Saturday, July 4, 2015

Just how dirty were the Anglo-Saxons?

by Richard Denning

We tend to think that the majority of the people that came before us were dirty and smelly - maybe with the exception of the Romans and their bath houses. Was this true of the Anglo-Saxons? What evidence is there of their bathroom habits? One item which has been found in many burial sites from the pagan era (roughly 5th to 8th centuries) are sets of usually bronze or sometimes bone consisting of usually three items. There were tweezers for cutting nails or removing unwanted hairs, little spoons for scooping wax from your ears and picks for removing dirt from behind the finger nails.

So they seemed to bother about their nails. They also took care of their hair. Many combs have been found in graves and these are usually made from bone, antler or horn.

What about bathing and washing? Well it seems that the Saxons were not regular practitioners of whole body immersion. Even so they would bath a few times a year and particularly when they got married. They would also use baths as a medicinal method. This is shown by recipes in Bald's Leechbook (a  collection of Anglo-Saxon cures). For example, Oakbark was used in baths to ease aching thighs. He also refers to the herb Lion's foot, baths of which can help a "bewitched" patient. Whilst whole body bathing was less commonly done, washing of the hands and feet was done daily, and usually they would wash hands before a meal. Indeed, the washing of hands at the start of a feast was, it seems, part of the ceremony. The Sutton Hoo burial included, suspended in chains, a fine bowl in which all guests would be invited to wash their hands before eating - a sensible precaution given the fact that you were often eating with your hands and taking food from common bowls and plates.

Even though the Anglo-Saxons might not bathe often, they were familiar with a huge range of plants and herbs - like Rosemary and Lavender which have strong aromas and could be used when washing one's hair, clothes or hands or just around the house to fragrance it. In conclusion, they may not have been as clean and well groomed as modern tastes may prefer, but I am sure they would not have stunk to the extent we might expect.


Richard Denning is a historical fiction author whose main period of interest is the Early Anglo-Saxon Era. His Northern Crown series explores the late 6th and early 7th centuries through the eyes of a young Saxon lord.

Explore the darkest years of the dark ages with Cerdic.                                                                                      Amazon

Thomas McKean - 1734-1817 - A Short Biography

by Lindsay Downs

Thomas McKean was born to William McKean and Letitia Finney on March 19, 1734 in New London Township, Chester County, Pennsylvania. His parents, of Ulster-Scots heritage, immigrated to Pennsylvania as children. Thomas received his basic education, possibly at home, until age nine, at which time he and his eleven year old brother, Robert, were sent to study under the tutelage of Rev. Francis Allison, D.D. at the New London Academy.

After completing his studies Thomas went to Newcastle, Delaware to study law under his cousin, David Finney. Some months later he was appointed as a clerk to the prothonotary of the Court of Common Pleas. Through his hard work, talent, and industriousness, he was admitted as an attorney in the Court of Common Pleas to Newcastle, Kent, and Sussex before age twenty-one. He subsequently was admitted to the Supreme Court.

By the time he reached his majority Thomas McKean was over six feet tall. Frequently he was see wearing a large cocked hat, fashionable at the time, and was never without his gold-headed cane. It is said that he had a quick temper and a vigorous personality. He had a thin face, a hawk’s nose, and his eyes would be described by some as ‘hot’. Some wondered at his popularity with his clients, as he was known for a “lofty and often tactless manner that antagonized many people”. He tended to be what some might describe as a loner, seldom mixing with others except on public occasions.

John Adams described him as “one of the three men in the Continental Congress who appeared to me to see more clearly to the end of the business than any others in the body.”

Both as Chief Justice and later as Governor of Pennsylvania he could be found at the center of several controversies.

Not wanting to be over burdened with his studies, Thomas, on December 28, 1757, elected to join the Richard Williams company of foot. He would later rise to the rank of Colonel in the militia. (At this time most officer ranks were voted on by the individual militia members and not necessarily by military accomplishments.)

In July 1765, as a judge for the Court of Common Pleas, he established the ruling that all proceedings of the court be recorded on unstamped paper. This is one of the several changes in the courts and Continental Congress he would effect during his life. Each change would have long lasting effects on the country.

Thomas’ political career, which would span forty-five years, started in 1763 when he was elected Assemblyman to the Lower Counties, Newcastle. It would end in 1808 when he left the office of Governor of Pennsylvania. During these years, besides serving as an Assemblyman, he was appointed Judge in the Court of Common Pleas and later as a delegate to the Continental Congress. Once the country was freed from the rule of Great Britain, he was a delegate to the Confederation Congress, serving as its President for a short time.

In 1763 Thomas married Mary Border, his first wife. They had six children. She died in 1773 and is buried at Immanuel Episcopal Church, New Castle. A year later he took Sarah Armitage as his second wife. They lived in Philadelphia and had four children.

At the Stamp Act Congress of 1765 he, along with Caesar Rodney, represented Delaware. It was there that Thomas made another far reaching proposal, a change to the voting procedure in existence at the time. It was later adopted by the Continental Congress and continues to this day in the United States Senate. His proposal was that no matter the size or population of a colony, they would all get an equal vote.

During the last day of the above congress, several members of the body refused to sign the memorial of rights and grievances. He rose from his seat asking why the President, Timothy Ruggles, refused to sign the document. In the ensuing debate, Ruggles said it was against his conscious. The orator that he was, McKean disputed and challenged his use of the word ‘conscious’. He issued a challenge to Ruggles; said challenge, a duel, was accepted and witnessed by the whole body.

No duel ever took place as Ruggles left early the next morning. Ruggles, now disgraced, fled back to Massachusetts where he became a leading Tory. He later fled to Nova Scotia.

Throughout a majority of his early political career, before the colonies separated from England, he was a delegate in Delaware while Philadelphia was his primary residence.

In June 1776, when the debate for independence began, Caesar Rodney was absent, having returned home to Delaware. With George Reid against it, McKean sent a dispatch to Rodney requesting he ride all night, if necessary, so as to break the tie.

It is believed by most citizens today that the Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4, 1776; in actuality it was signed by almost all of delegates on August 2, 1776.

Thomas Jefferson, President of the Congress, and the secretary affixed their signatures to the original. However, there is some controversy as to whether they did sign the document that day.

On July 5th, McKean, now a Colonel in the associated militia, marched with his men to Perth Amboy to assist Washington in the defense of New York. In a letter dated July 26th, he described a narrow escape from cannon fire. This letter helps to establish the necessary timeline for near future events. (By current road travel it is approximately seventy-five miles from Perth Amboy to Philadelphia, a good hard day's ride at the time.)

As a descendent of Thomas McKean, I was always told that he didn’t sign the Declaration of Independence until years later, in 1781. It was only by doing the research for this biography that I learned he signed on the same day as the others present. McKean returned to Philadelphia on August 2, 1776 when the engrossed copy of the Declaration of Independence was signed.

