Wednesday 27 April 2011

Marital Miscellany - some Historical Trivia to do with Marriage.


With the wedding of Prince William and Katherine Middleton taking place this Friday, let's take a look at historical trivia associated with marriage.

Bride Price.

In Anglo-Saxon times a man with many daughters was considered rich. He had plentiful helpers to do the cooking, cleaning, to raise crops and tend livestock…so if a daughter was lost to him through marriage, he needed compensation.
Price was decided by rank and experience:
A virgin was valued at twice as much as a widow, and there were four grades of widow:           

             worth   6 shillings (30 pence)
                        12 shillings (60 pence)
                        20 shillings (1 GBP)
            and      50 shillings (GBP 2.50)

Since virgins were so highly rated, there were some unscrupulous fathers, with an eye for a profit, who would sell the same daughter several times over. However there was protection in the law if a husband found his wife was not in the condition the vendor had promised – he could ask for his money back!

King Cnut.
Fortunately, when King Cnut (1016 – 35) took the English throne, he enacted a law that no woman could be compelled to marry against her will and that any monies changing hands were considered a gift and could not be refunded.

Marital Superstitions.

In old England there were a number superstitions associated with marriage.
It was a good omen if on the way to the church the bride met a toad, spider or wolf. However it was bad luck to meet a priest, monk, lizard, snake, dog or cat!

In East Anglia the marriage of a woman to a man whose surname began with the same letter as hers, was predicted to be unhappy. A saying ran;

“To change the name and not the letter,
It is change for the worse and not change for the better.”

A replica of Mary Tudor's wedding dress.
In the Scottish Highlands, to bless a marriage with happiness the best man was supposed to remove the left shoe of the groom at the door of the church and make the sign of the cross on the right side of the door. To this day it is the left shoe that is supposed to be tied to the back of the wedding car as it departs.
Also, if a younger sister married before her elder siblings, her sisters should dance barefoot at the wedding or they would never be married.

And finally, in northern England it was traditional young men attending the wedding, to pluck the garter from the bride’s leg as soon as the ceremony was over. To this end the bride would often was a special, ceremonial garter or ribbon, worn on the lower leg to facilitate its removal and spare her blushes from unwarranted private fumbling.

So I hope Kate Middleton sees a toad and not a monk on the way to the Cathedral and I wish the couple every future happiness. I can’t wait to see what the dress looks like…rumour has it she’s wearing ivory….Now the colour of a bridal gown, that’s a whole new post…..

Princess Diana's wedding dress.


Sunday 24 April 2011

Bayeux Tapestry - a Stitch in Time.

            In 1066 the Normans invaded England and defeated the English King Harold at the Battle of Hastings. [Actually the battle took place 6 miles away at Santlache or Sandy Stream. The winning French punned the name to Sanguelac or Blood Lake… but that’s another story.] King Harold was killed, supposedly with an arrow to his eye, and William the Conqueror seized power….the rest, as they say, is history.
            These historic events were commerated in the Bayeux Tapestry and still studied by English primary school children. The official story behind the tapestry is that William’s anxious wife waited at home in France, frantically stitching scenes as the latest news of the invasion was brought to her.
            The truth, however, is less clear cut.

Made in England.

For a start the embroidery style, colours of thread and use of Latin script indicate the work is of English, rather than French, origin. It seems likely that the tapestry was actually commissioned by William’s half brother, Bishop Odo, as a propaganda piece to justify the invasion.

Why Bayeux?

It seems the link to the town that gives the tapestry its name is tenuous at best.
In the 18th century the tapestry was found in a storeroom of Bayeux Cathedral. It was not highly prized and used to line an ammunitions wagon - and only saved from ruination when a lawyer offered is bed sheets as an alternative.

The Truth Embroidered.

The most famous panel is titled “King Harold – he is slain”, apparently by an arrow in the eye. However even this is in doubt. Detailed copies by Bernard de Mountfacon in 1729, do not show an arrow, and later scientific studies indicate the arrow was not part of the original stitching.
 So why was it added?
The likely explanation is that the French punishment for breaking a word of honour, was having an eye put out and so the arrow was added as a fitting comeuppance.
 [Harold swore allegiance to Edward the Confessor, that on Edward’s death he would swear fielty to William as monarch, but he later renaged and made himself King.]

Bayeux’s Revenge.

In 1816 Charles Stothard was commissioned by the London Society of Antiquities to make copies of the Bayeux Tapestry. When later, bits were found missing, Charles blamed his wife Anna for cutting pieces of to sell as souvenirs. Further investigation later proved that Charles had lied and he had vandalized the tapestry.
However, his misdeeds had placed him under the Bayeux curse.
Whilst Charles was painting a replica stained glass window in a church in Yelverton, Devon – he stepped back to admire his handiwork forgetting he was on a scaffold!

Wednesday 20 April 2011

Witch Hunts and Penicillin.

It’s a fact, not widely acknowledged, that the witch hunts of the 16th and 17th centuries put the development of modern medicines back several hundred years.
So how can this be when witches had a reputation for evil, using black magic and charms to lay curses and do the devil’s work?

