Royal Oak’s speakers are engaging, knowledgeable experts with a passion for a variety of topics related to The Royal Oak Foundation’s mission.

Dr. Helen Castor

Helen Castor ©Chris Gibbions

English Historian and BBC Broadcaster

Topic:

England’s Forgotten Queen: The Life and Death of Lady Jane Grey

Dr. Helen Castor is a medieval and Tudor historian and a BBC broadcaster. She directed studies in History at Sidney Sussex College in the University of Cambridge (where she remains a Bye-Fellow) for eight years before deciding to concentrate on writing for a wider audience. She is the author of Blood & Roses (2006), She-Wolves: The Women Who Ruled England Before Elizabeth (2011), and Joan of Arc: A History (2015), which was longlisted for the 2016 PEN America/Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award for Biography. She has presented a range of history programs for BBC radio and television, including documentaries based on her books and a well-received series last year on England’s Forgotten Queen: The Life and Death of Lady Jane Grey. Her most recent book is Elizabeth I: A Study in Insecurity (Penguin Monarchs Series, 2018), and her next will be The Eagle and the Hart: The Tragedy of Richard II and Henry IV, to be published in 2021.

Helen Castor ©Chris Gibbions

England’s Forgotten Queen: The Life and Death of Lady Jane Grey

In July 1553, Tudor England was plunged into political and military crisis. Henry VIII’s young son, Edward VI, died at the age of just fifteen, leaving no male heir to inherit his throne. For the first time ever, a woman would wear the English crown, but who would it be: Edward’s Catholic half-sister Mary, or his Protestant cousin Jane Grey? On his deathbed, Edward cut Mary out of the succession and named sixteen-year-old Jane as his heir. As fierce a Protestant as Edward himself, and already married to the son of his chief minister, the power-hungry Duke of Northumberland, Jane was proclaimed queen and taken to the Tower of London to await her coronation. But Mary would not accept her disinheritance – and neither, it turned out, would the country. Just nine days later, Jane’s brief reign was over. Seven months after that, she lost her head on the block.

Author and Historian Helen Castor will explore this dramatic story, examining key events, documents and characters, and assessing Jane’s role in the coup that would ultimately cost her life. The tragic tale of the Nine Days’ Queen is not only a breathless political thriller, but a defining moment in the history of England’s religion, its constitution, and its crown.

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Master John, Queen Mary I, 1544 ©National Portrait Gallery, London

Master John, Queen Mary I, 1544 ©National Portrait Gallery, London

Anne & Johnny Chambers

Anne and Johnny Chambers

Owners of Kiftsgate

Topic:

Kiftsgate Court Gardens: Three Generations of Women Gardeners

Anne Chambers is the third generation owner and gardener at Kiftsgate in Glouchestershire. Although she was born and brought up there, she paid little attention to her horticultural surroundings until she married Johnny and they created their first little garden in London. Native to London, Johnny trained as an engineer and worked in international trade for 20 years. Over 30 years ago they decided to take the bold decision to move the family from London to Kiftsgate, and started learning their gardening skills from Anne’s mother Diany Binny. Since then they have been developing the garden into its preeminent position today. Johnny used his engineering skills in creation of new garden projects, while Anne has immersed herself not only in the gardening world but also in local life, being appointed High Sheriff of Gloucestershire in 2009. Johnny is also a trustee of a number of local charities including Lord Leycesters Hospital in Warwick, celebrating its 450th anniversary next year.

Anne and Johnny Chambers

Kiftsgate Court Gardens: Three Generations of Women Gardeners

Perched on the edge of the Cotswold Hills, Kiftsgate Court is a family home and garden that has been loved and cultivated by the same family for over 100 years. Three generations of women gardeners have left their mark, each building on the legacy of the previous owner. When Jack and Heather Muir bought the Grecian-fronted Victorian house in 1919, Heather, without any horticultural training, started to layout the Kiftsgate garden straight away. Instead of a lawn, she planted semi-formal beds of roses and other flowers, a Tapestry Hedge with a mix of beech, yew and plain and variegated holly, and a Rose Border full of unusual varieties. Heather’s horticultural aesthetic favored the Arts & Crafts Movement which emphasized perennials and plants chosen for their adaptability, including drought tolerant cistus, spiky agaves and other Mediterranean style plantings. She was encouraged by her friend and next-door neighbor at Hidcote, Lawrence Johnston, and other notable garden designers including Norah Lindsay and Vita Sackville-West—who planted the enormous and famous Kiftsgate Rose (Rosa filipes) at Sissinghurst. Heather’s daughter, Diany Binny continued the family gardening tradition during the 1950s and quickly became an accomplished plants woman. She extended the planting, creating paths and replanting more borders with shrubs and herbaceous plants and re-fashioned the White Sunk Garden with a pool and fountain.

