Friday, July 20, 2018

Women of the Middle Ages: Wimples, Veils, and Head-rails - Part III

by Paula Lofting

This post concentrates mostly in the evidence we have for hair and headgear from the late Anglo-Saxon period: the 10th and 11th centuries.

By this time, wimples were big business in Anglo-Saxon society and much of Europe was converted, with German Paganism having little influence in Scandinavia  by 1100. Russia was also fully converted from around the 9th century, however, some other Eastern European communities were more resistant until the later medieval period.

Lot sleeps with his daughter who has loose hair
In Part's I & II, we have seen how Christianity has influenced the idea of women covering their hair and dressing modestly, and is the basis of the wimple and veil. As we saw in Part I, it was from a dictum of St Paul's (I Corinthians 2:5-6) that the wearing of veils grew.

 ...every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is the same as having her head shaved. For if a woman does not cover her head, she might as well have her hair cut off; but if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, then she should cover her head.  
This sentiment of Paul's was soon to extend to women going about in public, not just married women, but girls who had reached puberty, around the age of 11-13.

It is difficult to establish whether or not women wore their hair covered at home mainly due to the lack of art that depicts women in their home environments without wearing a wimple. If any of the images are to be believed, one would think that women wore their head covered even when giving birth, having sex, and whilst sleeping. This could be attributed to the fact that the artists were  mostly monks or clerics, and their religious values influenced the artistry in the sense that moral women had to be shown wearing veils. Immoral women portrayed in scenes such as those from the Psychomachia by Prudentius wear their hair loose, see image below.

Chastity impales Lust represented
by a female with uncovered hair

The head gear seems to have covered the whole of the head and the shoulders with some of the neck on display, however on this image, these ladies appear to be wearing a light coloured veil under the top layer that seems to cover their neck up to their chin. This may have been what a 10th century nun would have been expected to wear under their wimples to distinguish them from the non-ecclesiastical women of the day.  How a woman wore her veil seems to have been a matter of taste, for there are several different styles.

Female saints wearing double veils.
From the Benedictional of St Æthelwold, late 10th c.
 BL Ms ADD 49598, f.2 
A large portion of the women portrayed in  Anglo-Saxon art seem to be high status so it is difficult to know how the lower class would have worn their head gear, but most likely, because of the work peasant women had to do, it would have been simple. As we have seen in the previous posts, simple caps like a bonnet which would tie around the head or under the chin, or scarves tied behind the neck, would have been better suited to those women doing manual labour than a long piece of floaty material wrapped around the head and neck. Perhaps, if the women could afford it, they might wear a snood or hood-type wimple, which went over their heads for special occasions like going to church, or out abroad.

Nuns on the Benediction
of Archbishop Robert
Mid 11thc
The beautiful illumination cropped from the Benediction of the Archbishop of Canterbury right, shows nuns wearing their headdresses in different styles. The woman at the back appears to have what could be a projection under her wimple to give it its triangular shape, the woman on the left in front, is wearing a snood-type wimple which is shaped much like a pillow case with openings at both ends, that has been widened at one end to fit and cover the shoulders. The last lady has a very elaborately wound and pinned scarf-type headdress with the end of it draped across the top of her head. These nuns are very well dressed for their vocation, indeed - the only thing that appears to give away  their occupation is the censor one of them has in her hand.

 Psychomachia late 10thc
© The British Library Board 
The young lady to the right is Luxuria from the psychomachia,  dancing for the warriors and tempting them away from their arms in favour of debauchery. She is wearing a similar style of headwear to the nun with the trailing end pinned over her head on the Benediction of Robert. The artist appears to have drawn her with particular attention to detail showing how the Anglo-Saxons must have loved their folds, frills and trailing, long flowing garments. It seems that the more elaborate and carefully the headdress is arranged, the more disapproving the monks were, who were the most likely artists of these drawings.  But not all Anglo-Saxons, it seems, had such ornately worn headrails. More modest women can be found wearing tighter and less voluminous wimples.

