Friday, February 27, 2015

The Scent of Sandalwood

by Lauren Gilbert

I have always loved the scent of sandalwood. It’s a warm, woody, sweet and sensual scent that is delightful on its own and forms a wonderful base note for some of my favourite perfumes, such as Samsara by Guerlain.

I was browsing a back issue of Jane Austen’s Regency World magazine and ran across this news item from 1805: “The value of the produce brought by the last fleet from India, consisting of teas, gold bars etc amounts, it is said to upwards of 16 million sterling, including the private trade.” (1) Trade items at the time would have included raw cotton as well as printed fabrics, tea, and other items, including sandalwood. This item made me think about sandalwood as a trade item during the Regency era, and wonder just what form sandalwood as an import took.  It turns out that sandalwood was imported in many forms.

Boxes were especially popular. Glove boxes, sewing boxes and other items were made of sandalwood and inlaid with ivory, quills and other decorative finishes. In my list of references, you will find some links to sites with some wonderful photographs of beautiful boxes from this era. Sandalwood was also used to frame mirrors, tables and gentlemen’s clothes presses. I can only imagine how delicious a pair of gloves or a suit of clothes stored in a sandalwood receptacle must have smelled.

Another popular use for sandalwood was for construction of fans. During the 18th century sandalwood fans became very popular. Sometimes it was just the sticks, or mounts, that were sandalwood with fabric or other materials attached to the sticks of the fan to form the blades. In other cases, the entire fan was sandalwood; an open-work design for the blades called brise’ was very popular in ivory as well as sandalwood. I have a modern example, shown here:

As you can see, the lacy design looks so delicate and feminine. This style was especially popular during the reign of Louis XVI, and the quality of the carving may have been influenced by the Chinese styles so popular at that time. My fan still generates a slight sandalwood fragrance when I waft it. I can only imagine how a fresh new sandalwood fan would scent the air around me.

Amazingly, in the 18th century, sandalwood was also used as an ingredient in cosmetics. Red make up (rouge) was made in many formulas from various ingredients. One was vermilion, which was ground cinnabar combined with mercury. Another was creuse, which resulted from the exposure of lead to vapour of vinegar. (Both were toxic.) There were also various vegetable formulas for rouge, and the possible ingredients included wood resin, brazil wood and sandalwood. The chosen ingredient would be mixed to a paste with a cream, grease or oil, or vinegar, and applied to the skin.

My favourite form of sandalwood, the perfume, has actually been a beloved scent for centuries. Aromatic oils from India, including sandalwood, were known to the Egyptians over 3500 years ago. Sandalwood was a popular component of unguents, pastes, and other vehicles for scent, and was used during rituals as well as to scent the body. Although perfumes lost favour during the early years of Christianity, a resurgence of perfumes’ popularity occurred during the medieval period, and has never really waned since then. In the 13th century, the use of alcohol in scent was discovered, which allowed the development of perfume as we know it today, resulting in a lighter, less greasy product that was less likely to stain. Sandalwood was a common element in perfumes for centuries.

During the Georgian era (including the Regency period), sandalwood was generally considered a masculine scent. However, it was also used in women’s perfumes as well. James Floris developed Stephanotis scent for women in 1796, which blended base notes of sandalwood and musk with orange blossom, stephanotis, lily of the valley and other scents. Truefitt and Hill had a gentleman’s scent that included sandalwood in 1805.

Perfumes came in bottles made of glass that are very similar to modern perfume bottles in many respects. I like to think that my little glass bottle of sandalwood perfumed oil would not look out of place on a Regency lady’s dressing table.

Sandalwood was important enough that, when the Indian sources were becoming exhausted, other sources were sought. One of the products that made the Hawaiian Islands an attractive target was a variety of sandalwood. Captain James Cook arrived in the Hawaiian Island January 18, 1778 (he named them the Sandwich Islands for his patron, the Earl of Sandwich). Trade with the Hawaiian Islands for sandalwood began in the 1790’s due to the popularity of sandalwood in China.

Sources include:

Demode’ website. “ Women’s Hairstyles and Cosmetics of the 18th Century : France and England 1750-1790.” (Undated, no author shown.)

English Historical Fiction Authors blog. “Make-up in the 18th Century-a fatal attraction” posted 7/21/2014 by Mike Rendell. “Hawaiians” by Elaine Winters and Mark Swartz.

Historical Hussies blog. “Regency Fragrances…and what does she smell like?” Posted 4/4/2011
by Donna Hatch.

Jane Austen’s Regency World Magazine. Sept. /Oct. 2013 Issue 65. “WHAT MADE THE
NEWS IN SEPT AND OCT 1805.” Compiled by Judy Boyd. P. 31 (Footnote 1)

Michelle Styles website. “Regency Scents.” Posted 4/6/2008 by Michelle Styles.

“Perfumery in Western Europe around the 13th Century.”

Victoriana Magazine on line. “The History of the Fan.” (Undated, no author shown.)

For illustrations of boxes and other objects, visit these sites: “Anglo Indian Boxes.” Item 2. Veneered Boxes.

Patrick Jefferson website. “A Pinch of Spice: A Small Collection of Anglo-Indian Furniture,
Objects and Pictures.” Item 8-Candelsticks, made of hardwood, possibly sandalwood. Item 9-
Ivory & Lac Inlaid Sandalwood Glove Box.

Selling Antiques website. “Antique Sandalwood Boxes.”


Lauren Gilbert, author of HEYERWOOD: A Novel, lives in Florida with her husband. She wears sandalwood scent, and enjoys the Florida weather. Her second novel, A Rational Attachment, is due out later this year. Visit for more information.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

John Price: The Executioner Executed

By Catherine Curzon

 “The execution of John Price, the late Hangman, in Bunhill-Fields, is put off till the latter End of this Week.”
Post Boy (London, England) 20th May 1718

This simple line, glimpsed in the pages of the Post Boy, caught my attention as I browsed through the Burney Collection in an idle moment. The mention of an executioner on the scaffold sparked my imagination as I wondered what could possibly have led to such a reversal of fortune as John Price, once the hangman, found himself on the wrong end of the noose. This tale is one of violent death and swift Georgian justice, as the executioner became the executed!

