Sunday, May 31, 2015

The Longevity of the Neville Women

by Susan Appleyard

It is impossible to be definitive, but it seems the life expectancy of a woman in the Middle Ages was about thirty-five to forty. While the average life expectancy of a man was truncated by battle and block, as well as work related accidents, the battlefield for women was the birthing chamber. Many died in childbirth (5%) or from complications arising afterward (as many as 15%). If a woman survived her child-bearing years, however, she stood a good chance of living into her fifties or sixties.

I was surprised to discover that the Neville women, four sisters, all lived to a ripe old age. By the Neville women, I mean the daughters of Earl Ralph of Westmoreland and his second wife, Joan Beaufort: Eleanor, Katherine, Anne and Cecily. The trouble with living so long is that collectively they outlived numerous husbands, sons and even grandsons. I decided to look into this, focussing on the male members of the families who reached manhood. Information about girls is harder to find, especially if they were younger daughters or didn’t marry well.

Eleanor was the eldest, born c. 1397 died 1472. She had three spouses, but children with only the second and third. The second was Henry Percy Earl of Northumberland, with whom she had ten, seven of them boys. Of the four I could track, all four predeceased her, although one was a bishop and might have been expected to live longer than the others who all died in battle or under the axe. One of her grandsons became Earl of Northumberland in his turn and also predeceased her, while another had five sons who all outlived her. I coul’t discover anything about her second husband and the two sons she had with him.

Katherine, Duchess of Norfolk, came next, born c.1400 and died sometime after 1483. She had 4 husbands but only 1 son and 1 grandson, who did not outlive her but were fortunate to die natural deaths.

Anne was born c.1411 and died in 1480, outliving two husbands. By her first, Humphrey Stafford, Duke of Buckingham, she had four sons and outlived all but one. Of two grandsons, one survived her.

Cecily, born 1415, died 1495, the youngest and best known had only one husband, Richard Duke of York with whom she had four sons and outlived them all. The eldest was King Edward IV, who had two sons, known as the princes in the tower. A contentious issue, but it is highly likely that Cecily outlived them. Her second son was killed at the age of 17 and had no issue. The third son, George had one son who outlived his grandmother by about four years. Her fourth son, King Richard III had one son who did not outlive her.

Most of the information above came from Wikipedia and


Susan Appleyard is an author of historical fiction. She has written two books set during the War of the Roses, which are available at Amazon, and a third is due to be released in June.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Banished: A Short History of Penal Transportation

By Catherine Curzon

Over the last couple of months, I have probed into the Neck Verse and some corporal and capital punishments handed down to criminals who stood before the judges of the Old Bailey. This month, I take a stop by the colonies to learn more about transportation; timely indeed, given the recent outcry over the cancellation of BBC TV's drama of the penal colonies, Banished.

A View of Botany Bay, 1789
With prisons creaking under the weight of the sheer number of convicts held there and the scaffolds working overtime, the powers that be in 17th century English law asked themselves whether it might be better to find some way not only to punish, but to rehabilitate. If that rehabilitation might also have the side effect of removing the offender from the country on a permanent basis too, then all the better. Eventually it was decided that transportation would achieve both of these aims admirably, whilst also allowing the state to point to the leniency shown to the offender who had, at least, been allowed to keep their life even if they were destined to leave behind all that they knew. Not only that, but the convicts were responsible for paying their own way to the penal colony or the costs were met by those who owned the transportation ships.

The passing of the 1718 Transportation Act ruled that those who did not succeed in claiming benefit of clergy should instead be transported to America to face hard labour, specifying that they would face death should they return. Not all of those who faced transportation were convicted of the most violent or serious offences, and not all were adults, with men, women and children subject to the same punishment. However, not all transportation was for life and some were allowed to return home after a set period of time, though they were required to make the arrangements to return and to foot the bill from their own pocket. If they could not afford it, then they were destined to forever remain in the land to which they had been sent. In fact, many convicts had already started a new life and had no wish to return, starting families and even winning employment as a jailer once they had served their sentences. Two years after the passing of the act, the government ruled that merchants who agreed to transport convicts would have their costs met by parliament.

The First Fleet entering Port Jackson on 26 January 1788
For nearly six decades this arrangement persisted until the American Revolution stopped the ships in their tracks and those who faced transportation saw their sentences amended to hard labour. Eventually, of course, transportation resumed and with the sailing of the First Fleet in 1787, transportation to Australia began, perhaps the most famed destination for felons. This remained the case until the passing of the Penal Servitude Act in 1857, in which transportation was finally ended for good.

Old Bailey Proceedings Online (
Brooke, Alan and Brandon, David, Tyburn: London's Fatal Tree (The History Press, 2013)
Cawthorne, Nigel, Public Executions: From Ancient Rome to the Present Day, Arcturus Publishing (2006)
Gatrell, Vic, The Hanging Tree: Execution and the English People 1770-1868 (OUP, Oxford, 1996)
Grovier, Kelly, The Gaol (John Murray, London, 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.

Friday, May 29, 2015

To Catch a Priest

by Linda Root

Wikimedia Commons

A group of country folk were walking down a coastal road
north of London when they saw a stranger approaching.  Citizens in the area had been warned to be on the looked for unfamiliar faces.  Elizabeth Tudor’s spymaster Sir Francis Walsingham’s agents in Paris had sent an alarming message.  Jesuits were coming.  The farmers decided the current warnings could not possibly apply to the gentleman on the road.

And he indeed was a fine gentleman. He was a tall, swarthy man still in his youth, possessed of an aristocrat’s bearing and attitude. He was well groomed and dressed, although his cloak and boots were dusty as if he’d been on the road longer than customary. The poor man was obviously distressed.  He must be lost, the farmers thought.

"Have any of you good people seen my hawk?" he asked with a tremor in his voice. "I must have strayed too far from our usual surroundings and now my poor bird is gone missing."

It was not an unusual for members of the upper class to be as emotionally attached to their hawks as they were to their hunting dogs. In rural England, falconry was a favored sport of young aristocrats. It was rumored the Queen of Scots engaged in falconry from the balustrades while detained at Chatsworth. Much training was involved hunting with a falcon. Over time, a special bond formed between the handler and the hawk. No wonder the man was distraught. "Are ye sure ye have not heard its little bell?"

The farmers assured him they had not seen a hawk or heard the tinkling of a bell. With considerable empathy, they watched the man leave the road and wander off into the woods, desperately calling his bird. They had just encountered John Gerard, S.J., coming back to his English homeland after having been ordained. They would not be the only group to meet up with him and let him go merrily on his way.

I had never heard of John Gerard until I was adding finishing touches to my work-in-progress. The novel interjects a fictional Scottish aspect into the Gunpowder Treason. A mystery surrounding the accountability of Lord Robert Cecil, Earl of Salisbury, for allowing the plot to remain undetected until the Eleventh Hour sent me exploring the impact of the conspiracy on the  Jesuit mission to England.

