Saturday, February 18, 2017

The Unpopular Tudor

by Samantha Wilcoxson

On February 18, 1516, the Tudor court celebrated the birth of Princess Mary. After struggling to give her husband an heir, Katherine of Aragon was thrilled with the healthy baby regardless of her gender. King Henry VIII was pleased to have evidence of their ability to procreate, even if he would never grow comfortable with the idea of this little girl as a future queen. While Mary is at best ignored and at worst villainized in modern discussions of the Tudor era, she was looked upon more favorably during her own lifetime.

Mary's early childhood was charmed. She was beloved by both parents and praised by those visiting her father's court for her beauty and precociousness. Henry may not have wished for Mary to inherit his kingdom, but he understood her value as a potential wife. He was proud of his daughter and ensured that she received an exceptional education.

Henry VIII's Great Matter and Queen Katherine's fall from favor is often offered as a reason for Mary's actions during her reign. However, this reasoning fails to demonstrate a comprehensive understanding of Mary Tudor. Rather than vengeance, she was motivated by her belief that it was her duty to shepherd her people in the faith.

Queen Mary I has become known as Bloody Mary, and one cannot deny that almost 300 Protestants were burned for heresy during her reign. But there is so much more to this devout woman who endured much hardship and heartbreak during her brief life. She is remembered much less positively than her sister, Elizabeth I, who also executed and imprisoned people over disagreements on faith. Others suffered simply because they had not pleased Elizabeth. Their father ruled in much the same way. Why then has Mary become the unpopular Tudor?

Mary may have struggled to have her father recognize her as legitimate once he had set aside her mother, but her more serious issues began on the accession of her brother, Edward VI. Henry's Church of England had, by and large, been Catholicism with Henry at its head rather than the Pope. Those who advised the young Edward had something rather different in mind. Mary held as steadfastly to her faith as one might expect of the daughter of Katherine of Aragon, causing some to call for her arrest. The most bold encouraged Edward to have her executed, whether for treason or heresy made little difference.

Edward VI's Devise for the Succession
The young King Edward refused to go that far. As his once close relationship with his eldest sister disintegrated, he badgered her about the mass being held on her estates and imprisoned some members of her household, but he would not take legal action against Mary herself. The most significant step he took against her was his Devise for the Succession, written when he suspected that he was dying.

Edward had never taken the step of legitimizing either of his half-sisters. Therefore, Mary and Elizabeth were still legally bastards throughout his reign, though still his heirs based upon the Act of Succession made law by their father's Parliament. Had Edward lived longer, he likely would have had this rescinded with the succession altered to fit his own desires, but when he died in July 1553 only his will had been updated.

Bypassing both sisters and his cousin, Frances Grey, who were the next three in line according to the Act of Succession, Edward attempted to leave his crown to Lady Jane Grey, Frances' daughter. Neither Edward nor his council foresaw the popular support that went to Mary instead. There was little love for Queen Jane, for few knew her. However, many remembered the widely celebrated Princess Mary and saw her as the true heir of her father and brother.

Mary quickly and effectively took the throne with little resistance. Once John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, left London to lead Queen Jane's forces, support fell away as if a dam had collapsed. The people would have Mary as their queen, and many of the older generation among them also welcomed the return to traditional faith and worship. The immediate concern upon Mary's accession was not her religion but her marriage plans.

Many betrothals had been proposed over the years, but Mary remained single at age 37. As queen, the bearing of an heir was paramount, but everyone remembered her mother's sad childbearing history. Mary needed to be married quickly but to the proper spouse. In a country that had never before been ruled by a woman, Mary's choice of husband was a scary prospect. Any English subject she chose to marry raised his family up astronomically, but marriage to a foreign prince could be even worse.

Despite much encouragement for her to accept the suit of Edward Courtenay and the York blood flowing through his veins, Mary chose a cousin from her mother's side of the family, Philip of Spain. Philip's father, Charles V, had long been a great supporter of Mary and her mother, and Mary trusted him more than almost any other. When he offered his son, she quickly accepted, but the rest of the country feared that England would become part of the Holy Roman Empire of which Charles was king.

This outcry against Philip became fused with the younger generation's reluctance to accept the old faith. Had Mary better understood her subjects, she may have made a different decision, for she was as dedicated to serving her country as her sister would later be credited for. Her misjudgment was severe, causing Protestant uprisings against Philip and all he stood for.

It was in the name of ensuring her people's salvation and rescuing them from heresy that Mary reinstituted burnings in 1555. In the 16th century, salvation was not a private issue as it is today. Monarchs saw it as their duty to care for their subjects on this earth and to provide them with worship that gave them the hope of heaven. All across Europe, leaders were struggling with what this meant in the face of the Reformation. Mary was determined that reformist heresy would not damn her people to hell, and her hope was that, by punishing a few, she would save the masses.

Burning as a punishment is horrific to the modern mind. To the 16th century mind, it was a foretaste of the fires of hell that encouraged the sufferer to repent and therefore be saved from the eternal fires. Those punished might be saved at the last minute, and those who witnessed would be forced to reconsider their beliefs. Mary believed that she was doing her duty to her people and her God in her attempts to end heresy.

Her contemporaries, by and large, agreed with her. Some became enraged when local authorities in charge of fulfilling Mary's commands used their power to punish rivals rather than heretics, but Mary's actions were widely accepted. Were it not for the biased writing of John Foxe and efforts of her own sister after Mary's death, the Marian burnings would scarcely be a notable historic event. In truth, fewer were executed by Mary than her fellow Tudor monarchs.

The rejection of Catholicism in England has become connected with the negative view of Queen Mary, so that, even today, people remember her more as Bloody Mary than the first Queen Regnant of England. The lack of sympathy with which she is viewed and misunderstandings of her abound, but Elizabeth significantly benefited from her sister's example.

