Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Perkin Warbeck: The Man Who Would be King

by Pauline Montagna

Perkin Warbeck
On 3 July 1495, a small army landed in Kent, headed by a young man who claimed to be Richard of York, the younger son of Edward IV and rumoured to have been murdered with his brother Edward in the Tower of London ten years earlier. First lauded as the late king's son in Ireland in 1491, and now with the support of several European monarchs, he had finally arrived in England as Richard IV to claim his throne back from Henry VII.

This was not the first such claimant Henry had faced. Only eight years earlier, another pretender had come out of Ireland, acclaimed as Edward, Earl of Warwick, the son of George, Duke of Clarence, Edward IV's younger brother. In fact, the real Earl of Warwick, a simple-minded boy, was housed in the Tower of London, and even though Henry paraded the young Earl before the populace, the boy's supporters clung to their belief in him. On his capture, the boy proved to be Lambert (or John) Simnel, the son of a country artisan. Recognising he had been merely a puppet in the hands of his supporters, Henry pardoned him and put him to work in his kitchens.

Richard's small army was routed by Henry's men before he had even disembarked and he retreated to Ireland. There he again found military support, but when his siege of Waterford met resistance, Richard fled to Scotland and the court of James IV. Welcoming the young man as leverage against his arch-rival, James allowed Richard to marry his distant cousin, Katherine Gordon, daughter of the Earl of Huntley. In 1496 they planned an invasion of England together, but James was forced to retreat when the support he expected from Richard's army did not materialise. Disenchanted, James shunted Richard off back to Ireland while he made his peace with Henry, accepting the hand of his eldest daughter in marriage.

In 1497 Richard landed in Cornwall in the aftermath of a bloody rebellion. The Cornish declared him Richard IV and he was soon at the head of an army of 5,000 men. However, on hearing of the approach of Henry's, no doubt larger, army, Richard fled and found sanctuary in the Abbey of Beaulieu, from which he was extracted and taken as a captive to Taunton where Henry was then residing.

In Taunton, Richard was privately interrogated by Henry and then paraded before a panel of notable witnesses to whom he confessed he was not the son of Edward IV. Henry had a signed confession that he was instead the son of a Flemish boatman and that his name was Piers Osbeck (though he was later generally known as Perkin Warbeck.) Henry then made him confess the same to his wife, Katherine.

Henry kept the young couple in his household, treating Richard more as a royal hostage than a prisoner, yet parading him before the people and the court as an imposter and traitor, not pardoned by his King but spared. Meanwhile Katherine was made lady-in-waiting to Queen Elizabeth. Though they could often be seen in public together, Henry ensured they never slept together by putting Richard to bed in his own dressing-room behind lock and key. Their son was taken away from them and raised far from the court. Certain Welsh families later claimed to be descended from him.

After several months in this comfortable but humiliating imprisonment, Richard escaped. How is not known, but it could only have been with outside help. Re-captured only a few days later, he was put in the stocks before being imprisoned in the Tower of London in the room beneath that of the Earl of Warwick. Richard fared badly under these conditions and when brought out some months later to be inspected by representatives of his European supporters, they found him chained and shackled, his spirit broken and his face battered.

Before too long conspiracies began to take shape around Richard and Warwick, though Richard was too dispirited to take an active part and Warwick had no understanding of what was happening. Before anything came of it, an alleged plan for them to escape and usurp Henry was discovered. Now Henry had an excuse to execute not only Richard but young Warwick, as well. Both were tried for treason and condemned to death. As a nobleman, Warwick was beheaded in private. Richard was taken out into the city to be hung, drawn and quartered. After again publically confessing that he was not Richard of York, he mercifully died by hanging before the rest of the horrific ritual could be carried out. Nonetheless, his head was cut off and displayed on London Bridge.

Having never disavowed her husband, despite his confessed imposture, Katherine wore black for the rest of her life. Well-endowed by Henry, but not allowed to leave the court, she continued as Queen Elizabeth's lady-in-waiting until her death in 1502. Thereafter she remained at court, some believe as Henry's mistress, though with his health fast deteriorating, she may have simply been a companion. After Henry's death in 1509, Katherine made the most of her freedom, marrying well three times and becoming a woman of substance. Though her first husband was not mentioned in her will, her perpetual widow's weeds would attest to his never being far from her mind.

Who was Perkin Warbeck?

These are the bare bones of the story, and interesting as it might be, what makes this story fascinating is the mystery of who this young man actually was. Was he really Richard of York? Or was he, as Henry declared from the outset, an imposter trained up by the Yorkists as a mere figurehead? If he was Richard of York, how had he escaped from the Tower and how had he lived until he resurfaced?

Richard himself was rather vague on this question. In his own correspondence with his supporters, he wrote that, after Edward's death, the lord who was sent to kill him took pity on him and let him live and escape to Flanders, but only after he swore not to reveal his true identity for a number of years. Thereafter he wandered the country in misery until he appeared in Lisbon at the court of King Joao II and was quickly recognised as a prince. This tale raises more questions than it answers.

Although in the English translation of this letter, Edward is described as being 'put to death' the original French word he used was 'extinguere' which means 'to be extinguished', which does not specify execution or, in fact, any specific cause of death. Nor does it give any detail of the circumstances which suggest he might have witnessed, or even mourned Edward's death. Neither did Richard ever name the man who took pity on him, nor explain how he escaped to Flanders and who took care of him there. I cannot imagine a prince could really have survived on the streets. Was the truth harmful to his cause, or was he trying to protect those who had helped him?

Official history accepts the signed confession at face value and declares him to be the imposter, Perkin Warbeck. The confession gives chapter and verse of his parents, John and Katherine, as well as his grandparents and family associations. The Warbeck family can be traced in Tournai even today, and an independent deposition describes a Jehan Warbeck searching for his missing son Piers. Yet Henry never brought his prisoner face to face with the Warbecks to verify the confession and a letter purporting to be from Perkin Warbeck to his mother has proven to be a concoction. Even though he may have signed the written confession, in his public statements Richard never said he was Perkin Warbeck, only that he was not Edward IV's son.

While Henry publically declared that his prisoner was nothing more than the son of a boatman, he did not treat him as such, as he had in the case of Lambert Simnel. Rather than say, putting him to work as an oarsman on the royal barge, he, at first, treated him with all the courtesy due to a prince. This may well have been because Richard still had powerful supporters in Europe whom Henry did not want to antagonise, but it may well have been because he himself harboured doubts.

It is interesting to note that in both attempts to free Richard, he had outside help, and both attempts gave Henry an acceptable excuse to imprison and then execute him. Were these attempts actually engineered by Henry himself for his own purposes? Was he trying to justify to himself or to outside observers his treatment of his prisoner? Did Henry believe he had executed an imposter and rebel leader, or one more member of the House of York as he would execute many others?

Henry was right to be wary of Richard's friends who were among the most powerful European rulers and Henry's most dangerous antagonists. They included Maximilian, King of the Romans (later Holy Roman Emperor), Charles VIII of France, James IV of Scotland and Joao II of Portugal. All had met the young man and found his claim and his demeanour convincing, though in some cases, their desire to provoke Henry may have lent some strength to Richard's claims.

