The Scandalous Beginning of a Timeless Romance: Charles James Fox and Elizabeth Armistead

Scandalous Women is please to welcome author Deborah Hale to the blog. After a decade spent tracing her ancestors to their roots in Georgian-era Britain, Deborah Hale learned a great deal about the period and uncovered enough fascinating true stories to inspire her fiction plots for years to come. In 1997, Deborah won Romance Writers of Amercia's Golden Heart award and several months later sold her winning manuscript to Harlequin Historical. Since then she has written many historical romance novels with a variety of settings, as well as two other-world fantasies for Luna Books. In the pilot episode of the hit television series "Hustle" one of Deborah's books was used in a key scene! Deborah lives in beautiful Nova Scotia, Canada, a place steeped in history and romance.
As Elizabeth Charles, she is the author of the new historical fiction novel CONFESSIONS OF A COURTESAN which came out in 2011 about the 18th century courtesan, Elizabeth Armitage. Welcome Deborah!

In 1802 British statesman Charles James Fox dropped a bombshell by announcing that he had been secretly married for the past seven years to the woman hed openly kept as his mistress for twelve years before that one of the most celebrated courtesans of the Georgian era, Elizabeth Armistead. Their relationship, chronicled by I.M. Davis in The Harlot and the Statesman and Katie Hickman in Courtesans, was one of the great love stories of all time.

Before Fox and Mrs. Armistead became lovers, they had been increasingly close friends for at least eight years. His Parliamentary faction, who vigorously opposed Britain making war on the American colonies, often gathered at her house on Clarges Street for dinner parties where they discussed political strategy. Because of her close association with them, the press dubbed her “The High Priestess of Patriotism.” But how exactly did these unlikely lovers meet? That is a story stranger and more scandalous than fiction…

In 1775, twenty-five-year-old Elizabeth Armistead was working as a prostitute in one of the exclusive brothels in Londons West End that catered to men of the highest distinction and greatest fortunes. She must have been clever and fascinating and lucky to have lasted that long in a business where teenage virgins were highly prized. But at her age, Mrs. Armistead must have wondered when her luck might run out and she would end up pregnant, poxed or turned out to make room for fresh stock. If any of those things happened, she would face a bleak future indeed.

One particular night Elizabeth Armistead was entertaining Lord Bolingbroke, a courtier and horse breeder, recently divorced from Lady Diana Spencer. Bully Bolingbroke had kept many of the most celebrated courtesans of the day, including Nelly OBrien and Polly Jones, who had both been painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds. While he and Mrs. Armistead were in bed together there came a disturbance at her door. A group of Bullys friends from his club demanded entry.

The party included Lord Egremont, who many years later recounted the story in a letter to Lord Holland. Egremont reported that Charles Fox was another member of the group and where Fox went his bosom friends Richard Fitzpatrick, James Hare and Bullys brother-in-law Lord Robert Spencer were sure to have followed. The gentlemen had been gaming at their club with a visiting French aristocrat (most likely the Duc de Lauzon) and fell into a debate over whether the bawdy houses of London or Paris were superior. To prove their point, Fox and his friends took the Duc to a house nearby. When they learned their friend Bully was being entertained on the premises, the group decided to surprise him.

Egrement would later write, “Bully, as they called him was in bed with a Lady and they kicked the door open and she (Armistead) was the Lady.” History does not record how either Mrs. Armistead or the irascible Bolingbroke reacted to the intrusion, but within a short time he had taken her into exclusive keeping and arranged for her to make her stage debut at the Haymarket Opera House. Elizabeth Armistead did not seem to take offense at the prank. By the early months of 1777, when Richard Fitzpatrick was sent to fight in America, she was sufficiently close friends with both he and Fox that she wrote letters to him sealed inside Foxs.

Eventually friendship ripened into the deepest kind of love. Elizabeth Armistead gave up her glittering life as Londons most celebrated courtesan and retreated to the secluded serenity of a small house in the Surrey countryside, which she shared with Fox. When his debts mounted, she assisted him by selling the two London houses and two annuities she had worked so hard to accumulate and which were her only security against destitution. Fox in turn adored her and wrote her some of the most touching love letters ever penned.

