Monday, 30 March 2009
Hello Hoydens and Firebrands!
My name is Erastes and I write gay historical romance.
Sounds like a confession, really - there should be a help group!
I'd like to introduce you to my 17th century novel set during the English Civil War - "Transgressions" - the story of two young men, who are drawn together into an forbidden love only to be cruelly separated when war blows their world's apart. One random commentator will win a signed first edition of the book - although you'll have to wait until my author copies arrive...
The idea came from my mother--who, while she didn't really approve of my subject matter, being of an older generation, she became my greatest supporter and would come up with time eras and ideas for me to write about. I was planning to write something in the American Civil War and she said "You are English, why not do the English Civil War?"
I've always been interested in the era, even though it was never taught at my school, but it wasn't until I started to write it that I realised how complex a matter the whole thing was. Just about the first thing I realised was how little I did know. My knowledge stemmed almost entirely from the film "Cromwell," and to me -- together with many others, I am sure -- the ECW consisted of Roundheads and Cavaliers and they were easily indentifiable from each other by the way they looked.
This was the first misconception that had to go. The uniforms (about which there is a mass of information, online and otherwise) could be almost indentical. There were limited colours available for cheap dyeing, so yellow, red and blue were the most popular colours for uniforms. If you look at the cover of Transgressions, at the bottom are two opposing armies in full fight--looking almost identical in red!
It was true that the term "roundhead" was used as an interchangeable term for the troops of Parliament, but it started off as an insulting term for some of the Puritans in Westminster who wore their hair short, quite unlike the fashion of the day.
The main problems I had researching this book was that the English Civil War (or wars, as they rumbled on, even after the devasting defeat at Naseby) subsumes the 17th century in a lot of respects. It's very easy to find tons of books on the subject, and there are thousands of sites dealing with every aspect of the war from ammunition, to weapons to real life characters to exact details of every single battle.
But a frustrating lack of detail of the every day life of the time. The war in Transgressions actually only occupies about a third of the book, and I don't go into Cornwell like minutiae about it. It's a story about two young men, and their journey through life and love, not really about the war. So I needed to know what people ate, how they travelled, what the houses were like in the country and in London, how they got water, where they went to the loo, all that sort of thing, and there's very little information about this.
Thank goodness for re-enactment societies. Not all members of re-enactment societies are interested in bashing eachother around the head with 17 foot long pikes or firing cannons. Some are just welcome doing living history, and it was from these sources that I got most of my detail.
Anyway, here's the blurb, and an excerpt, and I hope that you might give the book a try out, even if gay romance isn't your thing. There's a further except on my site, together with a book trailer and free bookplates.
1642, England David Caverly's strict father has brought home the quiet, puritanical Jonathan Graie to help his dreamer of a son work the family forge. With war brewing in Parliament, the demand for metal work increases as armies are raised.
The indolent and deceitful David Caverly is bored by his father's farm and longs to escape, maybe to join the King's Army, mustering at Nottingham. David finds himself drawn to Jonathan, and after a passing cavalry trooper seduces the beautiful David and reveals his true nature, he determines to teach Jonathan what he's learned. When David is forced to leave the farm, and the boys are separated by mistrust and war, they learn the meaning of love and truth as they fight their way across a war-torn country, never thinking they'll ever see each other again.
Jonathan took the candle and went to his room where David was still asleep, his face pale and waxy in the dim light. He sat on the stool next to the bed and held David's hand. It was cool to the touch so he rubbed it to attempt to warm it. Then, because he could not think of anything else to do, he slid onto his knees, and although he knew it was wrong to barter with the Lord, he began to pray desperately.
"Lord, I beg of thee, save him. He is a sinner but he can do better than he does. If thou willst grant me this, I will serve thee however thee guide me to do so, just save him, and I am thine." There was a gentle touch on his hair and Jonathan started, looking up to find David smiling, but clearly dreadfully tired.
