Thursday, July 24, 2014

A Sinuous and Deadly Beauty: Pattern Welded Swords

The hard-edged blade with its woven patterns quivers and trembles; grasped with terrible sureness, it flashes into changing hues.
- excerpt from the Anglo-Saxon poem Elene. Translated by H.R. Ellis Davidson

The sinuous curves of a pattern welded blade, crafted by master
 weapon smith Robert P. Shyan-Norwalt. For a detailed tutorial
of his work, see The Creation of a Pattern Welded Blade.
Photographs by Melissa Shayan-Norwalt

A good sword is strong, flexible, and light. Lacking high-quality iron ore, Anglo-Saxon (and earlier) weapon-smiths devised the technique of pattern welding to impart desired flexibility and strength to their sword blades.

Simply put, pattern welding is the art of hammering together, and then twisting and re-hammering layers of iron (often of varying strengths) in a charcoal fire to add the one per cent of carbon critical to the blade's flexibility. A brittle blade is the sword of a dead man, for it is a sword that breaks under the stresses of combat.

The many layers of steel prior to heating, hammering, and twisting.

Pattern welded swords show a distinct interwoven figuring in the steel that imparted an especial beauty and visual liveliness to the blade. Twisting, heating, and hammering drives the crystalline structure of the steel to form the wavy, watery pattern which the technique produces. Shaping and grinding the rough blade into finished shape reveals differing levels of the respective layers. Weapon-smiths further emphasized this figuring by acid etching. Amongst the materials weapon-smiths had at their disposal for this purpose were tannic acid, vinegar-produced acetic acid, urine (that indispensable by-product which found its way into so much early manufacture), sour beer, and various acidic fruit juices. Tannic acid would have given a blade a dramatic blue-black colouring, and helped protect it from rust.

At the end of the 5th century Cassiodorus described pattern welded sword made by the Teutonic Warni tribe:

The central part of their blades, cunningly hollowed out, appears to be grained with tiny snakes, and here such varied shadows play that you would believe the shining metal to be interwoven with many colours.

The snake-like pattern that so impressed Cassiodorus is caused by viewing the hammered, twisted layers of steel on edge, as it were. As in the excerpt from the poem Elene, in which the poet speaks of the blade's changing hues, Cassiodorus takes delight in the sword's "many colours."

The term "pattern welding" is a modern one, coined in 1947 by researcher Herbert Maryon upon examination of an Anglo-Saxon sword found in a heathen burial from Ely. It was he who also determined that inscriptions in sword blades were created by the insertion of narrow iron rods into the white-hot blade. After reheating the inlaid inscription would be hammered flush into the surface of the blade.

Weapon smith Robert P. Shyan-Norwalt at the forge;
the steel bundle is 1800 degrees F.

The process is an ancient one. The Celts as far back as the 8th century BCE may have made swords by pattern welding, and the Anglo-Saxons and Vikings used the technique extensively until the end of the 9th century CE. Because the intertwined and hammered layers of softer and harder iron had varying cutting ability, often an edge of high carbon steel was welded to the nearly completed blade, allowing a consistently sharp edge to be ground along the length of the sword. All of this was highly labour intensive, and the makers of pattern welded words were justly esteemed and rewarded in society. By the 10th century better, more consistent iron ore was obtainable via import in Britain, and furnace technology improved, making this laborious technique unnecessary - and swords the less glorious for it.

Yet practical knowledge of pattern welding in the West was not completely lost. In 1771, Jean Jacques Perret in his illustrated L'Art du Coutelier (The Art of the Cutler) describes in detail the making of pattern welded blades, praising them for their superior beauty and strength. He refers to such blades as "Damascus", a confusion which has persisted many centuries. True Damascus steel blades, gun stocks, and other objects with their beautiful figuring are not pattern welded, but instead forged from iron ore heated with carbon inside a closed crucible. "Damascus steel" forged from the cakes of steely, high-carbon-content iron called wootz likely originated in the Hyderabad region India and dates from between 200 BCE to 200 CE. The material spread both Eastward and Westward from there, with Romans importing the cakes for their own blade making.

Seax created by Robert P. Shyan-Norwalt.  The seax was the distinctive
angle-bladed hand weapon which took its name from the Saxons.

