The Battle of Maserfield was fought on this day – August 5th 642 (possibly 641) between the Kingdom of Northumbria under King Oswald on one side and an alliance between King Penda of Mercia and welsh allies, possibly from Gwynedd and Powys.
Maserfield was the old name for the area and probably meant ‘marshy field’ (perhaps a description of where the battle took place. But that is not what it is called today. The site of the battle is usually identified with Oswestry on the Welsh borders. What does that name mean and how was it reached? Read on to find out.
“I awake full of you. Your image and the memory of last night’s intoxicating pleasures has left no rest to my senses.”
Napoléon Bonaparte will be remembered as one of history’s greatest generals; yet the one victory that seemed always to elude him was the battle for the affections of his own wife.
She was born Marie Josèphe Rose Tascher de La Pagerie, the daughter of a wealthy Creole sugar baron in Martinique. But after hurricanes destroyed the family plantation, she was married off to the Vicomte de Beauharnais in Paris in October, 1779, in order to preserve the family fortune. It was an unhappy marriage, but it produced two children, Eugène and Hortense.
During the Reign of Terror, in 1794, her husband was arrested as an aristocratic ‘suspect’ by the Jacobins; Joséphineherself was imprisoned a month later. He was guillotined and she herself was only saved from the same fate by the timely overthrow of Robespierre, just one day before her scheduled execution.
As a widow with two children to support, she chose her lovers with her head rather than her heart. She became mistress to several of France’s political and financial luminaries. But Joséphine was a shopper of the first rank and ran up enormous debts during her life.
In fact, when she met Napoléon it was rumored that her present lover, Paul Barras, was very happy for the other man to take her off his hands. He simply couldn’t afford her. He had met his financial Waterloo. Read the rest of this entry »
A particular friend of mine suggested that I write a blog post, sharing the wisdom of one of my antique books. It’s called The Home Cook Book and it was published by Ladies of Toronto and Chief Cities and Towns of Canada in 1877. It’s billed as Tried! Tested! Proven! And it went through at least seventy editions, so the information it includes must be solid gold.
Now, besides the recipes (I’ve tried a few—they’re a bit bland, but serviceable), it addresses other important things that every woman will want to know.
“Success in housekeeping” it insists, “adds credit to the woman of intellect, and lustre to a woman’s accomplishments. ..no matter how talented a woman may be…if she is an indifferent housekeeper it is fatal to her influence, a foil to her brilliancy and a blemish to her garments.”
Well, I certainly don’t want you to be seen with blemished garments, so I’m going to share with you some of the wisdoms that will help you with your housekeeping efforts. We’re assured that “there is nothing so difficult to learn that she may not be proficient in a year or two at most”…so take heart. There’s hope for us all. Read the rest of this entry »
(an article by Greta Van der Rol)
I recently read a post in M.M Bennetts’s excellent and recommended blog entitled No, tell me what really happened. She points out that historians have so often tended to build upon the opinions of others, believed the official written records without subjecting them to empirical scrutiny.
MM Bennetts specialises in the Napoleonic period and in her blog she has several times mentioned pioneering work done recently in finding out the truth about Napoleon’s disastrous Russian campaign. Napoleon, it seems, was as much a master of spin as the Nazis and the Soviets. Going back to the source, especially when dealing with totalitarian regimes, is a good thing to do.Admittedly, it takes a certain dedication to work through births, deaths and marriages or the records of exhumed mass burial sites. This is, of course, why we read historical fiction – the facts interpreted as literature, without the boring, mucky bits.
Sometimes, though, we can have both – a well-written eye-witness account of an event which is both a ‘source’ document and a compelling read. One such is The Ring of Nine, a diary written by a man who survived the siege of Leningrad in WW2. Everybody has heard of the siege of Stalingrad but I confess even though I specialised in Nazi Germany at university, I knew very little about the siege of Leningrad, which has now reverted to its pre-Soviet name, St Petersburg. The people of Leningrad defended their city for twenty-nine months from surrounding German forces, suffering daily bombardment, starvation rations and the exceptionally bitter winter of 1941/42. Throughout the ordeal, Maria Kuroshchepova‘s grandfather recorded events and his feelings in a diary. Read the rest of this entry »
I am reading The White House Cook Book (the 1889 edition) as research for a novel I’m writing. It’s a fascinating look into cooking and baking with a wood stove. Some recipes uncommon today make me smile. For instance, when making squirrel soup, you must strain the finished soup through a course colander, “so as to get rid of the squirrels’ troublesome little bones.”
