Above painting: Louis Jean Francois - Mars and Venus an Allegory of Peace
***All photos accompanying posts are either owned by the author of said post or are in the public domain -- NOT the property of History Undressed. If you'd like to obtain permission to use a picture from a post, please contact the author of the post.***

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Hardtack – Vital Vittles of the Sea

Pirates spent long weeks, months, and even years at sea. Not only was the ship outfitted with plenty of rope and canvas, arms and gunpowder, carpentry tools and wood, navigational equipment, and cooking utensils, but the essential stores of food and drink. The business of feeding the ship’s crew was a serious one. Oftentimes, the length of the voyage was governed by how much food and drink could be carried on board. There would be no crossing an ocean if there was only enough room for two weeks of provisions. All food and drink were carefully rationed. Anyone caught with more than their fair share faced punishment. Yup, serious business.

When a ship set sail, it was usually well-stocked with live hens for eggs and sometimes goats for milk. There was also items such as salted pork, beef, and fish, rounds of cheese, dried potatoes, corn, vinegary cabbage, spices, ale and more. Aye, pirates ate like kings. Better than their sailor counterparts in the navies. But the fresh or perishable food did not last long. Even water went bad. The humid, dank conditions hastened spoiling and bred insects. Feasts could turn into famine. Malnutrition, disease, and starvation were very real concerns for seafarers. Ports of call weren’t always close and ships to plunder not always on the horizon. But when a ship was spotted, they were often just as prized for their food supply as a Spanish galleon sailing low from treasure. Have you ever met a hangry pirate? *shivers*

One staple found on a pirate ship was sea biscuits. Sea biscuits, more commonly known as hardtack (but also called pilot bread, ship biscuit, sheet iron, molar breakers, among other endearments), are hard, dry, heavy, crackers that were inexpensive to make, filled the stomach, and provided some measure of sustenance. To make them more edible, they were dipped in ale, coffee, soups, water, or fried in animal fat when possible. These bricks, when kept dry, can last years. YEARS! This was why they were a must-have for sea voyages, during military warfare, and lengthy land migrations. Never mind those weevils. Given the storage, they eventually found their way into the hard tack. Pirates just knocked the biscuit on a solid surface and waited for the bugs to crawl out before eating. Ewww. But it was either that or starve.

Knowing that the biscuit was such a big part of a pirate’s diet, I just had to try some for myself. There are many slightly varying recipes but they all have the same basics—flour, salt, and water. Below is the recipe I used. With pictures! Huzzah! 

Hard Tack


Rolling pin
Cookie sheet
Something to make holes with – skewer, nail, dowel


2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
¾ cup water


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Mix flour and salt together.
Add water and knead into dough. Add more water or flour as needed to get the right consistency.


Use a rolling pin to flatten and shape in a ½ thick square.
Cut into 9 smaller squares.

Use any implement to poke holes into squares to allow even baking.
Bake for 30 minutes. Be careful not to burn them.

As I’m making these things, I’m reminded of the doughy Christmas ornaments we used to make as kids. Now I’m certain these things will taste gross. But you know what? It wasn’t bad at all. The hardtack tasted like, well, unleavened bread dough. It would taste even better dipped in soup or drizzled with honey.

So why would you want to make hardtack today? To impress your pirate friends, of course. Never hurts to be prepared for an apocalypse, either.


About the Author                                                

Jennifer is the award-winning author of the Romancing the Pirate series. Visit her at www.jbrayweber.com or join her mailing list for sneak peeks, excerpts, and giveaways.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

It All Started With a Cartoon by Virginia Heath

It All Started With a Cartoon
Guest post by Virginia Heath

I adore weaving real history through my stories, and this book is crammed full of genuine medical practices from the time. Researching it was eye opening. A Warriner to Tempt Her takes place during a deadly smallpox epidemic. Smallpox had been an indiscriminate killer throughout history, often killing hundreds as it worked its way around the towns and villages of England. By the Regency, physicians did know that it was highly contagious and quarantined victims to avoid passing it on.

The big breakthrough came thanks to a country doctor called Edward Jenner in the late 1800s. He decided to test the validity of an old wives’ tale which claimed all those who worked with cows were immune to smallpox. Over the course of many years, he discovered that those new to working with cattle- such as milk maids- often caught a relatively harmless disease from them. Cowpox caused a mild fever and an irritating skin rash in humans which quickly cleared up of its own accord. Jenner began to suspect cowpox was the key to the immunity from smallpox. However, to test his theory he would need to infect a human with cowpox who had never come into any contact with cows before.

