only the king and his entourage could do so at this point in the ceremony. Commoners were supposed to stay kneeling, clutching their hats to their chests in awe at the blue blood before them or something. It was quite shocking when the representatives shattered this custom, but Louis, in a moment of uncharacteristic quick-thinking, removed his own hat once again, prompting everyone to follow suit.

For women, plain white bonnets are a safe bet. Conservative enough not to draw attention and easily decorated with a tricolor rosette if needed. Straw hats could also be worn, but not everyone liked them because Marie Antoinette favoured them.

You know, I think part two of this hat advice is to study a treatise on hat etiquette, as well.

 

 

Wear a tricolor rosette

Show your rebelliousness, or protect yourself from sharp-eyed and judging revolutionaries, by challenging the monarchy with colours. Rosettes can be easily pinned to hats or coats, and just as easily removed when you have dinner with that older family friend who drinks too much wine and then lectures about the divine right of kings. Most rosettes or cockades are tricolor – red, white, and blue – but not always. Red and blue is an acceptable combination. Red and white with no other colours is not, since it reminds people of the uniforms for the queen’s staff at Trianon.

Green rosettes are absolutely out of the question. Green is the livery color for the Comte d’Artois, the king’s younger brother, and no one likes him. He even fled France after the storming of the Bastille, fearing for his life. 

Don’t wear white rosettes. That will just remind people of the Bourbon fleur-de-lys, and what have the Bourbons ever done? Just wasted a bunch of tax money building Versailles and not helping with the bread crisis, that’s what. White is acceptable in some forms, such as bonnets, fichus (shawls), shirts, or dresses, as long as the whole ensemble isn’t pure white as the expensive snow that the Bourbons probably shipped in to keep their wine cold.

Black isn’t a great colour either. You get a slight pass if you’re in mourning, but it better be for a close family member and not a national personage like Marie Antoinette’s son who died in 1789. Sure, it’s sad that a poor little boy died, but his mother was a witch who hates the French so you can’t display any sympathy. Plus, black reminds people of the Hapsburgs, and no one likes them either. Especially Marie Antoinette. The other Habsburg colour is yellow, so avoid that too. Bees are also out, probably.

Oh, and forget about the fact that tricolor had also been the colour of the French king’s livery, historically. It’s infused with new political meaning now (waves to American revolutionaries) and no one talks about its dark past. 

Red is a good colour to wear, especially the very popular shade called sang de Foulon, or Foulon’s blood. Monsieur Foulon was a minister in Louis XIV’s cabinet and was murdered by Parisian revolutionaries, so clearly you’ve got your priorities straight if you add a ribbon in Foulon’s blood to your white bonnet. Just don’t forget that touch of blue somewhere!

 

Dress to celebrate the fall of the Bastille

Now that all seven prisoners have been freed from the prison, the building is torn down and its stones are up for grabs as souvenirs. The possibilities are endless. You could line a walkway or build a low stone fence or maybe even design some jewelry with the smaller rocks. Necklace made of demolished walls? Sure.

If you’re rich enough, ironically add some diamonds to spell out the word Liberté and you’re set.

You can even make a replica of the Bastille for your hair, using white satin “towers” and black lace to represent the balustrade. Just watch your head going through doorways.

(As with most good things in life, you can’t make them up. These are both recorded revolutionary fashion items).

That great inspiration of jewelry, the Bastille

 

Dress like Marie Antoinette

Yes, I know everyone hates her as a symbol of ostentation and everything wrong with society, but there’s no denying the appeal of her Petit Trianon casual wear.  Her white muslin gowns might be decried as looking like nightgowns – called chemise á la reine, but they’re certainly more comfortable than heavy velvets over panniers to keep the skirts wide. Plus, wearing a dress like this is proof that you’re unfussy, virtuous, and believe in equality. After all, anyone can afford these. That’s partly why the other nobles hated Marie Antoinette’s muslin gowns at first. Just make sure to add a patriotic tricolour cockade, of course. You don’t want to risk looking like a wanna-be milkmaid like Marie Antoinette. Even better, women can wear a jaunty red and blue muslin scarf to kick this simple outfit to revolutionary heights. If it’s cold, try a blue redingote with a white scarf and a red cap. If anyone mentions that Marie Antoinette also made the somewhat masculine fashion of wearing riding attire popular years before, just gaze at them blankly and mutter “vive la revolution.”

