Saturday, June 30, 2012


by Wanda Luce
According to Francis Bacon in 1605, “Cleanliness of body was ever deemed to proceed from a due reverence to God.”  The religious reformer, John Wesley, furthered this belief by coining the phrase “Cleanliness is next to godliness.”  Hmmm.  Well, although I could not think it the first in a lineup of ways to show reverence to deity—for certainly the state of one’s heart and substance of one’s deeds merit the upper numbers in that distinct list—it does bear consideration as an essential component of man’s reverence for himself and others. After all, anyone who has been subjected to the dreaded stench of b.o. will quickly assert that cleanliness is at least a great service to mankind.
We are extremely fortunate to have running water, but a great many generations have had to maintain a semblance of good personal hygiene without such conveniences.  But did they? Well, let’s take a quick look at what our ancestors did to get ready for that special someone.

I’ll wager you have all had those dreadful moments when your nose has been accosted by the smell of someone who has not thought a shower or bath worth his while.  We are most of us too kind to make a stink about “the stink,” but it never escapes us, and most of us head in the other direction if at all possible.  But what did they do a couple centuries ago before Mitchum or Degree arrived on the scene to spare us such unpleasantries?  Well, hang with me for a few more paragraphs, and I’ll give you a few tidbits.

The Medieval set had some interesting notions.  Some in that time thought bathing was a form of sexual debauchery.  Others thought a person who bathed allowed the devil to come into him.  Still others believed that allowing water to touch them when naked could make them very ill. In spite of those who held to such silly ideas, a great many did subscribe to the benefits of washing themselves, especially during outbreaks of the Black Plague.  They found that frequently washing their hands and surroundings with warm water, wine, or vinegar helped reduce the Plague’s spread.
Medieval kings and lords and their ladies had special rooms set aside just for bathing or had large tubs brought into their rooms.  Imagine the work it took to put together such a bath.  First, servants had to draw the water, then heat it, and lastly cart it to the bather’s room.  Perfumes, scented oils, and flower petals were often added.  If peasants looked with envy on the lifestyles of the Medieval rich and famous like they do today (and I am sure they did), then they must have been jealous of their ability to regularly enjoy such luxury.

The less fortunate usually drew one bath for the whole family, and they all used the same water.  The eldest bathed first then the next oldest and so on.  From this came the saying “don’t throw the baby out with the water.”

Peasants rarely submerged themselves in water rather they cleaned themselves with water and a rag.  Occasionally they savored the indulgence of some soap out of animal fat and wood ashes.

You might be surprised to know that it was standard practice to wash one’s hands before entering the great hall for a meal.  Knights brought home soap from the east during the crusades.  Before that, water and the oils of flowers were used.

And of course, rivers, lakes, and ponds were used for washing in the warmer months.  If you are familiar with the expression “you will catch your death of cold,” then you understand why washing by the poor was often reserved only for warm weather.

I write Regency-era romances and have done some study on bathing practices during that time period.  In the early 18th century it was customary to wash one’s hands and face daily, but full body bathing was only done once every few weeks or months!  Egads that’s scary!  By the end of the century, however, cleanliness had begun to come into vogue, especially as a result of Beau Brummel’s example and advocacy.  Free-standing showers powered by a hand pump began to be used by those who could afford them

Well, if you want to have a little fun, follow the link below and make yourself a batch of homemade soap using lye.  If you are really adventurous, make the lye yourself.  Don’t forget to mix in some great scent then hop in the tub with it and get a taste of the bathing experience in past centuries.

Wanda Luce, Regency Romance Author

Friday, June 29, 2012

The Sheltons, A Typcial Knight's Family

By Anne Clinard Barnhill

     In his book, THE SHELTONS, Z.F. Shelton traces that typical knight's family all the way back to biblical days.  I find this a bit fanciful, but he then declares that all the Shetons mentioned in his book (my great, great, grandfather, Spencer Mundy included) are descendents of the Prophet Mohammad and his last wife, Ayesha.  When I first read this, I scoffed.  Then, two things happened.  While researching another topic, I discovered there is a name for the slight bulge at the back of my head, an Andalusian hump, which is a genetic trait found among those with Arabic blood.  Okay, that might hint the story could  be true.  Then, I read that AB positive blood, my type, is indicative of a mix of Arabic and European ancestry and is, along with its double, AB negative, the newest blood-type, occurring when Moslems moved across Europe all the way to Spain.  Of course, neither of these can prove the Sheltons are descended from Mohammad, but it does lend a little credence to the theory.

     Z.F. Shelton spent well over twenty years studying the genealogy of the Shelton family and based some of his findings on  a previous book, THE SHELTONS IN ENGLAND AND AMERICA, by Mrs. Mildred Whitaker.  There has been much debate over the years about the accuracy and reliability of Mrs. Whitaker's book, though I have not read more than commentaries on various websites--I have not thoroughly researched the arguments disagreeing with Mrs. Whitaker's findings.  It seems everything hinges on whether or not Sir Ralph Shelton, 26th Lord, had issue or not.  All are in agreement he married Jane West, sold his Norfolk estate, died in battle on the Isle de Rhe.   Some say there are no descendents; Mr. Shelton names four, one of whom, James, came to Virginia in June of 1610 with his relative, Lord Delaware.  An online source, The Shelton Family Tree, also names at least four children.  Other genealogists claim Sir Ralph had no issue, though he did have two wives.  They claim James Shelton is no kin to Sir Ralph.

     Part of the problem is spelling; until relatively recent times, there was no uniform spelling.  Hence, the Shelton name could be spelled Chilton, Skelton, Shilton, Sheldon, etc.  This makes it difficult to track down who was who.  Though there are differences of opinion regarding the connection between the Sheltons of America and those of England, here are some interesting facts about the British side of the family:

*  Shelton is a place  name in Old English, from scylf and tun, which means a plateau in the landscape.

