Sunday, 19 December 2010


Frontispiece to Evelyn's Diaries

While Samuel Pepys is well known to you for his diaries, John Evelyn may be less familiar.  Evelyn was born in 1620 and died in 1707. Like Pepys his career took off following the Restoration and he was a founder member of the Royal Society. He had a great interest in horticulture and was a prolific writer on gardens and matters arboreal. His interest in urban design led him to submit plans for the rebuilding of London after the Great Fire and interestingly he wrote the first known treatise on urban pollution:  Fumifugium (or The Inconveniencie of the Aer and Smoak of London Dissipated).

During the Second Anglo-Dutch War, beginning 28 October 1664, Evelyn served as one of four Commissioners for taking Care of Sick and Wounded Seamen and for the Care and Treatment of Prisoners of War.

Like Pepys his diaries cover the great events of the period, such as the death of Cromwell, the Restoration, the Great Fire, the Monmouth Rebellion. He and Pepys were friends and references to Pepys frequently occur in his diaries.

Evelyn as a young man
However as a young man, John Evelyn found himself embroiled in the English Civil War. He served for a short time in the Royalist Army but finding warfare not to his taste, he went abroad to avoid any further involvement. In Italy he studied anatomy and in 1644 visited the English College in Rome where priests were trained for service in England.  On Christmas Eve 1644 he writes:
            “...I went not to bed, by reason I was desirous to see the many extraordinary ceremonyes performed then in their Churches, as midnight  Masses and Sermons; so I did nothing all this night except go for church to church with admiration at the multitude of sceanes; and pageantry which the Friers had with all the industry and craft set out to catch the devout women and superstitious sort of people with, who never part with them without droping some money in a vessell set on purpose: But especially observable was the pupetry in the Church of the Minerva, representing the nativity etc.: Thence I went and heard a sermon at the Appolinaire by which time it was morning.
            On Christmas Day, his holyness saying Masse, the Artillery at St. Angelo went off; and all this day was exposed the Cradle of our Lord...”

His diaries contain many references to Christmas over the years, but of them all this is an unusual insight into a celebration of Christmas unknown in England at the time.
The Hoydens and Firebrands have just celebrated their second anniversary. Thank you to all our followers and readers for your continued support and have a safe and happy holiday period.

A seventeenth century Christmas treat for our readers - Sugarplums!

Take your apricocks or pearplums, & let them boile one walme in as much clarified sugar as will cover them, so let them lie infused in an earthen pan three days, then take out your fruits, & boile your syrupe againe, when you have thus used them three times then put half a pound of drie sugar into your syrupe, & so let it boile till it comes to a very thick syrup, wherein let your fruits boile leysurelie 3 or 4 walmes, then take them foorth of the syrup, then plant them on a lettice of rods or wyer, & so put them into yor stewe, & every second day turne them & when they be through dry you may box them & keep them all the year; before you set them to drying you must wash them in a litlle warme water, when they are half drie you must dust a little sugar upon them throw a fine Lawne.
-- Elinor Fettiplace's Receipt Book, 1604

For earlier Hoydens blogs on Christmas see:
Anita Davison on a Puritan Christmas

For a great collection of Seventeenth century recipes see the Gode Cookery website 

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Witch Trials and Rape

"It is true that rape is a most detestable crime, and therefore ought severely and impartially to be punished with death; but it must be remembered, that it is an accusation easily to be made, hard to be proved, but harder to be defended by the party accused, tho innocent."

No words have severely affected modern women more than Sir Matthew Hale's seventeenth-century quote. Even though the crime of rape has been shown to have no more false accusations than any other crime, Hale's statement, warning jurors that women are liars, has been repeated throughout courtrooms for centuries. In the U.S., the words weren't stricken from the courts until the 1970s.

In the seventeenth century, a woman who brought the charge of rape against a man was automatically regarded with suspicion. A girl's sexuality was controlled by her father, and once she was married that power shifted to her husband. If a woman had been raped, her "protector" would bring the charges to the authorities. Women with no male protector were often looked upon as being unchaste and thought to readily consent their virtues to any man.

But what does the crime of rape have to do with witch trials? In 1664, Hale presided as a judge in a witch trial of two elderly women, Amy Duny and Rose Cullender. Dorothy Durent accused that Duny had caused her children to have "fits." In one instance, Duny had prophesied that Durent would see some of her children dead and end up on crutches herself. When Durent's daughter became sick, Duny foretold that she hadn't long to live. The girl died two days later. Shortly after her daughter's death, Durent went lame only to be cured upon Duny's conviction.

Duny was also accused of bewitching the Pacey children. In 1663, Deborah Pacey went lame. Soon after, she had "fits" and great stomach pain. She told the doctor that Amy Duny had appeared to her and frightened her. Duny was put in stocks for the crime. Two days later, the other Pacey child began to have fits that included lameness, deafness, loss of speech, fainting, and coughing up pins. Both children claimed that Amy Duny and Rose Cullender had come to them. The children were also thought to be possessed by the devil.

Two more children of different families had similar fits. In body searches of the accused women, Rose Cullender was found to have "something like a teat about an inch long" in the abdominal region.

During court, three of the children fell into violent screaming fits. In a test, the girls were blindfolded and touched by strangers. Tricked into thinking the touches had come from the accused women, the girls had a "bewitched" reaction. The father of one of the girls stated that sorcery was the cause for their mistake.

Sir Matthew Hale refused to allow the evidence to come before the jury and failed to give a similar speech that he normally delivered to rape jurors about how difficult the crime was to prove. In fact, he offered the exact opposite explanation and lectured the jury about the evils of witchcraft. After half an hour, the jury delivered a guilty verdict for thirteen counts of witchcraft and sorcery. With the conviction, the children were restored to good health and walked out of the courtroom completely healed.

Duny and Cullender denied any wrongdoing and were hanged on March 17, 1664.

Like rape trials, the female victims in witch trials were mocked and believed to be corrupt. Sir Matthew Hale and those who thought like him had ways of keeping women in their places through intimidation and fear. His infamous words may have been stricken from the courtrooms, but his legacy lives on when the modern justice system fails to take rape complaints seriously.

Kim Murphy

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Pearls Fit for Queens

Recently I wrote about the large pearl that King Charles I wore in his ear. It seems only fair to write about an equally famous pair of pearl earrings worn by his queen, and several others besides. Many legendary jewels of the past have disappeared through wars and revolution, or have been broken up, re-cut, and reset until they bear no resemblance to their original design. But these magnificent earrings, left, have miraculously survived with both pearls and diamonds intact, and with a tantalizing history to match.

The earrings first appear as part of the dower jewels of Marie de' Medici (1575-1642), the Italian princess who left her native Florence to wed the French king, Henry IV (1552-1610). The de' Medici family was old, powerful, and very wealthy, and the jewels that Marie brought with her astonished the French court. At this time, pearls were the most valuable of precious gems, rare accidents of nature acquired only at great risk and cost. The two almost perfectly matched droplet pearls in the new queen's favorite pair of pendant earrings were of a quality not been seen before in Paris. Other women at the court wore pearl drops (many ladies in 17th c. portraits are shown with them) but most of these pearls were coated glass. Marie's were real, and truly fit for a queen. She was painted wearing the earrings, right, in 1616 by Peter Paul Rubens.

