Royal Wedding – Why do brides wear white?

When Meghan Markle steps out in her wedding gown this Saturday, it will be a historically significant moment, relayed across the globe and replayed countless times over the coming decades. It is no wonder, therefore, that media speculation has mounted to fever pitch as everyone wonders: What will Meghan wear? Will she fly the flag for British design? How much will her dress cost? Everyone agrees on one point – it will be a traditional ‘white wedding’.

Arguably, one of the most memorable moments in the history of Royal Weddings occurred when Lady Diana Spencer stepped out of her carriage onto the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral in that voluminous gown designed by David and Elizabeth Emanuel. It was a beautiful dress of ivory silk taffeta and antique lace – but OMG it was so badly crumpled. Elizabeth later admitted, ‘I was horrified really, because it was quite a lot of creasing… I actually felt faint’. But the bride smiled and shook out the dress to reduce the wrinkling. Despite this setback, when Diana walked down the aisle she was the epitome of a fairy-tale princess. Thirty-six-years on, this dress remains iconic.

In April 2011, Kate Middleton looked stunning in a wedding dress of ivory satin and lace designed by Sarah Burton, creative director Alexander McQueen. Burton, admitted that key challenges lay in the fact that ‘it had to be a dress of historical importance and one which had enough presence for Westminster Abbey, and yet it needed to be modest’.

Undoubtedly, designing Meghan’s wedding gown will be a challenge as the dress will need to reflect her laid-back style. The Evening Standard wonders how she will ‘bridge the gap between contemporary cool and palace-worthy attire’. Speaking to Harper’s Bazar, American designer Vera Wang predicts that Meghan will go for ‘neither full blown royal wedding like Diana or Kate, and neither narrow, sensual and more sexy–I think she’ll go somewhere in-between that feels a tad more modern’. But Wang agrees that the dress will be a shade of white.

Queen Victoria is attributed with popularizing white weddings. She dazzled in a gown made of white silk and lace, when she married Prince Albert in 1840. However, the trend for white weddings started some decades earlier.

Catherine Tylney-Long, of Wanstead House, was the richest commoner in Regency Britain

In 1812, the heiress Catherine Tylney Long dazzled in a cutting-edge, all-white wedding outfit, when she married William Wellesley Pole. They were the celebrity couple of their era – rich, sexy, notorious – and they wed in a blaze of publicity. Newspapers reports were like a spread in Hello magazine, focusing on the bride’s remarkable ensemble. Catherine’s gown was made from delicate Brussels point lace. Over this she wore full-length pelisse jacket made from shimmering satin with a luxurious sweep of soft white swans feathers swishing at her ankles. Her headdress was ornamented with two ostrich feathers and a long lace veil.  The Morning Chronicle remarked on the enormous cost of Catherine’s outfit: ‘the Lady looked very pretty and interesting… The dress cost 700 guineas, the bonnet 150, and the veil 200’.

During the early nineteenth-century, white weddings were a relatively new trend reserved for the rich or the aristocracy. This is hardly surprising as the total outlay for Catherine’s ensemble was more than the average labourer earned in twenty years. Most women simply got married in their best gown regardless of the colour. But Catherine’s wedding outfit captured the public imagination, making white wedding dresses desirable across all classes in society. From this moment onwards, brides increasingly wore white as a symbol of romantic love and purity.

John F Kennedy’s marriage to Jaccqueline Bouvier in 1953 shows the universal appeal for white weddings

Catherine’s Regency wedding was a defining moment in the history of British weddings, setting a standard that remains popular today worldwide: the bride’s white wedding dress, the groom’s top hat and tails, the church ceremony, and the fine carriage to transport the newlyweds. Perhaps this formula had been used before, but never with such pomp or publicity.


