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Friday, June 21, 2019

Who Died and Made Alexandrina Queen?

While I was watching the first episode of Victoria  this week, it occurred to me that there's a lot of stuff going on in the background that's hinted at, but not clearly explained, especially with some of the characters, like the old duke with the gnarly scar. The show makes it clear that he's somehow related to Victoria and that he's not happy about her getting the throne.

So, first things first: Queen Victoria's name is actually Alexandrina Victoria. (British monarchs get to choose their regnal name and she opted to drop Alexandrina.) Now on to the murkier and more interesting topic: how'd she get to be the queen of England?

In 1817, George III was king and his eldest son, George IV, was Prince Regent. The Prince Regent's wife, Caroline, had been estranged from him for years. Their only child, Princess Charlotte of Wales, then died in childbirth that same year, leaving him without a legitimate heir.

This meant that his brother, Prince Frederick, the Duke of York and Albany, became his heir. However, Frederick and his wife also didn't have any children.

Several of George III's other children hurried to get married and produce heirs on the increasingly likely-chance that the succession came to them. William IV and Prince Edward, Duke of Kent and Strathern (George III's third and fifth children), both were married in 1818. Alexandrina Victoria was born the following year.

Both Prince Edward (Victoria's father) and George III (Victoria's grandfather) died in 1820. The Prince Regent became king.

In 1827, Prince Frederick, George IV's younger brother (George III's second child) and heir, died. Since Frederick never did have any children, their next brother, William (George III's third child) became George IV's new heir.

George IV died in 1830 and William IV became king. He was in his 60s by this point. William had several illegitimate children prior to his marriage to Princess Adelaide, but unfortunately they did not have any surviving children. Princess Charlotte (George III's fourth child) had died in 1828 without any living children, so as Prince Edward's daughter, Victoria became heiress presumptive to the crown.

And if you're still wondering about the old duke with the scar from the show? That's Ernest Augustus, George III's eighth child, making him Victoria's uncle. If it weren't for her, he would have been King of England. (He did, however, became King of Hanover* on William's death since they had a law preventing women from inheriting the throne.)

*This could be its own topic entirely, but essentially Hanover was a short-lived kingdom in the Prussia/Germany area created by the Congress of Vienna and given to George III.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Ninja–the stealth warrior of Medieval Japan and their female counterpart–the Kunoichi

A Ninja in action
Not a day goes by without I reading or hearing the word "ninja". This extremely skilled secret warrior of Medieval Japan is today a contemporary Joe Bloke, who has some physical abilities and wants to prove it in front of the cameras. It is an American Twitch streamer, that is, an internet personality, who draws fourteen million followers. It is how four anthropomorphic turtles with Italian names are presented to lovers of cartoons, and one of the names most used by companies who want to associate their products with positive connotations.
Ninja are also analogised with modern-day secret agents, such as, James Bond and Jason Bourne.
Scanty extant records tell us that ninja, also known as "shinobi" were initially farmers, who had to learn how to defend themselves in the very disturbed swath of Japanese history, called "Sengoku Jidai" or Warring State Period (1467 – 1600). Therefore, many of their arsenals were farming tools that had been adapted for the purpose of fighting.
A "kusarigama" (lit. sickle-chain) – a farm
tool adapted by the ninja as a weapon
Ninja's iconic contemporary heroes were the "Samurai". The samurai class was regulated by the "Bushido" –  an honorary code that forbid tactics of espionage, sneak attacks and poisoning, but these schemes were fair play for a ninja. Hence, where a samurai could not finish a job, a ninja was secretly hired by the daimyo (warlord) and shogun. Before long, the ninja got organised amongst themselves, developed and perfected their weapons, created sophisticated techniques and became masters of espionage and deceit. Apart from effective use of toxins extracted from plants and animals, one of their masterly techniques was "hensojutsu" (the mutation technique), that is, they observed the nobles and emulated their demeanour, learned dialects, acquired accents to convince and play the part of another person and move amongst social groups to gather information and not be detected.
However, the high demand for their services was not only due to their arsenal of weapons, techniques and skills, ninjas were highly effective agents and would finish a job, even if it meant losing their own lives.
Their female counterparts – the "Kunoichi" – are lesser known historical characters. Yet, like the ninja, the kunoichi were secret agents who subjected themselves to a strenuous and long training (~6 years).  They conditioned their bodies to endure extreme heat or cold, dislocated bones to escape through narrow spaces and could sustain hunger and thirst for a length much longer than normal. They were also skilled martial artists, danced and sang to disguise themselves as geisha, were highly literate to be able to play any role the occasion demanded and practised seducers.
The most acclaimed group of kunoichi were trained by Mochizuki Chiyome. Chiyome was a kunoichi, turned aristocrat after marrying a samurai. She stemmed from the Koga Ninja clan, the pioneers of "kayakujutsu", the technique that used gunpowder to create explosives and smoke.
After the Second World War, the Ninjutsu, or the ninja's techniques were divulged world-wildly and foreign military institutions and secret services agents flocked to Japan to learn these millenary techniques.