Almost any historical novelist lured into that last wee bit of clarifying research before declaring a novel finished will have faced the dilemma created by a pestiferous fact challenging the novel’s premise.  Do we go on, or do we set the current work aside and begin anew, perhaps with an entirely different story?  What action should be taken when just before we type the words ‘c’est fin’, we uncloak a larger than life character whose exploits tarnish our protagonist? While we are not historians and can invoke the principle of artistic license and continue, it is often difficult to put the new character aside.  The word that comes to mind is ‘sequel.’

Questioned portrait of Father Gerard-PD Art

I was well into my  recent work In the Shadow of the Gallows, featuring Daisy Kirkcaldy and her husband, Will Hepburn, when I realized the priest I had written into the story sounded incredibly like the Jesuit John Gerard of my research, one of the few Jesuits of the English mission who survived the aftermath of November 5, 1605. The more I wrote, the larger his part in the tale became until I faced the prospect of marketing a tome. In today’s market, a historical novel the size of the Los Angeles Metropolitan telephone directory is doomed. The solution was to shave his role into something manageable and promise myself to do justice to his exploits in my next book in the series. In my case, I call it Deliverance of the Lamb.

Fortunately, in dealing with Father Gerard, there is a plethora of material on which to base a sequel. After his final flight from England in May 1606, a high-ranking Jesuit recognized the potential of using his life story as a recruitment tool.  Gerard was ordered to document his life story in writing. The original was written in Latin, but it has since been translated into English and embellished with excellent notes. Anyone who fears an autobiography written by a cleric in 1611 will be tedious drivel is in for a shock.

The Autobiography of a HUNTED PRIEST reads very much like a prize-winning well-researched historical novel.  Not being a Catholic or having much of a religious bent, I had no idea I was opening a page-turner or that Gerard was one of history’s most notable escape artists.  Research the topic of great escapes and you will find his escape from the Tower of London on the list.

No undisputed likeness of John Gerard survives.  The one shown above has recently been questioned.. However, there are three similar descriptions in his biography. Putting the accounts together, one can surmise he was exceptionally tall, very dark complected with long black hair, dark eyes and a manicured mustachio, and a stylish patch of facial hair on his chin.  Accounts of his phenomenal successes in converting aristocratic women suggests we can comfortably add the descriptors handsome and charismatic to his attributes.

A second work written by Gerard is an essay entitled The Condition of Catholics Under James I: Father Gerard’s narrative of the Gunpowder Plot. Not only is it a comprehensive critique of the Gunpowder Treason from a  Catholic point of view, and hence a bit of an apology, but it also reveals much of the author’s character. It is not as readable as the beautifully translated and edited Hunted Priest, but it is a compelling source, and its Kindle version is free of charge.

Perusing Father Gerard’s works and others writings about Early Jacobean England, a thumbnail sketch of Gerard’s colorful life emerges. Most sources place his birth in the autumn of 1564.  His father had been knighted for acts of valor and was the respected Sheriff of Lancashire. Later, however, the senior Gerard was imprisoned in the Tower for participating in one of many schemes to free the Queen of Scots.   His popularity earned him a favorable disposition of the charges.

Young John Gerard matriculated at Oxford at age eleven, but when he was asked to make a Declaration of Faith and renounce the Catholic religion to continue, he withdrew.  Surprisingly, he obtained permission from an Anglican bishop to continue his studies abroad. He headed to the Jesuit College in Douai, the institution founded by the militant activist Cardinal William Allen, the man behind the Jesuit mission to England.

When the establishment moved to Rheims in 1578, John Gerard went with it. He was still far too young to be inducted into the Society of Jesus.   Quite incidentally, the timing of his three-year stay in Rheims fits perfectly into my plotline for Deliverance of the Lamb.

He began his mission to England in 1582.

Like all Catholic priests of his day, he was aware of the risks involved if he were identified as a priest.  Early during his mission he spent a year in Marshalsea prison, which left him not the least dismayed.  He had plenty of time to study while confined. Eventually, he was bailed by none other than Anthony Babington of the infamous Babington Plot, a plan designed to place Marie Stuart on the English throne. Gerard's life story is filled with names of aristocrats associated with plots to supplant Elizabeth with her Catholic cousin Marie Stuart. Elizabeth’s fears were more than paranoid delusions.

It helps to remember that until the second quarter of the 16th Century, England had been a Catholic country led by the Pope’s Defender of the Faith, King Henry the Eighth.  The popular mid-Twentieth century adage, You Cannot Legislate Morality applied then as now.

After he was bailed out of jail by Babington, Gerard jumped parole and returned to Europe and eventually settled in Rome.  He was still young to be inducted into the Jesuit order but after a period of accelerated but rigorous study under Cardinal Allen's oversight, he was ordained and ordered to proceed to London. This is the journey north to Paris and the coast which was observed by  Walsingham's spies. He and three other priests including his good friend Father Oldecorne eventually boarded a ship headed for the English coast. They did not disembark until they were north of London, where Gerard predicted matters would be quiet.  However, the Watchers were on the lookout.  To be less obvious, the group split up.  While the incident described earlier went well, a few days later he encountered a patrol and was taken into custody.  At the time, Gerard told a convincing story to the men who detained him and charmed his way out of it.

Many of his encounters follow a similar script.  His good breeding, physical attributes and persuasive words got him out of one fix after another.  On several occasions, appearing before magistrates who had known his father helped.

Henry Garnet, S.J. (Wikimedia)
Soon he was in London hoping to meet Father Henry Garnet, the Superior Jesuit in England. First, he made friends with a Catholic aristocrat who took him into his fine house in Grimston. The man's Protestant brother was curious as to his background, but Gerard's gentlemanly habits assuaged any fears of unwittingly harboring a priest. Gerard used his good manners and his knowledge of falconry and other indicia of membership in the gentry to convince others he was a high-born Englishman touring his country. However, to those who needed his intercession with their God, he abandoned his disguise.  The services he rendered in bringing peace to the many troubled families caught up in the Reformation earned him steadfast friends who were willing to risks their lives to keep him free.  While he did not seek rewards, he accepted them graciously as a means of supporting the lifestyle that kept his true vocation a secret.  The Watchers and Pursuivants were not seeking out well-heeled aristocrats, complete with servants and fine horses. They were looking in hidey holes and secret rooms for impoverished, starving priests.

During the latter days of Elizabeth’s rule, Gerard moved from one host household to another, converting many and sending some of the young men abroad to the Jesuit College. He sent one of the executed Earl of Northumberland's daughters to his friend Father Holt in Belgium. She later became a founder of the English Benedictine convent in Brussels which figures in the plot of my novel 1603: The Queen's Revenge.


Gerard's exploits included a stay in the Tower of London in 1597 where he was tortured for his refusal to lead them to his Superior Father Garnet. Even the account of his suffering has its dramatic twist. His height complicated matters for his tormenters. When they hung him from the ceiling of the torture room by chaining his hands to a pole suspended between the two highest of the hooks, his toes still reached the floor. His abusers had to use shovels to dig a pit to make the device effective.

