Sunday, May 20, 2018

Editors Weekly Round-up, May 20, 2018

by the EHFA Editors

Every week, contributors to English Historical Fiction Authors post on various aspects of British history. Enjoy this week's round-up!

by Kim Rendfeld

by Helen Hollick

Saturday, May 19, 2018

“ ‘Baccy for the parson…brandy for the clerk…” What Did Smugglers Smuggle?

by Helen Hollick

image purchased from AdobeStock

The quick and simple answer to the above question is …. Anything that could be carried and easily hidden, then sold at a profit! The reasoning behind smuggling was (is!) to avoid paying  excise duty, but the profits had to be high enough to warrant the risk involved, making a few shillings would not be worthwhile, but a few pounds sterling (or whatever currency!) could tip the balance between legally and illegally importing or exporting an items that were in demand.  In the 17-1800s no smuggler would risk his life for a few kegs of common ale, but for best French brandy? Ah, that was different!

Throughout history, various mercantile goods gained or lost their smuggling value. Thomas Jefferson, in his pre-presidential days as an American ministerial representative in Paris for several years from 1784, smuggled rice out of Italy, hidden in his pockets. This was a crime carrying the death penalty if caught. He was also involved in smuggling hemp from China. To us now, it seems odd – rice? Hemp? Whatever for!

Silkworms, too, were smuggled from the far-east, as was tea. Spices were exotic and expensive: cinnamon, nutmeg, saffron, cloves – tulips – all were smuggled from where they grew in abundance to where they were prized. Leather goods were valued at some points in history, so too was grain when harvests failed and people were at starvation level.

The Romney Marsh, one of the main wool smuggling areas
 - where the smugglers were known as 'Owlers

image purchased from Shutterstock

Wool, in Medieval times, was important for England and its economy, reflected even today with the presiding officer of the Parliamentary House of Lords traditionally sitting on a seat stuffed with English wool, and known as the ‘Woolsack’. English wool was sought after in Europe. It is estimated that England exported something like 25,000 bales of wool in 1280, rising to a peak of 45,000 per year, then falling in 1355 to 33,000.

Incidentally, the term ‘fleeced’ comes from the wool trade, meaning to be tricked with something that looks a better quality than it really is.

Edward I negotiated an agreement with the wool merchants of a permanent tax duty, although illicit trading did not become illegal until Edward III became king. By 1566 anyone caught smuggling wool would be punished with the left hand being amputated and nailed to a church door as a warning to others. Obviously to little effect, as wool smuggling continued apace, for in 1689, when all trade was banned with France (because of yet another war), something like 500,000 pounds weight of wool was being smuggled every year across the Channel.

Salt: Before refrigeration, salt was essential for preserving food. During the late 1600s, William of Orange needed money. In 1693 he brought some of his Dutch accountants from Holland who advised a higher import duty on salt, although the tax was added to the manufacture, not the sale, which of course equally affected the cost of buying it. George III raised the rate again in 1767 to assist funding the cost of the American War of Independence, all of which led to the smuggling of quality white salt from Ireland to England.

Romper Lowe, from Cheshire, was a salt smuggler. One night, the parish constable was awoken by Lowe’s gang making a noise because their cart, laden with salt, had become stuck in a ditch. Constable Carter did his duty – and sent his servant and a horse to assist in pulling the cart out!

Gold. During the Napoleonic Wars of the early 1800s, Bonaparte paid people to smuggle gold from England into France in order to support the French currency. Very enterprising of him. The method used was to row across the English Channel in what were called ‘Guinea Boats’, although we are not talking small rowing boats here, but huge forty-foot long vessels which could carry a £30,000 value of the gold on each voyage. With twenty-four oars, twelve aside, the Kentish men could cross to France in less than five hours, given the right conditions.

Voluminous gowns - ideal for hiding smuggled goods.
No Revenue Man would be permitted to rummage beneath a lady's skirts
 - no matter how suspicious the 'padding'!

image purchased from Canstock photos

Jewellery was easy to smuggle:  slipped into pockets, sewn into coat linings, or women’s petticoats, or even swallowed to reappear at the smuggler’s convenience. (Excuse the pun!).

