Sunday, 31 July 2011

Bizarre Tudor Deaths ( Part 2 of 2.)


 
THIS WEEK ONLY - A GIVEAWAY - $10 AMAZON VOUCHER - see bottom of this post for details.
[Part of the Bookhounds Blog Tour.]
Midweek, I posted about the work of Dr Gunn, a historian from Oxford University. Dr Gunn had the genius idea of reading Coroners’ Reports from the Tudor period, to find out about how people lived…and died…back then.
His research revealed that some people met their ends in surprising and, often bizarre ways; see part 1 (posted before ‘The Treasures in My Life’).


Maypole Injuries.
It seems that even such benign objects of entertainment, such as maypoles, could kill. Thomas Alsopp of Coventry, was one such victim. On 26th April 1558 he was standing near a church wall, when the maypole fell over. It hit the wall, knocking a stone out which tumbled and hit Thomas’ head, fracturing his skull and killing him instantly. Who’d have thought?
Keeping Clean is Not Always Healthy.

After working up a sweat, dancing round the maypole, cooling off meant a quick dip in the local pond. Coroners’ Reports unearthed by Dr Gunn reveal several workmen who died as a result of freshening up.

Thomas Staple a labourer in Kent, went to Mr Mayne’s pond on 2 June 1558, to clean up, but unfortunately feel into the deepest part, and being unable to swim, drowned.

That same summer, George Lee and John Joplyn, both drowned whilst bathing in rivers in Leicester and Cambridge respectively: one fell into a whirlpool, whilst the other got trapped by bushes and drowned.

Drowning in ….!

What was a ‘Gong Farmer’?

Answer: it was the Tudor name for someone whose occuptation was to empty sewage from cesspits.
You can guess what’s coming next…. Or, perhaps not!
A drunken baker from Cambridge, in the process of relieving his bladder took a step backwards and fell into a cesspit on 2 June 1523… and suffocated. Urgh!

Handguns.

The first recorded death by accidental shooting occurred in 1519. The victim was a woman from Welton, near Hull. She was shot by a French bookbinder (called Peter Frenchman!). Having never seen a gun before, the victim walked in front as it was fired….
From this initial accident it took less than forty years for ‘death by accidental shooting’ to over take the number of longbow related deaths.
By-Your-Own-Bow

In Part One, I mentioned death by bow and arrow – but this was at someone else’s hand. So how, exactly, do you shoot yourself in the head with your own bow?

This is exactly what happened in 1552 to Henry Pert, gentleman from Nottinghamshire. He drew his bow to the full extent with the intention of firing an arrow straight up in the air. The arrow lodged in the bow so he lowered the bow and leant over to take a look…at which point the arrow released. He died the next day.

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Just join this blog and leave a comment with your email address.
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The winning person’s name will be posted on the blog and the voucher emailed.

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Saturday, 30 July 2011

The Treasures in My Life....

Hello and welcome!
Today I'm taking part in the Blog-a-Licious blog tour on the theme of 'Treasures in My Life.'
Now I was tempted to post serious stuff about health, family and home...but hey...I thought I'd have a little fun instead, so here goes.
Enjoy!


CATS

Anyone vaguely acquainted with me will appreciate that I'm nuts about cats. I love 'em, can't get enough of them! Cats are a miracle of creation: the way tabby-cat coats match on both sides, the detail where their whiskers are plumbed in, retractable claws and last but not least - the purr! What a great thing a purr is! So 'cats' are right up there with the treasures in my life: too valuable to put a price on.

CHOCOLATE.

OK, chocolate. Do I really need to explain? Chocolate is one of those wonderful delights that can be as essential as medicine. A treasure to me is something that enriches life...and chocolate does that all right!  (John Lennon in chocolate - made by my eldest son.)


COMPUTORS (...and OK, cats again!)

If treasure enriches life, then so does my laptop. I'm not in the least tekky, and yet I cant live without my computor; I write on my laptop and it's a portal to people and places that are dear to me. And yes, Widget sits beside me while I write, only I try not to get up too often because she pinches the warm spot.

CREATIVITY.


This is a photo of the picture my son painted for his A level art exam. I've posted it because it represents creativity and the pleasure it brings. My eldest son's creative outlet is painting, my younger son's his is humour, mine is writing...but whichever and whatever, being able to express yourself is a jewel without price.

