Tuesday, June 27, 2023

This Blog Is Moving after 14 Years!

I started writing this blog in October of 2009, after the publication of my first book, Ruth by Lake and Prairie. Ruth's story tells about the 1831 journey to what would one day become Naperville, Illinois. This Kate's Brief History blog let me share tidbits of history about Naperville, DuPage County, and Illinois. All the bits that I loved researching, but which didn't get into the book. 

Later local history also showed up in these posts because I was offering a monthly history lesson to fellow business folk at the Naperville Chamber of Commerce. It only made sense to know more about the city in which we were doing business!

As I progressed with my Agatha Christie research, I started writing more about England in the early 1900s. I am thrilled to report that the glossary, Agatha Christie Annotated: Investigating the Books of the 1920s has now been published and with it, a brand new website at AgathaAnnotated.com.

I have also been blogging at my author website, KateGingold.com, for many years, but I decided that it's time to bring the blogs together. From now on, both blogs can be found at AgathaAnnotated.com/Blog

Thank you so much for following me here at Kate's Brief History and I do hope you will follow me over to AgathaAnnotated as we start something new!

Friday, June 9, 2023

June Is a Lovely Month in England to Look at Gardens - and History

Agatha Christie's brother, Monty
While thinking about a topic for this month’s post, I wondered if there was an Agatha Christie-related or 1920s event that happened in June to write about. I did a little online research – and then created my own event!

If you’re into gardens, you can find videos online of gorgeous English gardens and learn what’s blooming in June. And speaking of blooms, search results bring up the famous poem “O my Luve is like a red, red rose/That’s newly sprung in June,” although Robert Burns is actually the national poet of Scotland, not England. Looking a bit further, I read that Burns also wrote the words to “Auld Lang Syne,” which I already knew, and that he died at the age of thirty-seven, which I did not know.

June seems to be a good month for crowning English monarchs. The coronations of Henry VIII and his first wife, Catherine of Aragon were held in June of 1509. Henry’s second wife, Anne Boleyn, was crowned in June of 1533. Anne’s reign only lasted until 1536, but 420 years later, England celebrated the coronation of Elizabeth II, and she is considered the second-longest-reigning monarch of all time. Louis XIV beat her record, having ascended the throne at the age of four.

Since Agatha Christie’s earliest novels often refer to World War I, I looked for June events there, too. The war raged on from July of 1914 until November of 1918, and in June of 1917, the British royal family changed their name. When Queen Victoria married her Albert, he was a German prince of the Duchy of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. Technically, that made them Mr. and Mrs. Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. Germany was England’s enemy during WWI, so George V, the grandson of Albert, made the decision to drop the Saxe-Coburg and Gotha name. Instead, he took the name “Windsor” for his family.

The only Christie-related event in June I could find was the birthday of Agatha’s brother, Monty, on June 23. The second child and only son of Fred and Clara Miller, he was born in 1880, just eighteen months after his sister, Madge. Fred and Clara’s third and final child, Agatha, wouldn’t follow for another ten years, in 1890.

Fred was an American whose mother died when he was quite young. His father remarried an English woman and while there were no offspring from this union, they did raise a niece of Fred’s stepmother. In 1878, Fred and the niece, Clara, were married. They settled in Torquay, which is where both Madge and Agatha were born, but Monty was born in New Jersey during a long visit to the United States.

Monty apparently did a little of this and little of that as an adult. He was stationed in South Africa and in India during the Boer War. After seven years of service, he became a professional hunter in East Africa until he ran afoul of illegal ivory trading. During World War I, he served with the East Africa Transport Corps, rising to the rank of captain. Towards the end of the war, Monty was wounded in the arm, and it became severely infected. He never fully recovered and suffered from ill health until his death in 1929 at the age of forty-nine.

Reading about Monty, there seem to be echoes of him in some of Christie’s characters, particularly the young men who love Africa and can’t seem to settle on a career. Maybe she drew on Monty to flesh out Anthony Cade and Harry Lucas, among others.

As you see, while interesting enough, Christie-related June events are a bit scarce. That’s not why I created it, but I do have my very own Agatha Christie event this June. After many, many months, my book has finally been published! The official title is Agatha Annotated: Investigating the Books of the 1920s, with a subtitle of Obscure Terms and Historical References in the Works of Agatha Christie.

