Friday, December 13, 2019

Dunnottar Castle - Majestic Ruin with Tales to Tell

By Annie Whitehead

Dunnottar Castle: if you’ve never visited, chances are you’ll still recognise it. It’s a ruin now, perched on a headland just south of Stonehaven, in the northeast of Scotland. What remains visible dates to mainly the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, but there is evidence of habitation from a much earlier period.


There are two references to it in the Annals of Ulster, under the entries for 680 and 693, where it is named as Dùn Fhoithear, which means ‘fort on the shelving slope.’ The antiquarian, William Skene, commenting on Fordun’s Scotichronicon, called it Dunnottar in the Mearns, ‘Mearns’ being the old term for Kincardineshire.

It is said that Saint Ninnian, born around 360AD and known for his missionary work among the Picts, built a chapel at Dunnottar.

A dig carried out by the nearby University of Aberdeen found evidence of Pictish occupation on the sea stack of Dunnicaer to the north of the castle. It was, apparently, the oldest Pictish fort to have been found. It seems that the site remained in continuous use for some centuries.

No finds or structures earlier than the late twelfth century were discovered under the castle ruins, but the archaeologists knew from research that the site was one of the centres for trade bringing glass and pottery from Gaul into Britain and Ireland in the seventh and eighth centuries. Examining the symbols carved on the group of five Class 1 Pictish stones on the sea stack known as Dinnacair or Dunnicaer, they concluded that St Ninian’s missionary church was on Dunnottar Rock and that Dunnicaer might have been a ‘disert’, or place of retreat from Ninian’s missionary station.

In the seventh century Dunnottar came under attack from King Bridei III, king of the Picts from 672 until his death in 693. He launched his assault on Dunnottar in 680/1, before turning his attention to the Orcadian kingdom where, according to the Annals of Ulster, he ‘destroyed’ the Orkney Islands. Bridei was quite some warrior, fighting and defeating Ecgfrith of Northumbria at the battle of Nechtanesmere in 685.

Pictish Stone generally accepted to depict the
battle of Nechtanesmere - public domain image

In the late ninth century, Domnall mac Causantín, better known perhaps as Donald II of Scotland, had the misfortune to be ruler at a time of Danish raids in the area. According to the Chronicles of the Kings of Alba, Donald ruled between 889–900 and 'The Northmen wasted Pictland at this time. In his reign a battle occurred between Danes and Scots at Innisibsolian where the Scots had victory. He was killed at [Dunnottar].' The castle was then apparently destroyed. With his back literally to the sea, the fight must have been intense, and desperate. Looking out over the water, on a cloudy autumn day, I couldn’t help but think that it was a rather desolate end for him.

In 934, according to the chronicler Simeon of Durham, ‘King Athelstan, going towards Scotland with a great army ... subdued his enemies, [and] laid waste Scotland as far as Dunnottar and Wertermorum (unidentified). For context, it takes around six hours to drive in a modern car along mainly dual-carriageways and motorways from the current England/Scotland border to Dunnottar, and at least as long in the other direction to get to ‘Wessex’. Athelstan was a long, long, way from home. Sometimes we are grateful to have more than one source, for the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle entry (Ms C) for the same year tells us only that ‘King Athelstan went into Scotland with both a land force and a naval force, and ravaged much of it.'

In 1276 a new church was built on the site of St Ninian’s chapel, erected in stone in the Norman style and consecrated by William Wishart, who was the bishop of St Andrews until his death in 1279

Dunnottar was to see more action when in 1297 a force led by none other than William Wallace captured the castle. It is said that the English soldiers garrisoned there took refuge in the church and that Wallace burned the church with the soldiers inside it, but I have read sources which state that this might not be true.

Things seem to have calmed down a little in the fourteenth century when the Keith family took up residence. However, this was not a time of peace in Scotland. In 1314 Sir Robert Keith was in command of the Keith cavalry at the battle of Bannockburn.

His descendant, Sir William Keith oversaw the building of the keep, which has survived to the present day.

The Keep

The family remained in the ascendant and Sir William was appointed first Earl Marischal of Scotland by King James II in 1458. Mary Queen of Scots visited Dunnottar on more than one occasion, bringing with her, in 1562, her son, the future James VI of Scotland (and subsequently I of England). In 1580 he visited by himself and apparently stayed for several days’ hunting on the Keith family estates.

Towards the end of the sixteenth century, the fifth Earl Marischal, George, built on the site and founded Marischal College in nearby Aberdeen.

But the family fortunes were to take a downturn.

It’s strange to think of the English Civil War having an impact on this remote part of the world, but it did, for the people of Scotland were caught up in the wrangle too. In 1645, James Graham, earl of Montrose, (who’d been appointed Lord Lieutenant of Scotland) marched his army to Dunnottar and requested a treaty with the Earl Marischal, who declined to respond. Montrose set fire to nearby homes, farms and boats in the harbour below.


Nor was Dunnottar safe from Parliamentarian forces, for Cromwell’s army also besieged it in 1650 for a long and trying eight months. The castle surrendered, but the Honours of Scotland, which were in effect the Scottish Crown Jewels, had been smuggled out of the castle to Kinneff Church nearby.

1715 saw the first of the Jacobite risings and the incumbent of the castle at this point, George Keith, the tenth (and last) Earl Marischal, was convicted of treason for taking part in the doomed rebellion. Dunnottar, among his other holdings, was forfeited to the government. Two years later, it was sold to the York Mining Company and was stripped of all valuable materials. The floors and ceilings were taken and all the furniture was removed. After that, it was inevitable that the castle would fall to ruin.


What the visitor sees today is somewhat of a romantic ruin. It must have looked much more impressive in its heyday but as it stands, it sparks the imagination. Indeed, lovers of folklore will be pleased to know that Dunnottar features in the story of Fergus.**

The young man, Fergus, encounters the young lady Galiene whose uncle is the castellan of Liddel Castle (in Roxburghshire). She falls in love with him, but he says he will only return to her once he has completed his quest to vanquish the Black Knight. He does so, but when he returns to claim Galiene he discovers that she is not there. He searches for a year, eventually encountering a dwarf who tells him that his lost love will only come back to him if he takes a shield from a witch at Dunnottar. He travels all the way to Scotland, reaches Dunnottar, slays the witch and returns via Lothian, where he finds that Galiene is now Queen of Lothian, under siege from the neighbouring king of Roxburgh. Fergus then has to fight the avenging husband of the witch he killed at Dunnottar. The story goes on, although the rest is not linked to Dunnottar.

On the overcast, windy day when I visited, it was certainly easy to see how this place inspired such legends. But perhaps it's harder to believe, looking at it in its present state, how many true stories it holds.



