Are you the publisher? Claim or contact us about this channel

Embed this content in your HTML


Report adult content:

click to rate:

Account: (login)

More Channels


Channel Catalog

older | 1 | .... | 61 | 62 | (Page 63) | 64 | 65 | .... | 128 | newer

    0 0

    'Bacchus discovering honey'
    “If you would take a swarm of bees from a hollow tree. Saw off the top of the tree and cover the swarm with a cloth soaked in wet clay. Then saw through the tree beneath the swarm and carry it home. But it is best you do this swiftly.” – Advice given to Medieval Beekeepers.

    This last line sounds particularly wise advice. Beekeeping was vital in the Middle Ages for the production of honey for use both in cooking and to preserve food, such as fruits. It was important in medicine too. It had been recognized since ancient times that honey helped to prevent wounds from festering, healed ulcers and helped internal ailments.

    Beeswax was equally valuable for making the vast number of candles needed to light homes, workshops and churches. It was also needed to make polish to preserve wood and leather, for waterproofing and for sealing storage jars and documents. Bees also pollinated many food and forage crops. So, not only were bees kept in huge numbers in monasteries and manors, many medieval cottagers would have also have been beekeepers.
    Bee skeps beneath a fruit tree in 1400's

    In the Middle Ages, it was believed that the hive was ruled by a king bee, not a queen, with a social structure that paralleled human society, with the monarch at the top. In Shakespeare’s “King Henry V”, the Archbishop of Canterbury describes this belief. This parallel between human society and that of the industrious bee was frequently alluded to in sermons, as proof of the divine and natural order, which no one should even think about rebelling against. Although, a number of people down through the centuries had claimed it was a queen not a king, who was centre of the hive, it wasn’t until the second half of the 17th century, that the Dutch naturalist, Jan Swammerdam, finally managed to get the idea generally accepted.

    In Britain, bee skeps have been traditionally made from whatever people used for making byres and cottages. In areas where reeds were used for thatching houses, it was used for skeps. Where corn was grown, they used corn straw. Pallandius writing in the 4th century, recommended hives made from wood or woven from wicker, covered with daub, and insulated with wool and moss. Sticks were laid across inside the skep to give the bees something on which to build the comb, which, if the bees co-operated, made it easier to remove honeycomb at intervals throughout the season, without damaging the skep or colony. Pallandius also advocated putting out dishes of honey boiled in water, infused with rosemary in the early spring to feed them. We now know that rosemary has antiseptic properties which might well have helped the bees to fight disease.

    Medieval beekeepers were advised to put sweet smelling herbs inside a new skep, together with castor (oil from beaver glands). This may not merely have soothed the bees into staying, but might also have helped to discourage mites which can weaken and kill bees.

    The Normans introduced the stone ‘bee tower’ or ‘honey pot’. The Cistercian monastery at Mellifont had a 40 ft high bee tower. The one erected by Nicholas de Verdon in 1230, in Clonmore, County Louth was 50 ft high and 10 ft square. It had tiers of louver openings on three sides, but not on the north wall, with lofts lined with straw on each tier to keep the hives warm and a central ladder.

    Medieval manuals give detailed instructions on capturing wild bee colonies. Someone wanting to restock his own hives from the wild was advised to go and sit by shallow water in a forest. If he saw a large numbers of bees, he caught some by sucking them up them in a hollow reed and then marked them by sticking small pieces of feathers or petals of different colours to them with wax. He was then instructed to release them and observe which bees came back to the water first. This was a sign their nest was the closest, so he could follow those. But in reality, I suspect most medieval country dwellers would not have bothered with anything so complex. They, or their children, would have spotted colonies of wild bees whilst driving pigs into the forest in autumn or collecting kindling, and would simply have marked the sites to return to in spring.

    Up to a few decades ago, it was thought that medieval beekeepers were pretty wasteful with bees, killing off most of the hives to take the honey in autumn and replenishing them from wild sources or a stock hive in the spring. But we have come to realise that medieval beekeepers were just as careful to keep any healthy hives going over winter, as the modern beekeeper. They knew how to combine colonies with a weak ‘king’ to a stronger colony. And they claimed that by setting out troughs of ‘toasts of bread soaked in strong ale’ near the hives in March, a colony could thrive for ten years.

    To separate honey from wax, the combs were broken inside sacks and the sacks hung up and left to drip, this produced the finest honey. The combs were then bruised and beaten in the sack and hung in a warm place, often in front of the fire, so that a lesser quality honey ran out. The final few drops of honey were extracted by pressing the combs in straw under heavy stones. Monasteries who had cheese or fruit presses would use those, but in cottages the family quern or grinding stone was often used as the weight. Afterwards, the straw was pressed into bundles while still wet and hardened into a waxy tapers or spills, which could be used to light fires or to smoke the bees, to stupefy them.
    King Louis XII of France riding to attack
    rebels in Geneo. The bees and skeps
     illustrate the motto - "The king whom
    we obey, does not use his sting."

    Medieval laws regard bees were very complex and often varied widely across the country. In Ireland, if a swarm from a known hive settled in the hollow trunk of neighbour’s tree. The produce in the first three years had to be divided, with two-thirds going to the person who owned the tree and a third to the owner of the hive from which they came. In the fourth year, the bees became the sole property of the tree-owner. But if the bees instead settled in branches of the tree, the proportions were reversed, with only a third going to the tree owner. However, rather unfairly, if the owner of the original hive was of humble birth, he was only entitled to a half of the produce, not two-thirds.

    If some passing a hive got stung, providing he hadn’t struck the hive, under Irish law he was entitled to a full meal of honey, unless he killed the bee which stung him, then he got nothing as the crime had been avenged.

    There are many ancient superstitions connected to bees, often originating in the belief that they were the messengers between earth and heaven. One is that bees must be informed of births or deaths in the family immediately, otherwise they will fly away. And even twenty-years ago, I remember an elderly relative going out to tell the bees about the death of her husband before she would utter a word to anyone.

    Telling the bees

    0 0
  • 02/08/16--16:16: Did Ancient Romans have...?
  • by Caroline Lawrence

    As a History Girl, one of my obsessions is Detailing the World. 

    In an historical novel it's not crucial to the reader what kind of hinges you put on the door or if your hero passes a rodent that hasn't been imported yet, but I like to get it right. 

    I've been studying the Classical world for over forty years, but I'm always learning something new. As I was making a final pass over my forthcoming book set in first century Roman Britain, a couple of details brought me up short. Here are six questions I asked myself: 

    1. Did Romans have inches?
    2. Did Roman doors have hinges as we know them?
    3. Did Roman tombs have doors?
    4. Were there rats in imperial Rome?
    5. Did Romans shake hands the way we do today?
    6. Did Romans have pancakes?

    Classicists, how would you have answered those? 

    We can never be 100% sure of anything, but here are the answers I came up with. 

    1. Did Romans have inches?
    Yes. They're called unciae
    cf. Pliny NH VI.39, 214

    gnomonis C unciae umbram LXXKKVII unciarum faciunt:
    A gnomon 100 inches long throws a shadow 77 inches long. 
    We know Romans had plumb lines, but they probably didn't have a Roman Ruler like this: 

    2. Did Roman doors have hinges?
    Yes, they had the butterfly hinges as we know them but more common was the cardo. This type of Roman hinge was a dowel added to (or built into) one side of the door, the protruding ends — pivots — fit into sockets, one in the threshold at the bottom of the door and one in the lintel at the top. So one whole side of the door was a hinge. cf. Virgil Ciris, 222 sonitum nam fecerat illi marmoreo aeratus stridens in limine cardo: For the bronze hinge made a sound, squeaking in the marble threshold.

    3. Did Roman house tombs have doors? 
    Yes. One Pompeian tomb still under construction when Vesuvius erupted featured a door made of a single piece of marble, but carved to resemble the sort of folding wooden doors typical in Roman houses. (pictured: the Tomb of the Marble Door from Pompeii)

    4. Were there rats in imperial Rome? 
    No. According to my research, the black rat didn’t reach Europe until the 1st century AD. Maybe even later. I came upon this fact when I tried to find the Latin word for rat. Rattus doesn't exist until the late Antique period, so mus has to do service until then. 

    5. Did Romans shake hands?
    Yes. Especially in farewell. We have hundreds of depictions of Greeks and Romans shaking hands and not a single instance of the forearm grasp, used by Hollywood and many writers of historical Roman fiction. The forearm grasp is totally bogus! 

    6. Did Romans have pancakes?
    Because this blog post is going out on Shrove Tuesday AKA 'Pancake Day' of 2016, I thought it would be fun to see if Romans had pancakes. I went to my shelf and pulled down the indispensable Classical Cookbook and sure enough, they did. Author Sally Grainger quotes the second century Latin author Galen (AD 129-199) and gives a recipe. Essentially it's pancake batter without eggs and substituting clear honey for sugar and with the addition of the very Roman ingredient: sesame seeds! The recipe goes right back to ancient Greece where actors on the Athenian stage speak of warm pancakes steaming over a brazier at daybreak with honey drizzled over them. It might have been a kind of fast food as it is in parts of the world today.   

    Little details like these are just one of the many factors that go to making an historical novel good. Now I just have to get plot, character and pace right...

    Escape from Rome, the first in Caroline Lawrence's new Roman Quests series, launches in May 2016. 

    0 0

    Those readers who know me personally will detect a certain irony in this post. Those who don’t know me personally must be informed that I have a plenitude of bosom and frequently complain about my burdens. Indeed, I work on the theory that I was given the wrong breasts and that daintier ones would suit my character and lifestyle better. But enough of that ...

    A few years ago I researched an illustrated book about feminine nostrums: quack preparations for women that played – for profit – on feminine insecurities and body dysmorphic disorders. Much work went into that small volume, and much outrage too. Only a fraction of the material could be used in the published book, so I have raided that research for several of my novels – a Bankside notion-monger called Valentine Greatrakes in The Remedy, quack complexion cures in The Book of Human Skin, London mermaids with the vapours in The Mourning Emporium, and hair treatments in The True & Splendid History of the Harristown Sisters.

    Until now, I had not given breasts - or breast quackery - a second look, except for a little flurry in the History Girls private forum last year when we traded historical names for breasts. Over that, I also draw a veil.

    But all things quack are of interest to me, historically and linguistically, so I have decided it is time to revisit charlatanism of the cleavage.

    In the days before silicone and surgery, various ‘laboratories’ developed creams and tablets that purported to increase breast size. As is typical of quack medicine, they attempted to blind their clients with pseudo-science, using words that smacked of the laboratory but were in fact empty confections of senseless syllables.

    Regularly invoked were the names of doctors and physicians (of dubious qualifications) - the historical equivalent of television advertising featuring people in white laboratory coats. Adulatory testimonials were published. The advertisements invariably claimed that the products were ‘100 per cent safe’, and they may well have been so, but they were certainly also 100 per cent useless.
    Peruna advert courtesy of
    Wikimedia Commons
    During the American Civil War, many soldiers became addicted to an alcohol-based tonic called Peruna, sold as a cure for catarrh (although the maker defined catarrh as the basis of half the world’s diseases). The effects of this 28% proof liquid even gave rise to a new phrase, ‘Peruna drunk’. (Later, when his ingredients were outed, it was suggested that the inventor should put some real medicine in his drink - or open a bar.)

