Friday, June 29, 2018

The British Lying-in Hospital: Health Care for Women in Georgian England

By Lauren Gilbert

Attribution: Wellcome Collection gallery (2018-04-03): CC-BY-4.0

Specialised health care seems such a modern concept. When we read about medicine in the past, many things seem primitive and downright frightening. An especially vulnerable population is that of pregnant women. Midwives are the primary caregivers that come to mind. Generally one imagines a woman during the Georgian era giving birth at home, surrounded by female relatives under the guidance of a midwife. Although childbirth was considered a female issue, women of wealth and position were often under the care of an accoucher (a doctor trained in obstetrics or a male midwife). Princess Charlotte the daughter of the Prince of Wales during the Regency (later George IV) was under the care of society doctor Sir Richard Croft (there was a very sad outcome but that is for another article by Regina Jeffers HERE). What about women who did not have the money, the female relatives or even the home for her labour? The British Lying-in Hospital for Married Women provided an answer for some. The British Lying-In Hospital for Married Women on Brownlow St. in Long Acre was not the first established but it was the first to come to my attention.

The first hospital of this kind was opened in Dublin in March of 1745 by Dr. Bartholomew Mosse. He purchased the property and initially supported it himself. As the hospital’s work came to public awareness and its usefulness acknowledged, subscribers came forward to help with costs. Dr. Mosse also initiated plays, musicales, and other events from whose proceeds the hospital also derived revenue. An added advantage to providing care for women in need was the opportunity for young surgeons to learn midwifery locally. After reports were made, Dr. Mosse was requested to open a similar hospital in London in 1747. It was so successful, two more were opened before 1751. One of these was the lying-in hospital on Brownlow Street in Long Acre.

The Lying-in Hospital for Married Women in Holborn was founded in November 1749. As with the others, this lying-in hospital was funded with subscriptions and donations. A property was purchased on Brownlow Street in Long Acre and furnished with 20 beds. It was to be staffed with 2 physicians and 2 surgeons, all of whom trained in midwifery, a chaplain, and an apothecary. Also on staff was a Matron who was a trained midwife, nurses and other servants as needed. Women who were accepted were admitted in the last month of pregnancy. When labour began, the matron would send for the physician or surgeon on duty who would determine if his services were needed or if delivery could be handled by the matron. Patients for whom an easy delivery was expected were left in the matron’s care. No money was to be received for these services.

This hospital did not accept all women approaching delivery. The rules for admission were quite strict. An applicant had to provide a letter of recommendation from a subscriber, an affidavit of marriage, and an affidavit of settlements made by the husband. As time went on, the applicant was also required to present testimonials of her poverty with statement from two householders who could vouch for her circumstances to alleviate any doubt the hospital board may have regarding her poverty. This documentation could be presented as much as 3 months in advance, allowing the applicant to be put on an admissions list. (If she did not come in to be admitted within the 3 months, she was struck off and had to start over again when it was time.) When being admitted, she must be clean and free of vermin, and bring with her any clothing needed for herself and for her child. If she was insane, she could not be admitted unless a guarantor would accept responsibility.

If a woman lied about her circumstances or otherwise tried to gain admission under false pretences, her name was entered into a Black Book and she would never been eligible for admission to the Lying-in Hospital. In 1751, a woman name Anne Poole lied about being married and claimed she had been deserted. When her lie was caught, she was ejected from the hospital. (In 1759, an attempt was made to allow admission of single women but it was not successful.) An admitted patient could be in the hospital 3 weeks (longer if medically necessary) and would receive 3 meals per day. There were even 3 levels of diet: low (lots of broth), regular (fairly well balanced) and high (a lot of extra meat), depending on the perceived medical needs of the patient.

Once admitted, the rules of visitation were strict. There were no visitors allowed on Sundays until after religious services had ended. Women who had not yet been delivered of their children could only receive visitors in the hall unless special permission had been obtained from the matron or one of the gentlemen in charge. A woman who had delivered was allowed no visitors for one week after the birth of the child, unless special permission was obtained. Visiting hours were from 3:00 to 7:00 from Lady-Day to Michaelmas (roughly April to September or spring/summer), and from 2:00-4:00 from Michaelmas to Lady-Day (late September to April or autumn/winter). No men (including husbands) were allowed to visit in the wards. Children born in the hospital were baptised by the chaplain; baptisms were held every Thursday. If a patient or her child(ren) died, the matron was responsible for notifying the patient’s family to come and get the remains for burial. If no one responded, the matron would make arrangements at the lowest cost possible. When a patient left (by discharge or death), the hospital’s secretary would notify the individual who recommended that patient that a vacancy was available.

Almost immediately, more beds were needed. Extra beds were added whereever possible, and they tried to find lodgings for women awaiting delivery. Availability became so limited that in 1755, admissions were selected by a ballot involving black and white balls: white balls in the number of available spaces, and sufficient black balls to make up the total number of applicants. Each applicant then drew; if a white ball were drawn, that woman gained admission. If a black ball were drawn, that person could not be admitted. They gave up this practice in 1800, after which time anyone subscribing 3 guineas could nominate a patient. (3 guineas in 1800 would have paid the wages of a skilled tradesman for 21 days in 1800.)

Starting in 1752, female pupils were admitted for 6-month terms to study midwifery. They paid 10 shillings for board and lodging, and 20 guineas for instruction. They were instructed in general and difficult childbirths, and (when they completed the program) were given a certificate. A general meeting was held quarterly to review the hospital’s rules. At these meetings, 15 governors were selected to form a committee to meet weekly to receive the patients and direct the hospital. Medical records appear to be lacking for the hospital. However, it appears that a report was issued in 1751, which indicates that 545 woman were delivered of 550 babies with 29 stillbirths*. There were also reports issued every ten years regarding infant deaths: the statistics generated from these reports shown indicate that there were 71 perinatal deaths (deaths that occur in the period within 3 months before to 3 months after birth) per thousand between 1749-1796.* No discussion of medical conditions for women who have had birth is complete without considering puerperal fever (an infection in women who have given birth), and the lying-in hospital was not immune to this condition. According to Essays on puerperal fever and other diseases peculiar to women, p. 6, 24 women died of puerperal fever between June 12, 1760 and late December, 1760 at the British Lying-in Hospital for Married Women. (In 1756, the hospital was re-named the British Lying-in Hospital for Married Women, to avoid confusion with other lying-in hospitals in London, which allows us to identify this statistic as relating particularly to this hospital.)

