Monday, October 31, 2016

From Samhain to Hallowe'en

by Elaine Moxon

In ancient times it wasn’t possible to keep whole herds through winter, so minimum livestock was retained and the rest were slaughtered and salted. The killing and preserving was done at ‘Samhain’ (summer’s end), which marked the start of the Celtic New Year. The last crops also had to be harvested by the last day of October (or its equivalent date of the era), Samhain-Eve. The festival of Samhain would last for three days from 31st October until 2nd November, thus crossing the border between the Old Year and into the New Year. Hence, Samhain is a time of change and transition.

To welcome friendly visiting ancestral ghosts, candles were lit on shrines in the west of the home to honour lost loved ones who had passed to the ‘Summerlands’. At the customary feast, a place setting would be set for those absent, and food and drink left for the ‘guest’ at the front door. The door would remain unlocked to allow the dead to enter. For spirits with no family to visit, additional offerings would be left on window sills and doorsteps. To keep away those with malevolent intentions, turnips or mangelwurzels were carved into ‘death’ heads with ghoulish expressions and left outside with a candle glowing inside. This has been replaced in many places with the pumpkin heads we see in abundance at Hallowe’en.

Samonios - October-November in the Celtic calendar, meaning ‘seed fall’
Samhuinn - beginning of winter: OBOD (pronounced ‘sow’ as in cow – ‘inn’)
Samhain - November, Irish Gaelic
Samhuin - All Hallows, Scottish Gaelic

By the 7th Century the three days of the festival were Christianised as follows:
  • All-Hallows Day, 31st October
  • All-Saints Day, 1st November
  • All-Souls Day, 2nd November
However, the traditions of the festival continued despite the Christianisation of the feast days, as this was thought to be a dangerous time. The ‘veil’ between the world of the living and the ‘Otherworld’ or land of the dead lifted, allowing communion with those who had already passed on into what was sometimes known as the ‘wilder life’. Ancestral ghosts and otherworldly creatures were thought to be abroad. These spectres came in benevolent as well as malevolent forms and ancient traditions abound with rituals that have endured into the modern day. The Celts, as noted by Caesar, were self-proclaimed ‘sons of the god of night’ and counted the seasons by the number of nights, not days. Therefore, ritual celebration was observed on the eve of a special date, hence why we have Hallowe’en, All Hallows Eve on 31st October, the night preceding Samhain.

Nationwide [Britain]

The ‘Wild Hunt’ swept through the skies at Samhain, with one of several figures at its head depending on the belief system of those at ground level: 
  • In the north, Odin
  • In Germania, Woden
  • In Wales, Gwynn ap Nudd, King of the Fairies
  • In England, Herne the Hunter or King Arthur
  • In Scotland, ghostly hunters with hawks on their hands, followed by packs of hounds known as Gabriel’s Ratchets.
Those out late at night carried black-handled knives or a steel needle threaded through their coat sleeve, so they would not be ‘taken’ by these sky-riding spirits. There is a hint here to the modern-day ‘witch on a broomstick’!


Folk traditions attempted to obliterate this otherworldly connection through ritual and pranks (today’s trick-or-treat). Young men impersonated spirits with masks and veiled or blackened faces. The boundary between the sexes was blurred too with girls and boys wearing clothes of the opposite sex. Ploughs and carts were driven away and gates moved or tossed into ponds and ditches. Horses were led away and left in other people’s fields.


The ‘Feast of Tara’ was a great assembly held at Samhain when renewal of kingships and kingdoms took place. Offerings were thrown to the gods into a sacred fire, in thanks for the year’s harvest and prayers were said for the forthcoming year. Ideally, four provincial kings and their kinfolk would sit in a square around the High King who sat at the centre; a symbolic assertion of the order and stability of the people. This was important to establish at such an unstable time of year, when the growing forces of darkness and chaos threatened with the long hours of darkness outside.

Fire kept away cold, discomfort and wild animals, as well as evil spirits. As recent as the 19th Century in Britain and Ireland, people would light brands from a large bonfire and run around fields and hedges of homes, surrounding parish boundaries with a magic circle of light. The ashes from the fire were later sprinkled over the fields to protect them from evil during the winter months (improving the soil at the same time!).

Here, too, young men would create hullabaloo throughout the countryside, marching in large groups blowing horns and wearing white sheets and horse’s heads. On hearing the horns, housewives would offer cakes to the approaching marauders as to deny them offerings would result in trickery. Once again we see here the underlying mischief, born of more serious ritual, that today is performed by countless children knocking doors for sweets.


At Samhain, a large fire would be lit in the hearth and families would gather to consume warm, sweetened ale from a ‘wassail’ bowl. Roasted apples and nuts were used in divination games to foretell the fortunes of the following year. Here we find a source for the apple bobbing and games of conkers that are so popular among children and adults alike! Apples have long been associated with immortality and can be found in numerous myths and legends from around the world. The Goddess Idun of Norse mythology was the keeper of the apples of immortality that were fed upon by the gods of Asgard to retain their immortality. Likewise, in Greek mythology the Goddess Hera owned a sacred apple tree, attended by three sisters known as the Hesperides. In Celtic myth the famous isle of apples, or ‘Avalon’ was an otherworldly paradise to which King Arthur was taken by three fairy queens (one of whom was Morgan Le Fay, fay meaning ‘fate’). Apples also link to the triple goddess that abounds in Celtic and Pagan religions and is where we find the symbol of the pentacle or five-pointed star/star of knowledge – when the fruit is cut horizontally.