Please visit my site to learn more about the history of the warriors of Medieval Japan–ninja, kunoichi, samurai, as well as the mythological Creation of the country and the long course of the legendary 2600 year old Yamato Dynasty.

The romanticised history of Japan, covering its Creation to its modernisation in the Nineteen Century can be read in my book "The Goddesses of Japan" sold on Amazon.


Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Love Letters During the Regency by Jenna Jaxon

Letter writing was a very popular occupation during the Regency period. Everyone, it seems, corresponded with friends, relatives, business associates—just about anyone with whom one wished to communicate.

Of course, this includes young ladies and gentlemen in love. However, there were lots of rules to letter writing, as I found out when plotting my current WIP, It Happened at Christmas, which depends greatly on the correspondence between the hero and heroine—who do not know one another.
One of the biggest hurdles to my plot was the circumspection of letter writing between the sexes. A young lady simply could not write to someone of the opposite sex unless it was her betrothed, her husband, or a member of her immediate family to whom she could not be married (father, grandfather, uncle—cousins were eligible partis and therefore forbidden), and as all correspondence sent through the mail went through the lady of the house, it was difficult at best (and mostly impossible) for a young lady in love to write to a gentleman for whom she had affection. I managed to find a way around this, but it was not easy!

Once a young lady was betrothed, she could write to her intended and have the missive sent by a private carrier, such a s footman, or through the regular mail service. By the time of the Regency, the post was quite well regulated, with mail delivery within the city occurring up to twelve times a day, according to one source. Mail was delivered to the country outside of London three times a day. In outlying larger towns, like Bath, the post could be delivered two to three times a day.

As I have written about letter writing in an earlier post, I will simply remind you, gentle readers, that letters of the period usually had no
envelopes, were often cross-written (written down the page, then the page was turned and written across again) and were closed with sealing wax. The recipient of the letter would have to pay the postage, a small price (anywhere from 3 pence to 12 pence depending on the distance the letter had to travel) to receive word from the one you loved.

Photo Credits:
Cross Written letter attribution By Jag Films - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Wax Seal attribution By User:Contrafool, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Friday, May 17, 2019

Florence Nightingale and the Crimean War

When I was 11 or 12, my grandparents asked me to help them sort all of their books in their dungeon of a basement. In the midst of the dusty stacks, I found a children's set of biographies, including one on Florence Nightingale. I remember sitting down and reading it right there. I loved the poetic beauty and ethereal image the nickname "The Lady with the Lamp" called up and fell in love with Florence.

Last year I was reading up on fox hunting and found a little book called "Fox-Hunting Recollections" by Sir Reginald Graham, Bart. He starts off with his younger years, including a couple of vignettes of his time in the Crimean War. This particular one jumped out at me.

Ward at Scutari hospital
"Malta was but a brief halting-place on the way to the Crimea, and we landed at Balaclava the first week of November 1854. The 14th [Regiment] was soon moved to the front, and posted to the Third Division, commanded by General Sir Richard England. Our chief duty for many months to come was in the trenches day and night, and my most vivid recollection of that dreary time is snow, everlasting snow, throughout the bitterly severe winter of 1854-55. Owing to our hasty departure from Malta we, like the rest of the army, were ill-provided with suitable clothing, and I remember the joy with which I received at last a fur coat and a pair of long brown boots sent out from England, ready-made and not exactly a perfect fit; but to me at that time they were beyond all price. I kept well, and was as happy as the day was long (the days were rather long in the trenches); but soon after Sebastopol was evacuated by the Russians on the 8th September 1855, I had a very bad turn of Crimean fever, and was sent down to the hospital at Scutari, where my head was shaved, and for some weeks it seemed doubtful how matters would end for me. Our chief interest in hospital was to watch for Florence Nightingale as she passed through the wards with a gentle words for all,--a weary time until I improved and was invalided to England towards the end of 1855. My Crimean experience was at the age of from nineteen to twenty, and, looking back to such distant times, it seems to me nowadays as if those scenes had been in another world, and I feel myself a veritable Rip Van Winkle as I muse upon those far-off days and wonder how many officers still survive who landed at Balaclava with the old Fighting Fourteenth on that November day in 1854." 

Sadly, he didn't mention anything else about Florence.

Florence herself landed in Scutari in early November of 1854, and discovered that the medical conditions there were absolutely horrendous. The "hospital" of that time lacked many of the basics we consider integral to modern hospitals, including proper hygiene, medication, and bedding. "The hospital sat on top of a large cesspool, which contaminated the water and the building itself. Patients lay in their own excrement on stretchers strewn throughout the hallways. Rodents and bugs scurried past them. The most basic supplies, such as bandages and soap, grew increasingly scarce as the number of ill and wounded steadily increased. Even water needed to be rationed. More soldiers were dying from infectious diseases like typhoid and cholera than from injuries incurred in battle.(Florence Nightingale Biography

 It was Florence's responsibility to work with and oversee the 38 other nurses who arrived with her as they cleaned and dressed wounds, cooked and fed the soldiers in their wards, and in general, kept everything much more sanitary. In many ways, Florence and her nurses were expected to be glorified house maids.

