Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Strange Victorian Remedies

by Lynne Wilson

As 19th century Britain’s economy grew, the use of advertising to sell products greatly expanded. Due to the expense involved in a visit to the doctor, one such area in which advertising became popular was with remedies and cures for everyday ailments which people could purchase relatively cheaply and administer themselves. With very few restrictions on the claims that could be made, many seemingly miraculous cures appeared for sale. Although some of these remedies had some scientific basis, others were, unfortunately for the unwitting buyer, completely useless. On researching my book ‘A Year in Victorian Edinburgh’ I came across some weird and wonderful examples of both useful and useless remedies, in the form of newspaper advertisements from 1869. Here are a few of these examples:


Sulphur was thought to cure many ailments, including Cholera, of which there had been several outbreaks previously. Sulphur could be taken in the form above or alternatively, another popular method in the 19th century was to ‘Take the waters’, in the form of visiting spas or drinking mineral waters containing iron, copper or sulphur to cure common ailments such as rheumatism, arthritis, overindulgence and respiratory disorders such as asthma.

With all forms of bathing being popular in the Victorian era, many establishments such as the one below opened. ‘Galvanic baths’, which were though to have health giving properties, were baths in which an electric current was passed through the water and hence, through the body. Turkish baths worked on the principle of sweating out all impurities and then washing them away.


The use of electricity in treatments was often popular, and another means by which it was utilised was in applying currents to nerve points via a battery and cables, such as the treatment advertised below. It was believed that “life-giving force” of electricity could relieve lung diseases, inflammation of the brain or liver, rheumatism, small pox, and even cure drunkenness! Victorian innovators would claim that these illnesses could be cured simply by wearing these electric belts or sitting in a magnetically charged room.


By far the most common type of advertisement however, seems to be aimed at people’s insecurity or vanity regarding either loss of hair or greying hair colour. In the Edinburgh Evening Courant newspaper in 1869, an advertisement appeared for ‘Luxuriant and Beautiful Hair’ – ‘Miss S. S. Allen’s World’s Hair Restorer or Dressing never fails to quickly restore grey or faded hair to its youthful colour and beauty. It stops the hair from falling off. It prevents baldness. It promotes luxuriant growth. It causes the hair to grow thick and strong. It removes all dandruff.’ Many other advertisements promised equally astounding results.

Although on the face of it, these seem like fairly harmless, albeit utterly ineffective remedies, the reality was that some of these products had ingredients which were toxic to varying degrees, as an article in The Edinburgh Evening Courant newspaper shows: ‘Poisonous Lotions for the Hair’ – ‘Nothing is more extraordinary than the irrational credulity of even educated, intelligent persons, in accepting a tradesman’s puff as a genuine warranty. When, for instance, will people be warned against the use of poisonous hair dyes? It can be no secret that white lead is the chief ingredient in the black dyes now so largely sold. Paralysis, in a more or less severe form, is the inevitable consequence of applying these lotions to the hair.’

Thankfully, by the end of the Victorian era, things were began to improve, with restrictions on the sale of poisons and more analysis being carried out by reputable retailers such as ‘Boots the Chemist’, to determine the safety of products for sale. However, it wasn’t until the start of the 20th century that greater scrutiny of these products came into existence and manufacturers began to be prosecuted for fraudulent claims.

All Images Courtesy of The Scotsman Archives


By Lynne Wilson, author of the historical non fiction ebooks 'A Year in
Victorian Edinburgh' and 'Crime & Punishment in Victorian Edinburgh'; and the paperback, 'Murder & Crime in Stirling'.

Read more about Lynne Wilson HERE.

Lynne is also the creator and editor of Scotland History Uncovered

Madness in their Method: Water therapy in Georgian and Regency times

by LUCINDA BRANT

Using water to treat illness, known today as Hydrotherapy, is a practice dating back to Ancient Egypt. Greek and Roman historians also mention the use of water in the treatment of muscle fatigue, hydrophobia and fever. Using water therapy as a psychiatric tool is attributed to Jean Baptiste Van Helmont’s massive medical tome the Ortus Medicinae published in 1643 and translated into English by John Chandler in 1662. [1]

Van Helmont advocated water immersion therapy in the treatment of mental illness. The patient was fully immersed in cold water until the point of unconsciousness, and thus at the point at which the patient could drown, because he believed near death immersion in cold water could “kill the mad idea” which caused mental derangement. [3]


Naturally, this was a very dangerous technique and never became widespread. However, Van Helmont’s staunch belief in using water as a treatment for mental illness was taken up by various medical institutions and practitioners across Europe so that by the 18th Century the “water-cure” in its various forms became one of a number of standard treatments used by physicians and insane asylums when dealing with all manner of psychiatric conditions.


The two main types of water cure were the douche or cold shower and the balneum or bath. The douche required cold water be poured over the patient’s head or sprayed at the patient’s body to cool the heat of madness if insane, or rouse the depressed if suffering from melancholia. The bath was used to calm overwrought nerves and to encourage sleep. In the early years of this type of therapy, most cures were performed out of doors near a source of water—the sea or a pond. This allowed for public viewing. However, as asylums, both public and private, became more widespread in the 18th Century, water cures were moved indoors. Inside and away from the public eye and an immediate source of water, so institutions and their practitioners developed inventive ways and a wide variety of apparatuses to deliver water therapy to the mad and melancholic. [1]

There were cold shower rooms, bath boxes that shut patients in, shower contraptions that delivered water at intervals via a system of pulleys and levers, dunking devices that immersed patients at regular intervals into small ponds as the device rotated and turned on a giant cogs, and there was the simple ladder and bucket method that involved the patient sitting in a wooden barrel while behind a screen attendants ran up and down ladders with buckets of water that they poured onto the patient’s head from a great height. And then there was “the chair”:

"I have contrived a chair and introduced it to our [Pennsylvania] Hospital to assist in curing madness. It binds and confines every part of the body. By keeping the trunk erect, it lessens the impetus of blood toward the brain. By preventing the muscles from acting, it reduces the force and frequency of the pulse, and by the position of the head and feet favors the easy application of cold water or ice to the former and warm water to the latter. Its effects have been truly delightful to me. It acts as a sedative to the tongue and temper as well as to the blood vessels. In 24, 12, six, and in some cases in four hours, the most refractory patients have been composed. I have called it a Tranquillizer"
(Rush to James Rush, The Letters of Benjamin Rush, Princeton University Press, 1951) [1,3]


By the mid 18th Century water therapy had become a standard treatment in the “mad doctor”’ medical bag. Yet, in this Age of Enlightenment, when many people came to view the shackling of the mad as inhumane, there were those physicians who advocated the use of water therapy not only as a cure but as a more humane means of coercion, thus doing away with the need for physical restraints. Thus water therapy was not only used on the mad and those suffering from depression, it was used by some physicians in the good-natured belief that it would persuade patients who had veered from the path of what society viewed as “normal” behavior to “get back on track”. [2, 3]

Thus water therapy was used by some physicians as a means of treating married women who had become “mildly distracted” and had opted out of their marital responsibilities (i.e. didn’t want to have sex with their husband). One such practitioner who used the method to sadistic effect was Patrick Blair, a physician who is the model for Sir Titus Foley in my novel AUTUMN DUCHESS, a dandified and well-respected physician whose medical forte is treating females for melancholia. When Antonia Dowager Duchess of Roxton is seen to be excessively melancholy and is still wearing mourning three years after the death of the Duke, her loving son is at his wits end and he instructs Sir Titus to treat his mother, little realizing that part of his treatment is the use of water therapy.


