Romeo Butler & Juliet Preston

Romeo Butler & Juliet Preston

A match made in Ireland

Shakespeare’s tragedy of Romeo and Juliet finds a happy ending in the 17th century story of James Butler and Elizabeth Preston. These two members of feuding Anglo-Irish families were actually cousins, and made an unlikely couple until events shifted, ultimately allowing a marriage of choice rather than arrangement.

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King Charles I, public domain

During the reign of King Charles I (1625-1649), normal practice in society required parental control over a marriage arrangement. It was nothing more than family discipline, considered the best guarantee of public order, and in King Charles’s court, order was paramount.

From the time that a child was born, parents began calculating potential marriage matches that would improve the family’s bloodline, elevate their social status, increase their wealth, solidify a mutually beneficial business alliance, consolidate or expand real estate holdings, and preferably all of the above. Both the bride and the groom were expected to bring something to the table.

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Wikimedia Commons

In the 17th century, land ownership was power. Historically, the Butler family held the Earldom of Ormonde, controlling a huge tract of land in Ireland, basically from Waterford to Limerick. The FitzGeralds (known as the Geraldines) held even more land, with two branches bordering on each side of Ormonde: the Earldom of Desmond, roughly including the modern-day counties of Cork and part of Kerry, and the Earldom of Kildare, on the east side of Ormonde and adjacent to the Pale, the area surrounding Dublin.

Disputes over property lines and ownership waxed and waned at least from the 14th century, the two neighboring earldoms fighting one another in skirmishes and outright battles. Many schemes attempted to heal the feud, from the famous handshake through a hole in a door at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in 1492, to the marriage of Joan, the widowed Countess of Ormonde, to Gerald Fitzgerald, the 15th Earl of Desmond, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth. But the feud roared up again when Gerald had a dispute with Joan’s son, Thomas, the 10th Earl of Ormonde.

A famous quote is attributed to Gerald after being wounded on the field in the Battle of Affane in 1565. While being carried from the field on the shoulders of Ormonde soldiers, an Ormonde commander triumphantly asked, “Where is now the great Lord Desmond?” And Desmond is said to have given his quick reply, “Where but in his proper place, on the necks of the Butlers?”

After the Desmond Rebellions, which by 1603 had left all of Gerald’s male heirs either dead or attainted, the Desmond earldom was extinguished. But it was not the end of the story.

Thomas, the 10th Earl of Ormonde, a great uncle of James, sought a suitable marriage for his only daughter Elizabeth. Rejecting a suit by the second son of the fourth Earl of Thomond, he brokered a more lucrative match with Richard Preston, a Scot and a court favorite with King James I. When Thomas died in 1614, the king saw it as an opportunity to settle the long-term feuding and so, when they married he named Preston the first Earl of Desmond, third creation, and awarded most of the Ormonde estate to Elizabeth. Since properties belonged to the husband upon marriage, thereby he combined the estates of Desmond and Ormonde.

But that only produced another problem, because Thomas had no surviving sons, and had named his nephew Walter, James’s grandfather, to inherit the Ormonde earldom and estate. Walter began a series of complaints and legal actions to regain the land he believed was rightfully his, and the proper inheritance for his own son Thomas, who should have been the next earl of Ormonde. Walter’s disputes annoyed the king and landed him in prison for eight years.

About the same time, Walter’s son Thomas had married and James was born, but this Thomas drowned in a shipwreck on the Skerries, a series of rocky islets off the shore of Wales (and also off Northern Ireland), when James was quite young. The titles that should have gone to Thomas would now pass to James.

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Henry Rich, 1st Earl of Holland, by Daniël Mijtens, Public Domain

A few years after James was born, Richard and Elizabeth Preston had their first child, a daughter also named Elizabeth. Richard betrothed her to a nephew of another court favorite, the powerful and wealthy Duke of Buckingham. But, by strange coincidence she was also orphaned in 1628 when her father drowned in a shipwreck on his way from Dublin to England (probably also on the Skerries), and in the same year Buckingham was assassinated. The king placed young Elizabeth in wardship with the Earl of Holland.

Her father’s death meant that Elizabeth was now an heiress who could choose her own husband. However, she was just fourteen years old. Lord Holland got busy trying to arrange a lucrative match for Elizabeth that also would benefit him – one of the happy consequences of having a royal wardship.

Elizabeth first met her cousin James at London court when he was studying the Irish language and living with his aged grandfather who’d been released from prison. James was 18 years old and, according to all accounts, immediately fell in love with her. The affection was returned, but Lord Holland stood in the way.

Somewhat in the role of Shakespeare’s Friar Lawrence, Scottish kinsman Patrick Wemyss, who managed Elizabeth’s estates, arranged secret meetings for James and Elizabeth in her home or in London churches, where James arrived disguised as a peddler.

In order to court her openly, James, now known as Viscount Thurles—a courtesy title that had been his father’s—had to clear his way with a bribe of £15,000 to Lord Holland.

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James Butler, 12th Duke of Ormonde, National Portrait Gallery

The couple wed with the king’s consent in 1629, and all of the Ormonde ancestral lands were returned to the Ormonde earldom. Their union put an end to the long-term feud by creating a strong family alliance. When Walter, the 11th earl, died in 1633, James became the 12th earl of Ormonde.

