Thursday, January 31, 2013

SOME LIKED IT HOT! Cooking Curry in Jane Austen's Time

by Lauren Gilbert

On my first trip to England, one of the first things I wanted to try was Indian food, particularly curry.  I used to think that trying spicy food from other places was a modern taste, and it was not a concept that I associated with typical English cuisine of Jane Austen’s time.  However, history proves me wrong.  Cookbooks and recipes from the 18th and 19th centuries show that flavorful food was important, and herbs and seasonings were as important to cooks then as they are today.  Trade and colonies yielded new seasonings and tastes.   Travellers and immigrants had brought different seasonings and dishes into England, as did returning soldiers, sailors and traders.  Spices, especially pepper, at different times were an exchange item, valued as money.  Clearly, strong, distinct, spicy flavors had been incorporated into the culinary landscape, and hot seasoning was a part of that.  I had intended to present a broad overview of the use of herbs and spices in cooking during Jane Austen’s day.  However, I was distracted by Martha Lloyd’s curry recipes, so today our focus will be curry in Jane Austen’s time.
           There is a perception that the popularity of spices in earlier times was based at least in part on their value as preservatives, which is actually not correct.  It was driven by flavor and medicinal values.  Lack of refrigeration resulted in the “high” (tainted) flavor of meat, fish and poultries, so seasonings were used to disguise the taste.  (Spices were not effective as preservatives, and were too expensive to use in a quantity required for preserving, the way salt is used).  Cubeb and cayenne are both hot and spicy, and are listed in Culpeper (which indicates they could be grown in England). Uses of sauces and strong tastes, such as nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon etc. produced complex, sophisticated flavors that appealed to the wealthy.  When combined with the supposed medicinal values (hot spicy seasoning balanced cool moist humours of meat and fish), we can see how the desire for spices grew.
            Before 13th century, the taste for spice came back with the crusaders. Originally, the spice trade was controlled by the Arabs in the Middle East, but the Dutch and Portuguese became competitors, with the Dutch ultimately assuming control.   In order to participate in (and to try to ultimately control) the spice trade, the British East India Company was formed in 1600 to compete with the Dutch.  In 1608, the British East India Company established its first base in India, and, for the first time, Britain had access to spices that were not controlled by the Dutch.  Spice trade was driven by the craving for varied and exotic tastes as well as the medicinal values of various spices (spice was the first globally-traded commodity, one of the first pushes to globalization).  It is interesting to note that hot peppers (capsicum-cayenne peppers) were introduced into Asia by European traders after they were found in the New World (the name “Indian peppers” relates to the New World, not India).  English traders began to settle in India in the early 1600’s. 
           Indian seasonings gained increasing popularity in England as their flavors were brought with returnees from India who desired to recreate flavors they had come to enjoy, and shared them.  The cost of spices remained high in spite of English control of spice trade-almost constant warfare disrupted trade and consequently affected cost and availability.  There is disagreement on the origin of the word “curry”, but it was applied to Indian dishes with spiced sauces by the English in the 17th century.  The Hindostanee Coffee House was opened by Dean Mahomed in London in 1809, advertising Indian dishes better than any curries made in England before. (Hookah pipes could also be smoked there.)  Although Mr. Mahomed went bankrupt in 3 years (people did not dine out then as commonly as now), this restaurant remained open for some years under various owners.  Popularity spread to middle classes, in spite of cost.  (Note that the cachet of spices lessened somewhat as their perceived medicinal value declined due to improved modern medical knowledge, a loss of status which may have resulted in a slightly reduced monetary value that may have allowed them to be a bit more easily purchased by other than the wealthy classes. However the cost did not reflect any significant decline during the Georgian era, thanks to war, blockades and piracy.)  
          Curry was an established element of English cooking in the Georgian era.  In the 1st edition of of Hannah Glasse’s THE ART OF COOKERY MADE PLAIN AND EASY, she included a recipe for “Fowle Rabbit Currey” in which rabbit is stewed with rice flour (thickener), coriander seeds and black peppercorns, which would have been very mild (in the 4th edition, ginger and turmeric are included).  Hannah Glasse’s original recipe may have been one of the earliest examples of changing a recipe to suit a different population’s taste.  The 1774 new edition contains a recipe for “To make a currey the Indian way” (chicken with turmeric, ginger, salt and pepper) and for “A Pellew the Indian Way” (rice pilau with pepper, mace and cloves) on page 101.  
           John Mollard’s THE ART OF COOKERY Made Easy and Refined, 2nd edition had a recipe for “currie” (curried chicken) on page 81, referring to 2 T of “currie powder”, and cayenne pepper to taste, which seems to indicate an increasing fondness for the Indian spices and for heat.  There is also a “Currie of lobster” on page 83 and “A Peloe of rice” (pilau of rice) on page 95, while on page 254 there is a recipe for Currie (Pepper Water) which is apparently a version of what became known as Mulligatawny Soup.  Available information indicates that curry powders were widely known and subject to individual tastes; recipes for curry powder were highly variable.
           Curry is mentioned in Martha Lloyd’s household book: curry powder, curry soup, curried chicken. Martha was Jane Austen's friend, and lived with Jane, her mother and sister, before she finally married Jane's brother Francis.  It is safe to assume Jane Austen would have had curry dishes.  Note that Martha mentions use of cayenne and black pepper “to your taste...” so it seems evident that the heat level was a personal matter even then.  Martha’s recipe for curry powder contains turmeric, galangal (a ginger relative), cayenne pepper and rice flour.  (The use of few spices could be a matter of taste or a matter of cost, or elements of both.)   I made it up and used it in a dish similar to “A Receipt to Curry after the Indian Manner” from THE JANE AUSTEN COOKBOOK.  It is very mild, and has a nice flavor, perfect for someone who has never tried curry or for someone who doesn’t care for a strong or pungent curry.  The flavor could be deepened by increasing the turmeric and/or galangal, or by adding other Indian spices, such as cumin, coriander, or other spices.  One source indicated the rice powder would be a thickener of the sauce but I noticed very little thickening effect.  
           Curry maintained its popularity through the 19th century, coming to a peak in Victoria’s reign.  It declined in the early 20th century, but has become a staple of British cuisine again.  While the flavors may be somewhat different than those with which Jane Austen and her family may have been familiar, the concept and the spices combined to make curry would not be foreign to her.

