Where Romance and History Meet - www.heartsthroughhistory.com/

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas in Medieval England

Since my day to post fell on December 25th, highlighting some Christmas traditions in my favorite time period and location seemed appropriate.

The word Christmas: came from the Old English “Cristes Maesse” and Middle English “Christemasse,” or Christ’s Mass. St. Nicholas day was celebrated on December 6, but the popular saint had no connection with Christmas/Santa Claus during this period. On this day the “boy bishop” was selected in many churches. The chosen one would dress and behave like an actual bishop for three weeks, until Holy Innocents Day on December 28.

Entertainment: from Christmas to Twelfth Night (Feast of the Epiphany, January 6) included, music, caroling (singing and/or dancing in a circle), and mystery plays. The wealthy featured minstrels, costumed and masked tenants and/or visiting players. New Year’s Day was celebrated with music and gifts.

Someone low on the social ladder was chosen as the Lord of Misrule. He presided over raucous revelry and was permitted to subject those above him to his commands.

Gifts:  Exchanged on New Year’s Day, not Christmas. Lords often gave money to their servants. Servants made ‘offerings’ to people higher up the social ladder of items including gloves.

Lords and tenants gifted each other with food. The lord would either make arrangements for a communal meal or feed his tenants, but they might have to bring their own dining implements.

Food: People couldn’t eat animal products (even milk and cheese) during Advent. So by the time Christmas rolled around, they were ready to eat meat. The wealthy often dined on a variety including venison, goose or perhaps swan. Why not turkey? It wasn’t imported from America until the 1500’s.

Another popular dish was boar’s head, either real or a representation created from other foods. “Brawn en peverade,” a pottage (stew) made from dark, fatty meat of boar or poultry boiled with vinegar, onions and spices was also popular.

The poor would dine on the deer’s “umbles” (liver, kidneys and other innards) baked into a pie. Hence came the phrase,“eating humble pie.”

The plum pudding's association with Christmas takes us back to medieval England and the Roman Catholic Church's decree that the 'pudding should be made on the twenty-fifth Sunday after Trinity, that it be prepared with thirteen ingredients to represent Christ and the twelve apostles, and that that every family member stir it in turn from east to west to honor the Magi and their supposed journey in that direction. http://www.foodtimeline.org/christmasfood.html

Decorations: Churches and houses were decorated with greenery.

Ruth Kaufman

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Kissing under a parasite???

I posted this on the Cactus Rose blog last week, but since it is Christmas and this is a timely topic, I'm posting it here as well. Happy reading and Merry Christmas!

Mistletoe is one of the traditions of the Christmas Season. But did you know—

Mistletoe is an evergreen. The traditions of displaying evergreens at Christmas came about as a way to bring color and the green hope of spring into the home.
This plant however is a parasitic shrub. It grows on trees, living off the host plant. They are not full parasites, since the plants are capable of photosynthesis. But these mistletoe plants are parasitic in the sense that they send a special kind of root system down into their hosts, the trees upon which they grow, in order to extract nutrients from the trees.
Mistletoe has long been regarded as an aphrodisiac and fertility herb. It may also possess abortifacient qualities, which would help explain its association with uninhibited sexuality.
The unusual botanical history of mistletoe goes a long way towards explaining the awe in which it was held in the Norse myths. For in spite of not being rooted in the soil, mistletoe remained green throughout the winter, while the trees upon which it grew and upon which it fed did not (the European mistletoe often grows on apple trees; more rarely on oaks). The fascination this must have exerted over pre-scientific peoples is understandable.

Mistletoe was first hung in farmhouses and kitchens so young men could kiss the maidens while standing under it. Only they were to pluck a white berry each time they kissed and when the berries were gone so were the kisses. The berries are poisonous.

The Druids believed it was sacred and held medicinal and supernatural qualities. That is the mistletoe of oak trees. Other types of trees also have their own parasite or mistletoe but it is the Oak that was the most favored.

The Druid priesthood held a ceremony around Christmas time or five days after the New Moon following the winter solstice. They cut the mistletoe from a holy oak with a golden sickle, catching the branches before they hit the ground. The branches were divided into sprigs and given to the people to hang above their doorways for protection against thunder, lightning, and other evils.

The folklore, and the magical powers of this plant, spread through the centuries It was thought placing a sprig in a baby's cradle would protect the child from faeries. Giving a sprig to the first cow calving after New Year would protect the entire herd.

Celts believed that because mistletoe received sustenance from the host tree it also held the soul of the tree.

Ancient Scandinavia and the Norse mythology is where the tale of kissing und the mistletoe started. It was considered a plant of peace in Scandinavian history. If enemies found themselves under mistletoe in the forest they laid down their weapons and called a truce until the next day.

Most say kissing under the mistletoe is an English custom there is a story that dates back to Norse mythology. It is about an overprotective mother.

The Norse god Balder was the best loved of all the gods. His mother was Frigga, goddess of love and beauty. She loved her son so much that she wanted to make sure no harm would come to him. So she went through the world, securing promises from everything that sprang from the four elements--fire, water, air, and earth--that they would not harm her beloved Balder.
Leave it to Loki, a sly, evil spirit, to find the loophole. The loophole was mistletoe. He made an arrow from its wood. To make the prank even nastier, he took the arrow to Hoder, Balder's brother, who was blind. Guiding Holder's hand, Loki directed the arrow at Balder's heart, and he fell dead.
Frigga's tears became the mistletoe's white berries. In the version of the story with a happy ending, Balder is restored to life, and Frigga is so grateful that she reverses the reputation of the offending plant--making it a symbol of love and promising to bestow a kiss upon anyone who passes under it.

Is hanging mistletoe a tradition in your family?


Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Pen Is Mightier Than the Sword(And Just As Old, Too).

I’ve always had an interest in the pen. In junior high school, I started studying calligraphy and my best Christmas present one year was a beginners set of calligraphy pens. Over the next few years, I spent my allowance buying dozens of different pen nibs (the part that does the actual writing in calligraphy), special calligraphy paper and inks.

As I was writing my debut release, Widow’s Peak, someone told me that the word “pen” was anachronistic to the middle ages. That made me wonder about the history of pens as writing implements.

As to the word “pen” itself, it seems to come from penna, the latin for feather, or pinna the Olde English form of the word. It seems use of the word was first recorded around 1300.

A pen is defined as a writing implement with a chamber that holds ink. Historically, the main body of the pen was made from dried material carved in various ways to make a chamber that would hold liquid ink. Most held a very small quantity of ink, in many cases, no more than enough to write a few words.

Historically, pens seem to fall into three main categories, quill pens, reed pens, and dip pens. Quill, or feather pens seem to be the first recorded use of a pen. Texts mention use of bird feathers for writing on the Indian subcontinent in about 5000 BC. They were the pen of choice in Western culture until the end of the 19th century.

Reed pens were carved from dried river reeds or bamboo. Their first recorded use is in Egyptian Texts at around 3000 BC. They are still used today in some parts of Pakistan to teach handwriting in schools.

Dip pens have a metal nib or tip rather than a carved tip like reeds and quills. A bronze nib was found in the ruins of Pompeii and it is suspected that the Romans may have used them as well. Other types of pens did exist historically, but were often awkward to use and produced less than ideal products.

