Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Regency Hygiene, or the Lack Thereof, Part II: Beau Brummell

George Bryan "Beau" Brummell (1778-1840) almost single-handedly brought frequent bathing into vogue in the Regency. The son of a clerk, he was not particularly distinguished for his good looks, education or connection. But he was always very neat, his clothes were a masterpiece of simple elegance, and both his garments and his body were always spotless.

Brummell insisted that a gentleman be clean--clean as in total body immersion in water. His efforts succeeded in part because he had gained the favor of the crown prince, George, later the prince regent. When Brummell converted the prince, the upper classes followed, with the lower orders not far behind.

Brummell turned personal hygiene into an art form. He was famous for his daily three-hour regimen of scrubbing every part of his body, removing all the hair from his face, and then wrapping himself in immaculate, simple clothes that were the antithesis of the male fashions of the previous fifty years. Although his manner of dress was at first called "dandyism", Brummell created the masculine attire we still use today: shirt, tie, jacket and trousers, all well-tailored, on a meticulously clean body.

When he was born, the standard of male beauty consisted of a wardrobe of costly, brightly-colored fabrics, powdered hair or wig, makeup (yes the men wore makeup) and high-heeled shoes. All over a dirty body and filthy hair, both heavily doused with perfume in an attempt to mask, usually unsuccessfully, massive body odor due to infrequent bathing. See previous post.

As an example, these stills from the 2006 BBC production Beau Brummell: This Charming Man show (left), the Prince of Wales before Brummell's influence, and (right), afterwards.

Brummell was not the first proponent of cleanliness. The return to bathing had started before he was born. In the mid 1700's, Philip Stanhope, the fourth Earl of Chesterfield, wrote a famous series of letters to his son emphasizing personal hygiene. In France, Jean-Jacque Rousseau extolled cleanliness in his novel, Emile, or On Education (1762), although he personally was not that fastidious.

But the English considered anything French suspicious, and they turned to copious amounts of soap and water only when the consummately British Brummell arrived on the scene.

Brummell's story did not end happily. He fell out with his patron, the Prince of Wales. Afterwards, his gambling debts forced him to flee to France, where he spent the rest of his life. His gambling debts increased as his health declined. He died at sixty-two due to the complications of tertiary syphilis.

Today, we remember Brummell as a male fashion plate. In time, advances in science and the wider availability of soap and hot water cleaned up a world mired in dirt. But Beau Brummell hastened that day by making cleanliness fashionable.

Thank you all,
Linda Banche
Welcome to My World of Historical Hilarity!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Why not Avebury?

Photo of Avebury by Jim Champion (from Wikimedia Commons)
I've recently been watching and enjoying two UK TV series about the early pre-history of Britain (Neil Oliver's and Bettany Hughes's), and they brought back memories of stone circles. Not of Stonehenge, however, but of Avebury, where we spent some time when I was writing Bronze Lightning. I took my heroine Sarmatia to Avebury and used the powerful setting for some of the pivotal scenes in the story.

As a place Avebury remains impressive and intriguing, despite the ravages of time and the deliberate vandalism of some of the huge stones. It’s older than Stonehenge and much bigger, incorporating several circles, avenues and barrows. The ditch was dug by red deer antler picks and was 30 feet deep. Its proximity to the West Kennet long barrow and Silbury Hill, the largest man-made mound in Europe, has led some archaeologists to speculate that this is a vast ritual site.

I've noticed, though, that the star status of Stonehenge has tended to put Avebury a bit in the shade. Is it because the massive stones don't have lintels? Or because the tiny village of Avebury has grown up within the site and so it doesn't appear as broodingly untouched?

Anyway, when we were there, it seems ages ago now, there was a white pheasant squawking in the village, a flight of old Lancaster bombers flew over to mark a wartime anniversary and the chimney of the cottage had a birds' nest in it. I have a soft spot for Avebury.