Black,Maggie & Le Faye, Deirdre.  THE JANE AUSTEN COOKBOOK.  1995 : McClelland & Stewart Ltd., Toronto, Canada. 
Hickman, Peggy.  A JANE AUSTEN HOUSEHOLD BOOK with Martha Lloyd’s recipes.  1977: David & Charles Inc., North Pomfret, Vermont.
Tannahill, Reay.  Food in History.  1988, 1973: Three Rivers Press, New York, New York. THE ART OF COOKERY Made Easy and Refined.  By John Mollard.  2nd edition, 1802.  THE ART OF COOKERY MADE PLAIN AND EASY.  By Hannah Glasse.  A new edition, 1784.
A History of Curry.  (Undated, no author shown.)
BBC News Magazine.  “How Britain got the hots for curry”, by Rumeana Jahangir.  (Page last updated 11/26/2009) 
National Bureau of Economic Research website.   “The Worldwide economic impact of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars”  by Kevin H. O’Rourke.  May 2005.  Dept. of Economics and IIIS, Trinity College, Dublin, and CPER and NBER.
The Curry House Online.  “A History of Curry” by David W. Smith, 2012.
The East India Company website.  “East India Company Timeline”. Undated and no author shown.
 YaleGlobal Online.  “SPICES: How the Search for Flavors Influenced Our World” by Paul Freedman, posted March 11, 2003.

Lauren Gilbert lives in Florida with her husband, who has actually eaten and survived vindaloo curry.  She is the author of HEYERWOOD: A Novel, her first published book.  Her second novel is due out later this year.  Visit!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

A Different Sort of Perfect by Vivian Roycroft

Vivian Roycroft is giving away a copy of her novel, A Different Sort of Perfect. You can read about the book HERE. You will be prompted to return to this post to enter by commenting below. Please be sure to leave your contact information.

Monday, January 28, 2013

The Tribulations of Publication in the Eighteenth Century

For aspiring authors, nothing much has changed, by Diane Scott Lewis

Firstly, the Georgian author would struggle to find a publisher. Aspiring authors sought these prestigious men—for you’d be hard-pressed to find a lowly woman with their feeble brains in this profession—at the many booksellers’ shops that huddled in the shadow of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. They would cart their precious manuscript to the Chapter Coffee House in Paternoster Row, where several stationers, booksellers and printers conducted their business.

If you lived in the provinces, too far from London, you had to use the postal service. The author would choose a bookseller, often after local advice, whose imprint he’d seen in newspaper advertisements or on a book’s title page. 

In 1759, Laurence Sterne, an obscure cleric in York, sent his unsolicited manuscript of Tristram Shandy to Robert Dodsley on the recommendation of John Hinxman, a York bookseller.Sterne’s accompanying letter assured the publisher that his book had both literary and commercial value. 

Dodsley wasn’t impressed. He refused to pay the £50 Sterne requested for the copyright. The novel was rejected by a few publishers, but eventually achieved critical acclaim.

Whether the author approached a bookseller or used the post, his reception was usually quite chilly.
The arrogance of the bookseller was a common grievance among novelists, as depicted in Thomas Rowlandson’s drawing of 1780-84. 

Though booksellers like Edmund Curll abused their position and their writers, many in this profession were honest and prudent men. They bore the burden of publication and profit and were inundated with manuscripts, most of which had no commercial merit. The sheer volume of submissions made it hard for them to discriminate. Most stayed with established figures rather than risk their money on an unknown author.
The hapless writer often resorted to appealing to the publisher’s personal interests, such as politics, religion, children’s literature or poetry. The astute author needed to research whom he’d submit to.

