Tag Archives: French Revolution

Holyroodhouse – A sanctuary for an exiled Bourbon

It has been several months since I last updated this blog – it actually came as a shock to me to realise that I have not posted on here since May! In the intervening months since my last post, I have been enjoying something of a break from writing, spending time with my family and going on summer holiday. However, summer is over and I’ve started work on my second Ailsa Rose book once again.

Today I wanted to share with you a fascinating anecdote I came across when researching this second novel, which is largely set in the Canongate/Holyrood area of Edinburgh. This tale concerns Holyroodhouse, the palace which sits at the foot of the Canongate, and is the official residence of the monarch in Scotland. In its time, the palace has hosted many royal occupants, but did you know that in the 1790s it housed French royalty?

Holyrood House and Chapel from Calton Hill, engraving, 1842. From Wikimedia Commons.

In 1796, Holyroodhouse became the home of the exiled Charles Philippe, the Comte D’artois and his mistress, Louise de Polastron. The comte was the brother of King Louis XVI, and the future Charles X, reigning from 1824 to 1830 after the restoration of the Bourbon dynasty in 1814/1815. He had fled France in the wake of the French Revolution, eventually coming to Edinburgh.

The Comte D’Artois by Henri Pierre Danloux, 1798. From Wikimedia Commons.

The accommodation which greeted the comte upon his arrival, however, was likely far from the grand and sumptuous palace we might envisage. In her book Holyrood and Canongate: A Thousand Year History, E Patricia Dennison tells us that the Hanoverian kings had allowed Holyroodhouse to fall into decay, and that during the eighteenth century, its neglect had led it to become a crumbling building which at times had hosted an assortment of debtors and squatters for tenants.1 Not exactly fit for royalty, then, although in some ways perhaps suitable. In her 1992 article, Furniture for the Comte D’Artois at Holyrood, 1796, Margaret Swain informs us that as the palace was built on the site of an ancient monastery, it was still considered a debtors’ sanctuary and the comte was on the run from his creditors.2 Swain goes on to tell us that refurbishment of the comte’s apartments took four months, during which time the comte and his party had to live in the rooms of Lord Adam Gordon, the governor of Edinburgh Castle.3

Louise de Polastron, mistress of the Comte D’Artois, by Alexander Kucharsky. From Wikimedia Commons.

The comte and his mistress seem to have remained at Holyroodhouse for several years, although by the early 1800s they had relocated to London, where Louise de Polastron died from tuberculosis in 1804. In 1830, the palace played host to Charles Philippe for a final time, following his abdication from the French throne. As Swain tells us, the furniture from his previous stay had to be ‘hastily reassembled’.4 He stayed for a couple of years, before being granted sanctuary by the Habsburg Emperor and living in the Austrian Empire for the remainder of his days.

As those of you who have read The Wax Artist will know, the protagonist Ailsa Rose is a French émigré. As this is a key part of her background, I just love coming across French connections during my research, and this one really caught my imagination. I wonder what Ailsa Rose would have thought about the king’s brother living just a stone’s throw from her humble room in the Canongate! It is fun to consider it.

The Wax Artist is available to read in e-book and paperback now. Find out more here.

References:

  1. E Patricia Dennison, Holyrood and Canongate: A Thousand Year History, (Edinburgh: Birlinn, 2005), pp. 111-112
  2. Margaret Swain, “Furniture for the Comte D’Artois at Holyrood, 1796”, Furniture History, (1992), p. 98
  3. Margaret Swain, op cit, p. 98
  4. Margaret Swain, op cit, p. 99

Picking Roses: A Story of Elizabeth Ollive Paine

It’s been a while since I shared any of my own writing on my blog, so today I thought I would do just that. I wrote the story below for a magazine submission slot, the brief for which was to write a short piece of fiction in the voice of a female relation to a famous real or fictional person. My piece was not ultimately selected; nonetheless, I’m really pleased with how it turned out.

The female relative I chose was Elizabeth Ollive, estranged wife of the eighteenth century writer and radical, Thomas Paine. Paine has been a favourite of mine since my university days, when I pored over his political works and relished his involvement in both the American and French revolutions. It’s only in recent years that I have become more interested in his personal life, and have found that the scant information we have raises more questions than it answers. Paine was married twice, firstly to Mary Lambert who died in childbirth, and secondly to Elizabeth Ollive, from whom he ultimately separated for reasons unknown before emigrating to the American colonies in 1774, where his life as a man of fame and influence truly began.

For Elizabeth, this separation must have come at enormous personal cost – not only did she have to bear the shame and stigma of being an abandoned wife, but the wife of a renowned rabble-rouser and eventual outlaw. I wonder how she must have felt each time she heard news of him and his exploits, and how she bore her own lot, forced to leave Lewes for Cranbrook in Kent, where she lived with her brother and carved out a living as a dressmaker. Like so many women of the past, she is silent in the historical record, but that doesn’t mean we can’t imagine. I’d like to write more about her and about Paine, one day, but for now, I hope you enjoy this short story.

Picking Roses

I almost prick her when she mentions him. Right on the soft skin of her shoulder, where I’m still adjusting that pretty floral cotton she’s chosen, forming a dress from it with folds and pins. I’m not normally so clumsy, but her question is a surprise. Most ladies prefer light conversation, and this one hadn’t seemed any different; running her fingers over the printed roses as though she might like to pick them, telling me that she’ll wear her new dress to such-and-such’s house for afternoon tea. Then she says his name, just like that. Asks me if I’ve heard the news from France.

I’ve heard the news – of course I have. I don’t say anything, though. I just nod and concentrate on pinning. I’m not about to make a mistake. I don’t want to start again.

She’s still admiring those flowers. Her husband told her at breakfast, she says. It’s been in all the papers. She hopes I’m able to bear it. It must be such a troubling reminder of the past.

Troubling – there’s a word for it. I turn my attention to the hem of her skirt, shrinking from the urge to reply. The sooner I finish, the sooner we can both move on. Cranbrook likes reminders, even after all these years. When I first arrived to live with my brother, I hoped to be Miss Ollive the dressmaker, to foster the presumption of my spinsterhood, of my blank and loveless past. But Cranbrook soon gathered up the pieces of my tale, and almost as adeptly as I can sew a gown, the town stitched it all together and found Mrs Paine – shunned wife of a rabble-rouser, a republican, a revolutionary. Cranbrook looked upon my dresses differently after that.

She keeps on talking about him. It seems the French lock up everyone, she says, even those so committed to their cause. I don’t want to think about him in prison; filthy, half-starved, trapped in the shadow of the guillotine. He doesn’t fare well in confinement; I know that better than most. Perhaps he will escape, just like he did before, when we lived together in Lewes and failed to pretend to be happy. Perhaps he will board a ship and sail for America again. I pray he does. He might well write that the world is his country, but it’s America which resists him the least.  

She’s gone quiet, let her remarks fall away like the offcuts of material scattered on the floor. I’m glad. I don’t talk about Tom; I never have, not since we agreed to part ways, agreed to stay silent on all that had passed between us. Now the only words we have are in our letters; infrequent, but sincere and tenderly meant. This lady in her rose dress wouldn’t understand. Cranbrook wouldn’t understand. They’d say I was still his wife, but I haven’t been that for twenty years, if I ever truly was at all.