Monday, September 22, 2014

The History of Armour 1100-1700

by Paul Walker

The Knight in shining armour conjures up one of the most evocative images of the medieval period.

Between the 11th and 17th century the nobility made their mark on Europe. In life, they ruled the population, its economics, life style, fashions, and history. Great books were written for the wealthy, large houses and castles built, sonnets written and ballads sung. They displayed their wealth and strength, which often meant the male’s role in battle and his ability to fight and protect his land and himself.

If we look at the tapestry that made 1066 a year that changed the history of England, we will see a collection of images that represent men at arms dressed in mail coats with conical helmets and long kite shaped shields. Some have mail leggings whilst many have no armour at all, but those stylised images show how men dressed for war in the 11th century. See fig A

Mail changed little throughout the eleventh, twelfth and thirteenth century with the exception of minor details. The shape of the helmet changed from the typical Norman conical shape to the rounded skullcap and then to the cylindrical shaped helm. Metal knee protection appeared in the early thirteenth century and the shield decreased in size but overall the main form of defence remained mail. See fig B and C

In the early fourteenth century, something happened that would start an arms race that lasted three hundred years. The capability of producing large quantities of iron and steel. Moreover, it is from this period that the armourer begins to develop the methods of plate armour production. See fig D

The modern fighting soldier’s idea of warfare has no bearing on the medieval knight’s ideal. Warfare had its political and social reasons just as today, but the social elite could use warfare as an income and a method of elevating their status. The capture and ransoming of a wealthy knight might ensure he survived a battle. Thus, the ability to show ones wealth in battle became important.

The knight not only needed armour as a form of physical protection but also needed it to convey his wealth and standing. Thus, the development of armour changed from a purely defensive matter and moved into the realm of visual display. The knight became a deadly peacock, using the bright colours of heraldry to distinguish each other on the battlefield and in tournament.

Heraldry had arisen in the 11th century with simple patterns, designs and pictures, and over a five hundred year period would developed into a complex method of recognising individuals and families. The main areas on a knight that displayed heraldic arms were the shield, the surcoat and the crest. In most circumstances the crest is the only surviving clue to the heraldic design of an individual that can be found on an effigy, this being part of the headrest. In some cases, the shield and jupon have a coat-of-arms carved into them, some even retaining original colours.

During the late 13th c. plate protection was added to mail armour, arm and leg protection being strapped onto mail. The surcoat was shortened at the front becoming the Cyclas. The knight wore a padded aketon underneath his mail coat or Haubergeon; above this, a coat of plates may have been worn. See figure E.

By the mid 14thc plate protection had superseded mail on the arms. On legs plate was used but often took the form of studded leather and metal splints. The surcoat had been replaced by the much shorter and tighter jupon. See figure F. A horizontal belt with plaquarts plus gilded edging was now added to the harness and the bascinet and aventail became universally used throughout Europe.

The early 15thc saw the development of the great bascinet with its gorget and the first full plate suits of armour appear. The average thickness of the steel used was around 1.5 millimetres but certain areas such as the breastplate or helmet could be made thicker. See figure G.

By the late 15thc the intricate gothic styles in German armour increases. See figure H. but in England, the plainer Italian style is preferred. However, the sallet eventually took over from the Great bascinet.

During the early Tudor period Italian style armour with plain surfaces. See figure I. appears on many effigies In reality the use of heavily fluted armour (Later to be called Maximilian) was used throughout Europe. The development of the close-helmet that hid the head completely meant that the effigy maker often replaced the traditional helm as headrest with this form of helmet.

The Elizabethan period saw the development of increased articulated lames, heat-treated coloured metal and elaborate decoration. The Joust became the showpiece for armour with knights displaying their wealth through highly decorated garnitures, designed to have interchanging parts for different forms of tournament. Added pieces some being up to three millimetres thick, were used to reinforce original suits. See figure J.

During the 17th century the development of heavier thicker plates to stop the round shot from guns meant that armour became utilitarian and plain. See figure K. The idea of knighthood did not disappear and elaborate harnesses that had no place on the battlefield were produced for the new officer class See figure L.

In my book, The History of Armour 1100-1700 published by Crowood Press, I attempt to give an account of the changes of armour. Looking at details that make a suit of armour, from the methods of construction to the way it was worn and the way fashion dictated changes in armour design. It is hoped that this book will not only enlighten students of arms and armour but also give an insight to the art of the effigy maker, showing the skills they possessed through reproducing the armour and weaponry of their period in wood, stone and metal.


I trained in graphic communication specializing in illustration. Afterwards, I moved into adult education where I taught fine art, photography, digital imaging, animation and illustration. I have given lectures in armour and weapons as an historical interpreter for English Heritage, and various other History groups, specializing in the development of armour as well as the chivalric roles of the medieval Knight. I have a lifelong interest in historical warfare and its politics, which played a huge role in the evolution of military advancement.

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Giveaway: The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar by Kim Rendfeld

Kim Rendfeld is giving away an e-book of The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar (2014, Fireship Press), a tale of a medieval mother who will go to great lengths to protect her children. This giveaway ends at midnight September 28. To learn more about the novel, click HERE.

To enter the giveaway, leave a comment on this post and please leave your contact information.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Newgate Calendar, or, The Malefactors' Bloody Register

by Catherine Curzon
"Genuine and Circumstantial Narrative of the lives and transactions, various exploits and Dying Speeches of the Most Notorious Criminals of both sexes who suffered Death Punishment in Gt. Britain and Ireland for High Treason, Petty Treason, Murder, Piracy, Felony, Thieving, Highway Robberies, Forgery, Rapes, Bigamy, Burglaries, Riots and various other horrid crimes and misdemeanours on a plan entirely new, wherein will be fully displayed the regular progress from virtue to vice interspersed with striking reflexions on the conduct of those unhappy wretches who have fallen a sacrifice to the laws of their country."
An execution at Newgate
An execution at Newgate

The concept of bestsellers, sensation literature and thrillingly sordid tales masquerading as morality pieces is hardly a new one, and one of the most popular of such works came into being in the 18th century, quickly establishing itself as the go-to literature for vice, virtue and villainy. In one form or another, The Newgate Calendar, or, The Malefactors' Bloody Register, had been in monthly publication for many years but, with a collected edition hitting the shelves in 1774, it swiftly became one of the most popular books in Georgian England.

