Friday, December 19, 2014

The Origin of Hanging Stockings at Christmas

The origin of hanging stockings by the fire for Santa Claus, or St. Nicholas, to fill is difficult to pinpoint. Like so many traditions, the true origin can be traced back to more than one source, all based on folklore and legend with so many variations, we may never know how it all really started. But there are some fun stories.

Possibly as far back as the Third Century A.D., there was a happy family whose father was either a nobleman or a merchant, depending on who tells the story. Anyway, the mother of this family died, leaving the father so distraught that he absentmindedly made some poor investments which ultimately led to the family's ruin. The family had to leave their comfortable home and move to a humble cottage where his three daughters (have you noticed three seems to be a preferred number for stories?) took over all the cooking, cleaning, laundry, and other household chores. The father worried his daughters would never marry well without a dowry to offer a new husband. This painted a bleak picture of their futures.

Into this sad tales steps a kindly bishop named Nicholas. He had a particular sympathy for the downtrodden and a pure love toward children. Nicholas had been traveling, teaching people about God and bringing hope, and sometimes gifts of food or money, to those who needed them. Nicholas stumbled upon the plight of this man and his daughters and was moved by compassion. According to some accounts, Nicholas waited until the family slept, slipped down the chimney, and placed a bag of coins on the fireplace mantle. As Nicholas climbed back up the chimney, the bag of coins tipped over, rolled off the mantle and fell into one of the stockings that the daughters had left along with other laundry drying by the fireplace. In the morning, when the family arose, they found the bag of coins. They rejoiced, for now they had enough money for the eldest daughter's dowry. She promised to marry a good man and take care of her father in his old age.

Duringt this time, Nicholas covertly peeked into the window. When he saw the joy and hope he'd brought to the family, he returned the following night, bringing another bag of coins. This second bag of coins provided a dowry for the second daughter.

The third night, the father, suspecting their unknown benefactor would return again, waited up for him. When Nicholas arrived with the third bag of coins, the father fell down at the feet of the bishop and thanked him for his generosity. This bishop later became sainted for this and many other acts of charity. We know him today as Saint Nicholas.

Some accounts say Nicholas came in through the door instead of down the chimney; others say he tossed the coins in through the window, either with accurate enough aim for the coins to land in one of the hanging stockings, or with bad enough aim that they fell off the mantle, which was his original target, and into a stocking. The stories also vary in that some claim he visited the family only once and others that he came three times. It is also suggested that the bag of coins was actually a large golden ball. This may have prompted the custom of children getting oranges in their stockings, in remembrance of that golden ball, or perhaps of the ball-shaped bag of coins.

In Norse folklore, a god named Odin, who rode a mighty horse named Sleipnir, visited children's houses on Christmas Eve. If the children left their boots filled with hay, sugar, or carrots for Sleipnir, Odin left candy and gifts for the children to thank them.

The Dutch have a similar tradition. As far back as 16th Century Holland, Sinterklaas arrived by ship and rode a white horse (or a reindeer, again depending on who you believe). The children left a treat for him near the hearth and placed their shoes called clogs by the fireplace filled with hay and carrots for his horse (or reindeer). Sinterklaas left treats in the children's shoes.

Eventually, legends and customs merged, changing the custom of hanging stockings instead of boots or shoes.

In the famous poem " 'Twas the Night Before Christmas" the Christmas stocking is mentioned twice. Near the very beginning of the poem, it says, “The stockings were hung by the chimney with care” and, again, near the end: “He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work, And filled all the stockings then turned with a jerk."

So this Christmas, when you hang your stockings, spare a thought for a kindly bishop who helped those in need.

In my short Christmas story, there aren't stockings or gifts under a tree, but two lovers torn apart by war and heartache, get the best gift ever...a second chance.

A CHRISTMAS REUNION, the Gift of a Second Chance, pictured to the left, is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, The Wild Rose Press, and everywhere digital books are sold.