The original document was deposited with the Secretary of State, but when the printed copy was released McKean’s signature was found to be missing in both the 1777 and 1800 editions. I would now like to refer you, good reader, to a letter written in his own hand to Mr. Alexander J. Dallas of Pennsylvania. The letter is dated 26th September, 1796, and it was subsequently published in ‘Sanderson’s Lives’. I quote in part,
My name is not in the printed journals of congress, as a party to the Declaration of Independence, as this, like an error in the first concoction, has vitiated most of the subsequent publications; and yet the fact is, that I was a member of congress for the state of Delaware, was personally present in congress, and voted in favor of independence on the 4th of July 1776, and signed the declaration after it had been engrossed on parchment, where my name, in my own hand writing, still appears.
It continues,
…that on the 19th day of July, 1776, the congress directed that it should be engrossed on parchment, and signed by every member, and that it was so produced on the 2nd of August, and signed. This is interlined in the secret journal, in the hand of Charles Thompson, the secretary. The present secretary of state of the United States, and myself, have lately inspected the journals, and seen this. The journal was first printed by Mr. John Dunlap, in 1778, and probably copies, with the names then signed to it, were printed in August, 1776, and that Mr. Dunlap printed the names from one of them.

On July 28th, 1777 he received from the supreme executive council the commission of chief justice for Pennsylvania. He was to hold this position for the next twenty-two years, until 1799. To show the impact Thomas McKean had on the judicial system, I quote from biographer John Coleman,
only the historiographical difficulty of reviewing court records and the other scattered documents prevents recognition that McKean, rather than John Marshall, did more than anyone else to establish an independent judiciary in the United States. As chief justice under the Pennsylvania constitution he considered flawed, he assumed it the right of the court to strike down legislative acts it deemed unconstitutional, preceding by ten years the US Supreme Court’s establishment if the doctrine of judicial review. He augmented the rights of defendants and sough penal reform, but on the other hand was slow to recognize expansion of the legal rights of women and the process in the state’s gradual elimination of slavery.

One of the few black marks against McKean during his twenty-plus years as Chief Justice occurred in 1788. An incident occurred between him and Eleazer Oswald. Oswald, in the newspaper of which he was editor, tried to prejudice the people for him and against the court, Oswald being the defendant in the case. In the editorial, he cast the justices in a very unflattering light. Incensed at Oswald’s accusations, the justices fined him ten pounds and sentenced him "to be imprisoned for a space of one month, that is, from the fifteenth of July to the fifteenth of August." At that time a month was twenty-eight days, so Oswald demanded his release from the sheriff. The sheriff, not knowing what to do, consulted McKean. He, McKean, not aware the sentence was for “the space of one month” ordered the sheriff to detain the prisoner until August 15th. Upon learning of his mistake, McKean then reversed himself, ordering Oswald freed.

On September 5, 1788 Oswald petitioned the General Assembly where he stated the proceedings against him. He then complained to the august body of the decision against him, specifically pointing a finger at the Chief Justice, Thomas McKean and the sheriff. The House as a whole held a hearing for three days. After several motions, one of which was made by a Mr. Finley against the justices that they had exceeded their constitutional powers, he asked that the Assembly "define the nature and extent of contempt…". Mr. William Lewis, for the judges, said that the legislature was confined to making the laws, thereby they, the Assembly, can’t interrupt said laws. That was the purview of the justices. He continued on by saying that any recommendations by the Assembly would be negated as the "courts of justice derive their power from the constitution, a source paramount to the legislature, and consequently what is given to them by the former cannot be taken away by the latter."

The motion of impeachment set forth by Mr. Finley lost by a considerable margin, at which time Mr. Clymer renewed the motion of Mr. Fitzsimmons. That motion was passed.

During the course of Thomas McKean’s political career he served as an Assemblyman for the Lower Counties, New Castle from 1763 to 1775. During this period he also served as Judge in the Court of Common Pleas, Lower Counties from 1765-1774 and did a brief stent as a delegate to the Stamp Act Congress in 1765. From 1774 through 1783 he was a delegate to the Continental Congress while holding other posts simultaneously. In short, he was a very busy and popular individual.

From July 10, 1781 to November 4, 1781 he was elected President of the Continental Congress, which presented an interesting dilemma. The Constitution of Pennsylvania forbade the holding of two offices at the same time. It was decided that this didn’t apply to holding offices outside the State, him being a member of Congress from Delaware and the Chief Justice from Pennsylvania. They also learned that others were holding multiple offices.

Three years after the peace treaty was signed with Great Britain, a convention was held in Philadelphia starting on May 14, 1787. Several months later on September 17th the convention adjourned having settled on the Constitution. The Constitution was presented to the states, and even though he wasn’t an original member helping to draw up the document, he was a delegate from Philadelphia. On the 23rd he moved that the document be read, and he repeated the request on the 24th. In a short speech to the assembled members he said they were going into territory never entered before, that he didn’t expect any resolution in a day or a week, and that all opposed to the constitution should be heard. He therefore moved:
That this Convention do assent to, and ratify, the Constitution agreed to on the seventeenth of September last, by the Convention of the United States of America, held at Philadelphia.
McKean eloquently argued in favor of the passage of the constitution, concluding his speech with these words:
The objections of this constitution having been answered, and all done away, it remains pure and unhurt; and this alone as a forcible argument of its goodness * * * * The law, sir, has been my study from my infancy, and my only profession. I have gone through the circle of offices, in the legislative, executive and judicial departments of the government; and from all my study, observation and experience, I must declare that from a full examination and due consideration of this system, it appears to the best the world has yet seen.
Even though there was public opposition to the constitution, and at one point both McKean and James Wilson were burned in effigy, the majority of the populous approved the document. It was ratified by a majority of the States by June of the next year.

On December 17, 1799 he stepped down as Chief Justice of Pennsylvania and assumed the role of Governor of that state. He held the office until December 20, 1808 when he retired from public office.

On June 24, 1817, at the age of eighty-three, Thomas McKean died. His remains were interred and the First Presbyterian Church, Market Street, Philadelphia, later to be removed to the family vault at Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia.

Even though he was the forty-eighth signer, his signature in the third column at the bottom, his grave site was the first to be rededicated by the Society. This occurred on April 16, 2005.


Life of Hon. Thomas McKean, LL.D.
Encarta ® World English Dictionary © & (P) 1998-2004 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.
Lives of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence, Rev. Charles A. Goodrich, 1856

I wrote the above biography on my great grandfather, six times removed for The Society of the Descendants of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence of which I’m a lifetime member.

