Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Medieval Origins of Popular Games

By E.M. Powell

Yes, it seems impossible that already in 2015, it's time to greet the month of April. We may still be huddling in inclement weather but we know, just as the medievals did, that Spring is on its way and with it the chance for children to play outdoors during the long evenings. What's less well known is that many of the games still played today by young and old alike have their origins in medieval times.

Medieval Zodiac

Hide and Seek

This game first appears in records around 1042. It was originally called "Hyde and Squeak" and involved getting a cow (the "hyde") to sit on a mouse and make it squeak. Pest control was a major issue for medieval people, and it is thought that the game was introduced to alleviate the relentless tedium. Pictorial records exist that clearly reflect the fun that could be had. Some people were less good at following the rules, such as the early twelfth century painters, Hildebert and Everwin.

Hildebert and Everwin with Mouse (and Lion)

Here we see Hildebert merely cursing the mouse and has his lectern balanced on a lion. That is a different game, and has fallen out of favour, especially in Las Vegas.


These days an easy game that can be played anywhere. Its medieval origins were more demanding. Players had to each collect a "Ticke, a Tacke and a Toe". For most, the Tick and the Tack were straightforward: people had any number of bodily parasites and it was easy enough to find a nail. The Toe was also easy to acquire as most people had at least one.

Not-so-welcome visitor- the Tick

But as a game to pass the long winter nights, it tended to be good for only about five minutes. In the late 1300s, we see the Toe rule changing to mean "the toe of another."  The chroniclers report a huge surge in popularity but for the very ticklish, it brought nothing but misery. One abbot in Munich refused to go to sleep for three months for fear of having his digits grabbed.

Follow the Leader

It is interesting that this game was first popularized by medieval kings. The game started with someone at the head of the line. Anyone who didn't follow the action of the leader was out of the game, in a slain-in-battle sort of way. The last person standing was the new leader. Some uncles liked to play this game with their nephews but there are no records of what the nephews thought of it.

Uncle Richard III


The medieval version of this game was very different to what we play today. It involved scanning your friends and neighbours for any suspicious eruptions. At the first sight of a boil or pustule, you ran away, screaming "I'm not flipping catching that!" It is a game that has prompted much debate amongst historical fiction writers and some real historians. Central to the controversy is the precise date of the game's origins. There are those who have evidence for February 11th 1406, a claim vociferously challenged by the February 12th 1406 Society. There was an ugly scene at a recent Historical Novel Society Conference where the issue was debated by a panel and a plastic cup of water was spilled. The organisers of the upcoming HNS Denver 2015 conference have decided to cancel their related panel as a precaution.

Good call, HNS!

Rock, Paper, Scissors

A game which has evolved over time. In the general absence/rarity of paper or scissors, it was just called "Rock". Players pelted each other with rocks until one person fell down. Or ran away. It is a topic in history that continues to fascinate. The most recent edition of Exciting Archaeology reported on a find from a garden in the north-west of England that bears an uncanny resemblance to a description from a text from 1308: “A nyse whyte one, of goodly size, that fittes in the hand and has mosse on that it does not slippe.”

© Exciting Archaeology 2015


We may think of it as modern, but Monopoly is a corruption of the early medieval game of "Mon au poly." The name can be translated from the Old French as Mine of Many, or the Old English Kiddersham dialect, meaning "The Whole Boiling Lot." Again, it was mostly played by kings. Henry II and his sons, Richard and John, were keen players, especially at Christmas.

Henry II with sons Richard & (cheat) John
© 2015 E.M. Powell 

Henry and Richard were extremely skilled, but there are accounts that John frequently stole from the bank and had a tendency to tip the board over when he was losing.

Game of Thrones

Our last game, which, ironically, is often mistakenly believed to have medieval origins. But it doesn’t. Honest.

This one belongs to George.
I wouldn't, if I were you.


Exciting Archaeology, Volume III, February 2015
Fun With Leeches: A Dorling Kinderegg Rough Picture Guide
Martin, George R. R.: A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 1), Bantam; Reprint ed.(2011)
Oxen Droppings and Other Related Signs, 1233-34: Oxford University Press
Powell, E.M.: King John: Tyrannical Rex: Bandwagon Press (2015)
Powell, E.M.: King John: Good With Kittens and Liked Rainbows: Bandwagon Press (2015)
Powell, E.M: Kitten Slaughter- the making of King John: Bandwagon Press (2015)
Starkey, David: History: A Catholic Conspiracy.(Various eds.)

All images Public Domain unless otherwise stated.
Please note: the information in this post is only ever valid on April 1st. Except the part about King John cheating at Monopoly. That is historical FACT. Thank you.

E.M. Powell is the author of medieval thrillers The Fifth Knight and The Blood of the Fifth Knight which have been #1 Amazon bestsellers in the US, the UK and Australia. Find out more at www.empowell.com.
Barnes & Noble

Monday, March 30, 2015

"The Law of the Wise": Some Corporal and Capital Punishments of the Old Bailey

By Catherine Curzon 

In these modern times, crime and punishment is something of a political hot potato. The question of leniency of sentencing is one that crops up time and again in coverage of this most serious issue, with the rights of those convicted of crimes and their victims a subject of near constant debate. We recognise now that it is important that the severity of the punishment should fit the nature of the crime though, of course, these are not particularly simple waters to navigate. 

Crime and punishment in the Georgian era is, of course, a favourite subject of mine and I have, on occasion, been accused of having a somewhat macabre interest in the Bloody Code. My post today should do nothing to dispel those rumours and it is my morbid pleasure to be your guide to some of the most popular methods of corporal and capital punishment imposed at the Old Bailey throughout the long 18th century. 

In coming posts, we will learn a little more of the other punishment options available and those who were subjected to them but for now, consider this your Georgian punishment digest! 


Branding was the act of marking a felon with a hot iron, often with the shape of a letter that represented their crime such an M for murderer. In the early 18th century these brands were made on the cheek of the criminal but, eventually, they were branded on the thumb in order to give them at least a chance of finding employment and living something close to a normal life. With the branding carried out in the courtroom on the day of the sentencing, the very public and permanent mark meant that branding could only be applied once. 

The pillory at Charing Cross in London, c. 1808.
The pillory at Charing Cross in London, c. 1808.
The pillory was usually set in the middle of a busy part of town to ensure that the maximum punishment and humiliation was inflicted on the felon. A cousin of the stocks, the pillory allowed the convict to be secured by neck and hands and there he would be subjected to abuse from the populace, both verbal and physical. All manner of items would be hurled at the person in the pillory, from faeces to rotten food and even dead cats or, in the case of Daniel Defoe, fresh flowers! Although not intended to cause lasting physical harm, there are records of deaths, blindings and other serious injury to those being pilloried. On occasion, the person in the pillory might be unfortunate enough to encounter our next punishment at the same time. 


Another punishment with a strong element of public humiliation was that of whipping. On occasion related to the pillory, it was more often applied in the very streets of the city. Whether male or female the felon was stripped to the waist and tied to a cart that moved through the streets. Stumbling along after the vehicle, the convict endured both pain and humiliation as, walking behind, the executioner whipped them through the gathered crowds.

