Tag Archive | Women in History

Writer’s Process Blog Tour

Greetings! I’ve been tagged in The Writing Process Blog Tour by my friend and fellow LERA (Land of Enchantment Romance Authors) sister, 2014 Golden Heart®finalist, Shelly Alexander to tell you about my process in writing a novel.

Process is one of the things I love to talk about with other writers. I love to hear about what makes them tick and how they get their stories down on paper, or on the computer screen. Some writers are pantsers, they sit down and let their fingers fly, telling those stories by the seat of their pants. Others are plotters, with pages and pages of scenes, dialogues, outlines, beginnings and endings. I fall somewhere in between. I like to think of myself as a puzzler. I start with a plan, an outline – the frame of the puzzle – and then I add the pieces, usually in a linear fashion. This is the way I work actual jigsaw puzzles. I start with the outer frame and then work from the top down, filling in the pieces.

As a part of the blog tour, here are four questions every writer must answer:

What am I working on right now?

I am working on the first book of a three book series titled Waiting In The Wings. The story is a historical mystery and takes place in 1917, New York City, in the glamorous, glittering world of the Ziegfeld Follies.

Here’s my pitch:

One of the inspirations for Grace Michelle - Doris Eaton Travis, Ziegfeld star

One of the inspirations for Grace Michelle – Doris Eaton Travis, Ziegfeld star

Grace Michelle, an introverted, aspiring costume designer in the Ziegfeld Follies, 1917, has everything she wants; pretty good for an orphan who once lived on the streets of New York City. When her sister, Sophia, the star of the show is murdered, Grace’s protected, comfortable life is shattered. She must step into the Broadway spotlight as Ziegfeld’s newest star to find her sister’s killer. When she discloses a secret from their past, Grace becomes a target and soon discovers the horrific truth about Florenz Ziegfeld, the man who raised her as a daughter.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I like to take real life characters from the past and breathe new life into them. I am particularly drawn to smart, strong women who were mavericks of their time. Although Grace is a fictional character, she is comprised of many of the women I researched for this novel. Some were actresses and some worked behind the scenes. Many of my secondary characters are real people who worked for Florenz Ziegfeld on Broadway from 1917 -1920. And, of course, the man himself, Florenz Ziegfeld has a starring role in my story.

It was fun for me to learn as much about these iconic figures as I could and then recreate their adventures (in pursuit of fame and fortune) in the theater and on the road. I like working within the confines of history, but expanding on that history and as I imagine what could have happened. After all, as writers, aren’t we all asking that BIG question, what if?

Why do I write what I write?

I’ve always thought I should have been born in a different era. I am fascinated with certain periods in history and can actually visualize what my life would be during those times. I’ve traveled to many places around the world and in a few of those places I have had an intense, visceral, almost spiritual connection with my surroundings. And no, I don’t take drugs – it could be my overactive imagination, or maybe I really did live in those times and places. It’s all a part of the cosmic question, who are we?

How does my writing process work?

As a history buff, I absolutely love getting lost in research. I often take two to three months to research a historical person, place or event. Sometimes, I’ve even been lucky enough to travel where my story will take place.

Once I have a character and setting in mind, then I will start to form the story. I like to use a four-act structure I learned from Lisa Miller’s Story Structure Safari class, comprised of the set up, the response, the attack and then the resolution. Once I figure out vital story components such as the Inciting Incident, Call to Action, Defining Moment, etc, then I start to outline scenes. I use sticky notes on poster sized foam core boards. On each sticky note, I will jot down what I want that scene to be. I map out all the scenes in the story and then I sit down to write. Here’s where the puzzler part comes in. Often, as I write, my characters will say or do something I never expected – which can change the story line. If this happens (and I LOVE it when it does) I have to make the puzzle pieces different shapes to fit the new puzzle. My motto for writing and for life is: Always have a plan. If the plan changes, adjust and make a new plan!

Once I have a first draft, I walk away from it. Sometimes, I don’t look at it for weeks, months, maybe a year – or several – as it’s been for Waiting In The Wings. I am usually working on more than one book at a time, so the separation isn’t devastating. I think about my stories all the time.

Then come the revisions. Revise, revise, revise. I work with a fabulous critique partner and together we work to make our stories as perfect as we can. Sometimes I share my work with other writers and always, I share my work with readers (a select few, of course) because the reader is really the one who counts. At times, I’ve used a professional editor and the experience is invaluable. I highly recommend it!

So, that is my process – for now. Life and writing is full of change.

As writer’s we all have our own process and our own way of telling our stories. All are different and all are fascinating. I’d love to hear about yours!!


Anna’s Dilemma

*Spoiler Alert* If you are not caught up to Season 4 of Downton Abbey, you might not want to read this post.

I’m still reeling from Season 4. One of the things I love about Downton is that it takes social issues from that time period and brings them to our attention in the present. We take so much for granted. We are allowed so many freedoms – like the freedom to stand up for ourselves, the freedom to speak out, and the freedom to do something about a crime that was committed against us. During the 1920’s women were definitely starting to find their way to speak out in society, they had just obtained the right to vote, but still, there were things that were simply not discussed for a variety of reasons.

The episode where Anna was raped proved to be very controversial in the UK and the US. More so than the makers of the show expected. I found this interview with actress Joanne Froggatt who plays Anna Bates where she talks about why Anna was so terrified to speak up.

I would love to hear your opinions on this topic! Leave a comment (on either one of my Downton posts) and receive a chance to win a hardback copy of The World of Downton Abbey by Jessica Fellows. It’s an absolutely gorgeous book.

Jessica Fellowes  is an English author, freelance journalist, and the niece of Lord Julian Fellowes, writer and Creator of Downton Abbey.

Molly b’Damn

She was a gregarious and sweet natured person. She often put other’s needs before her own. She nursed the sick and took care of the poor. Mother Teresa? No, a prostitute turned madam named Molly b’Damn.