When Marie's youngest daughter, the princess Henriette Marie (1609-1699), married the English King Charles I (1600-1649) in 1625, Marie gave the pearl earrings to her as a wedding gift. Henriette, too, was portrayed many times wearing the earrings, including this portrait of her, left, as a young wife, painted in 1632 by Sir Anthony van Dyck. Her marriage was a happy one, and blessed with many children. But the earrings brought Henriette no luck as the English queen. Her husband's unpopular politics eventually led to the disastrous civil war and the trial for treason that cost him his life. Henriette was forced to flee the country in 1644 soon after giving birth to their last daughter, leaving the baby behind. In exile in France with her sons, she was forced to gradually sell all her jewels first to help support her husband's army, and then, as a widow, to keep herself from poverty. Mementos of happier times, the pearl earrings were among the last jewels to go, finally being purchased by her nephew, the French King Louis XIV (1638-1714) in 1657.

The nineteen-year-old Louis had fallen desperately in love with eighteen-year-old Marie Mancini (1639-1715), the Italian niece of Cardinal Jules Mazarin, the king's primary minister. At first the match was approved both by the cardinal and Louis's widowed mother, and Louis presented the pearl earrings to Marie as his future queen. Marie's portrait, left, shows her wearing the pearls along with flowers in her hair. But politics intruded and the match was broken off, with Louis instead marrying the Spanish Infanta Maria Theresa, and Marie wed to the Roman Prince Lorenzo Onofrio Colonna. But Marie kept the king's pearls, and the earrings were by now so associated with her that they became known by her name, the Mancini Pearls.

No one is certain whether she left the earrings to one of her children, or sold them herself during her long life. In fact, there is no record of the pearls at all for nearly 250 years, until they appeared at Christie's auction house in New York in October, 1979. There they were sold to a private collector for $253,000, a price that almost seems reasonable considering all the history attached to them. They remain among the most famous jewels sold by Christie's, and are still featured on their website.

Now I know that pearls, however beautiful, are inanimate objects, and no more than the work of an irritated oyster. But don't you wish these earrings could tell their story, and repeat even a few of the confidences and endearments, promises and secrets once whispered into the ears that wore them?

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Leaving home—17th century style

It's always a pleasure to read the 17th-century memoirs of Saint-Simon: he invariably manages to work in the poignant details researchers—especially novelist-researchers—love. Historians remind us that much of what Saint-Simon reports is hear-say, but it's valuable nonetheless.

I am particularly charmed by his account of convincing his family to allow him to join the army as a teen. It reveals that family dynamics were not all that different in the 17th century.

He begins: 
In 1691 I was studying my philosophy and beginning to learn to ride at an academy at Rochefort, getting mightily tired of masters and books, and anxious to join the army. ... I made up my mind, therefore, to escape from my leading-strings.
(I love that.)
I addressed myself to my mother.  I soon saw that she trifled with me. I had recourse to my father ... . I said nothing of this to my mother, who did not discover my plot until it was just upon the point of execution.
His "plot" was to convince his father that the King had no intention of going to war that year and so no harm would come to him. It was a falsehood, the rascal, which his father believed.
My father took me, therefore, to Versailles ... and begged of the King admission for me into the Musketeers.  It was on the day of St. Simon and St. Jude, at half-past twelve, as his Majesty came out of council. The King did my father the honour of embracing him three times ...
(Again, a charming detail.)
... and then turned towards me. Finding that I was little and of delicate appearance, he said I was still very young; to which my father replied that I should be able in consequence to serve longer.  

Of course, only three months after the boy had became a Musketeer, it was announced that the King planned to go to war.
My joy was extreme; but my father, who had not counted upon this, repented of having believed me .... My mother, after a little vexation and pouting at finding me enrolled by my father against her will, did not fail to bring him to reason and to make him provide me with an equipment of thirty-five horses or mules...
And so the young man gets wish after all, and sets off for war with thirty-five horses! He's not entirely without his leading-strings, however, since he's accompanied by his tutor and his mother's squire.

Louis de Rouvroy, duc de Saint-Simon
Complete memoirs available for download on Project Gutenberg

Sandra Gulland


Sunday, 14 November 2010

The First Thanksgiving

Most Americans think of Pilgrims and Indians peacefully sitting down to a feast. Schools recreate the event with stereotypical Indian feathers and fake Pilgrim hats, and images of turkeys and pumpkin pie enter people's heads. Before I continue, Virginia disputes this scene as being the first Thanksgiving as Berkeley plantation had a similar gathering in 1619, more than a year before the often recreated harvest celebration in Massachusetts. There are also a couple of places in the former Spanish colonies that claim the first Thanksgiving in the 16th century, and those of us who study history are generally aware that many of the indigenous people, commonly called Indians, had feasts giving thanks for thousands of years before the arrival of any colonists.

What most people regard as the "first" Thanksgiving was created as an official holiday in 1863 by Abraham Lincoln during the American Civil War. The original feast was a three-day affair in the autumn of 1621. First off, the Pilgrims weren't called by that name until the 18th century. They were Puritans. Some say they came in search of religious freedom. Others say they knew full well there was land in the "New World," free for the taking. Hundreds of Indians had already been to England as slaves, and my experience with the history of Virginia makes me tend to believe the latter statement.

The Puritans had set out to claim their Holy Kingdom in the Americas. Few went to Virginia, and they were essentially banned from settling there due to their extreme ideas of wanting to overthrow the English government. Enter Tisquantum, better known as Squanto. Tisquantum was originally from the town of Patuxet (later named Plymouth by the Puritans) and was kidnapped by sailors around the age of fourteen in 1614. Captain John Smith, from Jamestown fame, was on the voyage and even he admitted to the inhumane conditions of the captives.

While Tisquantum made his way to England, his tribe was annihilated by smallpox. He learned English and made a difficult journey back to his homeland where he would arrive in time to serve as an interpreter between the Puritans and Wampanoag people. There are several different accounts concerning how the three-day feast came about. Some say the Wampanoag were invited, others say they weren't. In any case, the group got together with the Wampanoag bringing most of the food, which included deer and most likely turkeys. Pumpkin and corn were likely, but not the traditional pie and cornbread. Those food items didn't yet exist in the 17th century. The two groups came together to negotiate. Neither side trusted the other. The Puritans believed the Wampanoag were heathens, and the Wampanoag had experienced their corn being stolen, after they had shown the settlers how to survive (sounds a lot like Virginia!).

The greatest myth surrounding the idyllic scene is that the Pilgrims and Indians became great friends. Less than a generation later in 1637, English and Dutch mercenaries attacked and killed 700 Pequot men, women, and children, burning many of them alive. Others were clubbed to death or shot. The governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony declared the victory "a day of thanksgiving."

In 1675, Metacom, son of the sachem who helped the original starving settlers, led a rebellion, commonly called King Philip's War, against the "New Englanders." By the end, most of the Native people were dead, sold into slavery, or had fled to Canada. The Colony again declared the victory as a thanksgiving.

Kim Murphy

Saturday, 6 November 2010


Portals to the Hidden Histories of Early America

Abby Sullivan portraying Sabilla Jackson, indentured servant on the Godiah Spray Plantation, Saint Mary's City, Maryland.

This article of mine originally appeared in the November 2006 issue of SOLANDER MAGAZINE, published by the Historical Novel Society.

In popular imagination, historical fiction seems to focus on novels illuminating famous figures of the past, such as Robert Graves’s I, Claudius and Philippa Gregory’s The Other Boleyn Girl. While countless readers, myself included, enjoy the vicarious delights of reading about emperors and queens, historical fiction can also be used as a tool for exploring the hidden lives of common folk who contributed just as much to the fabric of our history. Eminent historical novelist, the late Mary Lee Settle wrote, “Recorded history is wrong. It’s wrong because the voiceless have no voice in it.” The voiceless in history include most women, most people of non-European ancestry, and people of the servant and peasant classes. Some of the freshest and most moving historical fiction is written about historical underdogs, including Settle’s own classic Beulah Land Quintet. Charles Frazier’s recent novel, Thirteen Moons, depicts the fight to save Cherokee homeland, while Lalita Tademy’s epic novels, Cane River and the Red River, are based on the struggles of her African American ancestors in the 19th century.