The Tyburn Tree
Death by Hanging
This is the punishment most associated with the era and tales of the Tyburn Tree echo through history, ballads and stories told of the men and women who died there. Some were notorious, some forgotten but all shared the dubious honour of meeting their death on this famous site. Of course, not everyone who went to their deaths did so at Tyburn and not everybody who was handed the death penalty was actually executed but this chilling sentence remains at the heart of the Bloody Code.

Driven in a cart from their prison to the gallows with their hands bound, convicts were subject to a public procession through the streets of London where crowds awaited them. Some were feted, others abused and on occasion, stops were made to allow the condemned to take some last drops of alcohol or, in the cases of some more celebrated prisoners, meet their public!

Upon arrival at Tyburn, where still more spectators crowded in to watch, the prisoner was given the chance to address the crowd. Whilst some took the route of repentance, others protested their innocence, remained silent or were too shocked, terrified or drunk to make much sense at all. Still in the cart, the noose was placed around the convict’s neck, the hood over their head and the cart was driven away, leaving them hanging and suffering a slow, agonising death by strangulation. Later the cart was replaced by a drop that was intended to result in a quicker death; often it did, but sometimes, it did not. Family and friends of the hanging person would rush to their aid, dragging at their flailing legs in an effort to hasten their death and lessen their suffering.

Not all who received the death penalty met their fate on the gallows, of course. A pregnant woman might “plead her belly” and escape the penalty and, in many cases, such sentences for men and women were commuted to lesser punishments. Now and again, though not exactly often, a convict might even be pardoned and set free.

Newgate, the old city gate and prison
The Old Bailey in the 18th century was not a place where leniency was practised often and if modern methods focus on rehabilitation, this was not the case for our Georgian ancestors. Punishments were severe and even crimes that seem relatively minor to us now, such as pickpocketing, might result in transportation or execution. Likewise, age was no barrier to receiving a harsh sentence and Britain’s laws were regarded, rightly, as some of the most strict in Europe. Over time the punishments began to reduce in severity for lesser crimes but for many years execution remained a viable and popular sentence. The last hanging in England took place in 1964 and even now a particularly brutal crime sees calls for the death penalty to be reintroduced. It is a debate that still goes on, of course, but for the foreseeable future, no criminal sentenced in England will face the noose.

Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org)
Brooke, Alan and Brandon, David, Tyburn: London's Fatal Tree (The History Press, 2013)
Cawthorne, Nigel, Public Executions: From Ancient Rome to the Present Day, Arcturus Publishing (2006)
Gatrell, Vic, The Hanging Tree: Execution and the English People 1770-1868 (OUP, Oxford, 1996)
Grovier, Kelly, The Gaol (John Murray, London, 2009)
Nelson, John, The History and Antiquities of the Parish of Islington, in the County of Middlesex, T Lester (1829)
Wade, Stephen, Britain's Most Notorious Hangmen (Wharncliffe Books, 2009)
Webb, Simon, Execution: A History of Capital Punishment in Britain (The History Press, 2011)


Glorious Georgian ginbag, gossip and gadabout Catherine Curzon, aka Madame Gilflurt, is the author of A Covent Garden Gilflurt’s Guide to Life. When not setting quill to paper, she can usually be found gadding about the tea shops and gaming rooms of the capital or hosting intimate gatherings at her tottering abode. In addition to her blog and Facebook, Madame G is also quite the charmer on Twitter. Her first book, Life in the Georgian Court, is available now, and she is also working on An Evening with Jane Austen, starring Adrian Lukis and Caroline Langrishe.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Here's Rosemary, That's for Remembrance....

by MJ Logue

The funeral of Colonel Thomas Rainsborough, in November 1648, was the occasion for a large Leveller-led political demonstration in London, with thousands of mourners wearing the Levellers' ribbons of sea-green and bunches of rosemary for remembrance in their hats.

Colonel Rainsborough was the most senior member of the New Model Army to speak for the Levellers, a political movement of the English Civil Wars emphasizing popular sovereignty, extended suffrage, equality before the law, and religious tolerance - the historian Blair Worden suggests that the earliest use of the name Leveller was in a letter of November 1647 where "...they have given themselves a new name, viz. Levellers, for they intend to sett all things straight, and rayse a parity and community in the kingdom".

Rainsborough himself is possibly best remembered for his speech at the Putney Debates,
" ...I think that the poorest he that is in England hath a life to live, as the greatest he; and therefore truly, Sir, I think it's clear, that every man that is to live under a government ought first by his own consent to put himself under that government; and I do think that the poorest man in England is not bound in a strict sense to that government that he hath not had a voice to put himself under."

But - the Levellers were not a political party in the modern sense of the word; they did not all conform to a specific manifesto. They were organised at a national level, with offices in a number of London inns and taverns such as The Rosemary Branch in Islington, which got its name from the sprigs of rosemary that Levellers wore in their hats as a sign of identification.

The entire political history of the New Model Army is beyond the scope of one brief blog post. (I've written three novels to date with a Leveller hero, and I'm only just about scratching the surface!) So, instead - here's rosemary, as Hamlet's best girl says, in one of her more rational moments. I pray you, love, remember...

It's possibly one of the most well-known herbs in the garden, and possibly one of the least used. It roots phenomenally easily from a cutting - break off a sprig, stick it in the soil, and within a month you're pretty much guaranteed a new rosemary plant. The genus name Rosmarinus derives from the Latin words ros and marinus, translating to “dew of the sea", and legend has it that the plant originally had white flowers which were changed to blue ones when the Virgin Mary placed her cloak upon it while resting during her flight to Egypt. Bancke, in his work Herball from 1525, suggests techniques to use rosemary as a remedy for both gout of the legs and to keep the teeth from all evils. He also recommended that smelling rosemary regularly would “keep thee youngly", and Gerard, author of Herball or Historie of Plants(1597), referred to someone named Serapio who suggested that a garland of rosemary worn about the head was a remedy for the “stuffing of the head, that commeth through coldnes of the brain.” He also mentions that rosemary grew so plentifully in France that “the inhabitants burne scarce anie other fuel.”

Rosemary was also believed to offer protection from the plague. In 1603, when bubonic plague killed 38,000 Londoners, the demand was so high that the price increased from one shilling for an armful of branches to six shillings for a handful. To put that price increase in perspective, one price list from 1625 indicated that one could obtain 18 gallons of good ale for only 3 shillings or an entire ‘fat pig’ for 1 shilling. And Parkinson (1567-1650), the King’s Botanist to Charles I, mentions that in countries where rosemary was well-suited and grows to a large size, thin boards of rosemary were used to make lutes and other instruments, carpenters rules, and a myriad of other implements. The French believed that combing their hair once a day with a rosemary wood comb would prevent giddiness. Rosemary wood was so prized that unscrupulous merchants would often use less expensive woods and simply scent them with rosemary oil.

