Sunday, March 31, 2019

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Sir Kenelm Digby and His Closet

By Lauren Gilbert

Earlier this month, author M. J. Logue wrote a fascinating article for this blog titled “Slipcoat Cheese” (HERE ) which referenced THE CLOSET OF SIR KENELM DIGBY KNIGHT OPENED. Having an interest in old cookbooks, I decided to look into this book and Sir Kenelm Digby himself. What an interesting character! The following is a brief sketch of Sir Kenelm’s life, and a glance at his Closet.

Sir Kenelm Digby. Line engraving by R. van Voerst,
1646, after Anton van Dyck
Sir Kenelm Digby was truly a renaissance man, not only because he was born during the Renaissance era, but because of his wide-ranging interests. He was born July 11, 1603 at Gayhurst (or Goathurst) in Buckinghamshire, England. His father was Sir Everard Digby of Drystoke, Rutland, England, and his mother Mary Mulshaw (or Mulsho) of Gayhurst. The family was Roman Catholic, and Sir Everard was executed in 1606 as a party to the Gunpowder Plot. It appears that Gayhurst came to the Digby’s through Mary, as James I allowed Kenelm to inherit the unconfiscated lands which brought him a significant income annually.

Gayhurst House at night - Brian Tomlinson Photography
(modern view)

In 1618, Kenelm entered Gloucester Hall at Oxford (Gloucester Hall is now Worcester College) where he studied the physical sciences under the tutelage of Thomas Allen, mathematician, astrologer and occultist. Allen left his books and manuscripts to Kenelm, who ultimately donated them to the Bodleian Library. Kenelm left Oxford in 1620 without a degree. At some point, it is thought that he met, fell in love with and wanted to marry Venitia Stanley but both families disapproved so he left to travel the Continent from 1620 to 1623. He met Charles, then Prince of Wales and subsequently Charles I, in Spain and joined his household. Kenelm returned to England and was dubbed a knight by James I. He was also granted an M. A. from Cambridge during the king’s visit.

Portrait of Lady Venitia Digby by Henri Toutin,
1637 after her death (Walters Gallery)

In 1625, Sir Kenelm married Venitia Stanley. She was a famous beauty, about whom Ben Johnson wrote poetry, and she was painted by Van Dyck several times. They were apparently much in love and happily married, producing four sons and a daughter. (Venitia did have a somewhat questionable reputation, but it did not seem to disturb their relationship, so we shall not address that here.)

In 1627, Sir Kenelm undertook privateering, venturing into the waters of Gibraltar, Algiers and Majorca among other places. Among his adventures were battles with French and Venetian ships. Subsequently, he returned to England and became a naval administrator, and at one point was a governor of Trinity House (responsible for beacons, markers, lighthouses etc. to warn ships of dangers).

During the period of his youth and young manhood, Sir Kenelm’s Roman Catholic faith lapsed. Venitia died suddenly on May 1, 1633 and was buried in Christ Church, Newgate. This blow led him to isolate himself in scientific studies at Gresham College and, at some point, to Paris and a renewal of his faith by 1636. In 1638, he wrote a treatise on religion, defending the Roman Catholic faith as the one true faith. Ironically, during the 1630’s, Sir Kenelm was also studying astrology, medical matters and alchemy. He returned to England in 1639.

Unfortunately, the climate was bad for Catholics; his activities roused Parliament and in 1643, Sir Kenelm’s property was confiscated and he was compelled to return to Paris. He wrote two philosophical treatises while in Paris, “The Nature of Bodies” and “On the Immortality of Reasonable Souls”, released in 1644. He met Queen Henrietta Maria while in France and became chancellor of her household and engaged in diplomatic missions to Pope Innocent X for the English crown. Sir Kenelm ultimately returned to England in 1654, where (rather surprisingly) he became an associate of Oliver Cromwell and he was engaged in several diplomatic ventures.

As a result of his situation with Henrietta Maria, Sir Kenelm was in favour at court after the Restoration. He continued his studies, corresponded with scientists, mathematicians and other intellectuals, and was one of the founding members of the Royal Society in 1662. In addition to the treatises mentioned here, Sir Kenelm wrote a number of works; a list many of them which can be read on line is available HERE . He did have difficulties with Charles II, and was finally banned from court for a while. He died June 11, 1665 at age 62 in Covent Garden, London, and was buried next to his wife.

This brings us to THE CLOSET OF SIR KENELM DIGBY KNIGHT OPENED. Although Sir Kenelm is shown as the author, it was actually published some years after his death (about 1669) and is considered to have been compiled by a gentleman named Georg Hartman, one of his servants. It contains fascinating recipes for a wide range of things ranging from meads (a large number), cosmetics, possets, soups and stews, plague-waters, puddings, roasts, savoury pies, cakes and sweets, and includes multiple recipes for the slip-coat cheese. However, one of the most fascinating recipes is in Appendix II and harks back to Sir Kenelm’s studies of medicine and, possibly, alchemy: the Powder of Sympathy.

The Powder of Sympathy is a magical healing powder derived from English vitriol, dissolved in water, filtered, boiled and set aside for a few days; when the liquid is then poured off, green crystals are found. These crystals are dried, exposed to the sun until white, then beaten to powder, which is the Powder of Sympathy. To cure a wound, one takes some blood on a cloth, puts some of the powder on the bloody cloth, wraps it up and keep it safely. The wound itself should be kept clean and wrapped in clean linen, and should heal without other medicinals or pain. As we can see, the Powder of Sympathy is not directly applied to the wound itself. There are further instructions for an inflamed wound and to stop bleeding. One has to wonder how efficacious this was. I would think any healing that might have been attributed to the Powder of Sympathy had more to do with keeping the wound clean than anything else.


Digby, Kenelm. THE CLOSET OF SIR KENELM DIGBY KNIGHT OPENED. Introduction by Anne MacDonnell (Chelsea, 1910). Reprint 2019: Amazon Services, Inc. Columbia, SC “Sir Kenelm Digby English Philosopher and Diplomat” by the Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. HERE

The Catholic Dictionary. “Sir Kenelm Digby” by Charles Boothman, 1908. HERE “Sir Kenelm Digby, Alchemist, Scholar, Courtier and Man of Adventure” by Wyndham Miles. Chymia, vol. 2, 1949, pp. 119–128. JSTOR, .