Since the late 1980s, her daughter Anne Chambers and her husband Johnny have brought the garden into the 21st century. They introduced plants that flower year-round and are suited to warmer winters. They also created a new Water Garden with a sculpture by Simon Allison, a woodland with plants from the Scilly Isles, an avenue of tulip trees, and an orchard among other features. In this illustrated lecture Anne and Johnny Chambers will tell their personal tale of Kiftsgate, including family anecdotes and stories. They will show design features of this stunning garden and explain their plans for its future. As the garden writer Robin Lane Fox wrote about Kiftsgate “there is nowhere else in Britain that has such a family tradition of planting and dedication.

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The Four-Squares & Terrace, Kiftsgate-Court-Gardens. ©Anne Chambers

The Four-Squares & Terrace, Kiftsgate-Court-Gardens. ©Anne Chambers

The White Sunk Garden, Kiftsgate Court Gardens ©Anne Chambers

The White Sunk Garden, Kiftsgate Court Gardens ©Anne Chambers

Dr. Oliver Cox

Oliver Cox ©John Cairns

Heritage Engagement Fellow, Oxford

Topic:

Prize Stallions and Beasts of Burden: The Horse and the English Country House

Dr Oliver Cox is Heritage Engagement Fellow at the University of Oxford, where he is responsible for developing strategic partnerships with the UK and international heritage sector. Oliver is co-lead of the Oxford University Heritage Network, and part of the team delivering the university’s strategic partnership with the National Trust. Oliver also advises privately-owned country houses on how to develop research partnerships and has recently acted as a historical advisor to Chatsworth House Trust. Oliver is a historian by training and received his undergraduate, masters and doctoral degrees from the University of Oxford. He inherited his love of horse racing from his grandfather who was racing correspondent for the Daily Herald newspaper before becoming General Manager of Doncaster Racecourse. Oliver’s recent publications include contributions to The Country House Past, Present and Future: Great Houses of the British Isles (supported by The Royal Oak Foundation), The Country House: Sport & Leisure (2019) and academic journal articles exploring the politics of horseracing in eighteenth-century Britain. He is a member of the Faculty of History (University of Oxford); Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts; a Council Member of the Oxfordshire Record Society; Heritage Officer for the British Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies (BSECS); Governor of Compton Verney House Trust; and sits on the Education and Publications Committee of The Gardens Trust and Arts Council England’s Designation Panel. Oliver is chair of The Heritage Alliance’s Digital, Learning & Skills Advocacy Group

Oliver Cox ©John Cairns

Prize Stallions and Beasts of Burden: The Horse and the English Country House

Horses are an integral part of English social, political, economic and cultural history. From the Middle Ages through to the aftermath of the WWI, they were used for agricultural development, the military, transportation, industry, and, of course, sport. Horses were crucial to sustaining and enabling life in the English country house. Horsepower brought stone to build the house, pulled the wagons filled with paintings and decorative art expressing the owner’s taste and sophistication, pulled the ploughs that farmed the estate, and most importantly carried house guests who marveled at these symbols of power, wealth and influence. Until the early years of the 20th century, without horses the country house would have ceased to function. As a result, stables were often as elegant as the main dwelling—such as the Robert Adam designed stable at Kedleston, or John Carr’s enormous equine complex at Wentworth Woodhouse. Decorative and fine art displayed in country house interiors also revealed a fascination with horses, and especially for horse racing. Horse racing has always been one of Britain’s most popular spectator sports. Portraits of these turf stars by artists such as George Stubbs held prominent positions on the walls of country houses and winnings were displayed as glittering trophies on sideboards. Indeed, horse racing attracted the full spectrum of British class and society who went to the races to gamble and socialise, to plot and scheme, and to flirt and fight. 

