Friday, August 22, 2014

The Unsung Heroines of Bannockburn

by Glen Craney

When Robert Bruce seized the Scottish crown in the spring of 1306, his new queen consort was said to have volunteered a dire prediction on his odds for surviving the year: A summer king you may be, but a winter king, no.

Berwick Panorama - Copyright Glen Craney

Some historians have questioned if Elizabeth de Burgh—the Irish daughter of the Earl of Ulster, an ally of Edward I of England—ever delivered that marital scolding. Others have surmised that, if she did, she was likely voicing public skepticism about Robert’s legitimacy in order to curry favor with her former Plantagenet benefactors should the Bruce clan fail in its dangerous game of thrones.

There's another interpretation possible, one that I find more persuasive: The strong-willed Elizabeth may have been trying to shame and goad her wavering husband—who no doubt felt some remorse for his complicity in the murder of rival John Comyn—to remain resolute under the threat of an inevitable English retaliation.

Elizabeth de Burgh
Wikimedia Commons
Elizabeth has been portrayed as fraught with doubt and regret during those frenzied first weeks of Robert’s kingship. This should come as no surprise. After all, the shade cast by Scotland’s warrior statuary has long overshadowed the crucial role its women played in the wars of independence. Even the venerable Robert Burns, in his famous martial ballad Scots What Hae, while exhorting the nation's "sons in servile chains" to choose victory or a gory bed, failed to extend that honor to its daughters who were also languishing in English prisons.

This year marks the 700th anniversary of the battle of Bannockburn, and a popular pastime of those with Scot ancestry is identifying a favorite hero of that era. The Bruce and William Wallace—who did not live to see his crushing defeat at Falkirk avenged—get many votes, as does James Douglas, the feared Borders raider. Thomas Randolph and Angus Og MacDonald garner their share of acclaim, too.

None can deny the contributions made by these Scot patriots, but their victory on the vales below the ramparts of Stirling Castle could not have been gained without the support of distant rebels too often forgotten: the Scot women who languished in English prisons or suffered the brunt of the oppressive English occupation. In fact, I would argue that throughout his life, Robert Bruce owed his unlikely success, first and foremost, to his remarkable good fortune with women. At his many moments of direst need, a courageous Scot lass or matron always seemed to appear just in the nick to salvage his sinking destiny or accept a cruel sacrifice for his survival.

If not for Christina of Gamoran, for example, Bannockburn would never have been fought. During Robert's retreat west after being ambushed at Methven, the influential Isles noblewoman nursed him back to strength during that bleak winter into 1307 and may have shared her bed with him. Risking English reprisals, she also supplied him with the men and galleys he needed for his return invasion of the mainland in the spring.

Then, according to the tradition of the McKees clan, a poor Galloway widow found Robert half-starved and on the run after his botched landing at Turnberry. The crone took him into her wilderness hut and, discovering his identity only after feeding him, sent her three surviving sons to join him on his seemingly doomed campaign to recover his realm.

Later in his life, Robert worried over the survival of his direct male bloodline. Returned from eight years of captivity in England, Elizabeth feared she could no longer bear children after giving birth to two daughters. Yet just three years before her death, she came to Robert’s rescue by delivering him a son. The arrival of David II was heralded as a miracle that, at least for the moment, would save the kingdom from another ruinous war.

Marjorie Bruce, Robert’s star-crossed daughter by his first wife, also endured a harsh imprisonment in England. Released after Bannockburn, Marjorie was married off to a Stewart and, while pregnant, suffered a violent fall from a horse. Minutes before dying, she gave birth prematurely to Robert II, who would firm his grandfather’s royal line and succeed David II. With her short life filled with so much misery and despair, poor Marjorie should be remembered as no less a martyr for Scotland than Wallace.

Marjorie Bruce's tomb
Wikimedia Commons

There are other such heroines, including Robert’s suffering sisters, Mary and Christina, but I have saved my favorite for last.

Robert Bruce crowned by the Countess of Buchan
Exhibit at Edinburgh Castle
Wikimedia Commons license
An ancient Caledonian law gave the Clan MacDuff the privilege of placing the crown on the head of a new king. At the time, the MacDuffs were allied with the Comyns, enemies of the Bruces. Yet Isabelle MacDuff, the Countess of Buchan, defied her Comyn husband and rushed to Scone to perform the sacred deed for Robert in a second ceremony on Moot Hill.

Isabelle MacDuff imprisoned
in the cage at Berwick.

Copyright Andy Hillhouse
English chroniclers at the time suspected that Isabelle, a distant kinswoman of the Bruces, must have been one of Robert’s secret mistresses. Outraged by her betrayal of the loyalty oath that the MacDuffs and Comyns had given him, Edward Longshanks ordered Isabelle tracked down and captured. Cornered with the other Bruce women in the sanctuary kirk at Tain, she was cruelly punished by being exposed for years in an iron cage hung from the ramparts of Berwick Castle.

Why did Isabelle risk her life to crown Robert Bruce? What happened to her during that brutish captivity? And why did so many brave women follow her lead to take up the Bruce’s cause? I unveil my theories about these mysteries and more in my latest release: The Spider and the Stone: A Novel of Scotland’s Black Douglas.

St. Duthac's sanctuary at Tain,
where Isabelle MacDuff and the
Bruce women were captured. 

