Tuesday, September 1, 2015

A View of London in 1190

by Mark Patton

A visitor to the city of London today has little sense of the Medieval city, even though he or she walks along streets that would have been familiar to Geoffrey Chaucer. The street-names give some clues (Chaucer or his servants would have bought milk in Milk Street, bread in Bread Street and chicken or eggs in Poultry), and many of the churches occupy the same positions, but little of the Medieval fabric is visible because of the Great Fire of 1666 which destroyed almost everything. All that remains, at least above ground, is the Tower of London and some fragments of the wall that once surrounded the city, itself built on Roman foundations.

The Tower of London, late 15th Century image,
depicting the imprisonment  of Charles, Duc d'Orleans.
British Library, MS Royal 16, Fol. 73

We are fortunate, therefore, in having a written description of the city, dating to 1190, its author, William FitzStephen, a clerk who had been in service to Thomas Becket. FitzStephen was a witness to Becket's murder and afterwards wrote a biography of him, to which his account of London serves as a preface. It seems that FitzStephen, like his master, was a Londoner, so it is likely that his description of the city is informed by his personal memories of growing up there.

"Among the splendid cities of the world that have achieved celebrity," he tells us (I am quoting from the 1860 translation by H.T. Riley), "the city of London - seat of the English monarchy - is one whose renown is more widespread, whose money and merchandise go further afield, and which stands head and shoulders above the others."

Part of London's surviving wall.
Photo: Ollios (licensed under CCA).

Emphasising London's Christian identity, he refers to Saint Paul's Cathedral, to "thirteen conventual churchs and one hundred and twenty-six lesser, parish churches." He also mentions London's defences, its walls and seven gates, and its fortifications: not only the Tower of London, on the east side of the city, but also the now long-vanished Baynard's Castle and Montfichet's Tower in the west.

Perhaps more significant, however, are his descriptions of the life of the city. "There are, in the northern suburbs of London, springs of high quality, with water that is sweet, wholesome, clear, and whose runnels ripple among pebbles bright. Among which Holywell, Clerkenwell and Saint Clement's Well have a particular reputation; they receive throngs of visitors, and are especially frequented by students and young men of the city, who head out on summer evenings to take the air."

It is a popular myth that Medieval Londoners drank only beer, because the water was unwholesome: certainly they knew better than to draw their drinking water from the filthy Thames, but the water from these springs and wells was clearly drinkable. That said, breweries also drew water from those springs, and many had taverns attached, so the consumption of beer probably was an element of student life, then as now.

"The three principle churches of London - Saint Paul's ... Holy Trinity and Saint Martin's, possess schools by ancient right and privilege. But, thanks to the support of a number of those scholarly men who have won renown and distinction in the study of philosophy, there are other schools licensed there."

London seems not to have had a university, as Paris and Bologna did, but the reference to students suggests that some, at least, of these schools were preparing men for the priesthood. FitzStephen even mentions these students hurling "abuse and jibes" at one another "with Socratic wit," although we should not imagine that they were actually reading Plato (almost nobody in Western Europe in the 12th Century could read Greek): whatever they knew of classical philosophy came from the Latin of Boethius's Consolation of Philosophy - essential reading for all seminarians.

Cooks roasting chickens on a spit.
Bodleian MS 264, Fol.170v

"Nor should I forget to mention that there is, in London, on the river bank amidst the ships, the wine for sale, and the storerooms for wine, a public cookshop. On a daily basis there, depending on the season, can be found fried or boiled foods and dishes, fish large and small, meat - lower quality for the poor, finer cuts for the wealthy - game and fowl (large and small) ... Hence, as we read in Plato's Gorgias, cookery is a flattery and imitation of medicine, the fourth of the arts of civic life."

That's not quite what is said in Plato's Gorgias, but it's an understandable error from someone who has read only Boethius. Scholars of the Middle Ages were probably acutely aware of the knowledge they did not possess: nobody had actually read Plato, but every scholar hoped to meet someone who had, and any number may have pretended to have done so.

FitzStephen goes on to describe a weekly horse-market at Smithfield (beyond the northern city wall), horse races so energetic that "you start to believe that 'all things are in motion,' as Heraclitus put it, and lose faith in Zeno's theory that motion is impossible - so that no-one could ever reach the end of a racetrack!" His source, again, is Boethius, but I think there is more to this than intellectual boasting and self-promotion. FitzStephen is, above all, a lover of his native city, and here, I suspect, he is doing his utmost to put it on the map for scholars travelling between Oxford, Paris and Bologna. Perhaps he even hoped that one of the "schools" he mentions would develop into one of the great universities of Europe as an essentially similar institution at Saint Andrews in Scotland subsequently did.

He well understood, however, that London life was not only the life of the mind. He describes the passion plays that clerks staged annually at Clerkenwell (perhaps he had acted in one of these himself), the war-games held at Smithfield in preparation for the real warfare in which so many Londoners would be caught up, and winter days spent skating on the marshes to the north of the city.

Medieval skates, Museum of London.
Photo: Steven G. Johnson (licensed under CCA).


Smithfield in 1561, Agas Map.
The etymology is from "smooth field" -
it was flat ground on which horses could be raced, ball-games played
or soldiers mustered, and it served all of these purposes,
as well as that of a horse-market from the 11th to the 17th Century.
Image: Stephencdickson (licensed under CCA).

He even gives us what may be the earliest description of a football match, although no referee is mentioned:

"After lunch, all the youth of the city go out into the fields to take part in a ball game. The students of each school have their own ball; the workers from each city craft are also carrying their balls. Older citizens, fathers and wealthy citizens come on horseback to watch their juniors competing, and to relive their own lives vicariously: you can see their inner passions aroused as they watch the action and get caught up in the fun being had by the carefree adolescents."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Mark Patton's novels, Undreamed Shores, An Accidental King and Omphalos, are published by Crooked Cat Publications, and can be purchased from Amazon.






Monday, August 31, 2015

For Whom the Bell Tolls- Early Tudor Way of Death

by Carol McGrath

Imagine a silent, sombre procession moving slowly through the streets of London from the deceased's home to the local Parish church. The bells toll, and the funeral bier is covered with black cloth. The year is 1512. King Henry has been on the throne for three years. He is young, a golden Renaissance prince, and, as yet, there is no hint of Reformation in England. In fact Henry VIII was conservative. He was Catholic as far as the Church liturgy was concerned all his life. Funerals during his reign remained traditional, no different to those of Medieval times. Even during the Elizabethan era many features of medieval funerals for the wealthy, middling or poor remained the same.

Queen Elizabeth I 's funeral cortege

If the deceased was wealthy, this procession would be led by servants bearing banners and coats of arms. There would be attendants clad in black gowns carrying black staves. Black was provided to invited mourners. Generally there were no flowers. Mourners carried herbs. Sprigs of rosemary for remembrance would be worn in the hat, pinned to the sleeves and onlookers might wear mourning rings showing skeletons or crosses.