NIFF-NAFF AND TRIVIA.

Not all treasures are valuable - take this bracelet as an example. It wasn't expensive but I love it none-the-less. I adore how it catches the light and shines the colours of the rainbow, like water trapped in jewel form, trivial really but it pleases me. I love other trivia to, such as historical trivia...but you'll know that already if you are a regular visitor to this blog.

BOOKS!

It was a close run thing whether I posted a picture of books or my kindle! As an avid reader, books, be it DTB or electronic, are a way of life and I wouldnt be without one in my handbag or pocket. The world is a much richer place because of literature.


THE SEA

This may seem an odd chose as a 'treasure' but there's something about the sea that makes me feel good, in the same way that possessing something of great price does. For me there's a connection with the sea that can't be bought.

HOME, SWEET HOME.

Last but not least...this is the view from the door of my local Indian Restaurant. I'd strolled there one evening to collect my carry out, turned round and saw this view with fresh eyes. Now if this isnt something to treasure, what is?




I'd love to hear about the treasures in your life...please share and leave a comment.

Your next stop is Dora's blog : http://blogaliciousblogs.blogspot.com/

The other blogs taking part in this tour are:

4. Lucy - http://lifethrulucylasticaslense.blogspot.com/ 5. Karen - http://britsunited.blogspot.com
6. Shannon - http://reflectionandreview.com/ 

7.Dora - http://peacefrompieces.blogspot.com/ 
12. Catherine - http://www.catherinestine.blogspot.com/13. David - http://blog.elenchera.com
14. Stuart - http://stuartland.com/blog/
THANK YOU, GRACE X

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Bizarre Tudor Deaths


Reenlty, I read about the fascinating work of Dr Steve Gunn, from Oxford University’s faculty of history. Dr Gunn researches Tudor Coroners’ Reports to look into causes of death in the 16th century. One such example found during his research was a reference to the drowning of:

“...a Jane Shaxspere drowned aged two-and-a-half while picking corn marigolds 20 miles from Stratford-upon-Avon in 1569. Shakespeare was then about five."
With such an unusual surname it seems likely the drowned girl and William Shakespeare were cousins, which raised the intriguing question of whether Jane Shaxspere became the inspiration for Ophelia, the tragic heroine in ‘Hamlet.’
Millais' famous painting 'Ophelia' - (Picture courtesy of Tate.Org)

Dr Gunn wrote:

"Coroners’ reports of fatal accidents are a useful and hitherto under-studied way of exploring everyday life in Tudor England.”

He added:

"There are some very revealing things to come out of our project already. 'Workmen often drowned when they stripped off to bathe in rivers and ponds after work, so maybe 16th century people had more sense of hygiene than we think."

So, apart from drowning, what were some of the more unusual causes of death in Tudor England?Taken from Dr Gunn’s work, here are some of the more interesting…not to mention unusual deaths.
(Picture courtesy of MadBlackCat.com)
1 – ARCHERY
Working men were expected to be proficient in archery, in case called upon to defend the realm. Archery practice was a common pastime and Coroners’reports revealed 56 accidental deaths; resulting from people standing too close to the targets, or those whom went to collect spent arrows before the archer had finished shooting.

Coroners even reported the depth of wounds. Nicholas Wyborne holds the unwanted record for the deepest wound, he was lying near a target when he was hit by a falling arrow to a penetration of six inches.

Some deaths were more avoidable – such as Thomas Curteys who took off his hat and challenged a bowman, Richard Lyrence, to hit it….
Bear Baiting.
2 BEARS
Cruel sports, such as bear baiting, were a common entertainment in Tudor times. Henry VIII had his own royal arena built in Whitehall, for just such sports.

But the bears sometimes got the upper hand and escaped. One victim, Agnes Owen, was killed in her bed by a runaway bear, and it seems Agnes was an unlucky name because another, Agnes Rapte was killed by Lord Bergavenny’s escapee bear. Bears, however, were quite valuable and when one bit a man to death in Oxford, in 1565, the bear wasn’t killed but put into royal custody – perhaps because was worth six months’ wages for a labourer.

3 – COWS
One poor man, with the unfortunate name of Robert Calf, was gored to death by a cow. He was walking through the fields of William Cheills, in Lincolnshire, when the cow seemingly went mad, charged him and gored him to death with her horn.