Rosemary has long held a prominent role in the wedding ceremony. Used in weddings to help one remember the wedding vows, the bride and groom might dip rosemary in their wine cups to toast each other. Dried rosemary was laid in the bed linen to ensure faithfulness and a bride who gave her groom a sprig of rosemary to hold on their wedding night would ensure that he remain faithful. In the middle ages the more elegant couples gave rosemary as a wedding favour. Sprigs were often dipped in gold and tied with a beautiful ribbon, this to symbolize that though the couple were starting a new life they would always remember their friends and family. Rosemary was often entwined into a wreath, dipped in scented water and worn by brides at the altar. (Anne of Cleves (1515 – 1557), Henry the Eighth’s fourth wife, wore a rosemary wreath at their wedding) The wreath symbolized fidelity, love, abiding friendship and remembrance of the life the woman had led prior to her marriage. At that time, wealthy bridal couples would also present a gilded branch of rosemary to each wedding guest. From this association, rosemary was also thought to be a love charm. According to English folklore if a girl placed a plate of flour under a rosemary bush on midsummer's eve, her future husband's initials would be written in it. Other's believed that to see your true love in a dream one should put rosemary under your pillow - Sleeping Beauty was said to have been awoken from her sleep by Prince Charming brushing a rosemary sprig over her cheek - and there is a saying: “Where rosemary flourishes the lady rules.” However, folklore warns men that by simply damaging or destroying that same rosemary, he will not find relief from his lady’s rule. Robert Hacket, in a wedding sermon in 1607 said, “Let this Rosemarinus, this flower of men, ensigne of your wisdom, love and loyaltie, be carried not only in your hands, but in your heads and hearts.” The English poet Robert Herrick (1591-1674) wrote of rosemary’s attachment to both beginning and end of adult life with, "Grow for two ends – it matters not at all Be’t for my bridall, or my buriall.”

Medicinally, it was well known to the Tudors as a stimulant to the system. In 'The Garden of Health' (1579) William Langham writes: "Carry the flowers about thee to make thee merry and glad and well beloved of all men...hang the flowers on thy bed and place Rosemary in the bath to make thee lusty, lively, joyful, strong and young. To comfort the heart steep Rosemary flowers in rose water and drink it".

Gerard agrees in his 1636 Herbal: "The flowers of Rosemary, made up into lozenges with sugar and eaten make the heart merry, quicken the spirits and make them more lively" - he also notes that Rosemary water acts as a breath freshener.

In addition to its medicinal uses, rosemary was prized as a cosmetic. Gervase Markham (1568-1637) English writer and poet, included high praise for rosemary in The English Housewife first published in 1615. He writes; "Rosemary water (the face washed therein both morning and night) causeth a fair and clear contenance." Furthermore; "when one maketh a bath of this decoction, it is called the bath of life , the same drunk comforteth the heart, the brain, and the whole body, and cleanseth away the spots of the face; it maketh a man look young . . ." An earlier herbal published in 1575 suggests something similar, if slightly more alcoholic – boiling the rosemary in white wine and washing the face in it.

Perhaps one of the more outrageous tales of rosemary's magic involves Queen Elizabeth of Hungary (1305-1381). Suffering from severe rheumatism and gout the Queen (aged 72) turned to the healing powers of the rosemary plant. She began using a variant of Rosemary Water, also referred to as Hungary (Budapest) Water, allegedly given to her by a hermit who claimed that "it would preserve her beauty and health until her death." In fact, legend claims, the treatment so enhanced her health, vitality and appearance that she, using her own words, "was not only cured, but recovered my strength, and appeared to all so remarkably beautiful that the King of Poland asked me in marriage." (from a text by John Prevost, published 1656). By the way, the King of Poland was 26 years old at the time. I cannot promise that it works. I can, however, assure you that the original Hungary water was nothing more than rosemary tops distilled in spirits of wine, although it became increasingly exotic as time went on. A little rosemary essential oil dispersed in raw alcohol would serve you as well, I’m sure, were you inclined to have a crack at capturing the hearts of Eastern European royalty....

Interestingly, there are very few recipes from the 17th century that involve using rosemary as a culinary herb. It featured in the Grand Sallet – as indeed it would, being both a digestive and a carminative, as well as an attractive leaf in its own right – and oddly, most of the recipes feature it being used in boiled meats, and not exclusively lamb or mutton: the Good Huswife’s Jewell (1597) gives a recipe for boiled chicken with herbs -
Take your Chickens and scald them, and trusse the wings on, and put their feete vnder the wings of your chickens, and set them on in a litle pot and scumme them faire, when they haue boiled, put in Spinnage or Lettuce a good deale, and Rosemary, sweete Butter, Verjuice, salt, and a litle Sugar, and strained Bread with a litle wine, and cut sippets and serve it out. So may you boile mutton, or Pigions or Conie.

(- that last emphasised by me. We think of rosemary as an accompaniment to sheep-related products. Evidently in the 17th century they thought of it as a much more diverse condiment – it even turns up in sweetmeats!)

Finally, my late mother-in-law told me that it's bad luck to buy a rosemary plant. Steal it, beg it, or be given it, preferably from a bride's bouquet, but never buy it. Plant it by your front door, and it will keep the witches out.

I have possibly the most famous rosemary bush in the West Country (Hollie Babbitt being a Leveller, there's a sprig of rosemary on the cover of all my books) and it's potted right by my front door. It came from a cutting from the Elizabethan manor at Trerice. And the only witches I have in are invited.

There must be something to these old tales after all!


Mad cake lady, re-enactor, historian, and writer of the Uncivil Wars series featuring Hollie Babbitt, the first Leveller agitant hero in popular fiction, and his rebel rabble of horse-thieves, Anabaptists and bad poets.

M.J.Logue has been slightly potty about the clankier side of Ironside for around 20 years, and lists amongst her heroes in this unworthy world Sir Thomas Fairfax, Elizabeth Cromwell and John Webster (for his sense of humour.)

When not purveying historically-accurate cake to various re-enactment groups across the country, she can usually be discovered practising in her garden with a cavalry backsword.

Often to be found loitering, in an ill-tempered manner, at uncivilwars.blogspot.com - do pop along and pass unhelpful remarks!

The third in the Uncivil Wars series, A Wilderness of Sin, is due out on 3rd May and is available for pre-order at Amazon USAmazon UK, and Amazon CA.  

And there is a novella featuring the lovely Hapless Russell, A Cloak of Zeal, and his early days before joining Babbitt's troop available free until 2nd March. Amazon US, Amazon UK, and Amazon CA

Saturday, March 28, 2015

“Shall I unpaid to Bed?”

by Angela Elliott

A Wink from the Bagnio
Visit Covent Garden today and you are surrounded, not only by history, but also by tourists intent on pleasure. From chic eateries to Opera House, boutiques to flagship Apple store, clubs to coffee shops, this magnificent square has long been a hedonist’s dream destination. Built as a 16th century aristocratic Italianate piazza, by the mid-17th century the nobility had moved to pastures new. Over time, the magnificent houses became places of trade. Prostitutes of every description lingered beneath the porticos, danced in the inns, sported themselves in bagnios, brothels and Turkish hummums. They formed a ‘whores’ club and they were listed on Jack Harris’s Guide to Covent Garden Ladies. One street to the East of Covent Garden, the Magistrates’ court played host to the foremost detective agency in the land: Sir Henry Fielding’s Bow Street Runners paved the way for the Metropolitan Police service in this, the most vice-ridden area of London. Fielding called it the ‘Square of Venus’.

