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Introducing Ratafia, the Regency lady’s indulgence.

 Introducing Ratafia, the Regency lady’s indulgence. I

Those of us who read and write Regency-set historical novels (set in the early 19th Century Britain) are often presented with food riddles. What is jugged hare? And how about scotch collops? Not to mention spotted dick!

We also notice that the Regency era offered a variety of different drink options, from the innocuous (tea and coffee) to the potent (Napoleon brandy and “blue ruin” gin).  You never read about people drinking water, probably because it wasn’t safe. Boiling and fermenting would do a lot of decontamination… so you can see how the Regency characters could talk themselves into thinking of brandy as an aid to good health.

A photo by Roberta Sorge. drink that seemed particularly popular with the ladies was “ratafia” (pronounced rah-tuh-fee-uh, all syllables equally accented). In Regency novels, ladies of quality sip this drink all day long, while the gentlemen are downing brandy and whisky. I once assumed ratafia was some kind of mild cordial, sweet and only slightly alcoholic, as befitted a pious lady of a good family.

Then a friend of mine, another Regency novelist, embarked on an experiment. Lynn Kerstan decided to make ratafia as Christmas gift for her writer friends. When the little bottle arrived in the mail, I promptly took a swig. That’s when I realized that the proper Regency ladies were quite deceptive when they pretended this was some innocent sweet cordial.

It was probably 90 proof. Seriously.

When I pointed this out, Lynn sent me the recipe she’d used:

Regency Ratafia

1 quart of brandy

½ bottle champagne

1/2 cup of gin

¼ cup of sugar

2 oranges

2 cups of cherries, pitted and squashed

2 cups of blackberries

Dash of cinnamon

Dash of nutmeg

1 teaspoon powdered rosemary

Three cloves (bruised)

¼ cup crushed almonds

Mix in a gallon glass jar. Cap jar and shake. Store in dark cupboard for three weeks, removing once a week to shake jar. After three weeks, strain liquid through a cheesecloth, pressing down on solids to release their liquid. Distribute and store in several pint jars or tightly corked wine bottles.

Notice that the recipe starts with brandy, and then adds champagne and gin! The orange and cherry provides the cordial-ish taste, while the herbs and spices add a depth of flavor.  And the sugar, well, that doesn’t just make it sweeter. I think the purpose of storing this concoction for weeks and stirring it occasionally is to ferment it even further.  (I found another recipe that primly suggested an addition to stop fermentation—vodka. Yep, that’ll take care of that intoxication problem.)

With the brandy base, Lynn’s version was most similar to those created in the Regency. I’ve found less potent variations, some which are basically a long-refrigerated sangria (red wine, fruit, sugar, and three weeks in the fridge). Italian ratafia starts with Montepulciano red wine and adds only cherries as the fruit. A French variation uses a variety of berries, including gooseberries. The Catalan version has unripe (green) walnuts soaked in the liquor before the fruit is added. I even found one that deepened the flavor with peach and cherry pits (which are poisonous if opened).  Each of these adds both a spice like cinnamon and a savory herb (usually rosemary).

Ever after, I imagined those Regency ladies primly sipping their ratafia at the afternoon al fresco musicales, and then as an after-supper liqueur, and finally as a nightcap, then stumbling off to bed in a stupor, and waking up with a hangover. Ratafia is not for sissies!

Here’s a less potent variation that we can enjoy this summer without too much guilt. I devised it myself after testing a few recipes. (The extreme measures I take for research!) I decided to follow Lynn’s example and stir it once a week. I didn’t have any cheesecloth, so I just strained it through a wire mesh colander.

Alicia’s Less Potent but Still Classy Ratafia

Into a large capped glass jar, like the kind you use for sun tea, mix:

1 bottle of dry but fruity red wine (Italian and Spanish wines are best, I think)

1 pound of mixed and then crushed berries—your choice, but make half cherries for deepest flavor, and you can leave in the pits in for that dangerous thrill

½ pound of peach slices

2 oranges peeled and sectioned (I once tried tossing in the peels too, but that was a bit bitter. Next time I might just try the zest of the oranges)

I/4 cup of white sugar

A vanilla bean, sliced, or a half-teaspoon of vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon each of cinnamon, ground rosemary

¼ teaspoon of ginger and anise

A few crushed almonds

Close the jar and shake to distribute. Then put it away in a dark cupboard or the refrigerator (my choice) for three weeks. Once a week, shake the jar to re-distribute.

After three weeks, strain it through cheesecloth or a fine mesh. Then pour it into bottles or smaller jars.

Now try it out.  I’m a wimp and add water at this point, but if you’re made of stronger stuff, you can drink it straight. Keep it tightly capped and refrigerated. It goes great with barbecued meats on a summer night.

And don’t forget to wear your lacy gloves and sip primly from tiny cordial glasses!