4- GAMES
The unlucky John Hypper was :

"...playinge Christenmas games' on Boxing Day 1563 at about 6pm with divers other parishioners of Houghton, Hampshire in the house of Thomas Purdew of Houghton, husbandman. While playing he involuntarily crushed himself and injured his testicles so that by reason of his old bodily infirmity he became ill and languished until about 3am on 28 December when he died."

Ouch!

FOR MORE TUDOR DEATHS – VISIT AGAIN ON SUNDAY!

For more information about Dr Gunn please follow the link:
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2000581/Girl-drowned-picking-flowers-inspired-Hamlet-heroine.html#ixzz1TIWeU8oJ


With thanks to Dr Gunn, Sean Coughlan and the Daily Mail.

Monday, 25 July 2011

Welcome! Author Sophie Jordan!


I'm delighted to welcome author, Sophie Jordan, to my blog and asked award-winning author, Sophie -to describe her writing day. Over to you, Sophie!

SOPHIE SHARES HER WRITING DAY...
My ideal writing day probably involves me at a quaint cottage in the English countryside. I’ll walk the countryside in the morning and take tea (and eat some delicious pastry where the calories don’t count) at an outdoor cafĂ© in an equally quaint village with cobbled streets. I’ll return to my cottage and sit outdoors in the quintessential English garden as I write my daily page, and respond to a few emails. I’d knock my pages out in a few hours and have the rest of the day to do as I please … more walking, exploring (yes, there would be a nearby castle to investigate), probably shopping at a local outdoor farmer’s market for dinner (I love to cook!) – and the day would end with a lovely dinner with my family (in this dream I don’t have to consider where they’ve been up until now), some excellent wine, maybe a good movie. Now THAT would be a perfect day!
In reality, my life is much more chaotic. Definitely not something out of a Rosamunde Pilcher novel. The mornings are full of the demands of my children. Feeding them, dressing them, getting them ready for wherever it is I have to take them. School/preschool, if during the school year. Swim practice, gymnastics, soccer practice in the summer. Basically I do everything that your stay-at-home mom has to do, except I’m also a full-time writer – with multiple books to write/revise/edit a year. I also have several conferences and speaking engagements a year (sometimes monthly) to attend, and recently I’ve also begun book touring. And don’t let me get started on my inbox … All this I do among juggling children, chores, grocery shopping, cooking and never-ending laundry.
Essentially my day is a win if I get my latte, get in a good amount of pages written, and the family is content. Fortunately, at this point in my career, I do have an assistant to help me manage a lot of what I call the secretarial side of being a writer (the never ending emails, promotion, and constant flow of material to UPS, etc). And I must mention a supportive spouse helps more than I can say. We work as a team in this lovely madness that is my life.
Also, perhaps the greatest gift … is that I’m able to have it all. A family and the career I always wanted. I can be sitting outside a noisy gymnastics practice, but in my lap is my alphasmart and I’m escaping into this wonderful world I’ve created – like in my book Wicked In Your Arms, for instance … I am in the English countryside. With an exotic, battle-hardened prince! And a very saucy Jane Austen-ish heroine who’s going to challenge him beautifully. There’s adventure and romance. As a writer, I’m there – in it! That pretty much makes even my worst day ideal. J

BLURB for "Wicked in Your Arms."
(First in Forgotten Princesses series) Prince Sevastian Maksimi needs a wife. An heiress with the breeding and dowry to breathe life into his kingdom. After years of fighting a bloody civil war, Sev has wrested his country from revolutionaries and looks to England for a bride who will replenish both his royal coffers and the royal nursery. He knows what it’s like to put the needs of his country before his own desires. Only duty matters. Only the most acceptable female will do. Attraction does not signify … especially his vexing hunger for the bold and brazen Grier Hadley. While he cannot consider the unseemly female as a bride, the enticing chit is the only woman he wants in his bed.

The bastard daughter of a man renowned as the lord of the London underworld, Grier Hadley might possess one of the season’s plumpest dowries, but she’s a far cry from the pedigreed debutantes out to land a husband. A truth that becomes glaringly obvious when she overhears a certain prince mocking her lineage. What makes the handsome wretch think she would even want him for a husband anyway? He might, however, be the perfect candidate for an illicit liaison.