In fact, there was never a single definitive first edition of The Newgate Calendar; instead, the first collected editions were made up of reprinted chapbooks and broadsides of the kind that had been printed for many years beforehand. They were sold at public executions to those who had gathered to watch the spectacle and wanted a little something to remember the event by, let alone a reminder of the crimes that were behind the malefactors on the scaffold. These disposable and scandalous works did were not content to stick to factual reporting and spared no gruesome detail as they recounted some of the most violent and infamous crimes in history.

The Calendar was considered improving literature as it made sure to point out in each case where the criminal's (and often the victim's) moral fibre had been found wanting, lamenting that, with more attention paid to moral purity, these unfortunates might not have found themselves in such a sorry state. The authors often paid little heed to the facts of the case or the veracity, and the biographies of the condemned criminals  were often imaginatively enhanced but the public, fired by sensation, lapped it up. Of course, it did no harm to sales of the Calendar that the cases included therein were the most violent or notorious and soon it was a confirmed bestseller, beaten only by the Bible and Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. Very few households would have been without a copy of the Calendar, with its ready access to stories of good girls gone bad and gentlemen who should have known better.

A crime broadside of the sort that the Calendar collected together
A crime broadside of the sort that the Calendar collected together

Within the pages of the Newgate Calendar lurk some of the most feared and famous names in the English criminal history, but the starring roles are not reserved for the likes of Dick Turpin or Jack Sheppard. Here you will also find murderous clerks and wanton women, every crime detailed in gruesome, ghoulish language though of course, only for the sake of moral education. I am often lured away from my work by the Calendar and spend many happy hours immersed in it. In fact, in the future I hope to share some of its tales with the readers here, so be prepared for all manner of things!

The Calendar has been reprinted in numerous, heavily edited editions and texts are freely available across the internet so, next time you feel like a little moral outrage, why not delve in and lose yourself in a world of dark deeds? Take care to absorb the morals of the stories though, lest you end up in the Calendar yourself!


Glorious Georgian ginbag, gossip and gadabout Catherine Curzon, aka Madame Gilflurt, is the author of A Covent Garden Gilflurt’s Guide to Life. When not setting quill to paper, she can usually be found gadding about the tea shops and gaming rooms of the capital or hosting intimate gatherings at her tottering abode. In addition to her blog and Facebook, Madame G is also quite the charmer on Twitter.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Torn Between Two Queens

by Wendy J. Dunn

There’s a chorus of an old song that I’m sure most people have heard at least once in their life:

Torn between two lovers,
feelin' like a fool,
Lovin' both of you
is breakin' all the rules.

I’m not torn between two lovers, but I have to admit to feeling torn between Tudor queens. Yes – I have my fair share of Anne Boleyn replica jewellery, an Anne Boleyn Iphone case, Anne Boleyn note paper and even devoted years of my life giving voice to Anne Boleyn in my fiction, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that I feel just as devoted to Katherine of Aragon. I even have an unpublished manuscript to prove it – a novel that focused on her childhood in Castilla, which I had hoped to be the first work of a planned trilogy about her life.

Now that my young adult Tudor novel, The Light of the Labyrinth, has stepped out into the published world, I have been thinking about returning to this work. It is actually crying out to me to return to it. That’s not surprising; I spent three years of my life committed to putting Catalina’s story onto the page. Since putting the work aside over four years ago, I have had a lot of time to think about why it didn’t hit the bull’s eye, and what I should do to start again.

So many people think of Katherine of Aragon as a Spanish princess, but she wouldn’t have described herself in that way – not really. It was the marriage of her father and mother, King Ferdinand of Aragon and Queen Isabel of Castilla, two monarchs who ruled over different parts of what is now known as Spain, that resulted in the gradual union of their two countries that became one of the most powerful dominions in Christendom.

As a daughter of King Ferdinand, Katherine was a princess of Aragon. Her mother – the Queen of Castilla, a far more powerful country than Aragon – could have made it very difficult for her husband, but her great ability in diplomacy was apparent even on the home front. She chose to wield her power in such a way that always included her husband. Her immense gifts as a ruling monarch makes me wonder if this was the reason history renamed her Isabella – a name, it is believed, the English brought into being when they wanted to belittle the grandmother of Mary I, as well as in response to the Spanish Armada (Liss 2002).

Born on the sixteenth day of December in 1485, Katherine of Aragon, or Catalina as she was known at her mother’s court, was the fifth and last child of these two monarchs. At three, Katherine was betrothed to Prince Arthur, the first-born son of a new royal English dynasty: the Tudors.

Extremely intelligent, pious and educated by the best tutors her mother could find, Katherine was also trained – like her three older sisters – by her mother to be a devoted and obedient wife who was able to be a good helpmeet for their husband. Katherine was not only able to care well for her husband’s stomach, but also was an excellent embroiderer and maker of manly shirts. She would one day anger Anne Boleyn when she refused to stop making shirts for Henry VIII. As his wife, it was her duty to make them (Fraser 1998).

There are many stories from the pages of history about Katherine I can visualise as a fiction writer. One story I especially love - when Wolsey visited Katherine during the time of "The King's Great Matter". Busy sewing with her women, Katherine doesn’t invite him into her chamber, but speaks to him at the door, with skeins of threads over her shoulder and I suspect a needle in her hand. Like Anne, Katherine did not like Wolsey, especially in this time when she was being pressured to step aside as Henry’s Queen. Did she feel tempted to accidently brush against Wolsey and prick him with her needle? Make him bleed, because she saw him as one of the reasons her husband now rejected her, making her own heart bleed.

Katherine arrived in England just before her sixteenth birthday, after a long and perilous journey from her mother's kingdom of Castile. The sea journey was even more dangerous, with her ships being driven back once by terrible storms before venturing out to sea again. A chronicle of the period said:

It is reported that this lady Katherine thought and feared such an unhappy chance might come, (the death of her husband, Prince Arthur) for when she had embraced her father and taken leave of her noble and prudent mother, and sailed towards England, she was continually so tossed and tumbled hither and thither with boisterous winds that what with the raging of the water and the contrary winds her ship was prevented many times from approaching the shore and landing (2014 Primary Sources, online).

