Monday, May 21, 2018

Women of the Middle Ages: Wimples, Veils, and Head-rails - Part ll

By Paula Lofting

From the advent of the conversion to Christianity, it is generally accepted that women in Europe were following the convention of covering the whole of the hair. We can take this to be from the 8th-9th centuries on, though earlier than that in Britain, it is easier to find evidence for not covering the hair. The custom had started early on in the Christian religion, and was proposed by St Paul and promulgated by his followers. Loose or uncovered hair was to become associated throughout most of the medieval period with loose morals or prostitution, therefore it would be unlikely that many women would forgo this custom - at least when going out abroad. Poorer women may not have been able to afford the extra cloth to augment their head-gear, however, their caps, which the most observant of the custom wore, could be adapted to cover the whole of their hair by using a square piece of material, big enough to fit their head and then some, with a drawstring sewn within the hem. This would allow them to tie long hair into a bun or coil at the neck which could be stuffed into the cap. So even the poorest of women could enjoy the comforts of not being singled out as loose women.

Previously, we have seen during the pagan era in Europe, that women wore their hair in nets, caps, and scarves, intimating that there was a practical need for keeping the hair contained. However there have been veils worn by followers of certain pagan deities in Rome and Greece, such as Vesta, remember the Vestal Virgins? The veil in pagan times seems to have been associated with virginity and chastity, as well as being to do with female shame and the dominance of men who enforce it. Many Roman women wore the veil, and there is evidence that the veil goes back to 1100 BC. The veil may have also been in use for priestesses performing rituals, so we know that the veiling of women has been around much longer than Judaism and Christianity, but it was Christianity that brought it to Northern Europe.

Virgo Vestalis Maxima
As we saw in Part One, there is little archaeological evidence of veils and wimples being worn even during the conversion era in Anglo-Saxon England. However, there have been found in high status graves, small pairs of dainty pins by the head which indicate they were used to hold a veil in place to a cap. In some of the less wealthy graves, single pins have also been found at the jaws, near the foreheads and under the skulls of 7th century women's skeletons. showing that they may have been used to fasten scarves, hoods or other everyday head-wear.

So, what types of hair coverings did the women of this era wear?

In the top of the late 8thc Genoels-Elderen Diptych, (below) we see the Virgin Mary wearing a short wimple that appears almost to be attached to her tunic, or mantle that she is wearing. She also wears a diadem under her wimple at her forehead, which is a decorative accessory worn to hold her cap in place. Her maidservant next to her is clearly of lower class and appears to wear her uncovered hair pulled back possibly into a bun at the nape, or is cut very short. The Diptych is from the late 8th century, and originates from Flanders and so could be the custom for someone of her status in that area at that time. She might even be a slave.

Genoels-Ederen ivory
Public Domain
Bishop Aldhelm, a West Saxon abbot and bishop, was known to have documented his concerns about women's dress. He disliked the extravagant forms of white or colourful long veils attached to fillets or ribbons. In the image on the lower Diptych panel, the embracing saints look to be wearing the type of long veils that Aldhelm could be talking about. (I wonder what Aldhelm would think about today's dress if he found these distasteful!) However, these long veils could also be interpreted as cloaks, which we have seen in other images as covering the head and fastened just below the breast.

The prudish Aldhelm was not a lover of curled hair at the forehead and temples which was probably all he was allowed to see, but still found this distasteful! However, we know that curling tongs did exist so it might be that veils and wimples were worn back off the forehead at some point in the late 7th-8thc era. Fig 116 in Gale Owen-Crocker's book, Dress in Anglo-Saxon England, page 159, shows a stone engraving of a sculpture of a veiled woman with the curled hair around her face showing.

Public Domain
This figure (left) from the early half of the 9thc  wears a cloak over her head and is fastened at the chest, as described above. One might wonder if this is what Aethelflaed, Lady of the Mercians may have looked like in her everyday wear. Owen-Crocker (2004) describes a late 9thc headdress found in a grave in Winchester as belonging to an extremely wealthy woman. The veil was edged with gold braid; whether the material was linen or silk, we are not informed. There was also a second gold braid which may have been attached to an ornament made with loops of gold decorated ribbon and worn as a band around the head above the brow. The sex of the skeleton was not determined, but the conclusion was that this type of cloth would have been associated with a woman, rather than a man.