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Some Taxing Trivia.

“In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Benjamin Franklin.
Trafalgar Square during the Poll Tax riots of 1990.

 In 1835 all of the following items were taxed.
Coffee, tea, soap, French rum and silk.
Which item earned the most for the exchequer and which the least?
[Answers at the end of this blog post.]

With yet more news this week of financial meltdown, and the second Greek bail-out, my thoughts for the weekend blog post naturally turned to taxes.
Tithes and taxes have existed for as long as history, but I was a little shocked to learn that the average medieval serf, actually paid a smaller proportion of his income in tax than we do today!


There have been many and various taxes over time. The Poll Tax, instituted by Margaret Thatcher in 1990, was actually a revival of an unsuccessful tax from the 1690’s, which was abandoned in 1698 after a Peasants’ Revolt. Other unpopular 17th century taxes, which Mrs Thatcher wisely decided against reviving, were a hearth or chimney tax (2 shillings per hearth) and a window tax  (A tax per window– this tax was only abolished in 1851)

A typical Georgian building with a window bricked up to avoid tax.


One of the main drains on the resources of the British treasury - was war. In 1697 the annual tax yield had to more than double, from 2 million to 4.8 million GBP, to cover the cost of war with France. By the end of the American War of Independence it was 12.7 million and the end of the Napoleonic Wars, 68 million GBP.

In the 18th century the main direct tax was the Land Tax, on the amount of property you owned, with special taxes on stamped paper, hackney carriages, births, deaths, marriages, bachelors, tobacco pipes and stamp duty on documents.
There was tax to be paid for painting your coat-of-arms on your carriage.


Some of the more unusual taxes included paying for a licence to display a coat of arms on the side of your carriage. The number of licenses rose from 14,000 in 1812 -  to 24,000 in 1831. In 1830 some 7,000 people paid to be able to print their crest on headed notepaper or have it engraved on cutlery – by 1868 this rose to over 68,000 people.
A Gillray cartoon referring to William Pitt's policy on Income Tax

Income tax was the invention of William Pitt the Younger, introduced in 1799 to cover the cost of the Napoleonic Wars. Yearly incomes below 60 GBP were exempt – a sliding scale up to 200 GBP, and then 10% levied on incomes above this. It was abolished in 1816, but reintroduced in 1842 by Sir Robert Peel, as part of his measures to reduce the duties on common goods. The tax on soap was removed in 1853…

The answer to the question posed at the beginning of this post, and it surprised me, was TEA which brought in the most at 3,832,432 British pounds  - with SILK the least earning just 214,898 pounds worth of tax. 
Gorgeous silk gowns like this, generated less tax income than soap!
The worth in tax to early 19th century Great Britain runs:
(MOST) Tea > rum > soap > coffee > silk. (LEAST)
In a way it’s heartening to see soap holding it’s own…at least that means somebody was buying it!

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Welcome! Melissa McClone - author.

Grace :
Today it's my pleasure to welcome romance author, Melissa McClone back to the blog. Melissa writes for Harlequin Romance. Her November '10 release Christmas Magic on the Mountain is a RITA® Finalist in the Contemporary Series Category. She graduated from Stanford University with a degree in Mechanical Engineering, but quit her job to write romance novels. Writing happily ever afters is a lot more fun than analyzing jet engine performance! She lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband, three children, four cats and a dog named Chaos.
Melissa is offering a $20 Amazon gift certificate, to one lucky person who leaves a comment during her tour.
Author, engineer, mother and animal lover, Melissa McClone.

