Sunday, September 29, 2013

Giveaway - The Gilded Lily by Deborah Swift

Deborah Swift is giving away a copy of The Gilded Lily - 'a historical gem'.This giveaway ends at midnight, Sunday 6th October. To see some information about the book, please click HERE. Comment here to enter the drawing, and be sure to leave your contact information.

Rochester Castle: The Rise and Fall of a Fortress

by Lauren Gilbert

Steel engraving, hand tinted c 1860
On a visit to Faversham (see a previous post HERE, I took the opportunity to wander around the charming town and went into a small antique shop.  I found a small print of Rochester Castle, and could not resist.  Although I did not have the opportunity to visit Rochester Castle, my little picture piqued an interest in this fascinating structure. The ruins that stand today are the remains of a mighty fortress with an incredible history, including three sieges.

Rochester Castle Keep with Cathedral

There appears to have been a defensive structure on this site since the first century.  On the River Medway, this is a strategic defensive location.  The Romans under Aulus Plautius built a fort here to guard a bridge and river crossing.  The Venerable Bede wrote of “the fortress of the Kentish men”. After besieging the city of Rochester in 884, the Danes built a fortress outside it.

After the Norman Conquest in 1066, the first Norman castle was quickly built on a hill near the site where the current fortress remains stand. Odo, Bishop of Bayeux, held the site and probably rebuilt existing fortifications with a wooden motte and bailey design to discourage any Saxon resistance and to guard the river crossing.  In 1087, after William the Conqueror’s death, there was conflict over who would control Normandy--Robert, Duke of Normandy or William Rufus, King of England?  Odo and many of the barons supported Robert, and Rochester Castle became a headquarters for Robert’s supporters.   After a siege, the castle fell to William II (William Rufus) in 1088 and Odo was banished.

Gundulf, the Bishop of Rochester, was also a builder.  He had been involved in the work on William the Conqueror’s keep, the White Tower, in London.  Gundulf built a stone castle near the Norman cathedral in Rochester in about 1090.  He used existing Roman walls, repairing damage and making them higher.  These walls and new walls specially constructed enclosed a large bailey with a ditch outside.

In approximately 1126, Henry I granted the Archbishop of Canterbury custody of Rochester Castle and the office of Constable.  Sometime after that, William de Corbeil, Archbishop of Canterbury was given custody and rebuilt the castle.  The keep was built 125 feet high, with a square ground plan and four corner towers.  The keep is the tallest in England.  The walls of the keep measured 12 feet thick, and a drawbridge separated the keep from the fore building (a square tower) for additional protection.  Between 1130-1139, fireplaces were added.  The Great Hall and a chapel were on the second floor, with the State Apartments on the fourth floor.

In 1141, Canterbury supported Empress Matilda for the throne of England.  The castle was taken.  Robert, Earl of Gloucester (Henry I’s natural son) was held there by William de Ipre, Earl of Kent. After the smoke cleared and Henry II was on the throne, sometime between 1154-1189, the Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Becket asked that the rights of the castle be returned to the Church.  Henry II, of course, refused, being more interested in curbing the power of the Church.  Henry II and subsequently Richard I both strengthened the castle.

Rochester Castle did not return to church control until 1201, when King John turned the rights over to Archbishop of Canterbury Hubert. King John made some improvements to Rochester Castle in 1206.  Then, in 1215, came the First Barons War. Certain barons, supported by Steven Langton, Archbishop of Canterbury, rebelled against John for increasing taxes and his failure to implement changes required by the Magna Carta. Under the terms of the Magna Carta, Rochester Castle was turned over to the control of Steven Langton in May of 1215.  Langton and John got into an argument, and Langton escaped the country.  

Subsequently, rebels supported by French knights took control of the castle.  Langton disapproved of the violence espoused by the rebels.  John besieged Rochester Castle (the second siege). It took seven weeks for the rebels to surrender, which happened only when they ran out of food, despite significant damage to the curtain wall and the south tower, and the King’s army taking the bailey.  After some rebuilding, John took back control of the castle and put William de Albini in charge.  In 1216, King Louis VIII of France invaded England.  John fled and subsequently died in October. After the Battle of Lincoln in 1217, the Treaty of Kingston-Upon-Thames was signed September 12, 1217.  The English people and the barons did not want French rule, and John’s son Henry was made King Henry III at the age of nine.

During Henry III’s reign, Rochester Castle was rebuilt, with additions including a chapel and gateway.   Control of the castle changed several times as appointees fell out of favour.  In 1264, Henry had the fortifications increased, and the castle was fully stocked with men and provisions. The barons were afraid that Henry III was following King John’s path, because of Henry’s increase of taxes and the barons’ dissatisfaction with Henry’s methods of government.  Simon de Montfort, who was married to Henry’s sister Eleanor, wanted to reassert the provisions of the Magna Carta, and became the leader of the rebels.  The situation deteriorated, with Henry and his son Edward captured and Henry forced to agree to the Provisions of Oxford which established rule by a council of twenty-four barons.  This led to civil war (the Second Barons War) and, in April of 1264, the third siege of Rochester Castle occurred.

Simon de Montfort’s rebels entered the city of Rochester and attacked the castle, which the constable held for King Henry III.  The castle’s defenders held out against the rebels, ultimately retiring to the keep.  Although the castle was badly damaged, the defenders held out and the siege was ultimately lifted when Henry and his army came to relieve the defenders.  This siege lasted approximately nine days. Simon de Montfort’s government became unpopular, and his allies began to defect.  The war ended with the Battle of Evesham in August of 1264, where Simon de Montfort was slain and his body mutilated. 

Under Edward III, between 1367-1383, Rochester Castle was repaired and refortified to defend against possible raids from France.  The last significant military action there occurred in 1381 during the Peasants’ Revolt when it was sacked.  After that, the castle was not used.  Materials were stripped and used elsewhere, and in 1613, James I granted the castle to Sir Anthony Weldon.  At one time, it was owned by Robert Child, Esq. (the grandfather of Sarah, Lady Jersey, patroness of Almack’s).  In 1870, it was owned by Lord Jersey, who leased the grounds to the City of Rochester, which were used as public gardens.  Today, the ruins are an English Heritage property, and repairs to preserve them are in process.

Sources include:

Phillips, Charles. The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Royal Britain.  New York: Metro Books, 2010, 2011.

Restore Rochester Castle website. Chronology.

