Wednesday, 23 December 2009

A Puritan Christmas

In the first half of the 17th century, the 25th December was an important religious festival, and a public holiday when all places of work closed and everyone attended special church services. During the twelve days of Christmas, families attended masses, and buildings were dressed with rosemary, holly and ivy and. There was non-stop dancing, singing, drinking, exchanging of Christmas favours' to give to family members-gifts of special herbs tied up with ribbon which protected them from harm and illness. Stage plays were popular and everyone indulged in feasts of roast beef, plum porridge, minced pies and special ale. Twelfth Night, the final day of celebration, often saw a fresh bout of feasting and carnivals.

When Christmas was Made Illegal

The Puritans viewed Christ's mass as an unwanted remnant of the Roman Catholic Church, arguing that it and other holidays had no biblical justification. In 1642, they issued ordinances to suppress the performance of plays. Some shops in London were opened on Christmas-day 1643, and in 1647 some parish officers were committed for permitting ministers to preach on Christmas-day, and for adorning the Church.

On the 3rd of June 1647, Parliament ordained that Christmas should be no longer observed, and instead, scholars, apprentices, and other servants, with the leave and approbation of their masters, should have such relaxation from labour on the second Tuesday in every month. An order dated the 24th of December 1652, directed, "That no observation shall be had of the five and twentieth day of December, commonly called Christmas Day; nor any solemnity used or exercised in churches upon that day in respect thereof."

The problem the Puritans faced, was that the reasons for celebrating Christmas were not Satanic; more an attachment to having fun during the darkest, most miserable time of the year. All work was seasonal; and occupations from farming, fishing and trading stopped in midwinter. Christmas was the poor's one sustained "holiday", offering rare access to large quantities of rich food, especially meat, and strong drink - paid for by someone else. Traditionally, the poor entertained the rich with singing, dancing and plays: the rich, in turn, would reward them with food, wine and money.

The formal abolishment of Christmas came on 8 June 1647 with the announcement: "Be it ordained, by the Lords and Commons in parliament assembled, that the Feast of the Nativity of Christ, and all other festival days commonly called Holy-days, be no longer observed within this kingdom of England."

John Greene, a London lawyer, recorded in his diary: "This Christmas Day we had but few sermons anywhere, many of them that intended to have preached being interrupted by some from the parliament . . . the Lord Mayor was very zealous in pulling down holly and ivy, and received divers affronts in doing it."

In September 1649, the Rump Parliament passed an act banning "hawkers and ballad-singers" - any who persisted were to "be conveyed to the House of Correction, there to be whipped as common rogues". But this couldn't stop the flow of anti-Puritan propaganda:

"To conclude, I'll tell you news that's right,
Christmas was killed at Naseby fight:
Likewise then did die
Roast beef and shred pie."

A popular device of protest against the banning of Christmas, was an ignored and dejected figure dressed as Father Christmas would walk the streets of English towns in which no one dared to welcome him. John Taylor, a popular poet, scorned the regime by writing: "Their madness hath extended itself to the very vegetables, the senseless trees . . . holly, ivy, mistletoe, rosemary, bays, are accounted ungodly branches of superstition."

Cromwell ordered inns and playhouses shut down, sports were banned and anyone caught swearing fined. Women caught working on the Sabbath could be put in the stocks. They had to wear a long black dress, a white apron, a white headdress and no makeup. The men also dressed head to toe in black and sporting short hair.

All shops and markets were to stay open throughout the 25th December and anyone caught holding or attending a special Christmas church service would suffer a penalty. In London, soldiers patrolled the streets, seizing any food they discovered being prepared for a Christmas celebration.

Despite imposing these rigid measures on the common people, Cromwell himself liked music, playing bowls and hunting and, after becoming Lord Protectorate, soon took to the high life. For his daughter's wedding he permitted a lavish feast and entertainment fit for royalty.

Yet ten years later in the late 1650’s, the authorities were still instructing Justices of the Peace to stop the festivities, a clear admission that ban on Christmas hadn't worked.

John Evelyn’s diary shows that he was unable to find a service to go to until 1656. Then on 25 December 1657, he was with his wife in the private chapel of Exeter House, on the north side of the Strand, when he was arrested. The sermon had ended, and the priest was distributing communion, when soldiers burst in. “These wretched miscreants”, he later wrote, “held their muskets against us as we came up to receive the Sacred Elements, as if they would have shot us at the Altar.” Evelyn was held for 24 hours, lectured on his "ignorance", and then released.

After the Restoration of King Charles II in May 1660, Christmas Day that year witnessed open, well-decorated, and well-attended churches. John Evelyn went to Westminster Abbey, where he was thrilled to find that “The Service was also in the old Cathedrall Musique.”

Christmas traditions condemned by the Puritans, were now seen as signs of loyalty to the restored monarchy and the re-established Church of England. The “good ribs of beef roasted and mince pies . . . and plenty of good wine” with which Samuel Pepys typically marked the festival were symbols not only of Christmas, but also of the return to right order of the nation as a whole. Not everyone approved, however, for John Evelyn recorded on 25 December 1662, that the curate had preached on “how to behave ourselves in festival rejoicing”.

Sunday, 13 December 2009


It is hard to believe that it was just on a year ago when the Hoydens and Firebrands launched their blog and I thought I would take this moment to thank not only my fellow Hoydens – Anita (who deserves extra special thanks for being our webmistress!), Sandra, Mary and Kim for their friendship and fabulous insights into all things seventeenth century, and also our Followers and friends for their support of our blog over the last year.

Because the five of us, while sharing a passion for the seventeenth century, have such different interests, I have learned so much from the other hoydens and we would love to hear from our regular (and irregular) readers, which blogs have piqued their interest over the year or indeed if there are any suggestions for topics they would like to see in the coming year. Please leave us a comment!

