Monday, September 29, 2014

Cheltenham Spa

by Lauren Gilbert

The location is excellent.   On the edge of the Cotswalds, in a valley with good arable land and water, it is surrounded by defensible hills.  Originally an agricultural settlement, the area has been occupied for hundreds of years, with the original settlement taken over by Romans, subsequently Saxon, Norman, etc.  Mentioned in the Domesday Book, the town was awarded a market charter in 1226 and was a royal gift for centuries. The excellence of the site was enhanced by the number of roads that went through the area. However, the town remained a fairly small town occupied by and visited by farmers and local gentry for markets and fairs.

Salt springs were discovered 1716. People drank the waters for health, found them good, and more came. After a while, the waters were sold. The original site was enclosed in 1721. Then Captain Henry Skillicone, owner of the spring, turned the spring into a well with an avenue of trees leading to the well, a pump room, and assembly rooms between  1738-1742. This is the beginning of the development of Cheltenham as a health center and the growth of the town to a thriving medical and social center.

In 1740 a book was written about the healthful qualities of the waters by a Doctor Short. More new spas were built in the area. Gradually the spas were visited by more upper crust and celebrities. Handel and Samuel Johnson visited. However, a visit by George III and the royal family for a month in the summer of 1788 put the town on the map and allowed the appellation “Royal Cheltenham Spa”.

Constitutional Club-satire shows
George III with a jug of Cheltenham Water,
Constitutional Restorer 

The Prince of Wales (later George IV) visited in 1806. He gave a ball attended by leading nobility and gentry, one of the largest and most elaborate gatherings. He visited again as George IV in 1821.  Other royalty visited. The Duke and Duchess of Angouleme (daughter and son-in-law of late King Louis XVI) visited in 1811 and 1813; Louis XVIII visited in 1813. Visits by aristocracy and royalty continued well into the Victorian era.

Education was always a major focus. The city’s motto is “Salubritas et Eruditio” (Health and Education). The Free Grammar School was established in 1574 by Richard Pates and endowed by Queen Elizabeth.

Richard Pate, later in
life by an unknown artist
Wikimedia Commons

Sunday School was established in 1787 at the parish church only 7 years after the first of the nation was established in Gloucester. The Duke of Wellington made donations to the National School and School of Industry during his visit in 1816.

During the Georgian/Regency era, the baths were the major draw.  The waters were supposedly good for skin ailments and scurvy.  The baths included salt baths and hot and cold baths. In 1803, a sulphur spring was discovered by Dr. Thomas Jameson and was supposedly good for jaundice and diseases of the liver, dyspepsia, and conditions resulting from living in a hot climate. The Duke of Wellington took the waters during his visits, and Jane Austen visited Cheltenham Spa for 2 weeks in 1816 with her sister Cassandra. Nearby spas included Montpellier Spa (about ½ mile away) and the Imperial Spa which opened in 1818.  Dr. Jenner (of vaccination fame) was a local practitioner for some years.

The inside of the rotunda
of Montpellier Spa
Wikimedia Commons

Of course, while taking the water people expected to be entertained, especially gentry, aristocracy, and royalty. Although never attaining the status of Bath for its social season, Cheltenham Spa certainly provided entertainment. There was a circulating library: Mr. Harward proprietor of a subscription service also let harpsichords, piano-forte’s, and other instruments and provided people to tune them. The social bustle became significant enough that there were elected masters of ceremonies to regulate amusements. The first one was Simon Moreau, Esq. who greeted George III at his visit and held the position until his death in 1810. He wrote the first guide to Cheltenham.

There were assembly rooms used for balls, card parties, and other entertainments.  The Long Room was the original and smallest of the rooms. The Upper and Lower Rooms opened in 1791. The Assembly Rooms were opened July 29, 1816, by the Duke and Duchess of Wellington with a ball attended by 1400 of the aristocracy.

There is a long history of drama in Cheltenham. The Manor Rolls contain an entry in 1612 regarding the production of a play at the Sign of the Crown. Cheltenham saw performances by Mrs. Siddons, Kemble, Kean, and others.  Dramas and tragedies seem to have been especially popular in Cheltenham, particularly works of Shakespeare.  The original theatre in the early 18th century was located in Coffee House Yard.

George III and his family attended the Cheltenham Theatre in 1788, and he constituted it a Theatre Royal by letters patent. Mrs. Jordan performed in “The Merry Wives of Windsor” during the King’s visit. Lord Byron also patronized the Cheltenham Theatre. Nightly performances were held. The professional troupe of actors was considered extremely proficient. Regular amateur performances also held. Could over-wrought amateur performances, especially if in plays or readings of works by local residents be the origin of the use of “a Cheltenham tragedy”?  The Sadler’s Wells Puppet Theatre was established in 1795 by Samuel Seward, who made automaton figures and marionettes.

Horse racing became established in 1815 with the first organized Flat race held on Notthingham Hill.  In 1818, races were held at Cleeve Hill, and the Gold Cup was established.  (Racing was extremely popular for the next ten years, until religious objections to the evils of horse racing resulted in the grandstand being burned to the ground, and the racecourse was relocated in 1831.)  Other events also were celebrated, such as a balloon ascension in 1813.

Cheltenham was known for its elegant buildings and the wide range and quality of its accommodations. Georgian crescents, houses, villas etc. were constructed. (It is today considered a Regency town). Royal Crescent was built between 1806-1810, and the Promenade (a tree-lined walk that was then developed) in 1818. In 1786, the Paving Commissioners were established to pave and light the streets and keep them clean. The Commissioners’ Act of 1786 allowed 120 oil lamps to be established in the streets. In 1818, gas lamps were put in to light the streets. Hotels and inns were constructed to accommodate increasing number of visitors (up to 15,000 during the season).

Cheltenham maintained its popularity as a spa well into the Victorian era supported by the growth of the railroad. The popularity of horseracing at the nearby track continued, and a music festival was established in 1902. Visitors continue to have a major impact on the town, thanks to the popularity of the music festival and racetrack.

British History On LineA Topographical Dictionary of England, Samuel Lewis, ed. Published 1848. Pages 562-569.

Internet ArchiveNorman's History of Cheltenham (with Eighty Illustrations) by John Goding.  1863. London: Longman, Green, Longman, Roberts & Green.  Cheltenham: Norman.

Medical Humanities website.  “Jane Austen’s lifelong health problems and Final Illness: New Evidence points to a fatal Hodgkin’s disease and excludes the widely accepted Addisons.”  By A. Upfal.  March 1, 2005.