Tryst at Brighton-coverIt’s a decade after Napoleon’s defeat, but the war still haunts even the victors. Linked by family and by grief, divided by social class, Russian émigré Natasha and ship’s doctor Matthew have lived for years in mutual distrust. But when she’s suspected of killing a man from her past, she reaches out to Sir Matthew for help. It takes both his medical training and her intuition to solve the mystery of the murder at the Brighton Inn—and the secret of her own troubled past. Read Tryst at the Brighton Inn by Alicia Rasley.





alicia by dmac croppedAlicia Rasley lives in Regency England… well, only in her imagination. She is the RITA-award winning author of eight Regency romances, along with a best-selling family saga and a contemporary mystery novel. She lives in the Midwest until she can invent a time-travel machine! She teaches writing at a state university and in workshops around the country and online. Sign up for the email newsletter and get a free novella!

If you’re interested in writing as well as reading stories, sign up for my writing newsletter and get a free plotting article!

Gentlemen’s Clubs of the Regency Era


by Alicia Rasley

In the Regency era, it was said whenever an interest or political persuasion was shared by two or more men, a new club was formed. There was a club for ancient supporters of the Jacobite cause (the Mourning Bush), for short men (the Little Club, with an entry door only about five feet high), for literary and scientific gentlemen (the Athenaeum, 1824), and even for gentleman coachmen (the famous Four-In-Hand Club, 1809, before that known as the Whip Club). Only the names survive of other clubs, but those names speak volumes—the Humbugs, the Je ne sai quoi Club, the No Pay No Liquor Club, the Great Bottle Club. These provided a retreat from the world of care, gentleman's clubs bookof worry, of women. Regency men, as gallant as they were as suitors, all too often preferred their club to their home. One Regency bride wrote in her diary, “We have now been married exactly a year, in which my husband has dined with me but once. Every other night he has dined at Mr. Brook’s Club.” (You can find more great anecdotes in the book Gentlemen’s Clubs of London.)

1-Clubs-map copy copy

St. James, the Place for Gentlemen

Here follows a map of Clublandsincluding the famous, the infamous, the foolish. Founding dates, if known, are given.

(Let’s meet there! Grace Elliott takes a contemporary stroll through Clubland.)

The most famous club, White’s, offered a cornucopia of activities—a bit of politics (Tory), a lot of gambling, a lot of drinking (a White’s barman asked by a new member if the bar was open replied, “Bless my soul, sir, it’s been open 200 years!”). Founded in 1698 as a chocolate house, White’s remains the quintessential London Club three centuries later. Prince Charles had his bachelor party here (a dull affair with no stripper or exploding cakes, it broke up before midnight).

(Rest of article is here.)

Very sad news– a Lioness has died.

Jo Beverley, the multi-award-winning historical romance writer, has died. She has been a friend for decades, and in fact was the person who first got me online in 1992, telling me it was where all the romance writers were getting acquainted.

She recently gave me a guest post for this blog:

Jo has always been known for her lovely writing, her serene composure, and her willingness to help other writers and readers. I can’t say how much we’ll miss her. And it’s so sad to think of how much her husband Ken and her children and new granddaughter will miss her too.

Here’s a picture of her as I will always remember  her– with a book in her hand and a smile on her face!

Jo Beverley


More about the Brighton Pavilion

Carola Dunne shared this with me:

Turner painting of Brighton from the sea acquired by Brighton Museum.

My article about the Brighton Pavilion.






The Scottish Diamond, a guest post by Helena Fairfax

Helena writes about one of the most beautiful sites in Britain– Edinburgh Castle. She sent me several photos I’m going to put in the Gallery! Thanks, Helena!

Helena Fairfax – The Scottish Diamond

The first time I ever visited Edinburgh, the capital city of Scotland, I knew the city had something unique about it from the moment I stepped out of the train station and onto the bustling thoroughfare that is Princes Street. A man in a kilt was playing the bagpipes in front of one of the dark stone Victorian buildings, and at the top of the street, perched on a volcanic crag and dominating the skyline, was the ancient fortress of Edinburgh Castle. It was a magnificent and unforgettable sight.


edinburgh castle

Edinburgh Castle


Edinburgh has been at the centre of some thrilling and dramatic events in history. In the fourteenth century, for example, the Castle was captured by the English, and Robert the Bruce’s nephew recaptured it through the daring feat of climbing its steep and craggy sides in the dead of night.


In the sixteenth century, the ill-fated Mary Queen of Scots – half-sister and rival to Queen Elizabeth I – came to stay in Edinburgh’s Holyrood Palace. For several years she held balls and entertained dignitaries in the Palace, and she married her two husbands in the Palace’s state rooms. Then her private secretary David Rizzio was brutally murdered there, and Mary’s life was threatened by supporters of Elizabeth, and her brief life of happiness came to an end. After many years in prison, Mary Queen of Scots was beheaded for treason.

Today, the Palace of Holyroodhouse is the official residence in Scotland of Queen Elizabeth II. Visitors can tour the rooms where Mary Queen of Scots lived, including her bedchamber and the tiny supper room where Rizzio was dragged away to his death. (I’ve done the tour myself, and I found the bloody history a very oppressive experience!)


Edinburgh Holyrood Palace

Edinburgh Holyrood Palace


In the eighteenth century came one of the most famous periods in Scottish history – the Jacobite revolution. This was when the Highland clans joined forces under Bonnie Prince Charlie to fight the English and regain the throne for the exiled House of Stuart. The uprising came to a bloody end, and Bonnie Prince Charlie and his supporters were forced to flee.


