Thursday, February 11, 2016

Get Me to the Church on Time: Changing Attitudes toward Marriage

by Maria Grace
The Book of Common Prayer (1643) makes clear why (and why not) a couple should marry: 
     (Marriage) is not by any to be enterprised, nor taken in hand, unadvisedly, lightly, or wantonly, to satisfy men's carnal lusts and appetites, like brute beasts that have no understanding; but reverently, discreetly, advisedly, soberly, and in the fear of God; duly considering the causes for which Matrimony was ordained.
     First, It was ordained for the procreation of children, to be brought up in the fear and nurture of the Lord, and to the praise of his holy Name.
     Secondly, It was ordained for a remedy against sin, and to avoid fornication; that such persons as have not the gift of continency might marry, and keep themselves undefiled members of Christ's body.
     Thirdly, It was ordained for the mutual society, help, and comfort, that the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity.
   However, nothing so intimately connected with the human heart could ever be so simple.

Decline of Arranged Marriage

Throughout history, parents used their children, both daughters and sons, as assets in their efforts to gain and maintain wealth, connections, and power. The Age of Enlightenment (18th century) brought a radical shift in attitudes toward marriage. The idea that a daughter would marry according to her father’s choice fell out of fashion, and a man who would force a young woman into a disagreeable partnership was deemed contemptible. The new way of the world was for young people to make their own marriage choices with parents left with (hopefully) the right to veto socially or economically unsuitable candidates.

Arranged marriage lingered longest among the upper classes where it was assumed a young woman would learn to love, or at least tolerate, the husband chosen by her father. Even so, few high society parents contrived mercenary alliances for their children. Conversely, not all gentry families permitted their offspring to marry as they chose. Eldest sons, who were set to inherit family lands and fortunes, found themselves  subject to more parental sanctions than younger siblings.

In the midst of all these changes, a new certainty emerged: marriages based on compatibility, affection, and even love, were more likely to stand the test of time than marriages arranged purely for material gain. 

This new attitude complicated matters for parents who now had to engineer circumstances for their daughters to meet the right sort of eligible men. The perceived rarity of such men encouraged something of a husband-hunting hysteria among parents eager to see their daughters well-settled. 

These perceptions were not entirely unfounded. The ravages of war and higher male infant mortality rates during the latter part of the eighteenth century and early nineteenth resulted in an imbalance in the numbers of males and females. Moreover, the high cost of maintaining a household and the antics of avid man-hunters also put young men off the notion of marriage, further reducing the pool of available bachelors.  

The Duty of Virgins

 Despite the new attitudes of the Enlightenment, one societal truth remained unchanged. It was the duty of a young woman to marry. The Whole Duty of a Woman suggested that there were three acceptable ‘States and Conditions’ of womanhood: the virgin, the married and the widowed. “An old Maid is now thought such a Curse as no Poetic Fury can exceed, look'd on as the most calamitous Creature in Nature.”

To avoid that dreaded state of spinsterhood, a girl needed to make a sensible match. What constituted a sensible match? In short, one which provided three key qualities:connections, cash and compatibility. 


During the late Georgian and Regency eras, everyone knew their rank in society and where they stood in relation to everyone else in their social circles. Unions between equals were expected, and in many families required. Allowing an individual of inferior social standing into the family circle, and thus the social circle, was considered a betrayal of those within their strata.  

Particularly among the upper classes, these attitudes meant people often married partners with whom their family enjoyed alliances, or to whom they were related. Marriage between first cousins, neither forbidden by the church nor law, were common.


The lure of pedigree lost some of its luster when tarnished by debt. Many titled and influential families were plagued by declining fortune and debt. Young women, though, were warned to be wary of men hunting for an heiress to shore up failing family finances as much as young men were cautioned against female fortune-hunters. 

A wealthy man might be excused for marrying a poorer woman, particularly if she were pretty and had good manners. A wealthy woman of any age would be thought to have thrown herself away to marry a man of lesser means.


 Why might a woman ‘throw herself away?’ Often, because she fancied herself in love. 

Corbould (1834) wrote:
Most women are inclined to romance. This tendency is not confined to the young or to the beautiful; to the intellectual, or to the refined.— Every woman capable of strong feeling is susceptible of romance; and though its degree may depend on external circumstances, or education, or station, or excitement, it generally exists, and requires only a stimulus for its development.
Romance is, indeed, the charm of female character. …(but)  It is associated in the minds of many with folly alone.  

The idea of marrying for love had gained ground by this era, possibly fueled by the increase in novel reading. However, showing too much passion for one’s spouse was considered in poor taste. A marriage decision based on passion alone was not expected to be a correct one. Young people were advised to pursue friendship and domestic compatibility instead. 

 Choosing Wisely 

“How wretched must be a woman, united to a man whom she does not prefer to every other in the world. What secret preferences must steal into her heart! What unquiet thoughts take possession of her fancy! And what can men of principle call such an act, but legal prostitution.” Bennett (1811) 

“Marriage enlarges the scene of our happiness and miseries. A marriage of love is pleasant; a marriage of interest easy; and a marriage where both meet, happy. A happy marriage has in it all the pleasures of friendship, all the enjoyments of sense and reason; and, indeed, all the sweets of life.” The Young Husband's Book (1839)

Since divorce was virtually unavailable, marrying the wrong person could lead to a life of misery for both partners. Advice for choosing well abounded. 

The Young Husband's Book (1839) cautioned young men to avoid women of bad reputation, low status, those who loved money, or were stupid.

John Bennett (1811) in his  Letters to a Young Lady offered more detailed advice:
(T)here are a few general principles of most essential consequence to regulate your choice…Fortune surely should be considered. It were absurd to think of love, where there is not some prospect of a decent provision for your probable descendants. That decency depends on birth, habit and education. But if you can compass the other requisites, be as moderate as possible, in your demands of fortune…
Never suffer yourself to think of a person, who has not religious principle. A good man alone is capable of true attachment, fidelity and affection. …
The next thing you should look for is a person of a domestic cast. This will, most frequently, be found in men of the most virtuous hearts and improved understandings. …

The last thing, though I do not mention it, as absolutely necessary, yet highly desirable in a person, with whom you must spend all your days, is sentiment and taste. …
Though a woman, before this union, may be admired for her accomplishments … yet after it, we expect her character to display something more substantial. To a man, who must spend his days in her company, all these little superficial decorations will speedily become insipid and unimportant. Love must be preserved by the qualities of the heart, and esteem secured by the domestic virtues… He wants a person who will kindly divide and alleviate his cares, and prudently arrange his household concerns. He seeks not a coquette, a fashionist, a flirt, but a comfortable assistant, companion and friend.

But how did one meet and win such a partner? The next installment of this series will explore social meetings and the very serious business of courtship.


 Maria Grace is the author of Darcy's Decision,  The Future Mrs. Darcy, All the Appearance of Goodness, and Twelfth Night at LongbournRemember the Past, and Mistaking Her CharacterClick here to find her books on Amazon. For more on her writing and other Random Bits of Fascination, visit her website. You can also like her on Facebook, follow on Twitter or email her.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Saint Willehad: Trouble in Saxony

By Kim Rendfeld

In 782, Saint Willehad was at a low point. Continental Saxons – the very people whose souls he was trying to save – had burned the churches he’d founded and slaughtered his followers.

I can imagine his heartbreak for his fellows and maybe for a dream that went back to his childhood in Northumbria. Perhaps, he grew up hearing stories of Saint Willibrord spreading Christianity in Frisia and Saint Boniface’s martyrdom. Perhaps, their spiritual heroism inspired him to become a missionary.

By Georg Sturm, circa 1885
(from Encyclopedie Drenthe Online,
artikel Willehad,
public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)
Willehad was ordained into the priesthood, and around 770, he got permission from his king, a supporter of missions to the Continent, and crossed the Channel. His first stop was Dokkum in Frisia, where Boniface had been killed, and if we are to believe his hagiography, he won many converts.

But he was not always welcome. His preaching against the pagan religion raised the ire of the locals. He was saved when a chieftain decided to cast lots rather than execute him outright. He again faced danger when one of his followers destroyed idols, following Willibrord’s and Boniface’s examples. This time, he and his companions found refuge in the court of Frankish King Charles (today called Charlemagne).

It was an opportune time. In the 770s, the long-standing enmity between the Franks and the Saxons took a religious turn. Not only was Charles gaining territory; he supported missionaries in the conquered lands and made deals with Saxon aristocrats who accepted baptism. In 780, Charles held an assembly at Eresburg, a former Saxon stronghold. He sent Willehad to preach in Wigmodia, between the Weser and Elbe rivers, near Bremen. Charles went on to fight the Saxons that year.

Perhaps believing the situation was stable, Willehad ordained priests, probably as a chorbishop, and founded churches.

782 had a promising start. In the summer, Charles held an assembly at the source of the Lippe River, and every Saxon lord, except the charismatic Widukind, attended. This first capitulary to the Saxons was issued. Among other things, the document made capital offenses of refusing baptism, eating meat during Lent (unless excused for infirmity), burning a dead body, and infidelity to the king. After receiving other important guests, Charles returned to Francia.

But the Saxons weren’t as beaten into submission, I mean pacified, as Charles had thought. Widukind rallied discontented Saxons, who pillaged the countryside and burned churches. Willehad fled about 80 miles to Emden, at the mouth of the Ems River near the North Sea, and escaped by boat. He eventually made his way to Rome.

At some point, Willehad must have learned that the Saxons also inflicted devastating losses on the Franks in the S√ľntel Mountains. Politically, Charles could not let such an attack go unanswered. The offending Saxons were caught but let Widukind escape. So Charles, if we are to believe the annals, ordered the beheading of 4,500 men.

This brutal justice satisfied Charles’s counts, but how did the deaths affect Willehad? Did he, like the Frankish counts, believe himself avenged? Did he see the executions as a grim necessity to resume the Christian mission to Saxony? Or did he regret the lost souls and feel like a failure, wondering how he would answer to God?

Woodcut from the late
Middle Ages (public domain,
via Wikimedia Commons)
His hagiography says the pope consoled him. Perhaps the pontiff reminded him that Willibrord had been driven out of Frisia by a pagan ruler and that the Church had a strong ally in Charles. After Willehad’s visit to Rome, he went to Echternacht, Willibrord’s monastery, and lived as a recluse. He spent the next two years copying and commenting on the letters of Paul – another man who spread Christianity and was persecuted for it. (The pagan Saxons would complain Christians were persecutors who forced their religion upon them and extorted tithes from the converts, but this is Willehad’s story.)

Charles continued the battles, and in 785, Widukind agreed to be baptized as part of a peace deal. The same year, Willehad returned to Bremen. He was consecrated as a bishop two years later. On November 1, 789, he celebrated the dedication of his church in Bremen, the seat of his diocese, to Jesus and Saint Peter.

He didn’t get to bask in his triumph. Exactly one week after the ceremony, he died of a fever while traveling in Blexen, a village north of Bremen. His last thoughts lingered on heaven. Perhaps, he was at peace with his fate. He could tell God he did everything he could to lead Saxons to the True Faith.


“The Life of Saint Willehad,” anonymous, translated by Peter J. Potter and Thomas F.X. Noble, from Soldiers of Christ: Saints and Saints' Lives from Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages, pgs. 279-291, edited by Thomas F.X. Noble, Thomas Head

"St. Willehad" by Francis Mershman, The Catholic Encyclopedia

Unam Sanctam Catholicam

The Lives of the Saints, Rev. Alban Butler

“Anglo-Saxon Period,” Volume 1 of Biographia Britannica Literaria: Or, Biography of Literary Characters of Great Britain and Ireland, Arranged in Chronological Order, Thomas Wright

Ansgar, Rimbert and the Forged Foundations of Hamburg-Bremen Church, Faith and Culture in the Medieval West, Eric Knibbs

Kim Rendfeld is the author of two books set in Carolingian Francia, The Cross and the Dragon and The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar, and is working on Queen of the Darkest Hour. For more about Kim and her fiction, visit or her blog, Outtakes. You can also connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Eadric Streona: An Eleventh Century Villain

by Kelly Evans

In 2005, Eadric Streona (Streona is not his real last name, rather a nickname assigned to him meaning ‘grasper’ or ‘acquisitor’), a little known man to most, was voted the worst Briton of the 11th century in a poll conducted by BBC History Magazine. And, to those who know of him, for good reason. The chronicler William of Malmsbury (1095-1143) had this to say about Eadric:
“This fellow was the refuse of mankind, the reproach of the English; an abandoned glutton, a cunning miscreant; who had become opulent, not by nobility, but by specious language and impudence. This artful dissembler, capable of feigning anything, was accustomed, by pretended fidelity, to scent out the king’s designs, that he might treacherously divulge them.”
Who Was Eadric?
Eadric was one of eight or more children, born to a father who worked at the court of King Aethelred Unraed. There is no evidence that Eadric’s father, Ethelric, held any titles or contributed to the court in any significant way. Eadric and many of his brothers followed in their father’s footsteps; their names are included as witnesses of many charters from Aethelred’s reign.
Aethelred Unraed (Source: Wikipedia)
The first appearance of Eadric’s name on a charter is in 1002, where he stood as witness along with his father and brother. History suggests that Eadric was retained by Aethelred to perform the more distasteful tasks of rule, one of which was the murder in 1006 of a nobleman, Ealdorman Aelfhelm. (Aelfhelm was father to Aelfgifu of Northampton, who would later go on to marry Aethelred’s enemy Canute). Aelfhelm’s sons were blinded on Aethelred’s orders and although there is no evidence that Eadric performed this task it is likely, given his role in their father’s death, that he was at least present.
A Rising Star
The following year Eadric was made Ealdorman of Mercia and it was around this time that he also married the king’s daughter, Eadgyth. Obviously Aethelred valued Eadric’s contribution to his reign.
It was a dangerous time for Aethelred and England: the country’s borders were weakly protected and England was a tempting prize for Danish invaders. After an invasion of the Danes in 1009, Aethelred was prepared to retaliate with force but was persuaded by Eadric to take a different course. Over the next two years the Danes ravished England and were only stopped by the payment of nearly 50,000 pounds of gold, an unpopular move negotiated and delivered by Eadric Streona.
Early in 1013 Sweyn Forkbeard attacked England and this time no amount of gold would be enough: Forkbeard wanted the crown. By the end of the year Aethelred, his wife Emma, their children, and Eadric had all fled to Emma’s home in Normandy. Sweyn died early the following year however and while Sweyn’s supporters declared his son Canute king, the royal counsel in the south of England asked Aethelred back.
Sweyn Forkbeard (Source: Wikipedia)
Eadric followed Aethelred and his family back from Normandy and once again set himself up as the king’s enforcer. One of his first acts was to punish two of the leading thegns from the Danelaw for their possible support of the invaders. Sigeforth and Morcar were tricked into attending a meeting where Eadric murdered them.
Canute arrived back in England a year later, having restocked supplies, ships, and men. By this time Aethelred was ill and his son by his first wife Edmund Ironside took control of the English army. Eadric had his own army and ships and for reasons unknown to history, betrayed his king and country to side with the invading Canute.
In April of 1016 Aethelred died and Edmund was nominated king by the London noblemen, despite more widespread support for Canute. The fighting continued, with Canute’s and Eadric’s armies stretching Edmund’s resources to breaking points. At the battle of Otford, John of Worcester writes that Edmund had the upper hand but Eadric, still fighting with Canute, cut the head off of a soldier who looked like Edmund, held it in the air and told the English that their leader was dead, an act which further sealed his reputation as worst Briton of the time. Eadric isn’t done however.
Edmund Ironside (Source: Wikipedia)
Late that same summer Eadric switched sides once again, swearing loyalty to Edmund. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’s comment on this act is revealing: “No greater folly was ever agreed to than this one.”
In October the final battle occurred and with it another of Eadric’s treacheries. Edmund should have won the Battle of Assandun; his forces were superior to the Danes and he had enlisted fresh fighters, compared to the Danish forces who were fewer in number and battle-weary. The fighting continued for hours, the sound of shield walls thundering could be heard in the next village. But at a pivotal moment, Eadric fled the battlefield, his many supporters along with him. The sides were now numbered in favour of the Danes and the English suffered a crushing defeat.
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’s record for the day of the battle: “Then Ealdorman Eadric did as he so often did before, first started the fight…and betrayed his royal lord and the whole nation.”
After the battle Edmund and Canute met and divided the country between them, with Canute ruling in the north and Edmund in the south. They agreed that if either died without issue then the other would take the entire country. Fortunately for Canute, Edmund died of battle injuries not long afterwards; Canute now ruled all of England.
Canute (Source: Wikipedia)
Eadric ingratiated himself enough with the new king to remain Ealdorman of Mercia but by the following Christmas, 1017, the mood had changed: Canute either suspected Eadric of treason or had already accused him of such.
In the Encomium Emmae, Emma of Normandy’s account of events, Eadric’s death is noted:
“…One of these was Eadric, who had fled the war, and to whom, when he asked for a reward for this (ie aiding Canute at Assandun) from the king, pretending to have done it to ensure his victory, the king said sadly ‘shall you who have deceived your lord with guile, be capable of being true to me? I will return to you a worthy reward, but I do so to the end that deception may not subsequently be your pleasure’. And summoning Erik, his commander, he said ‘Pay this man what we owe him, that is to say, kill him lest he play us false.’ (Erik) indeed raised his axe without delay and cut of his head with a mighty blow…”
Other versions of his death have Eadric being strangled and his body thrown out of a window, decapitation with his head thrown out of a window and decapitation with his head posted on a pole to serve as a warning to other would-be traitors.
So does Eadric Streona deserve the title of worst 11th century Briton? It would seem so, for even the chroniclers of the time were horrified by his actions. As well as the earlier quote by William of Malmsbury, John of Worcester (died 1140) has this to say: “He was a man, indeed, of low origin but his smooth tongue gained him wealth and high rank, and, gifted with a subtle genius and persuasive eloquence, he surpassed all his contemporaries in malice and perfidy as well as in pride and cruelty.”
Worst Briton indeed!
Campbell, Alistair, ed. Encomium Emmae Regina. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998
Fjalldal, Magnus. Anglo-Saxon England in Icelandic Medieval Texts. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2005.
Stenton, Frank. Anglo-Saxon England. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.
Swanton, Michael, ed. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles. Great Britain: Pheonix Press, 2000.
BBC News: Book Link  (Amazon)
Book Link (Amazon UK)
Universal Amazon Author Link

Monday, February 8, 2016

Celtic Time-keeping

Time. Date. Minutes and Days. Modern life is plagued by the obsession of many who run their lives by logging minutes rather than living moments. Were we to deposit these people into the 5th Century how would they survive without clock-watching? At the time my novels are set (mid 5th Century AD) there were no clocks, watches, laptops, television, radios – no devices from which to discern the time of day. You looked at the arc of the sun or moon, the respective orb in the sky denoting day or night. The world around you - plants and weather - told you in which season you lived.

Celtic farmstead, North Wales c. 3rdC AD via

For the Celts, their calendar was pastoral and linked to the turning wheel of the year, its repeated cycles of birth-growth-death as foliage sprang forth, bloomed and died back. Rural farming communities are slaves to these changes even today. The first ploughing begins at the start of February when the ground is warmer and softer following ‘cold-time’ (December/January) and lambs are born, which perhaps is why January-February was known by the Celts as ‘Anagantios’ (stay-home time). No point jetting off on that late winter-sun holiday when all the pregnant sheep are about to drop!

Celtic coin showing image of wheat, via

Every stage of the year was mapped by the events of nature and requirements of the farming community. To glean how important it was to the Celts, we need only look at archaeology. Farming was central to the lives of farmers and as such, made it onto coins of the time as can be seen from the cunobelinus coin shown above. We know the Celts kept calendars, though they are not as recognisable as the Roman Julian calendars we take for granted today, with numbered days of weeks, fortnights and 30 or 31 day months (with the obvious exception of February!). They were, however, sectioned into twelve segments throughout the pastoral year as follows:-

Jan/Feb            Anagantios                  Stay-home time
Feb/Mar           Ogronios                     Ice time
Mar/Apr          Cutios                          Windy time
Apr/May          Giamonios                   Shoots-show
May/Jun          Simivisonios                Bright time
Jun/Jul             Equos                          Horse time
Jul/Aug            Elembiuos                   Claim-time
Aug/Sep          Edrinios                       Arbitration-time
Sep/Oct           Cantlos                        Song-time
Oct/Nov          Samonios                     Seed-fall
Nov/Dec          Dummanios                 Darkest depths

It is evident from the Celtic meanings how our ancestors viewed the world around them and how entrenched in the natural sways of the earth their lives were. If we consider these unfamiliar-sounding names such as ‘Samonios’, the name itself does not immediately provide us with any understanding of that ‘month’. If we look at its meaning, however, we can identify with ‘Seed-fall’ around October/November, as we see it ourselves at this time of year. Trees and plants shed leaves and seeds and gardeners store tubers for the following spring. This makes sense to our modern minds. What may not make sense would be how the Celts noted down their calendars. As well as using their own language, they used their own text, known as ‘ogham’. The ‘ogham’ alphabet is based upon the woods of different trees connected with the various times of the year. Similar to runes, they appeared as vertical and horizontal bars of varying numbers.

Celtic tree calendar, via

So, I’m staying home this Anagantios, at least until Ogronios is over. By then, as they say in Breton, Nevez-amzer will be here (new season/spring). Then just as I plan to do some serious gardening the winds arrive, darn that Cutios!


Elaine writes historical fiction as 'E S Moxon'. Her debut Wulfsuna was published January 21st, 2015 and is the first in her Wolf Spear Saga series of Saxon adventures, where a Seer and one named 'Wolf Spear' are destined to meet. She is currently writing her second novel, set once again in the Dark Ages of 5th Century Britain. You can find out more about Book 2 from Elaine's website where she has a video diary charting her writing progress. She also runs a blog. Elaine lives in the Midlands with her family and their chocolate Labrador.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Henry of Monmouth and the Battle of Shrewsbury: a miracle of medieval surgery.

by Anne O'Brien

A subject not for the faint-hearted.

Henry of Monmouth, eldest son of King Henry IV, 16 years old and Prince of Wales, showed his future calibre as a military leader in the Battle of Shrewsbury, fought on 21st July 1403, to prevent Harry Percy known as 'Hotspur' from joining forces with Owain Glyn Dwr in an attempt to oust Henry IV from the throne.

The Prince fought bravely against the depredations of the Cheshire archers under Hotspur's banner, despite receiving a severe wound to the face.  Refusing to leave the field, it is said that the Prince declared that he would rather die than stain his newly won reputation by flight. 'Lead me thus wounded to the front line so that I may, as a prince should, kindle our fighting men with deeds not words.'

This is the battlefield at Shrewsbury today, looking fairly peaceful in summer sunshine.  Peas and beans are still grown in some of the fields, just as they were on the day of the battle.

He continued to lead the fierce fighting that lasted until nightfall, by which time Hotspur was dead and his uncle the Earl of Worcester a prisoner and later to be executed.  The rebellion that could have cast England into a full scale civil war, and certainly change the course of English history since the plan was to partition England into three in the hands of the Percy family, Glyn Dwr and Edmund Mortimer, Earl of March, was over.

After the battle, King Henry had a church built, so it is said, on the site of a mass grave into which about 1,500 of the dead were buried.  This is the Battlefield Church today.  It is no longer used, but the key is available for those who wish to visit - well worth it.

But the pain and trauma of battle was not over by a long way for Prince Henry who was taken to Kenilworth Castle.  He was fortunate to survive the battle: now he had to survive the aftermath of medical treatment.

The arrow that had struck Henry in the face at the side of his nose had to be removed.  The shaft caused no problems but the arrowhead remained embedded 6 inches deep into the bone at the back of his skull.  Impossible to reach, impossible to remove.  Various drinks and cures were advised by 'wise leeches' but of course all failed.  It was due to the original thinking of King Henry IV's surgeon John Bradmore that the prince was saved.  We are fortunate that Bradmore later wrote a book entitled Philomena to explain the revolutionary treatment that he devised to save the prince.

The squeamish can bow out here.

Bradmore, an interesting man in his own right and a convicted coiner, devised a pair of hollow tongs the width of the arrowhead with a screw thread at the end of each arm and a separate screw running though the centre, but first the wound had to be enlarged and deepened before the tongs could be inserted to grip the arrowhead.  This was done by  means of increasingly large and long probes made from dried elder twigs stitched into purified linen cloth and infused with rose honey.  Then, when the wound had been gradually widened and deepened so that he could reach the arrow head, the tongs were applied at the same angle as the arrowhead, manoeuvring the screw into the socket of the arrowhead.  'Then, moving it to and fro, little by little with the help of God I extracted the arrowhead.'

This did not end the problem.  Bradmore must deal with the gaping wound in Henry' cheek, and prevent infection.  This he did by first cleansing the wound, by washing it out with white wine, then packing it with wads of flax soaked in bread sops, barley, honey and turpentine oil.  These were replaced every two days with shorter wads until on the twentieth day Bradmore was able to announce that the wound was perfectly well cleansed.  A final application of 'dark ointment' was applied to regenerate the flesh.  This ointment Unguentium Nervale he considered to be 'good for chilled nerves and sinews.'  Meanwhile to prevent seizures, which Bradmore considered a possibility (it is thought that this may have been a fear of tetanus setting in), he applied medicines to the prince's neck to loosen the muscles.

It is difficult to imagine the pain that Prince Henry withstood.  The properties of henbane and hemlock were understood to dull pain, but this wound and its treatment must have been excruciating for the young man.  It was also a miracle in that he was able to avoid septicaemia afterwards.

Bradmore was well rewarded for his work. He was paid 40s for medicines provided to the king’s household in 1403 and granted an annuity of ten marks for his successful treatment of the prince. He was made Searcher of the Port of London in 1408.  He continued to use his skills for King Henry IV and Prince Henry until his death in 1412.

As for Prince Henry, he must have been horribly scared by the wound and the procedure.  Interestingly no mention of it was made by contemporaries, even at a time when battle-scars were honourable things to have.  It may of course account for the unusual profile portrait of Henry V, painted at some time after his coronation in 1413.  No scars here!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~
My new novel of Joanna of Navarre, The Queen's Choice, includes the Battle of Shrewsbury, King Henry and the Prince.
#histfic #Lancaster #Plantagenet #EHFA
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Saturday, February 6, 2016

The Battle of Upton-Upon-Severn

By Cryssa Bazos

In the pre-dawn hours of 28 August 1651, eighteen Parliamentary soldiers inched along a narrow board, which was stretched across a broken bridge, while the high waters of the Severn swirled below them. Their mission: to surprise the Royalist forces holding Upton-upon-Severn on the opposite shore and open the way to Worcester where the King’s army was garrisoned. Fourteen months of a Cromwell-the-Cat and Charles-the-Mouse game were finally coming to a head.

The Taking of Upon Bridge by Emily M. Lawson
[Public Domain] Wikimedia Commons


Following the execution of King Charles I by Parliament in 1649, the Prince of Wales, Charles Stuart, sought allies to reclaim the throne and found in Scotland a willing partner. Parliament was not pleased.

Charles II by Phillipe de Champaigne
 [Public Domaine] via Wikimedia Commons

After Charles landed in Scotland around Midsummer’s Day 1650, Parliament sent their Commander-In-Chief, Oliver Cromwell, to encourage a change in Scottish policy–leading a force of about 12,000. While Cromwell secured an initial toe-hold from Dunbar to Edinburgh, the King’s forces held Stirling and the north of the Firth of Forth in a year long stalemate.

The chessboard changed in the early hours of 20 July 1651 when Cromwell launched a surprise attack and won the harbour of Inverkeithing (along the Firth of Forth). Stirling and the north were now vulnerable.

Charles had two options: to be herded west, until he was eventually squeezed out of Scotland, or take a bold step and march his troops south toward England. He went for the latter. On August 6th, Charles and 14,000 Scottish and Royalist troops crossed into England.

Charles reached Worcester on August 22nd, and with Parliament closing in on all sides, he decided to consolidate his position there. By defending the river crossings to the south, the Royalists had a chance to hold off the advancing Parliamentary forces. Charles sent Major-General Edward Massey with his regiment of three hundred to guard the southern crossing at Upton. It would have worked, had the sentry not decided to go to the pub.

Church Street, Upton-Upon-Severn

Fight at the Church

The waters of the Severn were high and the bridge linking the southern village of Ryall with Upton on the north shore had been destroyed.

John Lambert by Robert Walker
National Portrait Gallery NPG 252

In Ryall, Cromwell’s 2nd in command, Major-General Lambert waited with approximately 500 soldiers. Lambert decided to send a few brave men across the river to secure a position and cover the rest of his troops as they forded the Severn. It was a dangerous job–the most they could manage was to string a board across the pilings and hope they didn’t lose their balance and fall into the river where they would have drowned. Incredibly, all eighteen made it across. The forlorn hope headed toward town, but as they approached a church, they were spotted by Massey’s sentries. Lambert’s men raced to the building and barricade themselves inside just as the Royalists set upon them.

The fighting at the church became intense. The Parliamentary soldiers kept up a steady barrage of musket fire to keep the Royalists at bay while the Royalists set fire to the building to force out the defenders.

And no one noticed that Lambert had started fording his troops across the river.

The turning of the tide

Lambert didn’t give up on his men who were trapped and under attack in the church. The river was still high, but he found a place downstream where the waters were more manageable, and he sent across a vanguard to their aid.

The Royalists suddenly realized that they were caught between a burning church and Lambert’s approaching forces. They abandoned their siege on the church and attempted to drive Lambert back into the river. Their initial charge succeeded, and Parliament lost ground, but ultimately, the tides had turned against the Royalists. The water levels were dropping, and the rest of Lambert’s men were now able to cross safely and join in the fray.

Edward Massey

Outnumbered, Massey had no choice than to order his men to fall back to the earthworks where he hoped to regroup and hold off the advancing enemy. The retreat became a rout. Massey was shot in the leg, then a second round killed his horse from under him.

Massey’s men rallied around their wounded commander, and before Lambert could overrun them, they managed to bear Massey safely away. The Royalists returned to Worcester carrying the ill news of their loss at Upton.

The King had lost his only hope in defending Worcester, and it was only a matter of days before the enemy gathered at the gates. On the 3rd of September 1651, Charles Stuart met Oliver Cromwell outside Worcester to fight the last desperate battle of the English Civil War.

Media attributions:

Church Street: Bob Embleton [CC BY-SA 2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

“Edward Massie” by Unknown – Licensed under Public Domain via Commons – About these ads

Cryssa Bazos is a historical fiction writer and 17th Century enthusiast with a particular interest in the English Civil War (ECW). For more stories about the English Civil War and the 17th Century, visit her blog.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Walking the Tight-Rope of Historicity and Fiction

Richard Denham, co-author of the Britannia series with M J Trow, discusses the joys and sacrifices of writing historical fiction. The third book in their series ‘The Warlords’ is now available and Richard talks to us about walking the tight-rope of historicity and fiction.

When I first set out to write the Britannia series with Mei, I was keen for it to be as historically accurate as possible. However, I soon learned that fiction and historical accuracy don’t make the best of friends. If you lean too much towards historicity, a book becomes too heavy, too scholarly and far too sluggish for the average reader. If you lean too far the other way, towards fiction, the story runs away, and glaring historical errors will put off readers to the point that the story should be considered fantasy rather than historical fiction.

So this was the challenge Mei and I faced when we first put pen to paper for Britannia. As is well known, the Dark Ages weren’t called that for nothing! However, search through the rubble long enough and you start to pick up interesting pieces of information. The hagiographies of Saints of the age, though arguably embellished and dramatized – do provide an interesting glimpse into this enigmatic time. Historical arguments are also very useful; compare the Welsh folklore of Macsen Wledig in the Mabinogion for example with the panegyrics and damnatio memoriae of Rome and you can start to make sense of it all.

There are many compromises that have to be made to keep a work of historical fiction engaging and well-paced. If we were too orthodox with timings and years of events, the pace of the story would suddenly stop and we would find empty years where our characters were sitting twiddling their thumbs – which would no doubt put off the average reader who is looking, above all, to be entertained. So occasionally, some events must be concertinaed.

Some changes we hope won’t cause any problems for the reader. For instance the spirit and governmental structure of Rome had changed considerably from the days of Caesar and Anthony – the time which most people think of when they think of Rome. Britain itself was called a diocese, ruled by a vicarius but because of the ecclesiastical connotations which didn’t exist then, it simply didn’t ring true for us and thought it confused matters so we didn't use that word at all.

Another example is Valentinus, our protagonist from Part I: The Wall. His involvement in the ‘Great Conspiracy’ of Britain in 367 and later events is unclear, but we were quite comfortable making him our villain throughout the story.

There is no question that the Dark Ages were an enigmatic time, with the British outside of the Church rarely writing things down, and preferring instead the oral tradition of Bardic culture. However, the same can be said for all history – history is not science, some things are beyond dispute, but history is written by people with an agenda, and that is an unavoidable part of human nature. The significance of a German-style military belt dug up somewhere in Essex by an archaeologist can be interpreted a dozen different ways. Where history is like science is that it is always improving, disagreeing with itself and challenging accepted beliefs. It is not so much a case of proving what happened, but disproving what didn’t. Think for example of the legends of King Arthur, the layers of myth piled on top of him and all the historical paradigm shifts he has been facing since he was (or wasn’t) alive.

Being an author of historical fiction is much like being a detective in some messy and confusing crime scene. Disagreements with colleagues over the significance of certain evidence, analysing claims and counter-claims from those involved, filtering through the irrelevant and biased to find some core element of truth. Luckily for Mei and me, this is something we enjoy.

Of course, it is all open to debate – and the writer of historical fiction will soon discover that. There will be those who disagree with you at either end of the spectrum. What is important is to try to find an acceptable middle and come to terms with the fact that you have written a work of fiction, and historicity will always take collateral damage as a result. Mei and I enjoy the challenge; history and storytelling is a passion of ours. As we creep closer to the elusive figure of King Arthur and move away from the relative evidential comforts of Roman Britain, this is something that will be all the more challenging.

Ultimately, if Britannia sparks people’s interest in the Age of Heroes and encourages them to do their own research and make up their own minds, then that for me is the best success of all.


Britannia: Part III: The Warlords has been published by Thistle Publishing and is available in e-book and paperback formats from Amazon. For more information visit

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Dinner with Mrs. Rundell

by Maria Grace

Mrs. Rundell
New System of Domestic Cookery: Founded up Principles of Economy; and Adapted to the Use of Private Families, by Mrs. Maria Eliza Ketelby Rundell (1745-December 16, 1828). ‘Mrs. Rundell’ as it was often referred to, was the most popular English cookbook of the first half of the nineteenth century. The first edition came out in 1806, several later editions were published with additions by other contributors.

At the time, few books on domestic management were available. Mrs. Rundel collected tips and recipes for her three daughters out of her thirty years’ experience running her household in Bath. Initially she planned to have four copies made, but Jane Austen’s publisher got involved and the rest is, as they say, history.

For anyone interested, replica editions have been published and the original itself is available free on line:  or

Mrs. Rundel’s book includes not only recipes, but advice for every day living in the early 1800’s. Who would have guessed stale white bread was good for cleaning wallpaper?

Just as cleaning methods changed, what foods are served for a meal have changed as well. For dinner I might serve a lasagna, green salad and dinner rolls, just a few dishes, covering the major food groups. Late Georgian dining was an entirely different affair.. A whole host of unfamiliar dishes and meal plans awaited me in the pages so generously penned by Mrs. Rundel.

She offered a number of dinner plans for family dinners. Her meal plans begin with five dishes at minimum and work very quickly all the way up to two courses of eleven dishes plus removes. (Removes were dishes that were replaced with something else part way through the course). I have to admit, the thought makes my head swim. For a big Thanksgivig dinner with all the relatives coming, I might make twelve dishes, not including dessert, which I try to have someone else bring. Twenty two to twenty four dishes and you might just need to lock me up in a room with very soft walls!

The contents of Mrs. Rundel’s menus were also very heavy on the meat dishes. For example, a five course meal might include: Half Calf's Head, grilled, (Remove and replace with Pie or Pudding.)Tongue and Brains, Carrot Soup, Greens round bacon, Saddle of Mutton, and Potatoes and Salad, at side table.  That’s three meat dishes out of the five.

Her most elaborate meal plan, ‘eleven and eleven, and two removes’ (below) made my head spin. It is hard to imagine how much kitchen staff it would take to accomplish this meal, especially when you take into consideration the lack of refrigeration and other modern conveniences. Notice the mix of dishes too. I would never serve a raspberry tart and lobster and duck all on the same course.


Salmon, (Remove and replace with Brisket of Beef stewed, and high Sauce,) Cauliflower, Fry,
Shrimp Sauce, Pigeon Pie, Stewed Cucumbers, Giblet Soup, Stewed Peas and Lettuce, Potatoes, Cutlets Maintenon, Anchovy Sauce, Veal Olives braised, Soles fried. (Remove and replace with Quarter Lamb roasted.)


Young Peas, Coffee Cream, Ramakins, Lobster, Raspberry Tart, Trifle,  Orange Tourt,
Grated Beef, Omlet, Roughed Jelly, Ducks.

Mrs. Rundel kindly includes recipes for many, though not all of these dishes. (I cannot for the life of me figure out what ‘Fry’ is.) A few of them are rather interesting.

I am not sure how many of these are going to show up on my dinner table. But I may just try the Stewed Cucumbers one of these days.


 Maria Grace is the author of Darcy's Decision,  The Future Mrs. Darcy, All the Appearance of Goodness, and Twelfth Night at LongbournRemember the Past, and Mistaking Her CharacterClick here to find her books on Amazon. For more on her writing and other Random Bits of Fascination, visit her website. You can also like her on Facebook, follow on Twitter or email her.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The Banqueting House

By Cryssa Bazos

A few days after the anniversary of the execution of King Charles I in 1649, I am reminded of the place where this drama played out--the Banqueting House at Whitehall.

The Banqueting House- Wikimedia Commons

Completed in 1622, the Banqueting House is the only remaining structure of Whitehall Palace and is situated across from Horse Guards Parade. During the Tudor age, the original Banqueting House was little better than a temporary venue. When King James I of England (VI of Scotland) succeeded Elizabeth on the throne in 1603 and ushered in the Stuart Age in England, he got down to work building a proper Banqueting House. His queen, Anne of Denmark, had been fond of masques and was a patroness of the arts.

The famous 17th century architect, Inigo Jones, was commissioned to design the building. What you have is a beautiful example of Palladian architecture with stately pillars and expansive high ceilings. Galleries line the upper hall. But what is truly a marvel in the Hall did not exist until King Charles I succeeded his father to the throne.

Interior Hall: Photo by C. Bazos

Charles commissioned the great Flemish artist, Peter Paul Rubens, to create a series of paintings to grace the ceiling. The panels were completed in Ruben's workshop before being shipped to England for installation.

The paintings were a delight of classical gods and motifs, the most noteworthy being the centre panel titled The Apotheosis of James I. The scene glorifies his late father, James I as though he were being crowned by the heavens. It is meant to reinforce the concept of the king being God's representative on earth and his divine right to rule.

Detail of ceiling:Wikimedia Commons

These paintings remain the only work of Rubens on display outside of a museum. Fortunately for the preservation of the paintings, masques ceased to be performed following their installation. The smoke from the candles would have damaged them over time.

Below the Banqueting Hall is an area known as the Undercroft. During King James's time, it was used as the royal party den, but in later years, they held other amusements such as lotteries. It's curved ceilings gives the impression of a cosy cave. One can imagine how it once looked, crowded with men drinking and gambling while lit with golden torchlight.

The Undercroft: Photo by C. Bazos

Ironically, the Banqueting House, which evolved as a testament to the divinity of kings, would stand as a confirmation of their mortality.

On a cold winter day, on 30 January, 1649, a scaffold was erected outside the Banqueting House, accessed from a second story landing. King Charles I stepped out on the scaffold, clad only in two shirts and a cap. Facing his subjects, he left them with his famous parting words, "I go from a corruptible to an incorruptible crown." Here ended his reign.

There is so much art and history wrapped up in the Banqueting House. The next time you are visiting London, I encourage you to visit this marvellous building. You may even be greeted by a Parliamentary soldier.

Parliamentary guard: Photo by C. Bazos

Wikimedia Commons attribution:
The Banqueting House: "Banqueting House London" by en:User:ChrisO - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons -

Apotheosis of James I: "Banqueting House 03" by The wub - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons -

Cryssa Bazos is a historical fiction writer and 17th Century enthusiast with a particular interest in the English Civil War (ECW). For more stories about the English Civil War and the 17th Century, visit her blog.

