Above painting: Louis Jean Francois - Mars and Venus an Allegory of Peace


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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Castle of the Week: Chateau de Chambord

Today's castle of the week has been provided to us by historical romance writer, McKenna Darby. Having grown up visiting my grandparents in Paris, I have an immense love of France, so I'm delighted for today's castle! Enjoy a taste of Chateau de Chambord!

Chambord: The first Renaissance castle of France
by McKenna Darby

Chambord from the East corner. Francis I turret is at far left.
Paris is a historical novelist’s dream. If you’re a novelist interested in French royalty during the Middle Ages or the Renaissance, however, you can’t follow their trail far without making a trip east to the Loire Valley. France’s kings retreated to the region during the Hundred Years’ War, when England’s control of western France made Paris vulnerable to attack. They stayed long after the war ended, though, and it’s easy to understand why.
The foot print of Chambord. Note the central keep with four turrets, typical of medieval castles, and the low curtain wall that outlines the courtyard. The two turrets at the far right, top and bottom, were never completed, rising only as high as the curtain wall. The turret at top left housed Francis' apartments, which were accessed by the external spiral staircase shown below.
Few places on earth can rival the abundant forests, scenic rivers and fertile farmlands of the Loire Valley. The numerous castles left behind by its royal visitors – nearly 70 scattered across just three provinces – only add to the region’s beauty. And so it was that, on a recent trip to Paris, I spent a chunk of my weekend on a tour bus bound for Loir-et-Cher and the largest of the Loire Valley’s castles: Chateau de Chambord, which features 440 rooms, 282 fireplaces, and 84 staircases.
This bust of Francis I in armor is believed to be the most accurate portrayal of the king in his prime.
Chambord drew me to the Loire Valley because it was built by Francis I, who was the father-in-law of Catherine de Medici, the Italian noble who helped rule France for more than 40 years, first as queen and then as regent to her three sons. Although most of the court loathed Catherine – ostensibly because she was the daughter of Italian merchants (horrors!) but primarily because she wasn’t French – the king adored his intelligent, witty, and cultured Italian daughter-in-law.
Catherine shared Francis’ dream – never achieved – of uniting France and Italy under French rule, as well as her father-in-law’s love of art, books, and architecture. No one knows for certain how long it took for Catherine to recognize their shared interests after she arrived in France to marry the king’s second son, Henri, when they were both just 14. I like to imagine, however, that the discovery occurred the first time Catherine saw Chambord.
View f the courtyard and the staircase that serves the North turret, which housed the personal apartments of Francis I.
Francis built Chambord in celebration of his love of Italian Renaissance art and architecture. At the king’s invitation, Leonardo da Vinci visited the site and consulted on the castle’s design. Several historians actually attribute the castle’s distinctive double-helix staircase – two sets of stairs that twine around one another without ever meeting – to the great Italian artist (although the idea is hotly contested and may never be proved).
Built as France entered the Renaissance, Chambord’s distinctive architecture blends traditional French medieval forms with classical Italian Renaissance structures. The central keep, for example, is consistent with medieval design, featuring turrets at each corner, an extensive curtain wall and a moat. Inside, however, the building is pure Renaissance.
The "da Vinci" double-helix staircase. Note the wooden beams of the ceiling in one of the four apartments that surround the staircase in   a Green cross design on each floor.
The “da Vinci” staircase, located at the keep’s center, is built around a column of open air topped by an elaborate spire. The spire, which is pierced by intricate leaded windows, floods all four floors with light. On each of its four stories, the stairs open onto four Greek-cross landings with arched ceilings. Each landing is a complete apartment, a break with the medieval tradition of arranging bedrooms along corridors. Additional suites are housed in each of the turrets, for a total of eight apartments on each floor.
Looking up, inside the da Vinci staircase, toward the decorative tower atop the attic.
Chambord’s Italian influence is most evident from the outside, however. Arched pillars, superimposed across the front of the façade, give it a beautiful symmetry that is purely decorative. Double-banded friezes separate the three floors, with each story shorter than the one below it. The towers, steeples, chimneys and lanterns that decorate the keep’s attic, when viewed from the chateau’s front lawn, form the outline of a fantastical town; Francis reportedly commissioned the design to replicate the skyline of Constantinople. (I wasn’t able to snap that picture myself, but you can get a sense of it here, especially in the reflection.)
Atop the third floor, a terrace surrounds this entire “city.” At every turn, decorative black slate tiles applied to the white stone give the castle a flamboyant Italian harlequin design. It is easy to imagine the servants, sent to Chambord in advance of the court’s arrival, watching for the approaching royal procession from these ramparts, or craning for a glimpse of the king’s hunting party as it thundered through the nearby forests.
The decorative tower that tops the da Vinci staircase. Note the black slate used to give the building an Italian harlequin design.
Because Chambord was rarely occupied (Francis reportedly spent fewer than seventeen weeks there during his lifetime), the castle was never furnished. With no village nearby, the 2,000-member court had to bring everything it needed – furniture, bedding, tapestries, cooking supplies, food – each time it visited. Today, with the exception of a few apartments outfitted with relatively modern furnishings, visitors to Chambord experience the chateau just as it was between Francis’ visits: utterly empty.

