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.


The Things You Learn When Researching an Erotic Regency Romance Series

Not that! Get your mind out of the gutter!

Louisa Cornell

The game of chess was created in India during the Gupta dynasty in the 6th century. By the 10th century it had spread from Asia to the Middle East and Europe. Two incidents in 13th-century London, in which men of Essex resorted to violence resulting in death as an outcome of playing chess, caused alarm among government and Church officials. The Church came out against the game, but that did not stop chess from being played. The practice of playing chess for money became so widespread during the 13th century that Louis IX of France issued an ordinance against gambling in 1254. This ordinance turned out to be unenforceable and was ignored by commoners and courtly society alike, which continued to enjoy prohibited chess tournaments uninterrupted.

Early 19th century Chess Set


Napoleon played chess as a young man and throughout his life was believed to have used chess strategies in fighting the Peninsular Wars.

The second half of the 18th century saw the game of chess become increasingly popular in England. Coffee houses offered rooms as locations for chess lessons with famous players.

François-André Danican Philidor (1726 – 1795), a musician and composer by profession, was considered perhaps the top chess player in France. Fortunately for the growing chess popularity in Britain, he visited London several times from 1747–1754, in the 1770s, and finally even lived there after he fled from the French Revolution. In London, he tested his skills against the strongest British chess player, Sir Abraham Janssen, in 1747. They played at the Old Slaughter’s Coffee House, and Philidor won. This was the beginning of Philidor’s career as the most beloved chess master of Georgian England. In 1749 his Analysis of Chess was published in London, the first chess book to explain the openings, the middle game, and the general strategy of chess. In the 1770s, Philidor played chess and offered lessons at the Salopian Coffee House at Charing Cross and at Parsloe’s Coffee House in St. James Street.

In 1774, Philidor encouraged chess players to form the Chess Club at Parsloe’s. The club was exclusive and highly fashionable. Membership was limited to 100 players of rank, influence, and chess skills. Charles James Fox, the Marquis of Rockingham, Count Bruehl, Lord Harrowby, and General John Burgoyne were some of the first members. The club members convinced Philidor to be their teacher, and he obtained remuneration as a chess master every year for a regular season from February to June. Chess lessons at the club with Philidor cost 5 shillings (60 cents) each. Needless to say, ladies were not allowed.

The Chess Club at Parsloe’s became the heart of British chess and it attracted customers with spectacular events. Every year, Philidor amazed audiences by playing three blindfold chess games simultaneously. A report of one such event was published in The Morning Post:

“The celebrated Mr. Philidor, whose unrivalled excellence at the game of Chess has long been distinguished, invited the members of the Chess-club, and the amateurs in general of that arduous amusement, to be present on Saturday last at a spectacle of the most curious kind, as it was to display a very wonderful faculty of the human mind, which faculty, however, is perhaps exclusively at present his own. “

(The Morning Post, 28 May 1782)

Philidor’s death in 1792 was a heavy blow for the club which gradually declined in importance afterwards.

At the turn of the 19th century, the upper-middle class embraced chess. Verdoni, Philidor’s successor as London’s chess master, passed on his knowledge to several men of the newly emerging middle class that became crucial for the further development of chess in Britain.

One of these men was Jacob Henry Sarratt (born in France in 1772), originally a schoolmaster. In 1804 Sarratt was considered London’s strongest player, and he became the house professional at the Salopian at Charing Cross. Sarratt called himself Professor of Chess and taught chess at the price of a guinea per game.

On April 6, 1807, the London Chess club was formed at Tom’s Coffee House in Cornhill; Sarratt was one of its most active members. The club was mainly frequented by merchants and members of the Stock Exchange. Membership dues were 3 guineas per year, and one guinea per entrance.

On July 9, 1813, the Liverpool Mercury published the first newspaper chess column.
Additionally, the number of publications on chess rose. The emphasis was on practical learning:

1816 – An Easy Introduction to the Game of Chess: containing 100 examples of games and a Great Variety of Critical Situations and Conclusions

1817Oriental Chess by William Lewis (1787-1870) The first chess problems book printed in England

1817 – John Cazenove, the president of the London Chess Club, published “A selection of curious and entertaining games at chess: that have been actually played”

What about the ladies?

