Friday, October 30, 2020

The Truth About Halloween and Tudor England

by Nancy Bilyeau

I have a passion for 16th century England. My friends and family, not to mention my agent and editors, are accustomed to my obsession with the Tudorverse. Namely, that for me, all roads lead back to the family that ruled England from 1485 to 1603. Could it be possible that Halloween, one of my favorite days of the year, is also linked to the Tudors?

Yes, it turns out, it could.

The first recorded use of the word "Halloween" was in mid-16th century England. It is a shortened version of "All-Hallows-Even" ("evening"), the night before All Hallows Day, another name for the Christian feast that honors saints on the first of November.
But it's not just a literal connection. To me, there's a certain spirit of Halloween that harkens back to the Tudor era as well. Not the jack o' lanterns, apple-bobs and haunted houses (and not the wonderful Christopher Lee "Dracula" movies that I watch on TCM network every October, two in a row if I can). It's that mood, frightening and mysterious and exciting too, of ghosts flitting through the trees; of charms that just might bring you your heart's desire; of a distant bonfire spotted in the forest; of a crone's chilling prophecy.

The Oxford Astrologer
In pre-Reformation England, the Catholic Church co-existed with belief in astrology and magic. It was quite common to attend Mass regularly and to consult astrologers. "The medieval church appeared as a vast reservoir of magical power," writes Keith Thomas in his brilliant 1971 book Religion and the Decline of Magic. Faithful Catholics tolerated the traditions of the centuries-old Celtic festival of Samhain ("summer's end"), when people lit bonfires and put on costumes to scare away the spirits of the unfriendly dead. In fact, an Eighth Century pope named November 1st as the day to honor all Catholic saints and martyrs with an eye toward Samhain.

Soul cakes
Nothing shows the merger of Celtic and Christian beliefs better than "soul cakes." These small, round cakes, filled with nutmeg or cinnamon or currants, were made for All Saints’ Day on November 1st. The cakes were offered as a way to say prayers for the departed (you can picture the village priest nodding in approval) but they were also given away to protect people on the day of the year that the wall was thinnest between the living and the dead, a Celtic if not Druid belief. I am fascinated by soul cakes, and I worked them into my first novel, The Crown, a thriller set in 1537-1538 England. Soul cakes even end up being a clue!

In the early 16th century, Halloween on October 31st, All Saints’ Day (or All Hallows Day) on November 1st and All Souls’ Day on November 2nd were a complex grouping of traditions and observances. Life revolved around the regular worship, the holidays and the feast days that constituted the liturgy. As the great Eamon Duffy wrote: "For within that great seasonal cycle of fast and festival, of ritual observance and symbolic gesture, lay Christians found the paradigms and the stories which shaped their perception of the world and their place in it."
Sculptures smashed at Worcester Cathedral.
Henry VIII changed the perceptions of the kingdom forever when he broke from Rome. A guiding force in his reformation of the Catholic Church was the destruction of what he and his chief minister Thomas Cromwell scorned as "superstition." Saints' statues were removed; murals telling mystical stories were painted over; shrines were pillaged; the number of feast days was sharply reduced so that more work could be done during the growing season. "The Protestant reformers rejected the magical powers and supernatural sanctions which had been so plentifully invoked by the medieval church," writes Keith Thomas. The story in The Crown is told from the perspective of a young Catholic novice who struggles to cope with these radical changes.

My children love Halloween as much as I do. Yet somehow Halloween, the day before All Saints’ Day, survived the government's anti-superstition movement, to grow and survive long after the Tudors were followed by the Stuarts. It’s now a secular holiday that children adore (including mine, who are trying on costumes four days early). 

As for me, I relish the candy handouts, costumes and scary movies—and I also cherish our society’s stubborn fondness for bonfires and charms and ghosts and sweet cakes, for in them can be found echoes of life in the age of the Tudors.

This is an Editor's Choice and was originally published on October 27, 2011.

Nancy Bilyeau is a historical novelist and magazine editor based in New York. She wrote the Joanna Stafford trilogy, a trio of thrillers set in Henry VIII’s England, for Simon & Schuster. Her fourth novel is The Blue, an 18th century thriller revolving around the art & porcelain world. Her latest novel is Dreamland, set in Coney Island of 1911, is published by Endeavour Quill. A former staff editor at Rolling StoneEntertainment Weekly, and InStyle, Nancy is currently the deputy editor at the Center on Media, Crime and Justice at John Jay College and contributes to Town & CountryCrimeReads, and Mystery Scene magazine.

For more information, visit

Tuesday, October 27, 2020


By Lauren Gilbert

Anyone intending to visit an archive or library to conduct research this year has found their plans cancelled thanks to COVID-19. Between travel restrictions and facility closures, access has been suddenly and severely limited. However, all is not completely lost.

When looking for information about people or events in the past, it is astonishing how much material there can be. Many primary sources may now be available on-line, if only temporarily. Various biographies and numerous histories can be found, sometimes written by contemporary authors, more often by authors of subsequent generations. Many of the readily available sources are written by men, although there are currently a number of excellent female historians now writing.

If one is curious about contemporary female perspectives on past events or historical personages, finding materials can be a bit challenging. A female perspective is invaluable, especially when one is looking for information about women in the past. At present, my research is focused on the late Georgian/Regency era in the United Kingdom, and I have found a variety of materials available to me via archives and on-line searches. However, some of the most fascinating were not produced by the individuals themselves, but by their contemporaries. Published memoirs, diaries and collections of letters can be found. Mrs. Harriet Arbuthnot, Lady Frances Shelley, the Comtesse de Boigne and the Duchesse de Dino, all moved in the highest circles, politically and socially, and interacted with the movers and shakers of their day. The diaries and memoirs of these four women give feminine perspectives of the times and places, and frequently make observations about the people and events of their time that give a wider view. In addition to being informative, they have the advantage of being entertaining and easily available, either on-line or by purchase.