Maggie Hall was born in Dublin, Ireland on December 26, 1853. Her Protestant father and Irish Catholic mother raised their beautifulmaggie_151crop[1] golden haired child to be obedient and kind-hearted. They provided her with a lovely home and a fine education. The beautiful child grew to be a stunning young woman. Tall, with a halo of golden hair, sparkling blue eyes and an elegant, shapely figure, many men sought Maggie’s hand in marriage. She always managed to discourage these proposals because she desired more from life than an 1870’s Ireland could offer.  At the age of twenty, she set sail for America.

The American dream was harder to find than Maggie expected. New York City was a hectic, crowded, bustling city and a decent living was hard to come by for Irish Immigrants. She finally found employment as a barmaid. The job suited her buoyant personality and she was instantly popular, especially with the young men. She had to constantly remind them of her strict Catholic upbringing and that she wasn’t “that kind of girl.”

Little did Maggie know, her life was about to change. She finally met a man she couldn’t reject. He was handsome, charming, well-to-do, and loved by many women. His name was Burdan. By his third visit to the bar, he proposed marriage. Maggie accepted and left her job. She wanted to be married in her beloved Catholic church, but Burdan insisted on a Justice of the Peace. Once they were married, Maggie’s husband suggested her given name was too common and she should change it. He liked “Molly” and oh, by the way, the union was to be kept secret. If his upper-crust family found out he’d married a barmaid, his endless funds would disappear. The secret couldn’t be kept forever and that is exactly what happened. The newly married Burdans were penniless.

Burdan had never worked a day in his life and didn’t know where to begin to find employment. Molly wanted to go back to her job at the bar, but Burdan wouldn’t have it. They were evicted from apartment after apartment. Life was dire and the Burdans were desperate. Molly’s husband noticed the way his friends and other men looked at his beautiful wife. Perhaps she could earn them a living. Burdan suggested that Molly start “entertaining” his friends for money. Shocked, she refused. It was bad enough she hadn’t been married in the church, but this horrid sin? Unfortunately, her love for her husband won out, and she finally agreed. During this time of “employment” Molly made visits to confession. After she confessed her sins the second time, she was excommunicated from the church.

Thoroughly heart-broken and damned to hell forever, Molly left her husband of four years and left New York for the promise of the West. She travelled to California, Oregon, Nevada and the Dakota Territory, working as a much sought after prostitute. She garnered an expensive wardrobe and lived a lavish life-style. But at thirty, Molly grew restless again. She’d heard of a prosperous gold strike in the Coeur d’ Alenes in Idaho. In 1884, she boarded a train for Montana, bought a horse, and then joined a pack-train for Murray, Idaho.

The horse-back ride was long and hard, and those on foot particularly suffered. The pack-train started through the Thompson Pass, and was instantly beset by a nasty blizzard. Molly noticed a mother and young boy, not clothed for a harsh storm, struggling more than the rest. They soon fell behind. When the travelers came upon a meager shelter, Molly tethered her horse, gathered up the woman and her son, led them to the shelter, and bundled them up in her furs. She told the pack train to move on without them. The three, wrapped in Molly’s furs, huddled for warmth.

The townspeople of Murray heard about Molly and her rescue attempt from the travelers and feared the three would not live through the night. Imagine their surprise and delight when a horse carrying two women and a child came galloping into town. People rushed to meet them and tend to their needs. Molly ordered a cabin for the young boy and his mother, to be charged on her bill. When they offered her lodgings in the hotel, she refused. She wanted occupation of Cabin Number One. The cabin reserved for the Madam of the town. A young Irishman, Phil O’Rourke, helped her down from her horse and asked her name. When she said Molly Burdan, he laughed out loud and said, “Well now, fur the life o’ me. I’d never o’ thought of it. Molly b’Damn!” The name stuck.

Molly built a successful business in Murray and was beloved by the townspeople. Her restless spirit had finally been calmed. She was good to her “girls” and provided a comfortable home for them. She fed anyone who was hungry and offered shelter to the homeless. She would often hike up the mountain in her fine clothes to tend to a sick prospector. And, she even attended Protestant church services.

One of Molly’s creative means of making money in the prosperous mining town was to have her “big cleanup bath,” when the cleanup of the mines was due. She would set up a tub in the back of her establishment, fill it with water, and encourage the miners to dig into their pockets and cover the bottom of the tub with gold. When it was sufficiently covered, she’d strip down and sink into the water. For the right price, she’d even allow one of them to scrub her back.

Witty, risqué and sometimes ribald, Molly was also a person who cared deeply for others. In 1886 a stranger walked into Murray with a raging fever and immediately died. He was carrying small pox and had exposed the entire town. It’s wasn’t long before people became ill and many died. The healthy townspeople retreated to their houses, afraid of the disease. This wouldn’t do for Molly.  She called a town meeting and rallied the healthy to help the sick. She and her girls worked tirelessly to tend the ill miners and their families. She rarely took the time to eat or change her clothes during the weeks that small pox raged through Murray.

Eventually, the disease dissipated, but Molly was forever changed. In the coming months she weakened, lost weight and was besieged with a perpetual cough. Soon she was bedridden and the good women of Murray came together and took turns watching at her bedside and taking care of their generous friend, round the clock. She was finally diagnosed with consumption and died on January 7, 1888.

On that day, the townspeople of Murray retreated to their homes. Curtains were drawn and the saloons were closed. Work ceased. The Protestant ministers made arrangements for her funeral and thousands from the area attended to say farewell to the good-hearted prostitute who had brought life and love to their town. To this day, the people of Murray and the surrounding area, celebrate their long lost friend with the Annual Molly b’Damn Gold Rush Days event. Her spirit will live in their hearts forever.

