Wednesday 30 July 2014

Pangur Ban, a Medieval Cat Poem - by Guest, Kim Rendfeld

I'm delighted to welcome author of historical fiction, Kim Rendfeld, to Fall in Love with History. Kim posts on a subject very close to my heart - cats. I love learning about how cats were depicted in early centuries,  and the delightful poem about an Irish monk's cat is a new treasure. So without further ado, over to Kim.
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The delightfully titled "Katzen und Maeuses"
When you read about early medieval times, you expect war and brutal justice, not a charming poem about a cat.
 But such a thing does exists, and it was a pleasant surprise in my research for my novels. I stumbled across “Pangur Ban” in Pierre Riche’s Daily Life in the World of Charlemagne. Written in the margins of a manuscript found in a monastery in today’s Austria, this ninth-century piece is about a cat named Pangur Ban, written by an Irish monk. In the poem, the author compares his hunt for knowledge to the cat’s hunt for mice and describes the satisfaction both get from their arts. (A kind soul has posted two translations of the poem at .)

The poem reveals the affection the poet has for his pet, so much that he’s given his animal a name, and he refers to his cat as “he” rather than “it.” “Pangur Ban” is also relevant to those of us who write and seek knowledge today. Do we not rejoice when we capture that elusive piece of information we’ve been stalking? Are we not so proud we want to meow and drop the prey at our companion’s feet, I mean show it off?

This delightful poem shows a universality in affection for our pets and the pure joy of learning. In many ways, we’ve not changed much from our ancestors, but in this case, it’s a good thing.
Kim Rendfeld
Kim Rendfeld is a cat lover and the author of The Cross and the Dragon (2012, Fireship Press), a tale of love amid wars and blood feuds, and The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar (August 28, 2014, Fireship Press), a story of the lengths a mother will go to protect her children. To read the first chapters of either novel or learn more about Kim, visit You’re also welcome to visit her blog Outtakes of a Historical Novelist at, like her on Facebook at, or follow her on Twitter at @kimrendfeld, or contact her at kim [at] kimrendfeld [dot] com.

Thank you, Kim! 
OK, this isn't strictly relevant but I'm going to post it anyway! A quick sketch by my son of Widget, my writer's cat. Isn't she gorgeous? Look at that smile. 
Widget - biro on paper :-)

Wednesday 23 July 2014

Thoroughbreds: a Short History of the Turf by Regina Jeffers

I'm delighted to welcome fellow author of historical romance, Regina Jeffers, to Fall in Love wit History. In a short series of guest posts with an animal theme, Regina posts about the history of the thoroughbred. 
Regina is a well-respected and highly qualified teacher, and a successful author. If you would like to know more about Regina's work here is the link to her website. But without further ado, over to my guest
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One of the more challenging aspects of writing historical romance is the amount of research one must do. It is not uncommon to spend 8 hours researching a fact that in less than a paragraph in the book. However, one must do it or face the wrath of history savvy readers. Recently, I added the element of thoroughbred racing to a novella entitled “His American Heartsong” (found in His: Two Regency Novellas). I have always said if I hit the lottery, I would move to Kentucky and raise thoroughbreds. So, finding out about thoroughbreds was time consuming, but oh, so exciting.
A modern thoroughbred horse
For example, did you know the origins of modern racing go back to the Crusades. Between the 12th and 16th centuries, Arab stallions were imported into England and mated with English mares to breed in speed and endurance.
Professional horse racing sprang to life in the reign of Queen Anne (1702-1714). By 1750, racing’s elite formed the Jockey Club at Newmarket. The Jockey Club still exercises complete control of English racing.
Since 1814, five races for 3-year-olds have been designated as “Classics”: The English Triple Crown, which includes the Epsom Derby, the 2000 Guineas, and the St. Leger Stakes, is open to both male and female horses. The Epsom Oaks and the 1000 Guineas is only for fillies.
A modern Arab horse
In addition to writing rules for racing, the Jockey Club defined steps to regulate horse breeding. James Weatherby traced the complete family history (pedigree) of every horse to race in England. Weatherby served the Jockey Club as its Secretary in 1770. Between 1770 and 1805, he helped to lay the foundation for racehorse pedigrees. With the assistance of his nephews, The General Stud Book, a definitive record of the pedigrees of approximately 400 horses, which were seen as the foundation for all thoroughbred stock worldwide, was published in 1791. By the early 1800s only horses descended from those listed in the General Stud Book could be called “thoroughbreds.”
The General Stud Book
Published London, 1857
Now this is the amazing fact!!! Breed histories generally focus on one of three stallions, which are referred to as the “foundation sires.” These stallions are Byerley Turk (foaled c.1679); the Darley Arabian (foaled c.1700), and Godolphin Arabian (foaled c. 1724).
The three founding fathers of the turf
Following the family tree of the Godolphin Arabian, the Byerley Turk and the Darley Arabian is rather like compiling a ‘who’s who’ of racing champions!
The Godolphin Arabian
**Foaled about 1724

