Guest Post: Frost Fairs by Toni Mount

Today it is a pleasure to welcome historian Toni Mount to History…the Interesting Bits, with an article on the Frost Fairs on the River Thames.

Frost Fairs

Anyone who was in the UK, Ireland or much of Europe in February and March 2018 will probably remember the weather phenomenon of anticyclone Hartmut, better known as ‘The Beast from the East’. The Beast began its onslaught on 22nd February, bringing heavy snowfall and unusually low temperatures which lasted into the first week of March. Across Europe, it caused 95 deaths, seventeen of them in the UK. The deepest snowfall in England was 22 inches [57 cm] in Gloucestershire. The lowest temperature, measured in the Cairngorm Mountains in Scotland was -14℃ [7℉] with winds up to 70 mph [110 km/hr]. Two weeks of such intense cold weather is unusual in the UK today, though who knows what may lie ahead in the future with the effects of climate change. However, climate change is nothing new. The lifetime of Isaac Newton, from 1642 to 1727, saw far worse winter weather during ‘The Little Ice-Age’, as it is known, and the period from December 1683 to March 1684 saw an unprecedented cold spell in England.

Engraving of the Frost Fair on the Thames in London, 1683-84 [British Museum Collection]

Thermometers were a recent invention and a universal scale of temperature readings had yet to be established but descriptions of the thickness of ice formed on ponds in a single night suggest the long spell of exceptional freezing weather was worse than any winter before and has still to be surpassed. December 1683 began with a hard frost, followed by a bitter east wind laden with snow. In London, the snow melted on the 7th but a sharp frost on the 12th was succeeded by a week of heavy snowfall and a north-easterly wind. Places other than London suffered similarly. Bristol suffered badly on the 19th; Durham on Christmas Eve and Oxford had its worst snow on Christmas Day, although London only saw snow showers that day.

The previous October 1683 had seen temperatures more than 4°F below the average, so the ground was already colder than normal when the bad weather began in December. Daily thermometer readings – however inaccurate – were recorded by Dr John Downes in London. According to him, the greatest cold occurred on 15th-16th January when ‘the spirit fell within the ball’ of his thermometer so gave no reading. His thermometer probably hung indoors, close to a window was the usual position for such instruments, suggesting a likely reading of 25°F indoors when he took note of it, mid‐morning. This would probably indicate a temperature of below 10°F outdoors. It was almost as cold in the first days of February.

In Durham, farther north in Teesdale, a fellow scientist, Mr Sanderson, made occasional records of the thickness of ice formed ‘where John Aislaby gets his water, on 12th-13th February, ice formed two inches thick overnight’. He then adds ‘it was in my gazette [newspaper] that at the Downs [part of the English Channel off the coast of Kent] the water was frozen a mile into the Sea, which was never known before’. This occurred during the latter part of January. From other sources we learn that, for fourteen days, in the English Channel, packet‐boats with the mail could not leave the Belgian coast and that ‘the sea was frozen for two leagues off Caen [in Normandy, France]’. Near Manchester, Sanderson noted, ‘it did freeze ice more than half a yard thick, and some ice continued till 25th March’.

Undeterred by the cold, the people of Leeds in Yorkshire held a frost fair on the frozen River Aire. According to Ralph Thoresby, an ox-roast was set up there and various sporting activities organised. January saw no improvement and in the south, by the end of the month, the Thames estuary was frozen a mile out to sea and wagons were hauling goods downriver from London as far as Gravesend in Kent.

In London, John Evelyn’s diary provides a wealth of information, noting that brewers and other tradesmen reliant on a water supply were out of work because all the pipes were frozen. He was greatly concerned that:

The fowls, fish and birds and all our plants and greens universally perishing. Many parks of deer are destroyed and all sorts of fuel so dear that there were great contributions to keep the poor alive. … London, by reason of the excessive coldness of the air hindering the ascent of the smoke, was so filled with the fuliginous steam of sea-coal that one could hardly see across the streetes… and no one could scarcely breathe.

Evelyn also tells us that ‘every moment was full of disastrous accidents’ and trees were being cracked asunder by the frost as if by a lightning strike. Despite these gloomy realities, Londoners made the best of the weather conditions. A broadsheet of the time calls it ‘Great Britain’s Wonder or London’s Admiration: a prodigious frost which began about the beginning of December and continued till the fourth day of February following’. The Thames had frozen over before but never had the freeze lasted so long. The river ice was more than a foot thick [30cms] enabling it to be crossed by coach, carriage, sledge or on foot. Enterprising boatmen, robbed of their livelihood otherwise, put wheels under their boats to ferry passengers across the river. By 1st January, a fair and marketplace had been set up on the ice.

