Mailbox Monday: The Post-Christmas edition

image of an old-fashioned post office with the words Royal Mail.

I’ve been a rather negligent blogger this past year, and although I expect I’ll be busier than ever during the first third of 2013 as I juggle a full-time job in my chosen field with finishing the last course of my graduate degree (by distance), I still hope to become more active on here.

As I’ve said before, I love the idea behind Mailbox Monday, which serves as a weekly gathering place for readers to share their newly acquired books. Originally created by Marcia at Hooked by a Book (formerly The Printed Page), it is now being hosted on a monthly basis as the ‘Mailbox Monday Blog Tour’ and can be found at Lori’s Reading Corner during the month of January. Although I rarely receive enough reading material in one go to merit devoting a post to it, Christmas is the exception as I was recently supplied with more than enough books to keep me occupied!

The Devlin Diary by Christi Phillips shifts between Restoration-era London ( a new favourite time of mine to read about) and present- day Cambridge in a historical mystery.

Gillian Bagwell’s The Darling Strumpet is also set in Restoration England. After reading about the famous actress and mistress of Charles II Nell Gwynn in Priya Parmar’s novel Exit the Actress, I was eager for more. I look forward to reading a different take on Nell’s rise from orange girl to royal mistress.

Jumping ahead to 1850s London, The Agency series by Y.S. Lee was recommended to me by a close friend, who enjoyed the banter and interesting female protagonist. A Spy in the House is the first novel in this YA series about an orphan instructed at a school that also happens to be a front for an all-female investigative unit.

Those three have been on my wishlist for awhile so I look forward to diving into them. Although the next two are new to me, they come highly recommended as well. I’m familiar with John Green, of course, and attended grad school with at least one “nerdfighter”, but have never read any of his works. The Fault in Our Stars will be my introduction to the author. As a historical fiction novel, Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein, is perhaps closer to my preferred genre. It tells the story of a pilot and an undercover spy who are forced to endure capture in Nazi-occupied France during WWII.

When I first saw the fantastic HBO miniseries John Adams several years ago I loved Abigail and John, but was perhaps most captivated by Stephen Dillane’s portrayal of the complicated Thomas Jefferson. I’ve been looking for a good biography on the man for awhile, and was extremely pleased to receive Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power by Jon Meacham for Christmas, particularly as I am hoping to visit Monticello later this year.

Although I was the one doing the gifting, I should also mention Veronica Roth’s Divergent, which I bought my mother for Christmas, idly started flipping through and before I knew it was halfway through! I stole borrowed that one back for a few days to finish it off and now have the sequel on hold at the local library.

The Devlin Diary by Christi PhillipsDarling Strumpet by Gillian BagwellA Spy in the House by Y.S. Leethe Fault in Our Stars by John GreenCode Name Verity by Elizabeth WeinThomas Jefferson: The Art of Power by Jon Meacham

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The Burning of Parliament

the Burning of the Houses of Parliament painting by JMW Turner

The Burning of the Houses of Parliament by J.M.W. Turner

On October 16th, 1834, the UK Houses of Parliament were engulfed by flame. The fire began when two underfloor stoves that were  being used to burn the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s stockpile of old tally sticks, wooden sticks with notches in them to indicate value that were used to keep the national accounts until the late 1780s, ignited panelling in the Lords Chamber. The fire quickly got out of control, destroying many buildings, including the House of Commons. The devastation was witnessed by painters Turner (see above) and Constable.

In an inventive and educational turn, ParliamentBurnsLive is using twitter to livetweet the accounts of what happened in real time. You can follow the events of the Burning of Parliament through the account @ParliamentBurns, or by following the hashtag #ParliamentBurns.

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September 19th is International ‘Ask A Curator Day’!

Following a successful ‘Ask a Curator’ event in 2010, experts from around the world are participating in a unique question and answer session that gives the public a chance to ask curators questions about museums and galleries.

Institutions from 29 countries will be participating, including the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, The British Museum, and the Château de Versailles. Canadian museums and galleries taking part in the event include the Art Gallery of Ontario, Canadian Museum of Nature, the Royal Ontario Museum, and the National Gallery of Canada.

The event will be hosted today on twitter, with questioners asked to use the hashtag #askacurator. Click here to follow the event on twitter.

