Guest Post: All the Ælfgifus by Annie Whitehead

Today it is a pleasure to welcome Annie Whitehead to History … the Interesting Bits as a stop on her Women of Power in Anglo-Saxon England Blog Tour.

Women of Power in Anglo-Saxon England examines the lives of individual women in a way that has often been done for the Anglo-Saxon men but not for their wives, sisters, mothers and daughters. It tells their stories: those who ruled and schemed, the peace-weavers and the warrior women, the saints and the sinners. It explores, and restores, their reputations.

Over to you Annie….

All the Ælfgifus

I was recently interviewed on BBC Radio Northampton where we chatted about a lady known as Ælfgifu of Northampton. During the pre-recording chat, it became clear that there was some confusion over the name. I told the presenter that I wasn’t the least surprised, as there are no fewer than eight ladies with that name featured in my new book. I thought I’d take this opportunity to introduce them. (The name, incidentally, translates as Elf-gift, which I think is rather beautiful.)

Ælfgifu, daughter of Edward the Elder

Edward the Elder

We don’t know a great deal about her but I do feel rather sorry for her. She and her sister, Eadgyth, were, apparently, both sent to Germany so that the future emperor, Otto, could choose one of them as his bride. He married Eadgyth – it was, apparently, ‘love at first sight’ – and Ælfgifu married another prince. What Ælfgifu felt about being rejected by Otto, we can only surmise. Of course, Otto might not have been every young girl’s dream, in which case Ælfgifu might have considered that she’d had a lucky escape. It must have rankled though, being declared less attractive than her sister.

Ælfgifu of Shaftesbury

King Edmund was the son of Edward the Elder and a half-brother of the Ælfgifu mentioned above. He became king at around the age of eighteen and his first wife, Ælfgifu, bore him two sons, both future kings. Her identity is debateable and her background unknown. She wasn’t married for long. Her son Eadwig (I’ll come back to him) was probably born around 940, and his younger brother Edgar around 943. King Edmund himself died in 946 – the victim of a brawl, or perhaps a political assassination – having married again, so his first marriage must have ended not long after Edgar’s birth. Ælfgifu is known as Ælfgifu of Shaftesbury, and it would be easy to assume that she retired to Shaftesbury Abbey in the manner of a number of previous queens, but the short-lived nature of her marriage and the young age of her children suggest another scenario. It is plausible that she died in childbirth, either in labour with Edgar or with a subsequent pregnancy in which both mother and child died. If she did indeed die in childbirth then she cannot have been a nun at Shaftesbury, but merely a benefactor.

Ælfgifu the Harlot

Mortimer portrait of Dunstan scolding 
Ælfgifu the Harlot

In 955 Edmund’s brother, who’d succeeded him, died and was in turn succeeded by Edmund’s son, Eadwig (see, I told you I’d come back to him). Life at court got rather interesting when Eadwig, still only a teenager, married a young woman named Ælfgifu. Many of you will know the story of how he was found in bed on his coronation day with his wife, and her mother. Depending on which version one reads, the mother was banished and/or hamstrung in punishment, or she threatened the abbot who found them, and who was himself subsequently banished, that she would have his eyes put out if he ever returned. The young couple’s marriage was annulled two years later, on the grounds that they were too closely related. However, Ælfgifu is presumed to be the same woman who left a will, in which she’s identified as being descended from the brother of Alfred the Great. This being so, she was descended from the branch of the royal family that had risen up in rebellion. Ælfgifu’s marrying the king might have been seen as an attempt to strengthen those claims. It’s not a theory which I whole-heartedly embrace but it does seem that there was a lot of political manoeuvring at court and I suspect Ælfgifu was an innocent caught up in the turmoil. She was certainly welcomed back to court by Eadwig’s brother when he became king.

Ælfgifu of York – Possibly

Aethelred the Unready

That brother of Eadwig’s had a son, known to history as Æthelred the Unready. His first wife’s identity is a bit of a mystery. The chronicler John of Worcester said that she was called Ælfgifu, and that she was the daughter of an ealdorman called Æthelberht. But there is no evidence of this woman’s father; no ealdorman named Æthelberht is recorded elsewhere. Roger of Wendover said that she was a ‘woman of low birth’, while Ailred of Rievaulx, writing in the mid-twelfth century, said that she was the daughter of a man named Thored, but he didn’t name her. It is possible that Æthelred was married first to a woman named Ælfgifu and then to the daughter of Thored, but it is generally accepted that this was one woman and, combining the two versions, that she was Ælfgifu, daughter of Thored.