* https://archaeologydataservice.ac.uk/archive

** The Roman de Fergus - a 13th-century Arthurian romance written in Old French

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Annie Whitehead is an author and historian, and a member of the Royal Historical Society. She has written three award-winning novels set in Anglo-Saxon Mercia, including To Be A Queen, the story of the life of Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians. Her history of Mercia, from Penda the pagan king to the last brave stand of the earl of Mercia against the Conqueror, Mercia: The Rise and Fall of a Kingdom, is published by Amberley. Her new book, about Anglo-Saxon Women, will be published by Pen & Sword in 2020.

Connect with Annie: Website  Blog  Facebook  Twitter 







Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Women's Rights and the Battle for Identity

The husband and wife are one person in law: that is, the very being or legal existence of the woman is suspended during her marriage, or at least is incorporated or consolidated into that of her husband, under whose wing, protection and cover, she performs everything. - Sir William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England 1765-1769

At the time of Blackwell's statement, a woman, having married, gave up control of any income she had earned from wages, or property, real or personal. Everything was his. True, he could not sell her real property without her permission, but any income made from it belonged to him, any contracts made against it, must be made by him. Of course there were legal ways to preserve a woman's property for her own use, but these did little more than remove it from her hands into that of a trustee. She still could not use the money or gain by it during the course of her married life, but it would be preserved for the security of her children, or for her use upon the death of her husband.

Not only did a woman forfeit her right to personal property, but she gave up her legal rights as well. She could not file a lawsuit, enter into any legal arrangements, or write a will or sign a contract. Legally speaking, she had no identity. She was an extension of her husband and nothing more. If one were fortunate enough to marry a good man with a democratic mind and an eye toward fairness, this was possibly just as well. Unity has been the preserving virtue of many a home and nation. It was, after all, the case for many. It was hardly the case for all.

Consider the example of Caroline Sheridan, who, in 1827 married George Norton. It was, from the start, a bit of a mismatch. He was 26, socially awkward, not very intelligent, and he had little money. Caroline, at 19, was a social star, beautiful, witty, and rich. This he seemed to have resented, though no doubt her wealth was a chief factor in his desire to marry her in the first place. George was also possessed of a violent temper which was easily exacerbated by drink. They were not very happy and separated many times, but their three children always brought them back together.

Until 1836, when, while Caroline was visiting her sister, George removed the children and barred her from the house, refusing to allow her any access to her children. As children were the property of the husband, this was his right, and she had little recourse. The income she made as a successful writer was also his, and this, too, he laid claim to. At the time of this last separation, he demanded she live with her brother, upon whom she was to depend for support. She was also to relinquish all claims to her children, including her right to see them. If she did not agree to the terms, he threatened to sue Lord Melbourne on the grounds of adultery. Of course she did not agree, and George went ahead with his suit.

Because Caroline had no legal identity of her own, George could not sue her. And that was likely not his aim, as Caroline had nothing to give him he did not already have. But because Caroline was his property, he could sue Lord Melbourne for damages, as any compromising relationship between them would devalue her as his wife. He could therefore recover his losses in a pecuniary manner. Perhaps this was him aim, after all. Whether she and Lord Melbourne had an affair is unclear, though they did indeed maintain a close friendship throughout their lives.

The suit, however, was a failure. There was no proof. The jury made the decision without ever leaving the box. George, having lost his claim, consequently had no chance of divorcing her, as a successful damages suit was a prerequisite for divorce. Despite his loss, and Caroline's supposed victory, her reputation was tarnished. There was no going back to George now. But what to do about her children?

She turned to Thomas Talfourd, a serjeant-at-law and a member of Parliament, and persuaded him to introduce a bill granting mothers the custody of children under seven. The result was the Custody of Infants Act of 1839, which also granted a mother access to children under 16. A passing of a law, however, does not ensure its being observed. George still refused to let her see her children. Until tragedy struck, when the youngest of her sons was seriously injured in a riding accident. George agreed to let her see him, but he died before she could get to him. George thereafter relented, and allowed her access to her remaining boys.

In 1848, George was again in need of money. Caroline allowed him access to property left in trust to her in exchange for a separation deed and £500.

That same year, Lord Melbourne died and named Caroline in his will to be supported from his estate. In 1851, her mother died, leaving her £480 yearly, willed to her alone as her 'separate estate,' this with the intent of keeping it from George. Effectually it did, but in reality he could now claim that she no longer needed any assistance from him and he once more cut off his support. In retaliation, Caroline set her creditors after him to collect their debts, as any debts accrued by a woman were the responsibility of her husband. (This was a trick also used by Theresa Longworth when she wished to prove that she was in fact legally married to William Yelverton, with whom she exchanged vows by way of a secret 'Irish marriage'. That suit failed.) Caroline's suit raised questions about the nature of her separation, which was proved invalid as it was only by deed (which she had no rights to enter into as a married woman) and not by ecclesiastical decree.

These injuries drove her to take up her pen once more and in 1854 she wrote a pamphlet entitled English Laws for Women in the 19th Century, which was a passionate indictment of the laws governing married women. Then, in 1855 she published A Letter to the Queen on Lord Chancellor Cranworth's Marriage and Divorce Bill, in which she challenged the double standard that was the right of men to sue on the grounds of adultery but did not offer the same recourse to women. She went a step further, accusing men of maintaining and defending their extra marital liaisons as their right and privilege as men. The Letter to the Queen eventually brought about the Divorce and Matrimonial Causes Act of 1857, which restored 'the property rights and status of a single woman ... as long as she remained apart from her husband.' It allowed women to sue on grounds of adultery if her husband had also deserted her for a period of more than two years, or if he could be proved guilty of brutality, or of adultery committed with a relative, a man, or an animal. Providing proof of these was a tricky and scandalous business, but it was a step, even if only a small step, in the right direction.

In 1870, the first Married Women's Property Act was passed, but the law that actually made it through the parliamentary mill was such a watered down version that what was affected was merely a small compensation to women who invested in the matrimonial practice. Women now kept possession of their earnings, inherited personal property, and small sums of money.

Throughout the ensuing years, further amendments were made to the laws governing the rights of married women (in fact it is said that there were perhaps eighteen such bills introduced to Parliament in the years between 1857 and 1882.) Neither can we forget the many others who brought about the advances toward women's equality; Ursula Mellor Bright, Eliza Lynn and Barbara Leigh Smith, just a few among these.

But it was not until the passing of The Married Women's Property Act of 1882 that women won any real victories. According to Mary Shanley (Feminism, Marriage, and the Law in Victorian England, 1859-1895), this Act 'allowed the common law doctrine of coverture to include the wife's right to own, buy and sell her separate property.' According to the 1882 Act, a woman was now entitled to keep 1) any money earned in the form of income made from employment, trade, or use of skill, 2) any property inherited, including money in amounts up to £200, her 3) real property and earnings from it. It also dictated that 4) both parents were equally responsible for the upkeep of their children.
 
