Friday, January 31, 2014

Heroes and Villains

by David Hough

Every culture has its mythical heroes. England has Robin Hood and King Arthur amongst others. Neither of them actually existed, but their fictional existence has been no bar to them being portrayed as heroes in books, films and plays. They are part of the legend of England.

Other legendary figures really did exist, but the heroism of some can now be called into question. As an English schoolboy, I grew up with the stories of Sir Walter Raleigh as a great English hero. It came as a surprise when I later discovered he was probably little more than a pirate. He quickly went down in my estimation, but that’s what growing up is all about: putting aside the myths developed in childhood and facing up to historical reality.

I finished my schooling in Scotland where the legend of William Wallace saw him portrayed as a great Scottish hero. That version of the man was in no way diminished by the inaccuracies of the Braveheart film. I learned only later how much the heroic image of William Wallace is called into question by historical records.

There are two principal versions of Wallace’s life. One stems from the tales of a medieval minstrel called Blind Harry who lived one hundred and fifty years after Wallace. It was Harry’s job to make up stories to entertain people and he did that with such a measure of success that his tales last to this day. His account of the life of William Wallace does not stand up to historical scrutiny, but it marks out Wallace as a hero of Scotland, much in the way Raleigh was once portrayed as hero of England.

The other, darker, version of the life of Wallace comes largely (but not totally) from the chronicles of medieval monks who were his contemporaries. Foremost among those chroniclers is Walter Hemingborough, a canon of Guisborough Priory in Yorkshire. The picture that emerges from Hemingborough’s chronicle is not that of a national hero, but of a brutal terrorist.

Guisborough Priory was founded in 1119 by Robert de Brus, an ancestor of the Scottish king known as Robert the Bruce. Walter Hemingborough was probably the most famous of its canons. His historical chronicle is widely regarded by historians for its detail and reliability. In the matter of his portrayal of the Anglo-Scottish wars, historians believe he must have known and spoken with men who fought on some of the famous battlefields. His account of William Wallace’s invasion of England, however, makes uneasy reading for those who view Wallace as a hero.

In the winter of 1297 Wallace, fresh from his overwhelming victory over the English army at Stirling Bridge, began a ferocious and prolonged devastation of northern England. There had been some brief raids in the previous year, but nothing on this scale. Walter Hemingborough’s chronicle describes the extent of the destruction, and its impact on life in the region.

At that time the praise of God ceased in all the monasteries and churches of the whole province from Newcastle to Carlisle. All the monks, canons regular and the rest of the priests and ministers of the Lord, together with almost the whole of the people fled from the face of the Scot.

Hemingborough’s account can be corroborated by the Lanercost chronicle, a copy of which is now in the British Library. It can also be corroborated by records that show tenant farmers unable to pay their taxes after their land had been devastated by Wallace’s army. In the matter of that invasion, Blind Harry’s account doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. In fact it attributes to Wallace much of the story of Bruce’s invasion of Yorkshire in 1322. Such errors were no problem for Harry because he was only a storyteller, not a historical chronicler. His tales can be enjoyed as works of fiction, provided the reader does not ascribe to them any historical legitimacy.

Walter of Guisborough’s chronicle goes on to tell of to the ensuing panic caused by Wallace’s foray through Northumberland:

For the Northumbrians were petrified with fear, and they evacuated from the countryside their wives and children and all their household goods, sending them with their animals to Newcastle and various other places.

In other words, the chronicle tells of a brutal terrorist invasion. In that incursion, Wallace avoided confronting any English army, concentrating instead on killing villagers, and destroying land and property.

Was Wallace a great military leader? On the battlefield, he won a resounding victory at Stirling Bridge. Or did he? When we examine the detail of that battle, we discover that the Scottish victory was the direct result of the appalling incompetence of the two English commanders, the Earl of Surrey and Hugh Cressingham. Wallace’s subsequent defeat at Falkirk was largely down to his own poor leadership in setting up a flawed defence.

So much for historical record. How does Wallace fare in fiction?

When Hollywood came to make the Braveheart film, the writers took as their basis Blind Harry’s account of Wallace’s life and added to it yet more historical inaccuracies. Thirteenth century Scotsmen did not wear kilts or paint half their faces blue. The film incorporates lots of exciting action and beautiful scenery, but it gives a false account of what actually happened.

Novel writers have mostly tended towards the ‘national hero’ image of Wallace. But not all. I shall cite just two examples to show the diversity of opinion.

In his novel, Rebel, (£3.59 on Amazon Kindle) Jack Whyte’s portrayal of Wallace sits firmly in the hero camp. The author goes so far as to equate Wallace with Jesus, a man who came from nowhere to become a great leader.

Edward Lanyon’s novel, The Poisoned Cup, (£1.53 on Amazon Kindle) takes the opposite stance. In particular, it highlights the brutality of Wallaces’s invasion of Northern England. In this book, Wallace’s actions are the result of a pathological hatred of English people, a trait drawn from his Welsh ancestry.

Which version do you favour? More importantly, which portrayal of Wallace do you think was the more accurate? The choice is yours. How you view him as a historical figure could colour your reactions when you read about him in fiction, or see him portrayed upon the screen. It’s worth a thought.


Information on David Hough’s books can be found at:

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Hey Henry! That’s no way to say ‘goodbye.’

by Judith Arnopp

Henry VIII
Although Henry VIII is famous for abandoning, beheading, divorcing his wives it seems he didn’t enjoy ‘goodbyes.’ Each one of his relationships ended suddenly, without discussion.  In most instances he simply crept out of the palace, mounted his horse and rode away. End of relationship. End of marriage.

His battle for a divorce from Katherine of Aragon, his wife of almost twenty years, was a long protracted affair, ending with Henry breaking his ties with the Pope and the excommunication of England from the Roman Church. By the time he finally lost patience and removed himself from the marriage, he was already committed to Anne Boleyn.

For months the king and his two ‘wives’ had lived in a sort of Ménage à trois with Katherine trailing in the wake of Henry and Anne. But in June 1531 Henry and Anne rode away from Hampton court, leaving the queen behind.

For a few weeks it seems the couple visited several hunting lodges with Anne playing the part of consort. It had long been Catherine’s habit to write to Henry every few days when they were apart, enquiring after his health but this time her letter also expressed her regret that he had not bid her farewell when he departed.

Catherine of Aragon
Henry’s response was pitiless, informing her he ‘cared not for her adieux.’ Catherine’s reply illustrates admirable restraint but Henry did not bother to answer; instead she received a letter from the Council which, for the first time failed to address her as ‘Queen.

