Mar 012021
 

I was delighted to see a review of my book in the ever-readable Jane Austen’s Regency World (March/April issue).

For those who are not subscribers (and I have to ask: why not?) here is the review:

More of my titles with Pen & Sword will be coming out soon – that is one thing to be said for lock-down, it gives a real incentive to get on with writing!

Jan 192021
 

Hogarth’s Four times of the Day – Morning, Noon, Evening and Night

Being a history nerd I happily spend some of my spare time trawling through the Hathi Trust Digital Library site, which has on-line copies of loads of books and newspapers from the Georgian era. I recently came across one book on the site which describes what people of all ages and all classes  got up to on a particular Sunday in 1764. It goes by the somewhat wordy title of ‘Low-life, or, one half of the world, knows not how the other half lives, being a critical account of what is transacted by people of all religions, nations, and circumstances, in the twenty-four hours between a Saturday night and a Monday morning.

O.K. it is tongue-in-cheek, and is poking fun at Londoners for being idle and  vice-ridden. It is dedicated to the artist Hogarth and is intended as a sort of literary accompaniment to Hogarth’s four-part series of  Morning, Noon, Evening and Night. Its anonymous author describes a typical Sunday in London, seen through the lives of a whole host of different citizens – apprentices, merchants, whores, newly-weds – starting at midnight on Saturday. It describes the prostitutes walking the streets, bribing the watchmen with a bottle of Geneva to ‘look the other way’, and explains how midnight was the middle of the working day to many publicans, gin-shop owners and bawdy-house keepers – a reminder how even in the eighteenth century London was a city which never slept, on-the-go right around the clock. It continues with a scurrilous and amusing look at what everyone was getting up to on their Day of Rest, and it occurs to me that anyone writing a novel set in the 1760s could do well to look through the book to get ideas about what peripheral characters could be shown to be getting up to!

Just as an example, here are copies of some of the pages describing Hour 2:

 

And so it goes on, before moving on to discuss three in the morning; four; five; etc right through until midnight. Some of the examples are delightful and I  just think it paints a fascinating if biased picture of London life. The particular book can be found on the Hathi site here. The great thing with the digitised book is that it is fully searchable – not only that, but it seems to be able to work out when a ‘long s’ is ‘s’ not ‘f’. [On some other sites you have to search separately for, say, ‘Wesley’ and Wefley’ – not here, it reveals both variants]. Hathi Trust is a partnership of academic and research institutions, offering a collection of millions of titles digitized from libraries around the world. To get the most out of it, and to be able to download images, you need to join as a member, but anyone can just browse and see what is on offer. A great research tool for aspiring writers!

Oct 302020
 

It is a strange feeling when you get an invoice through the post – for nil pounds – and realize that the publishers have just posted the author’s complementary copies of  his latest book! It always catches me out, because  there is such a long interval between writing, and seeing the results. Long after the proofing, the discussions about the cover design and so on,  it suddenly emerges as a physical entity, a book which you can hold in your hand and turn the pages!

My latest offering, from Pen & Sword, is entitled Sex and Sexuality in Georgian Britain – it’s part of a series and it apparently ‘hit the streets’ on 29 October. My complementary copies are winging their way to me from Barnsley and I  look forward to seeing what it looks like in a day or two.

The reviews, so far, have been excellent. Here are a few:

This was a well-researched and well-written historical look at sex and sexuality in Georgian Britain. A time where sex and sexuality became part of everyday conversation (or comic illustrations), Rendell uses newspapers, diaries, court records, and more to explore the disparities between how the rich and the poor, men and women, were treated when it came to sex. What could people get away with? What was becoming more common? What was changing? For a good nightmare inducer, be sure to read the section on the medical profession and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases just before going to bed (or eating). It’s shocking to think that the British medical profession really hadn’t developed past the ancient Greeks. “Sex and Sexuality in Georgian Britain” is well organized into interesting chapters and is a must read for anyone interested in the time period.

