What’s the deal with Historical Romance?

A girls in modern dress sleeps, dreaming of a woman in pre 20thcentury dress feeding birds
Artwork by AlexArtDreams, a detail from her sketchbook, available to be viewed on Patreon

The Duke (no, not John Wayne – the English aristo) is damaged. He could also be an Earl, a Viscount or just a Lord. Whatever his title, he’s often a rake and the ultimate catch for every ingénue who happens to cross his path. Her purity will set him free of the arrogant, broody coil he has been born into. She will be the toast of the ton as all her happily-ever-afters will radiate out from the point at which this rich, entitled – in every sense of the word – white, anglo-celtic, protestant male to-the-manor-born, who has inherited connections, money, respect, power and is a perfectly package symbol of patriarchy, professes his undying love for her.

I love it. It’s the classic and enduring historical romance trope and I love historical romances. I’ve been indoctrinated from an early age. I revel in romance’s overture a.k.a. the happily ever after, the beautiful gowns, the handsome prince, the carriages, the servants living their emotion journey vicariously on the hem of the heroine’s swooshing gown – who wouldn’t want a cluster of individuals so invested in their well-being that they will act for them against their own person safety, even if their true selves are rodent, canine or equine.

Today’s sexy, genre-fiction romance novel began with historical romance – with delicious adventure stories – a rollercoaster ride through exotic locations with Alpha-males who strutted about needing to be tamed by insecure teenaged virgins.They could be rapey and their facts could be very, very wrong, but their social milieu seems closer to historic truth than those written today.

Three rows of romance book cover dating back to the 70s
Historical Romance Book Covers

Today’s historical romances fit modern American 20-30 y.o. feet into the slippers of the past. You can find duchesses who often wear breeches and busy themselves in business of all calibres, even running brothels and gaming houses. Not that this sort of thing didn’t happen in history. I think there is a historic precedent in every unexpected depiction – today’s novel’s are very well researched. However, these unusual femmes are populating that imagined era more and more often.

These novels are read quickly and in great volumes. I fear the impression of a past society where there were many such extraordinary women would stay with the reader because of the number of books read – reinforcing the idea that these types of women were plentiful, enough to form their own clique.

They bring today’s woman’s confidence and entitlement to a society that was hard pressed to produce such an individual. If that society could, feminism would have taken off earlier. Are we disrespecting the women of the past and what they put up with? Their resilience? The enormity of their success and the obstacles they overcame by writing so loose with societal pressures of the past?

It’s wonderful that strong heroines who challenge the patriarchy are being depicted- that there are blue stocking heroines, but can feminism in historical romance have any meaning when the object of desirability is a symbol of patriarchy?


At the speed at which romance novels are written and consumed a whole world is clearly created that lingers between reads and overlaps them. This collective world of hundreds of novels by many writers leaves an impression of the past beyond the covers. The brothel owner – game hall owner may be the exception in the particular book but comes as part of the Romancelandia world.

Will readers believe this is how the past really was? Are we devaluing the struggle? Are we devaluing feminism and its history?

Or are we healing it in our memory so that we can deal with the injustice and more forward? Is this the way we should be doing it? Does history matter?

Can a sexually empowered female character challenge the patriarchy today when Medea and Helen were examples to keep women behind closed doors?

Can sexually liberated/empowered female characters in literature reclaim respect for women -smash the patriarchy- in today’s world whereas in the classical Greece Euripides Medea lost everything because she had such power? For the Ancient Greeks a sexually empowered woman was likened to a witch.

Ancient Greek literature influenced European literature in a big way done to the twentieth century. Often religion is blamed for maintaining the Patriarchy but this is undervaluing the place of the Classics and their Renaissance revival. For deist and atheist alike there has always been examples of Patriarchy to model future endeavours on.

Why would a sexually empowered female character today smash the patriarchy? What’s the difference today – electricity and the pill? A platform to fight from built on an accumulation of ongoing struggles throughout history?

The English Aristocrat as a Symbol of Patriarchy

Patriarchy is intimately entwined with the British class system and its entrenched wealth, political system and socialisation. It’s been maintained by social subjugation.

Aristocracy/colonialism/patriarchy – control – have been entrenched in the British class system. By making the romantic object of each heroine’s desire an aristocrat, this caste system is reinforced and so is the patriarchy. When the heroine marries this symbol of patriarchy she substantiates her joy and reinforces her worth in society and herself based on climbing the patriarchal social ladder.

Yes, I know it’s because she gets the man she loves. Yes, I know he could actually be a feminist. Yes, I know it heightens the tension because of his desirability and the achievement of defying the social order etc. But again, in Romancelandia the choice of the aristocrat is a choice of a the symbol that reinforces the patriarchy. When these books are consumed as quickly and regularly as they are, the patriarchy is reinforced again and again.

A tower and battlements on the cover of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander
Outlander – in the first book the hero is an outlaw and the heroine has travelled to the past with nothing but her education and the clothes on her back

There are historical romances where there is no prince, duke, earl, lord, saving an ingénue from a life of obscurity or life as an unwed wallflower – genre novels that feature working heroes and heroines –  eg., Lisa KleypasSomeone to Watch Over Me and Sarah MacLean’s Brazen and the Beast. Logic says there must be more but most historicals you’ll come across will feature Dukes etc as their heroes.

One the cover of Brazen and the Beast, the beautiful blond heroine, all dressed up and next to it,  the sleeping heroine in need of saving in Simeone to Watch Over Me.
Sarah Maclean’s Brazen and the Beast and Lisa Kleypas‘ Someone to Watch Over Me – both with heroines who defy conventional historical romance’s obeisance to patriarchal British aristocracy.

Despite all of this I still love reading Historical Romance but I have to quash the niggle in the pit of my stomach almost every time.

Interview with AlexArtDreams Instagram artist

Why do we create art? To beautify? Inform? Connect? Comment…Build an audience? Define ourselves? Define our place on the internet?

That’s exactly what web illustrator and artist, AlexArtDreams has done.

The irrepressible Alex is a mum with a big heart and a beating passion for art, family, people and mental illness.

Her colourful illustrations are bright and happy. Combining clean lines, simple forms, a repetition of motifs and application of pattern, her subjects range from idyllic gardens, florals, animals and females, patterns with quirky motifs, aphorisms to buoy up the blues, and everyday objects e.g., mugs reimagined in ways that take them beyond still life – they want to jump off the page at you.

Alex’s work resounds with vitality, she creates naïve art that sings.

It’s my pleasure to present her to you.

Colourful gouache on paper illustration of three womenholding their animals in a garden of happy flowers in cool tones of blies, pinks, purples and antique gold
Spirit Animals‘ by AlexArtDreams, 29.7 x42cm (11.69 x 16.53 inches) Gouache paint on 300gsm hot press paper, $200 AUD inc Free Shipping Worldwide

Hi Alex, what is your back story? When did you start taking your art seriously?

I have always been creative, when I was a young girl you would find me painting, drawing and crafting. The older I became the more I put my creative outlets aside in order to be a “responsible adult”. This was probably my biggest blunder in life as I lost a part of who I am for many years. It wasn’t until around 2015 when I was working long hours in a very stressful job that I started to return to my creative roots. I discovered my old sketchbooks and art supplies and began to create. The more I created the more I could feel my daily stress roll away. I created an Etsy store in the same year just for fun and was lucky to make a few sales too. 

It wasn’t until 2019 that I started to make a real go of making art and illustration a profession. I entered a piece, very personal and dear to my heart titled “Mother”, in the Bayside Arts Festival and was fortunate to win The People’s Choice Award. This was the catalyst that prompted me to continue to turn my art into a career.

Congratulations on your win! Can you describe your work?

I would say my work is extremely colourful and in your face.

Portrait with a head of flowers that Carman Miranda would envy in a bright mulitcoloured palette.
The Flower Lady, gouache on A3 paper 29.7 x 42 cm (11.69 x 16.53 inches) There is wonderful video on how Alex created her on AlexArtDreams Instagram account. $250 AUD inc Free Shipping Worldwide

Can you say which artists or movements you particularly like who may have influenced your style? What do you like about them?

There are many artists I admire and respect. As a young girl with dreams of being an artist I would say: Van Gogh, Picasso, Frida Kahlo and Georgia O’Keefe. As an adult though, I do not find that they influence me or my work as much as some well-known Instagram artists. I am more drawn to modern day illustrators and artists that bring a fresh vibe to art. In particular, I am very fond of Lisa Congdon and her beautiful palette and handwritten typography that conveys powerful messages. I am also inspired by Fotini Tikkou who brings a fresh and feminist vibe to some of her illustrations. I also adore French illustrator Camille De Cussac’s funky colour palette and the way she captures people and their faces.

Your art is iconic, yet you have two different pages on Instagram, can you tell us a little about them? Is there an ethos that you are creating for?

AlexArtDreams is my main art page where I show current works, projects and work for sale. It is a place where I create pieces for my own enjoyment as well as for others. 

AlexArtMemes is a page dedicated to bringing more light to mental health through art. I was highly encouraged to start it by my friend and I’m glad I did. It is a page where I draw in my sketchbook how I am feeling or how somebody can feel with poor mental health. I started this account as a way to help my own battles with mental health in hopes to bring more light to the subject which has previously been taboo. 

You seem quite integrated with the Instagram platform and social media, contending art challenges on Instagram and creating art to post on a daily basis. How do you find being an Instagram artist – how does it compare with creating works for the markets or Etsy?

I find being an Instagram artist exhausting! Instagram can be quite volatile for my mental health as well as for other artists that have previously confided in me. I have caught myself creating art solely for Instagram in hopes of gaining new followers or chasing down likes. Once I recognised I was doing this I put the brakes on myself and have since taken time away from Instagram to re-evaluate my why. 

As for participating in Instagram art challenges, I would highly recommend it to artists of all levels. Challenges are a great way to help you break through art block and it is fantastic for pushing your capabilities.

The work I create on Instagram eventually turns into stock for the markets and my Etsy store. In a way, Instagram helps influence what piece becomes available as a print due to the kind of feedback I receive from my audience.

I love having a platform like Etsy available to showcase my works for sale but I do find driving traffic there hard to do. Markets on the other hand are fun and exciting because you get to meet new people and I get to see people’s reactions to my work in real time – this will never get old.

A full figured mer-woman/goddess of the deep contemplates a spiral of water tumbling down from her hands onto a thatched mat of waves. She sits on a spiral shell. Small bubbles of sunshine descend down through waves making up the night sky above. Blue concentric circles with dots of yellow in their outer rings float around her in varying sizes, reminiscent of Aboriginal symbols of meeting places.
Water Goddess, Gouache on A5 paper 14.80x 21cm (5.83 x 8.27 inches), 2019, $70 inc Free Shipping Worldwide

You’re a multitasker- your output is prolific, yet you are a young mum and young wife – how do you strike up a balance?

Lots of coffee Haha! Honestly, there are a few small steps that help me succeed in work life balance.

At the beginning of each month I use a wall sized calendar to mark in importance dates, projects and goals. This way I know what to work on and don’t fluff around with the time I have. If I have a spare 20 minutes at hand then I just have to glance at my wall calendar to see where I can utilise that time. 

I keep a space dedicated entirely to my art. It is just a plain desk from IKEA but I have everything I need in arms reach. If I have to go digging around for something or it is out of sight, I won’t use it. So I keep my art supplies tidy, close and in sight. 

I work around my family a lot to get my art in. When my daughter naps I tackle work. When she goes down for sleep at night I usually work late in the night. My husband is extremely supportive of me- I am very lucky! If I have a deadline or big market coming up he will give me entire days child-free to get my affairs in order.

Where can we see and purchase your work?

Patreon is a platform where you can support your favourite artists/creators with a monthly pledge, in return you receive lots of cool things.

My main goal is to share my experience and knowledge as a self-taught illustrator and artist with you, I want to teach you everything I have learned and so much more!

Here are some of the topics I will be sharing with you:

  1. How to overcome imposter syndrome
  2. Relinquishing self-doubt
  3. Finding your style
  4. How to create art every day
  5. An in depth series on my own personal creative process
  6. Keeping a sketchbook
  7. Materials I use as well as new product reviews
  8. How to crush the 100 day project like a boss.

 Just to name a few!  There is plenty more to share, such as how I am investing in personal growth by completing some popular courses you may have seen online such as Victoria Johnson’s “Create Florals” course and Lisa Larsen’s portfolio workshops.

A street scene from an old European town with a cobbled road and double storey terraces with pitched roofs  and manicured trees. A Gouache palette on one side and a brush on the other.
Memory Lane, gouche on A5 14.80x 21cm (5.83 x 8.27 inches) , 225 gsm watercolour paper, $70 AUD inc free shipping worldwide

Do you have a favourite piece and why?

Ooooh this is a tough one. I love everything I create: they are all a part of me. If I had to choose one from my most recent work it would have to be my “Spirit Animals” painting from my 100 day project series. I love capturing animals in my work and adore painting women. With the two subject matters combined a happy paradise emerges. I didn’t have any of this prepared in my head, I went straight in with paint and no pre-sketch, and I love how it turned out. 

Wow! Impro with paint!

You can purchase Alex’s work and see more of her creations for sale in her Etsy shop:https://www.etsy.com/au/shop/AlexArtDreams/

You can find Alex at:

Etsy https://www.etsy.com/au/shop/AlexArtDreams/

Instagram https://www.instagram.com/alexartdreams/

Patreon https://www.patreon.com/alexartdreams/

3. Historical Notes – Who the Governor left Behind or What did he take to his Grave?

Perhaps my short story, 6.WTFR- Who the Governor Left Behind should have been titled, “What the Governor Took with Him”

When David Collins died in 1810 he was buried in State in a Hobart park. His coffin was markedly over-sized. Did he take something with him? Rumour had it that it was his papers. Papers. Neither coin nor cash. Papers. He died in debt.

In 1925, one hundred and fifteen years later, his coffin was exhumed overwatched by a lawyer. His family’s descendants – in England or perhaps Australia, we are not told who, engaged the lawyer specifically to retrieve the papers he took to his grave.

Why? What was he hiding?

After pottering about with mouldy letters and history books and pondering over historical volumes, I was faced with three alternatives:

  1. An extramarital affair – or two
  2. The guarded family secret of a well-heeled aristocrat unearthed but unexploited by his grandfather
  3. A 17th Century smoking gun
What was in his coffin?
  1. An Extramarital Affair- or two

We know that he had extramarital affairs, but he died in debt. He was neither a wealthy man nor to the manor born. Being the founding Governor of Hobart, perhaps the most remote colony in the British Empire, it’s easy to assume he didn’t have many creature comforts. He shouldn’t have had anything of great material value to leave behind. Could the verification of his paternity of two Australian families – one in New South Wales and the other in Hobart – be enough reason to exhume his bodily remains? Did his descendants want verification that their ancestor was a bigamist on paper as well as in life? It doesn’t seem like impetus enough for an exhumation. Would they want the stigma?

Elizabeth de Vere Stanley, Countess of Derby and Lord of Mann – public domain
  1. An Aristocratic Family Secret well hid

What if the question of paternity was attached to the line of old English nobility? The titles of Earl of Oxford, Lord Bulbeck and Great Lord Chamberlain of England were being contested by three parties after the death of the 18th Earl of Oxford, Henry de Vere. Henry’s half-sister, the Countess of Derby and Lord of Mann, Elizabeth Stanley; his first cousin, Robert Willoughby, Lord Eresby; and Robert de Vere, his more distant cousin, were all claimants.

The Countess’ paternity was questioned by her father during her lifetime before he eventually accepted her as his daughter: was she really?

David Collins grandfather was the 18th century historian and genealogist, Arthur Collins who collected the papers surrounding the challenge and compiled them for his book, Historical Collections of the Noble Families of Cavendish, Holles, Vere, Harley and Ogle (1752). Could these papers wrest a position in the peerage away from one family in favour of another? What about a fortune in land, historical monuments, antiques and jewels? (And estate upkeep and tax, some would argue.)

By 1925 any argument over fortune or peerage would be moot. By then the Earldom of Oxford had passed onto its third creation. In 1925, it was the Earldom of Oxford and Asquith with no obvious links back to the family of the first creation, Vere.

Could Arthur Collins have collected a more dangerous document? But what would account as being dangerous or controversial two centuries after the historian’s death and 400 years after the earliest document in his collection was written? What would still be causing a stir in 1925?

Did Edward Oxenford leave behind a will?
  1. A 17th Century Smoking Gun

1925 – between the wars –the roaring 20s- the heady days of wowsers and flappers- before the Great Depression. And 5 years after the release of J.T. Looney’s Shakespeare Identified. The book that introduced the world to the man who would become the greatest rival to William Shakspere of Stratford for the authorship of England’s greatest cultural monument, the plays and poetry of William Shakespeare, Edward de Vere. Or more correctly, Edward Oxenford, 17th Earl of Oxford (EO henceforth).

Looney’s book must have created quite a stir in Shakespearean circles.  Henry Clay Folger, the founder of the Folger Shakespeare Library went out and purchased E.O.’s Geneva Bible. Sigmund Freud got behind the argument, incorporating EO in his professional work as an example. Other vocal adherents included celebrated writers of Tudor and Elizabethan History including Alan Gordon Smith, and Sir Geoffery Callender, and the novelist, John Galsworthy. (1)

The authorship question wasn’t new. Other contenders had popped up throughout the 19th Century including: Francis Bacon, EO’s colleague; The Earl of Derby, EO’s daughter’s brother-in-law; Christopher Marlowe; and even a case or two for a group of authors (Delia Bacon’s The Philosophy of the Plays of Shakespeare Unfolded (1857) proposed a group of authors including Bacon and EO and in 1892, Our English Homer proposed another list including Bacon). (2)


The authorship question continues to be controversial. Can you imagine what a paradigm shift would do to the integrity of academics who are staunchly opposed to the idea? In 1925, the same paradigm shift would have similar repercussions – confusion, retraining, embarrassment, concerns over job security and validity.

Is getting history right worth the fuss?

Does the truth matter?

Should it?

The truth would usher in a clearer picture on how, when and why the works were created. The author’s intent could be clarified. A greater understanding of the society that fostered the works would be gained.

Imagine if there was consensus on those sonnets!

Evidence – Primary, Secondary, Tertiary and Circumstantial

Edward Oxenford, 17th Earl of Oxford aka Edward de Vere (1550-1604)
Edward Oxenford, 17th Earl of Oxford aka Edward de Vere (1550-1604)

J T Looney’s work was compiled with a forensic approach. He asked what sort of person was capable of having all the formative influences, contemporary experience, access to documents and books (there were no public libraries in England at the time) and social sensibility. He realised he was searching for an aristocrat, educated in latin, greek, French; well-read in the classic; astute in law; well versed in palace etiquette; a lover of sport, music, theatre, poetry – a man who lay unappreciated for his exceptional talents. (3).

He was convinced it was Edward de Vere. His argument has swayed thousands. The problem with it is that it’s based on circumstantial evidence – a mountain of it. There are no primary or secondary documents connecting him to the works. He has left behind poetry – juvenilia and a healthy log of contemporary tertiary evidence that he was a very fine playwright and poet.

One of the chief concerns raising questions over William of Stratford’s being the author is the lacuna of documents written in his own hand discussing anything literary – anything at all.

A similar claim can be made of the Earl. History has provided us with a cache of letters but other than an oblique reference to something nebulous he was teaming up with Francis Bacon on, he makes no mentions of his plays nor his poetry.

Another concern over William of Stratford’s being the author is his will. He makes no provisions for his supposed literary output, nor for any book he may have had in his possession. Did he have a garage sale – erhem, stable sale, before he died or did he not own any? Books were considerably more valuable in the days before mass publication than they are today.

Again, when considering EO’s claim – or anyone else’s -the will becomes an issue. Sonnet 81 tells us that he had a very high opinion of his own literary output. He had to have made provisions for his papers. If E.O. had a will and he was indeed the man behind the pseudonym Shakespeare, then that document alone could clear up the issue.

So where is the will?

Collins’ Historical Collections of the Noble Families of Cavendishe, Holles, Vere, Harley and Ogle (1752) itemises the will of the 16th Earl, explains the way the Vere line was able to hold onto the Earldom for the centuries it did, and explains where the entail was gone around to allow a woman’s line to succeed. It doesn’t detail any other earl’s will. Was this because Collins didn’t have any other will to write about or because there was nothing in those wills’ that could impact the succession?

Mouldy docs

The Will

Arthur Collins (1684-1769) stated that he held the papers regarding the succession issues in the Vere family after EO’s son’s death. Reading this, logic led me to enquire whether the Collins Family Papers now held by the Mitchell Library contained the mythical will. Looking through the Collection I found two things:

  1. Papers regarding the colony of New South Wales, letters home and bits and pieces from historical collections gathered by Arthur Collins
  2. Mould infested papers on microfiche

I found no legible references to any Vere outside of the Historical Collections of the Noble Families of Cavendishe, Holles, Vere, Harley and Ogle.

De Vere vs Oxenford

The mouldy papers were a concern. Snatches of words could be made out but no real meaning. I doubted that a will could be among them from the look of what was legible.

What is concerning is that mould was allowed to fester in the Collection before it was purchased for the library. That up unto the 19th Century the family knew of its importance is obvious in a list of its more notable contents that was drawn up in 1872. If the family were able to recognize a notable name, it would have made that list.

EO is known today as Edward de Vere but he signed his name Edward Oxenford. He was following in his father’s footsteps in a way. John de Vere was born a John Vere but styled himself John de Vere according to Arthur Collins. His son took it a step further by tying his name to his title.

If any documents signed Edward Oxenford were to have been part of the Collection their importance would have been missed.

If the will is lying forgotten (and hopefully not mouldering) in someone’s basement, unless the name of Edward Oxenford is well known, it won’t surface.

Was the will that could decide the Shakespeare Authorship Question with finality buried with the Lieutenant Governor of Tasmania in 1810? Why would it be? Was there something so controversial – so dangerous in the life of EO that a bigamist in 1810 would have it buried with him? Could it have been buried with him by mistake in a bundle of family papers?

If you believed the key to uncovering the secret of Shakespeare lay buried with your ancestor, would you hire a lawyer, jump on a steamship to the end of the Earth and have his coffin exhumed from a State Park?

In 1925 – was it worth it? It seemed like the whole world had heard about the authorship question and Edward de Vere and were curious.

What was Buried with the Governor?

Our rakish Governor – David Collins – public domain

In 1979, gravedigger, Jim Reynolds, was interviewed for the ABC by Jim Adnum. There were no papers in the coffin. There was no room for them. The coffin contained another coffin tightly packed within it. The inner coffin contained the embalmed remains of the Governor, just as was reported in 1810 in the Derwent Star.

The Governor did have papers and books that were destroyed immediately after his death. They were believed to have been the documents surrounding the settlement of Hobart. What was he up to? The newly arrived Governor Macquarie wasn’t too happy with him.

Who did the Governor Leave Behind?

A family in Sydney. Another family in Hobart and a wife in England. Could our rakish Governor also have left behind the novelist, Louisa Sidney Stanhope?


  1. Who Was Shakespeare?, Munn. Orson D. Ed., Scientific American. NY: Munn & Co Inc, 1940. 162:1. (264)
  2. Shakespeare-Oxford Society website, History of Doubts surrounding the authorship of Shakespeare’s works, 11/12/2006
  3. for a complete list scroll down on this page – https://shakespeareoxfordfellowship.org/shakespeare-identified-100/


Collins Arthur, Historical Collections of the Noble Families of Cavendishe, Holles, Vere, Harley and Ogle (1752) – available online via ECCO – Eighteenth Century Collections Online


Shakespeare-Oxford Society website, History of Doubts surrounding the authorship of Shakespeare’s works, 11/12/2006

Who Was Shakespeare?, Munn. Orson D. Ed., Scientific American. NY: Munn & Co Inc, 1940. 162:1.

Australian Broadcasting Commission, Interview by Mr Jim Adnum with Mr John Reynolds, 1979.

Derwent Star, Tuesday April 3, 1810.

Herald, Byways of History: The Man Who Failed – An Australian Birthday Story, (26/01/1956)

The Mercury, Old Letters Shed New Light on Life of Hobart’s Founder, Phillip Kingsley,(18/06/1982)

The Mercury, David Collins: Fickle, Lonely, Deep in Debt, (01/04/1986)

Sydney Morning Herald, Relics Throw Light on Early Settlement, (23/03/1963)

Sydney Morning Herald, David Collins: Founder of Hobart, (28/03/1931)

Collins Family Papers, Mitchell Library, CY1450; CY2120; CY2119

2. Historical Notes

2. Historical Notes – Who the Governor left Behind and The Earl and the Bed Trick

Perhaps my short story, 6.WTFR- Who the Governor Left Behind should have been titled, “What the Governor Took with Him”

When David Collins died in 1810 he was buried in State in a Hobart park. Rumour had it that his papers were buried with him.

In 1925, one hundred and fifteen years later his coffin was exhumed, specifically to retrieve his papers.

Why? Was he hiding something?

  1. An extramarital affair– or two
  2. The guarded family secret of a well-heeled aristocrat unearthed but unexploited by his grandfather
  3. A 17th Century smoking gun
Elizabeth de Vere Stanley, Countess of Derby and Earl of Mann ( 1575 – 1627 ) Public Domain

The Guarded Family Secret of a Well Heeled Aristocrat

Elizabeth Stanley, Countess of Derby and Lord of Mann wasn’t acknowledged by her father, the Earl of Oxford, until she was six or seven years old. His marriage to her mother, Anne Cecil, Lord Burghley’s daughter, was arranged in an unusual manner even for arranged marriages in the Elizabethan age. It seems to have even perplexed Anne’s father, the most powerful man in Elizabeth I’s court, despite the fact that he did the wheeling and dealing.

It was surprising that he married his daughter a year before he had hoped. She was young but not overly young for the marriage market of her day. Perhaps she was too young for her own body– had her menses come in? Is that why her father hoped to have waited another year?

She wasn’t too young to not have an eye for a certain gentleman: Sir Phillip Sidney, the soldier-courtier-poet. But something happened to change her father’s plans abruptly in 1571. Oxford outranked Sidney in the peerage and so was a more desirable match on paper.

Edward de Vere (Oxenford), Earl of Oxford (1550-1604), was raised in Anne’s home as one of her father’s wards in his Court of Wards. They knew each other from a very young age as he was deposited in the Burleigh household after the death of his father in 1562.

Oxford had kin of his own he was more partial to than the Burleighs, e.g., Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk. Around the time that the marriage of Anne and Edward was arranged, Thomas Howard through no conceit of his own was embroiled in a Scottish plot to overthrow Elizabeth and place Mary, Queen of Scots on the throne with Norfolk as her consort.

Imprisoned in August 1569, Norfolk was released in August 1570 only to be arrested again when another plot, the Ridolfi Plot, against Elizabeth was uncovered in 1571. It seems that while Norfolk lived, a possible marriage between him and Mary, Queen of Scots would lend legitimacy to her claim on the English throne. Consequently he was sentenced to death in June 1572.

Anne and Edward married in December 1571. Could Burleigh’s abrupt decision to marry his daughter to Oxford have anything to do with Edward bargaining for his kinsman’s life? No such record exists but what has come down to us is Edward threatening Lord Burleigh that he would ruin Anne if Norfolk was executed.

And Norfolk was executed.

And it took a bedtrick to reconcile Edward with Anne. When the bedtrick happened hasn’t survived. Could it have been the consummation of their marriage as I supposed in my short story, The Earl and the Bed Trick?

Edward spent 1575 abroad – travelling through France and spending much time in Italy. During his sabbatical his eldest daughter Elizabeth was born. When he returned to England he denied paternity. After fathering a child with his mistress and a stint in the Tower he was released and recommenced his relationship with his wife in 1582.

The long suffering Anne Cecil would die and Edward would remarry and produce a male heir with his second wife, Elizabeth Trentham. Elizabeth De Vere Stanley was still alive at the time of her younger step brother’s death. So confident was she in her parentage and place as the eldest daughter of the 17th Earl of Oxford that when her brother the 18th earl died without an heir she pursued his titles until her untimely death. That she had such confidence speaks of the strength of her relationship with her father later in life – he was a theatre impresario as was her husband, the Earl of Derby.

Earlier she had married the Earl of Derby with the Queen in attendance at Greenwich Palace and it’s said that the entertainment was the first ever performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Derby was not her first suitor. She was to marry the Earl of Southampton, Shakespeare’s patron, but he cried off. She and Derby had a tempestuous marriage with rumours of her affairs with the Earl of Essex and Walter Raleigh early on. These rumours settled and she proved herself in another arena, as the Lord of Mann.

Lieutenant Governor of Hobart, David Collins, whose oversized coffin was unearthed in search of papers in 1925

Late in her life she took on parliament to override an entail on her brother, the earl’s, titles after his death. She had proven herself as the first female lord of the Isle of Mann, taking over the administration of the Island from her husband and formally being made the Lord of Mann (1612-1627). Why not the title’s centred in her paternal family?

The papers needed to argue her case to take the titles of Earl of Oxford, Lord Bulbeck and Great Lord Chamberlain of England as well as the arguments for her cousins Robert Willoughby and Robert Vere were at one time in the possession of the antiquarian Arthur Collins.

Arthur Collins wrote a History of the Historical Collections of the Noble Families of Cavendishe, Holles, Vere, Harley and Ogle, in 1752 using those documents. Could Collins have unearthed the truth about her parentage? If she wasn’t the daughter of Edward de Vere, could her descendants be affected? Would this have warranted the unearthing of the oversized coffin of Arthur Collins’ grandson, David, in Tasmania in 1925?

It seems a stretch, however, what would the implications for history be if Arthur Collins stash of Vere family documents hid something more interesting…

Coming Soon – What was hidden in the coffin possibility #3 – A 17th Century Smoking Gun

1. Historical Notes – Who the Governor left Behind

Lieutenant Governor David Collins (1756-1810) photo credit: public domainhttps://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:David_Collins.jpg

Notes to my Short Story WTFR6 – Who the Governor Left Behind

When the first Governor of Hobart died in 1810 he was buried in State in an evergreen Hobart park. Rumour had it that his papers were buried with him.

In 1925, one hundred and fifteen years later his coffin was exhumed, specifically to retrieve his papers.

Why? Was he hiding something? What secrets? Whose? Why would his descendants be so desperate to read the secrets he took to his grave?

His family back in England were left a cache of historical documents collected by his grandfather, the historian and writer of peerages, Arthur Collins.

His correspondence with his family and the wife he left behind were in their possession. His Account of the English Settlement in New South Wales, being a recount of the first decade of the first Australian colony at Port Jackson, had been published and translated into four foreign languages.

What more was there to say? What were they expecting to find?

After pottering about with history books and pondering over historical volumes, I was faced with three alternatives:

  1. An extramarital affair – or two
  2. The guarded family secret of a well-heeled aristocrat unearthed but unexploited by his grandfather
  3. A 17th Century smoking gun
The look of a ladies man, from SMH Relics throw Light on Early Settlement 23/03/1963

1. Extramarital Affairs

David Collins (1754-1810) was born in Exeter, the son of Major General, Arthur Tooker Collins (1718-1793) and grandson of the genaeologist-historian Arthur Collins (1682-1760). He entered the marines at the age of 14 and distinguished himself fighting for the British at the Battle for Bunker’s Hill during the American Revolution. In 1777 he married Maria Stuart (or it could have been Maria Proctor – she used both names- couldn’t make her mind up?) of Hallifax, Nova Scotia in Canada and by 1779 he had made Captain.

He and wife Maria settled in Devon and sometime in their marriage suffered the death of their only child in infancy. In 1786, having left the marines and taking his father’s advice, he became part of Arthur Phillips staff, accompanying the first Governor of New South Wales to establish a settlement in the land that would come to be called Australia. He left Maria in England.

Overcoming sea sickness, he arrived in New South Wales aboard the Sirius in 1788 and remained in the new colony for 9 years. Despite never having studied law, he performed the role of Judge Advocate – it seems they had problems getting qualified help to make the arduous journey.

Maria apparently wrote many novels showing her ‘considerable literary talent’ in his absence – something she neglected to write to him about. No grief, he neglected to tell her of his mistress in Sydney, Ann Yeats, and the son, George, she bore him. It seems the Judge Advocate – advocated for himself where marital laws were being enforced or not.

Returning to England in July 1797, he set to work on his only publication, An Account of the English Settlement in New South Wales. History admits that his wife helped him to edit and abridge the work – if that was all she did. His mistress, Ann, stayed in the colony – having been swept off her feet, it seems she was being swept under the carpet in remote Norfolk Island in the big tidy up before he went back home.

During the ensuing five years he tried to find employment that would be commensurate with his lately acquired experience in New South Wales. It was suggested to the Under-Secretary for War that he be appointed to the department as a Special Officer in Charge of NSW Affairs. That failed to come to fruition. He and his mother tried to enlist the aid of several aristocrats including the Duke of Portland and Lord Sydney to obtain for him some kind of compensation or new post. As a mollification the ancient and curious documents of his grandfather, mouldering away in the attic may have been brought out and sent off with their requests for introductions. This was the way his historian-grandfather would have doors opened for him.

In 1803 he returned to the antipodean colony as Lieutenant Governor of a new settlement to be established in Port Phillip (present day Melbourne). Finding the conditions there not to his liking he moved farther south to Van Dieman’s Land and instead founded a settlement on the Derwent, Hobart. Our ladies man also founded another family while he was at it. This time with Margaret Eddington with whom he had two or three children (Eliza, Mary and Samuel).

In 1808 after the Rum Rebellion the infamous Governor Bligh (of Mutiny on the Bounty fame) came to Hobart seeking Collins support, which he refused. When Governor Macquarie was sent out to replace Bligh, he heard only Bligh’s logic and arguments. Collins suffered a presumed heart attack and died in 1810 before punishment could be meted out.

Immediately after his death, the books and documents of the settlement of Hobart were burnt. One report states by a couple members of his staff, another names Edward Lord and a Dr Hood, two of Hobart Town’s leading citizens who protecting themselves against documents unfavourable to certain grants of theirs.

In 1925, a legal firm representing David Collins’ descendants – although it is unclear which ones – hired a lawyer to have his body exhumed. Not to decorate the living room with his embalmed cadaver – King Tut style – but to obtain valuable papers – or retrieve them.

Were gravediggers employed to prove family lineage? Could it be he had hidden wealth – having ordered the account books to be burnt? Or did they realise that missing papers from grandfather, Arthur Collins cache were priceless historic documents? What promise of what manner of wealth would justify the employment of a legal firm, on the other side of the planet – or the steamboat trip out from mother England and the arrangement and exhumation of a 115 year old corpse of a VIP from a public park? What papers were sought? What power did they hold?

Could legitimacy be the answer? And if it were, was it in relation to Collins family or could it have been something older, more historic? More along the line of Grandad Arthur’s work?

Coming Soon – possibility #2 The guarded family secret of a well-heeled aristocrat unearthed but unexploited by his grandfather


Australian Broadcasting Commission, Interview by Mr Jim Adnum with Mr John Reynolds, 1979.

Derwent Star, Tuesday April 3, 1810.

Herald, Byways of History: The Man Who Failed – An Australian Birthday Story, (26/01/1956)

The Mercury, Old Letters Shed New Light on Life of Hobart’s Founder, Phillip Kingsley,(18/06/1982)

The Mercury, David Collins: Fickle, Lonely, Deep in Debt, (01/04/1986)

Sydney Morning Herald, Relics Throw Light on Early Settlement, Alec H. Chisholm (23/03/1963)

Sydney Morning Herald, David Collins: Founder of Hobart, (28/03/1931)

Collins Family Papers, Mitchell Library, CY1450; CY2120; CY2119

Art Interview with Fine Artist Kris

Approaching artist Kris’ studio apartment from the street I had no idea the treat that was in store for me. The mundane exterior of her red-brick block along the apartment lined street of a not-so-trendy neck-of-the-woods in Sydney’s south, belied nothing of the wonder that greeted me when I walked through her threshold. I could have been Aladdin walking into the cave of treasures for the very first time. Painted images surrounded me, bombarding me with a haze of almost memories – Van Gogh, Klimt, Monet, De Kooning, Kokoschka, Margaret Preston, Matisse, and late Picasso… Creating in a broad spectrum of styles, Kris drew on a broader one of influences.

Forever Love, Mixed Media, Acrylic and Oil Pastel on Canvas, by Kris 60 x 75 cm; $1350AUD
Forever Love, Mixed Media, Acrylic and Oil Pastel on Canvas, by Kris 60 x 75 cm; $1350AUD contact me message on my facebook page or instagram or email – stella.samaras@gmail.com

Her artwork was displayed over all available walls – lounge room, dining, laundry, bedroom, hallway and bathroom. The private side of doors were painted as well as a strategically chosen kitchen cabinet – not to mention the works leaning up against the wall in her studio space.

A participant in several exhibitions, and artist groups over the years, she has taken on the Archibald prize with a portrait of Lady Florence Packer and enjoyed seeing her works in other galleries and exhibition spaces around Sydney as broad as Hazlehurst and the Addison Road Community complex.

Kris describes her works as both personal and decorative. Colour and passion project from each canvas, board, tile or paper she’s worked on. The world her figures inhabit are built with mixed media and experimental line work. They portray a world just beneath the reality of the physical plane in a style that moves between early to mid-twentieth century influences but carries its own unique voice.

Most of her works are figurative but all vary in their levels of abstraction. Many are portraits and life-paintings but she does still life, landscapes and more illustrative pieces. Where her approach is naturalistic the influence of the Impressionist is in her marks, and the Expressionist in her hues.

Surprise by Kris 60 x 75 cm acrylic on canvas with medium; $800 AUD
Surprise by Kris 60 x 75 cm acrylic on canvas with medium; $800 AUD, contact me (Stella) via message on my facebook page or instagram or email – stella.samaras@gmail.com

Kris can shake up her delivery with drama that is apparent as in the fish splashing out of the water – where the excitement of the viewer in catching that glimpse is conveyed by the explosive splash as much as the leap of the fish is. Or it can be obscured by the focus on a shimmering tree, leaving the intimacy of the lovers to meld into the landscape, leaving no doubt of the source of the euphoria the tree depicts.

By Kris
By Kris

No matter her style of delivery – abstract, semi-abstract, expressionist or realistic, her message is clear. She may use symbolic motifs but guides the viewer’s interpretation of her meaning. Of course, as with all abstract or semi-abstract works, there is so much there to wonder at that reception of her work remains very personal.

Has art always been a passion for you? When did you start painting?

I knew art was very important to me from a very young age. I remember pulling out the old encyclopaedia and trying to copy some of the Old Masters’ portraits. I loved gluing things on my art works, anything really, I would recycle on my art. Nothing much has changed these days.

How would you describe your work?

I would definitely say I’m a mixed media artist, my work varies in style, modern, semi abstract. I could paint abstract today, a contemporary piece tomorrow a realistic landscape or a modern sexy couple, it depends on my mood and what medium I want to work and mix with. Someone once described me as eclectic, I reckon that’s me.

I find beauty in anything and then I create.

Benedicta, by Kris, 27.3 x 23.3 inches, mixed media on paper, framed $1400 contact me (Stella) via message on my facebook page or instagram or email – stella.samaras@gmail.com

Detail of Benedicta, by Kris, 27.3 x 23.3 inches, mixed media on paper, framed $1400

Do you have a favourite style? When you approach a canvas what governs the style you choose to express yourself with? Can you say which artists or movements you particularly like who may have influenced your style? What do you like about them?

Well, I absolutely love Gustav Klimt. I love his intricate detail and the gold leaf he used has defiantly inspired me.

Modigliani: I love how he elongated his portraits and figures he took risks and confident. When I’m painting: life drawing with a model, I think, is where I’m most confident.

Chagall is another favourite – very dream like. I do bring some of my dreams on canvas. I’m inspired by many more but I have to say my art students inspire me and have been the greatest teachers :))

By Kris
By Kris

Do you have a favourite subject matter or theme you like to paint?

 I do tend to always go back and paint a lot of love and romance. I guess it’s what I miss and feel on a subconscious level, but also enjoy painting still life animals and landscapes.

You’ve been involved in several exhibitions around Sydney over the years. Do you see any changes in the art world – how work is exhibited and perceived?

I think now with COVID there is a transformation in art, online platforms are moving fast. I think this period will redesign the way the art world works.

I’ve been looking at the Black Lives Matter art movement, amazing art, very deep wounds are coming out of artists. People in general are digging deep. I remember once walking into an exhibition and it was by an artist from the lost generation. It was a powerful experience: I felt the weight and pain of this artist the minute I walked in.

Mixed media tiles: Forever Peace depicting a dove- acrylic on stone tile with wire $300 AUD; Olive Tree– acrylic on stone tile with Aluminum metal $300AUD ; Couple with wreaths My Love – SOLD

How much should art be swayed by the market or what galleries want?

There is a market for the very rich that’s for sure Sotheby’s marathon Virtual auction sold one of Francis Bacon triptychs $84. 5 million.

What do you think about art competitions? And open calls for submissions to planned exhibitions by galleries e.g., Hazelhurst?

Art competitions are a nice experience for artists, if that’s your thing but they aren’t for everybody. Let’s face it; have you seen the amount of artists out there!

Submissions can be tough and again it’s a personal preference – doesn’t mean the art will sell, but it can if you have a good art dealer.

Mixed Media on paper
Mixed Media on Paper

Do you have a favourite piece and why?

I don’t just have one favourite piece of work, there are many I’m attached to and I can’t part with. I see it as being loyal. 😉😄

Where can people see and buy your work?

I’m in the process of restructuring a new website. At the moment people find me on contact me via the craftytheatre facebook or instagram page or emailing stella.samaras@gmail.com or twitter O Ploutos Mou

Olivia de Havilland, star of Gone with the Wind, dies at 104 | Film | The Guardian — Rogues & Vagabonds

Love, love love this lady’s movies – especially those with Errol Flynn. That speech she gives after being put under arrest in Robin Hood – unforgettable delivery!

Rest in peace Olivia de Havilland xxx

Olivia de Havilland was so much more than ‘the fragrant queen of the Hollywood costume drama’, as described in The Guardian Olivia de Havilland, the fragrant queen of the Hollywood costume drama, has died at the age of 104. According to the Hollywood Reporter, her publicist said she had died from natural causes in Paris, […]

Olivia de Havilland, star of Gone with the Wind, dies at 104 | Film | The Guardian — Rogues & Vagabonds

6.WTFR- Who the Governor left Behind

“Mr Collins have you no felicitous regard for your wife? Have you no conscience?”

Maria’s eyes were primed and loaded with self-righteous rancour.

“I have waited for you beyond the bounds of personal comfort, propriety and the dictates of conjugal duty. You loved me, you said. You could not fathom being parted from me, you said. You could not conceive of a life without me, you said. So I came away with you from Nova Scotia, a naïve girl filled with romantic dreams of life with my valiant officer. I crossed the Atlantic for you, forsaking my family, my friends, all of my connections, for the future you promised me here in the motherland. And you abandoned me to sail to Port Jackson.”

David flinched and looked away. He was not one for scenes even if they didn’t have an audience. He was comfortable in the guise of likeable chap – no confrontations – no dramas – nothing that couldn’t be alleviated with his boyish smile and a pint with the old boys or the largesse of his embraces with the ladies. Nothing he tried in the past few days washed with Maria. He had to wait out her tirade. He picked up a frayed and fringed cushion from a discarded settee backed against a trunk along the attic wall.

“10 years David. Who was serving time? The transported came back with shorter sentences. Now you inform me that you have a calling you can’t refuse – a greater calling?”

Maria checked herself and waited for a response. David stopped fiddling with the cushion and hazarded a glance at her. She arched her brow.

“I am not entering the priesthood,“ he said lamely.

“Lieutenant-Governor of Port Phillip,“ she scoffed. “Such an illustrious title for a port that doesn’t exist. A port that will have to be hewn out or rock in a godforsaken wilderness with rudimentary implements by illiterate convicts whose only alternative was the hangman’s noose. Pity I haven’t been given the option.” Could she make him feel any worse? She continues, “There’s another Fleet full of convicts in London that you could have asked to govern. At least I would see you.”

“It’s not forever love.”

“Am I your love, your only love?”

“What sort of question is that? Were I not parted from you also?”

Maria closed her eyes. “What’s to become of us?”

“It’s for us that I am leaving. We can’t make do with the pittance of a pension I earn here.”

David Collins, first Judge Advocate of New South Wales, first Lieutenant-Governor of Port Phillip and Lieutenant-Governor of Hobart. Photo Credit: Public Domain

“You left the marines to take up a post in administration as Judge Advocate of the entire colony – all of New South Wales. Why can they not offer you a pension commensurate with the role you played there?”

“I’ve told you before, the marines are under no obligation to pay a pension for a role I performed after I left their service. I left the marines to take the promotion in another service.”

“Had you died a marine at Bunker’s Hill I’d be better endowed now.”

David’s head snapped up. “You would have me dead?”

“You were gone 10 years. I was a widow whose husband yet lived. Amongst stranger’s I was a curiosity, amongst friends, an object of pity. How I weathered the well-wishers I cannot begin to tell you. ‘How very difficult it must be for you dear.“ Maria affected an accent for each statement she remembered.

“Loneliness is best overcome by reading the Good book; pity you did not have a child to take comfort in.’ And of course, there was the many more who did not believe I was married at all – saw me as a fallen woman of sorts. Eventually, I just told people you died when your ship sailed too far and fell off the edge of the world. ‘Twas a pity the vicar would not perform a funeral without a cadaver!”

David paid cursory attention while surreptitiously looking about for the effects that he would have shipped with him. He wondered whether he would need another trunk. He didn’t have time to squabble with Maria. His decision was made for him by fate. He could not stay in England – his pension was meagre for the both of them and he could not find appropriate employment here. By leaving she could receive his pension from his time in the marines and could supplement it with her writing. The Lord knew that she was the one who pulled together the History of the Colony of New South Wales that bore his name.

Maria watched him silently picking his way through stores of unused or forgotten furnishings. He thwacked away dust from an old baroque armchair that had belonged to his grandfather. Standing back he contemplated it, something was missing.

“Have you seen the footstool?”

“And if I had why would you be needing it? There is a perfectly good ensemble in the drawing room.”

“To have a drawing room where I am going is a luxury.” He pulled a chipped porcelain plate painted in Limoges and lined in scratchy gold. “Where I am headed holding a small token of home is like to owning your own sanity- they are daily reminders of the civilization I came from and to which I will return.”

David smiled at Maria with flirtatious eyes.

“I am not a cold piece or porcelain to be kept on the mantelpiece awaiting your return. Am I to believe you have collected no ornaments by your colonial hearth?”

David’s tolerance was waning. He did not have the luxury of time. He crouched by an open trunk.

“David?” Maria implored him as she came to sit beside him on the dusty floor. “Stay. Please. We will make do as we did before. We could write another book. It will be grander than the first. We will sell it to more foreign markets – Germany, Spain, Italy and France – they will be the first of many others.”

“With what materials? Be practical, love.”

“With your grandfather’s papers. He published so many peerages but he still has papers mouldering in stacks up here. We could write the histories of the noble families as he did and promote it as a continuation of his work.”

David considered for a moment. His grandfather had collected archaic papers to do with the histories of many nobles – many more than agreed to grant him patronage to write their histories. Maria took encouragement from his pause and began feverishly searching the attic for Arthur Collins’ archives. Pulling backwards with all of her weight she opened a cupboard door with a loud scrape and a billow of dust.


“Leave off.”

“I beg your pardon.”

“I will not live my life pandering to the aristocracy, obsequiously drudging away at building monuments to self-aggrandising toffs.”

Maria’s jaw dropped. “I cannot understand you.”

“Besides, the cache is wanting. Down by gratuities that turned doorknobs.”

“I don’t follow.”

“Grandfather would approach a noble family with an interesting letter that would appeal to their sense of personal history and self-importance. They would take the letter from him and then he would wait to see if they would employ him to write their history. They didn’t always proceed but invariably they all kept that tempting letter. In any case, the cream of his documents has been skimmed off. The last of it was lapped up by Lord Sydney when my mother obtained this elevation for me.”

Early Map of Australia, where much of the coastline is surmised Photo Credit:
[J. Stockdale] / Public domain

“Elevation? This? You mistake it for the descent across the Styx into antipodean Hades where you have to shield your eyes to see, labour your breath to breathe and cover your skin from the eternal heat that will sear your hide! You are too cruel! Pity me who has been married 20 years but known you less than 10. Pity the child we did not raise. Can you see her, all flounces and pouts and, ’Good Evening, Father.’ Where is she?”

“We tried long enough. My seed fell in barren soil.”

“And you are certain that my part is at fault?” his arrow had struck her throat and slowly descended, dissipating through her chest.

David levelled his glace at her and nodded before looking away. He didn’t have the time or inclination for this inquisition. He wished she would go downstairs and leave him at peace to complete his task. If he offended her, he trusted that he would be able to make it up to her once this humour of hers had run its course.

Maria was not satisfied. “Because the seed has borne fruit in another farrow.”

“Being base is beneath you.” His patience dissolved, his temper flared.

“Is it?” She searched his face for some indication that the talk she’d heard was false. All the while since he’d returned she hadn’t dared broached the topic with him. At first she didn’t want to believe it. When she mulled it over, she had made excuses for him that rested on the distance between them and the five year duration of his absence and his helplessness to return. She even told herself that he needed comfort and that it was for the best. But now, subjected to his insensitivity, she knew she had been wronged.

“Have you never realised why your sister Anne refuses to write you? You have asked your mother and brother her motives but you have never asked me.”

His nostrils flared as he held his breath and his patience in the same intake or air.

“After news arrived of your safe arrival in the colony Anne received a caller. A woman. Neither Anne nor I could be certain of her age afterwards, her voice was young but her skin was wearied by care and a harsh sun. She wrapped on the door, enquiring if she was at the house of the sister of the Judge Advocate of New South Wales. As fate would have it, Anne was attending one of the little ones and I received her in the parlour. When I told her that I was your wife and could therefore be in a better position to aide her, her face contorted and she sucked in her bottom lip. She insisted she talk to Anne. I tried to draw her out but all she would say was that she would wait for ‘Mistress Anne’. When Anne joined us, the woman insisted that they spoke alone. Anne sent me up to check on the children. I made a pretence of leaving but returned to listen at the keyhole.

They spoke in low tones. I could not hear well. At the end of the interview. Anne gave her coin and said that there was nothing else for her – that you hadn’t returned and mayn’t ever and that you were there and she was here and should make her life with no further claims on your family. The woman said that she was not the only one who had turned your head, that you didn’t discriminate and didn’t hide your liaisons in the Colony. There were whisperings that you had a family with a native woman” Maria waited for David to react. To deny it. To lie to her. She needed a denial. She needed him to acknowledge that a confession would be an affirmation that she had wasted away her youth waiting for him. “Is it true? Have you taken another woman to wife?” she demanded.

David lost all colour.

“That would make me a bigamist and you married to one. Is that what you want?”

Maria was silenced

“You should listen to Anne’s advice. Make your life as best you see fit, for I will not promise when I shall return.”                                                                

Historical Notes to follow in a future post.

Ioannina, Belisarius and Fort Ioannina

Belisarius the beggar? What’s going on? Wasn’t he the last great Roman General- the first great Byzantine General? Didn’t he amass riches from the spoils of war and retire comfortably on his estate, Rufinianae, Chalcedon? What are these 18th Century Neoclassicist painters on about? What medieval rumour that Justinian blinded and beggared him before restoring him to his good graces?

Belisarius, a Byzantine general reduced to begging on the street, recognized by a Roman soldier,Francois-Andre Vincent, 1776
Belisarius, a Byzantine general reduced to begging on the street, recognized by a Roman soldier, Francois-Andre Vincent, 1776, Public Domain

When rumours persist for centuries I can’t help thinking that there is a kernel of truth that has sprouted into a tree camouflaging it. Apparently nothing concrete survives to prove the tale. Wikipedia tells us that in 562 CE – 3 years before his death – Belisarius was trialed by a man called Procopius in Constantinople for conspiring against Justinian. His judge could well have been his former legal secretary. Belisarius would be found guilty, imprisoned, pardoned and restored to Imperial favour. The details are missing from my source – Wikipedia – perhaps they are missing from history. The rise and fall of his fortunes in this incident echo the tempestuous nature of Justinian’s opinion of Belisarius.

Jean Francois Pierre Peyron's Belisarius receiving hospitality from a peasont who served under him, 1779
Jean Francois Pierre Peyron’s Belisarius receiving hospitality from a peasont who served under him, 1779, Public Domain

There is much that we know and much that we don’t about Belisarius. A period in his biography intrigues me, from 548-9CE until 559CE. Apparently he was retired from field duty. Early in this period he returned to service in Justinian’s personal guard – according to Wikipedia. What I can’t digest is that he could stand around immobile, a beefeater in court, while battles were being waged on the field. To hear and not participate? How?

Mattia Preti, Belisarius receiving Alms, 1660-1665
Mattia Preti, Belisarius receiving Alms, 1660-1665. Public Domain

Was he injured in his last campaign? Did the re-emergence of the plague catch up with him and weaken him? Did Justinian beggar him in reality? What happened to his buccellari – his personal cavalry?

In his scuttlebutt of a Secret History, Procopius recounts Belisarius’ failure to shield his only daughter, Ioannina, from the vagrancies of loss of reputation. Apparently, while Belisarius and Antonina were away in Italy fighting Justinian’s wars, Theodora took it upon herself to marry her grandson, Anastasius to Ioannina. She did this out of avarice – to ensure Belisarius’ fortune reverted in some way to the crown. Procopius intimates it was the only way she found of bringing Belisarius abundant spoils from Africa and Italy into her control.

A mash up of two different mosaics in the Basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna – from left to right Belisarius, Emperor Justinian, Empress Theodora, Antonina and Ioannina using Public Domain images

Antonina saw through Theodora’s motives and railed against the marriage, pursuing a divorce/separation for her daughter. Splitting up the couple, who it seems had co-habited, would ruin Ioannina’s reputation and therefore her chances of remarrying and having children – and for Belisarius, grandchildren. When called upon to give his opinion on the matter, Belisarius sided against Theodora – his apparent benefactor- and his daughter’s future, to support Antonina.

Coupling this story with the building of a fort, known as Ioannina about 200km west of the Empire’s soon-to-be second city, Thessaloniki, sout-west of Belisarius’ birthplace, Germania, modern day Bulgaria, and far enough away from the jealousy/paranoia-stricken Justinian’s capital, casts a beam of light into my conjectures on how Belisarius could have calmly rested in his suburban estate in the eastern outreaches of Constantinople when there was so much activity in the field. He didn’t.

What if Belisarius retired to the country near the Bulgars’ playground during his retirement from field duty?

Maps made with Scribble Maps utilising data from Google maps.

Procopius doesn’t name the fortress Ioannina but describes the site of the present day ruins on Lake Pamvotis (Pamvotida) in his De Aedficius IV.1.39-42:

“There was a certain ancient city in this region, abundantly supplied with water and endowed with a name worthy of the place; for it was called Euroea from ancient times. Not far from this Euroea a lake spreads out with an island. In its midst upon which rises a hill. And a break is left in the lake just large enough so that a kind of approach to the island remains. The Emperor moved the inhabitants of Euroa to the island to this place, built a very strong city and put a wall about it.”


To date, the fortress of Ioannina on the bank of Lake Pamvotida in Epirus hasn’t verified with relics, nor have other textual references verified, a Byzantine habitation for Justinian’s time. Ancient Greek civilization, yes. A textual reference from Basil II in the 10th Century, yes. Norman occupation by Bohemond of Taranto in the 11th Century- yes. A strong Ottoman history, yes. Justinian’s time – No.

The island in Lake Pamvotida (Pamvotis) just across from Fortress Ioannina, Photo credit:https://pixabay.com/images/id-1040298/Image by Ελευθέριος Μπέτσης from pixabay.com

Rereading the above quote, I have to ask, could it be that archaeologists have misunderstood the location of Justinian’s fort? To me, it seems that they should be looking on the island in the lake, not the fort on the lakeside. The island may not have a land approach today, but it seems as if it did in the 6th Century CE. Strategically, the lake forms a natural moat. I could imagine Belisarius retiring there as easily as I could imagine Theodora naming the new fort for the girl she was enticing to marry her grandson.

In any case, I know where I would be unpacking my metal detector if I happened to visit Ioannina. After a short ferry ride, of course.

Hagia Sophia – Museum No More

Hagia Sophia is a magical place. Religion, history, art and politics have defined its existence since its foundations were first laid. If it was a smaller edifice – who knows, it could have been moved to the British Museum and put on display. But it’s not a small building. It’s an architectural icon of Byzantium, the crowning glory of the Eastern Roman Empire, that no longer has a Belisarius to defend it, as it did when it was first built.

The passageway to the gallery is not quite a stairwell.
The “Rampwell” – nothing brings home the age of the Hagia Sophia more than the ancient rampway up to the gallery. Why did I expect stairs?

Hagia Sophia was designed for Emperor Justinian by Anthemius of Tralles and Isidore of Miletus and built in under 6 years in the 530s CE. It’s an incredible building for its time. Its architects were faced with fitting a square peg in a round hole. The answer was to innovate and their solution was to fit a round peg snuggly into a square hole. They suspended its dome-on-a-drum onto a square floorplan and created an enclosed, extensive, uninterrupted space. A sprawling basilica for its time.

Under Hagia Sophia’s dome with the Seraphim slowly uncovering their faces on the triangular pendentives and the Islamic prayers in calligraphy in the summit.
Seraphim, dome and half domes with Islamic prayer discs

It was part of the Emperor Justinian’s rebuilding programme after the destruction caused in Constantinople by the Nika riots. It is the greatest cathedral built in the Byzantine Empire and served as a Christian Church until the fall of Constantinople to Mehmet II in 1453 – over 900 years.

Mehmet was determined to turn it into a mosque and to this purpose he set up the Grand Bazaar in Constantinople to raise funds to build the minarets that now mark its Muslim history. After the Ottoman Empire was thrown off, it was converted into a museum that displays both its Christian and Muslim heritage, in 1935.

In 2014, this then UNESCO World Heritage site was being restored. The mosaics that had been painted over during its time as a mosque were being restored. Islamic prayers that graced the dome and discs were added near to the pendentives supporting the dome. Mosaics had been uncovered showing Emperors and Empresses making offerings to Christ. In the rear of the building Mehmet’s family lie in state in the family mausoleum with its ornate calligraphy and gorgeous Iznik tiles.

As a museum, the building served a humanist purpose. It’s architecture and art could be admired. Unfinished in its restoration, its original glory could be guessed at. Grand as it is – traces of a grander resplendent past were left to be puzzled over.

By building it, Emperor Justinian aimed to be remembered. Ironically, no uncovered mosaic on its walls depicted Justinian. For that mosaic, we have to visit the Basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna. San Vitale was completed decades after the Hagia Sophia and in its colourful opulence we can begin to imagine what the Hagia Sofia once presented.

The decision by the Turkish government to convert the building to a mosque is unnecessary. The Blue Mosque is a far bigger structure that sits in all of its splendour across the piazza from the Hagia Sophia. The Blue Mosque is situated bankside and majestically dominates the cityscape. When the call to prayer is made at the Blue Mosque, it can be heard at the Hagia Sophia.

For all of the restoration and archaeological work that could be done and won’t be – in the building and in the tunnels under it – it’s an injustice to the understanding of history. So many questions unanswered are posed by its silent masonry.

After friday’s decision, the Hagia Sophia will have to keep her mysteries hidden indefinitely.