Richard's greatest supporter was Margret of York, Dowager Duchess of Burgundy, sister to Edward IV, aunt to Richard of York and virulent in her hatred of the usurper, Henry Tudor. Tournai, where Perkin Warbeck was said to originate, was within Burgundy's sphere of influence. Henry claimed all along that Margaret was the initiator of the conspiracy and it was she who plucked Perkin up and trained him to impersonate Richard of York. The fact that Margaret had been one of Lambert Simnel's supporters lends some credence to this claim.

However, Henry himself threw doubt on his own narrative of Perkin Warbeck's childhood as there were two versions of the confession, the one circulated in England, and a French version circulated on the Continent. While the English version sees Perkin as a lazy and rebellious boy who runs away from home and wanders the street until a soft hearted English merchant picks him up and takes him to Lisbon, the French version sees him as a young man with promise being educated by a well-placed sponsor to enter the church, a young man who may very well have been recommended to the Duchess of Burgundy as a good candidate to impersonate a prince.

So here we have two likely scenarios. The man sent to the Tower to kill the two princes kills Edward but takes pity on little Richard. He organises for him to escape to Flanders for safe-keeping, just as his uncles Richard and George had been sent during the Wars of the Roses. There he is protected by his aunt, the Duchess of Burgundy, who hopes one day to send him back to England to reclaim his throne, throwing her support behind Lambert Simnel to test the strength of the Yorkist cause. An alternative scenario is that after the failure of the Lambert Simnel rebellion, Margaret seeks out a likely young man to be trained up to impersonate her nephew.

However, Anne Wroe has identified a third possibility.

Despite all her prayers and penances, Margaret of York had remained childless, and there is evidence that in September 1478, after the death of her husband, she adopted a little boy who was to be raised in some luxury and well-educated in an isolated country retreat. He was then six years old, the same age as Richard. There is no record of who the boy might have been. He could well have been a neglected boy from Tournai who showed particular promise. However, there is evidence that in the summer of 1478 there was unusual activity at Edward IV's court which involved communication with Flanders.

Could the child have been one of Edward's by-blows sent to Margaret for his protection and to ease her loneliness? The child disappeared from the records in 1485 when he would have been twelve and about the time the Princes in the Tower were rumoured to have been killed. Had the boy been sent into service or to be raised in some noble household? Or had he been sent into even further isolation for his protection, to be brought forward in due course as 'Richard of York'? Richard himself, even when confessing he was not Edward's son, never called himself an imposter, but a substitute.

For my part, my own question has always been: why did Perkin Warbeck choose to identify himself as Richard, the second son, when someone else could easily have gazumped him by claiming to be Edward? Was it because it was known that Edward was dead and Richard had survived? Edward has usually been portrayed as serious and sickly and Richard as lively and healthy. Could it be that Edward did die of natural causes or a medical mishap? Was he bled too much, as one contemporary suggested, or die of septicaemia from bad teeth as a skull which might be his suggests?

Or was it because the child Margaret had in her care resembled Richard more nearly and was closer to his age? If he was not Richard of York, was he perhaps still of royal blood, so closely resembling Edward IV that there could be no doubt he was his son and raised from childhood as befitting a prince?

We'll never know the answers, but while this may be frustrating for historians, it's a godsend for novelists!


Ann Wroe, Perkin: a Story of Deception (published in the US as The Perfect Prince), Vintage (2003)


Pauline Montagna lives in Melbourne, Australia. She has published three books, The Slave, an historical romance set in fourteenth century Italy, Suburban Terrors, a short story collection, and Not Wisely but Too Well, a novel of the young Shakespeare and the first volume of a projected four volume series. You can find out more about her and her books on her website.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Seven Years War, and the Ascension of Pitt the Elder

by Chuck Lovatt

In many ways The Seven Years War was merely an extension of The War of the Austrian Succession, which ended in 1748, at the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle; the fact that it ended inconclusively virtually guaranteed further conflict. An uneasy truce lasted just a handful of years before The Seven Years War (or as it is known in the US, “The French and Indian War”) began.

In North America, New France and the British colonies along the eastern seaboard were both expanding into the Ohio Valley – the overcrowded British hungry for land, and the French in Canada wanting an overland connection from New France to the colony of Louisiana. Contact was made when a large Canadian force came upon a party of New Englanders building a fort near what is now downtown Pittsburgh. The New Englanders were expelled, and the French promptly built Fort Duquesne on the same site.

Shortly after the expulsion, a small party, consisting of a few dozen Canadians, commanded by the Sieur de Jumonville, was sent to warn off the British of any further incursions into what they considered their territory. A force of four hundred Virginia militia, under a young Lieutenant-Colonel, George Washington, was informed of the approach of this party, and subsequently ambushed them, killing ten, the Sieur de Jumonville being of that number. As a state of war did not yet exist between France and England, this became known as The Jumonville Incident.

The French learned of this outrage and sent out a sizeable force in pursuit. Washington, outnumbered, retreated to Fort Necessity, but was nonetheless forced to capitulate. He and what remained of his men, were sent packing, back over the Alleghenies, fortunate to have retained their scalps; all the more so as the officer who accepted his surrender was Jumonville’s brother.

And so, it was game on.

Braddock's Death
However, for the next three years, the ‘game’ did not go at all well for Britain. Although the next year, 1755, they did manage to capture Fort Beauséjour in the French Acadia (on the border of the present day Canadian provinces of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia,) a major campaign against Fort Duquesne on the Ohio Valley, under General Braddock, met disaster on the Monongahela River – Braddock paying for the fiasco with his life.

The next year, 1756, hostilities were formally declared, and France promptly lay siege to Minorca. A relieving force from Britain, under Admiral Byng, subsequently got their noses bloodied, and returned to England in disgrace. As a sign of his disapproval, and pour encourager les autres, King George II had Byng put to death. The effects were not readily apparent, however, for Fort Oswego, in what is now Upstate New York, was the next to fall.

Fort William Henry
The next year, 1757, saw matters go from bad to worse. At Ile Royal (present day Cape Breton Island) an attempt to take the Fortress of Louisbourg was frustrated by a sizeable French fleet, and a hurricane that virtually crippled the armada of the would-be invaders. On the New York-Canadian frontier, Fort William Henry capitulated after a lengthy siege, and the subsequent massacre of over two hundred men, and the kidnapping of women and children, by Indians allied to the French, sent waves of anger throughout the Britain and her colonies.

Meanwhile, in Europe, the Duke of Cumberland and his Hanoverians, met defeat at the Battle of Hastenback, leaving their ally, Prussia, open to invasion. In fact, the only good news to come from that year was Robert Clive’s victory in far off India, at the Battle of Plassey. However, although it would not become immediately apparent, the most important event was the fall of Newcastle’s government, and the rise of William Pitt (or The Great Commoner) to office.
One of Pitt’s more notable achievements was the reorganization of the army – promoting junior officers (who had shown their eagerness to fight) over more lethargic generals, regardless of seniority. Another was his disinclination to fight the war on the European continent, but to use the navy to his advantage, and hit the French where they were weakest, in their colonies.

Early the next year, in 1758, this strategy received a tremendous boost at the naval Battle of Cartagena. With the survivors of the French fleet bottled up in their ports (denying Versailles the ability to reinforce their overseas possessions), the Royal Navy was free to roam at will, and so they did.

Pacifying his European allies with a few brigades of reinforcements, and cash subsidies to keep their own armies in the field (thereby tying down the lion’s share of King Louis’ armies) Pitt now turned his attention overseas.