I worked my way to the desserts. There I found a recipe for apple custard pie with brandy, which I’ve never sampled, have never seen on a restaurant menu, and appears not to be a staple of the modern cookbook. I suggested to Jay, my gourmet cook husband, that he give it a try. I wanted him to duplicate the recipe, but his being a diabetic made that impossible from the get-go. Besides, he immediately balked at grating the three large pared apples by hand, opting to put them in his Cuisinart and chopping them in short bursts. I compared his result with a bit of apple I had grated, and the consistency was pretty close. The recipe read “to every teacupful of the apple add two eggs well beaten, two tablespoonfuls of fine sugar, one of melted butter, the grated rind and half the juice of one lemon . . .” What in today’s measurement is a “teacupful”? Well, look it up on the Internet and the answer is “six oz.” Those three large apples added up to four teacups or 24 oz. of apple. Jay substituted Splenda for sugar and bottled grated lemon peel. But when it came to adding “half a wine-glass of brandy” for every teacupful of apple, he simply reached into the cupboard and grabbed a red wine glass. But has the red wine glass changed size during the ensuring years? There was no time for more research. Jay was on a roll. He measured a half wine glass of brandy per teacupful of apple — the result was that he added three mini-bottles of Christian Brothers brandy. The last ingredient was a teacupful of milk per teacupful of apple. Again we came up short. We use skim milk and I was certain the author expected that rich milk would be used. I took a can of whipped cream from the refrigerator, sprayed it into a measuring cup and added skim milk, then mixed them together. Pretty rich. “Pour into a deep dish lined with paste and bake 30 minutes.” Jay had enough for two pies. He poured the thick batter into a prepared Pillsbury crust (he has learned to coat it with egg white so it won’t get soggy, just as the author suggested so many years ago) and the remainder into a graham cracker pie crust shell we happened to have on hand. They looked tasty already. Read the rest of this entry »
WHY IT MATTERS
We’ve all heard the axiom that those who fail to learn from history are destined to repeat it. And so we study our history lessons and believe our teachers and know with everything that is in us that we would never allow another dictator to take control of us, to kill millions, to tell us what to think and believe and love and hate. We know the dates. We know the names and places. We have seen, in black and white, the atrocities. And yet, for those of us who did not live during WWII, it’s a very difficult thing to understand how humanity can ever have come to that. We cannot look within a man’s mind and know with any certainty what it was he was truly thinking when he devised his plan–if it came all at once or by degrees. It is impossible to know exactly what it was that made him feel so strongly and how he was able to influence so many to agree with his philosophies. Just what was it that got us there in the first place? Read the rest of this entry »
I have written one book: THE AFFLICTED GIRLS A Novel of Salem, published at the end of 2009, but a process begun in 1993 when I first picked the 1692 Salem witch hunt as the subject for a screenplay.
My research in those hard-to-imagine pre-internet days consisted of reading every book on Salem available in the Los Angeles Public Library; although some were too old and decrepit to be forwarded to my branch. I also searched through two university reference libraries. Of course, there were a handful of books I was able to take home for study.
Sometime while taking notes, I got bitten by the ghostly bug still haunting Salem that hunts for blood and an audience. And sometimes I had to implore the books I was skimming to help me weed out dramatic irrelevancies. In the end I had collected more than a thousand disparate but novel facts, most of which were later incorporated into my novel. 126 single- spaced typewritten pages, indexed by character, subject, and strangeness, each item prompting its own unique scrutinization and speculation, because of my having learned at film school that motivation is key to a well- constructed dramatic story.