Katherine met her future husband and his father at the Bishop’s palace at Dangerfield in Hampshire. At this palace – against all Castilian custom, a custom historically influenced by the Moors – Henry VII insisted on lifting the veil of his son’s bride. He saw a pretty girl with grey eyes. Her skin colour appeared to be what is still described of as the English rose, which she inherited from her English ancestors. Katherine’s grandmother was Catherine of Lancaster, the daughter of John of Gaunt (Fraser 1998). Katherine’s greatest beauty was her thick red/gold hair, hair that cascaded past her waist. When she first met Henry VII and Prince Arthur, her hair would have flowed free – as a symbol of her virginity. Sigh. I always feel somewhat cross when I see Katherine of Aragon recreated in movies or television shows as a woman with black-hair. She wasn’t. Thomas More said of her: ‘There is nothing wanting in her that the most beautiful girl should have’ (2014 Historic Royal Palaces, Online source).

The King and Prince Arthur expressed themselves fully pleased with Katherine. Arthur wrote later about his joy at first seeing ‘the sweet face of his bride’ (Fraser 1998, p. 24). But Arthur’s happiness was short-lived. Within only a few months of marriage, the fifteen-year-old prince was dead and Katherine fighting for her own life. They had both been stricken with one of those sudden deadly illnesses of the period – probably the English sweat - that struck fast and hard.

Katherine was pious and honest. After Arthur’s death, Katherine said, over and over, that their marriage had never been consummated. Her father wrote, in 1503, ‘It is well known that the princess is still a virgin’. But he was also a wily politician. In arranging Katherine’s betrothal to Prince Henry, her husband’s younger brother, her father asked the Pope to write up the dispensation in a way that made the question of her virginity unimportant and would safeguard Katherine’s later marriage. Henry VII also protected his own child and son, not forgetting his political back – the marriage would only go forward when Henry the younger was old enough to agree to the match.

Katherine endured seven dreadful years after Arthur’s death. A political pawn – in the hand of a father-in-law who often acted towards her like an utter miser – she was kept short of funds, as well as powerful friends. I agree with Antonia Fraser that these years of deprivation shaped her in such a way that made it impossible for her to bend when Henry VIII later sought to take a new wife (Fraser 1998). In that future time, Katherine probably remembered her time of triumph after seven years of hell while a widow. It is possible that she thought that all she needed to do was to keep faith and God would answer her prayers again.

I also find myself wondering if this time of deprivation impacted upon her health. Katherine spent many hours praying and days fasting during these bleak years. Perhaps this led to some kind of physical damage that caused complications during her pregnancies, making it difficult for her to bear living children. Alison Weir also suggests this in Henry VIII, King and Court, that Katherine’s deep piety and habit of fasting – behaviours reinforced during her widowhood – may have caused reproduction problems (Weir 2001).

Just before Henry VII died, a desperate Katherine contemplated taking the veil. She was saved from this destiny for another destiny when the King died in 1509 and she married – just weeks later – his son, Henry VIII.

During the early years of Katherine's marriage to the young Henry Tudor, the English court had a reputation for learning as well as piety. I have no doubt that Katherine influenced and encouraged her husband's better traits. Greatly respected for her intelligence, Katherine acted as her father’s ambassador during the early years of her marriage to Henry. Henry VIII also had no hesitation in entrusting his Kingdom to his wife whenever he decided to ride off to war with France, his country's traditional enemy.

Katherine did her very best to provide Henry with a royal heir. She believed she had done her duty by giving her husband their daughter, Mary, the only child of their union to survive infancy and live to adulthood. Perhaps if the fates had been kinder – if her husband hadn’t convinced himself that their marriage was accursed, and indeed was no marriage after his hopes for a son had been dashed time after time by the birth of yet another dead or soon to be dead baby – Mary could have been a valid answer to the English succession.

Katherine took her responsibilities as Queen very seriously. She gave money to the poor, was a patron of scholars and poets, and enriched religious orders not only with her presence, but also with her wealth. As the events of the Evil May Day, in 1517, proved when she begged for four hundred lives of those who had rioted in London, protesting against foreigners making their livelihoods in London, she was willing to stand up to her husband for those deprived of power. Her actions on during that terrible May were long remembered in a ballad:

What if (she said) by Spanish blood,
have London's stately streets being wet,
Yet will I seek this country’s good
And pardons for their children get;
Or else, the world will speak to me,
And say, “Queen Catherine was unkind,”
And judge me still the cause to be,
These young men did misfortune find.
And so disrobed of rich attire,
With hair unbound she sadly hies,
And of her gracious lord required,
A boon, which hardly he denies…

For which, kind Queen, with joyful heart,
She heard their mothers’ thanks and praise;
And so from them did gently part,
And lived beloved all her days…
(Luke 1971, p.195).

Henry VIII may have rejected her as his wife, but England never rejected her as one of their most beloved Queens. To this day, also like Anne Boleyn, flowers are placed on her tomb.

Sometimes, I find myself imagining Katherine and Anne, alone together, in a heavenly, Tudor garden. The sun shines brightly as they sit close together, heads bent, their hands busy at completing exquisite embroideries. They murmur and laugh together, and I hear the often-repeated name of Henry: a man they both loved until their last living breath. I think, in Heaven, free of life’s sorrows and the battles to live and to love, Anne and Katherine would at last discover their common ground and find an eternal friendship.


Fraser, A, 1998, The six wives of Henry VIII, Arrow Books, London
Weir, A, 2001, Henry VIII, King and court, Ballantine Books, New York
Luke, M. L 1971, Catherine, the Queen, Paperback Library, New York

Liss, P. K 2002, “Isabel, Myth and History”, in Isabel la Católica, Queen of Castile: Critical Essays, David A. Boruchoff (Editor), 2002, Palgrave Macmillan, New York.

2014. Primary Sources: The death of Prince Arthur Tudor, 1502. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 17 September 2014].

2014 Historic Royal Palaces: Hampton Palace, viewed 17 September 2014,


Wendy J. Dunn is an Australian writer who has been obsessed by Anne Boleyn and Tudor History since she was ten-years-old. She is the author of two Tudor novels: Dear Heart, How Like You This?, the winner of the 2003 Glyph Fiction Award and 2004 runner up in the Eric Hoffer Award for Commercial Fiction, and The Light in the Labyrinth, her first young adult novel.