Political cartoon from Wikimedia Commons

Images from the Library of Congress PD 1923
Files generated with WMUK equipmentContent media by years - Supported by Wikimedia UK - 2014

Picture of Richard Pate Wikimedia Commons


Lauren Gilbert is the author of HEYERWOOD: A Novel. She lives in Florida with her husband, and is working on another novel which is coming out soon.Visit her website HERE.

Giveaway of The Unexpected Earl by Philippa Jane Keyworth

"A whirlwind of excitement...comedy, and love gone wrong!" --InD'Tale Magazine.

Leave a comment with your e-mail address to win a copy of The Unexpected Earl, by Philippa Jane Keyworth. (Paperback copy for US or UK, PDF for international.) Giveaway open between September 29 and midnight October 5. Read more about the book HERE on our giveaway page.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

The Marriage of George Villiers, First Duke of Buckingham and Lady Katherine Manners

by Pamela Womack

George Villiers, 1st Duke 
of Buckingham attributed 
to William Larkin, and 
studio of William Larkin 
(circa 1616) 
© National Portrait Gallery 
When early in 1619 it became known that King James I wished his powerful favourite George Villiers, Marquis of Buckingham, to marry, there was a flurry of excitement in the court as wealthy courtiers with daughters of marriageable age scrambled to push them forward. However, Buckingham and his redoubtable mother Mary Beaumont, Countess of Buckingham, had already determined that George would marry Lady Katherine Manners, the greatest heiress in England. Although this marriage, achieved through deception and coercion, has often been briefly mentioned in works about Buckingham and judged to have been either unusually happy or a one-sided love affair, research reveals a complex and fascinating story of a relationship which was characterised by continuous infidelity on one side and passionate devotion on the other, but which also reveals that Katherine was neither meek nor subservient, but was a spirited and determined woman who was prepared to flout convention to marry the man she loved.

Katherine Manners was the daughter of Francis Manners, 6th Earl of Rutland and Frances Knyvett.  After the death of his first wife Rutland married Cecily, the daughter of Sir John Tufton, who bore him two sons who died in apparently mysterious circumstances which were the centre of a notorious witchcraft case. Their deaths resulted in Katherine becoming the heir not only to the Knyvett property from her mother, but also to the unentailed estates in Yorkshire and Northamptonshire.

Portraits of Katherine show her to have been a rather plain woman, but doubtless her inheritance more than made up for her lack of beauty, and Buckingham and his mother opened negotiations. However, there were complications: Rutland was a Roman Catholic and the king would only permit his favourite to marry a Protestant, therefore pressure was brought to bear upon Katherine to abandon her religion. Rutland may well also have heard the talk and speculation about the exact nature of King James’s intense relationship with his handsome young favourite; the Earl was often at court and must have witnessed the very public display of kissing and caressing. The amount of dowry demanded, too, was exorbitant and Rutland was offended. The negotiations floundered, but Buckingham and Mary’s solution to the deadlock was a plan which reflects badly on them both.

In March 1620 Mary visited the Countess of Rutland in the absence of the Earl, and invited Katherine to dine with her, promising to bring her back home before night-fall. It has been commonly assumed that the invitation was to Mary’s Leicestershire home at nearby Goadby Marwood. However, Mary brought the innocent girl to her lodgings at the Gatehouse in Whitehall. Even worse, Katherine stayed overnight, and so did her suitor, despite the fact that his own lodgings were within walking distance. The next day Katherine was returned home, but her outraged and furious father refused to receive her at Belvoir. The fact that Buckingham had also slept under the same roof ensured that Katherine’s reputation was ruined. Rutland was now forced into the position of insisting that Buckingham marry his daughter to save both her and the family’s honour.

The affair caused great scandal and despite Buckingham’s importance, the marriage did not take place at court with the usual lavish and lengthy entertainments, instead the couple were married privately in 1620, witnessed only by the Earl and the King.

The Buckinghams lived a lavish life-style, but it seems clear that this was not the fairy-tale life which Katherine had imagined. Perhaps she had unrealistically believed that Buckingham would leave his life at court and devote himself exclusively to her, and in a bitter, reproachful letter in 1627 she told him that, ‘… there is none more miserable than I am, and till you leave this life of a courtier which you have been ever since I knew you, I shall think myself unhappy.’

The Duke of Buckingham and his Family 
after Gerrit van Honthorst (1628) 
© National Portrait Gallery, London

Whatever the dreams and hopes for her marriage had been, Katherine had to contend with reality and accept that she had not only gained a husband but also all his family, which included the doting King himself. Then there were the mistresses, notably the spirited court beauty Lucy, Countess of Carlisle. When Buckingham was in Madrid with Prince Charles in 1623, during which time he was created a Duke, his behaviour at the straight-laced Spanish court caused great offence.

Buckingham again outraged convention and stretched Katherine’s devotion to the uttermost when he travelled to Paris in May 1625 to escort England’s new Queen, Henrietta Maria, to her new home. The English favourite scandalised the French court by blatantly making love to the French Queen Anne of Austria, giving scant thought to his pregnant wife at home. The Duke’s obsession with Anne, which he did not try to disguise, must have caused Katherine great heartache, and he made determined attempts to see the queen again.

King Charles I 
by Gerrit van Honthorst (1628) 
© National Portrait Gallery, London
A cursory reading of Katherine’s letters gives the impression of a woman whose life was utterly bound up with her adored husband. However, further readings suggest a strong-willed woman who was no door-mat and whose relationship with her illustrious husband could be stormy. Buckingham pampered his ‘poor little wife’ as her father may have done, and it seems that she made clear her displeasure with his frequent absences, and was not above using emotional blackmail.

The evidence suggests that although Buckingham was never in love with his wife he nonetheless genuinely cared for her, and notwithstanding his inability to remain faithful, treated her well. When he discovered that Katherine had been ill, perhaps seriously, while he was in Madrid, he seems to have been genuinely alarmed, confessing his adultery and asking for forgiveness, and even telling her he would return home if she was still sick. Katherine was aware of her husband’s weakness, and comforted by his concern for her, she was able to be sufficiently magnanimous to tell him that he was a good man save for his one sin of "loving women so well."

The increasing attacks upon the Duke during the first three years of Charles I’s reign, and the attempts by Parliament to impeach him in 1626 caused Katherine serious alarm. The Duke survived because of the King’s deep attachment to him, but Katherine and his mother and sister were devastated to hear that Buckingham intended to command a naval expedition to La Rochelle to relieve the Protestant Huguenots in the summer of 1627. Such was Katherine’s distress that Buckingham promised her that he would not accompany the fleet, and she wrote to him several times reminding of his promise to her, telling him in one letter that, "I hope you will not deceive me in breaking yours, for I protest if you should, it would half kill me."