A further order demanded that she remove herself to The More in Hertfordshire, and ordered the Princess Mary to go to Richmond. Henry was not only abandoning Catherine but also their daughter, who was never allowed to see her mother again.

Henry’s marriage to Anne was very different to his first. Whereas Catherine had the royal training to ignore her husband’s romantic indiscretions, Anne had no such qualms. This made marriage to Anne a roller coaster ride of arguments, fights and reconciliations. There are plenty of marriages like this, it is no indication that they were no longer in love.

Anne Boleyn
Since their life together was peppered with disputes, when Anne fell out of favour in May 1536 she had no reason to suspect that it was any more than another tiff. But, after signing the order for her arrest, Henry refused to see or communicate with Anne again.

It is tempting to wonder if things had been otherwise she might have managed to talk her way out of it, as Henry’s sixth wife, Katherine Parr, did in the final years of his reign.

Jane Seymour has always been described as the ‘one he loved best’ yet when she died after giving him a son, the only indication of his grief is that he did not remarry straight away. While Jane was on her deathbed he had the goodness to delay his planned departure to Esher by several days. Cromwell was told that, ‘If she amend (recover), he will go, and if she amend not, he told me this day, he could not find it in his heart to tarry.” (Starkey. P. 608)

Jane Seymour
In other words, his wife’s death did not interfere with the king’s itinerary. Jane died at 8pm on the same day this message was written. We do not know if Henry was with her.

I have always questioned Henry’s love for Jane. We tend to think that because he was still in love with her (or at least had not yet found a replacement) he must have felt more for her than the others. But, suppose she had survived, who is to say he would not have tired of her too and found an excuse to creep from her bed into the arms of another?

I think we are safe to assume Henry had no love for his fourth wife, Anne of Cleves. From the moment he saw her, before the marriage had even taken place, Henry wanted an end to it. He raged to his councillors that she did not please him but, unable to free himself from the political ties of the union, he was trapped, like a caged lion. The wedding went ahead and the honeymoon night was a disaster.

All over London jousts and celebrations were under way but the king was far from happy. He had set his heart on another and was already sneaking out after dark to visit Catherine Howard at the home of Stephen Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester in Southwark.

Anne of Cleves
David Starkey in Six Wives: The Queens of Henry VIII says, ‘Anne herself probably understood little of the political storm which raged round her and of which she was the all-too passive cause. She was shrewd enough, however, to notice the King’s attentions to Catherine Howard, and, on 20th June, complained vigorously about them to the Cleves agent in London, Karl Harst. Two days later, she was in better spirits, because Henry had spoken to her kindly. It was the last time she saw him as her husband.”

Ordered to leave the court and take up residence at Richmond Palace, Anne did not learn of her fate until July when she was informed of the king’s decision to reconsider the marriage. Although she was often at court after the annulment, Anne never saw Henry again until the separation was legally finalised.

Catherine Howard, as we all know, was accused of adultery and treason. As sad as it is, the charges were probably just. The legend of the little queen running screaming for Henry along the corridors of Hampton court sound as if they are straight from the pages of fiction, and they probably are. But the image is a powerful one, indicative of her terror, her knowledge of what is about to come to pass. For Catherine, coming at the end of a long line of dispatched spouses, can have held little doubt as to her fate. But, if the story is true, it was a futile attempt to reason with the king for, before she was even aware that anything was wrong, Henry had already fled.

Katherine Howard
Hurt and humiliated, the king lost no time in making himself scarce. On the 5th of November, on the pretext of hunting, he ‘dined in a little pleasure-house in one of the parks around Hampton Court. Then, under the cover of night, he left secretly for London.’ (Starkey, p. 671)

Catherine never saw him again.

Afterwards the Spanish ambassador described Henry as suffering ‘greater sorrow and regret at her loss than at the faults, loss of divorce of his preceding wives.’ (Starkey. P. 685) The picture of an aging broken king mourning the loss of his faithless child bride is touching but, it has to be said, his sorrow was more likely to have been of the self-pitying kind than remorse for Catherine.

Katherine Parr
Katherine Parr, Henry’s last queen, was a scholar and a reformer, publishing books and entering the male world of theological debate, just as Anne Boleyn had before her. This won the queen enemies, the conservative faction resenting her influence over the aging and increasingly disabled king.

Just as with several of her predecessors, moves were made to bring her down and the task promised not to be difficult. It is possible that Katherine was just too clever for the king’s liking, perhaps she bested him with her arguments, perhaps she reminded him just a little too much of Anne Boleyn. Whatever the reason, after several years of marriage, Henry came to resent her unfeminine attitude, providing her enemies with the opportunity they needed.

When Henry complained, in Gardiner’s presence, of the nature of the queen’s conversation Gardiner lost no time in convincing the king to agree to a coup against her. Her women and her books were to be seized and the queen arrested and sent to the Tower.

Luckily for Katherine, one of Henry’s physicians got wind of the plan and tipped her off. Katherine went straight to the king but had the sense not to remonstrate with him outright. Instead, when the subject turned to religion, she pretended ignorance, preferring to ‘defer my judgement in this, and all other cases, to our Majesty’s wisdom, as my only anchor Supreme Head and Governor her in earth, next under God.’ (Starkey. P.763)

When he looked doubtful as to her honesty, she went on to claim that she had only ever disputed with Henry to take his mind from his pain, and to try to learn from his own great wisdom. His ego salved and his faith in women restored, Henry and Katherine kissed and made up.

It must have been a triumphant moment for Katherine when Wriothesley arrived the next day to arrest her.  The king and queen were walking in the garden and when Wriothesley arrived with the guard, Henry furiously berated him, calling him a knave and a beast. Wriothesley fled the royal presence.

On this occasion Henry’s wife managed to escape the ultimate penalty for displeasing the king but, as Henry’s health began to deteriorate further, the couple spent more and more time apart.

Henry spent his last Christmas in London, while Katherine was at Greenwich. He died in January 1547, probably without saying ‘Goodbye.’


Judith Arnopp is the author of historical fiction. Her books include:

   The Kiss of the Concubine

TheWinchester Goose: at the court of Henry VIII

The Song of Heledd

For more information about Judith’s books please visit her webpage.

 All available on kindle or in paperback

Further reading.