I’ve been an avid reader ever since I was old enough to hold a red leather bound first edition copy of Sir Walter Scott’s The Lady of the Lake in my lap. So it only seemed natural that at some point in my life I take up pen and paper to start writing. My breakthrough came about in the mid 1970’s when I read a historical romance written by Sergeanne Golon, Angelique. This French husband and wife team opened my eyes to the real world of fiction. Stories about romance, beautiful damsels, handsome heroes, and plots which kept me hooked. Of course, being a man, I had to keep my reading hidden from others as that wasn’t appropriate reading for men.

With this new found appreciation of the written word I took up other books and devoured them. I attempted to write again; I still wasn’t satisfied, so I put it aside for years. Then, in 2006 a life changing event brought me back to my love. I took a job as a security officer. This allowed me plenty of time to read different genres. My favourite was Regency. As I poured through everything I could get my hands on, I knew this would be something I wanted to attempt. In 2012 when my debut Regency romantic suspense released.

Since 2012 I’ve lived in central Texas. I’m also a member of Romance Writers of America and their local chapter.

An Earl’s Queen

A mysterious lady. A secret well-kept. A foiled abduction. These and other events get Lord Anthony, Earl of Wyatt, to start wondering who this Lady Chelsea truly is. All he knows is she’s not the love from his childhood as that Chelsea had drowned ten years ago.
His mother, Lady Rosalind, invites her and Lady Iris, her mother, to visit their estate to participate in a house party. Once there things slowly start to make sense, or so Lord Anthony believes.
What none of them realize, everything isn’t as it seems.
Bit by bit the secret is revealed. Even before everything is laid out Lord Anthony knows he’s found his long lost, thought dead love, in the form of Lady Chelsea. By a stroke of fortune for them, misfortune for someone else she is finally able to recall the events of that dreadful day years ago.
The question which remains is, will Lord Anthony be able to keep Lady Chelsea safe until they wed or will other events prevent it?

Where you can find me:
Facebook Pages
Twitter- @ldowns2966
Lindsay Downs-Romance Author

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

The Effect of Waterloo on Europe and England

by Tom Williams

In 1814, after almost two decades of war with France, the nations of Europe made an alliance that finally defeated Napoleon. He was exiled to the island of Elba, off the coast of Italy. In retrospect, it was foolish to allow him to keep even a token military force, but the Allied powers did and, in February 1815, he sailed from Elba with around a thousand men, landing in France on 1 March.

Although many of the French remained loyal to King Louis, who had replaced Napoleon on the throne, the army defected en masse and he had enough popular support to re-establish himself as Emperor. He even organised a referendum to demonstrate French enthusiasm for his return. At first, Napoleon hoped that the Allied powers who had deposed him would be content to see him return to France provided that he did not seem to pose any threat to the rest of Europe. It quickly became apparent, though, that the Great Powers (Britain, Russia, Prussia and Austria) had no intention of leaving him in peace. Instead they declared him an outlaw (hors la loi) and mobilised their armies to attack France. The Prussians were to join British troops stationed in Belgium so that they could attack Paris from the north, while the Austrians and the Russians moved toward the city from the east.

Napoleon saw his only chance as being to strike before the Allies were ready – not that much of a problem, as the armies were moving very slowly. He decided to strike north towards Brussels. His plan was to drive his own army between the British and the Prussians, who were moving to join them from the east. He reasoned that, if he could attack each army in turn, he might be able to defeat both of them although it would be impossible for him to beat them once they had combined. In those days, when battles were generally won by the larger army, (no tanks or airpower to unbalance the straightforward clash of men) this was not a foolish approach. In fact, it almost worked. On 16 June Napoleon's forces defeated the Prussians at Ligny. The Prussians retreated and Napoleon thought that he could now move on the British, who were outnumbered and outgunned and who were relying on Belgian troops of uncertain loyalty. With some justification, he looked on victory at Waterloo as a foregone conclusion. The affair, he is reported to have said, would be like eating breakfast.

In the event, of course, Napoleon lost the day and, in consequence, his throne and his freedom. But was Waterloo, as many people claim, the decisive battle that defined the future of Europe?

The importance of Waterloo to European history seems, at least, to be somewhat overstated.

For a start, the most important battle probably took place two days earlier. While half of the French army was defeating the Prussians at Ligny, the other half was bogged down in indecisive fighting at a crossroads called Quatre Bras. Wellington had not been expecting an attack directly up that road and Quatre Bras was defended by a pathetically inadequate force of Netherlanders (made up of Dutch and Belgian regiments) under the Prince of Orange. Although many people nowadays regard the Prince as a fool and his troops as cowards, their determined defence of the crossroads against overwhelmingly superior forces allowed the British to reinforce their position and see the French army off. Napoleon had left the taking of Quatre Bras to his Marshal Ney, a heroically brave figure, but hardly a strategic genius. Ney failed to push through the Prince of Orange's defences when a determined attack would have almost inevitably succeeded. Had he done so, while British forces were still marching south to reinforce the Netherlanders, the French could have stormed north toward Brussels, brushing aside any opposition, which would not have had time to take up a proper defensive position. Brussels would have fallen by the end of the day. Indeed, many people in Brussels were fleeing toward Ghent or Antwerp, convinced that that was exactly what was going to happen. With control of Brussels – the British inevitably retreating along their lines of supply to the West – Napoleon would have succeeded in splitting the two armies and, after Ligny, the Prussians were hardly likely to take him on alone. The Battle of Waterloo, far from being won on the playing fields of Eton (something that, incidentally, Wellington almost certainly never said) was probably won at Quatre Bras.

Black Watch at the Battle of Quatre-Bras, 1815
by William Barnes Wollen

The question remains, whether, if Napoleon had captured Brussels, whether by a decisive victory at Quatre Bras or by winning at Waterloo, he could have changed the history of Europe. It seems doubtful. The Prussians, though beaten, were hardly crushed. The Austrian and Russian armies were still ready to fall on Paris from the east. Britain commanded the seas and, if required, could have put another army into the field. Napoleon had united the whole of Europe against him. He was never again going to be able to threaten countries beyond his borders. What a Napoleonic victory might have achieved was to change the future of France. Talleyrand, whose diplomatic genius had served both Napoleon and the Bourbon monarchy, would quite likely have persuaded France's enemies that Napoleon, now reinforced with Belgian troops who would probably have defected back to their old imperial regiments, was best left alone in France. Austria and Russia distrusted each other and the ties between Austria and France (remember that Napoleon's wife was the daughter of the Habsburg Emperor Francis II of Austria) could have been exploited to drive a diplomatic wedge between them. There was, therefore, a small, but real, chance that Napoleon could have been left on the throne in Paris, but with conditions that prevented him from being a threat anywhere else.

Of course, a France under Napoleon might well have served as a rallying point for radical, anti-monarchist factions in other countries – one of the reasons that the Powers would have resisted the idea. The Enlightenment values of Napoleon's rule might have been sustained, his ideas conquering Europe in the same way that his armies had earlier. But this has to be doubtful. Napoleon was, by now, almost as easily identified with the sovereigns he had so affected to despise as with any revolutionary movement. He was in any case a sick man – he was to die six years later – and hardly the energetic genius that he had been at the height of his powers.