However, Buckingham lied and left without saying goodbye. When she realised that he had really gone, Katherine told him she could almost wish herself dead, but although she had failed to keep her husband at home, her letters indicate her continued attempts to control his behaviour.

Buckingham and Charles planned another attempt to liberate La Rochelle, but this time Katherine refused to allow him to quietly slip away, determinedly accompanying him to Portsmouth in August 1628. Fortunately she was still in her bedchamber when the Duke was stabbed to death by John Felton.

The Duchess returned to her Catholic faith after Buckingham’s death. The king, whose devotion to the Duke had matched her own, removed his beloved friend’s children from her care and had them brought up with his own children. Katherine again occasioned the king’s wrath when she married the Irish Randal MacDonnell, then Viscount Dunluce, in 1635 to general censure. Katherine’s second marriage was equally eventful but seems to have been a far more equal partnership, with Katherine playing a leading role. MacDonnell was deeply distressed when she died in November 1649.

Living through a time of political upheaval and the tumultuous events of the Civil War, Katherine Manners was fiercely loyal and passionately devoted to her two husbands, even to the extent of defying convention and incurring the displeasure of her father and the king to marry the men of her choice.


Pamela J. Womack is the author of Darling of Kings, published by Hayloft Publishing Ltd., an historical novel which tells the tragic story of the friendship between Charles I and George Villiers, First Duke of Buckingham. She has also written An Illustrated Introduction to the Stuarts, published by Amberley Publishing Ltd. She is currently writing the Duke of Buckingham’s biography.

For more information visit her website at

Saturday, September 27, 2014

The Spare Child of James I of England: a Tragedy in the Making

by Linda Root

Charles I {{PD-Art}}

Somehow in the last several years the phrase 'an heir and a spare' has become a popular term to describe the ideal dynastic plan.  The press has been peppered with it recently, partially due to the high visibility of the current favorite  spare, the fascinating and unpredictable Prince Harry, and the recent announcement that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge  are expecting a second child.  Under current law, whether the child is male or female, it still will be that coveted spare child likely to insure the preservation of the dynasty, assuming the monarchy itself survives.  Such was not the case in 1600.

At the end of the Sixteenth Century,  King James VI of Scotland and his Danish bride Anne had one son and one daughter.  The heir was Henry Frederick Stuart, Duke of Rothesay, born in February 1594, and what an heir he was!  He was robust and alert, and by God, he was male!  His sister Elizabeth followed in August 1596.  Anne’s next child was another daughter, Margaret, who died shortly after her first birthday.  Anne was obviously capable of producing children and had  many child bearing years ahead.  There was no cause for alarm.

Henry Frederick {{PD-Art}}
Anne of Denmark {{PD-Art}}

The Duke of Rothesay was the ideal prince. One thinks of England’s Arthur Tudor, Prince of Wales. But James VI and I was no more content to risk his dynasty on the survival of a single son than Henry VII had been.

Dunfermline Palace, Engraving by William .Miller {{PD-Art}}

And thus, on November 19 of 1600 at Dunfermline, the second son was born, and in December he was christened Duke of Albany in the chapel royal at Holyrood with far less pomp than had accompanied his older brother's legendary baptism at Sterling.  Another lavish christening such as James himself had been given by his mother the Queen of Scots and which he had sought to equal for Henry Frederick would have bankrupted Scotland.

DunfermlineAbbey {{Wikimedia}}

Although James had his coveted second son, the birth of the spare did little to insure the dynasty.  The infant Charles was a sickly, fragile bairn who in the present day might be termed a 'failure to thrive' child. There were subsequent royal pregnancies, and none of the infants including a third son Robert lived more than two years. The queen had suffered at least two miscarriages even before Elizabeth Tudor died in the spring of 1603.

Some historians suggest at least one of them was provoked by her husband’s failure to allow her to take custody of her eldest son Prince Henry, who was living in Stirling under the supervision of the Countess and Earl of Mar as was the Scottish custom.  James had been raised at Stirling under the guardianship of a previous Earl of Mar, and like Anne, his mother Marie Stuart, Queen of Scots, had been denied his custody in April of 1567.

The last time Marie Stuart, Queen of Scots saw her infant son was when Mar allowed her a few hours of supervised visitation. On the way home from Stirling, the Queen of Scots was carried off to Dunbar by the Earl of Bothwell and was either raped or merely seduced.  Her trip to collect her heir did not end well.  Anne's similar defeat was far less tragic in the long term. In 1603 when Elizabeth Tudor died and James VI traveled south to claim his crown, he took the Earl of Mar along while Queen Anne remained in Scotland. She took advantage of their absences and marched on Stirling to take physical custody of the prince, but Mar's relatives suppressed and repelled her assault, and in May she suffered a miscarriage.

James VI and I-  {{PD Art}}

Finally James gave in and allowed Queen Anne to travel south with his nine-year-old heir. Charles did not join the entourage.  He was adjudged too sickly to endure the journey. At age three, the little Duke of Albany neither walked nor talked.

One wonders if the decision to leave him in Scotland with Seton was made in part to keep the slow developer from raining on his older brother's parade.  And indeed, a parade it was. Anne was a flashy woman, and at age nine, Prince Henry Frederick was already magnificent to behold.  People traveled across England just for a glimpse of them as they journeyed south to meet the king.

Henry Frederick, Prince of Wales {{PD-Art


In 1600 when Charles was born, Queen Anne was not denied the close association with her second son she had so desperately wanted with her firstborn. She would never need to arrange an armed confrontation to gain his custody. No one else particularly wanted him.

His survival was uncertain and no aristocrats vied for the responsibility of having a dead royal on their hands.

By then Anne had made Dunfermline Abbey in Fife her home and established a royal palace adjoining the abbey. The supervision of Charles's early training was placed in the hands of the queen's friend Alexander Seton,  Lord Fyvie, who later became Earl of Dunfermline. The queen's new apartments were remodeled and embellished by the queen's favorite William Schaw, the same architect who had upgraded Stirling for the lavish Christening of Henry Frederick.

Alexander Seton {{PD art}}
From 1603 until the autumn of 1604, Charles was left at Dunfermline in the custody of Alexander Seton, a cautious Catholic who was a member of Queen Anne's inner circle and who was soon to become Scotland’s Chancellor.  Seton was happy  to be ensconced in Dunfermline, which was closer to the centers of power than his newly acquired estates at Fyvie.

Anne could have selected worse in terms of the quality of the  education and care Seton provided,  but leaving him in Seton's Catholic household may have helped seal his ultimate fate.  By then, Anne herself was considered a closet Catholic, and Seton was a known adherent of the auld religion.  He was just wise enough not to flaunt it.

