History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

28 June 2015

26 June 2015

I’m an historical novelist and an historian by training, but sometimes it’s hard to recognized major historical events when one is actually living through them. Sometimes the significance of events only becomes clear in retrospect, set off by developments before and after. But others are immediately clear. When I got up the morning of 26 June and saw that the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled in favor of marriage equality through out the country, it was clear it was clear we were living through something that would be remembered in history books.

I thought about friends of my parents for whom marriage seemed only a distant, theoretical possibility. I thought about friends of mine who have got married in recent years. Several people I know said a few years ago that while they thought marriage equality was important to fight for they didn’t think they wanted to get married themselves to their longtime partners. But in the last year several of them decided to get married and said afterwards they were surprised at how significant it felt.

And then I thought about two of the ongoing characters in my series, Simon Tanner and David Mallinson, Viscount Worsley. David, a Member of Parliament, and Simon, a playwright known for his Radical views, have been lovers since they met at Oxford and share rooms in the Albany. They are closer, Suzanne Rannoch thinks in the series, than many married couples she knows. Closer in many ways than Suzanne and her husband Malcolm who married for reasons on necessity and convenience. But officially, to most of the outside world, David and Simon have to preserve the fiction that they are just friends who share lodgings. David, the heir to an earldom, is under considerable pressure from his family to marry and produce an heir. His family is willing to turn a blind eye to what he does after and he could probably find a wife who was as well, but neither he nor Simon could stomach being part of such a deception.

In my WIP, David, who rarely speaks about his feelings, confides in his friend Malcolm Rannoch with unaccustomed bitterness.

“A few of our friends accept us. Others—notably my parents—choose to be blind to what’s in front of them. Some others really are blind I suppose, or simply don’t have the imagination to see it.” He poured more whisky into Malcolm’s glass. “But still others are only too ready to gossip. And many to condemn.”

Malcolm looked at his friend, his chief confidant since they’d both been schoolboys Teddy’s age. He had shared things with David he hadn’t even shared with Suzanne. And yet— “You don’t talk this way often.”

David shrugged as he clunked down the decanter. “Nothing to be gained by dwelling. But it’s still a hanging offense.”

Not only does marriage to each other seem as out of reach as the moon to David and Simon, their very relationship is considered a capital crime. “Buggery” had been a capital crime going back to the days of Henry VIII. Jeremy Bentham argued for decriminalizing “sodomy” in a 1785 essay called Offenses Against Oneself.  But the death penalty for “buggery” wasn’t abolished until 1861 while various laws against same gender sex continued until late in the 20th century with horrifying notable examples such as Oscar Wilde and Alan Turing and many, many others less known but equally tragic. It wasn’t until 2001 that the age of consent was made the same for men and women and that laws against group same sex sex were decriminalized. Same sex marriage became legal in England and Wales in 2014.

On Friday I wanted to explain to my three-and-a-half-year-old daughter Mélanie that this was an important day, that our country had become a more equal place, but it occurred to me that she has no idea that there were ever prohibitions on men marrying men and women marrying women. In fact the first time she helped me buy a wedding present it was for two of her honorary uncles. Some day, before too long, we’ll talk about it, and I’ll show her the pictures I took on 26 June of San Francisco City Hall and the War Memorial Opera House lit up in rainbow lights. But for right now, I like the fact that to her marriage is and always has been something between two people who love each other regardless of gender.

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16 June 2015

Travels in England, 1782: Westminster Abbey

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 “On a very gloomy dismal day, just such a one as it ought to be, I went to see Westminster Abbey.

I entered at a small door, which brought me immediately to the poets’ corner, where the monuments and busts of the principal poets, artists, generals, and great men, are placed.

Not far from the door, immediately on my entrance, I perceived the statue of Shakespeare, as large as life; with a band, &c., in the dress usual in his time.

A passage out of one of Shakespeare’s own plays (the Tempest), in which he describes in the most solemn and affecting manner, the end, or the dissolution of all things, is here, with great propriety, put up as his epitaph; as though none but Shakespeare could do justice to Shakespeare.

Not far from this immortal bard is Rowe’s monument, which, as it is intimated in the few lines that are inscribed as his epitaph, he himself had desired to be placed there.

At no great distance I saw the bust of that amiable writer, Goldsmith: to whom, as well as to Butler, whose monument is in a distant part of the abbey, though they had scarcely necessary bread to eat during their life time, handsome monuments are now raised.  Here, too you see, almost in a row, the monuments of Milton, Dryden, Gay, and Thomson.  The inscription on Gay’s tombstone is, if not actually immoral, yet futile and weak; though he is said to have written it himself:

“Life is a jest, and all things shew it,
‘I thought so once but now I know it.”

Our Handel has also a monument here, where he is represented as large as life.

An actress, Pritchard, and Booth, an actor, have also very distinguished monuments erected here to their memories.

For Newton, as was proper, there is a very costly one.  It is above, at the entrance of the choir, and exactly opposite to this, at the end of the church, another is erected, which refers you to the former.

As I passed along the side walls of Westminster Abbey, I hardly saw any thing but marble monuments of great admirals, but which were all too much loaded with finery and ornaments, to make on me at least, the intended impression.

I always returned with most pleasure to the poets’ corner, where the most sensible, most able, and most learned men, of the different ages, were re-assembled; and particularly where the elegant simplicity of the monuments made an elevated and affecting impression on the mind, while a perfect recollection of some favourite passage, of a Shakespeare, or Milton, recurred to my idea, and seemed for a moment to re-animate and bring back the spirits of those truly great men.

Of Addison and Pope I have found no monuments here.  The vaults where the kings are buried, and some other things worth notice in the abbey, I have not yet seen; but perhaps I may at my return to London from the country.”

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