You’ll have guessed by now that this beautiful and unique city is the perfect setting for mystery and romance. My latest romantic suspense novella, The Scottish Diamond, is set in the present day, but the Scottish Diamond of the title belongs to the fictional aristocratic Falmire family. In 1745, Lord Falmire fought in the Jacobite revolution, and was forced to flee to my fictional Mediterranean country of Montverrier, taking the diamond with him. While in Montverrier, he plays cards with the Montverrian prince, and… Well, you’ll have to read the rest of the story to find out what happens to the diamond next!

Edinburgh skyline

Edinburgh skyline

The Scottish Diamond was great fun to write, and the Edinburgh setting added enormously to the mystery and romance of the tale.



What do you do when nothing is what it seems…even the man you love?
“Fair is foul, and foul is fair…”  When Lizzie Smith starts rehearsing Macbeth with her theatre group in Edinburgh, she’s convinced the witches’ spells are the cause of a run of terrible luck. Lizzie’s bodyguard boyfriend, Léon, is mysteriously turned down for every job he applies for, until he’s finally offered the job of guarding “The Scottish Diamond,” a fabulous jewel from the country of Montverrier.
But the diamond’s previous guard has disappeared in mysterious circumstances. The Scottish Diamond has a history of intrigue and bloody murder, and Lizzie is plagued by nightmares in which Macbeth’s witches are warning her of danger.
Then Lizzie discovers she’s being followed through the streets of Edinburgh, and it seems her worst fears are about to be realised…

The Scottish Diamond 200x300

And here’s an extract to whet your appetite:


I continued to frown up at him, troubled. He took my face in his hands and kissed me.

‘I know what it is,’ he said, his eyes twinkling. ‘It’s all your talk of witches and ghosts. Your Scottish superstitions are rubbing off on me and I’m seeing things in this gloomy weather that aren’t there at all.’

He swung me into his arms and kissed me again.

After that, Léon dismissed his vigilance as something brought on by the strangeness of his new city. And once he began his new job at the Castle, he didn’t mention being followed again, and in fact, all the tension he’d been showing disappeared, and he became almost his old self. He left the house with a sense of purpose that had been lacking in his previous aimless wanderings around Edinburgh. And the best thing was, he was beginning to understand more and more of our Scottish brogue every day.

I later discovered it wasn’t just our Scottish way of speaking he was mastering. A few days after he started work, I was in the kitchen preparing our evening meal, when I heard the front door close and Léon’s light tread in the hall. Usually he went straight upstairs to change, but this evening he came directly to the kitchen and put his head round the door. His eyes brimmed with amusement.

I stepped closer to give him a kiss, and he pushed the door wide. My mouth fell open. He was dressed in a kilt. The green tartan cloth was thrown over one broad shoulder in Highland fashion, and the pleated skirt revealed an inch or two of tanned, muscular leg above a pair of thick, cream-coloured socks.

‘Wow,’ I stuttered. ‘You look…’ I breathed out in a long whistle. ‘You look amazing.’

He smiled broadly, showing his white, even teeth in one of the first real smiles I’d seen him give since we left Europe.

‘This is my new uniform.’ He spread his arms a little, glancing down at himself. ‘Not a bad effort for a half-Italian, half-Montverrian. What do you think?’

‘Not bad at all.’ My face decided right then and there to turn a decided pink, and to hide the fact that I couldn’t keep my eyes off him, I threw my arms around his neck and planted a kiss below his ear.

His arms encircled me, and he murmured, ‘Ever made love to a man in a kilt?’

And after that, everything between us was perfect again. All my worries about Léon wanting to go home to Italy, and all his former tension vanished, and we were just as we had been during those idyllic two weeks we’d spent at his home on the Amalfi coast that summer.

But of course, perfect times can’t last forever. Everything changed when I realised it wasn’t Léon who was being followed. It was me.

The Scottish Diamond is available on Amazon

Author Bio
Helena Fairfax writes engaging contemporary romances with sympathetic heroines and heroes she’s secretly in love with. Her first novel, The Silk Romance, was a contender for the UK’s Romantic Novelists’ Association New Writers’ Scheme Award and a runner-up in the Global Ebook Awards. Helena Fairfax was shortlisted for the Exeter Novel Prize in 2014.
Helena is a British author who was born in Uganda and came to England as a child. She’s grown used to the cold now, and these days she lives in an old Victorian mill town in the north of England, right next door to the windswept Yorkshire moors. She walks this romantic landscape every day with her rescue dog, finding it the perfect place to dream up her heroes and her happy endings.

Helena Fairfax photo

Helena Fairfax

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Thanks so much for having me today, Alicia! It’s been fun revisiting Edinburgh and its bloody history. I hope you’ve enjoyed my post!


So…Why Did I Write a Graphic Novel? A guest post by Judith Whitmore

Judith and I share a love of the Shakespeare plays, so I was excited to hear about her graphic novel based around Romeo and Juliet. Here’s her account of her book:

I was not a big Shakespeare fan in high school.  The Elizabethan language was difficult to wade through, and besides, I was young and living life in the fast lane…sex, drugs, rock ‘n roll.  Okay, just kidding about the sex and drugs, but there was lots of rock ‘n roll.  It wasn’t until I was in my thirties that I gained an appreciation for Shakespeare’s amazing abilities as a storyteller.