When Sir Henry Fielding died, in 1754, his blind brother, Sir John, stepped into his shoes. Covent Garden’s glory days were over. Now the aristocrats mostly took their pleasure in Soho or St. James. By the end of the 18th century, they were travelling even further - to newly built Marylebone. Although Covent Garden’s hay-day had passed, there were still brothels aplenty. The Hummums Turkish bath, in the Little Piazza, still welcomed the unwashed gentry. The Shakespeare’s Head still played host to Jack Harris and his harem. The Covent Garden Theatre (now the Opera House) and the Theatre Royal Drury Lane (today, in its fourth incarnation) still drew crowds. Covent Garden was by no means dead. It had just become a seedy neighbourhood, down-at-heel, and treacherous.

Harris's List of Covent Garden Ladies

Dan Cruickshank states in his book The Secret History of Georgian London that a staggering one in five women living in London during the 18th century were prostitutes. Given that the population ranged from seven hundred and fifty thousand, mid-century, to one million souls at the turn of the 19th century, Cruickshank’s figures, on first consideration, seem rather high. Elsewhere the statistics appear more realistic. The Universal Daily Register, published in 1786, suggested that one sixth of the population lived off the proceeds of thievery and whoring, whilst the German traveller, Johann Wilhelm Von Archenholz, claimed that fifty thousand prostitutes occupied London. Whatever the actual figure, the fact remains that women had few ‘career’ choices: they could be wives, widows, mothers, servants or whores. Of course, they were also street vendors, milliners, dressmakers, and actresses, but all of those occupations were synonymous with prostitution. Add into the mix the idea that domestics often turned to whoring to supplement their scant income, and Cruickshank’s one in five might not be so far from the mark.

In the early years of the 18th century, Covent Garden’s licentious reputation waxed, and bawds such as Mother Needham gained notoriety for providing the very best ‘gentry morts’ to a clientele of such a high standing, she could count Dukes and Earls amongst her patrons. When the bawd of renowned prostitute Sally Salisbury died, she gave her services to Needham’s stable. Here, older whores procured from other establishments, combined with a continual influx of sweet young girls, fresh from the country and free from disease, meant customers were never short on choice. It was a commonly held belief that a young virgin could cure syphilis. A disturbing report, made by Michael Ryan in 1839, claimed that around 400 people made their living by kidnapping children to feed the common desire for child sex partners.

Sad to say, as fast as the pretty young things were snapped up by avaricious bawds, they aged and died. A whore’s life was short. Few reached their thirties. There no cure for ‘dripper’ or the ‘French pox’, other than to take mercury. Men of course, were not considered the repository of such diseases. It was all the women’s fault. Foreigners to our shores called English women ‘foul and fetid under cover’ (Lobcock 1795, p.94), and with this description, and the end of the 18th century, Covent Garden’s hay-day waned.

Whilst, in the past, women were described as the weaker sex and were owned by their fathers and husbands, it was never in doubt that women were as capable as men of giving and receiving sexual pleasure. We will leave the repression of these sensibilities to the guilt-ridden Victorians. No, the 18th century woman was a robust sort, given to being accosted in the scullery, soliciting on street corners, and becoming the mistress of anyone with money to keep them in the fine things of life. Of course there was always disease to contend with, but then one did not survive the 18th century without certain discomforts in this department.

In truth, few women were really top class courtesans. They were more likely to be lowly sorts, much given to drink. Gin was a particular craze. They were less frequently addicted to opium, which was traded in China by the East India Company in exchange for tea. Many London whores were educated country girls, enticed into the trade by promises of money and fine clothes. Just as girls are trafficked today across international borders, only to end up as sex slaves with no hope of escape, so in the 18th century prostitutes could do little to break away from their tawdry lives. Few women avoided the control of their ‘beardsplitter’, who gave a roof and food with one hand, whilst taking away the means to independence with the other. It can be argued that even the those whores of highest renown relied on the income they had from being ‘kept women’, and that even though they appeared to be free agents, their escape came by way of an early death, or marriage. The much celebrated Sally Salisbury, for instance, was imprisoned for stabbing a man, and died of syphilis whilst in Newgate prison. The idea that these women retain their independence by whoring is naught but a fiction.

As to the criminal aspects of prostitution in the 18th century, whilst there were laws against keeping a disorderly house, few bawds were charged. Streetwalkers suffered arrest for theft more frequently than they did for solicitation. Sir John Fielding had given the men in his charge power to apprehend whores, and had the backing of laws passed mid-century, but more frequently than not they simply maintained the status quo. This led to accusations that the Bow Street Runners operated ‘protection rackets’. Complaints were more often laid at the door of those policing the streets, than that of the trouble-makers. Not that anyone really ‘policed’ 18th century London. Prosecutions were brought, not by the Crown Prosecution Service, as is the case now, but by the victim of a crime, or, in the case of a murder, by someone with a close association to the victim. The early Bow Street Runners had been recruited from the ranks of ‘thief-takers’; they were essentially, professional thugs.

As the century progressed so what came to be known as the ‘Bloody Code’ intensified. You could be sent to the gallows for as little an offence as stealing bread. If you were transported to America, but escaped back to England, you were hanged on recapture. Interestingly, Sir John Fielding spoke against whores on the one hand, whilst turning his blind eyes away on the other. For all the ‘Bloody Code’, crime was fast spiralling out of control. It would take until 1829, and the establishment of the Metropolitan Police Force, to see any real control over the lawlessness of the larcenous and licentious Londoners.


The Finish - The Progress of a Murder Uncovered
By Angela Elliott, published now by Crux Publishing
It is 1769 and these are violent times. London’s Covent Garden has long been a centre of hedonistic pleasure with its whores and harridans, aristocrats and artisans, actors, drunks and thieves. Prostitute, Kitty Ives, takes a man to her bed and wakes to find him dead. Fearing the gallows, so begins Kitty's quest to uncover the identity of the murderer.

The Finish is the first in the Venus Squared series, comprising four books: The Finish, The Surety, The Debt, and The Trade. The story exposes the violent and sexual underbelly of the 18th century and challenges our preconceived ideas of historical fiction.

About the Author
Angela Elliott has written for film and TV. Her first book, Some Strange Scent of Death, was published in 2005.

Available on:
Amazon.co.uk Amazon.com Apple iBookstore Google Play Kobo
Other books in the Venus Squared series due in 2015/2016

Friday, March 27, 2015

Lenten Fare in English History

by Lauren Gilbert

As Easter approaches and the season of Lent winds down, it’s interesting to think about the differences between how Lent is observed now and Lenten traditions of earlier time.

