Tuesday, August 26, 2014

From Witches to Riches - a Story of Immorality

by Anna Belfrage

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Sometime around 1620, a boy was born in Suffolk, England, to a Puritan clergyman called John Hopkins. The little boy was named Matthew, had a number of older siblings and that’s about everything we know about this young man’s childhood. One must assume he had dreams of his future (even if his mother most definitely did not warble “Qué será,será” while smoothing his hair down) and there must have been days when he worried that future of his would be very short and stunted, what with the increasing tensions between King and Parliament.

Whatever the case, the first time Matthew Hopkins steps out of the sea of anonymity to properly greet us is in 1645, when he proudly introduces himself as a Witch-finder. A what? Yup, you heard the young man: he’s making a living finding witches.

To understand his choice of profession, one needs certain context: England at the time was in the throes of Civil War, Puritan factions instilled a rampaging fear of evil, and to further add spice to this particular soup, it wasn’t all that long ago since the previous king, James VI of Scotland and I of England, had presided over the infamous Berwick Witch Trials, emphatically stating that witches did exist and had to be fought with all possible means. This most learned (but also rather foolish) king even wrote a book about witches , a text young Matthew seems to have studied quite avidly.

Witches have been around for a long time. For primitive man, so much of what surrounded him was difficult to interpret as anything but magic, and it follows that if there is magic there are people who can use magic. Even to this day, a surprisingly large percentage of the world’s population remains convinced that witches and wizards exist, and the savvy person makes sure never to tread on said witches’ toes.

From a Christian perspective, witches did not exist – at least not initially. The early fathers of the Church may have been derogatory of women in general, blaming them for everything from excessive carnal desires to a weak intellect and a propensity to sin, but they rarely said anything about witches. In fact, the Church held it heretical to claim someone was a witch, as to do so was to give credence to Satan’s lies.

But things happened as they say, and on one hand the Church was fighting a battle against ancient superstitions that insisted witches existed, on the other the Holy Catholic Church was being beset by heretics. And somewhere along the line, someone was smart enough to combine the accusations of heresy with those of unnatural magic – take the downfall of the Knight Templars, for example.

The Inquisition, ever eager for more victims to sink its teeth into, started mumbling and grumbling about witches – and especially about the heretical aspects of witches, as these old crones per definition worshiped Satan. A couple of fanatic monks latched on, a malleable pope sighed and went with the flow, and by the close of the 15th century, the Holy Church had concluded that witches did exist – and had to be rooted out. A papal bull confirmed this was so, a detailed handbook in how to identify the evil creatures (Malleus Maleficarum or The Witch Hammer - the Latin is in feminine, presupposing witches are mostly female) had conveniently been written in 1487, and armed with both these documents the representatives of good set out to do away with evil. Hmm. Major hmm, as these supposedly evil people were often women who deviated somewhat from the norm or who earned their living as healers and midwives.

Over the coming two centuries, somewhere around 45 000 to 65 000 people were to be executed as witches – mostly based on their own confessions, extracted from them via torture. Many of these poor souls were burned alive, but in most cases they were hanged, or beheaded, or garrotted, or strangled, before they were burnt. I suppose we must consider this a mercy. In the cases where they were burnt, it was often the sin of heresy that had them being tied alive to the stake. The Holy Church deemed heresy a far graver sin than that of dabbling in magic.

In difference to most of Europe, England had an established judicial process that required there to be proof before anyone was found guilty of anything (I know: such a novel concept!). This in turn means that England has a relatively low number of convicted witches – estimates land around 500 people, all in all. Of these, 300 can be attributed to Matthew Hopkins, who obviously took to the role as Witch-finder as fish take to water.

Back to 1645 and Hopkins’ grand debut – and it was quite the coup, as young Matthew managed to have close to thirty people convicted and executed as witches in one fell swoop. I guess he did some high-fives while pocketing the sizeable amount of money he was paid for his services – and herein lies the key to our Matthew’s dark, corroded soul: he was greedy, and he had found a way to make very easy money!

In March of 1645, Hopkins went after one Elizabeth Clarke. A perfect victim, seeing as this lady’s mother had been hanged as a witch. At his insistence, Elizabeth was thrown into prison, and his subsequent interrogation had her confessing to everything – and naming five other women as witches.

So what did he do to this poor woman, to have her condemning herself to death by her own confession? Hopkins was a subtle man – and more than aware that torture was forbidden in England. Of course, “torture” is relative, and throwing someone naked into a dark cold room, beating them and leaving them without food or light could be considered torture. As would another of Hopkins’ favourite methods, namely sleep deprivation. The poor prisoner was constantly watched, and whenever they seemed about to nod off, they were hauled to their feet and made to walk until they were properly awake.

If this failed, Hopkins advocated tying people in a cross-legged position for well over twenty-four hours, after which he would have them walked up and down in their cells until their bare feet blistered and bled. Nice guy, huh? And then we have the humiliating process of “pricking” which involved shaving the poor victim of all their body hair and then repeatedly sinking a needle or other sharp object into the victim. Should Matthew hit upon a point that didn’t bleed – well, obviously the naked, terrified woman being inspected was a witch. How convenient if one should use a pricking implement where the blade could be retracted into the handle, thereby ensuring there was no blood.

Poor Elizabeth caved in. So did most of the other women apprehended, and at the subsequent trial in Chelmsford in July of 1645, thirty-two people were accused of being witches. Twenty-nine were condemned to hang, and for every witch found guilty, Hopkins pocketed twenty shillings – a huge amount of money when considering a labourer earned at most half a shilling a day.

With Chelmford, Hopkins reputation was made. While he was never appointed by Parliament – and in fact there were quite a number of people in various positions of power that objected to Hopkins – he proclaimed himself Witch-finder General and went on to make the lives of the unfortunate women living in East Anglia even more uncertain than they already were.

Not one to rest on his laurels, Hopkins leapt onwards and upwards, and at the following trials in Bury St Edmunds in August of 1645, he noted with glee that 18 people were hanged on the same day based on his testimony. Two were men. One of these men was close to seventy, a minister named John Lowes. After several nights of sleep deprivation, coupled with being chased back and forth in his cell until he collapsed only to be pulled back to his feet and be subjected to it all again, Mr Lowes broke down and confessed that yes, he was a witch that had even caused a ship to sink off Harwich. No one bothered to check if a ship had in fact sunk…

Hopkins was now unstoppable. Hundreds of women – and a handful of men – were arrested and subjected to his patented forms of interrogation. If everything else failed, Hopkins recommended the “swimming” test, whereby the person was tied up and thrown into the water. If the person floated they were guilty. If they sank, they were not. Most people float – at least initially – when thrown in water. And once they start sinking, chances are they’re already more dead than alive… Hopkins, however, hedged his bets, and had ropes attached to the victim’s waist – to save them if they sank, he said, but just as likely his accomplices knew to use the rope to make sure the person “floated”.