Harriet Arbuthnot by Thomas Lawrence-public domain

Harriet Arbuthnot was born on September 10, 1793 to the Hon. Henry Fane and his wife, the former Ann Batson. Mr. Fane was a connection of John Fane, 9th Earl of Westmorland, making her a relation of Sarah Sophia, Countess of Jersey, and member of Parliament. The couple had 14 children, of whom Harriet was second to the youngest. Her father died when she was 9 years old. Her mother received a generous inheritance in 1810, which eased matters for the family.

Harriet Fane married the Right Honourable Charles Arbuthnot on January 31, 1814. She was 20 years old to his 46. He had been and continued to be an active member of Parliament and had held numerous government appointments, including Ambassador Extraordinary to the Ottoman Empire between 1804 and 1807. He was a widower with children when they married. Her family was not pleased with the engagement, due to Charles’ age and to financial considerations. The amount her mother and brother Vere Fane (who worked for Child’s Bank, owned by Lady Jersey) were prepared to settle on Harriet did not please Charles, but the matter was eventually resolved, and the marriage celebrated. Through her marriage to Charles, Harriet became a part of the political and diplomatic world, which was a source of fascination to her.

Harriet formed a close friendship with Robert Stewart, Lord Castlereagh (later Lord Londonderry) which lasted until his death by suicide until 1822. Subsequently, she formed a lasting friendship with the Duke of Wellington, who was also a friend of her husband’s. Although there were suggestions that she was Wellington’s mistress, most sources conclude that she was not his mistress, but a dear and intimate friend who acted as his hostess when needed.

Harriet was only 41 when she died August 2, 1834 of cholera, leaving both her husband and the duke disconsolate. Interestingly, Charles Arbuthnot took up residence with the Duke of Wellington until Arbuthnot’s own death in 1850.

Her journal was edited by Francis Bamford and the 7th Duke of Wellington-supposedly published in their entirety with adjustments for style and readability. Her views were conservative and aligned with the Tory party. In her journal, her primary focus was political. (Although she did have some choice remarks to make about unfaithful wives and various ladies of her acquaintance.) Her journals cover the periods 1820 to 1825 (volume 1) and 1826 to 1832 (volume 2). Volume 2 contains multiple appendices containing various letters and an index to both volumes.


Lady Shelley, from a miniature by G. Sanders, 
in the possession of Spencer Shelley Esq.

Lady Frances Shelley was born June 16, 1787 to Thomas Hinckley and Jacintha Dalrymple Hesketh. (Jacintha was a widow with 6 children when she married Thomas, and was the sister of Grace Dalrymple Elliot, a famous courtesan, whom Frances met once.) Frances was the only child of this marriage. Her mother died when she was about 15 years old. She then went to live with her half-brother Sir Thomas Hesketh. She was presented at court in 1805, and became acquainted with Lord and Lady Sefton.

Frances met Sir John Shelley through the Seftons. He was also a particularly close friend of Lord George Villiers (later Earl of Jersey, married to Lady Sarah Sophia Fane, mentioned previously). He was 15 years older than Frances, known as a gambler and a womanizer, and a member of the highest society. He had served in Parliament from 1804 to 1806, so had political acquaintances. Numerous ladies had set their sights on him, including Lady Jersey’s sister. Frances’ brother and family objected to the match. Time and the good offices of Lord and Lady Sefton won out and Frances married Lord Shelley on June 4th, 1807. She was shy and younger than the women in whose society she found herself, and it took time for her to adjust. They had 5 children. Sir John inherited an estate in East Essex, which assisted their financial situation.

Frances met Wellington at Peace Celebrations in 1814. After the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, the Shelleys journeyed to Paris where they became part of Wellington’s circle. She became a close friend of Wellington’s, and a close friend of Harriet Arbuthnot. Sir John Shelley returned to Parliament and served 1816-1831. Frances and the Duke of Wellington socialized and corresponded regularly. Both Wellington and Lord Shelley died in 1852. Frances continued her diary until she made her final entry at age 83. She intended to write an autobiography but did not.

Frances died on the Isle of Wight February 24, 1873.

Her grandson Richard Edgcumbe, who admitted to natural sympathies, and possible mistakes as he attempted to be impartial, edited her diary. She discussed her youth; she was much younger than her husband, and not comfortable with women who had flirted with him in the past. Throughout, she was not above tart comments about many of the women of her acquaintance. The diary contains personal as well as political observations. It was published in 2 volumes. Volume 1 covers 1787-1817, and volume 2 1818-her Last Words at age 83 (1870). There is an end note by the editor in which he concludes with her death. Each volume has an index.


Portrait of the Comtesse de Boigne by J. Isabey-Creative Commons

The Comtesse de Boigne was born Adelaide Charlotte Louise Eleonore d’Osmond on February 10, 1781, the daughter of the 4th Marquis d’Osmond (whose lineage extended back to the 10th century) and his wife Eleonore Dillon, the daughter of an Irishman. Her mother was lady-in-waiting to Princess Marie Adelaide and baby Adelaide was born and raised in Versailles. After the French Revolution broke out, the family relocated in 1790 to first Italy, then England.

While living in England, she and her family met General Benoit de Boigne, a wealthy man 30 years older than she, in 1797. They were married on June 11, 1798. While the marriage improved her family’s financial status, it appears to have been unhappy from the beginning. He had made his fortune in India, and he apparently neglected to mention that he had a native wife and children there. In 1802, he bought a chateau in his native town of Chambery, Savoy. The couple had no children, and separated permanently in 1804. Madame de Boigne returned to France in 1804, living with her parents in Paris. After the restoration of the Bourbons in 1814, she and her family rose to prominence. Her father became ambassador to Turin, and subsequently to England. She accompanied her family. She became a close friend of Marie-Amelie, wife of Louis-Philippe.