This is Princes Louise Auguste of Denmark, in the chemise a la reine style of gown

If all else fails, bring your son (or your friend’s son) with you and dress him in the uniform of the National Guard (white pants, navy coat, red-trim). It worked well for Marie Antoinette when she brought the dauphin to the fête de la fédération to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the fall of the Bastille

There – now you know what clothes to pack before you time-travel to revolutionary Paris to hang out around Café du Foy talking philosophy with Robespierre. Alternatively, you know what to wear to a Halloween party before you get drunk enough that you can’t be bothered to explain your costume anymore.

 



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The Scandal of Marie Antoinette’s Gowns

While writing The Wardrobe Mistress, I researched a lot about the queen’s famous fashion. After all, the main character, Giselle, works in the queen’s household as one of her tirewomen, tasked with taking care of Marie Antoinette’s fabulous wardrobe. I expected to uncover a scandal or two – probably about outrageous cost or the sheer number of gowns. Instead, the biggest scandal came from the simplest style of dress.

This white muslin shift known as the gaulle was much plainer and more comfortable than the formal court gowns, with their whalebone stays constricting the waist, and the panniers at the hips to make the skirt very wide. Inspired by the style of dress that the Creoles and colonialists’ wives wore in the Caribbean, where the heat meant silk was not an option, these muslin gown lacked the stiff structuring elements of traditional silk court gowns. They usually had a ruffled drawstring neck, puffy sleeves decorated with ribbons, and a wide sash tied at the waist. To complete the pastoral look, a soft white bonnet or a wide straw hat usually perched on natural, unpowdered hair. Marie Antoinette displays the fashion in her portrait, Le reine en gaulle, painted by Madame Vigée Le Brun in 1783.

La reine en gaulle, by  Vigée Le Brun, 1783

This dress doesn’t sound very scandalous, you might be thinking. Nor does it look scandalous in that painting. To our modern eye, it doesn’t, but to a conservative person of the 1780s, it resembled a chemise – a slip-like piece of clothing that a lady wore under her other clothes, or occasionally as casual-wear when relaxing in the privacy of her boudoir. Basically, it looked like the queen posed for a portrait in her nightgown. This dress style became known as chemise á la reine, forever connecting the queen to the garment’s resemblance to a slip.

In comparison, this gown from 1775 looks a lot heavier and more formal than the muslin gaulle gowns.

There were also social and economic factors fueling Marie Antoinette’s fashion detractors. On the social side, wealthy nobles disliked the idea that the simpler style of dressing meant that poor, lower class people could blend in by wearing similar outfits. And economically, by not wearing silk, Marie Antoinette was seen as unpatriotic, failing in her duty to support the French silk industry. One of her contemporary sources even declared that three quarters of the silk workers in Lyon lost their jobs in the 1780s due to her patronage of foreign textile plants to serve her love of muslin.

However, Marie Antoinette can’t be solely blamed for the decline in the French silk industry at the time. Fashions all over Europe were growing increasingly simplified, as were hairstyles. The Duchess of Devonshire in England, a trendsetter herself, also wore airy chemise á la reine gowns. Even Marie Antoinette’s rival, Madame du Barry, wore them, as this portrait of her from 1781 – two years earlier than Marie Antoinette’s –  shows.

Madame du Barry, by Vigée Le Brun, 1781

In spite of the heavy criticism after her 1783 portrait, Marie Antoinette did not stop wearing them, either. The chemise á la reine was kind of like the yoga pants of the 1780s – once tried, there was no going back. In Austria, Marie Antoinette’s brother, Emperor Joseph, even tried to ban the expensive and uncomfortable accoutrements of official court dress, such as panniers, which could be so wide that women had to go sideways through the door. He was not successful, but the innovative clothing ideas had already permeated culture all across Europe. In France particularly, as the revolution advanced, simpler fashions like the chemise a la reine became the height of fashion. The virtue of equality idealized by the revolutionaries made the suitability of the garment to all economic classes a perfect fit for everyone. By Empress Josephine’s time, the simplicity of fashion had progressed to a renewed love for the influence of classical Roman dress. In comparison to the bared arms of these gowns, the chemise á la reine may have seemed quite conservative again.