Once more quoting Mary Shanley, the Married Women's Property Act of 1882 was 'the single most important change in legal status of women in the nineteenth century. ... In enabling married women to act as independent legal personages, it not only gave them the legal capacity to act as autonomous economic agents, but struck a blow at the whole notion of coverture and the necessary subordination of woman's will to that of her husband. Quoting Jennifer Phegley (Courtship and Marriage in Victorian England) 'The 1882 Law gave every married woman sole possession of everything she earned or inherited, before or after marriage. This act came the closest of any marriage law reforms of the century to allowing the existence of marriage in which both partners were equal under the law.'

[This is an Editor's choice post, first published on the blog on 5th November, 2012]

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V.R. Christensen is the author of Of Moths & Butterflies, for which the months before the passing of the Married Women's Property Act of 1882 serve as a backdrop. Cry of the Peacock, a companion piece to Of Moths & Butterflies, is due to be released in October of 2012. She also is the author of a neo-Victorian paranormal novella, entitled Blind. (Free May 12 in the Kindle store.) To learn more about her and her work, visit www.vrchristensen.com









Monday, December 9, 2019

Cromwell, More and the Most Hated Man in America

By Nancy Bilyeau

How people imagine Sir Thomas More and Sir Thomas Cromwell, two very different ministers to Henry VIII, has something to do with their famous portraits by Hans Holbein the Younger, the German artist whose work defined the Tudor era. In their expressions, their clothes, their gripping of papers, we see something of their essence.

If you want to gaze upon the original paintings, you do not go to the National Portrait Gallery in London, or to any other museums in England. Cromwell and More are not in private collection in England. Nor are they to be found in Europe, for that matter.

No, you need to head over to 70th Street and Fifth Avenue, in New York City. Inside a beautiful mansion built right before World War One called The Frick Collection, you will find the originals of Cromwell and More:



Thomas Cromwell, painted by Holbein in 1532 or 1533, wikipedia


Sir Thomas More, painted by Hans Holbein the Younger, 1527, wikipedia



The paintings hang on either side of a fireplace inside the Frick. Between them, above the fireplace, is an El Greco, an imagined portrait of St. Jerome.

The Tudor portraits were created with live sitters. The two men were, at the time they posed, at the height of their powers.  Sir Thomas More, philosopher, lawyer, and royal councilor, would not compromise his values and sign the oath of supremacy to Henry VIII, and was arrested. The royal advisor who pressured More to sign the oath and then engineered his treason trial when he refused was none other than Thomas Cromwell, the architect of the Reformation. Cromwell and More were once on friendly terms. It's safe to say that by the time of More's arrest, they were friends no longer. Sir Thomas More was beheaded for treason in 1535. Cromwell's turn on Tower Hill came in 1540.

Hans Holbein's connection to each man went deeper than a portrait commission. The artist might have lived with Sir Thomas More for a time. After More's execution, Holbein was favored by Anne Boleyn, and he designed some jewelry and coronation decorations for the stylish queen in addition to portraits (Henry VIII later ordered her portraits destroyed). Cromwell, in turn, patronized Holbein after the fall of Anne Boleyn, but some believe it was Holbein's portrait of prospective fourth queen Anne of Cleves, leading Henry to want to marry her, that led to the crisis of Cromwell. What a tumultuous time to be a court painter!

Today the two Tudor statesmen's portraits hang in the Living Hall of the Frick Collection, a lushly masculine space of oak-paneled walls, 18th century furniture and ceramics and bronzes that is supposed to have been kept unchanged since Henry Clay Frick occupied his house in the early 20th century.

Frick's feelings about the two men may have much to do with how he felt about power and rivalry. He knew a great deal about both.

The Living Hall, with Cromwell and More on either side of the fireplace

The Frick Collection is considered one of New York City's chief art treasures, filled with paintings by Rembrandt, Vermeer, Fragonard, Goya, Bruegel, Gainsborough, Van Dyck, Titian and Turner. It was Frick who personally bought these paintings, in a frenzy of purchases that ended during World War I.

Yes, Frick was one of the premier collectors of the Old Masters in all of America. But just as there were many sides to Thomas Cromwell and Thomas More, there is much more than art appreciation to Frick. In fact, he was for a time widely known as "the most hated man in America."

To learn why he was so despised, we need to now head west, to Pennsylvania, where Frick lived for most of his life. His parents were rural Mennonites. At the age of 21, he formed a partnership with cousins and friends called Frick Coke Company--using a special oven, they turned coal into coke for steel manufacturing. By the early 1880s, Frick controlled most of the coal output in the entire state.

Henry Clay Frick

Frick took his place on the national stage when he became partners with Andrew Carnegie of the Carnegie Steel Company. In 1892, the violent Homestead Steel Strike, which Frick provoked as a way to break the union, earned him the nickname "The Most Hated Man in America."

Frick brought in 300 Pinkerton guards after the steelworkers went on strike, leading to an epic all-day battle leaving 16 men dead and many more wounded. The governor was forced to call in 8,000 militia to restore order.

Alexander Berkman, an anarchist and lover of Emma Goldman, tried to assassinate Frick in his Pittsburgh office. Carnegie, who didn't want the labor wars to tarnish his business reputation, was in Europe during the strike but approved of breaking it from afar. After repelling Berkman, who was armed with a knife and a gun, Frick cabled Carnegie: "Shot two times...no necessity for you to come home. I am still in shape to fight the battle."



An illustration drawn in 1892

In 1901, Frick moved with his family to New York City. He was now a fabulously wealthy director of J.P. Morgan's United States Steel Corporation, and he decided to spend some of his millions on art. This was a period of fierce competition for the finest paintings in Europe. Frick was often going after the same masterpieces as Morgan, sugar magnate H.O. Havemeyer, and Boston philanthropist Isabella Gardner. Some of the oldest families in England were in a financial crisis, trying to hang onto their centuries' old estates. The art dealers who descended, representing American "robber barons," could not have come at a better time for cash-starved aristocrats.

Frick bought the painting of Sir Thomas More in 1912 and the one of Thomas Cromwell in 1915. Frick very much wanted to buy Holbein's painting of the beautiful Christina of Milan, but it escaped his grasp. Holbein was able to invoke the personalities of his subjects as few artists had before. They were wonderfully lifelike. Peter Ackroyd has written, "He illustrates his sitters in the light of some sudden but characteristic emotion, as if he had caught their thought on the wing."


Painting of Frick and his devoted daughter, Helen.

When Frick couldn't sleep, he roamed at night, looking at his art collection. His three favorite paintings were said to be Holbein's Sir Thomas More, Giovanni Bellini's St. Francis in the Desert, and Rembrandt's last self-portrait.

