Recently, I stayed at Hartwell House, an historic stately home hotel nestled in the Vale of Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire. Being made to feel like the Lady of the Manor for a week was a unique experience. Given the choice of several beautifully decorated drawing rooms in which to relax and acres of grounds to explore, I truly felt as though I had the entire house to myself, although there were certainly other guests in the hotel.

Hartwell House is rich in both Jacobean and Georgian archtectural elements, though the property was first mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086. The present Grade I listed House was built between 1570 and 1617 by Sir Alexander Hampden, but Hartwell and its grounds have been shaped over the years by the hands of reknowned architects and designers, including James Gibbs, James Wyatt and  Richard Woods, a well-known follower of Capability Brown.

Hartwell House has a remarkable history, with it’s most famous resident being Louis XVIII, exiled King of France (above), who held court here from 1809 to 1814.

Portraits of Louis XVIII and his wife, Marie Josephine of Savoy, hang over Hartwell’s grand staircase.

Following Napoleon’s defeat in Russia in 1812, Louis XVIII issued a proclamation to the people of France, dated Hartwell, Feb 1, 1813. The Declaration of Hartwell stated that those who had served Napoleon or the Republic would not suffer repercussions for their acts, and that those who’d had lands confiscated during the Revolution would be compensated for their losses.

While the Foreign Secretary Lord Castlereagh denied any British participation in the proclamation, the British government provided Louis with the financial means to print the declaration, and copies were sent on board British ships for distribution on the coast of France, and dispatches to European capitals were carried by British couriers.

Allied troops entered Paris on 31 March 1814. On April 6, 1814, the French Senate invited Louis to resume the throne of France and Louis signed the accession papers at Hartwell. Five days later Napoleon abdicated.

A bust of the Duke of Wellington stands in a niche outside the dining room

The Royal Meteorological Society was founded at (1850) and regularly met at Hartwell House. In 1938 the house and estate were purchased by millionaire recluse Ernest Cook, an early hero of the conservation movement and grandson and co-heir of the Victorian travel tycoon Thomas Cook. During the Second World War, Hartwell served as an Army billet for British and American troops. From 1956 until 1983, Hartwell was let to finishing school and secretarial college and was afterwards purchased by Historic House Hotels Ltd, when the fine Georgian interiors were painstakingly restored alongside extensive restoration of the historic gardens and parkland. Hartwell House opened as an hotel in July 1989 – with a whole lot of history behind it and much panache.


Each of the spacious bedrooms are unique and feature outstanding decorative ceilings and panelling, fine paintings and antique furniture. The beautifully appointed drawing rooms are no less impressive.

Guests are free to lounge, read or have a drink in any of the drawing rooms; staff are always discreetly on hand to attend to your wishes, though you’d do well to rouse yourself occasionally and explore the extensive grounds.

Hartwell House sits in over 90 acres of glorious landscaped gardens and parkland. The garden was designed at the start of the 18th century, probably by James Gibbs, in the formal style with allées and garden buildings. By the middle of the 18th century, most of the formality had been swept away and the garden landscaped by a follower of Lancelot (Capability) Brown, one Richard Woods.

Today, guests are encouraged to stroll the many paths, explore the follies and woods and commune with the resident cows. If you’re lucky, you’ll catch a glimpse of the deer who typically make an appearance in the grounds around dusk.


The picturesque bridge over the lake was originally the central span of the old Kew Bridge, built over the Thames in the 18th century but dismantled in 1898 and its sections sold at auction.

Hartwell House also boasts a full service spa, offering a wide range of treatments. Hotel guests are free to use the swimming pool whenever they like.

Back at the House, be sure to indulge in a very special afternoon tea, served when and wherever you like.

Breakfasts at Hartwell House are also a treat. Enjoy a leisurely meal as you read the newspapers or simply gaze out at the beautiful grounds and enjoy a second cup of tea or coffee.

Is it any wonder that I’ve added a stay at Hartwell House to Number One London’s upcoming Town & Country House tour? An added bonus is that there is a private drive from Hartwell House to nearby Waddesdon Manor, also on the tour. You can find the complete tour itinerary and further details here. 