King Charles II and members of the royal court visited the makeshift town, enjoying eating meat from an ox-roast, taking part in a fox-hunt on ice and having souvenir cards printed in a booth where a printer had set up his press. The cards proved popular, the printer reckoning to make at least £5 per day at sixpence a time. In other words, he was printing around 200 cards every day and making an excellent income from his ingenuity. Food stalls sold everything from pancakes to roast beef and there were numerous taverns, goldsmiths’ shops, a toy shop, coffee-houses, a lottery booth, a music booth and even a brothel: all doing a brisk trade on  ice. A circus was put on by Mr Chipperfield: the first known performance of a family business that still continues today, if in a very different health-and-safety, animal-welfare conscious, twenty-first-century format. No such niceties concerned the entrepreneurs who arranged the bull- and bear-baiting spectacles either.

John Evelyn wrote that:

Coaches plied from Westminster to the Temple… to and fro, as in the streets; sleds, sliding with skeetes [skates], a bull-baiting, horse and coach races, puppet plays and interludes [short dramatic sketches], cooks, tippling [drinking] and other lewd places, so that it seemed to be a bacchanalian triumph, or a carnival on water.

Others noted sporting activities, including football and skittles being played. The ice began to thaw a little on 4th-5th February and the booths began to be dismantled but it froze again so that Evelyn could still cross in his coach to Lambeth Palace to dine with the Archbishop of Canterbury. On other occasions, he walked upriver on the ice from his home in Deptford.

In Newton’s long lifetime the Thames would freeze over again in 1709 but the ice did not last so long as to allow another frost fair that year. However, the winter of 1715-16 was sufficiently severe and long-lasting that the river was frozen for almost three months and a fair was set up once more. On this occasion, there was far more snow than in 1683-84, ‘vast quantities fallen at different times in the season’, so that London was described at the time as being ‘almost impassable’.

Below, is an excerpt from a poem written in 1684:

BEHOLD the Wonder of this present Age,

A Famous RIVER now becomes a Stage.

Question not what I now declare to you,

The Thames is now both Fair and Market, too.

And many Thousands dayly do resort,

There to behold the Pastime and the Sport

Early and Late, used by young and old,

And valu’d not the fierceness of the Cold….

Back in history, the Thames had been frozen before. For example, in the reign of King Stephen, in 1150, ‘after a very wet summer there was in December so great a frost that horses and carriages crossed it [the Thames] upon the ice as safely as upon the dry ground, and that the frost lasted till the following month of March’. Again, in 1281, the Thames was frozen over and when the ice broke up at last, it carried away five of the stone arches of London Bridge, causing it to partially collapse and making this entrance into the city impassable until it was repaired. In 1434, ‘the Thames was so strongly frozen over, that merchandise and provisions brought into the mouth of the river were obliged to be unladen, and brought by land to the city’. In 1515, too, carriages passed over on the ice from Lambeth to Westminster and once more, when the ice melted a number of arches of London Bridge were ‘borne downe and carried away with the streame’. On the 21st of December 1564, during a lengthy hard frost, football and ‘shooting at marks’ were played on the Thames. Courtiers came from Whitehall Palace to mix with common citizens and watch the fun. Tradition says that Queen Elizabeth I herself walked upon the ice but all was gone by 5th January. However, Londoners had the chance to play all manner of sports and visit trading stalls on the river again in 1620, in the reign of James I.

The River Thames last iced over completely, enough to hold a Frost Fair on its frozen waters, in 1814 but, since then, the building of the Victoria and Albert Embankments has made it faster-flowing and less likely to ice up. However, it partially froze in the harsh winters of 1947 and 1963.

Who can say whether or not even more extreme weather events may happen in the future as a result of climate change? Only time may tell if another Frost Fair, like those experienced by Isaac Newton and his colleagues, will ever be held again on the Thames.

The World of Isaac Newton by Toni Mount

For nine decades Isaac Newton strode the world of science and discovery, religion and thought – from 17th century Lincolnshire farm-boy to one of the most influential scientists of all time – his discoveries have relevance for us today and for our future.  This fascinating new biography looks at his world, his times, the people he influenced and the breakthroughs in science and thought that would change the world.