It's been a long time coming and it was a lot of work, not only for me, but for my husband, Don, as well. He’s my publisher, and a glossary like this takes a lot of effort to make it lay out nicely in both print and ebook formats. There’s also an online data base folks can subscribe to which was even more work to develop.

More details are coming for all of this, but this is a history blog, not an author blog. I’m just so excited that this book is finally a reality! I hope other history buffs like me find these details of Agatha Christie’s 1920s novels as fascinating as I do.

Friday, May 12, 2023

100 Years Ago, King Charles' Grandparents Got Hitched and Other Random Facts

Working on this Agatha Christie book prompts me to wonder about life one hundred years ago, so I googled “what happened in 1923 in England.” One event was the wedding of the Queen Mum, King Charles’ grandmother, and that started me down a fun rabbit hole.

Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon was the ninth of ten children of Claude and Nina, Lord and Lady Glamis. For all you Shakespeare lovers: Yes, that Glamis, as in Macbeth. The family can trace their roots back to Robert the Bruce, but it was Sir John Lyon who became Thane of Glamis in the 1300s, a few centuries after Macbeth. Lady Elizabeth and all of her siblings spent much of their childhoods in Glamis Castle.

Like many other great houses, Glamis Castle opened its doors to convalescing soldiers during World War I. Britain joined the War on Lady Elizabeth’s fourteenth birthday, so she was rather young when the wounded started arriving, but she was old enough to help out, and she did.

Four of Lady Elizabeth’s brothers served in the army. Brother Michael was wounded, captured, and imprisoned until the end of the War, and Brother Fergus was killed in 1915 at the Battle of Loos, France.

Once the War was over, Lady Elizabeth turned to socializing and flirting like any other young woman. In 1921, she attended a dance in London given by Lord and Lady Farquhar. Prince Albert, the Duke of York, was also in attendance. While Elizabeth was not royal, she and her siblings had visited with the children of King George V and Queen Mary: Edward, Albert, Mary, Henry, George, and John. The Farquhar event, however, was the first time Prince Albert had seen Elizabeth all grown up, and he was smitten.

He soon asked her to marry him, and she refused, knowing full well how difficult it would be to live as a royal, even though Albert was a younger son and not destined to be king. The following year, Elizabeth stood up as a bridesmaid for Albert’s sister, Mary, and the prince proposed to her yet again. And once more, she refused him.

While it was considered a modern, equalitarian notion for Albert to pursue a woman who was not of royal blood, his mother, the Queen, had already approved of the match and he was very much in love. Finally, in January of 1923, Lady Elizabeth said “yes,” and they were married in April, 100 years ago. You can see some film footage from the event online.

The wedding was held at Westminster Abbey, which is the same place where the coronation of King Charles was recently held. If you watched any of the coronation procession, you may have noticed a slab of black marble on the floor which is Britain’s Tomb of the Unknown Warrior from World War I.

As Lady Elizabeth entered the Abbey for her wedding ceremony, she impulsively laid her bridal bouquet on the tomb in memory of her brother, Fergus, and walked up the aisle without flowers. Although they now wait until after the ceremony and photos, many royal brides, including Diana, Kate, and Meghan have continued this tradition.

Camilla was not married in the church, but she did have a “coronation bouquet” that was left on the slab a few hours after she and Charles were crowned. Camilla’s mother-in-law, Queen Elizabeth, did not get the chance to honor the Unknown Warrior at her own wedding because her bouquet disappeared immediately after the ceremony and was never found. In 2020, however, a medically masked Queen Elizabeth offered a replica of her bridal bouquet at Westminster just before shut-down for the 100th anniversary of the Unknown Warrior’s entombment.

But back to Lady Elizabeth. She and Albert apparently had a very happy marriage which included two daughters, Elizabeth and Margaret. When they had been married thirteen years, Albert’s father, King George V, died and his brother, Edward, became king. There was not a coronation, however, because of the furor over Edward’s plan to marry Wallis Simpson as soon as her second divorce went through. Instead, Edward abdicated after just ten months on the throne. Albert then became King George VI and Lady Elizabeth became his Queen Consort.