In time Elizabeth Armistead managed to leave her scandalous past behind her and become respectable mainly by outliving so many of her contemporaries, but also due to her own kindness and likeability. She always treasured a soft spot for the family of Bully Bolingbroke, who had first raised her “from the lower ranks of her profession & introduced her into better company.” She doted upon his two sons, their children and grandchildren, who visited frequently, wrote often and sent their children to stay with her as they would with a fond grandmother. A particular favourite was young Bob St. John, the illegitimate child of an incestuous relationship between Bullys son and his half-sister (but that is a scandalous story for another day…)

It must have been the St. John family on whom Lord Egremont reflected in later years when he paraphrased scripture in a letter to Foxs nephew: “Mrs. Fox is a very kind-hearted woman & now very religious and she seems to have taken the good qualities of God Almighty without his atrocious ones by shewing mercy unto the third and fourth generations if, not quite, thousands who have loved her and kept her commandments.”


Davis, I.M. The Harlot and the Statesman. The Kendall Press, 1986  
Hickman, Katie. Courtesans. Harper Collins, 2003Linnane, Fergus. Madams, Bawds and Brothel Keepers of London, Sutton Publishing, 2005
Tillyard, Stella. Aristocrats. Chatto and Windus, London, 1994

Joyce McKinney and the Manacled Mormon

“I loved him so much I would ski down Mount Everest naked with a carnation up my nose for the love of that man.” – Joyce McKinney

The story of Joyce McKinney and the Manacled Mormon sounds like a Quentin Tarantino film or an episode of South Park. It’s almost unbelievable that the story actually happened; that it wasn’t something that was made up by the National Enquirer or the Globe like all those Big Foot sightings or Bat Boy. They say that truth is stranger than fiction and it is certainly true in this bizarre story of one beauty queen’s obsessive love for a pudgy Mormon missionary. In McKinney’s version she was just trying to save the man she loved from the mind-bending control of a religious cult. In Anderson’s more horrific tale, McKinney held him hostage for 3 days in a remote Devon cottage, chained him to a bed and forced him to have sex with her. Thirty-five years later the story continues to baffle and to titillate, most recently in Errol Morris’s latest documentary Tabloid which tries to somehow make sense of this bizarre story.

I vaguely remember reading about this story back when I was a teenager but I had forgotten about until I heard about Tabloid. After watching the film, I’m not sure who to believe. It’s clear that McKinney is bat-shit crazy, and not just because she actually had her dog cloned. Her story goes far beyond just the kidnapping; it involves bondage photos, and the kind of ingenuity that comes straight out of an episode of Mission Impossible or Covert Affairs. McKinney clearly missed her calling. She should have joined the FBI or the CIA, although I doubt she would have passed the psychological exam. On camera, she comes across as a nice, Southern girl who fell in love, only to have her love whisked across the country to keep him from her.

Born in 1949, Joyce grew up in a small town Minneapolis, North Carolina, the only child of indulgent teacher parents. With a reported IQ of 168, Joyce went through an accelerated program at her high school. Full of energy, she was a cheerleader and a drum majorette. She graduated with both a Bachelor’s degree from East Tennessee University and a Master’s Degree in Drama from the University of North Carolina It was while living with a Mormon family during college that she converted to the Church of Latter Day Saints. According to Joyce, they convinced her that it would be a way for her to be good, decent marriage-oriented young men. But Joyce was also obsessed with beauty pageants, she decided to move to Wyoming to try her luck in a less populated and competitive state. She achieved her goal, becoming Miss Wyoming World in 1974, and competing in the Miss USA pageant. One has to wonder what her life had been like if she had won! Instead, Joyce moved to Utah to go to graduate school at Brigham Young University in Provo. With her best friend, Joyce would cruise the local pizza parlor and ice cream shop for men. Her first dream was to marry one of the Osmond brothers, the pride of the Mormon Church. She set her sights on Wayne Osmond, but Mama Olive put the kibosh on that relationship, steering her son to another beauty queen who was less obvious.

Not long after, Joyce met the man of her dreams, 19 year old janitor’s son Kirk Anderson. Anderson who stood 6 foot four was pudgy, shy and six years younger. According to Joyce, their first meeting was like something out of American Graffiti. Apparently Joyce had an orange corvette while Kirk had a white one. They agreed to race. According to Joyce, it was love at first sight. By their third date they were naming their children. They had a brief affair, losing their virginities, but Kirk was overcome with guilt at breaking the no pre-marital sex rule. Mama Anderson also didn’t approve of this older woman who was hanging around her son. Joyce claimed that she became pregnant but later miscarried. He went for advice to his bishop who arranged for him to go on a mission. While Kirk later admitted that he and Joyce did have a relationship, he denied that they were ever engaged.

