Sunday, May 21, 2017

The Nightingale in English Literature and Tradition

by Mark Patton

The nightingale is a bird rarely seen in Britain, and, increasingly, a bird that is also rarely heard. Birdsong in general was far more ubiquitous on these islands before the beginning of the Nineteenth Century than it has been since: both because, in the days before intensive agriculture and industrialisation, there were many more birds, but also because they had many fewer noises to compete with. The nightingale long occupied a special place in English literature and tradition because of the mellifluous quality of its song and because it is one of the few British birds to sing at night. Concerned by the decline of this much-loved migratory species, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) has established a National Nightingale Festival, running until the 27th of May.

"Nyhtegale," from Alciato's Book of Emblems, c 1350 (image is in the Public Domain).

The nightingale first appears in a poem of around 1174, in which she engages in a debate with that other bird of the night, the owl, perhaps in imitation of the parsing contests in which trainee lawyers sought to prove themselves. The nightingale accuses the owl of inspiring gloom with her doleful call, but the owl insists that she is merely encouraging men to reflect on their sins, whereas the nightingale's merry song is more likely to inspire lust:

"And by my song I teach all men
They’d better turn their backs on sin,
And warn them against evil ways
Lest they be fooled for all their days;
Far better weep a while before
Than burn in hell forevermore! "

The Owl and the Nightingale, Jesus College Oxford MS 29, ff165-168. Photo: Jessefawn (licensed under CCA).

The Owl and the Nightingale, British Library, Cotton MS Caligula A IX ff233-246. Photo: Jessefawn (licensed under CCA).

In an anonymous poem written some decades later, the song of the nightingale is associated with romantic love, but inspires in the poet bittersweet memories of a happier season, spent in the company of a lover since lost:

 "When the nyhtegale singes,
    The wodes waxen grene,
Lef ant gras ant blosme springes
    In Averyl, Y wene ;
Ant love is to myn herte gon
    With one spere so kene,
Nyht ant day my blod hit drynkes
    Myn herte deth me tene."

The full poem, read by Eleanor Parker, can be heard here.

In John Milton's Sonnet to the Nightingale, written in 1632 or 1633, the bird's song inspires hope in the heart of the lover, and is contrasted, not with the owl, but with the cuckoo, a symbol of infidelity and cuckoldry.

"O NIGHTINGALE that on yon blooming spray
Warblest at eve, when all the woods are still,
Thou with fresh hopes the Lover’s heart dost fill,
While the jolly Hours lead on propitious May.
Thy liquid notes that close the eye of Day,
First heard before the shallow cuckoo’s bill,
Portend success in love. O if Jove’s will
Have linked that amorous power to thy soft lay,
Now timely sing, ere the rude bird of hate
Foretell my hopeless doom, in some grove nigh;
As thou from year to year hast sung too late
For my relief, yet had’st no reason why.
Whether the Muse or Love call thee his mate,
Both them I serve, and of their train am I."

In Samuel Taylor Coleridge's poem, written in 1798, the poet, perhaps drawing on the Medieval tradition, first perceives the nightingale as a "most melancholy bird," but then insists that "In nature there is nothing melancholy";" that such associations are always our own impositions:

"My Friend, and thou, our Sister! we have learnt
A different lore: we may not thus profane
Nature's sweet voices, always full of love
And joyance! 'Tis the merry Nightingale
That crowds and hurries, and precipitates
With fast thick warble his delicious notes,
As he were fearful that an April night
Would be too short for him to utter forth
His love-chant, and disburthen his full soul
Of all its music!

The full poem, read by Tom Vaughan-Jones, can be heard here.

My various novels feature a number of bird species (the stone-chat, the skylark, the tree-creeper) which, even during the course of my own lifetime, have become less common than they once were; as well as a few (the peregrine falcon, the barn owl, the great bustard - for which even Thomas Hardy held out little hope) which, thanks to the efforts of the RSPB and similar organisations, seem to be on their way back from the brink. Perhaps what is truly melancholy, after almost a thousand years of cultural associations, is not the song of the nightingale, but the thought that it might ever cease to be heard. "Thou was not born for death, immortal bird," wrote John Keats:

 "No hungry generations tread thee down; 
The voice I hear this passing night was heard 
 In ancient days by emperor and clown: 
Perhaps the self-same song that found a path 
Through the sad heart of Ruth, when, sick for home, 
She stood in tears amid the alien corn; 
The same that oft-times hath 
 Charm'd magic casements, opening on the foam 

 Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn."

On which note, I leave the last word to the bird itself.

The Nightingale. Photo: Frebeck (licensed under CCA).


Mark Patton blogs regularly on aspects of history and historical fiction at He is a published author of historical fiction and non-fiction, whose books can be purchased from Amazon.

Editors Weekly Round-up, May 21, 2017

by the EHFA Editors

Every week, our authors contribute wonderful and informative posts on British history. Check out this week's articles.

Digging Up Folklore
by Mary Anne Yarde

Catch articles from our archives every day! Follow us on Twitter

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Digging Up Folklore

by Mary Anne Yarde

In 1846 William John Thoms, a British writer, penned a letter to The Athenaeum, a British Magazine. In this letter, he talked about “popular antiquities.” But instead of calling it by its common name, he used a new term — folklore.

What did Thoms mean by this new word? Well, let's break it down. The word folk referred to the rural poor who were for the most part illiterate. Lore means instruction. So folklore means to instruct the poor. But we understand it as verbal storytelling. Forget the wheel ~ I think storytelling is what sets us apart. We need stories, we always have and we always will.

Edward III
But what does folklore have to do with history? Quite a lot actually. Let's take a look at one of the greatest British stories ever told, and that is the tale of King Arthur and his Knights.

Historically, Arthur is difficult to pin down. There are so many theories about who he was and where he came from that it is like chasing a phantom. Some experts have their feet firmly planted in the 2nd Century when they talk of Arthur. Others believe him to be a Scottish Dark Age warlord or an English Christian King. Of course, the Welsh and the Breton's also have candidates that fit the role. For a person whose very existence screams folklore—screams myth—there seems to be an awful lot of interest in him. And that interest has never gone away. We love the stories of Arthur and his knights, there is no getting away from that, and these stories have helped shape a nation. Look how obsessed Edward III was with Arthurian Legend. Edward was determined that his reign was going to be as spectacular as Arthur's was. He believed in the stories of Arthur and his Knights. He had even started to have his very own Round Table built at Windsor Castle. He also founded The Order of the Garter— which is still the highest order of chivalry that the Queen can bestow. Arthur, whether fictional or not, influenced kings.

