Saturday 6 May 2017

The Hoydens and Firebrands regret that this blog is now archived.

Over the years it has provided a fascinating resource on all things seventeenth century and will continue to remain live and fully searchable.

Thank you to all the contributors and our followers. We hope you will continue to follow the books and doings of the individual Hoydens and Firebrands

Anita Davison (Anita Seymour)

Monday 6 April 2015

Modest or Unmannerly, Which Instrument Shall She Play? - DM Denton

Music was such an integral part of 17th century life and Hoydens and Firebrands are delighted to welcome DM Denton with a fascinating post on women and music in the seventeenth century. Diane is the author of two books set in the 17th century in which the central protagonists are musicians.  

A HOUSE NEAR LUCCOLI and its sequel TO A STRANGE SOMEWHERE FLED focuses on chance encounters, beautiful music and the paradox of genius through an imagined intimacy with one of the most legendary and undervalued figures of Italian Baroque music, Alessandro Stradella. 

In the 17th century a refined young woman might want and even be encouraged to cultivate her musical ability and prove some accomplishment through singing and accompanying herself instrumentally—as recreation not occupation, of course. Considering her need to impress a suitor, show her figure off in the best possible way, express the sweetest tones of her personality and gentle capability of her character, which instrument should she play?

Men seemed eager to offer their opinions, asserting their duty in pointing out the dangers of women acting more passionately than discreetly—of them doing anything, which, to quote Pietro Aretino, 15th-16th century Italian playwright, “opens the gates of their modesty.” Roger North (1651-1734), English biographer, lawyer, architect, and amateur musician, expressed his thoughts on the matter in his autobiography, Notes of Me: “This lets me in to speak a little of teaching on which much of this depends;  for men the viol, violin, and the thorough bass instruments organ harpsichord and double bass are proper; for women the spinnet or harpsichord, lute and guitar;  for voices both. I cannot but commend the double bass or standing viol for plain basses especially for accompanying voices because of its softness joined with such a force as helps the voice very much; and the harpsichord for ladies rather than the lute; one reason is it keeps their body in a better posture than the other, which tends to make them crooked.

If playing the lute wasn’t advantageous to a lady’s appearance, then what were the consequences, not only to her posture but also her reputation, if she spread her legs for the viol? Thomas Middleton, Jacobean playwright, disapproved of women performing on such an “unmannerly instrument”.  French guitarist, lutenist, composer and theorist, François Campion, (aka Abbé Carbasus), cynical overall about women having musical ambitions, noted that “decency, modesty, and the hoopskirt fashion effectively prohibit the fair sex from playing the viol.” Evidently not, for play it they did, as shown by the engravings of Nicolas Bonnart.

Anyone who has seen the film Tous les Matins du Monde knows that the daughters of the great viol player Sainte-Columbe (1640-1700), were also accomplished on it. The biographer Titon tu Tillet (1677-1762) reported: “Sainte Colombe … gave concerts in his house, in which two of his daughters played, one the treble viol, the other the bass, and they formed with their father a three viol consort, which was a pleasure to listen to, even if it was made of rather ordinary symphonies and few chords.”

For the sake of decency, some women may have attempted to play the viol obliquely: per traverse, rather like riding a horse sidesaddle, more ladylike but not as physically viable. Despite its intention, it wasn’t a technique that gained popularity.

In disagreement with Roger North’s fluctuating opinion, artists Nicolas Arnoult and Abraham Bosse portrayed ladies of quality not only playing the harpsichord but also the lute.  John Essex, 17th—18th century English dancer, choreographer and author,  wrote that “The Harpsicord, Spinnet, Lute and Base Violin, are Instruments most agreeable to the Ladies: There are some others that really are unbecoming the Fair Sex; as the Flute, Violin and Hautboy [oboe]; the last of which is too Manlike, and would look indecent in a woman’s mouth; and the Flute is very improper, as taking away too much of the Juices, which are otherwise more necessarily employ’d, to promote the Appetite, and assist Digestion.” Probably more myth than fact was the criticism of a female playing the violin or flute because she would have to raise her arms and reveal her elbows.

Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer often used the theme of a woman practicing, performing on, sitting at or holding an instrument—guitar, virginal, harpsichord, lute, cittern, flute, trumpet—and gave us moments in time that implied collaboration, flirtatiousness even intimacy; and, conversely, duteousness, modesty, confinement even isolation. 

