Above painting: Louis Jean Francois - Mars and Venus an Allegory of Peace
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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Guest Author, Nancy Lee Badger on Scots Herbs as Love Potions

Welcome back to History Undressed, guest author, Nancy Lee Badger!  Nancy has fascinated us in the past with her popular posts on Scots brew, dragons, mythology and today she is going to tantalize us once again with her article... so read on, dear history lovers, read on!

Scots Herbs as Love Potions
By Nancy Lee Badger


Every country has a history of aphrodisiacs and love potions. The Scots are no different. The folklore that surrounded the magical properties of herbs sent people to healers. Whether held in high regard or in shadows, even witches were persons to visit when special needs arose. Many of the herbs they used in healing or in love potions, are still in use. While researching medicinal herbs for use in my Scottish romances (the ones not yet published) I came across some interesting information. Love potions were widely believed to work, and Scots used what they could find in order to make their dreams come true. Most of the herbs’ strange uses are wrapped in hand-me-down folklore.



Scots Lovage is a plant easily found on the coast of Scotland. Also known as sea parsley, the Scots pick it for a variety of uses. Eaten raw or boiled, many believe that the plant holds the base qualities of an aphrodisiac. For some, the strong taste might cause them to try other resources. No one said love was easy.



Others believe in gathering and bringing home a piece of the Yarrow plant. Yarrow, known for its ability to stanch blood-flow in a wound, is said to be collected by a young woman while she chants a spell, then placed under her pillow. Its magical uses include divination, courage, and the dispelling of negativity. Also known for its use against swelling and infection, some drink it in tea for its ability to enhance the power of perception. Others think it is helpful against arthritis symptoms. Yarrow is also a powerful incense additive for love spells. Some Scottish ladies of old would carry it with them to draw love and attract friends. Since it was also handy to have on hand after a battle (back to that blood-stanching ability), the lowly yarrow had a rather large following.



Pearl Wort, also known as meal plant, probably because it was fed to dairy cows, is said to be used in a potent love charm. Folklore says that if a Scottish lass wets her lips with a tincture of pearl wort, then kisses the man of her dreams, the gent will be hers forever. The Gaelic name is lus beannaichte, which means blessed plant. Maybe it worked! There are, after all, over 5 million Scots living in Scotland.



The early purple Orchid, whose Gaelic name, urach, means earthy, grows roots that form two storage tubers. In some places, the dried tubers resemble testicles and are carried as love charms. The powdered root placed under the pillow is also said to make a person dream of the person they are destined to love. I am sneezing already.



Even the dangerous Foxglove, also known scientifically as Digitalis purpurea, is part of a love charm. The charm involves several other items including the burning of “an old man’s bones” so I cannot see this having much appeal. Not nowadays, anyway. Foxglove was mainly used to treat dropsy and heart ailments. Too much can cause death. I would stick clear of this herb!



Mint, which includes both spearmint and peppermint, and grows in Scotland as M. spicata L. is also said to have magical attributes such as strength, luck, and money. (I’m for that!) Its medicinal properties are still in use today. Mint tea helps upset stomachs, flu, and even hiccups. Mint tea, used instead of aspirin, is great for headaches and has been used through the ages to aid the respiratory and circulatory systems. It can have a powerful stimulant effect on the body and can positively influence the mind and emotions. Emotions such as love? Hmm…



Meadowsweet is thought to offer protection against evil influences, and also to promote love, balance and harmony. It was a sacred herb of the Druids, who knew all there was to know about trees, flowers, and herbs. A worshiper would place meadowsweet on the altar when making love charms and conducting love spells, to increase their potency. While researching herb use for a book, I found that meadowsweet is also used in making Scottish Ale. My characters in DRAGON’S CURSE, my Scottish paranormal from Whispers Publishing, drink home brewed ale. Delicious!



Lavendar Flower (a more widespread spelling is lavender) is also used in love spells. As anyone who reads historical novels knows, this scent, wafting over the heroine after her bath, draws the hero in. Since some believe this herb can also be used for chastity, things can get a little confusing.



And now I come to catnip…STOP LAUGHING. Catnip is said to be ruled by the planet Venus and has been used in love, beauty, and happiness spells for centuries. I keep several containers around for my cat, Blaze. He’s happy, so I’m happy. I do not believe my husband could turn any more loving if I sprinkled it on his head, so we will leave this so-called love potion ingredient to others.



This is just a small sample of the hundreds of herbs in our world, and a few that survive growing in the harsh climate of Scotland. If you are interested in reading more about the mysterious properties of Scottish herbs, I have included several links below. I would also suggest checking out a book by Tess Darwin, called The Scots Herbal, the Plant Lore of Scotland.



Links:

http://gwion.tripod.com/index4.html

http://wicca.com/celtic/herbal/magickala.htm

http://www.moonsmuses.com/beltane.html

http://www.ageless.co.za/index.htm


BOOK BLURB


Sometimes a special gift and an unwanted curse cannot keep destined lovers apart.

Brianna Macleod has accompanied a shipload of her guardian’s friends to a remote island off the coast of Scotland. She eludes these Highland hunters to keep her innocence…and her gift of sight. Her attitude against falling for womanly desires changes when she nearly drowns. Saved by the talons of a terrifying winged beast, she awakens—naked—in a cave, beside an unusual man.

Cursed by a vengeful witch to transform into a dragon at inopportune times, Draco MacDonald hides on this deserted island to live alone: until he plucks a servant girl from certain death. Fueled by jealousy, and tempered by fear for her safety, he succumbs to an unfamiliar desire to mate. Her kisses propel him to dare to make her his own.

Set in 1592 Scotland on the Scottish island of Staffa, the cursed hero battles a ghostly witch, a hunter set on rape, and his own growing desire for a young woman with premonitions of his death.

Her kisses propel him to dare to make her his own.

EXCERPT

The water foamed and splashed as if more than one creature fought beneath the surface. Brianna stared through the sea spray, wiping her face with a tattered bit of fabric. She stared toward whatever swam beneath the surface. The sun glinted on something very odd. Emerald-green scales and a long, barbed tail curled just under the surface before the water clouded with a crimson hue.

“Is that blood?” Nia whispered.

“Aye. I think something has come to our aid.”

“I hope the beasties are no’ fighting over who gets to eat us.”

Brianna laughed aloud. The sound startled both her and her friend. “Nay, I am no’ crazed. Fear does strange things to a person. I, too, hope we survive this adventure.”

“Adventure?” Nia shook her head, pointing to a large piece of floating debris, and said, “Look.”

“Tis probably a piece of decking. Mayhap we can raise our feet above the water and look less appetizing to the beasties.”

“Good idea. Swim for it,” Nia cried.

Brianna led the way. Numb fingers clutched the jagged plank. Pain seared up her arms as the wood scraped away skin and dripped blood into the water.

“Ye first,” Brianna insisted when she saw a shivering Nia’s pale skin. Brianna rejoiced when her companion reached the safety of the large planks.

“Now you,” Nia said.

“Move over a bit so I can—“

With a flurry of foam, she lost her grip.

Water closed over Brianna’s head. She brushed against something scaly before it pulled her beneath the waves. Talons clasped her around her waist.

*****

Nancy Lee Badger lives with her husband in Raleigh, NC. She loves everything Scottish and still volunteers annually, with her family, at the New Hampshire Highland Games, http://www.nhscot.org/. She is a member of Romance Writers of America, Heart of Carolina Romance Writers, Fantasy-Futuristic & Paranormal Romance Writers, and Celtic Heart Romance Writers. DRAGON’S CURSE is available from Whispers Publishing.