The carved Fs stand for Francis. The salamanders were the personal symbol of Francis I, chosen for their mythological ability to regenerate through fire.
Even so, evidence of Francis is everywhere, from the FRF initials formed in black slate to the salamanders carved into fireplaces, doors and coffered ceilings. As king, Francis took the salamander as his personal symbol, reflecting the ancient belief that the salamander, like the phoenix, could regenerate through fire – a worthy aspiration for a king who spent most of his reign at war with Spain.
A closer view of some of the black slate decorations, plus an engraved shell design, on the fantastical roofline of Chambord.
After Francis’ death, his son Henri and daughter-in-law Catherine continued to visit Chambord with their ten children until Henri’s death in a tragic jousting accident. Many years later, when their youngest son’s assassination during the Wars of Religion ended the Valois dynasty, the castle was abandoned. It was rescued by Louis XIV, who used it regularly from 1668 to 1675. Moliere’s famous play “Bourgeois Gentilhomme” had its premiere at Chambord during Louis’ reign.
After the French Revolution, Napoleon Bonaparte gave the chateau to a member of his entourage. In 1939, shortly before the outbreak of World War II, the art collections of the Louvre and Compiègne museums (including the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo) were hidden at Chambord, where they remained safe until the war ended. In 1991, the chateau became the inspiration for the Beast’s castle in the Walt Disney animated film “Beauty and the Beast.”
Now owned by the French government and open to the public, the chateau receives about 700,000 visitors annually.
McKenna Darby writes romantic historical novels set during the French Renaissance and the American Civil War. Visit her at http://mckennadarby.com

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Video of the Week: Worst Jobs in History (Victorian era)

The Worst Job in History is one of my favorite series. This video is from the Victorian era jobs. Its just fascinating. This episode is just over 45 min, so you might watch it on your lunch break :) Enjoy!

(PS. A note on YouTube--if you have a Playstation, you can stream YouTube onto your television. It may also work with XBox or Wii as well, like Netflix and Hulu.)

Monday, January 28, 2013

Book Review: Captured by a Cowboy by Jean Barrett

Captured By A Cowboy

by Jean Barrett
Review by Morgan Wyatt


Standing beside a shallow grave, Annie Johnson vows revenge on the stepfather who murdered her mother. Those plans are spoiled with the appearance of rugged cowboy Brady Malone, who is determined to haul Annie back to her grandfather's ranch, where the dying old man wants to reunite with his granddaughter. But Annie hates her cruel grandfather almost as much as she hates her stepfather.

Brady holds the evidence of the swindles Annie used to finance her search for her mother's killer. He won't hesitate to see her jailed if she doesn't accompany him to Wyoming. But he doesn't count on the discovery of her nemesis and her desire for retribution.

And neither Brady or Annie counts on their attraction to each other. 

Will Annie chose revenge or love? Either choice means a sacrifice--one that is bound to cost her dearly.


Captured by a Cowboy by Jean Barrett is a rugged western with a heart of gold. Get ready to saddle up and hit the trails with a determined shyster Annie Johnson, and the equally stubborn cowboy Brady. Annie blazes a larcenous trail that is easy for Brady to follow. He recognizes his target despite the fact she’s dressed as a good sister. When it comes to Annie Johnson, nothing is as it seems.

Annie Johnson knows her stepfather is responsible for her mother’s death, and she swears on her mother’s grave to make him pay. Her stepfather slides through towns quickly, which exhausts her meager supply of money. To fund her pursuit she turns to the cons her stepfather taught her, and a few she came up with on her own. She almost has her stepfather when a handsome cowboy gets in her way.

Brady has one mission that is to find his employer’s granddaughter and bring her home. He finds her in a mining town dressed as a sister and shaking miners down for the widows and orphans fund. While he definitely doesn’t approve of Annie’s activities, Brady finds himself drawn to the conniving spitfire. Even threatening her with jail fails to persuade her to accompany him.

Annie knows Brady doesn’t think much of her. It doesn’t matter because she doesn’t think much of his employer, her grandfather. If it hadn’t been for her grandfather her mother would be alive instead of buried in a shallow grave. After her father died, her grandfather made sure she and her mother felt unwelcome to stay at the family ranch. If her mother hadn’t left town, they wouldn’t had fell in with her stepfather. Why would she want to see such a man, even if Brady hogtied her and carried her there?