Yes, Albert chose to be crowned George, like his father. Even more confusing, he had a younger brother who was already named George. Charles’ grandson, George, could be George VII when he becomes king, he, unless he chooses another name. (Or there isn’t a monarchy by then.) 

While I found all of this extremely interesting, the only piece pertinent to my original search was that Albert and Elizabeth were married in 1923. Going down rabbit holes like this explains why it takes me so long to conduct research! If anyone has suggestions on how to discipline myself, I’d love to hear them.

Photo: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wedding_of_Prince_Albert_and_Lady_Elizabeth_Bowes-Lyon#/media/File:Wedding_of_George_VI_and_Elizabeth_Bowes-Lyon.png

Saturday, April 15, 2023

Old Coin Cache Prompts New English History Lessons

Recently, my husband cleared out some drawers. Don found the usual bits that he should have thrown out long ago but didn’t, as well as a few forgotten things that he was happy to see again. He also found a handful of English coins.

We took our children to England and Wales in 2000 and we went alone in 1987, but these were not coins left over from those trips. These coins were probably from the pockets of Don’s father. Don traveled to England with his parents when he was five or six years old and that may have been when the coins were acquired. Or maybe they had been in his father’s own junk drawer for years, remnants of his life before he emigrated to the United States in the 1930s.

Some of the coins are quite old and I was intrigued since I’ve been researching England in the 1920s. All bronze pennies and half pennies, they aren’t worth much since they were well-used, but it still gave me a bit of a thrill to hold them in my hand.

There are pennies from several years, including 1916, 1918, 1927, and 1929. They all look the same, with George V’s head on one side and the seated figure of Britannia on the other. George’s father was the eldest son of Queen Victoria and, much like the current king, spent most of his life as the Prince of Wales before his brief reign as Edward VII. George never expected to be king himself since he had an elder brother, but Albert Victor unfortunately died of pneumonia at the age of 28. 

George had been occupied pursuing a career in the navy and falling in love with a cousin (those Victorians did that a lot!), but once he became the heir apparent, his life changed drastically. He wound up marrying his brother’s fiancĂ© and they were crowned king and queen in 1911, following his father’s death.

George became the father of Edward VIII, the man who abdicated when he wasn’t allowed to marry divorcee Wallis Simpson. The crown then passed to George’s younger son, also named George, who was Elizabeth’s father and Charles’ grandfather.

There were other children, too, including Prince John who died young in 1919. John was the last-born child and had developmental delays and epilepsy. His parents and siblings seem to have been fond of him, but a separate household was eventually set up for his care. Especially during the war years when the other royals were much occupied, John was looked after by the family nanny.

The backs of the George pennies feature Britannia with a trident and shield. Britannia is described as the “personification of Britain,” which was the name used for the country when it was under Roman rule during the first few centuries A.D.. Britannia started appearing on England’s coins in mid-1600s. 

Edgar Bertram MacKennal was the engraver of George’s portrait. He was the king’s favorite artist and sculpted several likenesses of him as well as many other works. MacKennal was an Australian and became the first of his countrymen to be knighted.  

This penny’s particular Britannia was the work of Leonard Charles Wyon. The son of William Wyon, an accomplished engraver, Leonard was apprenticed to the art at a young age, and took over his late father’s position when he was just twenty-four years old. Father William engraved penny heads of George IV and William IV, as well as the first portrait penny of Victoria in 1839. 

Son Leonard was chosen to engrave the second Victoria coin portrait in 1860, the first penny that was bronze rather than copper. This coin is known as the “Bun Head” because of the queen’s hairstyle and was in use until 1894. A very well-worn “Bun Head” penny issued in 1878 is among the coins Don inherited. 

There is also a second Victoria penny known as “Old Head” or “Veiled Head” that was issued between 1895-1901. One of those, from 1899, is also in Don’s collection. This portrait is the widow-in-mourning Victoria with which we are all familiar, designed by Thomas Brock and engraved by William de Saulles. William de Saulles engraved Britannia on the flip side as well but used the previous design by Leonard Charles Wyon. 

