Book Corner: The Colour of Evil by Toni Mount

Every Londoner has money worries. Talented artist and some-time sleuth, Seb Foxley, is no exception.

When fellow craftsmen with debts to pay are found dead in the most horrid circumstances, fears escalate. Only Seb can solve the puzzles that baffle the authorities.

Seb’s wayward elder brother, Jude, returns unannounced from Italy with a child-bride upon his arm. Shock turns to dismay when life becomes more complicated and troubles multiply.

From counterfeit coins to deadly darkness in London’s worst corners; mysterious thefts to attacks of murderous intent, Seb finds himself embroiled at every turn. With a royal commission to fulfil and heartache to resolve, can our hero win through against the odds?

Share Seb Foxley’s latest adventures in the filthy streets of medieval London, join in the Midsummer festivities and meet his fellow citizens, both the respectable and the villainous.

The Colour of Evil by Toni Mount is the 9th book in Toni’s marvellous Sebastian Foxley Medieval Mystery series. If you haven’t read any of these books yet, you are really missing a treat!

Toni Mount has a unique, engaging writing style. Her beautiful prose and clever use of language instantly transports you back to 15th century England. The story revolves around a series of murders linked to counterfeit coins, into which Seb Foxley is brought as a consultant by the local bailiff.

The eponymous hero of the story, Seb Foxley, is a wonderful, intelligent character, who is, perhaps, a little too straitlaced and naive for his own good. His brother is a little too worldly-wise and entitled, but much less self-aware than is good for a grown man – I wanted to punch him on a number of occasions (and I’m not a violent person). The Colour of Evil places these brothers at the heart of the story, highlighting their conflicts and rivalries as London is in the grip of a series of gruesome murders.

As the mystery deepens, the reader is absorbed into the sights, smells and story of London; the excitement, fear and mystery is palpable. The Colour of Evil is an absorbing thriller.

Over ale, Thaddeus told me of the man – the thief we had taken in possession of his ill-gotten gains.

‘His name is Philip Hartnell, a most respectable citizen and a cutler by craft. He said he was walking along Bladder Street, passed the house with its window wide to the pleasant evening air when he saw the candlesticks by the open casement. At a glance, he was quite certain they were the same ones he had bought his wife as a wedding gift ten years since. His wife has much fondness for the sticks, so he took them, thinking to please her.’

‘Had they been stolen away from him previously, then? Is that the way of it?’ I sipped my ale. Thaddeus did likewise afore continuing.

‘That was my first thought. I tell you, Seb, it took a deal of cajoling and probing to get the truth out of Philip Hartnell. The candlesticks weren’t stolen from him but he apparently gave his goodwife to think they had been taken. The truth is that Hartnell has fallen into debt. He took the candlesticks to a goldsmith and sold them to pay off a sizeable loan. When his wife found them gone, she was much upset – more so than Hartnell ever expected. Thus, he told her they had been stolen, rather than admit his actions and the fact that he was over the ears in debt to a moneylender.’

‘An unfortunate situation but how does that excuse his actions of yestereve?’

‘It doesn’t. Besides, the candlesticks he stole from the house in Bladder Street were never his. Similar in shape but not the same ones.’

‘He has no right to them, even had they been the same. He sold them and has had the profit from the sale. Hartnell is a thief and we caught hm. He deserves just punishment, does he not? I do not see any reason for your difficulties in this matter, Thaddeus.’

‘He had never had any dealings with the law before, Seb. He’s a respected member of the Cutlers’ Company and a churchwarden. He loves his wife and family, works hard and earns a good living.’

‘Not good enough, so it would seem, else why would he be in debt?’

‘A foolish mistake, he said though he withheld further details. I had the feeling another woman was involved. In every other respect, Hartnell is a decent citizen. I think he deserves a second chance.’

‘What of the house in Bladder Street? The folk he robbed? Not to mention all the neighbourhood having to rally to the hue-and-cry.’

‘The candlesticks were returned – dented, it’s true but Hartnell says he will pay for their repair. The householder is agreeable. Besides…’

Thaddeus drained his ale.

‘Besides?’

‘Philip Hartnell is not alone, Seb. He is the fourth… no, the fifth respectable citizen that has come to my notice, by one means or another, who has found himself in debt and unable to repay. There’s something going on in London, concerning underhanded financial dealings, and I don’t like the smell of it.

‘Watch your purse, my friend. Every one of them is of middling status like you. Outwardly decent and honest yet they find themselves in dire need, monetarily. I wouldn’t want that to happen to you.’

‘Fear not, I owe no man so much as a ha’penny. So you will let Hartnell go?’

