Sunday, March 31, 2013

April Fool!

By Lauren Gilbert

A ticket to the washing of the lions, London 1857
(A prank first recorded 1698)

Somehow, I thought of April Fools’ Day as a fairly modern American holiday. Something about the slapstick, whoopee-cushioned, rather raucous humor so often seen on this day just seemed so … New World-ish. It turns out that I was wrong on all counts, which is how this blog post came about.

April Fools’ Day has a long history. The ancient Romans celebrated “Hilaria” with masquerades and fun on March 25 in honor of the mother of the gods, Cybele, and to celebrate the end of winter (of course, it was borrowed from the Greeks). An equally ancient Hindu festival called “Holi” was celebrated in early March, also as a fun day to celebrate the defeat of evil. A similar tradition existed in Korea.

One theory of the beginning of a similar holiday in the west involves the change from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar, changing the celebration of New Years from the end of March (the spring or vernal equinox) to January first. Supposedly, when the Gregorian calendar was adopted by France in 1582, some people refused to accept this change, and continued to celebrate New Years at the end of March.

This led others to make fun of them for their stubbornness, including playing pranks on them and making jokes at their expense. This became an annual event that spread throughout Europe. The calendar theory is not universally accepted.

Be that as it may, it does seem likely that April Fools’ Day is a variation or twist of traditional spring celebrations around the world. However it began, April Fools’ Day as we know it is a continuation of ancient traditions.

April Fools’ Day, also sometimes known as All Fools’ Day, has been a popular holiday in England and Scotland since the 1700’s. From there, of course, it spread to the British colonies, including America (the French also carried the tradition.) Interestingly, according to the sources I’ve checked, in Britain, one could only play jokes and pranks before noon. Once it is afternoon, April Fools is over.

There is a fascinating history of hoaxes in England associated with April Fools’ Day. The following are a couple of the most popular. People have been sent to see the “washing of the lions” at the Tower of London as long ago as 1698 (a classic example of a fruitless errand). This was especially popular in the 18th and 19th centuries, as illustrated by the ticket issued in 1857 shown above.

In 1957, a television program called “Panorama” convinced many in Britain that spaghetti grew on trees. When asked by callers how to grown their own spaghetti trees, announcers reportedly told them to put pieces of spaghetti in tomato sauce and hope for the best.


About.Com Urban Legends. “April Fool’s Day – Origin, History” by David Emery.

Living In England. “April Fools Day.” Posted 3/31/2006. “April Fools’ Day: Origins and History” by Sarah Deem. 3/30/2012. Daily News. “April Fools’ Day Mystery: How Did It Originate?” “April Fools’ Day – April 1.”

The Traditions of All Fool’s Day.


Lauren Gilbert, author of HEYERWOOD: A Novel, lives in south Florida. Her website can be viewed by clicking HERE

Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Reivers and the Rescue of Kinmont Willie...The Story behind the Smailholm Panel

by Margaret Skea

Last summer (rather foolishly as I am not an embroiderer) I agreed to take part in a huge project called "The Great Tapestry of Scotland".

It is to be the longest tapestry in the world at over 130 metres, and will tell the story of the history of Scotland from pre-historic times to the present day, the panels being stitched by volunteer community groups all over Scotland.

My group, excitingly for us as Smailholm village lies in the centre of the Borders, was given the panel depicting "The Border Reivers and the Rescue of Kinmont Willie".  This is our panel partially stitched, and our target is to be finished by the end of April.

But who were the "reivers"?  And why are they significant in the history of Scotland?

They were "a people who lived beyond the laws of England and Scotland, who ignored the persistent efforts of central government to impose order, who took their social form and norms from the ancient conventions of tribalism, who invented evermore sophisticated variants on theft, cattle-rustling, murder, and extortion...

...And they spoke and sang beautiful, sad poetry and told a string of stirring, unforgettable stories."

Alistair Moffat:  The Reivers

Many of the notable "reiver" surnames including Armstrong, Elliot, Graham, Scott, Johnstone, Kerr, and Maxwell are still common in the Scottish Borders today.

Central to the reivers' activities was an area delightfully termed the "Debatable Land".  Straddling the border between Scotland and England, for over three hundred years its inhabitants effectively answered to neither government.  

Beyond the Debatable Land a wide stretch of territory on both sides of the notional "border" was divided into "marches" and officials, called "wardens", were appointed by both governments.  Thus, for example, there was a warden of the English middle march and a corresponding warden of the Scottish middle march.  Equally disregarded by the reiving families, the wardens sometimes co-operated across the border in seeking to maintain order.  

Customary law forbade the building of any permanent dwelling in the Debatable Land.  But one of the methods used to enforce this was interesting, to say the least.  In 1551 the Crown officers of England and Wales made the declaration:

"All Englishmen and Scottishmen, after this proclamation made, are and shall be free to rob, burn, spoil, slay, murder and destroy all and every such persons, their bodies, buildings, goods and cattle as do remain or shall inhabit upon any part of the said Debatable Land without any redress to be made of the same."