The hospital continued offering services throughout the Georgian era. Fundraisers were held, including plays. Productions of plays for this cause resulted in David Garrick and James Lacey Esq. being named perpetual governors in 1758 in recognition of their efforts. In 1820, the Duke of Wellington became a vice-president. Others in the nobility became donors or subscribers. In 1828, it began sending midwives to patients’ homes to deliver their babies. In 1840, in Victoria’s reign, the Brownlow Street location was condemned, and the hospital was rebuilt on Edell Street. The new hospital had 40 beds. No regular medical reports were generated until 1870 (other than the 10 year summaries already mentioned). Over time, the hospital developed financial difficulties and gradually deteriorated (the building was in poor repair, the neighbourhood population was declining and the newer teaching hospitals had opened maternity wards). The British Lying-in Hospital for Married Women finally closed in 1913. The buildings were sold, and the funds raised were used with other monies to build special facilities for the British Hospital for Mothers and Babies in Woolwich.

*Statistics from Proceedings of the Royal Society of Medicine Journals cited below.

Sources include:
Google Books. The Laws Orders and Regulations of the British Lying-in Hospital for Married Women. By the Weekly Committee. (compiled in 1769) London: 1781. HERE

GoogleBooks. Essays on the puerperal fever and other diseases peculiar to women. Edited by Fleetwood Churchill, M.D., M.R.I.A. London: Sydenham Society, 1849.HERE

GoogleBooks. THE DUBLIN QUARTERLY JOURNAL OF MEDICAL SCIENCE, VOL. 2. “The Memoirs of Dr. Mosse” (pages 565-596) Dublin: Hodges & Smith, 1816. HERE

Lost Hospitals of London. “British Lying-in Hospital”. (No date or author of post shown.) HERE 

The National Archives. “The British Lying-in Hospital” (see Administrative/biographical background). HERE

Proceedings of the Royal Society of Medicine Journals. Volume 65, May 1972. (PDF) “The Lying-in Hospital 1747-“ by C. Keith Vartan, FR CGOG HERE

NCBI. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine. “British maternal mortality in the 19th and carly 20th Centuries” by Geoffrey Champerlain. Nov. 2006. Vol. 99 (11): 559-563. HERE

Illustration from Wikimedia Commons: HERE

Lauren Gilbert is the author of HEYERWOOD: A Novel, and is in the process of completing her second novel, A RATIONAL ATTACHMENT. She lives in Florida with her husband. She will be attending the Tampa Indeie Author Book Convention next month. Visit her website here for more information.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Britons, Fellow-Countrymen, Foreigners – “For Wales, see Britannia”

By Gareth Griffith

At the start of his book, Rebirth of a Nation: Wales 1880-1980, Kenneth O Morgan commented that, “for Wales, see England,” was the notorious entry in the 1888 edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. For Morgan, the entry “encapsulated all the humiliation and the patronizing indifference which helped to launch the modern nationalist movement in the principality…” (OUP, 1982, p 3) The irony is palpable: an encyclopaedia of “Britannica” had expropriated the name the Welsh had for centuries used to define themselves  and their country, only for the same encyclopaedia to obliterate the identity of Wales by subsuming it under the heading of “England.”

Public Domain Image

The story had a long trajectory. We can take a few steps back to the 15th century. In the epilogue to The Age of Conquest: Wales 1063-1415, RR Davies reflected on the condition of Wales following the collapse of the revolt of Owain Glyn Dŵr, by which time the prospect of establishing a native, unitary Welsh polity was lost. According to Davies, “Wales had been reduced to a ‘land’ (terra Wallie), an annex of the kingdom of England.” (OUP, p 464) Davies noted, too, that the status of Wales as a “separate nation” was raised at the Council of Constance in 1417. There the English spokesmen asserted that, ecclesiastically and politically, Wales had been effectively incorporated into England. The assertion was accompanied by the claim “that England was to be equated with Britain (‘inclyta nation Anglicana alias Brytannica’).” Why not? After all, if history tells us anything it is that the winners get to call the shots; they’re the ones that do the name-calling. In 1417, it was a thousand years since the Roman legions had left Britain and here was the final chapter in the resistance of the Britons, one that ended with the transfer of that name to their ancient enemies. As RR Davies wrote, with a heavy heart no doubt:

“So had the English appropriated the mythology of an unitary empire of Britain, which had for so long been a source of memories, inspiration, and hope for the Welsh.” (p 464) 

In the opening chapter of the book, Davies had discussed the importance of their British heritage to the people of Wales in the Middle Ages, writing that:

“An even more powerful ingredient in the chemistry of national unity was pride in a common descent from the Britons of old. It was as Britons, Brytaniaid, that the Welsh normally described themselves until the later twelfth century; ‘Britain’ was the title they gave to their country.” (p 16) 

It was a case of – ‘for Wales, see Britannia.”

The works by KO Morgan and RR Davies are two volumes in the Oxford University Press’ series on the history Wales, published in reverse chronological order. The third volume – Wales and the Britons, 350-1064 by TM Charles-Edwards - was published in 2013. It opens with a short essay on name-calling and related matters. The question he confronts is how the Wales and the Welsh of the medieval period, from the fall of the Roman Empire to the twelfth century, identified themselves and how were they identified by others? What names were used and what did they mean in geographical terms?

In the fifth century and for many centuries after there was no Wales to speak of, only a patchwork of small kingdoms; but there were Britons and Cymry (or Kymry) and Wielisc, the name in Old English for the Welsh. Likewise, in the early period there were no Bretons in Brittany or Cumbrians in Cumbria. According to Charles-Edwards, “Breton in English is a late import from the French where it can mean either Britons or Bretons…”; and, although the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle in the tenth century used Cumbras for the Cumbrians, it had “no relevance to how the Welsh or the Cumbrians saw themselves.”