A harvest supper known as the ‘Hag’s Feast’ would be shared at Samhain, in honour of the winter hag or crone, who rules between Samhain and Imbolc (1st February). This ‘dark goddess’ ruled the inner tides of human emotion, the ‘womb’ of the ocean and the realm of dreams. The darkness of the womb gives birth to human life, as the dark of night and winter gives birth to day and springtime. Thus this figure and her time of year were about restoring and regenerating spirit, inner strength and hope. She has now been transposed into solely her darkest aspect, as the witch riding through the land on a wolf (or broomstick!) striking down signs of life with her wand of winter. The sign of the dark goddess is the black feather and her birds are carrion and so here we find the crows and ravens of Hallowe’en. It is also worth noting the two ravens belonging to Odin from Norse mythology.

Modern Pagans use this time to also connect with loved ones who have departed and for introspection. Feasting and familial gathering form part of a remembrance service where worries can be released onto paper and burned in the ‘Samhuinn fire’, which can be as elaborate as a large communal bonfire or as intimate as a single candle flame in ones home.

As you choose your costume and prepare to embark on a night of chaos and ghoulish fun, consider the ancient rituals you will be sharing with our ancestors!
OBOD – Samhuinn & Alban Elued [Autumn Equinoxe]
Hamlyn History - ‘Myths Retold’ by Diana Ferguson
‘Visions of the Cailleach’ by Sonita d’Este & David Rankine
‘Pagan Feasts’ by Anna Franklin & Sue Phillips
ALL IMAGES: courtesy of


Elaine writes historical fiction as ‘E S Moxon’. Her debut 'Wulfsuna' was published January 21st, 2015 and is the first in her Wolf Spear Saga series of Saxon adventures, where a Seer and one named ‘Wolf Spear’ are destined to meet. She is currently writing her second novel, set once again in the Dark Ages of 5th Century Britain. You can find out more about Book 2 from Elaine’s website where she has a video diary charting her writing progress. She also runs a blog. Elaine lives in the Midlands with her family and their chocolate Labrador.

Blood, betrayal and brotherhood.
An ancient saga is weaving their destiny. 
A treacherous rival threatens their fate. 
A Seer's magic may be all that can save them. 

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Editors' Weekly Round-Up, October 30, 2016

by the EHFA Editors

Did you miss a post on the blog this week?  Check out our weekly round-up:

by M.M. Bennetts

by Linda Fetterly Root

by Anna Belfrage

by Annie Whitehead

by Nancy Bilyeau

Authors, Researchers - we welcome inquiries about writing for English Historical Fiction Authors. Please contact us for guidelines.

Friday, October 28, 2016

The Celts - Occupations and Leisure Activities

by Annie Whitehead

So far in this series, I’ve looked at the origins of the Celtic People, how they lived and who they were. Now I’m looking at what they did:

While the Celt as a warrior has been the most colourful picture to come down for posterity, warfare was not a full time occupation, and the majority of Celtic people spent most of their time in rural, agricultural pursuits.

The Aedui chief Dumnorix, Museum of Celtic
Civilization, Bibracte

There was a great difference between the Germanic tribes and the Gauls, as the former consumed very little wheat and lived mainly on milk and the flesh of their animals.

Cattle were abundant in Gaul, which can be seen from the fact that during all Caesar’s expedition large amounts of livestock were seized.

The cattle in Britain were of the Celtic Shorthorn variety, first appearing towards the end of the Bronze age. Sheep were small, similar to the Soay breed. Wild animals presented a threat, to crops and to life, with wolves, bears and wild cats all still abundant.

Soay sheep at Cranborne Ancient Technology Centre
Attrib. Simon Barnes, CC BY-SA 2.0,

The cultivation of wheat was quite common among the Transalpine Gauls, and Caesar never had any difficulty feeding his armies on any of his campaigns.  Besides wheat, we know from Pliny that millet was grown, at least in Aquitaine.

In the highlands of the northern British Isles, rain-bearing winds caused many fields to be abandoned during the latter stages of the Bronze age, but iron axes (seventh century BC onwards) enabled the clearing of forests, allowing for the planting of crops.

The Greek writer Hecataeus noted that in the sixth century BC, the people in Britain reaped two harvests a year, of the hardy spelt. Other ‘new’ grains included the Celtic bean, rye, club wheat and chess. Aerial views of Celtic fields are used to make calculations, and at Overton Down in Wiltshire the fields there suggest that the average field could have been ploughed in a day, based on a plough being pulled by two oxen.

But the Celts generally were also accomplished hunters. Those who hunted for pleasure used no nets. The richer Celts would send men to seek out a resting hare. After rousing the hare, they would send their dogs after it. The Celtic dogs were famous; they were extremely savage and fast runners. One dog tracked down the animal by following its scent, while the others stood where the animal was likely to emerge, ready to leap on it for the kill.

Money was put aside every time a kill was made. It was used every year to pay for a sacrifice to the Goddess Artemis, and for a banquet where the dogs appeared covered with flowers.

Caesar observed, though, that it was unlawful to eat hares. Boudicca released one while praying to her goddess before setting out on her anti-Roman campaigns. Hares of course continue to be abundant in Celtic folklore.

Artemis with hind

The Celts used a hand thrown dart when hunting birds. The arrows used in hunting were poisoned with juice from the fruit of a tree.

Fishing was not as popular as hunting, and many tribes took no advantage of the abundance of fish available off their shores.

In terms of industry, there were silver mines in the Pyrenees, and also in Spain. Gaul contained many iron ore mines and the Gauls were experts at working them. There were, however, few of them in the British Isles. The Britons used copper for their coins, and also iron rings of a given weight. The Caledonii wore iron ornaments around their necks, and this was regarded as a sign of great wealth. Copper was to be found in Aquitaine, but the Gauls did not know how to process it properly. Imported copper was used in the British Isles, and tin occurred only in the British Isles.

It’s probable that smiths were not of equal status in Britain. Those who made, for example, the Snettisham Torcs, must have been master craftsmen, while below them there would have been itinerant smiths who set up their forges to repair or make tools as and when required.

