Monday, December 31, 2018

#EHFA Top 20 Articles for 2018

The editors of English Historical Fiction Authors want to thank all the authors who contributed articles to the blog in 2018, and a sincere thank-you to all our readers.

Every week we bring you a bit of British history: people, places, social customs, and more. We hope you'll enjoy this look at the top 20 posts for 2018. 

by Danielle Marchant

by Arthur Russell

by Kim Rendfeld

by Matt Lewis

by Maria Grace

by Mark Patton

by Arthur Russell

by Maria Grace

by Paula Lofting

by Anna Belfrage

by Annie Whitehead

by Paula Lofting

by Derek Birks

by Paula Lofting

by Anna Belfrage

by Danielle Marchan

by Derek Birks

by Paula Lofting

by Derek Birks

And, our most read post for 2018, with over 8600 views:

by Matthew Harffy

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Editor's Weekly Round-up, December 30, 2018

by the EHFA Editors

Never miss a post on English Historical Fiction Authors.

Lauren Gilbert takes the spotlight in this week's round-up. Enjoy!

by Lauren Gilbert

Friday, December 28, 2018

Royal Worcester Porcelain

By Lauren Gilbert

Mankind has created pottery vessels for millennia, using whatever clay (earthen material that could be kneaded and shaped when damp) and heat source available to dry it. Porcelain has its roots in China going back as far at the 7th century during the Tang dynasty. The Yuan dynasty (13th-14th century) developed the hard paste porcelain as known today, combining white China clay (kaolin) with the dust of a finely ground rock called petuntse, which was then fired at extremely high heat (2650 degrees F). The Portuguese first visited Macao, a small peninsula on the southern coast of China in 1513 and visited regularly thereafter. After paying tribute to the Chinese, they established a trading post and began bringing goods from China and Japan, including Chinese porcelain, back to Europe.

Noting the superiority of porcelain over the pottery then used in European countries, Europeans then decided to recreate it in their own lands. The earliest recorded attempt was in Florence in 1575. France, Germany and England also made their efforts. In the 17th century, tea drinking became popular which resulted in increased importation of tea from China as well as the porcelain wares required for maximum enjoyment. The 18th century saw tremendous advances in Germany, France and England in the development of pottery forms similar to Chinese porcelain ware. Early in the 18th century, kaolin was discovered in Germany and delicate white porcelain was developed in Meissen, Germany. Throughout France and the other European countries, as well as England, efforts were being made to produce porcelain that was comparable to that produced by China. English factories could not easily access kaolin, so continued perfecting their soft paste porcelain, using materials they had at hand. English china became distinguished by the addition of ground ox bones to the formula, resulting in the well-known “bone china.”

John Wall was born in Powick, near Worcester, October 12, 1708. He studied at Worcester King’s School, won a scholarship to Worcester College Oxford, became a fellow at Merton College, Oxford in 1735, and qualified with a Batchelor of Physic at St. Thomas Hospital, London in 1736. He was qualified as a Doctor of Medicine (Medicinae Doctor or MD) in 1739. He returned to Worcester in 1740, married Catherine Sandys, and developed a vast practice.

Although a medical doctor of renown and fortune, Dr. Wall was interested in many things. In 1750, he and William Davis, an apothecary in Worcester, performed experiments in making porcelain with soapstone (a form of granite, also known as steatize granite).

Dr. John Wall, 18th Century
In 1751, a group of 15 men, under the guidance of Dr. Wall, opened a porcelain factory in Worcester by the Severn River. They were determined to produce the highest quality porcelain available. In 1752, they brought workers, equipment and materials from an existing porcelain factory purchased in Bristol to facilitate their efforts. Available data indicates the factory in Bristol had also worked with the soapstone addition so the workers with Bristol and the knowledge contributed by Dr. Wall and Mr. Davis (who was one of the 15 men participating) led to the production of a porcelain with attributes of Chinese hard-paste porcelain, including a finer grain and glaze that did not craze (develop fine cracks on its surface). Most importantly, it did not crack when boiling water was poured into it (a common problem with many soft-paste porcelains at this time). From this, they developed a distinctive, high-quality product. The Worcester Porcelain factory opened its first show room in London in 1754.

During the first decade of its existence, the most popular Worcester Porcelain was painted in blue then glazed. An engraver named Robert Hancock arrived at the factory about 1756 and, with his expertise with engraving prints, Worcester Porcelain factory developed the use of transfers to print designs on porcelain and produced porcelain so decorated on a large scale, which provided employment to a significant number of people. Around 1770, Worcester Porcelain produced a dinner service for the Duke of Gloucester. In 1774, Dr. Wall retired. The partners continued the production of porcelain. The factory was purchased by Thomas Flight, who had acted as the factory’s London agent, and became established as one of the most prominent porcelain manufacturers in Europe. George III granted the factory a Royal Warrant in 1789, at which time the word “Royal” was added to the name. The factory became known at the Worcester Royal Porcelain Manufactory, also known as Royal Worcester.