Matthew Hopkins, witch finder general, who made a fortune hunting witches.

 Well, it is now recognized that most of the misconceptions were spread by the very men that accused the witches such as the infamous witch finder General, Matthew Hopkins, in order to justify their persecution. Indeed 90% of those accused were widows without male protection, or came from the lower end of society, precisely because they were vulnerable and without the means and influence to fight back.
Many of these ‘witches’ were healers, woman possessed of the traditional knowledge of the medicinal power of herbs and their 'spells' were the ability to make sick people well again. Again this information had been accrued by the poor, precisely because they couldn’t afford a doctor.

Alexander Fleming who isolated penicillin from mold in the 1920's.
For instance the farm laborer in pain might be told to chew on willow bark, and the peasant with a more serious infection instructed to eat moldy bread. Indeed because their food was more likely to be moldy, some poor people survived diseases that the wealthy did not, calling even more suspicion down upon the healer.
However when the skills of traditional healers became a dangerous to admit to, it was driven underground…and it took until the 20th century to rediscover the curative powers of the mold that is penicillin, and to isolate salicylic acid, or aspirin, from willow bark. ...

Sunday 17 April 2011

More Smiles.

Part 2 / 2  - Pictures to make you smile.

See you again on Wednesday for my next post.
Grace x

Thursday 14 April 2011

5/5 Top Pick review from Night Owl Reviews!!

Yeah! I'm bouncing round the room after reading this awesome review for "A Dead Man's Debt."

> I honestly have to say that this story surprised me on nearly every turn. Just when I thought I had the storyline predicted that I knew what was going to happen next, Ms. Elliot changed it up on me, and it was wonderful! At first glance, this is a story that has been written a thousand times. Dissolute wastrel reformed by an innocent, spirited girl, skeletons in the closet keeping them from their ultimate happiness, but the bravery of our reformed hero saves the day. This story starts on that track, but then avoids predictability by doing the unexpected. I loved it!
> Celeste and Ranulf were excellent characters. Ranulf is your typical society rake with a secret talent. On the surface, he is totally fixated on the fairer sex, but he is burdened with issues that truly show the depth of his character behind the mask. However, as we get to know him better, we are given glimpses into his past, and elements in his private life that show him to be a truly noble hero, even willing to sacrifice his own life to save the woman he loves. Celeste was his perfect match, a woman who was not afraid to take life by the horns and live it for all it was worth, but who had her own issues to deal with. Already burned by one society rake, she is reluctant to trust Ranulf or her attraction to him.
> Our villain in this story also avoids the trap of predictability. On first glance, it seems to be a case of been there, read that, but surprise! It isn’t that way at all! Without giving away all the good parts, it was wonderful to read a story where the heroine tried to save the hero, but was sensible about it.
> Will Celeste and Ranulf be able to work through their issues, or will the danger hovering in the background swallow their new love? Will Celeste realize that she can trust Ranulf with everything, even her tender heart? You will have fun finding out!

Wednesday 13 April 2011

Something to Make You Smile!

A bit of fun this week courtesy of fellow Solstice author, James Hatch.
Thank you James, x.


A big thank you to James Hatch, author of 'The Substitute,' for providing the pictures.

Sunday 10 April 2011

Gathered by Virgins - part 2.

The ritual of tea drinking, plus how to brew the perfect cupper.

 Continuing on from my midweek post about the unusual side of tea drinking, let us know consider the English ritual of tea drinking.

By the 1880’s tea drinking became an upper class ritual. Ladies gathering around a silver tea pot with elegant porcelain cups became symbols of good taste and refinement and the preparation of tea was an art in itself. A popular household manual from the 1880’s ‘Enquire With Upon Everything’ instructs on how to make the perfect brew.

-         Use freshly boiled water, not exhausted by prolonged boiling
-         Scald the pot with hot water then empty it
-         Add sufficient water and then add the tea, quickly closing the lid
-         Let the brew stand for three and a half minutes
-         This greatly superior method preserves the delicate aroma of the tea.

A regency tea party.

Other help words on making tea include:

-         A given quantity of tea imparts strength to the water; any additional quantity is a waste.
-         Two small teaspoons of good black tea are sufficient for three cupfuls.
-         The best tea is made with the best water; too hard or soft will yield quantities of black tannin.
-         Dr Kitchiner recommends all water pouring in one drawing, a second drawing is bad. Better to have two teapots than two drawings.

All this takes me back to my grandmother and her insistance on the correct manner of making tea. I understand a bit better now where she was coming from and almost feel guilty about dunking a lonely tea bag in a mug of hot water. How about you? Does your family have rituals attached to making tea? Indeed, do you drink tea at all or has coffee drinking taken over?

Friday 8 April 2011

Is There a Stigma in Reading Romance?

