Tuesday, July 31, 2018

John Dent Esquire

by Lauren Gilbert

John Dent Esquire was born August 21, 1761, 2nd son (but 1st surviving son) of Robert Dent (1731-1805) of London and Clapham, who was a banker. Robert Dent became a partner of Child’s Bank in 1763, when Robert Child became senior partner. John’s mother was Jane Bainbridge of St. James, Westminster. An old Westmoreland family with property in Appleby, his father was the son of a younger son of Robert Dent of Trainlands (1651-1702) and may have been a schoolmaster before he was hired as a clerk at Child’s Bank. Robert Dent purchased a house in Clapham, Surrey, and a share in the manor of Cockerham near Lancaster. John was initiated as a Freemason in 1788. As a Freemason, John served as Provincial Grand-Master of Worcestershire from 1792-1826 and as Grand Treasurer of the United Grand Lodge of England from 1813-1826.

John was married October 29, 1800 to Anne Jane Williamson, daughter of John Williamson, a brewer, who was also a justice of the peace and served as Mayor of Liverpool 1761-1762. He built Roby Hall near Liverpool. Anne and her sister Mary were co-heiresses of their father’s estate. John and Anne had 5 sons and 5 daughters.

John was taken into the firm of Child’s Bank in1795, and, like his father, became a partner in 1805 (the year his father died). He acquired a share of the manor of Cockerham, although he did not live in it. He also acquired a manor house on a cliff near Barton on the Hampshire coast. The family had a townhouse in Clapham; John also lived at the manor in Hampshire when Parliament was in recess.

John served as a Member of Parliament for about 30 years: he represented Lancaster (which includes Liverpool) from 1790-1812, and Poole (in Dorset on the coast). An active and diligent member, he was not considered a great speaker but was also not considered a poor one either. Serving during Pitt’s ministry, he generally supported the ministry but went his own way on certain issues. One issue which invoked strong feelings was his opposition to the abolition of the slave trade in 1793 and again in 1796 (as a representative of a constituency that included a major slave port, Liverpool, this was not surprising), supporting Col. Isaac Gascoyne who was married to his wife’s sister Mary and represented the constituency of Liverpool. He based his opposition to abolishing the slave trade on (among other things) the ideas that the abolishment of the slave trade would injure the planters who owned and relied on slave labour and that the slaves needed to be prepared for freedom before experiencing it. The issue was argued heatedly through the 1790’s; the slave trade was finally abolished March 25, 1807.

Another issue regarding which John Dent Esquire felt strongly was the Dog Tax. Byron and others referred to him as “Dog Dent” because, on April 5 1796, John proposed a tax on dogs, in support of which he followed up with vigour (he envisioned the elimination of nuisance dogs that were annoying property owners, and a tax affecting the rich with the funds raised being used for poor relief). Although Dent’s measure was not initially successful as it was considered unreasonable, Pitt later revised the measure and in 1798 it was combined in a bill that included the dog tax with taxes on carriages, horses (saddle and carriage) and male servants, to raise money for war expenditures. John supported the Bank of England in late 1796-early 1797 and stood against the establishment of a new bank. The records indicate that, throughout his career, John was a dedicated and busy Member of Parliament, contributing his thoughts and speaking on a wide range of issues. After Pitt’s government fell, he ultimately transferred his loyalty to Canning. In 1805, John declined the offer of a baronetcy.

In 1811, John Dent Esquire was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society. He was also elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of London. He was a serious bibliophile (a catalogue of his impressive library was compiled in 1825). He was one of the eighteen founding members of the Roxburghe Club. (For more on the Roxburghe Club, go HERE.) As a member of the Roxburghe Club, he presented 23 books to each of the members (these books were reprints of rare texts, which were produced and bound at the giver’s expense to each member).

A copy of a portion of a rare print by Visschyer..."
the publisher is indebted to the liberality ofJohn Dent Esq; M.P. and F.A.S;
in whose magnificent library it is deposited." 

In the general election of 1812, John canvassed for the seat representing Poole but had to withdraw. Although there are indications that a seat for Petersfield was offered to him, he apparently refused it. In 1814, John changed his mind about the baronetcy and asked for it, but it was too late and the baronetcy was not awarded. In 1818, he stood for and won the seat representing Poole and held this seat until 1826.

In his later years, John suffered from tic douloureux. He suffered a great deal from this condition. He supposedly tried to kill himself in 1825 by jumping off a cliff near his villa (the cliff was too low, so the fall didn’t kill him). This condition is known today as Trigeminal Neuralgia and is a condition of the trigeminal or 5th cranial nerve in the face (there is one of these nerves on each side of the face). This disorder causes sudden, intense pain, usually on one side of the face, without warning, and is considered to be one of the most painful conditions known. The cause is not known, so there is no way to prevent the attacks. Although modern medicine provides some measure of relief today, little could have helped him except possibly laudanum.

