Thursday, August 30, 2012

Robin Hood, Agincourt, and Gender Equality? Archery in late Georgian England

by J.A. Beard

From the legend of Robin Hood to the gallantry of the archers at the Battle of Agincourt, archery has long been a part of the English cultural identity (even if some of their Saxon ancestors didn’t think much of it for war).

Alas, in England, as in so many other places, the superior lethality and ease of training associated with firearms caused the practical-minded English to adopt the newer weapon over bows and arrows. Over the centuries, the proud tradition of English archery sank into near irrelevance.

In the closing decades of the Georgian period, a growing fascination with many things from the medieval past led to the rebirth of the English archery tradition. Many gentlemen of means were gentlemen of leisure. Indeed, it was a mark of pride to not have to necessarily work for one's living. They had more time to devote to non-vocational pursuits (though, I suppose, gambling can be a vocation of sorts). Among other things, though, this meant that many gentlemen also had time to devote their attention to sporting activities. 

It was in this context that in 1781 led Sir Ashton Lever to form an archery society in London, the Toxophilite Society. There were some earlier societies formed, but they would lack the influence of Mr. Lever’s society. The men of this society were interested in archery as both a sport and as another way to socialize. This particular society also would gain a powerful patron in the form of the Prince of Wales (later the Prince Regent and ultimately King George IV). The Toxophilite Society became the Royal Toxophilite Society, which, incidentally, still exists today.

The royal boost and success of the Royal Toxophilite Society helped inspire archery clubs and societies throughout England. These societies and clubs typically had rules and uniforms. That being said, actual serious attention to mastering archery was far from universal. While many archery societies did their best to lay the groundwork for a sport of skill and dedication, many other societies used archery as just a flimsy excuse to throw lavish parties and get drunk with the sports aspect barely a consideration. So, in that sense, these Georgian fellows were not that different from many amateur sports clubs in modern times.

Although Western target archery has grown and evolved over the decades, many basics of the sport are still heavily influenced by the influence of these earliest archery societies.

Those who have seen the Gwenth Paltrow version of Emma may remember an archery scene where Emma Woodhouse shoots off a few arrows. Though Ms. Austen’s novel contains no references to Ms. Woodhouse practicing archery, this scene is otherwise not anachronistic.

In contrast to the gender differences that marked many other activities in the late Georgian and Regency periods, archery was considered not only an acceptable pastime for women, but even an acceptable pastime for proper ladies, including a gentleman’s daughter such as Emma Woodhouse.

At the time most sports were effectively barred, via social condemnation, from women as they were considered that most horrible of things for Georgian ladies: unfeminine. Archery was considered an activity where women could demonstrate their grace and “feminine form” in a way that the people of the time didn’t consider vulgar. While archery was not the only permissible sport (some other examples included the badminton precursor, shuttlecock, and lawn bowling), it was unusual in its relatively quick acceptance of women into the fold for an activity that started as male only.

The initial men-only archery societies allowed female guests of members to visit to shoot and many (though certainly not all) soon even allowed full female members. In 1787, the Royal British Bowmen were the first archery society to allow full women members.

Besides the satisfaction that comes with mastering an activity of skill, co-ed archery societies could also help facilitate useful social interaction as they provided excellent opportunities for aristocratic men and women to mix.

To be clear though, it’s important to note that the Bowmen’s interest in adding women was likely considerably less influenced by such social considerations. They had a reputation as one of the most serious archery clubs of the period and often frowned upon the partying and drinking that interfered with the practice of the sport. For them, archery was a sport, not an excuse to party.

The Rebecca Riots

Genesis XXIV 60:- "And they blessed Rebekah and said unto her, let thy seed possess the gates of those which hate them"
From The Illustrated London News 1843
On the night of 6th June 1839 the tollgate at Yr Efail Wen[Efailwen] was destroyed and the tollhouse set on fire by men dressed in women’s clothes with blackened faces for the second time. These incidents marked the start of the Rebecca Riots, which spread to many communities in Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire.
In the early 19th Century, farming was the main industry in Wales, where life was both hard and primitive. Only a few people could read and write.  Wales had seen a population increase which increased competition for land and jobs, thus adding to unemployment and poverty. Wet summers ruined corn harvests, forcing farmers to buy corn at famine prices to sustain themselves, their animals and their families.

Rents remained static, as did the turnpike tolls, so seeing themselves as victims of  'tyranny and oppression', farmers and their workers took the law into their own hands to rid themselves of these unjust taxes.
The first institutions to be attacked were the hated toll gates, which were controlled by Turnpike Trusts, comprised of wealthy businessmen, who owned most of the main roads. They decided on how many tollgates (turnpikes) could be built and what charges they made for those using them. The tolls were intended for maintenance and improvement of the roads, however many trusts charged extortionate tolls and diverted the money to other uses.

Most people in rural Wales made their living in small tenant farms they rented from wealthy landlords and relied on the roads to take their produce to market.  They were also burdened with having to pay tithes, payments for the support of the Anglican parish church payable in crops or wool. Their landlords, the members of the Anglican church mostly spoke English, when in the 1830’s, eighty percent of the population of west Wales was Welsh speaking and Non-Conformist, thus they resented having to pay tithes to a church that was not their own.