Snettisham Hoard Attrib. Portable Antiquities Scheme from London, England -
The Snettisham Hoard Uploaded by Victuallers, CC BY 2.0,

The Gauls used coral and enamel for decorative purposes. The finest coral was collected off the southern coast of Gaul. It was used to decorate swords, shields and helmets. The use of coral in the ancient world was found only in those areas under Celtic influence. Pliny says that coral was thought to have certain cultural properties; for example, a branch of coral round the neck of a child was regarded as protections against harm. Objects decorated with coral most probably belong to the end of the Halstatt period and the first part of the La Tène period.*

Philostratus** wrote that the ‘barbarians’ knew how to pour white, black, yellow and red colours on incandescent copper so that they hardened to the consistency of stone, keeping the designs made on the metal. This must have been a reference to the Celts and an enamelling process. The Celts applied enamel to objects such as buttons, clasps and brooches.

Trade between the British Isles and the Roman world increased after Caesar’s expeditions. Initially, luxury wine arrived, but by 15BC ‘rough’ wines were being imported, and by the last decade of the first century BC products such as fish-sauce and tableware came in. The main imports of pottery were Gallo-Belgic imitations of the fine Arretine pottery, which was finished in a rich red gloss.

In Scotland, one fort grew in prosperity under the Roman occupation. At Traprain Law, in East Lothian, finds include distinctive dress-fasteners which were being imitated by local bronze-smiths.

Iron age Hill Fort

‘Cottage industry’ likely included the weaving of baskets, but there are few finds. A basket fragment was found in Stanwick, Yorkshire. More abundant are finds of woven hurdles, with fine examples found in Glastonbury and Meare in Somerset.

Meare also gave up objects such as wooden tubs and cups, wheel hubs and spokes and various wooden tool handles.

Antler was often carved and fashioned into a variety of tools, as well as for making the cheek pieces for bridles.

The Stanwick Horse Mask, La Tene style mount, British, 1st century
By Johnbod - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Life was not all about work. Also found on the Meare site were game counters made from polished pebbles. At Welwyn Garden City, an excavation uncovered glass gaming pieces from a chieftain’s burial. Five dice and a dice box were also found.

A bone flute, found in a burial at Standfordbury, and an iron horn from Ireland, suggest that music played a part in Celtic life, be it in the home, or simply as part of festivals and rituals.

Next time, more on rituals, as we look at the government and social structure of Celtic society, and the Druidic rituals and traditions.

*See the first part of this series for more on these cultures.
** Philostratus was a Greek writer of the second and third centuries. He was born on the island of Lemnos and lived from AD175-249.

[All above images public domain unless otherwise attributed]

See the previous articles in this series
Who Were the Celts?How the Celts LivedThe Celtic Community


Annie Whitehead is a history graduate and prize-winning author. Her first novel, To Be A Queen, is the story of Aethelflaed, daughter of Alfred the Great, who came to be known as the Lady of the Mercians. It was long-listed for the Historical Novel Society’s Indie Book of the Year 2016, and it has been awarded a B.R.A.G. Gold Medallion.

Her second novel, Alvar the Kingmaker, is a tale of intrigue, deceit, politics, love, and murder in tenth-century Mercia. It charts the career of the earl who sacrificed personal happiness to secure the throne of England for King Edgar, and, later, Aethelred the Unready. It too has just been awarded a B.R.A.G. Gold Medallion.

Most recently, she has contributed to the anthology of short stories, 1066 Turned Upside Down, in which nine authors re-imagine the events of 1066, and which has just been awarded HNS Editors’ choice and long-listed for Book of the Year 2017.

Author Page
Alvar the Kingmaker
To Be A Queen
1066 Turned Upside Down

Thursday, October 27, 2016

So We'll Go No More A-courting - Of an Insane Swede and Elizabeth I

by Anna Belfrage

Back in 16th century Europe, every bachelor prince around had his eyes set on the (initially) young redheaded queen of England. Not necessarily because they were totally blinded by her beauty or admired her wit, but because she was a female ruler of an island quite a few of the prospective grooms would love to get their hands on. They assumed that once wed and bedded, Elizabeth would graciously retire to birth babies while turning over the government of her kingdom to her husband. Elizabeth, as we know, had other plans. Her decision not to marry reflects she was fully aware of how constraining her role as wife would be, and Elizabeth had no intention of being constrained. At all.

All those wanna-be suitors were blissfully unaware of Elizabeth’s disinclination to marry. So, I assume, were Elizabeth’s counsellors, who spent a lot of time presenting various marital options to the queen. Soon enough, the brighter of them cottoned on to the fact that their virgin queen had every intention of remaining both an official virgin and a ruling queen – but she was willing to dangle herself as bait before the prospective grooms if it served England’s interests.

Erik of Vasa
One of Elizabeth’s suitors was Swedish. As per the prevalent opinion, he was a dashing young man, beautiful enough to turn heads on the street. Erik Vasa, Prince of Sweden, not only had legs to die for, but he was well-educated and the heir to the Swedish throne – in itself a new-fangled concept, seeing as up to Erik’s father taking the throne, Swedish kings had always been elected. Erik also suffered from moments of borderline insanity – not something that would have been shared with a future bride.

Erik and Elizabeth had a lot in common; both born in 1533, both of them redheads and members of relatively young royal dynasties, both of them bright and vivacious… the list is quite long. They also had very forceful fathers, but by the time Erik proposed to Elizabeth, hers was long dead while Erik’s father, Gustav Vasa, was very much alive, and not at all in favour of an alliance with England.

Gustav Vasa is an enigmatic character whom people love to hate and hate to love. Brave and principled, ruthless and avaricious, he shares a number of traits with Henry Tudor, foremost among them the fact that he won his crown by conquest, not by undisputed blood-right. After having escaped with his life from the horrors of the Stockholm bloodbath, Gustav Vasa was essentially the only remaining Swedish noble capable of challenging the Danish king (who had annexed Sweden in a most brutal fashion), and challenge him he did, until that propitious day in June of 1523 when Gustav rode into Stockholm to the loud acclaim of the people, there to claim his throne.

