Friday, November 30, 2018

Bourton-on-the-Water: Venice of the North

by Lauren Gilbert

A view of Bourton-on-the-Water taken by the author 2018

My husband and I recently returned from a wonderful trip, where we saw many places we had never previously visited. One of these places was a beautiful town in England named Bourton-on-the-Water, located in the Cotswolds. Some dear friends took us out for the day, and took us through several villages in the Malvern hills and the Cotswolds. Situated among rolling hills with cottages of buildings constructed of golden stone, some with thatched roofs, the villages of the Cotswolds are lovely and match every description I had ever read. Thanks to its beautiful setting, Bourton-on-the-Water has a special magic, and it has a fascinating history to go with it.

There are signs that people took advantage of the location well over 4000 years ago. Indications of a camp used by nomadic tribes consist of archaeological finds including arrow heads, flints, pottery going back to the Neolithic area, and even a pre-800 BC hand axe. The area along the river appears to have been permanently settled at least for defensive purposes sometime during the Iron Age, as indicated by a site called Salmonsbury Camp which remained a landmark in the area at least into medieval times. The Romans arrived in the area c AD 45. Roman remains including coins, buildings, roadwork, a well and two lead water storage tanks and indicate that a small Roman town was on this site. Roman troops left Britain in the 5th century, and the area was plundered by various tribes, including the Picts from Scotland, with the result that the Angles and the Saxons were invited in to help drive them back. This in turn led to issues with the Germanic people; data indicates that Bishop Germanus led a Christian army in 429 that defeated a military made up of both Picts and Saxons in 429 somewhere in the vicinity. Ultimately, the Saxons settled in the Cotswolds more or less peacefully, leaving the local inhabitants to mange themselves under their own systems. Bourton was mentioned in Saxon documents in the 8th century.

There has been a parish church in Bourton since the mid-7th century. The original Saxon church was said to have been built of wood on the site of a Roman temple, possibly in 708 when a gift of land was made by the Saxon king Oswin. This church was torn down and a new church , dedicated to Our Lady, was built on the Saxon foundations by the Normans about 1110. This church and others in the area were affiliated with Evesham Abbey. It appears that the first Norman church was replaced in the 14th century. It has been dedicated to St. Lawrence the martyr since 1328. A chantry dedicated to Our Blessed Lady was also added in the 14th century. The last Norman church was partially torn down in 1784, with the chancel being retained. The current Georgian structure was designed by local resident William Marshall and built on the same site. More rebuilding was completed during the Victorian era between 1875-1890 under the supervision of architect Sir Thomas Jackson.

St Lawrence's Church,
(by Nilfanion [CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

During the Middle Ages, thanks to the river and the fertile land, farming expanded, as did trade. A successful wool trade resulted in the employment of two weavers, and the village also boasted a cobbler and a smith, as well as various other craftsmen. In 1381, there were 118 residents who paid poll tax. Although the Black Death troubled England from approximately 1348 to 1378, there is no record of its effect on the village. “On the Water” was not added to the name until the reign of Henry VIII. As with other parts of England, the effects on local religion with Henry VIII’s break with the Roman Catholic church and the dissolution of the monasteries, the restoration of Catholicism under Queen Mary Tudor, and the return to Protestantism under Elizabeth I were felt. As dissenting religious groups (particularly the Puritans) became established and more vocal and the Stuart kings appeared more tolerant of Catholicism, things came to a head under Charles I, largely due to taxes imposed by the king without Parliament, resulting in civil war. Armies from both sides passed through the area, although there is no indication that fighting occurred Bourton itself. King Charles and his remaining troops did stay in Bourton for one night in June 1644 after fleeing from Oxford. Charles surrendered May 6, 1646 and was executed January 30, 1649.

After the Civil War, Bourton was known to have a population of Catholics living in the area. There were also a number of nonconformists, including Puritans and Baptists (the Baptist community appears to have been established locally around 1650). Charles Stuart, Prince of Wales, was invited back to England in 1660 and was proclaimed King Charles II May 8, 1660. As a result of the restoration, tension rose between the Anglican Church and the dissenting communities. In 1660, a minister named Anthony Palmer was removed from the parish church and ejected from the Anglican Communion. He subsequently became minister to the local Congregationalists. Records indicate that, by 1676, Bourton had greater numbers of dissenters than any other community in the Stow deanery (of which Bourton was a part). Anabaptists and Presbyterians also established communities.

In August of 1876, the Baptist community in Bourton-on-the-Water opened a large new church and significantly increased its membership. While these developments occurred, the village grew and prospered. The village developed an established and prosperous middle class of business and trades people, the larger portion of whom were not Anglican. Shoemaking became a major industry of the town as the wool trade waned. The railway came through the town, with the last link completed in 1881.

Victoria Hall was built in Bourton-on-the-Water in 1897 by subscription, to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Jubilee (60 years on the throne 1837-1897). It was and still is the centre of village activities today. It boasts two plaques, one commemorating Victoria’s Jubilee, and a second honouring Queen Elizabeth II’s Jubilee (60 years on the throne 1952-2012) that were erected in 2012. The railroad and subsequent development of automobile traffic brought a thriving tourist trade to the Cotswolds, and thus to Bourton-on-the-Water. Rather than its history (of which I have touched only on parts), Bourton-on-the-Water’s lovely setting on the Windrush River, beautiful stone buildings and five stone bridges that made it a favoured destination for tourists, which it is to this day. It’s no wonder that Bourton-on-the-Water is listed as one of England’s “Venice of the North” cities.

Victoria Hall (on the right) taken by the author 2018

Sources include:

Wray, Tony and Stratford, David. Bourton on the Water. (Towns and Villages of England) Sutton Publishing Limited: Gloucestershire, 1994, reprinted 2004.

Britain Express. “Bourton on the Water, Gloucestershire” by David Ross.  HERE

British History Online. “Parishes: Bourton-on-the-Water.” From A History of the County of Gloucester: Volume 6. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1965, Pages 33-49.