"No, my brave Puritan," David said hoarsely, "you cannot go promising yourself to others. You are mine."
Jonathan thought his heart would break. He wanted to that it was true, that he was David's, completely. But he couldn’t find the words to tell him. Instead, his fingers sought David's hand, and tightened around it. "David. Thank the Lord. Let me go and tell thy father,"
"No. Not yet." David clutched Jonathan's hand in both of his. "Is he very angry? I'll wager he is. I will be mucking out cows for months after this…." He frowned. "We should not have gone, you were right. You risked your life and saved mine, because I was too stupid to listen to you. I--only I wanted to see... I only hope he.…"
Jonathan hated to do it, but he had to, for his own peace of mind if nothing else—he had to know one way or the other. He squeezed David's hand. "It's Master Tobias isn't it? Thou art worried about Master Tobias?"
David turned his head and looked Jonathan straight in the face, his eyes frightened. "Jonathan?"
"It is all right," Jonathan hastened to reassure him, "all right I tell thee. Dost thou not understand? Nothing matters to me except that thou art alive. If thou ever wishes to tell me about what happened between thee and the trooper, then thou canst, and if thou wishes it, I will go back there and find out if he lives, if I can."
David was crying. It tore Jonathan's heart to ribbons to see the real sorrow and huge tears in his eyes. "I can't bear to think of him lying there cold and...like the others," David gulped. "You would do that? For me? Knowing what you do?"
Jonathan had not known, for certain, but David's words confirmed his suspicions. He found that he did not care, it did not change David in his eyes. He was still his own David, whomsoever he loved. "Let us not talk about it now," he said bringing his friend's hand to his lips and kissing it, comforting him like he would a child. "Thou needest rest, but please David, never lie to me again? Promise me?"
David squeezed his hands. "Never again, I swear..." His voice was soft and affectionate. "Get into bed, Jonathan, I'm so cold."
Jonathan looked doubtful. "I do not think I should, thy injury--"
"Is behind me..."
Jonathan could not help but smile at the small joke. "Art thou in much pain?"
David nodded with a small weak smile which warmed Jonathan from the inside out. "I think I would be more comfortable on my left side, and not to roll back, I can bolster myself with pillows on one side, but if I had you to support me on the other I would not roll." Jonathan gave up and slid gently in. When David instructed him, he turned his back to his friend, feeling David wrap himself around him. "That's better, Jon, and it doesn't hurt half as much like this."
Jonathan lay as still as he was able, shocked but inexplicably happy by the feel of David pressed against him, the touch of David's head on the back of his neck. He couldn't help but think that David was already lying, that it was unlikely the pain had lessened just by his own presence, but he forgave David for such a sweet calumny. Although David's body still felt chilled where their skin met, from his shoulders to his hips, a warmth spread between them. David's legs tangled themselves around his, his feet icy, and the warmth traveled through Jonathan like a trail of gunpowder ignited, down his spine, suffusing his hips and thighs until he felt himself harden as the heat moved forward and inward. Thankful he was facing away from his friend, he bit his lip hard in an attempt to wish away the embarrassment.
His wish was granted as after a few minutes, he felt David shaking with silent sobs and his unwanted ardor cooled instantly. He longed to turn and comfort David, but could offer him no words of solace although he had promised that he would try and find out what had happened to David's trooper, he could not tell David in all honesty that he felt the man was alive, because he did not. All he could do was hold David's hands in his own and wait in the dark until his friend stilled, his breath slow and regular, showing he was asleep again at last.
Transgressions is published by Perseus Books and Erastes' website is here
For a chance to be entered in a draw for a copy of 'Transgressons', please leave a comment
Wednesday, 25 March 2009
Archaeologist Jacqui Wood holds the remnant of a 17th century cauldron
Researching historical witchcraft is a huge challenge as most of the written evidence come from confessions gleaned from intimidation and, in the case of Continental European and Scottish witch trials, torture.