From the booksellers’ perspective, the letters Robert Dodsley received over thirty years showed authors as exacting and demanding in their requests, extolling their works as the perfect creations whose publication was eagerly awaited by the entire world, and they would "allow them to pass through his firm."

Aware of the fragile ego and financial status of writers, a few booksellers formed literary circles where authors could slake their thirst with food, alcohol and conversation. Brothers Charles and Edward Dilly, who published Boswell’s Life of Johnson, were famous for their literary dinners.

When an author approached a bookseller, he could also verify the merit of his work if he found a famous author who would publicly endorse it. Dodsley’s literary career was promoted by Daniel Defoe. Despite bickering and competition, brother writers stood together to brace one another up in this risky endeavor.

Literary patronage—via a rich gentleman or the Court—was another way for an author to find publication, though this was fading by this century. Still, some thought of patronage as prostitution. Poet Charles Churchill proclaimed: "Gentlemen kept a bard, just as they keep a whore."

Subscription was another way to secure publication: collect pre-payments for a book not yet published. Dr. Johnson organized many subscriptions for unknown writers that he admired. He wasn’t always successful.

Constant rejection drove several authors to self-publish their works, which mirrors the Indie authors we have today. The uncertain road to publication over two hundred years ago seems much the same as the present.

Information garnered from: The Pleasures of the Imagination, English Culture in the Eighteenth Century, by John Brewer, 1997.
To see my extensive research into the eighteenth century, read my historical adventure set in England during the French Revolution: Betrayed Countess, available from Amazon.

Purchase Betrayed Countess
Visit my website for more info on my historical novels.


Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Power of a Red Dress ...

by Anne O'Brien

Red, the colour of festivity and enjoyment, the colour of youth and beauty.  Of seduction.  The colour of sin ...

Red is not a colour I ever wear, but I can see its attraction, and it was highly popular with women in the Middle Ages.

Geoffrey Chaucer in his Canterbury Tales tells of the Wife of Bath, an energetic and dominant woman said to be based on Alice Perrers, although she had five husbands, unlike Alice.

The Wife tells the tale in her Prologue of her life with her fifth husband.  And most notably the impact of her Red Dress.

Here she goes:

My fifth and last - God keep his soul in health!
The one I took for love and not for wealth,
Had been at Oxford not so long before
but had left school and gone to lodge next door.
Yes, it was to my godmother's he'd gone,
God bless her soul!  Her name was Alison.
She knew my heart and more of what I thought
Than did the parish priest, and so she ought!

Does this suggest that her fifth husband was a much younger man, recently out of his training?  Perhaps it does.  This is what happened:

And so one time it happened that in Lent,
As I so often did, I rose and went
To see her (Alison), ever wanting to be gay
and go a-strolling, March, April and May,
From house to house for chat and village malice.
Jenkin the clerk (from Oxford) and dame Alis
And I myself into the fields we went.
My husband was in London all that Lent;
All the more fun for me ...

So our Wife of Bath, it would seen, was still wed to husband number four while dallying with number five.  But where did the Red Dress figure?

And so I made a round of visitations,
Went to processions, festivals, orations,
Preachments and pilgrimages, watched the carriages 
They used for plays and pageants, went to marriages,
And always wore my gayest scarlet dress.

Which sounds innocent enough, until our lively lady adds this cautionary note about her favourite item of clothing:

These worms, these moths, these mites, I must confess
Got little chance to eat it, by the way,
Why not?  Because I wore it every day.

Ah, but did scarlet denote our colour red?  The name scarlet derives from the Latin scarlata for 'fine cloth' and that again from the Persian saqirlat.  Scarlet cloth was produced in red, white, green, blue and brown colours among others, although the most common colour was carmine red.

I would wager that our Wife of Bath had a carmine red dress rather than one of green or brown for her lengthy festivities.

And then as an after-thought to her marital situation:

When my fourth husband lay upon his bier,
I wept enough and made but sorry cheer,
As wives must always, for it's custom's grace,
And with my kerchief covered up my face,
But since I was provided with a mate (Jenkin)
I really wept but little, I may state.

And our Wife married the fortunate Jenkin.  I expect she wore her red frock for the occasion.  But it was not a happy marriage, with some violence between the pair, until she took her new husband in hand so that Jenkin finally says to her:

My own true wedded wife,
Do as you please the term of al your life.

A lady after my own heart.  Here is the Wife of Bath, with her hat as big as a buckler and her gap-toothed smile - denoting passion of course - and wearing red, on her way to Canterbury.

The illustrations here, showing the popularity of red frocks, are mostly taken from the Romance of the Rose.

So beware ladies if you decide to wear red.  Who knows what might be the end result.  Or perhaps this tale might just encourage you to buy that scarlet dress ...

Alice Perrers features in my present novel The King's Concubine.  My new novel, The Forbidden Queen, released in March 2013 in the UK, tells of a much gentler heroine, Katherine de VAlois.
To keep up to date with publication, events and signings do visit my Website and Facebook Page:

Saturday, January 26, 2013

When is Fiction Not Needed in Historical Fiction?