Gustav Vasa
People who win their crowns tend to be a tad more defensive of them and their royal prerogatives – some sort of general insecurity, I’d guess. Gustav Vasa set about setting his house in order with fervour, and just like Henry Tudor, he made sure to marginalise those families that could potentially be a threat to his throne. One such family was the Sture family, and it became a constant bogeyman to the Vasa dynasty until our dear Erik, years later, took matters in his own hands and murdered them. (This was during one of his insane period, they say. Huh. I think the man was permanently ridding himself of the competition)

Elizabeth had similar bogeymen – or bogeywomen – and used a similar solution, although she never lowered herself to sullying her own hands with blood. Besides, Elizabeth’s father had done a good job of reducing the number of prospective candidates to the English throne, her sister Mary had done her bit, and so when Elizabeth came to the throne she wasn’t exactly beset by wanna-be kings. One somewhat dangerous relative remained: the handsome and well-educated (if quite dislikeable) Lord Darnley, but Elizabeth pulled the teeth of that particular lion by ensuring Darnley married her Scottish cousin instead. We all know just how unhappy the Darnley – Mary Queen of Scots union was, but at least it produced an heir to the Scottish – and eventually also English – throne.

Elizabeth around 1563
Back to our Erik and his aspirations to add the crown of England to that of Sweden: In difference to Elizabeth, Erik had grown up with numerous siblings in a loud and boisterous family. One of Gustav Vasa’s more attractive qualities was the respect with which he treated his wives (all three of them) and daughters. In fact, the man had a soft spot for strong women in general, so one could have assumed he’d be as taken as Erik with the notion of making Elizabeth his daughter-in-law. Not so. England he dismissed as unimportant, and instead Gustav Vasa wanted his son to contract a good dynastic marriage with, for example, a Danish princess.

Erik in his wooing portrait
Erik sniffed. Dear Papa was an old dodger, and far too concerned with brokering a peace with Denmark. He, Erik, had other plans. He was going to be a modern king, ushering in a new time, an age of learning, of opening Sweden to the influences from the continent. So despite Gustav’s grumblings, Erik proceeded with his long-distance wooing, starting by commissioning a grand painting of himself. This representation, in Erik’s humble opinion, would cause Elizabeth heart palpitations and have her skipping with glee at the thought of tying the knot with such a handsome man. Besides, dear Lizzie had but recently come into her queenship and would be delighted at having a man of such intellectual prowess as Erik by her side. Well…

Erik’s brother, Johan, was sent off to London, there to woo the queen on Elizabeth’s behalf. The portrait was displayed. Elizabeth ooed and aaed, thanked Johan for the beautiful gifts (there was more than the portrait – Erik had a flair for grand gestures) and looked at him from under fluttering lashes when she suggested that brother Erik come in person next time. No matter how handsome the portrait, she ardently desired to lay eyes on her Swedish suitor – as soon as possible.

Mission accomplished, Johan must have thought, high-fiving his companions as he hastened down to their waiting ship. Meanwhile, Elizabeth cast one last look at Erik’s painted features and suggested he be placed in storage somewhere – it would not do to have one suitor hanging on the wall when the next presented himself.

Johan was back in Sweden in April of 1560. Erik was not one to procrastinate. Upon hearing Elizabeth wanted to look him full in the face, be dazzled by his presence, he immediately began planning a trip to England, wanting nothing but to crush his lips to those of his potential blushing bride. A date in August was set, and preparations were going according to plan when Gustav Vasa took a turn for the worse. The old king had been ailing for some years by now, and with his death imminent, Erik, as his heir, could not leave.

Erik's Coronation Mantle
In September of 1560, Gustav Vasa died. Suddenly, Erik had much more on his plate than the pursuit of an English bride. As the new king, he had a country to rule, starting with curbing the power of his half-brothers and preparing for the first ever coronation in Swedish history. So Elizabeth would have to wait – and it wasn’t as if Erik lacked for female company. The young, vivacious king was welcomed with open arms by most women he as much as looked at. He did that a lot – look, I mean.

I dare say Elizabeth was not overly distressed upon hearing her Swedish suitor would not be coming. After all, she too had other, far more pressing, concerns. But she kept the portrait, and it took 350 years or so for it to make its way back to Sweden. I guess that now and then she just had to feast her eyes on Erik Vasa and his oh, so gorgeous legs.

Erik would go on to marry a commoner, imprison his brothers, murder the Sture family, go totally insane, be deposed and locked up by brother Johan, spending years behind walls before he was finally poisoned – as per the legend with an arsenic-laced pea soup. Not, all in all, a happy life. But once, he was young and charming, the whole world an oyster before him. Once, he had hoped to crown that oyster with an English pearl and set off for a Happily Ever After. Fate, as they say, had other plans.

(all pictures in the public domain)

Had Anna been allowed to choose, she’d have become a professional time-traveller. As such a profession does not exist, she became a financial professional with two absorbing interests, namely history and writing. 

Presently, Anna is hard at work with The King’s Greatest Enemy, a series set in the 1320s featuring Adam de Guirande, his wife Kit, and their adventures and misfortunes in connection with Roger Mortimer’s rise to power. And yes, Hugh Despenser plays a central role.The first book, In The Shadow of the Storm was published in 2015, the second, Days of Sun and Glory, was published in July 2016.

When Anna is not stuck in the 14th century, she's probably visiting in the 17th century, specifically with Alex and Matthew Graham, the protagonists of the acclaimed The Graham Saga. This is the story of two people who should never have met – not when she was born three centuries after him.

More about Anna on her website or on her blog!

