Monday, May 31, 2010

The Coronation of Margaret of Anjou

Margaret of Anjou, the queen of Henry VI, is the subject of my forthcoming novel, The Queen of Last Hopes. Here's a piece I did this morning for my own blog about her coronation:

On May 30, 1445, Margaret of Anjou was crowned at Westminster Abbey by John Stafford, Archbishop of Canterbury. Margaret had turned fifteen just two months before.

Henry VI and Margaret had married on April 22, 1445, at Titchfield Abbey. Since then, Margaret had been making a leisurely journey toward London, during which she was entertained by various lords. On Friday, May 28, 1445, she finally arrived at Blackheath, where she was greeted by the mayor of London, the aldermen, and various commons in "costeous array." Behind Margaret in her splendidly decorated chariot rode chariot after chariot of ladies. Their names are unrecorded, but it's likely that anyone of rank who was present in England had come to London for the festivities. Margaret's destination that Friday, in accordance with custom, was the Tower of London, where Henry VI received her.

On her way to the Tower, Margaret was honored with two pageants: one at the Southwark approach to London Bridge, the second upon the bridge itself. Because Margaret's marriage had been made in exchange for a truce with France, the pageants emphasized--rather ironically in hindsight--Margaret's role as peacemaker. The figures of Peace and Plenty were on hand to greet Margaret for the first pageant (where she was also enjoined, equally ironically, to be fruitful and multiply). The second pageant compared Margaret to Noah's dove of peace. Six more pageants were in store for Margaret, many of them also emphasizing Margaret's role as peacemaker. Helen Maurer suggests that Margaret saw these additional six pageants on May 29, the day she journeyed from the Tower to Westminster, rather than on May 28.

Margaret rode to Westminster on Saturday, May 29, in a litter draped in white cloth of gold and drawn by two horses likewise decked in white. (Gregory's Chronicle describes the horses' coverings as satin; the Brut has the horses wearing damask powdered with gold.) Margaret herself, according to the Brut, was clad in white damask powdered with gold. Her hair was combed down around her shoulders; upon her head she wore a gold crown with rich pearls and precious stones. (Unlike the chronicler who recorded Elizabeth of York's coronation, who noted for the benefit of future novelists that Elizabeth had "faire yelow Hair," no one was helpful enough to record the color of Margaret's.) The city conduits ran with wine, both white and red, for the people to enjoy.

The next day, Sunday, May 30, was Margaret's big day. Unfortunately, a detailed description of her coronation ceremony does not exist, although the one we have for Elizabeth Woodville twenty years later gives us a reasonable idea of what would have taken place. Margaret, followed by a bevy of duchesses and other noblewomen, was probably led by bishops and by the Abbot of Westminster into Westminster Abbey, where she knelt before the altar and then prostrated herself. After that, she would have been anointed and crowned. Most likely Henry VI was not present during the coronation, as Edward IV is not mentioned as being at Elizabeth Woodville's coronation, and Henry VII, while able to watch his queen being crowned, was concealed from the sight of the public.

Later in 1445, William de la Pole, then the Marquis of Suffolk, was granted the manor of Kettlebaston in return for carrying a sceptre of ivory, with a golden dove on its head, at the queen's coronation, so he had presumably performed this office for Margaret. His son, John de la Pole, apparently performed this task for Elizabeth Woodville.

Following Margaret's coronation, a great feast was held, followed by three days of jousting. Who jousted is unrecorded, but Richard Woodville, married to Jacquetta, Duchess of Bedford, was a noted jouster of his day and might have well participated in the 1445 festivities.

Henry VI, who could ill afford the expense of Margaret's coronation, nonetheless made certain that his young bride was appropriately decked out in jewels. Before the wedding, he had ordered that "the Queene most necessaryly have for the Solempnitee of hir Coronation . . . a Pusan of Golde, called Ilkyngton Coler, Garnished with iv Rubees, iv greet Sapphurs, xxxii greet Perles, and liii other Perles. And also a Pectoral of Golde Garnished with Rubees, Perles, and Diamonds, and also with a greet Owche Garnished with Diamondes, Rubees, and Perles, sometyme bought of a Marchant of Couleyn for the Price of Two Thousand Marc." A pusan was an ornamental collar, according to Sherman M. Kuhn's Middle English Dictionary. According to Harold Clifford Smith in Jewellery, a pectoral was a species of brooch, as was an owche, otherwise known as an ouch or a nouch. At what point in the ceremonies Margaret got to wear these fine jewels is unrecorded.

Margaret's coronation was attended by five minstrels of her father, Rene of Anjou (identified by his illustory title of "King of Sicily") and by two minstrels of the Duke of Milan, who were there to witness the ceremony and report back to their respective employers. In 1444, Henry VI had given a safe-conduct for eighteen Scotsmen to come to see the coronation, "provided, always, that they conduct themselves well and honestly towards the King and his People." As there is no record of Margaret's coronation being disrupted by Scotsmen running amok, presumably they behaved themselves.


Bale's Chronicle

The Brut

The Great Chronicle of London

Gregory's Chronicle

Mary Ann Hookham, The Life and Times of Margaret of Anjou

J. L. Laynesmith, The Last Medieval Queens

Helen Maurer, Margaret of Anjou

George Smith, The Coronation of Elizabeth Wydeville

Friday, May 28, 2010

Till the Day Go Down

Here's an excerpt from my latest book. I think, I hope the excerpt is self-explanatory! The setting is 1543 in Aydon Castle near Corbridge in the Tyne Valley, not far from where I live, so doing the site research was both a doddle and a pleasure.

Harry looked bedraggled, but courage spoke through the tilt of his head and the way he carried himself. The white of his shirt showed through the tears in his doublet and the skin of his face and throat was patchily pink. They must have struck him. She supposed he would have resisted them, for she did not think he was the kind of man to give up easily.

His black hair hung over his brow and as they pushed him forward into the hall, she saw that his wrists were tied together behind his back.