The Hoydens are scattered around the world and it is only the marvels of the internet that can bring us together. I am the only Australian and like everyone else looking forward to Christmas, my favourite time of year. I haven’t dared look at the weather forecast because down here in Melbourne, Christmas day can be anything from a very pleasant low twenties to high thirties (celcius). Being of Anglo-Celtic descent, my family enjoys a “traditional” English Christmas of Turkey, ham and pudding – although on very hot days we have been known to do it as a cold buffet!

I am ashamed to admit that I am a little behind in my Christmas baking. Christmas is now the only time of the year when I do bake (oh the calories!) and I love it because a day spent in the kitchen with the smell of cakes and mince pies wafting through the house, marks a connection with the women of my family back through the ages and I know this an unseventeenth century topic but I would like to tell you about one of those women!

My mother’s family came from the border country of Lancashire and Yorkshire (the Pendle witch country that Mary writes about) and the women were formidable. According to Grandmother Brown (my great grandmother) if domestic work wasn’t finished by lunchtime then you were an idle housekeeper. My heavens, she’d be turning in the grave to see my standard of housekeeping! Sundays were for the Lord and woe betide my mother if she wore a dress without sleeves or picked up anything other than the “good book” on the Lord’s Day of Rest!

And then there was my Aunty Etty (Hetty), one of a number of elderly great aunts collectively referred to as "the prickly aunts" not by virtue of their personalities but because they always seemed to be prickly to kiss! Aunty Etty enjoyed the reputation of being the best cook in the family and she was, as you can probably imagine, a round, sweet natured old lady. I only met her on a couple of occasions, the last being at the grand old age of twenty one when she looked me up and down and the following conversation ensued.

“How old art thou?”
“Err, twenty one, Aunty Etty.”
“Twenty one! Twenty one and not married! Aren’t there any decent boys in Australia?”

Last year I shared the seventeenth century Christmas pudding recipe with you, so this year I would like to share “Aunty Etty’s mince pies” (which were legendary!). No one quite made them like Aunty Etty, even my Mum and I have to confess to tweaking the recipe slightly, so along with Grandmother Brown, poor Aunty Etty is now probably spinning in her grave!


8 oz (250gr) plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
4 oz (125gr) sugar
4 oz (125gr) butter
I beaten egg
¼ tsp mixed spice
1 tsp lemon rind

• Sieve flour and add sugar

• Rub in butter until mixture resembles bread crumbs

• Make into dough with egg

• Wrap in cling film and rest in fridge ½ hr and then turn on to floured board and proceed as for ordinary pastry.

• Makes about 12 pies using one jar of fruit mince (of course, Aunty Etty made her own fruit mince!)

A safe and happy Christmas to my fellow hoydens and our friends and we look forward to continuing on in the new year with more special guest bloggers and fascinating corners of the seventeenth century to explore.

Aunty Etty as a child, 2nd from left front row...
(Uncle Bateman - in uniform back row was killed in the fighting in Mesopotamia WWI, my grandfather is next to him)

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Divine Award

Sandra Gulland, our wonderful author member, has passed on The Divine Award to our blog. Many thanks Sandra. Part of the task is to nominate another five blogs and respond to twenty five questions. This first requirement I have completed in co-operation with Alison, and the choice is below. However, as the questions are quite personal and there are a group of us who compile this blog, our response is below.

The Hoydens are five fabulous women of differently coloured hair and nationality,who being the fine writers that they are, love a good glass of wine and are addicted to chocolate. They love all things seventeenth century. Anyone wishing to know more about us will have to search the annals of the web, which are listed in the right-hand column.

Word Wenches

Edwardian Promenade

Mercurious Politicus

Historical Novel Review Blog

Jane Austen Today

Sunday, 6 December 2009


Child with smallpox courtesy of CDC/James Hicks

Variolation was a form of inoculating a person with the smallpox virus in an effort to minimize the severity of the disease. I first became intrigued by the concept while watching a movie about John Adams, the second president of the United States. To my surprise, the scene that depicted Abigail Adams purposely infecting her children with smallpox had really taken place. But John and Abigail Adams lived during the eighteenth century. What about the seventeenth?

The technique predates vaccination as we know it, and apparently had its origin in eighth century India. Records indicate that China used variolation by the tenth century. In the West, Lady Mary Wortley Montague is credited for bringing it to England in 1721 after witnessing the practice being used by a doctor in Constantinople.

Again, I thought this would be a plot point that I would have to bypass since I'm writing about seventeenth-century Virginia. Then, I did a little more reading. In Massachusetts, Cotton Mather had heard about variolation from a slave in 1706. The slave, from western Africa, had been inoculated as a child which according to him was common practice there. This gave me the lead I needed as the slave would have grown up during the seventeenth century.

According to medical historians, variolation made its way to Egypt during the thirteenth century. When north and western Africa learned of the technique remains a question, but it was definitely known by the late seventeenth century and most likely earlier.

With this knowledge, I reasoned, why couldn't I write such a scene? The circumstances were very similar in seventeenth-century Virginia as Massachusetts. Because my scene takes place during mid-century, the Africans were usually indentured servants, rather than slaves, but the knowledge could have been available. Even during the eighteenth century in the colonies, variolation was often thought of as African black magic, therefore frequently discredited among the medical community.

The process consisted of collecting the virus with a lancet from a pustule of an infected person and transferring it under the skin in the arm or leg of the person without the disease. Unlike modern vaccination, this procedure gave the noninfected person an active case of smallpox. However, with the use of variolation, the person, hopefully, contracted a milder form.

Death resulted in 2-3% of the cases where variolation was used. Whereas, the normal fatality rate was 20-30% with much higher percentages for children and Native Americans. Most survivors were left with disfiguring scars, while blindness and limb deformities were less common complications.

The obvious disadvantage was that people infected through variolation could spread the natural severe form of the virus to others. But in a time before routine vaccination, the risks seemed to far outweigh the consequences.