The Sculpture at Tintagel Castle by Rubin Eynon
Likewise, Arthur and his Knights are, and always have been, a lucrative tourist attraction ~ those pragmatic monks at Glastonbury in the 12th century can contest to that. But so can English Heritage. Arthur draws in the crowds. At this very moment, the story of Arthur is being retold on the big screen. There is something about Arthur. There is something about the story that we want to believe is true. So how do we separate the fact from the fiction?

With difficulty.

In our search for Arthur, we are digging up folklore, and that is not the same as excavating relics. We have the same problem now as Geoffrey of Monmouth did back in the 12th Century when he compiled The History of the Kings of Briton. His book is now considered a ‘national myth,’ but for centuries his book was considered to be factually correct. So where did Monmouth get these facts? He borrowed from the works of Gildas, Nennuis, Bede and The Annals of Wales. There was also that mysterious ancient manuscript that he borrowed from Walter, Archdeacon of Oxford, but let’s not get into that today! Monmouth then borrowed from the bardic oral tradition. In other words, he listened to the stories of the bards. Add to the mix his own imagination and Monmouth was onto a winner. Those who were critical of his work were brushed aside and ignored. Monmouth made Britain glorious, and he gave us not Arthur the general, but Arthur the King. And what a king he was.

Glastonbury Abbey
So is Arthur a great lie that for over a thousand years we have all believed in? Should we be taking the Arthurian history books from the historical section and moving them to sit next to George R. R. Martin's, Game of Thrones? No. I don't think so. In this instance, folklore has shaped our nation. We should not dismiss folklore out of hand just because it is not an exact science. We should embrace it because when you do, it becomes easier to see the influence these ‘stories’ have had on historical events.

 All photographs are my own, apart from the portrait of Edward III which can be found on Wikipedia.


Mary Anne Yarde is the award-winning author of The Du Lac Chronicles series. 

Set in the 5th and 6th Century, The Du Lac Chronicles follows the fortunes and misfortunes of Lancelot du Lac’s sons as they try to navigate their way through an ever-changing Saxon world.

Book 3 of The Du Lac Chronicles is due to be released later on in the year.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Foods the Romans brought to Britain

by Cindy Tomamichel

The Roman Empire spanned a great deal of the known world in ancient times, acting as a conduit for the spread of Roman culture. After the invasion and occupation of AD 43-410, Britain would never be the same. For its people and the environment, the Romans brought new ideas and foods, many of which have become staples of culinary tradition.

There are a variety of information sources by which a picture of the foods of Roman Britain may be reconstructed. There is the actual foodstuff itself, where food such as grains, nuts and bones may be preserved by charring or carbonisation such as during a fire. Preservation by waterlogging occurs within peat bogs and estuaries. Fossilised remnants may also be found in latrines and rubbish heaps, where minerals such as calcium have replaced the structure. Food was also buried in containers in the burial sites of wealthier individuals. Shrine offerings are also another source of food evidence. Food containers may also carry the imprint of their contents.

Other sources include import and export evidence, such as amphorae for wine, oil or garum. Some written sources exist, even for such things as shopping lists, for instance the Vindolanda tablets “... bruised beans, two modii, twenty chickens, a hundred apples, if you can find nice ones, a hundred or two hundred eggs, if they are for sale there at a fair price. ... 8 sextarii of fish-sauce ... a modius of olives ... To ... slave of Verecundus.”

There is some evidence of Roman foods being imported to Britain well before the invasion. However, the invasion created multiple avenues of demand for Roman foods, which expanded the importation significantly. The Roman army was a major consumer, but also the desire to be seen as Roman saw a rise in demand for exotic imports. What in the late Iron Age was a trickle, soon turned to a flood of new foods available during the occupation.

Romans also brought food related ideas. Firstly there was a need to produce food in Britain on the scale required to supply the army. This need, coupled with the Roman habits of building roads and towns soon changed the face of agriculture. From small holdings growing mostly for personal consumption, it changed to larger farms specialising in growing enough of a product for market. The spread of new foods worked a gradual path out from the towns to the surrounding countryside.

In this way many new foods became established. New fruits and nuts included apple, cherry, plum, walnut, mulberries, medlars, and chestnuts. New vegetables were grown such as carrots, beets, garlic, onions, shallots, leeks, cabbages, peas, celery, turnips, radishes, and asparagus. Herbs were both medicinal and for cooking and teas, including poppy, black mustard, rosemary, thyme, garlic, bay, basil, borage and savoury mint. All these established and stayed popular even after the Romans left. Other foods were popular only during the occupation, or just didn’t establish well, such as grapes, figs, pine nuts and olives.

Another way in which plants may arrive is by stealth. The weed seeds are harvested and are within a bag of seed grain, or they are planted and the environment suits them too well and they escape and naturalise. Plants like this include ground elder, white mustard, alexanders, stinging nettles, greater celandine, and fennel.

Grains play a major part in diet and also part of the stability of society. A poor harvest would mean cultural unrest, particularly if the invaders were seen to be consuming large amounts. Grains already in Britain were various types of wheat, barley and oats. With the Romans came both an increased demand and new technology for ploughing and agricultural tools. They also introduced rye, millet and spelt. With the development of a closed field system, cattle could be alternated with crops such as grains, pulses and vegetables, increasing productivity.

Baking ovens are a common feature of Roman fortifications. This is a loaf of bread from a bakery in Pompeii. (source:

Part of many affluent Roman households was a garden, and perhaps this was the start of the English love of gardens which has spread with them all over the world. A typical house layout had a central courtyard garden, and here decorative plants such as box, foxgloves, mulberries, lilies, violets, pansies and roses would have been grown.

Part of a household might have included animal husbandry areas. For those longing for a taste of home, a snail farm or “cochlea”, would have been established, where imported Roman snails were raised and fattened. They were fed on milk and oats or spelt to purge and fatten them, then cooked in wine, with garum or garlic. Roman snails are still to be found in the UK. Hare gardens with semi domesticated rabbits also existed for fur, hides and supplies of meat. They also built enclosures to keep deer, as well as pigeon enclosures and kept chickens and guinea fowl.