Copyright 2012 Shelagh Lewins
with her permission
When people refer to a wimple, they are generally referring to most types of medieval head coverings that cover the whole of the hair. Generally, the consensus seems to be that the wimple, in Old English, wimpel, was a head-covering that might have been designed as a hood-shaped garment that covered the hair and was closed at the chest, in this era, they are not shown in drawings as covering the neck and chin as they do in later periods. Some were short, like the one that the virgin Mary appears to be wearing in the ivory image above, or some were long, and some were long rectangular pieces of material, wrapped over the head with the ends wrapping around the throat and thrown back over the shoulders. They might also be referred to as veils.

The image on the above right is from a lady called Shelagh Lewins who made this reconstruction of a 9thc high status Anglo-Saxon lady wearing a simple snood-like hair covering. Also from the same site is this interpretation of a 9thc lady with a 'wrap around veil' as described above. Underneath her veil, or scarfe, you can see the cap that she has attached her veil to and has an embroidered 'headband' to adorn the cap and probably keep that in place. Medieval women must have been very adept at securing their wimples, when going out, otherwise strong winds, low-lying branches, and perhaps a bit of tomfoolery, would dislodge them quite easily if not secured well.

Copyright 2012 Shelagh Lewins
with her permission
What the pins used to hold the headdress in place may have looked like.

The 'Coppergate' cap was found in the archaeological dig in York. It can be found in the South Yorkshire museum and if you use this link you will see a picture of it: 

Here I have created my own interpretation for use in my re-enactment hobby, and which I wear around the campfire with or without my wimple. Mine has long ties attached to it so I can tie it securely to my head and keep in place. It seems I have slippery hair, which moves my head-gear all over the place throughout the day!
Here, as you can see, it is made of white linen. The cap does not cover all of my hair now, as I have too much hair to wear it all under the cap. The Coppergate cap was found in the 9thc 'Viking' area of York (Jorvik) but quite possibly also worn by the English ladies of the time. Scandinavian women would not have been as bothered about hiding their hair as the Christian Anglian women were, so a cap like this could have easily been worn by them for practical purposes rather than moral or religious reasons.

And here I am with my Coppergate cap underneath my snood-type wimple. If you look carefully, you may just see the on the top of my head, the head of the pin that secures the snood wimple to my cap. Where the 'beard' of the wimple falls at my chest (most handy for catching food that misses your mouth) and just above the York crucifix at my chest, you might just see the penanular brooch that keeps the wimple secure to my clothing, and stops it from flapping up in my face when I bend down!

In my next post, I am going to be looking at the 10th&11th centuries, the late Anglo Saxon era to see how things might have changed or moved on from the 9th century.


Paula Lofting is an author and a member of the re-enactment society Regia Anglorum, where she regularly takes part in the Battle of Hastings. Her first novel, Sons of the Wolf, is set in eleventh-century England and tells the story of Wulfhere, a man torn between family and duty. The sequel, The Wolf Banner is available now. Paula is currently working on the third book in the series, Wolf's Bane

Find Paula on her Blog
on her Amazon Author Page

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Editors Weekly Round-up, May 20, 2018

by the EHFA Editors

Every week, contributors to English Historical Fiction Authors post on various aspects of British history. Enjoy this week's round-up!

by Kim Rendfeld

by Helen Hollick

Saturday, May 19, 2018

“ ‘Baccy for the parson…brandy for the clerk…” What Did Smugglers Smuggle?

by Helen Hollick

image purchased from AdobeStock

The quick and simple answer to the above question is …. Anything that could be carried and easily hidden, then sold at a profit! The reasoning behind smuggling was (is!) to avoid paying  excise duty, but the profits had to be high enough to warrant the risk involved, making a few shillings would not be worthwhile, but a few pounds sterling (or whatever currency!) could tip the balance between legally and illegally importing or exporting an items that were in demand.  In the 17-1800s no smuggler would risk his life for a few kegs of common ale, but for best French brandy? Ah, that was different!

Throughout history, various mercantile goods gained or lost their smuggling value. Thomas Jefferson, in his pre-presidential days as an American ministerial representative in Paris for several years from 1784, smuggled rice out of Italy, hidden in his pockets. This was a crime carrying the death penalty if caught. He was also involved in smuggling hemp from China. To us now, it seems odd – rice? Hemp? Whatever for!

Silkworms, too, were smuggled from the far-east, as was tea. Spices were exotic and expensive: cinnamon, nutmeg, saffron, cloves – tulips – all were smuggled from where they grew in abundance to where they were prized. Leather goods were valued at some points in history, so too was grain when harvests failed and people were at starvation level.