Cup 1755-1790, Auckland Museum

Royal Worcester Tea Caddy 1770

Worcester Royal Porcelain remained popular throughout the Victorian era, producing services for the royal family and others. The company name was changed to Worcester Royal Porcelain Company Ltd. in 1862. Throughout its history, the company changed ownership and design direction several times without loss of quality. At its height, the factory provided employment to over 700 people. The company’s products were highly regarded and maintained popularity well into the 20th century. In 1976, Worcester Royal merged with W. T. Copeland to become Royal Worcester Spode. While its porcelain maintained its popularity with high end customers, it began to struggle and, in the late 20th-early 21st century, began attempting a more mass market appeal by producing comedy mugs and other departures. By 2006, work in England was being performed in Stoke-on-Trent instead of Worcester, and production was outsourced abroad. 

Royal Worcester Factory Museum before 1900
In November of 2008, the economic downturn combined with the company’s failure to find a buyer led to the company being placed under a court-appointed administrator whose job was to leverage the company’s assets to repay creditors and avoid insolvency. On April 23, 2009, Worcester Royal Porcelain was acquired by an English firm, Portmeirion Pottery, which is now known as Portmeirion Group. In Worcester, visitors can spend time at the Museum of Royal Worcester to learn about the history of the factory and see the products and films of work in process from the 1930’s until the end. The archives there hold a range of information, including pattern books and order records.

Sources include:

BBC. “HEREFORD & WORCESTER A History of Royal Worcester Porcelain.”  HERE

Collector’s Weekly. “Royal Worcester China.” HERE “Porcelain” by the Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. HERE  ; “Macau” by the editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. HERE

GourmetSleuth. “Royal Worcester History.” HERE

Hektoen International. “Dr. John Wall and Royal Worcester Porcelain” by JMS Pearce, Summer 2018. HERE

History World. “HISTORY OF POTTERY AND PORCELAIN The European Quest for Porcelain: 16th-18th Century.”HERE

Museum of Royal Worcester. “Dr. John Wall.” HERE

The Telegraph. “A History of Royal Worcester and Spode” published November 6, 2008.HERE ; “Royal Worcester collapses after 257 years making China” by Nick Britten, published November 6, 2008. HERE

Wikisource. 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica, Volume 5. “Ceramics.” HERE

All illustrations from Wikimedia Commons:
Dr. John Wall  HERE (Public Domain)
Coffee Cup c 1755-1790, by Auckland Museum [CC BY 4.0 (] HERE 
Royal Worcester Tea Caddy  c1770 HERE (Public Domain-Los Angeles County Museum of Art) 
Royal Worcester Factory Museum before 1900 HERE (Public Domain)

Lauren Gilbert holds a BA in English with a minor in Art History, and is a long-time member of the Jane Austen Society of North America.  She published HEYERWOOD: A Novel in 2011, and is in the process of completing a second novel while doing research for a nonfiction work.  She is a member of the Florida Writers Association and the Society of Authors.  Lauren lives in Florida with her husband Ed.  You may visit her website here for more information.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Editors Weekly Round-up, December 23, 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.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

It’s your Natal Day, Regency Style

by David William Wilkin

“It is the old girl's birthday, and that is the greatest holiday and reddest-letter day in Mr. Bagnet's calendar.” Charles Dickens, Bleak House Chapter 49, 1853.

This is not the only Dickensian reference we have to celebration of a birthday. 

From Dickens the Pickwick Papers 1836-1837, we have this:

“ "Never mind that," said the old gentleman; "you're much too fond of punch, Tom."
Tom Smart was just on the point of protesting that he hadn't tasted a drop since his last birthday, “

Regency Tea Party

And then there is the practice of giving flowers on a birthday:
“For instance, the recurrence of a birthday affords a suitable occasion for paying a compliment of a more marked character than mere words express. Birthday bouquets intended as offerings to young people, are most appropriate when composed of spring flowers-wild if possible.” Cassells Household Guide, New and Revised Edition (4 Vol.) c.1880.