Her father’s assignment allowed her to return to England in the spring of 1816, following her parents. Once back in France, the Comtesse de Boigne established a salon in Paris that became a popular meeting place for politicians and society elite, particularly between 1830-1848. She started writing her memoirs in 1835, although they were not published until 1907. She also wrote 2 novels. Comtesse de Boigne died May 10, 1866 in Paris.

Her memoirs contain her personal recollections of people and events. She seemed as interested in the people as the politics. Volume 2 in particular includes her observations on going back to London after 12 years, comparing her memories to current conditions, as well as her observations on personalities, including the Prince Regent and the leaders of society, and on social customs. I have a set of her primary memoirs in English in 3 volumes: Volume 1 (1781-1814), volume 2 (1815-1819) and volume 3 (1820-1830). Each volume has an index. When available, the complete set in French includes volume 4 which contains fragments from 1830-1839 and volume 5 that includes fragments from 1832-1848 with some unpublished correspondence.


Dorothea von Biron, Princess of Courland, Duchess of Dino, Talleyrand, and Sagan, was born August 21, 1793 to Anne Charlotte Dorothea von Medem, Duchess of Courland and her husband Duke Peter von Biron. (The duke had been married previously and already had three daughters.) The duke acknowledged Dorothea as his daughter. However, it is suggested that her father actually may have been Aleksander Batowski , a Polish statesman. She was the Duke’s fourth and last daughter. She was known as Dorothea de Courland or Dorothea de Dino.

In 1809, Dorothea married Edmond de Talleyrand-Perigord, a French cavalry officer who was the nephew of statesman Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Perigord, in Frankfurt. The elder Talleyrand had promoted the match. The couple had two sons, Napoleon-Louis and Alexandre. In 1817, Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Perigord was made a prince and duke by Louis XVII of France. He turned over the duchy of Dino to Edmond, making Dorothea the Duchesse de Dino. The couple legally separated in 1818. They were unsuccessfully reconciled in 1820, finally separating in 1821.

Dorothea’s beauty and charm won the affection of the elder Talleyrand even though he was 39 years older. Accompanying him as his niece, Dorothea was present at the Congress of Vienna in 1814-1815. From 1815 on, Dorothea acted as his hostess at his home in Paris. Her husband, Edmond, died in Italy in 1822. Dorothea had other liaisons (and other children), but remained with Prince Talleyrand he died in 1838. She held Prince Talleyrand’s papers and personal archives, and is supposed to have been involved in the posthumous publication of his Memoirs. Subsequently she spent time living in Paris and finally in Sagan in Germany. Her relationship with Prince Talleyrand was the subject of much speculation. She was his niece by marriage, and gossip also identified her as his mistress. She was aware of this, and acknowledged the rumours in her memoirs. There seems little doubt that she was, in fact, his mistress even though both had other lovers.

The Duchesse de Dino died September 18, 1862 after a long illness.

Her memoirs were edited by her granddaughter, Princesse Radziwill. The Duchesse had told the princess that she was leaving her the materials with instructions and advice, and the princess completed the project with assistance from the late Duchesse’s executor. The memoirs are fascinating reading, consisting of diary entries with annotations and quotes from letters (or even whole letters). They are a fascinating blend of personal and political observations, with references to letters from other people. Her diary addresses events and people in England as well as France.

The memoirs were published in multiple volumes in French. The volumes contain appendices and biographical indices (which provide only brief paragraphs with biographical data). I have a reprint set comprised of volume 1 (1831-1835), volume 2 (1836-1840) and volume 3 (1841-1850), available in English, and pertinent to the periods I am studying. Other editions with volumes covering up to 1862 are available in French. (The numbers of volumes in the complete set seems to vary depending on in which language and edition they were published.) Volume 1 contains her diaries and memoirs of her time in London (starting in 1831). She became friends with Lady Cowper (later Lady Palmerston) and with Princess Lieven, and maintained her friendship and correspondence with both ladies for years.

While these memoirs and diaries do not replace original sources, such as wills, complete correspondence, and so forth, they provide valuable insight to this entire period, and particularly feminine points of view of the people, events and politics of the era. While there are inevitable biases and fact checking is (as always) needed, I found all of these sources to be eminently readable and helpful. In these difficult times when access to original source materials is so restricted, they are invaluable sources of information.


Ziegler, Philip. THE DUCHESS OF DINO A life of Dorothea of Courland, mistress to Talleyrand. New York: The John Day Company, 1963. “Talleyrand’s Chateau de Valencay. » Author not shown. Posted July 16, 2018. HERE “The de Boigne Family » by Antoine de Galbert (no post date). “Duchess of Dino.” No author or post date provided. HERE “The Iron Duke’s Lady” by HeritageAlive!, posted August 2 (year not shown). HERE “Harriet Arbuthnot and the ‘vortex of politics’” by Dr. Stephen Lee, posted January 12, 2015. HERE “Memoirs of the Comtesse de Boigne » by Mme. de Sabran, posted Saturday, April 9, 2016. HERE “The Journal of Mrs. Arbuthnot” by Cheryl Bolen, first published in The Quizzing Glass, December 2010, posted online with author’s permission January 23, 2012. HERE “Born at Versailles: The Author Mme De Boigne” by David Gemeinhardt, posted February 12, 2017. HERE


Lady Shelley: scanned frontispiece from my personal copy of THE DIARY OF FRANCES LADY SHELLEY 1787-1817.

Others from Wikimedia Commons.


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 a number of programs. She lives in Florida with her husband. Her first book, HEYERWOOD A Novel, is still available. Recently released, A RATIONAL ATTACHMENT is her second novel. A long-time contributor to the English Historical Fiction Authors blog, her work is included in both volumes of CASTLES, CUSTOMS AND KINGS: True Tales by English Historical Fiction Authors. She is researching material for a non-fiction work. Please visit her website for more information HERE .

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Conquest of England 1066 AD. The battles of Fulford, Stamford and Hastings.