‘Aye, I think so. Both Newgate and the Counter are overfull of vile inmates. Hartnell is not of their kind. They’d make a hearty supper of him on his first day inside.’

The Colour of Evil by Toni Mount paints a wonderful, full-colour image of London in the time of Edward IV. The streets, taverns, work places and dark alleys are brought to vivid, vibrant life by Toni Mount’s beautiful prose and fantastic imagination. The author’s research is impeccable, her knowledge of 15th century medieval England allowing the reader to sit back and be transported back in time. Toni Mount clearly demonstrates how the guilds, the law and money, works and how it was all an integral part of life in medieval London. She recreates the world of 500 years ago to give the reader not only a great story, but the experience of being amongst the people and places of the time.

The characters are wonderfully individuals, each with their own strengths and flaws – though some have mostly flaws and very few strengths. I always think the sign of a good book is when you find yourself frustrated with the actions of a favourite character – or wanting to punch one who seems thoughtless or heartless; or when you find yourself egging a character on – or wanting to shout ‘no, don’t go down there’. The Colour of Evil certainly takes you through all these emotions and more.

The Colour of Evil by Toni Mount is a beautifully crafted mystery that brings the dark, dangerous streets of medieval London to life. Toni Mount is a magician with words, weaving a captivating story in wonderful prose. The Colour of Evil is, to put it simply, a pleasure to read.

If you haven’t read a Seb Foxley book before, don’t worry, each book works as a standalone. Though I have to warn you – after reading one, you will want to read the rest!

To buy the Book: http://getbook.at/colour_of_evilhttp://mybook.to/Colour_Evil

*

About the Author

Toni Mount earned her Master’s Degree by completing original research into a unique 15th-century medical manuscript. She is the author of several successful non-fiction books including the number one bestseller, Everyday Life in Medieval England, which reflects her detailed knowledge in the lives of ordinary people in the Middle Ages. Toni’s enthusiastic understanding of the period allows her to create accurate, atmospheric settings and realistic characters for her Sebastian Foxley medieval murder mysteries. Toni’s first career was as a scientist and this brings an extra dimension to her novels. It also led to her new biography of Sir Isaac Newton. She writes regularly for both The Richard III Society and The Tudor Society and is a major contributor of online courses to MedievalCourses.com. As well as writing, Toni teaches history to adults, coordinates a creative writing group and is a member of the Crime Writers’ Association.

You can find Toni at: Her website; Seb Foxley’s website; Seb Foxley’s Facebook page; Toni’s ‘Medieval England’ Facebook page; Toni Mount’s Facebook page; Toni Mount online courses.

*

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: The Root of all Evil by Toni Mount

Today it is a pleasure to welcome author and historian Toni Mount to the blog, as part of Toni’s blog tour for her fabulous new novel, The Colour of Evil, which is released on 25th March.

The Root of all Evil – Money to spend in Medieval London

Portrait of Sebastian Foxley by Dmitry Yakovsky @ Madeglobal Publishing

The theme in my latest novel in the The Colour of … series is money, whether earning it, owing it, forging it or even murdering because of it. Our hero, Seb Foxley, has to solve the mysteries, however he can. So I thought an article about medieval money might interest readers.

Silver penny of Henry II – note the cross-shape on the reverse so it could be cut accurately into halfpennies or farthings

From Anglo-Saxon times, England’s currency system was based on the penny which contained one pennyworth of silver. These were minted from high quality ‘sterling’ silver, so called because the earliest coins were known as steorlings or little stars; perhaps a star was part of the original design. By the time of William the Conqueror [1066-86] a pounds worth of starlings was accepted as well-respected money across Europe. However, not all Kings of England took care to keep constant the value of silver in a penny. Henry I’s reign was a particularly bad time for the coinage and in 1124 the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle recorded that ‘pennies were so adulterated, a pound at market could not purchase twelve pence worth of anything’. Since 12 pence = 1 shilling and 20 shillings = £1, this meant a penny wasn’t worth one-twentieth of its original value back in 1066. The reign of King Stephen [1135-54] didn’t help as it was a period of almost constant civil war. In fact, things became worse because different factions set up their own mints and coins became mere tokens, often spendable only within the jurisdiction of a particular faction. Somebody had to sort out the mess.

Fortunately for the reputation of England’s monetary system, Henry Plantagenet became King Henry II in 1154 and from 1158 he issued an entirely new set of currency, asserting royal control over just thirty designated mints and restored not only the silver content of the pennies but confidence in English money. And this was a good time to do so because trade across Europe was changing from the barter system, when a dozen eggs could pay for a pair of shoes to be mended, or a day’s work might be repaid with a sack of flour, to the purchase of goods and services using money.

