Monday, April 30, 2018

The Honourable Mrs. Graham

by Lauren Gilbert

The Hon. Mrs, Graham
(portrait exhibited at the Royal Academy)
by Thomas Gainsborough 
“The Honourable Mrs. Graham” is the name by which a portrait of Mary Cathcart Graham by Thomas Gainsborough is known. It is a beautiful portrait of a lovely woman painted in 1775, which was displayed in the Royal Academy in 1777. Gainsborough painted her more than once. She was also painted by the Scottish painter David Allan, who had been patronized by her father. Her face has appeared on biscuit tins and even in an advertisement for a Maidenform bra in the 1950’s. In her short lifetime, Mrs. Graham was known for her intelligence, her beauty and her kind nature. There was also a touching romance and tragedy in her story.

by Thomas Gainsborough
Possibly the original commissioned portrait

Charles Schaw Cathcart, 9th Baron, was born March 21, 1721. A soldier, he was against the return of the Stuart monarchs and, among other assignments, was an aide-de-camp to the Duke of Cumberland. As a result of a wound to his face, he had a scar which he covered with a black silk patch, resulting in the nickname “Patch” Cathcart. He married Jane Hamilton, the granddaughter of William, 9th Duke of Hamilton, on July 13, 1753. (Born in 1722, Jane was just a year younger than her husband). They had several children. Mary was born March 1, 1757, the second daughter. Mary’s older sister (and the oldest child of the family) Jane was born May 20, 1754. Mary’s oldest brother was William (who would become the 10th Baron Cathcart and first earl) born September 17, 1755. Mary’s next sister Louisa was born June 1, 1758. Mary also had brothers Charles Allen born December 28, 1759, Archibald-Hamilton born July 25, 1764. (Another brother died in infancy, and there was a still birth.) In 1763, Baron Cathcart received the Order of the Thistle.

In February of 1768, the 9th Baron Cathcart was appointed ambassador to Russia, at the court of Catherine the Great, and moved his family there. The youngest daughter Catherine Charlotte was born in Russia on July 8, 1770, and Catherine the Great was a sponsor at her baptism. Mary’s mother Jane died of consumption (tuberculosis) in November of 1771. Shortly after that Baron Cathcart’s appointment ended, and he returned to Scotland with his children. Mary was known to be well educated with an intellectual mind, and polished by her years in Russia with exposure to its court. She spoke French fluently, and engaged in a large correspondence with friends in English and French. She was also artistic. Because of the death of their mother, Mary became particularly close to her youngest sister Charlotte.

Thomas Graham of Balgowan (also spelled Graeme) was born October 19, 1748 to neighbouring landowners. His father Thomas Graham Esq. 6th Laird of Balgowan died December 6, 1766, and Thomas as the only surviving son inherited a healthy income and properties in Perthshire (two older brothers had died). Privately tutored, he went to Christ Church, Oxford in November of 1766 as a gentleman commoner. He left Oxford in the summer of 1768 and went on a Grand Tour. He was in Rome by Christmas of 1769, and then he went to Naples in 1769 where he received hospitality from Sir William Hamilton (this was well before Hamilton’s second marriage to Emma Hart; Sir William’s first wife Catherine was still living). He was back in Scotland at Balgowan by 1771, and decided to enter politics. He was narrowly defeated by Col. The Honourable James Murray, the brother of John, the 3rd Duke of Atholl, in a by-election in 1772 for the Perthshire seat, but ended up dropping out before the general election in 1774.

On December 26, 1774, Mary Cathcart married Thomas Graham. It was a very suitable match. As neighbours in Perthshire, their families would have been known to each other. Thomas was known to be courting her during the year of 1774, and there is every indication that theirs was a love match. They were known to be engaged in October of 1774. Shortly before their marriage, the first of several adventures occurred when highwaymen stopped Thomas while driving with Mary and Jane. Foiling the robbery attempt, Thomas held one of them, had him arrested and sent to Newgate (the ultimate fate of the robber is not known). Mary and Thomas were married on December 26, 1774 in a double wedding with Jane and her fiancé, John Atholl (whose father had just died, making John the 4th Duke). All of the families involved were delighted with both matches.

In 1775, younger sister Louisa became engaged to David Murray, Lord Stormont, whom she married May 5, 1776. Mary’s father died August 14, 1776, also of consumption. At this point, her younger brother Archibald and sister Charlotte went to live with Mary and Thomas. Louisa and her much older husband (he was over 30 years older than Louisa) travelled to Paris 6 weeks after their wedding, where Mary and Thomas arrived to visit them in January 1777. Mary and Thomas stayed in Paris until the fall. In October of 1777, Mary and Thomas went to Brighton, where Mary met and became close friends with Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire. This friendship lasted through the rest of Mary’s life, primarily through a voluminous correspondence. 

After their marriage, Thomas and Mary lived at Brooksby in Leicestershire, as gentleman farmers, enjoying a rural life. Thomas especially enjoyed hunting, but both Thomas and Mary were interested in agricultural activities. They paid frequent visits to Scotland. In the fall of 1780, Mary was experiencing significant health problems, and it was decided that she could not spend winters in Scotland. They went to Portugal in October of 1780 and spent the winter there, and her travels continued in 1781. On a voyage, Mary and Thomas were on a ship stopped by American privateer, and taken to Spain, where they spent 10 days and were reportedly treated well by the Americans. From there they went to Portugal and on into France, from whence they returned to England in July of 1782. By 1785, they were spending summers in Balgowan, moving south to Brooksby or on to the Continent, depending on Mary’s health. In March of 1785, they visited Jane and her husband at Dunkeld, spent the autumn with Mary’s brother William (10th Baron Cathcart) at his estate, and returned to Dunkeld for Christmas, which attested to the improvement in Mary’s health.

