Friday, November 30, 2012

Regency England as a Backdrop for Romance By Christy English

 Why is Regency England the backdrop for so many love stories? Countless films have been made from Jane Austen’s novels, drawing us into the world of the Regency gentry. Miss Austen is the harbinger of this period of romance, and yet, her novels are hard- hitting tastes of reality, where true love does not always win, but good sense, modesty, and propriety always do.

As we move forward in time to the Regency novels of Georgette Heyer, currently being republished by Sourcebooks Casablanca, we find that these novels follow in the vein of Miss Austen with simplicity and wit, and always a love story. Of course, romance in Miss Heyer’s world does not mean bodice-ripping and overwhelming passion. Gentlemen and ladies fall in love, but they do it with grace, under the watchful eyes of the ladies’ chaperones.

But there is another kind of Regency romance, like the ones I write, that bear little resemblance to the novels of Heyer or Austen, where Regency England is portrayed as a sort of Disneyland, where all the characters are extremely wealthy and extremely beautiful. In these novels, the clothes and the settings come from the time period between 1811 to 1820, but little else remains of the years when the Prince Regent ruled the Empire in his father’s stead. For the most part, we fanciful novelists do not muck about in the realities of the time, when the men were coming back from the wars against Napoleon, the economy was plunged into chaos as the Industrial Revolution marched on, the factories in the North beginning to change the world.

We romance authors stick to the magical, fictional world of the wealthy and titled, focusing on the escapism of beautiful women falling in love with impossible men. The entire time I am writing, the entire time anyone is reading one of these novels, we are fully aware that they are fantasies. Whereas the lady who began it all, Jane Austen herself, wrote romances to reveal something of the world she knew, the world she lived in. The Prince Regent hosted Miss Austen once at Carlton House and from her letters afterward it seemed clear that she was not impressed with the prince or his extravagance. It is that very extravagance that we focus on in modern Regency novels, crossing over from the realm of historical fiction into historical fantasy. We revel in that fantasy, all the while knowing that the real world of Regency England was very different from the one we portray. I must admit that I enjoy both.

Christy English is the author of the historical novels THE QUEEN'S PAWN and TO BE QUEEN, both about the ever-intriguing Eleanor of Aquitaine. Her most recent novel, HOW TO TAME A WILLFUL WIFE is a re-telling of Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew set in Regency England. Please visit her on her blog at

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Christmas 1065

by Carol McGrath

Christmas 1065 was one of the most significant Christmases in England's history. Thanes and their families, bishops and two Archbishops gathered in Westminster for the king's Christmas feast and for the consecration of newly built Cathedral Church of St Peter (Westminster), close to the king's palace on Thorny Island. However, during the twelve days of Christmas the childless King Edward died thus setting in motion a not unexpected succession crisis.

The day after King Edward's death Harold Godwin was crowned king thus leading to invasions of England from two usurped contenders, William of Normandy and Harold Harthrada of Norway. The story of that Christmas is recorded in both Norman and English writing from the period. William of Poitiers, a Norman historian, refers to Harold Godwin as 'a mad Englishman who seized the throne of England while his people were in mourning for Edward the Confessor.' This is, of course, opinionated. Such comments as that of Poitiers is part of the Norman perceived justification for the invasion of England. Whilst Historians may not invent incidents they do not necessarily tell the truth but rather a version of it.

images of King Edward

Yet the story of King Edward's death varies little within the main contemporary sources. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle contains a poem that speaks of the dying king's visions. He envisioned a green tree, with the prophesy that within a year and a day of his death God would punish the kingdom for its sins by delivering it into the hands of its enemy, that devils would go through the land with fire and sword and the chaos of war. The vision is repeated in another contemporary source, The Vita Edwardii, commissioned by the royal widow, Queen Edith. 

The ecconiast reports Edward's last words to those around him. The king said to Edith, his wife and Harold's sister, 'May God be gracious to this wife for the zealous solicitude of her service; for certainly she has served me devotedly and always stood by my side like a loving daughter.' He commended her into Harold's protection and also commended to Harold all his servants. It is not a straightforward nomination by Edward of Harold as his heir because it really concerns his direct court of Edith and those close to the king.

Westminster Abbey

The Bayeux Tapestry seems to illustrate the Vita's text. In the presence of  an Archbishop, a second man helps the king to sit up in bed and a woman is weeping at his feet. Edward appears to stretch out his right hand so as to touch a third man's right hand. Fingers are fully extended but only the tips of the fingers are in contact. They do not clasp hands.  The meaning is ambiguous. However, at that time, a dying king's wish was sacrosanct.

