The Power of Pamphlets: A Brief History

As the Reformation passes a milestone, a look at a key weapon of change

ILLUSTRATION: THOMAS FUCHS

The Reformation began on Oct. 31, 1517, when Martin Luther, as legend has it, nailed his “95 Theses” to a church door in Wittenberg, Germany. Whatever he actually did—he may have just attached the papers to the door or delivered them to clerical authorities—Luther was protesting Catholics’ sale of “indulgences” to give sinners at least partial absolution. The protest immediately went viral, to use a modern term, thanks to the new “social media” of the day—the printed pamphlet.

The development of the printing press around 1440 had set the stage: In the famous words of the German historian Bernd Moeller, “Without printing, no Reformation.” But the pamphlet deserves particular recognition. Unlike books, pamphlets were perfect for the mass market: easy to print and therefore cheap to buy.

By the mid-16th century, the authorities in France, Germany and England were fighting a rear-guard action to ban pamphlets. Despite various edicts in 1523, ’53, ’66 and ’89, the pamphlet flourished—and gained some highly placed authors. Although she professed disdain for the medium, Queen Elizabeth I contributed speeches to a 1586 pamphlet that justified her decision to execute Mary, Queen of Scots. Two years later, the Spanish printed a slew of propaganda pamphlets that tried to turn King Philip II’s failed invasion attempt of England into a qualified success.

By the 17th century, virulent “pamphlet wars” accompanied every major religious and political controversy in Europe. By then, pamphleteers needed an exceptionally strong voice to be heard above the din—something even harder to achieve once newspapers and periodicals joined the battle for readers as the century matured.

What is a pamphlet, anyway? One popular source says 80 pages; Unesco puts it as five to 48 pages. Shortness is a pamphlet’s strength. Though the work did little to ease Ireland’s poverty, the satirist Jonathan Swift opened English eyes to the problem with his 3,500-word mock pamphlet of 1729, “A Modest Proposal,” which argued that the best way to alleviate hunger was for the Irish to rear their children as food.

Half a century later, Thomas Paine took less than 50 pages to inspire the American Revolution with his “Common Sense” of 1776. A guillotine killed Marie Antoinette in 1793, but often-anonymous pamphlets had assassinated her character first in a campaign that portrayed her as a sex-crazed monster.

Pamphlets could also save reputations—such as that of Col. Alfred Dreyfus, the French-Jewish army officer falsely convicted in 1894 of spying for Germany. After realizing that Dreyfus was a victim of anti-Semitism, the writer Émile Zola published in 1898, first in a newspaper and then as a pamphlet, a 4,000-word open letter, “J’accuse…!” which blamed the French establishment for a vast coverup. His cry, “Truth is on the march, and nothing will stop it,” was ultimately proved right; Dreyfus won a full exoneration in 1906.

What Zola achieved for religious equality, Martin Luther King Jr. did for the civil-rights movement with his “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” written after his arrest for civil disobedience. Eventually published in many forms, including a pamphlet, the 1963 letter of about 7,000 words contains the famous line, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” The words crystallized the importance of the struggle and made tangible King’s campaign of nonviolent protest.

Not everyone has lost their belief in pamphlet power. Today, the best-selling “On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century” clocks in at about 130 pages, but the author, Yale history professor Timothy Snyder, said he’s comfortable with calling it a long political pamphlet.

Amanda Foreman: public schools shun classic novels – The Sunday Times

A bestselling biographer fears Austen and Dickens have been forsaken to boost results

Photo by DAN CALLISTER

Top public schools including Eton and Marlborough have been accused of “shutting children out of their literary heritage” by failing to teach classic novels.

The academic and writer Amanda Foreman is campaigning to return classic novels by authors such as Jane Austen, Charles Dickens and George Eliot to the curriculum of some of Britain’s most famous schools.

She was spurred into action after being “horrified” to discover that her 16-year-old daughter “had not read a single 18th or 19th-century novel” at her private school in England.

Foreman, who lives in America, has five children — all educated privately in Britain. She said she was alarmed and angered to discover that it had become common for a child to go through school without having read a single classic novel.

“Kids are leaving school shut out from their literary heritage. It is so cruel,” she said.

Foreman spoke to friends who had children at private schools and found they were also being taught modern novels that are easier to read, up to and including at GCSE level, such as Michael Frayn’s Spies, Holes by Louis Sachar and Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men.

By comparison, state-educated children study at least one 19th-century novel and a Shakespeare play following the curriculum overhaul by Michael Gove when he was education secretary.

The iGCSE, however, which is popular in private schools, also includes the option to study only more modern books.