The Battle of Vimeiro, Revisited

I first wrote about Vimeiro when Zebra Regency Romances published my novel Least Likely Lovers in August 2005.  In the story, Major Jack Whitaker, formerly of the 22nd Foot, was severely injured in the Battle of Vimeiro, (21 August, 1808) and has come home to England to complete his recuperation, hoping to return to the front beside his comrades. However, in the meantime, Sir Arthur Wellesley (eventually to become the Duke of Wellington) has asked Jack to build support for the army among politicians and social leaders in London, an assignment that Jack finds impossibly frustrating. You won’t be surprised to find that Jack finds a lady with whom he falls in love.

The Battle of Vimeiro (also called Vimiero or Vimera) was the first major conflict of the Peninsular War, part of the greater continent-wide Napoleonic Wars. Up to Napoleon’s 1807 invasion of Portugal, Britain’s oldest ally, British participation in the European war had involved the navy, diplomacy, perhaps major scheming, but not many actual soldiers. When the Portuguese needed help, however, the government in London sent troops to oppose the French. They arrived in August 1808 under the leadership of Major General Sir Arthur Wellesley.


On a trip to Lisbon, my husband and I hired a car to take us to see the site of Battle of Vimeiro. We drove via multi-lane freeways north out of Lisbon, thinking about what a difference 200 years made in transportation. When we turned off the road, not far from Torres Vedras, we saw a primarily agricultural countryside filled with deep ravines, craggy rocks, rough pastures, and adorned with olive groves.

The village of Vimeiro is whitewashed, with its buildings right up against the road. We looked for the promised sign to the battle’s memorial but missed it. The driver had a solution to our dilemma: his friend who managed the Hotel Golf Mar on the coast, not far from the village. In fact, the hotel manager escorted us to the cliffs overlooking the Rio Maciera where the British troops landed on the sandy spits at either side of the river’s mouth. I could look out at the empty sea and imagine those tall ships anchoring and the troops in their red coats climbing down the rope ladders into small boats to be rowed to the beach.

Armed with better directions, we drove back into the village past the large barn-like structure which was used as a hospital during the battle and the church, near which some skirmishing took place.


With one or two deft turns, we found the park on the heights with its memorial and blue tile pictures of the battle, shown here. I walked around the park, looking out at the battle site, trying to visualize the British and French troops in their colorful uniforms, to hear the explosion of artillery and rattle of musket fire. A map of the battle overlooks the countryside from the heights. But aside from the memorial park, one would never guess this peaceful place had ever seen the deaths of hundreds of men or heard cries of the wounded.

Our driver said in his more than twenty years of experience taking tourists around Portugal, no one had ever asked to come here before. Why, he asked, was I eager to find the site of the Battle of Vimeiro? When I told him about my novels, I imagined he thought of war stories filled with blood and gore. It probably never occurred to him that I write gentle stories of love and lifelong commitment. I wished that I had a copy of one of my novels to give him.

Returning to events of 1808, Major General Wellesley had landed his troops in central Portugal, with the goal of moving south to take Lisbon from the French. They fought a battle at Rolija, August 17, 1808. After several hours of brutal combat, the French were forced back. Wellesley moved on to the Maceira River, just west of Vimeiro, where more British troops came ashore with their horses and equipment.

Four days later, about 16,000 British troops and 2,000 Portuguese defeated about 19,000 French under General Jean-Andoche Junot (1771-1813) at Vimeiro. Wellesley stationed his troops on ridges between the village and the beach on the night of August 20th. By dawn, they could see the French approaching. In the face of British fire, General Junot’s men repeatedly failed to take the heights, though in various skirmishes, there was hard combat, including hand-to-hand fighting in the village. To the north of town, the French fell prey to one of Wellesley’s favorite strategies: stationing his troops out of enemy sight behind the crest of a hill, then wiping out the enemy as they came over the top.

By midday, Junot was beaten and the newly arrived British generals called an end to the firing. Wellesley advocated continuing the rout, driving the enemy out of Portugal all the way to French soil. However, as the battle had progressed, Wellesley’s overly cautious superior officers came ashore; first, General Harry Burrard (1755-1813), then General Hew Dalrymple (1750-1830). They overruled Wellesley’s plans to chase after the French. Thus, by allowing the French time to regroup and bring in reinforcements, the British lost their advantage. Instead, over Wellesley’s objections, Burrard and Dalrymple organized a conference to negotiate with the French at Cintra (aka Sintra) several days later.