The earliest known fountain pen dates back to 10th century when a caliph demanded a pen that would not stain his hands or clothing. A reservoir pen was devised that served the caliph’s needs. In 1827, a student studying in Paris, reinvented the fountain pen and the French government immediately patented the new device. By the 1850’s, several other fountain pen patents had been filed and the first mass produced pens began to appear. However, the quill pen was still the pen of choice until nearly 1880.

The first patent on a ballpoint pen was issued in 1888. In 1938, the Biro brothers designed a pen with a free rolling ball tip that distributed ink evenly and gave a uniform writing line with minimal skipping and blotching. World War II pilots popularized the use of the ballpoint pen and it remained the pen of choice well into the seventies.

Today, we have all kinds of pens. Fountain pens, ballpoint pens, felt-tip pens, roller-ball pens, gel pens. From the inexpensive stick pen to outrageously priced fountain pens. Though computers, pda’s and smartphones have changed the way we write in the last twenty years, I’m sure that we will always be able to find a pen to jot down that phone number or sign that contract.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Games before Electronics: Yes, Virginia, There Were Games That Didn't Require Plugs or Batteries

Christmas 2009 - Americans are bombarded with commercials for the newest, most technologically advanced electronic gaming. Playstations, X-boxes, Wiis - surely I've left something out - people today rarely play any games that don't involve expensive electronics and graphics that rival what you'd find on a movie screen. But the equipment, buy the game, buy the guides to cheat codes - the opportunity to buy amusement is endless. But is all this technology and expense really necessary to have fun?

Americans of years past would disagree. Even when I was a child (and I'm not that old), board games and card games provided hours of fun. Sorry. Monopoly. Mystery Date - I always wanted the guy in the suit when I was a girl, but now I know I'd go for the bad boy. We had fun without expensive games that took a team of engineers to design.

Amazingly, even during a tragic time in America's history, the Civil War, games provided an escape from monotony and troubles. Civilians and soldiers alike passed time playing games of all sorts - games that relied on skill, luck, and interaction with fellow players.

Card games were especially popular with military men. Poker was a popular favorite, while faro, keno, and twenty-one were also common choices. Manufacturers even produced card decks with military icons such as stars, flags, and generals.

Dice games such as craps were also popular. Since dice were often homemade, some were actually designed to enhance a cheater's ability to do just that.

Chess, checkers, and backgammon were popular board games of the time. Small, handmade checker boards were even carried by soldiers into the field.

Americans during the Civil War managed to enjoy life on the home front and in the field. Simple amusements and games provided welcome distractions from the ugly realities of life during a monumental crisis in America's history.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Pony Express

Well, I knew all week that I was to blog today (I have the 19th of every month). But the time got away from me, so here's a post from my own blog, Chatting with Anna Kathryn, that first appeared in August, 2009.

For today's blog, I'm once again turning to Mike Flanagan's book: IT'S ABOUT TIME: How Long History Took. I've done several blogs using this little book since I started The Friday Record and I recommend it for a quick look at history. The back blurb says that IT'S ABOUT TIME “chronicles nearly two hundred key events” which “offer an utterly unique and fascinating perspective on human history.”
(Left: Frank E. Webner)

On page 94, Flanagan reports on The Pony Express, which existed in 1860-61 for 1 year, 6 months, 22 days. With the Westward Expansion off to a pretty good start and large settlements established along the west coast, it was important for business to be conducted in a timely matter. Back then, timely manner meant twenty days by coach from St. Louis, Missouri to Sacramento, California or thirty days by ship from New York City to San Francisco, California . So, William Russell, Alexander Majors and W. B. Wendell devised a plan to send mail via horseback, a much faster mode of transportation, which cut the time in half to only ten days. The Virtual Museum of the City of San Francisco has posted a reprint of the San Francisco Newsletter, September 1925, which says,

Six hundred broncos, especially chosen for fleetness, toughness and endurance, were purchased. Seventy-five men, none of them weighing over one hundred and ten pounds, were engaged as riders, being selected on account of their bravery, their capacity for deprivation and their horsemanship, as well as for their shooting abilities and their knowledge of the craft and the manner of attack of the Indians. One of these, Henry Wallace**, was selected for the signal honor of inaugurating the Pony Express on April 3, 1860. In one of the laced pockets of his mochilla (Mexican saddlebags) he carried a message of congratulation from President Buchanan to the Governor of California, the words having been telegraphed that very morning from Washington to St. Joseph.

**This is in dispute. On the City of St. Louis, Missouri website, it says “Historians have never fully agreed whether Johnny Fry or Billie Richardson was the first rider...” So, I have know idea who Henry Wallace is...
(right, rider Billy Fisher).

One hundred ninety (190) stations were set up over the 1,966-mile trail. The riders were given six hours to ride sixty miles on six different horses, which were traded at the stations, for the first transcontinental trip. Other information shows that the riders were allowed to travel up to 75 miles before trading off with another rider.

While The Pony Express was a huge and instant success, its days were numbered from the start. Already, transcontinental telegraph wire was being strung and railroad tracks laid. In addition, the cost of sending a letter was prohibitive, $5 a half-ounce (compare with our 44 cents for the first ounce). The founders, who already owned a freighting business, envisioned government contracts to be big money-makers. Unfortunately, that never came about and when the telegraph was finally finished, The Pony Express met its doom. So did the financial situations of its founders. All three died in poverty, having lost half a million dollars in the venture.

However, during its short-lived life, The Pony Expressed covered over 650,000 miles and delivered 34,753 pieces of mail. Information in that mail included the election of Abraham Lincoln as president and the taking of Fort Sumter by the Confederates.

Anna Kathryn Lanier
Holiday Cheer
A New Recipe Every Day at:

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Holiday Cooking

History, especially of foods and how they relate to some of our holidays, have always fascinated me. Some of my ancestors came from Holland, so the early
Dutch customs were of special interest. The housewives in New Amsterdam were great bakers. The holidays were times when fabulous spreads of food, especially cakes and pies appeared on their tables. On New Year’s Day neighbors, at least the men, went from house to house, sampling and drinking.
One of the delights the women served sound much like something served in New Orleans. The recipe, with modern ingredients and directions, will follow.

The Dutch often cut these into different shapes, not just the little puffs we know today. One of the favorite ways to fix these was to cut the dough into strips with a little slit in the middle. One end was pulled through the slit and then they were fried. They had a name for the pastries fixed this way - Tangled britches.

Along with a number of cakes, these crullers were beloved and helped provide a
variety on the table. They went well with the tea they served - tea usually laced with rum. I can just see the men standing around a table which was groaning with food, drinking, smoking their pipes and eating Crullers as they wished each other a good “New Year!”

Dutch Crullers.

1/3 cup granulated sugar
¼ cup butter (don’t use margarine)
2 eggs
2 tablespoons milk
1 ¾ cup flour
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon nutmeg
½ teaspoon mace (I’ve been known to cheat and use ½ teaspoon cinnamon)
Fat for frying and Powdered sugar

Cream the sugar and butter until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time beating after each addition. The fluffier the mixture the better the pastry. Add the milk. Sift the flour and spices together and stir into the creamed mixture. Mix well, but don’t beat the mixture to death. Chill for at least an hour. Roll half the dough on a lightly floured board (Roll only in one direction or they’ll be chewy) until you have a sixteen by eight inch rectangle. Cut into two inch squares. A pastry wheel works well. I’ve even used cookie cutters. Repeat with the remaining dough. (Caution - don’t rework the dough if you use cookie cutters.) Fry in deep fat at 375 degrees until golden on both side. (about 1 ½ minutes) Dust with powdered sugar. Serve warm. If you cut these into squares you should have about 5 dozen.