By Garrett Pearson


1066 AD Proved a decisive year for Anglo-Saxon England.

King Edward shown on the Bayeux Tapestry

The English King Edward the Confessor died childless on January 5 of that year and failing to nominate an heir created a power vacuum for the throne. The only true claimant was a nephew of Edward’s, Edgar Ætheling. Edgar however, aged only fourteen and residing in Hungary was virtually unknown to the Saxon people and thus devoid of support in England. 

Three forceful claimants sought the crown, Earl Harold Godwinson of England, King Harald Sigurdsson (Hardrada) of Norway and William, Duke of Normandy.  

Each claim was tenuous; Harold’s claim cited a promise given him by Edward on his deathbed. Hardrada’s, based on distant ties to the former Anglo-Danish King Canute, and William by a promise he claimed given to him years earlier by Edward. William also claimed that Harold, whilst a detainee or guest of his in Normandy, had given an oath of fealty to him and promised support in his claim to the English throne. 

Harold was crowned King on January 6 by Bishops Stigand of Canterbury and Ealdred of York with the support of the English Witan, the Saxon assembly of nobles. Harold’s coronation was astonishingly quick, perhaps done before objections could be raised, previous Kings usually taking time to be exposed to their people and Lords.  

Rebellion and invasion

Harold’s estranged and younger brother, Tostig Godwinson, the former Earl of Northumberland and whom Edward exiled before his death, now sought to reclaim his Earldom. After raiding the Isle of Wight and the southeastern coast of England but to no gain and little effect, he looked for greater support against his brother from the other claimants, William and Hardrada. 

Allying himself with Hardrada the pair agreed to meet with their fleets at Tynemouth on the northeast coast of England. Hardrada, abandoning his long and unproductive war against Denmark arrived with three hundred ships and an army of approximately nine thousand men, consisting mainly of Norsemen but supplemented by vassals from Orkney and Shetland and some Scots mercenaries supplied by King Malcolm III. Tostig arrived with twelve ships, and supported by some exiled Saxon retainers and Flemish mercenaries supplied by his brother-in-law, Count Baldwin of Flanders.   


Battle of Fulford – September 20

Battle of Fulford - Mathew Paris (Public Domain)
After sacking Scarborough and the northeast coast, Hardrada’s and Tostig’s fleet turned into the river Humber and sailed inland, landing and disembarking at Riccall (Richale) some ten miles south of York (Jorvik). 

Two miles south of York at Fulford, they were confronted by brothers Edwin and Morcar, the respective Earls of Mercia and Northumberland and around five thousand Saxon troops. 

The Earls drew their army up along the north bank of the Germany Beck with Edwin and his Mercians on the right flank by the river Ouse and Morcar and the Northumbrians to the center with marshland to their left. Hardrada’s men were still coming in from Riccall when battle commenced, the Saxons seeking victory before all of Hardrada’s troops arrived. Owing to the high tide on the Ouse, the beck was also in flood forcing the Saxons and Norse to fight across it. With difficult conditions for both armies, Hardrada committed his light troops along the beck hoping they could hold the Saxons until more of his men came up from Riccall. Initially the Saxons enjoyed success, pushing Hardrada’s men back but as the heavy Norse troops arrived and were marched around the riverbank, where the tide had now fallen; they attacked the Saxon right flank driving Edwin and his Mercians off. More Norse pushed around the Saxon left flank, both contingents then turning to attack the rear of the Saxon center, cutting them to pieces. Casualties were heavy on both sides though the power of the northern Saxon army was broken and both Earls managed to escape.

Harald and Tostig marched eight miles east of York to Stamford to await and accept hostages and the surrender of the city, Stamford being chosen as it was a well-known landmark on the boundary of the east and north ridings of Yorkshire.

Battle of Stamford – September 25

With the northern Saxon army destroyed and believing Harold to be in the south watching for William, Hardrada sent half of his troops under his Earl (Jarl) Eysteinn Orri back to their ships at Riccall, the rest relaxing in the meadows by the river Derwent at Stamford.

Harold however, hearing news of the Norse invasion had force-marched north from London, completely surprising the Norse contingent at Stamford. Expecting no trouble, many of the Norse had sent their mail hauberks and shields back to their ships, now, unprepared and with hastily drawn battle lines, they faced the Saxons. The speed of the Saxon arrival suggests that most were mounted but whether they dismounted to fight on foot as traditional or attacked mounted is still a moot point. With Saxon numbers estimated at ten to twelve thousand men, Hardrada dispatched runners back to Orri at Riccall, some fifteen miles away calling for reinforcements.

The Norse were gradually pushed back. Seeking to regroup on more favorable ground, they crossed a narrow bridge whilst a lone warrior with a double-handed axe held it against the Saxons. Buying time for his comrades, he is reputed to have slain between twenty and forty men before finally succumbing to a spear in the groin thrust from beneath the bridgeboards by a Saxon warrior.

During a lull in the fighting, the chroniclers, Snorri Sturluson and Henry of Huntingdon, cite that a warrior approached Tostig and Hardrada offering Tostig his Earldom back. When Tostig asked what terms for Hardrada, the man is said to have replied “Only six feet of English ground or more, as he is taller than other men.” The warrior was reputed to be Harold.

Battle recommenced and Hardrada fell to an arrow through the throat, Tostig was also slain. Jarl Orri and his men arrived in late afternoon having ran the fifteen miles from Riccall. Committing immediately to battle they stalled the Saxon onslaught but succumbing to exhaustion and a foe that sensed victory they were pushed back, Orri being killed in the melee.

Late in the day, Harold offered the remaining Norsemen the chance to leave, never to return, under pain of death. The Norse casualties were so great that only thirty ships were required to take the survivors back to Norway.

Battle of Stamford Bridge & death of Hardrada (unknown artist)

Invasion and the Battle of Hastings 14 October

William’s fleet of some seven hundred ships, a mixture of warships and transports landed at Pevensey Bay on September 28 or 29. He immediately dispatched troops to invest Hastings town and to ravage the surrounding countryside. 

