Saturday, March 24, 2007

Charles 1 - King of England

Royal Tunbridge Wells

Henrietta Maria was only 15 years old when she arrived from France to marry Charles I, King of England. As she kneeled before him, it was said she uttered the words,”Sir, I have come to this country for your Majesty to use and command.” A cold and distant relationship followed for several years but they eventually learned to love each other and produced 9 children. Their love endured, despite opposition in court, until Charles was tried for treason and lost his head at the Tower of London.

As Charles and Henrietta’s love grew an understanding and respect for each other developed outside of the obligations to their respective countries. Their happiness was sealed when Henrietta knew she was expecting her first baby. Unfortunately, the baby was born prematurely and did not survive. She was devastated at the loss of her baby and decided to recuperate in the beautiful countryside of Kent, taking solace at the spa that had been discovered 20 years earlier by Lord North.

After the loss of her first baby in 1629, Henrietta and her entourage decided to visit the spring in an attempt to help restore the Queen’s health and spirits. It had been over 20 years since the discovery by North, but there were no buildings or any permanent structures on the site. Henrietta’s group erected tents and planned to camp there for six weeks to take solace in the waters, but her health improved so quickly that she felt the need to see her beloved king. She cut her convalescence short and left “suddenly by great journeys” to Oatlands where King Charles was waiting. Their reunion was rewarded with Charles II who was often reminded when he was older, “Remember you are the fruit of our love.”

As Henrietta and Charles’ love grew, so did her influence over him. She wielded it often for her benefit and that of her consorts, but she also began advising the king on matters of state. Many in court felt that she flaunted her Catholic teachings and insisted on having huge numbers of courtiers being favored by the king and members of parliament.

After many turbulent years, the religious and economic situation worsened in England, providing a fertile ground for civil war. Charles believed in the ultimate rule of the monarch and often clashed with Parliament by taking advice from Henrietta that was ill advised. The climax came in 1648 when Charles tried to have five members of Parliament arrested because they opposed his rule. He was put on trial for treason, found guilty and sentenced to death. Henrietta fought desperately to save his life but it was in vain. He was beheaded on January 30, 1649, and it is said he wore two shirts on that faithful day so the people who witnessed his execution would not see his body tremble. It is also reputed that the last thing he said was “remember.”

An extract from Extraordinary Places…Close to London

Monday, March 12, 2007

The Wilberforce Oak Tree (or Slave Tree)

The movie Amazing Grace is an excellent production and well worth an afternoon or evening at the movies. It reminded me of a chapter in my book Extraordinary Places…Close to London where I describe how William Wilberforce and William Pitt the Younger decided on a course of action to rid the world of slavery.

In 1788, an unusual and important meeting took place under an ancient oak tree in Westerham. William Pitt the Younger, Prime Minister of England, and William Wilberforce, a Member of Parliament, sat and discussed the awful practice of slave trading. Unsure of the opposition in Parliament, the two decided on a plan and Wilberforce made a pledge when he “vowed to rid the world of this hideous trade of slavery.”

A Bill was drawn up abolishing the slave trade and immediately presented to the House of Commons. The slave trade provided an abundance of wealth to many influential families and Wilberforce suspected the bill to be challenged in parliament. To his surprise, the act was passed in 1789 but the terrible slave trade continued for another 20 years with terrible atrocities at sea. Navel patrols guarded the Ivory Coast
in an attempt to control the situation and it is known that the captains of vessels tossed their human cargoes overboard in an attempt to avoid inspection and arrest.

Wilberforce gained many enemies because of his stand against slavery. He felt as though his life was in danger and reverted to having an armed guard accompany him for the rest of his days.

The fine oak tree that Wilberforce and Pitt sat beneath when they discussed the slave trade lasted for centuries but perished during WWII. However, another was planted in the hollow remains to honor the two men and their courageous stand.

A memorial bench with its inscription is located about 4 miles from north of Westerham. It is not easy to find but the monument is important.

The inscription reads:

Mr. Wilberforce’s diary, 1787
At length I remember after a conversation with Mr. Pitt in the open air at the root of an old tree at Holwood just above the steep descent into the vale of Keston we resolved to give notice on a first occasion in the House of Commons of my intention to bring forward the abolition of the slave trade. Erected by Earl Stanhope, 1862

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Italy by Train

I’ve added a new link to the blog today. Gabriele D’Errico operates a web-based travel agency specializing in vacations in Italy by train. However, his web site provides a wealth of information about Italy including: hotels, country inns, cruises, flights, airport transfers, guide services, excursions, car rental, museums, photo album, restaurants, things to know, trains, currency converter, weather, Italian terms, books, DVDs, and food.

From Gabriele’s web site:
“Do you know that the train is the easiest and most convenient means of transportation in Italy? I am an Italian native with more than 10 years experience in tourism across Italy. I am now married to an American, living in the US, and am a travel consultant for people wishing to explore my lovely native country. On this web site, I offer any travel product available on the market and also provide LOTS of FREE advice.”

Saturday, March 10, 2007

The Green Room

I remember vividly when I was first asked to appear on television. A producer with one of our local television stations had heard about my books through my publisher, who had really done an excellent job of marketing, and called me on the telephone to set up the interview. She wanted to “do a segment” on my books, have some visuals to put on the screen and a list of upcoming events. Needless to say, I was absolutely thrilled but also very nervous as I had never appeared on television. I imagined the segment would be taped as the anchor person and I sat comfortably on a sofa as I answered her questions – but it didn’t happen that way.

When told I should wait in the "Green Room" I was surprised to find it wasn't painted green and realized this is just a term they used. The origin is lost in obscurity but I thought it may have originated in Shakespeare’s time when the actors and the audience sat in the grass and the stages were called “the green”. Or perhaps once the majority of rooms that held guests were really painted green, a color known to be used in asylums to calm the inmates – regardless, the room I was placed in was neither a proper room nor painted green.

Clutching my notes in my hand, I quietly flipped through some magazines as I idly watched the anchor person on television and thought to myself, "Just imagine, in a little while when she is off the set, we’ll sit quietly and tape the interview." Imagine my horror when the last thing she said before going to a break was, “... and, when we come back, we will have Elizabeth Wallace, a local author to speak to us about her books.” I remember involuntarily standing just as the producer’s assistant ushered me down the hall at a very quick pace and asked me to stand behind a screen. When the anchor person saw me, she said, “Come on Elizabeth – your time!”

I thought I was going to faint right there on the spot! Live television! I hadn’t asked the question, just assumed it would be taped! Oh my! I just stood there for a moment but quickly gained composure and walked towards the anchor desk where the assistant undid my jacket and clipped the microphone onto my lapel. The anchor said, “Don’t worry about the cameras, just follow my lead.” I looked at the teleprompter and the man behind that particular camera who was looking directly at me (perhaps he could see that I was nervous?) but he was holding his hand in a fist, then he opened his hand and then ran through the seconds on his fingers to live television, five, four, two, one – we’re on!!

To be honest, I don’t remember much of the interview and was glad that the producer had suggested that I bring a blank video tape so that it could be recorded and shown to the family. My husband said that he couldn’t see any nervousness at all until the anchor asked a question about something in one of the books – it was an off-the-cuff question and one that I was not prepared, but fortunately I knew my facts well and was able to answer the question.

As we walked off the set, I told the anchor that had been my first television appearance and she said, “Oh, so it was your stomach I heard…” and we had a good laugh. I have since appeared again and even offered suggestions for other segments. All in all, that first time was a great learning experience and one that I will never forget.