Monday, March 21, 2011

The King's Highway

Loaded by Jen Black

The roads in Tudor times were designed to get people to market. Where no towns existed, there were only rough tracks. Most people travelled on foot. Since fresh produce did not travel well, carts carried fruit and vegetables only short distances. Meat always travelled on the hoof, some of them great distances via the ancient drove roads.
People who were very old or ill sometimes travelled in a litter, either horse-drawn or carried by servants, but there were no coaches or carriages. The first coach in England was built for the Earl of Rutland by a Dutchman, Walter Rippon, in 1555. In 1564 he built one for Queen Elizabeth, but they were not common until the seventeenth century.
Couriers and government officials, pilgrims, scholars and merchants travelled great distances, but many English never left the parish in which they were born. Others did, and risked arrest and a flogging if they left their parish without a licence from the authorities and a good reason for travelling.
The foot traveller hoped to make twenty miles a day, and it was rare for an ordinary horseman to cover more than thirty. In bad weather, hilly or flooded country, the distance could be reduced to fifteen miles or less. Heavy wheeled carts wrecked roads and tracks alike, and without attention in a thousand years, the Roman roads were disintegrating.

During Mary and Elizabeth’s reign, some roads were paved. Four long-distance roads were maintained: The Great North Road from London through Durham, Newcastle and Alnwick to Berwick-on-Tweed, Dunbar, Haddington and on into Edinburgh. (During my childhood in Durham, Silver Street was still called the Great North Road). Watling Street ran from London to Chester, taking travellers to Ireland; Dover Road ran from Dover to London; and the great road from London to Exeter and on to Plymouth. Beyond Plymouth, the traveller went by tracks and byways.

The King’s messengers used relays of fresh horses kept at staging posts twenty miles apart on these four roads, and they covered much greater distances than the ordinary traveller. The Great North Road was one of only six north of York. One went from Newcastle to Otterburn across the Cheviots to Jedburgh. It was the shortest route to Edinburgh, but inhabited by reivers and bandits who killed and robbed on either side of the Border. The King’s Street ran north from Lancaster to Penrith and Carlisle. Two roads went from east to west – from York to Catterick Bridge and Penrith, and the Newcastle to Carlisle road through Hexham and Haltwhistle along the north bank of the Tyne. The sixth road ran from York to the port of Scarborough which carried on a busy trade with Scandinavia.
The journey from London to Edinburgh took the normal traveller fourteen days at thirty miles a day. Messengers riding post could do it in five. The seventy miles of the Dover road could be done in two days, but the fit and strong courier could do it in a day. The 215 mile journey to Plymouth took the ordinary traveller a week; couriers thirty-six hours.
By contrast, when Henry and Elizabeth travelled ‘on progress,’ they rarely covered more than ten miles a day. Henry went to France, but he never travelled further north than York, and to that city only once. But there was one good thing about the scarcity of roads: you could be reasonably sure of meeting someone on a certain road on any given day.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Charles IX of France

Writing about the Valois was fascinating as they were such a troubled family. All Catherine’s sons seemed to be blighted, probably as a result of inherent syphilis, and all suffered from consumption. Yet they were highly intelligent, well educated, and with the exception of poor Alen├žon, good looking. Their tutor was the Humanist Jacques Amyot. He wrote poetry and a work on hunting, and his happiest moments were when he would sit up late into the night talking to writers and musicians. On these occasions he would be entirely calm and content.

Charles IX was the most sensitive of the brothers, often emotional and easily moved to tears by a poem or a sermon. He loved hunting and all field-sports but was weak and unstable. If his wishes were thwarted by the smallest degree, his golden brown eyes would grow fierce, his manner turn brusque and uncivil, which could quickly deteriorate into a temper tantrum, often caused by jealousy of his brother Anjou.

Catherine controlled his every waking hour. The time he must rise, insisting that once in his chemise, the lords and nobles, gentlemen of the bedchamber and his man-servants should be allowed in for the King’s lever, as was the custom in his father’s day. After this came council business and dispatches until ten, when he was expected to attend Mass. A walk before dinner, which was taken at eleven, to be followed twice a week by an audience. Time was allowed each afternoon for him to ride, joust, or perform some other sport, and he was also expected to visit the Queen Mother, and the Queen his wife, according to tradition, before preparing for supper which he took with his family.

In addition, she set out careful written instructions on how he must address his councillors, what questions to ask local governors, how to organise appointments and honours and not simply give to those who begged for favours.