 In the 1950's Englishman John Anstee successfully duplicated the pattern welded technique used by Anglo-Saxon and Viking weapon-smiths. During the course of his research he found that due to the crystalline nature of iron, he could produce wavy patterns on the finished blade even without layering wrought iron and steel, but by simply twisting the heated metal. Such blades however lacked the most important qualities of pattern welding, its superior strength and flexibility. He was also able to determine that old blades exhibiting a herringbone pattern and those with curving patterns were not structurally different; rust had removed the curving pattern in some, leaving only the herringbone figuring.

Interested in swords, and their importance to society? Hilda Ellis Davidson is a great expert, and her excellent book The Sword in Anglo-Saxon England is full of fascinating information, including complete details of John Anstee's recreation of pattern welding. A more recent work, covering all weaponry utilized by Anglo-Saxon warriors, is The English Warrior from Earliest Times to 1066 by Stephen Pollington ( Anglo-Saxon Books, 1996) a treasure trove of information about the men and their weapons. For more about Damascus iron work, see On Damascus Steel by Leo Figiel (The Print Center, NY 1991). Modern American weapon smith Robert P. Shyan-Norwalt’s detailed two part tutorial, The Creation of a Pattern Welded Blade, contains many photos and technical advice.

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Octavia Randolph is the author of  The Circle of Ceridwen Saga, all four of which are happily nestled on  Amazon's Top Twenty Best Sellers for Women's Adventure. Young women with courage. Swords with names. Vikings with tattoos. Warfare. Passion. Survival. Sheep. And Other Good Things...

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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Tudor England's Most Infamous Villain: Richard Rich, 1st Baron Rich of Leez

by Beth von Staats

Sir Richard Rich, 1st Baron Rich of Leez
(Hans Holbein the Younger)


Sir Richard Rich, 1st Baron Rich of Leez, Essex -- was there ever a more evil or manipulative man in 16th century British history? Simply stated, no. In fact, many historians would be hard pressed to find any British man who walked the earth with less redeeming qualities. With no moral center, not even the zealous religious fanaticism common for the era, the Baron Rich of Leez lived his life flip-flopping to the whims of the monarchs he served, resourcefully allying with and then stepping on anyone in his way to advancement and wealth.

Unfortunately for many in the realm, Rich was long-lived, spreading his venom throughout the reigns of King Henry VIII, King Edward VI and Queen Mary I, amazingly remaining unscathed. With the varying political and religious agendas of these monarchs, ranging from staunch Roman Catholicism to near Calvinist Protestantism and everything in between, just how did he pull this off? Well let us count the ways through this admittedly incomplete list.
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Ten Dastardly Deeds of Sir Richard Rich

Saint John Fisher
1. Sir Richard Rich, by 1535 Attorney General of Wales and Solicitor General of England, is famously known for his persecution of those who refused to take the Oath of Supremacy during the reign of King Henry VIII, a vow that assured the King was the acknowledged Head of the Church in England inclusive of the clergy and all religious liturgy and tenants. In the case of Bishop John Fisher, Rich tricked the man into admitting his loyalty to the Roman Catholic papacy, promising to tell no one. Rich then testified to Fisher's statements at trial.

In Thomas More's case, Rich flat out lied to the same. Thomas More reportedly told him at trial, "In faith, Mr. Rich, I am sorrier for your perjury than for my own peril, and you shall understand that neither I, nor no man else to my knowledge, ever took you to be a man of such credit as in any matter of importance I or any other would at any time vouchsafe to communicate with you."

Though the source of the quote is actually from More's son-in-law William Roper, truer words were never spoken. Both Saint John Fisher and Saint Thomas More were executed by decapitation for high treason based on Rich's dubious testimony.

Ruins of Holywell Priory, Middlesex

2. In 1536, along with his other titles, Sir Richard Rich was appointed Chancellor of the newly created Court of Augmentations. In this role, he worked in partnership with the Vice-gerant and King's Principal Secretary Thomas Cromwell to dissolve all abbeys, monasteries and nunneries in England and Wales, displacing thousands and completely upending a way of life going back centuries.

