One of the biggest social changes in the 18th century is the emergence of a new social class – the middle class – successful merchants, entrepreneurs, professional ‘trade’ classes who now had a disposable income and a desire to show off their prosperity.
A conspicuous way of doing that was at the dinner table where elaborate dinner settings with beautiful painted scenes fired into a beautiful translucent glaze showed off status.
The expansion of trade with the East – and China in particular from the 15th century started an insatiable desire for the crisp white fine porcelain pieces. So synonymous were these ceramics to the region they were made that we use the catch all term today – China.
For the next three hundred years in Europe attempts were made understand the process but it wasn’t until the reign of King George the first, 1714 that the secret was cracked (pardon the pun!)
Jesuit missionary to China, Francois Xavier d’Entrecolles spent time visiting the factories and kilns and learned the process directly from the Chinese, his detailed letters of the account were incredibly popular and a copy was owned by Josiah Wedgewood.
By the mid-century the flood gates were open. Not only were beautiful dinner settings and other practical items were created (like chamber pots and bourdeloues) , the production line process and increasing affluence meant people could afford porcelain figurines, designed for no useful purpose other than to be decorative.
The region around Staffordshire, England became the country’s central hub for pottery and porcelain making and became famous for its figurines. These gorgeous figures borrowed from fashion, politics and classical history and also offered a great sense of humour such as this double-sided Chelsea figurine showing youth and old age.
Moonstone Conspiracy Blurb
Revolution in France, rebels in England, and one woman caught in the crossfire…
For her unwitting participation in a plot to embezzle the Exchequer, Lady Abigail Houghall has spent the last two years exiled to the city of Bath. A card sharp, sometime mistress, and target of scandalous gossip by the London Beau Monde, Lady Abigail plots to escape her gilded cage as well as the prudish society that condemns her. But the times are not easy. France is in chaos. The king has been executed, and whispers of a similar revolution are stirring in England. And because of her participation in the robbery plot, the Spymaster of England is blackmailing her into passing him information about the members of London’s upper crust.
When the dashing English spy Daniel Ridgeway takes a seat at her card table and threatens to expose her for cheating, she has no choice but to do as he demands: seduce the leader of the revolutionaries and learn what she can about their plot. As she’s drawn deeper into Daniel’s dangerous world, from the seedy backstreets of London to the claustrophobic catacombs of a war-torn Paris, she realizes an even more dangerous fact. She’s falling in love with her seductive partner. And the stakes of this game might just be too high, even for her.
Moonstone Conspiracy Excerpt
With a theatrical flick of his wrist, the Admiral revealed the Ace of Hearts.
Abigail allowed herself a broad smile. It had been a good evening. Sixty guineas richer, sixty guineas closer to her own independence. Far away from her meddling relatives who would have a fit if they knew how she was spending her evening while those desiccated prunes wasted their time discussing the mating habits of the Lesser Whitethroat with their equally dour cohort.
From somewhere within the fashionable new Landsdown Crescent townhouse, decorated in the modern neoclassical taste, a grandfather clock chimed the eleventh hour of the evening. It was ignored by the other participants in this private gambling affair until a small company of maids and footmen swept through the room, clearing away empty decanters and platters as well as the chamber pots and bourdaloues.
Freshly filled decanters of wine, brandy, port, and other spirits on silver platters were installed, casting shadows like stained glass on the polished oak sideboard.
Abigail turned her attention back to the table, sweeping a large number of coins into her powder blue satin bag and listened to them tinkling, the sound of each one applause to her cleverness.
“Gentlemen, another hand?” she asked.
Fforbes shook his head adamantly. “I don’t know what my wife would say if lost more,” he said, mopping his receding hairline with a kerchief. “She will be most cross that I’ve lost this much.”
The Admiral barked out a laugh and pushed himself back from the table. “Trapped under the cat’s paw, that’s always been your trouble, Roland. You don’t know how to treat women. You’re the man of the house. You just tell the little woman what’s what. If you want to have a little flutter she has no right to tell you otherwise.”
Lord Fforbes didn’t seem to appreciate the unsolicited advice. Abigail dropped her head to avoid giving away a smile.
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Ellen Carter’s debut novel, Moonstone Obsession, was published in 2013 by Etopia Press. Earlier that year, the Regency adventure romance had been shortlisted in the Romance Writers of Australia Emerald Awards for Best Unpublished Manuscript. Set in England and France during the French Revolution, it was heralded as ‘edge-of-seat adventure and intrigue’ and ‘a rollercoaster of love, blackmail, ill-gotten gains, treason and trickery’ with Carter described as ‘a writer worth keeping an eye on’ with ‘a hint of classic suspense novelist Daphne du Maurier’.
Her second novel, Warrior’s Surrender, was published by Etopia the following year. Set in Northumbria in 1077, it sets the relationship between a displaced Saxon noblewoman and a Norman baron against the turbulent backdrop of England in the years following the Norman invasion of 1066. Reviewers found the novel ‘a fast moving and passionate read’ with ‘strong characters, an intriguing plot, and plenty of action… a sexy romance to be savoured’. Readers agreed, voting Warrior’s Surrender Favourite Historical Fiction in the 2015 Readers & Writers Down Under Readers Choice Awards.
Also in 2014, the short story Moonstone Promise, spinning off from Moonstone Obsession as part of Etopia’s Valentines Heat anthology, followed the fortunes of one of the supporting characters back home to 18th century Pittsburgh in a tale of ‘second chance romance’.
Warrior’s Surrender (now in print as well as eBook) was named Favourite Historical Fiction at the 2015 Readers & Writers Down Under Readers Choice Awards in March this year.
Carter moved up to 1802 for the light-hearted romantic short story Three Ships, part of the Christmas 2014 anthology A Season To Remember, and ventures briefly into contemporary romance for the first time with her Romance Writers of Australia annual Little Gems competition placegetter, The Tin Bear, publishing in August 2015.
And another Moonstone Obsession character, the sinful Lady Abigail Houghall, features in the full length novel Moonstone Conspiracy, coming from Etopia Press in 2015.
Carter is currently working on her fourth novel, set in ancient Rome and tentatively titled Dark Heart, which will bring together the elements for which she has become known in just a few years – in-depth historical detail woven through gripping adventure and captivating romance.
The author lives in Australia with her husband and two cats. A former newspaper journalist, she ran an award-winning PR agency for 12 years.