Edible Snail - photo credit Fred Dawson via Visual Hunt /CC-BY-ND

Britain was already exporting beef before the invasion, and goats, sheep, chickens, pigs and deer were also being eaten. Pigeons, quail, geese, pheasant and guinea fowl were likely imported with the Romans. Ham in brine and bacon with their good keeping qualities were important for soldiers on the march.

Amongst the many cultural changes the Romans brought was the change in eating habits. While in the more remote rural areas people probably continued eating stews, roast meat and porridges, in the towns more people adopted Roman dining habits. These are familiar to us today as the three meal arrangement, with breakfast being quite small, a moderate lunch and a larger dinner as evening was for entertaining. Fast food was also a Roman invention, with many small bakeries and food places available for those who could not cook at home, serving things like kebabs and burgers. Bath houses were also popular social hubs were snacks could be purchased.

However diet varied with social status, location and job. Many remote Britons would have continued eating their normal food, perhaps adding some new vegetables, herbs or grains to the mix. The elite would be the major consumers of the imported foods such as wines from Gaul (France), dried dates and olives.

The soldiers had to buy their own food, and had a routine for doing so. They often had their own bread ovens, herds of cows, pigs and managed their own purchase of grains and vegetables. A soldier’s diet was also often supplemented by food sent from home, or by hunting local animals such as boar and deer.

Imported food consisted of things that would not grow or was not available in sufficient quantities. This included dates, almonds, olives and olive oil, wine, pine cones and kernels, fermented fish sauce (liquamen or garum), pepper, ginger and cinnamon.

After the Romans left Britain in AD 410, many aspects of their culture vanished. However, the hardier or more popular of the introduced plants and animals survived, becoming an integral part of the landscape.

The main reference for Roman food is the cookbook of Apicius, a Roman epicure of around AD 100. The book is full of recipes for main meals, and often has several variations on a dish or ingredient. While many of the ingredients are probably not to today’s tastes, many of the casserole and vegetable dishes sound interesting. Unfortunately none of the bread recipes he probably had are included.

Milk Fed Snails (Cochleas lacte pastas)–Apicius
After being purged and cleaned, the snails can be fried in oil and served with a wine sauce. Or they could be fried, then made into a soup with broth, adding pepper and cumin.

Vegetable and Brain Pudding (Patina frisilis)- Apicius
Take cooked and mashed vegetables and brains and mash to a fine paste. Add eggs, broth, and wine and place in an oiled baking dish. Bake and sprinkle with pepper when done. 

Libum - Serves 2 (A type of cheesecake) 
10 oz ricotta cheese.
1 egg.
2½ oz plain flour.
Runny honey.
Beat the cheese with the egg and add the sieved flour very slowly and gently. Flour your hands and pat mixture into a ball and place it on a bay leaf on a baking tray. Place in moderate oven (180C/400ºF) until set and slightly risen. Place cake on serving plate and score the top with a cross. Pour plenty of warmed runny honey over the cross and serve immediately. This is similar to a Greek cheesecake, which uses cottage cheese instead of ricotta. (Source: Sally Grainger The Classical Cookbook, published by British Museum Press.)

(Note: a variety of academic and website reference sources were used for this article, please contact the author if details are required.)


Cindy Tomamichel is a writer of action adventure romance novels, spanning time travel, sci fi, fantasy, paranormal, and sword and sorcery genres. They all have something in common – swordfights! The heroines don’t wait to be rescued, and the heroes earn that title the hard way. 
Her first book, Druid’s Portal: The First Journey will be out with Soul Mate Publishing in 2017. On Amazon May 17th. An action adventure time travel with a touch of romance set in Roman Britain around Hadrian’s Wall.
A portal closed for 2,000 years.
An ancient religion twisted by modern greed.
A love that crosses the centuries.
Contact Cindy on

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Lordship in the Tenth-century – What was its Political and Social Function?

by Annie Whitehead

“No man can make himself king, but the people have the choice to select as king whom they please, but after he is consecrated as king, he then has dominion over the people and they cannot shake his yoke from their neck.”

So said Aelfric of Eynsham, (c955-c1010), and he tells us here of the absolute nature of kingship. The king is the lord of all the English, so if we are to discover the function of lordship, we should begin by examining the role of the king.

King Edgar

By the tenth-century ideas  about the spiritual role of kingship had developed along Carolingian lines. A well-documented example of this is Edgar’s coronation at Bath in 973. One school of thought is that Edgar delayed his coronation until he had reached the canonical age of thirty, but it is unlikely that he could have reigned successfully for so long (he succeeded his brother Eadwig in 959) without having been consecrated earlier in his reign, particularly in view of what Aelfric has to say about consecration. [1]

It is more probable that this coronation was based on the Frankish notion of ‘imperium’, stressing the king’s duty before God. Wulfstan, Archbishop of York, expanded this idea in his Institutes of Polity. His view was that a Christian king should be a just shepherd to his Christian flock, he was to help the righteous and to afflict the evil-doers, especially thieves and robbers. His true function was to purify his people before God and the world. [2]

The mutual obligation between the king and his subjects is illustrated by an incident in Aethelred the Unready’s reign. With the death of Swein Forkbeard, Aethelred was asked to return from exile in Normandy by the Witan (council), who declared that “no lord was dearer to them than their rightful lord, if only he would govern his kingdom more justly than he had done in the past."[3] The king was king, but his subjects would not allow him to neglect his duty to them.

