Wednesday 27 February 2013

Eye-catching Oscar Fashion - Regency Style!

Even Anne Hathaway's gown appeared on a
'worst' dress list!
Photo courtesy of Disney ABC Photostream.
Debate about which were the best and worst gowns at the Oscars is rife on the internet; the strange thing is that I saw the several dresses appear on both lists: best and worst! I thought Helena Bonham-Carter's black dress with white gauzy underskirt was beautiful and suited her quirky character perfectly…and yet it appeared on a 'worst' dress list. Bah!

            All of which set me wondering about what the regency woman would have worn to attract attention and impress. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, young women took the business of attending a dance very seriously because it was a major opportunity to snare a husband.
A wonderful, diaphenous Regency gown.

            At a ball, a man was not obliged to dance but could watch from the sidelines to study the feminine charms parading around him. Amidst the elegant gowns, coiffured hair and graceful dancing, if a woman was to stand out and tempt her reluctant 'Mr Darcy' she had to look her absolute stunning best.
            Regency dresses must have been exquisite. Delicate, flimsy fabrics such as muslin or crepe de Chine were all the rage. Waistlines were high and necklines low, indeed doctors blamed the rise of consumption on insufficient clothing and exposing the chest, they called it 'muslin disease'. Although no prude, apparently Jane Austen drew the line at having too much shoulder on show and disapproved of "ugly naked shoulders."
            A popular colour for that first ball gown was white, although light colours such as pink, yellow, pale blue or green, were also good choices.
Best or worst?
Photo courtesy of Disney ABC Photostream.

           "As a lady's quality …was once determined by the circumference of her hoop… [Is] now measured by the length of her tail."
            Miss Bingley, Pride and Prejudice.
            Around 1800 it became fashionable for a dress to have a train, to avoid tripping the wearer whilst dancing the train was elevated with the aid of a small hoop or similar device, and let down again afterwards.
            Shoes were often made to match the dress and had silk soles, and were tied on with ribbons round the ankle a bit like a modern ballerina's pump. The shoe might be adorned with a 'shoe-rose', which was a rosette of ribbon attached near the toe.
            The best stockings were made of silk, and usually white or pink, and have clocks (embroidery) inserts. The stocking came just above the knee and were held in place with a ribbon garter although in the late 18th century a spring-garter (presumably an early form of elastic) was invented and proved very popular. 
When wearing a flimsy gown, a shawl was a vital accessory.

            Gloves were de rigour at a ball; usually white, but again pastel shades of lemon or lilac were acceptable and ingenious devices existed to keep elbow length gloves unwrinkled whilst dancing.
            Hair would be carefully dressed and curled, and often adorned with tall feathers. Not only did an ostrich feather make the wearer appear taller and indicated wealth (they were expensive) but they also bobbed in time to the dance, emphasising the dancer's grace and deportment.
            Ballrooms were often hot and stuffy so a fan was a vital accessory. Apart from cooling the owner, it could be used for flirtation, to signal in code, or even have an aide-memoire written on it for those tricky dance steps.
            It is salient to remember that once a beau had snared a bride, as a husband he would be more likely to notice the cost of a gown, than its cut! This takes me back to the Oscars. Who did you think was best dressed? Which gowns were your favourites, and which wouldn't you be seen dead in? Do leave a comment.

A Society Ball in 1819.

Wednesday 20 February 2013

Tower of London: Polar Bears in the Thames

In this the third post about animals at the Tower of London, we look at bears - or polar bears to be precise.
One of the sculptures (made from chicken wire) at the Tower of London
In 1252 King Henry III (1207 - 72) was given a Norwegian bear by King Hakon V. This bear was described as "pale" , which is significant because the black bear (albeit sometimes light coloured) was common in England at the time. It seems likely that this bear was significantly different in order to merit it being a gift, and was probably a polar bear.

The bear arrived with a keeper, and once again the Sheriffs of the City of London were asked [told] to pay for the animals upkeep. The Sheriffs allotted around tuppence a day, which considering the prevalent poverty of the day, must have seemed galling to some. However, after a year, the sheriffs decided it was time the bear caught it's own food in the Thames; at that time the Thames was a clean river, rich with salmon and fish.
"fat and sweet salmon [are] dailie taken."
The White Tower at the Tower of London
The bear was fitted with a chain and muzzle, and the keeper expected to take the beast down to the river to fish and bathe. The sheriffs thoughtfully provided the keeper with a thick cape, presumably to keep out the cold on the riverbank.