It was easier also to gather taxes and customs duties for the king in coin, rather than in kind, and Henry demanded efficiency in their collection. In fact, the system worked so well in England that when Henry’s son, Richard the Lionheart, was held to ransom in 1192 for the incredible sum of £100,000 [about $17.5 million today], most of it was gathered in England and paid in English pennies, despite Richard’s realm including much of France at the time.

Westminster Hall where the Trial of the Pyx were first held

Having put the monetary system in good order, the ‘Trial of the Pyx’ was invented to keep it that way and safeguard the value of new-minted coins. It is thought that this institution began in the twelfth century but in 1282 Edward I made it official and records have been kept ever since. Conducted like a public legal trial, twelve ‘discreet and lawful’ citizens of London and twelve members of the Goldsmiths’ Company sat as a jury to judge the legitimacy of the newly minted coins. Coin samples were taken from every minting and set aside for assay in secure chests called pyx – hence the name of the trial. It’s the same word used for the box in which consecrated bread is kept at Holy Communion, showing the significance of this procedure. For centuries they were stored in the Pyx Chamber in Westminster Abbey, along with other important items belonging to both state and church.

Early trials were held first in Westminster Hall and later in the Exchequer at Westminster, taking place annually. The jury was summoned by and the trial presided over by the King’s [or Queen’s] Remembrancer of the Royal Courts of Justice. The size, weight, silver purity and content of the coins were all examined and verified, the jury passing its verdict on the results. The trial was held at the beginning of the year on the previous year’s samples, allowing two months for the proceedings and a third month for the assayers’ testing and reports before the Remembrancer announced the result of the trial.1

The medieval monetary system of England was complicated, to say the least. As I write this, it’s fifty years since the decimalisation of our coinage in Britain [15th Feb 1971] and our own pre-decimalisation coinage was still based upon the medieval system: 12 pennies [12d] = 1 shilling; 20 shillings [20s] = £1 and, therefore 240 pennies = £1. It made accounting tricky and you had to know your 12 times table. But until 1489, there was no coin of the value of £1 and there were no shilling coins until 1504.

Richard III groat (1483-85)

In some ways, to the average carpenter, shoemaker and housewife, this didn’t matter very much because with a skilled man’s wages counted in pennies, the chance of him requiring, handling – or even seeing – a coin of denomination larger than a groat was slim indeed. A groat was a silver coin worth 4 pennies, the word ‘groat’ being a corruption of the French word gros, meaning large because, in 1279, when Edward I first issued it, it was the biggest coin in circulation. 3 groats = 1 shilling but even then a groat was engraved with a design to divide it exactly into four quarters so it could be reduced to 2 half-groats [worth 2d each] or even 4 equal pennyworths of silver. The round 1 penny coins [1d] were similarly engraved so they could be cut into 2 halfpennies and again into 4 farthings [originally ‘fourthings’]. England still used farthings as proper, circular coins, not cut-downs, into the 1950s. These were the coins of everyday use in medieval times.

But there were people who dealt in larger sums than pennies. A medieval merchant’s cargo of wine imported from Bordeaux was going to cost more than a few pence, as would the hire of the ship and the customs duties to be paid. Counting out hundreds of tiny coins, some of them wedge-shaped from being cut down, was a time-consuming business and time – as ever – was money. So it made sense to have some higher value coins in use for such transactions. Pounds and shillings, maybe? No. Nothing so simple as that. The account ledgers might show business conducted in pounds, shillings and pence but the coins changing hands bore little resemblence to what was noted down. A common amount used in both theoretical and practical accounting was the mark.

Edward IV gold angel, worth 6s 8d or half a mark
note the image of the Archangel Michael slaying the devil

The mark had been around since Anglo-Saxon times and had varied in value but, by the fifteenth century, a mark was worth 13s 4d. This may seem an arbitrary amount but is 160 pennies = two-thirds of £1. The half-mark [6s 8d, one-third of £1 or 80 pence] was an actual coin so that three half-marks equalled £1 in total comprised of just three coins that were so much easier to count and handle. There were even quarter-marks worth 3s 4d. This explains the frequent appearance of these values in medieval accounts ledgers. The half-mark was minted in gold and at various times was known as the noble, the rose-noble and the angel – this last after the image of St Michael the Archangel on the reverse. There was also a short-lived gold ryal [or royal] from 1465 worth 10 shillings.