There are no surviving images of Catherine in her ground-breaking outfit, but luckily a similar version was reproduced by BBC costume designers for this famous scene in Pride and Prejudice. It is a pared down copy of Catherine’s ensemble, without the elaborate detail of the Brussels lace, the luxurious sweep of swansdown, and the trendy ostrich feathers in the headdress. It provides a good indication of how Catherine and William would have looked on their wedding day, demonstrating just how glamorous they were.

Despite this bright start and some glorious years at Wanstead House, Catherine’s marriage was ultimately doomed. The shocking twists and turns of her life kept the nation enthralled for decades. It culminated in a high profile court case with widespread repercussions. You can read Catherine’s shocking story in in my bestselling book, The Angel and the Cad

I’m sure that Meghan and Harry will fare much better in their marriage! The very best of luck to them.

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Regency Heartthrobs




The Regency seems to be the era for dashing men! Jane Austen’s novels are stuffed full of hunks riding up on horseback to perform acts of gallantry. But then, of course, beware of Regency rakes such as Mr Wickham who are gorgeous but feckless.

My forthcoming book The Angel and the Cad is a true story featuring some of the most delectable men of the period – the Duke of Wellington, Lord Byron and Beau Brummel to name a few. These men are significant because they were hugely influential public figures that helped to shape the era as well as the way we live today.

the times2

Mass produced newspapers enabled celebrity culture

The Regency was a seminal time of innovation and ingenuity, when ideas and ideals were changing rapidly. Inventions such as the steam powered press enabled London to emerge as the first truly modern metropolis with booming consumerism, a buoyant fashion industry, mass media and celebrity culture.

So here’s the low-down on some of the earliest celebrity heartthrobs…


  1. William Wellesley Pole – ‘the CAD’ in my book – was considered ‘the finest young dandy’ of the Regency era. He epitomised male desirability. Even Jane Austen was intrigued by him. William was a brilliant athlete, famous for his waltzing, equestrian skills and beautifully sculpted physique. If he was around today he would probably be modelling underwear for Calvin Klein.


  • Pros:    He’d make you laugh. He’s exciting and utterly gorgeous. He was nicknamed Mr Long Pole – I’m sure you can work out why!
  • Cons:   He’d make you cry. He’s reckless. There’d always be other women.


  1. Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington – the great military commander led forces that liberated Spain and Portugal and ended years of conflict in Europe. He was the epitome of a knight in shining armour – valiant, gallant and honourable.


  • Pros:    He’s so dashing in uniform (swoon). He was so mesmerising that he was always surrounded by a throng of women. One observer noted, ‘the adoration of the ladies for the Duke was given the name “la nouvelle religion”’.
  • Cons:   Too much competition! He’d hardly ever be home – too busy being heroic.


  1. George, Lord Byron is regarded as one of Britain’s greatest poets. His work remains widely read and influential, including his romantic short lyric:

She walks in beauty, like the night of cloudless climes and starry skies

 Lord Byron

  • Pros:    The poet was brilliant, handsome and passionate.
  • Cons:   He was ‘Mad, Bad and Dangerous to know’.


  1. George, ‘Beau’ Brummel revolutionized the British fashion industry with his sharply cut Savile Row suits. He created the definitive style of the English gentleman – the tailored suit – which remains popular today worldwide. A statue of him now stands in Jermyn Street, in the heart of London’s most select menswear boutiques.


  • Pros:    His acid wit and sharp observations were legendry. He was a trendsetter, much admired and copied. He transformed male grooming by persuading men that they should wash every day (hurrah).
  • Cons:   Too critical and high maintenance. He’d be too busy preening to pay you any attention.


  1. The Prince Regent (later George IV) – he presided over society, influencing British style, taste and culture. He helped to establish the National Gallery and Kings College London and was instrumental in shaping the landscape of modern London. His favourite architect John Nash designed and laid out public spaces and ceremonial thoroughfares: Pall Mall, Piccadilly Circus, Regent’s Street and Regent’s Park.