Appalled at the Church’s reaction, Joyce turned her back on Mormonism but she was not about to give up on the man of her dreams. The Church moved Anderson to California and then to Oregon, Joyce in hot pursuit. Finally the church sent Anderson overseas to England. Since the church wouldn’t tell Joyce where he was, she would just have to find him herself. However private detectives cost money so Joyce started working as what they jokingly call a ‘glamour’ model, posing for bondage photos, and apparently also working as call girl performing BDSM and oral sex. If a client wanted intercourse, Joyce had an associate, a Russian student named Laura who was available. Looking at photos of Joyce at the time, one can see why she would be a popular model. While not conventionally pretty, she had an outstanding figure, and a sparkling personality. For two years she worked to pay for a private detective agency in England who discovered Anderson working at a church in the Surrey village of Ewell. Joyce set off in hot pursuit with her accomplice, a guy named Keith May who was just as besotted with Joyce as she was with Kirk.

Joyce and Keith flew to England using false passports in the names of Kathie Vaughn-Bare and Paul van Deusen, armed with fake pistols, chloroform, cinnamon flavored rubbing oil, and fur-lined handcuffs. Renting a cottage in Okehampton, Joyce and May drove to Ewell. On September 14, 1977, May engaged Anderson in conversation under the guise of a potential convert. He invited Anderson to join him in his car to point out the way to the local Mormon headquarters. Pulling out the fake gun, May forced Anderson into the back seat where he chloroformed him. At the cottage, McKinney had cooked all of Kirk’s favorite foods, including fried chicken, mashed potatoes and chocolate cake, the bed made up blue silk sheets to match his eyes and his initials. After dinner May chained Anderson to the bed, spread-eagled, with a 10ft chain and left them alone for the night. As a gift Joyce presented Kirk with a £1,000 ring and offered to give him a back rub with the cinnamon oil to relax him. He consented and the next part gets a little dicey.

Joyce claims that she ripped off his sacred Mormon underwear and burned it. “There was only one way to make Kirk get out of Mormonism, and that was to make love to him…..because for a Mormon missionary to have a love affair is totally taboo.” In other words, she planned to eff the Mormon out of him. She claims that she never raped him, believing that it is impossible for a woman to rape a man. In fact, she says that tying him up was to help him overcome his sexual inhibitions. Kirk Anderson admitted in court that he and Joyce had sex more than once during the 3 days that he was incarcerated but he claimed that she forced him by performing oral sex until he was aroused. In Joyce's version, after Kirk promised to marry her, they released him, brought him back to London where they had dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe. After dinner, Kirk told Joyce that he was going to the Mormon Tabernacle just to assure them that he was okay.

Anderson however claims that he escaped and went to the police on September 17, 1977. Three days after he went to the police, Joyce and May was arrested were in a sting operation (Kirk had arranged to meet Joyce). Joyce later claimed that the cops had been bribed by the Mormons to arrest them. Since Anderson has refused to speak about that time, and was not interviewed by Errol Morris, we only have Joyce’s side of the story. She believes that the Mormons pressured Kirk to claim that he had been kidnapped. Joyce and Keith May were charged with forcible abduction, false imprisonment, assault & possession of imitation firearms with criminal intent.

Joyce was sent to Holloway prison for three months to await trial. At the hearing, Joyce’s lawyer claimed that his client lived in fear of the Mormon Church. Although Joyce wasn’t allowed to testify, she did give an hour long statement in court, giving her side of the story. After claiming it was Kirk’s choice to be tied up since that was the only way he could respond sexually, she told the court that he had strung her along with promises of love and marriage. He was no longer worthy of her “eternal love.” She pleaded with the court to release her to get counseling to help her get over Kirk’s betrayal. While the court decided to prosecute, Joyce was released on bail, for fear of her mental health.

Joyce became the darling of the tabloid press who fell over themselves to write stories about the case once she asked for the court to lift the restrictions on what they could print. Britain at the time was in the middle of a recession, and the story of the buxom blonde obsessional love for a Mormon missionary held audiences enthralled for over a year. Britain hadn’t seen anything like this since the Profumo Affair in the early 1960’s. To some, Joyce was the embodiment of the wronged woman, to others she was a manipulative drama queen, who used men for her own ends, and changed identities at will. Joyce knew how to play to a crowd. In the van on the way to court, she pressed an open bible to the window with a message, “HE HAD SEX WITH ME FOR FOUR DAYS. PELASE GET THE TRUTH TO THE PUBLIC. HE MADE IT LOOK LIKE A KIDNAPPING.” The tabloid press ate it up. She even took out ads in Daily Variety announcing that she was writing a book as well as a screenplay based on her case.

