The Secrets of J.P. Morgan’s Private Library

By Nancy Bilyeau

On March 27, 1902, leading architect Charles McKim had an appointment to see John Pierpont Morgan in Manhattan. Any time J.P. Morgan beckoned, people came running. He was the most powerful banker in America, the financier of railroads and the U.S. Steel purchase. That day McKim was astounded—and excited—to learn that Morgan wanted him to design a new building but not an office or bank. It was to be a private library to hold the banker’s overflowing collection of rare books, ancient treasures, sculptures, and paintings.

The library was planned for next door to Morgan’s house on Madison Avenue and 36th Street, McKim learned. As for its design, this was to be no simple collection of rooms to house books and other valuables. In his voracious collecting of valuables, Morgan seems to have seen himself as a Medici prince. So his library reflected that: McKim was hired to design an Italian Renaissance wonder built with Italianate marble, its rotunda boasting ceiling frescoes painted by Harry Siddons Mowbray that were fit for a cathedral.

1. Pierpont Morgan's StudyMorgan had so much to house there. He collected Old Masters paintings and sculptures, tapestries, Regency furniture, bronzes, jewelry, armor, metalwork, illuminated manuscripts, Gutenberg bibles, ancient Babylonian cylinder seals, and medieval metalwork with gold.

And then there were the books. He bought Charles Dickens’ original manuscript of A Christmas Carol, with the author’s revision notes in the margin. Morgan owned the sole surviving manuscript of John Milton’s Paradise Lost, Henry David Thoreau’s journals, Thomas Jefferson’s letters to his daughter Martha, and rare letters to Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte.

One of his most cherished acquisitions was the Lindau Gospels. Its importance was suggested by the designation it held: M1.  The gospels were written by monks in the 9th century and the jeweled covers were considered the finest treasures of the Carolingian age. The way Morgan acquired it was significant. His scholarly nephew, Junius Spencer Morgan, sent a telegram in code to him in July 1899 saying that the Lindau Gospels, in the possession of the Earl of Ashburnham, could be purchased, and the British Museum could not meet the asking price. “Morgan could: he paid 10,000—nearly $50,000—for something that would be valued at millions if it came on the market a century later,” wrote Jean Strouse in Morgan: American Financier.

6-Pierpont-Morgans-LibraryJunius Spencer was also the person who told the banker about a prospective librarian: a young brilliant woman named Belle da Costa Greene, who was then working at the Princeton University library. Once she came to work for Morgan at his library in 1906, she took charge and not only cataloged his acquisitions but helped him pursue new purchases.

Morgan loved his private library so much that he spent most of his time there instead of the bank office at 23 Wall Street. He worked out of his study, also known as the West Room. As Herbert Satterlee, Morgan’s son-in-law and first biographer, later recalled, “No one could really know Mr. Morgan at all unless he had seen him in the West Room. This was because the room expressed his conception of beauty and color in varied and wonderful forms.” The study had an antique wooden ceiling, stained glass windows, and red damask silk covering the walls.

Much of Morgan’s collection of books was stored in the main library room. The walls, reaching to a height of thirty feet, were lined floor to ceiling with triple tiers of bookcases fashioned of bronze and inlaid Circassian walnut. Above were ceiling frescoes, many of them showing astrological figures. Morgan was a member of the mysterious Zodiac Club in New York, which never had more or less than twelve members. Morgan is believed to have met with astrologers as well as psychics.

Another remarkable feature of the main room was two secret winding staircases that allowed people to move between the levels of bookshelves and balconies. Two staircases, concealed behind bookcases at the corners of the room, could only be revealed by pulling a certain lever.

And this was but one of the secrets contained in J.P. Morgan’s sumptuous, magical private library…

Article written by Author and Editor Nancy Bilyeau

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Nancy BNancy Bilyeau is the author of the historical thrillers “The Blue” and “Dreamland” and the Tudor mystery series “The Crown,” “The Chalice,” and “The Tapestry.” She is a magazine editor who has lived in the United States and Canada.

In “The Blue,” Nancy drew on her own heritage as a Huguenot. She is a direct descendant of Pierre Billiou, a French Huguenot who immigrated to what was then New Amsterdam (later New York City) in 1661. Nancy’s ancestor, Isaac, was born on the boat crossing the Atlantic, the St. Jean de Baptiste. Pierre’s stone house still stands and is the third oldest house in New York State.