"Greetings. We [the King] command you that for the keeper of our white bear , recently arrived from Norway… ye cause to be had one muzzle and one iron chain to hold the bear without the water, one long strong cord, to hold the same bear fishing or washing himself in the Thames."

The Tower of London with Tower Bridge (over the Thames)
in the background.
King Edward I (Henry III's son) took an interest in his father's menagerie. He employed 4 keepers, each paid 3d each a day, plus a 10d allowance towards animal food. Some thirty years after the original bear, records exist of payment for a white bear called Lynn (she originated from a place of the same name) being transported by boat (presumably up the Thames) to the Tower.

A few centuries later, it seems curiosity was superseded by cruelty. King James I of England (1603-25) made the bears, lions and dogs fight each other. To this end he had a platform built from which he could watch the so-called 'sport'. This was a vicious activity where the bears were often chained and toothless, and had massive mastiff dogs set on them. The 'sport' was in betting on which animal would inflict the most damage.

And finally, did you know that most polar bears are Capricorns - since the majority are born between late December and mid January.

Sunday 17 February 2013

Welcome! Arlene Webb - author

Today I'm delighted to welcome author, Arlene Webb, to the blog. I love the premise behind Arlene's latest "Prepper" series (people who are prepared for anything...but read on to find out more.)

 Be Prepared
Trying to be ready, so as to survive with minimal screw-ups, has to be a good thing in a world where natural and man-made disasters happen anywhere and everywhere.
When I was asked to write a story with ties to Preppers (survivalists who prepare for whatever life can throw at them), I was intrigued at how much fun it could be to write about the obvious, unexpectedly falling in love, that blindsides people who think they have a handle on everything.
My heroine in Falling for Water has a touch of OCD disorder, while the hero doesn’t easily recover from loss, so much so that he charms everyone and falls for no one. When the two are thrown together and bullets fly, compulsion and closed heart are pushed back into the past while the need for the other to survive takes over.
If you like flawed characters who risk all for a happy ending, I hope you check out this new series at Decadent Publishing. DL Jackson in her premier story for the series, Finding Mercy, has created a fantastic imaginary town based on a real one in which to concentrate preppers at, the only requirement is romance be involved.
Thank you, so much, for hosting me, Grace.

Falling for Water - the blurb

What Cassi thought was a simple obsession with clean water has taken over her life. When she orders a distiller online to replace the one smashed by her abusive boyfriend, she gets more than she bargained for.
Enter a man with a badge, hunting a terrorist, and Cassi is his number one suspect. Not only is she struggling with her fixation on pure H2O, she has to prove she’s not the one he’s looking for—only she kind of wishes she was. Before she knows it, Cassi is in over her head.

Ray had everything, until a random crime ends badly and he’s left to hold to his grief or make changes in his life. Charming his way into people’s personal business—slapping on the cuffs as needed—gives him reason to get up in the morning. When he falls headfirst into another chance at love, he must take the plunge without hesitation or risk losing more than his heart.

As the pair join hands, sparks fly as well as bullets, leaving Cassi and Ray to wonder if the universe could right itself. Will the past reach out and drown their chance for happiness?
He stared at her, his expression wary. “And I’m thrilled you’re so into evolution, variation, and moving toward different things. I…er…just wondered, do you have a problem with saliva?”
“Saliva? What the hell are you talking about?”
He smiled. Not slow and lazy, not sweet and gentle, but the wolf smile she’d seen at the bar. “You admitted a thing with water right away. So what I’m hearing is no, I love saliva. Go ahead and slap me, and…maybe I’ll stop.” He grabbed her, yanked her up, and took her lips with his.
Ray tried for gentle and slow, but the moment his lips locked onto hers it felt like he had to make this the kiss of a lifetime or she’d slip through his fingers and disappear. She’d either run screaming from yet another bully who took advantage of a vulnerable state, or she’d fall through the cracks of the justice system and out of his reach.
From his mouth to hers, he yearned to dive in fast and hard, plundering with his tongue until she opened more than her heart to him by confiding an intense trauma. He wanted the supple and beautiful body rolled over him as well.
He deepened the kiss, and his heartbeat pounded faster and faster as the tension left her shoulders. She melted into him, soft and sweetly yielding to his aggressive hardness, and she began kissing him back.
His careful exploration, the tip of tongue easing along the seams of her mouth, forced his lust into an easy, steady climb as lips meshed, escalating on the roller coaster scale to maybe a five, a first-time kiss like when a boy walks a girl to her door.
Forget that. It was no-hold-back time. He was too into the taste and feel of this woman to strive for less, and he had to bring her over the edge with him. Plunge down and down into the world-is-about-to-end type kiss. A kiss that’d stay with her, marking her as his own.