We don’t hear much from her as she didn’t witness any charters and is otherwise unnamed in the sources. What she did do, though, is have at least nine children, (one of whom was also called Ælfgifu, whose husband was murdered by her sister’s husband, which must have made for awkward family Christmases)! She must have lived until the eleventh century, for her youngest son, Edgar, did not appear on charter witness lists until 1001. We do not know exactly how old the royal children would typically have been when they first appeared on the witness lists, but we do know that they were sometimes still babes in arms. It is not known what happened to Ælfgifu and it is possible that she died at around the same time, for King Æthelred got married again in 1002…

…To a woman named Emma, but who was given the English name of Ælfgifu. As if this wasn’t confusing enough! And after Æthelred the Unready died, Emma married again. Her husband was King Cnut, who already had a wife/concubine:

Ælfgifu of Northampton

Emma – Ælfgifu of Northampton’s rival

This Ælfgifu came from a powerful Mercian family. Her father was ealdorman of Northumbria, her uncle founded Burton Abbey and her grandmother founded Wolverhampton. Ælfgifu’s father was murdered and her brothers were blinded and generally Æthelred the Unready mistrusted the family, as well he might. For at some point, possibly around 1013, Ælfgifu married Cnut, the son of the invader, Swein Forkbeard. She had two sons by Cnut, and they were given Danish names – Swein and Harold – as if recognised as potential heirs, but when Cnut became king, he married Emma and also had a son with her, who was named Harthacnut.

Emma, with her credentials as an English queen, was no doubt important to Cnut, but so too was Ælfgifu of Northampton, and Cnut had a task for her to perform. Cnut had an empire to rule, and Harthacnut was sent to Denmark while in 1030, Ælfgifu and her son Swein were sent to Norway, there to rule for Cnut. The regency in Norway may have been hugely symbolic, and it is telling that the period was remembered in Scandinavian history as ‘Ælfgifu’s time’, but for various reasons it wasn’t hugely successful. Swein died in 1035, but so too did Cnut.

Now a (rather unseemly at times) battle began as Emma and Ælfgifu fought for their sons to succeed. You can read all about these fraught years in my new book but the upshot was that Ælfgifu was successful in the short term and Harold ‘Harefoot’ became king. Sadly though he died in 1040. We don’t know what happened to Ælfgifu after this, but there is a French twelfth-century story which speaks of a woman named Alveva and it’s possible that she lived out her years as an exile in southern France.

By 1066, another Harold was on the throne. He had a wife/concubine who’s known to history as Edith Swanneck, and one of her children was a daughter named Ælfgifu.

Ælfgifu the Unlucky

But the last Ælfgifu I want to talk about is one I’ve nicknamed ‘unlucky’. You’ll recall that Ælfgifu of Northampton’s brothers were blinded. They weren’t the only ones and in 993 a man named Ælfgar suffered the same fate. His wife was another woman named Ælfgifu. When Ælfgifu of Northampton’s father was killed and her brothers blinded, another man was named as being deprived of all his property. With a little bit of detective work I was able to say with some degree of certainty that this man was the second husband of our last Ælfgifu, which means that her first husband was blinded and the second was deprived of all his property. Given that it’s clear the name Ælfgifu seems to have been given only to noblewomen, I think this one must have expected a slightly more comfortable and uneventful life!

Follow the Blog Tour!

Annie’s book, Women of Power in Anglo-Saxon England, was published by Pen & Sword Books in June 2020. It can be purchased from Pen & Sword and online.

About the Author:

Annie is an author and historian and an elected member of the Royal Historical Society and has won awards and prizes for her fiction and nonfiction.

Published works include Mercia: The Rise and Fall of a Kingdom (Amberley Books) and novels and stories set in Anglo-Saxon England, including To Be A Queen, the story of Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians, longlisted for HNS Book of the Year 2016. She was the inaugural winner of the Dorothy Dunnett/HWA Short Story Competition in 2017. You can connect with Annie through her Website, on Facebook, Twitter and on her Blog and Amazon Author Page.

All images are in the public domain.

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My Books

Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England  looks into the relationships of the various noble families of the 13th century, and how they were affected by the Barons’ Wars, Magna Carta and its aftermath; the bonds that were formed and those that were broken. It is now available from Pen & SwordAmazon and from Book Depository worldwide.

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066.  Available now from Amazon,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository.

Heroines of the Medieval World tells the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich. Available now from Amberley Publishing and Amazon and Book Depository.

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You can be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter and Instagram.

©2020 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Guest Post: Whores and Winchester Geese – Prostitution in Medieval London

Today it is a pleasure to welcome Toni Mount to History … the Interesting Bits as a stop on her ‘The Colour of Shadows’ Blog Tour. The Colour of Shadows is the latest instalment in Toni’s Sebastian Foxley Medieval Murder Mysteries series.

So it’s over to Toni

Whores and Winchester Geese – Prostitution in Medieval London

by Toni Mount

In my new Sebastian Foxley murder-mystery novel The Colour of Shadows, set in medieval London, some of the action takes place on the south side of London Bridge, in a seedy brothel known as ‘The Mermaid’. Mermaids were believed by medieval folk to seduce mariners, luring them to their deaths at sea. This nasty trait made ‘The Mermaid’ a most suitable name for a house of ill-repute in medieval Southwark but what was life really like for the unfortunate women, forced to earn their living in such places?