Resource: Soiled Doves, Prostitution In The Early West, Anne Seagraves

Photograph: silentowl: Irish Prostitutes in the American mining towns of the …Irish Prostitutes in the American mining towns of the 19th century.amayodruid.blogspot.com

Little Sure Shot – Annie Oakley

Phoebe Ann Mosey, (or Moses) most commonly known as Annie Oakley, learned self-reliance at a young age. The family lived in a cabin near Greenville, Ohio where the winters could be treacherous. When she was six years old, her father left the home in a snow storm. When he returned he was grievously ill and died a few months later of pneumonia, leaving the family in a dire financial situation. Her mother married again but the finances did not improve. Unable to feed all seven of her children, Susan Mosey sent Annie and her older sister, Sarah Ellen, to the “poor farm” also known as the Darke County Infirmary. They were put in the care of the Superintendent and his wife, and Annie and Sarah learned housekeeping skills in addition to embroidery and sewing.

In the spring of 1870, Annie was “boarded out” to a family to help care for their son and help with household chores. The job would pay fifty cents a week and she was assured an education. The promises were not kept. Not much is known of this family and Annie never mentioned their names, but only referred to them as “the wolves.”  They were exceptionally cruel to their young charge and would often beat her or lock her in a closet. Once, when she fell asleep doing some darning, they punished her by throwing her out into the snow with no shoes for the night. After two years of abuse from “the wolves,” Annie escaped and found her way back to her mother, who was again widowed and remarried. The family was still living in poverty.

The only item that remained in the house belonging to Annie’s father was his shotgun. Longing for her father, Annie taught herself to shoot and started hunting game to help feed her family. She assuredly did not want to go back to the poor house! Word got out about Annie’s deadly aim and she soon started selling the game she killed to the locals in Greenville, as well as restaurants and hotels in Southern Ohio. Her birds were well sought after because Annie’s aim was so sure, she always hit the bird in the back of the head, thus leaving no shot pellets in the meat. By the time she was fifteen years old, Annie had made enough money to pay off the mortgage on the family farm.

On Thanksgiving Day in 1875, the Baughman and Butler shooting act came to Cincinnati. Shooting was a popular past time and shooting contests were the perfect way for people to showcase their talents. Frank Butler, the traveling show’s marksman placed a bet for $100 (equivalent now to about $2,000) that he could beat any local shooter. Annie’s friends and family urged her to travel to the big city and try her luck. In the end, luck had nothing to do with it, but pure skill did. Imagine Butler’s surprise when fifteen year old, five-foot petite Annie turned up as one of the challengers. One by one, the targets were released (either live birds or glass balls). Annie shot and then Frank shot, neither one missing until the 25th target.  Frank missed. The young, child-faced girl from Greenville won.

While most men may have had their pride wounded or even been angry at the fact that a teenage girl had bested them at this coveted skill, Frank Butler’s reaction was quite different. He was smitten by Annie and after the contest he gave her tickets to his show. Soon, the two fell in love and were married. Annie joined the Baughman and Butler shooting act, not as a shooter, but as Frank’s assistant. One week, Baughman was sick and could not perform. Annie stepped in. Per her usual performance, Annie never missed a target and the crowd fell in love with the pretty petite sharp-shooter. She permanently replaced Baughman and the couple took their show on the road.

In 1885, Annie auditioned for Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show. Impressed with her accuracy and lady-like demeanor, Bill Cody hired her, and Frank became her manager. Annie was soon the star attraction of the show and remained so for seventeen years. Whether she used a pistol, rifle or shotgun, “Little Sure Shot” as she was named by Chief Sitting Bull (also a star of the show) rarely missed. Her feats included shooting a dime in midair at 90 feet, shooting the thin edge of a playing card at 90 feet and then puncturing it with six or seven more shots before it hit the ground. Shooting the ashes off a cigarette placed in Frank’s mouth was a crowd favorite. While touring in Europe, the Crown Prince of Germany demanded that Annie shoot a cigarette from his mouth, but she would only do it if he held the cigarette in his hand. It wouldn’t do if the American “sure shot” blew the face off the Prince of Germany!

In 1901 Annie was badly injured in a train accident. After five spinal surgeries and temporary paralysis she recovered. The injury did not affect her shooting skill and she continued to set records.

In 1902 Annie left the Wild West Show to pursue a quieter life. She began an acting career and performed in a stage play written especially for her called The Western Girl. Annie also used her talents for philanthropy. She traveled the East coast, at her own expense, demonstrating the safe and effective use of firearms for World War I soldiers. Annie was very involved in women’s causes and would help young girls, orphans and widows to further their education. She believed it was crucial for women to “know how to handle firearms as naturally as they know how to handle babies” and it is believed that she taught over 15,000 women to use a gun.

In 1904, William Randolph Hearst published a false story that Annie Oakley had been arrested for theft to support a cocaine habit. The story caught fire and newspapers all around the country were printing the report. The woman who had actually been arrested was a burlesque performer who used the name “Annie Oakley.” Still, the newspapers, ever eager for a story of a fallen hero, persisted.

Annie spent the next six years in court trying to regain her reputation. She won 54 out of 55 libel lawsuits against the newspapers. Hearst, in an attempt to avoid paying court judgments of $20,000, sent a private investigator to Darke County to get dirt on the famous sharpshooter. They found nothing.

Well into her sixties, Annie continued her philanthropic work and also participated in shooting activities. In 1922 Annie entered a shooting contest at sixty-two years of age. She hit 100 clay targets in a row from 48 feet. Later that year, she and Frank were in a car accident where Annie sustained more injuries. Again, the injuries didn’t stop her and she continued to set records till 1924.

In 1925 Annie’s health finally gave out. She died of pernicious anemia at the age of sixty-six. Annie Oakley, an American hero, is considered a role model for men and women alike because of her accomplishments and her moral character. Annie Oakley has been the subject of numerous articles and biographies, film and stage dramatizations and her story is present in many historical museums. She was also inducted into the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame in Fort Worth, Texas.

