Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Eadric Streona: An Eleventh Century Villain

by Kelly Evans

In 2005, Eadric Streona (Streona is not his real last name, rather a nickname assigned to him meaning ‘grasper’ or ‘acquisitor’), a little known man to most, was voted the worst Briton of the 11th century in a poll conducted by BBC History Magazine. And, to those who know of him, for good reason. The chronicler William of Malmsbury (1095-1143) had this to say about Eadric:
“This fellow was the refuse of mankind, the reproach of the English; an abandoned glutton, a cunning miscreant; who had become opulent, not by nobility, but by specious language and impudence. This artful dissembler, capable of feigning anything, was accustomed, by pretended fidelity, to scent out the king’s designs, that he might treacherously divulge them.”
Who Was Eadric?
Eadric was one of eight or more children, born to a father who worked at the court of King Aethelred Unraed. There is no evidence that Eadric’s father, Ethelric, held any titles or contributed to the court in any significant way. Eadric and many of his brothers followed in their father’s footsteps; their names are included as witnesses of many charters from Aethelred’s reign.
Aethelred Unraed (Source: Wikipedia)
The first appearance of Eadric’s name on a charter is in 1002, where he stood as witness along with his father and brother. History suggests that Eadric was retained by Aethelred to perform the more distasteful tasks of rule, one of which was the murder in 1006 of a nobleman, Ealdorman Aelfhelm. (Aelfhelm was father to Aelfgifu of Northampton, who would later go on to marry Aethelred’s enemy Canute). Aelfhelm’s sons were blinded on Aethelred’s orders and although there is no evidence that Eadric performed this task it is likely, given his role in their father’s death, that he was at least present.
A Rising Star
The following year Eadric was made Ealdorman of Mercia and it was around this time that he also married the king’s daughter, Eadgyth. Obviously Aethelred valued Eadric’s contribution to his reign.
It was a dangerous time for Aethelred and England: the country’s borders were weakly protected and England was a tempting prize for Danish invaders. After an invasion of the Danes in 1009, Aethelred was prepared to retaliate with force but was persuaded by Eadric to take a different course. Over the next two years the Danes ravished England and were only stopped by the payment of nearly 50,000 pounds of gold, an unpopular move negotiated and delivered by Eadric Streona.
Early in 1013 Sweyn Forkbeard attacked England and this time no amount of gold would be enough: Forkbeard wanted the crown. By the end of the year Aethelred, his wife Emma, their children, and Eadric had all fled to Emma’s home in Normandy. Sweyn died early the following year however and while Sweyn’s supporters declared his son Canute king, the royal counsel in the south of England asked Aethelred back.
Sweyn Forkbeard (Source: Wikipedia)
Eadric followed Aethelred and his family back from Normandy and once again set himself up as the king’s enforcer. One of his first acts was to punish two of the leading thegns from the Danelaw for their possible support of the invaders. Sigeforth and Morcar were tricked into attending a meeting where Eadric murdered them.
Canute arrived back in England a year later, having restocked supplies, ships, and men. By this time Aethelred was ill and his son by his first wife Edmund Ironside took control of the English army. Eadric had his own army and ships and for reasons unknown to history, betrayed his king and country to side with the invading Canute.
In April of 1016 Aethelred died and Edmund was nominated king by the London noblemen, despite more widespread support for Canute. The fighting continued, with Canute’s and Eadric’s armies stretching Edmund’s resources to breaking points. At the battle of Otford, John of Worcester writes that Edmund had the upper hand but Eadric, still fighting with Canute, cut the head off of a soldier who looked like Edmund, held it in the air and told the English that their leader was dead, an act which further sealed his reputation as worst Briton of the time. Eadric isn’t done however.
Edmund Ironside (Source: Wikipedia)
Late that same summer Eadric switched sides once again, swearing loyalty to Edmund. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’s comment on this act is revealing: “No greater folly was ever agreed to than this one.”
In October the final battle occurred and with it another of Eadric’s treacheries. Edmund should have won the Battle of Assandun; his forces were superior to the Danes and he had enlisted fresh fighters, compared to the Danish forces who were fewer in number and battle-weary. The fighting continued for hours, the sound of shield walls thundering could be heard in the next village. But at a pivotal moment, Eadric fled the battlefield, his many supporters along with him. The sides were now numbered in favour of the Danes and the English suffered a crushing defeat.
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’s record for the day of the battle: “Then Ealdorman Eadric did as he so often did before, first started the fight…and betrayed his royal lord and the whole nation.”
After the battle Edmund and Canute met and divided the country between them, with Canute ruling in the north and Edmund in the south. They agreed that if either died without issue then the other would take the entire country. Fortunately for Canute, Edmund died of battle injuries not long afterwards; Canute now ruled all of England.
Canute (Source: Wikipedia)
Eadric ingratiated himself enough with the new king to remain Ealdorman of Mercia but by the following Christmas, 1017, the mood had changed: Canute either suspected Eadric of treason or had already accused him of such.
In the Encomium Emmae, Emma of Normandy’s account of events, Eadric’s death is noted:
“…One of these was Eadric, who had fled the war, and to whom, when he asked for a reward for this (ie aiding Canute at Assandun) from the king, pretending to have done it to ensure his victory, the king said sadly ‘shall you who have deceived your lord with guile, be capable of being true to me? I will return to you a worthy reward, but I do so to the end that deception may not subsequently be your pleasure’. And summoning Erik, his commander, he said ‘Pay this man what we owe him, that is to say, kill him lest he play us false.’ (Erik) indeed raised his axe without delay and cut of his head with a mighty blow…”
Other versions of his death have Eadric being strangled and his body thrown out of a window, decapitation with his head thrown out of a window and decapitation with his head posted on a pole to serve as a warning to other would-be traitors.
So does Eadric Streona deserve the title of worst 11th century Briton? It would seem so, for even the chroniclers of the time were horrified by his actions. As well as the earlier quote by William of Malmsbury, John of Worcester (died 1140) has this to say: “He was a man, indeed, of low origin but his smooth tongue gained him wealth and high rank, and, gifted with a subtle genius and persuasive eloquence, he surpassed all his contemporaries in malice and perfidy as well as in pride and cruelty.”
Worst Briton indeed!
Campbell, Alistair, ed. Encomium Emmae Regina. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998
Fjalldal, Magnus. Anglo-Saxon England in Icelandic Medieval Texts. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2005.
Stenton, Frank. Anglo-Saxon England. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.
Swanton, Michael, ed. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles. Great Britain: Pheonix Press, 2000.
BBC News: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk/4560716.stmkellyaevans.com Book Link  (Amazon)
Book Link (Amazon UK)
Universal Amazon Author Link