Buy Link: http://whispershome.com/erotic/romance/dragons-curse/

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Dragons-Curse-ebook/dp/B004IAT964/ref=sr_1_6?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1298607444&sr=1-6

Visit her website: http://www.nancyleebadger.com/

Nancy’s blog: http://www.rescuingromance.nancyleebadger.com/




Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Historical Romance Review: Highland Heat, by Mary Wine

This month saw the release of Mary Wine's third historical romance novel, in her Highlander series, Highland Heat. I previously had the pleasure of reading To Conquer a Highlander and Highland Hellcat the first two books in the series. Ms. Wine has penned, yet again, another fascinating tale, one in which she's included some famous historical characters (namely, Joan Beaufort), which I found made the book even more interesting to me. She infuses historical detail and fact in with her story--all while keeping the plot character and romance driven. I am completely drawn into Ms. Wine's writing, because her heroines are strong, feisty, and Deidre is more experienced than most, which makes her character come alive, her issues a whole new ball game. Quinton Cameron, is a sexy alpha male. He is in it for the challenge--which Deidre is more than willing to give. I like a hero who doesn't give in easily, who seeks something beyond the ordinary.

I truly found this tale to be an exciting adventure--in love (and making love--sizzling hot scenes!), self-discovery and political intrigue.

I recommend reading Ms. Wine's work, and I look forward eagerly to reading her future releases.

Back Cover...

Ruined, betrayed, and banished…



As brave as she is impulsive, Deidre Chattan’s tendency to follow her heart and not her head has finally tarnished her reputation beyond repair. But when powerful Highland Laird Quinton Cameron finds her, he could care less about her past—it’s her future he’s about to change forever…

But it’s never too late for redemption…

From the moment Quinton sets eyes on Deidre Chattan, rational thought vanishes, for in her eyes he sees a fiery spirit that matches his own and he’ll be damned if he’ll let such a wild Scottish rose wither under the weight of a nun’s habit…

With nothing left to lose, Deidre and Quinton band together to protect king and crown. But what they can accomplish alone is nothing compared to what they can build with their passion for each other.

Available now in mass-market paperback and ebook
ISBN: 9781402237393
$6.99

Visit Mary Wine at http://www.marywine.com/

Friday, March 25, 2011

Guest Author, Elizabeth Kerri Mahon on the Scandolous Lola Montez in California

Today I am excited to welcome guest author Elizabeth Kerri Mahon to History Undressed!  Many of you know and are fans of Elizabeth's blog, Scandalous Women. She is a brilliant researcher and writer, never ceasing to fascinate! (and now there's a book!!!) Today she is going to scandalize us with the story of Lola Montez in California... Take it away, Elizabeth...

*****

What on earth made one of the world's most glamorous women, used to the bright lights of London, Paris and New York, bury herself in the middle of nowhere? That was the question that was on everyone's lips when Lola Montez temporarily retired from the stage and settled down in a single-storey white cottage in Grass Valley, CA. By 1853, Lola Montez was one of the most famous women in the world, better known for her love affairs with Franz Liszt and King Ludwig of Bavaria than her dancing. She had even managed to conquer the fickle audiences of Broadway with her acting. But even a living legend needs to kick back her heels and just rest for awhile. It wasn't just R&R she was seeking, she was also nursing a broken heart. She had impulsively married San Francisco newspaperman by the name of Patrick Tull six weeks after her arrival in the city. Irish born like Lola, he was good-looking but rough around the edges and he'd won her heart with his gift of the blarney. It was her third marriage, although bigamous since her first husband was still alive. Two months later, Lola had kicked him out, tired of him sponging off her.


Lola's new home was certainly no metropolis, but it was the 6th largest town in California, with a population of 3,000, most of them men who worked the nearby quartz mine. The town had a theater of sorts, on the 2nd floor of the Alta Saloon, a school, church, hotels, a sewing circle and even a Grass Valley Literary Society. The residents were excited by the prospect of having a celebrity in their midst, a real life Countess, even if she had earned her title in a scandalous manner. Even before she had placed a dainty foot in town, a hill had been named after her. For once Lola was at peace, living a Martha Stewart like existence, planting a cactus garden, decorating her house from top to bottom, making friends instead of enemies. Lola loved animals and kept a pet bear named Major who she took for walks until he bit the dainty hand that fed him. She also kept a menagerie of dogs, cats, birds, a turkey, a pig, a pony as wells as goats and sheep

Everything she did made news in the small town. There was the incident where she took a horsewhip to Henry Shipley, the hard drinking editor of The Grass Valley Telegraph while he was having his morning libation at the Golden Gate Saloon, all because she had taken offense to something he written in an editorial savaging the literary efforts of Queen Christina of Spain. "There is such a Lola Montez-like insolence and barefaced hypocrisy in her lines that the ex-King Ludwig of Bavaria might be delightfully mystified by them." Them was fighting words to Lola. Shipley soon left town to work for another paper.

Of course Lola, being Lola, she wasn't alone for long. She entertained numerous male friends including passing players at her Wednesday night salon, offering brandy and cigars. Guests were expected to sing for their supper, singing songs, performing monologues, playing games. Occasionally Lola would even dance. Nobody knows precisely how many lovers she took to her bed in Grass Valley but there were at least two whose names have come down to us. But Lola also had an altruistic side that is rarely written about. In her fifteen months in Grass Valley, she threw a Christmas party for the local children. They called her Madame Lola, and there are many stories of helping injured miners and riding over the hills to be with sick children whose parents couldn't afford a babysitter.

It was a financial crisis that made Lola give up her idyll in the Valley. She needed to make money and a tour of Australia seemed just the ticket to fill her empty coffers. A woman like Lola could stay away only so long from the bright lights of the stage. Australia would bring her new adventures and a new love in actor Ned Follin. She was well-liked by the townspeople for her many acts of kindness and generosity. Montez was remembered fondly long after she left which was not always the case with tempestuous Lola.

*****

Elizabeth Kerri Mahon is a professional actress and amateur history geek. Her blog Scandalous Women (scandalouswoman.blogspot.com) was named one of the 50 Top History Blogs by Zen College Life. And the book SCANDALOUS WOMAN was the non-fic pick of the month in April's RT Book Review. A native New Yorker, she still calls Manhattan home.


Thursday, March 24, 2011

Guest Author, Lucinda Brant on The Apothecary’s Apprentice in 18th Century England

Welcome back to History Undressed, Lucinda!  Today we have a very interesting post, on the apothecary's apprentice... Plus a little bit of history behind her historical mystery novel, Deadly Engagement, which I found to be a riveting tale! Once again Ms. Brant has captivated her audience with a story you won't be able to put down. I've said it before, and I'll say it again, Lucinda Brant is an author for every historical reader to watch out for!

The Apothecary’s Apprentice in 18th Century England
by Lucinda Brant


A nanosecond of background

In England, as early as the 12th century apothecaries (pharmacist physicians) belonged to the Worshipful Company of Grocers. This guild included the Pepperers and the Spicers and apothecary shops sold everything from confectionery, perfumes, spices, spiced wines, to herbs and drugs that were compounded and dispensed on the premises to the public. By the mid-sixteenth century apothecaries were equivalent to today's compounding chemists, preparing and selling substances for medicinal purposes.


Yet, lack of regulation of this early pharmaceutical industry and the ease in which fraudulent apothecary-physicians known as “quacks” could advertise and dispense “remedies” meant that apothecaries were never given the respect they so desired as learned medical men.


Sir Samuel Garth's satirical look at the apothecary’s shop in The Dispensary reflects this entrenched negative attitude toward apothecaries at the beginning of the 18th Century:


Here, Mummies lay most reverently stale,
And there, the Tortoise hung her Coat o' Mail;
Not far from some huge Shark's devouring Head
The flying Fish their finny Pinions spread.
Aloft in Rows large Poppy Heads were strung,
And here, a scaly Alligator hung.
In this place, Drugs in musty Heaps decay'd,
In that, dry'd Bladders, and drawn Teeth were laid.