Annie Oakley’s motto for life: “Aim at a high mark and you will hit it. No, not the first time, nor the second and maybe not the third. But keep on aiming and keep on shooting for only practice will make you perfect. Finally, you’ll hit the Bull’s-Eye of Success.”

References: www.annieoakleyfoundation.org/bio.html, Women in History, Living vignettes of notable women from U.S. History, www.lkwdpl.org/wihoio;oakl-ann.htm, Wikipedia, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Annie-Oakley

Photographs: http://39clues.wikia.com/wiki/Annie_Oakley, http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/48/Annie_Oakley_NYWTS.jpg

Lady Jane Grey – The Nine Days Queen

I have always held a special fascination for Lady Jane Grey, the nine days Queen. She died a religious martyr at seventeen years of age, and lived her life as a political pawn and social ladder for her overly ambitious parents. What must it have been like for such a young woman to knowingly and willingly face death rather than defy her parents or her religion?

Lady Jane Grey, born in October of 1537 was the eldest daughter of Henry Grey, the marquis of Dorset, and Frances Brandon, niece to King Henry VIII and the third in line to the throne. Jane was named for the King’s wife, Jane Seymour, who gave birth to Edward VI just two days after Jane’s birth. Henry and Frances had big plans for their daughter and hoped she would one day marry the prince.

They raised Jane with strict rules and very little freedom. Her role in childhood was to prepare herself for greatness. She said of her parents, they expected her to “do everything as perfectly as God made the world, or else I am sharply taunted, so cruelly threatened . . . that I think myself in hell.”

At the age of nine, Jane was sent to the court of King Henry VIII to serve his sixth and last wife, Katherine Parr, and to learn about court life in preparation for her future.

The Dorset’s desired only the best education for their daughter and hired royal tutors. Jane proved to be extremely precocious and found her greatest refuge in her studies. Jane would often neglect her domestic lessons in dance, music and riding to lose herself in the more intellectual pursuits.

At a young age she was reading the Greek philosophers, and through her tutor would correspond with German Calvinist and Zwinglian ministers. The correspondence later became known as the Zurich Letters.

When King VIII died, his son Edward VI inherited the throne at ten years of age. Katherine Parr married Thomas Seymour who had taken a liking to Jane and saw big things in her future. He also assumed that through his connections in court he could arrange a marriage for Jane with the new King, young Edward. He offered the Dorsets two thousand pounds to become her legal ward. Eager for their daughter to someday become queen, they complied. Jane, free of her parents’ strict household, found great comfort in her friendship with Katherine Parr. Her two years in the Parr/Seymour household were known as some of her happiest days and it was through Parr’s influence that Jane found her love of the Protestant church. Sadly, Katherine Parr died in 1548 due to complications with the birth of a daughter. Jane stayed to serve as chief mourner at her funeral and then was sent home. By this time, Thomas Seymour had fallen out of favor with the throne, so all hopes of Jane marrying Edward VI were dashed.

The Dorsets refused to give up hope for their daughter and formed an alliance with John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, who was one of sixteen executors of Henry VIII’s will. When Thomas Seymour was executed, Dudley reclaimed his title of Lord High Admiral with direct access to the young King. Jane was fifteen years old at the time. Her parents informed her she was to marry Dudley’s youngest son, Guilford. In her only documented act of defiance to her parents, Jane refused. The result was a sound beating from her mother until she submitted.  In May of 1553, Jane married Guilford, a handsome and charismatic young man who was also arrogant, spoiled and known as a “mama’s boy.” The marriage was not consummated until a year later, and then the couple still continued to live apart.

During this time, the King, young Edward VI became gravely ill. The next in line to the throne, according to his father’s will, was Mary Tudor, Edward’s half- sister, a woman devoted to the “old church” Catholicism. Greatly influenced by his step mother Katherine Parr, Edward had also become a fervent Protestant. Dudley, along with other Protestant followers close to the king encouraged him to change the succession. In late 1552, Edward began his Device for the Succession eventually naming his cousin Jane Grey, heir. Two months later, Edward VI died.

Three days after Edward’s death, Jane was called before the Council and was told she would be Queen. Horrified, she fell to the floor in a faint. When she finally recovered she announced, “The Crown is not my right, and pleaseth me not. The Lady Mary is the rightful heir.” Her parents, enraged, tried to reason with her. Jane dropped to the floor and prayed for guidance. After several minutes, she rose and took her seat on the throne.

Many people felt Mary was the rightful heir and were not pleased with Jane as Queen. At her coronation there were few cheering subjects. At first Jane refused to wear the crown, but later complied. She had been raised for this position and she decided to embrace the role she felt God called her to. However, when she was told that Guilford would be named King and a crown was being fashioned for him, she claimed she would gladly make him a Duke, but he would never be King. Finally, she would not be swayed from a decision.

Meanwhile, Dudley knew Mary Tudor would try to claim the throne. He left with an army to capture her, but was met by her army marching toward London. While he was absent, the royal council proclaimed Mary the rightful Queen. The proclamation was made and the people of London rejoiced. To save himself, Jane’s father signed the proclamation, went to his daughter’s apartments, and tore down her canopy of estate. Jane was no longer Queen. Jane stated, “Out of obedience to you and my mother I have grievously sinned. Now I willingly relinquish the crown. May I not go home?’

Her father left her in the Tower where she and Guilford became prisoners. Dudley, her father and Guilford were soon executed but Jane had been told the Queen would pardon her. When Sir Thomas Wyatt rebelled against Mary, she realized her Protestant enemies would stop at nothing to take her throne. She signed Jane’s death warrant. Uneasy with her decision, Mary sent John Feckenham, dean of St. Paul’s to Jane to try to convert her to the Catholic faith. Mary knew Jane had taken the throne under duress and if she could be persuaded to claim Catholicism as the one true faith, she could justifiably save her. Jane, true to herself and true to her faith, refused.

