Hi. Jo Beverley here delighted to welcome Margaret Evans Porter back to the Word Wenches. Margaret is an award-winning, bestselling novelist with a life-long interest in British history, and she generously shares her investigations.
Today she's blogging about Hampton Court Palace, one of the royal palaces. It plays a part in her first mainstream historical novel, A Pledge of Better Times. "A sweeping tale of ambition, treachery, and passion For generations Lady Diana de Vere’s family loyally served England’s crown. But after King Charles II’s untimely death, her father firmly opposes James II’s tyranny. Charles Beauclerk, Duke of St. Albans—the late king’s bastard son by actress Nell Gwyn—also rebels against his newly crowned uncle’s manipulation.
Political and religious turmoil bring revolution and yet another coronation before Charles returns to from war to claim his promised bride. In palace corridors and within their own household the young duke and duchess confront betrayals, scandals, and tragedies that threaten to divide them. And neither the privileges of birth nor proximity to the throne can ensure their security, their advancement—or their happiness."
Margaret Evans Porter.
As a teenager, entirely unaware of the impact it would have upon my future, I spent a full day Hampton Court Palace. On that initial visit I had my pocket journal, and at some point I recorded my thoughts my chief impression: “Never has history seemed so alive to me.” I was very much taken with the gardens. “I think every flower is in bloom. The roses are as big as my face.” Lunch was a picnic on the grass. I got lost in the maze—temporarily.
Certainly I never guessed that Diana’s lovely face would someday grace the cover of my twelfth book and first mainstream historical novel, released last week. A Pledge of Better Times features Diana, her father, Queen Mary II, and Charles Beauclerk, 1st Duke of St. Albans—bastard son of King Charles II and actress Nell Gwyn—all of whom were caught up in the political turmoil and transitions of the late 17th century.
I can’t tell how many times I’ve wandered Hampton Court’s splendid rooms and spacious grounds. Over the past decade, charting the friendship between Diana and Queen Mary II and pursuing in-depth research its development, I returned as often as I could.
The Glorious Revolution of 1688 brought William and Mary to the throne, at which time they expressed an immediate and shared distaste for Whitehall—at that time the largest royal palace in all Europe. Its proximity to the river worsened William’s asthma. Convinced that rural Hampton Court would suit them better, they planned to raze the famed Tudor towers and commission an entirely new building from Sir Christopher Wren. Fortunately for architectural scholars and Tudor-era fans, the original plan proved unfeasible and too costly. So Wren proposed a modern extension to the historic building, and work began in 1689.
Mary, a keen palace and garden designer, was a very hands-on overseer of the process and responsible for the renovation of the Water Gallery. This compact building beside the Thames contained several rooms, including a dining room, and tall windows with a rear balcony from which she could observe her builders’ progress and the creation of her new gardens in fashionable—and formal—French style. To fill the narrow spaces between the windows, Mary commissioned a set of twelve portraits of court ladies. Lady Diana de Vere, daughter of Aubrey, 20th Earl of Oxford, was one of them.
As Daniel Defoe observed, “The Queen had here her gallery of beauties, being the pictures, at full length, of the principal ladies attending upon her majesty…with a set of lodgings, for her private retreat only, but most exquisitely furnished; particularly a fine chintz bed…and here was also her majesty’s fine collection of Delft ware.”
The five-hour journey from London to Hampton was great inconvenience for ministers and members of the Privy Council. As work continued at Hampton Court, the King and Queen purchased Lord Nottingham’s house at Kensington as more convenient and less palatial residence.
With Queen Mary’s death from smallpox after Christmas in 1694, William’s interest in Hampton Court declined, work abruptly halted, and he relied on Windsor Castle as his country retreat. Not until the prospect of peace with France and the cessation of an expensive war did the rebuilding proceed. The Queen’s Water Gallery was demolished to make room for a square banqueting pavilion with a bowling green, and though her suite of rooms was completed, they remained unoccupied. In 1702 William, an avid huntsman, fell from his horse Sorrel—who stumbled in a mole’s burrow—and broke his shoulder. During his recovery from this accident he succumbed to a lung infection that proved fatal and he died at Kensington House. His successor, Queen Anne rarely visited Hampton Court.
During my time there researching A Pledge of Better Times, I’ve walked in my characters’ footsteps, imagining their conversations, their hopes and dreams, their struggles. And as I did on that very first visit so long ago, I eat a picnic lunch—and inevitably become lost in the maze!
Thank you, Margaret.
I wonder how many of our blog readers have visited Hampton Court, or one of the other royal palaces.
Readers, do you enjoy fiction about real people and real events? Is the reign of William and Mary new to you? Would you have liked to live at a royal court, or would it be too dangerous or too formal for you?
We welcome any and all comments, and one lucky commenter will win a copy of A Pledge of Better Times.