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Historical Reads: Wet Nurses and Breastfeeding in the 17th - 18th Century

Friday, 31 October 2014

Anna Gibson discusses 18th century views on wet nurses and breastfeeding. To quote:

The wet nurses for royalty would have typically been given temporary accommodations within the court. While these nurses would naturally spend a significant amount of time with their royal charge, the parents would be presented with little trouble in visiting. Mercy recounts in his letters to Maria Theresa that both Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette spent much time visiting the infant Madame Royale, who even began to recognize them separately from her nurse and many attendants.

The wet nurses employed by the rest of the population, however, were more likely to live separately from the child's mother and family--perhaps even as far away as the countryside from Paris. This usually meant that the child would live full time with his wet nurse and her family, sometimes for as long as 18 months.

This type of arrangement would naturally encourage the development of feelings and strong attachment between the infant and their nurse. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who was a staunch supporter of mothers breastfeeding their children (except in cases where the mother's or child's health might be affected) considered this type of development a drawback which "alone should take from every sensitive woman the courage to have her child nursed by another. The drawback is that of sharing a mother's right, or rather of alienating it, of seeing her child love another woman as much as and more than her..."


To read the entire post, click here.

The Scandalous Life And Mysterious Death Of The Beautiful Venetia Digby

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Venetia Stanley, the third daughter of Sir Edward Stanley and his wife Lady Lucy Percy, was born in December 1600. Venetia grew up into a beautiful woman. "She had a most lovely and sweet-turned face, delicate dark brown hair…," wrote contemporary writer and philosopher John Aubrey, "Her face, a short oval; dark brown eyebrow, about which much sweetness, as also in the opening of her eyelids. The colour of her cheeks was just that of the damask rose, which is neither too hot nor too pale." One of the most celebrated beauties of her time, her looks didn't fail to catch the attention of a lot of men when she went to court. It was rumoured Venetia had had several lovers by the time she was 20.


I doubt this is true, though. Maybe she committed some indiscretions, but such a behaviour would have been very scandalous even at the lascivious Stuart court. What's certain is that she fell in love with Kenelm Digby, a charming and goodlooking noblemen three years younger than her and a Catholic. Both families were horrified by the match and hasted to separate the couple. Digby's mother had him sent abroad on diplomatic missions hoping he would soon forget Venetia.


The plan didn't work. Once Digby returned home, he was still determined to marry Venetia, even though by then the young woman, left alone and without protection, had become the mistress of Richard Sackville, Earl of Dorset, and even had had children with him. Kenelm and Venetia married in a secret ceremony in 1625, and for a few years, they didn't mention their union to anyone. Poor Venetia even gave birth in secret and silence, without groaning and crying out in pain not to alert the servants in the house about what was going on. The couple had three more children, two of which sadly died young. Marriage seemed to have done her good, though. The rest of her short life, dedicated to her family and the Catholic religion, was scandal-free.


Rumours of marital problems between the couple surfaced, though, when Venetia was found dead on the morning of 1st May 1633. It was her maid who found her dead, her husband having gone to sleep in a different room after returning home in the early hours of the morning so as not to disturb his wife. What had killed Venetia? Theories abounded. Had Digby murdered his gorgeous wife in a fit of jealousy? Had she repented of the marriage and committed suicide? Or was the toxic ingredients in her cosmetics, concocted by her husband to preserve her beauty, that had killer her?


Whatever the truth, Kenelm was devastated. He asked Anthony Van Dyke to paint a deathbed portrait of Venetia, which he kept with him at all times of the day and night. Like that weren't morbid enough, he started writing letters to his dead wife, which were later published in a book titled "In Praise Of Venetia". He also wore mourning for the rest of his life and became more reclusive and unkempt as the years went on. He died on 11 June 1665.

Further reading:
Memoirs of Eminent Englishwomen, Volume 3 by Louisa Stuart Costello

The Mysterious Fair One, Or The Royal Introduction To The Circassian Beauty

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

George, the Prince Regent, loved women. All but his own wife, Caroline of Brunswick. The Prince was disgusted by her coarse manners and poor personal hygiene and refused, after their wedding night, to consummate the marriage again. For the rest of her life, he would try to get rid of her, which elicited people's compassion for the slighted Princess, and instigated a slew of satirical prints about their marriage.