Enjoy, and Happy New Year!

Allison Knight

Sunday, December 13, 2009

I (heart) reserch

I confess I love to do the research for writing historical romance.

History had always been part of my life. I was lucky enough to grow up in an extended Midwest family with a rich oral tradition. Family reunions were filled with tales of adventures of frontier life that they’d heard from their families, as well as stories when they were children in the early last century.

So I’ve always felt connected to the past. The stories of who we are and where we come from is something I wanted to past on to others who weren’t as luck as I. I did this as a college instructor of US History and Western Civilization. Telling these stories carried over to writing historical romance. Because of my teaching, I wanted my stories to be as authentic as possible.

Which leads us to research.

My first historical romance, KENTUCKY GREEN, is set on the frontier of 1794 in Ohio and Kentucky. Because of my history degrees, I already had the general political, social and economic background. The first research I did was on the costumes/clothing, as that is not something they cover when you’re studying for your BA and MA.
Once I had the general plot line of my story, I started researching. The hero is a civilian scout for the Army who is coerced into escorting my heroine back to her childhood home in Kentucky. He and the heroine travel from Philadelphia to Pittsburg via a wagon train. So I had to find their route and how long it would take. Thanks to the WPA, I found a travel guide to Pennsylvania that listed not only the original main road from Philadelphia to Pittsburg, but listed all the little towns, how far apart they were, when they were founded, and even their elevation. So I found the original name and about the ferry my wagon team to use to cross the river.

From Pittsburgh, our hero and heroine travel by river boat to my fictionalized town in Kentucky. This I based on Lexington. Researching Lexington, I found that an Englishman had visited there in the 1790s and written a book listing every business there along with the price of timber, candles, eggs, molasses, etc. as an advertisement for immigration to Kentucky.
The key to research is to give the writer a sold background in which to place the story. Research should be like an iceberg, only the very top part shows. So I didn’t use the price of timber, candles, eggs or molasses into the story as it wasn’t needed.

Since my hero is a crack shot with this Kentucky long rifle, I did some research on that rifle. One help was that years ago my husband had replica black powder rife, so I knew what is sounded and smelled like when it fired. And in the course of the story, the hero teaches the heroine how to shoot the rifle, so all that detail was useful.

I did use some of my grandmother’s stories. On one scene in KENTUCKY GREEN, the heroine is churning butter, one of my grandmother’s chores as a child. I gave the rhyme my grandmother used to keep time while moving the dasher up and down to my heroine. Passing along history give authenticity to the story.
One of the reason I chose this time and place for my first novel was that I so loved Janice Holt Giles novel THE KENTUCKIAN which I read when in high school. I later learned that Giles used as a background a Mater’s Thesis, The Life and Times of Benjamin Logan. Logan is a secondary character in the book. And, of course, her book rang with authenticity.

For my second story, I chose Durango, Colorado as the setting. Years ago on a cross country trip we traveled through Durango. First thing was to get a history of the city and go from there. Not only did this give me background, it gave me the historic fire that provides the climatic action for the book.

The hero in COLORADO SILVER, COLORADO GOLD is an undercover agent for Wells Fargo. A book on the history of Wells Fargo confirmed that they did, in fact sometime employ an undercover agent. The main business in Durango at that time was mining and smelting. I end up researching the smelters and mining in Durango. Again, I end up using a lot of this information as the hero explains some of the works of the smelter to the heroine as he wants to impress her.

Researching 1880 Durango was much easier that 1794 Kentucky due to the amount of information actually available. As this was a real location, as apposed to my fictional town in Kentucky, and much more current in time, some of the actual buildings as well as the narrow gage railroad still exist. This railroad brings both the hero and heroine to town in the story.

My big find was something I learned from a writer’s workshop, the Sanborn Fire Insurance maps. These historic maps were made by the insurance company that showed all the main streets and also gave the location of all the business. So while the book on Durango history said where the main concentration of saloons was located, on the insurance maps, there they were, one whole block of solid saloons.
The map gave me a good mental image of Durango so I could easily picture my characters there. It also gave me a soda fountain where my hero bought the heroine a sarsaparilla. One of those instances where the research gave birth to a scene.

Today there is a lot more information on the web than before. I still usually start out with a book on where I’m writing the story. This gives me a foundation, and as the story line takes shape, then I know what else I might have to research.

This does not mean I can find everything I want. Some things a writer just has to make up, but with the research I’ve done, I can be reasonably sure that what I fictionalize will be within the realm of authenticity.

I know that an author can’t always do accuracy, but I try for authenticity. I always include author’s notes in the back of my books in case the reader wants to know more, or know if everything was accurate.

As an author, do you like to research? What was your best find?

As a reader, do you like the historic romances to have authenticity?

Friday, December 4, 2009

Texas and Werewolves and Vamps, Oh My!

The title of this blog was inspired by a line in the movie, The Wizard of Oz. Wonderful characters and imaginary animals filled the screen during the movie. We haven’t lost our love for imaginary characters and animals, have we? The movies prove that every year, and now werewolves have hit the screen in a big way. The current popular movie, The Twilight Saga: New Moon, features both the villain and the hero as werewolves.

Fortunately, our entertainment doesn’t have to stop with movies. Werewolf fans can find plenty of exciting fiction books featuring werewolves. As a romance writer, I find werewolves make for both tragic and heroic characters. I can let my imagination run wild. I can envision the story with things I’ve seen and experienced in my own life. I’ll always remember following the narrow dirt road from the family cabin to the fishing hole, and the tree root which formed a menacing claw at the edge of the thick woods I had to walk through to reach the stream. When I was young I imagined the claw shaped roots to be a warning of danger which lurked in the trees’ shadows.

I remember a trip with my family across Texas, trees covered with moss at the shadowed edge of a river at dusk. We drove through the darkness of night and saw a flock of huge birds which flew in front of our car as we crossed a bridge over a river. I’d never seen anything like those giant birds before and had no idea what they were or why they were flying at night. I know they weren’t owls. They’ve become an important part of one of my romance stories about shape shifters which includes werewolves.

Adding romance to a shape shifter story heightens the stakes for the characters. A hero with an emotionally monumental past to overcome is perfect for a werewolf, a larger than life alpha male. He must not only overcome the evil villain, but he must face sacrificing everything, and put his life on the line to protect the woman he loves. Such actions endear him forever to a romance reader's heart.

Following is the story blurb for Moonlight Desperado :

In Texas after the Civil War, Mary Ann Beauclere is imprisoned by soldiers turned raiders. Outraged when Captain Craig Wolfe steals a kiss, and more, in front of the men, she follows his orders, desperate to protect her little sisters asleep upstairs. The outlaws demand bedding and food. Captain Wolfe helps her, and she softens toward the desperado, allowing his kisses, drawn to him as to no other.

Confederate spy, Craig despairs of finding his life mate. Hiding his assignment from the raiders, he only intends to protect Miss Beauclere, until he recognizes Mary Ann as the woman he will love forever. Her courage tempts him to dream of a future together. Will she love him, a werewolf? If not, he’ll spend his life alone.

When Craig claims her as his life mate, secret identities and a vicious pack member threaten their future and their lives. Can they save each other?