While she continues to have a very close and spooky relationship with Sir Thomas Wyatt, the elder, serendipity of life now leaves her no longer wondering if she has been channeling Anne Boleyn and Sir Tom for years in her writing, but considering the possibility of ancestral memory. Her own family tree reveals the intriguing fact that her ancestors – possibly over three generations – had purchased land from both the Boleyn and Wyatt families to build up their own holdings. It seems very likely Wendy’s ancestors knew the Wyatts and Boleyns personally.

Born in Melbourne, Australia, Wendy is married and the mother of three sons and one daughter—named after a certain Tudor queen, surprisingly, not Anne.

Wendy tutors at Swinburne University in their Master of Arts (Writing) program. She also works at a primary school as a literature support teacher.
For more information about Wendy J. Dunn, visit her website at 

Thursday, September 18, 2014

An Irish Neo-Classical Architectural Gem – The Casino at Merino

by Arthur Russell

The Casino at Merino (Dublin)
In 1759, James Caulfield, 1st Earl of Charlemont began building a pleasure house called ‘The Casino’ near his ancestral house on his estate overlooking Dublin Bay (Italian names such as Merino, Rialto, Portobello were given to areas of Dublin by their aristocratic owners to commemorate their "Grand Tours" of Europe).

What was constructed on the estate at Merino House is described as a Neo-classical Garden Temple and is a true architectural gem that attracts thousands of visitors to view the excellence of design and superb examples of 18th century workmanship.

The Earl was a member of the 18th century Dublin Parliament, and engaged and collaborated with the most notable architect of his day; Sir William Chambers; to design the building. The Scottish architect never actually viewed the finished result of his work for Charlemont, due to many commitments and building projects he was involved in all over the three kingdoms. Sir William later wrote in his book “The Treatise on Civil Architecture” (1791), that the ideas for the Casino on Earl Charlemont’s estate in Dublin were derived from an un-executed design for ‘one of the end pavilions of a considerable disposition made soon after my return from Italy for Harewood House.’

 The driving inspiration for the building of the Casino (which means small house); came from Caulfield’s nine year long “Grand Tour” of Europe where he immersed himself in classical art and the architecture of Rome, Florence, Greece, Egypt and other locations. He determined, on his return to Ireland, to recreate and adapt as necessary, some of the challenging concepts he had seen into a single building on his own estate. As the second city of the Empire, mid eighteenth century Dublin was in the middle of a remarkable building boom that saw whole streets of elegant houses transform the city into a remarkable showpiece of wealth and privilege for the ruling Ascendancy class. Much of what is called Georgian Dublin still survives to give the city its distinctive character.

James Caulfield
1st Earl of Charlemont
As an aristocrat and a senior legislator in the Irish Parliament, the Earl had the time and money to indulge in what it is certain, many of his contemporaries considered a seemingly frivolous and impractical pursuit as he set about building the Casino on his estate. Regardless of what they thought; what he achieved in the structure is truly impressive from an architectural perspective.

His objective for the Casino was to create a retreat where he could get away from the cares of both his constituents and his estate, and where he could meet and entertain his closest friends and colleagues. The structure was built at some distance from the main Marino House and was accessed by means of a tunnel which ran between them. This tunnel could be used by servants from the main house carrying food and drink to guests in the retreat.

While the big estate house, Merino House; is long gone; and most of the surrounding lands have been taken over by subsequent urban development arising from the spread of the city of Dublin into the surrounding countryside; ‘The Casino at Merino’ still stands at the centre of a beautiful public park which is still enjoyed and appreciated by local residents and visitors alike.

 From the outside, the Casino appears to consist of just one single apartment. At the base of the four corners are statues of recumbent lions facing outwards. The impression of a single apartment arises from the large windows that fill the centre walls on 3 sides, along with the large entrance paneled door, that on closer examination, camouflages an inset smaller door; on the 4th side. The intention is clearly to make the building appear to be very simple and small from the outside. From inside it is anything but. The structure, which took a decade and a half to complete, actually contains a total of 16 rooms, which seems unbelievable until one enters and explores the interior, which is arranged on 3 levels including a basement. The design makes clever use of available space and light. The overall footprint of the building covers fifty square feet to its outer columns, and is in the shape of a Grecian cross.

The panes of the large windows are subtly curved so that it is impossible to see from outside that there is more than one level inside the structure. Each large window actually lights two or more rooms in the interior of the building, and on two levels. The floors are covered with intricate designs of polished wooden parquet blocks; mostly derived from exotic places then being exploited by the British Navy as it spread its Imperial power throughout the world. Some of the hardwood timbers used in the Casino are no longer available as the related tree species have sadly since become extinct. The floor designs are based completely on the variety of natural woods available, and are both colourful and intricate. Some designs indicate the Earl’s attachment to Freemasonry.

Above - The big door with
inset smaller door
View from interior through
one of the big windows
One of the wooden parquet floors

Four of the columns on the corners of the building are hollow and have a length of chain running down their centres, which causes rainwater to run down and away from the building without causing any wetting or dampening to the interior. Almost two and a half centuries later, this simple mechanism still works perfectly.

Two Roman ornamental urns on top of external walls camouflage flue pipes coming from fireplaces in the building. These features were designed by James Gandon, the architect of many public buildings in Georgian Dublin including the Customs House and the former 18th century Irish Parliament building (now Bank of Ireland).

The interior décor features interesting designs with excellent examples of decorative plasterworks on walls and ceilings. The rooms include a library, rooms to display collected art objects, niches for Roman and Grecian statuary, a kitchen; upstairs, a State Bedroom as well as servants quarters. The Casino remains as Earl Charlemont’s determination to encapsulate in a single building all that he found perfect on his Grand Tour

 Subsequent history of Casino at Merino

Within a hundred years after completion, the building had fallen into neglect. In 1876 the Charlemont Estate itself was sold, and the nearby Merino House was demolished during the 1920's. The Casino building remained in a state of disrepair until 1930 when an Act of the newly independent Irish Parliament was passed to allow it to be taken into state ownership care. It has since been painstakingly restored by the Irish Office of Public Works (OPW) who continue to be responsible for its upkeep. It stands as a perfect example of architect William Chambers’ work and the cultural aspirations of the Irish ruling classes.

Today the building is a must see target for visitors to Dublin city, and is a favourite place for the performance of civil wedding ceremonies.