The first French colony to fall was Senegal in West Africa. On the North American seaboard, a second attempt was made on Louisbourg (which is, coincidentally, the subject of ‘Josiah Stubb,” my latest book [ahem!])* this time with success, thus opening the gateway to the St Lawrence River and Quebec.

Without any expectations of reinforcements from the mother country to meet this new threat, the French were forced to withdraw from the Ohio Valley, leaving Fort Duquesne to the mercy of the advancing British. Thus bringing the original cause of the war to a conclusion.

As good as was 1758, the next year would be even better, and would become known in Britain as the Annus Mirabilis.

The highly lucrative sugar island of Guadeloupe was the first to succumb in the West Indies. The naval battles of Lagos, and then again later, at Quiberon Bay put paid to the threat of a French invasion of Britain.

Next, on the continent, Britain and her allies achieved victory over the French at the Battle of Minden, and finally, on the other side of the Atlantic, Quebec fell following the Battle of the Plains of Abraham, leaving New France virtually unprotected. Montreal surrendered the next year, effectively putting an end to France as a power in North America.


Belle Ile was taken in 1761 - the first time in seven years of warfare that a part of France-proper had been invaded.

Another sugar island, Martinique, surrendered in 1762.

At this point, Spain, eager to maintain the balance of power in Europe, entered the war on the side of France and her allies… and promptly lost Cuba and the Philippines to the British.

At last, virtually bankrupt, France sued for peace at the Treaty of Paris. Spain ceded Florida and Minorca, but received Louisiana from King Louis in compensation. France gave up Canada for the return of her precious (and more easily and cheaper to defend) sugar islands.

In conclusion, the Seven Years War has been called the first World War for obvious reasons, although the same claim has been made of The War of the Austrian Succession, and other wars of the 18th century. Indeed, the entire century has been referred to as The Second Hundred Years War, and its results have been momentous.

For Britain, the gateway to India lay open, and for a short time she held sway over the greater part of North America, including the vast unknown landmass to the west. Even though she would lose her American colonies within another generation, this was the birth of the largest empire the world has ever seen.

For being the architect of this victory, William Pitt was given a pension of £3,000, and eventual ennoblement by a grateful king and nation.

In contrast, France, bankrupt and destitute, rife with discontent, faced the horrors of revolution, launching the world into another world war that, per capita, would be the bloodiest that the western world had ever known, the First and Second World Wars of the Twentieth Century notwithstanding.


*For more information on the siege of Louisbourg, and a ripping good yarn besides, check out the giveaway section of this blog for a free copy of my recently released book, “Josiah Stubb: The Siege of Louisbourg.” Here’s the blurb:

"It is 1758 and The Seven Years War is raging. The military might of the British and French empires collide in a desperate bid to control the key strategic Fortress of Louisbourg and, in turn, Quebec and French-held North America.

"One man caught amidst the bloodshed is the young grenadier, Josiah Stubb. Raised by a whore amidst poverty and incest, Josiah seemed doomed from birth to a life in the gutter. His attempt to leave his sordid past behind leads him to Louisbourg, but it comes back to haunt him in the form of a gifted officer, battling his own inner demons.

"As the siege blazes towards its inevitable bloody climax, will Josiah live to overcome the formidable obstacles that keep him chained to his past, or will his aspirations for a better life die with him on the brooding shores of Ile Royale?"

Amazon US
Amazon UK
Amazon Canada

The Fenland Riots

by Ann Swinfen

My new novel Flood takes place in the seventeenth century in a very distinctive area along the east coast of England, known as the Fens. Once a remote, slightly mysterious region of marshes and hidden villages, it attracted the attention of men greedy to get their hands on land by fair means or foul, never mind the consequences for the local inhabitants. They used the notorious method of ‘enclosure’, but in the Fens they were up against a formidable people who could not easily be bullied into submitting. When I discovered their story, I knew I had to write about it.

I had always known about enclosures, of course. From roughly Tudor times to the nineteenth century in England, land was stolen by large landowners or groups of speculators by semi-legal means. This stolen land was ‘common land’, that is, land held in common by a group of people, often the free villagers of a parish who were peasant farmers or yeomen. They had ancient rights to cultivate arable land on a shared basis, to graze their flocks and herds on local meadows, and to gather firewood and feed their pigs in neighbouring woods.

The enclosers fenced off the commons, expelled the commoners – sometimes even seizing their animals – and took possession of the land for themselves. The local people rarely had any means of redress or compensation. If they went to law, almost invariably they lost their cases, at considerable financial cost, when opposed by those with influence and deep pockets. The result is that there are very few common lands left today. Port Meadow in Oxford still has common grazing for a few Freemen who can claim ancient rights granted by Alfred the Great. The New Forest has privileges for those who are eligible.

This was a massive injustice, carried out under the guise of land improvement, or in order to create large wool-producing businesses. And in some cases it may have led to more efficient farming methods, but nevertheless it resulted in poverty, starvation and dispossession for many of its victims. The Highland Clearances in Scotland had a similar effect, although in their case small tenants were cleared off land already owned by a wealthy landowner in order to produce a larger income from sheep.

The Fens of East Anglia (stretching along the east coast of England from Cambridgeshire, Suffolk and Norfolk to Lincolnshire) were from ancient times an area where land, water and marsh combined to form a rich tapestry with unique problems and rewards. The natural phenomenon of the area is the annual deposit by winter rains of rich silt from higher ground inland on to the lower arable fields of the fenlands. This produced some of the richest soil in England.

Floods would cover these fields in winter, then drain away, leaving land ready for cultivation. Between these arable fields lay a network of ancient peat bogs and waterways – some natural, some man-made over the centuries by local people who understood their special environment and the behaviour of their annual floods. They lived by arable farming, raising stock, fishing and water-fowling. The peat bogs provided fuel as well as absorbing excess water, and the rushes and willows growing along the waterways furnished materials for everything from thatch to hurdles and eel-traps.

Then, in the early seventeenth century, the ‘adventurers’ came – adventurers because they invested their money in a speculative venture. They would drain this boggy land, which they mistakenly believed to be poor and unprofitable, seize control of it, and install settlers from Holland and France as rent-paying small farmers. The return on their money would be phenomenal – it was a fool-proof investment. There were plenty of Protestant refugees from Catholic persecution on the Continent who would be only too glad of a chance to start a new life on the reclaimed lands.

And what of the local people? Many held charters of ancient rights. These were ignored in the law courts. Some tried to obtain compensation, but often found themselves imprisoned or fined instead, for attempting to oppose the speculators.

Oliver Cromwell
But they were a tough people, the fenlanders. They fought for their rights, destroying the drainage ditches and pumping mills, attacking the drainage workers and settlers. The unrest spread throughout the Fens and was one of the underlying causes of the English Civil War. The war itself brought a temporary halt to the drainage, but in the lull between the two phases of the war, it began again. And whereas the first period of drainage and enclosure had been financed by the aristocracy and the king, the new speculators were the men who had risen to power under the new government, and included Oliver Cromwell himself, who, in the past, had declared that he would protect the fenlanders.

Matthew Hopkins, Witchfinder
I was drawn to the period and the events in the Fens by the persistent courage of the local people in defending their land and their customary way of life. I was also fascinated by discovering that the women fought alongside their men, some of them even being accused of being witches because of their unwomanly behaviour. Yes, this was the very period when the infamous ‘witch-finder general’, Matthew Hopkins, was roaming over this same area, instigating witch-hunts and hounding hundreds of innocent men and women to their deaths. Mostly women. But some men too. Because of the imposition of strict and unforgiving Puritan rules by Cromwell’s government, clergymen who continued to practice the established ceremonies of the Anglican church – such as baptism and church weddings – were attacked and in some cases tried and executed for witchcraft.