The Romney Marsh, one of the main wool smuggling areas
 - where the smugglers were known as 'Owlers

image purchased from Shutterstock

Wool, in Medieval times, was important for England and its economy, reflected even today with the presiding officer of the Parliamentary House of Lords traditionally sitting on a seat stuffed with English wool, and known as the ‘Woolsack’. English wool was sought after in Europe. It is estimated that England exported something like 25,000 bales of wool in 1280, rising to a peak of 45,000 per year, then falling in 1355 to 33,000.

Incidentally, the term ‘fleeced’ comes from the wool trade, meaning to be tricked with something that looks a better quality than it really is.

Edward I negotiated an agreement with the wool merchants of a permanent tax duty, although illicit trading did not become illegal until Edward III became king. By 1566 anyone caught smuggling wool would be punished with the left hand being amputated and nailed to a church door as a warning to others. Obviously to little effect, as wool smuggling continued apace, for in 1689, when all trade was banned with France (because of yet another war), something like 500,000 pounds weight of wool was being smuggled every year across the Channel.

Salt: Before refrigeration, salt was essential for preserving food. During the late 1600s, William of Orange needed money. In 1693 he brought some of his Dutch accountants from Holland who advised a higher import duty on salt, although the tax was added to the manufacture, not the sale, which of course equally affected the cost of buying it. George III raised the rate again in 1767 to assist funding the cost of the American War of Independence, all of which led to the smuggling of quality white salt from Ireland to England.

Romper Lowe, from Cheshire, was a salt smuggler. One night, the parish constable was awoken by Lowe’s gang making a noise because their cart, laden with salt, had become stuck in a ditch. Constable Carter did his duty – and sent his servant and a horse to assist in pulling the cart out!

Gold. During the Napoleonic Wars of the early 1800s, Bonaparte paid people to smuggle gold from England into France in order to support the French currency. Very enterprising of him. The method used was to row across the English Channel in what were called ‘Guinea Boats’, although we are not talking small rowing boats here, but huge forty-foot long vessels which could carry a £30,000 value of the gold on each voyage. With twenty-four oars, twelve aside, the Kentish men could cross to France in less than five hours, given the right conditions.

Voluminous gowns - ideal for hiding smuggled goods.
No Revenue Man would be permitted to rummage beneath a lady's skirts
 - no matter how suspicious the 'padding'!

image purchased from Canstock photos

Jewellery was easy to smuggle:  slipped into pockets, sewn into coat linings, or women’s petticoats, or even swallowed to reappear at the smuggler’s convenience. (Excuse the pun!).

Alcohol: In his notebooks, Thomas Hardy mentions his grandfather hiding kegs of brandy under the stairs: ‘The spirits often smelt all over the house...’ Spirits were supplied ‘neat’ – lethal if consumed undiluted in quantity. Dilution would not be done until the brandy, gin, or whatever, reached its point of sale destination. The disadvantage: the water used, especially in London, was often contaminated with sewage, dead rats and other nasty stuff. It wasn’t the booze that caused the stomach aches –  but the added water!
So much gin was smuggled in the 1700s, that it was even used as a household cleaner!

image purchased Adobe Stock

Tobacco was as addictive in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries as it is today. Much of the smuggling was an ingenious ‘scam’ as it would be imported legally into Britain then exported to Europe with a legal ‘drawback’ refund paid on the import duty. The exact same tobacco would then be smuggled back into England, but bulked out by adding ground rose petals, leaves, herbs, straw and dust, then re-packaged and re-sold at a substantial profit. Questionable tactics, but very clever.

image purchased Adobe stock

Lace was an excellent textile to smuggle because it was lightweight and easily hidden.

Blonde Lace was made in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in France. This bobbin lace was crafted from silk, with the ‘blonde’ referring to the natural colour of the thread. Favoured by royalty, it is depicted in a portrait of Princess Charlotte (1796-1817) the daughter of King George IV and Caroline of Brunswick.

Brussels Lace, was admired as a delicate lace made from fine-spun linen thread which, in order to ensure it did not become brittle was spun in a damp and darkened environment, with only a single ray of light permitted. First produced in the fifteenth century, Brussels Lace is listed among presents given in 1543 to Princess Mary Tudor, daughter of Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon. A royal lace indeed!