    Clever quacks set about selling remedies to cure dependence on Peruna, especially after it was outed as a temperance-busting fraud in the early 1900s. But manufacturers turned their sights on the female market and the same drug was sometimes sold as a breast-enlarger.

     Then there were the ‘flesh-making’ bust creams for the ‘undernourished’ tissue. Ingredients usually included lanolin or other natural fats. ‘Flesh-firming’ creams relied on astringents to ‘tighten and lift’. One recipe entailed a night-time painting of the breasts with ‘elastic collodion’ to keep the sleeping bosom supported overnight. E.A. Fletcher, The Woman Beautiful, 1899, suggested that a firming cream should be dotted on but not rubbed in before the collodion mask was applied.
    Allure Cream for ridding yourself of body dysmorphia

    A Doctor (of course) R. Vaucaire of Paris (naturally) introduced goat’s rue, Galega officinalis, as an indispensable remedy for flat breasts. It had previously been used to encourage milk production in domestic animals.The 1930s were a grand time for the breast quacks. Biological ingredients such as placenta or embryo extracts were introduced with much fan-fare. Hormones were also much vaunted. The makers of Milo-Crème Lion attributed their product’s efficacy to its ‘30,000 Estrogonic Hormones’ that were ‘easily absorbed by the breasts’. The suppliers of Pro-Forma tablets claimed that they were prescribed by many doctors for weak and sagging breasts.

    Pro-Forma with
    'extract of Galega'
    Quacks love to denounce their rivals.

    ‘Doctor Colonnay, the distinguished Physician of the Faculty of Medicine, Paris’ explained that he had performed experiments upon 200 ladies and could definitely refute the claims of others propagating ‘medicines, nostrums, prescriptions, dieting, apparatus, appliances, greasy creams, massage’. He claimed that his system, on the other hand, could create eight to eleven pounds of extra flesh in the desired parts, with healthy tissue created at will.

    Strenuous arm exercises were popular, on the principle that the muscles of the chest could be developed to aesthetic advantage. I am sure you will have heard of the mantra ‘I must, I must, improve my bust’. This was originally
    meant to accompany an exercise that entailed clenching the palms of the hands in front of the chest. Lifting heavy books was supposed to generate breast-enhancing muscle. (I must say that I can think of better uses for heavy books). Spring-loaded devices were also popular, promising that resistance combined with persistent exercise would create extra breast tissue. As late as 1966, there was a patent out for the Mark Eden Bust Developer, a clam-shell wire-sprung device in baby-doll pink. Breathing exercises were also suggested – because bigger lungs could only, of course, create a more splendid bosom. And that splendid bosom of course required harnessing in the correct corsetry, as shown at right. In the Victorian period, you could take advantage of Bazalgette-quality engineering to put you right, as seen below.

    Combined breast pads by Henry S. Lesher from 1859,
    courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
    Some of the quack breast treatments involving pumps and suction must have been very painful. The instruments themselves were rarely illustrated in the advertisements: just the delectable result, as in the Fem-in-a Bust Developer. What was not shown, usually, was the hand or foot pump that was used to suck fluid into the breast via a mammary cup. While these treatments must have been painful, with the introduction of electricity they became positively dangerous, with a risk of ruptured blood vessels.

    Le Massosein (get it?) of France in the mid 1930s sold a machine with a massive cup and hose for douching the breast with cold water. The Abunda Bust Developer also used hydrotherapy to ‘stimulate’ breast growth. The device was plugged into a tap that sent water gushing through perforations in a plastic breast cup.

    Bust massage was popular, though advertisers were always aware of the moral dangers of conferring pleasure. Lucille Young, who offered Bust Massage in Chicago, advertises herself with a picture of a gentle, smiling young lady, who surely never knew a moment of transgression. Mechanical rollers and later electrical vibrators were sold for discreet and strictly medical self-massage in the home.

    The Sears-Roebuck Catalogue of 1897 offered both the Princess Bust Developer and Princess Bust Cream Food. The 1905 catalogue devoted half a page to these products. The Developer was a bell-shaped cup of aluminium and copper, with a metal rod for handling. The advertising promised that correct use of this device could increase bust size by three to five inches.
    A quick look at the internet reveals that the quacks have never abandoned the profitable field of breast-enlargement. Painful pumps are still marketed today, as are ‘natural’ vegetable drugs. And the makers are still using pseudo-scientific terms to describe their expensive contraptions and concoctions. 

    I leave you with a genuine quack advertisement. Below is a letter sent out by The Olive Company for the National Developer for the Bust, 1920s. It deploys all the mischief of nurtured body dysmorphia, impossible promises and emotive language that are the trademark of the medical charlatan. Read it and weep, ladies, and think about it the next time you see a beauty product advertised on television.


    … No longer need you be ashamed of your bust or your scrawny neck, nor need you fear evening gowns or low-necked dresses, which are all the fashion now, for you may have beautiful breasts yourself, little domes of beauty on a shapely chest.

    Oh, lovable woman, don’t waste your moments in regrets and unrealized hopes any longer, for we bring you ‘Good Tidings of Great Joy!’ and you will bless us for years to come for giving you the opportunity to secure this glorious invention at this special price …

    Think of all the stage beauties who have become famous – Lilian Russell, Maude Adams, Lina Cavalieri; the moving pictures stars – Lillian Walker, Marguerite Snow, and Kathlyn Williams. What was it but the charm of a perfect figure that helped to make these celebrities famous? You never saw a famous actress or a moving picture star with a scrawny, flat chest.

    Think of all the women you know in your town, who are most prominent socially, and who have the most friends. In nearly every case they have beautiful figures, well-developed busts, the charm of perfect development. It is not the pretty face that makes a lasting impression on men, but the charm and poise of a beautiful figure, a PERFECT BUST – the crowning glory of womanhood.

    Send us your order now, and let your fallen, flaccid, undeveloped breasts expand and blossom into that superb development which it is perfectly natural and right that every woman should have – a beautiful bust of real, firm flesh and blood.

    Michelle Lovric’s website

    Her most recent adult novel The True & Splendid History of the Harristown Sisters, an account of hair quackery, is published by Bloomsbury.

    Note, a further update on the London Borough of Southwark’s conservation policies: a wooden hut advertising a certain pod company has mysteriously appeared in front of the replica of the Golden Hinde. It has been erected in a pedestrian area with traffic of up to 200,000 pairs of feet a week. But its site also happens to be within the Borough High Street Conservation Area, and it is squarely positioned in a protected historic view of the Scheduled Ancient Monument of Winchester Palace. The pod first appeared a month ago, though there is no record of it on Southwark’s planning register. We have been told that it was ‘donated as an office’ to the Golden Hinde, which already has an office in Clink Street, luridly festooned with its own advertising. The pod is empty apart from its advertising billboard for the company that manufactures it. Southwark seems to be on the way to establishing itself as a natural haven for those companies that wish to profit from propinquity to genuine historical stock while at the same time destroying the historic aesthetic of that very spot. The sadness is that, as with the subtenant of the Famous Chain of coffee shops mentioned in my previous posts, Southwark allows this happen. And yes, Famous Chain’s subtenant is still sporting his illegal A frames, balloons and merchandise, even though there is now a non-compliance case number.

    0 0

    Today is paperback publication day for my second novel The Silvered Heart, so between sips of celebratory fizz (or more likely a huge pot of tea) it seems only right to post about the woman, and the legend, that inspired the book.

    Here’s the book blurb…

    1648. Orphaned heiress Lady Katherine Ferrers is forced into marriage for the sake of family honour … but with Cromwell’s army bringing England to its knees, her fortune is the real prize her husband desires. As her marriage becomes a prison and her privileged world crumbles, Katherine meets her match in Rafe – a lover who will lead her into a dangerous new way of life where the threat of death lurks at every turn…

    Enter Kate Ferrers, highwaywoman, the Wicked Lady of legend – brought gloriously to life in this tale of infatuation, betrayal and survival.

    The popular legend of Lady Katherine Ferrers is classic high romance: a young, orphaned heiress is forced into a marriage of convenience, her inheritance squandered by a neglectful, dissolute husband. Desperate and frustrated, she finds escape and adventure with a dashing local highwayman.

    But there is no happily ever after for our heroine. Her lover is hanged. Driven insane with grief, she dies tragically, shot during a hold up. Her body is discovered at the foot of a concealed staircase, at her family home, Markyate Cell. She is buried, shrouded in secrecy and shame, to be remembered ever after as the wandering ghost of Hertfordshire folklore: the Wicked Lady.

    It’s a swashbuckling adventure that has inspired novels and films, the most famous, a 1945 version starring James Mason and Margaret Lockwood. But the life of the real woman with whom the legend has most often been associated, tells a different tale. Katherine Ferrers certainly suffered grief, hardship, and the devastation of a family fortune, as did many women during the English Civil War and its aftermath, but did she really turn to crime? And what does her story tell us about the position and fate of women during this tumultuous time in British history?

    Margaret Lockwood as The Wicked Lady

    Those are the questions that intrigued me when I first encountered the legend some years ago. Delving deeper I found that we know very little about the real Katherine, but there is enough information to piece together a picture of her life. We can trace her from Hertfordshire origins, via Oxford, Cambridgeshire and London, to her final resting place at Ware. Her family connections to prominent Royalists gave me insight into her intimate circle and her likely experiences and attitudes during the civil wars and the difficult years that followed. We know something of her financial hardship, her husband’s involvement in Royalist conspiracy rings and military uprisings, and his resulting imprisonment in the Tower. The challenge and opportunity for me was to merge these tantalising facts with the fiction.

    The only known portrait of Katherine Ferrers, recently restored at Valence House Museum

    It’s easy to imagine the scenario as legend tells it. The English Revolution really did turn the world upside down for many people, and for more than a decade, aristocratic families who believed they had a right to their inherited status and wealth found their estates taken away, heavy fines and taxes imposed, and in some cases, no choice but to live a life of poverty in exile. Married women, considered the property of their husbands, and with no means of their own, were forced to cope with painfully reduced circumstances that were the very opposite of the life they had been raised to expect. It’s not unreasonable to conceive that some may have taken matters into their own hands.

    And such women were not necessarily powerless. Many rose to the challenges of war and misfortune, exhibiting great fortitude and strong political views, changing the world around them through a variety of means. Katherine's relative by marriage, Anne Fanshawe, who appears in the novel, is just one example of a woman who suffered great loss, adversity and danger but wielded considerable political influence via her husband. Her writing still influences our view of Civil War women today.

    In other social spheres, women were prominent in radical political movements, some demanding equal rights with men. Female preachers and prophets played key roles within new religious sects and published their ideas in pamphlets and tracts. Women took over family businesses, defended their homes and even took to the battlefield. Once sampled, these freedoms might have been hard to give up.

    I’ll be clear: The Silvered Heart is not a biography; it’s a work of imagination and I make no claim that my version of Katherine’s life is the truth. The mystery of how she became the Wicked Lady of legend remains obscure. The book is my attempt to answer these questions: What if Katherine really was a highway robber? What would have driven a woman to such extreme lengths? And what might have been the devastating results?

    Me reading from The Silvered Heart with Katherine looking on

    Katherine Clements

    0 0

    I moved to Devon when my children were small and then spent a lot of time with them pottering around on Westward Ho! beach.  On clear days there was always Lundy in the distance, looking appealing but unattainable. I didn’t take the boys there for years because the responsibility of supervising two boys on the deck of a ship for two hours terrified me.  So we didn’t make our first crossing until both of them were
    in primary school and could swim.  

