Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Lucy Russell, Countess of Bedford ~ The Many Faceted Jewel of the Early Stuart Court

by Linda Root

A painting believed to be Lucy Russell

I have a growing list of books to write before I die—my personal bucket list. I am past the midpoint in my eighth decade, so I’d best hurry. Most are parts of a series.

Before I began this post, I had no plan to delve into the research for a piece of standalone historical fiction centered on an actual character about whom much is suspected, but little proved. I am not speaking of Elizabeth Tudor, who etched something of that sort on a glass windowpane at Woodstock. I am speaking of Lucy Russell, Countess of Bedford, one of the 17th century’s most compelling non-conformists. I stumbled upon Lucy quite by accident.  She appears as a minor character in my recent book.  Her role merits no more than two paragraphs. A quick trip to Wikimedia should have sufficed.  Then I stumbled upon a piece of information, and I was hooked.  More works of poetry and drama were dedicated or inspired by Lucy Russell than any women living in her day, including the Queen, Anne of Denmark, a well-known patron of the arts.

Who is Lucy Russell?

I had not expected the Countess to be a courtesan.  Somehow I associated her with her husband’s holdings at Berwick-on-Tweed, not exactly a backwater, but certainly not London.  She was the daughter of Sir John Harington, Earl of Exton.  Her husband Edward, 3rd Earl of Bedford, was nine years older than she was. She married him in 1594 when she was thirteen. Some sources refer to him as an invalid and advance that as the reason he and Lucy led separate lives.

Attributing their unusual living arrangement of the Earl and Countess of Bedford to Edward’s health lacks credibility. Infirmity did not keep him from taking up arms against his aging queen during the Essex Rebellion of 1601.  It seems he was sufficiently robust to get himself in serious trouble long before he suffered a horseback riding accident in 1612 which left him partially paralyzed and with impaired speech.  He and Lucy had been living separately for most of their married lives.

At the time of Essex’s treason in 1601, Lucy’s loyalties would have been as suspect as her husband.  She had been a member of the Sidney-Essex Inner Circle by virtue of her birth. The Sidneys were her father Baron Harington's first cousins and were firmly in the Essex camp. Her best friends included Robert Devereux’s sisters, Dorothy Percy, Countess of Northumberland and her sister Penelope, Lady Rich. The latter was implicated by Devereux in a statement he made before his beheading.

The Devereux sisters
Dorothy was innocent of any part in her brother's treachery, but she got into trouble on her own by marrying her first husband without the Queen's permission. Her second marriage to Henry Percy was  arranged by the Queen, but it did not entirely erase the stigma of Lady Dorothy’s history, and it did not insulate her close friend Lucy from Elizabeth’s distain. Small wonder the Countess of Bedford and her husband were out of favor during the waning days of Elizabeth Tudor’s reign. Then, in February 1603, Elizabeth Tudor died, and the Harington and Bedford fortunes changed.

Lucy Russell in Stuart England

Lucy Russell’s lot in life improved with the ascension of King James. As soon as word of Elizabeth Tudor’s death reached the family estates at Coombes Abbey,  Lucy’s mother Anne took off for Edinburgh with her daughter in tow. Lady Harington was only one of several ladies to head north to prostrate herself before the King and Queen of Scotland, but she was among the first. Soon her daughter Lucy was fast friends with James of Scotland's colorful consort Anne of Denmark and had become a Lady of the Queen's bedchamber.

Her father, John Harington of Exton, had a distinguished and varied career during Elizabeth Tudor’s reign. His mother was a Sidney, and he had an on-going association with the Dudleys. He had served in the Netherlands with Elizabeth's favorite Robert Dudley,  Earl of Leicester.  His family was reputed to be the most extensive landholders in Rutland. He served several terms as sheriff and was an M.P. from both Rutland and from Warwick. In one of his official capacities in Warwickshire, he was appointed to escort  Marie Stuart on her sad journey to Fotheringhay in 1586.  He apparently had come to the attention of King James before his ascension. The new King James I of England granted him the earldom of Exton on the day of the king’s coronation. What is more, he was made the guardian of Princess Elizabeth upon her arrival in England in the summer of 1603.

Young Princess Elizabeth Stuart
Lucy’s  brother John ( later 2nd Earl of Exton) was Prince Henry Frederick’s closest friend.

They appear in one of the most widely viewed paintings of the Prince in which the Prince is shown sheathing his sword rather than killing the stag he has wounded while his friend John Harington watches.

Henry Frederick 
with Master John Harington
Early in the reign of James I, Lucy was a frequent visitor at her family estates at Coombe Abbey where the princess was ensconced. She appears in my novel while visiting there at the time of the Gunpowder Plot. 

Lucy Russell was  unusually well-educated for a woman of her era and was literate in French, Spanish, and Italian as well as English. She likely played a role in schooling the princess. She would have been in an ideal position to assist in both the academic and spiritual guidance of a Stuart royal. Both Lucy and Princess Elizabeth, like Henry Frederick, were avid Calvinists. It is in that role I paint her in my novel In the Shadow of the Gallows.

Coombe Abbey

Lucy Russell as a Patron

But Lucy was much more than a companion and educator of the princess, and it was this part of her life for which she is best known. Within a year of Queen Anne’s settling in at Somerset House and renaming it Denmark House, the Countess of Bedford was dancing in the Queen’s extravagant masques. She starred in many of Inigo Jones' productions, and although she apparently appeared topless in one or more the extravaganzas presented by Queen Anne, she remained a committed Calvinist and a borderline Puritan.

Inigo Jones, a man of many talents

Anne of Denmark
Producing and performing in Queen Anne’s masques was only one of Lucy’s many talents. To many of the most noteworthy names in Jacobean poetry and music, she was a patron and a goddess. As for patronage, she did not give her client artists money or financial support. Her gift was her incredible influence, and not just with the Queen. The king and his advisers took note. Her patronage often conveyed royal favor. 
The list of luminaries who benefited from her sponsorship included Ben Jonson, Inigo Jones, and John Donne, to name three of the better-known recipients of her sponsorship and friendship.
Woman in Masquing Costume
believed to be Lucy Russell
John Donne
Ben Jonson

It is said more works were dedicated to Lucy Russell than any other woman of her era. Donne spoke of her as "The first good Angell... That ever did in womans shape appeare."…for whom "morning breaks at night".  Most of the poems he wrote during his middle years are believed to be about her.  In Drayton's play Endimion and Phobe, he is Endimion, and she is his Phoebe. These are but a few examples of the many works in which she appears. The list is long, and the implication is that at the very least, John Donne and  Michael Drayton were in her thrall.

During this phase of her life, her husband acquired a magnificent residence for her in a suburb called Twickenham Park where she lived in exquisite splendor. She maintained a grand salon, but most of her guests were only visitors, and not all of them received her enduring favor. She shared her soul with men like Donne, but not her home. Michael Drayton, for one, soon disappeared from gatherings at Twickenham. Historians speculate he may have bored her. It is equally arguable that his devotion may have become tedious. As strange as it seems, there is no evidence she wished to replace her husband.