Or, if you're in the mood for a collection of short historical stories, all by different authors including yours truly, and which take place during the winter (some take place during Christmas), try A TIMELESS ROMANCE ANTHOLOGY: Winter Collection pictured to the right. In my short romantic tale,  A Winter’s Knight  a young lady’s fascination with a murdering earl and his dark castle lands her in the heart of an ancient and terrible  secret.  It  will  take  more  than a Christmas kiss underneath the mistletoe to break the curse and find a happily ever after.This collection is available in both print and ebook on Amazon.



Friday, December 5, 2014

The Glass Armonica

Although Benjamin Franklin was an American and therefore not part of my usual Regency geekiness, I have to admire his brilliance.  Every few years I learn of another invention of his. This time, I discovered that he invented an unusual musical instrument called the "glass armonica." No, it's nothing like a harmonica--it's more like playing wine glasses with a wet finger, only these glasses are on their sides, all attached, and the glass does the spinning.

According to http://www.glassarmonica.com/ Franklin originally named his invention the 'glassychord', but changed it to "armonica" after the Italian word for harmony.  The Armonica hit the musical scene in London in 1762, launched a tour of Europe, and captured the interest of both Mozart and Beethoven who wrote pieces to be played on this unusual glass instrument.

Below is a fascinating YouTube video of "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy" on the Glass Armonica played by William Zeitler who is one of few musicians who have mastered playing this unusual instrument. It love the magical, almost ethereal notes of the glass armonica and hope you find this a fitting way to kick off a magical Christmas Season.



BTW, if you're in the mood for a short historical romance and you like the sweeter side of romance, check out my brand new short story A Christmas Reunion, the Gift of a Second Chance for only $.99, available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and directly from my publisher, The Wild Rose Press.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Horace Walpole's Strawberry Hill House


© Cheryl Bolen
One of the most well-known men in Georgian England was Horace Walpole (1717-1797), a younger son of the first British Prime Minister, Robert Walpole. Horace would have been assured a certain notoriety because of his family connections, but he also blazed his own trail as a man of letters, a Whig politician, art connoisseur, and builder of Strawberry Hill House. 
Horace Walpole
 
Horace Walpole's greatest source of fame came from his immensely bestselling novel, The Castle of Otranto, which was first published in 1764. At first released under a pseudonym and purported to be a translation from old Italian documents, Walpole soon took credit for the unique work, which established the genre of the gothic novel. 

The rich details of Georgian life in his erudite letters are a valuable resource to historians. 

Walpole started building his "gothic castle" in Twickenham in 1749 and continued on it for nearly 30 years, expanding from the original five acres to 46 acres while designing gardens befitting his showplace house. During his lifetime, Strawberry Hill House drew throngs of visitors.  
Strawberry Hill House and Gardens in the 18th Century

Though Strawberry Hill was considered in the country during Georgian times, it is located in the present London borough of Richmond-upon-Thames and was one of a proliferation of Thames-side villas erected by aristocrats and other wealthy men during the eighteenth century. 

As an aesthete, Walpole filled his beloved Strawberry Hill House with art treasures, mostly antiquarian. 

Described as a "natural celibate," the effeminate Walpole never married and died childless.  After his death, Strawberry Hill passed to his cousin Anne Seymour Damer, then to the Waldegrave family. Losing the Waldegrave family fortune, two Waldegrave brothers authorized a huge auction of the treasures of Strawberry Hill House in 1842. This left the house stripped of all its contents. 

The Lewis Walpole Library at Yale University has a database of all Horace Walpole's art treasures, their current location, and descriptions of those whose ownership has not been traced. 

In 1923, St. Mary's University purchased Strawberry Hill House and held it for more than three-quarters of a century. In 2007 Strawberry Hill House was leased to the Strawberry Hill Trust, which raised £9 million for the restoration and subsequent reopening of the house. 

