Guest Post: Trial by Combat – Rough Justice by Toni Mount

It is an absolute pleasure to welcome author and historian Toni Mount back to the blog, with an article based on her research for her latest non-fiction book, How to Survive in Medieval England. Toni has a wonderful way with words to the extent that her books – fiction and non-fiction alike – are a pure pleasure to read.

So, without further ado, it is over to Toni:

Trial by Combat – Rough Justice

My new book, How to Survive in Medieval England, published by Pen & Sword, is a guide to travelling in history: what to expect, how to dress, how to stay safe and what to look for on the menu.

If you were able to go back in time to medieval England, so much would be very different and so many things missing – all technology, from engines to the Internet. All work would be done by hand. In medieval England, the law sometimes works quite differently from the way we expect today. Trial by Ordeal was a means of deciding who was innocent and who was guilty. A suspect or the accused would be taken to a church and with a priest presiding, subjected to one of a number of horrific acts.

Trial by Fire – a priest (centre) blesses the ordeal as the accused (left) takes the red-hot iron in hand.
[Readers may note the accused wears ‘motley’ – parti-coloured cloth – a sure sign of untrustworthiness.’

A favourite was Trial by Fire. In this case, a piece of iron was heated to red-hot in a brazier and the accused had to remove the metal from the fire – by hand! His burns would be bandaged and left for a week. When inspected by the priest at the end of seven days, if they were healing well this was God’s decision and the accused was innocent. But if the burns were septic and weeping, that was also God’s doing and proved the accused was guilty because God was not on his side.

Trial by Water could be similar with the accused having to plunge his hand into a cauldron of boiling water. Or, an alternative Ordeal by Water involved throwing the accused into a pond or river, though this one always seems most unfair to me. If the accused sank and, therefore, probably drowned, he was innocent because the water, having been blessed by a priest, ‘accepted’ him. If he floated, he was guilty because the blessed water refused him. In which case, he would be hanged, so he died either way.

Another method was Trial by Combat in which the accuser and the accused fought it out with weapons. God would cause whoever was telling the truth to win the battle.

In 1249, a gang of thieves was terrorising Winchester, Salisbury and Guildford, specialising in stealing expensive clothing and shoes. The gang was often violent and, although folk in the area knew who they were, they were too scared to accuse them.

Top right corner – Walter (left) fighting Hamo (right) and Hamo (top centre) being hanged after he lost
[https://blogs.loc.gov/law/2018/09/judicial-combat-barbarous-relic-or-timeless-litigation-strategy/]

In my new book, I include some imagined interviews with real people of the time as a means of telling about true aspects or incidents in their lives. Let’s speak to Walter Blowberme, a member of this notorious gang of thieves:

‘Now Walter, you were caught in the act, I believe, and admitted your crimes. Tell us what you did.’

‘Well, see, we stoled all this valuable stuff, didn’t we? Good cloth, shoes, some jewellery and silver cups. Made a fine profit ’til I got caught, filching a gold brooch. I knewed this meant a date wi’ the hangman for me so I told the sheriff I’d be an approver.’

‘What is an approver?’

‘You don’t know? What a dim-wit. It means my life’ll be spared if I telled the court the names of ten others involved in the crimes. I didn’t want t’ do it, ’cos they was my mates but a man has t’ lookout for hisself.’

‘So you snitched on your fellows. What happened then?’

‘I named six fellows from Guildford who was all members of the gang. They was all arrested, tried and condemned. I didn’t feel too bad about them ’cos I never liked most of ’em, except Tom. It was a shame about him. But I still needed another four fellows convicted to save my own neck, so I accused three from Hampshire. They wasn’t in the gang; just fellows I knowed and didn’t like much. They was found not guilty and released so I had t’ name four others as gang members. It’s a good thing I know so many folk and don’t like none of ’em. These four was nasty bits o’ work, I can tell you, but when the sheriff tried to take ’em, three managed to escape. But because they never turned up in court, they was found guilty anyway. The fourth fellow, Hamo Stare – my sister’s husband what I never liked – was brung to trial but things was so complicated, the judge offered Hamo a trial by ordeal.’

‘I thought trial by ordeal was made illegal by the Church?’

‘Don’t ask me; I’m not the judge. Anyhow, Hamo chosed trial by combat and I, as his accuser, had to be his opponent. We had wooden clubs and shields and fighted ’til we was both bloody but Hamo gave in first. The judge declared God had gived me most strength, so I must have spoke truly against Hamo. Hamo was hanged – good riddance – and I’d managed to get ten fellows convicted, so my life was spared but I got banished from the district forever ’cos I admitted being guilty of so many crimes.’

‘But you didn’t mend your ways, Walter?’

‘Nay. Couldn’t resist some silver bits, could I? I comed t’ London and just six months later I got caught, thieving a chalice and candlesticks from St Mary-le-Bow church.’

‘And this time there is no second chance for you, is there, Walter?’

‘Nay. This time it’s the gallows for me. T’morrow. Pray for me soul, won’t you?’

Judicial tests and ordeals had been abolished at an important Lateran Council meeting, held by the pope in 1215, stating that churchmen may ‘neither pronounce nor execute a sentence of death. Nor may they act as judges in extreme criminal cases, or take part in matters connected with.’ This meant trial by ordeal no longer had God’s sanction – a priest had to be present as His representative – since it was God who determined the outcome. However, obviously, such trials must have continued for at least another thirty years.

A naughty priest in the stocks along with his mistress – churchmen’s punishments were not so bad.
[https://www.historyextra.com/period/medieval/monks-sex-drink-gamble-history-pope/]

Churchmen could no longer sit in judgement but neither could they be tried in a state court. They had to be tried in church courts by their fellow clerics and a death sentence could never be past, even for murder. So, in medieval England, if anyone could prove they were a man of the cloth, or a nun, then they could, literally, get away with murder. Here’s how: only trained clerics can read Latin; so if the accused can read the Bible – always in Latin – he must be a churchman. To prove a person can read, the same passage is always required to be read aloud from the Bible: ‘Oh loving and kind God, have mercy. Have pity upon my transgressions.’ (Psalm 51, Verse 1.) This meant that any forward-thinking criminal learned this verse by heart, in Latin, even if he couldn’t read a word. It saved the necks of so many miscreants, it was known as the ‘Neck-Verse’ and got a great number of very guilty people out of trouble.

Readers can find out far more about medieval lives, meet some of the characters involved and get a ‘taste’ of the food of the time in How to Survive in Medieval England, my new book from Pen & Sword, published on 30th June 2021 and available for pre-order now on Amazon.

About the book:

How to Survive in Medieval England by Toni Mount
Pen & Sword History (30 Jun. 2021)

Imagine you were transported back to Medieval England and had to start a new life – without mobile phones, ipads, or social media. When transport meant walking or, if you’re lucky, horse-back; how will you know where you are or what to do? Where will you live? What is there to eat? What shall you wear and how can you communicate? Who can you turn to if you fall ill or are mugged in the street,? All these questions and many more are answered in this new guide book. How to Survive in Medieval England is a handy self-help guide with tips and suggestions to make your visit to the Middle Ages much more fun. Learn the rules so you don’t get into trouble or show your ignorance in embarrassing
situations and read interviews with the stars of the day, from a celebrity chef to King Richard III himself. Have an exciting visit but be sure to keep this book to hand.

About the Author

Toni Mount is a history teacher and a best-selling author of historical non-fiction and fiction. She’s a member of the Richard III Society’s Research Committee, a regular speaker to groups and societies and belongs to the Crime Writers’ Association. She writes regularly for Tudor Life magazine, has written several online courses for http://www.MedievalCourses.com and created the Sebastian Foxley series of medieval murder mysteries. Toni has a First class honours degree in history, a Masters Degree in Medieval History, a Diploma in English Literature with Creative Writing, a Diploma in European Humanities and a PGCE. She lives in Kent, England with her husband and has two grown-up sons.

Web http://www.tonimount.com

Social https://www.facebook.com/toni.mount.10/ https://twitter.com/tonihistorian https://www.instagram.com/toni.mount.10/

*

My Books

Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey tells the fascinating story of the Warenne dynasty, of the successes and failures of one of the most powerful families in England, from its origins in Normandy, through the Conquest, Magna Carta, the wars and marriages that led to its ultimate demise in the reign of Edward III.

1 family. 8 earls. 300 years of English history!

Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey is now available from Pen & Sword BooksAmazon in the UK and US and Book Depository.

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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 & Sword,  Amazon and from Book Depository worldwide.

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.

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.

*

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.

©2021 Sharon Bennett Connolly and Toni Mount

Guest Post: How to make your fortune and get your name into the history books? by Monika E Simon

Today it is a pleasure to welcome author Monika E Simon back to the blog, with an article looking at the origins of the Lovell family. Monika’s book, From Robber Barons to Courtiers: The Changing World of the Lovells of Titchmarsh, will be released on 30 June. Over to Monika:

How to make your fortune and get your name into the history books?

The ruins of the Abbay of Saint-Evroult-Notre-Dame-du-Bois, Orne

In my last blogs I have talked about events from the last century of the history of the Lovell of Titchmarsh. Today I am going back to their very beginnings of this English noble family. So far back in fact that they had not arrived in England and were not called Lovell. At the time, the second half of the eleventh century, the ancestors of the family were obscure minor lords at the Norman French border about whom we know nothing beyond their names and a few details about lands they possessed or office they held. This all changed with Ascelin Goël, who was, as the Complete Peerage puts it, ‘undoubtedly the true founder of the family fortunes.’ He turned his family from an minor nobles into powerful border lords.

How did Ascelin Goël achieved this? Not as the reward for faithful service to his lord, but through rebellion and violence. His behaviour was outrageous enough, even in a time not short on violent men, for the chronicler Orderic Vitalis to write about Ascelin Goël’s deeds in his Ecclesiastical History.

For many events, this chronicle is the only source. Fortunately, Orderic Vitalis was exceptionally well placed to know what he was writing about. He was a monk at the monastery of St Evroult (Dept. Orne, Normandy) and in the latter part of his chronicle he describes events that happened in his own lifetime and often not very far from where he lived. His Ecclesiastical History is, as J.O. Prestwich writes ‘of exceptional value for the history of the Anglo-Norman world’. The way he orders the events in his chronicle is, however, not without severe drawbacks, as he was ‘remarkably careless of chronology’ (Prestwich again). The confusing structure means that the events in which Ascelin Goël was involved in are described in different parts of the chronicle and it is often difficult or impossible to be certain what happened when. Since Orderic Vitalis is mostly the only source existing it is also not possible to check his report or fill in any information his chronicle omits to mention. Nonetheless it is possible to reconstruct the story and draw some probably conclusions.