The Online Books Page. “On-line Books by Kenelm Digby (Digby, Kenelm, 1603-1665). HERE


Sir Kenelm Digby. Line engraving by Robert van Voerst, 1646, after Anton Van Dyck. Creative Commons. HERE

Gayhurst House at night by Brian Tomlinson, Jan. 12, 2017. Creative Commons. HERE

Portrait of Lady Venitia Digby by Henri Toutin, 1637 (painted after her death). File provided to Wikimedia Commons by the Walters Gallery as part of a cooperation project. Creative Commons. HERE


An avid reader, Lauren Gilbert was introduced to English authors early in life. Lauren has a bachelor of arts degree in liberal arts English with a minor in Art History. A long-time member of JASNA, she has presented various programs at the South Florida Region, and a breakout session at the the 2011 Annual General Meeting in Ft. Worth, TX. She lives in Florida with her husband. Her first book HEYERWOOD: A Novel is available. She is finishing a second novel, A RATIONAL ATTACHMENT for release in 2019, and doing research for a biography. For more information, visit her website HERE

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Editors Weekly Round-up, March 24, 2019

by the EHFA Editors

Join us every week on English Historical Fiction Authors. Our contributors give you saints and sinners, politics and war. Learn about kings, queens, and nobles, or the common man and woman, and legends from ancient to post-WWII. Subscribe to the blog, follow us on Facebook, or Twitter. Never miss a post. 

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Mary de Morgan: Subversion through Fairy Tales

By Marilyn Pemberton

Mary De Morgan was the youngest of seven children, born in 1850 into a family of intellectuals, non-conformists and dissenters. Her father, Augustus, was a brilliant mathematician who described himself and his family as “Christians – unattached” and who once resigned his professorship at University College London because he considered it unfair that a candidate was not appointed a Chair just because he was a Unitarian. Mathematicians today still discuss the De Morgan law and compete for the triennial De Morgan Medal. Mary’s mother, Sophia Elizabeth (née Frend), was a spiritualist who supported social reform, in particular the prison system and the provision of children’s playgrounds, and was a fervent campaigner against vivisection and slavery.

Mary’s eldest brother, William, designed and produced still very collectible tiles used by William Morris’s company and eventually became a best-selling novelist; his wife, Evelyn (née Pickering) was a well-known and well-respected painter. Another brother, George, co-founded the London Mathematical Society and would have been a mathematical genius had he not died at an early age of tuberculosis - brother William called it the “De Morgan curse.”

Mary de Morgan - possibly

Mary moved in William Morris’s artistic and political circle, so it is perhaps not surprising that her own literary and social achievements have been overshadowed by those of her family and friends. Mary is best known today, if she is known at all, as a writer of fairy-tales but she also wrote short stories, some of which were published in English and American magazines such as The Ludgate Illustrated, Frank Leslie’s Popular Monthly, Sylvia’s Home Journal and The Home-Maker. Other unpublished short stories are gathering dust in Senate House Library, University of London, being a very small part of the De Morgan Archives, created primarily to house her father’s documents.

Mary also tried her hand at a two-volume novel called A Choice of Chance written under the pseudonym of William Dodson, but the disappointment of poor reviews caused her to abandon attempting another. She also edited her mother’s reminiscences, Threescore Years and Ten: Reminiscences of the Late Sophia Elizabeth De Morgan and wrote serious articles on such diverse subjects as “Co-operation in England in 1889,” “The New Trades-Unionism and Socialism in England,” “The Jewish Immigrant in East London,” and “The Education of Englishmen,” published in such journals as The Westminster Review and The Chautauquan.

According to A. Stirling, Evelyn’s sister, who wrote the biography of her brother-in-law William, as a child Mary was extremely lively and full of fun – and also rather precocious. At 13 she asserted to Henry Holiday, who was a painter, stained-glass designer, sculptor and illustrator, that “all artists are fools.” She did not mellow with age. In a letter in 1885, for instance, when Mary was 35, William Morris describes how she came into a tea room where he was drinking with a friend and straightway fell to tackling them on socialism with, as Morris says, “rather less than her usual noise; but with rather more than her usual ignorance.” Despite this rather derogatory description, Mary was a regular visitor at the Morris household and she often told her stories to the Morris and Burne-Jones children and to the young Rudyard Kipling. The multi-talented Mary also apparently cured William Morris of his fear of snakes; she was also one of those who nursed him during his final illness and was at his bedside when he died in 1896.

Mary never married, and although Shaw suspected that she was flirting with him when she squeezed his hand one evening, there is no evidence of any romantic relationships. Whatever the reason then, whether from choice or otherwise, Mary, like many other women at the tail end of the nineteenth century, remained unmarried, and because there were no male members of the family with sufficient funds to keep her, she had to earn her own keep.

It does not seem likely that she made sufficient money from her writing alone. In 1876, for instance, she received £14 18s 6d (less than £2,000 in today’s money), being a third of the year’s profit from the sale of her first volume of fairy tales, On a Pincushion  – another third going to the illustrator, her brother William, and the other third to the publishers, Seeley, Jackson and Halliday. She may not have earned enough to live on from her writing alone but she also received dividend payments from stocks she owned. She once told her sister-in-law, Evelyn, that “I am so thankful I have only a small income – it is so delightful planning things and deciding what one can afford. It would bore me to death to be rich!”

No one woman can epitomise the “New Woman,” of course, but Mary De Morgan certainly had many of her attributes. One definition, which seems to suit Mary, is one in which the “New Woman” is considered to be someone who is lacking in many, if not all, of the attributes usually associated with ideal Victorian womanhood such as having a penchant for self-sacrifice, a talent for home-making, and a willingness to defer to men. There is nothing about Mary to make anyone think that she was ever such an “Angel in the House.” She did follow in her mother’s footsteps and do her social duty by visiting the poor families in the East End and running a mothers’ club, but she was also a member of the Women’s Franchise League and she signed the Declaration in Favour of Women’s Suffrage in 1889. She was an independent woman who had very strong views on the society in which she lived and the place of the woman within it. She could have written political articles, spoken at rallies and waved flags, but she chose instead to make her voice heard and her opinions known through the genre of the fairy tale.