More likely to add to rather than reduce the lawlessness, it didn't clear the area of inhabitants:  one notable family, the Grahams, who were present in large numbers on both sides of the border, are known to have had five tower houses there and they were not the only ones.  

The sandstone tower on our panel (the part that I embroidered) depicts one of the Armstrong fortified houses--Gilnockie--belonging to Johnnie Armstrong, hanged on the order of James V along with thirty or forty (depending on which account you believe) of his followers Carlanrig, near Hawick.  The circumstances of what seems summary justice (all the records state that they were hanged on growing trees rather than gallows, and it was likely therefore to have been an impulsive and possibly dishonourable act) are unclear.

One result was a spawning of ballads that turned a ruthless thug into a Robin Hood figure of almost heroic proportions.

The grey tower on the opposite side represents Hermitage, an isolated but imposing castle, home to James Hepburn, Lord Bothwell, who later became Mary Queen of Scots' third husband.  

In 1552, a compromise solution to the vexed issue of jurisdiction was proposed--to draw a straight line from east to west where Armstrong and Graham land met.  The result was the building of "The Scots Dyke":  a four-mile long earthwork approximately nine feet wide and eight feet high.  It would have been hard to miss, but whether it had any positive effect is another matter.  Especially as it wouldn't take very long on horseback to ride around either end!

Far from the wardens being in control of the borderland, it was the heads of local clans who were the authority, their power in proportion to their numerical strength.  Which in some cases was considerable--George Macdonald Fraser, in his book, The Steel Bonnets, suggests that the Armstrongs alone could muster 3000 men.  Not a force to be lightly challenged.

The number of reivers involved in an individual raid, would of course be much smaller, but still considerable, typically anything from thirty to around a hundred men.  In the centre of our panel are two reivers wearing their normal garb of steel bonnets (hence Fraser's book title) and padded jerkins, the sheep and cattle imprisoned in their gauntleted fists, symbolising their core activities of cattle-rustling and sheep-stealing.  

Seeing an hundred or more of them thundering across the moor towards your door, one hand on the reins, the other holding the long spears that flank the panel, must have been a terrifying sight.

Interestingly the three-year-old grandchild of one of the ladies involved in sewing the panel stared at them for a moment, then said, before running away, "I don't like those men."  An instinctive reaction that may be an echo of hundreds of children before her.

The "Day of Truce" mentioned in one of the scrolls at the top of the panel, was a day when the Scots and English came together to witness the trials of criminals from both sides of the border.  The jury comprised six Scots--chosen by the English; and six English--chosen by the Scots.

There were agreed penalties for perjury by witnesses, an attempt at ensuring honest testimony; interestingly the most important and effective penalty wasn't a fine or imprisonment, but a formal statement that no future testimony would be accepted or believed.  Honour among thieves was part of the reiver code.  All witnesses and those who came to the Truce were to be given safe conduct through others' territory and were honour-bound to refrain from confrontation and not to offend by 'word, deed or countenance' as long as the Truce lasted.

When large numbers of sworn enemies attended, it isn't surprising that tempers often frayed, the wardens struggling to maintain order.  What is surprising is that most, though not all, Truce Days appear to have passed without major incident.  

Although the main design of each panel has been done by a wonderful artist called Andrew Crummy, the stitchers are allowed some input.  In our case, it is the mane and raindrop infill on the horses and most of the wording.

The curse which links the two reivers:

"I curse their heid and all the haris of their heid"

comes from the "Great Monition of Cursing against the Border Reivers" by Gavin Dunbar, Archbishop of Glasgow 1525--a lengthy and comprehensive 'cursing', which should have put the fear of God into all who heard it.

The quotation at the foot of the panel:  

"My hands are tied but my tongue is free and who will dare this deed avow"

comes from "The Ballad of Kinmont Willie."

At sixty-six Willie had, by the time of his capture, been reiving successfully for some fifty years and led a notorious gang called "Kinmont's Bairns".

While his imprisonment in Carlisle Castle was undoubtedly deserved, given a lifetime of crime, his seizure was illegal--captured on his way home from a Truce Day in March 1596.  One month later a carefully planned and perfectly executed plan to rescue him was carried out by Scott of Buccleugh, himself a law officer on the Scottish side.  

Buccleugh had first protested the illegality of the capture and requested Willie's release, but when this was denied, he acted.  A clear indication of the flexible attitude to reiving among border folk, even those appointed to uphold the law.

He rode on Carlisle Castle and with a small party of men entered the castle by a locked postern door, having levered out the stone in which the bolt was shot.  Without discovery or a shot being fired they spirited Willie away--a daring rescue that was to be one of the last significant border raids.