Foreman, whose bestselling biography Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, was made into a film starring Keira Knightley, said children had to be given “remedial” reading lists by universities in both the UK and America.

By contrast, children at schools such as Friends Seminary, a private school in New York, were getting lots of “Chaucer, Beowulf, Shakespeare, Jane Austen and a whole term of poetry”.

She added: “In America they are expected to have read more classic books such as Mark Twain and to have studied them in class, including 19th-century texts.

“When I speak to professors here in New York they talk about how surprised they are how the English students they always regarded as top drawer are having to go into remedial classes to read.”

Frederic Smoler, a professor of literature and history at Sarah Lawrence College, New York, said he had encountered British students who had “extraordinary” gaps in their knowledge.

“My friends who went to English public schools in the 1970s and 1980s had a wonderful education. I am not sure that is true now,” he said.

Foreman said she feared that leading private schools were choosing easier novels from exam syllabuses to improve results. Teachers had also told her that they were trying to encourage a generation reared on smartphones and iPads who find works by writers such as Austen and Dickens too “difficult”.

“They say the children are digital natives, not natives of the English language,” she said.

Parents expected public schools to deliver a classical education, Foreman said — the kind she herself enjoyed — in return for fees of £30,000 a year. Teachers had to persevere with difficult books, she said, otherwise children would know the classics only by watching films.

John Sutherland, emeritus Lord Northcliffe professor of English literature at University College London, said: “I find it ironic as a card-carrying Victorianist that Gutenberg.org has given us a sesame’s cave of thousands of 19th-century works, handsomely eprinted, free of charge.

“And now, apparently, certain high- performing schools decide they are surplus to educational requirements. Shame on them.”

Some head teachers said part of the problem was that private schools had opted for iGCSE exams, rather than the more difficult GCSE in English literature brought in by Gove, which was first set this summer.

Eton said pupils take the iGCSE and some boys do study a classic, but others study books such as Spies, rather than Austen’s Mansfield Park. A spokesman said: “Eton believes in offering a balanced range of modern and classical texts for its pupils to study.”

Marlborough said pupils must be given “a broad literary understanding from across the genres, as well as from different periods and cultures”.

It added that English literature was compulsory and said that the school offered a “ guided reading club”.

A World on Fire by Amanda Foreman

ABOUT THE BOOKBUY THE BOOKREVIEWSMULTIMEDIAPHOTOS

books0703gallagherWinner of the Fletcher Pratt Award for Civil War History

Finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award

The New York Times Top Ten Books of 2011

Named one of the Best Books of the Year by The Washington Post, The New Yorker, Chicago Tribune, The Economist, Nancy Pearl, NPR, Bloomberg.com, Library Journal, and Publishers Weekly

 

Though with the North we sympathize
It must not be forgotten
That with the South we’ve stronger ties
Which are composed of cotton
Punch, 30 March, 1861

It is said that the closeness of siblings can be measured by the intensity of their fights. During the first one hundred years, Britain and the US were almost always arguing about something. Trade, maritime rights, and boundary disputes were the chief tinderlights; a spark from each had the capacity to send troops running to the barricades. Much good such martial spirits did for the belligerents. The war of 1812 ended ignominiously for both sides: the British Army suffered a stunning defeat at New Orleans, but not before it had seized Washington and set fire to the White House.

American anglophobia, already high, increased after 1812. It was positively unhealthy to be suspected of pro-British leanings. Every decade saw some fresh dispute. During the 1840s the quarrel centered on territory, in the 50s a friendly discussion over colonial ambitions in Central America turned into sour recriminations. Yet the two countries were each other’s best customers.

Southern cotton and Northern wheat fired up British factories and fed her workers. In return, manufactured goods and financial investment poured in to a hungry economy that was increasing faster than its population. (Between 1840 and 1860 America doubled from seventeen to thirty-two million.) The South grew richer and more genteel, while the North grew bigger and more powerful as artisans turned into workers, and entrepreneurs became bankers or industrialists. A vast network of railroads, partly financed by British capital, connected the North in a lattice of commerce. By 1860 an English oak dining table could be unloaded in New York on Monday and set for lunch in Chicago on Wednesday.

Read more here
Read an excerpt from Chapter 22 of A World on Fire, ”Crossroads at Gettysburg,” pages 486-497
Read the comprehensive bibliography for A World on Fire here.

