Good day to you! From Friday 2nd to Sunday the 4th of September, I attended the Historical Novel Society Conference in Oxford. This was the second HNS conference I attended – the first being two years ago in London – but this was the first one in which I took part as a speaker. I had a really great experience and thought I might share my thoughts about it with you here. Being eight months pregnant now, I – and some of my friends – were unsure as to whether I’d be able to go at all, but happily my midwife said it would be fine (but to take along my pregnancy notes, car seat, and hospital bag just in case!).
It took about three and a 1/2 hours to get there from my home in Shropshire (it should have been two and half hours, but we got stuck in pretty bad traffic. We finally arrived at the Peartree Travelodge (it’s perfectly comfortable for a weekend stay).This was a really good spot, as it was 7 minutes drive to the venue and was located on the same site as a KFC, Starbucks, Waitrose, and a petrol station. I arrived at the conference venue later than I had wished – a big pet peeve of mine (I dislike being late to anything). The venue was the Andrew Wiles Mathematical Institute at the University of Oxford.
I attended only two talks, the keynote speech by Melvyn Bragg and the panel discussion about the Great Fire of London, which had J.D. Davies, C.C. Humphreys, and Andrew Taylor. I particularly enjoyed the latter talk (no surprises there, it being the 350th anniversary of the Great Fire and all).
The Gala Dinner took place at St. Anne’s on Sunday and was smoked salmon and capers as the starter, followed by guinea fowl, and strawberry mousse for dessert. I had never had guinea fowl before but it was superb – the whole dinner was delicious, though I couldn’t eat the dessert because it had champagne (no alcohol during pregnancy!) – but strawberries and white chocolate were definitely consumed! Mmm, tasty!
For the costume pageant, I decided to go as Marie Mancini – as I’ve often been told that I look a good deal like her. Mancini, often referred to as the first love of King Louis XIV of France, and since I couldn’t fit my baby bump into my red “Seventeenth Century Lady” outfit and wanted to participate in the pageant, I went for this. and spent several hours every day for two weeks to make the costume, which is based on this portrait:
As I don’t have a nearby fabric store, I ordered all the fabric and lace on Amazon and some took absolutely ages to arrive, but when they did, I set to work immediately. I like to think I did well, and I only poked my fingers with my sewing needle thrice (woo!). It was a bit tricky, though, as I had no visual of the bottom half of Marie’s ensemble, so I based mine on the general shift from the mid-seventeenth century.
I wrote the following, which was read out by the presenter when I was on stage: “Marie Mancini was a real person who lived from 1639 to 1715 and was one of the famed Mazarinettes – the beautiful nieces of the powerful Cardinal Mazarin, and indeed was the first love of Louis XIV’s life. She was considered beneath him so they were not able to marry – he eventually wed the Spanish Infanta Maria Theresa. This is a typical example of the languid, sensual, loose apparel so beloved in late seventeenth-century portraiture of aristocratic women. It’s a very comfortable outfit for this mother-to-be, who now spends her days relaxing in her gilded bedchamber as she awaits the birth of her child. The lady’s hair, as you can see, is done in the popular Hurluberlu style that was all the rage throughout the 1660s and 1670s, and which complements the roundness of her face. Marie is adorned with pearls at her ears and throat – giving this outfit the touch of sumptuous elegance for which the Baroque period is known. ”
My shoes, purchased several years ago from American Duchess, just required new ribbons.
Wonderfully, I won third place in the pageant! Wooo!
Following the already-fun dinner, my friends (Jacqueline Reiter, Laura Purcell, and Lizzy Drake) escorted us to the nearby pub where my husband was before he was scheduled to pick me up. We surprised him and the pub staff – we made quite a spectacle in our historical outfits – and I like to think we brought a smile to the faces of some in the establishment.
There were some issues on the roads, which the HNS coordinators had told us about a few weeks in advance. The streets were badly pitted with potholes and my husband said that if he lived in Oxford, he’d have to contact the council because it was so bad. It wasn’t very comfortable for me, I can tell you, being heavily pregnant and going over so many bumps! This was a minor annoyance, however, and the event itself was very good.
And I got three books signed!
Speaking of books, I was thrilled to see both my Amberley books about the Stuarts on display. One friend lamented that the hardback A Year in the Life of Stuart Britain had sold out before she could buy a copy!
On Sunday morning, my panel with Nicola Cornick took place entitled, Secret Stuart Marriages: Navigating the Politics of Love in the Stuart Courts. It was a pleasure to take part in this and we had a good turnout and I thank each person who attended, including historians JD Davies and Jacqueline Reiter.
Finally, it was great to be a part of this event and I was happy to see old friends, make new acquaintances, and meet people – including some who have been frequenting this site for a few years – in person.
I hope you all have a good week!