It seems Vermeer recognized that the allure of a female through her musical accomplishment could actually illuminate her virtue. The association between music-making and love-making was a respectable means to an end as long as it was correctly contained. On the other hand, naiveté, low resistance, high libido, adventurousness, or just chance and circumstance were more threatening to a woman’s reputation than the instrument she chose to play.

I’ll return to Roger North as he seems to admit music offers more that is positive than negative for all who partake of it, again from his Notes of Me: “And nothing of the unprofitable kind, can be so good as musick, who is a kind companion and admits all to her graces, either by men by themselves, or men, and women together, or the latter single, either with instruments and voices, or either alone, as the capacitys are, and fail not to entertain themselves, and their parents, and friends, with pleasures sensible to those that have found the sweets of them.” 

About DM (Diane) Denton: 

DM Denton, a native of Western New York, is an author and artist. She finds her voice in poetry and prose, in silence and retreat, in truth and imagination.  Through observation and study, inspired by music, art, nature and the contradictions of the creative spirit, she loves to wander into the past to discover stories of interest and meaning for the present, writing from her love of language and the belief that what is left unsaid is the most affecting of all. Her educational journey took her to the UK where she stayed for sixteen years. She returned to the US in 1990, to a rural area of Western New York State where she resides in a cozy log cabin with her mother and a multitude of cats. 
DM Denton has published two historical fictions: A House Near Luccoli and its sequel To A Strange Somewhere Fled, both released by All Things That Matter Press. For more information, please visit Diane’s blog, website, and Amazon author page for all her publications: 

Friday 20 March 2015

The Dutch East India Company...Laura Libricz

The Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie, the Dutch East India Company, was a trading company founded in 1602. Considered by some to be the first corporation in the world, the VOC was in any case the largest and most impressive trading company in Europe during the Early Modern Period. The Company ruled the trade zone between South Africa and Japan and was granted authority by the Dutch government to build forts, appoint a governing body and to form an army, as well as conducting trade and establishing colonies. 

Some statistics:  The Company operated from 1602 until 1795. In a span of 193 years, they employed over a million workers--soldiers, sailors, clerks and merchants, sailed  4,785 ships and moved more that 2,5 million tons of Asian goods. By 1650, 50% of the merchant ships in Europe were owned by the Dutch.

Surviving today are over 25 million pages of documents, housed in Jakarta, Colombo, Chennai, Cape Town and The Hague. The VOC archives are the largest source of early modern history found anywhere in the world.

The Company was at home in Amsterdam and Amsterdam in the early 17th Century generated some impressive statistics itself. In 1567, the population was 25,000. In 1610, the population had doubled; in 1620 the city had grown to 100,000 people. In 1660, 200,000. Because of the war with Spain, trading had moved from Antwerp to Amsterdam after 1585. People flocked then to the source of employment. This drastic rise in population reflected how many refugees were fleeing from Spanish troops and the fact that Amsterdam was known for religious tolerance. 

Willem van de Velde, The Cannon Shot (ca. 1670) Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

But what made them sail half way around the world? Compared to bulk goods like timber, tar and salt there was more money to be made trading luxury goods like spice and sugar. And the only place to get spice and sugar was half way around the world. Spice was in great demand because the taste of less-than-fresh meats did not satisfy the discerning palate.

Up until the end of the 16th century, the Spanish and the Portuguese were in control of the seaways and the routes were unknown to the Dutch. The Dutch merchants sailed their first voyages after 1596 when extensive information regarding Asian ports and navigation were brought back from abroad by a man named Jan Huyghen van Linschoten. Early voyages were successful and in order to keep merchants from competing against each other, the VOC was formed and claimed a monopoly over trade in the East.

But these sea voyages were long, grueling, dangerous, tedious, lasting up to six months, even longer. What sort of person voluntarily boarded a sailing ship? On to waters uncharted? Riches were to be had in the spice trade, yes, but those who earned the money were rich merchants who stayed home and got richer. Merchants living in the Indies had a life expectancy there of about three years. For those who travelled with the Company, only one in three returned.

Those who travelled were those who more or less had nothing to lose. Cramped quarters, wormy water (if any fresh water at all), hard bread infested with weevils, disease, fleas, lice. A simple soldier had maybe a few square feet of space below deck. Was this life really so bad for these men? For many of them, the conditions on the ship, regular substantial meals and employment outweighed the disadvantageous life they were facing in Europe.