Lesser known than the persecution of heretics and false pregnancies of Mary's reign are her acts of mercy and ability to inspire loyalty of her people. During Wyatt's Rebellion in 1554, an uprising determined to stop Mary's marriage to Philip, Mary refused to leave London and gave a rousing speech to the people of the city, encouraging them to stand by her and oppose the rebels. They did.

In her speech, Mary used words that would later be employed by her sister.
What I am loving subjects, ye know your Queen, to whom, at my coronation, ye promised allegiance and obedience, I was then wedded to the realm, and to the laws of the same, the spousal ring whereof I wear here on my finger, and it never has and never shall be left off.
I cannot tell how naturally a mother loveth her children, for I never had any, but if the subjects may be loved as a mother doth her child, then assure yourselves that I, your sovereign lady and your Queen, do earnestly love and favour you. I cannot but think you love me in return; and thus, bound in concord, we shall be able, I doubt not, to give these rebels a speedy overthrow.
I am neither so desirous of wedding, nor so precisely wedded to my will, that I needs must have a husband. Hitherto I have lived a virgin, and I doubt not, with God's grace, to live still. But if, as my ancestors have done, it might please God that I should leave you a successor to be your governor, I trust you would rejoice thereat; also, I know it would be to your comfort.

The rebellion failed, but Mary found herself tested. She had thus far shown mercy to Lady Jane, despite the usurpation, but her father had been involved in the rebellion. The Duke of Suffolk was beyond saving, but Mary did not concede to sign Jane's death warrant until she was convinced that Philip would not come until known traitors were dealt with. In a eerie replay of Edward of Warwick's execution to clear the way for Mary's mother, Jane went to her death to please the Spanish. To soothe her conscience and demonstrate mercy where she could, Mary forgave 400 rebels who had been sentenced to hanging.

While this one act of mercy saved more men than all those who had died for heresy, it is not acts such as this that Mary is remembered for. Neither is she given credit for demonstrating to her younger sister that a woman could indeed rule. Elizabeth learned from Mary's mistakes and made many of her own, leading to the end of the Tudor dynasty. She ensured her own reputation as Gloriana, in part by blackening the name of the sister who preceded her. Mary may be the unpopular Tudor, but her story is one that inspired her sister to greater glory and might deserve to be more sympathetically remembered today.

Additional Reading
Catholic England under Mary Tudor by Eamon Duffy
Mary Tudor: Princess, Bastard, Queen by Anna Whitelock
The First Queen of England by Linda Porter
Edward VI: The Lost King of England by Chris Skidmore

All images in the public domain through Wikimedia Commons

Samantha Wilcoxson is the author of the Plantagenet Embers Trilogy. A incurable bibliophile and sufferer of wanderlust, she lives in Michigan with her husband and three teenagers. You can connect with Samantha on her blog or on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads. Samantha is also a contributor to In Bed with the British, coming from Pen and Sword this summer.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Prehistoric Orkney: The People of the Stones

By Mark Patton

In an earlier blog-post, I examined the evidence for the earliest human settlement of the Orkney Islands, between 4000 and 3700 BC. Using stone axes (since they had no knowledge of metals), these Neolithic settlers rapidly cleared the islands of whatever tree-cover they may once have had, in order to create fields in which they might grow barley and oats, and graze their cattle and sheep. The islands have been almost entirely devoid of woodland ever since, the strong westerly winds, laden with salt, being hostile to any potential regeneration. Across much of prehistoric Europe, wood was an important building material, but on these northerly islands, stone took its place: the sandstone of the Orkneys fractures into flat-faced rectangular blocks, giving these buildings, among the most ancient in the world, a surprisingly modern appearance.

The settlement of Barnhouse, dating to around 3400 BC, is significantly larger than the earlier one at the Knap of Howar, with fifteen houses. Its inhabitants seem to have fished, as well as growing cereal crops, and keeping cattle, sheep and pigs. The finds from the village include several elaborately carved stone balls: quite what significance these had is unclear, but similar artefacts have been found across the Scottish mainland, as well as in Ireland and northern England, showing that the island populations were by no means cut off from what was happening elsewhere.

One of the Neolithic houses at Barnhouse. Photo: Martin McCarthy (licensed under GNU).
Neolithic carved stone balls, Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum, Glasgow Photo: Johnbod (licensed under CCA).

The people who lived at Barnhouse (and doubtless at many similar settlements which either have not survived the ravages of time, or have yet to be discovered) buried their dead in stone-built tombs. A visitor to Orkney will encounter many of these, but I will focus on just two, both of which are located on the small island of Rousay (one of the less-developed islands in modern times, on which more of the prehistoric sites have consequently been preserved).

The tomb of Midhowe is what is termed a "stalled cairn:" an elongated stone chamber, divided into "stalls" by stone slabs, with most stalls containing human remains, in some cases complete skeletons, in other cases disarticulated bones. The remains of at least twenty-five people were found at Midhowe, together with bones of cattle, sheep, and seabirds. "Stalled cairns" are distinctively Scottish, but not uniquely Orcadian (there are many examples across Caithness), although the island tombs are, in some cases, larger and more elaborate than those on the mainland.

The Midhowe chambered cairn. Photo: Lawrence Jones (licensed under CCA).
Plan of the Midhowe chambered cairn, showing the position of burial deposits. Image: Fantoman400 (licensed under CCA).

The tomb of Taversoe Tuick, by contrast, is a "passage grave," or "passage tomb," with a narrow stone passage leading to a larger chamber, covered by a mound. In architectural terms, it represents a variation on a theme more widely distributed along the Atlantic coast of Europe, with examples found in Iberia; western France; the Channel Islands; Wales; Ireland; the Hebrides; Denmark; and Sweden. Taversoe Tuick is unusual, perhaps unique, as a "double-decker" passage grave, with two tombs, one on top of the other, and entered from opposite sides of the mound.