David Starkey, Six Wives: the queens of Henry VIII
Alison Weir, Henry VIII King and Court
Joanna Denny, Katherine Howard,
Eric Ives, The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn
David Loades, Henry VIII and his Queens

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Menai Massacre & the Last Outpost of the Druids

by Gillian Hamer

Three of my biggest loves. Place – the isle of Anglesey, North Wales. Period – the Roman occupation of the British Isles. Past – the Druidic religion. So, it was inevitable that these three opposing forces would clash one day. Conclusion – my third novel, Complicit.

The back of the book blurb takes some of the words of the great Roman writer, Tacitus, who was deemed to have witnessed the first (unsuccessful) invasion in 60 AD. Was Tacitus witness to the event? Or was he simply another arm in the strong propaganda that raged around every Roman battle? Later named the Menai Massacre by an 18th Century Welsh bard, the first battle for Roman occupation of Anglesey was certainly one of the most famous and alleged defeats of the Roman army.

Defeat? Could it be true that a wild band of Celts, aided by a scattering of ancient Druids, managed to defeat the immense power of the Roman army, under the direct lead of one of its most powerful leaders, Suetonius Paulinus? Well, yes. It is true. It took three attempts, eighteen years and the building of a huge fort on the Welsh coast, called Segontium (modern day Caernarvon) before the Roman’s finally managed to defeat this tiny little outpost.

Snowdonia from Anglesey across Menai Straits
(a view perhaps seen and loved by the Druids)

It’s important to ask one critical question. Why bother? Anglesey is hardly the centre of the universe in today’s society. Unless you’ve passed through to catch a ferry from Holyhead to Dublin, it’s quite likely you’ve never been there. If you’re not living in the UK, there’s a chance you may never have even heard of the island. So why did the Roman army battle so hard, and for so long, just to cross the narrow stretch of water (today called the Menai Straits) to control a little-inhabited island?

The official version of events, according to Roman propaganda, is that Rome had decried that all Druids must be wiped from the face of the earth. It is known that Roman children grew up with a great fear of the Druids, likely born by a fear of elder Romans against this band of wise and learned men who could become strong and powerful opposition. And there is evidence that back in the first century BC, the island named Mona Insulis by Rome (now Anglesey) was known as the seat of learning for the Druidic religion. Think of an Oxford or Cambridge university today as equivalent. It took up to ten years of learning to reach the top most rank, Chief Druid, and beginners were sent to Mona to mix with the elders. The deep natural pools and plentiful oak forests made the perfect environment for the Druids to practise and teach their beliefs. The Romans would have you believe that these rituals consisted of blood-curdling actions such as human sacrifice, but for a religion based on the love and power of Mother Nature, that seems yet another burst of propaganda, and no evidence has ever been found.

There are other, more likely, reasons Rome was set to crush Mona. One was that it was positioned directly on the trade route from Ireland, trade that centred on the worldwide shipment of gold. Rome had a constant need for the precious metal, and it was easiest transported from the mines in modern day County Wicklow, across to Holyhead, and from there across country to its required source.

Second, there’s some proof that the Roman army, once it had conquered the island, made use of the natural resources found there. A copper mine at Amlwch on the north- east coast (once the biggest in Europe) has workings right back to the Neolithic. It’s inconceivable that an advancing army would miss the mounds and discoloured earth and not known of its significance.

In terms of ritual and Roman distrust and fear of Druids, same decades earlier the first ever mention of Mona came from Roman historian, Pliny. He describes a ceremony involving an oak tree, considered sacred even today to modern day Druids. Mistletoe (which within Druidic lore symbolises life through death) was ritually cut from the oak, and accompanied by the sacrifice of a bull. There are arguments as to whether the ritual was a farm blessing or whether it had a deeper cultural significance.

Pliny wrote …

“Mistletoe was gathered with due religious ceremony, if possible on the sixth day of the Moon when the influence of the orb was said to be at its height.”

Pliny also records …

“Mistletoe when taken in drink imparts fecundity to barren animals and that it is an antidote to all known poisons.”

The position of the Druids was closely interwoven within Celtic life and their influence was very powerful. Whilst Britain had a reputation across Europe as home to the Druidic movement, Mona played a significant part in British and tribal cohesion and was labelled the centre for Druidism in Britain.

Interpretation of 60AD Roman Invasion

So, what happened in 60AD? Why was the first attempted invasion unsuccessful? It’s believed Suetonius’s first attack was somewhere around the Penmon Peninsular, one of the beaches near the town of modern-day Beaumaris, across the relatively flat expanse of Lavan Sands.

Let’s turn again to the words of Tacitus to tell us …

“Suetonius Paulinus prepared accordingly to attack the island of Mona, which had a considerable population of its own, while serving as a haven for refuges; and, in view of the shallow and variable channel, constructed a flotilla of boats with flat bottoms. By this method the infantry crossed; the cavalry, who followed, did so by fording or, in deeper water, by swimming at the side of their horses … On the beach stood the adverse array, a serried mass of arms and men, with women flitting between the ranks. In the style of Furies, in robes of deathly black and with dishevelled hair, they brandished their torches; while a circle of Druids, lifting their hands to heaven and showering imprecations, struck the troops with such an awe at the extraordinary spectacle, that, as though their limbs were paralysed, they exposed their bodies to wounds without an attempt at movement. Then, reassured by their general, and inciting each other never to flinch before a band of females and fanatics, they charged behind the standards, cut down all who met them, and enveloped the enemy in his own flames … The next step was to install a garrison among the conquered population, and to demolish the groves consecrated to their savage cults: for they considered it a pious duty to slake the altars with captive blood and to consult their deities by means of human entrails …”

Roman statue of Suetonius Paulinus
It was later reported to be the bloodiest battle undertaken by the Roman army in all of Britain. However, before Suetonius could quell the fanatics and females and establish a garrison, news reached him of a severe uprising in the south. A warrior queen of the Iceni tribe, name of Boudicca, who, knowing the army in the south to be without its leader, was causing havoc - setting fire to town after town as she marched across country. Torn, Suetonius had no option but to withdraw from the endless, grinding, daily battles against the Celts. It is likely he sailed from Mona to Deva (Chester) and from there marched down into the Midlands, via the main Roman road, the Watling Street, to meet Boudicca for her final battle, rumoured to be around the Roman settlement of Manduessedum (Mancetter). It is believed Boudicca committed suicide rather than be taken prisoner.

Suetonius Paulinus was a hailed a hero, the brightest general of his time, and was recalled to Rome by the Emperor Nero. And the little island off the North Wales coast forgotten. For the time being.

Another five generals followed, each had their own battles to win. It was not until AD78, and a young legionnaire, who’d been part of the original invasion in AD60, was crowned Governor Gnaeus Julius Agricola of Britain. A son of a wealthy Roman senator, his memory burned with the opposition his legion had faced as a young soldier – and it was now time to get even.