If you are interested in reading some more about the VOC... have a look at Alison Stuart's posts on the Wreck of the Batavia... and

Here is an excerpt from The Master and the Maid:
Sebald Tucher, Hamburg, April 1617
The morning light that shone through the shutters woke me early. I stood stiffly from my chair, walked outside and opened the shutters quietly, assuming Katarina slept still and peaceful. I stoked the fire, made a pot of tea and sat back at the desk. I wanted to finish my journal entry and record our arrival in Hamburg before she woke up. I had fallen asleep half way through my writing last night. I now sat in the parlor of my uncle’s house, staring out of the open window at the crooked row of houses, quill in hand, listening to the hooves on the road, the shouts of fishermen and laughter from women across the street.

As I read back through my journal I noticed that my impressions of my two favorite cities were similar, but for many reasons quite different. I compared them to two brothers, and relationships between brothers are anything but still and uneventful.

Where I imagine Amsterdam as the younger of the two siblings, I am of course left with only my unspoken impression because my Dutch comprehension and speaking skills are below average. There’s a willy-nilly speed in the comings and goings all along the canals. Bustling, energetic movements from the water, from the people, and the rats tick like time. Recklessness, friendly and fuelled by success, would propel the city to greatness, in my opinion.

But in Hamburg there was a discipline, like a strict older brother’s, that was not as apparent in Amsterdam. Rules were meant to be followed, but they were lovingly enforced. Of late, they seemed to be fortifying the lovely city. A wall was being built and soldiers were numerous in the streets. I read in the weekly newspaper that this endeavor was costing them dearly. But to summarize the citizens by the clothes they wore in one word, it would be “affluent.” The atmosphere was festive, the mood positive, the people unaffected by matters unknown. Politics seemed to be a policy of neutrality. Maybe because there was more air in the north, the feeling as if one could escape by way of the sea. The sea was freedom and the people were less inclined to close their minds.

About Me: Laura Libricz
I am a writer, a mother, a guitar factory worker. And I love to write. I was born and raised in Bethlehem, PA and moved to Upstate New York when I was 22. After working a few years building Steinberger guitars, I got a scholarship to go to college. I tried to ‘do the right thing’ and study something useful, but spent all my time reading German literature (ahem, struggling through originals and reading the English translations.) And the passion for writing brewed there in the background. But most of my writing from that time landed in the fire. What a shame, I think now. 

I earned a BA in German at The College of New Paltz, NY in 1991 and moved to Germany, where I reside today. My first novel, The Master and the Maid, is the first book of the Heaven's Ponds Trilogy and is now available at Smashwords and at Amazon. The second book, The Soldier's Return, is scheduled to be released in October 2015. Both are historical in nature, dealing with the Thirty Years War in Germany from 1618-1648.

Tuesday 10 February 2015


Judging by the images and the books that are popular today, can you imagine how someone 400 years from now will view our society? How will they reconstruct our day in age based on the records we leave behind? That is, if they can even access our information. What impressions will they have of our culture?

I take this into consideration as I research and write my 17th century historical novels. I have a good idea of what the time period looked like from paintings like those from the Dutch Golden Age. Objects and artifacts that survived the passing of time help illustrate how people lived their daily lives. But what people thought, what they felt, can only be taken from the work of those who wrote down their experiences. Even then, we only get the point of view of individuals with a certain standing in the community. We are subject to see history based on their beliefs and more importantly, what they wanted the reader to believe.

So, as I reconstruct the Thirty Years War and the impact the war had on the Aisch Valley in Franconia, Germany, I choose sources that give me a more realistic version of the world I am recreating. These include local historical almanacs, autobiographical accounts that survived over the years and current research of the Early Modern Period. I’d like to tell you about my most important ones.

The Thirty Years War was considered The Great War by the Germans up until WWI. The devastation it left behind was up until that time unmatched. The population was reduced by a third, some believe by half. Great tracks of land were left untouched by the war but other areas were set back 100 years in their development. Some of the villages in my area died out completely for more than two generations. And a surprising number of events that transpired there were written down and collected.