Lauren Gilbert is the author of Heyerwood: A Novel.  She is a contributor to Castles, Customs, and Kings: True Tales by English Historical Fiction Authors, which was just released!  Castles, Customs, and Kings can be purchased at and other retailers.  She lives in Florida with her husband. Please visit Lauren's website.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

The Living Decoration: The Ornamental Hermit in Georgian England

By J.A. Beard

“A young man, who wishes to retire from the world and live as a hermit, in some convenient spot in England, is willing to engage with any nobleman or gentleman who may be desirous of having one. Any letter addressed to S. Laurence (post paid), to be left at Mr. Otton's No. 6 Coleman Lane, Plymouth, mentioning what gratuity will be given, and all other particulars, will be duly attended.”  

- Ornamental Hermit recruitment ad from 1810

A man forsakes the material world and travels into the untamed wilderness. There he seeks spiritual enlightenment in his solitude.  In his rude shack, this hermit could commune with nature and his God or gods, untainted by the coarseness of the decadence of modern society. Perhaps, he just dislikes company.

Although such men have existed throughout English history, a most curious false echo, of sorts, was expressed during the Georgian era when the practice of ornamental hermits became popular. These men were, in blunt terms, living decorations rather divorced from the sort of spiritual seeker or just isolated man who dislikes civilization that might have defined a hermit before this period.

In the Georgian era, the landscapes of the rural estates began to be defined by the rising trend of the landscape garden, which were calculated attempts at bucolic splendor. Though many would praise the idea of a “return to nature” versus the often more obvious landscaping in preceding periods, in truth, your average landscape gardens and parks were carefully crafted affairs that would often involve meticulous planning in terms of position of the landscape, plant life, and even waterways such as streams. Really, though, the idea that there was a sort of “wilderness” near the estate was what granted it appeal and enhanced the status of the estate. There was also a growing trend during the period of opening one’s grounds to visitors. Someone needed to appreciate all that fine landscaping after all (e.g., your wandering Elizabeth Bennet-types for example).

What’s this all have to do with ornamental hermits? Well, one type of construct that could enhance the naturalistic feel of one’s landscape gardens and parks was a hermitage. The designs varied, but most were intended to give the impression of some ancient refuge for solitary men. On occasion, some overzealous landowners kind of went the opposite path by decorating their hermitages with gilding and other assorted signs of luxury that one would not exactly associate with a hermit.

Some elite land owners spent rather impressive sums of money to have architects come in and design buildings, for example, that appeared as if they were, say, a partially decayed ancient stone ruin. The careful use of surroundings trees, wreaths, and wooden carved decorations all combined to produce what was, in a sense, an upper-class tourist trap. Lizzy would wander in and take in the old-looking pseudo-ruin and be suitably impressed, even if Lizzy knew it wasn't actually an ancient hermitage.

The initial hermitless hermitages though weren’t necessarily enough in the arms race of upper-class landscape fashions. To really bring the effect to life, one needed an honest-to-goodness hermit skulking about.  As actual hermits were somewhat in short supply, particularly the sort who would want to hang out in some gentleman’s estate to impress visitors, landowners did the next best thing: they hired them.

Being a hermit could actually be a tough gig. Atmosphere was everything, and the hermit was supposed to add to that naturalistic feel of the landscape. Some landowners wanted their hermits to wear robes and not groom themselves (nails or facial hair). They might be required to carry around large tomes, skulls, or other sorts of spooky-boo bric-a-brac to really sell the “ancient hermit” character. Some were forbidden from even talking to anyone to add to their mystique. Many slept on hay beds.

Now, one could wonder, rather reasonably, why anyone would agree to be a jumped-up Georgian-era Disney automaton on some rich fellow’s estate? Well, in some cases this could be a rather profitable job.  Food and water was taken care of, but typically, if the hermit behaved within the agreed upon parameters, the landowners would give them a rather decent amount of money after their period of hermitage had elapsed, particularly if it was several years. Also, there are some documented cases of some older men just seeing it as a sort of nice retirement job where they could get away from the hustle of life, be provided food and water and a nice stipend at the end.

There’s also the reality that the more restrictive hermit, creeping about in the woods with a skull and Bible in hand, muttering only in Latin to himself was a bit on the rare side if only because a lot of people just couldn’t handle the restrictions.

Although landowners did tend to discourage the average hermit from talking with visitors, there were many hermits who could chat with servants in their “downtime” or maybe even get a bath on occasion. The occasional hermit could mix it up a bit with the visitors, though that tended to be discouraged if only for atmospheric reasons, a bit like a costumed character at a theme park “breaking character” to talk with the park visitors.

Like any “career”, there was a wide range of employers with different expectations. That said, there are reports from the middle of the 19th century discussing some hermits who had lasted over a decade in more restrictive versions of the job. Though, in some of these cases, perhaps the men involved really did just like general solitude.

The height of the ornamental hermit craze was in 18th century, though it lingered into the 19th and was still part of the social landscape in some places until almost the middle of the 19th century as indicated by newspaper reports of long-term hermits dying off.

J.A. Beard is a scientific editor with an interest in Georgian England.  He is also the author of the  Regency Paranormal Romance A Woman of Proper Accomplishments, which features a family, alas, not fashionable enough to have an ornamental hermit.

Friday, September 27, 2013

The Groans of the Britons

by Richard Denning

The title of this post might suggest this will be a political piece about welfare cuts or tax rates but whilst it is indeed about dark and terrible time in our history it is not about current times. This article is about the end of Roman Britain and the appeals by the inhabitants for help against the ravaging Picts and Scots and Saxons that plagued their lives.

Weakening the defenses

The path to the final abandonment of the province of Britannia by the Romans is a long one. In the mid-4th century the Roman Empire was under increasing pressure from encroaching Goths and Persians. This was therefore a very bad time for a civil war. Alas Rome suffered from many civil wars in the decades to come. This particular one between a certain Constantius and the usurper Magnetius was horrifically bloody. One particular battle in September 351 called Musa Major on the Danube led to over 50,000 casualties. These losses crippled the Roman Empire. Successive emperors began stripping the remote provinces. This included Britain.

The Great Conspiracy

By 367 Britain's defenses were weak. In the winter of 367, the Roman garrison on Hadrian's Wall rebelled. They allowed Picts from north of the wall to enter Britannia. At the same time, Irish tribes and Saxons from Germania landed in a coordinated invasion. The Roman garrison, fed up by being abandoned, had thrown in its lot with the barbarians, hoping for a cut of the pie. This invasion crippled Britannia. The loss of life and destruction was catastrophic.