Queen Emma and Cnut
Public Domain, British Library online
Queens seem to have worn distinctive headdresses, as we see in the picture of 11thc Emma of Normandy with her sons. A veil is worn underneath her crown. Probably like the one that the angel is holding above Emma's head in the image of her and Cnut. Owen Crocker tells us in her Dress in Anglo Saxon England that there are images of women with embroidered and possibly bejewelled wimples, (see page 223 of her aforementioned book). As mentioned in Part II, Bishop Aldhelm had brought up the subject of nuns wearing inappropriate clothing. Apparently this was also a problem in late Anglo-Saxon period, as St Edith of Wilton was said to have been better dressed than the Bishop of Winchester!

Fillets were still popular in the 10th and 11th centuries as we see in the will of a lady called Wynflaed. She left two fillets - bindan - one was to a secular woman, and another to a nun, which seems to have been worn in conjunction with a veil and worn over the top as a 'ring'. One woman left a baende to her sister-in-law in her will of 1012. Queen Emma wears a baende across her forehead under her wimple in the image of her with Cnut. These items seem to have been one of the most gifted items in wills in the later AS world, possibly indicating how richly made they were, with jewels and gold sewn into them.                                             

The indication that Anglo Saxon women wore their hair in plaits and or 'up', is suggested by the unusual exception of the Virgin Mary who is wearing her uncovered and in a plait wound around her the crown of her head on an ivory book cover. But it is very difficult to assess how common this practice may have been as mostly, women are drawn with their hair covered.

In order to get some perspective on the functional and daily use of wimples, veils, and headrails etc, I asked Kat Dearden, a reenactor of the popular living history society, Regia Anglorum ( what her thoughts are on the wearing of wimples within the time bracket of the Anglo-Saxon period, here's what she had to say: 

"I strongly suspect that the full veil/wimple was not worn at all times. It's not practical. When working or in a domestic setting I think women covered their hair with a cap or scarf, and you see that borne out in later manuscripts that show far more scenes of daily life.When going out in public, going to church or in formal settings in the home, such as recieving visitors or celebrations, then that's when the full veil would be expected and worn. I suspect the rules probably differed according to social status as well. Queens and noble women are almost always on show, carrying out some form of formal role, therefore always veiled. Nuns are always in a religious setting, so likewise always veiled. Poorer women though? I think it's more likely the veil was worn at the same sort of times my Gran wore her hat, or a headscarf, at church, trips into town, and for 'company'. The sort of company that makes you panic and get the tea set out. Otherwise they are mostly engaging in domestic tasks with their family around, so no need for the full fig, just a cap to keep hair clean, out of the way and decently covered."

Kat Dearden
photo courtesy of Caroline Williams

Further Reading

Gale R. Owen-Crocker (2004) Dress In Anglo-Saxon England (rev. ed.) Boydell Press, UK.

Paula Lofting - 

 Paula is the author of the award-winning Sons of the Wolf series set in the years leading up to the Battle of Hastings in the 11thc. Centred around the lives of a Sussex thegn, Wulfhere, and his family, we also meet historical characters such as Harold Godwinson, Earl of Wessex and his powerful family. The series tells the story of a bloodfeud between two men, played out against the backdrop of historical events.
Paula also reenacts with popular Living History Society, Regia Anglorum and works part-time as a psychiatric nurse. An avid reader of books, she has always wanted to write a major historical epic and is currently working on her third book in the series, Wolf's Bane. 

Paula can be found on:
You can also check out her Blog, 1066: The Road to Hastings and Other Stories , for more about the 11th century
Her Books, Sons of the Wolf and The Wolf Banner can be purchased here


Thursday, July 19, 2018

Infertility in the 17th Century – Reasons and Remedies

By Kate Braithwaite

Take a handful of barley or any other fast growing corn. Soak half in a husband’s urine and half in his wife’s urine for twenty-four hours. Dry each pile on some earth and then water daily with more of the urine of each person. The corn that grows first belongs to the person who is more fertile. If one does not grow at all, that person is barren and will not bear children.

At a time when barrenness, or infertility, was commonly perceived to be a fault of the woman, rather than her male partner, the suggestion – from midwife Jane Sharp - that men as well as women might have fertility problems, is unusual. Her method of determining where the fault lies, however, seems less than reliable.