Prostitution is said to be the oldest profession. If you’re wondering, the second oldest is spying – both are mentioned in the Bible. Throughout history, prostitution has been seen as a necessary fact of life, for the most part tolerated by civic authorities, if rarely approved. In medieval London, the city tried to regulate the work of ‘common women’, confining them to particular areas, such as Cock Lane, in the north-west, near Newgate. But better yet was to keep them outside the city, out of sight and, hopefully, out of mind, across the Thames in Southwark, where they wouldn’t sully the city’s precious reputation. The Liberty of the Clink was an area in Southwark that, although actually in Surrey, was exempt from the jurisdiction of the county’s sheriff and came under the authority of the Bishop of Winchester. The bishop’s London residence, Winchester House, was built in the liberty, originally surrounded by parkland. Because the liberty lay outside the jurisdiction of the City of London and that of the county authorities of Surrey, some activities forbidden in those areas were permitted here.

In 1161 the bishop was granted the power to license prostitutes and brothels in the liberty and the women became known as ‘Winchester Geese’. To be ‘bitten by a Winchester goose’ meant to contract a venereal disease and ‘goose bumps’ was slang for the symptoms of the disease. Medieval attitudes to prostitution were mixed. Sex was only for procreation but, if it couldn’t be helped, at least the geese prevented good Christian men falling into even worse practices – like sodomy or masturbation – seen as mortal crimes by the church – so prostitution was a kind of safety valve for wicked desires and had the added benefit of filling the bishop’s coffers. When the poor Geese died, they had the final indignity of being buried in unconsecrated ground. The Cross Bones graveyard in Southwark has been preserved by local residents and a little memorial set up to commemorate the Winchester Geese.

Clients would come by boat from a jetty at Stew Lane in the city across the river to avoid being questioned if they went through the gates at London Bridge and, of course, the gates were closed after dusk. As clients approached the south bank, they’d see signs with the brothels’ names, painted on the white walls of detached houses surrounded by gardens. In early Tudor times, there were the Bear’s Head, the Cross Keys, the Gun, the Castle, the Crane, the Cardinal’s Hat, the Bell and the Swan. Under the direction of the Bishop of Winchester there were some restrictions: the brothels were not permitted to open on Sundays or religious days. There was also some attempt to stop prostitution getting out of hand, with a fine of twenty shillings should any ‘woman of the bordello… draw any man by his gown or by his hood or any other thing’. And the ordinances were meant to protect the prostitutes as well, requiring that women were not held against their will. Whether that actually happened is up for debate. We have some fascinating poll tax records documenting the extent of the ‘trade’, including those from 1381, recording seven local ‘stew-mongers’ each keeping between two and six ‘servants’, the latter probably a mix of both servants and prostitutes. Others are said to have worked on a ‘freelance’ basis, operating out of the likes of Paris Garden, the manor next to the Clink, or St Thomas’ Hospital.

By the time Henry VI came to the throne in 1422, the Southwark stews were at the peak of their profitability and the money flooding in allowed many stew-holders to buy themselves freehold property elsewhere in Southwark. Some used these additional properties to open inns or taverns which doubled as illegal brothels in Borough High Street, but that was only the beginning of the trouble their new riches brought. In order to serve on a fifteenth-century jury, you had to be a property-owner, which was taken as evidence you had a stake in society and could be trusted to take your responsibilities in court seriously. This gave the newly propertied stew-holders another opportunity for corruption. By hiring out their services to the highest bidder, stew-holders on the jury could deliver whatever verdict their paymasters required.

In 1473, Elizabeth Butler was visiting a friend’s London house when she met Thomas Boyd for the first time. Boyd offered her a job as a domestic servant at what he said was a Bankside inn, promising good pay and excellent working conditions. She accepted and went with him to the inn, where she quickly realised the place was actually a brothel and Boyd was its manager. Far from the light housekeeping duties his original offer implied, Boyd’s real plan was for Elizabeth to join his stable of whores. ‘He would have compelled me to do such things and service as other his servants done there’, she later testified. When Elizabeth refused to sell herself, Boyd claimed she owed him rent and took her to the Bishop of Winchester’s court, demanding a cash sum so large he knew she could never hope to pay it. The court found Elizabeth Butler guilty and gaoled her when she admitted she had no money. That was exactly what Boyd had hoped would happen. He’d be happy to get her out of gaol by cancelling her debt, he said – but only if she did what he wanted on Bankside. Elizabeth was stubborn and still refused. After three weeks in the Bishop’s Clink prison, she somehow managed to get a petition to the Bishop of Durham, pleading with him to get her case heard in the higher court of Chancery. She got as far as a hearing before London’s City Chamberlain, but frustratingly that’s where the records run out.

We have a couple of other fragments of court cases from the fifteenth century which also shed a little light on crime and punishment in the stews. In April 1439, for example, a known bawd named Margaret Hathewyck was charged with procuring a young girl called Isabel Lane for a group of men from Lombardy. ‘Isabel was deflowered against her will for money paid to the said Margaret’, the City Chamberlain’s court rolls say. After the Lombards had finished with Isabel, Hathewycke delivered her to a Bankside brothel ‘for immoral purposes with a certain gentlemen on four occasions against her will’. Hathewyck’s name appears at about this time among the list of prisoners sent to the Clink, where she seems to have served a long twenty-year sentence – such sentences were unusual, except for debt. Either that, or Hathewyck may have been a repeat offender who happened to be ‘inside’ each time the inmates were listed.

