Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Right to Reply - The Seventeenth Century

In the last of the current series of Right to Reply, I gathered three authors who write about the 17th Century and asked them some questions. Would they agree? Or at least agree to disagree? It's a full and lively debate...
Welcome Cryssa Bazos, Deborah Swift, and Jemahl Evans.

Firstly may I ask,
Who do you think is the greatest 17th century character, and why?

Cryssa: I’m entirely besotted with Charles II. Most know him as the Merry Monarch for the wild, decadent court he kept and his many, many mistresses. But we run the risk of underestimating the man if we allow ourselves to be distracted by the sexuality and not give him some due beyond the bedchamber.

Charles grew up during a very turbulent time, when his father, King Charles I, was at war with Parliament. Years later, when he was trying to reclaim his father’s crown, even through to the Restoration, he had to cut some controversial pacts to survive. He was blessed with a very different temperament than his father: more decisive, willing to compromise, and he valued loyalty above all else. 

Charles II in exile

It was this Charles’s sense of loyalty that draws me to him (that and his dry humour). After his devastating loss at the Battle of Worcester, when there was a £1000 bounty on his head, common people risked their lives to hide him and rewarded them for it during the Restoration. 

Oddly, for one that prized loyalty, he had no quibbles about openly cheating on his Queen, Catherine of Braganza. Yet when you look closely at that relationship, one can argue that he did show her a loyalty that many kings would not have extended to a barren queen. Instead of putting her aside for not producing a legitimate heir, he stayed married to her. Granted, having your husband’s mistresses (especially the obnoxious ones) being paraded in court is no joy, but the prospects of dispossessed barren queen would have been grim.

There is much speculation as to why Charles converted to Catholicism. He did make a secret pact with France, promising to convert in exchange for their badly needed financial support. In a true skirting-of-the-line fashion, Charles did…on his deathbed. Why? Was it only to fulfil a political promise? Some speculate on a number of other reasons, namely to pave the way for his brother and heir who was openly Catholic. Many suggest that he truly believed in Catholicism but didn’t dare convert before. I don’t believe he cared for one religion or another, but he did love his brother, and I believe it was his loyalty to him that served as the prime motivation for his conversion. 

Deborah: Although Charles II was undoubtedly influential – he probably couldn’t avoid it, being the King. My choice would be a commoner; a woman born at six in the evening on Saturday 2nd February 1650. We don’t know exactly where, but as her mother was an alcoholic and ran a bawdy house, it was probably a bit of a hovel. I’m talking about Nell Gwyn. 

If you ask anybody the name of a woman from the 17th century, she is nearly always the first on people’s lips because she transcended class and gender barriers to become a familiar figure at court. She slept her way to the top, I hear you say. Ah, but then she stayed there. As an ordinary commoner she must have been extremely intelligent to survive life in Charles’s court, where other pretty women of more noble birth were also vying for his attention. 

Nell - portrait attr to Mary Beale

One of the things that appeals to me about Nell Gwynn is that she was a comedienne, famous for her quick wit. And she would have needed it; for her affair with the King lasted 17 years – all through the Plague, the Great Fire, endless possible political revolts, and a war with the Dutch. She had the ear of the King for a good amount of time, and bore him a son, so her influence was to bring him the voice of the people. She was, in today’s media parlance, the people’s princess, far more popular than the Queen or any of his other high-born mistresses.

Her fame must have shown many other women that it was possible to rise above your rank; that wit and a sense of humour were as important as your appearance, and that having a profession was something a woman could do. She was one of the first female actresses and made her first recorded appearance in 1665, in Dryden’s play The Indian Emperor, and all who saw her noted her vibrant personality. Pepys called her a ‘mighty pretty soul’. But I think the Encyclopaedia Britannica nailed it; the entry called her ‘the living antithesis of puritanism’ - in other words she embodies the spirit of the Restoration in a way no other figure can.

