Friday, September 30, 2022

The Real Dollar Princesses

Linda Bennett Pennell joins me today to introduce her new novel, The Last Dollar Princess. Enter America's Gilded Age!

~ Samantha


The Real Dollar Princesses

Guest Post by Linda Bennett Pennell

Caroline Astor

Does Mrs. Astor know you? In the latter half of 19th century New York City if the answer was no, the most coveted invitations would have been beyond your grasp. You had a 5th Avenue address? You were first to wear the latest Worth gowns? Your husband could buy half of Manhattan with plenty of money left over to build your Newport cottage? You hobnobbed with European nobility and royalty? If you were – gasp – New Money, none of your family’s accomplishments, regardless of how well earned, mattered.

19th century New York’s well-to-do were basically divided into two groups: Nobs and Swells. Nobs were old New York, often referred to as Knickerbockers. They lived quietly. Their homes surrounded Washington Square Park and lined the best locations along lower 5th Ave. The husbands earned their livings as bankers and from real estate. A girl’s debut meant a white dress with a few friends to tea at home. When she found the right young man, their engagement party or dinner and the wedding all took place at home witnessed by the young couple’s most intimate friends. Life among the Nobs was calm, quiet, subdued, and above all else, eschewed ostentation.

Swells were polar opposites. The husbands were captains of industry. Ostentation appeared to be the guiding principle in all they did. Whether it was building a new mansion farther north on 5th, importing the grandest artwork and furniture from Europe, or buying the best Worth gowns, the bigger and louder the display, the better. Nobs naturally viewed Swells as social climbing arrivistes who were crude, uncouth, and tacky. The Nob husbands might do business with the robber barons, but the wives would have nothing to do with the new money people, and as everyone knows, women are generally the arbiters of society.

Vanderbilt NYC Mansion

For Swells with daughters of marriageable age, the situation was dire indeed. Their beautiful, well-educated, accomplished girls had little-to-no chance of being introduced to, much less marrying, New York’s most desirable, socially prominent young men. What was an ambitious mother to do? Enter the Buccaneers, whose mamas cast their gazes east toward much greater prizes than even Mrs. Astor could command.

Edith Wharton, the novelist and chronicler of Gilded Age manners, grew up among the elite of old New York and knew them well. She also knew the daughters of those déclassé new money arrivistes, fictional versions of which she incorporated in her last, unfinished novel, The Buccaneers. She dubbed these girls with rich papas and socially ambitious mamas, but who lacked pedigree, thus. One must suppose she chose the nickname due to the effect they created among the targets of their parents' social-climbing efforts, the English aristocracy.

It has been said that these American heiresses presented a significant, alluring contrast to their English counterparts and it was not just their papas' money. The daughters of wealthy Americans were well-educated and reared to be confident in themselves, their abilities, and their opinions. Their mothers, reared in the spirit of the pioneers, set examples of strong-willed, accomplished wives to whom their husbands bowed in all things domestic. The daughters were cossetted and adored by their fathers; their English counterparts were basically treated as lesser members of the household and something of a liability until they married. The daughters of America's robber barons tended to be vivacious and outgoing. In other words, they were often the life of the party in an otherwise stuffy, rigid society. In the eyes of some Englishmen, including the Prince of Wales, they were a refreshing breeze blown in on the Atlantic Drift.

Between 1870 and 1902, no fewer than 102 American girls married into the English peerage. While American heiresses had been marrying abroad for many years, none had reached the epitome of the English social order until 1876 when Consuelo Yznaga married George, Viscount Mandeville, the future 8th Duke of Manchester.

Consuelo Yzanga

Consuelo was born in 1853 in New York City to Antonio Yzanga del Valle, a Cuban diplomat and of the landed Cuban gentry, and Ellen Maria Clement of Ravenswood Plantation, Concordia Parish, Louisiana. The Yzanga family owned plantations and sugar mills in Cuba, a home in New York, and a large home in New Port while the Clement family was originally from stalwart New England stock. Between them, Consuelo's parents were rich, owned large tracts of land in the US and Cuba, and were connected to the Spanish aristocracy, but this was not enough to gain their beautiful, accomplished daughter invitations to the best balls and dinners. Mrs. Astor did not "know" them; therefore, they were beyond the pale. To make matters worse, Mrs. Yzanaga was considered "fast" by the people who counted.

