Sunday, 29 September 2013

The Savoy Palace

The Savoy Palace from The Thames
I found myself lately revisiting Anya Seton’s ‘Katherine’, the romantic story of the convent educated girl who became John of Gaunt’s third Duchess after being his mistress for several years and bearing him four children.

Katherine, as governess to the Duke of Lancaster’s daughters, spent a lot of time at The Savoy, his palace on the Strand. I have always been fascinated by in England’s ‘Lost Palaces’, those royal residences that were once the centre of court life, but with little today to mark they ever existed.

The Savoy is just such a palace, though the hotel of that name tells me pretty much where it once stood, fronting the north of The Strand and a little to the west of Somerset House. I have passed the Savoy Hotel many times, but not until now did I realise the statue above the front entrance was of Earl Peter of Savoy, uncle of Queen Eleanor wife of King Henry III, whose name was given to the original palace that stood there.

Peter of Savoy's Statue
The lands were granted by King Henry III to Peter of Savoy, Earl of Richmond and uncle of his queen Eleanor of Provence, ‘on condition of yielding yearly at the Exchequer three barbed arrows for all services.’  Eleanor's four sisters were all Queens-Margaret, the eldest, Queen of France; Sanctia, Queen of the Romans; Beatrix, Queen of Naples; and Johanna, Queen of Navarre.

Peter bequeathed his palace to a religious community, but Queen Eleanor purchased the site and gave it to her second son, Edmund, Earl of Lancaster. This gift was confirmed by letters patent by the earl's elder brother, King Edward I in his twenty-first year, and "from that time the Savoy was reputed and taken as parcel of the earldom and honour of Lancaster."   

The Strand formed part of the principal ceremonial route between the City and the Palace of Westminster, where the business of parliament and the royal court was transacted. To have a water frontage on the Thames meant noblemen’s homes were relatively free of the stink, smoke and social clamour of the City of London downstream and downwind to the east, and its constant threat of fires.

John, the French king, was lodged here in 1357 as a captive of the Black Prince after the battle of Poitiers. King John The Good, and nineteen knights from his personal guard dressed identically to confuse the enemy, but in spite of this precaution, John was captured. Edward III and his queen visited him there, and it was referred to as ‘the fairest manor in England.’

The Treaty of Brétigny (1360) set John's ransom at three million crowns. Leaving his son Louis of Anjou in English-held Calais as a replacement hostage, he was permitted to return to France to raise the funds. In July 1363, Louis escaped, so John announced that he would voluntarily return to captivity in England, where he again took up residence at the Savoy, leaving France without a king. Soon afterwards he fell ill of 'an unknown malady' from which he did not recover. [Poisoned by a disgruntled countryman maybe?]

Funeral Procession of King Jean II
Stow's ‘Chronicles,’ says: ‘The 9th day of April, [1364] died John, King of France, at the Savoy; his corpse was honourably conveyed to St. Denis, in France.’

During the 1300’s the Strand was paved as far as the Savoy and became the London residence of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, who, as the country’s power broker, was the richest person in the kingdom famous for collection of tapestries, jewels and ornaments. 

Inside the palace precincts, the rule of law was known as the Liberties of the Savoy and subject only to the Duchy of Lancaster, i.e. someone being pursued for a debt in London could stay in the Savoy without fear of arrest by those acting under the authority of The Crown.
John of Gaunt 1st Duke of Lancaster

In 1377, the Savoy was almost demolished by a London mob after John of Gaunt supported Wickliffe at a synod held in St. Paul's Cathedral. The Bishop of London, on hearing of the riot, hurried to the Savoy, and averted the danger. Then four years later, in 1381, John of Gaunt was blamed for the introduction of a poll tax, payable by every individual regardless of their financial status. A mob led by Wat Tyler marched on London and demolished the Savoy and all its treasures, while John of Gaunt had to run for his life. 

Tyler maintained his followers were not thieves, so everything that could not be destroyed or burned was thrown into the river. Jewellery was smashed with hammers, and it was said that one rioter found to have kept a silver goblet for himself was executed.