*  The Sheltons are also descended from the Druids (who kept meticulous records of genealogy because if you had no pedigree, you were considered an outlaw) in the person of Charles Martel, King of France, b. 689. 

*  Other famous ancestors include Julius Caesar, Mark Anthony, Chalemagne, Eleanor of Aquitaine, James Butler-Earl of Ormond,  and Anne Boleyn (sister of Thomas Boleyn, father of the infamous Queen Anne).

Anne Barnhill in her Tudor petticoat.

     Whether the information in Z. F. Shelton's book is completely accurate would be impossible for me to say.  But I love the little asides about various apples in the family tree--I enjoy them so much I wrote a novel based on them.
The Sheltons, by Z. F. Shelton, 1962.
The Druids, by Peter Berresford Ellis, 1994.
The Shelton Family History, by Robert and Harold Casey (online).
message board from

Anne Clinard Barnhill's debut novel, AT THE MERCY OF THE QUEEN (St. Martin's Press) is about Lady Margaret Shelton, one of three named mistresses of Henry VIII.    

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Steal a book, seven-years' hard labor overseas: Transportation as punishment in the 17th-19th centuries

England, like many societies throughout history, has had to struggle with what to do with their criminal population. For a good chunk of English history, punishment was harsh and severe. Executions were common for a number of offenses. The fundamental question of how justice is best served has been explored throughout English history and influenced by shifts in historical, philosophical, and religious beliefs.

With the expansion of British colonial holdings in the 17th century, another option arose: transportation. The idea was simple in concept if occasionally more complicated in execution. Transportation at its core was exile. Instead of local imprisonment, execution, or another punishment, an offender was sent to a distant overseas holding. In this way the home country depleted their criminal population and minimized the resource impact of a growing criminal population.

Transportation was not reserved for the most heinous of offenses such as murder. A variety of crimes, both major and relatively minor, could end up with a criminal being sentenced to transportation. For example, in 1723 one man was sentenced to transportation and an accompanying seven years of labor for stealing a book.

Initially, many criminals were transported to colonies in continental North America and the West Indies. The American Revolution complicated things and ended North America as a popular choice for transportation even for non-rebellious areas. By 1787, British transportation was focused instead on Australia and some other smaller colonial holdings.

Transportation may have been exile at its core, but it was also supposed to serve the needs of the home country beyond that. In addition to the restrictions one might expect, such as the death penalty for those returning from transportation, these sentences typically carried with them a hefty labor requirement. The services expected from the convicts might be directed toward what we’d now call public works projects, or the convicts might end up as indentured servants to free citizens in a colony.

As one might expect, sending a person thousands of miles away and never allowing them to return home was going to predispose them to even more anti-social behavior than whatever got them in trouble initially. If they had no hope of any sort of normal life, it would only contribute to the kind of instability and revolts one witnessed with completely enslaved populations. One way of combating this, and also serving the general idea of some form of semi-merciful justice, was to limit the main criminal penalty period to a defined number of years. After the prisoners served their sentences, they would not typically regain all of their rights, but, at minimum, would have enough that they could live a semi-normal life.

Related to the exile of general criminals, a variation on transportation was also used to sell people directly into slavery. Though your standard-issue English criminal probably would end up an indentured servant on a plantation or digging a canal or what not, hundreds of thousands of Irish and Scottish political and war prisoners taken during the 17th-century ended up being sold into slavery in the West Indies and this, in some cases, continued in some forms even until nearly the end of the 18th century. Please note that in most cases these were, for all intents and purposes, true slaves and not simple indentured servants. The interbreeding of Irish and African slaves (who were initially considerably more expensive than Irish slaves) in the West Indies became so extensive that by the end of the 17th century, specific laws were passed to prohibit it. Admittedly, the issue with the Irish and Scottish was more an offshoot of war (and rebellion) between England, Scotland, and Ireland, and even many of the laws concerning their handling were distinct from the various transportation acts passed to cover non-political/war-offenses.

Given our modern view of a more rehabilitative justice system, transportation may seem cruel. Indeed, even being a child did not necessarily protect one from a transportation sentence, though age and size (tiny laborers aren’t efficient, after all) were somewhat taken into account. There are, however, documented cases of children as young as seven years old being transported to Australia. It is important to keep in mind, though, that by the standards of the time, transportation was often considered somewhat more lenient than one of the more common punishments: execution or being sentenced to a disgusting and overcrowded prison on land.

Then, as now, the building of more prisons to give convicted criminals more space wasn’t high on the list of societal priorities. In addition, the general English (or general world) attitude toward punishment from the 17th through 19th centuries could more generally be defined as retribution-based rather than rehabilitation-centered. There were such severe issues with prison space that even more disgusting and overcrowded prison ships were used as supplements. That being said, it’s hard not to notice the national self-interest served by thousands upon thousands of cheap laborers being available to help develop new colonies. Transportation would linger, as a punishment, officially until 1868, but for several reasons, including socio-economic and geopolitical changes, it had de facto ended years before.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Scent of Lavender...

By Lauren Gilbert
Lavender from Encyclopedia Britannica 1911 via Wikimedia Commons


