Georgian


Although I’ve done a number of historicals now – enough to say I am a ‘historical novelist’ – I still feel that not all historical eras are equal. People have said to me ‘the Tudors are very popular. I’d like to see you do something set in Tudor times.’ I nod politely, because there’s no predicting where my muse might take me next. But inside, I’m still going ‘ew, the Tudors. They’re all torture and paranoia and witch burnings.’ I can’t really imagine wanting to write in an era where my nation’s best battleship sunk because someone forgot to put the plug in.

This is slightly hypocritical of me, because I like the Anglo-Saxons a lot, and they are not without brutality either. Plus, their technological level is much lower. But they nevertheless seem more civilised to me – a thoughtful, religious, melancholy people with less tendency towards burning women alive. Maybe I’m reading too much from the example of King Alfred and the Venerable Bede – both the sort of humane intellects I wouldn’t mind meeting in real life.

The 18th Century, though, is still my favourite. Part of this is the clothes. I can’t take Henry VIII seriously in his padded bloomers, but when we’ve moved on to tricorn hats, poet shirts, tight waistcoats and frock coats with swirling skirts; tight breeches and men in white silk stockings, showing off their toned calves to the ladies, well, then you’re talking.

But it’s more than that. I prefer civilization to savagery – I like to write in a world in which I would not find it unbearable to live – and the 18th Century is a time in which it’s possible to exist as something other than a warrior. More than that, it’s a time of great exploration. The world was opening up before Western Man, and as a result the spirit of the age is one of excitement. New things are being thought of every day. New places are being discovered. The world and the human spirit is expanding, and for the first time people are beginning to think about freedom and equality and the rights of man. An awful lot of what we take for granted nowadays was first being thought of in the 18th Century and it’s fascinating to watch it blowing their minds.

I read a lot of 18th Century journals as part of my research, and I find no difficulty in liking these people. They are urbane and amused, confident and surprisingly open minded. They have none of the self-righteous imperialism and prudery of the 19th Century, and while you’d have to cover the ears of the sensitive, because of their vulgarity, I wouldn’t feel a qualm about inviting them around for dinner. The tendency to fight a duel at the drop of a hat would be worrisome, I suppose, and they do drink and quarrel a lot, but they’re never quite what you expect. I think Jane Austen, who was that little bit later, would be shockingly disapproving of them. But in a fight between Lady Mary Wortley-Montague, lady of letters, who travelled the world, wrote letters from Turkey, and invented an early form of smallpox inocculation, and Jane Austen, my bets are on Lady Mary. She, at least, had attended the Empress of Austria when the fine ladies of Austria exhibited their honed pistol marksmanship. I think she’d be the one to walk away from that duel.

BlessedIsle_200x300

Blurb:

For Captain Harry Thompson, the command of the prison transport ship HMS Banshee is his opportunity to prove his worth, working-class origins be damned. But his criminal attraction to his upper-crust First Lieutenant, Garnet Littleton, threatens to overturn all he’s ever worked for.

Lust quickly proves to be the least of his problems, however. The deadly combination of typhus, rioting convicts, and a monstrous storm destroys his prospects . . . and shipwrecks him and Garnet on their own private island. After months of solitary paradise, the journey back to civilization—surviving mutineers, exposure, and desertion—is the ultimate test of their feelings for each other.

These two very different men each record their story for an unfathomable future in which the tale of their love—a love punishable by death in their own time—can finally be told. Today, dear reader, it is at last safe for you to hear it all.

You can read an excerpt and buy Blessed Isle here at Riptide.

Author Bio

Alex Beecroft was born in Northern Ireland during the Troubles and grew up in the wild countryside of the English Peak District. She studied English and Philosophy before accepting employment with the Crown Court where she worked for a number of years. Now a stay-at-home mum and full time author, Alex lives with her husband and two daughters in a little village near Cambridge and tries to avoid being mistaken for a tourist.