The chambered cairn of Taversoe Tuick. Photo: Colin Smith (licensed under CCA). The entrance shown leads into the lower tomb. 
The passage of the lower tomb at Taversoe Tuick (Photo: Stephen McKay (licensed under CCA). 
The junction between the upper and lower tombs at Taversoe Tuick. Photo: Stephen McKay (licensed under CCA).
Plan of the chambered cairn of Taversoe Tuick. Image: 
Neolithic pottery ("Unstan Ware") from Taversoe Tuick. Image: Fantoman400 (licensed under CCA).

Both "stalled cairns" and "passage graves" have been seen as "territorial markers" ("this land is our land, because it was cleared and cultivated by our ancestors, whose bones stand as witness to the fact"), and both are constructed in such a way as to facilitate ongoing "communication" between the living and the dead. This may reflect a belief system in which death was seen, not as a journey from one world to another, but rather as a changed state of being ("the dead remain among us, but, as ancestors, they differ from elders, just as elders differ from adults, and adults differ from children"). This "communication," however, seems to have been a largely private affair, the narrow entrances of the passages, and the small size of the chambers, limiting the number of people who could participate in whatever rituals were conducted within.

Some archaeologists, notably Lord [Colin] Renfrew, have seen, in the structure of these tombs, a reflection of a "segmentary lineage society:" a form of social organisation observed by ethnographers in tribal societies in Africa and elsewhere, in which a tribe is made up of clans; which themselves are made up of major lineages; which in turn are made up of minor lineages; each division defined by descent from a historical or mythical ancestor.

Diagram of a segmentary lineage society (adapted from E.E. Evans-Pritchard).

Such societies may have been widespread in Neolithic Europe, but are, perhaps, more easily imagined in a context such as Orkney, where both the houses and the tombs are built in durable stone, and have been relatively undisturbed by later agricultural and industrial development.


Mark Patton is a published author of historical fiction and non-fiction, whose books may be purchased from Amazon.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

A History of the Cuckold's Horns

By Deborah Swift

What is a cuckold?
Up until the Victorian era, the concept of the cuckold was endemic through English culture. The word 'cuckold' comes from late Old English, from the Old French cucuault. The root of this is from cucu ‘cuckoo’, and refers to the cuckoo's habit of laying its egg in another bird's nest. A cuckold is the husband of an adulterous wife, and in days gone by, a label associated with shame and humiliation. It's implication was that the man could not control his wife, or that he was impotent.

Copy of a painting by Francois Bunel

The Mystery of the Horns
The symbol universally associated with cuckolding was a pair of ram's horns. Strength, power and supremacy, along with procreative vigor have always been associated with horns, which are used when the animal fights its rival in the mating season. In some cultures today, horns are still used symbolically, and powdered rhinoceros horn is still sold in Asia as an aphrodisiac. What we must understand as modern readers is that the horns had connotations of the Devil, that the mention of them was full of sexual innuendo. In a way the horn embodies both the male and female organs by being both hollow and protuberant.

In Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing, Beatrice says 
'There will the Devil meet me, like an old cuckold, with horns on his head.' 
Stag antlers were also an old symbol of cuckolds. Christianity sought to discourage pagan worship of horns and depicted the Devil himself as bestial, and thus horned.

The Contented Cuckold 1673 - British Museum

Charlton Horn Fair 
One of the most popular events in London's season was the Charlton Horn Fair, which lasted for three days, and was a fair with a scurrilous reputation, encouraging rowdy and drunken behaviour. It was so bawdy that the fair had to be moved from its place opposite St Luke's Church, to a place at the other end of the village.

The Legend of King John
So how did it start? Legend has it that King John, having been out hunting on Shooters Hill, was in dire need of refreshment. Finding a miller's cottage nearby, he went to ask for a drink. He found the master of the house away, but his beautiful wife took pity on him (or perhaps was impressed by his fine clothes) and invited him in.

They talked a while, and she gave him food and drink, and the attraction between the King and the miller's wife grew. Just as he was about to kiss her, the door swung open and the miller strode in. Finding his wife in the King's arms, the miller pulled out a dagger and swore he'd kill them both.

Of course the King then told him who he was, and the miller sheathed his dagger and swallowed his fury. The King, mindful of the wrong he had done to the miller, and no doubt grateful for his life, vowed to endow him with him all the land he could see - as far as the bend in the river where the horns were fixed on a pole.

He also gave him permission to hold a fair on 18th October every year - the anniversary of the event. That bend in the river became known as Cuckold's Point, and the fair the Horn Fair. Now whether this is a true story, we can only guess, but perhaps there is a grain of truth there.

The Procession
By tradition, the fair opened with a procession, headed by a man carrying a pair of horns on a pole, and visitors dressed up as the miller, his wife or the King. Much cross-dressing went on, and ribald jokes and lewd behaviour were the order of the day.
'at Horn Fair, a party of humorists of both sexes (query, of either sex) cornuted in all the variety of bull-feather fashion, after perambulating round Cuckold’s Point, startled the little quiet village of Charlton on St. Luke’s Day, shouting their emulation, and blowing voluntaries on rams’ horns, in honour of their patron saint.'
In this 18th century etching from the British Museum below, we can see 'a riotous scene in a country village where a shrewish wife and hen-pecked husband are mocked by their neighbours in procession. The couple ride on one horse, the man facing the tail, preceded by another man on horseback who throws grain from a pannier to the crowd. Further to the right, cuckold's horns in the form of a stag's head, a ram's head and a cow's head are held aloft, the latter attached to a woman's shift, and "rough music" is played on pots and pans. In the background, is a river and a similar procession takes place on the far bank.

Skimmington-Triumph, Or the Humours of Horn Fair

When the parade reached the actual fair, this was the scene, according to author Daniel Defoe:
'Charleton, a village famous, or rather infamous for the yearly collected rabble of mad-people, at Horn-Fair; the rudeness of which I cannot but think, is such as ought to be suppressed, and indeed in a civiliz’d well govern’d nation, it may well be said to be unsufferable. The mob indeed at that time take all kinds of liberties, and the women are especially impudent for that day; as if it was a day that justify’d the giving themselves a loose to all manner of indecency and immodesty, without any reproach, or without suffering the censure which such behaviour would deserve at another time.'
Every visitor to the fair wore a pair of horns, or carried one, and horns were tied above the gate, around the fences and over the stalls. Even the gingerbread men for sale had horns. The fair was a great excuse for licentiousness in all forms and this no doubt led to its great popularity.