As a villain, John Price seems torn straight from the pages of sensationalist literature. Born in 1677 in St Martin’s in the Fields, following the death of his soldier father in Tangier, the family found itself plunged into poverty. Thanks to their situation, there was no question that Price might undertake any education and instead he began on the lowest rung of the rag selling trade, supplementing his income with any number of petty crimes. Of course,  this was no job for boy with a wanderlust and ambition and eventually the young man went into the navy, where he remained for the better part of twenty years.

Upon his return to England, Price lived at first from the proceeds of petty crime, existing as a pickpocket on the streets of the capital and drinking his way into regular oblivion. He was in and out of trouble yet managed, for the most part, to avoid anything too serious, yet things were hardly going well. However, Price's years at sea had left him with a talent for knots and this was to come in very useful during his search for an honest wage. The gallows at Bunhill Fields in London needed a hangman and the former seaman was the ideal candidate for the role, which he assumed in 1713 at the age of thirty six. For approximately three years, it seemed, Price's life might be some way to being on track yet his weaknesses for drink and gambling were to prove ruinous.

There was nothing that Price liked more than to spend his wages in the alehouse and the more he drank, the more he gambled until, as sure as night follows day, his debts overwhelmed him. Thrown into Marshalsea, Price languished for two long years yet he would not be cowed and, after two years, he made good his escape by smashing a hole through the wall of the prison itself!

On 13th March 1718, Price found himself in Moorfields where Elizabeth White, a woman who sold baked goods and gingerbread on the street, was making her way home after a day of work. At ten o’clock that evening she had been out of the house for twelve hours and was, no doubt, ready for her bed before another long day of toil. Instead, Price accosted Elizabeth in the street and attempted to rape her. She resisted with a fierce might yet Price beat her mercilessly, leaving Elizabeth with broken bones, blinded in one eye and with a catalogue of horrific injuries.

The sound of the assault alerted Alexander Dufey, a passerby, to the crime and he found Price standing over Elizabeth’s body. At first Price claimed that she was simply drunk yet Dufey could see despite the night that she was seriously injured and half naked. The poor woman was rendered unable to speak by her injuries and could only groan in agony, though her assailant maintained that she was uninjured and drunk. Dufey's cry for help brought other witnesses running and Price was detained and taken into custody. In a sad twist, Elizabeth’s own son, a watchman, was at the watch house that night. He had gone back to the home he shared with his mother and found it locked up so returned to work, little guessing that he would find his own mother’s murderer there under arrest.

Thrown into Newgate, Price continued to maintain his innocence and, after lingering on for four agonising days, Elizabeth died without regaining consciousness. On trial at the Old Bailey, Price claimed that he had done nothing but find the woman in the street and was, in fact, attempting to help her as he believed she was drunk. The jury, however, disagreed, and John Price was sentenced to hang.

Taken to Newgate to await his death, Price turned to drink once more as he had throughout his life. He passed the days from court to gallows in a fog of insensibility, maintaining right until the day of his death that he was an innocent man. However, as he was prepared for his journey to the scaffold where he had once worked, Price confessed. Even now he could not bring himself to take full responsibility and pleaded that he had been drunk and was not in control of his own actions.

On 31st May 1718 John Price was hung before a crowd and told them, as the hood was placed over his head, that they should take a lesson from what had become of him. In his final moments he asked those who had gathered, perhaps optimistically, that they pray for his sorry soul.


Old Bailey Proceedings Online (, version 7.0, 22 February 2015), April 1718, trial of John Price, the quondam Hangman (t17180423-24). Post Boy (London, England) 20th May 1718
Cawthorne, Nigel, Public Executions: From Ancient Rome to the Present Day, Arcturus Publishing (2006)
Nelson, John, The History and Antiquities of the Parish of Islington, in the County of Middlesex, T Lester (1829)
Wade, Stephen, Britain's Most Notorious Hangmen, Wharncliffe Books (2009)
Webb, Simon, Execution: A History of Capital Punishment in Britain, The History Press (2011) 


Glorious Georgian ginbag, gossip and gadabout Catherine Curzon, aka Madame Gilflurt, is the author of A Covent Garden Gilflurt’s Guide to Life. When not setting quill to paper, she can usually be found gadding about the tea shops and gaming rooms of the capital or hosting intimate gatherings at her tottering abode. In addition to her blog and Facebook, Madame G is also quite the charmer on Twitter. Her first book, Life in the Georgian Court, is available now, and she is also working on An Evening with Jane Austen, starring Adrian Lukis and Caroline Langrishe.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

World War 1 and Irish Independence

by Arthur Russell

The First World War began in early August 1914. By the time it ended in November 1918, the map of Europe was dramatically changed. Over four years of bitter war and the subsequent settlement at the post war Conference at Versailles, four Empires, three of which had existed for centuries, had been dismembered to form many nation states based on ethnic nationalities and groupings. Three dynasties, the Hapsburgs, the Hohenzollerns and the Romanovs along with the Sultanate of the Ottoman Empire were no more. Thus it was for the big losers in the conflict.

For the victorious Allied powers there were some serious domestic problems, unfinished business of both an economic and political nature they had to apply themselves to after the guns fell silent and the soldiers returned home. For them too, the world of 1919 was very different to the world they could remember before the fighting began in August 1914. For all concerned, there would be no going back to the certainties of pre-conflict days.

The “Irish Question”

For the British Empire, the “Irish question” that had rumbled interminably for centuries, re-emerged as an urgent cause for concern in 1919. It now had a new dimension arising from a separatist rebellion in Dublin, which had occurred two and a half years earlier, in April 1916, which though easily defeated at the time, had transformed Irish opinion so dramatically that independence was now the preferred choice of the majority of the Irish electorate. This was clearly expressed in the General Election of 1918 which saw an overwhelming victory for the separatist Sinn Féin (Ourselves Alone) Party all over the island, who immediately proceeded to form a new parliament (The Dáil) in Dublin, refusing to take their seats in the London Parliament.

Before the assassination of ArchDuke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo on June 28th 1914 dramatically took the attention of the world away from all other issues, the British House of Commons had been on the point of applying Home Rule to Ireland, a measure that would have devolved a significant measure of self-rule to a Dublin based parliament. At that time that was the full extent of Irish aspirations. The Home Rule Act had been passed after more than three decades of Parliamentary debate and struggle, including several narrow defeats; which had strained relationships between rival communities in Ireland as well as between the two islands that formed the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.