Happy Birthday William Powell Frith

Though Dickens writes just at the beginning of the Victorian era, we can extrapolate that things he observed when young (Charles lived from 1812 to 1870) were customs that were also in place when he was older. Especially as some customs relating to birthdays were practiced for several centuries by the time of the Regency.
As mentioned in previous posts, the time of the English Regency, when George the III was mad and his son George (who would be King George IV) oversaw the government for his father was from 1811 to 1820. The culture of the period though, fashion, art, extends from an earlier time, and does not change until Victoria has been on the throne for a little while. For simplicity, if we look at this from 1788 when George was first mad, to 1837, when his son William died, we have a fifty year period that Charles Dickens knew well.
One in which birthdays, as the character Tom Smart above found a way to celebrate with some punch, were honored.
Birthdays have been celebrated for a long time. First in ancient Egypt, 3000 BC (still celebrated in modern Egypt as well, I am willing to wager, despite the country going through regime change.) First in Egypt and then in Babylonia the birth of male royalty was what was celebrated. The practice began after Menes united the Upper and Lower Kingdoms. These were elaborate feasts in which slaves, servants, and freedmen all took part. Even prisoners could be released from the jails.

Walter Frederick Osborne The Birthday Party

Plutarch writes how Cleopatra threw an immense birthday celebration for Mark Antony. (They deserved some happiness before their tragic end.) A few Cleopatras before, though her husband Ptolemy gave her for a birthday present the dismembered body of their son. (Cleo II)
After the invitation of the celebration of Birthdays by the Egyptians, we move on to ancient Greece. Often we think that the Romans took all that was Greek, but here we have the Greeks taking that which is Egyptian and Persian, it would seem. Persians made cakes. (In the Regency Era, Marie Antoinette would tell you that the French did as well.)

Why not, our ancient Greek ancestors thought, put Cake and Birthday together. Philochorus writes that Artemis’ birthday was celebrated on the sixth day of each month with a large honey cake. That would be twelve birthday celebrations a year. The cake was even topped with lighted candles. 

It was the Gods who were fortunate to have their birthdays celebrated monthly. Mere mortal women and children, no birthday party at all (chauvinism goes back a long way.) For the man of the house, though, the annual celebration there was nothing that was too lavish, even after death.

The Romans (remember, they steal everything) put a twist harkening back to the Egyptians. Important statesmen would find their Natal Day festivities national holidays. IN 44 BC Caesar rated an annual parade, circus performance, gladiators, a banquet and a play.

Then came Christianity. And birthday observances stopped.
It was equating entering the world with Original Sin, and since that was the day of your birth, why mark it as special. (One day they might even come up with Temperance...)
What was celebrated instead was the death days (not the birthdays) of the saints. These became their feast days. A saint is born when he/she passes into heaven.
Before the fourth century, it was heresy to try and figure out when JC was born. But after, the church decided they wanted to know, and thus with much serious discussion, we have Christmas.

The Age of Augustus, the Birth of Christ
Jean-Léon Gérôme
By the 12th century, parish churches were recording the birth dates of women and children. Now families were celebrating with annual parties and the birthday cake, along with candles reemerged. (I won’t argue that this was now the end of the Dark Ages as light was reintroduced.)

John Lorimar Grandmother's Birthday

The reemergence was first called the Kinderfeste. It began at dawn. The birthday child was greeted with a cake with the candles already lit. And these candles were changed to stay lit the entire day. A full day of partying.
Making a wish and blowing out the candles also comes from the Kinderfeste tradition. There was an old tradition, now gone of the Birthday Man. An elf who brought extra gifts to the birthday child. 
Now bringing it to the Regency. Jane, for all our Janeites, does not mention Birthday celebrations I went through 17 sources on daily life in Georgian times, and again no mention of the activity. Writers up to now may not have cared. But we do have some examples as noted above in Dickens. Whether it is Tom Smart taking a nip at every birthday to acknowledge the occasion, or the old girl who made of it a great celebration each year.
That suggests to me (though as you have read, we don't have much that is definitive) that should you have the chance to celebrate, and the means to do so, why would you not want to have a lavish affair like Cleopatra and Marc Antony. Certainly the Ton of the Regency was always looking for entertainments and here was a reason for it.

Research (partial)
Charles Panati Panati’s Extraordinary Origins of Everyday Thing, 1987
Sally Mitchell Daily Life in Victorian England, 1996
Maggie Lane Jane Austen’s World, 1996
Daniel Pool, What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew, 1993

* * *

Editor's Choice: This post was originally posted on this blog, August 31, 2012.

Mr. Wilkin writes Regency Historicals and Romances, Ruritanian (A great sub-genre that is fun to explore) and Edwardian Romances, Science Fiction and Fantasy works. He is the author of the very successful Pride & Prejudice continuation; Colonel Fitzwilliam’s Correspondence. He has several other novels set in Regency England including The End of the World and The Shattered Mirror. His most recent work is the humorous spoof; Jane Austen and Ghosts, story of what would happen were we to make any of these Monsters and Austen stories into a movie.

And Two Peas in a Pod, a madcap tale of identical twin brothers in Regency London who find they must impersonate each other to pursue their loves.