Farmers collected lime to improve the quality of the soil, but the Tollgate Trust set a toll of five shillings (25p) in tolls to move a cart of lime eight miles inland.  Eleven different Turnpike Trusts operated around Carmarthen, each with several gates, and each time people passed through the gates with produce or lime carts, they had no choice but to pay the toll.
Harvests in 1837 and 1838 were poor, increasing shortages and smallholders could barely afford to take their goods to market, but in addition they were being charged high tolls for using the roads.
In 1839, a group of toll-renters, led by Thomas Bullin, an Englishman, increased toll rates and installed side-bars, simple forms of gates set on side roads to catch any traffic that had attempted to bypass the main toll booths. These side-bars dramatically increased the cost of farmers' carting lime to their fields and almost ruined them.

This precipitated the first attack on Yr Efail Wen , [Efailwen] the attackers calling themselves Merched Beca (Welsh for Rebecca's Daughters) or merely the Rebeccas. The Whitland Turnpike Trust rebuilt the gate, but a week later, a crowd of three hundred people destroyed it for the second time.

Their battle cry became ‘Rebecca’ as they smashed the gates, sometimes relating the entire verse from Genesis as they destroyed the gates.

The disturbances started again in 1842 when the Whitland Trust built a new gate at The Mermaid, on the lime road at St Clears in Carmarthenshire. This was destroyed in November, as were the tollgates at Pwll-trap and Trevaughan. The gates were rebuilt, but all gates in St Clears were destroyed by 12 December. The government refused to send soldiers, and so the magistrates called in the marines from Pembroke Dock and the Castlemartin Yeomanry Cavalry. The rioting continued.

In the village of Hendy on 7 September 1843, a woman gate keeper named Sarah Williams had been warned not to collect any more tolls and that rioters were on their way but refused to leave. That night she was heard shouting "I know who you are" by a neighbouring family. The rioters set fire to the tollgate and Sarah ran for help, but when she returned, she was shot dead.

By October 1843, the riots stopped, and the government was forced to call a Commission of Enquiry to explore the grievances of the Welsh farmers. This alsoe resulted in The Turnpikes Act of 1844 which consolidated the trusts, and simplified the rates; furthermore it reduced the hated toll on lime movement by half.
From The London Illustrated News 1843
The wearing of women's clothes was an established feature of traditional Welsh justice the Ceffyl Pren, wooden horse, bears many similarities to the Rebeccas, with men wearing female clothing, blackening their faces and conducting mock trials. Miscreants were sentenced to ride the Ceffyl Pren through the streets to punish members of a community for marital infidelity or informing on a neighbour.

Rebecca and her daughters had won their victory - even though some of the gates lasted another 50 years.
Dylan Thomas wrote the screenplay for a film, Rebecca's Daughters, which was published as a novel of the same name in 1965, though the film was not released until 1992, and starred Peter O'Toole, Paul Rhys and Joely Richardson.

For the source of this post and further information: Bro Becca

Anita is an Historical Fiction author with a special interest in the 17th Century, her latest novel, 'Royalist Rebel' will be released by Claymore books in early 2013

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Downton Abbey and the Fight for Irish Freedom

by Tim Vicary

In the marvelous TV series Downton Abbey, one theme that will surely develop further is the relationship between the youngest daughter of the house, Lady Sybil, and Tom Branson, the Irish chauffeur. Despite the strong disapproval of her parents the young couple fall in love and elope to Dublin to get married. This marriage is a very shocking and traumatic event for Lady Sybil’s parents, the Earl and Countess of Grantham, and it is clear that her married life with her husband is going to be far from easy.

There are three major problems which the young couple will have to face: class, religion, and nationality. Class is the biggest: as the youngest daughter of wealthy English aristocrats, Lady Sybil has committed a colossal social blunder. There is no way that she and her new husband can possibly be accepted in the social world in which she has grown up; she may occasionally meet her sister and parents but otherwise she has surely cut herself off forever. Her father has settled a little money on her, but she will still have to accustom herself to managing on that and her new husband’s wages – much, much less than she has previously taken for granted.

Let’s hope their love is strong; it will need to be. When my wife, then aged 19, agreed to marry me, a graduate with no obvious prospects, her grandmother had similar misgivings.  ‘When money comes in the door, love flies out the window,’ she wrote, in a forceful letter that could easily have come from the Dowager Countess of Grantham!

Since I was 21 and unemployed at the time, the old lady had a point! But at least my wife and I were both English, of a similar religion. Sybil’s new husband is a Catholic Irishman , at a time when religion and ethnicity are of crucial significance. In 1919 they elope to Dublin, straight into a cauldron of terrorism, murder, and police repression, a two-year campaign of violence which will result, after many deaths, in the creation of the Irish Free State.

So what, exactly, is going on? Her husband will understand it, but to Sybil all this may come as a nasty shock.  Few English people know much Irish history, and she is surely no different. Well, here is a little of what she will need to learn.

When the First World War began thousands of Irishmen, both Protestant and Catholic, joined the British Army, just like many men from Downton. There was no conscription; they were all volunteers. Like the men she has nursed at Downton, many of these Irish soldiers suffered horrific, life-changing injuries while fighting for what they still considered to be their country.