Throughout 1646, Matthew Hopkins hauled one person after another to the gallows. At times, he was fortunate enough to see up to twenty people hang simultaneously, at others he had to content himself with only the single dead woman.

Obviously, Hopkins had a giant streak of sadism in him. Plus he rather liked the wealth he was amassing. And when people started questioning his methods he was very affronted, which was why he published a little pamphlet called Discovery of Witches in 1647, describing what he did and why. Some were less than impressed, and as the outraged voices of reason began to gain the upper hand, Matthew Hopkins found it wise to slip back into the obscurity from whence he came.

It is believed Hopkins died in 1647. Church records support that assumption. Some people hope that the legend by which he met his death at an angry mob who submitted him to his swimming test is true. Sadly, I am more prone to believe the version whereby he died in his bed of consumption, having coughed his lungs to pieces over several consecutive months. Whatever the case, I don’t think he was much missed.

In Revenge and Retribution, my main character, Alex Graham, faces accusations of being a witch. No wonder she is more than unnerved when she hears this. Just the thought of being subjected to one more humiliating inspection after the other – plus the fear that she might be found guilty – must have led to an endless number of sleepless nights!


Anna Belfrage is the successful author of six published books, all of them part of The Graham Saga. Set in 17th century Scotland, Virginia and Maryland, The Graham Saga 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 are available on Amazon US,  Amazon UK, or wherever else good books are sold.

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 or on FB

Monday, August 25, 2014

The Horseracing Craze

by Sue Millard

Was there ever a time when men didn’t want to compete against each other to see who’d got the biggest, the fastest, whatever? As soon as men had enough horses to spare from necessary work and transport, they surely must have tested their speed against each other.

We may not know when horseracing itself began, but horses were first domesticated in Kazakhstan about 6,000 years ago http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-17943974 so to my mind, if men had domesticated horses then, that’s probably how old horseracing is!


Horses were definitely in use here before Julius Caesar arrived – he commented on the British charioteers’ nimbleness and daring in battle – but it seems it was those pesky Romans who commercialized the idea of racing in Britain. They built at least one circus or hippodrome where chariot races could take place. The one excavated in Essex in 2011 is the first ever discovered in Britain. http://www.culture24.org.uk/history-and-heritage/time/roman/art25464


There are still placenames that describe racecourses – “Hesket” refers back to Norse hesta-skaeth, the place where the stallions (hesta) run. It may only have been a smooth stretch of land where horses were shown off to potential buyers (what the gipsy boys at Appleby Fair would call “the flashing lane”!) but it’s unlikely such a tempting bit of grassland wouldn’t also be used as an impromptu racecourse.


In the middle ages the broad grassy space known as Smooth Field was just outside London Wall. William Fitzstephen described in 1171 how “every Friday there is a celebrated rendezvous of fine horses to be sold” and he listed all the different kinds he saw, but he didn’t mention any kind of horse purely for racing. Does that suggest no races were taking place? Perhaps it only means racing was impromptu, not regulated or organised.

Organised races

“Scratch” or informal races must have been common wherever men with horses got together. Trotting races and galloping races took place without any advertisement or race card in areas such as the Lake District until the middle of the 19th century. The first records of organised races, however, seem to date from the mid-16th century.

The first recorded race at Chester on the Roodee was held on 9 February 1539, in the reign of Henry VIII. There was an annual race on Shrove Tuesday – the Tuesday before the start of Lent, after which such frivolity would have been frowned upon until Easter – and from 1609 the race was held on St George's Day (23 April). The Chester Goldsmith Company supplied a silver bell and in 1744 a gold cup was awarded annually by the Grosvenor family. In keeping with the tradition of ancient races, the Gold Cup is still one for stayers, being run over 2 miles 2 ½ furlongs.

Carlisle is the home of the Carlisle Bell, one of the oldest horse races still in existence. There are two bells. The larger one, 2 ½ inches in diameter, was donated by Lady Dacre in 1559 and bears the inscription: The sweftes horse thes bel to tak for mi lade Daker sake (The swiftest horse this bell to take for my lady Dacre's sake) and the second, smaller bell is inscribed 1599 H.B.M.C. This race, however, is much shorter in modern times, being only a distance of 1 mile.


King James I

Newmarket already had a small reputation for horse racing when James I established himself there in 1605. The King took a lease on The Griffin inn for £100 a year. Then, in 1608, he decided to buy it for the sum of £400. Clearly he was very keen to have somewhere to hold court when he went racing! In 1609 he bought land in the High Street. http://www.newmarketracecourses.co.uk/about-the-home-of-racing/newmarket-history/james-i-discovers-newmarket/

King Charles II

Peter Tillemans - The Round Course at Newmarket,
Cambridgeshire, Preparing for the King's Plate
Google Art Project.
Charles II was also a keen horseracing fan, and was probably a very good horseman since he rode his own horses and won with them (I wonder whether anyone ever dared to beat him?) He set up the Newmarket Plate in 1665: “in the 17th year of the Reign of King Charles the Second, which Plate is to be rode for yearly the second Thursday in October, for ever, Anno Dom. 1666.” Charles won the Plate on two occasions, 1671 and 1675 when “Blew Capp” was the horse he rode. The distance was, and is, 3 miles 6 furlongs.

Royal Ascot

Queen Anne

Queen Anne, who loved horses, riding and hunting, raced her own horses at Newmarket and elsewhere. In 1711 she realised that Ascot Heath, where the royal hounds were kennelled, was an ideal location for a racecourse. The Queen and her courtiers attended the opening day, a Saturday in August, which began with a race for a purse of 50 guineas. Seven horses took part.

The Ascot Gold Cup goes back to 1807 when the race was watched by George III and Queen Charlotte.  Again, this is a race for “stayers” being run over 2 miles and a half.

It was George IV in 1825 who began the carriage procession up the course and made Royal Ascot a key event of the aristocratic social season.   http://www.historytoday.com/richard-cavendish/royal-ascot%E2%80%99s-first-day

Racing and Times of Year

Horseracing “on the flat” has retained much of the aristocratic glamour that has surrounded it in history. Partly this is because it traditionally takes place in summer, when good weather makes it easy for people to dress up without fear of being drenched.

“Jump” racing on the other hand, under National Hunt Rules, takes place from autumn to late spring, with the less formal Point-to-Point racing from December to June. More about these in another post!


Sue Millard is the author of “Coachman”, a historical novel set in 1838, and a modern novel about steeplechasing, “Against the Odds”, to which she is currently writing a sequel.
Sue Millard, Jackdaw E Books

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Giveaway: Darling of Kings by P.J. Womack

P.J. Womack is giving away a signed print copy of Darling of Kings within the UK. You can read about the book HERE. Please comment below and leave contact information to enter the drawing.