The bell's tolling would summon attendants to the graveside and bring comfort, not only to the living, but to the dead. People were prompted to prayer by the tolling bells. These helped the soul on its journey. If one was superstitious, one might believe that tolling bells would chase off any evil spirits that could molest the soul. After the Reformation in the mid sixteenth century, bell tolling was limited. The bells would ring 'moderately' at funerals. It was no longer an official belief that they were beneficial to the passage of the dead person's soul.

Bell tolling helped the passage of the soul

Winding and watching were important aspects of a death ritual. They were also a practical necessity. This work involved washing, winding the corpse in a shroud and watching over the candle lit corpse before it was carried in procession to the church for burial. A midwife could be employed for corpse washing duty! A shroud could be linen, but by the mid seventeenth century shrouds were woolen to give a flagging wool trade a boost. Although a box might occasionally be used, unless a person was wealthy he/ she was buried in the shroud. Generally, no more than two to three days would pass between death and burial. Infectious bodies were buried as soon as possible. Equally, the very wealthy might be embalmed to allow time for mourners to gather.

Watching the corpse involved sitting up all night with the dead body. It was a custom that continued after the Reformation. The body might be laid out on a floor covered with a sheet. The corpse was constantly attended and watched, a tradition similar to that of Celtic Wakes. It secured another mark of respect for the deceased's family. It safeguarded the body from tampering. Sometimes the watchers imagined that they saw visions. It could be frightening. Imagine the stories they whispered as they prayed for the safe passage of a soul.

Image result for free pictures of rosemary
Rosemary for Remembrance

Most bodies rested on biers and were not carried in coffins from the time they departed for the Church until they were placed in the grave. A bier was a frame with handles designed to transport and support the corpse. These were often supplied by the Parish, and they would be stored at the back of the Church. The Parish might also loan out a mortuary cloth, a pall, to cover the bier. Guilds supplied such trappings for the burial of guild members. The hearse was originally a frame to hold candles that were placed over the body during the funeral service. Eventually the meaning of hearse changed to include the whole ensemble whether bier or a coffin that transported the body to the grave.

Death was never far away. A Church wall painting

The poor of the Parish expected a funeral dole. In fact, it was the poor who were sometimes employed to accompany or carry the corpse. Funeral processions in Tudor London were often led by members of the poor dressed in mourning livery. Since black was the colour of Tudor mourning, the wealthy who could afford acres of black cloth would provide mourning cloaks for the guests, gowns, hangings, draperies, covers and gifts such as mourning rings or gloves. Thus, a mourner could easily be identified by apparel. Traditionally, the funerals of the well-to-do were accompanied by deeds of charity and acts of largesse.

Tudor Generosity!

Mourners who accompanied the body to the grave might be fortified with ale, wine or spirits. Guests would also be provided with refreshments later. Funeral meals were semi public occasions, and a large company could be expected. Vast amounts of food and drink were consumed after Tudor funerals. For the well to do, new middle class they became an occasion!

The Tudors Artifacts - The Tudors Wiki

To find out more about Tudor and Stuart funerals read Birth, Marriage and Death, Ritual, Religion and the Life Cycle in Tudor and Stuart England by David Cressy, Oxford University Press.

My new novel in progress opens with a London funeral and is set in 1512.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Carol McGrath

The Handfasted Wife published by Accent Press 2013
The Swan-Daughter published by Accent Press 2014
The Betrothed Sister published by Accent Press 2015

www.carolcmcgrath.co.uk

Giveaway: Rise of the Wolf by Steven A. McKay

Bestselling Scottish author Steven A. McKay is giving away a paperback copy of his brand new book, Rise of the Wolf. This is the third in his Forest Lord series and was the UK Kindle "Biographical Historical Fiction" number 1 for the past two weeks (holding Robert Harris's new one off the top spot!)
This giveaway ends at midnight, September 6th. To see some information about the book, please click HERE.
Comment below to enter the draw, and be sure to leave your contact information.


Sunday, August 30, 2015

Read All About It! The Daily Courant Hits the Presses

by Catherine Curzon

Reading through newspapers of the Georgian era  has always been a source of delight to me; long hours can be lost to browsing the dailies, and if we think our news today is scandalous and prurient, we have nothing on the 18th century. One of the first I encountered was The Daily Courant, a newspaper owned by a most estimable lady named Elizabeth Mallet. 

Mallet launched the Courant from her premises besides the Kings Arms on Fleet Bridge, London, on 11th March 1702; her adders was given as the wonderfully evocative against the Ditch at Fleet Bridge, which puts it somewhere in the vicinity of the building occupied by The Times two centuries later. As the first daily English language newspaper to be published in Britain, it was a remarkable endeavour undertaken by a remarkable woman, yet by our standards, the newspaper resembled a newsletter rather than the supplement and advertisement-stuffed behemoths that plop through our letterboxes today.


The Daily Courant

The Courant was only one page, so there were none of troublesome glossy inserts to clutter up one's home, but what it did contain was reports of the major stories of the day. When one's curiosity for current affairs was sated, one could turn over and browse advertisements on the reverse. 

Mindful of the public's thirst for news from overseas and sensing that the availability of such material was sorely lacking, the paper confined itself to reporting only on stories that came from abroad. The news was  curated from overseas gazetteers and translated into English, presented without any editorial or opinion to muddy the facts. Instead, Mallet considered her readers "had sense enough to make reflections for themselves", something that the news writers of today might do well to remember!

Sadly, Mallet did not receive recognition for her endeavours as, well aware that a female name on the byline might not endear her newspaper to the public, she published the Courant under the gender-neutral name E Mallet. In 1703 she sold the paper to Samuel Buckley and then faded from the annals of history until 1706, when reference can be found to her posthumous estate. Buckley, of course, went from strength to strength and became a famed name in the industry, eventually securing his place in news history as the printer of The Spectator, a title that exists on newsstands to this day.


Like most groundbreaking endeavours, the Courant was not without its controversies, and on 7th April 1712, the paper fell foul of government when it printed an account of business in the House of Commons translated from a Dutch source. Publishing the private business of parliament was a serious matter, and Buckley was punished with a hefty fine for his wrongdoing. Naturally, the case did no harm to sales of his newspaper! 


The Courant continued for 34 years under Buckley's stewardship, and in 1735 it merged with the Daily Gazetteer. Buckley himself passed away five years later, his place in the history of printing assured.


References
Dunton, John, The Life and Errors of John Dunton, Citizen of London. J. Nichols, 1818.
Leach, Henry Leach. Fleet Street from Within. J.W. Arrowsmith, 1905.
Wheatley, Henry Benjamin and Cunningham, Peter. London Past and Present: Its History, Associations, and Traditions. Cambridge University Press, 2011.
Williams, Kevin, Read All About It!: A History of the British Newspaper. Routledge, 2009.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Glorious Georgian ginbag, gossip and gadabout Catherine Curzon, aka Madame Gilflurt, is the author of A Covent Garden Gilflurt’s Guide to Life. When not setting quill to paper, she can usually be found gadding about the tea shops and gaming rooms of the capital or hosting intimate gatherings at her tottering abode. In addition to her blog and Facebook, Madame G is also quite the charmer on Twitter. Her first book, Life in the Georgian Court, will be published by Pen and Sword Books in 2016. 