(Author photo)


Inspired by a headstrong lass from Fife, a frail, dark-skinned boy named James Douglas defies three Plantagenet kings and champions the cause of his friend, Robert Bruce, to lead the armies to the bloody field of Bannockburn. An epic of star-crossed love and heroic sacrifice during the 14th century Scottish wars of independence. Amazon US   Amazon UK    Amazon CA

Glen Craney is a novelist, screenwriter, journalist, and lawyer. A three-time finalist for Foreword Reviews Book-of-the-Year Award, his historical fiction has taken readers to Occitania during the Albigensian Crusade, to the Scotland of Robert Bruce, to Portugal during the Age of Discovery, to the trenches of France during World War I, and to the American Hoovervilles of the Great Depression. More about his writing can be found at

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Apple Peels and Snails to Snare a Husband in the Eighteenth Century?

by Diane Scott Lewis

Folklore abounds in the villages of England around the single girl’s search for a husband—as in the eighteenth century marriage was what most young women had to look forward to, or they’d be ridiculed and regulated to spinsters, farmed out as governesses, or forced to live on the charity of their family.

Most of these search-for-true-love customs revolved around the seasons.

At the ruined Abbey of Cerne Abbas in Dorsetshire, girls flocked around the wishing-well in all seasons. To obtain their heart’s desire, they’d pluck a leaf from a nearby laurel bush, make a cup of it, dip this in the well, then turn and face the church. The girl would then "wish" for presumably a man she already has in mind, but must keep this wish a secret or it wouldn’t come true.

Other customs included, in Somersetshire on May Day Eve or St. John’s Eve, a lass putting a snail on a pewter plate. As the snail slithered across the plate it would mark out the future husband’s initials.

On another ritual to this end, writer Daniel Defoe remarked by saying: "I hope that the next twenty-ninth of June, which is St. John the Baptist’s Day, I shall not see the pastures adjacent to the metropolis thronged as they were the last year with well-dressed young ladies crawling up and down upon their knees as if they were a parcel of weeders, when all the business is to hunt superstitiously after a coal under the root of a plantain to put under their heads that night that they may dream who should be their husbands."

Throwing an apple peel over the left shoulder was also employed in the hopes the paring would fall into the shape of the future husband’s initials. When done on St. Simon and St. Jude’s Day, the girls would recite the following rhyme as they tossed the peel: St. Simon and St. Jude, on you I intrude, By this paring I hold to discover, without any delay please tell me this day, the first letter of him, my true lover.

On St. John’s Eve, his flower, the St. John’s Wort, would be hung over doors and windows to keep off evil spirits, and the girls who weren’t off searching for snails in the pastures would be preparing the dumb cake. Two girls made the cake, two baked it, and two broke it. A third person would put the cake pieces under the pillows of the other six. This entire ritual must be performed in dead silence-or it would fail. The girls would then go to bed to dream of their future husbands.

On the eve of St. Mary Magdalene’s Day, a spring of rosemary would be dipped into a mixture of wine, rum, gin, vinegar, and water. The girls, who must be under twenty-one, fastened the sprigs to their gowns, drink three sips of the concoction, then would go to sleep in silence and dream of future husbands.

On Halloween, a girl going out alone might meet her true lover. One tale has it that a young servant-maid who went out for this purpose encountered her master coming home from market instead of a single boy. She ran home to tell her mistress, who was already ill. The mistress implored the maid to be kind to her children, then this wife died. Later on, the master did marry his serving-maid.

Myths and customs were long a part of village life when it came to match-making.

In my novel, Ring of Stone, which takes place in eighteenth-century Cornwall, my heroine Rose will experience magic on All Hallows Eve and glimpse her future husband-a most inappropriate man-over her shoulder.


For more on Diane Scott Lewis’s novels, visit her website:

Source: English Country Life in the Eighteenth Century, by Rosamond Bayne-Powell, 1935.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

WWII: History or Too Close to the Present?

by Elisabeth Marrion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amazon US
Amazon UK
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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

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

by Linda Root

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Wikimedia Commons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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



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

Monday, August 18, 2014

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

by Regina Jeffers

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

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

Sally Lunn's house

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

Beau Nash

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

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

John Wood

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

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

Queen Square

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

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

North Parade

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Palladin Bridge at Prior Park

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


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

Sunday, August 17, 2014

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

by Maria Grace

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Grunter. 
  • Swing Tail. 

  • Active Citizen 
  • Creepers 
  • Scotch Greys  

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

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

 Maria Grace is the author of Darcy's Decision,  The Future Mrs. Darcy, All the Appearance of Goodness, and Twelfth Night at LongbournClick here to find her books on Amazon. For more on her writing and other Random Bits of Fascination, visit her website. You can also like her on Facebook, follow on Twitter or email her.
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Saturday, August 16, 2014

Forgotten English Words

by Maggi Andersen

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

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

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

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

Samuel Butler commented on the psychology used by these hucksters:

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


Maggi Andersen writes historical romance mysteries and adventure novels. 

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

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

Available in print and ebook
Knox Robinson Publishing

Friday, August 15, 2014

The Importance of the Post Office in World War I

by E.M. Powell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2014 E.M. Powell 

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

© 2014 E.M. Powell 

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

© 2014 E.M. Powell 

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

Another heart-rending appeal is for a melodeon:

© 2014 E.M. Powell 

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

© 2014 E.M. Powell 

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

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

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

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

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

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Visit her website at