In my novel-in-progress, Jane the Quene, I open with Jane’s execution. I wanted to show her great dignity and courage during such a terrifying ordeal. She was a young woman with strong convictions and a desire to always do what was expected of her. She was truly an obedient servant to her kingdom, and her faith.


She emerged from the Tower upon the arm of the Queen’s lieutenant. Her diminutive frame and large eyes gave her the look of a bewildered child. Deep red, wavy locks framed her tiny, heart-shaped, face. She wore black and walked steadily, her head held high. She carried a well-worn prayer book.

            They were met at the scaffold by a tall man, wearing vestments of the church. Several other chaplains attended him. She spoke to him.

            “Dr. Feckenham, may God grant all your desires and accept my own hearty thanks for all your attention to me. Although, indeed, those attentions have tried me more than death can now terrify me.”

            The tall man gave her a faint smile, full of helplessness and pity, and took her elbow as she began to mount the stairs. Her two ladies-in-waiting wailed as she ascended, unflinching, her mouth set in a determined smile. When she reached the top of the scaffold, she stopped and addressed the small crowd:

            “I am to die this day for accepting the crown and thus committing treason, but, I do wash my hands in innocence, before God and the face of you, good Christian people. And now, while I am alive, I pray you to assist me with your prayers.”

            She knelt, looking heavenward into a sunless sky and recited by memory the fifty-first psalm:

 Have mercy on me, O God, in your faithful love,

In your great tenderness whip away my offences;

Wash me thoroughly from my guilt,

Purify me from sin.

For I am well aware of my offences,

My sin is constantly in mind.

Against you, you alone, I have sinned

I have done what you see to be wrong . . .”

She then nodded to her ladies. One of them, her nurse Mrs. Ellen, moved toward her, trying desperately to stifle her sobs. The young lady handed over her gloves and handkerchief, and then handed her prayer book to the Queen’s lieutenant. As she began to remove her heavy cloak, the hooded executioner moved forward to assist her, but she brushed him off. Mrs. Ellen removed the lady’s headdress and neckerchief and took the heavy robes. The executioner knelt before her and asked for forgiveness, which was customary.

            The young lady smiled and said, “I give it willingly, sir.”

            There followed a five minute silence. Crows could be heard from the crow’s keep, their crude squawking penetrated the silence, sending a shiver down her spine. Dr. Feckenham, the tall lieutenant, raised his face to the sky, closed his eyes, and fervently prayed.

            Finally, the executioner told her where to stand, placing her directly in front of the square block. She held her hand out to Mrs. Ellen for her handkerchief, eyes never leaving the wooden stump. She addressed the executioner.

            “I pray you dispatch me quickly.” Kneeling down, she looked up at him, confusion on her childlike face. “Will you take it off before I lay me down?” she asked, holding out the handkerchief.

            “No, madame.”

            With slightly shaking hands, she tied the cloth around her eyes and then reached her hands toward the block.  Her hands flailed in front of her, seeking the wooden perch. “Where is it? What shall I do? Where is it?”

            A man from the crowd climbed up the scaffold and gently helped her place her hands on either side of the block. She whispered her thanks and then in a clear voice spoke the words, “Lord into thy hands I commend my spirit.”

            The axe went down, sudden and swift. The executioner grabbed the blood soaked head by the hair and held it out in front of the crowd. “So perish all the Queen’s enemies,” he shouted. “Behold, the head of Jane Grey, a traitor.”


 References: http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Aegean/7545/MaryI.html; http://www.ladyjanegrey.org/time_line.html

Picture: 343429 Com de Laroche Jane, Suite 101.com, Wikimedia


The Langtry Phenomenon

Considered the most beautiful woman in England, Royal Mistress to the Prince of Wales, paramour of the Earl of Shrewsbury and Prince Louis of Battenberg, Lillie Langtry, a Victorian beauty, caused a commotion wherever she went.  She became a controversial figure who challenged Victorian society’s attitude toward women and paved the way for future women entrepreneurs all over the world.

Born in 1853 on the island of Jersey, located off the Normandy coast of France, Emilie Charlotte Le Bretton, affectionately called Lillie, grew up with six brothers. Her father was the Reverend William Corbet le Breton, the Dean of Jersey, and her mother, Emilie Davis, a woman noted for her beauty.

Lillie inherited her mother’s good looks and had many suitors on the island. One asked Lillie’s father for her hand, but was turned down as Lillie was only fifteen at the time. She paid the suitors no mind preferring to roughhouse with her boisterous brothers, join in their pranks, and ride horses bareback on the beaches and throughout the countryside of Jersey. Her father also insisted that she have the same educational opportunities as the boys and she proved to be an ardent and talented student.

When it became known that her father, the religious authority on the island, was a habitual philanderer, Lillie decided it was time to leave Jersey and wanted to sail to the continent and live in London. Her reprieve came in 1874, when at twenty years old, she married Edward Langtry, a wealthy landowner, yachtsman, and angler. He took her from the island to his home in Southampton. Having escaped Jersey and her family’s troubles, Lillie expected marriage to open up a whole new world for her.  But, married life and her new husband proved to be disappointments.  Edward often left Lillie alone in their grand house, with no one for company except servants, to go on his sailing and fishing excursions.

Despondent and unhappy, Lillie contracted Typhoid Fever. Her doctor, her soul source of company for weeks, soon became besotted with his beautiful patient. She confided in him that she wanted above anything else to move to London. When Edward returned from his adventures, the doctor insisted that the couple move to London or else risk Lillie’s good health.

Shortly after the move, Lillie received word from her family that her younger brother Reggie was killed in a riding accident.  She went home immediately to comfort her mother and when she returned to London she took to wearing a simple, black, form-fitting dress for all occasions – even soirees and balls — in honor of her favorite brother.  The simplicity of her attire only enhanced her beauty.