Frick had fallen out with Andrew Carnegie years earlier; lawsuits and acrimony followed. Although they did not speak, in their senior years, the two men both lived in New York City. Frick was building an art empire; Carnegie was writing books, funding libraries, and donating huge amounts of money to educational and artistic causes. Carnegie Hall on 57th Street, built in 1891, is one of the world's premier concert venues.

In 1919, when Carnegie, 83, was dying, he sent a message to Frick seeking reconciliation. The note traveled from one man's mansion to the other's. "Yes, you can tell Carnegie I'll meet him," Frick responded. "Tell him I'll see him in Hell, where we both are going."

Just months later, Carnegie and Frick were both dead.


The Frick Collection, Fifth Avenue and 70th street.

In 1935, the Frick Collection opened its doors to the public. Art lovers could enjoy the exquisite sculptures and paintings, including the Holbein portraits of More and Cromwell, two men who underwent a different struggle in a different time, and yet now inhabit the same room, thanks to one of the most combative men in all of America.

This article is an Editor's Choice and was originally published on October 6, 2016.

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Nancy Bilyeau is a historical novelist and magazine editor based in New York. She wrote the Joanna Stafford trilogy, a trio of thrillers set in Henry VIII’s England, for Simon & Schuster. Her fourth novel is The Blue, an 18th century thriller revolving around the art & porcelain world. Her next novel is Dreamland, set in Coney Island of 1911, to be published by Endeavour Quill on January 16, 2020. A former staff editor at Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly, and InStyle, Nancy is currently the deputy editor at the Center on Media, Crime and Justice at John Jay College and contributes to Town & Country, CrimeReads, and Mystery Scene magazine.

For more information, visit www.nancybilyeau.com.

Friday, December 6, 2019

The Monarchy~ William the Conqueror

by Debra Brown

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

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

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

The White Tower, built by William

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

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

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

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

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

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

A future post will discuss the remaining Norman dynasty.



An Editor's Choice from the EHFA Archives, originally published January 26, 2012.

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Debra Brown is the founder of the English Historical Fiction Authors blog. She is the author of The Companion of Lady Holmeshire, a Jane Austen and Charles Dickens inspired sweet romance and mystery; and co-editor of Castles, Customs and Kings, vols. 1 & 2.


Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Grumpy Gildas, Saint of Rhuys

By L.A. Smith

Saint Gildas (AD 500-570), otherwise known as Gildas the Wise, or, the Venerable Gildas, was a 6th century monk who is best known for writing De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae (The Ruin and Conquest of Britain). This work is a history of Britain which begins with a brief account of the Roman occupation, but is mainly concerned with Britain after the Romans left in the 5th century, and the coming of the Anglo-Saxons from the Continent. It's one of the few near-contemporary accounts we have of this era, and as such, Gildas is an important figure, indeed.

Statue of Gildas nr. the village of Saint-Gildas-de-Rhys, France
Image from Wikipedia

It is, of course, difficult to know much that is certain about Gildas. Other than his literary works, we have two two surviving hagiographies about him. One was written in the 9th century by a monk at a monastery in Rhuys in Brittany. This was a monastery that Gildas himself founded. The second was written much later, in the 12th century, by the Welsh cleric, Caradoc of Llanfaran. The two differ quite a bit, so much so that some scholars suggest there might be two Gildas', but likely the differences between them are in account of the long time between the writing of the two. The earlier Life of St. Gilda from the 9th century is considered to be the most accurate, seeing as it is closest to Gildas' time.

The chapel of Gildas in Brittany - Gildas and a fellow monk,
Bieuzy, were said to have lived in the cave at the base of
this rock. Image by Rhian on Flikr

Interestingly enough, one of the things we don't know for certain is his name. This name, Gildas, is very unusual. In fact, there is only one other person of the times that we know of who has this name, a 5th century Roman Berber hailing from North Africa, who rebelled against the Western Roman Empire. His name was Gildo, which is virtually the same name once translations between languages are accounted for. Gildas is not a Latin name, and although some historians have postulated that the origin of the name is Pictish or Gaelic, there is no consensus on this. This leads some to speculate that the name itself is a pseudonym. Given that he writes in extremely unflattering terms of five British kings, it is understandable that he might use a false name, in fear of reprisals.

From that earlier hagiography we learn that Gildas was one of four sons of the king of the Alt Clut, a kingdom of British Celts in the north (now part of Scotland). His brother Cuillum became king after the death of their father, Caunus. The rest of the brothers became monks. As a child, Gildas studied under Illtud at Cor Twsdws, the great centre of learning in what is now Glamorgan, Wales. Many illustrious Saints studied there, including Saint David of Wales. There is, in fact, a connection between David and Gildas, as Gildas is said to be one of David's tutors when he was young.

It seems that Illtud was fond of Gildas, and thought him to be a good student. Gildas eventually decided to give up the privileges of his noble birth and become a monk. He went to Ireland where he was ordained as a priest, and then returned to northern Britain as a missionary, preaching the Gospel to his former countrymen. It seems, however, that the Irish church had fallen into disarray, and the High King of Ireland, Ainmericus, asked him to come back to get it back in order, so to speak. Gildas obliged, and spent some years travelling over the island, building churches, establishing monasteries, and in general re-establishing the faith, which was in danger of foundering.

He took a pilgrimage to Rome, where his hagiographer says he killed a dragon (as one does, I suppose), and then instead of returning to Britain, settled in Brittany instead, where he lived out the rest of his days. It was at this point that he preached the Gospel to Nonita, the mother of St. David, which she was pregnant with him. He lived an austere and solitary life for a time, but many wished to study under him, and so he eventually established a monastery in Rhuys, in what is now north-west France.

Approximately ten years after leaving Britain he wrote De Excidio. We can't be certain as to when it was written. Dates range from AD 490-AD 540. As to why he wrote it, well, let's hear his own words:
"...let him [the reader] think of me as a man that will speak out of a feeling of condolence with my country's losses and its miseries, and sharing in the joy of remedies. It is not so much my purpose to narrate the dangers of savage warfare incurred by brave soldiers, as to tell of the dangers caused by indolent men."

Those dangers, of course, are spiritual, rather than physical, although in Gildas' mind, the spiritual dangers will also be accompanied by physical ones. God's wrath against the faithless Christian leaders and people of Britain will bring not only spiritual damnation but physical consequences in the form of invasion and destruction.

Gildas is, above all, a teacher, a monk, and a servant of Christ. He muses in the opening section about his distress at hearing of the trials of his native land, and of the waywardness of its leaders, but is not sure if he is the one who should speak. After all, he acknowledges that there are surely some in Britain who would be better placed to speak the truth to power.  But he feels that, because there are so few, they are "bent down and pressed beneath so heavy a burden" and so "have not time allowed them to take breath." Nor, we infer, to fulfill their duties as priests of God and show the wayward leaders the error of their ways.