Alcohol: In his notebooks, Thomas Hardy mentions his grandfather hiding kegs of brandy under the stairs: ‘The spirits often smelt all over the house...’ Spirits were supplied ‘neat’ – lethal if consumed undiluted in quantity. Dilution would not be done until the brandy, gin, or whatever, reached its point of sale destination. The disadvantage: the water used, especially in London, was often contaminated with sewage, dead rats and other nasty stuff. It wasn’t the booze that caused the stomach aches –  but the added water!
So much gin was smuggled in the 1700s, that it was even used as a household cleaner!

image purchased Adobe Stock

Tobacco was as addictive in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries as it is today. Much of the smuggling was an ingenious ‘scam’ as it would be imported legally into Britain then exported to Europe with a legal ‘drawback’ refund paid on the import duty. The exact same tobacco would then be smuggled back into England, but bulked out by adding ground rose petals, leaves, herbs, straw and dust, then re-packaged and re-sold at a substantial profit. Questionable tactics, but very clever.

image purchased Adobe stock

Lace was an excellent textile to smuggle because it was lightweight and easily hidden.

Blonde Lace was made in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in France. This bobbin lace was crafted from silk, with the ‘blonde’ referring to the natural colour of the thread. Favoured by royalty, it is depicted in a portrait of Princess Charlotte (1796-1817) the daughter of King George IV and Caroline of Brunswick.

Brussels Lace, was admired as a delicate lace made from fine-spun linen thread which, in order to ensure it did not become brittle was spun in a damp and darkened environment, with only a single ray of light permitted. First produced in the fifteenth century, Brussels Lace is listed among presents given in 1543 to Princess Mary Tudor, daughter of Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon. A royal lace indeed!

In order to protect the making of English lace, the import of foreign lace was prohibited by Parliament in 1662, with the English version known as ‘English Point’. Unfortunately, it was not the same quality, so smuggled Brussels Lace remained in demand. The import ban was lifted in 1699 but French Brussels Lace continued to be a favourite of Queen Anne.

Valenciennes Lace originated, as the name implies, from Valenciennes in France. The height of its popularity was between 1700 to 1780. Made by hand it was woven in one piece  and was extremely strong. Sadly, there was very little of this beautiful hand-crafted lace being made by the time the 1900s arrived as machine-lace had taken over.

A Lacemaker
image purchased Adobe Stock

What about tea? Portuguese merchants smuggled tea to Europe in the late 1500s, with the fashion for its distinctive taste spreading to England in the 1600s, reportedly introduced by Portuguese-born Catherine of Braganza when she married King Charles II in 1662. It was known in Portugal as chá – often used today in Britain as a slang term.

Tea did not become popularly consumed until the eighteenth century because it was extremely expensive. With the establishment of the East India Company, and black tea grown in India, the Chinese stranglehold was broken and tea became easier and cheaper to harvest, transport, import – and buy.

For the smugglers, tea was one of the top commodities to be prized. It is estimated that three-million pounds in weight of tea, per annum, was being smuggled into England between 1700-1750. No wonder the English are known as a nation of tea-drinkers!

In a series of published news-sheets, the East India Company condemned tea smuggling as detrimental to the economy, and was therefore affecting high unemployment and low wages. Of course, there was no mention of their tumbling profits!

Tea gradually became more widely available as shipping increased in number and efficiency. Eventually, the British Government revoked the import tax, and the smuggling of tea became unprofitable by the end of the 1700s.

Prior to this amendment, however, the unpopular Tea Act of 1773 provoked a certain famous Tea Party in Boston Harbour, Massachusetts… but that tale is for a different article!

Smuggling in Fact and Fiction by Helen Hollick is due to be published by Pen & Sword Press in January 2019

Smuggling In The British Isles by Richard Platt
Smuggling: A History 1700-1970 David Phillipson
Smuggling In Fact and Fiction Helen Hollick (not yet published)

Helen Hollick lives on a thirteen-acre farm in Devon, England. Born in London, she wrote pony stories as a teenager, moved to science-fiction and fantasy, and then discovered historical fiction. Published for over twenty years with her Arthurian Trilogy, and the 1066 era she became a USA Today bestseller with her novel about Queen Emma The Forever Queen (UK title A Hollow Crown.) She also writes the Sea Witch Voyages, pirate-based nautical adventures with a touch of fantasy. She has written a non-fiction about pirates and one about smugglers in fact and fiction which is due to be published in 2018.

Newsletter Subscription:
Twitter: @HelenHollick

Amazon Author Page (Universal Link)

Helen is also the founder of Discovering Diamonds, a review blog for historical fiction, submissions welcome.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Queen Eadburh: Maligned but Not Murderous

By Kim Rendfeld

A woman who was once a murderous queen of the West Saxons winds up begging in the streets of Lombardy. Lovely poetic justice, if only it were true.

Eadburh, daughter of Mercian King Offa and Queen Cynethryth, was a real person. She did marry a king and was widowed. And she might have ended her days in Lombardy, but not begging and for much more mundane reasons than those in a story written by an author currying favor with a political enemy.