The cuckold was a common feature of married life in the seventeenth century, and cuckold often used as an insult, the way bastard might be now. Insulting someone could be done by showing them a horned fist gesture, or putting two fingers up behind the head as a sign of  their stupidity. During the English Civil War a song called Cuckolds All In A Row was popular with Cavaliers, who sang it as a chant against the London Roundheads.
‘And when they reach Cuckold’s Point they make a gallant show.
Their wives bid the Musick play Cuckolds All In A Row.’
Cuckold’s Point also features in the play Eastward Ho by Ben Jonson. This scene epitomises the idea of putting up cuckold's horns to let a man know his wife was being unfaithful.
Enter SLITGUT with a pair of ox-horns, discovering Cuckold’s Haven.
SLIT: All hail, fair haven of married men only! for there are none but married men cuckolds. For my part, I presume not to arrive here but in my master’s behalf, a poor butcher of Eastcheap, who sends me to set up, in honor of Saint Luke, these necessary ensigns of his homage. And up I got this morning, thus early, to get up to the top of this famous tree, that is all fruit and no leaves, to advance this crest of my master’s occupation.' 
Censure and Closure of the Horn Fair
In 1873 the fair fell victim to Victorian morality and was closed down. It has been re-incarnated as a family friendly event, with none of its historical connotations, and Cuckold’s Point is now The Canary Wharf Hilton Hotel!

Charlton Horn Fair - Victorian era

I couldn't resist including a cuckolding procession in one of my novels, and you'll find it in The Lady's Slipper. 

London Lore - Steve Roud
Mayhew's London - Peter Quinell
Folklore and Customs of Rural England - Margaret Baker
Shakespeare's Life and World - Folio Society
Strange History
Charlton Champion


Deborah Swift lives in North Lancashire on the edge of the Lake District, an area made famous by the Romantic Poets such as Wordsworth and Coleridge. In the past she used to work as a set and costume designer for theatre and TV, so enjoys the research aspect of creating historical fiction.

More details of her research and writing process can be found on her blog at or follow her on twitter @swiftstory

Monday, February 13, 2017

A VALENTINE VIGNETTE - The First and Final Love of Lady Jean Gordon

by Linda Fetterly Root
The Valentine Heart Rose, T.Kiya, Flicker Commons,
Countesy of  Wikimedia Commons

When we think of the notable love stories in English history and literature, we recognize the names  Elizabeth and Leicester, Nicholas and Alexandra,  Victoria and Albert and more recently , Mrs.Simpson and the Duke of Windsor and the flamboyant Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. If we expand our search to cover the world,  we might add Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda, and even the Reagans. But there are many we have missed. For Valentine’s Day, I offer one of my favorites.

LADY JEAN GORDON: A Twice- Jilted Lady

In 1561, the year after her husband Francois II died, the Queen of Scots was faced with few alternatives other than returning to Scotland, which she had ruled through regents since her birth in 1542. Two factions competed to receive her –the Protestant Lords of the Congregation, headed by her half-brother James Stewart, and the Catholic faction, represented by the Earl of Ross but led by the northern warlord George Gordon, Earl of Huntly. The  Protestants won the honor. Within two years, rebellious  Catholics capitulated to an army  under the leadership of the Queen and her brother. The great highland Earl,  George Gordon, died in his saddle, possibly of a stroke or heart attack. The Queen extended mercy to Gordon’s family: only one of his children was executed, the other sons briefly sent into  exile, and by the spring of 1563, all seemed to have been forgiven. The Gordons were back at court, including the dead earl’s wife and oldest surviving daughter, Jean. At the time, Jean was sixteen and in love with one of her brother George’s best friends, Alexander Ogilvy of Boyne. They had known one another since childhood in the Highlands, but were both a part of Marie Stuart’s retinue. However, the Queen of Scots had other matches in mind for each of them. There are several versions of what happened.

Marie Beaton
copyright English Heritage
 Even now, marriages within the aristocracy are often business transactions. Matters of power and finance were certainly a great part of what pulled Lady Jean and Alexander Ogilvy asunder. The most popular story presumes the queen no different than other sovereigns who wished to reward or protect their favorites. One of Marie Stuart’s closest friends was Lady Marie Beaton, one of her ladies-in-waiting known as The Four Maries. Beaton, as she was called, had been involved in a well-known romance with Elizabeth Tudor's ambassador to Scotland, Thomas Randolph, who was  twenty years her senior. The love affair ended when Randolph was caught  spying and recalled by his angry queen. According to legend, the Queen of Scots was forced to deal with a female attendant whose sullied reputation was in need of rehabilitation. The best solution was to find Beaton a husband. Concurrently, the queen’s loyal Border earl, James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell,  had deep financial problems. He most assuredly did not need the queen’s help in finding a wife. There is evidence he already had two, a  Norwegian heiress and an aristocratic French courtier. What Bothwell lacked was money, and Lady Gordon was one of the richest heiresses in Scotland. The Queen saw a way to solve two problems in one wise move. 

Osvaldo batista de Medieros, Creative Commons, via Wikimmedia Commons

Jean’s brother George, the new Earl of Huntly, who had  received his title back but not his lands, was complicit in what followed. The idea of a Beaton-Ogilvy marriage was probably concocted on an excursion in which both Huntly and his friend Ogilvy accompanied the queen. When they returned, Huntly and his mother persuaded Jean to agree. The Huntly properties were restored in a transaction in which everyone won but the bride. It was not a happy union for Jean, who is said to have worn black thereafter in mourning for her lost love.  Bothwell probably was less affected. From his behavior with the ladies, it seems he found marriage less restrictive than most men. It did not matter that his new wife had a long face and 'bulbous eyes' as long as he got his debts paid. He complained to the queen of his wife's cold nature and soon was dallying with the cook. Three months later,  Alexander Ogilvy married Marie Beaton.  