Another Bankside stewholder got what was coming to him in 1494 – and for a very similar offence to Boyd’s crime above. ‘Upon the second day of July, was set upon the pillory a bawd of the stews named Thomas Toogood’, Fabyan’s Great Chronicle reports. ‘The which before the mayor was proved guilty that he enticed two women dwelling at Queenhythe to become his servants and to have men in common within his house’.

Health issues

John of Gaddesden, an English doctor writing in the early 14th century, had some advice for women on how to protect themselves against venereal disease. Immediately after sex with any suspect man, he said, the woman should jump up and down, run backwards down the stairs and inhale some pepper to make herself sneeze. Next, she should tickle her vagina with a feather dipped in vinegar to flush infected sperm out of her body, then wash her genitals thoroughly in a concoction of roses and herbs boiled in vinegar. It’s hard to imagine anyone actually following this advice – let alone one of the girls in Southwark’s stews. It would have puzzled the customer she’d just serviced for one thing, and running backwards downstairs sounds an excellent way to break your neck. Other doctors writing at about the same time as Gaddesden had equally eccentric remedies of their own, but at least everyone now recognised that diseases such as gonorrhoea were spread by sexual intercourse and that in itself was a big step forward.

In 1321, King Edward II had founded the Lock Hospital in Southwark as a treatment centre for ‘lepers’, the name then used for anyone with sores and skin lesions. It was located less than a mile from the stews of Bankside and, unsurprisingly, it soon started to specialise in VD cases. ‘Lock Hospital’ can still be found in slang dictionaries today as a generic term for any VD clinic. Southwark’s lucrative trade gave it such place names as Codpiece Lane, Cuckold Court and Sluts’ Hole.

During the Plague, in 1349, Edward III suspended Parliament to let MPs escape London for the relative safety of the countryside. Anyone else rich enough to flee the capital got out too. But Southwark’s brothels remained open throughout the plague years, despite official warnings that casual copulation with multiple partners increased the risk of infection. Henry Knighton, a fourteenth-century chronicler who lived through the Black Death, says the stews were actually busier than ever during the plague years.

Legislation

In 1351, the City of London passed an ordinance that ‘lewd or common women’ must wear a striped hood to identify themselves and refrain from beautifying their clothes with any fur trim or fancy lining. At that time, any woman not of noble birth could be described as ‘common’ so the ordinance seemed to cover almost every female in the city. London’s proud womenfolk weren’t going to have men dictating what they could wear, so most ignored the ordinance and challenged any constable to arrest them, if he dared. When Edward III added his own authority to this law three years later, he was careful to specify it applied only to

London’s ‘common whores’. The striped hoods and lack of decorative trim, his proclamation declared, would ‘set a deformed mark on foulness to make it appear more odious’.

Some working girls continued to live inside the city walls but commuted to Cock Lane near Newgate or over the bridge to Southwark to earn their daily crust – perhaps finding somewhere to change on the way. But it wasn’t long before they were banned from even lodging in the city and subject to very heavy penalties for doing so. A 1383 ordinance required whores caught in London to have their heads shaved and then be carted through the streets in a special wagon while minstrels played all around them to attract a crowd. The girl herself would have to wear that trademark hood as the cart carried her through town to the nearest prison, where she’d be placed in a pillory and publicly whipped. In 1393, these rules were tightened further, saying no prostitute must go about or lodge’ in London or its suburbs, but ‘keep themselves in the places thereto assigned, that is to say, the stews on the other side of the Thames and in Cock Lane’. Offenders could face all the penalties I’ve mentioned and have their identifying hood confiscated too.

Henry V’s contribution was to ban London’s City aldermen and other respectable citizens from letting out any building they owned to tenants ‘charged or indicted of an evil and vicious life’. This was clearly aimed at the many churchmen, noblemen, City officials and wealthy merchants who happily rented out their property to known stewholders. There were only so many houses to be had in the Bankside’s licensed area, so anyone lucky enough to own a building there could command premium rents if he let it be turned into a brothel so there was a powerful financial incentive to accept stewholders as tenants and that’s what the king’s ordinance was up against. It must have been simple enough to arrange your affairs to circumvent the new law – perhaps by renting your building out through a middleman – whatever the case, the ban had little effect.

In 1436, Parliament heard an urgent petition from a group of Southwark citizens complaining that illegal brothels were still operating along the length of Borough High Street. ‘Many women have been ravished and brought to evil living’, the petition said, ‘Neighbours and strangers are oft-time robbed and murdered’. Parliament responded by declaring once again that stewhouses must be restricted to the licensed area provided – but gave no clue as to how this might be achieved. In 1460, Henry VI set up a commission of twenty respectable citizens from both Southwark and London to consider the problem. They recommended that the City of London send men into Southwark to remove any prostitutes or stewholders found operating away from Bankside and if necessary imprison them, but the War of the Roses deposed him just a few months after the commission’s report, so he had little chance to act. The new king, Edward IV, took a more relaxed view of the Winchester Geese – perhaps because his own habits left him little room to criticise what went on in Southwark. The only significant measure he took to regulate them was a 1479 royal proclamation that all the licensed Bankside stews should clearly identify themselves by painting their riverside walls entirely white. Each house had its own symbol painted like a pub sign on the same wall and – as often as not – a couple of enticing whores shouting from a riverside window to attract boat-bound customers. There are also references to Edward IV banning whores from wearing aprons – an ordinary woman’s badge of respectability – so they couldn’t pretend to be decent townsfolk. But another source says the apron ban was a twelfth-century ordinance.