It really does seem unlikely that Waterloo changed the history of Europe. It did, however, change the history of Britain. Although Britain in the 18th century was clearly one of the Great Powers, the idea (common amongst Empire enthusiasts) that the British Empire was pre-eminent in an era of colonial expansion is by no means clear. The Napoleonic Wars saw Britain emerge as a leading (in British eyes the leading) European power. Britain was the only country to resist Napoleon throughout the period of conflict. British diplomacy was central to the formation of the many coalitions against France, and British money had financed the wars. Yet direct British military involvement had been mainly limited to the Peninsular campaign. While this had been of crucial strategic importance, it was never the primary focus of the war, and Britain was not among the Powers that fought their way into Paris in 1814. The cataclysmic battle at Waterloo, fought under Wellington as the Allied Commander-in-Chief, left the British convinced of their pre-eminence in Europe, a conviction so strong that it generated its own reality.

Britain never looked at itself in quite the same way again. Waterloo was a powerful symbol of national unity at a time of Corn Law riots and political unrest. The sight of Scots troops fighting so decisively alongside the English led to a new view of Scotland. The Scots had so recently been considered a threat to the Union that the Scots Greys were officially the North British, lest they get ideas about nationhood. Suddenly it was acceptable, even fashionable, to be a Scot. Wellington, now the greatest of British military men, went on to become Prime Minister. There were to be ups and downs in the decades ahead, but Waterloo had both strengthened the unity of the nation and allowed it to accept some of the differences within it.

Scotland Forever! by Elizabeth Thompson

Waterloo also changed the image of the Army. During most of the Napoleonic Wars, and the wars that preceded them, it was the Navy that was, in every sense, the Senior Service. It was the wooden walls that had defended England and saved us from French tyranny. Now, suddenly, the Army took centre stage. The British had long distrusted the standing army, but after Waterloo every soldier was a hero. (It was the first conflict to be commemorated with a medal awarded to all the British participants.) The modern Army has been built on the heritage of Waterloo.

Twentieth century notions of the quintessence of Britishness - coolness under fire, holding firm in the face of overwhelming opposition, even, dare it be said, making a virtue of cobbling together a solution from the limited resources available instead of properly planning ahead - all these things started with images of the Iron Duke and his men at Waterloo and in the days preceding the battle.

Waterloo was - despite its strategic inconsequence - the decisive battle of its age. It defined Britain, it enabled the development of the modern Army and it marked the start of the British Empire. It is unlikely that it had a significant impact on the future of Europe. However those seven hours in June two hundred years ago had an enormous effect on the future of Britain.


Tom Williams is the author of the 'His Majesty's Confidential Agent' series, which tells the story of British spy James Burke during the Napoleonic wars. His latest adventure, published by Accent press in May, sees Burke in pursuit of a Bonapartist agent who has tried to assasinate the Duke of Wellington. The story reaches its conclusion on the field of Waterloo.

James Bond meets Richard Sharpe in a thrilling tale set against a detailed historical background. Amazon

When not reading 19th-century books or going to conferences where retired officers talk about *that* battle, Tom enjoys dancing tango and street skating. He also likes to travel and has explored the locations of Burke's adventures in Argentina, Egypt, France and Belgium, which is arguably the best thing about being a writer.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Preserving the World in Paint - Women Artists of the Stuart Period

by Deborah Swift

The story of  The Lady’s Slipper is a story about a rare wild flower, but it is also the story of the 17th century artist who wished to capture its unique beauty in paint.

When researching the heroine of my novel I looked to female artists of the seventeenth century, especially those who painted flowers and the natural world. Unsurprisingly not many are documented, but here I give you just a taste of three extraordinary women who really lived, and one imaginary artist who only lives between the pages of my novel. Can you spot the imaginary artist amongst the real ones?

Maria Sybilla Merian (1647-1717)
Maria seemed to be an infant prodigy and Maria’s step-father, who was also a painter, doted on her, predicting that she would increase the fame of the Merian family name; so, apparently, did her half-brothers Matthäus and Caspar, twenty years her senior. She studied flowers, and more importantly - insects, keeping her own live specimens, and often travelling abroad in search of more specimens to draw. In her time, it was very unusual that someone would be genuinely interested in insects, which had a bad reputation and were colloquially called "beasts of the Devil." She described the life cycles of 186 insect species, amassing evidence that contradicted the contemporary notion that insects were "born of mud" by some sort of spontaneous generation.

Just one of Merian’s superb paintings
of pomegranates, insects and butterflies

Alice Ibbetson (1635 - 1701)

Alice was an English watercolourist whose studies of natural forms were some of the earliest annotated studies of medicinal herbs and flowers. Brought up by her botanist father John Ibbetson, who built his renowned Physic Garden with the help of John Tradescant, her work was collected by wealthy patrons including Sir John Fairfax. Unfortunately her early studies of flowers and fruit were lost when Parliamentary troops fired her home during the English Civil War, and the family were forced to flee for their lives. John Ibbetson’s notes survive however, and are much influenced by the herbals of Nicholas Culpeper. Ibbetson’s early life was beset by tragedy, but later she made her home in New Hampshire where she continued to record native medicinal flora, some for the first time.
A page from Alice Ibbetson’s notebook. Her flower
paintings were much admired for their fluidity of line.

Mary Beale (1633 – 1699)

Mary Beale was the first fully professional woman artist in England. Her husband Charles even left his job as a clerk to help Mary prepare her canvases and mix her paints. He experimented with pigments and became an expert in the field. She quickly made enough from the business to support her family, including her sons Bartholomew and Charles (later an admired society miniaturist). While she painted, Charles would write up detailed notebooks in which he customarily referred to his wife as 'Dearest Heart' and described the sittings, the sitters and his own technical discoveries. The majority of his notes have been lost, but those for the years 1677 and 1681 survive in the archives of the Bodleian Library at Oxford and the National Portrait Gallery. His notebook of 1677 details a busy year: 83 commissions, bringing in earnings of £429. During the 1660s, when the plague ravaged London, Beale moved her home and workplace out of the city to the safety of Allbrook Farmhouse.

Nell Gwyl (Nell Gwyn) by Mary Beale. I can definitely see
from this painting why she would attract the notice of the King!

Louise Moillon (1610–1696) was one of seven children. Her father was the landscape and portrait painter Nicolas Moillon, but he died when she was an infant, and her mother when she was only twenty. Her mother’s inventory of possessions included a series of paintings on wooden panels by her daughter Louise, so it would appear that Louise showed talent from an early age. The high esteem in which her work was held is demonstrated by the fact that in 1639 Charles I of England had five still life pieces by the artist, framed in pear wood and ebony. Mouillon’s work was admired for its lifelike quality but also for its restrained stillness.