One of these prints, created by Isaac Robert Cruikshank, is titled The Mysterious Fair One, or – the Royal Introduction to the Circassian Beauty. The Persian Ambassador introduces a fair Circassian to the Regent with the hope she will join his harem. At first, the Prince is enthusiastic and declaims, "Oh what a form? What Symetry, what Elegance of manners ; in every gesture dignity and Love, --Oh how I long to have my Eyes gratified with a sight of that much injured fair one – a Slave indeed –no she shall not be a Slave to any Mans Passions, I’ll take care of that; for I’ll Marry her myself!!!"

At this the fair Circassian raises her veil and exclaims, "you have married her!". The exotic foreigner turns out to be none other but his wife, the Princess of Wales. The Regent is horrified and cries out: "What, what, save me, hide me from – from –from – Myself." Only the Persian ambassador isamused. He laughs: "What your own Wife ha- ha".

Further reading:
English Caricaturists and Graphic Humourists of the Nineteenth Century. How they Illustrated and Interpreted their Times, by Graham Everitt

Book Reviews: How To Ruin A Queen, Tackling Selective Mutism, & Retrain Your Anxious Brain

Tuesday, 28 October 2014
Hello everyone,

ready for this week's book reviews? Here we go:

How to Ruin a Queen: Marie Antoinette and the Diamond Necklace Affair by Jonathan Beckman
It was the greatest scandal of 18th century France. An almost unbelievable story that novelists would have been afraid to write for fear of being accused to be too unrealistic. And yet, it happened for real, and it left the Queen's reputation in tatters. For some, it was even the beginning of the Revolution. I'm talking of the affair of the Diamond Necklace.
Jeanne de Saint Remy is born in an impoverished family descended by royalty that abuses and abandons her. Filled with resentment and repenting of marriying the good-for-nothing Nicolas de la Motte, she heads to court to try and reclaim her family lands or petition for a generous royal pension, but her efforts fail. But Jeanne is determined to live in style, even if that means lying, cheating, and taking advantage of everyone she knows. She befriends the Cardinal of Rohan, whose political ambitious have been thwarted, he thinks, by the Queen's dislike of him. Jeanne is willing to help. Pretending to be a good friend of the Queen, she makes Rohan believe Marie Antoinette needs his help to buy a necklace so expensive that's threatening to bankrupt its jewellers. Desperate to believe the Queen is ready to forgive him, he falls for it. Only when the jewellers, tired of waiting for a payment that never arrives, contact the Queen directly, the whole scam is uncovered. But who is to blame? Was Rohan a victim or an accomplish of Jean?
A trial ensued. Of all the conspirators, only Jeanne and the forger were found guilty and punished. Rohan was acquitted, which was a real blow to the monarchy. He wasn't just acquitted of stealing the necklace, but also of the more serious crime of lese majeste. The court, apparently, found it very possible that Rohan could have believed the Queen would ask him to do her such a favour and even meet with him at night in the garden of Versailles. Once her reputation was so sullied, it was possible for the French people to believe all kinds of bad, vicious, and salacious things, about their Queen.
Beckham does a great job at presenting this complicated affair in a clear manner that allows the reader to understand how the story unfolded and why, despite its absurdity, so many people fell for it. We are introduced to the main players and their lives, both before, during, and after the affair (although those who want to know more about Marie Antoinette will be disappointed; there's not much biographical information about her here). The author also frequently cites literature of the time to help us understand what people might have been thinking back then, providing valuable insights into Jeanne's psychology and the public's opinion of the trial and its infamous protagonists.
The book is widely researched and full of interesting details weaved seamlessly into the story. Well-written, it flows easily almost reads like a thriller. It's a story of greed and ambition, crime and passion, prison breaks and assassination attempts, credulity and extravagance that captures your attention from the very beginning. Once started, it's impossible to put down. It's a must read for any fans of Marie Antoinette or French history.
Available at: Amazon
Rating: 4.5/5