In order to protect the making of English lace, the import of foreign lace was prohibited by Parliament in 1662, with the English version known as ‘English Point’. Unfortunately, it was not the same quality, so smuggled Brussels Lace remained in demand. The import ban was lifted in 1699 but French Brussels Lace continued to be a favourite of Queen Anne.

Valenciennes Lace originated, as the name implies, from Valenciennes in France. The height of its popularity was between 1700 to 1780. Made by hand it was woven in one piece  and was extremely strong. Sadly, there was very little of this beautiful hand-crafted lace being made by the time the 1900s arrived as machine-lace had taken over.

A Lacemaker
image purchased Adobe Stock

What about tea? Portuguese merchants smuggled tea to Europe in the late 1500s, with the fashion for its distinctive taste spreading to England in the 1600s, reportedly introduced by Portuguese-born Catherine of Braganza when she married King Charles II in 1662. It was known in Portugal as chá – often used today in Britain as a slang term.

Tea did not become popularly consumed until the eighteenth century because it was extremely expensive. With the establishment of the East India Company, and black tea grown in India, the Chinese stranglehold was broken and tea became easier and cheaper to harvest, transport, import – and buy.

For the smugglers, tea was one of the top commodities to be prized. It is estimated that three-million pounds in weight of tea, per annum, was being smuggled into England between 1700-1750. No wonder the English are known as a nation of tea-drinkers!

In a series of published news-sheets, the East India Company condemned tea smuggling as detrimental to the economy, and was therefore affecting high unemployment and low wages. Of course, there was no mention of their tumbling profits!

Tea gradually became more widely available as shipping increased in number and efficiency. Eventually, the British Government revoked the import tax, and the smuggling of tea became unprofitable by the end of the 1700s.

Prior to this amendment, however, the unpopular Tea Act of 1773 provoked a certain famous Tea Party in Boston Harbour, Massachusetts… but that tale is for a different article!

Smuggling in Fact and Fiction by Helen Hollick is due to be published by Pen & Sword Press in January 2019

Smuggling In The British Isles by Richard Platt
Smuggling: A History 1700-1970 David Phillipson
Smuggling In Fact and Fiction Helen Hollick (not yet published)

Helen Hollick lives on a thirteen-acre farm in Devon, England. Born in London, she wrote pony stories as a teenager, moved to science-fiction and fantasy, and then discovered historical fiction. Published for over twenty years with her Arthurian Trilogy, and the 1066 era she became a USA Today bestseller with her novel about Queen Emma The Forever Queen (UK title A Hollow Crown.) She also writes the Sea Witch Voyages, pirate-based nautical adventures with a touch of fantasy. She has written a non-fiction about pirates and one about smugglers in fact and fiction which is due to be published in 2018.

Newsletter Subscription:
Twitter: @HelenHollick

Amazon Author Page (Universal Link)

Helen is also the founder of Discovering Diamonds, a review blog for historical fiction, submissions welcome.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Queen Eadburh: Maligned but Not Murderous

By Kim Rendfeld

A woman who was once a murderous queen of the West Saxons winds up begging in the streets of Lombardy. Lovely poetic justice, if only it were true.

Eadburh, daughter of Mercian King Offa and Queen Cynethryth, was a real person. She did marry a king and was widowed. And she might have ended her days in Lombardy, but not begging and for much more mundane reasons than those in a story written by an author currying favor with a political enemy.

Offa (d. 796) was known for his ruthlessness and for the dike bearing his name. Like most aristocrats, he and his wife arranged for their children to marry for political advantage. In 789, Eadburh wed Beorhtric, king of Wessex.

Offa of Mercia from Matthew Paris's tract on St. Alban,
 13th century (Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)
The alliance had a mutual benefit. Beorhtric might have come to power as an outsider taking advantage of a power vacuum when his predecessor died. Marriage to the daughter of a powerful Mercian king solidified his claim. In his part of the bargain, Beorhtric teamed up with Offa to drive rival Ecgberht out of England. Beorhtric also had the dubious honor of having Vikings land on his shore and kill his reeve.

Apparently, Eadburh did wield power and influence. She gave away land in her own name and witnessed charters with her husband and her brother. Even though her marriage to Beorhtric lasted several years, they didn’t have children. Men in this age sometimes tried to repudiate wives who didn’t produce a healthy son. Beorhtric seems to have been a steadfast husband. Or maybe he feared upsetting Eadburh’s parents more than dying without an heir.