But not all Irishmen saw it like this. Some Irishmen, taking the view that ‘England’s difficulty is Ireland’s opportunity’, decided that their real enemy was not Germany at all, but England.  So they tried (unsuccessfully) to get guns from Germany, and rose up in armed rebellion. On Easter Monday 1916, on the steps of the General Post Office in Dublin, Padraig Pearse read out a declaration of Irish independence. Ireland, he said, was no longer part of the United Kingdom; it was now a sovereign independent state.  Behind him, several hundred armed Republicans raised the flag of an Irish Republic. 

They had no chance of success. The British government was recovering from the disaster at Gallipoli and planning for the battle of the Somme; it had no sympathy for Irish rebels who had tried to get guns from the enemy. A week later, after a battle in which 450 people were killed, mostly by soldiers of the Royal  Irish Regiment, the rebels surrendered. Pearse and 13 other leaders were convicted of treason and executed. Their followers were imprisoned in North Wales for 6 months, and then released.

Pearse’s death made him a martyr. As the poet W.B. Yeats wrote, ‘a terrible beauty is born.’ In the general election of 1918, Sinn Fein, the party of Pearse’s supporters, won 73 out of 105 seats in Ireland. One of these was won by the first ever woman MP, Constance Markeiwicz.  But instead of going to Westminster, the Sinn Fein MPs declared themselves the new Parliament of Ireland, Dail Eireann. A state of war existed, they said, between England and Ireland. 

Thus when Lady Sybil arrives in Dublin with her new husband, she will find herself in the middle of a civil war. Ireland in 1919 was blessed – if that is the right word - with two governments, each of which had politicians, soldiers, and tax collectors. The new Irish Republic had its own army, the Irish Republican Army (IRA) led by Michael Collins. His men began to kill policemen, particularly intelligence officers.  They were very good at it.  Not surprisingly, the British government disliked this. As far as they were concerned, men like Michael Collins were terrorists. They wanted to capture him, dead or alive. But it was not easy. No one knew where Collins lived, or even what he looked like. 

From what we know of Sybil’s husband, Tom Branson, it seems likely that he will be more in sympathy with the IRA than the British Army. Sybil’s father, the Earl of Grantham, and her sister’s new husband, Matthew Crawley, will surely have no sympathy for this. Matthew was fighting in the trenches while men like Michael Collins were skulking at home, conspiring to get arms from the Germans. So what will happen if Tom Branson joins the IRA, and kills some British policemen or soldiers? Lady Sybil will have a hard time explaining that to her family!

She will need new friends in Dublin, and given her social background, she may well come across another strong-minded young woman of her own age, Lady Catherine Maeve O’Connell-Gort. Lady Catherine, like Lady Sybil, is a fictional character, the heroine of my novel The Blood Upon the Rose. Like Sybil, Catherine is torn between two worlds; both of her brothers have been killed in the war, and her father is a British Army Colonel in charge of Military Intelligence. It is his job to kill or capture Michael Collins. But his daughter Catherine – just like Lady Sybil – is in love with a young Irishman who is fighting for Irish freedom. Not surprisingly, her father, just like the Earl of Grantham, is appalled.

I think the two young women should meet! Catherine has grown up in Ireland, so she understands the background much better than Sybil; but the pair would certainly have a great deal to talk about!
I wonder if it will happen?
You can read more about Catherine O’Connell-Gort in The Blood Upon the Rose, available in kindle on amazon US and amazon UK. In case you’re wondering, it was first published by Simon & Shuster UK in 1992, long before Downton Abbey hit the screens.
All pictures in the public domain. Portraits by Sir John Lavery.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Henry Collen-Painter, photographer, photocopier

While trying to decide what to blog about, I thought about my current wip (Regency era) and how my hero was fixing to leave on a voyage. My hero and heroine had just gotten married the night before and she wants to give him something to remember her by (not that he would ever forget her). I thought of jewelry, a note, a hairpin, nothing seemed right.

Then a portrait miniature came to mind. As I researched the tiny paintings, I was fascinated that the earliest portrait miniaturists go as far back as 1450.

One particular English portraitist I found interesting was Henry Collen (October 9, 1797 – May 8, 1879). Below is a self portrait.

Henry learned to paint at the Royal Academy under the tutelage of Sir George Hayter, who was a close friend to the Collen family.

Arguably, below is the most famous miniature Henry painted. It is Princess Victoria in 1836, just a year before she became queen.

He also painted others of the queen and of the Duchess of Kent, just to name a couple of his clients.

By 1840 Henry was an established portrait painter and became interested in electrotyping daguerreotype plates, the first commercially successful photographic process. The image is made on a copper plate that resembles a mirror. It is very fragile and can be rubbed with with a finger.He also began experimenting with calotype process. Calotype was an early photographic process developed by Fox Talbot which used paper sensitized with silver chloride that darkened in proportion to its exposure to light. The paper had to be exposed in the camera until the image was fully visible, typically an hour. And since he and Talbot were colleagues, they collaborated--with Talbot supplying the photographic knowledge, while Collen brought the artistic know-how.

In 1841 Talbot licensed Henry as the first professional photographer, or calotypist. Henry opened the first calotype portrait studio in London. He was said to produce miniatures that were a combination of old art painting and new art photography, because he enhanced the photos with paint.

Below is one of his photos, it depicts Queen Victoria with her daughter.