But then in the 17th century, people had rather different ideas about the human body. Belief in the need to maintain balance ‘humors’- blood, black bile, yellow bile and phlegm - a theory developed by Hippocrates in Ancient Greece – was still predominant in all medical thinking. Not surprisingly, people’s understanding about how conception was achieved was also rather different than it is today. Both men and women were believed to have ‘seeds’ which were released during orgasm and mingled in the womb before taking root and growing into a child.

The London preacher, Samuel Hieron, firmly believed that “barrenness in grace” and “fruitlessness in holy things” would result a “want of outward increase” or infertility. It was commonly held to be a woman’s duty to bear children and in doing so, make reparations for the sins of Eve. If she could not do so, she was a failure as a woman and lacked God’s grace. For a strongly religious woman like Catherine de Braganza, wife of Charles II, her failure to bear children while Charles fathered upwards of twelve children with his numerous mistresses, must have been a torment. Another famously childless 17th century woman, Elizabeth Pepys, wife of the diarist Samuel, was surely equally saddened, but it is notable that her husband, also a man who had several extra-marital relationships, had no children with any other woman either.

Portrait of Catherine de Braganza

Jane Sharp, writing in The Midwife Book, published in 1671, certainly believed that conception was determined by God’s will and permission, but she also had some other ideas about why some women conceived and others could not. She dismissed one common theory - that some couples are barren because they have “too much likeness and similitude in their complexions,” - and suggested instead that “some disproportion of Organs or some impediment not easily perceived,” may be the cause. Hatred between married people, she explained, was a legitimate problem however, particularly where children were forced into marriage by their parents. She also cautioned against blood-letting in the arms of girls before their first ‘courses’ or period, preferring such girls be bled from the foot to insure that blood was not ‘drawn down’ from their bodies before nature intended it. She talked of problems of the womb, ill health and disease as possible causes of infertility before setting out her last reason, ‘barrenness by inchantment.’ In cases where it is suspected that a charm may be making a husband unable to lie with his wife, Sharp recommended that he “piss through his wives Wedding ring and not to spill a drop and then he shall be perfectly cured.”

Given the importance of having children and growing a family, couples that struggled to conceive in the seventeenth century, could easily find advice on how to cure their difficulties.

Dining with friends on July 26th 1664, Samuel Pepys asked the ladies for their advice on he and his wife’s childless state. He recorded ten pieces of advice in his diary:

1. Do not hug my wife too hard nor too much
2. Eat no late suppers
3. Drink juyce of sage;
4. Tent and toast
5. Wear cool Holland drawers
6. Keep stomach warm and back cool
7. Upon query whether it was best to do at night or morn, they answered me neither one nor other, but when we had most mind to it
8. Wife not to go too straight laced;
9. Myself to drink mum (ale) and sugar
10. To change my place. 
Of these, he wrote, “the 3rd, 4th, 6th, 7th, and 10th they all did seriously declare, and lay much stress upon them as rules fit to be observed indeed, and especially the last, to lie with our heads where our heels do, or at least to make the bed high at feet and low at head.”

Portrait of Elizabeth Pepys

Other recorded remedies – these from William Sermon, author of The Ladies Companion in 1671 – vary in degrees of outlandishness. He suggests the woman try taking white ginger in a powdered form or sitting over a bath of water used to boil yarn and mixed with ash, or even bathing in water “in which ale-hoof, oaten and pease straw have been boiled together” before drying off and letting her husband “do his best endeavour.”

Valentine Greatrakes, pictured above, an Irish healer who was famous in England in the 1660s, offered guidance more like the list given to Samuel Pepys than any of William Sermon's suggestions.

Further reading:

The Midwives Book, Jane Sharp 1671
The Weaker Vessel, Antonia Fraser, 1984
The Diary of Samuel Pepys

Kate Braithwaite was born and grew up in Edinburgh, Scotland. Her first novel, Charlatan, was longlisted for the Mslexia New Novel Award and the Historical Novel Society Novel Award in 2015. The Road to Newgate, a story of love, lies and the Popish Plot, was published by Crooked Cat in 2018.  In the novel, Kate's character, Anne, seeks advice on conceiving from Valentine Greatrakes and is thankful to receive advice more in line with that given to Pepys than that suggested by Sermon.
Kate lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and three children.

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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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