Maxwell Knight – MI5’s Greatest Spymaster – on Female Spies

“It is frequently alleged that women are less discreet than men, that they are ruled by their emotions, and not by their brains: that they rely on intuition rather than on reason; and that Sex will play an unsettling and dangerous role in their work. …  it is curious that in the history of espionage and counter-espionage a very high percentage of the greatest coups have been brought off by women … this – if it proves anything – proves that the spymasters of the world are inclined to lay down hard and fast rules, which they subsequently find it impossible to keep to, and it is in their interests to break.”

I’m halfway through the book and it’s a riveting read. Sarah

Source: Maxwell Knight, MI5’s Greatest Spymaster BY Henry Hemmings

Romanov rumours and the lonely grave of a mysterious woman in Kent – Flickering Lamps

In a corner of a burial ground in the remote marshland town of Lydd in Kent is a lonely grave, set a little apart from the others.  It is the final resting place of a soldier’s wife –…

Source: Romanov rumours and the lonely grave of a mysterious woman in Kent – Flickering Lamps

Trailblazing 18th-Century Mathematician Émilie du Châtelet, Who Popularized Newton, on Gender in Science and the Nature of Genius – Brain Pickings

Émilie du Châtelet (Portrait by Maurice Quentin de La Tour)

A century before Ada Lovelace became the world’s first computer programmer, a century before the word “scientist” was coined for the Scottish polymath Mary Somerville, another woman of towering genius and determination subverted the limiting opportunities her era afforded her and transcended what…

Source: Trailblazing 18th-Century Mathematician Émilie du Châtelet, Who Popularized Newton, on Gender in Science and the Nature of Genius – Brain Pickings

A Short Analysis of Isaac Rosenberg’s ‘The Troop Ship’ | Interesting Literature

According to Robert Graves, Isaac Rosenberg was one of the three poets of significance who died during the First World War. Although his reputation has been overshadowed by Wilfred Owen (who died in 1918, the same year as Rosenberg), he was an important voice during WWI, as his short poem ‘The Troop Ship’ demonstrates. Here is the poem, followed by a brief analysis of its features.

The Troop Ship
Grotesque and queerly huddled
Contortionists to twist…

Source: A Short Analysis of Isaac Rosenberg’s ‘The Troop Ship’ | Interesting Literature

Dandyfunk and Slumgullion (Guest Post 9)

The modern traveller is used to eating recognisable and safe food wherever he or she visits in the world. Even in the less visited countries no one is surprised to find there is a McDonalds or similar fast food outlet to feed them from more or less the same menu as in any British or North American city. Likewise the traveller expects clean hot and cold water and at least basic toilet facilities. Not so for the traveller in late Victorian and Edwardian times. Then, you needed a pretty strong constitution and accepted what sustenance and limited comforts were available.

One great traveller was C.J. Cutcliffe Hyne (1865-1944) who claimed to have travelled 400,000 miles. He struggled as a writer for some time, writing mainly…

Source: Dandyfunk and Slumgullion (Guest Post 9)

Penny Dreadfuls, Juvenile Crime, and Late-Victorian Moral Panic


Black Bess or The Knight of the Road, featuring Dick Turpin, 1866-1868.

The 1840s ushered in an era of luridly illustrated gothic tales which were marketed to a working-class Victorian audience.  These stories, told in installments and printed on inexpensive pulp paper, were originally only eight pages long and sold for just a penny – giving rise to the term “penny bloods” or “penny dreadfuls.”  With titles such as Varney the Vampire and Sweeney Todd: the Demon Barber of Fleet Street, these types of publications were wildly popular, especially with young male readers, and it was not long before the Victorian public began to make a connection between various juvenile crimes and misdemeanors and the consumption of this (allegedly) depraved material.