While Lucy’s friend and benefactor Queen Anne is famous for her excesses, her lady was not to be outdone. The 18th century antiquarian Thomas Pennant accused her of being a woman "whose vanity and extravagance knew no check."

To some degree, in time, her excesses were tempered by necessity. She and her husband were both saddled with mind-boggling debts. Edward Russell had been impaired since 1612. Then, in 1619, Lucy contracted a severe case of smallpox which left her face disfigured and very likely nearly blind in one eye. That and the death of Queen Anne curtailed the most colorful of her activities, but it did not stop her from exerting influence, primarily in the political sphere. During her later life, she became an activist in support of the Princess Elizabeth Stuart, ousted Queen of Bohemia’s effort to regain her throne. Both Lucy and her husband died during May 1627, each deeply in debt. None of her children survived infancy. Her legacy is found in the words of the poems men like Donne and in the music of John Dowland, who dedicated his Second Book of Songs to her.

John Dowland
According to writer Margaret M. Byard in The Trade of Courtierhsip: The Countess of Bedford, there is a dark side to the countess’s story. Recently, documents called the Bedford Memorials have become available for review. Apparently they had been sealed at the time of the Earl of Bedford's death and are yet to be studied. In the interests of time and the economics of acquiring scholarly words, I shall leave that for another post, or perhaps for the book I did not intend to write but which I find a tempting delicacy.

For now, I prefer to let the Lucy Russell of this post appear as Donne described her, as the "First good Angell... That ever did in womans shape appeare." There are indeed some qualities commending her to that role.

She was a loyal loving daughter, and a steadfast friend to Elizabeth Stuart, Queen of Bohemia, the tragic Winter Queen. Whatever their relationship, she and her husband were sensitive to the needs of one another. Like her kinswoman by marriage, Mary Dudley, Lady Sidney, she was a great beauty whose face was ruined by smallpox during the same year she  lost her close friend Anne of Denmark to an untimely death.  Yet, she did not yield.

Nor did she avoid the brush of portraitists. She merely covered part of her face with her hand and struck a different, more pensive pose.

At the time of her death, she was contemplating selling the estates at Coombe Abbey to pay her debts and moving on. She ends her one extant poem, which follows the format of Donne’s poems and addresses 1 Corinthians 5:15.

Calm the rough seas, by which she sayles to rest,
From sorrowes here, to a kingdom ever blest;
And teach this hymne of her with joy, and sing,
The grave no conquest gets, Death hath no sting.

Thank you for joining me in a brief glimpse at a most intriguing woman.

~Linda Root

References of note
The Trade of Courtiership: The Countess of Bedford by Margaret M. Byard, Published in History Today Volume 29 Issue 1 January 1979
And: 4. Lucy, Countess of Bedford: Images of a Jacobean Courtier, Barbara K.Lewalski
Politics of Discourse: The Literature and History of Seventeenth-century England by Kevin Sharpe
Illustrations from  Wikimedia Commons, Public domain.

LINDA Root is the author of The First Marie and the Queen of Scots, The Last Knight and the Queen of Scots, The Midwife’s Secret:The Mystery of the Hidden Princess: The Midwife’s Secret II,  The Other Daughter, 1603: The Queen’s Revenge, and In the Shadow of the Gallows. The latter four are in the Legacy of the Queen of Scots series. She is a contributing author in the anthology Castle, Customs and Kings: True Tales by English Historical Fiction Authors, Vol II, coming this autumn. Her books are available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle e-books.  Root is a member of the State Bar of California (inactive) and the Bar of the Supreme Court of the United States.She is a member of the Marie Stuart Society, a member and frequent contributor to the English Historical Fiction Author’s blog and Facebook Page, a review team member of The Review Blog and Facebook page and a Board Member of the M.M. Bennetts Award. She lives in Yucca Valley, California with her husband Chris. 

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Easy come, easy go - of a creative Scot and financial bubbles

by Anna Belfrage

Admit it. People start talking about Keynes and Milton, and chances are you, dear reader, will start considering what to cook for supper or how to change the subject. That’s the problem with financial theories, that no one really tends to find them interesting. Given this, it is somewhat ironic that no matter how bored we are with economics, most of us are rather interested in money. After all, money makes the world go round.

Money was not always available in electronic form as it is today. Nor was it available in bills. No, up to the late 17th century, money was mostly available as coins. Rich people, per definition, either had strong biceps or hired people with adequate musculature to lug their riches around. While not wanting to toot the nationalistic horn too much, I am rather proud to inform you that paper money was to a large extent a Swedish invention – the Swedish National Bank (the first ever National Bank, yet another cause for a bashful blush) issued paper money already in the 1650s. Quick to follow on was England – and Scotland, seeing as both these nations were major trading economies, ergo quickly saw the benefit of using paper rather than bags of coin.

Our John
Today, I’d like to introduce you to one of the early promoters of paper money. Not only was this gentleman an extremely skilled mathematician and a successful gambler, he was also to become singlehandedly responsible for one of the more disastrous financial bubbles of the early 18th century. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you John Law of Lauriston.

Our hero was born in Scotland in 1671. His father was a prosperous gold-smith – rich enough to buy a castle, no less, hence the “of Lauriston” – and the expectations were that John as the eldest son would follow in dear Papa’s footsteps. Not to be. Law senior died when John was still young, and anyway, John showed little aptitude for making pretty things out of gold. No, John was in love with mathematics – and gambling.

In the aftermath of the Glorious Revolution our Scotsman decided to try his luck in London. Tall, dark and handsome, possessed of excellent manners, John was something of an immediate success in London society – at least with the ladies. He gambled, lost, gambled, lost some more, gambled and began to win. Capable of extremely complex mental probability calculations, endowed with an excellent memory for cards, over time John achieved quite the reputation at gaming tables. People preferred not to meet him. Well, the sensible ones. There are always those that set out to prove they can win no matter who they’re playing against.

Other than cards, John enjoyed the ladies. Not, I’d hasten to add, in an overtly scandalous manner, but women liked him and he liked women – in particular Catherine Knollys. Catherine was married (as per some sources), which does not seem to have deterred either her or John, maybe because her husband was exiled in Paris together with the former king, James II.

However, our young man was not only a shallow card-playing rake. He had dreams. Odd dreams, his contemporaries thought, not at all understanding what he was on about when he spoke of a new type of banks and paper money. Where other people held on to coins, Law scoffed, saying paper money was the way to the future, having the added benefit of being elastic – i.e. when in need of more money, you could print it, when there was too much money, you could trash it. In Law’s opinion, there was only one financial instrument that was better than paper money: shares. Why? Because shares, as per Law, were essentially monetary equivalents with the added benefit of giving the owners dividends.