Patrick Blair had his female patients blindfolded, stripped and strapped to a bathing chair. The woman was then subjected to 30 minutes of water being sprayed directly into her face. When the woman refused to agree to return to the marital bed, Blair went one step further and repeated the treatment for 60 minutes, then 90 minutes and when she promised obedience Blair allowed her to sleep. Yet, the next day, sensing the woman was “sullen” and probably had only agreed because of the treatment, he again had her strapped to the chair and subjected to the treatment at intervals over the next two days. Finally, exhausted after such physical and mental torture, the woman succumbed and agreed to become a “loving and obedient and dutiful wife forever thereafter”. To make certain she did, Blair visited her at her home a month later and was happy to report “everything was in good order”. [4]

Thankfully Blair’s sadistic treatment of his female patients was not the norm. Yet, most physicians, indeed most people in the 18th and early 19th Centuries viewed water therapy in its various forms as an acceptable means of coercing, treating, and hopefully curing patients with various mental, melancholic and recalcitrant afflictions.


SOURCES
  1. Annual Report to the Friends (July 2005 – June 2006) The Institute for the History of Psychiatry, Cornell University, New York.

  2. Porter, Roy. Blood and Guts, A Short History of Medicine, Allen Lane, London 2002.

  3. Scull, Andrew. Social Order/Mental Disorder; Anglo-American Psychiatry in Historical Perspective. Berkeley. University of California Press 1989.

  4. Porter, Dorothy and Porter, Roy. Patient’s Progress: Doctors and Doctoring in Eighteenth-century England. Stanford University Press, Stanford California 1989.
Note: Water treatment images sourced and adapted from [1].



Monday, January 30, 2012

Giveaway Queen Defiant/Devil's Consort by Anne O'Brien

This giveaway is now ended. Thank you so much to all fans of Eleanor of Aquitaine who put their names forward. It is good to see so many people who enjoy medieval history.
I decided to draw for two copies, one of UK Devil's Consort and the other the US Queen Defiant.
The two fortunate winners are Anne Goodwin (UK) and Sophia Rose (US).
Congratulations and Happy Reading.

Anne O'Brien is giving away a copy of Queen Defiant(US)/Devil's Consort(US). To see some information about the book, please click HERE.

WHO SAID THAT?

In many instances, William Shakespeare!  



We all know famous lines from Shakespeare's works, the following are just a few:


TO BE OR NOT TO BE
FRIENDS, ROMANS, COUNTRYMEN, LEND ME YOUR EARS
A ROSE BY ANY OTHER NAME WOULD SMELL AS SWEET
DOUBLE DOUBLE TOIL AND TROUBLE, FIRE BURN, AND CAULDRON BUBBLE
O ROMEO, ROMEO, WHEREFORE ART THOU, ROMEO.

But what you may not know is many of the aphorisms used today were also started by Shakespeare. It is well-known he didn't coin all the sayings, but he was the first to write many of them down. Other writers before him used some of the expressions in their works.


COME WHAT COME MAY was first used in 1375 in John Barbour's, The Bruce. Shakespeare used the term in MacBeth.
MACBETH: Come what come may, 
Time and the hour runs through the roughest day.


EATEN OUT OF HOUSE AND HOME is noted in Henry IV.
MISTRESS QUICKLY: It is more than for some, my lord; it is for all, all I have.
 He hath eaten me out of house and home; he hath put all my substance into that fat belly of his...

WHERE MY HEART UPON MY SLEEVE may derive from the middle ages jousting matches were knights are said to have worn colors of the lady they were supporting, in a cloth or ribbon tied on their arms, but the term was first recorded in Shakespeare's Othello.
IAGO: ...But I will wear my heart upon my sleeve
For daws to peck at: I am not what I am.

SEND HIM PACKING can be found in Shakespeare's Henry IV.
FALSTAFF: Faith, and I'll send him packing.

NIGHT OWL first became a reference to people in the sixteenth century. Shakespeare used it in Richard II:
"For nightowles shreeke, where mounting larkes should sing."

and in Twelfth Night:
"Shall wee rowze the night-Owle in a Catch?"

LOVE IS BLIND was a favorite line of Shakespeare's. It appears in several of his plays. The following is from The Merchant Of Venice.
JESSICA:...But love is blind and lovers cannot see
The pretty follies that themselves commit;
For if they could, Cupid himself would blush
To see me thus transformed to a boy.

IN STITCHES was first used by Shakespeare in Twelfth Night. Despite Shakespeare using the phrase, it didn't become popular until the twentieth century.
MARIA: If you desire the spleen, and will laugh yourself into stitches, follow me.


GIVE THE DEVIL HIS DUE is from Shakespeare's Henry IV.
CONSTABLE; I will cap that proverb with 'There is flattery in friendship.'
ORLEANS: And I will take up that with 'Give the devil his due.'

GREEN-EYED MONSTER is a phrase used in Othello.
IAGO: O, beware, my lord, of jealousy;
It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock...

Here are more aphorisms, some I can believe were used by Shakespeare, others just astound me that we're using them still today.

A FOOL'S PARADISE
A FOREGONE CONCLUSION
ALL CORNERS OF THE WORLD
ALL THAT GLITTERS IS NOT GOLD
ALL THE WORLD'S A STAGE, AND ALL THE MEN AND WOMEN MERELY PLAYERS
ALL'S WELL THAT ENDS WELL
AS DEAD AS A DOORNAIL
AS PURE AS THE DRIVEN SNOW
AT ONE FELL SWOOP
BEWARED THE IDES OF MARCH
EXCEEDINGLY WELL READ
FAIR PLAY
FANCY FREE
FIGHT FIRE WITH FIRE
FOREVER AND A DAY
FOUL PLAY
GOOD RIDDANCE
HEART'S CONTENT
HIGH TIME
HIS BEARD WAS AS WHITE AS SNOW (Isn't this Santa Claus?)
I HAVE NOT SLEPT ONE WINK
IF MUSIC BE THE FOOD OF LOVE, PLAY ON
IN A PICKLE (seriously??? Shakespeare?)
IN THE TWINKLING OF AN EYE
LIKE THE DICKENS (And this is no reference to Charles Dickens!)
SCREW YOUR COURAGE TO THE STICKING POST (I've never heard of this one, but I love it.)
SET YOUR TEETH ON EDGE
SOMETHING IS ROTTEN IN THE STATE OF DENMARK
STAR CROSSED LOVERS
SUCH STUFF AS DREAMS ARE MADE OF
THE DEVIL INCARNATE
THE GAME IS UP
THE QUEEN'S ENGLISH
THERE'S METHOD IN MY MADNESS (Oh, we writers know this one.)
THIS IS THE SHORT AND LONG OF IT
TOO MUCH OF A GOOD THING
UP IN ARMS
VANISH INTO THIN AIR (Wow, really?)
WE HAVE SEEN BETTER DAYS
WILD GOOSE CHASE

by Tess St. John

As a writer, I think it would be the ultimate compliment for people to be using phrases and words I wrote five hundred years from now!