I hope you’ll enjoy reading Moonlight Desperado, my latest werewolf romance story, available soon, late December or early January, from Siren-Bookstrand Mainstream.

Jeanmarie Hamilton

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

History of the Caber Toss

The hero of my latest release, Kilted Lover, tosses cabers at the Scottish Games. I thought it would be fun to take a look back at the history of the caber toss and see why it was invented.

But first, what is the caber toss? It is a heavy athletic event at Highland/Scottish Games. A caber is a 15 - 23 feet long log, usually peeled, weighing between 70 and 200 pounds (depending on who you ask, and the type of tree). The athlete squats with his feet flat on the ground and wedges the caber between his shoulder and neck, pushes upward with his hands, and lifts it slightly, just enough to slide his interlocked hands beneath the smaller end. (During the event, no one can assist him in lifting it.) Then, with the caber resting against his shoulder, he lifts and stands upright. He must balance the log in the air. Remember, the heavier, larger end of the log is up, so he may stagger around a bit until it is balanced. He takes a short run forward and flips the log in the air. He must make the large end hit the ground and the small end flip over and land straight ahead, away from him. This is an event of accuracy rather than distance, so it doesn't matter how far he throws it. For the best score, the small end of the caber needs to land at the 12 o'clock position, straight out from the thrower.

Caber tossing, also called turning the caber, or the "tossing (or casting) of ye barr" was first recorded as an athletic event in Scotland at a 1574 "wappinschawes" (weapon-showings) which were sporting contests of strength, agility and speed which related to military prowess.

As for the history of caber tossing... Round Hill Highland Games website says: "The history of the caber is elusive. The term 'caber' derives from the Gaelic word "cabar" or "kaber" which refers to a rafter or beam. The most prominent legend surrounding the origin of the caber toss is that of breaching barriers or crossing streams during wartime. In the Scottish highlands, you often have freezing-cold streams that you need to cross. During battle, the caber was tossed from one side of the stream to the other to quickly make a bridge, allowing fellow Scotsmen to cross and continue on to chase rival clans. This is why the caber is tossed for accuracy, rather than distance."

This makes perfect sense. Scotland is a very wet place, with many lochs, bogs and streams. It would take lots of practice and great skill to put the caber exactly where it needed to be, across the stream, and not in the stream where it might float away.

Now, the change the subject slightly, I'm thrilled that the book video for Kilted Lover placed first in the You Gotta Read Video contest! Thanks again to everyone who voted!

Here is a chapter 1 excerpt from Kilted Lover where the hero, Scott, tosses the caber.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Facts, Fiction, Research...oh my...

Readers often email me to ask me about research. Sometimes they simply want to know if I hold a Masters in history and sometimes they want to point out what I did wrong.

Well, I don't hold a Masters in history. In truth, I never like history in school, but I do enjoy researching now. Partly because it is a means to procrastinate and partly because I find it fascinating. I recently had a woman email me to tell me how much she enjoyed my latest release, HIGHLAND DRAGON, but also pointed out that my heroine was liable to make the hero and his kin sick because she had picked rowan berries and they ate them. Apparently raw rowan berries will give you a stomach ache. I didn’t know that. Which is what I told her. LOL She was so tickled to discover that she had taught me something, that she dug out the newspaper article she had read on the subject and mailed it to me. FROM SCOTLAND!

I didn’t mind. Actually I thought is was kind of cool. We writers have so much to worry about that sometimes, yes, we can get the research wrong. For example, in HIGHLAND DRAGON, I also used the scent of honeysuckle to describe my heroine. Prior to publication, one of my critique partners pointed out that honeysuckle was not native to Scotland. Sheesh! What’s a girl to do? So I changed the name of the flower to the Gaelic word for sugar: siùcair.

Is it really that important to get it all right? Well, there are some readers out there who would say yes. I for one, like to focus on the romance and hope for the best, but if you are one of those crazed-diehard-must-get-it-right people, then here are a few website to assist you with your research…Enjoy!

12th & 13th Century Clothing - Definitions
18th Century Costume Terminology
By the Sword
Historical Clothing Terms
Crinolines Fashion History
Deb's Historical Research Page
Measurement in the Middle Age
Medieval Clothing Terms
Medieval Fashion Glossary-Images
Noble Ware
The Tudor Shoppe
Clothing Of The Fifteenth Century

History of the Scottish Kilt
History of the Tartan
Reconstructing History — Scottish Historical Clothing Research
Scottish Women's Clothing

Italian Dress
Italian Renaissance Clothing 1420-1520
Italian Renaissance

Arms and Armour Terms
Emotion Thesaurus
Dictionary of Baby Names, Meanings and Origins
Etymology Dictionary
English/Irish Dictionary
Herb & Spice Dictionary
Merriam-Webster Dictionary
MSN Encarta
Navy Slang
One Look
Pirate Glossary
Regency Cant and Expressions
Regency Lexicon
Renaissance Faire Glossary
Scots Dialect
Scots Terms
Scottish Vernacular Dictionary
Ships Glossary

Terms for Castle, Armor, Weaponry
Clothing Terms
Job Listing
Insults and Slang of the 15th Century
Medieval English Towns
Knighthood, Chivalry & Tournament

Medieval-Themed Restaurants
Medieval and Renaissance Food
The Medieval Kitchen

Historical Money
The DiCamillo Companion
Money in Florence, Italy
Measurement in the Middle Ages

Baby Names
Fake Name Generator
Regency Names
Medieval Names
Medieval Naming Guide
Scottish Boy Names
Scottish Girl Names
Scottish Names 101
Victorian Era Names


If that isn’t enough to make your eyes cross, feel free to visit my writers page for more...

Kimberly Killion
4-STARS from RT Book Reviews "This is a tale to cherish."

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Thanksgiving Yesterday and Today

Parades. Giant Balloons. Football Games. Black Friday. Doorbuster Sales. While families still gather for mouth-watering Thanksgiving feasts, many modern Thanksgiving traditions would amaze those from previous generations. One can only wonder what those who celebrated the first national Thanksgiving celebration in the United States would have thought of the evolution of Thanksgiving into a prelude to holiday shopping.

While there is some disagreement as to when and where the first Thanksgiving on American soil took place, the first national Thanksgiving observance was proclaimed by Abraham Lincoln in 1863. Since then, Thanksgiving has been observed throughout the nation each November. Through the Franklin Roosevelt administration, each president who succeeded Lincoln proclaimed a day of Thanksgiving, usually the last Thursday in November, until December 26, 1941, when Franklin Roosevelt signed a bill making the fourth Thursday of November the day for the official national Thanksgiving holiday into law.

When Lincoln proclaimed a national Thanksgiving observance in 1863, the country was embroiled in the most bitter, deadly conflict ever to occur on American soil. Horrific battles such as the Battle of Gettysburg created widows, orphans, and mourners on both sides of the conflict. For most Americans in the North, the Thanksgiving observance in 1863 was a bittersweet affair. Sarah Josepha Hale, the editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book, had lobbied governors and Presidents for forty years to have Thanksgiving declared a national holiday. President Lincoln, recognizing the weariness of the nation and the darkening of the nation’s mood, proclaimed a national day of Thanksgiving to give thanks for what was good in America despite “the wounds of the nation”.