Alex is only intermittently present in the real world. She has lead a Saxon shield wall into battle, toiled as a Georgian kitchen maid, and recently taken up an 800 year old form of English folk dance, but she still hasn’t learned to operate a mobile phone.

You can find Alex on

her website,Facebook,Twitter or her Goodreads page

 

Thanks to The Macaronis for having me today to start off the Carina Press M/M Week Blog Tour. Today, Carina Press is releasing six wonderful M/M romances, (two of which are historicals) and in celebration, the authors are going on a blog tour. As part of the tour, each author is giving away an ebook bundle of all 6 book releases. Yes – all six! All you need to do is comment on this post to be entered into today’s giveaway.

To start things off, today we’re going to have some fun with Regency cant. Cant is slang, usually from an underground group. For the purpose of this post, the underground group is thieves. And why am I babbling on about thieves? Because I have a book releasing today from Carina Press titled Brook Street: Thief. The book tells the story of a romance between Lord Benjamin Parker (a younger son of a marquis) and Cavin Fox (the thief).

Cavin lives in a flash house on King Street, deep in the heart of the slums (or rookery) of Regency London. Not a pleasant place to live. Over-crowded conditions with many families living in one house, narrow and very dangerous alleys, buildings that were on the verge of collapse. The rookery was full of criminals of all sorts, including thieves.

Cavin is what we would term today as a hustler or con-artist. He picks up gentlemen from gambling hells with the express intent of having sex with them then robbing them afterwards. To put gentlemen at their ease, he’s learned to not sound like a lower-class thief. To Benjamin, he appears a friendly, lower/middleclass man. Even though Cavin’s speech isn’t littered with cant, some terms are deeply ingrained in him, such as terms associated with thieving.

So now that you have a bit of background, it’s time to have some fun. And fun means quiz time! Don’t worry, I’m an easy teacher. I give gold stars to everyone, and also provide the answers after the questions.

There are a few basic thieves’ terms in the following questions. See if you can pick out the terms that go with their definitions.

1. To steal on the sly (similar to shoplifting).

A.  Sneak

B.  Pinch

C.  Dive

2.  To rob a house or a shop. To slip in undetected and take whatever’s lying around.

A.  Sneak

B.  Pinch

C.  Dive

3.  To pick a person’s pocket.

A.  Sneak

B.  Pinch

C.  Dive

4.  If someone cries beef, what are they doing?

A.  Announcing they are in the mood for a hamburger.

B.  Shouting, raising an alarm after someone.

C.  Divulging a secret.

So how do you think you did? If you’re unsure, check the answer key below. And now you know a bit of Regency thieves cant.

Brook Street: Thief by Ava March – A lord intent on his first decadent night with a man finds love when he picks up a thief in a gambling hall.

http://www.avamarch.com

Buy Link at Carina Press:

Answer key: 1) B. 2) A. 3) C. 4) B.

Map Source: http://www.ph.ucla.edu/epi/snow/1818map/1818map.htm

———————–

A glance at the six books coming out from Carina this week makes me amazed at the scope of our corner of the romance world. The settings span centuries, from long ago in Ava March’s 1822 London story of class boundaries stretched and Erastes’s evocation of light and art in Florence in 1875, to not so long ago, with Larry Benjamin’s chronicle of young love in the 1970’s and 80’s and all the way to Kim Knox’s story of passion in dystopian 2050. Dev Bentham’s story is set in the present with love finally found, as is KC Burn’s tale of a relationship rekindled. Our protagonists are artists and aristocrats, pickpockets and soldiers, all steaming hot.

A Brush With Darkness by Erastes

Brook Street: Thief by Ava March

Moving in Rhythm by Dev Bentham

Bitter Harvest by Kim Knox

First Time, Forever by KC Burn

What Binds Us by Larry Benjamin

Just leave a comment on this post to enter to win an ebook bundle of all 6 releases in Carina’s M/M Week.