"An article published about her in the Times newspaper on Thursday 8 February 1855, which reads: ‘She is a “ministering angel” without any exaggeration in these hospitals, and as her slender form glides quietly along each corridor every poor fellow’s face softens with gratitude at the sight of her. When all the medical officers have retired for the night, and silence and darkness have settled down upon these miles of prostrate sick, she may be observed alone, with a little lamp in her hand, making her solitary rounds.’ The mention of the miles of sick relates to contemporary reports that the wards at Scutari stretched for four miles." (National Archives)

While in Scutari, she began researching and advocating for reforming medical hospitals, particularly the living conditions of the soldiers. After she returned to England, she worked to improve sanitation in both hospitals and regular homes, and began the first modern nursing school.

"Fox-Hunting Recollections" Sir Reginald Graham, Bart. (available for free on Google Books)

Monday, May 6, 2019

Tying the Knot in Regency Scotland

By Guest Author, Karen Pierotti

Though Lydia’s short letter to Mrs. F. gave them to understand that they were going to Gretna Green, something was dropped by Denny expressing his belief that W. never intended to go there, or to marry Lydia at all, which was repeated to Colonel F. who instantly taking the alarm, set off from B, intending to trace their route. He did trace them easily to Clapham, but no further, for on entering that place they removed into a hackney coach, and dismissed the chaise that brought them from Epsom. (Austen, Pride and Prejudice)

What writer of Regency novels hasn’t read this letter to Lizzie? This scene of the notorious dash to Gretna Green to be married over the anvil and
the pursuit by outraged family members has made its way into many modern Regency novels.

But what if your novel was set in Scotland? What did a Scottish lassie do when she wanted to marry against her parents’ wishes? It was certainly not necessary to go to Gretna Green, Berwick-on-Tweed, or Lamberton, where marriages took place in the Toll House from 1798 to 1858.

A webpage through the University of Glasgow, The Scottish Way of Birth and Death explores the differences between English and Scottish marriage practices, both past and present. It is worth reading the whole page as it has many fascinating details about the social customs of not only marriage but birth and death in Scotland.

Scotland was famous for its distinctive marriage arrangements, which owed much to pre-Reformation canon law, and were based on principles of mutual consent rather than religious ceremony. Both 'regular' and 'irregular' marriages were recognised by the law. A 'regular' church marriage, requiring marriage banns to be read in the church some weeks in advance, was the usual practice, and from 1834 'priests and ministers not of the established church' were also allowed to conduct legal marriage ceremonies. In Scotland, regular marriages did not have to take place within a church building; indeed, they were more likely to take place in private homes.

There were three ways to perform a legal irregular marriage:

A couple were legally married if they declared themselves to be so in front of witnesses, regardless of whether this was followed by a sexual connection. Marriage contracted in this way without witnesses was also legal, but much harder to prove in court unless there was other evidence, such as letters that confirmed what the couple had done.

A promise of marriage, followed by a sexual relationship, was regarded as a legal marriage - but this had to be backed up by some kind of proof, such as a written promise of marriage, or an oath sworn before witnesses.

Marriages 'by habit and repute' were also legal if a couple usually presented themselves in public as husband and wife, even if no formal declaration of marriage was made.

One of the most important aspects of the irregular marriages was the necessity of recording the marriage with the sheriff to make it legal. And, there was the good possibility especially of the English who came across the border who’d forget or not complete this part of the marriage. Oftentimes a fine was extracted, but as it was cheaper than the fee for a church wedding, many more lower class couples entered into an irregular marriage but would marry in the kirk later. (The Scottish Way)

The Scottish Kirk or Presbyterian Church

Like England, banns were read over the pulpit three weeks in advance before the marriage ceremony took place. Oftentimes, you’ll see two dates in a parish record, the first being a marriage bann, the second when the actual marriage took place. However, the stern Presbyterian kirk frowned upon irregular marriages but recognized them so that the couple were not “living in sin.” An upper-class family would still find fault with such a marriage, especially if inheritances were involved, and would certainly do all in their power to avoid such a marriage or get it annulled. 

In spite of the loose nature of the marriage laws, children were still born out of wedlock and in order for the child to be legitimized and baptized the errant couple were brought before the Kirk Sessions, a meeting of the minister and appointed lay officers such as elders and deacons. The couple, or more frequently, the woman, was given the opportunity to confess her sin before the session and, in earlier times, had to sit in front of the congregation for three Sundays on the repentance stool. (I use such a scene in my novel, Joy to My Love and I also have an irregular wedding performed. I have elaborated a little more on the Kirk Sessions in my blog, kirk-sessions-repentance-stool) Kirk Sessions seem to have taken place more frequently in the Lowlands where the Presbyterian church was stronger.