I asked: Why would an indentured nineteen-year-old girl in Salem Village accuse a minister of witchcraft, a man she hasn’t seen for years but once dwelt with in childhood after being orphaned on the Maine frontier? And what was the relationship between that minister and her Salem master? And why would the wife of her master simultaneously accuse an elderly neighbor of murdering her newborns? And not just one infant, but several? Read the rest of this entry »
(This article is a reprint of a blog post by Diane Scott Lewis, author of The False Light and Elysium)
He’d be here soon and demand his conjugal rights. A quick toss, then off to his club, while she fretted over bursting with another baby. She’d sneak a drink of wormwood or pennyroyal, hopefully to discourage any breeding. She removed her skirt, then underskirt, oh and the petticoats, dropped them to the floor. Garters untied and stockings rolled down. No drawers in freezing England, rumor has it in France and Spain they may wear them. Stays unlaced, easier with a maid. Panniers untied, discarded. Shift slipped off—so stiff with perspiration, the garment could stand on its own. She scratched at her skin, bed bugs from the bed last night. The wig. She tugged at the pile of fake hair, interwoven with her own. A wooden ship fell on the floor, a few silk flowers. Where was that maid? She grabbed the hook and stuck it through the wig to scratch her itchy scalp. To preserve the style, you slept upright in this contraption. She yawned.
Should she bathe? Soap was expensive. Water had to be lugged up two flights of stairs. She still wore her shift in the water, so how clean could she get? One rarely bathed. She should at least sprinkle rosemary over her person.
He’d swagger upstairs any moment, sweaty from riding, clothes filthy, breath foul. She’d avoid kissing him.
**Researching my novel, The False Light, I found many interesting details about the eighteenth century. I like to write the gritty truth about life in another era, not the cleaned-up, idealized version.**
(This is a reprint of an article by Jane Bailey Bain, on her website. Jane is an author and anthropologist, currently teaching mythology in West London.)
In northern Europe, children put their shoes neatly by the door last night. If they have been good this year, St Nicholas fills them with sweets and toys; if not, they will find a lump of coal and a hard stick. For others, he will come on Christmas Eve, soaring through the night sky in a flying sledge. Many centuries ago Nicholas lived in Patara, in modern Anatolia. His father was a rich merchant and left a fortune to his only son. But why did he start leaving gifts in this way?…
… It had been a good night. The wine was sweet and the barmaids obliging. Nick staggered slightly as he stepped into the street. A full moon hung low above the rooftops. The cool air was welcomely refreshing. Nick waved away the servant who stood waiting and set off alone through the quiet streets.His way passed through a poorer part of town. He stumbled on the rough ground and bumped against a wall. As he steadied himself, he heard a girl’s voice from the window high above.
“That’s all I really want….” Without thinking, Nick paused to listen. What women really want: that would be good for a young man to know!
Another girl answered, speaking softly. “Three gold coins! Father will never find so much for each of us. And unless you have a dowry, his family will not let him marry you.”
A third voice chimed in. “There’s only one way for girls like us to make money.”
“And he would never want me after that…” The first voice dissolved in tears. Read the rest of this entry »
(This is a reprint of an article by Gillian Bagwell, Author of The September Queen and The Darling Srumpet)
I was thrilled that when my agent sold my first novel, The Darling Strumpet, she also sold my second book, as yet unwritten, and was very excited to have the opportunity to write the first fictional account of Jane Lane, an ordinary Staffordshire girl who risked her life to help the young Charles II escape after the Battle of Worcester on September 3, 1651.
I wanted to retrace the path Jane had taken in her travels with Charles, and as some of the places associated with my story would be closing soon for the winter, and traveling around England wouldn’t get any easier as it got colder, wetter, and darker, I immediately planned a research trip. My friend Alice Northgreaves and I set out from London on October 26, 2009, making our way to Worcester, the site of the battle, from which Charles had fled to Staffordshire, where Jane became involved in his desperate flight.
Charles’s six-week odyssey covered more than 600 miles before he was finally able to sail from Shoreham near Brighton on October 15. After he was restored to the throne in 1660, the story of his escape became known as the Royal Miracle, because of the numerous times he narrowly eluded capture. He told the story to Samuel Pepys, and others also recorded their parts in it, so that the route of his travels is well known. The Monarch’s Way footpath can still be followed. Read the rest of this entry »