Nancy, who studied History at the University of Michigan, has worked on the staffs of “InStyle,” “Good Housekeeping,” and “Rolling Stone.” She is currently the deputy editor of the Center on Media, Crime and Justice at the Research Foundation of CUNY and a regular contributor to “Town & Country” and “Mystery Scene Magazine.”

Nancy’s mind is always in past centuries but she currently lives with her husband and two children in New York City.

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The Ghost of Madison Avenue 4 F3From the author of The Blue and the Joanna Stafford trilogy—a compelling mystery set in the faded glory of New York’s Gilded Age.

In this unforgettable story, bestselling author Nancy Bilyeau takes readers to J. P. Morgan’s private library in December 1912, when two very different people haunted by lost love come together in an unexpected way.

Helen O’Neill, part of a tight-knit Irish-American family in the Bronx, is only too happy to report to work at the spectacular private library built on Madison Avenue by millionaire financier J. P. Morgan. The head librarian, the brilliant and beautiful Belle da Costa Greene, had hired Helen away from the Metropolitan Museum of Art after she witnessed Helen’s unusual talent with handling artifacts.

Helen soon discovers the Morgan Library is a place like no other, with its secret staircases, magical manuscripts, and mysterious murals. But that’s nothing compared to a person Helen alone sees: a young woman standing on Madison Avenue, looking as if she were keeping watch. In learning the woman’s true link to the Morgan, Helen must face the pain of her own past. She finds herself with a second chance at happiness—if she has the courage.

From the author of The Blue, the Joanna Stafford trilogy, and the soon-to-be published Dreamland, set in 1911 Coney Island, comes The Ghost of Madison Avenue, a story both thrilling and moving.

Praise for Nancy Bilyeau’s Fiction

“Nancy Bilyeau’s passion for history infuses her books”
—Alison Weir, bestselling historian and novelist

On The Ghost of Madison Avenue:

“The Gilded Age splendors of the Morgan Library come to life in this wonderful, warm-hearted tale of Christmases past, present, and future. Bilyeau weaves a wealth of gorgeous period detail into her ghost story of old New York, delivering genuine chills, family drama, and poignant romance with equal skill. A gorgeous holiday treat!”
—Mariah Fredericks, author of Death of a New American

On Dreamland:

“This fast-paced, engrossing novel from Bilyeau … gives readers an up-close and personal view of New York’s Gilded Age”
Library Journal, starred review

“Beautifully written and impeccably researched, Dreamland is a rollicking ride.”
—Fiona Davis, author of The Chelsea Girls

“A marvelous book!”
—Ellen Marie Wiseman, author of What She Left Behind

On The Blue:

“Definitely a winner!”
—Kate Quinn, author of The Alice Network

“Fascinating”
—Ian Rankin, international bestseller

On the Joanna Stafford Trilogy:

“All the ingredients of the best historical fiction … will satisfy even the most ardent mystery fans.”
—Deborah Harkness, author of A Discovery of Witches

“Bilyeau deftly weaves extensive historical detail throughout, but the real draw of this suspenseful novel is its juicy blend of lust, murder, conspiracy and betrayal.”
Oprah Magazine

History Surrounds Us With Stuart S. Laing

It is always a pleasure to have Author and history enthusiast Stuart S. Laing visit Layered Pages. He talks with me about the images he captures of Edinburgh and gives us a glimpse of it’s fascinating history! 

Stuart, I have been enjoying the photos of Edinburgh you have been posting on social media. Even though I haven’t had the chance to visit the city, it is on my bucket list! When you find an image to photograph, what is going through your mind?

Stuart

Stuart S. Laing

Thank you, and I would love to give you a guided tour around town one day. As to taking photos I think it just comes down to being in the moment. I love the architecture of the Old Town, the history surrounding you, and the energy of the people both local and visitors from all corners of the world. Trying to capture just a hint of that is such fun. But I am strictly of the point and click school of photography.

The architecture is certainly breathtaking!  You really do have a great eye for imagery. Which I believe is part of your story telling in books. What do you characters have to say about that?

I think Robert Young would agree with you. He would point out that the more you can see, the more you can know. A shady character like Shug Nicholls would prefer people not go prying into what he and his old adversary, Sergeant MacIan of the Town Guard, get up too. What I try to achieve with words is to paint the reader into the scene so they can be there and feel the cobbled streets beneath their feet and catch a waft of the stink from open sewers or the sweet aroma of perfumed ladies as they pass by.