In 1842, the Treaty of Nanking was signed (ending the Opium War between China and England) and brought to Collen to be copied. The treaty consisted of 22 pages written in English and 16 written with Chinese characters. The task was almost impossible because to exactly copy the documents, it had to be printed on pages that were 4 foot long. It is believed Collen made three copies of the document and it can be argued he was the only man in the world with the knowledge and the expertise to have done the job.

Because of many different reasons, one being it was not profitable; Collen ended his calotype business in 1844. He painted and photographed many of the most influential people of his era.

Find out more about Tess and her books at

Sunday, August 26, 2012

'Mistress of the Sea' by Jenny Barden

Jenny Barden is giving away a copy of her debut Mistress of the Sea which is being published on Thursday. This giveaway ends at midnight on Sunday, 2 September. For a little about the book, please click HERE. Comment here to enter the drawing, and be sure to leave your contact information. Thank you.

'El Camino Real' - A Path Worn Through Time

by Jenny Barden

This picture sums up what is left of el Camino Real: stones disappearing into the undergrowth, lost in darkness, veiled by forest mist. Very little remains, but what does conjures up the shadows of the pack trains that used to traverse this vital road across Panama, bringing bullion from the mines of South America from the Pacific side of the isthmus to the Caribbean by the quickest overland route. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, el Camino Real, 'the Royal Road', bore the riches that helped sustain the might of the Spanish Empire and its domination in Europe. It stretched from the city of Panama in the south, across mountains and through rainforest, to Nombre de Dios in the north. Over the stones once laid by some 4000 native slaves under the command of Gaspar de Espinosa in 1517-9, pack trains in convoys, often of two or three together totalling some 200 mules or more, would walk, plod, climb and struggle over this path until their hooves wore hollows that can still be seen in places today.

The road was never easy. It was only just over sixty miles in length, yet it passed through thick forest and vegetation that proliferated so rapidly the road was in constant need of repair. In the rainy season it became impassable because of the many rivers that had to be forded which turned into torrents once swollen by tropical storms, and even without rain (as I know only too well from experience) the high humidity would soon leave the clothes of any traveller completely saturated. Those who took the Royal Road had to contend with mosquitoes that carried malaria and yellow fever, and up in the mountains, where drops were precipitous, when a mule lost its footing it would be gone for ever. There were other dangers too: the risk of ambush by Cimaroons - bands of runaway African slaves - and towards the end of the sixteenth century there was the very real threat of pirate attack.

Chris Haslam noted some of the hazards in his article 'The World's Wildest Walk' for the Sunday Times*: 'Some 300ft below, the Nombre de Dios river roars through unseen cataracts, a constant reminder of where you end up if you fall. And falling is a constant possibility. The problem is that if you slip, you need to grab something to stop you falling, and if you grab something it will either bite you, spike you or try to tear your hand off. Scorpions, tarantulas and lethal bullet ants lurk in the leaf litter. Deadly eyelash vipers and enormous fer-de-lances lie disguised as branches and roots, and even the flora threatens armed response. Thorns, hooks and barbs shred clothes and skin, causing wounds that go septic in hours, and peaceful looking leaves cause cruel and unusual burns. It's hard enough hauling a rucksack around here: imagine driving a stolen mule train.'

Francis Drake was the first Englishman to realise the vulnerability of the Spanish bullion supply while it was in transit over the Royal Road, and after several raids along the coast and attacks on shipping for little gain, many setbacks and a thwarted attempt to ambush the 'Silver Train' (as the bullion pack trains were called), he finally achieved a remarkable victory in April 1573 by capturing a convoy carrying almost 30 tons in silver and over half a ton in gold.**

This was Drake's first great enterprise: the triumph that began his meteoric rise to fame, fortune and a place in English history books.

After that attack, the Spanish began to store their treasure at Puerto Bello to the west of Nombre de Dios. (Drake later died of dysentery near Puerto Bello after a failed expedition to raid the City of Panama; he is buried at sea in the bay)
The Camino Real and its offshoot connecting the Chagres river with the City of Panama: el Camino a Cruces (part of which still survives as Las Cruces Trail) continued to be used to carry bullion north and merchandise south for another two hundred years. In 1671 the buccaneer Henry Morgan used Las Cruces trail to reach the old city of Panama which he then looted and burned to the ground, and in the nineteenth century prospectors used the trail to cross the isthmus on their way to join the gold rush in California. The trail finally came to an end with the construction of the Panama Railroad in 1855. The railway reduced the time needed to cross the isthmus from a minimum of three days, and sometimes several weeks, to only an hour.

With the opening of the Panama Canal in 1914 most of the old road was lost forever, flooded by the damming of the Chagres to form Lake Gatun and by the Madden Dam behind which Lake Alajuela now covers a large part of the old trail. The development of Panama City as a metropolis has obliterated much more, and the forest and rivers have swallowed up the rest. There are only a few traces left of the highway that once played such an important part in the history of world affairs, but here is one: the Puente del Matadero in Panama la Vieja - the bridge over which Camino a Cruces began.

If you look under this bridge, you can see the channels worn in the stones by the rush of the tide over nearly five hundred years.

There's a very good website about the Camino Real here:

Michael Turner of the Drake Exploration Society describes the route Drake took to reach both the failed ambush and his successful attack near Nombre de Dios in his book In Drake's Wake: the early Voyages. I gather he's planning another route march across the isthmus this coming February...

