Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Sudeley Castle and the People Who Lived There

by Judith Arnopp

Set against the backdrop of the Cotswolds near Winchcombe in Gloucestershire, a little north of Cheltenham, lies Sudeley Castle. Throughout history Sudeley has been many things; today it is a family home, a beautiful garden, a historic jewel, and the last resting place of an English queen.

Sudeley remained in the hands of Goda’s family until the reign of Henry V when the castle was gifted to Thomas Boteler by way of repayment for his action in the war with France. It was Boteler who began to transform Sudeley into an enviable property, enlarging and updating the existing fabric of the building to create a place fit for royalty.

When the Lancastrians were defeated and Edward IV took the throne the Boteler family were forced out and Sudeley’s passed into the hands of a new owner, the king’s brother, Richard of Gloucester, later King Richard III.

When the tables turned again and Richard was defeated at Bosworth, Henry VII bestowed it on his loyal uncle, Jasper Tudor. After Jasper’s death Sudeley once more became crown property.

Henry VIII visited once with Anne Boleyn. They met with Thomas Cromwell there to discuss the reformation of the monasteries and took a keen interest in the Blood of Christ housed at nearby Winchcombe Abbey. After this the castle was run down and unoccupied for much of the time.

On his accession to the throne, Edward VI made his uncle, Thomas Seymour, Lord of Sudeley and after his marriage to Katheryn Parr, Seymour and his new wife made a home there.

The Seymours implemented many improvements and Katheryn took great care in choosing the décor of the nursery for their expected child. Tragically, to Thomas Seymour’s sorrow and detriment, Katheryn died scarcely a year later, having given birth to a healthy daughter, whom they named Mary. Thomas was executed for treason less than a year later and their child placed in the care of Katherine Willoughby, Duchess of Suffolk, but fades from the historical record shortly afterwards; it is likely that she died in infancy.

With Thomas’ ward, Lady Jane Grey, acting as chief mourner Katheryn was laid to rest in St Mary’s church adjacent to the castle. Today visitors to Sudeley can view a love letter and portrait gifted to the queen by her husband.

Katheryn’s step-daughter and friend, Elizabeth Tudor, later Queen Elizabeth I, visited Sudeley on three occasions during her reign. It is easy to imagine her walking in the garden, remembering her stepmother, recalling conversations and small personal details of their shared life that are now lost to history.

Sudeley’s story doesn’t end with the Tudors. During the civil war Prince Rupert made the castle his headquarters, and Charles I stayed there for a time during the campaign to take Gloucester.

During the course of the war, Sudeley passed back and forth between Royalist and Parliamentarian hands until Parliament ordered the ‘slighting’ of Sudeley making the house indefensible. The roof was removed and afterwards fell swiftly into decay. The fine worked stone was quarried by locals until the castle became nothing more than a romantic ruin. For the next two hundred years, at the mercy of the elements, it became a trysting place for lovers, or a hideaway for thieves.

In 1782, Katheryn Parr’s grave was rediscovered. The lead casket was opened and the body within reported to be 'uncorrupted'. She was reinterred in 1817 by the Rector of Sudeley and a plaque copied from the original inscription on the lead coffin was placed upon it. Today you can see a later, Victorian effigy of Katheryn on the tomb.

Sudeley remained in elegant decay until the nineteenth century when it was bought by two brothers, John and William Dent, who embarked upon a restoration project. They employed architect Sir Gilbert Scott to restore the chapel. The walls and large parts of the castle were restored and the finishing touches applied by Lady Emma Dent who spent almost fifty years restoring and filling Sudeley with fine art and historical artefacts.

The Tudor style parterre we see today is a reconstruction but it is easy to imagine Katheryn there, inhaling the scent of the flowers, the kiss of summer rain on blush pink petals.

While you move quietly between the roses, or pass through the old yew hedges you might imagine her footstep on the gravel behind you, or catch a glimpse of hanging sleeves or the flick of a scarlet kirtle as she turns a corner.

Sunday the 2nd of September 2018 Sudeley Castle is holding a Katherine Parr day! Why not visit it and see for yourself.

Photographs: Sudeley Castle property of Judith Arnopp 2018


Judith Arnopp is the author of ten historical novels including:

The Beaufort Chronicle: comprising of
The Beaufort Bride – also on Audible
The Beaufort Woman – also on Audible
The King’s Mother - coming soon on Audible
A Song of Sixpence: the story of Elizabeth of York and Perkin Warbeck – coming soon on Audible
The Kiss of the Concubine: A story of Anne Boleyn – also on Audible
The Winchester Goose: at the court of Henry VIII
Intractable Heart: the story of Katheryn Parr
The Song of Heledd
The Forest Dwellers

You can learn more about Katheryn Parr’s life in Judith's book Intractable Heart; the story of Katheryn Parr.

She is currently working on Sisters of Arden, set during the dissolution of the monasteries and the Pilgrimage of Grace. All books on Kindle and in Paperback.

For more information, see Judith Arnopp Books and her website,

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Editors Weekly Round-up, July 15, 2018

by the EHFA Editors

English Historical Fiction Authors brings you posts every week on different aspects of British history, society, and culture. Enjoy the articles for the week ending July 14.
by Maria Grace

by Sarah Rayne

Thursday, July 12, 2018

To Catch a Thief...

By Sarah Rayne

I’m keen on atmospheric settings and I’m very keen indeed on houses and buildings with intriguing histories.  In the early stages of drafting a new plot, looking for a hook on which to hang a building (so to speak), I came across a fragment of a very old English law.

It happened by purest chance.  One afternoon having become lost in the depths of the countryside, I drove past a field with a sign on the gate saying, ‘Infanger’s Field’. 

The English countryside is, it must be said, liberally strewn with strange and intriguing names. Quite near to where I live is a village called Coven. It’s an extremely nice place, but its name is always very deliberately pronounced ‘Coe-Ven’. Purists carefully point out that the name derives from the Anglo-Saxon, cofum¸meaning either a cove or a hut, but despite that, there are occasionally dark mutterings suggesting that the place once had witchcraft associations, and that the pronunciation was politely slurred to hide that fact. 

Then there are all those instances of Glue Works Lane and Slaughter Yard. There’s Pudding Lane where the Great Fire of London reputedly started in a baker’s shop. On the other hand, there are places whose names are open to interpretation, such as Cockshutt in Shropshire, which, despite sounding like a venue for a Carry On film, is likely to derive from fowl hunting activities. Other names are satisfyingly rooted in the past: Oxford has Brasenose College and Brasenose Lane – supposedly from the Brazen Nose door knocker of the original sixteenth century Hall. Incredibly, though, the city also once had the now-lost Shitbarn Lane, c.1290, which ran between Oriel Street and Alfred Street.