John wrote his will July 29, 1824; his wife Anne was beneficiary. He died Nov 14, 1826. In his obituary, which appeared in the February edition of The Gentleman’s Magazine, his hiring at Child’s was attributed to “Accident and superior penmanship...” (1) His library, which was extolled in his obituary, was sold at auction March-May of 1827. His will was recorded March 5, 1827. His widow Anne died May 20, 1856.

(1) From The Gentleman's Magazine: And Historic Chronicle from January to June 1827 (GoogleBooks) cited below.

Sources include:

eMedicineHealth. “Tic Douloureux (Trigeminal Neuralgia)”. HERE

GoogleBooks. The Gentleman’s Magazine: And Historic Chronicle From January to June 1827. Volume XCVII Part the First HERE; British Freemasonry 1717-1813, Volume 5 HERE; A Catalogue of the Library of John Dent, Esq., M.P. F.R.S. HERE; A History of British Taxes and Taxation in England: From Earliest Times to the Present Day, Vol. III Direct Taxes and Stamp Duties by Stephen Dowell, pp. 293-304. HERE; Lord Byron: Selected Letters and Journals, p. 165. [Poem: "Dear Doctor I have Read your Play]

History of Parliament Online. “Dent, John (?1761-1826) of Clapham, Surr; Cockerham, Lancs; and Barton Cottage, nr Christchurch, Hants.” HERE

National Archives. "Will of John Dent Esq." Prob11-1722-272.

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography online. "Dent, John (1761-1826) by D. R. Fisher. First published September 23, 2004, this version May 26, 2016. (Thanks to Jacqueline Reiter who generously assisted me with this.) HERE

Image: Wikimedia Commons. (Image in public domain) HERE


Lauren Gilbert lives in Florida with her husband, with roses, hibiscus, plumeria and heliconias blooming and fresh pineapple ripening in the yard. She is working on her second novel, A RATIONAL ATTACHMENT. Her first published book, HEYERWOOD: A NOVEL is still available through Amazon and other fine booksellers. She has a BA in English with a minor in Art History and is a long-time member of the Jane Austen Society of North America. You can find more information on her website HERE.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Giveaway: The Dishonorable Miss DeLancey by Carolyn Miller

Carolyn is offering an e-book copy of The Dishonorable Miss DeLancey:

Tainted by scandal and forced to leave London for the quieter Brighton countryside, the Honorable Miss Clara DeLancey is a shadow of her former society self. She's lost the man she loved to another and, in a culture that has no patience for self-pity, is struggling with depression. A chance encounter brings her a healing friendship with the sisters of an injured naval captain. But Clara's society mama is appalled at the new company she's keeping.

Captain Benjamin Kemsley is not looking for a wife. But his gallant spirit won't let him ignore the penniless viscount's daughter--not when she so obviously needs assistance to keep moving forward from day to day. Can he protect his heart and still keep her safe?

When they're pushed into the highest echelons of society at the Prince Regent's Brighton Pavilion, this mismatched couple must decide if family honor is more important than their hopes. Can they right the wrongs of the past and find future happiness together--without finances, family support, or royal favor?

The Dishonorable Miss DeLancey is full of the captivating, flawed characters, fascinating historical details, and masterful writing that Carolyn Miller's fans have come to know in The Elusive Miss Ellison and The Captivating Lady Charlotte. If you love Lori Wick, Georgette Heyer, and other clean, wholesome Regency romance, you'll love this third book in the Regency Brides: A Legacy of Grace series.

For a chance to win, simply comment below, and don't forget to leave your contact details. Giveaway remains open until midnight (Pacific Daylight Time) Sunday August 5 2018

(And look out for a guest post by Carolyn on this blog on Thursday Aug 2)

[This giveaway is now closed. The winner will be notified shortly]

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Editors Weekly Round-up, July 29, 2018

by the EHFA Editors

New posts on various aspects of British history every week! Enjoy our round-up:

by Kim Rendfeld

by Anna Belfrage

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Friday, July 27, 2018

A splendid 14th century wedding

by Anna Belfrage

History is littered with people whose lives are forgotten. Most of the people who have lived and died in the past have done so in obscurity and this also applies to the high-born. We know they were born, we may now when they died, but unless they were in line to become king or queen or did something out of the ordinary, younger sons and daughters are rarely remembered.

This is not entirely true for today’s protagonist. Lionel of Antwerp has left something of a mark on history. Not only did he leave a surviving child, he is also remembered because of his extraordinary height—and for the extravagant wedding festivities at his second wedding.

Lionel, as depicted
on his father's tomb
Lionel was the third son born to Edward III of England and his queen, Philippa. Theirs was a happy—and fruitful—union, resulting in an surfeit of sons. Not necessarily a problem while Edward III was alive, nor would it have been a problem had Edward’s eldest son and namesake lived longer than he did. But, as we all know, Edward III was succeeded by a child, his grandson Richard II. Some years later, the descendants of Edward’s various sons were locked in a bloody battle for the crown, a conflict that would dominate the political climate for close to a century.