The more I read about the Fenland Riots, as they came to be known, the more I wanted to tell the story of these persecuted people. In my novel Flood, Mercy Bennington and her family and friends provided the voices of those forgotten seventeenth century forebears of ours.

And the irony of it all? Because the engineers brought in to drain the Fens did not understand the local terrain, their works resulted in uncontrollable floods. Water which would once have been absorbed by the marshland was pumped out into new ditches which overflowed and flooded villages and homes. Not until the nineteenth century was efficient drainage carried out, and it destroyed the peat bogs which by the present day have withered and shrunk, so that in many places the rivers are now higher than the surrounding lands, a dangerous and unsustainable situation. In recent years it has come to be realised that the marshes along the sea coast of the Fens used to provide a buffer against that other source of floods – floods from the sea. As a result, some coastal farmlands are now being allowed to revert to salt marsh, to protect the land.

I wonder what Mercy Bennington would have had to say about that?

Fraser, Antonia, The Weaker Vessel: Woman’s Lot in Seventeenth Century England
Lindley, Keith, Fenland Riots and the English Revolution
Plowden, Alison, Women All on Fire: The Women of the English Civil War


Ann Swinfen ( published three novels with Random House, but her three latest – The Testament of MariamFlood and The Secret World of Christoval Alvarez – she has published herself under the imprint Shakenoak Press. Loving the whole independent publishing process, and the control it offers to authors, she thinks it unlikely she would ever return to conventional publishing. Some of her short stories which previously appeared in magazines and on BBC radio are now published on Kindle. She has also reissued her backlist titles as paperbacks and Kindles.

FLOOD @ Amazon UK

FLOOD @ Amazon US

Monday, April 14, 2014

Giveaway: Josiah Stubb: The Siege of Louisbourg by C.W. Lovatt

C.W. is giving away an ecopy of Josiah Stubb: The Siege of Louisbourg. You can read about the book HERE. Please return to this post to enter the drawing by commenting below. Please be sure to leave your contact information.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

King Henry's Treasure and the Kingdom of Jerusalem

by Helena P. Schrader

Tomb of Henry II at Fontevrault

Henry II of England is one of England’s most colorful, fascinating and controversial kings.  He is usually remembered for forging the Angevin Empire, for his tempestuous relationship with his strong-willed and powerful queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine, for the murder of Thomas Becket, and – among more serious scholars – for laying the foundations of English Common Law.

He is not remembered as a crusader. This is because, although he took crusader vows, he never actually went to the Holy Land. Indeed, most historians credit Henry II with disdaining crusading in preference to building an empire at home. Certainly, his refusal to accept the keys of the Holy Sepulcher from the Patriarch of Jerusalem in 1185, reflected a preference for holding on to what he had over seeking glory and salvation “beyond the sea” in “Outremer.”

Yet a focus on Henry’s legacy in the West obscures the fact that his ties to the Holy Land were much closer than is commonly remembered. First of all, his grandfather, Fulk d’Anjou, had turned over his inheritance to his son Geoffrey in order to go to the Holy Land and marry the heiress to the Kingdom of Jerusalem, Melisende. Geoffrey d’Anjou was thus the half-brother of Kings Baldwin III (reigned 1143 – 1162) and Amalaric I (reigned 1162-1174) of Jerusalem. This made Henry II first cousin to the ill-fated Baldwin IV of Jerusalem.

The Arms of the Kingdom of Jerusalem

Baldwin IV suffered from leprosy and could not sire an heir. As his condition worsened and the armies of Saladin drew stronger, he looked desperately for a successor capable of defending his inheritance. He did not see this either in his five year old nephew, or in the husbands of his sisters. It is with this incipient succession crisis in mind, with Saladin beating the drums of jihad at his doorstep, that the mission of the Patriarch of Jerusalem and the Grand Masters of the Knights Templar and Knights Hospitaller of 1185 must be seen.

Baldwin IV sent these emissaries to offer the keys to the Holy Sepulcher and the Tower of David first to Philip II of France and then to Henry II of England. By all accounts, Baldwin’s real hopes lay with Henry II – a powerful monarch, who had proved his abilities on the battlefield again and again. The Patriarch’s plea was for Henry II – or one of his sons – to come to Jerusalem and, implicitly, take the crown itself. Baldwin IV, many historians believe, wanted Henry II to end the succession crisis and restore the House of Anjou in the East.

Henry II, as I noted above, declined to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps and surrender his hereditary lands for the Kingdom of Jerusalem. But he was far less indifferent to the fate of his cousin or the Holy Land than this decision suggests. As early as 1172, when Henry II reconciled with the Church for his role in the murder of Thomas Becket, he took the cross and started accumulating “large sums” of money in Jerusalem. This money, historian Malcolm Barber writes in The Crusader States, (Yale University Press, New Haven, 2012) was “intended for use when he eventually travelled to the East.” In 1182, Henry II made a will which left an additional 5,000 marks silver to both the Knights Templar and the Knights Hospitaller for the defense of the Holy Land, and another 5,000 marks was bequeathed for the general “defense of the Holy Land.” That is a total of 15,000 marks silver, an enormous sum, which he intended for the defense of the Holy Land.

Manuscript Illustration of a 12th Century King

Since he did not die in 1182, this money never reached the crusader kingdom, but three years later, although Henry felt he dare not leave his kingdom (at a time when the French and his sons were trying to tear it apart), he did agree to a special tax (often referred to as the “Saladin Tax”) the proceeds of which were to go to the Kingdom of Jerusalem.

Finally, when the news reached him in 1187 of the fall of Jerusalem and the desperate straits of the Kingdom, Henry II again took a crusader vow. While many historians (and even more novelists) disparage this as a ploy, it is just as possible that he was sincere – so long as those who coveted his kingdom and threatened his crown, Philip II of France and his son Richard – went on crusade with him! We will never know how sincere his intentions were because he died before the Third Crusade got underway.

Meanwhile, however, his treasure had already played a crucial role in the history of Jerusalem. There are no figures for just how large King Henry’s treasure was, but it was undoubtedly more than the 15,000 silver marks mentioned in his will of 1182 because there had been money deposited prior to this, and the “Saladin Tax” that came afterwards.  Significantly, the money had been entrusted to the militant orders for safe keeping. This means that the money could be deposited in London, and paid out in Jerusalem through the networks of the Templars and Hospitallers.  Furthermore, based on the testament of 1182, it would appear that Henry carefully distributed the funds between the two militant orders, rather than favoring one over the other. This, unintentionally, resulted in his treasure having two very different uses.

In 1187, as Saladin prepared to launch an all-out offensive against the Christian kingdom of Jerusalem, King Guy had little choice but to call-up a levee en masse to put the largest force possible in the way of the invaders. Against a force of 45,000 including some 12,000 cavalry, King Guy could muster only about 1,000 knights, 4,000 light horse and some 15,000 infantry. In light of this, the Grand Master of the Templars, Gerard de Ridefort, handed over King Henry’s treasure to finance more fighting men. It is unclear from the sources whether these were mercenaries, light troops, or, as some say, the outfitting of 200 additional knights. In any case, Henry II’s money helped contribute to the army that marched out to meet Saladin – and was destroyed on the Horns of Hattin on July 4, 1187.