 On the eve of its implementation, after having been approved by the House of Commons and signed into law by the King in September 1914; the measure was shelved for the duration of the war that had been declared just a few weeks before. There was a belief that the fighting would run its course by the end of that year; that everybody would be “home for Christmas” and the Act brought into force after a short (successful) military campaign. How presumptuous those hopes were !!

In reality, the deferral gave huge immediate relief to the Imperial Government, as due to the strong opposition of the Unionist population concentrated in Ulster, there was a real possibility that the Irish situation would descend into all out civil war once implementation of the Home Rule Act began. As the Summer of 1914 changed into Autumn, all sides engaged in the debate and controversies surrounding Home Rule were focused on the more immediate and urgent challenge of fighting Germany and her allies. The vexed Irish question, under the circumstances that now prevailed in Europe; had suddenly become a mere side show and a relatively less important and localised debate. 

Each player now had its own perspective of what its role should be in the European conflict that was about to unfold in the months ahead, and their expectations when the war was over.


For Unionists concentrated in the north eastern corner of Ireland, who were dead set against Irish Home Rule and who had mobilized and armed, (with arms imported from Germany!); a formidable force of volunteers to resist its application to Ulster; the call to fight against the Central European powers was a Heaven-sent opportunity for them to prove their loyalty to the British Empire and the Union flag; loyalty that had been put into serious question by their own very recently declared total opposition to any measure that would see them entering an all Ireland assembly that was likely to be dominated by Nationalist minded Catholics.

They had since 1912 and before made it clear they were fully prepared to fight the Imperial parliament and its army, to show their loyalty to the King who had just signed an Act they were determined to resist. The 90,000 Ulster Volunteers who answered the call to fight in Europe were mobilized into the 36th or Ulster Battalion.
They were going to war in Europe to fight for King, Flag and Empire.

A typical recruitment poster 
For the Parliamentary Irish Party, who had campaigned in the Imperial Parliament so long and hard for a limited form of national self determination, whilst staying under the umbrella of the Empire; the call to arms was a test of how strongly they believed in that Imperial attachment. Like the Unionists, Irish Nationalists had during 1913, also formed a Volunteer force, which had attracted 200,000 members to join its ranks. (These too had managed to import German guns during the Summer of 1914).

The leader of the Irish Party, John Redmond (Prime Minister in waiting of the hoped for Irish Parliament), was successful in persuading over 90% of the Volunteers to enlist and join the newly formed 10th and 16th Irish Battalions to ready themselves to take part in the European war. Further, on 3rd August 1914, he declared in the House of Commons that the government could withdraw every one of their troops from Ireland and rely that the coast of Ireland would be defended, for the duration of the war, from foreign invasion by her armed sons. Redmond’s 'Home Defence' initiative was widely acclaimed on all sides.

The Irish Volunteers were on their way not only to to fight the enemy in Europe, but to support, defend and confirm their claim to long promised Home Rule for Ireland.

Oglaigh na hÉireann (Soldiers of Ireland)

A small rump of the Irish Volunteers (10-14,000 men) refused to respond to the call to fight in Europe and broke away to form Oglaigh na hÉireann (Soldiers of Ireland). As far as this group were concerned, their “fight for small nations” (e.g Belgium which had been invaded by Germany in the early days of the war); would be on behalf of their own small nation.

In the words of a ballad written in the aftermath of the World War and the subsequent Irish War of Independence,
“Twas better to die ‘neath an Irish sky than at Suvla or Sud El Bar”

Nor was there any shortage of enlistments from men who had nothing to do with either Volunteer group. Even in Ulster with its highly sectarian bias, as many Catholics joined their Protestant neighbours in the Ulster Battalion to fight what they considered the common enemy.

Elsewhere in the country, men responded to the recruitment campaign that visited every town and village. Every recruit had his own reason to join the coming fight.

Other Groups 

Besides the two Volunteer groups drawn from both sides of the Catholic/Protestant (= Nationalist/Unionist) divide, there were 2 other armed military groupings on the island.

- The British regular army garrisons stationed all over the island who had so far largely stayed out of local conflicts. Earlier in 1914, these had indicated refusal to march on Ulster to confiscate the recently imported rifles in the possession of the Ulster Volunteers. Some officers had even indicated outright support for the Unionists should the Government attempt to implement the Home Rule Bill in what was known as the Curragh Mutiny. There were tense days while this unprecedented act of mutiny played out. The Government did nothing about the affair and allowed fast flowing events elsewhere to distract and simply forget. In line with Redmond’s Home Defence declaration of Aug 3rd, the mutiny minded officers and soldiers now had a very different enemy to fight.

- The Irish Citizen Army 

ICA outside Liberty Hall in Dublin in 1915
This militia had been formed arising from the Great Strike of 1913 in Dublin. While the strike was largely unsuccessful in achieving its immediate objectives, it succeeded in focusing unwelcome (from employers’ point of view) attention on the living conditions and rights of a vast underbelly of mostly urban workers. During the bitter days of the strike, the ICA was formed to provide protection to Trade Union members. It was planned that ICA would be a useful force whenever the Union’s struggle would be resumed in the fullness of time.

The numbers in the ICA were small, no more than 300 men. After the split in the Irish Volunteers in August 1914, they joined the Volunteer group refusing to join the British army, seeing their struggle for social and labour reform as something that could be better served by linking with nationalist aspirations. Their motto was “We serve neither King nor Kaiser, but Ireland”.

The net result of all the enlistments that took place during the early months of the war was that most communities across the island had husbands, fathers, brothers and sons serving on the warfront. Alongside them was a supporting group of nurses and religious chaplains.

As the long months of fighting progressed, there was a steady stream of dead to be mourned and injured to be supported by these communities. In 1914 alone, there were 3,224 dead. This rose to 9,878 in 1915. During 1916 the number of dead in the war peaked at 13,523. In 1917 the number killed was 11,823. In 1918 the number was 10,654. In the years immediately after hostilities ended, a further 208 died from wounds sustained.

1916 - A pivotal year: 
1916 was the year of the Battle of the Somme, where it was reported that over 2,000 soldiers of the Ulster Battalion were killed on the first day, July 1st, along with hundreds more Irish casualties in different theatres of the war front.