As Charles-Edwards rightly states, “it would be fatal to import later senses into earlier periods as if they were as valid for, say, the seventh century as they were for the tenth or as they are for the twenty-first.” His argument is that, for the whole of the period up to 1064, “the modern historian must maintain the distinction between modern terminology and the terms used at the time.”
(OUP, 2013, pp 1-2)

The same can be said to apply to the modern writer of historical fiction. Getting it right can be tricky. If a character in a novel set in the seventh century looked out from today’s Bristol over at what is now South Wales, what would they have called the land they were looking at? How should today’s Brittany be referred to in a novel of the same period? Little Britain would be an anachronism, not to mention a source of mild amusement for fans of the BBC comedy of the same name.

The broader point is that, for the early medieval period, Wales was part of a larger whole, the land of the Britons. In this light, Charles-Edwards comments that the idea of Britannia varied, depending on context and circumstance. For Asser, writing at the end of the ninth century it had a “double sense”, either the entire island which the Britons had long conceived of as their own, or as the land we now refer to as Wales. Britannia is also ambiguous in early Breton sources: “it may be the island from which they had migrated; but it may also be Brittany.” (p 1)

Attribution Link

As time passed, the geographical extent of that land changed, expanding occasionally, shrinking more often before the incursions of the Anglo-Saxons to the East, the Gaels in the North and West and later the Vikings and the Normans from every conceivable direction. For Gildas, writing in the mid-sixth century, at its most extensive the whole of the island of Britain belonged to the Britons. But that vision was to contract. Charles-Edwards directs out attention to the Welsh poem of the tenth century, Armes Prydein, which contains the phrase “from Manaw to Llydaw” – in modern terms “from Clackmannanshire to Brittany.” He says the poem “was thinking of the lands which ought to be British, because it recalled a time when they had been British.” (p 3) That is to say that in AD 600, or thereabouts, the land of the Britons – Britannia – had extended from around Sterling in Scotland down almost as far as the Loire in France. By the tenth century, that same geographical region was the Britannia of the imagination. Taking all its improbable and impractical elements into account, of Armes Prydein, Charles-Edwards commented:

“Yet, the visionary element is very strong: the argument is ultimately about the right to all of Britain south of the Forth; the objection was not just to an English empire but to England as such. The Cymry were the Palestinians of early medieval Britain.” (Wales and the Britons, 350-1064, p 535) 

No less complicated is the development of the language used to express these shifting realities. On one side of the language barrier, the Anglo-Saxon name to denote the native population of the island – “Wielisc” or “Welsh”, is often said to derive from “a variant on the standard Germanic label for foreigner…” (see for example Norman Davies, Vanished Kingdoms: The History of Half-Forgotten Europe, Allen Lane, 2011, p 79) Another interpretation is that “Welsh” meant “not so much foreigners as peoples who had been Romanized…” (John Davies, A History of Wales, Penguin Books, 2007, p 69): that is to say, “all the people who had been part of the Roman Empire.” (Wales and the Britons, 350-1064, p 1) Whether one meaning precludes another is not clear to me. At the very least, it seems unlikely that the original meaning would have been maintained in the vernacular across the years of “intimate hostility” between the Britons and the Anglo-Saxons. (Wales and the Britons, 350-1064, p 402) Probably, “foreigner” is not too wide of the mark. At any rate, the idea that the Welsh had become foreigners in their own land is hard to shake off; popular imagination clings to it, as firmly today as in the Middle Ages.

Statue of Owain Glyndwr - Pulic Domain image

Turning to the other side of the language barrier, the historian John Davies has traced the first usage of the word Cymry to a praise poem probably written in 633, in which the poet was referring to the country rather than the people (“Ar wynep Kumry Cadwallawn was”), a country that would have
referred to the Old North as well as Wales. He contends that the word Cymry evolved from the Brythonic word Combrogi, meaning fellow-countrymen and that “its adoption suggests a deepening self-awareness among the Britons.” He goes on to say:

“Although the author of Armes Prydein (c 930) used the word Cymry or Cymro fifteen times, it only gradually came to oust the word Brython. That was the favourite word of the author of Brut y Tywysogyon; his entry for 1116 is the first to mention the Cymry and it was not until the years after 1100 that Cymry became as usual as Brythoniaid in the work of the poets.” (A History of Wales, Penguin Books, 2007, p 69) 

It seems the Welsh of the twelfth century were down-sizing at long last, re-configuring the world of their imagination to conform to prevailing political reality in the Norman age. According to KO Morgan, by Victorian times that process had resulted in a view of Wales, from the perspective of their “Teutonic” neighbours, as a mere “geographical expression”, as a land that “belonged to prehistory.” (p 3) But then, the title to Morgan’s book, Rebirth of a Nation, suggests that if Wales and the Welsh – Britons, fellow-countrymen, foreigners – were down, still they were not out. The imagination continues to work on political reality, seeking to shape what is to what might be; as RR Davies wrote: “The memories of a conquered people are long indeed.” (p 388)


Gareth Griffith was born in Penmaenmawr, North Wales, and now lives in Sydney, Australia with his wife Sue. His career has encompassed teaching, research and writing, including many years working as the manager of research for the parliament of New South Wales. These days, when Gareth isn’t writing, he enjoys reading, music, dark Scandi film and TV, and Dark Age Britain. Although Gareth left Wales at the age of twelve, Wales never left him, and its landscape and history loom large in his imagination and his storytelling.

Find Gareth on his website:
and on Twitter: @garethgriffith_

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Osulf: the Prince’s Friend or Lover?

By Kim Rendfeld

We know the British Saxon Osulf and Charlemagne’s son Charles (called Karl in my books) were close, but just how close remains a mystery.

The intrigue centers on a poem by the courtier Theodulf. The Visigoth composed a parody of Virgil’s Second Eclogue, about the shepherd Corydon and his love for the boy Alexis. In Theodulf’s version, the prince, Karl, is playing a flute for Mochanaz, whose name is similar to Arabic muhannat, meaning catamite. Mochanaz might be Osulf. Theodulf’s poem praises Karl, but his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather are urged to scourge Mochanaz.

Osulf was a part of the prince’s retinue, but were Karl and Osulf lovers? Hard to say.

Karl was one of three heirs to Charlemagne’s realm, and he led soldiers into battle during the later years of his father’s reign. When the emperor wrote his will, he divided it among the three sons he had with the late Queen Hildegard. Louis got Aquitaine. Pepin got Italy. Karl got everything else.

Yet Karl never married and never had children. His two full brothers had married young and had fathered lots of kids.