    We set off from Bideford early one morning on the Oldenburg and sailed downriver towards Appledore and the open sea.  And that was when I heard the story of Thomas Benson for the first time.

    Before it reaches Appledore the Oldenburg passes Knapp House. Tucked in a valley that leads down to the water the house and grounds are now a campsite and activity centre, but in the 18th century it was home to Thomas Benson, landowner, merchant trader, High Sheriff of Devon, Member of Parliament and in his spare time, smuggler, fraudster and notorious villain.

    Benson inherited the family fortune in 1743 and soon became the leading merchant trader operating from the port of Bideford. His vessels exported woollen goods to the America colonies and brought back tobacco from Maryland and Virginia.  Each year, his fishing fleet sailed to the Newfoundland cod banks.  When France became an ally of Spain and joined the war against England he fitted out one of his ships as a man-of-war and operated as a privateer – a legalised pirate - with some success.

    Wishing to strengthen his position still further, Benson entered politics.  After presenting a magnificent silver punch bowl to the Corporation he was elected unopposed as MP for Barnstaple in 1747.  It put him in an ideal position to land a lucrative government contract to transport convicts to the American colonies.  But operating within the law didn’t prove lucrative enough – or perhaps thrilling enough – for Benson.  Following a brush with Customs officers over unpaid import duties on his tobacco cargoes he became involved with various crimes including breach of contract, smuggling, tax evasion and finally an insurance fraud that involved the scuttling of his own ship, The Nightingale.

    When this last fraud was exposed, Benson fled, abandoning the ship’s captain – John Lancey – to his fate. Benson lived out the rest of his life in Portugal, while Captain Lancey faced a trial, conviction and execution for a crime that Benson has instigated.

    It’s a sad, sorry tale and yet I had no plans to write anything based on  it until the  MPs expenses scandal and the banking crisis set me thinking.   It occurred to me that things hadn’t changed nearly as much as one might have hoped in two and a half centuries.  Power still corrupts and the innocent still suffer at the hands of the guilty.

    Fifteen years after moving back to north Devon  Hell and High Water was published.  Ideas for novels sometimes have a very long gestation period!

    Warnning: Do NOT Get Caught While Searching!!
    Your IP : - Country : - City:
    Your ISP TRACKS Your Online Activity! Hide your IP ADDRESS with a VPN!
    Before you searching always remember to change your IP adress to not be followed!
    0 0

    Anne boleyn
    Valentine’s Day almost upon us, which means a plethora of gaudy scarlet gewgaws, overpriced cellophane-wrapped roses, the impossibility of booking a restaurant table for more than two people anywhere in the known universe and worst of all: bad poetry. A modern lover might be happy with a few kitsch emojis, or (perish the thought) a photograph of their beloved’s privates, but in the past expectations were higher and romance had more class and better poetry.

    Tudor poet Tomas Wyatt introduced the sonnet to England during Henry VIII’s reign. Originating in Italy it was a form that became associated, more than any other, with the expression of love and particularly the forbidden or unrequited love of a man for a woman. In a sonnet the identity of the beloved is often deliberately obscured to protect her privacy, as is the case in Thomas Wyatt’s famous poem, Whoso List to Hunt, which is believed to be about the very married Anne Boleyn. There is no proof that Anne was ever Wyatt’s lover in a physical sense, and certainly not while she was married to Henry VIII, but when he wrote: 'there is written her fair neck round about,/Noli me tangere, for Caesar’s I am,' it is thought he was lamenting the fact that Anne had become the untouchable wife of Henry VIII – the Latin phrase translating as ‘touch me not’.

    Lady Rich
    It was sir Philip Sidney, the Elizabethan soldier poet, who wrote the first sonnet cycle in English. Astrophel and Stella, a sequence of 108 sonnets and 11 songs, is a heartrending expression of Sidney’s profoundly jealous love for Lady Rich, a woman who had once been suggested as a bride for him but had been forced into marriage with a man who would bring great wealth to her noble but impoverished family.

    The poems express a sense of lovelorn masochism and Sidney reasons that in writing down his feelings, 'She might take some pleasure of my pain'. He repeatedly uses the word ‘Rich’ in his descriptions of his beloved and when he says she: 'Hath no misfortune, but that Rich she is', he makes no attempt to hide Lady Rich’s identity, which suggests his love for her was common knowledge in court circles, leaving little need for secrecy.

    Secrecy though is a feature of Shakespeare’s sonnets. He experimented with the form, turning it on its head, as a large number of the sonnets in his collection are, unusually, addressed to a ‘fair youth’. The idea of the bard’s possible homosexuality has often been explained away by suggesting that the poems are written to express a platonic admiration for a benefactor, but whether or not they describe a chaste love the mystery of the person he described as ‘the master mistress of my passion’ has captivated Shakespeare scholars for centuries.

    A number of sonnets in Shakespeare’s collection are addressed to a woman and in these he experiments further with the form. Traditionally a sonnet used particular tropes of fairness to describe female beauty. In his poet beginning: 'My mistress eyes are nothing like the sun', he goes on to list the ways in which the woman’s looks diverge from what was then considered beautiful. There has been much speculation about the identity of the so-called ‘Dark Lady’, but Shakespeare’s secret has never been unlocked.

    Today’s young lovers are more reluctant than their sixteenth century counterparts to spill their feelings in poetic form, and are more likely to resort to a few trite lines of doggerel in a hastily bought Hallmark card. But I wonder if anyone has ever tried to write an emoji sonnet– now there’s a challenge.

    Elizabeth Fremantle’s novel Watch the Lady explores the love between Lady Rich and sir Philip Sidney and takes a look at the possible identity of Shakespeare’s Dark Lady.

    0 0
  • 02/14/16--00:42: Llewelyn The Last
  • I have spent the week before last in Builth Wells, a tiny town in the middle left of Wales, famous for a giant bull, a beautiful bridge over the River Wye and the show ground for the annual Royal Welsh Show, a kind of Glastonbury for farmers.

    There's a beautiful mural too, vaguely Bruegelseque, my picture doesn't do it justice, of Llewelyn ap Gruffudd, last true Prince of Wales' sad winter retreat. It's by Ronald Swanwick and was painted by the artist and Neil Chambers.

    My picture of the mural in the gloom
    I've copied a picture off the town website so you can get a better view.

    Close to Builth, 2 miles north at the small village of Cilmeri, Lewelyn made his final stand against the forces of the English King Edward the first.  It was December 1282, and Wales and England had been fighting on and off for the last five years. There'd been successes on both sides. Edward had managed to push Llewelyn's forces back into the mountains of Gwynedd, while Llewelyn had scored some famous victories against Edwards forces, notably in Anglesey and at the Battle of Llandeilo Fawr.

    Llewelyn was lured south out of his stronghold in Snowdonia by the promise of support from the people of Brycheiniog, what is now Brecon in South East Wales. But it was a trap to draw out the Prince and allow Edward and his massed army to crush Llewelyn's forces for good.

    It's said that he turned to the Castle at Builth and asked to be taken in but they refused him. Were they scared? Did they want no trouble? Where were the English fighters stabled and fed and watered? Whose side was anyone on?

    The battle was hopelessly one sided, a few thousand Welsh fighting men against a combined army of English and Marcher Lords soon wiped Llewelyn's army out. It's said nearly every man was killed. Wen they recovered Llewelyn's body the day after the battle, Edward ordered the head to be taken, and crowned in ivy it was paraded through the streets of London and stuck up on a stick on the Tower of London where it stayed for fifteen years.

    I started walking out to Cilmeri but was defeated by mud and rain, so I went looking for information online. What I found made me feel a little bit queasy.

    There's a ceremony every year at Cilmeri, people from all over remembering not only Llewelyn the Last but all the 'fighting men of Wales'. The pictures of the event made me uneasy. Men marching down village streets in faux military garb. Men with berets and lighted torches around the memorial to Llewelyn.

    Hmmm. Not a good look.

    Now, please, I am all for Welshness. And Builth Wells, has remarkably little of it. But I don't want those marching men speaking for  Wales or Welshness at all.

    If we're going for remembering I would rather this: Gerallt Lloyd Owen, 1944-2014, reading his poem Cilmeri; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m1miedWMMow

    Happy February!

    Catherine's latest book is The Curious Tale of the Lady Caraboo

    0 0

    The Clockwork Sparrow is a lively adventure for 9-12 year old readers, by Katherine Woodfine, set in Edwardian London, in a world that was rapidly changing. There are omnibuses, an American tycoon is opening a department store and threats of war are rumbling in the distance.

    I'm probably late to this one as there is a sequel out on February 25th, but I read it over Christmas and enjoyed it. I loved the portrayal of a city in the process of such huge change, including the widening opportunities for young women. 

    The main character Sophie, an orphan, gets a job at the new department store Sinclair's. She's really happy there preparing for the grand opening and making friends right up until there is a break in and she is blamed. Sophie loses her job, but determined to solve the mystery of who stole the clockwork sparrow, she turns detective.

    As an adult reader, I was less interested in the plot than in the portrayal of the time and place, but the story moves along at a fast pace. I really enjoyed the fashion details, newspaper clips, illustrations and the feeling that this was all very real (even though the actual department store is fictional). Of course Sophie and her friends solve the mystery and save the day, but there was plenty of mystery around Sophie herself which wasn't revealed, so I'm hazarding a guess there will be more to come in the next books.
    I'd really recommend this to anyone who has children to buy books for (or wants to read it themselves, of course). I hate to be superficial, but I should also mention it has a lovely cover.

    Review by Marie-Louise Jensen
    Follow me on twitter: jensen_ml

    0 0

    If winter's getting you down and you're longing for a walk in a sun-drenched garden, heavy with the perfume of brilliantly coloured flowers and tinkling with the tranquil sound of fountains, fear not; you can avoid the expense of a holiday in warmer climes and the inconvenience of airport queues by wending your way instead to the Royal Academy, where a luscious exhibition entitled Painting the Modern Garden lies drowsily waiting for you to open the gate, wander in, and breathe in the beauty.

    Claude Monet is the linchpin of the exhibition. The first two paintings both show the garden he had as a young man, in Argenteuil. One is by him; the one above is by his friend Pierre-Auguste Renoir, and it shows Monet painting. Gardens had become very popular in France by the time the Impressionists were painting; Pissarro and Caillebotte were also enthusiastic - not just about painting gardens, but about creating them. For Monet, of course, it was a passion which continued throughout his life.

    But the exhibition is far from being just about Monet. Each room has a different theme. After Impressionist Gardens, we get International Gardens, which features paintings by John Singer Sargent, Max Liebermann, and a Spanish artist, Joaquin Sorolla, whose painting of the garden at his house in Madrid is suffused with warm pinks and reds, with heavy roses dripping from a rambler that climbs up against the terracotta wall. It's redolent with the heat of summer in Spain, but also with the oasis of shade a garden can provide.

    Then we return to Monet's Early Years at Giverny, which is of course the garden he's famous for. This section tells the story of the development of the garden, giving us a sense of Monet as a highly skilled and respected gardener as well as an artist: here are seed catalogues, a letter he wrote when planning permission for the extension to the garden, which involved diverting water from a nearby river to create the waterlily pool, was initially turned down. And here too are rows of plants, cuttings, perhaps: which remind us of the work behind the beauty. I noted down the words of a garden writer on seeing some of the first pictures of the pool and the lilies: 'No more earth, no more sky - no more limits.' They must have seemed astonishing: revolutionary.

    The next room is called Gardens of Silence. There are no people in these gardens. They have an other-worldly feel to them: these are not gardens for every day. This one is by another Spanish painter, Santiago Rusinol. I found it mesmerising, with the pale, ghostly tree in the centre set against the backdrop of glowing autumnal copper and gold, which is echoed in the colour of the circle of rose bushes. Rusinol was apparently fascinated by the Alhambra and other secluded Moorish gardens in Andalucia. This garden was in Aranjuez, and it was part of a great and formerly glorious royal garden. The dramatic, hot colours contrasted with the vivid green of the foreground perhaps suggest the drama of the history of Spain, as well as its southern heat and light.

    I really liked the paintings by Emil Nolde which were in the next section, Avant-gardens (Nice title!). I can't find a reproduction of any of those in the exhibition, but they had gloriously rich, vibrant colours. One was a close-up of vivid blue hyacinths, scarlet tulips, the bright green verticals of stems and leaves, and egg-yolk yellow narcissi; another had white peonies and gold and purple irises.

    Gardens of Reverie was probably my least favourite room. But then we were back to Monet's Later Years at Giverny. He was still painting the same beloved garden; but now, in 1918, with the horror of the First World War coming closer and closer, he poured his pity and his horror into a painting of a weeping willow with an orange trunk. The brush strokes writhe and twist as if tortured: there is a palpable sense of pain and sadness - agony, almost. He said sadly, 'Others can fight. I can paint.'

    But then, finally, we come to the massive paintings of the water-lily pool which he made after the war. And with these, there is a sense that he was expressing through paint harmony, serenity and balance restored. Paintings to gaze on. Paintings to make you feel better. Paintings to sooth the savage breast. This small picture can only hint at their beauty - if you can, do go and see the real thing!

    0 0


    The ancient abbey is vast and, in later centuries, will be crowded with ornate memorials. Nevertheless, now – in London, in 1771 – a few historic effigies and tombs can be seen in the shadowy aisles, their carvings worn and their paint faded.  

    The newly-reformed Society of Antiquaries is eager to have a record of these treasures for surely their own nation’s history is now as worthy of study as the classical world? 

    A series of careful engravings are required, and that is why the boy sits in the hallowed gloom, pencil in hand, drawing the long dead. His master, James Basire, the foremost architectural line engraver in London, has chosen this fourteen year old apprentice specifically for this stage of the commission.  
    First of all, the boy has been copying casts of classical statues since he was ten. He has the ability to draw a good foot, a hand, a torso, a head, a detail and more. Secondly – and maybe this is just as important a reason – Master Basire knows the boy has a passionate, argumentative nature and that he is easiest when left to work alone. Certainly, the lad’s brain seems fit to burst with his tales of biblical visions and lines from scripture and Milton’s poetry. 
    Time passes. The boy works. The tall windows let in little daylight so he lights a candle stub or two. The small flames make the tombs look like great four-poster beds: the stone slabs in place of soft mattresses and the hard, carved canopy instead of curtains overhead.

    His task, in drawing each tomb, is to demonstrate it from every angle and produce a record of every important detail and inscription. 

    Down below, under the fine stonework, he knows the bodies are waiting. Once or twice, where stones have been cracked and shifted, he spied bones and breathed dust from the darkness within.Now he raises his head and stares. 
    Up there, high up on their stony beds, the strange elongated effigies of old kings and queens face upwards, heavenwards, God-wards. The royal features are not for common, everyday eyes to view - and yet the Society has asked for a true record of all that is there, have they not?

    Fortunately, the boy is determined, as well as small for his fourteen years. When the abbey is quiet, he climbs right up on to the tombs and stands there, just below the carved canopies. Leaning forward, he draws the human figures at his feet, reaching out to measure the features as he does so. Some of the tombs are so low that he is forced to kneel or crouch almost nose to nose with the cold, dead faces. He does not mind: his imagination feeds on these moments. 

    He works. Now and then, he hears voices echo in the sacred air and once ghostly monks passed in a procession. He does not mind. Such spectres are better than the flesh-and-blood schoolboys who visit the abbey, mocking him and his work. He glances down at his marked knuckles, his eyes still alight with righteous anger. Master Basire was correct about that temper.

    Imagine the boy, working. Imagine what patterns this particular work must be forming in his mind. 

    All his youthful energies are bound up with the spirits of this place: the sense of history, of worldly and godly glory, of living words cut into stone, of the eternal victory of death - and of his own dreams, eagerly calling him on to great things. All he sees, hears and feels while working alone in that place will go into his own work. He pauses, stretches his shoulders, bends over and draws again.

    The building is Westminster Abbey.

    The boy? His name is William Blake.

    As I began reading Peter Ackroyd’s excellent biography of Blake, I came across his account of this stage in the boy’s apprenticeship and, startled by the scene conjured up, used it as a starting point for my own writing, above.

    Adolescent experiences can be intense enough to imprint perceptions that persist long afterwards - especially if you are an imaginative young apprentice working twelve hours a day, six days a week, and with a head constantly spinning with new thoughts and half-biblical visions.

    Reading about Blake standing on the tombs, I felt as if a half-recognised aspect of Blake’s work had suddenly become understandable. 

    There is, of course, the strongly sculptural nature of many of his figures, but I also wondered – and this is only my thought which you can take or leave – whether the young artist, leaning over the effigies on the tombs, had so absorbed the physical and bodily memory of that encounter that he recreated that stance over and over again in the form and shape of his paintings and artwork.

    Is this idea possible? Did the familiar "Blake" shape of the bending deity or spirit, leaning over the human come from something remembered in his own body? What do you think?

    Meanwhile, I must see moreand read more of Ackroyd’s William Blake - and maybe more elsewhere, including Blake’s own account - and see what I discover.

    Penny Dolan

    Warnning: Do NOT Get Caught While Searching!!
    Your IP : - Country : - City:
    Your ISP TRACKS Your Online Activity! Hide your IP ADDRESS with a VPN!
    Before you searching always remember to change your IP adress to not be followed!
    0 0

    What's yours? Tall Latte Extra Shot To Go? Or De-Caff Skinny Cappuccino?  We all know what it is. What it means. Whether you like the coffee or not, the brand is so powerful that is has spawned its own language. It's trade marked logo has become ubiquitous, instantly recognisable, like Coca Cola but even more potent because there are no words. It is one of those signs, accepted and recognised without anyone thinking too much about what is actually depicted.

    It is a bicaudal, a melusine, a mermaid holding her tails. In legend, the fairy Melusina married Guy De Lusignan, Count of Poitou under condition that he would never intrude upon her privacy. She brought him great wealth and happinesss and bore him many children but, inevitably, he broke the taboo, spied on her while she was bathing and discovered her secret. She transformed into a dragon and was never seen again, although she is supposed to act as the protectress of her descendants.

    Melusine's secret discovered, from Le Roman de Mélusine by Jean d'Arras, ca 1450-1500. Bibliothèque nationale de France

    This legend of a creature, half woman, half fish,  sometimes with one tail, sometimes with two, occurs in different parts of France, Germany and the Low Countries and was used to some effect by Philippa Gregory in The Lady of the Rivers and The White Queen. These versions all have a roughly similar story, one of secrets and the breaking of prohibitions, and are medieval in origin. Images of the two tailed mermaid, however, are far older. She can be found in churches all over Italy and France - on marble pavements, above doorways, up pediments and pillars. Some of the oldest are Byzantine and date to the 6th Century A.D.

    Byzantine Floor Mosaic (c. 500) Cathedrale de Pesaro (le Marche)

    Cathedrale di santa Maria Annunciata, Otranto (Puglia)

    And she's here in Britain, too, frequently under seats as misericord carvings, often holding a looking glass and comb, which are also the essential props of her sister, the mermaid.

    Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-on-Avon

    Zennor Mermaid

    Seeing a mermaid, one tail or two, was not good news for any mariner. They were creatures of intense ill omen. 

    Then up there came a mermaiden, 
    a comb and glass all in her hand
    "Here's to you my merry young men
    for you'll not see dry land again"

    Ballad of Sir Patrick Spens

    The mermaid, her two tailed sister and their feathered Greek cousin, the Siren, were associated with the death and destruction of men. Their origins are almost certainly pre-Christian, rooted in the worship of water spirits and goddesses associated with rivers, lakes and the sea. Their presence in Christian places of worship could suggest that they still needed to be propitiated. The churches that contain examples of these strange and fascinating images are often, although not always, near the sea. The mermaids were also probably there to offer a different kind of warning: against women in general (they're all like that down there really - look at that Melusine), lust in particular and sins of the flesh.

    The two tailed mermaid is the subject of differing legends and has a fascinating history. Her most modern incarnation continues the tradition: 

    'Let’s go all the way back to 1971, to when Starbucks was first coming to be. In a search for a way to capture the seafaring history of coffee and Seattle’s strong seaport roots, there was a lot of poring over old marine books going on. Suddenly, there she was: a 16th century Norse woodcut of a twin-tailed mermaid, or Siren. There was something about her – a seductive mystery mixed with a nautical theme that was exactly what the founders were looking for. A logo was designed around her, and our long relationship with the Siren began.'

    (Starbucks Website)

    Over the last 40 years we’ve made some changes to that identity...'they continue.  How very true. 

    Here's the first Starbucks logo from 'way back in 1971'.
    Starbucks logo 1971

    A bold statement and very much in keeping with the time honoured and age old depictions of our bicaudal mermaids. I mean, why would they wear bikinis? This was changed, however, and pretty quickly. There were complaints. Not everyone was ready for such a full frontal celebration of the female form, it was putting them off their coffee, so the logo was changed to:
    1987 Logo
    She was given longer hair, her waves falling to  cover her breasts and preserve her modesty. But there were further problems, this time it was her belly button (I'd say that was the least of it) so the image was changed yet again. 

    1992 Logo

    Her tails have almost disappeared. It is now very difficult to detect her exotic and evocative origins. In 2011 the logo was changed once more. The lettering was removed, leaving an image recognised by everyone, everywhere, thus allowing Starbucks to reach advertising Nirvana. 

    I owe what I recognise could turn into a bit of an obsession with bicaudal mermaids to my friend Ismay Barwell. Thanks to her, I'll never look at a Starbucks cup in the same way again. 

    Celia Rees


    0 0

    My new novel, The English Girl, comes out next month, and it led me to discover a fascinating piece of British military history, as well as a fascinating country - The Sultanate of Oman, which occupies a small, beautiful corner of the Arabian Peninsula. I set myself the task of capturing the allure, beauty and dangers of a place completely alien to me, in two different time periods - the age of early exploration, in the 1900s, and during the Jebel Wars of the 1950s.

    Muscat, the ancient capital city of the Sultanate of Muscat and Oman

    In the fifty years between these two eras, however, Oman barely changed at all. Sultan Said bin Taimur, who ruled until his son Qaboos deposed him in 1970, was deeply conservative. Claiming poverty, he built no hospitals or roads; he built no schools, saying that education was why the British had lost India. The poor of Oman were stricken with easily treatable diseases like trachoma, and complications surrounding childbirth. There was Tuberculosis in the milk, and Typhoid in the water. The Sultan kept to his seaside palace in Salalah, and hardly ever visited Muscat. He didn’t want to hear the supplications he knew were waiting for him there. So, when rumours of oil in the desert began, and the Sultan, who had traditionally only ruled Muscat and the coast, (hence the 'Sultanate of Muscat and Oman' - Oman being the interior), began to assert his sovereignty over the desert interior as well, the time was ripe for rebellion. 

    Jalali, one of two fortresses guarding the entrance to Muscat harbour. Built by Portuguese conquerers in the C17th, at the time The English Girl is set, it was in use as a prison of fearsome reputation.

    Britain had had a close relationship with the Sultan since the early years of the C19th, and Oman was still a British Protectorate in the 1950s. Initially, the British gained a valuable hold over the key shipping lanes of the Straits of Hormuz and the Gulf of Oman from the relationship. But once oil had been sniffed in the Arabian Desert, there was an even greater potential advantage. So, when a new Imam, Ghalib, was elected in 1954, to rule the interior from the ancient seat of the Imamate at Nizwa, neither the Sultan nor his British backers were prepared to share, or relinquish power. Most of the tribal sheiks of the desert and the Hajar Mountains declared for Imam Ghalib, and war began.

    A gorge on Jebel Akhdar, The Green Mountain; steep, hard and parched territory in which to hunt enemy snipers...

    There were swings in fortune for both sides. Imam Ghalib was forced to abdicate in 1955, but soon returned; by 1958, when my character Joan Seabrook arrives in Muscat, the Imam’s men had fallen back to caves and positions on Jebel Akhdar - The Green Mountain; as impenetrable a natural stronghold imaginable. British officers, under Colonel David Smiley (whom, it is rumoured, inspired the character of James Bond), led the Sultan’s troops as they attempted to drive them out for good. However, it wasn’t until two divisions of the recently formed SAS were sent in to help that success was finally achieved, early in 1959. When oil was discovered in the Omani desert in 1963, there was no longer any question as to who it belonged to.

    The ruins of Tanuf, the home village of Sheik Suleiman bin Himyar, 'The Lord of the Green Mountain', one of the Iman's key allies. It was destroyed by the RAF in 1955, but the villagers were warned in advance, so there were no casualties.

    This was a pocket of history I’d had no inkling of before I started my research for the novel, and it made my trip over there - to experience the sights, smells, and sounds of my settings - so interesting. I visited the ruins of Tanuf, home village of one of the rebellious sheiks, bombed out by the RAF in 1955. I went up onto the Green Mountain and saw just how wild the terrain was - and how daunting a task the Sultan’s men were faced with. And I went into the Empty Quarter, to get a taste for the vastness and silence of the desert - and an inkling of the superhuman task faced by my early explorer character, Maude, crossing that wilderness - a different kind of war, but a war all the same. Oman is a wild and beautiful place, and I hope my infatuation with it comes across in The English Girl.

    The dune sea of the Empty Quarter in Oman, the world's largest continuous sand desert. Alien, silent, beautiful and pitiless. A place out of time, where history has no meaning.

    0 0

    I have written three novels about two families, set in the seventeenth century. All have their roots in true events. Like most people, I suspect, I’m heartily thankful I did not live in that tempestuous period, yet it is endlessly fascinating. Social and religious pressures had been building up over the preceding hundred years or so, and in the seventeenth century – in Englandas elsewhere – they exploded. Ordinary men and women were better informed, even more literate, than before. Developments in printing and the foundation of many grammar schools had contributed to educating a population which was prepared to question the traditional religious establishment and the social hierarchy. The dictatorial stance of the early Stuart monarchs, especially Charles I, was the final spark which lit this particular powder keg.

    Charles I

    It is little wonder that the times gave rise to the revolutionary ideas of Levellers and Diggers, to confrontation between an elected Parliament and an anointed king, to clashes between Puritans and traditionalists. Opportunist land-grabbers fought with rural communities. Soldiers mutinied. Portents were observed. And innocent people – often old and poor – were sentenced to death for witchcraft.

    The first of my novels set in this period, Flood, arose from my reading about how unscrupulous speculators seized the communally-held lands of East Anglia and undertook illegal drainage schemes with often disastrous results. The local people fought back, and amongst their leaders were women, many of whom were injured or imprisoned, some of whom died.

    To compound the horrors of the situation, this was also the time of ‘licensed’ iconoclasts who smashed up parish churches, and of the monstrous career of Matthew Hopkins, Witchfinder General, whose fanatical search for victims ranged over the same area. 
    Matthew Hopkins

    I chose as my protagonist in Flood Mercy Bennington, the daughter of a yeoman farmer, who becomes one of the women leaders of the fenlanders, fighting for her family and village, trying to save their lands and livelihood. The second novel in the Fenland series takes the story further; Mercy continues the struggle in the country while her brother Tom travels to the Inns of Court in London, in search of the fenlanders’ charter granting their lands.

    So how did I come across the account of this struggle in the first place? It was during my research into events in England in the mid seventeenth century for quite a different book. As part of the general research, it never became an element in that book but remained filed away in my memory, to emerge again later as the story of Flood.

    And what was the other book? This RoughOcean.

    I suppose I’m like most writers: some ideas come swiftly and are written at once, others stay with you for a long time, quietly maturing, like a fine wine.

    We need to backtrack many years here. My father-in-law had done some research into the Swinfen family of Swinfen in Staffordshire, partly spurred on by another descendent who worked for Burke’s Peerage. It emerged that the family was very well documented. A Norman knight, shortly after the Conquest, had married the heiress to the Swinfen estates and taken the name Swinfen in place of his own (de Auste). As landed armigerous gentry, they were well covered in the historical record and early genealogies. Like most families of their class, they carried out their duties as substantial landowners over the centuries – not aristocracy but holding an important position in their own shire.

    Also like other gentry families, they began to rise under the Tudors and came to real prominence in the seventeenth century. An interesting link with my own Christoval Alvarez series of novels is John Swinfen (c.1560-1632), grandfather of one of the protagonists of This Rough Ocean. When Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, was executed for treason in 1601, his widow, Frances Walsingham, daughter of Sir Francis Walsingham (Christoval’s employer), was deprived of her lands and her son of his inheritance. John Swinfen helped her to recover them from James I. He also christened one of his sons Deveroxe just after Essex’s execution, which must have taken some courage.

    Earl of Essex

    However, it was this John’s grandson, John Swinfen or Swynfen (1613-1694) who is the most interesting. He attended Cambridge and Grey’s Inn, then became a Member of Parliament at a young age. He was therefore at the centre of the most dramatic events of the seventeenth century – born while Shakespeare was still alive, he lived through the reigns of James I, Charles I, the Protectorate, Charles II, James II and into that of William and Mary, and also through the Plague and Fire of London. Caught up in the struggles between Parliament and the king, he was imprisoned twice – once by Cromwell for opposing the killing of the king, once by James II on a trumped-up accusation of being involved in Monmouth’s rebellion. Ah, the dangers of being a Moderate! Both extremes hate you! He lived long enough to be one of the founders of the Whig (Liberal) Party.

    Oliver Cromwell

    James II

    I found this entire career fascinating, and my husband plans to write the definitive biography, but I wanted to capture some of this rich life in a novel. Clearly the whole life was far too large a subject, so I decided to concentrate on the period immediately following Pride’s Purge. John and his Moderate colleagues had persuaded Parliament to vote to treat with the king on the basis of an agreement whereby most of the powers of government would be handed over from the king to Parliament. The Moderates rejoiced. An end to the Civil War at last, on terms favourable to Parliament.

    Pride's Purge
    The next morning, all those MPs who had supported the treaty were driven away from Parliament by armed soldiers of Cromwell’s army, commanded by Colonel Pride. The most important, including John, were imprisoned. The MPs not excluded were believed to be favourable to Cromwell and his supporters, but many soon followed their consciences and withdrew, leaving the mockery of the ‘Rump Parliament’.

    My novel, This Rough Ocean, tells the story of the imprisoned John and of his wife Anne, who makes a dangerous winter journey home to Staffordshire with her young children. Once there she finds the estate and its people on the brink of collapse into ruin and starvation. She alone must take on her husband’s role, running the large estate and averting disaster. The two stories are intertwined, as husband and wife each fight for survival.

    I have always been intrigued by the lives of ordinary people in the past. We hear much about great rulers and men of power, but dig a little deeper and there is a great deal to be discovered about everyone else, the poor, the quiet farmers, the craftsmen, the minor players in the large events. In Flood, Betrayal and This Rough Ocean I’ve sought to tell the stories of those turbulent years of the seventeenth century, based on two families – a yeoman family and a gentry family – ordinary people caught up in extraordinary events.

    Ann Swinfen

    0 0

    Just a quick one from me today. I wanted to show you this picture of water with a hole in it. 

    This is the Tumbling Weir at Ottery St Mary in Devon. It’s a unique cast iron structure, built in the late 18th century to take excess water from the mill leat back to the River Otter. The pond was raised to provide extra power for a new mill built by local philanthropists of the time who saw the hardships the locals were suffering as the local woollen industry declined. It was never an unqualified success, but provided employment for many of the population for over a hundred years. 

    A sign overlooking the weir told us the site was cleared by volunteers when it was in danger of being choked with rubbish and weeds. Good for them. The mill itself is derelict and deserted, or ‘awaiting development’ if you prefer. We need another philanthropist. I suggested converting the building into a retreat for writers and artists, complete with performance space and world-class library. Mind you, I say that whenever I see a large deserted building. My husband suggested subsidised workshops for local craftsmen and women. We compromised on both. There. We have a plan.

    Ottery  has much to recommend it. The church is stunning, Coleridge was born in the town and every bonfire night local men run around the place with flaming tar barrels on their shoulders. One of the regulars told us all about it in the pub, and showed us his scars. ‘Health and Safety…,’ he said, shaking his head,  ‘… is a nightmare.’

    I’ll bet it is. 

    Now bring me an oligarch. 

    0 0

    The thought of a flock of sheep running wild in Cavendish Square seems bizarre to say the least, but in the eighteenth century it was all part of the trend to create ‘rus in urbe’. Then as now, the emulation of country life was promoted as a soothing therapy for the stresses of life in the capital. Not everyone was convinced. As John Stuart said of the Cavendish Square fiasco in 1771‘to see the poor things starting at every coach, and hurrying round their narrow bounds requires a warm imagination indeed to concert the scene into that of flocks ranging in fields with all the concomitant ideas of innocence and pastoral life … The ‘rus in urbe’ is a preposterous idea at best’.

    Some would say there has always been a strong element of the country in town – you only have to look at the number of 4x4s, Labradors and Barbour jackets in Fulham. Indeed, it is over two hundred years since the great royal parks, garden squares and pleasure gardens came to life. The parks still enjoyed today were famously described as the ‘lungs of London’ by William Pitt in 1808, and the face of the capital was transformed by the eighteenth century fashion for all things picturesque and rustic. At Richmond, Charles Bridgeman turned the royal gardens into a pastoral idyll, introducing ‘cultivated fields and morsels of forest appearance’ according to Walpole. John Nash inspired the exodus to the suburbs with his developments at Park Villages East and West. Soon speculative developments of lesser villas were springing up all around the fringes of the capital, capitalising on the burgeoning desire of the middle classes to live like the gentry in country houses near to town.

    In the eighteenth century, the rural idyll became a panacea for urban ills, restoring and comforting the body and mind of the frazzled Londoner. Trips to holiday villages like Islington were immensely popular. Those who could afford it built themselves rustic cottages and follies, such as Dr Johnson’s summerhouse at Kenwood. As ever, some had a naïve view of the delights of country living. James Malton described in 1798 how ‘the greatly affluent involuntarily sigh as they behold the modest care excluding mansions of the lowly contented.’

    As a major capital London still has the benefit of some of the best green public spaces in the world. Lose yourself on a spring day on Hampstead Heath or Wimbledon Common and you feel like you are a million miles from the centre of town.

    Look at a map of London, and you will see that the heart of the city is alive with green areas. The other half of Dr Johnson’s famous quote about the capital says ‘there is in London all that life can afford’. Nowhere is this clearer than where town meets country. There may no longer be sheep in Cavendish Square, but ‘Rus in urbe’ is a luxury we can't afford to be without.

    Warnning: Do NOT Get Caught While Searching!!
    Your IP : - Country : - City:
    Your ISP TRACKS Your Online Activity! Hide your IP ADDRESS with a VPN!
    Before you searching always remember to change your IP adress to not be followed!
    0 0

    French trench at Verdun: public domain

    The battle of Verdun was the most drawn-out and probably the most futile battle of World War One; and it began a hundred years and two days ago, on the 21st of February, 1916, and lasted till the eighteenth of December that year.

    Briefly, it represented an enormous 'push' on the part of the German army to make a significant advance, and capture the Verdun forts. Von Falkenheyn, the German commander, intended to 'bleed France dry.' To that end, the most modern instruments of death were used; poison gas, flame-throwers, advanced guns. At the Franco-German commemoration of the centenary, Germany's ambassador to Paris, Nikolaus Meyer-Landrut said Verdun, in German memory, 'was the epitome of the pointlessness and savagery of World War One.' Nine villages were obliterated.

    'Long Max' , a high-tech German gun. (Bundesarchiv)

    I have two connections to Verdun; on the one side, my great-uncle Leo Kolodziej fought and was killed there. His head was blown off, blown to smithereens, I guess, since only his decapitated body was found, something that gave my mother nightmares during her childhood. I know next to nothing else about him, except that he was the youngest of my grandmother's brothers, (and I think my mother said, my grandmother's favourite brother) which, since she was only fifteen in 1916, may well have meant that he had only just gone to the Front (soldiers were taken from age 17, in Germany.) But that last is only conjecture.

    The other connection is via close family friends in France, the Dufours. Achille Dufour, the father of Marc, who was my parents' age, and a kind of functional uncle for me, was a private in the French army, and survived, and I have the transcripts of some letters he wrote home to his wife Félicie, which Marc, before his death, very kindly authorised me to use in any way I wanted, though this is the first time I've been able to.
    photograph: Wikimedia Commons

    Within a very short time, the battlefield had become a landscape of craters - which you can still see, and the woods had been turned to stumps under the unrelenting bombardment of weaponry from both sides. The entire landscape was permeated by the smell of rotting corpses, especially in the summer, as it wasn't possible to get them and bury them. Achille told his children how the men often had to drink rain water from the craters, but there was also a stream they got fresh water from. One day, they found the corpse of a German lying across the stream, and so their officer gave them bleach to add to the drinking water; this was known as 'Verdunisation', so presumably it was a common expedient. The food was dreadful (better for the officers) and Achille succumbed at least once to dysentery.

    In his first letter, written from a brief spell behind the lines in May 1916, Achille says: 'I have spent seven days and a night at.. (presumably deletions by the censor) Mort Homme.' (The name, meaning 'Dead Man', derived from an unidentified corpse found there in the 16th century; a strategically important hill whose name had become horrifically appropriate by then.) 'There Bochart Robert was killed, and Léonce Dubois from St Martin disappeared, and the last brother of Mérique (Saint Sauveur) was killed… a very considerable bombardment,' he ends, rather calmly. He rejoices in being able to get clean 'I really needed it,' he says. 'I had to sleep on a plank, but it's nice and dry, and I needed to rest so much, I never noticed that was hard.' But he was pretty bullish, at that stage. 'I can assure you that we fought well, and the Boches didn't have time to sleep, we demoralised them so much. They were surrendering a trench at a time, saying they'd had enough. We found that very encouraging. Our artillery is dealing out countless shells, and inflicting ravages on the enemy lines. You can see the Boches exploding, and when we attacked, the survivors almost all surrendered. We can be optimistic.. They wanted to hit us hard, but they've got hit hard themselves.. they aren't capable of attacking us any longer… it's hard to hold the line, but when we see the situation changing like that, we're all encouraged and full of enthusiasm.'
    French medal: Wikimedia Commons

    How much of that was for the censor, I wonder? In July, he was less cheerful. He misses his wife terribly (there are a good deal of complaints, in his letters, about the need for more leave, because France has to be repopulated) and says 'I'm thirsty for love. How much longer will this go on? It's already been two years… At our age, when everything should be cheerful, when we should have joy and happiness in our lives, this is a dark black hole dug into our existence, an indescribable waste of our lives. And how will it end? Will we have the chance to be reunited, safe and healthy in body and in mind?' But he strikes a hopeful note. 'You are undoubtedly suffering, but since I suffer too, this common suffering can only make us happier in the future.'

    Leave was certainly a problem, since the constant bombardment often made it near-impossible to bring in new troops to relieve the front line. Often companies lost half their men just on the way to the battle. 'I fear,' Achille wrote in September to Félicie, 'that I shan't be able to come home this winter to warm your feet up… How long this cursed war is, that's keeping us apart for such a long time,' and ends up: 'My treasure, have the tenderest kisses that my loving heart can contain.'

    'Humanity is mad,' wrote a French officer, less optimistically than Achille. 'It must be mad to do what it is doing. What a massacre! What scenes of horror and carnage! I cannot find words to translate my impressions. Hell cannot be so terrible.'
    German medal: my grandfather's

    Achille wrote to Félicie in October: 'You have no idea how much hatred I feel for the bandits (and he does mean the Germans) who have been depriving me of happiness and your tenderness for two years now.' At the end of December, when the battle was over, he wrote: 'Let us hope that the good times will return. But alas! What a terrible trial, how much we have suffered, and what sufferings are still to come? I wish I could forget, in the circle of your arms, these sad episodes of my life. This happiness, lost forever, stolen from us by the determination of imperious bandits.. tomorrow - 1917 - will we be successful? Shall we see the happiest day of our lives?'

    Achille did survive, and was reunited with Félicie at last. But this is the estimated toll of Verdun; on the French side, between 315,00 and 542,00 dead and wounded; 156,000 to 162,000 killed. On the German side, 281,000 -434,000 dead and wounded; about 143,000 killed. (I don't understand why the massive uncertainty - perhaps someone can tell me?) One of the dead was my great-uncle. 
    German war graves. Photo, Julian Nizsche, Wikimedia Commons.

    At the end of those terrible months, the front line had barely moved at all. It was simply an exercise in mutual slaughter. To quote Tolstoy, in 'War and Peace,' it was 'an event counter to all the laws of human reason.'

    And the 'war to end all wars' only brought forth a second world war, in which Achille's son Marc became part of the Resistance, and one day found himself obliged to shoot a German soldier who wanted to know what he had on his bicycle (it was full of rifles). And yet Verdun has since become a symbol of Franco-German reconciliation, and in the Sixties Achille's son, daughter-in-law and grandchildren formed an enduring and loving friendship with the daughter of a German officer, her husband and her children. In our two families at least, peace was truly made.

    In memoriam: Leo Kolodziej, and all the thousands of others whose lives were thrown away at Verdun. And with grateful thanks to dear Marc Dufour.

    0 0

    Cross-legged effigy of William Marshal II in the Temple Church (he didn't go on crusade)
    I belong to several forums on the Internet, dedicated to Medieval history.  One of the questions that arises on a regular basis concerns knightly effigies and what their poses mean with particular reference to those that have crossed legs.  If I had a pound for every time someone has replied to the query with 'It shows they went on crusade,' I could have retired on the proceeds by now.  Another favourite is that if they are shown drawing a sword, then it's because they died in battle.  If there's no shield they didn't die in battle.  If the arm is crossed over but he lacks a sword, then he died in battle but using his fists. His crossed legs show that he's been castrated by a Saracen! Or, crossed legs at the ankle equals one crusade.  Crossed at the knee and it's two.  It sounds rather like a game of Effigy Top Trumps doesn't it! (a card game detailing the properties of objects whereby one wins points by having the best statistics).

    These discussions and the constant repetition of the notion that crossed legs on knightly effigies meant that the men had been crusaders led me to wonder where the ideas originated and if there was any truth in it.  When asked for sources people usually don't know. 'I read it somewhere,' they say,  or 'somebody told me.' I set out to do a bit of sleuthing.

    The connection of cross-legged effigies to crusading is still alive in the mainstream as proven by the constant iteration on the above mentioned forums. It seems that many church guide books, internet and heritage sites offer the information as fact.  For example, Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, the 2009 edition states that 'crusaders were generally represented on the their tombs with crossed legs.' Stephen Friar's Companion Guide contains similar information. However, the idea that the crossed legs of knightly effigies of the medieval period have symbolic meaning connected with warfare or the crusades is not unanimous and there are also guidebooks and websites that do not subscribe to the theory.  Frank Bottomley in his 'Church Explorer's Guide' informs the reader that effigies with crossed legs have nothing to do with crusading.  So different information is available depending on where the reader looks. 

    So, having sorted out that a variety of information exists in modern publication, I decided to rewind a few centuries and see where the crossed legged crusader began.

    14th century knight, Temple church, crossed legs, praying hands
    First to the effigies themselves.  The cross-legged attitude in tomb sculpture was the height of fashion  throughout the British Isles between the mid 13th and mid 14th centuries. Indeed, the majority of military effigies were posed this way and it became a kind of cliche.  There were different poses within the fashion. There were those whose hands were placed in restful positions and they tend to belong to the early part of the epoch.  Then there were the knights who were handling their swords - either drawing them or sheathing them. The upper body action combined with the crossed legs made for an active, lively effigy appearing to be in motion rather than at rest.  The third batch had hands are clasped in prayer and these were to eventually supersede the action knights. The legs too, after the main period were gradually to straighten out once more.  This may have shown French influence because French effigies of the period generally depict hands in prayer and legs parallel.  Another reason for the return of the straight-legged pose may have been the development of plate armour - it looks better on straight legs!
    There is also the matter of technical development as sculpting techniques improved and styles changed.  The early 13th century effigies show stiff, straight legs without any bending of the knee and without undercutting. As the century advanced, the knees were bent more and more and the effigies came to look more naturalistic and more realistically rendered.

    So now let's leave these knights to the vagaries of time for a few hundred years and see what happens when antiquarians start to become interested in them. The first observations in the mid to late 16th century note that the effigies are 'old' 'ancient', 'antiquated' and 'venerable' etc.  These terms are applied more to cross-legged effigies than straight ones, and it would appear that the antiquarians knew their older knights from those nearer to their own time.  In 1587 the poet Thomas Churchyard described the late 13th century wooden effigy of Reginald de Briouze at Brecon  as 'Cross-legged...as was the ancient trade.'  There was even a popular belief for a time that these cross-legged effigies dated to before the Norman Conquest, such was the shaky grasp of timeline. By the 17th century, however, that particular idea had died out.
    Late 13th century effigy of Robert Curthose, son of William the Conqueror (d.1134)  He did go on
    crusade which may have helped to promulgate the idea that crossed legs = crusader

    Allied to this developing interest in all things of the forgotten past, the historical detectives of their day began examining the tombs of the 12th and 13th centuries and attempting identification, often on very unreliable evidence or completely misunderstanding their physical source material.  So for example, Sir Henry Sidney brought a 14th century wooden effigy twenty five miles from Drogheda to Christ Church Dublin and had it installed as 'Richard Strongbow' Earl of Pembroke - who died 1176.  In the 1590's John Lord Lumley acquired a 14th century effigy to become the 12th century William de Lumley, founder of the dynasty.  There also seems to have been a particular interest in the 16th century for either altering real medieval effigies to represent one's ancestors or having fake ones made and giving them crossed legs. 
    Southwark Cathedral wooden effigy.  Possibly a de Warenne.
    Late 13th century. Relaxed pose.

    One William Wyrely writing in 1597 may be the man unwittingly responsible for the notion of crossed legs being a crusader image on effigies. While refuting notions that the cross-legged effigies were pre-Norman Conquest, he remarked that such armour was known to have been in use after the 'Palestine Wars.' Within a decade of that statement, Chinese whispers had done their worst and antiquarians were now equating crossed legs on effigies with the conviction that the effigies so portrayed were crusaders or knights who had taken crusading vows. On contributory factor may have been the effigy of Robert Curthose (d.1134) who did go on crusade and has just such an effigy, albeit not created for him until the late 13th century.  There was also a detailed interest in the knights of the Temple Church in London.  Here the crusading associations were very strong and the Inns of Court surrounding the church were  hotbeds of inquisitive antiquarians.

    The first reference, linking cross-legged effigies with being crusaders comes from William Camden in 1594, in the fourth edition of his work Brittannia. 

    "Many noblemen were buried among them, whose images are to be seen in the Temple with their legs transverse in a cross; for I have heard, so all were buried in that age, who had pledged themselves to the Holy War, or who, (as was then said) had taken the cross."

    A straight-legged William Marshal (d. 1219) and an early example of a knightly
    effigy.  He DID go on pilgrimage but his legs are straight. 
    Note Camden says 'I have heard'.  So even then people were 'hearing it somewhere'!   He would have known that Gilbert Marshal, in possession of crossed legs on his effigy, had taken crusading vows, although had not fulfilled them.
    Four years later, John Stow in his 'Survey of London' was straightforward and stated without equivocation that the men with cross-legged effigies were all vowed to the Holy Land and that the straight-legged ones weren't crusaders.  He also said that of course these were post Conquest effigies because of the period of the First Crusade (1095) and that there would be no cross legged effigies after the suppression of the Templars in 1310.  So he nailed his flag to the mast and used the cross-legged effigies as his dateline.

    Throughout the 17th century other antiquarians jumped on the bandwagon and the idea entered popular culture and entrenched itself.  It's been there ever since.

    There was a theory among many of the antiquarians that cross-legged effigies had to be Templars, but this was debated and eventually fell from favour.  However, in the course of the argument the leading antiquarians of the day concluded that the cross-legged effigies were 'intended to preserve the memory of such persons as had either actually been in Palestine during the rage of what was called the Holy War, or of such who had vowed to go hither....and some perhaps for persons who had made pilgrimages thither merely out of private devotion.' - Smart Lethieullier 1744. 

    William Longespee Earl of Salisbury. Another example of the straight-legged form
    And relaxed, not drawing his sword. First quarter of the 13thc

    Although the notion of all cross-legged effigies being Templars fell from favour among the antiquarians, the Templar idea had managed to enter other areas of culture.  The Templar Masonic Lodge at Douglas in Lanarkshire customarily drank toasts with their legs crossed in deference to the Templar knights of the past and effigies with crossed legs in ordinary churches would still be referred to by locals as 'The Templar.' 

    By the end of the 18th century, tombs with crossed leg effigies were now viewed as being representative of someone who had taken a crusader's vow and that this vow then entitled them to have crossed legs on their effigy. The same with donations.  If a person had donated to the crusading cause in their lifetime, then they too were entitled to that kind of tomb sculpture. New twists on the theory were emerging (the aforementioned 'Top Trumps' syndrome).  Where the legs were crossed had symbolic meaning as to the number of times the knight in question had been on crusade.  Score one for ankles, two for shins, three for thighs!  A letter to The Gentleman's Magazine of 1789 declared that there were three different positions. Hands in prayer with the sword sheathed, drawing the sword and returning the sword to the sheath.  These meant that either the knight had died in peace at home after a crusade, had died in holy war, or who had died on the way home.

    "Sometimes the figure on the tomb of a knight has his legs crossed at the ankles, this meant that the knight went on crusade.  If the legs re crossed at the knees he went twice; if at the thighs he went three times."' Ditchfield: Our Villages 1889. 

    These views held sway throughout the 19th century but there were people who challenged them.  Historian Matthew Holbeche Bloxam in 1834 stated that the crusading link to these effigies was 'conjectural  and can be traced to no sufficient authority.' He also added that the depictions continued for more than half a century after the end of the last crusade. Another historian Charles Hartshorne in 1840 declared the crusader attribution to be 'a fanciful idea' without 'actual proof.' 

    Gradually, among academia, it became generally accepted that such attribution was indeed a 'fanciful idea'.  However, among the public at large, the notion of the cross-legged effigy as crusader remained entrenched. It was far too romantic to give up. Wordsworth, Dickens and Tennyson all made allusions.  

    In 1923, the crossed-leg crusader theory was condemned by A.S. E. Ackermann in his handbook of 'Popular Fallacies.' However, it continues to be a 'popular fallacy' even if not as universally promoted as in the mid 17th to mid 18th centuries.

    Modern historian Oliver Harris, having studied the subject in depth is of the opinion that while the antiquarians declared that'We speak from fact not theory' they have in fact shown a 'recurrent willingness to allow judgement to be swayed by preconception and prejudice.' And that the issue has been obfuscated down the centuries by successive waves of 'religious nostalgists, chivalric romantics and modern conspiracy theorists' among others.  He makes it clear, however that the roots of the false notion of crusader cross-legged imagery in effigies lies with the 'Elizabethan and Jacobean passion for imagery, allegory and symbolism' and that the 'Crusader and Templar theories of crossed legs are manifestations of this same tendency.'

    The bottom line is that while some of the knights represented by effigies with crossed legs did take crusader vows or visit the Holy Land, they are only a proportion of the whole represented and this type of effigy is one that developed from the mid 13th to the mid 14th century as a stylistic form and is of its time. The entire crossed legs business was invented in the 16th century and has been tangling historical truth ever since!

    Antiquarian Attitudes: Crossed Legs, Crusaders, And the Evolution of an Ida by Oliver D. Harris - The Antiquaries Journal 90, 2010.

    Early Secular Effigies in England by H.A. Tummers Brill Academic 1980
    Elizabeth Chadwick pay tribute at the Temple Church to straight-legged William
    Marshal, a crusader, and his non crusader bent-legged son, examples of early and mid period styles.

    Elizabeth Chadwick is a best selling author of fiction set in the Middle Ages.  She is currently at work on Templar Silks, a novel about the time William Marshal spent in the Holy Land and about which he said very little!

    0 0
  • 02/24/16--16:30: Ossian, by Miranda Miller
  • Imogen Robertson’s fascinating January blog about Cherubina de Gabriak, a disabled school teacher who tried to reinvent herself as a beautiful aristocrat and had a brief success as a poet, set me thinking about literary charlatans. Ossian was perhaps the greatest poet who never was. In the 1770s James Macpherson  published his ‘translation’ of an epic cycle of Scottish poems written in Scottish Gaelic in the third century. Ossian, a blind bard, sings of the life and battles of Fingal, a Scotch warrior. Macpherson claimed that Ossian was based on an ancient Gaelic manuscript but nobody ever saw the manuscript and, in fact,  there are no dark-age manuscripts of epic poems, tales, and chronicles and so on from Scotland because ancient Scottish poetry and lore were then purely oral. 
    Whether the epic was genuine or not, Ossian caught the zeitgeist of a revolutionary, nationalistic  age.  When you’re reading about the eighteenth century Ossian pops up all the time: Napoleon carried a copy into battle; Goethe admired it and translated parts of it; the city of Selma, Alabama was named after the home of Fingal; Voltaire wrote parodies of the poems and Thomas Jefferson thought Ossian was "the greatest Poet that has ever existed".  His poems were considered equal to Homer’s and were tranlated into most European and Scandinavian languages.Writers as diverse as William Blake, Henry Thoreau, George Byron, Walter Scott, Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Matthew Arnold praised or imitated Ossian’s poems.
    Napoleon commissioned one of Ingres' most romantic paintings, the Dream of Ossian, (shown here), and many other  painters, including Turner, Girodet, Angelica Kauffman and James Barry were also inspired by Ossian; the opera Ossian, ou les Bardes was a great success at the Paris Opera in 1804; Schubert composed Lieder setting many of Ossian's poems and In 1829 Mendelssohn composed the Hedrides Overture, better known as "Fingal's Cave". The cave itself, on the island of Staffa,was actually  renamed by Sir Joseph Banks at the height of Ossianmania (its original Gaelic name is "An Uamh Bhin" or  “the melodious cave").Scandinavian and German princes were named Oscar after one of the characters in Ossian, as was Oscar Wilde
    Various Irish historians, including Charles O’Conor, pointed out errors in chronology and in the forming of Gaelic names and challenged Macpherson to produce the original manuscripts, which he never did. Samuel Johnson was convinced the poems were forgeries, he  called Macpherson "a mountebank, a liar, and a fraud.” When he was asked, "But Doctor Johnson, do you really believe that any man today could write such poetry?" he famously replied, "Yes. Many men. Many women. And many children." 
    However, Macpherson flourished. He ended up as MP for Camelford and became rich enough to buy a  large estate in Invernessshire. His sentimentality about Gaelic culture didn’t prevent him from being a ruthless landlord when it came to the Highland Clearances. When he died in 1796  he was buried in Westminster Abbey ( a privilege he was said to have paid for), together with Chaucer, Shakespeare Spenser and Dryden.  
    Does each generation get the forgeries they deserve? Although I don’t know anyone who reads Ossian now Macpherson’s contemporaries certainly thought he was a great poet. So was he?   I’d love to know what you think about this.

    0 0

    I won’t pretend otherwise. This February is proving to be a very bittersweet month. As I mentioned in last month’s blog, my new novel THE FORGOTTEN SUMMER was published on 11th February with a few nice events lined up by Michael Joseph/Penguin to launch it. A special and exciting moment for me as this new novel has been a while in the writing and I am very proud of it.

    Unfortunately, my wonderful Irish mother, Phyllis, – a best friend and big sister to me – died in my arms totally unexpectedly on 4th February. It was a gift for her that her passage between life and after-life was so swift and painless but a terrible shock and heartbreak for me. Obviously, the show goes on and THE FORGOTTEN SUMMER was published. It has - I am writing this just a couple of days beyond its publication - been receiving some wonderful five-star reviews and seems to be selling very healthily.

    So, because I am locked in pre-funeral arrangements, I am going to cheat this month and post here the text I wrote for an article published in the Mail on Sunday Travel section on 14th February. It tells a little about my patch of Provence.

    "Provence is a large region of southern France. Officially, it is Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, PACA. My corner is the geographically stunning tip that stretches to the borders of Monaco and Italy to the east, the Alps to the north, Hyères to the west and the sparkling Mediterranean to the south. The French Riviera or Blue Coast. Its reputation is so celebrated with tales of wealth, resplendence, decadence and all-night jazz hotspots that you expect it to disappoint, yet it never does.


    "Queen Victoria loved the French Riviera. She visited on nine occasions and did a great deal to bring this wintering resort its international reputation. Her first trip in 1882 delivered her from a damp Windsor by carriage, train, crossing the channel on her yacht, Victoria and Albert, descending by train to Menton, the last hilltop stop before Italy, appreciated today for its Val Rahmeh Botanical Gardens and its exuberant Lemon Festival. Victoria was entranced by the palm and citrus vegetation, the sweeping views and the benign microclimate. She made expeditions along the coast, eulogising the landscape, which she later described in her diary as ‘a paradise of nature’. The local shepherds, she wrote, were ‘very handsome’ in their breeches and ‘large, black felt hats’ that protected from the sun.

    "The widowed, ageing Queen returned regularly for the balmy climate. Her stays grew longer. One outing took her to the perfume town of Grasse, to Alice de Rothschild’s Villa Victoria. Alice had purchased 135 hectares of olive groves to construct her chateau. Spending millions, she laid out magnificent grounds and employed eighty full-time gardeners. Each year, she imported literally tons of violets to bed in the olive groves, giving vibrancy to the silvery fields while her forests of yolk-yellow mimosas perfumed the air.

    "According to gossip, our doughty Queen stepped clumsily and crushed several plants underfoot. Alice, infuriated, told her royal visitor in no uncertain terms to ‘get out’. Other versions of the tale suggest that Victoria planted a tree as was the tradition, digging it in herself, to commemorate her stay, or perhaps to offer her apologies? Baroness Alice, who suffered from rheumatic fever, spent six months of every year in Grasse returning to Buckinghamshire for the summers. 

                                    Statue of Queen Victoria in Cimiez district of Nice where stayed.

    "By the beginning of the twentieth century, Cannes and the coastal strip that winds its rocky way to Monaco was the winter resort for the rich, the royals and a few well-heeled writers and artists such as the Impressionist Auguste Renoir who in 1907 settled in Cagnes-sur-Mer where he hoped to cure the rheumatism that had crippled his hands. Renoir’s home is now a museum dedicated to the artist. A must see.

    "Around the turn of the century, two other members of the Rothschild banking dynasty constructed sumptuous properties along this coastline. The Villa Rothschild in Cannes was purchased by the local council and transformed into a media library while the Villa Ephrussi on Cap d’Antibes encircled by nine gardens with breath-taking views is open to the public and well worth a visit. If you are a budding painter, look out for Painters’ Day. In June, the villa opens its blossom-filled gardens to artists, offering them the inspiration and tranquillity required to create. In August, Ephrussi’s covered patio hosts a small, intimate opera festival.

    "Although much construction has taken place around Grasse destroying many of the jasmine, rose and lavender hills that serviced the perfumeries, a visit to the traditional houses, Galimard, Molinard, Fragonard, with their old copper vats on display is de riguer. Or drop by Le Jardin de la Bastide, a paradisical garden, where Michelle Cavalier is producing organic rosewater products.

    "Alice’s Villa Victoria is now Palais Provençal, an apartment block.

    "Only after the Great War did the area became a summer venue. In 1921, the American composer Cole Porter with his heiress wife, Linda Lee Thomas, rented a house in the little-known fishing village of Juan-les-Pins. They invited fellow Americans Gerald and Sara Murphy, also both heirs to fortunes, to accompany them. So enchanted were the Murphys with this magical coastal playground that they persuaded the palatial Hotel du Cap in Antibes to stay open for the summer. Friends were beckoned south. Amongst the wide circle of prestigious guests were Picasso with his first wife, the Russian ballerina, Olga Khokhlova, Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald and the Hemingways.

                                        The Murphys with guests on the beach 1923 at La Garoupe

    "In 1924, the Murphys purchased a ‘seaside chalet’ near Plage de la Garoupe and christened it Villa America. The summer season was here to stay. Taste that mythical Jazz Age by dropping in to the Art Deco piano bar at the Hotel Belles-Rives, once Villa Saint-Louis, the rented home of the Fitzgeralds and incarnated in his classic novel, Tender is the Night. Sip your cocktail and gaze out at the emerald sea bobbing with linen-white yachts while a photograph of Josephine Baker with her pet cheetah gazes down on you.

    "In 1923, while in Monaco, Coco Chanel was introduced to the stupendously wealthy 2nd Duke of Westminster, known to friends as “Bendor”. The affair between designer and Bendor lasted a decade. While out sailing along the coast in the company of his couturier mistress, the Duke spotted a plot of land on a terraced hillside in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin. It had been part of the private hunting grounds of Monaco’s royal family. Bendor bought it and gifted it to Coco. When she returned to Paris, Coco was seen in a backless dress and bronzed skin. Until this time, to sport a tan was judged vulgar. Only peasants were bronzed, but Chanel’s appearance in the city of fashion confirmed that sunbathing was the new mode. In 1928, Coco built the exquisite villa, La Pausa on the plot Bendor had given her. This hillside property with its lazy summer warmth remained her residence until 1953. 

                                              Bendor and Coco on his yacht, The Flying Cloud 
    "If you are fortunate to have friends like Bendor to take you sailing, the passage between Menton and Cannes gives marvellous coastal sightings of many iron-gated, stone-walled Belle Epoque mansions clinging to the rocks. Otherwise, healthy walks along the littoral offer you glimpses into the mysteries of how the other half lives. Who knows you might cruise by Ecstasea, built for Roman Abramovich, or Zaca, anchored in Pont de Fontvielle. One time it was Errol Flynn’s and it is whispered his ghost walked it decks at twilight. His other yacht, Sirocco, is docked near St Tropez and has been rechristened, Karenita.

                                                                              Léon Blum

    "In 1936, the Jewish socialist and three times Prime Minister, Léon Blum, revolutionised France by bringing in two weeks annual paid holiday for all employees. For the first time, the ordinary man could take a vacation. The luxurious Le Train Bleu, the Calais-Mediterranée Express which, apart from the Great War years, had been transporting the elite to the south since 1886, added second and third class sleeping carriages. Middle and working class families were off to the seaside and the Riviera was to change forever.

    "During WWII, the Cote d’Azur as a holiday destination closed down, but once the Allies had liberated the coast in 1944, the French Riviera’s infrastructure grew rapidly. In 1946, the Cannes Film Festival was inaugurated. Cannes was glamorous and chic while the international airport of Nice opened up the region to mass tourism. And so it has remained.

    "Provence-Côte d’Azur offers everything. Walking tours, camp sites, Greco-Roman history, vineyards, chic beaches, glitzy casinos, dozens of music or flower festivals, luxury villas, open-top cars, magnificent art galleries, Provençal markets. In winter, every Sunday coaches depart Nice airport at 9am delivering skiers one hour inland to the slopes, then back home in time for dinner. The spectrum is as broad as you wish and it’s all yours. Léon Blum would have been proud."

    I hope, if you have enjoyed this little snippet of South of France history, you might be tempted by THE FORGOTTEN SUMMER. It is set on a vineyard set back from the French Riviera coast. A love story with family secrets at its heart.


    0 0

    The view south from my desk
    When I finished writing the biography of Joyce Grenfell, my mind was overflowing with facts, dates and details. I needed to do something practical, an activity that required a different kind of concentration. Not being much good at carpentry, constructing a fitted desk seemed an ideal way of expunging three years’ research. The perfect place to put it was in the corner of my first-floor study between two windows: one facing south, the other west.  My skills were stretched and my brain emptied as I sawed, drilled and screwed my new desk, complete with a sliding shelf for my keyboard.

    On the shelves above my computer are the books I might want instantly – addresses, diary, dictionary, and some I just like looking at, such as 14 volumes of Chamber’s Encyclopaedia. Two other walls are filled with shelves crammed tight with books and on the floor are piles of papers, always waiting to be sorted. A few years ago, when the shelves overflowed and the piles began to topple, I designed a staggered staircase up to the attic and filled it with more bookshelves. They soon filled up too.

    Looking out of the South window, I decided it needed to be extended into a full-length window. The construction of that was a severe test of my marriage. The sliding window arrived in many unlabelled pieces, with instructions translated from Chinese. ‘Make the several parts (B) to commit inwards besides themselves(Y).’  By committing ourselves to extreme patience, both the window and the marriage held firm.

    The new window looks over the back garden, in summer a jumble of artichokes, raspberries and rambling roses. Skittling between the vegetable beds are our moving flowers –coloured Peking, Frizzle and Mille-fleur bantams. The Indian runner ducks compete with robins and blackbirds for grubs in the soil.

    Moving flowers, or bantams.
    View of my desk  (top left)
    In spring, the view is filled with a blaze of bridal white pear and blushing pink apple blossom, followed by the intense blue of wisteria cascading over a self-seeded ash tree. In the winter, beyond the tangle of oak and silver birch branches, I can see Temple Cowley Pool. Many a paragraph was untangled in my mind as I swam up and down the slow lane.  But that’s history now:  the pool has closed, soon to be replaced with flats.

    To the left is the tower of St Luke’s Church. When it was built by Lord Nuffield in 1938, the workers of his Morris Motors factory threatened to go on strike. ‘If you can afford to build a church, you can pay us more.’  So he paid them more. But by 1999, the factory had declined from over 20,000 workers to a few robots and the church had become redundant.  My oak kitchen table was the altar which I rescued from a pile of rubble during the building’s renovation as the Oxfordshire History Centre. It’s a quiet place to research local history, where I discovered that my house was built in 1929, and belonged to a vet called Mr Snodgrass.

    Through the West window I can see squirrels leaping through a beech tree, wheeling red kites, down Cowley hill to the dreaming spires, and beyond the city to Boar’s Hill. 

    Looking West to Oxford's 'dreaming spires'.
    The wall opposite has a large whiteboard with scribbled ideas, lists and reminders. Many of these have spilled onto the surrounding glass-framed drawings of a Norfolk lane, a Russian monastery and the 1908 Olympics. In the afternoon, a myriad of ‘camera obscura’ images of the sun, formed in the tiny gaps between the leaves, appear dancing on the wall.

    Husband and grandchildren waiting in the view.

    As the sun sets, I spot my husband wandering down the garden to the bay tree, carrying a bottle of wine and two glasses. It is time to leave my desk and join him in the view.


    Warnning: Do NOT Get Caught While Searching!!
    Your IP : - Country : - City:
    Your ISP TRACKS Your Online Activity! Hide your IP ADDRESS with a VPN!
    Before you searching always remember to change your IP adress to not be followed!

older | 1 | .... | 61 | 62 | (Page 63) | 64 | 65 | .... | 128 | newer