  • Pros:    Thomas Lawrence’s official portrait implies that he was rather debonair.
  • Cons:   The reality was rather different (see below) – a bit like turning up for a date and finding the guy is nothing like his profile picture!



  1. Fitzwilliam Darcy – Okay, maybe this is stretching it slightly! But William Wellesley Pole was hot news when Jane Austen was writing Pride and Prejudice – it is possible that the fictional Mr Darcy is based on the image of William that was built up in the press.


  • Pros:    This picture says it all
  • Cons:   Occasionally he’s haughty and proud (but it’s a small price to pay).


In conclusion 

Mr Darcy is probably the most compelling romantic hero of all time, and he continues to epitomise male desirability. However, I hope that the real life characters in my book will show why the Regency really was the golden age of dashing men.

The countdown has started – it is now just three months to publication of The Angel and the Cad. I’m very proud that the launch date coincides with the bi-centennial of Waterloo – 18 June 2015. Various talks and books signings are being arranged. I will post a schedule of events in the coming weeks.

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Catherine and the legacy of Wanstead House


In 1810, Catherine Tylney Long was the ‘richest commoner in the British Dominions’. The 21-year-old heiress was highly unusual because landed estates ordinarily passed along the male line. How did such enormous wealth accumulate and why did it end up in the hands of – A WOMAN?

To answer this question we must look and Catherine’s ancestors – Who were they? What did they contribute? What were their aspirations?

1. JOSIAH CHILD (1631-99)

richsrd tylney

Catherine’s great-great-grandfather, was a remarkable businessman who rose from obscurity to become one of the richest men in Britain.

Wealth  – Josiah Child started out as a brewer, but soon secured a contract to supply beer and other services to the navy. By 1659, he was provisioning East India Company ships, and reinvesting heavily into the company until he became the controlling shareholder. As Governor of the East India Company, Sir Josiah acquired fabulous wealth, monopolizing trade between Britain and the Far East.

Power – Gritty determination spilled into Sir Josiah’s private life. He used his fortune to pursue social advancement through powerful family connections. He provided huge dowries to ensure that his children married into the highest echelons of society. This paid dividends – his grandson was Henry Somerset, 2nd Duke of Beaufort, and his granddaughter Elizabeth became the Duchess of Bedford.


Old Wanstead House c.1708

Ancestral home – Sir Josiah wanted to leave his mark by establishing a family seat that would proclaim his incredible success. In 1673, he paid £11,500 for the manor of Wanstead, in Essex, a scenic estate comprising of rolling hills, forests and lakes, with the River Roding flowing through it. In his final years, he devoted his time to remodelling his gardens, planting avenues of trees and creating ornamental lakes.

knyff and kip

Knyff and Kip’s bird’s eye view of Wanstead c.1710 shows the spectacular landscaping, demonstrating why Wanstead Park became renowned as the ‘English Versailles’.




When Richard Child inherited his father’s fortune in 1704, he not only embraced Sir Josiah’s vision for Wanstead, but raised his aspirations to a new level.

Wealth – Richard shrewdly added value to the family coffers by marrying advantageously. He married a wealthy heiress and acquired the vast Tylney estates in Hampshire from his wife’s family.

Power – Richard gained titles that elevated the family status. In 1718, he was made Viscount Castlemain. On being raised to the peerage in 1731, he adopted his wife’s surname and became 1st Earl Tylney.

Hogarth Assembly at Wanstead House

Hogarth’s Assembly at Wanstead c.1729

Ancestral home – Richard chose to invest his money on a home that would rival royal palaces. Wanstead House was the first private residence in Britain to be constructed in Palladian design, appealing to a change in taste to more understated classical architecture. The Assembly at Wanstead House, by William Hogarth, captures the splendour of the staterooms: the sumptuous furnishings, ornate gilding and richly painted ceiling frescos.

 wansteadhouse color

Wanstead House – Britain’s first Palladian mansion

3. JOHN CHILD (1712-1784), 2ND EARL TYLNEY

at naples

Wealth – Rather than striving for more, John Child enjoyed his wealth, spending for the joy of it and indulging his passion for art, music and theatre. He is thought to be a character in this 1760s painting of the English connoisseurs at Florence.