The Salt Tower- courtesy Richard Nevell
What is more, their tactics failed. His escape from the notorious Tower is well remembered.  Different versions appear on almost every list of famous escapes and prison breaks. He did it by employing remarkable charm, an innovative flight plan, a healthy dose of personal ingenuity and a bit of derring-do. He made friends with an inmate John Arden in another tower by passing notes written in orange juice. He made fast friends with his jailor who helped them pass information to friends on the outside.  The jailor provided a rope to use to climb down the out wall and toss across the moat. Finally, the two escapees and their jailor made it to a spot on the Thames where the jailor had a dinghy hidden.  They rowed to a prearranged rendezvous with Gerard's friends. He was never taken into custody again during the remaining several years of his mission in England.

During the remainder of his mission, he did not spend his time in hidey-holes like so many of his counterparts. He played the role of an aristocrat too well to resort to secret rooms and false cabinets to keep him free.  He was a master at hiding in plain sight. At the time of the Gunpowder Treason, he had been living in the Strand.

Midway through his autobiography, a student of early Jacobean history will recognize familiar names in the footnotes. Gerard described his friends but never named them in the original Latin text.  Gerard was far too wily to kiss and tell.  The single noteworthy exception is in several references to Everhard Digby, one of the plotters who came into the conspiracy in the middle stages. For years, he had been among John Gerard’s closest friends.  The intensity of their relationship is the one point which makes Gerard's disclaimer of guilty knowledge of the conspiracy disingenuous.

In discussing the Gunpowder Treason, there is no doubt where Gerard's passions lay. He empathized with the men involved and considered their deaths acts of martyrdom.  Although he believed their grievances were legitimate, he did not endorse the violence, and he did not know the details until the plan was in motion. He did not join their conspiracy, but he was not blind to the emotions driving it.  While at least two other Jesuits knew what was planned, they had received their information under seal of the confessional. Had he been caught, he would not have the sanctity of the Confessional as a defense, for whatever good it might have done.

After the Gunpowder Plot was uncovered, Jesuits were fair game, even though they had not been active in it.  Cecil used the event to launch a purge. At least four former Catholics who knew members of the English mission offered their services to Cecil, one of whom was a woman whose husband was in exile. She was anxious to get her lands and privileges restored, and offered to deliver Gerard. When the house where he was staying came under scrutiny, she arrived with the pursuivants, waving a king’s warrant in her hand. On that occasion, Gerard’s escape was less spectacular than his Tower breakout. He withdrew into a secret room with a scant supply of water and a jar of rich preserves. He stayed there under unhealthy circumstances for nine days before the searchers moved on.

Other women--especially Ann and Elizabeth Vaux, risked their lives to help Gerard and others escape.  The celebrated recusant Elizabeth Vaux was taken to London and interrogated as to Gerard's whereabouts and remained defiant.  By then, others of Gerard’s associates including his superior Father Henry Garnet had been apprehended.

The Discovery of Father Garnet and Father Oldecorne

After her release, Elizabeth Vaux made certain Father Gerard had everything he needed to subsist until an escape could be arranged. She offered to finance his flight to the tune of five thousand florins and gifted Gerard a thousand florins in travel money.

Gerard’s last escape was brilliant, but likely he had little to do with its planning. It appears to have been arranged by people with rank and  power in the Spanish Netherlands or France.  He left the country of his birth disguised as a manservant in the entourage of the Spanish Ambassador and a diplomat sent by the Hapsburg co-rulers of the Spanish Netherlands, Albert and Isabella Clara. The Dutchman had been in London setting the ground rules for peace negotiations between England and the Hapsburgs scheduled for later in the year 1606. Shortly before they were scheduled to board ship, the Spanish Ambassador balked, but on the morning of May 3, he rethought his position and welcomed Gerard  into the group of departing dignitaries, playing the part of a footman. The ship set sail on the day of his mentor Father Henry Garnet's suffering.

 Father Gerard remained an active Jesuit engaged in the education of seminarians and the spiritual preparation of novitiates, and he was the first Rector of a Jesuit House of philosophy and theology at Liege.  Later he returned to Flanders to take a similar position in Ghent, supervising the newly ordained during their year of probation.  In the last ten years of his life,  he served as confessor to the English College in Rome. He died there in 1637, one of the few survivors of Lord Robert Cecil's purge.  Since the annexation of Rome to the Italian State, the Collegio Roma is now houses the Italian Ministry of Heritage and Culture.

Collegio Roma-Wikimedia Commons
His autobiography is a gem, filled with anecdotes and what modern readers might call 'war stories' told with a light touch that captivates and entertains. It is a small wonder he was successful as a recruiter. What I have reported is but a small sampling of a life even the best historical novelist would be hard pressed to surpass.

I plan to enjoy assisting Father John Gerard’s escape in The Deliverance of the Lamb, which, God willing, I will have ready to launch by the end of the year.  I invite his spirit to guide me in my endeavors. I can hear his ghost whispering as I write, ‘Greetings, Madame. The name’s Gerard. John Gerard.’


Linda Root

Why 30 May? #HenryVIII #JaneSeymour

by Hunter Jones

Courtesy of Sheingold Sage
Tudor Costumes
sold on Ebay.
When I started this blog, it was to research the symbols and motifs that surrounded Henry VIII and Jane Seymour on her presentation at his court as Queen on 4 June, the Whitsunday which followed their official marriage on 30 May 1536. I was going to begin at 29 May and build the story from there. Instead, it evolved into today’s story.

Any Tudorphile can and will let you know their feelings on the wedding between King Henry VIII and Lady Jane Seymour, which followed the execution of Anne Boleyn. Henry and Jane married on 30 May, only 11 days following Anne’s execution. The fact that Henry VIII presented Anne Boleyn as his Queen at the Whitsunday festivities a mere three years earlier makes for a surreal comparison. For 479 years historians and readers have asked…why? What was Jane Seymour thinking? Was Henry a monster by this point?

I do not have the answers. But, I have found a three items of interest regarding Whitsunday and why Henry might have chosen this day for the presentation of Queen Jane Seymour and possibly why he married her on 30 May. I would like to share these with you today. First a short introduction into the English tradition of Whitsun.

Whitsun (Whitsunday, Whit Sunday or Whit) is the name used in the United Kingdom and Ireland for the Christian festival of Pentecost. It is the seventh Sunday after Easter, and commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit upon Christ's disciples. In England it took on characteristics of Beltane, the pagan celebration of Summer's Day.