Melissa shares her thoughts on writing... with animals in the house....
Thanks for hosting this stop on my virtual book tour. It's always great to visit with other animal lovers. I have a Norwegian Elkhound (Chaos) and four cats (Rocket, Spirit, Smalls & Yoda) who keep me company when I write.
Having my furbabies around makes them part of my writing process. This has its pros (warmth and love) and cons (a forty-six pound dog on my lap while I'm trying to type or a cat lying on my manuscript pages.) It also means when I'm in need of an animal for a story, I don't have to look too far for inspiration. Usually to my left or right or down! When I needed a stray kitten in my latest release Not-So-Perfect Princess, I turned to the newest member of our family, a black cat named Yoda.
We never planned on adding a kitten to our household. With a dog and four cats already, my husband had been adamant about no more pets. But that was before my oldest daughter and I entered PetSmart the day before Halloween. A local Humane Society was having a "Black Cat Adoption Day." One look at a mangy black kitten called Yoda in need of a forever home, and we were both goners. Once the rest of the family met him so were they. Okay, my hubby took a little more convincing, but he was finally swayed.
We hadn't had a kitten in the house in over twelve years. When they were younger, Rocket and Spirit used to get into some trouble, but we soon learned Yoda was the master of disasters. I soon realized my goal each day was to keep him from hurting, maiming or killing himself. I had no idea something so cute and little could get into such big trouble!
Needless to say when it came time to write about the stray kitty found by my hero Alejandro, I had plenty of Yoda experiences to choose from:
• how he took off his collar with the little bell and disappeared
• how he dragged stuffed animals twice his size around the house after watching the dog carry one in her mouth
• how he would to try to squeeze through the crack at the bottom of a closed door
• how he would chase anything that moved, especially a feather on a stick and a laser light
• how he climbed through the staircase railing and fell disproving the notion that cats always land on their feet.
The biggest difference between Yoda and the stray kitten aka Boots? Four white paws. Yoda has a small patch of white fur on his chest, but none on his paws. Though Yoda inspired Boots, he developed his own personality. As I was writing I fell in love with both my hero and his kitten. When it came time to make Romance Trading Cards for the characters in the story, I knew Boots needed his own card! A good thing he’s a fictional kitty and not real, or we’d be adding a new member to our family!

Thank you, Melissa. Yoda sounds adorable and I can well imagine the trouble he gets into. The cat trading cards sound intriguing!
Melissa has kindly agreed to post an excerpt of her latest book " Not-So-Perfect-Princess."



Lying in bed, Alejandro Cierzo de Amanecer heard a noise outside his room at the beachfront villa. The stray kitten he’d found at the boatyard must want something. He opened his eyes to see sunlight streaming in through the brand-new floor-to-ceiling windows. Most likely breakfast.
 
The bedroom door burst wide-open. Heavy boots sounded against the recently replaced terra-cotta tile floor.

Not again.
Alejandro grimaced, but didn’t move. He knew the routine.
 
A squad of royal guards dressed in blue and gold uniforms surrounded his bed. At least they hadn’t drawn their weapons this time.

Not that he would call another intrusion progress.

“What does he want now?” Alejandro asked.
 
The captain of the guard, Sergio Mendoza, looked as stoic as ever, but older with gray hair at his temples. “King Dario requests your presence at the palace, Your Highness.”
 
Alejandro raked his hand through his hair in frustration. “My father never requests anything.”

Sergio’s facial expression didn’t change. He’d only shown emotion once, when Alejandro had been late bringing Sergio’s youngest daughter home from a date when they were teenagers. In spite of the security detail accompanying them, Alejandro had feared for his life due to the anger in the captain’s eyes. 

“The king orders you to come with us now, sir,” Sergio said.

Alejandro didn’t understand why his father wanted to see him. No one at the palace listened to what Alejandro said. He might not want to be part of the monarchy, but he wasn’t about to abandon his country.

He’d founded his business here and suggested economic innovations, including developing their tourist trade. But his ideas clashed with those of his father and brother who were more old-fashioned and traditional in their thinking.
 
A high-pitched squeak sounded. The scraggly black kitten with four white paws clawed his way up the sheet onto the bed. The thing had been a nuisance these past two weeks with the work at the boatyard and renovations here at the villa.
 
“I need to get dressed before I go anywhere,” Alejandro said.

“We’ll wait while you dress, sir.” Sergio’s words did nothing to loosen Alejandro’s tense shoulder muscles. “The king wants no delay in your arrival.”

Alejandro clenched his teeth. He wanted to tell the loyal captain to leave, but the guards would use force to get him to do what they wanted. He was tired of fighting that battle. “I need privacy.”
Sergio ordered the soldiers out of the room, but he remained standing by the bed. “I’ll wait on the other side of the door, sir. Guards are stationed beneath each window.”

Alejandro rolled his eyes. His father still saw him as a rebellious teenager. “I’m thirty years old, not seventeen."
Sergio didn’t say anything. No doubt the captain remembered some of Alejandro’s earlier…escapades.