———————–

Check out the other stops along the tour. http://carinammweektour.blogspot.com/

19th March – Dev Bentham at Fiction Vixen http://www.fictionvixen.com

19th March – Ava March at The Macaronis http://historicromance.wordpress.com/

20th March – Larry Benjamin at Joyfully Jay http://joyfullyjay.blogspot.com/

21st March – Kim Knox at Rarely Dusty Books http://www.rarelydustybooks.com/

22nd March – Erastes at The Macaronis http://historicromance.wordpress.com/

23rd March – KC Burn at Babbling About Books, and More http://www.kbgbabbles.blogspot.com/

When people ask me what I write, I usually say: “Penny dreadfuls. But they cost more than a penny and aren’t dreadful.”

A historian might point out that this statement is not really correct (and some may argue that, indeed, my writing is quite dreadful), because penny dreadfuls firmly belong in the 19th century, while I aim for an 18th century feeling. Amandine de Villeneuve’s woodcut-like illustrations for my books are in the style of the 18th century, too. And in the 18th century, it was the chapbook that ruled the readership.

Penny dreadfuls were stories published in parts over a course of several weeks, costing one penny each. And for that, the 19th century teenager got Adventure! Drama! Swordfighting! Highwaymen! Pirates! Vampires! A damsel in distress! Spring-heeled Jack and Knights of the Road!

The Victorians did a pretty thorough job at cleaning up the act of the “Penny Merriments”. There was also a shift in the readership. While chapbooks had been read by all ages and classes, penny dreadfuls were mostly aimed at male teenagers with a working class background.

The origins of the chapbook can be tracked back as early as the 1600s, and it could be just about anything from religious pamphlet to printed gallows speech to folk tale to coverage of the Great Fire of London. The natural lifespan of a chapbook was short; due to its very poor paper- and print-quality, it usually ended as toilet paper. It was intended for quick consumption and disposal. As a consequence, much of our knowledge is guesswork. Luckily, Samuel Pepys was an avid collector, so at least a few copies survived the centuries. His collection is held at Magdalene College in Cambridge.

Given the nature of many chapbooks, it’s not surprising that Samuel Pepys, naval administrator, diarist and Lothario was so fond of them.  To quote Steve from “Coupling”:  “When man invented fire, he didn’t say, “Hey, let’s cook.”  He said, “Great, now we can see naked bottoms in the dark!” As soon as Caxton invented the printing press, we were using it to make pictures of, hey, naked bottoms!”

Some months ago, the national press reported of a rare and exciting find:

STASH OF ‘SAUCY’ LITERATURE UNCOVERED AT HISTORIC LAKE DISTRICT HOUSE

“They often contained rather saucy and even rude tales, which were found to be very amusing by their 18th century readers.”

Here’s an excerpt from “The Crafty Chambermaid”, dating back to 1770; the tale of a chambermaid who tricks a young man into marrying her/of a London merchant who tries to romantically pursue a chambermaid (it depends on one’s point of view, I suppose…)

The Merchant he softly crept into the room,
And on the bedside he then sat himself down,
Her knees through the Counterpane he did embrace,
Did Bess in the pillow did hide her sweet face.

He stript of his cloaths and leaped into bed
Saying now lovely creature for thy maidenhead,
She strug led and strove and seemed to be shy
He said divine beauty I pray now comply.

Love and lust, presented in a raunchy, saucy and rude manner – what sells today also sold back in the 18th century. From erotic to pornographic: the chapbook catered to a great variety of needs and interests. And as this is the Macaronis-blog, the question begs to be asked: were there chapbooks with gay, lesbian or bisexual content as well?

Answer: as with so many details in history, we can only guess. There are some indications that such content was published, but one has to read between the lines, and there’s a significant difference in the way same-sex experiences were portrayed: what might have been acceptable for women was absolutely taboo for men.

Sexuality between women often featured in heterosexual erotica and pornography. However, this wasn’t a portrayal of sexual orientation, it wasn’t about lesbian or bisexual women: the ladies would always end up with the dashing hero in the end. The stories left no doubt that they were 100% heterosexual, and any same-sex experience only served the purpose of preparing a woman for “the real thing”, as an introduction to sexuality and preparation for her future (male) lover, often with the help of a more experienced woman.