Kim Murphy


Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Interview With Author Christie Dickason

An Interview With Christie Dickason by Sandra Gulland

Christie Dickason writes historical fiction, most of it set in the (broad) 17th century. Her published titles include:

The Principessa — 'A stunning novel of history, passion and politics ... ' —The Bookseller, October 2007

The Firemaster's Mistress —'Atmospheric and impressively researched, it is highly entertaining.' —Elizabeth Buchan, The Sunday Times

... as well as The Memory Palace, Quicksilver, and The Lady Tree.

Her most recent title, The King's Daughter — about Elizabeth, daughter of James I — will also, no doubt, to garner enthusiastic reviews. (See below for more on this title.)

Before I begin with the interview questions, I asked Christie to introduce herself:

I’m both shy and naturally nosy, with a grasshopper mind, so writing is perfect for me. Each book is like living a new experience. And research is a kind of licensed nosiness. In the name of research, I can ask questions I wouldn’t otherwise dare ask. I approach strangers whom I would never otherwise talk to — like a man flying a hawk in Richmond Park. Or a woman walking a pair of stag hounds. (See THE LADY TREE.) I am constantly surprised and delighted by how generous people are with what they know. I find research a wonderful way of making new friends, people with passions, even more obsessed by hawks, or side saddles, or 17th century shoes or plumbing than I am.

"Research is a kind of licensed nosiness": I like that. What draws you to the 17th century in particular?

I feel something familiar in the people of that period. That we would understand each other quite well if we time-travelled. They were dealing with many of the same issues — belief, cultural diversity, gender roles, a changing society, fragmentation. It’s a big subject. They even had their own versions of spin doctors, fanatics and lager louts.

What aspect of the 17th century do you find the most appealing?

The vigorous energy. The rise of self-made men through commerce and education. (And buccaneering.) It was still very hierarchical, but you could earn your place on the ladder, not just inherit it. Even women managed it, from time to time. (But don’t be misled by Elizabeth I into thinking that the 16th and 17th centuries were a time of sexual equality!)

The most difficult?

The ruthlessness. But I can’t see that this has changed much today.

Too true. Tell us about your new novel, THE KING'S DAUGHTER.

THE KING’S DAUGHTER tells the story of Elizabeth Stuart, the only surviving daughter of James I of England and VI of Scotland, and her struggle with her powerful and dangerous father to become more than a pawn in his political games. She must survive the corruption and political maneuvering at court to try to marry a man she loves. To have a real human relationship. But for me, it’s also about fathers and daughters. About growing up. About the child learning to take power in the world. And as a former tomboy who once carried a grass snake around in her pocket, talked to animals and, at the age of ten, wanted to marry a horse called Deacon, I felt a real kinship with Elizabeth, with her 26 dogs and the animal-like acuteness in her own awareness that I have given her.

Very interesting. What did you find most challenging about writing this particular novel?

Too many of the wrong kind of facts. In historical records, Elizabeth is endlessly described in flattering poems, letters and commentaries. Everyone is nice to the king’s daughter. Any dangerous opinions were unlikely to have been published, much less to have survived. She’s locked in to events by report, with no record of what she thought about anything or anyone. And most accounts are of her better-known later life as The Winter Queen.

So, first of all, I had to work hard to create suspense in a plot that was also consistent with where she was said to have been at any given time – not always the most exciting choice. Equally, as a mere girl, she was often not mentioned when I’m certain she was likely to have attended a particular masque, tilt, or banquet. Sickly little Charles, much less important at the time, now gets all the mention because hindsight knows that he grew up to become king.

As a researcher, I'm dying to ask: What are the on-line and print resources you use the most often?

The Great God Google. And the National Archives at Kew, which are conveniently close to where I live. (I sometimes think I live THERE.) But there’s no substitute for the direct sensory input of field research – visiting houses, touching a straw mattress, trying on the clothes, spending time without electricity.

What are you working on now?

DANGEROUS FRIENDS is the working title. One of the characters in THE KING’S DAUGHTER kept sneaking onto centre stage and I kept telling her, ‘Get back in your box! This isn’t your book.’ But it’s her turn now. She’s Lucy Harrington, who was Queen Anne’s chief lady of the bedchamber and best friend. In THE KING’S DAUGHTER, Elizabeth is still young and jealous of this lovely, self-assured-seeming older woman. In DANGEROUS FRIENDS, the two women have become close friends, as they became in real life.

Lucy’s a delightful spendthrift, lively and witty, at the centre of court intrigue and probably the lover of John Donne. She’s also childless and restless, searching for love, easily bored but passionately loyal. A woman who fights off a sense of inner emptiness by getting mixed up in things she shouldn’t, including a plot to assassinate Charles. Watch this space.

I certainly will. It sounds wonderful! (And I like the working title.) Thank you so much, Christie — It has been a pleasure. Sandra Gulland

For more on Christie Dickason and her work, be sure to explore her beautiful website: here. Click here to see all her books on, or here on

Monday, 23 November 2009

Lady Ann Fanshawe 1625-1680

Ann Fanshawe [nee Harrison] and John Fanshawe
The eldest daughter and 4th child of Sir John Harrison of Balls Park, Hertfordshire, and Margaret Fanshawe, Ann had three older brothers, John, William [killed in 1643] and Simon, and one younger sister, Margaret. When Ann was 15, her mother died, and her father, whom Ann describes as 'a handsome gentleman, of great natural parts', subsequently remarried, and had a son and a daughter with his second wife.

Sir John declared for the King in 1642 and Roundhead soldiers arrested him at his house. While ostensibly retriving some important papers, he took the opportunity to slip out of the house. He fled to join King Charles at his exiled court in Oxford, sending for his other children to join him.

The Harrisons lived in genteel poverty in Oxford during the Civil War years before Oxford was seized by Parliament, living in a garret above a baker’s shop. Ann began a friendship with Catherine Howard, Lady D'Aubigny, the young widow of Lord Heorge Stuart, and the notorious Lady Isabella Thynne, wife of Sir John Thynne who inveigled Ann into dressing in an angel costume, and a page and a singing boy, serenaded the ‘gigantic, choleric, woman-hating Dr Kettle’, President of Trinity College on his lawn.