The links for all locations selling Mr. Wilkin's work can be found at the webpage and will point you to your favorite internet bookstore: David’s Books, and at various Internet and realworld bookstores including the iBookstoreAmazonBarnes and NobleSmashwords.

He is published by Regency Assembly Press
And he maintains his own blog called The Things That Catch My Eye where the entire Regency Lexicon has been hosted these last months as well as the current work in progress of the full Regency Timeline is being presented.

You also may follow Mr. Wilkin on Twitter at @DWWilkin
Mr. Wilkin maintains a Pinterest page with pictures and links to all the Regency Research he uncovers at Pinterest Regency-Era

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Richard the Lionheart's Ordeal, October - December 1192

by Charlene Newcomb

A few days before Christmas 1192, Richard the Lionheart, King of England 1189-1199, surrendered to Duke Leopold of Austria in a Vienna suburb. Perhaps best known for his role in the Third Crusade, Richard had set sail from the Holy Land in October 1192 after an unsuccessful campaign to free Jerusalem from the hands of Saladin. Richard's journey home sounds more like fiction than fact. Let me share this incredible story, looking back at events in the Fall of 1192 and other historical background leading up to Richard's capture.

Enemies – Old Rivalries, Hatred, and Politics

To the west, the quickest route to Richard’s realms was via Sicily and Marseille – the route he had sailed in 1190/1191 to the Holy Land. But word reached Richard that he would not find safe harbor in Marseille. Raymond, Count of Toulouse, an old enemy he’d engaged with in border disputes in Aquitaine, planned to seize him there.

There were ports west of Marseille, but Toulouse had conspired with the king of Aragon and Catalonia, cutting Richard’s access to Provence and northern Spain. There were also rumors that Genoese ships had been hired to watch for and intercept Richard. Skirting the north African coast to sail west and through the Straits of Gilbralter into the Atlantic would be far too dangerous. Seafaring men of the 12th century knew the hazards of winter sailing, and the best among them rarely ventured into the Mediterranean after the 1st of November.

Richard weighed his options as he approached Sicily. With the sea routes to the west cut off, his buss, a large galley called the Franche Nef, turned back and sailed into the Adriatic Sea.

Pirates, Privateers, and Shipwreck

The Lionheart abandoned his buss in Corfu and, dependent on which history you read, either: 1) had a run-in with pirates (with whom he ended up bargaining); or 2) hired two privateer galleys for 200 marks. With a small group of trusted companions and the 2 galleys, Richard sailed north from Corfu battered by one storm after another. In early December, the galleys were driven ashore by storms somewhere between Aquileia and Venice.

Overland Routes

Richard now had to consider overland routes, which presented as many hazards as the sea routes. Travel west meant traversing the Kingdom of Italy (ruled by the Holy Roman Emperor, Henry VI), treacherous passages through the Alps, and the lands of King Philip of France. The northeast route would take the returning crusaders through lands subject to Henry VI, and Leopold, Duke of Austria. In every direction, Richard was faced with enemies or inhospitable terrain.

King Philip was no doubt delighted by Toulouse’s actions. Philip – supposedly Richard’s ally in the Holy Land – had returned to France after Acre surrendered to the Crusaders in July 1191. He had invaded Richard’s lands in Normandy and stirred rebellion amongst Richard’s barons while Richard marched towards Jerusalem. Richard had also jilted Philip’s sister Alys to marry Berengaria of Navarre in 1191.

Henry VI had no love for Richard. His wife Constance had a strong claim to the throne of Sicily following the death of Richard’s brother-in-law William II. But Richard had supported Tancred’s accession there. Henry had also fought against another of Richard’s brothers-in-law, Henry of Saxony. And he was an ally of Duke Leopold of Austria, whom Richard had insulted after the siege of Acre. Highly offended when Richard ordered the removal of his banners, which had been raised above the city walls, Leopold returned to Austria.

Three hundred miles of enemy territory. Could Richard and his 20 companions make for Bohemia, a country whose ruler was no friend of Henry VI? From there, Richard could go to Saxony where his brother-in-law Henry the Lion ruled. Safe passage to an English port on the North Sea would be assured.

Recognizing the higher western range of Alps presented a formidable barrier in the winter, Richard and his companions traveled northeast through the territory of Meinhard II of Gorza, an ally of Henry VI and nephew of Conrad of Montferrat. Montferrat, also cousin to Leopold of Austria, had been a claimant to the throne of the Kingdom of Jerusalem whom Richard did not support. Richard had been accused of arranging his murder in the Holy Land.