Thirty two rioters got drunk on the wine stocks in a cellar, while another group threw gunpowder onto the fire they had set, which demolished the palace and surrounding houses. The drunken rioters were subsequently trapped under the rubble, and perished, but only after they had been heard calling for help for several days. 

For over a hundred years, the palace stood a heap of blackened ruins until Henry VII resolved to rebuild it as a hospital for the poor, but when this was completed in 1512, very little of the former palace of Duke John was left.

Geoffrey Chaucer

Geoffrey Chaucer began writing The Canterbury Tales while working at the Savoy Palace as a clerk where he lived under the protection of John of Gaunt and his first Duchess Blanche, Here he met his future wife, Philippa, a lady of the Duchess's household, and sister to Lady Katharine Swynford. One entitled 'Chaucer's Dream', is an allegorical history of the loves of John of Gaunt and Blanche of Lancaster, and of his own marriage with the Lady Philippa.

The Peasants' Revolt Attacking The Savoy Palace
At the formation of the Thames Embankment, to mark the site of John of Gaunt’s Palace, and of the poet Chaucer, is a space laid out as a garden, where green shrubs and pleasant flowers delight the eye of Londoners.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Hildegard von Bingen: Reconciling Faith and Science

by Mary Sharratt

September 17 marked the feast day of Saint Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179), the 12th century Benedictine abbess, composer, and Doctor of the Church.

Saint Hildegard, that famously broad-minded polymath, also wrote the Western world’s first known description of the female orgasm:

When a woman is making love with a man, a sense of heat in her brain, which brings forth with it sensual delight, communicates the taste of that delight during the act and summons forth the emission of the man’s seed. And when the seed has fallen into its place, that vehement heat descending from her brain draws the seed to itself and holds it, and soon the woman’s sexual organs contract and all parts that are ready to open up during the time of menstruation now close, in the same way as a strong man can hold something enclosed in his fist.
Hildegard von Bingen, Causae et Curae 

How could a celibate nun write such a convincing description? Unlike some people in our own age, Hildegard saw no contradiction between science and religion, between being a religious woman and addressing every aspect of human experience, including sexuality.

Born in the lush green Rhineland in present day Germany, Hildegard was a Renaissance woman long before the Renaissance. She founded two monasteries, went on four preaching tours, and composed an entire corpus of sacred music. Her prophecies earned her the title Sybil of the Rhine. She was indeed a visionary in every sense of the word.

Hildegard wrote nine books on subjects as diverse as cosmology, botany, linguistics, and medical science, as well as theology. Even though she believed consecrated celibacy to be the highest calling, her medical text, Causae et Curae, discusses female (and male) sexuality frankly and without moral judgment. There is not a trace of prudishness or anti-intellectualism in her work.

In general, medieval thinkers, including monastics, were far more plain-spoken in addressing sexual matters than many of us might expect. But Hildegard’s writing on sexuality was unique in its inclusion of female experience, unlike that of her male confreres, such as Constantine the African, the 11th century monk whose book De Coitu manages to discuss every conceivable carnal pleasure without once mentioning women.

As the woman who coined the word Viriditas, or “sacred greening power and vitality,” Hildegard felt a profound connection to the natural world, which she regarded as the visible face of the invisible Creator who permeates every living thing. Her book Physica was devoted to natural science and is an encyclopedic study of plants, trees, mammals, reptiles, birds, marine life, stones, metals, and elements, describing their physical and medicinal properties. She lists in extraordinary detail the 37 varieties of fish to be found in the Nahe, Glan, and Rhine Rivers.

Her vision of the cosmos changed to reflect the science of her age. In Scivias, her first work of visionary theology, the universe appeared as a mandorla—shaped like an egg or almond.

But by the time she wrote De Operationae Dei, the third and final book in her visionary trilogy, her visions reflected the cosmos as a sphere.

Over eight centuries after her death, Hildegard was finally canonized in May, 2012. On October 7, 2012, she was elevated to Doctor of the Church, a rare and solemn title reserved for theologians who have made a significant impact. Presently there are only thirty-four Doctors of the Church, and only three besides Hildegard are women (Catherine of Siena, Teresa of Ávila, and Thérèse of Lisieux).