Venison Pie and Honey Cakes

by Octavia Randolph

Run before you become a pie!
Woodcut from Tubervile’s Boke (sic) of Hunting, 1576

Writing about food and cooking and eating in my novels has always been a pleasure, one I hope it has been to read as well. Eating in Britain in the late ninth century, the age of The Circle of Ceridwen Saga, was circumscribed by at least two factors: The limited ability to preserve any foodstuffs for long, and the comparatively narrow range of edibles available to our ninth century forefathers and foremothers. Think about it: not only were there no out-of season tomatoes; there were no tomatoes at all, as these New World natives had to wait until the Conquistadors of the early 16th century carried them back to Europe from the mountain foothills of South America. The same goes with that later European staple, the potato, brought back to Europe from the Incan empire in the later 16th century. Ditto maize, the American corn. Rice, native to Asia and parts of Africa, was also largely unknown in Europe until its use and cultivation spread from Sicily northward beginning in the 15th century. (The third factor, that of economics, we will address below.)

Yet even without such common foodstuffs as tomatoes, potatoes, and rice there was a perhaps surprising variety in the staples that were eaten. The growing of grain was vitally important, for grains were used not only in the baking of bread (which the poor oftentimes subsisted on) but served as the thickening base for nearly every kind of stew-like browis, pottage, or frumenty. Bread even gives us the words for “Lady” and “Lord”, for the Old English hlæfdige, ‘kneader of bread’, became Lady, and hlafward, ‘keeper of the bread’, became Lord.

And grains such as wheat, barley, rye, and oats were the basis for the brewing of ale. (Brewing used malted grains; grains such as barley which had been air dried, sprouted, then oven-dried.) Wheaten bread graced the tables of the high-born; coarser loaves of oat, barley, and rye (oftentimes adulterated with less-palatable seeds and even ground tree bark) fed the poor. We need to recall that 9th century ears of grain were far smaller than their modern counterparts which have been bred over many generations for large, plump, full heads.

Similarly, some domestic animals were smaller than those today. Many breeds of chickens were the size of today’s bantam fowl, their eggs correspondingly smaller. Yet certain wild animals were larger. Solitary and very ill-tempered wild bulls roamed the hills beyond London as late as the 12th century. Wild boars were fierce, tough, and savvy fighters, claiming many a dog and huntsman with their sharp tusks.

Most diets were by necessity plant-based, and for the majority of folk meat was used sparingly as a flavouring agent. The slaughtering and roasting of a fatted calf or even an entire oxen which I depict in celebratory feasts were rare occasions even for the rich. Most meat was boiled or fried to capture every drop of precious fat and flavour; and roasting large animals consumed huge amounts of firewood. This is why the common morning and evening meal was browis, a combination of oats or barley with some meat broth, a kind of hearty porridge. This could be enlivened with the common vegetables of the day: shredded or cubed turnips, parsnips, radishes, beets, carrots and its relation, the little known today skirrets, onions, cabbage, and peas.

Skirrets, from the Restoration Seeds catalogue

Greens such as lamb’s lettuce, docks, parsley, purslane, bugloss, mallows, mints, and leeks were grown, gathered, and enjoyed in season, as were tonic Spring teas such as that made from the young leaves of the birch tree. Tansy leaves were ground in a mortar and pestle and stirred into beaten eggs and cooked like a frittata or omelette (just add Ham for a breakfast suitable for Dr. Seuss). Beans, chick-peas, and lentils were also grown during the period.

Butter, when available, was stirred into the browis to enrich it, and bread-and-butter is an ages-old enjoyment. Milk spoils quickly and went almost at once into butter or soft cheeses. Ewes’ milk was commonly used for milk and to make both butter and cheese. The use of rennet (derived from the vell, or salted stomach lining, of calves) was understood, and that invaluable commodity salt was also used to cure and preserve cheese, as well as added to butter to increase its keeping qualities.

Ceramic floor tile from Westminster Abbey depicting fish,
a sustaining food source for the resident monks

Regarding fish and shellfish, the many fast days of the early Church meant that even those who could afford meat often ate fish. (Lent was particularly challenging, as not even eggs could be eaten, and at a time of year when egg-laying was on the rise, and folk were hungry for any source of protein.) Certain types of fish which were wildly popular then have fallen out of favour – lampreys, and the river eel, for example. Baby eels were so relished that taxes and rent were paid in them. Fish were captured through the use of weirs (underwater traps consisting of stakes and netting), nets cast from boats, line fishing, and simply dipping a hooped fishing net into likely waters.

Successful line fishing, from the Boke (sic)
of St Albans. Equipment and technique could
not have changed much between the
9th and the 15th century.

All manner of things were collected or dug at low tide: winkles, whelks, sea snails, oysters (and Anglo-Saxon England was a rich source of pearls), mussels, clams, crayfish, crab. And the occasional leviathan washed ashore as well.

A stranded whale became the property of the king,
especially the tongue, considered a delicacy.

Fresh meat needed to be consumed quickly, and was most abundant during the slaughter month of Blodmonath,”blood-month”, November, when livestock not strong or fit enough to be kept over Winter on limited fodder was killed and consumed in an orgy of feasting, the surplus being laid up for the lean months ahead. Meats were smoked, dried, salted, or laid up in brine (highly salted water). Farm animals were typically lean, and fat was highly prized. Sheep, cattle, goats, pigs, deer, and wild birds were all consumed by those who had the means to indulge; but almost every family kept a few hen-fowl and a pig, that invaluable garbage-disposal which assured that nothing at all went to waste. Bacon was as cherished then as it is now. Anglo-Saxons enjoyed the right to hunt upon their own lands; it was not until the advent of the Normans following the disaster of 1066 that all forest game became the property of the King and his henchmen. Poachers were regularly blinded or had their hands cut off in punishment. But let us turn our attention to something more pleasant: Sweets.

Natural sweeteners were few and far between. Fruits, fresh or dried, provided longed-for sweetness in earlier centuries, as did the naturally sweet vegetables parsnips, carrots, and skirrets. (But do remember that both parsnips and carrots have been bred to be as sweet as they are now.) Sugar from cane, grown originally in the tropical climes of Southeast Asia, would not spread to Britain until the 17th century slave plantations of the Caribbean produced cane in abundance; prior to this it was a luxury item on elite Elizabethan tables, consumed in lump form. Honey, beloved by all, was a treat, and in many parts a valuable trade commodity. Beeswax was just as valued for the naturally scented and clean-burning tapers that could be made from it, far superior to the ill-smelling and smoky tallow candles, made from animal fat, that the less-well-off used. (The truly poor had neither, and either sat in darkness – surely encouraging an ‘early to bed’ ethos – or used rush torches.) Honey was also the source of the potent and delicious alcoholic drink mead, made using the “washed” honey comb. Honey’s preservative qualities were understood, and it was used, where available, to slather upon meat to keep it fresh longer, just as it was slathered on burns to soothe them. Honey has a natural antiseptic property which could not have been understood but was none the less known.

Bees heading out of their skeps, made by
plaiting and sewing together straw coils.