Strawberry Hill House Today, after Restoration
 
After two centuries, the house re-opened to the public in 2010 and is administered by the trust. It can be reached by a variety of London transit options. Since it is currently just a three-minute walk from the Thames River Walk around Richmond, it is suggested that visitors walk along the river path from Richmond in order to tour Strawberry Hill House.--Cheryl Bolen's sixth installment in the Brides of Bath, A Christmas in Bath, was released this month.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Regency Chocolate

by historical romance author, Donna Hatch

Today, people (at least in the US) use the terms hot chocolate and hot cocoa interchangeably. And most commercial mixes available in grocery stores taste pretty much the same. However, technically, hot cocoa is made with cocoa powder, the stuff you can buy in a metal container that comes unsweetened and has no cocoa butter.

Hot chocolate is actually made from melted chocolate, which includes cocoa butter. Because of its higher fat content, true hot chocolate is richer than the original hot cocoa recipe made from cocoa powder.

During the Regency, people drank hot chocolate too, but they drank it unsweetened the way people drink coffee black, and they often drank it in the morning as a way to begin the day rather than as a special treat. In books, I often have a maid bring the characters a breakfast tray with chocolate (they didn't add the word 'hot' as it was implied since that's the only way people drank it) and a pastry. After the heroine goes through the procedures of dressing and having her hair styled, she goes downstairs to the breakfast room and eats her breakfast buffet style, as was the custom in much of England during the Regency.

Since I like my hot chocolate and/or hot cocoa sweet and decadent, most of my heroines do too, but I have people comment on what a strange quirk that is.

Here is my favorite hot cocoa recipe. As you can see, even though it uses cocoa powder and not melted chocolate, it is not low fat :)

My oldest daughter found this recipe years ago here and we've been using it ever since when we want a special treat that tastes far better than instant mix.
Best Ever Decadent Hot Cocoa
Makes 4 servings
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
3/4 cup white sugar
1 pinch salt
1/3 cup boiling water
Then:
3 1/2 cups milk
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup half-and-half cream

Combine the cocoa, sugar and pinch of salt in a saucepan. Blend in the boiling water. Bring this mixture to an easy boil while you stir. Simmer and stir for about 2 minutes. Watch that it doesn't scorch.

Stir in 3 1/2 cups of milk and heat, stirring constantly, until very hot, but do not boil!

Remove from heat and add vanilla.
Divide between 4 mugs.
Add the cream to the mugs of cocoa to cool it to drinking temperature.

Yum!

Image downloaded from Wikimedia commons

Friday, November 14, 2014

The Fall of the Leaf--Fox Hunting Season



 
After the fall of the leave to the last frost—that is the traditional foxhunting season, when the fields lie fallow. What we otherwise think of as November to March. However, cub hunting (when young hounds were trained with drag hunts, might begin as early as October, depending on the weather and the keeness of the hunter.

To me, autumn is always the time to think of fox hunts. I've used fox hunting in several of my books, and it's a main plot point in Under the Kissing Bough, for the heroine is an early advocate of animal rights (a movement that does see its birth in the early 1800's).
In England, the record of the oldest foxhunt dates back to mid 1600's and the second Duke of Buckingham, who hunted the Bilsdale pack in Yorkshire dales.

Each hunt is composed of a Master—usually the man who owns the hounds. The Master may employ "whipper-ins" to help keep the hounds together. Hunting is informal in the 1700s—anyone can join in to follow the hounds (as in that wonderful scene from the movie, Tom Jones, when the Squire cannot resist the call of the huntsmen's horns). Those horns are actually signals to the other huntsmen and the pack as to where the fox is headed.

The Duke of Bedford's hounds hunted actually stags until 1770's. But by 1780's fox hunting took over in popularity. Enclosure Acts and reduction of forests mean less stag hunting. And hare hunting was generally regarded as more a necessity of country life.

Hunt territories varied widely. The fifth Earl of Berkely hunted an area from Berkley Castle to Berkley Square, stretching 120 miles. Most hounds were kept by rich individuals, and they often invited local farmers to hunt with them, for very often you depended on the locals allowing your hunt access over their farms—there's still no way to predict which way a fox will run.