While impressed by the young man’s obvious intelligence, the movers and shakers of London’s financial world were not quite as taken by his notions of new banking systems, new money systems. Besides, who did he think he was, this young lad from the back of beyond? After all, the Bank of England had just been chartered, and any day soon, they'd be issuing paper notes - once they'd investigated the issue thoroughly. Not enough, Law attempted to explain. A central bank should control the finances, use the tools at its disposal (such as paper money, which can be printed when the need for money escalates, thrashed when things move the opposite direction). He was met with condescending smiles. A frustrated Law dreamed of truly changing the financial markets, but continued to frequent the elegant salons of London, in between nurturing the growing attraction between him and Catherine.

E Villiers
Enter Elizabeth Villiers. Well, enter and enter: Betty Villiers was very much a part of all those elegant salons, her rumoured role as the king’s mistress making her popular among those who wished to influence their new Dutch leader. Law very much wanted to somehow catch the ear of the king so as to whisper seductively about growth and trade and a bright future – all of it built on Law’s own theories regarding banks and the supply of money. What transpired next is a bit vague, but somewhere along the line John Law felt obliged to call out a certain Edward Wilson – this to safeguard his honour and that of Mrs Villiers.

Duels were illegal. A duel in which one of the parties was killed was considered murder. John Law, who had considerable skills outside his beloved numbers, killed Wilson with one thrust. One moment, he was an up-and-coming man, the next he was in Newgate, facing imminent execution. The execution was commuted to a fine, Wilson’s family protested, the death penalty was upheld, and John Law had no option but to flee the country. He would have a price on his head for the coming 23 years…

When John Law escaped to the Continent, Catherine decided to join him. Her husband does not seem to have cared one way or the other, and whatever their other faults, John and Catherine were devoted to each other, a life-long love story that would produce two children. Were they married? Once again, some sources say they lived in sin. Others say they did marry. Does it matter? Not to us, it doesn’t, and John and Catherine don’t seem the type of people who would have cared.

John continued to earn his living at the gaming tables. He became rich – very rich. Women continued to flirt and wink at him, fans waving ecstatically whenever this handsome man walked by. John smiled and bowed, twirled in his splendid clothes, and did quite some flirting back. In the European salons his ideas about banks and companies, about paper money and shares mostly fell on deaf ears, no matter how impressed people were by John’s intellectual prowess. The world was simply not ready for John’s ideas.

But there were exceptions: France, for example, was so mired in debt, the entire economy stagnating after decades of mismanagement, that there were people who listened to Law and nodded in agreement. Not so the Sun King and his advisors.

The boy king
However, no one lives for ever, and in 1715 the Sun King passed away. France’s new king was a child of five, with the Duke d’Orleans acting as the regent. And the duke was rather fond of Law, who was put in charge of revitalising the dying economy. At the time, France was a mess. People starved, people stole, people begged – years of war, years of lavish expenditure by the king on matters close to his heart, had left the state finances precariously close to bankruptcy, plus the social unrest was making people nervous. Specifically, the rich people were getting a tad antsy. What if all these disgruntled desperate people would rebel, raise the standards of revolution and colour the fields red with the blood of their oppressors? (Happened anyway, as we all know)

John Law rubbed his hands. At last an opportunity to test his grand theories. For years, he had advocated the concept of a central bank, one institution in the country responsible for all major credits, for issuing paper money with corresponding securities in land or gold. Taxes, Law argued, should be collected and handled centrally so as to increase control and enable investments for the greater good.

D’Orleans listened, and in 1716 Law’s bank saw the light of the day. Investors could pay for their shares with gold and with land, and the bank was authorised to issue its own money, which, because of the solid base created by gold and land, did not fluctuate as much as the livre did.

Once the bank was in place, Law implemented a series of measures that can essentially be described as some sort of proto-Keynesian approach, namely he created jobs. How? By investing in roads, in canals, in rebuilding. The national debt rose, but the social unrest faded. Law had done what Roosevelt would do two centuries later, what all desperate governments since have attempted to do: expand a suffering economy by state-financed infrastructural investments.

There was just a teensy, weensy problem in all this: France still lacked money – or rather, the French government was more or less paralysed by lack of funds. The bank in itself created stability rather than development, and for France to rise out of its impoverished state, something had to change. Law mulled this over and came up with the brilliant idea of what was to be known as the Mississippi Company. Here, at last, he would be able to prove just how fantastic shares could be, how easily they could substitute money.

It must be said from the start: Law genuinely believed his idea would work. Being a man of honour and integrity himself, he had no understanding for such base emotions as greed, nor did he understand fully just how people would react when presented with an “easy killing”.

The Mississippi company – or, to be correct, the Companie d’Occident – was founded to exploit the vast natural riches in the French American colonies. Whether the riches were vast yes or no, no one really knew, but everyone expected them to be. Law was not entirely sure, but was confident there’d be enough riches – in land, if nothing else, to guarantee the success of the venture. The company was set up, went on to acquire the monopoly on the lucrative tobacco trade and was awarded the responsibility for all African trade. An exciting new venture was under way, and Law as one of the main shareholders stood to make a fortune.

John Law
Expansion requires money. In 1719, Law was given permission to issue 50 000 shares in the company at a nominal value of 500 livres. To make people more willing to part with their money, only 72 livres had to be paid up-front. The rest was to be paid over five years.

People rushed to buy the shares. The price went up to 1 000 livres, and a further 300 000 shares were issued, with Law expressing this would be enough to more or less wipe out France’s national debt. People screamed for shares. They traded like hot cakes, and bowing to popular pressure – and his own convictions – Law ended up issuing 600 000 shares.

Poor people scraped together everything they had to invest in this golden opportunity, widows gambled their pensions, orphans their inheritance. By the end of 1719, the shares had risen to the intoxicating price of 15 000 livres each. A new term, millionaire, saw the light of the day. People were rich – stinkingly rich – in shares.

And here, dear people, was the rub. No matter Law’s insistence that shares could be used as money, should, in fact, be accepted as payment for goods and services, most people preferred gold. When, as a consequence of all this heady economic development, prices began to rise markedly, shareholders started to sell. Those who had invested early on wanted to recoup and make that killing. Some of them did, but like any pyramid game it was those who entered first and exited first who were the winners – all the rest were losers.

Law – who as the newly appointed Controller General managed France’s entire finances, from the national debt to the collection of taxes, to the issuing of money, to the Mississippi company – attempted to control the price by setting a limit on how much actual gold the seller of a share should receive. Did not go down well.

More people insisted on selling, and, as Adam Smith (yet another Scotsman with a love for finance and economy) was to demonstrate some years later, price is affected by supply and demand. When supply exceeds demand, prices fall. Where before, everyone wanted shares in the Mississippi company, now everyone wanted to sell their shares, and accordingly, the prices plummeted. The Mississippi bubble had burst, so to say, and people who until recently were rich – on paper – now faced destitution.