Another matter

In London, on 11th December 1395, John Rykener was arrested in a stable in Sopers Lane, just off Cheapside, caught in an ‘unmentionable act’ with John Britby. Rykener was dressed as a woman, calling himself ‘Eleanor’, an embroideress. When he appeared before the mayor, still in women’s clothing, he admitted to similar offences with one Carmelite friar, two Franciscans, three Oxford scholars, three chaplains and six foreign men, charging them for the pleasure. However, he’d also given his services – as a man – to numerous women, including nuns, for free. It seems the authorities were mystified by such behaviour and, rather than punishing him for his ‘unmentionable acts’, which could have resulted in Rykener burning at the stake, they prosecuted him for misrepresenting himself as a woman and, therefore, ‘confusing’ his male customers and failing to provide them with the ‘womanly services’ they’d paid for. In other words, he’d broken the ‘trades’ descriptions act’, medieval style.

About the Author: Toni Mount

I’m an author, a history teacher, an experienced speaker – and an enthusiastic life-long-learner. I’m a member of the Research Committee of the Richard III Society and a library volunteer where I lead a Creative Writing group. I regularly give talks to groups and societies and attend history events as a costumed interpreter. I write for a variety of history magazines and have created seven online courses for http://www.MedievalCourses.com

I earned my Masters Degree by Research from the University of Kent in 2009 through study of a medieval medical manuscript held at the Wellcome Library in London. My BA (with First-class Honours), my Diploma in Literature and Creative Writing and my Diploma in European Humanities are from the Open University. My Cert. Ed (in Post-Compulsory Education and Training) is from the University of Greenwich.

I have a strong online following with my various social media and web pages: http://www.ToniMount.com http://www.SebastianFoxley.com http://www.facebook.com/toni.mount.10 http://www.facebook.com/medievalengland http://www.facebook.com/medievalmedicine http://www.facebook.com/sebfoxley http://www.twitter.com/tonihistorian

My works to date include:

Self-Published:

2007 The Medieval Housewife and Women of the Middle-ages; 2009 (updated 2015) Richard III King of Controversy; 2013 Dare they be Doctors.

Amberley Publishing:

2014 (Hb) Everyday Life in Medieval London; 2015 (Hb) Dragon’s Blood and Willow Bark: the mysteries of medieval medicine; 2015 (Pb) The Medieval Housewife: & Other Women of the Middle Ages; 2015 (Pb) Everyday Life in Medieval London; 2016 (Pb) Medieval Medicine: Its Mysteries and Science (the renamed paperback version of Dragon’s Blood & Willow Bark); 2016 (Hb) A Year in the Life of Medieval England; 2019 (Pb) A Year in the Life of Medieval England; 2020 (Hb) The World of Isaac Newton

Pen & Sword:

2021 (Pb) How to survive in Medieval England; 2021 (Pb) An affectionate look at sex in medieval England

MadeGlobal Publishing:

The Sebastian Foxley Medieval Murder Mysteries series: 2016 The Colour of Poison; 2016 The Colour of Gold; 2017 The Colour of Cold Blood; 2017 The Colour of Betrayal; 2018 The Colour of Murder; 2018 The Colour of Death; 2019 The Colour of Lies; 2020 The Colour of Shadows

2018 The Death Collector (A Victorian Melodrama)

MedievalCourses.com:

2015 Everyday Life of Medieval Folk 2015 Heroes and Villains 2016 Richard III and the Wars of the Roses 2016 Warrior Kings of England: The Story of the Plantagenet Dynasty; 2017 Crime and Punishment; 2017 The English Reformation: A Religious Revolution 2018 The Roles of Medieval and Tudor Women

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My Books

Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England  looks into the relationships of the various noble families of the 13th century, and how they were affected by the Barons’ Wars, Magna Carta and its aftermath; the bonds that were formed and those that were broken. It is now available from Pen & SwordAmazon and from Book Depository worldwide.

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066.  Available now from Amazon,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository.

Heroines of the Medieval World tells the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich. Available now from Amberley Publishing and Amazon and Book Depository.

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You can be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter and Instagram.

©2020 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Guest Post: Luminous by Samantha Wilcoxson

It is a pleasure to welcome Samantha Wilcoxson to the blog as part of her Luminous Blog Tour.

Worker Exploitation at Radium Dial

By Samantha Wilcoxson

Radium Dial opened in Ottawa, Illinois in 1918 in response to the demand during World War I for luminous watches and instrument dials. The location was an old, brick school building with large rooms and big windows perfect for the fine painting required. The popularity of new glow-in-the-dark wristwatches kept the company in business after the war ended and provided many working class women with higher paying jobs than they could obtain elsewhere.