Annie and Brady definitely strike sparks off one another. Grandfather as a dying man who has many regrets, and little time to reconcile things is well done. The western setting comes alive in this tale. I could almost hear the train whistle. Brady is a classic cowboy tough, fair, and reasonably taciturn. Think young John Wayne. Annie for all her deviousness is more like Lucy managing to cause one disaster after another.

Captured by a Cowboy is a sweet western with some sensual undertones. If you like western romances, then you’re sure to like this one.

Book Review: The Inconvenient Duchess by Christine Merrill (Free on Amazon!)

The Inconvenient Duchess 

by Christine Merrill
Review by Morgan Wyatt


Dear Cici and Father,

I have come to Devon and married a duke. And I'm more tired and hungry than I have ever been in my life. Please let me come home.

Compromised and wedded on the same day, Lady Miranda was fast finding married life not to her taste. A decaying manor and a secretive husband were hardly the stuff of girlish dreams. Yet every time she looked at dark, brooding Marcus Radwell, Duke of Haughleigh, she felt inexplicably compelled--and determined--to make their marriage real!


The Inconvenient Duchess by Christine Merrill tells a classic problem of two individuals who are tricked into marriage. This tale is a Harlequin Historical. It is currently free on Kindle.

Miranda finds herself wet and dripping on the doorstep of her future husband. Even though she’d been born a lady, the family’s fall from respectability, has her scrubbing floor and clearing gardens. A family friend through a series of letters with an old friend manages to concoct a scheme that will land a titled husband for Miranda.

Marcus is well aware that his mother missed her calling when she didn’t take to the stage. He is well used to her manipulations with her last one being a dying scene, her own. She manages to get Marcus to promise to marry a gel who happens to be a ward of an old friend. He readily agrees knowing with his mother’s death that he’ll not have to honor his promise. Little does he know his mother has put wheels on the marriage, even before she died?

The dripping female who shows up exasperates Marcus, while his brother, St. John, charms Miranda with empty flattery and courtly gestures. Marcus chooses to marry Miranda to save her name, and even though she’ll make a very inconvenient duchess.

There is no chemistry at all between Miranda and Marcus. Why should there be when she spends all her time either being wooed by St. John or thinking about him?  The characters did not act in an  appropriate fashion for their period. It is hard to like a heroine who is so incredibly stupid and faithless. She’s the girl who married the nice guy in high school, and you’re clueless why he ever put up with her.

The Inconvenient Duchess is full of wrong words, contrived plot, and unlikable characters. This book has brought down my overall opinion of Harlequin. The name used to stand for quality, I am not so sure now. This book was free, but I was still aggravated that I wasted so much time reading it. On the other hand, I have downloaded several good free books. This isn’t one of them.

Book Review: Holly Leaves and Christmas Trees by Susannah Woods

Holly Leaves and Christmas Trees

By Susannah Woods
Review by Morgan Wyatt


London, 1895. Delaney Stirling does not feel like celebrating Christmas this year. Since her fiance died, she hasn't felt like doing much at all. When her father insists they go to London to visit her aunt, she reluctantly agrees.

Cade Garrow loves Christmas, especially Christmas in London. The ice skating, the caroling, the decorating; he enjoys it all.

Melting Delaney's frozen heart will be one Christmas activity Cade never counted on. It just could be the best Christmas present of all.


I feel obligated to like a free historical romance that centers on Christmas and love. What would there be not to like? Sadly, plenty including a mopey heroine named Delaney who spends the majority of the book feeling sorry for herself because her soldier fiancé died. Everyone has to bend over backwards to cheer the poor dear up.

He's been dead over a year, and she still is going through the motions of living. Early on, we are told her dead fiancé Roger was no prize to prepare for the bigger prize Cade, who is waiting in the wings.

Now Cade is a likable hero. He's friendly, upbeat, wealthy and kind to his younger sister. All the ladies have their hat set for him. He falls for the brooding heroine who wants nothing to do with him, and even refuses to talk to him, she goes on to call him by the wrong name, ignores his flirtations and forces herself through the motions of living. I was at 60% finished with the book when I decided to stop reading.

If there is no chemistry by this point, there is never going to be any. I wanted to yell at Cade to run fast, get away while he could.

The story is also riddled with inconsistencies. A big deal is made of how poor the family is and how they saved for years so she could have a season. Yet Delaney rolls through town spending money like a drunken sailor. Where did the money come from? Young ladies do not normally possess great sums of money. Her family certainly had none.

I figure in my lifetime I've read over 5000 romances, so I may have a sharper eye for detail and higher expectations. The writing itself was acceptable, but the story could benefit from some research and energy.

At that time, a woman expected her betrothed who served as a soldier to possibly die. It happened all the time. People died from disease, explosions, fires, etc. Delaney was not the ony gel to lose a man by misadventure, but she certainly acts as if she were.