Cotswolds.Info “History of Bourton-on-the-Water” by Ralph Green. HERE

Historic England. “Iron Age fortified enclosure known as Salmonsbury Camp.”  HERE

Know Britain. “The Church of St. Lawrence Bourton-on-the-Water.” HERE

About the Author:
Lauren Gilbert, author of HEYERWOOD: A Novel, holds a bachelor of arts degree in English, and is a long-time member of the Jane Austen Society of North America.  Her second novel, A RATIONAL ATTACHMENT is in process and she is engaged in research for a biography.  She lives in Florida with her husband.  You can find out more on her Amazon page.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Cynethryth, a Powerful Queen of the Mercians

By Kim Rendfeld

Queen Cynethryth had an exalted status during her husband’s reign and enjoyed seeing her son succeed his father, a rarity in 8th-century Mercia. Yet she would also see the dynasty she and her husband desired fall apart.

Alcuin, a scholar in Charlemagne’s court, described her as the controller of the royal household, a role akin to a treasurer and chief of staff for the kings—traditional for early medieval queens. She likely managed the properties of the many religious houses her husband founded and got papal permission to control.

Yet she had something unique: her image graces a coin minted during her husband’s reign. It was common for kings to assert their authority by having their image imprinted on currency. Cynethryth is the only known Anglo-Saxon queen to do so. Perhaps, she and her husband were inspired by the Byzantines, who minted coins with the image of Empress Mother Irene.

Cynethryth penny (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Cynethryth’s husband was Mercian King Offa. Although he had a reputation for ruthlessness, he knew how to play by the rules, at least when it served to his advantage. Unlike his predecessor, his kinsman Æthelbald (accused of fornication, including acts with nuns), Offa wanted the Church’s approval for his relationship with one woman—and only one woman—to ensure his offspring would inherit the crown. Offa knew that special woman, the mother of his children, should be queen of the Mercians, endowed with a royal status.

Offa apparently was a steadfast husband. He had no children born outside wedlock. True, the Church preached against sex outside marriage, but for men, it wasn’t a big deal. All a father had to do was acknowledge and support the child. Perhaps, Offa was faithful because he was fond of Cynethryth. He definitely wanted to limit the number of claimants to the throne and took the necessary, and maybe murderous, steps.

Presumably, Offa and Cynethryth wed for political reasons. We don’t know Cynethryth’s parents or her age. Her name is similar to 7th-century King Penda’s wife and daughters, so she likely came from a prestigious family. We don’t know exactly when the couple married, but her name starts to appear on charters around 770, where she identified herself as the mother of the heir to the throne, Ecgfrith.

Women in that era typically were teenagers when they married, some as young as 12 or 13. She might have been born a few years before Offa seized the throne. Æthelbald had been murdered in 757, and Offa drove away a rival shortly thereafter. Considering that Offa ruled for almost 40 years, he was probably a young man at the time. If he married around 769, he might have been in his 30s and thinking about the future.

By 770, Offa had imposed himself as overlord of Kent, taking advantage of a succession crisis there. Or, from his point of view, reasserting the Mercian rule his predecessor had established. He might have seen Cynethryth as the woman who shared his ambition for Mercia and would support his conquests. After their son’s birth, Offa continued expanding his territory into Sussex and the Hwicce.

Coin with Offa's image (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Who Cynethryth was as a woman is hard to say. During her lifetime, the scholar Alcuin advised Ecgfrith to learn piety from his mother. After Cynethryth’s death—long after—she is accused of being as ruthless as her husband in ordering the execution of a visiting East Anglian king. In reality, her husband might have been responsible, for political reasons. But then again, Cynethryth very well could have supported her husband. Medieval women were ambitious.

In addition to the son, Offa and Cynethryth had three daughters, Æthelburh, Eadburh, and Ælfflæd. The couple put their daughters in positions of influence. Æthelburh was an abbess who corresponded with Alcuin. Eadburh wed Beorhtric, king of Wessex. The marriage solidified Beorhtric’s claim to his throne, and the father- and son-in-law drove out Ecgberht, son of Kentish King Ealhmund and a rival for the West Saxon crown. Ælfflæd married Northumbrian King Æthelred I.

In 787, Ecgfrith was crowned co-ruler with his father, a move that ensured his succession. After Offa died on July 29, 796, Cynethryth remained at court. Her son would die before the year was over. The cause of his death remain unknown, but I suspect it was not natural causes. Her son-in-law Æthelred was murdered that year, leaving Ælfflæd a widow. We don’t know whether Cynethryth lived to see Eadburh become a widow when her husband (likely) died in battle in 802 (likely) at Ecgberht’s hand. (Decades later, Alfred the Great’s biographer, Asser, accused Eadburh of accidentally poisoning her husband while trying to kill someone else. His account is highly suspicious for many reasons, including that Alfred was Ecgberht’s grandson.)

After Ecgfrith died, Cynethryth took the veil and became abbess of Cookham (in Berkshire), one of the religious houses her husband founded and bequeathed to her. Perhaps a sign of the couple’s affection is where Cynethryth chose to retire. Cookham was close to Bedford, where Offa was buried.

The Thames at Cookham (by Sebastian Ballard,
  CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons)


Oxford National Biography
“Offa” by S.E. Kelly
“Cynethryth” by S.E. Kelly

“Political Women in Mercia” by Pauline Stafford, Mercia: An Anglo-Saxon Kingdom in Europe

Carolingian Connections: Anglo-Saxon England and Carolingian Francia, c. 750–870 by Joanna Story

In Kim Rendfeld's Queen of the Darkest Hour, Queen Fastrada must stop a conspiracy before it destroys everyone and everything she loves. The book is available on Amazon, iBooks, Barnes & NobleKobo, and Smashwords.