But Infanger’s Field? 

I made eager notes – I even ventured into the field itself to pace the boundaries, although it was a bit unfortunate that I dropped my notebook in the mud, (I think it was mud – I hope it was mud), and perhaps I wouldn’t have worn scarlet gloves if I had known there was a bull in the field. 

Then I dashed home to scour bookshelves and the internet.

And it seems that the word comes from the Old English infangene-þēof –  ‘Thief seized within’ or ‘in-taken-thief’.  Infangenthief or infangentheof, no matter how you spell it, was an Anglo-Saxon arrangement, supposedly from the time of Edward the Confessor – c.1003-1066, and one of the last of the royal House of Wessex. 

Infangentheof, and its sister law, outfangentheof, apparently permitted the owners of a piece of land the right to mete out justice to miscreants captured within their estates, regardless of where the poor wretches actually lived. On occasions it also allowed the culprits to be chased in other jurisdictions, and brought back for trial. The justice that was meted out was often extremely severe – there was no cheerful Gilbert & Sullivan principle of letting the punishment fit the crime in those days. People were beheaded – limbs were cut off – vagabonds were often whipped and chained in stocks. Others were forced to carry hot stones, or wear bridles over their tongues – a favoured method for troublesome wives, of course. Poisoners might be boiled alive.

As for murderers, they risked being hung up in a cage, usually after their execution, although occasionally before it, so that people could watch their slow death. It was a day out for the ordinary people; you could take a bit of lunch with you, and it made something to tell the neighbours.
This grisly custom was sometimes useful to those unprincipled (and strong-stomached) souls who were resolved on proving the truth of the ‘Hand of Glory’ ritual – the belief that the dried hand of a hanged man had power. Writing the Ingoldsby Legends in the 1840s, the Reverend Richard Barham paints a deeply macabre image of three crones climbing up a gibbet in quest of such a gruesome fragment.
‘On the lone bleak moor, at the midnight hour,
Beneath the Gallow Tree,
Hand in hand, the Murderers stand,
By one, by two, by three!
Now mount who list, and close by the wrist,
Sever me quickly, the Dead Man’s fist.
And climb, who dare, where he swings in the air,
And pluck me five locks of the Dead Man’s hair.’
The privilege of exercising the law of infangentheof and extorting suitable punishments, was granted to feudal lords, and, inevitably, to religious houses, who generally liked to get their hands on any odds and ends of power that might be up for grabs.  When the Normans came barrelling in, they made cheerful use of most of these laws too, and they particularly liked infangentheof, which they felt helped keep the rebellious Saxons in their place.

The recipients of the privilege usually got a bit of a smorgasbord – as well as infangentheof, the king tended to throw in a few other goodies. The granting of a free borough, could be one, along with things called soke and sake, and toll and team.  Sake, despite sounding like something you’d glug down with your sushi, literally translated as ‘cause and suit’, while soke and team referred to the ‘privilege of holding court’, intended for judging people accused of wrongful possession of goods or cattle.

Toll was then, as it is today, the right granted to a landowner to impose a payment on the sale or passage of goods or cattle on his lands, or, alternatively, to be exempt from the tolls of others. So today’s motorists paying to drive along a particular stretch of motorway, and modern travellers struggling with the complexities of customs and excise (not least the present government in its wrangles with the EU), might justifiably direct their wrath towards the likes of King John. In fact, Henry III, in a Charter to the citizens of Norwich of 1229, makes ceremonious greetings to his subjects starting with bishops and archbishops and going all the way down the social scale to reeves, bailiffs, and the useful all-embracing term of ‘all faithful men’, after which, the courtesies having been observed and all Henry’s titles having been listed, (presumably in case somebody reading the edict didn’t know who he was), goes on to inform his subjects thus –
“… at the request and petition of our venerable father, John, the second [of that name], bishop of Norwich, we have granted and by this present charter confirmed to the burgesses of Lenn, that the borough of Lenn may be a free borough for ever, and they may have soke and sake, toll and team, infangenthief and outfangenthief.”
I have no idea if it was a fragment from the past I encountered with Infanger’s Field that day – perhaps a shred of some long-ago feudal baron who had named a field as a warning to miscreants.  And I’m doubtful if I could find the field again. 

The law itself fell more or less into disuse in the fourteenth century and all-but vanished from England’s history. Thankfully most of the punishments have vanished as well. But fragments of the law can still be found here and there. Such as in the name of a field that now houses only an indignant bull. 


Sarah Rayne’s first novel was published in 1982, and since then she has written more than 25 books. As well as being published in America and Australia, her novels have been translated into German, Dutch, Russian, and Turkish. Much of her inspiration comes from the histories and atmospheres of old buildings, which is strongly apparent in many of her settings – Charect House in Property of a Lady, Twygrist Mill in Spider Light, and the Irish cottage,Tromloy, in Death Notes.  Music also influences a number of her plots: the music hall songs in Ghost Song, the eerie death lament ‘Thaisa’s Song’ in The Bell Tower, and the lost music in Chord of Evil that hides a devastating secret from WWII.
Connect with her at

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Georgian Ices and Ice creams

by Maria Grace

After making its way onto the culinary scene, ice creams and sorbets exploded in popularity during the Georgian era. But Georgian ice cream looked a little different from its modern counterpart.  

The first known recipe for true (dairy-based) ice cream was found (unpublished) in the diary of Lady Anne Fanshawe, an English memoirist. The recipe was written around 1665 under the name icy cream. (Kraft, 2014) You might notice some interesting ingredients for flavoring including orange blossom water, mace, and ambergris, (a waxy substance produced in the gut of whales.) Honestly, between you and me, I can’t imagine what it must have tasted like.
Here’s her recipe, with original spellings:

To make Icy Cream

Take three pints of the best cream, boyle it with a blade of Mace, or else perfume it with orang flower water or Amber-Greece, sweeten the Cream, with sugar let it stand till it is quite cold, then put it into Boxes, ether of Silver or tinn then take, Ice chopped into small peeces and putt it into a tub and set the Boxes in the Ice covering them all over, and let them stand in the Ice twohours, and the Cream Will come to be Ice in the Boxes, then turne them out into a salvar with some of the same Seasoned Cream, so sarve it up at the Table

In the early days of ice cream making, confectioners were uncertain about freezing techniques, worrying about how much ice they needed, the how much salt to mix with the ice, and—perhaps most significantly—how keep the salt out of the ice cream. Beyond all that, they were concerned about storage and drainage, problems endemic to the days before refrigeration. Flavor, on the whole, seemed less important than freezing (Quinzio, 2002).