The tabloid press whisked her off to parties where she met members of the Rolling Stones and the Bee Gees. She went to the premieres of Saturday Night Fever and the Joan Collins/Jackie Collins boinkfest The Stud where she managed to upstage the star in a slinky halter dress! It somehow never occurred to her that her hobnobbing with stars and partying might hurt her case. And then, wearing disguises, Joyce and Keith May jumped bail, fleeing to the US via Canada on false passports, pretending to be deaf-mutes. “I left, I didn’t flee,” she insists. Joyce was tried in absentia and given a one-year prison sentence. However, no effort was made to extradite her back to the UK. The aborted trial ended up costing the UK £100,000.

Not content to be out of the public eye, Joyce decided to sell her story to a British tabloid, The Daily Express for £40,000 which was about $80,000 at the time. The journalist who was sent to meet her described in Tabloid how Joyce and Keith May wore various disguises to meet with him, including dressing up as a Native American. Joyce represented her story as that of a Princess going to great lengths to rescue her Prince. Unfortunately for Joyce, the Daily Mirror dredged up the bondage photos and adverts that revealed her past as a ‘glamour’ model and call girl. They did discover that she managed to confine her sexual exploits to oral sex. When the story was made public, Joyce denied the story. To this day, she claims that the pictures were fabricated. Despite these revelations, Joyce never gave up on her pursuit of Kirk Anderson. She was arrested in 1984 for stalking him. Police allegedly found chains and handcuffs in the trunk of her car, suggesting that she was going to make another attempt at kidnapping. Anderson, who works as either a real estate or a travel agent, prefers to forget that those 3 days ever happened. Apparently his story is used as a cautionary tale for Mormon males as to what can happen if they get caught up with a predatory female.

Since then Joyce made headlines in 2007 when it was revealed that she had gone to South Korea and spent $25,000 to clone her dog Booger. At first, she insisted that she wasn’t Joyce McKinney but Bernann McKinney. Eventually she admitted the truth. How she has supported herself over the eyars is also a mystery. Now in her sixties, she seems never to have held a job, and the memoir that she claims to be writing has never been published. She’s never married, a part of her still pining for Kirk Anderson and what might have been. At one point in the film Tabloid, she compares herself to Anderson’s wife, claiming that they found him a ‘fat wife.’ According to some, she lives off her elderly father. Despite cooperating willingly with Errol Morris for his film, she now claims that she has been exploited and is suing Morris and the producer. That didn’t stop her from turning up at screenings all across the country, where she heckled the screen. In some cases, she showed up in disguise, only to reveal herself when the lights came up.

If reality TV had existed in the 1970’s, Joyce could have parlayed her 15 minutes of fame into a lucrative career as a contestant on Celebrity Big Brother. She might have had a clothing line or even a fragrance, made millions from a sex tape, although Calvin Klein already owns the right to the name ‘Obsession.’ Instead she comes across as a rather sad and delusional figure convinced that she once lived the great American love story.


Crimes of Passion: The Thin Line Between Love and Hate, Colin Wilson and Damon Wilson, Carlton Books, London, England, 2006


June Book of the Month: The Queen's Vow

The Queen’s Vow - A Novel of Isabella of Castile

AuthorC.W. Gortner (The Confessions of Catherine de Medici, The Last Queen)

Publisher: Ballantine Books (Random House)

Pub Date: June 12, 2012

What it’s about: The book covers Isabella’s life from the age of 3 when her father King Juan dies to 1492, when as we all know, Columbus sailed the ocean blue. Isabella, her mother, and her younger brother Alfonso are forced to flee after her father’s death to a remote castle in Spain, to keep them safe from those who might seek to get rid of Alfonso. When Isabella is barely a teenager, she and her brother are taken from their mother’s home to live under the watchful eye of their half-brother, King Enrique, and his sultry, conniving queen Juana of Portugal. There, Isabella is thrust into danger when she becomes an unwitting pawn in a plot to dethrone Enrique. Suspected of treason and held captive, she has to walk a tight rope, torn between her loyalty to her half-brother, and the notion of divine right, and her loyalty to Spain. At the age of seventeen she suddenly finds herself heiress of Castile, the largest kingdom in Spain. Although her brother and his advisors are determined to marry her off to a foreign prince, Isabella is equally determined to marry Fernando, prince of Aragon.