My novel, Illuminations, based on Hildegard's dramatic life, is released in paperback on October 15.

Sunday, 15 September 2013


Habitation Clement - Martinique
Earlier this year my travels took me to two former French colonies, Louisiana and Martinique. At both places my interest in history took me to the plantations of the French colonial masters and they shared several things in common - sugar, slavery, unspeakable cruelty and “Code Noir”. The grand antebellum mansions of the Mississippi and  the elegant facades of the island plantations were built on the blood and misery of the slaves. 

Oak Alley, Louisiana

The Code Noir (or The Black Code) was an edict of Louis XIV issued in 1685 (for the French possessions in the Antilles and introduced into Louisia in 1724) ostensibly to control the treatment of black slaves in the French colonies. Prior to the French colonisation of the Carribbean there was no history of slavery in France so the acquisition of slaves in the new colonies meant that their colonial masters had no guidance as to how slaves should be managed. Drafters of the code may have looked to Roman law for a starting place. By the mid seventeent century the number of slaves in Haiti, for example, well outnumbered their white masters (almost exceeding that number imported into Brazil). Slave unrest and minor insurrections were not unknown. 

The true purpose of the Code Noir goes deeper than just the control of the slaves. It is about France asserting her authority in her colonies and securing the sugar trade and to do that she needed to make sure the opposition was out of the way. In her Hoydens and Firebrands post on 14 April this year (17th-century Jews: Carving a Place in the New World), Patricia O’Sullivan wrote about the persecution of the Jews in the seventeenth century and you may wonder what this has to do with The Code Noir and the Louis XIV. The very first of the 60 or so Articles in the code, expels Jews from the French islands. As Patricia noted the Jews had a strong presence in the Dutch colonies of the West Indies and their presence within the boundaries of the French colonies was seen as an unacceptable Dutch influence.

The second article decrees that all slaves had to be baptized into the Roman Catholic church. The practice of the slaves taking their masters surnames came into being. The third article forebade the practice of any other religion other than Roman Catholocism. Its my observation from having poked around the museums of Louisiana and Martinique that it is from this insistence on Roman Catholic practice comes the strange hybrid of voodoo - an amalgam of catholic practice and the ancient animist religions of the slaves themselves. The slaves gave lip service to their new, imposed religion while continuing their own worship practices. Only Catholic marriages would be recognised within the colonies (Article IV) and only Roman Catholics could own slaves

From the 4th Article on the subject narrows to that of the treatment of slaves. The articles cover the marriage of slaves, the children born of slaves or children of their white masters. Children between a male slave and a female free woman were free ; children between a female slave and a free man were slaves.

Slaves were prohibited from owning or carrying weapons. Slaves of different masters were prohibited from gathering together. They were forbidden to sell sugar but they could sell other commodities with the permission of their masters. Slaves could pass under their masters wills and used as payment for debts but they could not be mortgaged. Salves could be freed and freed slaves were to be considered French citizens with the same rights as French colonial masters.

Scars from whipping

Some protections were included.  Married slaves and their young children were not be sold separately. Masters had to give their slaves food and clothes even those who were old and sick. A master who falsely accuse a slave of a crime, for which the slave was put to death would be fined. Masters who killed their slaves would be punished but masters could chain and beat their slave but may not torture or mutilate them. Masters could not force slaves to marry against their wishes, masters had to bury slaves properly (baptized slaves in a holy cemetery) and slaves who were being “barbarously” treated could report their masters

However for slaves who transgressed, punishment was  severe. Execution for a slave who struck their master, mistress or children. Recaptured fugitive slaves would have their ears cut off and be branded with a fleur de lys on the shoulder. A second transgression led to their hamstring being cut and being branded again. A third time meant death. Free blacks who aided fugitive slaves would be fined 300lbs of sugar per day of refuge and they would be beaten. 

The final two articles of the Code state:
Article LVIII. We declare their freedom is granted in our islands if their place of birth was in our islands. We declare also that freed slaves shall not require our letters of naturalization to enjoy the advantages of our natural subjects in our kingdom, lands or country of obedience, even when they are born in foreign countries.