Monday, February 8, 2016

Celtic Time-keeping

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

Celtic farmstead, North Wales c. 3rdC AD via timetrips.co.uk

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

Celtic coin showing image of wheat, via resourcesforhistory.com

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

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

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

Celtic tree calendar, via ogham.thewahzone.com

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


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

Sunday, February 7, 2016

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

by Anne O'Brien

A subject not for the faint-hearted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The squeamish can bow out here.

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

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

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

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

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

~ ~ ~ ~ ~
My new novel of Joanna of Navarre, The Queen's Choice, includes the Battle of Shrewsbury, King Henry and the Prince.
#histfic #Lancaster #Plantagenet #EHFA
Do visit my website:  www.anneobrien.co.uk

Saturday, February 6, 2016

The Battle of Upton-Upon-Severn

By Cryssa Bazos

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Church Street, Upton-Upon-Severn

Fight at the Church

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

John Lambert by Robert Walker
National Portrait Gallery NPG 252

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

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

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

The turning of the tide

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

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

Edward Massey

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

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

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

Media attributions:

Church Street: Bob Embleton [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

“Edward Massie” by Unknown – http://www.livinggloucester.co.uk/resources/image/LG00027c.jpg. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Edward_Massie.jpg#/media/File:Edward_Massie.jpg About these ads