Sir Walter Scott's "The Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border" brought together many of the ballads, including that of Kinmont Willie, along with the tunes to which they were sung.  Although the tales are often romanticised, they do provide a flavour of the reiving lifestyle and the superstitions and beliefs of the time.

But the writing was on the wall for the reivers.  James I's accession to the English throne in 1603 abolished the border between Scotland and England.  Re-naming the area the "Middle Shires" James set in train a dismantling of the reiver way of life and a bringing of law and order to this most unruly part of Great Britain.

The reiver have left their mark on the border landscape in various ways:  in the form of innumerable and mostly ruined tower houses; in literature and music through the Border Ballads; and on tradition, in the annual festivals in all the major and some of the smaller border towns which commemorate the riding of the marches.

They have left their mark too on the English language:  the words "blackmail" and "bereave" derive from their activities.  A sombre legacy indeed.  

For those wanting to read more on the reivers and this turbulent part of Scottish history, I recommend The Reivers by Alistair Moffat and The Steel Bonnets by George Macdonald Fraser.


Margaret Skea’s  debut novel Turn of the Tide was the Historical Fiction Winner in the Harper Collins People’s Novelist Competition and was published in Nov 2012 by Capercaillie Books.

You can find Margaret on Facebook and on her website

Thursday, March 28, 2013

"Cruel and Abominable Tyrant": The Pope Who Took on Henry VIII

By Nancy Bilyeau

On May 8, 1539, more than 20,000 London men between the ages of 16 and 60 put on white clothing and assembled before their king, Henry VIII, to prove their readiness to go to war. Before 6 a.m. they mustered in order of battle in the fields "between White Chapel and Mile End" and, to the sound of drums and fifes, marched with their weapons to Westminster, there to be surveyed by the king, his chief minister Thomas Cromwell and "all the nobility."

Henry VIII in 1542
This was the great London muster, held to not only demonstrate to Henry VIII that his "loving subjects" were willing to fight to the death, but to make clear to hostile foreign powers how formidable were these "goodly, tall and comely men" toting"rich jewels, chains and harness."

Fifty years before King Philip II's famous Spanish Armada sailed for England to attempt to depose Elizabeth I, a less-well-known invasion was planned by Philip's father, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, and his allies. In the end, no attack was launched on England. But the plan was real.

For Henry VIII, who in 1536 had (prematurely) declared on the death of his Spanish first wife Catherine of Aragon, "God be praised we are freed from all suspicion of war," the threat of foreign invasion in the late 1530s was his worst nightmare coming true.

For it wasn't just Catherine's nephew, Charles V, who was poised to attack but King Francis I of France, along with King James V of Scotland, eager to swoop down for the kill. England was completely isolated.

Pope Paul III, by Titian
The architect of war on Henry VIII was Pope Paul III, 71 years old, whom on the day of the muster was called a  "cankered and venomous serpent."

Those words wouldn't have scared His Holiness. Pope Paul was not afraid of Henry Tudor. He had pushed through a bull of excommunication on Henry in December 1538 that called him a "most cruel and abominable tyrant" and freed his subjects from obedience to the king who broke from Rome. The pope was the one who worked feverishly to unite Charles V and Francis I, who distrusted each other, so that their combined armies could demolish Henry VIII's defenses.

Once Henry was gone, it was expected that his 23-year-old oldest daughter, Mary, the niece of Charles V, would rule, and not his tiny son by Jane Seymour.

In light of the seriousness of this foreign threat, Henry VIII's behavior during the late 1530s and early 1540s--his rash of horrific executions, his fourth marriage and rapid divorce, and his erratic religious policies--is better understood, if not excused.

Henry was a middle-aged man in poor health with an infant male heir and two daughters he'd deemed illegitimate, one of them half-Spanish. It was critical to Henry and Cromwell that there be absolutely no chance that anyone in England would rise to join in the foreign attack.

But the king was hardly in the strongest domestic position, since in 1536 and 1537 thousands of subjects in the North of England rebelled against him, saying they wanted a return to the Pope and the old ways of the Catholic Church. That rebellion was quashed, but for a while it looked as if it might triumph.

Julia Farnese
Henry VIII's enemy, Pope Paul III, was a man of determination but with his own dark side. He was born Alessandro Farnese, of an aristocratic family in Rome. He was the oldest brother of Julia Farnese, the beauty and acknowledged mistress of Roderigo Borgia, Pope Alexander VI. It was the Borgia pope who made Farnese a cardinal-deacon at the age of 27.

While a cardinal, Farnese had four children by a mistress, Sylvia Ruffini. One of their sons would grow up to become the first Duke of Parma and live as a violent, amoral mercenary until he was stabbed to death in 1547, his assassins hanging his corpse from a palace window.

When Henry VIII tried to have his marriage with Catherine of Aragon annulled, the pope in Rome was Clement VII, a vacillator who strung Henry along for years without an answer. He didn't want to upset either Henry VIII or Catherine's nephew, Charles V. That policy was a huge error. In frustration, Henry VIII had broken with Rome, made himself head of the Church of England and annulled his own marriage.