Kim has written two other books 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, her blog, Outtakes of a Historical Novelist at, on Facebook at, or follow her on Twitter at @kimrendfeld.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Editors Weekly Round-up, November 25, 2018

by the EHFA Editors

Two special posts from the archives this week. Enjoy!

by Lauren Gilbert

by Kim Rendfeld

We are delighted that English Historical Fiction Authors has been named one of the Top 35 Historical Book Blogs, Websites and Newsletters. Check the post to see that we are in excellent company.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Thanksgiving Dinner for 142

By Kim Rendfeld

The first Thanksgiving was a three-day feast, so today would be the equivalent of day two of the 1621 event for what was then an English settlement.

The First Thanksgiving, Jean Leon Gerome Ferris,
circa 1912 to 1915 (public domain image via Wikimedia Commons)
At the party were 52 English people and 90 Wampanoag guests. That’s right. The guests outnumbered the hosts. The cooks among the settlers: the four surviving married women, five teenage girls, and a maidservant.

Many traditions we associate with Thanksgiving are from the 19th century. It wasn’t even an annual holiday until President Abraham Lincoln designated it in 1863.

In the 17th century, the settlers didn’t know they were setting a precedent, which likely occurred between September 21 and November 11. They were just glad to be alive after a year of hunger and hardship, and they wanted to celebrate with food and recreation.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service photo of wild turkey flock
According to settler Edward Winslow, four Englishmen had gone fowling and killed enough to feed the settlers for a week. The Wampanoag guests stopped by, were entertained for three days, and contributed five deer (about 360 pounds of venison if they bagged mature bucks).

The fare was not as portrayed in Standish of Standish: A Story of the Pilgrims, an 1889 novel by Jane Goodwin Austin (an account later taught as part of school curricula). Among other things, Austin describes a long table laden with stew, clam chowder, turnips, oysters, venison, ale and root beer, hasty pudding, and of course a turkey, only stuffed with beechnuts instead of bread.

USDA photo by Scott Bauer, via Wikimedia Commons
The real menu probably had fowl, venison, corn (also called maize), ale, and perhaps cod and a pudding made from goat’s milk. It’s possible the fowl was wild turkey – the Plymouth Plantation is in its range – but the area also supported geese, ducks, and passenger pigeons.

The tale of two disparate peoples coming together to celebrate has been mythologized over the centuries. Still, I must admit I love this story of friendship and fellowship, even though I feel sorry for the women who had to cook for all those people.


The First Thanksgiving,” Christian Science Monitor

Butcher & Packer

Eating History, Andrew F Smith

A Thousand Years over a Hot Stove, Laura Schenone

[This post is an Editor's Choice first published on the blog on 28 November 2013]

Kim Rendfeld’s novels take place in eighth-century Francia, long before the first Thanksgiving. She is the author of The Cross and the Dragon (2012, Fireship Press) and  The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar (forthcoming, Fireship Press). For more about Kim and her fiction, visit or her blog, Outtakes. You can also connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Lady Elinor Fettiplace and Her Receipt Book

by Lauren Gilbert

Laid Table by Nicholas Gillis, 1611

Old cookbooks and women’s household books or receipt books from times past are fascinating to me. So much “real people” information is to be found there: what they ate and when they ate it, how they celebrated, how they treated sickness or injury and which of those concerned them most, and other personal details of daily life can be found in these books. Women were responsible for the health, welfare, and feeding of their families, which at the wealthier end of the spectrum, included employees and visitors (uninvited as well as invited). Recipes were collected from friends and relatives and added to personal collections. The mistress of the household had to know what ingredients should be used and how dishes should be prepared (even if she did not do the cooking), make sure that medicinals and home remedies were properly prepared and available for use when needed, and that the supplies needed were available and techniques for completing tasks were known for household chores like laundry. Initially, these books were compiled by and for wealthy women (education being limited), but can still provide a view of their times that can illuminate the lives of people in general. One of the earliest of these books is the receipt book of Lady Elinor Fettiplace, of 1604.

Borne Elinor Poole c1570-1574, probably in Gloucestershire, to Sir Henry Poole of Gloucestershire and his wife Anne Wroughton (daughter of Sir William Wroughton of Wiltshire), Elinor was born into a family of “new men” making their fortune in the Tudor era by judicious marriages, holding positions with benefits and making themselves agreeable to important people. (The wool trade also helped.) Her paternal grandmother was a descendant of Sir Richard Whittington, a wealthy merchant who was Lord Mayor of London four times (and the inspiration for the story about Dick Whittington and his cat). Her paternal grandfather Sir Giles Poole was one of Henry VIII’s gentleman pensioners and prospered under all three of Henry’s children. (There was a family connection with the Earl of Leicester.) Her mother’s family prospered in a similar fashion. Other marriage connections included the Thynne family as well as Sir Walter Raleigh.

The Fettiplace family was an ancient line, which supposedly served William the Conqueror. Fettiplaces held various positions at court in the 13th, 14th and 15th century. They too made advantageous marriages and acquired large land holdings (at one point rumoured to hold 13 counties). At the time Elinor Poole married Richard Fettiplace in 1589, the Fettiplace name and land holdings were still impressive, but the family fortune was more uncertain. In February of 1589, her grandfather Sir Giles Poole died and left her a marriage portion of 400 pounds. It appears that, in their part of the marriage agreements, the Fettiplaces had to settle debts, which involved selling a certain amount of property. However, after the wedding of Elinor to Richard (later in 1589 after her grandfather’s death), influence by both sides got Richard invited to an important wedding at which Queen Elizabeth I was present in June of 1600. He was knighted during the celebrations. In 1604, Elinor wrote her name in her book of receipts with that year. The basic recording of the recipes themselves was apparently the work of a scribe, but she made notes herself. It’s important to realize that literacy among women was not particularly prized during this time; her ability to read and write (including knowledge of Latin) argues a more extensive education than was common even among upper-class women of this time.

The couple lived at Appleton Manor, near Oxford, where she would eventually have been responsible for the normal duties of the mistress of the house and prepared to manage the rest of the estate in her husband’s absence. The family in residence appears to have included Richard’s father Sir Bessell Fettiplace and mother (called Elinor or Helen) and his younger brothers and sisters. Elinor and Richard had 2 sons, John (the heir) born about 1589 and a younger son Henry born in 1602 about whom nothing else is known, as well as a daughter Anne born about 1594 who died in 1609. In between, there were 2 other daughters who did not survive infancy. It seems likely that Henry died in infancy or as a very small child, but his fate is not known. In 1603, Richard attended the coronation of King James, which indicated his holding a position of some influence. Son John was married in 1606 to his cousin Margaret Fettiplace. The young couple also lived at Appleton and had a son the next year.