A Terrible Beauty is Born 

The destruction in the centre of Dublin in Easter 1916
matched anything that could be seen in the European war.
1916 was also the year of the Easter Rising in Dublin when the Irish Volunteers (Oglaigh na hÉireann) and ICA took over the centre of Dublin and declared a Republic. The rising was crushed after a week of fighting which destroyed much of the city. During the following weeks, fourteen of the leaders were executed and many Sinn Féin activists from all over the country were rounded up and incarcerated in a prison camp in Frongogh in North Wales.

In the perspective of subsequent history, and because of the twin events of Easter in Dublin, and the carnage at the Somme, 1916 came to represent to many on the Nationalist and Unionists sides, as their year of “Blood Sacrifice” for their respective causes.

From being a fringe minority movement before the rebellion, Irish nationalism derived new life from the bloodletting during and after the ill-fated rebellion. The villains, as they were perceived even by their own countrymen, in the immediate aftermath of their defeat and surrender, quickly became martyrs, arising from the impact on Irish public opinion caused by the summary military justice imposed by wartime British authorities.

Too late, Prime Minister Lloyd George came to understand how Irish sentiment had been so suddenly changed and energised. The rebel prisoners who had left Dublin in May 1916, with imprecations and insults in their ears; were released and returned from Frongogh to their homes as heroes, a mere nine months later. 

The apolitical poet and writer William Butler Yeats caught the mood of those watershed days in his poem Easter 1916.
 I write it out in a verse - 
MacDonagh and MacBride 
And Connolly and Pearse 
Now and in time to be, 
Wherever green is worn, 
Are changed, changed utterly: 
A terrible beauty is born. 

This dramatic change in sentiment was reflected among many soldiers serving with the Southern Irish Battalions in the trenches. The poet soldier Francis Ledwidge, on hearing of the execution of his friend and rebel leader Thomas MacDonagh, while he was home on leave from the front in May 1916 wrote:

"I joined (in 1914) the British Army because she stood between Ireland and an enemy of civilisation, and I would not have her say that she defended us while we did nothing but pass resolutions. If someone were to tell me now (1916) that the Germans were coming in over our back wall, I wouldn’t lift a finger to stop them. They could come!"

While Ledwidge was subjected to disciplinary measures for his seeming mutinous outburst, he continued to provide further service, making the ultimate sacrifice when he was killed before the third battle of Ypres in 1917.

His reaction was symptomatic of what was to happen in most of Ireland during subsequent years of the war. There was a significant falling off in enlistment to fill the gaps at the warfront, which was coupled with a determined and successful resistance to the application of military conscription to Ireland in 1917’18.

 One of the saddest outcomes of this change of sentiment in Nationalist Ireland was the way it impacted on Irish fighting men at the front. The brave Irish soldiers who had left their homes to fight Ireland’s cause in Europe found that the cause they thought they were fighting for (Home Rule) was no longer relevant. The political dynamic was now running towards independence. Their horrific casualties at Ypres, at Verdun, at Gallipoli and many other battles of the terrible war, were somehow devalued by the fact that they were wearing the uniform of the British army. Thousands of soldiers coming home to Ireland after the fighting in Europe was done, found they had to adapt to a much changed political climate.

Twas Britannia bade our Wild Geese go that small nations might be free 
 But their lonely graves are by Sulva's waves or the shore of the Great North Sea 
Oh, had they died by Pearse's side or fought with Cathal Brugha 
 Their names we will keep where the Fenians sleep 'neath the shroud of the foggy dew

A terrible beauty had been born.

Honouring the War Dead 

HM Queen Elizabeth with President Mary McAleese
in the Garden of Remembrance in Dublin
A century after these events, there is thankfully now a lot more understanding being applied to how the events of the war, the rebellion and the subsequent War of Independence is viewed by all sides. The next few years sees significant centenaries and celebrations which will hopefully reflect that understanding and yes, acknowledgement and appreciation for the sacrifices made by brave people on all sides during those bitter years a century ago.

There already have been joint British-Irish ceremonies to honour all those who paid the ultimate sacrifice during the War. More are planned. The recent visit of HM Queen Elizabeth II to Ireland, the first by a British monarch to Britain's closest neighbour in a century; where she visited the Garden of Remembrance to honour those who died for Irish independence over the centuries, was a significant and ground breaking event.

The Royal visit was reciprocated by a first state visit of Ireland’s President to London during 2014. These heads of state visits give the lead to all in these islands who want to pay due respect to all, from whatever side, who took part in the traumatic events of 1914-22, that changed so many nations, not least their own.

A Voice from beyond the grave

Words written by Tom Kettle, Irish Party MP for Tyrone, who joined the army and died in the seemingly endless Battle of the Somme in September 1916; may well be at last coming to fruition for Ireland and Britain.

“Used with the wisdom which is sown in tears and blood, this tragedy of Europe may be and must be the prologue to the two reconciliations of which all statesmen have dreamed, the reconciliation of Protestant Ulster with Ireland, and the reconciliation of Ireland with Great Britain.

In a personal poem written to his young daughter days before his own death, Kettle wrote about his Irish soldier comrades who had been killed at the front.

"They died not for flag, nor King, nor Emperor 
But for a dream born in a herdsman’s shed 
And for the secret Scripture of the poor". 

All parties bowed in sorrow over his grave, for in the last analysis they were all Irish, and they knew that in losing him, whether he was friend or enemy, they had lost a true son of Ireland. 

"A son of Ireland? He was more. He was Ireland! He had fought for all the aspirations of his race, for Independence, for Home Rule, for the Celtic Renaissance, for a United Ireland, for the eternal Cause of Humanity” . . .. 
He died, a hero in the uniform of a British soldier, because he knew that the faults of a period or of a man should not prevail against the cause of right or liberty” (extracts from tributes to Tom Kettle written in the French journal L’Opinion at the time of his death).

Reconciliation has since to a great extent happened in Europe, a Continent that has shed so much tears and blood during the last tumultuous century. Kettle’s brave generous and perceptive words have resonance for ongoing old and new conflicts where tears and blood continue to be shed all over the world. 