Freezing Ice Cream Before Refrigeration

Early recipe books focused a great deal of attention to the freezing process. Eale’s 1718 treatise is typical, suggesting you take any sort of cream you like, then detailing how to freeze it.

To Ice Cream.Take Tin Ice-Pots, fill them with any Sort of Cream you like, either plain or sweeten’d, or Fruit in it; shut your Pots very close; to six Pots you must allow eighteen or twenty Pound of Ice, breaking the Ice very small; there will be some great Pieces, which lay at the Bottom and Top: You must have a Pail, and lay some Straw at the Bottom; then lay in your Ice, and put in amongst it a Pound of Bay-Salt; set in your Pots of Cream, and lay Ice and Salt between every Pot, that they may not touch; but the Ice must lie round them on every Side; lay a good deal of Ice on the Top, cover the Pail with Straw, set it in a Cellar where no Sun or Light comes, it will be froze in four Hours, but it may stand longer; than take it out just as you use it; hold it in your Hand and it will slip out. When you wou’d freeze any Sort of Fruit, either Cherries, Rasberries, Currants, or Strawberries, fill your Tin-Pots with the Fruit, but as hollow as you can; put to them Lemmonade, made with Spring-Water and Lemmon-Juice sweeten’d; put enough in the Pots to make the Fruit hang together, and put them in Ice as you do Cream.
Following her instructions produces a solid lump of iced cream, rather unlike anything we would eat today—or possibly be interested in eating given the lack of attention to flavor.

pewter spoon, inner pail, full sabotiere
By the 1770’s improved directions—separate form recipes for actual ice cream flavors—suggested stirring the mixture as it froze to maintain a pleasing texture.

The Way To Ice All Sorts Of Liquid Compositions
WHEN your composition is put in the sabotiere take some natural ice and put it in a mortar, when it is reduced into a powder strew over it two or three handfuls of salt; then take your pails, put some pounded ice in the bottom, and place your sabotiere in those pails which you fill up after with ice to bury the sabotiere in. You must take care in the beginning to open your sabotiere in order not to let the sides freeze first, and on the contrary detach with a pewter spoon, all the flakes which stick to the sides, in order to make it congeal equally all over in the pot. Then you must work them well as much as you are able, for they are so much the more mellow as they are well worked; and their delicacy depends entirely upon that. You must not wait till they are thoroughly iced to begin to work them, because they would become too hard and it is not possible to dissolve what js congealed in lumps or pieces. When you see they are well congealed you let them rest, taking care for this time there should be some which stick to the sides of the icing-pot: this will prevent them from melting and make them keep longer in a right degree of icing (Borella, 1772).

By the nineteenth century, specialty books on ices and ice cream offered even more specific instructions:

Observations on Ice Cream
It is the practice with some indolent cooks, to set the freezer, containing the cream, in a tub with ice and salt, and put it in the ice-house; it will certainly freeze there, but not until the watery particles have subsided, and by the separation destroyed the cream.A freezer should be twelve or fourteen inches deep, and eight or ten wide. This facilitates the operation very much, by giving a larger surface for the ice to form, which it always does on the sides of the vessel; a silver spoon, with a long handle, should be provided for scraping the ice from the sides, as soon as formed, and when the whole is congealed, pack it in moulds (which must be placed with care, lest they should not be upright,) in ice and salt till sufficiently hard to retain the shape--they should not be turned out till the moment they are to be served. The freezing tub must be wide enough to leave a margin of four or five inches all around the freezer when placed in the middle, which must be filled up with small lumps of ice mixed with salt--a larger tub would waste the ice. The freezer must be kept constantly in motion during the process, and ought to be made of pewter, which is less liable than tin to be worn in holes and spoil the cream by admitting the salt water." (Randolph, 1824).
Early Ice Cream Flavors

By the late seventeen hundreds into the early eighteen hundreds, the freezing process was well enough established to really focus on flavors. A perusal of cookbooks from the eighteenth and early nineteenth century suggests that fruit flavors were probably the most popular of ice creams. Hannah Glasse (1747) offered a typical recipe (and one that later appeared in a number of other cookbooks thanks to lack of copyright protections, but that’s another story…)

To make Ice-Cream

PARE and stone twelve ripe apricots, and scald them, beat them fine in a mortar, add to them six ounces of double-refined sugar, and a pint of scalding cream, and work it through a sieve; put it in a tin with a close cover, and set it in a tub of ice broken small, with four handfuls of salt mixed among the ice. When you see your cream grows thick round the edges of your tin, stir it well, and put it in again till it is quite thick; when the cream is all froze up, take it out of the tin, and put it into the mould you intend to turn it out of; put on the lid, and have another tub of salt and ice ready as before; put the mould in the middle, and lay the ice under and over it; let it stand four hours, and never turn it out till the moment you want it, then dip the mould in cold spring-water, and turn it into a plate. You may do any sort of fruit the same way. (Glasse, 1747)

In theory any cream or custard recipe could become an ice cream, which offered any number of wild sounding options which sound more modern than Georgian: avocado, eggplant, lavender, rose petals, crumbled macaroons, caramel, ginger, lemon, tea, anise seed, chervil, tarragon, celery, parsley, cucumber, asparagus and parmesan cheese!

Emy’s 1768 book devoted to ice cream—L’Art de bien faire les glaces d’office; ou Les vrais principes pour congeler tous les rafraichissemens—includes instructions to make rye bread ice cream. He added rye bread crumbs to a basic ice cream mixture, let it thicken, and then strained the mixture before freezing. Brown bread ice cream recipes (which believe it or not are still made today) followed in other confectionary books along with ice creams made with macaroons and various other cookies. Interestingly, these were all strained to produce a smooth product, quite the contrast from today’s ice creams filled with crunchy and chewy bits.

Chocolate, coffee, and tea, the three important luxury beverages of the era made their way into the dessert world as well. Cookery books contained recipes to make sweet dessert creams with all three. Emy then converted those into chocolate and coffee ice creams, mousses, and ices. He suggested adding ambergris (whose flavor I am told ranges from earthy to musky to sweet), cinnamon, vanilla, clove, or lemon for additional flavor. (Jeri 2009)

For more on Ice Cream in Jane Austen's World, click HERE.
Click Here for References


Though Maria Grace has been writing fiction since she was ten years old, those early efforts happily reside in a file drawer and are unlikely to see the light of day again, for which many are grateful. 

After penning five file-drawer novels in high school, she took a break from writing to pursue college and earn her doctorate. After 16 years of university teaching, she returned to her first love, fiction writing.