Bowl of Plums by Louise Moillon


I hope you enjoyed the pictures. An earlier version of this post appeared here in 2010.
Twitter @swiftstory

Monday, June 29, 2015

William Hogarth and The Shrimp Girl

by Catherine Curzon

The Painter and his Pug by William Hogarth, 1745In the history of art and painting, some names have endured for centuries. The chroniclers of their times, their reputations have grown through the years and raised them to the status of icon. Of the many glorious artists who emerged from the Age on Enlightenment, one of the most respected, recognised and influential is the great William Hogarth, English painter, satirist and printmaker. 
His work is instantly recognisable and justifiably celebrated, with series such as the magnificent Marriage A-la-Mode endlessly reproduced and rightly lauded. However, my favourite work by Hogarth is not one of his satirical series nor his portraits of the great and good, but a painting of an unknown and far from illustrious young lady, The Shrimp Girl

Although the work is undated, experts believe that the unfinished oil on canvas dates from the 1740s, and was most likely begun as an experiment in working with different styles of painting. If this date is correct, then Hogarth was already at the peak of the art world. He was an established, hugely successful figure with nothing left to prove and perhaps was searching, as Joshua Reynolds often did, for new styles and techniques to stimulate his own creativity. By the 1740s, Hogarth's sitters paid vast sums to commission paintings, and his works were instantly recognisable, influential and lauded by the most illustrious names in the country. Deeply embedded in contemporary culture, the public flocked to printshops to purchase prints of his works. However, Hogarth wasn't content to rest on his laurels with these successes, and when he painted The Shrimp Girl he was looking to develop a less formal style, experimenting with elements of impressionism and a light, frivolous touch.

The Shrimp Girl by William Hogarth, 174o-45
The Shrimp Girl by William Hogarth, 1740-45
The identity of the woman in the painting is unknown and sadly, no records exist to lend so much as a clue to who she might be. However, one thing we can be sure of is that young women like this would have been familiar sights around the fish markets of the capital where Hogarth took his inspiration. That is not a hat the young lady wears, but a basket balanced atop her head from which she sells fresh shellfish, the pewter tankard used as a half-pint measure to properly portion out the goods. Although he never finished the work, Hogarth kept the painting at home until his death. When his widow, Jane Thornhill, showed it to people after Hogarth had passed away, she told them, "They say he could not paint flesh. There is flesh and blood for you".

In The Shrimp Girl we see a joyously beaming face free of make up, fashion or guile that is at odds with the idealised formal portraits that lined the walls of galleries and fine homes. This painting illustrates a long-lost, anonymous moment of London street life, one of thousands of such moments that occurred every day yet Hogarth has captured it as clearly as a photograph might today, immortalising the unknown, cheerful young woman forever. The Shrimp Girl is not Hogarth's most dramatic work, nor his most magnificent; it tells no satirical tale, not does it present us with an illustrious figure of national importance, but it does show us the everyday face of Hogarth's London and that is why, for me, it is his one of his greatest works.

Hogarth, William (1833). Nichols, JB, (ed). Anecdotes of William Hogarth, Written by Himself. London: J. B. Nichols and Son.


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, will be published by Pen and Sword Books in 2016. The second, Tales from the 18th Century Old Bailey, will be published by Pen and Sword Books in 2017.

Mistaking her Character by Maria Grace

Maria Grace is giving away an e-book copy of Mistaking her Character. This giveaway ends at midnight, July 5.

For more information about the book please click HERE.

Comment on this post to enter the drawing and be sure to leave a contact email address.

Truth or Myth? Of Hairy-breeched and Boneless Vikings

by Anna Belfrage

Just in case anyone is thinking Vikings is a correct portrayal of dear old Ragnar Lodbrok, I thought it time to set the facts straight. (Not that I care, not with Travis Fimmel to rest my eyes on.) First of all, I thought it might interest you to know that Ragnar Lodbrok in essence means Ragnar Hairy Breeches. Secondly, let us keep in mind that Ragnar, like all ambitious little Viking boys, early on dreamed of becoming rich – very rich even – by stealing from others, a.k.a. raiding. If he was successful enough, he’d be able to buy a farm and retire with a comely wife. Plus, if he was really successful, someone might even raise a runestone over him.

Runestone: I,Berig
CreativeCommons Licence
None of the above ever came true for Ragnar. The runestone thing mainly because Ragnar did not exist outside the sagas (although some say otherwise). The retirement thing because fate had other plans for Ragnar. You see, the Norse sagas are rarely very keen on the Happily Ever After. Such notions are for wimps, not for die-hard warriors like our Scandinavian forebears. No, the sagas are harsh and gritty stories of man pitted against his destiny, with not as much as a whiff of romanticism. Hang on: the sagas DO actually romanticise one thing – the concept of honour, of men who will die rather than betray their own integrity.

These days, things have gone downhill when it comes to honour and integrity – at least here in Sweden, where neutrality rather than integrity has been evoked as a guiding principle in (relatively) recent major conflicts.

Neither here nor there – let’s get back to Ragnar. We have here a young man eager for adventure – and riches. So when he heard of poor Tora Borgarhjort, a pretty maiden whose bower was encircled by a fierce and deadly serpent, he decided to do the right thing and save her, to a large extent motivated by Tora’s father’s promise that whoever killed the monster would wed his daughter and inherit his titles and riches.

We’re talking a huge serpent here, a vile creature that considered Tora its property and defended her from any potential suitor through a combination of fangs and poison. So potent was its poison that it burned holes through garments and human skin, and as a consequence, there was a pile of young dead men at the door of Tora’s bower.

Ragnar was a bright young man. Approaching the serpent obviously required protective gear, which is why he fashioned himself a pair of breeches out of untreated goatskins (ergo the hairy breeches). These he then dipped in pitch and rolled in sand, so that they became more or less impregnable. In these pants and with a spear in hand, he snuck up on the serpent and managed to slay it, thereby gaining Tora’s hand and a jarldom.

I can hear some of you say, "What? Tora? Who's this Tora, and where is Lagertha?" Sorry to tell you that the sagas are not always consistent, so in some Ragnar does wed Lagertha for a short while (after first having killed her tame bear and hound - beasts set upon him as a test by Lagertha) but divorces her to marry Tora, a much better catch seeing as she's a jarl's daughter and Danish - just like Ragnar.

By all accounts, Tora and Ragnar were very happy. Too happy as per the Norns, those rather cold-hearted crones that spin the threads of fate. Which is why they decided to cut Tora’s thread, and Ragnar was left a devastated widower. As any grieving Viking would do, Ragnar set off on a raiding expedition, hoping to dull the constant ache in his heart through violent action and plunder.