All of this was in the future when baby Lionel uttered his first bawls in November of 1338. I think that a man who was close to seven feet as an adult was probably a very big baby, so I imagine poor Philippa was somewhat affected by the birth as such. Affected, but proud—and likely delighted at how healthy and lusty her new son was. After all, her previous son, born a year or so before Lionel, had died in infancy.

In 1342, four-year-old Lionel was married to the ten-year-old Elizabeth de Burgh, Countess of Ulster. A perfect bride for the king’s son, a rich heiress. Through his wife, Lionel became the Earl of Ulster. Elizabeth had inherited her lands as a baby when her father died and had been raised at the court of her future father-in-law, so she was probably well-integrated into the royal family.

Ireland was to play an important part in Lionel’s life. He spent much time there, sent over by his father to bring order to this somewhat wild and savage place. By all accounts, Lionel wasn’t quite up to the task, but for his efforts Edward III made him the Duke of Clarence.

In 1355, Elizabeth gave birth to a daughter, Philippa. In the fullness of time, Philippa was destined to marry Edmund Mortimer, third Earl of March. Their granddaughter would marry Richard of Conisburgh, son to yet another of Edward III’s sons, and give birth to Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York, principal contender for the crown of England.

Lionel probably wanted a son—men did, back then, especially men with titles and lands. There was no further issue with Elizabeth and in 1363 she died. Was Lionel devastated? No idea. But he was young and life had to go on. Plus, an unmarried prince was an asset to be deployed as it best suited the king.

Gian Galeazzo II
In this case, Edward III needed money. Waging constant war was an expensive business so when Gian Galeazzo II Visconti of Milan approached him, suggesting an alliance, Edward was happy to listen. Galeazzo was very, very rich. He also had a young daughter, Violante, who came generously dowered. Galeazzo wanted his children to marry into the European royal houses. His son he had married to a French princess, so marrying Violante to an English prince could be seen as Galeazzo hedging his bets, indirectly bankrolling both the French and English war effort. (At the time, though, England and France were happily at peace—for now)

Gian Galeazzo Visconti is one of those very complicated men who combine an extremely ruthless—cruel, even—side, with a passion for art and culture. The Visconti men were usually referred to as the Vipers of Milan, not only because their armorial device included a serpent eating a Saracen but because the family had a reputation for bizarre and sadistic behaviour. In comparison to his brother, Bernabo, Gian Galeazzo comes across as a mild lamb, but that says more about Bernabo, who seems to have been a horrible and borderline insane despot, than it does about Galeazzo. In his case, on the one side he introduced the Quaresima, a so called torture protocol, whereby a man condemned to die was publicly tortured for forty days before finally being allowed to expire. On the other, he founded the University in Pavia.

Galeazzo’s character was not particularly relevant to Edward. His money was. Which is why Lionel was betrothed to little Violante early in 1368. In return, a dowry amounting to a staggering two million gold florins would be paid to the groom (and his father). Lionel was pushing thirty. Violante was thirteen. I dare say Galeazzo hoped for many, many grandchildren from this union.

Paris, Jean Fouquet
Lionel’s journey down to Italy was one luxurious cavalcade. With a retinue of close to 500 people and 1200 horses, he set off from England, beginning with an April visit to Paris where he was feted not only by the French king, Charles V, but also by said king’s brothers’ the dukes of Anjou, Berry and Burgundy, more than eager to showcase their wealth and splendour before the English prince. They were of an age, these young aristocrats, so the nights were long and the days were mostly spent recuperating—or shopping. Here our Lionel had the best guide available in his bride-to-be’s uncle, Amadeus of Savoy, who was also in attendance. Amadeus was a fashionista and spent ridiculous amounts on jewels, feathers, cloth of gold, capes lined with fur and other of life’s essentials.

Eventually, Lionel arrived in Milan, there to greet his pretty bride and her somewhat overbearing father. It was June, and as Lionel’s party approached the Visconti capital – now further swelled with close to 1,500 fighting men from the White Company, captained by John Hawkwood.  Galeazzo sent out 60 maids to meet him. Each damsel was dressed in scarlet and gold and accompanied by an equally well-dressed knight.

Yet another extravagant feast, Tres Riches Heures
du Duc de Berry
The wedding feast was so magnificent we still have records of what was served. Thirty double courses of meat and fish alternated with lavish gift-giving. During the long outdoor meal, falcons, horses, hounds, jewels, silks, velvet capes, spurs, were given away to various members of Lionel’s entourage. All the dishes served were gilded, using a paste of egg and saffron and gold leaf. Suckling pigs landed on the table together with crabs, hares with pikes, peacocks with cabbage, French beans with pickled tongue. There were roasted calves, venison, capons and beef. Ducks and herons, trout quail, lamb—an endless list. Reputedly, the leftovers were sufficient to feed 10,000 people.

Once the feasting was over, Lionel and Violante retired. After a further few days in Milan, they travelled onwards to Violante’s—oops, Lionel’s—Italian lands. We know nothing about the Violante-Lionel union, beyond the fact that it was destined to be short. Only five months after the wedding, Lionel died of an unknown bowel affliction. Yes, there were mutters of poison, discreet finger-pointing in the direction of the Visconti. Given the amount of money Galeazzo spent on the wedding, I find it unbelievable.