Offa (d. 796) was known for his ruthlessness and for the dike bearing his name. Like most aristocrats, he and his wife arranged for their children to marry for political advantage. In 789, Eadburh wed Beorhtric, king of Wessex.

Offa of Mercia from Matthew Paris's tract on St. Alban,
 13th century (Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)
The alliance had a mutual benefit. Beorhtric might have come to power as an outsider taking advantage of a power vacuum when his predecessor died. Marriage to the daughter of a powerful Mercian king solidified his claim. In his part of the bargain, Beorhtric teamed up with Offa to drive rival Ecgberht out of England. Beorhtric also had the dubious honor of having Vikings land on his shore and kill his reeve.

Apparently, Eadburh did wield power and influence. She gave away land in her own name and witnessed charters with her husband and her brother. Even though her marriage to Beorhtric lasted several years, they didn’t have children. Men in this age sometimes tried to repudiate wives who didn’t produce a healthy son. Beorhtric seems to have been a steadfast husband. Or maybe he feared upsetting Eadburh’s parents more than dying without an heir.

After Offa died, his son, Ecgfrith, succeeded him, and Beorhtric and Eadburh supported him. But Ecgfrith’s reign didn’t last even a year. He died, likely not of natural causes.

Eadburh and Beorhtric’s marriage lasted until his death in 802. He didn’t die of old age, either.

13th century image of Beorhtric
(Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

And now we get to the fiction, an account by Asser, who wrote Life of Alfred in 893. The title character was Ecgberht’s grandson. Asser supposedly includes Eadburh’s story to explain why the wives of the Wessex kings weren’t crowned queen like Eadburh was and not take her seat beside him on the throne. More likely this is an attempt to discredit the rival family.

If we are to believe Asser—and I don’t—Eadburh was tyrannical like her father and dominated the relationship (not good in medieval eyes). If her husband liked anyone she didn’t, she would poison the friendship, and if that didn’t work, the poisoning took a literal turn. Poison, the weapon of women and cowards, fits nicely into the narrative.

Eadburh planned to kill a young man she thought was getting too close to her husband. The victim took the poison. So did Beorhtric. Oops.

In reality, Ecgberht is the more probable culprit. He might have invaded Wessex with his followers, and Beorhtric fell in battle. Ecgberht subsequently seized the throne.

According to Asser, Eadburh took treasures and fled. That much is believable. What’s next is a stretch, and that’s being charitable.

Eadburh went to Charlemagne’s court. The emperor, whose fifth wife had died, asked Eadburh if she wanted himself or his son Charles. Eadburh said she preferred the younger man. Charlemagne told her had she chosen the father, she would have gotten the son, but now she could have neither.

This doesn’t pass the laugh test. By medieval standards, Eadburh was not a desirable bride, especially for a royal marriage. Her father and brother were dead, leaving her without the family connections needed to form alliances. Instead, Charlemagne appointed her as an abbess.

Charlemagne by Albrecht Dürer
(public domain,
via Wikimedia Commons)
Using another time-honored technique to discredit women, Asser says that Eadburh was caught fornicating with one of her countrymen and expelled from the convent on Charlemagne’s order. Somehow she made her way to Pavia with a slave and ended her days in shame and misery as a beggar.

She might have spent the rest of her days in Lombardy but not as a punishment or in poverty. A confraternity book written between 825 and 850 shows an “Eadburg” as an abbess of a large Lombard convent. If this Eadburg is the former queen of Wessex, she would be in her 50s to her 70s.

It was common for a widowed queen to retire to a convent, and if the emperor thought her a reliable ally, he might appoint her as the abbess. An abbess was a leader, controlling land and the convent’s other assets, and she usually did not live an ascetic lifestyle.

The real Charlemagne very much believed in the power of prayer, and that extended to winning wars. If he trusted Eadburh to lead her sisters in prayer, it is possible he or his successor, Louis the Pious, might have bestowed the abbey upon her.


"Eadburh" by Janet L. Nelson, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

“Beorhtric” by Heather Edwards, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

Asser’s Life of Alfred

Asser's Life of King Alfred, together with the Annals of Saint Neots erroneously ascribed to Asser
by John Asser, d. 909, edited by William Henry Stevenson

A handsome, but wretched head.” by Lisa Graves, The History Witch

Eadburh, Queen of the West Saxons” by Susan Abernethy, The Freelance History Writer


Kim Rendfeld has written two novels set in 8th century Europe, and her third novel, Queen of the Darkest Hour, will be published August 7. The ebook about how Queen Fastrada must stop a conspiracy before it destroys the kingdom is available for preorder on AmazoniBooksBarnes & Noble, and Kobo.

