In 1919 after the First World War Alexander Woollcott returned to New York. Sarah Victor was working in the kitchen of the Algonquin Hotel and Woollcott had a sweet tooth so indulged in their deserts. A group of writers, critics and actors gathered at the hotel to discuss and debate. They dubbed themselves “The Vicious Circle” initially as a joke. The circle lasted for around 10 years and several of its members acquired international reputations.
Below I’ve chosen some historical figures that I’d have at my historical Algonquin table.
Anne Boleyn and Elizabeth I
Having mother and daughter in the same room would be amazing – to find out how Anne Boleyn’s fate influenced Elizabeth, and to have the pair be able to talk to each other and see how they interact. Anne died when Elizabeth was aged only 2 ½ so they never really knew each other. That relationship between the two of them has always fascinated me, because Anne had a huge influence on Elizabeth even though she never knew her. Having studied Tudor history for many years Anne Boleyn and Elizabeth I were two of the most fascinating figures to me.
Researching the Tudors, which is my favourite period of history, you can’t fail to come across Richard III and his defeat at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485. From this developed my interest in Richard as a person and a king, and my interest in the mystery of what happened to the Princes in the Tower. One of the questions I would love to ask Richard would be what happened to the princes and was he responsible for their disappearance (and murder?). I would also really want to know about his relationship with his niece, Elizabeth of York, as rumours were that they were romantically involved.
Louis XIV of France
Inside the mind of the man who built the Palace of Versailles would be an interesting place to be. A lot of people probably expect his inclusion on the list to be a result of the TV show Versailles. I studied the French Revolution in sixth form, and the whole way that the French monarchy worked and the way that social change resulted in the execution of a monarch really just highlighted to me the earlier French religious wars, which were at their peak in the 17th century. I’ve always been interested in palaces and castles as well, and Versailles is probably one of the most famous in the world.
I’ve always been fascinated by Oscar Wilde – we read ‘A Woman of No Importance’ in sixth form which I loved, and we discussed Wilde’s life in brief, which I found intriguing. I wanted to know more, hence the inclusion of Oscar Wilde in this list. Wilde’s friendships and acquaintances were wide-ranging, and his conviction for gross indecency, imprisonment and early death made him even more famous. His writings include ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ and ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’. It would be absolutely fascinating to try and understand his emotions and actions.
George Gordon, Lord Byron
After reading ‘Don Juan’ while at sixth form I realised just how interesting Byron’s life was – all I knew prior to studying ‘Don Juan’ was that Byron was the father of mathematician Ada Lovelace and had several affairs, dying in Greece. I never realised that, for example, that Byron married Annabella MIlbanke at Seaham Hall, just south across the Rivers Tyne and Wear from where I live. It is a beautiful place to visit, and I think that the local connection made his life seem more real really. His affair with Caroline Lamb, wife of prime minister, Lord Melbourne, made his life truly scandalous.
Who would you have at a historical Algonquin table? Sound off in the comments!