Having some sort of hideous animal carcass hanging in your shop was de’rigueur yet hardly would have instilled confidence in a patient! This “image” of the apothecary as “quack doctor” lived on well into the early 1800s as is evident in Thomas Rowlandson’s illustration aptly entitled Death and the Apothecary or The Quack Doctor (note flying fish!).

And now we come to my favorite century – the 18th century!

The House of Lords ruling of 1704

In 1704 the House of Lords ruled that apothecaries could both prescribe and dispense medicines. This was a landmark ruling because it gave legitimacy to the apothecary as physician and thus an apothecary could say he belonged to a profession as member of the Worshipful Company of Apothecaries, rather than still be considered a tradesman. It thus ratified the status of the apothecary as a member of the medical profession, something the barber-surgeons had vehemently opposed for hundreds of years, and thus apothecaries finally had the self-satisfaction of legitimacy, if not in the eyes of their fellow medical men – the surgeons – then in their own eyes. The ruling also allowed the apothecary of the 1700s to evolve into the general medical practitioner of today.

The 18th Century – changing perceptions of the Apothecary


The landmark ruling of 1704 had given the apothecary legitimacy on paper, but it took a century – up until The Apothecaries' Act of 1815, which granted apothecaries, amongst other rights, license to practise and regulate medicine, to slowly change the perceptions of the class-conscious Englishman as to the role and position of the apothecary in society.


My Georgian Historical Mystery DEADLY ENGAGEMENT is set in 1760s England, a time when medical reform and regulation of the Apothecary profession, especially with regard to education and training, was a major concern and continued to be for the rest of the 18th century. Yet the Worshipful Company of Apothecaries made great strides in ensuring that the profession became professional, overseeing apprenticeships, registering master apothecaries and holding examinations for apprentices once their tenure with a master was completed.


Boys as young as 12 were “bound” by way of an apprenticeship indenture to a master for seven years – the usual term to serve an apprenticeship for any trade or profession. An apprenticeship indenture was a legally binding document and money was paid to the master by a parent or guardian in exchange for the master agreeing to train the boy in their profession, and to supply the apprentice with food, clothing and lodging for the duration of the seven-year apprenticeship.


During the seven-year apprenticeship a boy was taught to compound pharmacopoeia preparations, recognize drugs and their use and to dispense complicated prescriptions. Throughout the 18th Century, most medicines were derived from herbs, plants and vegetables and the Chelsea Physic Garden served as a place of instruction for the apothecary’s apprentice, providing simples and raw materials for the drugs manufactured in the laboratory of the Apothecaries’ Hall attached to the headquarters of the Company of Worshipful Apothecaries.


An apprentice attended lectures and demonstrations in the hall of Barber-Surgeons and could participate in anatomical dissections if they wanted to. However, the Company of Worshipful Apothecaries did not require an apprentice to be examined on his expertise as a surgeon. So it was left entirely up to the apprentice to practice and become expert if he wished to use his skills as a surgeon- reason enough why barber-surgeons frowned on apothecaries who “crossed the line” and not only dispensed medicines and attended patients for general medical complaints but performed surgery – an extremely risky venture in the pre-anesthetic and unhygienic conditions of the 1700s.


Masters usually took on one apprentice but there were instances of masters binding seven apprentices to his service. Given that parents paid a premium for their sons to be educated as apothecaries, these boys were less open to abuse. However, mistreatment at the hands of masters happened, and there are cases of boys being beaten, starved, worked almost death and made to live in appalling conditions. The usual place these apprentices lived out their seven years was at the back of the apothecary shop, in the workroom or “laboratory” with the herbs and powders, medicinals and apparatus needed for compounding. An unsafe and lonely place for a young boy if the master did not take the boy into his home and thus share his table and company of his friends and family.


In DEADLY ENGAGEMENT we are introduced to Thomas Fisher – Tam – a footman in a noble household, who has five and half years training as an apothecary but is denied the opportunity to complete his apprenticeship when his master is disgraced and hanged for an offence he did not commit. It is as a footman that diplomat and amateur sleuth Alec Halsey first encounters Tam. It is a fortuitous meeting. Later, Tam is able to use his apothecary skills to save Alec’s life and finds himself temporarily employed as Alec’s valet. This is the start of a partnership and Tam is able to put his apothecary skills to good use in helping Alec solve a series of crimes committed at a country house engagement celebration.


Tam is luckier than most apprentices who fall on hard times and must take whatever work comes their way because Alec is determined that Tam will not remain his valet for long. He does want the boy to waste his talent as a healer and insists he complete his apprenticeship. What the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries has to say to Tam continuing on with his studies under the roof of a nobleman with the suspicion of murder over his own head will have to wait until Book two of the Alec Halsey crimance series, DEADLY AFFAIR.


References:

Burnby, J.G.L. (1983) A Study of the English Apothecary from 1660 to 1760, Medical History, Supplement No. 3, 1983, The Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine, London
Porter, R. (1997) The Greatest Benefit to Mankind: A Medical History of Humanity from Aniquity to the Present, Harper Collins, London
London Lives 1690–1800 Crime, Poverty and Social Policy in the Metropolis http://www.londonlives.org/static/IA.jsp


List of images

1. An Apothecary shop frequented by polite clientele


2. Thomas Rowlandson’s illustration aptly entitled Death and the Apothecary or The Quack Doctor (note flying fish!)

3. Apprenticeship Indenture document – courtesy London Lives 1690–1800 Crime, Poverty and Social Policy in the Metropolis

4. The Chelsea Physic Garden – the open-air laboratory for Master Apothecaries and their apprentices

One lucky commenter will win an e-book copy of DEADLY ENGAGEMENT!
Visit Lucinda Brant, author of riveting historical romance and historical mystery novels at http://www.lucindabrant.com.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Happy Saint Patrick's Day with Guest Author, Caroline Clemmons

Today I'm happy to present a new guest blogger to History Undressed! Author, Caroline Clemmons, and she's here to celebrate Saint Patick's Day with us, doing what we do best here: giving you a bit of history!
Take it away Caroline...

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day! Or, as the Irish say, “Top o’ the morning.” Instead of repeating the greeting back, one says, “And the rest o’ the day to yourself.”




Ireland is a beautiful country, even lovelier than photos. It’s been many years since my husband and I first visited Ireland, which is one of our favorite places on earth. When we were in Ireland the first time in 1998, our guide told us that because so many Irish left for America, the Irish feel American tourists are only visiting the home country. Certainly, we were treated very well there. We were surprised to see in a restaurant, potato dishes are served at both lunch and dinner, sometimes two or three types of potato dish at one meal. Easy to understand why a surplus of potatoes equates a good life.



No doubt you’ve heard about the Great Potato Famine. Why did it cause so many Irish to starve or emigrate? It was a confluence of terrible events.



Each Irish tenant family on a great estate had a small plot of land on which to raise enough food for the family plus enough to sell to pay their rent. Crops were the root crops potatoes, parsnips, and carrots as well as a few greens. The family might have had a cow, a pig or two, maybe a several sheep, and a few chickens. These were small places, especially small when you consider they provided food for an entire family. Mortarless stone walls three or so feet high separated the plots and fields and were (are) so sturdy one could sit on them without stones toppling.



Along came a disease known as potato blight. If potatoes are your main crop, and you have no reserves, a disaster ensues. Tenants couldn’t pay their rents. Eager to rid the land on unprofitable tenants, some landlords paid the family’s fare to America with false promises of aid once they arrived. Many landlords turned them off the land with only what they could carry, but there was no where to go. Families lived by the roadside and under bridges like the homeless of today.



Here were Irish families with no education for anything but growing a few vegetables, most of whom couldn’t read or write. What were they to do? However, the English were not immune to the problems in Ireland. There had been potato blight in small spots previously, but this was the first nation-wide blight. Many assumed this would be a temporary problem. English Prime Minister Peel tried many measures to aid Ireland. Governmental bureaucracy being what it is, the solutions fell far short. The picture shows Captain Kennedy, a Poor Law Inspector, and his daughter giving clothes to famine victims in Kilrush, County Clare. He said "I was so maddened by the sights of hunger and misery... that I [wanted] to take the gun from behind my door and shoot the first landlord I met."



