Friday, November 28, 2008

Cora Pearl - English Beauty of the Second Empire

In the glamorous, and brittle world of the Second Empire, no one glittered more among the demi-monde than the English courtesan named Cora Pearl.

 Cora was born Emma Elizabeth Crouch in Plymouth England probably in 1835, although in her memoirs which were published after her death, she claimed that she was born in 1842. The birth certificate that was reproduced in her memoirs, to prove that she wasn't lying, was clearly that of her younger sister Louisa! Her father,Frederick Nicholls Crouch, was an English composer and cellist, who gained a small measure of success as the author of a sentimental song, entitled "Kathleen Mavourneen". When Emma was young, her father deserted the family and moved to America, where he promptly remarried several times. At his death in 1896, it was estimated he had more than twenty children. Emma's mother told the children that their father had died, and promptly found a lover to help support the familiy. Emma and her new 'stepfather' did not get along, so she and her sisters were sent to a convent school in Burgundy where she learned French and deportment.

Kathleen Mavourneen: (1837)
Words Mrs. Marion Crawford
Music by Frederick Nicholls Crouch, 1808-1896
Very popular during the American Civil War, Mavourneen is Irish Gaelic for ‘my beloved.’

Kathleen mavourneen! the gray dawn is breaking,
The horn of the hunter is heard on the hill,
The lark from her light wing the bright dew is shaking,
Kathleen mavourneen, what slumbering still?

After her schooling was done, Emma moved in with her grandmother in London, and went to work for a milliner, which she found boring. What happened next sounds like something out of a romantic novel or a bad movie, but Emma claimed that one day she came out of church to find that her maid had disappeared. She was approached by a man who offered to buy her cakes. Not suspecting that he had ulterior motives, young Emma followed him to a gin palace where she got more than cakes. It was a classic case of a man getting a vulnerable young woman drunk and taking advantage of her. In her memoirs she claimed that she was only fifteen, but she was closer to twenty. In the morning he left her with a five pound note. According to Katie Hickman in her book Courtesans, while it sounds improbable, it was very common in the 19th century. However, given Cora’s penchant for strteching the truth and her rabid dislike of the man she called her step-father; it is possible that she was molested by him, and she created the story of her seducer to give an explanation for her career choice.

Having lost her virginity, Emma knew that she couldn’t go back to her grandmother’s house. She felt her only other option was prostitution. Even though she had a job working for a milliner, many young women who worked in respectable shops turned to prostitution occasionally because wages were low. Emma took a small room and soon began entertaining gentleman callers. Her luck changed when she made the acquaintance of Robert Bignall, owner of the Argyll Rooms, a popular dance hall where many of London’s demimondaine congregated. She became his mistress and when he took her to Paris, Cora fell in love with the city. When Robert returned to England and his family, Cora stayed behind. She took the name of Cora Pearl just because she fancied the way that it sounded.

Paris was the place to be in the middle of the 19th Century during the Second Empire. It had become the center of the civilized world. The beginnings of modern French poetry, music and art began during the Second Empire, although most of the innovations were not recognized until after it was over. By the time Cora arrived, Napoleon III was several years into his reign as Emperor of the French. Born Louis-Napoleon, he was the son of Napoleon’s brother Louis, and his step-daughter Hortense de Beauharnais. With his beautiful wife the Empress Eugénie he established a glittering court of balls and parties. He was also an inveterate womanizer, his lovers included Harriet Howard and the Countess di Castiglione. His most enduring legacy would be the decision to renovate and rebuild parts of Paris under the direction of Baron Haussmann, creating the Champs Elysee and many beautiful parks.

 Cora went through a string of protectors in Paris before she hit the big time. As she moved up the food chain, she made the acquaintance of Victor Massena, the Duc de Rivoli, the man that she called the first link in her golden chain of lovers. Massena was handsome, courteous, and highly sexed. Soon they became lovers, a relationship lasted six years. While Massena was considered her 'amant en titre', or official lover, he didn’t have exclusive rights over her. Cora had a string of lovers including the Prince of Orange, the heir to the throne of the Netherlands, who gave her a string of black pearls with which she was often photographed. One of her lovers talked about finding a ledger book listing the names of her lovers, the dates of their assignations, and the amount of money they had given her.

Courtesans in 19th Century Paris: Called Le Grandes Horizontales, the Second Empire and Belle Époque Paris often became celebrities in their own right. Many young women such as Eliza Lynch, Catherine ‘Skittles’ Walter, and Cora Pearl came to Paris to set themselves up as courtesans. Even actresses such as Rachel Felix and Sarah Bernhardt were courtesans in between stage roles. Many women were fleeing bad marriages, had been ruined or turned to prostitution because it was better than the alternative, poverty. A courtesan could be kept by one or several ‘protectors’ during the course of her career. She would only stay with a lover if he could provide her with a certain standard of living. If not, she would move on to someone else. The career of a courtesan was often short as she got older and her looks faded, and younger, fresher woman took her place. So many courtesans tried to make the most of their time, racking up jewels, houses, and expensive wardrobes. As Alexandre Dumas fils put it, "Women were luxuries for public consumption life hounds, horses and carriages."

Cora Pearl was a sensation during the Second Empire. Although she wasn’t conventionally beautiful, Cora was sexy, with an enviable figure. People noted her tiny waist and her beautiful bosom. But more important than her looks was her spirit. Cora knew how to have fun; she could be spontaneous and outrageous. Once at a dinner party, a guest broke an expensive glass. Cora impulsively broke the rest of the set to make him feel more comfortable. She also knew how to throw a party, when fireworks were all the rage in Paris, Cora had the best and the brightest. Cora also genuinely liked sex, which was not necessarily a job requirement for being a courtesan. She also had a way of flattering a man without sounding like she was trying too hard.

Charles Worth: Father of Haute Couture (1825-1895) Yes, the father of Parisian Haute Couture was an Englishman. How ironic given the enmity between France and Britain over the centuries. Born in the small town of Bourne in Lincolnshire, the son of a local solicitor, Worth worked for several London textile merchants before hopping across the Channel in 1846 to Paris. After he opened his dressmaking establishment in 1858, all of Paris came calling. His clientsincluded the Empress Eugénie and Princess Pauline Metternich as well as CoraPearl. Before Worth, the dressmaker responded to the wish of the client. Worth changed all that. He created the designs, and the customer lapped it up. Four
times a year, he displayed dresses worn by models at fashion shows. Clients made
their selection, as they do today, and had the garments tailor-made. Many of Worth’s steady customers were American and English heiresses, who willing came across the ocean to buy his clothes. And they were not cheap, a Worth gown could cost hundreds of dollars. Worth used the best fabrics and trimmings; incorporating elements of historical dress in his gowns. He was known for the meticulous fit of his clothes. Worth was the first designer to put labels in the clothes he manufactured.

In order to set herself apart from the other courtesans in Paris, Cora became renowned for her skill with horses. At the height of her career, Cora owned about 60 horses, and a fleet of expensive carriages in which to ride in the parks during the peak hours. It was Cora who started the fashion for courtesans to take carriage rides in the Bois de Boulogne.

Keeping track of the Bonapartes Cora Pearl seems to have had a thing for the men in the Bonaparte family. Among her many lovers and protectors were the Duke de Morny (1811-1865), half brother of Napoleon III (son of Hortense Bonaparte and her lover the Comte de Flahaut who was himself the illegitimate son of Talleyrand), but also Prince Achille Murat (grandson of Joachim Murat, King of Naples and Caroline Bonaparte, Napoleon I’s sister), as well as Prince Napoleon (1822-1891), the Emperor's cousin. Whew! That’s a lot of Napoleons. The only one it seems she didn’t sleep with was the Emperor of the French himself.

The Duc de Mornay’s early death in 1862 left Cora without a major protector. However, she soon took up with the Duc’s cousin, Prince Napoleon, the son of Napoleon I’s brother, Jerome, ex-King of Westphalia (and ex-husband of Betsy Patterson). Known as Plon-Plon, he was no Prince Charming in the looks department. Imagine a taller, fatter Napoleon, with greasy looking black hair.But he and Cora had a great deal in common, they both loved horses, dogs and the countryside. The prince only had one flaw and that was his jealousy. While itwas perfectly permissible for him to have more than one mistress, he wasn’t quite as keen for Cora to have more than one lover. He also had something no other lover had, the ability to have Cora deported. So Cora did what any good courtesan would do. She told her other lovers to lie low, while she catered to the Prince. After several months of having her exclusively, Cora slowly went back to her old routine. She didn’t do just because no man owned her, she also did it because she needed the money they provided to maintain her lavish lifestyle. Even though Prince Napoleon was giving her over ten thousand francs a month, it wasn’t enough. She now had two houses in Paris, and a country estate, the Chateau Beauséjour.

Where the Heck is Prussia Anyway? In the 19th Century, not only was Italy not a united country, but Germany was also made up of a confederation of twenty-one states called the North German Confederation of which the Kingdom of Prussia in the 19th century was the leading state. At the time of the Franco-Prussian war, it accounted for 60% of the German Empire’s population. The country had emerged as the dominant power in Germany after the Napoleonic Wars.
Soon stories were swirling around Paris about the little English courtesan. It was said that Cora once had herself served naked on a silver plate at a fancy dinner (although this story has also been repeated about other courtesans, with Cora it wouldn’t have been out of the realm of possibility). She was also known to bathe before her dinner guests in a silver tub of expensive French champagne (ooh la la) and to dance naked on a carpet of orchids. Cora also knew how to spend money, at one point she spent thirty thousand francs in two weeks, a veritable fortune. In the winter months, she would serve fruit on a bed of Parma violets. Cora quickly figured out that in France unlike England, food actually mattered, she soon had her own personal chef named Sale. But her money not only went towards her lavish table but also to keep her in the height of fashion. Cora’s dresses were by Worth, one of the most expensive couturiers in France, her lingerie was the finest that money could buy; money was also lavished on jewelry and perfume. Cora lived in the moment, never worrying about how the bills were going to be paid. She developed a gambling habit, while traveling with the Duc de Rivoli, who finally ended the relationship, after paying her debts one too many times. But Cora wasn’t stupid; although she could be overly generous, she once sued the maker of her lingerie for overcharging her and won.