In 1796 he paid the parents of James Phipps to use the child as a guineapig, and then injected the pus from a cowpox pustule into the boy. A few weeks later, he exposed the boy to smallpox and when nothing happened declared it a resounding success. He called his new treatment vaccination as the word vacca is Latin for cow and was convinced it was the only thing capable of defeating the ‘speckled monster’. However, the Royal Society did not welcome his research with open arms. They declared it too revolutionary and asked for more proof. It took until 1798, and several more experiment with cowpox including one on his own baby son, before they published his findings.
Although conclusive, the people were less enthusiastic to this new miracle. There was an enormous backlash against Jenner’s vaccination accompanied by extensive propaganda. Aside from the fact the new prevention was more expensive than the old-fashioned inoculation, the widespread resistance came because of two things. Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, vaccination was seen as ungodly. The very religious masses listened to the anti-vaccination sermons preached from pulpits the length and breadth of the British Isles. After all, in Corinthians is stated quite clearly “All flesh is not the same flesh: but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of beasts”. Mixing the two things was grossly unacceptable according to the scriptures.

Secondly, although Jenner was able to prove vaccination did work with none of the risks caused by inoculation, he had no earthly idea why. Even the educated struggled to justify agreeing to vaccination without knowing the science behind it.

This anti-vaccination cartoon from the period is my inspiration for A Warriner to Tempt Her. If you look closely, you can see Jenner holding down the reluctant patients and injecting them with stuff clearly scraped off the stable floor. Women are giving birth to cows. Men are sprouting horns and udders, and a biblical image of the followers of Moses making a fake idol to worship in the shape of a golden cow hangs front and centre on the wall. I adore this picture. I decided to use all those blinkered beliefs in my story and poor Dr Joseph Warriner and the intrepid heroine Bella have a battle on their hands trying to convince the locals to be vaccinated.

While history proved Jenner correct, vaccination remained unpopular with the masses and continued to be during Edwards lifetime and beyond. He died in 1823 with his vaccination still as controversial as it had been in 1796. It was only once the brilliant French scientist Louis Pasteur began to do more experiments on vaccination in the late 19th century, and was finally able to explain why it worked, that public objection lessened. Smallpox vaccination became widespread and the catastrophic epidemics died out. The last known case of smallpox was in Somalia in 1977 and in 1980 the World Health Organization declared the diseased eradicated. And all thanks an old wives’ tale and a tenacious country doctor from Gloucestershire.

(Gilray cartoon is out of copywrite and in the public domain. This copy came from The British Museum)

When Virginia Heath was a little girl it took her ages to fall asleep, so she made up stories in her head to help pass the time while she was staring at the ceiling. As she got older, the stories became more complicated, sometimes taking weeks to get to the happy ending. Then one day, she decided to embrace the insomnia and start writing them down. Fortunately, the lovely people at Harlequin Mills & Boon took pity on her and decided to publish her romances, but it still takes her forever to fall asleep.

A shy innocent She's wary of all men.

In this The Wild Warriners story, shy Lady Isabella Beaumont is perfectly happy to stay in the background and let her sister get all the attention from handsome suitors following a shocking incident. However working with Dr Joseph Warriner to help the sick and needy pushes her closer to a man than she’s ever been before. Is this a man worth trusting with her deepest of desires…?


Tuesday, January 9, 2018

One might think time would be irrelevant for pirates and sailors. Let’s face it, there is nothing but water as far as the eye can see. Sailing ships are dependent on winds and currents. The sun comes up on the sea’s horizon and it goes down on the sea’s horizon. A three-hour tour might take three months instead. Sure, time is relative. (I’m not talking about physics because my eyes would most certainly glaze over and I’ll be hitting the rum bottle hard in a matter of minutes.) Time is relative for pirates in that they live by measures of time. Think work shifts, high and low tides, or how fast they can load and reload shipboard guns. Heck, even whether they could chase a quarry or escape a man of war was calibrated in their ways. How fast they could be might have been the difference between life and death. Yup, time was marked and adhered to.

Here are some key terms of time and how they were used by pirates and seamen alike.

Tide. When referencing time, a tide is calculated from high tide to high tide and roughly twelve and a half hours.  Salty Sam had been in his cups at the tavern for a tide before he staggered back to the docks.

Tide’s time. This is like a tide only it’s multiplied by a specified number of tides. It would take the Rissa six tide’s time to reach Port Royal. Meaning it would take the ship a little more than three days to reach its destination.

Fortnight. Two weeks or fourteen days. It had been a fortnight before a passing ship rescued Billy off that deserted spit of land.

Glass. This one sometimes confuses landlubbers. A glass is one hour or increments of sixty minutes, not how fast you can guzzle a beverage. If our guest does not present herself to me in five minutes’ glass, I’ll have her thrown overboard.