Understandable that unrest wracked Ireland and several estates were attacked. Fearing for their lives, some estate owners constructed high stone walls (with mortar) around their lands. They hired starving men to build the walls for a penny a day. These walls became called “penny walls.” The problem: a loaf of bread cost a penny-and-a-half. You see where this is going, right?



People literally starved. Approximately a million people died from starvation or diseases from malnutrition. The poorest of the poor fled to England, where they soon overwhelmed aid societies and were deported back to Ireland. Many able to do so left for America on “coffin ships.” The cramped, dark quarters included no ventilation and little sanitation, barely enough food to survive, and the ships often ran out of water before the voyage was complete. Usually there was not doctor on board, and dead were sent overboard with no record. This was the fate of an ancestor of my husband, whose mother died on the way to America leaving he and his brother in the care of an aunt.



In spite of the risk, people sold whatever they owned to raise boat fare. Many indentured themselves to whoever would pay their ship passage. Those who could sent money home to families once they arrived in their new country, but most were not making a real wage. Some families were fortunate enough to already have a relative who’d emigrated and could help--maybe even loan them passage and provide a place to stay until the newcomer was established.



With the great influx of weary, ill, and uneducated Irish, public attitude hardened. Signs were posted stating “No Irish Need Apply.” I’m sure even those who couldn’t read soon learned to recognize the hateful sign.



At Ellis Island, anyone who was ill or without cash was denied entry. I understand wanting to protect those already in the U.S., but can you imagine the terror of being turned away and sent back to starve and die? Even the thought is horrifying, but it happened daily. Although it takes place at the turn of the century, one of the best fictional accounts I’ve read of Ellis Island and the process immigrants endured is in Rhys Bowen’s first Molly Murphy book, MURPHY’S LAW. Two of my own books feature Irish heroines from this period: the paranormal time travel/romantic suspense OUT OF THE BLUE in which a woman from 1845 travels to today, and the western historical THE TEXAN’S IRISH BRIDE set in the 1880’s.



Amazing how much an event in a small country can influence our history, isn’t it? So many people with Irish ancestry have made massive contributions to the United States. Famous Americans of Irish descent include Nora Roberts, Mary Higgins Clark, Tom Clancy, Mickey Spillane, Margaret Mitchell, Dennis Lehane, Spencer Tracy, Carroll O’Connor, Rosemary Clooney and her nephew George Clooney, John Cusack, Sandra Day O’Connor, J. Paul Getty, William Randolph Hearst, and the Kennedys--John, Ted, and Robert. Whether you’re of Irish descent or not, celebrate.



EVERYONE’S IRISH ON ST. PATRICK’S DAY!





Caroline Clemmons writes romance and adventures—although her earliest made up adventures featured her saving the West with Roy Rogers. Her career has included stay-at-home mom (her favorite job), newspaper reporter and featured columnist, assistant to the managing editor of a psychology journal, and bookkeeper. She and her husband live in rural North Central Texas with a menagerie of rescued pets. When she’s not writing, she enjoys spending time with family, reading, travel, browsing antique malls and estate sales, and genealogy/family history. Her latest contemporary and historical romance releases include THE TEXAN’S IRISH BRIDE, OUT OF THE BLUE, SNOWFIRES, SAVE YOUR HEART FOR ME and the upcoming HOME SWEET TEXAS HOME in July. Her backlist of contemporary and historical romance is available now at Smashwords and Kindle. Read about her at www.carolineclemmons.com or her blog at http://carolineclemmons.blogspot.com She loves to hear from readers at caroline@carolineclemmons.com





Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Guest Author, Helen Hollick on the History Behind Her Book -- I AM THE CHOSEN KING

I would to welcome guest author, Helen Hollick to History Undressed! Today, she has written a fascinating post for us on the history behind her book, I Am The Chosen King. I asked Helen three different questions, which she's graciously answered below...

Eliza Knight: Could you tell us a little about the research behind the book, particularly any unique, or intriguing findings?

Helen Hollick: I spent a year researching I Am The Chosen King (Harold the King is its UK title) I was undecided about what to write after completing my Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy, but the story of the Battle of Hastings and 1066 was stirring some interest – not least because Harold Godwineson is a local hero: as Earl of Essex he founded Waltham Abbey which is about fifteen minutes’ drive from where I live. His first wife came from a few more miles away. So I was rather attracted to writing about a man who could have walked where I could walk. (Unlike King Arthur who possibly never even existed!)


My mother, at that time, was the outings’ organiser for a local women’s group and she had arranged a visit to Hastings, a Sussex town on the south coast of England (for any of you who enjoy UK TV drama, Foyle’s War is set in Hastings) Part of the trip was a stop at Battle Abbey and the site of the Battle on the way. There was a spare seat, so I went along.

In 1066 there was nothing at the place except a steep hill, thick forest and marshland, now there is the remains of the Abbey Duke William built in penance for the number of deaths he caused. The old buildings are partially turned into a girl’s school now. The town that grew up around the abbey while it was being constructed is actually called Battle.

When we got there it was starting to drizzle with rain so all the ladies hurried into various tea shops and cafes. I went to the battlefield, determined to walk the site. As it turned out doing so in the rain was the best possible strategy because I had the place all to myself!

I won’t go into details of the history of the battle – the most famous in all English history - suffice to say the English, Harold and his men, had formed a solid “shield wall” of men along the top of the ridge, and Duke William’s Norman army was at the bottom of the hill. The battle itself lasted all day. (For more detail read the book! :-)

I started trudging down the right hand side, hands in pockets, head bent against the rain. Suddenly, the hairs on the nape of my neck prickled. I stopped and I had an overwhelming feeling that if I turned round I would see the English army arrayed along the ridge….. I missed the moment. When I did turn round there was nothing. All the same I have never forgotten the experience.

Soon after I had a vivid dream. I saw four men, Saxon noblemen by the style of their dress, riding alongside the river Lea. Three of them were arguing, the eldest, obviously the father, was reprimanding them. The dogs sent up a pair of ducks, but one of the men was looking across the river at something – someone – hiding beneath the trees. A moment later I saw a girl dart out and run up the slope of the meadow, her kingfisher blue cloak and fair hair streaming behind her.

I knew, without a doubt, that I had just seen Earl Harold, his father, Godwine of Wessex and his two brothers, Swegn and Tostig… and the young Edyth Swanneck who was to become Harold’s wife.

You’ll read the scene in the book. Chapter two.

Eliza Knight: Tell us about the history behind the setting of I Am The Chosen King.

Helen Hollick: The series of events that led to 1066 is rather a long and complicated story – hence the thickness of the novel! Perhaps all I shall say here is that Duke William of Normandy had no right to the English throne, that Harold was our last, legitimate, legally crowned English King, and he is the only King to die fighting to save his Kingdom and people from foreign invasion.

That makes him a hero in my mind.

I wanted to write Harold’s story; the story of the events that led to that fateful battle in October 1066, because I wanted to set the history – from the English point of view – straight. I was so tired of reading in history books that English history started with the Norman Conquest, that William was a great King, that the Normans had conquered a “dark age” backward, uncivilised, country. I wanted to unravel the Norman propaganda and write a novel that told a little more of what is probably nearer the truth.

Eliza Knight: I can't think of a better reason to write a book, and I do believe you nailed it! Is there any topic historical in nature, related somehow to the book, but that readers would find fascinating? Of particular interest to my readers are era-related food, fashion, mannerisms, scandals, lifestyles.