In her book “Lascivious Bodies – A Sexual History of the Eighteenth Century”***, Julie Peakman writes:

“Thus, in erotica, the reader is guided through the rules of sexual initiation in a three-stage process: masturbation, lesbian sex and, finally, heterosexual intercourse.”

Women were expected to be loving and affectionate, so being loving and affectionate in public was normal. Correspondence between women that we’d think to be “love letters” today were not unusual. Society would often turn a blind eye when it came to very close friendships which may or may not have been of a sexual nature as well, especially if the ladies were discrete. The case was different for women who tried to wear the breeches (especially if those were equipped with artificial “yards”!) and threatened the superior status of men in society, though. But that’s for another day and article.

Now, even if scenes of lesbian sex were written with the erotic imagination of male readers in mind, I think it’s pretty safe to assume that they were consumed and enjoyed by female readers as well. In any case it was much easier for a woman to get her hands on such content than for a man to find erotica involving male-male sex.

Homosexual men – “sodomites” – were almost universally despised. In the hierarchy of society, they were at the very bottom. Sodomy was a crime punishable by death, so it would have been very risky to publish erotic material which portrayed male-male love in a positive light.  “The most detestably sin of buggery” was sometimes brought up in a satirical way, but the connotation was always negative.

However – where there are customers, there are suppliers. Morals are good, but so is money. If a business could be made, it was very likely made, though not in public. An underground press for homosexual erotica – why not? After all, there was a potential audience. No matter how harsh the punishments and how determined the guardians of public virtue were in the prosecution of gay men: they still met, they still loved, they still had sex.

And if one looks at the professions of those “sodomites” who were brought to court, I wouldn’t be surprised in the least if we’d learn one day that, among the butchers and blacksmiths and clerks and furniture makers, there also were a typesetter and printer who weren’t caught…

*** Review to follow.

captain_cook

There are lots of modern myths about the past which it’s very easy for us as modern people to buy into. I was thinking about this today because I’ve recently acquired a number of reprints of 18th Century journals, and I keep coming across sentiments which are startlingly at odds with what popular thought believes about 18th Century people.

We’re accustomed to the idea that the past was a different place from the present – that people thought in ways which are at odds with our modern understanding – but I think that our tendency is to make that a value judgement. The people of the past were old fashioned and wrong. They believed things which no progressive modern person would ever believe. They were, in short, not as good as us.

One of the joys of reading original sources, however, is the way that they challenge this assumption. Yes, the past was different from the present, but it was often different in ways we don’t really suspect, and in ways that challenge our casual assumption of modern superiority.

For example, the idea that women in the past were somehow less critical of men; they were passive wallflowers without a thought of their own, in comparison with modern, kickass heroines.

By contrast I just found this opinion in the correspondence of Mary Delany (published as ‘Letters from Georgian Ireland’ edited by Angelique Day)

Dublin 17 January 1731/2

Would it were so, that I went ravaging and slaying all odious men, and that would go near to clear the world of that sort of animal; you know I never had a good opinion of them, and every day my dislike strengthens; some few I will except, but very few, they have so despicable an opinion of women, and treat them by their words and actions so ungenerously and inhumanly. By my manner of inveighing, anybody less acquainted with me than yourself would imagine I had very lately received some very ill usage. No! ’tis my general observation on conversing with them: the minutest indiscretion in a woman (though occasioned by themselves), never fails of being enlarged into a notorious crime; but men are to sin on without limitation or blame; a hard case!

It’s a complaint I hear daily echoed around my Livejournal communities, and so startlingly familiar that I laughed out loud. Who would have thought it – we’ve been complaining about the double standard for over two hundred years. Of course, in the next line she breaks that familiarity by continuing – not the restraint we are under, for that I extremely approve of, but the unreasonable licence tolerated in the men. How amiable, how noble a creature is man when adorned with virtue! But how detestable when loaded with vice!