At the time of Elizabeth Tudor’s death, Sir Robert Carey, her first cousin once removed, a grandchild of her aunt Mary Boleyn, was representing Northumberland in the English Parliament, and living in the English north.

Carey  had been Warden of the East Marches during a portion of the final decade of  the Sixteenth Century and was the person who rode to Scotland to inform James of Elizabeth Tudor’s death. The year after  his queen and his heir arrived at Windsor,  the king sent Carey to Dunfermline to report on Charles’s development. Sir Robert engaged a new physician who declared the Duke of Albany able to travel after a demonstration in which young Charles was able to stagger across the Great Hall at Dunfermline.


The Careys ~ {{PD-Art}} Wikimedia

If the new doctor exaggerated his ward’s recovery, Seton did not complain. Being guardian to a royal was a thankless task. Keeping Charles at Dunfermline was confining and expensive. Elaborate arrangements were made for the journey south, with Carey and Seton leading the entourage.  In February 1605, Sir Robert and his formidable wife Dame Robert were made his guardians. Within months, Dame Robert had him walking unaided and talking, albeit with a stammer. Charles was slight of build, and while he apparently recovered physically under Dame Robert’s care, he never cut the same swashbuckling image as his flamboyant and staunchly protestant older brother.  According to his caregivers, he was given to displays of temper which he never entirely outgrew.


While Charles is said to have idolized Prince Henry Frederick, there is at least one  incident reported in which his older brother publicly humiliated him.  There were religious undertones to the insult. The affair is used to support an allegation that Henry Frederick had scant affection for his brother. It is just as likely a single incident seized upon by historians who wished to separate the image of the glorious heir who died from the unpopular young sibling who survived. Whatever the Prince of Wales’ attitude to his less auspicious young brother may have been, when Henry Frederick died apparently of typhoid in November 1612, Charles was the chief mourner at his funeral.  King James disliked funerals and refused to attend. At least outwardly, Henry Frederick had resisted the Stuart dynasty's love affair with the concept of Divine Right Monarchy.  He also had the gumption and independent spirit to openly defy his royal father on occasion. There is evidence James had grown afraid of him.

The twelve year old second son of England’s first Stuart king never captured the imagination of the English people in the way his brother had. The glory and hope of England had died an early death. As heir apparent, at least Charles finally gained the attention of his parents. One wonders if the king did not feel some relief for having an heir who was less a rival.

However, by 1612 when the Prince of Wales died,  the king’s own fiscal policies, his personal extravagance and his friendly relationship with Spain had eroded his support both with the parliament and the common people . Charles, the erstwhile spare, became the heir to an already brewing tragedy. James made the further mistake of forsaking his promise to the Scots to stay close to Scottish politics. Instead, in his only trip to Scotland after he became the king of England, all he did was  try to force a high Anglican prayer book on the Scottish kirk, an act which caused a religious division that became a precursor of civil war.


Then James and his Queen did the unthinkable.  They sought a Spanish marriage for their son. James, to his credit, dreamed of bringing peace to Europe, but his logic was flawed in thinking he could achieve it through a marriage of his second son to the Spanish Infanta. Prince Charles, in the company of the overreaching Duke of Buckingham, traveled to Spain in hopes of negotiating a formal betrothal. The English people and the Parliament, however, had not forgotten what occurred when Queen Mary Tudor married Philip of Spain.  They also remembered the words of Henry Frederick who had scoffed when such a plan was proposed to him. The ardent protestant Henry Frederick  declared there would never be two religions sleeping in his royal bed. Later when Charles married the French Catholic daughter of Henry IV and Marie de Medici, Henrietta Maria, the English were not impressed.

Prince Charles, however, was a Divine Right Monarchist to the core and had inherited his father’s disdain of Parliament, considering it an advisory body, a toy to be put aside at will. He no doubt thought the dynasty was secure when he and his French Catholic wife Henrietta Maria, sister of the French king, produced two sons, Charles and James, although it took eight years to do so.  He was not particularly troubled when his French wife raised them as Catholics. The English people were not as accommodating as their king. There was widespread belief that Charles also had but a single religion in the royal bed—and not the one the English were prepared to tolerate.

When one explores the writings of Robert Carey, often regarded  the first modern English autobiographer, and the memoirs of Alexander Seton, Earl of Dunfermline, one wonders if Charles was not marked to be a victim from the time of his birth.  What Charles did not realize at the time of his ascension when his father died was the English people also had a spare in incubation.

His name was Oliver Cromwell.

Portrait said to be Charles by unknown artist


It is difficult not to feel empathy for the little Duke of Albany, left behind when his mother and brother traveled to England in glory. There are qualities to be admired in young Charles. With Dame Robert Carey's help, he overcame his physical infirmities. presumably caused by Rickets.  His recuperation must have been physically and mentally painful. At one point the king had wanted to put him in iron boots, and Lady Carey would not stand still for it.  Soon after she had her royal ward walking. It is not surprising throughout his early reign, he often sought advice from her.  In a sense she was his surrogate mother and his greatest champion.

Under the guidance of Dame Robert, the  once crippled child learned to enjoy sports, especially the hunt.  Charles seemed to emulate the family life characteristic of the Careys. He and Henrietta Maria came to love one another. He sired nine children, five of  whom survived.  He took great pride in his family. He exceeded the expectations of those who had attended his birth simply by living.

I read somewhere when Henry Frederick was on his death bed, Charles braved the risk of contagion and brought him a little metal horse as gift in hopes it would cheer him.  He was the chief mourner at a funeral his father did not choose to attend.  There is something profoundly sad about a child who struggled so hard merely to endure only to suffer so ignomious an end.

The beheading of Charles Stuart, King of England , Scotland and Ireland

Author's note:

Thank you for joining me.   The young Charles Stuart and Dame Robert Carey appear in  my Scottish fantasy The Green Woman in which he is kidnapped by the Wizard Earl of Bothwell, Frances Stuart, in collusion with the Goddess Nyx and sleeps through the entire adventure.

Charles is also the focus of my conventional historical novel in progress, In the Shadow of 
the Gallows, in which he briefly appears as a potential target of Gunpowder plotter Thomas Percy in an effort to kidnap Charles and place him as a puppet on the English throne under a Regency by Percy's relative Northumberland or some other peer sympathetic to the Catholic cause.  Fortunately, due to suspiciously delayed action of the Earl of Salisbury, Robert Cecil, the infamous explosion did not ignite other than in the imaginations of the British people and generations of historians and historical novelists.