In The Cross and the Dragon, a Frankish noblewoman must contend with a jilted suitor and the fear of losing her husband (available on Amazon). In The Ashes of Heaven's Pillar, a Saxon peasant will fight for her children after losing everything else (available on Amazon). Her short story “Betrothed to the Red Dragon,” about Guinevere’s decision to marry Arthur, is set in early medieval Britain and available on Amazon.

Connect with Kim at on her website, her blog, Outtakes of a Historical Novelist at, on Facebook at, or follow her on Twitter at @kimrendfeld.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Friday, May 11, 2018

Changing Perspectives on Childhood

by Maria Grace

Today, most Western societies mark a distinct period of childhood beginning at birth and extending into adolescence, with full adult responsibilities not required until close to an individual’s second decade—and sometimes beyond that. We take it for granted that childhood is a unique and special period of life during which the child should play and be educated in the ways of their culture, essentially free from adult responsibilities.

The concept of childhood

Some historians have suggested that the modern conception of childhood developed during ‘long eighteenth century’ (c.1688-1832).  The concept of the ‘child’ sparked widespread debate causing society to reconsider its perception of childhood. Prior to the nineteenth century, children were viewed as fundamentally miniature adults, not much different from their parents. (Metz, Romanticism and the Child) But, as a result of the Enlightenment and other social influence during this period, people began to rethink children as impressionable, unformed beings; requiring much protection and attention from adult caretakers; inherently different from adults. The role of parent and guardian was similarly redefined to include a deep, affectionate regard for youngsters and a sense of nostalgia toward the childhood period. Historian J. H. Plumb characterized England during the latter half of the 18th century as a “new world of children.”  (O’Malley, 2005)

Some argue that it was not so much the concept of a unique period childhood that developed during this period, but rather a more copious expression in the interest in children, their maintenance, and their future prospects. Dissemination of Enlightenment thought and an emerging middle class seem to be at the root of these changes. (O’Malley, 2005) The notions of an ‘enlightened’ humanity suggested the possibility of a better world and future for the future generations and fueled enthusiasm and resourced to be martialed in efforts to improve the lot of children.

Towards a Unique Childhood

At the start of the Enlightenment, probably the most common view of children was the traditional Calvinist Christian view. A child was born with Original Sin and the only hope for overcoming it was strict subordination to authority. (Anyone ever faced with a room full of toddlers near naptime has probably ascribed to this view too—just saying.) Advances in sciences came to suggest a more biological view of children. The character and potentialities of the child were determined by inheritance at conception. Whether this came from genetics as we understand them today or from astrological influences could be debated, though.

 Philosophers contributed an altogether another way to view children. John Locke’s and Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s philosophies, although different from one another, regarded children as natural innocents whose feelings and wishes might be corrupted by his experience in society. (Stone, 1979)

Philosophers of Childhood

John Locke’s 1673 treatise, Some Thought Concerning Education proposed the notion of a lengthy, and in many ways leisurely childhood. However, it was not until the mid-eighteenth century that his recommendations about education were paid heed. Rousseau’s 1762 work, Emile: or On Education helped transform the fad for Locke’s ideas into lasting social change.


John Locke regarded the young mind as tabula rasa, a blank slate, without inborn knowledge or ideas. Society was then responsible for inscribing said slate with appropriate rational and moral precepts by the experiences a child took in with his five senses. To this end, Locke suggested children should be dressed in cool, loose clothing, fed simple diets, and kept safe from erroneous or detrimental influences and stimuli since what was initially written on these little blanks slates might well be indelible.

“Locke famously argued against the physical punishment of children for their little transgressions, except in cases where a child evinced a ‘manifest Perverseness of the Will.’ He suggested children would learn better and correct themselves when their behaviour was disciplined by a system of reward and shame, and while physical punishment was doubtless still widespread, most writers for and about children adopted Locke’s position.  For some critics and historians, Locke’s system provides the child with the kind of autonomy and self-discipline needed to become a successful and socially responsible modern individual; others see in Locke’s method of child-rearing an almost insidious internalization of authority designed to produce docile and compliant subjects.” (O’Malley, 2005)


In contrast, the French philosopher, Jean-Jacques Rousseau stressed the natural goodness and innocence of the child who was his own independent entity. His fictional account in Émile (1762) depicted his view of an ideal the “natural” education for the titular character. Though impractical, his natural education emphasized a separation of the innately good child from and corrupt society where the child (with his tutor) could learn experientially from interactions with nature to become a good and productive adult citizen.