Mary published three volumes of fairy tales, On a Pincushion in 1877 (illustrated by William De Morgan), The Necklace of Princess Fiorimonde in 1880 (published by MacMillan & Co and illustrated by Walter Crane) and The Wind Fairies in 1900 (published Seeley and Co. and illustrated by Olive Cockerell). In each anthology there are fairy tales that challenge the prevalent ideologies by subverting the traditional fairy-tale conventions and therefore also societal ones. After all, many of the things that were concerning people at the time, such as the institution of marriage, the role of women in society and the effects of materialism on the individual and on society as a whole, are actually inherent components of many a fairy tale.

It is perhaps ironic to use the fairy tale to challenge the benefits of material gain, or the conventions of marriage. Fairy tales by Charles Perrault, the Grimm brothers and Hans Christian Andersen, for instance, were often used to maintain the patriarchal status quo and to endorse the values and social codes of the time, including the premise that wealth and/or marriage equates to happiness and that the woman’s role is to be patient and wait for the active man to save her. Without a doubt, many of the traditional fairy tales are typically very materialistic, with the “happy ever after” being assured due to the gain of a kingdom through marriage or enormous wealth. Patient Griselda, along with Snow White and Cinderella, became exemplars of Victorian womanhood, veritable “Angels in the House.”
Whilst sticking to the accepted fairy-tale conventions and intrinsic structure of the fairy tale, however, Mary met the readers’ expectations of plot, character and ending, yet challenged core attitudes.
Princess Fiorimonde

There is no room here to give more than a few examples but most of her fairy tales are on the internet and are well worth a read. In “Dumb Othmar,” for instance, it is a female who is the active, questing protagonist whilst the male is the passive victim who waits patiently for her to return having rescued his stolen voice. In “The Necklace of Princess Fiorimonde,” the beautiful princess is not the personification of goodness, as expected, but is instead evil and turns her suitors into beads she collects on a necklace - it is now the men who are the adornment. 

In “The Hair Tree,” the flora of an island is in fact various parts of a female body that as a whole would form a beautiful woman but as individual parts have teeth and are deadly. In “Siegfrid and Handa,” a village is almost destroyed when the villagers start to buy cheap, shoddy shoes rather than the more expensive and better made ones produced by the local cobbler, thereby illustrating the damaging effects of mass-production on the individual and on society and doubtless pleasing William Morris immensely.

Again, in “The Hair Tree,” Mary writes of how a young girl is turned into a vegetarian tiger by the mother of a spurned suitor thus describing how women who choose not to marry are ostracised and de-humanised. In “The Toy Princess,” Mary shows how ludicrous it is when a royal court prefers an automaton that merely nods and says “Yes” to the real human, crying, screaming, independent Princess.  In the traditional fairy tales female readers had had only passive, victimised role models to empathise with; now they were being introduced to females who were active, strong-willed, and sometimes downright rebellious, rather like Mary, perhaps.

However, it is only now that Mary’s voice is being heard. Contemporary reviews failed to read between the lines or to scratch the surface and considered the stories to be delicate, naive and simple, such as children will delight in. “Even adults, if they retain the least spark of the childlike in their nature, will be attracted by the freshness, the simplicity, and the pathos of the little stories.”  They were not little stories but it is only over the previous couple of decades, when fairy tales have been put under the academic microscope, that Mary De Morgan has been recognised as being one of the forbears of such twentieth-century feminist writers as Angela Carter and Margaret Atwood, to name but two, and her fairy tales being more than just simple stories for children.

De Morgan's last resting place

By the turn of the nineteenth century Mary was a relatively well-known and respected published writer, albeit not a very well paid one, who lived very much in the world of artists and intellectuals. She does not seem to have written anything after 1900 and at the beginning of the new century she went to live in Egypt, for health reasons, where she somehow became a directress of a girls’ reformatory in Helouan. She died of tuberculosis - the “De Morgan curse” again - in 1907 at the age of 57 and is buried in the Protestant Cemetery in Cairo. Her plot has no stone to mark her last resting place, there having been subsidence many years previously.

There is no photograph that can be 100% authenticated as being Mary, so all we have are her words to know her. 


Marilyn Pemberton is a member of the Society of Women Writers & Journalists, the Historical Novel Society and The Society of Authors. Her PhD research on the utopian & dystopian aspects of Victorian fairy tales and the ensuing obsession led her to Mary De Morgan and to the book, Out of the Shadows: The Life and Works of Mary De Morgan, followed by a fictional novel based on Mary’s life, The Jewel Garden, published February 2018.
Marilyn has just completed her second novel, Song of the Nightingale, about two young boys in eighteenth-century Italy, who are bought from their families, castrated and then trained to be singers. It tells not only of singing, but also deceit, murderous revenge, passion and reconciliation.  Marilyn is hoping a literary agent will be willing to represent her.
Marilyn is just starting a third novel called Grandmothers’ Footsteps that will tell of the battle of three generations of women to get their voices heard through story-telling. 

Out of the Shadows can be purchased at

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Alfgar, The Recalcitrant Earl

by Paula Lofting

The king with his witan

It was March 1055, and as every year, all the nobles in the land that could, would make their way to the witanegemot, and in this year the council were set to elect the next earl of Northumbria. There were two men in the running: Ælfgar, son of Leofric, Earl of Mercia, and Tostig Godwinson, as his name implied, of the number one clan in the country.