Click here to find her books on Amazon. For more on her writing and other Random Bits of Fascination, visit her website. You can also like her on Facebook or follow on Twitter.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Friday, July 6, 2018

16th Century British Furniture Primer

by K.M. Pohlkamp

My character hears approaching footsteps, and she knows she mustn’t be discovered with the poison in her hand. Rushing to her intended victim’s bed chamber, she hides behind the...

Uh… What does she hide behind? What furniture would have existed in a 16th century noble bedroom?

Such plot questions often send me into a consuming spiral of research, and this one was no different. But I vehemently maintain perusing Tudor history websites counts as writing - it’s for research! And at least it’s more easily justified than scanning my Twitter feed.

Unfortunately, however, as the prominent British woodwork journalist, Charles Hayward, truthfully writes of England:

“...[T]he troublous times through which this country went in the Middle Ages certainly enabled destruction to carry out its work of waste. An army marching through an enemy country would spare little that came its way, and even in peaceful times the outbreak of fire must have been an ever-present source of danger. Domestic houses are invariably built of timber and, as the fire on the open hearth is almost never allowed to go out, being just fanned to a flame every morning, the chances of the building catching fire is high.”

In addition to the likelihood that furniture was destroyed, few pieces existed to begin with. During the medieval period, furniture was sparse and a symbol of status and wealth resulting from the scarcity of wood and skilled artisans.

However, Henry VIII began to change this. The King benefited from the frugality of his predecessor, Henry VII, and used the Crown’s amassed financial reserves to outfit his palaces with luxurious furniture. Cardinal Wolsey shared the King’s fondness for lavish spending and an inventory of Hampton Court records once listed 280 beds.

During Tudor England, a well-off master bedroom contained a bed, a chest to hold clothes, and possibly a cupboard. Beyond the bedroom, homes of nobility usually also contained a large table, a chair for the owner of the house, benches and stools for the rest of the household, a cupboard, and a chest. Poorer souls often only had a mattress and stools or benches. It was not until later in Queen Elizabeth’s reign that wealth and prosperity became more commonplace and yeomen famers were able to purchase additional pieces of furniture. But what did Tudor furniture look like? As with most historical questions, the few surviving pieces, writings, and artwork can help us piece together the past.

Cupboards, Aumbrys and Chests

From 1300-1550, the armoire or aumbry served the equivalent purpose of today’s cupboard. In English, the term armoire evolved to aumbry, then ambry and almery, which derives from a term for hutch, which was a box storing meat and bread scraps to be given to the poor. It is not until later in the reign of Henry VIII that the word “cupboard” is found, but in this time period, both terms are appropriate. John Smythe (1490-1544) of Blackmore Priory referred to a “fine almery with four dores for breade” in his 1543 will, and a 1527 inventory of Cardinal Wolsey’s possessions included 21 “cupboardes of waynescotte whereof V be close cupboards.”

Regardless of its name, this piece of furniture was used to store food. The first aumbrys were simple boxes with shelves and doors, but later, “Gothic tracery” was added to the front to provide ventilation for the purposes of food preservation.

A press cupboard from 16101

Depiction of late-16th-century three drawer chest1

Tudor-style cabinet5

The “court cupboard,” or set of shelves, first appeared in Britain during the Tudor period and is believed to have come from Italy or France. These pieces sometimes included hidden drawers used by aristocracy to store plates, eating utensils, wine, and other things. The top was often covered with cloth.

Example of a court cupboard and its hidden drawers1


While chairs became more common in Tudor England, they were still expensive. The use of chairs was often restricted to high-ranking persons. Consider the platforms at the end of great halls featuring an imposing throne chair. Even in an upper-class home, children and servants used stools and only the head of the house had a chair. Everyone else was left to settle with benches, stools, and even sit on chests. The poor only had stools and benches.

The transition from sitting on chests to chairs is evident in 16th century chair design which was inspired by the six-board chest. This can be seen by comparing the depicted chair’s construction with the chest above.

Box chair 10th-16th century1


In the late 16th century, the “tester” (or canopy) above beds of the privileged were no longer suspended from the ceiling, giving rise to the “four-posted bed.” Curtains were still hung from the tester to reduce draft and contain warmth.

Sketch of a "four-posted bed" from the late 16th century1

In a middle-class home, the mattress was often stuffed with flock (a type of rough wool). The poor, however, slept on mattresses stuffed with stray or thistledown that were laid upon ropes strung across a wooden frame.

To explore some design terminology evident in the depicted bed, the two foot posts of the piece are elaborately decorated with vertical lines known as flutes which are topped with ionic capitals. The large turned shapes of the posts are called bulbs and note how thick they are. These shapes would diminish in breadth in later Jacobian furniture. The frieze, or central area under the bed’s tester, could have been inlayed with an emblem, a family crest, or another decorative motif. Common themes for bed decor was for each post to represent one of The Four Evangelists, or angels.

Wood Paneling

In affluent houses, walls might be lined with oak paneling to keep out drafts if they were not already lined with tapestries for the same purpose. The earliest wood panels in Britain were made from riven oak, smoothed with an adze. Three common designs for wood paneling appeared in Tudor homes: the linenfold, the parchemin or vine pattern, and more Renaissance inspired carved panels.

Linenfold Wood Panel7
Rare pair of early 16th century parchemin panels8


Wait… Huh? 

In the 15th century a small minority of people could afford glass windows, however, in the 16th century they became more common – but again, they were still expensive. Thus if you moved to a new house, the windows moved with you along with the furniture. Period windows were made of small pieces of glass held together by strips of lead, known as “lattice windows.”

Technique and Decoration

16th century furniture was made by guilds that specialized in the trades of upholstery, turning, joinery, and carpentry. Guilds determined who was allowed to practice the trade in order to maintain standards and regulate prices. This also controlled how much furniture was produced and resulted in common designs. For example, members of carpentry guilds were not allowed to use mortice and tenon joints and "joiner” guilds were not allowed to use nails.

Amongst woodworkers, early 16th century to ~1650 is known as “The Period of Oak” until England’s native oak wood was replaced with walnut and mahogany. Hinges at this time were made of iron.

As far as design, British oak furniture falls into three distinct eras: Gothic, Renaissance, and the Jacobean/Commonwealth periods.

During Tudor England, Gothic motifs fell out of fashion and were deemed too crowded with detail, however, the painted ornate styles hung around in England more so than the rest of Europe. This may have been influenced by Henry VIII’s separation from the Roman Catholic Church that delayed the spread of Italian Renaissance styling to the country.

