History

Power dressing is not a modern phenomenon, as the new exhibition Charles II: Art and Power at The Queen’s Gallery amply shows.

King Charles I by Edward Bower, 1649

The exhibition opens with Edward Bower’s remarkable portrait of King Charles I at his trial before the High Court of Justice in the Great Hall of the Palace of Westminster in January 1949. It is obvious that the King knows exactly how to convey his contemptuous refusal of the court’s right to try an anointed king. He sits on a red velvet armchair – and refused either to stand or to take off his hat – his accusers were not his equals and he didn’t owe them any courtesy. His hat is tall, wide-brimmed and visible; it must have been carefully chosen to make the maximum impact.

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I’ve always had a soft spot for Charles II (1630-1680). I know he is often thought of as a lascivious, extravagant king, always short of money and having running battles with Parliament. I see him rather differently. Partly because, I confess, I find him a very attractive man; I know this shouldn’t affect a rational view of him 337 years on, but there we are.

  1. Charles II by John Michael at his coronation. He wears King Edward’s crown and holds the newly made orb and sceptre. 

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Visiting Crete in October, just as the tourist season is coming to a close, has many advantages. There are fewer tourists, the weather is still excellent, and the places you want to see – in my case, archaeological sites – have not yet closed for the winter months. However, this post is not specifically about the archaeology, fascinating though that is, instead it is a whistle stop tour of what’s Crete has to offer in October. We started off in beautiful Chania.

Chania: looking towards the Venetian lighthouse across the harbour

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The ancient history of Crete has been shaped by forces outside its control. A tsunami resulting from the volcanic eruption on Santorini (ancient Thera) in 1500 B.C. destroyed the Minoan palace of Knossos, and there have been other geological disasters. A massive earthquake in the 9th century A.D. was caused by the collision of two tectonic plates beneath the Aegean Sea, and the resulting tidal wave, suddenly raised the sea level of the ancient port of Lissos on Crete’s south-west coast by ten metres. The city never recovered.

Ancient olive tree amid the ruins of Lissos

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Kensal Green Cemetery is an extraordinary place with an astonishing variety of tombstones: Do you fancy ivy twining up crosses, you have it; angels dancing on the roof of a classical columned temple, you have that, too; there are severe Egyptian-style family vaults, as well as pointy Gothic shrines. Furthermore, it is gloriously egalitarian; royalty lies within a stone’s throw of self-made men, quack-doctors, artists, and incongruously modern gravestones with plastic flowers.

General View looking west towards the catacombs

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My copy of this must-have book for the fashionable lady in 1831 is conveniently pocket-sized and comprises 244 pages of short stories, poems, articles on famous women, dozens of ‘preceptive distichs’, fashion advice and twenty-seven illustrations, including some ravishing hand-coloured fashion plates. Unfortunately, a number of the plates have been torn out. Still, enough remain to give a good idea of what The Ladies’ Pocket Magazine would have looked like.

Blue ball dress 1831

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I write blogs, first and foremost, because I enjoy it. I’ve always been interested in history, travel, literature and the arts generally and I want to write about the places I’ve been to and things I’ve seen. I particularly love seeing places which the general public don’t normally see. As a novelist, what interests me are the stories. I want my readers to become involved, and for that, my writing must be both emotionally engaged with the topic but I must also retain my professional objectivity to ensure that what I say is accurate. It can be a tricky balance.

The Whitechapel Bell Foundry

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There’s something very serene about the combination of birds, particularly swans, and water. Sometimes, waterfowl can be aggressive towards each other birds, or squabble about food, but, generally speaking, they move gently but purposefully, and I find looking at them very calming. I was brought up in the country and trees, water, birds and wildlife generally is something I miss.

Leeds Castle and waterfowl

I was thinking about this last week when I visited Leeds Castle in Kent. The castle itself is built on an island in the River Len and surrounded by a wide moat which is almost a lake and next to Great Water, another lake. The walk there, through woods by the river and passing yet more ponds and lakes, means there is plenty of room for waterfowl.

Black swan and white swans, mallard and coot

I loved the contrast between the dramatic black swan and the other white swans, whilst smaller mallard and the occasional coot provided the supporting cast. I’d had a tiring week and, as I watched them, I could feel the tension leaching out of me. I could stop and admire them; I didn’t have to rush.

White swan and cormorant

I stopped again by the cascade garden and walked to the middle of a scarlet, vaguely Chinese-looking bridge which faced a cascade at the end of a large pond, where another swan was majestically sailing. Nearby on the low stone edging, a cormorant stood awkwardly, its neck stuck out at an angle.

White swan

As the white swan floated past, the cormorant slipped into the water and followed, looking ungainly, almost as if it was half-submerged.

Canada geese and a stray mallard on the grass in front of the larger pond

In the distance,  you can just see the small green train on the left crossing the green on the far side of the lake which takes visitors straight to the castle. I preferred to walk through the woods but it’s a couple of miles and there’s no doubt the train is quicker, besides giving the visitor a ringside view of the castle itself.

It was all very good for the soul.

Elizabeth Hawksley

 

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Lambeth Palace, situated on the south bank of the Thames, more or less opposite Westminster Abbey, has been the official London residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury for over 500 years. Its garden is one of the oldest in the country, though it has, of course, undergone numerous transformations as times and garden fashions changed. The garden is open to the public on the first Friday of the month from April to September. And I’ve just been to the last open day of 2017.

The Gatehouse, Morton’s Tower, c.1495. This is the imposing entrance – you can see people queuing

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