Delaney gave off an air of self-absorption, which would not be in line with her prospects. The fact she told Roger not to go to South Africa to fight and expected him to obey shows lack of sensibility of the times. He would be a man without honor, unable to hold his head up. No woman would ask that of her beloved even thought that is what she wished. It is more of a case of putting modern values on a regency heroine. They don't wear well. (IMHO)

Historical Romance Review: Highland Surrender by Tracy Brogan


By Tracy Brogan
Review by Kathleen Bittner Roth


To seal a fragile truce, Fiona Sinclair’s brothers trade her in marriage to their sworn enemy. Though devastated by their betrayal, she has little choice in the matter, for if she refuses, her innocent young sister must take her place. The spirited Fiona is willing to sacrifice her freedom to protect her kin, but she vows never to surrender her heart.
As the eldest son of a clan chief, Myles Campbell is accustomed to having his own way. But when the king of Scotland commands he wed a defiant Highland lass instead of a French mademoiselle, Myles must obey his royal duty. Meeting his bride for the first time on their wedding day, he is pleased to discover the lass is a beauty, but she quickly proves she’d just as soon kill him as kiss him.
When two such warrior spirits collide, sparks fly, igniting a fiery passion that strains against the bonds of family honor, clan loyalty — and the ultimate surrender — love.


What a pleasure Highland Surrender was to read! Fiona Sinclair is no damsel in distress who meekly takes life as it comes. She is feisty, tough, and with a sense of humor that lays her hero flat. But let’s not discount Myles Campbell, the man her brothers have forced her to wed in order to heal the rift between the clans Sinclair and Campbell.

Bound to the eldest son of the Earl of Argyll, a man she has never met, Fiona must marry him or sacrifice her younger sister to the Campbells. Not only does she detest the entire clan, she loathes the earl himself, a man she holds responsible for her mother’s death. Even though she is forced into marriage, she decides she doesn’t have to like her husband, nor hate him and his family any the less.

But when she meets her adversary on her wedding day, she comes face to face with a handsome, formidable man who will give her no quarter for he too is chagrined at the idea of a forced marriage. After all, King James had promised him a sweet bit of French fluff, not some Highland virago with two unruly brothers who hold a vendetta against his clan.

Their wedding vows spoken, bride and groom are off to Campbell country. And here is where mayhem, intrigue and mystery take hold like a firestorm whipped up by a howling wind.

Nothing is as it seems, and while her brothers carry out a plan to bring down King James, Fiona and Myles are thrown together under the most difficult and trying of circumstances.  Despite their adversarial coupling, Fiona cannot ignore the heady chemistry that exists between the two, while Myles, despite the conflict between clans, tries to make a decent marriage out of the debacle.

The author, Tracy Brogan, a two-time RWA Golden Heart finalist, leaves no stone unturned in this story filled with twists and turns, yet she writes with such clarity and subtle persuasion that you are instantly drawn into a world she cleverly builds without the reader realizing what the author has accomplished.

Miss Brogan has a way with words, and a sense of humor that makes for outright giggles, even in the midst of turmoil.

Debut author Tracy Brogan has hit a home run out of two separate fields: Historical romance with Highland Surrender, and Crazy Little Thing, a contemporary.  This author has the rare ability to cleverly change author voices with each genre. Had she used a different pen name for one of the stories, I wouldn’t have guessed the same author wrote both books. Brava! You can find her at http://www.tracybrogan.com/

Today’s reviewer is Kathleen Bittner Roth, a 2012 RWA Golden Heart finalist whose Victorian novel, A Duke’s Wicked Kiss, will debut in June, 2014, from Entangled Publishing. www.kathleenbittnerroth.com

Friday, January 25, 2013

Video of the Week: The Story of Robert Burns

Today, January 25th, Scotland celebrates their famous poet, Robert Burns.

Enjoy this video--The Story of Robert Burns

If you're looking for more fun things, check out this link: Scotland Celebrate's Burns 

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Little Castles That Could by Sharron Gunn

Please join me in welcoming Sharron Gunn back to History Undressed! Sharron is an genius when it comes to history! A go to gal for many writers with questions and presents various historical workshops. Today she's written a great article on Motte and Bailey castles. Enjoy!

The Little Castles That Could 
by Sharron Gunn

Windsor Castle

William the Conqueror knew that it was one thing to win a battle and that it was quite another to hold the conquered land. Controlling people from a stronghold is what does the trick. The bigger the castle the stronger, and a bigger, stronger castle could hold a larger garrison, and that should be what won England for William. Right? Nope. Not at first.

The castle William used to solidify his hold on England and Wales was called a motte-and-bailey: a pudding bowl turned upside down with a wooden tower on top and a palisade around the base of the bowl. The palisade looked like the forts of the Old American West (and Canadian too). Later one or two baileys, enclosed by palisades extended the amount of men a castle could accommodate. A more comfortable residence for the noble or monarch and was usually constructed in one of the baileys.