More information is available at askacuratorday.com, including lists of the participating museums and galleries by subject (such as Tudor England, Literature, or Science), and by country.

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Museum Secrets

Last week I received an invitation to the season two launch party for History Television Canada’s show Museum Secrets. Although my course schedule prevents me from attending the event, I was interested in writing about the new season of the show.

Museum Secrets takes viewers around the world by focusing on a different museum collection in each hour long episode. The first season of six episodes included visits to the Vatican Museum, The Louvre, and the Metropolitan Museum in New York City, as well as Toronto’s own Royal Ontario Museum. Each episode uses interviews with knowledgeable staff members as well as  cutting edge technology to uncover the stories behind museum objects. The second season kicks off this Thursday, January 12th at 10 PM EST with “Inside the State Hermitage Museum”.

Founded by Catherine the Great in St. Petersburg, Russia, the museum contains 3 million works of art and artefacts of world culture and is visited by 2.5 million people each year. Among other secrets, this episode will re-examine the murder of Rasputin, look at the curators who risked their lives during WWII to protect museum treasures from the Nazis, and even discuss Catherine the Great’s sex life. The remaining seven episodes will air as follows:

  • January 19th – “Inside the American Museum of Natural History”
  • January 26th – “Inside the National Archaeological Museum of Athens”
  • February 2nd – “Inside the Imperial War Museum”
  • February 9th – “Inside the National Museum of Anthropology, Mexico City”
  • March 1st – “Inside the Pergamon and Neues Museums, Berlin”
  • March 8th – “Inside the Kunsthisorisches Museum, Vienna”
  • March 15th – “Inside the Tokapi Palace Museum, Istanbul”

I watched the first season of Museum Secrets online here, and loved getting a behind-the-scenes look at some of the world’s foremost museums. I also found the combination of museum photography, investigation into popular legends, and information about lesser-known artefacts very engaging. Evidently I was not alone because the series has been nominated for two History Makers Awards. which recognize the best in history, current affairs, and non-fiction programming across TV and digital platforms.

One of these nominations, for Best Interactive Production, recognizes “originality and excellence in the use of the online medium for factual storytelling”, so it is not surprising that Museum Secrets has a comprehensive official website containing more information about the series. www.museumsecrets.tv includes trailers and sneak-peeks of upcoming episodes as well as an object navigator feature that lets viewers take a closer look at the museum objects discussed on the show. Additionally it is linked to the official websites for each featured museum.

There is a distinct lack of history-related programming in North America, so it is important that we endeavor to support the interesting historical programming that we do have, such as Museum Secrets. The second season of Museum Secrets airs Thursdays at 10 PM EST on History Television Canada. Production stills can be viewed on the Museum Secrets flickr account here.

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The Historical Tourist visits Walmer Castle

Between 1539 and 1543, King Henry VIII, who feared an invasion after divorcing his Spanish Queen Catherine of Aragon and splitting from the Catholic church, constructed a chain of defensive castles. Built to a common design, the three artillery forts created to protect a stretch of beach along the Kent coast consisted of a central circular keep with lower semi-circular bastions that were arranged symmetrically around the keep to allow several tiers of guns to be mounted. Although one of the three, Sandown Castle, was almost entirely destroyed in the nineteenth century, Deal, the largest of the three, and Walmer survive.

Walmer Castle is often overshadowed by the better known Dover Castle, six miles away, but the Historical Tourist chose to visit Walmer because of its unique history. Although the castle was occupied by Royalists and put under siege by Parliamentarians following the execution of Charles I in 1648, its design had become old-fashioned by the end of the seventeenth century and Walmer Castle began to be used as the official residence of the Lords Warden of the Cinque Ports in 1708. Holders of the post are usually appointed for life, but it is not a hereditary title. The office continues to be “seen as a high honour to be conferred on those who have given especially distinguished service to the State”, so it is not surprising that previous Lords Warden include the Duke of Wellington, Viscount Palmerston, Sir Winston Churchill, and Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother.

The Historical Tourist has to admit that while she certainly respects this illustrious company, her interest in Walmer Castle is primarily due to another Lord Warden, the Rt Hon. William Pitt, who was born 252 years ago today! The son of the Earl of Chatham, Pitt the Younger became the youngest man ever to become Prime Minister when he took office in 1783 at age 24. Remembered for his gift at managing the nation’s finances and for his eloquence in the House of Commons, Pitt is also one of the longest serving Prime Ministers, in office from 1783-1801, and again from 1804 until his death in 1806.