He was remarkably obedient and dutiful to his mother’s wishes, which was her intention, but if Catherine pressed him too far he would fall into a rage. Even Margot, who was fond of him, could not deny that he was an odd boy. He would often sink into worrying moods of deep melancholy, stay in bed all day, or be gripped by a mad frenzy when he would don a mask, waken some of his wilder friends, and, taking lighted torches, would go on a rampage around the darkened streets of Paris. They’d call on some poor unfortunate, drag him from his bed and beat him senseless, purely for the pleasure of it. Or he might turn on his dogs or horses and thrash them instead. When the lust for violence came upon Charles, there was nothing anyone could do to stop it. The mere sight of blood seemed to both terrify and excite him. I believe this flaw in him was the reason Catherine was able to terrify into giving his support to the massacre.

Catherine accepted these flaws as she did not expect the boy to live long, and in this she was proved to be correct. When Charles ultimately succumbed to the disease that had claimed his late brother, Francis II, Anjou, Catherine’s favourite, whom she loved with an almost incestuous passion, took his place on the throne.

Charles IX only mistress was Marie Touchet (1549 - 1638) He loved and remained loyal to her for all his adult life. Besides his sister Margot, she was the only person able to control his mood swings, calming him and making him warm cinneman milk as if she were his nurse.

A pretty, gentle girl from a humble backward, she was in her late teens when she first became his mistress. She was well liked by Catherine, and when Charles married Elisabeth of Austria, fortunately his new bride had the wit to accept her as Marie created no problems. In time the two young women even became good friends. Marie bore him a son, which his wife sadly failed to do, Charles de Valois, who later became the Duke of Angoulême.

After Charles’s death, Marie married the marquis d'Entragues, Charles Balzac d'Entragues, and it was her daughter, Henriette, born in 1579, who became one of Henry IV’s most notorious mistresses. I've written about her in The Queen and the Courtesan,the last in the Marguerite de Valois trilogy which comes out in hardback in September.

Scene from Hostage Queen - in which Charles IX attempts to stand up to his mother, Catherine de Medici.

When the time came for the royal party to depart, Jeanne begged the King to allow her son to stay on an extended visit, and because Charles was soft-hearted and felt sorry for a mother being separated from her son, he readily agreed. Catherine entered the chamber just as Jeanne was thanking His Majesty for the favour.

‘What is this?’ she curtly demanded of her son, eyes cold. ‘Are you now making decisions on your own account, so soon after reaching your majority?’

Panic clouded his sensitive features, and Margot, feeling pity for the over-sensitive Charles, hurried to offer him her support. ‘I’m sure it would be but a short stay,’ she said, thinking what a relief it would be to be rid of Henry of Navarre for a while.

Charles agreed and hastily added, ‘Think how distressed I should be were we to be parted, Mother? Is it not unnatural for a family to be kept apart?

Such matters had never concerned Catherine, having rarely seen her own children as they were growing up, although she had frequently asked for portraits to be painted of them so that she could check on their progress. ‘I am sure the Queen of Navarre will think so.’

The two queens faced each other, the one furious, the other defiant. They might go through the motions of good manners and diplomacy, but they remained sworn enemies. The Queen Mother feared the lesser kingdom, with it’s strong Huguenot character, might raise an army against her with young Henry at its head.
Jeanne was afraid her precious son might be turned into a papist by the influence of the French Court and its Queen.

‘Pray leave us and permit me to discuss this delicate matter with the King.'

Jeanne curtseyed, paying the homage that was due to the other, more powerful, queen. ‘As you wish, Your Majesty, but the King has promised, and I trust him to keep his word.’

Alone with her son Catherine allowed her anger to show. ‘You had no right to make a political decision without consultation. Many factors need to be taken into account, and you do not possess the experience to make such a decision.’

Seeing how her brother’s eyes rolled back in his head, always a bad sign, Margot dared to interrupt. ‘Madame, the King is not well.’

‘Silence, girl!’

Charles clung fast to his sister, hating to be scolded. ‘I can think for myself. I am not stupid. I am the King!’
Seeing that her brother was growing agitated, Margot began to stroke his hair, trying to calm him, crooning soft words in his ear.

Catherine ground her teeth in fury. ‘Of course, and are you not the cleverest of my sons?’ It was a lie, meant to pacify him. Her beloved Henri was more brilliant in every way. ‘Yet you need good counsel in order to make wise decisions. I would not have you taken advantage of by these Protestants.’

‘I have many friends who are of the new faith, and Jeanne is my aunt. I have ever had a fondness for her.‘
There was a fever now in his gaze and a foaming at the mouth as he began to chew on his fingernails. ‘I am King! I can do as I like, and I have given my word.’