Ælfgar had been elevated to earl of East Anglia in 1051 when Harold Godwinson was forced into exile with other members of his family. In 1052, the Godwinsons made a successful comeback and all their lands and properties were once more restored to them, which meant that Ælfgar had to hand back the earldom to Harold, leaving him with nothing to run. That must have gone down like a treat. However, in the wake of Godwin's death, it was restored to Alfgar after Harold's appointment to Wessex. Tostig had been waiting in the wings for his first appointment since his brothers, Harold and Swegn (the latter now deceased) had both been invested in earldoms 10 years ago. With Harold in Wessex, and Alfgar sorted in East Anglia, Tostig obviously thought that he was up for the Northumbrian post.

Photo c/o Christopher Doyle
and members of Regia Anglorum
And so, at that gathering that year, the proverbial gossips must have had a field day, and anyone with a leaning to intrigue might have found themselves weaving in and out of each contestant's supporters to stir up trouble faction had they a mischievous mind.

This was very much a north and south thing, and even as far back as then, the divide between the two still existed. The last native ruler who'd been in charge of Northumbria had been Uhtred the Bold from the House of Bebbanburgh. In 1016 he was assassinated by Thurbrand the Hold probably on the orders of Cnut whom he was on his way to see. Eadwulf, Uhtred's son succeeded him in Bernicia and Cnut later made the Norwegian, Erik Hlathir, the earl in the south of Yorkshire. The killing of Uhtred was to spark the blood feud in the north that would last more than two generations.

The date when Siward, the Dane took over as earl is sketchy, but it seems to have been around 1030. Siward had a good run, and he must have been a tough old pair of boots to step in to. He had reigned for at least twenty-five years or so. What with managing the wild northerners with their violent bloodfeuds, which the north was notorious for, plus supporting Malcolm Canmore to get his throne back in Scotland, Siward was most likely to have been the most warlike of the earls in England at the time of Edward's reign. 

Battles were fought with the Welsh on the borderlands
In 1054, Siward invaded Scotland by land and sea to overthrow King MacBeth, helping the murdered Duncan's son to resume the throne that Malcolm obviously thought was his. Edward sent many of his own huscarles north to support him, and many of them were slaughtered.The hard fought battle saw Siward losing his son and nephew. MacBeth was defeated, but still alive and pushed north-west to recoup. Malcolm was able to take over the rest of the territories gained from the defeat of his rival. Many lives were lost on both sides in the terrible battle of Dunsinane and the loss of his son and nephew might have hastened Siward's death which eventually came a year later in 1055. Although he had not been a northerner himself, he was a Dane, and many of the men of Yorkshire were of Danish descent, he knew how they thought, how they fought, and they respected him.

Photo c/o Christopher Doyle
and Regia Anglorum
 So who were these men, Tostig and Alfgar, who thought they could step into Siward's rather big boots? Tostig was probably born in Suth Seaxa (Sussex) and as a boy grew up in the Godwin family home of Bosham. The winters were milder and the land not as harsh as in the north. From an early age he most likely spent a lot of time at court under his sister's tutelage, well educated and groomed for an administration job which would have eventually have flowered into an office of high standing. He was also schooled in military matters as most noble sons would have been, and brought up to be ambitious as all of the Godwinson men seem to have been. He also had a lot to prove. His older brother, Harold, was on the rise, and fast becoming the king's number one man, and as Tostig's later actions in the coming years would show, he was, I suspect, envious of his brother, the latter day Golden Balls. Tostig had the blood of the Vikings running through his veins with his mother being daughter of Thorgil Sprakalägg, so called because he was fast on his legs, perhaps because he was purported to have been the son of a bear. (Yes, I know!) Tostig's father's lineage is just as mysterious. (though no bears in the tree) and Wulfnoth, father of Godwin, according to Frank Barlow, apparently could trace his family tree back to King Egbert making him a son of the House of Wessex. Despite the possibility of a royal pedigree and Viking blood, Tostig was a 'soft' southerner, brought up in southern ways and unpalatable to the rough, wild men of the north.

Photo c/o
Christopher Doyle and Regia Anglorum
Alfgar was not so much of an alien perhaps, having been born less south than Tostig. He was the son of Leofric of Hwicce, now absorbed into Mercia. Leofric became Earl of Mercia around 1017, after Cnut had taken the crown following the death of Ironside. Alfgar's mother was Godgifu, who appears to have come from good noble stock herself, considering that she held quite a lot of land in her own right. This might have something to do with the fact that she was a widow when she married Alfgar's father. Alfgar was most likely to have had some military experience seeing as there had been quite a lot of conflict with the Welsh, but nothing is recorded for definite, just how experienced he was or whether he'd had the benefit of a court upbringing like Tostig most likely had. It's quite likely he may well have, it seems to have been traditional for the sons of nobles to be educated at court, though he was probably not of an age that he would have been in Queen Edith's school. However, he did have some experience already, having run East Anglia for a year before Harold's return and for a couple of years after Harold had stepped back out of it and into Wessex. With this in mind, Alfgar, might have thought he was better qualified than his opponent, Tostig.

Photo C/o Christopher Doyle
& Regia Anglorum
Court must have been interesting, with Alfgar and Tostig posturing amongst their supporters. The Mercians vs West Saxons. And when it was announced at the council meeting that Tostig was to be invested with the earldom of Northumbria, there must have been some threatening glares across the feasting boards that evening at supper. What happened after the council met gives us some idea that Alfgar was not happy at what had occurred at the council meeting.