Arthur Russell is the Author of ‘Morgallion’, a novel set in medieval Ireland during the Invasion of Ireland in 1314 by the Scottish army led by Edward deBruce, the last crowned King of Ireland. It tells the story of Cormac MacLochlainn, a young man from the Gaelic crannóg community of Moynagh and how he and his family endured and survived that turbulent period of history. ‘Morgallion’ was awarded the indieBRAG Medallion and is available in paperback and e-book form. More information available on the website.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Walburga: A Saint from a Family of Saints

By Kim Rendfeld

16th century painting
by Meister von Meßkirch
When Saint Walburga was 37, she left her sheltered life to make a long, risky journey and live among strangers.

Walburga was a daughter of privilege. She was born to Saint Richard, an under-king of the West Saxons, and Winna, a sister of Saint Boniface, and had at least five siblings. When she was 11, her father entrusted her to the double monastery of Wimbourne while he and two sons went on a pilgrimage. Richard died in Lucca, Italy, but the sons made it to Rome, where Saint Winibald became a monk. Saint Willibald would later take the cowl.

Walburga remained at Wimbourne, whose monks and nuns adhered closely to the Rule of Saint Benedict, and took her own vows. She likely expected to stay there the rest of her life.

But in 748, her maternal uncle asked her and other nuns to leave their familiar, safe home for the sake of Christianity in today’s Germany.

Walburga’s brother Willibald was already on the Continent, where he was the bishop of the recently created diocese of Eichstätt. We don’t know whether that played a role in her decision, but she accepted the mission. So did Saint Lioba, another relative of Boniface, and other disciples of Mother Tetta.

If we are to believe legend, the sisters soon experienced the hazards of travel firsthand. During the crossing, the boat got caught in a storm. Walburga prayed and knelt on the deck, and the storm quieted.

Saint Walburga reliquary at
Peterskirche in Munich (by Jebulon)
At Mainz, she was welcomed by Boniface and Willibald and lived under Lioba’s rule in Tauberbischofsheim, east of the Rhine, for a few years. In 752, Walburga’s family founded the abbey of Heidenheim, a week’s journey, give or take, to the southeast and a few days away from Willibald in Eichstätt. Walburga’s brother Winibald oversaw the men, while she ruled over the women.

After Winibald died in 761, Walburga led his monastery in addition to her convent. Abbesses were women of authority, expected to act independently and manage people and lands.

Like most saints’ stories, hers includes miracles. During this time, another legend has her praying all night at the bedside of a dying girl in a noble house, and by dawn, the girl was healed.

Walburga continued her mission until her death on February 25, 777 or 779. Willibald was with her in her final moments and had her interred beside Winibald. As close as the siblings were in life, they would be in death.

Images are in the public domain and via Wikimedia Commons.


St. Walburga” by Gertrude Casanova, The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 15.

St. Emma’s Monastery

Kim Rendfeld was drawn to early medieval times by a legend and stayed for the history.

Her latest release, The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar (2014, Fireship Press), is about an eighth-century Saxon peasant who will go to great lengths to protect her children after she has lost everything else - her husband, her home, her faith, and even her freedom.

To read the first chapters of Ashes or Kim’s debut, The Cross and the Dragon (2012, Fireship Press), or learn more about her, visit or her blog Outtakes of a Historical Novelist at You can also like her on Facebook at, follow her on Twitter at @kimrendfeld, or contact her at kim [at] kimrendfeld [dot] com.

Kim's book are available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other retailers.

Monday, February 23, 2015

A Coronation Feast, 23 April, 1685

by Margaret Porter

James II in 1685
Wikimedia Commons
 At about noontime on 6 February, 1685,  King Charles II breathed his last and his brother instantly succeeded him as King James II. In the midst of royal mourning and the many necessary changes within the royal household, thoughts quickly turned towards the planning of a coronation. The chosen date was 23 April, the Feast of St. George, England’s patron saint. Ten days after James's accession, the clerk of the Great Wardrobe was making lists of the “Necessaries” for such an event and researching earlier coronations.

 Officers of the Board of Greencloth were ordered to present to the Council “a particular account of the Dinner kept in Westminster-Hall at the Coronation of His Late Majesty King Charles the Second, and also that provided at the Coronation of his Royal Father, together with the whole Expense and Charge of each of the said Dinners.” They returned with the requested information, including the fact that Charles II's coronation dinner cost £1209 15s 7 ½d. But all records for Charles I’s coronation had been “lost in the Great War.”

Francis Sandford 1630-1694
By George Vertue
© National Portrait Gallery, London
We know every detail of James II's coronation day from Francis Sandford, the Lancaster Herald of Arms, whose very thorough, fully illustrated account of the proceedings was commissioned by the King. The planning, the pronouncements, the order of the service, its participants, what they wore, what they did and said . . . he recorded it all.

On the appointed day, the coronation began with a procession from Westminster Hall to the Collegiate Church of St. Peter—commonly known as Westminster Abbey.

The event was plagued by ill-omens: the staves of the royal canopy broke, and it nearly collapsed over the King as he entered the abbey. His newly-minted crown didn't quite fit and almost fell off as soon as it was placed upon his head. And, in a preview of conflicts to come, James—a convert to Roman Catholicism—refused to take communion by Anglican rite as required in the coronation ritual.
Diarist John Evelyn reported, “. . . to the greate sorrow of the people, no Sacrament, as ought to have ben . . . . Having ben present at the late King's Coronation, I was not ambitious of seeing this ceremonie.” Hard to say whether this reluctance was indicative of his opinion of James, or of his experience twenty-five years previously of a day-long event that stretched well into evening.

By five o’clock that day James and his consort Mary Beatrice had been crowned, and they processed out of the Abbey beneath their separate canopies. Wearing their purple velvet robes, carrying their regalia, accompanied by trumpeters, and hailed by the cheering populace, they returned to Westminster Hall for the grand feast.

Within the vast and ancient  hall the tables had been arranged and were already covered by all the banquet dishes that didn’t contain hot food—99 of them on the King and Queen’s table. These consisted of cold meat (flesh and fish) “excellently well Dressed and Ordered all manner of ways. In three very great Chargers and 14 large Basins, Dryed sweet-meats, and Plates of all sorts of Jellyes, Bla-mange etc., with Sallads of all kinds . . . Void places were left for the Hot Meat.” Sandford’s book shows each table and the placement of each dish—numbered, with a corresponding numbered list to indicate what was served and where.