Harold, resting in York when he heard of Williams’s invasion set off south reaching London in four days. At this speed, it is thought he rode ahead with his Huscarls (personal guard) with others to follow on as soon as able.

Harold was urged to wait in London for the men from the north and for more men to come in but being a successful, confident and vigorous commander; he refuted the advice, and marched to meet William. Word was put out for men to assemble by the ‘Hoar apple tree” a well-known landmark, long since lost.

It is surmised Harold’s speed was a plan to catch William unawares, William however stole a march on Harold and the two sides came in sight on opposing hills on the early morning of October 14. William on Telham hill with his papal banner, a gift of support from Pope Alexander the second to aid his endeavours against Harold the ‘oath breaker.’ On Caldbec hill, Harold set his banners of the fighting man and the dragon of Wessex, his brothers Gyrth and Leofwine in support. His men formed up on a hammer shaped ridge at the hill front, above a boggy area called Santlache meaning ‘Sandy Stream’ and punned later by the Normans as Senlac, meaning ‘blood lake.’

William moved to the low ground between the hills expecting Harold to come down off Caldbec hill and fight him, Harold sensibly refused.

Battle commenced at 0900hrs with volleys of arrows from the Norman archers. The Saxons, in dense formation raising their shields against the incoming storm suffered little damage, William then dispatched his infantry uphill in an attempt to shatter the Saxon shieldwall. His men were met by a hail of missiles, arrows, clubs, stones and javelins, the Saxons roaring defiance with cries of ‘Ut, ut, ut’ (out, out, out) after a prolonged struggle and no sign of the wall breaking, William sent his mounted knights in support. However, with the wall unbroken the best the knights could do was ride in and away stabbing with their lances else hurl maces and javelins in an attempt to break the wall. 

With the Saxon wall showing no sign of breaking, the Breton contingent on William’s left flank broke and fled back down the hill, some of the cavalry floundering in the soft ground and a cry went up that William was dead. Some Saxons broke ranks and chased the Norman rout, seeing crisis, William threw back his coif and helmet showing himself alive and rode amongst his men trying to stem the panic. Managing to rally his men, the Normans counter attacked and slaughtered the Saxons on the open ground. 

A break in the fighting had both sides reforming, the Saxons adjusting their shrinking shieldwall and the Normans regrouping for another assault. The battle continued into the afternoon with the Normans again making no headway against the Saxon defence. At the height of a full assault on the shieldwall, the Normans again began falling back down the hill as if in disarray, the Saxons, once more sensing victory and against all commands, broke ranks and gave chase. On the low ground, the Normans turned and easily slaughtered the Saxons, who in loose order were easy prey to the mounted knights. 

With the loss of the men in the low ground, the Saxon shieldwall shrunk again. William, seizing the moment committed to a full assault by all his troops, his archers this time causing casualties in the weakened wall. The infantry forced gaps in the Saxon ranks, the knights riding in to widen and split the defences open, Gyrth and Leofwine both slain as the knights forced through. Harold, the last King of the Saxons was killed alongside his Huscarls, they closing about their King and dying to a man around him, such were the bonds of oath and warrior brotherhood.

Death of Harold depicted - ambiguously? - on the Bayeux Tapestry

The battle had raged since 0900hrs in the morning until sunset, about 1700hrs at that time of year making it the longest fought battle on English soil. The fighting had been fierce, William having three horses killed beneath him.

Estimates of combatants vary widely, the main consensus being the sides were roughly even in number and around eight to ten thousand men on each side 

Did Harold die from an arrow in the eye? The Bayeux tapestry portrays such a scene or is Harold depicted twice, shot by the arrow and then ridden down by a Norman knight? No one can say for certain how he died. Harold’s body was so mutilated that his mistress, Edith Swanneshals, was summoned to identify it, doing so by tattoos that only she would have been privy to.

Battle won; the conquest was far from over. William was crowned King of England on Christmas day 1066 but would be occupied up until his death in 1087 AD dealing with Saxon insurrection, Danish invasion and revolt by his own Norman Lords.


Interesting questions and thoughts arise from this short but turbulent period:

If Hardrada had triumphed at Stamford, would he have beaten William and England become predominately Norse?

Were the Norman retreats a planned ruse?

If William had lost, English royalty, culture, language and laws would be completely different.

Military experts conclude that, if the Saxons had not moved from the ridge, the battle outcome had to be a win for Harold or at the very worst a withdrawal of the Normans.


Garrett Pearson was born and raised in the northeast of England; he is married with two grown sons. Captivated by the long and turbulent history of his homeland he became a passionate student of English history and ancient military history. He is an author of Historical Fiction, a member of the Historical Novel Society and a guest blogger to English Historical Fiction Authors (EHFA). He specialises in Dark Age England and the Saxon/Viking wars as well as the Second Punic War between Carthage and Rome.




Author’s email is 

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Stuart Stumpwork

By Prue Batten 

Embroidery – notionally and popularly a woman’s activity throughout history. Something that began as a necessity but developed to become a skill or an artform that an accomplished woman should possess.

And no time more so than the seventeenth century when raised, also called embossed work, was the fashion de jour. Called stumpwork embroidery since the nineteenth century, raised work traces its roots back to the highly padded ecclesiastic work of the fifteenth century. Gradually the three-dimensional stitching and unique subject matter of such embroidery became popular with the more affluent families of Stuart England. They needed to be affluent, because the supplies required to stitch the work (see below), were imported and pure. Nothing at all acrylic, plastic or cheap in those days.


Stumpwork relied heavily on detached buttonhole stitch and needlelace stitch, also on wires for supporting the raised or three-dimensional appearance and on silk threads, metal purl and bead work. At the time, colours were bright, and a strict pattern was always followed.