Ragnar and his men were in a Norwegian fjord, and Ragnar sent some of his men off the ship to do some baking (and I rather like the resulting picture of self-sufficient Viking warriors with bulging biceps kneading dough). As they were doing their bread thing, the men were distracted by the sudden appearance of a young girl called Kraka. So beautiful was she that the bakers forgot their task, mouths agape as they stared at this female apparition. As a result, the bread was badly burnt, and Ragnar was less than pleased when his men returned to the ship.

"It was Kraka’s fault," the men said, going on to describe this gorgeous creature. Ragnar was intrigued not only by the description, but also by the amusing fact that someone so beautiful should be named Kraka, which means crow. Whatever the case, Ragnar decided it was best if he did some inspecting of his own, but before doing so, he tried to do some research.

In an age devoid of internet, finding out more about Kraka proved difficult for Ragnar. Fortunately for you, dear readers, I do have internet (and books) so I can tell you in confidence that Kraka was really named Aslög, and she was the daughter of Brunhilde and Sigurd Fafnesbane of Wagnerian fame. Now that story of love, betrayal, blood and death is so complicated it would take an entire post to explain it all, so let’s just summarise by saying little Aslög is left an orphan when her parents die, and she is smuggled to safety in a harp (?) by a gentleman named Heimer. When Heimer asks for lodging with a poor couple in Norway, the wife urges her husband to kill their guest as she can see that he is rich, and among his belongings they discover the girl whom they rename Kraka and set to hard work.

Sigurd defeating the dragon
Ragnar got as far as the Sigurd Fafnesbane bit and was very impressed – especially as Sigurd had died like two centuries prior to Ragnar seeing the light of the day, so either Kraka was very old, or there was magic at work. When in doubt, go with magic, and Ragnar found this additional ingredient quite alluring. So he decided to set the young woman a test and invited her to visit him on his ship “neither dressed nor naked, neither hungry nor full, neither alone nor accompanied”. Clearly, my ancestors enjoyed speaking in riddles…

Kraka/Aslög rose to the challenge and appeared swathed in fishnets having eaten a clove of garlic and with a dog at her heels. This, apparently, sufficed to sweep Ragnar off his feet, and he carried Aslög with him back to Denmark where he promptly married her and had many, many children with her.

Together, Aslög and Ragnar had four sons: Ivar Benlös (boneless), Björn Järnsida (ironside), Sigurd Ormöga (serpent's eye) and Vitsärk (white shirt). Ivar Benlös was supposedly afflicted with some sort of disease (in some cases attributed to his parents having had sex before marriage, but I believe this is a later addition, intended to curb the rather relaxed attitude to sex Scandinavian have had since time immemorial), but it doesn’t seem to have hampered his style much, as he and his brothers grew up to be as fierce as their father. So successful were the brothers in their raiding expeditions that people began to mutter that the sons were better warriors than their father. This Ragnar did not like. At all.

In an effort to set things straight, Ragnar launched his own little raiding party – and he was going west, to ransack the lands of King Aella of Northumbria. To really show the world just what a fearsome warrior he was, Ragnar decided to go with only two ships, sufficient, in his opinion, to defeat that milksop of an English king. Aslög begged him not to go, plagued by foresight. When he insisted on going, she gave him a magic shirt, a garment which could not be penetrated by iron. But she was weeping as he left, knowing deep inside she’d never see him again.

Ragnar arrived in England only to crash straight into Aella’s army. Thanks to his shirt, Ragnar survived while one by one his men died, and so he was captured alive and hauled before a smug Aella who demanded to know his name. Ragnar refused to tell him, and so Aella had him thrown into a pit with vipers, there to die a slow, painful and – most distressing for a Viking – ignominious death.

“The piglets will squeal when they hear how the old boar suffered,” Ragnar supposedly said before dying, smiling at the thought of the revenge his sons would wreak on Aella.

The piglets most certainly squealed. As per the saga, the brothers were in their hall when the messenger carrying the tidings of their father’s death reached them. Vitsärk was playing draughts, and squeezed so hard round the piece in his hand that blood began to well. Sigurd was paring his nails and cut himself to the bone. Björn was honing his spear, and tightened his hold on the shaft until it splintered. Ivar calmly asked the messenger to tell them everything. Everything, mind.

The three younger roared and gnashed their teeth together, wanting to set off immediately to kill Aella. Ivar urged caution and stealth.

“Revenge is a dish best eaten cold,” he said, but was overruled. So off the brothers went, with Ivar choosing to distance his ships and men from his revenge-maddened brothers.

Aella was no fool. Upon realising who had died in his snake pit, he knew it was just a matter of time before the sons came, so he’d amassed a sizeable army, big enough to beat back the brothers who turned tail and ran back to their ships. All except Ivar, who decided to visit with Aella and expressed himself willing to accept weregild for his father’s death. Aella was more than happy to oblige, and settled sizeable land on Ivar, who seemingly was content to live in proximity with his father’s murderer. Not...

Over the coming years, Ivar fostered unrest and resentment among Aella’s vassals, and once the kingdom had been sufficiently destabilised, he sent for his brothers. This time, there was no army to defend Aella. This time, he was captured and dragged alive before Ragnar’s four sons. Not for Aella the snake pit, no, Aella was undressed, thrown to the ground with his back bared to the sky, and ever so slowly Ragnar’s sons “carved a blood eagle” on him. This entailed slicing through his back, breaking the ribs and pulling them wide apart to resemble wings, and then pulling the lungs out through the resulting hole. Nice.

The sons returned to Aslög, and she was satisfied that her husband had been adequately avenged. Björn and Sigurd went on to become kings of Sweden and Denmark respectively. As to Ivar, he stayed on in England – as per the saga as king of all England, as per what little facts there are, as the leader of the Viking army that despoiled most of Mercia and East Anglia in the late 9th century.

There is an interesting little add-on to Ragnar’s saga, which refers to Ivar’s final resting place. It is said Ivar ordered his burial mound to be built just at the edge of the sea, prophesising that as long as his bones lay untouched, no one would be able to invade England from the sea. According to this little codicil, “the bastard William” found the mound and had it opened. Upon finding Ivar’s body un-decayed, William ordered a pyre to be built, and only once Ivar’s bones had been reduced to ashes did he proceed with his invasion plans. I’m thinking Ivar would have applauded William – after all, they both had Viking blood, a gift for violence and pillage.

Beware of the Norns!
So, did Ragnar exist in any form? We don’t know, sources from the 9th century being understandably scarce. Some people seem to think there was a historic Ragnar, a Danish Viking of great renown. But for him to be married to a woman whose father slayed a dragon, well, that does seem difficult to believe, doesn’t it? Whether real or not, the story of Ragnar and Aslög is a story of two equals, two people who meet and know immediately they belong together. Maybe it was Aslög seeing the hole of grief in Ragnar's heart. Or maybe it was Ragnar seeing in poor Kraka a woman with the spirit of a lion. Or maybe it was those pesky Norns, thinking it would be fun to twine these two threads together and see what happened. A lot, as it turns out. Enough to build an entire TV series on.