After news reached him that an Auxiliary cavalry squadron had been crushed in the wilds of Snowdonia by the Ordovices tribe, his response was fast and crushing. He was so enraged, he headed to North Wales to lead his men from the front, and with as much man power, weaponry and back-up he could source, he set to crush the Celts and Druids once and for all.

Tacitus writes …

“He almost exterminated the whole tribe; then recognising the necessity of confirming first impressions, knowing that he depended on the issue of his first campaign to terrorise the enemy of the future, he determined to reduce the island of Mona, from the capture of which, as I have before recorded, Paulinus had been recalled by the general rebellion in Britain … His (Agricola) plans had been hastily formed and so, as was natural, he had no ships on the spot; yet the resourcefulness and determination of the general bridged the straits. For after unloading all the baggage he picked a body of native auxiliaries who knew the fords, and had that facility in swimming which belongs to their nation, and by means of which they can control simultaneously their own movements, their weapons, and their horses; he then launched them upon the enemy so suddenly that the astonished islanders, who looked for fleets of ships upon the sea, promptly came to the conclusion that nothing was hard and nothing invincible to men who fought in this fashion … Accordingly they petitioned for peace and surrendered the island …”

Roman town Din Lligwy
I would doubt that the invasion was quite as peaceful as Tacitus’s propaganda would have us believe. Agricola spent the next two years erecting a huge fort and garrison at Segontium on the Welsh side of the Menai Straits. But it would seem that all sides remained content with the arrangement achieved during this campaign, as no further mention of any other disturbances arising from the island are known, and in the following campaign season Agricola is found fighting against the Brigantes and Carvetii in the north of England, and would hardly have done so had Mona not been secure.

While there are the remains and ruins of Roman towns (such as the Din Lligwy walled town near Moelfre) and hamlets across Anglesey, no evidence remains of the Druid strongholds. There are proliferations of burial chambers, chambered cairns, standing stones and sacred wells, dating as far back as Mesolithic times through to the late Iron Age all across the island. The most famous of the Roman finds is a significant collection of Celtic metalwork recovered during the expansion of RAF Valley on the north of the island. While draining a lake, Llyn Cerrig Bach, a later Iron-Age hoard was discovered, including what has been identified as human slave chains. As Druids were known to sacrifice metal objects to their Gods in these sacred lakes, could this be evidence of a Druidic settlement or place of worship?

Mona stone head
Also of interest is the large number of late Iron-Age and Romano-British carved stone heads, which have been recovered over time from many locations throughout the island. Many of these carvings have ‘cigarette holes’ around the mouth which may serve a ritual Druidic purpose. Even today, these stone heads are sometimes removed from their resting places to take part in traditional local folk ceremonies. Could these be the last remaining trace of Druid life on Anglesey?

My novel, Complicit, takes a purely fiction look at the people and lives on both sides of the Roman versus Druidic divide back in 60AD. And also, investigates the idea that some of these traditional folk festivals still survive today on the island … because some of the Druid descendants still survive too, waiting for their time to rise to power again. I’d love to believe this is the truth; only the future may prove me right or wrong.


Gillian Hamer's other two novels, The Charter and Closure, which also feature historical facts about the island of Anglesey can be found on her website.
You can follow her on Twitter @gillyhamer

Details of other books from Triskele, visit their website.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Castles 101

by Maria Grace

Bodiam castle, Sussex, England.
European castles originated in the 9th and 10th century. Though there is a lot of debate, castles are generally considered to be the private fortified residence of a lord or noble and as such did not serve as a public defense. In contrast, palaces are not fortified.

Castles served not only as military structures, but as centers of administration and symbols of the nobility’s power. Since their first function was defense, castles often exploited natural defenses like hilltops and cliff faces.  As building techniques improved, stone replaced earth and timber as the material of choice. Although there are many styles of castles, they share a number of common design features.

Common features 

Bamburgh 2006 closeup
Bamburgh Castle, built on a motte
takes advantage of natural surrounding water.
A motte is an earthen mound with a flat top, which could be natural or man made. The motte could be constructed out of dirt dug up in the formation of the moat. It might also be created by covering up an older castle or hall whose rooms became underground chambers in the new keep.

Castles also took advantage of natural defenses, built on cliffs, mountains and hills or suing rivers, ditches and lakes for defensive purposes.


Interior and keep of Warkworth Castle
Keep of Warkworth Castle.
Notice the underground room entrance and the courtyard above.
The keep was typically used as the residence of the noble castle owner. Not surprisingly, it would the most strongly defended point of the castle. Keeps often took the form of a great tower on top of the motte. The fairytale towers that kept sleeping beauty and Rapunzel come to mind when I think about a tower keep.

Ward or Courtyard

Area inside the walls of the castle surrounding the keep which might contain baileys.


A fortified enclosure outside of the main keep. The knights guarding the lord’s household, the garrison, stables and workshops were often located in one or more bailey structures.

Castle Defenses

A castle with concentric rings of defense. The curtain wall on the outside, baileys and enceinte within.  Talluses can be seen at the base of the curtain wall. Several bastions may be found on the right hand side. Battlements and arrow slits can be found on the curtain wall.

Curtain Wall

This thick defensive wall surrounded a keep and bailey(s). The walls were typically over 10 feet thick, wide enough for defenders to walk on along a patrol path (chemin de ronde) and fire arrows on attackers below.


Sloping faces were added at the base of fortified walls to increase the strength of the wall and decrease the effectiveness of siege engines.


Towers in the corners, middle or end of the curtain wall to prevent blind spots in the castle defense.


Architectural elements of the curtain wall designed to assist defenders of the castle. These included gaps and solid blocks on top of the wall for defenders to shoot through/hide behind (crenellation); wooden (hoarding) or stone (machicolations) projections to allow defenders to drop objects on attackers near the base of the wall while remaining protected. Small versions of machiocolations called brettice were also used above doorways.

Krak des Chevaliers 06
Arrow slit in curtain wall, from the inside.
Murder holes (Meutrieres)

Holes in the ceilings, machicolation, barbicans and passages that could be used to drop weapons on enemy soldiers including stones, boiling water, tar, and molten lead.

Arrow slits (Loop Holes)

After the 13th century, small openings in the curtain wall were added to allow defenders to fire arrows or crossbow bolts though the curtain walls.

Bartizans (Echaugettes, breteches)

Overhanging turrets that did not reach the ground were mounted in the curtain wall,. Defenders would use these as protected bases from which to fire upon attackers.


