Sunday, December 30, 2018

DAY 23: Scandal--The Aylesford Affair

Jennie Churchill was 22 years old in 1876 and had only been married two years when her husband, Lord Randolph Churchill, committed his first political suicide. 

Known forever after as the Aylesford Affair, it involved the entire Churchill family in a scandal so mortifying and inescapable that Queen Victoria ordered the Duke of Marlborough, Randolph's formidable father, to get the Churchills out of the country.

And yet, it was Randolph's brother, George--Marquess of Blandford and heir to the dukedom--who was the source of the trouble.

Bertie, Prince of Wales, embarked on a lavish trip to India in the autumn of 1875, and among the gentlemen pressed into accompanying him was Heneage Finch, 7th Earl of Aylesford. Sportin' Joe, as he was known in the Marlborough House Set, was the accommodating husband of Edith, Countess of Aylesford--with whom the Prince had enjoyed an illicit liaison, facilitated by the splendid houseparties the Aylesfords threw at their country seat, Packington Hall, in Warwickshire. 
Packington Hall, Warwickshire, seat of the Earls of Aylesford

While the Prince and the Earl were away, the Countess decided to play--and chose as her paramour George, Marquess of Blandford. He was known throughout Society as a devilish, spendthrift rake without a single moral scruple, and for whatever reason, Edith was obsessed with him. Both were married; Edith the mother of  two young daughters, Blandford the father of two daughters and a son. He moved his horses and valet to an inn close to Packington Hall that winter and by spring, Edith was pregnant.

George, Marquess of Blandford,
later 8th Duke of Marlborough
Edith Finch, Countess of Aylesford
Word reached her husband, as word of such things often does.

Both the Prince of Wales and Sportin' Joe were outraged at the Marquess's behavior. Bertie called Blandford "a blackguard," that most vicious of Victorian insults. He insisted that the Earl of Aylesford should divorce his unfaithful (to them both) wife, and that Blandford must then marry her. The collateral damage to Blandford's wife Goosie was apparently immaterial.

Enter Randolph Churchill, determined to support his brother and furious at his Prince and Sovereign.

Randolph was then the Conservative Member of Parliament for Woodstock. He drove to Marlborough House, the Prince's London home, and demanded to see the Princess of Wales. With him, he carried a packet of Edith Aylesford's love letters--written by Bertie, not Blandford.

Not simply content with destroying what shreds of faith Alix might still have had in her philandering husband, Randolph threatened to publish the Prince's letters in the London papers if his brother George were forced to the public humiliation and scandal of a divorce. Divorce was the one sin no English peer could yet survive; and no English lady, once divorced, was ever tolerated in Society thereafter. Imposing divorce on both George and Edith was to ruin them equally, and Randolph had no intention of letting the Prince of Wales do that to his brother.

"I have the Crown of England in my pocket," Randolph later told his political colleague, Sir Charles Dilke.

Stunned, Princess Alix went immediately to Queen Victoria--who, though she had never approved of her son, did not hesitate to protect the Crown. She met soon thereafter with the Duke and Duchess of Marlborough and told them exactly what Randolph had done. The humiliated Duke accepted Prime Minister Disraeli's appointment as Lord-Lieutenant or Viceroy of Ireland, and prepared for exile in Dublin. It was an expensive move for the Churchill family that ended the Duke's career in the House of Lords. Randolph was required to accompany him to Dublin as the Viceroy's secretary.

Meanwhile, Bertie, Prince of Wales, learned the entire history of Randolph's threats and his painful revelations to Princess Alix. Outraged, he challenged Randolph to apologize, or meet him in Rotterdam during the Prince's return voyage to England--with pistols, at dawn.

It was impossible, of course, for Randolph to aim a gun at the Prince of Wales without being charged with treason. Randolph refused to apologize, but offered to face the Prince's Second (a designated stand-in) at any time or place of Bertie's choosing.

At this point, Hartington intervened. 
Hart, later 8th Duke of Devonshire

Spencer Cavendish, the Marquess of Hartington, or Hart as he was known to his friends, was a towering figure in Victorian social and political life. Older than Randolph and a member of the Liberal Party, he was close to the Prince of Wales and a member of the Marlborough House Set himself, as was his lifelong love, Lottie, Duchess of Manchester. Hart would one day be Duke of Devonshire, but in 1876 he was a man devoted to public service, an obvious future prime minister (although in fact he refused the office three times), and a negotiator of unquestioned integrity and power.