So Gildas, after a decade of wrestling with the question of whether to write or not, finally decides that he cannot keep silent any longer, and Of the Ruin and Conquest of Britain is born. As a man of God, he felt it was his duty to point out the moral lesson he sees in the downfall of his native land. As we recall that he spent quite a few years in Ireland, strengthening the church there and turning it away from the moral degradation into which it had fallen, it is not surprising that Gildas feels this need to speak.

Britain in the time of Gildas - Wikipedia
Gildas starts his history with the Roman occupation, describing the coming of the Christian faith to Britain's shores along with the legions, and the terrible state of the island after the Romans left. They call for help from Rome but no help comes. The British leader, Vortigern, extends an offer to the Saxons (in Gildas' words, the "fierce and impious Saxons, a race hateful to both God and man.") The offer was to come to Britain and fight as mercenaries on behalf of the British against the Picts and Scots from the north who were overrunning the cultivated and settled Roman British villas and cities in the south. But alas, the promised wages are not enough to keep them happy, and soon they turn on the Britons, ravaging the land and sending more soldiers over to conquer it for themselves.

The next section details the struggles between the Anglo-Saxons and the Roman-British population, as they try to repel the invaders. It is in this section that we get the intriguing mention of Ambrosius Aurelianus, a "man of unassuming character" (i.e. humble), who led the Britons in battle against the Saxons. Ambrosius, is of course, the figure that many associate with King Arthur.

After mentioning the victory of the Britons at Mount Badon, and a time of peace afterwards, Gildas gets into the next section, which is a thundering denunciation of five British kings: Constantine of Damnonia, Aurielus Conanus, Votipore of Demetia, Cuneglas of southern Gwynedd, and Magloclune of Anglesey.

It is not exactly clear who all these kings were, although most can be identified from other records of the time. Gildas writes of them in metaphorical language, echoing the prophetical language of the biblical books of Daniel and Revelation. He describes them as a lion, a lion's whelp, a dragon, a bear, and a leopard. It's also not clear why these five kings were mentioned, and other kings who reigned at the same time in other British kingdoms were not.

It is very clear, however, that Gildas is not impressed by these kings. He starts off the section on the kings with this introductory sentence:
Kings Britain has, but they are as her tyrants: she has judges, but they are ungodly men: engaged in frequent plunder and disturbance, but of harmless men: avenging and defending, yea for the benefit of criminals and robbers.
He accuses them of fornication, adultery, robbery, murder, and betrayal. He pleads with them to turn away from their evil deeds, but also warns them in no uncertain terms what will happen to them if they do not repent:
That dark flood of hell shall roll round thee with its deadly whirl and fierce waves; it shall always torture and never consume thee.
Hence, grumpy Gildas, as I have named him in this article. He is stringent and uncompromising in his role as a prophetic voice of doom to those who are in charge of both the church (he has some things to say to wayward church leaders, too) and the kingdoms of Britain. The polemical nature of the writing does get a little tiresome, to be sure, but one has to keep in mind his purpose: to show how immoral behaviour and leadership will lead to disaster, invasion, and death to those under that leadership. Agree or disagree with his premise, you have to admire his passion.

Maelgyn Gwynedd, one of the kings Gildas railed
against, from a 15thC Welsh translation of Geoffrey
of Monmouth's Historia Regum . Image from Wikipedia

Later historians such as Bede and Alcuin draw on Gildas' work when they write their own histories of England. His work was thus very influential for many years after he wrote it, and indeed, is still very important today. Gildas gave us a picture of what happened in England between the fall of Rome and the coming of the Anglo-Saxons, one that we would not have had if he hadn't written his account.