Article LIX. We grant to freed slaves the same rights, privileges and immunities that are enjoyed by freeborn persons. We desire that they are deserving of this acquired freedom, and that this freedom gives them, as much for their person as for their property, the same happiness that natural liberty has on our other subjects.

In all the Code Noir contains 60 articles. It is high in rhetoric but the reality in Haiti, Martinique, Louisiana and all the far flung French colonies was that it was probably more honoured in the breach than the observance. Displays in the museum in Martinique show scenes of unspeakably cruel and barbarous punishments being inflicted on slaves, long after the introduction of the Code Noir. 

This is one such example: “In Léogâne in 1772, a Haitian woman named Zabeth, her story recorded, lived a not uncommon life and death. Rebellious, like many, from childhood, she was chained for years when not working, chased and attacked by dogs when she escaped, her cheek branded with a fleur de lis. Zabeth was locked up in a sugar mill for punishment. She stuck her fingers in the grinder, then later bit off the bandages which stopped the flow of blood. She was then tied, her open wounds against the grinder, where particles of iron dust poisoned her blood before she died. Her owner lived unconcerned across the sea in Nantes.” (from Haiti’s Agonies and Exultations by Ramsey Clark)

France descended into the  turmoil of the French Revolution in 1789 and in August 1791, the slaves of St. Dominigue rebelled under the leadership of Toussaint L’Ouverture. The ripples from this rebellion touched the shores of every slave owning nation and in 1794 the Assembly of the First Republic abolished slavery by law in France and all its colonies and granted civil and political rights to all black men in the colonies. What this meant in reality for the slaves and their masters is beyond the remit of this post but if you are interested in reading more about it, but there is much written about the rebellion (the only successful slave rebellion ever recorded) and its charismatic leader. See for example The Louverture Project. 

Slavery was reintroduced by Napoleon in 1802, possibly as a consequence of pressure from his Martinique born wife, Josephine, who still held land interests in Martinique. It was not fully exterminated until the 1830s. In the history of slavery, the French had imported over a million slaves, four times the number that went to America. 

As an example of the effectiveness (or not) of the Code Noir I leave you with this vivid first hand account of the treatment of runaway slaves in the French Colonies in the 1690s.

Punishment for fugitive slaves - Martinique 1690s

The following translation appears in the 1698 English edition: “. . . if their masters once catch them, they give them no quarter; for they hang a great iron collar about their necks on each side whereof there are hooks, whereunto is fastened a stake or branch of a tree, with which they thrash them at pleasure. . . . But if it so happen that after this sort of chastisement they relapse again into the same fault, they . . . cut off one of their legs, nay, and sometimes hang them for an example, of terrour [sic] unto others . . .. I knew one [slave master] in Martinico who being of a compassionate nature could not find in his heart to cut off his slave’s leg, who had run away four or five times, but to the end he might not again run the risqué of losing him altogether, he bethought of fastening a chain to his neck, which trailing down backwards catches up his leg behind, as may be seen by the cut [engraving]. And this, in the space of two or three years does so contract the nerves that it will be impossible for this slave to make use of his leg. And thus, without running the hazard of this unhappy wretch’s death, and without doing him any mischief, he thereby deprived him of the means to make his escape”  (Source Francois Froger, Relation d'un Voyage fait en 1695, 1696, & 1697 aux Cotes d'Afrique, . . . Brezil, Cayenne & Isles Antilles . . . (Paris, 1698), facing p. 150; A relation of a voyage made in the years 1695, 1696, 1697 (London, 1698), facing p. 120. Copies in the John Carter Brown Library at Brown University)From

Sunday, 8 September 2013

London Coffee Houses: Guest - Gina Black

This week we are delighted to welcome GINA BLACK as a guest blogger on Hoydens and Firebrands. Gina has always been a lover of European History and is the author of a romantic tale of highwaymen and revenge set in 1663 - THE RAVEN'S REVENGE. 