This is the first central scene in a long view. The second is Harold's coronation.

The death of King Edward is the pivotal scene in the Tapestry. In the eleventh century artists, historians and writers used  older traditions to tell events. The poetically beautiful Song of the Battle of Hastings 1068, written for Queen Matilda's coronation, harks back to Carolingian praise poetry. William of Poitiers is deeply influenced by classical literature and depicts Duke William as a latter-day Julius Caesar. The visual context for the Bayeux Tapestry existed somewhere between liturgical drama of the eleventh century performed in minsters and vernacular plays of the twelfth century performed at court.

Eleventh century religious plays contained a strong sense of procession. At various points in the drama static scenes occurred in open places in the church, by altars and sepulchres. Often a two-tiered structure was used to bring the story alive.

Plays were like informative picture books. They were layered with symbolism. For instance the actors were able to show visually the medieval notions of hierarchy. The actors used hand gestures and facial expressions to relay emotion and the story's progress. There would have been a narrator.

The two-tiered structure also provided symbolic opportunity. In the earthly space below an angel or a devil might wander out amongst the audience. Often the notion of paradise was portrayed above this earthly space. In the Tapestry, in a procession, the events of 1065-6 also move through staged pieces. The influence of drama is clear and it is not impossible that it actually initially accompanied performance of some of its scenes. King Edward's death is a pertinent example. The two storey structure of Edward's death scene shows figures on the upper level cropped at the waist. King Edward is about to ascend into heavenly paradise. Below is associated with more earthly activity.

Even in this depiction the devil is to the viewer's right
In performance art of the period Heaven appears on the viewer's left and Hell to the viewer's right which can also indicate Christ's sinister side. Take now the long view of Edward's death scene. To the left Edward is enthroned in his palace where Harold is addressing him. Edward looks displeased. The long view is completed with Harold enthroned over ghost ships. This is to the right of the central scenes concerning Edward's death and Harold's coronation. The funeral procession is also interestingly to the left of the death itself. This too can be interpreted symbolically. Seen this way, Edward is placed in the privileged position but it is the folly of Harold's claim and his illegal coronation that the viewer sees to the right.  The central scenes correspond to the acting space of a two-tiered stage depicting symbolically and in fact King Edward's death and Harold's coronation.

Harold's Crowning and next right shows the ghostly ships
Facial expressions and hand gestures guide the viewer through the drama of the Tapestry as do props for a play with doors, steps and gateways of buildings, palaces, castles and a cathedral providing portals, entrances and exits from one vignette into the next. This is not unique to this event but follows on throughout the tapestry. The Latin inscriptions correspond to the Norman French words and could even be prompts spoken by a scene's narrator.

The most interesting narratives concerning the events of Christmas 1065 are to be discovered in the exquisite language of the poem in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, the thrilling beautiful Song of Hastings, the pompous account of William of Poitiers and most of all in the dramatic depiction of King Edward's death on the Bayeux Tapestry. Yet all these accounts contrive to help the fiction writer recreate the atmosphere of King Edward's death during the days of Christmas 1065-66.

The next scene in the long view closes it. Note the ships below.
 Carol McGrath

The Handfasted Wife by Carol McGrath, will be published by Accent Press in 2013. This is the story of King Harold's wife, Edith Swanneck.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Wild Irish Women (2)