I was working in London at that time.  A friend invited me to dinner and the theater to see The Royal Shakespeare Company perform The Merry Wives of Windsor.  I knew dinner would be nice, and then I could sleep at the theater.  Well, to my utter amazement I was enthralled with the production.  First, there were no Renaissance costumes or sets.  This show was set in the1950’s with fabulous set decoration and costumes from that era.  Second, even though I may not have understood every single line of dialogue, I understood enough to fully appreciate the intricacies of the plot and the humor.  I was hooked, and I did everything I could to get my children interested in Shakespeare.

Fast forward twenty years…I was still lamenting the fact my kids thought Shakespeare was boring when inspiration struck.  What if the stories were told in modern language that kids could understand!  I had a mission!


The Process of Writing a Graphic Novel

Taking Romeo and Juliet from a full-length play to a graphic novel required distilling the dialogue and narration into as few words as possible without losing any of the storyline.  This was the most difficult part of the project and required the expert skills of my husband who had been an editor.  We went scene by scene,    creating new dialogue and reading it aloud to see how it sounded.   It took about four months to come up with a first draft of the dialogue.

I have been in a writing group for years with excellent writers and editors, so each week I took the scene we were working on to my writing group for their critique.  I also asked my niece and nephew who were in high school to read the manuscript.  Who better than teenagers to help with modernizing the language? The next step was combining lines of dialogue into conversations which could be represented by one drawing.

judith romeo and juliet

Judith Whitmire’s Romeo and Juliet Graphic Novel Cover

At this point we needed an illustrator.  I contacted my friend Mark Bennett, who had recently retired from the art department at CBS, and asked if he would be interested in doing the illustration for this project.  He is immensely talented so my husband and I were thrilled when he agreed.  Mark created drawings for each dialogue group.  With a computer program, he inserted our dialogue into the drawings.   Once again I took the whole manuscript to my writing group for critique.  The computer program made it easy to edit the dialogue as necessary.

The cover art for Romeo and Juliet is a combination of original artwork from Mark Bennet combined with the work of a graphic artist from Flying Pig Media.  Kristin Lindstrom, who owns and operates Flying Pig Media, prepared the Romeo and Juliet manuscript to be uploaded at CreateSpace and Amazon Kindle.  Technical issues arose when uploading the drawings to Amazon, so I was relieved to have Kristin handling those details.

We are thrilled to be able to bring Shakespeare’s most famous tale to a new generation of readers.

You can find Judith’s graphic novel at Amazon:

Paperback –

Kindle –

Judith Whitmore is the best-selling author of the romantic-adventure
Come Fly with Me, a cookbook All Time Favorite Recipes, and Romeo and Juliet
Reimagined, an illustrated account of Shakespeare’s story co-authored with
her husband Wes Whitmore.
During Judith’s seven-year term as President of American Theater
Company in Aspen, ATC presented shows starring Julie Harris, Hal Holbrook,
Vincent Price, Shawn Cassidy, John Travolta and Charles Durning. Judith
later produced the musical Taking a Chance on Love in Los Angeles, followed
by the London production of Leonard Bernstein’s Wonderful Town which she
Judith has a Master’s Degree in Clinical Psychology, is a licensed
Marriage and Family Therapist, and is also a licensed Commercial Pilot with
a Learjet type-rating. Since 2003, she has been a regular volunteer makeup
artist at the Laguna Beach Pageant of the Masters.
During college, Judith sang background vocals for Capitol Records
and performed with a band in San Francisco. She never forgot the thrill of
performing, and several years ago she and two friends formed the trio, ACT
THREE. ACT THREE has performed concerts in California, Arizona, and last
year at UC Irvine and New York’s Carnegie Hall. Their first album will be
released this summer. All proceeds from ACT THREE performances are donated
to charities.

Visit Judith at:

The Death of Princess Charlotte, a guest post by Jo Beverley

The death of Princess Charlotte in childbirth in November 1817 was a huge event


Princess Charlotte Augusta of Wales and Leopold

in Regency times and it’s key to for my April book, The Viscount Needs a Wife, and for the one I’m writing now for 2017, Merely a Marriage.

I write my Company of Rogues books along a time line that started in 1814, and though I’ve gone slowly I’ve always wondered how to handle Charlotte’s death.

It could hardly be background wallpaper, especially as the effects lingered well into 1818.

People sometimes think that death in childbirth was common in the past. It was more common than now, but not so much so that the death of a young, healthy woman and her baby was taken in stride. The nation was plunged into a genuine and almost manic mourning that bears some resemblance to the reaction to the death of Diana, Princess of Wales.

Cruel nature was clearly the prime villain, but Queen Charlotte was blamed as well, for not supervising the birth. The poor woman was in her seventies and not well, but she was castigated for not rushing from Bath to the birth. Remember, however, that no one expected anything other than a normal, healthy birth. Why the grandmother, not the mother? Charlotte’s mother, Caroline of Brunswick, estranged wife of the Regent, was living in Italy. And in any case, if she’d travelled to England she probably wouldn’t have been allowed near her daughter, as that had been the Regent’s policy from the first.