Helen Hollick: Scandals? Oh there was a huge one! Harold’s elder brother, Swegn, kidnapped an abbess and held her prisoner for over a year. It was Anglo Saxon Headline news for months!

Of course, we don’t know the actual details, and I personally don’t think Swegn, for all his reckless faults, was that stupid. I’m pretty certain he knew the woman, and it is quite possible that she never really wanted to be incarcerated in an abbey in the first place! Younger daughters were often “given” to an abbey as a nun basically as a way of buying God’s favour for the family. Widows, especially if they were rich, sometimes sought sanctuary in an abbey as a way of avoiding being pestered to remarry. For many it was a welcome escape, for others it must have been like being imprisoned.

I think it is very probable that Swegn and the abbess knew each other and he was attempting to rescue the poor soul. I use the episode in I Am The Chosen King though, so I’d better not give away any spoilers had I?

One thing to remember at this time, it was not considered wrong, or illegal for a man (especially a nobleman) to take what we would now call a “Common Law” wife. Their union would be a simple handfasting, not a wedding blessed in church, but the marriage would have been legally binding and any children would have been fully legitimate.

Harold’s first love, Edyth Swanneck was his Common Law wife for more than twenty years. They had at least six children. I thought it so sad when he had to set Edyth aside once he was crowned King… oh spoilers again! Sorry!

Ms. Hollick, thank you ever so much for posting with us today! I enjoyed your answers, and find that time period to be fascinating. Truly, I AM THE CHOSEN KING was a riveting and intriguing tale! I highly recommend reading it! And guess what? One lucky commenter today will win a print copy of I AM THE CHOSEN KING, so comment away!

Visit Helen Hollick at http://www.helenhollick.net/

Monday, March 14, 2011

Guest Author Mary McCall on Early Christian Symbolism Part III

Welcome back Mary!  If you haven't read Part I and Part II of Mary's blog series on Early Christian Symbolism, click on the links to check them out!

Early Christian Symbolism: Part III
by Mary McCall


Many apologies to all for the delay in continuing this series. Let me begin by announcing I am planning to continue the contest that was going on when life situations hindered my progress, so this is a Purple Post. On any blog post I do for the next two weeks that you respond to, leave your e-mail. I’ll be doing a drawing for a .pdf copy of Highland Treasure for each blog three days after it’s posted. In addition, I’ll save all the names and after the last of the purple posts, I’ll do a drawing for a “purple” gift box.

Visiting Italy was interesting and seeing some of these symbols on monuments, ruins, and catacombs was wonderful. At some point, I’ll have to also tell you about visiting a Venetian glass factory that still uses the same process and furnace they used in the fourth century.

But back to early Christian symbols…

The Good Shepherd: Some of the earliest depictions of Christ show Him as the Good Shepherd. This type of representation is found in the Catacombs. If you find time, I highly recommend the virtual tour of Le Catacombe di Pricilla at http://www.catacombepriscilla.com/pagine-eng/home.htm. The tour is presented in English and shows some of the most beautiful and earliest Christian symbols in remarkably wonderful preservation.

Palm: victory and martyrdom. Palms are especially made use of on Palm Sunday. The ashes of palms used on Palm Sunday are later burned and used on the next year's Ash Wednesday to symbolize mortality and penance.

Scallop shell: the sea shell, especially the scallop shell, is the symbol of Baptism, and is found frequently on Baptismal fonts. The dish used by priests to pour water over the heads of catechumens in Baptism is often scallop-shaped. The scallop, too, is a symbol for the Apostle James the Greater.

Butterfly: The beautiful butterfly, with the power of flight, emerging from the apparently lifeless cocoon: what could be a more perfect symbol of the Resurrection?

Unicorn: the unicorn -- mentioned in the Bible, by the way: see Psalm 21:22, 28:6 (Psalms 22 and 29 in the King James Bible), 92:11; and Isaias 34:7 -- is a symbol of chastity and of Christ Himself. Medieval legend had it that the unicorn, a feisty and fierce animal, could not be easily hunted, but if a virgin were to sit in the forest, the unicorn would find her and lay its head upon her lap. The hunter could then come by and take its horn, which was seen as having profound medical qualities (for ex., it was said to eliminate the harmful effects of a poisoned liquid). The picturing of a virgin and unicorn together, then, was common during the Age of Faith -- the former representing Our Lady, and the latter representing Christ, Who brought forth the "horn of salvation."

Ermine (winter weasel): the ermine was believed to have rather died than get its pure white coat dirty and, so, it came to symbolize innocence, moral purity, and the Christian's desire to die rather than commit a mortal sin. Its fur was used to adorn the clothes of clerics and royalty.

Turtledove: because of their reputation for taking only one mate to whom they are faithful for life, turtledoves are a symbol of Christian fidelity. They are also known for their love of seclusion, a fact mentioned by St. Augustine (City of God, Book 16, chapter 24).

Scarab: for our Mummy/Brendan Frasier fans, an ancient symbol of regeneration (the scarab was an especially prevalent symbol in Egypt), the scarab was adopted by Coptic Christians, too, as a symbol for the same and for the Resurrection, in particular, and for Christ Himself. Habacuc 2:11 was often translated as "For the stone shall cry out of the wall, and the beetle out of the timber shall answer it." Psalm 21:7's mention of "worm" ("But I am a worm, and no man: the reproach of men, and the outcast of the people") was often translated as "scarab," and St. Ambrose, Bishop of Milan (A.D. 340-397) referred to Christ as “The Good Scarabaeus” numerous times, with other Church Fathers, such as SS. Cyril of Alexandria, Augustine, etc.) following suit.

Alpha-Omega: Alpha, the first letter of the Greek alphabet, and Omega, the last letter of the Greek alphabet, became a symbol for Christ due to His being called "the First and the Last." The roots of symbolizing these attributes of God go back further, all the way to the Old Testament where, in Exodus 34:6, God is said to be "full of Goodness and Truth." The Hebrew spelling of the word "Truth" consists of the 3 letters "Aleph," "Mem," and "Thaw" -- and because "Aleph" and "Thaw" are the first and last letters of the Hebrew alphabet, the ancients saw mystical relevance in God's being referred to as "Truth." At any rate, the Greek Alpha and Omega as a symbol for Christ has been found in the Catacombs, Christian signet rings, post-Constantine coins, and the frescoes and mosaics of ancient churches.

5-point Star: the Star of Bethlehem; the 5 Wounds of Christ. This symbol inverted, such that a single point is at the bottom and two points are at the top, is a Satanic symbol indicating a goat's head.

Torch of Truth: Symbol of the Dominican Order, often shown being carried in the mouth of a little black and white dog. It originates in a dream St. Dominic's mother had when she was pregnant with the Saint: she dreamed of her child as a little black and white dog illuminating the world by carrying a torch in his mouth. The Dominican Order St. Dominic founded is known as the "Order of Preachers," the colors of its habit are white and black.

Rose: the Holy Faith, Our Lady, martyrdom, the secrecy of penance. Five roses grouped together symbolize the five wounds of Christ.

Owl: the owl has a double meaning, and please remember, we are looking at early meanings: 1) the perfidious Jews who, preferring darkness to light, reject Jesus, and 2) (from the Aberdeen Bestiary), "In a mystic sense, the night-owl signifies Christ. Christ loves the darkness of night because he does not want sinners - who are represented by darkness - to die but to be converted and live... The night-owl lives in the cracks in walls, as Christ wished to be born one of the Jewish people, saying: 'I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel'. But Christ is crushed in the cracks of the walls, because he is killed by the Jews. Christ shuns the light in the sense that he detests and hates vainglory... The night-owl flies at night in search of food, as Christ converts sinners into the body of the Church by preaching. In a moral sense, moreover, the night-owl signifies to us not just any righteous man, but rather one who lives among other men yet hides from their view as much as possible. He flees from the light, in the sense that he does not look for the glory of human praise."