Could the reason Karl remained a bachelor be that he was gay? We don’t know Karl’s sexual orientation, but attraction or love for a man would not prevent marriage to a woman. As long as the husband fulfilled his duty to his wife—the conjugal bed was her right as well as his—and sired children, what he did outside the marriage was between him and his confessor. Homosexuality was considered a sin, but most often it was tolerated on the same level as adultery (for men) and premarital sex (for men). If a man fathered a baby by a woman other than his wife, he was expected to acknowledge and support the child, but otherwise, no one thought much of it.

1900 image of Charlemagne presiding
over the Palace School (by Internet Archive Book
Images, via Wikimedia Commons)

Perhaps, Theodulf’s target was not Osulf but the Visigoth’s rival Alcuin, a scholar from York. Osulf was among four pupils who accompanied Alcuin from York to the Frankish court. In 781, Alcuin had met Charlemagne in Parma. Alcuin had already earned a reputation as master of the cathedral school at York, and Charlemagne invited him to lead the Palace School in Francia. Alcuin agreed, after he got permission from his superior upon his return to York.

Charlemagne had a circle of scholars in his court—the brightest minds in the realm. They might have had the egos to go with them. They were not above using their poetry to tease and snipe at each other.

Theodulf did not target Alcuin directly, although Alcuin might have loved other men. A missive to Arno, the bishop of Saltzburg, reads like a love letter, where Alcuin expresses deep feeling and physical longing. But Alcuin affections were for a bishop, albeit an influential one, not a prince. Theodulf likely saw an opportunity in Osulf, who caused Alcuin frustration. We don’t know what Osulf did exactly, but there are a few clues, none of them about homosexuality.

In a letter to Mercian King Offa about Osulf or another student whom Alcuin calls “my dear son,” the scholar asks the monarch not to “let him wander loosely or fall into drink. Give him boys to teach, and see that he teaches them with energy. I know he can, because he was a good student.”

Detail from 1830 painting by Jean-Victor Schnetz
(public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

In a letter directly to Osulf, Alcuin laments, “Why hast thou abandoned thy father who has educated thee from thy childhood, who has instructed thee in the liberal sciences, and led thee in the ways of virtue, and furnished thee with the doctrines of external life? Why hast thou joined thyself to a troupe of harlots, to the revels of the drunkard, to the follies of the vain? Art thou that youth who was praised by every tongue, lovely in every eye, commended to every ear? Alas! Alas! Now thou art censured by every tongue, hateful to every eye, and cursed to every ear.”

Another manifestation of Alcuin’s frustration is in his interpretation of another student’s disturbing dream: “O Osulf, thou wretched one, how oft I have warned thee, how oft corrected! Much labour did I devote to thine uncle, that he should reform and begin to walk in the way of the commandments of God; and I told him that if he did not he would be smitten with the plague of leprosy; which thing happened to him. And to thee, my son, I predict of Osulf, of whom is this vision, that neither in this land, nor in the land of his birth, shall he die.” (Osulf would die in Lombardy.)

Knowing Osulf was a beloved, if flawed, pupil of Alcuin, Theodulf likely took aim at his rival by criticizing Alcuin’s failure to rein Osulf in. Theodulf’s poem seems to say more about the poet and his spite for a rival that a courtier’s relationship with a prince.

Alcuin and the Rise of the Christian Schools by Andrew Fleming West
Alcuin of York by George Forrest Browne
Alcuin, friend of Charlemagne: his world and his work by Eleanor Shipley Duckett
Charlemagne by Johannes Fried
“Presidential Address: England and the Continent in the Ninth Century: IV, Bodies and Minds” by Janet L. Nelson, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society: Volume 15: Sixth Series, edited by Aled Jones
The Life of Alcuin, Frederick Lorenz, translated from the German by Jane Mary Slee
Gay History and Literature

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). Kim's 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.

Friday, June 22, 2018

That Little Matter of King Arthur and Camelot

by Helen Hollick

“There’s no congenial spot, for happy-ever-aftering…. than here, in, Cam...e...lot!”
DVD Cover 

Camelot: turrets and towers, ladies in flimsy wimples and multi-coloured gowns. Chivalric knights in gleaming armour. Camelot, where the wind whisks the leaves into neat little piles, it never rains until after sundown and the snow must melt at a designated time.

Except, if Arthur had existed, and if he'd had a headquarters it would not have been a castle with flags fluttering from the turrets, a drawbridge and portcullis, a bailey – stone walls, and dungeons (and no dragons). The romantic view of King Arthur’s Camelot is a fairy-tale type Disney castle, with jousting, courtly behaviour and a round table in the magnificent tapestry-adorned Great Hall. The movie starring Richard Harris was fun. But history it wasn't.

Unfortunately, no one is certain whether Arthur existed or not; if he had been a genuine historic character he would have lived in Britain in the mid-to-late 400s or early 500s, between the going of the Romans and the coming of the Anglo-Saxon English. His realm would have been Britain, not England – Arthur's Britain is what we today call England and Wales combined, perhaps with the lowlands of Scotland included as well. In Arthur’s time, the Welsh were Britons, the Scots were Irish, the English were Germanic and the Romans were… well, in general, were from anywhere except Rome!

And Arthur’s Castle? We don’t know about that either, although there is a mass of speculation. Probably such a headquarters would have been a semi-derelict Roman Fort, or a re-vamped iron-age hillfort. Caer Leon in South Wales has been suggested. Chester on the border of North Wales and England – Arthur’s Seat in Scotland, Tintagel in Cornwall; Winchester, even London….  there are dozens of possibilities. It is almost a case of 'pick your own favourite.'

Tintagel, Cornwall
(photo Kathy Hollick-Blee)
Cadbury Castle near Yeovil in Somerset is one of the main contenders, and the one I used for Arthur’s main fortress in my Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy. Excavations discovered that the place - once an Iron-Age fortress - was indeed occupied in Arthur’s period (again assuming he did exist!) of mid-fifth to mid-sixth century, the period popularly known as the Dark Ages (and rightly so, as we are still very much in the dark about this era of immense upheaval.)

Anything connected with King Arthur is conjecture; there is no factual proof of evidence for his existence, which is why so many historians / authors / enthusiasts argue like mad about the various theories, everyone insisting their idea is the truth. The only fact in all of it being that we all disagree with each other.