Some castles, known as concentric castles sported several rings of fortifications surrounding the keep. The enceinte was the innermost continuous line of fortifications.

Beeston Castle Gate House and Bridge - - 442721


The picture, Beeston Castle Gate house. Notice the towers with arrow slits and the bridge that acts as a barbican to limit approach to the gate.

The castle entrance was one of the greatest points of vulnerability, so a number of fortification could be added. These might include gatehouses with portcullises, (wooden and metal grills to block the entrance), towers with arrow slits, and a rampart and ditch to limit the approach to the gate. Flanking towers might be built on either side of the gate house to house defenses and fortify the entrance further.


Having only one entrance and exit to the castle was a huge liability. So, a small gate at the back of a castle effectively served as a back door.


To limit the approach of an enemy to the gate house an exterior walled passage, the barbican, would be used. It could effectively trap enemy soldiers among murder holes in the ceiling and arrow slits in the walls.


A steep-sided ditch surrounding a castle. In low lying areas, moats were filled with water and might be crossed with the aid of a drawbridge. Their purpose was to prevent the undermining of the castle walls.


A drawbridge could be raised or lowered by ropes or chains to limit access to a castle.


Maria Grace is the author of Darcy's Decision,  The Future Mrs. Darcy, All the Appearance of Goodness, and Twelfth Night at LongbournClick 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, follow on Twitter or email her.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Giveaway: THE CROWN, by Nancy Bilyeau

Nancy Bilyeau is giving away three signed copies of the paperback of  the historical thriller The Crown. Oprah Magazine says, "Bilyeau deftly weaves historical detail throughout, but the real draw of this suspenseful novel is its juicy blend of lust, murder, conspiracy and betrayal." This giveaway is for residents of North America and the UK, and it ends at midnight, Feb. 2nd. To see some information about the novel, click HERE. Comment here to enter the drawing and be sure to leave your contact information.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Faking Shakespeare: Tales of Forgery, Theft and Deception

by Pauline Montagna

William Henry Ireland (1775 – 1835)
By the eighteenth century, reverence for William Shakespeare and his plays had reached almost cult-like proportions, but the man himself remained elusive. No documentary evidence of his life or original writings had ever been found. What slender biographies had been written were based on gossip and local legends. Into this vacuum rushed the amateur collectors of documents and "relics", and among the most zealous of these was Samuel Ireland, a London engraver and publisher.

It had been through his efforts that Anne Hathaway's cottage was brought to public attention. However, his enthusiasm left him open to being duped and hoaxed. Having discovered that, after the demolition of Shakespeare's New Place, its contents had been taken to Clopton House, Ireland went there in the hope of finding original documents among the furnishings and bric-a-brac. Much to his horror he was told the cook had burnt a bundle of papers just the day before, though this turned out to be a cruel joke at Ireland's expense.

Ireland was accompanied to Stratford-upon-Avon by his son, William Henry, who witnessed not only this humiliation, but his father's purchase of several dubious relics. Whether it was to please a beloved father he saw frustrated and injured, to impress a distant father who cared more about Shakespeare than his own son, or perhaps to fool a gullible enthusiast in revenge for that neglect, no one is quite sure, but one day in 1794, at the age of nineteen, William came home from his job as a law clerk and presented his father with his own Holy Grail, a deed bearing Shakespeare's hitherto undiscovered signature.

Over time, several other documents and letters were also produced, coming, William Henry claimed, from a cache of papers discovered by a client who wished to remain anonymous. Not only did the cache include love letters to Anne Hathaway, but correspondence from Queen Elizabeth, the Earl of Southampton and John Hemminge. However the jewel in the crown would not only be manuscript pages from Hamlet and King Lear, but two hitherto undiscovered plays, Henry II and Vortigern and Rowena.

All the experts Samuel Ireland consulted judged the documents to be authentic and in December 1795, despite his son's reservations, he published his collection. This brought the documents and the debate surrounding them into the public eye. Before too long, on March 31, 1796, Ireland's book was countered by the preeminent Shakespearean scholar of the age, Edmond Malone. In 400 densely argued pages he exposed William Henry Ireland's discoveries as pure forgeries.

The previous year, Richard Brinsley Sheridan had purchased the rights to Vortigern and Rowena for the Drury Lane theatre for £300. Sheridan is said to have had some doubts about the authenticity of the play, or at least about its quality which he ascribed to its being one of Shakespeare's earliest efforts. Certainly his cast, led by John Philip Kemble, was in no doubt that this was not Shakespeare. However, Sheridan put his doubts aside, confident the controversy would pack out the house for the play's first performance on April 2, 1796.

As tickets sold out and the theatre buzzed, Sheridan may have been pleased on one count, but apprehensive on another, for Malone's book had hit the bookshops only two days earlier and had already sold 500 copies. Accounts differ as to how the play was received. Some say the audience was attentive and well behaved for the first two acts, others that there were guffaws throughout and the cast hammed it up, but they all agree that all hell broke loose when Kemble uttered the line ''and when this solemn mockery is o'er'' with particular emphasis. It was the play's first and last performance. It would only be revived as a curiosity in recent years.

Under the circumstances, William Henry confessed to having made the forgeries, but his father refused to believe him, going into print again in an attempt to crush Malone and vindicate himself. He died in 1800, estranged from his son, and suspected by all and sundry of being at least complicit in the forgery, if not the main culprit. It was not until 1805 when William Henry published The Confessions of William Henry Ireland taking all the blame on himself, that Samuel was exonerated.

As for William Henry, he attempted to make a career for himself as a writer, but was ostracised by British society and forced to retreat to France for almost a decade. He died in penury in 1835, his gothic novels and poetry only gaining some recognition long after his death.

John Payne Collier (1789 – 1883)
William Henry Ireland's motivations for faking Shakespeare are understandable enough, but we'll never really know what motivated John Payne Collier to perpetrate what may be the most extensive fraud on the Shakespearean community ever and which may still be in effect today.

John Payne Collier had everything going for him. Following in his father's footsteps, he started out his working life as a journalist, and by the age of twenty was an accomplished and well-paid parliamentary reporter. In his leisure time he pursued his interest in early English literature, researching, editing and publishing several books. In 1828 his efforts brought him to the attention of the Duke of Devonshire who appointed him librarian to one of the finest private libraries in England. This position gave Collier an entrée into collections of early English manuscripts across the country and refined his interest in Shakespeare. In 1840 he founded the Shakespeare Society and in 1841 he was commissioned to oversee a new edition of Shakespeare's Complete Works.