The Anglo Saxon Chronicle is sympathetic to Alfgar. Chronicle C  reports that he was 'outlawed without any fault.' And then the E Chronicle says, 'And the king gave Tostig, son of Earl Godwin, the Earldom which Earl Siward owned before.' The D script tells it the other way round, that Tostig was given the earldom and then later Alfgar was exiled, without 'well-nigh any fault'. Chronicle E tells us that his outlawing took place on the 19th March ( 7 days before mid-lent) and the reason being 'that it was thrown at him that he was a traitor to the king and all the people of the land. And he admitted to this,' but the words evidently left his mouth before he had time to think about what he was saying. This latter version seems to explain things a little clearer, though none of the scribes writing the chronicles seem to have been of a mind to tell us what it was that came out of his mouth. One can imagine there was a lot of expletives about a puppet king whose strings were being pulled by a certain family!
Alfgar's Mercenaries
Photo c/o Richard Price & Regia Anglorum

The usual punishment for treason seems to have been exile, however hanging was also an option. But though exile seems a lenient punishment for such a crime, it was not as simple as you think. You were usually given a limited amount of time to get out of the country, which could be anything from 3 days to a week. In that time you would have to make whatever arrangements you could to gather your wealth if you had any and make arrangements for transport. If you lived nowhere near the coast, the further you were, the more time you would have needed, and if you didn't get out within the time allotted you could be killed on the spot by anyone. But at least you were had a chance, and if you made it like the Godwinsons had done in 1051, you were free to gather forces and whatever mercenary help you could get and force your way back to power.
Alfgar was said to have gone straight to Ireland where he stayed some months recruiting men and ships from amongst the Hiberno-Norse. When he had 18 ships fully crewed, he made his way to King Gruffudd in Gwynnedd to recruit him to his cause. Gruffudd also took advantage of the Englishman's pleas by promising to help him invade England, if he helped him to defeat the king of South Wales, thus realising his dream of a becoming king of a united country. Alfgar was obviously obliging, and supported Gruffudd successfully. Shortly afterwards, the two armies, Alfgar's mercenaries and Gruffudd's Welshfighters, joined together to invade England, and razed Hereford to the ground, causing the deaths of five hundred English mounted warriors.

The lesson to be learned here for the English king, was that execution was more effective punishment than exile. You would think, wouldn't you? Unfortunately, the lesson was not learned and the same thing was to happen again three years later.
Paula Lofting is an author and a member of the re-enactment society Regia Anglorum, where she regularly takes part in the Battle of Hastings. Her first novel, Sons of the Wolf, is set in eleventh-century England and tells the story of Wulfhere, a man torn between family and duty. The sequel, The Wolf Banner is available now. Paula is currently working on the third book in the series, Wolf's Bane.

Connect with Paula on her Blog and on her Amazon Author Page

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Editors Weekly Round-up, March 17, 2019

by the EHFA Editors

Enjoy this week's articles from English Historical Fiction Authors.

by Erica Lainé

by Judith Arnopp

by Judith Thomson

Click on the post and leave a comment stating your preference for e-book or paperback. Giveaway closes at midnight Sunday 17 March Pacific Daylight Time (8am Monday 18 March GMT).

Friday, March 15, 2019

The Glorious Revolution

by Judith Thomson

On the 10th of July 1688 a momentous event in the history of England took place – a baby was born! He was not just any baby, he was the son of King James ll and his wife, Mary Beatrice. Or was he?

The news was the very last thing most people in England wanted to hear. James had succeeded his charismatic brother, Charles ll, to the throne but James was nothing like him. When the monarchy had been restored after the troubled years following Civil War, Charles had vowed that he would never go upon his travels again and he had used his charm, and his intelligence, to make sure of it. James was unfortunately lacking in both these qualities. Lord Rochester, who had a cruel wit, summed up their differences by saying that “Charles could see all things if he would, whilst James would see all things if he could!”

But the worst thing about James, in most people’s eyes, was that he had declared himself to be a Catholic and had married a Catholic after the death of his first wife. To a Protestant nation, to whom the horrors of the Popish Plot were still a vivid memory, this was unforgiveable. Catholics had been accused at that time of all sorts of heinous crimes, including attempting to kill his brother, Charles, and whether or not the charges had been proved false, Papists were still viewed with suspicion, and even hatred, by most. Now, thanks to James, they were being given important positions of power.

Charles’ illegitimate son, the Duke of Monmouth, had, three years earlier, led a rebellion against his uncle James, but it had been a disaster and resulted in a great many deaths, including that of the young Duke himself. After that, the people had, in the main, accepted James’ rule sullenly, safe in the knowledge that James could not live for ever. When he died, his eldest daughter, Mary, a good Protestant married to another of James’ nephews, the Dutch Prince, William of Orange, would inherit the throne.

Except now she wouldn’t. The new baby, being a boy, would take precedence over her, and he was baptised into the Catholic faith before he was a day old. The Papist rule would continue. Small wonder few welcomed the announcement of the Prince’s birth.

The word was even spread about that the Queen’s baby had died and that the new Prince of Wales had been a substitute, smuggled into her bedchamber in a warming pan. Some people went so far as to claim that she had never been pregnant in the first place, but had just been wearing a cushion tied around her! Those who were present at the birth disputed the tale of the ‘warming pan baby’ but, since it was only Catholics who been there whilst the Queen was in labour, their words did not carry too much weight.

Whatever people believed, or pretended to believe, there were a few who had decided that the time had come for action. Since the throne would no longer be given on James’ death to William of Orange and Princess Mary, then why not ask them to take it now, whilst James was still alive?

William of Orange

However, William had quite enough problems as it was, with the French troops of Louis XlV encroaching on his borders. He accepted the desirability of ensuring Protestant rule in England, especially since his arch-enemy, the Catholic King Louis, was James’ cousin, but, before he embarked upon so great an enterprise, he needed to be absolutely certain that it was what the nation truly wanted. He insisted upon being actually invited to take the English crown.

This was tricky, for anyone signing such an invitation would be taking a great risk. King James would show no mercy to any he suspected of working against him but, even so, a document was drawn up in secret. It bore the coded signatures of men representing the organisations whose welcome William had desired. These were Compton, the Bishop of London, for the Church, Admiral Russell for the Navy, Lord Danby for the Tories and Henry Sidney, Lord Shrewsbury, Lord Devonshire and Lord Lumley for the Whigs.

Seven brave and desperate men.

William received his invitation with more resignation than pleasure, but he knew where his duty lay and, upsetting as the prospect must have been of siding with her husband against her father, so did his wife, Mary.

Preparations for an invasion of England began at once. As well as the Dutch, there were troops assembled from all parts of Protestant Europe, and they were joined by Englishmen who had taken up residence in Holland and Huguenots who had fled France when the edict which had once protected French Protestants had been revoked.