But the marital intrigues do not end there.

Marie Stuart, Queen of Scots
By the late spring of 1567, after a series of events too controversial and complex to be covered in this post, the probably pregnant, widowed Queen of Scots needed Bothwell free so she could marry him herself. Once again, Lady Jean Gordon was set aside.

Whether she minded all that much is debated in the histories. There is some evidence Bothwell continued to visit her at Crichton after he and the Queen of Scots were wed, and sometimes referred to her as his 'true wife.' Reportedly, he was the one who ordered matching miniatures made of him and Jean, shown below. But language in the highly questioned documents called the Casket Letters indicates Bothwell had complained to the Queen before he and Jean divorced that his wife was a frigid bed partner. In any event, the Countess of Bothwell cooperated with her family and the Queen and agreed to a divorce. After what was said to be a  nearly fatal illness, the Countess of Bothwell left the capital and returned to Huntly Castle at Strathbogie.


The end? No, not yet.

In 1573, nearly six years after her divorce, at a time when Bothwell was in a Danish prison, and the Queen of Scots was detained in England, Lady Jean Gordon married a cousin, Alexander Gordon, Earl of Sutherland. Sutherland was several years her junior and in frail health. In spite of her  young husband's precarious health, Jean managed to give birth to either seven or eight children. When they married, Alexander Gordon was already one of the richest men in the Scottish Highlands, and Jean had always had a reputation for financial acuity. Within two years of their marriage, due to her husband’s ill health, the management of their vast estates and mining enterprises passed to the new Countess of Sutherland. Under her management, the already vast Sutherland fortunes grew. 

Dunrobin Castle, seat of  Highland Clan Sutherland

In 1594, when the earl died, Jean’s oldest son John, 13th Earl of Sutherland, inherited the title, but his mother continued to manage his numerous enterprises. He, too, died young, and Jean continued to manage the Sutherland holdings for her grandson, the 14th Earl of Sutherland, until she retired to a less prominent role  after incurring the wrath of the Scottish kirk. She was accused of harboring Jesuits and boldly had her portrait painted clutching a rosary. Her fourth son, Robert Gordon, the First Baronet of Gordonstoun, became the family historian.  His remarks concerning his mother focus on her entrepreneurship:

"a vertuous and comelie lady, judicious, of excellent memorie, and great understanding above the capacitie of her sex; in this much to be commended that (she) alwise managed her effaris with so grrreattt prudence an foresigh that the enemgies of the familie could never prevail against her. Further, (she) hath by her grat care and diligence brought to a prosperous end many hard and difficult business, or great consequence appertyning to the house of Sutherland.”… 

But enough of her financial expertise and on to the salient question:

Did the Dowager Countess of Sutherland remarry? 

Of course, she did!

Her third husband was a widower named Alexander Ogilvy of Boyne. He only lived ten years after their marriage in 1598.  Little is written about the life they shared, but in the spirit of Saint Valentine’s Day, we  hope for whatever time they salvaged, they were happy.

Wikimedia Commons

AUTHOR’S NOTE:   Jean survived her first love well beyond the union of the Crowns, dying  at Dunrobin Castle in 1629. She is buried at Dornoch, a seaside resort in the Highlands.  She outlived the death of nearly everyone mentioned in this post except her son Robert.  She outlived her rival Marie Stuart by more than forty years and the Queen’s son King James VI and I  by four.

Robert Gordon  apparently inherited his mother’s  business acumen, because, during his distinguished career in service to the Stuarts, he managed to clear his family's Scottish holdings of debt and relieve his mother of penalties imposed by the Protestant Kirk. He held title to lands in France, England, and Scotland, and fused his own Scottish holdings into a new barony, Gordonstoun.  He served as a mediator in the English Civil War and although suspected of being a Catholic like his mother, he died in good graces with the Scottish Church.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Linda Fetterly Root is a retired prosecutor and a historical novelist living in the Morongo Basin of the Southern California High Desert.  She is the author of The First Marie and the Queen of Scots (free today for your Kindle at, The Last Knight and the Queen of Scots, and the novels in The Legacy of the Queen of Scots Series, Unknown Princess, The Last Knight’s Daughter, 1603: The Queen’s Revenge, and In the Shadow of the Gallows.  She has two works in progress, a sequel to Shadow, The Deliverance of the Lamb, and a politically-inspired science fiction novella, 2035:GEN. Visit her author’s page HERE

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Wearing Widow's Weeds

by Maria Grace

From the very poor to the very well off, death of a spouse was a common experience during the Regency era. High mortality broke up nearly as many marriages as divorce does today. Many individuals were widowed in middle age.


As in life, marriage did not affect men and women equally in death. Widowers rarely faced financial difficulties due to the loss of their spouse while widows were often left impoverished and dependent upon the kindness of others for survival.

Widowers experienced little financial change at the death of their wives. He retained a life interest (curtesy) in all his dead spouse's land, not just the one third a woman had as specified by dower laws. Curtesy is a principle in common law in England and early America by which a widower could use property held in his deceased wife's name until his own death, but could not sell or transfer it to anyone but the children of his wife. At his death (and not before), the property would go to his wife’s heirs.

Mourning protocols for widowers did not include the extensive restrictions experienced by women. They were not expected to dress in mourning garb nor delay remarriage for at least a year. Widowers frequently remarried quickly, without societal censure, especially if he was left with young children.


Widows faced a very different lot. When a woman’s husband died, she was expected to spend a full year (long enough for a baby conceived in her marriage to be born) in full or deep morning. During this time she was expected to dress in all black refraining from public appearances.The next six months she would wear subdued colors like grays and lavenders, suitable for half-mourning and begin a slow reintroduction into society.