Tudor furniture décor was dominated by turning, painting, and inlays (where wood is set into recessed areas), especially of floral and geometric designs. As mentioned above, to our modern eyes Tudor furniture had large turnings and coarse design not found in the finer craftsmanship of later periods that reduced the size of design elements. It looks “heavy” or “massive” and consequently was not terribly comfortable – though I would rather sit in a straight-back chair then on a stool or the floor. But the “massive” quality may have contributed to the durability of furniture. Furniture was expected to last for generations and be passed to children and grandchildren.

Panels, such as on chests, cabinets, or beds, were often decorated with biblical or mythological subjects. Round-headed arches and semi-circular fan patters were used along with animal forms (dolphin or lion head) and of course the Tudor rose, carnation, or a vine.

However by 1530, the impact of Italian Renaissance design begins to appear in English furniture. These new motifs of symmetry, classical antiquity, and humanism coordinated well with the old linen-fold designs. The design transition was accelerated by Elizabeth I who opened England to Italian aesthetics.

(Lastly for the curious reader, my assassin crouches behind a tall, oak chest as the door creaks open in her wake, but TBD if the cover proves sufficient...)

References and For Further Reading:
[1] McInnis, Raymond. A History of Woodworking: Narratives of Woodworking Ephocs in America and Britain. Accessed 6/27/18:

[2] Symbols of Status in 16th Century and 17th Century England. Accessed 6/30/18:

[3] Muscato, Christopher. 16th Century English Furniture: History & Styles. Accessed 6/30/18:

[4] The Red List. Furniture Design: English Tudor & Elizabethan (second half of the 16th century). Accessed 6/30/18.

[5] European Furniture Styles Handbook: Tudor Furniture. Accessed 6/30/18.

[6] Lambert, Tim. A World History Encyclopedia: Life in 16th Century England. Accessed 6/30/18.

[7] Panel-Linen Fold. Heartwood Carving Design, Fabrication, Restoration and Customization. Accessed 6/30/18.

[8] Rare pair of 16th century parchemin panels. Woodcock Antiques. Accessed 6/30/18.


K.M. Pohlkampis the author of the Readers’ Favorite 5-star novel Apricots and Wolfsbane, which follows the career of a female poison assassin in Tudor England. The historic thriller was short listed for the 2018 International Chaucer Historical Fiction Awards and received a 2018 Best Book Award – Historical/Tudor from the Texas Association of Authors. K.M. is a proud mother of two, a blessed wife to the love of her life, and a Mission Control flight controller at NASA. Originally from Wisconsin, she now resides in Houston, Texas.

Twitter: @KMPohlkamp
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Wednesday, July 4, 2018

The Lords Proprietors of Carolina

By Susan Keogh

Before there was a North and South Carolina, there was the province of Carolina. The Englishmen who oversaw this vast wilderness in the American colonies were known as the Lords Proprietors. King Charles II provided these eight men of noble blood with a charter to establish a colony there.

The Proprietors were George Monck, 1st Duke of Albemarle (pictured above), Edward Hyde, 1st Earl of Clarendon, John Berkeley, 1st Baron Berkeley of Stratton, William Craven, 1st Earl of Craven, Sir George Carteret, Sir William Berkeley, Sir John Colleton, 1st Baronet, and Anthony Ashley Cooper, 1st Earl of Shaftesbury. The Duke of Albemarle’s name was used for Albemarle Point, where Charles Town (modern day Charleston) was first settled. Anthony Ashley Cooper’s name would provide the names of Charleston’s two large, flanking rivers—the Ashley and the Cooper. Each of these men contributed at least £775 sterling, not a small amount in the late seventeenth century, for their Carolina endeavor. These men had “extensive experience at the leading edge of early modern commerce.”

Anthony Ashley Cooper

In S. Max Edelson’s book Plantation Enterprise in Colonial South Carolina, the author also writes, “The colony’s Proprietors exercised their legal title to Carolina as if the scope of their official authority conveyed the power to implement their schemes for settlement, society, and production. Their dilated visions of exotic commodities, new-world aristocrats, and village communities failed to appreciate how little settlers wished to be subjects.”

The Proprietors envisioned the lowcountry of Carolina as some sort of utopia where a new aristocracy would arise and rule over settlements and farms grouped together. To urge settlers to come to this new world they spread word of fertile soil and wonderful climate, as well as religious freedom. This latter promise enticed some, like the French Huguenots, to come there. The majority of settlers, however, were Englishmen from Barbados where land was becoming scarce due to the sugar plantations there.

The Proprietors had a wide range of ideas on how to make Carolina prosperous and lucrative, most based around agriculture. Silk and wine were two of the ideas nurtured, and commodities like corn thrived. One of the Proprietors’ experimental plantations toyed with growing cotton, ginger, olives, indigo, and sugarcane. The crop that eventually made the colony rich was rice, which thrived in the lowcountry’s flat, marshy land, where rivers, not roads, were thoroughfares in the vast wilderness.

Image attribution LINK

Fifty acres were granted to colonists as well as fifty acres for each free and enslaved dependent. For a small charge, additional acres could be bought, turning a small farm into large landholdings. From these acquisitions, the Proprietors collected quitrents. By 1680, ten years after the start of the colony, about 1,000 white settlers lived in South Carolina. This number would rise to around 6,000 by the end of the century.

Colonists from Barbados accounted for between 300 and 400 of those early settlers. They arrived from a well-established plantation community where shortages of fresh water and arable land made the pull of a new life and opportunity in the Proprietors’ Carolina irresistible. These experienced planters brought their slaves with them and had them planting many of the crops that flourished in the Caribbean—sugarcane, ginger, yams, tobacco, and indigo. In turn, they supplied Barbados with many of the resources it lacked—wood and meat, among other things.

These settlers’ wealthy elites would lead the colony’s revolt against of Proprietary reign. The first thing they did was reject Ashley’s designs of keeping settlers grouped together. The very topography of the land worked against this design—swamps and marshes stretched everywhere, making it impossible to ensure large swaths of arable acreage. So these experienced planters looked for better land, often finding that further inland from settlements like Charles Town, spreading out in resistance to the Proprietors’ scheme of community cohesion.

These colonists “rejected the view of Carolina as a vast plantation in which they were subjects [of the Proprietors]. Instead, they defined the plantation as an independently owned tract in which possession conveyed the power to command people and resources within its boundaries.” This removed them from the hierarchal society Ashley had hoped to engrain and made them into “propertied men who ruled independent domains.” The plantation aristocracy would eventually arise from ranks that had not been envisioned by the Proprietors.

Before rice took root as the driving crop in Carolina in the 1690s, these English planters made money from a familiar source—cattle. “As grossly distorted as Carolina’s version of mixed English farming might appear to agricultural improvers, subsistence-oriented grain production, combined with livestock raising for the market, formed the backbone of the new colony’s economy as it had structured the English rural economy for the better part of two centuries.”