Jemahl: Sweet Nelly would be nothing without Aphra or Dryden’s words, whatever her undoubted charms, and I have never been overly impressed with the merry monarch. I think Rochester sums up the pair of them.
"For though in her he settles well his tarse,Yet his dull, graceless bollocks hang an arse.This you'd believe, had I but time to tell ye,The pains it costs to poor, laborious Nelly."
The individual who dominates the age more than any other, who casts a long shadow over the next two hundred years, and who gave Charles II nightmares all his life, is Oliver Cromwell. Cromwell embodies both the rising prosperity of the middle classes and the religious division of the age, and, perversely for a dictator, he gave us parliamentary supremacy with one swift blow of an axe. He is a colossus of history, perhaps one of the most important figures of any age let alone the seventeenth century. For historians who subscribe to the great man theory he single-handed changed the course of British and world history. Historians of the left, who ascribe change to greater processes than individual action, recognise him as a fulcrum for class war, revolution, and the end of feudalism. 

His victory in the civil wars – whatever Fairfax’s role – and his rule as Protector fixed a fault-line of Roundhead and Cavalier, radical and reactionary, that is still central to British politics today.  It was the memory of Cromwell that forced the Royalist Stuart High Tories to accept the Glorious Revolution rather than a return to the republic or another civil war. 

Cromwell’s fight for the Good Old Cause of no taxation without representation was exported to the colonies and drove the founding of the United States. A century after the Glorious Revolution, as the Marquis de Lafayette strode through the halls of Versailles to ‘escort’ the French King and Queen back to Paris, one lady in waiting was heard to mutter: ‘There goes Cromwell!’ The hero of the American revolutionary war turned and replied: ‘Madam, if I were Cromwell I would have brought more men.’ Louis XVI just like Charles I lost his head. Cromwell was the king-killer that inspired America, France, and Russia to revolution and changed the world. So for me, Oliver Cromwell, war winning general, regicide, sanctimonious bully, iconoclast and religious fanatic is the most important individual of the seventeenth century – warts an’ all.

Which was the most significant event of the century, and why?

Cryssa: On August 22, 1642, King Charles I raised his standard at Nottingham, essentially declaring war against Parliament. This would mark the beginning of the English Civil War that lasted loosely from 1642 until 1651.  This wasn’t the first time that civil war broke out in England: the struggle between Empress Matilda and King Stephen, known as the Anarchy, and the War of the Roses are famous examples. 

But what made the 17th century civil war different was that this wasn’t a dynastic struggle between royal houses for the crown; this was a struggle for Parliamentary and religious reform. Putting this in context, this was a revolutionary concept. The King was traditionally God’s divine representative, head of the church and absolute ruler of the state. What this civil war represented was a seismic shift in thinking toward the rights and freedoms of all men. As is common with all revolutions, the pendulum swung too far and I believe that once the king was executed and Parliament was in charge of the country, they lost sight of what they were fighting for and set up Cromwell as a de facto king. But the seeds for Parliamentary reform were well sown. Even though the monarchy was restored in 1660, its archaic state would not prevail. By the end of the 17th century, England had morphed into the constitutional monarchy in place today. 

Deborah: I totally agree about the English Civil Wars, but I also think that one of the things that makes the 17th century so interesting is the sheer amount of rebellion against the established Church. English dissenters opposed government control of their worship and founded new churches which had no priest or intermediary between the congregation and God. Wikipedia has this list of sects: Anabaptists, Barrowists, Brownists, Diggers, Enthusiasts, Familists, Fifth Monarchists, Grindletonians, Levellers, Muggletonians, Puritans, Philadelphians, Quakers, Ranters, Sabbatarians, Seekers, and Socinians. And they were the ones that were best documented - this engraving shows several others.

This points to a level of confusion in belief which shows a great questioning at the heart of society, at least equal to that of how we should be governed. And that is, what is our relationship with God, and therefore, how should we behave? The ramifications of that discussion sent pilgrims to America, without whom America would be a radically different place today.

Jemahl: At some point in 1666 in a Lincolnshire garden, an apple fell from a tree. The innocuous event was observed by a young scientist who had been struggling with lunar orbits, and the forces that bound the cosmos together. Something clicked in Isaac Newton’s head, and the theory of a universal gravitational field was conceived.

Isaac Newton

OK, the date is unclear and the story may be apocryphal (Newton himself did talk about it though, so... haters gonna hate). He certainly didn’t come up with his theory there and then in the garden. It took another twenty years of theorising and calculating before Newton published Principia in 1687. It instantly became recognised as a ‘masterpiece’ of science, unsurpassed until Einstein and General Relativity or Darwin and Evolution. It was the basis of the scientific revolution that propelled human society towards industrialisation and modernity. A breath of wind, an apple falls, and the world is changed forever; chaos theory in action.