Henry VII was not only determined to refill his empty coffers, by fair means or otherwise – his tax-gatherering methods were notorious – he wanted to be certain the actual coins were worth their face value, so one of the first things he did after becoming king was overhaul the coinage. Firstly, in 1489, he invented the £1 coin, called it a sovereign and had it minted in gold with his own image on the the obverse – a declaration that the Tudor king had arrived, if ever there was one.

The 10 shilling ryal and the 6s 8d angel were both reminted as silver coins, their previously gold counterparts having often been hoarded or melted down into cups, plates and jewellery. Pennies, half-groats [2d] and groats were all redesigned and their silver content assured, as well as the new silver shillings by 1504.

Henry VII gold sovereign worth £1

Readers may think that the writing of cheques cannot predate the banking system – the Bank of England was first set up in 1694, although Italian bankers go back centuries before that. Surprisingly, the first ‘cheques’ were invented by ordinary citizens and had nothing to do with banks. Rather, it had to do with keeping heavy valuables safe. In medieval times, people kept their assets in solid form, as gold plate, silver gilt candlesticks, fine goblets, jewellery and even expensive textiles and books. The crown jewels were frequently used as collateral to borrow money by kings in need of ready cash. A wary citizen would want his bulky treasures stored safely where thieves couldn’t help themselves and even the Royal Treasury at Westminster was looted on one occasion in the fourteenth century – the thieves were apprehended in the end but not all the swag was recovered. However, few folk had the facilities for storing their treasures. Important documents were sometimes locked in a chest at the parish church to which only the priest and the churchwarden had keys. But there wasn’t room for stacks of gold plate or suchlike. In London, the Goldsmiths’ Company kept their precious resources in their vaults underneath Goldsmiths’ Hall and were willing to rent out space to others to store their assets. This kept everything secure but what happened when, say, a wealthy merchant wished to use his set of gold plate to purchase a house from a rich widow? Instead of going to the goldsmiths, demanding his plates and then carrying the heavy weight across the city, risking robbery along the way, and handing them to the widow who would probably then have to arrange the plates’ return to the goldsmiths’ for safe-keeping, the cheque was invented. The cheque was simply a written document to inform the goldsmiths that the wealthy merchant’s gold plate stored in their vaults had now been transferred to the property of the rich widow. No physical effort, inconvenience or risks of loss were involved.

A cheque dated 16th February 1659
No medieval cheques are known to survive but would have looked similar, probably with a red wax seal, as here

In fact, bank notes, invented much later, were simply ready-written cheques made out for specific sums and, in theory at least, like the earlier cheques, could be used to redeem the valuables themselves. Today, Bank of England notes still say in very small print ‘I promise to pay the bearer on demand the sum of five pounds’, or whatever the value, signed on behalf of the Government and Company of the Bank of England by the bank’s Chief Cashier. I wonder what they’d do if I did present my fiver and demand the equivalent in silver or gold? Laugh themselves silly, probably.

Footnote:

1 For more information on the history and the conduct of the Trial of the Pyx in the 21st century see https://www.assayofficelondon.co.uk/about-us/trial-of-the-pyx

*

Huge thanks to Toni for a fantastic article and good luck with the new book. To look back on the rest of the blog tour:

About ‘The Colour of Evil’:

Every Londoner has money worries. Seb Foxley, talented artist and some-time sleuth, is no exception but when fellow indebted craftsmen are found dead in the most horrible circumstances, fears escalate. Only Seb can solve the puzzles that baffle the authorities and help Bailiff Thaddeus Turner to track down and apprehend the villains.

When Seb’s wayward, elder brother, Jude, returns, unannounced, from Italy with a child-bride upon his arm, shock turns to dismay as life becomes more complicated and troubles multiply.

From counterfeit coins to deadly darkness in the worst corners of London, from mysterious thefts to attacks of murderous intent – Seb finds himself embroiled at every turn. With a royal commission to fulfil and heartache to resolve, can our hero win through against the odds?

Share Seb Foxley’s latest adventures in the filthy streets of medieval London, join in the Midsummer festivities and meet his fellow citizens, both the respectable and the villainous.

The Colour of Evil comes out on 25th March.