These days we would rather argue for the right of women to behave with the licence she detests in her men, rather than the duty of men to behave with the self restraint she hopes for in women, but still it’s apparent that our foremothers were not quite as uncritical as they are sometimes supposed to be.

Another myth that doesn’t quite stand up to the evidence of the original sources is the idea that the 18th Century explorers went out with a doctrine of Imperialism and certainty of superiority, intent on dispossessing the peoples they found of their culture and lands.

With hindsight developed from watching the ghastly results of that first contact, we work backwards and assign the original explorers motives and world-views that are quite inaccurate. In doing so – in our haste to make it plain that as modern people we abhor imperialism in any form – we misrepresent the attitudes of the time.

This is Captain Cook exhibiting his feeling of cultural superiority in Tahiti

We refused to except of the Dog as being an animal we had no use for, at which she seem’d a little surprised and told us that it was very good eating and we very soon had an opportunity to find that it was so, for Mr.Banks having bought a basket of fruit in which happened to be the thigh of a Dog ready dress’d, of this several of us taisted and found that it was meat not to be dispised and therefore took Obarea’s dog and had him immidiatly dress’d by some of the Natives in the following manner. (Cook describes cooking in a hole in the ground.) after he had laid here about 4 hours the Oven (for so I must call it) was open’d and the Dog taken out whole and well done, and it was the opinion of every one who taisted of it that they Never eat sweeter meat, we therefore resolved in the future not to despise Dogs flesh.

Cook on the superiority of Christianity to Tahitian religion:

Various were the opinions concerning the Provisions &c laid out about the dead; upon the whole it should seem that these people not only beleive in a Supream being but on a futurue state also, and that this must be meant either as an offering to some Deitie, or for the use of the dead in the other world, but this last is not very probable as there appear’d to be no Priest craft in the thing, for what ever provisions were put there, it appear’d very plain to us that there it remaind untill it consum’d away of it self. It is most likely that we shall see more of this before we leave the Island, but if it is a Religious ceremoney we may not be able to understand it, for the Misteries of most Religions are very dark and not easily understud even by those who profess them.

My emphasis added. Do these sound to you like the opinions of a man certain that he was the spearhead of civilization? I’m not for a moment denying that his arrival in many of the places he visited was the start of a disastrous and appalling period of exploitation and oppression. Nor that the Imperialism and cultural superiority followed, but the myth tends to be that the first explorers arrived with ill intent. When you read the man’s actual thoughts it’s much harder to keep hold of that.

Cook is not what you expect. And he’s not what you expect in a different way from what you might expect, because although many of his entries read with an almost Star Trek ‘strange new worlds’ delight in discovering new things which I for one find easy to empathize with, in many other places he is as archaic and strange as you can imagine. Here’s his entry in the log for a tragedy early in the voyage:

In the morning hove up the Anchor in the Boat and carried it out to the Southward, in heaving the Anchor out of the Boat Mr Weir Masters mate was carried over board by the Buoy-rope and to the bottom with the anchor. Hove up the anchor by the Ship as soon as possible and found his body intangled in the Buoy-rope. Moor’d the ship with the two Bowers in 22 fathom water, the Loo Rock W and the Brazen head E Saild his Majestys ship Rose. The Boats imploy’d carrying the casks ashore for Wine and the caulkers caulking the Ships sides.

As modern people we would expect at least a conventional expression of emotion here, but there is none.

To sum up; the past is strange, but it’s strange in ways that we don’t expect. If it’s possible at all to find original sources there is no substitute for them in correcting the assumptions we take for granted as modern people. In many respects, once we start to hear the genuine voices of people from the past it becomes much clearer that we aren’t superior to them; that we, like them, are subject to our own culture’s prejudices. Original sources – there’s nothing like them for broadening the mind and the sympathies. (And in Cook’s case, also the spelling. I’m going to have such trouble not writing clowdy and intangled in future!)