It's rare that we find concrete and nonbiased evidence of how witchcraft was actually practised. But archeologist Jacqui Wood offers us a rare window into this lost world. In her own front yard in Saveock, Cornwall, she has discovered evidence of more than forty magical rituals.
Discussing her find with Archaeology Magazine, Wood describes ritual pits, dating from the 17th century, lined with swan feathers and filled with 55 eggs, seven of which contained chicks that had been close to hatching. Remains of magpies--a numinous bird traditionally associated with luck--had been placed on either side of the eggs.
Amazingly these ritual pits date from 1640s, around the time of the worst witch persecutions in English history, when Matthew Hopkins of East Anglia was making his name as Witchfinder General. In Cornwall itself, during the 1650s, more than 25 people were sent to Launceston Gaol on witchcraft charges.
What, then, was the magical significance of these feather and egg pits? Wood speculates that they might have contained offerings to St. Bridget, or Bride, patron of babies and midwives, who has her roots in the Irish Goddess Brighid.
"My theory," states Wood, "is that maybe if you got married and didn't become pregnant in the first year, you might make an offering to St. Bride in a feather pit."
Wood has also discovered the remnants of of a spring-fed pool lined with white quartz and filled with offerings of heather branches, fingernail clippings, human hair, and part of a cauldron.
Wood believes these quartz-lined pools are 6,000 years old. Since the quartz would have glowed in the moonlight, the pools would have been a natural place to enact ritual and make offerings. This practise stopped in the late 17th century when the crown paid people to fill in the pools along with other holy wells in the region.
Read the full article here.
Sunday, 22 March 2009
The landowner, Giles Allen, hated plays. He refused to renew the lease and declared that he intended to tear down the playhouse, and use its valuable oak timbers ''for a better purpose''.
A year before the lease ran out, James Burbage, bought some tenements in Blackfriars and converted them into an indoor playhouse. Unfortunately, the neighbours objected to living next door to a playhouse, which was considered an undesirable in Elizabethan times.
In November 1596, over a hundred people sent a petition to the Queen's Privy Council, calling for Burbage's venture to be stopped. The Privy Council accepted the plea. James Burbage, who now had his money tied up in a building he could not use, died a month later.
In 1597, after the lease expired, Giles Allen evicted the Lord Chamberlain's Men. For the next two years, Burbage's sons, Richard and Cuthbert, tried unsuccessfully to persuade Allen to renew their lease. Meanwhile the Lord Chamberlain's Men had to play in rented premises at the Curtain, in Shoreditch. This was much inferior to the Theatre, which stood nearby. Every day the company could see their old playhouse, which was now in "dark silence" according to Edward Guilpin, writing in 1598. It was a cruel reminder of what they had lost.
In late 1598, the Burbage brothers came up with a plan. They rented a new plot of land in Bankside, taking out a 31-year lease. During the Christmas holidays, while Giles Allen was away in the country, they hired a carpenter, Peter Street, to take the Theatre apart, timber by timber. They took the timbers by cart down to the river, and carried them under cover of darkness across London Bridge to Bankside, to build a new playhouse.
Giles Allen was furious when got back to town and saw that the Theatre had vanished. He took the Burbages to court to sue them for trespass, demanding £800 in damages (including two pounds for "trampling of the grass"). Allen lost his case.
The New Playhouse
The design of the new playhouse was determined by the size and number of the oak timbers of the Theatre. Like the earlier building, it was a 20-sided polygon, around a 100ft across, with galleries on three levels. The spaces between the timbers were filled with panels made of thin strips of wood, called lath, plastered with a mixture of lime, horsehair and sand. The thatched roof may have been much cheaper than tiles, but it would eventually prove to be a fire hazard.