Grumpy or not, we owe him a great debt.

~~~~~~~~~~

L.A. Smith was born in Alberta, Canada, where she has lived all her life. She honed her writing skills with short stories and found publication for many of them in various online and print magazines. After many years of research and writing, The Traveller's Path was born, an adult historical fantasy series set in 7th century Northumbria. Wilding is the first book in the trilogy, and was published in May 2019. The second book, Bound, will be published in spring of 2020.

Besides writing, L.A. Smith loves reading, knitting, drinking tea, and walking her dog. Most days, not all at once.

You can connect with L.A. Smith on Facebook, Twitter @las_writer and at lasmithwriter.com.

Wilding can be purchased at all the online retailers, including Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, Apple Books, and Kobo.


Monday, December 2, 2019

Exploring English Castles

by Debra Brown
A true castle has a heady mix of violence and decadence, bloodshed and splendor, which is why, almost by definition, no real castle can ever be boring.

Framlingham Castle where Mary Tudor was proclaimed Queen

As I sat down to lunch today to write this post, a lovely lady offered to trade tables with me to accommodate the large book on castles I’d brought along to read—and she said she had read it, too. Castles are indeed a source of awe and inspiration, a draw for people everywhere. Perhaps you have visited many, stayed overnight in a time-share castle, or married in a castle courtyard. Or like some of us, castles are too far from home, and the best you can do is to read a book on the topic.

…some English buildings that look distinctively castle-y can be a bit of a trick. Quite often a social aspirant built what was really a grand house, and with pretensions of greatness, disguised the outside with a few features of architecture to add a touch of ill-gotten grandeur.

Who can blame them?

The first castle ideas arrived “from France, always a place of cutting-edge fashion”. They were mere motte and bailey fortifications, earthen mounds with wooden structures, humble in comparison to what exists today, but according to author Edd Morris, nothing like them had been seen in medieval England, and their appearance would have been like the landing of an alien spaceship in the countryside today.

The first castle quickly followed the Norman invasion and conquest. The Norman poet Wace wrote, “The carpenters… threw down from the ships and dragged on land the wood which the Count of Eu had brought there, all pierced and trimmed. They had brought all the trimmed pegs in great barrels. Before evening, they had built a small castle with it and made a ditch round it.” (The Bayeaux Tapestry shows them roasting chicken, likely plundered, first.) One fortress, of course, was not enough. “They wrought castles widely through this country, and harassed the miserable people; and ever since has evil increased very much. May the end be good, when God will!” The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, 1066-7.

Within about two months, William the Conqueror was crowned King in Westminster Abbey, London, and he quickly set about consolidating his control by building the White Tower now at the heart of the Tower of London. And in the next twenty years, it is believed that the Normans built around five hundred motte and bailey castles.

The book I am using as a resource, Exploring English Castles: Evocative, Romantic, and Mysterioius True Tales of the Kings and Queens of the British Isles by Edd Morris, is full of details about the early structures and pictures of stone castles that followed on some of the motte and bailey locations.

It goes on to discuss several castles on the Isle and has beautiful color pictures on nearly every page. I will mention but two.

Goodrich Castle

The 1086 Domesday Book catalogs a certain “Godric’s Castle”, now red sandstone ruins in Herefordshire. Though many evolved over time, Godric’s was planned and built in one go around 1280. It is therefore cohesive, defensive areas flowing into cozy residential sections.

The Goodrich standing today was built mainly for one man, the dislikable William de Valence. Though a good friend of Henry III, he was distrusted by the English as an alien having been born in France in 1225 to the Lusignan family. Though he was impetuous, violent, and quick tempered, Henry III liked him; he was skilled in tournaments and adept at warfare, and Henry quickly knighted him.

The Lusignans had fallen from favor in France, and once granted lands in England they became arrogant and would stop at nothing to increase their holdings. They employed strongmen to collect taxes and tithes their new tenants owed. They came to be above the law when Henry decreed that no writ could be served against them, and the Court was split into factions for and against them. For a time William was exiled to France, but he returned, and though now subservient he assisted Henry and his heir, Edward I, in their conquest of Wales. Edward rewarded him with workers sent to improve Goodrich, but William died the same year after a skirmish where he was injured after a failed diplomatic mission in France. His widow, Joan, carried on in his stead caring for what became her properties.

Everything you might (not) want to know about medieval toilets is included in Dr. Morris’ discussion of Goodrich Castle including how to enter a castle undetected.

Dover Castle – “the key to England”

Dover Castle was built to resist medieval siege and adapted to survive a nuclear war. It’s physically and symbolically the strongest castle in the whole of England and has defended the realm for more than 950 years. Of course, its formidable defenses have adapted over time—morphing from a medieval stronghold to an army control center during World War II, and, most recently, to a nuclear bunker, should a third world war break out.

Seven days after the Norman success at Hastings they arrived to take Dover. Only 21 miles from France over the English Channel, it was important for them to secure this port to keep a ready supply of men and equipment coming their way. After building his fortifications there, possibly upon Roman remnants as he did in other locations, William left the castle in the hands of his half-brother Bishop Odo, an unpleasant man who came to be second in command to William over all of Norman England. Harsh and unjust, he came to be hated by the people, and when he was gone to London they rebelled.

The Kent locals asked Count Eustace, who had previously attacked Dover and killed twenty men, and who had fought on the Norman side in the battle of Hastings, (yes, him,) to come to England, take over the castle, and become England’s king. And he tried. But even with most of the defenders gone, the castle could not be taken. Its men unexpectedly poured out through one of the gates, caused panic, and took many lives. Eustace fled back to France, though his nephew was taken prisoner. This is just one example of the importance of the Norman castles in putting down uprisings of the Anglo-Saxons.

Over a hundred years later, Henry II built the Great Keep of the Dover Castle. His standing as the country’s monarch devastated by the affair with Thomas Becket, Henry had to find a way to elevate his position in the eyes of his people, but also in the eyes of foreign dignitaries. A Count of Flanders and later King Louis VII of France came to England to pay their respects to the tomb of Becket, accompanied by Henry.

Henry had little to offer these grand men in the way of accommodations in Dover. He later built the Keep to provide luxurious hospitality, and its construction rendered everything the monarchy stood for: order, grandeur, glory, and ceremony right there at the gateway to England. But in a stroke of genius, he built in Thomas Becket. He built a small chapel dedicated to the man which bears great similarity to Canterbury Cathedral with its grand, ribbed, vaulted ceiling and decorative chevrons that run across the chancel. It boasts a tiny nave and an adjacent alcove likely designated as a Royal Pew—demonstrating the piety of the country’s King and subsuming Becket and the Church to him.

Why is Thomas Becket often called Thomas a’ Becket? Please comment if you know. Otherwise, you might want to read about it in Exploring English Castles.

The book has much more to say on Goodrich and Dover Castles as well as many beautiful pictures. There are also sections on Tintagel and the legend of King Arthur, the siege of Rochester, the puzzle at the heart of Bodiam Castle, the siege of Corfe Castle and the might of Lady Mary Bankes, the fall of Earl Thomas and the ruin of Dunstanburgh Castle, Framlinham Castle and England’s first Queen, and Kenilworth Castle with its very Elizabethan love story. It is a beautiful 10 by 10.5 book that deserves a place on your coffee table and will command the attention of your guests.

All quotes in the post are from Exploring English Castles. Photos are copyright Edd Morris.

An Editor's Choice from the EHFA Archives, originally published April 21, 2015.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Dr. Edd Morris has been on many adventures around the world, and his blog exploring-castles.com is the result of days out in Europe, and his interest in History and Geography, alongside his passion for photography.

He calls himself a tragic, suppressed academic with a BA, an MA, a CertHe, and a MBBS (meaning he’s actually a Doctor working in the National Health Service in England).

Edd enjoys the outdoors, travel, and reading fiction on his Kindle.

Besides the book shown to the right, Edd has books out, also, on Scottish, European, and Welsh castles.

~~~

Debra Brown is the founder of the English Historical Fiction Authors blog and enjoys the perks—such as free books from Edd Morris and 1819 newspapers with news about Jane Austen.

And wouldn’t this be a good time to mention the audiobook version of Castles, Customs, and Kings: True Tales by English Historical Fiction Authors narrated by Ruth Golding on Amazon, Audible, and iTunes? If you are not an Audible member, you can receive two free audiobooks on a 30 day trial. See http://www.audible.com/pd/History/Castles-Customs-and-Kings-Audiobook/B00W3UK60O for details. The Kindle version and paperback remain available, as is the Volume 2 anthology and audiobook.




Sunday, December 1, 2019

Tribute to Debra Brown

By Kjetil Bjørnsrud - Own work,
[Wikimedia Commons] CC BY-SA 3.0, 

Back in September 2011 Debra Brown launched an exciting new project for history lovers and Anglophiles everywhere. This was the start of what we now know as the EHFA Blog (English Historical Fiction Authors).

Oddly, we don’t write about fiction, but about history, and not all of the contributors are fiction authors (although most are).

Confusing? A little, but that’s because Debbie’s project grew and grew, attracting a vast number of regular and guest contributors, and we’ve had over six and a half million hits on the blog over that time.

We’ve posted articles on topics ranging from pre-Roman history to WWII and they always prove popular.

Who’s ‘we’? Well, we have guest authors who write for us from time to time, some frequently, and we have regular contributors who can be relied upon to write wonderful articles for us on pretty much a monthly basis.

Then we have a team of editors: Cryssa Bazos, Charlene Newcomb and Annie Whitehead - all historical fiction authors who between them cover a wide range of English and British history.

At the hub of this, Debbie has overseen everything. She’s the one who’s always been there to sort out any glitches on the blog (it looks fabulous on the outside but believe us, its innards are as complicated as any robot’s). She’s made executive decisions about content, she’s been the driving force behind two published anthologies of selected articles (Castles, Customs and Kings) and she has also been unendingly supportive of the contributors, especially those who are new to blogging.