From then on his career went from strength to strength as he became a leading member of several prominent literary and antiquary societies and was appointed Secretary to the Royal Commission into the running of the British Museum. With such entrée into the most obscure collections, it was no surprise that during those years he claimed to have discovered and published a great number of new facts and documents relating to Shakespeare and the Elizabethan theatre. These included an edition of the Stationers' Company register (where the publication of quartos of Shakespeare's plays were recorded and dated), as well as editions of papers bequeathed to Dulwich College by its founder, Edward Alleyn, the actor who brought Christopher Marlowe's anti-heroes to life, and theatrical entrepreneur, Philip Henslowe.

However, Collier's greatest coup was the discovery in the Devonshire library of a Second Folio of Shakespeare's works published in 1632. Known as the Perkins Folio after its first owner, it was purported to have been extensively annotated by a hand Collier called the 'Old Corrector' who seemed to be working from original manuscripts. The emendations included changes to punctuation, word order and stage directions and the addition of whole new lines.

This discovery caused a sensation, but suspicions were raised when Collier refused to let anyone else get more than a cursory glance at it. Collier caused even more of an uproar when he applied the Perkins Folio's emendations to his 1853 edition of Shakespeare's Works. Collier refused to answer his detractors, and the controversy might have died out if it were not for the death of the Duke of Devonshire in 1858. His heir donated the family's private library to the British Museum in its entirety, including the Perkins Folio. A keen eyed librarian noted that the annotations had first been made in pencil and then written over in ink. In 1861 Clement Ingleby published Complete View of the Shakespeare Controversy, totally demolishing Collier's claims.

Even this exposure did not faze Collier, whose silence gave him the benefit of the doubt that it was he who had been duped, and he continued to publish well into his eighties. However, it was not until the sale of his library after his death that the full extent of his fabrications came to light. His papers revealed the transcripts he had made and the interpolations he had added such as forged verses, inscriptions, lists and autographs as well as entire letters and other documents. Not only had the authenticity of any of the books and manuscripts he owned and handled been compromised, but nothing he wrote could be taken at face value any longer. A long and distinguished career that included a great deal of legitimate work had been entirely tainted.

We can never know the full extent of Collier's forgeries or how many have been adopted as authentic and found their way into the orthodox canon and biography. As for Collier, he never admitted to any wrong doing, even in his autobiographical writings just before his death where the closest he came to expressing any remorse was an ambiguous confession to being 'a despicable offender[, …] ashamed of almost every act of [his] life.'

Raymond Rickett Scott (1957 – 2012)

While the motivations of our next perpetrator are more than clear, one can only ask oneself, what was he thinking?

In June 2008 Raymond Rickett Scott walked into Washington's Folger Library unannounced. Wearing tropical gear, a gold Rollex, designer jewellery and sunglasses, he claimed to be a British millionaire just arrived from Cuba. He then drew out of a briefcase a book he thought might be a Shakespeare Folio which he wanted the library to authenticate and appraise so he could sell it at auction. He claimed he had smuggled the book out of Cuba where he had been entrusted with it by its owner, a Cuban friend who could not make the journey due to travel restrictions.

Though the book had been tragically stripped of its cover, binding and several pages from the front and back, the Folger's chief librarian immediately suspected that this was indeed a First Folio, and, in the hope of keeping it safe, persuaded Scott to leave the book with the library for further study.

Scott had certainly come to the best place to authenticate a Shakespeare First Folio. The Folger Library is one of the leading centres of Shakespearean studies in the world and is the proud possessor of 79 First Folios. Of the estimated 750 copies printed in 1623 only 231 remain and every one of those copies has been surveyed in exhaustive detail.

Due to the circumstances in which the Folio was hurriedly printed, wide variations were created between each copy. Furthermore, the Folios were sold unbound so that the purchaser would then have them bound by the binder and in the style of their choice. Over the years individual copies might be rebound, re-trimmed, labelled and annotated. As a result, each known copy of the First Folio is unique and its uniqueness has been meticulously recorded. This also means that of all the rare books in the world, a First Folio is the worst book to steal.

Though the book had been deliberately stripped of every visible sign of its origins, with recourse to experts from both the US and the UK, Scott's book was soon identified as the First Folio stolen from Durham University ten years earlier. It had been part of an exhibition tracing the development of English literature from the Middle Ages to the present day. Unfortunately, there had been no security. The glass cabinets had been forced and the Folio, together with several other rare books, had been stolen. With no CCTV or forensic evidence to go on, the local police were yet to find the culprits.

By the time the Folger Library called in the FBI, Scott had left the US and after an international manhunt was discovered in his modest home which he shared with his elderly mother not a dozen miles from Durham University. Far from being a millionaire, Scott had never had a job in his life and lived on welfare benefits. He claimed his flamboyant lifestyle, which included Cuban cigars, Dom Perignon, frequent overseas travel, top flight accommodation and a succession of luxury cars, had been financed by his parents. In fact he had 25 prior convictions including several for theft of books and paintings and owed £90,000 on a dozen credit cards.

In his own defence, Scott put it to the police that he would never have taken the book so openly to the Folger if he had known it was stolen. Moreover, he had only developed an interest in rare books in recent years and at the time of the theft would not have known the difference between a First Folio and a Jackie Collins. However, the police were able to systematically breakdown his story until it was evident the book had not come from Cuba, but had been taken by him directly from the UK to Washington. With the forensic study of the book, Scott's lawyers had to concede that it was indeed the stolen Durham First Folio.

There had been some truth to Scott's Cuban story. Having holidayed there several times, Scott had fallen in love with a young and beautiful nightclub dancer who was then, even as he was being interviewed by the police, drawing £1,000 a month from a travel money account in his name. Scott was in desperate need of money to clear up his debts and finance the lifestyle his fiancée expected from him. The sale of a First Folio for £3 million in 2006 may have prompted him to take his own First Folio down from his bookcase, where it had been sitting for ten years, and try to sell it. He may have believed that he would escape detection by selling it in far off America rather than at home in Britain.

A showman through and through, Scott turned up at his court hearings in fancy cars and designer clothes, playing up to the surrounding press and even spraying them with champagne on one occasion, all the time declaring his innocence. Though the court was unable to prove he had stolen the First Folio he was convicted of handling stolen goods and removing stolen property from Britain. He was visibly shaken when, calling him a fantasist, the judge handed down an eight year prison sentence.