Violante and her brother
A year or so after Lionel set off for Italy, his remains returned to England, there to be buried at Clare Priory in Suffolk in accordance with his will. Beside him lay his first wife, Elizabeth. His second wife, Violante, was not destined for much happiness. Her second husband was a known sadist who was assassinated at the behest of her own brother, a fate which he shared with her third husband. Thrice widowed, Violante died at the age of 31, leaving a little boy behind. By then, I suspect she barely remembered her first husband – well, except for his size. A dashing golden giant, was Lionel of Antwerp. Difficult to fully forget, once you’d seen him, but rather unforgettable in all other aspects.

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


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

Anna's most recent series is The King’s Greatest Enemy, a series set in the 1320s featuring Adam de Guirande, his wife Kit, and their adventures and misfortunes in connection with Roger Mortimer’s rise to power. And yes, Edmund of Woodstock appears quite frequently. The first book, In The Shadow of the Storm was published in 2015, the second, Days of Sun and Glory, was published in July 2016, and the third, Under the Approaching Dark, was published in April 2017. The fourth instalment, The Cold Light of Dawn, was published in February 2018.

When Anna is not stuck in the 14th century, she's probably visiting in the 17th century, specifically with Alex(andra) and Matthew Graham, the protagonists of the acclaimed The Graham Saga. This is the story of two people who should never have met – not when she was born three centuries after him. The ninth book, There is Always a Tomorrow, was published in November 2017.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Why Alcuin Joined Charlemagne’s Court

By Kim Rendfeld

In 781, Alcuin had a choice. Should he accept an offer from Frankish King Charles (Charlemagne) to teach in the brand new Palace School or should he continue serving as master of the Cathedral School of York as he had for 15 years?

At the time, the Northumbrian was about 46. (His exact birthdate is unknown; the estimate is 735, which is good enough for me.) He had been with the York school since he was a child, placed there by his noble parents. York was a prestigious place, second only to Canterbury. York’s archbishop, Ecgberht, was King Eadberht’s brother.

Alcuin proved to be an apt pupil and said the school taught him “with tenderness of a mother’s love” and “a fatherly chastisement.” He attracted the attention of Ælbert, the master of the school, and Ecgberht.

In the morning, Ecgberht taught Latin literature, Greek, Roman law, astronomy, music, and theology such as the New Testament. Ælbert’s subjects were rhetoric, grammar, jurisprudence, poetry, astronomy, and the Old Testament. The students attended Mass at midday, followed by dinner and recreation, which included discussions and debates of the morning’s lesson. At vespers, students knelt for blessing.

Alcuin also might have grown up hearing about missionaries such as Willibrord and Wigbert, who tried to convert pagan peoples on the Continent. He likely knew about Boniface and the nuns and priests who followed him across the channel to strengthen Christianity. Alcuin would have been 19 when Boniface was martyred.

All this must have instilled a deep faith and devotion to scholarship in him. Later he would write, “My master Ecgberht used to tell me that the arts were discovered by the wisest of men, and it would be a deep and lasting shame if we allowed them to perish for want of zeal. But many are so faint-hearted as not care about knowing the reason for such things.”

Public domain,
via Wikimedia Commons

When Alcuin was 20, Ecgberht sent him to the Continent to acquire books to enrich York’s library, an expensive and hazardous mission. Alcuin risked his ship sinking, bandits on the road, being robbed by hosts, and sudden turns in the weather. Books were precious. Made of sheepskin, a large tome could require a whole herd. They were copied by hand, and those beautiful illuminations and ornate covers added to the price.

Yet York had a collection to boast about. It included work by Greeks and Romans (Aristotle, Virgil, Cicero, and Lucan), Church fathers (Jerome, Ambrose, Hilary, Augustine, Leo, and Gregory the Great), historians (Bede and Aldhelm), and grammarians (Donatus, Probus, and Phocas).

We don’t know how long Alcuin’s first errand for the archbishop lasted, but it likely took months. At home, the political situation was unstable. Alcuin thought King Eadberht, the archbishop’s brother, had a prosperous, harmonious, and militarily successful reign. But in 756, when Alcuin was 21, Eadberht suffered a disastrous defeat. Two years later, the king received the tonsure and joined his brother at York. The king’s successor, his son Oswulf, was murdered a year later.

In 766—and two more Northumbrian kings later—Ecgberht died. Ælbert succeeded the archbishop, and Alcuin, newly ordained a deacon, became master of York’s school. Alcuin must have been a good teacher. He attracted students from all over Britain and abroad, including Frisia and Ireland.

Politics remained volatile. In 774, another king seized the crown after his predecessor was deposed and exiled. Four years later, Ælbert resigned his archbishopric to retire, and Alcuin’s friend Eanbald succeeded him.