NetGalley, Anne Morgan

“There was a law for the rich, and there was a law for the poor. There was a law for men, and there was another law for women.”
This book explores Georgian Britain’s attitudes to sex and sexuality, and gives an overview of a wide variety of topics: rape, homosexuality, contraceptives, STDs and prostitution, to name a few.
It is well-researched and structured, and surprisingly accessible. I also appreciated the incorporation of life in Georgian Britain further than sex and sexuality, including politics, medicine and literature. Throughout, there is also commentary on gender and sexism.

NetGalley, Ella Blake

I loved reading this book and I hope to read more books from this author and subjects like this in the future. The author did a good job.

NetGalley, Tina Carter

This was a really entertaining read, I enjoyed learning about a point in history that I didn’t know much about. I look forward to reading more from the author.

NetGalley, Kay McLeer

I found this like the others in this series, interesting, funny, accessible and detailed. The writing was great and i liked how this presented. This is well worth a read.

NetGalley, Bethany Younge

I loved this. It was fascinating and I learned so much. Will definitely be buying the book to keep it in my collection.

NetGalley, Lisa Curtin

It is a shame that in these Covid-times I cannot get out and about and give talks to promote the book. Mind you, things move on and I have already submitted the manuscript for my next book, which Pen & Sword are publishing next year. Not sure of the exact title yet, but it will be looking at 18th Century courtesans as fashion icons – the way that what they wore, how they accessorised, how they styled their hair and so on, influenced fashion. It will be a sort of “who were the influencers  250 years ago, before we invented the Kardashians?”

In the meantime, I have just started work on  another title – it will be my fourteenth – but I will keep that under wraps until it is ready to emerge, chrysalis-like, some time in 2021/2. Meanwhile, for those of you worrying about what to buy your elderly maiden aunt for Christmas, I whole-heartedly recommend Sex and Sexuality in Georgian Britain. In fact, buy two copies and give the second one to your favourite vicar. As one of the reviewers has said: “This may be one of my favorite history books ever!” while another, also un-prompted by any financial inducement from me (!) – writes: “This book is an absolute treasure, full of little known information about the sexual habits of the Georgian period, and the hypocrisy of the time in regard to women. I shall consult it often as a reference book, but I also enjoyed reading it.”

My thanks to the reviewers – now go out and enjoy! Just don’t leave it lying around where it might frighten the horses…

May 142020
 

A trio of prints from the Metropolitan Museum by good old Thomas Rowlandson, all on the topic of luxury.

First up: one published in 1780 showing a clearly unimpressed servant dragging along a contraption rather like a gouty chair, into which a corpulent gentleman has been wedged, holding up either a sunshade (or, less likely, an umbrella). Luxury for one: hard work for the other.

Next up, one from 1786 with the same title, showing the delights of a pair of young lovers, cocooned within the curtains of their bed, being brought sustenance by a young maid.

And thirdly, a print entitled ‘French luxury, or repos a la francais’ – not dated, but published after 1800. The British Museum have a copy of the same print, which they describe as “a young woman asleep in an abandoned posture on a crooked and makeshift bed in a shabby room, hugging to her body and between her bare legs a large shapeless object (a cushion?), and grasping the leg of an upturned chair with her right hand; at right, a dog at the foot of the bed and a cat on a cushioned stool by the door, also sleeping.”

I rather suspect an underlying dig at the French by Rowlandson – the young lady is missing a male companion, and has beaten the bolster into a man-substitute, while her hand fondles the phallus-shaped hardness of the char leg…. Or do I just have a filthy mind?

May 062020
 

We live in an era where we take it for granted that photographs lie – where models routinely photo-shop their bikini shots to enhance their boobs, narrow their waist and  lengthen their legs. It is cheating – but it is commonplace.

What I find interesting is how, 250 years ago, artists and engravers were just as willing to  come up with phoney images to enhance their products. Take this image on the left, which appears on the Rijkmuseum site. It shows the courtesan/actress Anne Elliott, and it appeared in 1769 when it was described as being  ‘after the portrait artist Tilly Kettle and engraved by James Watson’. It didn’t sell, presumably because no-one was really interested in Anne Elliott given that she died in that same year. So the copper plate used in the engraving was sold, the face tweaked slightly, and then re-titled as ‘Miss Nancy Parsons’. It is shown on the right and appears courtesy of the Isaac and Ede site here.

Nancy was the infamous courtesan who had shacked up with the Duke of  Grafton, acting prime minister. The Duke was happy to parade Nancy on his arm when he went to the opera, or to the races at Newmarket, and she even hosted the equivalent of  dinner parties at number 10 Downing Street, in other words at his official residence.

People assumed, when Grafton’s wife had a very public affair with the Earl of Upper Ossory and had his child, and the Duke and Duchess went their separate ways and divorced, that the Duke would marry Nancy. But no, he amazed everyone by  giving Nancy the heave-ho and instead married the far more respectable Elizabeth Wrottesley. But don’t feel too sorry for Nancy, because one of the reasons why the Duke decided to end their relationship was because she was busy having an affair with the randy John Sackville, third Duke of Dorset.

All of which made Nancy a figure very much in the public eye. The press tended to show that Nancy had a raw deal, believing that Nancy was being passed over unfairly. Typical was the caricature entitled The Political Wedding, an extract of which is shown above, with the Duke exchanging wedding vows with Elizabeth, with whom he went on to live happily for 40 years and bring up no fewer than twelve children.

And here, to the left side of the caricature, is the disconsolate figure of Nancy Parsons, weeping while uttering the words: “I retire on a pension of £300 p.a. to make way for Miss Wr—y.”

Getting back to the Anne Elliott engraving, passed off as being Nancy. It  demonstrates the way that engravings were churned out in bulk – as long as an image sold, who cared if it was accurate? To add to the parody, this time it was described as being ‘by Housman after Renold’ – a spoof on  the engraver Richard Houston after Sir Joshua Reynolds.

Courtesans were the fashion icons of their day and before photography brought their features into the public domain, it was a case of ‘anything goes’. The face was altered, prettified and tidied up, but the setting, with the sitter playing the role of Juno, the peacocks to one side, the elaborate dress – they were left unaltered.

Nancy Parsons in Turkish costume, by George Willison, courtesy of the Yale Center for British Art.

The Reynolds portrait of Nancy, shown courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nancy Parsons  had her portrait painted by the Scottish artist George Willison, as well as by Joshua Reynolds. Both show her in exotic Turkish costume. There was also a third portrait, by Thomas Gainsborough, but sadly that got stolen in a robbery at the Park Lane home of the collector Charles Wertheimer back in 1907 and has never been seen since. So, just in case any of you have this picture hiding at the bottom of a pile in a rear cupboard, this is a reminder of what the Gainsborough looked like:

At the time, when the robbery was reported in The Sphere of 16 February 1907, the Gainsborough was valued at £15,000 – two and a half times the value of the Reynolds portrait of the Honourable Mrs Charles Yorke stolen at the same time. But then, I have only ever rated a Reynolds as being worth a fraction of a Gainsborough ….

Nancy Parsons is on my mind at present because I am researching her for my forthcoming book ‘Whores, Harlots and Mistresses – the fashionistas of the 18th Century.’ Ideas of beauty have altered over the centuries, but you can’t take it away from Nancy: she sure used what nature had given her.  Energetically. She moved on from Lord Grafton and ended up married to Viscount Maynard. Her husband was an old goat who happily let her introduce a 19-year-old into their household, and they lived as a threesome in Italy for a number of years. A case of eating your gelato and having it….

May 022020
 

A short follow-up to my blog relating to my last book (Trailblazing Georgians). I see that this month’s issue of Jane Austen’s Regency World contains a review of the book. In case you haven’t heard of the ‘JARW’,  it comes out six times a year, is in full colour, and is a satisfyingly sumptuous publication. It doesn’t confine itself to stories about Jane Austen, although there is much there to please aficianados of all things Austen. It also has articles relating to the Regency era, as well as puzzles, quizzes, background information – and, of course, interesting and perspicacious book reviews!  Anyone interested in finding out more should enquire via subscriptions@lansdownmedia.co.uk or write to The Editor at 3 Traquair Park East, Edinburgh, EH12 7AP.

The review reads:

Just for the record, I did not include female achievements in this particular book – because they received a separate showcase in Trailblazing Women of the Georgian Era

Ah well, back to writing my next book, featuring the elite harlots who strutted their stuff across fashionable London 250 years ago. It is all about the women who earned the sobriquet of ‘Toast of the Town’, and who influenced  what women wore in a way which is hard to imagine nowadays. The ‘Fanny Murray cock’, (so called because it was worn at a jaunty angle) the ‘Perdita  chemise’ and  the ‘Robinson hat’ (both named after Mary Robinson) – all will get a look-in for what I hope will be my final outing into print, some time in 2022, as ‘Whores, Harlots and Mistresses‘. But then again, it may be called something entirely different by the time I finish writing it …!

Apr 302020
 

It’s a strange thing, writing a book. You come up with an idea; you run it past the publisher – perhaps coming up with a working title. You submit a synopsis with chapters which may or may not have any resemblance to what you eventually write; you start the research; you write the book; you submit the manuscript – and then you wait for many months. It may be a year or even two years from when you started the ball rolling to when the author’s copy finally arrives in your sticky mitts – two years in which you have embarked on other things, perhaps written other books. And in my case you have almost certainly forgotten just about everything  you said in the book.

So it was with Trailblazing Georgians: The Unsung Men Who Helped Shape the Modern World – I had first thought of doing this some years back but knew that writing a book about trailblazing men would be seen as sexist and unbalanced. So I slipped in Trailblazing Women first. By the time the male trailblazers saw the light of day I had forgotten what I had written, so I was delighted to see a review of it on Amazon. It is by someone called Amanda Jenkinson – and no, I don’t know her and have no way of thanking her for her perspicacious review, which kindly awarded five stars.

It reads as follows:

I’m always a bit wary of group biographies as sometimes they can be somewhat superficial and reductive, but this one is extremely well-written and manages to be concise yet at the same time comprehensive in each of its potted biographies of the lesser known or nearly forgotten movers and shakers who shaped our modern world, the inventors and industrialists whose names have been overshadowed to some extent by their more renowned peers. This entertaining and informative book is an ideal introduction to the Georgian world and its development and is a great read.

Another review by AliceMaud Mary gives  me my five stars and adds:

This is a very readable collection of pen portraits of about 30 lesser-known, forgotten or over-shadowed inventors with a wide variety of interests who were active in the late seventeenth and eighteenth century Britain, the “Age of Enlightenment”.
The passage of time, personal qualities and situation of these men, their contemporaries and, for some, their descendants have not been kind to them; during their life times they did not get much recognition and by now they are largely forgotten. In many instances, for example, contemporary innovators who took advantage of the inventions and were wealthy enough to patent their model had the financial benefit, the fame and, now, have the place in our history books.
It is important to remember that developments in ideas during the Enlightenment were not restricted to certain places, areas of interest nor social groups. One of the most characteristic aspects of that era was the increasing interest in the cross-fertilisation of ideas between people and across places. There were many cogs in that wheel of intellectual, social and practical change; this book outlines some key players that should be added to the conventional hall of fame.
“Trailblazing Georgians” is an ideal introduction for anyone studying Georgian Britain and the Enlightenment. It would be an excellent addition to the history curriculum for UK schools’

I must admit I am horrified at the idea of some poor students doing their History ‘A’ levels having to wade through my handiwork, but as long as they enjoy reading it, why not?

And finally, even I was blushing at this review in Books Monthly:

Another foray into the history of the men who changed lives before the advent of the Victorians. These men were the architects of the industrial revolution and they are remembered and celebrated in grand style in Mike Rendell’s superlative book.

So, I can’t remember much about the book, or who is in it, or why some people were missed off – but I’ll settle for it being superlative! I might even sit down and give it a read….

 

Feb 112020
 

This is an extract from an article in last week’s edition of  the Sunday Post, published I believe  in Ayrshire  – hence the Scottish angle.

At present I am off lecturing on the High Seas – mostly about pirates, shipwrecks, castaways and royal shenanigans – and I have a number of lecture-cruises lined up across the globe. I never knew that writing books could be such fun!

You can find details of  Trailblazing Georgians here. Enjoy!

Jan 202020
 

It’s a funny thing, writing a book. You spend months doing the research, you write it, revise it, polish it – and submit it to the publishers. But by the time it comes out – perhaps a whole year later – you have moved on and can hardly remember a thing about it!

So it is with my latest title, Trailblazing Georgians – The Unsung Men Who Helped Shape the Modern World.  It is due out this month, from Pen & Sword. I had originally planned it some years ago, but held back from writing it because it was exclusively about men, and I knew I would get stick at the implication that there were no female trail-blazers! The answer? Write one first, exclusively about women. But whereas Trailblazing Women of the Georgian era – subtitled The Eighteenth Century struggle for female success in a man’s world – dealt with  the inequalities and injustices faced by women 250 years ago, my new book looks instead at the men who have had a raw deal.

I have always been fascinated by our pre-occupation with fame – and the way fame wraps its tentacles around the most un-deserving of victims. Think of all those Reality TV shows and  the Z-list celebrities  which they have spawned. Think of the footballers wives who have done absolutely nothing to deserve endless column inches in the Press. But equally think back to the eighteenth century, and the way that fame has shone a spotlight on one individual – and left the guy next in line in total darkness. I have in mind especially William Wilberforce, rightly recognized as the mouthpiece of the abolition movement. Yet he owed his success to others – and to the fact that the movement needed an MP – and WW just happened to have  bought a seat in Parliament, corruptly, some years before. This most indecisive and  hesitant of characters had to be cajoled and pushed into speaking out in the House of Commons by a variety of supporters, and one of them was Thomas Clarkson. He spent his entire life touring the country, campaigning, and getting the public to sign petitions against slavery. Yet when the family of WW wrote up his story they barely mentioned Clarkson, attributing much of the hard work behind the success to Wilberforce alone. WW became a hero, buried in great pomp in Westminster Abbey when he died, whereas Clarkson was buried in a decidedly low-key ceremony in his local parish church, attended by a few dozen supporters. In my mind, Clarkson was the architect of abolition, not Wilberforce.

There are a host of other unsung heroes – men like Thomas Highs, who saw his ideas for a spinning frame poached by Richard Arkwright. Arkwright grabbed the fame, accepted the knighthood and pocketed the fortune – even though the patents taken out in his name were eventually set aside – and when he died he left a fortune of half a million pounds. Highs died a pauper, having survived off handouts from the parish. There are dozens of other similar cases of fame being allocated capriciously, and my job was to whittle the list down to around thirty ‘unsung heroes’ who I feel should get a spell under the spotlight. They come from all walks of life – engineers, industrialists, artists, religious leaders, thinkers and entertainers. I  wanted to show that the Georgian era was more than just about James Watt, or Josiah Wedgwood. That the guy who came up with the idea of silver-plating copper to produce Sheffield plate had just as much a dramatic effect on meeting middle class aspirations as anyone else. That credit should be given to the man who invented the lawnmower, thereby enabling millions of us to have expanses of green grass alongside our houses. And that the art world should be regarded as being more than just about Reynolds and Gainsborough.

So, I will enjoy reminding myself of the Trailblazing Georgians when it comes out in the next few days – I have yet to see my author’s copy. I hope it interests others – it is meant to be rather more than a second eleven of Georgian Greats. Maudslay, Smeaton, Astley and Baskerville are all worthy of inclusion, along with Dr Gill and Erasmus Darwin. The invention of the washing machine – and the sextant – are just as significant as any number of better-known discoveries. And where would  we be without costume jewellery (courtesy of Mr Pinchbeck) or willow-pattern dinner services (Josiah Spode) or prison reformers (John Howard)? These men all influenced the modern world with their ideas and inventions.

Others may have their own choices, and I am sorry if I missed off people’s favourites. But isn’t that the great thing about being a writer – you get to make your own choices!

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Post script: Another book from me is due out later this year from Pen & Sword books – Sex and Sexuality in the Eighteenth Century (part of a series – the one on the Victorian era is just about to come out – give it a read). And I’m about to start on a book about whores, harlots and mistresses – the fashionistas of the eighteenth century. After that? Well, I might just stop – and concentrate on this blog which I have sadly neglected over the last few months. Sorry about that – I’ve spent several months in South America having a whale of a time and I’m still catching my breath!