In 368, a Roman expedition was sent to crush the invasion. Swift and bloody reprisals drove the barbarian tribes back home. The Roman rebels were executed and order restored. A young officer in this expedition was a certain Magnus Maximus who was about 33 at the time. He returned to Britain in 380 and became a pivotal player in the events that would lead to the final abandonment of Britannia.

Maximus the Usurper

On arriving back in Britain, Maximus first defeated a Pict and Scot invasion. He was popular with his troops whilst the Emperor Gratian had fallen from favour because of perceived favouritism to Iranian Alan tribes. The British garrison proclaimed Maximus as Emperor. In 383, Maximus lead 3 legions out of Britain into Gaul which he conquered. He then set up his court in Trier. Britain, in the meantime, was in effect defenseless. Maximus tried to conquer the rest of the Empire but his luck ran out, and he was captured by rival Emperors and executed in 388.

The three appeals

Gildas, the 6th century British cleric, wrote a book called "The ruin of Britain" in which he mainly portrayed these events and what followed when the Saxons came to Britain as divine punishment on the Britons. His account is therefore biased. He does, however, give us an idea of the times. We now have a Britain in effect devoid of troops with the exception of the garrison at Hadrian's wall and small numbers of soldiers. Maximus had taken the legions away and soon the Picts and Scots were on the way.

The First and Second Appeal

The Britons could not defend themselves and appealed to Rome. The first appeal may have occurred at some point in the 390's. The letter went to Rome, not to Maximus in Trier, so we know it was after 388 when Maximus was dead.

"Owing to inroads of these tribes and the consequent dreadful prostration, Britain sends an embassy to Rome, entreating in tearful appeals an armed force to avenge her ..."

Soon after the death of Maximus, the Emperor in Rome sent a legion back into Brition to defeat the Picts. They must have left Britain again soon for a few years later the Britains were forced to appeal for more military aid against the attacking enemies.

According to Gildas:

"Again supplicant messengers are sent with rent clothes and heads covered with dust. Crouching like timid fowls under the trusty wings of the parent birds, they ask help of the Romans, lest the country in its wretchedness be completely swept away."

Again this appeal led to a response. In the period 388 to around 402, Rome sent two major expeditions north into Britain and helped repel the Scots, Saxons, and Picts. This, however, was the last help the province would get.

The Receipt of Honorius

In 402, the garrison of Hadrian's wall was recalled due to increasing pressures by the Goths and Vandals. Around this time we have the last evidence of minting of Roman coins in Britain. In 406, the Vandals stormed across a frozen river Rhine and assaulted Gaul. Fearful that they would be next, the Britons dispatched a certain Constantine with what remained of the Roman legions to try and stem the barbarian flow. Constantine declared himself the western Roman emperor and initially drove the Vandals back but in the end he failed to stem the flow.

Rome was by now itself under immense pressure, and the Emperor Honorius took the radical step of forever abandoning the province of Britainia. In 410, we have a record of a letter to the Britons called the Receipt of Honorius. In this he addressed the leaders of his city in Britain and directs them to look to their own defense. Rome would never again claim dominion or offer any protection over this province.

The final appeal: the Groans of the Britons

The Britons then were left to defend themselves. The Picts and Scots continued to assault Britain. A generation later there was one last call for help from Rome. In 446, a letter is written to a consul called Agitius. Gildas again records this:

"To Agitius, in his third consulship, come the groans of the Britons.... The barbarians drive us upon the sea, the sea drives us upon the barbarians. By one or the other of these two modes of death we are either killed or drowned."

There is no record of any response to this final appeal.

Hired Help

449: According to tradition Hengest and Horsa lead the first of the Saxons to Britain

Rome had, it seemed, abandoned Britannia. So Britannia turned elsewhere for aid. The Anglo Saxon Chronicle records an event that would have a massive impact on the future of Britainia:

A.D. 449. This year ...Hengest and Horsa, invited by Vortigern, king of the Britons to his assistance, landed in Britain in a place that is called Ipwinesfleet; first of all to support the Britons, but they afterwards fought against them. The king directed them to fight against the Picts; and they did so; and obtained the victory wheresoever they came. They then sent to the Angles, and desired them to send more assistance. They described the worthlessness of the Britons, and the richness of the land. 

And the rest - as they say - is history.


Richard Denning is the author of the Northern Crown Series of historical novels set in the late 6th and early 7th centuries. He also visits schools and local historical societies giving lectures on the early Anglo-Saxon era.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Shopping: Not Just a Modern Vice

by Michelle Griep

There are women who don’t like to shop. I’m not one of them. In fact, I’m one of those lucky gals who lives a mere five minutes from the mother of all shopping meccas…Mall of America. I’m there so often, the maintenance men know me by name and there’s a gold star on my well-worn parking spot in the ramp. But while MOA or even QVC are contemporary inventions, shopping is not a modern vice.

In the Regency era, women felt the same rush of excitement at scoring a big bargain. Granted, the stores weren’t housed in a building the size of 88 football fields, but there were indeed malls.

The Royal Exchange was the first British shopping mall, opening in 1568. It was a four-sided structure that surrounded a courtyard where merchants plied their wares. You can still visit the Royal Exchange today, but the building isn’t the original. Thanks to several fires, it had to be rebuilt two more times.

One of the best Regency London shopping havens was the Western Exchange, also known as the Bond Street Bazaar. What made this destination unique was its private art exhibitions on the walls, skylights, and gilt ornamentation—definitely a beautiful place to shop till you drop! Unfortunately, the building was destroyed in 1836 by the same nemesis that haunted The Royal Exchange—fire.

One of the oldest shopping centers still in operation is the Burlington Arcade. Built for the sale of jewelry and fashionable accessories way back when, you can still purchase some trendy earrings today. But don’t even think of shoplifting. The place is patrolled by Burlington Arcade Beadles in traditional uniforms, including frockcoats and top hats.

London ladies of the Regency era weren’t the only fortunate shoppers. Rural women of the day travelled to market towns to nab some deals. Many towns had a market cross at the town center. The historical meaning of the crosses is varied and controversial, nevertheless, one thing is for sure—a cross meant that’s where farmers and craftsmen would set up shop, typically on a Saturday.


In my latest release, A Heart Deceived, heroine Miri Brayden lives near a village that sports several shops, her favorite being the milliner’s. Though her life is in chaos, she can’t help but slow down in front of a window displaying some gorgeous hats. And who can blame her for wanting to shop…

Miri Brayden teeters on a razor's edge between placating and enraging her brother, upon whom she depends for support. Yet if his anger is unleashed, so is his madness. Miri must keep his descent into lunacy a secret, or he'll be committed to an asylum—and she'll be sent to the poorhouse.