      I have loved the scent of lavender since I was a teenager in the ‘60’s when Yardley’s English Lavender became a popular fragrance (at least, it was new to me!).  Light, fresh, clean and sweet, lavender has an ageless appeal.  It is almost impossible to pick up a Regency novel without a mention of lavender, whether it is scenting the hero’s immaculate white linen (a suitably masculine blend, of course), or wafting ever so subtly from the heroine’s lace-edged handkerchief. 
     Lavender is an ancient herb, long associated with healing.  Its Latin name Lavandula latifolia, appears to be derived from the Latin verb lavare, meaning “to wash” and the Romans used it to deter flies and sweeten the air, as well as to clean and dress wounds.  The ancient Egyptians used lavender in embalming and in scented unguents.  It was widely used in Tudor England, where  lavender was placed in linens (not only making them smell sweet but discouraging insects!); sewn into little bags, it could be tucked amongst clothing or into one’s bosom.  Queen Elizabeth found lavender tea soothing for migraines and used lavender perfume as well.  In the Georgian era, the perfumers D R Harris made a popular lavender water for gentleman, and Floris used lavender in potpourris and perfumes for ladies (both are still in business today)
     Down through the centuries, lavender has been long considered something of a miracle herb.  In  Nicholas Culpeper’s herbal (1653 edition), he says it cures “all griefs and pains of the head and brain that proceed of a cold cause…” and also recommends its use for dropsy, heart ailments, liver and spleen obstructions, tooth ache, and more.  Even today, herb guides discuss its antiseptic and painkilling attributes.  (Mine says it can be used to sooth insect bites, burns, sore throats and headaches, and is a relaxant when used in the bath, among other medicinal uses!)   I know from personal experience that it works wonderfully to deter moths and other insects from my linen closet and pantry-how many modern insect repellents work well, smell wonderful, and have no poisonous effects?
Among many old recipes including lavender I ran across, two seemed good to include:
The first is not adapted for modern preparation, other than the list of ingredients:
Lavender Wine (1655)
1 bottle of Sack, 3 ounces of sugar, 2 ounces of lavender flowers, and ambergris
Take 2 ounces of dryed lavender flowers and put them into a bottle of Sack, and beat 3 ounces of Sugar candy, or fine Sugar, and grinde some Ambergreese, and put it in the bottle and shake it oft, then run it through a gelly bag, and give it for a great Cordiall after a week’s standing or more.
[Derived from a recipe from The Queen’s Closet Opened, by W.M., Cook to Queen Henrietta Maria.]     

The next recipe contains the old version, and an adapted version, so that one can make it if desired:
Martha Lloyd’s English Lavender Water
To one quart of the best rectified spirits of wine put 3/4 oz. of essence of Lavender and 1/2 a scruple of ambergris; shake it together and it is fit to use in a few days.
Modern Equivalents
From: Herbinfo
To make Lavender water, put 3 handfuls of dried Lavender flowers into a wide necked screw top jar and add 1 cup of white wine vinegar and 1/2 cup Rose water.
Leave the mixture in the dark for 2-3 weeks and shake the bottle frequently.
If flowers are not available, use essential oils. Mix 25 drops of essential oil (traditionally lavender, rose or neroli) with 2 fl oz (50ml) ethyl alcohol (or isopropyl or vodka). Shake them together in a screw-top bottle. Leave the mixture to settle for 2 days then shake again. To store, pour into a dark bottle with a tight fitting lid and leave almost no air space.
[This recipe is from the Jane Austen Centre Bath website, posted by Laura Boyle 1/3/2002, in its entirety.  This is a fascinating website, and well worth a look!]
Bremness, Lesley.  HERBS.  Dorling Kindersley: New York.  1994
Renfrow, Cindy.  A SIP THROUGH TIME A Collection of Old Brewing Recipes.  2008  Culpeper’s Complete Herbal 1653 edition. 

The Georgian Index.  Sellers of Perfumes and Other Toilettries.
Jane Austen Centre Bath.  Martha Lloyd’s English Lavender Water.  The History of Lavender. . The History of Lavender.

Lauren Gilbert is the author of HEYERWOOD: A Novel.  She is a member of JASNA, lives in Florida, and is working on her next novel. 

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Georgian glassware and decanters

By Mike Rendell
In an idle moment I found myself wondering about glassware. My ancestor Richard Hall kindly bestowed upon me a veritable museum of his everyday items – his chairs, his books, his silver cutlery, even his brass bed-warmer, but not a single piece of glass. Perhaps not surprising given the passage of time, but there again his shell collection has lasted unscathed, and it would have been nice to have the odd decanter and a dozen glasses…
I gave the matter more thought when I read his diary entry about having a quarter pipe of port delivered from London. Research tells me that there are rather a lot of bottles in a pipe – 550 litres is one estimate, whereas another refers to 48 cases of 12 (75cc) bottles. Either way, it seems to me that you need a prodigious thirst, a decent sized wine cellar, and a considerable number of bottles and decanters to cope with that volume of wine (137 one litre bottles!). Besides, the quarter pipe was in addition to the home-made currant wine he bottled off each year, and the ‘Mountain Wine’ he bought, or the ‘coniac’ for special occasions.
Richard regularly had casks of wine sent down on the wagon (what an inappropriate expression!)  in the latter years of the Eighteenth Century and then sent back the empty cask by return. So, on 31st December 1797 he mentions paying the carrier Mr Ward for "a small cask of 6 gallons", charged for by weight at 6d per gallon i.e. three shillings for delivery.
I found it immensely reassuring to read that Richard was able to spend three times more on wine than he did on his taxes – at least he did until Income Tax hit him rather hard in 1800 ! His list of household expenses for 1797 shows a figure of £8/3/5 for wine and only  £2/8/ 3  for taxes. What a man! What a constitution! You try doing that 200 years later….
Mind you, even though the household was prodigiously generous, often noting casks of wine sent round to friends etc, there still seems to have been a lot left over for home consumption. Tantalisingly I have no idea if this consumption of alcohol was responsible for the sad litany of occasions when Richard noted that his dear wife fell over.
It just goes to show, with antecedents like that what hope is there for me staying sober and upright?
But back to glassware. Richard obviously had access to bottles for bottling off his wines – presumably looking like this one from the Museum of London’s collection and having a date of between 1771 and 1800.