Nowadays it is less a time of mandatory fasting than voluntary self-denial, a personal challenge, for many. People give up chocolate, alcohol, a favorite activity. The observance of Lent today could be considered an inconvenience or a test of personal resolve, rather than a spiritual issue, for many.

In earlier times, Lent was a period during which individuals abstained from eating certain foods or drinking certain beverages more or less completely, a voluntary sacrifice for spiritual growth. The 40-day time frame for the Lenten fast was fixed after the Council of Nicea, possibly as a purification rite or a time of preparation for baptism. (It’s also worth noting that the timing is also practical: winter stores were low, it was too early for spring crops, and animals were not yet producing young in quantity.) Initially, the fast only allowed for one meal a day, although that was modified. Some traditions allowed for a relaxation of the fast for Sundays; some included Saturdays as well. For some individuals, the Lenten fast could represent a situation of total denial. For others, maybe not so much… Throughout history, man has shown a talent for finding a way around a situation he (or she) did not like.

Prior to the Reformation, Catholic tradition prevailed in England. It’s important to remember that the fast was an experience shared by all. The farther back in history one looks, the stricter were the rules. In early Britain, fasting was literally (in many cases) bread and water, with maybe a few vegetables. Thanks to Thomas Aquinas, fish became allowable; it was available to all, harkened back to Jesus (the loaves and fishes) and had no particular taint or association with sin. In medieval times, meat was not to be eaten. “Meat” was defined as red or white meat (beef, pork, and poultry) and included eggs, dairy, etc. Interestingly, certain birds and mammals were not considered “meat” and were allowed during fast times, including Lent. These exceptions included quail, partridges, pheasant, red deer and porpoise. Clarissa Dickson Wright mentioned that during medieval times, almond milk was a popular beverage during fast times, as well as used for medicinal purposes.

During Tudor times, some root vegetables were not eaten during the Lenten fast as they were considered too much of the earth (or even further down). Also in Tudor times, pregnant women, soldiers in a garrison, children and the elderly were not required to fast, and it was possible to obtain a dispensation on an individual basis (dispensations were generally not free and not readily available to all. Although Henry VIII separated the Church of England from Rome, he did not change many of the liturgy or traditional observances, including the Lenten fast. After Henry VIII’s death, Cranmer ordered abstention from meat during Lent. (This did not apply to the white meats, including eggs and dairy.) Throughout this period there was rigid enforcement, to the extent of spies laying information resulting in fines and imprisonment. By Elizabeth’s time, the eating of fish was encouraged to support the fishing fleet; consumption of eggs, cheese and milk was allowed. This resulted a dwindling of the use of almond milk.

As Protestantism became established and settled, the fasting rules loosened. During Cromwell’s era, fasting was actually considered a Popish superstition if not a heresy. With the Restoration of Charles II, many of the old traditions were revived to a degree. However, by this time, Protestantism was firmly rooted, and anything that smacked too heavily of Catholicism was viewed with suspicion. Within the Church of England, there were variations between High Church and Low Church which translated to more, or less, traditional observance.

By the Georgian era, Jane Austen’s time, the traditions of the Church of England had relaxed somewhat. Eggs and dairy were allowed, which resulted in the waning popularity and use of almond milk as a beverage, although still used medicinally. Hannah Glasse offered a recipe for almond milk for a wash:
Take five ounces of bitter almonds, blanch them and beat them in a marble mortar very fine. You may put in a spoonful of sack when you beat them; then take the whites of three new-laid eggs, three pints of spring water, and one pint of sack. Mix them all very well together; then strain it through a fine cloth, and put into a bottle, and keep it for use. You may put in lemon, or powder of pearl, when you make use of it.”(1)
It was also possible to get an exemption from fasting in general because of health issues. There were by this time a variety of Protestant sects, many of which did not consider the traditional fasts necessary. Even within the Church of England, a certain amount of secularization had resulted in a falling away of the devotion to the old traditions.

Sources include:
Dickson Wright, Clarissa. A History of British Food. 2011: Random House, London.
Glasse, Hannah. The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy. A new EDITION, with modern Improvements. 1805: Cottom & Stewart, Alexandria. (Facsimile copy released by Applewood Books, Bedford, MA). Footnote 1: page 248.
British Food: A History on line. “Lenten fodder” posted February 22, 2012. https://britishfoodhistory.wordpress.com/tag/lent
HistoryExtra. “A Guide to Food and Status in the Sixteenth Century” by Emma McFarnon. Posted December 8, 2014. http://www.history.com/feature/tudors/tudor-dining-guide-and-status-16th-century JaneAusten.co.uk. “Jane Austen’s Easter” by Laura Boyle. Posted 6/20/2011. http://www.janeausten.co.uk/jane-austens-easter
“Recreating Medieval Lent,” Tournaments Illuminated, #145. Winter, 2003. By Agnes DeLanvallei and Kathy Keeler. http://keeleranderson.net/Hello/Lent/RecreatingLent.htm


Lauren Gilbert, author of HEYERWOOD: A Novel, lives in Florida with her husband.  A new novel, A RATIONAL ATTACHMENT, is due out later in 2015.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

A Charmed Royal Life

by Anne O'Brien

Henry Bolingbroke, later Duke of Lancaster, son and heir of John of Gaunt, became King Henry IV of England in September of 1399 after seizing the crown from his cousin Richard II and being acclaimed king by the English lords. It was to be a short and eventful reign, Henry dying in March 1314 at the relatively young age of 45 years, from longstanding ill-health rather than violence.  I knew about this when I first started writing about Joanna of Navarre, Henry's second wife.  What I did not know was that in the first five years of Henry's reign seven attempts were made on his life, either directly or indirectly.  It was astonishing that he survived at all.

This is a contemporary image of Henry from an illuminated letter in the Great Cowcher of the Duchy of Lancaster, made in 1402.  Probably far more accurate than the above portrait of Henry, which was painted much later in the century.

1400 The Epiphany Rising

In the first months of Henry's reign when the deposed Richard was still alive, imprisoned in Pontefract Castle, this rebellion, sometimes known as the Revolt of the Earls, was planned by a group of lords sympathetic to Richard's plight and led by the Duke of Exeter, Henry's brother-in-law.  The plot was to assassinate Henry and his four sons at Windsor on the occasion of the celebratory tournament, planned by Henry to honour the Feast of the Epiphany on 6th January.  Richard would be restored as King.  Details of the pot were leaked to Henry and, because London remained loyal to Henry, the plotters, who fled, were subsequently captured and suitably dealt with.  A bloody beginning to the reign.

Here, easily recognisable, is Windsor Castle where the deed was to have taken place.