Catherine Donohue was one of the women who worked at Radium Dial, beginning in 1922. She and several of her coworkers suffered the effects of radium poisoning and fought for years to have their conditions recognized and covered by workers’ compensation legislation. Radium Dial continued operating and denying that they owed anything to the women they had slowly poisoned over their years of employment.

In 1936, Radium Dial closed their operations in the old high school and moved into a new building just a few blocks away. This new company was called Luminous Processes. It utilized much of Radium Dial’s assets and hired the same employees. The move had been a strategy to protect corporate assets from the lawsuits of former employees. When Catherine’s case was heard before the Illinois Industrial Commission, only $10,000 was available to be paid out to the several families suffering from radium poisoning.

Until 1978, Radium Dial continued operating under the name of Luminous Processes, their millions of dollars in profits protected from those employed before 1937, but that isn’t the worst of it. Radium Dial sold the old school to a meat packaging company, which experienced an exceptionally high rate of cancer in its employees and customers. When the building was demolished in 1968, the rubble was used as fill all around Ottawa, poisoning residents for decades.

At the new Luminous Processes building, employees continued to use radium without proper caution, also adding to the town’s high rates of cancer and other diseases. Sick workers were offered $100 each in severance pay to keep them from seeking legal action that they could ill-afford anyway. Luminous Processes wasn’t shut down until 1978. The company paid only $62,000 toward the millions of dollars of cleanup that is ongoing to this day by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Worker exploitation by Radium Dial is the subject of my newest novel, Luminous, which tells the story of Catherine Donohue, one of hundreds of young women who worked as dial painters in the 1920’s and 1930’s. Her struggle to have her illness recognized as radium poisoning and to have Radium Dial held responsible will stir up the emotions of any reader. The battle she fought helped to change workers’ compensation laws so that others would not suffer her fate. Although Catherine never dreamed of being a heroine, she changed the course of history.

About the Author:

Samantha Wilcoxson is a history enthusiast and avid traveler. Her published works include the Plantagenet Embers series with novels and novellas that explore the Wars of the Roses and early Tudor era. Luminous is her first foray into 20th century American history, but she suspects that it will not be her last. Samantha enjoys exploring the personal side of historic events and creating emotive, inspiring stories.

Important Links:

Universal Amazon Link for Luminous: mybook.to/luminous

Samantha’s Blog: https://samanthawilcoxson.blogspot.com/

Samantha on Social Media:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/PlantagenetEmbers/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/carpe_librum

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/samantha_wilcoxson

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/samanthajw

I would like ot say a huge ‘thank you’ to Samantha for a fabulous article, and wish her every success with Luminous: The Story of a Radium Girl.

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My Books

Out Now!

Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England will be released in the UK on 30 May 2020 and is now available for pre-order from Pen & SwordAmazon UK and from Book Depository worldwide. It will be released in the US on 2 September and is available for pre-order from Amazon US.

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066.  Available now from Amazon UK,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository and Amazon US.

Heroines of the Medieval World tells the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich. Available now from Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK, Amazon US and Book Depository.

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©2020 Sharon Bennett Connolly and Samantha Wilcoxson

Book Corner: Warrior of Woden

Today it is a pleasure to welcome Matthew Harffy to History … the Interesting Bits as the latest stop on his Warrior of Woden Blog Tour.

Matthew has kindly given us an extract from this latest, fabulous book in his Bernicia Chronicles series, which follow the adventures and experiences of Beobrand HAlf-hand. Ocer to Matthew:

“The weather has been fine these past weeks, has it not?”

“Aye,” Acennan smiled, “better than riding through rain and mud, shivering without a fire at night.” They both recalled the misery of the year before when it had rained almost every day of their month of riding along this southern border of Northumbria. All of them had been ill by the end of it, and their clothes had rotted on their backs from being constantly sodden.

“You are not wrong there, my friend,” said Beobrand. “But do you remember last year, even when the sky was filled with rain and storms raged in the heavens day after day, even then, we caught some of the Mercian brigands raiding into the lands of our king? Remember, there was that fool we caught when he tried to ride Theomund’s stud stallion?”

Attor and Cynan, who were near to Beobrand and Acennan, laughed at the memory.

“We were hardly needed then,” said Acennan. “That Mercian boy was made to regret stealing a proud Northumbrian horse!”

More men laughed at the memory. One of the few moments of that rain-drenched month that they were happy to remember. The huge stallion had not been pleased to be ridden out of its warm stable and it had thrown the Mercian youth from its back and then, when the boy sought to drag him away by pulling on the horse’s reins, the beast had attacked him. The horse had trotted back to its master’s stable. The stallion had reminded him of Sceadugenga. Beobrand and his warband had found the Mercian lad trampled and bleeding in the mud.

The boy had still been dazed when they had hanged him.

“There was not much need of us then, you are right,” said Beobrand. “That horse was well able to look after itself, it seems. But even then, with the constant rain, men raided from Mercia, seeking to steal what they could. How many men have we seen raiding this past fortnight?”

“We have seen none,” replied Acennan, “but I for one am happy of the peace and the good weather. Perhaps I am getting old.”