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Young Love, the Gunpowder Treason and the law of Adulterine Bastardy: The Banbury Case

by Linda Fetterly Root

Fifty years ago I was working as a paralegal assistant in a San Diego law office specializing in personal injury cases and business law. Occasionally a family law case would find its way into the case log, usually as a courtesy to a business client who had wed without the benefit of a prenuptial. Our managing partner undertook the case mentioned in this post as a favor to a Superior Court Judge who had heard about it from a colleague and was outraged. The partners had larger fish to fry and assigned it to an associate, who passed the research off to me. It involved a newly married couple in which the husband sought to adopt his natural child, and to his surprise, his wife’s first husband opposed it. Hence, my introduction to the law of Adulterine Bastardy, a prominent issue in 17th Century English Common law that eventually made its way into  20th century California  Family Law as a landmark precedent known as the Banbury Case.  If you question what this has to do with English history, be patient.

The Banbury Case was first litigated in 1661, revisited in 1816 and again at the end of the 19th century on a collateral issue [1]  ratifying the presumption that a child born during a marriage is deemed legitimate. There was a public policy reason: little bastards running around were a drain on societal resources. Other than in two narrowly applied exceptions, evidence to the contrary was barred. The presumption has migrated to California where it is deemed irrebuttable.

In the case I was researching, the law gave parental rights to a cuckold husband who took his ex-wife’s daughter whom he knew wasn’t his to Balboa Park where he stood her on a soapbox and held her out to passers-by as the poster child for adulterine bastardy
[2].  An appalled judge tried to apply the legal standard used in custody disputes—i.e., the best interests of the child—to terminate his parental rights and ran into the brick wall erected in 1661. In the San Diego case, the matter was resolved when the first husband tired of paying child support and let the child’s father adopt her. Time marched on, and I forgot about Banbury, never expecting to become intimately acquainted with the original litigants during my post-retirement adventures as a historical fiction writer.

When I first encountered Lord Edward Vaux and his fiancée, Lady Elizabeth Howard while researching the Gunpowder Treason, I entertained a suspicion they may have inspired Vaux’s friend Will Shakespeare’s ill-fated adolescent lovers Romeo and Juliet, but I never cast young Elizabeth as the adulterous Countess of Banbury. She was not a child of  lesser members of the Howard dynasty. Her birthright put her closer to the center of the circle of  nobility than either of the Tudor consorts who were Howards-- namely, poor silly Catherine Howard and bold, arrogant Anne Boleyn. Lady Elizabeth Howard, the Juliet in our story, was a granddaughter of the executed Duke of Norfolk, who had been England's highest ranking peer. Her father was Thomas Howard, Earl of Suffolk. Her mother Catherine was Suffolk's second wife, the first ranked lady in waiting to the  Queen. 

Meet the Parents:  The Countess and Earl of Suffolk (PDArt)

Like his father Norfolk, Suffolk had been subtle about his religious bent, but along with the rest of the Howards, he was regarded as a Church Catholic, who tempered compulsory sermons with an occasional illegal mass.

By the time of Elizabeth Tudor's death in 1603, areas of rural England were heavily populated with recusant families, and the aristocrats among them clustered in close-knit groups. The King had been advised by his principal minister Lord Robert Cecil that aristocratic rural Catholics were like an extended family, hunting, grousing and picnicking at functions featuring a priest as guest-of-honor. It is likely that at such an event, Edward Vaux, who had inherited the Harrowden Barony from his grandfather at the age of seven, and  Elizabeth Howard, one of  her parents' sixteen children, had met and fallen desperately and interminably in love. Neither of the young lovers was involved in the Gunpowder Treason, but they certainly suffered its consequences.

An engraving showing the first meeting of Romeo and Juliet
Wikimedia Commons

If there is a female at the crux of the story, it is neither the domineering Countess of Suffolk or her love-struck daughter, but the redoubtable Eliza Roper, Edward’s mother, the self-styled Dowager Lady Vaux. Even the use of her title was over-reaching since her husband had predeceased his father and never became a baron in his own right.  There is no known portrait of her other than a carving on a tomb effigy, but men found her captivating and she was probably a beauty.

John Roper Tomb in Lynstead,
Creative Commons.
Eliza Roper and George Vaux’s marriage had problems at the start. She was the daughter of Kentish aristocrats remotely related to the son-in-law of Thomas More, and George and his father Baron William Vaux were notorious recusants.

Since the marriage united two prominent Catholic families, it required the permission of Elizabeth, who was not asked. The Queen was known to be forgiving, but not when openly defied. The marriage stood, but to appease an angry,
vindictive Queen, George was passed over as his father’s heir in favor of his younger brother Ambrose who Eliza soon beguiled.  As a daughter-in-law, she was characterized as a domineering bully.  Per her mother-in-law’s brother Thomas Tresham[3], Eliza moved them out of Harrowden Hall into a smaller house and connived to take control of their wealth. Her brother-in-law Ambrose thought Eliza was a goddess but her husband's famous sisters, the recusants Anne Vaux and Eleanore Vaux Brokesby resented her treatment of their father and step-mother.

By 1590, George had reconciled with his father, and Ambrose ceded his rights of heirship back to George. What role Eliza may have played in the maneuvering is not recorded. Ostensibly the Queen had recovered from her earlier snit and posed no objection. There is no question that while he lived, Eliza adored her husband. When he died, she went into deep mourning for the better part of a year and refused to enter the part of the house where he died.  She was devoted to the advancement of her son, but she was equally absorbed in her defense of her religion.  While her sisters-in-law Anne Vaux and Eleanore Brooksby were of equal zeal, they and Eliza were not confederates. Anne and Eleanore lived in  properties they had inherited, primarily at White Webbs, where they often gave haven to the Jesuit Superior Henry Garnet. Eliza, however,was a patron of the Jesuit aristocrat, John Gerard, Garnet's protege.