Yet neither would they neglect to exalt a praise-worthy monarch. Florence of Worcester* summed up the virtues of King Edgar thus:-
“In the winter and spring, he used to make progress through all the provinces of England and enquire diligently whether the laws of the land and his own ordinances were obeyed, so that the poor might not suffer wrong and be oppressed by the powerful…Thus his enemies on every side were filled with awe, and the love of those who owed him allegiance was secured.”
There were, of course, more personal relationships, not only between the king and his subjects, but between the lord and his man. The argument continues among historians as to whether pre-conquest England was feudal; suffice to say that there was an English equivalent to the Frankish oath of vassalage, this being the Hold-Oath. The oath was essentially negative, a promise to do nothing to harm the lord. It included a gesture of bowing to the lord. The lord in his turn had certain obligations to his man.
“By the Lord, before whom this hallowed thing is holy, I will be steadfast and true to X, to love all he loves and shun all that he shuns, and never, by will or by thought or by deed do aught of what is loathsome to him, as long as he upholds me as I am willing to earn and fulfil all that our understanding was, when I bowed to him and took his will.” 
Naturally, the king could not rule without counsel. The witenagemot, or witan, was the royal council, and had the right, rather than the privilege, to advise the king. The king’s thegns owed their status and position to the king and were rewarded for their service (the word thegn originally meant servant.) It was usually the king’s thegns who were appointed as reeves, responsible for administration in the localities as a check on the powerful ealdormen.

The king with his witan

The most usual form of reward was that of a land grant. Many charters confirming these land grants still exist, such as King Edgar’s grant of land at Kineton to his thegn Aelfwold in 969. These grants, known as bookland, were not the same as the fief of feudal Frankia. They were granted by the king in the form of a book (charter) for services rendered. Aelfwold was granted the land at Kineton for all his life and could leave it to whomever he chose. The estate was free from all service except “fixed military service and the restoration of bridges and fortresses.”

Many grants were made to the Church, who in turn leased out land in return for service. A good example of this comes from Oswald of Worcester, who lists the service required of the beneficiaries of the land. They should fulfil the law of riding as riding men should, they should pay dues to the Church, swear to be humbly subject to the bishop and lend horses, build bridges, and send hunting spears.

Initially these endowments were made to the Church from the king, and only he could turn folkland into bookland. It soon became, however, the most common way for a lord to reward his man.

A grant by Aethelred the Unready shows how far he was prepared to support his men. His thegn, Aethelwig, gave Christian burial to men killed fighting in defence of a thief. Rather than censure Aethelwig, as Ealdorman Leofsige advised, Aethelred granted his thegn the forfeited land of the brothers who had been killed. [3]

Not all thegns were king’s thegns; many of them had another lord to whom they owed their allegiance. When these thegns died, the heriot (war gear) was surrendered to their lord and not to the king.

Aethelred the Unready

There was another aspect to lordship, an extension of the personal bond into the field of law. In the reign of Edward the Elder (899-924) a letter was written to the king explaining the history of an estate at Fonthill, Wiltshire. It describes how a thief, Helmstan, was required to give an oath to clear himself of the charges brought against him. He asked his lord Ordlaf to intercede for him, which Ordlaf did, even though his man was guilty. [4] This illustrates how a lord was bound to protect his man, whether innocent or guilty. Though the law codes might have forbidden the lord from doing this, often it was more beneficial for a man to appeal to his lord in this way than to appeal in the hundred courts.

By the middle of the tenth-century it was becoming customary for lords, ecclesiastical or lay, to receive grants of jurisdiction from the king. Usually these grants were laid down in the charters as ‘sake and soke’. The term implied jurisdiction and control of a court. It was not granted lightly, and these delegated rights were intended to emphasise rather than undermine royal authority. While the landowner enjoyed immunity from public courts, the court over which he presided was not held for his men, but was attended by men drawn from the neighbourhood.

There was also a much more specific form of private jurisdiction. All lords, be they bishops, earls, thegns or abbots, were held responsible for the behaviour of their men. “Such a responsibility involved an exercise in judgement, which would easily be formalised into the giving of judgement.” (HR Loyn) Fortunately, the monarchy was strong enough to ensure that the worst abuses were avoided.

Along with sake and soke, other judicial rights were specified. ‘Toll’ gave the lord the right to take toll on goods sold within the estate, and ‘team’ gave the right to supervise the presentation of convincing evidence that goods for sale actually belonged to the person selling them. ‘Infangenetheof’ gave the lord the right to hang a thief if he had been caught on the estate with the stolen goods still in his possession. By the end of the period, large numbers of hundred courts were in private hands.

A charter of King Aethelred's to his 'faithful man' 

Lords, of course, had always been involved with the public courts. Earls and bishops presided over the shire courts. It was here that arrangements were made for the collection of taxes. It was in the interests of landowners to be represented, as the king always was by his servant the shire-reeve. It was also important for lords to establish a presence at the hundred court, where much money could be lost and won. They were also commanded to give full support to the hundredsmen, whose job it was to supervise legal trading and to discourage cattle theft. King Edgar specifically ordered ealdormen Oslac, Aelfhere, and Aethelwine to give such support. “And they are to send them in all directions, that this measure may be known to both the poor and the rich.” [5]

Military duties were linked with the social function of lordship. From the time of King Ine (688-725) forfeiture of land and a heavy fine of 120 schillings was the penalty for a lord neglecting military service. After 899, as well as national obligations to fyrd service, and building bridges and fortifications, men were now to group themselves into tithings and hundreds to protect themselves. Ealdormen and thegns not only formed the select body of the king’s household retainers, but were, as landlords, responsible for the organisation, the summons and the assembling of the fighting forces. They were also involved in the financial and personal organisation which was essential to ensure that competent levies turned out to perform military duties on behalf of their estate. Lords, then, led their men and were responsible for them in times of peace and war and were at both times high up on the social scale, just beneath the king.

Although it was not necessarily a feudal society, a constant theme runs throughout tenth-century English society, that of mutual obligation. At the highest level, the king could demand loyalty and service from his subjects, but in return must rule them justly and protect them. The thegns, earls, and other landowners owed service to the king in judicial, military and personal capacities, for which they were rewarded. They in turn could expect loyalty and service from their men, but they were responsible for them and must protect them. Running though society in this way, the organised system which developed from the simple notion of personal loyalty was an integral part of all areas of central and local administration.

[1] DJV Fisher – The Anglo-Saxon Age Ch 12
[2] HR Loyn – The Governance of Anglo-Saxon England Ch4
[3] EHD – i 117
[4] EHD- i 102
[5] IV Edgar ‘Wihtbordesstan’ Code EHD i 41

* The authorship of the work of Florence is considered to owe more to a fellow monk, John of Worcester


Annie Whitehead is an historian and novelist who writes about the Anglo-Saxon era. The author of two award-winning novels set in Anglo-Saxon Mercia, she was also a contributor to 1066 Turned Upside Down, a re-imagining of the events leading up to the Battle of Hastings. She is a member of the Royal Historical Society and an editor of the EHFA blog. Currently she is working on a contribution to a non-fiction book to be published by Pen & Sword Books in the summer of 2017. Her novel Alvar the Kingmaker is set in the tenth-century during the reigns of Eadwig, Edgar and Aethelred the Unready and contains many scenes where the above-mentioned laws and charters were put into effect.