Instead of drinking a death-simulation potion like Romeo and Juliet, they must have found instead a love potion, for they had 10 children, five of whom survived to adulthood. They also became a very powerful couple. James the Earl became leader of the Confederate forces against the Parliamentary army after the Great Irish Rebellion of 1641.

After Parliament executed King Charles I in 1649 and Oliver Cromwell ascended to power, Ormonde lived in exile in France, in service of King Charles II and his family until the monarchy was restored in 1660. It was Elizabeth, however, who returned to Ireland to save the Ormonde family estates.

For his loyalty and service to Charles II, the king named James Butler as the first Duke of Ormonde in 1680. Both highly respected and revered, Elizabeth died in 1684, and James in 1688.

The portrait of James Butler graces the cover of my second novel, The Prince of Glencurragh, as a symbol of the 17th century ideal, a man of honor, grace, wealth and nobility, and a true statesman.

Note: There are numerous and conflicting accounts of this story, with possibly some confusion arising from the two Elizabeths and two Thomases. I’ve made every effort for accuracy but if you see something that seems incorrect, please comment with source information. Thank you!

TPOG_Cover2017The Prince of Glencurragh is an award-winning novel of hope during the sweeping change preceding Ireland’s Great Rebellion of 1641. Available on amazon, B&N, and other online retailers.

For other books and more information please visit my website at nancyblanton.com, and while you are there please sign up for my newsletter to receive notification of my upcoming book, The Earl in Black Armor.

 

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Royal Branding – King Charles II, Opportunities Tossed

1-charles_brightenedCertainly a sympathetic character early in his life, this week’s monarch of Royal Branding, England’s Charles II, does much through his actions to wreck the glowing personal brand with which he ascends to the throne, but by the same personal brand he later resurrects himself.

Charles was only a teenager when he learned that his father, King Charles I, was literally losing his battle against Parliament’s New Model Army for control of the government. In 1646, young Charles the heir was sent away for safety, and lived in exile with his mother in France. After his father was executed by Parliament in 1649, a devastated young Charles had to depend on the generosity of Royalist friends and relatives throughout the Interregnum, when Oliver Cromwell was Lord Protector of England’s Commonwealth.

In spite of great expectations, Cromwell’s government and his strict Puritan policies were not popular. In the mid-1650s, even Christmas was banned. When Cromwell died in 1658, his son and heir Richard drew little confidence. The leaders of Parliament “had come to the painful realization that, by attacking what they saw as the excesses of the rule of the new King’s father, they had actually undermined their own power and then been obliged to look on as people they saw as fanatics experimented with the ever more distasteful rigours of godly rule. The Royalist gentry were now determined to reassert their traditional rights, and a traditional monarchy seemed the best means to guarantee these.”

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Young Charles, now 30, was at last invited to return to England for coronation—as long as he promised not to punish those who had fought against his father.

Here was an unprecedented opportunity to capitalize on England’s love for its monarchy, to demonstrate to all the world the grandeur and prestige of king and kingdom, to restore faith in royal government and be loved throughout the country for restoring the traditional merry English lifestyles that had long been prohibited. Charles could define himself clearly in the eyes of his people and distinguish himself as a light leading forward, away from the troubled past.

His coronation was designed for exactly that, with “dazzling pageantry” for which no expense was spared:

  • Fountains ran with wine, soldiers wore red, white and black plumes
  • The horse of state had a saddle worked with gold and pearls, the stirrups decorated with 12,000 jewels.
  • The king’s robes were cloth of gold, red velvet and crimson satin. He wore golden high-heeled shoes to stand above the others. Images, poems, architecture, and sermons celebrated Charles’ heroic return.
  • He was the new Solomon. The Golden Age had returned.

But a brand of such high aspirations required significant care and maintenance.

Royal Brand Values

Strong personal brands are based on values. Charles II valued many things, including art, architecture, ships and science, but above all he had “an absolute commitment to his own survival.”

He wanted to reestablish the monarchy as an effective political power, and assigned Edward Hyde, his trusted Lord Chancellor, to manage it for him.

Charles_II_(laurel)He wanted to be respected as a wise and sober man. While most of his courtiers dressed in brilliant pastels, Charles chose somber shades of brown and dark blue, and chose his signature fashion of long, fitted and embroidered coats “that emphasized his height and, in a strange way, his self-contained isolation.”

Charles wanted to restore what his father had died fighting for: the Divine Right of kings to summon and dismiss parliaments, to create peers, bishops and judges, to declare war and make peace, and to “embody in himself the majesty of state.” To this end he was wary and mindful, acted “with caution and charm,” but also tended toward duplicity, to pursue two different and conflicting policies.

Charles, whose exile years had involved much idleness, resentfulness, drinking and physical pleasures, perhaps lacked the drive to support these values. Observers considered Charles capable of hard work and concentration, but “would increasingly show himself as easily distracted and indolent.” The French King Louis XIV considered him lazy.