You're in a civil war battle - which is your weapon of choice, and why?

Cryssa: Stylishly, I have a thing for doglock pistols, but for practicality and self-preservation on the battlefield, give me a matchlock musket. The accuracy wasn’t terribly good, and you couldn’t just fire off multiple rounds like the Terminator, but when you didn’t have enough time to reload, the butt end doubled as an effective, if not brutal, weapon in its own right—a two for one deal. 

Deborah: My weapon of choice would be a swept hilt rapier – nice and light for a woman my size. Also, this is personal – one of my books is about a woman learning to fight at a sword school in Spain, and I did a lot of research! What impressed me the most was the sheer craftsmanship of producing a sword. It meant life or death, so they were made with immense care. 

The taking of iron ore and blending it by hand to make steel alloy and then folding and beating the metal to make a blade. The quenching of the red-hot blade – the sound of the hammer, the hiss of steam were familiar in the 17th century. The hilt was often made by a different man from the bladesmith. In a duel or a fight, the twisting quillons(or bars) of the hilt were able to snag an opponent’s blade which might open his guard, so you could make a counter-thrust with a dagger. Often a dagger and sword were used together, or a cloak and dagger.

17th Century Rapier

Of course I would have to play dirty and approach Cryssa from behind because I wouldn’t stand much chance against her gun. Though I hear tell there have been quite a few 17th century accidents with gunpowder…

Jemahl: I would probably have gone to Italy for the duration of the Civil War, but if misfortune found me on a seventeenth century battlefield, I think I would be with Deborah – although I would also want a horse to get away as quickly as I could. A battle is a horrible place to be, and fundamentally I’m a coward.


Cryssa Bazos is a writer and 17th century enthusiast. Her historical fiction novel, Traitor’s Knot, a romantic tale of adventure set during the English Civil War, will be published by Endeavour Press, UK. Traitor’s Knot is the first in a series of adventures spanning from the ECW to the Restoration (Road to the Restoration).
Find her on her website

Deborah Swift is an historical novelist. Before publishing her first novel Deborah worked as a set and costume designer for film and TV. She also developed a degree course in Theatre Arts at the Arden School of Theatre, where she taught scenography and the history of design.  In 2007 she took an MA in Creative Writing at Lancaster University, and since then has juggled writing with teaching. Find her on her website

Jemahl Evans was brought up in a West Wales mining village during the 70s and 80s and educated in Christ College Brecon, St Mary’s University College (Strawberry Hill), and U.W.E. Bristol. He graduated with an MA in History. His interest in the English Civil War was sparked as a child, after reading Simon by Rosemary Sutcliffe, which is probably why his sympathies lie with Parliament! Find him on his website

Monday, 15 May 2017

Writing to music - Wayne Turmel

This year, I've invited a number of fellow authors to talk about music, writing, and writing to music. This month, I hand the page over to Wayne Turmel, author of Acre's Bastard and The Count of the Sahara, as well as several non-fiction titles. Acre's Bastard has recently been awarded a Chill with a Book Readers' Award.
Over To Wayne:~

"The Rolling Stones are Responsible for My History Obsession.

It’s all Keith Richards’ fault. Seriously. If you hate my books, blame him.

What do a bunch of aging rock and rollers have to do with 1920s archaeology or a little kid caught in the madness of a religious war? The Rolling Stones started all this. I mean, it’s not like blaming them for Altamont, but they bear their share of the responsibility.

Maybe I’d better explain.

When I was a kid growing up in Canada, I really liked the Rolling Stones. I thought they were bad-ass and edgy and I just plain liked their sound more than a lot of the other bands out there. So, of course, I read and listened to everything they said and did. Yeah, my folks were every bit as thrilled with that as you imagine.
Sympathy for the Devil - The Rolling Stones (Youtube)
One thing that intrigued me was their constant talk of Muddy Waters, and Little Walter, and Robert Johnson and a bunch of other names that weren’t exactly spoken of in the lily-white, rural parts of British Columbia. That, of course, sent me on a quest to learn more about them. Before long, I was the only kid in my school who knew what a Howlin’ Wolf was, or why Willy Dixon mattered, and why Chicago was more than just the home of the Blackhawks and Cubs.