Whilst at Oxford, Ann grew close to her Royalist cousin, Richard Fanshawe, who served as secretary to the Council of War, Ireland, between 1639 and 1641, and was appointed King's Remembrancer in 1641, and Secretary for War to the Prince of Wales in 1644. They married at Wolvercot Church in May 1644, the only guests apart from family were Edward Hyde, later Lord Clarendon, and Sir Geoffrey Palmer. The genial bridegroom who was of "more than the common height of men," and so popular that everyone, even the King, called him Dick. They began married life on 20 pounds and the forlorn hope of their Sovereign's promise of eventual compensation.

In March 1645, Richard went to Bristol with the Prince of Wales, leaving Ann at Oxford, in delicate health, with scarcely a penny and a dying first-born. She relates how she was sitting in the garden of St. John's College breathing the air for the first time after her illness, when a letter came from Bristol, to her "unspeakable joy" containing fifty gold pieces and a summons to join Mr. Fanshawe.

Thus began the long series of separations, reunions, hardships, and extraordinary adventures with the exiled Charles I and then Charles II. Ann seems hardly ever to have gone to sea without being nearly "cast away." From Red Abbey in Ireland she and her babies and servants had to fly at the peril of their lives through "an unruly tumult with swords in their hands." On the Isles of Scilly she was put ashore more dead than alive, and plundered of all her possessions by the sailors. At Portsmouth she and her husband were fired upon by Dutch men-of-war, and another time they were shipwrecked in the Bay of Biscay.

Once, Ann borrowed . . . 'a cabin boy's blue thrum-cap and tarred coat for half a crown' to stand beside her husband on the deck when they were threatened by a Turkish galley on their way to Spain. After the Battle of Worcester, where Sir Richard was made a prisoner, during the wettest Autumn ever known, Ann walked along the sleeping Strand early each morning to stand beneath his prison window on the bowling-green at Whitehall. She wrote that "the rain went in at her neck and out at her heels."

Sir Richard was released on parole by Cromwell, and for seven years, the Fanshawes lived in comparative retirement until after the Lord Protector’s death in 1658 they went to join Charles II in Flanders. Richard Fanshawe was appointed Latin Secretary and Master of Requests, and was knighted at Breda. Charles II gave Sir Richard his portrait framed in diamonds, and sent him first on an embassy to Portugal to negotiate his marriage to Catherine of Braganza, and then appointed him Ambassador to Spain. On June 26, 1666, he died at Madrid of fever at the age of fifty-eight. Ann set off overland to Calais with her baby son, four daughters under 14, and the body of her husband.

Her memoirs, dated May 1676, addressed to her only surviving son, Richard, are a vivid and fascinating account of the tragedy, poverty and loss which do not dilute the Fanshawe's passion for the Royalist cause. Between 1645 and 1665, Ann gave birth to fourteen children, of whom four daughters and one son lived to adulthood. Her account of her lost children is poignantly written in her own words:

My dear husband had six sons and eight daughters, born and christened, and I miscarried of six more, three at several times, and once of three sons when I was about half gone my time. Harrison, my eldest son, and Henry, my second son; Richard, my third; Henry, my fourth; and Richard, my fifth, are all dead; my second lies buried in the Protestant Church-yard in Paris, by the father of the Earl of Bristol; my eldest daughter Anne lies buried in the Parish Church of Tankersley, in Yorkshire, where she died; Elizabeth lies in the Chapel of the French Hospital at Madrid, where she died of a fever at ten days old; my next daughter of her name lies buried in the Parish of Foot's Cray, in Kent, near Frog-Pool, my brother Warwick's house, where she died; and my daughter Mary lies in my father's vault in Hertford, with my first son Henry; my eldest lies buried in the Parish Church of St. John's College in Oxford, where he was born; my second Henry lies in Bengy Church, in Hertfordshire; and my second Richard in the Esperanza in Lisbon in Portugal, he being born ten weeks before my time when I was in that Court. I praise God I have living yourself and four sisters, Katherine unmarried, Margaret married to Vincent Grantham, Esq., of Goltho, in the county of Lincoln, Anne, and Elizabeth.

Richard Fanshawe succeeded his father in 1666, and became the second Baronet. He is said to have been deprived of his hearing, and at length of his speech, in consequence of a fever, and to have died unmarried about 1695

Ann Fanshawe’s memoirs are available online at Project Gutenberg:

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Author Spotlight: Erika Mailman

Erika Mailman's novel, The Witch's Trinity, is set in a remote German village in 1507. Guede Mueller's world falls apart when her daughter-in-law accuses her of witchcraft. Guede plunges into a world of frightening visions, not knowing what to believe.

Mary Sharratt: What inspired you write about historical witches?

Erika Mailman: I have long been fascinated by the witchcraft persecutions of the past, both in the U.S. and Europe. I'm not sure why the topic so compelled me, but as a child I read everything I could get my hands on and can still remember a few library books that completely unnerved me. When it came time to write my novel, I withheld my research until I had written the bare bones of the story, and found that what I'd read as a child had stuck with me somehow even though I didn't consciously realize it--oftentimes, I'd come across a nonfiction witchcraft source that completely mirrored something I thought I'd been inventing.

The most uncanny thing was learning, while in the midst of writing, that I was in fact a descendant of an accused witch, Mary Bliss Parsons of Massachusetts. My family is very proud of its lineage but somehow none of us had known about her, although we knew much about her husband.

Mary Sharratt: What light can historical novelists such as yourself shed on this lost world of superstition and magical beliefs?