The King and Queen occupied the high table and there were six additional tables, three on either side of the hall. On the west side was the First Table, for court officers and significant coronation participants, and the highest orders of the nobility from dukes and duchesses down to some of the earls and countesses. At the Second Table sat the remainder of the earls and countesses with the viscounts and viscountesses, The lowest table on that side was for barons and baronesses. On the east side was a table for the Lords Spiritual, judges, barons of the Cinque Ports, with a second table for sergeants of law, clerks and masters of Chancery, the Lord Mayor and Aldermen. And the lowest table was occupied by Kings’ Heralds (Francis Sandford was one of them) and Pursuivants of Arms. The King and Queen each had a carver and a cup-bearer, and every member of the nobility “had a servant of their own to wait upon them.” Quite a crowd, as evidenced by the illustration.

 The metrics of the feast are mind-boggling. The King and Queen had 145 dishes as a first course, with 30 more dishes of hot meat served in the second course, for a total of 175 dishes at the royal table. Each of the peers’ and peeresses’ tables had 213 dishes. A total of 1445 dishes was served!

What exactly were these dishes? Thanks to Sandford’s meticulous account, we know every single one of them. Here's a sampling of the more interesting or curious foods served to the King and Queen (period spelling preserved):

pistachio cream in glasses
lamb stones
cocks combs, hot
marrow patie
stags tongues
sweet breads
patty pidgeon,  hot
cray fish, cold
bolonia sausages, cold
collops and eggs
frigase chicken, hot
rabbets ragou
oysters pickled
portugal eggs
Dutch beef
mushrooms, hot
hogs tongues
cheese cakes
ciprus birds
tansy, hot
asparagus, hot
ragou of oysters, cold
scallops, cold
3 dozen glasses of Lemon jelly
5 neats tongues, cold
a whole salmon, cold
8 pheasants, cold
9 small pidgeon pyes, cold
24 fat chickens, hot
12 crabs, cold
24 partridges, hot
a dish of tarts
soles marinetted
4 fawns, hot
12 quails
10 oyster pyes, hot
Beef  a la Royal, hot
bacon gammon
three pigs, hot
almond puff
a square pyramide rising from 4 large dishes on the angles and 4 lesser dishes on the sides, containing several fruits in season and all manner of sweet meats
4 dozen egg pyes, cold
A very large circular pyramide in the middle of the table rising from 12 dishes in the circumference, 6 of which were large and the other 6 less, containing several fruits in season and
all manner of sweet meats
6 mullets large souc’d
8 godwits
18 mincd pyes, cold
8 wild ducks marinated, hot
24 puffins, cold
4 dozen of petit paties, hot
5 carps, cold
8 Ortelans
5 partridge pyes
12 lobsters, cold
12 leverets, hot
sturgeon, cold
24 ducklings, larded, hot
8 capons
8 geese 3 larded, hot
soucd’d trout, cold
cabbadge pudding
french beans
trotter pye
taffata tarts
whitings, marinated
3 dozen glasses of bla-mange, cold

After a 5-hour coronation ceremony, the diners must have been starving—but perhaps also too exhausted to do justice to such a feast. And the day's pageantry wasn't yet over.

During the interval between the first and second courses, the King’s Champion, Sir Charles Dymoke, rode into the hall on a “goodly white horse” with attendants. He declared to all present, “If any person, of what degree soever, shall deny or gainsay our Sovereign Lord, King James II . . . here is his Champion, who say that he lieth and is a false Traitor, being ready in person to combat with him.” The champion threw down the gauntlet, and after a respectable pause, it was returned to him by the herald, at which point he and his horse advanced further into the hall, repeating the challenge and throwing the gauntlet once more. And then again. When this spectacle concluded, the second course was served.

By virtue of his title of Baron of the Cinque Port of Sandwich, Samuel Pepys had marched beside the King in the coronation procession. As gourmand and convivial fellow he must have enjoyed the meats and fish served at his table, the first on the east side—and doubtless ate one of the 36 cheesecakes on the board.

At the conclusion of the feast, the amply-fed King and Queen processed out of the hall, with their regalia. The scheduled fireworks display on the River Thames at Whitehall Palace was postponed until the following night, “by the reason of the great fatigue of the day.” And when it did take place, the results were disastrous—a rocket misfired, an explosion ruined the illuminations, boats carrying spectators overturned, many were drowned.  Still more ill-omens clinging to the unfortunate King James II.

Francis Sandford’s book about the coronation day was so exhaustive that it took fully two years to compose and produce. It was not published until 1687, the year before James was denounced by his people and Parliament, de-throned by his son-in-law William of Orange, and sent into exile in France.



Sandford, Francis, The history of the coronation of the most high, most mighty, and most excellent monarch, James II by the grace of God, King of England, Scotland, France and Ireland, defender of the faith, &c. and of his royal consort Queen Mary: solemnized in the collegiate church of St. Peter in the city of Westminster, on Thursday the 23 of April, being the festival of St. George, in the year of our Lord 1685; with an exact account of the several preparations in order thereunto, Their Majesties most splendid processions, and their royal and magnificent feast in Westminster-Hall; the whole work illustrated with sculptures; by His Majesties especial command/ by Francis Sandford Esq; Lancaster herald of arms, The British Library.

Tomalin, Claire, Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self.

The Diary of John Evelyn.

Margaret Porter is the award-winning and bestselling author of several historical fiction genres, and is also published in nonfiction and poetry. Various characters in her novel A Pledge of Better Times (April 2015) participate in James II's coronation. Margaret studied British history in the UK and the US. As historian, her areas of speciality are social, theatrical, and garden history of the 17th and 18th centuries, royal courts, and portraiture. A former actress, she gave up the stage and screen to devote herself to fiction writing, travel, and her rose gardens.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Giveaway: The Oracles of Troy by Glyn Iliffe

Mereo Books is giving away a print copy of The Oracles of Troy. You can read about the book HERE. Comment below to enter the drawing, and please be sure to include your contact information.

What happened to Elizabeth of Lancaster after the last page of 'The King's Sister' has been turned?

by Anne O'Brien

The Final Years

For any lover of history, the final years of Elizabeth of Lancaster, younger daughter of John of Gaunt and Blanche of Lancaster, are most unsatisfactory.  Information is sketchy, and what exists is tragic.