But what of the decanters? In this I am indebted to the most excellent website belonging to Laurie Leigh Antiques.
They are based in Stow on the Wold, the nearest town to where ancestor Richard lived, so I suspect he would have known their premises in Church Street well. They have these splendid decanters, described as being a "pair of Georgian barrel-shaped decanters with three plain neck rings over a band of engraved festoons, bows and pendants. Moulded target stoppers. Circa 1800."
But I rather hope that Richard would have had the good taste (and the money) to go for the "Rare Georgian mallet-shaped decanter gilded with label for 'LISBON' surrounded by fruiting vines and scrollwork suspended by a chain. Cut disc stopper gilded en suite. Atelier of James Giles, London. Circa 1770"

What I find curious is that my offspring did not buy me it as a Christmas present – it cannot have been the price which put them off, a mere £4750, and yet I seem to recall that they chose to purchase some socks for me instead!

And what of the actual glasses? For my money I would go for a dozen of these at £375 each. Each is described as "Fine Georgian goblet with ovoid bowl decorated with large stars and festoons of 'sprig and oval' over basal cut facets, on stem cut with hexagonal hollow facets. Circa 1780".

Or perhaps Richard would have preferred a "Lovely Georgian wine glass with trumpet-shaped bowl finely engraved with flowers, foliage and scrollwork, on multispiral airtwist stem. Circa 1750".

Beautiful indeed, but I personally prefer something chunkier, like the "Rare Georgian baluster dram glass with round funnel bowl with basal tear on teared stem with inverted baluster knop and basal flattened knop on folded foot. Circa 1720.
Height: 4 inches. Price: £2400.00"
Even though it is only four inches high, that is a beautiful glass!

Again, for my money (though come to think of it, it is Richard buying these) I would go for something really delicate like the "Lovely Georgian Newcastle baluster goblet with round funnel bowl finely engraved with birds, flowers foliage and scrollwork, on stem with annular knop over elongated inverted baluster knop.
Circa 1730. Height: 7 inches. Price: £2850.00."

Whatever, these glasses look exquisite and I look forward to calling in on Laurie Leigh’s emporium when I am next in the Cotswolds. Cheers my dears!

(Mike has written a book about life in the Eighteenth Century entitled The Journal of a Georgian Gentleman, based upon his ancestor's diaries and miscellaneous papers. He also does a regular blog on aspects of the Georgian era.)

The First Wives' Club by Regina Jeffers

Our giveaway for this week is The First Wives' Club by Regina Jeffers. You can read about the book and see the cover HERE and then return to enter the giveaway by commenting below. Please be sure to leave contact information- shipping to any location.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Joan, The Fair Maid of Kent: More Fourteenth Century Royal Scandal ...

by Anne O'Brien

Alice Perrers might cause considerable scandal at the Plantagenet court of King Edward III but she was not on her own.  Joan, known in her day as The Fair Maid of Kent because of her undeniable great beauty (whereas Alice was 'famously ugly'), ran Alice a close second.  But because Joan was well born and eventually became wife to Edward of Woodstock, much was forgiven her.  Alice was never forgiven.

Joan was the daughter of Edmund, Earl of Kent, half brother of Edward II.  When Edmund was executed on the orders of Queen Isabella and Lord Mortimer, Joan, still a young child, was eventually taken under the maternal wing of Queen Philippa, and she was raised at court with the rest of her royal cousins.  This is where she met Prince Edward for the first time.

This delightful little contemporary illustration shows Joan, probably holding a mirror which is definitely in character.  Prince Edward had a strong affection for her, calling her his Jeanette, and wanted her for his wife.  What Joan felt for Edward is not so clear but she had no objection to becoming the wife of the heir to the throne.  Unfortunately it was not a popular move, both King Edward III and Queen Philippa opposing the match.  But why?  Joan was strikingly lovely, with all the qualification of good birth and upbringing and royal blood.  She was Countess of Kent in her own right after the death of her brother.  Nor was the opposition to the match merely a desire for the heir to the throne to marry some European woman of birth and breeding to bring political advantage to England.

The problem was Joan's scandalous private life.  at the age of thirty two Joan was no innocent virgin.

Joan was first married when very young, probably only twelve - to Sir Thomas Holland.  This seems to have been a clandestine event but certainly legal.  Sir Thomas went off on Crusade, leaving Joan who was forced - in her own words - into a second marriage with the Earl of Salisbury.  When Sir Thomas returned, he discovered his wife wed to another in a bigamous union, and promptly took up the position of Steward in the Salisbury household.  Such a situation beggars belief.  How I wish we knew more about that menage a trois!

Sir Thomas wanted his wife back and appealed to the Pope that Joan had promised herself to him, shared his bed, and so he claimed her for his own wife.  Joan supported this story.  Did she prefer Sir Thomas to the hapless Earl of Salisbury?  It took the Pope eighteen months to decide, and then he ordered that the Salisbury marriage be ended and Joan return to her rightful husband, Sir Thomas Holland.  Which she did.  They had five children together before Sir Thomas died in 1360.

This magnificent stained glass window, made in the late nineteenth Century, shows Joan holding the church at Ware in Hertfordshire, which she paid to have restored.

So why, if Joan was a widow by 1360, was Philippa against Joan's marriage to her son Edward?  Philippa was not the only one with concerns.  So was the Archbishop of Canterbury.  One of Joan's husbands might be dead, but the other, Salisbury, was very much alive.  If anyone care to stir up trouble and cast doubts on the legitimacy of any children Joan would have with Prince Edward, here was  the ammunition.  It took the Pope to give assurances that the marriage with Salisbury was not legal before Joan and her Prince were wed at Windsor Castle in October 1361.

This is the superb representation of Prince Edward, later know as the Black Prince, from his tomb in Canterbury Cathedral.

Joan was contemporary with Alice Perrers.  When Joan returned to England with Prince Edward after a lengthy stay in Aquitaine, Joan would have expected to be pre-eminent at the royal court, but her husband's illness and Alice's control of affairs would have thwarted her.  An interesting relationship, I think.  There was no love lost between the two head-strong women.

Joan's name was further associated with scandal.  She was said to be the woman raped by King Edward III after the siege at Wark in 1341even though she was only thirteen years old at that time.  She was also the lady whose garter Edward rescued, which was to become the insignia of the Order of the Garter, as shown in this glorious early twentieth century painting.