Because they weren’t particularly fond of Balgowan, in 1787, Thomas and Mary bought the estate of Lynedoch, located near Perth. Improving this property kept them busy for some time. Charlotte remained with them. They went from Balgowan, Brooksby, Lynedoch and Dunkeld, with occasional visits to London, while Mary seemed to enjoy good health. Mary’s younger brother Charles, to whom she was very close, had a successful career in the Army and was chosen as envoy to China. En route to his post, Charles died of consumption on June 10, 1788 on the ship; he was buried on Java and the mission was abandoned. In December of 1789, Mary was to go to Louisa, to be with Louisa during Louisa’s confinement. (It is unclear which of Louisa’s two children by her second husband this may have been or if Mary actually was able to attend Louisa’s confinement.) Sadly in 1790, Mary’s older sister Jane, Duchess of Atholl, died of consumption, making four members of Mary’s immediate family lost to this disease.

In 1791, especially in light of the consumption that killed so many of Mary’s relatives, Mary’s health became an ever-increasing concern. In April of 1791, Thomas and Mary went to Hot Wells in Bristol, so Mary could take the waters. In June, Mary went to visit her brother William while Thomas went to Brooksby and then Balgowan. Later in the year, although there approved to be improvement in Mary’s health, Thomas and Mary went to Paris and on to Nice where the humid air appeared to make it easier and she was able to spend time with her friend, the Duchess of Devonshire. Unfortunately, her health continued to decline. In June of 1792, based on doctor’s recommendations, Thomas and Mary moved to Le Piol outside of Nice. A sea cruise was recommended and, on June 26, 1792, Mary died onboard ship just off Hyeres. Sadly, Thomas was on the mainland. She was just 35 years old.

By this time, France was in the throes of revolution. Thomas had the difficult job of getting her body back to Great Britain for burial. Reports indicate that, at Toulouse, soldiers insisted on the coffin being opened. Finally back in England, Thomas had Mary’s body placed in the Cathcart vault in the Audley Street Chapel (later known as the Grosvenor Chapel). A year later, it was moved to Methven, Scotland in Perth, where it was placed in a specially-built mausoleum in Methven Churchyard. No children had been born to the marriage. (There is an indication she may have had a miscarriage, but I found no details.)

After her death, Thomas could not look at her portraits which remained in storage until after his death. He never married and, after his mourning period, went on to pursue a distinguished military career, serving in the Peninsular Wars and at Waterloo. He earned a peerage in 1814 as Baron Lynedoch of Balgowan. He wore Mary’s wedding ring until his own death in 1843. He outlived her by over 50 years.


Belsey, GAINSBOROUGH’S BEAUTIFUL MRS GRAHAM.  2003: National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh. Delavoye, Alexander Marin. THE LIFE OF THOMAS GRAHAM, LORD LYNEDOCH. 1880: Richardson & Co, Marchant Singer Co, London.  HERE ; The Court Magazine and belle assemble (afterw.) and monthly critic and the Lady’s magazine and museum. Vol. 24.  HERE

History of Parliament online. “Graham, Thomas I. (1748-1843) of Balgowan and Lynedoch, Perth.” Ref. Volumes 1790-1820. By David R. Fisher.  HERE “A Portrait of a Lady” (no author shown) published April 8, 2003.  HERE A BOOK OF THE GRAEMES. “Sketch XXXV. The Graemes of Balgowan, Descended of Garvock From Lord William Graeme of Kincardine Ancestor of the Earls of Montrose.” Last updated 2/20/2015.  HERE

Images: Wikimedia Commons HERE


Lauren Gilbert lives in Florida with her husband. Her first published book, HEYERWOOD A Novel, was released in 2011, and her second, A RATIONAL ATTACHMENT, is in process. A long-time member of the Jane Austen Society of North America, she has long been fascinated with English history, especially the Georgian era. Find out more at her website HERE

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Editors Weekly Round-up, April 29, 2018

by the EHFA Editors

From ancient to modern, English Historical Fiction Authors brings you posts every week on different aspects of British history. Check out the articles for the week ending April 28.

Never miss a post. Join us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Society in 17th Century England

By Trisha Hughes

This is the beginning of ‘Early Modern Britain’. It was a time of Renaissance, English and Scottish Reformation and the debilitating English Civil War. And as always, to the victor goes the spoils. It was a time of rulers who were vain, greedy and downright corrupt. It was a time of adulterers, swindlers and cowards. And it was a time in British history when war would tear the country apart.

At the time of Elizabeth I’s death, England was changing dramatically. Let’s take a quick walk around London in this era. Imagine it’s been a rainy day and you’re out for a walk. Water puddles in dark alleys and the drains have overflowed down the middle of the cobbled streets as people huddle in their bedraggled hats and cloaks under dripping eaves. A horse-drawn carriage with clattering wheels speeds past on the uneven stones and carelessly splashes water on anyone who has braved the inclement weather. Normally the streets are packed with people and carriages and most days a blanket of smoke hangs over the city. The pollution gets in your eyes and the stonework of every building is blackened with it. Many of the houses are hundreds of years old and their timbers are deeply scarred with rat holes teaming with life. The houses are so close in the narrow alleys that occupants can reach out and touch hands with their neighbours if they chose to.

London Bridge 1616 - public domain image

But there is a reason you’re out and about on this day. After a downpour, you get the clearest view of the city with the sky washed clean of smog although the city air still smells of coal smoke. But it’s not just the burning coal that affects your nostrils. There are noxious fumes coming from the parts of the city where tanning is taking place and aromatic horse dung still lies in piles in the streets. As the day wears on, the smells are intensified by the stench from cesspits in cellars and from the carts filled with dung-pots left in the streets by rakers, whose business it is to empty private cesspits. Pigeons fly out from under the eaves of the old houses and their dropping leave white streaks on everything below. Rats scavenge behind crates avoiding the rubbish collectors in their horse-drawn carts collecting rotting matter from kitchens. You will be able to smell the flocks of sheep and herds of cattle driven by hoof to the abattoirs where their dung and blood add to the aroma on the streets.