What did Sir Richard Rich have to gain by this? Well, he acquired wealth and territories, of course. At bargain basement prices, he procured the monastery at St. Bartholomew, the priory of Leez, the manors of Lighes Parva, Magna Lighes, Folsetd and Fyfield in Essex. Not satisfied, he added to his land gains by procuring the nunnery of St. Bride at Syon, several manors in Essex once belonging to Christ Church, Canterbury and several more manors once owned by St. Osth's at Chic and the Holywell Priory, Middlesex.

Our Baron Rich of Leez was on his way.

Thomas Cromwell, 1st Earl of Essex
(Hans Holbein the Younger)
3. In 1540, Sir Richard Rich turned on his close ally and benefactor of his great wealth and land acquisitions, again performing commendably as a "chief witness", this time against Thomas Cromwell, who was just four months earlier elevated to Earl of Essex. Cromwell was soon executed by decapitation for sacramentary heresy and treason, the charges and testimony falsified.

Thomas Cromwell made his opinions of Rich known to King Henry VIII in a letter after his arrest. From prison he wrote, "What master chancellor has been to me, God and he knows best; what I have been to him your Majesty knows."

The Baron of Leez was "off the hook" for perjuring himself in court this time, though. Cromwell was condemned on attainder, thus Rich's lies were solely to Parliament, the Privy Council and the King.

4. Sir Richard Rich was an incredibly resourceful villain. As King Henry VIII's religious views swayed from evangelical to conservative and back again, Rich went along for the ride, playing the role of henchman brilliantly. In July 1540, on the heels of Cromwell's execution, three men were burned at the stake, declared heretics for preaching doctrines opposed to King Henry's Six Articles of Faith.

On the same day -- that's right, the same day -- three more men were hanged, drawn and quartered for denying the Royal Supremacy. Think about that for a minute. Three Evangelicals and three Roman Catholics were put to death at the hands of Sir Richard Rich on the same day. Was there anyone more expert in riding the waves of King Henry VIII's ever changing religious doctrine? I think not.

Perhaps Queen Catherine Howard
(Hans Holbein the Younger)
5. Well, yes, this time in 1541 the parties were actually guilty of wrong doing both from a legal and moral standpoint, so perhaps we can give Sir Richard Rich the benefit of the doubt that his extensive involvement in the fall of Queen Catherine Howard, as well as his participation in the special Commission for the trials of Thomas Culpepper and Francis Dereham, were solely done for the benefit of the King's honor and the realm's security.

If you are shaking your head disbelievingly, I don't blame you.

6. In 1546, the Baron of Leez was a busy guy. Along with Lord Chancellor Thomas Wriothesley and Bishop Stephen Gardiner, Rich engaged in a witch hunt, working to discredit and upend minor evangelicals in the hopes of snagging the major players, most notably Katherine Parr, Queen of England; Catherine Willoughby, Duchess of Suffolk; and Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury.

Thomas Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton
(Hans Holbein the Younger)
One such "minor evangelical" was martyred preacher Anne Askew. Unwilling to testify with whom she associated, Sir Richard Rich and his cohort Wriothesley tortured the woman, racking her by turning the wheeled levers themselves. To punctuate the evilness of the act, the Constable of the Tower of London refused to participate and rushed to court to inform the king. Before he could gain an audience, the damage was done. Anne Askew became the only known women to ever be tortured at the Tower of London in its' over thousand year history.

With arms, legs, elbows and knees dislocated from the rack, Anne Askew was burned at the stake on July 16, 1546.

William Paulet,
1st Marquess of Winchester
(Hans Eworth)
7. Upon the death of King Henry VIII and ascension of King Edward VI in 1547, Sir Richard Rich once again did what he did best, turn on one of his closest allies to seek his own advancement. To reach his goal, Rich successfully worked with his other "allies of the moment" and secured the fall of his "interrogation and torture partner" Lord Chancellor Thomas Wriothesley.

Things did not work out quite as planned. William Paulet was appointed in Wriothesley's place. No problem -- Baron Rich of Leez quickly convinced Lord Protector Edward Seymour and the Privy Council of Paulet's "incompetence", securing the Lord Chancellorship for himself.