I hope some of you learned something new. Please check out these websites for information (I got my information for this blog at these sites) on Shakespeare and his writing, plus more sayings still used today--and their meanings.

For more about Tess St. John and her books, please visit her website at  http://tessstjohn.com .

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Regarding English Aid to La Rochelle. Benjamin Rohan, Duc de Soubise (1583-1642)

by Shawn Lamb

Benjamin is the younger brother of Henri de Rohan, and inherited his title from his mother Catherine of Parthenay. The Rohan brothers divided France between them in forms of leadership. Naturally, as duke, Henri was considered the supreme commander of the Huguenots, but in many ways, Benjamin was more the zealot Reformer. In fact, he was considered a hothead by Marie de Medicis and involved in a number of hostile confrontations at Court. Being cousin to King Henry IV saved his life on several occasions.

Benjamin proved his military and naval leadership in 1621, when he defeated the royal fleet at the River Blavet. Before this, many looked upon his exploits as those of a brigand. Henri didn’t contain his brother’s activities since he need Benjamin’s leadership and help to institute reforms. At first Benjamin was at La Rochelle while Henri raised arms in the south. However, Benjamin’s lack of patience with the stubborn populous at La Rochelle to submit to his authority, prompted him to leave for England to solicit aid. More rightly, he was itching for a fight. This act was the final straw for the French Court in tolerating his rebellious behavior and he was declared lèse-majesté, guilty of treason.

In England, Benjamin’s exploits preceded him and he was warmly welcomed and given asylum by his kinsman, King Charles I. The Rohans were related to almost every royal family in Europe, which is why Richelieu treaded lightly in dealing with the family, they could call upon England, Spain and Austria for military assistance. To Benjamin’s pleasure, Charles was already predisposed to providing the aid he sought for La Rochelle; it was Buckingham who remained skeptical.

The duke’s longstanding personal feud with Louis and Richelieu were having a profound effect upon the royal family of England. Shortly before Benjamin’s arrival, Buckingham convinced Charles to dismiss all of Queen Henrietta’s French servants. His argument was valid - she was now Queen of England, she should speak English, employ English servants and engage the people of England. The Queen’s refusal led to swift action and her French servants were whisked away so fast she never got to say good-bye.


Louis sent Marshal Bassompierre to England to complain of the insult to his sister. Buckingham offered to go to France and soothe over the situation, but Richelieu refused to allow him to set foot in France. At this latest insult to the English Prime Minister from a mere cardinal, Buckingham was more willing to listen to Benjamin.

On July 17th, 1627, Buckingham set sail with a fleet to La Rochelle. Benjamin was aboard the duke’s ship and key in providing military intelligence concerning La Rochelle and islands of Re or Oleron. But this aid would be too little and too late.

In a surprising turn, the novice French fleet, commanded by Admiral Montmorency, would defeat the famed English navy. It wasn’t the defeat that crushed Benjamin’s spirit, but the ultimate surrender of La Rochelle, which resulted in the capture of his mother and sister. Henri would suffer exile and Benjamin swore never to set foot in France again. Even the Edict of Grace was not sufficient to persuade him to return. To the day of his death in London, Benjamin believed the failure of the English fleet to liberate La Rochelle was due to the commanders’ stubbornness not to listen to his advice.

See Shawn's article on Benjamin's brother, Henri de Rohan HERE.


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Shawn began her writing career in television, writing for Filmation Studio’s series BraveStarr. She won several screenwriting awards including a Certificate of Merit from the American Association of Screenwriters. Recently she became a winner in The Authors Show contest 50 Great Writers You Should Be Reading for 2011. Shawn lives in Nashville with her husband Rob and their daughter, Briana.

An All-Consuming Passion

by Anne O'Brien

An All-Consuming Passion
The love affair that changed the course of English History




Owen Tudor and Katharine de Valois

He was a servant. She was the dowager-queen of England. He was a dispossessed Welshman. She had royal Valois blood in her veins and was the widow of England’s glorious hero of Agincourt, King Henry V. She was the King’s Mother, he was the Keeper of the Queen’s Wardrobe.
Such a liaison would be unthinkable, and yet they fell victim to a passionate romance.







A Windsor Romance


It all happened at Windsor since Katharine was bound by law to live in her son’s household after her politically disastrous near-marriage to Edmund Beaufort. She was considered to be a woman ‘unable fully to curb her carnal passions’ and so she must live a carefully controlled life. So how did Katharine and Owen manage to fall in love? The record of the occasion of the romance has been described as ‘a pot pourri of myth, romanticism, tradition and anti-Tudor propaganda.’ It is certainly a gift to writers of historical fiction - although it brings its own problems.




A mixed bag of historical tradition ...


One strong tradition, written in a poem in 1361 at the time of Owen’s death, was that he first caught Katharine’s attention when he over-balanced and fell into her lap at a Court ball. Too much alcohol? Or clumsy dancing? Impossible to tell.


A mid 16th century chronicler tells a quite different story. Katharine saw Owen and his friends swimming in the river on a summer’s day. Perhaps in this very spot on the Thames near Windsor - with or without the swans.




Overcome by his sheer masculinity, Katharine changed garments with her maid and arranged to meet Owen in disguise. He was too ardent, she struggled and, escaping his embrace, received a wound to her cheek. Serving her at supper that night, Owen saw the bruise and realised who the ‘maidservant’ had been. Ashamed, he begged her forgiveness. Katharine forgave him readily, they professed their love and were duly married. Sadly, there is no historical proof for either version. But what vivid scenes these sources paint for us. The difficulty for a novelist is of course producing something half-way realistic. If Owen was Katharine’s personal servant, how could he not recognise her face, her voice, even in disguise? Unless she was mute and they met in a dark cupboard, it would seem impossible. As for the drunken mishap ... It makes writing a credible version highly entertaining.




A Private Marriage.


Whatever the truth of their meeting, their love was strong enough to encourage the unlikely pair to flout the law of the land. Katharine was forbidden to marry without the permission of the King who was not yet ten years old. Any man foolish enough to wed her without permission would find all his lands and possessions declared forfeit. Here Katharine was fortunate for Owen had no assets to lose. Penal statutes against the Welsh after Owen Glendywr’s Rising in the reign of Henry IV dispossessed many, as well as prohibiting them from carrying arms, meeting in gatherings, owning land east of the ancient border of Offa’s Dyke and holding government office. When Owen married Katharine he had nothing to forfeit.




The clandestine affair was no secret at Court: Katharine had no compunction in taking the law into her own hands and challenging the Council to do its worst. She would be wed and be damned to them! Perhaps this suggests that Katherine not the mindless beauty that she has sometimes been described as, but a woman of considerable audacity and courage. The marriage was conducted privately, and the happy couple left Windsor to live out the years of their marriage quietly in Katharine’s dower properties.




And the Tudors ...


The circumstances of the astonishing marriage between Owen and Katharine is my primary interest since I am writing a novel of Katharine de Valois, but for aficionados of the Tudors it is the descendants of this marriage who take all the attention. Their eldest son Edmund married Margaret Beaufort, the Beaufort heiress, who passed enough royal Plantagenet blood to their son to enable him to claim the crown of England as King Henry VII.