Medieval Warfare from a 14th Century Manuscript

The Grand Master of the Hospitallers, however, did not release King Henry’s treasure in advance of the Battle of Hattin. The money Henry II had deposited with the Hospitallers for the Holy Land was still in Jerusalem when the city surrendered to Saladin in October 1187. The terms of the surrender allowed the residents 40 days to raise a ransom of 10 dinars per man, 5 dinars per woman and 2 dinars per child. Those who failed to pay the ransom became slaves by right of conquest at the end of the 40 days.

At the time these terms were negotiated, the Christian defender of Jerusalem, Balian d’Ibelin, knew that there were some 40,000 (some sources say 100,000) Latin Christian refugees in the city.  He knew that many of these were destitute, having lost all they owned to Saladin already, and so were in no position to pay their ransom. He negotiated the release of 18,000 poor for a lump sum of 30,000 dinars.

Sources differ, however, on where this money was to come from. Some suggest that it came from King Henry’s treasure, but others suggest the initial sum was paid from the treasury of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, but that it soon became evident that there were more poor people in the city than Balian had estimated – or had the resources to ransom. (He’d lost all his lands to Saladin already too.) It was at this juncture, they say, that the Hospitallers handed over King Henry’s treasure to ransom as many of the poor as they could.

In the end, even Henry’s treasure was not enough and some 15,000 Christians were sold into slavery. Nevertheless, King Henry of England played an important role in ransoming thousands of Christians trapped in Jerusalem, minimizing the number sold into slavery. His son, of course, played an even greater role in rescuing the Kingdom from complete obliteration, but that is another story….


Helena Schrader is writing a series of ten novels set in the Age of Chivalry. For more information visit her website: or watch the video teaser Tales of Chivlary. One of these novels is set in the Holy Land during the crusade of King Louis IX of France.

A crusader in search of faith --
A lame lady in search of revenge --
And a King who would be saint.

St. Louis' Knight takes you to the Holy Land in the 13th century, and a world filled with knights, nobles, prophets -- and assassins.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

The Great Game

Roller-skating in the Hindu Kush

by J.G. Harlond

‘Horrible looking hills loomed nearer and nearer and then you saw some sort of crack going up through the hills – and this was the Khyber Pass; great slabs of rock towering up on either side of you.’ Ed Brown, Royal Warwickshire Regiment, 1930s

‘I set the defaulters to work with pick axes and chisels to level a large area of virgin rock to a perfect level over which was spread a coating of fine cement. The contractor was then told to produce all the roller-skates in India, fairy lights were slung up over this area and all through the cold weather the British troops roller-skated and roller-skated.’ George Wood, Brigade Major on the Khyber Pass during 1930s (1)

It sounds amusing, somewhat absurd: a Brigade Major orders an area of rock to be flattened and chiselled smooth - for a roller-skating rink. But the intention was well-meant, and not without purpose; separated from all they knew, without wives and family, George Wood was providing a harmless entertainment for his off-duty troops at a Frontier ‘hardship station’. Such postings were known colloquially as being ‘on the grim’. Regiments were posted high up in the most inhospitable of regions in India as part of The Great Game. A game that was neither harmless nor entertaining: it was a game of strategy and watchfulness, and by the time this Brigade Major ordered the roller-skating rink to be created, it had already been in play for well over a hundred years.

According to David Fromkin in The Great Game in Asia ‘. . . as czarist armies overran Central Asia, attention shifted to Persia, to Afghanistan and to the mountain passes of the Himalayas. By the last quarter of the nineteenth century, it was a common assumption in Europe that the next great war - the inevitable war - was going to be the final showdown between Britain and Russia.’ India was a prime target for Russian expansionism because it provided essential raw materials and, perhaps even more importantly in this line of thought, warm water harbours.

Since about 1850, the gap between the British and Russian Empires had physically narrowed to not much over 1,000 miles (it had been about 4,000 miles in the early 18th century). With every passing year the British and Russians became more and more interested in the territory that separated them - the buffer states running in a crescent around northern India, what is now Pakistan, Persia (Iran), Afghanistan and Tibet. British and Indian troops were posted in these frontier regions because Britain was determined to halt Russia before India was threatened.

This confrontation, the rivalry for geographical power and India’s resources became known as ‘The Great Game’ in the British Press. What the press reported, however, was only the exterior of the affair; there was a lot, lot more going on undercover. The name of the game had, perhaps, been conjured as a reference to chess: south-central Asia being the chess board. Another explanation, however, reads like the sort of politically incorrect fiction one would hesitate to write these days:

Supposedly it was a British officer who first called it the Great Game. He played it exuberantly, and lost it in the terrifying way in which one lost in Central Asia: an Uzbek emir cast him for two months into a well filled with vermin and reptiles, and then what remained of him was brought up and beheaded. The phrase "the Great Game" was found in his papers and quoted by a historian of the First Afghan War.

Rudyard Kipling made it famous in Kim, and visualized it in terms of an Anglo-Indian boy and his Afghan mentor foiling Russian intrigues along the highways to Hindustan. These activities of the rival intelligence services are what some writers mean by the Great Game; others use the phrase in the broader sense (...) to describe the whole of the Anglo-Russian quarrel about the fate of Asia. (2)

Kipling’s novel Kim is set against the geography and politics of this political conflict after the Second Afghan War (1881). Kim’s adventures take the reader into ‘the hills’ spying on Russian agents who are supposedly mapping territory for their government. A government that is sending agents and arms to a mysterious mountain country called Tibet. If you want to get a feel for this epoch in India read Kipling’s short stories, they offer fascinating, detailed portraits of people from very disparate backgrounds and cultures, and bring to life what the bazaars and the teeming cities and roads must have been like.

Reading Kim influenced my writing because it concerned two of my particular interests: the ambivalences and contradictions in old colonial India, and shifting notions of identity. Writing over a hundred years after Kipling, though, my perspective is quite different: The Empress Emerald shows the hero’s need to distance himself from the Raj; his developing sense of an Indian identity and the rightness of Home Rule. Much has been said in the last few decades about Kipling’s right-wing politics, but many people become more conservative with age, and Kim was written when Kipling was still relatively young. First published as a serial in McClure’s Magazine from December 1900 to October 1901, Kim was then printed as a book by Macmillan in October 1901.

Kipling's Short Stories

The espionage and counter-espionage that went on along the Indian frontiers is wonderful material for historical fiction and it is easy to see how chess became an analogy. India was a vital piece in this game; the British valued India more highly than any of their other imperial possessions, largely for its lucrative trade and investment opportunities, but also for the troops India provided and the commanding position in southern Asia. Losing India meant losing Britain’s reputation for invincibility on which British imperial rule depended.

When looking at sources or fiction written before Indian Independence, though, one has to remember that the colonial social-psyche was heavily informed by memories of the Mutiny (1857). Ultimately, the rights and wrongs of that event faded, what the British in India retained was the image of massacres - of innocent women and children being killed. Fear of another, more widespread mutiny became aligned with a related fear of a Russian attack because it would ‘encourage Indians to rise up and expel the British’ (Fromkin).

In 1900, Britain had granted permission for the establishment of a Russian consulate in Bombay. Russia and India had well-established, long-term trade links: Russia imported tea and exported vast quantities of kerosene for Indian kitchens. For this reason alone, Russia had been harrying Britain for permission to set up trade missions on Indian soil for over forty years, but viceroys such as Lord Curzon had held out, insisting that Britain needed to protect her source of raw materials, her jewel in the crown, from potential thieves.

