History Tidbits

“Be careful of your behavior to young ladies”

My inspirations for novels like The Duke — my novels that span continents and include myriad historical details — are always many. Here’s one historical source that suited young Captain Gabriel Hume’s itinerary ideally.

In a letter written by the twenty-three year old soon-to-be Duke of Clarence (later King William IV of England) to a friend on September 25, 1788, in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and later published in Gentleman’s Magazine, the young naval commander noted:

“this is the last season I spend in America; and, after cruising the winter about Jamaica, I am next June to return to England, from whence I am again to proceed to the Mediterranean”

Gabriel’s abrupt departure from Jamaica and his journey across the Atlantic and then to the Mediterranean ended, of course, in him finding the young Prince Ziyaeddin (hero of The Prince), whom all had thought lost to brigands.

The same issue of Gentleman’s Magazine includes a letter of advice from the English General Dundas to “a young soldier,” written at Carron Hall, October 12, 1789. Fans of Captain Tony Masinter of The Scoundrel & I will understand why the following particular bit of Dundas’s wisdom put me in mind of him:

“With the reading of history, which your father has attended to, let me advise your acquiring an ease in the use of your pen. Letter-writing and arithmetic are of infinite use to an officer. These accomplishments often raise a man in the army, and most frequently make a whole corps dependent on the person who possesses them.”

While Dundas is speaking here from his experience in the Army, the same held true for naval officers.

Finally, I simply must include here this choice bit of Dundas’s advice to the young soldier too.

“Be careful of your behavior to young ladies, and avoid, as much as possible, shewing any particular attachment, as a young person may consider you as having intentions which you do not mean. Relations and friends are likewise apt to construe what is meant as civility into advances.”

The editor of the magazine added a heartfelt footnote to this:

“How many unfortunate and fatal duels have arisen from a misunderstanding on this important point; and how much misery and unhappiness has been caused from a want of due discretion in the manner of exercising that civility and attention due by courtesy to the fairer portion of creation!”

* Many thanks to Carson Holloway of Duke University Libraries for supplying me with this source.

The little girl at the Royal Academy

The girl with her parents at the Royal Academy in Chapter 31, who is admiring Ziyaeddin’s painting of Libby, is meant to be Louisa Dunnell. Years later Louisa became the mother of Elizabeth Garrett. In 1873, Garrett was the first woman in Britain to win the battle to qualify as a physician and surgeon — as a woman. Garrett went on to become the first dean of a British medical school, among other notable firsts.

Louisa’s attendance at the exhibition is purely my invention. But extraordinary women often learn to fight for their rights from other extraordinary women — mothers, sisters, friends, strangers — and I couldn’t resist.

The quotation on Ziyaeddin’s watch

The quote on the watch that Ziyaeddin gives Libby is from an epic poem Shahnama, translated as “Book of Kings.” Written in the late tenth or eleventh century by the Persian poet Ferdowsi in the land that is today Iran, the poem is a national epic, a mingling of Persian history, legend and myth, and it was regularly recited everywhere for entertainment. Over centuries it was also gorgeously re-illustrated by the greatest artists of the ages and presented to Iranian rulers. As art historian Kishwar Rizvi describes regarding one illustrated version of the poem, the epic positively effervesces with “drama, romance and morality.” Rizvi adds that the poetry and the illustrations “emphasize the importance of humility in the person of the shah.” This notion — that of a great king as a man of humility — suited Ziyaeddin’s character so well that I drew from the poem other qualities for my hero: his intellect, spirit, strength, and honorability, even his “lustrous” eyes.

I discovered the poem through Professor Rizvi’s article “The Suggestive Portrait of Shah ‘Abbas: Prayer and Likeness in a Safavid Shanama,” Art Bulletin, Vol. XCIV, No. 2 (June 2012). The complete verse is:

“Now do as princes do

When prudent, pious, and beneficent—

Serve God and him alone in good times and bad.”

A beautiful recently illustrated edition of the poem is Shahnameh: The Epic of the Persian Kings, illustrated by Hamid Rahmanian, translated and adapted by Ahmad Sadri, and edited by Melissa Hibbard (Liveright Publishing, 2017).