‘I never knew a woman brought to sea in a ship that some mischief did not befall the vessel
Admiral Cuthbert Collingwood



That ladette of the Royal Navy (movie “Carry On Jack”)

It usually starts with the question “… and what are you writing about?”

I’ll reply “historical gay romance” to keep it short. Actually, I write historical adventure with supernatural elements and gay romance. However, “romance” is all people hear, and they immediately wrinkle their noses. They think of the novelettes about handsome rich doctors and beautiful poor nurses you can buy at the newsagents. Or of a 800 page novel with a cover showing a half-naked damsel in distress, kneeling in front of Fabio with a torn shirt. To them, romance is icky. It’s not intellectual. It’s written by women wearing fedoras and read by women with no career or too much time at hand. Romance is the equivalent to stepping barefoot on a slug.

Once they learn that my stories are set in the 18th century and the main characters are serving in the Royal Navy, things get pear shaped. Accusations of “supporting imperialism and war crimes” are thrown around. The 18th century, so I’ve been told, can’t be used as background for any romance because it was a brutish age full of injustice, and placing a loving couple right in the middle of it would be far too frivolous.

Darn it, there go Aimée and Jaguar.

(more…)

The Language of fans.

No, I don’t mean OMGWTFBBQ! Or ‘squee’! Though I’m sure a post on the language of media fans in the 21st Century would be invaluable to the historical novelists of the future. No, I’m talking about the kind of fan you use to cool your face, particularly in the ballrooms of Regency novels, and the suggestion that they were used to convey coded messages through a well known repertoire of gestures.

Since I’m concentrating on the language of fans, I’ll pass over the other uses of fans throughout most of history by cunningly referring you to this handy website: Life was a Breeze with Fans

So… Googling on ’18th Century fans’ will inevitably turn up a number of sites like this

http://www.ideco.com/fans/language.htm or this http://www.fortunecity.com/victorian/riley/200/fans.html

which give long lists of different fan positions and the different meanings which are to be attached to each. This struck me as extremely cool. But the lists were sometimes quite different from each other – sometimes dangerously contradictory. It’s a bit of a disaster to drop your fan, meaning ‘let us be friends’, only to discover you’ve really said ‘I am yours forever’. Suppose your right arm gets tired? Then you only have the choice of getting really hot or saying ‘do not flirt with that woman’ to your entire acquaintance.

This led me to wonder how much truth there was in the idea of a formalized language of fans at all. Sadly, a bit more digging brought to light the news that the well known language as practiced in Georgian ballrooms was actually an invention of a 19th Century fan maker named Duvelleroy. He printed out a sheet of instructions and enclosed them with his fans as a marketing gimmick. See this exhibition of the language in use in the delightfully named ‘Fan Slang’ page of the royal collection.

For people who are determined that there must have been an earlier version of this language in existence, some hope is held out by the fact that Duvelleroy is said to have adapted (and vastly expanded) an original German version of a pre-existing Spanish guide.

Liza Picard, whose ‘Dr. Johnson’s London’ seems to me to be a very reliable guide, mentions fan language, and gives a much shorter list of meanings, which comprises just fifteen gestures, including ‘yes’, ‘no’ and ‘hush, we are being overheard’. I wondered where she had got this from – whether this was the original pre-Duvelleroy list – but sadly there doesn’t seem to be a reference in the back of the book or a footnote to give her references.

So I thought I’d see what the people of the period have to say. Here is Addison in 1711 with a tongue in cheek proposal to set up a new academy of the fan for genteel young ladies:

Mr Spectator – women are armed with fans as men with swords, and sometimes do more execution with them

I’ve linked that because it’s long and well worth reading in its entirety. But clearly Addison, in mocking the use of the fan to express its bearer’s emotions, has no idea at all that it might be used for sending coded messages. I’m inclined to think that if it had been so used at the time, he would have known about it.