If Arthur had existed, was he pre-Roman, Romano-British, post Roman or early British-Saxon? The only certainty (probably!) is that he was not a king nor a knight in armour belonging to the 12th or 13th centuries. If he had been of this later period we would have had at least some historical, factual, reference to him, not just the Medieval tales - the early equivalent of historical fiction.

'Camelot'? er no...
more like 'Certainlynot'!
(image: Pixabay)
The scanty - somewhat dubious - 'historical' references we do have (Gildas, Nennius and Geoffrey of Monmouth in particular,) are, at base level, fairly accurate records of the fifth/sixth century, but like the exaggerated stories of Robin Hood, they have become embellished during later years from Medieval monks to the Victorians and the New-Age hippies of the 1960s, with so many facts altered that the truth has now become vastly distorted. Alas. (Glastonbury in particular was affected by an upsurge of myth and magic in the 60s: nearly every shop in the High Street sold crystals and embraced 'Flower Power'. I'm not entirely certain what it all had to do with King Arthur though...)

Arthur’s Camelot (assuming he had one!) would have been a fortified hill-fort built primarily of timber, with a wattle-and-daub long house. But whether it was fortified to keep out the Saxons, the Scotti or an almost infinite variety of different foreign invaders is speculation. My money is on a warlord attempting to preserve what little was left of the crumbling Roman existence in Britain against the encroachment of settling Anglo-Saxons. Maybe the West Country or what is now Essex, Kent, Surrey, Hampshire, Sussex. There again, I might be wrong.

For my Arthurian trilogy I stripped away the Medieval myth and looked closer at the early Welsh legends. My Arthur is a warlord, a no-nonsense man who had to fight hard to gain his kingdom - and even harder to keep it.  I have deliberately made him a pagan, a non-Christian, because I wanted to get away from the Christian-based 'Holy Grail' tales. My Arthur puts his faith in his sword not a god. I do use the term 'king' for him because I felt readers would be more comfortable with a more familiar term of leadership (as opposed to something like Dux Bellorum).

The Boy:
Who became a Man:
Who became a King:
Who became a Legend.

Whatever the truth, the good thing about Arthur is that he is an absolute delight for fiction authors. We do not know the facts so we can make it up - and no one can prove us wrong. So huzzah for imagination, a good storyteller and long may Arthur  of Camelot (wherever it might be) reign as the King of Fiction!

For a full bibliography of books used while researching the Pendragon's BannerTrilogy:

What are your views on King Arthur? You are welcome to leave a comment below.


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. 

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

Main Blog:
Twitter: @HelenHollick
Amazon: (universal link) 

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Editors Weekly Round-up, June 17, 2018

by the EHFA Editors

English Historical Fiction Authors brings you posts every week on different aspects of British history, society, and culture. Enjoy the articles for the week ending June 17.

by Maria Grace

by Kate Braithwaite

by Annie Whitehead

Friday, June 15, 2018

Gloucester Cathedral & the Æthelflæd Connection

By Annie Whitehead

Approach Gloucester Cathedral and the first thing you'll see, long before the building itself, is the beautiful tower.

This place was not originally a cathedral, however, but was a Benedictine monastery, dedicated to St Peter. In 1072, William I appointed as its abbot a Norman named Serlo, and the Domesday survey of 1086 shows that Serlo did a remarkable job of increasing the abbey's fortunes, doubling the value of its pre-Conquest assets. Flushed with success, Serlo built a new abbey in the Romanesque style, and sustained growth in income enabled the building programme to continue over the centuries.

In the thirteenth century a large central tower, the Lady Chapel, and the refectory were added, and in the fourteenth century, funds arising from devotion to King Edward II allowed for further remodelling, while in the fifteenth, the Norman west end was knocked down and rebuilt. The sixteenth century heralded a change in fortunes for the abbey, in the form of Henry VIII and the dissolution of the monasteries.

The Lady Chapel
Gloucester abbey was dissolved in 1540 and the building was re-designated as a cathedral in September 1541.

The eleventh-century Norman crypt can be visited (by arranged tour only) as can the tower. But a visit to the main cathedral brings rewards aplenty and shows the building's royal connections.

A foundation charter, which may or may not be authentic, shows King Osric of the Hwicce (by this time a sub-kingdom of Mercia) as the founder of the abbey:
Æthelred, king of Mercia, [Penda's son] to Osric and Oswald, his noble ministri; grant of 300 hides (tributarii) at Gloucester, Gloucs., to Osric, and 300 hides (cassati) at Pershore, Worcs., to Oswald; Osric's part being used by him for the foundation of a minster at Gloucester. [1]
There is a rather impressive effigy of Osric in the cathedral:

The royal connections don't stop there, however. In the south ambulatory is a wooden effigy of Robert Curthose, [2] Duke of Normandy and the eldest son of William I. Eldest son of a king he may have been, but he was never King Robert, because he was imprisoned by his brother, Henry I, in 1106, having been captured after the battle of Tinchebray. He died at the age of eighty, in captivity at Cardiff Castle, but was buried in Gloucester. I have to say, though, that he looks rather relaxed here! (The crossed-legged effigy may denote the fact that he had been on Crusade.)

You'll recall that I mentioned money amassed from devotion to Edward II. I'm aware of the theory that Edward was not murdered, or even that he died at all at Berkeley Castle, but fled abroad. However, the official version of events is that he died at Berkeley, perhaps suffocated, in 1327 and that his body was brought to Gloucester where it lay in the nave to allow visitors to see it.

After a state funeral, attended by his widow and his son, the king's body was buried on the north side of the presbytery and in 1329 that son, Edward III, commissioned a tomb for his father, built by London stone masons working with alabaster and Purbeck marble.

There are recent connections to the monarchy, too. On display in the cathedral is the processional cross used in the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953:

As you might expect, the architecture of this building is almost an artwork in itself. The cathedral cloister famously has fan vaulting above all of its four walks. It dates from the fourteenth century and replaced the original Norman cloister.

The stained glass windows are a sight to behold. One of them is the second largest, in terms of area of glass, in any church in Britain. It dates from the fourteenth century and the quire had to be widened to accommodate it.

But this is no historical monument, to be merely preserved and revered. It is a 'working church' and during the entire length of my visit, the organist was rehearsing for Evensong. At around 4pm, the local school disgorged its pupils, many of whom headed straight over to the cathedral for choir practice. One of the guides I spoke to told me that Gloucester is able to boast not just a boys' choir, but a girls' choir too.