There is evidence for neither.  It is thought that they are examples of French propaganda, Joan's name being added later, to paint King Edward as immoral and dishonourable.  Joan, with her dubious marriages and undoubted beauty, was the perfect choice to play either the  innocent maiden or the femme fatale.  

Despite the complications of her past, Joan appears to have been a caring wife to the tragically ailing Prince and supportive of her son Richard II.  She died in 1385, leaving her newest bed of red velvet embroidered with silver ostrich feathers and gold leopards' heads to Richard.  She also left a bed to each of her sons by Sir Thomas Holland.  Interestingly she ordered that she should be buried at Greyfriars in Stamford in Lincolnshire.  In her will she stipulated:
'My body is to be buried in my chapel at Stanford, near the monument of our late lord and husband, the Earl of Kent.'
This of course is Sir Thomas Holland.  Did she prefer Sir Thomas to either Salisbury or Prince Edward at the end?
We will never know ...

Anne O'Brien: author of The Virgin Widow and Queen Defiant/Devil's Consort.
The Kings' Concubine, a novel of Alice Perrers in now available in the UK, Australia and the USA.

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Sunday, June 24, 2012

Eloping to Scotland and the Marriage Act of 1753

by Regina Jeffers

“An Act for Better Preventing of Clandestine Marriage,” known popularly as Lord Hardwicke’s Marriage Act (1753), was the first legislation in England and Wales to require formal ceremonies of marriage. The validity of a Scottish marriage precipitated the dispute, and the legislation became effective on 25 March 1754.

Prior to the Act, canon law of the Church of England governed the legal requirements for valid marriage in England and Wales. This involved the calling of the banns and a marriage license. It also required that the wedding should take place in the resident parish of one of the participants. However, these stipulations were not mandatory and did not render a marriage void for failing to follow the directory requirements. Having an Anglican clergyman to pronounce the vows was the only indispensable requirement.

The existing ecclesiastical rules regarding marriage were tightened by the Act, except for Jews, Quakers, and, interestingly, members of the British Royal Family. The exemption for the Royal Family was the basis of the objection for Prince Charles’s civil ceremony with Camilla Parker-Bowles in 2005, civil marriage being the creation of statue law. It was also provided that the 1753 Act had no application to marriages celebrated overseas or in Scotland.

The village of Gretna Green sat on the most southerly point of the English border on Scotland’s west side. It was on the main road between Carlisle and Glasgow. It crossed the Sark River, which marked the border, half a mile from Gretna Green. On the English side of the border was another village, Longtown.

Near the Solway Firth, Greta Green of the Regency era is described in the Gretna Green Memoirs as “…[a] small village with a few clay houses, the parish kirk, the minister’s house, and a large inn. From it you have a fine view of the Solway, port Carlisle and the Cumberland hills, among which is the lofty Skiddaw; you also see Bowness, the place where the famous Roman wall ends.” Within Gretna, at the Headlesscross, is a junction of five coaching roads, and here sat the Blacksmith’s Shop.

A common phrase of the time was to be married “over the anvil,” which meant that the eloping couple said their vows at the first convenient stop, the blacksmith’s shop. “Blacksmith priests” conducted the ceremony, which was simply a public acknowledgment of a couple’s pledging themselves to one another.

Truthfully, many couples married at the inn or at other Scottish villages, and any man could set himself up as an ‘anvil priest.’ It was a lucrative trade. The anvil priests would receive the necessary pay, as well as a tip, which could be upwards of fifty guineas. According to the Romances of Gretna Green, “…[t]he man who took up the trade of ‘priest’ had to reckon on the disapprobation of the local Church authorities.”

The Marriage Act effectively put an end to clandestine marriages (valid marriages performed by an Anglican clergyman but not in accordance with the canons). It increased the traffic, however, along the North Road to Scottish “Border Villages” (Paxton Toll, Coldstream Bridge, Mordington, and Lamberton). During the 1770s a toll road which passed through the hitherto obscure village of Graitney led to Gretna Green becoming synonymous with romantic elopements.

Despite many claims to the contrary, the Act did not render invalid marriages involving minors (those under 21) who married without their parents consent. Because the Act specifically prohibited the courts from inquiring into the couple’s place of residence until after the wedding had been performed, many chose having the banns called in a different parish without their parents’ consent. The Act also did not end common-law marriages, or informal folk practices such as handfasting or broomstick marriages.

One of my favorite Regency authors, Louis Allen, has a fabulous post on Community on “The Romance of Elopement,” in which she speaks of the expense of the race to the Scottish border. She says, “
London to Gretna, via Manchester, is 320 miles. That is £20 for the chaise and horses alone at a time when a housemaid would be glad to earn £16 a year, all found.”

Rules of Marriages:
1. The reading of the Banns occurred on 3 consecutive Sundays or Holy Days during Divine Service, immediately before the Offertory. At least one of the marrying couple must be a resident of the parish of which they wished to be married; the banns of the other party were read in his/her parish, and a certificate was provided from the clergyman stating it had been properly done. Banns were good for three months. The wedding ceremony was scheduled at the church between 8 in the morning and noon.
2. The wording:
 "I publish the Banns of marriage between Groom's Name of--his local parish--and Bride's Name of--her local parish. If any of you know cause or just impediment why these two persons should not be joined together in Holy matrimony, ye are to declare it. This is the first [second, third] time of asking."
3. A Common/Ordinary Licence - This could be obtained from a bishop or archbishop. A common/ordinary license meant the Banns did not need to be read - and so there was not the two week delay. A sworn statement was given that there was no impediment [parties were not related to one another in the prohibited degrees, proof of deceased spouse given, etc.]. The marriage must take place in a church or chapel where one of the party had already lived for 4 weeks. It was good for 3 months from date of issue also. The cost of the license was 10 shillings.
4. A Special License - This would be obtained from Doctors Commons in London, from the Archbishop of Canterbury or his representative. The difference between this and the Ordinary license was that it gave the right of the couple to marry at any convenient time or place. All other requirements were the same. Names of both parties were given at the time of the application. The cost: In 1808 a Stamp Duty was imposed on the paper, vellum or parchment the license was printed upon of £4. In 1815 the duty went up to £5.