Some historians credit the Proprietors with introducing rice to Carolina. However, its origin more likely should be credited to the enslaved Africans who toiled in the colony. Many of these slaves came from regions of Africa where rice was grown and eaten daily. While these slaves couldn’t have imported the seeds themselves, they certainly had more innate knowledge of cultivating it than their English masters. How such seeds arrived is left to legend, with various stories told.

As the Barbadian planters grew in power, they dominated the Commons House of Assembly and eventually were able to end Proprietary rule in 1719. No doubt their burgeoning power came from the growing value of rice as an exported commodity and the Proprietors’ continued frustration with their economic and social experiment not going according to plan, stymied by independent-thinking settlers. King George I converted the colony’s status to that of a royal colony.

“Planters did not reject the projecting vision for Carolina’s development outright, but as they managed independent plantations, they ignored its goals and left open-ended the ultimate social and economic product of their individual enterprises,” Edelson writes. This independent spirit in the American colonies would eventually lead to its struggle to break from England.

[all images in the Pubic Domain unless otherwise stated]


When Susan Keogh won an elementary school writing contest and a trip to a regional young writers conference, she hadn’t realized that experience was the beginning of a love affair with words. Keogh was raised in a large family where reading was encouraged. Through her mother’s interest in history, Keogh grew to admire such authors as Michael Shaara and Bruce Catton, a fellow Michigan writer who focused on the American Civil War. So it was no wonder that her first writing credit was a featured article in the magazine America’s Civil War.

Keogh’s most recent time period of historical interest is early colonial America.  She has crafted a series of novels that center around the adventures of Jack Mallory, a young Englishmen who is both pirate and eventually the patriarch of a large rice plantation in the colonial province of Carolina.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Editors Weekly Round up, July 1, 2018

by the EHFA Editors

English Historical Fiction Authors brings you posts every week on different aspects of British history, society, and culture. Enjoy the articles for the week ending June 30.

by Kim Rendfeld

by Gareth Griffith

by Lauren Gilbert

Map of Wales. By my work, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

British Lying-in Hospital. Wellcome Collection, CC-BY 4.0.

Friday, June 29, 2018

The British Lying-in Hospital: Health Care for Women in Georgian England

By Lauren Gilbert

Attribution: Wellcome Collection gallery (2018-04-03): CC-BY-4.0

Specialised health care seems such a modern concept. When we read about medicine in the past, many things seem primitive and downright frightening. An especially vulnerable population is that of pregnant women. Midwives are the primary caregivers that come to mind. Generally one imagines a woman during the Georgian era giving birth at home, surrounded by female relatives under the guidance of a midwife. Although childbirth was considered a female issue, women of wealth and position were often under the care of an accoucher (a doctor trained in obstetrics or a male midwife). Princess Charlotte the daughter of the Prince of Wales during the Regency (later George IV) was under the care of society doctor Sir Richard Croft (there was a very sad outcome but that is for another article by Regina Jeffers HERE). What about women who did not have the money, the female relatives or even the home for her labour? The British Lying-in Hospital for Married Women provided an answer for some. The British Lying-In Hospital for Married Women on Brownlow St. in Long Acre was not the first established but it was the first to come to my attention.

The first hospital of this kind was opened in Dublin in March of 1745 by Dr. Bartholomew Mosse. He purchased the property and initially supported it himself. As the hospital’s work came to public awareness and its usefulness acknowledged, subscribers came forward to help with costs. Dr. Mosse also initiated plays, musicales, and other events from whose proceeds the hospital also derived revenue. An added advantage to providing care for women in need was the opportunity for young surgeons to learn midwifery locally. After reports were made, Dr. Mosse was requested to open a similar hospital in London in 1747. It was so successful, two more were opened before 1951. One of these was the lying-in hospital on Brownlow Street in Long Acre.

The Lying-in Hospital for Married Women in Holborn was founded in November 1749. As with the others, this lying-in hospital was funded with subscriptions and donations. A property was purchased on Brownlow Street in Long Acre and furnished with 20 beds. It was to be staffed with 2 physicians and 2 surgeons, all of whom trained in midwifery, a chaplain, and an apothecary. Also on staff was a Matron who was a trained midwife, nurses and other servants as needed. Women who were accepted were admitted in the last month of pregnancy. When labour began, the matron would send for the physician or surgeon on duty who would determine if his services were needed or if delivery could be handled by the matron. Patients for whom an easy delivery was expected were left in the matron’s care. No money was to be received for these services.

This hospital did not accept all women approaching delivery. The rules for admission were quite strict. An applicant had to provide a letter of recommendation from a subscriber, an affidavit of marriage, and an affidavit of settlements made by the husband. As time went on, the applicant was also required to present testimonials of her poverty with statement from two householders who could vouch for her circumstances to alleviate any doubt the hospital board may have regarding her poverty. This documentation could be presented as much as 3 months in advance, allowing the applicant to be put on an admissions list. (If she did not come in to be admitted within the 3 months, she was struck off and had to start over again when it was time.) When being admitted, she must be clean and free of vermin, and bring with her any clothing needed for herself and for her child. If she was insane, she could not be admitted unless a guarantor would accept responsibility.

If a woman lied about her circumstances or otherwise tried to gain admission under false pretences, her name was entered into a Black Book and she would never been eligible for admission to the Lying-in Hospital. In 1751, a woman name Anne Poole lied about being married and claimed she had been deserted. When her lie was caught, she was ejected from the hospital. (In 1759, an attempt was made to allow admission of single women but it was not successful.) An admitted patient could be in the hospital 3 weeks (longer if medically necessary) and would receive 3 meals per day. There were even 3 levels of diet: low (lots of broth), regular (fairly well balanced) and high (a lot of extra meat), depending on the perceived medical needs of the patient.

Once admitted, the rules of visitation were strict. There were no visitors allowed on Sundays until after religious services had ended. Women who had not yet been delivered of their children could only receive visitors in the hall unless special permission had been obtained from the matron or one of the gentlemen in charge. A woman who had delivered was allowed no visitors for one week after the birth of the child, unless special permission was obtained. Visiting hours were from 3:00 to 7:00 from Lady-Day to Michaelmas (roughly April to September or spring/summer), and from 2:00-4:00 from Michaelmas to Lady-Day (late September to April or autumn/winter). No men (including husbands) were allowed to visit in the wards. Children born in the hospital were baptised by the chaplain; baptisms were held every Thursday. If a patient or her child(ren) died, the matron was responsible for notifying the patient’s family to come and get the remains for burial. If no one responded, the matron would make arrangements at the lowest cost possible. When a patient left (by discharge or death), the hospital’s secretary would notify the individual who recommended that patient that a vacancy was available.