He asked to see Randolph's packet of letters. When Randolph turned them over, Hart allegedly threw them on the fire. Or, by another account, he pocketed them and later returned them anonymously to the Prince. Regardless, Edith's correspondence was no longer available to Randolph Churchill as a weapon.

The Aylesford Affair did not end there, however. Sportin' Joe proved to be less than sporting, in the Victorian sense of the word. He ordered his mother to remove his daughters from Edith's care and decreed that she was never to see them again. Neither was she permitted to remain in his home, and he refused to give her a penny. He left England for a ranch in Texas, where he died at the age of 36, of alcoholism.

Edith fled to Paris with Blandford, where a few years later she was later delivered of a son she named Guy Bertrand. 

The Marchioness of Blandford initiated divorce proceedings against George, as did Sportin' Joe against his Countess. But Blandford had no intention of marrying Edith--she was, he declared, good enough for a mistress, but not for a Duchess of Marlborough.

Jennie, Randolph, Winston and his grandparents went into exile in Ireland for the next four years. (More about life in Ireland in a later post.) Randolph crossed the North Sea often for parliamentary debates, as he was still an MP, but the Prince of Wales refused to enter any room he inhabited, or to attend any event where Randolph might appear, forcing the Churchills' social circle to choose sides. The ostracism of Society was severe. Under the repeated persuasion of his father, the Duke, Randolph finally agreed to sign a letter of full and formal apology to the Prince of Wales.

Notably, nothing was required of brother George. He was thoroughly disgraced by his own actions, but he had never committed the atrocity of threatening his Prince. Public opinion began to thaw; the whole mess, it was agreed, might have been avoided if only Aylesford had done the sporting thing, and stood by his wife. Never mind that Heneage would have had to accept the Marquess of Blandford's son as his heir to the earldom, cutting out his brother from the line of succession. Tainting a woman with divorce violated the code of a gentleman. No wonder he had fled to Texas! 

When the Conservative government fell in 1880 and the Liberals appointed a new Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland to succeed the Duke, Jennie returned to a London that had missed her. Randolph had new ambition--he was marked out as a rising member of the Opposition. Society could not afford to ignore either Churchill; as a power couple, they were sought after by every hostess. Even Bertie was glad to see Jennie, and invited her to Sandringham.

It would be years, however, before the Prince agreed to acknowledge the existence of Randolph Churchill, either in public or private.

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Saturday, December 29, 2018

DAY 24: Surviving the Russian Winter in Style

Mantle by A.T. Ivanova Workshop,

Princess Dagmar of Denmark, otherwise known as Minnie, otherwise known as the Czarina Maria Feodorovna after her marriage to Alexander III of Russia, was born in a cold climate and lived out her days in a world ruled by ice. 

A collection of Minnie's clothes, spanning six decades of European fashion, is held at the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg. The dress styles transition from Victorian to Belle Epoque to Edwardian to Art Nouveau. But it's the mantles, cloaks, and capes that I find astonishingly beautiful. Minnie was a girl who knew how to keep warm.

Some of the outerwear, like many of the gowns, was fashioned by the famed St. Petersburg workshop of A.T. Ivanova. Others were crafted in Paris. 

Cloth, silk, fur, metal. Morin-Blossier, Paris,
It's cold outside here in Denver. So I'll offer the Czarina's ideas for fighting rough weather. All, from the Hermitage Museum collection.

Ostrich plumes and silk brocade,
Emile Pingat, Paris, 1891-92

Cheviot, silk, metal. Possibly Russian,
c. 1910?

But what about the furs, you ask? Where are all the sables and arctic fox and ermines an empress is expected to wear?

Minnie certainly wore ermine for her coronation. And a number of members of the imperial family had ermine capes. But I can find only one photograph of the Empress in fur--despite her long life of 81 years, constantly in the spotlight. It's from the late 1860s, from the appearance of the dress's fashion and her obvious youthfulness. Taken, perhaps, her first winter in Russia?