The 1860’s were the height of the Second Empire and Cora was one of the most famous courtesans in Paris. Her fame had also spread not just across Europe but also to the United States. Harper’s Weekly mentioned her in an article featured in the ? issue. And like most celebrities she had her critics who found her a bit coarse. Not that Cora cared a fig what other people thought. She died her dark hair red and blonde; she even dyed her dog’s hair blue to match one of her outfits (unfortunately the poor thing died).

Cora made her theatrical debut in Offenbach’s opera Orpheus in the Underworld playing the role of Cupid. As the daughter of a musician, and the sister of an opera singer, it seemed fitting that Cora should appear on stage. She made her entrance in a costume that seemed to consist solely of strategically placed diamonds; the soles of her boots were also covered in diamonds as well. They were later auctioned off for fifty thousand francs. Critics were kind but Cora only performed twelve times before she retired from the stage. Several students led a protest that Cora had been given the role of Cupid over a professional singer, and they disrupted the performances by hissing and booing. For Cora it was just another lark, she never had any attentions of making the stage a second career.

But the end was drawing near. Prussia was making noises, and Napoleon III pulled French troops out of Mexico, leaving his cousin Maximilian, who he had set up as Emperor, holding the bag. Instead of doing a cut and run, Maximilian decided to fight for the country he had grown to love against the forces of former President Benito Juarez, who was no doubt helped out by the US (you know how we love to meddle). Maximilian was shot in front of a firing squad in 1868. Whether out of guilt of abandoning him, or genuine affection, Napoleon decreed that the court would go into deep mourning, which meant fewer parties and lots of black clothing. Fortunately, Cora looked fetching in her Worth mourning gowns. However, no sooner was the mourning period over; then France declared war on Prussia.

Cora proved that she was more than just a frivolous courtesan by offering up her homes as hospitals for the wounded. She paid for the doctors, the medicine and anything that the soldiers needed out of her own pocket. The end of the war less than a year later was not just the end of the Second Empire; it was the end for Cora Pearl. Nothing was the same for her again. Napoleon III and the Empress had fled to England, along with Prince Napoleon. Cora went to England to join him there, the first time she had set foot back in native country in over twenty years. The visit was not a success. The plan was for her to stay at the Grosvenor Hotel, but when management found out just who their new guest was, they refused to let her stay.

The Franco-Prussian War: Yet another war that was started over who got to be King, this time of Spain. Isabella II had abdicated and Prussia wanted Prince Leopold, a member of the Hohenzollern family to replace her, which did not sit well with France. There was also the release of the Ems Dispatch which played up insults between the French ambassador and the Prussian King, which inflamed public opinion in both countries. The war raged on for almost a year, ending the Second Empire,and causing numerous casualties. The winner was Prussia with its superior army and artillery. Germany was now a unified country. They also ended up with Alsace-Lorraine, which stayed part of Germany until the First World War. Oh and Spain, after all that trouble, Alfonso XII, son of Isabella II, became King in 1875 after a short lived republic.

I have never deceived anybody because I have never belonged to anybody. My independence was all my fortune, and I have known no other happiness; and it is still what attaches me to life.”

After a few months, Cora returned to her beloved Paris, now under the third Republic. Times had changed; the mood was somber and conservative. No more glittering parties, no more social whirl. Prince Napoleon continued to support Cora until 1874 but there were few men with the resources or the inclination to keep her in the style to which she had become accustomed. And Cora wasn’t used to economizing. She ended up at one point 200,000 francs in debt, having to sell one of her beautiful houses to pay it off. It was then that Cora met the man who would be her ultimate downfall.

His name was Alexandre Duval. Twelve years younger than Cora, incredibly handsome and wealthy, Alexandre wouldn’t take no for an answer. His family had made their fortune with a chain restaurant, the 19th Century equivalent of Denny's. He basically stalked Cora. If times had been different, Cora would have stuck to her guns and continued her refusals. But a girl had to eat, and Alexandre was swimming in francs. However, Cora soon bankrupted him, and with no more money, no more Cora. His family wasn't about to let him ruin the family business by giving him more money. What happened next is a matter of conjecture; Cora left the story of what went on that fateful day out of her memoirs. Unfortunately Cora’s silence contributed to the perception that she was cold-hearted.

Duval showed up at Cora’s house and tried to force his way in. He waved around a gun which he proceeded to use, shooting himself in the side on her doorstep. Cora either called immediately for help, or not realizing the seriousness of the situation, shut the door and went upstairs to bed. It seems hard to believe, that after being so generous during the Franco-Prussian war, that Cora would all of a sudden turn cold in the face of a man in pain. Whatever the truth, rumors spread that Cora had cruelly left him injured. Although Duval survived, her reputation was ruined. She was asked to leave France. Cora spent time in Monte Carlo with a friend who was being kept by the son of the Prince of Monaco. After a discreet amount of time, Cora came back to Paris, but her days of glory were over. There would be no more rich protectors. In dire straits, she was forced to have to sell her mansions that she adored, and her expensive jewelry and artwork.

Indigent, she ended up in a small boarding house, where she died in 1886 from stomach cancer. She was only 51 years old. Only twenty people attended her funeral, which was paid for by the few of her lovers that were still alive. Before her death, her memoirs were published in a slim volume with all the names changed to protect her lovers. But readers quickly deduced who they were. The rest of her belongings were auctioned off after her death for a small sum. Cora was buried under her original name of Eliza Emma Crouch at Batignolles Cemetary in grave #10, Row 4.

Cora Pearl’s life can be seen as a cautionary tale of what can happen to a woman without the protection of marriage. It also illustrates the dangers of living in the moment and not preparing sufficiently for the future. But then Cora wasn’t prepared for the party to end. And she had no regrets about the way she lived her life. As she wrote in her memoirs, "I have had a happy life; I have squandered money enormously. I am far from posing as a victim; it would be ungrateful of me to do so. I ought to have saved, but saving is not easy in such a whirl of excitement as that in which I have lived. Between what one ought to do and what one does there is always a difference."

Cora would have disappeared from history if it were not for her memoirs, which paint a vivid picture of life during the Second Empire. She also lives on in Emile Zola’s classic novel Nana as Lucy Stewart. Of course, in Zola's novel, Nana comes to a bad end just like Cora.

Courtesans – Katie Hickman, Harper Collins, 2006
Virginia Rounding, Grandes Horizontales: The Lives and Legends of Four Nineteenth-Century Courtesans. London: Bloomsbury, 2004.
Seductresses – Betsy Prioleau, NAL/Penguin, 2006
Book of Courtesans – Susan Griffin
World’s Wickedest Women – Margaret Nicholas
The Courtesans: The Demi-Monde in 19th-Century France - Joanna Richardson,London: Phoenix Press, 2000

Monday, November 24, 2008

Scandalous Movie Review: Mary, Queen of Scots

(1971) Starring Vanessa Redgrave (Mary, Queen of Scots), Glenda Jackson (Elizabeth I), Nigel Davenport (Bothwell), Timothy Dalton (Henry, Lord Darnley), Ian Holm (David Riccio), Patrick McGoohan (James Stewart, Earl of Moray) and Daniel Massey (Robert Dudley), directed by Hal Wallis, Universal Pictures

The film opens with the death of Mary’s first husband Francois II after he goes out riding. Mary is distraught and Catherine de Medici blames her for her son’s death. Instead, Mary decides to go back to Scotland to take up the throne. She is refused safe passage through English waters but determines to go anyway. Upon arriving in Scotland, she is met by her half-brother James Stewart, the Earl of Moray who has determined that Mary will be Queen in name only. Mary is perturbed to discover that there is no grand welcoming for her arrival but she takes in stride, and even manages to joust verbally with John Knox who shows up at the dock to harangue her for being a Catholic. In the meantime, Bothwell who had gone to Scotland to see Mary ends up in an English prison after his ship is taken by Elizabeth.

Mary and her brother struggle over who will be the real ruler of Scotland. Elizabeth in the meantime determines that since Mary must marry, it would be to her advantage to have her marry Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester who is rumored to be her lover. However, Elizabeth also sends Henry, Lord Darnley, Mary’s cousin who has grown up in England as well. It is revealed that her real plan is for Mary to marry Darnley, not Dudley.

Mary and Darnley marry but almost immediately he reveals his true colors, that he is petulant and weak with a fondness for drink and other women. Mary’s love for him quickly turns to disgust. His jealousy of Mary’s secretary David Riccio leads to him becoming involved in a plot to kill the Italian. One night in the Queen’s private chambers, several Scottish nobles led by Lord Ruthven, and including Darnley, burst in and drag off Riccio, stabbing him 56 times. Mary manages to convince Darnley to help her escape. She rides off to Bothwell’s home (Bothwell finally having been freed from captivity in England), Hermitage Castle where she gives birth to the future James VI of Scotland.