I notice you choose a black and white medium for your pictures. Is there a particular reason why?

I think the benefit of black and white is it brings an element of doubt into a picture, was it taken yesterday or 50 years ago? It’s my attempt to try to capture the timelessness of a city which seems to never change on the surface but in reality has been in constant motion as old buildings crumble and new ones rise. The thing which saves Edinburgh from the anonymity which besets so many city centres is the fact that in large the centre of town has managed to escape the concrete and glass monstrosities of so many other old cities.

Edinburgh 6What do you love most about Edinburgh?

The simple answer is everything. As I mentioned earlier it’s the history, the buildings, the noise and the hustle and bustle. I know that many locals decry events which fill the centre of town such as the

Festival Fringe which draws tens of thousands daily throughout August but I actually love the crowds. I think that many forget that until the development of the New Town from the 1760s onwards, Edinburgh was largely shoehorned into a space smaller than many modern city parks. It was this which led to Edinburgh Old Town being home to the first skyscrapers as builders went up rather than out. So, for me, seeing those crowds is simply an echo of the past when the Royal Mile was home to shops, coffeehouse, stalls, animals, horses and carts all competing for space. These days there is little risk of having a cow squash your foot under its hoof so people probably should count their blessings

Edinburgh IIHow often do you get a chance to visit the city?

I try to get across as often as possible, and normally at least several times a year. Having a membership of Historic Scotland allows me unlimited entry to Edinburgh Castle which provides another excuse to pop over.

 

 

 

Edinburgh 7

Cowgate before the ‘improvements’ of the 1860s

What have you discovered on your adventures to be the most surprising?

Probably that despite all the changes Edinburgh has faced, urban planners, great fires, which destroyed a large area of the Royal Mile meaning that parts of the New Town are actually older than parts of the Old Town, is the fact that you can take the map of town drawn in the 1740s and use it to guide you through the streets, closes and wynds (alleyways) today. Even when regeneration meant the slum dwellings of the Cowgate were obliterated in the name of progress in the 1860s, the new homes and shops were all built on the footprint of what they replaced. It is still remarkably easy to walk from the Royal Mile to the south side of town following the exact same route you would have taken in the 15th, 16th, 17th or 18th century. That is what constantly inspires me to keep going back.

Edinburgh 4Describe Edinburgh to me from your mind.

Edinburgh, to me, is a strange combination of what you see and what you feel. When I stand on the cobbles by St Giles Cathedral in the very heart of town I don’t only see the beauty of the church before me but, in my mind, I also see the tall, grim walls of the old Tolbooth which once stood here, its location marked by brass markers set in the cobbles. It was here that William Burke, one half of the murderous duo with William Hare, met his end in 1829 on gallows built where the Tolbooth had once stood. It was from the Tolbooth that Captain Porteous of the Town Guard was seized by a mob who would lynch him in the Grassmarket. However it was also here where stalls once stood ran by women selling their wares such as home weaving and hand knitted clothes, fresh wild flowers and vegetables to the people of town. Nearby the famous poet Allan Ramsay operated the first circulating library which opened in 1725. That is what fascinates me about Edinburgh, the constant mixture between beauty and darkness. It was the city of Enlightenment when Scotland led the world in the advancement of science while at the same time huge crowds would gather in good humoured revelry to watch the public hangings in the street. The city itself presents visitors with its split personality. On one hand you have the cramped, towering tenements with the warren of narrow alleys running under and between them where every Close tells its own story and where you can get a taste of how the city once looked and felt, and occasionally smelled as you venture down them. Meanwhile only a short walk away you discover the elegance, charm and open, broad streets of the Georgian New Town where upmarket retailers and fashionistas can be found sipping artisan coffees in the streets where Robert Louis Stevenson grew up. That is what keeps drawing me back again and again. The dual nature of a city where everything changes and nothing does. If that doesn’t make sense you need to visit and spend a day just walking the streets and let some of fair Edina’s spirit work its way into your heart.

Stuart, thank you!

And thank you for allowing me to share my love of Auld Reekie with you. And remember that invite for a guided tour is always open.

Thank you, everyone for visiting Layered Pages today. Stay tuned for our follow up post about History Surrounds Us coming soon here at Layered Pages! -Stephanie

More About Stuart: 

Born and raised on the east coast of Scotland in the ancient Pictish Kingdom of Fife Stuart grew up looking across the Firth of Forth towards the spires and turrets of the city of Edinburgh and its castle atop its volcanic eyrie.