The Convention of Cintra was signed August 30, 1808, nine days after the Battle of Vimeiro. It obligated the Royal Navy to carry 26,000 French soldiers to France, with their weapons and whatever spoils they had acquired. There was no restriction against their return to fight again in Portugal. Sir Arthur Wellesley voiced his objections, but, in the end, signed the Convention. The reaction in Britain was dramatic, led by the opposition to the government and their allies in the press. Scathing articles, mocking cartoons and contemptuous speeches condemned the terms of the convention. Wellesley, along with Generals Burrard and Dalrymple, was ordered back to London. The three generals faced a hearing before a Board of Inquiry at Horseguards, beginning November 15, 1808.


After extensive deliberations, the board voted on December 22, 1808, to accept the convention. The generals were officially exonerated, but neither Burrard nor Dalrymple ever saw military action again. Unofficially, all of London knew of Wellesley’s reluctance, and most probably knew the story of how his plan to continue the battle and push the French back to Lisbon and out of Portugal forever was thwarted.

The command in Portugal was taken over by General Sir John Moore  (l). Moore died after the Battle of Corunna when French commanders chased the British troops through the mountains. Six thousand British troops, including Moore, were killed in January 1809. For more details, see this blog of May 10, 2011.

The British government in London sent Sir Arthur Wellesley back to Portugal in April 1809 with 20,000 troops to join the remaining 9,000 still there. The war continued in Portugal and Spain for another five years, ending in 1814 with Napoleon’s first abdication. British troops, by then, had fought their way through Spain and into southern France. Wellesley was honored with the title of Duke of Wellington, a tribute he enhanced with his victory at Waterloo in June, 1815.
If you’d like to visit the Vimeiro Battlefield first-hand, consider joining tour guides Gareth Glover and Kristine Hughes on Number One London’s Peninsular War Tour, May 2024. Complete itinerary and details can be found here.

Style & Society: Dressing the Georgians

On a recent visit to London, Victoria Hinshaw and I went to see the Style & Society Exhibition at the Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace. Over the years, Victoria and I have been fortunate enough to see many such shows at the Queen’s Gallery and they never disappoint.

From the Royal Collection Trust website:

“Discover what fashion can tell us about life in 18th-century Britain, a revolutionary period of trade, travel and technology which fuelled fashion trends across all levels of society. Delve into the Georgians’ style story and get up close to magnificent paintings, prints and drawings by artists including Gainsborough, Zoffany and Hogarth, as well as luxurious textiles, sparkling jewellery, and a range of accessories from snuff boxes to swords.

“The exhibition reveals how the Georgians ushered in many of the cultural trends we know today, including the first stylists and influencers, the birth of a specialised fashion press and the development of shopping as a leisure activity.”

Stitched Stays, c 1780s (Fashion Museum, Bath) – Made of cotton, linen and baleen, these stays were worn over a shift. The form is achieved by inserting narrow strips of baleen into hand stitched channels between layers of fabric. The workmanship on this particular example is of the highest quality.

Photo credit: David Allen

George III when Prince of Wales, 1759 by Sir Joshua Reynolds – The future king is dressed in a richly embroidered velvet suit. The ceremonial red velvet robe is lined with ermine, with the black tails of the stoat sewn into a pattern of black spots known as powderings. In private life, George III preferred much plainer dress, due to both his nature and his frugality.

Sleeve ruffles of Alencon needle lace, French 1755-65. This type of needle lace was made using a needle and thread, rather than a bobbin.

On the left, Princess Caroline (third daughter of George II) wears a black silk hooded mantle. Miniature by Christian Friedrich Zincke. On the right, Princess Amelia (youngest daughter of George III) wears a blue velvet Spencer. Miniature by Andrew Robertson 1811. These miniatures are singular in that they depict the Princesses in practical dress, rather than the court dress more typical in royal portraits.

Above, a Bill from Andreas Meyer 15 April – 4 July 1801 for footwear purchased by the Prince of Wales, including five pairs of Hussar boots with high heels, each costing the equivilant of £250 in today’s money.

Below, a Bill from John Weston 9 October – 3 November 1810 for clothing including 24 White Marseille Waistcoats and a superfine black frock coat lined in silk.

