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Friday 1 December 2023

A Regency Christmas romance full of hope


A heartbroken widower. A downtrodden companion. 

Their instant attraction offers hope for the future—if their secrets don’t destroy them first.

Estate manager Peter Crowley has abandoned hope of ever loving again. No woman has touched his heart since the death of his wife.

Now his life is centred on the beloved daughter he’s been forced to send away to school.

Meg Harding knows nothing of love. The sole companion of a cantankerous old lady, she smiles in the face of adversity, but dreams of a better life.

Thrown into conversation on the coach to Weymouth, Peter and Meg are drawn to each other by a shared sense of humour.

The downtrodden Meg revels in Peter’s kindness—and he yearns to rescue her.

Six months later they meet again. Both their situations have changed—and not all for the better.

As they share the joy of the Christmas season, their love is given a chance to flourish. But all is not as it seems. Secrets from their past cast shadows over their future and threaten to destroy them…

Set in 1810 in the seaside town of Weymouth, Dorset, this novella is rich in historical detail and includes a glossary and historical notes.

An introduction to the Women of Weymouth series, this is a clean and wholesome, faith-based, standalone romance with witty dialogue and its own happily ever after. 

Available in Kindle ebook and paperback versions Get Miss Harding's Hope here.

Read more about Regency Christmas celebrations here.

Saturday 25 November 2023

How the Country House Became English By Stephanie Barczewski - book review

How the Country House Became English By Stephanie Barczewski

Blenheim Palace. Chatsworth House. Downton Abbey. The English landscape is littered with names that project a certain image of Englishness. Like those names I just listed, this image blends reality and fiction, and is maintained by its consistent manufacture on screen, in literature and as tourist attractions.

To many inside this country, and beyond, the country house is a dominant feature in the cultural fabric of England. It’s up there with tea, rolling green hills and the Royal Family.

How did this happen? In her new book, Stephanie Barczewski sets out to answer this question of ‘How the Country House Became English’.

Chatsworth House (2014)
Chatsworth House (2014)

An essential for fans of English country houses

I have visited well over 100 English country houses in my life, many on multiple occasions. I’ll never look at them the same way again having read this book. It’s brought into focus many of the questions I ask of a property, which until now haven’t considered the broader context of local and national history.

Until now I’ve tended to look at each house in isolation. Now, even though I’ll continue to enjoy features such as priest holes, abbey ruins, classical columns and Grand Tour souvenirs, I’ll also have a new appreciation of the house as a whole.

This book is not light reading, but it is rewarding and worth the effort. Barczewski is Professor of Modern British History at Clemson University, South Carolina. This is her second work on country houses. It opens with a discussion of how the TV series Downton Abbey, Brexit and the work of The National Trust have nurtured nostalgia, helping to shape perceptions of Englishness.

Houses that embody history

In her book, Barczewski highlights how English country houses reflect ‘moments of disruption in English history’. Notably, the Dissolution of the Monasteries from the 1530s onwards, and the English Civil War, 1642–1651.

The Dissolution of the Monasteries saw massive upheaval in land ownership. Nearly one thousand religious institutions were closed, with ownership of vast tracts of land passing from the church to private individuals.

Many grand houses were built either in or from the ruins of abbey churches, cloisters and other monastic buildings. The Reformation also spawned a host of priest holes—secret spaces built into houses where Roman Catholic priests could hide during searches.

Over a century later, the English Civil War brought damage and destruction to country houses across England, and many properties were confiscated. The end of the war, and the restoration of the monarchy, saw estates returning to their owners and some houses being rebuilt.

These disruptions were followed by a period characterised by Barczewski as the ‘non-revolution’ in England. This is from the Glorious Revolution in 1688 through the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, when England endured long wars with Revolutionary France. In this period English country houses came to represent continuity—and it’s when many of today’s classical houses were constructed.

Athelhampton House (2016)
Athelhampton House (2016)

The Englishness of the country house

Barczewski spends three chapters discussing the relationship between English country houses and the many foreign influences on it. She makes the point that, with rare exceptions, there is no such thing as a ‘British country house’. Those in Scotland and Wales remain largely distinct.