Ethan Goodwin has been on the run all of his life—from family, from the law ... from God. After a heart-changing encounter with the gritty Reverend John Newton, Ethan would like nothing more than to become a man of integrity—an impossible feat for an opium addict charged with murder.

When Ethan shows up on Miri's doorstep, her balancing act falls to pieces. Both Ethan and Miri are caught in a web of lies and deceit—fallacies that land Ethan in prison and Miri in the asylum with her brother. Only the truth will set them free.

Author Michelle Griep lives, shops and writes in the frozen tundra of Minnesota. To keep up with her escapades, visit or Feel free to do your own shopping and pick up a copy of A Heart Deceived, available by David C. Cook and on Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Tithe War of 1830 - 1836

by Regina Jeffers

Known as Cogadh na nDeachúna in Irish, the Tithe War was a campaign of nonviolent civil disobedience, complicated by sporadic violence, in Ireland between 1830 and 1836. The conflict came about in response to the enforcement of tithes on subsistence farmers and others for the upkeep of the Church of Ireland. These required tithes, which could be paid in cash or kind, did not consider an individual's religious attachment.

Tithes were an obligation for those working the land to pay 10% of the value of certain agricultural produce for the upkeep of the clergy and the maintenance of the church. In the 16th Century (after the Reformation in Ireland), the church's assets were allocated by King Henry VIII to the new established church. This action created a "double" obligation to those who remained loyal to the old religion, who were then obliged to make tithe payments to both their own church and to the reformed one. Many at the time were also making voluntary contributions to the construction or purchase of new churches to provide Roman Catholics places to worship. The new established church was supported by a minority of the population, 75% of whom continued to adhere to Roman Catholicism.

During the campaign to approve the Act of Union of 1801, William Pitt the Younger promised Emancipation for Roman Catholics, which had been approved by the Irish Parliament  prior to creating the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. The king, George III, however, refused to keep Pitt's promises, and it was not until 1829 that the Duke of Wellington's government finally agreed to the Roman Catholic Emancipation Act. Unfortunately, this did not remove the obligation to pay tithes to the Church of Ireland, and resentment grew. "Roman Catholic clerical establishments in Ireland had refused government offers of tithe-sharing with the established church, feating the British government regulation and control would come with acceptance of such money."

Both tenants or owner-occupiers shouldered the burden of the tithes. Generally, these tithes were paid in kind (livestock, produce, etc.).

A system of benefices existed in the Anglican system. A benefice is a reward received in exchange for services rendered and as retainer for future services. Its use was adopted by the western church in the Carolingian Era as a benefit bestowed by the crown or church officials. A benefice specifically from a church is called a precaria, such as a stipend and one from a monarch or nobleman is usually called a fief.

At the time of the Tithe War, nearly half of the clergy were not resident in the parishes from which they drew their incomes. The senior Irish Roman Catholic clergy inflamed the issues because they were dependent on voluntary contributions due to the discontinuation of the Maynooth grant. (In 1795, the British government supported the founding of a Catholic seminary in Maynooth, Ireland. The college was funded by the British government. The grant given to the college was 8000 pounds annually. The rate stayed the same from 1809 to 1845.) The locals resisted paying for the support of two clerical establishments. Roman Catholic bishops and clergy encouraged those who wished to rebel against the payments.

Beginning with the 1829 Emancipation, an organized campaign of resistance created a noticeable "financial crunch" for the clergy of the established church. A compiled list of defaulters led to collection orders for the seizure of goods and chattlels. Violence broke out in the counties of Kilkenny, Tipperary, and Wexford. The Irish Constabulary attempted to force the orders of seizure by taking possession of stock and produce at marketplaces, which created more violence.

Patrick "Patt" Lalor was a farmer of Tenakill, Queen's County, who later served as a repeal MP (1832-1835). At a public meeting in February 1831 in Maryborough, Lalor declared he "would never again pay tithes," and he would "violate no law." He told the listeners that the tithe men might take his property and offer it for sale, "but my countrymen, I am proud to say, respect me, and I believe none of them would buy or bid for it if exposed for sale." Lalor held true to his word and did not resist the confiscation of 20 sheep from his farm, but was able to ensure no buyers appeared at subsequent auctions.

On 3 March 1831, in Graiguenamanagh, County Kilkenny, a force of 120 yeomanry attempted to enforce seizure orders on cattle belonging to a Roman Catholic priest. This particular priest had meant to protect those who wished to resist tithe collection by encouraging those involved to place their stock under his ownership prior to sale. This was the first clash of the Tithe War, which soon spread throughout Ireland.

On 18 June 1831, Irish Constabulary killed 12 and wounded 20 in Bunclody (Newtownbarry), County Wexford, when the locals resisted the seizure of cattle. This confrontation resulted in a more organized effort on the dissenters. They used warnings, such as church bells, to signal the community to the round up of cattle and stock. On 14 December 1831, resisters used the bell system to ambush a detachment of 40 Constabulary at Carrickshock, County Kilkenny, where 12 constables, including the Chief Constable, were killed.

The clashes and the fatalities continued over the next two years. By 1831, the authorities recorded 242 homicides, 1,179 robberies, 401 burglaries, 568 burnings, 280 cases of cattle-maiming, 161 assaults, 203 riots and 723 attacks on property directly attributed to seizure order enforcement. In 1832, the president of Carlow College was imprisoned for not paying tithes. On 18 December 1834, the conflict came to a head at Rathcormac, County Cork, when armed Constabulary reinforced by the regular British Army killed twelve and wounded forty-two during several hours of fighting when trying to enforce a tithe order reputedly to the value of 40 shillings.

With the difficulty of finding and collecting livestock chattels, as well as the public outrage and the increased strain on police relations, the government, eventually, suspended collections. It was lamented that "it cost a shilling to collect a tuppence."

The Tithe Commutation Act for Ireland was introduced in Parliament in 1838. This Act reduced the amount payable directly by about a quarter and made the remainder payable in rent to landlords. The landlords, in turn, were to pass payment on to the authorities. This permitted tithes to be added to a tenant's rents, thus ending the "violent" encounters of orders of seizures associated with the Tithe War. However, the "tithe" commitment was not removed fully until the Irish Church Act 1869, which disestablished the Church of Ireland.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Wyrd: The Role of Fate

by Octavia Randolph

THE Anglo-Saxons had a special concept, and a special word, for what today we would call Fate. Wyrd is an Old English noun, a feminine one, from the verb weorthan "to become". It is related to the Old Saxon wurd, Old High German wurt, Old Norse urür. Wyrd is the ancestor of the more modern weird, which before it meant odd or unusual in the pejorative sense carried connotations of the supernatural, as in Shakespeare's weird sisters, the trio of witches in MacBeth. The original Wyrd Sisters were of course, the three Norns, the Norse Goddesses of destiny.