By 1810, there were only 24 subscription packs—or packs that you could pay to belong to and hunt, as opposed to requiring an invitation from the Master. But this would double, so that by the mid 1800's hunting became a more a matter of 'subscribing' in exchange for the right to hunt with the pack.

The golden age for hunting in Leichesterchire is 1810 to 1830. This starts off with Hugo Meynell, who hunted his foxhounds from Quorn Hall in Leicstershire from 1753 to 1800. His record run was 28 miles in 2 hours 15 minutes.

During this time, there's as many as 300 hunters stabled in Melton Mowbray--with some gentlemen keeping up to 12 hunters. You could hunt 6 days a week with the still famous packs—the Quorn, the Cottesmore, the Belvoir, the Pytchley. Lord Sefton, Master of the Quorn from 1800-02, went through 3 horses a day—which is why you might need a dozen horses.
Ptychey's record run was in 1802, when the pack covered 35 - 40 miles in 4 ¼ hours. With horse medicine being about the same as for people—horses were bled after a long, tiring day. So the life of a hunter could be a short, hard one. In Warwickshire, a hunter might fetch 200 - 500 guineas. But in Leichestershire, a hunter could cost up to 800 guineas.

Wellington's officers took to hunting in their regimental scarlet coats. These started to be called hunting pink (the story goes that this was after the tailor Mr. Pink, but there's no evidence this is true). Each hunt, however, has its own colors—a color of leather boot tops, coat color and collar color and even button design. It's said that Brummell never hunted past the first field, for he hated to get his white-leather boot tops muddied.

Ladies were also found in the field. Mrs. Tuner Farley hunted for 50 years. Lady Salisbury was master of the Hatfield Hunt from 1775 - 1819. She hunted old and blind, in her sky blue habit, with a groom leading her horse and yelling at her to, "Jump, damn you, my lady." From 1788 to 1840, Lord Darlington hunted his own hounds 4 days a week in Yorkshire and Durham, with his 3 daughters and his second wife, all in their scarlet habits.

But between late 1700's to about mid 1800's, when the jumping pommel was invented for the side saddle, ladies were more the exception than the rule, and they were more likely to be advised to "ride to the meet and home again to work up an appetite."

Traditionally, each hunt always has a designated meeting place—a gate, or an inn, or even a house. You meet, the hunt cup is taken—folks drink to stave off the cold. You might meet around 11 and hunt all day—or until it's dark. Bad weather does not stop hunting--wet weather means the scent will be high (so long as it's not pouring). Ice can be dangerous—that's when you get broken necks and legs.

Having hunted myself, I can tell you a hunt really is lots of standing around. You do a lot of galloping to and fro, trotting from cover to cover, hoping to draw a fox. Some hunts kept tame foxes they could let go if the day's sport proved too slow. Some areas had to curtail their hunting to allow the fox population to come back.

Hunting was always viewed as a sport for everyone, but the reality was that it cost money to keep a pack of hounds and hunt them. However, anyone could take a horse and follow, if the master allowed it, and some followed the hunt in their carriages. (For some great hunt scenes, rent Tom Jones--the squire in the movie is always ready to abandon anything when he hears the cry of the master's horn.)

--------------------


Shannon Donnelly’s writing has won numerous awards, including a RITA nomination for Best Regency, the Grand Prize in the "Minute Maid Sensational Romance Writer" contest, judged by Nora Roberts, RWA's Golden Heart, and others. Her writing has repeatedly earned 4½ Star Top Pick reviews from Romantic Times magazine, as well as praise from Booklist and other reviewers, who note: "simply superb"..."wonderfully uplifting"....and "beautifully written."
In addition to her Regency and Historical romances, she is the author of the Mackenzie Solomon, Demon/Warders Urban Fantasy series, Burn Baby Burn and Riding in on a Burning Tire, and the SF/Paranormal, Edge Walkers. Her work has been on the top seller list of Amazon.com and includes the Historical romances, The Cardros Ruby and Paths of Desire.
She is the author of several young adult horror stories, and has also written computer games and does editing work on the side. She lives in New Mexico with two horses, two donkeys, two dogs, and the one love of her life. Shannon can be found online at sd-writer.com, facebook.com/sdwriter, and twitter/sdwriter.