Erika Mailman: My hope is that The Witch's Trinity shows how absurd--and dangerous-- the belief in witchcraft is. I'm not talking about modern people who have reclaimed the word "witch" and practice a benign sort of nature worship, but rather the belief in people who have made a pact with the devil to wreak havoc on others. Distressingly, there are still places in the world today where people attack and kill others for being witches, or abandon their young children for the same "crime." I've been horrified and brought to tears by recent news accounts from India, Africa and Papua New Guinea. I've blogged about many of these events at, while my website focuses on my fiction. While I had thought my book looked at an outdated belief mode while casting light on modern-day scapegoatism, it turns out I was really writing about something current. The same sorts of accusations ring out today as they did centuries ago, hitting the themes of hunger, infertility, and the mundane occurrence of random bad luck.

Friday, 13 November 2009

The Gallant She-Soldier

(Kit Cavanagh 1706)
I have just finished reading my fellow-hoyden, Kim Murphy’s novel “Promise and Honour” set in the American Civil War. I hope I am not giving too much away when I say one of the secondary characters is a “girl soldier”, a young girl who disguises herself as a man to fight as a soldier. Well over 200 cases of these women warriors were recorded in the annals of the American Civil War and they followed a long tradition of “she soldiers” throughout history, beginning with the Amazon women of Ancient Greece.
Women have always followed armies and their lives and stories are inextricably woven with those of the men. For the whores, it provided a guaranteed source of clientele and until Florence Nightingale and the establishment of professional medical and nursing corps, the wives and mistresses of soldiers and officers followed the drums and between bringing up their children, performed the duties of laundry maid and nurse. And then there were those, like “Jo” in Kim’s book, who joined up to fight.
Why did they do it? For some it became an economic necessity, a way of ensuring a semi-regular form of income and even a pension for their families should they be killed rather than remain at home in poverty to become a charge on the parish and eke out their lives in a workhouse. Then there were those who were simply following their heart either accompanying or searching for their husbands or lovers. There are those like a certain Joan of Arc who had a higher purpose!
The English Civil war was no exception. Women played an enormous role in the defence of their homes and their towns and in the ranks of both royalist and roundhead there are cases of women standing shoulder to shoulder with men in the ranks. Unfortunately actual details of these women is hard to come by and one has to rely on contemporary ballads such as “The Gallant She –Souldier” of 1655 or “The Valiant Vergin” to gain some insight into the lives of these women. Disguise in the bulky clothes of the period would not have been hard and the sanitary conditions of the day would not have invited much speculation about the sex of their fellow soldier.
Some of the recorded cases of these “she soldiers” include a newspaper report of July 1642 (before the real fighting of the war began) of a young girl disguising herself to be near her lover and in November 1645 Major-General Poyntz of the New Model Army reports capturing a female corporal among the royalist prisoners. One of the best records concerns Anne Dymocke, who came from yeoman stock in Lincolnshire. In 1655, she disguised herself as a man in order to remain with her lover, John Evison. The match had been disallowed by her family so they ran off together and she and John posed as brothers for the next 2 years, travelling the countryside. Following John’s death in 1657, she enlisted as a soldier in the Army using John’s name and her disguise was only uncovered in Ayr in Scotland. Contemporary reports have only the highest regard for her “modesty”.
Although she doesn’t belong to the period of the English Civil War, perhaps the best known seventeenth century “she soldier” is Mrs. Christian Davies, known as Kit Cavanagh or Mother Ross. She was the subject of a biography by Daniel Defoe “The Life and Adventures of Mrs. Christian Davies, commonly called Mother Ross…Taken from her own mouth when a Pensioner of Chelsea Hospital”.
Born in Ireland 1667, Kit was, by her own account, something of a tomboy. However she married Richard Walsh and the two ran a pub together until, in 1691, Richard suddenly disappeared, apparently by force or choice, into the army. Kit left her pub and her children, disguised herself as a man by cutting her hair, wearing her husband’s clothes and padding her Waistcoat “to preserve my Breasts from hurt” and joined the English Army. There she served as an infantryman and fought at the Battle of Landen. Despite being wounded and captured by the French, she maintained her disguise and was exchanged without either side knowing her true gender. Following a duel (over a woman!) in which she killed her protagonist, “Mr. Welsh” was discharged from the Army but promptly re-enlisted as a dragoon and continued a sterling military career. Despite being wounded and having a prostitute claim that “he” was the father of her child, her gender went undetected. Her guile at concealing her disguise, even extended to a novel way of urinating standing up! After thirteen years she finally found her husband – with another woman! He agreed to keep her secret and she went back to soldiering. At the Battle of Ramillies in 1706 she was wounded again and this time her sex was discovered. So highly was she regarded that the Army continued to pay her and she took on the role as a “sutler”. After the death of her husband (she spent two days turning over the bodies of the fallen at the battle of Malplaquet in order to bury him) she married two more times and saw out her life as a Chelsea Pensioner. She was buried with full military honours.
I suppose I feel some affinity with these gallant warrior women as I served in the military forces for nearly twenty years, admittedly in a peace time army. It could not have been an easy life for them, but in some ways, compared to the hardships they faced if they remained at hearth and home, at least dressed as men, they were independent mistresses of their own destiny.

Friday, 6 November 2009

The Chickahominy

During September 2009, I had the honor of attending the Chickahominy powwow. Chickahominy translates to coarse-pounded-corn people, and powwow comes from the Algonquian word pau wau, which describes the spiritual leader. The English of the 17th century thought the word referred to the event and over time, Indian tribes have come to accept the definition. Non-native people may think of a powwow as entertainment, but the event is very sacred to Native people.

Before a powwow begins, the dance circle is blessed and becomes sacred ground for the duration of the event. Anyone entering the sacred circle walks or dances in a clockwise direction, and exits in the same place as their entrance. This action shows respect. During portions of the powwow, picture taking and sound recordings are not allowed due to the sacred ceremonies. For that reason, I have not included pictures out of respect because I did not ask for permission during the parts that allowed photography.