I begin,"Once upon a time, a long time ago (before 1650) there was no coffee to be had in the entire realm of England. A sad tale but true--"
"Then let them have tea," you interrupt no doubt afraid I'm going to start bombarding you with Boring Historical Facts.
"Sorry," I respond. "They didn't have any of that either."
"Whatever did those poor people drink?" you wonder reluctantly, glad you weren't around those smelly, caffeine-deprived people. You take another sip of your morning cuppa.
"They started out the day with ale."
"But isn't ale alcoholic?" You make a small chortle. "It gives a whole new spin to the phrase Jolly Olde England doesn't it?"
"Well, as I understand it, ale in those days was thin, weak stuff, and drunk soon after brewing, not the strong drink it is now."
"Sounds nasty," you say.
"Not as bad as the water. That was far too dirty to drink. It was much safer to drink something that had been brewed, and so ale was it."

You shake your head and drain your coffee mug, wondering how people ever survived without coffee, thinking of a time when the choice wasn't between French Roast and Guatemalan and when Free Trade or organic didn't matter.

Then--seeing my opening--I proceed to tell you all about it. Having written a paper about this back in my college days and being so impressed with the import of The Bean to England, I researched it again and included references to coffee in my book, The Raven's Revenge. Although my story was set in 1663 before coffee drinking was widespread, the hero had come back from parts east so he knew about coffee.

While some people might think that coffee arriving in England has about as much drama as a new Starbucks opening up in their neighborhood, it actually heralded a New Age: the age of the Penny University, for that was what coffee houses came to be called.
The first coffeehouse in England was opened in Oxford in 1650. The first one opened in London two years later in St. Michael's Alley in Cornhill. The proprietor was Pasqua Rosée, a man who has earned his place in history.

Whereas taverns and ale-houses were rough and rowdy places, coffee houses were not. They were democratic in nature (read the rules reprinted below) and places of intellectual discussion and debate. The reason they were called Penny Universities is that for the price of a penny a man (yes a man--this was the seventeenth century after all) could gain entrance, get his cup of coffee (some doctors even prescribed it for rheumatism and other ills) and either read or--if he couldn't read--someone would read the newspaper to him.

The proliferation of coffee houses coincided with a rising middle class. By 1700 there were probably over 2000 coffeehouses in London. Even the plague and the Great Fire failed to lessen its attraction.

Several important institutions had their origins in the English coffee house. Stockbrokers used to meet at Garraways which became the London Stock Exchange. And Lloyd’s had its origins in the coffee house owned by Edward Lloyd, where ship owners, captains and merchants came to discuss the latest shipping news. Later, Lloyds became a place for obtaining marine insurance.

So, next time you sit down with your latte and laptop, the earphones of your MP3 player tucked into your ears, think of the famous poet Dryden a fixture at Wills, expounding to a rapt audience. Not quite the same thing, now, is it?
\Enter, sirs, freely, but first, if you please,

Peruse our civil orders, which are these.

First, gentry, tradesmen, all are welcome hither,

And may without affront sit down together:

Pre-eminence of place none here should mind,

But take the next fit seat that he can find:

Nor need any, if finer persons come,

Rise up for to assign to them his room

To limit men's expense, we think not fair,

But let him forfeit twelve-pence that shall swear:

He that shall any quarrel here begin,

Shall give each man a dish t' atone the sin;

And so shall he, whose compliments extend

So far to drink in coffee to his friend;

Let noise of loud disputes be quite forborne,

Nor maudlin lovers here in corners mourn,

But all be brisk, and talk, but not too much;

On sacred things, let none presume to touch,

Nor profane Scripture, nor saucily wrong

Affairs of State with an irreverent tongue:

Let mirth be innocent, and each man see

That all his jests without reflection be;

To keep the house more quiet and from blame,

We banish hence cards, dice, and every game;

Nor can allow of wagers, that exceed.

Five shillings, which ofttimes do troubles breed;

Let all that 's lost or forfeited be spent

In such good liquor as the house cloth vent,

And customers endeavour, to their powers,

For to observe still, seasonable hours.

Lastly, let each man what he calls for pay,

And so you 're welcome to come every day.