© Hubertl / Wikimedia Commons /
  CC BY-SA 4.0

In 779, yet another king ascended to the Northumbrian throne: Ælfwald, son of the murdered Oswulf and grandson of Eadberht. Although Alcuin admired Eadberht, he didn’t think much of the current king: “From the days of King Ælfwald fornications, adulteries, and incest have flooded the land, so that these sins have been committed without any shame and even with the handmaids of God.” (Ælfwald reign ended with his murder in 788.)

Ælbert died in 780. Soon after, Eanbald sent Alcuin to Rome to fetch a pallium (a woolen band with pendants that symbolize authority). Alcuin was on his way home when he met the king of the Franks. What was running through Alcuin’s mind when Charles asked him to come to the Frankish court?

Here is my speculation. He might have craved stability on the political front. In the past 10 years, Northumbria had three kings, and the current one was leading his realm into immorality. Charles had ruled the Franks alone since 771. Twice divorced, the king of the Franks had his own shortcomings, but he was a steadfast husband to his current wife. More important, he was an ally of the pope and providing missionaries like Alcuin’s friend Willehad with the military support for they needed to bring Christianity to pagans. In the Frankish court, Alcuin could interact with scholars from Italy, Francia, Ireland, and Hispania. He would still teach. His students would be the royal family and their close friends.

The prospect of leaving York might have been nerve-wracking, yet the opportunity to do something different might have excited him. Alcuin returned to York to get his superior’s permission to join the Palace School in Francia. With that choice, he would help build the intellectual foundation for Charles’s empire.


Alcuin: His Life and His Work, by C.J.B. Gaskoin

Alcuin, by E.M. Wilmot-Buxton

Alcuin” by James Burns, The Catholic Encyclopedia.

The Oxford Companion to British History (2 ed.), edited by Robert Crowcroft and John Cannon

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography


Alcuin appears in Kim Rendfelds third novelQueen of the Darkest Hour, which will be launched August 7. In Kim's version of events, Queen Fastrada must stop a conspiracy before it destroys everyone and everything she loves. The ebook is available for preorder on AmazoniBooksBarnes & Noble, and Kobo.

Kim has written two other stories set in 8th century Francia. 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 kimrendfeld.com, her blog, Outtakes of a Historical Novelist at kimrendfeld.wordpress.com, on Facebook at facebook.com/authorkimrendfeld, or follow her on Twitter at @kimrendfeld.

Friday, July 20, 2018

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

by Paula Lofting

This post concentrates mostly in the evidence we have for hair and headgear from the late Anglo-Saxon period: the 10th and 11th centuries.

By this time, wimples were big business in Anglo-Saxon society and much of Europe was converted, with German Paganism having little influence in Scandinavia  by 1100. Russia was also fully converted from around the 9th century, however, some other Eastern European communities were more resistant until the later medieval period.

Lot sleeps with his daughter who has loose hair
In Part's I & II, we have seen how Christianity has influenced the idea of women covering their hair and dressing modestly, and is the basis of the wimple and veil. As we saw in Part I, it was from a dictum of St Paul's (I Corinthians 2:5-6) that the wearing of veils grew.

 ...every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is the same as having her head shaved. For if a woman does not cover her head, she might as well have her hair cut off; but if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, then she should cover her head.  
This sentiment of Paul's was soon to extend to women going about in public, not just married women, but girls who had reached puberty, around the age of 11-13.

It is difficult to establish whether or not women wore their hair covered at home mainly due to the lack of art that depicts women in their home environments without wearing a wimple. If any of the images are to be believed, one would think that women wore their head covered even when giving birth, having sex, and whilst sleeping. This could be attributed to the fact that the artists were  mostly monks or clerics, and their religious values influenced the artistry in the sense that moral women had to be shown wearing veils. Immoral women portrayed in scenes such as those from the Psychomachia by Prudentius wear their hair loose, see image below.

Chastity impales Lust represented
by a female with uncovered hair

The head gear seems to have covered the whole of the head and the shoulders with some of the neck on display, however on this image, these ladies appear to be wearing a light coloured veil under the top layer that seems to cover their neck up to their chin. This may have been what a 10th century nun would have been expected to wear under their wimples to distinguish them from the non-ecclesiastical women of the day.  How a woman wore her veil seems to have been a matter of taste, for there are several different styles.

Female saints wearing double veils.
From the Benedictional of St Æthelwold, late 10th c.
 BL Ms ADD 49598, f.2 
A large portion of the women portrayed in  Anglo-Saxon art seem to be high status so it is difficult to know how the lower class would have worn their head gear, but most likely, because of the work peasant women had to do, it would have been simple. As we have seen in the previous posts, simple caps like a bonnet which would tie around the head or under the chin, or scarves tied behind the neck, would have been better suited to those women doing manual labour than a long piece of floaty material wrapped around the head and neck. Perhaps, if the women could afford it, they might wear a snood or hood-type wimple, which went over their heads for special occasions like going to church, or out abroad.