Both Locke’s and Rousseau’s philosophies supported “the ideas of personal responsibility and of society not as a fixed hierarchy or ‘great chain of being,’ but as a ‘race fairly run,’ in which the individuals who worked hardest at improving themselves should succeed. Both of these ideas were central to an emerging middle-class ideology in the period. (They) … recognized in education … (the) potential not just for passing on old knowledge but for generating new ideas and technologies needed to reform and improve society.” (O’Malley, 2005)

Practical offshoots

These new views of childhood resulted in practical changes in parenting. The formality between children and parents prevalent in earlier periods was, on the whole, replaced by a more relaxed and affectionate kind of behavior within the family. Solicitude and indulgence towards children became far more common.

As children came to be regarded as individuals with their own unique and relevant likes and dislikes, their opinions, were taken into account, but were not necessarily the final word. Experts like Maria and Richard Edgeworth in “Practical Education” examined the influence of those who cared for children and recommended that the interactions between servants and children be limited. While they recognized that very young children needed the help of servants for some tasks, they insisted that the mother or governess (the governess was not a servant, but professional staff, a critical distinction) should be present during those times to minimize the talk between child and servant and thus minimize the impact the interaction could have on the impressionable young mind. (Selwyn, 2010)
Even the mode of children’s dress was influence by these philosophical changes. Locke, Rousseau and other writers attacked stiff and restrictive swaddling as an assault on human liberty and a means of depriving children of early affectionate contact, like cuddling. By the second half of the eighteenth century the practice was dying out in England (Selwyn, 2010).

Rousseau went even further, believing that young men’s innate goodness could be preserved by raising them in a more natural environment which included plain, comfortable clothes which allowed freedom of movement. Perhaps more significantly, for mothers of boys in particular, the change in philosophy that went along with the changes in garments meant that their young sons did not make the transition from infant boys to men the moment they donned male garments.  Instead of being immediately sent off to apprenticeships or boarding schools, boys could enjoy a slower initiation into the world of men. Fathers would begin spending more time with them, teaching them masculine activities. A tutor might be hired to educate him or he might be sent to study a few days a week with a local vicar, curate, or other resident scholar all while the boy remained close to hearth and home for a little while longer.

An astute reader may have noticed by now nearly all the references to the child in this article are masculine. This is not an oversight. As was typical in the period, it was the male who was counted as particularly relevant, while female education drew relatively little attention. While good for providing companionship for her mother, and becoming a mother (hopefully of boys) in the future, the female child did not receive a great deal of consideration in this era.


Davidoff, Leonore, and Catherine Hall. Family Fortunes: Men and Women of the English Middle Class, 1780-1850. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002.
Fullerton, Susannah. Jane Austen and Crime. Sydney: Jane Austen Society of Australia, 2004.
Horn, Pamela. Flunkeys and Scullions: Life below Stairs in Georgian England. Stroud: Sutton, 2004.
Metz, Stephanie. “Can it be a song of joy? / And so many children poor?”: William Blake and the Child.” Romantic Politics. Accessed Feb. 18, 2018.
Metz, Stephanie. “Romanticism and the Child: Inventing Innocence “Romantic Politics. Accessed Feb. 18, 2018.>
O’Malley,  Andrew .”The Eighteenth-Century Child.” Representing Childhood. 2005. Accessed Feb. 18, 2018.  <
 Rovee, Christopher. “The Romantic Child, c.1780-1830.” Representing Childhood. 2005. Accessed Feb. 18, 2018.  <>
Selwyn, David. Jane Austen and children. London: Continuum, 2010.
Stone, Lawrence. The Family, Sex and Marriage in England, 1500-1800. New York: Harper & Row, 1979.


Though Maria Grace has been writing fiction since she was ten years old, those early efforts happily reside in a file drawer and are unlikely to see the light of day again, for which many are grateful. 

After penning five file-drawer novels in high school, she took a break from writing to pursue college and earn her doctorate. After 16 years of university teaching, she returned to her first love, fiction writing.

Click here to find her books on Amazon. For more on her writing and other Random Bits of Fascination, visit her website. You can also like her on Facebook, or follow on Twitter.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

The Wards of Old London: Farringdon Within - Prisons, Friaries & Book-Stalls

By Mark Patton

In an earlier blog-post, I explored the City of London through the eyes of the 16th Century chronicler, John Stow. Stow lived through a period of tremendous change, but there is little in today's London that would be familiar to him apart from the street-pattern (and street names) and the wards, which still function as administrative units. Although medieval and modern London sit within the old Roman walls, the regular grid-pattern of the Roman streets was lost entirely as the medieval city developed piecemeal from the time of Alfred the Great.