Black outline on extant pieces of raised embroidery leads one to believe that stitchers actually worked from kits in much the same way we do today. There is evidence that embroidery pedlars would travel from wealthy house to wealthy house selling kits with scenes and subject matter tailored cleverly to those families. Wily pedlars would appeal to the vanities of the women of the house by including fashion of the times in the designs, ensuring a ready sale.


The kits were luscious, and as mentioned, expensive. ‘Silver and gold thread, fine gimp cords from Italy, lightly twisted silks from the Continent and further afield, thick chenille threads, wools, satin ribbons, tiny brocade tassels, silk-covered purls, painted bullion, spangles, seed pearls, semi-precious stones, (floral glass, amber, turquoise) coral, tiny seashells, slivers of mother of pearl, fine kid leather, peacock plumules, wrapped and looped vellum, sheets of mica and talc and scraps of treasured fabrics.’ To me, it sounds like expansive 17th century trade all stitched up in magnificent caskets, mirrors, frames and boxes and I can almost feel my spine tingling as I read the names of the components.

I can speak from experience when I say the opening of a kit to reveal a heavenly rainbow of silk threads that lie softly but seductively in one’s hand, along with little containers of metallic thread and delicate beading is something that raises the heartbeat of an embroiderer, be they Stuart or contemporary. I can also speak from experience when I say that stumpwork is an extremely challenging artform. It takes hours of concentration to create each of the individual raised elements before one can add them to the embroidery as a whole. 


In the Stuart era, political causes inveigled their way into the subject matter – royalist loyalties being signified by Charles I’s caterpillars and Charles II’s butterflies, oaks and acorns. 

But as in all aspects of the arts, flower species were used to define particular emotions and perhaps even convey a message from the soul. 

And of course, when an embroiderer wanted to throw all caution to the wind, they would stitch a cornucopia of fruits, birds and animals from pattern sheets that the same wily pedlar would hawk to the house, no attention being paid to the relative size and shape of subject matter which makes for some fascinating viewing today!


The finished piece would then be sent to a carpenter or joiner to be padded and mounted into caskets, mirror-frames, trays and chests. Many pieces exist in museums around the world, but the V&A in particular is renowned for its casket collection. The sad thing is, of course, that the colours have faded through time and so one must use one’s imagination when seeing the collections.

The artform faded from popularity in the eighteenth century when exploration began to introduce new and more fashionable modes of stitchery from across the globe. Fashions and interests changed and women moved on but fashions of stitching tend to move in circles and in the 1990’s stumpwork resurrected itself into a much sought-after form of embroidery and in all countries of the world there are many stunning examples of contemporary stitching based on those age-old techniques.


Stumpwork is an extremely exacting form of embroidery which requires good light, good eyes and exemplary patience. The requirements of good light and good eyesight alone make one wonder how such magnificent work was ever achieved in the candlelit domains of the seventeenth century. In current times, most embroiderers will use a magnifying light along with magnifying lenses on their glasses. In the Stuart Era not so much…

I spent a number of years under the tutelage of one of the world’s best teachers, Jane Nicholas, and learned just how difficult stumpwork can be and how testing it is for one’s eyesight and patience.

I’m still chasing the skills needed to stitch a Fritillaria Meleagris…


*Nicholas J. Stumpwork Embroidery – a collection of fruit, flowers and insects for contemporary raised embroidery. Sally Milner Publishing Australia 1995

*Stinton K & Needlework, Royal College of. Stumpwork Search Press Ltd UK 2011


A former journalist from Australia who graduated with majors in history and politics, Prue Batten is now a cross-genre writer. Several of her books, including her historical fiction novels, have been privileged to win a number of awards.

To find out more about Prue:




Wednesday, October 7, 2020

The Execution of King Charles I: From King to Martyr

By Donna Scott

It was a cold, icy London morning.  King Charles I awakened to a sharp knock on his bedchamber door at 10am for what would be the final hours of his life.  He shrugged another shirt over the one he already wore so that his subjects would not think he was shivering from cowardice when he walked across St. James’s Park to Banqueting House in Whitehall.  At 2 that afternoon, the king—dressed in black velvet, the white lace of his collar blowing in the frigid wind—climbed out the window of Banqueting House onto the scaffold that had been draped in black, sawdust carpeting the wooden planks.  The executioner’s block lay on the ground, a clear slight to the king, requiring him to lay prostrate for his own beheading.  He handed over his outer clothing and the blue ribboned Order of the Garter he wore around his neck, then tucked his dark tresses into a white nightcap to make the executioner’s job easier.

The waistcoat worn by King Charles I at his execution.
The stains have been verified as bodily fluids, perhaps his blood

The New Model Army was brought in to control the huge crowd gathered in Whitehall for the king’s execution.  King Charles reiterated his innocence to a crowd that could not hear him through the wind and commotion.  The heavily disguised executioner, who wore a fishnet over his wig and false beard, spoke kindly to the king.  Charles finished saying his prayers, and then stretched out his arms to signal he was ready.  In one clean swipe, the executioner sliced off his head, then held it up for the crowd to see.  A throng of onlookers edged its way to the scaffold to dip handkerchiefs in the royal blood that now stained the planks. 

It was Tuesday, January 30, 1649, and nothing like this had ever happened before in England.  So what went wrong?  What had the king done that was so horrible he had to pay for it with his life? 

Born in Scotland in 1600 as the youngest child of King James I, Charles was never meant to be the king of England.  Considered sickly as a child, he was shy, gentle, and quiet, perhaps because he suffered from a slight speech impediment and a limp.  When his older brother Henry died at 18 from typhoid, he became the new heir to the throne and was officially crowned in 1626 upon his father’s passing.  The idea a new young king would rule delighted Parliament, but that excitement was short-lived for several reasons.