A while ago, Debbie took a back seat with regards to the day-to-day running of the blog but it is a testament to her being so synonymous with the blog that even now most of the email messages we receive are addressed to her.

Today we are sad to say that for personal reasons, Debbie is standing down from the blog completely. We are enormously proud that she feels she is leaving it in capable hands, but we will miss her guiding hand enormously. This is why, instead of the usual Sunday Round-up, we have decided to take a moment to pay tribute and say a huge and heartfelt Thank You to Debbie for all that she has done for the blog over the last eight years. We wish her well, we thank her for all her hard work, and her inspiration. The moment when she formulated a plan for this blog was a ‘lightbulb’ moment indeed. Thanks to her idea, the blog has grown and grown, and we are proud to be part of it. EHFA is known for publishing articles of quality about all aspects of English and British history. We’ve been privileged to work with some fantastic authors over the years and we hope to be able to continue to do so. The fact that the blog is held in such high esteem is down to Debbie’s vision, hard work, and enthusiasm.

We thank her, we will miss her, and we are proud to take the baton and keep it moving. We would also like to invite you - readers, contributors or both - to take a moment to leave a comment in support and thanks for all that Debbie has done for the blog over the years.

Annie, Charlene and Cryssa
EHFA Editing Team

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Dorothea Christorovna Benckendorff Lieven, Princess Lieven

Currently here at EHFA we have reasons to look back at the blog's beginnings, so today's post is an Editor's Choice first published in November 2011, and written by one of our regular contributors,
Lauren Gilbert.

Dorothea Lieven by Isabey


Countess Lieven, later known as Princess Lieven, is a frequent character of Regency-era fiction. Long known as one of the patronesses of Almack's Assembly Rooms, she was the wife of General Count Christopher Lieven (later Prince Lieven) who was the Russian Ambassador to Great Britain. In Georgette Heyer's The Grand Sophy, Countess Lieven is mentioned as follows: "I was not aware that you are acquainted with the Countess Lieven," said Miss Wraxton. "Do you dislike her? Sophy asked, aware of the coldness in Miss Wraxton's voice. "Many people do, I know. Sir Horace calls her the great intrigante, but she is clever and can be very amusing." She was a noted hostess, whose salon was famous for society and politics.

Princess Lieven was born December 17, 1785 at Riga. Shortly after completing her education, she married Lieutenant-General Count Lieven in 2/1/1800 in St. Petersburg at age 14. They had 5 children, a daughter who died very young, and 4 sons. Even at that age, she demonstrated significant talent for being a hostess and for conversation. In 1809, then-Count Lieven became the Russian Envoy to the Prussian Court, which was her first public postion. In 1811, Count Lieven was appointed Ambassador to London, a post he held until 1834. As his wife, both of the Lievens used all of their abilities to restore friendly relations between Russia and Great Britain. Countess Lieven became a leader of fashion, and threw herself into society, becoming a prominent hostess whose invitations were highly prized. She was elected a patroness of Almack's sometime in 1814 or earlier, and is credited with introducing the German waltz there. During the Lievens' time in London, Countess Lieven cultivated friendships with those holding political office who could best further the interests of the Russian government. Countess Lieven was definitely a political animal, and contributed significantly to her husband's success as ambassador. In fact, there were very few political events she did not influence to some degree between 1812 and 1857.

Countess Lieven was fully conscious of her own importance and superiority, and had a high opinions of her charms. She did not hesitate to form friendships (sometimes more than friendships) with influential men in a position to influence political matters to suit her. She would drop friends and form new ones, as political matters shifted, which did create some hard feelings, but did not apparently affect her usefulness. She supposed had affairs with every major statesman involved in European politics, including Metternich, George IV and numerous prime ministers, her relationships changing as the Cabinet changed. Her relationship with Metternich is believed to have begun at the Congress of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1819, when Metternich tried to bring Czar Alexander into accord with Austria, and continued until 1825, when (coincidentally?) the accession of Nicholas I caused Russian policy to change. Exerpts of her letters to Metternich are fascinating reading. In 1825, she was entrusted by Czar Alexander to make a secret overture to the British government. In a letter to Count Nesselrode, his foreign minister, he wrote "It is a pity Countess Lieven wears skirts. She would have made an excellent diplomat."