Robert Stewart, Viscount Castlereagh, later Second Marquess of Londonderry by Sir Thomas Lawrence. Castlereagh’s clothing demonstrates that by the early 19th century, gentlemen’s dress incorporated elements of smart country clothing for everyday dress. Simple lines that relied upon a tailor’s skill and quality material in more sombre tones replaced Georgian ostentation.

Baby shoes worn by Princess Charlotte 1796-8, made of soft twill-woven cotton with cream silk satin ribbon rosettes, fastened with string ties.

By Nicolas Noël Boutet 1814, a pair of double-barrelled flintlock pistols, ramrods, priming flask, screwdriver, bullet mould and lead shot. An example of the pieces produced in the Versailles factory. Gifted to George IV by Louis XVIII, they include intricate ornamentation. Pistols almost never appear in portraits from this period, while the tradition of painting gentlemen with swords was prevelant in the Georgian era.

Above, Denis Diderot’s Encylopédie 1771. Diderot was a perruquier and barbier and his Encylopédie includes the most complete description of the wigmaking process of its time. Below, an example of an English wig and wig bag.

This beautiful dress, on loan from the Fashion Museum Bath, is recorded as having been worn at court in the 1760s. The Bath mantua is made of cream silk and the surface of both the gown and petticoat are covered with embroidery of the very highest quality.

George IV when Prince of Wales 1791 by John Russell. The prince wears the civilian uniform of the Royal Society of Kentish Bowmen. On the stone plinth is the black round hat with feather, “without which no member was allowed to shoot.”

Laetitia, Lady Lade 1793 by George Stubbs. Lady Lade’s riding habit would have been made by a male tailor, unlike gowns which were made by female dressmakers. During the 1790’s muted dark shades were most fashionable, following the trend in men’s fashion.

Mary Delaney, née Granville 1782 by John Opie. Mrs. Delaney is portrayed in her widow’s weeds. The plain black dress is worn with a white cap with “falls” on either side of her face. Mrs. Delaney was a good friend of Queen Charlotte’s and, like members of royalty, chose to wear mourning attire far beyond the time limits imposed by conventions of the day.

Victoria, Duchess of Kent by George Dawe 1818. Unusually, the Duchess (mother to Queen Victoria) wears mourning in this portrait. Her set of diamond jewellery suggests that she is in the second stage of mourning for her niece, Princess Charlotte, who died in childbirth the year before.

A man and two women in second stage grand deuil (mourning), from Magasin des Modes Nouvelles, Françaises et Anglaises, 11 March 1789. The illustration depicts the trend for stripes, muffs and double watch chains during second mourning. The gentleman carries a blue, half hilted mourning sword.

This sword display demonstrates the progress from first mourning, where all accessories were required to be matt black and made from black steel, to half mourning when swords often incorporated blued steel blades and hilts inset with stones, glass or beads.

Photo credit: Royal Collection Trust

The magnificent dress was worn by Princess Charlotte on her marriage to Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld on 2 May 1816. Charlotte’s wedding dress was a masterpiece of Georgian-era fashion and remains one of the most iconic bridal gowns in history. It is the only royal wedding dress that survives from the Georgian period.

The Exhibition runs through 8 October 2023 at the Queen’s Gallery, London.



Back in 2014, Number One London Tours organized a Duke of Wellington Tour which, I’m pleased to recall, was a resounding success. Our first stop was, fittingly, Number One London, the town house of the 1st Duke of Wellington, also known as Apsley House.  We arrived before public hours in order to take a private tour given by Christopher Small, who kindly agreed to let us photograph the interior of the house, which is otherwise prohibited.

For the Apsley House wsebite at English Heritage, click here. The website has an excellent timeline on the history of the house from its original construction by architect Robert Adam (1728-92) in 1771 for Henry Bathurst, Lord Apsley, to its present day status as The Wellington Museum.

Painting of Apsley House, 1770’s
Our post on the 2014 renovations at Apsley house can be found here.

First Christopher took us to see the many gifts and awards the Duke received from grateful governments and monarchs. Here are just a few from the several rooms full of treasure.

Field Marshal’s Batons: decorative  accolades from allied nations
The Prussian Service, with Arms of the Duke of Wellington, 1819
Silver-gilt candelabra
The Wellington Shield, designed by Thomas Stothard,
made by Benjamin Smith 1822


Vase from the Prussian Service, 1819


The Saxon Dinner Service


Arriving at the gigantic statue of Napoleon by Canova, one is amazed first by its size, then by its placement in Apsley House (home of Napoleon’s conqueror), then by the complete lack of resemblance to what we know of Napoleon’s physique: short and stout — and with no waistcoat into which he could insert his hand.