Germans call them Heimatbücher; village historical almanacs, written by local residents, village officials and clergy. Many small communities have them. Full of church records, local weather chronicles, tax records, marriage, birth and death registers, maps and photographs, you’ll find one on almost every bookshelf in Germany. They recorded everything from the Hussiten Wars to the Little Ice Age, the natural catastrophe believed to help fuel the Thirty Years War. Many of the troop movements that stain Germany’s war-torn history and the damage left behind can be found in these books. They tend to be overlooked by ‘real’ historians but they are a wealth of knowledge and now our little secret.

Around the time of the Thirty Years War, the early 1700’s, literacy in Germany was supposedly 2% to 4% of the population, without taking into consideration the difference between those who read regularly and those who could read at all. The reported literates were either of a high standing or involved in the church. More Protestants were known to be able to read than Catholics. Yes, there were those women who were learned but the majority of these were men. And some of these people felt the need to write their memoirs.

A local hero from the town of Uehlfeld in Franconia, Veit von Berg was a young Protestant pastor who was in the city of Neustadt an der Aisch when it was sacked in July 1632. After the war, in 1648, he was commissioned to serve the Evangelical parish in Uehlfeld. Thirty-five people survived the horrors that left this village in ash and rubble, a village that once had population of over 600. Veit von Berg spent his free time rebuilding Uehlfeld, teaching the savaged farmers how to sow seed and live life and writing his autobiography. This is a touching, explicit, insightful story of his fight to live through an unjust war.

A more famous story is Simplicius Simplicissimus by Grimmelshausen, considered to be the first German novel. It is the story of a peasant boy torn away from his family by marauding mercenaries. We follow him from the abduction, to the life with a hermit, to military service, to wealth and excess back to the life of a hermit. The adventures he experienced are considered to be the autobiographical account of Grimmelshausen’s life.

In 1988, Jan Peters, a German historian, found a hand-written document in the Berliner Staatsbibliotek, the Berlin Library. Peters set out to decipher the writings and search for the author, whose name is nowhere in the writings to be found. After much detective work, the writer is believed to the mercenary soldier, Peter Hagendorf. Hagendorf recorded his 25-year career as a mercenary and the 22,500 km travels that took him from Italy to Germany, to the Spanish Netherlands and France. He also took part in the famous Sack of Magdeburg in 1631.

Now, most of my reference books are in German and most of them are written by men. But I want to recreate this time period for an English-speaking audience and keep the language contemporary. I want to get close to the characters, inside their heads, and I also want to do this from the viewpoint of a woman. And I want to stay true to the events documented in my sources.

American historian, Joel Harrington, professor at the Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, specializes in the Early Modern Period in Germany and has written numerous books concerning this time period in the English language. In 2009, he published The Unwanted Child: The Fate of Foundlings, Orphans, and Juvenile Criminals in Early Modern Germany (University of Chicago Press, 2009). Harrington studies the situation of abandoned children in Nuremberg, Germany, their mothers and the role society played in all of this in the early modern world.

Over the years, the more information I searched for, the more I found. This is only a small outtake from all the sources I have collected. For me, the love of research equals the love of writing historical fiction. And as I reconstruct the Thirty Years War, these books and documents are as instrumental to my writing as my computer and a pad and paper. The stage is set and I can bring in the actors and raise the curtain.

Laura Libricz at home here:

I am a writer, a mother, a guitar factory worker. And I love to write. I was born and raised in Bethlehem, PA and moved to Upstate New York when I was 22. After working a few years building Steinberger guitars, I got a scholarship to go to college. I tried to ‘do the right thing’ and study something useful, but spent all my time reading German literature (ahem, struggling through originals and reading the English translations.) And the passion for writing brewed there in the background. Most of my writing from that time landed in the fire. What a shame, I think now. 

I earned a BA in German at The College of New Paltz, NY in 1991 and moved to Germany, where I reside today. My first novel, The Master and the Maid, is the first book of the Heaven's Ponds Trilogy and is now available at Smashwords, Amazon and all other e-book sellers. The second book, The Soldier's Return, is scheduled to be released in October 2015. Both are historical in nature, dealing with the Thirty Years War in Germany from 1618-1648.

Sunday 4 January 2015

The Price of Beauty in the Seventeenth Century - Jessica Cale

Maybe She’s Born With It (Maybe It’s Lead!)

Barbara Palmer (née Villiers), Duchess of Cleveland by John Michael Wright
So many seventeenth-century portraits feature women with smooth, perfectly white complexions. The paint used in the portraits would have been very similar to the makeup used by the women featured, both being comprised chiefly of white lead. By the Restoration, cosmetics were widely available and used across the social spectrum. In a time when freckles were undesirable and so many faces were marred with smallpox scars, demand for complexion correctives was high, and white lead made its first comeback as a cosmetic since the end of the Roman Empire.