My debut novel, Mistress of the Sea, is set against the backdrop of Drake's attack on the Silver Train along the Camino Real. The book will be published by Ebury Press and launched this Thursday, 30 August 2012. It will be released first in hardback with the paperback to follow.

The book is available for pre-order here:

** There's a piece about how Drake and his men got away with the haul on the EHFA site here: 'Carrying Away the Booty' - Drake's attack on the Spanish 'Silver Train'

* Chris Haslam's article appeared in the Sunday Times 03.09.2006

All pictures taken by the author. Map drawn by the author. ©JennyBarden

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Faversham, Kent

             Faversham is a fascinating port town in Kent.  Some years ago, my husband and I had the pleasure of attending the Hop Festival there, and the town appears in my work in progress.  It’s a lovely town, compact and walkable.   Its known history goes back to before 811, and was known to be settled by the Romans, among others attracted by its location. 

The mouth of Faversham Creek

              Part of the ancient royal demesne, Faversham is mentioned in the Domesday Book, and it also possesses an early Cinque Ports charter (considered to be the oldest in existence) and was linked to Dover.   King Stephen founded Faversham Abbey in 1147, and was subsequently buried there with his wife, Matilda, and son, Eustace.  The abbey was dissolved by Henry VIII, and nothing remains but ruins.  The beautiful parish church, St. Mary of Charity, still remains.
The ruins of Faversham Abbey by Stukeley 1722

As a port city, Faversham had a customs house and fishing was an important industry.  (The oyster beds were particularly important.)  The town has an association with medieval queens, and a fascinating history.  Queen Elizabeth I endowed a grammar school here.  However, I am going to focus on a specific point of interest: gunpowder.
                Advances in weaponry and military activity created a need for gunpowder, and Faversham was peculiarly suited to meet this need.   The ingredients for gunpowder, especially charcoal and sulpher, were readily available.  The site was perfect for factories, with a stream for watermills, and the continent was easily accessible from the port.  The earliest gunpowder works was established in the 16th century.  The original small factories were joined together as the Home Works. 
Home Works was ultimately nationalized by the British government in 1759.  Another factory, Oare Works, had been built very nearby in Davington parish in Kent in the 1680’s.  A third factory, Marsh Works, was built by the government in 1787.  These mills provided gunpowder to the East India Company and the military, furthering the war and expansion efforts.  It is interesting to think of the powder from these factories possibly being used by Nelson’s ships at the Battle of Trafalgar, and by Wellington’s troops at Waterloo!
Gunpowder from these factories was also used for blasting for canals and tunnels (especially important for railway expansion).  These plants continued in operation, and produced explosives during World War I.  In 1916, a horrible explosion killed over 100 employees.  In 1934, the gunpowder factories were closed due to fears that the area would be vulnerable to invasion or attack if war with Germany was declared. 

The site of Home Works was  redeveloped in the 1960’s except for Chart Gunpowder Mill, which is an historic site.  The Marsh Works became a site for  mineral extraction which is still in operation.  Oare Works is a county park, featuring conserved process houses, trails and a visitor center.
Chart Gunpowder Mill-Mill Wheels
Percival, Arthur.  OLD FAVERSHAM.  1988: Meresborough Books, Rainham, Kent, UK.
Turcan, Robert.  FAVERSHAM THROUGH TIME.  2010: Amberley Publishing PLlc, Stroud, Gloucestershire, UK.
British History Online. The Parish and Town of Faversham.  (From THE HISTORY AND TOPOGRAPHICAL SURVEY OF THE COUNTY OF KENT , Vol. 6 by Edward Hasted, 1798.)
Kentfind.Co.UK website.  History of Faversham.  (No author or date shown.)

Photographs from Wikimedia Commons.

Lauren Gilbert lives in Florida, and is the author of HEYERWOOD: A Novel. 

Friday, August 24, 2012

Owen Tudor: A Right Royal Revenge

by Anne O'Brien

Owen Tudor was the famous - or infamous - second husband of Katherine de Valois.  Technically their marriage, although never questioned for its authenticity, went against the statute passed by parliament in 1428 because of the possibility of Katherine making a politically unwise marriage with Edmund Beaufort.  Katherine as Queen-Dowager and Queen Mother must not marry anyone considered 'unsuitable.'  She was ordered to live in the  king - her young son's - household, and gain his permission if she ever wished to remarry.  Since her son Henry VI was a child of 10 years at the time, it was understood that Katherine would receive no such permission for at least another 5 years.

This is Katherine in a 19th century romantic portrait by Alma Tadema from a series of Shakespearian heroines.  She does not have the traditional fair hair of Katherine but the portrait has great charm, showing her to be youthful and unsophisticated, which she was.

Katherine and Owen married - perhaps in 1430 - without royal consent.  This is purported to be a portrait of Owen.  I doubt that it is contemporary, emblazoned as it is with heraldry.

Katherine was considered to have married far below her station since tradition says that Owen was Master of the Queen's Household.  If this was true, then he was a mere servant.  Even more shocking, since he was Welsh, his rights were not recognised in English law because of Owain Glyn Dwr's rebellion against Henry IV.  This portrait seems to me to be the product of hindsight, to prove his importance when his grandson became Henry VII.  Owen here is hardly the flamboyant, romantic hero of popular history with whom Katherine fell madly in love.