Canova sculpted this image of Napoleon as Mars the Peacemaker between 1802 and 1806. It is said that Napoleon disliked this statue and had it placed in the basement of the Louvre. He found it disrespectful. The British government purchased the statue for 66,000 Francs in 1816; the Prince Regent gave it to Wellington, who then had to find a place for it.  The floor beneath the statue had to be reinforced in order to hold the heavy marble work, over eleven feet in height.

The graceful curving staircase is part of the original Adam design. Personally, this is one of my favourite features of the house and each time I visit, I contemplate all of the great and good of bygone eras whose hands touched the banisters. On the principal floor (up one flight) there are four drawing rooms, the State dining room, and the Waterloo Gallery.

Chandelier in the Piccadilly Drawing Room
Piccadilly Drawing Room

Designed in 1774 by Robert Adam, his fireplace, frieze and ceiling ornament remain.

Apse of the Piccadilly Drawing Room
Adam Ceiling of the Portico Drawing Room
Yellow Drawing room, above and below
The Striped Drawing Room was adapted by Benjamin Dean Wyatt in the 1820’s from a bedchamber and dressing room in the original Adam plan.
Striped Drawing Room; side table with bust of Prime Minister Spencer Percival
Bust of Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger (and reflection of Marilyn)
State Dining Room
The dining room was added to the Adam building for the Duke in 1819 by architect Benjamin Dean Wyatt.  Also included in the addition were bedrooms and dressing rooms, not on display.
The Portuguese silver gilt service stands as a centerpiece on the dining room table. It was made in Lisbon about 1816 and presented to the Duke in recognition of his preservation of Portugal.
Our excellent guide, Christopher Small, on the left.
The Waterloo Gallery was a second addition to the original Adam structure, built again by Benjamin Dean Wyatt (1775-1852) in 1828, after the Duke had become Prime Minister. At about 92 feet in length, it provides an elegant space for dinners, receptions, and the display of the extensive art collection.
The intrepid Duke of Wellington tour group
Below, several glass cases held possessions of the Duke and his family.
On the right above, the Duchess of Wellington’s silk Key Bag
1850 New Year Card from Queen Victoria to Elizabeth Hay, who would become the 2nd Duchess of Wellington in 1852.
1st Duchess of Wellington’ s Diary
1815 miniature, thought to be of Kitty, 1st Duchess of Wellington at age forty
Hair from the mane and tail of Copenhagen, the Duke’s charger.
If you’d like to see Apsley House first-hand, do consider joining us on Number One London’s Town & Country House tour, May 2024. Complete itinerary and details can be found here.



Do you know about Richard Horwood’s map of London? Completed in 1799, it was the most detailed map of the City to date, displaying the footprint of houses, public buildings and parks, even down to contemporary house numbers. A description of the map reads as follows –

Richard Horwood’s PLAN of the Cities of LONDON and WESTMINSTER the Borough of SOUTHWARK, and PARTS adjoining Shewing every HOUSE was produced between 1792 and 1799.  It consists of thirty-two printed sheets displaying an area stretching from the middle of Hyde Park in the west to Limehouse in the east and from the southern edge of Islington in the north to the southern fringes of Kennington and Walworth in the south, a zone six miles across and three miles and three furlongs from north to south.  Each individual sheet is 19 3/4 inches across and 21 5/8 of an inch high; when assembled, the full map is more than thirteen feet (or four metres) across and over seven feet (2.2 metres) high.  Horwood’s was the first map of London to attempt to show every individual property in every street in London, so it’s extremely detailed, even including contemporary house numbers.

Now, you can purchase a copy of the sections of Horwood’s map pertaining to the areas of fashionable London. The two large, blueprint sized sheets (30″ x 44″) show the area from Brompton Row and Southampton Row in the west to Somerset House in the east, and from Bedford Square in the north to Hans Place and Stangate Street in the south.

To order, send $34 via PayPal Friends and Family to london20@aol.com – Price includes the map (two blueprint sized sheets) and shipping. Don’t forget to provide your mailing address when ordering.