What research tools exist for historical novelists who wish to give voice to neglected histories? When I was researching the lives of women, small planters, and indentured servants of the Colonial Chesapeake settlements for my novel The Vanishing Point (Mariner 2006), I discovered that my best sources were living history museums. At Mount Vernon, George Washington’s birthplace, I learned about spinning wool and flax, and how even women of the wealthy elite spent their “leisure” hours spinning to keep their families clothed. In Colonial Williamsburg, I spent an entire day talking to various re-enactors about everything from tanning leather to period cures for consumption – cantering around on horseback was believed to be quite efficacious. The re-enactors at these museums don’t deal in dry facts or dates, but an entire way of life. This article will focus on the two museums that had the biggest impact on me: Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia and Historic St. Mary’s City in Maryland. Both these sites provide excellent inspiration for historical novelists and history lovers who would like to know more about the diversity of lives in Early America, not just the lives of “great men,” such as Washington and Jefferson.

Historic St. Mary’s City

How do you recreate a place that disappeared centuries ago? Historical novelists try to do this with research and imagination. Historic St. Mary’s City, tucked away in a remote corner of Southern Maryland, has recreated Maryland’s first capital through archaeology and primary sources. Researchers have used clues from ancient foundations and fragments of glass to reconstruct historic buildings and give visitors an idea of what life here was like in the years spanning 1634, when the settlement was founded, to 1695, when St. Mary’s City was abandoned for the present Maryland capitol of Annapolis.

The most remote part of the museum is Master Spray’s Plantation, a working colonial farm situated away from the other sites and also from Maryland Route 5 and most signs of modern civilization. “It’s easier to suspend disbelief and imagine you are in the 17th century,” Public Programs Director, Dorsey Bodeman explains. Spray’s Plantation is a first person site with interpreters in period costume and in character. “We give visitors the opportunity to step into their lives,” says Bodeman. “They will come upon interpreters doing tasks people would have done in the 17th century.” These interpreters include Master and Mistress Spray, and their indentured servants. Their tasks deal with home and hearth – things that that twenty-first century people can relate to. “Master Spray will talk about what he’s doing in the tobacco field,” Bodeman says. “This serves as an entry to the visitors asking him questions. It’s much easier to ask the interpreter questions than asking the same questions in a lecture hall. The discussion can then develop into a more in-depth discussion about, for example, the economies of tobacco planting.” Bodeman believes that visitors will have an easy time connecting with the interpreters, who are trained to make them feel at home. Other exhibits include Smith’s Ordinary, the reconstructed State House of 1676, and the Maryland Dove, a replica square-ribbed ship that brought colonists to the New World. Buildings recreated on the historical model are being added to the site each year. The rebuilt print house will open next spring and in the following year, the chapel will be finished.

Visitors can also learn about the ongoing archaeological sites. Archaeologists aren’t present year round, but interpreters are on hand to talk about the archaeological background. “Visitors are very interested in behind-the-scenes information about how we know about a place that disappeared off the face of the earth,” Bodeman states. She admits that it is difficult to reconstruct people’s daily lives from archaeological artifacts alone. “Archaeology doesn’t find many life-way things.” The only artifacts that survive in the ground for 400 years are things like stone, bone, metal tools, oyster shells, and glass. Some artifacts found on site, however, do open a window into lost lives. One is a container with small holes in it and a bone stopper. The container was probably filled with a noxious substance and worn to banish fleas in an era when whole families shared the same bedding, as did travellers at inns and ordinaries.

The museum is not focused exclusively on the lives of European settlers. At the Indian Village Site, staff in contemporary dress, who are not necessarily Native American themselves, discuss the lives of Native Americans in the 17th century. These interpreters practice what Bodeman calls “experimental archaeology.” Since very little about Native American history was written down, interpreters don’t just learn from books but from living on site and building Native American-style huts by trial and error. “The staff are out there living the life, learning to make fishhooks from the toe bones of a deer.” Bodeman adds that these were inspired by deer bone fishhooks found by archaeologists.

African-American history is not interpreted at the museum, because there would have been very few, if any, enslaved Americans present in the original settlement. Slavery did not become a major institution before the 1660s. Throughout most of the 17th century, European indentured servants were much cheaper and more readily available.

There were also very few European women. Bodeman states that in 1650, the white population in the colony numbered about 600 and fewer than 200 of those people were women. Even at the end of the 17th century, there were still three men for every woman. The bulk of people coming to the colony were male indentured servants. A handful of wealthy men, such as the Calverts, came over to get the colony started. Malaria took a huge toll on the population and high death rates impacted both sexes. This, coupled with the scarcity of women and with high infant mortality, meant that immigration contributed more to the white population than live births. Moreover, indentured servants would be around 30 by the time they were free to marry and this also served to curb the birth rate. Yet court records of the period prove that some female indentured servants had children out of wedlock. Their masters would then seek to prolong their indenture to cover the costs of feeding the child. Court records of midwives provide a further glimpse into these early women’s histories.

What does Bodeman hope visitors will gain from a day at St. Mary’s? “A connection to the people who came before us,” she says. “I hope they would go away not with just bits and pieces of factual information, but a connection to what life was like 400 years ago. What motivated people then – things like getting clothes, food, and shelter – wasn’t different from what motivates people now. But how hard people had to work to get these things was very, very different.”

Those who are unable to visit St. Mary’s in person can take a virtual tour via the website.

Colonial Williamsburg

In contrast to St. Mary’s serene backwater, Colonial Williamsburg is comprised of a monumental 301-acre Historic Area surrounded by a 3,000 acre greenbelt to help keep out 21st century intrusions. From 1699 to 1780, Williamsburg, Virginia was the capital of England’s oldest, largest, wealthiest, and most populous colony in the Americas. Named in honor of King William III and designed by Royal Governor Francis Nicholson, Williamsburg is one of America’s oldest planned communities. The restored city features no fewer than 88 original buildings and hundreds of others that have been reconstructed, most on their original foundations. Colonial Williamsburg portrays the capital during the years 1774-1781, the critical formative period of the American Republic. Also on site are Bassett Hall and the Wallace Gallery, which form the Museums of Williamsburg. The huge stores of collections include everything from period farm instruments to portraiture.

“The most unique thing about Williamsburg is our setting,” says Dr. Rex Ellis, vice president of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. “It’s like a stage set to tell a three-dimensional story. It allows us to take in the good, the bad, and the ugly. The buildings and reconstruction, the collections and reproductions build and design and acknowledge history in a different way than a textbook. We use a variety of ways to tell the story of history.”

The diversity of Early American experience is in evidence from sites ranging from the Governor’s Palace, the seat of British authority in the colony, and the Capital, the seat of colonial power and home of Virginia’s vote for independence, to Great Hopes Plantation, a working farm, which invites guests to become part of the experience of 1770s-era enslaved Americans and middling white planters. In contrast, the Peyton Randolph House examines urban slave life through participatory programs.

First and third person interpreters play a crucial role in bringing history to life. “The buildings are just structures,” says Ellis. “It’s the people that bring life to those things, the people that animate the buildings. The artifacts and collections are just a backdrop.” Interpreters are available throughout the day, and visitors who stick around until the evening can watch performances with scripted presentations.