Half-glass. You guessed it, half an hour. Jack spent a half-glass in the company of that sharp-tongued wench.

Shipboard days are divided into shifts, or watches. There are seven watches in a twenty-four hour period.

  • middle watch — midnight to 4 a.m.
  • morning watch — 4 a.m. to 8 a.m.
  • forenoon watch — 8 a.m. to noon
  • afternoon watch — noon to 4 p.m.
  • first dog watch — 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.
  • second dog watch — 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
  • first watch — 8 p.m. to midnight

Notice the dog watches are shorter than the other watches. This allows for all crewmen to have the time for traditional evening meal.

All watches are marked by the ring of the ship’s bell every half hour. At the start of the watch, the bell rings once. Another bell would be added each half hour. By the time a watch is over (and when both dog watches are combined) the ship’s bell would ring eight times. As an example, depending on the watch and time of day, four bells could mean 2 a.m., 6 a.m., 10 a.m., 2 p.m., 6 p.m., and 10 p.m.

When writing about pirates, I make a conscious effort to weave authenticity of shipboard life into my stories. It’s both fun and educating! Below is an excerpt and example from The Siren’s Song.

The ship’s bell struck and Gilly counted the rings. It was time to pay her debt to the captain. Two bells. Her chest tightened. Mixed emotions churned in her stomach. Four bells. She wanted to kiss him, didn’t she? Of course she did. Six bells. Was she supposed to go to him? Where would he be waiting? In his cabin? She glanced at Willie and Henri. They didn’t seem to know of her quandary. She couldn’t ask them for an opinion. How mortifying to think of it. Seven bells. Would she be good at it, good enough for him? How would she compare to others he had kissed? Eight bells. Lord help her, she surely was going to faint.
She’d been tallying the bells as they struck every half hour all throughout the watch.
Before the final peal of the bell faded into the winds, Captain Drake appeared at the top of the ladder. Time slowed as he glided toward her. She slid off her perch and met him halfway.
“Eight bells, milady.”
“I’m ready,” she said. Closing her eyes, she puckered, waiting for his lips to descend upon her. Waiting to inhale his delicious musk. Waiting for his hands to roam across her back and his fingers to thread through her hair. Waiting. Why hadn’t he kissed her yet?
“What’s the lass doin’?” Henri asked. “Is she alright?”
“Maybe the heat’s done gotten to her,” Willie answered.
She popped open one eye. Gone was the captain’s mask of steely austerity. His amusement beamed brighter than the unforgiving sun. The heat couldn’t compare to her swill of embarrassment. Sweat beaded on her brow and she wished with all her heart she could disappear. Why didn’t he kiss her? How idiotic she must look. She huffed, angry now. Mustering up a scrap of dignity, she confronted the cur.
“What’s wrong? Why won’t you kiss me?” She propped her hands on her hips. “Have you gone back on our accord?”
His smug laugh indicated he had not. “I never renege on a deal, Miss McCoy.”
“I don’t understand.”
“You have misinterpreted the terms. Our agreement stated that you kiss me. Not the other way around.”
“Oh.” Won’t death spare me this humiliation?
She was helpless. She had never kissed a man, only been kissed. This changed everything. It simply was not proper. Come now, Gilly. You haven’t been proper since the day Hyde laid eyes upon you. And besides, you want to kiss him.
“All right, Captain Drake. I shall play by your rules.”
She rose to her tiptoes and, quick as a rabbit dashing into a briar patch, she pecked him on his mouth.
“There,” she said. “It’s done. I kissed you.” She grinned a self-satisfied smile. “Come back at the next eight bells. I shall be ready.”
“Uh-uh. Not quite, lass. That’s not at all how I want you to kiss me.”
“A kiss is a kiss.”
“Nay, lass. That is how you kiss a codfish.”
She gasped and her hand flew to her bosom at the insult. “And just how am I supposed to kiss you, Captain? There were no stipulations on the manner of kiss.”
“Kiss me as you did last night.”
She poked him in his chest. “You kissed me.”
“At first, yes. But then you lost your chaste modesty and your voracious appetite took over.”
If she could get her hands on his cutlass, she would end her suffering. Gilly glanced over her shoulder. Both Henri and Willie quickly, but not quickly enough, became occupied, pretending miserably not to have been listening in on their exchange. Henri fiddled with his vest pocket and Willie tapped at the compass he kept fixed to his wheel.
“You need not let shamefulness get the better of you, Miss McCoy. You’ve nothing to be embarrassed about,” Captain Drake said.
She frowned. He did not make things any easier by calling her on her discomfiture.
“Well? I’m waiting.”
What a wicked, wicked man. The only way to wipe that smirk from his face was to give him the best kiss he ever had in his wretched life.
Gilly grabbed the back of his neck with both hands and smothered his lips. Long and hard, she pressed against him. He tensed under her grip. His arms reached out, as if to hold her. But he didn’t. Nevertheless, she felt his smile. And that pleased her.
She broke free of him. Excitement coursed through her veins. Liberation was hers. She could do that again. Eight more times, in fact.
“’Twas a very nice start,” he said. “Now don’t look so troubled. I am happy with your kiss. It is my hope that you will work yourself up to last night’s performance.”