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Nell Gwyn

Inevitably, conflicts with Parliament arose over religious unity and tolerance, who could hold public office, who could decide about the sale of public property, who could declare a trade war with the Dutch, and more. While leaving most of the business of government to his councilors, Charles descended into debauchery and sexual excess. He is known for his many mistresses, such as Lady Castlemaine and the actress Nell Gwyn. In 1661 Samuel Pepys wrote in his diary, “at court things are in very ill condition, there being so much emulation, poverty and the vices of swearing, drinking and whoring, that I do not know what will be the end of it but confusion.”

Times were disastrous. There was war, famine, an outbreak of bubonic plaque that killed 30,000, and the great fire of 1666 that consumed more than 13,000 London houses. Rumors circulated that the sins of court had brought such retribution. Making matters worse, Charles’s wife was unable to produce an heir, and Charles’s brother James, the next in line to the throne, was Catholic. Catholicism had been widely feared and hated in England since the time of Henry VIII.

When a false threat of a Catholic assassination plot stirred both government and citizens to hysteria, a savvy Parliamentarian, the Earl of Shaftsbury, used all of these elements to his advantage to manipulate and take control of the government, and even to change the king’s own plan of succession. He pushed Charles to the brink his father had known, threatening to destroy forever the Divine Right in which Charles so strongly believed and had vowed to protect.

Brand Undermines Crisis

But, as so many good stories end, when things reached crisis point the protagonist remembered his core values and strengths, and successfully brought them to bear.

Charles II summoned the last Parliament of his reign. At the entrance to the hall his Sergeant of Arms called for silence, and members found their monarch seated on his throne, wearing the voluminous robes of state, the crown of England shining on his head.

Charles_II_of_England_in_Coronation_robes

“A wave of awe fell across the room. Charles was no longer the shifty, manipulative and fallible man the Whigs believed they had in their grasp. He was arrayed in the sumptuous pageantry of a quasi-divine power. He was the Lord’s anointed, vested with a holy authority and incorruptible. Where the dismayed Whigs drew their arguments from reason he drew his power from God, and it was with this assurance…that Charles now spoke…”
~ Stephen Coote, Royal Survivor

Charles gave a speech that recalled the king he had intended to be, his words “subtle and crafty,” his tone firm but reasonable. “He would uphold traditional constitutional decencies in the face of what appeared to many to be the Whig desire for absolute power.”

In a time of crisis, King Charles returned to the basics of his brand established at his coronation, and in the process he was giving his audience just what they wanted and needed: a powerful leader divinely guided. At the last, the elements of Charles’s personal brand and its symbols of power saved him.

Gems from the Crown

Charles II’s story is long, varied and complex, but there are important lessons to be learned for any personal brand:

  • Once you define your true brand values, treasure them, support them and exemplify them consistently. They engender respect.
  • In times of crisis, use those values and the symbols of them. Once imbued with the meaning of your brand, the symbols themselves project the values in your presence or in your absence. They carry and support the unseen power of your brand.
Thanks to: Stephen Coote, Royal Survivor; Christopher Hill, The Century of Revolution 1603-1714; Wikipedia Creative Commons, images in public domain.

Create your own royal brand:

BrandYourselfRoyallyIn8SimpleSteps_Blanton_cropBrand Yourself Royally in 8 Simple Steps gives you lessons learned from some of the strongest royal brands, and walks you through the process to create your own unforgettable brand, including vision and mission statements, persona and positioning, colors and tagline, and much more, plus communications planning to put your new brand into action. Available in soft cover and ebook.

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Royal Branding: King Charles I

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Charles I in ceremonial robes

For personal branding, where other monarchs have provided lessons for success, King Charles I of England provides more of a cautionary tale. Had he hired a personal branding coach in his time, he probably would have ignored the person’s warnings.

Like Henry VIII, Charles was a second son who became heir to the throne when his older brother died from disease. His father, King James I, was king of Scotland, and heir to Queen Elizabeth I. When she died in 1603, James ascended to the throne and united the two kingdoms.

King James is best known for being the son of Mary, Queen of Scots, who was executed by Elizabeth I; for formalizing the Royal Mail service that maintained communication between London and Edinburgh; and for creating the famous King James Bible, an English translation for the Church of England that was completed in 1611.

His son Charles was a sickly youth and diminutive, only 5’4” compared to the blustering King Henry VIII at 6’2”. Still, Charles would have no trouble distinguishing his reign from his father’s, or leaving an unforgettable legacy.

(c) Government Art Collection; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

King James I

When James arrived in London to take his throne, he brought with him the lifestyle and beliefs he’d acquired in Scotland, which, at the end of the Elizabethan period, were far more crude, coarse, debauched and extravagant. He had strange notions and lacked the polish one might expect of a king. Some accounts say he never washed his hands but only rubbed his fingertips on a wet napkin; he had a passion for fruit and gorged himself on it; he was always hiccupping, belching, scratching himself and fiddling with his codpiece. In his rather squalid court, young men drank heavily and frolicked about, trying to get the king’s attention and favor.

Anthony_van_Dyck_-_Charles_I_(1600-49)_with_M._de_St_Antoine_-_Google_Art_Project

But Charles, having visited the court of King Phillip in Spain, had very different notions. His court would be “decorous, orderly, elegant and ceremonial…with minute regard to drill-like and unchanging custom.” He would allow his beloved wife her Catholic faith and all the pageants and parties she desired. And, he would become one of the most famous art collectors of all time.

“Every day the King’s table…was provided with twenty-eight dishes, brought in to a fanfare of trumpets that temporarily stilled the less strident notes of his private orchestra.”

~ Christopher Hibbert, Charles I

CharlesinblueShared values provide the basis for a strong personal brand. In Charles’s case, his values centered around one core belief: that the king ruled by divine right—meaning that he was royal by blood, and had come to the throne by God’s will. His motto, “Dieu et mon droit” – God and My Right – came down from Henry V and Henry VII. Therefore, it was his right to rule by his own conscience and his direct contact to God. He did not need Parliament to tell him what to do. This belief was his strength, and ultimately his downfall.

The imagery of his brand supports this core belief:

  • His portraiture showed usually shows calm facial expression and the unconcerned, perhaps sad eyes of a scholarly, wise man.
  • His clothing is stylish to the times; the heavens hover above his head; servants look up to him as if to a heavenly being.
  • Family imagery indicates opulence, beauty, and sound structure: the royal lineage is secure.

Anthony_van_Dyck_-_Five_Eldest_Children_of_Charles_I_-_Google_Art_Project

Charles loved art, music, his wife Henrietta Maria, their children, and his solitude—values that others could appreciate. But Charles did not use them to advantage. Instead of connecting with his subjects on common ground, he created barriers. He collected art with great extravagance even when the royal purse was nearly empty. He taxed people without their consent and dissolved Parliament rather than working with the members to gain their support and votes for funding. While allowing the queen to maintain her Catholic faith, he imposed the use of a common prayer book that infuriated the Presbyterian Scots. He expanded the plantation system in Ireland, taking fertile lands and displacing Irish clans.

He surrounded himself with loyal advisors and administrators who supported Divine Right and who were widely unpopular. His favorite, the Duke of Buckingham, was assassinated, and his chief administrator, the Earl of Strafford, was executed by Parliament.

Long story short, after a bloody civil war King Charles I also was executed, on a scaffold outside of his own Banqueting House where he’d decorated the ceiling with magnificent paintings by Peter Paul Rubens. His death not only ended his 24-year reign, but also temporarily ended the monarchy, as Parliamentarian Oliver Cromwell stepped into the role of Protector of England’s Commonwealth.

Gems from the Crown

  • King Charles’s legacy is reflected in the danger of arrogance and ignoring public opinion.
  • His values could have helped him connect in a personal way with his subjects, to ameliorate conflict.
  • Things in life that are rigid are either dying or dead. With flexibility and collaboration, Charles might have been able to address the concerns of his realm, but he remained inflexible on the core issue of Divine Right, which led to his demise.
Thanks to Christopher Hibbert, Charles I; Pauline Gregg, King Charles I; Wikipedia; Creative Commons public domain images.

BrandYourselfRoyallyIn8SimpleSteps_Blanton_cropNancy Blanton is the award-winning author of historical novels and the personal branding book, Brand Yourself Royally in 8 Simple Steps, based on lessons learned from ancient royalty and today’s corporate practices. Find her and all of her books at nancyblanton.com

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Royal Branding: Queen Victoria

QueenVictoria6It would be difficult to improve on a personal brand for which an entire era was named: the Victorian Era.

Continuing my study of the kings and queens who were the first to use personal branding, I focus this week on Queen Victoria, who inherited the throne at age 18 and ruled for 63 years and seven months – longer than any of her predecessors and only recently surpassed by Queen Elizabeth II.

To gain the love and respect of Britain’s people, Victoria had a monumental task. In addition to her youth and her sex, she was quite small in stature, only 4’11”—hardly the bristling oversized picture of manhood that we saw in Henry VIII. Her situation was made even worse by the behavior of her predecessors:

“The Hanoverian kings who ruled in the 18th and part of the 19th century were regarded within and without the Royal Household as deeply flawed; the last three (George III, George IV, William IV) were understood to be respectively gravelly ill or insane, a debauched bigamist, and “excitable, undignified [and] frequently absurd.”
~ Cele C. Otnes, Pauline Maclaran, Royal Fever: The British Monarchy in Consumer Culture.”

On top of all this, the role of the monarchy had changed. The United Kingdom had become a constitutional monarchy, in which mostly Parliament and the Prime Minister ran the government. The sovereign had little direct political power. In Victoria’s time, the monarch retained only “the right to be consulted, the right to encourage, and the right to warn,” according to British journalist Walter Bagehot.

In spite of such odds, Victoria became a powerhouse in a diminutive package, similar perhaps to Napoleon Bonaparte, but she used her power in strategic ways and avoided the pitfalls that plagued the French emperor.

She had a bumpy start, including a dust-up with Parliament expectations, a palace scandal, and even an assassination attempt, but she quickly established herself as strong-willed and outspoken. When she married her first cousin, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, in 1840, things began to improve. In a time when people were starting to question the value of having a monarchy at all, the royal couple redefined its purpose and elevated its influence based on their own personal values and interests. Together they developed what has been labeled a “heritage brand.”

According to Otnes and Maclaran, such brands have five characteristics:

  • Track record, or ability to deliver over a long period of time
  • Longevity
  • Core values that guide policies and actions
  • Use of symbols
  • History important to their own identity

Franz_Xaver_Winterhalter_Family_of_Queen_Victoria

Victoria and Albert’s core values began the rise of “family values.”