Th Regent was given some unspecified blame, but he was a man and childbirth wasn’t men’s business. Except for doctors, and man-midwives.

Charlotte was attended in the later months by two prominent and fashionable “man-midwives” and they were generally blamed, though it seems that the baby was in a bad position for birth, which is no one’s fault. Today, Charlotte would have had a C-section and all would have been well. As it was, she laboured for days and did eventually deliver a dead son. At that point Charlotte was not expected to die, but perhaps exhaustion played a part, or there might have been a lot of blood loss. Of course, there were no blood transfusions then, and if there had been, without blood type matching, it would have been perilous.

The men — the husband Prince Leopold, and the father, the Regent — benefitted from an outpouring of sympathy, which the Regent certainly needed, as he’d become increasingly unpopular during the post-war depression.

The general and republican-minded unrest, subsided under the pressure of mourning. Court mourning plunged the aristocracy into black, and nearly everyone in the nation wore sober colors, black arm bands and similar signs of grief. Not to do so was to declare oneself a Republican, but also a heartless person, because this was a tragedy, royal or not.

Despittvnawnewsm3e the tone of Regency fiction, men in the Regency were allowed and expected to give in to their emotions. Leopold stayed with the coffin between Charlotte’s death on November 6th and her state funeral on the 19th. The Regent fled to Brighton, supposedly in an emotional collapse. This annoyed his ministers, as all government staggered to a halt without him. As he lingered there, worry increased that he might follow his father into insanity.

Difficult times, and against this backdrop, widowed Mrs. Kitty Cateril realizes that life is chancy and she shouldn’t waste it.When she’s offered a chance at a peculiar marriage of convenience, she takes it.

The Viscount Needs a Wife is a Romantic Times Top Pick and has a starred review
from the Library Journal. “…combining graceful writing, and impeccably researched historical setting, and intelligent, well-matched protagonists into a superbly satisfying love story.” It will be on sale in print and e-book on April 5th.Tdyalmodsm2

Jo is offering the prize of a copy of her book Too Dangerous For a Lady to a commenter. Leave a comment, and I’ll enter you into the raffle!  Thanks, Jo.

Read more about Jo’s April book, The Viscount Needs a Wife.

Paving the Way for Women Writers: Aphra Behn, 1640 – 1689 Guest post by Ruth Nestvold

  • Paving the Way for Women Writers: Aphra Behn, 1640 – 1689

    “All woman together ought to let flowers fall upon the tomb of Aphra Behn, which is most scandalously but rather appropriately in Westminster Abbey, for it was she who earned them the right to speak their minds. It is she – shady and amorous as she was – who makes it not quite fantastic to say to you tonight: Earn five hundred a year by your wits.”     –Virginia Woolf


Aphra_Behn_by_Mary_BealeImagine there was a young Englishwoman in the 17th Century who went with her family to the colony of Surinam in South America. When she returned to England, she was hired by the Crown as a spy and sent to the Netherlands. After incurring debt there — because the English government didn’t pay her the money owed her for her services — she was sent to debtor’s prison. Once she was bailed out, she wrote and produced comedies (and one tragedy) for the London theater, becoming the first professional woman writer in English literature.



Portrait of Aphra Behn by Mary Beale

It sounds like the kind of adventure fiction most people would dismiss as being much too unlikely, doesn’t it? But much of this biography is documented through letters, not to mention Aphra Behn’s own work. Not only that, Aphra Behn achieved all this without being a member of the nobility. She may or may not have come from a “gently born” family that fell upon hard times, but either way, she was not born privileged. Most of the women writers of the 17th Century were from the nobility, and they wrote for their amusement and that of their friends and family, their oeuvre remaining small and genteel. By contrast, Aphra wrote for a living. Since it was her main, and perhaps only, source of income, she adapted to the tastes and the times. She wrote racy comedies in the style of her male contemporaries. When times grew hard for the playhouses in London, she reacted and began to write and publish prose fiction — a genre that was so new, in the 18th century it started being referred to as the “novel” (from the Italian “novella” for new or news).

She achieved all of this in an era when women had few rights. They were subject to their fathers, and then their husbands. But Aphra Behn was a widow, and as such, in control of her own property, free to make her own decisions.

The status of women was changing in the 17th Century, but it was a slow process. One of the most important changes for the emergence of Aphra Behn as a writer was that the theaters were opened up to actresses. After the Restoration in 1660, Charles II decreed that women would be able to take the stage. Before that, female roles were played by men. Many of the new actresses were women who intentionally used their position to find “protectors” among members of the nobility, such as Nell Gwyn, who became the mistress of Charles II. But others became involved in the business of the theater. Mrs. Betterton helped manage the highly successful Duke’s Company with her husband, Thomas Betterton, training younger actresses like Anne Bracegirdle.

Aphra Behn, never an actress, may have possibly made her way into the world of Restoration theater through family connections. Even working within the constraints of the Restoration’s male dominated society, Behn managed to create strong, independent female characters who made their own choices. Over the course of her nineteen year career, Behn wrote over twenty plays, as well as several novels and volumes of poetry.