Whether or not Scott was guilty of actually stealing the Folio, we may never be sure. He confessed to a journalist, then recanted, then described the theft in detail to his biographer. He said he had gone to the Durham University Library to 'scope' it out, but on seeing the unguarded cabinets, forced one open and shoved its contents into a shopping bag. Seeing how lax the security was, he returned later for the First Folio.

The First Folio was returned to Durham University where it has been repaired and kept in more secure surroundings. Unfortunately, the damage it sustained has now halved its value.

As for Raymond Scott, the reality of his situation was perhaps too much to bear and he committed suicide in prison in 2012.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Queen Elizabeth’s Parliamentary Diarist, Thomas Cromwell

by Beth von Staats

If we are lucky, we have a friend or two in our lives, people so close that we just know if God takes us early they will look out always for our children. Gregory Cromwell, 1st Baron Cromwell of Oakham, son of the executed Thomas Cromwell, 1st Earl of Essex, had such great fortune. Two loving friends, one closest to him, the other to his father, stepped up willingly, providing support and patronage to his children after his untimely death of the sweating sickness in 1551. Sadly, the same illness killed Cromwell's mother and two sisters during his childhood years before.

This monument to Gregory Cromwell, 1st Baron Cromwell, which is to the left of the altar at Launde Abbey Chapel, dates to 1551. It is said to be one of the finest examples of early English Renaissance sculpture in the country.

The situation resulting from Cromwell's death was quite overwhelming for his wife, Elizabeth, sister of the late Queen Jane Seymour. Not only was she left with seven of her own children, five by Cromwell and two by her first husband, Sir Anthony Ughtred, but also the four children of her dead brother, Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset and Lord Protector. Though she ultimately remarried once more to John Paulet, 2nd Marquess of Winchester, securing the futures of children born of such complicated legacies was quite a task.

So just who were the men that "stepped up to the plate"?

Sir William Cecil, later Baron Burghley, was a very dear friend of Gregory Cromwell. Although how exactly they came together is not known, Lord Burghley's first position at court was working diligently for Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset, when he was Lord Protector of the realm. Given Somerset's close familial relationship with Cromwell, this seems like the most plausible connection between the men. In any case, the friendship clearly was a close one, with Cromwell describing Cecil in his last will and testament as "my especial and singular good lord".

Sir Ralph's Sadleir's relationship to Baron Cromwell is far better documented. Sadleir, arguably as close to Thomas Cromwell, Earl of Essex, as his own son, was raised alongside Gregory Cromwell at Austin Friars. Sadleir later worked for Thomas Cromwell until Cromwell's execution, enjoying his patronage and growing to great advantage in King Henry VIII's court. After some initial difficulties post execution, Sadleir rose further, knighted in 1542 and sharing the role of King Henry's Principle Secretary. Sadleir continued his service to the crown during the reign of King Edward VI as High Treasurer of the Army. In this role, Sadleir, Somerset and Cecil all came together at the Scottish Battle of Pinkie in 1547.

Sir William Cecil
(Arnold van Brounckhorst c. 1560s
So, although Gregory Cromwell chose a life away from court politics, instead focusing his attention to his service in Parliament and his estate at Launde Abbey, his closest friends and family were highly esteemed courtiers, and through their affinity for him and his father, patronized his children after his tragic death, opening doors otherwise closed. One of these children, named for arguably English history's most remarkable Parliamentarian, seized his opportunity and ran with it.

Thomas Cromwell, third and youngest son of Gregory Cromwell and Elizabeth Seymour, had not only the given name, but also the exhaustive work ethic and obviously high intellect of his magnificent grandfather. A Parliamentary member of the House of Commons for five consecutive terms from 1571 to 1589, Cromwell represented first Fowey in 1571, then Bodmin from 1572 to 1581, from there Preston in 1584, and finally Grampound from 1586 to 1588. The Fowey, Bodmin and Grampound appointments were secured almost assuredly through William Cecil, while the Preston appointment came through Ralph Sadleir.

This Regency Era engraving is
thought to be Thomas Cromwell, from
an original portrait (approx. 1560).
Unlike his Lutheran leaning grandfather, Thomas Cromwell was a Puritan by religion, described as "the model type of parliamentarian, deeply versed in the history and procedure of the institution... eminently responsible, but fearless in defense of liberty." Cromwell was exceptionally respected for his knowledge of Parliamentary procedure, resulting in his becoming one of the most valued and experienced committeemen of his time.

While serving in Parliament, Thomas Cromwell participated in over 100 committees, journaling the sessions of Parliament in 1572, 1576, 1581 and 1584. Cromwell's journal diaries now rest at the Trinity College library in Dublin. The topics, issues and concerns addressed through these varying committees illustrate many of the societal challenges of the Elizabethan Period, and include but certainly not limited to discussions about vagabonds, avoiding idleness, rogues, wharves and quays, relief of Vicars, forgery, slanderous practices, children of aliens, and most importantly, the Queen's safety.

Like his grandfather before him, Thomas Cromwell had ample opportunity to speak before Parliament. For example, he spoke against a bill concerning the English born children of foreigners and support of Paul Wentworth's motion for a public fast and daily worship. He was also often chosen to report to Parliament the progress of committees he actively and enthusiastically participated in.
Sir Anthony Cope, by Anthony van Dyck

Although Cromwell sent Queen Elizabeth hearty thanks for finally executing Mary Queen of Scots via Parliamentary motion, he also was not afraid to take her on if he believed the cause warranted. Evidently, Queen Elizabeth did not take kindly to Sir Anthony Cope presenting to the Speaker of the House of Commons a Puritan edition of the Book of Common Prayer, nor his bill abrogating existing ecclesiastical law. On March 13, 1587, Cromwell moved "to have some conference with the Privy Council of this House", because he disagreed strongly with the Queen's command to imprison Parliament's more extremely Puritan members who supported "Cope's Bill and Book".

To address the Queen's reaction and Cromwell's strong response, Parliament did what it still does best, established yet another committee, likely the most important Cromwell participated in. He dug in deep with great relish. Harking the memory of his grandfather, who once spoke with great clarity in opposition to King Henry VIII's request for funding a war with France, Cromwell prepared thoroughly, researching precedents to show that Her Majesty had no right to imprison Sir Anthony Cope, Peter Wentworth and the others supportive of their cause. He argued the men's principle liberties were violated, and illustrated through long history Parliament's role in disciplining its own members when such was appropriate. Thus, as his grandfather used Parliament to push the monarch's agenda and ultimate supreme authority, he instead pushed back to limit it.