Howlin' Wolf 1972.JPG
Howlin' Wolf performing in 1972

So what does that have to do with my writing? Early on I developed the habit of finding something I liked, and working backwards (sometimes obsessively) to see where it came from. Just as “Jumping Jack Flash,” introduced me to BB King, Robert Ludlum and John Le Carre were the gateway drug to Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky. Further digging led me deeper to Sholokhov and Pasternak and so on.
Jumpin Jack Flash - The Rolling Stones (Youtube)
As a nerdy kid, I loved Ivanhoe and Robin Hood, and the Crusades played a role in the background of all those stories. So I researched it and became a bit of a Templar geek. To this day, I believe swords are cooler than guns. Then when I stood in Jerusalem looking at the ruins of the Hospital of St John the question “what the @##@% were they thinking?” came up and… I had to find out what the @#$@% they were thinking. That, ultimately, led to my new book, Acre’s Bastard.

So I hope that when you read The Count of the Sahara, you find yourself tracking down Byron de Prorok. When you read Acre’s Bastard, you look at exactly why the Franks thought it was a good idea to head out in July without sufficient water to fight people used to the desert. You’ll also see the frightening parallels between what poor Lucca goes through and what’s happening in Aleppo and the rest of Syria.

Basically, you can blame Keith, Mick and the lads for my habit of hearing something and feeling obliged to follow it down the rabbit hole. I know that other people who love history and historical fiction do the same.

I’m pretty sure they’re also the reason I’m a Hoochie Coochie Man, but that’s another story altogether."
Hoochie Coochie Man - Muddy Waters (Youtube)


Wayne Turmel is a writer, speaker and entrepreneur based in the Chicago area. He’s the author of 6 non-fiction books, including “Meet Like You Mean It- a Leader's Guide to Painless and Productive Virtual Meetings” and two historical fiction novels, “The Count of the Sahara” and “Acre’s Bastard.” 

His motto is: Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it. The rest of us are doomed too, but get to smile smugly and say 'told you so'.

You can learn more about him at www.WayneTurmel.com

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

On Anglo-Saxon Marriage

Tradition has it that it wasn't much fun being a married woman in medieval times. Novels and films often lead us to believe that men were entitled to beat their wives, that women had no say in whom they married, that all their property belonged to their husbands etc etc... Was this true, and more pertinently, was it true for the Anglo-Saxon period?

A document, Concerning the betrothal of  a woman, suggests that it was not.
"If a man wishes to betroth a maiden or a widow, and it so pleases her and her kinsmen..."
It seems that the woman herself had to accept the suitor before the betrothal can proceed. Furthermore:
"The bridegroom is to announce what he grants her in return for her acceptance of his suit, and what he grants her if she should live longer than he... then it is right that she should be entitled to half the goods - and to all, if they have a child together - unless she marries again... he is to strengthen what he promises with a pledge, and his friends are to stand surety for it."
Clearly, whatever she is granted is guaranteed, and is hers to keep if they have a child together. It seems like quite a civilised arrangement, affording her a little bit of financial security.

The document bears no date, but it has been suggested that it probably dates from somewhere between 975 and 1030.

What other sources can shed light on the property rights of married women?

A marriage agreement between Wulfric and Archbishop Wulfstan's sister, dated somewhere between 1014-16, seems to confirm the guaranteed grants.
"He gave her the land at Alton to give and to grant to whomsoever she pleased during her lifetime or after her death."

An Old English agreement from Kent, dated between 1016-20, explains that, when Godwine wooed Brihtic's daughter,
"He gave her a pound's weight of gold in return for her acceptance of his suit, and he granted her the land at Street with everything that belongs to it, and 150 acres at Burmarsh and in addition 30 oxen,  and 20 cows, and 10 horses and 10 slaves."
and makes clear that: 
"Every trustworthy man in Kent and Sussex, thegn or ceorl, is aware of these terms."
These are agreements between families. What can the lawcodes tell us?