Want more?

About the Author                                                
Jennifer is the award-winning author of the Romancing the Pirate series. Visit her at www.jbrayweber.com or join her mailing list for sneak peeks, excerpts, and giveaways.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

White Lace & Wedding Cake ~ Victorian Influences on Wedding Traditions by Tara Kingston

Wedding watchers are eager for the nuptials of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle this spring. Many of the traditions the bride and groom may opt to incorporate into their wedding were influenced by Prince Harry’s ancestor, Queen Victoria. When Queen Victoria married Prince Albert in 1840, her wedding was an opulent affair that continues to influence weddings today.

~ Wedding Gowns

While many modern brides are opting to wear a color other than white, pristine white wedding gowns such as the long-sleeved dress worn by Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge, when she married Prince William, remain a popular choice for twenty-first century brides. White wedding dresses became fashionable after Queen Victoria opted to wear white for her wedding to Prince Albert. In the years before Queen Victoria chose white for her gown, silver was considered the traditional color for royal brides.

~ Lace

In her own words as recorded in her diary, Queen Victoria described her wedding dress as “…a white satin dress, with a deep flounce of Honiton lace, an imitation of an old design.” Creating the lace used in her gown employed more than two hundred people for eight months, bolstering the struggling lace trade.

~ Here Comes the Bride

Countless brides have walked down the aisle to the traditional “Bridal Chorus” from Wagner’s opera, Lohengrin. This wedding march was played at the wedding of Queen Victoria’s granddaughter, Princess Louise in 1889, and remains a popular choice today.

~ Wedding Cake

Elaborately decorated cakes enjoyed at weddings are a cherished tradition that dates back to the Victorian era. Queen Victoria’s wedding cake weighed three hundred pounds, while her daughter, Princess Victoria, had a wedding cake that was seven feet high. Princess Louise, Queen Victoria’s granddaughter, had a wedding cake that was so elaborately decorated it took months to create!

To learn more about Victorian influences on wedding traditions, check out these sources:

Hughes, Kristine. The Writer's Guide to Everyday Life in Regency and Victorian England. Cincinnati, Ohio: Writer's Digest Books, 1998.

All photographs are in the public domain.

A note from Tara:

As always, I enjoy researching the fascinating era of Queen Victoria's reign and writing love stores set during that time. My latest release, Lady Evelyn’s Highland Protector, is set during the late-Victorian era in the 1890s. A historical romance with an air of suspense, the story features an English bridesmaid who has traveled to the Highlands to attend her dearest friend’s wedding, only to be swept into danger when she witnesses an attempt at murder. Here’s a little about the story:
Can her Highland bodyguard heal her wounded heart?
A Highlander’s vow...Scottish spy Gerard MacMasters never expected to be playing bodyguard in his mission to catch a killer. Stunning English beauty, Lady Evelyn Hunt, has witnessed a merciless assassin’s escape—now, she’s in danger, and it’s up to him to keep her alive. Yet, he is drawn to the tempting woman. Passion flares, but he knows better than to fall for her. He’s already lost one woman he loved—never again will he put his heart on the line.

She shields her heart...After a crushing betrayal at the altar, Lady Evelyn wants nothing to do with love. Kissing a gorgeous rogue is one thing, but surrendering her heart is another matter. When she stumbles upon a mysterious crime, nothing prepares her for the dashing Scot who charges into her life. The hot-blooded Highlander may be her hero—or her undoing.

To read an excerpt from Lady Evelyn’s Highland Protector:


About the Author:

Award-winning author Tara Kingston writes historical romance laced with romantic suspense and adventures of the heart. She lives her own happily-ever-after in a cozy Victorian with her real-life hero and a pair of deceptively innocent-looking cats. When she’s not writing, reading, or burning dinner, Tara enjoys movie nights, cycling, hiking, DIY projects, and cheering on her favorite football team.

You can connect with Tara on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and at her webpage, www.tarakingston.com. If you’d like updates on new releases, historical romance, and contests, please sign-up for Tara’s newsletter.