Miles’ pencil drawing purchased by Prince Leoplold

New in London, Lillie and Edward were invited to a reception given by her father’s friend, and fellow Jerseyman, the 7th Viscount Ranelagh, in Lownes Square. Many of the guests were immediately enchanted with the Jersey beauty, who stood out in contrast to the glittering and tailored ladies of London’s elite in her simple, black gown. Frank Miles, an up and coming young artist and guest, was so taken with her, he immediately took out his sketch pad and made a line drawing of her right there at the party. Drawings of beautiful society women were printed on postcards and sold to the public. Miles’ postcard was an instant best seller and out-sold all the other postcards of society beauties. Thrilled with the success of the postcards, Miles begged Lillie to honor him with a formal sitting. The resulting portrait was immensely popular and purchased by England’s Prince Leopold.

Lillie had arrived.

Millais – A Jersey Lilly

Soon, other artists were clamoring for her to sit for portraits.  Sir John Everett Millais’ depiction of her became her most famous. Dressed in her usual black gown with a white lace collar, Langtry was portrayed holding a Guernsey Lilly, as no lilies from Jersey were attainable. Millais named the portrait, A Jersey Lilly. The painting was exhibited at the Royal Academy and caused quite a stir. After the exhibition, Lilly was always referred to as “The Jersey Lilly.”

Oscar Wilde

With all of London’s elite flocking to share time with Mrs. Langtry, she made some famous and influential friends. One of the closest in her circle was the flamboyant and eccentric Irish poet and play-write Oscar Wilde, who deemed her the “New Helen.” He said of her, “Yes, it was for such ladies that Troy was destroyed, and well might Troy be destroyed for such a woman.” He also said, “I would have rather discovered Lillie Langtry than America.” She was also very close to the American artist James Whistler and the French stage actress Sarah Bernhardt.  Her popularity was so unprecedented that it became known as “The Langtry Phenomenon.”Lillie’s most enduring and influential relationship was one she shared with Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, (“Bertie”) eldest son of Queen Victoria,  later known as King Edward VII.  Bertie, married to Princess Alexandra of Denmark, and father of their six children, was known to have taken several mistresses — all beauties of the London social set.  When the Prince heard Mrs. Langtry would be attending a dinner party given by his friend Sir Allen Young, he insisted it be arranged that she be seated next to him. Her husband was to be seated at the other end of the table. From the moment he met her, it was made clear to anyone inviting the Prince to any event that Mrs. Langtry must be invited as well.

“The Red House”

The love affair began. The Prince was so enamored of Lillie that he openly flaunted their relationship in public and even presented her to his mother, Queen Victoria.  He soon went so far as to buy a plot of land at Bournemouth’s East Cliff and told her to design a home to serve as their private “love nest.” Lillie took on the project with great enthusiasm. She added many touches that advertised their fondness for one another. One of the most interesting was a statement prominently displayed over the fireplace mantle that read, “They say what they say? Let them say.”

The Prince and Mrs. Langtry entertained  friends at “The Red House” often, and upon the guest’s arrival they would be welcomed with the greeting, “and yours my friends,” meaning the home was theirs too. The house is still standing and has become The Langtry Manor Hotel. It is a favorite venue for weddings.

Princess Alexandra accepted her husband’s “friendship” with Lillie graciously. Such was Lillie’s charm and likability that eventually the two women became friends. Later, after the Prince, then King Edward VII, passed away, Alexandra reportedly returned all of the love letters Lillie had sent him.

As all things eventually come to an end, the relationship between Lillie and the Prince cooled when during a masquerade ball, Lillie came dressed in the same costume as the Prince. Apparently, it was all right for him to flaunt the relationship, but if she did, it was seen as a lack of decorum and respect. After the Prince chastised Lillie during the party, she poured ice down his back in front of all the guests. Needless to say, she not only fell out of favor with the Prince, but with all of London society.

Things at home were also in a state of disrepair. Edward Langtry, Lillie’s husband, had trouble keeping up with his socially demanding wife, and spent less and less time fishing and sailing and more and more time drinking. He was also falling into a financial hole with his spending on yachts and Lillie spending on her lifestyle. The relationship and their finances were a shambles.

On the verge of bankruptcy, Lillie realized she needed work and turned to a great love of hers, the theater. Her friends, including Sarah Bernhardt and Oscar Wilde, encouraged her to try her charms on the stage. Although not incredibly talented, Lillie’s outgoing attitude, intelligence and sparkling wit made people love her once again.  Her acting career blossomed and she gained more popularity than ever. A great lover of theater himself, the Prince was once again enchanted with Lillie and came to many of her performances. It was clear he had forgiven her. Until his death in 1910, they remained great friends.

In 1879 Lillie began an affair with Prince Louise of Battenburg, the nephew of the Prince of Wales. She was also involved with Arthur Clarence Jones, a childhood friend from Jersey. In 1880, she became pregnant. The only known fact of the paternity of the child was that it was not Langtry’s husband. She insisted the child was Prince Louis’. Many others believed the father was Arthur Jones. When Louis confessed to his family his relationship with Mrs. Langtry and the birth of their child, he was instantly assigned to one of Her Majesty’s warships.  Bertie, still fond of Lillie, gave her some money and she moved to Paris with Arthur Jones.  In 1881 she gave birth to a daughter, Jeanne Marie. Lillie’s mother raised the girl and she would be publicly known as Lillie’s niece.  Jeanne Marie did not learn the truth about her parentage until her wedding day in 1902. The news put a strain on Lillie and Jeanne Marie’s relationship that would last the rest of Lillie’s life.

Langtry as Cleopatra

In 1881 Lillie announced that her theater company was to tour the United States. When she arrived in New York, she was greeted by hundreds of soon-to- be-fans who had heard of the English beauty, and her old friend Oscar Wilde, already touring the states. Her first performance was a total sellout and she donated much of the proceeds to charity, further endearing her to the American audience. Disaster struck when the theater burned to the ground. The only thing that remained standing was a sign depicting Lillie’s name. Undaunted, Lillie chose to view the mishap as a foretelling of better things to come. She moved her company to another theater and continued to play to full houses and drew attention wherever she went.  Having fallen in love with America, she repeated her tours to the U.S . several times.