Law was appalled. One desperate measure after the other was attempted to save the company and safeguard France’s fragile economy. Nothing worked, and by the summer of 1720, angry mobs were forming outside Law’s private residence. He had lost just as much as anyone else, but people didn’t care. This was all his fault, with his new-fangled ideas. Law had to flee France, reduced to virtual poverty. For the rest of his life, he was to live like an itinerant, moving from city to city, reduced to yet again making his living at the gambling tables.

In 1729, John Law died, alone and poor, in Venice. But, as he would now and then say, once he, a simple commoner, controlled all of France. At the time of his death, his reputation was in tatters, this rather brilliant man vilified as nothing but a con-man. Over the years, he has been vindicated – many of his theories were sound, a lot of his measures were the right thing to do. Had Law been less of a mathematician and more of a psychologist, chances are he’d have realised that his grand scheme had one major flaw: human nature, which rarely conforms to other theories than that of rampant self-interest.


Anna Belfrage is the successful author of eight published books, all of them part of The Graham Saga. Set in 17th century Scotland, Virginia and Maryland, this is the story of Matthew Graham and his wife, Alex Lind - two people who should never have met, not when she was born three centuries after him.

Anna's books have won several awards - recently, one of her books won the HNS Indie Book of the Year Award -  and are available on Amazon, or wherever else good books are sold.

Presently, Anna is working on a new series set in 14th century England - the first installment will be published in November 2015.
For more information about Anna and her books, please visit her website. If not on her website, Anna can mostly be found on her blog.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Mary II of England: A Queen of Gardens

by Margaret Porter

“Her rooms should be abundantly furnished each day with all kinds of flowers.” – Prince William of Orange (later King William III), to his gardener Charles du Boisson.

“In Gardn’ing, especially Exoticks, she was particularly skilled.”– Stephen Switzer.

Mary of Orange, with citrus tree & pet parrot
Princess Mary of York, eventually Princess Mary of Orange, and ultimately England’s Queen Mary II was an enthusiastic plantswoman and garden-maker. From her early years, when her education was supervised by the botanically-minded cleric Henry Compton, she was an avid gardener. During her years in Holland she and her husband created extensive gardens at their palaces. And when the Glorious Revolution placed the couple on her deposed father’s throne, they imported Dutch styles for gardens and architecture to England.

From 1689 to 1696, the monarchs’ expenditure on their royal gardens totaled £83,000, in modern currency approximately £7,275,000 or $11,471,000. Three-fourths of the sum was spent at Hampton Court alone.

Hampton Court Palace, Surrey

Hampton Court Palace and Gardens, late 17th century

Because King William, an asthmatic, could not live comfortably at damp and draughty Whitehall Palace, he and Mary immediately settled on Hampton Court as their country palace.

They commissioned extensive alterations from Sir Christopher Wren. They also designated William’s Dutch confidant and Mary’s fellow plant collector, Willem Bentinck, Earl of Portland, as Superintendent of the Royal Gardens.

One of the Cibber urns
In 1689 Daniel Marot, responsible for some of the couple’s garden designs in Holland, and nurseryman George London laid out the first parterre on the East Front, filled with grass or coloured gravel in imitation of Le Notre’s work at Versailles. The large semi-circle was edged with lime trees for shade. The wrought iron gates by Tjou and great stone urns carved by Caius Gabriel Cibber remain, as does the Queen’s Bower, created by training wych elms over an arched tunnel one hundred yards in length, twenty feet tall, and twelve feet wide. The landscape was further adorned with thirteen fountains and numerous sculptures. The Privy Garden received a new parterre design. Names of the adjacent series of walled gardens indicate what grew there: the auricula quarter, the orange quarter, the flower garden, and so on. Tropicals and “exoticks” resided in specially designed glass cases.

Large sums were spent and great efforts made to fill the new hothouses and flower beds. As an example, records reveal a payment to “Jas. Road, Gardiner, for going to Virginia to make collections of plants, £234 11s 9d.” Dr. Leonard Plukenet, the botanical curator, received £200 per year, as specialist in “tropical and foreign plants, cuttings, roots or seeds.” In January 1691, the gardens consisted of patterns “laid in grass plats and borders…narrow rows of dwarf box in figures like lace patterns. In one of the lesser gardens a large greenhouse divided into several rooms, and all of them with stoves under them.”

Summer display of citrus and exotics, as in Mary's lifetime
These hothouses also contained the tender items brought over from Holland. The death of Gaspar Fagel, one of William’s advisors, coincided with the Glorious Revolution. His family sold the contents of his garden collection to William and Mary, which were transferred to Hampton Court over a period of two years. By September 1692 the last of the “orange trees, lemon trees, and other … trees” arrived in England. In 1892 some of the oranges were removed to Windsor. The rest of the collection survived in situ until 1921.

From mid-May throughout the summer Mary's arrangement of citrus trees, oleanders, olives, yuccas, and agaves—grown in large wooden tubs or in blue-and-white ceramic vases—is recreated on the terrace beside the former orangery. In colder months these are replaced with bay, laurustinus, holly, Portugal laurel, and Spanish broom.

Agave growing in 17th century reproduction tub

No attempt has been made to recreate Mary’s aviaries. She collected exotic birds as well as exotic plants—she had a pet parrot—and alleys of her bird cages were an attractive and melodic feature of her gardens.

Hampton Court Gardens in springtime, showing Queen Mary's Bower.

Kensington House, Kensington

From their joint desire for a compact “country palace” like the ones they had known and loved in Holland, William and Mary purchased Lord Nottingham’s residence at the edge of Hyde Park. As at Hampton Court, they commissioned alterations undertaken by Sir Christopher Wren. Mary expanded the original gardens to twelve acres, with flower beds arranged in formal Dutch style. New paths were laid and filled with gravel. The cost of adding trees, plants and flowers was £700, and the total cost of garden improvements (exclusive of labour) was £12,495. The house—not yet designated a palace—had a kitchen garden and an adjacent orchard. A visitor in the winter of 1691 reported that the grounds were not “abounding with fine plants,” as the citrus trees spent the cold months in Mr. London’s Brompton greenhouses a mile away, “But the walks and grass are laid very fine.”

Kensington House gardens, as they were circa 1690-91, in a later print.

Here, in the waning days of 1694, Mary died of smallpox. Her sister Queen Anne later added the orangery, now a popular restaurant. In Queen Victoria’s reign Kensington Gardens was developed as the extensive public park we know today, with water features and walkways and monuments.

Whitehall Palace, London

Despite their preference for other locations, this palace served as the monarchs’ official residence. Its Privy Garden, devised by Cardinal Wolsey, had been improved by Henry VIII and subsequent Tudor monarchs. Partly destroyed during the Interregnum, it was repaired and enhanced by the Stuarts. A typical pleasure ground, it consisted of grass squares with paths between, and contained a sundial of which Charles II was very proud. His mistress Barbara, Lady Castlemaine (later Duchess of Cleveland) spread her freshly laundered underthings there to dry, as noticed and remarked upon by Samuel Pepys.