The period leading up to the First World War and the Russian Revolution was particularly busy for India-watchers. Apart from trade links, they also kept a close eye on intellectuals and politicians. Cultural exchanges between Delhi and Moscow could easily have lead to insurrection. The Tsar was weak; there had been bad harvests; Russian peasants, said to be organized by student agitators, were ready to revolt.

The Raj feared that if the peasant class in Russia did revolt, India might follow suit. Hence ever more diligent watching and reporting: knowledge was power. Fear of another form of Mutiny was still very strong. This fuelled even greater vigilance. India ‘with its population of nearly 300 million and area as large as Europe, could not be held by force alone’ (3) so British officials employed many different types of people in their effort to watch what was going on.

‘Gateway to India’

Monitoring trade from a political perspective, as far as India House in London and the Indian Civil and Political Services in the country itself were concerned, meant no Russian and no Russian goods metaphorically passed through Bombay’s ‘Gateway to India’ without them knowing about it. This required constant vigilance, which during the British Raj was standard practice. From what I have read, everybody watched everybody - all the time. Rajahs and parliamentarians, nabobs and businessmen, they all maintained a string of informants. Indians in the professions, especially the politically inclined, and lawyers; begums and maharanis; over-exuberant memsahibs and ordinary box-wallahs; itinerant ministers of religion; peripatetic princes . . . they were all subject to scrutiny, and they all gossiped about one another incessantly.

In the so-called autonomous princely states, eccentric rajas had kept British sub-secretaries scribbling away for generations. Dowdy clerks from Clerkenwell and Tunbridge Wells spent their dull lives minuting oriental peccadilloes. Some of the more startling extravagances that now read like fabrications, such as stealing Hill State virgins for dubious religious ceremonies, might on the surface seem frivolous, nothing more than titillating nonsense, but there was a serious aspect at the time: if a Hill State tribal leader had become an aggrieved father or suffered a loss of dignity, retribution would have been sought. That might have led to inter-state trouble, which in turn would have upset the delicate balance of the Raj.

The troops stationed up ‘on the grim’ were also there to prevent internecine skirmishes and revenge raids from getting out of hand. It put the troops in a dangerous situation because they often became a target themselves. ‘Sniping – “the odd bang, bang at night and the whang of a bullet” - was a constant and trying feature’ of life on the Frontier’ according to John Dring, a political agent in South Waziristan (4). Curiously, it was considered cowardly for troops to fire back at snipers in the Indian Army. Men were supposed to locate the sniper, ‘but it was a sign of steadiness not to fire back’. One has the sense that little has changed in this respect, but it does show the very real danger individual soldiers were in.

Another aspect of life on the Frontier was the administration of the tribal areas, which supposedly was to ensure tribes did not ‘commit nuisances’ either in India or Afghanistan. These nuisances came in various forms; ‘some as manifestations of the “blood feud” which accounted for three hundred murders a year in the Peshawar district alone . . .’ (5)

The Great Game involved fear and danger from within and without. The more research I did about life in colonial India prior to Independence, the more I came to realise how easy it is to criticise or be prejudiced with little information. Whatever the politics, the rights and the wrongs, individual men and women, Indian and British, were basically trying to get on with their lives as best they could and doing what they believed was best under circumstances influenced by politicians in offices very far away. One goes from the general to the particular and back again: from international expansionism to the plight of the private soldier, or that of his wife left down in the baking plains to cope as best she could with only an urban English upbringing to help her.

As someone who has lived in different countries - where I have had to do the family shopping, organize health-care, make sure my children were safe at play outside school hours - I empathise and sympathise. It must have been very difficult for the wife of any soldier, whatever his rank, while her husband was posted at the top of nowhere in a mountain range; knowing he was in danger and might never return; wondering how she would cope if he didn’t. One can understand these women being angry and worried, and how that anger turned itself against local people. In the end of course, India rightly claimed Home Rule, which was best for all.

(1) Quoted in Plain Tales from the Raj edited by Charles Allen (Futura, 1975) pp 202 & 203.

(2) See: (Accessed 25th March, 2014)

(3) David Fromkin ‘Foreign Affairs’ (accessed 26th March, 2014)

(4) Plain Tales from the Raj p205

(5) Plain Tales from the Raj p198


Jane G. Harlond is a full-time author, whose fiction examines aspects of how time and place influence a person’s life-choices and identity. Her novels include 'The Empress Emerald' (Famelton Publishing, 2014) and 'The Chosen Man' (Knox Robinson Publishing, 2012). She is a member of the prestigious Historical Writers’ Association and a consultant for Famelton Writing Services.

Apart from fiction, Jane has also written an IGCSE English textbook for OUP and educational material for Pearson and Penguin under her married name, Arredondo.

Jane grew up in Devon, and studied in Bristol, Portsmouth and the U.S.A. before finishing her academic studies with an M.A. in Social and Political Thought at the University of Sussex.  She has lived and worked in various different European countries and is married to a Spanish naval officer. They have a large grown-up family now scattered around Europe and live in rural Andalucía, Spain.

India has long held a fascination for Jane. As a child she was captivated by stories told by her great uncle, Walter Harlond, an army officer posted in India.  Walter and his wife remained in India after Independence because they loved it so much. Neither of them ever settled properly once they were back in Scotland. India had changed them forever.

Inspired by her uncle, and after a great deal of research into Anglo-Indian and Russian politics, Jane started writing the ‘The Empress Emerald’. The novel features an Indian boy with a Russian father, and a Cornish girl who is uprooted and set down in a household full of secrets in Spain. From her own life and extensive travel, Jane had learnt how people need to renegotiate their personality and views, and accept different attitudes, beliefs and customs if they were to live successfully in a foreign environment. Her own two sons had five schools and three languages in the first eight years of their education; being young, they accepted what was given with each move and triumphed in circumstances that Jane, as an adult, found challenging.  The tension between who we are according to our roots and the demands of an alien culture and/or other people’s expectations underlies the narrative of ‘The Empress Emerald’.

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Friday, April 11, 2014

An Englishman's Pilgrimage to Jerusalem in 1517

By Mark Patton

The 16th Century was a time of expanding horizons for people in England. Although very few found places on the ships travelling to the New World, most would have heard stories of these voyages, and many might have aspired to travel beyond English shores. The pilgrimage to Jerusalem had been an aspiration for pious Christians since the Middle Ages (Chaucer's fictional "Wife of Bath" had made three such pilgrimages), but was fraught with difficulty: not only was the journey itself perilous, but the city of Jerusalem was in Muslim hands, and Christian pilgrims were not always made welcome. For those with financial means, it became easier in the late 15th and early 16th Century, mainly due to the monopoly which the Venetian galley-owners managed to establish over the shipping routes, and to the success of these entrepreneurs in negotiating with the Muslim rulers of the Holy Land. These galley owners offered, in effect, the world's first package tours.

Remarkably, we have the account of one pilgrim who travelled to Jerusalem in 1517. Richard Torkington was the parish priest of Mulbarton in Norfolk, and owed his living to Sir Thomas Boleyn (father of Anne), who may have helped to finance Torkington's journey.

The Parish church of Mulbarton, Norfolk, where Richard Torkington served as priest. Photo: Evelyn Simak (licensed under CCA).

Torkington sailed from Rye to Dieppe on 20th March, and made his way on horseback through Paris, Lyon, Milan and Pavia to Venice. There he witnessed the Doge's symbolic "Marriage of the Sea," and the Corpus Christi Day procession. He boarded his ship, and was served "subtleties as confits and march panes, and sweet wines," finally setting sail on 14th June. The ship sailed down the Dalmatian coast, calling in at Crete, and arrived off the coast of the Holy Land:

The embarcation of the Doge for the "Marriage of the Sea." Anonymous miniature of the 16th Century (image is in the Public Domain).

"Saturday the xjth Day of Julii, a bout x or xj of the clocke at after noon, we had sight of the Holy Lande. Thanne the maryners sang the Letany. And after that, all the pilgrims, with a joyful voice, sang Te Deum Lawdimus, and thanked all mighty God that he had goven us such grace as to have onys the sight of the most holy lande."

They landed at Jaffa (Tel Aviv), and a messenger was sent to Jerusalem to fetch the Prior of Mount Sion, "As the custom ys."

The Jaffa Gate in the early years of the 20th Century (image is in the Public Domain).

"We war received by the Turkys and Sarraseyns, and put into an old cave ... ther scrivener ever writing owr namys man by man ... we lay in the same grotte or cave all nyght upon the stynking stable ground."

Asses were provided to take them overland to Jerusalem, stopping off for the night at the hostel in Rama (Ramallah). Eastern Christians (considered as heretics by Catholics such as Torkington) accompanied them along the way, selling food and drink, probably at inflated prices. Arriving in Jerusalem, they were received at the Franciscan Priory of Mount Sion, where they were given a meal before being taken to the Hostel of St James, close to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

On the following day, a Monday, the Franciscan friars led the pilgrims along the Via Dolorosa, pausing to pray at the Garden of Gethsemene. The highlight of the visit, however, came on the Tuesday:

"The Tewysday at vj of the clocke at after noon, that was the Evyn of Saint Mari Maudelain, we were admitted by the lords, Turkes and Mamelukes of the citie to entre in the Temple of the Holy Sepulchre ... the ffryers ... began, then, a very solemn procession. And at every station was showed unto us by one of the ffryers, the mysteries and holiness of the place ... they showed on to us ... the high altar ... in the very self place where our saviour, Christ ... appeared to his blessed mother ... on the left honde of the same high altar ... is the place where long remained the holy crosse of our saviour, Christ, after that Saynt Elayne found it, and now there remain none of it ... and also by vij or viij of the clocke in the morning, we had seyd all messe, and thane we refreshed us with wyne and bred and such other ... as we cowd get for awr money of the Turkes and Sarracens."

           The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem (image is in the Public Domain).

On his return journey, Torkington was taken ill, and was taken off the ship at Rhodes, to be cared for by the Knights Hospitaller. His account of his stay there is one of the fullest we have of the operation of the hospital in the 16th Century.

The Hospital of the Knights of St John, Rhodes. Photo: Jebulon (image is in the Public Domain).

The 16th Century pilgrimage to Jerusalem will feature in my next novel, Omphalos, and Torkington will appear as a minor character (his written English is archaic for the time, and makes his voice relatively easy to characterise). His is one of a number of first-hand accounts that I used to reconstruct the pilgrimage: others include the account written by the German pilgrim, Arnold von Harff, who made the pilgrimage between 1496 and 1499; and the Italian cleric, Pietro Casola, who did so in 1494. Torkington was one of the last English people to make the pilgrimage, since the Reformation was already on the horizon, and would sweep away the spiritual assumptions on which it was founded.


Mark Patton's novels, Undreamed Shores and An Accidental King, are published by Crooked Cat Publications. The e-book editions can be purchased from the Crooked Cat Bookstore, and the paperback versions from Amazon UK or Amazon USA.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Come play with me-Part 2

by Maria Grace

Games are a universal to the human experience. Many have a very long life span. Many of the pass times our 18th century ancestors enjoyed would seem so familiar that contemporary children would not hesitate to join in the fun.

Duverger HopscotchHopscotch is an ancient game. It may have originated in ancient Rome, but was certainly popular in the 17th century. In the game, players, both boys and girls, draw out a grid of numbered rectangles in a specified pattern. They toss a small object into the numbered spaces and hop or jump through the spaces to retrieve the object.

Similarly, children of both sexes enjoyed the game of battledore and shuttlecock, a predecessor of badminton. Drawings from ancient Greece suggest this game originated there over 2000 years ago. Players, armed with rackets, tried to bat a feathered shuttlecock back and forth, without a net, and keep it in play as long as possible

Lydia Maria Child in her book, Girl’s Own Book (1833), suggests: Little girls should not be afraid of being well tired (playing battledore and shuttlecocks) that will do them good but excessive fatigue should be avoided especially where it is quite unnecessary.

Girls risked little fatigue with the game of lawn bowls, a game originating in the 13th century. In this game, the objective was to roll balls so they would stop close to a smaller ball. The game was prohibited by multiple monarchs including Edward III and Richard II for fear it might impinge on the practice of archery. Ironically archery was another common outdoor sport for our Georgian ancestors.

Other popular outdoor amusements included games of rounders, an ancestor of baseball played by boys and girls,  variations of blindman’s bluff, tag, various kinds of races, all very similar to what goes on on playgrounds today.

Indoor games

Children and adults played many games to keep themselves entertained during long evenings where the firelight was not strong enough to support other activities like reading or sewing. Many games were quite familiar to us. Chess, checkers (called draughts), backgammon, cribbage and other card games, and dominoes in forms very similar to the ones played today were common.

Nine Men's Morris with dice in Libro de los juegosMorris games including three, six, nine and twelve men versions have been played since 1400 BCE. This two player strategy game resembles tic-tac-toe in the three man version, where the object is to get three of your pieces in a row, but unlike tic-tac-toe, the men can move along the game board. The game’s complexity increases as the number of men and the size of the board grow.

Malbork July 2013 116Other board games like 'race to the finish games' and fox and geese became popular for whole families. Fox and Geese was played with pegs or marbles on a cross shaped lattice board. Many versions existed, but the goal of the game was for the geese to surround the fox so it could not move or the single fox to capture enough geese that it could not be surrounded. The same board could be used to play a solitaire game in which the goal was to remove pieces by jumping them and end the game with a single piece in a designated space.

American Jack StrawsMore dexterous (and patient) players might enjoy the game of spillikins, an early version of pick-up-sticks and jack-straws. A pile of spillikins, which might be simple sticks or splinters or more elaborately carved pieces resembling tools and other objects, were dropped on a table. Players then tried to pick them up without moving any other piece in the pile. The player who picked up the most sticks won. In some versions different points might be assigned to different colors or shapes of sticks or another stick or hook might be available to help a player in their task. Evidence of this game has been found in 5th century BCE remains in India.

Similarly, evidence of the game we know as jacks and its earlier version, knuckle bones suggest they were played in the ancient world over 2000 years ago. Small animal bones or pebbles were the first playing pieces. Over time, the Jack stone was replaced by first a wooden ball, then a rubber one. The other pieces were replaced by the metal jacks of today which are said to be reminiscent of the original animal knucklebones. A wide variety of games can be played with these pieces.

Marble games appeared to have developed during the same period. Marbles have been made of a variety of material including clay, stone, metal, and glass. Like jacks, a wide variety of games may be played with these prized objects. At Oxford and Cambridge, students had to be prohibited from playing marbles on the steps of the Bodleian Library and Senate House.