Ceruse was made of lead carbonite or oxide and could be combined with lemon juice or vinegar. It was bought as a powder and mixed into a paste with water or egg whites and applied with a damp cloth to whiten the face, neck, and chest. It clung well to the skin and didn’t have to be applied too heavily to produce an even, matte result. It could be set with a mask of egg whites to varnish the skin or powders of starch or ground alabaster.

While it could create the illusion of perfection for a time, ceruse was not without its failings. The egg whites dried quickly on the skin, and they would have created an uncomfortably tight mask that would wrinkle and crack with any facial movement at all, so smiling and talking were out. Over the course of a day, it could even turn grey, necessitating touch-ups with alabaster powder to disguise the changing tone. Ceruse was also found to have a depilatory effect on the eyebrows and hairline, which could be seen as an advantage (or disadvantage, if false mouse-skin eyebrows don’t appeal to you) and could partially explain the artificially high hairlines that appeared throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Still, it was preferable to the alternative, a combination of borax and sulphur, which created a pale powder that was very drying as well as slightly yellow; not very compatible with the fashionable pink and white complexion of the time.

Ceruse was also extremely poisonous. The most sought-after ceruse came from Venice, seen by many as the center of the fashionable world, which was the most expensive and contained the highest concentration of lead. In 1651, Noah Biggs warned against the use of lead in lab equipment and near any water supplies in The Vanity of the Craft of Physic, and the Royal Society noted that people involved in the manufacture of white lead suffered from cramps and blindness by 1661. Mercury was used in the production of beaver hats, giving rise to the term “mad as a hatter.”

Although mercury and lead were known to cause madness, they continued to be used in cosmetics, hair rinses, and popular (if only somewhat successful) remedies for syphilis in every form from enemas, ointments, and pills to steam baths or “sweats” in mercury vapor.

The first person known to die from it was Lady Coventry in 1760. 

Hogarth. Harlot's Progress (detail)


Patches reached their height of popularity in the seventeenth century. Lady Castlemaine advised ladies to wear them daily, except when in mourning. They could be made of taffeta or other thin, black fabrics, and even red Spanish Leather. They came in all shapes and were affixed to the face with gum to disguise blemishes or pockmarks, or to provide a “mark of Venus.”

They were called different things depending upon their position on the face. A patch beside the mouth was called a “kiss.” At the middle of the cheek, it was called a “finery,” a “boldness” beside the nostril, and a “passion” at the corner of the eye. During the 1650s, it became fashionable to wear patches shaped as coaches complete with galloping horses, although it’s difficult to imagine how large a patch would have had to be to resemble anything of the kind.

If a coach and six was not to the wearer’s taste, the Exchanges were restocked daily with a plethora of shapes. From The Gentlewoman’s Companion (Anonymous, 1675):

“By the impertinent pains of this curious Facespoiling-mender, the Exchanges (for now we have three great Arsenals of choice Vanities) are furnished with a daily supply and variety of Beautyspots … and these Patches are cut out into little Moons, Suns, Stars, Castles, Birds, Beasts, and Fishes of all sorts, so that their Faces may be properly termed a Landscape of living Creatures. The vanity and pride of these Gentlewomen hath in a manner abstracted Noah’s Ark, and exprest a Compendium of the Creation in their Front and Cheeks. Add to this the gallantry of their Garb, with all the Ornamental appurtances which rackt Innvention can discover, and then you will say … That she was defective in nothing but a vertueus mind.”

Despite this scathing attack on the virtue of London’s patch-wearing populace, patches continued to be popular through the eighteenth century, and during the reign of Queen Anne, were even worn to indicate political allegiances by wearing them on different sides of the face. 

Jessica Cale

Jessica Cale is a historical romance author and journalist based in North Carolina. Originally from Minnesota, she lived in Wales for several years where she earned a BA in History and an MFA in Creative Writing while climbing castles and photographing mines for history magazines. She kidnapped ("married") her very own British prince (close enough) and is enjoying her happily ever after with him in a place where no one understands his accent. You can visit her at

Look out for her debut novel, Tyburn the first of a romantic series set in the time of the Restoration.