Power – The 2nd Earl Tylney was homosexual; when he inherited Wanstead in 1750, he had no desire to marry for the sake of appearances or to produce heirs. In an age when homosexual liaisons were a capital offence he was vulnerable. Eventually, he was compelled to flee to Italy after being found in bed with a male servant (or two as the rumour goes).

Ancestral home – Wanstead House lay empty for almost two decades while the 2nd Earl lived abroad. As a connoisseur of art, he devoted much of his time to collecting artwork and treasures for Wanstead House. The highlight of his collection was three ancient bronze statues recovered from the ruins of Herculaneum.

4. SIR JAMES TYLNEY LONG (1736-1794) – (Catherine’s father)

james tylney long

Sir James Tylney-Long memorial, at Draycot Cerne

Wealth – Catherine’s father inherited the Tylney property including Wanstead House from his uncle John. By now Sir James was aged forty eight, and already extremely wealthy as he owned the Long family estates in Wiltshire. With the two legacies combined, his accumulated fortune was enormous – approximately 25,000 acres of land spread over six counties, several stately homes plus stocks and bonds.

Power – Catherine’s father was an unassuming country squire renowned throughout Wiltshire for his charitable endeavours. He was a pioneering forward-thinking man with strong ties to the Shaftesbury family. As MP for the county, he used his power and influence to do good, setting up schools and providing welfare for the poor and infirm.

Draycot House

Draycot House, Wiltshire

Ancestral home – Sir James was perfectly content with life in Wiltshire, and reluctant to leave his ancestral home at Draycot. Although he had no desire to live at Wanstead House, he felt it his duty to produce heirs to the Tylney estate. He married in 1785, at the relatively mature age of forty nine, and four children were born in quick succession – the eldest was Catherine. Crucially, Sir James opted to name his own daughters as heirs, ahead of distant male relatives. So it came to pass that when Catherine’s only brother died in 1805, she was suddenly thrust into the limelight as ‘the richest heiress in the kingdom’.

These were Catherine’s ancestors – four remarkable men who each brought something to the table. But which one was the most historically important?

  1. Josiah Child – whose meteoric rise enabled everything that was to follow at Wanstead
  2. Richard, Earl Tylney – who had the vision to commission a relatively unknown architect to build Wanstead House. Colen Campbell’s scheme provided the perfect model for gracious modern living, and it sparked a Palladian revival in Britain.
  3. John, 2nd Earl Tylney – for his exquiste taste and gathering of an amazing array of priceless art and furnishings fit to adorn Wanstead House
  4. Sir James Tylney Long – who almost doubled the size of the Tylney estate, and crucially had the foresight to overlook rules of primogeniture, which opened the door to Catherine gaining the inheritance.


wanstead house jan 2015

Wanstead House – sparked a Palladian revival

Personally I would argue that Richard, 1st Earl Tylney, was the most important of these men. He was a man of great taste, a patron on the arts who promoted and supported influential artists such as William Kent, Hogarth, Nollekins and Casali. It is a shame that his contribution to British culture has been overlooked, as he played a key role in the Palladian revival, which revolutionised Georgian architecture – changing the landscape of 18th century Britain. The many elegant squares and sweeping terraces that adorn our country today owe much to his innovation.

queen square


On inheriting Wanstead House, the pressures on Catherine must have been immense. Each one of her predecessors had added value in some way, enabling her inheritance to snowball into something rare and remarkable. The hopes and dreams of her ancestors now rested firmly on her shoulders. What was expected of Catherine? I would like to think their advice might have been:

  • Gritty Josiah – Add value through powerful marriage connections and produce lots of heirs
  • Shrewd Richard – Marry well, produce heirs, display your wealth and taste
  • Flamboyant John – Enjoy your wealth and follow your heart
  • Benevolent James – Be charitable and pioneering

Whether she could live up to their hopes and expectations only time would tell!