  • Victoria and Prince Albert shifted the paradigm of royal persona from monarch-centric to family friendly. Albert was one of the first to use the phrase “Royal Family,” and they used photography to project image of queen and consort as adoring couple surrounded by obedient and subdued children.
  • A 14-photo set featuring the Royal Family sold more than 60,000 copies, and marked the beginning of photographic celebrity culture. More people could see and own images of the royal family; women tried to replicate Victoria’s fashions while some men copied Albert’s hairstyle and moustache.
  • Victoria became patron of 150 institutions, including dozens of charities, while Albert supported the development of educational museums.
  • They set a high moral code with values that supported sexual repression, low tolerance of crime, and a strong social ethic. People referred to arms and legs as limbs and extremities.

The symbols used also related to values:

  • Public rituals, like changing of the guard, were laden with aesthetic material elements: castles, brightly colored regimental uniforms, well-groomed animals and musicians.
  • The Victoria Cross honored acts of great bravery during the Crimean War and was awarded on merit instead of rank.
  • The Queen began new royal traditions when she attended the first State Opening of Parliament in the new Palace of Westminster, arriving in the Irish State Coach. Every British monarch since has followed the protocols.
  • Romantic and sexual feelings were mostly discussed in the language of the flowers

And for her identity history, Victoria had a large genealogical chart, “Coronation Stone,” that traced the queen’s roots through 124 generations, all the way back to Adam and Eve.

Add to these brand elements her vast influence on fashion. The 1830s style followed Victoria’s close-fitting bodice and bell-shaped skirt with embellishments of jewels, ribbons and floral trimmings; and tailored riding habit with a small plumed hat that is still worn today.

Queen_Victoria_bwThe strength of Victoria’s brand weathered intense negative periods, such as the 1845 potato famine in Ireland, when over a million Irish people died and Victoria was labeled “The Famine Queen”; and controversy over the expansionist policies of prime minister Benjamin Disraeli that led to wars. Her popularity also declined after Albert died at age 42 and she fell into deep mourning. She wore black for the rest of her reign.

Victoria’s reign was a period of industrial, cultural, political, scientific, and military change within the United Kingdom, and was marked by a great expansion of the British Empire, with Victoria embodying the empire as a benevolent matriarchal figure. She and Albert had nine children who married into royal and noble families across the continent, earning her the sobriquet “the grandmother of Europe.” Places named after her include Africa’s largest lakeVictoria Falls, the capitals of British Columbia (Victoria) and Saskatchewan (Regina), and two Australian states (Victoria and Queensland).

GEMS FROM THE CROWN:

What lessons can personal branders learn from Queen Victoria?

  • Be willing to adapt: With a monarchy in danger of becoming irrelevant, instead she became a strong influencer, modeling family life, values, and morals.
  • Live the Brand: Under a growing media presence, the royal family maintained a consistent visual identity because the brand was based on authentic values. They did not have to act or pretend.
  • Use events and align with or incorporate existing traditions to establish relevance with your audience.
Thanks to: Royal Fever: The British Monarchy in Consumer Culture, by Cele C. Otnes and Pauline Maclaran. University of California Press, 2015; BBC Timelines, by Kate Williams (http://www.bbc.co.uk/timelines/ztn34j6); Fashion and Queen Victoria, Vintage Connections, Brenda Sneathen Mattox (http://www.vintageconnection.net/QueenVictoria.htm); Wikimedia commons, public domain.

Create your own royal brand:

BrandYourselfRoyallyIn8SimpleSteps_Blanton_cropBrand Yourself Royally in 8 Simple Steps gives you lessons learned from some of the strongest royal brands, and walks you through the process to create your own unforgettable brand, including vision and mission statements, persona and positioning, colors and tagline, and much more, plus communications planning to put your new brand into action. Available in soft cover and ebook.

AMAZON          BARNES & NOBLE

KOBO

For all my books and events, visit my website, www.nancyblanton.com

 

 

Tracking the Prince: Mitchelstown Cave

Part 15 in a series featuring sites I visited in Ireland while researching my second novel, The Prince of Glencurragh. See previous posts listed at the end.

 

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Map of Cahir, 1599

While traveling through southwest Ireland, I took a side trip from my planned itinerary to see the Mitchelstown Cave. I’d noticed a sign along the M8 roadway between Cahir and Mitchelstown and thought it worth a look. It was to satisfy my own curiosity because I’d never been inside a cave before. I hadn’t intended to use a cave in The Prince of Glencurragh, but as I’ve said before, you never know from where inspiration will come.

Caves can conjure several kinds of images: the womb-like comfort that sheltered our cave-dwelling ancestors from the elements; the mystical and magical hiding places of wizards, faeries, dragons and the like; and a toothy, cavernous mouth with an endless throat to swallow you into hell.

I ended up using a deep, dark cave similar to what I saw at Mitchelstown in a scene where a ruthless killer has taken our heroine, the heiress Vivienne. Readers will, I hope, grant me license for the reference to Mitchelstown Cave. This is a beautiful and dramatic cave that has been explored extensively since it was discovered in 1833, when a Michael Condon accidently dropped his crowbar into a crevice while quarrying for stone.