Oh, Harry. Alina felt sick, yet filled with pride in him. Lance sat white-faced and still. Cuddy, obviously frightened, ran to his mother, who held him in her arms and made soothing noises.
The sentries marched Harry to the east end of the hall, towards the high table. He did not look for her, but stared grimly ahead. No doubt he thought she had betrayed him.

Father got up, walked the few steps around the table to confront Harry. They were of the same height. Her father carried more bulk, and the rich red of his doublet proved a strong contrast with the dull browns of Harry’s garb.

The silence stretched on. Frightened but unable to look away, Alina watched Harry lift his chin and survey the lord of Aydon with a gaze neither cowed nor unsteady. The tendons of his throat stood clear in the flickering candlelight and the shadows around his collarbones swelled and died with his breathing. Her stomach quivered in response and she feared for him. Father might be generous, if Harry looked frightened or begged for clemency, but this display of courage would only aggravate him.

She looked again at Harry’s expression. A spasm of alarm ran through her. For goodness sake, Harry, don’t stare at him as if he is nothing more than a field hand.
Cuthbert Carnaby obviously felt the same. The silence in the hall seemed ominous as he contemplated his prisoner through half closed eyes. His hand, heavy with rings, lashed out and caught Harry across the cheekbone.

Several feet away, Alina jolted on her bench as the blow struck. She gasped aloud, and her fingers clenched on the table.
Harry took an inadvertent step sideways. Dark hair tumbled over his brow. He steadied himself, tossed his hair back and faced his tormentor. He ought to be wary, but the tilt of his head was insolent.

“Who are you?” Carnaby demanded.
A thread of blood trickled towards Harry’s mouth. A surge of heat and anxiety ran through Alina. She sat taut and rigid with her teeth clamped in her lower lip, unable to think of a single thing to say that might help.

“My name is Harry Scott.” He inclined his head. “My home is in Carlisle.”
Oh Harry! Why did you not lie? You know that name will enrage Father.
“What are you doing on my lands?”

“A fall from my horse meant I needed a day or two’s rest.” The wide shoulders lifted an inch. “I intended to move on as soon as I was able.”
“A likely story!” Hot with excitement, Carnaby leered at the prisoner. “Rode here with the rest of your thieving relatives, did you? What a pity you got left behind. How inept of you!”
He thinks he’s found one of the raiders, and he’s pleased.
Harry glared at him. “Unhappily we can’t all be fortunate as the man who talked an earl out of leaving his goods to his sons.”

Oh God! Harry, no! He referred to Uncle Reynold, who talked the Earl of Northumberland into leaving estates to Reynold rather than the true Percy heirs. Blood rushed into her father’s face and his fists clenched.

“Father, he was unhorsed and unconscious.” Alina cried. She could not let Harry face this alone.
Carnaby swung round and glared at her. A cold shiver ran down her spine. She had spoiled his pleasure and he did not like it.

Harry’s glance followed her father, found her and meshed with hers. His mouth tightened and he gave a tiny shake his head as if to say she should stay silent. His chin lifted. Let me deal with this, his eyes commanded.
“You know this man, daughter?”

“Only that I found him unconscious in the meadow, sir. He had suffered a blow to the head.”
Carnaby turned from Alina. He grasped Harry’s jaw in one large fist, tilted his head up towards the candlelight to search for bruises. “There is a mark, I grant you.”

“He rode into a tree branch, sir.”
Carnaby stared into Harry’s face, and laughed. The sentries at either side smirked. Harry scowled. Alina guessed he hated to be made to look a fool. “It was dark!” she cried. “Any one could ride into a low bough in strange country in the dark.”

The laughter slowed and stopped. The sentries looked at her father. She realised she had made things worse when Carnaby swung around and grinned at her.
“He was riding the night we were raided? Alina, are your wits addled?” He turned back to Harry. “It’s a damned clumsy raider who gets knocked off his horse,” he snarled. “But the Scotts are ill-bred to the last snivelling bastard, so why am I surprised?”

“I am no raider, sir. The fact that my name is Scott is pure chance. I bear no relation to any of the Scottish family of that name. My home is Carlisle.”

“Anything to save your skin, eh?” Carnaby jerked his head. “Fling him in the dungeon. He can take the Leap tomorrow.”
“Father! No!” Horrified, Alina sprang to her feet, unaware and uncaring that every eye in the room swung to her. “He is not a raider! You can’t do this! I beg you!”

The book is available from Amazon and, so I'm told, Powells in Portland. A postcard from my daughter-in-law dropped this amazing information on me just last week. They'll be back home in Australia now. Amazon. It's also on Book Depository and bookshops.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

In an English Country Garden

From "The Naming of Names" by Anna Pavord
The English are famous for their obsession with gardening, and on days like the last few where the skies have been blue and the weather warm, there is nothing I like more than to sit in the garden an admire the flowers.

 But in truth this is a recent hobby, as in the past a flower garden was a luxury. In the Middle Ages in England most plants were grown as food, or for medical or herbal purposes. Most plant lore was passed literally from hand to mouth, or recorded by monks in monasteries until the advent of printed texts. The gardens planted by Romans in Britain had fallen into disuse, but the monks planted some of the flowers and herbs they had left behind – lavender, rosemary, hyssop, valerian, the lily, the pansy, cherry trees.Unfortunately much of the written material was lost in the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII.

One of first influential printed books on plants was Gerard's Herball of 1597, and it was followed by Culpeper's Herbal, both of which emphasised flowers as medicine.

For a vey readable account of Culpeper's life I can highly recommend
The Herbalist: Nicholas Culpeper and the Fight for Medical Freedom
by Benjamin Woolley.

By the 1570's tulip bulbs first reached Holland from Turkey, and decorative flowering plants became fashionable. But it was not until the seventeenth century that tulip mania really began to grip Europe. Merchants paid vast fortunes, the price of a mansion in the Hague, for the rarer variegated flowers. This frenzy of gambling on tulip bulbs is beautifully evoked in Tulip Fever by Deborah Moggach. It was not until the 1920's though that scientists realised the pretty colours were in fact caused by a bug - a virus transmitted by aphids.