The military did not officially observe the holiday that year, though many units held special dinners and celebrations. In 1864, the Union League Club of New York took steps to ensure Union soldiers and sailors enjoyed a Thanksgiving Dinner. Launching a public campaign, the group raised thousands of dollars and collected tons of food to be used in preparing these dinners. The effort to provide military men with a hearty Thanksgiving meals was a success, with many soldiers and sailors appreciating the effort to care about the troops in the field.

On the Union home front, Thanksgiving dinners were very similar to the feast we enjoy today. Roast turkey with stuffing, green beans, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie were commonly found on the holiday table, along with fried oysters, soups, sweet potato pudding, and other rich, delicious dishes. Thanksgiving was a time for families to gather and reminisce, cherish memories of those we’ve lost and miss those who aren’t able to be at the table. In that respect, Thanksgiving today hasn’t changed one little bit.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Women of the West

WOMEN'S DIARIES OF THE WESTWARD JOURNEY, by Lillian Schlissel, relates letters, diaries and the lives of dozens of women who traveled the Overland Trail during the 19th century. While the men of this major American migration saw the 2,500 mile trip as an adventure and a way to start up a new life, women saw it as “a leaving behind”—family, friends and as Margaret Wilson wrote, “my children buried in...graveyards.” (pg. 28) The women knew they were leaving stable communities and “domestic circles” for the unknown.

What the women discovered, however, was that necessity really was the mother of invention. Within weeks, if not days, after hitting the trail, women found a new circle of support within the female society of the wagon train. They banded together for the common good to move the train along its rocky and uncertain path to the hoped for happy journey's end.

In the 1800's, a woman's place was home—hearth, children, kitchen. This did not change just because home was now a rolling wagon. A woman continued to do the cooking, baking, washing and tending to the sick and children. Only now, the cooking and baking were done over an open fire, in the rain with wet wood or cow chips gathered while walking the day's miles. The washing was done on river banks with cold water and harsh soaps. The children had more adventures and scrapes to be wary of, but often suffered from neglect, because the mothers “carried more than their normal share of care and work.” (pg. 49)

Women had different routines than men. They rose earlier, worked harder and stayed up up later. They did their own jobs and also helped the men with theirs. Martha Morrison wrote, “The women helped pitch tents, helped unload [the wagons] and helped yoke the oxen.”(pg. 35) They also drove the oxen and wagon and herded the sheep and cattle as well.

The work, no matter how unusual to them, soon became routine and repetitious to the women. The mundane work, however, gave a sense of regularity and predictability that could ward off the unexpected dislocations of the road. (pg 102). It helped them to overcome the hardships they endured— the sickness, the deaths, the lost possessions. It helped the women get through one step, one mile, one day at a time. It helped them reach their journey's end.

I think we often romanticize the days of Western immigration. We don't think about the hardships, the hard work, the hard life. Of course, this is true in any time period. We don't discuss the smells, the dirt, the everyone sleeping in the same room.

What is a historical fact of life that you think is best left out of romance novels? I guess in my Wagon Train story, the dirtiness of the characters would have to be it. I mean, how can they be getting romantic when neither one has bathed for days?

Leave a comment and you'll be elegible for a copy of Suzanne Enoch's BEFORE THE SCANDAL.

Anna Kathryn Lanier
Where Tumbleweeds Hang Their Hats


Monday, November 16, 2009

Getting the Research Right

Over and over I’m intrigued by how some authors don’t spend the few more extra minutes it takes to research a bit of history. Something caught my eye the other day, but I won’t name the source, nor mention the publisher, but once again, even with the big names in romance, somebody missed the facts.

My concern this time was putting maple trees in the wrong country. However, food is often the culprit, and since my background is food, I’m always interested in mistakes people make. For example, early on in our history, all along the east coast of the USA, oysters were very plentiful for everyone and even poor people could afford them until the 20th century.

Then there is the poor tomato. Today I want to set the record start on the ‘poor’ tomato.

Okay, no matter whether you call it a fruit or a vegetable, the poor little creature started life in the South, south America that is. When the explorers came to the new World, they discovered people eating and growing tomatoes. They were probably yellow and small, but the plant intrigued the Europeans and they took them back to Europe with them as decorative plants.

The Italians immediately saw their usefulness and began to incorporate them in their dishes. This was in the 1600’s. Oh and by the way, pizza began in the 1880’s in Italy. The chef concocted the dish to impress the Queen, using the colors of the Italy flag, red sauce from the tomato, white from the mozzarella, and green from basil on a bread base. Back to the story of the tomato.

It spread from Italy to the rest of Europe, but people compared it to several poisonous plants and named it poison as well. It traveled from Europe to the colonies as a decorative plant. It wasn’t until the early 1820’s (or so the story goes) that a gentleman by the name of Johnson stood on the steps of the Salem courthouse and ate a basket of tomatoes before a hushed crowd. People expected him to writhe in pain and died. At the time people began to wonder if the “Fruit” was as poisonous as everyone thought. Of course the Italian communities coming to the big cities were also using the tomatoes but that was until a bit later in the century.

The poor plant didn’t gain complete acceptance until Campbell brought out his condensed tomato soup in the late 1800’s.

The lesson from all of this is - check before you put the fact on paper. We have so many excellent search engines now, and it will only take a few minutes, unless you are like me. When I find an interesting tidbit, I can spend hours looking up all the facts, when I should be writing.

By the way, the lowly tomato, once considered poisonous, is now universally one of the most popular fruit/vegetables we have.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Secondary Characters

In a romance novel, it's the hero and heroine - and their love story - that are the main focus. And that's how it should be. We all love to close that book with a contented sigh at that "happily ever after."

But along the way to the ending are many stumbling blocks for our couples. And one of the best devices to help them along the way to happiness is the secondary character.

I love secondary characters. They can come in many forms - a hero's best friend, a heroine's father or sister. For that matter, a secondary character needn't even be human. Animal friends, ghosts, or fairies can sometimes be just as real in the world of romantic fiction.

Two of my favorite secondary characters appear in my first novel, In Sunshine or in Shadow, as well as my upcoming Highland Press release, Coming Home.

Margaret Kilpatrick is known to everyone in the small Irish village of Ballycashel as Grannie Meg, She's my heroine's grandmother, shrewd, full of wisdom, understanding, and the rock Siobhan Desmond depended on when her life was nearly destroyed by the Famine. She was also the first to perceive hero Rory O'Brien's true character.

Tom Flynn was even more fun to write. He was Siobhan's best friend from girlhood, a man she looks on as a big brother. He stood by her during the worst time of her life.

Tom has also been like a second father to Siobhan's daughter Ashleen, heroine of Coming Home, and that "second father" role does complicate Ashleen's budding romance with Irish-American war hero, Cavan Callaghan. There were a few times when Tom's Irish stubbornness - and the famous Flynn temper! - tried to take over the story. But I managed to rein him in. And he did help bring about a very satisfying conclusion to Ashleen and Cavan's romance.

Do you enjoy seeing secondary characters take part in the romance of the hero and heroine? Who are some of your favorite - and least favorite - secondary characters?

Monday, November 2, 2009

Twisting Legends: The Amulet in Kilted Lover

A magical Celtic amulet is an important element in my latest release, Kilted Lover. Though the story is contemporary, the amulet is seven hundred years old. My idea is based on the Ring of Dalny. According to legend, Dalny was the Queen of Partholan, one of the first races to inhabit Ireland, more than two thousand years ago. Since Highlanders are descendants of the Irish, the Ring of Dalny ended up in Scotland. I had read somewhere (which I can't find now!) that the Ring of Dalny, which had a blue stone, was stolen from a Scottish Museum and never found. Whether all this is real history is unclear, but imagine if it were. And imagine the ring has magical powers. It would be worth a fortune.