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Influences of the New World, Asia and Africa in Jane Austen's Novels

by Lauren Gilbert



Jane Austen was not obliging enough to leave footnotes or other references to her ideas and her writings.  Looking for outside influences on Austen’s writing was a challenge because, in my preliminary research, I found tantalizing hints but little concrete material.  As I studied more, I found more hints, more links, and more ideas and have managed to form certain conclusions.  Although influenced by the materials I’ve covered, these conclusions are my own, and no one else is to blame for any errors, misinterpretations and contradictions you may detect.

England during Jane Austen’s time reflected the culture of empire. Even though the American colonies were lost, England was just approaching the golden age of the empire on which the sun never set. England’s presence in Asia, India, the West Indies, Africa and other parts of the world brought influences from many areas and many viewpoints together.

In Miss Austen’s time, the issues of slavery and the abolishment of the slave trade in Britain were significant, even though the practice of owning slaves was not yet abolished. Slavery, empire and marriage (at least to some degree, in Miss Austen's era) involve relationships of "superior beings" with "inferior beings"--all three conditions require that the dominant (i.e. stronger, better educated, richer--superior or male) being takes care of the subordinate or inferior being (or female) for his or her own good as well as the dominant being’s profit (whether monetary, emotional or other). The abolition of the slave trade in 1807 reflects the changing views of society.

The rise of female authors, such as Mary Wollstonecraft, also reflects change. Miss Austen’s letter to Cassandra of 1/24/1813 refers to an author Clarkson--this author is considered to have been Thomas Clarkson who in 1808 wrote a history of the slave trade, among other things. Much has been made of the mentions of Antigua and slavery in Mansfield Park. It’s difficult from a 21st century perspective to consider these issues from the perspective of Jane Austen’s time. However, I don’t think it’s too much to consider the possibility that Fanny’s lowly, subservient  (slave-like) position in the household initially, and her elevation as her value (and the flaws of other, more highly-regarded persons) becomes clear is a metaphor for the changing order of things in society. The subordinate role of women in the late Georgian era is a topic Austen explores repeatedly.

In considering the influences of Asia, I took the obvious approach by starting with Miss Austen's link to India in the form of her aunt, Philadelphia Austen, who (after being a milliners apprentice for 5 years) sailed to India in 1752, married Tyso Saul Hancock on Feb. 22, 1753, and had a daughter, Jane’s cousin, Eliza de Feuillide. Although no letters written by Philadelphia detailing her life and adventures seem to exist, it’s difficult to believe that no information was shared among the family regarding her experiences and life in India, if not from Philadelphia herself, at least through Eliza.

The fashions of the time heavily involved muslin, calico and silk from India. India and the Orient were the source of trade goods, and information (whether true or otherwise) would have travelled with these goods. Park Honan’s biography of Jane Austen specifically refers to an exotic play, The Sultan, or a Peep into the Seraglio (attributed to Isaac Bickerstaff), as a play in which Miss Austen's brother Henry played the part of the Sultan in 1790 at Steventon, when Jane was 14.  The plot of this play presents a plucky English slave woman resisting the role specified for her by Islam, winning over the sultan, becoming queen and freeing the rest of the harem from bondage.

Jane Austen wrote of the plight the poor young woman in need of a husband going to India in Catherine, or The Bower, written in 1792: a friend of Catherine’s, upon the death of her father, accepted the offer of a cousin to send her to India (against her own inclinations) and was “splendidly, yet unhappily married.”, an obvious reaction to her aunt’s situation. Even before her own circumstances were an immediate issue, Miss Austen had obviously given a great deal of thought to the difficulties of a young woman with little money, and the ramifications of marriage seen solely as a solution to that problem. The choices made by Charlotte Lucas and Elizabeth Bennet, and their subsequent rewards in Pride and Prejudice, as well as Jane’s own decision to break her engagement to Mr. Bigg-Wither clearly illustrate Jane Austen’s views on marriage and concerns with the results of a woman marrying solely for an establishment versus a marriage based on affection and respect.

Even the word “sopha” used in Persuasion and her own letters shows an eastern influence.  Laurie Kaplan pointed out that the words “couch” or “settee” would have been more common during this time.  The word sopha derived in part “from a part of the floor in Eastern countries raised a foot or two, covered with rich carpets and cushions”, a couch for reclining. She quotes Ackerman’s Repository for 1809 that “the sofa is recommended ‘when tired and fatigued with study, writing and reading’”. Mary Musgrove and Lady Bertram are pictured vividly on their sofas, languid or bored or dissatisfied or idle or ill, as the case may be. Miss Austen uses the sofa specifically to illustrate certain ideas about her characters’ qualities. In letters where she refers to her illness, she refers to her own sofa.

The influence of America (as an important part of the New World) was, for me, harder to trace. In her letter to Martha Lloyd of 9/2/1814, Miss Austen does not reflect a favorable view of America (“…I place my hope of better things on a claim to the protection of Heaven, as a Religious Nation, a Nation inspite of much Evil improving in Religion, which I cannot believe the Americans to possess.”)  In considering the West Indies as part of the  Americas as the New World, it is somewhat different--her aunt Mrs. Leigh-Perrot brought a plantation in Barbados with her when she married Jane Austen's uncle, so the issues of slavery and income as discussed in relation to Mansfield Park would have had a great deal of immediacy for her family. The War of 1812 (the circumstance under discussion in the letter previously cited) would have been a concern but does not make an appearance in her novels (as with so many other politically-charged events of her time).

The ideals of democracy espoused by America, and later in the French Revolution, were a more direct influence on earlier authors with whom Miss Austen was familiar, such as Edmund Burke and Charlotte Turner Smith, but suffered an eclipse when in France the Terror erupted and the King and Queen were executed.  Park Honan wrote that, in The Loiterer, Jane’s brother James printed a story reflecting the Tory view of France and America in which a Scottish soldier fighting against Washington becomes a democratic  fool, loses his values, marries a rich vicious mean-born widow, and becomes miserable, ruined by the American Revolution. There is a strong probability that Miss Austen would have read the story. Her novels reflect a more prudent, Tory approach to advancement: her heroines who make advantageous marriages, and heroes who successfully advance clearly have worth of their own in terms not only of character, but also of birth. Elizabeth Bennet is a “gentleman’s daughter”, so her marriage to Mr. Darcy is not totally inappropriate. Fanny and William Price’s mother is Lady Bertram’s sister, so there is good blood there (however diluted) to supplement their individual merits. In spite of Emma’s improvements, Harriet (who is, we discover, the illegitimate daughter of a tradesman) is matched appropriately with the farmer Mr. Martin, and her friendship with Emma evolves into a more suitable relationship. Captain Wentworth's brother is a clergyman which argues a family of at least a respectable level. A case could be made for America being a negative influence, in Miss Austen's view. She tends to uphold the traditional values and structures, even while she makes her concerns about women’s role and place in life apparent.