At the time of my visit, the whole of this area was gearing up for the celebrations to mark the 1100th anniversary of the death of Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians, on June 12th. While I was in the vicinity, I wanted to take the opportunity to visit the spot where she and her husband were buried.

At first, it might be easy to assume that she was buried in the cathedral. We know that she was buried in the church of St Peter, and that the cathedral was dedicated to St Peter. In fact, in order to visit and pay my respects, I had to take a short walk from the cathedral close to what remains of St Oswald's Priory.

This priory was originally dedicated to St Peter, but had its name changed to St Oswald's after Æthelflæd arranged to have the bones of St Oswald (King Oswald of Northumbria, slain in battle by the Mercian pagan king, Penda) translated* from Bardney Abbey in Lincolnshire. A short walk from the cathedral close, the remains of St Oswald's Priory is now a simple stretch of wall, jutting up incongruously on an island surrounded by roads full of traffic. Having reached this spot, it was an emotional moment for me, having written so much about her in fiction and non-fiction. I've often repeated my daughter's comment about me, that I regularly stand around in fields, getting emotional. This much is true. But here was something different again, as I stood as close as I'll ever get to the woman who has taken up so much of my writing life.

Æthelflæd is something of an anomaly; one of the very few women to lead an Anglo-Saxon kingdom, she was the daughter of Alfred the Great, and yet she was never a queen. The only time she is given this title is in the Irish and Welsh annals. Some of the English annals hardly mention her at all. And yet she was instrumental in the fight against the Danish 'Viking' invaders, building fortified towns in strategic areas which enabled the English to arrest the incursions and ultimately to force the invaders into submission. Shortly before her death, she was approached by the men of York who sought her protection and assistance against the Norse raiders too. A formidable woman indeed.

Back in the cathedral close, a short hop through an archway brings the visitor face to face with a completely different kind of history, for here is the shop where the author and artist Beatrix Potter imagined that her little mouse, the Tailor of Gloucester, had his premises.

From the magnificence of the stained glass windows, to the simplicity of the remains of St Oswald's priory, to the delight of finding the shop where the little mouse sewed, this was a joyous visit, made all the more special by being able to connect to closely with the woman whose place in history was celebrated in this, the 1100th year since her death, on June 12.

[1] Charter S 70 from the Gloucester archive, 671 for 679
[2] Curthose = from the Norman French courtheuse, meaning 'short stockings'.

All photographs by and copyright of the author.

* Translated - the movement of saints' relics


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 will be published by Amberley in September 2018.

Find out more at

Monday, June 11, 2018

Life in the Regency Era Nursery

by Maria Grace

Like so many other facets of society, childrearing also underwent significant changes during the Regency era. Despite growing concern over the influence of servants in a child’s life, many families of means still employed nursery maids, who might be lower class women, maiden aunts or poor female relations, to tend young children. Parents might have very little contact with their children during nursery days.

Traditionally the nursery was a separate part of the household, running on its own schedule. The exact routine varied from household to household and depended on the number of children and servants to tend them as well as the servants' education and beliefs about children.

Customarily, babies would be in the care of the head nurse, while the undernurse had care of the older children. She would awaken the children, typically by 7AM, dress and feed them breakfast, then take them out for air and exercise. Sometime before bedtime (typically around 8PM) the children would be dressed in their best clothes and brought to see their parents for some sort of a visit. Between those times, children would play and might partake in some early lessons, depending on the education of the nurses. Social etiquette would be a major component of those lessons.

But in some, more progressive households, children might be drawn more tightly into the family circle, eating their meals together and even spending time with the family instead of being exclusively separated to the nursery. “The belief was that they would better learn to socialize and grow into better adults by seeing the behavior of their elders and to “practice” with them. But it had the added benefit of keeping the family together and letting the parents and children play a larger part in each other’s lives.” (Olsen 2017).

Children’s health

In an era when child mortality was alarmingly high and many never grew to see adulthood, physicians rarely treated children’s disorders. The reason? Doctor’s remedies were considered too drastic (and thus dangerous) for delicate children. Given their treatments consisted largely of laxatives, bloodletting, and emetics, one can see some wisdom in the strategy.

Instead of physicians, parents often consulted surgeons, who were the hands-on medical professionals, trained through apprenticeship rather than university training. When surgeons were unavailable, undesirable, or unaffordable, parents would look to family members, friends and neighbors for advice, sometimes bringing in very unlikely professionals to assist. For example, sometimes the local blacksmith might set bones for humans as well as animals. (Sometimes it seems a wonder that anyone survived.) (Payne, Health in England).

A unique period of gender equality

During the Regency, parents felt little need to identify a small child’s gender by their clothing. Those who knew the family personally would already know the child’s gender, and for those who did not know the family that well, it was none of their business. Moreover, very young children rarely appeared in public. The age at which children began to be seen outside the house coincided with the age at which they would begin to wear gender differentiated clothing.

The majority of garments for infants and babies, whether swaddling bands for the first few months of life or simple gowns worn thereafter, were typically linen or cotton, either white or unbleached natural colored cloth, possibly trimmed with colored ribbons. These ribbons would be chosen to the mother’s tastes, not restricted to blue for boys and pink for girls as would be seen much later in the 19th century. In wealthier families, babies had some "good" clothes to wear while being shown off to visiting family and friends. Typically these garments would be colored or trimmed in ways that would not stand up as well to the harsh laundry techniques of the day, so they would be worn sparingly.

One unique feature of infant clothing still present in the early 1800’s was leading strings. Leading strings were the fashion decedents of the hanging sleeves of the middle ages. Attached to the back of children’s garments when the child began to move independently, leading strings might be sewn into individual garments when a family could afford multiple sets. For those of lesser means a single set could be pinned onto different garments. In some cases, children’s garments were made with buttonhole like slits through which leading strings could pass when fastened to the child’s corset.

Well into the nineteenth century infants, both male and female, were dressed in corsets. These garments were not boned and cinched like adult corsets might be, but rather made of multiple layers of sturdy fabric, most often corded or quilted cotton or linen. These garments did not shape the body so much as provide warmth and train the child to have good posture, which was considered essential for good health at that time. The sturdiness of the garment made it an ideal one for attaching leading strings.