Ascelin Goël was the eldest son of Robert d’Ivry and Hildeburge de Gallardon. Both of his parents entered religious houses towards the end of their lives and Hildeburge de Gallardon acquired a reputation for heir piety. A brief description of her life, the Vita Domine Hildeburgis, was written, perhaps as a first step to have her canonized. There is however no evidence that this was pursued any further.

Ascelin Goël’s father Robert d’Ivry held land around Bréval and Ivry on both sides of the French Norman border. He was castellan of the border Castle of Ivry (in modern-day Ivry-la-Bataille, Dept. Eure) in 1059. Robert’s mother was probably Aubrée, daughter of Hugh, Bishop of Bayeux and therefore granddaughter of Ralph, Count of Bayeux and his wife Aubrée. According to Orderic Vitalis it was Aubrée who had the architect Lanfred build the Castle of Ivry. If Ascelin Goël’s grandmother was indeed Aubrée, daughter of Hugh, Bishop of Bayeux, he was for one indirectly related to the ducal family, as Aubrée’s grandfather Ralph Count of Bayeux was a half-brother of Richard I of Normandy. It would also mean that Ascelin Goël was related to William de Breteuil, his lord and great opponent, as William’s grandmother Emma was a sister of bishop Hugh. Moreover, Ascelin’s descend from the woman who built the Castle of Ivry would give him a hereditary claim on the castle.

Église Notre-Dame-de-la-Trinité in Bréval

Ascelin Goël had in fact set his sight on the Castle of Ivry, a mighty border fortress and possibly the model for the White Tower in London. At the time, castles were centres of power and much coveted by the nobility. Particularly desirable were the castles that guarded the borders of England against Wales and Normandy against France. Possessing one of these border castles gave the owner both power and an unusual amount of freedom, especially if they were held them in their own right and not as castellans appointed by their king or duke. Many noblemen used any means, fair or foul to gain full control of one or more of these castles. They used any opportunity to achieve this goal, and in 1087, after the death of William the Conqueror, the nobles en masse expelled the royal garrisons from their castles.

Until then the Castle of Ivry had been in the hand of the dukes of Normandy. William the Conqueror had appointed Roger Beaumont as the castellan, probably after Robert d’Ivry had joined a religious community. When Robert Curthose became Duke he granted the castle to William de Breteuil, who was one of his long-standing supporters. To appease Roger Beaumont, Robert Curthose gave him the Castle of Brionne as compensation.

William de Breteuil was a grandson of Osbern, the steward of duke Robert the Magnificent. He had not inherited all the lands of his father William fitz Osbern, but enough to become one of the most powerful nobleman in Normandy. After gaining possession of Ivry he made Ascelin Goël castellan of the castle. As it turned out, Ascelin Goël was not satisfied with merely holding the castle for another lord. Two years after becoming castellan of Ivry, he took control of the castle, presumably by expelling William de Breteuil’s men and replacing them with his own.

An interesting aspect of this conflict is that Ascelin Goël took on not only his lord but also a nobleman who was so much more powerful than he himself was. Ascelin Goël was only a minor border lord whose man residence was in Bréval (Dept. Yvelines). Here he had built a strong castle that he had filled ‘with cruel bandits to the ruin of many’, according to Orderic Vitalis.

After gaining control of Ivry, Ascelin Goël handed it over to Duke Robert. It is possible that he hoped his hereditary claim to the castle would move Robert Curthose to grant it to him. If that was the case, he was mistaken, as Robert Curthose sold it back to William de Breteuil.

Unsurprisingly, William de Breteuil was far from pleased with his castellan and deprived Ascelin Goël not only of his castellanship but of all the lands Ascelin had held off him.

For Ascelin Goël this was a setback but he did not give up. In 1091, he was able to capture William de Breteuil, with the help of Richard of Montfort and household troops of King Philip I of France. William de Breteuil now found himself incarcerated for three months at Bréval and subjected to various forms of torture. Once, Orderic Vitalis writes, Ascelin Goël had his prisoners exposed to the freezing wind clad only with wet shirts until these were frozen solid. After three months of imprisonment, William’s release was secured by a truce arranged by several noblemen. He had to pay a heavy price for his freedom. He had to give the Castle of Ivry to Ascelin Goël and pay a hefty ransom in money, horses, arms and ‘other things’. Additionally, William de Breteuil had to give Ascelin his illegitimate daughter Isabel as his wife.  – Needless to say, what Isabel thought of this was not recorded.

However, Ascelin Goël was not able to enjoy possessing Ivry for long. The year after his release William de Breteuil first tried to retake Ivry. He failed and barely escaped being recaptured by Ascelin Goël, who again tortured the prisoners he had taken. The next year William de Breteuil was better prepared. With the support of Robert Curthose and King Philip of France, both of whom he had to pay for their help, he tried again to take Ivry back. He had also gained the support of the experienced warrior Robert de Bellême who led the siege of Ascelin Goël’s Castle of Bréval. Ascelin was able to withstand the siege for two months but eventually had to surrender and hand the Castle of Ivry back to William de Breteuil.

The ruins of the Castle of Ivry

Having lost Ivry again, Ascelin Goël seems to have realised that for now he had no chance to hold the castle permanently against William de Breteuil. With Isabel de Breteuil as his wife, Ascelin Goël also had a better claim to inherit the castle after William de Breteuil’s death. William had no legitimate children, only an illegitimate daughter Isabel and an illegitimate son Eustace. As inheritance law was not yet strictly settled in this time, Isabel, Eustace, and several more distant relations could claim William de Breteuil’s lands or part of them after his death.

When William de Breteuil died on 12 January 1203, Ascelin Goël was in fact one of them men fought Eustace de Breteuil for possession of William de Breteuil’s lands. The two most prominent claimants were William Gael, a nephew of William de Breteuil, and a more distant relative the Burgundian Reginald de Grancey. Eustace had previously gained the goodwill of Henry I of England by supporting him in driving Robert de Bêlleme out of England and had married Henry I’s illegitimate daughter Juliana. Moreover, the Norman nobility largely supported Eustace, ‘because’, as Orderic Vitalis explains, ‘they chose to be ruled by a fellow countryman who was a bastard rather than by a legitimate Breton or Burgundian’.

Ascelin Goël is usually mentioned in this conflict, but he is not regarded as a rival claimant to the Breteuil in inheritance. However, Orderic Vitalis singles him out particularly. He writes that Henry I promised to support Eustace ‘against Goel and all his other enemies’. To me it seems significant that it is Ascelin Goël rather than Reginald de Grancey whom Orderic names as Eustace principal enemy.

To solve this crisis, Henry I sent his chief advisor Robert Beaumont, Count of Meulan to Normandy. Robert Beaumont soon had a personal reason to find a solution, as Ascelin Goël kidnapped John, a citizen from Meulan, when he was on his way back from a meeting with Robert Beaumont. John de Meulan was imprisoned in Bréval and for four months Robert Beaumont was unable to rescue him. Eventually Robert Beaumont was able to arrange a peace between all parties. Orderic Vitalis reports that he betrothed his baby daughter Emma to Amaury de Montfort, which appeased not only Amaury himself but also his uncle William, Count of Évreux, Ralph of Conches, Eustace de Breteuil, and Ascelin Goël. Orderic Vitalis does not mention any specific concessions made to Ascelin Goël. Later evidence suggests that Ascelin Goël gained what he had strived to gain for more than ten years: the Castle of Ivry. A charter of 1115 calls Ascelin Goël ‘Goelli de Ibriaco’, Goël of Ivry, and at no other time Ascelin Goël was in the position to achieve this concession from Eustace de Breteuil.

William fitz Osbern and the author at Chepstow Castle, 2007 (Kirsty Hartsiotis)

From this time on, Ascelin Goël kept his peace until his death between 1116 and 1119. At least he refrained from engaging in feuds with his powerful neighbours. Orderic Vitalis writes that he and his sons continued to plague the region with their violence and cruelty.

To answer the question I have asked at the beginning of this blog: How did one make one’s fortune and got one’s name into the history books? Ascelin Goël’s answer was by rebellion and violence. His disregard from the bonds of feudal lordship, his cruelty and ruthlessness ensured him a place in Orderic Vitalis’s Ecclesiastical History and from there in history books to the present day. He also probably gained the Castle of Ivry and became a much more powerful lord than his father and grandfather had been.

Though Robert Goël, Ascelin Goël’s eldest son, did not inherit the Castle of Ivry, he did inherit his ruthless streak and tactical skill. He joined the rebellion against Henry I in 1118 but was the first rebel to make his peace with the king in 1119. In return and ‘to guarantee his loyalty’, to quote Orderic Vitalis one last time, Henry I granted Robert Goël the Castle of Ivry. Robert Goël’s younger brother, William Lovell I, inherited the castle after his brother’s death in or shortly before 1123.

Images:

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons except William fitz Osbern and the author at Chepstow Castle, 2007 which is courtesy of Kirsty Hartsiotis

About the author:

Monika E. Simon studied Medieval History, Ancient History, and English Linguistics and Middle English Literature at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität, Munich, from which she received an MA. She wrote her DPhil thesis about the Lovells of Titchmarsh at the University of York. She lives and works in Munich.

Links:
https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/From-Robber-Barons-to-Courtiers-Hardback/p/19045
https://www.facebook.com/MoniESim
http://www.monikasimon.eu/lovell.html

*

My Books:

Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey tells the fascinating story of the Warenne dynasty, of the successes and failures of one of the most powerful families in England, from its origins in Normandy, through the Conquest, Magna Carta, the wars and marriages that led to its ultimate demise in the reign of Edward III.

1 family. 8 earls. 300 years of English history!

Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey will be released in the UK on 31 May and in the US on 6 August. And it is now available for pre-order from Pen & Sword BooksAmazon in the UK and US and Book Depository.

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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 & Sword,  Amazon and from Book Depository worldwide.

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.

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.

*

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.

©2021 Sharon Bennett Connolly  and Monika E Simon

Book Corner: Roman Britain’s Missing Legion by Simon Elliott

Legio IX Hispana had a long and active history, later founding York from where it guarded the northern frontiers in Britain. But the last evidence for its existence in Britain comes from AD 108\. The mystery of their disappearance has inspired debate and imagination for decades. The most popular theory, immortalized in Rosemary Sutcliffe’s novel _The Eagle of the Ninth_, is that the legion was sent to fight the Caledonians in Scotland and wiped out there. But more recent archaeology (including evidence that London was burnt to the ground and dozens of decapitated heads) suggests a crisis, not on the border but in the heart of the province, previously thought to have been peaceful at this time. What if IX Hispana took part in a rebellion, leading to their punishment, disbandment and _damnatio memoriae_ (official erasure from the records)? This proposed ‘Hadrianic War’ would then be the real context for Hadrian’s ‘visit’ in 122 with a whole legion, VI Victrix, which replaced the ‘vanished’ IX as the garrison at York. Other theories are that it was lost on the Rhine or Danube, or in the East. Simon Elliott considers the evidence for these four theories, and other possibilities.