Many conduct writers suggested a widow should continue to live a life of somber retirement for the remainder of her life. Without the man who defined her legal personhood, society had a difficult time understanding what to do with her. Keeping her out of sight and out of mind was one way of dealing with that.

Social class made a significant impact on what a life of a widowhood would look like. They might enjoy freedoms they never previously experienced, find themselves thrust into desperation and poverty, or something in between.

Upper class widows

A woman could become the master of her own destiny at the death of her husband. If her marriage had been blessed with property and assets, she might be fortunate enough to receive a dower or jointure that could support her in her widowhood. After the 1833 overturning of the dower laws, marriage settlements were the only provision a widow could depend upon. (Davidoff, 1987)

In most cases, the widow was not the heir to the estate. The estate was inherited by the eldest son, who could be the son of a prior marriage. A woman would inherit a jointure, effectively an annuity, established in the marriage settlements. Usually it would equal one tenth of the amount of her dowry per year. This would be her portion to live on the remainder of her life.

Some received substantial dowers or jointure arrangements, which allowed them to continue to live comfortably and independently. Without coverture to limit them, they held and managed their own assets in ways married women could not. Many widows in these circumstances did not remarry as to do so would incur the loss of their assets and freedoms when they entered the coverture of their new husband.

Wives of peers also retained their titles after their husband’s death. The title ‘Dowager’ might be added to her name, if her son who inherited his father’s title were married. His wife would take the title (countess, duchess etc.) and his mother would become the Dowager countess, duchess, etc.

Lower class widows

Upper class, independent widows were by and large, rare creatures. Far more common were the widows for whom a husband’s death sent them and their children into desperate states.

The loss of the primary breadwinner could send a family spiraling into dependency and poverty. By age 65, one third of widows depended on the state or charity. Many ended up in workhouses or other institutions. Society was often hostile or at least suspicious toward widows both because of the potential burden to society they represented and their uncertain social role without a man to legally define their personhood. (Shoemaker, 1998)

Widows of the middling sort

Widows of the middle class might find themselves with the means to enter into public life and earn an income without resorting to prostitution. What occupations might a widow take on?

Widow’s Occupations

The options a widow might have open to her varied widely with the resources available to her. Without education or assets she might seek a position as a housekeeper, either among relatives, or a paid position in a household. If left with some education and some accomplishments, she might hire herself out as a governess or lady’s companion.

Others turned to writing books on a variety of subjects including: children, household and cookbooks, conduct books even history, biographies and science. Publishing for public recognition was considered unwomanly, so many women published anonymously.

“Although publishing on commission was considered perfectly respectable, female writers usually preferred to sell the copyright of their works … She was paid by the publisher in a lump sum either on acceptance of the manuscript or within a year of publication of the book. No further communication need take place between him and the author until the end of the 14 or 28 years for which the copyright had been purchased.” (Collins, 1998)

If a woman had a house, she was in the happy position to be able to rent rooms to lodgers putting both her housekeeping expertise and her property to good use. A woman with some education and a house might use her home to run a school, possibly with the help of her older daughters.

With sufficient capital, a widow might continue on with her husband’s business. While too much ambition, especially for a high income, was discouraged, she would be permitted to enter into the market place. Shops and even farms might be and often were headed by widows.

Widows left with capital but no business often invested in loans or property and lived off the proceeds. “Recent research suggests that widows owned a sizable proportion of the London housing stock and played a vital role in the provision of loan capital through the bond and mortgage markets.”(Shoemaker, 1998) Female capital supported the joint stock companies behind municipal utilities and railways. Widows and spinsters were the core of those investors requiring a steady income without administrative worries (Davidoff, 2002). Interesting, the important economic role played by individuals society didn’t have a place for.


While men often remarried quickly after the death of their wives with nary an eyebrow raised, women faced varying degrees of opposition to remarrying. Custom decreed that they should spend a year in deep mourning for their husband, so a woman who married sooner than that was extremely suspect. Conduct manuals strongly urged widows to honor their husband’s memories rather than go about looking for further married felicity. After all, one could not reasonably expect to be fortunate enough to find two good husbands in a single lifetime, right?

Men who remarried were also eye with suspicion, especially when considering older widows. For when:
…old Women marry young Men. Indeed, any Marriage is in such, a Folly and Dotage. They who must suddenly make their Beds in the Dust, what should they think of a Nuptial Couch… But this Dotage becomes perfect Frenzy and Madness when they choose young Husbands; This is an Accumulation of Absurdities and Contradictions. The Husband and the Wife are but one Person; and yet at once young and old, fresh and withered. It is reversing the Decrees of Nature. (The Whole Duty of a Woman, 1737)

The only possible reason a man could want to marry an older widow would be for her money. Such fortune hunting, though, was generally frowned upon. A wealthy virgin though, she would be an entirely acceptable choice.

Find previous installments of this series here:

Get Me to the Church on Time: Changing Attitudes toward Marriage
To Have a Courtship, One Needs a Suitor
Nothing is ever that simple: Rules of Courtship
Show me the Money: the Business of Courtship
The Price of a Broken Heart
Making an Offer of Marriage
Games of Courtship
The Hows and Why of Eloping
Licenses, Laws and Legalities of Marriage
Short, Simple and to the Point: Regency WeddingsAfter the Wedding Comes a Marriage: Regency Marriages


Collins, Irene. Jane Austen, the Parson's Daughter. London: Hambledon Press, 1998.

Corbould, Edward Henry. The Young Lady's Own Book a Manual of Intellectual Improvement and Moral Deportment. Philadelphia: Key & Biddle, 1834.

Davidoff, Leonore & Hall, Catherine. Family Fortunes: Men and Women of the English Middle Class 1780-1850. Routledge (2002)

Erickson, Amy. Women and property in early modern England (1993)

Gener, S., and John Muckersy. M. Gener, Or, A Selection of Letters on Life and Manners. 3rd ed. Edinburgh: Printed for Peter Hill ..., A. Constable & and A. MacKay ;, 1812.