View from Walmer Castle

In a note following his well-written and extremely readable biography of the late Prime Minister, author William Hague wrote that he “felt closest to [Pitt], perhaps, in Walmer Castle, where the panelled landing and the dining room are not dissimilar from how they would have been in his time, and it is possible to imagine him sitting at the head of the table, entertaining military visitors, humouring Lady Stanhope, and going out onto the wide terrace to look for signs of activity at sea” (p 17 *). With such an endorsement, I couldn’t help passing over Deal and even Dover for the official residence of the Warden of the Cinque Ports!

Although the Willingdon room, near the entrance of the castle, contains objects associated with Pitt the Younger, including a mahogany desk and a campaign chair, named because its metal frame meant that it could be taken apart for traveling, Walmer Castle’s most interesting displays are the rooms associated with the Duke of Wellington. Wellington was a frequent visitor who called the castle the “most charming marine residence”. The proximity of Walmer Castle to the port of Dover made it ideal for entertaining foreign royalty, but it was also enjoyed by the British Royal family. Victoria visited the castle at age sixteen and returned seven years later, as Queen, with Albert and two of their children. They stayed for a month.

Today Walmer Castle is home to the Lucas Collection of Wellington Memorabilia, which was donated to the property in 1966. The collection contains portraits and busts, but I was more impressed by the other objects featuring the Duke’s likeness, which included pot lids, paperweights, and even a doorstop!

The smaller Wellington Museum room contains a number of objects associated with the Duke’s Wardenship, including a pair of his famous Wellington boots and the instructions written to the shoemaker about their design. More on the history of Wellington boots can be found in an earlier entry here. The collection also contains a death mask of the Duke, who died at Walmer Castle on September 14th, 1852 at age 83.

Successive Wardens usually bought furniture from their predecessor’s estate, but Lord Palmerston refused to do so and the late Duke’s items were moved to his Apsley House residence so they were not dispersed. After W.H. Smith became Warden in 1891, he initiated the Indenture of Heirlooms by an Act of Parliament so that historic items would remain at Walmer Castle. As a result, when Lady Reading, in the 1930s, attempted to restore Wellington’s bedroom to the way it had been at the time of his death, the original contents of the room were returned to the castle by the fourth Duke of Wellington. Wellington’s bedroom, which is decorated with period appropriate wallpaper, now holds his campaign bed and the armchair in which he died.

My favourite resident is remembered in the Pitt Museum room across the hall. Pitt became the first commoner appointed to the post in 1792. Deeply in debt, he accepted the position because it came with an annual salary of three thousand pounds, and when his finances forced him to give up his country house he moved to Walmer permanently in 1803. The Pitt Museum is smaller than the displays on Wellington, but I enjoyed viewing the Gainsborough-Dupont portrait, political cartoons, and letter written by Pitt that adorn the walls and the leather covered gaming chair and writing desk that likely belonged to him.

Walmer corridor

During his Wardenship, Pitt created the corridor that runs the full length of the castle, which was painted a vivid teal by the succeeding Granvilles, and added the room later used by the Duke of Wellington as a bedroom to the castle as a winter apartment because it was the warmest part of the castle. He also made important contributions to the castle’s gardens with the help of his niece and hostess Lady Hester Stanhope.

The Dining Room at Walmer Castle

Other rooms at Walmer Castle include the royal bedroom suite used by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert during their month long visit in 1842, the 1920s/30s style drawing room, and the dining room mentioned in William Hague’s biography. The dining room continues to be set with a blue minton service that was used by the Queen Mother, Walmer Castle’s first female Warden, and the grounds contain a garden that was commissioned by English Heritage as a ninety-fifth birthday gift.

Queen Mother's Garden at Walmer Castle

* William Hague. William Pitt the Younger. London: Harper Perennial, 2005.