Even though Jane Austen set her tales on a small stage and never referred directly to the great political and military events of her time, it is a mistake to conclude that her view was a narrow or restricted view. She was observant and read widely. Her own family exemplified the issues and upheavals of the time and encouraged her to develop her talent, in itself an anomaly. She was also very subtle. The activities and events that took place on the broader stage were absorbed and distilled to blend the colors with which she painted her little bits of ivory.

Sources include:
Honan, Park.  Jane Austen Her Life.  Ballantine Books Edition, New York, NY: May 1989.
LeFaye, Deirdre.  Jane Austen The World of Her NovelsFrances Lincoln Ltd, London, UK: 2002.
Le Faye, Deirdre, ed.  Jane Austen's Letters (Third Edition) Oxford University Press, Oxford UK, 1997.
MacDonagh, Oliver.  Jane Austen Real and Imagined Worlds.  Bath Press, Avon, UK: 1991.
Mitton, G. E. Jane Austen and Her Times, 1775-1817. (Originally published 1905) Barnes & Noble, Inc., New York, NY: 2007 (reprint).
Tomalin, Claire.  Jane Austen A Life.  First Vintage Books  Edition, division of Random House, New York, NY: May 1999.

On-Line Research:
Persuasions On-Line : Numerous articles read, including:
http://www.jasna.org/persuasions/on-line/vol26no1/ray.htm  Vol. 26, No. 1  Ray, Joan Klingel.  “The Amiable Prejudices of a Young  [Writer’s] Mind”: The Problems of Sense and Sensibility”.
http://www.jasna.org/persuasions/on-line/vol27no2/ailwood.htm  Vol. 27, No. 2  Ailwood, Sarah.   “”What are men to rocks and mountains?” Romanticism in Joe Wright’s Pride and Prejudice”.
http://www.jasna.org/persuasions/on-line/vol27no1/tontiplaphol.htm  Vol. 27, No. 1  Tontiplaphol, Betsy Winakur.  “Justice in Epistolary Matters: Revised Rights and Deconstructed Duties in Austen’s Lady Susan.”

http://www.jasna.org/persuasions/on-line/vol25no1/sheehan.html  Vol. 25, No. 1  Sheehan, Colleen A.  “To Govern the Winds: Dangerous Acquaintances at Mansfield Park”.
http://www.jasna.org/persuasions/on-line/vol24no1/ellwood.html  Vol.24, No. 1  Ellwood, Gracia Fay.  “”Such a Dead Silence:” Cultural Evil, Challenge, Deliberate Evil and Metanoia in Mansfield Park”.
http://www.jasna.org/persuasions/on-line/vol25no1/kaplan.html  Vol 25, No. 1  Kaplan, Laurie.  “Sir Walter Elliot’s Looking Glass, Mary Musgrove’s Sofa, and Anne Elliot’s Chair: Exteriority/Interiority, Intimacy/Society.”
http://www.jasna.org/persuasions/on-line/vol26no1/ford.htm  Vol. 26, No. 1  Ford, Susan Allen.  “”No business with politics”: Writing the Sentimental Heroine in Desmond and Lady Susan”.
http://www.jasna.org/persuasions/printed/opno1/mosel.htm  Mosel, Tad.  “Jane Austen’s Two Inches of Ivory”.
Persuasions (Printed):
Showalter, Elaine.  “Retrenchment.”, Persuasions, No. 15, pp. 101-110, 1993.
Kaplan, Laurie (PhD) and Richard S. (MD, FACP). “What is Wrong with Marianne? Medicine and Disease in Jane Austen’s England.”  Persuasions, No. 12, pp. 117-130, 1990.
King, Gaye.  “Jane Austen’s Staffordshire Cousin:  Edward Cooper and His Circle.” Persuasions, No. 15, pp. 252-259, 1993.
Other On-Line Sources:
BBC HISTORY:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/empire_seapower/paine_print.html Belchem, Professor John.  “Thomas Paine: Citizen of the World.”
http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/historic_figures/burke_edmund.shtml  “Edmund Burke (1729-1797)”
The Literary Encyclopedia:
http://www.litencyc.com/php/speople.php?rec=true&UID=4112   “Charlotte Smith (1749-1806)”First Published June 23 2003.  Citation: Antje Blank, University of Glasgow.
Other:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charlotte_Turner_Smith  “Charlotte Turner Smith”
http://www.jasna.org/persuasions/on-line/vol24no1/ellwood.html  Vol.24, No. 1  Ellwood, Gracia Fay.  “”Such a Dead Silence:” Cultural Evil, Challenge, Deliberate Evil and Metanoia in Mansfield Park”.
http://www.tilneysandtrapdoors.com/mollands/etexts/jasb/jasb7.html

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Lauren Gilbert is a member of JASNA and lives in Florida with her husband. Her first published book HEYERWOOD: A Novel is available at Amazon.com, Jane Austen Books, and other sources.



Friday, August 28, 2015

"Word Hoard" and the Pitfalls of Dialogue Authenticity

by Annie Whitehead

"I hold your oaths fulfilled." Thus spake Aragorn in the film of Tolkien's Return of the King. Listening, I wondered if all the dialogue was derived from Old English (OE). The short answer is no, but it reminded me of the time I decided to see if it was possible to construct dialogue for my books (set in Anglo-Saxon England) using only words derived from OE and Old Norse (ON).

Here's some dialogue from a very early draft of one of my novels (unpublished):

"No no, all is well; you sit. It is cooler here in the yard. I was thinking, though, that the roads from the south may be hard enough to ride on now, which means that Lord Helmstan might be home soon. Can we bake a few more loaves? Would it help to knead the rest outside?"
"It would, my lady, thank you. There is enough flat bread to see us through, but if I can find how my idle daughters do with the grinding, I can bake with yeast and the finest ground meal to make bread for the lord. With your leave, I will go now and get that husband of mine to lift me down another bag of meal."

Hmm. It doesn't flow brilliantly well, does it? And it's not even all OE - lift, for example, is 12th century ON, bag is 13th century ON.

 Codex Sangallensis 878 (9th century).

So, if we want to use only OE-derived words, what can we use, and what can't we use? It's surprising:

Alliterative couplets are okay - hale and hearty, forgive and forget.

But whilst we can reckon, we can't count.

We can't want, but we can crave, or wish.

We can eat our food at the board, but not the table, and we'll sit on a stool, not a chair.  Sounds a little uncomfortable; a bit basic. It gets worse:

You can't smile; you can only smirk or grin. (But since that means 'to bear your teeth' it doesn't sound as benign as a smile, somehow.)

You can't have a smell or an aroma; you can only have a stench.

The problem is that so many OE words now have negative connotations (we have the Normans to thank for a lot of that.)