The laws of Ethelbert of Kent 602-603 decree that: 
"If anyone lies with a maiden belonging to the king, he is to pay 50 shillings compensation. If it is a grinding slave, he is to pay 25 shillings; if a slave of the third class, 12 shillings."
So, not too helpful, except to tell us that slaves had varying value. Although later in the same code we learn that:
"If a freeman lies with the wife of another freeman, he is to atone with his wergild*, and to obtain another wife with his own money, and bring her to the other's home." 
Oh dear; definitely a case of 'spoil my property, bring me a new one.'

And yet, we read that,  
"If anyone buys a maiden, she is to be bought with a bride payment." 
And that, 
"If she bears a living child, she is to have half the goods, if the husband dies first. If she wishes to go away with the children, she is to have half the goods." 
But, if anyone,
"carries off a maiden by force, he is to pay to the owner 50 shillings."

The later laws of Kent (673-685) dictate that:
"If a husband dies leaving wife and child, it is right that the child should accompany the mother, and he is to be given one of his paternal kinsman as a willing protector."

Wihtred of Kent's laws (695) declare that: 
"foreigners, if they will not regularise their marriages, are to depart from the land with their good and their sins."
No doubt this is a reference to religion and law, rather than any protective prescription for women.

Alfred's laws in the ninth-century seem to suggest that any affront to women is actually an insult to the men who 'own' them: 
"And a man may fight without incurring a vendetta if he finds another man with his wedded wife, within closed doors or under the same blanket, or with his legitimate daughter or his legitimate sister, or with his mother who was given as a lawful wife to his father."
But his laws also place special emphasis on the pregnant woman: 
"If a woman with child is slain when she is bearing the child, the woman is to be paid for with full payment  and the child at half payment  according to the wergild of the father's kin."
"If anyone rapes a girl not of age, that is to be the same compensation as for an adult."

King Æthelred the Unready's code of 1008 mentions that:
"Each widow is to remain unmarried for twelve months; she is then to choose what she herself will."
This suggests that a woman had a fair amount of choice, dispelling the notion that women were married off for monetary or political gain.

It's fair to say that the codes are mainly concerned with law, property, punishment, thievery, murder and rules of trade, as well as observance of holy law. But these women do get a mention. They are at least considered, and they do have rights.

Although, in the laws of Cnut, a man committing adultery is to pay compensation for it, according to the deed,  but if a woman commits adultery during her husband's lifetime  she becomes a public disgrace, forfeits her goods, and loses her nose and ears. So there's a little disparity there...

But if any man dies intestate, the property  is to be: 
"Very justly divided among the wife, the children and the close kinsmen, each in the proportion that belongs to them."
Cnut's laws also expand on Æthelred's, concerning the widow who remains unmarried for twelve months, decreeing that if she remarries, she forfeits the morning-gift and other possessions obtained through her first marriage. But,
"A widow is never to be consecrated as a nun too hastily" 
"neither a widow nor a maiden is ever to be forced to marry a man whom she herself dislikes, nor to be given for money, unless he chooses to give anything of his own freewill."
So, by the 1020s at least, women could be safe in the knowledge that they could not be forced into marriage, or into a convent.

But I'll close with this last little nugget. If a man brings stolen property into the house, unless it is under the wife's lock and key, she is not deemed guilty. But, 
"she must look after the keys of the following: namely  her store-room, her chest  and her coffer." 
If the stolen property is found in any of these, she's guilty.

Imagine the eleventh-century housewife's frustration, though, that: 
"No wife can forbid  her husband to place inside his cottage  what he pleases."
After the equivalent of a late-night drunken internet shopping spree:-

"Wulfgar, tidy up that 'bargain second-hand shield, one careless owner, slight spear damage'. And no, you can't put it in my coffer."

"Well, it'll just have to stay on the table, right next to the relic of St John the Baptist's foot, 'only three left in stock'. And there's nothing you can do about it." 

*Wergild - essentially a 'man-price': the value of a life, depending on rank

Other related posts:
Anglo-Saxon Names
Wulfric Spott: A Mercian Man of Means
A Brother Receives a Letter - and a Telling-Off

Thursday, 4 May 2017

Review/Interview: House of Shadows - Pamela Hartshorne

This month's featured novel is a time-slip/dual timeline story from Pamela Hartshorne - House of Shadows

After a haphazard career working and travelling around the world Pamela Hartshorne first stumbled into writing as a way to fund a Ph.D. in Medieval Studies at the University of York. Twenty years, 60 romances and one Ph.D. later, she stepped out of her comfort zone and began writing 'time slip' novels that drew on her research into the streets of Elizabethan York.