The way I twisted this legend for my own story was to change the name of the ring to Glaminy and create a companion piece of jewelry, a magical peridot and gold amulet worn as a pendant. Instead of being in a museum as the ring was, the amulet has been passed down for many generations through the heroine's family. It is so old, she doesn't even know its history or its purpose. But someone else does, a thief who is an expert of antiquities. He knows it's worth millions and he's determined to have it.

The amulet in my story has Celtic symbols and Gaelic words carved into it but these are almost worn away by time. These words Tha fios fithich agad, mean "You have a raven’s knowledge."
In Transactions, Volume 12 by Gaelic Society of Inverness 1885-86, raven's knowledge is said to mean "knowledge more than is natural. The raven was believed to possess supernatural knowledge, and of coming events in particular."

Not much is known about the mysterious Glaminy Amulet in my story. It is like a forgotten piece of history that suddenly comes to life and causes all kinds of chaos--greed, danger, passion. The peridot glows brightly at times, or flashes of light pass through it. Depending on what is going on, it can grow warm to the touch, or burning hot.

Kilted Lover: Chapter 1 (excerpt)

“My amulet isn’t for sale,” Leslie Livingston said for the second
time, wishing this line at the refreshment stand would move
forward already. Every minute that the Charleston sun beat down
on her was another step toward dehydration. And the jerk
harassing her about the amulet made the situation twice as
“Come now, luv, I’ll give you a hundred US for it.” The gray-
haired Englishman sipped his cola. Too bad she couldn’t have
gotten in line ahead of him.
“No, thanks.” Her grandmother had given her the amulet years
ago and she would never part with it. Even if it was worth only ten
dollars, the sentimental value was priceless.
“Two hundred, and I’m being very generous.” The man beside
her inched closer. His black dress pants and white button-up shirt
seemed out of place at the Scottish Games.
She took a step back, hating close-talkers. “Nope, sorry. Why
are you so interested?”
“I’m a jeweler and it’s an unusual piece. Two-fifty?”
Leslie sighed, though she felt like screaming. “No,” she said in a
firmer tone.
“You’ve got to be joking. It’s only a peridot, for God’s sake. It
can’t be worth any more than that.” His pale gray eyes took on a
menacing quality.
Leslie was tempted to grab his drink and pour it over his head.
“Clearly it is, or you wouldn’t want it so badly.”
“How much did you pay for it?”
“It was a gift.” Move forward, people, she mentally shouted at
those in line ahead of her.
“Three hundred, and you’ll be robbing me blind.”
“Leave me alone,” she said through clenched teeth. “Even if
you offered me a thousand dollars, the answer would still be no.”
The man’s hand shot out toward her chest and the amulet. She
jumped back and slammed into a body so solid that it didn’t budge.
Big hands caught her upper arms.
“What the hell are you doing?” The deep voice almost growled
the words.
“I’m sorry—” Leslie began. But his eyes were fixed with
malicious intent upon the British man.
“The lady said no. So beat it.”
With her back pressed against his hard chest, she felt his words
“Fine.” The Brit looked like he wanted to snarl, but he strode
away, muttering about ignorant Americans.
Her rescuer released her.
“Thank you.” Leslie couldn’t help but stare up—way up—into
his sexy face. His narrowed, sea-green gaze was pinned on
someone far off to her left. The frown and clenched jaw
emphasized his rugged, masculine bone structure. She noted his
long, sun-streaked sandy hair, the white T-shirt stretched over his
enormous chest, and the plaid kilt belted at his waist. A low-slung
silver chain held a black leather sporran in place at the front of his
kilt. Male earthiness emanated from his skin. But for the t-shirt, he
might have been a fearsome warrior transported through time from
the Scottish Highlands.
“No problem.” He fully focused on her, and the temperature
climbed ten degrees. That made it around ninety in the shade, not
unusual for September in the Low Country.
Music swirled from bagpipes in the distance. Voices mixed with
laughter, and for an instant, she imagined herself far, far away with
this luscious hunk. In Scotland? Chills and heat raced over her
“That is an unusual amulet. What makes it light up?”
“What?” The large peridot encased in gold was indeed glowing.
She lifted the stone and the heat from it surprised her. “I have no
Though her grandmother had given it to her fifteen years ago,
today was the first time she’d worn it. The story of its origins was
lost in the mists of time. She’d always considered it gaudy and
unfashionable, but she thought it appropriate today, a Celtic amulet
worn to Scottish games.
“How old is it?” he asked.
“I don’t know.” Now was he interested in it, too? Surely not. He
didn’t look as if he would wrestle her for it.
“It’s your turn.” His attention lifted to her eyes and held her
captive with the power of his stare.
Okay, that was just too sexy. Heat and awareness rushed over
her. “My turn?”
He grinned and gestured toward the vendor.
“Oh, sorry.” She spun around, feeling a bit lightheaded, not to
mention idiotic, and placed her order. Dear God, he was yummy.
She had the mad urge to lick him.
That’s just stupid, Les. You’re a mature, responsible, respected
veterinarian. You don’t have those kinds of thoughts.

Nicole North - Kilted Lover, Red Sage
Copyright © Nicole North, 2009
All Rights Reserved, RED SAGE PUBLISHING, INC.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Regency Women, Money & Men -- And My New Release!

There was many a woman and her children in the Regency who had to make do with little after living a grand life… actually there are women still today who deal with this but that’s a topic for a different blogsite.

When you think of widows being removed from their homes and having to survive off of what meager means were left to them or the charity of friends and family, while some far off male relative lives in the house they used to inhabit, Mr. Collins comes to mind. Do you recall Mr. Collins? Oh, the silly little man…the bane of Elizabeth’s existence…

Just because a woman was taken care of before her husband died, didn’t mean she’d be taken care of when he was gone. If a man held a title, and that title owned the property, and could only be transferred to the next legitimate male heir, and that man happened to only have daughters, when he passed on, his wife and daughters would have to vacate the premises if the male heir so deigned it—and more often than not, he would. They might be left with a meager yearly allowance from the estate, which she would have to make do with until or unless she re-married, or was able to live off of her daughters marriages.

Everything seemed to come down to living off of someone else. Unless you were lucky enough to be left a substantial inheritance which would make you wealthy in your own right, or the peerage title could be passed to a female.

In my newest release, Her Captain Surrenders, the 2nd story in my Regency Men of the Sea series, I wanted a strong willed widow. A woman who was wealthy in her own right, and didn’t have to get married for money. Juliette can survive on her own, and simply wants a lover. A man she could share things with, a companion and best friend.

She finds that in one Captain Nathaniel Cruise. When she falls in love with him, it isn’t a worry for her that he doesn’t hold a title, she is free to pursue him, free to follow her heart—and he leads her on a merry chase!


Captain Nathaniel Cruise has a job to do. But what happens when a beautiful woman tempts him to turn his eye from his duties to pursue more…pleasurable entertainments? Not only that, the woman has a wit and intelligence that rivals his own and he finds himself falling deeper and harder for her.