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, 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.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Lady Protectress: Elizabeth Bourchier Cromwell

by Lauren Gilbert

Elizabeth Bourchier
by Samuel Cooper

Even her date of birth is unclear.  Very little is actually known about the wife of Oliver Cromwell.  Her name was Elizabeth, and she was the daughter of Sir James Bourchier and Frances Crane.  Sir James was a successful London merchant in the fur and leather trades.  He was knighted in July of 1603 by James I and given a grant of arms in 1610.  Elizabeth was born in Felsted, Essex, apparently sometime in 1598, and was one of eleven children, possibly the oldest.  She is believed to have some education.  However, nothing is known of her childhood or girlhood.  For all intents and purposes, she came to life on August 22, 1620 when she married Oliver Cromwell.

There is no indication of when or how they met.  The Bourchiers and the Cromwells were both established in Essex.  There was also a family connection in that Elizabeth’s Aunt Eluzai Crane married Oliver’s Uncle Henry Cromwell.  While it seems likely that they may have met as children (being close to the same age, Oliver born April 25, 1599), it is equally possible that they met in London.  At any rate, they were married in London at St. Giles Cripplegate.  It is known that she had a dowry of 1500 pounds, but not whether their marriage was arranged or an affair of the heart.  The marriage was definitely an advantage for Cromwell, as his father-in-law’s connections in the London merchant community were politically valuable.  

Elizabeth and Oliver began their married life in Huntingdon and began having children.  However their marriage began, it appears that they developed a sincere affection for each other.  At some point later in the 1620’s, Oliver went through a period of depression and illness from which he emerged a devout  and radical Puritan. By 1628, he was Member of Parliament for Huntingdon, a position he held 1628-1629.  King Charles dissolved this Parliament and Parliament did not meet again for 11 years.

Unfortunately, the Cromwells were not successful in Huntingdon.  In 1631, Oliver ended up selling what property he had left in Huntingdon, and he and Elizabeth relocated to St. Ives. There, he rented a farm and supported his wife and children by farming, a significant reduction in status.  The farm produced chickens and sheep, generating eggs and wool which Oliver and his brother sold.  Being a small farmer’s wife cannot have been easy for Elizabeth, especially as the mother of six children (the oldest about ten). 

 This state of affairs lasted for five years, when in 1636 he inherited a house and other significant advantages (including a job as a tithe collector) in Ely from his mother’s brother. At this point, Oliver and Elizabeth had had seven children, five boys and two girls.  The youngest son, Robert, had been born and died in 1632.  Apparently, during this difficult period prior to the inheritance, no more children were born.  It is not known if there were unsuccessful pregnancies, or if there were other causes for the break in the births of children.  At any rate, Oliver and Elizabeth had two more children, both daughters in 1637 and 1638 respectively and, by the end of the 1630’s, the Cromwells had regained their position as gentry.

In 1640, the family was living in Ely.  King Charles called another Parliament and Oliver was returned to Parliament as the member for Cambridge, and the family moved to London.   This particular Parliament became known as the Short Parliament as it lasted only three weeks before the King dissolved it.  However, Parliament was called again later in the year, and Oliver was returned as member for Cambridge.  During this period, Oliver became linked to a group of members of the Houses of Lords and of Commons with a strong reform agenda.  There is no indication that Elizabeth took any sort of active role outside of the positions of wife and mother.  She was very concerned about domestic affairs, and was apparently known throughout her life for her frugality, which I would think had been hard-learned during her family’s years on the farm.

In 1642, the English Civil Wars began.  Oliver raised a troop, had success at Marston Moor, and the rest is history.  He rose to general of Parliament’s army, and seemed to have had an instinct for command despite his lack of military background.  During the war years, He wrote to Elizabeth and she to him.  Two of his letters and one of hers survive, and show their loving relationship and mutual affection.  

King Charles was captured, but would not compromise with the Parliamentarians.  King Charles escape led to the second Civil War, which resulted in his being recaptured, tried and convicted of treason.  King Charles was ultimately executed in 1649 by the Rump Parliament, an act for which Oliver bears significant responsibility (he was a dominant member of the Rump Parliament and signed the warrant).   After the execution, he led the Rump Parliament and exercised power over the short-lived Commonwealth.  Disillusioned with Parliament, he dismissed it April 20, 1653 and ultimately became Lord Protector December 16, 1653.

  As Cromwell rose in power, the family moved to different quarters, reflecting their changing status.  From lodgings adjoining Whitehall Palace, they moved into apartments in the Palace itself in the spring of 1654.  Elizabeth seems to have exercised great discretion, and stayed out of the limelight as much as possible.  There is no record that any member of her family received preferment, and comments about her simplicity and frugality as Lady Protectress would appear to indicate that she did not attempt to appear to shine in a court-like setting.   Personal taste for a simpler life and long habit could have been factors; she may also have wished to avoid any comparison to Charles I’s queen Henrietta Maria.  She did help entertain at state dinners and with the wives and daughters of various dignitaries, but apparently had no formalized role in the Protectorate.

Elizabeth Bourchier Cromwell, 
Lady Protectress of England, Scotland and Ireland 
by Robert Walker, c. 1653

The portrait of Elizabeth as Lady Protectress shows her in a formal black velvet gown with orange lining, and pearls, looking very elegant.  Her important status is clearly shown.  (It must be remembered that black was a stylish colour at the time.)   However, to my mind, it also shows a certain discretion.  There is no diadem, crown or other elaborate ornament on her head, and her hands and wrists are not overloaded with jewels.  Although no longer a simple housewife, this portrait shows Elizabeth as a woman of wealth and rank but not necessarily royalty.  I believe it is an accurate reflection of her position in England at the time: the wife of a powerful, important man who was not a king, in its way a statement as much about her husband’s position as her own.

There was great sadness following the death of daughter Elizabeth Claypole in August of 1658, which exacerbated things.  Oliver died September 3, 1658 at the age of 59 in Whitehall. He apparently suffered from malaria and urinary tract problems. He was buried with great ceremony (based on the burial of James I) at Westminster Abbey.  His daughter had been buried in Westminster Abbey already.  There is no record of how this double blow affected Elizabeth or if she attended his funeral.  She was offered an annuity and lodging in St. James’ House, and son Richard took on the Protectorate.  However, the army refused to follow Richard and his protectorate fell in the spring of 1659.  The army did propose a generous pension for Elizabeth.
Charles II was invited to return as King.  In April of 1660, just before the Restoration, Elizabeth left London.  She was accused of stealing jewels and other possessions belonging to the crown, charges she vigorously denied.  Her whereabouts during this time are not known; however, it appears that her letter to Charles II denying the thefts was written from Wales.  She denied having taken part in Oliver’s regime and promised her obedience as Charles’ subject.   Elizabeth was allowed to take up residence with her widowed son-in-law John Claypole at Northborough Manor in Northamptonshire.