William built his first motte in England in the ruins of a Roman fort at Pevensey, then he moved to Hastings which was closer to a Roman road, and built another before the battle of Hastings. The advantage of the motte was that it could be built quickly and cheaply--less than 15 days for Hastings Castle--and provide a defensive structure on flat land which could easily withstand a cavalry attack.

The English chronicler Odericus Vitalis gives the lack of castles in England as a reason for the success of the Normans. 'For the fortresses which the Gauls (French) call castella had been very few in the English provinces: and on this account the English, although warlike and courageous, had nevertheless shown themselves too weak to withstand their enemies.' And he complained that they [the Normans] 'sorely burdened the unhappy people with forced labour on the castles, And when the castles were made they filled them with devils and wicked men'. (Rowley 1983: 59)

After the Conquest, William carefully controlled the distribution of land; only his most loyal followers received grants of land and permission to build a fortification. Hundreds of motte-and-bailey castles were built in Britain in the 11th-12th centuries. Many weren't long used, but they served their purpose admirably. The Normans preferred to fortify a hill if one were available. However, they made a motte, an artificial mound, when they wanted a defensive structure on flat land.

Building a motte from the Bayeux Tapestry
The Bayeux Tapestry (actually an embroidery) shows the construction of a motte on flat ground. The image shows men digging out a ditch and heaping the earth in the centre to make an artificial mound. The top of the mound was flattened, and a wooden tower or donjon was built on top. It could be used as a lookout tower or the last refuge in an overwhelming attack. The bailey was an enclosure which contained the residential buildings: a great hall, a separate kitchen building, chapel, stables and barns, a chamber block and at least one well--very important that last. Both motte and bailey were surrounded by a palisade of wooden posts, connected by a wooden bridge or gangway.

Seven hundred motte-and-bailey castles show that most of Britain was conquered; they are found all over England and are particularly dense in Wales as resistance to the Norman invasion was fierce. In Scotland, the Normanised David I gave land to Anglo-Normans in the Lowlands and the north-east of Scotland.

Chroniclers record an enormous flurry of building by the Normans. Odericus mentioned how castles were raised at Warwick, Nottingham, York, Lincoln, Cambridge and Huntingdon. Castles weren't meant to protect the inhabitants of English towns; they were meant to intimidate the English. They were:

…a forward base and refuge, the fighting the hub of an appropriated estate. Every castle in later years would have functions other than military; it would be a residence, a treasury, a centre of administration, and a prison. (Platt 1994: 1)

Motte-and-bailey castles were built until the 13th century and, by then, they were seriously out-dated. The disadvantages were many: the palisades could be pulled apart with picks or rammed; heaps brushwood could be piled up by its palisade and set on fire. They were abandoned or the wood was replaced with stone. At Duffus Castle, near Inverness in Scotland, a stone tower replaced a wooden one, resulting in a little problem with settling. One corner of the castle cracked open like an egg and is sliding down the motte to this very day. Oops.

The stone towers built on top of the artificial mounds were called shell keeps. They often required a stone wall or revetement built around the base to keep the ground from settling and the castle from falling apart. The picture of Windsor Castle shows a shell keep in the centre, the oldest part of the castle, and the upper bailey to the right and the lower bailey to the left.
Berkhamdsted Castle -- Motte

Once replaced with stone, some continued to be used. Berkhamstead was given to Edward the Black Prince in 1339. There were newer, better designed castles by the 14th century, but the prince did not say, "Uh, no thanks. It's a bit out-of-date." He gladly accepted it as his first command. And at Windsor Castle, the shell keep is used to house the Royal Archives. While visitors may prefer to view grander stone castles, the motte-and-bailey was William's equivalent to the Roman camp, and he successfully conquered England with them.

Note: The word motte (mound) shifted in meaning to become 'moat', the water-filled ditch surrounding a fortified structure.

Hearts Through HistoryRomance Writers will sponsor Castles ofBritain  taught by Sharron, from 4 February to 5 March 2013. The course describes the development of castles from the 11th to the 13th centuries and gives much information about life in a medieval castle. The writer has a degree in Scottish history and Celtic Studies and has lived in Europe for eight years.


Bates, David, William the Conqueror, 2004
Hogg, Ian, The History of Forts and Castles, 1989
Kaufmann, J.E. & H.W.Kaufmann, The Medieval Fortress: Castles, Forts, and Walled Cities of the Middle Ages, 2004
Platt, Colin, The Castle in Medieval England & Wales, 1982
Rowley, Trevor, The Norman Heritage 1066 - 1200, 1983
Wilson, David M, The Bayeux Tapestry, 1985, 2004

Monday, January 21, 2013

Do You Know This Man? by Victoria King-Voreadi

Welcome Victoria King-Voreadi to History Undressed! She's written a fascinating and mysterious piece for us today. Enjoy!