Wednesday, November 12, 2014

A Knight’s horses...and a book giveaway


by guest blogger Regan Walker

When I was doing the research for my new medieval, THE RED WOLF’S PRIZE, set in England two years after the Norman Conquest, I learned a lot of surprising things about the horses the Norman knights rode. For example, horses were not so much distinguished by breed as by use. There were highly trained warhorses like destriers, strong coursers, smooth-gaited palfreys for lords and ladies, and general purpose rounceys. Knights did not, for the most part, ride their warhorses around the countryside, at least not very often. They rode palfreys, high-status riding horses.



Warhorses—the destrier and coursers—were reserved for battle. The courser was preferred over the destrier as it was light, fast, steady and strong—and less expensive. You can get a rough idea of the warhorses from illustrations of the period, such as the Bayeux Tapestry, which is actually an embroidery sewn in the 11th century and meant to depict the events that surrounded the Conquest.


 Destriers and coursers were stallions trained for charging and putting up with the shock of impacts. They had to be maneuverable, too, but with the strength to bear a knight’s weight in battle. (Though the chain mail was much lighter in the 11th century than the mail and plate armor that would come later.) 

While the origin of the medieval warhorse is not clear, it is thought they had some Barb and Arabian blood through the Spanish Jennet, a forerunner to the modern Friesian and Andalusian horse. Today, breeds that have similar bloodlines include the Welsh Cob, the Friesian, the American Quarter Horse, a stocky Morgan and the Andalusian.

The Spanish-Norman horse, like both the Percheron and the Andalusian, is predominantly gray in color, and is the horse Sir Renaud (“the Red Wolf”) rides in THE RED WOLF’S PRIZE. It is known that William the Conqueror was gifted a Spanish stallion at one point and so it occurred to me that a favored knight might also receive one as a gift from his lord.
In addition to palfreys, nobles rode the general purpose rounceys, but not typically knights, although knights might use them in a pinch. There were also horses for the hunt and the race that were fast and had stamina. And there were workhorses (common plough horses), and carthorses bread for hauling things.

Interestingly, William the Conqueror shipped horses across the English Channel when he invaded England in 1066—as many as thousand or more. Unlike the English, who rode their horses to battle and then dismounted to fight on foot, the Normans fought on horseback. It is also why they fought using longer swords than the English. The outcome of the Battle of Hastings has been described as “the inevitable victory of stirrupped cavalry over helpless infantry.”


When the battle was over, the knight would leave his warhorse and his helm with his squire and ride off on a palfrey, a much more manageable horse than his often mean-spirited warhorse, and one that had a smoother gait making for a better ride. Hence, the Red Wolf rides his Spanish horse when going to the Siege of Exeter and the Battle of York, while his squire leads his destrier.


Ladies rode the smooth-gaited palfrey, too, often riding either astride or pillion (sitting sideways and having their horse led by a groom). In THE RED WOLF’S PRIZE, Lady Serena rides a white palfrey her father had given her.

Here's the blurb for Regan's new historical romance, THE RED WOLF’S PRIZE:

HE WOULD NOT BE DENIED HIS PRIZE
Sir Renaud de Pierrepont, the Norman knight known as the Red Wolf for the beast he slayed with his bare hands, hoped to gain lands with his sword. A year after the Conquest, King William rewards his favored knight with Talisand, the lands of an English thegn slain at Hastings, and orders him to wed Lady Serena, the heiress that goes with them.