Citrus, indispensable to us today, was unknown to our Anglo-Saxon forebears, but other fruit happily abounded: apples, pears, quinces, medlars, cherries, stone fruits like plums, all kinds of grapes and berries. Nutmeats such as walnuts and chestnuts were grown and gathered, and provided a health-some and hearty source of vegetable fat and protein.

Spices were fabulously valuable; the early 8th century English cleric the Venerable Bede died owning a small store of black pepper corns, which he carefully left to the grateful brother-monk recipients in his will. (Look kindly on that pepper mill when next you enter your own kitchen…it holds what was once a fortune!) Nearly all spices were held to have medicinal as well as culinary uses, increasingly their usefulness and value.

And now, two recipes which have graced the tables in The Circle of Ceridwen Saga. Don’t worry, I’ve eaten them myself.

Venison Pie with Juniper Berries 
The very same pie that Gunnvor the cook bakes up for Ceridwen 

Oven to 350 F/ 180C/ Gas mark 4

Your favourite pie crust for a two crust pie
12 oz (340 grams, or about 2 cups) cooked ground venison, chicken, turkey, or beef, well drained; (or seasoned tofu crumbles, which is what I use, being vegetarian)
¾ cup sliced carrots
1 Tbsp raisins, chopped
3 juniper berries, crushed slightly in a mortar and pestle
Small sprig each of fresh rosemary and thyme, stems removed
A grinding of black pepper (if you are rich)
1 egg, beaten into ½ cup of ale (or apple juice, or meat broth)

Roll out your pie dough and divide in half. Line a 9” pie plate with one crust, or use two 5” diameter oven-proof ramekins. In a medium size bowl combine the crumbled protein, carrots, raisins, juniper berries, herbs, and pepper. Pour the ale into a small bowl and beat the egg into it with a whisk. Add to protein/vegetable mixture and blend. Spoon into pie pan or ramekins, and top with top crust. Bake in bottom third of oven for 35 minutes or until crust is light golden brown. Delicious warm or at room temperature. Serves four hearty appetites.

Honey Cakes  
Very easy to make, and addictive. Luckily Tindr is always glad to share his honey with friends.

Oven to 350 F/ 180C/ Gas mark 4

Sift together 2 cups flour, 1 teaspoon salt, and 3 teaspoons baking powder. Dribble 5 tablespoons of honey over this, then drop in 4 tablespoons of sweet butter, cut into small pieces. Toss so that the honey is covered by the flour mixture, then using your fingertips, rub the honey-butter into the flour so it is crumbly. (It will not be sticky – yet). Beat 2 eggs into ½ cup cream, and add to bowl; stir. (It will be sticky now.) Turn out onto generously floured board, sprinkle with more flour, and pat to about ½” – ¾” thickness. Using a drinking glass, cut into rounds, and lay on parchment-paper lined baking sheet. Bake for 12-15 minutes, until light golden brown and firm. Enjoy with butter, jam, or more honey. Makes 7 to 9, depending on your drinking glass.

Wish to dig deeper in the food lore of earlier times? Food and Drink in Britain from the Stone Age to the 19th Century by C. Anne Wilson is a highly readable book you are certain to enjoy.


Octavia Randolph is the author of the Best Selling four volume The Circle of Ceridwen Saga. She is happy to announce the publication of her novella about Lady Godiva, Ride, available now and Free to Kindle Unlimited Members.

Circle of Ceridwen

Saturday, August 23, 2014

The Animals of Cottage and Castle: Geese

by Katherine Ashe

Why Mother Goose? Well, those who live with geese know them to be thoughtful mothers, solicitous of their young and observant of all that they consider the proprieties. As for telling stories… who can tell?

Geese have been domesticated from wild geese in nearly all parts of the world. They provide food, their eggs and meat are considered a delicacy, their down is used to stuff pillows, mattresses and coverlets, and their wing feathers provided pens for ink for over a thousand years. But they also are raised for their abilities as watch-animals and weed and insect eaters.

In ancient Egypt, the god Amun was believed to have been hatched from a goose egg. And Ptah was sometimes portrayed as a goose. On the other hand, Egyptians were keen observers of goose behavior in its actual manifestations:

“You are worse than the goose of the shore that is busy with mischief. It spends the summer destroying the dates, the winter destroying the seed-grain. It spends the balance of the year in pursuit of the cultivators.” Papyrus Lansing; M. Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature, Vol.2 p.169, with thanks to Andre Dollinger)

“In pursuit of the cultivators…” Flapping their wings as they go, geese can outrun almost anyone and, given their long necks, the fleeing human’s bottom is just the right height for the goose to pinch. Geese as guard animals are quite effective, but they may also chase people just for the fun of it.

The Egyptians were not the only ones to hold geese in reverent regard. The goose was the sacred bird of the Roman goddess Juno, and a flock dedicated to her inhabited the Capitoline Hill. During the first of Rome’s battles with the Gauls, in 390-87 BC, the Roman army was badly defeated and sent a messenger into the besieged city. The Gauls, observing the hidden route taken by the messenger up the cliff of the Capitoline, stealthily followed and would have succeeded in entering and sacking the city but for the furious squawks of alarm set up by Juno’s birds. Ever after, the Capitoline Geese were looked upon as the saviors of Rome.

It was perhaps inevitable that, with the decline of ancient Egypt and Rome, the goose would be demoted strictly to the barnyard, tolerated, even respected, but valued chiefly as the finest of cottagers’ holiday fare. For while Scrooge buys a turkey for the Crachits, it’s a traditional English goose Mrs. Crachit is having roasted for the Christmas feast. While the lord of the manor might celebrate the festive day with roast boar’s head, swan and peacock pie, nearly every cottager and city dweller, however poor, would manage to obtain a Christmas goose.

We’re accustomed to the idea of cottages with hearths and beehive ovens, but most of the poorer folk in Britain’s cities, even if they had hearths, had no ovens. The goose would be gotten pre-cooked or cooked to order by the local baker. Take-out is no modern invention – it was the common food of poor city folk from ancient times.

Geese, domesticated all over the Eurasian continent, have been developed into over a hundred breeds of which the African, American Buff, Chinese, Emden and Toulouse are now the most popular. But the sort common in Britain’s past centuries was what is now known as the Gray Back. Breed names are relatively modern, belonging to the rise of domestic animal breeding societies in the 19th century. The goose of cottage or castle yard was simply the grey goose.


Care of a flock of geese was children’s work – well behaved children who knew better than to tease their charges. It’s possible to befriend geese and have them as protective of you as they are of members of their own flock. So a gentle child might do well tending geese, and even herding them with the aid of a shepherd’s crook to grab the leg of a straying goose and bring it back to its march to market. We had a flock of Toulouse geese so fond of us that, on seeing us they would flap their wings in a wild dash to greet us, then set to work untying our shoelaces. They liked to tug on things and, embarrassingly, were deft at unfastening buttons.

