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Well in Hand: The Four-Horse Club

Originally one of the clubs frequented by the notorious Earl of Barrymore, the Four-Horse club had been a wild group of young men who enjoyed bribing coachmen to give them the reins to the vehicles and then driving them at break-neck speeds along the very poor British Roads.

A traditional Barouche could accommodate two, four or six horses, a driver, passengers and two grooms.

By the early nineteenth century it was a respectable club for superb drivers. At its peak it only had some 30-40 members.

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Perdita: The Literary, Theatrical, Scandalous Life of Mary Robinson by Paula Byrne

Perdita: The Literary, Theatrical, Scandalous Life of Mary RobinsonPerdita: The Literary, Theatrical, Scandalous Life of Mary Robinson For those who enjoy the Regency period and life of George IV, this is one of the most perfect books to introduce you into the famous lives of the period. Mary Robinson’s was a brief, intense and fascinating life which pushed the established mores to their limits. The Prince of Wales (later to be George IV) became enamoured of Mary during her portrayal of Peridita in Shakespeare’s, A Winter’s Tale. She was a young actress, escaped from a bad marriage and strange father. She took to the stage for some income (as many women of the time did instead of taking up some of the “older” professions available to them). The Prince of Wales became known as Florizel to Robinson’s Perdita and she was his first ‘major’ mistress. Their lives intertwined for a brief period in his early adulthood – the beginning of what is known as the ‘extended Regency’. Robinson was later mistress to many of the influential peers of the time, and was even friends with Georgiana, the Duchess of Devonshire; At a time when Georgian morals were of questionable value (everything in private, nothing in public)- when profligacy, spending, appearance and general splendour were the order of the day – Mary Robinson orbited on at the perimeter of acceptability. An actress, an abandoned wife, a mistress, and more. I found this book overlong, but worth the effort to read. It is one of a series of books about (more…)
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Medically Speaking

The Cambridge Illustrated History of Medicine by Roy Porter I decided, given the variation in literature available, to read and review three books on medicine by Roy Porter at once. They are this one, The Cambridge Illustrated History: Medicine, as well as The Greatest Benefit of Mankind and Gout, the Patrician Maladay. I thought this was the best approach as people might be looking for a reference work to buy and trying to toss up between which one to get and what the advantages and disadvantages of buying one of these would be, for the first two of these, at least. I read “Gout” because it offered a view of Porter’s work in a more focussed subject in contrast with the two other generalised works. The Cambridge History is divided into ten chapters, four of which have been written by Porter himself (he is editor of the whole book). Each chapter is independent of the others and follows one quite broad topic. This means you might read over the same historical period in more than one chapter. The subjects include ‘History of Disease’, ‘Rise in Medicine’, ‘Hospitals’. The great advantage of this book over the other two mentioned is that it has been liberally illustrated in both colour and black white pictures. They intersperse the text all the way through – and this sort of socio-medical history very much benefits from this sort of treatment. It provides both support for the text and makes for easy reading. The text itself (more…)
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The Girl From Botany Bay

The Girl from Botany Bay by Carolly Erickson Mary Broad had a brief moment of celebrity, and this is probably one of the only reasons we know so much about the life and times of not just Broad, but others like her. Women who lived a hand to mouth existence, who trod on the wrong side of the law, and then suffered the horrific consequences of British Justice in the late Eighteenth century. Broad was arrested for robbery in 1786 and committed to transportation to the extremely new colony of New South Wales in Australia. She was first imprisoned on the stinking hulks which had their own brutal justice systems on board. Later came the terrible, long journey half way round the world, only to reach Australia and suffer famine from failed crops. Her stoicism in spite of enormous hardship and her ability to survive are testament to an extraordinary woman, and her story of survival is amazing. Erikson has done a great job as usual drawing from sources to outline the social aspects of the time and combining them to reflect what she lived through where her accounts are limited. Certainly, there are many accounts of male life in transporation but few remain of what women’s lot were. Sian Rees published a great book a few years ago called Floating Brothel, which I would highly recommend to read with this one – it follows a transport ship of women and what happened to them on the ship and after (more…)
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The Art of Regency War