That is a question all authors of historical fiction face when choosing a time period or incident to write about.  Yes, the answer can vary, but so can the results and repercussions of the choice.

Generally, historical fiction can be broken down into 4 categories of choice regarding the amount of fiction involved. These run the gambit: history light, history interwoven, re-imagined and based upon a true story.

History light and history interwoven are perhaps the two easiest to distinguish. History light would include the old Harlequin or Silhouette romances along with paranormal, where history is just a flavoring to the story and not essential. History interwoven are stories when the characters seamlessly interact with the real people and society of the time.  The more tricky categories are the last two: re-imagined and based upon a true story.  Don’t confuse the two as being interrelated, because that isn’t necessarily the case.

Re-imagined or alternative takes history and people and re-arranges them in order to form a different outcome. Heavy fiction is used but tends to extrapolate the known facts with alternative theories and conclusions.  For example, Fatherland by Robert Harris written in 1992 is set in Europe after the Nazi victory. Some would consider Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand in this category of a re-imagined America.

Taking the re-imagined/alternative approach often generates the most backlash upon an author. History purists are usually appalled while speculators cheers. It requires a deft hand to craft a re-imagined story to satisfy both sides with facts and conjecture.

Based upon a true story can be a mind-field, especially if an author is dealing with recent history and some people involved are still alive.  Perhaps the best example of this deals with the Kennedy family. So many fiction and non-fiction books are floating out there about what some consider the ‘royal’ family of America.

Basing a story upon recent history, the author must be well-armed since legal ramifications are very possible when portraying individuals still living in a fictional account. Other incidents in history that are well documented can also generate problems for an author. Yes, writing fiction authors can – and often – claim creative license, but what is the purpose of writing a story based upon reality if not to bring it to life as it happened?

Many readers of historical fiction are history buffs and can smell a false representation a mile off. Sure, they can forgive if the story is engaging and well-written, but what about responsibility to those of whom the story is written? Again that is a conundrum facing authors of historical fiction – audience vs. history?

Such was the case for me when writing Glencoe. True, all the incidents happened in the late 1600s, but it is well documented and the repercussions still felt today. Personally, I felt my literary freedom balanced by the desire to correctly portray the events and people.

In the end, each author must choose the amount of fiction and history, and with the choice, face the results.

The Protestant Prince - James Scott, Duke of Monmouth, by Tim Vicary

This story, like so much of English history, begins with a love affair and ends on the chopping block. The love affair began in Holland, in 1648, where the eighteen year old Charles, Prince of Wales, was anxiously awaiting news of the trial for treason of his father, King Charles 1. The young prince, seeking a diversion from these grim matters, met a pretty girl from Wales, Lucy Walter. Like teenagers everywhere, they fell in love, with predictable results. On 9th April 1649, Lucy produced a son, whom they christened James.