It was a mighty army. Two hundred transport vessels were needed to take the sixteen thousand soldiers and their equipment over the North Sea. As well as food for the men and fodder and saddles for the horses they were taking, there was a mobile smithy and wagons, boats, a portable bridge and even a printing press with moulds for striking money! There were also fifty men o’ war with fire ships and lighter craft to escort them and many small boats that needed to be lashed to the side of larger vessels to enable them to make the crossing.

And what was King James doing whilst these preparations were going on? Not a lot, actually, at first. There were rumours that Prince William was planning to invade but he did not take the threat seriously. Samuel Pepys, the Secretary of the Admiralty, did take it seriously and tried to persuade him to commission the first and second rates, the grand battle fleet, but James was unwilling to spend the money. Pepys did manage to persuade him to man two third rates and three fourth rates, but James refused to be panicked and listened to his advisers, such as his chief minister, Lord Sunderland, who were convinced that if William did come he would not be foolish enough to brave the Autumn weather but would wait until the Spring.

Samuel Pepys

When they finally realised they were wrong, Pepys put to sea everything the Navy had that would stay afloat in the Autumn storms and even recalled the fleet from the straits of Gibraltar, all the way from the southern tip of Spain. Ships from every shipyard in the country were assembled at the Buoy of the Nore, in the mouth of the Thames estuary, and he worked round the clock to equip them, but he was short of guns and sailors. The press gangs were waiting for the merchant ships to come into port and soldiers were being taken on board if no others could be found.

William’s expedition did not have a very auspicious start. The first time they set sail the gales scattered the ships and they were forced to return. Only one ship was lost and no men but, sadly, thirteen hundred of the horses had suffocated by the time they managed to get them out. When the news reached James, he insisted that the wind had declared itself Popish!

Pepys was still concerned and pointed out to him that if the wind had not stopped William then their own fleet, which had been moved from the Nore to the Gunfleet, would have been trapped and powerless to prevent him from landing. James sent an order for Admiral Dartmouth to cross the sea and put a stop to the invasion whilst it was still in shambles but Dartmouth had a dilemma; most of his captains were Protestant and many of them were not loyal to James. He feared they might simply turn their ships over to William, given the chance.

And so it was without any opposition that William’s fleet finally sailed to England on the 1st of November 1688, saluting Dover and Calais with their guns as they passed through the Straits of Dover and playing drums and trumpets for the benefit of the people watching them from the Dover cliffs.

William had originally planned to land in the north but the wind was making it difficult so he decided to make for Torbay, in the west, instead and the huge fleet anchored off the little fishing village of Brixham, much to the surprise of the villagers!

Brixham - William of Orange Monument

There was little accommodation to be had there so William, the future king of England, spent his first night in his new country sleeping in a fisherman’s hut!

They marched to London, gathering recruits and supporters along the way, slowly at first, for people still remembered the terrible price paid by those who had supported the Duke of Monmouth’s ill-fated rebellion, but it soon became obvious to James that he was under a real threat and he rallied his forces to meet him in battle.

Unfortunately for James, most of the soldiers felt the same way about him as the sailors did. Many deserted and went over to join William, including his own son-in-law Prince George, who was married to his younger daughter, Anne. The real blow came for James, though, when John Churchill, later to become the Duke of Marlborough, changed sides. James had been a generous patron to Churchill, whose sister, Arabella, had once been his mistress, and could have expected that he, at least, would have remained loyal.

He returned to London and, when it became evident that he would not be able to negotiate a settlement with William, he managed to escape, on the second attempt, and followed his wife and baby son to France, where his cousin Louis welcomed him, even giving over to him the chateau of St. Germain.

So the ‘Glorious Revolution’ came about without battle or bloodshed, which had been exactly William’s intention. He and Mary were crowned as joint King and Queen on the 11th of April 1689 and became our first constitutional monarchs, not absolute as their predecessors had been, but answerable to the parliament and the people.

And James? The following year King Louis equipped him with an army and he sailed to Ireland in an attempt to raise supporters there and regain his crown.

But that is quite another story!


Judith Thomson lives in Sussex and is passionate about the seventeenth century She has gained much inspiration from her time spent in London and her regular visits to Paris and Versailles.
She likes to paint, enjoys boating on the French canals and scuba diving.
Judith has written five historical novels to date, based around the actual events of the period, set in both England and France. They follow the life and adventures of her main character, Philip Devalle, and have been published by Troubador. They are all available from as well as Amazon  and most book stores.

For more information about Judith and her books, please visit:
She also writes regular blogs on:
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Also by Judith Thomson:

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Lower Brockhampton Estate

by Judith Arnopp

Lower Brockhamptom is timeless. The timber-framed house and gatehouse nestle in a valley, ringed by a damson orchard and historic woodland. The house emerges as you walk up the drive and the sight halts you in your tracks and mesmerised, you reach for your camera. 

The manor was home to the same family for 900 years. The land has been occupied since Anglo Saxon times, with the house first mentioned in the 12th century, and the current dwelling dating back to the late medieval, extended further in the Tudor period.

As an author writing in the medieval/Tudor period, places like Lower Brockhampton are invaluable. I prefer to visit out of season, when there are fewer tourists, less intrusive signage and visitor attractions to distract from the past I am trying to locate.

I entered the gatehouse first. It was clearly built for status, not defence and according to the guidebook, may have been a ‘visual pun’ in its mirroring of the manor behind. From the outside the gatehouse is a wonky, half-timbered delight, the diamond casements twinkling a welcome.


I passed into the shadow of the gate. There have been many repairs and alterations over the years; the staircase is 17th century, the bargeboards on the south gable are modern copies from restoration in 1999. I run my fingers over the magnificent studded door and instinct tells me it is original. The guidebook confirms this and directs me to examine the bargeboards to the north, also original, the carving still remarkably vivid for its age.

The upper floor is uneven, the beamed ceiling aged to a glorious golden brown. On the walls you can trace the vague shadow of religious marks symbolising the Virgin Mary which, again according to the guide book, support the rumours of illegal Catholic masses held there during the Protestant years. I look around at the evidence of summer swallows and house martins, the ancient floors now trodden only by modern tourists, and wish those praying Catholics would show themselves and tell me how things really were.