8. Throughout the reign of King Edward VI, Lord Chancellor Rich was a "staunch Protestant". Thus, along with Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, he insured the destruction of all "images and idols" in the realm's churches. Throughout the realm great roods and stained glass were destroyed. All church and abbey walls were white washed, covering priceless works of art replaced with the Ten Commandments -- in English, of course.

Stephen Gardiner
 Bishop of Winchester
Just how "staunch" was Rich's Protestantism? Baron Rich of Leez was heavily involved in proceedings leading to the arrests and imprisonments of conservative and later avowed Roman Catholics, Bishop Edmund Bonner and Bishop Stephen Gardiner. Taking things a step further, in his role as Lord Chancellor, Rich worked tirelessly to insure the Eucharist mass was not celebrated, arresting those performing mass for the ever defiant Lady Mary Tudor.

Sir Richard Rich dutifully delivered a letter to the King's Roman Catholic sister from Edward VI himself commanding her to cease and desist. The Lady Mary's response? She commanded that Rich keep his lecturing short. Her celebration of the Eucharist continued.

Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk
(Hans Holbein the Younger)
9. What goes around comes around, even for the brilliantly manipulative Sir Richard Rich. In December 1551, he was compelled to resign his long sought powerful position as Lord Chancellor of England and Wales, feigning illness. The poor man took to his bed at at his estate at St. Bartholomew's.

Why? Like those in modern times who carelessly hit the "send button" before insuring they are emailing or private messaging the correct person, a befriending letter of manipulative warning intended to be sent to the imprisoned Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset was delivered instead to the also imprisoned Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk.

I suppose addressing the wax sealed parchment "The Duke" was not quite specific enough for a missive sent to the Tower of London. After all, throughout Tudor history, there always seemed to be a few Dukes, Earls or Barons in the pokey.

What a great opportunity for Norfolk to gain potential release! Though ultimately unsuccessful (for now), the Duke sent the missive along to John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland. Rich's days as Lord Chancellor were over.

Phew! Finally we are done with him. Or are we?

10. Upon the death of King Edward VI in 1553, both Mary Tudor and Elizabeth Tudor were usurped in favor of the King's cousin, Jane Dudley. Sir Richard Rich was solicited for support of the new queen. Knowing this was his chance to regain power within the realm, the Baron of Leez did what he is now infamous for. Rich flipped his support to whom he gauged would ultimately reign and proclaimed his loyalty to the woman he previously persecuted, Mary Tudor.

Queen Mary Tudor
(Hans Holbein the Younger)
The Baron of Leez always the ultimate host, Queen Mary Tudor spent a few days visiting with Rich and his family at his home in Wanstead before heading to London to take her rightful crown.

What was Sir Richard Rich's most noteworthy service to the realm in Queen Mary's reign? This should come as no surprise. Baron Rich, loyal subject that he was, became one of Queen Mary's most active persecutors, orchestrating the arrest and execution by burning of all convicted Protestant "heretics" in his home county of Essex.

Perhaps to make amends for his previous work as Chancellor of the Court of Augmentations, the Baron of Leez worked towards the large and unfinished task of restoring the monasteries. He granted the Queen what remained of the monastery at St. Bartholomew, where she established Black Friars.
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Richard Rich, 1st Baron Rich of Leez
Felsted Church, Essex
After five years supporting the Roman Catholic agenda of Queen Mary Tudor, Sir Richard Rich rode into London with Queen Elizabeth Tudor when she ascended the throne. In his likely only act showing disagreement with a reigning monarch, Rich refused to support Queen Elizabeth's Act of Uniformity, voting against it in Parliament's House of Lords in 1559 with the Roman Catholic minority. 

Sir Richard Rich mellowed in his last years, perhaps in penance and preparation for meeting his God. The Baron of Leez founded a grammar school in Felsted, which in time educated two sons of Oliver Cromwell. He also founded almshouses to care for the poor and built the tower of Rochford Church.

The father of at least 15 children, 11 legitimate from his long suffering wife and at least 4 known bastards, Sir Richard Rich, 1st Baron Rich of Leez, died on June 12, 1567. He rests under his magnificent, albeit disconcerting tomb and statue at Felsted Church, Essex.
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The "resting place" of Richard Rich, 1st Baron Rich of Leez.