Handfasting and Betrothal Ceremonies

You may already have heard about handfasting that was quite common in earlier times in the Highlands of Scotland. This was a sort of irregular marriage which “allowed a couple to declare their intention at a simple formality that usually took place at the Lammas fair, then live together publicly for a year. If it all worked out favourably they were married a year and a day after they handfasted. (Bennett, p. 108). Lammas is a harvest fair usually held between 1 August and 1 September.

If a child was born of the handfasting and the parents went their separate ways, the father usually took the child into the household and it was not considered illegitimate. Handfasting seems to have taken place in the Highlands among the clan system there rather than the Lowlands. Bennett collected several accounts of this practice from Western Isles in 1695, Isle of Skye, 1774, and Perthshire, 1931. (Bennett, pp. 107-115)

An article, “Tying the Knot: Handfasting Through the Ages,” from the BBC Scotland website, has more information on handfasting and some facts and myths about it. And, if you google “handfasting,” you’ll find sites about how to do a modern handfasting. 

Betrothals were almost as binding as weddings. In the Highlands there was a réiteach (agreement)/wedding arrangement; it was sort of equivalent to an engagement party. According to one account it was a third party who asked for the interested groom, but they asked for the lassie’s hand obliquely. For example, in a farming community the speaker for the intended might ask to take a ewe lamb off the father’s hands, or in a fishing community, the father might reply that he was willing to give him “the boat that had never been used by anybody else . . . And that he was welcome to take her, and sail her in calm waters.” (Bennett, p. 111).

A 1774 account in Orkney reports that a couple would clasp each other’s right hands through a hole in a special stone (Stone of Odin) and they “swore to be constant and faithful to each other. . . . the person who dared to break the engagement made there was counted infamous, and excluded from all society.” (Bennett, p. 110).

Divorce or Annulment

Divorce even until the middle of the 20th century was unacceptable so once a person married it was for life until the partner died, especially in a regular marriage. There’s a saying that gives a warning about making a good marriage in the first place: “Ye hae tied a knot wi’ your tongue you winna loose wi’ your teeth.”(Bennett, p. 93).

Untying the knot was difficult but like the marriage laws, Scottish divorce and annulment laws were different from England.

The Church of Scotland had since the Reformation accepted divorce on the grounds of adultery, and later added the grounds of desertion for more than four years.  From 1830, Scottish divorces were decided by the Court of Session, like other cases in civil law.  Both men and women could seek divorce for adultery or desertion.  This was different from the law of England, where men could divorce their wives for adultery, but women did not have the same right until 1923, unless there were other serious offences involved.  Divorce for desertion was not possible in England until 1937.  (Scottish Way of Birth and Death)

For an irregular marriage, the main way the contract was annulled was by desertion.


If you have a Scottish Wickham-like character, do some research about how he can achieve his aims and can be thwarted according to Scottish marriage laws. If you are writing a book set in Scotland, learn about the different customs, and, as a side note, if your book is in the Highlands and you use Gaelic words or phrases, make sure it’s Scottish Gaelic (pronounced gallick) and not Irish Gaelic. Though they’re closely related, they are different.

I have only scratched the surface of information on marriage laws in Scotland and have included a bibliography of the sources I’ve referred to as well as additional links that might be useful.

Bennett’s book has a wealth of information with all kinds of local customs like jumping the besom (broom) and washing feet. I highly recommend buying it if your books are going to be set in Scotland; you may be able to find it in a library or at least through interlibrary loan at a university or local library.

Bennett, M. (2004) Scottish Customs from the Cradle to Grave. Edinburgh, Scotland: Birlinn Limited

Scottish Way of Birth and Death, University of Glasgow (

“Tying the Knot: Handfasting Through the Ages” (April 2011) BBC: Scotland

Other Links

Gordon, E. (2013) “Irregular Marriage: Myth and Reality” Journal of Social History.

Leneman, L. and R. Mitchison. (1993) Clandestine Marriage in the Scottish Cities 1660-1780 Journal of Social History Vol. 26, No. 4 (Summer, 1993), pp. 845-861

Friday, April 19, 2019

Parliament and the Reform Act of 1832

We've all heard of Parliament--the House of Lords and the House of Commons. You'd think that the names of the two houses (roughly the equivalent of the US Senate/House), were fairly self-explanatory, but they're a bit of a misnomer.

The House of Lords (occasionally referred to as the House of Peers) is made of two parties - the Lords Spiritual and the Lords Temporal. The Lords Spiritual came from the Church of England and the Lords Temporal were both life peers and hereditary peers.

The House of Commons was comprised of both elected lords and commoners. Like the US House of Representatives, each borough (or district) had a set number of representatives to sit in Commons. By the early 1800s, many of the boroughs were no longer as populated or had even disappeared (one literally sunk), but still retained the same representation they had years before. Many of these boroughs sold their seat to the highest bidder, effectively giving those seats to one person, who then passed those seats to their cronies, or to the younger sons of lords.