Sistine Chapel
When Farnese became Pope Paul III in 1534, his first act was to make two of his teenage grandsons cardinals. Another priority was to persuade Michaelangelo to finish the fresco "The Last Judgment" in the Sistine Chapel.

But he was also determined to crush the defiant English king.

It was not just Henry VIII's break from Rome that brought about papal excommunication. Other monarchs were following the ideas of the Protestant reformation without being attacked by the pope.

It was Henry's executions of Sir Thomas More and Cardinal Fisher, his destruction of the monasteries that were packed with friars, monks and nuns loyal to Rome, and, most of all, his despoiling of the shrines of English saints that appalled the Catholic powers.

Pope Paul III labored to unite the two most powerful princes of Europe, Charles V and Francis I, both of whom had gone back and forth with Henry VIII, sometimes his friend and sometimes his enemy. Henry had been a sought-after ally because of his treasury and England's strategic location, and he enjoyed playing them off against each other.

Christina of Milan
After the death of his third wife, Jane Seymour, in 1537, Henry wanted a beautiful royal bride from the family of either Charles or Francis, but they played for time. One after another, the desirable Christina of Milan or Marie de Guise would be dangled before him, only to be yanked away after Henry made serious pursuit through diplomatic channels. (Marie de Guise married James V of Scotland and they were the parents of Mary Queen of Scots, who would one day cause endless headaches for Henry's daughter Elizabeth.)

After the pope made clear his wish for war on England, the only ruling family that could conceivably make a marriage alliance with Henry VIII was a Protestant one, and Anne of Cleves, sister of the German Duke of Cleves, was chosen to be his fourth wife. But before she arrived, King Henry also turned his attention to his own nobility to weed out possible traitors.

Cardinal Reginald Pole
Pope Paul had encouraged Reginald Pole, Henry VIII's cousin, in his public criticism of the English king from the safety of Rome, and he made Pole a cardinal in 1537. Reginald's mother, Countess Margaret, and brother, Baron Montague, both vulnerable, wrote to Reginald asking him not to provoke the king further, but, egged on by the pope, he refused to tone down his blistering attacks. It was even thought that Pope Paul intended to replace Henry VIII with Reginald, or marry Reginald to Mary and have them rule together.

In retaliation, Henry lashed out at the Poles, executing 69-year-old Margaret Pole and Baron Montague with no proof of treachery. He also had arrested and executed his first cousin and childhood friend, Henry Courtenay, marquess of Exeter, and imprisoned Courtenay's wife and teenage son.

The Poles and Courtenays had sympathized with Catherine of Aragon and were friends to Princess Mary. No evidence of conspiracy ever came to light. But they were wiped out, because of their dangerous share of Plantagenet royal blood, their connection to Mary, and their Catholic beliefs.

In addition to issuing musters all over England to men ready to defend their kingdom, Henry VIII poured money into his navy and his land defenses near the shore. Detailed maps were commissioned, bulwarks and blockhouses raised. When France and Spain recalled their ambassadors in 1539, it looked as if war would come any day.

But the alliance between Charles V and Francis I did not hold. Their hatred of each other--which usually came to a boil over obsession with acquiring the same land and titles in Italy--led to a break in 1540. Also, despite all of the pope's haranguing, neither of them possessed the same passion for war on England, not because of affection for Henry but because invading a well-defended island kingdom would be so expensive and promised to be full of casualties.

If only King Philip of Spain would, five decades later, have studied his father's example. He'd have saved himself an Armada.


Nancy Bilyeau's second historical thriller, The Chalice, takes place in 1538-1540, with the dangerous politics of Europe as the backdrop to a plot of prophecies and assassination. To learn more, go to

The Chalice, U.S.

The Chalice, UK

The Structured Court of Charles I

By P.L. Farrar

Charles II, known by so many as the "Merry Monarch", had a brilliant court where life was one non-stop party, correct?  He opened the theatres and pubs and allowed dancing once again.  But before the interregnum there had been another king, and he had a court too.  Except his was nothing like his son's...

Charles I's inspiration for his court came from Spain where he had attempted (unsuccessfully) to woo the Spanish Infanta in 1623.  He was impressed by the way the court was designed: a perfect example of  order and structure. This was to be the template upon which he based his own court.

At a time of personal and absolute monarchy, the court reflected the personality of the ruler.  In direct contrast to the bawdy and vulgar court antics of his father, James VI and I, it was Charles' composed and sophisticated nature that came through in his court most prominently.  Charles was at the top of this stately hierarchical pyramid and everyone beneath him knew their place in the social order.

 A common event at court was the masque.  Charles I and his wife Henrietta Maria appeared as the principal characters.  The plots of these masques were basic in that there was always some trouble that led to chaos throughout the land.  These problems disappeared the moment the wise and just king appeared with his loving and beautiful queen. 