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

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Walking the Tight-Rope of Historicity and Fiction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Dinner with Mrs. Rundell

by Maria Grace

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

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

For anyone interested, replica editions have been published and the original itself is available free on line:http://digital.lib.msu.edu/projects/cookbooks/html/books/book_03.cfm  or

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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


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

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The Banqueting House

By Cryssa Bazos

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

The Banqueting House- Wikimedia Commons

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

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

Interior Hall: Photo by C. Bazos

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

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

Detail of ceiling:Wikimedia Commons

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

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

The Undercroft: Photo by C. Bazos

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

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

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

Parliamentary guard: Photo by C. Bazos

Wikimedia Commons attribution:
The Banqueting House: "Banqueting House London" by en:User:ChrisO - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Banqueting_House_London.jpg#/media/File:Banqueting_House_London.jpg

Apotheosis of James I: "Banqueting House 03" by The wub - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Banqueting_House_03.jpg#/media/File:Banqueting_House_03.jpg

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

Monday, February 1, 2016

IMBOLC, St Brighid & the arrival of Spring

by Elaine S Moxon

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

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

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

Part of 'Feast of Presentation' by Bellini, via www.churchyear.net

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

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

Detail of antlered figure, via archeurope.eu

Gundestrup Cauldron, via en.wikipedia.org

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

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

Cross of St Brighid

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


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

Sunday, January 31, 2016


by Lauren Gilbert

Cook with Food

While you may suspect that this article is about the capture of a criminal, today we are actually looking at food.   English cuisine in the Georgian and Regency era is a special interest for me. I enjoy learning about old cooking techniques and dishes.  As a reader and writer of historical fiction, I think the inclusion of the foods of a given period makes the work more interesting and brings the time alive.  After all, we all have to eat, and we can all relate to a discussion of food.

Collaring involves seasoning, rolling and binding your food material.  It can be rolled and tied in a cloth or bound with string. The roll itself is referred to as a collar.   It can be pickled or boiled or baked.  It can be chopped or shredded, or a whole piece.

I have found several recipes for collared beef, pork and mutton, and a few for collared eel.  The results range from a pickled dish to one that sounds similar to a rolled stuffed roast.  Many of these dishes are heavily salted, and the recipes indicate that they can be stored for a time.   Recipes for collared meats go back to Elizabethan times and were popular through the Georgian and Regency eras.

The Elizabethan recipe for collared beef that I read had no list of ingredients.  Quantities are not shown, so the amount of seasoning used would have been a matter of personal taste.  I suspect the particular spices and herbs used would have varied with what the cook could afford and the season of the year.  The recipe and technique, which includes soaking in salted water, can be read in its entirety at the link provided below for the Elizabethan Era site.  The finished product would be cooled, and served in slices.  As you can see, the final dish sounds very much like a rolled roast we might serve today.

In THE ART OF COOKERY MADE PLAIN AND EASY, Mrs. Glasse’s recipe for collared beef is included in the section TO CURE HAMS, &c.  Mrs. Glasse used a dry brining of salt, salt petre, and sugar combined, with which she rubbed the beef flank.  The meat was turned and rubbed with the brine for 8 days, then rinsed and dried.  It was then seasoned with herbs and spices, rolled very tight, wrapped in a cloth and tied.  The collared beef was then boiled in water  (five hours if a small one, 6 if a large one), then removed and cooled in a press (or between two boards with a weight).  When cooled , the collar was removed from the cloth and sliced for serving.

Eliza Smith, in THE COMPLEAT HOUSEWIFE, included recipes for collared salmon and collared eel.  Her salmon was brushed with egg yolk, and then spread with a wide range of ingredients including oysters, lobster, sweet herbs, spices (including cloves, nutmeg and pepper) and breadcrumbs.  It was then rolled and bound.  After a mixture of water, salt and vinegar was brought to a boil, she put in the salmon collar with more herbs and spices.  It was boiled for about 2 hours, and then removed to a pan.  When the cooking liquid was cold, the salmon was replaced in the liquid and let to stand until used.  If not to be eaten at the time, the salmon collar and liquid could have been placed in a pot, which was then filled with purified butter for storage.