Shunned by New York society, in the 1860's Mama Ellen decamped for the much brighter and more accepting society of Paris where her three daughters made quite a splash. They became favorites at the court of Napolean III's Empress Eugénie. The empress had no illusions when it came to maintaining a glittering court. Social standing was far less important than sparkling personalities, charm, wit, and plenty of money. Her court was peopled by those who could afford new dresses for every occasion and lots of diamonds. The Yzanaga girls suited very nicely and were seen often at the Tuileries attending State Balls and musicales. Only thirteen, Consuelo knew the empress well and became friends with Alva Smith, the future Mrs. Vanderbilt.

In 1875, the Yzanaga women joined the social whirl in Saratoga Springs, NY. Where life had much more to do with seeing and being seen than any health concerns the mineral waters might address. Suitable young men came for the horse races and to observe the young ladies promenading along the United States Hotel piazza and attending the weekly balls all under the strict eyes of mothers and chaperones. The now 22 year-old Consuelo drew the notice of many of the young men, but one young man in particular drew that of Mama Ellen.

George Montagu

At 23, George Drogo "Kim" Montagu, Lord Mandeville, had already seen something of life beyond the walls of his family's country seat, Kimbolton Castle. He had served as ADC to Sir Garnet Wolseley in the Zulu War. While in Saratoga, he suffered an attack of a recurring malady thought to be a fever picked up in Africa and Mama Ellen saw an opportunity. She invited him to recuperate at the Yzanaga family cottage in Orange, New Jersey. Consuelo and her mother acted as his nurses, giving them exclusive access the most eligible bachelor. His positive qualities included being charming, being friends with the Prince of Wales, being the future 8th Duke of Manchester, and having developed an attraction to Consuelo. On the down side, he gambled on games of chances and the horses and was in need of cash. That last negative became a positive when Papa Yzanaga offered a £200,000 (approximately $6 million today) dowry. Consuelo accepted his proposal and a wedding date was set. The 7th Duke and Duchess of Manchester were furious, but the couple were wed in New York's Grace Church in 1876.

The wedding party was greeted by newspapers and a cheering public as the event of the season. New Yorkers were excited by and proud of the hometown girl who was now a duchess. London was equally as charmed by Consuelo. The Duke of Portland described her entry into the London season as a success, saying, "[she] took society completely by storm by her beauty, wit, and vivacity and it was soon at her very pretty feet."

Consuelo blazed the trail for the American heiresses that would come after her. These “dollar princesses,” as they became known, would bring millions to their aristocratic husbands, saving many noble English estates from ruin and allowing their parents back home in the States a step up on the Nobs and Mrs. Astor who shunned them. After all, “have you met my daughter, the countess…marchioness…duchess” definitely has a certain cashé, does it not?


De Courcy, Anne. The Husband hunters: Social Climbing in London and New York. London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 2017.

MacColl, Gail and Wallace, Carol MCD. To Marry an English Lord: Tales of Wealth and Marriage, Sex and Snobbery. New York: Workman Publishing, 1989.

The Last Dollar Princess

It must be said. Scandal follows her family like a faithful hound. No matter how hard they kick it away, it comes slinking around to insinuate itself into their lives again. Although her family is obsessed with social position, one thing is certain. Heiress India Elisabeth Petra De Vries Ledbetter is an outlier among her kin. She is determined to set her own course, family expectations and society's demands be damned.

Reared away from the social whirl of Gilded Age New York, India would prefer a life of philanthropy in her native Appalachia, but Mother and Grandmama have far grander plans. They believe Mrs. Astor’s old 400 are ready to overlook the past and that an advantageous marriage will cement their place in society once more. In fact, they have already selected the prospective bridegroom. The only problem? No one consulted India.

With captivating insights into the human spirit and heart, The Last Dollar Princess leads us on a riveting quest for self-determination through the most elegant and glamorous settings of the early 20th century. Perfect for fans of Marie Benedict, Daisy Goodwin, and Julian Fellows, this sweeping work of historical fiction will stay with readers long after the last page is turned.

The Last Dollar Princess is available now on Amazon!

Connect with Linda

I have been in love with the past for as long as I can remember. Anything with a history, whether shabby or majestic, recent or ancient, instantly draws me in. I suppose it comes from being part of a large extended family that spanned several generations. Long summer afternoons on my grandmother's porch or winter evenings gathered around her fireplace were filled with stories both entertaining and poignant. Of course, being set in the American South, those stories were also peopled by some very interesting characters, some of whom have found their way into my work.