Lillie always had many ardent suitors at home and abroad. One of her most prominent American suitors was Freddie Gephard, a wealthy New York industrialist who showered her with gifts, including a private railway car he named ‘”Lalee.” Lillie used the private railcar to travel across America on her theater tours. Gephard was also a horse breeder and well known on the racing circuit. Lillie’s early love of horses prompted her to start breeding thoroughbreds. She purchased a 6,500 acre ranch in Lake Country, California, next door to Freddie Gephard’s ranch.

Another American admirer, Judge Roy Bean of Texas, had fallen in love with one Lillie’s many pictures. In honor of her he renamed his bar/courthouse “The Jersey Lilly Saloon.” Bean never actually met Lillie, but also had a town named for her, Langtry, Texas. By the time she was able to visit the town, Bean had passed away.

During her stay in America Lillie endorsed many American products and set up several companies, including a winery. Lillie had become a millionaire in her own right. But, disaster reared its ugly head again. While being transported across country, fourteen of Lillie’s race horses were killed after the train derailed.

After picking up the pieces again and having toured America for six years, Lillie longed to return to England. It was during this time she took up with George Alexander Baird, a millionaire, amateur jockey and pugilist. She also purchased more race horses and wanted them to compete, but the Jockey Club in London forbade women owners. Never one to be told “no”, Lillie registered as “Mr. Jersey.” Her horse Merman won the Cesarewitch and Ascot Gold Cup , the Goodwood Cup and the Jockey Club Cup. Her relationship with Baird ended when he died in 1893.

After many years of asking Edward for a divorce and his constant refusals, Lillie became an American citizen and was finally able to secure a divorce.  A few years later, Edward, destitute and a hopeless alcoholic, was committed to an insane asylum and died.

Lady de Bathe

In 1899, Lillie finally settled down and married Hugo de Bathe, a wealthy race horse owner fifteen years her junior. Upon the death of his father, Hugo inherited a baronetcy and Lillie became Lady de Bathe. Now middle aged, Lillie’s fame had not diminished. She still dressed in the latest fashions and was still in demand for portraits and photographs. She was the lessee and manager of London’s Imperial Theater and acted in plays well into her seventies. She starred in one U.S. film called The Crossways.  She owned and raced horses and owned thousands of acres in property. In her golden years, Lilly lived in Monaco at her cliff top Villa named “Le Lys” where she became a prize winning gardener.

From the boisterous tom boy of Jersey, Lillie Langtry became a historical icon. Her beauty was only surpassed by her superior wit and intelligence, charm and graciousness. From the moment she entered London society she was admired and idolized by both men and women from royalty to commoners, over the span of two continents and half a century. The Jersey Lilly was a woman before her time and was unstoppable in her quest for a full, exciting and fulfilling life.

References: Http://www.lillielangtry.com


Rebel Empress

While researching an idea for a new novel, (I was specifically looking for a famous horsewoman in history) I stumbled across the EmpressElisabeth of Austria.  She was indeed an avid horsewoman and was actually known as “the finest horsewoman of her day.”  She excelled at the hunt, taught her horses tricks, and trained with famous circus riders at the riding school she built at Godollo in Hungary.

As I researched further, I became intrigued with the rest of her compelling, fascinating and tragic story.

Born Her Royal Highness Duchess Elisabeth Amalie Eugenie in Munich, Bavaria 1837, “Sisi” as she was known to her family, grew up far from court in the Bavarian countryside at Possenhofen Castle.

Her parents, Duke Maximilian Joseph of Bavaria, and Princess Ludovika of Bavaria, raised their four children with little discipline and few rules.  The children spent much of their time riding and pursuing country sports rather than learning the protocols and etiquette of court life.  This fact probably led to Sisi’s later philosophy that to be an individual and non-conformist would be the greatest achievement of all.  Her quest of this individualism would be her biggest challenge and one that she never quite achieved.

As in most royal families, marriages were arranged.  When Sisi was fifteen, she accompanied her mother and her older sister Helene to Bad Ischl, Austria to meet Helene’s betrothed, Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria.  The arrangement was orchestrated by Franz Joseph’s domineering mother, ( also Helene and Sisi’s aunt) Princess Sophie of Bavaria.  Although Helene was considered the beauty of the family, Franz Joseph became instantly infatuated with Sisi.  He defied his mother and told her if he could not have his cousin Elisabeth he would have no one at all.  The betrothal was announced five days later.

Elisabeth’s married life was far different from her free-spirited childhood.  Hapsburg court life was rigid and strict.  Her Aunt, the Archduchess, was an overbearing and demanding mother-in-law who interfered in the new couple’s life at every turn.  Soon, Elisabeth began to display health problems.  She had difficulty with her lungs and would suffer from spasms of coughing, and also developed several phobias.

Ten months after the wedding, she gave birth to her first child, Sophie, named after her mother-in-law, by her mother-in-law.  This was to set the stage for next child born to Elisabeth, Gisela who was also immediately taken from her and put in the care of the Archduchess.  The Archduchess also made it abundantly clear her disappointment at Elisabeth’s inability to bear a son.  The Archduchess was to suffer several other disappointments when her son, Joseph Franz took Elisabeth and his two daughters to Hungary for a visit in 1857.  During the visit, Elisabeth fell in love with the Hungarian people, particularly the Magyars, an ethnic group associated with the Hungarians, (whom her mother-in-law despised) and urged her husband to show mercy to Hungarian political prisoners.  She was later chastised for her “political meddling.”  The trip also proved horribly tragic for Elisabeth as both her daughters became ill with diarrhea.  Gisela, the baby, recovered quickly, but two year old Sophie succumbed to the illness, which was later determined as Typhus.  The death of her first child sank Elisabeth into a depression which would reoccur and haunt her for the rest of her life.