The African-American experience in colonial Virginia is brought vividly to life by interpreters playing characters such as Lydia Broadnax, cook and slave to George Wythe, who was a mentor to Thomas Jefferson and one of signers of the Declaration of Independence. Wythe eventually freed Broadnax, who chose to remain in his service until his death – one of his heirs poisoned him. Eventually she acquired her own house in Richmond. Another interpreter plays the role of Gowan Pamphlet, a slave owned by entrepreneurial businesswoman Mrs. Jane Vobe, who ran the King’s Arms Tavern. In her service, Pamphlet waited on the likes of William Byrd III and George Washington. Gowan Pamphlet’s spiritual calling, however, steered his life in a completely different direction. He became a preacher, acting in defiance of laws not only forbidding persons of color to preach but also forbidding slaves to hold gatherings. After years of performing his ministry, including baptisms, in secret, he finally got his freedom and founded the First Black Baptist Church. Also interpreted is Ann Wager, a white woman who became mistress of the Bray School for African American children in 1760.

Third-person interpreters include costumed artisans representing the tradesmen and women of their day. These are professional, full-time artisans dedicated to specific trades, including carpentry, culinary arts, brick making, saddlery, apothecary arts, and gunsmithing. Guests can observe the artisans at work and ask them questions about their trade.

One program that Ellis believes no visitor should miss is The Revolutionary City. “This is the newest program we have to interpret history in a more responsible way,” Ellis explains. To convey the series of major events that illustrates Williamsburg’s central role in the American Revolution, each day consists of a two hour interactive program that portrays Colonial Americans’ transition from British subjects to citizens of a newly fledged American nation. This is conveyed in a series of scripted performances, such as a 30-year-old carpenter torn between family and war, and slaves weighing the ironies of the freedom their masters seek while denying the same liberties to them. Visitors will have the chance to connect to the characters’ personal stories. Ellis says he hopes this program will provide insight into the privilege and responsibility of being an American, and also an awareness of the sacrifices made by enslaved Americans, as well as European Americans, in the struggle for independence. “You can’t visit Williamsburg without being struck by the sacrifices made by our ancestors.” The Revolutionary City can also be experienced by video via Colonial Williamsburg’s website, details below.

I recommend devoting at least a full day to Williamsburg. There are plenty of hotels in the area and those who book ahead can enjoy a period meal in one of the taverns in the Historic Area. It’s an interesting experience to walk around the site in the evening after the crowds have gone home.

But even those who cannot manage to visit can learn a great deal through Colonial Williamsburg’s extensive website, which offers a variety of resources including virtual tours, podcasts, articles and online slideshows exploring African American history, children’s programs, an online research library focused on the 18th century and colonial period, and even a source list for 18th century costume design. .

Jamestown Settlement and Yorktown Victory Center

Close by Williamsburg are two additional living history sites, also superb. Jamestown Settlement has recreated the first English settlement in the Americas. Founded in 1607, Jamestown recently celebrated its 400th anniversary. Visitors can learn about the lives and trades of people in 17th century Virginia, including Powhatan Indians and European and African immigrants. Yorktown Victory Center is a must-visit for American Revolutionary War enthusiasts. The site interprets the lives of the men and women who witnessed the decisive Battle of Yorktown in October, 1781, which ended the six-year struggle for American independence. Information about both Jamestown and Yorktown can be found at the website.

Sunday, 31 October 2010

For the Love of a Spy - The Story of Anne Halkett

Following on from my last blog about Thurloe, I had intended to write about the double agent, Colonel Joseph Bampfield, but in doing the research I came across an intriguing story and one
entirely appropriate for the Hoydens and Firebrands, the story of Anne Halkett.

Like Lucy Hutchinson, in her later years Lady Halkett saw fit to write notes of her life in her "Auto Biography". Unfortunately much of the manuscript is fragmentary but what it reveals is one of those spirited young ladies who so characterised the period of the English Civil War.

Born in 1623 and highly educated (her parents were tutor and governess to the children of Charles I), young Anne Murray began her tumultuous love life with an unfortunate liaison with a young man. Both sets of parents disapproved and the young lovers were forcibly parted - Anne being made to say farewell to her lover while wearing a blindfold. This caused an estrangement with her mother and poor Anne was not pleased to hear that her loyal and faithful swain promptly married another!

But it is her relationship with Colonel Joseph Bampfield that is most intriguing. She appears to have met him through her brother, Will Murray. Bampfield was much of her own age and by 1648 when they met,  he already had a long history of espionage for Charles I.  Anne writes that, “...his discourse was serious, handsome, and tending to imprese the advantages of piety, loyalty, and vertue; and these subjects were so agreeable to my owne inclination that I could nott butt give them a good reception...”. Bampfield was tramelled with an inconvenient wife but as she lived in the country and he in London, it did not prevent the two from becoming better acquainted.

The three youngest children of Charles I,
a likeness done during their captivity
Parliament had in its custody, the young prince, James Duke of York. He was held at St. James’ palace with his younger brother, Henry, and sister Elizabeth (Anita did a lovely blog on the fate of these two youngsters in *). Bampfield confided in Anne that the King had entrusted him with the task of securing the escape of the Duke of York. It was agreed between them that the best means of escape would be to disguise the young man as a woman. Anne made clothes for him and on 20 April 1648 they put their plan into action.

The Prince had instigated a nightly game of “hide and seek” with his brother and sister. Having inveigled a key to the garden gate from a gardener, under cover of the game, James went swiftly into the garden where he met CB (Anne’s nickname for Colonel Bampfield) who smuggled the boy down to the water and into a boat to take them to a private house where Anne waited. Anne was under strict instructions to leave if they had not turned up by ten o’clock but ignoring these instructions, Anne waited faithfully.

Bampfield and the prince arrived and Anne dressed the boy in the gown she had made, remarking that he “...looked very pretty in it...”.  Bampfield then took the Prince by barge to Gravesend where a Dutch ship waited to take him to France. The captain of the barge had his suspicions:  “Mr. Andrews and his sister” were accompanied by no less than three other people, none of whom appeared to have any luggage and the “sister” was seen to pull up her stockings in a most unladylike manner! 

Failing to find the Prince in the game of Hide and Seek, some hours had passed before the hue and cry went up and the ports were closed. By that time the Prince was well and truly at sea and safe. No suspicion appears to have attached to Anne and she waited the return of CB. 

On his return to London, CB sent for Anne and told her  the sad news that his wife was dead (she wasn’t!). Anne fell for the story hook line and sinker and became “betrothed” to him.  She sighs: “...hee was unquestionably loyall, handsome, a good skollar, which gave him the advantages of writting and speaking well, and the cheefest ornamentt hee had was a devout life and conversation...”. They lived together (probably in Holland) as man and wife for nearly a year before she returned to Scotland where Bampfield continued to court her.

Their on-off relationship continued for some years, resulting in a duel with one of her brothers but it was inevitable Anne would discover that Bampfield’s wife was alive and well and, her reputation ruined she took service in the household of Sir James Halkett as governess to his children. She  eventually married Halkett and enjoyed twenty years happy marriage with him.

Bampfield fell out with Charles II and  by the early 1650s, was already a double agent in Thurloe’s pay. He spent the remainder of the interregnum on the Continent and on the restoration was imprisoned in the Tower for more than a year. He returned to the continent where he “...screwed his way into the service of the Prince of Orange...”(State Papers). Shortly before his death in 1685 he wrote an “Apologie”, an account of his life and career.  For her part, Anne Halkett died in 1699 leaving behind a literary legacy of 21 volumes of her writing.