Mary proves merciful to the conspirators, although she continues to deny Darnley her bed. The conspirators turn on Darnley, for having double-crossed them, and arrange to have him killed. There is a huge explosion at the house where he is living, and Darnley is later found strangled in the garden. Mary turns to Bothwell for comfort and several months after Darnley’s death, they are married. But the nobles, led by her half-brother, turn against Mary and demand her abdication. When Mary refuses, Morny tells her that he has proof in the “casket letters” that Mary was involved in the murder of Darnley. Mary is forced to sign over her rights and is escorted to the border into England. Bothwell tells Mary that he will go to Denmark to raise funds and troops to help her regain her throne.

In England, Elizabeth and Mary secretly meet. Elizabeth refuses to help Mary regain her throne and imprisons her. Years go by, and Mary has finally worn out her welcome. Elizabeth is reluctant to execute her unless there is hard evidence that is not faked that Mary has been involved in a conspiracy against her. When proof is found, Mary is put on trial and found guilty. Elizabeth visits her once again just before her execution. Mary goes to the scaffold with dignity and is beheaded.

The “Casket Letters”:
These were 8 letters that Mary allegedly wrote to Bothwell. The Earl of Morton claimed to have found them in a silver box marked with the letter “F” (for Francois II)along with a bunch of other documents including Mary and Bothwell's marriage lines. These letters purportedly implicated Mary in Darnley’s murder, but Mary insisted that they were forgeries, that her handwriting was easy to imitate. The letters were also never brought forth while Mary was held captive in Scotland for almost a year. They only came to light when Mary was charged with Darnley's murder while in English custody. Historians have argued about the authenticity of these letters for centuries. Mary's current biographers, including Lady Antonia Fraser, believe that they are forgeries.

I found this movie to be incredibly disappointing. While it follows the basic outline of Mary’s story, it is riddled with historical inaccuracies, missing scenes and bland performances. While Vanessa Redgrave is an amazing actress and physically looks a great deal like Mary, the script requires her to play the role as a hysterical dimwit. The fact that Mary ruled Scotland for almost five years with little incident is completely glossed over in favor of the drama of her marriage to Lord Darnley which is poorly developed. The film also skips over Mary’s trial for Darnley’s murder when she arrived in England as well as her love for animals. Redgrave comes into her own in the final scenes as Mary is preparing for her death and the scene where she learns that her son has been corresponding with Elizabeth while he has never answered any of her letters.

The audience never sees the progression of her romance with Darnley. There is only one scene of the two of them together, riding on the beach, when Darnley falls off his horse, and Mary is distraught. We never see him or Robert Dudley arrive at the Scottish court, so we have no idea why she would prefer Darnley over Dudley. We are told it is because Dudley is one of Elizabeth’s cast-offs, and there is the suspicion that he murdered his first wife, in order to be free to marry Elizabeth. Darnley and Mary are quickly married and then Darnley reveals his true colors like on the wedding night. The film also implies that Darnley and David Riccio were lovers, which as far as I know, is a complete invention of the screenwriters. Darnley was jealous of Riccio because of his closeness to the Queen, and Riccio believed that Darnley was not fit to be King. There is evidence that they were initially friendly, but I don’t know how you make the leap from friendly to sex buddies.

Timothy Dalton portrayal of Darnley conforms to the historical record, but he is never given a chance to show the audience why Mary fell in love with him in the first place. The film spends more time setting up the Bothwell/Mary relationship. Also, Mary was six months pregnant when Riccio was murdered, she didn’t give birth at Bothwell’s castle, but at Edinburgh Castle.

The relationship with Bothwell is portrayed as a true love match. When Bothwell tells Mary he’s going to Denmark, Mary cries that she can’t live without him. The historical Bothwell was apparently not that noble, he was ambitious and wily. He’d been divorced by his wife for sleeping with her servant, and he’d toyed with the affections of a Norwegian noblewoman, Anna Tronds, who he’d been engaged to.

The film’s dominating performance is Glenda Jackson, reprising her role as Elizabeth I, that she so ably portrayed in the television miniseries Elizabeth R. Whenever she’s on screen, the film comes alive, which not a good thing when the movie is called Mary,Queen of Scots. While there is no evidence that Mary and Elizabeth actually met, I had no problem with the screenwriters concocting a secret meeting between the two. However, having two secret meetings diluted the drama. Also Mary was not escorted into England; she fled into England after having been defeated in the Battle of Langside.

While the movie was disappointing, it’s so far the only recent version of the life of Mary Queen of Scots, apart from a British miniseries called Gunpowder, Treason and Plot which focuses on Mary and her son James VI (Part One is about Mary and Part Two deals with the Gunpowder Plot), which is not available in US format on DVD. Despite the many movies and miniseries that have depicted the life of Elizabeth I in the past 30 years, poor Mary gets short shrift as a subplot. Recently it was announced that Scarlett Johansen was going to portray Mary in a new film which as yet doesn’t have a start date.

What Mary, Queen of Scots, deserves is a major miniseries even if it requires two actresses to play the role, one to portray the young Queen from 18-25 during her years as Queen, and then an older actress to portray Mary during her years of imprisonment.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Scandalous Book Review: In the Shadow of the Lion

I recently received a copy of Ginger Garrett's new book In the Shadow of the Lion. I was a little trepidatious at first, I don't normally read Christian or inspirational fiction. Although I've grew up reading authors such as C.S. Lewis, Lloyd Douglas (yes, I actually read The Robe), Thomas B. Costain and Taylor Caldwell (Dear and Glorious Physician about St. Luke) and I adored The Red Tent, I've always tried to avoid overtly Christian books. I don't want to be preached to while I read. But I was intrigued when I read the back cover.

“I am the first writer, The Scribe. My books lie open before the Throne, and someday will be the only witness of your people and their time in this world. The stories are forgotten here, and the Day draws close. I will tell you one of my stories. You will record it.”

So begins the narration of an angel in this sweeping historical tale set during the reign of England’s Henry VIII. It is the story of two women, their guardian angels, and a mysterious, subversive book … a book that outrages some, inspires others, and launches the Protestant Reformation.

The devout Anne Boleyn catches the eye of a powerful king and uses her influence to champion an English translation of the Bible—Scriptures the common people could read for themselves. Meanwhile, Rose, a broken, suicidal woman of the streets, is moved to seek God when she witnesses Thomas More’s public displays of Christian charity, ignorant of his secret life spent eradicating the same book, persecuting anyone who dares read it. Historic figures come alive in this thrilling story of heroes and villains, saints and sinners, angels and mortals … and the sacred book that will inspire you anew.

A book that doesn't paint Anne Boleyn as a dark-haired temptress, swanning around the court, luring Henry away from Catherine of Aragon? One that depicts her as a woman of faith? Sign me up! This is one time that I'm glad that I put my prejudices away and picked up this book. It is incredibly well written and will appeal to anyone who is interested in this period of English history, as well as anyone who is interested in a fascinating story. I was particularly struck by the character of Rose, who has been mistreated and is distrustful not only that there is a God but of men in general. She is rescued by Sir Thomas More and brought into his household as a servant. Through her eyes, the reader gets to see a side of Sir Thomas More that is a more human portrait than the almost saint in Robert Bolt's A Man for All Seasons.

What I found most interesting about the book was the use of William Tyndale's English translation of the Bible. Here is he called by the name that he used at Oxford, William Hutchins. Garrett ably lets the reader know exactly what an English translation would mean not just to the common people of England but to women in general, if they could actually read what was written in the Bible and the role that women played, they might not be as content to stay in their place. One of the strengths of the book is that the arguments on both sides are equally weighted. On the pro side one has Anne Boleyn, and other the con side Sir Thomas More and Cardinal Wolsley. Garrett vividly portrays the tenor of the times when heretics were being burned at the stake and tortured on the tack for their beliefs.

While the characters spend time talking about the nature of faith, I never felt that I was beat over the head with it. It flowed naturally out of the story and the period of history in which it is set. If there is any flaw in the book, its that it encapsulates ten years of history into one year. I would have preferred if the book had had a larger scope and allowed the story to play out in its natural time frame, but that's a small quibble. I also felt that the third story of Bridget received short shrift in the telling.

Given the general interest in all things Tudor lately (you can't walk into a bookstore without tripping over all the fiction titles that have come out recently) and the popularity of the Showtime series, I expect that this book will find an audience, if readers are willing to take the chance on reading something that might be outside of their comfort zone.

Read more about the book and read the first chapter at Ginger Garrett's web-site and stay tuned next week for my interview with the author.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Grace Kelly - America's Princess

She was the beautiful movie star loved by millions who gave up her career to become a Princess in the Wedding of the Century (until Lady Diana Spencer’s wedding to Prince Charles twenty-five years later) only to die a tragic death too young.

Today marks what would have been the 79th birthday of HSH Princess Grace of Monaco. She was born Grace Patricia Kelly on November 12th, 1929 in Philadelphia, PA. She was named after her father’s sister, an aspiring actress who had died young at the age of 23. Her father, Jack Kelly was a self-made millionaire, the son of Irish immigrants. His older brother Patrick had started his own brickworks business, where Jack learned the ropes. Charming and charismatic, his dream was to win the Diamond Skulls at Henley. Unfortunately due to a problem with his sponsor, Jack was unable to compete. He spun the story for years that he was denied entrance because he worked with his hands. In revenge, Jack won the gold medal at the 1920 Olympics. Returning to the States, he borrowed money to open his own business, Brickworks by Kelly, competing with his own brother. His favorite brother Charles came to work for him, managing the books, causing a family rift that lasted for years.

Her mother, Margaret Majer’s family by contrast was German, and aristocratic. After the family lost all their money, they immigrated to the United States. Margaret went to Temple University, and became the first woman to teach athletics at the University of Pennsylvania. Grace’s parents met when her mother was 14 and Jack was 24. After he returned to the States, he pursued Margaret, who led him a merry chase before she consented to marry him in 1924. In nine years, Margaret gave birth to four children, oldest child Peggy, only son Jack known as Kell, Grace, and Lizanne.