In his richly-illustrated lecture, Oxford historian Dr. Oliver Cox, will talk about the long history of horses and the English country house, as well as describe horse racing in England from the first years of royal patronage under King James I at Newmarket, through to our present Queen’s love of the turf. He will lead the audience on a tour of some of Britain’s grandest country houses, with stops at the iconic sporting spectacles of The Derby, Royal Ascot and the Cheltenham Festival. Looking beyond the top hats and fascinators, this lecture will explore the roots of the British love for horses and horse racing while showing great houses, from Mount Stewart in Northern Ireland to Wimpole Hall in Cambridgeshire.

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Child's carriage at Arlington Court and the National Trust Carriage Museum ©National Trust Images John Hammond

Child’s carriage at Arlington Court and the National Trust Carriage Museum ©National Trust Images John Hammond

Dr. Leo Dambrosch

Dr. Leo Damrosch ©Nicholas Damrosch

Professor and Author

Topic:

The Club: Johnson, Boswell, and the Friends Who Shaped an Age

Dr. Leo Damrosch spent his boyhood in the mountains of the Philippines, while being interned with his parents during the WWII, and afterwards grew up in Maine. Educated at Yale; Trinity College, Cambridge; and Princeton, he has taught in the English departments at the University of Virginia (1966-83), University of Maryland at College Park (1983-89), and since 1989 at Harvard. He served as chair of the English Department and was awarded a Harvard College Professorship. After retirement in 2010, he has continued to teach in the Harvard Extension School and in the Harvard Summer School. One of his books, Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Restless Genius, was a finalist for the National Book Award in nonfiction in 2005. Other books include Tocqueville’s Discovery of America (2010), Jonathan Swift: His Life and His World (2013), which won the National Book Critics Circle Award for biography and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize; and Eternity’s Sunrise: The Imaginative World of William Blake (2015). His latest book is The Club: Johnson, Boswell, and the Friends Who Shaped an Age, published in March 2019 by Yale University Press. He has also recorded lecture courses for The Teaching Company on the Enlightenment and on Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.

Dr. Leo Damrosch ©Nicholas Damrosch

The Club: Johnson, Boswell, and the Friends Who Shaped an Age

In 1763, the painter Joshua Reynolds proposed to his friend Samuel Johnson that they invite a few friends to join them every Friday at the Turk’s Head Tavern in London to dine, drink, and talk until midnight. Eventually the group came to include among its members Edmund Burke, Adam Smith, Edward Gibbon, David Garrick and James Boswell—it was known simply as “the Club.” 

In this lecture Dr. Leo Damrosch brings alive this eccentric cast of the most notable writers, artists, and thinkers of the 18th century. With the friendship of the “odd couple” Samuel Johnson and James Boswell at the heart of his narrative, he conjures up the precarious, exciting, and often brutal world of late 18th century Britain. Dr. Damrosch also will talk about lesser known luminaries such as painter Frances Reynolds (younger sister of Sir Joshua), Sir Joshua Reynold’s secret confidante and confessor Hester Thrale, his black servant Francis Barber, his pornographic friend John Wilkes, and his “infidel” opponent David Hume. Dr. Damrosch will transport the audience back into a world of brilliant conversations and arguments among an extraordinary group of people whose ideas helped to shape their age, as well as our own.

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Sir Joshua Reynolds, James Boswell, 1785. ©The National Portrait Gallery, London

Sir Joshua Reynolds, James Boswell, 1785. ©The National Portrait Gallery, London

Adrian Edwards

Adrian Edwards ©Steven May/Alamy Live New

Head, Printed Heritage at the British Library

Topic:

The Last King of America: George III and His Library

Adrian Edwards has worked at the British Library for thirty years. As Head of Printed Heritage Collections, he manages a team of curators and researchers focusing on early European and American printed books. Adrian’s research interests centre around the linguistics and the collections of King George III. In recent years he has curated a number of exhibitions at the British Library, including “Evolving English”, “Comics Unmasked” and this summer’s major show “Writing: Making Your Mark.”

Adrian Edwards ©Steven May/Alamy Live New

The Last King of America: George III and His Library

There have been many depictions of King George III in literature, film, television, and most recently, in the Tony-award winning musical Hamilton. While he is often described as the “mad king who lost America,” there were many sides to this longest reigning male monarch in British history. For example, George III was a keen book lover who used his royal salary and connections to bring together one of the largest private libraries of his age—over 65,000 volumes. Some treasures include a Gutenberg Bible of 1454, William Caxton’s first edition of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and Shakespeare’s First Folio of 1623. The King was assisted in his bibliophilic pursuit by librarians and notable advisors including Dr. Samuel Johnson. Later the King’s Library was donated to the nation by George IV and housed in a gallery in the British Museum—later forming part of the founding collection of The British Library in London. Now the collection, in ‘The King’s Library Tower’ at the British Library, contains an astounding 85,000 items. 

In the run up to the 200th anniversary of King George III’s death in 2020, British Library curator Adrian Edwards will talk about this remarkable collection and illustrate its masterpieces. He will discuss how it was amassed and who helped George III create one of the greatest libraries in the world. He will also point out American connections—for, not surprisingly, George III’s collection contains many books and maps about America, a subject that may well have remained dear to the king’s heart, even after he ceased being the last king of America.

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George III, 1738 - 1820. Reigned 1760 - 1820 ©Studio of Allan Ramsay

George III, 1738 – 1820. Reigned 1760 – 1820 ©Studio of Allan Ramsay

Angus Haldane

Angus Haldane

Art Consultant

Topic:

Harlot or Housewife? 17th-Century Women at the English Royal Court

Angus Haldane is Director of Haldane Fine Art, an art dealership and consultancy with an international clientele which was founded over a decade ago and is based in Central London. He is also an independent curator and art historian. Angus studied Classics at Oxford University, specializing in history, literature and antique sculpture. After Oxford, Angus graduated from the Courtauld Institute with an MA in Byzantine and Early Renaissance art. He worked for many years as a senior specialist in paintings at Christie’s and Sotheby’s, where he gained considerable experience researching, attributing, and valuing pictures. His deep knowledge and passion extend from the art of the sixteenth century to the most contemporary of works. In addition to art dealing, he has catalogued museum collections and provides consultancy to some of London’s leading Art Advisors. He recently published his first book, titled Face of War: Portraits of the English Civil Wars and a second volume on the Portraiture of the American War of Revolution is soon to be forthcoming. Angus has appeared as an art commentator on the BBC and CNN.

Angus Haldane

Harlot or Housewife? 17th-Century Women at the English Royal Court

Powerful women have been regarded with fear and perceived as skilful manipulators ever since Pandora opened her box, Eve persuaded Adam to sample some fruit, and Cleopatra rolled out of a carpet at the feet of Caesar. English playwright and poet John Dryden may have hoped in 1661 for a world in which “every father govern’d as a King,” but reality for 17th century Restoration England women of the royal household was not easy. The court was hedonistic and dangerous. Cleavage and a quick wit were weapons to be employed for advancement and royal mistresses were often capable strategists, who invisibly influenced society. They were portrayed in portraits as either virtuous or lascivious—extreme ends of the moral spectrum. 

One of the most strategically astute mistresses and the favourite of Charles II was Barbara Villiers, Countess of Castlemaine, who was infamous for performing a sex act on a 14th-century mummified corpse of a bishop. Despite being deemed a “harlot”, she is rarely depicted in portraits as a seductress, but rather as a humble shepherdess or a religious figure. Frances Teresa Stuart, later Duchess of Richmond and Lennox, who seemed to have achieved the impossible in resisting the sexual advances of the King, is depicted as Diana the virgin huntress. Nell Gwynne, who worked as a scantily clad orange seller to theatre audiences before crescendoing to a royal mistress, is frequently depicted with fully exposed breasts. The court of Charles II was extravagant, sensuous and treacherous, but it was also a place where ambitious female poets, artists, preachers (who sometimes preached naked) and actors, among others could excel. 

Art consultant and popular Royal Oak speaker Angus Haldane will illustrate the lives of notorious mistresses, faithful wives, and creative figures who set the court aflame with their intrigue, brazen manipulation and talent. Mr. Haldane will discuss the stories, vanities, gossip and political manoeuvres behind their portraits and examine how the depictions of them as seductresses and sirens should be viewed through the filter of their roles and achievements. 