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Friday, December 28, 2018

DAY 25: The Kinsky Horse

Equus Kinsky
Charles Kinsky, as he was known in England, was heir to vast estates throughout the Austro-Hungarian Empire when Jennie first met him in 1883. Although at age 25 Charles was known in London primarily as a sportsman and diplomat, he would one day be the eighth Prince Kinsky, latest in a noble line stretching back to the twelfth century. His house's fortunes had multiplied throughout successive centuries of warfare and power in Central Europe. But they were founded on the backs on one thing in particular--horses.

Chateau Karlova Koruna, Chlumec, Czech Republic

The Kinskys rose to prominence as breeders of perhaps the most famous horse stud in Central Europe--the Equus Kinsky. A palomino with a curiously metallic sheen to its hide that made it seem to be fashioned from gold, the Kinsky Horse was the official cavalry mount of the Austro-Hungarian Empire by 1723.  

During Charles's time in Victorian London, the princely line of the family was better known for its political power and diplomatic careers (although his mother, Princess Marie of Lichtenstein und Kinsky, was acknowledged as one of the finest horsewomen in Europe.) But a lateral family branch based near the Kinsky estate in Chlumec, Chateau Karlova Koruna, perfected the breeding program throughout the 19th century. Count Oktavian Kinsky, one of the most famous horsemen of the period, established the Equus Kinsky studbook in 1838 in Chlumec and oversaw the breeding program throughout his long life.

Of course, Charles himself was famous in 1883 for having won the Grand National Steeplechase on a mare named Zoedone--an English-bred filly from a farm near Exeter, that Charles bought after watching her hunt in the field with the Melton pack. (Some historians erroneously report that Zoedone was an Equus Kinsky brought over from Bohemia, but this is incorrect.)

When the USSR invaded Czechoslovakia following World War II, Soviet authorities seized the Kinsky estate at Chlumec and the entire herd of horses, ending family control of the stud until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Today, there are less than 1000 Kinsky horses registered in the world; but the Czech Republic has recognized its significance as a historic and national treasure. 

They even put one on a postage stamp.

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Thursday, December 27, 2018

DAY 26: A Russian Imperial Christmas

Lord Randolph Churchill was in political disfavor in December 1887, having impetuously resigned his Cabinet posts in Lord Salisbury's government the previous year. From restlessness and a probable desire to get out of England during the dispiriting winter months, he decided to travel to Russia for Christmas--and unusually, he took Jennie with him.

The trip alarmed Queen Victoria, who viewed Randolph with intense suspicion. She assumed he would seize his chance to interfere in Crown and Government policy toward Russia. She instructed her prime minister, Salisbury, to inform all foreign European governments as well as the British public that Lord Randolph "is going simply on a private journey, in no way charged with any message or mission from the Government..." To her son, Bertie, the Prince of Wales, she wrote: "I cannot, I own, understand your high opinion of a man who is clever, undoubtedly, but who is devoid of all principle, who holds the most insular and dangerous doctrines on foreign affairs, who is very impulsive, and utterly unreliable....Pray don't correspond with him, for he really is not to be trusted and is very indiscreet, and his power and talents are greatly overrated."

Minnie (L) and Alix in matching winter gowns

Bertie disagreed. He thought his mother was wildly overreacting. He persuaded his wife, Princess Alix, to give Jennie Churchill a letter of introduction to Alix's sister, Minnie--who was now the Czarina of Russia, Empress Maria Feodorovna. 

The letter opened every possible door to the Churchills at the very summit of Imperial society. Jennie reveled in the varied scenes the trip offered, setting down her observations in long letters to her sisters and sons. Her reporting would later become the basis of a magazine article and further developed as part of her memoirs.

To live for months every year, buried in that cold, monotonous silence, is quite enough, I should imagine, to account for the vein of sadness which seems to be the basis of the Russian character, and which betrays itself in all Russian music and painting...

Jennie would, of course, respond first to music and painting.
Great Gatchina Palace

The Churchills met Czar Alexander III and Maria Feodorovna in the Great Gatchina Palace, roughly an hour by train outside of St. Petersburg. The Czar took the opportunity to inform Randolph that the Dardanelles were Russian turf, and that his Government would do well to stay far away from the Black Sea. Randolph naturally reported this conversation to the Prince of Wales, which alarmed Queen Victoria.