1870 map of London wards.
Image: Doc77can (licensed under CCA).

Farringdon Within is the first intra-mural ward encountered by a visitor arriving from the west. Stow tells us that the whole district of Farringdon (the ward of Farringdon Without is much larger than Farringdon Within) was named after one William Farringdon, a goldsmith, who served as one of the Sheriffs of London in 1281. William and his son, Nicholas, also a goldsmith, between them represented the ward as Aldermen for a period of 82 years.

Farringdon Within encompasses two of the city's Medieval gates, Ludgate in the South, and Newgate in the north, neither of which survives today, but both of which served as prisons throughout the middle ages.

Newgate from the west in the 16th Century, as
imagined by the 19th Century artist, H.W. Brewer.
The gate itself is at bottom right, with the church at
the centre being that of the Franciscan friary.
The road following the right-hand edge is Newgate Street.

Beyond the walls on the western side flow the waters of the River Fleet, one of the larger tributaries of the Thames, now underground, but it was visible (and, perhaps more noticeably, smellable) well into the 19th Century. Alexander Pope describes it in his Dunciad of 1728:

To where Fleet-ditch with disemboguing streams
Rolls the large tribute of dead dogs to Thames,
The king of dykes! Than whom no sluice of mud
With deeper sable blots the silver flood.

The mouth of the River Fleet in 1750
by Samuel Scott.

The Fleet Ditch in 1844.

Archaeologists have uncovered evidence for a Roman tidal mill on an island in the mouth of the Fleet, and also several shipwrecks: a Roman cargo ship; two 16th Century ships that are believed to have collided with one another; and a 17th Century freighter that seems to have been carrying stone for Sir Christopher Wren's rebuilding of Saint Paul's Cathedral.

Two of London's monastic houses were situated within the ward: the Franciscan Greyfriars (shown above), just inside Newgate, and the Dominican Blackfriars, just inside Ludgate. Greyfriars was an important centre of Medieval learning, with a library to rival that of Oxford University, but it lay at the centre of "St Nicholas's Shambles," a butchers' quarter whose streets must have been awash with blood and offal. Our visitor from the west, long before he or she entered the city, would probably have noticed a flock of scavenging black kites (a species almost never seen in Britain today) circling above the meat market, much as they can be seen above market towns in India to this day.

Black kites circling around the market of Kolkata, India.
Photo: J.M. Garg (licensed under GNU).

Almost nothing remains of either monastery today. Following Henry VIII's dissolution of the monasteries, a hospital was established on the site of Greyfriars, and the Apothecaries Company were allowed to establish their hall on the site of the Blackfriars gatehouse.

The Apothecaries Hall,
rebuilt after the Great Fire of 1666.
Photo: R. Sones (licensed under CCA).

Walking up Ludgate Hill from Blackfriars towards Saint Paul's, one has a clear sense of the underlying topography (rather unusually, within the city). To the south of Ludgate are a series of back-streets (Pilgrim Street, Cobbs Court, Carter Lane), in which the spirit of Restoration London can be experienced. Near here stood the Blackfriars Playhouse (destroyed, of course, in the fire), where the plays of Thomas Middleton, Ben Jonson and John Fletcher were first performed, with Charles I and Henrietta Maria sometimes joining the audience. The congregation of the neighbouring church of Saint Ann's Blackfriars was, by this stage, staunchly Puritan and objected strongly to the presence of the theatre, which finally closed in 1642.

Playhouse Yard.
Photo: Basher Eyre (licensed under CCA).

In Stow's time, the ward of Farringdon Within extended as far east as Saint Paul's Cathedral, encompassing the cathedral school and part of the churchyard, where stationers and booksellers set out their stalls, and around which William Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe would have browsed for the newly printed editions of Virgil, Ovid and Plutarch that would inspire their own works.

Old Saint Paul's Cathedral in 1560, as imagined in 1916.

Beyond the cathedral, at the point where Newgate Street becomes Cheapside, stood the Great Cross of Cheap, marking one of the resting spots of the funeral cortege of Queen Eleanor of Castile, as it moved towards Westminster Abbey in November of 1290. This prominent landmark was destroyed by the Puritans in 1643 (as was Charing Cross - London's other Eleanor Cross - the modern version of which is a Victorian recreation).

The demolition of Cheapside Cross,
as imagined in 1873, British Library.