Almost immediately, more beds were needed. Extra beds were added whereever possible, and they tried to find lodgings for women awaiting delivery. Availability became so limited that in 1755, admissions were selected by a ballot involving black and white balls: white balls in the number of available spaces, and sufficient black balls to make up the total number of applicants. Each applicant then drew; if a white ball were drawn, that woman gained admission. If a black ball were drawn, that person could not be admitted. They gave up this practice in 1800, after which time anyone subscribing 3 guineas could nominate a patient. (3 guineas in 1800 would have paid the wages of a skilled tradesman for 21 days in 1800.)

Starting in 1752, female pupils were admitted for 6-month terms to study midwifery. They paid 10 shillings for board and lodging, and 20 guineas for instruction. They were instructed in general and difficult childbirths, and (when they completed the program) were given a certificate. A general meeting was held quarterly to review the hospital’s rules. At these meetings, 15 governors were selected to form a committee to meet weekly to receive the patients and direct the hospital. Medical records appear to be lacking for the hospital. However, it appears that a report was issued in 1751, which indicates that 545 woman were delivered of 550 babies with 29 stillbirths*. There were also reports issued every ten years regarding infant deaths: the statistics generated from these reports shown indicate that there were 71 perinatal deaths (deaths that occur in the period within 3 months before to 3 months after birth) per thousand between 1749-1796.* No discussion of medical conditions for women who have had birth is complete without considering puerperal fever (an infection in women who have given birth), and the lying-in hospital was not immune to this condition. According to Essays on puerperal fever and other diseases peculiar to women, p. 6, 24 women died of puerperal fever between June 12, 1760 and late December, 1760 at the British Lying-in Hospital for Married Women. (In 1756, the hospital was re-named the British Lying-in Hospital for Married Women, to avoid confusion with other lying-in hospitals in London, which allows us to identify this statistic as relating particularly to this hospital.)

The hospital continued offering services throughout the Georgian era. Fundraisers were held, including plays. Productions of plays for this cause resulted in David Garrick and James Lacey Esq. being named perpetual governors in 1758 in recognition of their efforts. In 1820, the Duke of Wellington became a vice-president. Others in the nobility became donors or subscribers. In 1828, it began sending midwives to patients’ homes to deliver their babies. In 1840, in Victoria’s reign, the Brownlow Street location was condemned, and the hospital was rebuilt on Edell Street. The new hospital had 40 beds. No regular medical reports were generated until 1870 (other than the 10 year summaries already mentioned). Over time, the hospital developed financial difficulties and gradually deteriorated (the building was in poor repair, the neighbourhood population was declining and the newer teaching hospitals had opened maternity wards). The British Lying-in Hospital for Married Women finally closed in 1913. The buildings were sold, and the funds raised were used with other monies to build special facilities for the British Hospital for Mothers and Babies in Woolwich.

*Statistics from Proceedings of the Royal Society of Medicine Journals cited below.

Sources include:
Google Books. The Laws Orders and Regulations of the British Lying-in Hospital for Married Women. By the Weekly Committee. (compiled in 1769) London: 1781. HERE

GoogleBooks. Essays on the puerperal fever and other diseases peculiar to women. Edited by Fleetwood Churchill, M.D., M.R.I.A. London: Sydenham Society, 1849.HERE

GoogleBooks. THE DUBLIN QUARTERLY JOURNAL OF MEDICAL SCIENCE, VOL. 2. “The Memoirs of Dr. Mosse” (pages 565-596) Dublin: Hodges & Smith, 1816. HERE

Lost Hospitals of London. “British Lying-in Hospital”. (No date or author of post shown.) HERE 

The National Archives. “The British Lying-in Hospital” (see Administrative/biographical background). HERE

Proceedings of the Royal Society of Medicine Journals. Volume 65, May 1972. (PDF) “The Lying-in Hospital 1747-“ by C. Keith Vartan, FR CGOG HERE

NCBI. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine. “British maternal mortality in the 19th and carly 20th Centuries” by Geoffrey Champerlain. Nov. 2006. Vol. 99 (11): 559-563. HERE

Illustration from Wikimedia Commons: HERE

Lauren Gilbert is the author of HEYERWOOD: A Novel, and is in the process of completing her second novel, A RATIONAL ATTACHMENT. She lives in Florida with her husband. She will be attending the Tampa Indeie Author Book Convention next month. Visit her website here for more information.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Britons, Fellow-Countrymen, Foreigners – “For Wales, see Britannia”

By Gareth Griffith

At the start of his book, Rebirth of a Nation: Wales 1880-1980, Kenneth O Morgan commented that, “for Wales, see England,” was the notorious entry in the 1888 edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. For Morgan, the entry “encapsulated all the humiliation and the patronizing indifference which helped to launch the modern nationalist movement in the principality…” (OUP, 1982, p 3) The irony is palpable: an encyclopaedia of “Britannica” had expropriated the name the Welsh had for centuries used to define themselves  and their country, only for the same encyclopaedia to obliterate the identity of Wales by subsuming it under the heading of “England.”

Public Domain Image

The story had a long trajectory. We can take a few steps back to the 15th century. In the epilogue to The Age of Conquest: Wales 1063-1415, RR Davies reflected on the condition of Wales following the collapse of the revolt of Owain Glyn Dŵr, by which time the prospect of establishing a native, unitary Welsh polity was lost. According to Davies, “Wales had been reduced to a ‘land’ (terra Wallie), an annex of the kingdom of England.” (OUP, p 464) Davies noted, too, that the status of Wales as a “separate nation” was raised at the Council of Constance in 1417. There the English spokesmen asserted that, ecclesiastically and politically, Wales had been effectively incorporated into England. The assertion was accompanied by the claim “that England was to be equated with Britain (‘inclyta nation Anglicana alias Brytannica’).” Why not? After all, if history tells us anything it is that the winners get to call the shots; they’re the ones that do the name-calling. In 1417, it was a thousand years since the Roman legions had left Britain and here was the final chapter in the resistance of the Britons, one that ended with the transfer of that name to their ancient enemies. As RR Davies wrote, with a heavy heart no doubt:

“So had the English appropriated the mythology of an unitary empire of Britain, which had for so long been a source of memories, inspiration, and hope for the Welsh.” (p 464) 

In the opening chapter of the book, Davies had discussed the importance of their British heritage to the people of Wales in the Middle Ages, writing that:

“An even more powerful ingredient in the chemistry of national unity was pride in a common descent from the Britons of old. It was as Britons, Brytaniaid, that the Welsh normally described themselves until the later twelfth century; ‘Britain’ was the title they gave to their country.” (p 16) 

It was a case of – ‘for Wales, see Britannia.”