When living at Whitehall, Mary seldom had leisure time for garden improvements. She served as Regent during her husband’s long absences in summer and autumn, when he waged annual war against Louis XIV’s armies in Flanders. Her days were filled with burdensome official duties and council meetings.

The King was abroad in April 1691 when fire consumed a portion of the palace. Stones and building material were salvaged to carry out a plan of Mary’s, as reported by Luttrell the diarist: “There is orders given for building a fine terras walk under the lodgings at Whitehall, toward the waterside.” In 1693 he writes, “The Queen’s terras walk . . . facing the Thames is now finished, and curiously adorn’d with greens which cost some thousands of pounds.” No matter the state of the Treasury, there was always money for Mary’s plants! During the winter of 1698 a far worse conflagration consumed the entire palace, leaving behind only the Banqueting House as a remnant and reminder of its former glories.

Arrangements and Art

Queen Mary’s fondness for flowers was evident not only in her gardens, but also in the elegant rooms of her residences. She and her husband patronised the great Dutch and Flemish botanical and floral artists, whose lush and colourful still life paintings decorated her rooms and became part of the royal art collection. She was sometimes observed watching Jean-Baptiste Monnoyer paint floral decorations at Kensington. And Mary’s own portraits often contain urns overflowing with flowers, or an orange tree.

Still life by Jean-Baptiste Monnoyer

Delft pagoda vases and planter, Kensington Palace
Mary was an innovator in flower display as well, commissioning various containers from the ceramic factory in Delft—in traditional forms and others made to her specifications. Samples of these distinctive blue-and-white glazed vessels can be seen at Hampton Court and Kensington Palace. Huge ceramic tubs held shrubs. Pyramids and pagodas were used to show off individual blooms—not only tulips, but all varieties of flowers. Arrangements in bowls tended to be asymmetrical and free-flowing, as seen in the botanical paintings, with only the leaves of the flower stalks as greenery.

Many Stuart-era formal gardens were eradicated by Capability Brown and his followers in the late 18th century—at Hampton Court and elsewhere. Garden historians have made great strides replicating the designs that Mary and her artisans created, to the delight of palace visitors in every season.

Delft planter at Hampton Court

All photos from the author's personal archives. Period prints and paintings via Wikimedia Commons and Google Images.


Margaret Porter is the award-winning and bestselling author of twelve period novels, nonfiction and poetry. Queen Mary's garden pursuits are featured in A Pledge of Better Times, her highly acclaimed novel of 17th century courtiers Lady Diana de Vere and Charles Beauclerk, 1st Duke of St. Albans (available in trade paperback and ebook). Margaret studied British history in the UK and the US. As historian, her areas of speciality are social, theatrical, and garden history of the 17th and 18th centuries, royal courts, and portraiture. A former actress, she gave up the stage and screen to devote herself to fiction writing, travel, and her rose gardens.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Uncovering the Death of Owen Tudor

by Tony Riches

In this post I’d like to focus on the legends surrounding Owen Tudor’s death. For once, we can pinpoint his location at a specific date and time, as his defeat by the forces of Edward IV at the Battle of Mortimer’s cross is well documented. While his son Jasper Tudor managed to escape, Owen was taken prisoner and marched to the nearby market town of Hereford. Probably the most reliable account is in The Chronicle of William Gregory, written soon after the event:
Ande in that jornay was Owyn Tetyr i-take and brought unto Herforde este, an he was be heddyde at the market place, and hys hedde sette a-pone the hygheyste gryce of the market crosse, and a madde woman kembyd hys here and wysche a way the blode of hys face, and she gate candellys and sette a-boute hym brennynge, moo then a C. Thys Owyne Tytyr was fadyr unto the Erle of Penbroke, and hadde weddyd Quene Kateryn, Kyng Harry the VI. ys modyr, wenyng and trustyng all eway that he shulde not be hedyd tylle he sawe the axe and the blocke, and whenn that he was in hys dobelet he trustyd on pardon and grace tylle the coler of hys redde vellvet dobbelet was ryppyd of. Then he sayde, "That hede shalle ly on the stocke that was wonte to ly on Quene Kateryns lappe," and put hys herte and mynde holy unto God, and fulle mekely toke hys dethe.
(Source: British History Online)

There are some intriguing details here, notably the non-linear structure, which we can learn from as we try to envisage the scene. Gregory suggests that right until the end, Owen believed he would be spared. When the collar of his red velvet doublet was ripped off it seems he realised there would be no last minute pardon and submitted to the inevitable and ‘fully meekly took his death.’ The most memorable imagery is of the ‘mad woman’ who combed the hair of his severed head and washed the blood from his face before surrounding it with lit candles. It is not difficult to see her instead as a grieving lover, or at least someone who wished, for whatever reason, for Owen’s body to be shown some respect after his death, despite Edward’s order for his head to be put on public display.

Was the story embellished in the retelling? Gregory was not present, so would have had to rely on secondary sources, and for me, the detail of Owen’s last words seems fanciful. This short account does offer a glimpse into Owen’s character, however. It seems he places more trust in his captors than he should – perhaps because of his royal connections? Sadly he had underestimated the vengeful young Edward IV, whose own father had not been shown any mercy when captured two months before, his severed head displayed on a pike over the Micklegate Bar at York.

Owen was buried in the chapel of the Greyfriars Church in Hereford, later pulled down after the Dissolution of the Monasteries. A plaque marks the spot of his execution in Hereford High Street, his only memorial. I would like to remember Owen, not as a victim of the Wars of the Roses, but as an adventurer, a risk-taker, a man who lived his life to the full and made his mark on the world through his descendants.


Tony Riches is a UK historical fiction author living in Pembrokeshire, Wales. You can find out more on Tony’s blog ‘The Writing Desk’ at and find him on Twitter @tonyriches.

Owen – Book One of the Tudor Trilogy is now available in eBook and paperback on Amazon and all formats on Smashwords.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

The Medieval Irish Religious Women's Community

by Kristin Gleeson

Women religious communities in early Christian Ireland were of a slightly different nature than the nunneries founded across Europe and Britain in the same time period and perhaps more prolific in number as a result.

The basis of women’s religious communities in Ireland was founded on the key concept of kinship and marriage and influenced the relationship to their male religious. The religious women operated as surrogate wives, mothers, and sisters or were directly kinswomen to individual monks.

They performed the same tasks, except reproduction, as secular women. The nuns would be responsible for the men’s clothing, obtaining the wool, weaving the cloth and making the clothes, sometimes embroidering them as well as washing them. They cooked and baked and laboured to feed the men like any good wife. They also fostered young boys, giving them an elementary education before they moved onto the higher learning in the men’s community. The women also provided the friendly companionship found in any community.

In return the religious women expected a partnership in which they paid for what they received, offering their communities and estates in clientage to male religious authorities. Their settlements and communities joined others in a network of subordination and rule. A very few venerable women gained authority and fame like St Bridget, St Ita and a few others. With very few exceptions like Cil Dara (Kildare where St Bridget had her community) very few women’s or genuinely mixed-sex communities (as opposed to men’s communities with separate enclosures or related settlements for women) claimed authority over men’s communities.

It wasn’t unusual to have actual kinship relationships between the men’s and women’s community. A mother might live with her daughters in a religious community adjacent to her son’s. Property laws often influenced that arrangement. A woman might have her own parcel of land as a bride gift from her tuath (extended family/clan), and she would choose to use that to establish a religious community later in life. When she and her kin died, however, the property reverted back to the tuath and the community would dissolve in this situation.

My latest novel took me to the fascinating world of 6th century Ireland in which a woman with appalling wounds and no memory is taken to a religious community of women to recover while around her a political storm is being waged. The novel weaves in the powerful story of St Gobnait, the patron saint of bees and of the community in which I live. There are many legends and traditions surrounding St Gobnait who came to Ballyvourney, probably around the late 6th or early 7th century and established a community of religious women after seeing nine white deer.

During the course of her life in Gort na Tiobratan St Gobnait became known for her healing, using the honey the bees produced. She also performed many miracles, including sending a swarm of bees after cattle rustlers, throwing a bulla or heavy ball to raze a stone structure built by intruders, and catching the gadai dubh, the robber who tried to steal her horse and the stone mason’s tools (the robber’s image is inscribed on a stone in the church ruins at St Gobnait’s shrine).

Unlike many of the other women’s religious communities in Ireland St Gobnait’s community was established independently of any kinship ties and the community continued after her death, at least until the late middle ages. The site was recognized by the Pope in the late 13th century as place of devotion and healing, and the power and reverence given to the site of her burial and the community is still recognized today. A late medieval wooden statue of St Gobnait is displayed in the church on her feast day in February, and the parishioners visit and ‘take her measure,’ wrapping a ribbon around her breadth and length. The ribbon is kept or given to someone who is sick. And many people come from all over to recite prayers in a stipulated pattern of ‘rounds’ to ask for healing for themselves or for others. In these ways and others the site that once held this community of women still lives on.


Originally from Philadelphia, Kristin Gleeson lives in Ireland, in the West Cork Gaeltacht, where she teaches art classes, plays harp, sings in an Irish choir and runs two book clubs for the village library.
She holds a Masters in Library Science and a Ph.D. in history, and for a time was an administrator of a national archives, library and museum in America.
    Kristin is also a part of Famelton Writing Services giving manuscript critiques, copyediting, proofreading and other services for writers.
For more information go to:

My Website
Book links:

Giveaway: Mercenary by R.J. Connor

R.J. Connor is giving away a print copy of Mercenary. You can read about the book HERE. Please leave a comment on this post to enter the drawing, and be sure to leave your contact information.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Abbots and Kings – A brief history of West Hertfordshire

by R.J. Connor

St. Alban's Abbey
Hertfordshire has a rich history that stretches back thousands of years. It is no surprise considering its links to the capital. But despite its closeness with London, the county boasts an abundance of beautiful countryside. So it can be said, Herts has seen the best of both worlds. Among its jewels are an array of monasteries, castles and palaces, an abbey and even a town built by Templar Knights.

In past times, Hertfordshire was considered a gateway to the north. One of the main Roman roads passed through Hertfordshire. Starting in London, it enters the county to the west, passing through Bushey and Watford before entering the Chiltern Hills. Two important destinations lie on this road north, the first being Kings Langley Palace just to the south of the Hills and the second Berkhampstead Castle, nestled in the Hills themselves.

The palace was built by Queen Elinor wife of Edward I, the self-proclaimed 'Hammer of the Scots'. It was built on top, or around, what was an existing manor house that had been built many years before, probably dating back to the Roman times. Nothing of the palace remains today except a lone building that belonged to Kings Langley Priory. The priory was built by Edward II who grew up in Kings Langley in the gardens of the palace. It is here that he reburied his favourite, Piers Gaveston, who was executed on Blacklow Hill in 1312. His son Edward III moved his court there in 1349 when the Black Death was rife in London, and his son Edmund of Langley was born there; Edmund's body was later entombed in the Langley chapel at the church of All Saints situated at the bottom of the Hill.

Berkhampstead Castle
If Hertfordshire was a gateway, than Berkhampstead Castle was the key. This Norman motte and bailey castle was built by William the Conqueror, who considered it a strategic location after his victory at the Battle of Hastings. It was here that the Archbishop of York surrendered to him, and it was not long before it became the country’s administrative centre. Several Kings lived here, with many passing it on to their chancellors, and Edward III gave it to his son, the famed Black Prince. It was besieged by the French who later captured it during the Baronial wars in the reign of King John. But it was soon retaken by royal forces. The castle was known for its expansive hunting grounds.

To the east of the Roman road lied St Albans, a town dependent on its abbey, which has since received cathedral status. The abbey was built by the Normans on top of an earlier Saxon church which was destroyed in 586 and held a shrine and the remains of the great Roman martyr St Alban. The site is believed to be the spot where Alban was executed. The abbey has changed much over the years from a Norman to gothic style and has seen in its time 40 different abbots, the last of which was in 1539 when Henry VIII brought about the dissolution of the monasteries. But despite its unceremonious downfall, at its height the lands belonging to the abbey far outstretched that of its own borders and most of the Hundred of Cashio belonged to the abbey.

Kings Langley Priory
The Liberty of St Albans, as the abbots’ land was often referred to, held the laws and customs of any other independent state and was for greater purposes a county within a county. In fact all we need do is look at the village of Langley. Split in two long ago, the west side of the village became known as Kings Langley, thanks to the presence of the royal palace. The east side however, which fell into the domain of the abbot, became known as Abbots Langley. So much was the rivalry between king and abbot that both had churches built facing each other on adjacent hills.

Despite this dual of ecclesiastical and royal power, the county seat of Hertfordshire, the town of Hertford, actually lay to the east of the shire. It had its own castle, but it was very rare that an earl of Hertford would reside here. In truth the Earl of Hertford was usually a subsidiary title for other earls, including at times the earls of Essex. But with half the land belonging to church and palace, there wasn’t much left for the earl. It was common knowledge where the power in Hertfordshire lay, and since the time of the Normans, it was reserved for abbots and kings.


R.J. Connor is a researcher, writer and historian. He has a degree in Writing Contemporary Fiction which he obtained from Southampton Solent University and since his graduation, he has spent his time writing Historical Fiction. He has a sincere fondness for all things historical but what really enchants him is the barbaric yet romantic period known as the Middle Ages. He is the author of the medieval fiction novel Mercenary, and he lives in Hertfordshire, UK

Richard Longsword is a Mercenary, but this time it’s not for money, this time it’s for revenge.

By day he works the desolate orange groves but by night he is in the paid servitude of the Grand Duke of Gandia, serving as captain of the Guardians of Guadalest, an elite group of warrior knights who defend the fortress of Guadalest.