Traveling Incognito

Richard had disguised himself as a merchant, but acting the part did not come naturally. His large retinue spent lavishly and attracted the attention of the locals. And Richard’s reputation and looks – 6'5" with reddish-gold hair – set him apart from most men. To keep Henry VI and Leopold off his scent, Richard agreed that the majority of his party would stay behind in the town of Friesach. Eight of his knights were captured, but Richard and two companions, William de l’Etang and a German-speaking boy he had hired, escaped. At one point, they raced almost 150 miles in 3 days. Fifty miles from the safety of the Moravian border, Richard stopped in the Vienna suburb of Erdburg. Ill with fever and exhausted by his ordeals, he was unable to go any further until he rested.


Unfortunately, the German boy raised suspicions when he went out for food on three successive days. His manner and his dress, which included a fine pair of Richard’s gloves, were reported to Henry VI’s secret police. The boy was questioned. Whether he led soldiers to Richard or told them his location under torture is not clear. And the circumstances of Richard’s seizure are also disputed. Most historians agree he was abed with fever, but gossip that he was caught basting a chicken in the kitchen of Erdburg inn also flourished. A chef wearing a large signet ring would have been highly unusual, but it certainly makes for great fiction!

The contemporary chronicles report that Richard refused to surrender to the soldiers who came for him, and insisted he would give himself up only to Duke Leopold. Leopold imprisoned Richard at Durnstein Castle. Though the Pope had declared safe passage for men who had taken the Cross, that did not deter Richard’s enemies. Philip of France, Henry VI, and Leopold of Austria – their hatred for the King of England must have been intense for them to risk excommunication. Leopold turned Richard over to Henry VI, and reports of machinations between Philip and Henry VI continued over the course of about 13 months. In a letter written shortly after Richard was in Henry VI's hands, Henry writes Philip:
The roads, however, being watched, and guards set on every side, our dearly-beloved cousin Leopold, duke of Austria, captured the king so often mentioned, in an humble house in the vicinity of Vienna. Inasmuch as he [i.e., Richard] is now in our power, and has always done his utmost for your annoyance and disturbance, what we now have above stated we have thought proper to notify to your nobleness, knowing that the same is well pleasing to your kindly affection for us, and will afford most abundant joy to your own feelings.
King Philip also conspired with Richard’s brother John, Count of Mortain and Lord of Ireland, offering Henry VI more silver to keep Richard imprisoned while John secured his hold on England. Eventually, in February 1194, Richard was released for the ransom of 150,000 marks.

De Hoveden, R. (1853).  The annals of Roger de Hoveden, comprising the history of England and of other countries of Europe from A. D. 732 to A. D. 1201. (Henry T. Riley, Trans.). London: H. G. Bohn.

Gillingham, J. (1978). Richard the Lionheart. New York: Times Books.

McLynn, F. (2006). Lionheart and Lackland: King Richard, King John and the wars of conquest. London: Jonathan Cape.

Nicholson, H., & Stubbs, W., trans. (1997). Chronicle of the third crusade : A translation of the itinerarium peregrinorum et gesta regis ricardi. Aldershot, Hants, England ; Brookfield, Vt.: Ashgate.

Painting of Richard the Lionheart by Merry-Joseph Blondel in Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain.

Map of the Holy Roman Empire is c2014 Dennis Lukowski, commissioned by the author and used with the artist's permission.

A version of this post first appeared on Charlene Newcomb's blog on 20 December 2014. This version  is from the EHFA Archives, published December 23, 2015.

Charlene Newcomb published Swords of the King (Book III of her Battle Scars series) in 2018. This 12th century historical adventure series is filled with war, political intrigue, and a knightly romance of forbidden love set during the reign of Richard the Lionheart. 

Visit Charlene's website: Find her on Facebook and Twitter.

Book links: Amazon

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Editors Weekly Round-up, December 16, 2018

by the EHFA Editors

Never miss a post on English Historical Fiction Authors. Enjoy this week's round-up.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Heroes of the Dark Ages - Who's yours?

by Matthew Harffy

If I were to ask a group of people to name a hero from the Early Medieval period, the era more commonly known as the Dark Ages, who do you think they might mention? Alfred the Great perhaps? After all, he is the only king to be known as “Great” that Britain has ever produced.

King Alfred the Great

Some might go with that famous warrior king from the end of the period, Harold Godwinson. He will forever be known to all British schoolchildren as the man who rather clumsily got an arrow in his eye at the Battle of Hastings on that most famous of dates, 1066.

Harold has something in his eye on the Bayeux Tapestry

Some people, unsure of what is fact and what is fiction, might even give King Arthur a plug. Now, we don’t even know whether Arthur really existed, and we certainly don’t have any facts about his life or who he was even if we believe he is not purely fictional. And yet, his name is synonymous with Britishness and the distant mist-veiled days of the Dark Ages. He is “the once and future king” who will return to rid us of an invading army when the land most needs him.