Apart from providing meat and guarding the premises, geese can do a few other chores. The Shetland goose has the particular virtue of eating leeches and thus making ponds safer for livestock and swimmers. Weeder Geese do just that. Set them loose on a lawn and they’ll remove the weeds for you. Any number of breeds will do weeding and the term “weeder goose” is probably modern. If you’re thinking of replacing lawn chemicals with geese – go for it, but do watch for the fertilizing contributions the geese will leave underfoot.

Geese will pair off and mate for life. And parenting is the passion of a goose’s heart. Although they spend most of their time on land, geese must have a body of water in which to mate. Like other birds, they build nests (or make their own improvements to nesting boxes) to shelter their eggs. Geese in Britain lay their eggs in March or April and a goose can incubate 15 or more eggs. Unlike hens, which commonly lay eggs all year but usually one egg every other day, a goose can lay four or more eggs in a day, collecting her clutch fairly quickly. Her brooding time, sitting on them, gently turning them, will last for 28 to 35 days and those goslings that hatch first will have to wait – up to three days -- until mother considers the hatching complete and leads her brood off the nest to eat and drink.

Are geese stupid? Some individuals certainly seem to be. Maggie, a Buff goose of ours, welcomed a skunk into her nest and incubated the skunk as it ate her eggs. She never successfully hatched any offspring. Her gander, Bertie, seemed eager to have progeny. We had a small flock of store-bought fluffy yellow ducklings that had reached sufficient maturity to be set out in a pen of their own in the barn. Maggie and Bertie came in and discovered the ducklings. Bertie rushed to them, bending his neck over them with the greatest of gentle interest. Maggie approached cautiously, took one look at the ducklings, shook her head (truly) and strode away in what seemed very like disgust. Bertie watched her go, gazed back at the fluffy ducklings and slowly dragged himself away from them. And he ignored them ever after. (I relate the facts – if you too had seen this you wouldn’t say I’m anthropomorphizing.)

Unlike wild geese, which migrate great distances and are powerful fliers, mature domestic geese are all but land-bound. A young Toulouse gander joined a flock of migrating Canada Geese and spent the summer with them, but when the Canada Geese flew south for the winter the Toulouse was left by himself, no longer able to fly. (This lone gander, on the Black River in New Jersey, received my flock of six Toulouse females, flapping his wings and treading the water in what looked very like joy. In response, my six geese curved their necks gracefully, formed a line and swam to him. He then led the line of geese up and down the part of the river that was his home.)

Back to Mother Goose. Who or what is she? Charles Perrault in 1695 published his collection of fairy tales under the title, Contes de Ma Mère l'Oye or Tales of My Mother Goose, but Mere l’Oye is mentioned as the already well known purveyor of fairy tales in France as early as 1626. In 1729, an English translation of Perrault's collection was published by Robert Samber under the title Histories or Tales of Past Times Told by Mother Goose. Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Puss in Boots and Little Red Riding Hood are the most familiar of these tales. The origins of the stories Perrault collected are not necessarily French. For example, there are those who hold that Cinderella is really a story of King Lear’s daughter Cordelia. But we stray far from geese in the tempting topic of fairy tales.

Why a goose? A goose will murmur to her goslings and perhaps this suggests to an imaginative mind that she’s telling them stories. The matronly figure wrapped in a shawl and with a tall hat, familiar in children’s book illustrations, suggests the 17th century costume of English Puritans. There is a breed called Pilgrim Geese.

In the pantomime Harlequin and Mother Goose, or, The Golden Egg, performed at the Drury Lane Theater in 1806–07, Mother Goose has magical powers. But these have been in her repertoire at least since Perrault’s collection of stories and rhymes was first published. Here she is in the only old rhyme that is actually about her -- obviously predating the time when geese were bred to gain such weight they could no longer fly:

Old Mother Goose,
When she wanted to wander,
Would ride through the air
On a very fine gander.
Jack's mother came in,
And caught the goose soon,
And mounting its back,
Flew up to the moon.


Katherine Ashe is the author of the Montfort series on the life of Simon de Montfort, the founder of England’s Parliament.

Friday, August 22, 2014

The Unsung Heroines of Bannockburn

by Glen Craney

When Robert Bruce seized the Scottish crown in the spring of 1306, his new queen consort was said to have volunteered a dire prediction on his odds for surviving the year: A summer king you may be, but a winter king, no.

Berwick Panorama - Copyright Glen Craney

Some historians have questioned if Elizabeth de Burgh—the Irish daughter of the Earl of Ulster, an ally of Edward I of England—ever delivered that marital scolding. Others have surmised that, if she did, she was likely voicing public skepticism about Robert’s legitimacy in order to curry favor with her former Plantagenet benefactors should the Bruce clan fail in its dangerous game of thrones.

There's another interpretation possible, one that I find more persuasive: The strong-willed Elizabeth may have been trying to shame and goad her wavering husband—who no doubt felt some remorse for his complicity in the murder of rival John Comyn—to remain resolute under the threat of an inevitable English retaliation.

Elizabeth de Burgh
Wikimedia Commons
Elizabeth has been portrayed as fraught with doubt and regret during those frenzied first weeks of Robert’s kingship. This should come as no surprise. After all, the shade cast by Scotland’s warrior statuary has long overshadowed the crucial role its women played in the wars of independence. Even the venerable Robert Burns, in his famous martial ballad Scots What Hae, while exhorting the nation's "sons in servile chains" to choose victory or a gory bed, failed to extend that honor to its daughters who were also languishing in English prisons.

This year marks the 700th anniversary of the battle of Bannockburn, and a popular pastime of those with Scot ancestry is identifying a favorite hero of that era. The Bruce and William Wallace—who did not live to see his crushing defeat at Falkirk avenged—get many votes, as does James Douglas, the feared Borders raider. Thomas Randolph and Angus Og MacDonald garner their share of acclaim, too.

None can deny the contributions made by these Scot patriots, but their victory on the vales below the ramparts of Stirling Castle could not have been gained without the support of distant rebels too often forgotten: the Scot women who languished in English prisons or suffered the brunt of the oppressive English occupation. In fact, I would argue that throughout his life, Robert Bruce owed his unlikely success, first and foremost, to his remarkable good fortune with women. At his many moments of direst need, a courageous Scot lass or matron always seemed to appear just in the nick to salvage his sinking destiny or accept a cruel sacrifice for his survival.

If not for Christina of Gamoran, for example, Bannockburn would never have been fought. During Robert's retreat west after being ambushed at Methven, the influential Isles noblewoman nursed him back to strength during that bleak winter into 1307 and may have shared her bed with him. Risking English reprisals, she also supplied him with the men and galleys he needed for his return invasion of the mainland in the spring.

Then, according to the tradition of the McKees clan, a poor Galloway widow found Robert half-starved and on the run after his botched landing at Turnberry. The crone took him into her wilderness hut and, discovering his identity only after feeding him, sent her three surviving sons to join him on his seemingly doomed campaign to recover his realm.