On the blog The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies, a recipe for collared brawn is discussed.  Raw meat from the head of a pig was removed, and the pieces placed in salt for 3 days, spiced (including cloves and mace), and wrapped in a cloth.  Then it was boiled in a mixture of vinegar, salt and water until tender.  After being removed from the liquid and cloth, the brawn was wrapped tightly in a fresh cloth and tied, then cooled.  The liquid (referred to as “pickle”) was then brought to a boil with fresh water, and then cooled, and the brawn was kept in the liquid.  (The recipe advises making fresh liquid or liquor every two weeks.)

Although I am not sure how long these dishes could actually be held, I can see how some of these and similar recipes maintained their popularity in English cuisine for several centuries.  The preparations and seasonings used in collaring meat and fish would have allowed for varied flavors and textures.  In the days before refrigeration, being able to prepare and store a dish must have been a blessing, especially if serving an unexpected visitor. Some of these recipes could be readily adapted for modern taste as well.

Sources include:
Glasse, Hannah.  THE ART OF COOKRY MADE PLAIN AND EASY.  First published 1747, new edition published 1805: Cotton and Stewart, Alexandria.  Facsimile of 1805 edition with historical notes by Karen Hess, published 1997: Applewood Books, Bedford, MA.
Smith, Eliza.  THE COMPLEAT HOUSEWIFE.  First published 1758.  Facsimile edition published 1994: Studio Editions, Ltd., London, England.

The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies.  "To Collar Meat."  Posted October 2, 2013 by Westminster City Archives.  HERE.  Last viewed 1/30/2016.

Elizabethan Era.  Alchin, L.K., author.  “Collar’d Beef Old Elizabethan Recipe.”   HERE.

Image for THE ART OF COOKERY MADE PLAIN AND EASY from Wikimedia Commons  HERE

Image "Cook with Food" by Franz Snyders (1579-1657) from Wikimedia Commons HERE

Image for THE COMPLEAT HOUSEWIFE from Wikimedia Commons HERE

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Lauren Gilbert is the author of HEYERWOOD, A Novel and a member of the Jane Austen Society of North America.  She lives in Florida with her husband, and is working on another novel, A RATIONAL ATTACHMENT.  For more information, visit her website.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

The Lusitania Cover-Up

By Greg Taylor

The Lusitania Cover-Up was published in July in i-Magazine in the UK.

Nearly 100 years after the 9/11 of its day, the truth comes out.

On May 1st last year, the government archives at Kew released declassified documents. What documents are kept secret? Those that are dangerous or embarrassing to the government. In the case of documents related to RMS Lusitania released on May 1st 2014, both are true.

The sinking of the Lusitania was the 9/11 of its day. On May 7th 1915, the 31,550-ton Cunard Liner was en route to Liverpool from New York with 1,959 souls aboard when a German U-Boat torpedoed her just 11 miles off the coast of Ireland.

Everyone is familiar with the tale of the Titanic but what about the Lusitania?

She was launched into the River Clyde to the strains of “Rule Britannia” on June 7 1906, the largest moveable object ever created by man. On the Lusitania rested the hopes of the Empire and Cunard Lines that Britain would reclaim from the German liners the Blue Riband for the fastest crossing of the Atlantic.

By George Grantham Bain [Public Domain]
via Wikimedia Commons

She was financed with government loans on the condition she be available for troop transport in time of need. Despite this, the Lusitania was fitted out to a standard of luxury never seen before. She reclaimed for Britain the Blue Riband on her third Atlantic crossing with a speed of 23.99 knots.

Dining Saloon RMS Lusitania,
[Public Domain] Wikimedia Commons

In 1915, the Lusitania was the fastest, most luxurious ship making the transatlantic run. When she sailed from New York on May 1st 1915, the New York Times and other papers carried a warning from the German Embassy. Everyone ignored it - confident the fastest ship in the world could outrun any German submarine that might dare to threaten a passenger liner travelling from a neutral country.