As for my venture in writing, it has allowed me to reinvent myself. We humans are truly multifaceted creatures, but we tend to sort and categorize each other into neat, easily understood packages that rarely reveal the whole person. Perhaps you, too, want to step out of the box in which you find yourself. I encourage you to look at the possibilities and imagine. Be filled with childlike wonder in your mental wanderings. Envision what might be, not simply what is. Let us never forget, all good fiction begins when someone says to herself or himself, "Let's pretend." 

I reside in the Houston area with one sweet husband and one adorable, sweet Labradoodle who is quite certain she’s a little girl.

"History is filled with the sound of silken slippers going downstairs and wooden shoes coming up." Voltaire  

Linda's Blog: History Imagined: For Readers, Writers, and Lovers of Historical Fiction 

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Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Before She Was Mrs Madison

Dolley Payne was born 20 May 1768 in the small Quaker settlement of New Garden (modern day Guilford County, North Carolina). The family did not remain there long enough for little Dolley to retain memories of the place, and she always thought of herself as a Virginian, even after moving to Philadelphia in 1783 at age fifteen. Anthony Morris, who became a lifelong friend of Dolley's, wrote, 'She came upon our comparatively cold hearts in Philadelphia, suddenly and unexpectedly with all the delightful influences of a summer sun, from the Sweet South . . . .and she soon raised the mercury there in the thermometers of the Heart to fever heat.'

Quaker she may have been, but quiet and modest she was not. Dolley was obsessed with many fashions that she was not permitted to wear, and she would document what she saw around the city in her diary. She wore the plain clothes required by her mother but still gained attention with her dark hair, blue eyes, and friendly demeanor. This charm would serve her well decades later when she became First Lady.

Dolley's father had manumitted his slaves before moving to Philadelphia. Not able to farm successfully without their labor but devoted to Quaker beliefs that it was wrong to own another human being, John Payne hoped that the city would offer other opportunities for supporting his family. Unfortunately, tragedy made frequent visits upon the Paynes. A baby, named Philadelphia for their new home, died shortly after birth, and oldest son, Walter, was lost at sea. When Payne's starch business went bankrupt, he looked for suitors to take Dolley off his hands.

Todd House, Philadelphia

Among Dolley's many admirers, her father thought John Todd Jr the best choice. A lawyer six years Dolley's senior, Todd had shown interest in her for some time. Whether he was Dolley's first choice is unknown, but letters between them indicate love during their marriage if it was not present before. They were married 7 January 1790. The young couple moved into a home that still exists at the corner of Fourth and Walnut Streets in Philadelphia.

A son was welcomed on 29 February 1792 and named John Payne Todd to honor both his father and grandfather. Little could Dolley have imagined then that this little boy would cause her much trouble in the coming years, but her love for him never wavered.

In the summer of 1793, another son, William Temple Todd, was born. Then Yellow Fever struck Philadelphia, killing about 5000 people or approximately 10% of the city's population. The young Todd family did not escape the epidemic, and Dolley lost both her husband and infant son on 24 October 1793. Dolley went to her mother, who had opened the family home as a boarding house, while she grieved and attempted to settle the estate of her husband and his parents, who had also died of the fever.

At her mother's boardinghouse, Dolley was introduced to Aaron Burr, attorney and senator, who assisted her with her legal battle and became godfather to Payne, as Dolley's remaining son was called. Burr also introduced Dolley to a man who many expected to remain a lifelong bachelor. When forty-three-year-old James Madison met the young widow, he fell hard and fast.

Statue of the Madisons
at Montpelier

By marrying outside the faith and within a year of her late husband's death, Dolley knew she was relinquishing her place in the Quaker church. From 15 September 1794 when she wed the Great Little Madison, she never expressed any regret. In fact, they were happily married until James's death forty-two years later, and Dolley embraced the fashion and society that she had longed for but been denied a place in. 

When James Madison was elected the fourth president of the United States in 1809, Dolley was well prepared to define the role of First Lady in a way her predecessors had not, opening up the White House to any who wished to visit and charming political rivals into civility - at least long enough for dinner. In fact, the term First Lady may have been used for the first time at her funeral in 1849. Sometimes called the Queen of America, Dolley Payne Todd Madison had left behind her Quaker roots and forged a unique path of her own.