Count Lieven was granted the title prince in 1826. In 1834, he was recalled to Russia. Soon after the Lievens' return to Russia, their two youngest sons died. Princess Lieven subsequently left Russia and settled in Paris, where she continued to involve herself in politics, forming a close relationship with Francois Guizot. Her Paris salon was known as the listening post of Europe. She died at her home in Paris on january 27 1857, and was buried at the Lieven family estate next to her two young sons who died in St. Petersburg. Her letters are fascinating reading.

~~~~~~~~~~~

An avid reader, Lauren Gilbert was introduced to English authors early in life (from classic literature such as PERSUASION by Jane Austen and JANE EYRE by Charlotte Bronte, to period romances by Margaret Campbell Barnes, Victoria Holt/Jean Plaidy/Philippa Carr (all one person!) and Georgette Heyer, and to the mysteries of Dorothy Sayers, Patricia Wentworth and Agatha Christie). Lauren is fascinated by England and its history, and multiple visits to England have only heightened her interest. A member of JASNA since about 2001, she attended the Annual General Meetings in Los Angeles in 2004, and Vancouver, BC, CA in 2007, and the Annual General Meeting in Ft. Worth. Her first book, HEYERWOOD: A Novel was released in 5/2011.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Editors Weekly Round-up, November 24, 2019

by the EHFA Editors

Nancy Bilyeau takes the spotlight in the EHFA round-up. Journey back to the 18th century with this tale of Jacobites and spies.

by Nancy Bilyeau






Friday, November 22, 2019

The Spy Who Changed the Course of British History

 By Nancy Bilyeau


The year: 1745. London? In a panic. The long-exiled Stuart family driven out in 1688 were threatening to retake the throne of England.

Charles Edward Louis John Casimir Sylvester Severino Maria Stuart, commonly known as Bonnie Prince Charlie, and his largely Scottish army of 6,000 men had made it to Derby, just over 120 miles from the capital.

Since landing at Eriskay in the Outer Hebrides on July 23, 1745, with not even a dozen men, the charismatic prince, grandson of the deposed James II, had recruited influential Highlands leaders, easily taken Edinburgh, and defeated an army led by Hanoverian supporters of the present King at the battle of Prestonpans. Then he turned south, crossing into England.

Portrait of Bonnie Prince Charlie, painted by Allan Ramsey in 1745. Source: Wikipedia

A horde of "crazed Highlands thieves" was on the move!  There was a run on the Bank of England! George II, who, like his father, had not troubled to hide the fact that he preferred living in Hanover to England, loaded up a ship with personal valuables, in case he needed to flee the vengeful Jacobites and turn the Continent into his permanent home. These were the sorts of wild rumors that swirled 'round the city.

Yet in Derby, the temporary headquarters of the invading army, the mood was far from confident. Prince Charles' advisers had taken note of the lack of English Jacobite support. Few were rallying to their cause. Neither was it at all certain that the French would show up to reinforce the Scottish invasion, a cornerstone of the Stuart strategy.

Most worryingly, a well-trained army, most likely led by King George II's son the Duke of Cumberland, must surely be coming to meet them. Who knew how large it would be?

Exeter House in Derby, where the prince and his men plotted strategy.
Picture taken in 1853. Source: Wikipedia.

As the advisers to the impetuous 25-year-old prince debated their next move, one of Charles's followers spoke up. It was Captain Oliver Williams, a trusted Irish supporter of the cause.

A Hanoverian force of 9,000 men had been sighted in Northampton, Captain Williams informed them. It was not much more than 50 miles away. And other units must be hurrying toward Derby.

That sealed it. Overruling Prince Charles' outrage and passionate protests that he wanted to march on London, military commanders of the Jacobite army said they must instead return to Scotland and consolidate their position. Four months after this retreat came the crushing defeat at Culloden, followed by Bonnie Prince Charlie's flight from Scotland.

Artist's rendition of Culloden. Some feel the depiction of the Highlanders relied on stereotypes. Source: wikipedia

Culloden, the last battle ever fought on the British mainland, has been studied and analyzed ever since those hours of fierce fighting, which killed some 2,000 men. Going beyond historians' domain, Culloden has moved into becoming a cornerstone of popular culture, such as being the center of Diana Gabaldon's Outlander books and TV series. The tragedy and glamour of the lost cause, a royal family in embittered exile, even penetrated the Game of Thrones fantasy series, with the Targaryen family living far from the Seven Kingdoms believed to be modeled on the Stuarts who fled to France and then Italy.  "The people drink secret toasts to your health and cry out for their true king," an adviser whispers to the ambitious young Viserys Targaryen, the "king across the water," in the first episode of the series.

When proposing various "What if"s on the subject of Bonnie Prince Charlie, people often come back to the decision at Derby. Historians believe that the turning point was then and there, that he lost the strategic and psychological advantage by retreating. Many of the Scots who followed the prince's cause did so not so much as to prop up a Catholic Stuart monarch as to force through more independence for Scotland. As for the Irish, those followers did wish for a Catholic king, as it would presumably ease the religious discrimination they suffered. Failure brought agony. The punishment that the Hanoverian government exacted on the defeated enemy and their supporters was ghastly. The Duke of Cumberland earned the nickname "Butcher" with the slaughter of the injured and the prisoners, and ordered attacks on the helpless civilian population.

The defeat meant that Great Britain became more centralized; bolstered by its industrialized feats and banking policies, the British Empire became a force like no other. The fates of not just Scotland and Ireland but also America and India were arguably influenced by the smashing of Bonnie Prince Charlie's rising.

The impact of Culloden on the history of the world makes it all the more shocking that the information that the Stuart army based their decision on in Derby was a complete lie. There were no 9,000 men in Northampton. In fact, the road to London at that time was clear.

It turned out that Captain Oliver Williams, true name Dudley Bradstreet, was a spy, employed by the Duke of Cumberland to report on the Jacobites' movements and to spread disinformation. Which he most certainly did.

The craft of espionage was in a bit of a murky stage in the mid-1700s. Not a great deal is known about the policies and practicing of spying between the time of Sir Francis Walsingham, the spymaster of Elizabeth I, and the intense spying that took place later in the 18th century, during the American Revolution.

It does seem that those recruited for espionage were a far cry from Ian Fleming's James Bond or any of the Cambridge-educated manipulators from a John Le Carre novel. The Hanoverian government's assumption was that spying was immoral, so immoral men were used.

Dudley Bradstreet fit that requirement to a "T," a fact he cheerfully admitted himself in the book he wrote about his life, The Life and Uncommon Adventures of Captain Dudley Bradstreet. There's rarely been a more gleeful rogue than Bradstreet: fortune hunter, gambler, trickster, and spy.

He was Irish, that part was genuine. Bradstreet was born in Tipperary in 1711, the youngest son of landowner John Bradstreet, a man who received Cromwellian grants but nonetheless by the time Dudley came along had fortunes that were "continually declining."

Wrote Dudley in his memoir: "My education was neglected, he removed his whole family from the country to Dublin except for me whom he left in charge with a Foster-Father. Here I must observe, the injury my being thus abandoned did to my conduct and morals, that it may be a caution to parents whom they trust with the early habits and impressions their children may receive."

Bradstreet became addicted to card playing, and as a young man left for London with a mistress but returned to Ireland to join the army. He later married for love but she died; he had children by various women. He inherited nothing from his father and was arrested for debt, managing to marry a wealthy widow to stay afloat.

The Duke of Montagu, Bradstreet's friend, source: wikipedia

"A crony" of the Duke of Montagu, a peer notorious for his practical jokes, Bradstreet came to the notice of the British government in 1744 and was encouraged to infiltrate the Jacobites and report back what he learned. It was a shock to many when Bonnie Prince Charlie, defying the enormous odds against him, landed in Scotland in 1745. Unfortunately for the prince, it meant that Dudley Bradstreet was well positioned to learn much--and make a lot of mischief.

After "Captain Williams" successfully derailed Bonnie Prince Charlie's quest in Derby, Bradstreet melted away before the Jacobites returned to Scotland. He made his way to government officials and demanded money and a commission--he got neither. Incredibly, Bradstreet persisted with his haranguing, and eventually George II gave him a sum of 150 pounds.

His career then took a decided turn into the fantastical. Bradstreet became a "bottle conjurer," someone who told the gullible he could talk to the dead as well as restore lost youth. "Bradstreet knew how to touch the infirmity of man," wrote one chronicler. Bradstreet himself said without apology he owed it all to the "superstition" of his victims and their "credulity and faith in wondrous things."

Bradstreet made a lot of money from his conjurings, proceeded to lose nearly all, and then returned to Ireland for good, buying a house and writing his memoir.

The book sold well. "In the free narrative of his reckless adventures, some incidents have a breadth rather suspicious and and some a warmth rather indelicate," a critic wrote.

Dudley Bradstreet, the fateful spy in the Jacobite camp, died in Ireland at the age of 52.

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Nancy Bilyeau is a magazine editor and historical novelist. Her 2018 novel, The Blue, is set among the art and porcelain worlds of 1750s England, with a Huguenot heroine and a plot revolving around espionage. Her next novel, Dreamland, takes place in Coney Island of 1911. To learn more, go to www.nancybilyeau.com.