Tackling Selective Mutism: A Guide for Professionals and Parents by Benita Rae Smith, Alice Sluckin
I wish this book had been written 30 years ago. I suffered from selective mutism since kindergarten (the typical age of onset is between 3 and 5, although some develop it earlier or later), but at the time, no one knew what it was. Even know, it is too little known. Selective mutism is an anxiety disorder that causes people to remain silent in certain situations but talk in others. Usually, these children are very chatty at home or with close relatives and friends, but find it impossible to utter a word at school, with distant relatives, or strangers. As a result, they often appear rude and are labelled difficult and stubborn.
If left untreated, like in my case, selective mutism can become so entrenched to make it very difficult to have a social life and hold a job, causing low self-esteem and depression. The good news, though, is that, if caught in time, it is easy to treat, and remission is very rare. That's why books like this are important. Written and edited by a wide array of experts on selective mutism, and sharing stories from sufferers and their families, the book explains what selective mutism is, what causes it, and the many therapies that can treat it. There is also a section about selective mutism in adults. Although more difficult to treat the longer left undiagnosed, there's hope for them too.
The book also explains what rights children and parents have under UK law, and lots of tips on how families, teachers, friends, and anyone else who knows a person affected, regardless of where they live, can help. At the end, you'll find lots of resources you can consult and organizations you can turn to for help.
Because the book is written by professional, the writing style is mostly academic (but not boring). The sections written by sufferers and their families are in a more colloquial and engaging style that allows the reader to better relate to them. Their stories are very touching. It really moved me to read about how these children were helped and eventually cured. Too many aren't and, I hope that as awareness towards selective mutism, even thanks to this book, rises, their positive stories will be the rule rather than the exception everywhere.
This book is an invaluable resource to anyone who is affected by selective mutism. But everyone else should read it too. If you don't think you need to because you don't know anyone with this disorder, then reading it may make you realise that you actually do. This disorder is more common than people think and highly misunderstood. And if you really don't know anyone with it, you can still help by raising awareness. The more people know about it, the easier it will be for families and teachers to identify sufferers and help them seek appropriate help.
Available at: Amazon
Rating: 4.5/5

Retrain Your Anxious Brain: Practical and Effective Tools to Conquer Anxiety by John Tsilimparis
While a small amount of anxiety has its pros (read the book to find out more), worrying too much about things can cause unnecessary fear, even panic attacks, and doubts that negatively impact your self-esteem and every area of your life. John Tsilimparis know this only too well. He suffered from severe anxiety and, once he learned how to free himself from it, he became a therapist to help others who are still battling with it.
In this book, he first explains how anxiety works and then shares the tools and techniques that helped him recover. They are all cognitive, and range from challenging old beliefs to replacing negative thoughts with more positive ones, from focusing on gratitude to changing the way to interact with other people. He proposes lots of exercises to try. Not everything will work for everyone, so you are encouraged to choose those that best apply to your situation and needs. While these tips are all, undoubtedly, extremely useful and will greatly help sufferers reduce their anxiety, some people may be disappointed by the lack of alternative and holistic treatments.
The book flows really easy. The writing style is clear and engaging and, because the author shares his experiences and those of his (anonymous) patients, it is easy to relate to. I highly recommend it to anyone who suffers from excessive anxiety. Anyone here will find at least a few tips that can help them get better.
Available at: Amazon
Rating: 4/5

Have you read these books, or are you planning to?

Disclaimer: this book was sent by PR for consideration. In addition, this post contains affiliate links.

Historical Reads: Ages Of Consent

Monday, 27 October 2014

When were 19th century teenagers considered old enough to work and marry? Regina Scott, over at Nineteen Teen, explains:

--7 or 8: a boy might be sent to sea, starting his Naval career as a cabin boy and going on to become a sailor or officer.
--9 or 10: boys might be apprenticed to learn a trade
--10 or 12: aristocratic boys might be sent to boarding schools like Eton or Harrow
--12: girls from poorer families might be apprenticed to learn a trade (although they often weren’t dignified with the name apprentice)
--12: girls can marry with their parents’ permission (but note that very few actually married this early)
--16: aristocratic young men with ambitions for politics, law, or the Church might head off to Oxford and Cambridge
--16 to 18: aristocratic young ladies are introduced to Society
--21: a young lady or gentleman could marry without parents’ permission
--30: a woman is considered “on the shelf” (given up all hope of ever marrying). Note that some people put this age considerably lower (like 26 or even 20), but that real-life examples don’t seem to verify this


To read the entire post, click here.