He has always been fascinated by the history of Auld Reekie and has spend most of his life studying Scottish history in all its aspects whenever he finds the time between family, work and the thousand and one other things that seek to distract him.
Despite the vast panorama of Scotland’s history he always find himself being drawn back to the cobbled streets of the Old Town. Those streets have provided the inspiration for his stories and characters.

He would urge all visitors to Scotland’s ancient capital to (briefly) venture into one of the narrow closes running down from the Royal Mile to get a flavour of how alive with mischief, mayhem, love and laughter these streets once were.

Stuart’s Facebook Pages where you can find more images from him and information about his stories HERE.

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(All book reviews, interviews, guest posts and promotions are originals. In order to use any text or pictures from Layered Pages, please ask for permission from Stephanie Hopkins)

 

 

 

Putting Fiction and Art Together

Flying Fish Club (1)

A year or so ago I had this idea to bring artists and writers together for a collaboration of their work. I wondered what that would be like and how would their work complement each other. My client and friend, Janet Stafford wrote a book called, “Heart Soul & Rock ‘n’ Roll” and there is a Karaoke scene in the book and the setting is a place called, “The Flying Fish.” The story is about Forty-year-old Lindsay Mitchell is an assistant minister at a church where she’s always been happy. But suddenly she misses her old college rock band. “I just want to rock one more time before I die,” she moans to friends Sue and Patti. When Patti invites her to vacation at Point Pleasant Beach, Lins meets Neil Gardner, front man for the Grim Reapers. The two have musical chemistry. But a whirlwind romance with a broke, agnostic musician who lives over a music store? That just might be more than Lins bargained for. Thus, begins our project to put a collaboration together.

I contacted Graphic Designer Lee Davis whom I have known for quite a while now and I love his work and talent. I thought he would be perfect for this project because it would be completely different from anything he has ever done. I wanted to challenge him and have him reach deep down and come up with what he imagines the characters in the Karaoke scene looks like. To put a face to a name. Wow did he do a great job!

Janet had artist Dan Bush put together an image of the Karaoke Bar and in Janet’s blog post about the collaboration, she talks about how the image was inspired.  Head on over to Squeaking Pips Press Blog and check out the graphic pages designed by Lee Davis and the read the scene that inspired this project!

Stephanie M. Hopkins

Links:

Squeaking Pips Press Blog

Lee Davis

Amazon Link to Heart Soul & Rock ‘N’ Roll

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Emma Haddon-Wright’s Exploration of Lady Godiva

Today Author Emma Haddon-Wright talks with me about her collaboration on Sexuality and its Impact on British History, about her about her medieval studies and her research into the world of Lady Godiva. -Stephanie M. Hopkins

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When I was first approached by Hunter and asked if I would be happy to write an essay about Lady Godiva for Sexuality and its Impact on History, I had very mixed emotions! On one hand I  was extremely excited to be asked to contribute. On the other I thought, “how on earth can I write a whole chapter about a naked ride through Coventry?”. How wrong could I be?!

Firstly, the Anglo-Saxon period is not an era of history that I have ever studied in depth before. That’s not to say that I don’t find it interesting – in fact I find it very difficult to hone my studies to one particular period! I was a late bloomer to history, I didn’t realise how much it excited me as a subject until my early thirties, which is when I decided it was time to get my degree. I studied with The Open University in Medieval to Modern European History, with a specialism in material culture and global heritage. My subject of study spanned nearly 700 years from the Plague and The Peasants Revolt to Perestroika and Glasnost! Sadly, none of that was going to help me with Godiva…

I don’t think I’m alone in knowing the basics of the legend, but very little else. Godiva was one of those myths/ legends from childhood. She was a throw away line in a song belted out by Freddie Mercury…. “I’m a racing car passing by, like Lady Godiva”…. Her persona reduced to a really long wig in a fancy dress shop. I had never really stopped to think about Godiva at all. Being asked to research her life completely changed that for me and I hope it will for you too!

My research led me into the world in which she lived, the men that surrounded her, and the power plays which would eventually lead to that fateful year for the Anglo-Saxons, 1066.

However, Godiva is a somewhat invisible woman. It is very difficult to find any contemporary  evidence of her life, much is subject to conjecture – but there are a few concrete facts which I explore in the chapter Godiva: Lady, Legend, Legacy.