Linda Root is the author of  The First Marie and the Queen of Scots, the story of the Queen's relationship with her cousin Marie Flemyng, whose love affair with William Maitland stunned the Queen and rocked the Scottish court; and The Last Knight and the Queen of Scots, the embellished adventures of Sir William Kirkcaldy of Grange.  Kirkcaldy's death after holding Edinburgh Castle as the last fortress to fly the banner of the captive Queen of Scots inspired the series The Legacy of the Queen of Scots, including The Midwife's Secret:The Mystery of the Hidden Princess.  Its sequels The Other Daughter, and 1603, the Queen's Revenge and her current work in progress In The Shadow of the Gallows feature Kirkcaldy's posthumous bastard daughter Daisy and Lord James Hepburn's bastard son William Hepburn who is an actual character but about whom little is recorded. Root and her husband Chris live in the Morongo Basin area of San Bernardino County where they are leasing space in a house governed by their giant Alaskan Malamutes Maxx and Maya. Linda is a retired major crimes prosecutor and Supervising Deputy District Attorney.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Horse Racing and its Organization

by Sue Millard

The Jockey Club

The Jockey Club, according to its own records, was founded in the reign of George II, in 1750. It was effectively one of the most exclusive of gentlemen’s clubs. Its first meetings were held at the Star & Garter Pub at Pall Mall, London before moving to Newmarket, which under James I, Charles II and Queen Anne had gradually become the home of racing. The Jockey Club controlled all regulations to do with racing until 2006 when, in a conscious move to decouple racing from its “patrician” roots, it set up the British Racing Authority. 


Weatherbys is a privately owned English company, established 1770, which provides British horse racing with its central administration under contract to the British Horseracing Authority, acts as its bank and has maintained the Thoroughbred breed register since its inception.


John Evelyn recorded in his Diary around 1684: “We returnd over New-market-heath...the Jockies breathing their fine Barbs & racers, & giving them their heates.” The term “breathing” meant giving a horse exercise that raised its respiration rate, while “heat” meant any exercise that raised its temperature, crudely measured as making the horse sweat. In 1761 George Stubbs portrayed the Duke of Richmond’s racehorses, being exercised in heavy rugs and hoods to achieve this.

Stubbs, The Duke of Richmond’s racehorses, painting from WikiArt

Types of races

In the early years, horse races were “matches” between two horses who competed in multiple heats, at distances from two to four miles. Only on a match day did a heat mean a stage of a race. Race heats were repeated until a horse had won the event twice or “distanced” the opponent – arriving at the finish more than 30 horse-lengths ahead, about 240 yards. These races were “stakes” in which both parties put up equal money as a sporting bet, and the winner took all.  

Horses were not raced until they were five or six years old. Carlisle racecourse, for instance, held a King's Plate – a race for 5-year-old horses in 3 mile heats – set up by George III in 1763.

Eclipse, by George Stubbs

The great horse Eclipse started racing at the age of five on 3 May 1769. Most racehorses ran only a few times in their lives, but Eclipse ran the unusually high number of 18 races in a career of about 17 months – by which time rival owners would no longer enter their horses against him because he was unbeatable: “Eclipse first, the rest nowhere”.

Originally, short races for 2 and 3 year old horses, the ones we are most familiar with today, were “futurities”, testing youngsters a couple of times on their potential for longer races.  The St Leger, first run in 1776 at Doncaster, was the first “Classic” race, though today the Derby has greater fame. The St Leger is a single contest for 3-year-olds over 1 mile 6 furlongs, so from the start it broke the tradition of races run in repeated heats and over long distances. 


Most races in the past were at “level weights” – all horses carrying the same weight (rider, saddle and, if necessary, lead strips carried in a saddle cloth). Weight-for-age races were a way of compensating for the relative strengths of younger and older horses and giving all a more equal chance of winning; they defined level weights for horses of equal age, with younger horses carrying less weight. 

Handicap races, in which faster or stronger horses are allotted slightly more weight to try and level the chances of winning, were not introduced until the 19th century. The name “handicap” comes from a method of making a trading agreement, Hand I(n) Cap – a bit like Scissors Paper Stone, but with the participants hiding their hands in a cap containing money. When they pulled out their hands at the word, the agreement was made if they had all picked up some money, but if one or all had not, there was no contract.

Handicapping in horseracing there’s far less chance of the “Eclipse first, the rest nowhere” scenario where the favourite is so likely to win that no-one will take your bet. In hound trailing very often the bookmakers will not give odds against two or three of the really good hounds running and you can only bet on who will be third or fourth! So the Handicap system made gambling more exciting.


The first commercial bookmaker in Britain was probably Harry Ogden, who opened a business in the 1790s; then an Act of Parliament in 1845 made it illegal to gamble except at race tracks. Bookies had to be extremely good at calculating odds, so they didn’t make a loss overall. From those times onward to the present day, and with the legalisation of off-track betting in 1961, commercial interests took over racing.

A comparison with the modern day

Horseracing now has the production values of an entertainment industry, with vast sums being generated in stud fees for outstanding stallions, and total prize money exceeding the £1 million mark for some high-prestige races. 

Thoroughbred foals can only be registered if their dams are registered with Weatherby’s, and they have to be DNA sampled and microchipped before they are 4 weeks old. When they are a year old they are sold on the basis of their pedigree (which gives an idea of whether their parents or grandparents had been any good on the racecourse), their conformation (overall good physique) and their heart-score (a predictor of blood-pumping capacity, ie, racing efficiency). 

The five great British Classics are the 2,000 Guineas, the 1,000 Guineas (for fillies only), the Derby, the Oaks (for fillies only), and the St Leger. They are all for 3-year-olds, and since these runners have to be trained and prepared for the high-value contests for months beforehand, the majority of modern racing uses very young horses of two and three years old, and mature horses are now the exception rather than the rule in the thoroughbred flat-racing population. 

Training involves dietary analysis, veterinary advice and treatment, regular weighing, interval training and swimming as well as exercise with a “lad” or a “work rider” on the gallops. Yet only a third of the foals born, overall, are ever good enough mentally or physically to set foot on a racecourse, let alone to win a race.

The first Derby on 4 May 1780 had been won by Diomed, a colt owned by Sir Charles Bunbury, who collected prize money of £1,065 15s. Two hundred and thirty-three years later the first prize was £782,314.

It’s all a far cry from word-of-mouth pedigrees and gentlemen’s wagers, in racing’s amateur heyday.


 Sue Millard is the author of several books on horses, both fiction and non-fiction. Her web site, Jackdaw E Books, now does gift vouchers

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Wool is the whole wealth of my people!

by Octavia Randolph

Milking an ewe. Sheep's milk and cheese was a
valued commodity for hundreds of years.