Most people don’t.  He looks mild mannered and, from all available information about him, apparently he was.  He made cuckoo clocks and he played the zither (a mutant musical instrument resembling something between a harp and a piano’s insides).  He loved animals, was a momma’s boy and sexually irresponsible.  Yet this chap single-handedly conceived of, planned and executed the only assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler that worked – but was still a failure.  Now, how is that possible?

Georg Elser sincerely wanted to halt the onset of WWII, though why it was so important to him to do so is anybody’s guess.  In order to endure endless nights on his knees chiseling away at a 1m thick pillar, then meticulously concealing his work and slipping out of the building undetected, he must have had a strong motive!  His determination was so blindly resolute that he was totally unaware of the fact that Hitler had cancelled the speaking engagement; it was only reconfirmed at the last minute.  So, despite the fact that our boy wasn’t actually paying attention, he succeeded in planting a bomb in the venue where the Führer would be speaking the evening of November 8th 1939. 
He had the knowledge to build an effective time bomb, and the skills required to make the device undetectable even to Hitler’s most loyal hounds.  He had the self discipline essential to carry the plan out and, last but not least, the Führer showed up – so what went wrong?

I would venture to say that Georg Johann Elser may well have been the most competent yet unluckiest assassin of all time:

Strike One
He had no way of knowing what the weather in Berlin would be that night.  As it happened there was heavy fog which meant that Hitler and his entourage would not be able to fly back from Munich, they would have to take the train to Berlin.

Strike Two
Who could possibly imagine a megalomaniac cutting a speech short!?  Hitler however was forced to do so that night – there wasn’t time to change the train schedules so he spoke for less than an hour in order to catch the last scheduled train for Berlin.

Strike Three
Georg was governed by fixed ideas.  His plan was absolute and he executed it to the letter.  As such he was absolutely certain of its success.  He set the device, and then blithely set off for the Swiss border.  Everything had been perfectly planned except his escape.  He had crossed the border into Switzerland so many times during his adult life it never occurred to him that it might pose a problem.  He hadn’t counted on the political changes during Hitler’s surge for power affecting even sleepy hollows like Konstanz.  His papers were not in order so, he was detained.

Pay attention now because this is the point in our tale where things become really ridiculous.

Initial accounts of the Burger Braü Keller bombing stated that more than 100 people were killed and even more wounded.  The “official” party reports that followed however claimed that it was not a bomb but a freak accident due to a gas leak and that only 8 people were killed.

The Munich police had collared a suspect within 36 hours and not long thereafter acquired a full detailed confession without torture: that should have meant cigars and promotions.  The only problem was that their suspect’s confession was totally unacceptable.  Hitler’s popularity base was supposed to be the German working class – if an Aryan Lutheran German worker wanted him dead, and had very nearly succeeded in offing him, then things would not look rosy for the future of the Reich!  Goebbels’ team may have gotten a great opportunity to declare divine intervention, but for the overall good of the “Kampf” it was essential the entire incident be relegated to the ‘insignificant and thus easily forgotten’ pile.

The GESTAPO, lovely individuals, were in a real pickle; simply unable to accept that one civilian could have executed such an act unassisted.  For their own peace of mind (not to mention for the perpetuity of their own job security) it was tantamount they unearth a foreign conspiracy.  Our boy Georg was interrogated by a seemingly endless stream of well meaning and appropriately terrified officers – but the result was always the same – it was the only story he knew how to tell.  He even politely offered to sign off on whatever would make their position easier, he was screwed one way or the other, but that only served to make his captors more paranoid.  Were an actual conspiracy ever substantiated it would have looked like an intentional cover up.

An expeditious execution would have been hugely convenient but would have required a trial and lots of documentation that might be cross referenced some day (putting careers and kudos at risk).  The only course of action was to hold on to him until sufficient time had passed for him to simply fade away.

My long-time friend and co-author Donald Schwarz was obsessed with Elser for decades.  In essence Interrogation Tango, this attempt to flesh out an historical ghost, is the way Don would have liked the story to turn out if he were the protagonist.

Interrogation Tango is an anti-detective story, based on real events and people, about an assassin who drove the Gestapo crazy because they could not explain him away.

A non-descript clock maker named Georg Elser thought it would be a good idea to stop the onset of WWII. He thought he might be able to do that if he could kill Hitler and all of his entourage and, because he was sincerely looking for an opportunity, he found one. He placed a bomb in a beer hall where the Fuhrer was scheduled to give a speech.

It was a good honest try and it went wrong only by minutes. Elser was caught by a series of accidents and, when his family was threatened, he immediately confessed. There was only one problem: his confession was unacceptable. The police had assassin profiles then as they do now and he fit none of them. In fact, it was obvious to the police that he was not a criminal. Besides which, politics demanded that the attempt could not be perpetrated by one of Hitler’s faithful, adoring citizens; it had to be a British conspiracy. However, there was no conspiracy and the cops were afraid to invent one, since in the event that there was a real conspiracy, an invented one would look like a cover-up.