**Probably exported from Yemen via Syria to the stud of the Bey of Tunis

**Initially given to Louis XV of France in 1730, he was then imported to Britain

**Sired the best racehorse of the day, called Lath

**The Godolphin Arabian’s line hasn’t won the Derby since Santa Claus in 1964, and has recently been overshadowed by the Darley Arabian’s descendants
The Byerley Turk
**Foaled about 1680

**His line includes
Descendent Highflyer and his sons were champion stallions 23 times in 25 years

The Byerley Turk
One of the progenitors of the modern thoroughbred
**The Byerley Turk’s line now has much less influence than that of the Darley Arabian.
The Darley Arabian
**Foaled about 1700
**Amongst others, he sired Bartlett’s Childers whose great grandson was Eclipse
**Over 80% of modern racehorses can trace their descent to Eclipse, including the great Canadian stallion Northern Dancer.

The Darley arabian
The golden story of Eclipse
A descendent of the Darley Arabian, Eclipse was foaled in 1764, the year of the great eclipse of the sun. He won 18 races, never appearing the least bit stretched. Owners were reluctant to put their horses up against him and eight of his races were declared walkovers!
Eclipse retired to stud in 1771 and sired three Derby winners but his ability to sire offspring that were well adapted to the new shorter races for two and three year olds ensured him a place in the racing history books.
However, due to terrific competition from Herod and the Byerley Turk line, Eclipse was never actually declared champion.
After his death, Eclipse was dissected to try to work out the secret of his success – it was decided that his huge heart pumped blood around the body more effectively, while his back legs gave plenty of leverage. Powerful lungs completed the winning combination. His skeleton is still owned by the Royal Veterinary College. [Note by Grace: I have seen the sombre sight of Eclispe's skeletion. It is on display in the foyee of the main building at the RVC's site at Potters Bar. Even so, the skeleton has an elegance and vivacity that you would not credit bones with.]
The Thoroughbred Heritage website (which includes detailed lists of the sire lines for the three foundation sires) says of the “Historic Sires”: “Thoroughbreds descend in tail-male line to one of these stallions, upwards of 200 stallions, Arabians, Barbs, Turks, and others, were imported into England and are so noted in the General Stud Book. History has managed to overlook many of these early sires, despite the fact that some wielded an even more profound influence on the breed than any one of the three foundation sires. Some, such as the Darcy White Turk had male lines that survived five and six generations and produced many important runners and sires before becoming extinct in direct male descent. Others, such as Fairfax’s Morocco Barb, survive in pedigrees through a single son or daughter, but their blood still runs deep in the Thoroughbred.”

Wednesday 16 July 2014

Henry VIII's Bedtime Habits

The Tudor court was rife with politics and power-play – and never more so than in the bedroom. Being a gentleman of the King’s bedchamber meant intimate contact with the monarch – and so only the most privileged and trusted were admitted to the position. This was a reflection of the closeness to the monarch’s ear and possible influence on government policy.
Henry VIII holding court in his bedchamber
Keys to the bedchamber became a symbol of power. That most intimate of servants, The Groom of the Stool (the stool referred to is the Tudor equivalent of the toilet) wore as a badge of office ‘a gold key on a blue ribbon’ – and had to authority to demand that ‘no other keys for the bed-chamber be made or allowed.’ Even so the king had little privacy.
See his sheets be clean, then fold down his bed, and warm his night kerchief and see his house of office be clean, help off his clothes, and draw the curtains, make sure the fire and candles, avoid [throw out] the dogs, and shut the doors.