Her legendary ride was not documented for more than a century after her death and first appeared in the Flores Historiarum. Two fundamental questions for me was why was a monk singing the praises of Godiva? What evidence is there regarding her naked ride through Coventry? Unfortunately, neither of these questions have straightforward answers.

If we take the second question first, we are instantly questioning the legend itself and also the integrity of the monk who first penned the story. Was the legend part of local oral tradition, a story passed down through the ages until Roger of Wendover decided it was time for it to appear in a chronicle? If it was such a scandal at the time, why wasn’t it included in the much earlier Anglo-Saxon Chronicle? Surely if one of the lords of the realm was being challenged so brazenly by his wife, there would have been some mention of it somewhere within the pages of a contemporary manuscript? This was not the case. In fact, Godiva is mentioned only once in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and it certainly had nothing to do with taxes, nakedness, or horses!

We then come back to the question of why would a monk decide to invent it? Although the earlier Anglo-Saxon Chronicle barely mentions her, it does describe Godiva as a patron of religious houses and founder monasteries. Perhaps he wanted her legacy to live on, perhaps he thought this would help, who knows? I allude to the almost saintly reverence in which she is described and the almost miraculous way in which her long hair covered her so that nothing could be seen ‘except her fair legs’. A miracle indeed! She was a great and pious woman and yet, I suspect without Roger’s account of her life, her name would have been forgotten entirely.The legend eventually became so infamous, Edward I even commissioned his administrators to investigate the alleged heavy taxes!

Skipping forward to where I end the chapter, we see a resurgence of the Godiva legend in the middle of the 19th century, with particular thanks to the train station in Coventry inspiring a certain Tennyson. His poem sparked interest and influenced a whole host of artists to paint various scenes of the legend, one of which graces the cover of the book. Even Queen Victoria got in on the Godiva fever, commissioning a silver statue of her as a gift to Prince Albert – one cannot help but to raise an eyebrow at the meaning of this trinket!

The research was equally entertaining, eye-opening, and educational and I hope you’ll agree with me. Find out more in Sexuality and Its impact on History: The British Stripped Bare.

About the Author:

Emma Haddon-Wright

Emma Haddon-Wright is from Plymouth UK and a lover of all things macabre & mysterious. She has a BA (Hons) Medieval to Modern European History. She is devoted to her family, history and is thrilled to be included in Sexuality & Its Impact on History: The British Stripped Bare! You can find her on Twitter @RedLunaPixie

 

Other Guest post from Authors of Sexuality and its Impact on British History

Medieval Passion, Arthurian Obsession & Courtly Love with Jessica Cale

Research & Writing Historical Fiction with Judith Arnopp

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Medieval Passion, Arthurian Obsession & Courtly Love with Jessica Cale

Today Author Jessica Cale talks with me about her collaboration on Sexuality and its Impact on British History, about her Medieval passion, Arthurian obsession and her fascination with courtly love. -Stephanie M. Hopkins

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When Hunter S. Jones asked me to be a contributor to Sexuality and its Impact on History: The British Stripped Bare, I was thrilled. This was the kind of opportunity I always dreamt of when I was a kid. (Yes, I was a weird kid.) When everyone else wanted to be doctors, astronauts, and entertainers, I was at home watching History’s Mysteries and wanting to be Leonard Nimoy. Everyone else knew him as Spock, but to me he was the host of my favorite show on the History Channel.

corn palace

Behold, the Corn Palace

From there, things progressed as you might imagine. Medieval history was my passion, and I decided to go to school for it. Growing up in Minnesota, the closest castle was the Corn Palace, so I knew if I wanted to study the Middle Ages properly, I was going to have to get on a plane. Fortunately, I was accepted to my first choice school–Swansea University in Wales. As far as I’m concerned, there is no better place to study British medieval history than Wales. With more castles per square mile than anywhere else on earth, it was my idea of heaven.

My first degree went so by so fast I barely felt it. I was fortunate to have a lot of great teachers, in particular the late Ifor Rowlands, who supervised my undergraduate thesis. It was Ifor who suggested a way for me to combine my love of Arthurian literature with the history behind it: I would compare the stories with the Life of William Marshal.

coat of arms

William Marshal’s coat of arms as Earl of Pembroke. Look familiar?