Whitsun is a contraction of "White Sunday", as attested in "The Holy-Ghost, which thou did send on Whit-Sunday" in the Old English homilies. It paralleled the mention of hwitmonedei in the early 13th-century. Walter William Skeat noted that the Anglo-Saxon word also appears in Icelandic hvitasunnu-dagr, but that in English the feast was always called Pentecoste until after the Norman Conquest, when white (hwitte) began to be confused with wit or understanding. According to one interpretation, the name derives from the white garments worn by catechumens, those expecting to be baptized on that Sunday. In England white vestments, instead of the usual red, were traditional for the day. Another tradition is that of the young women of the parish all coming to church in new white dresses on that day. Augustinian canon John Mirk, of Lilleshall Abbey, Shropshire, had another interpretation of Whitsunday:9
Goode men and woymen, as ʒe knowen wele all, þys day ys called Whitsonday, for bycause þat þe Holy Gost as þys day broʒt wyt and wysdome ynto all Cristes dyscyples.

Thus, he thought the root of the word was "wit" (formerly spelt "wyt" or "wytte") and Pentecost was so-called to signify the outpouring of wit and wisdom of the Holy Ghost on Christ's disciples.

Whitsuntide, the week following Whitsunday, was one of three vacation weeks for medieval workers. On most manors they were free from service on the lord’s fields the entire week, because it marked a pause in the agricultural year. Whit Monday, the day after Whitsun, is a name coined to supersede the form Monday in Whitsun-week used by John Wycliffe and others.

The week following Whit Sunday is known as "Whitsuntide" or "Whit week." In the North West of England, church and chapel parades called Whit Walks still take place. Traditionally, Whit fairs took place during the week. Other customs were associated with Whitsuntide, like Morris dancing. Can you see how Whitsun was the occasion for all England to celebrate? Doesn’t that sound like the perfect time for a King to present his new queen to his realm? A time of celebration and bounty throughout his realm?

Secondly, Le Morte D'Arthur by Thomas Malory has the Knights of the Round Table witness a divine vision of the Holy Grail on a Whitsunday, prompting their quest to find its true location.

No one loved comparing the parallels and symbols of his court to King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table more than Henry VIII.

Looking into the symbols and motifs which surrounded Jane on 4 June, it gives us insight as to what message the King wished to convey regarding his new wife. Here are a few descriptions of the designs.

A figure (drawing?) of the holy city showed by the angel to St. John.

Surrounding Jane Seymour’s chair, the one Anne Boleyn sat in only three years earlier, were some impressive works. “Eternity gorgeously garnished with juniper of like height, knit with a truelove knot, and over this the King's and Queen's arms in one scutcheon. Fugured with the Father of Heven” with these words,: Tota pulcra est amica me (I love all the beauty); and “..the Conception of Our Ladie, Electa ut sol pulcra ut luna; stella matutina: (The Lady We chose: Beautiful as the moon, clear as the sun; Morning Star) with the sonne, the mone, the day ster; the gates of Heven, portæ cæli; the plantes of roses, planta rosarum; the sider tree, caerus exalt'; the well of Life, puteus aquarum; the rode of Jesse, Virga Jesse, or conclusede, the closed garden; the lilie amongest thornes, sicut lilia inter spinas; the tower of Davet, torrus Davet; the onspotted glasse, specula sine macula; the olyf tree, oliva speciosa; the city of God, civitas Dei."

The Queen's badge garnished with the Scripture, "bound to obey and serve." The Coronation of Our Lady solemnly garnished, and to be crowned with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.

The descent of the Holy Ghost on Whitsunday, with these Scriptures: "Et cum complerentur dies Pentecostes erant omnes unanimiter in eodem loco."

And when the day of Pentecost came, they were all with one accord in the same place.

A maiden with an "inycore" sitting in an arbour by a fountain's side. The transfiguration of Jesus, with this Scripture, "Faciamus hic tria tabernacula." Let us make three tents here.

The story of Martha and Mary Maidelayne, with this Scripture, "Domine, non est tibi curæ." O Lord, dost thou not care”. The story of Adam and Eve, with the serpent under the apple tree. Cages with quick birds, to be set in a meadow.

You get the idea. Jane was the ‘lilie amongest thornes, the onspotted glass. She was the rare unicorn brought before the court when they (The court) were all with one accord in the same place. Jesus himself imploring them to ‘make three tents.’ Henry had been tempted in the garden, put the birds freedom symbolized his freedom.

These symbols and dates meant more. I looked for a key, a common thread, which would ensure Henry that this marriage was the one for which he had waited. The theatrics and symbols were for a reason, but what was that reason?

Much like my Tudor story, Phoenix Rising, I looked to the stars for answers. What did Henry’s advisors see for the King and Jane Seymour? The first two dates I saw in May/June 1536 which caught my eye were these:

19 May 1536 – new moon; Anne Boleyn’s execution. Some say Henry pledged his troth to Jane on May 19 or 20. A new moon symbolizes a new beginning.

The next date was 4 June---Whitsun---full moon, making May 30 the official date of marriage of Henry and Jane on the date of the beginning--the waxing--of the full moon, thus making their union more powerful. The full moon is a completion of a goal.

What convinced me that Henry quite possibly believed his choice of Jane was the best choice was Leo on the chart’s ascendant. What better for a ruler than to have the king of beasts ‘protect’ his choice? The next placement was the Part of Fortune, on the ascendant. Yes, this is the one spot in a chart which shows how you will achieve your desires. Cancer and Aries are strong in the 30 May chart, as they were in Henry VIII’s chart. The many Gemini placements possibly symbolized to the King and his advisors that this was the King’s second chance. It is well documented that Henry believed Jane Seymour to be his “true wife.’ Is it possible the stars guided him toward pursuing that path?

We all know that Jane Seymour gave Henry VIII the one thing he wanted most, a male heir. As with the majority of Henry’s wives, she paid for it with her life.


Acts of the Apostles, chapter 2.

Claire Ridgway, The Anne Boleyn Files.

Edward Boucher James. Letters, Archaeological and Historical Relating to the Isle of Wight. Vol. 1. 1896. Reprint. London: Forgotten Books, 2013.

Elizabeth Norton, Jane Seymour: Henry VIII's True Love

(This article is for entertainment purposes only and to encourage readers to study the cultural and societal mores of specific eras throughout history.)


Deb Hunter writes fiction as Hunter S. Jones. Her best-selling poetic romance novel September Ends won awards for Best Independently Published Novel and Best Romance, based on its unique blending of poetry and prose. The Fortune Series received best-selling status on Amazon in the Cultural Heritage and Historical Fiction categories. She has been published by H3O Eco mag, LuxeCrush, Chattanooga Times-Free Press, and is now a freelance contributor for the Atlanta Journal Constitution. She is a member of the Historical Writers’ Association and has recently been accepted into the prestigious Rivendell Writers Colony. Her arts, music and culture blogs on are filled with eclectic stories regarding music, writing, the arts and climate awareness. She lives in Atlanta, Georgia with her Scottish born husband. Her undergrad degree is in History with an emphasis on the English Renaissance and Reformation.