To buy the Book: http://getbook.at/colour_of_evilhttp://mybook.to/Colour_Evil

About the Author

Toni Mount earned her Master’s Degree by completing original research into a unique 15th-century medical manuscript. She is the author of several successful non-fiction books including the number one bestseller, Everyday Life in Medieval England, which reflects her detailed knowledge in the lives of ordinary people in the Middle Ages. Toni’s enthusiastic understanding of the period allows her to create accurate, atmospheric settings and realistic characters for her Sebastian Foxley medieval murder mysteries. Toni’s first career was as a scientist and this brings an extra dimension to her novels. It also led to her new biography of Sir Isaac Newton. She writes regularly for both The Richard III Society and The Tudor Society and is a major contributor of online courses to MedievalCourses.com. As well as writing, Toni teaches history to adults, coordinates a creative writing group and is a member of the Crime Writers’ Association.

http://www.tonimount.com (my website) http://www.sebastianfoxley.com (Seb’s own website) http://www.facebook.com/sebfoxley (Seb’s Facebook page) http://www.facebook.com/medievalengland (my ‘Medieval England’ Facebook page) http://www.facebook.com/toni.mount.10 (my general Facebook page) http://www.medievalcourses.com (seven of my history courses ‘online’ for download)

*

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: Toni Mount

Today it is a pleasure to welcome author Toni Mount to History … the Interesting Bits with a fascinating guest article based on her new novel The Colour of Lies.

Silk-women, femmes soles and Ellen Langwith

In my latest Seb Foxley medieval murder mystery, The Colour of Lies, set in London in the 1470s, the adventure involves Seb’s wife, Emily, and her fellow silk-women. We meet Dame Ellen Langton once more – she has appeared in most of the novels in The Colour of … series – a character closely based on a real life London silk-woman of the period: Ellen Langwith. In this article, we will look at the lives of Ellen and other silk-women of London, what their work required and how they organised their business.

Silk manufacture has always involved a sequence of skilled processes. Firstly, the silk filaments had to be wound off the cocoons by heating the cocoons in water to loosen the natural glue (sericin) which holds the silk together. Then, as the loosened ends floated free, the raw silk could be unravelled and wound on to spools. The fineness of the silk depended on how many filaments were wound together, a single filament being too fine to work with; four was usual. This part of the process was done at source – southern Spain, the Middle East or even farther afield – because the cocoons were too fragile to transport, so it was traded as these reels of raw silk. During the medieval period, England didn’t weave her own silk textiles: these luxurious cloths always had to be imported, but London did have its own thriving industry run by silk-women. They converted the raw silk into yarn, a process called ‘throwing’, then wove the thrown threads into ribbons, laces and girdles, making up hairnets, decorative fringes and tassels. To learn the craft of silk weaving, a young woman had to serve a long apprenticeship – usually seven years. Some London silk-women ran extensive workshops, taking apprentices from as far away as Yorkshire.

It would seem from the statutes of the City of London for the 1450s that silk working was strictly a woman’s business, unlike embroidery, knitting or even laundering, because the statutes say:

…Many a worshipful woman within the city has lived full honourably and therewith many good households kept, and many gentlewomen and others, more than a thousand, have been apprenticed under them in learning the same craft of silk making.

The language of the statutes implies that this craft was carried out by the most respectable women and was seen as a suitable occupation for ladies of gentility, as well as bringing in sufficient profits that ‘many good households’ depended upon it for their livelihood. Since it was so important, it is surprising the craft never formed its own formal guild, probably because men weren’t involved in the work. Instead, the silk-women regulated and co-operated among themselves, very much as guild members would have done, but unofficially. Having completed her apprenticeship, instead of being admitted to a company of fellow artisans, the young woman would remain with her mistress until she was able to marry and set up her own shop and, maybe, take on apprentices of her own, to pass on her skills.

The London silk-women carried out each skilled process of their craft and trade. As throwsters, they turned raw silk into yarn; as weavers, they produced ribbons, laces, and other small silk goods; as craftworkers, they made up silk laces and other trappings; and as traders in silk, they undertook large and lucrative contracts. This work wasn’t a mere sideline to domestic duties, something a wife pursued in moments free from housework, child care and labour in her husband’s workshop. Wives often continued to work in silk, no matter what the occupations of their husbands. It was a craft with secrets of production and trade passed on from mistress to apprentice. The women ran workshops, invested large amounts of money in purchases of raw materials and trading ventures, often continuing throughout their working lives. They also banded together for mutual aid. On six occasions between 1368 and 1504, the London silk-women sought protection for their craft through petitions (presented to either Parliament or the Lord Mayor of London), and many of their requests were granted.

Most working women were regarded, by law, as being ‘covered’ by their husbands and, therefore, in records of court cases, business contracts and debt collection, the activities of these women are, literally, concealed from view under their husbands’ names. The legal term is femmes couvertes and such women only appear in the records once they are ‘uncovered’ on becoming widows. But some women preferred to run their businesses in their own right, as femmes soles, even when their husbands were still alive, particularly in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries – perhaps this has some connection to the advent of the plague, when so many social changes were underway. In this case, the women were responsible for their own debts and could be sued through the courts. On the positive side, any profits made were theirs, not their husbands’, and they could sue others if money was owed to them or a contract was reneged upon to their loss. Silk-women were among those who opted to be femmes soles – with their husbands’ permission, of course. Often their husbands were merchants, especially mercers, who brought in the reels of raw silk for their wives along with other textiles imported from abroad.