(PS:  I could not resist including Joseph Bampfield in my own story of Thurloe's spy ring, THE KING'S MAN)

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Prince Rupert Of The Rhine 1619-1682

Born in Prague in 1619 to Frederick V Elector Palatine and Elizabeth Stuart, daughter of James I, the family enjoyed a wealthy lifestyle in Heidelberg. Outlawed at the Battle of the White Mountain, Frederick fled with his family from Bohemia to the Netherlands. In the court’s rush to escape from Prague, Rupert was almost left behind in the court's rush to escape The Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand's advance, until a courtier tossed the prince into a carriage at the last moment.

Elizabeth reputedly paid her children little attention, preferring her pet monkeys and dogs, while governors brought up the children as strict Calvinists. Rupert was a 'fiery, mischievous, and passionate' child, nicknamed ‘Robert le Diable,’ though an able student and by age 3, he could speak some English, Czech and French. He mastered German, but had little interest in Latin and Greek, excelled in art, and found the maths and sciences easy. By the time he was 18 he stood 6 ft 4 in tall with the Stuart dark looks.

Whilst at The Hague, Rupert's family continued their attempts to regain the Palatinate though money was short. They relied upon a pension from The Hague, the proceeds from family investments in Dutch raids on Spanish shipping, and revenue from pawned family jewelery. By the early 1630’s Frederick’s attempts to regain the Palatinate and Bohemia seemed achievable, however a dispute with the Swedish King Gustavus over religious tolerance stalled negotiations. Frederick set off back to The Hague, died of a fever along the way and was buried in an unmarked grave.

Rupert was 13, and King Charles proposed that the family move to England; Elizabeth declined, but asked that Charles extend his protection to her remaining children instead. Rupert’s eldest brother Henry drowned at the age of 15, but he had another nine siblings.

At 14, Rupert fought alongside Frederick Henry, Prince of Orange at the siege of Rheinberg, and fought against imperial Spain at Breda at 16, earning himself a reputation for fearlessness in battle. Imprisoned by Emperor Ferdinand III, Rupert was released on the promise he would never take up arms against the Emperor again. He refused a final offer of an Imperial command and left Germany for England in 1641.

Rupert’s Civil War - He landed at Newcastle in August 1642 with his younger brother Prince Maurice, and rode to Leicester Abbey where King Charles I had a tiny army. Appointed General of Horse, Rupert's reputation continued to rise when he routed a Parliamentarian force at Powick Bridge in September 1642. He fought at Edgehill in October, after which he suggested a swift cavalry attack on London before the Earl of Essex's army could return. The King's counsellors urged a slow advance, and by the time they arrived, the city had organized defences against them forcing the King to retreat to Oxford. Some theorists say that, in delaying, the Royalists had perhaps lost their best chance of winning the war.

Rupert often quarrelled with his fellow commanders in front of his troops and thus undermine discipline. After Edgehill, Rupert and Maurice began to clear the South-West, taking Cirencester and then Bristol, becoming so famous, Parliament wanted him punished as part of any negotiated solution.

Of an apparently: 'frank and generous disposition', Rupert showed a 'quickness of... intellect', was prepared to face grave dangers, but he lacked the social gifts of a courtier, and his humour could turn into a 'sardonic wit and a contemptuous manner': with a hasty temper that made him enemies, among them George Digby, a favourite of both the King and the Queen with whom he repeatedly argued in meetings.

By 1644, now the Duke of Cumberland and Earl of Holderness, Rupert was appointed General of the Royalist army, but suffered a severe reversal of fortunes at Marston Moor and the Battle of Naseby, and urged Charles to negotiate a peace with Parliament, who, supported by an optimistic Digby, still believed he could win the war. By late summer, Rupert had become trapped in Bristol by Parliamentary forces, and surrendered. Furious, Charles dismissed him from his service and command.

Rupert was exonerated over his conduct at Bristol, but still shunned by his uncle, he left the service of King Charles in disgrace, along with most of his best cavalry officers. Some say this was an act of vanity, but Rupert knew that the war by this point was effectively lost.

Reconciled with the King by 1646, Rupert remained to defend Oxford during the siege, while the King left for the north. At the surrender of the city, Parliament banished both Rupert and Maurice from England.

Rupert’s Dog - Given to Rupert during his imprisonment at Linz by the Earl of Arundel, Boye was a rare breed of white hunting poodle. He slept in Rupert's bed, had more haircuts than his master, at the word "Charles", he jumped for joy, lay with his paw on young Prince Charles' foot, and Charles I fed him choice morsels of roast beef and breast of capon from the table.

Parliamentary propaganda claimed Boye could become invisible to spy for the Royalists, that he was also a witch's familiar, or the Devil in disguise. Pro-Royalist publications listed Boye as being a "Lapland Lady" transformed into a white dog; Boye was able, apparently, to find hidden treasure and could catch bullets fired at Rupert in his mouth. Boye had been left safely tied up in the Royalist camp at Marston Moor in 1644, but escaped and chased after Rupert, only to be killed during the fighting.

Rupert's Restoration - At the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660, Rupert returned to England, where Charles II rewarded him with a pension of £4,000 a year. After the deaths of the Duke of Gloucester and Princess Mary, Rupert was the King's closest adult relation after his brother, the Duke of York, and a key member of the new regime. Rupert resumed his seat in the House of Lords as Duke of Cumberland, his financial position now relatively secure. His temper was reputedly 'less explosive than formerly and his judgement sounder' Rupert served as an admiral in the Royal Navy, rising to the rank of "General at Sea and Land". He also became a Knight of the Garter and Constable of Windsor Castle, where he conducted improvements, entertained the King and undertook scientific experiments.

Appointed to the King's Privy Council Rupert took roles on various Committee’s including the Tangier Committee. Samuel Pepys, no friend of Rupert's, declared that all Rupert did was to laugh and swear occasionally, though other reports say he took a full and active role in proceedings.

Rupert’s Ladies - He became romantically engaged to Frances Bard, the daughter of the English explorer and Civil War veteran Henry Bard. Frances claimed to have secretly married Rupert in 1664, although Rupert denied this and no firm proof exists to support the claim. Rupert acknowledged their son, Dudley Bard (1666–1686), often called "Dudley Rupert", who was schooled at Eton College.

In 1656 Rupert visited the Palatine and fell in love with Louise von Degenfeld, one of his sister-in-law's maids of honour. One of Rupert's love notes accidentally fell into the possession of Charles Louis' wife Charlotte, who believed it was written to her. Charlotte was keen to engage in an affair with Rupert, so was devastated when the mistake was explained. Von Degenfeld was uninterested in Rupert as she was engaged in an affair with Charles Louis whom he bigamously married.

Rupert, for his part, was unhappy that Charles Louis could not endow him with a suitable estate, and the two parted on bad terms in 1657, Rupert refusing to ever return to the Palatinate again.

During the late 1660’s, Rupert left Frances Bard when he fell in love with Drury Lane actress Margaret Hughes. Hughes appears to have held out reciprocating his attentions with the aim of negotiating a suitable settlement, and subsequently became a member of the King's Company which gave her immunity from arrest for debt. She was also painted four times by Sir Peter Lely, the foremost court artist of the day.

Rupert did not marry Hughes, but acknowledged their daughter, Ruperta and gave ‘Peg’ at least £20,000 worth of jewellery, including several items from the Palatinate royal collection. Margaret returned to the stage in 1676 with the prestigious Duke's Company at the Dorset Garden Theatre, near the Strand. Rupert presented her with a 'grand building' worth £25,000 that he bought in Hammersmith from Sir Nicholas Crispe. Rupert enjoyed family life,  commenting that his young daughter, 'already rules the whole house and sometimes argues with her mother, which makes us all laugh.'