Do you have other stories detailing the manipulations and evilness of Sir Richard Rich, 1st Baron Rich of Leez? If so, feel free to share them in the comment section below.
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SOURCES:

Author Unidentified, Chapter X: Sir Richard Rich, British History Online

Author Unidentified, Richard Rich, 1st Baron Rich, Luminarium Encyclopedia Project, England Under the Tudors. The article notes that it was excerpted from the following: 1. Pollard, A. F. "Richard Rich, first Baron Rich."; 2. Dictionary of National Biography. Vol. XVI. Sidney Lee, ed.; and 3. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1909. 1009-1012.

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Beth von Staats is a short story historical fiction writer and administrator of 


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The English Princess - beloved wife and mother

by Anna Belfrage

Margaret of Connaught
In 1905, the Swedish Heir Apparent, Gustav Adolf (later Gustav VI Adolf) married Princess Margaret of Connaught, granddaughter to Queen Victoria. They met earlier that same year in Egypt, when Margaret and her sister were being presented to various eligible partners – although I think Egypt was something of a detour.

Gustav Adolf was actually in Capri visiting his mother when he received the invitation to a ball in Cairo in honour of the Connaught girls, and something must have piqued his interest already then - or maybe he just wanted to dance the night away, virtuoso dancer that he was. Whatever the case, off he went to Egypt. It is said it was love at first sight between the pretty English princess and the tall and dark haired Swedish prince. In actual fact, the idea was that the prince was to wed Margaret’s sister, but the moment he clapped eyes on Margaret, well, Gustav Adolf was lost, and after a whirlwind courtship the young couple were married at St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, attended by a crowd of royals.

Gustav Adolf
This spontaneous behaviour was most uncharacteristic of Gustav Adolf – and of his rather stiff and formal family. Or maybe not so stiff, come to think of it, but more about that later. Gustav Adolf and his two brothers were the product of a dynastic marriage between the future King Gustav V of Sweden and Victoria of Baden, granddaughter to the German emperor, Wilhelm I. Initially, this young couple was very affectionate towards each other, and over the course of seven years Victoria would produce three sons – one heir and two spares.

By then, Victoria and Gustav led quite separate lives, this dictated to a large extent by Victoria’s declining health which required she spend the winters as far away from Sweden as possible. Things were not improved when Victoria, during a trip with her husband to Egypt, apparently dallied with one of the royal adjutants, and from Gustav’s letters home, he was more than torn apart by her betrayal. Victoria went on to spend most of her time and affection on Axel Munthe, the royal doctor who attended on both Victoria and her husband, while Gustav was supposedly to develop a preference for young men – as I said, not all that stiff and formal after all...

With their mother mostly away from home, the two young princes, Gustav Adolf and Wilhelm, were left in the care of their paternal grandmother, Swedish Queen Sofia. (The youngest boy was sickly and cared for elsewhere) The queen had been an eager supporter of Victoria as wife to her eldest son, but over time the two ladies developed an active dislike of each other, and Sofia was more than pleased to involve herself deeply in the day-to-day lives of her grandsons - preferably to countermand Victoria's instructions.

When Victoria was in Sweden, life was led according to rules. Victoria was strict and structured, and showed little overt affection for her sons. When Victoria was away, life was also led according to rules – Sofia’s rules – and while Queen Sofia has a reputation for being a kind lady, she was also stickler for protocol – royals had to behave as behoved royals.

By the time Gustav Adolf met Margaret in 1905, I think he was pretty sick of rules and protocols. And when he saw her, he decided that this was one opportunity at happiness he had no intention of letting slip through his fingers, ergo that most unusual burst of spontaneity and determination.

Sofiero
With Margaret - or Daisy, as her family knew her - English customs entered Swedish life. With Margaret, Sweden saw an upswing in flowered wallpaper, in tea consumption and in gardening. With Margaret, the wide-eyed Swedish populace saw pictures of their princess – their blue-blooded English princess – digging her own garden beds and laughing with her husband. Some of those flower beds she so meticulously planned and planted have been restored and can be viewed at Sofiero, the little palace she and Gustav Adolf converted into their summer house.