1400 The Owain Glyn Dwr Rising

Glyn Dwr claimed the title of Prince of Wales and vowed to kill Henry and his eldest son, becoming a permanent thorn in Henry's flesh, raiding along the Marches and into England.  The threat became more serious when he allied with the Percy family and Edmund Mortimer whose claim to the English throne could be considered stronger that Henry's except that it came through a female line.  Glyn Dwr ultimately failed in his bid, but in the early years of Henry's reign he appeared to be a serious threat to English security and Henry's life, forcing Henry into numerous Welsh campaigns, and ultimately into the Battle of Shrewsbury, as illustrated below.

1400 the affair of the poisoned saddle

One of the more exotic attempts on Henry's life.  Henry's saddle was said to have been smeared with some poisonous substance that would cause him to swell up and die before he had ridden ten miles.  Fortunately for Henry, the plot was discovered before Henry mounted his horse.  The perpetrator of this imaginative scheme is not on record.

1402 the Friars' conspiracy

Another plot to kill Henry and his sons and restore Richard.  Although Richard had now been dead for two years, the rallying cry "Richard is Alive" was widely used to win supporters to any insurrection against Henry.  Rumours were particularly rife that Richard was at large in Scotland, waiting for the call to resume his crown. Once again detail of the plot was leaked, and on this occasion, the church was involved in the planned uprising.  Eight friars were put on trial and condemned as being central to the plot.

1403 the Percy Rising

The powerful northern family that had been so instrumental in bringing Henry to the throne in 1399 turned against him, complaining of lack of financial appreciation for their efforts on Henry's behalf.  They joined forces with Glyn Dwr to increase their power in England.  This rebellion culminated in the Battle of Shrewsbury in which Henry and his eldest son fought.  It ended with the execution of the Earl of Worcester for treason, the death of Harry Hotspur on the battlefield and the arrest and imprisonment of the Earl of Northumberland.  This was the battle in which the prince (the future Henry V) was struck in the face by an arrow, which left him badly scarred.

Henry knew that the sole purpose of his enemies on that day at Shrewsbury would be to kill him.  Therefore  he took the precaution of asking two of his knights to wear his livery, to confuse the issue.  Henry survived what was to be a blood-bath with thousands dead.

This is the impressive Battlefield Church of St Mary Magdalene which stands, now unused but still consecrated, in open countryside on the site of the Battle of Shrewsbury of 1403.  Its building was authorised by Henry in the years after the battle and it is said that it stands over a grave pit holding many of the thousands who died there.

1404 Countess of Oxford

This lady was first cousin to the Percys and mother of Richard II's erstwhile favourite Robert de Vere, who had been forced into exile by the five Lords Appellant, so she had a vested interest in revenge against Henry who had been one of the Lords Appellant as well as responsible for the Percy downfall.  She invited the Duke of Orleans and the Count of St Pol to invade England with a French army and march on Henry in the name of King Richard.  It was proposed that Richard, alive and well, would meet with Glyn Dwr at Northampton, thus making the most of Glyn Dwr's continuing antagonism, before joining with French invaders.  It did not come to pass.  No one was in favour of French troops on English soil.  French attempts to land at Dartmouth and on the Isle of Wight were effectively repulsed.

1404 Assassination at Eltham

Details are vague for this attempt to remove Henry from the scene, but Lady Constance Despenser, Henry's cousin, accused her brother the Duke of York of plotting an assassination.  The assassins were to scale the walls of Eltham Palace or waylay Henry on the road when he went to spend Christmas there with his wife Joanna and his family.  Whether this was true or not is open to debate, but certainly York and Lady Constance were involved in the plot to take control of the two young Mortimer heirs and deliver them into the hands of Glyn Dwr as a focus for the rebellion against Henry.  The plot never came to fruition, and the escape of the Mortimer boys in the company of Lady Constance was foiled.

The affair of the metal contraption.

The strangest of all.  Rumour said that it was planned to place a metal contraption in Henry's bed, that would spear his vitals and kill him.  There appears to be little truth in this, but it shows the atmosphere of the time that such rumours should be spread.  A man who took the crown from the Anointed King must accept that many of his subjects would feel aggrieved when the country was suffering from high taxes.

The tomb of Henry IV and Queen Joanna
in Canterbury Cathedral.

What a violent few years this was in English history with no comfortable corners to give sanctuary to any player in the game. Henry survived these many and various attempts on his life, sadly to succumb to a most painful and debilitating skin complaint that caused his body to waste away so that ultimately he could neither walk nor ride.  It was said by contemporaries to be leprosy.  Today it is considered not to be, but it brought Henry to an early death three weeks short of his forty sixth birthday.


My website gives up to date news of my books, signings and talks.  Do drop by. My novel, The Queen's Choice, about Joanna and Henry will be published in November 2015.


Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Religious persecution and Glorious revolution

by Anna Belfrage

Louis XIV
In 1685, Louis XIV of France revoked the Edict of Nantes, thereby indirectly laying the foundation to what would become the so called Glorious Revolution in England.

“Eh, what?” I hear some of you say, brows rising as you consider just how the revocation of the Edict of Nantes could lead to the events that ousted England’s rightful king. Well, dear people, as so many events in the 17th century, it comes down to religion – or rather, to religion as a political instrument.

Louis XIV was, as we all know, French. King since childhood, he was a firm believer in the divine right of kings and in his own capacity to rule. He was equally determined to expand French interests and territories and therefore promoted an expansive – aggressive – foreign policy. Plus there was the ever present issue of religion, a hot potato that had temporarily been set on a back-burner by Henri IVs 1598 Edict whereby all Frenchmen were allowed to worship according to their own conscience.

Louis was no big fan of this tolerant approach to heretics. It irked him that there should be close to a million such heretics living in his France, a country that should in its entirety belong to the Holy Church. (Here dear Louis was being somewhat hypocritical, turning a blind eye to the fact that France, this oh so Catholic nation, had happily bankrolled the Swedish Protestant Army under Gustav II Adolf as it laid waste to the Holy Roman Empire during the Thirty Years' War. Bygones, he probably said, waving a perfumed handkerchief...)

To Louis, his Protestant subjects were a personal affront – they should take heed, listen to their King and convert. And when milder forms of coercion didn’t help, Louis launched the dragonnades in the early 1680’s whereby dragoons were forcibly billed with Protestant families, there to constantly persecute them and hound them until the poor people either converted or fled. Many of them fled, and the surrounding European nations saw a huge influx of Huguenot refugees.

And yet, Louis was not satisfied. Egged on by his pious wife, Madame de Maintenon, he took the drastic step of revoking the Edict of Nantes, thereby making it illegal to adhere to any other faith than the Catholic one. Over the coming months, France suffered a major brain drain as an entire generation of Protestant tradesmen, merchants, and skilled labourers left – no doubt to Louis’ personal joy. By early 1686, less than 2 000 Protestants remained in France.