If you would like to learn more about Dolley Madison and other amazing 18th century ladies, please consider my newest book, Women of the American Revolution. It is available at Pen & SwordAmazonBook DepositoryBarnes & Noble, or your favorite book retailer. I appreciate your interest and support!

Available now at Audible and!

Join me on your preferred social media for daily fun facts, on this day in history posts, and lots of pictures!




Tuesday, September 6, 2022

The Eisenhower Chronicles

I am pleased to welcome M.B. Zucker to my blog today. As a fellow biographical fiction writer, Zucker has taken on a fascinating historical figure. In his Eisenhower Chronicles, readers will experience some of the most exciting moments of the 20th century.

Welcome, Mr Zucker!

~ Samantha


The Eisenhower Chronicles: An Excerpt

Guest Post by Michael Zucker

It is early 1942. America has entered WWII following the attack on Pearl Harbor, and Ike has become a protege to Army Chief of Staff George Marshall. He is in charge of the War Department's War Plans Division. He contemplates the state of the war and discusses an interesting proposal for the first time...

Ike concentrated on a logic tree of wartime priorities he was drawing for the Combined Chiefs while hunched over his office desk. The fall of Britain, or Russia, or India will give the Axis a greater industrial output than the Allies. That can’t be allowed to happen. Our industrial power is the key to victory.

He glanced at a map that hung on the wall. Ike envisioned recent events in his head, picturing the ultimate nightmare if fortune did not reverse and the Axis maintained its momentum.

The Axis currently controls about one-third of the Earth’s surface. Nazi U-boats dominate the Atlantic. We’re losing dozens and dozens of ships per month. Hundreds of thousands of tons of material. Even our sea lanes to South America are at risk of being cut off. But the situation in the Eastern Hemisphere is infinitely worse. The Nazis are poised to overrun the Soviets in the Caucasus Mountains and Rommel’s pushing back the Brits in Egypt. Those two German thrusts can link up in the Middle East and quickly overrun that region. U-boats could then cross the Red Sea and enter the Indian Ocean. The Japanese, meanwhile, are overrunning the Dutch East Indies and could push through Burma and into India. The Nazis and Japanese could then link up near the Himalaya Mountains. And that would be it. The joining of the Axis armies would mark the entire Hemisphere’s fall to totalitarianism. Russia and China will be defeated and forced to surrender. Churchill will probably get thrown out of office with a No Confidence vote and Britain will make a deal with Hitler to avoid total destruction. Before too long the Axis will turn its attention to our Hemisphere. And America, with all its might, won’t be able to resist the combined strength of the entire rest of the world, no matter what Lincoln said. Americans will lose their freedoms. Freedom of speech. Right to a fair trial. Everything. We’ll all be Hitler’s slaves. The whole world.

That’s why I don’t get what’s wrong with this country. Why wasn’t it ready? My countrymen aren’t stupid. They must have seen what was at stake when Hitler took one country after another. And how could the Navy be caught with its pants down at Pearl Harbor? Because of that Japan has conquered half of the Pacific. How are so many people messing up this badly with this much at stake? What is wrong with people? And the Navy is still messing up. And MacArthur. And…

I need to calm down. We have a lot of smart people here. They’re getting a lot of the big decisions right. Like choosing to prioritize Germany over Japan. Roosevelt, Churchill, and the Combined Chiefs were right about that. I was wrong to question them. Yes, military doctrine says to target the weaker enemy first. But in this situation, that’s Germany. The Germans have more of their firepower pinned down fighting the British and the Soviets than the Japanese do in the Pacific. And besides, defeating Japan would do nothing to help Stalin. Our top priority needs to be to keep Russia in the war. Especially when there are rumors that Stalin has been asking Hitler for peace terms. If only there was some way to relieve pressure on the Russians.

Ike looked at the map. The Allies needed to slow the Axis advance. But more importantly, they needed to destroy the German Army. The German Army was Hitler’s center of gravity. Destroying it would force Germany’s surrender. That was the only way to win the war. But how would the Allies do that? Germany ruled the continent. The Allies had no way to even reach the German Army and fight it in a capacity large enough to destroy it.

The British are fighting Rommel in Egypt, but the Afrika Korps is a fraction of the entire German Army. The Soviets are fighting a huge portion of it, but they lack our industrial power and are taking excessive casualties. We need somewhere we can engage the bulk of the German Army and defeat it. I feel like that keeps leading me back to…

Ike turned to General Clark, one of his oldest friends in the Army.