When the fort is attacked by men who claim to be enemies of Richard's father, it threatens to spiral into a whirlwind of events that will change his life forever. He is left with no choice but to embark on a perilous journey to not only uncover the truth but to save the lives of his family.

A tale of love, loss and ultimate betrayal.


Thursday, August 20, 2015

Double Cream & Strychnine

by A.J.Griffiths-Jones

Courtesy of Wellcome Images
Creative Commons
Strychnine. A colourless, highly toxic, bitter crystalline alkaloid most commonly used as a pesticide for killing rodents.

However, in the late 19th and early 20th century, this potentially fatal poison was used by those in search of a recreational stimulant and became popular amongst men seeking a drug that would both invigorate them and calm the nervous system. It was added to tonics and remedies across Europe and America, gaining a reputation for aiding neurological disorders and acute constipation. It was also known to remedy alcohol poisoning. However, there was a much more sinister use for strychnine, one that would etch it's memory upon the criminal court cases for decades to come. That of lethal poison for the seasoned murderer.

To understand how one might subdue a victim with a dose of strychnine, we must first understand what it is. The most common source of strychnine comes from small seeds, obtained from the 'Strychnos Nux Vomica' tree. It can be introduced into the body orally or may be administered by injection. It is a bitter substance to the taste buds, therefore was most commonly dispensed by mixing with some sweet tasting liquid or by concealment inside a capsule. The subsequent poisoning results in muscular convulsions and a torturous progression of symptoms, causing a long and agonising death, in some cases lasting up to two hours. The victim may first present with nausea or vomiting, which is closely followed by convulsions caused by the muscles contorting in a series of spasms. The facial features would become rigid, set in a grimace, and frothing at the mouth would occur. Eventually the victim would die of asphyxiation as the muscles in the stomach and throat inhibited breathing. To imagine the severity of such a prolonged and harrowing death, must cause one to wonder at the mind of a criminal who would choose such a drug as their 'Modus Operandi'.

Our first strychnine murderer was Christina Edmunds, the daughter of a well-known architect, from Margate, England. Edmunds was known simply as the 'Chocolate Cream Poisoner', due to her chosen method of concealing the strychnine. The second criminal that we will look at is Dr. Thomas Neill Cream, a medical man of Scottish-Canadian origins, who earned himself the moniker 'The Lambeth Poisoner" after the area of London in which he sought his prey.

Both criminals opted to use the same lethal toxin to eliminate their victims, but methods of administration and motive were far from comparable. Edmunds was an amateur poisoner, unsure of dosage and effects, whilst Dr. Cream had been using carefully measured doses of strychnine in both his personal and professional life for many years. However, the instigating factor in the cases of Edmunds and Cream was that their criminal activities began with the intention of poisoning just one victim but then escalated into a killing spree, resulting in both murderers receiving the death penalty. Additionally, in each circumstance, adultery was a key factor.

Christina Edmunds began her villainous career in the summer of 1870 by attempting to poison the wife of her lover, Doctor Charles Beard, by lacing a box of chocolates with doses of strychnine. It is reported that the affair was extremely one-sided and that Dr.Beard, not reciprocating Edmunds’ feelings, tried to end the relationship, which then resulted in the woman trying to do away with his wife. Unfortunately for Edmunds, the lady became violently ill but eventually recovered and therefore the cause of her sickness was not immediately discovered.

 In a similar tryst, over a decade later in Chicago, Illinois, Dr. Thomas Neill Cream wrote the prescription for an epilepsy tonic which was in turn administered by his lover to her elderly husband. The ensuing trial of both parties resulted in Julia Stott, Cream's paramour, turning state's evidence which guaranteed her acquittal whilst Cream languished in Joliet State Penitentiary for the next ten years. Eventually his sentence was commuted, after much petitioning, but by the time he was released in July 1891, Julia Stott was nowhere to be found.

Several months after her unsuccessful attempt to eliminate Mrs. Beard, Christina Edmunds began buying boxes of chocolate creams, which she took home and laced with strychnine, afterwards returning them to the shop for unwitting customers to purchase. She then began sending parcels of the confectionery to prominent people, including Mrs. Beard, which in turn caused the police to connect the large number of illnesses with the chocolate gifts. Naturally, the local shopkeeper became suspicious of the quantity of chocolates that Edmunds was buying, forcing her to travel to different vendors to avoid detection. Although only one death by strychnine poisoning was recorded, four-year old Sidney Barker, Edmunds was arrested and not only charged with his murder but also the attempted murder of Mrs. Beard. It seems that in hindsight, Doctor Beard had eventually informed the authorities of his suspicions.

In Cream's case, a decade spent inside Joliet did nothing but fuel his desire for retribution and after a brief detour to collect a rather healthy inheritance left to him by his father, he boarded a passenger ship to England where he would spend the next twelve months on a poisoning spree. Whereas we have seen that Edmunds was perhaps incited to act upon her instincts as a woman scorned, Cream's motives for vengeance were interspersed with the gradual onset of syphillis, which had become a constant source of debilitation during his incarceration. Both felons suffered varying degrees of insanity, however the causes were dissimilar. At Christina Edmunds' trial her mother testified that both sides of their family had a history of mental illness and this attributed to her original sentence of death being substituted with a life sentence in Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum.

Dr. Thomas Neill Cream had suffered a decade of nightmares, migraines and drug withdrawal symptoms during his years behind bars and, coupled with his desire to seek revenge upon womankind, had spent his entire sentence plotting how and to whom he would administer his lethal concoction. Initially he administered the strychnine together with a white liquid mixture of brocine, telling his victims that the tonic would help to clear up pimpled skin and give them a healthier complexion. However, after the girls complained that the medicine was too bitter, Cream ordered a box of gelatin capsules from a local chemist in which to mask the taste of the poison and make it more palatable.

Dr. Cream chose his London victims carefully; they were all streetwalkers living within the Lambeth area, a place that Cream knew well should he need to flee to his lodging house or lose the trail of ensuing police officers. In the case of each victim, Cream waited for opportunity to present itself and prepared the drugs in advance, whereas Christina Edmunds was actually unaware of the number of people she had poisoned until the time of her arrest.

Both criminals only ceased their toxic misdemeanors when they were arrested and charged. We can therefore assume that without the timely intervention of law enforcement, there may have been many more victims for both Edmunds and Cream.

Cream was tried and hanged at Newgate in November 1892, while Edmunds lived on inside Broadmoor until 1907.

It is worth noting that the hangman, James Billington, swore to his dying day that Cream confessed to being the notorious ‘Jack the Ripper’ as he stood upon the gallows. However, there is little evidence to prove the likelihood of this.


For further reading on Cream, the author of this article has released a book named Prisoner 4374, an autobiographical account of the Lambeth Poisoner.