One of the early plant explorers in the seventeenth century was John Tradescant - his exploits both in England and what he called The New World are described in Philippa Gregory's superb books Virgin Earth and Earthly Joys.

The pilgrims in 17th century ships took plants and seeds with them on their long voyage from England to North America. They did not know if the plants they needed would grow where they were bound. All seeds and plants for the voyage were selected for their usefulness, and not for decoration. These were herbs for medicinal purposes, and dyeing, and crops for food.

To ensure the plants would survive the two month journey, the pilgrims made plant transporters out of natural materials. Baskets were made using willow, bramble, rose, ivy and other hedgerow plants.To transport cuttings, they made what appeared to be balls of earth but were in fact clay mixed with honey. Honey is renowned as an antiseptic so it stopped bacteria or mould from the damp conditions killing the plants. Seeds were also transported in dried gourds, and the tuberous plants were stored in ox bladders, to keep the roots damp.

Flowering plants for health included chervil and foxglove for dropsy, comfrey for backstrain and spitting blood(!) lovage for colic, and tansy to preserve the dead and treat fevers, worms, hysteria, flatulence and miscarriages. What a cure-all!
The garden flower most associated with English gardens is the Rose. According to myth it is red because it blushed with pleasure when Eve kissed it in the Garden of Eden. In terms of history it can be dated to between 60 and 25 million years ago -  astonishingly, fossilized stems with prickles and rose-like leaves can be traced back this far.

The Old English poem "Deor", which comes to us from the 10th century or earlier, contains a very early mention of a rose –
The stranger paused. He marvelled
At a heart-rooted pain.
The thorn ran deep, the bud
Spread a crimson stain.
He would not pluck it, for fear

The rose scattered like rain.

But in Britain very few roses were grown before the reign of Elizabeth I. From the 1500's with explorers bringing new plants from abroad, and the advent of better printing techniques to spread the word, rose-growing burgeoned in popularity until by 1729 Chinese roses were being grown in Kew Gardens.

How did people used to tend their precious plots? Before specialised equipment was invented, gourds or clay pots with holes in were used for watering the plants. Spouted pots called "watering cans" were first recorded in 1692, but we had to wait for a lawn sprinkler until 1871, when J.Lessler of Buffalo City, New York patented one.

"Lady's Slipper" orchid
But it is wild flowers that I love, and originally all our cultivated plants grew wild somewhere, and have had to be brought, sometimes at great cost, from the other side of the world.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Primary Sources

Primary sources, I feel, are a writer's best friend, especially a historical writer.
   I collect Victorian diaries and journals, written mainly by women who have arrived in Australia after leaving England, but also by women born in colonial Australia. These diaries give me an insight to how they lived and what was happening in the world around them at that time. From their personal entries, we can learn what was important to them, their daily routine, their views and opinions. They can also lift some of those myths we in the modern world tend to think as true.
   Diaries aren't the only primary source available to us. We have so many musuems and art galleries. I love studying paintings of the different eras and visting museums that have wonderful displays of every era.
We should be visiting our local or state libraries for books, letters, newspapers and articles written in the eras we write. Naturally this is difficult for those writing in the ancient periods, but those of us who write about the last few hundred years have sources available and we need to use them.
   If you are writing about the area where you live, join your local historical society, where as a member, you can study maps, paintings and photos are that district. Also the local councils will have documents and maps going back years.
   It is not always possible to visit your chosen setting, but if you can visit, make sure you don't simply go to the main attractions, like a castle, etc, but find the time to visit the graveyard of the local church, sit in a pew and study the stain glass windows, lay by the river and absorb the surroundings, listen to the birds sing, the insect buzz and imagine what it would be like in your period. Walk the back streets of the village or town, find the oldest parts and touch the walls of the buildings and think of nothing but how your characters would have lived. Would their footsteps have walked where yours have?

The photo is taken from a sketch done of Lower George St, Sydney, Australia 1828. Sketches and paintings like these give us the artist's view of those times and from studying it we can see a little of what life was like then.
I found this photo in a book, but the internet has many websites with great antique photos and paintings, some even for sale.

If you write in the Victorian or Edwardian era, you may even have photos of your own family and this is another source you have to look at their clothes, etc.

   I find it fascinating that we have so many choices to help us become better writers. I guess that is why research is never a chore for me. :o)

Monday, May 24, 2010

Why Write?

Someone once asked me why I became a writer. The answer is complicated, and I'll try not to stray too often. Growing up in the small community of Woodville, Tennessee, our television set received only three channels, and you had to walk outside and manually position the pole antenna to get two of them. I've always been a night owl, and most nights there wasn't much to do, so naturally reading became an outlet for relieving my boredom. For me, getting lost in a good book was better than eating homemade ice cream.

Eventually I grew up, married a handsome sailor, and moved away. The first time my husband's squadron went to sea, I discovered the city library. Soon Victoria Holt and Phyllis Whitney were my new best friends. Until that fateful afternoon I picked up a book by Jill Tattersall. With characters who left me breathless, her romances captivated me. I became addicted. Obsessed.

Today the trend is to bombard readers with page after page of explicit sex. The romance, if there is one, is secondary. Let's face is easier to write and sell. Don't get me wrong. I've no objection to the hero and heroine rolling around in the hay, but not each and every chapter. I'd like to glimpse an enduring love blossoming beneath all that heavy breathing. Two people choosing love in spite of their differences really gets my heart racing. It's the only reason I keep reading. Without that overpowering emotion, there is no story. Only porn. And I can get that, day or night, on the cable channels.

I write historical romance. The old fashioned kind. My main characters are strong, honorable, and loyal. Sexy? Absolutely! But back to the original question of why I write...putting stories down on paper is the only way to get them out of my head. I also get a sense of satisfaction, because I know when others read about my characters, they will live forever.

Ten Reasons to Write Historical Fiction Set in Medieval Times

1. If your hero is riddled with angst, it'll be because someone is trying to overthrow him, not because he is having a mid-life crisis.