Ellen Langwith – we don’t know her maiden name – probably came from Beckenham in Kent to London, to serve an apprenticeship as a silk-woman, sometime in the early fifteenth century. Her first husband, Philip Waltham, was a cutler who also owned a brewhouse: ‘Le Hertishorne’, just outside Newgate. But Ellen was already a successful silk-woman. In his will of 1425, Philip named his three apprentices: Agnes Walshale, Agnes Sampson and Alice Dunnowe, leaving them 6s 8d each on the condition that they behaved courteously, in both word and deed, towards his wife Ellen, their mistress, at whose discretion the money was to be given. From the wording of the will, it is impossible to say whether the three girls were apprenticed as cutlers or silk-women. Perhaps they were making high fashion silk scabbards for the knives Philip manufactured. Ellen was a widow by May 1426, the main executor of her husband’s will, sole owner of all his movable goods and the Hartshorn brewery.

By 1437, she had married again. Her second husband was John Langwith, a well-established London tailor who had become a freeman of the city in 1418 and took on his first apprentices in 1425. Since masters were required to have wives to care for the apprentices, it seems probable that John had been married previously, before he wed Ellen since, at this date, she was still Philip Waltham’s wife. John was elected Master of the Tailors’ Company in 1444 and, in the summer of 1445, he led the company in the elaborate processions to welcome Margaret of Anjou to London as the bride of Henry VI. The tailors spent £3 on blue livery gowns for the Master and Wardens to look their impressive best for the occasion. Did Ellen supply any silken trimmings for the robes? We don’t know, but that year she was admitted, free of charge, to the Tailors’ Fraternity of St John the Baptist. It was in the chapel of St John the Baptist, in their parish church of St Mary Abcurch, that both John and, later, Ellen would be buried. The Langwiths lived in a tenement on the north side of Candlewick Street, one of a group of properties, owned by John, which shared a courtyard.

After marrying John, in 1439, Ellen was one of a group of London silk-women who bought £30 worth of silk from Venetian merchants visiting the capital. In February 1443, she purchased a fardell (a bundle) of silk for herself at the incredible cost of £60 11s 8d, showing how her business had grown. Ellen certainly had apprentices but may also have distributed work to others, to do at home. At this time, another silk-woman, Katherine Dore, was putting out work to women living in Soper Lane. While John was training lads as apprentice tailors, one indenture for a girl survives: Elizabeth Eland was taken on in July 1454 by both John and Ellen, to train as a silk-woman. She may have joined other girls under Ellen’s tutelage; if so, their indentures haven’t survived. We don’t know whether Elizabeth completed her apprenticeship or what happened to her. She isn’t mentioned in Ellen’s will but that’s not surprising since it wasn’t drawn up until 1481, twenty-one years after Elizabeth should have finished her training.

In 1465, Ellen gained royal patronage when she was commissioned to supply silk banners and trappings for the saddle and pillion for Edward IV’s queen, for her coronation. Ellen had to deliver the goods ‘into the hands of Thomas Vaughn one of the esquires of our [the king’s] body to the use of our most dear and entirely beloved Queen…’ and was paid £27 10s. John Langwith died in July 1467 and, like Philip Waltham before him, made Ellen his executrix, leaving her responsible for an ‘estate of lands’ at Beckenham in Kent which may have been her own inheritance. Ellen was now a very wealthy widow without an heir so she too drew up a will, though she would outlive John by over thirteen years. Her will was artfully worded: she left much of her property to the Tailors’ Company with the proviso that if they failed in its adequate administration, all would be forfeit to the Cutlers. In this way, she was well favoured by both companies, invited to their feasts on special occasions and sent gifts of food and wine to keep them in mind. In 1476, the tailors spent 2s on a pike and wine for Mistress Ellen Langwith, while the less wealthy cutlers sent her a rabbit and a hen costing 8d.