Publisher's Site

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

War Crime, or a Strategic Military Decision? The massacre at Acre, August 20, 1191

by Charlene Newcomb

Surely one of the saddest, most horrible, and notorious events of the Third Crusade occurred on August 20, 1191. When Acre surrendered to Christian forces in July 1191 after a two-year siege, negotiators from within the city agreed to terms that included the return of a fragment of the True Cross - captured by Saladin at the Battle of Hattin in 1187 - and payment to secure the release of hostages. Saladin was not involved in the negotiations, and contemporary accounts provide no evidence that the Muslin leader actually agreed to the conditions set on his behalf. There is no doubt Saladin knew the terms and used delay tactics whether to better position his troops or to stall the Christians' march to Jerusalem. In the words of chronicler Geoffrey de Vinsauf, Saladin “sent constant presents and messengers to King Richard to gain delay by artful and deceptive words.” The deadline was extended in hopes Saladin would come through.

What is clear: the terms of the surrender were not met. Twenty-seven hundred hostages were executed under orders issued by Richard the Lionheart.

Richard’s decision has been a cause for debate for centuries. In today’s world, this would be a war crime of huge magnitude. In 12th century warfare, the execution of hostages was not uncommon, though in many situations, hostages were kept under house arrest – sometimes for years –  or sold as slaves.

Richard’s dilemma: where do you house 2,700 hostages? How do you keep them fed when you must feed your own army? How many guards would it take to ensure the captives would not escape? With the departure of King Philip of France, Duke Leopold of Austria, and many of their supporters that summer, Richard needed nearly every able-bodied soldier on the coming pilgrimage to secure Jerusalem.

Why didn’t Richard sell his hostages? That would take time. It was already mid-August. The army needed to begin the march to Jerusalem or else run the risk of being caught by winter storms.

Based on morals and the conduct of war in the 12th century, are these excuses or valid reasons to execute close to 3,000 prisoners?

I was surprised that contemporary observers had very little to say about the executions. It is incredible to read the accounts of wholesale slaughter generally described in such nonchalant terms.

Roger de Hoveden writes:
On the seventeenth day of the month of August, being the third day of the week and the thirteenth day before the calends of September, the king of England caused all the pagans who belonged to him from the capture of Acre to be led out before the army of Saladin, and their heads to be struck off in the presence of all . . .

De Hoveden does provide more detail than most chroniclers and further along that passage he describes what the Christians did to the bodies. It is horrific, and I won't repeat it here. He then continues:

On the twenty-first day of the month of August, after the slaughter of the pagans, the king of England delivered into the charge of Bertram de Verdun the city of Acre. . . On the twenty-second day . . . the king of England crossed the river of Acre with his army, and pitching his tents between that river and the sea, on the sea-shore between Acre and Cayphas, remained there four days.

The chronicler Geoffrey de Vinsauf writes:
. . . 2700 of the Turkish hostages [were] led forth from the city and hanged ; [King Richard's] soldiers marched forward with delight to fulfill his commands, and to retaliate, with the assent of the Divine Grace, by taking revenge upon those who had destroyed so many of the Christians with missiles and arbalests.
Ambroise writes:
Two thousand seven hundred, all

In chains, were led outside the wall,
Where they were slaughtered every one;
And thus on them was vengeance done.
For blows and bolts of arbalest.
Even Muslim contemporary writers have not provided us more than a few sentences about the event. Ibn al-Athir writes that Saladin and his emirs did not trust the Franks (the term used to denote the European Christians). Al-Athir felt that the crusaders intended 'treachery' and would not free the hostages even if Saladin met the demands. Al-Athir then notes:
On Tuesday 27 Rajab [20 August 1191] the Franks mounted up and came outside the city with horse and foot. The Muslims rode out to meet them, charged them and drove them from their position. Most of the Muslims they had been holding were found slain. They had put them to the sword and massacred them but preserved the emirs and captains and those with money. All the others, the general multitude, the rank and file and those with no money they slew.
The chronicler Baha' Al-Din writes:
Then they brought the Muslim prisoners whose martyrdom God had ordained, more than three thousand men in chains. They fell on them as one man and slaughtered them in cold blood, with sword and lance . . .
He is one of few contemporaries who comments on Richard's motives:
Many reasons were given to explain the slaughter. One was that they had killed as reprisal for their own prisoners killed before then by the Muslims. Another was that the King of England had decided to march on Ascalon and take it, and he did not want to leave behind him in the city a large number (of enemy soldiers). God knows best.
Richard justified his actions in a letter to the abbot of Clairvaux. This was war, and Saladin had not met his end of the agreement. Many of Richard's contemporaries and numerous scholars over the years have condemned the Lionheart for his decision. It was a brutal and unchivalrous act. Would Richard's reputation have suffered less if the besieged had chosen to fight to the bitter end? Those sieges did not end well for the losers: pillaging, burning, and killing. But the garrison at Acre had surrendered. Richard sought advice from his council, and seeing no alternatives if he intended to be at Jerusalem's gate before winter set in, he issued the orders.


Ambroise. The history of the holy war : Ambroise’s estoire de la guerre sainte. (Trans. by Ailes, M., & Barber, M.) Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 2003.
De Hoveden, R. (1853). The annals of Roger de Hoveden, comprising the history of England and of other countries of Europe from A. D. 732 to A. D. 1201. (Henry T. Riley, Trans.). London: H. G. Bohn. (Original work published 1201?)
"Geoffrey de Vinsauf's itinerary of Richard I and Others, to the Holy Land" in Chronicles of the Crusades: contemporary narratives, compiled and edited by Henry G. Bohm. London: Kegan Paul, 2004.
Gillingham, J. (1978). Richard the Lionheart. New York: Times Books.
Ibn al-Athīr, ʻIzz al-Din. (2007). The chronicle of ibn al-athīr for the crusading period from al-kāmil fi’l-ta’rīkh. (Trans by Richards, D. S.) Aldershot ; Burlington, VT: Ashgate.
Ibn Shaddād, Bahāʼ al-Dīn. (2001) . The rare and excellent history of Saladin, or, al-Nawādir al-Sultaniyya wa’l-Mahasin al-Yusufiyya. (Trans by Richards, D. S.) Aldershot, Hants, England: Ashgate.
Siege of Acre By Blofeld of SPECTRE at en.wikipedia (Transfered from en.wikipedia) [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons,
Richard the Lionheart Merry-Joseph Blondel [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
"SaracensBeheaded" by Alphonse-Marie-Adolphe de Neuville - François Guizot (1787-1874), The History of France from the Earliest Times to the Year 1789, London : S. Low, Marston, Searle & Rivington, 1883, p. 447. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons -

This post includes information previously published on the author’s blog.


Charlene Newcomb is the author of Men of the Cross, Book I of Battle Scars. This historical adventure, set during the Third Crusade, is a tale of war’s impact on a young knight serving Richard the Lionheart and of forbidden love. Book II, For King and Country, will be published in 2015. Visit Charlene’s website,, find her on Facebook at CharleneNewcombAuthor, and on Twitter @charnewcomb.

Book links: Amazon B&N