In today's London of high finance and global retail franchises, a city in which church-bells struggle to be heard above the constant rumble of traffic, it can be difficult to imagine the density of people and animals in the London that Charles Dickens, let alone John Stow, took for granted. Many businesses, even highly significant ones, such as the book-stalls which, in the 16th Century, stocked the first English language translations of Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, operated from just a few square feet of ground, rented by the day.

This is an Editors' Choice archive post, originally published on 2 November 2015


Mark Patton has blogged regularly on aspects of history and historical fiction at His novels, Undreamed Shores, An Accidental King and Omphalos, are published by Crooked Cat Publications, and can be purchased from Amazon. He is currently working on a London-based trilogy, "The Cheapside Tales."


Sunday, May 6, 2018

Editors Weekly Round-up, May 6, 2018

by the EHFA Editors

Every week, contributors to English Historical Fiction Authors post on various aspects of British history. Enjoy this week's round-up!

by Lauren Gilbert

by Regina Jeffers
(an Editor's Choice from the Archives)

by Derek Birks

Friday, May 4, 2018

Common Myths of the Wars of the Roses: Richard III: Victim of Tudor Propaganda? Part 2

I have come to loathe the phrase ‘Tudor propaganda’ which is trotted out so regularly – especially online – that it has become a joke. It is used to stop argument and debate rather than to further it.

So, this is how I see it.

Propaganda has to be a deliberate and concerted attempt to mislead by repeatedly using information which you know or suspect to be false. So, is that what Henry Tudor – and his successors – were doing?

There is no question that Henry VII was determined to promote his own image by presenting himself as the king who brought unity to a divided land.

Young Henry VII
[Public domain via wikipedia]
It is often said that history is written by the victors, so it would be very surprising if the supporters of the victorious Henry Tudor started his reign by congratulating the late Richard III on his excellent reputation and achievements. Naturally, the very reverse was the case: King Henry was keen to emphasise the faults of his predecessor because his own claim to the throne was about as solid as the proverbial chocolate teapot. Compared to Richard, Henry was a novice for he had not even managed an estate let alone governed a country!

Thus, by painting a dark image of Richard, Henry could distract from his own major shortcomings: a weak dynastic claim and complete inexperience of government.

Inevitably, this involved blackening Richard’s name but Henry had to be careful what he said because he was pledged to marry Richard’s niece, Elizabeth of York, and thus he could not blacken the name of York entirely.

Sometimes when a country seeks unity after conflict they choose to forgive – though not forget - past acts in order to move forward.  Henry did do that to some extent and by presenting the short reign of Richard III as an aberration, he found a means of unifying the majority of political interests behind him.  Since he had pretty much appeared from nowhere, having held no high office and with no large retinue of supporters, he needed to justify his kingship. 

So, after 1485, there was indeed a concerted attempt to present Richard’s reign as a disastrous interlude which only the timely arrival of young Henry Tudor had resolved. This was where the weight of emphasis was and the early Tudor pageantry and badges – most obviously the Tudor Rose – hammered home the message of unity, made flesh by the symbolic union of Henry and Elizabeth.

Let us not forget though that most of those who inhabited the Tudor Court in Henry VII’s reign would have supported this approach because that was how they viewed the immediate past too. Many – perhaps the majority - of his supporters were men who had loyally served Edward IV, but presumably most had little love for the dead king because they had abandoned him in favour of Henry. As I indicated in the first part of this discussion, ‘the strength of their opinion is shown by their willingness to support an exile about whom they knew nothing and whose claim to the throne could not have been weaker.’

All the same, there was no guarantee that Henry Tudor could keep the throne. Many had supported Henry only because he had formally committed to marrying the Yorkist heiress, Elizabeth. However much Henry disliked this fact, it remained true. Therefore, it made sense for him to focus the heat on Richard as an individual - the usurper - not Richard, of the House of York. 

After his victory in 1485, Henry was merely making as much capital as he could out of a legacy that many folk regarded as genuine. In this approach then, Henry was pushing at an open door.

It is a very long stretch to move from the clear intention on the first Tudor king’s part to promote his own image at the expense of his predecessor, to the suggestion that throughout the entire period of the Tudor monarchy, lasting about 120 years, there was some sort of orchestrated attempt to blacken Richard’s name. Such an idea is quite simply nonsense.  So what were the contemporary writers saying?
Edward Hall's Chronicle
[Public domain]

Those who wrote about the past in the Tudor period such as Polydore Vergil, Thomas More and Edward Hall would have grown up accepting the version of events, as presented in 1485 and 1486, as fact.

Edward Hall’s Chronicle is the best example of a contemporary history because, unlike More, he was at least trying to tell the history of what we know as the Wars of the Roses in his Chronicle: The Union of the Two Noble and Illustrious Houses of Lancaster and York.  