After a Grand Entry procession, Chief Stephen R. Adkins greeted dancers and attendees, much in the way the Chickahominy have greeted travelers for over 400 years. In the 17th century, the tribe was allied with but independent of the Powhatan chiefdom. Although culturally they were very similar, at the time of the arrival of the English colonists, the Chickahominy were governed by a council of eight elders or religious leaders, called the mungai (great men).

During the first few winters of Jamestown, the tribe aided the colonists by trading food for other goods. They also helped teach them how to plant and grow crops. As the colonists' settlements expanded, the Chickahominy became displaced, and tensions grew. In 1610, when the Paspahegh were virtually annihilated, the Chickahominy were also raided. Some say the remaining members of the Paspahegh were taken in by the Chickahominy.

In 1614, the tribe signed a treaty with Sir Thomas Dale, Governor of Jamestown. The Chickahominy agreed to provide corn to feed the colonists and send warriors to defend the settlement in return for keeping their own government. The following year, disease and drought were prevalent. The tribes' harvest was poor, and the colonists took their corn by force.

Over the years, the Chickahominy have lost more and more of their land, but unlike the Paspahegh, the tribe has survived to modern day. Now, along with five other Virginia tribes, they are trying to achieve Federal recognition as sovereign Indian nations, like some of the better known Western tribes. Their rallying cry has been, "First to greet. Last to be recognized." As Chief Adkins eloquently stated, "400 years is long enough."

Kim Murphy

Sunday, 1 November 2009

"You lie!": fighting words!

. .
I'm not going to get into politics here, but simply point out some facts. In the past, the main cause for calling a duel was ...

Wrong: it wasn't over a lady (much as we'd like to think so). Historically, the main cause for a duel was if someone called you a liar.
In the seventeenth century, "liar" was a fighting word.

Apparently this happened often, for dueling killed off a shocking number of the aristocratic male youth during the 17th century. It was often outlawed — punishable by death in 1651 in France by Louis XIV, for example — but that didn't stop the boys. In France alone, over a 21-year period, 10,000 gentlemen died fighting for their honor. (One had to be a member of the aristocracy to qualify for the honor of fighting for your honor.)

In the early 17th century, the weapon of choice was the rapier, a long, heavy sword (heavier than modern cavalry sabres). Mid-century, blades got shorter and lighter, and with a sharper point. This favored the thrust, rather than the cut, which changed the dueling style. To protect the fingers, the cup hilt was created. A fight was often resolved with the use of a secondary weapon: a dagger.

(The advent of the pistol, of course, changed everything. No longer was the duel up close and personal — no longer could you see your adversary's eyes. Also, sword dueling allowed for fewer fatalities. You could ward off a thrust, but the only way to protect yourself from a man holding a gun was to shoot him.)

La Maupin (Julie d'Aubigny), a French cross-dressing opera singer, was a famous hot-tempered dueler. Her lover, a fencing master, taught her how to wield a sword. Apparently she was a good student. One night, after insulting a lady at a ball, she was told to leave by the lady's male friends. She agreed, but only if the men would go outside and fight. They did, and — according to legend — she killed them all and returned to the ball.

An excellent book on dueling is Gentlemen's Blood; A History of Dueling, from Swords at Dawn to Pistols at Dusk by Barbara Holland.

For a good website on the history of dueling: click here.

For an informative website on La Maupin: click here.

Friday, 23 October 2009

Princess Mary's Portrait Comes Home

Whilst immersed in research for my English Civil War novel, I came across an article that featured this portrait, and it struck me how history is always close, and weaves links into all aspects of modern life.

This painting of Princess Mary in a silver-laced gown and pearl headdress was painted by Anthony Van Dyck in 1637, when Mary was six, and once hung in Hampton Court. Mary, Princess Royal, Princess of Orange was born in 1631 to Charles I and Henrietta Maria, the daughter of King Henri IV of France. The queen wished to imitate the way the eldest daughter of the French king was styled as Madame Royale, so Charles I designated Mary 'Princess Royal' in 1642, and since then the eldest daughter of the British Sovereign bears this title.

While Charles I was under house arrest at Hampton Court Palace in August 1647, he was confined in relative comfort, occupying a suite of royal rooms overlooking the Privy Garden, and allowed his own servants. The palace furnishings were improved for him, and paintings were brought down from Whitehall for his pleasure.

On the evening of 11th November 1647, the King tricked his jailers and escaped to a boat waiting to ferry him to supposed asylum on the Isle of Wight. In fact he swapped a comfortable prison for a less salubrious one. He left behind a note to the palace’s commander, Colonel Edward Whalley, thanking him for his kindnesses and asking that this painting, "the Original of My Eldest Daughter [which] hangs in this chamber over the board next the Chimney which you must send to my Lady Aubigny."

Lady Aubigny, an active Royalist supporter, fled to The Hague after the King’s execution in 1649. The painting was sent to her there and is recorded in a Dutch inventory in 1654, remaining in various continental collections through the years. In 1967, it appeared on the London art market and was bought by Van Dyck expert Sir Oliver Millar, from whose estate it has now been accepted in lieu of tax.

Princes Mary died of smallpox in 1660 at the age of 29, but her portrait is now back at Hampton Court after 360 years.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Most Haunted's Pendle Witch Hunt: A Sceptic's Guide

Halloween, 2004

Living TV's Most Haunted investigated several farmhouses around Newchurch in Pendle in search of the ghosts of the Pendle Witches of 1612. Their team of ghost hunters not only claimed to have had a direct encounter with the Pendle Witch "coven" in an old house on Lower Well Head Farm, but that the spirit of Old Demdike attempted to strangle TV psychic Derek Acorah, who has since been outed as a fake.

While I realise that the people most likely to read this blog take TV psychics with a healthy dose of scepticism in the first place, Halloween seems to drag out all kinds of ghoulish speculation about historical witches and cunning folk in a way that is not only historically inaccurate but disrespectful. The Pendle Witches were not ghouls. They were real living people who were held for months in a lightless dungeon in Lancaster Castle, chained to a ring in the stone floor, before being tried without any barrister and then hanged.