So how do the details of such a Scottish marriage fit into my latest book, The Disappearance of Georgiana Darcy? An ill-fated rush to the Scottish border plays a major role in the mystery surrounding Georgiana Darcy’s vanishing from the Fitzwilliam property and in Darcy’s subsequent search for his sister.

Book Blurb:

Shackled in the dungeon of a macabre castle with no recollection of her past, a young woman finds herself falling in love with her captor – the estate’s master. Yet, placing her trust in him before she regains her memory and unravels the castle’s wicked truths would be a catastrophe.

Far away at Pemberley, the Darcys happily gather to celebrate the marriage of Kitty Bennet. But a dark cloud sweeps through the festivities: Georgiana Darcy has disappeared without a trace. Upon receiving word of his sister’s likely demise, Darcy and wife, Elizabeth, set off across the English countryside, seeking answers in the unfamiliar and menacing Scottish moors.

How can Darcy keep his sister safe from the most sinister threat she has ever faced when he doesn’t even know if she’s alive? True to Austen’s style and rife with malicious villains, dramatic revelations and heroic gestures, this suspense-packed mystery places Darcy and Elizabeth in the most harrowing situation they have ever faced – finding Georgiana before it is too late.

Twitter - @reginajeffers
Publisher – Ulysses Press


Regina Jeffers, an English teacher for thirty-nine years, considers herself a Jane Austen enthusiast. She is the author of 13 novels, including Darcy’s Passions, Darcy’s Temptation, The Phantom of Pemberley, Christmas at Pemberley, The Scandal of Lady Eleanor, A Touch of Velvet, and A Touch of Cashémere. A Time Warner Star Teacher and Martha Holden Jennings Scholar, as well as a Smithsonian presenter, Jeffers often serves as a media literacy consultant. She resides outside of Charlotte, NC, where she spends time teaching her new grandson the joys of being a child.

The Worst Marriage of the 16th Century

By Nancy Bilyeau

On November 23, 1511, at the age of thirty-six, Anne of York, born a princess, died, possibly of consumption. She had outlived not only her parents, Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville, but her two brothers, the tragic Princes of the Tower; her oldest sister, Queen Elizabeth of York; and, saddest of all, her own four children, who died at birth or not long after.
            We don’t know how fervently the widower of Anne of York, Lord Thomas Howard, mourned her passing. It had been a prestigious match for Howard, not least because his father, the Earl of Surrey, fought on the wrong side of the Battle of Bosworth and the newly minted Tudor monarch, Henry VII, consigned him to the Tower of London as punishment. But after Surrey, the son of the first Duke of Norfolk, was released a few years later, he dedicated himself to playing the new game in town. With success.

Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk

Thomas and Anne's union was definitely not the last time a Howard married (or attempted to marry) royalty—the 16th century is littered with the carnage of ambitious Howards. Time and again they struggled to climb that final rung of the dynastic ladder but slipped and fell. Decapitation sometimes followed or, if they were lucky, a stint in the Tower. In fact, through a century of Tudor rule, the Howards cycled in and out of the Tower of London more than any other clan.
But to return to the premature passing of Anne of York, the most significant aspect of her death is how it cleared the way for a disastrous marriage, one that, if it weren’t for the truly over-the-top Henry VIII and his “ill conditioned wives,” would take a leading place on a hall of marital infamy.
With apologies to Jane Austen, a childless man who stands to inherit a dukedom must be in want of a wife. Proud Thomas Howard would settle for nothing less than the best, and so he zeroed in on the children of the man who was at that time the sole duke in England: Edward Stafford, duke of Buckingham (Charles Brandon had not yet been elevated, nor had Howard’s own father). Stafford was rich and had three daughters. The oldest, Elizabeth, was of marriageable age: fifteen. Howard was old enough to be her father. But her own father was not bothered by the age gap--Buckingham approved of the marriage. 

Edward Stafford, Duke of Buckingham

The young woman in question did not.
For the rest of her life, the word that would be used most often to describe Elizabeth Stafford was “willful,” and she definitely wanted to exercise her own will in marriage.  She had a husband in mind already: her father’s ward, Ralph Neville, her own age and the future earl of Westmoreland. She wrote in a sad letter, years later: “He and I had loved together two years, and I had married him before Christmas, if the widowed Thomas Howard, the earl of Surrey's heir, had not made vigorous suit to my father.
Her wishes were ignored. Elizabeth married Howard on January 13, 1513.
In the early years, it must have seemed to most observers that the marriage succeeded. Elizabeth gave birth to a son within the first year, Henry, the future poet and earl of Surrey; three healthy children followed. Elizabeth traveled with her husband, including two military campaigns to Ireland. She was a success at the court of Henry VIII, becoming a trusted lady in waiting to Katherine of Aragon.
Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk

In the late 1520s, two things happened. First, Howard, by then the third Duke of Norfolk, the Lord Treasurer of England and more than fifty years of age, humiliated his wife by trying to move his mistress, Bess Holland, into official apartments in one of their homes. And second, Elizabeth and Norfolk took opposite sides on the matter of the king’s divorce. Anne Boleyn was half-Howard, and Norfolk supported his niece’s tireless quest to be queen. But Elizabeth, devoted to Katherine, was outraged by the king’s affair with Anne Boleyn. She tried to smuggle foreign messages of support to the spurned queen in a basket of oranges. It was discovered, and Norfolk was embarrassed.
Politics may have strained the marriage, but infidelity destroyed it. Most wives suffered in silence when their husbands took mistresses. Not Elizabeth. Outraged, she complained to everyone, loud and clear. Bess Holland, she said, was a “churl’s daughter.” She wrote: “But because I would not be content to suffer the harlots …therefore, he put me out of doors…He locked me up in a chamber and took away all my jewels.” Elizabeth said that her husband ordered women who served in his household to bind her and sit on her “until I spat blood and he never punished them.” (Elizabeth also later claimed that her husband had assaulted her days after she gave birth to their daughter, but he furiously denied it.)
Elizabeth, Duchess of Norfolk