Editors Weekly Round-Up, May 14, 2017

by the EHFA Editors

Enjoy these articles from the blog this week.

by Maria Grace

From the archives:
by Debra Brown 

Authors and researchers - Write for us! If you are a fiction or non-fiction author, don't be shy - we like articles about British history, any aspect, any period. Articles can be 1,000-2,000 words. Contact us for guidelines.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

What makes a Gentleman?

by Maria Grace

The nuances of social class and what made a gentleman a gentleman remains a perennial source of confusion for Regency readers. The pages of Georgian and Regency era fiction are littered with gentlemen, but offer absolutely no explanation of what that title actually meant.

How did one get to be a gentleman—were they born or ‘made’? How did these men provide a livelihood for themselves and their families particularly since it appears that some gentlemen had a profession while others did not. Were all gentlemen equal or did they have differing ranks? Were gentlemen universally wealthy? Were gentlemen common in the population, or really rare birds?

What made a Gentleman a Gentleman?

Gentlemen were, in general, members of the upper classes. But beyond that, how did one recognize this elusive species?

Although many would site land-ownership as their defining feature, this was not fully the case. Not all landowners were gentlemen and not all gentlemen were land owners. The primary quality of a gentleman was that he did not sully his hands with work. His income came from other, more noble sources: passive income from rent and investments and honorariums offered by grateful recipients of their services. Note this was critically different than being paid for one's services. If one was paid for their work, his standing as a gentleman would fall into question. An army officer received an honorarium for his service whilst a common soldier was paid (and not very well at that, but that is another issue altogether.)

A large number of gentlemen were born to the designation. The eldest son of a gentlemen had the potential to inherit the means that made his father a gentleman and that would make him a gentleman as well—a landed estate. The all-important estate was more than a simple farm. It was a tract of land large enough to provide the potential for rental incomes and income from agricultural and land based products like wood or coal, thus funding a gentleman’s life.

So, how much land did it take to get one’s head above the gentlemanly line? In general, a yeoman farmer owned from one to three hundred acres of property that produced £40-50 a year. Over three hundred acres, and a man had a shot at being a gentleman.

What about the younger sons born to gentlemen? If the estate only went to the eldest, could the younger ones manage to be gentlemen, too?

The answer is yes. That is where the ‘honorariums offered by grateful recipients’ clause comes in. There were certain professions for which the practitioner was not directly paid for their services, making them 'gentlemanly professions.' These professions were: the church, the law (as a barrister, not solicitor), medicine(as a physician, not a surgeon) and service as a military officer. All required a significant investment in the way of education or purchase of a commission, and provided an income disconnected from sullying one’s hands with work.

Gentlemanly Ranks

Not surprisingly in a rank obsessed society, there were gradations and ranks among the gentlemen. It goes without saying that titled peers in all their various forms occupied the top of society and were classed at the top of the gentlemanly ladder.

Immediately below the titled peers were the landed gentry. Though definitely part of the upper class, they were lower ranked than the peers. Interestingly, their income might exceed that of peers who might be saddled with debt or other financial difficulties.

Like the peers, the landed gentry were not created equal with some positioned some firmly above others. Within the landed gentry were:
1.  Baronet. A position created by King James in 1611, giving the person a hereditary knighthood that passed to the eldest son, and the right to be addressed as "Sir." These title holders were not considered part of the aristocracy and did not sit in the House of Lords.

2. Knight. Originally a military honor, but came to be used as a reward for service to the Crown. This was not a hereditary title. The number of knights increased dramatically during the regency years, with a particular surge from 1811-1815, when one's service to the crown could have been simply making a pleasing speech.

Neither the title of baronet nor knight conveyed any land or wealth to the title holder, nor any privilege beyond being addressed as ‘sir.’(and his wife as Lady His Last Name—can’t forget that one, right?)

3. Esquire/squire. Originally a title related to a knight’s attendant, it was an honor that could be conferred by the Crown. The title included certain offices such as Justice of the Peace and was used informally, unlike the prior two official titles. A squire was often the principal landowner in a district.

4. Gentlemen. This started as a separate title with the Statute of Additions of 1413. It became used to signify a man who did not have to work for a living. It was not a title and men would not be introduces as Mr. Smith, gentleman.

How many were in the Gentry

So just how many of these gentlemanly types were there?

At the start of the 19th century the landed gentry made up only a small part of the population. Whereas the peerage included about 300 families, the landed gentry encompassed closer to 25,000 or 26,000: 540 baronets, 350 knights, 6,000 landed squires and 20,000 just plain gentlemen. This group totaled about 1.5% of the national population and possessed about 16% of the national income. (Interestingly this is not out of line with the statistics in the US for 2010.) (Keymer, 2005) Said another way, 98.5% of the population were not of the gentlemanly class. So by that standard, gentlemen were rare birds indeed.


Kelly, Pauline E. (2009) Jane Austen Dictionary. Ink Well Publishing

Keymer, Thomas in Janet Todd (ed.) (2005) Jane Austen in Context. Cambridge University Press

Shapard, David M. (editor) - The Annotated Persuasion Anchor Books (2010)

Gornall, J. F.G. - Marriage and Property in Jane Austen's Novels The Jane Austen Hampshire Group

Austen, Jane, and David M. Shapard. The Annotated Pride and Prejudice. New York: Anchor Books, 2003.

Austen, Jane, and David M. Shapard. The Annotated Sense and Sensibility. New York: Anchor Books, 2011.

Lane, Maggie. Jane Austen's World: The Life and times of England's Most Popular Novelist. 2nd ed. London: Carlton Books, 2005.

Laudermilk, Sharon H., and Teresa L. Hamlin. The Regency Companion. New York: Garland, 1989.