‘There are times when even a king must break a promise.’

‘No, I will not, I will not!’ Then he fell to the ground and began drumming his heels in temper. Terrified he might harm himself Margot dropped to her knees beside him, desperately trying to prevent the convulsions which would surely follow. Catherine strode from the room calling for his nurse, knowing she must relent. The King had promised that the young Prince of Navarre could stay for a short holiday with his mother, and a king’s word must be kept, even though she held the power and always would.

Hostage Queen, now available in paperback and as an ebook.

For more details about my books call in at my website www.fredalightfoot.co.uk

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A little bit about... St. Patrick

By: Stephanie Burkhart

St. Patrick was an interesting guy who helped to bring Christianity to Ireland. It's kind of hard to pin down when he was born, but it's believed he was born between 385-387 AD in Wales. He was born a pagan. When he was 16, Irish raiders kidnapped him and held him as a slave. It's believed he was held on the west coast of Ireland, near Mayo, but the exact location is unknown. While in Ireland he lived as a Shepard. It was lonely work, and Patrick turned to God for comfort. According to Patrick, God spoke to him in a dream telling him to leave Ireland. After 6 years, he escaped to Gaul where he studied and became a Christian.

In 432 AD he was called to go back to Ireland. When he returned, he helped to establish churches and schools. He used a shamrock to help teach the Holy Trinity to the people. The shamrock represented how the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit could all exist as separate elements of the same entity.

He died on 17 March 461 AD.

There can be no doubt St. Patrick left his mark on the Irish people. In 1903, Ireland made St. Patrick's Day an official public holiday.

Interesting fact: The Chicago River is dyed green in honor of St. Patrick's Day each year.

Interesting note: The shortest St. Patrick's Day parade takes places in Dripsey Cork. It's only a 100 yards (a football field!) between the town's two pubs.

Interesting myth: St. Patrick is known for driving the snakes out of Ireland, but its highly unlikely he did. The island was separated from Europe during the last ice age.

St. Patrick's jawbone was preserved in a silver shrine.

While there's not much Irish in my house, we have a good time being green for the day. My husband enjoys cooking a corned beef. My son, Andrew, gets into wearing shamrock socks and a button that says "Kiss me, I'm Irish." I'm a sucker for Bailey's Irish Cream & Harp.

I'd love to hear about your customs and traditions.

Let me leave you with a couple of Irish sayings:

There's no fireside like your fireside.

Good luck beats early rising.

A diplomat must always think twice before he says nothing.

Friday, March 11, 2011

A Profile in Courage - George VI

By Stephanie Burkhart

George VI was the right man for his times, but his life had never been easy despite his title. Recently, I saw the movie "The King's Speech." It is a brilliant peek into the personal courage that George VI embodied.

Born on a day full of heartache.

George VI was born on 14 December 1895, a great-grandson to Queen Victoria who was still on the throne. For Victoria, 14 December was the anniversary of her husband's death, Prince Albert. Unsure of how the Queen would take the news, George's parents offered to name their son Albert Fredrick Arthur George. Victoria was pleased. Interestingly, the Queen noted that "Bertie" as George VI was known by his family, was born on such a sad day, but was given a name so dear to her, it was a name that was great and good.

And Bertie would be a good king, despite the challenges he faced.

Bertie was the second son of George, Duke of York (George's father was King Edward VII, Victoria's son). Bertie's parents were not overly demonstrative, leaving their children to be raised by nannies. In "The King's Speech," Bertie tells Lionel of a particular bad nanny who used to pinch his cheeks and withhold food from him.

As a young child, Bertie suffered from ill health. He had to wear painful splints because he was knock-kneed and he developed a stammer. Left handed, young Bertie was forced to use his right.

These challenges only helped the young prince develop strong personal courage.

Bertie saw service in World War I as a midshipman in the Navy. His fellow officers referred to him as Mr. Johnson, in order to hide his identity and protect him. Later, he became involved in the Royal Air Force. After the war, he studied at Cambridge and on 4 June 1920, he was created Duke of York by his father, George V.

Then Bertie met Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyons at a children's birthday party. She gave him the glace cherry from her cake. Bertie was determined to win her heart.