SHE WOULD LOVE HIM AGAINST HER WILL
Serena wants nothing to do with the fierce warrior to whom she has been unwillingly given, the knight who may have killed her father. When she learns the Red Wolf is coming to claim her, she dyes her flaxen hair brown and flees, disguised as a servant, determined to one day regain her lands. But her escape goes awry and she is brought back to live among her people, though not unnoticed by the new Norman lord.

Deprived of his promised bride, the Red Wolf turns his attention to the comely servant girl hoping to woo her to his bed. But the wench resists, claiming she hates all Normans.

As the passion between them rises, Serena wonders, can she deny the Norman her body? Or her heart?

To celebrate the release of her new book, Regan is giving away the eBook of The Red Wolf's Prize to one winner.  To enter the random drawing, simply enter in the rafflecopter below. It's super easy! 


Regan Walker - Author Bio:

Bestselling author Regan Walker loved to write stories as a child, particularly those about adventure-loving girls, but by the time she got to college more serious pursuits took priority. One of her professors encouraged her to pursue the profession of law, which she did. Years of serving clients in private practice and several stints in high levels of government gave her a love of international travel and a feel for the demands of the “Crown” on its subjects. Hence her romance novels often involve a demanding sovereign who taps his subjects for “special assignments.” And in each of her novels, there is always real history and real historic figures.
Regan lives in San Diego with her golden retriever, Link, whom she says inspires her every day to relax and smell the roses. 



Friday, November 7, 2014

Circulating Libraries in Regency England

by Regency Romance Author, Donna Hatch

Today, the word "library" generally creates in a person's mind an image of big building full of books that one can check out for free. Or sometimes, people will refer to their bookshelf (or shelves) as their personal library which, obviously, is not open to the public. But circulating libraries during the Regency were a bit different.

Possibly as early as the late 1600's, when books were still expensive enough that the even wealthy people could not afford to buy very many books, yet no longer the impossibly expensive, hand-illuminated volumes of ages past, the fairly well to do person embraced the idea of borrowing books for a nominal fee from a circulating library. During the mid 1700's, as a growing number of people bought subscriptions to circulating libraries, they became profitable enough that more libraries cropped up, gaining wide popularity among the wealthy and growing middle class alike. Prior to that, subscription libraries and social libraries did exist but they typically offered a limited number of books and periodicals to their select group of members. Circulating libraries offered a huge range of interests that appealed to the general literate public.

Patrons, both ladies and gentleman, paid subscriptions to have access to libraries both large and small and could borrow an unlimited number of books of every topic, many in other languages such as French and Italian, as well as periodicals. Subscriptions ranged from annual to monthly. Typically, a person could borrow up to two books at a time and had a limited number of days in which to read. One source suggested that for an additional fee, a person could borrow multiple books. Since many novels came in at least three parts, such a temptation would be hard to resist since I'm sure many readers share my dislike of waiting for the next part in a story to become available.

Besides being a place to borrow books, or simply sit and read in the reading room, circulating libraries became a fashionable place to see and be seen. They sprang up in resorts towns like Brighton where the locals and visitors mingled and relaxed.

In addition to offering a selection of books printed by publishers, circulating libraries also became their own publishers and were friendly to female authors. Minerva Press, so well known for printing Gothic novels, was one such publisher who gave voice to a number of women who penned novels. Such publishers changed to course of publishing and really opened the door to the social acceptability of female authors, as well as created a better variety of fictional novels.

As books became less expensive to print, partly due to the paperback cover and using cheaper materials making it more affordable to readers, and as public libraries were created which offered books for free, the circulating library fell out of popularity. But their influence shaped the future for readers, authors and publishers. And I, for one, am eternally grateful for them paving the way for me to realize my dream of becoming a published author.


Sources:
http://britishcirculatinglibraries.weebly.com/history.html
http://news.lib.uchicago.edu/blog/2011/05/05/circulating-libraries/
http://janeaustensworld.wordpress.com/2010/08/30/the-circulating-library-in-regency-times/
http://eduscapes.com/history/modern/1725.htm