Monday, February 1, 2016

IMBOLC, St Brighid & the arrival of Spring

by Elaine S Moxon

In the northern hemisphere, February is a harsh month, but long-hoped for signs of new life begin to emerge at this time. The first shoots appear - the first stirrings of spring in the womb of Mother Earth; the first ploughing is carried out; lambs are born; calves are born; larks sing; the sea can be calm enough to occasionally launch fishing boats and corvids nest in the trees. Well, the pair of crows is back in the oak tree outside our house and it’s wonderful to see them. It means February is here and spring is around the corner. They always arrive around Imbolc, or ‘Ewe’s Milk’ as our Celtic ancestors called it. A Pagan festival for the returning of the light, often associated with St Brighid, it is my personal favourite of the 8 Celtic festivals (and incidentally the only one associated solely with a female deity within this polytheistic belief system). For many it is a time of wondrous inspiration as we emerge from the dark nights and into the lighter, longer days; re-birthed if you will.

Celebrations at this time of year are not confined to a single belief however. It is, or has been, a significant time in many cultures around the world including Aztecs, Christians, Druids, Greeks, Romans and Tibetans. It remains the Tibetan New Year as well as the Aztec New Year (the latter now celebrated in Mexico). The Romans carried candles through the streets to celebrate the Goddess Februa, the mother of Mars. An old hag figure would also release a dragon to be fought and overcome, possibly representing winter, while a young maiden released a lamb. For Christians it is Candlemas, representing the presentation of the infant Christ in the Temple. In the pastoral calendar it is the lambing season, and so is fitting that this festival celebrates the bringing of children into the world and provides a derivation for its Celtic name.

Connecting with the candle-carrying of Candlemas, it is interesting to note that Imbolc is a ceremony of light. For the Celts and Druids, of which I write about in my books, it is the time of the maiden/virgin goddess. Known as Bride or Brighid, from the Celtic name for a fire goddess – Breo (fiery) Saigit (arrow) – her symbol is the 3 fire arrows of ‘inspiration’, ‘healing’ and the ‘hearth’ or ‘forge’. One might say her influence on our ancient ancestors was so strong, Christianity embraced her into their light ceremonies and Breosaigit the fiery goddess merged with the image of Mary: virginal maidens who both gave life.

Part of 'Feast of Presentation' by Bellini, via

Brighid is the muse of the poet, the midwife and the smith and can be found depicted with 3 objects: the mirror, the spinning wheel and the cup or grail. The goddess worshipped by our Celtic ancestors was portrayed with a comb and mirror, as the mermaid still is to this day. The mirror, used for scrying and divination reveals other worlds as it does for Alice in Wonderland. The spinning wheel depicts the revolving cycle of sun and moon, the great cycle of life-death-rebirth and the Norns of fate, spinning the threads of creation in Norse mythology. Its power reveals itself even today through fairytales such as ‘Sleeping Beauty’. Lastly the cup is the womb, from which all life is born (and as was shared from the Holy Grail – the cup of life) and from which all things are sustained, as the ewe’s milk sustains the new-born lambs. Also known as Imbolg or Oimelc, in Gaelic it means ‘in the belly’.

Usually portrayed in a white cloak, Brighid bears a lantern and birch walking staff with a wolf by her side. The staff – a fertilising phallus – is used to regenerate life in the land and its animals. Birch, having white bark, is associated with purification and was used by the Celts and Druids to ritually drive out dark spirits and unwanted, lingering remnants of the old year. Brighid is also known as the ‘White Swan’, hinting at other ancient forms of the goddess in snake or bird form. This connects too with her image cloaked in white and an older tradition of Celtic women painting themselves and going naked to honour ‘the Veiled One’. Swans also echo Nordic legends of the ‘Swan Maidens’, a form of Norns or Valkyries who lure men as do, incidentally, mermaids. The wolf is a guardian, ruler of the winter quarter of the year beginning at Celtic New Year with Samhain and ending at Imbolc. February was ‘the wolf month’.

Detail of antlered figure, via

Gundestrup Cauldron, via

Wolves and hounds appear frequently in Celtic mythology as helpers or guides. They are the companion of the forest god Cernunnos and appear on the Gundestrup cauldron. The mother of the Celtic god Lugh, whose son is venerated at the festival of Lughnasadh (August 31st-September 1st) was killed while in the form of a hound. The Irish King Cormac claimed to have been suckled by wolves and tribes often claimed descent from wolf-packs, both Celtic and Germanic. In my novel ‘WULFSUNA’ the tribe name literally means ‘Wolf Sons’ and the warriors affiliate themselves closely with the animal, in behaviour as well as appearance, by wearing wolf pelts; the howling and gnawing on shields by ‘Berserkers’ is very animalistic and was done to instil fear into the hearts of the enemy.

For the Celts and Druids, the virgin goddess or ‘Bride’ is the Winter Goddess or Hag who has regained her youth, emerging from the womb of the Earth anew. The custom of corn dolls made at the last and first ploughing to safeguard crops evolved into the St Brighid’s Cross made today from rushes or straw – these are not a crucifix, but a cross of equal points reminiscent of a more ancient sun symbol.

Cross of St Brighid

In Scotland, young girls would make the ‘Bride’ dolls and visit neighbours, who would pay homage by giving gifts of bannocks, butter or cheese. Older women would make the ‘Bride’ doll a bed in a basket and welcome the effigy of the saint into their home for the night. The next day young men visited to pay tribute after which there was much merrymaking and feasting and sharing of the food gifts with the poor. An elderly neighbour, who a few years ago had to go into a home, would secretly leave me a small pot of hyacinths on my back windowsill. He did it for 15 years and it warmed my heart. So in these lean times, in the spirit of our ancestors, I invite friends or family for a meal, or make apple butter for neighbours from my winter store of home-grown cooked apples. However you show it, bring some light into another’s life and spread the spirit of spring!


Elaine writes historical fiction as 'E S Moxon'. Her debut Wulfsuna was published January 21st, 2015 and is the first in her Wolf Spear Saga series of Saxon adventures, where a Seer and one named 'Wolf Spear' are destined to meet. She is currently writing her second novel, set once again in the Dark Ages of 5th Century Britain. You can find out more about Book 2 from Elaine's website where she has a video diary charting her writing progress. She also runs a blog. Elaine lives in the Midlands with her family and their chocolate Labrador.