Roman Britain’s Missing Legion: What Really Happened to IX Hispania by Simon Elliott is a fascinating investigation into the fate of the 9th Legion. Immortalised in Rosemary Sutcliff’s iconic novel, The Eagle of the Ninth.

In Roman Britain’s Missing Legion: What Really Happened to IX Hispania, historian Simon Elliott examines all the possible fates of the famous IX legion, examining every scenario in which the legion may have met its end, from revolt in Britannia to the wars in Germany to ignominious defeat in one of the Jewish revolts. Each conflict is explained in detail, with the possible involvement of the IX legion examined and explained, the level of plausibility carefully measured and detailed.

Simon Elliott ruminates on why this one legion disappears so completely from history, with no contemporary records – Roman or otherwise – giving reason or explanation as to its ultimate fate. This is a fascinating book, not only for its enquiries into the fate of the Legio IX Hisapana, but also for its detailed explanations into the make-up of the Roman army in the 1st and 2nd centuries AD.

Using contemporary records, historical investigations and archaeological discoveries, as well as his extensive knowledge of the Roman Empire and the Roman military, Simon Elliott finds traces of the IXth legion in Britain, Rome and elsewhere, but to discover their eventual fate must be a mammoth task.

This book is a historical detective story concerning the mysterious disappearance of the 5,500 men of legio IX Hispana, one of Rome’s most famous military units. Uniquely among the Roman legions, of which there were over time more than sixty (and at any one time in the Empire a maximum of thirty-three), we have no idea what happened to it. It simply disappears from history.

The historical conundrum has grabbed the attention of academics, scholars and the wider public for hundreds of years. One of the first to write on the subject was British antiquarian John Horsley who published his Britannia Romana or the Roman Antiquities of Britain in 1732. In his work he detailed when each Roman legion arrived and left Britain. However, he noted that there was no leaving date for legio IX Hispana, a fact he found difficult to explain. Then, in the 1850s, the renowned German scholar Theodor Mommsen published his multi-volume The History of Rome. In this he speculated that the IXth legion had been the subject of an uprising by the Brigantes tribe of northern Britain around AD 117/118, it being wiped out in its legionary fortress at York (Roman Eboracum). Mommsen speculated it was this event that prompted the new Emperor Hadrian to later visit Britain in AD 122 and initiate the construction of Hadrian’s Wall.

Such was Mommsen’s reputation that his theory became the received wisdom regarding the legion’s fate well into the twentieth century AD, when it was then popularized by a number of historical fiction works. One above all others cemented the fate of the legio IX Hispana in the popular imagination. This was The Eagle of the Ninth, the seminal work published by children’s author Rosemary Sutcliff in 1954. Her second book, this told the story of her hero Marcus Flavius Aquila who travelled north of Hadrian’s Wall to track down the fate of his father’s legion, legio IX Hispana. Her conceit was that the IXth legion had been annihilated in the far north of Britain, beyond the northern border rather than York, during yet another uprising. This novel proved as popular with adults as with children, and is still a bestseller to this day.

You don’t have to be an expert on Roman military history in order to read and enjoy this thorough investigation into the fate of the legio IX Hispana, Simon Elliott dedicates the first chapter to explaining the foundations of the Roman military machine, and how units are divided into legions, centuries, vexillations and the rest. This comprehensive introduction means the general reader can enjoy the book without getting lost in the various description of diverse Roman units. The author also explains the extent of Roman influence throughout Europe and beyond, from Roman incursions into Scotland, to its actions in Egypt, Syria and beyond.

He then goes on to examine the breadcrumbs left behind by the IXth legion, including tablets, small altars and inscriptions in York. Carlisle and elsewhere in the empire. These examples of the legion’s existence also serve to remind the reader that we are investigating the fate of men, around 1,000 men, who just disappear from history.

Incredibly well researched, Simon Elliott uses his extensive knowledge of this Roman military machine to offer all possible scenarios for the fate of the IXth legion and, with confidence, explain how likely or unlikely each scenario could ultimately be. I won’t tell you his conclusions, that would spoil it! However, the investigation process is just as entertaining as the conclusions that the author draws; perhaps more so, in that the reader learns so much about the various theatres of war in which the IXth legion may – or may not – have been drawn into.

Whether or not you agree with Simon Elliott’s arguments and conclusions, Roman Britain’s Missing Legion: What Really Happened to IX Hispania is well worth a read. It takes you on a fascinating detective journey through all the corners of the Roman Empire. And what is certain is that something extraordinary must have happened to the IXth legion to make them disappear so completely from contemporary records. Their fate remaining open to speculation for 2 millennia – so far.

This review has been written as part of Roman Britain’s Missing Legion: What Really Happened to IX Hispania week-long blog tour. You can follow the rest of the tour:

To buy the book:

Roman Britain’s Missing Legion: What Really Happened to IX Hispania by Simon Elliott is available from Amazon and Pen & Sword Books.

About the author:

Dr Simon Elliott is an historian, archaeologist and Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Kent where he studied for his PhD in Archaeology on the subject of the Roman military in Britain. He also has an MA in War Studies from KCL and an MA in Archaeology from UCL. For a day job he runs his own PR company, and is a former defence and aerospace journalist at titles including Jane’s Defence Weekly and Flight International. He frequently gives talks on Roman themes and is co-Director at a Roman villa excavation. He is also a Trustee of the Council for British Archaeology. His website can be viewed at: simonelliott.net.

*

My books

Coming 31st May:

Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey tells the fascinating story of the Warenne dynasty, of the successes and failures of one of the most powerful families in England, from its origins in Normandy, through the Conquest, Magna Carta, the wars and marriages that led to its ultimate demise in the reign of Edward III.

Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey will be released in the UK on 31 May and in the US on 6 August. And it is now available for pre-order from Pen & Sword BooksAmazon in the UK and US and Book Depository.

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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 & Sword,  Amazon and from Book Depository worldwide.

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.

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.

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.

©2021 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Guest Post: Best Friends Turned Enemies by Jo Willet

Today it is a pleasure to welcome author Jo Willet to the blog. Jo has just released the biography The Pioneering Life of Mary Wortley Montagu: Scientist and Feminist. Lady Mary Wortley Montagu is remembered for her pioneering advocacy of smallpox inoculation – her 3 year-old daughter being the first westerner to be inoculated against the killer disease.

Mary Wortley Montagu and Alexander Pope – Best Friends turned Enemies

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu by Jonathan Richardson,

A friendship between a woman and a man which starts off as just that but develops into something altogether more dangerous  – despite #MeToo heightening our awareness, these kinds of problems have been with us since time immemorial.  The aristocrat Lady Mary Wortley Montagu and the poet Alexander Pope had just such a relationship. For both of them, it was one of the most powerful and ultimately the most damaging of their lives.

The two met in April 1715 in the London studio of a mutual friend, the artist Charles Jervas. Lady Mary was a 26-year old aristocrat, slight, dark and fiendishly intelligent.  Alexander Pope was a year older.  As a child he had suffered from tuberculosis of the bone, Potts Disease, which had stunted his growth and left him with a hunchback. He was only 1.2 metres in height, a bit smaller than Mary. Middle-class and Catholic, his background was very different from hers, but he had already found fame and fortune as a writer, which impressed her.  Both saw themselves as outsiders and used these feelings to express themselves with wit and irony. 

Mary and Pope were part of a group of friends all of whom liked to write and to share their writing with each other. Along with John Gay (who wrote The Beggars’ Opera) they began a shared project called The Town Eclogues.  The Latin poet Virgil had written six poems known as The Pastoral Eclogues, each linked to a day of the week, and the idea was to use these as an inspiration for contemporary, English poems, capturing a sense of life in London at the time. Pope described himself and Mary working together on writing one of the poems and Mary calling out: “No, Pope, no touching! For then, whatever is good for anything will pass for yours, and the rest for mine.”  Already there was an erotic undertone.

The poems were designed to be shown to friends, but they soon fell into the wrong hands.  One of Mary’s poems satirised two women desperate to serve at the court of Princess Caroline of Ansbach.  When the princess was shown a copy she was extremely displeased.  Then, even worse, the notorious Edmund Curll published an unauthorised version of the poems, which immediately became a best-seller.  None of them needed this kind of publicity. Furious, Pope arranged to meet Curll as if by chance at a drinking house. He introduced a powerful emetic into his drink, as revenge. We have no record of what Mary thought of this – but it probably felt good to have a friend protect her honour so powerfully.

Alexander Pope by Jonathan Richardson

Mary’s husband, Edward Wortley Montagu, was appointed British Ambassador to Turkey in 1716. Spirited as always, she decided to go with him.  Pope was distraught.  He pleaded with her to give him some of her ‘last Moments’ before leaving, as if she were not simply travelling but dying. That said, a journey such as this would be fraught with danger.  He gave her an album of their Town Eclogues bound in the finest red Turkey leatherand admitted: ‘indeed I find I begin to behave myself worse to you than to any other Woman, as I value you more.’  She left the album in London, said goodbye to Pope and set off on her travels.

It was expected that she would be away for five years.  In fact the trip only lasted half that time.  Pope wrote her a series of letters where it became increasingly obvious that his feelings for her had changed from friendship to something far more powerful.  The further away she travelled, the less inhibited he became. He and Mary were, he said, ‘like a couple who behave modestly when around other people, but who once by themselves can untie garters or take off Shifts without scruple.’  His physical limitations were something he was always acutely aware of.  He wrote to her imagining a place where women ‘best like the Ugliest fellows…and look upon Deformities as the Signatures of divine Favour.’

For her part, she was so excited by her adventures that she hardly seemed to notice what was going on.  But she was careful to transcribe copies of Pope’s letters into her journal. When she and her husband travelled across the battlefield of Petrograd, strewn with corpses, where the Austrians had been victorious over the Turks only a few months earlier, she wrote to Pope expressing her revulsion for war. She knew he would agree with her.


Alexander Pope declares his love for Lady Mary, who bursts into fits of laughter. William Powell Frith’s painting of 1852. 

Pope’s poems of the time were clearly inspired by his feelings for her. Eloisa and Abelard describes an impossible love which remains strong however many obstacles it encounters.  The poem is full of images of eyes, like Mary’s own.  He sent a copy, with a letter clarifying the source of his inspiration, out to Mary in Constantinople. She wrote ‘mine’ in the margin but at the same time dispatched a letter to their mutual friend, William Congreve, asking why he allowed Pope to go on making these ‘Lampoons’.

When the Wortley Montagus started their journey back to England in 1718, Pope offered to travel out to Italy to accompany Mary home. This was a conceit on his part. He would never be well enough to be able to travel. As she neared England, Mary became increasingly nervous as to how to handle things. When she landed in Dover a letter awaited her, expressing Pope’s longing to see her ‘Oriental self’. With it was a poem he had written about a pair of lovers from Stanton Harcourt, in Oxfordshire, who had both been struck by lightning and died simultaneously. The intensity of his feelings was clear.