Even during his lifetime, William Marshal was widely regarded as the greatest knight in the world. His life had a lot of interesting parallels to the Lancelot of legend, and in my thesis, I made the argument that the depictions of Lancelot coming out of Marie de Champagne’s court (most notably that from Chrétien de Troyes) were directly inspired by Marshal himself. He was a rock star of the High Middle Ages–handsome, noble, and his prowess was second to none. He was the tutor and companion to Henry the Young King, the eldest son of Henry II, and was rumored to have had an affair with Henry’s wife, Margaret of France. Whether or not he did, no one’s sure, but it wouldn’t be difficult to imagine the hottest gossip of the day popping up in the stories told around court.

Marie de Champagne’s court is best remembered as the unofficial birthplace of the idea of courtly love. At the very least, it is where Andreas Capellanus wrote De Amore, or The Art of Courtly Love, the entertaining, often bonkers, and nevertheless revealing treatise on the ideal and practice of courtly love in the Middle Ages.

In The Art of Courtly Love, Capellanus lays out a number of rules for being in love. Some of them are common practice, but other have changed some over the years. For example, Capellanus argues that jealousy is a good thing and that love cannot and should not exist within marriage.

real castle

A photo I took at Pembroke Castle, William Marshal’s residence as Earl of Pembroke

As an Arthurian obsessive and a Historical Romance author, I have always been fascinated by the idea of courtly love, so when Hunter asked if I would like to be involved with her book, I jumped at the chance to examine it further. One thing that struck me as particularly interesting was the discovery that in spite of common belief and even Capellanus’s recommendations, people did marry for love.

In fact, according to Gratian, you couldn’t be married without it. Three things were required to make a marriage: love, sex, and consent. That’s right–consent. Although forced medieval marriages is a popular trope in historical dramas, in practice, the Church viewed consent as a crucial component of any marriage. Yes, people could feel pressured to marry by parents or just circumstance, but that was the exception rather than the rule. The Church frowned on marriages made only for material gain. Procreation was not the only purpose of marriage, and people also married for love and companionship as they do today.

Love in the Middle Ages was not so very different than it is now, and is it any wonder? While the world changes, human nature does not, and we have a lot more in common with our medieval ancestors than you might guess. I cover a lot of ground in my chapter from common law marriages and annulments to sex, homosexuality, and contraception. Did you know that most of the medieval churches in London were built with the profits of prostitution? True story. It was tolerated and licensed by the Church. Surprise! Along with facts like that, I found recipes for herbal abortifacients, sex magic practices involving fish (what?), a gay king (it’s not the one you’re thinking of), and transgender individuals more or less accepted in society. The more you look into it, the more you find that the Middle Ages weren’t as “medieval” as we’ve been told.

I hope you’ll enjoy reading all about it with me in my chapter in Sexuality and its Impact on History: The British Stripped Bare.

Jessica ColeJessica Cale is a historian, editor, and Historical Romance author. Originally from Minnesota, she earned her B.A. (Hons) in Medieval History and MFA in Creative Writing from Swansea University while climbing castles and photographing mines for history magazines. She is the editor of Dirty, Sexy History and you can visit her website .

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1 + 2018 Sexuality in History Brits Stripped BareSexuality and its Impact on History: The British Stripped Bare

Would you swig a magic potion or plot to kill your husband in order to marry your lover? These are just two of the many romantic and sexual customs from British history that you will explore as seven authors take us through the centuries, revealing that truth is stranger than fiction when it comes to love. From bizarre trivia about courtly love, to techniques and prostitution, you’ll encounter memorable nuggets of provocative information that you’ll want to share.

It’s all here: ménage a trois, chastity belts, Tudor fallacies, royal love and infidelity, marriage contracts (which were more like business arrangements), brothels, kept women, and whorehouses. Take a peek at what really happened between the sheets. Each story provides you with shocking detail about what was at the heart of romance throughout British history.

Sexuality and Its Impact on History: The British Stripped Bare chronicles the pleasures and perils of the flesh, sharing secrets from the days of the Anglo-Saxons, medieval courtly love traditions, diabolical Tudor escapades—including those of Anne Boleyn and Mary Queen of Scots—the Regency, and down to the ‘prudish’ Victorian Era. This scholarly yet accessible study brings to light the myriad varieties of British sexual mores.