Harrowden Hall,Public Domain
In 1598, Eliza purchased her seven-year-old son’s wardship, and moved her younger children into the Vaux ancestral home at Harrowden Hall, which she remodeled to include several priest hides. Then she brought the charismatic Gerard into the household as her confessor. He used it as his principal residence for at least six years. She established a Jesuit pre-college on the grounds for Catholic boys who were too young or too poor to be smuggled to the Jesuit College at Douai.

Another of her projects was arranging a suitable marriage for her son.  Eliza was ambitious and in her judgment, there was no better match for Edward than a Howard. In 1605, Eliza’s design for Edward was going smoothly.  The two parties to the prospective marriage cooperated by actually being  in love. In spite of some accusations of recusancy based upon an ambiguous letter which had fallen into the hands of a rival Midlands socialite and passed to Robert Cecil, Lady Vaux and her son were in high favor with the crown. The king stopped at Harrowden to hunt in August, less than three months before the discovery of the Powder Treason, in spite of rumors that the mistress of the house was rumored to harbor priests. In the autumn of 1605, a wedding was on the horizon. Both the prospective bride and groom had come of age. It appeared that nothing could stand in their way.

And then came November 5, 1605.

  The politically astute Howards quickly distanced themselves from their Midland Catholic friends. The nature of the school operated at Harrowden and the presence of priests on the premises were ill-kept secrets. November of 1605 was a poor time to be negotiating a marriage with a son of Eliza Vaux.   Harrowden Hall had been on a Watch List well before November 5th, after her Papist neighbor Lady Anne Markham sold Eliza out to Cecil in hopes of having her own properties released from forfeiture and her husband returned from exile. The lady was engaged as one of Cecil’s spies, and when the Gunpowder Plot erupted, she descended upon  Harrowden with a warrant in her clutches. 

Lord Edward's engagement to Elizabeth had fallen apart in the aftermath of the Powder Plot, and it seemed the love of his life was forever out of reach, formally betrothed and soon to be wed to Sir William Knollys, later to become the Earl of Banbury, a childless widower fifty-nine years her  senior.  Knollys, incidentally, is the man credited with finding the gunpowder in the cellar beneath the House of Lords. Since Cecil had assigned spies within the Queen’s household at Denmark House to watch the Countess of Suffolk and other suspected Catholics, it was a clever match on the part of the Howards, who cleansed themselves of suspicion by marrying their daughter to the hero of the day.

Sir William Knollys, later Earl of Banbury
While the Countess of Suffolk prepared for her unhappy daughter’s hastily arranged wedding to William Knollys, the woman who was to have been the mother of the bridegroom was carted off to London to be interrogated. By then, most of the Gunpowder traitors were either dead or in the Tower awaiting execution, and Cecil’s focus shifted to the Jesuits. Lady Markham had assured him that Eliza could lead him to Gerard. But if Cecil’s henchmen hoped to wring admissions from the lady, they were sadly disappointed.

No, she’d never met anyone named John Gerard, and if she had, she had no idea he was a priest, and if she had a priest living in her house for the past six years, she had mistaken him for a country squire whose present whereabout she did not know,  but if she did, she wouldn’t tell.

The sympathetic Earl of Northampton cautioned her to  tell them what she knew of the Jesuit, since if she refused, she’d be putting her life at risk.

‘I’d sooner die first,’ she replied.

Her interrogation did not go according to the script.  It was difficult to determine who was the interrogator and who was the accused.  After being held in custody for two tedious days, the prosecution released her to detention in the home of an alderman named Swinnerton, who endured two weeks of playing manservant to his house guest before he declared her utterly reformed.  She was ordered to remain in London, but was released from custody and watched. Cecil hoped she would lead him to Gerard.  She spent her next months in London evading the pursuivants and orchestrating Gerard's escape, which is the topic of my current work in progress.

As for the thwarted lovers Edward and Elizabeth, they went their separate ways, or so it seemed, until twenty years later when William Knollys, Earl of Banbury, died, leaving behind two sons allegedly conceived during his ninth decade after twenty childless years of marriage to his countess, and which he seems to have forgotten when he made his Will. Five months later the still smitten Edward and Elizabeth wed. Vaux became the doting stepfather of two young boys who looked remarkably like him.

In spite of the tumultuous events of the reign of Charles I, the star-crossed, middle-aged couple lived happily ever after, leaving the legal quagmire surrounding the Banbury title to their heirs and generations of students of English Common Law who struggle with the principles of Adulterine Bastardy debated in the Banbury Case.   [4] 

Linda Root is a member of the State Bar of California and the United States Supreme Court, a former major crimes prosecutor and the author of seven historical novels including her work in progress, The Deliverance of the Lamb, featuring the rescue of the Jesuit John Gerard.  She is a member of the Marie Stuart Society, on the board of the M.M. Bennetts Award for Historical Fiction, a regular blogger at EHFA and a frequent reviewer and member of the Admin Team on The Review. She lives in the California hi-desert, on the edge of Joshua Tree National Park. A committed Indie, her books are available on Amazon.

Note:  All art shown is from Wikimedia Commons or other depositories of Creative Commons projects.

[1] The legal proceedings in the 17th century involved the issue of Lord Vaux’s surviving son Nicholas to use the name and title of Lord Vaux, but the subsequent case heard late in the 19th Century had to do with the entitlement to claim the peerage and the Banbury Earldom by the competing heir of William Knollys, the original Earl of Banbury. It is a very complicated litigation, and its synopsis is hundreds of pages long.
[2] The San Diego case was resolved when the legal father tired of paying child support and waging battle with Child Protective Services, the Probation Department and a hostile court, consented to a step-parent adoption of his daughter by her natural father, no doubt having found some other lives to make miserable.  It is to be noted, as in Banbury, there was little question that the child was not his.
[3] Thomas Tresham is the father of Francis Tresham, one of the persons involved in the Gunpowder Treason.  He died pending execution under suspicious circumstances. Many of the barbs directed at Eliza before were fired by Tresham’s bow, so it is hard to know if she was as abusive as he claimed. Even if they rang true he was hardly one to talk. Tresham was considered one of the most hated man in England for his bloodthirsty enforcement of the closures of his lands.  Eliza had sued him for unjust enrichment for taking funds that belonged to her son, so his low opinion of her may have been retaliation.
[4] A treatise on the Law of Adulterine Bastardy as reported in the Banbury Case,  by Sir Harris Nicholas is available as a free Google ebook, courtesy of Standford University School of Law.