A watery tart lobs a sword at Arthur

People who are more knowledgeable of the period’s history, and who are more inclined to turn to learning rather than battle-glory as a sign of greatness, might well mention The Venerable Bede, the Northumbrian monk and scholar who wrote much of what is known of the history of Britain up to his death in the 8th century.

Bede - the grandfather of British history

If they are really into their seventh century history, people might say their hero is King Penda of Mercia, or King Oswald (later Saint Oswald) of Northumbria, but I think those people would be few and far between.

What I can guarantee is that nobody would say that their hero of the Early Medieval period is King Sigebehrt of East Anglia. Well, perhaps I can’t guarantee it, but if someone voted for him, you can be sure they would belong to an extremely niche crowd!

However, to his people, Sigebehrt was every bit the hero.

St. Felix and King Sigebehrt

King Sigebehrt of East Anglia (known later also as Saint Sigebehrt, following his ***SPOILER ALERT*** martyrdom ***SPOILER ALERT***), had been the epitome of the warrior kings of the Anglo-Saxons.

You may well be thinking that it’s no wonder you haven’t heard of some ancient king of a small area of modern-day England. But back in the 7th century, East Anglia was a big deal. It was one of the most powerful kingdoms of Britain, perhaps the most powerful for a time. Indeed, it was powerful enough for its king, Rædwald, to be called by Bede ‘Rex Anglorum’ (King of the Angles, which makes him sound like he was great at trigonometry, but remember that the Angles were the Germanic tribe who gave their name to what would eventually become England). Rædwald was not only able to rule over all the Angles, but also to put those he favoured on the thrones of other kingdoms, as he did with King Edwin of Northumbria.

Replica of the Sutton Hoo helmet

Rædwald is probably the noble buried in the ship beneath the famous mound at Sutton Hoo, and it is likely that Sigebehrt was either his stepson or his nephew. Whatever his relationship to the great king, Sigebehrt was part of the dynasty of the Wuffingas, the ruling family of East Anglia for many decades.

Little is known about Sigebehrt’s early life, save that he was exiled from East Anglia to France. Exile was common at the time for nobles with a claim to the throne. It certainly beats death! In France he became a Christian and was in fact the first English monarch to be baptised before his succession to the throne.

Upon the assassination of Rædwald’s son, Eorpwald, Sigebehrt returned to take the throne of East Anglia. Nothing is known about how he did this, but given the violence prevalent at the time and the fact his prowess in battle was later chronicled, it seems likely he had to fight his way to the top. That he was a Christian wouldn’t have hurt his prospects either, what with Edwin of Northumbria and Eadbald of Kent both having converted to Christianity and having ties to the Frankish rulers, who may well have aided Sigeberht to take the crown.

However he managed it, he was the king by 629 and he promptly went about setting things in motion that would cement Christianity’s place in the kingdom. During his stay in France, Sigeberht had been impressed by the learning found in the religious schools on the Continent. So, after setting up a Burgundian missionary, Felix (yet another Saint!), as Bishop of Dommoc (possibly Dunwich), Sigeberht then secured the future of the Church by establishing a school, based on the model that he had witnessed in France, where boys could be taught reading and writing in Latin.

Saint Fursey (not sure which one he is!)

Furthering the Church’s influence in his kingdom, he then granted the Irish hermit Fursey (yes, another Saint!), a monastery site called Cnobheresburg, most commonly identified as Burgh Castle, near Great Yarmouth.

If it sounds as though Sigebehrt was obsessed with learning and the Church, you wouldn’t be wrong. He was clearly much more interested in the Church than in governing and being a warlord king of the people of East Anglia. We know this, because a few years after attaining the throne, he abdicates power to Ecgric, another of the Wuffingas dynasty, whereby he promptly retires to his monastery at Beodricesworth (Bury St Edmunds).

Now this is where the story gets really interesting, and what drew me to the character in the first place.

In 636 or thereabouts, that most successful of pagan warlords of the age, Penda of Mercia, attacked East Anglia. For some reason the people didn’t think Ecgric was up to the task of defending them, so they went to Beodricesworth and dragged their erstwhile king, Sigebehrt, out from his monastery, that he might save them from the invading Mercians.

Well, the peaceful, Christian Sigebehrt refused to fight, but his ex-subjects were having none of it and he was forced onto the battlefield unarmed and unarmoured to lead his people. I won’t give you details of what happened, but let’s just say that a robe and a cross are not great protection against spears and swords! And you already know he becomes Saint Sigebehrt, after his ***SPOILER ALERT*** martyrdom ***SPOILER ALERT***, so join the dots!