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, or follow on Twitter.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

The Golden Age of the Canal in England and Northern Wales

By Jude Knight

If a breakthrough technology is one that offers a solution to a complicated problem, leading to explosive economic growth, canals were one of eighteenth-century England’s breakthrough technologies.

Not that canals were new, or even unique. The Persians and the Chinese built massive canals, and the Chinese are credited with inventing the pound lock, with a sluice gate either side and a pool in the middle that could be lowered or raised by opening one gate or the other.

Mitred gates followed. With a mitred gate, the gates are slightly too large to close flat. They meet with mitred edges pointed towards the higher water level, and water pressure keeps them shut. When the level on both sides is the same, the pressure is off and the gates open easily.

Canal Lock

Europeans started building canals in the twelfth century, and the first mitred gate was built in the fifteenth century. It was probably the San Marco lock in Milan, which joined two canals at different levels.

Canals were slow but steady
The impetus, of course, was economic. Canals allowed heavy goods to be moved reliably, efficiently, and in bulk lots.

The roads, where they existed at all, were dreadful, limiting the amount that could be pulled by a team of horses or oxen. Boats could carry heavier loads, if they could move. Rivers had currents: travelling against them was hard and even drifting downstream could be dangerous after rain. Sails are fine if the wind is blowing and in the right direction, but what about when the river bends? On a river, boat captains had to wait: for the weather, the tide, a fair wind.

A canal offered still water. Even better, a horse or mule could be yoked to the boat and walk beside the canal. A horse could move around fifty times as much weight pulling a boat on still water than on pulling a cart over old-fashioned roads.

The industrial revolution depended on transportation
By the mid-eighteenth century, England was putting together the elements of what would later be called the industrial revolution. Cheap cotton from the colonies fed the textile mills. All sorts of industries began to mechanise, with more and more efficient steam engines to turn the wheels of their operations. Mechanised manufactories turned out vast quantities of goods compared to previous methods. And those engines consumed huge amounts of coal. How could raw materials get to the mills? How could the finished products get to the market. A complicated problem, indeed!

In 1759, the Duke of Bridgewater proposed a simple canal project: a canal with a series of locks to join his coal mine to the nearest river, the Irwell, which travelled through a valley three miles away. Brindley, the engineer he hired had a far more ambitious plan. He proposed a canal straight to Manchester, ten miles away, jumping the Irwell on an aqueduct and built as level as possible to avoid time-wasting locks. 

Salt Mills Canal

The Bridgewater canal opened in 1861 and the duke’s coal reached Manchester for half the previous cost. The great age of canal building had begun, and before it ended the whole of the South, Midlands, and parts of North England and Wales would be linked by a connected network of canals, locks, aquaducts, and tunnels.

Canals fed the factories; factories fed the canals
Others soon followed. The first canals were built by private individuals who had stuff to move. Josiah Wedgewood was one. He needed clay at his manufactory in Staffordshire, and then wanted to transport the pottery he created to market with as few breakages as possible.

Canals allowed the existing manufactories to move more goods at lower prices, and encouraged others to build along their lines.

Brindley, builder of more than 300 miles of canal, set the standard dimensions for canal locks, and those dimensions governed the length of the boats. The locks were 72 feet 7 inches long, and 7 feet six inches wide. The boats had to be a smidgeon shorter, and became known as narrowboats. They could carry thirty tons of cargo, and be pulled by a single horse, walking the towpath.

The network ran on horses and horse feed 
The horses worked hard all day. They had to be fed well and regularly with high energy food, and stalled in a stable at the end of each day's journey (because a hot tired horse will become ill if kept in a cold field at night).

So the canal system was peppered with stopping places where horses could be cared for and where local farmers could sell corn, crushed oats and chopped hay.

To keep working, a horse had to be fed well and regularly with high energy food and all the corn, crushed oats and chopped hay had to be prepared and available at the provender stores all over the system. An army of ostlers and blacksmiths made sure the horses were well and well-shod. The system employed thousands of people and horses, quite apart from those who were on the water.

The railways were the beginning of a long century of decay
When I first started researching the canals, I saw them through a Victorian lens, and expected to find families living on the boats, but in the glory days of the canals, narrowboating was a male enterprise. Families lived in cottages along the banks or at one terminus or the other. Once the railways began, they offered a faster alternative for transporting bulk goods, and the rates for the narrowboats dropped to the point that wives and children came to live aboard, to save rent and to provide extra labour.

Motorised canal boat on the Pontcysyllte aqueduct

Though canal boats, most now motorised, would continue for more than a century, the golden age of the canal was over.

Salts Mill Canal.jpg
Salt's Mill from the canal, Saltaire
Salt's Mill is mainly on the south bank of the Leeds and Liverpool canal. But there is also a building on the north bank, connected by an enclosed bridge. On a Monday morning in early March, it was really quiet between the buildings, the loudest sound was the ducks quacking. Think of it 150 years ago when barges would have been loading and unloading at the large doors on the ground floor in the foreground.
© Copyright Rich Tea and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Canal boat on aquaduct.jpg
A canal boat traverses the longest and highest aqueduct in the UK, at Pontcysyllte in Denbighshire, Wales
Public Domain image

Canal lock.jpg
Kennet and Avon Canal, Wootton Rivers looking north-east The lock gates don't appear to be particularly watertight. The lock-keeper's cottage is the white building to the right of the image.
Brian Robert Marshall [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons


Jude Knight’s writing goal is to transport readers to another time, another place; to give them a virtual holiday within a compelling story with interesting company.

In her novel A Raging Madness, released 9 May 2017, her hero and heroine are fleeing villains; one near crippled after an injury and the other recovering from forced laudanum addiction. If they go by road, they’ll be dead or caught. Jude sends them on a canal boat, one of the slowest forms of transport known to human kind, but so ubiquitous in the early 19th century landscape as to be nearly invisible. Researching canal boats was great fun.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Editors' Weekly Round-Up, May 7, 2017

by the EHFA Editors

This week, EHFA featured a trio of excellent articles.

by Mike Rendell
(from the archives)

by Cryssa Bazos

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Who was Robert Catesby? A look at the real Man Behind the Mask

by Linda Root

Why May and not November?

One would expect a post about the mastermind behind the Gunpowder Treason to appear on November 5 rather than in May, but like so much else about the plot, it had not been planned for November. The original plot was to be sprung in February and designed to reach fruition by the end of spring.