Unlike her more boisterous siblings, Grace was quiet and shy. She suffered constantly from colds, was myopic, and lacked a killer instinct. Although she later excelled at swimming and tennis, Grace was never as athletic as her parents wanted her to be. From an early age, it was clear that Peggy was the preferred child in the family, while Kell was groomed from childhood to win the Diamond Skulls at Henley, despite his lack of interest in rowing. Nothing much was expected of Grace, she was the forgotten child in the family. As her father once remarked, “What is Grace sniveling about now?”

While her father was gregarious and social (he once ran for mayor of Philadelphia), Margaret Kelly was controlled. Although she knew that her husband was unfaithful to her, she never let her emotions show. She never let on how her husband’s infidelities hurt her. While she loved her children, she was less than demonstrative. Not one for hugging and kissing, she showed her love through discipline. It wasn’t until Grace was an adult, that she and her mother forged a deeper relationship. Despite the fact that her siblings teased and bullied her during her childhood, all four siblings were extremely close, closing ranks against any outsider, who dared to criticize one of them.

From childhood, Grace was determined on a career in the theater. She came by her talent naturally; her paternal Uncles were in the theater. George Kelly was a noted playwright who won the Pulitzer Prize for his play Craig’s Wife (his plays are still revived by theater companies today), and her uncle Walter was a noted vaudevillian. She made her stage debut with an amateur theater company at the age of 12 in her Uncle George’s play The Torchbearers.

By the time she reached high school Grace had developed into a beauty. Five foot seven with porcelain skin, and clear blue eyes, she had a willowy figure. She started to date, and had several beau including a friend of her brother’s who later died after suffering from multiple sclerosis.

On the surface, Grace seemed like the perfect girl, polite to a fault, the kind of girl that you would take home to mother. But she was also headstrong and determined. Her first choice of college was Bennington in Vermont, but her application got in late because most of the focus in the family was on Kell and Henley. Also, there were so many men going to college on the G.I. Bill that colleges were full. Instead Grace enrolled at the prestigious American Academy of Dramatic Art to study acting. To appease her parents, she moved into the Barbizon Hotel for Women, which had a strict policy of no men allowed anywhere in the hotel. Grace’s parents believed that she’d give up the nonsense idea of being an actress and return home in a few weeks, but Grace was determined to prove them wrong. She threw herself into her studies. To make money since her father kept her on a tight leash in terms of her allowance, Grace pursued modeling and commercial work, soon earning over $400 a week. She was now able to pay her own way. Despite her achievements, neither of her parents ever praised her.

It was Grace was at the Academy that she had the first serious relationship of her adult life. Don Richardson was her parent’s nightmare. Not only was he one of her instructors, but he was also older, married although separated and Jewish. When Grace brought him home to meet the folks, not only did her father and brother treat him disgracefully but her mother went through his things, where she found not only his divorce papers but also condoms! Which just goes to show you, when you snoop you never find out anything good.

Grace’s parents forbid her to have anything to do with Don Richardson. To add insult to injury, Grace was forced to return home until graduation and to commute from Philly to New York for auditions. Unbeknownst to her parents, Grace continued to see Richardson along with a host of other men including the Shah of Iran and Aly Kahn. Her next choice of boyfriend didn’t please her parents either. While working in summer stock, Grace met actor Gene Lyons. Like Don Richardson, Gene was older and married although he was in the process of getting an annulment. However he was Irish Catholic, which was a point in his favor. Grace ultimately ended the relationship when she realized his love of the bottle was stronger than his love for her.

Grace finally made her Broadway debut, starring with noted actor Raymond Massey in a revival of Strindberg’s The Father. When her father went backstage, Massey was surprised to see him there (they had become acquainted through their interesting in rowing). Grace hadn’t mentioned to Massey that her father was Jack Kelly. The revival only lasted 67 performances, and soon Grace was back auditioning. Like many New York actors, Grace appeared in many television dramas that were filmed live. She had signed with MCA to represent her, and soon the movies came knocking on her door. She made her film debut in a small movie filmed on location in New York called Fourteen Hours. Although she enjoyed the experience, Grace was determined to be a great stage actress. However, fate had other plans for Grace. A screen test for another film role that didn’t pan out was seen by director Fred Zinnemann who hired Grace to play the young Quaker wife of Gary Cooper in the now classic film High Noon.

Grace fell hard for Coop on the film, despite the huge age difference. Although Cooper was married, he was separated from his wife Rocky and in the middle of a tempestuous relationship with actress Patricia Neal (he also had a brief fling with Prince Rainier’s girlfriend Gisele Pascal!). Coop was the start of a string of romances with much older men, many of whom were co-stars. An occupational hazard since the dawn of the cinema, in Grace’s case, her passionate nature went against the 1950’s notion that good girls didn’t until they got married. Grace, however, did and often. It was this contrast that fascinated filmmakers including Alfred Hitchcock.

A psychiatrist would have told Grace that these relationships were a way of her seeking the approval and love that her father withheld from her. It also made her parents pay attention to her as they worried about these clearly unsuitable relationships that Grace continued to involve herself in. Rumors flew through Hollywood about Grace and Clark Gable on the set of Mogambo, a remake of one of Gable’s earlier pictures Red Dust. Grace reminded Gable of his wife Carole Lombard, who died tragically in a plane crash during World War II on a war bonds mission. Grace, on her part, called Gable ‘Ba’ which sounded like Pa; the nickname Lombard had given him. Although Grace was infatuated with him, Gable knew that the relationship would never work.

The next relationship that Grace embarked upon almost ruined her career. She met Ray Milland while working on her first film with Hitchcock Dial M for Murder. Milland fell head over heels in love with Grace and her with him. When Milland’s wife Mal found out, she threw him out of the house. Grace found herself written up in the tabloids as a home wrecker. Gossip columnist Hedda Hopper spread rumors that she was a nymphomaniac. The relationship finally ended when Milland realized how much it would cost him in a divorce.

In the meantime, Grace’s parents continued to fix her up with a steady stream of ‘appropriate’ suitors meaning non actors. It appears that Grace didn’t learn her lesson from the relationship with Milland. She next embarked on a torrid affair with William Holden who played her husband in The Bridges of Tokyo-Ri. Holden had fallen in love with Audrey Hepburn while making Sabrina and was willing to divorce his wife, actress Brenda Marshall, but the relationship ended when Holden admitted he’d had a vasectomy after the birth of his second son. Hepburn, desiring children, broke up with him and married Mel Ferrer. Grace and Holden enjoyed each other’s company, but Grace was still on the rebound from Milland.

Grace next had a brief fling with Bing Crosby, her co-star in The Country Wife who was recently

widowed and wasted no time getting back on the horse as it were. Ironically Bing Crosby hadn’t wanted Grace for the role of his wife, Georgie Elgin. He thought she was too beautiful, and he doubted she had the acting chops to play the role. Soon Grace had him eating crow. The role earned Grace her second Academy Award nomination, this time as Best Actress. Her father’s comment when her name was announced was typical Jack Kelly. He expressed his shock that Grace would be the one to take care of him in his old age. It was yet another hurtful comment from her father, who couldn’t understand why Grace took his remarks so seriously. Perhaps it was his tendency to go and on about her older sister Peggy whenever a reporter asked him about his famous daughter.

Grace’s next relationship was sure to continue to send her parents blood pressure shooting through the roof. Designer Oleg Cassini, had been smitten with Grace ever sent he had seen Mogambo. After being introduced in a Manhattan restaurant, Cassini pursued Grace relentlessly. He was suave and continental, and better yet, he was single! When she flew to the South of France to film To Catch a Thief, she sent Cassini a postcard inviting him to follow her. While Grace wanted to marry Cassini and was unofficially engaged to him, she still wanted and craved her parents’ approval. Her mother was the first to meet Cassini and was not impressed. Although the designer came from an aristocratic Russian family and had grown up in Florence, not only was the designer sixteen years Grace’s senior but he was also twice divorced with two children, one of whom was born mentally handicapped. When Grace invited Cassini to spend the weekend with her family in Ocean City, NJ, both her brother and her father refused to acknowledge his existence. Cassini was hurt by Grace’s silence, expecting her to defend the man she loved. Still they continued to see each other. Years later, it was rumored that Grace fell pregnant with Cassini’s child and had an abortion. Given Grace’s desire for a family, it seems pretty improbable. A child would have given her the impetus to marry Cassini despite the disapproval of her family. Cassini was not the only man she was seeing; she also spent time with French actor, Jean-Pierre Aumont. When intimate pictures of the two dining together appeared in the tabloids of the two in France, Grace suspected that Aumont had tipped off photographers.

By 1955, Grace was dissatisfied with her life. Her Academy Award had not led to better parts with MGM. She had only made one film for the studio since Mogambo, a clunker called Green Ice with Stewart Granger. Rather than make movies she considered second rate, Grace continued to turn down film after film including Quentin Durward with Robert Taylor. Both of her sisters were married with children, as were several of her friends. Grace began to realize the problem that all successful women face eventually. She realized that she needed a man who wouldn’t be overshadowed by her fame. The last thing she wanted was the possibility of her husband being called “Mr. Kelly.”

On a visit to the Cannes Film Festival in May of 1955, Grace was persuaded to visit Monaco by Olivia de Haviland’s husband Pierre Galante. An audience was arranged with Prince Rainier to be photographed by Paris Match. The meeting turned into a comedy of errors. Everything that could go wrong did, from an electricity strike at Grace’s hotel which meant that she could neither dry her hair nor press her clothes. Instead she was forced to wear a hideous dress with big cabbage roses and a flowered headband. At the palace, the group was kept waiting by the Prince who was running late. After more than an hour, the Prince appeared just as Grace was about to give up and leave.