This is a bust of Henry VII based on his death mask, and can be seen in the V and A in London. We have no portrait of Owen Tudor. Did he look anything like his grandson? Would Katharine have fallen in love with this man?


Who knows ...?


Anne O’Brien:

Author of The Virgin Widow and Queen Defiant(US)/Devil’s Consort(UK)

The King’s Concubine, the story of Alice Perrers, will be released in May(UK)June(US) 2012




Thursday, January 26, 2012

The days the world’s most powerful man, the richest man and smartest man came together

by David Wilkin

While such an occurrence probably happens often enough these days, Warren Buffet in a room with Stephen Hawking and the US President, perhaps, before mass transportation, the airplane, and instant telecommunications, this event would have been hard put to have taken place.



I should hazard that in the time of the Regency era, it hardly ever happened.

While researching previous Regency era novels, I developed a fascination for the early introduction of trains and railways. In The End of the World which is set in the exact area that rail tracks were laid down well ahead of train engines being invented, I had found that the practice was developed to haul copper from the mines to the coast. A theme shown in that book.

The research on early locomotion led me to learn of George Stephenson and his son Robert. Prior to this I had heard of Stephenson’s Rocket. Now I learned more about the locomotive engine that won the Rainhill Time Trials for the Liverpool and Manchester Railway of 1829.

The day our three greatest titled men on earth met was for the opening of that very railway, and it turned out to be fateful in many ways.

It certainly would have taken men of vision to realize that the steam engine had so many uses, including the change of how we felt about distance. That is a societal change that I would argue, though not here, altered the world. Prior to this event, the use of steam engines to power a means of transport, we were reliant on our feet, horses (camels, elephants, etc.) and shipping either by rowing, or wind powered. (Of course that last mode required water as well.)

The advent of steam which leads to the use of railways, I thought to make a centerpiece of a Regency story, but the events of September 15th, 1830 were so momentous that I had written three chapters in The Fastest Love on Earth before I realized that it was the predominant opening theme that brought my hero and heroine together.

Not only they, did I have attend this event, but in reality so too did the Prime Minister of England, Arthur Wellesley the Duke of Wellington.


One of the few investors, or owners if you will, of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway was the friend of the Duke and also the wealthiest man of the 19th century. The Marquess of Stafford, or George Granville Leveson-Gower was thus there with the most powerful man, Wellington.

With Wellington as the world’s most powerful man, Leveson-Gower as its richest, and Stephenson whose inventions fundamentally change the world as its smartest man, none could see that what they were doing that day would bring such a great change to all mankind, or the fall of the very government that had backed it within a matter of weeks.

While the government of Great Britain understood the event to be momentous enough that the Duke travelled north to participate, the success that railway travel became was not anticipated by the company at the time.

This new form of transport proved so successful that in the first six months of 1831, over 188 thousand passengers were carried on the trains. By the end of one full year from the start, September of 1831, nearly half a million travelled on the railway.

But the first day when these great men came together is what is important. The key additional personality that would cause the fall of Wellington’s government was that of William Husskisson.


On this momentous day, there were several political realities also taking place. The North was much different from London and the South and Wellington’s presence was not only to praise the achievement of the railway, but also to show that he was concerned with the people of the North.

Husskisson was the MP for Liverpool and had been a member of Wellington’s Cabinet. He had been Secretary of State for War and the Colonies. He resigned over the lack of representation for Manchester. He was thus very much involved in the political life of the North, representing one end of the railway, and concerned with the other end.

Now at this juncture, it was thought that Huskisson and Wellington would make amends and they would shake hands while the events of the day played out.

There were so many special attendees on the day of the event that several locomotives were put into service. There was also so much to do that things got started late. By 11, the trains were rolling.



All seemed as it should, a band had been playing and was on one of the cars pulled by the Northumbrian locomotive to continue playing. Behind the car with the band was a special car that Wellington and the most important of those invited that day were on. Not Husskisson, though.

After the late start the next thing to go wrong was a collision. The first day of rail travel on Earth (aside from some small time freight hauling) there was a crash. Two lines were being used that day and one train had a wheel jump the track. The train following, not able to fully determine that this one had stopped hit it, but no one was injured as the trains were not traveling very fast.

This was minor. A few miles later though, at Parkside, things turned the day of triumph into one mixed with tragedy.

Recognizing that people would not be used to any sort of vehicle moving so fast, speeds of 10 and fifteen miles an hour, the Liverpool and Manchester had printed flyers advising the celebrants to not disembark from their train cars and visit with the other passengers. This though was ignored.

Mr. Husskisson especially had reason to leave his car and walk to that of the Duke’s carriage attached to the Northumbrian. Should the two find common ground, it would mean much for both. Husskisson might return to the cabinet, while Wellington would get support in the North.

With an eye to reconciliation, Husskisson approached the Duke and the two shook hands. Even as this occurred, others saw that the Rocket locomotive was approaching on the parallel track. Soon the cry was taken up that an engine was coming and all needed to the clear the track. There were no steps up to the Duke’s car, as these were detachable and had not been deployed. When the oncoming train was within 80 feet all that remained on the tracks were William Holmes, The Prince Esterházy, and Husskisson.

All but Husskisson reached safety. The Member for Liverpool, and once again hopeful of joining the Wellington government was struck by the Rocket. His leg and thigh crushed. (The first day of passenger rail service, the first passenger rail accident.)

There were three doctors amidst the contingent of celebrants, one of whom was Henry Herbert Southey who most recent posting had been with the recently deceased King, George IV. One would believe the man to be a very accomplished doctor since he had been the physician to the king. Yet he and the other two, had no practical experience with such accidents.

As all became calm enough to think, George Stephenson proposed transporting the injured MP to Manchester as the trains were pointed that way. The cars behind the Northumbrian locomotive were detached, and Husskisson was placed on the band’s carriage, the band now turning to walk back to Liverpool. (As the day grew longer, a hard rain came as well and poured on these entertainers.)

The Northumbrian departed and worked up to speeds of 40 miles an hour, the fastest speed ever achieved. It did little to save Husskisson, who insisted to be carried to his friend’s home, Reverend Blackburne who lived at Eccles, 4 miles short of Manchester. While there, Husskisson became too traumatized to be operated on by the time competent surgeons arrived to assess the situation. He died sometime after nine PM.

During this time it took a while to have the trains with the celebrants continue their journey. The mobs of people began to get restless and remembered how much they disliked Wellington. They even pelted his car with vegetables.

The trains were to have made their round trip and finish by 4 PM, by 9 they still had not done so. The death of William Husskisson, and certainly the actions of the crowd that day would lead Wellington to decide that he could not return to the North for the funeral of the man. Husskisson was not only noted for his views in the North, but wanting to reconcile with Wellington. The Duke however, through his actions, or inactions after Husskisson’s death lost the support of those who were friends of the deceased lawmaker.

When Wellington decided not to attend the funeral of the man who had only moments before the cause of his demise, had shaken the Duke’s hand, it forced a breach in his support large enough that by two months from the opening of the railway and the fateful events of that day, there was a no confidence vote against him. He was replaced as Prime Minister by Earl Grey.

The beginning of modern transportation, the age of Steam, saw the end of Wellington’s government. If Husskisson had survived, or never been injured. If the trains had returned to course, or Wellington had journeyed back to the funeral. It is highly possible that the world would have known a different outcome, then what did occur.