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The Gilded Age

The late 19th Century and early 20th Century are a deep fascination of mine and I have studied the history for years as part of my own research for my WIP’s. I was delighted when Janet Stafford posted these two posts-below-on her site, “Squeaking Pips.” I’ve read her articles on the Gilded Age several times and I was impressed and intrigued with what she wrote and how concise she is with her knowledge in the era.

Janet Stafford is an author with the wonderful, “Saint Maggie Series” I recommend. She and I are currently working on a project so moving that in the first phase of it, I was moved to tears. What is the project that has me so worked up? More to come on that soon! Meanwhile, please be sure to take the time to read both posts and comments are appreciated. We would love to hear your thoughts! -Stephanie M. Hopkins

The Gilded Age

gilded-age-cover-1873

In 1873, Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner published a book that became the name of an era: The Gilded Age.  This period, generally believed to be between 1870 and 1900, was marked by rapid industrialization, economic growth, and immigration, most notably in the North and West. The South, however, after defeat in the Civil War and the punishment of the Reconstruction, suffered from economic depression. This is an important difference to note. The successes and excesses of the Gilded Age did not touch the United States in its entirety.

Twain and Dudley’s book is set in the United States at the very beginning of the Gilded Age. Marvin Felheim[i], who wrote the introduction to my yellowed paperback copy of the book, notes that the story’s primary criticism was focused on “the greed and lust – for land, for money, for power – of an alliance of Western land speculators, Eastern capitalists, and corrupt officials who dominated the society and appreciably altered its character.”[ii] He goes on to say:

The “Gilded Age” was a “peaceful” era following the horrors of the Civil War. The North, industrialized and righteous, had won. One consequence was the westward extension of institutions representing its victorious value system. Expansion was in the air. Capital was available and bankers were looking avidly for investments. The West, with all its rich potentialities, both of wealth and adventure, lay ready to be exploited. Colonel Sellers’ [a principle character] ambitious schemes were not merely the idle dreams of a satirist’s euphoric imagination: they represented the hopes and beliefs of a nation.[iii]

It is true wages for the average worker rose during this period. However, there was a dark side to all this growth and expansion, and that was an alarming disparity in income and wealth. Briefly put, the gulf between the wealthy class and everyone else began to widen. According to Steve Fraser…Read more HERE

Whispers of the Gilded Age in SEEING THE ELEPHANT

Gold Bars

To recap, the Gilded Age was a period in the United States that roughly spanned 1870-1900. An era of rising industrialization, urbanization, and immigration, it also saw a rising disparity between the wealthiest Americans and those who were “regular” folks.

Although it was a time of conspicuous consumption, some industrialists sought to moderate their public image by engaging in civic works, such as the building of libraries, hospitals, schools, and other institutions beneficial to the populace. In that era, the wealthy still feared hell – and if they didn’t, at least they were willing to hedge their bets by doing something good for those who had little.

The big wigs (or “big bugs,” as Eli calls them) were living well, but many workers in the Gilded Age routinely got injured or killed on the job and had little in the way of compensation. Is it any wonder that this era also saw the rise of the union movement?

New discoveries in science drove improve patient treatment and housing. A reform movement, led by Dorothea Dix, sought to change mental “hospitals” from dank jails where “patients” were put in chains and lived in their own filth to healthy environments that embraced more humane treatment methods.

I enjoyed putting early whispers of the changing landscape in American society into the fourth book in the Saint Maggie series. In 1864, they are felt in the little town of Blaineton, New Jersey. So, when Maggie and her family return to their hometown, they find not only their own lives changing, but also the life of their town, and these changes are borne out in the following storylines…Read more HERE

***Illustration: Cover of the first edition of The Gilded Age by Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner, 1873

 

Research & Writing Historical Fiction

Today Judith Arnopp talks about her research, writing and her collaboration on Sexuality and its Impact on British History with me. Judith’s life-long passion for history eventually led her to the University of Wales where she gained a B.A. in English and Creative Writing, and a Masters in Medieval History. Her first novel, Peaceweaver was published in 2009, quickly followed by two others. Her best-selling Tudor novel, The Winchester Goose lead her to create five more novels covering the lives of Anne Boleyn, Katheryn Parr and Elizabeth of York. The King’s Mother is the third book in The Beaufort Chronicles a trilogy following the fascinating life of Margaret Beaufort. She is researching her eleventh novel. Judith’s non-fiction work has been published in various historical anthologies and she is active online at her website and at Facebook  and Twitter @juditharnopp

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During the course of research for my novel The Kiss of the Concubine: a story of Anne Boleyn I constantly came up against intriguing suggestions of some sort of romantic attachment between Anne and Thomas Wyatt. Historians are divided as to the nature of the relationship and at the time, since it had no part in my novel I wasn’t able to pursue the matter. So, when I was approached by Hunter Jones to write a piece for a forthcoming anthology to be published by pen and Sword books, Sexuality and its Impact on British History, I jumped at the chance.