By then, Lucy’s prince had become a king. King Charles 1 had been executed three months before, so the baby’s father was now King Charles II – although still exiled from his kingdom. Charles liked the baby, but his love for Lucy did not last. There were plenty of other girls in Holland, after all, and he was a young king with time on his hands. Lucy died in 1658, not particularly mourned by Charles. But he was fond of young James, whom he openly acknowledged as his royal bastard, first of many.
In 1660 Charles II was triumphantly restored to his throne, and two years later he invited his son to join him at court.  The thirteen year old boy was created Duke of Monmouth, and a year later was married to Ann Scott, the twelve-year old daughter of the Duke of Buccleuch. He adopted his wife’s surname, and was henceforth known as James Scott, Duke of Monmouth.
At this time it was perfectly clear what his status was – the beloved ‘natural son’ of the King. True, there were a few stories of how the young Charles, living in poverty in Holland, had once persuaded his threadbare courtiers to bow down before ‘Queen’ Lucy Walters, but no one took such tales as serious evidence that he’d actually married the girl. It was just play-acting, at a drunken party, in a foreign land, long ago. And besides, the wench was dead.
Anyway, Charles had a real wife. In 1662  he married Catherine of Braganza, a Portuguese princess. Catherine was 23, young and beautiful, Charles was virile, and everyone looked forward to the birth of a future Prince of Wales.
Charles was fond of his wife, but in his own way. Morals at his court were notoriously loose. He insisted, right from the start, that his mistress, Barbara Palmer, would be a lady of the Queen’s Bedchamber, and over the years he had many more mistresses, several of whom – like Nell Gwyn  - bore his children. But  unfortunately, Catherine did not. And so, as time passed, people began to wonder who might succeed Charles when he died. The obvious answer was his brother James.
But unfortunately, James was a Catholic. And that was unacceptable to many people in England. Parliament passed the Test Acts, insisting that all holders of public offices swear an oath to accept the doctrines of the Church of England – and the King, of course, was the head of that church.  James refused, so people began to look for an alternative. And their eyes fell upon another James – James Scott, Duke of Monmouth.
Young Monmouth wasn’t interested in religion. He was an energetic, hearty young man, interested in physical sports. Samuel Pepys described him as ‘the most leaping gallant, that I ever saw; always in action, vaulting, leaping or clambering.’ He was an excellent horseman who loved hunting. He loved dancing too, the one interest he shared with his wife, until - perhaps trying to keep up with his energetic leaps – she hurt her leg and became lame. But that didn’t matter to Monmouth, who, like his father, had several mistresses, with whom he had children.
He frequented brothels like his father, too, with scandalous results. Once, at a brothel called Whetstone Park, a watchman asked him and his companions – two other dukes – to keep the noise down.  Laughing, Monmouth gaily drew his sword and ran the man through, killing him. Even for Restoration England this murder of a law officer was a bit much, but the King didn’t mind. He granted:
‘A gracious pardon unto our dear son James, Duke of Monmouth, of all Murders, Homicides, and Felonies whatsoever at any time before the 28th day of February last past, committed either by himself alone, or together with any other person or persons.'
Amazingly, despite all this, the young Duke of Monmouth became a hero to – of all people – the English Puritans! Those who had once supported the ‘good old cause’ of Oliver Cromwell! Why? Well, partly because many people forgive sins a lord that they would never accept in their own family – why else is Charles II so popular? But also because Monmouth was, quite simply, a Protestant – and therefore better than his Catholic uncle James, whom they didn’t want as King at any price.
Also, like his father, Monmouth had the common touch – the ability to speak to ordinary people and make them like him. A bit like Prince Harry today, perhaps. Monmouth was a soldier too. He’d fought with reckless bravery in several campaigns in Holland, and in 1679 led the royal forces against a rebellion in Scotland. His victory was swift, decisive and merciful – only a few leaders being hanged, the rest transported to the West Indies.
So why did it all go wrong?  Put simply, it was because the Exclusionist Party – those who wanted to stop his uncle James from becoming king  – puffed up Monmouth to make him believe he was something he was not – the legitimate son and heir of Charles II. Lucy Waters and Charles had been married, they claimed; lost certificates in a Black Box would prove it. Vast crowds cheered Monmouth in the West Country. He even laid on hands to cure the King’s Evil. (Something only a King could do) The trouble was, nobody could find this Black Box, and the King resolutely denied the story:
‘I do here declare, in the presence of Almighty God, that I never was married nor gave any contract whatsoever but to my wife, Queen Catherine.’
If only Queen Catherine, like Charles’s mistresses, would have a son! But she didn’t. This annoyed the Duke of Buckingham so much that he urged the King to have her kidnapped and sent to Virginia. Then he could divorce her on the grounds of desertion and marry someone else. But unlike Henry VIII, Charles was loyal to his barren wife. He might have dozens of mistresses, but she was his Queen and that was how it was going to stay. Maybe one day, she might even get pregnant …
And then, quite suddenly, he died. His brother, Monmouth’s uncle, became King James II – the first openly Catholic monarch since Bloody Mary.
What was Monmouth to do? Well, rashly, bravely, he sailed from Holland with just three ships to claim the throne. He landed at Lyme Regis, and raised an army of Protestant clothworkers and artisans. ‘Fear Nothing But God’ his standard read – a motto that appealed to his sober, God-fearing followers. In Taunton he declared himself King – a little awkward, since his name, James, was the same as that of the other king, his uncle.
Did he expect to win? Well, yes, presumably. He hoped and believed that his friends, young nobles and soliders with whom he’d shared battlefields and brothels a-plenty, would ride in to join him with regiments of skilled, well-equipped cavalrymen.
But none did. And at the battle of Sedgemoor his brave, half-trained levies were slaughtered by well-trained professionals. Monmouth fled, but was captured in a field in Dorset, and dragged before his grim-faced, merciless uncle. Despite pleading on his knees for his life, he was beheaded on Tower Hill next day.
Would he have made a good king, if he’d won? Unlikely. He’d inherited his father’s love of women, horses, and wild adventures, but none of Charles II’s political skill and cunning. Lord Bruce described him as ‘most charming both as to his person and engaging behavior, a fine courtier, but of a most poor understanding as to cabinet and politics, and given up wholly to flatterers and knaves by consequence.’
That was why his wiser friends did not join him. He was being used by others for their own ends. The tale of Lucy Waters’ marriage and the Black Box was just that; a story his supporters had invented to suit themselves. They knew he wasn’t a real king, and his father knew that too. Once you break the principle of legitimacy, it’s hard to get it back. You’re not far from electing your rulers, and deposing those you don’t like. If Monmouth had become king, he’d have been in a shaky, uncertain position, challenged by critics on all sides. It had been hard enough for his father, and he was a real king.
James Scott was a handsome playboy, who gambled and lost. Not a Protestant prince after all.
Tim Vicary’s novel, The Monmouth Summer, is available on Amazon US and Amazon UK as an ebook and a paperback. You can read about his other books on his website and his blog. 