Lady Juliette Blackburn, knows what she wants, and she wants Captain Cruise. A rich widow in her own right, she’s decided to take her love life in her own hands. However, at every turn the man of her dreams is running away from her. She’ll have to keep up a subtle chase to discreetly reel him in.

Despite their mutual attraction something darker is pulling them together. A rogue former lover of Juliette’s is the main suspect in Nathaniel’s investigation, and now he’s threatening both their livelihoods. Together they’ll fight the villain and perhaps on the way Nathaniel and Juliette will surrender to love.

“Author Eliza Knight delivers maximum heat per page in HER CAPTAIN SURRENDERS. Confirmed bachelor Captain Nathaniel Cruise meets his match in Lady Juliette Blackburn whose aim is matrimony. Captain Cruise must uncover a traitor to the Crown while resisting Juliette’s sizzling advances. Their lives depend on his success. HER CAPTAIN SURRENDERS is a sexy romp that keeps you guessing right to the end.”

~Sarah Richmond,
author of award winning ROSE ADAGIO


“Captain Cruise.” His hostess Lady Challedon came up behind him. “May I introduce to you to a dear friend?”

Nathaniel swallowed his distaste at meeting another groom hunter, and turned to gaze into the most stunning pair of lavender eyes, made all the more brilliant by a frame of thick, curling black lashes. Lady Blackburn. For a moment he was struck dumb. They’d never been formally introduced, yet he’d seen her everywhere, the park, ballrooms, Covent Garden, and dinner parties. And she had seen him. More than once, he’d looked up to find her eyes on him but he’d been too preoccupied helping Captain Montgomery, the Earl of Stafford, to beg an introduction. He’d managed to find out her name, that she was a widow, and little else.

“My pleasure, ladies.”

He bowed. She curtsied. Nathaniel let his gaze fall to where full breasts pushed the limits of her silvery gown. His gaze lingered on her breasts a scant moment longer before traveling the length of her narrow waist and rounded hips. The curves of her figure promised to be a lush experience for any man. His body stirred to life with the thought. Perhaps he could persuade her to enjoy a night with him.

He caught his bearings and managed a polite, “Lady Blackburn, would you care to honor me with a dance?”

“I should like that very much.”
Deep golden blonde hair, with hints of coral red, bobbed atop her delicate head as she nodded. She slipped her arm into the crook of his elbow, and gazed up at him. Her touch sent a shocking hunger racing through his veins. He’d never reacted this way to a woman before.
Get ahold of yourself, Nathaniel! He felt like an adolescent rather than the two and thirty years he was.

“Captain Cruise, I seem to be running into you quite often. Are you enjoying the Season?”

He paused a moment before answering. He couldn’t tell her he would rather chew off his own arm than attend another ball. He should let her know he didn’t intend to tarry long in London. The sea called his name, begged him to return, and he planned to answer as soon as he possibly could.

“’Tis a most fascinating way to distract myself until I return to my ship.” Nathaniel glanced at the lady to gage her reaction.

The corners of her mouth curved into a smile that didn’t quite reach her eyes. She looked away, as if trying to hide her disappointment.

“What is the name of your ship, Captain?” Her voice held a note of pique. Was she a saucy lady then?

Contest.... answer this question: Which British monarch abdicated the throne in order to marry his love, an American divorcee?

Email your answer to writer@elizaknight.com for a chance to win a copy of BOTH Her Captain Returns and Her Captain Surrenders.

Cheers and Good Luck!

Upcoming Workshops

~Crafting the Sensual Novella
~Conducting Historical Research Online

~Edit Your Book in a Month
~The Hapsburg Dynasty

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Researching your characters

I prefer researching and writing about the U.S. in the 1800's. Specifically the western U.S. However, I find myself time and again having to research farther back and overseas to fully develop my characters.

A character's roots tells a lot about that character and I find that by going back on the family tree I can develop my characters and make them more real. My problem is even though I'm researching for my book set in the west in the 1800's I have to delve into 1700's Europe sometimes.

I remember my Social Studies classes and learning all about the "boiling pot" that makes up America. I know the only true American is the Native America who has been on this continent the longest though I've also read they came from another continent as well, long, long ago. My heritage is a "Heinz 57". My mother's side being predominately German and my Dad's side Dutch, Irish, English. So even to find my ancestral background I have to travel abroad.

Which brings me to- I have a book case full of western reference books and few on European history and find myself either going online or traipsing to the library to find the research materials need when I work to "discover" family history on a character. Anyone wanting to comment and leave me some good reference books I'd appreciate it.

For my latest release, Miner in Petticoats, the heroine took some research. I wanted her Scots, but while researching for her background I found that many of the Scots at the time she would have been a girl were exiled to Ireland due to clan wars. So I put her in Ireland and she married an Irish man who was killed during the uprisings between the Irish and the English.

While none of the story takes place in Ireland, I still had to research the living conditions and the upheaval going on there to be able to give my character back story that made her who she is in this book.

Shouldering the burdens of his family and the mining community, Ethan Halsey devotes himself to providing for his brothers’ growing families.

However, Aileen Miller, a widow, also looking out for her family’s interests, refuses to part with the land he needs. As they battle- one to push his dream to reality and the other to prove no man will hurt her again- their lives become enmeshed and their hearts collide.

How far have you gone to build your character in your mind as well as your reader's?


Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Other Medieval Queen

When we think of a medieval queen, the woman who often comes to mind is the queen around whom I developed my debut novel Widow's Peak, Eleanor of Aquitaine. Yet, there is another queen who was at least equally as powerful in medieval times. Isabella of France was responsible for many changes in the history of England.

Isabella was born a princess of France sometime in 1295. While still an infant, she was promised in marriage by her father to Prince Edward of England with the intent to resolve some of the many conflicts over land holdings between the French Nobility and the Norman English Rulers. However, the English king, Edward I, attempted to break the engagement several times and the marriage only proceeded after he died, in 1307.

The new king, Edward II, was tall, athletic, and wildly popular when he and Isabella were married in January, 1308. She was twelve years old and considered a great beauty, but her time at the French court more than prepared her for the machinations of the English court.

Although they produced four children, Edward was notorious for lavishing sexual attention on a succession of male favourites, all of whom Isabella considered a threat to her son and thus to her own standing. The timing of her turn against her husband seems to be tied to his preference for his favorite, Hugh le Despenser. During her pregnancy with her fourth child, she begged her husband to exile Despenser from the kingdom. Edward agreed, but later that year reneged and called his favorite back to England. Apparently, that was the last straw as far as Isabella was concerned. It is rumored that sometime during the next few years she took as her lover Roger Mortimer, 1st Earl of March. Though Mortimer was married and had twelve children, the affair was soon openly acknowledged.

It’s commonly accepted that Edward II was an ineffectual ruler. When Isabella's brother, King Charles IV of France seized Edward's French possessions in 1325, she returned to France as a delegate charged with negotiating a treaty. However, she became a focal point for the many nobles opposed to Edward's reign. In alliance with her lover, Roger Mortimer, Isabella gathered an army to oppose Edward. Enraged by such treachery, Edward demanded that Isabella return to England, but her brother refused to expel her, saying she came to France of her own free will and could remain as long as she desired. As it turned out, her stay was not long enough for Edward II.

With the support of both the King of France and the King of Holland, Isabella and Mortimer landed in Suffolk in 1326 with a fleet of eight man of war ships and an army of mercenaries. Edward II offered a reward for their deaths and the king was rumored to have carried a knife in his hose saved just to kill his wife if he got the chance. Isabella responded by offering twice as much money for the head of Hugh Despenser, who was still Edward’s favorite.