LIFE without sheep was unthinkable. For the average Anglo-Saxon, sheep meant sustaining meat, milk, and cheese, healing wool-wax, valuable parchment, and most vitally, fleece. Fleece to be shorn or pulled, and spun and woven into cloth. Recall that there were then only two types of fabrics: woollen ones, and linen. (Only the very rich, on rare, ceremonial occasions, clothed themselves in imported silks.)

It is not for nothing that the seat of the Lord High Chancellor in the House of Lords has been a woolsack.

The woolsack is the low cushion (with protruding
backrest in middle) facing the throne in this
photograph of Westminster, c 1880.
Wikimedia Commons

It is almost impossible to overstate the importance of sheep on the early economy:
The history of the change from mediaeval to modern England might well be written in the form of a social history of the English cloth trade. -G.M. Trevelyan, O.M., Illustrated History of England
Sheep can thrive in harsh and stony environments where crop farming is difficult, and if protected from natural predators small flocks can rapidly grow large due to many ewes’ propensity to twinned lambs. Raw wool was exported from England to the Continent at least by the 8th century, and greatly expanded under Norman rule. British wool found eager buyers abroad, especially for the productive looms of Bruges, Ghent, and Ypres – creation site of so many magnificent medieval tapestries. The vast majority of exported wool went into durable cloth for clothing and drapery use – cloth sent back to the British Isles in its finished state.

It was Edward III who, by inviting skilled Flemish weavers to settle in England in 1331, began to reverse this wool-out/cloth-back trade. Many of the Flemings were in fact English allies and refugees from the Hundred Years War. Although subject to discrimination, suspicion, and even outright massacre in the London uprising against them in 1381, these weavers became entrenched in English society, their skill elevating the woollens trade to an exalted economic status.

Buying and selling sheep. Having reached
an agreement, two men shake hands.

Of the sixty-five distinct sheep breeds in Britain today, the oldest is the diminutive Soay, a descendent of the animals brought by the earliest Neolithic immigrants. A remnant population still lives on the St Kilda islands off the Outer Hebrides. They are typically brown, black, or dark cream-coloured, often with nearly white bellies. Most rams have downward curving horns, and a good percentage of the ewes as well. Soays are indeed tiny, only a third of the size of a modern sheep. Their wool is fine and short (2").

Soay ewe with twins. Photo from the St Kilda Soay Sheep Project,
which monitors and studies the wild population on the island.
Soay horned ewe with her lamb. Soay Sheep Breeders Cooperative

The tan-faced mountain breeds, still surviving in many variations, descend from medieval stock of marsh and hill sheep. Intelligent and very hardy, the ewes have a keen sense of direction and remember migratory trails from season to season. The mountain breeds generally have a coarse, hairy outer-coat over a fine woolly under-coat. The wool is loosely packed, even stringy in appearance, allowing the sheep to dry out quickly after a sudden downpour or washing.

Dalesbred, a mountain breed, showing the luxuriously
long and dense coat.
Dalesbred ram, with splendid horns.
Dalesbred Sheep Breeders Association

Speaking of washing...

A clean sheep will produce a clean fleece, with less waste and a higher yield. Long before sheep were "dipped" in ghastly pesticides, they were, when it was warranted, washed. Small streams were ideal for this, for they could be temporarily dammed, and a pool formed. If the stream had a gravel bed, so much the better, as little muck would be churned up by the actions of the washers. Sheep, fouled with mud and matted droppings, were driven into the pool. Not surprisingly when one considers the amount of air trapped in the fleece, sheep float - and are also strong swimmers. Sometimes a good, wet, rubdown would be all that was needed; if required, a dilute solution of washing lye (made from wood ash) was scrubbed over the beast. Once released the sheep swam for the nearest bank to dry in the sun.

Wool-fat, Wool-oil, Wool-wax...

Are earlier names for lanolin. Lanolin was extracted from sheep's wool by boiling washed wool in water. When the pan was left to cool, a milky white grease would be floating on top - the sheep's waterproofing. The globules could be picked out, and further refined by squeezing them through linen cloths. Lanolin was invaluable as a simple remedy for chapped and roughened skin. Blended with powdered or crushed herbs, it served as a medicinal salve.

The Danes brought over native multi-horned sheep during the Viking invasion, some with as many as six horns. There may have been some breeds native to the British Isles which also sported horns in multiples, as noted by Robert Trow-Smith in A History of British Livestock Husbandry, 1700-1900:
…four or six-horned sheep is also to be found in the Isle of Man under the name ‘loaghton’. It, and indeed all the other native Scottish sheep types, is commonly given a Scandinavian origin and said to have been brought in by the Vikings. That may be so; but it should be noted that sculls and horn-cores of four-horned sheep have been found in undated deposits at Jarlshof (an ancient site in Shetland, Scotland), where the long succession of sites ranges from Bronze Age to late mediaeval dates, and the arrival of this sheep could have equally well have occurred earlier – or later – than the Viking settlement.
Their descendants are still bred for fleece and flesh in Britain. They found their way into ornamental sheep parks for the gentry in the seventeenth century.

A Manx Loaghton sheep, with characteristic four horns.
Manx Loaghton Sheep Breeders Group


“Wool is the whole wealth of my people” exclaims Ælfwyn, one of the major characters in The Circle of Ceridwen, to a group of doubting Danes. She believed in her sheep! The Circle of Ceridwen Saga, 16 weeks on Amazon's Top Twenty Best Selling List in Women's Adventure. Now in paperback!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Long-term Consequences of a Failed Scottish Marriage

by Anna Belfrage

These days we’ve grown quite accustomed to the fact that if a marriage doesn't work, we can simply get a divorce. No big deal, in this modern world of ours, and unhappy couples separate legally and are free to find happiness elsewhere. Happiness, of course, is just as elusive now as it always has been, but at least the modern man and woman can attempt to try anew.

Not so the people of the past – or so we believe. Once married, they were permanently tied to each other, their union impossible to break. But in reality, things weren't all that different in the past to how they are now: people with money and clout could always wiggle themselves out of uncomfortable situations – such as an unhappy marriage.

Back then, most of the people with money and clout were men, so it follows it was the wife who was put aside, either because her spouse discovered they were more closely related than he had known, thereby falling within the forbidden circle that required Papal dispensation (how convenient), or through assorted creative methods, one of which was forcing the wife to take the veil.

However, divorce before the 20th century was rare. Very rare. Consanguinity, pre-contract or lack of consent were essentially the only acceptable grounds. So most married couples did, in fact, live together until parted by death. Once again, quite often the wife was the one who did the departing, mainly due to the strains of childbirth.