After Offa died, his son, Ecgfrith, succeeded him, and Beorhtric and Eadburh supported him. But Ecgfrith’s reign didn’t last even a year. He died, likely not of natural causes.

Eadburh and Beorhtric’s marriage lasted until his death in 802. He didn’t die of old age, either.

13th century image of Beorhtric
(Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

And now we get to the fiction, an account by Asser, who wrote Life of Alfred in 893. The title character was Ecgberht’s grandson. Asser supposedly includes Eadburh’s story to explain why the wives of the Wessex kings weren’t crowned queen like Eadburh was and not take her seat beside him on the throne. More likely this is an attempt to discredit the rival family.

If we are to believe Asser—and I don’t—Eadburh was tyrannical like her father and dominated the relationship (not good in medieval eyes). If her husband liked anyone she didn’t, she would poison the friendship, and if that didn’t work, the poisoning took a literal turn. Poison, the weapon of women and cowards, fits nicely into the narrative.

Eadburh planned to kill a young man she thought was getting too close to her husband. The victim took the poison. So did Beorhtric. Oops.

In reality, Ecgberht is the more probable culprit. He might have invaded Wessex with his followers, and Beorhtric fell in battle. Ecgberht subsequently seized the throne.

According to Asser, Eadburh took treasures and fled. That much is believable. What’s next is a stretch, and that’s being charitable.

Eadburh went to Charlemagne’s court. The emperor, whose fifth wife had died, asked Eadburh if she wanted himself or his son Charles. Eadburh said she preferred the younger man. Charlemagne told her had she chosen the father, she would have gotten the son, but now she could have neither.

This doesn’t pass the laugh test. By medieval standards, Eadburh was not a desirable bride, especially for a royal marriage. Her father and brother were dead, leaving her without the family connections needed to form alliances. Instead, Charlemagne appointed her as an abbess.

Charlemagne by Albrecht Dürer
(public domain,
via Wikimedia Commons)
Using another time-honored technique to discredit women, Asser says that Eadburh was caught fornicating with one of her countrymen and expelled from the convent on Charlemagne’s order. Somehow she made her way to Pavia with a slave and ended her days in shame and misery as a beggar.

She might have spent the rest of her days in Lombardy but not as a punishment or in poverty. A confraternity book written between 825 and 850 shows an “Eadburg” as an abbess of a large Lombard convent. If this Eadburg is the former queen of Wessex, she would be in her 50s to her 70s.

It was common for a widowed queen to retire to a convent, and if the emperor thought her a reliable ally, he might appoint her as the abbess. An abbess was a leader, controlling land and the convent’s other assets, and she usually did not live an ascetic lifestyle.

The real Charlemagne very much believed in the power of prayer, and that extended to winning wars. If he trusted Eadburh to lead her sisters in prayer, it is possible he or his successor, Louis the Pious, might have bestowed the abbey upon her.


"Eadburh" by Janet L. Nelson, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

“Beorhtric” by Heather Edwards, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

Asser’s Life of Alfred

Asser's Life of King Alfred, together with the Annals of Saint Neots erroneously ascribed to Asser
by John Asser, d. 909, edited by William Henry Stevenson

A handsome, but wretched head.” by Lisa Graves, The History Witch

Eadburh, Queen of the West Saxons” by Susan Abernethy, The Freelance History Writer


Kim Rendfeld has written two novels set in 8th century Europe, and her third novel, Queen of the Darkest Hour, will be published August 7. The ebook about how Queen Fastrada must stop a conspiracy before it destroys the kingdom is available for preorder on AmazoniBooksBarnes & Noble, and Kobo.

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 Amazon.

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.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Friday, May 11, 2018

Changing Perspectives on Childhood

by Maria Grace

Today, most Western societies mark a distinct period of childhood beginning at birth and extending into adolescence, with full adult responsibilities not required until close to an individual’s second decade—and sometimes beyond that. We take it for granted that childhood is a unique and special period of life during which the child should play and be educated in the ways of their culture, essentially free from adult responsibilities.