Thursday, January 24, 2013

A Medieval French Praise Song

From the eleventh century on, writers have disagreed as to what actually happened at The Battle of Hastings. The earliest contemporary account of the battle is the Carmen de Hastingae Proelio, attributed to Guy of Amiens. The Carmen was known in the Middle Ages, disappeared and was recovered in the Bibliotheque de Bologne in 1838. Edwin Tetlow, writing on the subject of The Battle, called Hastings an enigma writing, 'The story is befogged by legend, lie and propaganda  aspects, by lack of acceptable evidence'. Recently there has been disagreement as to its actual location.

 As for The Carmen historians think it was written before 1070. It was written in Latin at St Riquer in Ponthieu, which was one of the centres of the Carolingian Renaissance in the ninth century and one can assume that the poet is influenced by earlier Carolingian poets. Therefore the Carmen is a celebratory poem set down to praise Duke William's victory at Hastings and it was probably written either to be presented during Easter celebrations in Normandy in 1068 or to celebrate Queen Matilda's coronation on 18th May 1069.

Queen Matilda

By the poet's own admission in its prologue, the poem is one of praise to preserve memory of'William's achievements through the ages' and 'the hope of acquiring the Duke's favour.' The poem's narrative, written in elegiac couplets describes events leading to the battle from the Duke's arrival at St Valery, the battle itself, the death and funneral of King Harold, the siege of London and William's coronation. Its epic narrative suits its purpose of celebration. Its thrust is that William was deprived of his legal rights and was seeking justice. The subtext, however, is that Amiens wrote the poem to press home the gratitude owed by the duke to Guty of Amiens own relatives, the contribution of Ponthieu and that of neighbouring Eustace of Bologne to Duke William's victory (Eustace of Bologne was one of the most colourful characters associated with Hastings). Throughout the poem Amiens praises the duke's accomplishments, his fighting ability and organisational skill. Like many Carolingian poems of this nature it has an overtly political drive. It is, though very beautiful, a propagandist work, a seriously literary work aimed at an audience who expected entertainment as well as history.

William built Cathedrals and saw himself as the military arm of the reforming Church

In it the poet uses the tools of Carolingian poetry, classical and old testiment imagery, deliberate exaggaration, panegyric appeals and poetry as a tool for debate and attack. For example, the numbers of the enemy's fighting men is greatly exaggarated to make the victory seem greater, The English suffered great losses 'indeed ten thousand suffered destruction'. Amiens denigrates the enemy. The English nobility is described as 'effeminate young men, sluggish in the art of war, whatever their number.' The English mass in a phalanx like an animal to be hunted down. The hound, the continental cavalry, is by comparison, noble and swift. It follows the leading horseman, William and later, Eustace, who are poised to lead, chase and destroy the boar.

Harold is attacked viciously in the poem. He is an oath breaker and accused of fratricide and here Amiens uses the Biblical story of Cain and Able to image Tostig's death at Stamford Bridge. 'The envious Cain heved off his brother's head, and buried his head and body in the earth.' King Harold is portrayed as 'the heir of dark deception', a reference to Satan, as 'relying on deceit' , as 'dishonourable' and as 'a master of cunning'. The Duke is powerful and just. Leonine imagery, popular throughout the middle ages, is used for William. He is depicted as more beautiful than the sun, wiser than Solomon and readier than Pompey.
Interestingly, Amiens uses poetic license to heighten the poem's drama and make propagandist inference. He records the long-haired star as appearing in September just as Duke William lands his fleet at Pevensey. It is recorded as appearing in March in the Anglo Saxon Chronicle.

Duke William set sail with a huge fleet from St Valery but only when the winds were favourable or blessed by God

So, as we writers all know, primary sources such as The Carmen give us a real flavour of a period but always should we recognise their provenence, no matter how we use them. And how we use them is the writer's prerogative as after all, like Amiens, we are writing stories too. This said, I do love the Carmen. It is really a beautiful piece of literature and worth reading as such too, and if this period is your interest, it is one of the best primary sources descibing the Battle. Just do not take it as a literal truth but as what it is, a praise poem written down very close to the actual event.
Carol McGrath-The Handfasted Wife, a novel about Edith Swanneck, King Harold's common law wife will be published by Accent Press in June 2013, the first novel in a trilogy titled The Daughters of Hastings. 

The Handsome Master of Acids: Sir Humphry Davy

by J.A. Beard

Often when thinking about the late Georgian Era and the Regency Period, it’s easy to fixate on the many cultural and political changes that occurred. Controversial and charismatic men like Lord Byron challenged social mores, and decades of war, in the form of the Napoleonic Wars, presented an ever-present additional stress to a country that was already undergoing rapid change due to industrialization partially facilitated by many other legal and social changes, such as land reform.

Sometimes lost in discussions of aspects of the period such as industrialization is that the late Georgian Era was also a time of impressive scientific progress. It is easy, in the light of modern genetic engineering, nanotechnology, and control of nuclear power to be dismissive of the achievements of these “natural philosophers” who set the stage for the massive advances in science and technology that define the modern human condition. Today, I will spotlight one of these pioneers: Sir Humphry Davy.