Very soon, the streets will fill, not just with permanent residents who contribute to the overcrowding feeling, but hundreds of thousands of people who come to town daily to go to markets, fairs and to do business in the city. Very soon there will be crowds of people and animals everywhere so you know not to linger.

And then you listen to the sounds of London. Oxen are led into the city and slaughtered every day and the squeals and bellows they make in their pens is considerable and disturbing. There is the sound of iron wheels of coaches grinding over the cobbles and the hammering of blacksmiths and candlestick makers. There are the bells of rakers driving their dung-carts, the yelling of those gathering around a cockfight, the shouting of vendors pushing their carts, householders leaning out their windows and shouting to neighbours and you would hear the hourly chimes of more than a hundred churches. This London is so crowded, smelly and noisy you will barely be able to hear yourself think.

Map of London 1593 - public domain image

With the increase in population, diseases lurked around every corner and in every shadow. Everyday life meant being aware of the flu, dysentery, typhoid and smallpox and then there were always outbreaks of plague to be aware of. If you had a swelling in your armpits, if you were exceedingly thirsty, had a headache and if you were vomiting, you knew you were in serious trouble. You also knew to air your bedding in case there were fleas. You were certainly aware that fleas caused the disease but if you found any or you had been bitten, it was already too late because nobody had any idea how to treat it.

Plague broke out in London in 1603, 1636 and in 1665. Each time it killed a significant part of the population but each time London recovered. Of course, other towns as well as London were also periodically devastated by the plague. However, the plague of 1665, which affected London and other towns, was the last recorded outbreak and no one is very sure why because rats still scurried through the dark streets and people were still throwing dirty water and other rubbish from their windows into those same streets.

Great Plague - public domain image

17th century London was a dangerous place to live if you were poor but if you were rich, you were lucky. Transportation was no problem for you. You could easily walk from one street to another or you could travel by boat along the Thames. You could even hire a horse-drawn carriage called a ‘hackney carriage’ to take you around London if you desired. The streets were lit for the first time and an oil lamp was hung outside every tenth house. Not that the oil lamps gave you much light but they were certainly better than nothing at all, which was a fact of life on the other side of town.

The poor lived in houses east of the city where the streets were narrow and dark, well away from the wealthy people. Unfortunately, in these overcrowded, heavily populated areas, crime and danger was ever present and in a place where so many had so little, it’s not so surprising.  Tempers and alcohol produced volatile situations and you made sure you kept a dagger close by to protect yourself. You learnt to keep your wits about you on the way home from the local pub especially as ale was the only available liquid to drink due to the unsanitary condition of the water. Looking at the rivers running with excrement, they had a good point.

London Bridge over the Thames 1632 - public domain image

However, improvements were on the way and a piped water supply was being created. Water from a reservoir travelled along elm pipes through the streets then along lead pipes to individual houses. Unfortunately, you had to pay to be connected to the supply and it was not cheap.

Because of the state of the water, keeping yourself clean wasn’t an easy task. You did that, not by washing, but by rubbing linen cloths over your body and through your hair to soak up the sweat. To take care of our body odour, you used perfume to improve the smell of your clothes.  After taking care of your body odours, you had to take care of your breath. Thankfully, the Chinese had invented the toothbrush in 17th century and it had been introduced to England so there wasn’t as much need to chew cumin seeds or aniseed anymore. However, after brushing, you still rinsed out your mouth with white wine.

In the Middle Ages, ordinary people's homes were usually made of wood. Most of the poor lived in huts of two or three rooms while some families managed to survive in just one room. Your furniture, such as it was, remained very plain and basic because enhancements in furniture were not a part of your life.

But there were some more improvements on the horizon. In the 16th century, chimneys had been a luxury only the well-off could afford. Windows however took a little longer to become commonplace. Glass was definitely a luxury so those who could not afford it made do with linen soaked in linseed oil. However, during the 17th century glass became cheaper and by the late 17th century everyone had glass windows, sometimes casement windows (ones that opened on hinges). Later on, sash windows that slid up and down vertically to open and shut, were being introduced.

In the early 17th century people began eating with forks for the first time. New foods were being introduced into England such as bananas and pineapples and new drinks such as chocolate, tea and coffee had arrived. By late 17th century, coffee houses had popped up all around town and merchants and professional men alike could meet to read newspapers and talk shop.

17th Century coffee house - public domain image

But not everyone was so lucky. Ordinary people existed on food like bread, cheese and onions and they ate pottage each and every day. This kind of strew was made by boiling grain in water to make a kind of porridge to which you added vegetables and pieces of meat or fish, if you could afford it.

Everyday life was a challenge and a hazard so it’s not surprising that the average life span in the 17th century was considerably shorter than today. Average life expectancy at birth was only 35 and many people died while they were still children. Out of all the people born, between one third and one half died before the age of about 16. However, if you could survive to your mid-teens you would probably live to your 50s or early 60s.

Stagecoaches were running regularly between the major English towns from the middle of the 17th century although the wealthy were still being carried around in sedan chairs while out and about in town. You paid dearly for the luxury of a stagecoach, and to top it off, they were very uncomfortable on the rough roads because none of them had springs. And of course, there was always the danger of highwaymen.

Dick Turpin - public domain image

The word ‘highwaymen’ conjures up characters like Dirk Turpin but these men were not so polite. If you were unlucky enough to come across these ruffians, there would also be another group cutting off your retreat. They would not only take your money and jewels, they took your clothes as well. Some killed their victims but most were left tied up in the forest in such a way that you could work yourself lose in an hour or two and make your way to the nearest inn or town in your underwear. If you survived the trip, you would be grateful to arrive unharmed but even these establishments housed thieves and unsavoury characters.