Their two realms now united under “one crown, one country, one faith,” the royal couple face a Spain beset by enemies. But when the Moors of the southern domain of Granada declare war, a violent, treacherous battle against an ancient adversary erupts, one that will test all of Isabella’s resolve, her courage, and her tenacious belief in her destiny. From the glorious palaces of Segovia to the battlefields of Granada and the intrigue-laden gardens of Seville, The Queen’s Vow sweeps us into the tumultuous forging of a nation and the complex, fascinating heart of the woman who overcame all odds to become Isabella of Castile.

Why you should buy it: Because it rocks ya’ll! No seriously, this is an enthralling and captivating read about one of history’s most maligned Queens. Before I read this book, I knew about four things about Isabella of Castile. I knew that she was the mother of Catherine of Aragon & Juana of Castile, she and her husband Ferdinand (called Fernando in the novel) rid Spain of the Moors, she financed Christopher Columbus’s voyage to discover a new trade route to the Indies, and she not only revived the Inquisition but expelled the Jews from Spain who refused to convert to Christianity. As far as I was concerned, she was nothing more than a religious fanatic, who sanctioned the destruction of a native culture, but also persecuted a group just because they believed differently. Of course, the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

One of Gortner’s gifts as a writer is that he allows the reader to get deep under Isabella’s skin, to understand what motivates and drives her, even if you don’t agree with her actions. His Isabella is proud, driven, passionate, stubborn and at times single-minded, all the traits of Taurus the bull, the sign she was born under. Isabella grows from a somewhat na├»ve princess into a strong, powerful Queen. Only in her early twenties when she assumes the crown of Castile, Isabella has to balance motherhood, her husband’s sensitivity to the fact that her kingdom is larger and more powerful than his, and learning not only who she can trust but also to trust her instincts. Gortner vividly describes the burden that Isabella is placed under, and he doesn’t hesitate to show that she was a flawed human being, that she makes mistakes that could be costly. By the end of the book, I found myself rooting for Isabella to not only succeed but to thrive, although there were times when I found myself yelling at the book, “Don’t trust Torquemada!”

Ah, Torquemada, the toad in the room. Although I found the character loathsome as I do most religious fanatics, I could understand why Isabella was both attracted and repelled by him. It’s easy to forget just how important and how paramount the Church was in the lives of not just the ordinary believers but also of the monarchy. Kings and Queens ruled by divine right, they truly believed that they were God’s representatives on earth. Some of the most affecting scenes in the book were the ones when Isabella prayed to God for guidance, to help her sort through the conflicting emotions that she had, particularly later in the book when both Torquemada and Ferdinand press her to expel the Jews who refuse to convert, and earlier in the book when they advise her to deal with the conversos who were Christian in name only. I would not have wanted to be in Isabella’s shoes, to have that kind of responsibility. I was also intrigued by Gortner’ s portrait of Christopher Columbus, a man so sure of himself and his mission. I would love to see someone write a historical novel about him.

I confess that I did skim through the battle scenes, although I’m glad that I didn’t when Isabella put on her breastplate and sword to ride out to meet Ferdinand and the troops. What a magnificent scene. I think what I enjoyed the most though were the little scenes, Isabella’s relationship with her lady-in-waiting Beatriz, her astute insights into the characters of her children and her sheer love for them, particularly Juana, who is absolutely adorable in this book. Although the book is Isabella’s journey, it is also a love story, how she and Fernando manage to come together as both husband and wife and also as monarchs. I was swept away by their passion for each other, and Isabella’s struggle to forgive him early on when she learns that he’s not perfect, but human.

I totally disagree by the way with the Publisher's Weekly review that the book is directionless,or that Isabella is never particularly interesting. I wonder if the reviewer read the same book I did. I certainly wasn't waiting for the pace to pick up. The book moves swiftly towards its conclusion, in fact, I wish the book had been longer so that Gortner would have been able to delve into the politics and Ferdinand and Isabella's marriage on an even deeper level. This was a story that definitely could have benefited from a longer word count.

I highly recommend this book, particularly to readers who are weary from a steady diet of the Tudors. Isabella is fascinating woman and I'm going to miss spending time with her.