by Tim Vicary

One Sunday afternoon in July 1916 two women, Eva Gore-Booth and her friend Esther Roper, were talking quietly in a flat they shared in London. They were discussing Eva’s sister Constance, whom she hadn’t seen for months. Suddenly, Esther stood up. ‘We must go to Euston Station to meet the Irish Mail,’ she said.  She couldn’t explain why this was so urgent, but Eva agreed.
At the station Esther stood near the ticket barrier while Eva went to the far of the platform. When the train came in, Eva looked into a carriage and saw her sister, Constance. Delighted, Constance got out and the two sisters embraced.
Esther, waiting at the ticket barrier, saw some people approaching through the steam on the platform.  It was ‘the strangest little procession ever seen by astonished eyes. First a brown cocker spaniel, well known in Dublin as “The Poppet”, then a couple of soldiers with rifles, then Eva and Constance together smiling and talking hard. Lastly an officer with a drawn sword, looking very agitated.’
Outside the station Constance was hurried into a taxi, the spaniel jumping in after her. ‘Holloway Prison,’ a detective told the driver. ‘Send the dog to our flat, if they won’t let him in!’ Eva shouted as the taxi drove away. 
A long way from their wild upbringing in the west of Ireland? Or perhaps not. For Constance’s charisma was due to her gender and social class as well as her character. Both sisters were free spirits, but Constance was the wild one. As a child she was injured jumping her pony over a sleeping cow (the cow stood up at the wrong moment); she sailed her dinghy single-handed across Galway Bay; she had a pet monkey and a tame snake; she loved practical jokes; she was an excellent horsewoman, riding in point-to-points as well as drag hunts for the Sligo Harriers; she confounded one of her early suitors by throwing his cap in the air and shooting holes in it. She’d been presented to Queen Victoria. She’d married a Polish Count. And her father owned 60,000 acres.
No wonder the officer waved his sword so feebly, and let her keep her spaniel! These Anglo-Irish women were not so easily intimidated.
But it was another side to Constance that had got her in trouble. Although her father was a benevolent landlord, lowering rents in time of hardship, many Anglo-Irish landlords were not. As a child she knew many poor tenant families who lived off potatoes and shared their one-roomed hut with a pig or cow. That was bad, but at least they were surrounded by fresh air. In Dublin, she found similar families living in smoky tenements ten or twelve to a room, with a single shared toilet down four flights of stairs and across a yard.  That was what persuaded her that society had to change.
File:Dublin Slum dwellers 1901.jpgThe Great Lockout of 1913 pitted the Irish trade unions, led by James Larkin, against ruthless employers led by William Murphy. Murphy kept wages down by employing men in two categories: permanent and casual. If a permanent man was late or absent for any reason he was immediately sacked and demoted to the bottom of the casual list, while the man at the top of that list took his place. When Larkin called a strike, the employers locked their workers out, and tried to starve them into submission. Larkin was hunted by the police, and hid for a while in Constance’s house.
Injustices like that made her join James Connolly’s Citizen Army. Like Connolly, she wanted Irish independence not just as a symbol, but to improve the lot of the poor. Connolly said: ‘Ireland as distinct from her people is nothing to me.’ As I described in a previous post, in 1916 she was a leader in the Easter Rising and sentenced to death for treason. Then, because she was a woman, the sentence was commuted to life imprisonment, and she was put on a train to England (with her spaniel).
The spaniel was released but Constance served a year.  The prison was cold, damp and dirty, the food was grim, the sanitation filthy, and the hard labour unceasing. One day she stole a raw turnip and ate it. Her weight fell to seven stones.
When she was released, she became the first women ever to be elected to the UK Parliament. (while she was in prison again) As I described before, she refused to go, like all Sinn Fein members. But she did visit briefly, smiling ironically at her name on the peg which was helpfully provided for each MP to hang his sword on (!)
Instead, Constance became Minister of Labour in the self-proclaimed Parliament of the Irish Republic, Dail Eireann. 1919 and 1920 saw a terrorist campaign in which the Irish Republican Army (IRA) led by Michael Collins, was at war with the British Army and the brutal para-military police, the Black and Tans. Then a Sinn Fein delegation, led by Arthur Griffith and Michael Collins, negotiated a peace treaty in London with the British Prime Minister, David Lloyd George. Ireland was free at last!
And then it all went wrong. Why? How?
Well, the Treaty was a compromise. It gave the 26 counties of southern Ireland their own parliament, their own taxation system, full control over Irish law, education, health, employment – all the things that most affect the lives of ordinary people. It gave Ireland Dominion Status – the same form of independence achieved by Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Ireland had achieved more freedom in one generation, Collins argued, than in the past 400 years.
So what was the problem?
There were three sticky issues – the King remained the head of state, though he had no power; the UK retained two naval bases in Ireland; and the 6 Protestant counties of northern Ireland had the right to opt out and stay British (which they promptly did) Which do you think was the most important?
Strangely, it was the first one - the oath which every member of the new Irish Parliament was required to swear to King George. THAT was what many people could not stomach. The words of an oath, which could be said in a moment, and then ignored.
Michael Collins was happy to do that. But not Constance.  In the Dail she said: ‘I would sooner die than give a declaration of fidelity to King George or the British Empire.’  Eamonn de Valera agreed, like many others. And so, instead of peace, there was a new civil war, in which each group of Irish revolutionaries fought the other. Many of their best leaders, like Michael Collins, were killed.
To me this seems sad, and hard to understand. Constance had worked hard to help the poor people of Ireland. That was why she had supported James Larkin, joined the Citizen Army, been Minister of Labour. Did the poor people of Ireland really care more about this form of words, this oath of allegiance, than about practical changes which would give them jobs, hospitals, schools – all of which were possible under the Treaty? For her, it seems, the answer was yes.