It doesn't help matters that reference sites such as Wikipedia mention the Most Haunted series in the same paragraph as William Ainsworth's delightfully gothic novel, The Lancashire Witches, first published in 1849, that revived the Pendle Witch story after it had lain dormant for two centuries.

Derek Acorah's bad acting notwithstanding, Most Haunted's Pendle Witch programme was full of inaccuracies.

1. The programme, investigating paranormal activity at a number of sites around Newchurch, can't even get the name of the village right. They refer to it as "Newham," just as Derek Acorah claims to channel "Elizabeth Southworth"--Mother Demdike's real name was Elizabeth Southerns. The Lancaster Witch Trials of 1612, under the reign of James I, are referred to as a "Tudor witch trial." I could go on and on. Each viewing reveals more bloopers.

2. Yvette Fielding makes a big deal about the noise of barking dogs as an indicator of paranormal activity and lurking evil. The real reason for the dog noise is quite banal. Lower Well Head Farm is situated next door to Meadow Top Boarding Kennel where one may hear barking dogs at any hour of the day or night.

3. Derek Acorah claims to psychically sense Demdike and Chattox gathering at Lower Well Head Farm in 1610 to work magic with the rest of their "coven." There are two major errors here.

English cunning folk appeared to work alone or in small family groups but there is no evidence that they worked in covens, which appeared to be a Contintental European concept first popularised in Britain by King James I in his book, Daemonologie, a witch-hunter's handbook and required reading for local magistrates. Shakespeare's play Macbeth, originally performed for James I and his court in 1605, presents the first depiction of a witches coven in English literature.

The second major error is that all recorded confessions in the Pendle Witch trials seem to indicate that Demdike and Chattox were bitter enemies in 1610 and unlikely to meet up to collaborate on any kind of magical working.

During the live "investigation," Most Haunted's viewers were invited to text their answer to the either-or-question: Where the Pendle Witches innocent victims or were they real witches with real powers? The superficiality of this question is an insult to the historical realities of cunning folk who lived in an era when everyone, rich and poor, educated and illiterate, believed that magic was real.

Cunning craft was the family trade for both Demdike (Elizabeth Southerns) and Chattox (Anne Whittle). Of course, they believed they had powers. Their very livelihood depended on it. Of course, they owned up to Roger Nowell, the prosecuting magistrate, about their familiar spirits. Without their familiars, they would have no powers and they would be revealed to be bigger fakes than Derek Acorah! How could a cunning woman bless and heal without the aid of her spirit--her otherworldly ally?

Were they innocent victims? How does one define innocence in the complex world of Jacobean witch-hunts? Anne Whittle, aka Chattox, confessed to bewitching to death her landlord's son, her motive being that he attempted to rape her daughter, Anne Redfearn, and to drive her entire family out of their cottage. In a time and place where there was a different law for the rich than for the poor and where the wealthy knew they could get away with rape, a fierce reputation as a cunning woman may have been the only power an impoverished woman could hope to wield. Was Chattox an evil witch for wanting to protect her daughter? Family love seemed to guide her every action. In the 1612 trial, she broke down and confessed her crime, then tearfully pleaded her daughter's innocence and begged the gentlemen of the court to let Anne Redfearn go free. But Anne was hanged alongside her mother.

As for Elizabeth Southerns, aka Old Demdike, the trial transcripts reveal that local farmers called on her to heal their children and their cattle. She was a cunning woman of long standing before she finally died in Lancaster Prison, aged "foure-score yeares," ie eighty years old, according to Court Clerk Thomas Potts. What is amazing is not that the magistrate finally arrested her but that she practised her craft for decades and none in her community spoke against her until the very end.

It is my belief that the Elizabeth Southerns, Anne Whittle, and the other accused witches live on in Pendle as part of the undying spirit of the landscape. They are the strong cunning folk who will never be banished. But you won't find them channeled by bad TV psychics. Walk the land instead, listen to the language the land speaks, the wind and rain, the dance of the seasons. That is where the real magic begins.

For a more nuanced view on the Pendle Witches than what you will find in Most Haunted, I recommend the following books:

Primary Source:

The Wonderfull Discoverie of Witches in the Countie of Lancaster by Thomas Potts

Daemonologie by James I

Secondary Sources:

The Lancashire Witch-Craze by Jonathan Lumby

The Lancashire Witches: Histories and Stories, edited by Robert Poole

The Trials of the Lancashire Witches by Edgar Peel and Pat Southern

Monday, 12 October 2009

Jackie Hodson Guest Blogger

My name is Jackie Hodson and I’m writing, researching, stressing over a novel started mumble, mumble years ago.

It all began on a rainy day in Ireland. I never need an excuse to drop into a secondhand book shop but that day it was raining stair rods and the place was warm and dry and very welcoming. I don’t know how long I stayed. Time stops in a book shop. But I came out with a beautiful Victorian book called The 17th Century by Jacques Boulenger.

Later, I began reading. 17th century France was a new, fascinating subject for me. Then, on page 44 came the sentence - ‘Marie de Rohan had married the Duc de Luynes when she was seventeen: by the time her first husband died, her reputation was already so extremely bad that the Nuncio thought it his duty to advise the young Queen not to keep so compromising lady about her person...’

It begged a question. Then another. And over the years, a captivating life evolved into Weave a Garland of my Vows, a story about Marie de Rohan of the ‘extremely bad reputation.’

Marie-Aimée de Rohan-Montbazon

The de Rohan were an old and very noble race from Bretagne, blood linked to many major European families including the Visconti, Navarre and the Stuarts. A de Rohan would not be exiled by anyone, including the King of France 'Roi ne puis, prince ne daigne, Rohan je suis'

Marie had a plan.....