The Prince escorted Grace through the formal gardens and showed off his personal zoo, impressing her by petting a baby tiger. He expressed his intentions to visit the US in the future. Reluctantly she took her leave to return to Cannes were she was scheduled to host a reception. It was clear that she was intrigued by the Prince who she found utterly charming. The prince was also intrigued by Grace, who found beautiful and poised, unlike the characters such as the dowdy Georgie Elgin in The Country Girl. It appeared that the Prince had found his potential Princess.

At the time of their meeting, Prince Rainier had been on the throne of Monaco for six years, having succeeded to the throne on his 26th birthday. He was born on May 31st, 1923 to Princess Charlotte, daughter of Louis II, and Prince Pierre de Polignac. His parents were divorced when he was small, and Rainier and his sister Antoinette were raised by his grandfather. Like Grace, he had suffered a lonely childhood, his parents who hated each other, used him and his sister as pawns. He was sent to boarding school in England at an early age where he was teased for being overweight. After running away from school, he was finally set to Le Rosey in Switzerland where he was more comfortable among the children of the International jet set. He served in the French army during WWII, before assuming the throne after his grandfather’s death. Rainier was now 32 and anxious to get married. He had huge plans for Monaco to turn it from a backwater principality, dependent on the revenues from the Casino, to an international destination. For six years he had been involved with an actress, Gisele Pascal. While he admired her independence, he was not happy with her career which took her away for periods of time. Tired of waiting for him to make up his mind, Gisele broke up with him; although the rumor was that she had failed a fertility test. She soon married another actor and had a daughter.

It was Rainier’s spiritual advisor, Father Tucker, who took matters into his own hands, to play matchmaker. On paper, Grace seemed to have all the qualifications necessary for a princess. She was beautiful, poised, wealthy and most important, a devout Catholic. Father Tucker inquired discreetly into her background and was pleased with what he heard. During this time, Grace and the Prince kept up a running correspondence of letters and phone calls, getting to know each other the old fashioned way. Grace was a huge believer not only in astrology, tarot cards and psychics but also in signs. Her next movie for MGM was The Swan based on a Ferenc Molnar play where she a princess named Alexandra. It was a role she loved having played it in summer stock and in an earlier TV production.

Prince Rainer arrived in the States in time for the Christmas holidays of 1955, making his way to Philadelphia to meet the Kelly family. When Grace’s mother first heard about his interest in her daughter, she thought that Rainier was the prince of Morocco! Monaco was a totally unknown country in the US, smaller in acreage than Central Park. Grace’s marriage to Rainier would put it on the map. After meeting her family and friends, Rainier finally popped the question, on a traffic island, in the middle of New York City. Her friends were a little shocked and amazed that Grace was willing to get engaged to man that she barely knew. But for the first time in her life, Grace had brought home someone her parents approved of, more important than that, her father was now impressed. Although the Kelly’s were moderately wealthy, they had never been accepted by Main Line society in Philadelphia, Jack Kelly was only one generation from the bogs of Ireland. Grace marrying Rainier was a way for Margaret and Jack Kelly to stick to the snobs who had looked down at them all those years.

Before the wedding could take place, the future bride not only had to be examined to see if she was capable of bearing kids (which sent Grace into a panic of what to do about the fact that she was no longer a virgin), but there was also a financial arrangement to take care of, and the question of whether or not Grace would be able to continue her career. Rainier was adamant that it would be unseemly for a Princess to be seen making love to another man on screen, but Grace was sure that she could eventually make him see reason.

After finishing her last film playing Tracy Lord in High Society for MGM, Grace and her family set sail for Monaco where the wedding was to be held. Margaret Kelly had hoped to have the wedding in Philadelphia, so much easier to lord it over Philadelphia society that way. Not able to show off her daughter, Margaret instead consented to a series of embarrassing articles that were published; detailing her daughter’s various romances. Grace was livid with her mother, causing hurt feelings between both women that weren’t resolved for several months.

As part of her deal with MGM, they received exclusive rights to film the wedding, and costume designer Helen Rose created Grace’s wedding dress to the tune of $8,000. She was also given a bonus of $70,000 and the wardrobe from her last film High Society for her trousseau. Grace had expected the studio to play hardball since she had to pull out of her next film, Designing Women, which was to reteam her with Jimmy Stewart. Instead, for once, MGM was amenable. The only thing they asked was that if she ever made another film that it be with MGM.

It was a weeklong extravaganza in Monaco when Grace arrived with her family and friends for the wedding. It was also the first time that she was meeting the rest of Rainier’s family. She had already met his father, Prince Pierre, who took to Grace immediately. The rest of Rainier’s family never warmed to her, in particular his mother Princess Charlotte, and his sister Princess Antoinette. Grace got off on the wrong foot with Antoinette by asking her to be a bridesmaid, even bringing along a dress for her. Antoinette considered her always to be a vulgar American, who wasn’t worthy to replace her as Monaco’s First Lady. The Grimaldi’s also looked down on the Kelly family, who weren’t used to royal protocol and found it daunting.

On April 19, 1956, Grace officially became Princess Grace of Monaco after both civil and religious ceremonies. Grace wasn't the first American princess of Monaco. That honor went to Alice Heine of New Orleans, who married Rainier's great grandfather, after her first husband the Duc de Richelieu died. Like Grace, Alice found life in Monaco difficult and left after eleven years of marriage.

The wedding was filmed and shown in theaters around the world. The profits that Grace and Rainier received went to charity. Grace settled down to her most difficult role, Princess of Monaco, made more stressful by not only living in a foreign country that she had only ever visited once, but also having to speak a foreign language. Grace’s French was passable, but it was difficult at times for her to understand or to make herself understood. Even the birth of her first two children, Caroline in 1957 and Albert a year later in 1958 didn’t help. Grace spiraled into a deep depression, complicated by the death of her father in 1960 after a short illness. Despite all her efforts, her marriage to Rainier, didn’t mean that much to Jack Kelly after all. He was never comfortable at the Palace where he wasn’t top dog, nor did he like being replaced in his daughter’s affections. It appeared that Grace had married Rainier for nothing.

However, unlike Prince Charles, Rainier was actually somewhat sensitive to his wife’s needs. Although he would have preferred that she just get on with it, he made an effort to try and understand why she was so depressed. Grace’s depression was also compounded by the two miscarriages after Albert’s birth. Finally, Rainier called Alfred Hitchcock to see if he had a role for Grace. It turned out that Hitchcock was developing a film based on a novel by Winston Graham (of Poldark fame) called Marnie, about a young woman with sexual problems who was also a kleptomaniac. It would have been a huge acting challenge for Grace and totally different from any character she had ever portrayed. Unfortunately when the citizens of Monaco got wind of Grace’s plans, they protested loudly and vehemently at the prospect. Grace had no choice but to turn the role down. Tippi Hedren played the part instead. Grace realized that her film career was definitely over. The only way that she could resume her career was to divorce Rainier, and that was not an option. It would mean leaving her children in Monaco, and Grace would never do that.

So she threw herself headlong into her role as Princess of Monaco. Like any good actress, she did her research, modeling her behavior after that of the British Monarchy (more Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth than other royals). She became more Royal than Rainier in a way. In the process, the fun loving, spontaneous Grace was replaced by a woman who was similar to her mother in many ways. The independent Grace, who left home and made her own money, took on the studios and had relationships with inappropriate men, was the past. In her place, Grace frequently railed against women’s liberation, decried sex and violence in films, and searched the Almanach de Gotha for a suitable husband for Caroline.

Ironically for Grace, she became even stricter as a mother than her own had been. She excused her behavior by pointing out that the times were less innocent than when she was growing up and she was raising Princesses. While Caroline studied for her exams, Grace moved into an apartment in Paris with Stephanie, in order to keep an eye on her. It was a huge mistake. Paparazzi staked out the apartment, Caroline felt constrained by her mother, and Stephanie was hitting puberty. Grace found herself fighting a losing battle, the girls had heard about their mother’s somewhat racy past, and felt that she was being hypocritical.

When Caroline announced that she wanted to marry Philippe Junot, a much older playboy with no visible means of support, Grace was at her wits end. Caroline had threatened to move in with Junot if she couldn’t marry him. Grace and Rainier finally agreed, although as Grace put it, “at least she’ll have a successful second marriage.”

As Grace grew older, she found an outlet for her creativity by performing in poetry readings across Europe and the United States, and serving on the board of Twentieth Century Fox. She narrated the documentary, The Children of Theater Street. She and Rainier were set to settle into a comfortable old age. Although it turned out they had nothing really in common besides their children and their religion, they had come to a workable solution in their marriage. In 1981, they celebrated twenty-five years of marriage.

How Princess Grace would have handled the third half of her life, we’ll never know. While returning from their country home Roc Agel, Grace lost control of her car and plunged off the side of the road. She was brought to the hospital that bore her name, along with Princess Stephanie who suffered a serious cervical fracture. Unfortunately the hospital didn’t possess a CAT scan; the only one in Monaco belonged to a doctor in private practice. By the time the machine was fetched, it was too late. Grace was brain dead. The family reluctantly decided to take her off life support. On September 14, 1982 and the young age of 52, Princess Grace died peacefully. Rumors immediately flew that Stephanie had been the one driving the car; that they were arguing when the car went off the road. Instead, it appeared that Grace had a minor stroke while driving, and the accident caused a second massive stroke.