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The King’s Speech

By now most will have heard of The King’s Speech, the critically acclaimed film that tells the story of The Duke of York (later King George VI)’s struggle to overcome his stammer. Although Bertie, as he was known to his family, had previously tried a number of treatment options, it is Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue’s unorthodox combination of breathing exercises, tongue twisters, and talk therapy that finally proves effective. When the King dies, older brother David ascends the throne as King Edward VIII, but his infatuation with Wallis Simpson, a twice divorced American woman, threatens to bring down the government. With World War II just around the corner and Bertie first in the line of succession, Bertie’s ability to speak is more important than ever.

The King’s Speech was one of my favourite films of 2010 and I left the theatre wanting to know what had really happened. My research began with a copy of Mark Logue and Peter Conradi’s book The King’s Speech: How one man saved the British Monarchy. Based on the diaries kept by Lionel Logue, and on his correspondence with George VI, the book was written after filming began, meaning it isn’t the source material behind the Academy Award winning film. While the movie dramatizes George VI’s struggle, the book was written by Mark Logue, Lionel’s grandson, to “tell the story of my grandfather’s life from his childhood in Adelaide, South Australia, in the 1880s right the way through to his death”.

Conradi and Logue’s book is a great source and complements the movie nicely, but the critical and popular success of the film has ensured that it receives more press than most period dramas and, as a result, that there is more written about its historical accuracy.



In order to examine them all, it is prudent to divide criticisms into two categories; the accuracy of the central relationship between Logue and Bertie depicted in their treatment sessions, and the historical events that serve as the background for their relationship, including the abdication and the rise of Hitler.

Most articles criticize The King’s Speech for its treatment of relevant events but pay little attention to the central relationship of Bertie and Lionel. The main change here is a tightening of chronology. The film begins their sessions in 1934, but Bertie actually began visiting Logue in 1926. By the early thirties his speech had improved so dramatically that he rarely visited Logue’s Harley Street premises, but when the abdication crisis resulted in his ascension to the throne, George VI again turned to Logue for help.

Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush) and Bertie (Colin Firth) have a session.

Logue’s diaries did not record his sessions with the King, but scriptwriter David Seidler drew from his own experiences as a stutterer to decide on both the treatments Bertie would have tried, and on the methods Logue used with his patients. Seidler’s theories were confirmed when he learned that his uncle was a former patient of Logue’s and that the talk therapy depicted in the film was one of the methods the speech therapist had used.

Although it makes for a humourous scene in the film, Lionel’s wife Myrtle did, in fact, know about her husband’s most famous patient. She was even “presented” at court to Bertie’s parents in a show of gratitude for Lionel’s work and wrote an article for an Australian newspaper about the experience!

Another humourous moment is more accurate. At the film’s climax Bertie broadcasts a speech immediately after Britain’s Declaration of War against Germany but Lionel remarks that he made one mistake. While the exchange that follows did take place, it actually occurred after another speech given by the King in December 1944 to mark the disbanding of the Home Guard. The only mistake was a stumble over the ‘w’ in weapons.

“Afterwards Logue shook hands with the King and, after congratulating him, asked why that particular letter had proved such a problem.
‘I did it on purpose,’ the King replied with a grin.
‘On purpose?’ asked Logue, incredulous.
‘Yes. If I don’t make a mistake people might not know it was me.’” (p 200 *)

While the timeline has been compressed and the lack of formality in Bertie and Lionel’s friendship is likely exaggerated, they did remain friends until the end of their lives and the film is essentially accurate in this portrayal. However, press have focused on the historical events that provide the background for the film, and here The King’s Speech takes more liberties.

Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter) supports her husband.

The biggest change is that Winston Churchill actually supported Edward VIII (later given the title the Duke of Windsor) during the abdication crisis. This was more dangerous than the film makes out because Bertie’s brother was not just spoiled and naive; he was also suspected of being a Nazi sympathiser. Even after his abdication and forced exile the British Government thought that the Duke of Windsor’s willingness to enter an alliance posed a threat and he was sent to govern the Bahamas. In his draft of a telegram informing the Prime Ministers of the Dominions that the Duke had been appointed Governor of the Bahamas, Churchill wrote “The activities of the Duke of Windsor on the Continent in recent months have been causing His Majesty and myself grave uneasiness, as his inclinations are well-known to be pro-Nazi and he may become a centre of intrigue.” The sentence was omitted from the final version.