Dagmar of Denmark, later Empress Maria
Feodorovna of Russia

Jennie toured the palace with Minnie, and privately marveled that despite the hundreds of rooms, the imperial couple preferred to spend much of their time in one large hall filled with comfortable chairs and writing tables, scattered with their children's toys, even dining there informally. But their tastes were the simplest, and the Czar particularly affected tiny rooms, though they were much at variance with his towering frame and majestic bearing, Jennie wrote.

watercolor by Edward Gau of Alexander III's study at Gatchina

What Jennie may not have understood was that Alexander III, taking power after his father's assassination in 1881, was profoundly mistrustful of his own subjects--and preferred the isolation of Gatchina to the more public and exposed Winter Palace at St. Petersburg, where he had grown up. Alexander and Minnie's son, the eventual Nicholas II, would grow even further isolated from everyday Russians and would in turn be assassinated in 1917 with his entire family.

Sleighing in St. Petersburg
After a period of holiday celebration in St. Petersburg, when Jennie skated on the frozen Neva and traveled about the city by sleigh, the Churchills were invited back to Gatchina over New Year's Eve--traveling in a private train with 150 other guests. They were treated to an evening of one-act plays, each in a different language, followed by supper. Jennie was seated near Minnie so that the two could converse. The next morning, the Imperial Court assembled for a formal reception to greet the New Year.

Jennie's perceptions of Moscow are particularly vivid: ...the narrow streets filled with a motley crowd of fur-clad people, the markets with their frozen fish or blocks of milk, from which slabs would be chopped off, and carcasses of beasts propped up in rows against the stalls....The temperature was some twenty degrees below zero, and Jennie observed that upperclass Russian women rarely went outdoors. She found them highly educated, as a result--their time being spent in extensive reading and the mastery of languages. It was, however, a matter of surprise to me that women eminently fitted by nature and education to influence and help those struggling in the higher vocations of life, should have seemingly but one ambition, to efface themselves, to attract no attention, to rouse no jealousies, she wrote.

Bolshoi Theatre, Moscow
The Churchills attended the opera with the Governor-General of Moscow, Prince Dolgoroukoff, an elderly man who had run the city for two decades. Later, Jennie discovered he had ordered all beggars off the streets of Moscow so that the Churchills would not be annoyed by them; and he had deployed a pair of detectives to follow Jennie and Randolph everywhere they went--to ensure their personal security. The Moscow visit concluded with a dinner for six hundred in the Churchills' honor, at the British Embassy.

Winston and Jack spent that Christmas with their grandmother Fanny, the Dowager Duchess of Marlborough, at Blenheim. The boys' nanny, Everest, had contracted diptheria, and the Duchess was effectively keeping the young Churchills in quarantine at Woodstock. She wrote to Randolph that she was relieved when Winston returned to school--because he was a "handful," and used "bad language" she thought was harmful to Jack!

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Wednesday, December 26, 2018

DAY 27: Boxing Day

North Yorkshire Hunt, Boxing Day
Good King Wenceslaus Went Out
On the Feast of Stephen...

The 26th of December is the Feast of St. Stephen, or Boxing Day--which was traditionally when those in domestic service, who had labored throughout Christmas Eve and Christmas Day so that their employers could make merry, were given time off to go home and enjoy the Nativity with their families. They were also given "boxes" of leftover food, trinkets, coins, and other small gifts from their employers to honor a year of good service. In recent decades, the tradition has evolved into a day of Christmas sales shopping and charitable giving.

December 26th is also the date of the traditional Christmas Hunt Meet in Great Britain, when local packs and hunt enthusiasts set out in search of fox scent on the bitter and frozen ground. This year, there were Animal Rights protests that disrupted the hunts, and some incidents of violence. Jennie Churchill would have been amazed at this sea change in British public opinion--she was an avid hunter and would almost certainly have joined the Meets in any locale where she spent the holiday. 

Lacking a cook in the kitchen and staff to serve on Boxing Day, most aristocratic families  ate a cold dinner, or "hunt board." This was a buffet that was usually comprised of leftover Christmas delicacies, offering an informal sequel to the most glittering holiday of the year.