What I see, when looking at the facts, and the ability to share them with my readers is that the truth is stranger than fiction. I don’t think it is possible to arrange for so much fodder for a good story, than what occurred on September 15th, 1830.

Research
Wolmar, Christian (2007). Fire & Steam
Garfield, Simon (2002). The Last Journey of William Huskisson

Mr. Wilkin writes Regency Historicals and Romances, Ruritanian and Edwardian Romances, Science Fiction and Fantasy. He is the author of the very successful Pride & Prejudice continuation; Colonel Fitzwilliam’s Correspondence.

His work can be found for sale at: David’s Books, and at various Internet and realworld bookstores including the iBookstore, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords.
He is published by Regency Assembly Press
And he maintains his own blog called The Things That Catch My Eye

The Monarchy~ William the Conqueror

by Debra Brown

A previous post on this blog discussed the "Dark Ages" dynasty, the House of Wessex. Edward the Confessor, pictured at right, had once fled to Normandy with his parents. He later put Norman friends in high places in England, and promised that his cousin, William, Duke of Normandy, would succeed him- according to William. Edward, though, changed his decision upon his deathbed, and he now left the throne to Harold Godwinson, who had no blood ties to the succession. William was having none of that, and made plans to invade England. Winds did not permit the duke to sail across when he had first intended to do so, and he left later, but this turned out to be in his favor.


Bayeux Tapestry


Despite realizing that William was finally on his way, Harold II was forced to pull away from southern England to ward off an attack in the north by even more powerful forces, his own brother Tostig along with the King of Norway. When Harold II was asked by Tostig how much land he was prepared to yield to the King, he replied, "Six feet of ground or as much more as he needs, as he is taller than most men." Harold successfully routed that attack at the Battle of Stamford Bridge. Only three days later, the Normans landed at Pevensey the 28th of September, 1066. Harold headed south, obtained fresh troops in London and set off to meet the advancing Duke. William had but seven thousand men to England's two million. They met six miles north of Hastings. Though Harold II had the upper hand much of the day, when the ten-hour battle ended, he and his brothers lay dead. He was the last monarch of England to be defeated by a foreign invader. William went on to devastate a large circle of land to establish his authority and then swept into London to claim the throne.

The Witanagemot had assembled and elected young Edgar the Ætheling, the grandson and rightful heir of the Confessor, king after the death of Harold Godwinson. Edgar was never crowned, however, and a group of nobles met the invading Duke of Normandy and handed the Crown of England over, as well as young Edgar. William took him in. Edgar lived to attempt the crown, but never gain it. He was still known to be alive in 1126.
Left: William the Conqueror.

The White Tower, built by William.

William had some experience from his duchy in Normandy, and set about organizing England his way. He took estates away from English owners, kept much for himself and gave some to his supporters from France. These nobles (who, do not forget, also had interests in France) built castles, following the lead of William with his start on the Tower of London, to protect themselves from the angry English. Over the next 600 years, this trend continued and some 2,000 castles appeared. The French barons divided their land into fiefs and handed them out to vassals who organized men under them, knights, for military service to the king.

Division of English Counties as laid out in William's Doomsday Book. This map highlights a southeastern circuit.

William was an administrative genius, and commissioned a national survey of belongings- his boring Domesday Book records the possessions of all his subjects for taxation purposes. It was said that there was "not an ox, cow or swine that was not set down in the writ". William also took firm action against criminals, even castrating rapists. There was, therefore, less crime in the country under his rule. He also introduced trial by jury. However, he was far from just. He was an avid deer hunter, and he cleared the New Forest of all its buildings and inhabitants to create game reserves for himself. His forests came to cover a third of English land. Poachers were killed or mutilated. When rebellions reared he reacted firmly, even burning the entire villages and their crops. Much of Northern England was devastated, its economy ruined for decades after a rebellion. Thus he kept firm control. He spent much of his time in France, as did his new English knights and English tax money. He was, after all, first and foremost, the Duke of Normandy.

William was the illegitimate son of Norman Duke Robert I and a tanner's daughter. Though he succeeded to his father's duchy, while still a child, he had grown up with the nickname William the Bastard. Perhaps this is why the great conqueror was such a faithful and devoted husband to Matilda of Flanders, by whom he had four sons and five daughters.

The former English ruling class disappeared when William conquered England, and French speech and customs thereafter heavily influenced the English. French fashions, manners, art and architecture made a permanent mark. He build great cathedrals, which were to give the impression that he was, indeed, ordained by God to rule England.

William, a calculating and brutal invader, deemed his eldest son, Robert, too generous and easygoing, and while he left his Norman holdings to him, just before his death he willed the rule of rebellious England to his second son, William Rufus. He then died a day after having been thrown from his horse, who had stepped on hot coals following his capture of the French town of Nantes. His body was looted by those who had been taking care of him, and he was left nearly naked. His body broke in half as it was being forced into a too-small coffin. He was buried in Caen. In time, his body was dug up and parts of it taken, but a thigh-bone remained to be reburied in dignity. Even this bone was disinterred and stolen during the French Revolution. The long-missed thigh-bone was found, however, and confirmed to be authentic in the 1980s, and it was finally laid to rest under a new tombstone.

A future post will discuss the remaining Norman dynasty.


Debra Brown is the author of The Companion of Lady Holmeshire, a Jane Austen and Charles Dickens inspired sweet romance and mystery, currently a best-seller on Amazon.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Celebrating Burns' Night

by M.M. Bennetts


One of the great mysteries of life to non-Scots is haggis. Did I say haggis? Sorry.

What I meant to say was, today is the birthday of the great Scots poet and national hero, Robert Burns, born in Alloway, Ayrshire, in 1759, the elder of two sons of a tenant farmer.

Although as a lad, Burns had little in the way of formal education--probably two to three years in the local school--he was taught by his father and grew up devouring whatever books came his way, reading all of Shakespeare, Milton and the Bible. He learned some French. Significantly too, he learned firsthand the traditional ballads, legends and songs of Scotland.

At this period, Scotland was very much under the thumb of England, with many repressive laws prohibiting expressions of Scots culture--the wearing of tartan was banned and the use of Scots Gaelic had been outlawed, for example--all in response to Bonnie Prince Charlie's failed rebellion in 1745-6. There was a heavy presence of troops quartered on the population and anti-Scots sentiment ran very high among the English overlords--English slang of the period refers to Scotland as Scratchland.

Nevertheless our lad, Rab, grows up, starts falling in love with pretty girls (a life-long habit), goes off briefly to study surveying in Kirkoswald, then moves with his family to a farm near the villages of Tarbolton and Mauchline...and by 1783, begins writing poetry.

A couple of flings and a farming failure later, he's being urged by a friend to write for publication. He also meets Jean Armour and things get serious. Jean's father doesn't think much of him, denies that they're married, and eventually has the pair of them publicly reproved in open church for their relationship. Nice. Still, in that same year, 1786, Burns' first book, Poems Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect, is published in late July, and in September, Jean gives birth to twins.

So, instead of emigrating to Jamaica as he had planned, Burns visits Edinburgh to arrange for a second edition of his book. There, he finds himself the toast of the Edinburgh literati.