“History as a Cecil B. DeMille epic…One puts down A World on Fire with a sense of awe.” —The Boston Globe

“Thrilling narrative on a grand scale.” —History Today

“[A] remarkable book…an extraordinary cast.” — The New York Times Book Review

“[A] magisterial history.” —Newsweek

The New Yorker – 1 August 2011
Over There” by Hendrik Hertzberg
Amanda Foreman’s “A World on Fire: Britain’s Crucial Role in the American Civil War” (Random House; $35) broadens the scope. Her story is more than an eye-opening corrective to American insularity. It is an immensely ambitious and immensely accomplished—and just plain immense—work of narrative art. At a third of a million words sprawled over nearly a thousand pages, “A World on Fire” is not far south of “War and Peace.” Yet the pages fly like the wind—like “Gone with the Wind”—because there’s so much life, so much action, and so many vivid people in them.

The Wall Street Journal – 25 June 2011
When Cotton Wasn’t King” by Michael Burlingame
Amanda Foreman’s well-researched and highly readable “A World on Fire: Britain’s Crucial Role in the American Civil War” examines why the British government never did recognize the Confederacy. Ms. Foreman, the author of the best-selling biography “Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire” (1999), is such an engaging writer that readers may find this 958-page volume too short. She supplements the traditional scholarly approach to British-American relations with an array of testimony from dozens of British witnesses to and participants in the Civil War. Their diaries, letters, reminiscences and newspaper reports provide insights into the war that differ from similar accounts by Americans, who perforce could not achieve the detached perspective of foreigners.

Guardian – 27 November 2010
A World on Fire: An Epic History of Two Nations Divided by Amanda Foreman“” by Jay Parini
Amanda Foreman leapt into public view with her Whitbread-prizewinning portrait of Georgiana, the Duchess of Devonshire, in 1999, proving herself a storyteller of lavish gifts, a writer with an eye for the telling biographical detail who could also portray society at large – in that case the world of late-18th-century aristocrats in Britain and France. More than a decade later, she has delivered a massive work of considerable artistry, which tells the complex and riveting tale of British involvement in the American civil war.

More reviews here.

Virtual Book Signing – 2 November 2012
Abraham Lincoln Book Shop – Chicago, IL
Host Daniel Weinberg speaks to Amanda Foreman about her book A World on Fire.

The New York Historical Society – 8 November 2011
The Civil War: Great Britain’s Role

Ohio University – 31 January 2012
The George Washington Forum on American Ideas, Politics, and Institutions
Amanda Foreman speaks to an audience at Ohio University about her inspiration for writing A World on Fire.

C-Span – 15 July 2011
BookTV: After Words
Amanda Foreman discusses her book A World on Fire with Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Eric Foner.

CBS Boston – 8 July 2011
NightSide: Amanda Foreman, Author of “A World On Fire” Discusses The American Civil War

The Oldie – 7 June 2011
Oldie Literary Lunch
Amanda Foreman speaks to an audience of The Oldie magazine readers about A World on Fire and the discovery that led her to the subject while she was researching for Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire.

C-Span – 26 March 2011
The Lincoln Conference, Washington DC
Britain’s Response to the Emancipation Proclamation

Video: http://www.c-span.org/video/?298687-2/britains-response-emancipation-proclamation

5 x 15 – 18 April 2011
Amanda Foreman @ 5 x 15

George IV by Chistopher Hibbert

9781403983794_p0_v1_s600Foreword

The prevailing view of George IV was entirely negative until Hibbert’s sympathetic biography revealed a gifted individual whose harsh upbringing and personal weaknesses conspired to ruin his potential. It was also the prince’s misfortune to fall into the hands of the brilliant but dissolute Whigs. The Duchess of Devonshire, Charles James Fox, and Richard Brinsley Sheridan were indeed a “School for Scandal.” But while they eventually grew into sadder and wiser middle-age, the prince never matured past adolescence.

George IV’s pathological self-indulgence turned him into a buffoon, blinding critics then and now to his contribution towards Britain’s cultural heritage. Many of London’s most beautiful buildings owe their genesis to this much maligned king. As Hibbert argues, no other monarch cared so passionately about art and architecture.

Eschewing the obvious for the nuanced, Hibbert rescued George IV from the clowns’ corner to restore him to his true, tragic glory.

Amanda Foreman

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THE DEFINITIVE BIOGRAPHY OF ENGLAND’S REBEL KING

“Christopher Hibber’s George IV is at once soundly based on research in the Royal Archives at Windsor and a rollicking good read. I found it invaluable when I was researching The Unruly Queen, my life of George IV’s wife Queen Caroline, and I recommend it to anyone interested in George IV’s flamboyant and outrageous personality.”
Flora Fraser, author of Princesses and The Unruly Queen

“This is one of the most satisfying biographies of an English king: it is ample, convincing and well written.”
Times Literary Supplement

In this definitive biography of George IV, Christopher Hibbert delivers a superbly detailed picture of the life and times of England’s rebel king. From his exorbitant spending on his homes, his clothes, his women; throughout his patronage of the arts; his “illegal” marriage to Catholic Mrs. Fitzherbert; and lesser known facts such as his generous charity donations, George IV led a rich and enchanting life. Hibbert also revives George IV’s many witty one-liners, including one he uttered when he met his bride-to-be (Caroline of Brunswick) for the first time: “Harris, I am not well, fetch me a brandy”.

Christopher Hibbert, “ a pearl of biographers” (New Statesman), was born in 1924 and educated at Radley and Oxford. He is the beloved author of many highly acclaimed books, including The Rise and Fall of the House of Medici, The English: A Social History, and Cavaliers and Roundheads. He lives in Oxfordshire, United Kingdom.

Amanda Foreman is the author of The New York Times best-seller Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire, which won the Whitbread Prize for Best Biography, and is currently writing about the American Civil War. She lives in New York.

Copyright© 2008 Christopher Hibbert

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What Might Have Been by Andrew Roberts

Throughout history, great and terrible events have often hinged upon sheer luck. Tiny changes to great enterprises can produce profoundly different results. We all ask ‘what might have been?’ about our own lives, now Andrew Roberts has assembled a team of twelve leading historians and biographers and asked them what might have happened if major world events had gone differently?

Each concentrating in the area in which they are a leading authority, historians as distinguished as Antonia Fraser, Norman Stone and Anne Somerset look at vital moments of history and consider: ‘What Might Have Been?’

In her first publication since her acclaimed Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, Amanda Foreman looks at what might have happened if Lincoln’s Northern States of America and Lord Palmerston’s Great Britain had gone to war, as they so nearly did in 1861. Whether it’s Stalin fleeing Moscow in 1941, as imagined by Simon Sebag Montefiore, or Napoleon not being forced to retreat from it in 1812, as recorded by Adam Zamoyski, the events covered here are important, world-changing ones.

George W. Bush’s former White House advisor David Frum considers a President Al Gore’s response to 9/11, while Simon Heffer posits a Heseltine premiership had Margaret Thatcher been assassinated by the I.R.A. in Brighton. Conrad Black wonders how the United States might have entered the Second World War if the Japanese had not bombed Pearl Harbor.

All twelve essays are thought-provoking and scholarly, some of them posit a fascinating and often horrifying parallel universe – a universe that so easily just might have been.

Reviews

‘This is counter-factual history at its best – drawing fresh but informed conclusions from perfectly credible errors. Stimulating, provocative and playful, What Might Have Been is everything one looks for in a collection of essays.’
Graham Stewart, Literary Review

‘The main object of these essays is to entertain, and they do so handsomely. This book is a hymn to the accidental and the erratic. Look on these works, ye Determinists and Dialectical Materialists, and at least consider the possibility that you might not be entirely right.’
Philip Ziegler, Daily Telegraph

Moments when the fates of nations seem to turn on the roll of a die, haunt the minds of the twelve writers assembled for this intriguing and entertaining anthology.’
Andrew Holgate, Sunday Times

What Might Have Been is the latest of a series of volumes in which a gifted team of authors envisages alternative historical scenarios. As has become the custom of the genre,20some of the contributors submit sober and measured assessments, while others spot a chance for playfulness.’
Blair Worden, Sunday Telegraph

‘All twelve essays are good fun, and the will make the reader think – and that is, after all, what all good history, ‘factual’ or ‘counterfactual’, should be about.’
T.G. Otte, Times Literary Supplement

Copyright© 2008 Andrew Roberts

Georgiana’s World by Amanda Foreman

6As one of the most flamboyant and influential women of the late 18th century, Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire was an icon of her time. Born Lady Georgiana Spencer, she married the fifth Duke of Devonshire in 1774; within a short space of time she had become the undisputed queen of fashionable society, adored by the Prince Regent, an intimate of Marie-Antoinette, an influential Whig hostess and a darling of the common people. Yet for all her aura of public glamour, Georgiana’s personal life was fraught with suffering brought on by her compulsive gambling, which led to insurmountable debts and ignominy, and her search for love, which caused misery and exile.

“Georgiana’s World” is the illustrated version of Amanda Foreman’s bestselling biography, “Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire”, and brings a fresh perspective to her life and times. Filled with images of the people and places she actually knew, a series of special features explore such aspects of 18th-century life as aristocracy.

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The Sylph by Georgiana Duchess of Devonshire, Foreword by Amanda Foreman

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Georgiana’s extraordinary influence on fashion first became noticeable during the ‘feather headdress affair’. These were three-foot ostrich feather headdress which she imported from Paris. They were so scarce in England that fashionable women resorted to bribing undertakers for their horses’ plumage. The following year, in 1775, Georgiana initiated the craze for extravagant hair towers of preposterous designs. One day she would appear sporting a pastoral tableau, complete with miniature wooden sheep; the next she might wear a nautical theme with storm-tossed ships and sailors artfully placed among the curls. Later on, she introduced the ‘picture hat’ and, in 1783, again transformed women’s fashion with the free-flowing muslin dress that was simply tied by a ribbon around the waist. There was the ‘Devonshire brown,’ a ‘Devonshire hair powder’, even a ‘Devonshire minuet’ which Georgiana created with Vestris, the leading dancer of the day.

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Madame de Pompadou by Nancy Mitford, Foreword by Amanda Foreman

Madame de PompadorAt eight o’clock one morning, the Comte de Maurepas, Louis XVth’s Minister of the Navy, was called from his bed to receive a Royal messenger. Maurepas did not even bother to read the letter handed to him. Its timing, and the Royal seal on the back, could mean only one thing. His long-running battle with the Marquise de Pompadour, the King’s official mistress, was over. Maurepas dressed, gave directions to his servants, and then set off to begin his rustic exile far, far away from Versailles. Such was the definite and unyielding power of the Marquise.

It says something about the two countries, that in Britain we admire our ruling Queens while in France they celebrate their royal mistresses. It was the French, after all, who invented the word chauvinism. Indeed, the idea of legitimate female power never crossed the Channel. There was no legal provision for a daughter to inherit the throne. And, as for royal consorts, they were foreigners and therefore deeply under suspicion. Nevertheless, what was officially denied to the Kings’ wives was unofficially granted in abundance to the women who held the post of ‘maitresse en titre’. Of this select group, the most dazzling was Madame de Pompadour. It is no wonder that she is the inspiration behind two museum exhibitions, at the Wallace Collection and the National Gallery. During her twenty year tenure, the very best of French culture either flowed out of her largesse or came to her door.

The Marquise was not unique in her encouragement for the arts. Of the seven great mistresses of Versailles, only one was profoundly if not stubbornly middlebrow. This was Madame du Barry, the last maitresse en titre of France, who escaped to England before the Revolution only to return at its height and, not surprisingly, end up on the guillotine. The others all took great pride in their role as benefactors of the arts. Racine and Moliere, the finest playwrights of the seventeenth century, were just two of the many who owed their success not to Louis XIV but to his mistresses. And, while it is true that a number of second-rate artists also received encouragement it must be remembered that the mistresses belonged to a class which considered itself above such bourgeois things as expertise.

Mme de Pompadour, however, was an unusual woman in this respect. Although she had conquered the aristocracy, she did not belong to it. There was no disguising the fact, and nor did she try, that her family was middle class. Her upbringing, therefore, was different from her peers. She knew many writers and intellectuals before her elevation to maitresse, and among her best friends was the philosopher Voltaire. She supported and promoted him, even though he infuriated the King by doing things that no Courtier would dare, such as grabbing his arm or interrupting his conversation.

But it was de Pompadour’s mastery of her position rather than her salon which impressed Versailles. The maitresse en titre was expected fulfill a set of clearly defined duties. Every waking hour had a purpose. When she was not amusing the King, there were hundreds of requests to answer, plans to execute, and scores to be settled. Although most tourists came away thinking that life at Court was simply about pleasure, its one thousand occupants knew better. The palace had not changed since the Sun King, Louis XVth’s great-grandfather had made it the primary residence of the Court. Under his baleful eye, Versailles evolved into a terrifying, competitive place where honesty and kindness were rare and exotic qualities. The aristocracy only put up with Versailles’s miserable accommodation because the alternative meant being an outcast. They were little better than serfs in silk and, behind the bows and curtsies, was a deadly struggle for the King’s favour.

Since real power, meaning access to the King, lay not with the Queen but with the maitresse en titre, the whole of Versailles buzzed around the Royal Mistress like bees in a hive. During her tenure she was the focus of attention, constantly flattered, constantly importuned, and constantly in danger from her enemies. The rules governing Versailles were solipsistic and arcane. Like all closed societies, it thrived on nuances which are second nature to the initiated and hidden traps for the unwary. It was the height of bad manners, for example, to use the familiar ‘tu’ instead of the formal ‘vous’ in front of the King. Husbands and wives, siblings, old friends all had to address each other as if for the first time. Royal etiquette was so complicated that Mme de Pompadour’s presentation at Court required several months of preparation. The dress, the walk, the curtsey, even her choice of words: on every minute action teetered a lifetime of ridicule. Knowing this, she went to the country and practiced until she was ready.

However, it was not enough that the Maitresse know how to behave herself, it was vital that she understood Versailles’s pecking order and act accordingly. One of de Pompadour’s predecessors, Madame de Montespan, the most flamboyant of Louis XIVth’s mistresses, side stepped the problem entirely by treating all of Versailles as beneath her. While successful in its way, it had the affect of uniting all her enemies. They waited for her to become vulnerable and were rewarded by a sordid scandal involving witchcraft and rumours of poison. De Montespan was implicated – apparently she had tried to buy a potion which would make the Queen infertile – and the King was forced to dismiss her from Court.

Mme de Pompadour was not afraid to imitate de Montespan, although she exhibited a little more tact than her fiery predecessor. Instead of insisting that guests stand in her presence, for example, which was a custom reserved only for the King and Queen, she simply removed all the chairs. Just once did someone call her bluff. The Marquis de Souvré perched himself on the arm of her chair, remarking, ‘all the chairs appear to be missing.’ However, people forgave her these little displays of pomposity because she was the most good-natured and generous hearted mistresses Versailles had ever known. Even the Queen was fond of her. It took a great deal to make the Marquise show her claws. The banished Maurepas had tortured her for years before she finally executed swift revenge.

Where historians fault Mme de Pompadour is over her meddling in political affairs. It is said that she convinced Louis XVth to shift France’s alliance from Prussia to Austria, which precipitated the Seven Years’ war. While the shift was her idea, none will ever know quite where her persuasion ended and the King’s own sentiments began. The royal mistresses have always been credited with either too much influence or none at all. For a long time Madame de Maintenon, the only maitresse en titre who switched roles and became Louis XIVth’s wife, was accused of encouraging him to revoke the Edict of Nantes in 1685. This ending of official toleration of Protestantism led to a mass exodus of Huguenots to Britain. However, the truth is that de Maintenon, who was herself born a Protestant, was guilty of quiescence rather than instigation. But what is not in dispute is that she had a system whereby the Ministers always visited her before they saw the King. Thus she could let them know her wishes so that the names or choices presented to Louis were already predetermined. The King had no idea and simply thought how fortunate he was to have a companion who agreed with him on every issue.

This sort of political interference was simply unknown in Britain. Two events, the Civil War and the Glorious Revolution of 1688, had radically curtailed the power of the monarchy. Therefore there was little opportunity for a royal mistress to shine like her French counterparts. During the roughly one hundred and thirty years when Versailles was in its splendour and its maitresses at their peak, there is only one British royal mistress who is remembered today – Nell Gwynne.

The rest have left behind their portraits and some dukedoms, but little else. In general, they were either beautiful and greedy, like Charles II’s Louise de Keroualle and Barbara Villiers, or devoted and somewhat downtrodden like George II’s Countess of Suffolk. Some, either through circumstance or character were incapable of making their mark on British cultural life. George I’s mistresses, for example, known as the Elephant and Maypole because one was fat and the other was skinny, never learned to speak English properly. While dear Nell Gwynne, who did succeed in establishing the Chelsea Pensioners, was far too removed from the King’s world to have any influence on his ministers. The only woman who consciously tried to imitate the miatresse system was Louise de Keroualle, who engineered the downfall of the King’s favourite, the Duke of Buckingham. She also attempted to persuade Charles II to become a Catholic. However, once she realised that her influence went only so far, Louise concentrated on amassing a huge fortune instead. By the time Charles II had grown tired of her, Louise had accumulated a nest-egg of over £9 million in today’s money.

Although Napoleon restored the monarchy after the Revolution, the glorious era of the maitresse en titre never returned. While Britain’s royal mistresses arguably became more interesting in the 19th and 20th centuries, France’s declined into obscurity. Madame de Pompadour and her colleagues achieved extraordinary power at time when a single individual controlled the destiny of millions. They are proof of the old adage, that behind every great man, there is indeed a great woman.

Copyright© Amanda Foreman

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Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire by Amanda Foreman

ABOUT THE BOOKBUY THE BOOKREVIEWSMULTIMEDIAPHOTOS

WINNER OF THE 1998 WHITBREAD BIOGRAPHY OF THE YEAR AWARD

 

FINALIST FOR THE GUARDIAN FIRST BOOK AWARD

 

A12h5zK8VzLAs one of the most flamboyant and influential women of the late 18th century, Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire was an icon of her time. Born Lady Georgiana Spencer, she married the fifth Duke of Devonshire in 1774. She was thrust into public life at the age of sixteen, unprepared for the pressures that quickly followed and unsupported in a cold and loveless marriage. Though most of her contemporaries adored her because she seemed so natural and vibrant, only a few knew how tormented she was by self-doubt and loneliness. Georgiana was not content to lead the fashionable set nor merely to host soirées for the Whig party, instead she became an adept political campaigner and negotiator, respected by the Whigs and feared by her adversaries. She was the first woman to conduct a modern electoral campaign, going out into the streets to persuade ordinary people to vote for the Whigs. She took advantage of the country’s rapidly expanding newspaper trade to increase the popularity of the Whig party and succeeded in turning herself into a national celebrity. Georgiana was a patron of the arts, a novelist and writer, an amateur scientist and a musician. It was her tragedy that these successes were overshadowed by private and public misfortune. Ambitious for herself and her party, Georgiana was continually frustrated by restrictions imposed on Eighteenth-Century women. She was also a woman who needed to be loved, but the two people whom she loved most – Charles Grey and the Duke of Devonshire’s mistress Lady Elizabeth Foster – proved incapable of reciprocating her feelings in full measure. Georgiana’s unhappiness expressed itself destructively in her addiction to gambling, her early eating disorders, and her deliberate courting of risk. Her battle to overcome her problems was an achievement equal to the triumphs she enjoyed in her public life.

Cover painting of The Duchess of Devonshire by Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788) from the Devonshire Collection, Chatsworth; produced by permission of the Chatsworth Settlement Trustees.

Read the Introduction to Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire here.
Read an extract from Chapter 2: Fashion’s Favourite, pp. 33-37 here.
Read Georgiana’s medical file by I. G Schraibman here.

 

“Well written, extensively researched and highly readable”

Stella Tillyard, Daily Mail

 

“Not only a pungent, intimate blend of biography and history, but a provocative contribution to our understanding of women of the past”

Jenny Uglow, Independent

 

“Georgiana Devonshire was much the most fascinating woman of the age, and Foreman has written a biography to match her”

Ian Gilmour, London Review of Books

 

“Sumptuously produced, accurate and eminently readable”

Economist

 

“Georgiana bursts from the pages of Amanda Foreman’s dazzling biography like the force of nature she undoubtedly was passionate, political, addicted to gambling, and drunk on life. This is a stunning book about an astonishing woman.”

Simon Schama

 

“A most impressive debut. I predict a great future for Amanda Foreman. She is a scholar who matches her learning to a sense of adventure and writes with engaging vitality.”

Michael Holroyd

 

“A mesmerizing read …. The charm of Amanda Foreman’s Georgiana is that it gives you all the fascinating detail you want …. and is at the same time a serious, scholarly work, based on exhaustive archival research.”

Antonia Fraser, Literary Review

 

“Stunning historical research plus feminine acuity yield a vivid portrait of a shrewd, seductive ancestor of Princess Diana’s in an age before democracy or contraception.”

Brenda Maddox, author of Yeats’s Ghosts and Nora: The Real Life of Molly Bloom

 

“I put this book down entranced by the woman. This is an outstanding debut by a young biographer fully in control of her sources, and with an easy, elegant writing style. She tells a tale that calls not only for our admiration but for our compassion.”

Roy Strong, London Sunday Times

 

“This is an accomplished and well written biography, remarkably mature for a first effort; diligently researched and entertainingly presented. Amanda Foreman is a writer to watch and one from whom much can be expected.”

Daily Telegraph

 

The Sunday Times – 18 May 1998
Hostess with the mostest
By Roy Strong

“Outstanding . . . a young biographer fully in control of her sources, and with an easy and elegant writing style.”

 

The Daily Telegraph – May 1998
Legendarily extravagant
By Philip Ziegler

“This is an accomplished and well-written biography; remarkably mature for a first effort; diligently researched and entertainingly presented. Amanda Foreman is a writer to watch and one from whom much can be expected.”

 

The Evening Standard – May 1998
Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire
By Roy Porter

“Georgiana is a capital biography and a splendid debut for Ms Foreman. Her writing has strength and pace, and her portrayal of the Georgian queen of hearts carries a conviction deriving from deep research into many a country-house archive. What a pity that Victorian prudes destroyed most of Georgiana’s love letters and cancelled out other intimate passages in the blackest of black inks. The evident shockingness of this courageous lady is commendation indeed of this engaging study.”