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Mitchelstown Cave entrance

The explorers who came after him found long, low corridors, cathedral-like chambers, and dramatic stalactite caverns. But, if these explorers remain correct, no one could have accessed the caves in 1634, when my story takes place:

“…no bones, either of existing or extinct animals, have as yet been found within the cavern; nor indeed is it likely that any such will be discovered; as, until accidentally perforated through the quarry, it would appear to have been altogether impervious, and therefore inaccessible as a den or place of shelter…”
~ Prof. Apjohn, Dublin Geological Journal, 1834 (from Dublin Penny Journal)

However, there are many caves in Ireland that probably were accessible to humans and animals, the deepest in County Fermanagh, and the longest in County Clare. (Photographer and blogger R. Mulraney offers some stunning images by County.) Apparently there is another cave near Mitchelstown that was called “Desmond Cave” because the Earl of Desmond may have taken refuge there during the Desmond rebellions. This cave is not open to the public because it is too dangerous, but it and others like it could have served for the fictional scene.

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Map of Mitchelstown Cave from Dublin Penny Journal, 1834

The public tours of the Mitchelstown caves provide great exposure to the dark and strange cave interiors, their sparkling beauty, their enormity, and their treacherous pathways. No one could have prepared me for the chill that ran up my spine when my tour guide had everyone turn off his/her lights. Even in a room full of tourists, it is an eerie kind of darkness. In 1895, the Rev. Canon Courtenay Moore, Mitchelstown Rector, described the cave this way:

dublinpennyjournal_mitchelstown“There is no foulness or tumult in its straight and silent street; only the strength of rock and the finished setting of stones grey with the age of countless centuries. Then a stillness as of death itself pervades the place, which is almost painfully oppressive to ears accustomed to the constant and varied sounds of life in the world above, which you have only quitted so recently.”

To put the size of some of these caves in perspective, the largest chamber of Mitchelstown Cave is called Tir Na Nog (meaning “land of the young”), measuring 61m × 49m and 18m high, making it more than twice as large in floor space, and its ceiling three times as high, as King Charles I’s Banqueting House at Whitehall, London. In other words, you could almost fit a 747 jet in there. The largest column, called Tower of Babel, is nearly 30 feet high.

It seemed there was nothing that could compare to the dramatic setting of a cave like Mitchelstown for a frightful and deadly scene in a book.

Thanks to Journal of the Cork Archaeological Society, 1894; mitchelstowncave.com; showcaves.com; ‪Caves of Ireland; The Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, Volume 1, 1872

Part 1 – Kanturk Castle 

Part 2 – Rock of Cashel 

Part 3 – Barryscourt 

Part 4 – Ormonde Castle

Part 5 – Lismore Castle

Part 6 – Bandon, Kilcolmen

Part 7 – Timoleague Friary

Part 8 – Castle Freke, Rathbarry, Red Strand

Part 9 – Coppinger’s Court

Part 10 – Drombeg and Knockdrum

Part 11 – Liss Ard, Lough Abisdealy

Part 12 – Skibbereen

Part 13 – Baltimore

Part 14 – Mallow Castle

jack6.140x9.210.inddAn heiress, a castle, a fortune: what could go wrong?

The Prince of Glencurragh is available in ebook, soft cover and hard cover from online booksellers.

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Tracking the Prince: Mallow Castle

Part 14 in a series featuring sites I visited in Ireland while researching my second novel, The Prince of Glencurragh. See previous posts listed at the end.

img_1663Massive and beguiling, the ruins of Mallow Castle claim a grassy rise above the Blackwater River, about a 30-minute drive north of Cork City on the N20. Misshapen now from centuries of decay, it still resonates with legend and power. I found it on a dark rainy day, but another photographer captured it in the sunlight that highlights its beauty.

interior_mallow_castle_co-_corkBearing signs of Tudor architecture over the remains of an earlier fortress, one source has the great castle passing from the Roche family to the FitzGeralds of Desmond at the end of the thirteenth century. The Tudor structure most likely was built by the 14th Earl of Desmond, James FitzGerald, the Lord High Treasurer of Ireland who died in 1558.

img_1673The castle stood three stories high with octagonal corner turrets at the front, one in the middle for the entrance, and another for the stair. It has large mullioned windows, loopholes for muskets, and fireplaces in each room that stir the imagination. Who once warmed their hands or dried their clothes there, and what did they think about?

In The Prince of Glencurragh, Mallow Castle is the English-owned and pivotal meeting place where in 1634 Faolán Burke pleads to the Earl of Clanricarde for marriage to Vivienne FitzGerald and an appropriate settlement of her inheritance. Clanricarde is visiting the castle to hunt the famed herd of unusual white fallow deer (a gift to the castle park from Queen Elizabeth years before). At this time, the castle belongs to English General William Jephson.

Two Desmond Rebellions

In 1584, however, the castle belonged to the 15th Earl of Desmond, Gerald FitzGerald, and was inhabited by his brother John, military leader of the clan. The Desmonds, who had long enjoyed distance and autonomy under England’s rule, rebelled against the exertion of control by King Henry VIII, a policy furthered and fortified by his daughter, Elizabeth I.

sir_humphrey_gilbert_compton_castle

Sir Humphrey Gilbert, half brother to Sir Walter Raleigh

Elizabeth had imprisoned both Gerald and John in the Tower of London for an illegal quarrel with her cousin, Thomas Butler, the Earl of Ormonde. In their absence, a military leader James FitzMaurice FitzGerald led a bloody rebellion in the province of Munster that succumbed to English terror and scorched earth tactics led by Sir Humphrey Gilbert in 1573.

When Elizabeth released the FitzGerald brothers from the tower allowing them to restore their devastated territories, resentment grew across the land under England’s brutal suppression tactics. Another rising erupted in 1579, complicated by famine and plague. In 1583, Gerald was hunted down in the mountains near Tralee and murdered. But before that, John was killed as a result of betrayal.

An excerpt from The Prince tells the story:

Faolán reined his horse, stopping in front of us. “Vivienne, Lord Cork has withheld from you your own history. Mallow Castle once belonged to the FitzGeralds. Sir John lived here. It was he, the Earl of Desmond’s brother, who led the men into battle during the great rebellion.”
     “What became of him?” Vivienne asked.
     “He was cruelly betrayed,” he said. “The FitzGeralds fought the English for control of their own clansmen and lands, and John was known for uniting the clans against them. One day he set out on this very road, but he and his men were surprised by a band of English horsemen. They tried to escape, but one man among the English—once Sir John’s own servant—recognized Sir John and shot him in the throat. He died as they carried his body back to Cork, and they chained it to the city gate.”
     Vivienne turned pale, her lips parted. “And what of the earl?”
     Faolán jutted his chin at me. “Tell her, Aengus.”
     “He was betrayed as well. A local farmer took a thousand silver pieces in exchange for the earl’s location in the mountains near Tralee. When the English soldiers found him, crippled and broken in the corner of an old cabin, they murdered him and sent his head to London as a trophy for the queen.”
     “Aye, and that’s not the end of it, Aengus,” Faolán said.
     I nodded. “On a dark November night in the glen where he was killed, you’ll see a company of horsemen and the great earl, wearing his silver brocade and riding a white horse. And if a lad asks to shoe his horse, the earl will toss him a purse with a thousand silver pieces.”
     Vivienne sat stiffly, looking toward Mallow. “Now I’m afraid to enter this castle.”
     Faolán shook his head. “On the contrary, love. You are a FitzGerald. The Desmond spirits will rise up and rejoice when you set foot on the stones. It is just.”

img_1666A new rebellion and Irish Confederate War started throughout Ireland in 1641. Mallow Castle withstood attacks by Lord Mountgarret in 1642, but it was severely damaged after being captured by Lord Castlehaven in 1645. In 1689 the castle burned. The Jephson family built a new 12-bedroom manor house on the foundation of the old castle stables. In 1928 the castle became one of Ireland’s national monuments. The last Jephson, Commander Maurice Jephson, sold the castle to the McGinn family of Washington D.C. in 1984.

Thanks to http://www.britainirelandcastles.com, Ancient Castles of Ireland by C.L. Adams, Wikipedia and various other sources. Interior image of castle by The Speckled Bird, Creative Commons. Gilbert image is public domain. Other images belong to the author.

Part 1 – Kanturk Castle 

Part 2 – Rock of Cashel 

Part 3 – Barryscourt 

Part 4 – Ormonde Castle

Part 5 – Lismore Castle

Part 6 – Bandon, Kilcolmen

Part 7 – Timoleague Friary

Part 8 – Castle Freke, Rathbarry, Red Strand

Part 9 – Coppinger’s Court

Part 10 – Drombeg and Knockdrum

Part 11 – Liss Ard, Lough Abisdealy

Part 12 – Skibbereen

Part 13 – Baltimore

jack6.140x9.210.inddAn heiress, a castle, a fortune: what could go wrong?

The Prince of Glencurragh is available in ebook, soft cover and hard cover from online booksellers.

HARDCOVER
PAPERBACK
E-BOOK

OR, try this universal link for your favorite ebook retailer: books2read.com

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Tracking the Prince: Skibbereen

Part 12 in a series featuring sites I visited in Ireland while researching my second novel, The Prince of Glencurragh. See previous posts listed at the end.

Of all sites visited along this journey with The Prince of Glencurragh, the one I’ve feared to write about most is this, the town of Skibbereen. How would I ever do justice to a town so sunny-gold in my memory, and yet tarnished gray by events in history? Refuge for settlers, home for fishermen, famed as of one of the worst affected by The Great Famine, Skibbereen survives and thrives in its colorful, splendid way. Each time I visit, it looks like some familiar place I’ve never seen.

skibbereenarrival

mapIn the far southwest corner of County Cork, Skibbereen lies where the N71 meets the River Ilen (pronounced like “island”), just a few miles northeast of Baltimore. In fact, Skibbereen began to gain importance after Algerian pirates raided Baltimore in 1631, and survivors moved upstream for safety. Before that, Skebreen (as it is spelled on 17th century maps) was mostly overlooked by cartographers of the time, though it was at the center of three castles held by the powerful MacCarthy clan.

The fate of the castles is not clear, though they may have been lost during the Nine Years’ War against English rule in Ireland, or after the Battle of Kinsale. Today, north of the river and west of the town center is a residential area known as Glencurragh, with nice family houses along Glencurragh Road. In my book, this is where I sited Faolán Burke’s home, among the ruins of his father’s Castle Glencurragh. It is always sunny there, in my mind, with only the occasional soft shower at the most appropriate times to keep the lush foliage a proper shade of green.

Which is not to say The Prince knows only happiness. His adventures are fraught with danger, frustration, and heavy rain. But home is home, and this is where his dreams are rooted, and where he hopes to raise his family. I think readers will like it there as well.

Originally I imagined the castle to be north and east of the Ilen Street Bridge near the present-day site of an old railway station, but my friend Eddie explained that the ground there was too marshy to support a castle. It’s fiction, you might say, so who cares if it is too marshy in reality? Eddie and I cared, wanting the book to be as real as possible. You never know when actual events might come into play in historical fiction. If the site had come under attack, the marshy ground would have played a role.

Glencurragh was better suited and would have been the choice of actual builders, and the name itself inspired me. Coming from the Irish meaning ‘a place for boats,’ I imagined a mullioned window overlooking the commerce along the river.

riverilen_skibbereen02

The beautiful River Ilen at Skibbereen, County Cork

Coming south to us from the Mullaghmesha Mountain, she lay in bronze repose with her misty veil close at her surface. She was the very river who nourished every fox and sparrow from above Bantry and all the way out to sea at Baltimore. At Skebreen she abruptly turned west as if she’d simply changed her mind, and then south again as if to wrap a gentle arm about us. Sometimes flowing narrow and peaceful, she was our meandering ribbon of sweet dark nectar yielding trout in the spring and salmon in summer. With the winter rains she swelled at her seams, as anxious and irritable as a new mother; and, yes, wasn’t the earth at her flanks the most fertile?
~ Description of the River Ilen from my novel Sharavogue

Mostly a small and quiet town, in the mid-17th century Skibbereen had fewer than 150 residents as counted by the census. By 1841, that number had slowly climbed to 5,000. But soon that would change.

The Great Irish Famine wiped out about 8.5 million people in Ireland between 1846 and 1851, and more than a million more people emigrated for a chance of survival. Skibbereen was among the areas hardest hit.

“The average population loss in the Poor Law Unions of Cork was 24.2% but Skibbereen Poor Law Union came in with the highest loss in all of Cork, losing 36.1% of its people. It is therefore not surprising that Skibbereen became synonymous with The Great Famine, featuring prominently in its historiography.”
~ Tim Kearney, The Great Famine and Skibbereen

The nightmarish stories of suffering and death are too numerous to report here. Kearney’s article is a fine detailed overview, and I also highly recommend The Great Hunger by Cecil Woodham-Smith. This book brought me to tears and fury. The good news is that the situation in Skibbereen also attracted numerous writers, journalists and historians, and because of the resulting coverage the town “played a pivotal role” in affecting relief efforts.

skibbereentowncenter

Skibbereen town center with The Maid of Erin memorial

There are several famine memorials in Skibbereen, and at the town center The Maid of Erin commemorates those who suffered in the famine as well as the heroes who fought for freedom in the Irish rebellions. Another memorial is inscribed with lyrics from the song, Dear Old Skibbereen, that Eddie taught me years ago and I’ve never forgotten:

Oh son, I loved my native land, with energy and pride / Til a blight came over all my crops, my sheep and cattle died / My rent and taxes were to pay, I could not them redeem / And that’s the cruel reason why I left old Skibbereen.

skibbereenbookshop01

A used book store I found, loved, and hope is still there.

Thankfully, my memories are of happier times. When I first visited Skibbereen and stayed with Eddie’s family, I remember walking to the local hotel for dinner to celebrate his mother’s birthday: the raucous bantering of six brothers and sisters, everyone full of excitement and cheer, Mrs. MacEoin’s coy smile. Then the breakfast in the warm kitchen, the laundry drying on lines across the high ceiling above us; the squabbling over the tin of fresh scones; and quiet Mr. MacEoin escaping the noise and frenzy by tending his beehives in the back yard.

Sometimes I could kick myself for not taking more pictures and recording every detail in my journal, but frankly it was all too much fun to write.

Thanks to Eddie and Teresa MacEoin and family; Dear Old Skibbereen; Journal, Skibbereen District and Historical Society, Vol. 7; and http://www.technogypsie.com. Images of the town belong to author and are several years old. 

Part 1 – Kanturk Castle 

Part 2 – Rock of Cashel 

Part 3 – Barryscourt 

Part 4 – Ormonde Castle

Part 5 – Lismore Castle

Part 6 – Bandon, Kilcolmen

Part 7 – Timoleague Friary

Part 8 – Castle Freke, Rathbarry, Red Strand

Part 9 – Coppinger’s Court

Part 10 – Drombeg and Knockdrum

Part 11 – Liss Ard, Lough Abisdealy

jack6.140x9.210.inddAn heiress, a castle, a fortune: what could go wrong?

The Prince of Glencurragh is available in ebook, soft cover and hard cover from online booksellers.

HARDCOVER
PAPERBACK
E-BOOK

OR, try this universal link for your favorite ebook retailer: books2read.com

Learn more and sign up for  updates via my newsletter at nancyblanton.com