Grace visits the Book Wenches and asks:
 Is there a stigma attached to reading romance?
I think so.
It is only since becoming a published author of historical romance that I ‘came out’ and admitted to reading the genre. The strange thing is that since I went public, people I consider perfectly normal, intelligent, fulfilled and responsible, who I never previously suspected of being fellow addicts, also came out and said; ‘Oh yeah, I love reading romance to.’
            So why this reluctance to go public?

So what do you think?
Are you secretive about your romance habit, and if so, why?

Wednesday 6 April 2011

Gathered by Virgins.

There’s something about a good cup of tea that lubricates thought and helps the day go more smoothly. My parents drink tea by the bucket full, whereas I mainly drink it at work. There are cultural differences to; I believe tea is much less popular in America than it is here in the UK, but strangely the Portuguese and Dutch are big tea drinkers. Anyhow, when tea was first introduced to Britain in the mid 17th century, wild claims about its health benefits ensured its popularity.
In 1657 Thomas Garway, proprietor of a coffee house in Exchange Alley in London claimed tea was “gathered by virgins” and “makes a body active and lusty”. This miracle elixir also; “preserves perfect health until extreme old age”, “vanquishes nightmares” and “dispenses with the need for sleep.”

King Charles II.
When the court of Charles II, influenced by his Portuguese wife Catherine of Braganza, started drinking tea its popularity rose to the point of a drop in alcohol consumption amongst the masses. This had the knock on effect of lowering revenue from alcohol sales and so government quickly increased the tax on tea (reaching a peek in the mid 1750’s when it stood at over 100%.)
One concern Charles II had was that tea drinking encouraged small groups to assemble over a brew and increased opportunities for seditious plotting. So in 1675 Charles forbad the sales of tea to private houses. Such was the outrage that he was forced to revoke the law within a week of its issue.

The Cutty Sark in full sail.
The market to tea was huge and the profits for those importing were immense. The East India Company recognized this and rapidly monopolized the sea trade with its fleet of tea clippers such as the Cutty Sark. The streamlined, tall masted sailing vessels could reach speeds of nearly 18 knots, which was extraordinary at the time.

Charles Harrod was a tea wholesaler before he opened his famous shop.
But when in the late 1700’s tax made the price of tea prohibitive to many people, there were unscrupulous traders who ‘cut’ tea with sloe leaves, liquorice and even the dried dregs from tea pots. It took action by William Pitt the Younger in 1784 to recognize what was happening and save the quality of the great British cupper. He reduced the tax on tea to 12.5% and a year later brought in the ‘Food and Drug Act’ which promoted harsh penalties for adulterating tea. However it wasn’t until well over a century later in 1879 that someone thought to inspect tea at the site of import to ensure purity.

NEXT POST (Sunday)– The ritual of tea drinking, plus how to brew the perfect cupper.

Sunday 3 April 2011

Enlightening Thoughts.

My weekend blog post starts with a question:

Which of the following was used as a lightning conductor?
A – Growing the plant ‘House Leek’ in the garden
B - Wearing a crown of laurels during a thunderstorm.
C - An iron pole connected to the ground via a metal strip.
D - Ringing church bells.
E - Having a ‘Witch post’ near the main door.
ANSWER: The correct answer is C, but surprisingly A, B, C, D and E have all been used as protection against lightning!
The Roman Emperor Tiberius.
It was the Emperor Tiberius who reached for a laurel crown as he believed it gave him immunity from lightning strike. Fair enough, he never was struck by lightning but I suspect he probably didn’t go standing on any hill tops either!
The succulent plant, 'House Leek.'
            In Medieval Britain, the people of the Forest of Dean held that planting ‘House Leek’ in the garden diverted lightning from the thatched roofs of their cottages – worth a try I suppose. And on the same theme of diverting lightning, five hundred years ago in Stangend, North Yorkshire, a farmer came up with the ingenious idea of a ‘Witches post’ carved with the St. Andrews cross so that evil spirits and malign influences could go no further.
Lightening was especially worrying when your house had a thatched roof.
  Whereas house leek and witches posts did no harm, one tradition in 18th century Europe was positively dangerous. It was the habit in parts of Germany for villagers to ring the church bells during a storm, in order to disperse lightning. Of course with church steeples being the highest points for miles around, and bells being made of metal, there was a high mortality rate amongst bell ringers. Indeed in 1784 a study was undertaken in Munich, when it was realized that 386 church towers had been struck and 103 bell ringers died.
            It took Benjamin Franklin, in 1766 to come up with a solution. He proposed mounting iron rods on high roofs; connect to the ground via metal strips. This was tried with resounding success on the 100m tall bell tower of St Mark’s in Venice, which had been struck 9 times…after the installation of the first lightning conductor no serious damage was done.
            But finally, it seems prejudice overcame common sense when it came to the Georgian Royal Navy. King George III failed to believe any good ideas could come out of the rebellious American colonies and so refused to have lightning conductors fitted to Royal Naval ships. This resulted in the loss of 200 ships to lightening during the Napoleonic wars alone. (The Navy relented in 1830, by which time such conductors were in common use on towers on land.)