Edinburgh in the late 18th century is at the heart of the Scottish Enlightenment, and is known throughout the western world as a centre of intellectual culture. It's not just that it's home to such writers and thinkers as David Hume or Adam Smith, it also has one of the world's top medical universities, and it has--despite the onerous anti-Scots laws of the age--this vibrant literary salon culture, one conversant with the recent success of the American Revolution and the works of the radical, Thomas Paine. And Burns, for all that he is a peasant's son (and yes, he does make clanking social mistakes and occasionally is too blunt-spoken for anyone's comfort) is seized upon by this crowd of intelligentsia as the voice of the genuine Scots.

He's not the first to write in the Scots vernacular (he writes in Lowland Scots, a.k.a. Lallans)--there had been Allan Ramsay and Robert Fergusson before him. But in a way, Burns and his work embody the 18th century enlightened ideal of the nobility and honesty of the 'natural man' as expressed by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the French philosopher and author.

Burns' poetry is vibrant, often funny, a celebration of the world of the 'people', running the gamut of emotion from alehouse humour to profoundest love. Though not unlettered, he is wholly without the 'steeped in classical tradition' artifice that characterises much of the literary work of other 18th century British poets.

He doesn't idolise or worship the natural world, it's just part of life. He's scathing in his attacks on the rigid fundamentalism of the Presbyterian elders of the Kirk (Address to the Unco Guid [uncommonly good]). He mocks pretension and hypocrisy wherever he encounters it. Others may write of high sentiment; he writes To a Louse, on seeing one on a lady's bonnet at church.

And when he writes of love, which he does frequently (he had a lot of practice), his is the voice of all the longing, beauty, lust and tenderness combined together. We may think "My love is like a red, red rose..." sounds twee or clichéd today, but within the context of the 18th century, its undiluted purity of tenderness and affection stopped readers short, redefining the vocabulary of love for at least the next century.

The Edinburgh edition of Burns' Poems is published in April 1787, earning him £500. And this enables him to tour the Borders and the Highlands.

And, whilst he is travelling about (falling in and out of love), he starts collecting Scottish songs--often Scottish fiddlers' songs for which he writes memorable lyrics--and which he contributes to The Scots Musical Museum, a publication which over the next few years prints some 200 of Burns' contributions. So in a very real sense, he preserves Scotland's folk and musical heritage which without him would most certainly have been lost...

In 1788, he acknowledges Jean Armour as his wife, and she gives birth to a second set of twins.

By 1791, his inventive narrative poem, Tam o' Shanter, has been published, and Burns has given up farming to move with his family to Dumfries to work as an exciseman.

Burns is probably best known for his poems or songs such as Auld Lang Syne, My Luve is Like a Red, Red Rose and Tam o' Shanter. But he also wrote the anthems of Scots national pride, Scots Wha Hae wi' Wallace Bled, and Is There for Honest Poverty with its oft-repeated line, "A man's a man for a' that" (which incidentally is just a kind of compilation of French Revolutionary slogans--and for which he was investigated by the authorities and nearly lost his position with the Excise and Custom.)

In July 1796, Burns died of a rheumatic heart condition. He was only 37.

But the story doesn't stop there, because his work was taken up by the fledgling Romantic movement of William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. It also became a powerful element in the Scottish fight-back against Anglicisation as led by Sir Walter Scott in the early years of the 19th century: Defying the law, the gentry and aristocracy started wearing plaid again. Deliberately. And having their portraits painted wearing the kilt and clan badges.

Gradually though, his work was subsumed into the cult of the tartan and genteel Scottiphilia of the Victorians as led by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, and Burns wasn't fully recognised until the end of the 19th century. In 1885, there were only eight affiliated Burns Clubs. By 1911, there were 200 of these clubs and Burns was seen as the antidote to the romanticised history of Scotland, and the voice of the ordinary Scots.

Which brings us back to the haggis...Because every year, as befits the national poet and hero, Burns' birthday is celebrated with a fierce national fervour throughout Scotland and abroad with a traditional Burns' Supper--a meal designed to commemorate his humble beginnings as a ploughboy laddie.

(Although the 'observance' used to be stricter--it used to be men only--now it's slightly more relaxed, though many of the elements remain the same.)

The meal is made up of three courses and they're traditional 'peasant' fare: cockie-leekie soup (chicken and leek soup), followed by haggis (Burns wrote a cheeky poem, Address to a Haggis), mashed neeps (mashed turnips) and bashed tatties (mashed potatoes), with oatcakes and cheese to finish.

In between each two plates, all around the table, a single bottle of whisky is placed to be shared.
(And before I tell you what haggis is and how it used to be made, may I point out that 18th century Scotland was a poor country, and farmers were desperately poor throughout Europe anyway. Hence, unlike today when we throw lots of everything away, they didn't. They used every part of a slaughtered animal. They couldn't afford not to.)

200 years ago then, haggis was made up of the less than desirable parts of a sheep--the brains and whatever else was left. This is ground and mixed with oatmeal and spices (usually a lot of pepper). The whole is then put into a sheep's intestine and boiled until cooked through. Nowadays, with EU health and safety legislation, it's no longer the off-cuts, but regular mutton that's used. And most local butchers have their own closely guarded secret recipes for the spices.

So that's the menu. The men wear their kilts. Obviously. When the haggis is brought in from the kitchen on a platter, it's accompanied by a piper and piped in. Then comes the solemn honour of piercing the haggis-beastie--which I've seen done with a sword.

Once everyone is served, another of the evening's traditions begins: during the meal, each of the guests is required to recite a Burns poem. Or sing it.

Now the most sensible of guests requests early the privilege of saying grace--and it's Burns' own Selkirk grace which is used. "Some hae meat and canna eat, and some wad eat that want it, but we hae meat and we can eat, sae let the Lord be thankit." And then he settles back to enjoy his meal and his whisky as over the course of the evening, the recitation of the poetry and songs becomes more and more uproarious (due to the quantities of whisky consumed).

And truly, it's a meal and an evening's entertainment where, should Burns himself wander in, he'd find himself most at home.

Finally as befits a host of one of these fine gatherings, I'd like to provide a rendition of my most favourite of Burns' songs: Ca' the Yowes [Call the Ewes...]. It's a modest poem, mostly talking about the herding of sheep actually, but in Burns' hands, this is turned into the most heart-felt of love songs, ending with the verse: "Fair and lovely as thou art, Thou hast stown my very heart: I can die--but canna part, My bonnie dearie."

Slainte!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h0rpv9vxbU8

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
M.M. Bennetts is a specialist in early nineteenth-century British and European history, and the author of two historical novels set in the period - May 1812 and Of Honest Fame. Find out more at www.mmbennetts.com.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Regency vs Victorian


When I first started reading romance novels (1987), I was pulled…um actually I was tugged and glued to the historical genre.  Perhaps it’s because the first book I read and fell in love with was “A Rose In Winter” by Kathleen E Woodiwiss.  But after reading and loving all of her books, I found other historical authors: Judith McNaught, LaVryle Spencer, Jude Deveraux, Johanna Lindsey, Julia Quinn, and many others.  I loved the Victorian era…until I watched “Pride & Prejudice” for the first time (with Colin Firth, of course!) and now I love Regency.  Now I love both eras for different reasons.