Charles, like Louis XIV after him, exercised strict control over the movements of his courtiers.  The majority of his courtiers were of the higher nobility.  The gentry, on the other hand, were made to remain in their local parishes to enforce law and order, and there were, in fact, cases of nobles being fined for not seeking the King's permission to be at court or in London. 

Many members of the court were also Catholics.  Charles' French Queen, Henrietta Maria, had many French ladies-in-waiting who were not sent back to France. 

The great number of Catholics with whom Charles surrounded himself, the highly structured ceremony and the Church-like opulence gave rise to the perception that the court was exclusively for Catholics and that Charles himself was Catholic.  

Charles was in fact a devotee of Arminianism, or early Laudianism.  Thus he did not believe that some people were predestined to go to heaven, and equally, he wanted to focus on 'the beauty of worship' (including an emphasis on sacred music), not merely on the sermons.  There were elements of Catholicism such as having an altar and a railing instead of a Communion table, but he was essentially a Protestant.  However, the issue of his alleged Catholicism was of major concern for everyone as they feared absolutism and tyranny which they believed was connected to Catholicism.  They also feared a return to Papal rule.

Charles I's court was one of great beauty.  He loved to collect art, and of all subsequent rulers, his was the most significant contribution to the Royal Collection.  He continually lured the great European painters over to the English court, just as he had observed the Spanish doing.  Charles commissioned Rubens to paint the ceiling of the banqueting hall at Whitehall Palace, and he made Rubens a knight as well as offering him a house and pension if he remained as the court painter.

Charles commissioned Van Dyck, the premier Dutch portrait painter, to capture the essence of his "kingship" in a series of portraits.  This talented painter was ordered to compensate for the king's shortcomings.  This resulted in a number of equestrian portraits which depicted the king as a conquering hero on a great steed--very kingly and regal.  (Charles I was a very short man but in these portraits his height ceased to be an issue...)

And Van Dyck used his artistic license to make Charles look five years older which was intended to add an element of wisdom and gravitas.

Together with his Queen, Henrietta Maria, Charles intended for his court to set the tone of the age, as one of grace, splendour and majesty.  And although the Republic, led by Cromwell, sought to destroy or sell off anything that might belong to or evoke the Carolingian splendour, his son--that Merry Monarch to be--did his best to restore his father's regal and artistic legacy.


P.L. Farrar is a young writer, working on an historical novel set in early 19th century England, and currently studying the history of the Tudor and Stuart monarchs.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Ann Radcliffe, The Mighty Enchantress

by J.A. Beard

Reading, that oh-so-wonderful pleasure, was of course appreciated by many in Georgian England. The expansion of literacy among women during the period  also helped to provide new popularity for many types of fiction.

In the later decades of Georgian England, the rise of the Gothic novel particularly stands out. Crumbling castles, brooding noblemen, virtuous women terrorized by supernatural wickedness in the darkness. These are all part of the the early tradition of Gothic fiction. Fixated on atmosphere, the Gothic tradition was a mix of horror, melodrama, and romantic elements. Whenever Gothic fiction is considered, there's one woman who helped to shape and popularize the genre, Ann Radcliffe.

An excerpt:

While Emily gazed with awe upon the scene, footsteps were heard within the gates, and the undrawing of bolts; after which an ancient servant of the castle appeared, forcing back the huge folds of the portal, to admit his lord. As the carriage-wheels rolled heavily under the portcullis, Emily's heart sunk, and she seemed, as if she was going into her prison; the gloomy court, into which she passed, served to confirm the idea, and her imagination, ever awake to circumstance, suggested even more terrors, than her reason could justify.

Another gate delivered them into the second court, grass-grown, and more wild than the first, where, as she surveyed through the twilight its desolation—its lofty walls, overtopt with briony, moss and nightshade, and the embattled towers that rose above,—long-suffering and murder came to her thoughts. One of those instantaneous and unaccountable convictions, which sometimes conquer even strong minds, impressed her with its horror. The sentiment was not diminished, when she entered an extensive gothic hall, obscured by the gloom of evening, which a light, glimmering at a distance through a long perspective of arches, only rendered more striking. As a servant brought the lamp nearer partial gleams fell upon the pillars and the pointed arches, forming a strong contrast with their shadows, that stretched along the pavement and the walls.

-- The Mysteries of Udolpho, 1794.

While not the first author to write what we would now consider a Gothic novel, Radcliffe helped to popularize and bring Gothic novels into the literary mainstream. For this reason, she's often considered the true definer of the genre.

Although she was wildly successful during her lifetime, she wrote only a book of poetry and six novels: The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne (1789), A Sicilian Romance (1790), The Romance of the Forest (1791), The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794), The Italian (1797), and Gaston de Blondeville (1826). If you're wondering about the large number of years between her fifth and sixth novels, the last was actually posthumously published by her husband.