Beyond Thomas Cromwell's Parliamentary service, he was appointed by the Privy Council to manage Norfolk affairs and quarrels, and then acted as a steward for his brother, Henry, 2nd Baron Cromwell, and later his nephew, Edward, 3rd Baron Cromwell. They were heavily in debt. Lucky him! The father of nine children, Cromwell died in 1611, leaving the world his diaries, now historians' most important source of Elizabethan Parliamentary law.


The History of Parliament, British Political, Social and Local History, CROMWELL, Thomas (c. 1540-1611), of King's Lynn, Norf., The article was originally published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1558-1603, ed. P.W. Hasler, 1981.

Wikipedia, Thomas Cromwell (Parliamentary Diarist) .

Luminarium: Encyclopedia Project, England Under the Tudors, Sir Ralph Sadler (1507 -1587), (author is not identified)

Luminarium: Encyclopedia Project, England Under the Tudors, William Cecil, Baron Burghley (1521-1598), (author is not identified)


Beth von Staats is a short story historical fiction writer and administrator of 


In Pursuit of Beauty: Early Cosmetics

The Pursuit of Beauty

IT is no surprise that a people who loved colour and design in clothing and jewellry should also take some pains with their personal grooming. Pre-Christian Anglo-Saxon and Viking grave finds commonly include a host of toilet accessories buried with both men and women - combs ornately carved of bone, antler, wood, or ivory; tweezers for plucking out splinters and unwanted hairs; minute metal ear scoops like tiny spoons meant for cleaning the ear; and personal wash-basins were all frequent accompaniments to the after-life. (Alas, since Christianity forbade burial with grave goods, later toiletry finds are rare.)

In life, tree twigs were used to clean the teeth - and the Anglo-Saxons may have even used the abundant chalk of southern England to polish their teeth, as did the Romans. An interesting paper by anthropologist Caroline Arcini of the National Heritage Board of Lund, Sweden and first published in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology in 2005 discusses her study of the skulls of 24 Viking-era men in Sweden and Denmark. Twenty-four of the men (amongst a total of 557 men and women at four burial sites) had horizontal grooves filed into their front teeth for decorative purposes, and possibly as a sign of admittance into a special social or trade group. These grooves, which would have been most noticeable when the men were smiling or laughing, may have been filled with mineral based colours in black or red for even more decorative effect.

Whole body bathing was certainly not a frequent occurrence amongst our Anglo-Saxon forbears, but hands, feet, and face were washed daily, and hands washed prior to eating. The prosperous enjoyed rubbing scented oils into their skin and hair, but even the poorest cottar girl could pluck aromatic flowers and herbs and release their cleansing scent by crushing them in her hands.

Long hair was an important beauty accessory for women, and we can surmise from King Ælfred's Law Code that men too found longer length hair and beards to accentuate male beauty, for a costly fine was imposed for robbing a man of same. Men typically wore their hair past the ear or shoulder- length; a close-cropped head was the sign of a slave (or a Norman). Anglo-Saxon men must have greatly valued their long hair, for the following law occurs in the Law Code of King Ælfred (b. 849-d. 899 CE):
If someone restrains a free man...(and) as a humiliation...he shaves (his head) like a priest's, without binding him, let him pay compensation of thirty shillings. If he shaves off his beard, let him pay compensation of twenty shillings. If he ties him up and then shaves his head like a priest's, let him pay compensation of sixty shillings. (extracted from Law 35, translated by Bill Griffiths)
If you consider that the penalty for cutting off a man's leg (Law 72) or arm (Law 66) was eighty shillings, you will understand that the steep sixty shilling fine for a forced haircut (hair being a resource which after all will grow back) was exacted as it struck at the notion of a man's dignity.

Soothing and comforting emollients, oftentimes compounded with herbal matter, were created in every household and used on man and beast to relieve chapping and chaffing, and undoubtedly to help soften and beautify the skin. Wool-wax, butter, or vegetable and nut oils served as a base.

But what about true cosmetics? Firm narrative or archaeological evidence for their use amongst the Anglo-Saxons is lacking, but the ease of preparation of such enhancers, coupled with the cultural desire that all surfaces be made as beautiful and vivid as possible, might allow some prudent conjecture.

Colourants for the skin and hair have always formed the largest category of cosmetics. Their herbal sources - walnuts and chestnuts for dark dyes, soft-bodied fruits such as berries and the skins of plums for reds and pinks, chamomile blossom heads for yellow, the flowers of baptisia and leaves of common woad (isatis tinctoria) for blues - were readily abundant throughout England. (And such colourants can not only make one beautiful, but fearsome, too: The Britons who fought against the Roman legions during the wars of Claudius are said to have stained their bodies blue with the herb woad. Naked, blue-bodied, and with their hair fixed with yellow clay in spiky quills and standing straight out from their heads, they horrified the Roman regulars.)

Certainly any dyestuff that would colour linen or wool would also impart its hue to human skin - at least temporarily; the dusky-stained hands of the village dyer showed that. A mouth reddened by the eating of berries is a charming sight, and we cannot hope to guess how many girls and women may have purposely tinted lips and cheeks with juice pressed from raspberries and cherries.

We do know that at least some Vikings knew the sting of vanity, for we have the reliable account of the Arab traveler Ibrahim Al-Tartushi, who visited the Viking trading hub of Hedeby (in modern northern Germany) about 950, and recorded many facets of everyday life there, noting that both men and women used cosmetics:
There is also an artificial make-up for the eyes: when they use it beauty never fades; on the contrary, it increases in men and women as well.
Ibrahim was likely observing the ancient blackening agent kohl, made from antimony (the mineral stibnite) or soot. Kohl can be rubbed directly onto the eye lashes as well as lined under and over both lids to deepen and intensify the eye.

The final form of cosmetic enhancement available to beauty-seekers in the ninth century is one I have employed in The Circle of Ceridwen; that is, tattooing. The Danes Sidroc and Yrling both sport elaborate blue and red tattoos on their bodies. Tattoos, of course, have been used around the world since remotest antiquity as indicators of social standing, tribal affiliation, and magical significance, as well as for their purely decorative value. Tattoos such as those worn by Sidroc and Yrling were likely accomplished by means of piercing the skin with a sharpened goose quill filled with powdered vegetable dyestuff. The process was neither quick nor painless, but the result quite impressive.


The Circle of Cerdwen : Book One
Octavia Randolph is the author of The Circle of Ceridwen Saga.  Young women with courage. Swords with names. Vikings with tattoos. Warfare. Passion. Survival. Sheep. And Other Good Things...