As shown in The King’s Speech, Edward VIII’s father even doubted his eldest son’s ability to rule. Before his death, George V, said about his younger son Bertie and granddaughter Elizabeth, “I pray to God that my eldest son [Edward] will never marry and have children, and that nothing will come between Bertie and Lilibet and the throne”. He also made a prediction about Edward, confiding to Prime Minister Baldwin that “After I am dead, the boy will ruin himself in 12 months.”

Churchill’s support of Edward VIII during the abdication crisis meant that George VI was, in turn, not a great supporter of Churchill. The Royal Family were in favour of a policy of appeasement, and after Chamberlain signed the Munich Agreement he was invited to appear on the Palace balcony with George VI and his wife in a show of support. This endorsement of foreign policy by the Royal Family has been called “the most unconstitutional act by a British sovereign in the present century” by historian John Grigg.



Although the film undoubtedly takes liberties with historical facts, It remains a moving film with wonderful dialogue, a great cast, and a musical score that should be celebrated. It is important to acknowledge, discuss, and understand the inaccuracies present in The King’s Speech, but these deviations from historical fact don’t take away from the central story of Logue and George VI’s friendship and the King’s success in overcoming his crippling stammer.

Verdict: Its Oscar success was well-deserved. This is a film that everyone should see and the book is a wonderful complement for those interested in learning more.

The King’s Speech is released on DVD & Blu-Ray today.

The King’s Speech: How one man saved the British Monarchy by Conradi and Logue is available now.

* Peter Conradi and Mark Logue. The King’s Speech. Toronto: Penguin Canada, 2010.

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First Blogiversary

by Tele Chhe - Flickr

One year ago I published my first posts here at Truth in Fiction making today my blogiversary! I haven’t always been a consistent blogger, something I’ll do my best to change this year, but I have enjoyed watching, researching, and writing for this blog.

Truth in Fiction doesn’t fit neatly into one category. I’m not solely a film or book blogger and although I enjoy writing the Historical Tourist feature, I don’t travel enough to devote an entire blog to it. So when I decided to mark one year of blogging by looking back on the most popular posts of the year, as measured by the number of page views recorded by WordPress, I was pleased to find that the posts covered a variety of categories.

The leader in page views benefits from an attention-grabbing title as well as curiosity about the subject. Wellington’s Boots was written after I spotted a pair of the Iron Duke’s creation, while visiting his former residence of Walmer Castle. The display also included Wellington’s 1839 letter to his shoemaker instructing how a pair of boots should be made. So far 423 people have learned the history behind these enduring boots!

When I visited Ireland’s Glasnevin Cemetery in 2009, I was surprised by the number of people who arrived for the guided walking tour. I assumed the cemetery in North Dublin would be off the beaten tourist track but it has been both a popular tourist destination and a popular post. Over the past year 239 people have viewed The Historical Tourist visits Glasnevin Cemetery and “glasnevin cemetery”, “www.glasnevintrust.ie”, and “glasnevin heritage centre” have all been used multiple times as search engine terms. I’m glad to see that this important historical place remains a popular choice.

My review of The Young Victoria is the most popular movie post on Truth in Fiction and ranks number three overall. Written as part of a Victoria Day-themed series of posts, The Young Victoria has been visited 226 times. Many of the visitors have been searching for whether parts of the film were true or false and among the search engine terms used to find the post, which I have left to their original wording and spelling, are: “the young victoria was albert shot?”, “why did the young victoria have to escorted on the stairs?”, “what did Melbourne advice young victoria to do that upset the people!”, and “young victoria king’s birthday speech”. Hopefully my review of the film was able to answer all of their questions!

Rounding out the top five are two very different book reviews. I raved about Morgan Llywelyn’s 1916: A Novel of the Irish Rebellion, in a post viewed 175 times so far, praising her meticulously researched fictional re-telling of the Easter Rising and her ability to bring historical figures to life as compelling characters.

I was less impressed by Gillian Gill’s joint biography of the Queen and her Prince Consort We Two: Victoria and Albert: Rulers, Partners, Rivals, but the popularity of the film The Young Victoria likely helped generate the 134 views of this post.

On this anniversary I’d like to thank everyone who does read Truth in Fiction and especially the fellow blogging members of my family, who can always be relied upon to leave comments and offer encouragement. Hopefully my second year of blogging will continue to be as informative and fun as the first!

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HAPPY BIRTHDAY
© Tela Chhe | Flickr Creative Commons

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