Submarines of that period had a top speed underwater of only nine knots. They could reach speeds of fifteen knots on the surface but were vulnerable of being rammed. This led the Admiralty to issue such instructions to the merchant fleet in February 1915, a command that was intercepted and known to the German High Command.

The U20 spotted the Lusitania on the 7th of May, the last day of her crossing. The submarine nearly lost her due to the liner’s superior speed but a last minute change of direction gave the U20 an excellent shot. After being hit by a single torpedo, the Lusitania sank in eighteen minutes at a list so severe that only eight of the forty-two lifeboats were launched. Due to the thirty-degree list, the lifeboats on the port side smashed into the decks below, while those on the starboard side hung eight feet from the doomed ship.

Knowing the speed of the Lusitania might flip lifeboats put into the water, Captain Turner ordered the boats lowered to the Promenade Deck and kept empty until the ship slowed. He did not realise that he and his passengers would have only eighteen minutes before the stern slipped under the water.

By Winsor McCay (Living Lines Library)
[Public Domain] Wikimedia Commons

Kapitänleutnant Schwieger, who ordered the torpedo strike, was shocked when he saw through his periscope a second, much larger explosion. He refused to permit his crew to look at the drowning passengers of the Lusitania.

To this day, experts continue to debate the cause of the second explosion that sealed the Lusitania’s fate after the torpedo struck. Imperial Germany immediately claimed the ship was loaded with explosives destined for the front.

In June 1915, during the official inquiry into the sinking of the Lusitania, the Admiralty manipulated testimony so that Lord Mersey reached an erroneous conclusion that multiple torpedoes struck the ship. The Admiralty knew from an intercepted message that Kapit√§nleutnant Schwieger had fired only a single torpedo. It was important to many that the inquiry blame only Imperial Germany. Lord Mersey waived his fees for the case and formally resigned two days after the verdict, saying, "The Lusitania case was a damned, dirty business!" Documents related to the closed sessions of the inquiry have never been released and Lord Mersey’s personal copy is claimed to be lost.

The Admiralty had withdrawn the Lusitania’s escort ship, HMS Juno, once the submarine threat became known. Like the Lusitania, the Juno was built with longitudinal coal bunkers that protected vital machinery from shellfire but made the ship vulnerable to listing when hit by a torpedo. It was also known that First Sea Lord Winston Churchill had remarked that the loss of an ocean liner such as the Lusitania might help bring America into the war on the side of Britain.

Beginning in 1922, Germany repeatedly requested international dives on the Lusitania wreck to determine whether the second explosion was a result of contraband munitions on board. The alleged use by the British Navy of the site for testing depth charges is considered by some an effort to destroy evidence.

What was in the documents released at Kew last year?

Under the 30 Year Rule, the British National Archive released internal memoranda between the Commonwealth Office and Ministry of Defence that showed that in 1982 the Government was concerned that divers to the Lusitania wreck were at risk because the wreck contained explosives. One of the memos went so far as to say that this disclosure might “blow up on us all”. The British government was worried about ramifications for British-American relations because the discovery of explosives on the wreck would imply the Lusitania had been a legitimate target.

The novel, Lusitania R.E.X, weaves fiction around the known facts to create a plausible explanation of some of the mysteries surrounding the sinking. The story is centred on one of the wealthiest men in the world, Alfred Vanderbilt, who lost his life after giving his lifebelt to a woman passenger. This historical fiction is replete with spies, secret societies and superweapons, as well as millionaires, monarchs and martyrs. In the book, Alfred and his fellow members of Skull and Bones, a Yale secret society that in 1911 included the President of the United States, the Secretary of War and the Secretary of the Treasury, have taken a secret cargo aboard the ship. The story unfolds on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean in settings that range from gilded palaces and the Lusitania to the blood-soaked trenches of Ypres.

Greg Taylor is the author of Lusitania R.E.X and the inaugural winner of the M.M. Bennett's Award for Historical Fiction. Lusitania R.E.X is also a finalist in the People’s Book Prize. For more information, visit his website at www.lusitaniarex.com