Most of today’s English country houses were built after 1600, as Britain became an increasingly imperial power. The Americas and India exerted some influence, as did the Grand Tour, which took so many of the wealthy to southern Europe.

The twentieth century transformed the condition of English country houses. Many were demolished, while a host of others became heritage sites with the expectation they would present a comfortable view of history.

She closes this section by saying:

This book argues that such expectations are the result of the invention of the ‘English’ country house in the nineteenth century. After the French Revolution contributed to the elevation of political stability and cultural continuity as key components of English identity, English country-house architecture became more isolated from the continent and more referential to national history.

A wealth of stories and information

Kingston Lacy (2016)
Kingston Lacy (2016)
This isn’t a book about architecture. It’s about English country houses, their origins, histories and occupants.  To illustrate the discussion, it contains a rich collection of stories about the history of specific English country houses, which are as much about people, politics and religion as they are about design and construction.

On a personal note, I was pleased to see considerable discussion of Kingston Lacy, an English country house local to us in Dorset. Besides being a glorious property, its story is rooted in the destruction and upheaval of the English Civil War. The house itself is presented as distinctly English, with continental influences.

Read more about Kingston Lacy here. 

If, like me, you’d like to deepen your understanding of the great many English country houses you’ve visited, or would like to visit, this book is essential reading.

The book has 70 pages of appendices, references and an index. The appendices include lists of all English country houses with priest holes, that are built on or from monastic sites, and that were damaged or destroyed in the English Civil War. There are a good number of black and white illustrations.

Andrew Knowles
 researches and writes about the Regency and late Georgian period. He's also a freelance editor and writer for business. He lives in the beautiful Georgian seaside town of Weymouth, Dorset, on the south coast of England, with his wife, Rachel.

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All photos © Andrew Knowles -

Monday 23 October 2023

Napoleon’s Invasion of Egypt - an eyewitness history by Jonathan North - book review

Napoleon’s Invasion of Egypt By Jonathan North

Did Napoleon’s troops fire cannons at the pyramids of Egypt? And what was his army doing there?

Those were questions provoked by the teaser trailer for the 2023 movie Napoleon. The second of these questions is answered by this new book by Jonathan North, Napoleon’s Invasion of Egypt.

The book’s subtitle, ‘An Eyewitness History’, promises a wealth of firsthand accounts from the French invasion and occupation of a corner of North Africa. It delivers on that promise. This is a compelling account of that French adventure, told in the words of many who were there.

Napoleon at Arcole from The Life of Napoleon Bonaparte by WSloane 1896
Napoleon at Arcole from The Life of Napoleon
by W Sloane 1896

An introduction to Napoleon’s occupation of Egypt

While it’s titled the ‘Invasion of Egypt’, Jonathan North’s book covers the full period of the French occupation. Napoleon and his army arrived in July 1798 and the survivors left three years later, in 1801. Bonaparte himself effectively abandoned his troops in late 1800, sailing back to France, somehow evading the British Royal Navy.

The expedition was sent by the Directory, the committee that ruled revolutionary France. Their star general, Napoleon, proposed it, with a view to opening a land route to India.

It was also to be a scientific expedition, taking scholars to examine the marvels of ancient Egypt. Their discovery of the Rosetta Stone, the key to deciphering Egyptian writing, helped to open up the field of Egyptology.

Napoleon and his army landed in Egypt on 1 July 1798 and was immediately engaged in fighting the occupying Mamelukes, rulers of Egypt under the distant auspices of the Ottoman Empire.

‘The boats were rowed to the shore and a mass of cavalry showed itself and seemed ready to wade into the sea to oppose the landing. A few rounds of artillery saw them off,’ wrote 18- year-old soldier Joseph Laporte.1

The Battle of the Pyramids on 21 July inflicted a heavy defeat on the Mamelukes, allowing Napoleon to enter Cairo and commence his occupation of Egypt.