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Nell Gwynne, after Sir Peter Lely ©National Trust Images John Hammond

Nell Gwynne, after Sir Peter Lely ©National Trust Images John Hammond

Leslie Klingner

Leslie Klinger

Curator of Interpretation, Biltmore House

Topic:

Staging a Country House Party: Biltmore and Downton Abbey®

Leslie Klingner is a design historian specializing in decorative art and material culture of the 19th and 20th centuries. In 2006, Leslie became the Curator of Interpretation for Biltmore, the family home of the late George W. Vanderbilt. In this role, she shares in the curation and preservation of America’s largest home and creates historical tours, products, programming and exhibitions across the estate. Prior to her work with the Vanderbilt collection, Leslie served as a Lecturer at the Metropolitan Museum (2001-2009) and as Senior Educator and Academic Programs Coordinator for the Brooklyn Museum. Her recent co-curated exhibitions include A Vanderbilt House Party: The Gilded Age; Glamour on Board: Fashion from Titanic the Movie; Fashionable Romance: Wedding Gowns in Film; Dressing Downton: Changing Fashions for Changing Times; and The Vanderbilts at Home and Abroad. Beginning Nov 8th, Biltmore will be hosting Downton Abbey: The Exhibition, an interactive experience connecting visitors with the characters, fashions and historic events depicted in the global hit television show and new feature film.

Leslie Klinger

Staging a Country House Party: Biltmore and Downton Abbey®

The entertainments at Biltmore House, Asheville N.C., built by George Vanderbilt, were a source of much intrigue for Gilded Age society. A New York columnist speculated, “There were house parties and private theatricals, and heaven knows what all.” Indeed, entertaining in a grand fashion was always central to the Vanderbilts and life at Biltmore. This winter, the historic estate continues the tradition by hosting Downton Abbey: The Exhibition in celebration of the release of the long-awaited film. Biltmore Curator Leslie Klingner will describe the many parallels between life at America’s largest home and Downton’s beloved Highclere. Biltmore even had a British housekeeper, gardener, and butler—not Carson, but Harvey. From the breakfast tray delivered to your room, to a scrumptious afternoon tea in the Tapestry Gallery; and from an eight-course dinner for 38 guests, to retiring to the Billiard Room for cocktails, American and English country houses parties were sublime! 

Drawing from photos, letters, and journals held in the estate’s private archives, Leslie will share stories about the 20th-century country house fêtes. She will discuss the staff and family’s preparations, the fashionable set who attended, their attire, and the amusements they enjoyed. She will provide a behind-the-scenes look at the interactive exhibition while comparing entertaining in real life versus on screen.

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Biltmore Estate, Asheville, NC ©The Biltmore Company

Biltmore Estate, Asheville, NC ©The Biltmore Company

Biltmore Estate, Asheville, NC ©The Biltmore Company

Biltmore Estate, Asheville, NC ©The Biltmore Company

Carol Ann Lloyd

Carol Ann Lloyd

Noted Speaker

Topic:

Ciphers, Secrets, and Spies in the Elizabethan Age

Carol Ann Lloyd is a popular speaker who shares the stories of Shakespeare and English history. She is the former Manager of Visitor Education at Folger Shakespeare Library, where she gave workshops and tours about Shakespeare and Early Modern England. Carol Ann has presented programs at the Smithsonian, Folger Shakespeare Library, Agecroft Hall, and TEDx, among other venues. Ms. Lloyd is a member of the National Speakers Association.

Carol Ann Lloyd

Ciphers, Secrets, and Spies in the Elizabethan Age

The Elizabethan Era (1558-1603) is often depicted as the “Golden Age” in England’s history—a period of great exploration and military victories in which Queen Elizabeth I is represented in sumptuous clothing and jewels. But the reality, which included religious conflicts that tore families apart; political challenges to Elizabeth’s authority; high levels of poverty and crime; and vulnerability to foreign invasion, was far grimmer. The Queen was considered a Protestant heretic by the rulers of Europe and numerous plots were hatched to dethrone her and replace her with Catholic Mary Queen of Scots. Elizabeth’s closest courtiers tried to protect her. 

William Cecil (later Lord Burghley) was the first to oversee the gathering of intelligence and was aided by Francis Walsingham, another of Elizabeth’s most loyal ministers known as the “Spymaster.” Walsingham’s network of clandestine agents moved throughout England and Europe using their contacts and skills in navigating court politics to safeguard their Queen. They unearthed a series of threats, including one led by an invasion of priests who had been trained abroad and were sent to prepare England for a Catholic rebellion. The priests scattered throughout the country and were hidden in “priest-holes” by Catholic families in places such as Baddesley Clinton and Coughton Court in Warwickshire. Other houses involved in this period of intrigue include Oxburgh Hall in Norfolk, and Scotney Castle in Kent—all National Trust houses. 