On April 1st 1622, she wrote a letter to Claude de Lorraine, Duc de Chevreuse asking for his help. He discussed this letter with friends; they advised him to stay away from the widow but Claude ignored them and walked into an unexpected proposal of marriage.

On the 20th April 1622, the couple wed, the ceremony short and secret and attended by several members of the powerful Guise -Lorraine family ( motto: All for one.) but not a single de Rohan. Marie had allied herself with a foreign power - prince étranger - a prince living in France but belonging to a foreign sovereign dynasty who operated outside the normal jurisdiction of the French King.

‘The happy lovers have gone to praise God for their prosperity in the Chapel at Lesigny, and take possession together of the house the dead man prepared for them without ever thinking of it. It is the joke of the whole court.’

Louis was furious but he could do nothing to upset the Guisards and, by September, Marie returned to Anne and the court. Madame - out of the affection I bear my cousin, the Duc de Chevreuse, I am very glad his wife should come back- Louis

Within weeks, two events happened that were to have long term repercussions for Marie de Rohan. Marie de Medici’s favourite, the Bishop of Luçon was finally awarded a cardinal’s hat. Then George Villiers and Charles, Prince of Wales embarked on their ‘fatal mistake,’ - a secret trip to Spain known as The Spanish Match. ‘We go to mount Spain.’

Luçon became His Eminence, Cardinal Richelieu; Villiers saw Anne of Austria for the first time and an immense battle began for control of the Spanish Queen of France. It involved the whole court. Marie sided with Anne and the English. Many years later, she told Madame de Motteville, Anne’s biographer, that George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham was the only man she had ever truly loved. It was a true meeting of spirit and Marie agreed to help Buckingham beguile the ill-used, unhappy Queen. ‘The fairest vision which had ever gladdened his sight.’

After the aborted Spanish Match, England started negotiations for a marriage between Louis XIII’s sister, Henrietta Maria, and Prince Charles. The Stuarts’ greatest allies in France were family - the Guise-Lorraine and the de Rohan - and Claude and Marie were chosen as hosts for their ambassador, Henry Rich, Viscount Holland.

At 24 years of age, Marie was a rarity. She had never taken a lover but Rich held her spellbound and, by the time of the royal wedding, she was carrying Henry’s child. Claude knew about the affair but he had the honour of being James Stuart’s choice as proxy bridegroom. Marie’s dalliance amused him.

On Saturday 24th May 1625, George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham arrived in Paris. Anne was already half in love with him and Villiers made the most of the infatuation. But he and Marie misjudged their woman, as certain ‘goings on’ in a garden at Amiens proved. Anne would be admired but not touched.

With Claude and Marie escorting Princess Henrietta Maria, the new Queen of England, across the Channel, Louis took action against his apparently faithless wife. He banished all her closest servants and replaced them with Richelieu’s spies, published an edict barring access to Anne and barred the Duke of Buckingham from ever entering France again.

Meanwhile, Anne-Marie de Lorraine was born at Hampton Court in June 1625 and within a few weeks, her mother set the tongues of London wagging by swimming across the Thames.
'Twas calm, and yet the Thames touch'd heaven to day. The water did find out the Milky way, When Madam Chevereuze by swimming down, Did the faire Thames the Qu. of Rivers crown...’

But worse than that, Marie de Rohan ate meat in public on fast days, visited Buckingham and Henry Rich regularly, talked to Protestant churchmen and, according to the Bishop of Mende, she had ‘...come over here to establish brothels rather than serve religion.’

Repeated orders came from France recalling Marie before she caused any more trouble. She returned with a letter from Charles I to Louis XIII. ‘She returns to You worthy to be a shining star of any court and the precious proof of Our mutual friendship.’
Whilst in England, Marie had been in continual correspondence with Anne and other allies at court. She knew that the marriage of Louis’ brother, Gaston, was imminent. As she knew that if Gaston married and sired an heir, Anne of Austria’s humiliation would be complete.

So started the ‘Conspiration des Dames.’

The original aim of the conspiracy was to prevent this marriage, to remove both Louis and Richelieu and to marry Gaston to Anne of Austria. The removal of Richelieu was possible, if not easy, but the ousting of a monarch required planning and foreign aid.

‘She often suggested such brilliant expedients that they seemed like flashes of lightning, and were so wise that they would not be disowned by the greatest men of any age.’

Marie de Rohan as The Huntress Diana

Meanwhile, Eurpoe united behind Marie, and in France, the nobles and the Huguenots joined forces. England agreed to enter the country by sea from the west. The eastern borders were given to Savoy and Lorraine, the north to the Spanish Netherlands and the south went to Spain.

Then came betrayal... from the inside.

Gaston, unmasked also and forced to marry in a midnight ceremony officiated by Richelieu, was interrogated. He told them everything and when asked for the name of the instigator of the plot, he gave it willingly. Marie de Rohan, Duchesse de Chevreuse. If Marie’s guilt were proven then so would that of Anne of Austria. Marie went alone one evening to meet with Richelieu. She pleaded for the release of the prisoners, especially the young Comte de Chalais - even though he had betrayed her too.

‘I failed in judgement but I swear before God that, although I was aware of the faction, I never was its counsellor...It is very difficult not to be deceived by such devilish artifices, for who could escape a Princess (Marie de Rohan) so kindly looked on at the Courts of two of the greatest Queens in the world, whose manners are so easy and her rouge so well laid on...’

It was useless. De Chalais met his fate on 19th August 1626 after a trial for treason. Anne of Austria was brought before a royal council of Louis, Marie de Medici and Richelieu and questioned closely about her role in the affair. ‘She is too good a Spaniard.’ And the King held a warrant for the arrest and imprisonment of the Duchesse de Chevreuse.

Marie had a plan.

But that’s another story...

None of these roaring girls is ours: she flies
With wings more lofty.

My thanks go to Anita and Alison and all at Hoydens and Firebrands for letting me visit your wonderful blog.