Monday, October 24, 2016

The Jilting Princess...

by M.M. Bennetts

Yes, she was a princess.  And yes, she had to marry for reasons of state rather than solely based on her personal fancy, but Princess Charlotte (1796-1817), daughter of the Prince Regent and Caroline of Brunswick was no pawn--kind of more the opposite...

Bearing in mind that at the time when ministers of state, and latterly her parents, were scanning the horizon for suitable royal consorts for her, the Napoleonic wars were heading towards, they hoped, a close.  Whilst at the same time, the remaining heads of state--those which had survived--were wondering how best to restore order to Europe and reinstate legitimate government (read monarchies) to those countries which Napoleon had annexed to France.  So the task of choosing a royal mate was a little more complex than usual.

Nevertheless, in 1812, the government hit upon a plan.  Wouldn't it be perfect if Princess Charlotte were to marry William of Orange?  He was of an age with Charlotte, not too old nor too young, he'd seen active service in the Peninsula, so he was a dashing military hero and he was a Protestant (a necessity). What could be better? 

William of Orange had been raised in exile in England (so he spoke English!), he'd spent two years at Oxford,and from 1811, he served in the Peninsula under Wellington by whom he was known as 'Slender Billy'.

Perhaps he wasn't great looking, but he was known to be amiable, there had been another hugely successful marriage between a Prince of Orange and an English princess...And, bliss of blisses, someday he would rule the Netherlands--so through him and any children they might have, Britain would regain a toehold on the Continent, moreover a toehold that was right across the North Sea, thus securing the sea lanes to the Baltic.  It was ideal!

There was only one problem:  Princess Charlotte.

Because you see, in the autumn of 1812, she had conceived a rather violent passion for a Captain Charles Hesse of the 18th Hussars, and whilst at Windsor had gone out riding with him every day.

And after that, she'd been meeting with him secretly at her mother's home in Kensington, where her mother, helpfully, would "let him into her own apartment by a door that opens onto Kensington Gardens...[then] leave them together in her own bedroom, [with the words] 'A present, je vous laisse, amusez vous'."  [For the moment I'm leaving you, amuse yourselves...]

As may you appreciate, when the Prince Regent discovered, he was incandescent with rage.

And Charlotte was pretty much locked away with a new governess and with very little company.  As the Prince said with some feeling (and almost in echo of Austen's Mr. Bennet):  "I know all that passed in Windsor Park; and if it were not for my clemency I would have shut you up for life.  Depend upon it, as long as I live you shall never have an establishment, unless you marry."  

Hence, when the proposed match with William was put to Princess Charlotte in February 1813, she was not keen.  As she said of him, "I think him so ugly, that I am sometimes obliged to turn my head away in disgust when he is speaking to me."  (Ouch!)  But the idea did eventually take hold--marriage would allow her her own establishment and financial independence.  And the princess was already in debt to the tune of £22,000.  (Over a million pounds in today's money.)

The Prince Regent was delighted and held a dinner at his home at Carlton House so that the two might meet on 11 December, and Charlotte was enjoined to give her father her "fair and undisguised opinion".  After the usual fits and starts, by the end of the evening, Charlotte told her father, "I like his manner very well, as much as I ever have seen of it."

The Prince Regent was rapturous.  Charlotte would later speak of the whole thing as "a dream".

Then, in early April, having been fought to a standstill in France, Napoleon abdicated.  Then followed another remarkable bit of news:  for the first time in centuries European royalty were to visit England!  Caught up in the euphoria of the moment, in early May, the government announced the intended marriage between Charlotte and William, the Hereditary Prince of Orange (who suddenly had a throne again!)...

William himself had already arrived in Britain, ahead of the other European princes--Tsar Alexander and Kaiser Wilhelm and their entourages.  But then, a spoke appeared in the marital-diplomatic wheel--the Grand Duchess Catherine, the Tsar's confidante and sister, who allegedly had designs on William herself--or rather Russia also wanted a toehold in western Europe.

The visit of the crowned heads that June offered an opportunity for endless rounds of parties, balls, dinners and diplomacy, but Princess Charlotte was not invited.  Instead, she remained cooped up in her residence at Warwick House, next door to Carlton House, sequestered away from the fun, even as Grand Duchess Catherine worked on her, visiting, taking tea, souring whatever remained of Charlotte's affection for Slender Billy--especially by recounting just what her fiance was getting up to.

While Charlotte was locked away, William was repeatedly getting drunk, attending all the social events, having a whale of a time...when he'd gone to the Ascot Races, he'd returned to London hanging off the outside of a stage coach.

And there was one other looming problem.  Where would the young couple live?  Charlotte feared that if she  left the country and her father obtained a divorce as he wished to do, her father might remarry and produce a new heir.  And where would that leave Charlotte?  So the demand made in the proposed marriage settlement that she should spend some time with her husband in the Netherlands, as she put it, "living in Holland amongst the fogs and dykes", each year proved the final straw.

(Though it's also said that she'd been secretly seeing the Prussian king's nephew, Prince Frederick, who was said to be very handsome and she was much enamoured...)

Charlotte therefore requested that William pay her a visit on 16 June.  Their consultation together ended with Charlotte's "positive declaration that she will not leave England now..."  And later that evening, Charlotte wrote to William informing him that she was jilting him, that their engagement was "to be totally and for ever at an end".