And as for those Four-Letter-Words, well, the really nasty ones are not Anglo-Saxon and oddly, although I've just said that they hold such negative connotations, the Anglo-Saxon four letter words are now considered relatively inoffensive and, after all, they simply described body parts/functions - shit, arse, etc.

'Ursine preference for forest-based defecation' somehow sounds more archaic than 'Bears like to shit in the woods,' and yet one would be more authentic than the other (even though like is 12th century ON)

And when, in the same (unpublished) novel, I needed my main character to respond to a threat thus:
"You can try. Mercia has never yet bent to the rule of a Dane, be he Viking or Churchman,"
I found that using the 13th century try was preferable to:

     "Come and have a go if you think you're hard enough." - All OE-derived words, yes, but a little too modern-sounding!

Keep calm and fight on - image madeofwynn.net

Some other words just don't translate at all - for flower  you'd have to use blossom but that's not really a singular noun, in so far as one couldn't pick a blossom. You can't have ceremony, or feast, or celebration - symbel is not a word that has survived.

Perhaps the Anglo-Saxons had different concepts, because while you could use eyes, chin, nose, brows and cheeks, there is no OE word which equates to the modern face (13th century) and to describe beauty you would have to talk of winsomeness.

image - slideshare.net

Some modern words carried different meanings: I tend to have my characters say naught because nothing meant something entirely different, akin to being an outcast, literally no thing. Dream is another word which conveyed a different concept, being more like a waking vision, or daydream.

Familial relationships become difficult to describe if we are too strict, because we can't have uncle, aunt or cousin, although we can have brother, sister, mother and father. Grandmother should really be greatmother, but it's clunky. In other family matters though, we can choose the OE forms, and have burials instead of funerals and weddings instead of marriages, which helps to build up the Anglo-Saxon 'voice'.

Where it becomes nigh on impossible is with the little, useful words. The conjunction because , for example - it's hard to see what could replace it in the following passage from To Be a Queen:
     "So be it. But it is only because she is my sister that I bow to you."

The sharp scything noise set his teeth on edge. Every Mercian in the room had his hand on his sword hilt, the blade hitched up to protrude from the scabbard. Alhelm stepped forward and fixed the piercing blue gaze on Edward once more. "No, my lord, it is only because she is your sister that we bow to you."
Sometimes, therefore will do instead, but not in all cases. I asked Jim Sinclair, OE specialist, for a suggestion: "One possibility is for or that, as in 'But it is only for that she is my sister', ... connected to how it would have been expressed in OE (Ac hit is ānlīce for þæm þe hēo is mīn sweostor...”)
Some more 'little' words which aid flow are seem, appear, doubt, and grateful (which is 'very' modern - 16th century).

"I should have felled him where he stood. Rotting crow-body ... " Helmstan sat down and shoved his legs straight out in front of him. "I reminded him that he is not one of us, but I only spoke the truth."



How to replace reminded? I bade him hark back? Try it yourself - and no, you can't have reconsider, or pointed out!

In the following passage from To Be a Queen, the words in bold are not OE, but are short, conveying urgency:
Five or six more steps through a river suddenly flowing treacle brought him to the bubbles of wet cloth. Batting aside a floating shoe, he grabbed the centre of the sodden, sinking lumps. Waist deep only, merciful Jesus, but so many weeds. Come here girl. He flipped her over and lifted her clear of the dragging wetness. Legs planted, he centred his weight and brushed the hair from her face. She coughed and he allowed himself to breathe again.
Girl is 13th century, merciful is 12th century. Could I have used OE? Jim says, "Tricky. Girl would be maid or maiden which are somewhat archaic and so narrower in meaning, though would work quite nicely in OE. Merciful is virtually impossible; there are some wonderful words for mercy/merciful in OE which haven't [survived] and the closest I can get is mild-hearted, which I don't think really does it."
Later in the chapter:
"I am here to look after you while my father cannot. As one day I will look after Wessex as my father has not. You are my sister. What else is there to know about why I saved you from drowning?" 
I asked Jim how I could say this without using save or rescue. "There's no obvious candidate here that I can think of. Possibly something simpler like kept from (Why I kept you from drowning) but, again, it's not really the same."
Furthermore, drowning is 13th c. Drenching is the closest but doesn't convey the same meaning.
In the following two short sentences, is there a pithy alternative to the bold words?
"Kings are only as strong as the men who surround them."  Jim: "In OE you would use the word ymb meaning about, so maybe "Kings are only as strong as the men about them," or "...as the men they keep about them."
"Sometimes it is but one man who makes the difference."  Jim says, "There are few OE options that have survived, but maybe an alternative idiomatic expression might be 'to turn the tide' - "Sometimes it is but one man who can turn the tide."?
So, whilst we seem to have established that it's necessary to use later words to make the dialogue flow, there are some which give a 'flavour' of the Anglo-Saxon way of thinking and talking.
"Hit one, and the other will bleed. Ceolwulf only wears the king-helm because Guthrum's vikings hold it on his head."
King-helm is better than crown, and king-seat would be a better alternative to throne - even today, German is full of compound nouns. Weapon-man is better than warrior; fyrdsman better than soldier. To continue giving a sense of time and place, we use fowler's hut instead of mews.
We can't be sticklers; I'm not sure we would want novels set in Tudor England, or even Chaucer's time, to have dialogue in impenetrable Middle English.
Ultimately, then, it has to be a tale (not a story!) of authenticity (14th via Old French) versus truth (OE).
And if you don't agree, then have a read of this book and see if you still want to use only OE words:

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Annie Whitehead is the author of To Be a Queen 

- the story of Aethelflaed, Lady of the Mercians. (Long-listed for HNS Indie Book of the year 2016)

Find her at her Blog

Jim Sinclair is one of the guiding lights of the Facebook page Uton Englisces Brucan (Let's enjoy/use Old English). Having studied Czech for "a couple of years" he found an old copy of Sweet's Anglo-Saxon primer and began studying OE. In his words, he still loves looking at the "beautiful, woody, gnarled and knotty words" in his Clark-Hall's OE dictionary.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Lucy Russell, Countess of Bedford ~ The Many Faceted Jewel of the Early Stuart Court

by Linda Root

A painting believed to be Lucy Russell

I have a growing list of books to write before I die—my personal bucket list. I am past the midpoint in my eighth decade, so I’d best hurry. Most are parts of a series.

Before I began this post, I had no plan to delve into the research for a piece of standalone historical fiction centered on an actual character about whom much is suspected, but little proved. I am not speaking of Elizabeth Tudor, who etched something of that sort on a glass windowpane at Woodstock. I am speaking of Lucy Russell, Countess of Bedford, one of the 17th century’s most compelling non-conformists. I stumbled upon Lucy quite by accident.  She appears as a minor character in my recent book.  Her role merits no more than two paragraphs. A quick trip to Wikimedia should have sufficed.  Then I stumbled upon a piece of information, and I was hooked.  More works of poetry and drama were dedicated or inspired by Lucy Russell than any women living in her day, including the Queen, Anne of Denmark, a well-known patron of the arts.