About the Author

Toni Mount’s first career was in science, leading to many years in a second profession in teaching. Her love of history led to a third career as a writer with her first book, released by Amberley Publishing in 2014, Everyday Life in Medieval London. She continues to teach history to adults both in person and online and has now written many successful non-fiction and fiction books. This latest study allows her to return to her first love, science, and the chance to bring a fresh look at one of the world’s most famous characters.

Links

www.tonimount.com

www.facebook.com/toni.mount.10

www.twitter.com/tonihistorian

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My Books

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

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

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

©2020 Toni Mount

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

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

So it’s over to Toni

Whores and Winchester Geese – Prostitution in Medieval London

by Toni Mount

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Health issues

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

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

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

Legislation

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

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

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

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

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

Another matter

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

About the Author: Toni Mount

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

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

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

My works to date include:

Self-Published:

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

Amberley Publishing:

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

Pen & Sword:

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

MadeGlobal Publishing:

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

2018 The Death Collector (A Victorian Melodrama)

MedievalCourses.com:

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

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My Books

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

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

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

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

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

©2020 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Guest Post: 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

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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.

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©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

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My Book:

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

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

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©2018 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: A Year in the Life of Medieval England by Toni Mount

tmThe medieval era is often associated with dynastic struggles, gruesome wars and the formidable influence of the Church. But what about the everyday experience of the royal subjects and common people? Here, alongside the coronations, diplomatic dealings and key battles, can be found the fabric of medieval life as it was really lived, in its folk songs, recipes and local gossip. With a diverse range of entries – one for each day of the year – historian Toni Mount provides an almanac for lovers of all things medieval.

Toni Mount’s latest book, A Year in the Life of Medieval England, is a veritable treasury of miscellaneous snippets of medieval history. A true gem in every sense, it is one of those books that you pick up and flick through ‘just for 5 minutes’ – only to find that when you close the book again you’ve lost the last 2 hours!

Chock full of fascinating information, told in diary format, the book takes us through the year from 1st January to 31st December. Some days have just one entry – the shortest being in June;

25th – Midday Eclipse

A midday eclipse was recorded on 25th June 1191.

While other entries run to several pages, there is at least one entry for each day, and often 2 or 3. The book gives us insights into medieval court life and the great players on the national stage; offering us glimpses into their Christmas traditions, family life and political machinations. We are treated to abdications, usurpations, coronations, births and weddings; all told in a wonderfully friendly, entertaining style.

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The Peasants’ Revolt

However, where this book shines is in the entries about ordinary people; drawing from wills, letters and chronicles Toni Mount builds up a picture of daily life, of the trials and labours of the man – or woman – next door. We see how the influences of Church and King dictated their lives; how the extremes of weather could lead to feast or famine and how neighbours looked out for each other.

May

10th – A Village dispute

On this day, at Woodbridge in Suffolk, a dispute arose between William the Piper, aged twenty-four years and more, and John Scanlon of the same [place], and they struck each other with their fists … John Bray, chaplain, and others took John Scanlon by the neck … He resisted and William struck John Scanlon while he was being held … forthwith, John Scanlon took a knife out of the sheath of John Bray without [him] knowing it and struck William feloniously with a wound in the chest nine inches deep and one inch in latitude from which wound William died, languishing for nine days following the dispute … Alice, wife of William was with him in his home when he died.

This book is a treasure trove for any fan of medieval England. Each day holds a wonderful snippet of information; either a story or an event, or an explanation of a tradition or saint’s day. The author has managed to cover a wide range of medieval life and events. With stories taken from the towns and fields of rural England, the law courts of London or the royal court itself, it would be impossible to read this book without learning something new – and fascinating.

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Medieval York

Toni Mount has succeeded in building a picture of medieval life through all levels of society. On the same page we can read about a mercer’s will, and woman accused of witchcraft – and the death of the Black Prince. The entries are, at times, touching – such as a letter from Joan of Arc to her English captors – and at other times amusing, such as a poem about table manners for children. And amongst it all we can find recipes for herb fritters and remedies for gout!

Supported by colourful images of medieval life and court pageantry, this book is a wonderful read; from the medieval scholar to the armchair historian, it has something for everyone. Whether you read it chronologically, or head straight for your birthday (yes I did);

On this day in 1141, a strange phenomenon was recorded in London: the tide in the Thames went out and failed to flow in again for an entire twenty-four hours.

A Year in the Life of Medieval England is a wonderful, fascinating read. From the story of Aethelflaed to the Battle of Bosworth; the challenge for any reader will be putting it down!

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Pictures taken from Wikipedia.

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

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