While Lady Elizabeth had bloodlines going back to Robert the Bruce, she was considered a commoner by British law. Bertie pursed her wholeheartedly, but he had to buck up when she turned down his first marriage proposal. Displaying that dogged personal courage he had since birth, Bertie did not give up and finally Lady Elizabeth told him yes. They were married on 26 April 1923. In 1926, their daughter, the current Queen Elizabeth II was born.

What I find interesting about this historical tidbit, is that Bertie was given a lot of leeway from his royal parents to find a bride. Yes, Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon was a commoner, but she was beloved. Queen Elizabeth II, knowing this about her parents, had still insisted her son, Charles, find a royal bride. (dare I add one that was virginal?) If she had followed her parents' example, I suspect Charles would have been as happy as his grandfather with his marriage the first time around. Now, with Prince William posed to marry Kate Middleton, a commoner, it seems the Queen has taken history to heart.

In 1925, Bertie gave a speech at Wembly in which he couldn't hide his stammer. Knowing the people expected more from the Duke of York, he sought help from an Australian born speech therapist, Lionel Logue. Lionel worked with Bertie to help him master his stutter and by 1927, Bertie spoke with much more confidence in public. Lionel kept working with Bertie through the 30's and 40's. In 1937, now King, George VI awarded Logue with the Royal Victorian Order, which recognized distinguished personal service to one's sovereign.

Bertie loved tennis and was very physically active, but he would need all his stamina when his brother, Edward VIII abdicated the throne in 1936.

Some find Edward VIII's story romantic, some find it appalling, but Bertie's older brother abdicated to marry the love of his life, Wallis Simpson on the eve of World War II.

Bertie came to the throne and styled himself George VI. He was 41. Interestingly, he had to buy Balmoral and Sandringham from his brother since they were private properties and didn't pass to him automatically.

When World War II struck, George VI displayed his personal courage once again for all to see, staying in London during the bombing raids of the Germans. London's east end was hit hard. When two German bombs exploded in a courtyard at Buckingham Palace, George stood by his wife when she declared, "I am glad we have been bombed. Now we can look the east end in the face." The couple's profile gave Britain the morale boost it needed.

Starting in 1949, George's health started to fail. The fact he was a heavy smoker didn't help. In September 1951, his left lung was removed when a malignant tumor was discovered. He died peacefully in his sleep on 6 February 1952.

While born under the shadow of sadness, Bertie and his great-grandfather, Prince Albert, shared the trait of great personal courage. (I consider Prince Albert the ultimate "beta" male – after all, he took a backseat to his wife, Queen Victoria, at a time when men should rule the marriage. This took a lot of confidence in himself and a lot of chutzpah to look his contemporaries in the face.) This courage defined them both, invigorating a nation, and proving they were the right men for their times.

About Stephanie: She enjoys history, especially British history. Some of her favorite monarchs include; Edward IV, George II, Queen Victoria, and George VI. You can find Stephanie on the web at her blog: http://sgcardin.blogspot.com or her website at: http://www.stephanieburkhart.com

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Send more socks

I lost my day planner last week, and I've been lost without it.

So lost, in fact, that I completely forgot to post my blog yesterday when it was scheduled to run. For two days, I had the nagging feeling that I'd forgotten something...and this morning I remembered what it was.
Remains of a sewer drain at Vindolana

Sigh. Does anyone else do this?

I'm not feeling particularly stressed out at the moment, but my life is cluttered with a lot of little chores and menial worries that clearly affect my brain function.

All this, oddly enough, makes me think of the letters of Vindolanda. So rather than post what was going to, I'm just going to continue with the theme of menial stressors.

My area of study was 11th and 12th century English history, but you need to learn a lot about the entire era to master a handful of decades. As a result, I studied Roman Britain extensively, and a few years ago I was able to visit the ruins and museum of Vindolanda.

Vindolanda was a Roman fort and settlement near Hadrian's Wall. Excavations have turned up a treasure trove of daily life: shoes of all shapes and sizes, utensils, and most importantly, hundreds of small wooden tablets on which letters were written. The letters include everything from a birthday invitation to a child's writing lesson to a soldier's letter home asking for more socks.

The best, though, and an example of what must of been a really big headache to the fort's commander is the one that suggests he had to submit expense reports to Rome. (Imagine having to explain your coffee and chocolate budget to Caligula--now that's a stressor!)

So what about your time period? What type of small stressors ruined their memories?

Building's foundation and floor at Vindolanda