“Tell me where you think I would run to, Captain?” Alejandro lay in bed covered with a sheet. “My business is here. I own properties. My father’s lackeys follow me wherever I go.”

“They are your security detail, sir,” Sergio said. “You must be protected. You’re the second in line for the throne.”

 “Don’t remind me,” Alejandro muttered.
 
“Many would give everything to be in your position.”
 
Not if they knew what went with being the “spare” entailed. No one cared what he thought. Even when he tried to help the island, no one supported him. He’d had to do everything on his own. Alejandro hated being a prince. He’d been educated in the United States. He didn’t want to participate in an outdated form of government where too much power rested with one individual. But he wanted to see his country prosper.
“Guard the door if you must.” Alejandro gave the kitten a pat. “I won’t make your job any more difficult for you than it is.”
As soon as Sergio left, Alejandro slid out of bed and showered. His father hadn’t requested formal dress so khaki shorts, a navy T-shirt and a pair of boat shoes would do.

Twenty minutes later, Alejandro entered the palace’s reception room. His older brother rose from the damask-covered settee.
 
Enrique looked like a younger version of their father with his short hairstyle, tailored designer suit, starched dress shirt, silk tie and polished leather shoes. It was too bad his brother acted like their father, also
“This had better be important, Enrique,” Alejandro said.
 
“It is.” His brother’s lips curved into a smug smile. “I’m getting married.”

About time. Enrique’s wedding would be the first step toward Alejandro’s freedom from the monarchy. The birth of a nephew or niece to take his place as second in line for the throne would be the next big step. “Congratulations, bro. I hope it’s a short engagement. Don’t waste any time getting your bride pregnant.”
Enrique smirked. “That’s the plan.”

“Why wait until the wedding? Start now.”
He laughed. “King Alaric would demand my head if I did that. He’s old-fashioned about certain things. Especially his daughter’s virginity.”

“Alaric.” Alejandro had heard the name. It took a second to realize where. “You’re marrying a princess from Aliestle?”
 
“Not a princess. The princess.” Enrique sounded excited. No wonder. Aliestle was a small kingdom in the Alps. With an abundance of natural resources, the country’s treasury was vast, a hundred times that of La Isla de la Aurora. “King Alaric has four sons and one daughter.”
 
“Father must be pleased.”

“He’s giddy over the amount of Julianna’s dowry and the economic advantages aligning with Aliestle will bring us. Fortunately for me, the princess is as beautiful as she is rich. A bit of an ice princess from what I hear, but I’ll warm her up.”
 
“If you need lessons—”
 
“I may not have your reputation with the ladies, but I shall manage fine on my own.”
 
“I hope the two of you are happy together.” Alejandro meant the words. A happy union would mean more heirs. The further Alejandro dropped in the line of succession, the better. He couldn’t wait to be able to focus his attention on building his business and attracting more investors to turn the island’s sluggish economy around.
 
“You are to be the best man.”
 
A statement of fact or a request? “Mingling with aristocracy is hazardous to my health.”
 
“You will move home until the wedding.”
 
A demand. Anger flared. “Enrique—”
 
“The royal family will show a united front during the engagement period. Your days will be free unless official events are scheduled. You’ll be expected to attend all dinners and evening functions. You must also be present when the princess and her party arrive today.”
 
Alejandro cursed. “You sound exactly like him.”
 
“They are father’s words, not mine.” Rare compassion filled Enrique’s eyes. “But I would like you to be my best man. You’re my favorite brother.”
 
“I’m your only brother.”
 
Enrique laughed. “All the more reason for you to stand at my side. Father will compensate you for any inconvenience.”

Alejandro’s entire life was a damn inconvenience. Besides, he would never be able to get the one thing he wanted from his father. “I don’t want his money.”
 
“You never have, but when Father offers you payment, take it. You can put the money into your boats, buy another villa, donate it to charity or give it away on the streets,” Enrique advised. “You’ve earned this, Alejandro. Don’t let pride get in the way again.”