The Burbages shared their building costs with five members of the Lord Chamberlain's Men, including William Shakespeare, who were called the ''sharers''. The brothers kept half ownership of the building, while the other half went to the sharers. Future profits were split 50:50 between the owners and the rest of the company, with the owners' half being equally divided in turn between the Burbages and the sharers.
The playhouse was named the Globe, a word which had entered English less than 50 years before, referring to spherical models of the earth. The name was explained in a painted sign showing Hercules holding a Globe on his shoulders. The Latin motto: ''Totus mundus agit historiem'' (All the world plays the actor). In As You Like It, one of the first successes of his new playhouse, Shakespeare paraphrased the Latin motto as, ''All the world's a stage; and all the men and women merely players.''
The Box Office
It cost one penny to enter The Globe and employees went through the audience colecing the coins in clay boxes with a slit in the top - but no means of getting the money out so all proceeds could be guaranteed to reach 'the office'. The collectors would take the boxes to the office where they were smashed to get at the money - thus the origin of the term, 'Box Office'.
The Second and Third Globes
A year after the fire that destroyed the Globe, a second Globe was erected on its site. Similar to the first in structure, but this time the roof was tiled and Shakespeare was no longer one of its in-house playwrights. This Globe remained in operation and intact until the 1640s, when it was pulled down by the new Puritan regime.
In 1949, American actor and director Sam Wanamaker came to England, and made a beeline for the site of the Globe, to see whatever monument there was for this most important of theatres. When he reached the site, however, all he found was a plaque, blackening on the wall of a brewery. He resolved that the Globe deserved better – and twenty years later, he began his work.
Sam Wanamaker established the Globe Playhouse Trust to steer the reconstruction of the Globe, using, as far as possible, the materials and techniques that would have been used in Shakespeare’s day. Through the 1970s and 1980s there followed planning wrangles with the resistant local council, [not much change for Shakespeare’s day.
With the vision of the architect, Theo Crosby, The New Globe is not only a working theatre, but an education centre, exhibition centre, a library, gift shop and a restaurant. The theatre opened in the summer of 1997, but tragically, neither man had survived to see the celebrations. Wanamaker had died in 1993, and Crosby the following year.
On the opening night it was left to actress Zoë Wanamaker to fill her father’s place and speak the famous lines from the new oak stage, under the new thatched roof. The lines had been written by Shakespeare four centuries earlier for that same stage, in his prologue to Henry V, and they are his description of the magical transformations that take place at the Globe:
O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend The brightest heaven of invention. A kingdom for a stage, princes to act, And monarchs to behold the swelling scene. Then should the warlike Harry, like himself, Assume the port of Mars; and at his heels, Leash’d in like hounds, should famine, sword, and fire, Crouch for employment. But pardon, gentles all, The flat unraised spirits that hath dared On this unworthy scaffold to bring forth So great an object. Can this cockpit hold The vasty fields of France? Or may we cram Within this wooden O the very casques That did affright the air at Agincourt? O, pardon! Since a crooked figure may Attest in little place a million; And let us, ciphers to this great accompt, On your imaginary forces work…
For anyone considering visiting this amazing piece of history, the plays scheduled at The Globe for the 2009 summer season are:
April - Romeo and Juliet
May – As You Like It
June to September Midsummer Knight’s Dream, Troilus and Cressida
October – Love’s Labours Lost, As You Like It
Friday, 13 March 2009
The complex politics that gave rise to this situation had their roots back in Tudor times. When Elizabeth I died childless, James VI of Scotland, son of “Mary Queen of Scots” became James I of England. He had two sons, the older, Henry died while young leaving the younger son, Charles, a shy young man with a pronounced stammer, to succeed him as King Charles I of England. The character of Charles I has been much debated and discussed but I think one can say that like a lot of insecure men, he had a strong stubborn streak and a heavy dependence on his advisors, at least two of whom were to die horribly; the Duke of Buckingham by assassination and Earl of Stafford on the block. He further raised the ire of the protestant population of England by marrying a Catholic, Henrietta Maria, sister to the King of France.