It was obviously not a popular marriage but Owen was untouchable during Katherine's lifetime.  If the Royal Council took action against them, it would simply create a scandal around the Queen-Dowager which they were keen to avoid.  Owen was actually given letters of denizenship to allow him English rights before the law.  Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, uncle to the young king and brother to Henry V, never forgave Owen for his presumption in marrying the Queen, and simply bided his time.

This is a sketch of Humphrey of Gloucester.  I think he was not an admirable character and history does not remember him with any kindness.

As soon as Katherine was dead in 1431, Gloucester set out for revenge.  It became a cat and mouse story, Gloucester intent on punishment, Owen equally intent on proclaiming his innocence.  Gloucester summoned Owen to London to appear before the Royal Council under a safe conduct.   Wisely, Owen sought sanctuary at Westminster.  Although no action could be taken against him, for their was no evidence of any guilt of any crime, Owen was arrested and incarcerated in Newgate prison.  Managing to escape, he was recaptured and returned to Newgate before being transferred to Windsor in1438 where he was kept under lock and key for at least a year, before finally receiving a pardon for all offences.  Gloucester had been thwarted.

Owen might have remained reconciled with the Lancastrian court but the Wars of the Roses put him once again in danger.  After the battle of Mortimer's Cross, where his son Jasper's Lancastrian army was defeated by Edward, Earl of March, Owen was taken prisoner by the Yorkists.  This stone marks the site of the battle some miles north of Hereford.

Owen was beheaded in Hereford.  His head was placed on the base of the market cross in the High Street, where it is said that 'a madde woman' combed his hair and washed away the blood from his face, and then set 100 candles about his head.  Owen, because of his royal connections, did not expect to die.  When he realised that this would be his fate, moments before his execution he is recorded as saying 'that head shall lye on the stock that was wont to lye on Queen Katherine's lap.'

A sad end.  This is the stone that marks the place of Owen's execution in Hereford High Street.  It is hardly remarkable and most shoppers walk over it without noticing that it is there.


Owen's body was taken to be buried in the chapel of the Greyfriars Church in Hereford.  Unfortunately Greyfriars suffered badly at the Dissolution, the building was demolished and the land sold off for other purposes.  There is no lasting race of Owen Tudor today.  The only record of the site of the Greyfriars is the name of the modern bridge over the River Wye and in this blue plaque on the site of the old gate. 

Excavations were made where the church would have been in the early 20th century, which discovered 3 skeletons, one of them a man of 6 feet 3 inches tall, but there was no evidence that they were the remains of Owen Tudor, once husband of the Queen of England.  So all trace of Owen has vanished.

Perhaps in the light of Owen's importance to the future Tudor dynasty, Hereford should make more of an effort to celebrate its historic connections.  Perhaps I should begin a campaign ...

My novel of Katherine de Valois (no title decided yet) will be released in 2013.
To keep up to date, do visit my website:

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Romancing the Book

By Anne Clinard Barnhill

     I'll be the first to admit to being old-fashioned.  Though I own a Kindle, I have only read two books on the device, preferring to use the machine to vanquish the green, bubble-headed pigs in the ever-challenging Angry Birds game. No, I prefer my books in my hands, their smooth covers calming me as I stroke them back and forth, back and forth with my thumbs.  After observing myself in process, I realize I seduce my books, come to them gently and in stages, before devouring them.

     First, there are the shy, furtive glances.  A new book arrives and I glance at it, then look away. Once more, my eyes are drawn to the cover--the colors, the shapes first; then, the words in the title and the author's name.  I may stop there, wait a half a day or even longer before proceeding.  After exactly the right amount of time has passed (after all, I'm a good judge of those lapses; I've uncovered many a book and know just the moment to make my next move), I look again, from lowered lids, a sneak-peek at the back cover.  I do not yet read the blurbs; instead, I see the size of them, the shape.  Are they thick, chunky paragraphs or ethereal wisps of dreamy sentences?  Who wrote the blurbs?  Do I know the work from the blurb-writers?  What do their names look like, trailing across the page?

     I put the book down again, move on to some other pleasure.  I must make several approaches to the pages before the game begins.  Next time around, I'll read the blurbs and allow myself to be impressed.  After all, it's like meeting the book's friends and I want to like them and for them to like me.

     Perhaps a day has passed; perhaps a mere hour, though usually such a pace is beyond me these days.  I want to savor the anticipation as much as the act itself.  Slowly, I pick the book up again, caressing the spine, rubbing my fingertips across the thickness of the pages.  I am especially excited if the paper edges are rough, torn.  There seems such promise there.

Then, I  open the book to investigate what it will allow--the front jacket summary, the back jacket 'about the author.'  I  may read these things more than once, fitting the story on my tongue and licking up facts about the writer to see what I might learn, to use for later, afterward.  I then move on, if I'm bold enough, to read the acknowledgements and the Q&A, the discussion questions.  I can hear the pages as I turn them, a sort of music that hums through me, setting my bones to vibrate.  But again, I put the book down.

     I supposed I have, as a younger woman, just jumped right into a book, careless of its sensitivity, clumsy in my yearning.  But now, timing is everything and taking my time is its own pleasure. 