By the 1880s, concern over penny dreadfuls leading children into lives of crime and vice sparked what theLongman Companion to Victorian Fiction describes as a “middle-class moral panic.”  Many urged that the publication and consumption of penny dreadfuls be…

Source: Penny Dreadfuls, Juvenile Crime, and Late-Victorian Moral Panic

November 5 in Literary History: Guy Fawkes Night

Interesting Literature

The most significant events in the history of books on the 5th of November

‘Remember, remember, the Fifth of November’, as the old rhyme has it – and November the 5th tends to be associated with one particular historical event. But it was also the day of several notable literary birthdays and deathdays…

1605: Guy Fawkes Night comes into being when the Yorkshire revolutionary is caught red-handed underneath the Houses of Parliament. We all know the song: Remember, remember, the Fifth of November. But did it actually happen on the 5th of November? Fawkes was actually apprehended a few minutes before midnight, which means that ‘Guy Fawkes Night’ should probably be a day earlier. The illustration below right is by George Cruickshank for Harrison Ainsworth’s 1840 novel Guy Fawkes.

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The Great Storm of 1703 (Snippets 33) | Windows into History

Originally posted on Windows into History.


The Great Storm by JS Muller

One of the most severe disasters to ever occur in England was the Great Storm of 1703, which caused enormous structural damage, the loss of the entire Channel Squadron of ships, and thousands of lives lost.  It was the subject of newspaper articles and books for many years, and towards the end of the 18th Century it was still being discussed, with particular reference to the religious implications.  The church had announced shortly after the storm that it was a divine punishment.

The Seventh Day Baptist minister and writer of 39 hymns, Samuel Stennett, gave a sermon on the topic in 1788, which was published the same year, titled A Sermon in Commemoration of the Great Storm of Wind.  He provided a useful summary of the…

Source: The Great Storm of 1703 (Snippets 33) | Windows into History

Two Nerdy History Girls: Sarah Belzoni, an Intrepid Woman (from the archives)

Originally posted on Two Nerdy History Girls.

In celebration of the audio release of Mr. Impossible, I offer an earlier post about one source of inspiration for the book. Sarah Belzoni is a great example of the resourceful women who visited and explored Egypt in the 19th century.

Here’s a glimpse of what Sarah Belzoni dealt with in Egypt, traveling with her explorer husband (and sometimes on her own) in the early 1800s.  The excerpt is from Mrs. Belzoni’s Account of the Women of Egypt, Nubia, and Syria, which  was appended to Belzoni’s Narrative of the operations and recent discoveries within the pyramids, temples, tombs, and excavations, in Egypt and Nubia (originally published in England in 1820).

After waiting two months in Cairo, and understanding it might be some time before Mr. B. could return, I determined on a third voyage to Thebes, taking the Mameluke before mentioned. I went to Boolak, and engaged a canja with two small cabins; one held my luggage, and the other my mattress, for which I paid 125 piastres. I left Cairo on November 27th, and arrived at Ackmeim on the 11th December, at night. A heavy rain, accompanied with thunder and lightning, commenced an hour after sunset, and continued the whole…

via Two Nerdy History Girls: Sarah Belzoni, an Intrepid Woman (from the archives).

The Ghost Army of World War II

Eagle-Eyed Editor

Luxembourg Luxembourg today. I suspect the view probably isn’t all that different from when the Americans saw it in WWII. Image courtesy of Koan, Morguefile.

It’s amazing what people will do to win a battle or a war. You have to admire their cleverness.

I’ve just read a wonderful book by Rick Beyer and Elizabeth Sayles, called The Ghost Army of World War II: How One Top-Secret Unit Deceived the Enemy with Inflatable Tanks, Sound Effects and Other Audacious Fakery. If you like WWII history, art or military history, I strongly recommend it.

Near the end of World War II, there was a top-secret U.S. Army unit known as the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops. This particular Army unit was expressly formed for the purpose of deceiving the enemy. The people in it were artists, designers, radio operators and engineers.

The idea behind the 23rd was to mimic Army movements, put…

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Marie Antoinette: An Intimate History | Madame Guillotine

Originally posted on Madame Guillotine

Marie Antoinette

I’m so sorry about taking a month off from my blog but I hope you’ll all forgive me when I reveal that the reason for my absence was a brand new book about Marie Antoinette, based on decades of pretty obsessive research (both primary and secondary) and thoughts and questions from all of you.