Heaven help you if you needed to see a doctor because barber-surgeons were still performing operations. Their knowledge of anatomy was improving but still left a lot to be desired. In 1628 William Harvey published his discovery of how blood circulates around the body and doctors had discovered how to treat malaria with bark from the cinchona tree.

William Harvey - public domain image

But even with these improvements, medicine was still handicapped by wrong ideas about the human body. Most doctors still thought that there were four fluids or 'humors' in the body - blood, phlegm, yellow bile and black bile. Illness resulted when you had too much of one humor. When that happened, you needed to be bled. Nevertheless, during the 17th century, a more scientific approach to medicine emerged and some doctors thankfully began to question traditional ideas.

The 17th century would contain the most religious decade Britain had ever seen since the Middle Ages and society would be dominated by Christian beliefs and a willingness to severely punish people for ungodly behaviour. Puritanism was on the horizon


Trisha Hughes is an Australian author living in Hong Kong. She is the author of her memoir ‘Daughters of Nazareth’ and she has completed the first two books in her V2V trilogy, ‘Vikings to Virgin - The Hazards of being King’ and ‘Virgin to Victoria - The Queen is dead. Long live the Queen’. This second in the series is due for release on 28th April this year.

You can contact Trisha via her websites: or via

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Lately a Rebel - or a Well-intentioned Traitor

by Anna Belfrage

Most people live out their lives in obscurity—something to be grateful for, I believe, as celebrity comes with its own set of challenges. Many people live below the radar for most of their lives, but then a sequence of events propels them onto the central stage and for a while their name is on everybody’s lips. Well, in medieval times not everyone’s lips as information spread but slowly and usually rather locally. Still, today’s protagonist did achieve name recognition – especially in connection to the events that led to his death.

Andrew de Harcla or Andrew Harclay was born around 1270, close to Kirkby Stephen in Westmoreland, and was probably the eldest son of one William Harclay who held land from the Cliffords. While the Harclays were extremely minor landowners, the Cliffords were a power to be reckoned with in the north of England and little Andrew would have grown up in a relatively bellicose environment as most Englishmen this far north were constantly engaged in defending themselves against the Scots—or attacking them in return.

By the time Andrew really steps into the limelight, we’re in the year 1315. By then Sir Andrew was a battle-hardened knight, veteran of numerous campaigns against the Scots. It was just over a year since the English had been routed by the Scots at Bannockburn and now here was a huge Scottish army, led by Robert Bruce himself, intent on taking the town of Carlisle. It is estimated the Scottish host numbered around 10 000 men. Defending Carlisle’s two-mile wall perimeter were approximately 600 men. An easy picking, the Scots may have thought.

At the time, the Scots, led by James Douglas, had just done some serious raiding as far south as Hartlepool. In general, northern England lay defenceless before the confident Scots, in part due to the resounding defeat a year earlier, in part because England in 1315 was a kingdom at odds with itself, King Edward II not seeing eye-to-eye on anything with his cousin Thomas of Lancaster, who effectively ruled most of the north. The Scottish leaders were quick to capitalise on this inertia, and as Carlisle lay only a few miles south of the border, I imagine Robert Bruce felt it would make a nice little addition to his lands.

Contemporary depiction of Sir Andrew
In charge of defending Carlisle was Sir Andrew, and I dare say he swallowed somewhat at this challenging task: not only were the Scots far superior in number, but the defendants were short of supplies of all kinds—including weapons. This, however, Andrew did his best to remedy. He had Carlisle's smiths and craftsmen produce arrows and javelins and stockpiled these, along with heaps of rocks, along the walls, knowing the Scots would try to scale the walls. The Scots, in turn, were confident they’d overrun the walls. Robert Bruce had almost done so in 1311 but because he had other pressing concerns he’d allowed the town of Carlisle to ransom itself and gone on to do other things. Thing is, in 1311, Sir Andrew was not in charge of Carlisle’s defences.

For close to two weeks, Andrew and his few men held the walls, rebutting every attempt made by the Scots to scale them. The weather conspired against the Scots, miring their siege engines, and after yet another attempt to scale the walls led by James Douglas failed, the Scottish leaders decided to give up. There were rumours of an English army hastening towards Carlisle and Robert the Bruce decided to return home. Had they persisted, it is likely Carlisle would have fallen, as no matter how brilliant a commander Andrew was, his few men must have been borderline exhausted after ten days of being constantly on their toes.

The defence of Carlisle earned Sir Andrew some well-deserved fame, personal praise and a nice heavy purse from the king—and a lot of jealousy from other well-born knights in the region who did not exactly warm to this scruffy upstart.

Later in 1315 Andrew was captured by the Scots who demanded a substantial ransom for him. The king contributed to the ransom, but Andrew’s absence gave those who disliked his rise to prominence an opportunity to whisper their opinion in the royal ear—or at least in that of the up-and-coming royal favourite Hugh Despenser.

Still: Andrew was restored to his post as constable of Carlisle, was named sheriff of Cumberland in 1319 and things were as calm as they could be this close to the Scottish border. Or maybe not, as the infected relationship between King Edward and Thomas of Lancaster exploded into a full-blown rebellion. Sir Andrew was ordered to ride south in haste and in March of 1322 he commanded the royalist forces that defeated Thomas of Lancaster and Humphrey de Bohun at the Battle of Boroughbridge. The rebellion was crushed, the king was victorious and generously inclined towards his loyal knight. Sir Andrew was rewarded with the title of Earl of Carlisle, and the king himself belted him. Life, it seemed, was good.

Truth be told, life wasn’t that good. The Scots continued to raid with impunity, Robert Bruce determined to use violence to force Edward II to the negotiating table. For the people living along the Scottish border, life was difficult and frightening—and Andrew seems to genuinely have cared for them.