For more information about Decadent Publishing authors, books, and their submissions guidelines, visit
Decadent Publishing is current accepting submissions in all sub-genres of romance, including their ongoing series'. 


Wednesday 13 February 2013

The Tower of London: of Elephants and Wine

“We believe that this was the only elephant ever seen in England.”
Matthew Paris
Look closely - can you see the sculpture is made from chicken wire?
This blog post was inspired by the wonderful elephant sculpture on display at the Tower of London. I wanted to find out about elephant keeping at the Tower, which it transpires was well-intentioned but misinformed. Read on…

A Jumbo-sized Gift

The first elephant at the Tower was a gift from King Louis IX to King Henry III. The animal was a trophy from the crusades in Palestine, but it's quite possible the present was a major headache for Henry. A mandate records, 7 January 1239, orders for the Sheriff of Kent to arrange transport (presumably at his own expense) for the beast.

"…to provide bringing the King's elephant from Whistsand to Dover, and if possible to London by water."
Henry III's tomb

Housing the Beast

Henry's menagerie at the Tower was started in 1235 with the gift of three leopards as a wedding present from Frederick III, the Holy Roman Emperor. One can only imagine what an awe-inspiring sight his collection must have been, but it seems Henry didn't expect to shoulder the cost himself, but deferred this to the Sheriff of London.

“We command you,” Henry wrote to the Sheriff of London, “that ye cause without delay, to be built at our Tower of London, one house of forty feet long and twenty feet deep, for our elephant.”

Interestingly, the wooden elephant house at 20 by 40 foot was roughly the same dimensions as the recently decommissioned elephant house at London Zoo - only the later housed three, rather than one, elephant!
Whilst the kudos of the animals was appreciated by royalty, the expense was not. When James I was gifted an elephant in 1623, from Spain, someone pithily records:

'the Lord Treasurer will be little in love with presents which cost the King as much to maintain as a garrison'

Ancient and modern: The Tower with the Shard in the background
Author's own photograph.
A Great Draw

In the 13th century few people had ever seen an elephant. Drawings of them were created from descriptions, rather than life, and so ended up looking like horses with long noses. When the elephant arrived at the Tower, such was the draw, that the monk and historian, Matthew Paris, travelled specifically from the abbey at St Albans to study and drawn the animal.

Matthew's drawing is one of the first naturalistic pictures of an elephant. He depicted it with the keeper, Henricus de Flor, in order to show the scale, and described it has having:
"Small eyes on top of his head, and eats and drinks with a trunk."

One of the first naturalistic pictures of an elephant -
By Matthew Paris of Henry III's elephant and his keeper.
 Keeping Out the Cold

Sadly, for many centuries no one bothered to find out what care the elephants needed to stay healthy. This was typified by James I's elephant, which came with instructions to give it only wine to drink in the winter months, to 'keep out the cold'. The poor animal drank over a gallon of red wine a day, without anyone stopping to query how an elephant would acquire wine in the wild. This elephant didn't live long, but worse still, no lessons were learnt and for another couple of centuries the myth remained and Tower elephants were given wine to drink.

And finally

When Henry III's original elephant died, its grave was near the chapel on Tower Green, close to where Anne Boleyn was later to be buried. However, the bones were later dug up and it is said that 13th century bone and ivory caskets that house reliquaries, (kept at the Victoria and Albert museum) are made from the remains of that elephant.

Saturday 9 February 2013

Valentine's Day: A Twist of Fate

As part of the "Heart's Through History" blog hop, my post looks at Valentine's Day as experienced by Samuel Pepys.
My giveaway prize is a $15 Amazon voucher:  SEE the END of THIS POST FOR DETAILS.
Click for link to participating blogs.
(Scroll to bottom of the page.)

Times change and so do the customs associated with Valentine's Day. Indeed, Samuel Pepys diary gives us a fascinating insight into a 17th century tradition that has died out. In modern times Valentine's Day is about secret admirers and lovers, but in the 17th century it seems it was a much more random event. There seem to have been two variations on a theme but somewhat oddly to us, a person's valentine was rarely their spouse.