In 1673, Karl Ludwig, Elector Palatine, Rupert’s elder brother, fearing his only son would not survive infancy, used their sister Sophie as an intermediary to persuade Rupert to marry and return to the Palatinate. Sophie sent him a boatload of Hanoverian deer for Windsor Great Park, but Rupert stuck by his oath that he had finished with the Palatinate after his brother denied him his heritage.  Margaret remained on friendly terms with Rupert's sister and sent her shoes from London. However, Sophie's thank-you note maintained that they were 'the prettiest in the world, only too small'.

After the end of his naval career, Rupert’s health was less robust; his head wound from his employment in France required a painful trepanning treatment, a painful leg wound persisted and he still suffered from the malaria caught whilst in the Gambia.

In January, 1666, Pepys writes in his Diary: Here I hear from Mr. Hayes that Prince Rupert is very bad still, and so bad, that he do now yield to be trepanned. It seems, as Dr. Clerke also tells me, it is a clap of the pox which he got about twelve years ago, and hath eaten to his head and come through his scull, so his scull must be opened, and there is great fear of him.

Rupert was an active shareholder in the Company of Royal Adventurers Trading into Africa whose backers included the King, the Duke of York and the Royal Society engaged in the West Africa slave trade, and later the Royal African Company, with a royal charter to set up forts, factories, troops and to exercise martial law in West Africa, in pursuit of trade in gold, silver and slaves. He also invested in the Hudson Bay Company which was granted a trading monopoly in an immense territory named Rupert's Land, with Rupert appointed the first Governor.

A founding member of the Royal Society, which fitted his wide interests in science and technology, Rupert engaged in scientific research and became credited with many inventions and discoveries. He converted some of the apartments at Windsor Castle to a luxury laboratory, complete with forges, instruments and raw materials, from where he conducted a range of experiments.

He designed the Rupertinoe naval gun; devised a gun that fired multiple rounds at high speed, and a "handgun with rotating barrels". He is credited with the invention of a form of gunpowder, which had a force of over ten times that of regular powder; he developed a form of grape shot for use by artillery. Rupert’s naval inventions included: a balancing mechanism to allow improved quadrant measurements at sea, and a diving engine for retrieving objects on the ocean floor. While recovering from his trepanning treatment Rupert set about inventing new surgical equipment to improve future operations.  He also invented a brass alloy, called Prince’s metal, slightly darker than regular brass, to improve naval artillery, but which also became used as a replacement for gold in decorations.

Rupert’s Death - Rupert died at his house in Spring Gardens, Westminster, on 29 November 1682 after a bout of pleurisy, and was buried in the crypt of Westminster Abbey. He left most of his £12,000 estate, equally to Hughes and Ruperta. Hughes had an "uncomfortable widowhood" due to her gambling. Presents from Rupert such as Elizabeth of Bohemia's earrings were sold to the Duchess of Marlborough, while a pearl necklace given by Rupert's father to Elizabeth was sold to fellow actress Nell Gwynn. Hughes sold the house in Hammersmith to the Margrave of Brandenburg—it ultimately became known as Brandenburg House.

Rupert’s Children - Ruperta married Emanuel Scrope Howe, future MP and English general, and had five children, Sophia, William, Emanuel, James and Henrietta. Rupert's son, Dudley Bard, became a military officer, frequently known as "Captain Rupert", and died fighting at the Siege of Budapest while in his late teens.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

The Irrepressible Katherine Sedley

At first glance, Katherine Sedley (1657-1717) doesn’t seem like heroine material. In most English history books, she’s not mentioned at all, and even in histories that concentrate on the Restoration (1660-1685), she’ll merit just a footnote if she’s lucky. She didn’t come from a stellar royal family, or one with notable talent or power. She wasn’t a great beauty, or a queen or princess who changed the course of history.

Yet still I made Katherine Sedley the heroine of my new historical novel, The Countess & the King, and in the perverse ways of writing, all those reasons why Katherine shouldn’t merit a book turned out to be exactly the same reasons why she made for such a wonderfully contradictory heroine.  Katherine was always unpredictable, and always determined to go her own way – not something most 17th c. English ladies would dare to do.

 Katherine was born the only child of privelged teenaged parents who weren’t much more than children themselves. In another time period, their families would have likely exerted a steadying influence, and seen that the young family followed a responsible path through life. But Katherine was born just before the grim Puritan ways of Oliver Cromwell’s Protectorate were replaced by the much merrier ones of Charles II, restored at last to his throne. With the king’s return, wealthy young aristocrats like the Sedleys flocked to join the free-wheeling court.

Respectability was out of fashion; exuberant excess was the new style, and young Sir Charles became a well-known libertine, famous for drunken debauchery. His young wife, however, remained at home, sinking deep into madness. Against such a background, Katherine’s upbringing reads like something from a modern tabloid. Her father treated her more like an amusing pet than a daughter, taking her with him to playhouses and taverns and introducing her to his notorious friends.  She was both adored and spoiled, and learned how to drink, swear, and tell off-color jokes, and was equally comfortable with actresses like Nell Gwyn and with the king himself.  With such connections, and as the heiress to her father’s large fortune, Katherine should have been primed for a splendid dynastic marriage.

Except, however, for a few sizable stumbling-blocks. First, Katherine was considered shamefully plain. In a court that prized languid, voluptuous beauties, she was pale, thin, and angular, with heavy brows and a wide mouth.  She was also intelligent, her wit quick and sharp. (Her first portrait as a teenager, above left, by Sir Peter Lely, shows how she didn’t fit the fashionable ideal, yet still captures the sense that she was a lot of fun.) Most of all, she had no wish to wed and give control of her life to a husband. From her own mother to the queen herself, the court was full of neglected, lonely wives, and Katherine was far too independent for that.  She had her own fortune, and was determined to choose her own loves.  The first two men she gave her heart to very nearly broke it, choosing prettier women to wed instead, and another who she rejected proved to be a fearsome enemy at court.

But finally Katherine found a man who appreciated her: James Stuart, Duke of York, and heir to the throne of England. Katherine didn’t care that James was married, or that he was much older, or that the rest of the court regarded him as a poor second in comparison to his brother the king. James found her witty and outrageously amusing and beautiful, and Katherine gleefully gave herself over to the role of a royal mistress. Her portrait by Godfrey Kneller, above right, from this time shows her unadorned elegance, her expression seemingly bemused by her good fortune.

Even as a prince’s mistress, Katherine couldn’t be conventional. She delighted in the scandal she caused, enjoying every moment of it. But the carefree days were short-lived. James had always been a polarizing figure at court, and before long his religious beliefs made him a politically dangerous one as well. Katherine was thrust into the intrigue, torn between her royal lover and England itself, and her cleverness was valuable not for amusement, but for survival. When Charles suddenly died and James became king, Katherine’s position at court grew all the more perilous. The last portrait, lower left, by the studio of Godrey Kneller, shows her soon after James has been crowned, and after he has made her Countess of Dorchester. Formally posed on the edge of a gilded bed, lifting aside the bed curtain in a royal mistress’s welcome, her earlier merriment has vanished. Instead she appears reserved and self-contained, as if she already knows the difficult choice before her, a choice that will determine both her fate, and that of The Countess and the King.  

Sunday, 10 October 2010

The Not-So-Secret Passion of William, Earl of Craven

This month, Hoydens and Firebrands is delighted to welcome Guest Blogger, USA Today best selling author Nicola Cornick. Nicola is historian and guide at Ashdown House.

The Not-So-Secret Passion of William, Earl of Craven

Hello Hoydens and Firebrands and thank you for inviting me to visit today! I’m very excited to be talking about that most chivalrous cavalier William Earl of Craven and Ashdown House, the beautiful seventeenth century hunting lodge that he built on the Berkshire Downs for Elizabeth of Bohemia, the Winter Queen.