Elisabeth was painfully learning that most aspects of her life were not in her control.  She felt she had no identity as a mother or the wife of an emperor.  In her depression, she began to shun all responsibilities and spent much of her time riding.  Grieving her daughter, she would also stop eating for days at a time.

Known as a great beauty, Elisabeth realized her physical appearance was an attribute greatly valued by society.   Her looks became the primary source of her control and her self-esteem. She became obsessed with her face, hair and figure. Unusually slender, Elisabeth’s waist measured 19 inches.  At 5’8 inches tall, she weighed 110 lbs.  Living on a strict diet of beef broth, milk and eggs, she was able to reduce her waist to 16 inches in diameter. She weighed herself daily, and if the scales tipped above 110, the next few days would constitute a strict fast.

Elisabeth also emphasized her tiny waist through the practice of “tight lacing.”  She had corsets specially made of leather, to hold up under the strenuous lacing, and would only wear them for a few weeks at a time as they would eventually stretch.

The only “flaw” in her beauty was her teeth.  Due to either poor dental care in her youth, malnutrition from dieting, or from the possible effects of bulimia, her teeth deteriorated early.  In public, she would often hide her face behind a small leather fan.  After age 32 she refused to have her photo taken or sit for portraits.

In addition to extreme dieting, Elisabeth also developed a rigorous and disciplined exercise routine.  She had gymnasiums built in every castle where the royal family resided.  She had mats and balance beams and mirrors installed in her bedchamber so she could practice on them each day.  She rode her horses often, sometimes three to five hours at a time.  Another of Elisabeth’s unusual beauty traits was her hair.  Thick and golden brown, her tresses reached somewhere between her knees and ankles.

Every two weeks, her hair was washed with special “essences” of eggs and cognac.  The process took hours, so activities and obligations for the day were cancelled.  Her hairdresser was forbidden to wear rings and was required to don white gloves while dressing the royal coif – an activity that took two to four hours a day.

In 1858, Elisabeth finally bore a son and heir.  This, coupled with her sympathy toward the Hungarians made her an ideal mediator between the Magyars and her husband, the Emperor.  Liberal and forward thinking, Elisabeth’s interest in politics developed as she grew older. She firmly placed herself on the Hungarian side whenever there were difficult negotiations between the Hungarians and the court.  At one point, she demanded that Gyula Andrassy, a liberal Hungarian statesman (and rumored to be her lover) be named Premier of Hungary or she would leave the Emperor.  He complied and Elisabeth stayed in the increasingly unhappy marriage.

In 1867, The Austro-Hungarian Compromise resulted in Andrassy becoming Prime Minister of Hungary and in turn, Franz Joseph and Elisabeth were named King and Queen of Hungary.  The couple was gifted with a palace in Godollo, and set up a country residence there, where she built her riding school.  Elisabeth much preferred her Hungarian home to her Austrian one and rarely went back to Vienna.  In 1868, she gave birth to another daughter, Archduchess Marie Valerie.  She was determined to raise this child herself and openly rebelled against her mother-in-law.  Soon after, the elder Archduchess Sophie died forever losing the power to control her son, his wife and their children.

With the oppression of her mother-in-law lifted, it would be assumed that Elisabeth would take control of her children and family, but instead, she drifted further away from them and began a life filled with travel.  She claimed that if she arrived at a place and knew she couldn’t leave, it would become a living hell.

In 1889, Elisabeth and Franz Joseph’s only son, and heir to the Austrian-Hungarian Empire died.  He was found with his 17 year old mistress, Baroness Mary Vetsera.  It was determined a murder/suicide committed by the 30 year old Rudolf.  The death would cause a lasting rift between Elisabeth and Franz, and Hungary and Austria.  The line of succession would now be passed to Franz Joseph’s brother and his son, leaving Hungary out of the picture.

In perpetual mourning and never to wear anything but black again, the Empress Elisabeth continued her travels.  When her health prevented her from riding, she took to making her servants endure miles long hikes and walks in the wilderness.  At fifty, she took up fencing with the same intensity as she had other sports.  She also threw herself into writing, became an inspired poet and wrote nearly five hundred pages of verse.  She despised court life and would often travel in disguise, without her entourage, to avoid being recognized.  Unfortunately, this decision ultimately led to her death.

               In 1898, Elisabeth and her lady-in-waiting left a hotel on the shore of Lake Geneva on foot to catch a steamship for Montreux.  Wanting to avoid a “procession” or to be recognized as a person of significance, she ordered her servants to travel ahead by train.  Since she was without protection, this gave Luigi Lucheni, an Italian anarchist, a perfect opportunity.  In town to kill the Duc D’Orleans, and failing to find him, the assassin learned from a Geneva newspaper that a woman traveling under the name of “Countess of Hohenembs” was the Empress Elisabeth.  Soon after she and her lady exited the hotel, Lucheni stabbed her under the breast with a hand-made needle file.

Lucheni stated after the murder, “I am an anarchist by conviction…I came to Geneva to kill a sovereign…it did not matter to me who the sovereign was…It was not a woman I struck, but an Empress; it was a crown that I had in view.”  Had he done his homework, he would have realized that Elisabeth was famous for preferring the common man to courtiers, was known for her charitable works and was a rebel within her own home and community and stood up for the underdog.

The entire Austro-Hungarian Empire was in deep mourning.  On September 17, 1898, eighty-two sovereigns and high-ranking nobles followed her funeral procession to the tomb in the Church of the Capuchins.  Her husband was devastated and quoted as saying, “That a man could be found to attack such a woman, whose whole life was spent in doing good and who never injured any person is to me incomprehensible.”

Although exceedingly eccentric, Empress Elisabeth of Austria became a historical icon.  Her limited though significant influence on Austro Hungarian politics temporarily soothed a troubled empire.  She will always be known as a liberal non-conformist who valued freedom and the rights of the individual above anything else.  Ironically, she herself could not escape the gilded cage.