2. There is seldom a need to have one character say to another, "I'll be there for you," "I'm conflicted," or, "You're just not meeting my needs." (Unless, of course, the need is for a male heir.)

3. Your heroine can be slightly plump yet not obsessed about losing weight.

4. The heroine, if she works at all, need not work in the publishing industry.

5. War, revolution, disease, infant mortality, and childbed fever allow you to kill off your characters with mad abandon when they start to get on your nerves.

6. You can buy all sorts of books in your field of interest and tell your spouse that they are for research purposes.

7. Your heroine can wear just plain shoes, not Jimmy Choos.

8. You will not have to write 400 pages about a woman who is juggling her family and her career.

9. If you get facts wrong, you can shrug off your critics on the ground that all fact is the biased distortion of (a) male chroniclers, (b) academic historians, (c) the victors, (d) the Church, (e) all or any combination of the above.

10. No man looks bad in shining armor.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Whodunnit? I Dunno!

Over the years, many people have asked me how I came to be so interested in the case of Jack the Ripper, probably the most teasing unsolved series of murders in the history of recorded crime. I'd researched and studied the murders for over 35 years before finally deciding to write the first of my ripper trilogy, A Study in Red - The Secret Journal of Jack the Ripper. Those studies had led me to becoming a member of numerous 'Ripper' related societies and forums, one of which was the prestigious Whitechapel Society 1888, a London-based worldwide organisation set up to investigate and study not just the ripper crimes, but also life in the East End of London during the Victorian and Edwardian eras. It was the secretary of that society who one day approached me and asked if I'd write an article for their quarterly journal, detailing the 'genesis' of A Study in Red. He thought the members might appreciate learning how I came to write such a novel, after so many years of interest in the case. With that in mind, I set to work on the following article which was first published in the Society's Journal in the summer of 2008.

So, who was Jack the Ripper? Well, if such a prestigious investigator as Inspector Frederick Abberline, whose headstone is shown above, was unable to solve the riddle, what chance would I or any modern-day ripperologist stand? Hope you enjoy the following piece.

The following article was first published in The Journal of The Whitechapel Society 1888, Issue #20, June 2008

“Whodunnit?”… “I dunno.”
Brian L Porter, Author of the Award Winning ‘A Study in Red – The Secret Journal of Jack the Ripper’
(Winner, The Preditors & Editors, ‘Best Author, 2009 Award’, The Preditors & Editors Best Thriller Novel 0f 2008 Award, a CK2S Kwips & Kritiques ‘Recommended Read’ and winner of The Authors Lounge Best Cover Art Design Award, May 2008.)

I think the year was nineteen-seventy one, or thereabouts. I was a young man serving in the Royal Air Force, stationed atop the Cotswolds at a now long-closed base known as RAF Little Rissington. The camp was a couple of miles from the picturesque village of Bourton-on-the-Water, but seemed to my young mind to be light years from the rest of civilisation. Why, I used to ask myself, was the address of the camp given as Cheltenham when in fact that city lay over 50 miles away? Off duty life could be, and invariably was rather boring for a teenage airman at that remote, and as I though it desolate spot.
            It was during the particularly cold winter of that year that I discovered the treasury that was the camp library. With little to do outside of my duties, and nowhere to go as I didn’t yet have a driving licence or the financial means to obtain a car, I began to immerse myself in a quest for knowledge. History had always been a particular favourite of mine at school, and so it was only logical that I began to choose and read books with a historical angle to them. It was here, in the midst of a Cotswold winter, that I first came ‘face to face’ with the story of Jack the Ripper.
            To this day I can’t remember the title of the book that first brought the Whitechapel murders to my attention. I recall it being a heavy volume of ‘Great and Unsolved Crimes of the Past’ or something of that ilk. Whatever the title, one piece in that book caught my attention, and in truth has held it ever since. I recall it as being less than three pages long, that piece about Jack the Riper, but something in the words on those pages raised an awareness in me that hadn’t existed before that day. I’d previously heard of Jack of course, but I suppose my young mind had until then lumped him together with such fictional monsters as Count Dracula and Frankenstein’s monster. Now, here he was, revealed in black and white as being as real as I was, a predator who had managed to remain hidden and unidentified for almost a century.
            I began to read as much as I could on the subject of the murders, even joining a mail order book club in order to try and find more information on my new pet obsession. I devoured everything I could read, and tried to watch any television programme or movie that depicted the Whitechapel Murders, whether in a factual or fictional scenario.
It soon became clear to me that no-one had the faintest idea who Jack the Ripper really was. There was a huge list of suspects, and a case could, an indeed was made out for many of them as being ‘prime suspects’ in the case. With such a welter of names to pick from it seemed to me that it would be easy to pick a name and then try to build a case to fit the facts surrounding that suspect, as I’m sure has been the case in many so-called renderings of the case.  I had no idea who the Ripper was, and if truth be told, I would still hesitate to reveal the name of my own chief suspect as, like many before me, I have only the words of others, and a few scraps of factual evidence on which to base my assumption of guilt. Over the years, many ‘new’ suspects have been put forward as candidates for the role of Jack. I doubt we’ll ever know who he was, but it will continue to be fun trying to solve the great unsolvable mystery of the Autumn of Terror.
So my own quest for knowledge went on, and the years went by, and I continued to read and watch, and absorb all the minutiae that would occasionally find its way into the media, revealing yet more so-called facts and ‘incredible discoveries’ about the most infamous serial killer of them all. I devoured the works of Begg, Fido, Skinner and so many others in my search for information.
When my own son was born and grew to be a young man of around ten, he realised that his father was interested in the Jack the Ripper case. As he grew older, he encouraged me to write a book on the subject. “I can’t,” I’d always reply. “I don’t know who did it.”
“Neither does anyone else Dad,” would be his reply, and of course he was right, though it wasn’t until three years ago that his years of cajoling finally began to bear fruit. I’d written a poem some years before that had been published in a small anthology. I’d given it the title of ‘A Study in Red’ and it had been an attempt to present the killings from the aspect of the Ripper’s mind, as though the poem were a confession of sorts. When, three years ago I showed the poem to a friend who happened to be a writer and publisher, he said that if he ever wrote a dark psychological thriller, he’d love to use it as his introduction. He never got the chance!
From that day, the idea of writing a novel based on the poem grew in my mind until the novel that is ‘A Study in Red’ began to take shape. Once more, I delved into the past, using my own books, and the wonderful forums of Stephen P Ryder’s Casebook to research and refresh my own memories and thoughts on the case. I didn’t want to write a ‘factual’ book. I don’t consider myself to be enough of an authority on the subject to do such a thing, which after all has been handled so well and so expertly by many far better qualified than I over the years.
No, I decided it would be a novel, and one that looked at the case from a rather different angle than most previous Ripper novels. In fact ‘A Study in Red’ in some ways could be said not to be about Jack the Ripper at all. It is in fact the story of one man’s descent into mental instability as a result of reading the so-called journal of the Ripper. What makes it terrifying, (I hope) is the underlying thought that is transmitted to the reader, that Robert Cavendish is somehow connected to the Ripper both by birth and historical events. The fictional journal I created is the tool by which we see how a so-called sane and ordinary man (Cavendish is a psychiatrist) can be pulled to the edge of the precipice, that thin dividing line between madness and sanity, simply by being exposed to the words of an evil and brutal mind. I was able to throw forward certain ideas and theories as to the motives behind the ripper murders in my fictional scenario, without having to worry too much about them being ridiculed by the so-called ‘experts’ This is after all, a work of fiction, and as such, I allowed myself a little licence here and there to indulge my own particular theories as to who and what inspired Jack to take to the streets, and as to why he was never caught or identified. I hope those who read it will forgive me my transgressions.
In the end, the greatest difficulty I faced in creating the novel was that my own prime suspect simply wouldn’t fit the profile I’d drawn up for the fictional Jack the Ripper of the book. So, being a fictional account, I was able to use another suspect, one who I don’t personally believe to have been the Ripper, but who certainly would fit the profile. Do you see what I meant earlier about using a few facts to enable a suspect to be drawn into the frame for the murders? Here was a prime example of that. I wove a web of fact and fiction together in order to create what I hope will be accepted as an entertaining piece of Ripper fiction. A Study in Red was never intended to throw new light on the case, or to identify Jack the Ripper to a waiting world. So far, those who’ve read it have, for the most part, been highly complimentary of my fiction.
I hope it continues to entertain and perhaps terrify a few readers as time goes by. But, as to the burning question, “Whodunnit?”
I have to say, quite simply, “I dunno.” (Though I do believe Bruce Paley* had a point).
Bruce Paley, author of Jack the Ripper, The Simple Truth.