“Perhaps you are at that,” laughed Beobrand. “Eadgyth has tamed you when you are at your hall, of that there is no doubt.”

Acennan blushed.

“Well, she has her ways of keeping me quiet.”

Beobrand smiled.

“I am sure she does.”

Acennan was happier than ever. His land prospered, as did his family. Eadgyth had borne him two fine children and Acennan doted on them all. But there was little that could be described as old or tame about him when he rode with Beobrand’s warband.

Beobrand stared at the smear of smoke in the pale sky over the southern hills.

“But does it not strike you as strange that this year, when the weather has been fair, and there has been a full moon and clear skies, we have neither seen nor heard of any bands of Mercians striking into Deira?”

Acennan frowned.

“Perhaps you are right, lord,” he said. “But what do you think is the cause of the calm over the land?”

“I do not know, my friend,” Beobrand answered, smiling to himself at Acennan’s use of the term “lord”. He only called him thus when he was angry or nervous. “But something is not right and south of here I would wager a hall is burning.”

He straightened his back and stretched his shoulders and arms in preparation for a hard ride.

“Attor and Cynan, you are to ride ahead as scouts. Gallop back to warn us if you smell a trap. This could be bait for an ambush.” Beobrand raised his voice so that all could hear. “The rest of you, prepare to ride. We will seek out what is the cause of this smoke and mayhap we will find what has kept the Mercians so quiet these past weeks.”

Cynan and Attor nodded and kicked their steeds into a canter that took them down the slope of the hill and quickly into the shade of a stand of elm.

Acennan frowned at Beobrand, but touched his spurs to his horse’s flanks, trotting forward with the remainder of Beobrand’s gesithas.

Beobrand understood his friend’s concern and he acknowledged that he was probably right in his appraisal of the situation. Surely no good could come of this.

For Beobrand led his warband into Mercia.

To read my review of Warrior of Woden click here.

Author bio

Matthew grew up in Northumberland where the rugged terrain, ruined castles and rocky coastline had a huge impact on him He now lives in Wiltshire, England, with his wife and their two daughters.

 Book description

AD 642. Anglo-Saxon Britain. A gripping, action-packed historical thriller and the fifth instalment in the Bernicia Chronicles. Perfect for fans of Bernard Cornwell.

Oswald has reigned over Northumbria for eight years and Beobrand has led the king to ever greater victories. Rewarded for his fealty and prowess in battle, Beobrand is now a wealthy warlord, with a sizable warband. Tales of Beobrand’s fearsome black-shielded warriors and the great treasure he has amassed are told throughout the halls of the land.

Many are the kings who bow to Oswald. And yet there are those who look upon his realm with a covetous eye. And there is one ruler who will never kneel before him.

When Penda of Mercia, the great killer of kings, invades Northumbria, Beobrand is once more called upon to stand in an epic battle where the blood of many will be shed in defence of the kingdom.

But in this climactic clash between the pagan Penda and the Christian Oswald there is much more at stake than sovereignty. This is a battle for the very souls of the people of Albion.

Links to buy

 Amazon: https://amzn.to/2I4PeTA

Kobo: http://bit.ly/2Gf2V1P

Google Play: http://bit.ly/2umk5ZO

iBooks: https://apple.co/2G7vhyW

Follow Matthew Harffy

 Website: http://www.matthewharffy.com/

Twitter: @MatthewHarffy

Facebook: @Matthew Harffy

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My book

Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK and worldwide from Book Depository. It is also available on Kindle in both the UK and USA and will be available in Hardback from Amazon US from 1 May 2018.

You can be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter.

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©2018 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: Interview with Kristie Dean

12791083_736187379851237_1299001826319792577_nThis week I have the great pleasure of starting off Kristie Dean’s Blog Tour, in honour of the launch of her new book, On the Trail of the Yorks.

Just a year ago she published the book, The World of Richard III and on Monday her latest offering, On the Trail of the Yorks goes on sale in the UK. Kristie’s books are a unique and fascinating blend of history and travel writing; they bring to life the castles, palaces and other locations  associated with one of the ,most famous kings – and families – in British history.

Here, she talks to me about her love of history and writing.

What made you become a writer?
When I was a little girl I would spend my time creating stories for the other kids. I also wrote and distributed a neighborhood newspaper. I was always writing – poems, short stories, and even reports. I wrote a research paper for my 7th grade teacher and she later talked to my parents, telling them I was pushing myself too hard. It wasn’t that; I just couldn’t stand a blank page, and so I was always looking for new ways of writing.

With a career as a teacher, how do you discipline yourself to write?
When I am working on a book, writing consumes my life. I come home from work and write for three or four hours plus I write all day Saturday and most of Sunday. If I have a school event or my husband convinces me to go out, I take that evening off. I take a week off every May to take my students to Washington DC, although I do take research materials to read on the bus. I also am a mentor teacher at my school, so that takes a chunk of time. But, just like writing and teaching, it is worthwhile and enjoyable.

How do you organise your writing day?
At 5 p.m., I get home and write until at least 8 p.m. On weekends, I am researching/writing by 9 a.m. and usually going until 5 p.m. If I am writing about a certain location and I am in a ‘zone’ I will often continue until I am done.