Edward II
Edward II, meanwhile, was meting out harsh justice to those who had participated in the rebellion against him. Many were the men who over the coming months lost their lives, most through hanging, a handful through the substantially more gruesome death of being hanged, drawn and quartered. The king was in no mood to be conciliatory, neither against his internal enemies or his external enemies, among which he included the Scots. Edward, just like his father, considered himself overlord of Scotland, declaring Robert the Bruce a traitor rather than a fellow king. And as to the Scots’ demands that Edward recognise Scotland a truly independent nation—pshaw!

At some point, Andrew despaired of ever seeing some sort of permanent peace in his neck of the woods. The king just didn’t want it. So what did our Andrew do? Well, he began his own, very private negotiations with Robert Bruce. Early in January of 1323, Sir Andrew rode to meet Robert Bruce in person and a treaty was signed. I suppose it is indicative of just how much respect Robert Bruce had for Sir Andrew that he entered into negotiations with him. What is also very apparent is that Andrew must have been a political fool: to enter into an agreement with Robert Bruce on behalf of England was, in effect, treason. It doesn’t matter that his main concern seems to have been to create some sort of lasting peace and thereby allow the people of the north some respite from continuous raids and violence.

Within a week or so after the treaty was signed, Edward was informed of its existence. There followed some weeks of pussy-footing about—after all, Edward did have a lot to thank Andrew for—but ultimately no medieval king could tolerate such an affront to their authority. Up in the north, many of the men disgruntled by Andrew’s rising star saw their chance. One of them was Sir Anthony Lucy, who, by all accounts, was a man Sir Andrew trusted. More fool he, one could say, as in early February Lucy arrested Harclay. A month later, Sir Andrew was arraigned for treason before the royal justices.

He was not allowed to speak for himself. Instead, he was ungirded of his earl’s belt and had his spurs struck off. No longer neither a knight nor an earl, Andrew Harclay was condemned to die a traitor’s death. As he stood by the gallows he expressed what he had not been allowed to express at his trial, namely that he had done what he did for the sake of the greater good, wanting somehow to broker a permanent peace between Scotland and England. The contemporary Lanercost Chronicle seems to agree that these were his primary motivations, but as Edward II would likely have said it was not Andrew’s place to force the king’s hand.

A hanged, drawn and quartered man in the
background (in this case being Hugh Despenser)
Once he’d said his piece, Andrew turned himself over into the hands of the executioner. By all
accounts, he died well—or as well as one can die when you are first hanged, cut down while alive, disembowelled in such a way that you are still alive to see your intestines burned before you, and then beheaded.

Some years later, Andrew’s nephew approached Edward III in the hopes of having his uncle’s conviction overturned. It didn’t happen, and so Andrew Harclay’s epitaph in the royal rolls is simply “lately the king’s enemy and rebel”. It does not, IMO, do this man justice. But it is, unfortunately, the truth.

All pictures in public domain and/or licensed under Wikimedia Creative Commons


Had Anna Belfrage 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, Edmund of Woodstock appears quite frequently. 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, and the third, Under the Approaching Dark, was published in April 2017. The fourth instalment, The Cold Light of Dawn, was published in February 2018.

When Anna is not stuck in the 14th century, she's probably visiting in the 17th century, specifically with Alex(andra) 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. The ninth book, There is Always a Tomorrow, was published in November 2017.

Monday, April 23, 2018

St Andrews: Royal and Ancient

By Annie Whitehead

Think of St Andrews and you'll probably think of the university, the golf course, maybe even where Kate met Wills, or perhaps you'll remember that the actors portraying the 1920s Olympians ran along the beach there when filming Chariots of Fire.

But there is very much more to this ancient place, and the moment I stepped from the car I got a sense of the deep, and sometimes dark, history of St Andrews.

This curious marking on the pavement commemorates the spot where the protestant preacher, Patrick Hamilton, was killed in 1528.

It was a rather grisly welcome. But the history of St Andrews does not begin - nor indeed end, though it seemed likely for a while - with the Reformation. In fact, the earliest reference to its existence comes from the Irish Annals, known as the Annals of Ulster, and an entry for 747, when the death of Abbot Túathalán is recorded. [1] At that time, the place was called Cennrigmonaid, which means something like, 'church on the head of the king's mount'.

Royal connections were established when in the tenth century King Constantín mac Áeda abdicated and became the leader of the monastic community in 943. This was not an uncommon practice; across the border in Mercia, King Æthelred had done the same thing in 704, as had an East Anglian king, Sigeberht, although it ended less well for him when he was dragged out of his monastery to fight Penda of Mercia, and faced the invading army with only a staff as a weapon... [2]

Queen Margaret, an Anglo-Saxon by birth, was instrumental in helping the cult of St Andrew to thrive at the monastery, establishing the ferry over the Firth of Forth which enabled pilgrims to travel to the saint's shrine.

The monks at the time were Culdees. Culdee is a corrupted form of the term Céile Dé, which means 'companions of God'. Their history is hard to unravel, but it seems to have been applied to those living in monasteries by the time St Andrews was first founded.

However, in the reign of Margaret's son, Alexander I (1107-24) the bishop, Robert, decided that the Culdees should be replaced by Augustinians, and as the Culdee community lost its prominence, so too did the Gaelic place name, and Cennrigmonaid, which had become translated to Kilrymont, became St Andrews as Bishop Robert established his new cathedral priory.

No one is exactly sure where the original monastery was sited, but visitors today can see the remains of the  cathedral, which dates to around 1160 and included the Augustinian priory, and St Rule's church, which dates to the time of prior Robert. Probably. It's difficult to date it precisely. It might date back to the time of Bishop Fothad who married Malcolm III to Queen Margaret at Dunfermline in around 1070, but most of its architecture dates more securely to Robert's time.

The tower can still be climbed up - I didn't, because I'd arrived on quite a busy day and there was quite a queue - so my picture of the tower is from ground level:

The building of the cathedral took quite some time, and although it was begun in around 1160, the first bishop who was buried there was Bishop Malvoisin, in 1238. The building is a ruin, like most others of this period, but it is impossible not to be awed by the scale of it.

Perhaps it was just too big. It suffered a partial collapse in the 1270s, and then during the war with England, Edward I - Longshanks - ordered the lead stripped from the roof for use during the siege of Stirling Castle.

St Andrews, too, has a castle. It was never a royal residence, but was used by the bishops and later archbishops of St Andrews. However, it did have royal visitors, and James first celebrated Christmas there in 1425. It is possible that his grandson, James III, was born in the castle.

In 1546, Cardinal Beaton was murdered. At the battle of Flodden in 1513, James IV of Scotland had been killed, along with his illegitimate son, Archbishop Alexander Stewart of St Andrews. There followed an unseemly rush for the vacant see, won by Andrew Foreman, who was then succeeded in 1521 by James Beaton. He was a powerful influence on the young child king, James V and a vehement opponent and persecutor of protestant reformers. My guide explained to me that the memorial I had seen when I first arrived, to Patrick Hamilton, was a reminder that Hamilton had been burned at the stake on the orders of James Beaton in 1528. Just outside the castle is another macabre memorial, that of George Wishart, burned at the stake there.

But this was not at the orders of James Beaton, but his nephew and successor, David. And it was he, who in 1546, was murdered after a siege during which the castle was undermined. The assassins stabbed him and hung his naked body from the castle walls, before taking over the castle. They in turn came under siege by the forces of Regent Arran, and in 1547 during a truce, the famous reformer, John Knox, entered the castle and spoke to the murderers. He later wrote a sharp condemnation of Cardinal Beaton, whom he accused of being 'a cruel persecutor of Christ's members, a manifest and open oppressor of all true subjects', and accused him of having on his hands the blood not only of Wishart, but also of  'simple Adam Wallace, and of others who did suffer for Christ's cause only.' [3]

A French fleet arrived to assist Regent Arran  and with the artillery bombardment the castle was largely destroyed. Some rebels were imprisoned, while Knox became a galley slave and was not released until 1549.

After the reformation, the cathedral was never repaired, and in 1606 the castle was taken away from the archbishopric and given to the earl of Dunbar. Charles I of England tried to re-establish the archbishopric in 1636, but the Scottish people were suspicious of the king and his popish inclinations.

Trade declined. The university considered moving. By the 1700s visitors were greeted with grass-covered streets filled with 'dunghills which are exceedingly noisome and ready to infect the air.' [4]

The saviour of St Andrews was golf. Not just the golf course, but the manufacture of the golf balls and clubs themselves which were being exported throughout the 1800s. The Society of St Andrews Golfers was founded in 1754 and with trade and visitors, the fortunes of St Andrews were turned around.

The relationship between the burgh and the cathedral resulted in a spectacular fall from grace after the Reformation of 1560, but it did ensure that the ruins there today were not redeveloped.

As one might gather, the university did not move. It had been founded at a time when, because of the wars of independence, many students had been forced to study abroad. By the mid 1500s it had three colleges: St  Salvator’s (1450), St Leonard’s (1511) and St Mary’s (1538). The buildings of St Mary’s College and St Salvator’s Chapel date from this period. And this is where we came in. The memorial in pebbles to the martyred Patrick Hamilton is outside St Salvator's chapel, which is all that now remains of the original building.

All the places mentioned are within easy walking distance of each other. Spend an hour, spend a day. You'll be made most welcome, and take my word for it, the streets are no longer filled with dunghills.

[1] Annals of Ulster; Royal Irish Academy 747
[2] Bede Historia Ecclesiastica iii 18
[3] John Knox Select Practical Writings: Professing The Truth in Scotland
[4] Transactions of the Literary and Antiquarian Society of Perth, Volume

All photographs by and copyright of the author


Annie Whitehead
is an author and historian, and a member of the Royal Historical Society. Her first two novels are set in tenth-century Mercia, chronicling the lives of Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians, who ruled a country in all but name, and Earl Alvar who served King Edgar and his son Æthelred the Unready who were both embroiled in murderous scandals. Her third novel, also set in Mercia, tells the story of seventh-century King Penda and his feud with the Northumbrian kings. Mercia: The Rise and Fall of a Kingdom was published in 2018 by Amberley Books and Women of Power in Anglo-Saxon England was published in 2020 by Pen & Sword. 
Amazon Page
HWA/Dorothy Dunnett Short Story

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Who Was the Real Elen of the Hosts?

By Kim Rendfeld

I would love to believe “The Dream of Macsen Wledig” in The Mabinogion. Elen of Caernarfon and her husband, Magnus Maximus (Macsen Wledig), have a happy ending, ruling the Roman Empire.

In the legend, our hero, the emperor of Rome, marries the woman of his dreams—literally. He sends messengers all the way to Britain to find her, and when they do, Elen tells them if Macsen is really in love with her so much he will make her his empress, he can come to Britain himself and tell her to her face. Macsen does, and they marry. He loses the throne after being absent for too long but regains it with help from Elen and her brothers. Elen (also known as Helen Luyddawc, or Elen of the Hosts) had roads built throughout Britain—the men would not have constructed them for anyone but her.

From a 15th century Welsh language version of
Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae
(public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

The reality for this fourth century power couple is sadder. Is “The Dream of Macsen Wledig” a story of a sovereignty goddess common in Celtic lore? A tale with based in history? A bit of both?

If we are to believe Lives of the Queens of England before the Norman Conquest by Mrs. Matthew Hall—my instinct tells me to take what it says with that proverbial grain of salt—Elen was the only child of Eudda (also Eudaf or Octavius) and his wife, Gula, and they were seeking a husband for her. She was quite the eligible bride and heiress. Gula’s dowry was the kingdom of North Wales, and Eudda was the duke of the Wisseans and son of the duke of Cornwall.

Eudda wanted to make sure his daughter was settled before he died and called a council. After some debate, Magnus Maximus, a Spaniard and kinsman of Roman general Flavius Theodosius, was chosen. At the time, he was likely a commander of a Roman garrison in Britain and had already seen battle in Britain and Mauritania.

Marriage at the time was a political arrangement rather than a love match. If husband and wife happened to like each other, great, but the alliances forged by the marriage took precedence over sentiment.

From a political vantage point, Elen’s marriage to Maximus made sense. Another element that boded well for the couple was that both Elen and Maximus were pious. Elen would become a patroness of Welsh churches. Maximus was Orthodox, following the Nicene Creed.

Maximus was not content to remain in Britain. He apparently did not like Emperor Gratian. It could be that Maximus thought he deserved a better rank. Perhaps he resented the execution of Flavius Theodosius, done in Gratian’s name when the emperor was an infant. Or perhaps his army goaded him into seeking the throne for himself (a rather popular and remarkably convenient reason).

In 383, apparently after many years of marriage, Maximus was proclaimed emperor of Britain and traveled to Gaul with an army to confront Gratian. After a few battles, Gratian’s soldiers deserted him. Gratian was killed at Lyons. Maximus claimed not to have ordered it. Still he ruled part of the empire, Britain, Gaul, and Hispania. Gratian’s 12-year-old brother Valentinian ruled Italy and Africa (in name), and Theodosius rule the East, recognizing Maximus on the condition he not bother Valentinian.

Classical Numismatic Group, Inc.,,
Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0
Unported license via Wikimedia Commons

Elen accompanied her husband on his conquest. They settled in Trier, which had served as the capital for Gratian’s father. The couple had five children. Their son Victor accompanied his father on his campaigns. Another son, Publicius, became a cleric, and a church at Segontium was dedicated to him. Their third son, Cunetha, apparently remained in Wales.

Apparently all was not well between Maximum and Valentinian. In 387, Maximus decided to cross the Alps and invade Italy. Maybe he wanted to make Valentinian a puppet, or he simply thought war was inevitable and decided to strike while he had an advantage. Italy fell, but Valentinian and his mother escaped and fled to Theodosius. In 388, Theodosius struck back. His generals trapped Maximus in Aquileia. Maximus surrendered, but the generals executed him. Victor was captured in Gaul and killed.

Elen and her daughters were in Trier at the time and taken prisoner. I wonder what Elen said to her captors or what people said about Elen. Theodosius showed some mercy. He released them to the care of a kinsman and provided a pension. Cunetha would inherit his mother’s lands in Wales, and his children would go on to rule.

Perhaps, the emperor believed Elen and her surviving children weren’t a threat. Maybe he thought harming the widowed empress and her family would cause him to lose support. Another speculation: Elen was still popular in her homeland and hurting her would cause a lot more trouble among those troublesome Britons than it was worth.


The Dream of Macsen Wledig,” The Mabinogion
The Oxford Dictionary of Saints by David Hugh Farmer
Lives of the Queens of England before the Norman Conquest, by Mrs. Matthew Hall
"Magnus Maximus," by R.S.O. Tomlin, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
Elen of the Ways” by Judith Shaw, Feminism & Religion

Kim Rendfeld has written two novels set in 8th century Europe, and a third, Queen of the Darkest Hour, will be published August 7. In The Cross and the Dragon, a Frankish noblewoman must contend with a jilted suitor and the fear of losing her husband (available on Amazon). In The Ashes of Heaven's Pillar, a Saxon peasant will fight for her children after losing everything else (available on Amazon). Her short story “Betrothed to the Red Dragon,” about Guinevere’s decision to marry Arthur, is set in early medieval Britain and available on AmazonQueen of the Darkest Hour is available for preorder on iBooks, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo.

Connect with Kim at on her website, her blog, Outtakes of a Historical Novelist at, on Facebook at, or follow her on Twitter at @kimrendfeld.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Robin Hood vs. Bell, Clim, and Cloudesley

by A. E. Chandler

A Wiltshire clerk listing members of parliament (and evidently thinking that his job could be more interesting if he used a little creativity) after the first eight names included the following: “Adam, Belle, Clyme, Ocluw, Willyam, Cloudesle, Robyn, hode, Inne, Grenewode, Stode, Godeman, was, hee, lytel, Joon, Muchette, Millersson, Scathelok, Renoldyn.” This was in 1432, and it is the first known textual mention of the outlaws Adam Bell, Clim of the Clough, and William of Cloudesley.

While Robin Hood stood in the greenwood of Sherwood Forest with Little John, Much the Miller’s son, Scarlok, and Reynold, we hear of the first three outlaws listed as members of parliament standing in Inglewood, a forest in Cumberland spanning from Penrith to Carlisle. Carlisle is where William of Cloudesley’s wife, Alice, and their three sons live. When he ventures into the city to visit them, he is betrayed by the old wife to whom the family has shown charity, having her live with them. The sheriff and justice assemble men to capture Cloudesley. Alice defends their door with a poleaxe as Cloudesley shoots from a window. The house is set on fire, and Cloudesley is at last captured. He will be hanged the next day. However, a swineherd’s boy, a friend of Cloudesley’s, runs to the forest and finds Adam Bell and Clim of the Clough.

These two outlaws rush to Carlisle, arriving on the morning of the execution, and tricking the porter at the gate into believing that they bear the king’s seal. When he permits them to enter the city, Bell and Clim wring the porter’s neck in two, taking his keys and tossing him into a dungeon. Heading to the marketplace, they string their bows, shooting and killing the sheriff and the justice. Cloudesley is freed, and the three friends fight their way out of Carlisle to reunite with Alice and the children in Inglewood.