Battles are never pretty

Sigebehrt, might not be the most famous of kings of the Early Medieval period, but he was certainly influential in securing the Church in East Anglia, and his life was definitely interesting enough to spark inspiration in me to write a novel featuring him and his unfortunate end. And if being brave enough to step into the chaos and havoc of a Medieval battlefield without weapons or armour doesn’t make you heroic, I don’t know what does!

Who is your Dark Ages hero or heroine? Leave a comment below. I’d love to read your thoughts.


Matthew Harffy is the author of the Bernicia Chronicles, a series of novels set in seventh century Britain. KILLER OF KINGS, which features Sigebehrt, Ecgric and the battle with Penda is now available in hardback, e-book and audio.

The other books in the series, The Serpent Sword, The Cross and the Curse, Blood and Blade and Warrior of Woden are available on Amazon, Kobo, Google Play, and all good bookstores.

Twitter: @MatthewHarffy
Facebook: MatthewHarffyAuthor

King Alfred: Odejea [GFDL ( or CC BY-SA 3.0 (]
King Arthur: Newell Convers Wyeth [Public domain]
Death of Harold: Myrabella [Public domain or CC0], from Wikimedia Commons
The Venerable Bede: The original uploader was Timsj at English Wikipedia. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Stained glass, Old Felixstowe Church: Copyright Andrew Hill
Sutton Hoo helmet: British Museum [CC BY-SA 2.5 ( or Public domain]
Saint Fursey: Public Domain
La victoire de Tullus Hostilius sur les forces de Veies et de Fidena ---- Giuseppe Cesari [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Advice from a Lady of Distinction

by Maria Grace

Clothing made a (Wo)man
Ackermann's 1809

During the Regency era, fairly strict rules defined how a lady of quality should dress according to the time of day and her anticipated activities.  Theoretically, one wore Undress in the morning, Half-dress in the afternoon, and Full Dress for (formal) evening events. If it sounds like a gentlewoman had to change clothes several times a day, you’d be right. To be active in society, a Regency era lady had to have the right garment for the right occasion, and that added up to a lot of gowns (and corresponding expense.)

Unfortunately wearing the wrong sort of gown at the wrong time could be a devastating social blunder. Ladies (and gentlemen) were judged by their dress. If you did not dress properly, it was a sure statement about your fortune (or lack thereof) and your place in society. In a very real sense, a man or woman was made by their appearance, for better or worse.

Given the very negative impact dressing improperly could have on a young lady in society,  one could hardly blame said young ladies and their mothers for seeking advice from those who might know better than themselves. Enter ‘A Lady of Distinction’, the esteemed authoress of The Mirror of Graces  (1811). This unnamed woman (women publishing anonymously was common in the era) says of herself in the preface:
These pages were not intentionally at first written for publication, but originally composed by the desire of some female friends, who live at a remote part of the west of England; and who, aware of her consummate knowledge of the world, and experience in all that is honourable in the art of captivation, had applied to her for certain directions on the subject. She indulgently complied with their request, and in the elegant treatise we now present to our readers, gratified her friends with as fine a lesson on PERSONAL and MENTAL accomplishments as could ever flow from the experienced and delicate pen of a woman of VIRTUE and of TASTE.
What better recommendations to heed her advice could we have? Moving on…

Importance of good taste
While good taste has always been, well good, in just about every era, it took on a moral aspect during the Regency era that has a lot in common with a lot of modern standards about dress. We might raise an eyebrow, or comment unfavorably upon the lady who shows up to the grocery store in her pajamas, and some would go so far as to condemn her character for it. The Regency era was just a judgemental, perhaps even more so
1809 Ackermann's Walking Dress
In the words of A Lady of Distinction:

Fine taste in apparel I have ever seen the companion of pure morals, while a licentious style of dress is as certainly the token of the like laxity in manners and conduct. To correct this dangerous fashion ought to be the study and attempt of every mother, of every daughter, of every woman…p. 19
…I beg leave to observe, that I never yet met with a woman whose general style of dress was chaste, elegant, and appropriate, that I did not find, on further acquaintance, to be in disposition and mind, an object to admire and love. P 63-64
Effectively, the taste with which a woman dressed herself was a reflection of her morals, her character, and to some degree her virtue as well. As if deciding what wear wasn’t tough enough to start with!
Attention to one’s station in life, and not trying to leave that sphere to which she was born (as Lady Catherine was wont to say) reflected good morality as well. Upward mobility as we understand it today was considered inappropriate at best and vulgar at worst.
As there is a proprietary in adapting your dress to the different seasons of your life, and the peculiar character of your figure, there is likewise a necessity that it should correspond with the station you hold in society.
This is a subject not less of a moral concern than it is a matter of taste. … It is not from a proud wish to confine elegance to persons of quality that I contend for less extravagant habits in the middle and lower orders of people:  it is a conviction of the evil which their vanity produces that impels me to condemn  in toto the present levelling and expensive mode. P.85
Apparently A Lady’s fear was that spending too much money on clothing and the like would drive a poorer family into ruin and thus reflected bad character and moral. Because of course, those of the lower orders could not make intelligent and informed decisions on how to spend their income. I have a hunch that, though she does not say it, there is also a concern that a girl from the lower orders might be mistaken for one of higher rank or station and some poor young man might extend his attentions to the undeserving girl he might meet at a public assembly.