PHOENIX RISING is the last hour of Anne Boleyn as told from the descendant of the astrologer/physician of King Henry VIII. She uses the 'star map' – astrology chart - used by her ancestress to reveal the stories hidden in that hour. Characters include King Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Sir Francis Bryan, Thomas Cromwell, Ralph Sadler, Mary Tudor, Eustace Chapyus, Elizabeth Howard Boleyn, Elizabeth I and the Swordsman of Calais.


Wednesday, May 27, 2015

A Taste for Offal-Tongue and Udder

by Lauren Gilbert

I have a great fondness for old cookbooks, and have a couple of facsimile copies of cookbooks in use during the Georgian era that I use for reference, as I can find bills of fare for every month of the year, and the proper courses for serving. Needing to check on dishes that would have been in season during the months of November and December, I pulled out my copy of The Compleat Housewife: or, Accomplish’d Gentlewoman’s Companion by Eliza Smith. As I leafed through, I paused at the May entry and spotted “Roasted Tongues and Udders.” After visualizing for a moment, I went on to December, and there I found “Roasted Tongue and Udder, and Hare.”

While I am no stranger to unusual dishes, I must confess that these menu items gave me pause. I wrote about the pupton on my own blog, which included a description of a “Pulpatoon of Pigeon”. I ventured into the area of offal in a discussion of “Ragooed Palates” which sounded surprisingly tasty. I am no stranger to the concept of tongue, with beef tongue as a main dish and in sandwiches being popular well into the 20th century, and fairly easy to find in my grocery store today. However, the idea of eating udders was something I had not previously considered.

In Mrs. Smith’s book, the following recipe appears: To roast a Tongue, or Udder. Take your Tongue or udder and parboil it, then stick into it ten or twelve cloves, and while it is roasting baste it with butter. When it is ready take it up, and send it t0 table with some gravy and sweet sauce.” (1) Apparently, since this method applied to both items, one could cook them together.

However, another recipe I found called for salting the tongue, letting it sit a few days, boiling with “a fine young udder” (2) until tender, then roasting them together with a basting of red wine and finishing with butter. After sticking the udder with cloves, this dish was served with gravy and a current jelly sauce. Hannah Glasse’s THE ART OF COOKERY MADE PLAIN AND EASY had a recipe that boils the tongue and udder together, calls for the insertion of cloves and basting with butter. However, her recipe calls for gravy and “gallintine-sauce” (her gallintine-sauce was made with bread crumbs, water, red wine and some sugar; there is a link below with a medieval recipe). I did not find a recipe that detailed the cooking of the tongue and udder with the hare all together. All of the recipes have sweetness in common, which seems odd to my modern taste.

Since this dish appears to have been fairly common over centuries, with recipes readily available, and served in the spring as well as the winter, it would be easy to assume it was popular fare. However, in my mind, offal in general is a very specific taste: one either likes it or does not. Samuel Pepys, the 17th century diarist, apparently relished it.(3) However, Parson James Woodforde commented in 1763 after a meal which included this dish, “...I shall not dine on a roasted tongue and udder again soon”....(4) Although I am open to trying new flavours, I suspect I might have more in common with Parson Woodforde than with Mr. Pepys. However, a roasted tongue and udder would certainly make an interesting addition to a winter dinner table in Georgian England.

Sources include: “Roast Tongue and Udder.” (c) James T. Ehler, 1990-2015. (Footnote 2.)
HistoryNeedsYou. .“Recipe for Gallantine Sauce.” Posted 9/12/2012.
Glasse, Hannah. THE ART OF COOKERY Made PLAIN AND EASY. A new EDITION, with modern Improvements. This edition first published 1805. Reprint published Bedford, MA: Applewood Books, 1997.
Smith, Eliza. The Compleat HOUSEWIFE: or Accomplished Gentlewoman’s COMPANION. First published 1758. Facsimile published London: Studio Editions Ltd., 1994. (Footnote 1 found on page 20) “The Parson’s Tongue and Other Parts.” Posted 2/19/2006 by The Old Foodie. (Footnotes 3 and 4)

Image “The Canon’s Dinner” from Wikimedia Commons.
Image “Frontispiece and Title Page of The Compleat Housewife: or Accomplished Gentlewoman’s Companion by Eliza Smith” from Wikimedia Commons

You can read in my blog The World of Heyerwood about puptons here and a
bout ragooed palates here 


Lauren Gilbert lives in Florida with her husband and is working on a new novel, tentatively titled A Rational Attachment.  At least one interesting Georgian dish will be featured!  Her first published book, HEYERWOOD: A Novel, is available through and other outlets.  Visit her website at for more information. 

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Terrorism: 1582

by Barbara Kyle

"It's all so familiar in our own deplorable time: torture...spies and counter-spies...mutually exclusive faiths, the cult of martyrdom...projects for exterminating the liberties of peoples...the implacable hates, the use of assassination, the division of families, the riving asunder of friends, and the conflict within the individual conscience itself, which tore men's hearts open." - A.L. Rowse, The England of Elizabeth

Queen Elizabeth I

Elizabeth's Dilemma

In 1582 Elizabeth Tudor, age forty-nine, had ruled England for twenty-three years, and under her reign the country had enjoyed peace and increasing prosperity. But her throne, and her life, were under constant threat. Religion was the cause.

Elizabeth's first act as Queen in 1559 had been the Act of Supremacy. It had made the realm Protestant and confirmed the monarch's position as head of the English church, without doing violence to Catholics. Elizabeth herself advocated religious tolerance, saying she had "no desire to make windows into men's souls," but she knew that strong leadership was needed to restrain the growing antagonism between Puritans and Catholics, and she hoped her religious settlement would unify them.

It did not. Neither side was satisfied.

The Puritans felt she had not taken England far enough away from "papist" customs, while Catholics considered her a heretic and found the concept of a woman as head of a church grotesque. They believed her Catholic cousin, Mary Stuart, Queen of Scotland, was the rightful claimant to the English throne, one who acknowledged the supreme authority of the pope.

Mary Queen of Scots

Enter Mary, Queen of Scots

In 1568 Mary was deposed in her own country and fled to England seeking Elizabeth's help, but Elizabeth, anxious that Catholics would rally around the Queen of Scots, put her under house arrest. Mary's supporters in England and abroad were outraged.

Mary herself, though comfortably lodged in a series of castle suites, chafed at her captivity and secretly communicated with leaders who were eager to free her by insurrection or invasion, or both.

In 1570 Pope Pius V issued an edict of excommunication against Elizabeth that called on Catholics throughout Christendom to rise up and depose her. This emboldened English Catholics in their opposition to the Church of England, and many refused to attend their parish churches. Known as "recusants" (from the Latin recusare, to refuse), these dissenters faced heavy fines.

A Hinge of History

In France, in August 1572, on the feast day of St. Bartholomew, the country's Catholic rulers instigated a savage attack on French Protestants, the Huguenots. In a convulsion of religious violence, over three thousand men and women were slaughtered in Paris by mobs of their Catholic neighbors. The carnage spread throughout France, claiming seventy thousand Huguenot lives.