Carol Ann Lloyd will describe this tumultuous time with its secret plots, intercepted and decoded messages, and assassination attempts. She will explore dark corners of Elizabethan English history and reveal how the ability to control information became the most potent tool of the realm.

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Queen Elizabeth I, by English School. ©National Trust Images.

Queen Elizabeth I, by English School. ©National Trust Images.

Robert O'Byrne

Robert O'Byrne

Noted Author

Topic:

Romantic Irish Country Houses (New Orleans)
Great Country Houses of Northern Ireland (New York)

Robert O’Byrne is a writer and lecturer specialising in the fine and decorative arts. He is the author of more than a dozen books, among them Luggala Days: The Story of a Guinness House, The Last Knight: A Tribute to Desmond FitzGerald, 29th Knight of Glin, Romantic Irish Homes and Romantic English Homes. A retired Vice-President of the Irish Georgian Society and trustee of the Alfred Beit Foundation, he is currently a trustee of the Apollo Foundation and the Artists Collecting Society. Among other work he writes a monthly column for Apollo magazine, and is also a regular contributor to The Burlington Magazine and the Irish Arts Review. For the past five years Mr. O’Byrne has written an award-winning blog, www.theirishaesthete.com

Robert O'Byrne

Romantic Irish Country Houses (New Orleans)

What is it that gives the Irish house such a distinctive character? Why should their personality—and that of their owners—be so often idiosyncratic and even downright eccentric? And how is it that despite the country’s recent economic boom, there remains plenty of houses where shabby chic has been the norm for generations? In a talk as amusing as it is informative and mixing history with anecdote, well-known author Robert O’Byrne offers a guide to some of Ireland’s least-familiar but most unusual houses. These include the family home whose present occupant has rescued everything connected with his ancestors—including their tombstones. And the house where so much plaster had already fallen off the walls that its owner simply took a hammer to clear away what remained. Then there is the stately home where the maid reputedly fell through the ceiling—but landed safely on the dining room table. After listening to Robert O’Byrne not everyone will necessarily want to live in an Irish house, but his introduction to their history and unique characteristics is certain to entertain and enlighten.

Great Country Houses of Northern Ireland (New York)

Ranging from Palladian mansions to baronial castles, in recent years many of Northern Ireland’s greatest country houses have experienced a spectacular rebirth. Some of these such as Castle Coole and Mount Stewart have benefitted from careful custodianship of the National Trust and one, Hillsborough, has in recent years been designated, and extensively refurbished, as a Royal Palace. Other properties have passed into the hands of a younger generation or even new ownership, and as a result are looking superlatively beautiful. Join Robert O’Byrne as he takes a whistlestop tour of these houses, telling the stories behind their creation and offering an opportunity to appreciate their distinctive architectural character.

Robert O’Byrne is one of Ireland’s best-known authors and speakers on his country’s decorative and fine arts. A columnist with Apollo magazine, he also contributes to the The Burlington and the Irish Arts Review. Since 2012 he has produced an award-winning blog, theirishaesthete.com, which promotes the country’s architectural heritage. His latest book The Irish Aesthete: Ruins of Ireland, containing a selection of his texts and photographs, was published last spring. A former Vice-President of the Irish Georgian Society, he is currently a trustee of the Apollo Foundation.

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Dining Room at Tullynally, County Westmeath. ©CICO Books 2009 Simon Brown

Dining Room at Tullynally, County Westmeath. ©CICO Books 2009 Simon Brown

Entrance to The Deeps. © CICO Books 2009 Simon Brown

Entrance to The Deeps. © CICO Books 2009 Simon Brown

James Peill, F.S.A.

James Peill ©Daniel Gould Country Life

Curator of the Goodwood Collection

Topic:

Glorious Goodwood: England’s Greatest Sporting Estate and the Dukes of Richmond

James Peill F.S.A. has been the Curator of the Goodwood Collection since 2009. He was brought up in the Welsh Marches and read History of Art at Edinburgh University. He was formerly a Director of Christie’s where he was a specialist in the Furniture Department and an auctioneer. He is the co-author, with the late Knight of Glin, of Irish Furniture (Yale University Press, 2007) and The Irish Country House (Vendome, 2010) and the author of The English Country House (Vendome, 2013). His most recent book is Glorious Goodwood, a Biography of England’s Greatest Sporting Estate (Constable, 2019). He is churchwarden of Chanctonbury Parish, a Church of England parish in West Sussex, and is married with four daughters. 