The concept of childhood

Some historians have suggested that the modern conception of childhood developed during ‘long eighteenth century’ (c.1688-1832).  The concept of the ‘child’ sparked widespread debate causing society to reconsider its perception of childhood. Prior to the nineteenth century, children were viewed as fundamentally miniature adults, not much different from their parents. (Metz, Romanticism and the Child) But, as a result of the Enlightenment and other social influence during this period, people began to rethink children as impressionable, unformed beings; requiring much protection and attention from adult caretakers; inherently different from adults. The role of parent and guardian was similarly redefined to include a deep, affectionate regard for youngsters and a sense of nostalgia toward the childhood period. Historian J. H. Plumb characterized England during the latter half of the 18th century as a “new world of children.”  (O’Malley, 2005)

Some argue that it was not so much the concept of a unique period childhood that developed during this period, but rather a more copious expression in the interest in children, their maintenance, and their future prospects. Dissemination of Enlightenment thought and an emerging middle class seem to be at the root of these changes. (O’Malley, 2005) The notions of an ‘enlightened’ humanity suggested the possibility of a better world and future for the future generations and fueled enthusiasm and resourced to be martialed in efforts to improve the lot of children.

Towards a Unique Childhood

At the start of the Enlightenment, probably the most common view of children was the traditional Calvinist Christian view. A child was born with Original Sin and the only hope for overcoming it was strict subordination to authority. (Anyone ever faced with a room full of toddlers near naptime has probably ascribed to this view too—just saying.) Advances in sciences came to suggest a more biological view of children. The character and potentialities of the child were determined by inheritance at conception. Whether this came from genetics as we understand them today or from astrological influences could be debated, though.

 Philosophers contributed an altogether another way to view children. John Locke’s and Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s philosophies, although different from one another, regarded children as natural innocents whose feelings and wishes might be corrupted by his experience in society. (Stone, 1979)

Philosophers of Childhood

John Locke’s 1673 treatise, Some Thought Concerning Education proposed the notion of a lengthy, and in many ways leisurely childhood. However, it was not until the mid-eighteenth century that his recommendations about education were paid heed. Rousseau’s 1762 work, Emile: or On Education helped transform the fad for Locke’s ideas into lasting social change.


John Locke regarded the young mind as tabula rasa, a blank slate, without inborn knowledge or ideas. Society was then responsible for inscribing said slate with appropriate rational and moral precepts by the experiences a child took in with his five senses. To this end, Locke suggested children should be dressed in cool, loose clothing, fed simple diets, and kept safe from erroneous or detrimental influences and stimuli since what was initially written on these little blanks slates might well be indelible.

“Locke famously argued against the physical punishment of children for their little transgressions, except in cases where a child evinced a ‘manifest Perverseness of the Will.’ He suggested children would learn better and correct themselves when their behaviour was disciplined by a system of reward and shame, and while physical punishment was doubtless still widespread, most writers for and about children adopted Locke’s position.  For some critics and historians, Locke’s system provides the child with the kind of autonomy and self-discipline needed to become a successful and socially responsible modern individual; others see in Locke’s method of child-rearing an almost insidious internalization of authority designed to produce docile and compliant subjects.” (O’Malley, 2005)


In contrast, the French philosopher, Jean-Jacques Rousseau stressed the natural goodness and innocence of the child who was his own independent entity. His fictional account in Émile (1762) depicted his view of an ideal the “natural” education for the titular character. Though impractical, his natural education emphasized a separation of the innately good child from and corrupt society where the child (with his tutor) could learn experientially from interactions with nature to become a good and productive adult citizen.

Both Locke’s and Rousseau’s philosophies supported “the ideas of personal responsibility and of society not as a fixed hierarchy or ‘great chain of being,’ but as a ‘race fairly run,’ in which the individuals who worked hardest at improving themselves should succeed. Both of these ideas were central to an emerging middle-class ideology in the period. (They) … recognized in education … (the) potential not just for passing on old knowledge but for generating new ideas and technologies needed to reform and improve society.” (O’Malley, 2005)

Practical offshoots

These new views of childhood resulted in practical changes in parenting. The formality between children and parents prevalent in earlier periods was, on the whole, replaced by a more relaxed and affectionate kind of behavior within the family. Solicitude and indulgence towards children became far more common.

As children came to be regarded as individuals with their own unique and relevant likes and dislikes, their opinions, were taken into account, but were not necessarily the final word. Experts like Maria and Richard Edgeworth in “Practical Education” examined the influence of those who cared for children and recommended that the interactions between servants and children be limited. While they recognized that very young children needed the help of servants for some tasks, they insisted that the mother or governess (the governess was not a servant, but professional staff, a critical distinction) should be present during those times to minimize the talk between child and servant and thus minimize the impact the interaction could have on the impressionable young mind. (Selwyn, 2010)
Even the mode of children’s dress was influence by these philosophical changes. Locke, Rousseau and other writers attacked stiff and restrictive swaddling as an assault on human liberty and a means of depriving children of early affectionate contact, like cuddling. By the second half of the eighteenth century the practice was dying out in England (Selwyn, 2010).