The St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre sent shock waves through England. The Protestant island nation, its population far smaller than that of powerful France, was galvanized by fear.

St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre

Licence to Kill

Elizabeth had at first been lenient with Catholic recusants; they were merely fined. But in 1580 the threat to her became dire when Pope Gregory XIII, reinforcing the anathema against her, issued a declaration that it would be no sin to assassinate her. It was a clear licence to kill.

Assassination plots multiplied. Jesuit infiltrators from abroad fomented insurrection. Mary Stuart's supporters pledged to free her by force of arms. Elizabeth's government leaders discovered and thwarted the plots, but in their acute alarm they became more aggressive in rounding up agitators, real and perceived. Punishments became harsh: no longer mere fines, but imprisonment and, in some cases, death.

By 1582 England, feeling under siege, was in the grip of mind-darkening terror.

Note: The quote at the top of this post is by eminent Elizabethan historian A.L. Rowse. His words sound eerily apt for our own paranoid times.

The above is the Historical Preface that opens my new historical thriller, The Traitor's Daughter.

The Traitor's Daughter is the latest in my internationally published Thornleigh Saga series. The seven-book series follows a middle-class English family's rise through three tumultuous Tudor reigns. I hope you'll enjoy them all.

For details please see

“Riveting Tudor drama in the bestselling vein of Philippa Gregory”
USA Today on The Queen's Exiles

“A heart-stopping thriller...Kyle is a master at her craft.
RT Book Reviews on The Queen's Exiles

"Riveting, adventurous...superb!"
- Historical Novel Society on The Queen's Gamble

Monday, May 25, 2015

The Razor's Edge - of Arthur Capell, Earl of Essex

by Anna Belfrage

Some months ago, I presented a certain Arthur Capell to you, a gentleman whose loyalty to his King, Charles I, ultimately lead to his execution (for more, see here). Today, I thought we could spend some time with Arthur’s son – also named Arthur, just to make things confusing.

Can't get enough of it! Love this painting. Arthur Jr to the left
Other than his presence in the beautiful National Gallery portrait that originally sparked my interest in the Capell family, Arthur junior first rides into history as a terrified hostage, the Parliamentarian troops parading the sickly teenager before the besieged city of Colchester in the hope this would spur his father, Baron Capell, to give up. It didn’t. Baron Capell may not have made jokes along the lines of having the instruments required to make more sons, but no matter how distressed he was by the sight of his son, he was not about to betray his comrades.

Fortunately for our Arthur, once Thomas Fairfax realised Baron Capell was not about to give in to his paternal instincts, he had Arthur sent home to Hadham Hall and his anxious mother.

The siege at Colchester ended in capitulation. Arthur’s father never came home alive. Instead, in March of 1649, his wife took delivery of her husband’s body – the head had been sewn back on after his beheading. Times of woe and misery lay ahead, and it was only through Lady Capell’s contacts within the Parliamentarian government that she managed to keep her young family more or less together.

For Arthur, it must have been a confusing and frightening time. His father had died on behalf of his King, but the King was also dead, and instead the new government attempted to reshape England into a Puritan country, a place with little room for merriment and fun.

In 1651, Charles II was soundly defeated at Worcester, and it seemed the royalist cause was forever dead. Except, of course, that there were a number of people throughout England who were less than happy with Cromwell and his tame parliament. Repression does that to people – it brings out their backbone, so to speak.

As all dominant leaders, Oliver Cromwell purged most of his potential competition, ensuring his control remained uncontested. Sound policy (from Olly’s point of view) as long as Cromwell remained hale and hearty, but once the great man fell ill and died, it became apparent the Parliamentarian faction lacked a future leader, Richard Cromwell having proved to be woefully inept.

Arthur, Earl of Essex as a young man
By now, Arthur Capell was no longer a child. The sickly boy who’d been scared silly at being dragged back and forth before the walls of Colchester was now a man who embraced his father’s royalist beliefs, but who was also fervently anti-papist, no doubt a consequence of being raised under the anything but permissive religious atmosphere of Cromwell’s England.

He was also a man with a debt to collect. His father had lost his life for Charles I, and the Capell family had since then lived a borderline destitute life.  When Charles II returned to England in 1661, he went out of his way to reward men like the late Baron Capell, which in this case meant our Arthur was invested with the title of Earl of Essex, complete with substantial landholdings.

The new King needed able servants – trustworthy servants. The new Earl needed purpose. A match made in heaven, one could say. Except, of course, that Charles II and Arthur had very little in common. Where Charles II was witty and expansive, a man who embraced life to the full and who had every intention of enjoying what time he had left on Earth – a fully understandable approach, given years in exile and penury – Arthur was very much about integrity and duty.

Charles was open-minded and tolerant, Arthur was selectively open-minded and not so tolerant, finding the moral lassitude at court disgusting. But he was capable and loyal, so despite Charles II finding his Earl of Essex poor company, he sent him off as ambassador to Denmark for a couple of years, and in 1672 our Arthur was appointed lord lieutenant of Ireland.

At the time, Charles II and Arthur were having one of those rare moments when they mostly saw eye-to-eye on political issues. Arthur, for example, supported the 1672 Declaration of Indulgences, which allowed for a more tolerant approach towards dissenters. He was less happy about extending such tolerance to Catholics, but chose not to make an issue of it at the time – after all, Arthur was now to govern Ireland, a mostly Catholic part of Charles II’s realm, which made it foolish to speak out harshly against papists.

The rapacious Duchess of Cleveland
Arthur was to spend the coming five years managing Ireland. Being gifted with a head for numbers, he quickly set to work straightening the miserable finances, and despite his own religious beliefs he went out of his way to try and understand the Irish and their needs. With Arthur in office, it was pointless to try and buy plum appointments – he gave them to men of real merit. He purged the Irish administration of corruption, insisted Irish revenues should be spent on Irish issues rather than on the King’s lavish court, and in general became much respected in Ireland and just as disliked in London, where his opposition to giving away forfeited Irish estates to royal mistresses and favourites had Charles seeing red.

Obviously, the situation could not go on. Charles did not need men of integrity and convictions as much as he needed financiers – preferably men who did not question how the money was spent – and as a consequence, the Earl of Essex was relieved of his Irish position in 1677, much to the distress of the Irish. Arthur himself was less than pleased, and by his action Charles II had more or less kicked Arthur in the direction of the opposition, led by Lord Shaftesbury.

Shaftesbury, or Anthony to his friends, is a man whose political career is a mirror of the complexities of 17th century England. Once a Royalist, then a Parliamentarian, a trusted servant of Cromwell, a proponent of restoring the monarchy, an advocate for free trade, an outspoken defender of Protestant dissenters, a man set on building a government built on Parliament, of ensuring no Catholic would ever again sit on the English throne – well, the man clearly held strong political beliefs.