For those of you who wonder what the difference is - here is what I've found that might be helpful:
 
REGENCY (1795-1837) - The era was a time of excess for the aristocracy: for example, it was during this time that the Prince Regent built the Brighton Pavilion. However, it was also an era of uncertainty caused by several factors including the Napoleonic wars, periodic riots, and the concern (threat to some, hope to others) that the British people might imitate the upheavals of the French Revolution.

VICTORIAN (1837-1901) - When 18 year old Princess Victoria pictured in the header above, became Queen in 1837 no one dreamed she would reign for the rest of the century for another 64 years. The name Victorian to describe the whole period is a misnomer as for some years at the beginning of the era, Regency attitudes prevailed. After 1840 when Victoria married Albert we see the heyday of Victorian attitudes of prudery and a strict outwardly moral code that lasted until about 1890 when Prince Edward the Prince Of Wales and his more spirited lifestyle was echoed in society.  http://www.fashion-era.com/victorians.htm

I love Regency because of their manners, their language, and their courtesy.  I asked a few historical author friends of mine which era they liked and why. Here are some answers I received:

** Melissa Lynne Blue said: I definitely like the Regency Era the best.  It is hard to explain why, but I adore early 19th century history.  The Regency Era is that point in British History on the brink of a lot of governmental changes and social changes.  One thing I enjoy while reading a Regency novel is the formality of British society--all the stiff decorum and silly gossip--I love the glimpse behind the curtain we get when the people in this rigid time set "let their hair down".

**Ella Quinn said: I love the Regency period. The clothes, politics, it was like a renaissance. The Victorian period I could care less about. I blame if for our prudish and false morality.

**Lauren Smith said: What I love most about the Regency period are perhaps the emphasis on social rules and yet the period still retained delicious scandals and tales.  What I love about the Victorian period is the later part of the eras fashions and primarily the dawning age of industry and discovery, as well as the birth of a more romantic and adventuresome growth in the type of literature written and published.

**Olivia Kelly said: I love both periods! I love the Regency for it's "joie de vivre" (joy for life), with the house parties, balls, horse races and general carefree decadence. But the Victorian period was the Industrial Revolution, and it's fascinating to me. I love the innovative, ambitious spirit that permeated that time. The most interesting and amazing things came out of the Victorian period, like the light bulb, the sewing machine, steam engine and telephone. Imagine what our life would be like today without these amazing Victorian inventions!

**Christi Caldwell said: I love writing and reading about the Regency era because the times were driven by propriety and Social dictates...which makes stories of passion and love at the time so unique and grande. You know, the whole defying the norm for something special!

**Lily George said: The Regency era has the appearance of being freer than other eras--maybe it's the loose clothing women wore--but there is a feeling about this era of rules changing and roles changing and nothing being the same, which is exciting. On the other hand, the Victorian era made things move faster--you could travel further, move faster, go farther. Both eras are, to me, about exciting change and romances set in these eras explore how women and men both dealt with and enjoyed those changes.

**Julie Johnstone said: I don't know much about the Victoria period.  But I love the Regency period for the way the women and the men of the period so industriously worked to get around all the rules imposed on them by society.  I also love the clothes and the architecture.

**Louisa Cornell said: For me the Regency era is the perfect setting for romance. The rule of the landed aristocracy was at its height. Sprawling stately homes and glittering London mansions vie with windswept moors and mysterious gothic castles for the perfect location to spin a tale of love, anguish and redemption. Women in elegant flowing gowns and men in buckskins, boots and greatcoats argue and love on a stage set by strict societal rules and hawkeyed gossips who could give today’s paparazzi a lesson in snooping and scandal. And all those rules give an author so many delicious possibilities to break them. It was an era on the cusp between the rowdy Georgians and the suffocating Victorians. Society was moving from the slow grace of an agrarian society to the hustle and bustle of a modern industrial society. I love the manners, the grace, the passion, the civility and the ceremony. I love the soft romantic light of candles and oil lamps before the false glare of electric lighting. I love the power and beauty of horse travel before the ugly iron and smoke of the train and the automobile. For me the Regency has everything a woman with a head full of romantic notions could ever need. It is the perfect escape from the crass, hard, ill-mannered, money-grubbing technology- worshiping world in which we live.

I have written stories in both eras, but my favorite has to be Victorian.  I’ve had people ask why the Victorian era fascinates me so much (some consider this a darker time than Regency) and because of the strict moral code Queen Victoria expected.  But the REAL reason I adore this era is because of their….CLOTHES!  Yeah, I’m a fashion gal.

I adore the Victorian fashion!! The gowns were so much prettier--and the men...well, I think they looked better in long trousers rather than the breeches. lol

Now it's your turn. Leave a comment and tell me what era you like and why...
 
Marie Higgins is a multi-published author of romance; from refined bad-boy heroes who makes your heart melt to the feisty heroines who somehow manage to love them regardless of their faults. Visit her website / blog to discover more about her – http://mariehiggins84302.blogspot.com
 

Sunday, January 22, 2012

King Lear’s Town
A Little History of the City of Leicester

by Katherine Ashe

The City of Leicester. In the so called “dark” and “middle’ ages, Leicester was not a happy place. In 1173, by order of King Henry II, the city was besieged, razed and depopulated as punishment for its earl, Robert “White-Hands’” support of Queen Eleanor (of Aquitaine) and her son Richard the Lion Hearted. On Richard’s ascension to the throne, the Earl of Leicester was forgiven, and rebuilt his hall. But the town recovered very slowly and sporadically, being still sparsely populated within its walls as late as 1722.

The situation was so bad that White Hands forgave any taxes the townspeople owed him. Of course, it was his fault they had suffered at all, so renouncing his taxes was the least he could do.

Roman ruins at Vaughn College, Leicester

But Leicester had a prominent past. In the early Christian era Leicester had been a major Roman town at the crossing of two of the most important of the Roman legions’ roads in Britain. Fine mosaic floors in costly Roman villas have been excavated near the city. Endearing objects may be seen in Leicester’s museum, such as a bowl inscribed from a centurion to his lady love.

Massive stone arches, perhaps a part of the Roman baths, still stand. In the Middle Ages those thick walls with their gaps served as the Jewish district, with shacks built against the walls, using the gaps as part of the shelter. Jews were not permitted to own land. But since no one owned the ancient stretch of wall and arches, the Jews remained there undisturbed. At least until the shameful incident of Simon de Montfort’s youth, when he evicted them from the city.

Since Montfort had no title, and no knights or henchmen at the time, so he probably didn’t accomplish that eviction single-handed. It’s most likely the people of Leicester joined in the rout, thus cancelling their debts to the Jews who were chiefly money-lenders. Similar attacks against Jews in London and elsewhere occurred and seem to have been motivated by a desire to not pay back loans, rather than for any religious reasons. Being a Jew in England in the 13th century was hazardous.

The Jewry Wall

It may not be coincidence that when young Simon drove out the Jews of Leicester, his mentor, Fr. Robert Grosseteste, had just founded a refuge for homeless Jews, in London: later the site of the Public Record Office. However, the Jews Simon drove from the old Roman wall probably knew that the local priest (Dean of Lincoln Cathedral) was offering not just hospitality, but an attempt at conversion. They simply crossed the River Soar to Simon’s grand-aunt’s house, where they found sympathetic shelter. From there they spread all over England the news of their mistreatment by the would-be Earl of Leicester. It made a very bad beginning for a young Frenchman hoping to redeem an English title.