For Protestants in the surrounding countries, Louis XIV’s measures just went to prove the point that Catholic rulers were dangerous, intolerant creatures. In countries such as England, the anti-papist sentiments that were a constant presence throughout the 17th century were further strengthened by the terrifying stories told by the Huguenot refugees. Unfortunately – at least in the eyes of some of the more bigoted Englishmen – the English king was a Catholic. Even worse, James II was Louis XIV’s cousin, and as we all know, blood will tell…

James is second from the left
James II didn’t begin his life as a Catholic. His father, Charles I, was raised an Anglican, remained an Anglican, and ensured his children were raised as Anglicans, no matter their Catholic mother, Henriette Marie of France. As we all know, Charles I hit the dust in 1649 – in his case almost in the literal sense, given that he was beheaded. At the time, James II was not quite sixteen, and he was to spend the coming decade in either the French or the Spanish army where he served with distinction - and came into contact with various men of Catholic faith.

Like his older brother, James had an eye for pretty women. In 1659 he seduced Anne Hyde by promising to marry her, and to his credit he followed through on his promise, even if no one expected a prince to do so. Sometime during his marriage to Anne, James and his wife converted to Catholicism, even if he kept this secret. His surviving daughters by Anne, however, were raised as Anglicans as ordered by their royal uncle, Charles II.

Mary of Modena
When the English Parliament introduced a new Test Act in 1673, it became impossible for James to keep his conversion a secret. The Test Act was one in a series of laws put in place to stop Catholics from holding higher office, either in government or the military, by requiring all such officers to take an oath by which they disavowed certain central tenets of Catholic faith, and also to take communion under Anglican rites. James refused to do so, stepping down from his post as Lord High Admiral. He didn’t exactly improve his popularity ratings when he then went on to marry Mary of Modena, a fifteen-year-old Catholic Italian princess.

Over the coming years, Parliament and King were locked in a constant power struggle, with Charles II adamantly refusing to sign anything that would potentially exclude his brother from the line of succession, the so called Exclusion Crisis. When tensions were at their highest, James was recommended to leave the country, which he did, spending a number of years in Scotland.

In 1685, Charles II died – and a pretty awful death it was. On his deathbed, he converted to Catholicism, allowing himself the privilege to die professing the faith he must have held to in secret for years. With no legitimate heirs of his body, Charles was succeeded by James, and the powers that were in England were not pleased – at all.

It was unfortunate that in this self-same year Louis XIV upped the persecution of the Huguenots by revoking the Edict. It was also unfortunate that James II lacked that streak of pragmatism that had always guided his older brother. Had James but taken the time to stop and think he would have realised that for a newly crowned Catholic king in a country so mistrustful of Catholics, it made sense to take things slow. Instead, the man immediately set off on his own personal crusade to revoke all legislation that made it impossible for Catholics to hold office. Not, to put it mildly, a popular move.

James II
At the time, James was accused of wanting to return England in its entirety to the Catholic Church. These days, historians agree that James’ purpose was to create a more tolerant approach to his co-religionists. They also agree that James was somewhat inept – call it heavy-handed – in his attempts, thereby alienating former supporters. Whatever the case, while Parliament may have grumbled and Protestant Peers protested, there were never any plans to depose James. Deposing kings was simply not done, and the English public did not want a repeat on the royal execution not quite forty years ago.

So, what have we here? On the one side, a disgruntled English populace, angry with their king for promoting his Catholic friends, even angrier when he initiated a massive conversion campaign. On the other, a bewildered monarch, who didn't understand why everyone misinterpreted him so. (A simplification, of course. And I haven’t even touched upon James’ attempts at fiscal reform, but seeing as most people find taxes boring, let’s not go there…)

On the other side of the Channel, Louis XIV was more than thrilled to see his Catholic cousin on the English throne, while further north William III and his wife Mary, James’ oldest daughter, bided their time. Unless James had a son, the English crown would revert to their staunchly Protestant hands upon his death. The probability of James ever having a son was deemed as low. So far, Mary of Modena and James had been singularly unfortunate when it came to children. She’d been pregnant close to ten times, but as yet there was not one surviving child. And yes, I do feel this is a good moment to feel sorry for poor Mary – and her husband.

It was indicative of how out of touch James was with his people that throughout 1686 he tried very hard to influence the Anglican faction into accepting his more lenient approach to Catholics. England was a hotbed of anti-papist emotions, nurtured over several decades, first by the Parliamentarian forces, then by the Restoration government and their anti-Catholic legislation. Well, if we’re going to be quite correct, the anti-papist sentiments went back further than that, to the reign of Elizabeth I and onwards. No, in England of the 17th century a good Catholic was a dead Catholic – or at least a Catholic who had the sense to stay well away from the green fields of fair England.

In 1687, a frustrated James decided he needed new allies to pursue his political ambitions, and so he started flirting with the Protestant Dissenters so as to undermine the Anglican Church. To win their support, in April of 1687 he announced a Declaration of Indulgence whereby all penal laws and the Test and Corporation Acts were suspended. Suddenly, religious freedom raised its head in England. Suddenly, one could openly be a Quaker, or a Baptist, or a Presbyterian – hang on, even a Presbyterian? Hmm. James was no major fan of the Scottish Kirk, but yes, they were also included, albeit after some pressure – or a Catholic. We rarely give James II the credit he deserves for this attempt at creating a society where people could worship as they pleased. Was it self-serving? Of course it was, but for the thousands upon thousands that had been oppressed by the Anglican Church, the Declaration of Indulgence provided quite a breath of fresh air.

This innovative piece of legislation was not greeted with spontaneous outbursts of joy. Most people were sceptical of the King’s motives, and besides, there was a bigger concern. The Queen was pregnant, and should she be delivered of a healthy boy child, England would face a succession of Catholic kings. The Protestant nobility gulped. Combining a potentially healthy baby boy with the King’s recent legislation would, over time, erode their power base. No, this needed to be stopped before it went too far, and where else to go for support than to William of Orange in the United Provinces? After all, should the Queen be delivered of a boy child that would not be good for William’s aspirations.

It was a boy. Delirious with joy, James wanted to embrace the entire world. A son, he had a son, and even the cruel stories whereby it was insinuated that the boy was a changeling, smuggled into the royal apartments in a warming pan, could not quench his joy – even if it must have hurt that his elder daughters were implicated in this gossip-mongering. James Frances Edward Stuart was born on June 10th of 1688 – less than six months later, the baby would begin his lifelong exile.

On June 30th, seven protestant grandees sent a letter to William III, inviting him to invade – not to depose James, but to curb his policies. All the same, the letter signed by Edward Russel, the earls of Shrewsbury, Devonshire and Danby, Bishop Compton, Lord Lumley and Henry Sidney cannot be described as anything but high treason. However, the large majority of the political establishment in England did not support this move. Yes, they wanted to restrain James, but far too many had far too recent memories of the consequences of plunging England into a civil war to risk taking up arms against their king.

This is where we have to return to Louis XIV and his revocation of the Edict of Nantes, this in an attempt to understand William’s motivations in invading England. If we’re going to be honest, no one does know the man’s motivations – William was a man who mostly kept his own counsel. One thing that is very apparent, however, is that William’s lifelong ambition was to halt France’s expansion, especially into his own territories. He found little support at home for his bellicose activities – the Dutch states depended on trade with France and saw no reason to antagonise this huge market, no matter that it was nibbling at the borders of the United Provinces.