In retrospect, Margaret and Gustav Adolf seem to have been very happy together. While this is great news for them, it leaves the aspiring writer bereft of “tension”, the inherent conflict that has the reader’s eyes glued to the page. But when one starts scraping the surface, there are some streaks of darkness that come to life – like Gustav Adolf’s supposed affair with an actress, or the young man who insisted he was Gustav Adolf’s son. The king, as he was then, never uttered a word either confirming of rebutting this particular story.

And then we have the fact that it must have been very difficult for Margaret to adapt from her life in England to the stilted dreariness of the Swedish court. Where Gustav Adolf had captured a vibrant butterfly, an injection of energy and colour in his rather staid and boring life, Margaret had netted a handsome man who had little reason to believe in the longevity of happiness – he had seen first-hand how his parents’ marriage collapsed. But Margaret was not a quitter, and besides she was very much in love with this husband of hers, with his cleft chin and sensuous mouth, with the low timbre of his voice.

In 1906 came the first of the couple’s children – a prince, joy of joys, thereby ensuring Margaret had done her duty. Named after his father, the little boy thrived, and one year later he was joined in the nursery by boy number two, little Sigvard. To the astonishment of the Swedish court, Princess Margaret insisted on being very involved in the lives of her children – a most odd and English notion as per the older members of the royal family. Margaret didn’t care, in matter such as these she trusted her instincts.

Even odder, Margaret insisted her children be dressed in comfortable clothes, with comfortable shoes, so that they could run wild and crazy through the grounds of Sofiero. Not, let me tell you, the way Swedish royal children had been raised previously. What, little princes to come in with twigs in their hair and mud-caps on their knees? And look at their nails, their hands, covered with dirt. Once again, Princess Margaret smiled serenely and shrugged. And as to her husband, Gustav Adolf was as happy as a calf in clover with his loud and boisterous family. What he had never experienced as a child, he now tried to compensate himself for as an adult, supported by his loving wife.

A happy family upon the birth of child nr 4, Bertil
In 1910, a little girl, Ingrid, was born, in 1912 yet another son, Bertil, and in 1916 came the baby, Carl Johan. Five children in ten years. Margaret looks a bit pale and strained in the pictures from this time, as if all this child-bearing was taking quite the toll on her. But nonetheless they were happy and busy, the children thrived as did the gardens, and it was year after year of marital bliss.

In 1919, Margaret became pregnant again. She was thirty-seven at the time, still young enough for the pregnancy not to be a concern. The baby was due in June of the following year, and everything seemed to be progressing as it should. Until Princess Margaret caught a cold. Not a major issue, one would assume – as did Margaret and Gustav Adolf. She sniffled and coughed for some days, she sniffled some more and started complaining that her ear hurt. A lot. An ear infection, no more, the doctors diagnosed. An ear infection that went very bad, developing into a full-blown mastoiditis.  From one day to the other, the Princess went from being eight months pregnant with an aching ear to being dead, leaving her five children motherless and her husband utterly bereft.

Sweden’s English princess was dead. The English butterfly that had so captivated her husband, bringing colour and light into his life, was gone. I imagine Gustav Adolf took a long walk in the gardens she had planned, in the greenhouse she had ordered, sinking down to sit on her favourite perch. His happy family was gone, his brief excursion into a world dominated by love and laughter was at end. Gustav Adolf retreated into the protective armour of protocol and rules.

Louise Mountbatten
In 1923, Gustav Adolf married yet another English lady of royal blood, Louise Mountbatten. Theirs was to be a very long if childless marriage, and by all accounts Gustav Adolf was as lucky in his second marriage as in his first, finding in Louise a woman who was capable of great affection. Not as strikingly beautiful as Margaret, at times painfully shy, Louise compensated by being well-read and interested in everything from politics to social welfare, a good companion to her erudite and equally well-read husband. (As an aside, Gustav Adolf left a library consisting of 80 000 books - and he had read them all)
But despite all her qualities, despite her husband's affection for her, I believe that there were very many days when Louise felt she lived in the shadow of her predecessor and close relative, the oh so beautiful, oh so loved Princess Margaret of Connaught.



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

Anna's books are available on Amazon US, Amazon UK, or wherever else good books are sold.