We’ll continue this next time with a few more picture, then possible take a look at the symbolic meanings behind numbers, colors, and a few of the more common Latin abbreviations often seen in art and manuscripts.

Can the Highlands survive a gifted soul with a tendency toward mischief?

Leonce MacPherson became chieftain after an unknown Norman slaughtered his father and clansmen. For two years he’s raided Northumbria seeking vengeance while a dream woman promises the return of his great sword, stolen in the massacre.

After escaping an abusive father, Lady Hope Nevilles, unknowingly the Gifted MacKay of her generation, has lived with animals for friends in wild Northumbria. She longs to flee to her mother’s native Highlands and find a place away from capture and torture.

When her father steals Leonce’s son, Hope takes that as a sign to journey to the Highlands. She returns the boy and the great sword to Leonce, who recognizes her as his dream siren. When he tricks her into marriage, will she keep her vow to kill herself rather than submit to any man? Can she learn to trust as her father's sin haunt her future? When she learns the truth of her ancestry and gifted spirit from a clan enemy, will Leonce accept the news, or will distrust and jealousy doom their fragile union?

You can visit Mary at www.marymccall.net or http://marymccall.wordpress.com/





Sunday, March 13, 2011

Historical Book Review: TO DEFY A KING, by Elizabeth Chadwick

To Defy A King, by Elizabeth Chadwick, explores the life of Mahelt Marshall and Hugh Bigod--daughter of the famous William Marshall, and Roger Bigod and Ida de Tosney's son, which we read about in For The King's Favor.  I was excited to read this book, because I so enjoyed Ida and Roger's story, and in To Defy A King I would get another chance to visit these characters again and see how they were faring.  In addition, we got to see Longspee again, Ida's son with the King.

Ms. Chadwick's books are packed with historical fact and description. She captures the essence of the time period in her characters, setting and plot, but not in a way that feels textbook, instead she tranports you there, puts you right in that great hall, or solar, or on the horse riding through a field. Once again, I was impressed with her writing, her ability to make each character individual, her research, and her creativity in bringing it all together in a riveting and intriguing story.

Mahelt is a head-strong, vibrant and spontaneous heroine. She is quite young throughout the majority of the book, but it is fascinating to watch as she grows older, more mature, and faces more hardships, how much she grows and changes.  I liked watching her butt heads with everyone, but at the same time, there were times I wanted to reach through the book, grasp her shoulders, shake her and say, "Mahelt! No! What are you thinking!"  And that's not to say anything bad about the book, this is actually a compliment to the author on how well she was able to illustrate a fifteen year old heroine's heart and mind. I think many women will connect with Mahelt, because she is a woman beyond her time. She wasn't willing to sit still and "take it", let the men decide her life and the life of her family. Oh no, she wanted a front row, driving seat. She wanted to be in control, she wanted to be a part of it. And I think if they'd allowed her to, in many instances heartache would have been avoided. She was an intelligent woman who wasn't given much credit from others--except her husband. 

Hugh, was a compassionate, intelligent, and strong knight, heir, husband and father. I could see the good parts of Ida and Roger in him, and I was so pleased to see how he and Mahelt got on. He embraced her fiery nature, and her need for independence. Instead of trying to quash it as his father instructed, he simply went along with it, holding her hand along the way. That's not to say Hugh was perfect. He and his half-brother, Longspee, still had their difficulties, and many of them stemmed from jealousy and misunderstanding which is so true in most of life. Here too, I wanted to reach through the book and throttle them, tell them to stop being so hard-headed. Once again, Ms. Chadwick capture my heart with these characters, I felt invested in them--I cared what happened to them

**Spoiler Alert**

If you read For the King's Favor--which I highly recommend--than you will be just as sad as I was to see the deterioration in Ida and Roger's relationship. They are still in love, still harbor feelings for one another, but they were so far removed from each other, especially Roger, that in the end, they missed out on nearly a life time of love. I actually cried in the end, and if you loved them as much as I did, you will cry too.

I highly recommend reading To Defy A King, and for that matter all of Ms. Chadwick's books. They are really a true treat to read. I found I tucked myself into bed quite early at night just so I could read their story for hours and hours.

About the Book...

The adored and spirited daughter of England’s greatest knight, Mahelt Marshal lives a privileged life. But when her beloved father falls foul of the volatile and dangerous King John, her world is shattered. The king takes her brothers hostage and Mahelt’s planned marriage to Hugh Bigod, son of the Earl of Norfolk, takes place sooner than she expected. Mahelt and Hugh come to care for each other deeply, but Hugh’s strict father clashes with the rebellious Mahelt. When more harsh demands from King John threaten to tear the couple’s lives apart, Mahelt finds herself facing her worst fears alone, not knowing if she—or her marriage—will survive.
A brilliant story of a vibrant woman in a tyrant’s world, To Defy a King is another impeccably researched masterpiece from a beloved author.

ISBN: 9781402250897

Available now from Sourcebooks in Trade Paperback and as an E-book

For a complete list of Elizabeth Chadwick's books visit her website: http://www.elizabethchadwick.com/

If you haven't seen it previously, here is my review of FOR THE KING'S FAVOR.

If you missed it, last week Elizabeth Chadwick visited History Undressed with a post on Medieval Marriage and Sexuality.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Guest Author, Elizabeth Chadwick: Behind the Books, Medieval Marriages and Sexuality

I am extremely excited, and star struck today. The wonderfully talented, best-selling author, Elizabeth Chadwick has written a post for History Undressed today! She's giving us a bit of history behind her medieval novels, in particular medieval marriages. Please join me in issuing a warm welcome to Ms. Chadwick, and I sincerly hope you find her post to be as intriguing and interesting as I did. And yes, Ms. Chadwick, do see why you love writing medieval fiction! It is my favorite genre--besides the Tudor era.

(Check back over the weekend for my latest review on TO DEFY A KING. I have previously reviewed, FOR THE KING'S FAVOR. They are both on my LOVED IT list.)

****

Thank you so much for inviting me onto the blog. I thought I’d talk about medieval marriages and share some details.


Having written two books about the great William Marshal (The Greatest Knight and The Scarlet Lion) and another about the Bigod earls of Norfolk with whom the Marshals became closely connected (For the King’s Favor), I wanted to explore the bond secured by the marriage of William’s firstborn daughter, Mahelt, to the Bigod’s eldest son Hugh. Their arranged union and how they adapted to each other is a major part of what To Defy A King is about.

Medieval aristocratic marriages follow a very different pattern to the general one of today’s Western culture. In the period I write about – the 11th, 12th and 13th centuries, marriages were arranged by parents or guardians to suit dynastic interests or to line pockets, frequently both. Often the bride was still an adolescent, although the groom was usually older, and sometimes much older. The age of consent at this time was 12 for a girl and 14 for a boy. This doesn’t mean it was consent to sexual relations, although this could be part of it, but it was the age at which the bride or groom was considered responsible enough to answer for themselves in all matters. Marriages of younger people did take place, but required dispensations.

When researching To Defy A King, I didn’t have a solid birth date for Mahelt Marshal, but I knew she was born somewhere between late 1192 and 1194, so I gave her a date of 1193. She was married early in 1207 when she would have been approximately 14. Her husband, Hugh Bigod was born late in 1182, so was 24, heading for 25. This seems shocking to our mindset that a girl of this age should be married off by her family to a grown man, but this was a norm in the early 13th century. King John’s bride Isabelle of Angouleme was only 12 years old and John was in his mid 30’s at the time. Mahelt’s own father had been about 42 when he married her 17 year old mother, the couple not having met until their wedding day.