The name of William, Earl of Craven is not one of the more familiar ones from the English Civil War period. In part this is because Craven, whilst a staunch cavalier and supporter of King Charles I, did not fight in the Civil War and spent the entire period abroad. Craven was the son of a cloth merchant and moneylender; his father had made a vast fortune during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, bought himself a knighthood from James I, been Lord Mayor of London and had died one of the ten richest men in England. William Craven studied law at Oxford but gave it all up to become a soldier, making his name in Europe fighting with distinction under Prince Maurice of Nassau in the conflict later known as the Thirty Years War. In 1629 rumours circulated that he was to marry Lady Ann Cavendish, daughter of the earl of Devonshire, but instead he returned abroad. Lady Ann was willing but Craven evidently was not particularly keen!

It was whilst Craven was abroad that he met Elizabeth Stuart, daughter of King James I. Elizabeth was a remarkable woman possessed of a charm and charisma that was absolutely dazzling. She was known as the “Queen of Hearts;” Sir Henry Wootton wrote a sonnet extolling her beauty and Sir Walter Raleigh called her “one of the brightest jewels of the kingdom.” Elizabeth gathered about her a coterie of gentlemen sworn to her service in the courtly style of medieval knights. William Craven was one such, the Marquis of Hamilton another, Sir Thomas Roe a third and her cousin Christian of Anhalt, who rode into battle with her glove pinned to his hat as a token, yet another of her admirers. Craven, twelve years her junior, remained devoted to her for the rest of her life. 

Elizabeth had been married at the age of sixteen to Frederick, the Elector Palatine. They ruled in Bohemia for one year only before being defeated by the forces of the Holy Roman Emperor at the Battle of the White Mountain in 1620. Elizabeth and Frederick fled into exile with their young family and found refuge in The Hague. From there Frederick launched a number of unsuccessful attempts to regain his patrimony with the financial and military support of William Craven, amongst others. Frederick died in 1632 and Craven remained at Elizabeth’s court-in-exile throughout the period of the English Civil War. He became even more of a support to Elizabeth during this time, providing the financial means to keep her afloat in her exile. One letter from Elizabeth to William Craven reads: “There is no more to eat and today, if no money be found, we shall have neither meat, nor bread nor candles.” Craven, clearly a man who could take a hint, came through with the cash she needed!

Elizabeth finally returned to England in 1660 after the restoration of her nephew King Charles II to the English throne. She had nowhere to live and again it was William Craven who came to her aid, putting his house in Drury Lane at her disposal. John Evelyn and Samuel Pepys record in their diaries that Craven was the master of her household (with the official title of Master of Horse) and that he squired her about London, to the theatre and other entertainments. This was the time that Craven, aware of Elizabeth’s desire “to live in quiet” started to build houses for her – Ashdown, a hunting lodge high on the Berkshire Downs, and Hamstead Marshall, modelled on her palace in Heidelberg. Sadly Elizabeth died before these were completed.

Rumours of a secret marriage between the Winter Queen and William Craven at some point during her widowhood in the Hague have never been substantiated. In support of the marriage is the portrait by Van Dyck showing the two of them together, joined by a cupid. The original stone gateposts at Ashdown House and Hamstead Marshall also had a crown and an Earl’s coronet entwined, although these were built after Elizabeth’s death. Members of the Craven family in the 18th century spoke of the marriage as a fact. It has even been suggested that the £50 000 that Craven gave to the Royalist cause during the Civil War was contingent upon Charles I giving him permission to marry his sister. Against such a marriage is the lack of contemporary record and Elizabeth’s strong sense of her own status – would she really marry a man who was the son of a cloth merchant and so far below her in rank? Whatever the truth of the secret marriage, Ashdown House still stands as a testament to Craven’s devotion to Elizabeth, the Winter Queen.

Monday, 4 October 2010

Le Droit de Seigneur: Fact or Fiction?

[Above, Vaisly Polenov, a Victorian artist, illustrates Le droit du Seigneur—his fantasy of a man offering his daughters to the feudal lord.]

Le droit de seigneur, or the "right of the first night," is commonly understood to be the right of the lord of an estate to take the virginity of the bride or daughter of a serf working his land.

Fact or fiction?
I've read that there was no evidence to support the belief that this was, in fact, a custom of the Middle Ages, that le droit de seigneur was a fiction people had created about the past. (A lively fiction, in fact: Voltaire wrote a five-act comedy based on it, as is Beaumarchais's The Marriage of Figaro and the movie Braveheart, to name a few.)

Therefore, I was rather interested (and surprised) to see reference to it in The Clermont Assizes of 1665, Abbé Fléchier's memoirs. Fléchier was a judge, and his memoir is, among other things, an account of the cases brought before the court.

The case in question had to do with the suit of a certain Madame de Montvallat to separate from her husband. He stood accused, among other things, of exercising "the nuptial right." I quote:
There is a right, quite commonly exercised in Auvergne, called the nuptial right. ... This right originally allowed the lord the right to be present at all marriages among his subjects; to be present at the bedding of the bride... 
This usage is no longer current, either because it would be unbecoming for the lords to be present at all the village weddings and to thrust their leg into the beds of all the respectable people who get married, or because the custom was somewhat incompatible with propriety, and exposed gentlemen who had more authority than self-restraint to dangerous temptation when the opportunity was attractive. 
So a substitue was found for this disgraceful ceremony in a pecuniary gratuity, the lords having agreed to receive a more substantial earnest of their rights [i.e. money] and the subjects being glad to buy themselves off from the application of a law so perilous to their honour. 
So: from this I understand that le droit de seigneur had formerly been a ceremonial custom that occasionally invited abuse, but as of this writing—mid-17th century France—the custom was that the serf simply paid the lord to stay away.
Monsieur de Montvallat, however, was persuaded that old customs were the best when a pretty village girl was to be married, and would not give up his rights; and as they had good reason to fear in his case that he might go beyond the limits of a mere ceremony, they thought it best to capitulate and to give him as substantial a present as they could afford. In any case, he claimed this tribute, which often amounted to half the bride's dowry. 
That the lord had a right in some capacity on the wedding night is clear—that it was a right to take a girl's virginity is not. Somewhere in this grey area, truth resides.

For more on this subject, see Wikipedia.

Sandra Gulland


Sunday, 26 September 2010

King Wiliam's Gold - HMS Sussex 1694

In 1690, at the time of the Seven Years War, when Spain was an ally to Britain and France the enemy, Louis XIV sent his army across the Rhine to capture the German town of Phillipsburg - the town surrendered within weeks – but alarmed by his success a grand alliance against him was formed by Britain, Spain, Holland, Portugal, Sweden and the Italian Duchy of Savoy, Victor Amadeus II, as well as the German Holy Roman Empire. Louis’s navy won control of the English Channel by defeating the Anglo Dutch fleet of Beachy Head, Sussex.

William III ordered the building of the HMS Sussex as a reminder of the defeat in the channel.
Under the command of Admiral Sir Francis Wheeler, the 80 gun warship with a 500 man crew set sail on its first major voyage in December 1693 as the flagship of the Royal Navy fleet to take up station near Cadiz with orders to protect the Spanish ‘Plate’ Fleet who carried precious cargoes from the Philippines and the Americas, going on to deliver to Mediterranean ports.

Aboard the HMS Sussex was a secret cargo known only to a few, ten tonnes of gold coins and bullion, to the value of a million pounds worth. This gold was destined for the Duke of Savoy, a bribe in order to enlist mercenary soldiers to fight Louis XIV, thus diverting the French troops to the northern front.