It was a public humiliation for William...and initially, it didn't work out so well for Charlotte either...though later, she did marry the rather spiffing Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg and he was her choice.

This is an Editor's Choice post, originally published April 23 2013


M.M. Bennetts was one of the driving forces behind teh EHFA blog and contributed many wonderful posts before her early demise some years ago. She was a specialist in early 19th century European history and the Napoleonic wars, and the author of two novels, May 1812 and Of Honest Fame set during the period.  

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Marriage in Tudor England

by Samantha Wilcoxson

King Henry VIII & Anne Boleyn
Deer Hunting in Windsor Forest
20th Century Painting
The idea of courtship during the Tudor dynasty can inspire some widely varying portraits of love and marriage. Maybe you think of a poor young princess bartered off to be the property of an older man, as Mary Tudor was in 1514 when her brother, the man who became the poster boy for Tudor marital scandal, sent her to be the wife of King Louis XII. Her betrothed, the king of France was almost three times her age. On the heels of that image may come the idea of a handsome knight saving his beloved from a loveless marriage. Again, Princess Mary serves as a fine example with the scandalous match that she made with Charles Brandon upon the death of her first husband. However, these visions describe a small minority of Tudor marriages.

To a large extent, what a young person in Tudor England could expect from marriage depended upon their social and economic position. The rules for royalty, nobility, and commoners varied in many ways, though they did share the characteristic of matches often being planned by parents rather than being passionate ‘love matches’ discovered by the young people themselves.

It is difficult to understand from our modern point of view, but these couples did not see this as a detriment or example of parental tyranny. Despite the popular idea of a young woman running away with the man she loves in order to avoid being forced into a horrid marriage, this was not usually the case. In most instances, parents would suggest a match and then give the young couple the opportunity to get to know each other and decide whether or not they liked each other.

The modern need for butterflies, love at first sight, or undeniable passion for each other was not a necessity to the Tudor couple. It was enough that they liked and respected each other. Love was expected to grow as they experienced life together. The economic realities of the day made it necessary for couples to be paired based upon their ability to bring money or the skill to make it to their union. For the couple without that wherewithal, love simply was not enough.

The Moneylender and His Wife
by Kazerouni Guilliame
Musée du Louvre 
Since the ability to support themselves was paramount, couples that were not of noble families with expectations of great inheritance might be matched to take advantage of what assets or aptitudes each had. For example, a man who had lost his wife might marry a woman capable of managing his children and household. A man without a son might betroth his daughter to his apprentice in order to more easily leave the family business to them. These couples did not marry as young as their noble contemporaries because they were expected to support themselves and their household upon their marriage. How the couple would cope with everyday life was a great consideration that we do not typically have to consider nearly as seriously today.

Those of noble birth had the advantage of access to great estates and riches, but that did not leave them free to marry of their own free will. Allegiances, dowries, and estate planning had much to do with these marriages. Few had a greater challenge than those marrying during the reign of Tudor queen Elizabeth I. Refusing to marry and plan for the succession herself, Elizabeth was constantly wary of others who did wed and have sons who could potentially become a threat to her crown. During this difficult time, noble families had to plan for the future, but not so well that it offended their queen.

Still, these couples did not often go into marriage without knowing and having some affection for each other. The period of courtship was intended for the couple to spend chaperoned time together, give each other gifts, and begin to grow a relationship that their marriage could be built upon. Usually, each person had the option of declining the match, though there are examples of those who were compelled against their wishes, typically for the greater good of their family.

Marriage of Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York,
to Lady Anne Mowbray
Painting by James Northcote (19th century)
It is royal matches in which the couples had the least input. For all their riches and privileges, princes and princesses had little say in who they would share their life with. These are the matches that were often arranged at ages that seem shocking to us.

Negotiations for the marriage of the first Tudor prince began when Arthur was a toddler, and the marriage was carried out when he was the ripe old age of fifteen. Most of his siblings received similar treatment, although they did not always end up wed to those intended for them as children. Treaties could be both made and broken, creating the question of whether or not one was pre-contracted before they could be betrothed to another.

The problem of pre-contract had a hand in ending the Plantagenet dynasty and paving the way for the Tudors. With Edward IV’s children declared illegitimate after his untimely death, his son, who should have reigned as Edward V, was replaced by his uncle, Richard III. Amid the unrest caused by Richard’s usurpation, Henry Tudor seized the opportunity to invade. When he was victorious at Bosworth field, he fulfilled his vow, made almost a year earlier, to marry Elizabeth of York, the eighteen-year-old daughter of Edward IV. You can be sure that Henry and Elizabeth had their papal dispensation in hand to ensure that their new dynasty would not be questioned.

Photo Credits

King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn Hunting in Windsor Forest: Public Domain
Marriage of Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York, to Lady Anne Mowbray: Public Domain
The Moneylender and His Wife: The Louvre

Additional Reading

Birth, Marriage, & Death: Ritual, Religion, & the Life Cycle in Tudor & Stuart England, by David Cressy
Courtship & Constraint: Rethinking the Making of Marriage in Tudor England, by Dana O'Hara


Samantha Wilcoxson is a first generation American with British roots. She is passionate about reading, writing, and history, especially the Plantagenet dynasty. Her novel, Plantagenet Princess, Tudor Queen: The Story of Elizabeth of York has been recognized as a Historical Novel Society Editor's Choice. The Plantagenet Embers series continues with Faithful Traitor: The Story of Margaret Pole and will conclude with Queen of Martyrs: The Story of Mary I in 2017.

Samantha has also published two middle grade novels, No Such Thing as Perfect and Over the Deep: A Titanic Adventure.

When not reading or writing, Samantha enjoys traveling and spending time at the lake with her husband and three children. You can connect with Samantha on her blog, Twitter, Goodreads, Booklikes, and Amazon.