Sir Humphry was born into a respectable, though untitled and not particularly wealthy family in 1778 in Penzance. As a young child both at home and school, he quickly demonstrated above-average intelligence, concentration, dedication, and attention to detail, all traits that would serve him well. He also had the fortune, while as a student, to have as an early mentor one, Robert Dunkin. Though Mr. Dunkin’s background was more business than anything, he had a keen interest in many areas of burgeoning interest in natural philosophy, and, in particular, inculcated in young Sir Humphry the principles of the experimental method and exposed to him devices such as the Leyden Jar (a sort of primitive capacitor that can store static electricity) and other apparatuses that would kindle an interest in electricity and exploring the principles behind electrochemistry. He would remain friends with and discuss scientific principles with Mr. Dunkin even after leaving his tutelage.

After the death of Sir Humphry’s father in 1794 (he was fifteen at the time), the boy was apprenticed to a surgeon. This proved fortuitous for his growing interest in chemistry, as it gave him a ready supply of reagents with which to experiment, not, if some of the anecdotes and statements of the time are accurate, with the greatest attention to personal safety.

A chance encounter with Davies Giddy, a member of the Royal Society, led to Sir Humphry’s introduction to a number of men of science and engineering. He was given the chance to experiment in more dedicated and well-equipped laboratories and exposure to certain electrochemistry phenomenon that were being actively explored at the time, such as the galvanic corrosion (due to the copper and iron construction) of floodgates in the city of Hayle. Though there was initially some resistance by his surgical master (who wanted Davy to stay as a surgeon in Penzance) Davy would eventually leave Penzance with Dr. Thomas Beddoes, a physician and writer.

In 1798, Sir Humphry joined the Pneumatic Institute, a research center founded by Dr. Beddoes to study the medical applications of newly discover gases (particularly oxygen and hydrogen). Well at the Institute, Sir Humphry spent a particular amount of time studying nitrous oxide (aka laughing gas), but, unfortunately, the potential as anesthesia seems to have escaped him (as it would many others) for several decades. Again, while at the Institute, he continued to not always practice what would we consider modern safe experimental practice and nearly killed himself more than once in the pursuit of knowledge. Indeed, in later years, he damaged his vision due to an accident with a laboratory acid experiment.

He also published several scientific studies and continued his intense work into electrical conductors and galvanic electrochemical reactions. In addition, he had the time to establish connections with a variety of men of influence, both scientific and otherwise, including James Watt (the Scottish master of the steam engine whose work was pivotal to the industrial revolution) and poet and philosopher, Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

With the establishing of the Royal Institution, a major multi-disciplinary research organization in London, Sir Humphry made the move to London and, as it were, the big time. His youth, handsome looks, and dramatic public lectures that included flashy chemical demonstrations quickly turned his lectures into a popular event. He also qas not one to downplay the perceived importance of his own work, as can be seen from this excerpt from an 1801 lecture on galvanism:

“The relations of galvanism to the different branches of physical science, are too numerous and too extensive to be connected with the preceding details; and, although in their infancy, they will probably long constitute favourite subjects of investigation amongst philosophers, and become the sources of useful discoveries…

The connexion of galvanism with philosophical medicine is evident. The electrical influence in its common form, as excited by machines, has been employed with advantage in the cures of diseases; in a new state of existence it may possibly be possessed of greater and of different powers.”

For several years, Sir Humphry explored electrochemistry and gas chemistry. Among other things, he was the first to isolate magnesium, potassium, boron, and barium. Although he did not discover chlorine (that honor belongs to the Swedish chemistry Carl Scheele), he gave the substance its current name and also proved several important facts about chlorine, such as the fact that pure chlorine contains no oxygen, would have important impacts on the formation of acid-base chemistry.

In 1812, his various contributions to science had earned him a knighthood (thus he finally actually become Sir Humphry). He married and along with his wife traveled to the Continent in 1813. He was also accompanied by his assistant, a man who would go on to be another pivotal figure in science, Michael Faraday. Unfortunately, in later years, Sir Humphry's ambition and suspicion would cause him to have a falling out with Faraday (who, among other things, he accused of plagiarism).

During the next couple of years in Europe, he received a medal from Napoleon (yes, that Napoleon) for his scientific work, demonstrated iodine was an element and proved diamond was pure carbon.

When he returned to England in 1815, he worked on a number of projects, including improved coal mining lamps with wire gauze that would not leak gas into the environment, which, unfortunately may have inadvertently lead to increased mine-related deaths by encouraging workers to probe more deeply into areas of mines they would have previously avoided due to safety concerns.

He also expanded on his acid-base theories to classify acids as substances with metal-replaceable hydrogen groups and bases as substances that formed water and a salt when combined with an acid. These definitions are not as specific as the more modern Lewis and Bronsted-Lowry Acid-Base definitions but were useful enough to help facilitate a considerable amount of brilliant electrochemistry and acid-base chemistry in the decades after Davy’s death.

For those of you unfamiliar with chemistry, please note that the number of realms that electrochemistry and acid-base chemistry touch are vast. Indeed, for the latter, proper understanding of acid-base chemistry is critical for everything from understandings of drugs and biochemistry to industrial manufacturing. Obviously, Sir Humphry did not fully develop our understanding of this area, but he made very important contributions to the areas for others to build on.

