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  • The Princess's Garden by Vanessa Berridge

    I have just started on my second book for Amberley Publishing on the lives of Great British Gardeners. I will begin in the late sixteenth century with the herbalist John Gerard and come up to the present day, probably finishing with handsome Chelsea superstar Tom Stuart-Smith.

    The British have always been a nation of gardeners and exploring the lives of some twenty-five or more Britain’s greatest exponents is a good way of understanding this island’s history. For gardeners and gardening have always responded to and symbolised political and social upheavals in Britain down the centuries. Take, for instance, early gardeners John Gerard and the John Tradescants, father and son. They were men of their time, investing in colonial adventures, and indeed all travelled far afield as few members of their class would have done before the late sixteenth century. Interestingly, gardeners from the Tradescants’ time onwards have been accorded enhanced social status, with an eighteenth century gardener such as ‘Capability’ Brown dining regularly with dukes and sending his sons to Eton.

    The Princess's Garden 1 Augusta, Dowager Princess of Wales by Allan Ramsay (1758). (© Bute Collection@ Mount Stuart, The Princess's Garden, Amberley Publishing)

    This is partly because of the unique symbolic role that gardening has played in British history. This symbolism, perhaps, reached its zenith in the eighteenth century, and is the subject of The Princess’s Garden: Royal Intrigue and the Untold Story of Kew, my first book for Amberley, recently reissued in paperback. Kew was founded in 1759 by Augusta, Dowager Princess of Wales; the princess of the title. When the Princess of Wales Conservatory at Kew was opened by Diana, Princess of Wales, in 1987, few people realised that it had been named not for Diana but for her rather less high profile predecessor. I wanted to find out why Augusta, her husband Frederick, Prince of Wales, and her botanical advisor John Stuart, 3rd Earl of Bute, had been all but air-brushed out of history. As I researched the book I uncovered a colourful story of dissension in the royal family, and of kidnapping, dramatic childbirth, sibling rivalry, and adultery.

    So my book recounts the turbulent political and personal background to the founding of Kew Gardens in 1759, revealing the discord at the heart of the royal family. It also shows how gardening in the eighteenth century was highly political. What, you may ask, has gardening to do with politics? At that time – to adapt the feminist catch phrase of the 1960s and 1970s – the horticultural was the political. The gardens of the aristocracy – Stourhead, Blenheim, Houghton and Stowe – were all used to display political affiliation. The royal gardens at Richmond and later at Kew were also manipulated to put forward the regal and princely points of view.

    Augusta of Saxe-Gotha arrived in England, aged just seventeen, to marry Frederick, Prince of Wales, the elder son of George II and his intellectual wife, Caroline of Ansbach.  Detested by his parents, and indeed eventually exiled from court, this slightly wayward young man had to make his own way in life. He was befriended by Lord Cobham, the leader of the Whig opposition to the Prime Minister, Sir Robert Walpole. There was no love lost between Frederick and Walpole, ally of Queen Caroline, so with the rogue Whigs looking for a figurehead and Frederick seeking a role, it was a political marriage made in heaven.

    The Princess's Garden 2 View from the Portico of Stowe House to the Park by Jacques Rigaud. (By kind permission of Stowe House Preservation Trust/Stowe School), The Princess's Garden, Amberley Publishing)

    Cobham was the creator of the pre-eminent political garden at Stowe, in Buckinghamshire, where he set out his agenda as a Whig leader. Britain had only been a nation since 1707, with the Act of Union in the year of Frederick’s birth. The early eighteenth-century landscape movement was a means of articulating on the land the political voice of the ascendant Whig aristocracy, engineers of the Hanoverian succession. At Stowe, a series of talented garden designers laid out the ground and constructed temples of follies which embodied Cobham’s political creed. The grounds were meant to be seen by the public; indeed, in 1717, Cobham opened the first ever visitor centre at the New Inn by the gate to Stowe.

    Influenced by this powerful aristocrat, Frederick began working on his gardens, first at Carlton House and subsequently, as he prepared for kingship, on his garden at Kew, expecting his noble advisers to lend a hand. He led fashion, as a letter from 1734 reveals: ‘There is a new taste in gardening just arisen, which has been practised with so great success at the Prince’s garden in Town that a general alteration of some of the most considerable gardens in the kingdom is begun.’

    The Princess's Garden 3 The White House, Kew by Johan Jacob Schalch (c.1760). (Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2015, The Princess's Garden, Amberley Publishing)

    But his lasting memorial is not Carlton House, which was razed to the ground by his grandson, George IV, but the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Frederick died in 1751, before he could inherit the throne, and before he completed his plans. But Augusta took up his spade, declaring herself determined to make a garden which would ‘contain all the plants known on Earth’.  Implicit in this aim was an awareness of the economic potential of plants as Britain developed into a world trading power, forged through commercial muscle. Augusta’s vision for her garden was innovative, combining for the first time the landscape and the botanic in one garden – and eventually eclipsing Stowe which was much more revered in the eighteenth century. Kew is a research institution of international importance, and since 2003, a World Heritage Site, whereas Stowe is a museum to the values of the eighteenth century, which needs interpretation boards at every point.

    It’s an intriguing chapter in British history, which shows how gardens helped Britain, by then a constitutional monarchy, to create a distinctive new culture for itself. At every stage of our history, our gardens have represented major social and political trends – look at the Eden Project, or indeed the new Hive at Kew, which is invested with important ecological messages in the early twenty-first century.

    It is stories like these that I hope to tease out as I research the lives of some of our Great British Gardeners.

    Augusta, Princess of Wales, will be one of the stars of an important exhibition this summer and autumn at Kensington Palace in London. Enlightenment Princesses: Caroline, Augusta, Charlotte and the Making of the Modern World highlights three overlooked Hanoverian consorts and charts their major contribution to British cultural life in the eighteenth-century.  The exhibition runs from 22 June to 12 November.


    Vanessa Berridge's new paperback edition of The Princess's Garden: Royal Intrigue and the Untold Story of Kew is available for purchase now.

  • How Australia Became British: Empire and the China Trade by Howard T. Fry


    Whereas from its foundation at the beginning of the 17th century the East India Company had been trading in spices from the East Indies and luxury imports from China, in the latter part of the 18th century changes in the pattern of this trade began to become apparent.  Firstly, the Company had always had great difficulty in finding British exports that were of appeal to the Chinese market, and had therefore been compelled to rely on the export of silver wherewith to pay for their oriental imports. As the company became evermore firmly established in India, the so called ‘Country Trade’ specializing in the marine and jungle products of the East Indies and of the Malay archipelago came to play an increasingly important role in financing the Company’s import trade. But the East India Company, having already been through recent wars with the French, firstly the Seven Years War of 1756-63, and then the wars in India in which Clive’s victories had led to the dissolution of the French East India Company, and foreseeing the likely outbreak of another war with France in the near future, began to take precautionary measures

    The government led by the Younger Pitt rightly foresaw in any such Anglo-French war, Britain’s overseas trade would become a major French target. An increasing part of that trade now consisted of the manufactures of Britain’s industrial revolution, and the British government was hoping that it might prove possible to expand that export trade to the Chinese empire. Two trade missions were therefore sent to China to prepare the way, the first was led by Col. Cathcart, whose ship sailed out of London just as the First Fleet, under the command of Capt. Phillip was approaching Botany Bay. Cathcart’s mission was intended to try to persuade the Chinese Emperor to allow the English East India Company to trade with more ports than Canton. However, this first mission never reached China, Col. Cathcart died at sea off the Malayan archipelago. The second mission, led by Lord Macartney, had been prepared with the utmost care to display a wide range of products of the Industrial Revolution, which it was hoped, might appeal to the Chinese market. This mission did reach China, and Macartney did meet the aged Chinese Emperor, but to no avail, since the Emperor assured Macartney that China lacked nothing and every effort was made by the Chinese to depict this mission as just another ‘tribute mission’ from a vassal state to China.  This English approach was in any case wholly unrealistic, since it was supposed that the inhabitants of the Chinese Empire were mainly prosperous rather than a peasant population as was the case. But the outcome was tragic. The only export that the East India Company could find which was in widespread demand in China, and that was a major product of British India, was opium. Hence this became the major export of the company, though not directly, since it was an illegal import in China, but indirectly through the ‘Country Trade’.

    The Macartney embassy had taken place just a decade after the peace of Versailles (1783) which had brought the American War of Independence to an end. In that war, France, Spain and the Dutch Netherlands had all become involved in the war on the side of the rebellious colonies, but they were all bitterly disappointed at the peace terms that they had been obliged to accept. France gained nothing, Spain failed to recover Gibraltar, while the Dutch found that the Austrian Netherlands had seized their rich trade managing British exports to the European continent, while Austria, for the first time in history had become a major maritime power. The Dutch situation has already been dealt with in Chapter Two, but the bitter disappointment of the three powers made Vergennes, the French foreign minister, very hopeful that he might be able to exploit this feeling of deep disillusion among the peoples of these three countries so as to revive the Triple Alliance of the American War.

    In 1784 Vergennes was in fact showing the extraordinary lengths to which he was prepared to go in order to persuade Spain to join such an alliance, when, in negotiations to adjust the Franco-Spanish frontier, he was willing to give up a portion of the French frontier inhabited by the Basques, who had been on friendly terms with the French for four centuries, and whose territory was rich in timber resources of potential value to the French navy.

    The English East India Company viewed these negotiations with apprehension, realizing that if France was able to revive this Triple Alliance, this would render the South China Sea closed to English East Indiamen in time of War. For if such vessels were damaged by enemy action or stormy weather, they would have no friendly or neutral harbour wherein to seek repairs; the east coast being dominated by the Spanish Philippine archipelago, the south coast by the Dutch East Indies Empire, while the west coast was dominated by France, as a result of the French missionary Bishop Pigneau de Behaine’s work in helping Prince Nguyen Anh  regain the throne in Cochin China (modern South Vietnam), where his family had been the traditional rulers until overthrown by the Tay-son rebellion. The northern coast of the South China Sea was part of the Chinese empire, then in a state of political chaos.

    Hence Sir George Young, who had once served in the Company, but was now a senior naval officer, who had clearly been keeping abreast of the Company’s affairs, prepared his scheme of 1785, which envisaged ships entering the Pacific Ocean by way of the Cape of Good Hope, and then making use of Botany Bay as a refreshment stop in a harbour where ships could carry out repairs. From thence ships could sail north and approach Canton from the south or east. There is good reason to believe that the Company was doing this regularly, soon after Young had prepared his plan, which had specifically recommended the Company to make use of it. That this was quickly becoming the Company’s new route to Canton is confirmed by the fact that when Young asked about the safety of his scheme, it was to the captains of East Indiamen that he turned for support, which was quickly given.

    As commander of the First Fleet it was common sense for Captain Arthur Phillip to question these same commanders of East Indiamen as to the positive and negative characteristics of Botany Bay as a potential site for a convict settlement, and from first-hand experience they would have been able to give him a negative opinion, and to point to the vast superiority of Port Jackson (Modern Sydney Harbour). This would explain the extraordinary speed with which Capt. Phillip was able to decide to abandon Botany Bay and to leave for Port Jackson.

    There is one further point. Though I have not yet been able to trace my relevant research notes, my memory tells me that when the cabinet was meeting to make its final decision on the Botany Bay project, Lord Hawkesbury was told that his presence was required. He was Chairman of the committee of the Privy Council for trade and plantations, and he had also taken the Southern Whale Fishery under his care. The call for his presence is very significant re the plans that were being thought out for the future of Botany Bay and Port Jackson, for he and Eden were the Government’s chief advisers on trading policy, and he was also a vital leader of the Southern Whale Fishery.


    Howard T. Fry's book How Australia Became British: Empire and The China Trade is available for purchase now.