A couple of years ago I threatened my poor, unfortunate blog readers with a light-hearted ‘pulp’ biography of Marie Antoinette, which at the time I intended to call ‘Teen Queen to Madame Guillotine’. However, other projects intervened and my plan was temporarily shelved as I worked on my historical fiction instead. I couldn’t stay away forever though as although my blog covers all sorts of different periods and people, Marie Antoinette is a subject that I often return to and one that I have always really enjoyed writing about as evidenced by the fact that my university dissertation was on the topic of different representations of her both before and after the revolution.

This book was originally intended as an extremely short biography (longer than a pamphlet but shorter than a novella) giving a basic précis of the doomed Queen’s life for readers who perhaps don’t know all that much about her (the better known biographies can be a bit impenetrable to beginners) and maybe answering some of the most commonly asked questions about her along the way. I envisioned it as a sort of ‘beach read biography’ – in other words, an entertaining and not at all weighty read that could be dipped in and out of at leisure and didn’t require a massive background knowledge of the period to be enjoyed. I wanted to convey something of Marie Antoinette’s life and times without getting too bogged down in the politics of the era, although naturally they can’t help but intrude, especially from 1789 onwards.

However, as the project developed…

via Marie Antoinette: An Intimate History | Madame Guillotine

The Romanov sisters

Eagle-Eyed Editor

Romanov sisers The Romanov sisters, circa 1914. Image courtesy of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University, via Wikimedia Commons.

The problem with taking history courses is that you never quite learn enough.

You get to know essential historical events and why they’re important, but due to time constraints, there isn’t much about the people who lived through those events. Who were those children and adults? What made them smile? What did they do for fun? What did they deem important, and what did they ignore? What are their personal stories?

I’m presently reading Helen Rappaport’s book, The Romanov Sisters: The Lost Lives of The Daughters of Nicholas and Alexandra. I spotted it recently and decided to pick it up so I could find out more about Grand Duchesses Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia. To me, they and their brother Alexei have always been shadowy figures, pitiably caught up in historical…

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Book Review – Henry VIII’s Last Love: The Extraordinary Life of Katherine Willoughby, Lady-in-Waiting to the Tudors by David Baldwin

By Nathen Amin

David Baldwin’s latest release is a fascinating portrayal of a woman who almost became the seventh wife of Henry VIII; as it was the king died before any plans came to fruition and the name of Katherine Willoughby was somewhat lost to history. Baldwin attempts, and will succeed, bringing the erstwhile Duchess of Suffolk back into the spotlight with this in-depth account of her life at the most famous royal court in English history.

Somewhat fittingly for a future Duchess of Suffolk, Katherine was born in March 1519 in Parham Old Hall in Suffolk as the daughter of Baron Willoughby de Eresby and Spaniard Maria de Salinas. Her father was one of the greatest landowners in the region whilst her mother was a close friend and lady-in-waiting to Queen Katherine of Aragon. The wedding of Baron Willoughby and Maria de Salinas incurred the support of King Henry…

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Foreshades of Grey (11)


 or, Behind the Rococo Clock Face

detaildetail of Boucher’s 1756 portrait of Madame de Pompadour

Among the learned books in Madame de Pompadour’s library, there was a unique volume about the rivers of France which had been written, and some of it printed, many years before by a diligent and inquisitive eight year old boy, based on his lessons in geography and typography.

Louis XV’s Cours des principaux fleuves et rivières de l’Europe (Courses of the Principal Rivers and Streams of Europe), written in 1718, which the adult man gave to his mistress as a token of the conscientious king that the playboy of Versailles had once wanted to be, survives in the Bibliothèque nationale.

The little print shop, which was built for Louis XV in the Tuileries nearly sixty-five years before Marie Antoinette’s fantasy-farm was installed at Le Petit Trianon, had a serious educative purpose to instill…

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