In her will, Ellen left 10s to pay for her funeral in St Mary Abchurch which included money to the parish clerk to ring the bells. There were alms to the poor and the Tailors’ Company was to use money from the rents paid to them from the Langwith properties, to buy 26 quarters of coal for thirteen poor men and women of the parish, on the anniversary of Ellen’s death. Before she died – sometime between January and June 1481 – she left an additional, modest will, leaving most of her household goods to her current apprentice, John Brown (presumably an apprentice tailor). She leaves a bequest of 40s to Richard Wiott, the son of a shearman, when he should come of age, and money and goods to her servants, John England and Emmott Bynchester. Otherwise, all her bequests are made to women: Margaret, wife of John Wareng, one of her two executors, is to have a gold ring set with a diamond and an image of Our Lady from Ellen’s chamber; Mary, wife of John Jakes the draper, the second executor, is to have her blue silk girdle with silver gilt decorations. Katherine, wife of Hugh Pemberton, the overseer of Ellen’s will, is to receive a gold ring set with turquoise. A gown of black medley (a wool mixture?), trimmed with white lamb, was left to her cousin Mistress Bowyer of Northampton, and her best blue gown, trimmed with marten fur, was bequeathed to another cousin, Mistress Bounesley of Nottingham. Her personal belongings and considerable household goods and furnishings, mentioned in her will, suggest Ellen was a prosperous and dignified elderly woman who had had a very successful career, whether as the wife of a cutler and a tailor, or as a craftswoman in her own right.

In my new novel, The Colour of Lies, Emily and the other silk-women set up a profitable stall at St Bartholomew’s Fair and Dame Ellen Langton is going to name one of them as her successor in taking on her business. All is going well for them until an accident occurs… It’s down to Emily’s husband, Seb, to solve the mystery and get the silk-women out of trouble.

If readers would like to know more about silk-women and many other craftsmen, traders and life in medieval England in general, there is a series of online courses available from medievalcourses.com which includes The Roles of Medieval and Tudor Women and Everyday Lives of Medieval Folk. There are also my books, both published by Amberley, Everyday Life in Medieval London, which was chosen as ‘the best factual history book of 2014’ by GoodReads, and A Year in the Life of Medieval England, among other titles. All are available from Amazon as both Kindle, hardback and paperback editions.

About the Author

Toni Mount MA

Toni is a history teacher, a writer, and an experienced public speaker – and describes herself as an enthusiastic life-long-learner; she is a member of the Richard III Society Research Committee and a library volunteer, where she leads the creative writing group.

Toni attended Gravesend Grammar School and originally studied chemistry at college. She worked as a scientist in the pharmaceutical industry before stopping work to have her family. Inspired by Sharon Kay Penman’s Sunne in Splendour Toni decided she too wanted to write a Richard III novel, which she did, but back in the 1980s was told there was no market for more historic novels and it remains unpublished.

Having enjoyed history as a child she joined an adult history class and ultimately started teaching classes herself. Her BA (with First-class Honours), her Diploma in Literature and Creative Writing and Diploma in European Humanities are from the Open University. Toni’s Certificate in Education (in Post-Compulsory Education and Training) is from the University of Greenwich. She earned her Masters degree from the University of Kent in 2009 by the study of a medieval medical manuscript at the Wellcome Library.

After submitting an idea for her first book, about the lives of ordinary people in the middle-ages, Everyday Life in Medieval London was published in 2014 by Amberley Publishing – the first print run sold out quickly and it was voted ‘Best history book of the year’ at Christmas 2014 on Goodreads.com. The Medieval Housewife was published in November 2014 and Dragon’s Blood & Willow Bark, the mysteries of medieval medicine (later renamed in paperback as Medieval Medicine it mysteries and science) was first released in May 2015. A Year in The life of Medieval England, a diary of everyday incidents through an entire year, was published in 2016.

Having taught history to adults madeglobal.com recruited her to create a range of online history courses for medievalcourses.com, but she still wanted to write a medieval novel: The Colour of Poison the first Sebastian Foxley murder mystery was the result, published by madeglobal in 2016. Shortly before publication Tim at madeglobal asked if this was going to be a series – although nothing else was planned, Toni said “yes” and now The Colour of Lies (published in April 2019) is the seventh book in that series.

Toni is married with two grown up children and lives with her husband in Kent, England. When she is not writing, teaching or speaking to history groups – or volunteering – she reads endlessly, with several books on the go at any one time. She is currently working on The Colour of Shadows the next Sebastian Foxley murder mystery and The World of Isaac Newton, her next non-fiction.

Her websites include: http://www.ToniMount.com http://www.SebastianFoxley.com http://www.ToniTalks.co.uk

You can follow Toni on social media at: http://www.facebook.com/toni.mount.10 http://www.facebook.com/sebfoxley/ http://www.facebook.com/medievalengland/ http://www.twitter.com/tonihistorian

*

My Books

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest

From Emma of Normandy, wife of both King Cnut and Æthelred II to Saint Margaret, a descendant of Alfred the Great himself, Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066.  Available now from Amazon UK,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository and Amazon US.