Saturday, May 22, 2010

Prisoners in the castle: dungeons and oubliettes

The oubliette at Warwick CastleMedieval castles and dungeons tend to go together in people's imaginations and I have set important scenes in A Knight's Enchantment in a dungeon, where the heroine Joanna's father is being held. What we imagine as a typical dungeon, however - dark, underground, no windows, lots of chains - was less common in the Middle Ages than is assumed.

Take the word 'dungeon'. Its earliest form, donjon, meant a keep or tower, a strong defensive position. Over time that tower has been taken to mean a prison, often underground in a castle. This form of prison was in fact an oubliette (meaning 'forgotten place') and was far darker and more grim than a dungeon, as can be seen in the photo of the oubliette in the castle at Warwick.

Famous dungeons include the Tower of London and those at Pontefract Castle and Alnwick Castle, though true dungeons in castles were not usual until later in the Middle Ages.

Often noble prisoners, captured and held for ransom in the dungeon, would be kept in a secure, comfortable place within the host's castle: certainly the room would be well-guarded, but we should not picture a Richard the Lionheart or Charles of Orleans languishing in the rat-infested, damp stone cell of imagination. Life expectancy in an oubliette would be short, and bad for the ransom business. 'Common' prisoners might be kept in gate houses, while those considered undesirable and disposable but not to be actually murdered could end up down with the rats in the oubliette.

Friday, May 21, 2010

A Favourite Century

Many writers of historical fiction have their favourite period, this might even run to a century rather than a decade. I used to be a "flitterer" My first novel A Sprig of Broom was set just after the Battle of Bosworth, whereas the next three were a saga starting in l819. After that I had another l9th century novel and then plunged into the anglo-saxon era. My last hardback novel dealt with King John. Dangerous Enchantment and before that, The Substitute Bride took me full circle, I was back in the l480's. I think this is the era where I am most comfortable. Perhaps because when I wrote my first book I did an awful lot of serious research. I was terrified of making a mistake. Therefore I have lots of information on this period.

Why did I choose this era for my first novel? Well, surprisingly, I knew little about history until I found a book by Jean Plaidy. Many of you will remember this excellent writer. She was my historian. I was curious about the Battle of the Roses, thanks to her. She portrayed Richard the Third as not being a really bad man. Funny, I had the idea of the hunchback of Shakespeare fame. That really whetted my appetite and I started to read more about him. What do you know - I found out he was much maligned. More than this I think I fell in love with him too!

Not being a "serious" historian I wanted to write a book that put across the message that he was worth more consideration,I invented characters who had known and loved him. A Sprig of Broom, The Substitute Bride and Dangerous Enchantment are set after his tragic death but I think I get the propaganda across very well (even if I say it myself).

I think that is why I love writing historical novels, you can shine a light where there has been darkness. At least that's what I try to do...I wonder if you do too?

And if you are wondering, with the advent of the new splendid Robin Hood film, King John was not half as bad as he has been painted either!

Victorian Etiquette

Last week, my husband and I visited an antique store in Athens, Tennessee and we came upon this beautiful painting of a Victorian Woman In A Hat. We decided that we had to have it because she is the exact image of my husband's late grandmother, who simply adored hats and had a large collection of them. I thought I would share the painting with you.