Later in his life, Robert worried over the survival of his direct male bloodline. Returned from eight years of captivity in England, Elizabeth feared she could no longer bear children after giving birth to two daughters. Yet just three years before her death, she came to Robert’s rescue by delivering him a son. The arrival of David II was heralded as a miracle that, at least for the moment, would save the kingdom from another ruinous war.

Marjorie Bruce, Robert’s star-crossed daughter by his first wife, also endured a harsh imprisonment in England. Released after Bannockburn, Marjorie was married off to a Stewart and, while pregnant, suffered a violent fall from a horse. Minutes before dying, she gave birth prematurely to Robert II, who would firm his grandfather’s royal line and succeed David II. With her short life filled with so much misery and despair, poor Marjorie should be remembered as no less a martyr for Scotland than Wallace.

Marjorie Bruce's tomb
Wikimedia Commons

There are other such heroines, including Robert’s suffering sisters, Mary and Christina, but I have saved my favorite for last.

Robert Bruce crowned by the Countess of Buchan
Exhibit at Edinburgh Castle
Wikimedia Commons license
An ancient Caledonian law gave the Clan MacDuff the privilege of placing the crown on the head of a new king. At the time, the MacDuffs were allied with the Comyns, enemies of the Bruces. Yet Isabelle MacDuff, the Countess of Buchan, defied her Comyn husband and rushed to Scone to perform the sacred deed for Robert in a second ceremony on Moot Hill.

Isabelle MacDuff imprisoned
in the cage at Berwick.

Copyright Andy Hillhouse
English chroniclers at the time suspected that Isabelle, a distant kinswoman of the Bruces, must have been one of Robert’s secret mistresses. Outraged by her betrayal of the loyalty oath that the MacDuffs and Comyns had given him, Edward Longshanks ordered Isabelle tracked down and captured. Cornered with the other Bruce women in the sanctuary kirk at Tain, she was cruelly punished by being exposed for years in an iron cage hung from the ramparts of Berwick Castle.

Why did Isabelle risk her life to crown Robert Bruce? What happened to her during that brutish captivity? And why did so many brave women follow her lead to take up the Bruce’s cause? I unveil my theories about these mysteries and more in my latest release: The Spider and the Stone: A Novel of Scotland’s Black Douglas.

St. Duthac's sanctuary at Tain,
where Isabelle MacDuff and the
Bruce women were captured. 

(Author photo)


Inspired by a headstrong lass from Fife, a frail, dark-skinned boy named James Douglas defies three Plantagenet kings and champions the cause of his friend, Robert Bruce, to lead the armies to the bloody field of Bannockburn. An epic of star-crossed love and heroic sacrifice during the 14th century Scottish wars of independence. Amazon US   Amazon UK    Amazon CA

Glen Craney is a novelist, screenwriter, journalist, and lawyer. A three-time finalist for Foreword Reviews Book-of-the-Year Award, his historical fiction has taken readers to Occitania during the Albigensian Crusade, to the Scotland of Robert Bruce, to Portugal during the Age of Discovery, to the trenches of France during World War I, and to the American Hoovervilles of the Great Depression. More about his writing can be found at www.glencraney.com.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Apple Peels and Snails to Snare a Husband in the Eighteenth Century?

by Diane Scott Lewis

Folklore abounds in the villages of England around the single girl’s search for a husband—as in the eighteenth century marriage was what most young women had to look forward to, or they’d be ridiculed and regulated to spinsters, farmed out as governesses, or forced to live on the charity of their family.

Most of these search-for-true-love customs revolved around the seasons.

At the ruined Abbey of Cerne Abbas in Dorsetshire, girls flocked around the wishing-well in all seasons. To obtain their heart’s desire, they’d pluck a leaf from a nearby laurel bush, make a cup of it, dip this in the well, then turn and face the church. The girl would then "wish" for presumably a man she already has in mind, but must keep this wish a secret or it wouldn’t come true.

Other customs included, in Somersetshire on May Day Eve or St. John’s Eve, a lass putting a snail on a pewter plate. As the snail slithered across the plate it would mark out the future husband’s initials.

On another ritual to this end, writer Daniel Defoe remarked by saying: "I hope that the next twenty-ninth of June, which is St. John the Baptist’s Day, I shall not see the pastures adjacent to the metropolis thronged as they were the last year with well-dressed young ladies crawling up and down upon their knees as if they were a parcel of weeders, when all the business is to hunt superstitiously after a coal under the root of a plantain to put under their heads that night that they may dream who should be their husbands."

Throwing an apple peel over the left shoulder was also employed in the hopes the paring would fall into the shape of the future husband’s initials. When done on St. Simon and St. Jude’s Day, the girls would recite the following rhyme as they tossed the peel: St. Simon and St. Jude, on you I intrude, By this paring I hold to discover, without any delay please tell me this day, the first letter of him, my true lover.

On St. John’s Eve, his flower, the St. John’s Wort, would be hung over doors and windows to keep off evil spirits, and the girls who weren’t off searching for snails in the pastures would be preparing the dumb cake. Two girls made the cake, two baked it, and two broke it. A third person would put the cake pieces under the pillows of the other six. This entire ritual must be performed in dead silence-or it would fail. The girls would then go to bed to dream of their future husbands.

On the eve of St. Mary Magdalene’s Day, a spring of rosemary would be dipped into a mixture of wine, rum, gin, vinegar, and water. The girls, who must be under twenty-one, fastened the sprigs to their gowns, drink three sips of the concoction, then would go to sleep in silence and dream of future husbands.

On Halloween, a girl going out alone might meet her true lover. One tale has it that a young servant-maid who went out for this purpose encountered her master coming home from market instead of a single boy. She ran home to tell her mistress, who was already ill. The mistress implored the maid to be kind to her children, then this wife died. Later on, the master did marry his serving-maid.

Myths and customs were long a part of village life when it came to match-making.

In my novel, Ring of Stone, which takes place in eighteenth-century Cornwall, my heroine Rose will experience magic on All Hallows Eve and glimpse her future husband-a most inappropriate man-over her shoulder.


For more on Diane Scott Lewis’s novels, visit her website: http://www.dianescottlewis.org

Source: English Country Life in the Eighteenth Century, by Rosamond Bayne-Powell, 1935.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

WWII: History or Too Close to the Present?

by Elisabeth Marrion

Why write about World War II in the History section? When does the present stop and history start? 100 years, 150 or as little as 50 years. Who decides?

I have asked the same question on relevant Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads and Linkedin sites. The common belief is, yes World War II is now classed as History.