Arthur Russell is the Author of Morgallion, a novel set in medieval Ireland during the Invasion of Ireland in 1314 by the Scottish army led by Edward deBruce, the last crowned King of Ireland. It tells the story of Cormac MacLochlainn, a young man from the Gaelic crannóg community of Moynagh and how he and his family endured and survived that turbulent period of history. Morgallion has been recently awarded the indieBRAG Medallion and is available in paperback and e-book form. More information available on website -

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Lesser Known Smugglers of the North

by Nick Smith

The very image of smugglers is an evocative one. A complex network of sailors, riders, merchants and more, working beneath the very nose of the dreaded excise. Illegal landings at night, secreting away goods by starlight, hiding in caves, crossing lonely moors, for the contraband to end up in the heart of vast port cities like London, only to be sold side by side with goods that have had their tax paid.

Britain in the eighteenth century was rife with smuggling, and even though the South coast is notorious for the exploits of these criminals, the North East and Yorkshire were far from innocent… But why did smuggling exist? And why was it so prolific for well over a hundred years?

Whitby in the 18th Century, Watercolour. By John Bird.

Smuggling was not new. As long as any government has enforced some sort of import duty, people have tried to avoid it with varying levels of success. During the English Civil War parliament introduced further import duties in the form of excise (on top of the normal customs). As the seventeenth century progressed, customs and excise duties increased massively.

On top of this, in 1699 the English parliament created the Wool Act. Amongst other things, it prevented farmers from exporting their wool to the continent. This was a loss to many farmers and wool merchants, as prices in Britain were lower than those over the water in Holland.

You might ask what the reasoning for these laws were, but you can probably guess already. Money. England (and later Britain) needed lots of money, because it had a rather expensive pastime to fund: War. Successive wars throughout the world had taken their toll on the national treasury, so to top it up taxes were increased.

However, when you take a glance at the following examples, one must wonder if they lost more money than they ever gained:

It is estimated that eighty percent of all tea imported to Britain during the eighteenth century was smuggled ashore! And smuggled gin from Holland became so common that there are references of people using it to clean their windows! In one seizure at Whitby by the revenue over six thousand gallons of rum, brandy, and gin were confiscated!

Many goods that were landed in Yorkshire and the North East – fabrics, spirits, tea – came from daring Dutch sailors. The smugglers in return would provide the Dutch with precious English wool. Sounds like a bargain to me.

The activities of smugglers in Yorkshire and the North East are far less documented than those of the South coast, but it was still very much a problem, and the government measures to reduce smuggling were simply ineffective. A new Customs Officer called John Beckett – on a salary of forty pound a year – was appointed in the early eighteenth century, along with a land waiter in Whitby called John Brown who inspected cargoes at unlading, and one Thomas Long as boatman to inspect the holds of ships. A Mister Sedgewick was made surveyor of Robin Hood’s Bay. Another Mister Standridge became riding officer at Filey and new horse officers were appointed at Hayburn Wyke and Reighton.

This small handful of men were given no support, a small salary, and very few powers. The fact that they made very few seizures over a whole century says a lot, and who can blame their ineffectiveness?

These agents were up against whole villages of organised smugglers – literally whole gangs of locals, forming vast transport networks across the parishes and counties, and in some instances they even had the local parson joining in! There are references and lists of arrested smugglers, their occupations are beekeepers to washerwomen. Everyone seemed to be in on it. Those who weren’t involved would turn the other eye as a smuggler passed by, and it is said that in return for saying nothing they were given a quill of spirit from an open anker.

It’s probably no surprise then that these men of the law would frequently become a part of the operations they were paid to stop. They would gladly take a small share to turn a blind eye. Those who didn’t could very well end up dead…

Like all aspects of maritime lore, I find smugglers fascinating, and I am just about to launch a novella in my BUCCANEER series based on their activities in North Yorkshire. I have glorified and romanticised the landings of smugglers in my new work, but I’m an author, and I can do what I like!

And for the very first time in public, I am proud to present my brand new book cover...

SMUGGLER'S HILL - To be released soon...


Nick Smith is a twenty-nine year old Northumbrian in exile, currently living on a small rock in the Channel Sea where he teaches science. He has a love for all things of a nautical and historical nature.

He is the author of the gritty swashbuckling adventures Rogues’ NestGentleman of Fortune, and the soon to be released Smuggler's Hill. All explore the reality of buccaneers, smugglers, and pirates at the start of the 1700s.

Find out more about his work at  

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Anglo-Zulu War

by David Ebsworth

The subject of the Anglo-Zulu War in 1879 has been covered previously in articles posted on the English Historical Fiction Authors site.

But author David Ebsworth argues here that some of the more fascinating details have often been ignored, particularly by historical fiction writers:

The background story is familiar enough.

The Zulus had become a powerful military state only in the first quarter of the Nineteenth Century under the leadership of King Shaka. Before Shaka, they were simply one of the many clans among the Ngoni people who had been part of the Bantu migrations down the east coast of Africa for over a thousand years. And this particular clan was established in the early 1700s by a man called Zulu, son of an Ngoni chieftain, Ntombela. The word iZulu literally means 'sky' or 'heaven' so that the clan name, AmaZulu, implied both that they were the People of the Man called Zulu and also the People of Heaven. The creation of the Zulu Empire had been a violent one but by the 1870s they had fashioned a way of life that was economically stable and had established a strange affinity with the British. It had all started in 1824 with the personal relationship between Shaka and Lieutenant Francis Farewell (Royal Navy) who eventually founded Port Natal (Durban) along with the physician, Henry Francis Fynn. Farewell’s story became well-known back in Britain and Dickensian London frequently played host to troupes of Zulu singers and dancers who performed to huge crowds on the capital’s stages.

The British maintained their colony in Natal, and settlers grew sugar cane and other produce there alongside the Zulus. There was some conflict, mainly due to the Zulus’ reluctance to work for a pittance on the white plantations when they already enjoyed their own functioning cattle-based economy. So the British had to rely increasingly on immigrant labour normally shipped from the Indian Sub-Continent. And things may have remained that way if it had not been for the discovery of gold and diamonds in the neighbouring territories.

Suddenly it became clear that a very large workforce would be needed if these natural resources were going to be properly exploited – much larger than could be accommodated by immigrant labour – and besides, considerable deposits of this potential mineral wealth lay within the territories controlled by the region’s other major group of European settlers, the Dutch Boers.