Rousseau went even further, believing that young men’s innate goodness could be preserved by raising them in a more natural environment which included plain, comfortable clothes which allowed freedom of movement. Perhaps more significantly, for mothers of boys in particular, the change in philosophy that went along with the changes in garments meant that their young sons did not make the transition from infant boys to men the moment they donned male garments.  Instead of being immediately sent off to apprenticeships or boarding schools, boys could enjoy a slower initiation into the world of men. Fathers would begin spending more time with them, teaching them masculine activities. A tutor might be hired to educate him or he might be sent to study a few days a week with a local vicar, curate, or other resident scholar all while the boy remained close to hearth and home for a little while longer.

An astute reader may have noticed by now nearly all the references to the child in this article are masculine. This is not an oversight. As was typical in the period, it was the male who was counted as particularly relevant, while female education drew relatively little attention. While good for providing companionship for her mother, and becoming a mother (hopefully of boys) in the future, the female child did not receive a great deal of consideration in this era.


Davidoff, Leonore, and Catherine Hall. Family Fortunes: Men and Women of the English Middle Class, 1780-1850. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002.
Fullerton, Susannah. Jane Austen and Crime. Sydney: Jane Austen Society of Australia, 2004.
Horn, Pamela. Flunkeys and Scullions: Life below Stairs in Georgian England. Stroud: Sutton, 2004.
Metz, Stephanie. “Can it be a song of joy? / And so many children poor?”: William Blake and the Child.” Romantic Politics. Accessed Feb. 18, 2018.
Metz, Stephanie. “Romanticism and the Child: Inventing Innocence “Romantic Politics. Accessed Feb. 18, 2018.>
O’Malley,  Andrew .”The Eighteenth-Century Child.” Representing Childhood. 2005. Accessed Feb. 18, 2018.  <
 Rovee, Christopher. “The Romantic Child, c.1780-1830.” Representing Childhood. 2005. Accessed Feb. 18, 2018.  <>
Selwyn, David. Jane Austen and children. London: Continuum, 2010.
Stone, Lawrence. The Family, Sex and Marriage in England, 1500-1800. New York: Harper & Row, 1979.


Though Maria Grace has been writing fiction since she was ten years old, those early efforts happily reside in a file drawer and are unlikely to see the light of day again, for which many are grateful. 

After penning five file-drawer novels in high school, she took a break from writing to pursue college and earn her doctorate. After 16 years of university teaching, she returned to her first love, fiction writing.

Click here to find her books on Amazon. For more on her writing and other Random Bits of Fascination, visit her website. You can also like her on Facebook, or follow on Twitter.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

The Wards of Old London: Farringdon Within - Prisons, Friaries & Book-Stalls

By Mark Patton

In an earlier blog-post, I explored the City of London through the eyes of the 16th Century chronicler, John Stow. Stow lived through a period of tremendous change, but there is little in today's London that would be familiar to him apart from the street-pattern (and street names) and the wards, which still function as administrative units. Although medieval and modern London sit within the old Roman walls, the regular grid-pattern of the Roman streets was lost entirely as the medieval city developed piecemeal from the time of Alfred the Great.

1870 map of London wards.
Image: Doc77can (licensed under CCA).

Farringdon Within is the first intra-mural ward encountered by a visitor arriving from the west. Stow tells us that the whole district of Farringdon (the ward of Farringdon Without is much larger than Farringdon Within) was named after one William Farringdon, a goldsmith, who served as one of the Sheriffs of London in 1281. William and his son, Nicholas, also a goldsmith, between them represented the ward as Aldermen for a period of 82 years.

Farringdon Within encompasses two of the city's Medieval gates, Ludgate in the South, and Newgate in the north, neither of which survives today, but both of which served as prisons throughout the middle ages.

Newgate from the west in the 16th Century, as
imagined by the 19th Century artist, H.W. Brewer.
The gate itself is at bottom right, with the church at
the centre being that of the Franciscan friary.
The road following the right-hand edge is Newgate Street.