BBC Radio 4  – 30 July 2014
The Georgians: Restraint, Revolution and Reform: Part 2
In the final part of a series examining the political impact of the Georgian era, Amanda Foreman looks at politics on the ground as she considers the structures of British life that created both control and freedom. She asks why Britain experienced political evolution, not revolution.

 

BBC Radio 4 – 23 July 2014
The Georgians: Restraint, Revolution and Reform: Part 1
Amanda Foreman examines the formative years of British politics when the most important structures of British life – still valued and recognised today – were established in the shadow of revolution.

 

Secrets of the Manor House (PBS) – 14 July 2013
The Secrets of Chatsworth
In its 500-year history, Chatsworth has been home to some notable inhabitants, among them the 5th Duke of Devonshire, his wife, Lady Georgiana Spencer, and Lady Elizabeth Foster, who lived together in a ménage à trois. King Edward VII enjoyed shooting parties on the estate and was often entertained by Duchess Louisa, one of Britain’s foremost political hostesses.

Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire and Lady Georgiana Cavendish, by Joshua Reynolds.

Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire and Lady Georgiana Cavendish, by Joshua Reynolds.
Georgiana gave birth to Lady Georgiana. ‘Little G’, at Devonshire House in the summer of 1783. In 1804, Little G, by then a mother of two children, told Georgiana, ‘one cannot know until one has separated from you how different you are from everyone else, how superior to all mothers, even good ones.’

John 1st Earl Spencer, by Thomas Gainsborough, c.1763.

John 1st Earl Spencer, by Thomas Gainsborough, c.1763.

Lord Spencer ‘seems to be the man whose values few people know’,’ wrote Viscount Palmerston. “The bright side of his character appears in private and the dark side in public.”

Georgiana, Countess Spencer, by Pompeo Batoni c.1764.

Georgiana, Countess Spencer, by Pompeo Batoni c.1764.

Georgiana was waiting disconsolately in Amsterdam for her parents to return when this portarit was painted. It shows Lady Spencer surrounded by her interests: books, a musical instrument and classical ruins.

Lady Elizabeth Foster, 'Bess', by Reynolds, 1787

Lady Elizabeth Foster, ‘Bess’, by Reynolds, 1787

Painted after she had been with the Devonshires for six years.

Fifth Duke of Devonshire, by Pompeo Batoni.

Fifth Duke of Devonshire, by Pompeo Batoni.

The trip abroad failed to improve his manners: ‘To be sure the jewel has not been well polished,’ wrote Mrs Delaney. ‘Had he fallen under the tuition of the late Lord Chesterfield he might have possessed les graces, but at present only that of his dukedom belongs to him.’

 

Gender in Eighteenth Century England by Hannah Barker and Elaine Chalus

gender_1CHAPTER ONE

INTRODUCTION
HANNAH BARKER AND ELAINE CHALUS

The Sexes have now little other apparent Distinction, beyond that of Person and Dress: Their peculiar and characteristic Manners are confounded and lost: The one Sex having advanced into Boldness. As the other have sunk into Effeminacy. 1
(John Brown, 1757)

Women must be understood …… in terms of relationship – with other women, and with men …..2
(Michelle Zimbalist Rosaldo, 1980)

For John Brown, England’s dismal performance at the beginning of the Seven Years’ War was the result of a deterioration in national character that he attributed, at least in part, to changes in manner and sexes. Like other eighteenth-century moralists and conduct-book writers who attempted to coax, cajole or chastise their readers into complying with idealized notions of masculinity and femininity, he believed that clearly defined gender roles were central to the stability of English society, and by extension, to England’s status as a world power.

In general, eighteenth-century prescriptive texts argued that men and women were ‘naturally’ different, and that these differences not only shaped their characters but suited each sex to specific activities and roles in society. Authors mustered powerful religious, philosophical and scientific arguments to explain, rationalize and legitimize implicit and explicit inequalities between the sexes. While men and masculinity were occasionally the subjects of such texts, the overwhelming majority of this literature was aimed at women, who were, by nature, considered to be in need of closer supervision.

  1. John Brown, An Estimate on the Manners and Principles of the Times (1757), p.51
  2. Michelle Zimbalist Rosaldo, ‘The use and abuse of anthropology; reflections on feminism and cross-cultural understanding’ Signs 5,3 (1980), p.409

Copyright© Hannah Barker and Elaine Chalus

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