History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

12 May 2014

It's time to play "What 10 Historical Figures Would You Invite to Dinner?"

I love to play the game where you host an imaginary dinner party and invite 10 guests from the past to join you for an evening of provocative conversation. Over the years, since I’ve been writing historical fiction and historical nonfiction (often getting novel ideas after researching the lives of royal figures for my nonfiction books), I’ve amassed several of these hypothetical guest lists. The stickiest wicket for me has always been: when someone fascinates me, do I invite their partner as well?

So, in no particular order of importance, here’s one of my 10 Historical Figures at a Dinner Party List:
From my novel TOO GREAT A LADY, the lady herself, Emma Hamilton, and her inamorata, England’s greatest naval hero nonpareil, Lord Horatio Nelson.

From my historical nonfiction title ROYAL ROMANCES, Grigory Potemkin—possibly the sexiest royal paramour ever, and one of the most powerful, given the viceroyship of eastern Russia by Catherine the Great, who may (or may not) have secretly become his wife. And because she was one of the two most powerful and influential women in the world at the time (the other being Marie Antoinette’s mother Empress Maria Theresa), and staged a coup to capture the throne of Mother Russia, and had a marriage from hell and grabbed life with both hands and lived it on her terms while ruling the largest territory in the world, Catherine the Great.

From ROYAL AFFAIRS, the charming, tenacious, loyal, talented, up-by-the-bootstraps redheaded actress, “pretty, witty Nell Gwyn,” a woman I have always related to; and the love of her life, the Merry Monarch, Charles II.

From BY A LADY, the woman who published her own maiden novels as such and who influenced my life so much, Jane Austen. Miss Austen needs a date, and although I’ve never written about him, I’ve acted in his plays so many times and remain fascinated by the mind that penned them: William Shakespeare. I’m not certain any author’s Dinner for 10 Historical Figures can be complete without the Bard of Avon.

And because I’d like to give Catherine the Great the opportunity to converse with another uber-powerful female monarch who did it her way, I’d invite Elizabeth I, whose did-they-or didn’t they- relationship with Robert Dudley I wrote about in ROYAL AFFAIRS. So, if course, her “bonny Robin” would be the last guest on this list of 10. Would Elizabeth give any hints of something more between them in the presence of Catherine who would probably be fairly openly flirting with Potemkin? Jane Austen is on record as disliking Elizabeth I, preferring by far her Catholic cousin to the north, Mary, Queen of Scots. So that should make things interesting. And, observing his fellow guests, Shakespeare might come up with some intriguing material. can't you see Nell Gwyn angling for a role and Shakespeare's reaction to a female on the stage? With her skills at mimicry, she'd probably run through a dozen or so of his comic monologues at rapid fire speed to delight the rest of the guests. Jane Austen adored the theatre. What would she make of this--and the chance to sit down and chat with Shakespeare? And would he try to finagle more commissions with Her Majesty right at his elbow?

Queen Elizabeth was passionate about enlarging the royal navy. So, too, were Charles II and Catherine the Great. In fact Potemkin did so on her behalf for Russia and was then accused of inventing warships, even after an actual tour of the Crimea, comprised of an international committee, saw the vessels with their own eyes. I wonder what strategic pointers Admiral Nelson might give them.

Would Dudley and Potemkin end up having a private chat over tobacco and brandy, discussing the pitfalls and perils of having to keep their romances with the most powerful woman in the world a secret, while Emma and Nell compare notes on what it's like to be the mistress of their era's greatest hero, when -- sigh -- there's at least one other woman in the picture as well!

Who would be on your Dine with Dead People Historical Supper for 10? And why?


Blogger Regencyresearcher said...

Jane Austen
Lord Byron
Sarah Lady Jersey
Sarah Lady Lyttelton
Lady Melbourne
Duke of Sussex
Lord Bathurst
Luke Howard
Caroline Norton
Lord Granville
I think they would give me a good picture of the regency period. I would just hope that I would remember all the questions I wanted to ask them.
These are not necessarily people I would like, but they should be very interesting.

2:04 PM  
Blogger Leslie Carroll said...

Great list! And we know their attire would not be incongruous!

2:43 PM  
Blogger Elizabeth said...

I think that I would invite all of Henry VIII's wives over for a girl's night. I'd pour wine and we could dish about him. I'd get the real story about his courtship with Anne, when did they first do the deed? Of course, Catherine of Aragon would probably spend most of the dinner praying.

11:13 AM  
Blogger Leslie Carroll said...

Great list, Elizabeth. I wonder who would be the first to get drunk? My money is on Kathryn Howard. Actually, it would be interesting to hear a theological discussion between the Catherine bookends, Aragon and Parr, both of whom were extremely bright, well educated, and fervent believers in their own religion. Of course that would probably put a big damper on trying to get the dirt out of Anne B. I'd be intrigued to hear more from Anne of Cleves. She's always been very underrated and underestimated.

12:23 PM  
Blogger Elizabeth said...

I would take Anne of Cleves off into a side room to find out what really happened with Henry. Did they consummate the marriage or not? We know he said that he couldn't. Anne B, of course would want to jump into the theological discussion with Catherine A & Catherine P. to prove that she's smarter and more knowledgeable than both of them. Meanwhile Katherine H would be drunk and flirting with the cater-waiters, one of which she would probably end up with under the table.

8:20 AM  
Blogger Elizabeth said...

And someone should write this as a play.

8:20 AM  
Blogger Leslie Carroll said...


2:09 PM  
Blogger Leslie Carroll said...

Also, while you're questioning Anne of Cleves -- ask her if she SERIOUSLY didn't know about the birds and the bees before her wedding night, or whether she was just trying to keep her head about her (to quote Kipling -- avant la lettre)

2:11 PM  

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