Kristie
Kristie Dean

How many projects do you have going at once, or do you concentrate on one at a time?
With my time constraints, I usually have one or two in the back of my mind, but I only work on one at a time. I would love to be able to work on two or three projects at a time. Authors who are able to do this amaze me.

Your books are quite unique, a combination of history and historical locations, what made you decide to write them this way?
I traveled to Europe several times and always ended up frustrated with my guidebooks. I ended up making my own guides to each location for myself and fellow travelers to reach deeper in the history. Since I was particularly fascinated with the Plantagenets (especially Richard III) and Anne Boleyn, I was frustrated there weren’t any guides to places associated with them. Then a member of a history group I am in wrote an excellent guide for Anne Boleyn. This helped me to realize that I wasn’t the only one who wanted to explore the history of a location, so I decided to start with the historical figure I was most interested in, which was Richard III.

How long do you spend researching your book before you start writing?
This is a tough one to answer since it varies. I already had a great deal of information on Richard III and the Wars of the Roses, so much of my research involved the locations associated with him. However, I have been researching for a fiction book for years. Whether it ever sees the light of day is a different story.

What do you enjoy most about writing?
I love getting to delve into the lives of historic figures and locations. I also like visiting each place to get a feel for it. I enjoy trying to make history come alive for my readers.

What is the worst thing about writing?
The long hours of solitude. It can get lonely, and when I am up against a deadline I do not have time to go out with friends.

How long does it take to do a project from start to finish?
About a year. It depends on the book and how much research I’ve done prior. It also depends on where the research takes me. I became interested in Margaret of York while writing my latest book and spent several hours researching information that I did not even need for the book.

Have you ever considered writing a novel? What would it be about?
(Laughs) Oh yes, I have. It would be a thriller, I think. I love reading those types of novels. I might eventually do an historic fiction novel, too.

Who are your favourite personalities from history?
Oh my. It would be easier to answer who doesn’t interest me, but I will give it a try. Richard III, obviously. Anne Boleyn, All the Plantagenet queens, St Margaret, Margaret of York, Cecily Neville, Anne Neville, Llywelyn Fawr, and several lesser known women from history. From a more modern time, Winston Churchill intrigues me.

What are your favourite places from history?1422626_729589277177714_706482969626694562_n
All of England, Scotland, and Wales. I feel like the area is a second home for me. I love traveling and exploring each region. Middleham Castle is one of my favourites, as well as Llanrhychwyn Church, which is believed to be the oldest church in Wales. This little church is a gem, said to have been built by Llywelyn Fawr for his wife, Joan. I had a difficult time finding it, but Sharon Kay Penman helped me by putting me in touch with someone who lived in the area. Pam took me straight there, and I was immediately enchanted.

Your last book was The World of Richard III and the new one is On the Trail of the Yorks, what is it that fascinates you about Richard III and the House of York?
I have been fascinated by that time period for a long time. It’s a time of turbulence, a time of changing allies and enemies, and a time of controversy. It just pulls me in. Originally, I was interested in the controversy surrounding Richard III, but now I am captivated by the entire period.
On another note, The World of Richard III is going to undergo a title change to On the Trail of Richard III for the paperback version. This will keep the two books aligned.

Would you ever consider doing a book about the House of Lancaster and the locations associated with it?
I would, but I think many of the locations would be the same. Of course, the difference would be what the Lancastrians would be doing at each location. It is certainly an interesting idea.

Do you ever get writer’s block? If so, how do you get around it?
Not often. When I do it is a sign that I need a break. So, I get up, play with my three dogs and two cats or take a walk outside. Or I clean the bathroom. I am always excited to get back to writing after that.

Do you find social media – such as Facebook – a benefit or a hindrance?
It’s a benefit, but I confess to not being the best at it. I don’t get around to the various groups as often as I want, so sometimes I am out of the loop. I do have several wonderfulyorks Facebook friends who help me admin my groups and keep me up to date on what’s happening in the other history groups.

What is be your next project?
I have a book about locations associated with some of history’s forgotten women brewing in my head, but it has a serious contender in Margaret, Mary and Arthur Tudor. I am not sure which will win out in the end. I am taking a much-needed break right now to collaborate with some friends on a joint project. I will spend two weeks in East Anglia this summer with them doing research.

I would like to extend a huge ‘thank you’ to Kristie Dean for her wonderful answers and wish her the every success with her latest book. And look out for my review of On the Trail of the Yorks next week!

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Kristie Dean has an MA in History and now enjoys teaching the subject, following a successful career in public relations. Her particular historic interest is the medieval era, specifically the Plantagenets, the Wars of the Roses and the Tudors. When not traveling for research, you can find Kristie at home in Tennessee with her husband, three dogs, and two cats. On the Trail of the Yorks is available from Amazon UK from 15th March 2016 and from Amazon US in May. And On the Trail of Richard III is due for release in paperback in May.

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My book, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK and worldwide from Book Depository. It is also available on Kindle in both the UK and USA and will be available in Hardback from Amazon US from 1 May 2018.

Be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter.

©2016 Sharon Bennett Connolly