After the emotional and physical upheaval that ended her second marriage to John Holland, Duke of Exeter, Elizabeth took a step back into the shadows of history.  We know that in the summer of 1400 she married Sir John Cornewall, a knight from the west country, son and heir of a second son so with a future and fortune to make.  One chronicler tells us that he took Elizabeth's eye at a tournament held at York where she was seduced by his prowess in the lists, thus implying that her marriage to Cornewall, a bare six months after she was widowed, was the consequence of her lustful character.

This is the lovely Georgian house that today stands on the site of the manor of Burford near Tenbury Wells, owned by John Cornewall.  Remnants of the orignal manor have been found beneath this one.  Elizabeth must have lived here for some of her later years.

What we do know about this marriage is that it was a marriage not promoted merely by Elizabeth's character, but by her brother Henry, now King Henry IV.  After the overthrow of King Richard II, Henry's position was not an easy one.  With enemies in Scotland and France and rumours rife that Richard was still alive, rebellion was always on the cards to threaten the peace of England as well as Henry's own life.  Henry needed to build alliances with English noble families and men of ability;  Elizabeth was part of this rebuilding.  And so she married John Cornewall.  She was about 36 years old, her husband much younger at 25 years.

This is a 17th Century etching of Elizabeth and John by Wenceslaus Hollar.  We have no contemporary images of her other than her tomb.

The couple were soon in royal favour, and Elizabeth was able to carry out her mission to regain control of the Holland properties, forfeited on the execution of John Holland for treason.  Henry was obviously pleased to listen to his sister and granted her and her new husband a large part of the Holland estates, particularly in Devon, and also the new house built there, Dartington Hall.  In 1404 Elizabeth received her dower: a life annuity of 1000 marks.  Thus she made Sir John Cornewall a valuable bride.  Sir John was created Baron Fanhope.

This is a Victorian stained glass window of Elizabeth in the church at Burford.

And then we know so little of her remaining life.  In 1405 she gave birth to a son John, to whom Henry stood godfather, a boy who followed in his father's footsteps as a good soldier, both of them taking part in the English offensive in France in the reign of Henry V.  Sir John made a name for himself and a fortune by capturing and ransoming valuable prisoners.

Tragically his son - and Elizabeth's - was killed at the siege of Meaux late in 1421, fighting at the side of his father.  Sir John lost his heir and the end of his legitimate line.  We can only guess at Elizabeth's grief.  It is not on record.

The couple also had a daughter, Constance, who had no issue and was dead by 1429.

Elizabeth herself died at Ampthill Castle in Bedfordshire on 24th November 1425 at the age of 61 years and was buried in the splendid tomb in the little church of St Mary in Burford in Shropshire.  Sir John lived on until 1443 and was buried, not in Burford, but in a chapel he had founded in the cemetery of the Friars Preacher near Ludgate in London.

All that remains today of the great Ampthill Castle.

Thus for the last twenty years of her life Elizabeth faded into obscurity. What did she do with her time? I cannot imagine her living in rural domesticity in Burford or Devon. Or in the magnificent Ampthill Castle that Sir John built for her out of the fortune he made at war. Sir John's absence in France would mean that she was left to her own devices. Perhaps she spent her time between her restored properties and the royal court of her brother and then her nephew, Henry V. I hope that she found some element of peace at last in what was an adventurous life, but I doubt it.

Elizabeth's magnificent tomb in the church at Burford, showing her as the epitome of a Plantagenet princess.

How I wish history allowed us a few more windows into Elizabeth's later years.

To mark the release of 'The King's Sister' in Paperback in the UK and Australia on 26th February, 2015.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

It's No Joke: The Life of a Victorian Street Clown

by Grace Elliot

Do you like clowns?

I suspect clowns are one of those things in life (like Marmite) that fall into the ‘love ‘em’ or ‘hate ‘em’ category. Me? I find clowns creepy and they make me cringe.  Sadly, in the modern age, comedians seem to be over-represented when it comes to suffering from depression – perhaps because of the pressure of being funny for a living.

Some things never change, because in 1851 when Henry Mayhew interviewed one of London’s three full-time street clowns, he discovered a pathetic figure who was ashamed of how he made his living.

Mayhew describes a sad man: “He was a melancholy looking man…whilst his face was scored with lines and wrinkles, telling of paint and premature age.”

This clown, it seems, had little to be cheerful about.  Orphaned at the age of nine, he worked as a stable lad and then became a general dogs-body at Astley’s (renowned as the first circus) It was there he watched the other performers and found he had a semi-decent singing voice. 

 He eventually tried his luck entertaining on the streets: “With a heavy heart.”

Some days were better than others. On race days he made ten shillings, but this then had to stretch to cover the lean days. And as he records, the day his wife was in labor he worked for 10 hours straight and earnt one shilling and three pence. Many times he started work without breaking his fast (having breakfast) and didn’t eat until he’d earned enough to buy food.

What made his trade even harder were the ‘part time’ clowns, who emerged on high-paying holidays and at fairs, and taking money away from those who relied on clowning for a living. The part-timers then went back to their trades, leaving thin-pickings for the full-timers.

So how funny was the street clown? Here are some of his jokes so you can judge for yourself.
“A horse has ten legs: he has two fore legs and two hind legs – a total of ten”
“Why is the city of Rome [sic] like a candle? Because it’s in the midst of Greece.”

The street clown costume consisted of red striped stockings, full-trunks dotted red and block, and a tight top with full sleeves and frills. He wore a wig sewn into a white cap, and painted his face with grease then painted it white, coloring his lips and cheeks with vermillion.

He declined, however, to change at home as he strove to keep his trade a secret from his neighbours.  This poor fellow told Mayhew how playing the fool made him feel very sad at heart, but only had to think of the bare cupboards at home to carry on. But as Mayhew goes on to write, a few minutes after their interview he spotted the clown dressed up to perform:  Dancing and singing in the streets as if he was the lightest-hearted fellow in all London.

Who knows, perhaps my instinctive dislike of clowns springs from sensing their inner sadness.


Friday, February 20, 2015

Sing a Song of Sixpence - A Nursery Rhyme, a King and Queen, and a novel.