Her works tended to focus on virtuous and imperiled heroines of breeding dealing with the aforementioned brooding noblemen, mysterious exotic castles, and supernatural elements. Radcliffe, however, in contrast to many other Gothic writers was rather explicit (with one exception, Gaston de Blondville, though as noted above, it would only be published after her death) in showing that the supernatural elements in her stories all actually had rational, non-supernatural explanations.

One of the continuing elements in her works is a heroine desperately resisting an onslaught of emotion and instead, eventually, applying reason to the situation. For the time, especially given many people's sentiments about women in general, this was actually somewhat feminist, though a type of feminism considered mostly acceptable by late Georgian society.

Indeed, her combination of sensible heroines, lack of true supernatural elements, and virtue allowed her brand of Gothic novels to be acceptable for the literary mainstream. Critics at the time hailed her as the "mighty enchantress."

Surprisingly, at the height of her popularity at the age of 32, she stopped writing. As she kept a rather low personal profile, it's not certain her exact reasons for quitting, but many literary historians attribute it to her personal disgust with the direction Gothic fiction was taken, particularly in terms of then-prurient disreputable supernatural content. For example, The Monk, published in 1796, gained some popularity. The novel features and references, among other things, demon pacts, rape, and incest.

Radcliffe's works remained popular and influential throughout the 19th century both in England and the United States. She would influence many other authors who would go on to influence their own literary descendants. So, even if she isn't a household name anymore, her influence lingers.

Her 19th-century popularity is easily attested by the direct references to her works in period works and later fiction. One of the more famous and familiar to modern readers would be the several references to her work, particularly The Mysteries of Udolpho, in Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey (1817), a parody of many elements popular in Gothic fiction and Radcliffe's books. I should note that Ms. Austen was far from the only one parodying Gothic excess at the time.

So, whenever you read a book where some young woman is running down a spooky mansion/castle corridor or watch a similar movie, take a moment to think of Ann Radcliffe.


J.A. Beard is a scientific editor and the author of A Woman of Proper Accomplishments, which, though not very Gothic, does feature  a virtuous and rational Georgian young woman threatened by supernatural forces. 

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Llewellyn ap Gruffydd Fychan -- Welsh Hero

by Judith Arnopp

Edward I’s defeat of Llewellyn the Last in 1282 and his subsequent subjugation of the Welsh people caused seething discontent among the Welsh.  After a hundred years of continuing discontent, things finally reached boiling point when the English crown refused to settle a land dispute between  Baron Grey de Ruthyn  and the forty-something, grey-haired and law abiding Owain Glyn Dŵr. It is difficult to access the details of this matter but we do know that events quickly spiraled out of control and ultimately, Glyn Dŵr took up arms against King Henry IV. 

Glyn Dŵr himself, on calling for Welsh assistance, is likely to have been surprised at the alacrity of response.  In September 1400 when he raised his banner at Ruthin, supporters came from far and wide and, due to his descent from the Welsh Princes, they dubbed him, Prince of Wales.

In response, the English king marched his army through North Wales burning and looting without mercy. The population were easily quelled and sought peace with Henry, leaving Glyn Dŵr and a few remaining supporters to take to the hills.

But things weren't over yet and the rebellion took off again when Conway Castle was taken by the Welsh, allowing Glyn Dŵr access to mid and south Wales. Consequently, the rebellion picked up momentum and Welshmen living and working in England laid down their tools and returned home to join his ranks.

It was around this time that Henry IV, following Glyn Dŵr into the wilds of Wales, called at the home of Llewellyn ap Gruffydd Fychan who lived in Caeo in Carmarthenshire. 

According to the chronicle of Adam of Usk, Llewellyn was a ‘bountiful’ member of the Carmarthenshire gentry, a country squire whose household used ‘fifteen pipes of wine’ annually. This is not to imply that the man was a drunk but shows him to be a wealthy and generous host. 

At the time in question Llewellyn was around sixty years of age, too old to fight perhaps, but it is believed two of his sons were at Glyn Dŵr’s side.  Henry IV forced Llewellyn to lead him to Glyn Dŵr’s base camp, and for several weeks the old man led the King on a goose chase through the wild uplands of Deheubarth, allowing Glyn Dŵr time to escape into Gwynedd and gain a position of greater strength.

King Henry, cold, tired and frustrated, realising somewhat belatedly what was afoot, forced Llewellyn to admit his stratagem. Knowing full well what punishment lay in store, the Welshman spoke out bravely as a loyal follower of Glyn Dŵr and supporter of Wales.