Gregory, John. A Father's Legacy to His Daughters By the Late Dr. Gregory, of Edinburgh. The 2nd ed. London: Printed for W. Strahan ;, 1774.

Heydt-Stevenson, Jill (2005) Austen's Unbecoming Conjunctions: Palgrave Macmillan

Jones, Hazel. Jane Austen and Marriage. London: Continuum, 2009.

Le Faye, Deirdre. Jane Austen: The World of Her Novels. Harry N. Abrams (2002)

Lewis, Judith Schneid (1986) In the Family Way, Childbearing in the British Aristocracy, 1760-1860: Rutgers University Press

Shoemaker, Robert B. (1998) Gender in English Society 1650-1850: Pearson Education Limited

The Whole Duty of a Woman, Or, an Infallible Guide to the Fair Sex. Containing, Rules, Directions, and Observations, for Their Conduct and Behaviour through All Ages and Circumstances of Life, as Virgins, Wives, or Widows. With Directions, How to Obtain All Use. The 2nd ed. London: Printed for T. Read, in Dogwell-Court, White-Fryers, Fleet-Street, 1737.

The Young Husband's Book a Manual of the Duties, Moral, Religious, and Domestic, Imposed by the Relations of Married Life. Philadelphia: Lea & Blanchard, 1839.

Vickery, Amanda. Behind Closed Doors: At Home in Georgian England. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2009.

Vickery, Amanda. The Gentleman's Daughter. Yale University Press (1998)


Featured pictures are all Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Though Maria Grace has been writing fiction since she was ten years old, those early efforts happily reside in a file drawer and are unlikely to see the light of day again, for which many are grateful. After penning five file-drawer novels in high school, she took a break from writing to pursue college and earn her doctorate. After 16 years of university teaching, she returned to her first love, fiction writing.

Click here to find her books on Amazon. For more on her writing and other Random Bits of Fascination, visit her website. You can also like her on Facebook, follow on Twitter or email

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Paul Pindar : Merchant of the Levant Company

By Katie Hickman

Paul Pindar, an obscure Levant Company merchant, was sent in 1599 as Secretary to Queen Elizabeth I’s embassy to the Great Turk in Constantinople. His mission was one that would change the course of British trading overseas – and ultimately the course of British history - forever.

Along with his fellow merchants, including the Queen’s ambassador, Henry Lello, Pindar’s task was to renew English trading rights in the Ottoman-controlled parts of the Mediterranean. In order to do this the etiquette at the Sublime Porte was very clear. A wonderful gift had to be presented to the Sultan. A gift, moreover, that was better than anyone else’s gift - most especially that of their trading rivals, the Venetians and the French.

Four years previously Paul Pindar and his fellow Levant Company merchants had commissioned a renowned  Yorkshire craftsman named Thomas Dallam, to create a wonderful mechanical toy: part clock, part musical instrument. Contemporary narratives describe it as having an organ-like structure at the base; crowned by a marvellous timepiece. This clock was a marvel of sixteenth-century technology: devised so that when the hour struck, a chime of bells sounded, two angels played on silver trumpets, the organ played a tune, and, most marvellously, a holly bush full of mechanical birds – blackbirds and thrushes – shook their wings and sang. The Sultan, Mehmet III, was known to have an extensive collection of watches and clocks, but the like of this marvellous automaton – the merchants were gambling  - would never have been seen before.

Sultan Mehmet III of the Ottoman Empire.jpg
Mehmet III
The Hector, the ship bearing both Thomas Dallam and his extraordinary creation, finally arrived in Constantinople in August 1599, four years the English merchants first commissioned it. The crates were taken to the ambassador’s residence in Pera, the foreigners district of the city, where they was opened – only for them to find, to their consternation, that their gift been almost entirely destroyed on the six month voyage.  

Seawater had seeped into the packing cases, and much of the wood was not only wet but had completely rotted away. The ambassador was furious: the gift “was not worth 2d” he is reported as saying. There was only one thing for it; Dallam would have to rebuild the organ in situ in the Topkapi, the Sultan’s Palace.

Dallam’s narrative of how he did this,  An Account of an Organ Carryed to the Grand Seignor, and Other Curious Matter, 1599, is a famous document amongst Ottoman scholars. It recounts how Dallam and his men went every day for several weeks into the Topkapi Palace to rebuild the Sultan’s gift, during which time he alleges that the Janissaries who were put in charge of him gave him the chance to see through an opening in a wall into the Sultan’s harem.
“… than crossinge throughe a little squar courte paved with marble, he poyneted me to a graite in a wale, but made me a sine that he myghte not go thether himselfe.  When I cam to the grait the wal was verrie thicke and graited on bothe the sides with iron verrie strongly: but through that graite I did se thirtie of the Grand Sinyore’s Concobines that were playinge with a bale in another courte… that sighte did please me wondrous well.”  

Dallam’s narrative lays claim to be the only true first hand account by a foreigner into the mysteries of the Sultan’s harem, tales of which – almost all of them fabricated – had an extraordinary allure for English travellers to the Sublime Porte. But Dallam was not the only Englishman with a tale to tell. Paul Pindar, a soberly dressed but handsome young merchant, described in Dallam’s narrative as a most ‘gentleman-like’ man, was detailed to present another, equally important gift. It was he who presented an English carriage and horses – also brought out on the Hector, but which luckily seem to have survived the journey -  to the Sultan’s mother.

Organ at King's College Cambridge - originally built by Dallam
This extraordinary woman, Safiye Sultan, who began life as an Albanian peasant in the hills near present day Scutari, was the favourite slave concubine of the Sultan’s mother, Murad III. Through her incredible intelligence and abilities, as well as her allure, she rose through the harem ranks to become, as the Sultan’s mother, one of the most powerful women in the world (later, she would correspond personally with Queen Elizabeth I).