Strange that, because in World War II History we can still ask some of the people who experienced it first-hand. No need to only rely on the internet search engines, libraries or reference books. Even at school if the history teachers are so inclined he or she could still invite a member of the public for a live debate. There are many who would love to share their stories, I am quite sure. I hope we don’t miss the only chance we have and go right ahead. Ask them: ‘What was it like where you lived? Did you run and hide in an air raid shelter just like Annie and her family did in Liverpool Connection? Your building--was it destroyed? What about rationing? What about everyday life? Was there such a thing? Did you go to school? Were you evacuated?' And the biggest question of them all, and yes we can still ask this directly today although it is 70 years since end of the war, 'Did you go to war? Did you have to fight?’

My novels are all about that time in our history. It is a time still close to me although I was born in 1948. But it is more complicated than that. My mother was a German war widow, her husband, a young officer, fighting under Field Marshal Rommel. My father however, was a Lieutenant in the RAF.

Liverpool Blitz: This is the name now given to the air raids carried out on the town. It was the heaviest bombed town outside London with a total number of 4,000 lives lost. Second only to London which suffered a loss of 30,000.

The first air raid on Liverpool was carried out the night of 28/8/1940. Liverpool was attacked by one hundred and sixty bombers, and the raid continued for three further nights just when most families of evacuated children were debating whether they should come home. By now the mothers believed the government had acted too hastily with the order to send children from possible target areas to safety in the country. The attacks on Liverpool continued relentlessly for three months, the most memorable being the Christmas Blitz which started on the 22nd of December 1940. ~

“Is it a false alarm again?”
“This one is for real, Annie! Grace, give me your David. Come on you, hurry along now.”
“I can’t see anything”
“Yes, we can, look.”
A flush of bright light through the corridor window. They stopped in their tracks. The light was followed by an ear-splitting noise, and the building seemed to move.
“Hurry, Hurry, Hurry, to the shelter, now!” shouted the warden. Jeffrey and Grace ran past Annie and were already out of the door. Dorothy still clinging to her mam.
Outside on the right side, a fire was burning. The heat made Annie take a step back. She covered her mouth with her hand, trying to avoid choking.
“Dorothy. Run!” She managed to shout before she started to cough.
Aircraft noises drowned out Annie’s instructions. She hurried after Dorothy. A whistling sound, silence, then a massive boom, which seemed to be really close by. The earth shook under her feet, and Annie hit the ground, dropping Derek as she fell.
“Derek!” Nobody heard Annie’s cry for help. She was alone, flat on the ground, unable to move. From fear or shock, she did not know, but her legs refused to carry her weight. Burning rubble near to where Derek had fallen.

My father’s (Joseph) first assignment in England (after a spell in Hong Kong) was manning one of the towers in July 1940 when planes were spotted off the channel and Portsmouth harbour was under attack. Later he was on one of the crews of 227 Lancasters and 8 Mosquito bombers on a raid on Hildesheim (my home town). It was destroyed in a 15 minute raid on the 22nd of March 1945. My mother (Hilde) on the ground, ran for her life, trying to protect her family and friends. They survived.
After the end of the war, only just over one month later, Joseph volunteered to be stationed there since it was now in the British Zone. He helped in rebuilding the town where met my mother.

“Have you seen that English soldier outside Hilde?”
“What soldier?”
“The one across the road, see over there, he is lighting a cigarette. He has been here before, he keeps looking at you.”
Hilde walked over and stood next to Maria, who had moved the curtain for a better view.
“No, Maria, he is looking at you.”
“Hilde, go and ask him for a cigarette.”
“Maria, we don’t smoke.”
“He does not know that.”
“But I don’t speak English.”
“You can say Cigarette, please, don’t you?”
“Of course. But why?”
“Hilde, I know it’s hard, but we are running out of supplies and have very little left we can trade with. We can get butter for a few cigarettes. Plus, despite your old clothes, you look lovely, please go and ask him.”

Their story is told in my books The Night I danced with Rommel (in English and German) and Liverpool Connection. I am now working on the third book, Cuckoo Clock.

Amazon US
Amazon UK
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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Man in the Tower Suite ~ Henry Percy, the Ninth Earl of Northumberland

by Linda Root

Henry Percy, Ninth Earl of Northumberland, {{PD-Art}}

For seventeen years (1605-1622)  the Martin Tower Suite in the Tower of London complex  housed a most illustrious guest. He was a gentleman of high fashion,  undisputed good looks and a keen intellect, loyal to his friends and congenial to his hosts. We can hardly call his keepers jailers, since they went to considerable lengths  to assure his comfort and  entertainment.

There are 21 towers in the complex known as the Tower of London and vague records as to which prisoners were housed in which ones. However, the Ninth Earl of Northumberland Henry Percy's occupancy of the Martin Tower was well known.  Apparently his rooms occupied most if not all of it.  He entertained often and lavishly, and used it as the center of operations for his widespread business enterprises. Among his frequent guests were his son and heir, his pet fox and Sir Walter Raleigh. From his arrival at his lodgings on the 27th of November, 1605, the man his contemporaries called The Wizard Earl made himself very much at home. November 1605 was the  month of the Gunpowder Treason, which  brought Northumberland to the Tower. If  rumors circulating in 1622 held a modicum of truth, when he was released, he was loathe to leave.

At one point the Northumberland apartment housed much of his celebrated library. His was one of the largest collections of books in Britain. They covered a broad range of topics, many related to his strong interest in alchemy.  His interest in natural philosophy, what we call science, earned him the moniker The Wizard Earl.

By the time of his arrest in 1605, Percy had adopted an urban lifestyle and made Sion House in Isleworth, a London suburb, his principal residence.  The magnificent mansion was inherited through his wife Dorothy Devereux, daughter of the Earl of Essex.  It remains in the family to this day.


Earlier, as a young man living in Paris, he had been captured by a young man's traditional  fancies--the riding, the hunt, the gaming and the many mistresses, he confessed.  But he professed to having returned to  England with only one mistress claiming him, and that was Knowledge.

Northumberland was drawn into the Gunpowder Treason investigation due to his association with his second cousin Thomas Percy, indisputably one of the principals in the plot.  1605 was not the first time the earl's conduct regarding Cousin Tom got him into trouble.  He had made him Constable of Alnwyck, the Percy ancestral home in Northumberland, with it many acres of adjoining farm land. Alnwyck was but one of many of his real estate holdings in Northumberland, an income producing enterprise for the Earl.

Wikimedia Commons

No one is quite certain as to why Northumberland chose Thomas Percy as its overseer. In addition to making him his Constable, he gave Thomas Percy control over his accounts and  the responsibility for collecting revenues and land rents.  Accusations from the tenants of misappropriation of rents and other acts of overreaching abounded, but the earl did not investigate. Charges were actually brought against Thomas by his benefactor's tenants, and they, too, were overlooked.

J.M.W. Turner -Wikimedia Commons -{{PD-=Art}}

Tom Percy was also involved with Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex in a failed murder plot targeting the warden of the Scottish Middle Marches, none other than the firebrand reiver laird Robert Kerr of Cessford, who later became Baron Roxburghe, one of King James I's favorites. Sir Robert Kerr of Cessford was both anti-Catholic and anti-Marian, which put him at odds with Percy and Essex.

In spite of his controversial conduct, in 1601 Thomas accompanied Northumberland on a military expedition to the Low Countries where he is said to have comported himself well. Northumberland received some criticism, possibly from Lord Robert Cecil, for having given Percy positions for which he should have been vetted without requiring him to attest to his religion or sign a Declaration of Faith. Thus, even before the Gunpowder Treason was uncovered, Northumberland's lenient treatment of his cousin  had placed him at odds with Cecil, an avid anti-papist like his father Lord Burghley had been.

Northumberland had been raised in his aunt's house as a Protestant but was believed by many to be sympathetic to the Catholic cause. There were also rumors that Cousin Thomas was more than a cousin, perhaps an illegitimate brother. Thomas Percy, like the other principals in the Gunpowder Treason, was a militant Papist to a degree his powerful cousin either did not admit or truly did not realize.

For those unfamiliar with the scheme, the purpose behind the Gunpowder Plot was to replace King James I with a sovereign sympathetic to the Catholic cause but palatable enough to English Protestants to avoid civil war. That pointed to another Stuart. There is no direct evidence that Northumberland was personally involved in the conspiracy, but there is a strong suspicion the plotters had reserved a role for him in their pro-Catholic post-Jacobean government.

The Gunpowder plotters had settled on the king's daughter Elisabeth, who was nine as a replacement for her father.  Her older brother Henry Frederick, Prince of Wales, was eleven, a student at Oxford, and already an outspoken Protestant with a priggish moral sense, critical of his father's religious tolerance and his mother's thinly veiled Catholicism. The conspirators expected him to be in the royal entourage at the opening of Parliament and would die along with his father. The nine year old princess lived in the country and was not expected to attend. Her younger brother Charles, Duke of York was a slow-developing child who failed to thrive at birth and at age five had only recently begun to walk and talk, albeit with a shuffle and a stutter,  living in relative seclusion in the home of Robert Carey. He was sufficiently lackluster to earn no consideration  from anyone, including the plotters.  Elisabeth, being female, could be made a puppet of the Catholic faction and eventually married off to an appropriate Catholic European prince.  While she was herself a Protestant, so young a female would be malleable and easily controlled by an appropriate Regent. Northumberland was the logical nominee.

The question perplexing modern scholars is the same one that kept him in the Tower Suite instead of laying headless on the Tower Green. No one could prove he was in on it.

Without revisiting the failure of the plot, what confined Northumberland to the Tower of London was not so much what happened on the infamous November 5, but what happened on the day before, November 4, 1605. On that day, Thomas Percy visited the earl at Sion House, ostensibly on business.  He had all of those cumbersome accounts from Northumberlandshire to review.  Whether he was really there to warn his kinsman from attending the opening of Parliament  is open to conjecture. It is difficult to believe that he was spending the day before the big event reviewing ledgers with his kinsman, but there is no proof to the contrary.

When Percy arrived,  Northumberland was entertaining another guest, Thomas Hariot, a noted scholar, mathematician and astronomer who lived at Sion House and enjoyed Northumberland's patronage.  The three gentlemen had a pleasant late lunch together and thereafter, Percy left.  He next  met with Catesby, the mastermind behind the plot, and thereafter left for the country to kidnap Princess Elisabeth. That evening Guy Fawkes, the  plotter with the most military experience and knowledge of explosives, was discovered with the gunpowder in a search of the underpinnings of the Houses of Parliament, and the jig was up. When news reached the countryside, Tom Percy found himself running for his life, which did not last long.
When the law caught up with Thomas Percy and a cluster of the others who escaped the city, he soon was dead of a sniper's shot and unavailable to confirm or deny his cousin's complicity. Astute Northumberland was admitting nothing.

Engraving of Henry Percy-{{PD-Art}}
Fortunately for the earl,  his friend Thomas Hariot confirmed Northumberland's averments  concerning the subject matter discussed at lunch on November 4th. There had been no talk of explosions or plots to kill the king. It may well be Hariot's  presence thwarted Thomas's plan to warn his cousin off. Whatever the truth may have been, by the end of the week Thomas Percy's tongue was silenced. Thus, what ultimately saved Northumberland from the headsman was a lack of evidence. No one could dispute his planned attendance at the opening of Parliament on the following day.

The Earl remained out of custody until November 27th while he and others, including his personal secretary, his wife and his friends, were interrogated. By December, Robert Cecil's focus had shifted to blaming the plot on Jesuits. When Northumberland was finally charged it was not with treason, but contempt. And there he languished.
Or did he?

Richard Lomas in A Power In The Land (Tuckwell Press, 1999) and other sources on the fate of the Gunpowder plotters speaks of the Earl's suite in the Martin Tower as having multiple dining rooms, a drawing room, gardens with access to a  tennis court, and enough space to accommodate twenty servants. And of course there was the essential addition of a bowling alley.  His scholarly friends including Thomas Hariot maintained apartments at Sion House so they could appropriately tutor Northumberland's children.  Servants ran from Sion House to the Martin Tower with the latest imported delicacies.

While the Earl of Northumberland perfected his games of Ten Pins and read his beloved books, poured fine wine and smoked tobacco with Walter Raleigh and later dined and gambled with his fellow prisoners Lord Robert Carr, Earl of Somerset and his murderous countess Lady Frances Howard, Jesuit priests were convicted on scant evidence often gleaned from torture and treated to grisly deaths. Cecil had his scapegoats, the plotters got their just deserts, and the Earl had spare time to devote to the pursuit of knowledge and the management of his vast estates, and when he needed a distraction, he played tennis.


~Linda Root is the author of The First Marie and the Queen of Scots, a tale of the life and love of Lady Marie Flemyng, The Last Knight and the Queen of Scots,  the fictionalized adventures of the colorful Sir William Kirkcaldy of Grange to whom the queen surrendered at Carberry, and the books in The Legacy of the Queen of  Scots Series, The Midwife's Secret: the Mystery of the Hidden Princess,  The Other Daughter, and 1603:The Queen's Revenge. 
She recently has written a paranormal historical fantasy The Green Woman under the name J.D. Root.
Root lives in the high desert community of Yucca Valley, above Palm Springs, with her husband Chris and her two mixed giant woolly Alaskan Malamutes.The Legacy of the Queen of Scots, and is presently working on the fourth book in the legacy series, In the Shadow of the Gallows.



Linda Root (that's me, the one who is forgetful and discombobulated and forgot to post  on Monday) is giving away a choice of either all three e-books in the Legacy of the Queen of Scots series   (Midwife's Secret:The Mystery of the Hidden Princess; The Other Daughter; and 1603:The Queen's Revenge  OR a paperback copy of 1603: The Queen's Revenge.   The giveaway ends on Sunday, August 24th at Midnight. To see some information about the books, please click HERE. Comment here to enter the drawing and be sure to leave your contact information.