The country was plunged into deep mourning. Grace’s mother Margaret had suffered a stroke several years earlier, and never knew of the deaths of her children (Grace’s older brother Kell died a few years later of a heart attack while jogging). At her funeral, four hundred guests attended including Princess Diana, who had bonded with Princess Grace just before her marriage. When Diana had asked Grace if it ever got easier, Grace assured her with a smile, “Oh no, dear, it will get much worse.” Several months after her death, ABC aired a TV movie starring Cheryl Ladd as Princess Grace. In the years since her death, book after book as come out about Grace that seem to emphasize her early romances over her years as an actress or her life as a Princess. Despite the revelations that Grace was not the usual good girl that she seemed to be, they haven't tarnished her reputation. It only seems to make her appear more modern to contemporary readers.

A hole was left in the Grimaldi family. Rainier was never the same after his wife’s death. He continued to reign until his own death in 2005. Caroline remarried to Stefano Casiraghi by whom she had three children before his untimely death in 1990. In a twist of fate, her third husband is the man that her mother had always wanted her to marry, Prince Ernst of Hanover. Albert, now fifty, is still unmarried. He has always said that finding a Princess to replace his mother is almost impossible. Stephanie is the child who seems to have suffered the most since her mother’s death. The rumor that it was somehow her fault has never died. She has plunged from one career to another, from one disastrous relationship to another.

Grace’s legacy lives on in her children but also in the eleven films that she did, some of them classics like To Catch a Thief and Rear Window. There is also the Princess Grace foundation, which was created in 1964. The American Film Institute ranked Grace Kelly #13 on their list of Greatest Female Stars of All Time. And in 2003, the Henley Royal Regetta renamed the Women’s Quadruple Skulls the Princess Grace Challenge Cup. In 2006, the Philadelphia Museum of Art hosted an exhibition called Fit for a Princess: Grace Kelly's Wedding Dress in honor of the fiftieth anniversary of Princess Grace and Prince Rainier’s wedding. But to many, she was living proof that fairy-tales do come true, at least for a little while.


True Grace – Wendy Leigh
Grace Kelly’s Men – Jane Ellen Wayne
Grace: The Secret Lives of a Princess – James Spada
One Upon a Time: Behind the Fairy Tale of Princess Grace and Prince Rainer – J. Randy Taraborelli
The Royal House of Monaco: Dynasty of Glamour, Tardey and Scandal -John Glatt

Scandalous Interview: Kris Waldherr, Author of Doomed Queens

I've been trying to be fiscally responsible by not buying new books, but I ended up in Barnes & Noble on my birthday where I found the perfect book for me. Doomed Queens by Kris Waldherr (Broadway Books). It spoke to be from the New Book's shelf and I had to have it.

The subtitle is Royal Women Who Met Bad Ends from Cleopatra to Princess Di. Not only is this book exceedlingly fun and well written but it's illustrated by Kris as well. The minute I saw Marie Antoinette on the cover, I knew I had to have it.

Here's the book's description on Amazon:

"Illicit love, madness, betrayal--it isn’t always good to be the queen.

Marie Antoinette, Anne Boleyn, and Mary, Queen of Scots. What did they have in common? For a while they were crowned in gold, cosseted in silk, and flattered by courtiers. But in the end, they spent long nights in dark prison towers and were marched to the scaffold where they surrendered their heads to the executioner. And they are hardly alone in their undignified demises. Throughout history, royal women have had a distressing way of meeting bad ends--dying of starvation, being burned at the stake, or expiring in childbirth while trying desperately to produce an heir. They always had to be on their toes and all too often even devious plotting, miraculous pregnancies, and selling out their sisters was not enough to keep them from forcible consignment to religious orders. From Cleopatra (suicide by asp), to Princess Caroline (suspiciously poisoned on her coronation day), there’s a gory downside to being blue-blooded when you lack a Y chromosome.

Kris Waldherr’s elegant little book is a chronicle of the trials and tribulations of queens across the ages, a quirky, funny, utterly macabre tribute to the dark side of female empowerment. Over the course of fifty irresistibly illustrated and too-brief lives, Doomed Queens charts centuries of regal backstabbing and intrigue. We meet well-known figures like Catherine of Aragon, whose happy marriage to Henry VIII ended prematurely when it became clear that she was a starter wife--the first of six. And we meet forgotten queens like Amalasuntha, the notoriously literate Ostrogoth princess who overreached politically and was strangled in her bath. While their ends were bleak, these queens did not die without purpose. Their unfortunate lives are colorful cautionary tales for today’s would-be power brokers--a legacy of worldly and womanly wisdom gathered one spectacular regal ruin at a time."

You can see why I had to buy this book! It's filled with interesting tidbits, not just about the usual suspects, but about little known Queens as well. Of course I had to immediately email her so that I could share this book with everyone.

Q: Can you tell the readers a little about your background before you were published?

I've worked in publishing for most of my adult life -- first as a children's book illustrator and designer, later as a full-fledged author -- so we'd have to go back to my childhood to talk about my pre-publishing background. My childhood was spent in a fiercely matriarchal household, where the women appeared to possess mysterious powers and quirks. One family story tells that my maternal grandmother, who was born in England, was the seventh daughter of a seventh daughter. As such, she supposedly was born with second sight and often dreamt of things that came to pass, usually involving unfortunate deaths of various male relatives. A great aunt on that same side claimed that we were related by blood to gypsies as well as royalty. This, along with a too-early exposure to the PBS series "The Six Wives of Henry VIII", lead to an early fascination with all things royal, English, and doomed. Even as a child, I read voraciously about tragic female monarchs, such as Jane Grey, Cleopatra, and Marie Antoinette. Later as an adult, I traveled to many of the places where these tragic queens lived and died: Hever Castle, the Tower of London, Versailles, the Forum.

Q: I’m a big history geek and one of the reasons I started Scandalous Women was to share the lives of these amazing women that I was reading about. What inspired you to create Doomed Queens?

Most of my previous books were about goddesses, whom I wrote about because I hoped to empower women into realizing that we had this whole sacred history, if you will. But after a while, I realized that for women to better claim power, it made more sense to look into the dark side of female empowerment, specifically into the lives of tragic female monarchs. Considered anew, these queens' stories resonated for me as cautionary fables for modern women struggling to survive in a man's world. And so, Doomed Queens was born.

Q. Given that Doomed Queens is a work of history, how is it relevant today?

Though few women are now beheaded, die in childbirth, or are forced into arranged marriages as they once were, the archetype of the "doomed queen" still exists. Though we've come a long way, I do think that society is still uncomfortable with women wielding power. This message is mirrored in best-selling exposes of hellacious women bosses, such as The Devil Wears Prada or The Nanny Diaries. Let's be honest: If Anna Wintour was a man, I seriously doubt there would have been a Devil Wears Armani.

Q. While Doomed Queens is full of humor, I was struck by the moral you include to each Queens story. What was the impetus to include that at the end of each entry?

I wanted the book to be like a Victorian penny dreadful, so it made sense to include a cautionary moral at the end of each entry. Humor aside, I think a lot of the morals are actually useful advice for women who want to get ahead without losing their heads. Plus they were a lot of fun to write.

Q. What about Hilary Clinton? Although she lost the Democratic nomination for President, the fact that she came so close prove that society is getting more comfortable with women in positions of power?

I would like to hope so. In that context, it's also interesting to consider the example of (love or hate her) Sarah Palin. Even if Palin didn't win the vice presidency, she bears similarities with unfortunate woman monarchs of old. For example, you could view her relationship with John McCain as an arranged dynastic marriage; I was shocked to learn that he'd only met with her once before offering her the nomination.

Q. Another biographer, Amanda Foreman, wrote once that biographers are notorious for falling in love with the subjects. Did that happen with you?

I think there's truth to that. However, since Doomed Queens features fifty royal women, I'd have to say that my experience was more akin to speed dating. I'd become infatuated with one monarch, but then I'd need to write about the next. Despite this, there were some queens that it was very hard to move on from because of my affection or fascination with them: Anne Boleyn, Jane Grey, Juana of Castile.

Q. In your research, did you come across an account of a Queen, doomed or otherwise, that you admired above all others?

My mind immediately runs to England's Elizabeth I, though she certainly doesn't need any fresh accolades. When you consider the circumstances of her birth—she was the daughter of Anne Boleyn—it's amazing Elizabeth survived to wear the crown for as long as she did. Elizabeth also mastered the "biology is destiny" lesson that plagued so many Doomed Queens, including her mother. She refused to marry, though she did not hesitate to play her suitors as skillfully as a fickle Southern belle. This choice meant that Elizabeth did not have to undergo the trauma of childbirth, which proved so deadly for many women of her era. However, this also meant she was left without a direct heir, which created other problems after her death from old age. One quote I love from Elizabeth cannily confronted her contemporaries' prejudices about her gender's ability to rule. She said, "I know I have the body of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a king." What a way to silence your enemies!

Q. What makes someone a Doomed Queen? Did you find a common trait amongst them? Was there a moment when they could have changed their fate?

Aside from sheer bad luck—and who can predict that?—the core traits for a doomed queen often comes down to either overreaching politically or biology is destiny. Most of these queens were thrust into dynastic marriages as soon as they hit puberty, like royal hostages. Not surprisingly, these alliances were unhappy for the most part. But even when they were romantically happy, they were dogged by issues of inbreeding, infertility, or postpartum death.

In terms of changing fate, you have to look at the queen's individual circumstances. Someone like Olympias, the mother of Alexander the Great, allowed her voracious ambition to push her luck too far. However, someone like Blanche of Bourbon could not have changed her fate. After all, she was considered the possession of her parents, and had to follow their will. So when they chose to marry Blanche off to accurately-named Pedro the Cruel, there wasn't much she could do but submit. Eventually, Pedro arranged for Blanche's murder and got away with it.