Early in 1207, Mahelt’s father was preparing to go to Ireland for a protracted stay and wanted to settle Mahelt before he left. William’s biography says: ‘at that time, the Marshal spoke with Earl Roger Bigot, a man who was never slow in doing what was to his advantage and honour when it was appropriate for him to do so. He asked him graciously, being the wise man he was, to arrange a handsome marriage between his own daughter and his son Hugh.’ The match seen by the fathers as a good and honourable thing to do and Mahelt and Hugh were married before Easter of that year. Her parents and the rest of her family, barring her two older brothers who were being held hostage by King John, embarked for Ireland and Mahelt came to live at Framlingham Castle in Suffolk with her new husband and her in-laws. Coping with this would have raised challenges for Mahelt, however she would have been raised to know her duty and would also have been proud that she was helping her family to cement a powerful political and diplomatic bond. Love and attraction did not come into it. If such emotions grew then all to the good, but they weren’t the foremost criteria.

Was the marriage consummated at this stage? It’s an interesting question. It is also very much a modern novelist’s dilemma. Readers of today tend to find the very young ages of medieval brides distasteful, but in the 13th century, there was no such lens. The girl would be viewed as having entered the adult world with adult duties and responsibilities. Basically she was a grown up, and the line was drawn in a different place. Her marriage would be an honourable thing. A novelist has to tread carefully in keeping to the historical truth while not sending readers away in droves. Indeed, the novelist becomes a kind of bridge between the past and the present, allowing readers and characters to meet in the middle.

There are existing wedding contracts from the period I study that stipulate the marriage is not to be consummated until the bride has reached a certain age, and I chose to go with that scenario in To Defy A King because it fits the known history.

Mahelt and Hugh’s first child was born before the end of 1209 when the couple had been married for a little over 2 years and Mahelt would have been 15 at the youngest and 17 at the oldest when their son Roger arrived, but was probably about 16. Subsequent births are interesting because they happen at clean 3 year intervals. Hugh Junior, their second child, turned up in 1212, Isabelle in 1215 and Ralph in 1218. Both the writer and the researcher in me suspect that Mahelt and Hugh were taking precautions, and that it wasn’t just coincidence.

In the medieval period the default view was that sex was not for pleasure, recreation, or to demonstrate love for one’s partner. It was for procreation; intercourse was not supposed to take place for any other purpose. Of course it did, and rules were there to be bent and broken, but the guiding belief was no sex without the possibility of conception. Mahelt was one of ten children and Hugh one of eight. Did Mahelt and Hugh take precautions? I think they did, and I have a scene in the novel where Mahelt discusses contraceptive practises with the women of the household. Below is a short excerpt from the novel that explains some of the contraceptive methods advocated at the time should one choose to go against the teaching of the Church. The suggestions include coitus interruptus, barrier methods, and somewhat dubious external objects that were thought to prevent pregnancy. Some, I suspect, were more successful than others!

Marie leaned forward with a glimmer of interest. ‘So what do you do?’


Mahelt darted a glance at her mother in law, then threw caution to the wind. ‘The usual things. Abstinence, because the church says it is good for the soul.’ A wry grimaced accompanied her remark. ‘A small piece of moss….Not riding all the way to London…’


‘Why should not riding all the way to London…’ Ela began in puzzlement and then blushed fire-red as understanding dawned. ‘Oh,’ she said.


Marie wrinkled her nose. ‘Someone told me to tie a weasel’s testicles in a bag around my neck. I suppose that might keep Ranulf away, but everyone else too! I also heard that putting lettuce under a man’s pillow makes him less amorous.’ Her eyes twinkled. ‘Or at least less able to be amorous.’ She made an illustrative flopping gesture with her wrist and forearm. ‘It doesn’t work,’ she added. ‘I’ve tried.’

Although Hugh and Mahelt were fruitful, I was fascinated while researching, to come across what might happen in cases where a man had difficulty fulfilling his part. There is a court case on record where a man’s wife complained that he was incapable and he had to appear in public and prove it wasn’t the case to a group of women summoned for the purpose. When he couldn’t rise to the occasion despite manipulative encouragement when tested by one of their number, he was judged a charlatan and the marriage was dissolved. Another man was tested and his equipment found to be ‘large enough for any woman living in this world.’ So he stayed married!

I love it when I find similarities between their time and ours, but I am also very, very fascinated by the differences. The above ramble is just a short sample of life from their perspective, but I think you can understand why I so love writing historical fiction!

For any readers interested in knowing more about medieval marriage and sexual practices, I can recommend these two books as further reading.

LOVE, SEX AND MARRIAGE IN THE MIDDLE AGES. A Sourcebook edited by Conor McCarthy. Routledge 2004 ISBN 0415307465

SEXUALITY IN MEDIEVAL EUROPE. Doing unto Others By Ruth Mazo Karras. Routledge 2005. ISBN 9780415289634

Visit Elizabeth Chadwick to read more about her, her work and visit her fascinating blogs at http://www.elizabethchadwick.com/

Leave a comment for your chance to win a print copy of TO DEFY A KING. (one winner, US/Canada only)

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Guest Blogger, Colleen K. Michaels on Alchemy and the Medieval Worldview

Hello History Lovers!  Today, I'm excited to present to you a new guest to History Undressed, aspiring author, Colleen K. Michaels. Her post is extremely interesting and laden with great information on alchemy during my all time favorite time period--the medieval era (and the renaissance era as well)! Please join me in welcoming Colleen, and enjoy her article.

Alchemy and the Medieval Worldview
By Colleen K. Michaels


Alchemy was the forerunner to modern chemistry, and its roots extend all the way back to ancient Egypt, Babylonia, and Greece. The ancient Egyptian Emerald Tablet of Hermes is considered to be the founding text of alchemy. It formed the basis of Hermetic philosophy, a cornerstone of alchemy.


Alchemy combined aspects of chemistry, physics, astrology, art, semiotics, metallurgy, medicine, mysticism, and religion. The two principal goals of many alchemists were creating a philosopher's stone (which was believed to enable transmutation of common metals into gold) and finding the formula for the elixir of life (which would cure all diseases and prolong life indefinitely).

Although alchemy has been largely discredited today, it played an important role in the evolution of scientific thought. The practice of alchemy combined studies of metallurgy, chemical processes, and medicine and disease by blending laboratory experimentation with mysticism, religion, and philosophy. Countless alchemists worked diligently to expand human knowledge and understanding of our world, a goal that is worthy of respect. They attempted to investigate and understand the world around them, but without knowledge of the scientific method and without any of the basic scientific tools that we now take for granted. Rather than microscopes and thermometers, controlled conditions, and repeatable, verifiable experiments, they relied on rules of thumb, observations with the naked eye, traditions, mysticism, and philosophy.

Origins of Alchemy

The word Alchemy has its roots in the Greek word chemeia, which meant “smelting metals.” During the Middle Ages, the philosophy spread to the Islamic world, where it acquired the Arabic definite article al, thus producing al-kimiya. The modern English words alchemy and chemistry are both derived from these common roots.

The Ancient Greek philosopher, Aristotle, developed a theory of four elements of matter that was incorporated into alchemical thought. His theory was based on a creation myth about matter emerging from chaos and becoming the basic elements of fire, air, water, and earth. The gods blended these together in an infinite variation of proportions to produce all manner of life. A pair of four primary qualities distinguished one element from another: fluid (moist), dry, hot, and cold. For example, hot and dry together equaled fire, hot and fluid equaled air, cold and fluid equaled water, and cold and dry equaled earth. In each of the elements, one quality was dominant – for fire, heat; for air, fluid; for water, cold; and for earth, dryness.

By the process of “transmutation,” one element could be transformed into another through the quality they had in common; i.e., fire could become air because both possessed heat. Two elements could merge to form a third by deleting one quality from each. Hot and fluid qualities removed from water and fire would produce earth.

A change to matter made by changes in quality was believed to be a purification process. The changes were brought about through processes such as burning, dissolving, evaporating, and crystallizing. For alchemists, it was not a substantial leap to conclude that changing proportions of elements in a given substance could result in transmutation of one substance into another. Thus came about one of alchemy’s most famous goals: to change a base metal into gold.