It wouldn’t have been a very good language if none of the men you used it with recognized its existence. I’ve actually got a scene in False Colors where Mrs. Deane is attempting to tell the hero, John, that he is being indiscreet, and that the two of them will be good friends. But sadly John is entirely ignorant of the existence of fan language and doesn’t even notice that she’s trying to say something. If Addison is to be believed that may not be too off the mark!

Fans could be used for other communication, however – all sorts of information could be painted on the backs of them. This site has some lovely pictures of a fan with samples of botanical classification, another with dance steps, and another with a calendar of saints days marked on. They could also be used to demonstrate political leanings or patriotism – for example this fan commemorating the Battle of the Nile.

Of course there’s nothing to prevent there having been the occasional informal use of a fan to send pre-arranged signals – in fact it seems unlikely that that wouldn’t have occasionally happened among groups of friends or a certain ‘set’. But still, on balance I would be wary about including too much general knowledge of any ‘language of the fan’ before the 19th Century. I don’t think it was the popular phenomenon that some websites would have you believe.

“As well-bred as if not married at all”
~ Lady Mary Wortley Montagu on the Hervey marriage

Sweet, pretty Mary Lepell was one of Princess Caroline’s “Virgin Band,” as her Maids of Honour were known. The royal chaplain had complained to the princess that her maids were causing distractions during his sermons. When attempts to discipline them failed high panels were erected around their pew to prevent them making eyes at the gentlemen of the court.

Bishop Burnet perceived that the beautiful dames
Who flocked to the chapel of hilly St James’
On their lovers alone did their kind looks bestow;
And smiled not on him while he bellowed below.

~ Lord Peterborough

Lady Mary Lepell (known as Molly) won acclaim at court for her beauty and amiable character. She was unusually well educated for a woman of her day, and developed intellectual interests which she shared with correspondents and friends.

She met with the infamous bisexual Lord John Hervey at court and was very soon his companion.

Lady Molly was one of the most popular of the Virgin Band and was celebrated in verse by great men of the day such as John Gay, Alexander Pope and Voltaire. In 1720, Gay wrote of the couple, “Now Hervey, fair of Face, I mark full well, / With thee, Youth’s youngest Daughter, sweet Lepell!”

However, unbeknownst to John Gay, the couple had actually been married in secret for six months. Despite the later scandals of homosexual behaviour by Lord Hervey, it can be assumed because the match was secret, and both parties were relatively impoverished, that it was a love match. The proof that Lord Hervey was not simply a homosexual followed shortly afterwards as Lady Molly bore him four children in swift succession.

However Hervey appears to have bored of his wife and sought amusements in London and Bath, and it was there, in 1727, that he met the man who was to shape the larger part of his life, Stephen Fox, universally known as Ste. Lady Molly knew both Stephen and his brother Henry but her opinion of Stephen was not high. He was a country mouse rather than a town one and as she wrote to Henry Fox, “Ste is such a country gentleman that unless one could be metamorphosed into a bird or hare he will have nothing to say to one.”

She was, literally, abandoned–ordered by Hervey to remain in Ickworth, Suffolk, whilst he and Ste socialised from London to Bath, but this did not seem to dampen her love for her husband as her outpourings of letters seemed to prove. However, she could not help but sound a little bitter, adding in one, “yet I think I should in his case rather have desired, than forbid, one I loved to be with me.”

Even when Hervey went abroad with his amarato, she played the dutiful wife and wrote to Ste, rather than to Hervey himself asking for news of his ill-health. If she resented Ste’s affections with her husband she was sensible enough not to speak openly of it. This loyalty paid off, as upon Hervey’s return to England they were temporarily reunited, and nine months later, her fifth child was born.

This was the pattern of her life, and some have said, that her willingness to be so estranged from Hervey bored him more. Hervey’s relationship with Fox continued until 1742, after which Hervey retired to Ickworth and to his wife, to die.

After her husband’s death in 1743, Molly moved to a beautiful little house off St. James’ Park where she entertained some of the great names of day, such as Chesterfield, Horace Walpole and Thomas Carlyle.

She remained good friends with Stephen Fox until she died in 1768.

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