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While researching my second novel, Call Me Duchess, I came upon Victoriana Magazine in the internet and it proved quite helpful. In Call Me Duchess, Marquerite Wiggins' cousin, Samantha, is getting married and her parents, Lord and Lady Hardwood, are hosting an engagement party for her. Below are some interesting facts regarding the proper etiquette for Victorian engagements from the Victoriana Magazine:

"When young persons have decided to marry, a proper gentleman will take the first opportunity to acquaint the girl's father with their hopes, and, making a frank statement of his affairs and prospects, formally ask his consent to their marriage. If consent is refused, patience and good conduct will usually win over even the most obstinate parent.

Traditionally there are no formal announcements of a betrothal but it is customary, however, for the father of the bride to give a dinner and announce the wedding engagement. The guests at a dinner given to announce a wedding engagement are relatives or very intimate friends of the engaged couple. At the end of the repast the father rises, lifts his glass of wine and drinks to the health of his son, mentioning the name of the young man his daughter is to marry. Each guest bows to the son, at the same time lifting a wine glass. The engagement ring is presented when the wedding engagement is announced — or at least it is then openly worn, its choice depending upon the taste and means of the giver. The engaged man is congratulated, but one wishes the girl all happiness. After the ladies have left the dining room the gentlemen devote a short time to general congratulations and cigars.

To announce the wedding engagement the young couple should write personal notes to their respective relatives and near friends, mailing the notes so that all may be received at the same time. These acquaintances will then pass on the pleasant news to the world at large. The notes often mention one or more afternoons when the young woman will be at home to receive her friends informally with her mother. The groom's friends also take this opportunity of making her acquaintance.
At news of a betrothal, friends hasten to extend invitations for various festivities to the happy pair such as receptions, dinners or theater parties. It is the custom for the relatives and intimate friends of a bride-elect to give her a gift when she announces her wedding engagement. At one time it was the fashion for intimate friends to send to the fiancé engagement presents in the shape of teacups. A cup of tea was popularly supposed to be one of the consolations of spinsterhood. A teacup would therefore be an invidious gift until after the wedding engagement, when its significance would cease to apply.

As for the engagement ring, it is in best taste when it contains only a solitaire stone -- either a diamond or a colored stone such as a ruby, emerald or sapphire, which may range in price from two hundred and fifty to two thousand dollars. Colored stones and diamonds, set diagonally are also worn; but not a pearl, as, according to the German idea, "pearls are tears for a bride." The initials of each of the contracting parties and the date of the wedding engagement are usually engraved in the engagement ring. The ring should be worn upon the same finger as the wedding ring, the third finger of the left hand, where subsequently the wedding ring serves it as a guard. The matter of presentation is a secret between the engaged pair."

The writing blues

Help! I need help! Been off writing for four weeks on holiday and then caught a bug. Now I CANNOT settle to write. Usually the most conscientious of writers, I can't be bothered.

Order me to continue either my Regency or my novella, someone. Anybody out there?


Wednesday, May 19, 2010

A Brief History of the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens

While researching for a Georgian novel I came across some interesting facts about the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, so often featured in Regencies novels and Georgette Heyer’s work. But they began far earlier than the Regency era.
Vauxhall Gardens, a short distance from Vauxhall Bridge, was a popular public resort from the reign of Charles II. They opened in 1732 and continued until close to the end of the 19th Century. The gardens, called New Spring Gardens were laid out circa 1661. Admission was free and they could only be reached by water via a sixpenny boat ride. That changed when the Westminster Bridge was built in 1750.
Vauxhall was then little more than a few walks and arbors where supper was served. One could commune with nature or be accosted by masked ladies of dubious repute. But later Vauxhall became a fashionable place. With the admission of one guinea, a person could don a mask and domino and enjoy the pleasure of being anonymous, which no doubt produced some pretty ribald displays.
In the summer of 1792, vocal music was introduced and admission was raised to 2 shillings. In 1798 fireworks was added.
The gardens remained pretty much unaltered through the years. The Grand Quadrangle shimmered with thousands of variegated lamps hung among the foliage of the trees. An orchestra played in The Grove, an enclosed a space surrounded with walks and planted with trees. Beneath the colonnades of the Quadrangle were boxes for supper parties, and facing the orchestra stood a pavilion called the Princes's Gallery, in honour of Frederick, Prince of Wales, who had frequently attended the Gardens. The Rotunda held some 2000 persons, and ballets and light theatricals, horsemanship feats and rope dancing could be found there.
On 20 July, 1813, a grand fete was held to celebrate Wellington's victory at Vittoria and was attended by the Prince of Wales and all the Royal dukes, with admission for the night being a staggering two and a half guineas.
The Gardens opened for the last time on the night of Monday, 25 July, 1859.

Norman church

It was in 1718, on the wild coast of Northumberland, that Sir John Vanbrugh set about creating his baroque masterpiece. It was intended for the entertainment of Admiral George Delaval’s retirement but neither he nor Vanbrugh lived to see it completed. The Admiral was killed in a fall from his horse, and his nephew, Captain Francis Blake Delaval, fell, inebriated, down the steps of the house. It was said that no male Delaval ever died in their beds.
Francis fathered 12 children – the Gay Delavals, who filled the house with people and laughter and music. The best known of them was Sir Francis Blake Delaval who inherited in 1752. Lady Amherst reported in 1760 that ‘the blue satin parlour is handsome and the dining room impressive, though the walls and furniture are scarred to ruin by the riotous living of that scoundrel Francis and the lust mongers he entertains.’