A Game of Chance
The first way a 17th century lover chose their valentine was by lottery - or rather, pulling a name out of a hat at a party. This was often done on February 13th so that the Valentine partners (rarely husband and wife) knew who to present gifts to on Valentine's Day itself.
Samuel Pepys diary 1665/
This morning called up by Mr. Hill, who, my wife thought, had been come to be her Valentine; she, it seems, having drawne him last night, but it proved not.

These gifts could be costly, indeed, members of the artistocracy took it upon themselves to out do each other with expensive and showy items. The tradition was for the man to give the woman a present, indeed the Lady Bulkely played the system rather well by putting in a request, via her valentine's (Sir William Petre) wife, for a present of six yards of black satin (worth 60 shillings).
Sanuel Pepys
Samuel Pepys diary 1667/8
Up, being called up by Mrs Mercer, who come to be my Valentine, …and this year I find it is likely to cost 4l. or 5l. in a ring for her, which she desires.

The gift giving could go on for several days and Samuel Pepys remarked about the cost involved in buying six pairs of plain gloves, and one pair of embroidered, for his valentine. However, it seems likely Pepys also used this Valentine's Day tradition as a cover for buying presents for his mistresses.
Elizabeth Pepys.
The First Person You See on Waking
The other custom was that your valentine would be the first person you saw on waking on February 14th. To this end it seems in 1661, Elizabeth Pepys spent a morning with her eyes closed in order to avoid seeing the painters who were redecorating the house!

Samuel Pepys' diary 1659/60
Called out in the morning by Mr. Moore, whose voice my wife hearing in my dressing-chamber with me, got herself ready, and came down and challenged him for her valentine...

So which do you think is more exciting: a game of chance, or having a secret admirer?
Would you prefer a 17th century-style Valentine's Day?
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Grace x

Wednesday 6 February 2013

King Richard III: What Happened to the Princes in the Tower?

Reconstruction of Richard III -  from his skull.
This week it was confirmed that the remains of King Richard III had been discovered beneath a car park in Leicester. Richard is arguably best known for his role in the murder of the princes in the Tower: but why was he driven to such an unholy act? Why would a man order the death of his own cousins? Read on to find out.
Richard was a controversial monarch, regarded as either "Crook back Dick" who caused flowers to wilt when he breathed on them, or "Good King Richard" - a near saintly figure slandered by history. The problem with Richard's reputation lies in two things: Tudor propaganda [Richard's reign was brought to an end by defeat at the Battle of Bosworth, by Henry Tudor] and Richard's link to the murder of the Princes in the Tower.
Richard III's skeleton in situ.
Photo: University of Leicester.
Our tale begins in 1483 with the death of Richard's brother, King Edward IV. As far as Edward was concerned, Richard was unquestionably loyal and so named his brother as regent to the 12 year son and heir, Edward V.

However, Richard mistrusted the late king's wife, Elizabeth Woodville, and suspected her family of wanting the throne for themselves. A wily character, Richard played along and lulled the Woodville's into a false sense of security. When Anthony Woodville took the young Edward taken to an Inn, the boy's uncle Richard acted and arrested Woodville for treason. Anthony Woodville, Lord Rivers was sent north and then executed without trial.

This treachery gave Richard the excuse to have the young King Edward V taken to the Tower of London ostensibly because this was where a king prepared for his coronation, but also for the boy's own protection.  Meanwhile, Edward's younger brother, Richard, remained with his mother, Elizabeth Woodville, who fearful of Richard's motives had sought sanctuary in Westminster Abbey.
The monument on Tower Green, marking the site of executions,
including Lord Hastings.
However, a small group of men headed by Lord William Hastings, were uneasy about Richard's manoeuvrings and remained fiercely loyal to the princes. Richard's answer was to manufacture trumped up charges of treason against Hastings, have him dragged out onto Tower Green and summarily beheaded on a lump of wood left by builders.

Richard needed to have access to the 'spare heir' and so demanded Elizabeth release her son/ his nephew, Richard, on the excuse that young Edward needed a playmate at the Tower. Under likely threat of her own life and that of her daughter's, Elizabeth reluctantly released her son. He was taken by boat along the Thames to enter the Tower at Traitor's Gate and installed with his brother in the Garden Tower (later renamed, the Bloody Tower).
Traitor's Gate.
To place himself as heir to the throne, Richard then accused his own mother of adultery and claimed her son, his brother Edward IV, was illegitimate. Not only that but he claimed Edward's marriage to Elizabeth was invalid and his sons declared bastards. To emphasise the point Richard had a prominent cleric, Dr Shaw, preach a sermon naming the princes in the tower as illegitimate 'bastard slips'.
In a public relations coup, Richard presents himself as rightful king and on June 25th a parliamentary delegation led by Lord Buckingham petitioned Richard to take the crown. Richard promptly spat on his late-brother's memory and called him a licentious, rapist. On June 26th Richard was made protector and "Edward Bastard, late called Edward V," was dethroned.