By the late 1820s, early 1830s, the Whig party had managed to gain control of Commons, and attempted to pass a reform bill reorganizing representation to remove these "rotten" or "pocket" boroughs. The House of Lords (mostly from the Tory party) blocked this bill until King William threatened to create new peers and public riots broke out. The Representation of the People Act or the Reform Act finally passed in 1832.

This act not only removed representation from several of the older boroughs and gave representation to newer, larger boroughs (most notably in the industrial part of England), it also gave more people freedom to vote, including tradesmen and tenants-at-will.

The Liberal Ascendancy, 1830-1886 by T.A. Jenkins
Party & Politics 1830-1852 by Robert Stewart

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Bugs and Worms in Colonial Households

Housewives in Colonial America had to endure the same challenges that modern families face, but their methods for dealing with vermin were very different, indeed. There were no supermarkets stocked with traps and repellent in those days, so homemade solutions were the only option.

Any parent can relate to the dread of a bedbug infestation. So how did our ancestors tackle the problem? Homemakers would begin by distilling wine and mixing the result with turpentine and dried henna. This concoction would be spread around the entire room where an infestation is suspected, including the lacing on the beds and the folds of the curtains. The mixture, it is claimed, would not harm nor stain the finest silk or damask.

Any home that has suffered the invasion of other crawling bugs could be treated with a mixture of wormwood and mustard seed. A solution was created by bruising the wormwood leaves and boiling the two ingredients in water for fifteen minutes before adding salt.
House flies could be eliminated by steeping hellebore flower in cow’s milk and sprinkling the liquid around the home.

The destruction of clothing from and moths and worms was prevented by drying the herb botris and sprinkling the dust upon all garments.

But what if worms invade the children? A toxic mix of red seaweed, mercuric sulfide, ground savine, and saffron was said to do the trick. Sadly, the mixture was likely as damaging to the children as it was to the worms.

 Some of the information was adapted from The British jewel; or, Complete housewife's best companion, London, Printed and sold by J. Miller, 1769.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

The Chrysanthemum Throne of Japan -- a Mythological Heritage

The Chrysanthemum Throne of Japan has an octagonal structure that sits atop a rectangular platform. The throne itself is an unassuming lacquered chair. On the top of the roof of the structure is the sculpture of a large phoenix bird called Hō-ō and at each corner stand smaller golden phoenixes. The chrysanthemum flower is the symbol of the Emperor and the emblem of the Imperial House. 

That's it. It is official! The Chrysanthemum Throne will have a new dweller and the name assigned to his reign will be "Reiwa". On May 1st, the media spotlights of the country (and perhaps of the world) will be focused on the ceremony of the coronation of Crown Prince Naruhito as the 126th Emperor of Japan, after his father, Emperor Akihito makes way for his eldest son on April 30th. The word Reiwa is composed by two Japanese ideograms (called kanjiRei + Wa, which mean "order" or "command" and "peace" or "harmony", respectively, and it was taken from the eighth-century work Man'yoshu, the oldest anthology of Japanese poetry. Japan runs two calendars in parallel: the Gregorian and the one assigned to the extent of the emperor's incumbency. The name of the era is applied posthumously to the emperor; e.g., the late Emperor Hirohito is referred today as the Emperor Showa.
The then Crown Prince Akihito with his commoner bride, Michiko
Shoda on their wedding day in 1959. Seated on his right is the late
Emperor Hirohito and at her left is the late Empress Nagako
(photo @ Wikipedia).
An added highlight to this event is the fact that it will be the first imperial abdication for more than 200 years. Emperor Akihito's health has been deteriorating since he underwent surgery for prostate cancer in January 2003. Akihito was a modern monarch, who expressed overtly the desire to bring the imperial family closer to the ordinary people of his country. He caused controversy by declaring in 2001, when political tensions were mounting between Japan and Korea, that as a descendant of Emperor Kammu -- the son of a Korean Princess, Niigasa -- he felt a kinship with Koreans. He was also the first sovereign to marry a commoner -- Michiko Shoda -- breaking more than 2,600 years of tradition. During his reign (Heisei Era, 1989 to 2019), the nation enjoyed peace, but it was burdened by a period of economic stagnation -- "the Lost Decade" -- after the Japanese asset price bubble's collapse in later 1991; followed by the loss of more than 16,000 lives to the massive tsunami that flooded 200 square miles of coastal land in 2011.

Japan is a land of traditions and contradictions. It is where technology meets historical convention in perfect harmony; it is where shortcomings of nature (rugged terrains, mountains and forests cover 66% of its total territory) propelled the inhabitants to cultivate rice in terraced paddies, and volcanic spoils to be adapted into baths to produce health benefits. It is where the shrinking population and shortage of middle-class workers channelled investments into the robotic technology.
The mythological monster -- Yamata-no-Orochi
It is also a land full of mythological chronicles and folkloric monsters.
Its imperial house, aka "Yamato Dynasty", is a royal clan who has been holding the sceptre of the throne for over twenty-six centuries, in an unbroken succession. These sovereigns (including Akihito and Naruhito) are allegedly, the offspring of Deities Izanami and Izanagi, who, according to the legend, created the islands (four main islands: Honshu, Shikoku, Kyushu and Hokkaido) and gave birth to the Kami (Gods), from whom its people are supposed to stem.
The Japanese first emperor is known as Jimmu, who upon defeating belligerent tribes and conquering the east islands, founded the country of Japan in year 660 BCE and self-proclaimed its emperor.
Along the years, his descendants survived treachery and rivalries by making alliances with powerful aristocratic families, but with the emergence of the samurai warrior class, the Yamato Sovereigns lost the grip to power and the Shogun assume the sway of the country in the early twelfth century. The emperors' role became merely symbolic and it would remain so for the next seven centuries.

Please visit my site to read more about the mythological beginning and historical narratives of Japan.

My book "The Goddesses of Japan" is the first novel of the series The Goddesses of the World. It is entirely narrated by unsung heroines, and spans the Creation of the country to its modernisation at the 19th century. It is sold at Amazon in ebook and paperback formats.



Friday, April 5, 2019

The Vanity Helps of Times Past

romantic history by Sally Treanor

When you check out at the supermarket or walk down the periodical section at your library or book store, you're bound to see magazines claiming all sort of wonderful things. This one promises you will lose those extra pounds, that one has 110 spring recipes, another claims to have a quiz that will help you decide if your man is right for you.

The modern consumer isn't the only one who was constantly bombarded with promises of life-changing articles and reads. There were etiquette books of all sorts written almost from the time that the printing press made books easier for people to grasp. My Middle Ages friends have even shown me illuminated manuscripts with (dubious) medical cures and household practices.

I've come across some great examples of this for the Georgian/Regency era lately. There is some incredible advice and examples in these old tomes.

For example, The Complete Art of Writing Love Letters: Or the Lover's Best Instructor. For just two shillings, one could own a copy of this book with several examples of different types of letters. You can read letters from complaining lovers, forlorn lovers, raving lovers, sincere lovers, and letters that read more like essays. All of them meant to guide men and women interested in pursuing romantic relationships.

The British Library site has more books, such as The New Lover's Instructor; Or Whole Art of Courtship: This one also contains a collection of fictional letters, dialogues, and so on all on the subject of love.

Letter-writing books and pamphlets were SUPER popular in the age when romantic love started gaining ground over arranged marriages. A properly written letter was considered something of an art form. Courtship had to be carried out in a particular manner lest the gentleman be considered a dunce or the woman too inexperienced to be worth the time to flirt.

Our predecessors were as concerned with doing things the right way as we are. Whether they read books on etiquette or doing the laundry properly, the people of the past may not have had our access to helpful magazines, but they had their own helps in their eras.

See also: How to Behave: A Pocket Manual of Etiquette and Guide to Correct Personal Habits
The Ladies' Book of Etiquette and manual of Politeness

Sally Britton is an author of Regency romance and her books can be found on 

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Regency Fashions, the Walking Ensemble

A fun aspect of reading and writing historical novels is the clothing. Who wouldn't want to dress up in a silk gown and dance or promenade, even if it's only vicariously? It's become one of my life's missions to seek out and sigh over any historical clothing while visiting museums. What started with a thirst for historical accuracy has morphed into a nerdy passion. This latest find is in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. This photo to the left came from an exhibit circa 1815 to 1820--perfect for the Regency Era.

This gentleman's ensemble would be appropriate for all informal daytime occasions. Any gentleman would look sophisticated and dashing in this cutaway tailcoat, waistcoat (which most people pronounce waist-coat but I'm told the truly posh way to pronounce it "wes-kit"), and expertly tied cravat. The bottom portion of his ensemble is not shown but a pair of knee breeches and tall boots would have been the most likely finishing touches.
Nankeen Half Boots

The lady's ensemble is called walking dress or promenade dress. The garment itself is a lovely pelisse meant to protect the gown from the dirt of the streets as well as make a fashion statement. Notice the lovely detail on the bodice, sleeves and above the hemline. I love that dusty rose color!
The lady wearing this pelisse would have probably worn half boots which were sturdy enough for walking, cut short at the top for ease of movement, and still fashionable. Nankeen, a type of cotton, was a popular fabric to use for the upper portion of ladies walking books.
Hyde Park, February 2019

The couple wearing these clothes would have turned heads while walking or going for a carriage ride in Hyde Park.  

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

The Ruin of a Lady by Jenna Jaxon

A lady in the Regency period (or Georgian or Victorian for that matter) had to guard her reputation stringently, for upon that rested not only her own status in Society but that of her family as well. In Pride and Prejudice, Lydia’s downfall by running off to London with Wickham is both a calamity in itself for her (reputation in shreds), but just as devastating for her sisters in terms of being received by those who knew of the scandal, but also in being able to find husbands willing to marry into the family. Not only was the offending woman ostracized by Society, but her relatives were assumed guilty just by being related to her.

A woman’s reputation could be lost through her own folly, as in the case of Lydia Bennett, or through no fault of her own.
To avoid societal ruin, a young lady must always be chaperoned either by an older female relative, a close male relative (immediate family only, as cousins were considered eligible partis), a companion, or a maid. If riding or driving in the park alone, a groom accompanied a young lady. Any woman who ignored these strictures, especially if she were caught alone with a gentleman (or God-forbid, kissing him except underneath he mistletoe), could end up with her reputation in shreds unless she married the gentleman in question.

Even ladies who became betrothed could lose their reputations if the gentleman had a change of mind and jilted her. Such an action, in the minds of Society, indicated that the gentleman had discovered some flaw in her character or that she had been intimate with another gentleman. So if a man broke the engagement, the woman in question would become all but unmarriageable, because it would be assumed that she was no longer pure. The prevailing custom in the Regency era for betrothed couples to “anticipate the wedding night” (engage in pre-marital sex) had a lot to do with this belief and in many cases would be true. The same unfortunate stigma would be attached to ladies whose betrothed died before they could be married.

The latter grave situation forms the conflict in my upcoming novella, Heart of Decadence, in which the heroine, Miss Amelia Burrowes’ betrothed died before they could marry. All indications point toward the suspicion that they had anticipated the wedding night and she had born a child after his death. Ten years later, Amelia’s parents have arranged a marriage to help repair her reputation (which was possible if given enough time and diligence), although she’s not thrilled with the mercenary gentleman. However, when she meets a long-lost love, she must convince him that a woman with a past deserves a future.

Heart of Decadence is now available for pre-order on Amazon in the boxed set Second Chance Love: A Regency Romance Set.

Friday, March 29, 2019

(East) Indians in Georgian and Victorian Britain

Usually when we hear of Britain and Indians, we think of the East India Company and the British Raj—British colonialism. But were you aware that Indians were in England and Ireland in the 1700s (or earlier)? By 1850, there were over 40,000 Indians recorded as living in London. And that’s only the recorded ones.

Sake Deen Mahomed
When you think about it, it makes sense. British merchants who lived in India tried to stick as close as possible to the same quality (or better) lifestyles they had in England, so they'd hire Indian servants. When these merchants came home, they frequently brought some of those servants with them. Or they'd send their children back with their ayahs (nursemaids) with them. 

Some of these Indians returned to India, but a large number of them stayed. A handful were able to create successful lives in England (like Sake Mahomed, Shampooing Surgeon to George IV), but the majority of them were less fortunate. 

Abdul Karim (the Munshi) and Queen Victoria
"Since many Indian servants were discharged without ceremony after their arrival in England, it was not uncommon to see destitute Indians begging in the streets of London" (18 Vizram) and the East India Company made several attempts to discourage bringing Indian servants over, including imposing fees. Abdul Karim, Queen Victoria’s Munshi (teacher), was one such servant—he was brought over to help serve during her Golden Jubilee.

A large number of those who stayed were Indian sailors (lascars) who deserted their ships upon arrival to avoid abuse from their superiors (including other lascars). Towards the end of the Napoleonic Wars, over 1,000 lascars arrived in London each year.

If the lascars or ayahs and other servants were unable to find a new position or a way back to India, then they might have lived in a group home that one of any number of missionary societies had set up. In one home for ayahs, there were as many as 60 women crammed in. The lascars were in an even more desperate situation.

Fortunately, not all Indians who came to England were left in poverty. A large number of Indians voluntarily came for education. They could not take the higher-paying positions in civil service without certain qualifications, available only through English universities.
Princess Sophia Dhuleep Singh

Several maharajahs also came to experience European culture and to pay their respects to the British crown. Some, such as Maharajah Dhuleep Singh and his daughter, Sophia, were raised in England as part of the aristocracy and with Queen Victoria’s approval. 

While we're fortunate to have the personal records of some of the more educated Indians, we've lost a great deal of information about the lower classes who managed to survive in Britain. Perhaps some day more information will manage to make its way into public consciousness again. 

Sources: Ayahs, Lascars, and Princes: The Story of Indians in Britain 1700-1947 by Rozina Visram

Friday, March 15, 2019

by regular blogger, Donna Hatch

A fun aspect of reading and writing historical novels is the clothing. Who wouldn't want to dress up in a silk gown and dance or promenade, even if it's only vicariously? It's become one of my life's missions to seek out and sigh over any historical clothing while visiting museums. What started with a thirst for historical accuracy has morphed into a nerdy passion. This latest find is in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. This exhibit is circa 1815 to 1820--perfect for the Regency Era.
The gentleman's ensemble would be appropriate for all informal daytime occasions. Any gentleman would look sophisticated and dashing in this cutaway tailcoat, waistcoat (which most people pronounce waist-coat but I'm told the truly posh pronounce it wes-kit), and expertly tied cravat. The bottom portion of his ensemble is not shown but a pair of knee breeches and tall boots would have been the most likely finishing touches.