Interrogation Tango is the policemen’s story: the detectives Elser destroyed and the Gestapo men he drove crazy, followed by chaos and a body count.

Purchase Interrogation Tango at Iguana Books as Print, ePub, or Kindle editions.

Victoria lives in the city of Herákleionon the island of Crete, Greece with her husband and two beautiful daughters. A freelance writer and translator in Greece since 1992 she has received two screenwriting grants from the EEU Media Programme for both original and commissioned feature scripts, has worked on local and foreign productions. Victoria met her co-author Donald E. Schwarz in 1994 while visiting New York and the two instantly struck up a creative partnership.

Connect with Victoria:

Twitter - @VAKingVoreadi

Friday, January 18, 2013

Video of the Week: Medieval Come Dine With Me (Horrible Histories)

Happy Friday! This week's video is Medieval Come Dine With Me! You won't catch me eating their fish...
Hilarious, enjoy!

Looking for a weekend read? Check out my new releases!

BOOK THREE: The Stolen Bride Series

A Highlander tamed…

Laird Daniel Murray seeks adventure, battle and freedom for his countrymen. Putting off his duties as laird—with a promise to his clan he’ll return come spring—Daniel sets off with his men to fight alongside William Wallace and the Bruce. But soon he stumbles across an enchanting lady in need. She tantalizes him with an offer he simply can’t refuse and a desire he attempts to dismiss.

A lady’s passion ignited…

Escaping near death at the treacherous hands of a nearby clan, Lady Myra must find the Bruce and relay the news of an enemy within his own camp. Alone in a world full of danger and the future of her clan at stake, she must trust the handsome, charismatic Highland laird who promises to keep her safe on her journey—and sets her heart to pounding.

Together, Daniel and Myra will risk not only their lives, but their hearts while discovering the true meaning of hope and love in a world fraught with unrest.

Ebook: Kindle / Barnes and Noble / Smashwords (all e-formats) and in PRINT.

BOOK TWO: The Rules of Chivalry

A knight's victory will be the lady's undoing...

Sir Michael Devereux has fallen for his childhood friend, Lady Elena. In return she has also given him her heart. However their love is not to be. Lady Elena is whisked from their homeland of Wexford, Ireland to marry the malicious Earl of Kent in England.

Suffering greatly Elena pleas for Michael to come and be her savior. At long last an opportunity arises in the form of a tournament. Winner becomes Kent's Captain of the Guard—and closer to the Lady Elena.

But with victory comes tragedy… When stealing kisses in the dark leads to something more, and the sinister ambitions of people in their midst threatens their safety, Michael and Elena will have to make a choice. That choice could mean life or death and has them asking, does love really conquer all?

Amazon Kindle / Barnes and Noble Nook /Smashwords (all e-formats)

Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Men’s Undergarment Hall of Shame by Kate Dolan

Welcome back to History Undressed, guest author, Kate Dolan (also writing as K.D. Hays)! She's written a fun piece for you all today that I'm sure you will enjoy!!!

The Men’s Undergarment Hall of Shame

by Kate Dolan

We all know there are men’s clothes and women’s clothes. And sometimes clothing that is exclusively masculine for centuries eventually becomes suitable for women as well – think of boots and most notably, pants. But with one notorious undergarment, the reverse was true – it started as a women’s garment and was appropriated by fashionable men, though few would probably have been willing to admit it. Some men even wore vanity devices that women never would dream of wearing. This is the Men’s Undergarment Hall of Shame (and since this is history, we’re not even getting as far as Speedos).

“You want pain? Try wearing a corset.” This advice from the character Elizabeth Swan in the movie Pirates of the Caribbean sums up the modern perception of the garment that has been alternately referred to over the centuries as a corset, stays, and "a pair of bodies." A pair of stays or a corset are a stiff garment worn around the ribcage and waist. They are usually “boned” which means they have channels filled with pieces of metal, cane or baleen “boning” to make them fairly rigid. Some of them come down lower than others and therefore compress the waist and lower abdomen more. If laced tightly, they can make it difficult to breathe, bend, reach or eat. I have worn reproduction 18th Century stays on numerous occasions and in my experience, if they are not laced too tight, they are much like wearing a back support brace. But the same garment, if laced up tight to improve the fit of a gown, makes it really hard to take a full breath.  

Women started wearing these by at least the 1400s and period satire suggests that men may have also secretly worn them during the Elizabethan period to give themselves a fashionably unnatural pinched waist. There is no doubt that by the 1780s, some men of fashion were wearing stays, and they continued to do so for about the next 100 years. One source described the well-dressed man as “pinched in and laced up until he resemble an earwig.” Before we condemn them too thoroughly, however, we should also consider that these dandies were the same men who made it fashionable to bathe, so we do owe them a certain debt.    