Wyrd is Fate or Destiny, but not the "inexorable fate" of the ancient Greeks. "A happening, event, or occurrence", found deeper in the Oxford English Dictionary listing is closer to the way our Anglo-Saxon and Norse forbears considered this term. In other words, Wyrd is not an end-point, but something continually happening around us at all times. One of the phrases used to describe this difficult term is "that which happens".

Another definition includes variously "fate, chance, fortune, destiny, the Fates, Providence, event, phenomenon, transaction, fact, condition" depending on the literary reference of the Old English work that mentions wyrd. (A Concise Anglo-Saxon Dictionary, compiled by J.R. Clark Hall University of Toronto Press, fourth ed, 1996) Note especially "transaction" and "condition", as they point to both the idea of active Fate and the environment in which life is played out.

Anglo-Saxon scholar Stephen Pollington describes it thus:
...It is worth stressing that the modern notion of linear time was still something of a scientific abstraction among even the Christian Anglo-Saxons, whose attitudes to life and death seem to have been governed by the world-view of their heathen forbears. They believed that at a given time some men...were doomed to die - a reaction to the uncertainties of warfare and accidents not unlike that of many modern soldiers who have faith in the idea that "if it's got your name on it, there's nothing you can do"...Tied in with this idea is the concept of wyrd 'the course of events' which is the underlying structure of time; it is this pattern which the Anglo-Saxons tried to read in the world about them....As the Beowulf poet observed: Wyrd often saves an undoomed hero as long as his courage is good (lines 572-3) The implication is that while a man's courage holds out, he has a hope of winning through since wyrd 'the way things happen' will often work to help such a man, as long as he is not doomed; conversely if a man is doomed then not even his courage can help him stand against 'the course of events'.
 -The English Warrior from Earliest Times to 1066, pp166-167 Anglo-Saxon Books 1996
If time is not considered or experienced in a linear fashion but instead regarded as an interconnected series of events, each affecting the other, 'that which happens' or wyrd becomes not a destination but a sign post, or even a crossroads. Just as the traveller affects the outcome of his journey by the path he chooses, so do we play an active role in facing what wyrd metes out to us. Wyrd can be "worked". What you do as an individual can bend or change wyrd.

Consider time not as a swiftly flowing river, constantly rushing us father away from our births to our deaths, but instead as a lake or pool of infinite size. A handful of pebbles tossed onto the surface of a still pool creates simultaneous, rippling impressions on the water that spreading, touch each other and overlap. Each pebble is distinct from the other. They may be larger or smaller and create a splash of greater or lesser size, but the path of each creates an impression on the watery impression of every other pebble. These pebbles represent wyrd, but ours are the hands that cast them.

Even when a man was doomed by wyrd, there were always consolations, even if it was simply accepting an unpleasant fate with courage. The last line of the poem known as Resignation, a meditation on the Day of Judgment, sums this up well:  
It is still the best thing, since a man may not himself avert his destiny, that he should therefore suffer it well.
(Translated by S.A.J. Bradley in Anglo-Saxon Poetry, David Campbell Publishers, 1982)
This is from The Exeter Book, written c 950 to 1000 CE, and though strongly Christian in nature reflects the importance of Fate in human striving.

The analogy of a spider web is usefully employed in considering wyrd. Each section of the web is a discreet part of the whole, yet the tiniest ensnared insect will set the entire web vibrating. Whether the spider wins her dinner depends on how skillfully she has woven her web, how quickly she reacts, and the chances of the captured insect to struggle free. The web is wyrd, but what the actors do upon it will decide the outcome.

The World Wide Web is another interwoven network, and a well named one. It is truly a web of almost endlessly interconnecting nodules (of which this page is one) linked together by invisible strands of electronic connectivity. You arrived here to learn of Wyrd because of what you selected on your path to this knowledge.

 Wyrd byð swyðost 
 Wyrd is strongest 


Octavia Randolph is the author of The Circle of Ceridwen, set in 9th century England, available for .99 on and September 23 through September 30. Enjoy!

Monday, September 23, 2013

What price a crown?

by Anna Belfrage

Henry Bolingbroke 
On July 4, 1399, a man landed at Ravenspur, Yorkshire, returning from his exile in France. With him came a handful of companions, and I suppose the man must have been nervous, no matter how determined. He was, after all, risking his life and his future. Henry Bolingbroke had come to claim the English crown.

It reads like an improbable adventure. The red-headed Henry, son of John of Gaunt, speedily took control over most of England, further helped along by the fact that Richard II was in Ireland, having taken his loyal lords with him.

By the time Richard made it back in late July, it was too late. Inexplicably, Richard left his main host in Pembrokeshire and disguised as a friar rode north, there to meet with the Earl of Salisbury, who had been charged with raising a royal army. No such army materialised. At Conwy Castle, Richard was forced to receive Henry’s messengers. On August 19, Richard II surrendered to his cousin at Flint Castle and rode in his retinue all the way back to London, no doubt most indignant at having to ride behind Henry rather than in front of him.

Henry (in black hat) claims the throne
Richard presented his abdication to Parliament on September 29, and on October 13 Henry Bolingbroke was crowned as Henry IV, the first of the Lancastrian kings. A quick and neat usurpation, taking no more than twelve weeks.

Three Plantagenet kings have been named Richard. Apart from their name, they also have in common the fact that none of them had a son to which to bequeath their throne. The first died – rather ingloriously for this embodiment of chivalric virtues – from a crossbow quarrel in his armpit. The other two share the distinction of being ousted from their thrones by a man called Henry. While Richard III’s death at Bosworth and the subsequent enthronement of Henry Tudor still inspires a lot of controversy and opinionated discussions, in general Henry IV’s usurpation back in 1399 is met with little more than a shrug. Why is that? Well, I believe it is due to Henry Bolingbroke, a man far less controversial to his future subjects than Henry Tudor.

Henry Bolingbroke was a respected man – admired for his prowess at tournaments, loved because of his largesse. A renowned warrior and leader of men, a crusader, the father of a bevy of sons where Richard II had none, Henry epitomised the male ideals of the time. Add to this a thorough education, an excellent role model in his father, and a reputation for fairness, and it is easy to understand why so many considered Henry a far more palatable choice for king than Richard II.