In 1819, his continued contributions to science were recognized by the awarding of a baronetcy (an inheritable non-peerage title, unlike knighthoods which are non-inheritable non-peerage titles). It should be noted this put him above, at the time, higher in honors for science work than even the master of physics, Sir Isaac Newton.

He died in 1829 from a heart issue. Although Sir Humphry’s name is less recognizable to many than someone like Michael Faraday, his work was important and influential and echoes even today in the twenty-first century in a wide variety of applications ranging from hybrid cars to sensor design.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

A LIttle Colorful Language--Soldiers

By Maria Grace

I am captivated by language and how it relates to a culture. With three teen aged sons living at home I get to hear a lot of the slang they encounter.  I never cease to be fascinated by the terms that come up, and how often I haven't a clue what they are referring to. Since every era has its own unique slang, I thought it would be interesting to share some Regency era slang from time to time.  Today's offering relates to soldiers.

Francis Grose, author of Dictionary of he Vulgar Tongue
Regency slang terms for soldiers:
  • Bad bargain: a worthless soldier. Usage: One of his majesty's bad bargains
  • Bloody Back: A jeering name for a soldier, for his scarlet coat.
  • Brothers of the blade: A soldier
  • Fogey or Old Fogey: A nickname for an invalid soldier.
  • Galloot: a Soldier
  • Foot wabbler: A contemptuous name for a foot soldier, commonly used by the cavalry.
  • Light bob: A soldier of the light infantry company.
  • Lobster: A nickname for a soldier, from the color of his clothes.
  • Parish soldier: A militiaman, from substitutes being frequently hired by the parish for those who do not wish to serve.
  • Rag Carrier: an ensign
  • Skulker: A soldier who by feigned sickness evades his duty; a sailor who keeps below in time of danger
  • Sons of Mars: soldiers
  • Swad or Swadkin: A soldier.
Interesting terms related to the military:  
  • Act of parliament: A military term for five pints of beer. 
    • An act of parliament had formally obliged a landlord was formerly to give to each soldier this amount free.  
  • Black Guard: A shabby, mean fellow; 
    • derived from a number of dirty, tattered roguish boys, who attended at the Horse Guards and Parade in St. James's Park, to black the boots and shoes of the soldiers, or to do any other dirty offices.    
  • Blue plumb: A bullet. 
    • Usage: Surfeited with a blue plumb—wounded with a bullet. Assortment of George R—'s blue plumbs—a volley of bullets shot from soldiers' firelocks.    
  • Brown Bess: A soldier's firelock.    
  • Camp candlestick: A bottle, or soldier's bayonet.    
  • Halbert: A weapon carried by an infantry sergeant.    
  • He carries the halbert in his face: a saying of one promoted from a sergeant to a commission officer.    
  • Lumber: Live lumber; soldiers or passengers on board a ship are so called by the sailors.    
  • Messmate: A soldier who eats at the same mess, companion or comrade.    
  • Nightingale: A soldier who sings (cries) out at the halberts. 
    • -It is a point of honour in some regiments never to cry out under the discipline of the cat of nine tails; to avoid which, they chew a bullet. 
  • Rag fair: An inspection of the linen and necessaries of a company of soldiers, commonly made by their officers on Mondays or Saturdays.    
  • Sank, Sanky, Centipees: A tailor employed by clothiers in making soldier's clothing.    
  • To be brought to the halberts: to be flogged 
    •  -soldiers of the infantry, when flogged, being commonly tied to three halberts, set up in a triangle, with a fourth fastened across them.    
  • To boil one's lobster— for a churchman to become a soldier: lobsters, which are of a bluish black, being made red by boiling.    
  • To get a halbert: to be appointed a sergeant.    
  • To hug brown Bess: to carry a firelock, or serve as a private soldier.   
  • Smart money: Money allowed to soldiers or sailors for the loss of a limb, or other hurt received in the service.   
  • Soldier's mawnd: A pretended soldier, begging with a counterfeit wound, which he claims to have received at some famous siege or battle.    
  • Tattoo: A beat of the drum, of signal for soldiers to go to their quarters and for ale to stop being served.   

Finally, in the category of not exactly slang but still pretty interesting:    
Cold burning: A punishment inflicted by private soldiers on their comrades for trifling offenses, or breach of their mess laws; it is administered in the following manner: The prisoner is set against the wall, with the arm that is to be burned tied as high above his head as possible. The executioner then ascends a stool, and having a bottle of cold water, pours it slowly down the sleeve of the delinquent, patting him, and leading the water gently down his body, till it runs out at his breeches knees: this is repeated to the other arm, if he is sentenced to be burned in both.    

Quoted from:   Grose, Captain (Francis). (2004) Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, 1811 ed. Ikon Classics

Maria Grace is the author of Darcy's Decision and The Future Mrs. Darcy. Click here to find her books on Amazon. For more on her writing and other Random Bits of Fascination, visit her website. You can also like her on Facebook, 
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