On October 9th 1401 Llewellyn was dragged to the gallows at Llandovery Castle where he was publicly disembowelled and dismembered in front of his eldest son. (Documentation does not make clear whether this refers to Llewellyn’s eldest son or Henry’s.)  As a deterrent to future rebels Llewellyn’s remains were displayed in towns across Wales and his lands were granted to Henry’s supporter Gruffydd ap Rhys. But the rebels weren't done with Henry yet and unrest continued for more than a decade.

It seems that Llewellyn ap Gruffydd was not alone in his loyalty to the last Welsh Prince of Wales for, although Henry IV led one of the largest, most feared armies in Europe (remember Agincourt a few years later in 1415), Owain Glyn Dŵr, who had re-united the Welsh nation, was never captured, mostly because his countrymen refused to betray him. His final end remains a mystery today.

Six hundred years later, in 1998, a campaign was started by residents of Llandovery to construct some sort of a monument to their local hero, Llewelyn, and after an exhibition of proposed designs in the year 2000, a statue by Toby and Gideon Peterson of St Clears was chosen.

The effigy stands sixteen feet tall and is fashioned of stainless steel, standing on a base of stone brought from near Llewellyn’s home in Caeo. The figure of Llewellyn, clothed in cloak, armour and wearing an empty helmet, stands proudly on the skyline, looking out across the town of Llandovery as a mark of Welsh solidarity.


Judith Arnopp writes historical novels set in the medieval and Tudor period. for more information please visit her website:

Photos from wikimediacommons.

Monday, March 25, 2013

A King, an Earl and the Terrible Death of a Prince

by Paula Lofting

Edward the Confessor came to the throne after his half-brother Harthacnut died in June 1042.

Harthacnut had designated him as his heir, however it was not a foregone conclusion and Edward would have needed to rally the support of the English nobility.

One of those whom it might have been necessary for him to ingratiate himself with would have been Godwin of Wessex, although Edward would most likely have loathed the man.

Godwin was a dominant figure in the politics of the time and had control of a large part of what was once Alfred the Great's Kingdom of Wessex. Godwin must have played a large part in rallying the other nobles and thegns to Edward’s cause and for this, Edward may have felt obliged to agree to wed Godwin’s daughter Edith.

No doubt Edward’s animosity toward Godwin, as we shall see by his attitude later, was driven by Godwin’s part in the death of Alfred, Edward’s younger brother.

Alfred’s unpleasant demise had occurred when in 1036, the brothers, living as exiles in Normandy for more than 20 years, had received a letter allegedly written by their mother Queen Emma, inviting them to England and seeking their help. The brothers had for some reason decided to travel separately to England.

The expedition appears to have been a failure for both of them but at least Edward was to escape with his life. Unfortunately for Alfred, he did not.

Some sources lay the blame for his death totally at Godwin’s door and others were less inclined to show Godwin in a bad light. What appears to have happened is that Alfred and his party were met by Godwin who was to escort them to meet with Harold Harefoot, then the monarch of the time.

At Guildford, however, they were intercepted by Harold’s men and taken from Godwin’s custody. What happened next ended with poor Alfred being blinded and dying of his wounds at Ely.

This is what the "Abingdon Manuscript" (C) tells us:

But then Godwine stopped him, and set him in captivity, And drove off his companions, and some variously killed; Some of them were sold for money, some cruelly destroyed, Some of them were fettered and some of them were blinded, Some maimed, some scalped, No more horrible deed was done in this country Since the Danes came and made peace here... 

...The atheling still lived; he was threatened with every evil; Until it was decided that he would be led to Ely town, fettered thus As soon as he came on ship he was blinded, and blind thus brought to the monks, And their he dwelt as long as he lived, Afterwards he was buried as well as befitted him, Full honourably, as he was entitled...His soul is with Christ.

It seemed that Edward would forever hold it against Godwin for what happened to Alfred even though he was to be cleared before the court on oath more than once. To Edward, Godwin was like a boil on his backside that would never go away and when one day the opportunity came for Edward to be rid of the whole Godwin family, he grasped it firmly in his hands.

Robert Champart of Jumièges was the newly appointed Archbishop of Canterbury and a longstanding enemy of Godwin's. According to the sources he began whispering in the King's ear that Godwin had murdered his brother Alfred and was now plotting to murder him.

A visit from Edward's brother-in-law Eustace of Boulogne seemed to fuel the fire that was burning in Edward's heart, when on his way home to Boulogne, he and his men stopped at the town of Dover and caused a fight with the townspeople. Some of Eustace's men were killed in the fight as well as an equal number of town folk.

Godwin was ordered by the King to punish the town by razing it to the ground. He refused. Dover was in Godwin's jurisdiction and he may have heard the Dover towns folk's side of the sad, sorry tale.

In any case, his refusal to punish them resulted in a stand off between the Godwins and the King and his supporters. They were all consequently exiled, and although Edward accepted Godwin back, restored his lands and in his office as Earl after a year in exile, their relationship would always be strained.