For more information about Anna and her books, please visit her website! If not on her website, Anna can mostly be found on her blog or on FB

Monday, July 21, 2014

Make-up in the Eighteenth Century - a fatal attraction.

by Mike Rendell

Have you ever wondered about Eighteenth Century make-up, and in particular about the curious fashion for wearing face patches/mouches/Court plasters (call them what you will)? They were especially popular in the latter years of the Seventeenth Century but still remained fashionable until the end of the Georgian period.

The patches seem to fall into two separate categories - those worn for high fashion, and those worn to hide pock marks. The desire to cover up a disfigurement is understandable. Smallpox affected perhaps a quarter of the population, and frequently left the sufferer with facial blemishes. To reach adult-hood and have a perfect complexion was unusual – and therefore “masking” the blemish was considered important.

Even worse, the great pox (as venereal disease was known) and its treatment with mercury, frequently caused dreadful facial disfigurements. Small wonder then, that women with ravaged faces sought to hide the evidence of disease either with a thickly applied make-up, or with patches (or more usually, both). The image is of the bawd in The Harlot's Progress, by William Hogarth (Plate 1).

A stunning gold and agate box for patches and rouge, c. 1750.
Shown courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Looking at the patches worn wholly for fashion, you need to remember that a porcelain-white complexion was a sign of high class - after all, the lower orders had to work outside and so had ruddy complexions. Her Ladyship distanced herself from such labourers by emphasizing her pale skin, often slathering on white lead. Yes, it was poisonous, and yes, that was known at the time, but it did not prevent those dedicated followers of fashion from literally killing themselves to look as white as a sheet.

How to get the white lead? According to Fenja Gunn, author of  The Artificial Face, you needed the following:

Ingredients
     several thin plates of lead
     a big pot of vinegar
     a bed of horse manure
     water
     perfume & tinting agent


Method
Steep the lead in the pot of vinegar, and rest it in a bed of manure for at least three weeks. When the lead  finally softens to the point where it can pounded into a flaky white powder (chemical reaction between vinegar and lead causes lead to turn white), grind to a fine powder. Mix with water, and let dry in the sun. After the powder is dry, mix with the appropriate amount of perfume and tinting dye.

It sounds delicious, especially with all that horse manure!

A face balm could also be made using a concoction of almond oil heated up with spermacetti (a waxy substance found in sperm whales, normally used in candles) mixed with a tablespoon of honey. 

Men as well as women would whiten their skin. The patches were then applied as a contrast - drawing attention to the pale complexion. They could be kept in a small patch box, and the patches might be made of silk or black paper (in which case they might be applied simply by affixing to the face with a bit of lick) or of velvet, taffeta or leather (in which case a dab of gum arabic might suffice).


There was a whole language attached to where the patch would be worn, borrowed (of course) from the French. Supposedly, you could show your political complexion by whether you wore your patch on yourright cheek or on the left. But ladies would use the patches as a language of flirting - for instance, a patch above the lip invited kissing. Those lips would be coloured with carmine - sometimes bright red but generally pink, applied with a pad of colour-impregnated wool or hair, called spanish wool. The red effect could also be achieved by dabbing on vinegar (fancy a snog anyone?) or distilled alcohol (yes please!). By the middle of the 18th Century coloured lip-balms became available, made from a mixture of carmine and Plaster of Paris. The fashion was for small, bee-sting (i.e. rose bud) lips - and colour might be applied by both genders. You only have to think of those ludicrous macaronis...

Dame a sa Toilette, by Boucher
Back to the patches - they came in all shapes and sizes and a lady might wear a dozen or more at one time. You might fancy a heart-shaped one, or a starry one - or even group them together to make a sort of stylized picture on the cheek or side of the neck. A sort of  dot-to-dot adhesive tattoo!

Other positions for patches had different meanings: just by the eye indicated passion; a heart shaped one on the left cheek showed that you were engaged  and on the right that you were already married. On the nose was saucy, and in the centre of the forehead - dignified. A beauty spot on the breast  was said to indicate a murderess - but then again, some books say that it denoted generosity! Wear two down your decolletage and perhaps you were murderously generous! Or a generous murderer...It is useful to remember that the neck, shoulders and bust were also whitened, not just the face, and for added glamour a lady might accentuate the veins on her breasts with blue lines.