So by the late 1870s the British had developed ambitions to create a federated dominion of South Africa. But there were two major obstacles that were, at the same time, two significant goals in the British hunger for gold and diamonds – the independent states of the Dutch Boer settlers for their land, and the Kingdom of Zululand for its labour supply possibilities. A pretext was needed to begin dismantling the obstacle elements and, as a start, the British High Commissioner, Sir Henry Bartle-Frere, seized upon the excuse of a relatively minor border incident to present an ultimatum to the Zulu king, Cetshwayo, requiring him to disband his armies – an ultimatum that could clearly never have been met. And thus, without any authority from the Crown, the British army already in Cape Colony under Lord Chelmsford launched an invasion of Zululand. The Anglo-Zulu War had begun.

Its first weeks are well-trodden. The invading army made camp on the slopes of the mountain called Isandlwana. Zulus today will either tell you that the mountain resembles in form a small house or grain hut, and eSandlwana is the isiZulu word for that thing, or they will each give you an entirely different explanation of the meaning. But on the morning of 22nd January 1879, Chelmsford divided his forces, marched off with his main column towards the Zulu capital at Ulundi, and left a force of 1,700 men to guard the camp. Later in the day the camp was quickly attacked by the Zulu army and entirely destroyed with few survivors. Part of the Zulu impi, 4,000 warriors, went on to attack the mission station at KwaJimu, Rorke’s Drift, where a handful of British defenders held off the continuous assaults until the following morning. Those defenders earned themselves no less than twelve Victoria Crosses as a result although only eleven were accepted, with Colour Sergeant Frank Bourne preferring to trade his VC for a commission.

Those two events at the very outset of the war have been commemorated many times by fiction authors and by film makers, most notably in the 1964 movie, Zulu, and then in the 1979 production of Zulu Dawn. It is hard to believe that fifty years have already passed since the release of Zulu, and subsequent generations continue to be drawn to this fascinating period of history by the wonderful Cy Endfield and Stanley Baker production. The film has flaws. Of course it does. Yet it remains a wonderful piece of cinematography.

But what about picking up the story of the Zulu War where Michael Caine left off?

The disaster at Isandlwana forced the remains of Chelmsford’s column to retreat back into Natal leaving a smaller northern column at Khambula and an eastern column on the Zulus’ coast at Eshowe. The northern column suffered its own disaster on the mountain of Hlobane, and the survivors escaped only by feats of heroism that at least matched those of Rorke’s Drift. The garrison at Eshowe also found themselves besieged on 22nd January, but their defence lasted a little longer than the fifteen hours endured at Rorke’s Drift. Because at Eshowe a European army equipped with all the latest weaponry remained under siege by an enemy with little more than spears and shields until 3rd April.

Meanwhile, news had reached London about the Isandlwana massacre, and the response of the British public was very mixed. The newspapers, for example, demanded to know who had authorised this war. People asked difficult questions. Were the Zulus not our friends and allies? Had we not been present at Cetshwayo’s coronation just a few years earlier? But Queen Victoria and her Government could not ignore the disaster. Such a horrendous defeat of the Imperial army could not go unavenged. And therefore reinforcements were dispatched to the Cape. Large numbers of reinforcements. The Zulus must be punished.

Among the reinforcements was a particular young man, the son of the recently deposed and now deceased French Emperor, Napoleon III. Louis Napoleon (Bonaparte’s great-nephew) was therefore now the Crown Prince to the French Imperial throne, and it was widely understood that when the French had done with their current further flirtation with Republicanism, Louis would become Emperor in his turn. He had been living in exile in England for several years, had distinguished himself during military training, but as a Frenchman was unable to hold a commission in the British army. He therefore used his influence to persuade Victoria that he should be allowed to go to Zululand as an observer. The Queen reluctantly agreed, and Louis was sent off to Chelmsford in an administrative capacity. But once there, the Prince’s headstrong nature began to assert itself, and he was soon taking part in patrols as the second invasion of Zululand began at the end of May 1879.

On 1st June, Louis took part in a patrol to the Ityotyosi River along with a small escort and Lieutenant Jahleel Brenton Carey. They were ambushed while resting in an apparently deserted Zulu village, and Louis was killed along with several of the escort. It was a valiant death, but entirely futile and unnecessary. Naturally, somebody had to be responsible. And it could not possibly be Chelmsford. After all, he was only the Commander and under strict instruction about how Louis should be protected. So Carey was court-martialled, although the decision was later not upheld leaving Carey neither officially guilty nor officially acquitted. But he was sent back to England while Chelmsford continued a policy of burning every Zulu homestead he could find, systematically stealing the cattle upon which the Zulu economy was based and fighting skirmishes until, finally, he assembled his new army on the plain below Ulundi. He fought the Zulu army there for the final time, though this time there would be no mistakes, no disasters. And thus Chelmsford deployed gatling guns and artillery to rip through the Zulus’ cowhide shields, while those that survived were hunted down by British Lancers and speared like animals.

Cetshwayo was captured and imprisoned in Cape Town. Thousands of Zulus, driven from their destroyed lands, ended up working in the gold and diamond mines that two wars against the Dutch Boers had put into British hands. And the British Empire now, at last, had its federated dominion of South Africa. But the Empire could not hold it so that South Africa became self-governing in 1910 and fully independent in 1931. The country finally shook off the shackles of apartheid in 1994, and it seemed fitting that the Anti-Apartheid Movement and the ANC had enjoyed such strong support from so many ordinary people in Britain itself as part of the international community of campaigners. In truth, the affinity and mutual respect that had always existed between the British people (as opposed to some of their governments) and the Zulus had never really diminished, and it was almost as if those huge crowds that had filled the London theatres to cheer and applaud the Zulu performers, even in the immediate aftermath of Isandlwana, were the very same who flocked to Trafalgar Square and many other places to celebrate the ANC’s victory in 1994. As if, somehow, a debt had finally been paid.


David Ebsworth’s third novel, The Kraals of Ulundi, does indeed pick up the story of the Zulu War at the end of 1879 and uses the perspectives of three main characters to tell the rest of this astonishing story. They are the Zulu warrior, Shaba KaNdabuko; the English Lieutenant Jahleel Brenton Carey; and the renegade white trader, William McTeague. The catalyst that brings them together, of course, is the death of Louis Napoleon. But this is also the story of the women who link these disparate characters – Shaba’s sister, Amahle, and Carey’s long-suffering wife, Annie.