Sacheverell Sitwell said in 1944 ‘everything to do with this house is dramatically romantic and extreme; not least the Delavals themselves…’

If you are a member of the National Trust, you’ll read more within the pages of the latest magazine (Summer 2010). If not, visit the website here
It is tempting to start thinking of storylines about the Gay Delavals. One small snippet of information - you see the triangular shaped thing over the door of the church - I'm sure there's a name for it, but I don't know it - Jonathan Foyle would, I'm sure. It is a carving made in one piece in Normal times. There's a newer copy at the other end of the church, but, said our guide with a sniff of disdain, 'it was made in six pieces.'
We may be clever these days, but our ancestors had skills we've lost. There's a lead lined font from Saxon times, and two Norman arches inside. Te church is still in use today.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Henry Beaufort, Duke of Somerset

Welcome to Historical Belles and Beaus! My novels are set in fourteenth- and fifteenth-century England. I'm currently completing a novel about Margaret of Anjou.

One of my favorite aspects of writing historical fiction is doing the research and learning more about some of the fascinating figures who populate history. One of the people I had the opportunity to "meet" during researching my work in progress was Henry Beaufort, Duke of Somerset, who served Margaret of Anjou during the Wars of the Roses and met his death at a young age. Here's a blog post I did for my individual blog, Medieval Woman:

On May 15, 1464, Henry Beaufort, Duke of Somerset, fought his last battle. Defeated at Hexham and captured immediately afterward, he was beheaded that same day in Hexham’s marketplace. He was twenty-eight years old. Despite his relative youth, he left a colorful career behind him when he was buried at Hexham Abbey.

Henry, described as “nearly of full age” on March 1, 1457, was born in early 1436. His parents were Edmund Beaufort, who was later made the Duke of Somerset, and Eleanor Beauchamp, daughter of the Richard Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick, commemorated in The Beauchamp Pageant. Henry VI stood as godfather to his namesake.

In August 1450, Edmund Beaufort, having lost Normandy to the French, returned home to England in high disgrace, a state of affairs that was exploited thoroughly by Richard, Duke of York. Young Henry Beaufort, who was fourteen at the time, had been with his father in France and must have felt his father’s shame deeply.

The struggle for power between Edmund Beaufort and the Duke of York (complicated by Henry VI’s temporary lapse into insanity and the birth of a son to Margaret of Anjou) culminated on May 22, 1455, at the first battle of St. Albans, where Edmund Beaufort was slain, by one account taking four of his Yorkist opponents with him as he fought his way out of an inn where he had taken shelter. As C.A.J. Armstrong points out in “Politics and the Battle of St. Albans, 1455,” there are hints in the various accounts that Edmund was not so much as killed in the fighting as specifically targeted for assassination. Whatever the truth of this, Henry Beaufort, age 19, was also present at St. Albans (he held the title of Earl of Dorset at the time) and was so “sore hurt” that he had to be carried off in a cart. It seems likely that he would have been fighting near his father and thus witnessed his death; perhaps he incurred his serious injuries trying to save Edmund Beaufort’s life.

Following the battle, Henry Beaufort was placed in the custody of the Earl of Warwick, who had been largely responsible for the Yorkist victory at St. Albans: as William Barker wrote in June 1455, “The Erle of Dorsete is in warde with the Erle of Warrwyk” (Paston Letters). Paul Murray Kendall in Warwick the Kingmaker writes, “If [Warwick] hoped to make a friend of young Henry, he utterly failed, for the new Duke of Somerset was to spend the rest of his short life seeking vengeance.” It is unlikely, though, that Warwick took Henry into his custody to gain his friendship; more likely he viewed the young man as a threat to him. By March 8, 1456, Somerset was presumably out of Warwick’s custody, since his widowed mother was granted 200 pounds a year for his sustenance on that date.

Warwick and York had every reason to be worried about the young duke. In the first few years after St. Albans he was certainly inclined toward vengeance, which suggests that he indeed regarded his father’s death at St. Albans as a murder rather than a death in plain battle. In October 1456 at a great council at Coventry, he tried to attack York, resulting in an affray in which several watchmen were killed. Humphrey Stafford, the Duke of Buckingham, whose eldest son was married to one of Somerset's sisters, had to intervene to protect Somerset from the townspeople’s wrath. Undeterred, Somerset in December 1456 got into a staring match (“grete visagyng to gidder”) with Warwick’s younger brother, John Neville, in Cheapside, which led to the young men going off to collect reinforcements so that they could rumble together properly; this time, London’s mayor intervened before the two sides could come to blows. Probably in November 1457 (though a chronicler gives the date as 1456), Somerset and others tried to seize Warwick himself at Westminster. When Henry VI called the parties together to make peace in 1458, the long-suffering mayor of London sensibly ordered Somerset to lodge his men outside of the city, while the Yorkist lords were allowed to keep their men inside the city.

Meanwhile, Somerset had been allowed to enter his estates on March 1, 1457, shortly before he came of age. After the peace of 1458 was concluded with the famous “Loveday” procession, during which Somerset walked alongside Warwick’s father, Somerset did indeed behave himself. During the Whitsuntide celebrations of 1458, Somerset jousted before the king and queen; the other named jouster was Anthony Woodville, whose family members still were Lancastrian stalwarts at that time.

War was soon to provide Somerset with a more satisfactory outlet for his energies and his desire for revenge. After the battle of Blore Heath, Somerset’s forces tried and failed in September 1459 to intercept Warwick’s forces at Coleshill. At Ludford Bridge the next month, Somerset is said to have been instrumental in persuading Anthony Trollope and his men to desert Warwick, setting in motion the events that led Warwick and company to flee. Subsequently, Somerset was appointed Captain of Calais, the hitch being that Warwick was in Calais and was not inclined to give it up.

As Michael K. Jones points out, it was Somerset’s attempts to seize Calais from Warwick that would change his reputation from that of a young hothead to that of a determined military commander. His efforts, albeit unsuccessful, won him the respect of both Charles VII and Charles, Count of Charolais, the heir to the Duke of Burgundy.

When Somerset returned to England, he would win the battle of Wakefield and the second battle of St. Albans for Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou. The victory at St. Albans must have been a particularly sweet one for Somerset, as it was the town in which his father had been slain and he himself nearly killed six years before. His luck changed disastrously at Towton, and in 1461 he fled to Scotland with Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou.