Arthur and Lord Shaftesbury found common ground when it came to their opinion of papists: they didn’t like them, they didn’t trust them. Neither of them liked the Treaty of Dover, whereby Charles II was to receive an annual stipend from France if he attacked the Dutch. (This despite none of them knowing the truly incendiary clauses in this particular treaty, namely that Charles II promised to convert to Catholicism and return his entire kingdom to the Old Faith). Both of them were very worried about the fact that Charles II had no legitimate heirs – in fact, Lord Shaftesbury proposed that the King divorce his barren Queen and marry a nice Protestant lady instead. Neither of them liked the idea of the Duke of York becoming the next king – even less when it became common knowledge the Duke was a Catholic.

Handsome Monmouth
Initially, Arthur was wary of Shaftesbury, whom he considered too radical. Instead, he teamed up with Lord Halifax, also a man suspicious of a Catholic king, but more interested in curtailing royal power – thereby making it less important who sat on the throne – than in excluding Catholics from the line of succession. Like Halifax, Arthur was sceptical of the young and flamboyant Duke of Monmouth, while Shaftesbury was an eager proponent of forcing Charles II to legitimise his eldest bastard son, thereby once and for all sorting the issue of succession. (As an aside, the fact that Charles II never expressed any desire or intention to do so, must, in my opinion, be taken as proof that Monmouth was, in fact, illegitimate)

Upon his return from Ireland, Arthur served for some time in the Treasury, but resigned his position in 1679, this time in protest at having yet another royal mistress demand a pay-out of 25 000 pounds. The King, in Arthur’s opinion, needed to economise. Charles II, unsurprisingly, did not agree.

James II
By 1680, our Arthur had joined Lord Shaftesbury’s faction and supported the Exclusion Bill, that rather intolerant piece of legislation that had as its purpose to exclude the Duke of York, soon to be James II, from the succession. What finally drove Arthur to move from his previously moderate opposition to this radical approach is unknown, but the man had, throughout his life, expressed anti-papists sentiments, and in the general furore surrounding the Popish Plot (for more, see here) and the utterly despicable Titus Oates, maybe he found it was time to act.

Arthur’s hitherto nice CV was to receive a couple of big inkblots over the coming year. As an example, he was an eager prosecutor of the Catholic Lords implicated in the Popish Plot (a fabrication of evidence in which Shaftesbury seems to have been implicated) and even voted for attainder of some of these men.

He did, however, regain his senses when the Irish Archbishop, Oliver Plunkett, was detained as a participant in plots against the King, and argued for the man’s innocence, even went as far as to intercede with Charles II and plead for Plunkett’s life, but was angrily informed that there was nothing the King could do to save Plunkett – it was too late, and the blame for the loss of innocent life lay squarely on Arthur and his cronies, for persecuting where there was no proof.

In 1682, Shaftesbury fled the country. After years of attempting to advance his position, of persecuting Catholics, of trying to strong-arm Charles II into either divorcing his wife or legitimising the Duke of Monmouth, Shaftesbury had acquired quite the collection of enemies, first and foremost among them the King himself – and his brother. Instead of risking a trial in England, Shaftesbury took a ship to the Continent, where he soon died. In many ways a brilliant man, Shaftesbury does not come across as a likeable man, and his death in foreign lands seems like just desserts for a man responsible for so much death and persecution.

Charles II
In England, Arthur found himself the leader of Shaftesbury’s previous faction, a group of men who supported the Duke of Monmouth as their future king. But where some of the members proposed action, Arthur distanced himself from some of the wilder schemes, such as the Rye House Plot in June 1683. The intention of the plot was to assassinate Charles II and his brother. Due to a change in time-schedule, the plot failed, and in a matter of weeks the leaders were rounded up and arrested – well, except for those who like the Duke of Monmouth fled to the Netherlands.

Arthur was among the arrested and was imprisoned in the Tower. Maybe it was the sensation of déjà-vu (his father had spent his last months in the Tower before being executed), maybe he feared that a trial against him would leave his family destitute, or maybe he was plagued by guilt for having known about the planned assassination but done nothing to stop it, but whatever the case, Arthur decided to take drastic measures.

He asked the guard for a razor with which to pare his nails, and the request was granted. With the razor in hand, he retired to a closet, and that is where his servant found him, wallowing in blood and with his throat cut. Rather than facing the iniquities of a trial, Arthur Capell, Earl of Essex, had chosen to take his own life.

It is said Charles II was genuinely saddened by the news of his death. In his book, Essex might have been difficult and insubordinate, but he was also the son of a man who gave his life in service of a king – a debt that could never be repaid.

Algernon, Arthur's son. Beautiful portrait
Among his contemporaries, Arthur was known as a good man, a sincere patriot, unselfish and conscientious, a man who always did his duty to the best of his capabilities, and who had no serious seditious designs - he sort of just happened to end up leading the vociferous opposition against a future Catholic king.

Whatever the case, just like his father, our Arthur left behind a young family in the care of his wife. In difference to his father, he died not on behalf of his King, but because he had, at some level, betrayed him.


Anna Belfrage is the successful author of seven published books, all of them part of The Graham Saga. Set in 17th century Scotland, Virginia and Maryland, this is the story of Matthew Graham and his wife, Alex Lind - two people who should never have met, not when she was born three centuries after him.

Anna's books have won several awards and are available on Amazon, or wherever else good books are sold.
For more information about Anna and her books, please visit her website. If not on her website, Anna can mostly be found on her blog.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Parliament in the Middle Ages

by Susan Appleyard

Parliament was the feeble offspring of the Magna Carta. ‘No taxation without representation.’ That was the slogan of a later age and a different country, but it serves here. Magna Carta was forced on King John by the barons, and what the barons meant by representation was… well, themselves, plus some of the more prominent landed knights. The barons were serving the commonwealth of the realm which was… well, themselves.

Nevertheless the weakling child that had been born in a meadow near Runymede, despite lack of nurturing, survived and was given an infusion of vitality in 1265 by Simon de Montfort. His father of the same name was the one who did such sterling service for the Catholic Church during the Albigensian campaign. De Montfort junior is credited with being the Founder of Parliament, but his motives were far from altruistic. He was a rebel who seized power from King Henry III after his victory at the battle of Lewes. But his position was tenuous. To gather more support for his cause, he summoned burgesses from all the major towns, as well as the barons and knights who had previously counseled the king. It was the creation of a new limb: the Commons.

Under Henry’s son, Edward I, the calling of parliament became a more frequent event. In the thirty-five years of his reign, parliament was summoned no less than forty-six times. Nor was Edward’s motive altruistic. He needed money to pursue his Welsh and Scottish wars. The Commons had not yet learned that they could say ‘No, Sire,’ or perhaps they were a little overawed by him, but they did soon learn that if they voted the King money they could get something in return.