Sir Bessells died in 1609 at which point Sir Richard came into his own, making Elinor the mistress of the household. (It appears that Richard’s mother retired on her jointure, making way for Elinor.) At this point, there was a multi-generational family living together (whether at Appleton Manor or at another family property) plus servants. Normally this would include a steward, a butler, a cook, a gardener, personal servants, and assistants to the others; similar households numbered as many as 100 or more persons. In addition to that, such households were responsible for providing hospitality to travelers and others, and assistance to local poor. Being an age of conspicuous consumption, Sir Richard and Lady Elinor Fettiplace would have been expected to “keep up with the Joneses” and maintain a similar standard of hospitality as that of their relatives and peers, many of whom were in high places indeed. Plague and other illnesses would also have to be dealt with. Elinor’s receipts included a plague remedy going back to Henry VIII and a herbal poultice from Dr. Thomas Muffet, scientist (whose daughter was the inspiration of Little Miss Muffet), as well as receipts for elegant cuisine (including a sweet potato dish attributed to Sir Walter Raleigh), and instructions for proper laundering of silk, whitening clothes and to prepare leather to be perfumed (perfumed gloves being a popular gift during the Elizabethan era).

Sir Richard Fettiplace died in 1615, leaving Elinor a widow. It appears she left Appleton Manor, retiring to her dower property (apparently near her family), leaving Appleton to her son and his wife and 4 children. She also spent considerable time at her father’s seat, Sapperton House. Her father Sir Henry Poole died in 1616 and left Elinor another 500 pounds and his coach. Sadly, Elinor’s son John died in 1619. At some point, Elinor married Edward Rogers, apparently a commoner known only as a citizen of Gloucestershire. This marriage appeared to be of fairly short duration. He died in 1623 and was buried at Sapperton church, leaving his entire estate to Elinor except for some bequests. After his death, Elinor lived on as a widow until her own death in 1647, which also appeared to have occurred in Sapperton. At her death, Lady Fettiplace left her book to her niece Anne, daughter of Sir Henry Poole the younger (her brother). The book was written in by other hands as it was passed on through the family and back to Fettiplace descendants until that branch of the family became extinct in the 18th century. It came into the hands of Hilary Spurling (author and theatre critic), as it was in the possession of one of her husband’s great-aunts. Ms. Spurling was fascinated by the book as a historical document. She put together a wonderful volume containing family information, historical context and the recipes themselves, as they were recorded (with Elinor’s notes where made) and then explains how to make these dishes today. This book gives an eye-opening view of Tudor and Elizabethan cuisine.

The original book itself (which I have not seen, unfortunately) is bound in leather and written on fine paper, with the Poole coat of arms stamped in gold on the cover. I do have Ms. Spurling’s book. The recipes are by month in her work, which illustrates the seasonality of food at that time. The recipes included some that appear to have been accumulated from times past (it was not unusual for a mother’s book to be copied and given to her daughter or daughter’s at the time of her marriage, then added to) as well as contemporary recipes. Spices were used differently than in medieval tradition, with a lighter hand. Citrus fruits were used, and lemon juice appeared. More vegetables were used, including imports such as the sweet potato. (I always envisioned lots of bread and meat, but not so many vegetables.) The recipes also indicated a level of knowledge of techniques that surprised me. Lady Fettiplace’s recipe “To Make White Bisket Bread” involves sugar, a small amount of flour, beaten whites of eggs and some crushed aniseed, combined together, formed into “coffins” (crusts) and baked; this is a recipe for meringues, which were not supposed to have been known (at least in England) in 1604. Clearly, Elizabethan cuisine was more sophisticated than many people believed. Ms. Spurling included suggestions for modern cooks and tried many of them successfully, as have others. Some of the more exotic ingredients such as rose water and ambergris are available (although not necessarily at the grocery store) and make it possible at least have an idea of what these foods might have tasted like. I plan to have a go myself. (The sweet potatoes sound especially nice, especially for Thanksgiving!)

Sources include:

Spurling, Hilary. ELINOR FETTIPLACES’S RECEIPT BOOK English Country House Cooking. 1987: Penguin Books, Middlesex.

Dickson Wright, Clarissa. A HISTORY OF ENGLISH FOOD. 2011: Random House, London.

David Nash Ford’s Royal Berkshire History. “Elinor Poole, Lady Fettiplace.” 2008. HERE

Epicurean Piranha. “The Magic of Meringue!” Posted September 10, 2012. HERE

Lost Past Remembered. “Elinor Fettiplace, Walter Raleigh’s Rose Sweet Potatoes, and an Excellent Negus,” posted by Deana Sidney on November 24, 2010. HERE

Image: Wikimedia Commons. "Laid Table" by Nicholas Gillis, 1611 (Public Domain). HERE

Image: Cover of ELINOR FETTIPLACE'S RECEIPT BOOK by Hilary Spurling-picture taken by Lauren Gilbert of her copy of the book.


Lauren Gilbert, author of HEYERWOOD: A Novel, lives in Florida and loves old cookbooks. She is working on A RATIONAL ATTACHMENT, due out soon.

Visit her website at for more information about her.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Lady Charlotte Guest - Victorian powerhouse of myth and iron

by Deborah Swift

Next weekend* I am booked to give a talk on the Mabinogion, the extraordinary collection of Welsh myths that were first brought to prominence in England by Lady Charlotte Guest. Not only are the myths fascinating, but Charlotte Guest was quite a phenomenon herself.