Mary decided to respond by lightening the tone.  She sent Pope a satirical, cynical poem in response. If the two lovers had lived, she wrote, their future marriage might well have turned out to be a disappointment: ‘Now they are happy in their doom,/For P. has wrote upon their Tomb.’  Pope got the message.  Rather than rushing to greet Mary on her return to London, he held back.

By now Pope was living in Twickenham, outside London, and soon the Wortley Montagus rented a house nearby.  For about ten years the two friends rubbed along.  People noted that Pope tended to resort to over-elaborate puns whenever he was in Lady Mary’s presence but they had lots of mutual friends and enjoyed each other’s company.  Pope even commissioned a portrait of her,  which would hang in the ‘best room’ of his Twickenham house for the rest of his life. Then some time in the 1720s the two fell out spectacularly.  We do not know why.

Mary’s family always believed that Pope one day made the mistake of expressing his feelings for her and that she instinctively broke into gales of laughter at what he said.  An anonymous play, Mr Taste, the Poetical Fop, written a few years later, dramatised exactly this.  Another reason given for the rupture was that she asked him to collaborate with her on a satirical poem and he made it clear he disagreed with her attitude to the subject matter. Yet another suggestion is that she was the author of some cruel verses satirising his relationship with his nurse, who had just died.  Yet another was a rumour, spread by Horace Walpole, that she had borrowed some bedsheets from Pope and returned them unlaundered.

Mary’s friend, Lord John Hervey

Whatever the reason, the result was an unedifying, escalating row. In 1728 a published poem of Pope’s satirised Wortley as a sober yeoman living in Yorkshire whose wife owned a hen (Lady Mary) which attracted lots of cocks.  The innuendo was intentional.  Another longer poem of Pope’s published the same year, The Dunciad, described Lady Mary as a ‘sage dame, experienced in her trade’  – a prostitute.  Mary had been involved in bringing the process of inoculation against the smallpox back with her from Turkey.  Pope played on this by linking smallpox to the word ‘poxed’, implying Mary had syphilis. He also insinuated that she had behaved badly towards someone during the South Sea Bubble Crisis.  Her friends knew that Lady Mary had got into difficulty over some investments a French friend of hers had asked her to make on his behalf. But they would also have known she had behaved honourably throughout.

As an aristocratic woman, Mary risked undermining her reputation if she published anything in response.  So to begin with she simply wrote satirical poems about the situation, which were to be passed around among her friends.  In one the Goddess Dulness set up her headquarters in the famous shell grotto in Pope’s Twickenham garden.  Various more scurrilous verses about the breakdown of the relationship began circulating as well.  It is hard to ascertain whether either of them was the author of any of these. Pope wrote to a mutual friend of theirs claiming to have seen one of these poems in Lady Mary’s handwriting.  She denied she had written it and suggested instead that Pope had indulged in a bit of forgery to blacken her name.

Mary appealed to mutual friends for help – first to Lord Peterborough, whose letter in response read as if Pope had ghost-written it, and then to Sir Robert Walpole, the prime minister.  He asked Pope to remove a particularly nasty couplet about Mary. Pope refused, replying that it was Mary who had libelled him, not the other way round.

Mary then made the strategic mistake of collaborating with another friend of theirs, Lord John Hervey, in writing a satirical poem about Pope:  Verses Addressed to the Imitator of the First Satire of the Second Book of Horace.  Hervey was well-placed within society at the time, a close friend of the queen’s, an aristocrat like Mary and bisexual. The poem is vicious in its portrayal of Pope and ends by cursing him, predicting that he will be destined to wander the earth forever, like Cain, the first murderer in the Bible, ‘with the Emblem of thy crooked Mind/Marked on they Back.’ Somehow – and it was unclear how – the poem was published, with the claim that it was written ‘By a Lady’, with no mention of Hervey.

The gloves were off.  Pope upped his verse attacks on her, all published so everyone who wanted could read them.  And he ensured that even nastier, lewder verses of his were published anonymously.  Again and again he elided smallpox with the pox, or syphilis.  Though she normally charged ten per cent, he wrote, men could currently have Mary’s body for free. She was physically disgusting, ‘at her toilet’s greasy task’. Her dress sense was questionable, in ‘diamonds with her dirty smock’. He harboured ‘a Suspicion that she intended to ravish him.’

Mary could not retaliate with the same force.  She wrote an unpublished poem describing him as a ‘Toad-eater’, but most of their friends and acquaintances sided with Pope not with Mary.  Her friends Lord and Lady Oxford described Mary as having to check with them beforehand whenever she dined at their house that Pope would not be there. In the 1730s Mary went to live abroad, well away from ‘the wicked wasp of Twickenham’, as she called him.  When Pope died in 1744 she wrote home anxiously to be sent a copy of his will, just in case there were anything damaging there.  What a relief it was, she wrote to her husband, that now there was no-one in the whole world who wished them ill.

It feels a familiar story, when relationships turn sour, that the woman comes off worst.  Pope’s satirising of Mary has a distinctly misogynistic feel to it, reading his words today.  For her part, Mary was unable to defend herself satisfactorily.  Her only crime was to invoke feelings in him he could not control and then to reject his advances.

*

All images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

I would like to express my thanks to Jo Willet for such a fabulous article, and to wish Jo my hearty congratulations on the release of The Pioneering Life of Mary Wortley Montagu: Scientist and Feminist.

To buy the book:

The Pioneering Life of Mary Wortley Montagu: Scientist and Feminist is now available from Pen & Sword Publishing and Amazon.

About the author:

Lavinya of the The Black Curriculum

Jo has been an award-winning TV drama and comedy producer all her working life.  Her credits range from the recent MANHUNT, starring Martin Clunes, to BIRDS OF A FEATHER. Her most relevant productions for this project include BRIEF ENCOUNTERS in 2016 (a fictionalised story of the first women who ran Anne Summers’ parties in the 1980s), THE MAKING OF A LADY in 2012 (an adaption of the Frances Hodgson Burnett novel The Making of a Marchioness), BERTIE AND ELIZABETH in 2002 (telling the story of the Queen Mother’s marriage) and the BAFTA-and-RTS-Award-Winning A RATHER ENGLISH MARRIAGE in 1998 (starring Albert Finney, Tom Courtenay and Joanna Lumley, adapted from the novel of the same name by Angela Lambert). She studied English at Queens College Cambridge and has an MA from Birkbeck in Arts Policy. She is married with a daughter, a son and a stepson. She lives in London and Dorset. www.devoniaroad.co.uk

You can find Jo at:

Twitter:  @Willettjo

Instagram: jowillett_biographer

Website:  www.devoniaroad.co.uk

*

My books

Coming 31st May:

Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey tells the fascinating story of the Warenne dynasty, of the successes and failures of one of the most powerful families in England, from its origins in Normandy, through the Conquest, Magna Carta, the wars and marriages that led to its ultimate demise in the reign of Edward III.

Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey will be released in the UK on 31 May and in the US on 6 August. And it is now available for pre-order from Pen & Sword BooksAmazon in the UK and US and Book Depository.

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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 & Sword,  Amazon and from Book Depository worldwide.

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.

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.

*

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.

©2021 Sharon Bennett Connolly and Jo Willet

Book Corner: How to Survive in Ancient Rome by LJ Trafford

Imagine you were transported back in time to Ancient Rome and you had to start a new life there. How would you fit in? Where would you live? What would you eat? Where would you go to have your hair done? Who would you go to if you got ill, or if you were mugged in the street? All these questions, and many more, will be answered in this new how-to guide for time travellers. Part self-help guide, part survival guide, this lively and engaging book will help the reader deal with the many problems and new experiences that they will face, and also help them to thrive in this strange new environment.

What a fun and entertaining read!

How to Survive in Ancient Rome by LJ Trafford is a tour guide to the ancient city of Rome for the inexperienced and seasoned traveller alike. The book takes a snapshot of the city, its society and the state of the Roman Empire in the time of the Emperor Domitian – and more specifically in the year 95 CE. It tells you all you need to know about Roman history and society so that you may get the best from a visit to the eternal city in the First century AD.

LJ Trafford covers all aspects of Roman life, from the history and family, to entertainment, shopping and crime and punishment. The tone is light-hearted, entertaining and often outright hilarious. Some anecdotes stretch credibility, but the author has clearly done her homework and includes endnotes and a comprehensive bibliography. The stories may be unbelievable, but LJ Trafford has the evidence to back her up.

The beauty of How to Survive in Ancient Rome is the book’s simplicity, which makes it accessible to all ages. I read excerpts out to my husband and teenage son, and both enjoyed the stories I recited. In fact some of the stories are – apparently – particularly appealing to the mind of a teenage boy!

The young Caligula, for instance, was said to enjoy donning a robe and wig and hitting the town. Otho’s floggable youthful pursuits involved wandering about the city bundling drunks and women into blankets and tossing them into the river Tiber, Mark Anthony, so Cicero alleges, dressed as a woman and took up prostitution in his youth.

There are less alarming leisure activities available. Watching chariot racing, for instance. Or wrestling. Or the Games. Or placing high-stakes bets on all of them, a pastime that is all the more appealing when you have a living pater familias responsible for all the family finances: including debts.

Probably the best example of the struggling pater familias is the Emperor Augustus. Augustus made a big show of family. His series of morality laws included inducements to have three children or more, penalties for failing to marry and stiff punishments for adulterers.

He paraded his own family as an example to follow, sharing the strict education of his daughter, Julia, as the model. He chose all three of Julia’s husbands for her and arranged the marriages. The first was to her cousin, Marcellus. The second was to her father’s right-hand man, Agrippa, who was over twenty years her senior. Her third marriage was to her stepbrother, Tiberius.

Augustus similarly orchestrated his male relatives’ lives, appointing them to public positions from a young age and insisting that they serve the state in unending duty. This is how family was done properly, he declared to the world. This is the traditional pater familias role.

Naturally, it all went wrong. Daughter Julia, knee deep in woven underpants, embarked on a full-scale rebellion against her father. She did this by ‘having some fun’, saying ‘things which might be considered by some stick in the mud Romans as undignified to her sex.’, and by putting it about a bit.

Don’t get me wrong! This may be a light-hearted look at life in ancient Rome, but you will be laughing as you are learning. How to Survive in Ancient Rome is chock-full of facts and interesting anecdotes. It delves into the structure of society, government and family, giving insight into the daily life of the average – and sometimes not-so-average – Roman. However, it also looks into the murkier side of Roman life; crime and punishment, prostitution, gambling and slavery. LJ Trafford takes you to the market, the forums and the gladiatorial games in a fascinating illumination of life in ancient Rome.

And you will enjoy every minute and every word.

Whilst the book focuses on a year in the reign of the Emperor Domitian, it also draws from the entirety of Roman history, from its legendary origins through the babies Romulus and Remus and the wolf that suckled them, through the greats such as Julius Caesar, Emperor Augusts and Vespasian, to the less admirable characters such as Caligula and Nero – who apparently had at least 3 people impersonate him after his death (and they each attracted followers proclaiming the survival of the emperor). LJ Trafford uses How to Survive in Ancient Rome to illuminate the diversity and experiences of ancient Roman life.

How to Survive in Ancient Rome by LJ Trafford is a brilliant, entertaining book. Easily readable for the avid fans of ancient Rome and novice Romans alike, it is not to be missed. It is thoroughly researched and beautifully written, with a view to entertaining and informing the reader in equal measure. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

How to Survive in Ancient Rome by LJ Trafford is available from Pen & Sword Publishing and Amazon.

About the Author:

After gaining a BA Hons in Ancient History LJ Trafford toured the amphitheatres of western europe before a collision with a moped in Rome left her unable to cross the road. Which was a shame because there was some really cool stuff on the other side. Returning to the UK somewhat battered and certainly very bruised she spent several years working as a tour guide. A perfect introduction to writing, involving as it did, the need for entertainment and a hefty amount of invention (it’s how she got tips). She now works in London doing something whizzy with computers.

Palatine is the first in the Four Emperors series. Book Two is Galba’s Men, and is followed by Otho’s Regret and Vitellius’ Feast. See also two short stories featuring the same characters: The Wine Boy and The Wedding (in the Rubicon collection)

Follow me on Twitter, if you dare! @traffordlj

*

My books

Coming 31st May:

Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey tells the fascinating story of the Warenne dynasty, of the successes and failures of one of the most powerful families in England, from its origins in Normandy, through the Conquest, Magna Carta, the wars and marriages that led to its ultimate demise in the reign of Edward III.

Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey will be released in the UK on 31 May and in the US on 6 August. And it is now available for pre-order from Pen & Sword BooksAmazon in the UK and US and Book Depository.

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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 & Sword,  Amazon and from Book Depository worldwide.

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.

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.

*

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.

©2021 Sharon Bennett Connolly.

Book Corner: Reading Round-up 1

I am well behind on the list of book reviews I still have to write up, so I though I would do a couple of articles that include mini-reviews of several books that I have read and enjoyed over the last few months, to clear the backlog and give you some fabulous ideas if you’re looking for that next read.

A Hidden History of the Tower of London by John Paul Davis

Famed as the ultimate penalty for traitors, heretics and royalty alike, being sent to the Tower is known to have been experienced by no less than 8,000 unfortunate souls. Many of those who were imprisoned in the Tower never returned to civilisation and those who did, often did so without their head! It is hardly surprising that the Tower has earned itself a reputation among the most infamous buildings on the planet. There have, of course, been other towers. Practically every castle ever built has consisted of at least one; indeed, even by the late 14th century, the Tower proudly boasted no less than 21. Yet even as early as the 1100s, the effect that the first Tower had on the psyche of the local population was considerable. The sight of the dark four-pointed citadel – at the time the largest building in London – as it appeared against the backdrop of the expanding city gave rise to many legends, ranging from the exact circumstances of its creation to what went on within its strong walls. In ten centuries what once consisted of a solitary keep has developed into a complex castle around which the history of England has continuously evolved. So revered has it become that legend has it that should the Tower fall, so would the kingdom. Beginning with the early tales surrounding its creation, this book investigates the private life of an English icon. Concentrating on the Tower’s developing role throughout the centuries, not in terms of its physical expansion into a site of unique architectural majesty or many purposes but through the eyes of those who experienced its darker side, it pieces together the, often seldom-told, human story and how the fates of many of those who stayed within its walls contributed to its lasting effect on England’s – and later the UK’s – destiny. From ruthless traitors to unjustly killed Jesuits, vanished treasures to disappeared princes and jaded wives to star-crossed lovers, this book provides a raw and at times unsettling insight into its unsolved mysteries and the lot of its unfortunate victims, thus explaining how this once typical castle came to be the place we will always remember as THE TOWER.

What a wonderful read!

Packed to the brim with the best stories from the Tower, and almost 1,000 years of history – some you will know and some you won’t. John Paul Davis tells the remarkable story of the Tower of London through the lives of the people who have resided under its roofs – some of them most unfortunate indeed! We hear the stories of those fortunate people who escaped – and the not-so-fortunate who died in the attempt. John Paul Davis examines every aspect of the Tower of London, its role as a royal fortress, prison and place of execution; and the national events in which it played apart, such as the Peasants’ Revolt and the executions of 2 of Henry VIII’s queens. Written in 23 chapters, the story of the Tower as a prison is told from its foundation in 1066 to the present day.

With these incredible and often heart breaking stories, John Paul Davis clearly demonstrates how the fortress acquired its sinister reputation.

A Hidden History of the Tower of London is a thoroughly enjoyable read, and impossible to put down.

Lost Heirs of the Medieval Crown by J.F. Andrews

When William the Conqueror died in 1087 he left the throne of England to William Rufus … his second son. The result was an immediate war as Rufus’s elder brother Robert fought to gain the crown he saw as rightfully his; this conflict marked the start of 400 years of bloody disputes as the English monarchy’s line of hereditary succession was bent, twisted and finally broken when the last Plantagenet king, Richard III, fell at Bosworth in 1485.

The Anglo-Norman and Plantagenet dynasties were renowned for their internecine strife, and in Lost Heirs we will unearth the hidden stories of fratricidal brothers, usurping cousins and murderous uncles; the many kings – and the occasional queen – who should have been but never were. History is written by the winners, but every game of thrones has its losers too, and their fascinating stories bring richness and depth to what is a colourful period of history. King John would not have gained the crown had he not murdered his young nephew, who was in line to become England’s first King Arthur; Henry V would never have been at Agincourt had his father not seized the throne by usurping and killing his cousin; and as the rival houses of York and Lancaster fought bloodily over the crown during the Wars of the Roses, life suddenly became very dangerous indeed for a young boy named Edmund.

With Lost Heirs of the Medieval Crown, author JF Andrews provides a fascinating study of the also-rans and almost-made-its of medieval history; those children of the kings of England who died before they could claim their birth-right, or were passed over due to the dynastic squabbles of the Norman and Plantagenet dynasties that ruled England from the Norman Conquest in 1066 to the advent of the Tudor age.

From the battles of Robert Curthose, eldest son of William the Conqueror, to the tragic lives of the Yorkist heirs, Edward V, Edward of Middleham and Edward Earl of Warwick, Lost Heirs of the Medieval Crown is a thoroughly engaging read, examining the lives of the heirs who were unable to claim their birthright, imprisoned for their royal blood, died before their time, or died in the attempt to claim the throne. Each individual story is brought into one volume, and demonstrates the struggle for power and supremacy in medieval England.

Beautifully written and well researched, it is an engaging read.

Decoding the Bayeux Tapestry by Arthur C. Wright

For the first time, a scholar reveals the meaning of the marginal images on the Bayeux Tapestry, unlocking a completely new meaning of the work.
 
The story of the Norman Conquest and the Battle of Hastings as shown in the Bayeux Tapestry is arguably the most widely-known in the panoply of English history, and over the last 200 years there have been hundreds of books on the Tapestry seeking to analyze its meanings. Yet, there is one aspect of the embroidery that has been virtually ignored or dismissed as unimportant by historians—the details in the margins.
 
The fables shown in the margins are neither just part of a decorative ribbon, nor are they discontinuous. They follow on in sequence. When this is understood, it becomes clear that they must relate to the action shown on the body of the Tapestry. After careful examination, the purpose of these images is to amplify, elaborate, or explain the main story.
 
In this groundbreaking study, Arthur Wright reveals the significance of the images in the margins. Now it is possible to see the “whole” story as never before, enabling a more complete picture of the Bayeux Tapestry to be constructed. Wright reexamines many of the scenes in the main body of the work, showing that a number of the basic assumptions, so often taught as facts, have been based on nothing more than reasoned conjecture.
 
It might be thought that after so much has been written about the Bayeux Tapestry there was nothing more to be said, but Decoding the Bayeux Tapestry shows how much there is still to be learned.

Decoding the Bayeux Tapestry: The Secrets of History’s Most Famous Embroidery Hidden in Plain Sight by Arthur C. Wright is a wonderful, engaging study of this most famous of embroideries, retelling the Norman Invasion in stunning, colourful needlework. Arthur C. Wright studies every aspect of the Tapestry, from the beasts in the margins to the story being played out in dramatic detail in the main part of the Tapestry. The author demonstrates how the images in the tapestry, even the animals and mystical creatures in the margin, serve to tell the story of the tapestry and the Norman Conquest.

An entertaining read and thoughtful study of the most famous of tapestries Decoding the Bayeux Tapestry is an illuminating work, beautifully illustrated along the way with images from the famous needlework.

Sex and Sexuality in Stuart Britain by Andrea Zuvich

Peek beneath the bedsheets of Stuart Britain in this frank, informative, and captivating look at the sexual lives of the peoples of the British Isles between 1603 and 1714. Popular Stuart historian Andrea Zuvich, The Seventeenth Century Lady , explores our ancestors’ ingenious, surprising, bizarre, and often entertaining beliefs and solutions to the challenges associated with maintaining a healthy sex life, along with the prevailing attitudes towards male and female sexual behaviour. The author sheds light not only on the saucy love lives of the Royal Stuarts, but also on the dark underbelly of the Stuart era with histories of prostitution, sexual violence, infanticide, and sexual deviance. What was considered sexually attractive in Stuart Britain? At which ages would people be old enough for marriage? What were the penalties for adultery, incest, and fornication? How did Stuart-era peoples deal with infertility, sexually-transmitted illnesses, and child mortality? Find out the answers to these questions – and more – as fashion, food, science, art, medicine, magic, literature, love, politics, faith and superstition of the day are all examined, leaving the reader with a new regard for the ingenuity and character of our seventeenth and early eighteenth-century ancestors.

Sex and Sexuality in Stuart Britain by Andrea Zuvich is a wonderful study of the bedroom exploits of the Stuart dynasty of the seventeenth century. Andrea Zuvich examines all aspects of Stuart sexual life, from attitudes to rape and pornography, to the notions of love and marriage. Zuvich also looks at the lives of the Stuart monarchs, examining the rumours around them, the various mistress and lovers and the perceptions they gave to their people and to history. This is a truly fascinating study of a part of life that is important to all of us – and necessary for our continued existence – but so rarely talked about. Sex and Sexuality in Stuart Britain is so much more than a study of sexual practices in Stuart Britain, it also analyses the effects of child mortality, the dangers of childbirth. It also looks at the seedier side of society, such as infanticide and sexually transmitted diseases.

Sex and Sexuality in Stuart Britain is fascinating! It is a book that needed to be written and provides a wonderful contrast to the usual books on Stuart Britain, which concentrate on the Civil Wars, rather than the lives, loves and desires of the people. Andrea Zuvich has written a marvelous study of Stuart attitudes towards sex and sexuality, leaving no stone unturned to give the reader a comprehensive view of Stuart life, including the legal, social and personal aspects and implications.

The Peasants Revolting Lives by Terry Deary

Today we are aware of how the rich and privileged have lived in the past because historians write about them endlessly. The poor have largely been ignored and, as a result, their contributions to our modern world are harder to unearth. Skilled raconteur TERRY DEARY takes us back through the centuries with a poignant but humorous look at how life treated the common folk who scratched out a living at the very bottom of society. Their world was one of foul food, terrible toilets, danger, disease and death the last, usually premature. Discover the stories of the teacher turned child-catcher who rounded up local waifs and strays and put them to work, and the thousands of children who descended into the hazardous depths to dig for coal. Read all about the agricultural workers who escaped the Black Death only to be thwarted by greedy landowners. And would you believe the one about the man who betrothed his 7-year-old daughter to a Holy Roman Emperor, or even the brothel that was run by a bishop? On the flip side, learn how cash-strapped citizens used animal droppings for house building and as a cure for baldness; how sparrow s brains were incorporated into aphrodisiacal brews; and how mixing tea with dried elder leaves could turn an extra profit. And of the milestones that brought some meaning to ordinary lives, here are the trials and tribulations of courtship and marriage; the ruthless terrors of the sporting arena; and the harsh disciplines of education all helping to alleviate the daily grind. The Peasants Revolting Lives celebrates those who have endured against the odds. From medieval miseries to the idiosyncrasies of being a twenty-first-century peasant, tragedy and comedy sit side by side in these tales of survival and endurance in the face of hardship.

Terry Deary’s The Peasants’ Revolting Lives is a fun and fascinating read for all the family. Whenever a Terry Deary book arrives on the doorstep, there is an inevitable squabble between myself and my son as to who should read it first – I tend to lose!

With stories that are often amusing, sometimes gruesome and all true, Terry Deary examines every aspect of the life of the peasant – throughout history – from work and religion, to sport, entertainment and education. The book is packed full of facts, each story or anecdote intended to inform and entertain – and they do!

The Peasants’ Revolting Lives is a wonderful reading experience for adult and child alike. The stories are so engaging and interesting that you don’t even realise you are learning about the trials and hardships of life as a peasant down the centuries. It is a must-read for any history lover.

All these books are available from Pen & Sword, with 30% off throughout December.

*

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 & Sword,  Amazon 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.

*

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

Book Corner: The Castle in the Wars of the Roses by Dan Spencer

The Wars of the Roses is one of the most dramatic and fascinating periods in medieval history. Much has been written about the leading personalities, bitter dynastic rivalries, political intrigues, and the rapid change of fortune on the battlefields of England and Wales. However, there is one aspect that has been often overlooked, the role of castles in the conflict.

Dan Spencer’s original study traces their use from the outbreak of civil war in the reign of Henry VI in the 1450s to the triumph of Henry VII some thirty years later. Using a wide range of narrative, architectural, financial and administrative sources, he sheds new light on the place of castles within the conflict, demonstrating their importance as strategic and logistical centres, bases for marshalling troops, and as fortresses

Dan Spencer’s book provides a fascinating contribution to the literature on the Wars of the Roses and to the study of siege warfare in the Middle Ages.

The Castle in the Wars of the Roses by Dan Spencer provides a unique perspective on that most famous of civil wars in England. Dr Spencer combines the story of the Wars of the Roses with the varied uses of the castle during the period, as defensive structures, administrative centres and homes for the nobility. Dan Spencer establishes that the castle as a military structure was still an important asset to any army and served to guard the marches of Wales and Scotland and to act as muster points for gathering armies. Castles were strong defensive structures that could be garrisoned whenever the war came too close, though as Dr Spencer highlights, permanent garrisons were rare by this time, they could provide effective defence and intimidation when needed.

I was aware of a number of sieges during the Wars of the Roses, mainly those at Dunstanburgh and Bamburgh. However, I was not aware that that was just the tip of the iceberg. According to Dan Spencer, there were 36 definite sieges and several more possible sieges – for which there is little contemporary information, so we can’t say for certain. These possible sieges include where there are written orders for a castle to be invested, but no further report of whether the siege was undertaken or the castle surrendered without a fight.

In The Castle in the Wars of the Roses, Dan Spencer argues that while the use of the castle was declining, it still played an important role in the conflict. The book is written in a narrative, chronological style, whereby Dr Spencer tells the whole story of the Wars of the Roses, but with particular focus on the siege warfare and the use and provision of castles. It is an excellent read.

The fall of Bamburgh marked the end of a four-year-long struggle for control of Northumberland. This was part of a wider dynastic conflict between the Yorkist and Lancastrian factions for control of the kingdom of England. For much of the second half of the fifteenth century these two rival houses fought a series of wars to win the English throne, which since the nineteenth century has been commonly called the Wars of the Roses. This era is without a doubt one of the most popular topics in medieval English history. Numerous books, articles, plays and films have been produced over the centuries. Looking at all sorts of aspects ranging from the dynamic personalities of key figures, such as Richard III, the causes of the conflict, its long-term legacy and the military campaigns, particularly the major battles. Given this vast output on the subject, it may be pertinent to ask why it is necessary for yet another book to be written. The answer is that one important area has been almost wholly neglected: the role of the castle in the Wars of the Roses.

Why has this been the case? One explanation is the perception that the campaigns of the Wars of the Roses were dominated by decisive battles, in which castles played a very minor role. This argument does have some substance. The era was unusual for the frequency with which significant battles took place. Nevertheless, this does not tell the whole story. As we will see, there were many campaigns in which castles were used in a significant way. Similarly, the late Middle Ages has been characterised as a period in which castles were in a state of transition and decline, in which their traditional role as fortresses was increasingly no longer necessary due to changes in warfare and society.

While there are many books on the Wars of the Roses, none have looked at the conflict in quite this way before. Dan Spencer covers every aspect of the conflict and the actions of the leading players involved, including Henry VI, Edward IV, Warwick the Kingmaker, Richard III, etc. While the major battles are also covered, the spotlight is on the castles, their role in the conflict ad the tactics used to successfully prosecute a siege. Dan Spencer’s impeccable research means that he can build a deep understanding of the layout of each castle, the provisions it stored and the garrison that manned it.

The Castle in the Wars of the Roses analyses not only the strength of a castle, but the prosecution of these sieges and the reasons for their success or failures. Using primary sources, archaeological evidence and his own extensive experience of castles, Dan Spencer has produced a fascinating book that can only add to our knowledge of the Wars of the Roses. The text is supported by wonderful colour images of the castles mentioned, and detailed floor plans. It is whole knew way of looking at the conflict, providing a freesh perspective.

Well written in an engaging narrative, The Castle in the Wars of the Roses is a fascinating, addictive read. And a perfect Christmas present!

The Castle in the Wars of the Roses is available from Amazon or direct from Pen & Sword Books (with 30% off in December!)

About the author:

Dr Dan Spencer has made a special study of late medieval warfare, focusing in particular on gunpowder artillery and castles. Recent publications include The Castle at War in Medieval England and Wales and Royal and Urban Gunpowder Weapons in Late Medieval England. To find out more visit danspencer.info or follow him on Twitter and Instagram @Gunpowderdan.

*

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.

*

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 

Book Corner: Cesare and Lucrezia Borgia by Samantha Morris

Myths and rumour have shrouded the Borgia family for centuries – tales of incest, intrigue and murder have been told of them since they themselves walked the hallways of the Apostolic Palace. In particular, vicious rumour and slanderous tales have stuck to the names of two members of the infamous Borgia family – Cesare and Lucrezia, brother and sister of history’s most notorious family. But how much of it is true, and how much of it is simply rumour aimed to blacken the name of the Borgia family? In the first ever biography solely on the Borgia siblings, Samantha Morris tells the true story of these two fascinating individuals from their early lives, through their years living amongst the halls of the Vatican in Rome until their ultimate untimely deaths. Cesare and Lucrezia Borgia begins in the bustling metropolis of Rome with the siblings ultimately being used in the dynastic plans of their father, a man who would become Pope, and takes the reader through the separate, yet fascinatingly intertwined, lives of the notorious siblings. One tale, that of Cesare, ends on the battlefield of Navarre, whilst the other ends in the ducal court of Ferrara. Both Cesare and Lucrezia led lives full of intrigue and danger, lives which would attract the worst sort of rumour begun by their enemies. Drawing on both primary and secondary sources Morris brings the true story of the Borgia siblings, so often made out to be evil incarnate in other forms of media, to audiences both new to the history of the Italian Renaissance and old.

Cesare and Lucrezia Borgia: Brother and Sister of History’s Most Vilified Family by Samantha Morris is a fascinating look at two of the most famous villains in history; a brother and sister renowned for murder, intrigue and incest. Or are they? Samantha Morris’s beautifully written dual biography of these siblings aims to peal away the centuries of rumour and accusations and find the real people beneath the legend.

Samantha Morris combines a lively, engaging narrative with keen historical analysis, uncovering the facts embedded in the legends, rumours and scandals. She demonstrates a deep understanding not only of her subjects and their motivations but of the political theatre of Italy, the papacy and Europe in general at that time.

In Cesare and Lucrezia Borgia: Brother and Sister of History’s Most Vilified Family, Samantha Morris expertly separates rumour from fact to provide a balanced appraisal of these famous siblings; their strengths and weakness. Using creditable sources, papal records and even family letters, she clearly establishes the facts behind the lies of the incest accusation, whilst demonstrating how such accusations came about and the various efforts to sully the name of the Borgia family.

The careers of the Borgia children were decided and laid out before them before they could even waalk. Juan was chosen as the son who would be the military leader, the great Duke who would go on to continue the Borgia line; Cesare was destined for a life in the Church; Lucrezia would be forced into diplomatic marriages and Gioffre would do the same. The children were their father’s pawns, important chess pieces but Cesare in particular did not like the career path that was chosen for him.

When Cesare was just six years old, the Pope granted a dispensation that allowed him to hold Church benefices despite his illegitimacy and the following year, 1482, King Ferdinand of Aragon exempted him from a law that would stop him from holding lordships in Spain due to his illegitimacy. Being bastard born would not get in the way of raising Cesare Borgia to the heights that his father so wanted for him.

By the age of just fifteen, Cesare had already been given a vast number of Church benefices including the Bishopric of Pamplona, the ancient capital of Navarre. This caused particular outrage as the young man had not yet taken his holy orders and Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia did his best to calm down the populace, telling them that Cesare’s elevation was simply down to his merits and hard work. Cesare, on a break from the University of Perugia and busy on a hunting trip, found himself having to write a letter to the people of Navarre to try and soothe their anger. But it didn’t work and the Pope had to intervene to halt the rebellion.

From tracing their origins in Spain, to the spectacular heights to which the family rose, to the politics that brought about the demise of Cesare and meant the family were embroiled in constant struggles for land and power, Samantha Morris charts the successes and failures – and underhand dealings of the infamous family. The siblings’ father and family patriarch, Rodrigo Borgia, Pope Alexander VI is depicted as a scheming but capable man and pope who loved his children dearly. He sought to establish his illegitimate children in lives and careers appropriate to their rank as the children of a reigning pope.

Lucrezia Borgia comes across as an intelligent, passionate woman, far removed from , the poisoner of legend conducting a love affair with her own brother. She proved herself capable of ruling and was loving and loyal to her family. She pursued an active political career despite her almost constant pregnancies, and suffered incalculable griefs and family loss. Lucrezia, however, is not depicted as a pure, innocent virgin, but a well educated, politically astute woman who may also have conducted certain indiscretions, or at least platonic love affairs, during her lifetime. She is a woman who made the best of the life that was mapped out for her.

Cesare, on the other hand, is a ruthless man not cut out for the career in the church to which he appeared destined. The untimely murder of his older brother meant he went from cardinal to soldier, a job to which he was much better suited and a thousand times more capable and dedicated. Cesare is a complex character; accused of numerous murders, including those of his own brother and Lucrezia’s second husband, he is remembered to history as a ruthless, scheming murderer and seducer of his own sister. While he may have been ruthless and scheming – and a murderer to some extent, Samantha Morris goes on to prove that not all the murders laid at Cesare’s door were his responsibility.

As an aside, the reader cannot fail to notice the prevalence of syphillis in Italy at the time. A countless number of the protagonists in the story suffered from this disfiguring disease, Cesare Borgia among them. The French, attempting to conquer Italy at the time, called it ‘the Italian disease’, though in England it was known as ‘the French disease’ – those same invading French soldiers took the dreadful disease with them when they returned home.

Cesare and Lucrezia Borgia: Brother and Sister of History’s Most Vilified Family is an engaging narrative of the history of not only these most famous Italian siblings, but also Italy, the papacy and wider European politics at the time when the world was moving from the Medieval era into the Early Modern, when the Renaissance was in full swing and the Reformation was just around the corner. Samantha Morris demonstrates the power of the papacy, of Pope Alexander VI in particular, and how papal factions caused the rise – and fall – of the Borgia family.

Cesare and Lucrezia Borgia: Brother and Sister of History’s Most Vilified Family is an entertaining and enthralling read – one not to be missed!

Cesare and Lucrezia Borgia: Brother and Sister of History’s Most Vilified Family by Samantha Morris is available from Pen & Sword Books and Amazon.

About the author:

Samantha Morris studied archaeology at the University of Winchester and it was there, whilst working on a dissertation about the battlefield archaeology of the English Civil War that her interest in the Italian Renaissance began. Her main area of interest is the history of the Borgia family and the papacy of Pope Alexander VI, however she also has a keen interest in the history of other Renaissance families. Samantha has previously written on the Borgia family and runs a successful blog based mainly on the history of the Italian Renaissance, but with snippets of other eras thrown in too.

*

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.

*

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: Life in Miniature: A History of Dolls’ Houses by Nicola Lisle

It is a pleasure to welcome to History … the Interesting Bits today, Nicola Lisle, author of Life in Miniature: A History of Dolls’ Houses as part of her Blog Tour with Pen & Sword. A history of dolls’ houses is a little different to my usual type of post, but reading Life in Miniature brought back some very happy childhood memories of my sister and I playing with our dolls’ house in our grandparents’ attic. So I was very interested in finding out more of their history and origins. Nicola very kindly answered a few of my most pressing questions.

Dolls’ house at Charles Dickens’ House, Doughty Street, London

Hi Nicola, congratulations on the release of Life in Miniature and thank you for stopping by to chat.

1. When I heard about your book, I immediately thought of the dolls’ house my sister and I had as children – we used to play with it for hours. How long have you had a fascination for dolls’ houses? Did you have one as a child?

I did have a dolls’ house as a child, and my sister and I played with it a lot. It was apparently made for us by a distant relative, who also made wooden furniture for it. It’s all quite basic, but I love it because it’s unique and it was part of my childhood. We used to have some tiny dolls for it, and we also used to decorate it at Christmas. We had a Christmas tree and had to cut away a square of carpet to fit it in! Sadly, the dolls and Christmas decorations have been lost, but the original furniture and other bits and pieces are still there. As we grew up we lost interest in the dolls’ house and it was in my parents’ loft for many years gathering dust! It wasn’t until I started writing that I became interested in dolls’ houses again, and it was quite by chance. I subscribed to Writing Magazine and Writers’ News – and still do! – and in one issue there was a piece about Dolls House and Miniature Scene magazine, which was open to submissions from freelance writers. It caught my attention, and I got in touch with some ideas. My first piece for the magazine was about the Museum of Childhood at Sudbury Hall in Derbyshire, and it was published in 2004. I carried on writing for the magazine for many years, and it ignited a real passion in me for dolls’ houses. Eventually I rescued my childhood dolls’ house from my mum’s house, and I’m hoping at some point to find the time to give it a bit of TLC! It’s not in bad condition, but it could definitely do with a bit of a makeover!

2. The thing with dolls’ houses is that they are not just for children, are they? My mum has one!

Dolls’ house at Tolsey Museum, Burford

Dolls’ houses are definitely not just for children. I think a lot of adults who had them as children still treasure them, and collecting vintage and antique dolls’ houses is also popular. For children, they are great for stimulating the imagination, but for adults I think it’s more about appreciating the sheer delight of miniatures and the craftsmanship that went into creating them.

3. I think the most famous dolls’ house has to be Queen Mary’s in Windsor Castle, isn’t it? What is so special about it?

Reproduction of miniature of Conan Doyle’s ‘How Watson Learned the Trick’, written for Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House

Yes, I think Queen Mary’s dolls’ house is probably the most famous. It’s special because it captures a slice of 1920s England in such exquisite detail, from the furniture and soft furnishings right down to the food and drink that were popular at the time. It attracted international interest when it first appeared, and it was a showcase to the world, a display of some of the very finest British talent. I think it also restored some pride and optimism in the country during the immediate post-war years. The house and garden were designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens and Gertrude Jekyll, and among its highlights are miniature books, music scores and paintings by popular writers, composers and artists of the day. Many of the books contained original stories written exclusively for the dolls’ house. Two of these, Fougasse’s J. Smith and Conan Doyle’s How Watson Learned the Trick, have been reproduced as miniature replicas with booklets containing the stories in full-size print. Another, Vita Sackville-West’s A Note of Explanation – a story about a mischievous spirit who inhabits the dolls’ house – was also reproduced in full size. I treated myself to all three when I was researching my book, and they are now treasured items on my bookshelves!

4. How long have dolls’ houses been around, Nicola? I always associate them with the Victorians, but were they around earlier? Are dolls’ houses an English creation, or did they come from the continent?

Nicola’s childhood dolls’ house

Dolls’ houses have been around since at least the 16th century and originated in Germany, where they were known as baby houses. The first known dolls’ house was made for the Duke of Bavaria in 1557, and it was a miniature version of his ducal palace. By the 17th century, baby houses had become popular in Germany, particularly in Nuremberg. The idea caught on in Holland towards the end of the 17th century, but instead of baby houses the

Dutch favoured cabinet houses, which were grand, elaborately-carved cabinets containing exquisitely furnished miniature rooms. The earliest dolls’ houses in England appeared in the late 17th century and were similar to the Dutch cabinet houses. By the early 18th century they were beginning to look more like houses than cabinets, and they were often modelled on the great country houses and created by estate carpenters. It wasn’t until the Victorian era that they became regarded as toys for children, and mass production towards the end of the 19th century made them much more widely accessible.

5. And what was their original purpose, were they always aimed at children.

The earliest baby houses, cabinet houses and dolls’ houses were primarily display pieces, and they were very much the preserve of royalty and the aristocracy – each one was a statement of the owner’s wealth and social status. They also had an educational role, often being used to instruct young ladies and servants in efficient household management and domestic skills.

6. I am fascinated by dolls’ houses and have to admit that the first thing I did on getting your book was look at the pictures. The houses are beautiful and the furniture inside is so detailed and intricate, do you have a favourite?

Reproduction of miniature of J. Smith by Fougasse, written for Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House

I saw so many gorgeous dolls’ houses while writing and researching my book that it’s almost impossible to pick a favourite. I think all dolls’ houses have their own particular charm, from the grand, ornate ones to the very simplest, and often it’s the stories behind them that make them special. For this reason, I think the dolls’ house at Uppark in West Sussex is one of my favourites, partly because it’s one of the earliest surviving dolls’ houses from the early 18th century, reflecting the Palladian-style architecture that was popular at the time, and partly because it has a connection with H.G. Wells, and I always love literary connections! Wells’s mother was the housekeeper at Uppark during the late 19th century, and he drew on his childhood memories of Uppark in his novel Tono-Bungay, in which he refers to the “great dolls’ house on the nursery landing”.

Another with a literary connection is the dolls’ house at Charles Dickens’ House at Doughty Street in London. The house doesn’t actually have a connection with Dickens himself, but it was modelled on the Doughty Street house by dolls’ house maker Christopher Cole for his book Make Your Own Dolls’ House, which was published in 1976. It is a simplified version of the real thing, rather than an exact replica, but it is very similar, especially the outside, and it was one I particularly enjoyed going to see! It’s not on public display, but it can be viewed by appointment.

I also have special fondness for the dolls’ house at Overbeck’s in Devon. It was created during the 1980s by a lady called Mabel Hill, a very talented, self-taught craftswoman who used scraps of leftover material and other household odds and ends to make the furniture and soft furnishings. What’s particularly lovely is that Overbeck’s was used as a convalescent home for wounded soldiers during the First World War, and one of the activities they were encouraged to do as therapy was to make dolls’ house furniture. Although there’s no direct link between that and Mabel Hill’s house, it does feel as though there is a spiritual connection.

Others closer to home, in Oxfordshire, include the Regency-style dolls’ house at the Tolsey Museum in Burford, which was created during the 1930s by members of the local community and reflects the town’s rural industries (another fascination of mine!), and the Palladian-style house at Greys Court, near Henley, which was created by a local lady, Patricia Mackenzie, during the 1970s. Like Mabel Hill, she used old materials and household objects to create the house and its contents. She was inspired by the Carlisle Collection of Miniature Rooms, which she used to visit when it was displayed at Greys Court during the 1970s. The collection is now housed at Nunnington Hall in Yorkshire, and is another favourite of mine, with a fascinating history – as I said, there are so many favourites!