Q. Where did you start in terms of research for the book? How long did it take you to write Doomed Queens from research to last draft?

Overall, the whole book took about eighteen months. But this was working at a very intense pace. That written, much of the research, especially in regards to Tudor and Elizabethan history, was already under my belt.

Q. Doomed Queens is written and illustrated by you. What made you decide on an illustrated book?

Since my background is as a book illustrator and designer, it's hard for me to avoid thinking of a book without also considering the art and design. Plus, as I mentioned earlier, I wanted the book to look like a Victorian penny dreadful, which were used in their day to present stories of damsels in distress -- an appropriate format, given the subject matter.

Q. We don’t have a monarchy in the United States, but if we did, who do you think our contemporary Queens would be? I noticed that you didn’t include Princess Grace of Monaco, who while not a Queen, was the closest we’ve come to an American Princess.

I did consider including Princess Grace as well as Jacqueline Onassis. My original concept of the book was more expansive in terms of what a doomed queen could be; for example, I planned to include tragic "queens" of cultural movements, such as Elizabeth Siddal of the Preraphaelites, who died from a laudanum overdose. But as I researched the book, I decided that it was more interesting to limit the entries to those who actually had a royal title. Though I did make an exception for Eva Peron. I thought Evita's life story presented a necessary transition between royals of old and the modern tragedy of Princess Diana, when it came to illustrating how the media now shapes royal identity, for better and worse.

In terms of contemporary queens in the United States, our closest corollary is the First Lady. It will be interesting to see how Michelle Obama shapes that role. Otherwise, I'd have to say that celebrities are the new queens, at least while they're popular enough to control the media and command fortunes. For example, Oprah was able to undermine Hillary Clinton's run for the White House by endorsing Barack Obama. On a more mundane level, the contract riders for some celebrities don't seem that dissimilar from Marie Antoinette at Versailles. J. Lo. must have a white dressing room stocked with with white flowers, white candles, and white furniture; Mariah Carey requires Cristal with a bendy straw. I don't know if this is true, but there's a rumor that Madonna's underlings are not allowed to look her in the eye and or address her without first being spoken to. If that doesn't sound like royalty, I don't know what does.

Q. Beheading or poison, which would you choose?

I hope that writing Doomed Queens would grant me the wisdom to avoid such a fate! That written, I used to think that beheading was the way to go, especially if there was a guillotine involved -- one quick blow and it's over. However, a neuropsychologist friend recently explained to me the physical reasons why beheading would not be painless, and how you'd be aware through much of it. So I guess I'd have to opt for poison instead.

Thanks Kris for stopping by Scandalous Women. You read more about Kris and her other books and read her blog here. Or just order the book from Amazon, Powells, or Barnes & Noble.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Uber-Amazing Award

I'm not ashamed to say that I love winning awards!

I'd like to thank the fabulous Lidian at the Virtual Dime Museum for giving me this award for Uber Amazing Blog. And I'm passing the good karma on to these amazing blogs:

Megan Frampton
Catherine Delor's blog
Tea at Trianon
The Raucous Royals
New York History

Check them out.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The Woman Who Ran For President – The Scandalous Life of Victoria Woodhull

"If my political campaign for the Presidency is not successful, it will be educational!"
Victoria Woodhull

The election was one of the nastiest political campaigns in years. The incumbent President was hated and reviled by members of his own party. The opposing candidate was running as a maverick, and third political candidate was a woman. The year was 1872 and the candidates for the highest political office in the land were Ulysses S. Grant, war hero who was seeking his second term, Horace Greeley the most famous editor in the United States, and Victoria Woodhull. Yes, over fifty years before women finally gained the vote in the United States, a woman stepped forward to fight for the highest office in the land. Now 170 years after her birth, Victoria Woodhull is all but forgotten, but for a period of ten years in US history, she was one of the most famous women in the country.

To show just how improbable and daring this was, let’s remember that women were considered little more than property in the 19th century. And Victoria Woodhull was an unlikely candidate for many reasons. Talk about having baggage! By the time she declared her candidacy in 1870, she had been worked as a fortune teller and medium on the revivalist circuit, actress, stockbroker, and newspaper publisher. Like Sarah Palin, she was the mother of a special needs child, her son Byron was brain damaged, whether from birth or through an accident was never clear. She was a proponent of free love, talked openly about her spirit guides, and expressed sympathy with communist principles.

There was nothing in her background to suggest the heights she would achieve. Victoria California Claflin was born on September 23, 1838, number seven of what would eventually be ten children. Her father Reuben ‘Buck’ Claflin was a drifter, con man, and swindler. Her mother Roxana ‘Annie’ Claflin was the illiterate daughter of German immigrants. From birth, Annie believed that Victoria was destined to be something special. After all, she had named her favorite child after Queen Victoria. Buck had studied a little bit of law, and worked in the logging industry until he managed to save enough money to open a tavern and a grist mill. He was also abusive when he was drinking and possibly sexually abusive to Victoria and her younger sister Tennie. Once he realized Victoria and Tennie’s gifts, he forced them out on the road while he sold spurious bottles of an elixir that he claimed cured cancer.

Roxana believed fervently in spirits and she encouraged this belief in Victoria. From early childhood, Victoria believed that she could communicate with spirits, and that they guided her. One of her spirit guides she identified as the Greek orator, Demosthenes. And there is little doubt from the fiery speeches that she gave throughout her career that she believed that she owed her eloquence to his influence. She had only three years of formal education, but her teachers were impressed by her innate intelligence.

At the age of 14, she married Canning Woodhull, a doctor fourteen years her senior, primarily to escape her home life. She soon found out that she had made a terrible mistake, exchanging one miserable existence for another. Woodhull was an alcoholic and a womanizer, who spent more time drinking than he did doctoring. Woodhull eventually went on the road with her father and younger sister Tennessee Celeste, working the revivalist movement as a medium and magnetic healer. She eventually moved her young family, which now included a daughter Zulu Maude to San Francisco, where she worked briefly as an actress.

She encountered her second husband, Colonel James Blood, a Civil War veteran, while working in St. Louis as a fortune teller. Apparently she told him from their first meeting that they would be married, despite the fact that he had a wife and two daughters at the time. Like Victoria, Blood also had an intense interest in spiritualism; he claimed that he was in contact with his fellow soldiers who had died during the Civil War. Within months of their meeting, Blood and Victoria ran off together, only returning to St. Louis long enough for Blood to divorce his wife and pay off his debts.

In 1869, Victoria had a vision that she was to live in a city surrounded by ships. Soon after she and her sister Tennessee, along with Colonel Blood moved to New York, to a house on Great Jones Street. Soon after their arrival, the two sisters made the acquaintance of Cornelius Vanderbilt. A spry 74 years old at the time, the Commodore held open house hours at his office, where he was willing to listen to anyone who might have a good idea he could steal, I mean use. When the two beautiful sisters showed up, the Commodore perked right up. Both an inveterate womanizer, and a believer in the spirit world, he eagerly welcomed them into his world.

While Victoria administered to the Commodore’s spiritual needs, holding séances to contact his late mother on the other side, Tennessee, in her role as a magnetic healer, worked on his physical needs. The Commodore was so entranced with Tennie in particular that he soon asked her to marry him. She refused primarily because she was still married. Not that any of his children would have allowed a backwoods grifter to take their mother’s place.

Soon, the sisters were set up in their own brokerage firm, backed by the Commodore, making them the first women stockbrokers on Wall Street. The move garnered a huge amount of press. While Victoria was tall and striking with dark hair and vivid blue eyes, her sister Tennie was the picture of Victorian womanhood with her curls and round figure. The women were called the ‘Queens of Finance,’ and the ‘Bewitching Brokers,’ in the newspapers.
Both Victoria and Tennie reveled in the publicity. They moved into a huge house on East 38th Street in the Murray Hill district of New York. Soon a host of relatives moved in with them including Victoria’s ex-husband Canning Woodhull who was now addicted to morphine as well as alcohol.

The sisters held salons, where they surrounded themselves with the crème de la crème of intellectual and radical thinkers of the time. One of their most frequent guests was Stephen Pearl Andrews, who became Victoria’s intellectual mentor for a time. A lawyer by trade, Andrews was an ardent abolitionist, who devised a popular system of phonographic reporting. A linguist who spoke 30 languages, he created a new one called ‘Alwato’ as well as being the first one to use the word ‘scientology.’

In 1869, Victoria attended her first suffragette’s convention in New York. She listened and learned, all the while formulating her own opinions. At the time she believed that “a woman’s ability to earn money is better protection against the tyranny and brutality of men than her ability to vote.” She made the acquaintance of several of the leaders of the movement including Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Victoria began to spend time in Washington working as a lobbyist to further the women’s right’s movement. She cultivated a relationship with Senator Benjamin Butler, a Civil War General who was a supporter of women’s rights, who encouraged her to focus her efforts on the House Judiciary Committee.

The suffrage movement was in a crisis when Victoria came onto the scene. During the war, they had supported the abolition platform over the move to gain women the vote, but now that the Civil War was over, and the 13th and 14th Amendments had been ratified, many felt the time had come for women to finally achieve the vote. The biggest difference was how that would be achieved. Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton favored a constitutional amendment, while others like Lucretia Mott favored working for suffrage state by state. The movement finally split apart into two separate groups, the National Women’s Suffrage Association headed by Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the American Women’s Suffrage Association headed by Lucy Stone and Julia Ward Howe. The two groups wouldn’t merge for another seventy years.