She died in July 1926, a month after her sister Eva. Enormous crowds attended her funeral, bringing eight lorry loads of flowers. A year later, Eamonn de Valera, who spoke her funeral oration, changed his mind, and took the oath after all.
Tim Vicary’s Anglo-Irish historical novels Cat and Mouse and The Blood Upon the Rose are available as ebooks on Amazon US and Amazon UK. You can read more about them on his website and his blog.
All pictures from Wikimedia Commons 

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Cigarettes - The 1896 Cure for Asthma?

Cigares de Joy
(Joy's Cigarettes)
Immediately Relieve
Asthma, Wheezing,
Chronic Bronchitis.
Of All Chemists and Stores. Box of 35, 2s. 6d., and
post free from WILCOX & CO., 83, Mortimer Street,
Great Portland Street, W., London.

I thought you might enjoy this advertisement courtesy of the Daily Graphic, Friday, December 11, 1896. The title of the paper is adorned with wee flying naked babies in a gossip chain carrying messages from one whispering woman, classicly clad with the gown quite fallen off one shoulder to another woman who seems to be writing down on a scroll what she hears. Which could be false advertising? Unintentionally, I am sure, by Wilcox and Co.

There is another lovely picture of a classic woman sitting on a wall, one foot up on the wall, but her gown hangs down draping over her beautifully (though her entire leg is well outlined by the fabric) and one bare foot on the ground- the women are all barefoot- under the heading "The Weather". Under her picture is the weather report: "Some rain."  The reader is then sent to page 3 for additional information which includes the forecast for diverse areas of the British Isles and the times of high water under London Bridge.

I am touched by a column on page 2 of the paper with the heading CHARITIESIt shows a bit about how charities functioned in Victorian times, advertising in the paper for help, and interesting to me, an American, how they appealed based on royal patronage. The following is not meant to be humorous, but is presented for its historical value and interest.

HOSPITAL, W.--Funds urgently needed.
Patients can remain "Until relieved 
by art or released by death."
F. CLARE MELHADO, Secretary Superintendent

GUY'S HOSPITAL,                  
                              LONDON BRIDGE, S.E.
H.R.H. the PRINCE OF WALES, as President,
and the GOVERNORS earnestly APPEAL for
ANNUAL SUBSCRIPTIONS to make good the 
deficiency in income pending the completion of the
Re-endowment Fund 500,000 pounds, of which about
170,000 pounds has been received. It is also desired to
re-open the 100 closed beds towards meeting the serious
lack of Hospital accommodation in South London. 
H. COSMO BONSOR, Treasurer.

18, Buckingham Street, Strand, WO.
 Formed for the "Supervision and the Assistance of
the Invalid and Crippled Children of the London 
Poor."  About 3,980 children in all have been referred
for help to the Committee. In addition to organising
the visiting of children in their own homes, large sums
have been expended in meeting the payment at 
Nursing and other Homes and Convalescent Hospitals,
and in providing surgical appliances; 
and the spinal carriages, &c. lent by the Association;
and the Committee are in urgent need of funds to 
enable them to meet the many claims made upon
their resources. 
 T. HOLMES,  Chairman of Committee   
And now, being pleased with what homeopathy has done for my family, I present an interesting advertisement, 1896 style.

THROAT and COUGH,--Soreness
and dryness, tickling and irritation, inducing cough
and affecting the voice. For these symptoms use 
the glands at the moment they are excited by 
the act of sucking, the glycerine in these agree-
able confections becomes actively healing. Sold only
in tins,7½ d. and 1s.1½ d., labeled
"James Epps and Co., Limited, Homeopathic
Chemists, London."
 And now, it seems the Daily Graphic ran into a glitch with an imposter employee. I find it interesting how the matter was to be handled.

the "DAILY GRAPHIC" find it necessary to
WARN the PUBLIC against the proceedings of a
person who under the pretext of procuring the
publication in the "Daily Graphic" of notices of new
inventions, reports of social gatherings, or appeals
for charitable institutions, asks for a sum of money
to cover the cost of printing proof-slips of a proposed
article. Any person who is asked for money in these
circumstances should endeavor to detain the 
applicant until the police have been communicated with.

Can you see that? You just grab the guy by the wrist and hold on for your life till someone runs for their horse to get the police. Cheerio.

I received this amazing Victorian newspaper as well as some Regency era papers from Historic Newspapers.

May I briefly announce the future release of a book by Madison Street Publishing containing many of the posts from the first year of this blog titled Castles, Customs and Kings: True Tales by English Historical Fiction Authors! It will be available in both digital and paperback formats.

My novel, The Companion of Lady Holmeshire, will be free to download on Amazon Kindle November 28, 29 and 30. This is a revised edition as of August, 2012. Thanks for your support!