The FitzOsbornes of Montmaray are figments of the author's imagination, but many of the other names mentioned in The FitzOsbornes in Exile belong to real, historical people.
King James the First (1566-1625) wrote several books with interesting titles, including Daemonologie and A Counterblaste to Tobacco. The King James Version of the Bible, still in use today, was also dedicated to him. King James and his government were saved from a very violent fate when Guy Fawkes and several dozen barrels of gunpowder were discovered beneath the Houses of Parliament, the night before the state opening of Parliament in 1605. Despite being married and fathering a large number of children, King James had a distinct preference for young men, and in his later years, he referred to George Villiers, the Duke of Buckingham, as 'my sweet child and wife'.
Eighty years later, the Electress Sophia of Hanover was the heir to the British throne. However, she hadn't been born in Britain, so the Sophia Naturalisation Act of 1705 was passed by Parliament to allow Sophia and all her Protestant descendants to become British citizens. She died before she could become queen, but her son was crowned King George the First in 1714.
King Edward the Eighth (1894-1972) gave up the throne in December, 1936, in order to marry an American divorcée named Wallis Simpson. One of Edward's younger brothers was crowned King George the Sixth the following year, in a lavish coronation ceremony held at Westminster Abbey. The new king's wife became Queen Elizabeth, while his young daughters became Princess Elizabeth (she is now Queen Elizabeth the Second) and Princess Margaret (the princesses are pictured at right with their grandmother, Queen Mary, in 1939).
The king's younger brother, the Duke of Kent, had recently married a glamorous European princess. The Duchess of Kent was the Princess Diana of 1930s Britain, with each of her new outfits breathlessly described by fashion columnists and copied by dressmakers. Her favourite shade of turquoise was named 'Marina blue' in her honour, and she sparked crazes for various fashion items, including evening sandals, pillbox hats, peep-toe shoes and cotton frocks.
Stanley Baldwin, the Conservative Prime Minister, resigned in 1937, and was replaced by Neville Chamberlain. Chamberlain is now remembered for his policy of appeasement. This meant that he tried to avoid war by agreeing to the increasingly outrageous demands of the Fascist dictators, Benito Mussolini in Italy and Adolf Hitler in Germany. In hindsight, Chamberlain appears weak-minded and naïve, but at the time, many British people agreed with him, because they were desperate to avoid another terrible world war.
In 1938, after Germany had already invaded part of France and all of Austria, Hitler announced he wanted all the German-speaking parts of Czechoslovakia. Chamberlain flew to Munich to negotiate with Hitler. After several tense meetings, Britain and its allies agreed to let Germany take over part of Czechoslovakia, in return for which Hitler would stop making demands (no one bothered to consult the Czechoslovakians about this). The photograph at left shows Chamberlain on his return to England, promising 'peace for our time' and triumphantly waving an agreement signed by Hitler. Unfortunately, Hitler was lying. Several months later, Germany invaded the rest of Czechoslovakia, and Hitler demanded yet more land, both in Europe and around the world.
Not all of Chamberlain's colleagues agreed with appeasement. Anthony Eden, his Foreign Minister, resigned in protest in February, 1938, after Britain failed to stop Italy's invasion of Abyssinia. Winston Churchill was also loudly opposed to Hitler, and wanted Britain to do more to prepare for war. At the time, Churchill wasn't a Minister in the government, but his popularity grew once the war began in 1939, and he became Prime Minister when Chamberlain resigned in 1940.
Oswald Mosley, the son of a baronet, began his political career as a Conservative Member of Parliament, switched to the Labour Party when it won government, then resigned to form his own New Party, which failed to win a single seat in any election. After that, with financial backing from Mussolini and Hitler, he built up the British Union of Fascists, symbolised by 'the flash of action in the circle of unity' (the BUF flag is pictured at right). Mosley became famous for his public meetings, which usually ended with his uniformed Blackshirts getting into violent brawls with Communist protesters.
Mosley was not the only member of the British aristocracy who was attracted to Fascism. Lord Londonderry, a former Secretary of State for Air, visited Hitler in 1936, and returned to write a book praising the Nazi leader. Another famous British Fascist was Unity Mitford, the daughter of Lord Redesdale. She learned to speak German and moved to Munich to be closer to her adored 'Uncle Wolf', as she called Hitler. Unity was the younger sister of Diana Guinness, who married Mosley in 1936 in Munich, in a secret ceremony at which Hitler was the guest of honour.
In 1938, Joseph Kennedy (pictured at left) was appointed the United States Ambassador to the Court of St James. He was an unusual choice for the post because he had no diplomatic experience, and his Irish Catholic background meant that he was opposed to many of the ideas of the Conservative British government and the British aristocracy. However, President Franklin D. Roosevelt owed him a favour, and had political reasons for wanting Kennedy out of Washington before the next presidential election. The large Kennedy family attracted lots of attention when they arrived in London. The two eldest sons, Joe Junior and Jack (the future President John F. Kennedy) remained in the United States for several months, but their eighteen-year-old sister Kathleen quickly became a popular debutante and later married Billy Hartington, the heir to the Duke of Devonshire.
The Spanish Civil War began in 1936, when Francisco Franco and his Fascist supporters rebelled against the democratically-elected Republican government. An international non-intervention agreement meant that other countries were not supposed to get involved in the Spanish war. However, the Soviet Union helped the Republicans, and Italy and Germany helped Franco's Fascists. The Basque people, whose homeland had previously been regarded as part of Spain, declared themselves an independent Basque Republic and they fought on the Republican side. In 1937, Germany bombed Guernica, the ancient Basque capital, which caused international outrage and inspired Picasso's famous anti-war painting, Guernica. The painting was exhibited around the world to raise funds for the Republicans, and was shown at the Whitechapel Art Gallery in London in January, 1939.
Leah Manning and other members of the National Committee for Spanish Relief organised the evacuation of thousands of starving Basque children to Britain in 1937. The children were initially housed at Stoneham Camp near Southampton, then sent to houses around Britain. After Franco won the Spanish Civil War in 1939, many of the children returned home, although some went to Mexico, Morocco and the Soviet Union, while others remained in Britain.
Horatio Nelson was a British admiral whose victories during the Napoleonic Wars made him a national hero. He died in the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. Amelia Earhart, an American aviator (pictured at right), was the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. She died in 1937 during an attempt to fly around the world, after her plane crashed into the Pacific Ocean. The Rector of Stiffkey was defrocked in 1932 for his 'immoral' relationships with a number of young women. After this, he engaged in various public stunts, including fasting in a barrel and giving speeches inside a lion's cage. He was eventually mauled to death by a lion in 1937.
In The FitzOsbornes in Exile, Sophie and Rupert discuss several British writers, including Samuel Pepys, John Milton, W. H. Auden, T. S. Eliot and Stephen Spender, and Sophie and Simon have a running joke about Niccolò Machiavelli. Sophie also refers to the following novels, plays and essays: Tess of the d'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy; Great Expectations by Charles Dickens; Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion by Jane Austen; Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë; Regency Buck by Georgette Heyer; Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy; Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert; Othello and Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare; Seven Plays by Ernst Toller; Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll; and Three Guineas by Virginia Woolf.