     Finally, the moment comes when I am ready to begin reading.  My fingers have already learned the shape of the book in my hand, the heft of it.  I know its smell and its look.  I am ready, now.  And, several days later, as I turn the last pages, I will know why I must approach the book with awe, with reverence.  I will know the secret the book had to give me, just me, and I will hold it in my hands.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

A Seer, A Prophet, or a Witch?

Sandra Byrd

"And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams..." Acts 2:17 King James Version

Six women in the Bible are expressly stated as possessing the title of prophetess: Miriam, Deborah, Huldah, Noahdiah and Isaiah's wife.  Philip is mentioned in Acts as having four daughters who prophesied, which brings the number of known prophetesses to ten.  There is no reason to believe that there weren't thousands more, undocumented  throughout history, then and now.  According to religious tradition, women have often been powerful seers and that is why I've included them in my novel: The Secret Keeper: A Novel of Kateryn Parr.

Hildegard of Bingen
Hundreds of years before the renaissance, which would bring about improved education for women, Saint Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179) wrote medicinal texts and composed music. She also oversaw the illumination of many manuscripts and wrote lengthy theological treatises.  But what she is best known for, and was beatified for, were her visions.

Hildegard said that she first saw "The Shade of the Living Light" at the age of three, and by the age of five she began to understand that she was experiencing visions. In her forties she was instructed by God to write them down. She said, "I set my hand to the writing. While I was doing it, I sensed, as I mentioned before, the deep profundity of scriptural exposition... I spoke and wrote these things not by the invention of my heart or that of any other person, but as by the secret mysteries of God I heard and received them in the heavenly places. And again I heard a voice from Heaven saying to me, 'Cry out therefore, and write thus!'"

Spiritual gifting is not given for the edification of the person receiving it, but for the church at large.  Hildegard wrote three volumes of her mystical visions, and then biblically exegeted them herself.  Her theology was not, as one might expect, shunned by the church establishment of the time, but instead Pope Eugenius III gave her work his approval and she was published in Paris in 1513.

Several centuries later, Julian of Norwich continued Hildegard's tradition as a seer, a mystic, and a writer.  In her early thirties, Julian had a series of visions which she claimed came from Jesus Christ.  In them, she felt His deep love and had a desire to transmit that He desired to be known as a God of joy and compassion and not duty and judgment.  Her book, Revelations of Divine Love, is said to be the first book written in the English language by a woman.   She was well known as a mystic and a spiritual director by both men and women. The message of love and joy that she delivered is still celebrated today; she has feast days in the Roman Catholic, Anglican, and Lutheran traditions.

Julian of Norwich
It had been for good cause that Hildegard and Julian kept their visions to themselves for a time. Visions were not widely accepted by society as a whole, and women in particular were often accused of witchcraft.  This risk was perhaps an even stronger danger in sixteenth and seventeenth century England when "witch hunts" were common.  While there is no doubt that there was a real and legitimate practice of witchcraft occurring in some places, the fear of it whipped up suspicion where no actual witchcraft was found.  Henry the VIII, after imprisoning Anne Boleyn, proclaimed to his  illegitimate son, among others, that they were all lucky to have escaped Anne's witchcraft.  The evidence? So obviously bewitching him away from his "good" judgment. 

In that century, the smallest sign, imagined or not, could be used to indict a "witch".  A gift handling herbs? Witchcraft. An unrestrained tongue? Witchcraft.  Floating rather than sinking when placed in a body of water when accused of witchcraft and therefore tested? Guilty for sure.  Women with "suspicious" spiritual gifts, including dreams and visions, had to be particularly careful.  And yet they, like Hildegard and Julian before them, had been given just such a gift to share with others.  And share they must.

Execution of Alleged
Witches, 1587
One women in the court of Queen Kateryn Parr is strongly believed to have had a gift of prophecy. Her name was Anne Calthorpe, the Countess of Sussex.  One source possibly hinting at such a gift can be found at Kathy Emerson's terrific webpage of Tudor women:   Emerson says that Calthorpe, "was at court when Katherine Parr was queen and shared her evangelical beliefs.  Along with other ladies at court, she was implicated in the heresy of Anne Askew.  In 1549 she was examined by a commission "for errors in scripture"  and  that "the Privy Council imprisoned two men, Hartlepoole and Clarke, for "lewd prophesies and other slanderous matters" touching the king and the council. Hartlepoole's wife and the countess of Sussex were jailed as "a lesson to beware of sorcery."

According to religious tradition women have often had very active prophetic gifts; we are mystical, engaging, and intuitive.  I admire our sisters throughout history who actively, risk-takingly, used their intellectual and spiritual gifts with whatever power they had at hand.

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

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Pursuit of the Picturesque

by M.M. Bennetts

Eh?  The picturesque?  What's that twaddle, you say?  Let me explain...

The Oxford English Dictionary defines picturesque as "like or having the elements of a picture; fit to be the subject of a striking or effective picture; possessing pleasing or interesting qualities of form and colour (but not implying the highest beauty or sublimity): said of landscapes, buildings..."  

Furthermore, the OED tells us that the word didn't enter the English language until 1703 (which is quite late). But by the mid-18th century, the Picturesque was well on its way to being all the rage, and the concept would hold British society rapt until well into the 1830's...which is a very long time for matters of taste and style.  