While she wrote to please, since she had to in order to make a living, at the same time she staunchly defended her art in one of her more more memorable forewords to her play “The Lucky Chance”:

    “…I am not content to write for a Third Day only. I value Fame as much as if I had been born a Hero; and if you rob me of that, I can retire from the ungrateful World, and scorn its fickle Favours.”

Aphra Behn died in 1689 at the age of only 48. She was famous and celebrated at the time; Daniel Defoe, a pioneer in the novel and author of Robinson Crusoe, even called her “one of the giants of wit and sense.” But her fame was not to last. By the middle of the 18th Century, her reputation had dwindled to that of a lewd writer of pornographic works little better than Fanny Hill.




Inscription: “Here lies proof that wit can never be, defense enough against mortality.”

I first came across mention of Aphra Behn when I was a graduate research assistant working on my MA in English Literature — and was immediately fascinated. In my dissertation on the use of the female perspective in the novel, I included a chapter on Behn’s novel Oroonoko. If I had remained in academia, I’m sure I would have ended up writing many more articles on Aphra Behn. But I didn’t, so instead I wrote a novel.

In Chameleon in a Mirror, the main character is sent back in time to the 17th Century, where she gets to meet her (and my) idol, Aphra Behn. This gives her a chance to rehabilitate Aphra’s literary reputation. Even though we are not supposed to have causes in our fiction, I have to admit I hope that with Chameleon in a Mirror, I just might be able to do that a little bit myself.

To find out more about Aphra, you can visit my site on her, the Aphra Behn Page.

Ruth Nestvold has published widely in science fiction and fantasy, her fiction appearing in such markets as Asimov’s, F&SF, Baen’s Universe, Strange Horizons, Realms of Fantasy, and Gardner Dozois’s Year’s Best Science Fiction. Her work has been nominated for the Nebula, Tiptree, and Sturgeon Awards. In 2007, the Italian translation of her novella “Looking Through Lace” won the “Premio Italia” award for best international work. Since 2012, she’s been concentrating her efforts on self-publishing rather than traditional publishing, although she does still occasionally sell a story the old-fashioned way.

The Royal Pavilion, Brighton

Brighton Pavilion: Britain’s Own Kubla Khan

by Alicia Rasley

(My Tryst at the Brighton Inn is set outside Brighton. In fact, Natasha is on her way to Prinny’s birthday picnic at the Pavilion when she gets caught up in a murder.)

In 1786 George, Prince of Wales was 24 and newly married, illicitly, to his great love Mrs. Fitzherbert. He was also deeply in debt, hundreds of thousands of pounds owed for jewelry, horses, and especially his beautiful London home, Carlton House.  When the stress in the capital got too much, he would retreat to a farmhouse he owned in the seaside town of Brighton.

But this was the time leading up to that astonishingly creative period known to most of the world as “the Romantic era,” though most of us would call it the Regency. And this was the future Prince Regent, “The Prince of Pleasure.” A simple farmhouse wouldn’t satisfy his extravagant nature and luxurious tastes for long. So soon he hired the fashionable architect Henry Holland, who started adding to the farmhouse. And adding. And adding. Holland designed the first of the great buildings, the Marine Pavilion, in the clean neo-classical style Prinny favored. One of the special features Holland provided for his royal patron was a tunnel to the nearby home of Mrs. Fitzherbert, still the secret wife.

brighton pavilion



The Marine Pavilion in 1787

For most of the next decade, Prinny contented himself with furnishing the pavilion, spending thousands on art, fixtures, and draperies. This was hardly his only extravagance, but it was a major contributor to the impossibly large debt that he’d accrued by 1795. In fact, in return for Parliament paying off his debt, he was forced into a bigamous marriage with his German cousin Caroline. He could be forgiven, perhaps for later wondering if it was worth it, because his was one of the worst marriages of all time.

Once freed of his crushing debt, Prinny felt up to spending again. But few of us would argue with his choices. For example, one of his early decisions was to put a couple water closets in the main building, for those special guests who weren’t up to battling the sea breeze to get to the outdoor privies. He kept (this will not surprise you) three confectioners on his Brighton kitchen staff, and brought Holland back to create a special confectionery in the kitchens.


The Grand Saloon, where the Regent entertained guests, changed occasionally to show the particular trends in high-priced depavilion grand salooncorating. The room was remodelled in the late 1790s by the artist Biagio Rebecca, painted in dramatic colors with gilt-framing. While he did use some French artisans and artists, in the time of war, Prinny tried to be patriotic. Much of the furniture was built by such great British cabinetmakers as Chippendale and Seddon. (The “sociable” circular couch in the middle of the room is probably from a later period, as it appears in a print that pictured the room in early Victorian times.)

Fortunately, the prince’s taste wasn’t confined to European. A gift of some Chinese wallpaper  inspired the prince, and he conjured up a manically oriental design for the main rooms of the Pavilion. Biographer J.B. Priestley describes one feature, “Along the southern wing was an astonishing Chinese passage of painted glass, decorated with flower, insects, fruits and birds, and illuminated form the outside, so that guest could easily imagine they were passing through an immense Chinese lantern.”