Dave McCall (David Ebsworth), September 2014

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Wreck of the Grosvenor

by Mark Patton

On the 13th June 1782, the East Indiaman, Grosvenor, set sail from the port of Trincomalee, in Sri Lanka, bound for London. On board was a cargo of fine silks and a number of wealthy passengers, including William Hosea, the British Resident at Murshidabad, his wife, Mary, and their two children.

The ship's captain, John Coxon, had not, like most ship's captains, risen through the ranks starting as a midshipman, but rather had purchased his command: he clearly had a flair for commerce, but his navigational expertise was much less certain. He did, however, have more experienced seamen on his crew, including the Chief Mate, Alexander Logie; the Second Mate, William Shaw; Shaw's mate William Habberley; and the ship's Third Mate, Thomas Beale.

On the 27th July, the ship sailed into a "hard gale." Coxon was convinced that they were several days away from the coast of Natal so, when Habberley and Shaw sighted what they thought to be native fires, Beale, as officer of the watch, ignored their concerns, keeping the ship on a course that would ultimately converge with the coast. It seems that Coxon attempted to "club haul" the vessel (a desperate manoeuvre which almost invariably failed, and did so on this occasion). The ship struck shortly after 4.30 AM.

The Wreck of the Grosvenor,
by Robert Smirke (Public Domain).

The ship carried two boats, both of which were launched, but both of which were dashed on the rocks. The captain offered a large reward to anyone brave enough to swim ashore with a line. Two Italian seamen rose to the challenge, and a line was fixed from the shore to the mizzen-mast. Some men did escape along this line, but a platform, intended to rescue the women and children, collapsed. What happened next seems to have been down to luck or providence. The wind changed and the starboard quarter, with most of the passengers clinging to it, floated off the rocks. Some of the seamen attached a hawser to it and manoeuvred it into a sheltered inlet. Only one passenger, a servant, died, and, of the 105 crew, 91 landed alive, although some were injured.

The wreck of the Grosvenor,
attributed to George Carter.
National Maritime Museum (Public Domain).

Some dead chickens and ducks came ashore, along with several live pigs. Fires were started and a meal prepared. Pondo tribesmen were, by this stage, moving among the survivors. According to Habberley, they offered no assistance, but were rather concerned to recover the nails and other iron from the wreck. It is unclear to what extent the Europeans attempted to communicate with the Pondo.

"African Hospitality," by George Morland,
an imagined representation of the
interaction between the Pondo people and
the Grosvenor survivors (Public Domain).
The painting, together with its companion-piece,
depicting the brutality of the slave-trade,
was an intentional contribution to
the abolitionist movement.

Coxon, Shaw and Beale organised a roll-call (Logie was, by this stage, seriously ill with dysentery), and salvaged what they could from the wreckage of the ship. They realised that they were a considerable distance from the closest European settlement, either the Portuguese colony of Delagoa Bay to the north, or the Dutch colony of the Cape to the south. There was clearly some further interaction with the natives, one of whom reportedly pointed to the north-east (presumably indicating Delagoa). One of the seamen, Joshua Glover, turned his back on his shipmates and walked away with the natives. Habberley would later claim that he was "disturbed in his mind," but we might now make a very different judgement.

"Xhosa and dogs resting on a hunt"
by Frederick Timpson l'Ons (Public Domain).
The Pondo are one of a number of
Xhosa-speaking peoples on the
eastern coast of what is now South Africa.

On the 7th of August, Coxon addressed the crew. He insisted that they could reach the Cape on foot within 10-17 days. It was a fatal judgement: the Cape was 400 miles away, not the 250 miles that Coxon estimated. Inaccurate charts may have been partially to blame, but Delagoa was, in fact, much closer. They were allegedly harassed by the natives as they moved south: they did not offer serious violence, but they did plunder their supplies.

The terrain proved difficult, and some of the survivors were clearly fitter than others. Coxon decided to make camp with the sick mate, Logie, and 23 passengers, including Hosea. Shaw, Habberley and some of the fitter men went on. All of the captain's party subsequently died of starvation. Shaw sickened, and eventually Habberley was left alone. He was given food in several native kraals, but was expelled after he offended them. It seems that his mistake was to defecate in the cattle enclosure - he could hardly have known it, but he probably relieved himself on the grave of his host's father (the founder of a Pondo kraal was always buried in the cattle enclosure).

A typical Southern African kraal
in the 19th Century (Public Domain)

Habberley and a handful of other men did, eventually, reach the Cape Colony, having been reduced to eating the leather from their shoes. All of the passengers, men, women and children, perished. A subsequent expedition sent to discover what had happened to them found Joshua Glover (the man supposedly "disturbed in his mind") and another seaman, John Bryan (who had been left behind due to illness) living happily among the natives. Bryan was, by this stage, married to a Pondo woman, with whom he had two children.

The official East India Company report into the incident concluded that " ... in great part, their calamities seem to have arisen from want of management with the natives ... they treated the individuals that fell singly amongst them rather with kindness than with brutality." There was a suggestion that other passengers, including some of the women, may have survived in a similar way, but no conclusive evidence of this was ever found.


Mark Patton's novels, Undreamed Shores and An Accidental King, are published by Crooked Cat Publications, and can be purchased from Amazon UK or Amazon USA.

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Sunday, September 14, 2014

Richard I in the Holy Land

by Helena P. Schrader

A medieval depiction of Richard I of
England and King Philip II
of France during the Third Crusade

Richard I’s crusade to the Holy Land, 1190-1192, has often been criticized by historians.  First, it was hugely expensive, and Richard I resorted to a number of devious practices in order to finance it, including the sale of public offices and pressure that was little short of extortion.  Second, it took the king away from his kingdom for an extended period of time, during which his brother and the King of France plotted against him to the detriment of England and the rest of the Plantagenet territories.  Third, the rivalry and conflict over strategy during the crusade greatly exacerbated the tensions between Richard and Phillip of France, and Richard’s insult of the Duke of Austria led to the hostility of the latter that in turn resulted in Richard being held for ransom — again to great cost to Richard’s subjects. Thus, cumulatively, Richard’s crusade is viewed as being responsible for his long absence from his territories and a serious drain on the finances of his subjects.