Had the conspiracy gone forward as originally projected, by the end of May  James I would be dead, the crown would be tottering on the head of his nine-year-old daughter Elizabeth, the Earl of Northumberland or some other peer sympathetic to the Catholic cause would be Protector of the Realm, and the man who is widely blamed for it all--Guy Fawkes-- would have been in the Spanish Netherlands explaining the necessity for the regicide to the Archdukes Albert and Isabella.

Then the king went and ruined it all by delaying the opening of parliament until autumn because he feared the lingering plague, unaware of greater dangers lurking.

In the months between the Spring of 1605 and infamous November 5, the original plan was refined and in a sense, improved, but it was also weakened as the circle of conspirators expanded. Then, on October 26, 1605, William Parker, Lord Monteagle, received an anonymous letter warning him not to attend the opening of Parliament. According to traditional histories, he passed the letter on to Robert Cecil, then known as Salisbury,  and consequently saved the day.

National Archives -{{US-Public domain - expired copyright.}}
Or did he?
There is an alternative history that propounds a different theory --one in which Cecil had been watching Guido (aka Guy) Fawkes for months based on warnings from English spies in the Netherlands who had documented his visits there. Fawkes had been placed on Cecil's watch list, and thus, Cecil had been aware of the plot all along. He simply had not acted  until he had  conceived of a way to net all of the culprits and designed a way to implicate the Jesuits in the evil deed.

According to that version, the Monteagle letter was a hoax concocted by Cecil and Lord Monteagle, taking advantage of one of the plotters who was Monteagle's relative, a cousin who had spilled the beans to Parker. The authorship of the letter was pinned on him and he mysteriously died of poison while languishing in the Tower, a very convenient act of damage control if Cecil actually was behind the ruse.

Lord Monteagle benefited from grants of interests in England's overseas enterprises at the cost of the life of a mere cousin. In the aftermath, Cecil got his vengeance against England's leading Jesuits, Catholics were again persecuted by a less tolerant King James than the one who had arrived from Holyrood two years earlier, and the false hero Monteagle got to keep the change.

So, how did Guy Fawkes figure in all of this?

The statement that Guy Fawkes almost blew up Parliament is about as accurate as when those of us who are Americans call George Washington the father of our country or claim that Abraham Lincoln fought the Civil War to free the slaves. There is much more to the Gun Powder Treason than a conspiracy to bring down the government, and it involves issues that plague us today. To put the caper at the feet of Guy Fawkes is about as complete an analysis as blaming 9/11 on Abdulaziz-a-Omari. How many readers recognize the name well enough to identify what part Omari played in it? Likewise, Fawkes was not the instigator of the Gunpowder Plot--he was the bloke who got caught.

Public Domain -Anonymous, from work already in the public domain.

Fawkes had two specific roles to play, both of them suited to his talents. His experience as a soldier made him the ideal choice when it came to spreading the explosives and lighting the fuse. But he also was a veteran of the wars waged against the rebellious Dutch, and in the Spanish Netherlands he was regarded as a loyal Catholic soldier whose interests aligned with those of Spain.

His projected duties went well beyond the event planned at Westminster. In modern terms, he was the conspirators' public relations man. His role was to plant the seed before the explosion and after the deed was done, market it to the crowned heads of Europe in the least offensive terms imaginable.

He was suited to the task because during the time he had spent in Flanders he had established many friendships among the Catholic English exiles and had performed well in services of the Spanish in their war against the Dutch. He had comported himself with honor and bravery exceptional in a mercenary,  and thus would be a persuasive apologist  in defense of what would otherwise appear a heartless regicide.

His was an important mission, designed to combat two features of the Gunpowder Plot that made it particularly odious.

 First, it threatened the concept of Divine Right of Monarchy, a fact certain to offend Philip III and Henry IV as well as the Archdukes Albert and Isabella Clara Eugenia, co-rulers of the Spanish Netherlands. Killing kings was the job of other kings and to be done with honor, not by knaves hunkering in dark basements stockpiled with explosives.

The other troublesome feature of the Gunpowder Treason is what we call collateral damage, and collateral damage of the worst kind, because among the intended victims would be women and children and many souls sympathetic to the conspirators. It was the aspect of the plot that even the most radical among the group found difficult to accept and for which they sought counsel from representatives of the Pope.  It was Fawkes' assigned duty to minimize the stigma by spreading the doctrine that had evolved as the plot progressed--the concept of necessary evil.

In spreading the propaganda, Fawkes was not the orchestrator but the messenger. Blaming him is like blaming a guy named Bernard Barker for Watergate.

Exclusive image: ID 16858073 © Steve Allen | 

Who was Robert Catesby?

Fawkes was a principal in the commission of the crime, but he was not the mastermind. That dishonor falls on the head of a man named Robert Catesby. He doesn't have a day named for him. No one goes running about on November 5 in a Robert Catesby Mask. No one stages public protests in his name, and to my knowledge, no one burns him in effigy. He was never tried of convicted or racked or disemboweled. He was fortunate to get himself killed while trying to escape arrest.

He was the ringleader, a member of the landed gentry, as were most of the others. And while he was firm in his Catholic faith, there was nothing that pointed him out as a man who would kill a king. He was known to be one of many recusants but he was not considered instrumental in any current Papist plot.

Catesby was an Oxford man who left before graduation, apparently to avoid having to take the Oath of Supremacy that would have forced him to betray his faith. He had taken part in the Essex Rebellion of 1601, and escaped Elizabeth's wrath by paying a substantial fine  that caused him to divest himself of his estate. By the time of Elizabeth Tudor's death, he had become radicalized. When hopes that James would lift restrictions on the mass when he ascended to the English throne in 1603 were dashed, Catesby decided it was time to act.

Ashby-Saint -Ledgers, home of Anne Catesby - Wikimedia Commons, P.D.

Parts of his early planning occurred at the family estate at Ashby-Saint Ledgers, Catesby's mother's home. It was centrally located to the residences of  the others he had drawn into the plot.