Strung conkerConkers resemble marbles a little, at least it does in my head. In France, the game was played with snail shells, in England, horse chestnuts were the medium of choice. The conker was strung on a string. Players would stretch out their string and take aim at another player’s conker and let it fly. The first to break his opponent’s conker won.

While many of these games are more associated with children, many parlor games were more appropriate for adults. Rachel Revel, spinster, published a book in 1825, ‘Winter Evening Pastimes or The Merry Maker’s Companion’ that offers guidelines for various amusements suitable for genteel company in the drawing room.  Interestingly in the context of these games, normal, strict social conventions, like those restricting physical touch between the sexes, may be bent or even ignored for the sake of the play. Some examples include:

Bullet pudding

Flour was piled into a high mound and a bullet placed on the top. Players cut slices out of the flour pile with a knife without dislodging the bullet. If the bullet fell, the player had to retrieve the bullet from the flour with their teeth.

Blind Man's Bluff and many variations thereof

Many variations of this game existed, including Hot Cockles, Are you there Moriarty, Buffy Gruffy, and Guess the Kiss (which needs no explanation). All the variations include one player being blindfolded and trying to guess the identity of another player who they have touched in some way. A great deal of cheating was generally involved, which only added to the sport.

For our next family reunion I am planning to print out some morris boards and a fox and geese lattice and teach those games to my sons and nieces. I have a feeling they will enjoy them as much as children did 2000 years ago.


Boyle, Laura. Battledore and shuttlecock. Jane June 13, 2013.

Boyle, Laura. Lawn Bowls. Jane July 17, 2013.

Boyle, Laura. Spillikins. Jane August 16, 2013

Davidoff, Leonore & Hall, Catherine. Family Fortunes: Men and Women of the English Middle Class 1780-1850. Routledge (2002)

Grose, Captain (Francis) Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, 1811 edition Ikon Classics (2004)

Lydia Maria Child. <>Girl’s Own Book (1833)

Manring, Lynne. Children's Amusements in the Early Nineteenth Century. Memorial Hall Museum Online, American Centuries. Martin, Joanna. Wives and Daughters. Hambledon Continuum (2004)

Rendell, Mike. Sir David Brewster, the man with kaleidoscope eyes. Georgian Gentleman. December 11, 2013.

Selwyn, David. Jane Austen and Children. Continuum Books (2010)

Selwyn, David. Jane Austen & Leisure. The Hambledon Press (1999)

Stone, Laurence. The Family, Sex & Marriage in England 1500-1800. Penguin Books (1979)

Toys and Games. History lives.

Waldock , Sarah J. Toys and games of Jane Austen’s time. Dec 13, 2011

Waugh, Johanna, Conkers and the games children played during the Regency. October, 2008.


 Maria Grace is the author of Darcy's Decision,  The Future Mrs. Darcy, All the Appearance of Goodness, and Twelfth Night at LongbournClick here to find her books on Amazon. For more on her writing and other Random Bits of Fascination, visit her website. You can also like her on Facebook, follow on Twitter or email her.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Wapping Coal Riots of 1798

by Regina Jeffers

Coal was a major source of heat and an important commodity to London’s financial stability. As such, ships filled with coal called in at the various ports of London on the River Thames. Early on, officers of the West India Merchants and Planters Marine Police Institute (England’s first organized police force) patrolled the crowded Thames waters from their headquarters at Wapping New Stairs.

To understand the changes coming to the area at the turn of the 19th Century, one must realize that NO absolute authority existed to stifle the crimes, which followed the rapid growth of the area. John Harriott and Patrick Colquhoun organized their “Thames River Police” differently from what we know today of a marine police force.

For one thing, the officers were watermen, lumpers, and surveyors. Initially, only five officers patrolled the area, and Harriott and Colquhoun learned to depend on “honest” workers among those who frequented the docks along the Thames. Harriott employed lumpers and watermen to help “police” the unloading of vessels.

These men were under the protection of the Marine Police Office. They were paid extra for their diligence in stifling the crimes committed along the river. One such man was Gabriel Franks, the first “police officer” killed in the line of duty. When the coal ships were unloaded, thieves helped themselves to a substantial amount and sold it at “coal markets” along the streets of Wapping.

On 16 October 1798, three men had been accused of coal theft and were standing trial at the Thames Magistrates Court attached to the Marine Police Office. Two of the men were coal heavers, while the third was a watchman’s boy.

“They were all convicted and each fined forty shillings. As they left the building, friends arrived at the court, and paid the fines. Upon leaving, one of the three, Charles Eyers was met by his brother, James, who said, ‘Damn your long eyes, have you paid the money?’ Charles said, ‘Yes, I have.’ James then took his brother by the collar, dragged him toward the door and said, ‘Come along and we shall have the money back or else we shave have the house down!’ Within a very short period of time a hostile crowd had gathered outside the police office, and stones and rocks were being directed against the windows. The action that was to follow was to leave two men dead and another wounded.” (Thames Police Museum)

Those inside the Marine Police Office attempted to secure the building, but as the crowd and the violence continued, Officer Perry removed his pistol and fired upon the crowd. One of the rioters was killed, and the crowd outside withdrew slightly, but they did not disperse. Patrick Colquhoun took the opportunity to step into the street and to read the crowd the Riot Act. However, they refused to abandon their mission.

A man named Gabriel Franks was in a nearby public house. Upon hearing the noise of the crowd, he made his way to the Police Office and asked to be admitted, but the crowd drove him away. He retreated where he might observe the goings on. Franks instructed one of his companions (Mr Peacock) from the tavern to keep an eye on the rioters while he went to secure a cutlass for their protection. Unfortunately, before Franks could return, he was shot along the Dung Wharf.

Franks did not immediately succumb to his wounds, but lived on for several days. William Blizzard, a surgeon at the London Hospital, treated him. Assumptions are made as to the reason(s) for Franks’ attack; likely he was singled out for his association with the Police Office. Despite there being little evidence to the act, James Eyers was eventually arrested and charged with Franks’ murder. Eyers’ inciting the riot was, as a point of law, was responsible for Franks’ death, and the court agreed. He was tried and convicted of the crime and sentenced to hang.

“In passing sentence the judge, Mr Justice Heath, donned the traditional black cap and spoke the usual and well-known phrase, ‘Prisoner. May the Lord have mercy upon your soul.’ Eyers replied, “Amen, I hope he will.” (The Thames Police Museum)

The actual trial transcript can be viewed at the Old Bailey trial site:


Meet Regina Jeffers: 
Regina Jeffers is the author of several Austen-inspired novels, including Darcy’s Passions, Darcy’s Temptation, Vampire Darcy’s Desire, Captain Wentworth’s Persuasion, The Phantom of Pemberley, Christmas at Pemberley, The Disappearance of Georgiana Darcy, Honor and Hope and The Mysterious Death of Mr. Darcy. She also writes Regency romances: The Scandal of Lady Eleanor, A Touch of Velvet, A Touch of Cashémere, A Touch of Grace, A Touch of Mercy, A Touch of Love and The First Wives’ Club. A Time Warner Star Teacher and Martha Holden Jennings Scholar, Jeffers often serves as a consultant in language arts and media literacy. Currently living outside Charlotte, North Carolina, she spends her time with her writing, gardening, and her adorable grandson.