Heroines of the Medieval World

Telling the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from Amazon UK, and in the US from Amazon US. It is available now in paperback in the UK from from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon and worldwide from 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.

*

©2019 Sharon Bennett Connolly and Toni Mount

Guest Post: George, Duke of Clarence and the infamous ‘butt of Malmsey wine’ by Toni Mount

It is a pleasure to welcome Toni Mount to the blog, for Day 5 of her Blog Tour for the launch of The Colour of Murder this month.

The Colour of Murder is the latest whodunit in the popular ‘Sebastian Foxley’ series of medieval murder mysteries by author and historian Toni Mount.

George, Duke of Clarence and the infamous ‘butt of Malmsey wine’.

540 years ago, on the 18th February 1478 the Duke of Clarence was, famously, drowned in a butt of malmsey wine. Did he jump or was he pushed? The question has never been answered, so this was an opportunity for the intrepid investigator Seb Foxley – to finally solve the mystery.

On this day, 18th February 1478, news was leaked that the brother of King Edward IV, George, Duke of Clarence, had somehow managed to drown in a butt of malmsey wine. Did he fall or was he pushed? A contemporary chronicler, who otherwise seems very well informed, could only write: ‘… a few days after the execution, whatever its nature may have been, took place … in the Tower of London…’

From the Croyland Chronicle, c. 1486, pp.479-80:

George of Clarence had never been very reliable nor faithful to King Edward, his elder brother. When his beloved wife, Isabella Neville, died soon after giving birth, probably of childbed fever, George was convinced that a lady-in-waiting, Ankarette Twynyho, had poisoned her. He tried Ankarette in a rigged court and arranged her execution. King Edward decided George had gone too far this time, taking the law into his own hands. Then George became involved in a further plot to dethrone Edward. Matters deteriorated when he accused the Edward’s queen, Elizabeth Woodville, of witchcraft, saying she was behind the death of his wife. Finally, the king lost patience and George was imprisoned in the Tower of London in the summer of 1477.

Brought to trial before Parliament, only the king gave evidence against George, listing all his earlier mercies to him, how he had pardoned him for previous acts of treachery and showered titles and riches on him, only to receive ingratitude and further treachery in return. Meanwhile George had spread rumours that the king was a bastard with no right to wear the crown, practising necromancy and poisoning those who displeased him.

Parliament sat in embarrassed silence as the king and his brother accused each other, shouting and arguing in a most unseemly and vulgar display. But the eventual outcome was never going to be in doubt: Parliament found in the king’s favour, George was guilty of high treason and sentenced to death. He was returned to the Tower of London while the king wrestled with his conscience over signing his brother’s death warrant until the Speaker of the House intervened, demanding that sentence be carried out. George, Duke of Clarence, was executed privately in the Tower of London, spared the ignominy of a public beheading.

However, an execution behind closed doors soon caused rumours to spread that Clarence had been drowned in a butt of malmsey wine. A butt is a large barrel and an imperial measure of one hundred gallons – more than enough to drown in, but the story is almost certainly a later invention. Perhaps George was partial to the sweet white wine, so the tale was an ironic joke. It has been suggested, perhaps not seriously, that George was allowed to choose his manner of death, or even that a ‘well-wisher’, wanting to spare the king the grief of committing fratricide, sent Clarence a gift of wine, laced with poison. We will probably never know the truth.

About  the author

Toni Mount is a popular writer and historian; she is the author of Everyday Life in Medieval London and A Year in the Life of Medieval England (pub Amberley Publishing) and several of the online courses for http://www.medievalCourses.com

Her successful ‘Sebastian Foxley’ series of medieval whodunits is published by MadeGlobal.com and the latest book in this series The Colour of Murder is now available as a paperback or on Kindle. http://getbook.at/colour_of_murder

If you would like to follow the rest of Toni’s blog tour, just click on the links below:

26/1/18 – Digitalis & Other Plant Poisons in Medieval Times – www.thewarsoftherosescatalogue.com/  c/o Debra Bayani

3/2/18 Author Interview – The Review – www.thereview2014.blogspot.com c/o Diana Milne

10/2/18 Royal Witchcraft – www.onthetudortrail.com c/o Natalie Grueninger –

17/2/18 George Duke of Clarence – www.historytheinterestingbits.com  c/o Sharon Bennett Connolly

24/2/18 Bedlam Hospital www.theanneboleynfiles.com c/o Claire Ridgeway

*

My Book:

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

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

*

©2018 Sharon Bennett Connolly