Charles I

He followed in his father’s footsteps regarding his belief in the divine right of kings.  This belief centered around the idea that kings were chosen by God to rule, so only God could overrule them.  They had the sole right to make laws that only God could oppose.  Essentially, kings answered only to God and no other.  He ruled as an authoritarian, launching expeditions and attacks without Parliament’s support.  Naturally, his belief in the divine right of kings and his unwillingness to concede or even compromise didn’t sit well with Parliament, as the king’s rule became problematic and contentious on matters of state. 

Furthermore, Charles married Henrietta Maria of France, a devout Catholic, creating concerns that there might be a turn from the current Protestantism the country had comfortably settled into for almost 100 years.  Although Charles supported the Protestant church, some of his ideals bordered on Catholicism, frightening those who feared another religious upheaval. 

Queen Henrietta Maria

In the first 4 years as king, he dissolved Parliament 3 times, the last time for a period of 11 years.  However, when his treasury was nearly depleted from the many foreign wars England engaged in, he turned to Parliament to ask for more money, but because he had burned so many bridges, Parliament wasn’t quick to grant his request.  The members couldn’t agree and chose sides, dividing into two groups—the Royalists and Parliamentarians.  With no resolution, the king and his Royalists raised his banner in August 1642 against Parliament, thus beginning the bloodiest conflict on English soil—the English Civil War.  Although the Royalists (or Cavaliers) seemed to be winning, the tides turned in 1644 and the Parliamentarians (or Roundheads) claimed victories under the leadership of Oliver Cromwell. 

In 1646, Charles was taken prisoner, put under arrest at Hampton Court, and confined in the old Tudor royal apartments.  Dressed in the rough clothing of a commoner, he escaped but was recaptured shortly thereafter and sent to the Isle of Wight, where he was treated fairly.  A year later in 1648, he was taken to London to be placed on trial for attempting to "uphold in himself an unlimited and tyrannical power to rule according to his will, and to overthrow the rights and liberties of the people".  When Parliament convened to judge the king, his supporters were blocked from entering, and a new Rump Parliament was created, stacking the favor in opposition of the king.  Consequently, in January 1649, Charles was found guilty and named a "tyrant, traitor, murderer, and public enemy to the good people of this nation, [who] shall be put to death by the severing of his head from his body”.

The death warrant of King Charles I signed by
59 members of the Rump Parliament

The people of England were divided.  After all, who could place a king on trial?  Wasn’t he above the law?  How could a king be tried for treason?  Was regicide the answer?  None of it seemed to make sense.  Nonetheless, they showed up on that bitterly cold afternoon to witness the first ordered beheading of a monarch on English soil.

This began the Commonwealth, a ten-year political structure where England was governed as a republic and Oliver Cromwell served as the Lord Protector.  However, not long after his appointment, the people grew discontented with the sober Puritan life Cromwell embraced and began to reconsider their harsh views against Charles.  When his son Charles II reclaimed the throne in 1660, they were ready for a return to a country governed by a monarchy.  The new king held accountable all the members of Parliament who signed his father’s death warrant.  Some fled the country, some begged for forgiveness, and others were tried and sentenced to death.  The country’s sentiment had changed regarding the fate of their old king.  A bit too late, unfortunately.

To this day, there remains disagreement as to whether King Charles I died as a martyr or a villain.  What do you think?


Donna Scott is an award-winning author of 17th and 18th century historical fiction.  Before embarking on a writing career, she spent her time in the world of academia.  She earned her BA in English from the University of Miami and her MS and EdD (ABD) from Florida International University.  She has two sons and lives in sunny South Florida with her husband.  Her first novel, Shame the Devil, received the first place Chaucer Award for historical fiction and a Best Book designation from Chanticleer International Book Reviews.  Her newest novel, The London Monster, will be released in January 2021.

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Sunday, October 4, 2020

The Lost Boy

By Dr John Little

In 1907 the Lake District Fells of Cumberland and Westmorland were seen by travellers in much the same way as was Switzerland. It was a place remote and far from roads, dangerous and fraught with mystery. To visit the high passes and the mountaintops, most visitors who regarded themselves as intrepid, would engage the services of an expert local guide. A few individuals would take ropes, pitons and axes to climb crags and steep cliffs, but the only people who visited regularly were keepers, shepherds and huntsmen. Apart from these, a visitor to the high places could go for days without seeing a single soul. The valleys and lakes thronged with people visiting an area made famous by the romantic poets such as Wordsworth, Coleridge and Southey, but few of these tourists were bold enough to climb the fells. Even if they had, for much of the area they would have been trespassing on the property of great landowners such as the Curwens of Workington, or the Earl of Lonsdale at Greystoke castle.

In 1907 the local carrier at Bampton was a man called Thomas Martindale, but although his family came from the village, he had settled with his wife and children in Penrith. Every day he took his horse and cart the ten miles or so from Penrith to Bampton and waited at the Mitre Inn for customers to collect their orders and take new ones. Needless to say, as a local man, he had family connections in Bampton, and towards the end of July 1907 he left his nine-year-old son, Thomas, with Mr John Bland of High Howe farm, as he later said, ‘for a holiday’. 

Mr Bland had sons of his own, one of whom was fifteen-year-old Vickers Tyson Bland, known by everyone as Tyson. The farm stood at the foot of the fells, with the heights of Bampton Common looming over it. From the tops of this vast fell, a path led to Kidsty pike and the heights of the High Street range.

On Monday 29 July someone, probably a local shepherd, brought news to Mr Bland that a pony was stuck in a pond up at White Bog, a marshy area, high up and about three miles away from the farm. What condition it was in was not reported, nor whose pony it was, but Mr Bland told Tyson to go up the fell and investigate it. This he did, and with him he took young Thomas, probably as a kind of adventure. When they reached the area of White Bog a whiteout came down as so often happens in the Lake District as cloud descended over the area. The two boys had no wish to go back down the mountain without fulfilling their mission, but they could see no further than a few yards. Tyson suggested that they split up so that their search area was wider, and keep in touch with each other by whistling every so often. For a while this worked, but then Tyson found the pool with a dead pony in it, and his attention was taken by it so completely that he forgot to whistle. By the time he remembered to whistle, Thomas had gone so far ahead that he was out of earshot and did not hear the older boy. Frantically Tyson searched as well as he could, shouting Thomas’s name, but gained no response. After some time searching, and probably in a great deal of panic, Tyson gave up and pelted back down the fell to the farm to raise the alarm.