Inside the main house, the National Trust direct visitors along a trail that follows the history of the manor’s inhabitants. The great hall for instance is laid out in 17th-century style but it is possible to see how it worked as a medieval hall. As you move through the building, the artefacts and the manner in which the rooms were used become more familiar. Close to the end of the trail, the Lounge looks just like my grandmother’s house once did with a fireplace, a writing desk, a radio and a three piece suite. Being contrary by nature, I walked round in the opposite direction so I could emerge with the earlier period fresh in my mind.

It was the outside that made my creative juices begin to flow. I strolled around the moat, examined the much plainer architecture at the back of the building, craned my neck to see the vast Tudor chimneys and was lured toward the silent peace of the ruined chapel.


In the undergrowth were small scurrying creatures whose way of life at Lower Brockhamptom hasn’t altered at all. The crows in the wood, the ducks on the moat, the moles who have dug up the meadow and garden provide the sights and sounds that remain unchanged.


It was particularly cold, even for late March, with huge cumulonimbus clouds decorating the blue sky. Every so often, the sun burst from their cover, stimulating reflections on the moat that mirrored the manor, the gatehouse, the sky – revealing another world beneath; a world very much like this one but enticing – the place I’d been seeking, the house where my characters dwell. I sat down, took out my notebook and asked if I could join them ...


Judith Arnopp writes historical fiction set in the medieval and Tudor period. She writes from a female perspective featuring women like Margaret Beaufort, Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth of York and Katheryn Parr. Her most recent novel, Sisters of Arden, traces the fate of three nuns during the dissolution of the monasteries

You can find out more on her webpage:
or her author page:

You can also follow her on social media.
Photographs © Judith Arnopp

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

England and France: Sibling Rivalry

By Erica Lainé

Robert and Isabelle Tombs wrote a book* - which begins in the 1600s, charting the relationship between England and France - called That Sweet Enemy, a quote from a 1591 sonnet by Sir Philip Sidney: ‘That sweet enemy, France.’ But there were quarrels, bitter and sweet, long before this.

The First Hundred Years War

The 100 Years War, lasting from 1337 to 1453, has been the subject of much in-depth research and critical analysis. Some French historians refer to an earlier period from 1154 to 1259 as the First 100 Years War. When Eleanor of Aquitaine, newly divorced from the French heir Prince Louis, married Henry of Anjou in 1152, this marriage set in train a relationship between England and France that was almost that of siblings. Henry became King of England in 1154 and ruled over that vast land mass from the borders with Scotland to the Pyrenees, with Aquitaine sitting like a very rich plum in the middle of the pie.

This did not make for an easy relaxed partnership between the two crowns.  Instead it was a relationship full of petty squabbles, some periods of savage fighting and frequent competition. The English and the French shared a feudal Christian heritage during the Middle Ages and had overlapping areas of influence, especially as the English kings, the Anglo-Angevins, tried to hold onto their lands in continental France. So a common heritage, but where they differed was in the size of the domains held and wealth and power. Their main interactions were based on trade and war.

In France the Capets held the île de France and relied on surrounding counties, Champagne, Burgundy, Blois and Flanders for support. France was not unified by allegiances to the centre or indeed by language and culture. Power was shared out among many feudal lords and some of these had very divided loyalties. From time to time each monarch tried to enlist the support of his rival’s men; local risings were stirred up against both the English and French kings. 

Further problems were caused by English nobles who held lands in France and swore loyalty to the French king but were called upon by their English overlord to fight against him. There was no unified state in the modern sense. Power was fragmented amongst this melange of feudal lords. Monarchs could not command direct authority over them; local dukes and counts or major towns owed the king, as their overlord, a duty of obedience but within their own territories they could act as independent rulers. When a king managed to get most of the big players on his side, they would support him; if not they could and frequently did rebel. Especially when they felt he or his officials were encroaching too much on their independence. 

And the problem of loyalty existed for the king himself. As English monarchs also had titles and lands within France, these possessions made them vassals to the kings of France. They had to swear fidelity to the French king as a duke of those lands, not as the King of England but as, for example the Duke of Normandy. Normandy was a huge sticking point and in May 1200, King John and Philippe Augustus signed a treaty at Le Goulet in an attempt to end the war over the duchy and to draw up new borders. Philippe now had a legal right over the English king’s lands but not over Aquitaine, which was still held by John as heir to Eleanor of Aquitaine.  

By 1202 the two kings were at loggerheads as Philippe had summoned John to answer charges brought against him by the Lusignans and John had refused to attend the court. He argued that as a king he did not need to answer such commands. Philippe replied that he summoned him as vassal duke of France and deposed him of his fiefs and went to war for Normandy. He was successful and Normandy was lost in 1204.

South West France: A Rebellious Region 

South West France from just below the Loire to the Pyrenees was not a heavily populated region. Aquitaine was a confusing collection of a dozen or so counties. Few towns of any significant size existed before 1200. But there was a growing sense of power and independence and many castles and fortified churches (which can be seen to this day) were built by forceful local lords and bishops.

Siorac de Riberac 

Who owned the Poitou? It was complicated. John seems to have agreed that it belonged to his mother and that it was hers to have and to hold forever. In May 1199 after he inherited the English crown, she ceded it to him as ‘her right heir’ and received his homage for it.  She made over to him the rights to govern and the fealty of its vassals. But one month later she also met Philippe and he had allowed her make homage to him for the Poitou, and this act formally recognised her as its lawful countess. Eleanor was determined to be the person legally responsible for the Poitou as far as the king of France was concerned. Perhaps she knew that the region would not be as loyal to her son as it was to her. The Poitevins had been described by William Marshal as ‘scheming traitors.’

Poitiers was Eleanor’s stronghold, a well-fortified town and always dominant. Further south control moved from Périgeuex to Angoulême and Thouars. Among the powerful local lords were the Lords of Lusignan and this map shows how their influence grew. 