Richard II
Poor Richard never succeeded in living up to his subjects’ expectations of becoming like his father, the beloved Black Prince. Besides, Richard had a tendency to expend huge amounts of money on his court, himself and his beloved arts. Just like his great-grandfather, Richard II also liked handing out gifts and lands to his favourites – often at the expense of the public purse.

Besides, Henry Bolingbroke could claim he had been most unfairly treated by his royal cousin. Despite loyal and steadfast service to the crown, Richard had rewarded him by forcing him into exile, and even worse, when John of Gaunt died, Richard had refused to honour the laws of inheritance, effectively disinheriting Henry. Not a popular thing to do, not in a country where more and more of his people were beginning to consider the king petty and unreliable, prone to consider himself well above the laws and customs of the realm. Richard’s barons were even more worried; if the king chose to act so unjustly towards his first cousin, what was to stop him from acting in a similar way towards other rich and powerful noblemen?

John of Gaunt
When Henry Bolingbroke initiated his armed rebellion, he officially stated that he was in England only to claim his paternal inheritance, wrongfully denied him by the king. Smart move, as everyone could sympathise with that. He made a big show of proclaiming his desire to help reform government in England, to bring order and stability, reinstate the rule of law rather than that of royal prerogative. Not once did he say “I want the crown”, as had he voiced his intent to claim the throne, he might have had a problem rallying support. Richard’s subjects were sick of their king’s high-handed rule, but to depose a king was a grievous sin.

This presented something of a conundrum to Henry. Having once before experienced just how capable Richard was of holding a grudge (it took him more than a decade to plan his cunning revenge on the Lords Appellant, a group of men, including Henry, who had protested against the mismanagement of the government. Rumours had it he had even ordered the murder of one of the Lords Appellant, his own uncle, Thomas of Woodstock), Henry was disinclined to allow Richard to remain on the throne. Somehow, the king had to be convinced to abdicate in favour of Henry, preferably in such a way as to allow Henry to emerge untarnished from this whole sordid matter.

Richard is taken into custody 
In hindsight, that didn’t work. To ensure Richard’s cooperation, Henry’s supporters lied to him. At Conwy Castle, the Earl of Northumberland and the Earl of Westmoreland perjured themselves by swearing on holy relics that the intention was not to relieve Richard of his crown, rather to “help” him govern. Richard was an intelligent man and wasn’t convinced, but he played for time, hoping that by pretending to accept these lies, he’d get the opportunity to flee and gather support. Not to be, as next morning Richard was forcibly taken into custody by the Earl of Northumberland and transported to Flint Castle, there to wait for Henry.

Henry went out of his way to be as courteous as possible towards his unhappy cousin. A steel hand in a velvet glove, one could say, as there was no doubt in either man’s mind as to who was presently in charge, but all the same, Henry attempted to make things as comfortable as possible for Richard, treating him always with respect. I suspect Henry was uncomfortably aware of just how displeased his father, John of Gaunt, would have been with this whole mess. John would never have countenanced deposing the Lord’s anointed – but then John had died (obviously) before Richard committed the unforgiveable act of denying Henry his inheritance.

What forces were brought to bear on Richard for him to sign his abdication remain unclear. Undoubtedly, threats to his life would have been made – never by Henry personally, of course. And maybe Richard believed that signing the abdication was the only thing he could do at present, hoping no doubt to turn the tables on his cousin at a future date.

Once on his throne, it seems Henry IV was quite willing to let Richard live. This was his first cousin, and while they were too different to have much of a natural liking for each other, they were both aware of their blood-ties. Maybe Henry’s intention was to keep Richard in comfortable captivity – although choosing Pontrefact as the future home of the retired king indicates Henry didn’t want him too comfortable (or too close to London).

All that changed when several of Richard’s former favourites became involved in a plot against the new king, with the intention of murdering not only Henry but also his four sons, all of them children.  The Epiphany Rising in 1400 might not have implicated Richard per se, but it underlined the risk of keeping the former king alive, a potential rallying point to all future discontent.

Conveniently, sometime in February 1400, Richard II died. It was said he starved to death – whether voluntarily or not is still up for debate. Personally, I believe he was murdered. To have kept him alive would have been too much of a risk.

To take a crown comes at a price. Henry was never entirely comfortable on his throne, and to make matters worse his relationship with his eldest son was permanently damaged by his usurpation. Young Henry was very fond of Richard, and never quite forgave his father for having deposed him. Besides, there was the matter of guilt. By all accounts, Henry Bolingbroke was a man of tender conscience, a devout man who worked hard at being good and just. Mostly he succeeded.

But the false promises made to Richard back in August of 1399, promises that Richard would remain king, no matter that Henry would rule, gnawed at Henry for the rest of his life. Then there’s the matter of Richard’s death, a millstone of guilt for a man as upright as Henry to carry. It broke him, and over the coming years of his life, the once so powerful, so vibrant Henry Bolingbroke would transform into a sick and melancholy man. Upon his death he left no instructions as to how he was to be buried, and his will breathes of humility and guilt, in glaring contrast to most other wills of the period.

I guess the lesson is easy; never do anything that makes it difficult to meet your eyes in the mirror. Fate, however, now and then obliges us to act against our conscience. Henry Bolingbroke felt he had no choice – he had to safeguard his inheritance, for himself and for his sons. I dare say he never forgave himself; I dare say he found the price too steep.

Anna Belfrage is the author of three published books, A Rip in the Veil , Like Chaff in the Wind and The Prodigal Son. The fourth book in The Graham Saga, A Newfound Land, will be published in the autumn of 2013. Set in seventeenth century Scotland and America, the books tell the story of Matthew and Alex, two people who should never have met – not when she was born three hundred years after him.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Second Anniversary Celebration of English Historical Fiction Authors!

by Debra Brown

We've stepped down into true-life fairy tale scenes.
Today is the 2nd anniversary of this blog, September 23rd, 2013. We want to thank all of you, our dear readers, for being with us.

It has been a second very interesting year. We've had some excellent new authors join us, and we've really enjoyed their posts. We've read about the poetry of Mary, Queen of Scots, met Mendoza the Jew, an English Heavyweight Champion, and sought after the body parts of saints from all over the world.

Our most popular posts from this year (Sept. 23, 2012 - Sept. 22, 2013) based on the number of hits have been 1) The Real Identities Behind the Books we Love, by Karen V. Wasylowski, 2) Samuel Leech's Account of War at Sea, by Wanda Luce, 3) Seven Surprising Facts About Anne of Cleves, by Nancy Bilyeau, and 4) 'Let the Cat Out of the Bag...' by Jonathan Hopkins.