Charlotte Guest

Born Charlotte Bertie in May 1812, she was the eldest child of the ninth Earl of Lindsay of Lincolnshire, and was brought up at Uffington House, a large country estate. When she was six years old, her father died and her mother remarried a vicar, a man whom she disliked intensely. Charlotte was a bookish and intelligent child, and being educated at home, her only escape was into literature. She soon taught herself several languages, including Arabic, Hebrew and Persian. She began keeping a journal when she was nine, and so we know a lot about her life, because she carried on writing it for another seventy years - until she was was seventy-nine! 

Page from Charlotte Guest's Diary

Her interest in Wales and its history began after meeting the MP for Merthyr Tydfil,  John Josiah Guest.  Full of vitality and energy, Josiah ran the largest ironworks in the country, the Dowlais Iron Company, which employed 7,000 workers. In 1833 Charlotte and John were married. Charlotte took a keen interest in the business, and in the welfare and education of the workers. Moreover, she was keen to escape the oppression of her step-father and Wales was suitably far from her family home.

Ever a keen linguist, she launched herself into learning Welsh. At that time there was a romantic revival and a strong interest in Arthurian legends. Charlotte began translating some Medieval Welsh tales into English. These tales were part of an oral tradition, and drawn from the written sources of the Llyfr Coch o Hergest, or Red Book of Hergest. Her translations included the four branches of the Mabinogi, three Arthurian Romances, and a translation of the well-known myth Taliesin

The Lady of the Fountain  (an Arthurian tale) was first published in 1838, and in 1849 the collected tales appeared as The Mabinogion in a lavishly illustrated edition. Since then they have been widely studied by poets such as Tennyson and scholars of Welsh and Celtic mythology, as well as those interested in the spiritual and wisdom traditions they embody. The myths are much-loved by illustrators too, trying to capture the unknowable in paint.

Click picture for more great
illustrations by Lee

Back to Charlotte Guest.  Not content with documenting the ancient tribes of Britain, Lady Charlotte also produced her own tribe - ten children: five boys and five girls. She was ambitious for her children, marrying them into the aristocracy and ensuring their education through the schools she endowed (the Dowlais Central Schools cost £20,000 to build - an enormous sum in the Victorian era.) This area of Wales was heavily influenced by Chartism, and these principles were evident in Charlotte Guest's educational ideals for her workforce.

On her husband's death she became the only active trustee of the ironworks, and ran the business. Astute and energetic, she insisted on being in control. This included negotiating terms when the men went on strike, and dealing with dissatisfied workers who in those times were unused to being ordered by a woman. One cannot help but think, that the models of the powerful women in the tales from the Mabinogion must have proved an inspiration to her when faced with these difficulties.

Dowlais House, centre of Charlotte Guest's empire

Two years later Charlotte fell in love with her son's classics tutor, Charles Schreiber. They shared a passion for history and collecting ceramics, and from then on they travelled the continent collecting, as many wealthy Victorians did. Their collections were left to the nation and are housed in the V&A, where there is a 'Schreiber' Room, and in the British Museum, which houses her collection of playing cards and fans. In 1891 she became the first woman to receive the freedom of the Worshipful Company of Fanmakers. 

Below - an unmounted fan-leaf,  painted for the occasion of the Schreibers' silver wedding anniversary in 1880, now in the British Museum.

Lady Charlotte died in 1895 but it wasn't until 1950 that her grandson, the Earl of Bessborough, published edited highlights from her diaries. The originals are now housed in the National Library of Wales. 

Charlotte Guest is chiefly remembered for her translations of the Mabinogion, from which we receive most of our knowledge about Welsh mythology, including the story of Rhiannon, the tale of the mysterious mound that leads to the Otherworld, Bran and the ravens that now roost in the Tower of London, about Arianrhod and her turning wheel of stars. Although many now take issue with Guest's translations, without her a whole generation of people would have had the door to these wisdom stories closed to them.

Work with the myths and stories of the Mabinogion still goes on, and new translations have appeared and continue to do so, proving that good stories always outlast those that tell them.

Watch a BBC video about The Mabinogion
The Dancing Floor Film - new film based on Mabinogion Myths

The Mabinogion - translations by Guest, Davies, Jones
National Library of Wales

* This post is an Editors' Choice post, originally published on this blog on 16 March 2016


Deborah Swift is the author of seven novels for adults and a trilogy for young adults. She lives in the North of England close to the mountains and the sea. Follow her on Twitter @swiftstory or find her on her website

Monday, November 12, 2018

Early Education of up-and-coming Gentlemen

by Maria Grace
"In all well-regulated states, the two principal points in view in the education of youth, ought to be, first, to make them good men, good members of the universal society of mankind; and in the next place to frame their minds in such a manner, as to make them most useful to that society to which they more immediately belong; and to shape their talents, in such a way, as will render them most serviceable to the support of that government, under which they were born, and on the strength and vigour of which, the well-being of every individual, in some measure depends." (Sheridan, 1756)
Although sentiments for the education of youth (read here, male youth; female education would not be considered worthwhile yet for quite some time), no one really argued for state-provided education for middle and upper-class children before 1850. (Brown, 2011) That was left entirely in the hands of the parents. Although considerable effort and activity went into educating these children, it was hardly standardized. How a young boy was educated depended entirely on the preferences and means of his family.

Early education

On the whole, early education in the home was preferred. Mothers and governesses would provide a boy’s first education, often teaching him the basics of reading and writing. Usually by the age of seven, he would graduate from being taught by women to being educated by men. There were no standards of how this worked though. The specific details varied by family and by social class.

A male tutor might be brought into the home to teach the child, preparing him for the next step in his education. This could continue for just a few years until the boy was deemed ready for a boarding school, or it could continue until he was ready for university study, depending on the educational philosophy of the family, usually the father. (Selwyn 2010)

Alternatively, a boy might be sent to a local scholar, often a clergyman, for lessons as a day student. Many clergymen also took such students on as boarders, running small schools to supplement their income teaching anywhere for half a dozen to two dozen students.

Preparatory Schools

These smaller schools which routinely took boys in the 7 to 13-year-old age range were often referred to as preparatory schools, preparing boys for the larger public schools that often preceded entry into the universities.