Who is Lucy Russell?

I had not expected the Countess to be a courtesan.  Somehow I associated her with her husband’s holdings at Berwick-on-Tweed, not exactly a backwater, but certainly not London.  She was the daughter of Sir John Harington, Earl of Exton.  Her husband Edward, 3rd Earl of Bedford, was nine years older than she was. She married him in 1594 when she was thirteen. Some sources refer to him as an invalid and advance that as the reason he and Lucy led separate lives.

Attributing their unusual living arrangement of the Earl and Countess of Bedford to Edward’s health lacks credibility. Infirmity did not keep him from taking up arms against his aging queen during the Essex Rebellion of 1601.  It seems he was sufficiently robust to get himself in serious trouble long before he suffered a horseback riding accident in 1612 which left him partially paralyzed and with impaired speech.  He and Lucy had been living separately for most of their married lives.

At the time of Essex’s treason in 1601, Lucy’s loyalties would have been as suspect as her husband.  She had been a member of the Sidney-Essex Inner Circle by virtue of her birth. The Sidneys were her father Baron Harington's first cousins and were firmly in the Essex camp. Her best friends included Robert Devereux’s sisters, Dorothy Percy, Countess of Northumberland and her sister Penelope, Lady Rich. The latter was implicated by Devereux in a statement he made before his beheading.

The Devereux sisters
Dorothy was innocent of any part in her brother's treachery, but she got into trouble on her own by marrying her first husband without the Queen's permission. Her second marriage to Henry Percy was  arranged by the Queen, but it did not entirely erase the stigma of Lady Dorothy’s history, and it did not insulate her close friend Lucy from Elizabeth’s distain. Small wonder the Countess of Bedford and her husband were out of favor during the waning days of Elizabeth Tudor’s reign. Then, in February 1603, Elizabeth Tudor died, and the Harington and Bedford fortunes changed.

Lucy Russell in Stuart England

Lucy Russell’s lot in life improved with the ascension of King James. As soon as word of Elizabeth Tudor’s death reached the family estates at Coombes Abbey,  Lucy’s mother Anne took off for Edinburgh with her daughter in tow. Lady Harington was only one of several ladies to head north to prostrate herself before the King and Queen of Scotland, but she was among the first. Soon her daughter Lucy was fast friends with James of Scotland's colorful consort Anne of Denmark and had become a Lady of the Queen's bedchamber.

Her father, John Harington of Exton, had a distinguished and varied career during Elizabeth Tudor’s reign. His mother was a Sidney, and he had an on-going association with the Dudleys. He had served in the Netherlands with Elizabeth's favorite Robert Dudley,  Earl of Leicester.  His family was reputed to be the most extensive landholders in Rutland. He served several terms as sheriff and was an M.P. from both Rutland and from Warwick. In one of his official capacities in Warwickshire, he was appointed to escort  Marie Stuart on her sad journey to Fotheringhay in 1586.  He apparently had come to the attention of King James before his ascension. The new King James I of England granted him the earldom of Exton on the day of the king’s coronation. What is more, he was made the guardian of Princess Elizabeth upon her arrival in England in the summer of 1603.

Young Princess Elizabeth Stuart
Lucy’s  brother John ( later 2nd Earl of Exton) was Prince Henry Frederick’s closest friend.




They appear in one of the most widely viewed paintings of the Prince in which the Prince is shown sheathing his sword rather than killing the stag he has wounded while his friend John Harington watches.

Henry Frederick 
with Master John Harington
Early in the reign of James I, Lucy was a frequent visitor at her family estates at Coombe Abbey where the princess was ensconced. She appears in my novel while visiting there at the time of the Gunpowder Plot. 

Lucy Russell was  unusually well-educated for a woman of her era and was literate in French, Spanish, and Italian as well as English. She likely played a role in schooling the princess. She would have been in an ideal position to assist in both the academic and spiritual guidance of a Stuart royal. Both Lucy and Princess Elizabeth, like Henry Frederick, were avid Calvinists. It is in that role I paint her in my novel In the Shadow of the Gallows.

Coombe Abbey

Lucy Russell as a Patron

But Lucy was much more than a companion and educator of the princess, and it was this part of her life for which she is best known. Within a year of Queen Anne’s settling in at Somerset House and renaming it Denmark House, the Countess of Bedford was dancing in the Queen’s extravagant masques. She starred in many of Inigo Jones' productions, and although she apparently appeared topless in one or more the extravaganzas presented by Queen Anne, she remained a committed Calvinist and a borderline Puritan.

Inigo Jones, a man of many talents

Anne of Denmark
Producing and performing in Queen Anne’s masques was only one of Lucy’s many talents. To many of the most noteworthy names in Jacobean poetry and music, she was a patron and a goddess. As for patronage, she did not give her client artists money or financial support. Her gift was her incredible influence, and not just with the Queen. The king and his advisers took note. Her patronage often conveyed royal favor. 
The list of luminaries who benefited from her sponsorship included Ben Jonson, Inigo Jones, and John Donne, to name three of the better-known recipients of her sponsorship and friendship.
 
Woman in Masquing Costume
believed to be Lucy Russell
  
John Donne
Ben Jonson

It is said more works were dedicated to Lucy Russell than any other woman of her era. Donne spoke of her as "The first good Angell... That ever did in womans shape appeare."…for whom "morning breaks at night".  Most of the poems he wrote during his middle years are believed to be about her.  In Drayton's play Endimion and Phobe, he is Endimion, and she is his Phoebe. These are but a few examples of the many works in which she appears. The list is long, and the implication is that at the very least, John Donne and  Michael Drayton were in her thrall.

During this phase of her life, her husband acquired a magnificent residence for her in a suburb called Twickenham Park where she lived in exquisite splendor. She maintained a grand salon, but most of her guests were only visitors, and not all of them received her enduring favor. She shared her soul with men like Donne, but not her home. Michael Drayton, for one, soon disappeared from gatherings at Twickenham. Historians speculate he may have bored her. It is equally arguable that his devotion may have become tedious. As strange as it seems, there is no evidence she wished to replace her husband.

Michae
While Lucy’s friend and benefactor Queen Anne is famous for her excesses, her lady was not to be outdone. The 18th century antiquarian Thomas Pennant accused her of being a woman "whose vanity and extravagance knew no check."

To some degree, in time, her excesses were tempered by necessity. She and her husband were both saddled with mind-boggling debts. Edward Russell had been impaired since 1612. Then, in 1619, Lucy contracted a severe case of smallpox which left her face disfigured and very likely nearly blind in one eye. That and the death of Queen Anne curtailed the most colorful of her activities, but it did not stop her from exerting influence, primarily in the political sphere. During her later life, she became an activist in support of the Princess Elizabeth Stuart, ousted Queen of Bohemia’s effort to regain her throne. Both Lucy and her husband died during May 1627, each deeply in debt. None of her children survived infancy. Her legacy is found in the words of the poems men like Donne and in the music of John Dowland, who dedicated his Second Book of Songs to her.