Nuns on the Benediction
of Archbishop Robert
Mid 11thc
The beautiful illumination cropped from the Benediction of the Archbishop of Canterbury right, shows nuns wearing their headdresses in different styles. The woman at the back appears to have what could be a projection under her wimple to give it its triangular shape, the woman on the left in front, is wearing a snood-type wimple which is shaped much like a pillow case with openings at both ends, that has been widened at one end to fit and cover the shoulders. The last lady has a very elaborately wound and pinned scarf-type headdress with the end of it draped across the top of her head. These nuns are very well dressed for their vocation, indeed - the only thing that appears to give away  their occupation is the censor one of them has in her hand.

 Psychomachia late 10thc
© The British Library Board 
The young lady to the right is Luxuria from the psychomachia,  dancing for the warriors and tempting them away from their arms in favour of debauchery. She is wearing a similar style of headwear to the nun with the trailing end pinned over her head on the Benediction of Robert. The artist appears to have drawn her with particular attention to detail showing how the Anglo-Saxons must have loved their folds, frills and trailing, long flowing garments. It seems that the more elaborate and carefully the headdress is arranged, the more disapproving the monks were, who were the most likely artists of these drawings.  But not all Anglo-Saxons, it seems, had such ornately worn headrails. More modest women can be found wearing tighter and less voluminous wimples.

Queen Emma and Cnut
Public Domain, British Library online
Queens seem to have worn distinctive headdresses, as we see in the picture of 11thc Emma of Normandy with her sons. A veil is worn underneath her crown. Probably like the one that the angel is holding above Emma's head in the image of her and Cnut. Owen Crocker tells us in her Dress in Anglo Saxon England that there are images of women with embroidered and possibly bejewelled wimples, (see page 223 of her aforementioned book). As mentioned in Part II, Bishop Aldhelm had brought up the subject of nuns wearing inappropriate clothing. Apparently this was also a problem in late Anglo-Saxon period, as St Edith of Wilton was said to have been better dressed than the Bishop of Winchester!

Fillets were still popular in the 10th and 11th centuries as we see in the will of a lady called Wynflaed. She left two fillets - bindan - one was to a secular woman, and another to a nun, which seems to have been worn in conjunction with a veil and worn over the top as a 'ring'. One woman left a baende to her sister-in-law in her will of 1012. Queen Emma wears a baende across her forehead under her wimple in the image of her with Cnut. These items seem to have been one of the most gifted items in wills in the later AS world, possibly indicating how richly made they were, with jewels and gold sewn into them.                                             

The indication that Anglo Saxon women wore their hair in plaits and or 'up', is suggested by the unusual exception of the Virgin Mary who is wearing her uncovered and in a plait wound around her the crown of her head on an ivory book cover. But it is very difficult to assess how common this practice may have been as mostly, women are drawn with their hair covered.

In order to get some perspective on the functional and daily use of wimples, veils, and headrails etc, I asked Kat Dearden, a reenactor of the popular living history society, Regia Anglorum (www.regia.org) what her thoughts are on the wearing of wimples within the time bracket of the Anglo-Saxon period, here's what she had to say: 

"I strongly suspect that the full veil/wimple was not worn at all times. It's not practical. When working or in a domestic setting I think women covered their hair with a cap or scarf, and you see that borne out in later manuscripts that show far more scenes of daily life.When going out in public, going to church or in formal settings in the home, such as recieving visitors or celebrations, then that's when the full veil would be expected and worn. I suspect the rules probably differed according to social status as well. Queens and noble women are almost always on show, carrying out some form of formal role, therefore always veiled. Nuns are always in a religious setting, so likewise always veiled. Poorer women though? I think it's more likely the veil was worn at the same sort of times my Gran wore her hat, or a headscarf, at church, trips into town, and for 'company'. The sort of company that makes you panic and get the tea set out. Otherwise they are mostly engaging in domestic tasks with their family around, so no need for the full fig, just a cap to keep hair clean, out of the way and decently covered."

Kat Dearden
photo courtesy of Caroline Williams

Further Reading

Gale R. Owen-Crocker (2004) Dress In Anglo-Saxon England (rev. ed.) Boydell Press, UK.

Paula Lofting - 

 Paula is the author of the award-winning Sons of the Wolf series set in the years leading up to the Battle of Hastings in the 11thc. Centred around the lives of a Sussex thegn, Wulfhere, and his family, we also meet historical characters such as Harold Godwinson, Earl of Wessex and his powerful family. The series tells the story of a bloodfeud between two men, played out against the backdrop of historical events.
Paula also reenacts with popular Living History Society, Regia Anglorum and works part-time as a psychiatric nurse. An avid reader of books, she has always wanted to write a major historical epic and is currently working on her third book in the series, Wolf's Bane. 

Paula can be found on:
You can also check out her Blog, 1066: The Road to Hastings and Other Stories , for more about the 11th century
Her Books, Sons of the Wolf and The Wolf Banner can be purchased here


Thursday, July 19, 2018

Infertility in the 17th Century – Reasons and Remedies

By Kate Braithwaite

Take a handful of barley or any other fast growing corn. Soak half in a husband’s urine and half in his wife’s urine for twenty-four hours. Dry each pile on some earth and then water daily with more of the urine of each person. The corn that grows first belongs to the person who is more fertile. If one does not grow at all, that person is barren and will not bear children.