These schools were usually held in the schoolmaster’s home. Jane Austen’s father, Rev. George Austen conducted such a school out of the vicarage in Steventon beginning in 1793. His living as a vicar was £230 a year. He charged £35 per term for each of his student boarders. It is easy to see how taking even just a few students could substantially augment his family’s income. The work though did not fall on him alone. His wife cooked, cleaned, sewed, and mother-henned the boys in her care, much like a surrogate mother. (Sanborrn, 2016)

In larger schools where the teaching staff consisted of ordained clergymen, teachers could make as much as £200-400 a year, giving them a comfortable middle-class income. (Davidoff 2002) Headmasters in such schools, especially if scholars themselves, might enjoy a position of respect and distinction in local society. (Selwyn 2010)

By modern standards, preparatory school curriculum was very limited. It consisted mainly of Latin and Greek classical texts (both prose and verse), modern and ancient history, some mathematics, and the use of globes to locate nations. French and Italian might be taught as extras (for additional fees), along with handwriting, dancing, drawing and a smattering of scientific subjects. (Le Faye, 2002) No curriculum standards existed, so what might actually be taught varied widely and there was no guarantee that a particular teacher was actually well versed in the subjects he taught.

Teachers in these preparatory schools were most often clergymen or failed ordinals. There were far more men ordained than there were livings to provide for them. In 1805, it was estimated that up to 45% of those ordained never found a church living and were forced to work as (usually highly underpaid) curates for men who had a living or to try their hand at teaching or take up another occupation entirely outside the church (Southam, 2005). After their education in these preparatory schools, boys might then progress to a public school.

Public Schools

Public schools were public in the sense that boys were taught in groups outside of their private homes, not in the sense that these institutions were funded by public funds. A number of public schools existed, but the landed elite, in particular, chose to send their sons to a select number of these schools: Eton, Harrow, Winchester, Westminster, Rugby, Charterhouse and Shrewsbury. (Adkins, 2013) The exact timing and duration of a boy’s stay at school varied greatly. Some were sent as young as age seven and stayed until age eighteen. More commonly boys started public schools around age thirteen and stayed about five years.

Though Regency era education was very different from modern education, two factors, in particular, seem to distinguish it most from modern schooling: the curriculum taught and the lifestyle of the students.

What was Taught

In his 1693 treatise, Some Thoughts Concerning Education, John Locke recommended that instruction in foreign languages (beginning with a living language like French) should start as soon as a boy could speak English. Locke considered Latin and Greek to be absolutely essential to a gentleman’s education, enabling him to read classical literature. In addition, he endorsed the study of geography, astronomy, anatomy, chronology, history, mathematics and geometry. (Morris, 2015).

Based on Locke’s foundations, students were expected to know some Latin upon arrival to public school. “The first two years of their education was entirely a study of Latin–memorizing, reciting, reading, and answering set questions in that language, so pronunciation too.… Thus they learned to be confident public speakers, first in Latin, then in classical Greek and finally in English.” (Bennetts 2010) These studies also developed an understanding of the moral and philosophical issues brought up by classical thinkers and a literary appreciation of poetry and prose. Dancing, fencing, and other sports also featured in some curriculums.

What was notably absent from both public school and university educations were courses on anything the modern mind would consider practical. Since these establishments catered to gentlemen who were not destined to actually work for their living, courses like bookkeeping or land management that might equip them for jobs (oh the horror!) were relegated to schools that catered to the sons of men in trade. (Selwyn 2010)

Life in public school

Students at public schools either boarded at the school itself or in town at boarding houses known as ‘Dame’s Houses’ usually overseen by a ‘Dame’ or landlady. In the early 1800s, about thirteen such houses were associated with Eton. Although school life was very regimented, with school days running from six in the morning until eight in the evening, there was actually very little direct supervision over the boys. They were often left to fend for themselves. Once they entered public school, most boys spent the majority of their year at school, with only a few weeks of holidays spent back home during the year.

With a strong economic incentive to admit as many students as possible, public schools were often so crowded that even beds were shared by two or more boys at the same time. The same incentives also influenced the quantity and quality of food made available to the students. Those with pocket money frequently supplemented their rations at local shops. (Brander, 1973)

Under such conditions, it was no surprise that public school culture was wild. Almost no limits were placed to the amount the boys could drink, gamble, fight and indulge any sexual bent with maidservants, local prostitutes, and girls living in town. Even the institution of prefects (older boys in charge of younger ones) did little to curb the out of control behavior. “ … Most schools suffered occasional rebellions, or mutinies, resulting in mass expulsions or floggings. In 1797, Dr. Ingles, headmaster of Rugby, had his door blown open by gunpowder. The boys at Harrow were even more ambitious, setting up a roadblock and blowing up one of the governor's carriage.” (Brander, 1973)

Bullying and Brutality

Not only was dissolute, licentious behavior the norm, bullying and brutality were expected. Corporal punishment consisting of flogging with a birch, or caning with a rod until blood was drawn from the bare buttocks, was regarded as the normal and accepted punishment for transgressions. Such punishments were frequently delivered in public, adding additional humiliation to the experience.

Not only was brutality dished out from the masters to the students, older boys were put in charge of younger ones and permitted to order them about and punish them with beatings just as the schoolmasters did. Depending on the sorts of friends a boy did or did not make and how he got on with others, especially older students, a boy’s public school years could be very testing indeed.

Why was it tolerated?

If public schools could be so bad, why did not parents intervene? Why would a father who had suffered through such school days send his son into a place that brutalized him?

In short, such an environment was regarded as essential for inculcating the toughness and fortitude men needed to perform their social roles. “Educators and parents subscribed to the principle that one was fit to command only after one had learned to obey. And those young boys of the gentry and nobility were there to learn their place and destiny in England's highly structured society.” (Laudermilk, 1989)

So, even if a boy had been able to appeal to parents for help, he would have been unlikely to receive either assistance or sympathy. At a very tender age, he was literally on his own, to survive the experience in whatever way he could. Is it any wonder that the friends a boy made during his time in public school were often strong allies for a lifetime?