John Dowland
According to writer Margaret M. Byard in The Trade of Courtierhsip: The Countess of Bedford, there is a dark side to the countess’s story. Recently, documents called the Bedford Memorials have become available for review. Apparently they had been sealed at the time of the Earl of Bedford's death and are yet to be studied. In the interests of time and the economics of acquiring scholarly words, I shall leave that for another post, or perhaps for the book I did not intend to write but which I find a tempting delicacy.

For now, I prefer to let the Lucy Russell of this post appear as Donne described her, as the "First good Angell... That ever did in womans shape appeare." There are indeed some qualities commending her to that role.

She was a loyal loving daughter, and a steadfast friend to Elizabeth Stuart, Queen of Bohemia, the tragic Winter Queen. Whatever their relationship, she and her husband were sensitive to the needs of one another. Like her kinswoman by marriage, Mary Dudley, Lady Sidney, she was a great beauty whose face was ruined by smallpox during the same year she  lost her close friend Anne of Denmark to an untimely death.  Yet, she did not yield.

Nor did she avoid the brush of portraitists. She merely covered part of her face with her hand and struck a different, more pensive pose.

At the time of her death, she was contemplating selling the estates at Coombe Abbey to pay her debts and moving on. She ends her one extant poem, which follows the format of Donne’s poems and addresses 1 Corinthians 5:15.

Calm the rough seas, by which she sayles to rest,
From sorrowes here, to a kingdom ever blest;
And teach this hymne of her with joy, and sing,
The grave no conquest gets, Death hath no sting.

Thank you for joining me in a brief glimpse at a most intriguing woman.

~Linda Root

References of note
The Trade of Courtiership: The Countess of Bedford by Margaret M. Byard, Published in History Today Volume 29 Issue 1 January 1979
And: 4. Lucy, Countess of Bedford: Images of a Jacobean Courtier, Barbara K.Lewalski
Politics of Discourse: The Literature and History of Seventeenth-century England by Kevin Sharpe
Illustrations from  Wikimedia Commons, Public domain.

LINDA Root is the author of The First Marie and the Queen of Scots, The Last Knight and the Queen of Scots, The Midwife’s Secret:The Mystery of the Hidden Princess: The Midwife’s Secret II,  The Other Daughter, 1603: The Queen’s Revenge, and In the Shadow of the Gallows. The latter four are in the Legacy of the Queen of Scots series. She is a contributing author in the anthology Castle, Customs and Kings: True Tales by English Historical Fiction Authors, Vol II, coming this autumn. Her books are available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle e-books.  Root is a member of the State Bar of California (inactive) and the Bar of the Supreme Court of the United States.She is a member of the Marie Stuart Society, a member and frequent contributor to the English Historical Fiction Author’s blog and Facebook Page, a review team member of The Review Blog and Facebook page and a Board Member of the M.M. Bennetts Award. She lives in Yucca Valley, California with her husband Chris. 

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Easy come, easy go - of a creative Scot and financial bubbles

by Anna Belfrage

Admit it. People start talking about Keynes and Milton, and chances are you, dear reader, will start considering what to cook for supper or how to change the subject. That’s the problem with financial theories, that no one really tends to find them interesting. Given this, it is somewhat ironic that no matter how bored we are with economics, most of us are rather interested in money. After all, money makes the world go round.

Money was not always available in electronic form as it is today. Nor was it available in bills. No, up to the late 17th century, money was mostly available as coins. Rich people, per definition, either had strong biceps or hired people with adequate musculature to lug their riches around. While not wanting to toot the nationalistic horn too much, I am rather proud to inform you that paper money was to a large extent a Swedish invention – the Swedish National Bank (the first ever National Bank, yet another cause for a bashful blush) issued paper money already in the 1650s. Quick to follow on was England – and Scotland, seeing as both these nations were major trading economies, ergo quickly saw the benefit of using paper rather than bags of coin.

Our John
Today, I’d like to introduce you to one of the early promoters of paper money. Not only was this gentleman an extremely skilled mathematician and a successful gambler, he was also to become singlehandedly responsible for one of the more disastrous financial bubbles of the early 18th century. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you John Law of Lauriston.

Our hero was born in Scotland in 1671. His father was a prosperous gold-smith – rich enough to buy a castle, no less, hence the “of Lauriston” – and the expectations were that John as the eldest son would follow in dear Papa’s footsteps. Not to be. Law senior died when John was still young, and anyway, John showed little aptitude for making pretty things out of gold. No, John was in love with mathematics – and gambling.

In the aftermath of the Glorious Revolution our Scotsman decided to try his luck in London. Tall, dark and handsome, possessed of excellent manners, John was something of an immediate success in London society – at least with the ladies. He gambled, lost, gambled, lost some more, gambled and began to win. Capable of extremely complex mental probability calculations, endowed with an excellent memory for cards, over time John achieved quite the reputation at gaming tables. People preferred not to meet him. Well, the sensible ones. There are always those that set out to prove they can win no matter who they’re playing against.

Other than cards, John enjoyed the ladies. Not, I’d hasten to add, in an overtly scandalous manner, but women liked him and he liked women – in particular Catherine Knollys. Catherine was married (as per some sources), which does not seem to have deterred either her or John, maybe because her husband was exiled in Paris together with the former king, James II.

However, our young man was not only a shallow card-playing rake. He had dreams. Odd dreams, his contemporaries thought, not at all understanding what he was on about when he spoke of a new type of banks and paper money. Where other people held on to coins, Law scoffed, saying paper money was the way to the future, having the added benefit of being elastic – i.e. when in need of more money, you could print it, when there was too much money, you could trash it. In Law’s opinion, there was only one financial instrument that was better than paper money: shares. Why? Because shares, as per Law, were essentially monetary equivalents with the added benefit of giving the owners dividends.

While impressed by the young man’s obvious intelligence, the movers and shakers of London’s financial world were not quite as taken by his notions of new banking systems, new money systems. Besides, who did he think he was, this young lad from the back of beyond? After all, the Bank of England had just been chartered, and any day soon, they'd be issuing paper notes - once they'd investigated the issue thoroughly. Not enough, Law attempted to explain. A central bank should control the finances, use the tools at its disposal (such as paper money, which can be printed when the need for money escalates, thrashed when things move the opposite direction). He was met with condescending smiles. A frustrated Law dreamed of truly changing the financial markets, but continued to frequent the elegant salons of London, in between nurturing the growing attraction between him and Catherine.

E Villiers
Enter Elizabeth Villiers. Well, enter and enter: Betty Villiers was very much a part of all those elegant salons, her rumoured role as the king’s mistress making her popular among those who wished to influence their new Dutch leader. Law very much wanted to somehow catch the ear of the king so as to whisper seductively about growth and trade and a bright future – all of it built on Law’s own theories regarding banks and the supply of money. What transpired next is a bit vague, but somewhere along the line John Law felt obliged to call out a certain Edward Wilson – this to safeguard his honour and that of Mrs Villiers.