The invasion by was successful and Edward's few allies deserted him without a battle. The Despensers were killed, and Edward II was captured and forced to abdicate in favor of his eldest son, Edward III of England. Since the young king was only fourteen when he was crowned in 1327, Isabella and Mortimer ruled as regents in his place. As instigator of her own husband's removal from the throne, Isabella contributed greatly to the decline in England of the power of the monarch and thus the rise of democracy.

According to legend, Isabella and Mortimer plotted to murder the deposed king by sending the famous order, Eduardum occidere nolite timere bonum est, which, depending on where the comma was inserted, could mean either "Do not be afraid to kill Edward; it is good" or "Do not kill Edward; it is good to fear". There is little evidence of who decided to have Edward assassinated, and none whatsoever that the infamous note was ever sent.

When Edward III turned 18, he and a few trusted companions staged a coup and both Isabella and Mortimer were taken prisoner. Mortimer was executed for treason, but Isabella was spared she was allowed to retire to Castle Rising in Norfolk. She did not, as legend would have it, go insane, but enjoyed a comfortable retirement and made many visits to her son's court, doting on her grandchildren, and later taking the habit of the Poor Clares before her death in 1358.

In the tumultuous 63 years of her life, Isabella of France married the bi-sexual King Edward II of England, lived with him for 17 years, bore him four children, fled to France in fear of his powerful favorite, returned with her lover, Roger Mortimer, to lead a rebellion and place her son on the throne, saw Mortimer executed as her son asserted his power, and lived to retire to a nunnery. She was indeed a medieval woman who dared pursue power.

I'm giving away a copy of Alison Weir's intriguing biography, Queen Isabella: Treachery, Adultery, And Murder in Medieval England. Leave a comment about your favorite queen, ancient, medieval, renaissance, or any other period. I'll draw a winner on October 31st.

Hanna Rhys Barnes

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Historic Haunts

Last month, I wrote my blog about ghosts of Virginia. Today, with an eye toward Halloween, my favorite holiday, I’m going to take us on a “tour” of haunted houses of the south. The history in haunted houses intrigues me as much as the prospect of ghostly funny-business afoot. Perhaps the Amityville Horror spawned a movie and an abundance of sequels, but the history of the house is actually quite recent. Murders in the latter part of the twentieth century aren’t nearly as intriguing as houses that may have been home to other-worldly beings for a hundred years or more.

One of the most notorious haunted houses was a farmhouse in Tennessee. The home of John Bell, a farmer in Adams, Tennessee, the Bell family was allegedly tormented by a spirit for years after an incident in 1817 when John Bell claimed to have shot at a creature with the head of a rabbit and the body of a dog. The creature disappeared, but the spirit made its presence known soon afterward. Scratching and knocking was heard in the home, while residents suffered hair pulling and other annoying assaults. Bell’s daughter, Betsy, took the brunt of the abuse doled out by the vengeful ghost. Supposedly, the ghost was the spirit of Kate Batts, a deceased neighbor who was said to have cast a vengeful curse on Bell from her deathbed. The Bell Witch became so famous that then-future President Andrew Johnson visited the home. Eventually, John Bell succumbed to illness, possibly the result of his experience with the Bell Witch. John Bell may have been poisoned, or perhaps the Bell Witch had her final act of vengeance with his death.

Less well-known is a house in Portsmouth, near the Virginia coast. A sea-captain who’d lost his wife in childbirth and later, his daughter to an outbreak of yellow-fever is said to roam the house where he once lived. Doors open and close and footsteps are heard on the stairs. Dogs have been known to bark at empty hallways. Unlike the Bell witch, the ghost in the Portsmouth house has never harmed anyone. Perhaps the heartbroken sea captain still wanders, seeking the loved ones he lost a very long time ago.

Sometimes, a house doesn’t appear to be haunted, but an object in the house demonstrates supernatural characteristics. An example is the portrait of Martha Hill, a Virginia beauty born at Shirley Plantation on the James River. The painting was once removed from the home and displayed as part of a travel exhibit. A well-respected witness reported seeing the portrait sway on its own from its hanging place in the exhibit. Months later, the portrait was stored in a closet for a period of time. Noise emitted from the closet disturbed employees until the portrait was removed. Eventually, the portrait was returned to its place in Shirley Plantation, and has ceased its restless motion. Could it be that the spirit of Martha Hill inhabits the portrait – while at home, she’s content and at rest – or were these incidents the result of coincidence? Perhaps we’ll never know.

One could devote a great deal of research time to the history behind haunted houses. Fanciful? Certainly. Enjoyable. Definitely, if you’re like me and enjoy a taste of the supernatural not. Whether or not you believe ghosts might be setting up residence in houses, the history behind these legends provides insight into the lives of the former occupants. Deaths due to disease and childbirth, love and loss, superstitions – these factors and more impacted the lives of those who came before us. The history of the occupants while they walked this earth is as fascinating as the speculation over the possibility they may still take up residence in their homes many years after their deaths.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Cutting Edge Music

As Blythe Gifford posted in September, I also listen to music when I write. I even create a playlist to get me in the mood. So how is this post different than the excellent one she posted last month?

Well, most of what I listen to is popular music. Cutting edge music. But we all tend to think of historical music as "classical." Venerable. Revered. Even stodgy and dull. What we all forget is that the music we now think of as stodgy and dull was the popular, cutting edge music back in its day.

Think of the waltz? Boring dance right? Well, maybe compared with modern gyrations on the dance floor it might be, but when it first appeared it was scandalous. Men and women in each others arms, pelvises together mimicking...sex. It was popular. It was cutting edge. And everybody was doing it - even if they only did it behind closed doors.

Now think of the musicians creating that music. Creating scandal. As today, they were the bad boys that all the women and girls probably watched with baited breath whether they admitted it or not.

What do we think of when we think of Mozart? He's the epitomy of classical music today. But when he was making music, he was a scandal. He was rude, crude and obnoxious (if the play/movie Amadeus can be believed). Yet the women went nuts for him. Well, if he really looked like the portrait to the left, I can guess why. There's a wicked twinkle in his eye that women respond to. He's not bad looking and dang, he created some amazing music. How could he not attract the chicks? He was the Elvis of his day. And I bet the dads hated the guy and kept their little girls far, far away.

I'm sure the antipathy between dads and musicians go back far longer than that. After all, the Middle Ages featured the troubadours. Young men who traveled from place to place with their instruments and made a living off their music. Secular music. Music about love. Courtly love. Forbidden love. Oh my...more sex. How delightfully wicked.

Imagine Nickelback (or fill in your favorite rock band with appropriately hot lead singer) showing up at your front door offering to play their music while you eat dinner. What's not hot about that?

In the image I've added here (painted by Edmund Blair Leighton) I don't know if the dude with the fancy hat is the father or the husband, but either way...he looks worried. And well he should. Musicians are and were the hot bad boys we'd all love to dally with in our deepest fantasies. And back in the day, their music was the scandalous, cutting edge stuff that rock music or hip hop is today. Keep it in mind when you're writing because it can help you create a useful and/or funny scene for a historical romance you write in the future.

What's your favorite historical music? Do you think the composer or performer was stodgy or a bad boy back when he wrote it?