Adkins, Roy, and Lesley Adkins. Jane Austen's England. Viking, 2013.

Austen, Jane, and David M. Shapard. The Annotated Persuasion. New York: Anchor Books, 2010.

Bennetts, M.M. A gentleman’s education. M.M. Bennets. July 20, 2010. Accessed October 5, 2016.

Brander, Michael. The Georgian Gentleman. Glasgow: University Press, 1973.

Brown, Richard. Educating the middle-classes 1800-1870. Looking at History. Accessed October 29, 2016.>

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

Day, Malcom. Voices from the World of Jane Austen. David and Charles, 2006.

Evans, Bronwen. Eton College During the Regency Era. Collette Cameron. May, 9, 2015. Accessed October 3, 2016.

Glover, Anne. Regency Culture and Society: Harrow. Regency Reader. November, 15, 2013. Accessed October 10, 2016.

Laudermilk, Sharon H., and Teresa L. Hamlin. The Regency Companion. New York: Garland, 1989.

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

Locke, John. Some Thoughts concerning Education. London, 1693.

Morris, Diane H. “I Am Illiterate by Regency Standards.” Moorgate Books. Thursday, October 8, 2015. Accessed May 22, 2017.

Sanborn, Vic. "19th Century Learning Academies and Boarding Schools: An Eyewitness Account" Jane Austen’s World. August 1, 20012. Accessed October 28, 2016.

Selwyn, David. Jane Austen and children. London: Continuum, 2010.

Sheridan, Thomas. British Education. London: R. and J. Dodeley, 1756.

Southam, Brian . “Professions,” in Jane Austen in Context edited by Janet Todd, p 366-376. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2005.

Sullivan, Margaret C., and Kathryn Rathke. The Jane Austen Handbook: Proper Life Skills from Regency England. Philadelphia, PA: Quirk Books, 2007.


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

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

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

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Editor's Weekly Round-up, November 11, 2018

by the EHFA Editors

Join us every week on English Historical Fiction Authors. We have saints and sinners, politics and war. Read about kings, queens, the common man and woman, and legends from ancient to post-WWII.

Linda Root takes the spotlight in this week's round-up. Enjoy!

Monday, November 5, 2018

The Man in the Tower Suite ~ Henry Percy, the Ninth Earl of Northumberland

by Linda Root

Henry Percy, Ninth Earl of Northumberland, {{PD-Art}}

For seventeen years (1605-1622)  the Martin Tower Suite in the Tower of London complex housed a most illustrious guest. He was a gentleman of high fashion,  undisputed good looks, and a keen intellect, loyal to his friends and congenial to his hosts. We can hardly call his keepers jailers since they went to considerable lengths to assure his comfort and entertainment.

There are 21 towers in the complex known as the Tower of London and vague records as to which prisoners were housed in which ones. However, the Ninth Earl of Northumberland Henry Percy's occupancy of the Martin Tower was well known. Apparently, his rooms occupied most if not all of it.  He entertained often and lavishly and used it as the center of operations for his widespread business enterprises. Among his frequent guests were his son and heir, his pet fox and Sir Walter Raleigh. From his arrival at his lodgings on the 27th of November, 1605, the man his contemporaries called The Wizard Earl made himself very much at home. November 1605 was the month of the Gunpowder Treason, which brought Northumberland to the Tower. If rumors circulating in 1622 held a modicum of truth, when he was released, he was loathed to leave.

At one point the Northumberland apartment housed much of his celebrated library. His was one of the largest collections of books in Britain. They covered a broad range of topics, many related to his strong interest in alchemy.  His interest in natural philosophy, what we call science, earned him the moniker The Wizard Earl.

By the time of his arrest in 1605, Percy had adopted an urban lifestyle and made Sion House in Isleworth, a London suburb, his principal residence.  The magnificent mansion was inherited through his wife Dorothy Devereux, daughter of the Earl of Essex.  It remains in the family to this day.


Earlier, as a young man living in Paris, he had been captured by a young man's traditional fancies--the riding, the hunt, the gaming, and the many mistresses, he confessed.  But he professed to having returned to  England with only one mistress claiming him, and that was Knowledge.

Northumberland was drawn into the Gunpowder Treason investigation due to his association with his second cousin Thomas Percy, indisputably one of the principals in the plot.  1605 was not the first time the earl's conduct regarding Cousin Tom got him into trouble.  He had made him Constable of Alnwyck, the Percy ancestral home in Northumberland, with it many acres of adjoining farm land. Alnwyck was but one of many of his real estate holdings in Northumberland, an income producing enterprise for the Earl.

Wikimedia Commons

No one is quite certain as to why Northumberland chose Thomas Percy as its overseer. In addition to making him his Constable, he gave Thomas Percy control over his accounts and the responsibility for collecting revenues and land rents.  Accusations from the tenants of misappropriation of rents and other acts of overreaching abounded, but the earl did not investigate. Charges were actually brought against Thomas by his benefactor's tenants, and they, too, were overlooked.

J.M.W. Turner -Wikimedia Commons -{{PD-=Art}}

Tom Percy was also involved with Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex in a failed murder plot targeting the warden of the Scottish Middle Marches, none other than the firebrand reiver laird Robert Kerr of Cessford, who later became Baron Roxburghe, one of King James I's favorites. Sir Robert Kerr of Cessford was both anti-Catholic and anti-Marian, which put him at odds with Percy and Essex.

In spite of his controversial conduct, in 1601 Thomas accompanied Northumberland on a military expedition to the Low Countries where he is said to have comported himself well. Northumberland received some criticism, possibly from Lord Robert Cecil, for having given Percy positions for which he should have been vetted without requiring him to attest to his religion or sign a Declaration of Faith. Thus, even before the Gunpowder Treason was uncovered, Northumberland's lenient treatment of his cousin had placed him at odds with Cecil, an avid anti-papist like his father Lord Burghley had been.