To find out more about Gina and her books, visit her WEBSITE.

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Researching Seventeeth Century Seville

It is always difficult for a historical novelist to research a place which is not local to them - my previous book was set in London so I was frequently on the 200 mile train journey from Lancaster to London to visit the libraries and museums  and to look at archival material. You would have thought I would have learnt my lesson, and chosen somewhere local, but the plot of my next novel took me even further afield to Spain - and to Seville.

File:La sevilla del sigloXVI.jpg
Seville - 17th Century Port
Seville was enormously important as a trading centre in the 17th Century because it was the only port awarded the royal monopoly for trade with the Spanish American colonies (Las Indias) and the rich assortment of goods they offered. Because of this, merchants from Europe and other trade centres needed to go to Seville to acquire these goods - goods such as spices, exotic fruit and plants, sugar, cocoa, potatoes, tomatoes, pineapples, vanilla, chilli peppers, cochineal, exotic feathers and furs.

At first I was attracted by the sheer opulence of Seville, but soon realised that as with many rich cities it was also plagued by extreme poverty. Every sort of vagabond, beggar, or whore was drawn to the city in the 17th Century in the hope of a small share of its riches. Just the sort of climate in which to set a novel! Spain has always been intensely Catholic and at this time followers of other faiths were persecuted by the Inquisition.  I wanted to contrast this with the repressive anti-Catholic regime of Jacobean London, so knew I needed to research both locations, and always had in mind that my very English lady would travel to (and be amazed by) Seville.

File:Emilio Sánchez Perrier (1855-1907) - Triana (1889) - Sevilla Bellas Artes 22-03-2011 11-22-06.jpg
'Triana' by Emilio Sánchez Perrier in the Museo de Bellas Artes, Seville
I was helped enormously by finding 'Aristocrats and Traders: Sevillian Society in the Sixteenth Century' by Ruth Pike. My novel is set just into the 17th Century at the time of the Gunpowder Plot so this was fantastic background. It provided me with census accounts and information about the particular area of Seville I was researching - Triana - the part where artisans had the fire-trades such as sword-making and pottery-firing, crafts kept across the river from the main city in case of an outbreak of fire.

Gender and Disorder in Early Modern Seville: Perry, Mary Elizabeth (1937-)During my research phase I ordered as many books as I could that were in English, including Mary Elizabeth Perry's 'Gender and Disorder in Early Modern Seville' which told me a lot about the treatment of women and the lower classes. 

Perry also wrote a seminal book on moorish women - The Handless Maiden.

Online research and books are all very well, but eventually I did have to make the research trip, and try to glean as much as I could about the old Seville, buried beneath the modern city. A visit allows you to record things that other people might miss - such as what you are walking on. Here - some photos I took of tiled floors with moorish designs. The herringbone brick with 'olambrillos' (decorative ceramic squares) was particularly common in the 17th century.

It was fantastic to see so many buildings still well-preserved, and to soak up the heat and the atmosphere of Catholic Spain. This was something that is not obvious unless you go there - the sheer number of weeping madonnas in shop windows, the many hidden churches in courtyards with leather flaps over the doors to protect the icons from the sun. A bonus was to see the Inquisition Museum, which is very tastefully done despite its grim subject matter, and to visit the Golden Tower where I was able to take phographs of a huge map of 17th Century Seville that is not available online. The slightly blurred photographs are because I had to take the pictures through the top of a glass cabinet.

On my return I had lots of leaflets and booklets which needed to be translated my by local Spanish teacher so I could understand them as my Spanish is very limited!

It's expensive to travel abroad, but is it worth it? Absolutely. Not only did I have a fantastic holiday where I was able to have romantic evenings with my husband, eating Tapas at a little pavement cafe under the orange trees, or watching Flamenco, but also the visit later allowed me to 'live' in 17th Century Seville when I was writing. Here I am at the Alcazar, sitting on tiles that could possibly have been made in the 17th century in Triana, Seville.

My novel set in Jacobean London and Golden Age Seville is A Divided Inheritance, more about it can be found on my website.