She had no support. Her father, the Duke of Buckingham, had been executed for treason years ago; his son, Lord Stafford, would not agree to his sister’s return to the family home because of her “sensual and willful” nature. Stafford wrote to his brother-in-law Norfolk: “Her accustomed wild language does not lie in my power to stop.”
For his part, Norfolk claimed his wife was unbearable, that she told “false and abominable lies and has obstinacy against me.” He desperately tried to get her to shut up. She wouldn’t. He offered her a divorce, which she refused (at that time divorces were difficult to obtain). At certain points, intermediaries went back and forth, suggesting reconciliation. But the couple’s mutual hatred ran too deep. They permanently separated in 1533. Elizabeth lived alone in a house in Hertfordshire her husband leased for her; their children did not visit, taking the side of the powerful duke, now the earl marshal of the kingdom. She wrote angry letters for years to Thomas Cromwell, the king’s chief minister, and even to the king himself, protesting her ill treatment.  Elizabeth wrote Cromwell: “Though I be left poor, yet I am content with all, for I am out of danger from my enemies and of the ill life that I had with my husband since he loved Bess Holland first…she has been the cause of all my troubles.”
Norfolk, freed of his hostile wife, had his ups and downs. He turned against Anne Boleyn after she married Henry VIII and was not damaged by her fall. He even presided over her trial. Four years later, when another niece, Catherine Howard, married the king of England, he did not fare as well. The family suffered from the scandal of Catherine’s adultery. They seemed to have righted themselves but the eldest son of Norfolk and Elizabeth, the earl of Surrey, was executed for treason shortly before Henry VIII died. The duke himself was imprisoned in the Tower and was thought to have been spared the axe only by the death of the king. During Norfolk’s long imprisonment through the following reign of Edward VI, the duke’s daughter, Mary, petitioned for his release. At one point the Privy Council said that Norfolk’s “daughter and wife may have recourse to him.” The duke naturally recoiled from the prospect of visits from his long-estranged duchess.

Queen Mary

When Mary took the throne, Thomas Howard, then an incredible eighty years of age, emerged from the Tower of London and plunged into organizing the queen’s coronation and wreaking revenge on his various enemies. He even led a command against the rebels in the Wyatt uprising. But in 1554, the old warrior and schemer died. There was no mention of his surviving spouse in his long will.

Elizabeth seems to have found a place in the family again. She was, after all, on good terms with Queen Mary, the daughter of her friend, Katherine of Aragon.  In June 1557, she served as godmother for her great-grandson, Philip Howard, named after Mary’s husband, Philip of Spain. (In 1595 this same Philip Howard would die of dysentery following a hunger strike in the Tower of London, accused of treason against his second-cousin Elizabeth I.)
But four years later, it was Elizabeth’s turn, and she died in London at the age of sixty-four. Amazingly, she asked to be buried in a Howard chapel. This wish, finally, was not ignored. Elizabeth and Thomas Howard are not buried together but they are joined in a chapel effigy. Reunited at last.
Effigy of the Duke and Duchess of Norfolk

Nancy Bilyeau is the author of the award-winning Joanna Stafford historical thriller trilogy, "The Crown,"  "The Chalice," and "The Tapestry," set in the 16th century. 
To learn more, go to

Friday, June 22, 2012

Our Tudor Sisters

Sandra Byrd

Historical novelists are sometimes suspected of importing twenty-first century values into sixteenth century novels.  While it's true that most authors seek to connect their readers with their novel's women of the past, it isn't necessary to ascribe new values to past women.  While we cannot know what conversations between persons sounded like, with certainty, we can draw upon what we do know to extrapolate their emotions, desires, and life goals.

They valued education.  Although medieval women's education was often limited to gentler feminine arts such as dance, needlework, and playing of the lute or virginals, by the beginning of the Tudor era women were much more interested and involved in intellectual education.   Queen Catherine of Aragon ensured that her daughter, Mary, had a strict regimen of demanding studies in accordance with her own upbringing.  Sir Thomas More is often credited with putting practice to the idea that non-royal women deserved as much education as noble or highborn men.  His daughters undertook an education complete in classical studies,  languages, geography, astronomy, and mathematics.  
Margaret More Roper

Queen Kateryn Parr's mother, Maude, educated her own daughters in accordance with More's program for his children, eventually running a kind of "school for highborn girls" after she was widowed. Eventually, educating  one's daughters was seen as a social necessity and men expected their wives to be able to play chess with them, discuss poetry and devotional works, and be conversant in the issues of the day.

They knew they couldn't marry for love - the first time - but desired it anyway.   Most historical readers understand that women in the Tudor era were chattel, legally controlled by their fathers and then their husbands.   They married for dynastic or financial reasons; marriage was an alliance of families and strategy and not of the hearts.  And yet, these women, too, had read Song of Songs wherein a husband and wife declare their passion for one another.  Classically educated as they were, Tudor women had surely come across the Greek myths, including Eros and Psyche, and perhaps had even read the medieval French love poem, Roman de la Rose.  

Mary Tudor

If a woman was left widowed - and that happened quite often - she was free to remain widowed and under her own authority or to marry whom she wished.  Henry VIII's sister Mary, married first King Louis XII of France, for duty.  When he died, she married Charles Brandon, for love.  After Mary's death, Brandon  married his ward, Katherine Willoughby, her duty.  Later, she married Richard Bertie for love.