Eyebrows were often plucked - either that, or they were the first thing to disappear as a result of the white lead. This resulted in people having to cut strips of mouse hair to be glued in place, and of course sometimes they came loose during an evening's entertainment, which must have looked most odd. Even Jonathan Swift commented on the fashion:

    “Her eyebrows from a mouse’s hide
     Stuck on with art on either side”


(Curiously, the same poor mouse might also be used to provide pubic hairpieces, called merkins).  

The fashion was for eyebrows to be half-moon shaped, tapered at either end, and an especially pleasing effect could be obtained by the judicious application of lamp-black (i.e. soot) or burnt cork, or even elderflower berries. Rouge would be used to accentuate the white skin - again, more lead-based products! The red would come from vermilion obtained from mixing ground-up cinnamon with mercury, or from carmine (red lead).  Other colourants came from vegetable sources such as wood resin and sandalwood, which would be pulverized and then mixed with grease or vinegar to make a paste.

The Jelly-House Maccaroni, courtesy of the British Museum. Spot the spots!

And then of course there was the high point of your toilet (in other words, your preparations before you went out to face the world) - the wig. It was a bit of a nuisance having to keep putting on powder in order to keep the dratted thing white (the hairdresser used a puffer, while Her Ladyship protected herself with a conical mask) so the fashion developed for applying lard to the wig, so that the powder stuck to it and lasted for days. No wonder lice and other insects were attracted to the smelly concoction, and there are even tales of mice nesting in wigs which were not regularly taken off and brushed through. For ladies the wig powders were often a bluish white. The poorer fashionistas and wannabees might use flour, whereas the aristos would powder their crowning glories with dust - obtained from white lead. Lead was a Bad Thing. It caused hair loss, vomiting, acute head-aches, bowel problems, blindness, and, even paralysis and death. Add that to a regular ingestion of mercury for instance from the lip colourants) and it is amazing anyone reached adulthood!

One such tragic victim was the famous beauty Maria Gunning, who died of lead poisoning aged 27 in 1760. For a decade she had been applying liberal quantities of ceruse to whiten her skin.This compound of lead oxide, hydroxide, and carbonate proved to be a lethal cocktail as the hydroxide and carbonate combined with the moisture in her skin to form acids which slowly ate it away. Her husband obviously liked his ladies to be white as a sheet – one of his paramours (while his wife was alive) was Kitty Fisher, a notorious courtesan who similarly died in her twenties, a victim of lead poisoning. The tart had class – she directed that she be buried wearing her best ball-gown!

Rowlandson's "Six stages of mending a face" dedicated to Lady Archer.
In the finished face - bottom left - she sports patches on her chin and cheek.

Lady Archer was particularly famous for wearing vast amounts of rouge – hence the caricatures by Thomas Rowlandson, above, and by James Gillray. As far as I can decipher from the Gillray featured below and called "The Finishing Touch" it shows Lady Archer holding a rouge pot in her left hand while applying a copious amount of her trademark rouge to her right cheek. In fact I bet the old gal used a trowel...


A final quote from Jonathan Swift on the subject of cosmetics. His wonderfully scatalogical poem  from 1732 called The Lady's Dressing Room describes a man rifling through his lover's dressing table. It contains the lines:


        ...Now listen while he next produces
        The various combs for various uses,
        Filled up with dirt so closely fixt,
        No brush could force a way betwixt.
        A paste of composition rare,
        Sweat, dandruff, powder, lead and hair; 

  He goes on to describe the array of make-up jars on the dressing table:

        Here gallypots and vials placed,
        Some filled with washes, some with paste,
       Some with pomatum, paints and slops,
       And ointments good for scabby chops. 

   Serves him right for trespassing on her territory – some things are best left unseen!
~~~~~~~~~~~~~



Mike is the author of The Journal of a Georgian Gentleman based on the family collection of diaries and memorabilia from the 18th Century. He has also published a book about the origins of the Circus Astley's Circus - the Story of an English Hussar and is about to have published a fully illustrated book  An introduction to the Georgians. He also does a regular blog on all-things-Georgian here).