7. I am guessing that some of these dolls’ houses have fascinating histories – is there one that has a story that particularly caught your attention?

Interior of Dolls’ house at Charles Dickens’ House

Something I became fascinated with while researching the book was finding out about famous collectors, particularly Vivien Greene, wife of novelist Graham Greene. Her collection was once housed in a museum in Oxford, not far from where I live, so there’s a bit of a connection there! Tracking down Vivien Greene’s dolls’ houses almost became a project of its own – sadly, she decided to auction her collection during the late 1990s when her eyesight was deteriorating and most of it finished up in private hands. But one that is on public display is Whiteway at Saltram, a National Trust house in Devon, and its Victorian-style interior is exquisite. I particularly loved the library with its miniature books, all made from wood, and the dining room with its plush red furnishings. The provenance of the house is something of a mystery, and I do love a good mystery! There’s another Vivien Greene house on display at Ilkley Toy Museum in Yorkshire, which dates from the late Victorian era and used to belong to a lady in Abingdon, Oxfordshire – again, not far from where I live. At some point it was converted into an hotel and named The Original Swan after a pub in Cowley, just outside Oxford. It has lost some of its original contents, but it is in good condition and you can still see the mahogany bar and its wooden barrels and glass bottles.

8. What made you want to write a book on dolls’ houses?

The Original Swan at Ilkley Toy Museum

It was writing for Dolls House and Miniature Scene magazine for so many years that made me think it would be interesting to write a book on the subject. I had already accumulated a lot of information and pictures that I could use as the basis for a book, and I had a lot of fun building on that, visiting various museums and stately homes that had dolls’ houses on display and gathering up lots more fascinating facts about these wonderful miniatures. I enjoyed researching and writing the book so much – it was a real labour of love!

9. What is your next writing project?

I’ve been working on some possible new book ideas, but at the moment I’m very busy with other writing work. I have several article deadlines coming up, and I am also a tutor on four distance-learning courses with The Writers Bureau, so I’m having to work on my book pitches in between everything else! Hopefully, though, at some point I’ll get them finished and sent off!

10. Where can people find you? Do you have a website or blog? Are you on social media?

I’m on Twitter – you can find me at @NicolaLisle1. I did set up a blog a while ago but haven’t actually done anything with it for some time, so it’s due for a major overhaul – that’s probably going to be a Christmas holiday job!

Thank you, Nicola, for such a lovely chat!

Life in Miniature: A History of Dolls’ Houses is available from Amazon or direct from Pen & Sword and would make a perfect Christmas present.

About the author:

Nicola Lisle is a freelance journalist and author specialising in history and the arts. She has written numerous articles for family history magazines, including Who Do You Think You Are?, Your Family History and Discover Your Ancestors, and was a regular contributor to Dolls House and Miniature Scene magazine for many years. She is the author of Tracing Your Family History Made Easy (Which? Books, 2011) and Tracing Your Oxfordshire Ancestors (Pen & Sword, 2018).

*

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.

*

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 & Nicola Lisle

Book Corner: Rebellion Against Henry III by David Pilling

The ‘Montfortian’ civil wars in England lasted from 1259-67, though the death of Simon de Montfort and so many of his followers at the battle of Evesham in 1265 ought to have ended the conflict. In the aftermath of the battle, Henry III’s decision to disinherit all the surviving Montfortians served to prolong the war for another two years. Hundreds of landless men took up arms again to defend their land and property: the redistribution of estates in the wake of Evesham occurred on a massive scale, as lands were either granted away by the king or simply taken by his supporters. The Disinherited, as they were known, defied the might of the Crown longer than anyone could have reasonably expected. They were scattered, outnumbered and out-resourced, with no real unifying figure after the death of Earl Simon, and suffered a number of heavy defeats. Despite all their problems and setbacks, they succeeded in forcing the king into a compromise. The Dictum of Kenilworth, published in 1266, acknowledged that Henry could not hope to defeat the Disinherited via military force alone. The purely military aspects of the revolt, including effective use of guerilla-type warfare and major actions such as the battle of Chesterfield, the siege of Kenilworth and the capture of London, will all be featured. Charismatic rebel leaders such as Robert de Ferrers, the ‘wild and flighty’ Earl of Derby, Sir John de Eyvill, ‘the bold D’Eyvill’ and others such as Sir Adam de Gurdon, David of Uffington and Baldwin Wake all receive a proper appraisal.

Rebellion Against Henry III: The Disinherited Montfortians 1265-1274 by David Pilling covers an often overlooked period of history. It follows the mixed fortunes, of those who had supported Simon de Montfort during the Second Barons’ War, following Simon’s defeat and death at the Battle of Evesham. It is a book I never realised needed to be written, until I read it!

Over the years, reams and reams of paper have been dedicated to the conflict between King Henry III and Simon de Montfort, but this is the first book that looks at the aftermath, at what happened to those who survived the war and the dreadful, final Battle of Evesham, but found themselves on the losing side. Rebellion Against Henry III: The Disinherited Montfortians 1265-1274 is an engaging study of these noblemen, minor barons and knights, known collectively as the Disinherited.

I have touched on many events in Rebellion Against Henry III: The Disinherited Montfortians 1265-1274 for my own books, the recently published Ladies of Magna Carta and my next book about the Warenne Earls of Surrey. As a consequence, I was familiar with much of the main story, but was surprised at the level of continuing resistance that occurred after the defeat at Evesham. Interestingly, the hotspots of resistance had not changed since past rebellions; many of the Disinherited retreated to the wilds of the Isles of Axholme in Lincolnshire and Ely in Cambridgeshire; the former was associated with rebellion against King John, while the latter was the focus of resistance against William the Conqueror. Indeed, many of the names are familiar to students of the First Barons’ War that followed John’s rejection of Magna Carta.

The traumatic news of Evesham ripped the heart out of the baronial resistance in England. Earl Simon’s death or capture of most of the leading Montfortians in one fell swoop, demoralised rebel garrisons up and down the country. In the weeks after the battle one castle after another surrendered to the triumphant royalists. Wallingford and Berkhampstead submitted on 7 August, just three days after the slaughter, while Edward’s first move was to race north to secure his earldom of Chester. In the south, Windsor and the Tower quickly fell to the king, and Odiham and Rochester were in royal hands by the 14th. The castle of the Peak in Derbyshire held out a while longer, but submitted before January 1266.

This mass surrender left just two bastions of resistance in England. One was the mighty fortress of Kenilworth in Warwickshire, where Simon the Younger had retreated to grieve after his father’s death. The other was Dover Castle and the Cinque Ports in southeast England. Countess Eleanor, Simon’s widow, was holed up at Dover, and pirates from the rebel-held Cinque Ports still harassed shipping in the Channel.

At first there were hopes of a peaceful settlement to the war. While at Chester, Edward ordered letters to be drafted inviting the garrison at Kenilworth to surrender, on pain of disinheritance and loss of life. Simon the Younger, for his part, resisted the temptation to avenge himself on Richard of Almaine, Edward’s uncle, who was held prisoner at Kenilworth. Instead he released Almaine on 6 September, who in turn promised he would mediate with King Henry on Simon’s behalf.

Later that month, at Winchester, Edward ordered the chancellor Walter Giffard to make out letters of protection for four rebel knights. The persons and goods of these men – Richard de Havering, John de Havering, Simon de Stoke and William de Turevil – were not to be molested in any way, and they would be allowed to continue to hold their lands freely. They had sought Edward’s ‘goodwill’ on 7 August, the same day as the fall of Wallingford and Berkhampsted. and were responsible for restoring those castle to royal custody. In return Edward promised they would be safe from disinheritance and asked Giffard to provide some surety for his promise. Richard de Havering had served as the late Earl Simon’s estates steward, while John was his son and would later serve Edward as deputy justiciar of Noth Wales and seneschal of Gascony. Edward’s willingness to protect these men may have been driven by his desire to reconcile the Montfort clan after the butchery of Evesham.

Such efforts at rapprochement were shattered at Winchester parliament, which opened on 11 September….

Written in more than 20 short, punchy, chapters, the book looks at the leading figures among the Disinherited, the most notable Robert de Ferrers, Earl of Derby, John D’Eyville and many others. There is a fascinating case study at the back that almost – almost – convinces me that the legendary Robin Hood was among ranks of the Disinherited. David Pilling provides a pretty convincing argument, but I guess we’ll never know.

The author looks at the events from all sides, telling the story of the fight both from the point of view of the rebels and the royalists. Neither are the royalists always seen in a good light. David Pilling does highlight when such as John de Warenne, 6th Earl of Warenne and Surrey, and one of the more brutal men of the time, took advantage of the disorder in order to further their own ends. He also highlights the future Edward I’s impressive carrot-and-stick approach to dealing with the rebels, offering pardons where it was beneficial to the crown. The crown also were keen to ensure sentences of disinheritance were enforced if it meant the confiscated lands fell into the hands of royalists or their supporters.

Rebellion Against Henry III: The Disinherited Montfortians 1265-1274 is engagingly written and well referenced with an impressive bibliography. The only negative I can say about the book is that it lacks an index, which will cause problems for anyone wanting to use this book for research. And it would be a wonderful research tool, if it had an index. I’m hoping this omission will be rectified for the paperback version.

Despite that, Rebellion Against Henry III: The Disinherited Montfortians 1265-1274 by David Pilling was a thoroughly absorbing book. A very interesting read that highlights a 10-year period that is often overlooked after the momentous events of the previous decade. I have no hesitation in recommending it.

Rebellion Against Henry III: The Disinherited Montfortians 1265-1274 is available now in hardback and ebook from Amazon UK and Pen & Sword Books.

From the author:

I’m a writer and researcher, addicted to history for as long as I can remember. The medieval era has always held a fascination for me, perhaps because I spent much of my childhood exploring the misted ruins of castles in Wales. I also have an interest in the Byzantine Empire, the post-Roman period in Britain and the British & Irish Civil Wars.

I am a prolific author and have written and published a number of series and stand-alone tales. These include my first published novel, Folville’s Law, which chronicled the adventures of Sir John Swale in the last days of the reign of Edward II of England. This was followed by The White Hawk series, set during the Wars of the Roses, a six-part Arthurian series, and many more. I have also co-written two high fantasy novels with my good friend, Martin Bolton.

I am currently working on a book about the Montfortian civil wars in England in the late 13th century, and hope to produce more nonfiction works in the future, as well as continuing to work on fiction.

Most of my books are available as ebooks and paperbacks, and many are in the process of being converted to audio.

Enjoy!

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4979181.David_Pilling

http://pillingswritingcorner.blogspot.com/

*

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.

*

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