Aristotelian and Hermetic philosophy prevailed throughout Europe for more than one thousand years. Medieval alchemists based their work on these philosophical theories at least as much as on their own observations and experiments. Scientific knowledge, as it currently is understood, remained severely limited. For example, by 1600, alchemists had identified just seven metals — gold, silver, iron, copper, tin, lead, and mercury. All of these metals shared the common properties of luster and malleability; with the exception of liquid mercury, they also could be hammered, shaped, and cast. Given such similarities, and the underpinnings of Aristotelian thought, it is not surprising that medieval alchemists believed that the metals were composed of the same essential ingredients, but in different proportions and degrees of purity.

Alchemy During the Medieval Period

During the early medieval period, alchemy was widely regarded as an important scientific enterprise, but by the late medieval period, skeptics began to question its efficacy and legitimacy. In many ways, the course of alchemy’s evolution and, eventually, its abandonment, is a reflection of the evolution of human reason from early medieval times to the Renaissance. Appreciating how alchemy shaped the worldview of medieval Europeans, especially the more educated classes, is an important aspect of understanding medieval culture and society.

Medieval European alchemists interpreted reality as a single whole. The material world and symbolic, or philosophical, world were one and the same in alchemy. As a result, alchemical symbols and processes often had two meanings – one that referred to its effect on material things and the other on spirituality.

Like the substances they studied, alchemists tended to share a range of characteristics. Many were members of the Catholic clergy. Few people outside the clergy had sufficient literacy to study alchemical texts and, moreover, the Catholic Church sanctioned alchemical investigations as a method of exploring and developing theology. An important tenet of alchemy was that man's soul had been divided after the fall of Adam, but by purifying the two parts of man's soul, man could be reunited with God. Medieval alchemists still pursued the goal of finding the philosophers' stone, as a substance capable both of transmuting base metals into gold) and of purifying the soul. They believed in the Aristotelian-defined four elements and four qualities. They shared the tendency to keep their work secret from the uninitiated, although their motives for secrecy were not always the same. Finally, medieval alchemists were practitioners as well as philosophers. They actively experimented with chemicals, observed and recorded their results, and formed and tested theories about how the universe operated, all of which laid the groundwork for the scientific method as we know it today.

In addition to the Catholic Church, powerful political, social, and economic institutions were concerned with alchemy. The potential of an unlimited supply of gold being provided by the philosopher’s stone warranted such attention. Alchemists also occasionally discovered new materials, or new applications for them, that proved to be immensely important. For instance, Johann Friedrich Böttger, an alchemist in the court of a German prince, analyzed a “white earth” that duplicated the ingredients for imported Chinese porcelain, and brought about the beginning of the Dresden china industry.

European monarchs also had purely personal motives in their support of alchemy. In 1600, King Henry IV of France employed numerous alchemists charged with the task of finding ways to resurrect plants from their ashes, in the belief this would lead to ways to extend the monarch’s life. Henry went so far as to order his diplomats to seek out the cryptic methods of alchemists in other countries.

Influential Alchemists

Arabic and European alchemists made important contributions to alchemical thought. One of the most famous Islamic alchemists was Al Jabir ibn Hayyan (722-815). He created a number of pieces of laboratory equipment that became standard in any alchemical laboratory; derivations of some continue to be used today. Jabir also was a forerunner in developing methodological experiments and careful laboratory record keeping. But like many alchemists, he relied heavily on allegorical and symbolic interpretations of his work.

Among the most illustrious European alchemists of the medieval period were Roger Bacon, Nicholas Flamel, Paracelsus, Tycho Brahe, and Sir Isaac Newton. Roger Bacon (1214-1294) argued that experimentation was more important than reasoning in alchemical research. He also has been credited with originating the search for the philosopher's stone and the elixir of life. A scientist of wide-ranging interests, his Opus Majus discussed alchemy, astrology and celestial bodies, mathematics, and optics, and anticipated later inventions such as microscopes, telescopes, airplanes, and steamboats.

Unlike many of his contemporaries, Nicholas Flamel (1330-1417) was not a religious scholar. He devoted his alchemical career to the pursuit of the philosopher's stone (which he was rumored to have found). Typical of many alchemists, he was secretive even with recordings in his own journal; although he described many experimental processes and reactions, he did not list specific formulas that he developed.

Paracelsus (1493-1541) pioneered the use of chemicals and minerals in medicine. For adherents to many current wellness movements, some of Paracelsus’s ideas may sound familiar, particularly his theory that sickness and health were related to harmony both within the body and within nature. His medicinal ingredients were derived from plant extracts and from mineral compounds such as antinomy, arsenic, and mercury. He also promoted the use of direct observations and experiments to learn about the human body’s workings, rather than simply relying on inductive reasoning. In 1526, he named the element zinc.

Tycho Brahe (1546-1601) is much better known for his astronomical observations, but he also studied astrology and had an alchemical lab built to his specifications. His interests in astrology at least partially guided his study of the stars and planets. Tycho designed and built new astronomical instruments, calibrated them, and instituted nightly observations, all of which helped revolutionize astronomy. Tycho, however, did not accept the emerging theory of heliocentricism, which placed the sun at the center of our planetary system, rather than Earth. Instead, he merged Aristotelian theory with his findings to create a system that combined the best of both worlds. He kept the Earth in the center of the universe, with the Moon and Sun revolving around it. The stars were fixed in place and centered on the Earth, while Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn revolved about the Sun. This approach was popular during the seventeenth century among scientists who no longer believed the Earth to be the center of all things, but could not quite accept it was not the center of most things.

The work of Sir Isaac Newton (1643-1727) exhibited strong influences from the Hermetic tradition, although he also adhered to a mechanical philosophy that explained natural phenomena by motions of matter particles. For instance, he theorized the physical reality of light as a stream of tiny corpuscles, which could be diverted from its course by the presence of denser or rarer media. Similarly, tiny bits of paper being attracted to a piece of glass rubbed with cloth resulted from a mechanical process consisting of ethereal effluvium that streamed from the glass and pulled the bits of paper back with it. The attractions and repulsions of Newton's speculations flowed from the occult sympathies and antipathies of Hermetic philosophy, but as he conceived them, attractions were quantitatively defined, thus placing them in harmony with mechanical philosophy as well.

As Tycho and Newton’s careers demonstrate, by the seventeenth century, alchemy was being replaced by modern chemistry, physics, and astronomy. Although the fundamental tenets of alchemy proved to be untenable, alchemical practitioners created a legacy that was crucial to the modern sciences. Metal working, gun powder production, dye making, ceramics, glass making and the alcohol industry all benefitted from the work of alchemists, as did early medical and pharmaceutical research. The modern scientific method also has its origins in alchemical research.

For Further Reading

http://www.ambix.org/ Society for the History of Alchemy and Chemistry

http://www.marginalia.co.uk/shared/med_alchemy.php Medieval Alchemy: A Selected Bibliography

http://www.alchemywebsite.com/index.htm The Alchemy Website

http://www.alchemylab.com/history_of_alchemy.htm History of Alchemy

http://www.nlm.nih.gov/exhibition/harrypottersworld/exhibition.html Harry Potter’s World: Renaissance Science, Magic, and Medicine

http://www.robinsonlibrary.com/science/chemistry/alchemy/equipment.htm The Alchemist’s Equipment

http://www.kean.edu/~bregal/HIST4236.htm#power%20point The History of Alchemy and the Origins of Modern Science

http://www.thelemapedia.org/index.php/Alchemy Alchemy




Visit Colleen at http://www.colleenkmichaels.com/. Colleen K. Michaels is a writer living in the Mid-Atlantic region. With more than a decade of professional experience as an historian and writer, Colleen melds legends and romance with history and mythology to create contemporary fantasies with a special twist.