Spain was no help at all, the Holy Roman Empire had its hands full with the Turks, and William all on his own was no match for Louis XIV. However, should one combine England with the United Provinces, well then…Whatever the case, as long as the pacifists remained in power in the United Provinces, William was without the funds required to do more than gnash his teeth when the French took Strasbourg (1681) and Luxembourg (1684) And then came the revocation.

Horrified Dutch Protestants opened their homes to the refugees from Louis XIV’s France. They listened, aghast, to stories of bloodshed, to being forced to leave all their wealth behind (with which the wealthy Dutch traders could more than relate), to being beaten and whipped, murdered even, by angry Catholic mobs. Which is when William coughed and said “ahem”. Now he was given funds – plenty of funds. Even more fortuitously, the Holy Roman Emperor beat off the Turks and was more than happy to join the coalition against France. Only England, ruled by Louis XIVs cousin, remained loyal to France. The invitation from the seven grandees therefore came at an opportune time. By invading, William hoped to strong-arm his father-in-law into supporting his efforts to contain France. Whether his initial ambitions extended beyond that, we don't know.

William landed in Torbay on November 5, 1688. William was hailed as a liberator. James dithered, uncertain as to what to do – William was family, and James was more than aware of how much his eldest daughter loved her husband. Besides, he was unnerved by the last year’s outbreak of violent anti-Catholic riots throughout the north of England, and he definitely did not want to be the one who started a new Civil War – he was as beset by spectres as his peers.

On November 23, James took the decision to retire to London rather than meet William on the field. A capable military leader, an experienced battle commander, James could probably have held his own – and his was the larger force. So why did he retreat? Why did he attempt to flee to France rather than defend his crown? We will never know – but chances are that had he stayed and fought, he would have carried the day, thereby rewriting history as we know it. But then, history is full of ‘what if’s’, isn’t it?

Mary II
Captured by William's troops in December of 1688 while making for France, James then managed to escape - and one suspects he was allowed to escape - and fled to his powerful French cousin. In 1689, William and Mary were confirmed by Parliament as the new King and Queen.

James made one serious attempt to regain his throne that ended at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. His son would go on to make his own attempts, as would his son, the famous Bonnie Prince Charlie who for a short while in 1745-46 actually seemed to be carrying the day. Until the disaster at Culloden, that is.

These days, James II is often considered a parenthesis, a king who is remembered mainly because he lost it all. I do believe the man deserves a somewhat grander epitaph than that, however ineptly he handled the single most momentous event in his life. James Stuart was a loyal son, a loyal brother. He was brave and honourable, served his country as well as he could and was allowed to. He was a loving father – doting, even – a caring husband and a man who stood by his friends and his word. He was also a Catholic, and somehow the matter of his faith overshadows all his qualities. After all, it is because of his faith and his pig-headed efforts to make life easier for his co-religionists that he lost his throne. A high price to pay for his faith, although personally I think James considered his daughter’s betrayal and defection the far heavier price. The lesser me must admit to hoping Mary suffered endless sleepless nights as a consequence, but on the other hand, her life was not exactly a bed of roses either, and who are we to sit in the comfort of hindsight and judge those that went before?

The events of 1688 and 1689 play an important role in the recently released To Catch a Falling Star, the eighth book in The Graham Saga.


Anna Belfrage is the successful author of seven published books, all of them part of The Graham Saga. Set in 17th century Scotland, Virginia and Maryland, this is the story of Matthew Graham and his wife, Alex Lind - two people who should never have met, not when she was born three centuries after him.

Anna's books have won several awards and are available on Amazon US,  Amazon UK, or wherever else good books are sold.
For more information about Anna and her books, please visit her website. If not on her website, Anna can mostly be found on her blog.

Giveaway! Stolen, by Sheila Dalton

Sheila is giving away five .mobi copies for Kindle. You can read about the book HERE. Please comment below on this post to enter the drawing.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Beauty and Georgian Society

by Grace Elliot

What is beauty?

In the 18th century, according to the Morning Post, a true beauty not only had good looks and a pleasing figure, but wit, grace, sensibility, elegance, good sense, expression, and principle. (Note: Modesty is absent from the list, but perhaps this falls under good sense or principles.) Indeed, in October 1776, the paper published a ‘Scale of Bon Ton’ that listed 12 of society’s most fashionable women as ranked by a point-scoring scheme.

Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire

In case you are wondering, the Duchess of Devonshire topped the list, hotly followed by the Duchess or Gordon, then the Countess of Derby.  Ranking beauties against one another was very popular, and only the month before the London Chronicle had published its own ‘Scale of Beauties’ – again with the Duchess of Devonshire ahead of the rest.

There’s no denying that the majority of these women were indeed attractive, but more than that, it was difficult for a woman not of noble blood to be a beauty in the fullest Georgian sense of the word, because they simply didn’t have the breeding. The concept of beauty was closely tied to ideas of behaviour and manners such that someone with good looks but lacking the correct social niceties  was left sadly short of that vital ‘something’ that made her acceptable as a society beauty.

All of which is as good as any yard stick to base the concept of ‘beauty’ on, since it is such a subjective thing. Even at the time, people debated (as they have done since time immemorial) the essence of beauty. A poem, written in 1733, titled ‘Beauty and Proportion’ extolled the virtue of symmetry with ‘a roman nose, high turn’d forehead and well-set eye.’

But someone with a good appreciation of beauty, the artist William Hogarth, writing in the mid-18th century, argued that disorderly style in the form of curved lines and uneven structures was a greater delight to the eye.

From the Harlot's Progress, by William Hogarth
Hogarth was well known for his cutting observations on social manners

A little later in 1795, the Dictionary of Love catalogued beauty in 28 points or of which the foremost was ‘Youth’. Understandable then, that some women turned to cosmetics to cheat the clock and make them appear younger. But this too was frowned upon, not least because makeup could be purchased by anyone to create the illusion of beauty and thus cheat the viewer.

Part of the problem with makeup was that it was so thick that it obscured many blemishes and imperfections. Whilst a noble lady was cossetted and often protected from some of the diseases that could devastate a complexion, a lady of lower birth was not. Therefore a perfect skin was a badge, a mark of superior rank. However, the use of makeup blurred this boundary and made it less clear for all to see.

It was argued that titled women should avoid ‘paint’ because it lowered them to the level of ‘inferiors’. This is all very well, for many young women in society who needed to make a good marriage but with average looks, the clever use of makeup seemed a Godsend to make them more attractive.

Maria, Countess of Coventry

At the time, much makeup contained lead, so perhaps there was wisdom (but for a different reason) behind avoiding artificial props. Perhaps one the most famous cautionary tales is that of Maria, Countess of Coventry, who rose to fame because of her stunning looks, but died because of lead poisoning from her makeup. Such was the pressure to maintain her status as a beauty that the means of maintaining an outward appearance of loveliness was ultimately her end. A salient lesson indeed.


Grace Elliot is a veterinarian and writer.  
To find out more, visit her blog: