Wednesday, August 20, 2014

WWII: History or Too Close to the Present?

by Elisabeth Marrion

Why write about World War II in the History section? When does the present stop and history start? 100 years, 150 or as little as 50 years. Who decides?

I have asked the same question on relevant Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads and Linkedin sites. The common belief is, yes World War II is now classed as History.

Strange that, because in World War II History we can still ask some of the people who experienced it first-hand. No need to only rely on the internet search engines, libraries or reference books. Even at school if the history teachers are so inclined he or she could still invite a member of the public for a live debate. There are many who would love to share their stories, I am quite sure. I hope we don’t miss the only chance we have and go right ahead. Ask them: ‘What was it like where you lived? Did you run and hide in an air raid shelter just like Annie and her family did in Liverpool Connection? Your building--was it destroyed? What about rationing? What about everyday life? Was there such a thing? Did you go to school? Were you evacuated?' And the biggest question of them all, and yes we can still ask this directly today although it is 70 years since end of the war, 'Did you go to war? Did you have to fight?’

My novels are all about that time in our history. It is a time still close to me although I was born in 1948. But it is more complicated than that. My mother was a German war widow, her husband, a young officer, fighting under Field Marshal Rommel. My father however, was a Lieutenant in the RAF.

Liverpool Blitz: This is the name now given to the air raids carried out on the town. It was the heaviest bombed town outside London with a total number of 4,000 lives lost. Second only to London which suffered a loss of 30,000.

The first air raid on Liverpool was carried out the night of 28/8/1940. Liverpool was attacked by one hundred and sixty bombers, and the raid continued for three further nights just when most families of evacuated children were debating whether they should come home. By now the mothers believed the government had acted too hastily with the order to send children from possible target areas to safety in the country. The attacks on Liverpool continued relentlessly for three months, the most memorable being the Christmas Blitz which started on the 22nd of December 1940. ~

“Is it a false alarm again?”
“This one is for real, Annie! Grace, give me your David. Come on you, hurry along now.”
“I can’t see anything”
“Yes, we can, look.”
A flush of bright light through the corridor window. They stopped in their tracks. The light was followed by an ear-splitting noise, and the building seemed to move.
“Hurry, Hurry, Hurry, to the shelter, now!” shouted the warden. Jeffrey and Grace ran past Annie and were already out of the door. Dorothy still clinging to her mam.
Outside on the right side, a fire was burning. The heat made Annie take a step back. She covered her mouth with her hand, trying to avoid choking.
“Dorothy. Run!” She managed to shout before she started to cough.
Aircraft noises drowned out Annie’s instructions. She hurried after Dorothy. A whistling sound, silence, then a massive boom, which seemed to be really close by. The earth shook under her feet, and Annie hit the ground, dropping Derek as she fell.
“Derek!” Nobody heard Annie’s cry for help. She was alone, flat on the ground, unable to move. From fear or shock, she did not know, but her legs refused to carry her weight. Burning rubble near to where Derek had fallen.

My father’s (Joseph) first assignment in England (after a spell in Hong Kong) was manning one of the towers in July 1940 when planes were spotted off the channel and Portsmouth harbour was under attack. Later he was on one of the crews of 227 Lancasters and 8 Mosquito bombers on a raid on Hildesheim (my home town). It was destroyed in a 15 minute raid on the 22nd of March 1945. My mother (Hilde) on the ground, ran for her life, trying to protect her family and friends. They survived.
After the end of the war, only just over one month later, Joseph volunteered to be stationed there since it was now in the British Zone. He helped in rebuilding the town where met my mother.

“Have you seen that English soldier outside Hilde?”
“What soldier?”
“The one across the road, see over there, he is lighting a cigarette. He has been here before, he keeps looking at you.”
Hilde walked over and stood next to Maria, who had moved the curtain for a better view.
“No, Maria, he is looking at you.”
“Hilde, go and ask him for a cigarette.”
“Maria, we don’t smoke.”
“He does not know that.”
“But I don’t speak English.”
“You can say Cigarette, please, don’t you?”
“Of course. But why?”
“Hilde, I know it’s hard, but we are running out of supplies and have very little left we can trade with. We can get butter for a few cigarettes. Plus, despite your old clothes, you look lovely, please go and ask him.”

Their story is told in my books The Night I danced with Rommel (in English and German) and Liverpool Connection. I am now working on the third book, Cuckoo Clock.

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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Man in the Tower Suite ~ Henry Percy, the Ninth Earl of Northumberland

by Linda Root

Henry Percy, Ninth Earl of Northumberland, {{PD-Art}}

For seventeen years (1605-1622)  the Martin Tower Suite in the Tower of London complex  housed a most illustrious guest. He was a gentleman of high fashion,  undisputed good looks and a keen intellect, loyal to his friends and congenial to his hosts. We can hardly call his keepers jailers, since they went to considerable lengths  to assure his comfort and  entertainment.

There are 21 towers in the complex known as the Tower of London and vague records as to which prisoners were housed in which ones. However, the Ninth Earl of Northumberland Henry Percy's occupancy of the Martin Tower was well known.  Apparently his rooms occupied most if not all of it.  He entertained often and lavishly, and used it as the center of operations for his widespread business enterprises. Among his frequent guests were his son and heir, his pet fox and Sir Walter Raleigh. From his arrival at his lodgings on the 27th of November, 1605, the man his contemporaries called The Wizard Earl made himself very much at home. November 1605 was the  month of the Gunpowder Treason, which  brought Northumberland to the Tower. If  rumors circulating in 1622 held a modicum of truth, when he was released, he was loathe to leave.

At one point the Northumberland apartment housed much of his celebrated library. His was one of the largest collections of books in Britain. They covered a broad range of topics, many related to his strong interest in alchemy.  His interest in natural philosophy, what we call science, earned him the moniker The Wizard Earl.

By the time of his arrest in 1605, Percy had adopted an urban lifestyle and made Sion House in Isleworth, a London suburb, his principal residence.  The magnificent mansion was inherited through his wife Dorothy Devereux, daughter of the Earl of Essex.  It remains in the family to this day.


Earlier, as a young man living in Paris, he had been captured by a young man's traditional  fancies--the riding, the hunt, the gaming and the many mistresses, he confessed.  But he professed to having returned to  England with only one mistress claiming him, and that was Knowledge.

Northumberland was drawn into the Gunpowder Treason investigation due to his association with his second cousin Thomas Percy, indisputably one of the principals in the plot.  1605 was not the first time the earl's conduct regarding Cousin Tom got him into trouble.  He had made him Constable of Alnwyck, the Percy ancestral home in Northumberland, with it many acres of adjoining farm land. Alnwyck was but one of many of his real estate holdings in Northumberland, an income producing enterprise for the Earl.

Wikimedia Commons

No one is quite certain as to why Northumberland chose Thomas Percy as its overseer. In addition to making him his Constable, he gave Thomas Percy control over his accounts and  the responsibility for collecting revenues and land rents.  Accusations from the tenants of misappropriation of rents and other acts of overreaching abounded, but the earl did not investigate. Charges were actually brought against Thomas by his benefactor's tenants, and they, too, were overlooked.

J.M.W. Turner -Wikimedia Commons -{{PD-=Art}}

Tom Percy was also involved with Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex in a failed murder plot targeting the warden of the Scottish Middle Marches, none other than the firebrand reiver laird Robert Kerr of Cessford, who later became Baron Roxburghe, one of King James I's favorites. Sir Robert Kerr of Cessford was both anti-Catholic and anti-Marian, which put him at odds with Percy and Essex.

In spite of his controversial conduct, in 1601 Thomas accompanied Northumberland on a military expedition to the Low Countries where he is said to have comported himself well. Northumberland received some criticism, possibly from Lord Robert Cecil, for having given Percy positions for which he should have been vetted without requiring him to attest to his religion or sign a Declaration of Faith. Thus, even before the Gunpowder Treason was uncovered, Northumberland's lenient treatment of his cousin  had placed him at odds with Cecil, an avid anti-papist like his father Lord Burghley had been.

Northumberland had been raised in his aunt's house as a Protestant but was believed by many to be sympathetic to the Catholic cause. There were also rumors that Cousin Thomas was more than a cousin, perhaps an illegitimate brother. Thomas Percy, like the other principals in the Gunpowder Treason, was a militant Papist to a degree his powerful cousin either did not admit or truly did not realize.

For those unfamiliar with the scheme, the purpose behind the Gunpowder Plot was to replace King James I with a sovereign sympathetic to the Catholic cause but palatable enough to English Protestants to avoid civil war. That pointed to another Stuart. There is no direct evidence that Northumberland was personally involved in the conspiracy, but there is a strong suspicion the plotters had reserved a role for him in their pro-Catholic post-Jacobean government.

The Gunpowder plotters had settled on the king's daughter Elisabeth, who was nine as a replacement for her father.  Her older brother Henry Frederick, Prince of Wales, was eleven, a student at Oxford, and already an outspoken Protestant with a priggish moral sense, critical of his father's religious tolerance and his mother's thinly veiled Catholicism. The conspirators expected him to be in the royal entourage at the opening of Parliament and would die along with his father. The nine year old princess lived in the country and was not expected to attend. Her younger brother Charles, Duke of York was a slow-developing child who failed to thrive at birth and at age five had only recently begun to walk and talk, albeit with a shuffle and a stutter,  living in relative seclusion in the home of Robert Carey. He was sufficiently lackluster to earn no consideration  from anyone, including the plotters.  Elisabeth, being female, could be made a puppet of the Catholic faction and eventually married off to an appropriate Catholic European prince.  While she was herself a Protestant, so young a female would be malleable and easily controlled by an appropriate Regent. Northumberland was the logical nominee.

The question perplexing modern scholars is the same one that kept him in the Tower Suite instead of laying headless on the Tower Green. No one could prove he was in on it.

Without revisiting the failure of the plot, what confined Northumberland to the Tower of London was not so much what happened on the infamous November 5, but what happened on the day before, November 4, 1605. On that day, Thomas Percy visited the earl at Sion House, ostensibly on business.  He had all of those cumbersome accounts from Northumberlandshire to review.  Whether he was really there to warn his kinsman from attending the opening of Parliament  is open to conjecture. It is difficult to believe that he was spending the day before the big event reviewing ledgers with his kinsman, but there is no proof to the contrary.

When Percy arrived,  Northumberland was entertaining another guest, Thomas Hariot, a noted scholar, mathematician and astronomer who lived at Sion House and enjoyed Northumberland's patronage.  The three gentlemen had a pleasant late lunch together and thereafter, Percy left.  He next  met with Catesby, the mastermind behind the plot, and thereafter left for the country to kidnap Princess Elisabeth. That evening Guy Fawkes, the  plotter with the most military experience and knowledge of explosives, was discovered with the gunpowder in a search of the underpinnings of the Houses of Parliament, and the jig was up. When news reached the countryside, Tom Percy found himself running for his life, which did not last long.
When the law caught up with Thomas Percy and a cluster of the others who escaped the city, he soon was dead of a sniper's shot and unavailable to confirm or deny his cousin's complicity. Astute Northumberland was admitting nothing.

Engraving of Henry Percy-{{PD-Art}}
Fortunately for the earl,  his friend Thomas Hariot confirmed Northumberland's averments  concerning the subject matter discussed at lunch on November 4th. There had been no talk of explosions or plots to kill the king. It may well be Hariot's  presence thwarted Thomas's plan to warn his cousin off. Whatever the truth may have been, by the end of the week Thomas Percy's tongue was silenced. Thus, what ultimately saved Northumberland from the headsman was a lack of evidence. No one could dispute his planned attendance at the opening of Parliament on the following day.

The Earl remained out of custody until November 27th while he and others, including his personal secretary, his wife and his friends, were interrogated. By December, Robert Cecil's focus had shifted to blaming the plot on Jesuits. When Northumberland was finally charged it was not with treason, but contempt. And there he languished.
Or did he?

Richard Lomas in A Power In The Land (Tuckwell Press, 1999) and other sources on the fate of the Gunpowder plotters speaks of the Earl's suite in the Martin Tower as having multiple dining rooms, a drawing room, gardens with access to a  tennis court, and enough space to accommodate twenty servants. And of course there was the essential addition of a bowling alley.  His scholarly friends including Thomas Hariot maintained apartments at Sion House so they could appropriately tutor Northumberland's children.  Servants ran from Sion House to the Martin Tower with the latest imported delicacies.

While the Earl of Northumberland perfected his games of Ten Pins and read his beloved books, poured fine wine and smoked tobacco with Walter Raleigh and later dined and gambled with his fellow prisoners Lord Robert Carr, Earl of Somerset and his murderous countess Lady Frances Howard, Jesuit priests were convicted on scant evidence often gleaned from torture and treated to grisly deaths. Cecil had his scapegoats, the plotters got their just deserts, and the Earl had spare time to devote to the pursuit of knowledge and the management of his vast estates, and when he needed a distraction, he played tennis.


~Linda Root is the author of The First Marie and the Queen of Scots, a tale of the life and love of Lady Marie Flemyng, The Last Knight and the Queen of Scots,  the fictionalized adventures of the colorful Sir William Kirkcaldy of Grange to whom the queen surrendered at Carberry, and the books in The Legacy of the Queen of  Scots Series, The Midwife's Secret: the Mystery of the Hidden Princess,  The Other Daughter, and 1603:The Queen's Revenge. 
She recently has written a paranormal historical fantasy The Green Woman under the name J.D. Root.
Root lives in the high desert community of Yucca Valley, above Palm Springs, with her husband Chris and her two mixed giant woolly Alaskan Malamutes.The Legacy of the Queen of Scots, and is presently working on the fourth book in the legacy series, In the Shadow of the Gallows.



Linda Root (that's me, the one who is forgetful and discombobulated and forgot to post  on Monday) is giving away a choice of either all three e-books in the Legacy of the Queen of Scots series   (Midwife's Secret:The Mystery of the Hidden Princess; The Other Daughter; and 1603:The Queen's Revenge  OR a paperback copy of 1603: The Queen's Revenge.   The giveaway ends on Sunday, August 24th at Midnight. To see some information about the books, please click HERE. Comment here to enter the drawing and be sure to leave your contact information.

Monday, August 18, 2014

The Triumvirate Which Changed the Face of Bath During the Georgian Era

by Regina Jeffers

The beginning of the 1700s in England saw the expansion of the middle class and a stronger economy. As such Bath had known a steady period of growth, but when the Queen visited the city in 1702 (and then again a year later), the fashionable crowd took notice. Although the Bath of the early 1700s remained smaller than other “bathing holes,” such as Tunbridge Wells, Daniel Defoe said, “We may say now it is the resort of the sound as well as the sick and a place that helps the indolent and the gay to commit the worst of murders–to kill time.”

Bath Abbey rose from a close and crowded resort town within the curve of the River Avon. One could find a crowded fish market at the East Gate on the river quay. Jacobean buildings sported gables and leaded windows. Sally Lunn’s house between Abbey Green and the Parade is said to be the city’s oldest house and is typical of the style of the Jacobean façade.

Sally Lunn's house

Unfortunately, the eighteenth century society in Bath was not what one might term “first tier.” The hot baths attracted the infirm and all those who thought to “cure” them. Hooligans and gamblers and those who practiced deceit polluted the city.

Beau Nash

It was Richard ‘Beau’ Nash, the Master of Ceremonies of the Corporation, who changed the city. Nash was named to the unpaid position after the incumbent had lost his life in a duel. He was a man known to possess an excessively high opinion of himself, but he was also seen a very practical gentleman.

“Almost immediately Nash forbade dueling and the wearing of swords in the city; persuaded the Corporation to repair the roads, to pave, clean and light the streets, to license the sedan-chair men and regulate their behavior. He engaged a good orchestra from London and was responsible not only for the building of a new Pump Room, but a large public room, Harrison’s Room, for dances as well as gaming on what is now Parade Gardens. He outlawed private gatherings and strictly controlled the public ones, and drew up a rigid list of rules to which everyone–and that included dukes, duchess, and even the Prince of Wales–had to conform. It might not have worked had not the age been one in which people were amused by such things: half the amusement of Bath was in obeying the ‘King,’ who was no doubt unaware that he himself was part of the fun. Besides, it worked. Bath was civilized and ‘different’–rather than a large, smart holiday camp.” (Winsor, Diana: Historic Bath)

John Wood

It was the architect John Wood who changed the face of Bath. His “Grand Design” for the city was executed in segments. He began with Queen Square, first leasing the land and then designing the square before sub-letting the sites for individual houses to builders who could design the interiors as they wished but who were compelled to follow Wood’s exterior design. Queen Square was completed within seven years. “It should be seen as the forecourt of a palace, the north dominating what was then a formal garden of parterre beds with espaliered limes and a low balustrade. Wood also designed the obelisk in the centre, raised by Beau Nash as a tribute to the Prince of Wales, with an inscription by the poet Alexander Pope.” (Winsor)

In the heart of Bath is Queen Square–a square of Georgian houses designed by John Wood the Elder in the early 18th century and paid for by Beau Nash. The square was designed to join the houses in unison and give the impression that together they formed one large mansion when viewed from the south facing side.

Queen Square

The focal point of Queen Square is the obelisk at the centre which commemorates the visit of Frederick, Prince of Wales.

Next, Wood built his “Royal Forum.” The Parades are a series of historic terraces built around 1741. The Royal Forum was to include North Parade, South Parade, Pierrepont, and Duke Streets, but was never completed. In the last year of his life, John Wood the Elder began the Grand Circus, but it was his son John Wood the Younger who brought the project to fruition. A Roman amphitheatre turned into domestic architecture, the Circus is made up of three segments and 33 houses, all of three stories, with Roman Doric, Ionic and Corinthian columns. The younger Wood linked the Circus to the Royal Crescent with his design of Brock Street. Between 1767 and 1775 the paving stones were laid and 30 houses rose to form the Royal Crescent. He also oversaw the completion of the Hot Bath and the Bath Assembly Rooms. These buildings contrasted with the more decorated and embellished style preferred by his father. Whilst John Wood the Elder’s Circus includes superimposed orders and a detailed frieze, the Royal Crescent – designed by his son, has a single order and plain decoration throughout.

North Parade

The site Wood chose for the Royal Crescent also demonstrates his interest in creating a “dialogue” between his buildings and their settings. Previous buildings and set pieces in Bath were all intensely urban and inward looking whereas the Royal Crescent was fully open and looked out on the open fields. This is not always apparent today, but when it was built in 1775, the crescent was situated right on the edge of the city with no nearby buildings to block residents’ views of the countryside.

The Royal Crescent is among the greatest examples of Georgian architecture to be found. Outside of Bath, Wood’s most notable works include Buckland House in Buckland, Oxfordshire, and General Infirmary in Salisbury.

The third man to change the face of Bath was the assistant to the postmistress, one Ralph Allen, a savvy businessman and philanthropist. Allen developed a powerful friend in the form of Marshall George Wade. Allen had shared with Wade the news of a large cache of arms stored in the area, and as Wade meant to squash the Jacobite insurgence in the west country, he took an immediate liking to Allen. Later, Allen married Wade’s daughter.

Allen developed several profitable postal routes, earning him high sums from the Postal System. He invested in the new Avon Navigation company, which was designed to make the river navigable to Bristol.

In 1726, Allen developed stone quarries on Combe Down. Allen built simple houses for his workers, which can still be seen as part of Combe Down village, and what is now the village recreation ground was once his quarry. Allen also built a railroad to carry the stone blocks to the river and canal wharf at Widcombe.

Earning a fabulous living, Allen built his home Prior Park, which was designed by Wood the Elder, to highlight the beauty and quality of Bath Stone. At Prior Park, Allen entertained writers, statesmen, poets, and actors. Henry Fielding’s character Squire Allworthy in Tom Jones is based on Ralph Allen.

"Almost anyone who was anyone visited Bath to take the waters and gossip in the Pump Room. It was a sparkling century, with aspects both sordid and brutal, but never lacking in vigour, wit and style. Bath was part of it all. By the beginning of the nineteenth century, when the gaming tables had long been forbidden and the old king buried more than forty years, the city had changed. Tobias Smollet wrote in 1771 that 'a very inconsiderable proportion of genteel people are lost in a mob of impudent plebians…'

Palladin Bridge at Prior Park

“Nevertheless, Bath was still elegant and fashionable, if a trifle less frothy and fizzy – more of a medium sherry than champagne. ‘Enchanted castles raised on hanging terraces,’ observed Smollett’s Lydia Melford. Its population had grown to more than 30,000; it had spread far beyond the old walls to incorporate surrounding villages and hills. It was now one of the most beautiful cities in Europe.” (Winsor)


Meet Regina Jeffers:
Regina Jeffers is the author of several Austen-inspired novels, including Darcy’s Passions, Darcy’s Temptation, Vampire Darcy’s Desire, Captain Wentworth’s Persuasion, The Phantom of Pemberley, Christmas at Pemberley, The Disappearance of Georgiana Darcy, Honor and Hope and The Mysterious Death of Mr. Darcy. She also writes Regency romances: The Scandal of Lady Eleanor, A Touch of Velvet, A Touch of Cashémere, A Touch of Grace, A Touch of Mercy, A Touch of Love and The First Wives’ Club. A Time Warner Star Teacher and Martha Holden Jennings Scholar, Jeffers often serves as a consultant in language arts and media literacy. Currently living outside Charlotte, North Carolina, she spends her time with her writing, gardening, and her adorable grandson.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Grimalkins, Buffers, Prancers and Chick-a-Biddies: Animals of the Regency Era

by Maria Grace

Francis Grose 
Author of Dictionary of The Vulgar Tongue
We have a house full of cats and a dog who thinks she a momma-cat.  They all have their own proper names. But they've also got multiple nicknames each. I may just incorporate a few of these regency Era slang terms as new nicknames for them!
  • Grimalkin. 
  • Tibby.
Ram Cat. A he cat.
Gib Cat. A northern name for a he-cat, there commonly called Gilbert.
Cherry-coloured Cat. A black cat, their being black cherries as well as red.
Smellers. A cat's whiskers.

  • Buffer
  • Jugelow
Gnarler. A little dog that, by his barking, alarms the family when any person is breaking into the house.
Rum Bugher. A valuable dog. 

  • Grogham
  • Keffel
  • Prad
  • Prancer
Rip. A miserable rip; a poor, lean, worn-out horse.
Roarer. A broken-winded horse.
Rum Prancer. A fine horse. 
Star Gazer. A horse who throws up his head
Queer Prancer. A bad worn-out foundered horse
Scarlet Horse. A high red, hired or hack horse: a pun on the word hired.
Galloper. A blood-horse, a hunter.
Gibbe. A horse that shrinks from the collar, and will not draw.

Chickens ect
  • Cackler. 
  • Margery Prater.
  • Chick-a-biddy. 
Sucking Chicken. A young chicken
Cackler's Ken. A hen-roost. 
Cackling Cheats. Fowls. 
Cackling Farts. Eggs. 
Cobble Colter. A turkey.
Gobbbler. A turkey cock.
Quacking Cheat. A duck.
Tib Of The Buttery. A goose.

  • Dunnock. 
  • Mower. 
Cow's Spouse. A bull.
Churk. The udder.

  • Blater
  • Cow's Baby
  • Essex Lion
  • Quaking Cheat
  • Rumford lion

  • Bleating Cheat
  • Woolbird
  • Havil
Bleating Rig. Sheep-stealing. 

  • Grunter. 
  • Swing Tail. 

  • Active Citizen 
  • Creepers 
  • Scotch Greys  

Other Animals
Dickey. An ass.
Roll your dickey; drive your ass.
Kingswood Lion. An ass. Kingswood is famous for the great number of asses kept by the colliers who inhabit that place.
Long One. A hare: a term used by poachers.
Pantek. A hart; that animal is, in the Psalms, said to pant after the fresh water brooks
Sea Lawyer. A shark.

Quoted from: Grose, Captain (Francis). (2004) Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, 1811 ed. Ikon Classics

 Maria Grace is the author of Darcy's Decision,  The Future Mrs. Darcy, All the Appearance of Goodness, and Twelfth Night at LongbournClick 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.
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Saturday, August 16, 2014

Forgotten English Words

by Maggi Andersen

As I like to use old words in my books, I thought I'd look at some no longer in use in the English language, and their meaning.

1746 H.Walpole Let. to Mann 21 Aug. "I am retired hither like an old summer dowager; only that I have no toad-eater to take the air with me."

TOAD-EATER  A toad-eater had one of the most unpleasant jobs in the history of medicine. In the 17th century, a charlatan's obediant side-kick would, in view of a crowd, pretend to eat a toad; a creature seen as very poisonous. He would then fein a severe reaction, to the horror or amusement of the naive crowd. Then the mountbank master, who was careful not to invoke the name of St. Benedict, the patron saint of poisoning victims, would dramatically demonstrate the curative power of a remedy potion he had for sale and "revive" his sidekick by pouring the miracle nostrum into his mouth.

It wasn’t clear whether or not toad-eaters did actually eat the toads. There are records of people having heard of someone who had once seen it happen, but no first-hand accounts. Presumably, the toad-eater would simply pretend to eat it. Or perhaps eat a non-poisonous frog. Or they might have swallowed the toad and simply accepted the resulting illness as the cost of keeping their jobs.

Samuel Butler commented on the psychology used by these hucksters:

Doubtless, the pleasure is as great,
Of being cheated, as to cheat;
As lookers-on feel most delight,
That least perceive a juggler's slight,
And still the less they understand,
The more th' admire his slight of hand.

Toads were once used for a variety of different applications for the sick. Salmon's 1678 Dictionary: "Toad steeped in vinegar...stops bleeding of the nose, especially laid to the forehead...or hung around the neck."


A corresponding verb based upon this common scenario, toad-eat,  developed about this time. It meant to do something unpleasant for one's master and survived as the word "toady."

The toxicity of toads was legendary. Thomas Lupton tells a supposedly true story of two lovers who both died suddenly from rubbing their teeth with leaves of sage, an early substitute for a toothbrush, at the base of which "was a greate toade founde, which infected the same with his venomous breath."

In 1811 a toad eater was a poor female relation and humble companion or reduced gentlewoman in a great family, the standing butt on whom all kinds of practical jokes are played off and all ill humours vented.

Today, the word "toad-eating" as well as the practice is now  forgotten but for the term 'toady'. A toad-eater was someone who would risk illness and even death for his boss, which suggests he would have been an obsequious type of person. Thus, a toady today is defined as a bootlicker, brownnose, fawn, flatterer, a stooge or a 'yes' man.

FORGOTTEN ENGLISH by Jeffrey Kacirk Quill William Morrow, NY.
Definition taken from The 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, originally by Francis Grose.


Maggi Andersen writes historical romance mysteries and adventure novels. 

WHAT A RAKE WANTS Book #3, The Spies of Mayfair is released on 26th August with Knox Robinson Publishing.

King George sends his private investigator, an Irishman, Kieran Flynn, Lord Montsimon, on a mission, the reason for which is unclear. Is it a plot against the Crown? Or something entirely unrelated? Flynn's inquiries lead him to the widow, Lady Althea Brookwood. Known amongst the ton as a rake, Flynn is rarely turned down by a lady, and when Althea refuses not just him but many other men, he becomes intrigued. After her neighbor, Sir Harold Crowthorne informs Althea that he means to take her country property, Owltree Cottage, by fair means or foul, she must search for help. The first man she turns to is promptly murdered and the second lies to her. That leaves Flynn, Lord Montsimon, a man she has been studiously avoiding. But Montsimon is decidedly unhelpful, and more than a little mysterious. Her only option is to seduce him. Althea has little confidence that she will succeed, especially as before her husband was killed in a duel, he often told her she was quite hopeless at intimacy. When a spy is murdered, Flynn wonders just what Althea knows and what her involvement might be with the man the king wants Flynn to investigate.

Available in print and ebook
Knox Robinson Publishing

Friday, August 15, 2014

The Importance of the Post Office in World War I

by E.M. Powell

I recently had the privilege of being involved with a project that has built a memorial of words to commemorate World War I. As part of the Letter to an Unknown Soldier project, thousands of people have written letters which will be preserved as a permanent memorial by the British Library in the National Archive.

As with so much of writing about history, the research took me down some side alleys. Now, so much of the history of World War I is familiar and iconic, even 100 years after the outbreak of war. And so it should be. Images of the trenches, the unimaginable loss of life, of the catastrophic destruction should never fade.

But it was the contribution to the war effort of something that we still use everyday that I found completely fascinating. It is not an institution that immediately springs to mind: it is the Post Office.

In 1914, the Post Office in the United Kingdom employed over 250,000 people and was the largest single employer in the world. With the outbreak of war, the operation was expanded even more as letters and parcels were sent between troops and loved ones. During the war, over 12 million letters were sent to the front line every week.

Letters were seen as essential in maintaining morale. I came to this project through the Bury Libraries and Archives Service. They sifted through their collection of newspapers to find glimpses of the role of the Post Office.

© 2014 E.M. Powell 
Here we see a report of a 1916 letter from Corporal Hutchinson, awarded the Victoria Cross (the highest military decoration for honour and valour), writing to his Sunday school teacher about all the messages of congratulation he has received.

But of course there is no detail about injuries or losses. All letters were heavily censored. Soldiers could use a field postcard, an honour postcard or self-censor. Field postcards were pre-printed, and the soldier just had to cross out the statements that did not apply. With an honour envelope, the sender had to sign a declaration to say their letters did not contain any sensitive information. Self-censorship was also widely used and soldiers gave those at home no hint of what life was like at the front.

And of course it was not only letters. Parcels were essential too. Soldiers were sent items like soap and lice powder. Public donations of items was also made, as in this appeal for razors.

© 2014 E.M. Powell 

While sending large batches of sharp metal that potentially might be intercepted seems a little risky, the line was drawn when it came to matches.

© 2014 E.M. Powell 

It was not just physical comforts either. Here we have an appeal for literature for soldiers.

© 2014 E.M. Powell 

Again, then the number of items being quoted (in the hundreds of thousands) is remarkable.

Another heart-rending appeal is for a melodeon:

© 2014 E.M. Powell 

But of course the most heart-breaking items as always were the letters, for words are the most treasured possession of all.  The Archivist found this poem printed in a 1917 newspaper. It was sent by a Lance-Corporal J.W. Gilbert to his mother.

© 2014 E.M. Powell 

Lance-Corporal Gilbert was a cricket-playing mill worker before he enlisted. He never did come home to his cosy feather bed or his fireside. He never did come home to his mother. On June 16, 1917, Mrs. Gilbert received 'official information of his death.' She received this almost a year after being informed he was 'missing.' He was twenty-two years old.

The Post Office could never have brought back Mrs. Gilbert's son. But they brought his words back to her, as they did to millions of others. We can only hope that they were a small comfort.

Letter to an Unknown Soldier:
The British Postal Museum & Archive:
BBC History- World War One Centenary:
Bury Libraries and Archives:

E.M. Powell is the author of The Fifth Knight, a medieval thriller based on the murder of Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170.

The sequel, The Blood of The Fifth Knight, will be released by Thomas & Mercer on December 09 2014.

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Visit her website at

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Seven Deadly Sins – And What They Say About Medieval Society

by Helena P. Schrader

The other day, a friend and I were trying to list the seven deadly sins. We couldn’t, so we went and looked them up. The list surprised me for including “sins” that seem odd in modern society and that got me thinking about how the definition of “deadly sins” reflected the ills of Medieval Society.  Essentially, the Church was trying to discourage certain types of behavior thought detrimental to a functioning, Christian society by proclaiming them “deadly” sins – sins so egregious that they brought the sinner “spiritual death” – if the sinner did not repent, do penance and receive absolution.

Now some of the deadly sins still strike us as reprehensible behavior. Wrath, for example, is something no one would recommend and most people would agree brings harm – usually not only to the intended target. Likewise lust is a sin whose negative impact is widely recognized to this day. No matter how tolerant modern society may be of sexual freedom for consenting adults, lust remains a dangerous emotional force behind many modern crimes from child abuse and rape to trafficking in persons. Finally, envy is still seen as undesirable. 

But greed has more recently been praised as “good” – some people in modern society equating it with ambition and the driving force behind capitalism and free private enterprise. Even more striking, “pride” is something we hold up as a virtue, not a sin. We are proud of our country, proud of our armed forces, proud to be who we are – or at least we strive to be. And who nowadays would put “gluttony” or “sloth” right up there beside lust, wrath and envy?

Upon reflection, however, I concluded that the deadly sins tell us a great deal about what behavior Medieval Society particularly feared.

In a society where hunger was never far from the poor and famines occurred regularly enough to scar the psyche of contemporaries, excessive consumption of food was not about getting fat it was about denying others.  Because there were always poor who did not have enough to eat just around the corner, someone who indulged in gluttony rather than sharing excess food was clearly violating the most fundamental of Christian principles. Nothing could be more essential to the concept of Christian charity than giving food to the hungry, and a person who not only kept what he/she needed for himself but engaged in excess eating was therefore especially sinful.

Sloth is the other side of the same coin. In a society without machines, automation or robots, the production of all food, shelter and clothing depended on manual labor. Labor was the basis of survival, and survival was often endangered. Medieval society could not afford for any member to be idle. Even the rich were not idle! Medieval queens, countesses and ladies no less than their maids spun, wove and did other needlework – when they weren’t running the estates of their husbands. The great magnates of the realm were the equivalent of modern corporate executives, managing vast estates and ensuring both production and distribution of food-stuffs. The gentry provided not just farm management but the services now provided by police, lawyers and court officials. In medieval society every man and woman had their place – and their job. Whether the job was to work the land or to pray for the dead, it was a job that the individual was expected to fulfill diligently and energetically. Sloth was therefore seen as a dangerous threat to a well-functioning society.


Helena P. Schrader is the author of numerous books of history and historical fiction.  She is currently working on a biographical novel in three parts of Balian d’Ibelin. Read more about her published works at: and more about her series of novels set in the age of chivalry at: You can also follow Helena’s blogs: about writing: about the history of the crusader kingdoms at:

A crusader in search of faith —
A lame lady in search of revenge —
And a king who would be saint.

St. Louis’ Knight takes you to the Holy Land in the 13th century and a world filled with nobles, knights prophet — and assassins.

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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Four Ancient Books of Wales

by Richard Denning

As a writer of historical fiction set in the late 6th and early 7th century I am constantly faced with a lack of documentation. I have in the past discussed the surviving historical documentation for this era  (Gildas: On the Ruin of Britain, Nennius: The History of the Britons, Bede: The Ecclesiastical History of the English People, the Annales Cumbriae and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles) Taken as a whole they give us an idea of what went on between the end of Roman Britain and the creation of the Kingdom of England some five centuries later but there are vast gaps and few tangible facts.

Turning to what went on in the evolving Welsh Kingdoms there are so many gaps that we have to look to poetry to fill in some holes. The Four Ancient Books of Wales is a term coined by William Forbes Skeen (a Victorian historian and Antiquarian) to describe four surviving medieval manuscripts. These documents are written in Welsh and themselves date from the 13th to 15th centuries but contain texts some of which originate from as far back as the early as the sixth and seventh centuries.  So what we have are copies of earlier writings some of which date back to this post Roman period.  What is also fascinating is that they also contain some of the earliest references to a King Arthur and to a Merlin.

The four books included by Skene in his list are:
1)The Black Book of Carmarthen

This book is believed to be the earliest surviving manuscript written in Welsh as opposed to Latin. The Britons at the time the Romans left spoke a Celtic language called Brythonic. Out of these evolved the language we now know as Old Welsh. This book then shows the first poems written in this new language.

The book gets its name because it had a black binding and was probably created in the priory at Camarthen in the early 13th century from older possibly 9th century poetry.  Along with the other books many of the poems contains themes of praise and mourning but from a historical point of view there are references to Welsh Heroes of the 6th to 9th century. So we get snippets about battles in Cumbria and battles in which an Arthur and a Merlin participated.

2)The Book of Aneirin

This a late 13th century book written in Welsh and attributed to the late 6th century poet, Aneirin. The manuscript itself dates from around 1265, but is probably a copy of a lost 9th century original. This in turn was probably written down from the original poems composed by Aneirin three hundred years earlier and passed on as oral tradition.

Aneirin was present at and wrote his most famous poem about the Battle of Catraeth which was fought circa 595 to 600 AD between the Northumbrian Anglo-Saxons and the Northern British. It was a disaster for the British and so the poem, Y Gododdin is an eulogy for his fallen comrades. It remains the chief source we have for this battle. Here is an exerpt:

Men went to Catraeth at morn
Their high spirits lessened their life-span
They drank mead, gold and sweet, ensnaring;
For a year the minstrels were merry.
Red their swords, let the blades remain
Uncleansed, white shields and four-sided spearheads,
Before Mynyddog Mwynfawr's men.

3)The Red Book of Hergest

This manuscript was written shortly after 1382. It is bound in red leather and for a couple of centuries resided  at Hergest hence the name. Within this large volume is the heart of ancient Welsh poetry and prose including the Mabinogion  (a collection of early Welsh stories and lore) and a set of peculiarly Welsh lists called Triads. These are an odd collection of sets of three things such as:

Three Great Queens of Arthur:
Gwennhwyfar daughter of Cywryd Gwent, and Gwenhwyfar daughter of Gwythyr son of Greidiawl, and Gwenhwyfar daughter of Gogfran the Giant.

Three Noble Retinues of the Island of Britain:
The Retinue of Mynyddawg at Catraeth, and the Retinue of Dreon the Brave at the Dyke of Arfderydd, and the third, the Retinue of Belyn of Llyn in  Erethlyn in Rhos.

Now these lists don’t tell us much but they give us names and places that may be of use. When the history is so sparse just knowing there was a chap called Belyn from Llyn who took his retinue to Rhos (where other references suggest a battle occurred between the Welsh and Northumbrians in the 620’s now gives us something.)

Did you notice the mention in this triad of Mynyddawg at Catraeth  - who is also referred to in that quote from Aneirin in Y Goddodin. These poems then are more than just stiring verse. In many cases they are history retold. The trick of course is working out what is myth and what is history.

4)The Book of Taliesin

This dates from the first half of the 14th century. It contains poems from different authors –some from the 10th century and some much older. Many of them represent the very oldest poems that were composed in Welsh including those attributed to Taliesen who was active in the mid to late 6th century and composed in Brythonic the precursor to Old Welsh. Taliesen was a prolific writer on the “Old North” - the Post Roman world that was clashing with the new world of the Angles and Saxons.

In the morning of Saturday there was a great battle,
From when the sun rose until it gained its height.
Flamdwyn hastened in four hosts
Godeu and Reged to overwhelm.
They extended from Argoed to Arvynyd.
They retained not life during one day.
Flaindwyn called out again, of great impetuosity,
Will they give hostages? are they ready?
Owain answered, Let the gashing appear,
They will not give, they are not, they are not ready.
And Ceneu, son of Coel, would be an irritated lion
Before he would give a hostage to any one.
Urien called out again, the lord of the cultivated region,
If there be a meeting for kindred,
Let us raise a banner above the mountain,
And advance our persons over the border.
And let us misc our spears over the heads of men,
And rush upon Flamdwyn in his army,
And slaughter with him and his followers.
And because of the affair of Argoed Llwyfain,
There was many a corpse.
The ravens were red from the warring of men.
And the common people hurried with time tidings.
And I will divine the year that I am not increasing.
And until I fail in old age,
In the sore necessity of death,
May I not be smiling,
If I praise not Urien.

Taliesen gives us much of what we know about the battles between the Northumbrians (here under Flamebrand – a nickname for the Northumbrian king invading the Cumbrian lands of Rheged.) and the Britons. We get mentions of Owain and Urien  and other great British leaders like Coel (old King Cole of the nursery rhyme). It is also the main reference for the battle of Argoed Llwyfain – apparently fought on a Saturday morning according to this poem.

So these Four Ancient Books of Wales  are priceless. Yes they are mostly poems and semi myth. Indeed they are confusing and difficult to read but for the historian and for the historical fiction writer of the post Roman period for whom the expression “beggars can’t be choosers” might have been invented they give us something to get our teeth into and extract something approaching a history from.


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.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

There’s Something About Those Pitt Brothers

by Stephenie Woolterton and Jacqui Reiter

We have, accidentally and with no prior contact, found ourselves studying a pair of historical brothers. Stephenie has set up a website dedicated to her research on the private life of William Pitt the younger (1759-1806), and is also currently writing a non-fiction biography of his – you guessed it – private life. She is also working on an historical fiction novel about Pitt’s one love story with the Honorable Eleanor Eden. Jacqui is working on a novel about Pitt's elder brother John, 2nd Earl of Chatham (1756-1835), famous for being the "family failure" and commanding a disastrous military expedition to Walcheren in 1809.

Since our historical interests are brothers, we naturally consider ourselves sisters-in-research. We are both passionate about our subjects, and when we get together we tend to talk a great deal. This, then, is a taster for the English Historical Fiction Authors blog of what happens when we Pitt fangirls – or, as someone once called us, the "Pittettes" – put our heads together.

Stephenie has created an open Facebook group called "The William Pitt the Younger Appreciation Group." We asked the members to think of some questions they would like us to answer about Mr. Pitt and Lord Chatham. We received several fabulous questions, and hope our answers will provide an entertaining and informative introduction to the Pitt boys and why we think everybody ought to love them as much as we do.

William Pitt the Younger and John, 2nd Earl of Chatham

 Question 1. Why William Pitt the Younger? Why the 2nd Lord Chatham?

Stephenie: If I had a penny for every time someone asked me this question, I’d be a millionaire! William Pitt the Younger, not to be confused with his father, William Pitt the Elder, was not only the youngest person to ever become head of the British government (at 24 years old), but he was also a Member of Parliament at 21, and his first term as Chancellor of the Exchequer was at the tender age of 22. Apart from Sir Robert Walpole, Pitt was the second-longest serving holder of the combined offices of First Lord of the Treasury and Chancellor of the Exchequer. However, it isn’t just his sheer longevity in office that is noteworthy. Many have heard of Pitt from history lessons in school, or as the man who first instituted income tax (albeit Pitt honestly saw it as a temporary measure). Some might also be aware that he died a bachelor during his second term in office. 

Pitt was an extremely private man, and he was ever careful in the choice of his words and in the content of his correspondence. After his death, much of his private papers were destroyed by one of his executors, his friend and former tutor George Pretyman-Tomline, so his personal life remains a perplexing mystery. Over the past two centuries since his death, his views – political and otherwise – have been interpreted in various contradictory ways, and in truth, he is a figure that appeals to many different types of people. He was a child prodigy, and he spoke and wrote in Greek and Latin by the age of 7. His grasp of mathematics was nothing short of awe-inspiring.

I came to Pitt in an indirect way. As an American interested in history, I learned about Pitt during my research on the American War of Independence. As I’ve lived in London, England for over a decade, my passion for British history and politics also took me in the direction of Pitt. If you study British political history, you almost cannot avoid him. There’s something special about his precociousness, his rise to power at an early age, and his maintenance of that power for over 19 years (and two terms in office), with only death separating him from that position.

Jacqui: Unsurprisingly, I came to Chatham through Pitt the Younger. I started writing a novel about Pitt while working on my PhD thesis on the politics of national defense during the Napoleonic Wars. Somewhere along the line I switched to Chatham's point of view. Somewhat to my own surprise I discovered I liked him.

I say “somewhat to my own surprise” because his historical reputation is  poor. He was reportedly very lazy, nicknamed “the late Lord Chatham”, and the 1809 expedition to Walcheren did not exactly cover him with laurels. He's often characterized as an arrogant scrounger.[1] I shan't say more here, because I could go on for hours, but while he definitely lived up to his reputation for indolence, there was so much more to him than that.

In many ways he is an overlooked figure. His identity and relationship to Pitt put him close to the heart of government, and he was also a wartime First Lord of the Admiralty and Master of the Ordnance. From a novelist's point of view he's pure gold. What must it have been like to be the elder brother of a political prodigy? How must Chatham have felt in the twin shadows cast by his father and brother?

Question 2. What would be Pitt and Chatham's reaction to modern-day Parliamentary politics? Which party would they join?

Stephenie: The only political distinction Pitt ever made was in 1779, at the age of 20, when he declared, “I do not wish to call myself any Thing but an Independent Whig.” [2] He believed in the Constitution as settled at the Revolution of 1688, and yet he stood apart as a non-party man. It is true that at the beginning of his political career he made several unsuccessful motions for parliamentary reform, and he supported the efforts for the abolition of the slave trade. He could have done more, but then he was the prime minister, and he had to be a jack-of-all-trades, as it were.

Pitt was a political pragmatist, and a financial administrator. I believe if he were to see modern-day Parliamentary politics, I truly believe he would be fascinated. Of course, he never supported the idea of universal suffrage, but he did hold quite liberal views for his time. If he could take part in 21st century politics, I believe he would throw himself entirely into it just as he did in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. As far as which political party Pitt would join, I have often thought of this question. I believe if Pitt were to align himself with any party, which he would have to do in order to be successful in the modern political world, he would most likely be a Conservative with liberal leanings.

Jacqui: If Chatham stepped through a wormhole and landed in modern-day Westminster he would probably approve of the way things are still done (he'd probably need a few minutes to calm down from the shock though, as well as a large tumbler of brandy).

He would probably recognize enough of the 18th century political system in the 21st century one to reassure him. Britain is still a monarchy; Parliament is still much as it was, even with universal suffrage, women MPs and so on. He'd be upset about the decrease in importance of the Queen and the House of Lords, but Chatham would probably feel reassured that all the work he and his brother undertook to stop the French Revolution crossing the Channel had not been in vain, and that the British Constitution, though added to, still relies on familiar Blackstonian precedents.

As for what party he would have joined, well...he might not see the point. That doesn't mean he would not have an opinion. Like all Pitts, Chatham definitely knew his political mind. He was not afraid to differ from Pitt, as he did on many of the weighty ideological issues of the period: political emancipation of Catholics and other non-Anglican denominations, the abolition of the slave trade, parliamentary reform, and so on. He would probably find most in common with the Conservatives, although I suspect he would look down his impressively long nose at all that pandering to the middle classes.

Question 3. To quote: "Did John and William ever paint the town red when they were young and wake up next morning blaming each other for the hangovers and a mysterious girl named Augusta?"

Stephenie: Pitt was known for loving port wine to an excessive degree, and Chatham liked wine as well, so I wouldn’t be surprised if the brothers had a bit too much to drink together on more than one occasion.  We do know that on February 28, 1784, Mr. Pitt was presented with the Freedom of the City of London at his brother’s house on Berkeley Square. Lord Chatham then accompanied Pitt and their brother in-law Lord Mahon to Grocer’s Hall for a lavish banquet. Needless to say, if the amount of toasts given is any indication, it can be inferred that much wine was consumed that night:

“The King; The Queen and the Royal Family; the Navy of Great Britain; the three branches of the legislature, and may the balance of power be preserved as fixed at the glorious revolution; may the present administration emulate the conduct of the late earl of Chatham of immortal memory, and may they continue to merit the same confidence and support of the people; the privileges and chartered rights of the United Kingdom; confusion to all those who would usurp on the rights of the king, the lords, or the people; may this free constitution continue unimpaired to the end of time; success to a reform in the representation of the people in parliament, and the shortening the duration of the power of the representatives; may the people continue to love and support their best friends. Mr. Pitt drank “success to the grocer’s company;” Lord Chatham, “the real sense of the people…” [3] You get the picture.

The toasts just kept on going from there. There must have been twenty toasts. On their way home, Pitt’s carriage, with him, Lord Chatham, and Lord Mahon inside, was attacked on St. James’s Street by rioters. Lord Chatham’s gold watch was stolen, and they had to flee inside White’s gentleman’s club in order to escape the blows of their attackers. Although they were largely unscathed, their carriage was completely destroyed. They must have suffered a severe emotional shock from the experience. As far as other occasions go where Pitt and Chatham shared a brotherly tipple together, I’m sure it happened on numerous occasions. As far as “Augusta” is concerned, I don’t think that would be recorded.

Jacqui: Stephenie is right about Chatham sharing Pitt's love of wine. I'm sure they got drunk together on occasion. Still, I doubt they “painted the town red” together. It's just not something I can see Chatham doing, although Pitt would definitely be up for it. Take this for example:

"Some little excess happen'd lately in Wimbledon. ... In the evening some of the neighbours were alarmed with noises at their doors, but nobody, I believe, has made any reflection upon a mere frolic – It has only been pleasantly remarked, that the rioters were headed by Master P– late Chancellor of the Ex–, and Master Arden, late Solicitor Gen".[4]

Chatham was always very conscious of his dignity and standing. Later in life his niece Lady Hester Stanhope described him travelling in great state. Nobody ever contrived "to appear as much of a prince as he does –his led horses, his carriages, his dress, his star and garter, all of which he shows off in his quiet way with wonderful effect".[5] Rather than joining in with Pitt's bumptious behaviour, I can picture Chatham telling him off in his role as head of the family.

I'm saying nothing about "Augusta".

Question 4. Was either brother left-handed? What colour were their eyes?

Stephenie: Mr. Pitt was definitely right-handed. In a letter written to his mother on 15th April 1779, Pitt was forced to write with his non-dominant left-hand due to a painful whitlow “having disabled my right Thumb from holding a Pen,” but he found it “so bad a Secretary that I must content myself with thanking you for your letter, and assuring you that I am in other respects perfectly well, resuming every thing else till this Substitute is become more expert, or the Principal again restor’d to it’s office.”[6]

Pitt to his mother with his left hand, 15 April 1779

I’ve also found evidence that his eyes were blue, like his father. Pitt’s first posthumous biographer, Henry Cleland, described Pitt as follows: “His person was tall and slender, his complexion rather fair, with blue eyes, large forehead, and prominent features; his countenance was strong, thoughtful, and rather stern, except when enlivened by some sudden impulse.”[7] All Pitt’s portraits seem to also suggest that his eyes were blue, with a hint of grey.

Jacqui: I have no evidence Chatham was right-handed, but I believe he must have been. His handwriting certainly has a marked rightward slant. In any case had he shown a tendency to be left-handed I suspect it would have been "corrected" by his tutor.

Lord Chatham's handwriting

As for his eyes, they were blue. This is clear in all his portraits, particularly the one by George Romney, currently at Chevening House.

Question 5. What were they like as children? Was Pitt as whiny as Blackadder portrays him?

A young boy, thought to be Pitt,
as a child – George Romney

Stephenie: The playwright and dramatist Frederick Reynolds (1764-1841) remembered going with his father to Hayes Place – the home of the Pitt family – in the early 1770s. There he met Lord Chatham's family for the first time, including their precocious young son William Pitt (then only about 11 or 12 years old). Reynolds recorded this experience for posterity, and it gives a small insight into Pitt as a young boy:

"His Lordship [Lord Chatham], I remember, was very kind to me, and on quitting the room with my father, desired his son William Pitt, then a boy about four years older than I was, to remain with, and amuse me, during their absence. Somehow, I did not feel quite bold on being left alone with this young gentleman. For a time, he never spoke, till at last, slyly glancing at him, to learn who was to commence the conversation, and observing mischief gathering in the corner of his eye, I retired to the window; "but gained nothing by my motion." He silently approached, and sharply tapping me on the shoulder, cried jeeringly, as he pointed to my feet, "So, my little hero, do you usually walk in spurs?" – "Walk?" I replied: "I rode here on my own pony." "Your own pony!" – He repeated with affected astonishment; "Your own pony? Upon my word! – and pray, what colour may he be? – probably blue, pink,  or pompadour?" At this moment, the present Lord Chatham [John Pitt, 2nd Lord Chatham, then fifteen] entering the room, the tormentor exclaimed, "I give you joy, brother, for you are now standing in the presence of no less a personage then the proprietor of the pompadour pony!" His brother frowned at him, and I was bursting with rage and vexation, when he coolly turned towards me, and said, "Your life is too valuable to be sported with. I hope you ride in armour?" "Be quiet, William – don't trifle so," cried his brother. "I am serious, John," he replied; "and if for the benefit of the present race he will preserve his life, I will take care it shall not be lost to posterity, for as my father intends writing a history of the late and present reigns mark my word, my little proprietor, I will find a niche for you, and your pompadour pony in the History of England." I could no longer restrain my spleen, and fairly stamped with passion to his great amusement. At this moment, the door opening, my facetious tormentor instantly cantered to the opposite side of the room, after the manner of a broken down pony, and then placing his finger on his lips, as if to forbid all tale-telling, disappeared at the other entrance. In course, every feeling of rage was smothered in the presence of the great Lord Chatham, and my father having taken his leave, mounted his horse, and trotted through the Park; I following on my pony, and delighting in my escape. But as I reached the gates, I was crossed in my path "by the fiend [William] again," – but, agreeably crossed, for he shook me by the hand with much good-humour, playfully asked my pardon, and then added, patting my pony, "He [Pitt] should at all times be happy to find both of us accommodation at Hayes, instead of a niche in the History of England."[8]

Although I would argue that Pitt was not the whiny boy as portrayed in the Blackadder TV series, he was conscious of his intelligence, and not afraid to demonstrate his wit on other unsuspecting people.