Duels were illegal. A duel in which one of the parties was killed was considered murder. John Law, who had considerable skills outside his beloved numbers, killed Wilson with one thrust. One moment, he was an up-and-coming man, the next he was in Newgate, facing imminent execution. The execution was commuted to a fine, Wilson’s family protested, the death penalty was upheld, and John Law had no option but to flee the country. He would have a price on his head for the coming 23 years…

When John Law escaped to the Continent, Catherine decided to join him. Her husband does not seem to have cared one way or the other, and whatever their other faults, John and Catherine were devoted to each other, a life-long love story that would produce two children. Were they married? Once again, some sources say they lived in sin. Others say they did marry. Does it matter? Not to us, it doesn’t, and John and Catherine don’t seem the type of people who would have cared.

John continued to earn his living at the gaming tables. He became rich – very rich. Women continued to flirt and wink at him, fans waving ecstatically whenever this handsome man walked by. John smiled and bowed, twirled in his splendid clothes, and did quite some flirting back. In the European salons his ideas about banks and companies, about paper money and shares mostly fell on deaf ears, no matter how impressed people were by John’s intellectual prowess. The world was simply not ready for John’s ideas.

But there were exceptions: France, for example, was so mired in debt, the entire economy stagnating after decades of mismanagement, that there were people who listened to Law and nodded in agreement. Not so the Sun King and his advisors.

The boy king
However, no one lives for ever, and in 1715 the Sun King passed away. France’s new king was a child of five, with the Duke d’Orleans acting as the regent. And the duke was rather fond of Law, who was put in charge of revitalising the dying economy. At the time, France was a mess. People starved, people stole, people begged – years of war, years of lavish expenditure by the king on matters close to his heart, had left the state finances precariously close to bankruptcy, plus the social unrest was making people nervous. Specifically, the rich people were getting a tad antsy. What if all these disgruntled desperate people would rebel, raise the standards of revolution and colour the fields red with the blood of their oppressors? (Happened anyway, as we all know)

John Law rubbed his hands. At last an opportunity to test his grand theories. For years, he had advocated the concept of a central bank, one institution in the country responsible for all major credits, for issuing paper money with corresponding securities in land or gold. Taxes, Law argued, should be collected and handled centrally so as to increase control and enable investments for the greater good.

D'Orleans
D’Orleans listened, and in 1716 Law’s bank saw the light of the day. Investors could pay for their shares with gold and with land, and the bank was authorised to issue its own money, which, because of the solid base created by gold and land, did not fluctuate as much as the livre did.

Once the bank was in place, Law implemented a series of measures that can essentially be described as some sort of proto-Keynesian approach, namely he created jobs. How? By investing in roads, in canals, in rebuilding. The national debt rose, but the social unrest faded. Law had done what Roosevelt would do two centuries later, what all desperate governments since have attempted to do: expand a suffering economy by state-financed infrastructural investments.

There was just a teensy, weensy problem in all this: France still lacked money – or rather, the French government was more or less paralysed by lack of funds. The bank in itself created stability rather than development, and for France to rise out of its impoverished state, something had to change. Law mulled this over and came up with the brilliant idea of what was to be known as the Mississippi Company. Here, at last, he would be able to prove just how fantastic shares could be, how easily they could substitute money.

It must be said from the start: Law genuinely believed his idea would work. Being a man of honour and integrity himself, he had no understanding for such base emotions as greed, nor did he understand fully just how people would react when presented with an “easy killing”.

The Mississippi company – or, to be correct, the Companie d’Occident – was founded to exploit the vast natural riches in the French American colonies. Whether the riches were vast yes or no, no one really knew, but everyone expected them to be. Law was not entirely sure, but was confident there’d be enough riches – in land, if nothing else, to guarantee the success of the venture. The company was set up, went on to acquire the monopoly on the lucrative tobacco trade and was awarded the responsibility for all African trade. An exciting new venture was under way, and Law as one of the main shareholders stood to make a fortune.

John Law
Expansion requires money. In 1719, Law was given permission to issue 50 000 shares in the company at a nominal value of 500 livres. To make people more willing to part with their money, only 72 livres had to be paid up-front. The rest was to be paid over five years.

People rushed to buy the shares. The price went up to 1 000 livres, and a further 300 000 shares were issued, with Law expressing this would be enough to more or less wipe out France’s national debt. People screamed for shares. They traded like hot cakes, and bowing to popular pressure – and his own convictions – Law ended up issuing 600 000 shares.

Poor people scraped together everything they had to invest in this golden opportunity, widows gambled their pensions, orphans their inheritance. By the end of 1719, the shares had risen to the intoxicating price of 15 000 livres each. A new term, millionaire, saw the light of the day. People were rich – stinkingly rich – in shares.

And here, dear people, was the rub. No matter Law’s insistence that shares could be used as money, should, in fact, be accepted as payment for goods and services, most people preferred gold. When, as a consequence of all this heady economic development, prices began to rise markedly, shareholders started to sell. Those who had invested early on wanted to recoup and make that killing. Some of them did, but like any pyramid game it was those who entered first and exited first who were the winners – all the rest were losers.

Law – who as the newly appointed Controller General managed France’s entire finances, from the national debt to the collection of taxes, to the issuing of money, to the Mississippi company – attempted to control the price by setting a limit on how much actual gold the seller of a share should receive. Did not go down well.

More people insisted on selling, and, as Adam Smith (yet another Scotsman with a love for finance and economy) was to demonstrate some years later, price is affected by supply and demand. When supply exceeds demand, prices fall. Where before, everyone wanted shares in the Mississippi company, now everyone wanted to sell their shares, and accordingly, the prices plummeted. The Mississippi bubble had burst, so to say, and people who until recently were rich – on paper – now faced destitution.

Law was appalled. One desperate measure after the other was attempted to save the company and safeguard France’s fragile economy. Nothing worked, and by the summer of 1720, angry mobs were forming outside Law’s private residence. He had lost just as much as anyone else, but people didn’t care. This was all his fault, with his new-fangled ideas. Law had to flee France, reduced to virtual poverty. For the rest of his life, he was to live like an itinerant, moving from city to city, reduced to yet again making his living at the gambling tables.

In 1729, John Law died, alone and poor, in Venice. But, as he would now and then say, once he, a simple commoner, controlled all of France. At the time of his death, his reputation was in tatters, this rather brilliant man vilified as nothing but a con-man. Over the years, he has been vindicated – many of his theories were sound, a lot of his measures were the right thing to do. Had Law been less of a mathematician and more of a psychologist, chances are he’d have realised that his grand scheme had one major flaw: human nature, which rarely conforms to other theories than that of rampant self-interest.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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

Anna's books have won several awards - recently, one of her books won the HNS Indie Book of the Year Award -  and are available on Amazon, or wherever else good books are sold.

Presently, Anna is working on a new series set in 14th century England - the first installment will be published in November 2015.
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.