A marriage that worked?
James V and Marie de Guise
From our advantage of hindsight, we can shake our heads and shudder at the barbarity of arranged marriages, and there is no doubt that now and then these marriages were horribly unhappy, but just as often they were not. One must remember that the men and women of the previous centuries (except for the latest one) did not necessarily expect to be happy. They aimed for content and safe, settled for someone who would help them raise their children, someone who somehow added to their families’ overall standing and fortune.

In England, acquiring a divorce remained a messy thing well into the 20th century. The accepted grounds for divorce were essentially adultery, but further to that, a spouse had to prove cruelty and abuse of some kind or another to be free of the philandering partner. In Scotland, however, things had been much, much easier since back in the 16th century. Personally, I think John Knox deserves a pat on the back for this – but then I am quite ambivalent to this fascinating man, on the one hand vilifying female rulers in his tract “First Blast of the Trumpet”, on the other a man who clearly enjoyed the company of women – and respected them.

So what did Scotland do back in the 16th century? Well, they decided to allow divorce, that’s what those savvy Scots did. Furthermore, the issue of divorce was transferred out of the ecclesiastic courts to be handled by lawmen rather than priests – which makes a lot of sense when one considers that most marriages at the time were contractual arrangements that involved property moving hands. (This is not to say the powerful Scottish Kirk did not keep a beady eye on proceedings – it most certainly did!) However, divorce was still a last remedy, and was essentially only granted for two reasons, one of which was adultery.

These Scots were progressive types, very much into gender equality (well…) How else to explain their decision that both men and women could demand a divorce on account of adultery – quite unheard of in a world where a man’s indiscretions were just that – indiscretions – while a woman’s adventures with another man than her husband were a sin, a grievous, grievous sin, very much in keeping with the female lack of morality and propensity for uncontrolled lust.

Interestingly enough, no law was ever passed confirming the right to divorce due to adultery. Instead, it was assumed that the prohibition against divorce on account of adultery went out of the window together with the allegiance to the Pope, and a decade or so later, divorce due to adultery was an established common law practise.

A rousing Reformation sermon with John Knox

Had the Scots left it at that – divorce on account of adultery – it would have been an improvement, but maybe not a major improvement. However, due to the antics of two people with that intoxicating combination of money and clout, Scottish divorce legislation came to recognise another reason for divorce, namely desertion by either party. This had the benefit of being much easier to arrange – and prove – plus it did not tar one of the parties as being an unfaithful git. But let me introduce you to the main protagonists in all this, namely the Earl of Argyll – Archibald Campbell – and Lady Jean Stewart, one of James V’s many by-blows.

Little Jean might have been born out of wedlock, but her royal father was well-practised in handling such sensitive issues and in general took good care of his offspring. On her mother’s side, she was related to the Beatons – a powerful family which counts among its more (in)famous members Cardinal David Beaton. He was the Archbishop of St Andrews who instigated the trial and execution by burning of religious reformer George Wishart, and who some time afterwards was assassinated by William Kirkcaldy and a couple of aggravated Leslies. Beaton’s body was hanged from the window of his castle for everyone to see, and in many ways his handling of Wishart was the fuel that led to the roaring bonfire that was the Scottish reformation.

Enough about David Beaton (a man who deserves his own post, what with his relaxed attitude to celibacy, his constant focus on Number One – this being Davie, not Our Lord – and his strong Catholic and political convictions). Suffice it to say that little Jean was of good lineage on both sides, no matter what side of the blanket she was born on.

Archibald was no royal bastard, but his family was wealthy and among the most powerful in Scotland. Very early on, our Archie became an ardent Protestant. During the long regency that followed James V’s death, he, together with James Stewart – yet another of James V’s bastards, later to be Earl of Moray – became a vociferous opponent to Marie de Guise and her pro-French policies, fearing that the little Queen’s mother had every intention of keeping Scotland a loyal member of the Holy Roman Church. Probably a correct assumption, but Argyll’s decision to seek help and support from the English was not to endear him overmuch to his countrymen.

Jean was very fond of Marie de Guise. The Queen Mother treated her husband’s bastards with kindness, and she was very protective of Jean, the young queen’s only sister. Jean was raised at court and became one of Marie’s most trusted maids, living in close familiarity with the beleaguered regent.

Marie de Guise
Archie and Jean were married in 1553. Maybe they disliked each other on sight. Maybe their differing opinions on matters religious drove an immediate wedge between the young spouses, at the time still in their teens. Whatever the case, the marriage very quickly deteriorated, with Archie living openly with various mistresses, fathering a number of illegitimate children while Jean remained childless. And things were definitely not helped when Archie became a prominent member of the Lords of Congregation, the Protestant faction that led the rebellion that resulted in the Scottish reformation in 1560. Jean couldn’t forgive her husband for siding against her beloved Marie de Guise.

Jean decided to get her own back by taking a lover. The Campbell clan roared in anger at this dishonour to their chief, and Jean was effectively held prisoner. Through the efforts of her – and Archie’s – extended family, the couple achieved some sort of reconciliation in 1561, very much at the hands of John Knox, who seems to have had quite the vested interest in this couple’s marriage.

A very young Mary, Queen of Scots
In 1561, Mary Queen of Scots returned to Scotland from France, and Jean quickly became a favoured lady-in-waiting while her husband was one of the Queen’s chief political advisors. This didn’t help the marriage. Things went from bad to worse, one could say, with Jean complaining to the Queen, who was quite torn between her loyalties to her sister, and her dependency on the Earl of Argyll to maintain peace in her realm.

John Knox and Queen Mary -
not seeing eye to eye
In 1563 the Queen decided to rope in some help in attempting to heal the breach between Archie and Jean. She contacted John Knox. Picture this scene for a moment: The devout Catholic queen turns to her foremost adversary when it comes to matters of faith and asks for a tete-a-tete. In a low, concerned voice, she expresses that something must be done to save the fragile thing that is Jean’s marriage. John Knox agreed, and in 1563, the Queen and the Reformer had a number of sessions with Jean and Archie - you know, a very early version of present day marriage counsellors. Ultimately, it didn't help – but it was nice that they tried!

Archie was becoming desperate. He needed an heir, and whether it was because Jean refused him access to her bed (in itself no mean feat in the 16th century) or because she was barren, so far there had been no reconciling patter of little feet. Plus, the two spouses obviously hated each other’s guts. So Archie offered Jean a settlement if she would agree to a divorce on the grounds of adultery, with him taking the blame. She refused – as the so called injured party she could.