The project is a collaborative project between authors: Hunter S Jones, Annie Whitehead, Jessica Cale, Gayle Hulme, Dr Beth Lynne and Emma Haddon-Wright and myself, examining how romance and sex has impacted upon history. It looks at relationships from the Anglo Saxon period right through to the Victorian, throwing up some surprising facts and details.

I love researching the Tudors. I love Anne Boleyn and I also love Thomas Wyatt’s poetry so it wasn’t long before I was fully immersed, my study piled high with books and snippets of verse stuck around the room.

Wyatt’s presence in Anne’s social circle and the fact of his arrest at the same time as Smeaton, Norris, Brereton, Rochford and Weston, is often overlooked. It is only Wyatt’s surviving poems that give us pause, make us stop and consider if perhaps he was too close to the queen; perhaps he was the lucky one, the one that got away.

Even if their affection was platonic, they were friends and moved in the same circles for most of their lives. The queen’s companions were also his, he drank with them, laughed with them, jousted with them and later, in May 1536, he watched from his prison in the Bell Tower as they died on the scaffold. He may or may not have deserved to die with them but the experience was riven into his heart and coloured his poetry ever afterwards. It is clear he could not forget.

The bell tower showed me such sight

That in my head sticks day and night.

There did I learn out of a grate,

For all favour, glory, or might,

That yet circa Regna tonat.

Whether he was guilty of adultery with Anne or not, the remainder of Wyatt’s life was difficult; he spent most of his time abroad, involved in intrigue and espionage, leading to capture and ransom by the Spanish. His involvement in the attempted assassination of Reginald Pole led a second spell in the Tower of London. His marriage to Elizabeth Brooke failed and eventually he left her and lived openly with his mistress, Elizabeth Darrell. We all know how Anne died but Wyatt died of virulent fever at the home of his friend Sir John Horsey in Sherborne, at the age of thirty nine.

My chapter on Anne and Wyatt, named These Bloody Days in honour of one of his best poems, took a great deal of time and consideration. One day I’d hold one view, the next I felt differently but the more I read the more I became immersed in the desperate sorrows of that time. My personal life took a back seat and I fell behind with my novel The King’s Mother – Book Three of The Beaufort Chronicles, the life of Margaret Beaufort. I distinctly remember one afternoon sitting on the floor surrounded by books and documents and realising that I just had to stop researching and get something on paper or I was going to miss the deadline. Once I began to write it, things became easier, as I slowly made order out of chaos I began to feel better and when it was time to send it off to the editor, I knew it was going to be all right.

As luck would have it, once Anne and Thomas were out of my head I was able to return to Margaret’s story and met the deadline on that project too. All the authors involved are in a fever of excitement and the book has been received with a great deal of enthusiasm and we are all set to go.

Author Judith Arnopp

 Sexuality and Its Impact on History: The British Stripped Bare 

Banner II Final for Sexuality and its imapct on history

Would you swig a magic potion or plot to kill your husband in order to marry your lover? These are just two of the many romantic and sexual customs from British history that you will explore as seven authors take us through the centuries, revealing that truth is stranger than fiction when it comes to love. From bizarre trivia about courtly love, to techniques and prostitution, you’ll encounter memorable nuggets of provocative information that you’ll want to share.

It’s all here: ménage a trois, chastity belts, Tudor fallacies, royal love and infidelity, marriage contracts (which were more like business arrangements), brothels, kept women, and whorehouses. Take a peek at what really happened between the sheets. Each story provides you with shocking detail about what was at the heart of romance throughout British history.

Sexuality and Its Impact on History: The British Stripped Bare chronicles the pleasures and perils of the flesh, sharing secrets from the days of the Anglo-Saxons, medieval courtly love traditions, diabolical Tudor escapades—including those of Anne Boleyn and Mary Queen of Scots—the Regency, and down to the ‘prudish’ Victorian Era. This scholarly yet accessible study brings to light the myriad varieties of British sexual mores.

Available on Amazon