Earliest surviving portrait of
Richard III
Now whether Richard truly intended the princes to die, or thought that proclaiming them bastards was sufficient, is conjecture coloured by Tudor propaganda, but the facts are these:

Richard's coronation took place on July 6th. Only one recorded sighting of the princes after they were reunited on June 16th. "Seen shooting [arrows] and playing in the garden of the Tower sundry times."
By July 6th the princes had been withdrawn to the:
"inner apartments of the Tower proper…and seen more rarely behinds the bars and windows", and their personal servants were dismissed.
The last independent witness to see the princes alive was the royal physician, Dr John Argentine, who was summoned to the Tower to treat Edward for tooth ache. By all accounts Edward was extremely depressed and in a lot of pain. [The skull presumed Edward's, found in the 1930's, does indeed show the bone disease osteomyelitis, affecting the jaw bone.]

Richard III
Richard went on progress on 20 July and sometime during September, chronicles by Sir Thomas More have it that two henchmen entered the boys' chambers and suffocated them with pillows…leaving Richard unchallenged as King of England.

And finally:
Two centuries later in 1674 during renovation work at the Tower a buried chest containing the skeletons of two boys was discovered. In the 1930's forensic tests backed up the suspicion these were the remains of the missing princes; from their age, to Edward's dental disease, to the scraps of costly velvet clinging to their bones.

Monday 4 February 2013

The Heart of London - *Giveaway*

WIN A $20 AMAZON VOUCHER - as part of the "Follower Love" blog hop.
GIVEAWAY NOW CLOSED - and the winner is:
"Bookish Stacy" - many congratulations to Stacy, your eVoucher is on its way!!

Click the banner for a link to the other blogs in the hop

Where is the Heart of London?


A reasonable answer would be the centre of London - but where is this?
This answer is the London Stone - a lump of masonry believed by many to imbued with mythical powers, and yet hundreds of commuters walk past it everyday without noticing.
The London Stone is said to have been used by the Romans as the milestone from which all distances in England were measured, and marked the exact centre of the ancient city of Londinium. If this is true or not, it was certainly an important landmark for it was said people met at the London Stone to settle debts, to pin important notices or indeed that it was the last remaining stone of the first Lord Mayor's house.
Behind this grill rests the London Stone.
Cany you see it?
Whatever the claims for the London Stone, it is certainly one of the oldest building stones to be found above ground. References to it extend back through the centuries and one 16th century chronicler, John Stow, claimed to find it mentioned in a book dating back to the Saxon king Ethelstane (925-940). There are numerous casual references throughout the centuries and although its exact history is unknown, there are several conjectures as to its historical importance.

Wilder theories imbue the London Stone with mythical powers, including the stone embodying the soul of the city and that if it is destroyed, London will fall. The origin of this theory perhaps comes from stories of the stone being the last evidence of a sacred monolith (a sort of London Stonehenge), or brought by Brutus when he founded the city.

The modern resting place of the London Stone.

Legends concerning the stone are many and varied but one of my favourites concerns the significance of 'striking the stone.' In Shakespeare's Henry VI, part 2, the leader of the Kentish Rebellion, Jack Cade, strikes the stone with his sword and declares:
"Now is Mortimer lord of this city."

This goes in some way to back an ancient belief that striking the stone was a key part of a ritual which legitimized a leader's claim to authority (echoes of King Arthur and the sword in the stone?), in particular the idea that no Lord Mayor could take office without striking the stone with his sword.

So considering the rich history surrounding the London Stone, what became of it?

Is it royally housed in a shrine, surrounded by security cameras and subdued lighting? Sadly, not. It sits sadly overlooked, embedded in the wall of a betting shop in Cannon Street, behind a dirty glass screen and shielded from the pavement by an iron screen. Come to think of it, perhaps hiding it in plain sight is a good idea - a great way to disguise mythical powers…don’t you think…
The shameful last home of the London Stone -
in the wall of a betting shop in a grotty London street.
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