British Military Spectacle : From the Napoleonic Wars through the Crimea By Scott Hughs Myerly It was only after I had read some way into this book that I realised that it must have been some kind of thesis. When did people start writing them so well? It isn’t encumbered with that annoying pseudo-intellectulese that people who generally present theses are so proud of to confuse the reader. In fact the points it does present are in strikingly simple and wonderfully readable. The issue Myerly discusses is the development of the British army in the first half of the nineteenth century, basically the Napoleonic Wars until Crimea and it is a fascinating period. He discusses the changing attitudes to discipline, uniform, recruiting and life in general in the army – but also the effects the army had on civilian life and vice versa. There is an enormous bibliography at the end of the book, followed by extensive footnotes (some 100 pages). If you don’t like footnotes then I can assure you they don’t interfer with the reading in the text but help do help to clarify issues for those that want to delve deeper into an issue. The only reason I have marked the book down from 5 stars was really a bit trivial, I found the last couple of chapters a bit repetitive – or they seemed so to me. I could barely put the book down for the first 5 or so chapters, and it really got me (more…)
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The Worlds of Georgette Heyer

Georgette Heyer's Regency World ReviewGeorgette Heyer’s Regency World by Jennifer Kloester As the patroness of two online discussion lists, Janeites, for Jane Austen Fans, and the Georgette Heyer discussion list, I am just the audience who Kloester’s is aiming at with this book, and I have to say she absolutely hit the mark! This is an extraodinary book and one which I will be happily recommending. I get questions all the time from people who want to write Regency novels and are looking for a good overall book to guide them, and from others who want to know more about the Regency and Georgian world which Heyer inhabited for her unique Drawing Room romantic/comedies. Generally I give them an outline of a series of books which they could read which will give them some background, but there has never been a truly comprehensive book which is both academic, readable, spefcific to the period and general enough to cover everything but still give a confident grasp of detail. This book finally does that and well done to Kloester for acheiving that. Her chapter summaries at the start give you a very good idea of the information covered so you are able to get to what you want immediately – chapters include Up and Down the social Ladder, Town and country, Man’s world, Gentle Sex, On the Town, Pleasure Haunts, Fashionable Resorts, Getting About, What to Wear, Shopping, Eat, Drink and be Merry, Sporting life, Business and The Military. Whos Who in the Regency includes extremely (more…)
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Two Views of Napoleon

Napoleon’s Russian Campaign by Count Phillipe-Paul de Segur This is a raw account of Napoleon’s Russian 1812 Russian Campaign from not just an eye witness, but a French officer and aide to Napoleon. Phillipe-Paul de Segur was rarely more than a few feet from Napoleon’s side throughout this campaign and doesn’t swerve from making observations on Napoleon both positive or negative. But a great deal of the power of this book comes from the stark observations of the horror this heedless march into Russia caused. There is good reason that this account, first published in 1824, has been republished so many times – It is very good – and was used as a main source for a number of authors including Tolstoy (who cobbled a number of events for War and Peace from it), Victor Hugo and Chateaubriand. Interestingly it was not until 1965 that the first English version was published. It is such a short period of history, fewer than six months, but the foolish action cost Napoleon his dominance in Europe and marked his turn in power. For it is here that he lost thousands of men, and showed just how vulnerable he could be. In the Spring of 1812, Napoleon, angry that the Russian Emperor had deifed the Treaty of Tilsit and ignored his Continental system, decided to throw all his forces into invading Russia. The Russian Army met and tried to stop the relentless onslaught of the French at the River Neimen, but defeated they fell (more…)
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Capt Gronow and Sir Harry Smith Write their Memoirs

Captain Gronow: His Reminiscences of Regency and Victorian Life, 1810-60 By Christopher Hibbit   This is a very difficult book to review as I liked it a lot, but I still have a number of reservations about it – mostly about its editing. First, let me tell you about Captain Gronow – he was one of life’s observers, and might have slipped through history with only the vaguest of mentions in a few diaries had he not needed to resort to his pen in the 1860’s in order to support himself. He wrote four books which were stacked to the gunnels with anecodotes, slanderous stories and all sorts of gossipy snippets. These were snapped up by his Victorian audience who were keen to read about the sinful vagaries of that bygone era, the Regency. Christopher Hibbert has done a pretty good job in collecting together some of the better stories and putting them into this one volume. He has also created some sense to the mass of stories by organising them into chapters. These chapters include subject headings like “The Prince Regent, His Family and Friends” and “Rakes, Dandies and Men about Town”. So it makes it an easy volume to browse for those of you reading this for fun. There are a few things with this book that I do find difficult. The first is that Hibbert never questions the veracity of what Gronow says. There are several apocryphal stories in here which Gronow tells (the one of Brummell’s (more…)