At a time when barrenness, or infertility, was commonly perceived to be a fault of the woman, rather than her male partner, the suggestion – from midwife Jane Sharp - that men as well as women might have fertility problems, is unusual. Her method of determining where the fault lies, however, seems less than reliable.

But then in the 17th century, people had rather different ideas about the human body. Belief in the need to maintain balance ‘humors’- blood, black bile, yellow bile and phlegm - a theory developed by Hippocrates in Ancient Greece – was still predominant in all medical thinking. Not surprisingly, people’s understanding about how conception was achieved was also rather different than it is today. Both men and women were believed to have ‘seeds’ which were released during orgasm and mingled in the womb before taking root and growing into a child.

The London preacher, Samuel Hieron, firmly believed that “barrenness in grace” and “fruitlessness in holy things” would result a “want of outward increase” or infertility. It was commonly held to be a woman’s duty to bear children and in doing so, make reparations for the sins of Eve. If she could not do so, she was a failure as a woman and lacked God’s grace. For a strongly religious woman like Catherine de Braganza, wife of Charles II, her failure to bear children while Charles fathered upwards of twelve children with his numerous mistresses, must have been a torment. Another famously childless 17th century woman, Elizabeth Pepys, wife of the diarist Samuel, was surely equally saddened, but it is notable that her husband, also a man who had several extra-marital relationships, had no children with any other woman either.

Portrait of Catherine de Braganza

Jane Sharp, writing in The Midwife Book, published in 1671, certainly believed that conception was determined by God’s will and permission, but she also had some other ideas about why some women conceived and others could not. She dismissed one common theory - that some couples are barren because they have “too much likeness and similitude in their complexions,” - and suggested instead that “some disproportion of Organs or some impediment not easily perceived,” may be the cause. Hatred between married people, she explained, was a legitimate problem however, particularly where children were forced into marriage by their parents. She also cautioned against blood-letting in the arms of girls before their first ‘courses’ or period, preferring such girls be bled from the foot to insure that blood was not ‘drawn down’ from their bodies before nature intended it. She talked of problems of the womb, ill health and disease as possible causes of infertility before setting out her last reason, ‘barrenness by inchantment.’ In cases where it is suspected that a charm may be making a husband unable to lie with his wife, Sharp recommended that he “piss through his wives Wedding ring and not to spill a drop and then he shall be perfectly cured.”

Given the importance of having children and growing a family, couples that struggled to conceive in the seventeenth century, could easily find advice on how to cure their difficulties.

Dining with friends on July 26th 1664, Samuel Pepys asked the ladies for their advice on he and his wife’s childless state. He recorded ten pieces of advice in his diary:

1. Do not hug my wife too hard nor too much
2. Eat no late suppers
3. Drink juyce of sage;
4. Tent and toast
5. Wear cool Holland drawers
6. Keep stomach warm and back cool
7. Upon query whether it was best to do at night or morn, they answered me neither one nor other, but when we had most mind to it
8. Wife not to go too straight laced;
9. Myself to drink mum (ale) and sugar
10. To change my place. 
Of these, he wrote, “the 3rd, 4th, 6th, 7th, and 10th they all did seriously declare, and lay much stress upon them as rules fit to be observed indeed, and especially the last, to lie with our heads where our heels do, or at least to make the bed high at feet and low at head.”

Portrait of Elizabeth Pepys

Other recorded remedies – these from William Sermon, author of The Ladies Companion in 1671 – vary in degrees of outlandishness. He suggests the woman try taking white ginger in a powdered form or sitting over a bath of water used to boil yarn and mixed with ash, or even bathing in water “in which ale-hoof, oaten and pease straw have been boiled together” before drying off and letting her husband “do his best endeavour.”

Valentine Greatrakes, pictured above, an Irish healer who was famous in England in the 1660s, offered guidance more like the list given to Samuel Pepys than any of William Sermon's suggestions.

Further reading:

The Midwives Book, Jane Sharp 1671
The Weaker Vessel, Antonia Fraser, 1984
The Diary of Samuel Pepys

Kate Braithwaite was born and grew up in Edinburgh, Scotland. Her first novel, Charlatan, was longlisted for the Mslexia New Novel Award and the Historical Novel Society Novel Award in 2015. The Road to Newgate, a story of love, lies and the Popish Plot, was published by Crooked Cat in 2018.  In the novel, Kate's character, Anne, seeks advice on conceiving from Valentine Greatrakes and is thankful to receive advice more in line with that given to Pepys than that suggested by Sermon.
Kate lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and three children.

Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/KateBraithwaiteAuthor/
Twitter - https://twitter.com/KMBraithwaite
Website/blog – http://www.kate-braithwaite.com


Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Sudeley Castle and the People Who Lived There

by Judith Arnopp

Set against the backdrop of the Cotswolds near Winchcombe in Gloucestershire, a little north of Cheltenham, lies Sudeley Castle. Throughout history Sudeley has been many things; today it is a family home, a beautiful garden, a historic jewel, and the last resting place of an English queen.

Sudeley remained in the hands of Goda’s family until the reign of Henry V when the castle was gifted to Thomas Boteler by way of repayment for his action in the war with France. It was Boteler who began to transform Sudeley into an enviable property, enlarging and updating the existing fabric of the building to create a place fit for royalty.

When the Lancastrians were defeated and Edward IV took the throne the Boteler family were forced out and Sudeley’s passed into the hands of a new owner, the king’s brother, Richard of Gloucester, later King Richard III.

When the tables turned again and Richard was defeated at Bosworth, Henry VII bestowed it on his loyal uncle, Jasper Tudor. After Jasper’s death Sudeley once more became crown property.

Henry VIII visited once with Anne Boleyn. They met with Thomas Cromwell there to discuss the reformation of the monasteries and took a keen interest in the Blood of Christ housed at nearby Winchcombe Abbey. After this the castle was run down and unoccupied for much of the time.

On his accession to the throne, Edward VI made his uncle, Thomas Seymour, Lord of Sudeley and after his marriage to Katheryn Parr, Seymour and his new wife made a home there.

The Seymours implemented many improvements and Katheryn took great care in choosing the décor of the nursery for their expected child. Tragically, to Thomas Seymour’s sorrow and detriment, Katheryn died scarcely a year later, having given birth to a healthy daughter, whom they named Mary. Thomas was executed for treason less than a year later and their child placed in the care of Katherine Willoughby, Duchess of Suffolk, but fades from the historical record shortly afterwards; it is likely that she died in infancy.

With Thomas’ ward, Lady Jane Grey, acting as chief mourner Katheryn was laid to rest in St Mary’s church adjacent to the castle. Today visitors to Sudeley can view a love letter and portrait gifted to the queen by her husband.

Katheryn’s step-daughter and friend, Elizabeth Tudor, later Queen Elizabeth I, visited Sudeley on three occasions during her reign. It is easy to imagine her walking in the garden, remembering her stepmother, recalling conversations and small personal details of their shared life that are now lost to history.

Sudeley’s story doesn’t end with the Tudors. During the civil war Prince Rupert made the castle his headquarters, and Charles I stayed there for a time during the campaign to take Gloucester.

During the course of the war, Sudeley passed back and forth between Royalist and Parliamentarian hands until Parliament ordered the ‘slighting’ of Sudeley making the house indefensible. The roof was removed and afterwards fell swiftly into decay. The fine worked stone was quarried by locals until the castle became nothing more than a romantic ruin. For the next two hundred years, at the mercy of the elements, it became a trysting place for lovers, or a hideaway for thieves.

In 1782, Katheryn Parr’s grave was rediscovered. The lead casket was opened and the body within reported to be 'uncorrupted'. She was reinterred in 1817 by the Rector of Sudeley and a plaque copied from the original inscription on the lead coffin was placed upon it. Today you can see a later, Victorian effigy of Katheryn on the tomb.

Sudeley remained in elegant decay until the nineteenth century when it was bought by two brothers, John and William Dent, who embarked upon a restoration project. They employed architect Sir Gilbert Scott to restore the chapel. The walls and large parts of the castle were restored and the finishing touches applied by Lady Emma Dent who spent almost fifty years restoring and filling Sudeley with fine art and historical artefacts.

The Tudor style parterre we see today is a reconstruction but it is easy to imagine Katheryn there, inhaling the scent of the flowers, the kiss of summer rain on blush pink petals.

While you move quietly between the roses, or pass through the old yew hedges you might imagine her footstep on the gravel behind you, or catch a glimpse of hanging sleeves or the flick of a scarlet kirtle as she turns a corner.

Sunday the 2nd of September 2018 Sudeley Castle is holding a Katherine Parr day! Why not visit it and see for yourself.

Photographs: Sudeley Castle property of Judith Arnopp 2018


Judith Arnopp is the author of ten historical novels including:

The Beaufort Chronicle: comprising of
The Beaufort Bride – also on Audible
The Beaufort Woman – also on Audible
The King’s Mother - coming soon on Audible
A Song of Sixpence: the story of Elizabeth of York and Perkin Warbeck – coming soon on Audible
The Kiss of the Concubine: A story of Anne Boleyn – also on Audible
The Winchester Goose: at the court of Henry VIII
Intractable Heart: the story of Katheryn Parr
The Song of Heledd
The Forest Dwellers

You can learn more about Katheryn Parr’s life in Judith's book Intractable Heart; the story of Katheryn Parr.

She is currently working on Sisters of Arden, set during the dissolution of the monasteries and the Pilgrimage of Grace. All books on Kindle and in Paperback.

For more information, see Judith Arnopp Books and her website, www.judithmarnopp.com.