I hope you have enjoyed this post which sheds light on the enormous responsibilities befalling 16-year-old Catherine the moment she became heiress to Wanstead House and its fabulous treasures.

The decisions Catherine made from this point onwards will be fully recounted in my forthcoming book The Angel and the Cad, (published by Pan Macmillan in June 2015). I aim to show that Catherine was every bit as worthy and influential as her ancestors, leaving behind an important legacy of her own.

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A beginners guide to Wanstead Park


Wanstead Park provides the backdrop for my forthcoming book, The Angel and the Cad, which tells the remarkable story of Catherine Tylney Long. Her gardens were renowned as the ‘English Versailles’, becoming a popular spot for day-trippers and tourists, ‘delighting visitors from all parts of the world’. I hope that my pictures will help readers to visualise Catherine’s surroundings.

Tucked away on the borders of East London and Essex, Wanstead Park remains one of the capital’s most enchanting open spaces. It is a tranquil oasis of natural beauty that hints of its former glory as one of England’s finest pleasure gardens. In many respects it is comparable to Hampstead Heath, but despite having many attributes it is relatively unknown, even to those living in close proximity.

Wanstead Park is one of London’s hidden treasures. One of my motivations for writing my book was to raise awareness of the parkland, and help to stop its decline. Despite its Grade II listing, Wanstead Park has been on English Heritage’s ‘at risk’ register for several years. I hope that you will enjoy my pictures and then come to visit! The park is a mere ten minute stroll from Wanstead Central Line Tube Station. It is also close to ‘Wanstead Village’ buzzing with cafes, bars, restaurants and shops.

The scenery in Wanstead Park is diverse. There are ornamental lakes such as the Basin and the Heronry Pond:


 There are ancient woodlands:


 Expanses of grassland and ornamental follies such as the Temple pictured below:

 long grass temple

 There are wildlife sanctuaries and a wide range of natural habitats:


 The most poignant feature is the derelict boathouse, or ‘Grotto’:


Hauntingly beautiful the Grotto whispers of times gone by; the grand summer parties, popping champagne corks, and pleasure boats bobbing on the lakes. But the Grotto is also has an air of melancholy, a stark reminder of all that has been lost.

For many centuries Wanstead Park has been a much-treasured recreational facility, a sanctuary where working folk can escape for an hour or two, taking a scenic stroll or enjoying family picnic. Every season brings fresh delights. Cold frosts transform the park into a winter wonderland:*


Springtime sees wild rhododendrons and fragrant bluebell wood:


Summer brings bursts of colour: wildflowers, butterflies and dragonflies hovering over the lily-pads on the lakes. While autumn forests are hues of red and gold.

Wanstead Park became Britain’s first public open space in 1882. The Corporation of London have acted as conservators, reinforcing pathways, planting avenues of trees and protecting wildlife. One of their biggest challenges has been to preserve the waterways, which are in danger of drying up. If this were to happen, numerous natural habitats would be lost. The Friends of Wanstead Parklands are also active in the drive for conservation, and groups of volunteers regularly help with tasks such as clearing away vegetation.

I hope that my forthcoming book, The Angel and The Cad, will help to raise awareness and show that Wanstead Parklands is worth preserving. A long term conservation strategy is in place – but cannot be fully implemented without much needed funding, support and publicity.

Part 2 of this article will explain how Catherine Tylney Long came to own Wanstead House


For more about Wanstead Park I recommend the following:

Corporation of London – For up-to-date information about Wanstead Park

Friends of Wanstead Parklands – Dedicated to the conservation of Wanstead Park

Wansteadium – What’s on in Wanstead

* Courtesy of Wanstead Meteo with thanks

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