He wasn’t about to go there. “All I want is to be left alone.”
“As soon as Julianna and I have children, you will no longer be needed around here. If you do your part to ensure the wedding occurs, Father has promised to let you live your own life.”
Finally. “Did you ask for this or did father offer?”
“It was a combination, but be assured of father keeping his word.”
“When am I to move back?”
“After lunch.”
Alejandro cursed again. He had a boatyard to run, investment properties to oversee and the Med Cup to prepare for. Not to mention the kitten who expected to be fed. “I have a life. Responsibilities.”
“You have responsibilities here. Ones you ignore while you play with your boats,” Enrique chided.

Seething, Alejandro tried to keep his tone even. “I’m not playing. I’m working. If you’d see the upcoming Med Cup race as an opportunity to promote—”
“If you want to build the island’s reputation, then support this royal wedding. It’ll do much more for the economy than your expensive ideas to improve the island’s nightlife, build flashy resorts and attract the sailing crowd with a little regatta.”
“The Med Cup is a big deal. It’ll—”
“Whatever.” Enrique brushed Alejandro aside as if he were a bothersome gnat. Like father, like son. “Do what you must to be here after lunch or father will send you away on a diplomatic mission.”
The words were like a punch to Alejandro’s solar plexus. Not unexpected given the way his father and brother operated sometimes. The threat would be carried out, too. That meant Alejandro had to do as told to secure his future. His freedom. “I’ll be back before your princess arrives.” 
But he would be doing a few things his way.
Once the black sheep, always the black sheep.
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Sunday, 17 July 2011

The Secrets Behind 'Marocco' - the devil's horse.


A week ago I posted about the true story of Marocco, the 17th century, performing horse whose act was so good that he was accused of witchcraft. At the time his feats were so exceptional that some believed the only way they were possible was through witchcraft. During the lifetime of his act, Marocco’s trainer, William Banks, declined to explain how the tricks were done : - even to the point of getting Marocco to kiss a crucifix (and prove his skill was derived from the Holy Spirit, rather than the devil) instead of explain the truth.

It was after Banks retired from show business and set up a tavern that he eventually relented. He agreed to share his secrets with an early hippologist, Mr Gervase Markham, as a testament to the intelligence of his horse. Markham considered Banks’ information as of the utmost importance and devoted a chapter to it in his 1607 edition of his book Cavelaire.

“an explanation of the excellence of a horses understanding and how to teach them to doe trickes like Bankes.”


It transpired that Banks bought Marocco as a foal and from that day allowed no one else but him to exercise, feed, fuss or groom the colt. He treated the animal with great kindness at all times and soon the horse started following his master like a dog. During training lessons, if Marocco performed well, he was rewarded with his favourite bread. If he did badly he was given no food that day in order to sharpen his attention on the following day.

Using this system of rewards Banks taught the horse to raise a foreleg on the command “Up!” and by raising and lowering a rod indicated how many times he was to strike his hoof.

‘Giving him a bit of bread til he be so perfit that, as you lift up your rod, so he will moved his foot to the ground.”


Then Marocco learnt to do without the rod, becoming alert as soon as the word ‘Up!’ was mentioned.  Banks then used facial expressions to tell Marocco how often to stamp his foot.

“it is a rule in the nature of horses, that they have an especial regard to the eye, face and countenance of their keepers.” 

Once this trick was perfected it was an easy step to ask the horse to tell him how many knaves, or harlots, were in the audience that day.

For tricks such as returning a glove to a member of the audience, Banks first taught Marocco to retrieve like a dog. Then he pointed his rod to an assistant and rewards the horse for going to him instead. If he approached the wrong assistant Banks said “Be wise!” and once he chose correctly “So, boy!”  Eventually Marocco became so skilled he could do without the verbal commands and be guided solely by Banks’ face. As Markham, who had seen the act numerous times, remarked:

“Marocco never removed his eyes from his master’s face.”



After Marocco’s retirement, Banks never trained another horse, but their were many successors in show business. One such was the little horse, Billy, the star of Astely’s circus in the late 18th century. Billy could dance, boil tea and serve it like a waiter. However when the circus went bankrupt, Billy was sold to a tradesman who put in harness pulling a cart. Some years later, one of the circus performers recognised the dusty, rundown horse and when he clicked his fingers, little Billy started tapping his foreleg.

Billy was repurchased and re-entered the circus life, where he performed for many years. He died at the great age of 42…and his skin was made into a huge thunder-drum, used for special effects at the circus. A sad end for a talented horse.

No records exist of how Marocco ended his days.