The Costs of Living Abroad in London

Friday, 24 October 2014


Living in London has always been expensive. Evangeline Holland, author of Edwardian Promenade, gives us an idea of just how expensive it was in the Edwardian era. To quote:

Life in London “chambers” has romantic associations with the old Inns of Court and ancient and somnolent city squares, where one can live in the atmosphere of dead memories and associations, features that tend to add considerable to the charm of London for the American. Usually “chambers” are to be had at a cheap rental, but also with a few attendant disadvantages. In the Adelphi Terrace, a little backwater just off the Strand that the flood of modernising which is sweeping over London threatens annually to blot out, one can still hope to find vacant “chambers” in a house decorated by the famous Adam Brothers.

From the windows of many of these houses one may look out over the Embankment Gardens and the foggy stretches of the Thames. The Royal Chapel of Savoy is a near neighbour, and ghosts, of Dickens’ characters float around every corner. On a winter’s day at four o’clock the muffin man, ringing his bell, still makes his round of the district. Muffins and crumpets for afternoon tea at twopence each are a pleasant interlude and quite in the spirit of this old-time atmosphere.

Hereabout one ought to be able to find five rooms, distributed over two unevenly laid floors, for five to six pounds a month, which is not out of proportion for such genuine historic associations as the rental includes. To discount this there will be a lack of water, hot and cold, except that which flows intermittently from an adapted kitchen sink, and your heat, what does not go up the chimney, is all radiated from grate fires. In these old buildings there are no elevators, no dumb waiters even, and coal, wood and everything else must be lugged up the front stairs, though plenty of willing hands are to be found, and at a small price, to do one’s fetching and carrying. Ashes and garbage must be carried down to a tiny, well-like courtyard, and within the week the dustman will come along to remove it, of course demanding a tip. You may ask why, but he couldn’t tell you if he would, except that it is in accordance with precedent, the thing that governs all walks of English life. The tenants collectively contribute towards the cost of the lighting of the front hall and of the keeping of it clean, the tenants of each floor attending to their own hall.


To read the entire article, click here.

Madame Sophie Of France

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Born on 27 July 1734, Sophie Philippe Elisabeth Justine is the lesser known of the surviving daughters of Louis XV and Marie Leszczynska. Even art historians hardly know who she is. For years, one of her portraits (below) was thought to represent Marie Antoinette, and was only correctly identified recently thanks to the parquet in her library! I'm not sure Sophie would have minded though.

Sent to the Abbey of Fontevraud with her two younger sisters, Thérése and Louise, to be educated, Sophie returned to Versailles only 12 years later. Lacking both social skills and a strong, dominant personality, the shy girl was happy to appear in public only when etiquette required it. Like Madame Campan, reader to the daughters of Louis XV, wrote in her memoirs, she much preferred to be alone or with a small group of favourites ladies:


"I never saw anyone having such a frightened look; she walked at an extreme speed, and to acknowledge, without looking at them, the people who gave way to her, she had acquired the habit of looking sideways, in the manner of hares. This princess was so shy that it was possible to see her everyday for years without hearing her pronounce a single word. One asserted, though, that she displayed wit, even graciousness, in the society of some favoured ladies; she studied much, but read alone; the presence of a reader would have infinitely bothered her.

Yet on occasion this princess, so unsociable, suddenly became affable, gracious and showed the most communicative kindness; it was during thunderstorms: she was afraid of them, and such was her fright that she would then approach the least important persons; whenever she saw lightning, she would press their hands, for a thunderclap she would have embraced them; but once fair weather was back, the princess went back to her stiffness, her silence, her fierce look, passed everyone without paying attention to anyone, until the next thunderstorm brought back her fear and affability."

Madame Sophie died like she had lived, unnoticed. She passed away of dropsy in Versailles on 2 March 1782. She was buried in the royal tomb at the Royal Basilica of Saint Denis, which was plundered and destroyed during the French Revolution.

Further reading:
Memoirs Of The Court Of Marie Antoinette, Queen Of France, by Madame Campan

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