To make matters worse, Richard singularly failed to achieve the objective of the crusade, which was the re-capture of Jerusalem and the restoration of the Holy City to Christian control. The fact that the crusading army came within just a few miles of Jerusalem only to retreat twice has further tarnished Richard’s reputation in history. In short, Richard sacrificed the prosperity of his own subjects and the security of his kingdom for “nothing.”

  The elusive goal: Jerusalem 

Aside from the fact that it is rather unfair to blame Richard for the treachery of his brother, the King of France and the Duke of Austria, his accomplishments in the Holy Land also need to be reassessed. As I pointed out in an earlier essay, Richard’s conquest of the Island of Cyprus enabled it to become the bread-basket and recruiting base of the remaining crusader states for a hundred years. Yet even more important, it protected the shipping lanes from Western Europe to the Near East, Egypt and Constantinople for more than 300 years. Cyprus was thus vital to the prosperity of the Italian city-states and played a major, if indirect, role in the flourishing of science, technology, philosophy and art that was to become known as the Renaissance.

But Richard’s accomplishments in the East did not end with the conquest of Cyprus. Richard’s role was decisive in re-capturing the critical port city of Acre from the Saracens. Acre had always been the principal gateway from the West to the Kingdom of Jerusalem and it was to remain the commercial heart of Western presence in the Holy Land for another hundred years.

The harbor of Acre as it appears today.

Nor did Richard’s accomplishments in the Holy Land end with the re-capture of Acre.  Within two years he had re-established Christian control over the entire coastline from Jaffa to Antioch. Although reduced to roughly ¼ of the territory held by the Latin Christians before the Battle of Hattin, the remnants of the crusader states in the Eastern Mediterranean kept the pilgrimage traffic alive and so fostered the exchange of goods and ideas and the development of naval resources so vital to Western economic prosperity and intellectual development — particularly for the Italian city-states.

So Richard I’s accomplishments in the Holy Land were far from insignificant economically and culturally. Nor should their pure military significance be under-estimated. Richard I transported an army of roughly 10,000 men across a vast distance in wooden ships powered by sail and oar. He then commanded a multi-national force composed not only of his own diverse subjects (English, Normans, Angevins, Gascons etc.) but of French, Flemish, Germans, Scandinavians and natives of the crusader kingdoms. He organized highly complex amphibious operations and logistical support for his forces in hostile terrain, and he beat the legendary Saladin in every single engagement in which they confronted each other. That is quite an accomplishment!

A medieval fresco depicting Richard
jousting with Saladin; although they faced
one another man-to-man, Richard was the
victor on every battlefield they contested.

It was largely Richard’s personal bravery in an almost endless series of engagements in the Holy Land that earned him his legendary fame, yet as David Miller points out in his sober analysis of Richard’s military capabilities, Richard the Lionheart: The Mighty Crusader, it was really Richard’s careful planning, exceptional logistical organization, and rational strategic thinking that set him apart from the bulk of his contemporaries. Richard I of England would never — never — have let his army march and camp without water nor have exposed his army to encirclement on a field of the enemy’s choosing as Guy de Lusignan did at the Battle of Hattin. Richard ensured that his troops — and his horses — always had enough supplies to be “fighting fit,” and he knew how to integrate infantry and cavalry so that the advantages of both could be utilized. Last but not least, he led by example, not just fighting at the forefront, but doing menial labor like building walls alongside the lowliest of his soldiers as well. That is what makes a great commander.

Without going into greater detail, it is fair to say that Richard was a superb soldier, a brilliant tactician, a sound strategist and a great military leader. He was also astonishingly adept at finance — as not only the financing of his extraordinary expedition across land and sea with 10,000 men shows, but the fact that he could convert his successes like Cyprus into cash as well. Richard remained solvent throughout the crusade, able to hire more men, mercenaries and even the knights of his rivals, while the latter went into debt.

Last but not least, Richard’s diplomatic skills should not be under-estimated.  Despite his ability to defeat Saladin militarily whenever he chose to fight, nothing could alter the fundamental imbalance of forces in the Holy Land. The decision not to capture Jerusalem was taken twice in council with representatives elected from all the contingents fighting under Richard’s command.  The decision was based on a sound assessment of the chances of holding Jerusalem once it had been seized.  Jerusalem was too far from the sea for Western naval superiority to be brought to bear, which meant that it could be cut off from supplies and reinforcements at any time. Richard argued, and persuaded his followers, that the capture of Jerusalem would be costly and short-lived because no sooner would the crusaders have gone home (as they all longed to do) than the city would fall again to the Saracens. Saladin knew this as well as Richard did, so it is a tribute to Richard’s skills as a diplomat that he managed to secure at least free, unmolested access to the Holy City for Christian pilgrims even after his departure.

In the final analysis, Richard may not be one of England’s greatest kings. Philip II, who could never match Richard in tactical and strategic competence much less courage on the battlefield, systematically defeated Richard and his heirs politically.  While Richard failed to expand his inheritance, John lost most of his father’s French territories to the Capets within a quarter century of Henry II’s death and even faced a French invasion of England in 1216.  It would be a century before an English King would again successfully lay claim to French soil under Edward III and his even more impressive son, Edward of Woodstock, the Black Prince. Yet Richard the Lionheart’s defense of the Holy Land and his success in stabilizing the situation and enabling a crusader presence in the Eastern Mediterranean until the 16th century was a major contribution to the development of Western civilization as we know it.

Furthermore, while contemporary historians deride the notion of “Good King Richard” from traditional Robin Hood lore, medieval man did remember him with affection.  His example of military prowess combined with judicious leadership and good rapport with his common soldiers had an impact on English perceptions of “good governance” that should not be under-estimated even if they are no longer politically correct.


Helena P. Schrader is the author of numerous works of history and historical fiction.  She holds a PhD in History from the University of Hamburg.  The first book in a three-part biographical novel of Balian d’Ibelin, who defended Jerusalem against Saladin in 1187 and was later one of Richard I’s envoys to Saladin, is now available for sale.  Read more at: or follow Helena’s blogs: Schrader’s Historical Fiction and Defending the Crusader Kingdoms.

Knight of Jerusalem
       A landless knight,
                   a leper king,
                              and the struggle for Jerusalem.

A Biographical Novel of Balian d’Ibelin
Book I