Dress According to Your Age

1809 Ackermann's- Dancing Dress
In addition to dressing for one’s station, one must also dress according to one’s age. A Lady of Distinction does not mince words in making a distinction between what is appropriate for young ladies versus older matrons. She says:
In the spring of youth, when all is lovely and gay, then, as the soft green, sparkling in freshness, bedecks the earth; so, light and transparent robes, of tender colours, should adorn the limbs of the young beauty … Her summer evening dress may be of a gossamer texture; but it must still preserve the same simplicity, though its gracefully-diverging folds may fall like the mantle of Juno…In this dress, her arms, and part of her neck and bosom may be unveiled: but only part. The eye of maternal decorum should draw the virgin zone to the limit where modesty would bid it rest.” P71

Where in doubt may be about this or that hue being becoming or genteel (as it is very possible it may neither be the one nor the other), let the puzzled beauty leave both, and securely array herself in simple white. That primeval hue never offends, and frequently is the most graceful robe that youth and loveliness can wear. P. 122
In contrast, by the time a woman sees her thirtieth birthday (which by the standards of the day was approaching what we would consider middle age), she should be reconsidering her mode of dress:
As the lovely of my sex advance towards the vale of years, I counsel them to assume a graver habit and a less vivacious air. Cheerfulness is becoming at all times of life; but sportiveness belongs to youth alone’ and when the meridian or decline of our days affects it is every heavy and out of place … At this period she lays aside the flowers of youth, and arrays herself in the majesty of sobriety, or in the grandeur of simple magnificence… Long is the reign of this commanding epoch of a woman’s age; for from thirty to fifty she may most respectably maintain her station on this throne of matron excellence.” P 81
 Our authoress actually has quite a bit to say about how disgusting and inappropriate it is for an ‘older’ woman to seek to draw attention to her appearance as might be appropriate for a younger woman. To have men pay attention to her appearance was regarded vulgar and repulsive. Modesty was the name of the game for the matron of the Regency era.


Not unlike today, the amount of skin to be shown in the name of fashion invited some very strongly worded commentary.
Custom regulates the veiling or unveiling the figure, according to different periods in the day. In the morning the arms and bosom must be completely covered to the throat and wrists. From the dinner hour to the termination of the day, the arms, to a graceful height above the elbow may be bare; and the neck and shoulders unveiled as far as delicacy will allow.  P. 95
1809 Ackermann's Although the focus is
to be on the hats,
notice the neckline and the gloves.
Just how much unveiling delicacy allowed might be a bit debatable. Apparently it was not an absolute degree of exposure, but also related to the ‘charms’ of the beauty being exposed.
To the exposure of the bosom and back, as some ladies display those parts of their person, what shall we say? This mode (like every other which is carried to excess and indiscriminately followed) is not only repugnant to decency, but most exceedingly disadvantageous to the charms of nine women out of ten.  …  When a woman, grown to the age of discretion for her own choice: unveils her beauties to the sun and moon;” then, from even an Helen’s charms the sated eye turns away loathing. … Were we even, in a frantic and impious passion, to set virtue aside, policy should direct out damsels to be more sparing of their attractions. An unrestrained indulgence of the eye robs imagination of her power, and prevents her consequent influence on the heart. And if this be the case where real beauty is exposed how much more subversive of its aim must be the studied display of an ordinary or deformed figure! pp92-93
 If the prevailing fashion be to reject the long sleeve, and to partially display the arm, let the glove advance considerably above the elbow, and there be fastened with a drawing string or armlet. But this should only be the case when the arm is muscular, coarse or scraggy. When it is fair, smooth and rounds, it will admit of the glove being pushed down to a little above the wrists. p. 130

So immodesty was even worse for a plain woman than an attractive one—who knew?
So there you have it, to be perceived as a woman of virtue and taste was no simple feat. Good taste had to be acquired—probably by studying tomes such as The Mirror of Graces along with fashion magazines like Ackermann’s Repository. One needed to dress according to her age and her station in life, keeping in mind both her own physical assets and appropriate modesty while realizing one’s entire future could rest upon making the right impression on the local society. No pressure right?


Regency Etiquette: The Mirror of Graces (1811). Enl. ed. Mendocino, CA: R.L. Shep;, 1997.

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.