By the turn of the century, Prinny turned his attention to the outbuildings, commissioning a new stable and a riding school. Even he was taken aback at the elegance of the resulting buildings, admitting that his horses were being “housed in a palace.”  In fact, the new additions posed a pair of problems. The facades were in an Indian style, clashing with the more classical house, and also, with a 65-foot high cupola, the stable outshone Prinny’s own home. This could not, of course, be borne.

Much of the time before his Regency were spent hiring and firing architects. First he hired Humphry Repton, primarily a landscape architect, submitted plans to unify the house and gardens with an Indian theme. Prinny declared this a “perfect” design, but Parliament didn’t agree, or at least didn’t agree to finance it. By the time he had the blunt, he’d moved on from the “mogul trend” and he reached out to a new architect, James Wyatt, to make his Gothic dreams come true. Imagine a neo-Gothic monstrosity rising out of the South Coast landscape! Well, you’ll have to imagine it, for before he could break ground, James Wyatt was killed, and Prinny had to search for new inspiration.  It took years after Prinny became Regent, but finally he turned to John Nash, who was a known quantity, having already remodeled Carlton House. (He had also once been a student of Repton’s, who could not have been pleased to be set aside this way.) Nash got to work, and by 1815, he had expanded the Pavilion and unified its exterior into a vaguely Indian shape.

Nash used the Pavilion as an opportunity to experiment. After all, the nation was paying the shot! He used cast iron to strengthen the walls and pillars while still creating an illusion of Oriental fragility in the minarets and domes. He built new kitchens and heated them with steam. The queen mother was so impressed by all this, she gave her reckless son fifty thousand pounds, some of which went to creating State Apartments suitable to host the Prince, the Queen, and other royalty.

For the rest of his Regency, and during his own reign, Prinny used the Brighton Pavilion both as a canvas for his creativity, and as a retreat from the barrage of criticism he faced in London. As author Victoria Hinshaw remarks, the Pavilion’s “constantly changing architecture and decoration reflect the restless personality of George IV.” He frequently summered there, and was engaged in constant improvements to the house and grounds. Even so early, the Pavilion was something of a tourist attraction, rising up on the edge of town like a vision of Kubla Khan’s palace.

nash designed pavilion brighton




The Nash-designed Pavilion


Royal sea-towns were nothing new. For example, Prinny’s father had made Weymouth to the west a popular escape. But Brighton was special, only a day trip from London, and even then possessing a raffishly louche mien that would have appealed to the fun-loving prince. There’s no doubt, though, that without the Pavilion, Brighton would be just another beach town. Instead, it became a fashionable watering-hole, and many nobles made the trip down in order to attend one of the Regent’s elaborate parties.

After he became king in 1820, Prinny continued to host admirers at the Pavilion, until poor health kept him confined mostly to London.

After he died, his brother William IV also came to use the Pavilion as a refuge, for as a sailor in his youth, he had affection for the sea-vistas. He and his queen became known for their informal get-togethers especially in the summers. The continuing royal patronage turned Brighton from a small town to one of southern England’s major cities, with more the 40,000 residents in 1831.

But his successor didn’t regard Brighton so fondly. Queen Victoria, Hinshaw reports, didn’t like the house. The decadent Pavilion couldn’t help but remind the prim new queen of her pleasure-obsessed uncle, and as her family grew, she found little use for this holiday home.  But she treasured it enough to let it stand, and in 1850 she sold it to the city of Brighton.  First, however, she stripped much of its elaborate furnishings; most of these have been returned, but some are still to be found in Buckingham Palace.

Soon the city reopened it as a showplace, charging a sixpence to the tourists to ogle the garish yet oddly tasteful rooms. Several times in the next century, the Pavilion was remodeled, once to turn it into a hospital for victims of the Great War. Though it must have posed an inviting target to the Luftwaffe, the Pavilion survived World War II and was extensively renovated during the post-war period. The renovators this time consulted period guidebooks and sketches as they tried to return the house to the one of Prinny’s vision. The house was almost finished when an arson in 1975 almost destroyed the Music Room. Author Leslie Carroll remembers visiting years later and finding that part of the house was still closed for repair. The Music Room was barely reopened when the epic storm of 1987 dislodged a stone from the minaret and once again damaged the salon.

However, private donations and contributions from the local and federal government have funded a massive renovation, and the Pavilion is now restored to its former glory.  To tide us over until we can all take a road trip and see it in person, here is a 9-part (!) class about Brighton Pavilion from the Open University:

This is a great multimedia experience, with color plates, floorplans, and snippets of the sort of music Prinny would commission for his parties.

The Brighton Pavilion is, above all, an experience, onr that manifests the extravagant and romantic Regency period, and recalls the Prince who remains the most poignant symbol of that time. As the OU concludes, “The Pavilion itself has been called silly, charming, witty, light-hearted, extravagant, gloriously eccentric, decadent, childish, painfully vulgar, socially irresponsible, a piece of outrageous folly and a stylistic phantasmagoria. Whatever you decide about it, it has always been, beyond all dispute, an astonishing flight of the Romantic fancy.”

For a quick look at the Pavilion, author Ashley Kath-Bilsky suggests the videos made by the Brighton Museum, narrated by Andrew Barlow, the former Keeper of the Royal Pavilion at “He gives some interesting back-story to the history of the Pavilion, i.e., the wood and wrought iron that was made to look like bamboo, or the 16 x 10 foot marble  bathtub that could hold 6,000 gallons of fresh or salt water.”