Draft map - John and Erica Lainé

Their story is almost archetypical for the region. Swerving loyalties, savage raids on towns that stood out against them, grasping at charters and taxes and tolls, brutal ambushes, lies and treachery. In 1220 Hugh Lusignan married the widow of King John, Isabella of Angoulême thus binding himself to Henry III as his step-father. Except he was only loyal when it suited him. They were both happy to turn away to the French king when it didn’t and as the French could offer far more in the way of cash, betrothals and promises of more land the swerving allegiance paid well.

The Poitou was eyed by the Capets as a region they wanted under their control and King Louis VIII (who as Prince Louis had been invited, in 1215, to take the English throne at the time of the Barons’ War) decided in 1224 to ride down from Bourges and take it. Louis mopped up every Poitevin town with ease and besieged La Rochelle, which looked in vain to England for support. 

When Henry III decided to campaign in 1230 to take back the Poitou he was helped and encouraged by the Duke of Brittany, and other rebellious French lords who were intent on unseating Blanche of Castile, a formidable mother to a young King Louis IX. Henry’s campaign meandered down the Poitou to Bordeaux and back again and achieved nothing except expense and loss of life to disease, most likely malaria as the Vendée was marshy and the army marched through here in the height of the summer.  

Battle of Taillebourg:  Delacroix 1834: public domain

In 1242 Henry tried again to retake the Poitou and safeguard Gascony, his mother and step father had called on him for help as their independence was severely threatened by the Capets. They had invested King Louis’s brother Alphonse, as Count of Poitou and called for all kinds of allegiances to be sworn and homages made. This was another disastrous campaign ending in the Battle of Taillebourg, which Henry lost.  

The Poitou was now firmly part of the newly expanded France. Henry retreated to Bordeaux and was determined to hold onto Gascony and the lucrative wine trade.
The relationship between England and France continued to be uneasy until the Treaty of Paris in 1259. Henry III held Gascony and pockets of the Poitou and it was as Duke of Gascony and King of England that he negotiated. His resources seemed to be eternally limited though and at one stage he pawned the crown jewels to fund an expedition to put down strife in Gascony.  

Two Kingdoms: One Problem, Two Solutions 

For both the kings of France and England there was a similar difficult situation. However much they might desire to wage a major war, a king’s private income could not finance a costly war. 

The English kings’ problem was maintaining an army across the sea in France and having access to safe ports. The ports in Normandy were lost after John’s defeat. La Rochelle remained a safe haven until Louis took it, thus depriving Henry III of a landing place for easy excursions into the Poitou. Unless the Duke of Brittany was paid great sums of money, St Malo would be a place of unwelcome piracy and raids. It was a long and difficult voyage to sail down the Bay of Biscay to Royan or the mouth of the Gironde. Knights, soldiers, provisions and horses had to be carried by ship. Mercenaries had to be paid.  All of this was very expensive. 

When Henry III inherited an almost bankrupt kingdom he struggled to find money to regain those lost French lands.  A king who was now relying on contributions from the magnates and the church and who had to persuade, but not coerce them, or face rebellion.  Raising money for warfare by imposing a new tax meant asking a nascent parliament for agreement.  Often the council was reluctant to do so, unless they were convinced that the war was of benefit to them, and held out for concessions. Gradually this became how the king and his circle, the king and the magnates conducted policy. It had all the ingredients to make for a belligerent and acrimonious relationship. This tussle led to the beginnings of a political system where the centres of power, nobles, the Church, the king and his advisers would determine their differences in the context of parliament. 

In France the problem was in reverse. The campaigns were fought on its soil and the towns and villages and people suffered. It became easier for French kings to justify taxes to raise armies and maintain them, even if lords and knights would only give their 40 days of service before returning home. The king asked for aid and it was very rarely refused. Louis IX had a healthy annual revenue of between £200,000 and £250,000 parisi. During his reign the monetary system in France consolidated and stabilised. His father and grandfather had been prudent and managed to have sons who did not quarrel within the family or turn against them. 

Taxes were collected year after year without there necessarily being a war to justify the imposition and without the necessity for an assenting vote. The church and the French kings also tended to be in agreement most of the time, which kept the balance of power firmly with the king. 

The several wars that made up the First 100 years War and The 100 Years War paved the way for the French kings to build a very central and absolute monarchy. 

Two Kings, Two Systems

In each situation these years of war, helped to shift both England and France onto a new path. In France, instead of various magnates controlling large, almost princedoms within the borders, there was now a sense of greater unity. The king did not rule only because of their support and consent. His power extended throughout the realm, and this began in the late 1220s. The concept of a sovereign king rather than a suzerain or feudal overlord was born and France was becoming a nation–state. But always with the king and his officials firmly holding centre stage. 

The concept of an English nationality became more apparent now that the English were expelled from France. Borders were more defined; possessions on the continent were no more. Loyalty was more straightforward. And so strong central government came about in England too, but here it was a partnership between king and parliament. In 1236 the term parliament was recorded for the first time. A new term for something that was often fractious and inconsistent. But it described the assemblies and councils held by the Anglo-Saxons and which had existed for many centuries. Now it evolved again. 

This article began with a quote from the 16th century and it ends with one from the 15th. Sir John Fortescue, a Chief Justice of the King's Bench, reflected that the king of France could rule his people by such laws as he made himself and set taxes without their assent. The king of England by contrast could not rule his people 'by laws other than those the people had assented to'. 

[*Tombs, Robert and Tombs, Isabelle, That Sweet Enemy: Britain and France: The History of a Love-Hate Relationship, Vintage 2008]


Erica Lainé has been an actress, a beauty consultant, a box office manager for an arts festival, a domiciliary librarian, a reader liaison officer, a speech and drama teacher, a writer of TEFL textbooks for Chinese primary schools, and an educational project manager for the British Council in Hong Kong. She was awarded an MBE for her work there. 

After Hong Kong she came to south west France with her architect husband to live in the house he had designed, a conversion from a cottage and barn. She is president of An Aquitaine Historical Society and through this came to know about Isabella Taillefer, the subject of her trilogy. Isabella of Angoulême: The Tangled Queen.