Northumberland had been raised in his aunt's house as a Protestant but was believed by many to be sympathetic to the Catholic cause. There were also rumors that Cousin Thomas was more than a cousin, perhaps an illegitimate brother. Thomas Percy, like the other principals in the Gunpowder Treason, was a militant Papist to a degree his powerful cousin either did not admit or truly did not realize.

For those unfamiliar with the scheme, the purpose behind the Gunpowder Plot was to replace King James I with a sovereign sympathetic to the Catholic cause but palatable enough to English Protestants to avoid civil war. That pointed to another Stuart. There is no direct evidence that Northumberland was personally involved in the conspiracy, but there is a strong suspicion the plotters had reserved a role for him in their pro-Catholic post-Jacobean government.

The Gunpowder plotters had settled on the king's daughter Elisabeth, who was nine as a replacement for her father.  Her older brother Henry Frederick, Prince of Wales, was eleven, a student at Oxford, and already an outspoken Protestant with a priggish moral sense, critical of his father's religious tolerance and his mother's thinly veiled Catholicism. The conspirators expected him to be in the royal entourage at the opening of Parliament and would die along with his father. The nine-year-old princess lived in the country and was not expected to attend. Her younger brother Charles, Duke of York was a slow-developing child who failed to thrive at birth and at age five had only recently begun to walk and talk, albeit with a shuffle and a stutter,  living in relative seclusion in the home of Robert Carey. He was sufficiently lackluster to earn no consideration from anyone, including the plotters.  Elisabeth, being female, could be made a puppet of the Catholic faction and eventually married off to an appropriate Catholic European prince.  While she was herself a Protestant, so young a female would be malleable and easily controlled by an appropriate Regent. Northumberland was the logical nominee.

The question perplexing modern scholars is the same one that kept him in the Tower Suite instead of laying headless on the Tower Green. No one could prove he was in on it.

Without revisiting the failure of the plot, what confined Northumberland to the Tower of London was not so much what happened on the infamous November 5, but what happened on the day before, November 4, 1605. On that day, Thomas Percy visited the earl at Sion House, ostensibly on business.  He had all of those cumbersome accounts from Northumberlandshire to review.  Whether he was really there to warn his kinsman from attending the opening of Parliament is open to conjecture. It is difficult to believe that he was spending the day before the big event reviewing ledgers with his kinsman, but there is no proof to the contrary.

When Percy arrived,  Northumberland was entertaining another guest, Thomas Hariot, a noted scholar, mathematician and astronomer who lived at Sion House and enjoyed Northumberland's patronage.  The three gentlemen had a pleasant late lunch together and thereafter, Percy left.  He next met with Catesby, the mastermind behind the plot, and thereafter left for the country to kidnap Princess Elisabeth. That evening Guy Fawkes, the plotter with the most military experience and knowledge of explosives, was discovered with the gunpowder in a search of the underpinnings of the Houses of Parliament, and the jig was up. When news reached the countryside, Tom Percy found himself running for his life, which did not last long.
When the law caught up with Thomas Percy and a cluster of the others who escaped the city, he soon was dead of a sniper's shot and unavailable to confirm or deny his cousin's complicity. Astute Northumberland was admitting nothing.

Engraving of Henry Percy-{{PD-Art}}
Fortunately for the earl,  his friend Thomas Hariot confirmed Northumberland's averments concerning the subject matter discussed at lunch on November 4th. There had been no talk of explosions or plots to kill the king. It may well be Hariot's presence thwarted Thomas's plan to warn his cousin off. Whatever the truth may have been, by the end of the week Thomas Percy's tongue was silenced. Thus, what ultimately saved Northumberland from the headsman was a lack of evidence. No one could dispute his planned attendance at the opening of Parliament on the following day.

The Earl remained out of custody until November 27th while he and others, including his personal secretary, his wife, and his friends, were interrogated. By December, Robert Cecil's focus had shifted to blaming the plot on Jesuits. When Northumberland was finally charged it was not with treason, but contempt. And there he languished.
Or did he?

Richard Lomas in A Power In The Land (Tuckwell Press, 1999) and other sources on the fate of the Gunpowder plotters speaks of the Earl's suite in the Martin Tower as having multiple dining rooms, a drawing room, gardens with access to a  tennis court, and enough space to accommodate twenty servants. And of course, there was the essential addition of a bowling alley.  His scholarly friends including Thomas Hariot maintained apartments at Sion House so they could appropriately tutor Northumberland's children.  Servants ran from Sion House to the Martin Tower with the latest imported delicacies.

While the Earl of Northumberland perfected his games of Ten Pins and read his beloved books, poured fine wine and smoked tobacco with Walter Raleigh and later dined and gambled with his fellow prisoners Lord Robert Carr, Earl of Somerset and his murderous countess Lady Frances Howard, Jesuit priests were convicted on scant evidence often gleaned from torture and treated to grisly deaths. Cecil had his scapegoats, the plotters got their just deserts, and the Earl had spare time to devote to the pursuit of knowledge and the management of his vast estates, and when he needed a distraction, he played tennis.

This article is an Editor's Choice and was originally published on August 19, 2014.


Linda Root is the author of The First Marie and the Queen of Scots, a tale of the life and love of Lady Marie Flemyng, The Last Knight and the Queen of Scots,  the fictionalized adventures of the colorful Sir William Kirkcaldy of Grange to whom the queen surrendered at Carberry, and the books in The Legacy of the Queen of  Scots Series, The Midwife's Secret: the Mystery of the Hidden Princess,  The Other Daughter, and 1603: The Queen's Revenge. 
She recently has written a paranormal historical fantasy The Green Woman under the name J.D. Root.
Root lives in the high desert community of Yucca Valley, above Palm Springs, with her husband Chris and her two mixed giant woolly Alaskan Malamutes. The Legacy of the Queen of Scots, and is presently working on the fourth book in the legacy series, In the Shadow of the Gallows.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Editors Weekly Round-up, November 4, 2018

by the EHFA Editors

Here's what you missed last week on English Historical Fiction Authors. Enjoy!

by Emma Rose Millar

by Deborah Swift
(an Editor's Choice from the Archives)