Henry VIII didn’t sleep with his wife unless he wanted intercourse in which event he visited her chambers. However, there were always attendants in his room, either sleeping on a small wheeled bed pulled out from beneath the royal bed, or even favoured servants such as Thomas Culpepper ‘ordinarily shared [the King’s] bed’.
Henry VIII had a set of household rules about how to make up his bed. He slept on a pile of eight mattresses and each night he had a servant roll on the bed, to check for hidden enemies with daggers. After this the servant would kiss the places he had touched, sprinkle the sheets with holy water and make the sign of the cross over the bed.

But over time, even Henry became tired of this invasion of privacy. At Hampton Court he built so-called ‘secret lodgings’ with a new policy for bedchamber staff. Of his six Gentlemen of the Bedchamber, only one now had the automatic right to enter – the rest had to be invited.
“The King’s express commandment is, that none other of the said six gentlemen, presume to enter of follow his Grace into the said bed chamber, or any other secret place, unless he shall be called.”
Henry I employed a ‘porter of the King’s bed’ – a man with a packhorse whose job it was to convey the king’s bed from castle to castle. A royal progress was a means by which the monarch exerted his authority over his nobles. Any aristocrat seeking to impress maintained a special bedroom for visiting sovereigns. This meant having a state-bed; a colossal construction with a canopy fifteen foot high, hung with gorgeous and expensive tapestries. One example was the state bed at Woburn Abbey, commissioned appropriately enough by the Duke of Bedford – at a cost equivalent to today of half a million pounds.

Sumptuous as a state bed sounds, sometimes there is no substitute for comfort rather than show. Elizabeth I spent her last nights of life on a pile of cushions on the floor, rather than in her 11 foot ostrich-feather bed – proving size isn’t everything. 

Saturday 12 July 2014

Welcome! "Queen of Bedlam" Author Laura Purcell

Today I'm delighted to welcome author, Laura Purcell to Fall in Love with History. As an indie author Laura's has achieved what most can only dream of, being spotted and signed by major publisher Myrmidon. Laura is a fellow member of the English Historical Fiction Authors group, and is always so supportive that it is with great pleasure. Over to Laura...

When you write biographical fiction, you need to have a connection with your subject. One of the aspects of Queen Charlotte’s character that endeared to me was her fondness for dogs. Even though this queen had fifteen children, her heart was never too full for a canine companion.
Laura Purcell
 Charlotte rarely appears in a portrait without her dogs. Even her statue in the town of Charlotte North Carolina has a dog jumping up her skirts.  Although Charlotte’s pets would not be like the breeds we recognise today, the visual records show similarities to modern dogs. An early portrait of Charlotte with her two young sons, George and Frederick, has her resting her hand on the head of what looks to be a Great Dane. In the 1779 picture by Benjamin West, she has a long haired white dog, similar to a Papillion, at her feet. Later, in Gainsborough’s portrait of 1781, we see a white and tan spaniel like a Cavalier King Charles. Over a decade on, Charlotte appears in a painting by Sir William Beechey with no less than three dogs; one in her arms that looks like a Shi Tzu, with a possible Border Collie and Greyhound lounging behind. That’s a lot of canines, all beloved enough to make it into an official portrait!
The first dog I came across in Charlotte’s life was at the start of her marriage in 1761. An inventory of St. James’s Palace lists “a large soft cushion stuffed with hair” for the queen’s dog Presto. Presto was evidently a great favourite - there are records of him following Charlotte on official occasions and tripping her guests up! However, he was later eclipsed by a spaniel named Badine.
Queen Charlotte with one of her dogs
Badine, which means “playful” in French, was the most famous of Charlotte’s dogs. He was at court around the same time as Fanny Burney, which means he featured in many of the novelist’s diaries and letters.
The queen, Burney wrote, when she goes to early prayers, often leaves me the charge of her little favourite dog, Badine. To-day, after her return, she sent her page for him; and presently after, I had a rap again at the door, and the little Princess Sophia entered. "Miss Burney," cried she, curtseying and colouring, "Mamma has sent me for the little dog's basket."
It seems Badine was a dog particularly attune to his owner’s feelings. Charlotte was deeply distressed after an assassination attempt on her husband. Badine would not leave her while she was unhappy. When [the queen} was dressed for the chapel, she desired me to keep little Badine; but he ran out after her.