Among his earliest recruits were men he knew from the Essex Rebellion. Clearly it was Catesby and never Fawkes who was the principal in the evolving plot. And as other men were brought into it, it was Catesby who had the final word as to their suitability to join. Fawkes was accepted into the group  by virtue of his devout Catholicism, his contacts in Europe and his military expertise. When the Parliament set for February 1605 was cancelled due to the king's fear of plague in London, the plot had expanded from the original five--Catesby, Thomas Wintour, John Wright, Thomas Percy and Guy Fawkes-- into one involving a group of thirteen men, many of whom were aristocrats.

The thirteen Gunpowder Plot conspirators- Wikimedia Commons-P.D.

The plan called for most of the participants to be far away in the Midlands when the Houses of Parliament exploded,which of course resulted in Fawkes being caught with the power keg. Part of the gang was posing as a hunting party near the manor house where the Princess Elisabeth resided. Their objective was to take possession of the princess and make her titular queen, possibly under a regency with the Earl of Northumberland as Protector.

News of Fawkes' arrest sent them into flight. When news of Fawkes's capture and the discovery of the explosives reached Catesby, he lied about it to his followers and those he hoped to recruit to his cause, declaring that the king was dead. When that deception failed, he changed his tactics and sought to build his own revolt. When he declared that his rebel group stood for God and Country, a resident of the village he tried to bring into his ranks replied, "We stand for King, God and Country." That indeed was the prevalent sentiment.

 It was not the first time that radical Catholic dissidents misjudged the sentiments of England's moderate Catholics. From the time when Catholic dissidents colluded with the King of Spain to place imprisoned Marie Stuart on the English throne, the loyalty of most English to their sovereign was underestimated.

Sadly, it was not the first time that moderates became the scapegoat of the royal wrath. After all, many English peers, protestant and Catholic, some with their wives and families in attendance,  were scheduled to attend the opening day of Parliament, including not just the king, but Queen Anne, the formidable and much admired Prince of Wales Henry Frederick and possibly the frail five year old Charles, Duke of York, who at last had learned to walk.  It is the strike against their own coreligionists and the entire royal household that so inflamed not just James but the common English.

In judging the heat of their passion, one recalls that the concept of a royal family was a new thing in the life experience of English men and women of the time. Elizabeth had been an independent childless woman. Her closest relatives were cousins, nephews and nieces. The Stuarts were still a romantic phenomena to the average English man and woman.  The plotters had attacked a popular new institution - that of the Royal Family.

While James opened the following year's Parliament with conciliatory words and assured the Catholic kings of Europe that he bore no ill will to his common Catholics, his policy of looking through his fingers at the activities of recusants ended. Thus, the plotters were defeated  in principal as well as in design.

One died and another was blinded in an accidental fire when gunpowder moved from other locations to Holbeche House in Staffordshire caught fire. Others, including Catesby, died the following day when the Sheriff of Worchester arrived with 200 armed men with no intention of extending leniency. Many depictions show Catesby being injured in close combat, but most historians report that he was shot.

Public Doman Art ((US)) -
Anonymous drawing of the death of Robert Catesby,
Wikimedea Commons 
Some say he died clutching a small statue of the virgin or at a larger statute of the virgin's feet. The men who died at Holbeche House were luckier than the survivors who suffered the indignities and horrors of a traitor's death. 

Fawkes did not give up his comrades until he was tortured by increasingly gruesome means. Others who were only peripheral to the plot also suffered. The mighty Earl of Northumberland was imprisoned in the Latham Tower for his association with his cousin Thomas Percy, one of the original five, with whom he had lunched on November 4th. Thomas Percy had died along with Catesby, some say from the same bullet, leaving no one to condemn or exonerate the earl, who eventually was released upon levy of a substantial fine but who never  regained his former prominence.

A second version shows Caesby in close combat over the death of his comrade Percy. Public Domain from Wikimedia Commons {{US-Art}}Add caption

The Death of Guy Fawkes:

King James personally participated at the initial interrogations of Fawkes,who was arrested under an alias he commonly used--John Johnston. James approved the use of what was called 'the gentle tortures' at first, and eventually allowed the more severe. Fawkes held out until he had been racked repeatedly, and when he did confess, his former proud signature was barely legible.

He met his death as he had lived his life, in the manner of a soldier. When Guy Fawkes and the others who suffered with him were taken to their place of execution at a site within view of the Houses of Parliament, unlike the others, Fawkes died from a broken back during his hanging and was dead before they cut him down. Thus the man whose likeness is a symbol of anti-establishment protest met his end.

Just as it so often happens today,  as it happened then, few remember the man who had set the conspiracy in motion,. It is Fawkes who is burned in effigy. Even the art of the day, as shown below, misrepresents the truth. When Fawkes met his death, there is no way he would have been able to climb the ladder on his own.

 John Cruikshank,Wikimedea Public Domain Art

Was Robert Catesby a Terrorist?
Much has been written about the relationship of the Gunpowder conspirators to modern terrorists. Certainly the act meets most definitions, all but one. It has been said in different words and in different contexts that the goal of terrorism is terror, and that terrorist acts target civilian non-combatants.

That was not the objective of Robert Catesby and the others involved in the Gunpowder Treason. In modern terms, what they sought was regime change.Their ultimate goal was to affect a revival of Catholicism. Their target was the king. The result of their failed conspiracy was to make his personal agenda as a Peacemaker difficult to implement.

To that extent, I disagree with Antonia Fraser and others who have called the Gunpowder plotters terrorists. Perhaps fanatics is the better term.  Nevertheless, even this thumbnail analysis begs the question of whether they deserve to be remembered by some as patriots who dared to strike out against a despotic regime. New information about the goals of James VI and I counter most arguments as to  the proprietary  of their cause.


Faith and Treason ~the Story of the Gunpowder Plot, by Antonia Fraser, is a remarkable work that should be in the library of any scholar of English history and anyone who loves historical mystery. It is written with the same vitality and style as her seminal biography of the Queen of Scots, and is often lauded as a well crafted detective story. It is the foundation of this thumbnail sketch and the basis of research in my current work in progress In the Shadow of the Gallows, the fourth installment in my series The Legacy of the Queen of Scots.

This Editor's Choice was originally published May 23, 2014

Linda Fetterly Root is a retired major crimes prosecutor and a historical novelist writing of events in 16th and 17th century Scotland, France and England. She lives in the Morongo Basin area of the California desert with two wooly malamutes, a flock of chickens and assorted wild things. Her books are on Amazon.