Thomas Martindale had no food or water with him. He wore a thin summer jacket, a cloth cap, and breeches, whilst on his feet were a stout pair of wooden clogs, a form of footwear in no way suited to walking the high fells. Mr Bland, Tyson, and a couple of farm hands came up to White Moss and searched as well as they could, but though the cloud lifted and they could see across the marshy area, there was no sign of Thomas. It was as if he had vanished into thin air. Though they searched for hours there was no trace of him and they had to give up when darkness came. On the next day a party of twenty local men, along with Thomas’s father combed the area to no avail. Over the next few days large searches were gathered and the whole of Bampton Common, and large areas of the surrounding mountains were examined exhaustively.

The people searching for Thomas can have had no idea of what he had done, but from his own account, it is possible to follow his route fairly well on a local map. High up on the tops runs an ancient Roman road called High Street, which even goes across the mountain with that name. Once a walker is on the track, it is easy going- for a person in good boots. At several points on his journey Thomas had to make a decision on which way to turn, and in each case he went left. I cannot tell if Thomas was left handed, but a study from Stanford university indicates that left handed people are inclined to feel positive about things to the left, and right handed people the right, if a choice is given.

Whatever the reason for his choice, the very energetic Thomas walked fourteen miles after his disappearance and ended up that afternoon in the Kentmere valley (pictured above).

He had a conversation with a young man he found cutting bracken in a field, and was directed to the reservoir cottage at the head of the valley where Mr William Bland would give him food. It is a curious thing that Thomas was with a Bland when he got lost, and that the man who could have helped him also had that name but it is a common one in the area. Inexplicably Thomas did not ask the man for help but for directions back to Bampton. Mr Bland was busy at the time, but gave directions nonetheless and showed Thomas that the way home was back up the way he had come and pointed to the path to the Nan Bield pass. Why he did not give more help made him the subject of some criticism in the newspapers subsequently, but in his defence it must be remembered that he gave exactly what was asked for. This is what one might expect from a man with a literal mind. Thanking him, the boy wearily dragged himself up to the pass, about two thousand feet up, and found a hold in a crag where he settled down and went to sleep for the night.

By Friday the story of the missing boy had made more than a local ripple. The story had been syndicated across the country and when the Saturday newspapers came out, Thomas was national news.  All searching was in vain and he had been without food for four days. Even larger numbers of people turned out to comb the fells but there was no trace. Thomas had come to the top of Nan Bield pass and missed the right hand turn that would have taken him down towards home. Where the path joined High Street, he had turned left where he might have gone right, and spent the second night in another cleft in the rocks. He was a town boy in unsuitable footwear. He would have stiff legs from his walk of the day before, and his feet would be swollen and in a dreadful state. This accounts for his failure to go very far on his second day of being lost. On his second night, as he lay in the cleft, a lamb came into where he was, and snuggled up to him, keeping him warm. 

On Thursday he strayed into the fells above Troutbeck and found a remote shepherd’s hut. At least it had a roof and he spent the next two nights there.  It is highly likely, as this author knows from experience, that his feet would make any walking an agonising torture; they would be swollen and eventually his toenails would start to come off. After four days in summer heat with only water and no food it is also possible that he would have been feeling the onset of salt deficiency, along with the prickly heat, cramps, shivering and nausea that go with it. The stage was set for tragedy.

However, on Saturday morning Thomas heard the lowing of cattle and reasoned that they must come from a nearby farm so with a supreme effort he staggered down the hill and found the cows. There he was discovered by the son of the farmer at Troutbeck Farm and his ordeal was over. At midnight on Sunday his father arrived to take him home and father and son boarded the Ambleside to Penrith coach. The passengers got very excited when they realised who he was, for they had all read their newspapers. The coach stopped for photographs and at Glenridding an enthusiastic crowd gathered and cheered him on his way. The news was telegraphed ahead to Penrith, where the coach was met by another cheering crowd. They hailed him the ‘hero of the fells’ and his photograph appeared in newspapers and sold as a celebrated postcard; he had become a national figure.

That might have been the end of Thomas’s adventures but ten years later he was called on to serve in the British army and was posted to Iraq, then called Mesopotamia. Nothing is known of what he did there, but it seemed plausible that he might have got lost again, this time in the desert. Using the war diary of his regiment revealed where he was on the same dates as his adventure ten years previously.

Thomas reflects so very well the millions of ordinary boys of his generation who cannot have imagined when they grew up in their northern backstreet that they would be called upon to serve in the trenches, or the deserts of Iraq. Tommy Martindale is a good representative of his age.

Thomas became a signalman on the railways, just outside Penrith. He was killed in a motorcycle accident in 1932. No other vehicle was involved, no one saw it and one theory was that he ran onto a hedge while looking back to see if his brother was following. Had he been wearing a crash helmet it is likely that he would have lived. A month after his death his brother died in a similar accident not far away. Tyson Bland also served in the war, in the Border Regiment. He survived the war also, married, had a family, and his descendants live in the Penrith area to this day, as do those of Thomas’s siblings. 

The Hero of the Fells - The Lost Boy


Dr John Little
spent almost forty years teaching in various schools in London and the South East. He was head of History at Meopham School and Rochester Independent College. He gained the first History PhD  awarded in the University of Westminster.

He has written ten books, mostly novels, and has settled into historical fiction as his favoured genre. His work is based on real evidence, people and events contained in plausible narratives. He also gives talks and presentations on the topics about which he writes.

The Lost Boy was published in August 2020