Being out of London meant Elizabeth missed the posthumous trial of her husband, the exhumation of his body (and those of others although daughter Elizabeth’s still remains in Westminster Abbey) and the “execution” which resulted in Oliver’s mummified remains being dragged to Typburn when they hung for the day of Charles I’s death.   Elizabeth lived with her son-in-law until her death.  Like so much else about Elizabeth Bourchier Cromell, the date of her death is not clear.  She supposedly died in November of 1665, and was buried in Northborough Church November 19, 1665.  However, there is an indication that this death date is a blind, put about protect Elizabeth, and an alternative date in October of 1672 is suggested.  There is a memorial tablet at St. Andrew’s Parish Church at Northborough that shows she died in 1665.  As with so many other details of her life, the correct date of her death may never be known.

Sources include:
Find A Grave.  “Elizabeth Bourchier Cromwell.”

Good Gentlewoman blog.  “Elizabeth Bourchier-Mrs. Oliver Cromwell” posted 6/9/2012.

The Cromwell Association website.  “Cromwell’s Family.”  (c) 2001-2005.  (No author or post date.) .  The letters of Oliver and Elizabeth Cromwell mentioned in this post can also be found on the Cromwell Association site.

Westminster Abbey.  “Oliver Cromwell and Family.”  No author or post date.

Wikipedia.  “Elizabeth Cromwell.”  Last modified 6/23/2015.

THE SECRET LIVES OF ROYAL WOMEN True Stories of Queens and Princesses, from the Tudors to the Windsors.  Editors of BBC HISTORY Magazine.  “Elizabeth Cromwell’s Shadowy Queen” by Simon Guerrier.  PP. 82-85.   (c) Immediate Media Company Bristol Limited, 2015.

Elizabeth Bourchier image from Wikimedia Commons:

Elizabeth Bourchier Cromwell image from Wikimedia Commons:


Lauren Gilbert has always been an avid reader of fiction and non-fiction with a particular interest in English literature and history.  She earned a BA in English Literature and is a member of the Jane Austen Society of North America.  Her first book, HEYERWOOD: A Novel was published in 2011.  Her second, A Rational Attachment, is expected to be released later in 2015.  She lives in Florida with her husband.  Visit her website at

Historical Fiction Awards Given at the Historical Novel Society Conference

by Debra Brown

Besides a choice of Herb roasted Chicken Breast, Grilled Marinated Flat Iron Steak w/Geenchili-chimchurri sauce, or Portabella Mushroom Ravioli, and the company of novelists eager to meet after years of online friendships, the Saturday evening banquet at the 2015 Historical Novel Society Conference in Denver, Colorado, USA was the setting for the announcement of the winners of two awards.

The first presentation made was to the winner of the M.M. Bennetts Award for Historical Fiction. This first time award honors and memorializes Ms. Bennetts with the goal of making her exceptional work better known. Soon after publication of her novels May 1812 and Of Honest Fame, she became ill with what was to take her life. Her publisher turned the books back to her, and in promoting them on her own she became a friend to us here at the English Historical Fiction Authors blog. M.M. was an editor of our blog's anthology, Castles, Customs, and Kings: True Tales by English Historical Fiction Authors. The idea for an award began with another friend, Terry Kroenig, and we were able to carry it forward. Anna Belfrage presented the award to Greg Taylor for his novel, Lusitania R.E.X.! See Greg's biography. Other finalists were David Blixt and Steve Wiegenstein.

The final presentation was that of the HNS Indie Award 2015. Helen Hollick took on the role of Managing Editor of the HNS Indie Reviews. She had two main goals. First, she wanted to encourage an increase in the quality of Indie and Self-Published historical fiction. To do so the decision was made to review only novels that were properly formatted and presented with a cover design befitting a good book. Secondly, Helen set up an annual award for the best in Indie HistFic with the first accolades given in 2014 to the winner Virginia Cox for The Subtlest Soul and the runner up, A Gift For The Magus by Linda Proud.

Tonight Helen presented the 2015 Indie Awards to Anna Belfrage for Revenge & Retribution! The runners-up were the authors of A Day of Fire.

Congratulations to both winners as well as to all the finalists in both contests. Write on!

Friday, June 26, 2015

The Childe of Hale

by Elizabeth Ashworth

In 1578, John Middleton was born in Hale, on the banks of the River Mersey, not far from Liverpool. He lived with his widowed mother and seemed to be a normal child until he grew and grew until he could only enter the cottage on his hands and knees, and once inside he  could only stand upright under the highest point where the ceiling had to be cut away to accommodate his height. Legend tells that when he went to bed, he was obliged to sleep with his feet hanging out of the upstairs window.

Locals attributed his size to magic and said that it came about because John had drawn the image of a giant in the sand on the riverbank and then fallen asleep within the image. When he woke he had grown to fill the outline and burst out of all his clothes. The real reason was probably that he suffered from a hormonal growth defect.

In 1617, Sir Gilbert Ireland, the Lord of the Manor of Hale decked John out in fine clothes. He wore
a  crimson and white striped doublet with ruffs around his neck and wrists, white breeches with blue flowers, a blue girdle embroidered with gold, green stockings and shoes tied with red ribbons. Sir Gilbert took him to London to challenge King James’ prize fighter to a wrestling bout. Of course John, who was nine feet three inches tall, defeated the king's champion, who suffered a dislocated thumb. Reports say that the king was furious, but he gave John a prize of twenty pounds, a huge sum of money at the time.

On the way back to Hale, the party stopped off at Oxford, where Sir Gilbert had recently graduated from Brasenose College. Here two portraits of John were painted. One of these now hangs in Speke Hall, not far from Liverpool, and the other provides inspiration to the Brasenose College Boat Club whose boat is named The Childe of Hale.

John Middleton died six years after his trip to London, in 1623. For years his bones were kept at Hale Hall as a curiosity, before being given a decent burial. But even then John was not allowed to lie in peace. Arguments and doubts ensued about how big he had really been and his remains were exhumed in 1768, when examination proved that he had been as tall as people claimed. John now rests in the churchyard at the parish church of St Mary. The inscription on the grave reads:"Here lyeth the bodie of John Middleton. Nine foot three. Born A.D. 1578. Dyed A.D. 1623."


The story of The Childe of Hale first appeared in my book Tales of Old Lancashire. I've also written another book about other interesting burials: Lancashire: Who Lies Beneath. I have some copies of this book for £3.99 including postage (UK only) if anyone would like one. Please just leave a message at: