Articles on this Page
- 02/07/16--16:30: _'Go Tell The Bees' ...
- 02/08/16--16:16: _Did Ancient Romans ...
- 02/09/16--17:00: _Domes of beauty – M...
- 02/10/16--16:30: _The Real Wicked Lad...
- 02/11/16--16:30: _A thoughly bad egg ...
- 02/12/16--22:00: _IN LOVE WITH THE SO...
- 02/14/16--00:42: _Llewelyn The Last
- 02/14/16--18:00: _Review of The Myste...
- 02/15/16--18:00: _Gorgeous Gardens, b...
- 02/16/16--22:00: _A VISION OF THE ART...
- 02/17/16--16:30: _The Lady on the Cup...
- 02/18/16--22:00: _Arabia - More Trave...
- 02/19/16--16:30: _Two Families in the...
- 02/20/16--16:30: _The Tumbling Weir b...
- 02/21/16--16:30: _Town and Country by...
- 02/22/16--16:30: _Letters from the Lo...
- 02/23/16--16:30: _CROSS YOUR LEGS AND...
- 02/24/16--16:30: _Ossian, by Miranda ...
- 02/25/16--16:01: _Queen Victoria tour...
- 02/26/16--16:30: _The View From My De...
- 02/07/16--16:30: 'Go Tell The Bees' - by Karen Maitland
- 02/08/16--16:16: Did Ancient Romans have...?
- 02/09/16--17:00: Domes of beauty – Michelle Lovric
- 02/10/16--16:30: The Real Wicked Lady by Katherine Clements
- 02/11/16--16:30: A thoughly bad egg by Tanya Landman
- 02/12/16--22:00: IN LOVE WITH THE SONNET – Elizabeth Fremantle
- 02/14/16--00:42: Llewelyn The Last
- 02/14/16--18:00: Review of The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow
- 02/15/16--18:00: Gorgeous Gardens, by Sue Purkiss
- 02/16/16--22:00: A VISION OF THE ARTIST AT WORK by Peny Dolan
- 02/17/16--16:30: The Lady on the Cup - Celia Rees
- 02/18/16--22:00: Arabia - More Travels in Time by Katherine Webb
- 02/19/16--16:30: Two Families in the 1640s - by Ann Swinfen
- 02/20/16--16:30: The Tumbling Weir by Imogen Robertson
- 02/21/16--16:30: Town and Country by Kate Lord Brown
- 02/22/16--16:30: Letters from the Longest Battle, by Leslie Wilson.
- 02/24/16--16:30: Ossian, by Miranda Miller
- 02/25/16--16:01: Queen Victoria tours the French Riviera, by CAROL DRINKWATER
- 02/26/16--16:30: The View From My Desk by Janie Hampton
|'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.
|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|
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.
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 |
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|
'extract of Galega'
‘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
|Combined breast pads by Henry S. Lesher from 1859, |
courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
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.
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.
THE NATIONAL DEVELOPER
… 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
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.
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|
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’.
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.
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.
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|
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
Catherine's latest book is The Curious Tale of the Lady Caraboo
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.
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.
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!
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.
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?
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.
|Melusine's secret discovered, from Le Roman de Mélusine by Jean d'Arras, ca 1450-1500. Bibliothèque nationale de France|
|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|
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"
|Muscat, the ancient capital city of the Sultanate of Muscat and Oman|
|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.|
|A gorge on Jebel Akhdar, The Green Mountain; steep, hard and parched territory in which to hunt enemy snipers...|
|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.|
|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.|
|Earl of Essex|
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.
|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.
|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.
|Cross-legged effigy of William Marshal II in the Temple Church (he didn't go on crusade)|
|14th century knight, Temple church, crossed legs, praying hands|
|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
|Southwark Cathedral wooden effigy. Possibly a de Warenne.|
Late 13th century. Relaxed pose.
|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.
|William Longespee Earl of Salisbury. Another example of the straight-legged form|
And relaxed, not drawing his sword. First quarter of the 13thc
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.
"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.
"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.
"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.
|The view south from my desk|
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.
|Moving flowers, or bantams.|
|View of my desk (top left)|
|Looking West to Oxford's 'dreaming spires'.|
|Husband and grandchildren waiting in the view.|