The whole concept can be traced--sort of--to the Italian landscape paintings of Claude Lorrain, Salvator Rosa and Nicolas Poussin--these same painters who were so influential in formulating the ideal of English Landscape Gardening. Yet these painters and their works also wholly engaged the imaginations of two 18th century British poets, James Thomson (1700-1748) and John Dyer (1699-1757).  

It may seem hard to believe, but before these two, poetry just wasn't about nature.  It didn't extol the beauties of nature, and the idea of poetically rendering the sights, scents or colours of the natural world--well, you can just forget that.  

But these two changed all that--these men were landscape painters in verse, displaying all the delights of sunrises and sunsets and panoramic views as much as if they'd been daubing oils on canvas.  

And this change in poetic emphasis and vision played into the 18th century Enlightenment ideal of the purity and goodness of the natural world as extolled by authors such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau.  Which in turn fed into the nascent Romantic movement and the works of William Wordsworth and Samuel Coleridge Taylor.  

Hence nature, once just there and untameable, was now viewed as if it might be an infinite sequence of subjects that would make up "a striking or effective picture" with paint, poetry, or in the case of the landscape gardeners, plants and 'picturesque' ruins.

Here's Wordsworth's offering from Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey (written July 1798).

  ...Once again
Do I behold these steep and lofty cliffs,
That on a wild secluded scene impress
Thoughts of more deep seclusion; and connect
The landscape with the quiet of the sky.
The day is come when I again repose
Here, under this dark sycamore, and view
These plots of cottage ground, these orchard tufts,
Which at this season, with their unripe fruits,
Are clad in one green hue, and lose themselves
'Mid groves and copses. Once again I see
These hedgerows, hardly hedgerows, little lines
Of sportive wood run wild; these pastoral farms,
Green to the very door; and wreaths of smoke
Sent up, in silence, from among the trees!

And reading about it, reciting it, viewing the paintings of these landscape painters, all encouraged the 18th century population to look at nature and to embrace the landscape with an artistic eye and a new-found sense of gusto.  

So what do they do?  They start touring the country like mad...some visit the many famous landscape gardens, some make walking tours of the Lake District, Wales was popular too, and some travel farther to see the beauties of Scotland as did Dr. Johnson. 

Obviously, it's not just the landscape of Great Britain which has travellers so entranced--up until 1789, the beauties of France, Italy and Greece are well within the well-heeled tourists' reach.  But with the coming of the French Revolution in 1789, and France's rapid descent into turbulence and war, the natural wonders of the Continent cease to be viable destinations and the British travellers turn inward, their journeys confined to their own little island.  

Jane Austen writes of Elizabeth Bennet and her Aunt and Uncle Gardiner visiting the Peak District of Derbyshire--an activity many of her readers would have considered quite normal.  She likewise sends Anne Elliot down to Lyme Regis to visit the seaside and walk along the Cobb to view the seething grey waves of the Atlantic coast.  What are they doing? They are indulging in a very British pastime; they are--like everyone else of taste and discernment--indulging their passion for the picturesque.  

And so much a part of the English psyche was this hobby of seeking out the lofty peaks, cascades, cliffs, woods, ruined castles by midnight and other such scenic prospects, that beginning in 1809, William Combe and Thomas Rowlandson published a verse parody with pictures of the whole pastime in The Poetical Magazine, called The Tour of Dr. Syntax in search of the Picturesque.  

The verse story tells the tale of Dr. Syntax--a down-at-heel scarecrow of a curate and schoolmaster in a rusty black suit and scratch wig--who conceives of a trip round England.  Penny-pinched and hen-pecked, he aims to make money out of recording his experiences and the sights he encounters.  As Syntax describes his plan:

I’ll make a TOUR—and then I’ll WRITE IT.
You well know what my pen can do,
And I’ll employ my pencil too:—
I’ll ride and write, and sketch and print,
And thus create a real mint;
I’ll prose it here, I’ll verse it there,
And picturesque it ev’ry where.
I’ll do what all have done before;
I think I shall—and somewhat more...

Syntax's subsequent adventures bumbling through the English countryside on Grizzle, his equally dubious horse, make Don Quixote look like James Bond.  The illustrated comic poem was a runaway success.

Still, even amidst the well-aimed mockery, the fashion for the picturesque was far from running its course.  On the contrary.  The new generation of Romantic poets--Keats, Scott, Shelley and Byron--were busily adding to the picturesque canon in poetry.

And the new star of the artistic firmament, J.M.W. Turner, capitalised on the craze, embarks on painting a series of commissioned watercolours for "Picturesque Views of the Southern Coast of England (completed in 1826).  In 1818, he was again commissioned to paint a series of watercolours of Italian subjects for "A Picturesque Tour in Italy".

Still later, from 1827-1838, he painted another 96 views for "Picturesque Views in England and Wales".  And all of the above were turned into engravings, which sold in their thousands--making Turner a very rich man...though this last group of works really signalled the end of the dominance of the picturesque.

Britain had a new, young queen, and, it would seem, a new outlook.  Wordsworth, Coleridge, Keats, and Rowlandson were old hat, remembrances of a bygone age.  So at last, the craze that had captivated generations was at an end...

(Except, of course, we're still at it...Just ask to see the visitor numbers of the National Trust or English Heritage...)

M.M. Bennetts is a specialist in early 19th century British history and the Napoleonic wars, as well as the author of two novels set in the period:  May 1812 and Of Honest Fame.  For further information please visit