The works by KO Morgan and RR Davies are two volumes in the Oxford University Press’ series on the history Wales, published in reverse chronological order. The third volume – Wales and the Britons, 350-1064 by TM Charles-Edwards - was published in 2013. It opens with a short essay on name-calling and related matters. The question he confronts is how the Wales and the Welsh of the medieval period, from the fall of the Roman Empire to the twelfth century, identified themselves and how were they identified by others? What names were used and what did they mean in geographical terms?

In the fifth century and for many centuries after there was no Wales to speak of, only a patchwork of small kingdoms; but there were Britons and Cymry (or Kymry) and Wielisc, the name in Old English for the Welsh. Likewise, in the early period there were no Bretons in Brittany or Cumbrians in Cumbria. According to Charles-Edwards, “Breton in English is a late import from the French where it can mean either Britons or Bretons…”; and, although the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle in the tenth century used Cumbras for the Cumbrians, it had “no relevance to how the Welsh or the Cumbrians saw themselves.”

As Charles-Edwards rightly states, “it would be fatal to import later senses into earlier periods as if they were as valid for, say, the seventh century as they were for the tenth or as they are for the twenty-first.” His argument is that, for the whole of the period up to 1064, “the modern historian must maintain the distinction between modern terminology and the terms used at the time.”
(OUP, 2013, pp 1-2)

The same can be said to apply to the modern writer of historical fiction. Getting it right can be tricky. If a character in a novel set in the seventh century looked out from today’s Bristol over at what is now South Wales, what would they have called the land they were looking at? How should today’s Brittany be referred to in a novel of the same period? Little Britain would be an anachronism, not to mention a source of mild amusement for fans of the BBC comedy of the same name.

The broader point is that, for the early medieval period, Wales was part of a larger whole, the land of the Britons. In this light, Charles-Edwards comments that the idea of Britannia varied, depending on context and circumstance. For Asser, writing at the end of the ninth century it had a “double sense”, either the entire island which the Britons had long conceived of as their own, or as the land we now refer to as Wales. Britannia is also ambiguous in early Breton sources: “it may be the island from which they had migrated; but it may also be Brittany.” (p 1)

Attribution Link

As time passed, the geographical extent of that land changed, expanding occasionally, shrinking more often before the incursions of the Anglo-Saxons to the East, the Gaels in the North and West and later the Vikings and the Normans from every conceivable direction. For Gildas, writing in the mid-sixth century, at its most extensive the whole of the island of Britain belonged to the Britons. But that vision was to contract. Charles-Edwards directs out attention to the Welsh poem of the tenth century, Armes Prydein, which contains the phrase “from Manaw to Llydaw” – in modern terms “from Clackmannanshire to Brittany.” He says the poem “was thinking of the lands which ought to be British, because it recalled a time when they had been British.” (p 3) That is to say that in AD 600, or thereabouts, the land of the Britons – Britannia – had extended from around Sterling in Scotland down almost as far as the Loire in France. By the tenth century, that same geographical region was the Britannia of the imagination. Taking all its improbable and impractical elements into account, of Armes Prydein, Charles-Edwards commented:

“Yet, the visionary element is very strong: the argument is ultimately about the right to all of Britain south of the Forth; the objection was not just to an English empire but to England as such. The Cymry were the Palestinians of early medieval Britain.” (Wales and the Britons, 350-1064, p 535) 

No less complicated is the development of the language used to express these shifting realities. On one side of the language barrier, the Anglo-Saxon name to denote the native population of the island – “Wielisc” or “Welsh”, is often said to derive from “a variant on the standard Germanic label for foreigner…” (see for example Norman Davies, Vanished Kingdoms: The History of Half-Forgotten Europe, Allen Lane, 2011, p 79) Another interpretation is that “Welsh” meant “not so much foreigners as peoples who had been Romanized…” (John Davies, A History of Wales, Penguin Books, 2007, p 69): that is to say, “all the people who had been part of the Roman Empire.” (Wales and the Britons, 350-1064, p 1) Whether one meaning precludes another is not clear to me. At the very least, it seems unlikely that the original meaning would have been maintained in the vernacular across the years of “intimate hostility” between the Britons and the Anglo-Saxons. (Wales and the Britons, 350-1064, p 402) Probably, “foreigner” is not too wide of the mark. At any rate, the idea that the Welsh had become foreigners in their own land is hard to shake off; popular imagination clings to it, as firmly today as in the Middle Ages.

Statue of Owain Glyndwr - Pulic Domain image

Turning to the other side of the language barrier, the historian John Davies has traced the first usage of the word Cymry to a praise poem probably written in 633, in which the poet was referring to the country rather than the people (“Ar wynep Kumry Cadwallawn was”), a country that would have
referred to the Old North as well as Wales. He contends that the word Cymry evolved from the Brythonic word Combrogi, meaning fellow-countrymen and that “its adoption suggests a deepening self-awareness among the Britons.” He goes on to say:

“Although the author of Armes Prydein (c 930) used the word Cymry or Cymro fifteen times, it only gradually came to oust the word Brython. That was the favourite word of the author of Brut y Tywysogyon; his entry for 1116 is the first to mention the Cymry and it was not until the years after 1100 that Cymry became as usual as Brythoniaid in the work of the poets.” (A History of Wales, Penguin Books, 2007, p 69) 

It seems the Welsh of the twelfth century were down-sizing at long last, re-configuring the world of their imagination to conform to prevailing political reality in the Norman age. According to KO Morgan, by Victorian times that process had resulted in a view of Wales, from the perspective of their “Teutonic” neighbours, as a mere “geographical expression”, as a land that “belonged to prehistory.” (p 3) But then, the title to Morgan’s book, Rebirth of a Nation, suggests that if Wales and the Welsh – Britons, fellow-countrymen, foreigners – were down, still they were not out. The imagination continues to work on political reality, seeking to shape what is to what might be; as RR Davies wrote: “The memories of a conquered people are long indeed.” (p 388)


Gareth Griffith was born in Penmaenmawr, North Wales, and now lives in Sydney, Australia with his wife Sue. His career has encompassed teaching, research and writing, including many years working as the manager of research for the parliament of New South Wales. These days, when Gareth isn’t writing, he enjoys reading, music, dark Scandi film and TV, and Dark Age Britain. Although Gareth left Wales at the age of twelve, Wales never left him, and its landscape and history loom large in his imagination and his storytelling.

Find Gareth on his website:
and on Twitter: @garethgriffith_