Time’s Echo, published by Pan Macmillan in 2012, was her first mainstream novel. It was followed by The Memory of Midnight, published in 2013, The Edge of Dark in 2014 and House of Shadows in 2016.  Her next book, The Cursed Wife, will be out in February 2018.

She still lives in York and continues to work on the local court records that formed the basis of her PhD research, juggling historical fact with historical fiction in her novels. She is also a freelance writer, editor and project editor. She's fascinated by the relationship between the past and the present and has always enjoyed 'time slip' novels and how they explore the possibility that it might be possible to go back in time and see what it was "really like". As a trained historian, she knows that could never be possible, but as a storyteller, she finds the premise irresistible ...

She is always delighted to make contact with readers and fellow history enthusiasts. You can find out more about her on her website www.pamelahartshorne.com or get in touch on Facebook or Twitter @PamHartshorne - She'd love to hear from you!

"What's your first memory? Mine is of darkness, of weightlessness, of waiting. A stir of awareness, a drifting up towards consciousness only to sink back into nothingness."
That opening line drew me in, and kept me hooked. Kate can't remember who she is, or where she is. But she dreams. She dreams another life, that she is another person. House of Shadows presents so many questions, not least of which is 'which house is the house with the shadows?' Kate can't remember her accident, but she gradually 'remembers' more and more about Isabel's life, even though Isabel lived and died in the Tudor period. 

This book offers a little of everything: the modern day scenes are realistic, drawn using authentic dialogue, as are the scenes set in Tudor times. There is mystery, there is menace, and there is tender human emotion. I thought I had worked out the mystery, when right at the end the author wound another twist into the intricate plot. 

As we gradually find out what happened to Isabel - and here the author uses a brilliant technique of letting us, the reader, in on the secrets before Isabel discovers the truth - we also join Kate as she unravels the truth about life in Askerby Hall in the present day, where here, too, all is not as it seems. Like Kate, we do not know who is to be trusted, and the author skilfully ratchets up the tension. 

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and can't wait to read more of Pamela's books. After I'd read it, I put a few questions to her:

Where did the idea for the Tudor part of the story come from? Is any of it based on real life events?

PH: No, it’s all made up!  After three novels set in Elizabethan York, I originally intended that my fourth book would be set in London, but for some reason the idea of a great house on the moors took hold and wouldn’t be shaken free. I’ve always been drawn to the idea of a trauma causing a collision between the past and the present: in Time’s Echo, it’s near drowning; in The Memory of Midnight it’s suffocation; and in The Edge of Dark it’s fire.

So when it came to House of Shadows, I chose a different fear.  This time the traumatic event is a fall from a great height: what would be the highest one could fall in the sixteenth century? It seemed to me that I needed a tower, and then of course I had to ask what my character was doing on top of a tower. Did they fall or were they pushed? For me, plotting is all about asking questions, and letting the characters answer them …

Is Askerby Hall based on a real location? And if so, is it a house which is open to the public?

The house is based in part on beautiful Burton Agnes Hall, an Elizabethan mansion that has been in the same family for 400 years – although I hope that family bear no resemblance to the Vavasours! Burton Agnes is in the Yorkshire Wolds, not far from Bridlington, but one of the great things about writing fiction is that I was able to move it and drop it in the North York Moors, somewhere in the vicinity of Lastingham, and I endowed it with a couple of sinister towers remarkably like those at the weird and wonderful Chillingham Castle.

As for Crabbersett, the house where Isabel and Judith grew up, that’s based very much on Cotehele, a gorgeously atmospheric National Trust property in Cornwall.

If you’re interested, you can see photos of all these places on my blog 

When readers have read and enjoyed this book, which of your others would you recommend they go to next?

Time’s Echo, The Memory of Midnight and The Edge of Dark are all ‘time slips’ set partly in the present and partly in the sixteenth century, and like House of Shadows, they all explore the relationship between the past and the present.

Buy House of Shadows