Judith Arnopp

Sing a song of sixpence a pocket full of rye,
Four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie.
When the pie was opened the birds began to sing,
Oh wasn't that a dainty dish to set before the king?
The king was in his counting house counting out his money,
The queen was in the parlour eating bread and honey
The maid was in the garden hanging out the clothes,
When down came a blackbird and pecked off her nose.

There are many theories as to the origins of the nursery rhyme Sing a Song of Sixpence. Some see it as an early lampoon about the extravagances of royalty, some as a representation of Henry VIII, Katherine of Aragon with Anne Boleyn playing the part of the maid. The blackbirds baked in the pie being the disaffected monks after the dissolution of the monasteries.

One account I stumbled across equated it with the pirate Blackbeard as ‘a coded message that evolved over several years and was used by confederates of the notorious pirate Blackbeard to recruit crew members for his prize-hunting expeditions.’
There is much more about Blackbeard here:

I tend to prefer the Tudor links to the rhyme for although Sing a Song of Sixpence was first published in the 18th century it certainly has origins in the 16th. Perhaps sixpence was the going rate for a good song during this time. There are references to singing for sixpence in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night during a drunken conversation between Sir Toby Belch and Sir Andrew.

 “SIR ANDREW: Excellent! Why, this is the best fooling, when all is done. Now, a song.
SIR TOBY BELCH: Come on; there is sixpence for you: let's have a song.” (Twelfth Night, Act II Sc. III)

Elizabeth of York
Of course, no Tudor banquet was complete without minstrels to play the favourite songs. One can easily imagine the king and queen seated with their court at groaning tables, dining on exotic dainties to the strains of fabulous music.

In the Tudor period (and certainly before that) extravagant dishes were created to amaze and enthrall the king. Swans and peacocks were roasted and the feathers then replaced to make it appear the birds were still living. Dishes such as dolphin and porpoise were not unheard of and, with recipes like these, one can imagine the chef’s unenviable task of thinking up new and innovative ideas to tease the royal palate. Song birds were regularly eaten, it is only one step further to serve the dish a little al dente. Why not a pie full of live birds?

It wouldn’t have been so unusual. An Italian cookbook from 1549 contains a recipe ‘to make pies so that birds may be alive in them and flie out when it is cut’. (See note 1)

A description of the wedding of Henry IV of France and Marie de Medici says, ‘The first surprise, though, came shortly before the starter – when the guests sat down, unfolded their napkins and saw songbirds fly out.’ (See note 2)

One version of the rhyme was published in Tom Thumb’s Pretty Song Book in around 1744. Instead of four and twenty black birds it has four and twenty ‘naughty boys’ beneath the crust.    

  Sing a Song of Sixpence,
  A bag full of Rye,
  Four and twenty Naughty Boys,
  Baked in a Pye.

 What else, one wonders, would you do with twenty four disobedient children?

Eating bread and honey
Personally, I was taught as a child that the king and queen concerned were Henry VII and Elizabeth of York. (Incidentally, Elizabeth also graces the playing card and the likeness to her contemporary portraits are quite clear.) Henry Tudor is often depicted as being ‘careful’ with money and so fits quite well within his 'counting house.’ Whether this idea of kingly miserliness originates with the poem or vice versa it is not possible to say. His taxes were unpopular enough for the Cornish to rise in arms against him. (Mind you, that is not at all unusual, people never like to pay tax.) But, miserly or not, his careful control of his finances meant that at his death the royal coffers were full; he would likely have turned in his grave if he’d known how quickly and thoroughly his son, Henry VIII, was to empty them, squandering his father’s riches on war and theatrical gestures.

Elizabeth of York took no part in governing the country; her role was purely a domestic one, concerned with the children and charitable works; so again, the positioning of her in the rhyme eating bread and honey in the parlour is in keeping. 

 In my forthcoming novel A Song of Sixpence Elizabeth is not depicted scoffing bread and honey in the parlour; instead she is battling to come to terms with the loss of the primary male members of her family and preserving her surviving kin from a similar fate. Her marriage to the former enemy Henry VII is difficult and not helped by the appearance of a man claiming to be her brother, Richard of York, thought to have perished in the Tower in 1483. A man that Henry dubs Perkin Warbeck.

In literature Elizabeth is most often  presented as a daughter, wife or mother,. She has become as two dimensional

as the image on the playing card. But she was a real woman, with real emotions, who lived in very turbulent times. I wanted to put some flesh on her bones, some thoughts in her head and give her some of the credit she is due.

And the same for Henry. In both fiction and non-fiction he is either a cold calculating king or a complete monster. In A Song of Sixpence he is painted many shades of grey (no, it isn’t that sort of book). He is by no means an easy husband for Elizabeth for his years of exile have left him with insecurities and a chip on his shoulder that threatens both his marriage and his throne. His reign suffered more uprisings than any other; he can scarcely have enjoyed a quiet moment, but Elizabeth was raised to be dutiful and ultimately proves a good wife, a good queen, and an exemplary mother.


A Song of Sixpence: The story of Elizabeth of York and 'Perkin Warbeck.' 

In the years after Bosworth, a small boy is ripped from his rightful place as future king of England and forced to roam the courts of Europe. His sister Elizabeth, now Queen to the invader Henry Tudor, is torn between family loyalty and duty.

As the final struggle between the houses of York and Lancaster is played out, Elizabeth is torn by conflicting loyalty, terror and unexpected love.

Set at the court of Henry VII A Song of Sixpence offers a unique perspective on the early years of Tudor rule. Elizabeth of York, often viewed as a meek and uninspiring queen, emerges as a resilient woman whose strengths lay in endurance rather than resistance.

A Song of Sixpence is available to pre-order for your UK Kindle NOW; if you are in the USA, click here.

You can read more about Judith and her work on her website:  
And purchase her books, both in paperback and on Kindle here.

Illustrations for Wikimedia commons.

1: (Giovanni de Roselli's Epulario, quale tratta del modo de cucinare ogni carne, ucelli, pesci... (1549), of which an English translation, Epulario, or the Italian Banquet, was published in 1598 (Mary Augusta Scott, Elizabethan Translations from the Italian no. 256, p. 333f.)

2: (Blow out! History's 10 greatest banquets - Features, Food & Drink - The Independent)