On May 14, 1870, Victoria and her sister had established Woodhull & Claflin’s Weekly, a newspaper that stayed in publication for the next six years. Originally founded to be an organ for her political campaign, the paper quickly established itself as a reputable weekly. The two sisters were now ‘Queens of the Quill.’ At its height the newspaper had 40,000 subscribers. The paper not only published such authors as George Sand, but it also printed the first English version of Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto. The paper advocated not only women’s suffrage, spiritualism, but also vegetarianism and the legalization of prostitution. Whatever issues interested women, the Weekly published an article on it. They also published book reviews, and a series of hard hitting articles on corruption in business.

In January of 1871, when the NWSA met in Washington, to their surprise they discovered that Woodhull was about to speak to the House Judiciary Committee on the subject of women’s rights. The convention was suspended for the day so that members could listen to Victoria’s speech. In what became known as the ‘Woodhull Memorial,’ Victoria argued that not only did the constitution give women citizenship but that if women were citizens than they were given the right to vote by the fourteenth and fifteenth amendments. “All persons are citizens. Are women not persons?” It was only custom that barred women from voting. The committee agreed to deliberate on Victoria’s argument.

Woodhull invigorated the cause of women’s suffrage. Her lecture on constitutional equality attracted thousands across the country. Newspapers claimed that she was “the ablest advocate on woman suffrage, a woman of remarkable originality and power.” When the Judiciary Committee issued a minority report supporting her position, thousands of copies were distributed across the country.

Not every suffragette was enamored of Victoria. While Woodhull was applauded and celebrated for her appearance before committee, there were women in the movement who were envious that Victoria had managed in a short amount of time to achieve something that no other member of the suffrage movement had achieved. Although Isabella Beecher Hooker became a good friend of Victoria’s due to their mutual interest in spiritualism, her sisters Catherine Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe were not so taken in. Harriet even wrote a novel called My Wife and I that featured a character called Audacia Dangyreyes that was clearly based on Victoria. Other suffragettes were appalled by her advocacy of free love, which came out after her unorthodox living arrangements were revealed to the public due to her mother suing Colonel Blood for abuse. The idea of ‘free love’ was not a new notion. It was coined by John Humphrey Noyes, the founder of the Oneida community. Victoria was one of the first women to openly espouse the notion and to tie it into women’s rights.

In Victoria’s view, marriage without love was immoral. She believed that the government should have no say in what went on between a man and a woman. “I have an inalienable right to love whom I may, to love for as long or as short a period as I can, to change that lover every day if I please.’ Victoria wasn’t advocating promiscuity; she herself believed in monogamy, but she believed that others had the right to their own lifestyles. Ironically, Victoria was also against abortion. She felt that there would be no unwanted pregnancies; if a woman were in healthy relationships. Victoria’s views on marriage were no doubt honed by her experience with Canning Woodhull and the marriage of her parents.

Victoria tried to recruit Henry Ward Beecher to her free love movement. She had learned from both Susan B. Anthony among others that Beecher had been involved both romantically and sexually with several members of his parish. And she had evidence of her own, one of his parishioners Elizabeth Tilton had confessed to Victoria about her relationship with Beecher. There is also evidence that Victoria had her own affair with Beecher as well as with a colleague of his Theodore Tilton, husband of Elizabeth. Victoria hoped that he would publicly proclaim what he practiced privately but her hopes were in vain.

Victoria launched a lecture tour across America over the next year taking her message to the people. The lecture tour was necessary because Victoria was almost out of money. She was spending less time at the brokerage firm, and while the newspaper was successful it wasn’t enough to support the lavish lifestyle and her relatives that she was supporting. She also reveled in the attention that she was receiving at every stop on her lecture tour. One of the reasons she was a sensation was that she didn’t fit the image of a suffragette, she wasn’t a Quaker like many members of the suffragette movement, nor was she upper or middle class. Victoria had come from nothing and made something of life. She was also feminine, even with the short hair that she had come to favor. But more important than her physical charms, Victoria was courageous in her convictions. She was fulfilling her vision of being a ‘representative woman,’ a woman of importance.

Not forgetting her roots, she also courted the spiritualists, a move that also alienated a certain members of the suffrage movement. But to Victoria, these were her people, she understood them. For her efforts, she was voted as president of the movement. She also courted radical reformers and members of the labor unions. In May of 1872, Victoria was nominated for President by members of the Equal Rights Party.

The convention stands as the largest, most representative third party gathering. Fifteen hundred men and women attended to witness Woodhull’s historic nomination. Her supporters included suffragettes, land and labor reformers, spiritualists, and peace and temperance people. The party’s platform supported women’s suffrage, free love, naturalization of land, elimination of high interest rates, and a fairer division of wages. Woodhull was certainly not lacking in chutzpah when she chose as her running mate, distinguished abolitionist and orator Frederick Douglass. When he was told, he stated that he was unaware of her intentions, and he planned on supporting President Grant. However, he never asked to be removed from the ballot.

From the beginning Victoria’s campaign floundered. She was out of money. The cost of renting Apollo Hall and staging the convention had made a dent in her finances. The country was also in the midst of a recession. Banks were closing right and left, and the Woodhull, Claflin brokerage was one of many that went under. The Commodore was no longer supporting them. He had remarried, he’d also been unhappy when his name came up during a court case between Woodhull’s mother and her husband. Nor was he happy about Victoria’s socialist views or the muckraking articles the newspaper had printed about the railroads. Susan B. Anthony was also campaigning for President Grant. The newspapers had turned against her, not because of her views on free love, but because of her socialist and communist sympathies. Calling Jesus a communist wasn’t going to win friends in conservative Victorian America.

"Mrs. Satan" Cartoon by Thomas Nast in Harpers Weekly

Woodhull and her family eventually had to move out of their house in Murray Hill. For the next few months they led a nomadic life. No other landlord would rent them a house, and several hotels turned them away. When Woodhull forced the issue with one hotel, she found herself escorted out by the police. Eventually she and her family were forced to bed down in the office at 49 Broad Street at night. Woodhull’s daughter Zulu Maude was forced to assume an alias to attend school. Even the newspaper was forced to suspend operations for four months.

Victoria reached out to Henry Ward Beecher of all people for support. When he declined, Victoria decided to get revenge against what she saw as his hypocrisy. She wrote an expose for the next issue of The Woodhull & Claflin weekly, along with another expose on Luther Challis, a womanizing stockbroker, with a penchant for young girls. The issue was a sensation, and had to be rushed back to press several times. Copies were so scarce it was reported they were selling for $40 on the street.

In a twist of fate, Victoria spent Election Day sitting in jail. Beecher’s supporters had frantically tried to buy up as many newspapers as possible to destroy. When that failed, they got that pious prig Anthony Comstock involved to do their dirty work for them. Comstock had set himself as a moral crusader against vice, and had managed to get a law passed that made it illegal to use the U.S. mail to pass “obscene publications.” Comstock suggested that they mail him the issue of the Weekly containing the articles on Beecher and Challis.

On Sunday, November 2, 1872, Victoria, Colonel Blood and her sister Tennessee were arrested with 3,000 copies of the Weekly hot off the press. They were hauled into Ludlow Street jail where they were held. Although their bail had been paid, they were rearrested and thrown back in jail. This was a pattern that continued for the next six months. Victoria’s lawyer’s argued that the Comstock law didn’t apply to newspapers. Victoria described her ordeal as an attempt by the government to “establish a precedent for the suppression of recalcitrant Journals.” In the meantime, Ulysses S. Grant took the election by a landslide. His opponent, Horace Greeley, died before the electoral votes were calculated but he received few. Victoria received a negligible percentage of the vote and no electoral votes.
"To be perfectly frank, I hardly expected to be elected. The truth is I am too many years ahead of this age, and the unelightened mind of the average man."

Although the case was eventually dismissed the legal wrangling took its toll on Victoria and Tennessee. Theodore Tilton then sued Beecher for alienating his wife’s affections. The trial made Victoria notorious and not in a good way. Although she continued to lecture for a time on women’s health issues, the notoriety from the Beecher/Tilton trial followed her around like a bad smell. Spiritualism which had reached its peak during the Civil War was waning; it would revive with another war. The robber barons were settling into respectability, creating their own society apart from the old Knickerbocker one. When the Commodore died in 1877, William Vanderbilt allegedly paid Tennessee and Victoria to leave the country to avoid them being called as witnesses by his siblings to state that Vanderbilt was not mentally fit when he made his final will.

In England, Victoria tried to reinvent herself, disavowing her earlier stance on free love. She married John Biddulph Martin, the son of a prominent banking family but the doors to society were closed to her once the truth about her past came out. Even the British suffragettes wanted nothing to do with her. She made two more attempts to run for President but they were both merely for show. After her husband’s death in 1897, Victoria lived quietly with her children at her country estate, Bredon Norton, until her death at 89 in 1927.

Although historians agree that she was the first woman to run for President, the question remains about the legality of her run. She was a year short of the constitutionally prescribed minimum age required to run for President which is 35. And no ballots for the Equal Rights Party survive. What is true is that Victoria rattled cages, and promoted changes that frightened, embarrassed and scandalized her contemporaries. She attempted to change people’s views about women’s sexuality, and the need for a new way to look at marriage. She believed that it was possible to use the political system to affect change, and she paved the way for other women to make their own attempt to run for President, like Hillary Clinton.
She also lives on in the fiction of Henry James who based his character of Verena Tarrant in The Bostonians on Victoria.


Other Powers: the age of suffrage, spiritualism, and the scandalous Victoria Woodhull – Barbara Goldsmith
Notorious Victoria: the life of Victoria Woodhull, uncensored – Mary Gabriel
The woman who ran for president: the many lives of Victoria Woodhull – Lois Beachy Underhill
A Woman for President: the story of Victoria Woodhull – Kathleen Krull