Empress Josephine

 


The Wardrobe Mistress, a novel of one of Marie Antoinette’s wardrobe women who casually spies on the queen during the French Revolution and finds herself torn between her loyalty to the queen and her sympathy for the revolution and love for a fervent revolutionary, is available now.

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Everything I Learned about Marie Antoinette’s Perfume

In my research for The Wardrobe Mistress, I learned a lot about the intimate details of Marie Antoinette’s life, from clothing to perfume. For instance, I discovered she changed her outfit several times a day for various court functions, and she kept a book full of fabric swatches from which she’d select which garments she wanted to wear each day by putting pins in the appropriate swatches. In my novel, all the undertirewomen dream of getting to look through the book, stroking the soft chiné fabrics, and I wished I could do that too. I also loved imagining the fragrance of flowers pervading the Queen’s chambers, which were often so heaped with fresh flowers that a person could be scented just by spending time in the room.

Flowers were one of Marie Antoinette’s most consistent interests, a passion which combined her love for the pastoral luxury of her favourite retreat, Petit Trianon, and her enjoyment of perfume. She had her own perfumer, an innovative expert named Jean-Louis Fargeon. Upon Marie Antoinette’s request, he created a signature scent for her called Parfum du Trianon, meant to capture the fresh scent of the location so that she could carry its essence with her wherever she went.

The picturesque mill in the queen’s hamlet of Petit Trianon (Photo credit By Starus – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15697249)

In general, Marie Antoinette loved concentrated perfumes, especially those with hints of rose, violet, jasmine, and jonquil. For her baths, she preferred more herbal scents as well as amber and bergamot. Unsurprisingly, her baths were also examples of queenly luxury, since the water was lightly scented and Fargeon also created sachets filled with blanched sweet almonds, bran (for exfoliation) and perfumed for her to use.

Sachets for use outside of the bath were also popular, usually made of taffeta or silk, and filled with a pot-pourri of aromatic plants. The Queen liked to present these sachets to her friends as gifts. Since she also took care to ensure the scent matched the personality of the recipient, they would have been quite a prestigious present to receive. For the liquid perfumes, Marie Antoinette kept them in a special cabinet full of gleaming coloured glass bottles with silver stoppers. She loved her perfumes so much that she placed an unusually large order with Fargeon before she and Louis XVI undertook their attempted flight to escape the Revolution (and we caught in Varennes). She also tried to pack most of them, in spite of having limited space for belongings. 

Marie Antoinette also liked to wear gloves in shades of white or pearl grey, and they weren’t only decorative accessories for one of her elegant gowns. Fargeon was skilled in the traditional Montpellier specialty of making perfumed gloves with flowers, and he also took pride in treating the gloves so they had restorative qualities for the skin. One of his pairs of riding gloves would soothe the Queen’s hands while she dashed through the countryside on a graceful horse. The gloves were perfumed with simple flowers such as hyacinths, violets, red carnations, and jonquilles á la reine, which had to be picked an hour after dawn or before dusk for the purest scent. Marie Antoinette typically ordered about eighteen pairs of these gloves per month, which would seem to suggest she likely only wore them once.

At the height of the revolution, when the royal family were imprisoned in the Tower, Fargeon sent a phial of parfum du Trianon to Marie Antoinette to comfort her. She also used his eau de vie de lavande to soothe her anxiety. Of course, Fargeon was not paid for these items, since Marie Antoinette didn’t have funds at her disposal in prison and the guards had no interest in paying him on her behalf. It was a kindness that must have provided some small consolation in her final days. 

For anyone interested in more details of historic perfume, and Fargeon’s methods in particular, I highly recommend A Scented Palace: The Secret History of Marie Antoinette’s Perfumer by Elisabeth de Feydeau.

 

 


The Wardrobe Mistress, a novel of one of Marie Antoinette’s wardrobe women who casually spies on the queen during the French Revolution and finds herself torn between her loyalty to the queen and her sympathy for the revolution, is available now.

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Six Surprising Facts about Marie Antoinette

Marie Antoinette is probably best known for her death, as a queen shockingly executed by guillotine at the height of the French revolution. But there’s lots more to know about her interesting and sometimes scandalous life. I’ve got six surprising facts about Marie Antoinette for you, as part of my countdown to The Wardrobe Mistress publication day on August 15th.

1). She came from a huge family

The daughter of Empress Maria-Theresa of Austria and the Holy Roman Emperor Francis I, Marie Antoinette had fifteen (!) siblings. Maria Antonia Josepha Johanna, as she was called before becoming a French dauphine, was the second youngest. All of them had royal titles.

2.) She had many hobbies

Since her reputation for fashion and trendsetting has lasted hundreds of years, this one might be surprising. Marie Antoinette’s interests ranged from riding – including sleigh rides, which she had fond memories of from her childhood in Austria – to gardening, interior decoration, the theatre, and music.

She decorated the royal property of Saint-Cloud in her favourite colours, also choosing the furniture with care. She preferred light colours like pale blue and green, as well as lavender grey. The Great Bathroom at Versailles was painted this colour, and decorated with sea motifs of shells and corals. She disliked orange and never wore it.

At her favourite retreat of Petit Trianon, she envisioned a romantic garden filled with trees, a paradise where one could wander in peace. She also enjoyed the jardin Anglais, a landscaped style of gardening the depicted an idealized view of nature with groves of trees.

3.) Before her marriage, she had her teeth straightened

Historical dentistry doesn’t sound appealing to anyone, but poor Maria Antonia had her teeth straightened at a young age. In fact, when she was ten years old, negotiations began for her marriage to the dauphin of France, and it was deemed important that she become more physically attractive to the French. This included a new hairstyle to play down her forehead (considered too high) and straightening her teeth. The early form of braces was a horseshoe-shaped device made of metal. Gold wire was threaded through the evenly spaced holes – much like modern braces, but a little more rustic and made of gold! It was called “Fauchard’s Bandeau”, named after Pierre Fouchard, who was significant to the development of modern dentistry and orthodontics.

As a new technology, and without the aid of any modern painkillers, the braces were likely quite painful. However, Marie Antoinette’s smile was considered quite charming and pretty, so it seems to have been a successful ordeal.

4.) She contributed to philanthropic efforts

Aside from being generous with her friends (which she was – sometimes she even had signature perfumes made for them as gifts), Marie Antoinette liked to help others wherever she could. She established a home for unwed mothers, and often made visits to poor families to distribute food and money. Once, before she was queen, her carriage accidentally ran over a wine grower. Marie Antoinette rushed out of the carriage to assist the wounded man, and paid for his family’s expenses for the next year while he recovered from a broken limb.

Two years before the start of the revolution, in 1787, she also provided grain for struggling families and downgraded the quality of grain for the royal family so that there was more to share.

5.) She was only nineteen years old when she became Queen of France

She had been dauphine of France for several years, but when Louis XV (the predecessor of Marie Antoinette’s husband, Louis XVI), passed away on May 10, 1774, she became queen. The late king had been ill for some time, and when the candle in his window was extinguished to show that he had succumbed to his sickness, all the courtiers who had been hovering outside his rooms stampeded toward Marie Antoinette and Louis, determined to be the first to pay compliments to the new rulers. Apparently the crash of their footsteps made a sound like thunder.

Together, Marie Antoinette and Louis knelt and prayed for their future, with the words “Dear God, guide and protect us. We are too young to reign.”

6.) She cared about the revolution and tried to help

In contrast to her husband, Louis XVI, who often remained indecisive, Marie Antoinette took action to address the issues spurring the revolution, and to protect the royal family. She met with ministers and ambassadors, and corresponded with other sovereigns. Her increased involvement in politics led the king to rely on her advice, and he occasionally baffled his royal ministers by leaving the room to consult with her if she was not present at the meeting. When France’s popular finance minister, Jacques Necker, was dismissed by Louis, she sought to appease the people’s outrage and persuaded Louis to reinstate him, even though she and Necker had not always agreed and were sometimes enemies.

It is worth noting, however, that in her youth, Marie Antoinette remained mostly indifferent to political schemes. She became more involved as political tensions rocketed dangerously high, at which time it was possibly too late.

 

I hope I’ve passed along some extra facts about Marie Antoinette besides that she said ‘let them eat cake’ – or did she? More details about the life of the scandalous French queen to come!

 


The Wardrobe Mistress, a novel of one of Marie Antoinette’s wardrobe women who casually spies on the queen during the French Revolution and finds herself torn between her loyalty to the queen and her sympathy for the revolution, is available now.

Order links:
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The Pets of Queens

The lives of queens through history are often so overwhelmed by politics and court ritual that it can be difficult to sense their personalities as individuals. Finding the small details that provide a spark of illumination into a queen’s hobbies and penchants are thrilling, especially for a historical author. During my research for my forthcoming novel, The Wardrobe Mistress, I remember the surge of excitement I felt when I discovered that Marie Antoinette preferred purple and disliked orange, that she loved children to the extent that she’d often call out to them in a crowd, that she liked dogs and some of hers had been gifts from friends. These are all things that brought her to life for me, showed me why my protagonist, Giselle, who worked for the queen, would be sympathetic to her.

In her fondness for pets, Marie Antoinette was not alone. Many queens enjoyed the company of their pets, especially dogs, which many modern people can relate to as well. Historical figures weren’t always so different from us as we think. From dogs to parrots, here are some famous queens through history and their beloved pets.

From the 2006 film, Kirsten Dunst as Marie Antoinette with Mops.

Marie Antoinette had a pug named Mops, whom she brought with her to France from Austria. Nervous to be leaving her home and going to a foreign court, she clung to Mops and was said to be extremely fond of him. Sadly, he had to be sent back to Austria with most of her other belongings, in order for her to start fresh as a new French dauphine at Versailles. Thankfully, she was later able to send for him, and princess and pug were reunited.

She also received a dog as a gift from Count Axel von Fersen, the courtier often believed to be her lover. While it’s difficult to find absolute proof of this, it’s undeniable that the two were quite close. Little is known now about this dog, but it’s was likely a Swedish dog, similar to Fersen’s own, which was called Odin. Marie Antoinette also had a red and white spaniel named Mignon, a gift from her dearest friend, the Princesse de Lamballe. The spaniel was called Thisbée originally, but Marie Antoinette’s affectionate nickname of Mignon eventually stuck. Mignon was left behind at the Tuileries after the chaos of the invasion of the Parisian palace during the revolution, but was later reunited with the queen at her imprisoned lodgings within the Tower.

Anne Boleyn was also fond of dogs. There are records of her greyhound, Urian, as well as a little lap dog called Purkoy. His name is thought to be derived from the French word ‘Pourquoi’, meaning ‘why’, so it’s easy to imagine that Purkoy must have been an inquisitive looking little canine. His exact breed isn’t known. Purkoy came to a tragic end, falling out of a high window. It’s said that all the courtiers were afraid to tell Anne, knowing how distraught she would be, and it fell to Henry VIII himself to break the bad news. Anne also had a songbird that was sent to her by Lady Lisle, wife of the Governor of Calais. She found great pleasure in listening to it sing.

Mary, Queen of Scots is another queen who could usually be found in the company of one of her beloved lap dogs. In fact, her Skye terrier, usually recorded as being called Geddon, was found huddled, frightened and blood-spattered, under her skirt after her execution by beheading. I don’t know what happened to poor Geddon after this, but I hope someone gave him a kind home. It’s nice to think that these three doomed queens – each of them executed – found some comfort in their last days through the company of their pets.

Catherine and Zemira

Fortunately, many other queens through history found joy in their animal companions, without the executions. Catherine de’ Medici is said to have possessed a long-tailed monkey from the Indies. Queen Isabella of Spain had a pair of Cuban Amazon parrots, brought back to her by Columbus. Catherine the Great of Russia was extremely attached to her little greyhound called Zemira. The dog slept in the queen’s room in a pink silk-lined cradle. She was also painted with her mistress, since one of Catherine’s favourite activities was walking with her little dog. Zemira’s likeness lives on in various sculptures as well, since the queen’s affection for her meant she became something of a muse for artists seeking the queen’s patronage.

In China, Empress Dowager Cixi apparently owned over a hundred Pekingese dogs and was so fond of them that she supervised their daily baths. Pekingese dogs were quite exclusive, and for a period of time in history, they could only be owned by members of the Chinese Imperial Palace. With their unique lion-like appearance, the little dogs were believed to bring luck and protection against evil spirits.

Imperial ladies holding pekingese dogs

In Egypt, gazelles were common pets through history. Queen Isiemkheb loved her pet gazelle so much that she couldn’t bear to be parted from it after death. Unfortunately, the gazelle’s name is unknown to us today, but it’s custom made sarcophagus still exists, carved with the image of the gazelle. The mummified gazelle was found with Isiemkheb in her tomb, both preserved in such a way and possessing amulets to ensure that they would someday be united again.

And of course, in more modern history, Queen Elizabeth II is famous for her pack of corgis, as well as for being an excellent rider, even venturing out on horseback at ninety years of age. That’s dedication to spending time with animals!

Plenty of writers have pets too, so if you enjoy linking up adorable or eccentric pets to famous faces, I’ve blogged about the pets of writers, too.

 


The Wardrobe Mistress, a novel of one of Marie Antoinette’s wardrobe women who casually spies on the queen during the French Revolution and finds herself torn between her loyalty to the queen and her sympathy for the revolution, publishes on August 15th.

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Bad Decisions in History: featuring Maud de Braose

Maud de Braose was the wife of William de Braose, a powerful Marcher baron who was also one of King John’s favourites at court. Born in France, she married William around 1166 and lived with him in England. A strong-willed and intelligent woman, she seems to have enjoyed a close partnership with her husband. They allegedly had sixteen children, and he trusted her to the degree that he put her in charge of Hay Castle in Wales. Maud also proved her courage when she defended Painscastle against a Welsh attack, holding it for three weeks until English reinforcements arrived.

Her stubbornness and determination didn’t always serve her well, however. When she stood up to King John in 1208, it ultimately led to her gruesome downfall.

Bad decision: Calling King John a murderer

King John hasn’t exactly emerged from history with a shining reputation. Children know him as Robin Hood’s cowardly villain, his contemporaries often compared him to his more heroic brother, Richard the Lionheart, and he probably lost the crown jewels in a river. Plus, there’s the fact that he may have actually been involved in the suspicious and convenient disappearance of his nephew, Arthur of Brittany.

Under Angevin law, Arthur had precedence over John in regards to gaining the throne of England. He was the son of Geoffrey, John’s older brother. After Richard’s death, the throne should have next gone to Geoffrey, but since he’d died in a tournament accident at only twenty-seven years of age, his son Arthur became the next heir. Under Norman law, John took precedence, as the only surviving son of Henry II. He had the support of most of the English and Norman nobility, and took up his reign, in defiance of the contrasting laws, in 1199. His nephew Arthur, however, had the support of most of the Breton, Main, and Anjou nobles, as well as that of the French king.

Parts of modern day France were under English rule during the time

John had no desire to give up his throne, or to see his territory carved in half, if Arthur managed to take over the territories where he had the most support. This is understandable, especially for an ambitious son of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine. Less sympathetic is his decision to murder a child, which is allegedly what John did. This has never been proven, and will probably remain one of those cloudy historical events, but Arthur was brought to Rouen Castle in 1203, and thereafter never seen again. Even at the time, it was generally believed that he was killed on John’s command.

By 1208, Arthur had been gone for five years, and William de Braose still enjoyed the patronage of King John. He owed a large sum of money to the king, however, and could not repay it. In response, John demanded that William and Maud send their son to him as a hostage, proof of their continuing loyalty. Hostages were not uncommon during the time period, and typically they would have been treated well.

Maud wasn’t so sure, however. Whispers of Arthur’s suspicious disappearance were well known. Fearing for his life, she refused to send her son into the care of a man who murdered his own nephew, and didn’t care who knew it.

John was enraged by her open accusations about what was likely his darkest deed. Leading troops, he went to the Welsh border and seized all of Maud and William’s lands. Maud and her eldest son (also called William, who was meant to be the hostage) fled to Ireland. John’s ire did not fade, though, and they were captured there in 1210. Maud and her son William were brought back to England, imprisoned in Corfe Castle, and left there to die by the slow torture of starvation.

The Marcher lords were so outraged by the horrific manner of their deaths that when John was forced to sign the Magna Carta in 1215, it included a clause that no man could be imprisoned, outlawed, banished, or destroyed except by the lawful judgement of his peers, which would prevent John having the power to subject his enemies to the punishment of his whim.

Outcome: Loss of legacy and lands, two years of living as a fugitive, eventually a slow and gruesome death.

I realize this tale of King John isn’t exactly uplifting, but I really recommend Sharon Kay Penman’s Here Be Dragons. This incident is only a small part of the book, which is a really complex portrayal of John, his daughter Joanna, and the Welsh leader Llewelyn Fawr. I may have mentioned this book already in my blog, but I can’t resist a chance to recommend it again. It’s one of my favourites.

Looking for more Bad Decisions in history? Click here, or use the Category sidebar to jump there.

The Best Conference Ever

Last week, I got to check an exciting writer’s goal from my list – I attended the Historical Novel Society conference. I’d been dreaming of going for quite a long time, and it was amazing to finally make it to the event. I realize this sounds incredibly nerdy, but whatever, I love history and I love novels, so it’s the perfect combination as far as I’m concerned.

#HNS2017 (check the link for various fun tweets from the conference) was held in Portland, Oregon. I arrived the afternoon before the conference started, which gave me time to explore the city a bit. I went to a history museum (of course), saw some beautiful roses, and met some very nice people in a cool little wine bar.

The museum had many great exhibits, but I was particularly drawn to these hats. Definitely lingering research excitement from writing The Wardrobe Mistress

Special sessions and workshops made up the first day of the conference, and I took a copious amount of notes and got ink all over my fingers because apparently I can hardly write by hand anymore. My first workshop was about pacing in a story, and since I’m at the 80K word count on my latest novel, it was perfect timing for me to work all of the smart and creative tips I learned into my edits. As part of the workshop, we read a paragraph from book with gripping pacing, and then read the same paragraph, only rewritten in a way that made it fall flat. Conference chair and author/actress extraordinaire Leslie Carroll read the pieces aloud, and she’s so utterly compelling that even the poor example paragraph sounded good.

I also went to a workshop on historical firearms, hosted by Gordon Frye who also has a podcast called Gordon’s Gun Closet. It was fascinating to be able to see – and touch – these historical firearms. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it turns out muskets are quite heavy, especially with bayonets. The French style was considered to be a little more technologically advanced at the time (and seemed to take a bit more practice to handle than the British one), which I think would have appealed to a few of my characters in The Wardrobe Mistress, who can be a tad smug about the superiority of their country and its revolutionary ideals.

I’m trying to avoid the temptation to over-describe every wonderful little nugget of wisdom, each enlightening conversation I had, every time I turned into a complete fangirl because I spotted one of my literary heroes. There would just be so much if I recapped it all! A lot of highlights stand out in my mind, though. Inspiring keynote speaker Geraldine Brooks talking about the sparks that flare a story to life are the most exciting, but that ‘bum glue’ (gluing yourself to the chair and just writing) is the only way to truly get a book done. I remember glancing around, and seeing other authors nodding just as hard as I was. David Ebershoff, also a keynote speaker, mesmerized the crowd with the moving story of his journey to tell the story of Lili Elbe, which became his acclaimed novel The Danish Girl. Kate Forsyth raised goosebumps on my arms with her enthralling performance of Tam Lin. I’ve never before seen such a large group of people become so silent; I’m convinced she’s as magical as the faerie queen of the story (although much less nefarious, of course). There were so many fun, unique moments, too; sitting in on an impromptu tarot reading (using Kris Waldherr’s beautiful goddess deck), playing Cards Against Humanity near a group of mask-wearing quadrille dancers, staying up far too late because going to bed seems absurd when you’ve made new friends that you might not see again until the next conference, two years away.

So now I’m back home, mostly caught up on sleep, feeling refreshed to get back to work on my writing. I’ve only got about 15K more words before my work-in-project is ready for edits (she says blithely, as if edits won’t be substantial), and there’s a new kernel of an idea unfurling in my mind, something that sparked to life after an evening of socializing and trying absinthe for the first time. Is that cliché? Oh well.