Beyond the walls on the western side flow the waters of the River Fleet, one of the larger tributaries of the Thames, now underground, but it was visible (and, perhaps more noticeably, smellable) well into the 19th Century. Alexander Pope describes it in his Dunciad of 1728:

To where Fleet-ditch with disemboguing streams
Rolls the large tribute of dead dogs to Thames,
The king of dykes! Than whom no sluice of mud
With deeper sable blots the silver flood.

The mouth of the River Fleet in 1750
by Samuel Scott.

The Fleet Ditch in 1844.

Archaeologists have uncovered evidence for a Roman tidal mill on an island in the mouth of the Fleet, and also several shipwrecks: a Roman cargo ship; two 16th Century ships that are believed to have collided with one another; and a 17th Century freighter that seems to have been carrying stone for Sir Christopher Wren's rebuilding of Saint Paul's Cathedral.

Two of London's monastic houses were situated within the ward: the Franciscan Greyfriars (shown above), just inside Newgate, and the Dominican Blackfriars, just inside Ludgate. Greyfriars was an important centre of Medieval learning, with a library to rival that of Oxford University, but it lay at the centre of "St Nicholas's Shambles," a butchers' quarter whose streets must have been awash with blood and offal. Our visitor from the west, long before he or she entered the city, would probably have noticed a flock of scavenging black kites (a species almost never seen in Britain today) circling above the meat market, much as they can be seen above market towns in India to this day.

Black kites circling around the market of Kolkata, India.
Photo: J.M. Garg (licensed under GNU).

Almost nothing remains of either monastery today. Following Henry VIII's dissolution of the monasteries, a hospital was established on the site of Greyfriars, and the Apothecaries Company were allowed to establish their hall on the site of the Blackfriars gatehouse.

The Apothecaries Hall,
rebuilt after the Great Fire of 1666.
Photo: R. Sones (licensed under CCA).

Walking up Ludgate Hill from Blackfriars towards Saint Paul's, one has a clear sense of the underlying topography (rather unusually, within the city). To the south of Ludgate are a series of back-streets (Pilgrim Street, Cobbs Court, Carter Lane), in which the spirit of Restoration London can be experienced. Near here stood the Blackfriars Playhouse (destroyed, of course, in the fire), where the plays of Thomas Middleton, Ben Jonson and John Fletcher were first performed, with Charles I and Henrietta Maria sometimes joining the audience. The congregation of the neighbouring church of Saint Ann's Blackfriars was, by this stage, staunchly Puritan and objected strongly to the presence of the theatre, which finally closed in 1642.

Playhouse Yard.
Photo: Basher Eyre (licensed under CCA).

In Stow's time, the ward of Farringdon Within extended as far east as Saint Paul's Cathedral, encompassing the cathedral school and part of the churchyard, where stationers and booksellers set out their stalls, and around which William Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe would have browsed for the newly printed editions of Virgil, Ovid and Plutarch that would inspire their own works.

Old Saint Paul's Cathedral in 1560, as imagined in 1916.

Beyond the cathedral, at the point where Newgate Street becomes Cheapside, stood the Great Cross of Cheap, marking one of the resting spots of the funeral cortege of Queen Eleanor of Castile, as it moved towards Westminster Abbey in November of 1290. This prominent landmark was destroyed by the Puritans in 1643 (as was Charing Cross - London's other Eleanor Cross - the modern version of which is a Victorian recreation).

The demolition of Cheapside Cross,
as imagined in 1873, British Library.

In today's London of high finance and global retail franchises, a city in which church-bells struggle to be heard above the constant rumble of traffic, it can be difficult to imagine the density of people and animals in the London that Charles Dickens, let alone John Stow, took for granted. Many businesses, even highly significant ones, such as the book-stalls which, in the 16th Century, stocked the first English language translations of Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, operated from just a few square feet of ground, rented by the day.

This is an Editors' Choice archive post, originally published on 2 November 2015


Mark Patton has blogged regularly on aspects of history and historical fiction at His novels, Undreamed Shores, An Accidental King and Omphalos, are published by Crooked Cat Publications, and can be purchased from Amazon. He is currently working on a London-based trilogy, "The Cheapside Tales."


Sunday, May 6, 2018

Editors Weekly Round-up, May 6, 2018

by the EHFA Editors

Every week, contributors to English Historical Fiction Authors post on various aspects of British history. Enjoy this week's round-up!

by Lauren Gilbert

by Regina Jeffers
(an Editor's Choice from the Archives)

by Derek Birks