Badine was also one of the first dogs admitted to the presence of George III during his bout of “madness” in 1788. The King tied a blue ribbon around Badine’s neck, declaring that the dog loved him, not Charlotte. Poor Badine must have been very confused by the shifting mood of his master during this time.
When George recovered in 1789, the royal family set off on a celebratory tour to Weymouth. They broke their journey at the New Forest, where they were presented with two white Greyhounds wearing silver collars. These probably went into the King’s household, but we do have a record of a smaller, Italian Greyhound in Charlotte’s possession, named Phillis. Phillis was a sweet-natured, elegant pet, “a small masterpiece of nature”. She attended Charlotte and Badine to Weymouth.
Another breed Charlotte was fond of was the Pomeranian. There is a painting of Charlotte by Stroehling from 1807 with a Pomeranian jumping up at the side; this may have been one of her pair named Mercury and Phoebe. These small, fluffy dogs obviously made an impression on Charlotte’s son, Prince George. In 1791, the prince commissioned Stubbs to paint his own set of Pomeranians, Fino and Tiny.

Of course dogs were not the only animals Charlotte loved. Her menagerie at Kew boasted elephants, zebra and no less than eighteen kangaroos. With so many children and a veritable zoo of pets, I imagine the servants of George III and Queen Charlotte were kept very busy – and very stressed! 

If you would like to know more about Laura and her work, here are some useful links.

Wednesday 9 July 2014

A Tax on Dogs

In 1796 a seemingly innocuous piece of tax legislation caused uproar in England. The new law provoked a debate about the very nature of the human spirit and whether owning a dog was a right or a luxury.
At the end of the 18th century the English government was desperate for money to finance the on-going war with France. One way of raising the necessary cash was taxation. Tax was raised on everything from soap, to tea, tobacco, windows and lace – and indeed it didn’t stop there. Servants were a taxable asset under the auspices of the Male Servants’ Tax bill 1777- 1852 and the Female Servant’s Tax bill  1795 – 1852- but fortunately (or unfortunately?) wives and children were not taxable assets!. There was a Horse Tax (for owners of carriages and saddle horses), a Farm Horse Tax (for horses and mules used in trade) – but none of these taxes created quite the same stir as the imposition of the Dog Tax in 1796.

The crux of the disquiet lay in the very English relationship between man to dog. It raised a serious debate about whether a dog was a luxury or a natural part of being human. The tax tapped into questions about the emotional bond between the two. By putting a tax on dogs it implied a shift in relationship from one of nurturing and caring, to servility and subordination – and dog owners were enraged. To many this was tantamount to taxing spouses and children , and people weren’t happy. This wasn’t about the financial aspect of the tax, but the moral implication and feelings ran high.
Those that supported the bill pointed out that pet dogs were a luxury, and consumed food that could have been better used to feed the poor. Opposers argued back that to need things beyond the essential – such as a dog – was a distinctly human trait. These people considered pets to be their friends, and putting a tax on them turned the language of friendship to that of slavery and service.

Interestingly, the idea behind the dog tax may have originated in France (the very country the English needed to raise funds to fight!) In 1770 a French census suggested a population of four million dogs –an arithmetic extrapolation of the amount of food they consumed was equivalent to feeding a sixth of the population. The French dog tax was proposed to discourage dog ownership, as a means of disease control and to increase food availability.
French authorities also insisted dogs belonging to the poor spread disease – especially rabies. This was considered a disease of dirty and hungry dogs, so poor labourers who – “Can scarcely feed themselves” should be discouraged from owning dogs by means of a tax.