He had above all, a belief in the divine right of the king to rule, and when he found himself thwarted by his Parliament, he dissolved Parliament and ruled alone, imposing taxes on an increasingly unwilling and unhappy population. Forced to recall Parliament in the early 1640s, he found himself increasingly at loggerheads with the country’s elected representatives and in early 1642 he and his family fled London. In August 1642 he raised the royal standard at Nottingham (where it was promptly blown down in a gale - some would say a portentous gale!)and England found itself plunged into a long and bitter civil war.
The first part of the civil wars lasted from 1642 until 1646 and ended with the defeat and imprisonment of the King. At the King’s instigation a second civil war flared in 1648 and the King’s refusal to negotiate with his captors led eventually and tragically to his execution in January 1649 (the subject of my last two blogs).
Friday, 6 March 2009
In North America, most people think of Salem when witch trials are mentioned, but Virginia has the dubious honor of holding the first such trial on the continent in 1626. Before then, the Powhatan priests were often regarded by the English as witches. In 1613, Reverend Alexander Whitaker stated in Good newes from Virginia, "Their priests (whom they call Quiokosoughs) are no other but such as our English Witches are." Perhaps the colonists preoccupation with the native population and the fact that few English women had yet to arrive held off trials in the beginning.
In any case, Virginia was far less rabid in prosecuting witches than either the home country or Salem. Only thirteen women and two men are known to have been tried for the crime. Granted, many records are likely to have been lost over the centuries, but most of those accused were found not guilty and often turned the tables on the accuser by successfully suing for defamation of character.
Joan Wright was the first person in Virginia to have been tried for being a witch in September 1626. Goody Wright was most likely a cunning woman. Because few in the seventeenth century could afford physicians and those who could often didn't trust them, cunning folk were popular healers for the masses. Joan engaged in foretelling the future and was a midwife. Also, she was left handed, which further helped her accusers to place blame on her being in league with the devil.
Apparently, on at least three occasions, Joan prophesied that certain individuals would bury their spouses, which indeed came to pass. Of course, with modern sensibility, we know that healers of any era often can make such predictions with a high degree of accuracy. In one case, she attended the birth of Lieutenant Giles Allington's wife. Due to Joan's left handedness, Allington's wife distrusted her and a second midwife also assisted.
After the delivery, the woman grew sore in the breast (most likely an infection) and was bedridden for five weeks. Soon after, the lieutenant himself fell sick as did the child. Goody Wright was accused of witchcraft for these incidents and several others. Unfortunately, the record is unclear as to what punishment, if any, she might have received, or even if she was found guilty. However, she was fined one hundred pounds of tobacco for an unspecified act.
Katherine Grady has the unfortunate distinction of being the only person executed in the colony for the offense. In 1654, she was en route from England to Virginia when a violent storm hit. Such disturbances were often associated with witchcraft. Of the passengers, Kath Grady, an elderly woman, apparently best fit the description of a sorceress. Detailed accounts either went unrecorded or were lost, but the captain hung the woman during the storm. Although technically she had yet to arrive on Virginia's shores, the colony can be held accountable for her death as the case fell under its jurisdiction, where the captain reported upon reaching the Jamestown port.
Reverend David Lindsay emigrated from Scotland, a country with many witch trials, and accused William Harding of witchcraft in 1656. He was sentenced with thirteen lashes of the whip and ordered to leave the county. The records do not reveal what it was that he had done to have been found guilty.
Other cases included the usual bewitching of horses, cows, and chickens. Some women were inspected for witch marks on their bodies, but in only one other case were there any serious accusations.
The most famous witch in Virginia's history is Grace Sherwood. She was a healer, a midwife, and most likely a cunning woman. She was body searched, ducked, and finally vindicated on July 10, 2006 when Governor Tim Kaine restored her good name. I'll feature her in a future post as the Witch of Pungo deserves her own space.