The Queen was deposed, the realm was in upheaval, and in all this chaos Jean took the opportunity of fleeing for ever from her husband’s tender care. In 1567 she ran away from him, and the couple’s very public separation forced the Scottish Kirk to attempt to deal with it. Archie needed a full divorce, not a separation. He wanted to be free to wed again and beget children. Jean had no intention of making anything easy for him, and so the Kirk’s leaders – such as John Knox – sucked in their lips and mulled this little conundrum over.

Earl of Moray
In 1573, the Earl of Argyll succeeded in having the Scottish Parliament pass an Act that allowed divorce on the grounds of desertion. This time, when he pushed Jean for a divorce, she didn't protest. Her position was far too shaky at present with her sister imprisoned by the English and her brother, the powerful Earl of Moray, busy with other matters. And so, in August of 1573, Archibald Campbell became a free man again, hastening to re-marry. Unfortunately for him, six weeks later he was dead… Unfortunately for his hapless widow, Jean decided the time was ripe to protest the divorce, insisting she had been forced.

After endless squabbles, a final settlement was made some years later. Jean retained the title of Countess of Argyll (very important to her, apparently), received a generous lump sum and retired to live out the rest of her life at her Canongate residence in Edinburgh, busying herself with her famous button collection. I’m thinking she laughed all the way to the bank, our Jean – or maybe she didn't. Maybe now and then she felt genuine regret for what could have been a marriage and never rose above a constant bloody strife.

The legal outcome of all this was that in 1573, Scotland implemented an Act that allowed for spouses to be divorced, assuming they could prove desertion by the other. Suddenly, all those unhappy marriages had a “get out of jail” card. Not a bad thing, all in all, even if divorce continued to be rare in the following centuries. A failed marriage was a stigma – especially for the woman, who, as we all know, probably was to blame for its failure to begin with. After all, either she was a nag, or she was barren or, worst of all, she was a lewd and immoral creature, far too tempted by carnal sin, as demonstrated by Eve when she yanked that apple off the branch!


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, this is the story of Matthew Graham and his wife, Alex Lind - two people who should never have met, not when she was born three centuries after him

Anna's books 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.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Why the Saxons Kept Breaking Their Vows

By Kim Rendfeld

Alcuin of York wanted the Christian mission in pagan Saxony to succeed, but in the 790s, he was deeply troubled by how it was carried out.

A 9th century manuscript
illustration with Alcuin in the middle.
Letters from the Northumbrian scholar who led Charlemagne’s Palace School might be as close as we get to the Continental Saxons’ side of the decades of bitter wars. The Saxons themselves had no written language as we know it, and the Church, aided by King Charles (Charlemagne), did whatever it could to obliterate a religion it equated with devil worship.

Neither side is innocent. The Saxons burned churches and killed indiscriminately, the latter perhaps as a thanksgiving to the war god. As for the Franks, in 782, Charles issued a capitulary that among other things called for the death of anyone who didn’t convert to Christianity.

In 789, Alcuin was optimistic about the spread of Christianity and for good reason. The Saxon war leader Widukind had accepted baptism four years before, and the peace thus far held. Alcuin asked a friend how the Saxons took his preaching, and a few months later, he praised Charles for pressuring the Saxons to convert whether it was with rewards or threats.

Three years later, Charles’s wars with the Saxons had restarted. Other contemporary sources complain that the Saxons broke their oaths. The entry in the Lorsch annals invokes Proverbs and compares the Saxons’ reverting to paganism, burning churches, and killing priests “as a dog returns to its vomit.”

Alcuin took a more nuanced approached in 796. Writing to Arno, a former student and bishop of Salzburg, Alcuin advised, “And be a preacher of compassion, not an exactor of tithes … It is tithes, men say, that have destroyed the faith of the Saxons.”

A 19th century illustration of Saxons being baptized.
The year before, emissaries of an Avarian governor came to Saxony, where the Franks were at war again, and promised to submit to Charles and accept baptism. It’s not too much of a stretch to think that Charles and his magnates talked about spreading Christianity to the Avars, whom the Franks had fought off and on since 788. Perhaps, Arno was already a candidate to lead the spiritual mission.

In 796, the Franks had a major victory over the Avars. With Avarian leaders killed in internecine conflict, the Franks broke into a stronghold and took its riches, probably centuries of plunder. The Avar governor, identified only as the tudun, and his companions accepted baptism.

Was Alcuin trying to prevent repeating the mistakes made with the Saxons in addition to changing the Christian mission there? Again and again that year, Alcuin pleaded for a different, gentler approach to spreading Christianity, even taking his message to King Charles. He pointed out the apostles did not exact tithes from the newly converted and said it was better to lose the wealth than the soul.

In a letter to Meginfrid the chamberlain (although the real audience is King Charles), Alcuin outlined how the process should work: teach first, then baptize, then expound on the Gospel. “And if any one of these three is lacking, the listener’s soul cannot enjoy salvation. Moreover, faith, as St. Augustine says, is a matter of will, not of compulsion. A person can be drawn to faith but cannot forced to it.”

Alcuin himself was well educated. Born around 735, he had directed the school at York for 15 years before joining Charles’s court.

“If the light and sweet burden of Christ were to be preached to the obstinate people of the Saxons with as much determination as the payment of tithes has been exacted and the force of the legal decree applied for faults of the most trifling sort imaginable, perhaps they would not be averse to their baptismal vows,” he wrote to Meginfrid, adding that missionaries should be learned men, “preachers, not predators.”

Arno was, in fact, assigned mission territory in Avaria and later appointed archbishop. Perhaps another letter to him from Alcuin is as much a warning as a lament: “It is because the wretched people of the Saxons has never had the faith in its heart that it has so often abandoned the baptismal oath.”

Public domain images via Wikimedia Commons.


Charlemagne: Translated Sources by P.D. King

“Alcuin” by James Burns, The Catholic Encyclopedia (1907). Retrieved from New Advent

"Salzburg" by Cölestin Wolfsgrüber, The Catholic Encyclopedia (1912). Retrieved from New Advent

Charlemagne by Roger Collins

Carolingian Chronicles: Royal Frankish Annals and Nithard’s Histories, translated by Bernhard Walter Scholz with Barbara Rogers

Alcuin’s letters played an important role in Kim Rendfeld’s research about eighth-century Saxony, where the story for The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar begins (August 28, 2014, Fireship Press). Kim’s latest release is a tale of the lengths a mother will go to protect her children after she’s lost everything else. To read the first chapter or find out more about Kim, visit, her blog Outtakes of a Historical Novelist, at, like her on Facebook at, follow her on Twitter at @kimrendfeld, or contact her at kim [at] kimrendfeld [dot] com.