Hall wrote in Henry VIII’s reign though his chronicle was published after his death – and Henry’s! Though Hall had many original sources to refer to and took pride in listing them, he relied heavily on Thomas More’s account of Richard’s reign. More was not especially concerned with the veracity of his work. He accepted the “received history” and used it to present moral arguments. From a twenty-first century perspective this makes More unusual but for writers of the period – all God-fearing men – separating moral judgements from history would be an alien concept. Frequently Hall made judgements on events by use of spectacular adjectives. Thus, men’s actions were “glorious” or “detestable” or “odious” but then Hall did want his work to be interesting to read!

Was Hall writing propaganda?

Not really, no.  His was the earliest attempt at a comprehensive history of the struggle between Lancaster and York. Like an awful lot of historians since his time, Hall assumed that what had been said by folk in authority was probably true.  As far as he was concerned, it was a great story with a happy ending – King Henry VIII - though we might judge Henry rather differently.

Hall was attempting to explain what had happened to cause division in the state and he traced it back to the demise of Richard II in 1399. In doing so, he laid down the traditional view of the origins of the Wars of the Roses. Reading Hall, one is astonished how little that view changed over the next four centuries. Since the second half of the twentieth century, though historians have analysed more rigorously and critically the sources available, yet in some respects Hall’s account remains largely unchallenged.

Although Hall had access to sources long since lost to us, he lacked the one thing we do have: perspective. Surely though, we cannot blame him for that.

It does make his work biased and flawed, but it does not make it propaganda. He saw Richard III through a Tudor lens, but that does not mean it was a Tudor plot – nor, crucially, does it mean that what he wrote is actually incorrect.

Hall was not attempting to deliberately twist the truth.  Although the Privy Council did make some changes to Hall’s Chronicle before publication in 1548 and again when it was republished in Elizabeth’s reign, that was normal enough and there is no suggestion that the Tudor state significantly adulterated his account.

Hall’s Chronicle is evidence enough that the line taken by Henry VII in 1485 had been successful if, fifty or more years later, it was accepted as fact. So Hall was certainly furthering the Tudor image, but that does not mean that everything he wrote about Richard III was wrong.

If the ‘Tudor propaganda’ tag is applied to one man more than any other, it is William Shakespeare. His tragedy, Richard III, is regarded as the ultimate Tudor propaganda.

William Shakespeare
[Public domain via wikipedia]
Indeed, if you Google Richard III, you’ll find a lot about the play before you discover anything much about the king! It’s certain that the play has coloured opinion over the centuries but that does not make it propaganda.

Shakespeare drew inspiration for his plays from two chronicles in particular: Hall’s and the more contemporary, Raphael Holinshed – who also drew heavily from More and Hall.

Hall would have provided him with the entire historical backdrop not just for Richard III but for all his other history plays from Richard II onwards.

Shakespeare was thus making use of the best possible source of historical information available to him at the time.

It is ludicrous to suggest that Shakespeare set out to destroy Richard III’s name – but I have seen it written many times online. The playwright was creating an interesting character – as is shown by our fascination with him ever since.

Some will say that he was ‘under pressure’ from Queen Elizabeth to blacken Richard’s reputation. No, he was not. He was under pressure not to write plays that annoyed the queen, or other prominent courtiers, because he relied on their patronage to make a living. The queen, however, was far more interested in what he wrote in Richard II than Richard III because in the former he concentrated on the theme of kingship and sovereignty. He raised the spectre of an anointed monarch being overthrown, eloquently presenting the victim’s views as well as the usurping Henry IV. For Elizabeth, who several times faced the threat of being removed, that was a far more important issue.

So, in conclusion, the writers of Tudor England reflected not simply the line taken by the victor in 1485, but the accepted ‘world view’ of Richard III. 

Are there aspects of that which we would now question? Yes, of course there are – and rightly so, but please let us banish the old red herring of ‘Tudor propaganda’.

Derek Birks was born in Hampshire in England but spent his teenage years in Auckland, New Zealand, where he still has strong family ties.

For many years he taught history in a secondary school but took early retirement to concentrate on writing. Apart from his writing, he spends his time gardening, travelling, walking and taking part in archaeological digs at a Roman villa. Derek is interested in a wide range of historical themes but his particular favourite is the late medieval period. He writes action-packed fiction Now the violent events of 1483 are played out in the sequel, The Blood of Princes.

Connect with Derek through his Website, Twitter (@Feud_writer), and his author sites through Amazon UK and Amazon US.