Despite sweeping in as victorious invaders, in only days the French became a beleaguered garrison. On 1 August 1798 a British fleet, under Horatio Nelson, defeated the warships of the French fleet that had transported the army across the Mediterranean, at the Battle of the Nile. The victory put the British in command of the sea, making it unlikely that the plan to reach India could be fulfilled.

‘We realised that any communication with Europe would now be impossible,’ wrote Captain Etienne Louis Malus in his journal. ‘We began to lose hope that we would ever see our homeland again.’2

The Destruction of L'Orient at the Battle of the Nile 1 August 1798 by G Arnald 1825-7 at National Maritime Musuem AKnowles photo2022
The Destruction of L'Orient at the Battle of the Nile
1 August 1798
by G Arnald (1825-7)
at National Maritime Musuem Photo A Knowles (2022)

Occupation and assimilation

Napoleon set up a French administration of Egypt that included some of the local rulers, and established a scientific Institute. During their time in Cairo the French attempted to replicate something of their culture from home, including street cafes. Some adopted a local style of dress, partly because of the climate.

The French invasion force was almost exclusively male. It wasn’t long before soldiers began to find mistresses among the local population. General Menou married a Muslim woman and converted. He seemed to be one of the few who would have preferred to remain in Egypt indefinitely.

Most did not feel the same way. Etienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, a young scholar, wrote:

The soldiers yearn for the delights of France. Their hatred for Egypt stems from being denied essentials. They have only water to drink. They cannot be attracted to women who hide themselves in veils.3

North’s book goes into considerable details about the challenges faced by the French as they experienced life in a different climate and culture. Scorpions, slavery, plague, mirages and mummies are all discussed, often in the words of eyewitnesses.

The end of the Egyptian adventure

To help protect Egypt, Napoleon’s army ventured into Syria and reached the Holy Land in 1799. Unable to capture the city of Acre, defended with British help, he had to turn back.

By now Napoleon sought a return to France, knowing he would be welcomed by the people. His departure was kept secret from almost all his officers and when they discovered he’d gone, many felt abandoned in a strange, unwelcoming land.

The remaining French army, significantly reduced by death and disease, began looking for its own way home. They continued to fight off local revolts and attacks by the Ottomans. On 21 March 1801 they were defeated by the British at the Battle of Alexandria, after which many were repatriated to France in British ships.

The British kept many of the artefacts discovered by the French in Egypt, including the Rosetta Stone.

A page-turning eyewitness account

This is my kind of history book—a strong story illustrated with an extensive tapestry of quotes from those who experienced it firsthand. Letters, journals and reports provide a rich seam of material which North has used to great effect.

I would like to have heard more from those being occupied. How did they feel about this French army inserting itself into their world? I’m guessing that sources for this are limited, hence their scant use.

The book contains a number of illustrations and maps, along with a detailed bibliography. The index only seems to include names of people—not places or key subjects. There’s a separate list of the around 40 eyewitnesses whose words are included in the book (presumably all translated).

This book has a high, and sometimes gruesome, body count. Thousands died, both soldiers and civilians. Battles, executions, revolts, raids, assassinations and plague all contributed to the carnage, and both sides carried out massacres.  

I recommend this book to anyone who’s interested in the history of Napoleon or that of France or the Middle East in the period. It’s packed with fascinating details and has certainly helped me better understand Bonaparte himself, along with how Egypt became a subject of fascination during the Regency period.

Napoleon's Invasion of Egypt is available from Amberley Publishing.

Andrew Knowles
 researches and writes about the Regency and late Georgian period. He's also a freelance editor and writer for business. He lives in the beautiful Georgian seaside town of Weymouth, Dorset, on the south coast of England, with his wife, Rachel.

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If you found this article interesting or useful, and you want to encourage us, help us to keep our research freely available by buying us a virtual cup of coffee.  Click the button below.

Notes – all quotes from Napoleon’s Invasion of Egypt

1. p49

2. p99

3. p114

All photos © A Knowles