Somerset was sent on an embassy to Charles VII in July 1461; unfortunately, when Somerset arrived in France, he found that Charles had died, leaving him to deal with his slippery heir, Louis XI, who promptly arrested Somerset. He was freed after two months. An odd story has it that when Somerset finally met with Louis XI, he took the opportunity to inform the French king that he had had a love affair with the widowed Mary of Gueldres, the Queen of Scotland, who was serving as regent for her son James III. Mary, the story goes, furious when she learned of Somerset’s tale-bearing, then conspired with her new lover, Adam Hepburn, to kill Somerset. Such locker-room boasting by Somerset seems unlikely, however, given that Somerset knew well that Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou were still dependent on Scottish aid. More likely the story was part of a later attempt by Mary's enemies to smear her reputation.

After a sojourn in Bruges in the spring and summer of 1462, during which time his household clashed with English merchants, Somerset returned to Scotland, after which the Lancastrians succeeded in seizing several English castles. Besieged by Yorkist troops at Bamburgh Castle, where he and the garrison were reduced to eating horsemeat, Somerset then entered into the strangest episode of his career: on Christmas Eve of 1462, he surrendered the castle and made his peace with Edward IV. Why he did this is unclear. He might have become convinced that the Lancastrian cause was hopeless; he might have been concerned for his younger brother Edmund, who was Edward IV’s prisoner; he might have tired of the life of a rebel.

Edward IV quickly rewarded Somerset for his desertion of the Lancastrian cause. He was given money for his expenses, and the attainder against him was reversed by Parliament in the spring of 1463. Somerset was given the honor of sharing the king’s bed (a mark of favor without sexual connotations) and went hunting with the king. His brother was released from prison. Edward even arranged a tournament in Somerset’s honor, where Somerset’s “helme was a sory hatte of strawe.”

In July 1463, Edward IV’s forces, including Somerset, began moving north to encounter the remaining Lancastrians, who despite the loss of Somerset were doggedly preparing an invasion from Scotland. Somerset, however, never made it past Northampton. While the king’s entourage was staying there, a group of townspeople attempted to murder Somerset, who had to be rescued by the king. After winning over the surly townspeople with a gift of wine, Edward IV sent Somerset to Chirk Castle, which Cardinal Beaufort had acquired some years before. By late November 1463, Somerset had returned to the Lancastrian fold.

Why did Somerset desert Edward IV? It seems unlikely that he planned to do this all along. Michael Jones and Malcolm Underwood suggest that he was unnerved by the attack on him at Northampton, while Michael Hicks suggests that he was motivated by a sense of allegiance to Henry VI. Probably Somerset also felt isolated at Chirk, far from the royal favor he had enjoyed just months before. Whatever his motive, it was certainly not a desire to be on the side that was winning or to gain a material advantage, for the fortunes of the House of Lancaster were dismal at the time: the Scottish invasion had failed miserably, as had Margaret of Anjou’s efforts to obtain foreign assistance. With a truce being negotiated between England and Scotland, Henry VI would soon lose his Scottish refuge, and Margaret of Anjou was living an impoverished existence in one of her father’s castles. Somerset would also have certainly guessed that his chances of surviving if he fell again into Edward IV’s hands were extremely slim.

Having made his decision to trade the comforts of Chirk Castle for the uncertainty of life as a rebel, Somerset set off from Chirk with the intent of taking over Newcastle, which Edward IV had sent some of Somerset’s entourage to garrison following the Northampton incident. Somerset, however, was recognized at Durham, and, the story goes, was nearly taken in his bed but escaped in his shirt and barefoot. He eventually made it safely to Northumberland, where by December 8 Henry VI was staying at Bamburgh Castle.

Somerset’s change of heart temporarily revitalized the Lancastrian cause, but in fact Somerset’s share in it had just a few months left to run. When John Neville, now Lord Montagu, went to escort some Scottish envoys for further peace talks at York, he was attacked on April 25, 1464, at Hedgeley Moor by Somerset’s forces. Montagu’s men killed Sir Ralph Percy, scattering Somerset’s men. Meanwhile, Edward IV was mobilizing men to crush the rebellion in the north for good. It turned out, however, that only Montagu was needed for the task. He surprised Somerset’s men near Hexham on May 15, 1464. Somerset was captured and taken to Hexham, where he was beheaded that same day. Over the next few days, around thirty other men would be rounded up and executed. Less than two weeks later, Edward IV rewarded the industrious Montagu with the earldom of Northumberland.

Somerset was buried at Hexham Abbey, although the location of his grave is unknown. His half-brother, Thomas Ros, nine years older than Somerset, had served the Lancastrian cause consistently and had often fought alongside Somerset. The battle of Hexham was no exception. Having been captured in a wood after Hexham, Ros was executed at Newcastle on May 17, 1464. He was buried at Hexham; it’s pleasant to think that he might have asked to be interred near his younger brother.

Somerset left one remembrance when he died: at some point he had acquired a mistress, Joan Hill, who presented him with a bastard son, Charles, around 1460. Joan was granted an annuity by Henry VII in 1493, but otherwise nothing seems to be known about her. Charles Somerset was raised in exile in Flanders and in France; judging from his later career, someone took the trouble after his father’s execution to make certain that he was given the training suitable for a nobleman’s son. Like those of so many other exiles, his fortunes changed in 1485 with the invasion of Henry Tudor. Knighted at Milford Haven on August 7, 1485, he served both Henry VII and Henry VIII as an administrator, a diplomat, and a soldier and was made the Earl of Worcester in 1514. The magnificence of the Field of the Cloth of Gold was largely a product of his organizational flair. He died on April 25, 1526, and was buried in St George's Chapel, Windsor. In 1492, he had married an heiress, Elizabeth Herbert, the daughter of William Herbert, Earl of Huntingdon, and Mary Woodville (a sister of Elizabeth Woodville). From Charles and Elizabeth—and, of course, from Henry Beaufort and his obscure mistress—descend the present-day Dukes of Beaufort.

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