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Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Monday, December 24, 2018

DAY 29: A Victorian Christmas Eve

courtesy of Victoriana Magazine
The picture at left is of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, who popularized the imported German custom of decorating an evergreen tree on the night before Christmas to enchant children. I say, popularized, because there had been Christmas trees at the British court before Albert arrived--Queen Charlotte, Mad King George's wife and also of German origin, was known to decorate a tree in the late eighteenth century. But prints like this one, that purported to show the monarchs of Britain as a family enjoying a cherished holiday, made Christmas trees an object of Fashion in an era that craved novelty.

Christmas in Jennie Churchill's era was a holiday in transition: from the Georgian and Regency tradition of celebrating the pagan Saturnalia--most obviously with Twelfth Night celebrations, gift-giving on the eve of the Epiphany, and balls characterized by masquerades that inverted the accepted order--to the Victorian Christmas: celebrated on the day of the Christ Child's purported birth, with gifts from St. Nicholas and loving friends.

Victorian trees were a symbol of that change--an upper-class indulgence not widely adopted by the rest of the Kingdom. But those who followed Victoria's example gave up Twelfth Night balls and staged their Christmas Eve trees expressly for children. The spectacle lasted only a few hours, and only on one night--December 24, when the drawing-room doors were opened to reveal candles blazing on a freshly cut evergreen, set on a table-top, its branches burdened with cones of sugared nuts, candies, and pastries. Every describable toy was tucked into the branches as well, and the children watched impatiently as the resident alpha male distributed gifts to each and every one. The scene closely resembles the opening of Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker, as it should. 
Courtesy Nicola Volk, Boston Ballet


nce the presents were distributed, the tree's candles were snuffed out, and the evergreen removed from the house. It was ephemeral--the very opposite of our lifelike artificial trees shifted from garage to living room the day after Thanksgiving and blazing through New Year's, year after year.

But there was a second cherished English holiday tradition, perhaps more universal in Jennie Churchill's day than the fad of Albert's tree--and that was the Christmas stocking. Most British children did not hang them from the chimney mantle, but rather left them at the foot of their beds--where St. Nicholas would magically fill them during the wee hours of Christmas Day. Nuts, candies, oranges and small toys were usual stocking stuffers.

What's bittersweet about researching the Churchill family of the 1880s is how few Christmases they seem to have celebrated together.  Lord Randolph was often absent from his family, staying instead as a guest of a lifelong political friend at his estate in Ireland. Jennie sometimes spent the holiday in the English countryside, but often enjoyed the day and its traditional dinner feast with her sisters and their families in London. The boys, home from their boarding schools, were on some occasions entertained by their grandmother, Duchess Fanny, or their beloved nanny, Everest--notably in 1888, the winter Jennie and Randolph traveled to Russia for Christmas, leaving the boys behind. On one bitterly contested occasion, a teen-aged Winston was sent to Paris for his Christmas holiday, in order to improve his French--but only after repeated letters filled with outrage, penned hurriedly to his mother.

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Sunday, December 23, 2018

DAY 30: Mornings at Banstead

Morning gallops, Newmarket

Horse racing was in Jennie Jerome's blood--her father, Leonard, founded two racetracks, one at Jerome Park and the other at Sheepshead Bay, and inaugurated the Belmont Stakes in honor of his great friend, August Belmont. Everyone in the Marlborough House Set was mad about Thoroughbreds, flat racing, and steeplechases, including the Prince of Wales, who founded a notable stud at Sandringham Queen Elizabeth fosters to this day. But it was not until Lord Randolph Churchill lost interest in a political career as his illness worsened that Jennie got involved in racing herself.

l'Abbesse de Jouare and her colt, Desmond
Randolph and his partner, Lord Dunraven, bought a yearling filly at the Doncaster sales in 1887, a bargain at 300 pounds because she was undersized and neither her dam nor sire had much of a winning record. Jennie named the jet-black horse l'Abbesse de Jouare, after the main character of a popular novel she'd been reading. The Churchill horses raced in pink and chocolate silks--colors Jennie would adopt when campaigning on her husband's behalf.