  • Forgotten History by Jem Duducu

    If there is an area of history I excel at it has to be “the obscure”. I can find it a little frustrating at times that the same old stories get trotted out again and again. I regularly peruse bookshops and often think, “oh great ANOTHER book on the Tudors” and that’s not the only topic that gets trotted out almost monthly. Yet there are literally thousands of interesting tales of long forgotten warriors, crazy rulers or plans that went tragically (sometimes comically) wrong.

    With the books I‘ve written so far I have tried to slip in some of these obscure gems in at various points.  I would have been remise not to have discussed the crusades in my book Deus Vult a  Concise History of the Crusades but even then I managed to get in the fact that one positive spin off of this bloody chapter of history was the introduction of the wheelbarrow to Europe.

    However with my new book Forgotten History I have really been able to cut loose and share my love of forgotten history. Split between four (rough) eras, I am able to throw out obscure, and I hope fascinating, stories from the dawn of mankind right up to the 1980s. If these titles wet your appetite then you have a similar mind to mine and rest assured, I tell all in the book:-

    How long have ladies been using cosmetics?

    Cavemen were communists.

    The biggest loser in history was Ala ad-Din Muhammed II Shah of the Khwarazmian Empire.

    The Battle of Portland, the decisive victory that both sides won…

    The most dangerous substance ever?

    How Tsar Paul I is a bit like a cheap sandwich…

    How many times has the US Air Force dropped nuclear bombs on Spain?

    All of these are genuine moments in history and proves the point that makes me love history - “truth is stranger than fiction” (Mark Twain).

    I will leave you with one example from the book. You would think that industrial action was perhaps an invention of the industrial revolution? Well not in the case of these plucky Ancient Egyptian artisans:-

    Ancient Egyptian strike action

    Ptolemaic Temple at Deir el-Medina (II) Deir el-Medina: the results of the first recorded strike action. (Courtesy of the Institute of the Ancient World)

    Going on strike, you would presume, is closely linked to the history of industrialisation and the formation of trade unions. Wrong! While it was of course the industrialisation of economies that led to better organised work forces, the idea of putting down tools because of a dispute goes back a very long way indeed.

    The very first strike recorded in history started in 1152 BC, on 14 November. This was during the reign of Rameses III in ancient Egypt.

    It is a common misconception, largely created by Biblical stories that much of the work on ancient Egyptian monuments was carried out by slaves. While the Egyptians did indeed have slaves, they were by no means the main workforce. Craftsmen, builders and haulers were paid men who took pride in their work – this is evidenced by the quality of the structures, many of which have stood for more than 3,000 years.

    In November 1152 BC, trouble was brewing during the construction of a royal necropolis – a group of tombs/crypts – at Deir el-Medina. The workers felt they were being underpaid and that their wages were in arrears, so they organised a mass walkout, halting construction.

    The response was very interesting: you might assume that pharaohs would bring out the whips or cut the heads off the ring leaders of the strike, but after discussion the artisans’ wages were paid – in fact, their wages were actually increased – and the workers returned to finish the job.

    The necropolis still stands to this day.


    Jem Duducu's new book Forgotten History is available for purchase now.

  • The Story of the World by W.B. Bartlett

    How do you write a story of the world? The subject matter is of course vast to the point of almost being infinite and what to put in and what to leave out becomes a monumental challenge of Herculean proportions. In the end it is all a matter of personal choice.

    Yet some informal guidelines help. For one thing I had decided from the start of writing this book, which took several years of my life to complete, that I would adopt a strictly chronological approach. World histories often adopt a thematic rather than a time-based view of things. I fully understand that but I also feel that there is an interest in knowing what was happening when. As a result the book was divided into chapters each covering a period of time, typically a century but as it moves towards modern times for shorter periods.

    Story of the World 1That though posed a different challenge. The further back in time we go, the less agreement we have on when exactly things happened. When we get to the ‘BC’ period, there is a wide variation in estimates of when events took place. There is also the issue that new discoveries are being made all the time. As a recent example, news emerged in March this year that the origin of man has been pushed back half a million years with the discovery of a fossil that is 2.8 million years old in Ethiopia. One has to accept that this is happening all the time, and so too is the story of the world being written all the time.

    At the back of my mind when writing this book though was the question ‘how did we get where we are today’? As a result I was on the lookout for major events and civilisations. Some I knew a good deal about already. My background as a medievalist prepared me well for that era in Europe. I had always had a passing interest in Ancient Egypt or Rome too.

    But other areas required more research. I wanted to avoid making this too Eurocentric a book, so I studied the history of China and India, or the Americas and Africa, much more than I had done previously. Hopefully there is a bit of a balance in the book as a result.

    Story of the World 2I also wanted to talk about people as well as civilisations. History really begins when we can talk about a person called ‘X’. When we go far back in time, into prehistory, we cannot pick out much about the lives of individuals. Archaeology can help to fill in some gaps but only up to a certain limit. It is writing that enables us to (almost literally) put some flesh on the bones of lives now long gone.

    At the end of this rather large and challenging project, is there an overall conclusion to be made? There are perhaps many but one thing stands out for me. For many countries in the world, it is geography that shapes their history. Britain, with its narrow seas, has been largely protected throughout the past thousand years because of its island status. Other countries on the other hand live on political fault-lines which often expose them to stresses: Israel, Georgia, Romania for example. Or even the country where I am writing this blog from, Moldova in Eastern Europe, where half the population is of Romanian heritage and the other half Russian. Next door to Ukraine as it is, Moldova is well aware of the danger of being too close to conflict zones.

    It was in any event an enjoyable book to write and I hope it will be an enjoyable one to read too. It will though need an update in 25 years’ time because much will surely happen in the intervening period that we do not currently anticipate.

    World - 9781445646992

    W.B. Bartlett's paperback book The Story of the World is available for purchase now.

  • Welcome to the Amberley blog!


    We are delighted to be able to present our new website to you, along with our exciting new blog.

    The Amberley blog will consist of our new and forthcoming releases, interviews with our authors and regular guest posts on a variety of subjects.

    We shall have posts on the Women’s Institute which celebrates its centenary this year, the history of the railways in Britain, the legacy of Henry V, the history of British weather, the writings of Eustace Chapuys Ambassador to Henry VIII and the sinking of the Lusitania!

    Also read all about Richard III’s reinterment in Leicester Cathedral on 26th March. Our bestselling biography by David Baldwin is being updated with information on the reburial and we will have posts on the events in Leicester that week.

    Out this month:

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    Our book of the month! With 25% off during March only, read the remarkable story of a life of privilege, tragedy and danger, of a woman who so nearly became the seventh wife of Henry VIII: Henry VIII's Last Love: The Extraordinary Life of Katherine Willoughby, Lady in Waiting to the Tudors.

    ‘A gripping biography... David Baldwin is a brilliant historical detective.’ Philippa Gregory

    Plus be in with the chance of winning a copy of this fantastic book on our Facebook page:

    Check out this fantastic article which recently appeared recently in The Times:



    Amberley Blog - times-review-henry


    ‘Rude and feisty widow was in Henry’s mind for seventh wife.’








    And this in this month’s BBC History Magazine:

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    ‘David Baldwin tells the story of Katherine Willoughby, a great friend of the Tudor king, who seemed set to replace Katherine Parr as his bride.’







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    To commemorate the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt, this is a new biography of Henry V, the warrior king. Teresa Cole looks at the life and legacy of a king whose heroic achievements and tragic early death may truly be said to have changed the course of British history.





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    In The Family of Richard III Professor Michael Hicks, described by BBC History Magazine as ‘the greatest living expert on Richard III’, reassesses the family ties and entrails of his wayward and violent family. Includes a scathing reappraisal of the 2012 dig which claims to have discovered Richard's remains and brings into question the authenticity of the find. Chosen by The Bookseller Magazine as one of their highlights of 2015.




    We look forward to telling you all about our exciting titles and up-to-date news. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter for regular updates including exciting reviews, articles and interviews.

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