To summon parliament writs were sent out from the chancery instructing the sheriffs of each county to hold a county court for the election. Freemen who owned freehold land worth 40 shillings a year could vote. Two knights of the shire were elected from the thirty-seven counties in England, and two burgesses were elected from every town that had the right to send members to parliament enshrined in its charter, as many as two hundred and twenty-two.

Inevitably there were abuses and fights aplenty. A man who thought he had a good chance of being elected and took along some friends for support would swiftly change his mind when he arrived and found the door blocked by a rival who had even more friends. In 1362 deputies of the sheriff of Lancaster returned themselves without consulting the constituents.

John Paston got into a fight at the shire house with the sheriff, Sir John Howard, and was twice struck by a dagger. Members were supposed to live in the borough, but sometimes nobles and knights would invade a town, bringing along their own candidate and forcing the voters to elect him. Or a local baron would send along his thugs to make sure the candidate who best supported his interests was elected. Some of the great nobles didn’t have to resort to strong-arm tactics; they simply let their wishes be known, and it was done. These practices were particularly prevalent during the War of the Roses.

The money was good: four shillings a day for the knights; two shillings for the burgesses. Not bad when the average daily wage for a peasant was two pennies. The financial burden fell on the shires and the boroughs.

By the late middle-ages the Commons had won some clout. They made laws and they made kings. And they unmade some kings too.

For more information visit:


Susan Appleyard is an author of historical fiction. She has written two books set during the War of the Roses, which are available at Amazon, and a third is due to be released in June.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Smuggling Made Easy in the 1760s

by Allen Woods

As I worked through the initial research and plot ideas for The Sword and Scabbard: Thieves and Thugs and the Bloody Massacre in Boston, I was stunned at how common and easy it was to smuggle goods into the Colonies before the Revolutionary War. Some of the great American fortunes (including that of John Hancock) were founded on the profits from smuggled goods. Later, Customs disputes offered sparks that were fanned into blazing conflicts during the Stamp Act riots, the Bloody Massacre (the name happily used by Samuel Adams and the Sons of Liberty), and eventually the Revolutionary War itself.

How could a lower-level property crime like smuggling grow into a conflict that became a turning point in world history? My research essentially reinforced a suspicion I have held for decades. Although the technologies, fashions, and culture continue to change so quickly that many of us can't keep up, human nature–in its criminal and bureaucratic aspects–maintains a consistent thread throughout our societies. I found two basic reasons that smuggling played such a central role in colonial history: government officials susceptible to bribes and misguided government strategy in addressing the problem.

Bribing Officials was Business as Usual

John Hancock was just one of the American merchants whose fortune was partially a result of smuggling.

As the colonies became a market for English and international goods through the early 1700s, the English government looked to control imports and make a profit from them. Because they were still such a distance from the mother country and an unsavory place to live for most of the lords that might be appointed to a post, they turned to those already in residence there. Many were friends of the colonial merchant class and were unwilling to enforce duties on molasses and other imported goods.

One of the most notorious was Benjamin Barons, who actually led Boston merchants in opposition to Customs officials in several court actions. It was common knowledge that in Boston (and probably throughout the colonies) that an unwritten agreement allowed merchants to declare one-third of their goods and pay the import duty for that portion while Barons looked the other way.

After a full board of Custom Commissioners arrived in Boston in 1767 to try to fully enforce the laws, firebrand Captain Malcom boldly offered to file his manifest and willingly pay duty using the "customary indulgences." When the Commissioners indignantly refused, he came back a few days later announcing that he had arrived with an empty ship and that Customs was free to search it, since he had offloaded the cargo at a site unknown to Customs.

Although there are no records of it, it is hard to believe that Barons took these illegal actions without some type of payments from the merchants who were his friends and turned a handsome profit from this international trade. Bribing government officials was business as usual throughout the colonies at the time, and almost certainly in England and Europe as well. It is a criminal practice that continues today in ports and entries around the world and allows the flow of everything from illegal drugs to immigrants and slaves to counterfeit goods.

New Rules Promote Competition among Officials, Not Better Enforcement

After the French and Indian War in the colonies ended in 1763, British officials noted how much money they had spent defending the colonies and how little they got back in import duties. Customs revenues were only a fraction of the actual trade and barely enough to pay the salaries of the appointed officials, let alone offset military costs from the war. Prime Minister George Grenville moved to enforce colonial Customs law by sending Royal Navy ships to patrol coastal waters and giving them the power to seize and sell ships involved in smuggling.

Unfortunately, this move promoted competition between the Navy and Customs officials. Instead of watching for smugglers, the two groups spent much of their energy watching their bureaucratic rivals. (Today, there are multiple stories in the U.S. and around the world where competition among law enforcement agencies, such as the FBI and local officials, prevents efficient law enforcement.)

The heart of the dispute, as is so often the case, was money. Customs officials themselves could make a huge profit if they seized a ship and sold it and its illegal cargo. The Commissioner responsible would personally get one third of the proceeds, hundreds of pounds from a single ship, about as much as their yearly salary. Grenville made this the reward for naval captains as well, whose compensation was small enough to motivate them to seek the "prize money" offered for successful battles during a war or seizure of illegal ships and merchandise during peace.

The unfortunate result was that the two groups didn't pool their resources. Customs officials in the colonies had no ships or troops to seize ships outside of a harbor, while naval captains had no access to the network of Customs informers that could have pointed them at likely targets. In some cases, a dispute over which group had rights to a seized ship landed in court. The end result was that the new rules designed to enforce Customs duties after 1763 probably hindered Royal efforts as much as it enhanced them. The Navy kept an eye on Customs agents and Customs agents kept an eye on the Navy–and neither kept a closer watch on American smugglers.

Smuggling: An American Tradition

After Customs seized John
Hancock's sloop Liberty
(similar to the above)
and turned it into a Royal
Navy vessel, colonists
in Rhode Island took
it back and burned it.
By the time John Hancock publicly declared he wouldn't pay the new Customs duties on his ships in 1768 and arranged for Customs officials to be held while a ship filled with Madeira wine was illegally unloaded in Boston Harbor, he was simply following an American tradition that had been established over several decades of trade in the colonies. It was a tradition that was supported by British actions during the period, sometimes intentionally but more often inadvertently. When a British ship of the line seized Hancock's Liberty, the colonists responded with direct attacks on some Customs officials and their property. The occupation of Boston by British troops followed soon afterward, setting the stage for the Boston Massacre and the string of events that ultimately led to the Revolutionary War. It was this economic struggle over taxes in the form of import duties that resulted in the War of Independence and the call for freedom in the colonies.


Allen Woods has been a full-time freelance writer and editor for almost 30 years, writing everything from magazine and newspaper features to sales training for corporate clients. Recently he has specialized in social studies and reading textbooks for all ages. The spark for The Sword and Scabbard came while doing research for an American history text. He lives 100 miles from the site of the Boston Massacre and plans a series which will follow Nicholas and Maggie through the Tea Party, Lexington and Concord, the Revolutionary War, and beyond. He welcomes comments at the Blog or Events pages of the book web site