The three outlaws then race south to crave pardon from the King before he hears of their fresh crimes. The King intends to hang them, but the Queen intervenes in her role as peace-weaver, and convinces her husband to grant the desired pardon. This done, the King receives a letter telling him that Bell, Clim, and Cloudesley have just battled their way out of Carlisle, slaying more than three hundred men. Cloudesley shows the King his skill at archery, first by splitting a hazel wand four hundred yards distant, then by cleaving an apple on top of his seven-year-old son’s head with a deadly broad arrow. Cloudesley is made the King’s bow-bearer and chief rider, his wife the Queen’s chief gentlewoman and governess of the nursery, and Bell and Clim yeomen of the Queen’s chamber. The former outlaws make confession and are absolved of all their sins.

This story is perhaps the most similar to Robin Hood’s in outlaw literature, and both likely grew out of the early to mid thirteenth century. The earliest surviving versions of Adam Bell, Clim of the Clough, and William of Cloudesley are in print, and no handwritten manuscript has been found to predate them (just as with A Gest of Robyn Hode). Possibly the oldest fragment dating from 1536, the earliest extant complete version comes from London, about 1560. The story was well-known in the early modern period, and Dobson and Taylor note that it was referenced in plays by William Shakespeare and Ben Jonson.

While J. C. Holt, the world’s leading expert on Robin Hood, does not rule out the possibility that Robin was based on a historical figure, he opines that the tale of Bell, Clim, and Cloudesley is entirely fictional. The events – betrayal, capture, rescue, archery, and royal pardon – are shared by medieval tales of Robin Hood, and many details are similar. Bell’s plot is most alike to Robin Hood and the Monk. Monk is one of the five surviving “ballads” of Robin Hood from the medieval period. In it, Robin and Little John quarrel over an archery contest and part ways. Robin then goes to St. Mary’s in Nottingham to pray, where a monk informs the sheriff of his presence. Robin kills twelve men before being captured. To rescue him, Little John and Much the Miller’s son intercept the monk travelling to the King. They kill the monk and his young page, going disguised to court in their places. Returning to Nottingham, they use the King’s seal to free Robin. Bell, Clim, and Cloudesley receiving pardon from the King is more like fytte seven of A Gest of Robyn Hode, another of the five surviving medieval “ballads,” when the King pardons Robin and his men. Robin agrees to serve at court, bringing along seven score and three of his men.

The characters also share similarities. A. J. Pollard points to Bell’s opening stanzas, where the three protagonists are named immediately after a description of the occupation of a walking forester. Throughout the medieval ballads, Robin touts his status as a yeoman. In fytte four of Gest we are given greater insight into the type of yeoman he was during a run-in between Little John and a monk. (Some have theorized that the latter could be the same one who turns Robin over to the sheriff in Monk.) When the monk hears that Little John’s master is Robin Hood, he calls the outlaw a strong thief. Little John objects, calling Robin instead “a yeoman of the forest.” This is not meant to be simply a euphemism, but a complete juxtaposition. “Yeoman of the forest” is a term meaning forester, and it is the foresters who enforce the forest law. Little John is essentially saying that Robin Hood is not a criminal, but a cop. This is attested to by the way in which Robin carries out his “crimes.” He does not steal, but rather exact payment, part of his duty as a forester. The monk might be forgiven for his mistake, as Robin’s exactions were overly zealous, and often not made within the confines of a forest, which was where forest law was supposed to be enforced. Robin, like Bell, Clim, and Cloudesley, is a northern outlaw and, though he visits Sherwood, he is based in West Yorkshire at Barnsdale.

Two of the most significant differences between the two legends are that William of Cloudesley is married and has children – a theme entirely missing from the surviving medieval Robin Hood stories (killing the monk’s page boy is about as close as it gets) – and the ubiquitous retelling of shooting an apple off someone’s head. The latter is most commonly identified with the legend of William Tell, but also present, Maurice Keen notes, in the Scandinavian stories of Weland the Smith and Hodr, as well as the German story of Dietrich von Bern, among others. Yet before Cloudesley orders that his son be tied to a stake in order to facilitate this feat, he has already won the King’s admiration for cleaving a hazel rod at four hundred paces. It is similar to when we hear in fytte seven of Gest of Robin twice cleaving a wand before the disguised King, who declares the mark too far away by fifty paces; or in Robin Hood and the Potter of the outlaw splitting a prick into three pieces before the sheriff. Skill at archery was essential for foresters. During the Hundred Years’ War, they were desirable recruits, as the English army depended upon good archers. William of Cloudesley and Robin Hood both show discernment in their tackle, Cloudesley choosing a bearing arrow for the hazel rod, better for distance, and a broad arrow for the apple, wide enough to split the fruit, and at one hundred twenty paces not too cumbersome to handle for a skilled archer paying attention to the wind. Meanwhile, in Potter, Robin is able to pull the string of the best bow amongst the sheriff’s men to his ear, proclaiming, “This is but right weak gear.”

There was ample reason for the Wiltshire clerk to think of Robin Hood and his men when he thought of Adam Bell, Clim of the Clough, and William of Cloudesley. A number of writers have sought to bring their legends closer together over the centuries, from the early modern ballad of Robin Hood’s Birth, Breeding, Valor and Marriage, to Paul Creswick’s 1902 The Adventures of Robin Hood, to my new novel The Scarlet Forest: A Tale of Robin Hood. These two groups of outlaws share more commonalities than differences.

City of London
Royal 14 C VII  f. 2
Matthew Paris
England, S. (St Albans); 1250-59
Tristan at court
Additional 11619  f. 6
England, S. E.? (London?); 2nd or 3rd quarter of the 13th century
archer among foliage and strawberries
Royal 17 F I  f. 14
France, N. E. (Lille) and S. Netherlands (Bruges); late 15th century


A. E. Chandler holds a Master of Arts with Merit from the University of Nottingham, where she wrote her dissertation on the social history behind Robin Hood. When not teaching or volunteering with the Glenbow Museum’s military collection, she writes historical fiction as well as contemporary fiction concerning history. Chandler has had stories, poetry, and articles published, in addition to a book of collected non-fiction entitled Into the World, and her new novel The Scarlet Forest: A Tale of Robin Hood.