We've looked out over the incredible British Isles.
I could write ad nauseum here about us and our projects, but we decided this year that we would enjoy actually chatting with you, our readers. (Although it is a Monday, you do get a coffee break...) We will be on Twitter throughout the day to say hello at #EHFAChat. Please, please join us!

(For those who do not know how to participate in a Twitter chat, simply type #EHFAChat into the Twitter search bar. It will take you to a page where the chat is going on. To join in, add #EHFAChat to your tweets. You can direct a comment to one person by using their @Name, or just talk to the group as a whole. If you forget to add #EHFAChat, your tweet will not show up on that page.)

We are thrilled to announce the immediate release of our new book, Castles, Customs, and Kings: True Tales by English Historical Fiction Authors. It is an anthology of some of the wonderful posts from our first year, Sept. 23rd, 2011- Sept. 23rd, 2012.

Reviewers have said, "It's an amusing trot through British history and excellent bedtime reading." "I opened the book expecting to find something akin to a conference proceedings without 'trained' experts. Instead I found a new appreciation for the meticulous research and knowledge of the genre's authors." And "Fans of historical fiction and England will find the book rich in supplemental information to complement their reading with an introduction to authors of works they might enjoy."

Amazon US - Kindle
Amazon UK - Kindle

The above links are only for the Kindle version, but that will change as the books are linked together. The print version is available at a special price at this writing at:

Amazon US - Print
Amazon UK - Print

The book will also be available at other online stores within days.

We are offering a print copy of the book in a drawing to a winner in the US, Canada, or UK, and an electronic copy to an international winner. You can comment on this post to enter the drawing. Please be sure to leave your contact information.

We've been stopped by beauty and antiquity.
Then please follow us via the links below to visit various castles at the blogs of some of the authors. Many of the authors are offering a castle-related gift or a historical fiction book. It is a day for EHFA fun--thanks for joining us!

Pictures of Haddon Hall courtesy of Cassandra Grafton.


Saturday, September 21, 2013

The Story behind the Song of Mary Cruys

by Arthur Russell

The adage of “truth being stranger than fiction” can so often be applied to true stories that come down to us from history. Such a story is one from the early 15th century, which was re-echoed two centuries later on the Cruys (Cruise) and Plunkett family estates in the baronies of Morgallion and Kells in County Meath, Ireland.

The Gates to Cruicetown (formerly Cruystown Castle)

Sir Christopher Cruys married late in life, so late in fact that it came as a total surprise when he announced his desire to marry. The news of the marriage came as a nasty shock to Sir Christopher’s nephews in nearby Robertstown and Brittas Castles who fully expected to be the inheritors of the Cruys estates (now called Cruicetown), Moydorragh and Rathmore after Sir Christopher’s death.

Months after the marriage, the nephews’ concern turned to bitter disappointment when the new Lady Cruys announced she was expecting her first baby; for this was not just another baby, but the prospective heir to what the nephews had long understood would be rightfully theirs in due time. They conspired to murder both Sir Christopher as well as his pregnant wife as they made their way down the long avenue that led to their Castle Cruys home. 

Lady Cruys was wounded during the first minutes of the attack, but not fatally. After telling his wife to run to the shelter of the castle, Sir Christopher fought gallantly with his assailants, but was fatally injured with multiple sword thrusts. The wounded Lady Cruys managed to reach Castle Cruys, though she had to leave her cloak behind her as the gates slammed shut against her would be assassins*.

Bloody and shaken, the expectant mother had made arrangements for the burial of her murdered husband as well as give consideration to how she was going to preserve not just her own life, but that of her unborn child.

During the burial ceremony which was hastily held by candle light in the nearby Church which contained the Cruys family vault, Lady Cruys caused the story to be put about that she had succumbed to her wounds and had asked to be buried in the church near the other family castle at Rathmore, about fifteen miles from Castle Cruys. The reason given was that the family feud which had just caused her husband’s murder would not allow his wife to be buried with him in the family crypt in Cruicetown church. 

Before her departure, she had all the castle’s silver plate put into a large crate and sunk in a small lake near where the attack had taken place. She gathered all the estate deeds and put them into a coffin in which she herself lay as she left for Rathmore with a group of trusted servants. The ruse worked. The two murderers allowed the funeral cortege to pass, believing that Lady Cruys was indeed dead inside the coffin.

Cruicetown Church where Sir Chistopher was buried
When the cortege reached Rathmore, Lady Cruys had all that castle’s silver plate placed in the coffin in which she had arrived and had it buried in the family vault in Rathmore church. As far as those in attendance at that funeral knew, they were burying Lady Cruys.

She collected all Rathmore’s legal documents as well as whatever jewels she could carry and made her way to Dublin to board ship for England, from where she planned to mount her fight to regain possession of her murdered husband’s estates.

She soon discovered that the ways of the law grind slow, and fighting for justice in Ireland from the other side of the Irish Sea at that time was not easy. She quickly ran out of money and was forced to work for what was needed to keep herself and her daughter Mary Anne, who was born soon after she arrived in London.

Years passed. As Mary Anne grew, her mother told her of her lost inheritance in Ireland. She formulated a song in which she listed all the Irish place names related to that inheritance and taught the song to her daughter to keep her reminded of Ireland and the lost lands.

Sometime during the early 1430’s, Sir Thomas Plunkett, son of Lord Killeen in south Meath, while attending Court of Inns in London, was crossing a bridge on the River Thames when he heard a young girl singing in Irish and realized she could be the long lost heiress of Cruys, Moydorragh and Rathmore Castles. He spoke with the girl and asked to be brought to meet her mother. After he heard their story, he promised to help the two women win back what they had lost. In return for his considerable legal help he asked for the hand of young Mary Anne in marriage.

It would be nice to relate that there was a large degree of romance on the rather elderly suitor’s mind. He had himself recently buried his first wife after a childless marriage and saw in Mary Anne the possibility of both perpetrating his family name as well as increasing his estates.

The marriage deal was duly agreed; Mary Anne Cruys became a prospective Lady Killeen. Sir Thomas was successful in pleading the case he had taken on and won back the Cruys family estates from the robber nephews of Sir Christopher Cruys. 

The marriage was duly marked when the couple returned to Ireland to reclaim what was theirs, including the two caches of silver plate, one buried in Rathmore churchyard, the other sunk in Cruicetown Lake. The first visit of the newly marrieds to Ireland was marked with a stone cross erected at Killeen which stands to this day proclaiming the names of Thomas Plunkett and his wife Mary Anne Cruys. Sir Thomas was subsequently appointed Lord Chief Justice of Ireland. He died in 1471 and was buried in Rathmore.