Banstead Manor today; the house the Churchills leased was
demolished in the 1920s.
The Churchills promptly leased Banstead Manor near Newmarket (now a famous stud, Juddmonte Farm, owned by Prince Khalid bin Abdullah of Saudi Arabia). There, Jennie and the boys--both by that time students at Harrow--spent the summer months watching their horses train on the Newmarket gallops. Jennie's sisters, Leonie and Clarita, brought their children to stay. Winston built a hut for himself and his cousins he called The Den. He constructed a drawbridge over the estate's ancient moat, set up a trebuchet, and commenced endless battles of siege warfare. 

Randolph was rarely around. Charles Kinsky rented a house nearby, and taught the Churchill boys how to shoot. These were idyllic days for Winston and his brother Jack.

In 1889, l'Abbesse won the Oaks at Epsom, to everyone's shock. As Jennie recalled in her memoirs: 

"The shining light of our stable was L'Abbesse de Jouarre... . She was a gallant little thing, with a heart bigger than her body, and her size made the public so skeptical, that she invariably started at long odds. When she won the Oaks, those who backed her got 20-1. Neither Randolph nor I saw that performance. He was fishing in Norway, and I was spending a few days with some friends who had a house on the Thames. I remember being in a launch on the river and reaching Boulter's Lock shortly after the hour of the race. On my asking the lockkeeper which horse had won the big race, he replied to my great delight and amusement, "The Abscess on the Jaw."

Although the Churchills continued to train and race horses for some years afterward, l'Abbesse remained their finest finisher--winning the Manchester Cup, the Princess of Wales Stakes at Sandown, and the Portland Stakes. Randolph was forced to sell his interest in the mare to Lord Dunraven in 1894, prior to leaving on his final trip around the world; and the summer days at Banstead came to a close.

Winston Churchill had caught the racing bug, however--or perhaps it was simply latent in his bloodline. At age 75, after retiring from government, he bought his first racehorse--and the colt came home repeatedly for him. At age 80, Winston embarked on breeding mares at a stud farm. 
Winston Churchill in the winner's circle with his his racehorse, Colonist II, who won
the Winston Churchill Stakes at Hurst Park, May 14, 1951  AP/Don Royale

His grandfather Leonard would have been thrilled.
Juddmonte Farms, Banstead Manor, stableyard today
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Saturday, December 22, 2018

DAY 31: The Serpent in Jennie's Garden

1880s enamel and jeweled snake bracelet/necklace,
Snakes were everywhere in the Gilded Age. Just as edgy an ornament then as they feel today, serpents were embraced by Victorian women for the decorous reason that they symbolized eternal life--but in a far different manner, one assumes, than the devout image of an angel.

Women wore them most often as bracelets, twining up the arm, and they were as ubiquitous as the multi-pointed diamond stars Jennie so often wore in her hair and on her bodice. 

1870s woven gold snake bracelet,
Even Queen Alexandra, picture here at her son George's wedding to Princess May, has one plainly visible wrapped around her long left glove. What distinguished one snake from another was its costliness--those studded with diamonds and precious stones were cherished. 

1880s woven gold and jeweled serpent bracelet,
Snake hatpin, with diamonds and freshwater pearl.
Jennie took the fashion a step further: she is believed to have had her wrist tattooed with a twining serpent while voyaging in the Far East in 1894. No picture of her ink--supposedly an ouroboros, or serpent devouring its own tail, an ancient symbol of eternity--has survived; but its existence appears to have been common knowledge. Members of the Marlborough House Set followed the Prince of Wales's example--he had tattooed his chest with multiple Greek crosses while traveling the Empire, and his sons also acquired them on their Grand Tours. Jennie was enduring a protracted turning point in her life during her travels in 1894, as her husband was slowly dying, and may have found the tattoo a promise of hope for her unknown future. 

--Or at least, that's how I've chosen to depict the episode in That Churchill Woman.

I imagine Jennie's tattoo was discreet and elegant, circling her left wrist, and possible to disguise when she chose with a piece of actual jewelry. Here's a modern interpretation of the symbol, tattooed on a woman's wrist below.

For my own part, I'll stick with washable ink transfers, available on Etsy!

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