Another instance of the impact of the youthful Simon de Montfort on Leicester appears in the royal court’s legal records. The villeins of the Leicester fief brought suit against Simon for fencing their fields. He had done more than fence the fields, he had tried to persuade them away from the age-old three-field system of cultivation and toward the raising of sheep and cattle. It may be that the depopulation of Leicester had made the three-field system too unproductive, with too many of the field rows going uncultivated. It’s well to remember Montfort’s mentor again, the ubiquitous Robert Grosseteste, who had published the then most respected “modern” work on manor management.

Saint Mary de Castro church, favored retreat of Robert Grosseteste








It is unlikely Montfort ventured such a change without Grosseteste’s advice. As for the future of Leicester, woolen processing became its chief industry and remained so until after WWII.

Old Guild Hall, Leicester

But let’s go further back in time. After the conquest of Britain by the Angles and Saxons, and the division of Britain into the heptarchy, the “seven kingdoms, in 753, Leicester became the capital city of the kingdom of Mercia. The name “Leicester” derives from “Legre-caestre,” Lyger, or Legre, was the old name of the River Soar, which encloses two sides of the old city. If King Lear is not to be looked upon merely as mythical, then Leicester was the site of his castle. There is a mysterious conical mound with a door set in it on the castle grounds. A fairy hill? My inquiries when I was there only gained the answer, “It was where m’lord kept his wines.” Well, that too – probably.

In 874, Leicester fell to the Danes. Its Roman walls protecting its perimeter (not the walls of the baths, that became the Jewry) were destroyed and the city became incorporated in the Danish “five boroughs,” which included Nottingham, Lincoln, Derby and Stamford.

In 920, Ethelfloeda, the daughter of King Alfred, succeeded in raising an army and driving the Danes from Leicester, Derby and Nottingham. She caused the Roman walls to be rebuilt, with an assortment of stone and Roman tiles cemented together with an extraordinarily sturdy mortar that adhered in clumps, making any subsequent reuse of the building materials all but impossible. City and castle walls were knocked down and rebuilt regularly in medieval times. The Palestinian castle at Caesaria was disassembled and reassembled with every passing phase of Moslem or Christian crusading success. To not be able to reassemble the cut stones of a city or castle wall was an unusual and serious problem.

After Ethelfloeda's death, at Castle Tamworth in 922, Leicester passed back and forth between the Anglo-Saxons and the Danes, resulting in further demolition -- no longer repairable thanks to Ethelfloeda's mortar.

In 1068, the Saxon, Earl Edwin of Coventry and Leicester (grandson of the minimally covered Lady Godiva of Coventry and Leicester – one always hopes that notable ride was in summertime), surrendered and did homage to William the Conqueror. Leicester passed to William’s follower Hugh de Grantmesnil, as Norman governor.

After William’s death, Hugh supported Robert of Normandy, rather than William’s heir, William Rufus, or his brother Henry. When Henry succeeded as Henry I, Hugh retired to a monastery in France, and the king created his friend Robert de Beaumont the first Norman Earl of Leicester. After him came Robert de Bosso, who enjoyed the earldom for fifty years.

Then there was “Robert White Hands.” His son and heir, Robert FitzParnel died without heirs and the inheritance of the earldom of Leicester passed to father White Hands’ surviving sisters. One of those ladies was Margaret, the Countess of Winchester, the very one who welcomed the fleeing Jews – she already had complaints of her own against her grand-nephew for putting up his fences and encroaching on a corner of her lands. But Margaret only got twelve of the seventy-eight fiefs belonging to the earldom.

The other sister, who inherited the earldom’s titles and sixty-six fiefs, was the mother of Simon de Montfort the crusader and harrier of Albigensians. There was a prediction, in his time, that the people of England would rise up and elect Simon de Montfort their king. The crusader announced he would “never set foot in a land given to such prophecies.” And he never did.

Chartres window – this image has roused a great deal of confusion regarding the arms of Simon the Earl of Leicester, whose blazon, as depicted by his friend Matthew Paris in his Chronica Majora, shows a two tailed RED lion rampant on a White ground – suitably differenced from his father white-lion-on-red arms as a younger son’s would be.

Simon Pere might have been disappointed if he had claimed his titles. Of those sixty-six fiefs, sixty were held by the knights whom the earl was expected to lead in battle. Most of those knights paid no rent, giving military service instead, although one of them was compelled, in lieu of rent, to deliver to the earl each year a single red rose. (This echoes of Beauty and the Beast, but it’s true. One wonders how commonly acceptable a single roses was for the clearing of a debt. There were certain advantages to living in the Middle Ages.)

Simon de Montfort’s son and namesake, after the father’s death and the family’s relative bankruptcy, not only set foot in England, but did everything he could to gain the titles. But fighting the Welsh for King Henry III accomplished little for him. It was when he fell in love with the King’s sister, who was a nun, and the marriage was secret and hasty – followed by a successful effort at bribing the Pope to lift the nun’s vows -- that King Henry finally granted Simon the title Earl of Leicester and its companion honor, Steward of England. A few decades later, much to Henry’s chagrin, the people of England did elect Simon de Montfort to be their king. Luckily for Henry, he refused the Crown.

With Simon’s death at Evesham, and the stripping from his sons of all of their claims of inheritance in England, Leicester passed to the Crown and became a bonus for royal relatives, enjoyed by a series of Lancastrians until John of Gaunt’s heir ascended the throne as Henry IV.

The earldom then remained in the Crown’s keeping again until Queen Elizabeth’s favorite, Robert Dudley, was granted the title in 1564.

With the fall of Dudley from royal favor, Leicester went back to the Crown -- to be lobbed like a tennis ball out to the Sidney family in 1618, where it bounced happily for the next hundred and fifty years before a royal serve sent it to Thomas Coke. Strangely, Coke’s descendants didn’t receive the earldom after his death in 1795, but it was lobbed back to them in 1837, and has remained with the Coke family ever since, the Seventh Coke Earl of Leicester receiving the title in 1994.

Dugdaleleicester view

Leicester’s chief industry, from the time of Earl Simon on, was the processing of wool. Prior to WWII a major business was the lindsey-woolsey works, where a sturdy fabric of wool and linen was manufactured. During the war the factory was taken out of private hands for the war effort.

In recent years Leicester has blossomed as an academic center, with Montfort University perhaps the largest and fastest growing educational institution in England. Earl Simon, whose statue is one of four ringing the base of the town clock, would be pleased.






See History and Antiquities of the antient Towne and once Citte of Leicester, MS, Thomas Staveley, 1679; History and Antiquities of the Town of Leicester, John Throsby, 1791; History and Antiquities of the Town and County of Leicester, John Nichols, 1795. History of Leicester from the time of the Romans to the end of the seventeenth century, James Thompson, 1849. Roman Leicester, James Francis Hollings, The Literary and Philosophical Society, 1851.

Interestingly, despite the battering the town suffered, a merchants' guild was in existence in Leicester from as early as Oct. 9, 1196. See Stenton, F.M. "Documents Illustrative of the Social and Economic History of the Danelaw," British Academy, 1920, no. 347; cf. no. 392.)