They were working women.    High born women were often ladies in waiting to the queen, a demanding, full time job with little pay and time off.  They ran the accounts for their husband's properties and juggled household management.   Some highborn women, such as Lady Bryan, became governesses.  Lower born women were lady maids, seamstresses, nurses, servants, or baby maids in addition to helping their husbands as fishmongers or in the fields.  

Although there are some notable differences, we have much more in common with our high born sisters of five hundred years ago than one may think!

To learn more about Sandra's Ladies in Waiting Series, set in Tudor England, please visit  For blogs on England and English history, visit:


Thursday, June 21, 2012

Money Lending in the Middle Ages

Or You Think Your Visa Card's Rates Are Bad?

by Katherine Ashe

Matthew 25:26-27: “His lord answered and said unto him, ‘Thou wicked, slothful servant,thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strawed: Thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury.’”

That is the Parable of the Talents, Jesus’s teaching regarding money lending. Granted he was using this story as a parallel of what he expected of his followers in terms of making things of the spirit known and not hiding them. But he hardly would have used the example of usury if he opposed it – though he didn’t think it a proper activity in the Temple itself, obviously.

There is an impression abroad that money lending was forbidden to Christians during medieval times. It certainly was not. In fact the principal bankers to the lordly class were the knightly Orders, the Hospitallers and the Templars, and the Church itself was not above acting as collection agent for even the worst of usurers.

Regarding the knightly Orders, this business of theirs came about naturally in the course of their leadership in crusades to the Holy Land. A lord, leaving home for a venture to the Middle East that would last several years in all likelihood, needed to be able to draw funds in Palestine. Secured by his rents back home, he took a loan, payable at the Templars’ or the Hospitallers’ headquarters at Acre. The loan entailed interest, for the knightly bankers took risks: would or could the properties entailed actually be able to repay the debt? Like any anxious banker, the knights charged what interest the business could support, sometimes 20% to 30% per annum.

The lord, upon signing for the loan before leaving home, received a written receipt cashable for silver or gold coin at Acre. This was not the beginning of notations of debt standing in the place of actual money. For that one must look back to ancient Egypt and temple credits and debits for the faithfuls’ contributions to Ra, or taxes owed and paid to pharaoh. (See David Graeber’s “Debt, The First 5000 Years” for an intriguing summary of the subject by an instigator of “Shut Down Wall Street.”)

Apart from the Templars and Hospitallers, one could, in the 13th century, take a loan from the bankers in the French city of Cahors. Let’s have a look at one such debt.

In the year 1232 Ranulf the Earl of Chester died, leaving a note for a debt of 200 marks, owed him by his young cousin Simon de Montfort. The note went as payment of a debt Ranulf owed to Piers Mauclerc, the Count of Brittany, and Piers sold the debt for quick cash to a money lender of Cahors – though the interest rate with this banker was 60% per annum.

The Cahorsine banker did nothing to inform Montfort of his receipt of the debt and application of the 60% interest rate to it, but let it accumulate that monstrous interest for five years, at which point the debt amounted to 2,080 marks. Even then he did nothing to collect but instead, at considerable profit to himself, sold the interest-heavy debt to the Bishop of Soisson – and left him to collect the full amount.

The Bishop wrote to Montfort, informing him of the debt and demanding payment of 2,080 marks. Montfort, under the impression that this interest rate was ludicrous – and that Ranulf had leant him money interest free in the first place (he had already repaid most of what his cousin had leant) – refused to pay anything more than the originally owed 200 marks. At which the Bishop of Soisson excommunicated this debtor. An excommunicated person was cast out of the company of fellow Christians and bound over to hell.

Now that is debt-collection clout. The antidote was to go on crusade, which Montfort did. And that not only lifted excommunications but cleared all debts as well.

Christians certainly weren’t forbidden the practice of usury – even fairly outrageous usury. Still it’s commonly thought that because of the Christian ban on money lending, Jews were forced to turn exclusively to that corner of trade.

Jews were banned from most other businesses. They could not buy land and thus take part in
the largest money-making activities of the time, the raising of sheep, grain and horses -- the remunerative underpinnings of noble and peasant economies. Nor could Jews take part in the manufacturing crafts as these were controlled by guilds, and each guild was devoted to the service of its patron saint. Jews were certainly excluded there. So, barred from most means of livelihood, Jews made careers in the exchange and lending of money. And they charged interest.

However, the Jews were not so selective of their clientele as were the knightly orders, nor nearly as grindingly usurious as the Cahorsines. They did business with anyone who seemed a likely prospect for return of capital and some reasonable interest. And sometimes they did business under compulsion, knowing they would never get their money back – as when the leant to King Edward I who, final realizing he could wring no more money out of the Jews, expelled them from England. It was the handy ultimate way to cancel his debts.

He was not the first to use this tactic. Ransacking of the Jews’ street – which of course offered a good possibility of destroying their fiscal records – was practiced by the Londoners repeatedly, most notably when they burnt the whole street to cinders in 1264.

Montfort had expelled the Jews from Leicester in 1231, and promised the people of Leicester
in 1255 that he would not permit them to return. Since, in 1231, Montfort was not yet Earl of Leicester, had no henchmen and very little money (and was probably in debt to the Jews himself, having belatedly received the loan from Cousin Ranulf), it is very unlikely that he accomplished this expulsion solely with his own powers. It would appear that the force provided was the people of Leicester themselves, and the motivation not a sudden religious passion but the usual, practical settling up of debts by causing the debt-holders to flee for their lives.

That Jews did survive, and even prospered, under such living and working conditions as
these in England during the Middle Ages is cause for awe, and deep respect for their business capabilities.

For the Montfort/Cahor debt see Bemont, Simon de Montfort, 1930, p. 60; Shirely, Royal Letters, Vol. II, p.16; Calendar of Patent Rolls,1232-47, p. 185; and (me) Ashe, Montfort the Early Years, p. 120 and note, p. 307.

Montfort: The Early Years, 1229 - 1243

Montfort: The Angel With the Sword

Katherine's Website