Ladies would play at home or at gatherings with neighbors or friends. A number of paintings from the era depict ladies doing just that. However, chess clubs did not admit women until the late 19th century.

The Winter’s Day Delineated by Maria Cosway (1759-1838)

There is an informative post on the advent of women in chess at the link below.

Were there women chess masters during the Regency era? Very likely so. The possibility is the premise for BOOK FOUR in the Regency erotic romance series – Sex, Lies, and Forbidden Desires. Read on to learn more!


The loss of Col’s damning journal pages is about to turn deadly;
The forfeit of Charlotte’s closely guarded secrets might destroy her;
Will their mutual quest for justice bring them together, or tear them apart?

By night, she’s a masked chess mistress who challenges and trounces all takers; by day, she’s the ethereal white-blonde beauty who volunteers at the children’s refuge in Seven Dials — Charlotte Smythe lives a luxurious double life of ease as the mysterious chess genius at Goodrum’s House of Pleasure..

After spending years as a gifted investigator extricating others from their peccadillos, dedicated Bow Street runner Archer Colwyn has landed in a suds of his own making. The light-hearted journal of sensual exploits he and his school chums kept while students at Cambridge has gone missing, and the secrets within his particular pages, if revealed, could set off deadly consequences.

The dangerous Captain El Goodrum, proprietress of the most infamous house of pleasure in London, holds the key to their retrieval. In exchange for her cooperation, she demands he run a gauntlet of secrets to deliver a master criminal to justice. His only path to the damning pages is the inscrutable chess mistress who not only resents his attempts to romance away his journal pages, but seems to relish his dread and panic at the prospect of the pages becoming public knowledge.

Charlotte craves the kind of refuge she provides to the orphans she rescues from London’s stews. The respite she seeks away from the world in her St. John’s Wood villa with her two house companions is all that keeps her sane, but sometimes, late at night, she needs something more, something even she cannot name.





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.



On a recent visit to Portugal, I visited 18th century Queluz Palace, located just outside Lisbon, as it’s on the itinerary of Number One London’s upcoming Peninsular War Tour – it’s the site of Junot’s signing the Convention of Sintra. The Palace was built as the summer retreat of Pedro of Braganza, brother of the king, who would go on to become king himself after marrying his niece, Queen Maria I. Queluz served as the official royal residence from 1794 to 1826.

To escape the forces of Napoleon I in 1807, the Portuguese royal family abandoned Queluz and fled to Brazil. The French occupational forces took control of the palace and their commander, General Junot, made several alterations to the building. On the royal family’s return from exile in 1821, King João VI preferred to live at the Palace of Mafra.

Restoration of the Palace after years of neglect and a fire in 1934 has brought the building back to life, it’s Rococo rooms now decorated with murals, ornate ceilings and period furniture that demonstrate how tastes developed in this period marked by the baroque, rococo and neoclassic influences.

The Queluz Palace and its gardens are one of the most remarkable examples of the harmonious link between landscape and palatial architecture in Portugal. From the Visit Sintra website: The different green spaces meld with the building, and its façades face the upper “French style” gardens (Pênsil and Malta), extending through the delicate broderie of parterres woven by box hedges. The statues, inspired by classical mythology, adorn and dot the main axes, adding a touch of splendour to these gardens. The remarkable collection of stone and lead sculptures originate from Italy and England, the latter by London artist John Cheere. These gardens are separated from the adjacent gardens, as well as the surrounding forested areas, and agricultural areas, by stone balustrades with vases and statues. The portico radiates out onto a set of connecting avenues which, in turn, are connected to others, forming a complex geometric lattice, with lakes and water features at each vertex. We highlight the lake designed by Frenchman Jean-Baptiste Robillion in 1764, shaped as a starred octagon (Lake of the Medals), among others.

If you’d like to visit Queluz Palace, please consider joining guides Gareth Glover and Kristine Hughes on Number One London’s Peninsular War Tour, May 2024. You’ll find the complete itinerary and further details here.