*Note - There is an interesting variation to the story of Lady Cruys’s escape from her attackers which tell that she fled and hid in the sedges of the lake near where she and Sir Thomas were attacked. A heron was disturbed by the pursuers as they searched for her, from which they concluded that nobody could be hiding nearby. This caused the heron to be thenceforth added to the Cruise family’s coat of arms.

History repeats itself – well almost … 

Two centuries later, in the course of Oliver Cromwell’s “settlement” of Ireland, the Plunkett family of Meath fell victim to the Lord Protector’s wrath. Sir Robert Plunkett, a direct descendant of Sir Thomas and Lady Mary Anne; was killed with all his sons by Cromwell’s soldiers when they failed to convince the implacable General of their good intentions. This happened close to Rathmore. Cromwell was in no mood to forgive or forget the fact that some of the Plunketts were Catholics and had sided with the Irish Confederation who were minded to support King Charles I during the Civil War.

Rathmore Church near Athboy, Co Meath.

One member of the family, Sir Robert’s one and only daughter; escaped Cromwell’s wrath. Lady Catherine (Kate) Plunkett managed to travel to Northern England where she hoped to live anonymously until better days for Catholic rebels might eventually dawn.

Yes - its that song again!

By curious chance, several years after these events in Ireland, Kate was overheard singing the same Irish song in Northern England as Sir Thomas had heard Mary Anne Cruys singing two centuries before on the banks of the Thames. The song had obviously been handed down the generations as a family tradition.

The listener on this occasion was a soldier who had served in Ireland and was familiar with the Irish language as well as the story of the disappeared heiress to the Plunkett estates in Meath. History does not record the soldier’s name, but he thought he had a good chance of becoming landed gentry if Lady Kate, who was pretty and having agreed to become his wife could succeed to reclaim the Plunkett family estates that had been confiscated. Nor was this an unrealistic hope at the time, for under the Restoration and accession of Charles II to the throne, many of the former regime’s settlements were being overturned by Royal decree. 

Alas, any hopes of this happening in the case of Lady Kate failed and with it her marriage to her soldier adventurer. He increasingly found her manners and Irish mode of speaking wanting and disagreeable to him until he finally deserted her. Poor Kate made her way back to Ireland where we can only hope she found some semblance of peace and serenity after her earlier tumultuous life.

THE SONG OF MARY CRUYS (Translated from the original Irish)

Ah! blessed Mary! hear me sighing,
On this cold stone mean labour plying;
Yet Rathmore's heiress might I name me,
And broad lands rich and many claim me.

Gilstown, Rathbeg, names known from childhood;
Fair Johnstown, hard by bog and wild wood;
Re-taaffe (Blackwater near it floweth),
And Harton, where the white wheat groweth.

Thee, Ballycred, too, mem'ry prizes;
Old Oristown to mind arises;
Caultown, near bogs, black turf providing;
Rathconny, in its "Baron" priding.

The Twelve Poles, Armabregia, follow;
Kilmainham, of the woody hollow;
Cruisetown, with lake by sunbeams greeted;
Moydorragh hay, mid fair roads seated.

Still could I speak of townlands many;
Three score along the banks of Nanny;
Twelve by the Boyne, if it were pleasure
To dwell on lost and plundered treasure.

The story of Mary Cruys and her descendant Kate is a small part of a rich legacy which comes down to us as oral folk history and which are now being recorded and preserved by organisations such as the Meath Archaeological and History Society (MAHS) and the Navan & District Historical Society (N&DHS).

Note – The townland of Cruicetown, which derives its name from the Cruise or Cruice family; is situated on the border of the baronies of Morgallion and Lower Kells in Co Meath. It was granted to Sir Maurice Cruys (died 1216), by Sir Hugh deLacy in 1172 as part of the conquest of the Liberty of Meath in the aftermath of the Norman Invasion of Ireland in 1169.

The old church of Cruicetown, which is believed to have been a gift from the local chieftain after the conversion of the local people to Christianity post 432 AD; is situated beside a motte and bailey which was subsequently built by Sir Maurice. While the church is dedicated to St. James, it was unusual for Celtic churches to use biblical saint names. It is therefore thought that the church may have been re-dedicated by the conquering Anglo-Normans and all records of a previous Irish patron saint erased from local memory and record.
Arthur Russell is author of Morgallion, a story set in early 13th century during the Bruce Invasion of Ireland. Cruicetown is located in the barony which bears the name Morgallion.

More information about Morgallion can be found on website

Friday, September 20, 2013

Royal Feasts in Medieval Fiction by Christy English

by Christy English

The upcoming release of Castles, Customs, and Kings, has got me thinking about one of my favorite aspects of historical fiction, the medieval feast.

In my novels about Eleanor of Aquitaine, and in a good deal of medieval fiction, the reader is subjected to a large number of royal banquets. There are a lot of reasons for that, mainly because it was the one time during the day when the king and the queen came together in public, allowing for all sorts of theatrical drama to ensue to help in the weaving of a novel's plot.

Not all the drama at royal banquets was political, however. A medieval feast was often accompanied by music, quiet and melodious during the dinner itself, and louder, more raucous music for the dancing after. Often the king or queen would also pay for dancers and mummers to perform for the crowd, amusing the highborn ladies and lords who were fortunate enough to dine at the high table with the royals, a mark of favor that was rarely bestowed and always sought after.

Interior of the Palace at Poitiers, Eleanor's capital in Poitou

In my first historical novel, The Queen's Pawn, Prince Richard, later King Richard I, sang at his mother's feasts. This was less as part of the entertainment and more of a gesture of support for her and for the culture she came from, namely the south of what is now modern day France, the duchy of the Aquitaine and the county of Poitou. In this region, the art of courtly love was welcome at court, and lords sang for their ladies, writing songs for them as easily as paid troubadours. Of course, professional songmasters were sought after even in England, where they sang at the court of the Angevin King Henry II.

Henry II of England

Courtly feasts were a lovely place to hear stories told, songs sung, and to watch political power plays, which were almost as exciting as the entertainment, if not more so. If I could transport myself back in time, I would love to stay just long enough to eat at one of Eleanor's feasts, listen to Richard sing, and then get out of there.

Christy English is the author of The Queen's Pawn, To Be Queen, and Love on a Midsummer Night, and a contributor to Castles, Customs, and Kings. For more about Eleanor of Aquitaine, Richard the Lionheart, and Shakespearean Regency romance, please join Christy on her website Chasing the Muse .