Once attached, leading strings could be used as reins to guide the child during the process of learning to walk. This approach was most prevalent in the upper classes. Pudding caps, a slightly padded helmet of sorts, were also used to help prevent the bumps and bruises that came with learning to walk.

For middle and lower class women who enjoyed less help from servants, leading strings might be used more as a leash to limit a child’s movement. The strings could be fastened to a bed-post or heavy piece of furniture while indoors or something immobile like a fence or tree while outside. Though this might be an uncomfortable idea to modern parents, in a world where child safety measures were largely non-existent, these methods could help keep a child safe while their mother’s attention was diverted elsewhere. Leading strings were usually removed when they learned to walk well, certainly by age three or four.

Boys in Dresses

Before learning to walk, babies wore long gowns that extended beyond their feet. Once out of infancy (walking age), both boys and girls were ‘shortcoated’, dressed in ankle length dresses. The early 19th century saw almost no difference between dresses for little boys and little girls. Little boys might wear their sisters’ hand-me-downs and vice-versa. Dresses might be made of chintz or printed cottons. They were worn with small white caps, sashes and petticoats or long ruffled pantaloons.

This is William Henry Meyrick
Though it is difficult for the modern observer to wrap their minds around dressing little boys like little girls, the fact was that dresses were considered children’s wear, not little girls’ clothes. Children’s dresses were very distinct from women’s garments, so to the eye of the person in context, it was not a matter of boys in women’s garments. On a more practical note, in the days before disposable diapers and washing machines, dresses were much more practical garments for children who were not toilet trained.

The transition of little boys from wearing dresses to masculine pants was called breeching and marked a major transition in a child’s life.


"Boys' Clothes During the 1800s." Boys clothing during the 1800s. August 27, 2003. Accessed January 07, 2013.

Barreto, Cristina, and Martin Lancaster. Napoleon and the Empire of Fashion, 1795-1815. Milan: Skira, 2010.

Black, Maggie, and Deirdre Faye. The Jane Austen Cookbook. Chicago, Ill: Chicago Review Press, 1995.

Brander, Michael. The Georgian gentleman. Farnborough: Saxon House, 1973.

Brooke, Iris. English Children's Costume 1775-1920 . Dover Fashion and Costumes. Minoela, NY: Dover Publications, 2003.

Davidoff, Leonore, and Catherine Hall. Family Fortunes: Men and Women of the English Middle Class, 1780-1850. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987.

Horn, Pamela. Flunkeys and Scullions: Life below Stairs in Georgian England. Stroud: Sutton, 2004.

Kane, Kathryn . “Regency Baby Clothes: Blue for Boys, ??? for Girls.” Regency Redingote. June 8, 2012. Accessed January 5,2013.

Kane, Kathryn. “Of Hanging Sleeves and Leading Strings.” Regency Redingote. January 20, 2012. Accessed January 5,2013.

LeFaye, Deirdre. Jane Austen: The World of Her Novels. New York: Abrams, 2002.

Lewis, Judith Schneid. In the Family Way: Childbearing in the British Aristocracy, 1760-1860. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1986.

Martin, Joanna. Wives and Daughters: Women and Children in the Georgian Country House. London: Hambledon and London, 2004.

Olsen, Quenby. “How to be a child in Regency England.” Jude Knight. May, 1, 2017. Accessed February 18, 2018.

Payne, Lynda. "Health in England (16th–18th c.)," in Children and Youth in History, Item #166, Accessed February 19, 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.

Watkins, Susan. Jane Austen's Town and Country Style. New York: Rizzoli, 1990.


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 sixteen 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.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Sailors and Their Superstitions

by Julian Stockwin

Over two decades of researching my Thomas Kydd series I’ve learned much about the rich sea lore of the seaman. In my latest book THE IBERIAN FLAME the appearance of a mermaid evokes age-old fears of sirens luring sailors to their doom. Those who followed the sea then were far more superstitious than landlubbers. Some notions, such as those about the weather often did have an element of truth in them. And the fabled Fiddler’s Green no doubt provided comfort to sailors that they would not end up in Davy Jones’ Locker as food for fishes but go to a better place.

• The caul

One superstition that borders on the macabre is the reverence in which a birth-related piece of human tissue was held.

The caul, the thin membrane covering the heads of some new born children was believed by mariners to bring good luck, in particular to guard against drowning – the sailor’s great fear.

Those born with the caul were considered immune from drowning. In one story, a baby born with the caul was so powerful ‘that when his mother tried to bathe him he sat on the surface of the water, and if forced down, came up again like a cork.’

In fact the caul was highly prized not just by mariners but by landlubbers as well, and there are references in literature from the bible onwards, even in the works of Charles Dickens. David Copperfield describes feeling uncomfortable and confused at the auction of his own caul. (The winning bid was from an old lady who went on to live to ninety-two, and died in her own bed.)

As long as the individual born with a caul kept it on his person the magical powers remained with him but if the caul was sold its properties passed to the buyer, as in Copperfield’s experience. An advertisement in The Times in February 1813 offered a caul for 12 guineas. Another paper announced the sale of a caul – ‘having been afloat with its late owner forty years, through the periods of a seaman’s life and he died at last in his bed at his place of birth.’

A Punch cartoon of
Davy Jones sitting on his locker
Sailors would often sew their cauls into their canvas trousers. One old sailor with a caul secreted on his person this way was admonished that his amulet was a ‘vulgar error’. He was said to reply: ‘A vulgar error saving me from Davy Jones is as good as any other.’
Cauls were advertised in British newspapers all the way until World War I. One ad, posted in the Bristol Times and Mirror in 1874, appealed specifically to sailors. “TO SEA CAPTAINS: For sale, a Child’s Caul in perfect condition. £5.”

• Mermaids and Mermen

lurer of sailors to their doom
Legends of creatures with the head and trunk of a man or woman and the lower torso of a fish abound. Mermen, often thought to be the spirits of sailors lost at sea, were depicted as ugly old men with straggly black beards and hair. Mermaids, by contrast were young, attractive creatures with long gold hair. It was believed that mermaids longed for an immortal soul but could only attain this by physical union with a human.

Mermaids would sing to sailors, distracting them from their work and causing shipwrecks, sometimes inadvertly squeezing the life out of drowing men while trying to rescue them.