The difference between France and England was that in the former the tax remained as a proposition, whereas in the later it was acted upon.  Whatever the moral argument the English government won in the end – the Dog Tax was imposed and stayed in place until 1882. 

Wednesday 2 July 2014

As Popular as Wimbledon: 19th Century Attractions

Inside the Exeter Exchange, 1812
Between the World Cup and Wimbledon, it seems everyone is talking about, or watching sport this summer. But in previous centuries, it was curiosities that attracted the crowds, sights such as unusual animals or the exotic. Typical of this, in the late 19th century, was George Pidcock and his hugely popular menagerie at the Exeter Exchange.
Mr. Pidcock started out as an itinerant showman, hawking animals around fairs and markets. But the poor roads made it difficult to move the animals in winter and Pidcock needed a base. He bought a four-story building, the Exeter Exchange, in the Strand, London – and made his fortune.
The Exeter Exchange 
The animals included a rhinoceros, kangaroo, lynx, zebra and rare birds and Pidcock found the public paid handsomely to view his animals, and what started as a temporary solution turned into a permanent display. Such was the success of the venture that he went on to add tigers and an elephant!
The visitor paid a shilling to view the three main exhibits, or two shillings to see everything. The menagerie was open for twelve hours a day from 9 am and the most popular time to visit was feeding time at 8 pm. The later was signaled by Chunee, the elephant, ringing a bell.
"The Lords of Parliament and the lions of Exeter Change all dined at about eight."
 William Clarke, journalist.
One famous visitor, Lord Byron, remarked that the hippotamus had the face of the Prime Minister, Lord Liverpool – possibly a dubious anecdote since no record exists of a hippo at Pidcock’s menagerie.
Munito, the learned dog
Another major attraction in the 18th – 19th century were performing animals. One such was Munito the ‘learned’ dog. First shown by Signor Castelli in London, 1817, the dog played dominoes, did card tricks and performed arithmetic. Decades later, Charles Dickens recalls, as a boy, seeing Munito.
“About 45 years ago, a learned dog was exhibited in Piccadilly -  Munito … He performed many curious feats, answering questions, telling the hour of the day … picking out any cards called for from a pack on the ground.” 
Charles Dickens, 1867
Incidentally, Dickens was determined to work out how Munito did his tricks – which perhaps he did.
“We watched more narrowly … noticed that between each feat the master gave the dog some small bits … of food, and that there was a faint smell of aniseed from that corner of the room.” 
Dickens believed that as the owner set out the cards, he pressed his thumb on the chosen card impregnating it with the scent of aniseed which Munito had been trained to recognize.  Apparently, he confronted Signor Castelli after the show, with this explanation, who ‘did not deny the discovery.’

Another late 18th craze was the performing pig trained by Samuel  Bisset. Reputedly he bought the black piglet in Belfast market for 3 shillings, and tutored him for two years before The Learned Pig first made his debut in 1783, Dublin. The pig knelt and bowed, used cardboard letters to spell out names and could point to the married people in the audience. The act succeeded Bisset's wildest dreams and the couple were warmly welcome in novelty seeking London.
"…solves questions in the four rules of arithmetic, tells by looking at a …watch, what is the hour and minute and is the admiration of all who have seen him."
"…the tongue of the most florid orator…can sufficiently describe the wonderful performance of that sagacious animal."

So convincing was the pig's performance that some religious people claimed he was possessed and 'corresponding with the devil'. Others saw it as proof that the soul could migrate suspecting that: 'The spirit of the grunting Philosopher might once have animated a man.'
The act amazed the audience as the pig spelt names out with cardboard letters. Crowds flocked to see him and with four shows a day, was rumored to take the huge amount of 70 pounds a week in ticket sales.
After a long London run the pig joined a circus performing at Sadler's Wells Theatre. A group of acrobats, incensed at being asked to share a billing with a performing pig, threatened to resign and were sacked on the spot. By 1786, in the world of entertainment the Learned Pig ruled.
"A far greater object of admiration to the English nation than ever was Sir Isaac Newton." Robert Southey

Of course, cats are far too clever to perform....