The thought of men wearing a corset may be shameful to some, but if women wore them, too, it seems a bit hypocritical to criticize them too much. But there was a another fashion device for which ridicule is justly deserved – the calf pad. From about 1770 onward, men began padding their stockings to make their calves look more round and well developed. This fad lasted until men discarded their knee breeches and took to wearing full length, loose fitting trousers. In Sheridan's play A Trip to Scarborough, the character Lord Foppington berates his hosier for thickening the calves of his stockings too much. When the hosier, Mr. Mendlegs, protests that the stockings are the same he supplied in the fall, Foppington explains that "if you make a nobleman's Spring legs as robust as his autumn calves, you commit a monstrous impropriety, and make no allowance for the fatigues of the winter."

So we have men padding their legs to make them look muscular, cinching their waists with corsets to make them look trim and fit, what did they do with the shirts? After all, shirts were considered the basic undergarment for a man for at least the last 500 years. In the early 19th Century, they added "ears" to the shirts by creating collars that were so high, before being turned down, they entirely covered the head and face. Even when folded down, the points of the collar still came to nearly ear level. Lady Stanley commented "I think that part would be very comfortable to keep one snug from flies and sun."

Since most of the time it seems to be women who are slaves to fashion's torture, I found it amazing to see the devices used by men in the name of vanity. But then it really should have come as no surprise, since men were also the first to wear wigs and high heels.

Thank heavens the men in my family pay no attention to fashion and are content to wear whatever's on the top of the laundry basket. You never know when corsets might make another comeback!

Leave a comment for your chance to win an ecopy of your choice of Kate's books! Two winners!

Kate Dolan writes historical fiction and romance under her own name and contemporary mysteries and children’s books under the name K.D. Hays. You can learn more about her misadventures with history by visiting www.katedolan.com.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Castle of the Week: Cawdor Castle

Welcome back to another Castle of the Week post! This week's post was written by guest author Paisley Kirkpatrick. Paisley is a Celtic Hearts chaptermate of mine. Enjoy!

Cawdor Castle
by Paisley Kirkpatrick

We spent a couple of hours exploring both the gardens and the interior of Cawdor Castle, set in the parish of Cawdor, ten miles east of Inverness, Scotland. The fourteenth century tower house belonged to Clan Calder and continues to serve as the home of the Cawdor family.

On the way into the parking lot, we had to stop to save the little hedgehog. I'd never seen one before and thought it was cute.  A huge tour bus readied to leave the parking lot at the same time as we wanted to enter. I was afraid the little guy might be squished. I jumped out of our car, held up my hands to stop the bus and dashed to the little critter's aid. I earned a wide smile from the bus driver and a few thumbs up from his passengers.

Even the parking lot was clean and framed by beautiful trees and shrubs. Being the middle of October, the trees graced the area with their various oranges and yellows.

For many years it was thought the castle was built around the year 1454. The belief now is that it was built as early as the mid-1300s. An older, crumbling Cawdor Castle needed replacing, and William, 3rd Thane of Cawdor, set out in search of a replacement location to re-construct Cawdor. The story is that William rode his donkey through the nearby countryside. Cawdor was built in the exact spot where the donkey laid its head in rest. Cawdor was constructed around a holly tree that stood where the donkey stopped. Results of testing determined the holly tree died in 1372, suggesting the castle was first built before that date. Ironically, it might have been starvation of sunlight due to the construction of Cawdor around the castle which eventually killed the holly tree. I vaguely remember there is a tribute to the tree in one of the circular rooms. It's been five years so that memory is fleeting.

This original structure would have just been a large four-story tower, or keep. The castle was expanded several times throughout history, mainly in the 17th and 19th centuries. The gardens at Cawdor Castle include a walled garden, originally built in the 17th century, a flower garden, built in the 18th century and a wild garden, built in the 1960s.

Tourists have a chance to walk through the living area of the castle. It appeared to still be lived in and felt quite cozy. Next to Eilean Donan this was my favorite castle to spend time exploring. 


Dusty bearded men in miner's boots and faded shirts, gamblers in fancy vests and frock coats, a ghost or two tossed in for good measure -- these are the characters who come to life on my pages. Mix them with strong, independent women of the Gold Rush era who delight and tempt their heroes to take a chance on love and, voila, it's romance.
My husband of 43 years and I are fortunate enough to live in the Sierra Mountain Range of California where this colorful time in history took place. Exploring gold mines, inspecting the stately historic homes, and traveling through tunnels zigzagging underground stirs my imagination and brings reality to my stories.

To write and create has always been my dream. Joining Romance Writers of America twelve years ago opened the door to achieving what I was born to do.

Visit Paisley at www.paisleykirkpatrick.com/