Brighton and Hove.

Dale, Antony. Fashionable Brighton. London: Oriel Press, 1947.

The Marine Pavilion. Georgian Net.

About the author: Alicia Rasley is a RITA-award winning Regency writer who tries to visit England twice a year. (In her dreams….) New book set near Brighton!


Check out the Amazon page for Regencies by Rasley.

v     Rakish heroes.

v     Reckless heroines.

v     Elegant stories.

Valentine Traditions: A Guest Post by Heidi Ashworth

Love letters have been written since ink was first put to paper.. However, billet-doux were not referred to as valentines until the early 1400’s when the Duke of Orleans, imprisoned in the Tower of London after the Battle of Agincourt, wrote a poem to his wife.  Sadly, she died before he was released from captivity, but the tales of his passion lived on..


The Tower of London circa 2015..  The blue cupolas were added on Henry the Eighth’s orders in honor of Anne Boleyn’s coronation..  Pretty romantic..


 Ever since, love letters and cards exchanged on the 14th of February were commonly referred to as Valentines in honor of the man (or one of them–see history on the plethora of St.. Valentines, HERE) who wrote a love letter to his jailor’s beautiful, blind daughter, prompting one to wonder how she could possibly read it with any sense of privacy..  But I digress.

The making and writing of Valentine’s Day cards thereafter became a tradition.  The wealthy could afford manufactured cards, some of which date from as early as the 1700s.  Factory workers painted color onto black-and-white images, leaving the composition of the words up to the giver of the card.  However, it would be hundreds of years before the mass production of cards created a market for Valentines amongst all walks of life.

During the Regency era, most cards were still handmade.  As such, not many survived..  However, there are quite a few examples of a special card known as the puzzle purse, perhaps because they were so much work for the creator that they were cherished in ways that a simple letter was not.

This photo shows the back of a puzzle purse that is preserved at the British Postal Museum in London.


There are many stanzas of poetry found on this card, one of which very cleverly reads:
My dearest dear and blest divine
I’ve pictured here thy heart and mine
But Cupid with his fatal dart
hath deeply wounded my poor heart
And has betwixt us set a cross
makes me lament my loss
But now I hope when this is gone

That our two hearts will join in one.

Once the paper is unfolded, the cross (it’s actually an X) that bisects the heart is gone and the lover’s hearts, drawn together on the inside of the page, come together..  To view the front of this card and read the rest of the poetry, click HERE.

This puzzle purse, dated February 14th, 1816, is quite beautifully illustrated.  The current owner, an avid collector, has baptismal certificates that are folded in the same manner..  You can read more about this particular card and learn how to make your own puzzle purse via these instructions.


These elegantly written cards differ from most ordinary letters during this time period.  Due to the exorbitant cost of delivery, people “crossed” their letters, meaning that they wrote across the page horizontally, then turned it and wrote across it vertically, sometimes even turning it to write across the letter diagonally.  You can see a replicated example of a crossed letter here.

Though there is no evidence that the men and women who peopled the Regency era held parties for Valentine’s Day, they did enjoy some rather romantic parlor games throughout the year.  Kissing games were quite popular, a fact that might come as a surprise to those who think of the 19thC as an era of utter moral rectitude.   You can read about these games on this  blog post, complete with a delightful period illustration.

As with many holiday traditions we enjoy today, the tradition of sending mass amounts of Valentine cards through the mail dates to the Victorian era..  This was made possible by the decreasing cost of postage and printing..  However, it wasn’t until later that Valentines were no longer confined to sweethearts and were given to friends, siblings, parents and teachers..  Today, Valentine cards are the second most widely mailed cards in the U.S., second only to Christmas cards.
My latest release is one of three stories that makes up the anthology, A Midwinter Ball..  Each of the stories takes place around Valentine’s Day..  It is filled with romantic balls, dashing heroes and strong heroines.

From the publisher of the #1 Amazon bestselling A Timeless Romance Anthology series in Clean Romance..  Join three bestselling regency romance authors, Heidi Ashworth, Annette Lyon, and Michele Paige Holmes, for three new Regency romance novellas in A MIDWINTER BALL.


The cover photo for this book was taken at a recent Jane Austen Festival in Bath and depicts a very accurate reproduction Regency-era gown.
 The printed shawl, the elbow-length gloves, the small train of her gown, are all picture-perfect Regency..

Whatever your Valentine’s celebrations entail this year, they are part of a very long tradition of love all around the world, including that highly romantic time period and place known as The Regency.

Heidi Ashworth is the author of numerous Regency romances, including the popular Miss Delacourt series..  She is a wife and mother who enjoys working in the garden, documenting her travels to Ireland, England and Scotland on her blog, the process of transforming her 1970’s California bungalow into an English country cottage, and eating chocolate..  You can learn more about her Regency romances on her Amazon page and website, read about her travels, her romantic home decor, her roses and her experiences as mom to a special needs child, on her blog, Dunhaven Place..  You can follow her on GoodreadsFBPinterest , and Twitter @AshworthHeidi..