We have a number of recorded historical ‘sightings’ of mermaids, including Columbus who wrote in his log about seeing three mermaids on his first voyage to the Americas. ‘[they] rose high out of the sea, but were not as beautiful as they are represented.’

• Mother Nature

Far more seamen died at sea in storms than in engagement with the enemy. It is not surprising, then, that mariners had many superstitions about the weather.

Sometimes a horse-shoe was nailed upside down to the mast of a ship to avert storms. Nelson was said to have had one on the mainmast of HMS Victory.

Seamen were particularly anxious about squalls. It would certainly bring bad luck not to follow the advice of the old ditty:
‘When the rain’s before the wind, Strike your tops’ls, reef your main ... When the wind’s before the rain, Shake 'em out and go again.’

Under certain atmospheric conditions there is an electrical discharge around the mastheads and yardarms of ships, St. Elmo’s Fire.

Superstition holds that the fourteenth century St Elmo was rescued from drowning by a sailor. As a token of his gratitude St. Elmo promised to send a light to warn those at sea of approaching storms. The appearance of St. Elmo's Fire was thus regarded as a good omen. Its appearance preceding a storm portended that the guiding hand of St. Elmo would be present. However many older mariners believed that if the eerie shimmering light fell upon a man’s face he would die within twenty-four hours.

Among American sailors felines were thought creatures of ill omen: should cats frolic aboard this was a sure sign of a storm; if they washed behind their ears this would bring rain, and if one was seen climbing the rigging the ship was doomed.

A ‘cat’s paw’ is a ruffle on the water during a calm that moves as silently as a cat. On seeing cats’ paws old salts would rub the ship’s backstay, part of the standing rigging, as though stroking a cat, and whistle for a wind to come to the ship.

But whistling at sea when the wind was blowing was banned; it would mock the devil who would retaliate by sending gale-force winds. An exception to this injunction was given to the cook preparing the duff, steamed pudding. He was supposed to whistle while he worked so that he couldn’t surreptitiously pop raisins intended for the sweet treat into his mouth!

• When a Sailor Tops His Boom

Sailors had a number of colourful expressions for death at sea, mostly involving nautical terms. Some sails need a long spar, or boom, to spread their foot. When the boom is topped, the vessel is ready to start the voyage. Sailors adopted the expression ‘to top your boom’ to refer to the journey to the afterlife.

A mariner might talk about meeting Davy Jones, the spirit of the deep, thought to be in all storms and sometimes seen as a being of great height with three rows of sharp teeth in an enormous mouth and blue flames coming from his mouth. The name may be a corruption of ‘Duffy Jonah’, a West Indian sailors’ name for the devil.

Davy Jones’ Locker was the bottom of the sea, a repository for everything that went overboard, from masts to men.

Then there was Fiddler’s Green. This was an Elysium, a paradise populated by countless willing ladies, rum casks that never emptied – and always a fair wind and flying fish weather. To go to Fiddler’s Green the departed sailor first became a seagull and then flew to the South Pole where the entrance awaited him in the form of an open hatch. Sailors had a horror of molesting sea birds, especially the albatross, as they were thought to be the spirits of dead sailors who had not yet found their way to Fiddler's Green.

The albatross, the spirit of a dead sailor

Unless the ship was very close to land, burial was at sea for most sailors. The body was sewn up in the man’s hammock and weighted down with a cannon ball. At the last minute a stitch through the nose confirmed that he was really dead!

Jack Tar was uneasy about having a corpse on board ship, believing it would attract bad luck. If a corpse was carried on board there were some things that could be done to minimise the impact: it must always lie athwart the vessel, never end on, and when the home port was reached it must leave the ship before any member of the crew.

• Women on Board

Female mariners were not common in the age of sail but life at sea was not completely a male preserve. Some wives of standing officers went to sea; they assisted with the care of the sick and wounded and even acted as powder monkeys during battle. However to have a woman on board was generally thought to bring bad luck to the ship in the form of a terrible storm that would destroy the ship and all in her. Curiously, a half-naked woman was believed to be able to charm a storm at sea, hence the practice of figureheads with a bare-breasted female torso.

• Friday Sail, Friday Fail

For a sailor the day of his ship’s departure was important. Wednesday was the best day to begin and end a voyage – possibly because the name derives from the Anglo-Saxon god Woden, a protector of mariners. Friday, however, was to be avoided at all costs. The Temptation and Banishment from the Garden of Eden, the Flood and the Crucifixion were all believed to have occurred on a Friday.

One admiral once remarked: ‘Why, I was once fool enough to believe that it was all nonsense and did once sail on a Friday, much to the annoyance of the men. The consequence was that I run my ship aground and nearly lost her... nothing will induce me to sail on a Friday again!’

And while we are perhaps more sceptical today some of these beliefs linger on in those who venture upon Neptune’s kingdom.

The injunction never to sail on a Friday is known to sailors in today's fleet. I remember during my time at sea that mysterious faults in the engine room were known to develop on Friday that were not rectified until the next day!


The Iberian Flame,
the latest title in
the Thomas Kydd series
Julian Stockwin  has written twenty books to date in his Thomas Kydd historical action adventure fiction series, set in the Age of Fighting Sail. Although they form a series each title can be read as a stand-alone novel. These are in order: KYDD, ARTEMIS, SEAFLOWER, MUTINY, QUARTERDECK, TENACIOUS, COMMAND, THE ADMIRAL’S DAUGHTER, TREACHERY (published in the US as THE PRIVATEER’S REVENGE), INVASION, VICTORY, CONQUEST, BETRAYAL, CARIBBEE, PASHA, TYGER, INFERNO, PERSEPHONE, THE BALTIC PRIZE and THE IBERIAN FLAME. In parallel to the Kydd novels, he is writing a series of standalone novels, based on pivotal points in history. Two titles have been published: THE SILK TREE and THE POWDER OF DEATH. Julian has also written a non-fiction book, STOCKWIN’S MARITIME MISCELLANY. More information can be found on his website Julian also posts to his own blog, BigJules, and is on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

For a chance to win a signed copy of THE IBERIAN FLAME email with 'IBERIAN FLAME' in the subject line. Please include your full postal address. Contest closes June 20, and the winner will be notified by email. Open worldwide.