Jacqui: John was much the same as a child as he was later in life. He was much more serious than Pitt. He was bright: their tutor, Edward Wilson, recorded the Pitt children's grades for the benefit of the first Lord and Lady Chatham, and John frequently got better marks than William.[9] But he was also pleasure-loving, dancing the night away or running off with horse and hounds.

As for the second part of the question, the brothers were close, but I still suspect Chatham's answer would be "Yes! Yes, he was a whiny little brat!" Not sure what tipped me off about that. Maybe it was John's reaction in the story Stephenie quotes above about the pompadour pony. Maybe it was this line from a letter written by William at eleven, in which he passes comment on fourteen-year-old John's classical grammar: "Your Greek was excellent, and (I think) with practice you may become a Thucydides",[10] Enough said, right?

Question 6. Other than family matters, what interests did Pitt and Chatham share?

Stephenie: Chatham and Pitt shared a few similar interests. They were brothers with only a three-year age gap between them, and the vast majority of their childhood was spent under the same roof. They were raised to have a fierce loyalty to their country. It can be argued that to a large extent both brothers adhered to this sense of patriotism. Chatham joined the army at the age of 17, and Pitt immersed himself in politics by the age of 21. They both served their country in some capacity, and they both always consciously knew they were members of the Pitt family. They were the sons of the great ‘immortal Lord Chatham.’

Pitt and Chatham both enjoyed a love of wine, although Chatham’s consumption was probably quite a bit less than Pitt’s overindulgences, for it did not materially shorten his life as it did with Pitt.

The brothers loved horseback riding, and were encouraged from an early age to ride for health as well as for sport. They rode hard, and for many miles at a stretch. The Duke of Wellington later recorded to Pitt’s biographer, the 5th Earl Stanhope, that “a great deal was always said about his [Pitt] taking his rides – for he used then to ride eighteen or twenty miles every day – and great pains were taken to send forward his luncheon, bottled porter, I think, and getting him a beef-steak or mutton-chop ready at some place fixed beforehand…at dinner Mr. Pitt drank little wine; but it was at that time the fashion to sup, and he then took a great deal of port-wine and water.”[11]

Sir Egerton Brydges, in his autobiography, mentions Pitt’s noted love of riding, even whilst partaking in hunting (shooting):

“I was never introduced to Pitt: I saw him sometimes in the field, on hunting days, when he came down to Walmer. He seemed to delight in riding hard, with his chin in the air; but I believe had no skill as a sportsman – seeking merely exercise, and thinking, as Dryden says, that it was ‘better to hunt in fields for health unbought, than see the doctor for his noxious draught.’”[12] In his own way, Pitt enjoyed shooting, like his brother Chatham, although I believe his older brother was more successful in this pursuit.

Jacqui: Both brothers were accomplished classicists (Pitt's comments on Chatham's conjugations notwithstanding), and as Stephenie points out both loved field sports. Chatham's love of the chase started very early (I've seen references to him chasing hares in his very early teens) and he took a holiday every year in September and October, and often January and February as well, to enjoy the game on his own estate or that of a friend. He may, er, have neglected his official cabinet duties on occasion to go shooting, although he always came back to town if summoned.

Pitt and Chatham were also hard riders, and good ones at that, although Chatham managed to get kicked hard enough by a horse to break his leg.

Those shooting sessions for which Chatham received so much stick as a cabinet minister may have been medically necessary. He was never robust, described as “of a middling constitution … frequently ailing” while First Lord of the Admiralty.[13] As he got older and the stresses mounted – his wife suffered from recurring mental illness later in life – Chatham looked on shooting as a form of therapy: "We shot a good deal, and the exercise has rather been of use to me".[14]

While serving as governor in Gibraltar Chatham suffered from strong homesickness and depression, intensified by the fact the local terrain prevented him from taking the long rides he had been used to: "I own I am not very partial, to this place … What I most feel as a grievance is that the riding in Spain is so bad, and the wading to it, thro' the sand, is so tedious, that it requires great resolution, to take the exercise one ought to do here".[15]

Exactly how important exercise was to him can be gauged by the fact Chatham was having himself hoisted daily on horseback long after the use of his legs failed him in his late seventies.[16]

Question 7. Pitt and Napoleon settle things by arm wrestling: who wins?

Stephenie: Pitt. Every time. Hands down. Napoleon’s ego always gets in the way.

Jacqui: Pitt has the advantage of height, but Napoleon cheats by getting a bigger stool. Since Pitt always plays by the book ... Napoleon wins.

Question 8. "Can you include something about the tax on hair powder and how the Whigs and Tories were jokingly called guinea pigs?"

You mean this one? [17]
“Buy my pretty guinea pigs!”


[1] Sir Nathaniel Wraxall, Posthumous Memoirs of My Own Time (London, 1836) III, 129; David Andress, The Savage Storm (London, 2012) pp 134-5
[2] John Ehrman, The Younger Pitt: The Years of Acclaim (London, 1969)  p 59
[3] The Chelmsford Chronicle, 5 March 1784
[4] Robin Reilly, Pitt the Younger (London, 1978) p 84
[5] Lady Hester Stanhope to Lord Haddington, 15 Nov 1803, quoted in The Life and Letters of Lady Hester Stanhope, ed. Duchess of Cleveland (London, 1914) p 52
[6] Pitt to the Dowager Countess of Chatham, 14 April [1779], PRO 30/8/12 f 49
[7] Henry Cleland, Memoirs of the life of the Right Honourable William Pitt … (London, 1807) p 337
[8] Frederick Reynolds, The Life and Times of Frederick Reynolds (London, 1826) II, 67-69
[9] See Wilson's letters to Lady Chatham in the summer of 1766 and 1767, PRO 30/8/12
[10] J.H. Rose, William Pitt and National Revival (London, 1911) p 45
[11] Philip, Lord Stanhope, Life of Pitt IV, 346-7
[12] Sir Egerton Brydges, The Autobiography, Times, Opinions, and Contemporaries of Sir Egerton Brydges … (London, 1834) I, 37
[13] 19 July 1794, in Joseph Farington, Diary of Joseph Farington (London, 1922) I, 64
[14] Chatham to Tomline, 22 September 1819, Ipswich RO HA 119/562/688
[15] Chatham to Tomline, 27 February 1822, Ipswich RO HA 119/562/688
[16] Morning Post, 12 January 1833


About the Authors:

Stephenie Woolterton has an MSc in Social Research, and a background in Psychology. She is currently researching and writing her first book on the private life of William Pitt the Younger. She is also working on a historical novel about Pitt’s ‘one love story’ with Eleanor Eden. She has a website at: and can be contacted via Twitter at:

Jacqui Reiter has a Phd in 18th century political history. She believes she is the world expert on the life of the 2nd Earl of Chatham, and is writing a novel about his relationship with his brother Pitt the Younger. When she finds time she blogs about her historical discoveries at