De Saulles was another prolific and popular sculptor. The Titanic memorial in Belfast was one of his works. He was given the commission in 1913, but World War I intervened, and the memorial wasn’t completed and dedicated until 1920. 

While I am certainly not a coin collector, researching these very old pennies and actually holding them in my hand makes me feel even closer to the 1920s history I’ve been working on for Agatha Annotated. History is so much more than a dusty book! I think making connections like this is important for reminding us that the past isn’t just a story. It’s full of real people with real issues and if we empathize with them, we can learn from them.

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Ruth Grows Up - The Rest of the Story

March is Women’s History Month. I used to do more marketing around that theme when my first book, Ruth by Lake and Prairie, was still newish, even though Ruth is only twelve in the story. I rarely talk about Ruth as an adult, but it seems fitting for the occasion.

I couldn’t believe it until I did the math, but it’s been seventeen years since Ruth by Lake and Prairie was published! Drawing on all the history I could find, it tells the journey to settle Naperville, Illinois. I chose Ruth as the main character because the children of Joseph and John Naper were only preschool-aged. Ruth is their niece and was also on the voyage, so it made more sense to use her as the main character.
Briefly, if you don’t already know this story, in 1831, Joseph Naper planned a community in Illinois. He gathered friends and family from New York and Ohio, including his brother, John Naper, and brother-in-law, John Murray, who was Ruth’s father. It was a four-week journey, most of which was spent sailing the schooner, Telegraph, through the Great Lakes to the Chicago settlement and then another three days overland to the DuPage River.

Bits of the story have come to light from odd sources over the years. Ruth’s older brother, Ned, gave some newspaper interviews when he was one of the last surviving original settlers. Some of the other families passed down details but didn’t stay in the area, so their contributions are harder to track down.

I have found nothing directly from Ruth like an interview or a diary. The Warren girls (of Warrenville) told a story about calling on a neighbor with Ruth. She shows up as a probable “female” in early census records and is later listed by name.


At twenty-three, Ruth married Harlyn Shattuck. Harlyn was part of a large family who had staked out land in Boone County, near Rockford. While Harlyn was clearing the land and building the farm, Ruth seems to have lived in Naperville at the New York House hotel, possibly working for brother Ned who was the owner. (Full disclosure: My notes are still packed away and I’m recalling this without confirmation.)

Eventually, Ruth and Harlyn moved out to the farm in Boone County where they raised their children Murray, John, Olive, Willard, and Orris. Nephew Byron Johnson became part of their family after the death of Ruth’s younger sister. Cordelia had given birth to her second son, Edgar, in December of 1846, but the baby died at the end of January and Cordelia followed a week later. Ruth and Cordelia’s father, John Murray, also joined the household for a while after his wife, Amy, passed away in 1856.


I never mention it in a presentation for children, but Ruth’s adult life must have been difficult. In 1845 alone, she lost toddler daughter Lovisa in July and baby daughter Louesa in September. Another daughter, her last child, died in 1863, just before her first birthday.

Ruth did not live to make old bones, either. I don’t know any details, but she died in July of 1864 at the age of 45 and is buried in the Shattucks Grove Cemetery in Boone County. This was during the Civil War and her son, Murray, named for her father’s family, had joined the 9th Illinois Cavalry in January of that year, along with several of his Shattuck cousins.

When fleshing out Ruth’s character for the book, I speculated that Ruth was family-oriented, the center of hearth and home. As evidence, I look at the care she provided for her nephew and her father and the fact that, after her death, the family seems to fall apart. Harlyn remarried, to a widow named Lucretia Orton Hall, and this second family shows up in Boone County history for generations while Ruth’s children scattered.

John died in 1872 at the age of 23, leaving a widow but no children. Military records list Murray as a deserter in September of 1865. He died in 1925 at the Fergus Falls State Hospital for the Insane in Minnesota. Orris married and settled in South Dakota. Willard, who was named for Willard Scott, stayed somewhat nearby in Kane County. Olive was the only one who remained in Boone County.

When I was writing Ruth by Lake and Prairie, I tried to find descendants to see if they had any knowledge that was handed down rather than published in books and records. There wasn’t much that was new, but I did correspond with a couple of great-grandchildren, which was great fun! I’m sure Ruth would be happy to know they still think of her.