James Peill ©Daniel Gould Country Life

Glorious Goodwood: England’s Greatest Sporting Estate and the Dukes of Richmond

Famous throughout the world as England’s greatest sporting estate, and known for its great Regency state apartments and resplendent art collection, Goodwood has been the home of the Dukes of Richmond for over 300 years. The 1st Duke of Richmond, an illegitimate son of King Charles II, first visited Goodwood to enjoy foxhunting and then purchased the original house for his hunting lodge in 1697. Indeed, sport has been intertwined with the family life on the estate ever since. From foxhunting to cricket, shooting to horseracing, and golf to motorsport, each duke’s passion was practiced on the estate. In addition to its impressive sporting history, Goodwood boasts one of the greatest family art collections in any English country house. Guests of the ducal family would be surrounded by superb English and French furniture, celebrated paintings by Stubbs, Lawrence, and Canaletto, magnificent 18th century Sèvres porcelain, Gobelins tapestries and more. 

Curator of Goodwood, James Peill, will take us on a historic journey of Goodwood starting in the late 17th century with the escapades of the 1st Duke of Richmond, through today (with interludes in Brussels and Scotland). He will chart the ups and downs of a great English aristocratic family, their house, and the sports they loved, with insight as to how they responded to challenges over the centuries. He will also talk about the Goodwood sporting tradition that continues today with the annual “Glorious Goodwood” raceweek, as well as the Festival of Speed and the Goodwood Revival, motorsport events that attract a world-wide following.

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Goodwood House

Goodwood House

Sonia Purnell

Sonia Purnell ©Charlie Hopkinson

Best-Selling Author

Topic:

A Woman of No Importance: The Spy Who Helped Win WWII

Sonia Purnell is an acclaimed biographer and journalist who has worked for The Daily Mail, The Sunday Times, and The Guardian. Her book Clementine: The Life of Mrs. Winston Churchill (published as First Lady in the UK) was chosen as a book of the year by The Daily Telegraph and The Independent, and was a finalist for the Plutarch Award. Her first book, Just Boris, was longlisted for the Orwell prize. Her latest book, A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War II will be published in April 2019. The book is currently in development at Paramount Pictures and slated to star English actress Daisy Ridley known for her recent role in Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Sonia Purnell ©Charlie Hopkinson

A Woman of No Importance: The Spy Who Helped Win WWII

In 1942, the Gestapo sent out an urgent command: “She is the most dangerous of all Allied spies. We must find and destroy her.” This spy was Virginia Hall, a young socialite from Baltimore, who, after being rejected from the Foreign Service because of her gender and prosthetic leg, talked her way into the SOE, the WWII British spy organization dubbed Churchill’s “ministry of ungentlemanly warfare.” Hall, known as the “Madonna of the Resistance,” was one of the greatest spies in American and English history, yet her full story remains untold. At a time when sending female secret agents into enemy territory was still strictly forbidden, Hall coordinated a network of spies to report on German troop movements, arranged equipment parachute drops for Resistance fighters, and recruited and trained guerrilla units to ambush enemy convoys and blow up bridges and railroads. Even as her face covered WANTED posters throughout Europe, she refused orders to evacuate. She finally escaped in a death-defying climb over of the Pyrenees into Spain, her cover blown, and her associates imprisoned or executed. But, she plunged back into the field with the American OSS secret service, directing partisan armies to back up the Allied forces landing at Normandy. King George VI awarded her the OBE in 1943 and she received the Distinguished Service Cross from the US in 1946, the only American woman to receive this honor. 

Best-selling author, Sonia Purnell will reveal the captivating story of a formidable, yet shockingly overlooked, heroine whose fierce persistence helped win a world war. 

Paramount Pictures has acquired the rights to the Purnell’s meticulously researched upcoming book A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War II (April 2019) and has attached actress Daisy Ridley to star as Virginia Hall. 

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Cover A Woman of No Importance

Cover A Woman of No Importance