“Can I talk to you?” Ike asked.

“Of course,” Clark replied. “What is it?”

“I think I know how we’re going to win the war in Europe.”

Clark froze. He turned away from his own desk to listen to Ike. A two-star general knew how to beat Hitler?

“Let’s hear it,” Clark said.

Ike hesitated.

“I think we need to cross the English Channel and invade the coast of France.” He had goosebumps saying it out loud for the first time.

Clark’s eyebrows furrowed.

“Are you serious?”


“Ike, there hasn’t been a successful cross-channel attack since William the Conqueror won the Battle of Hastings in 1066. And there’s never, in the history of warfare, been a successful attack from England and into France. What you’re talking about is without any precedence in military history. And against the toughest enemy imaginable.”

“Hear me out, Mark. When I served in Panama under Conner, he made me study the Civil War in extreme detail. Every general, every strategy. What worked and what didn’t. And you know what I learned? That Ulysses Grant was the best general we ever produced. He defeated Lee and saved the Union.”

“Which he did through brute force. Grant was a butcher.”

“No, he wasn’t. His casualties were lower than Lee’s. Grant did it by systematically destroying Lee’s Army. Not by taking Richmond, the Confederate capital. Not with some special maneuver like outflanking the Confederates. He did it through attrition. He targeted Lee’s Army, like Clausewitz wrote about in On War, and he destroyed it. That forced Lee’s surrender at Appomattox. There’s no special button we can press to defeat the Third Reich. I want us to do to Hitler what Grant did to Lee.”

“And we’d have to invade France to do that?”

“It’s the only land area large enough to engage the German Army on a large scale and defeat it decisively.”

“North Africa’s obviously not large enough. And there’s not enough of the German Army there to fight. What about the Russian front? We could put forces there and help Stalin defeat the German Army there.”

“Our lines of approach would be too long.”

“We could go through Murmansk from the north or from the Persian Gulf via the Cape of Good Hope from the south. We’re already sending the Russians war material that way.”

“I don’t think we could send millions of soldiers as well. Besides, I don’t see Roosevelt and Marshall wanting to rely on Stalin that much. I see them agreeing to a cross-channel attack before they’d ever make that deal with Stalin.”

“What about going through Norway?”

“It’s not large enough for the type of ground campaign we’d need to defeat the German Army.”

“Portugal? Spain? We wouldn’t have to go through the Atlantic Wall.”

“Maybe. But France is closer to Germany, so it would be closer to the heart of Hitler’s empire and engage the German Army faster. Plus, it wouldn’t pull Franco into the war.”

Clark nodded, persuaded.

“What timeline are you thinking?”

“If Roosevelt, Churchill, and the Combined Chiefs get on board with this now, we can invade France by early next year. The Brits would have to take the lead, since we’d still be building up our military.”

“Did you think of this just now?”

“I actually thought of it last September. But the more I think about grand strategy, the more I’m convinced that that’s the only way to beat Hitler.”

It’s strange. I’ve spent every day thinking about Hitler since November 1938. How he’s putting his own selfish interests over his duty to humanity, the threat he poses, how to stop him, how to defeat him. But he’s never heard of me. Doesn’t know I exist. Life is odd.

The Eisenhower Chronicles by M.B. Zucker

In 1938 he was a lieutenant colonel stationed in the Philippines; by 1945 the world proclaimed him its savior. From leading the forces of liberal democracy against history’s most evil tyrant to the presidency, Dwight D. Eisenhower fought for and kept the peace during the most dangerous era in history.

The Eisenhower Chronicles dramatizes Ike’s life, portraying his epic journey from unknown soldier to global hero as only a novel could. He is shown working with icons such as FDR, Winston Churchill, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and confronting challenges like D-Day, the Little Rock Crisis, and Sputnik.

Eisenhower’s legacy is grounded in defending the world from fascism, communism, and nuclear weapons. This novel shows how he accomplished it all and takes readers into his mind and soul, grounding the history in the man who made it.

Available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Waterstones, and Kobo.

Connect with M.B. Zucker

M. B. Zucker has been interested in storytelling for as long as he can remember. He discovered his love of history at fifteen and studied Dwight Eisenhower for over ten years. Mr. Zucker earned his B.A. at Occidental College and his J.D. at Case Western Reserve University School of Law. He lives in Virginia with his wife.

Connect with him through his website or on TwitterFacebook, LinkedIn, Amazon Author Page, and Goodreads