Edward’s unforgiving attitude toward Godwin later shows in his behaviour at the Earl’s death in 1053 at a court reunion with his family and the King. During the feast, Edward is allegedly said to have made acrimonious remarks toward Godwin regarding his involvement in Alfred’s death. It was said that Godwin was so enraged that it causes him to have a stroke and he died later in Edward’s private apartment.

Perhaps Edward felt a pang of guilt and offered him the comfort of his own chamber and doctor?


Barlow F., The Godwins Pearson Educated LTD, Edinburgh.
Barlow F., Edward The Confessor, Yale University Press, London.
Stanton M, Translation of the Anglo Saxon Chronicle.


Paula Lofting - Historical Fiction Author Website - Email - Facebook - Blogger - Twitter -

All the Appearance of Goodness by Maria Grace

Maria Grace is giving away two copies of All the Appearance of Goodness. (one paperback to continental US, and one e-book internationally.) This giveaway ends Sunday March 31. To see more about the book, click here.

Comment here to enter the drawing and be sure to leave your contact information.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Dancing the Night Away...

By Mike Rendell

As all Janeites will know, January 27th marked the 200th anniversary of the publication of Pride and Prejudice. And as every film or TV adaptation of every Jane Austen novel has a dance or ball as its centrepiece I thought it would be useful to look at the role of the dance in eighteenth century (and in particular, Regency) etiquette.
Quite simply, a formal dance was one of the few places where a young person could hope to meet a prospective spouse from outside the immediate family or the circle of the parents’ friends. Maybe that is why my own family tree is littered with marriages between cousins – perhaps they weren’t especially adept at dancing and therefore at making new friendships!

Suppose your family came to Bath for the Season: you could expect the Master of Ceremonies to come round to your lodgings and assess the eligibility of the young gentleman or lady. An invitation to attend the Assembly Rooms at a specified time would then be given (it would be chaos if all the carriages bringing the guests arrived at the same time).

The Master of Ceremonies would effect suitable introductions and the couple would then be able to dance – never all evening, but perhaps for two sets. Each set would consist of two dances, each perhaps lasting twenty minutes. There would be no question of  a gentleman hogging the company of one girl all evening, or of a man walking up to a girl who caught his eye and suggesting a twirl around the floor! This explains one of Jane Austen's letters, sent in 1796, when she says "There was one gentleman, an officer of the Cheshire, a very good-looking young man, who, I was told, wanted very much to be introduced to me, but as he did not want it quite enough to take much trouble in effecting it, we never could bring it about."

Remember too that this was a time when young girls were chaperoned and where anything more affectionate than holding hands in public would be frowned upon, so learning how to dance - how to move fluently and to behave appropriately, how to impress and how to engineer a repeat dance - was a social skill which was well worth learning.

Charging down the row the wrong way, or moving awkwardly into the path of another couple, was hardly likely to endear you to your partner – or to the anxious parent watching from the side-lines. I am not convinced that the dances shown in some of the re-enactments are correct - they seem to be throw-backs to the stately dances of the Elizabethan era than showing the lively, energetic dances of the Regency period.

Sure, the waltz was not yet socially acceptable – indeed it was considered outrageous. It was the very first dance in which the couple danced in a modified Closed Position - with the man's hand around the lady’s waist. Here, full of movement and menacing passion, is Gillray’s 1810 take on the waltz, entitled La Walse – Le Bon Genre.
Why, it positively reeks of indecency!

No, far more respectable was the cotillion (eight dancers in a square performing the dance routine with ten changes); the Minuet (beginning to go out of fashion by the Regency period); and the Boulangers, or circular dances performed mostly at the end of the evening when participants were getting exhausted and in need of something less strenuous!

And then of course there was the Country Dance which could rumble on for a whole hour.

Learning to dance was something you started while at school - my ancestor’s diaries show that he was happy to fork out a guinea a term for lessons for both Anna and Benjamin, the children by his second wife.

But dance steps were constantly changing – additional arm movements, or clapping, or a hop-and-a-step, might be introduced. One of the favourite arm and hand movements was termed the Allemande (from the French, meaning 'German') – shown in these two prints from the time.
These changes in what was currently in vogue on the dance floor meant that adults would take lessons to stay up to date, as illustrated by these drawings. One of my favourite set of dancing pictures was by the caricaturist William Bunbury. In 1787 he published what was in effect the first ever strip cartoon entitled “A Long Minuet as Danced at Bath”.
Courtesy of the Tate here is his print entitled“Grown Ladies Taught to Dance by Monsieur Allemande from Paris”.
A couple of others, full of movement, are shown here.
Another one showing a gentleman learning the Terpsichorean arts is this one:
And to end with, “Takes Lesson in Dancing” from 1821, by John Careless – and it doesn’t look as though the student is particularly enjoying the experience. Ah, shades of learning country dancing at boarding school fifty years ago!


Mike Rendell is the author of The Journal of a Georgian Gentleman and writes a regular blog here.