Although details about almost all the women in the Imperial Harem were ‘haram’, that is to say ‘forbidden’ (in most cases we do not even know their names) Safiye’s life is unusually well documented. Her liking for the handsome young merchant Paul Pindar – even though they would only have talked through a screen – was observed and recorded by both the Ottomans and the English. Thomas Dallam recounts how:
 “the sultan did Take greate lyking to Mr Pinder, and after wardes she sent for him to have his private companye, but there meetinge was croste.”  
The meeting was probably ‘crossed’ by the sultan, who could not have permitted such a breach of moral as well as political etiquette.

Nonetheless, Safiye Sultan had great influence. The gifts – and who knows, perhaps Paul Pindar’s charms - succeeded brilliantly. The patience of the English merchants was well rewarded, and their trading rights secured. Whereas before they had only been able to trade under the auspices of either the French or the Venetians, who previously had the trading monopoly in the Ottoman controlled parts of the Mediterranean, from now on they were able to do so independently (without incurring heavy taxes).  

During the next half century the Levant Company merchants went on to trounce both the Venetian and the French, their former trading rivals. Paul Pindar and his fellow merchants made fortunes. By 1607, as one Venetian commentator of the period noted sourly, several of the English at Constantinople had amassed fortunes ranging from 100,000 to 500,000 crowns.

For an obscure ‘Turkey merchant’, Paul Pindar’s life and accomplishments are also surprisingly well documented.  In 1602 he returned to Venice, where as a very young man of 19 he had been for many years a ‘factor’ for an English merchant,  where he was said to have acted as a banking agent for Secretary Cecil. In 1609 he was appointed as the Levant Company Consul to Aleppo, the principal trading depot in the eastern Mediterranean, where he remained for two years. Some years later he was himself appointed ambassador to the Sublime Porte, and was knighted by King James I in 1620. (A better appointee, one hopes, that Henry Lello, nicknamed ‘Fog’ by his less-than respectful retinue.)

William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley from NPG (2).jpg
William Cecil
Today historians write with easy authority about the great success of the Levant Company, but in 1599, when Paul Pindar was cooling his heels in Constantinople, waiting anxiously for the Sultan’s gift to arrive, it was by no means certain. The  ‘Turkey merchants’ made their living by buying and selling goods from Aleppo. When the route around the Cape of Good Hope came into greater use, their fortunes were in jeopardy. The goods they depended on – principally spices such as cloves and pepper, but also dyes and drugs – were no longer transported along the ancient overland route through Persia to Aleppo, but now made their way back to Europe by the new sea passage which bypassed the eastern Mediterranean altogether (although it took many months longer to complete, the sea route was considered safer, since it was not at the mercy of the brigands who routinely attacked and robbed the overland caravans).

All this had an unforeseen knock-on effect. The success of the new sea route meant a big reduction in the price of eastern commodities, which had formally been imported, to Europe across the Mediterranean. For example, in Aleppo pepper had cost 2s per pound, but the same amount could now be bought directly in ‘the spice islands’ for just two and a half d. The same with cloves: from 4 shillings, they could now be sourced at just 9d. In addition to the tin, lead, furs and cloth that the English merchants had always exported from England (mostly purple and crimson in colour),  it now became lucrative not to import spices from the Levant back to London, as they had always done in the past, but to re-export them from London back to Aleppo. Despite the odds, the Levant Company merchants continued to prosper.

The suppleness and ingenuity of traders such as Paul Pindar was at least in part responsible for the later creation, in 1600, of the Levant Company’s then insignificant off-shoot, The East India Company, which over the next few centuries went on to dominate trade in the sub-continent, and gave rise, ultimately, to the British Raj.  

When Pindar finally returned to England in 1611 there were two things that were known about him. He brought home with him a remarkable collection of jewels, and was rich enough to build himself an extraordinary house in Bishopsgate.

The frontage of Pindar's house preserved in the V&A
Photograph by KB Thompson
Pindar’s jewels are the stuff of legend. One of them, a diamond valued at £35,000, an immense sum in those days, was large enough to have its own name. In London it became known as ‘Pindar’s Great Diamond’. All of Pindar’s jewels were eventually either given away (to the King or the King’s favourite the Duke of Buckingham), but for unknown reasons he kept his famous diamond longer than any of them. Eventually, it was bought by Charles I in 1625, and was then pawned in Antwerp in the ‘Royal Cause’ just after the Civil War (1642-43). The stone has never been heard of again.

Paul Pindar’s great house in Bishopsgate has a different story. Originally built as a country demesne just outside the walls of the City of London, it had enough land to encompass gardens and orchards, and, aping the houses of the aristocracy, even a gatehouse in what later became ‘Half Moon Alley’. Most notably, however, it had an elaborately carved oak front which, many centuries later, when all the dwellings in that area were pulled down to make way for the new railways (now the site of Liverpool Street Station), was magnificent enough to be taken and preserved in what is now the Victoria & Albert Museum, where it remains on display to this day.

The fortunes of Paul Pindar are the story, in miniature, of the fluctuating geo-politics that were to transform Britain from an insignificant island nation on the far edges of Europe, into the world’s most dominant maritime power.

The Imperial Harem: Women and Sovereignty in the Ottoman Empire
By Lesley P. Peirce

An Organ for the Sultan:
by Stanley Mayes

Everyday Life in Ottoman Turkey:
by Rafaela Lewis

Thomas Dallam in Hakluyt:  “An Account of an Organ Carryed to the Grand Seignor, and Other Curious Matter, 1599”

Dictionary of National Biography

[all above images are in the public domain unless otherwise attributed]


Katie Hickman’s Aviary Gate series has been translated into nineteen languages. She was shortlisted for the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year award for her first novel, The Quetzal Summer, and for the Thomas Cook Travel Book Award for Travels with a Mexican Circus (originally published as A Trip to the Light Fantastic). She is also the author of bestselling history books Daughters of Britannia and Courtesans. The House at Bishopsgate is out now from Bloomsbury in hardback and eBook.