On the afternoon of February 17th, soon after Admiral Wheeler’s fleet cleared Gibraltar Bay, a fierce storm known as ‘a levant wind’ blew in off the African coast. The HMS Sussex was caught in the open sea with water entering her gun ports to overload the already low riding ship to the point where she lost her natural buoyancy. She sank with all lives lost bar two.

23 other ships of the same fleet of 80 were also lost with a loss of life that ran to 1200 – Admiral Wheeler’s body was found several days later on the eastern shore of the rock of Gibraltar.

The Duke of Savoy was left without his promised funds, so he changed sides and supported Louis XIV – this allowed the French to increase pressure in the north making fresh gains in German speaking Alsace and Lorraine.

Reputedly, this loss prompted William III to summon Sir John Houblon and instruct him to begin the plan he had been trying to convince the King to embark on – The Bank of England, and collect loans from the public to help him fight the French. As Huguenot, Houblon and his compatriots lent William III money to fight their erstwhile enemy, Louis XIV. The bank opened at John Houblon’s house before moving to its famous location in Threadneedle Street.

Peace was finally signed in 1697, giving Louis XIV Alsace and much of Lorraine – regions which would be fought over and change hands many times during the next 250 years.

Annexed by the German Kaiser in 1871 and again in 1940 by Hitler, although they had a largely French speaking population. They were returned to France in 1945 at the end of WWII.

Between 1998 and 2001, Odyssey Marine Exploration located the shipwreck off Gibraltar at a depth of 821 metres. In September 2002 Odyssey reached an agreement with the rightful owner, the British government, on a formula for sharing any potential spoils, under which it would get 80 percent of the proceeds up to $45 million, 50 percent from $45 million to $500 million and 40 percent above $500 million. The British government would get the rest.

Unfortunately, the Spanish Government stopped the project, insisting Spanish archaeologists take part in order to ascertain the shipwreck is indeed the Sussex and not a Spanish galleon. The wrangling over ownership, salvage rights and diving in Spanish waters is still ongoing.

Friday, 17 September 2010

Christopher Marlowe's Doctor Faustus

In the witch trials that raged across Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries, legal authorities strove to uncover evidence of a pact between the accused witch and the devil. But did this alleged pact ever exist except in the imaginations of the witchfinders?

The legend of Doctor Faustus captivated the public because it purported to reveal the story of real-life German magician, alchemist, and astronomer, Johann Georg Faust, who died in 1540. Rumour had it that his powers were given to him by the devil. His legend first appeared in print in a 1587 chapbook, Das Faustbuch, a cautionary tale of how the unbridled pursuit of knowledge can undermine religious salvation.

Inspired by this pamphlet, Christopher Marlowe (1554-1593) penned his masterpiece, The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus, the first surviving published copy of which is dated 1604. No simple moral tale, Marlowe's tragedy works on a number of levels.

Set in Wittenberg, Germany, the great humanistic centre of learning and the cradle of the Reformation, Marlowe's Faustus is a low born man who has become a respected Doctor of Philosophy at the university. But this is not enough. He would have absolute knowledge, absolute power. And so he turns to the dark arts. Casting a circle, he abjures the name of God and summons a demon, Mephistopheles. Under Mephistopheles's direction, Faustus then makes his pact with the devil, signing it in his own blood. He strikes a hard bargain. For twenty-four years, Faustus will do whatever he wants, with Mephistopheles as his obedient servant. When his time is up, Lucifer will summon Faustus to hell.

While the party lasts, Faustus lives it up. The middle of the play is full of schoolboy pranks. His horse is an enchanted hay bale which he sells to a hapless tavern keeper for fifty thalers. Mephistopheles spirits Faustus to the Vatican so that he can mock the pope and cardinals. When the pontiff and his men try to exorcise Faustus and his host of demons with bell, book, and candle, they find they cannot. In Marlowe's play, the pope is depicted as powerless to expel evil because he himself is corrupted and damned. Marlowe's own anti-Catholicism is well documented. While a student at Corpus Christi College in Cambridge, he served as a government spy, infilitrating Catholic circles to uncover plots against Queen Elizabeth I.

At the Emperor's court, Faustus conjures Alexander the Great and his paramour. He even manages to conjure up the spirit of Helen of Troy.

Yet when all these merry japes are over, Faustus finds himself utterly alone and bereft, forced to face the full weight of his pact. Though he desperately seeks redemption, he never achieves it and so quietly resigns himself to his coffin where he awaits his damnation.

Moral interpretations of the play are complicated by the Protestant teachings of Marlowe's era that insisted it was impossible for the individual to save his or her own soul. Calvin preached the doctrine of predestination, namely that God had already determined who was damned and who was saved, without any reference to the person's virtue or deeds. Seen through this lens, Faustus is not damned because he sold his soul to the devil. No, he is a clever Renaissance man who strikes this bargain because he has already been damned by his own God; our hero wants to at least enjoy some pleasure and self-determination in this earthly life before his inevitable eternity in hell. In witnessing Faustus's yearning and failure to achieve redemption are we seeing the devastating implications of Calvinist dogma?

Marlowe's Doctor Faustus was a sensation when it was first performed, scandalizing its audience by featuring forbidden acts of conjuration and blasphemy on stage.

Marlowe himself is a shadowy figure. In London, he kept the company of mathematicians, poets, and scientists, who gathered in a secret School of Night. Did Marlowe himself indulge in the dark arts? We will never know.

On May 30, 1593, the playwright, previously arrested on charges of brawling and duelling, became embroiled in a dispute with a tavern keeper over his bill. This escalated into a full blown knife fight, resulting in the playwright's death. He was twenty-nine years old.

Around this time, a note delivered to the authorities stated that Marlowe was an atheist who believed "that the first beginning of Religion was only to keep men in awe." But it is impossible to judge the veracity of this claim. Marlowe the man remains as shrouded in mystery as the legendary Faustus himself.

It's interesting to contrast Marlowe's Faustus to the version by Goethe, the great German Romantic. Goethe, who studied philosophy, alchemy, mysticism, and natural magic, appeared to have felt a great deal of sympathy with Faustus. Instead of demonising him, he invites us to identify with his protagonist's tireless quest to understand the mysteries of existence. Significantly, Goethe's Faustus receives redemption. Angels carry him off to heaven before Mephistopheles can drag him down to hell.

Manchester Royal Exchange Theatre's production of Christopher Marlowe's Doctor Faustus was absolutely magical, making maximum use of the circular stage to create the magic circle around which the audience hovers, as though we are spectral witnesses to Faustus's damnation.

This is no dry production but an enchanting pageant meant to capture the Elizabethan sense of awe at the magic taking place before us.

Lucifer (actor Gwendoline Christie) appears as a woman in glittering chainmail, who flies down from the ceiling on a trapeze. The actor appears to have great fun with her role, cackling and lounging on Faustus's desk while he mourns his doom and the impossibility of redemption.

A host of twenty four extras play the part of spirits, demons, and courtiers, mingling with the audience before descending on ladders onto the stage. Huge puppets appear as the host of Seven Deadly Sins. Faustus even engages in actual stage conjuring. But at the centre of it all is the powerful chemistry between Patrick O'Kane, who plays the volatile Faustus, and the quiet understatement of Ian Redford's Mephistopheles, who appears as an unassuming old man in a vicar's suit.

Ultimately the play is a powerful meditation on free will and the soul, and how willing people are to sacrifice their soul for fleeting ambition.

My husband, who saw the play with me, observed that in the modern corporate world, people sell their souls for a lot less than Doctor Faustus, who had least had some fun while the party lasted.

Manchester Royal Exchange Theatre's production of Doctor Faustus runs until October 9.

Dr. Naomi Baker's essay on Christopher Marlowe's Doctor Faustus