The lady's ensemble is called walking dress or promenade dress. The garment itself is a lovely pelisse meant to protect the gown from the dirt of the streets as well as make a fashion statement. Notice the lovely detail on the bodice, sleeves and above the hemline. I love that dusty rose color!
The lady wearing this pelisse would have probably worn half boots which were sturdy enough for walking, cut short at the top for ease of movement, and still fashionable. Nankeen, a type of cotton, was a popular fabric to use for the upper portion of ladies walking books.

The couple wearing these clothes would have turned heads while walking or going for a carriage ride in Hyde Park.  

Friday, March 8, 2019

During the Regency, going to the park wasn't just for children; gentlemen and ladies of fashion frequented the parks in London to ride, walk, and make a fashion a statement. Regency ladies and gentlemen often chose Hyde Park as a favorite place to ride on horseback to get some fresh air and exercise. However, it was most popular as a place to drive in open carriages to show off clothing, or the latest rig, or horses. It was THE place to see and be seen.

Hyde Park section of "Improved map of London for 1833, from Actual Survey. Engraved by W. Schmollinger, 27 Goswell Terrace"[/caption]
According to one source, the "fashionable hour" was, in fact, three hours; from four thirty to seven thirty in the evening, though most ladies didn't appear until about half past five. By seven thirty, it was time to return to one's townhouse or lodgings and change into evening dress for dinner.

The Ton, or members of the 2,000 aristocratic families at the height of English society, as well as a few social climbers trying to fit in, promenaded at Hyde Park, peacocking and flirting with others drawn to the park to take part in the social rituals.

A brick wall enclosed Hyde Park in 1660 at the order of James Hamilton, the Keeper of the Park under Charles II. The avenue fashionable for disporting oneself in Georgian Times was Rotten Row. The name Rotten Row is believed to be a corruption of La Route du Roi, or King's Road, which was its original name. Another likely possibility as to the name comes from the materials of the road made of a mix of gravel and crushed tree bark to create a firm, yet pliable surface. Some definitions of "rotten" are "friable," "soft" or "yielding" which describes the surface ideal for horses' feet and legs. Think of the tracks which runners use, firm yet slightly springy--perfect for running without causing undue strain on athletes' bones, muscles, and tendons.
Recently, I heard another possible explanation for the name: Rotten Row led to Eton College, and since French was commonly spoken among the aristocracy then, they called it Rue d'Eton - easily corrupted into Rotten. That doesn't explain how Row came into use, however.

Regardless of its origin, on Rotten Row a Regency lady or gentleman could flirt, greet friends, and show off beautiful driving clothes and equipage or mount. Gentlemen wearing the ankle length drab coat and yellow striped blue waistcoat of the Four-in-Hand club were sprinkled in the passing cavalcade.
Carriages bearing the painted and gilded family crests of the Ton and the living ornament of a Dalmatian coach dog and liveried servants glide by in spotless splendor. The pair of footmen riding at the back of the coaches are as well matched as the teams of horses in their coloring and six-foot or better height. Among the carriages are those of courtesans bearing faux crests meant to remind them of the crests of their titled lovers.

C. J. Apperley writes of the fashionable hour in Hyde Park, "on any fine afternoon in the height of the London season…he will see a thousand well-appointed equipages pass before him…Everything he sees is peculiar, the silent roll and easy motion of the London-built carriage, the style of the coachmen - it is hard to determine which shine brightest, the lace on their clothes, their own round faces, or flaxen wigs - the pipe-clayed reins - pipe-clayed lest they should spoil the clean white gloves…not forgetting the "spotted coach-dog, which has been washed for the occasion…such a blaze of splendor…is now to be seen nowhere but in London."

The movie An Ideal Husband shows a scene of a Victorian drive in Hyde Park, and many of my heroes and heroines go driving or riding in Hyde Park.

The last time I was in England (February 2019), I spent a few hours in this lovely park. Though I didn't see any carriages, this park serves as a quiet haven from the bustling city where people of all ages stroll, dogs run and play, and children scamper. It may not be as fashionable as it once was, but it still plays a vital role in the city.

Bellamy, Joyce, Hyde Park for Horsemanship. London: J.A. Allen, 1975
And the many careful researchers and fellow history geeks at the Beau Monde chapter of RWA.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Childbirth During Medieval Times

Childbirth during the Medieval period was viewed with great joy and great anxiety. Medical treatment was crude and usually ineffective, so it was probably for the best that childbirth was considered a woman’s domain and not a medical proceeding. Even so, the statistics show that one in three women died during their child-bearing years, most often from childbirth or postpartum complications of it.
Women in labor were attended by a midwife and her assistants, mid-wives in training, because the skill of midwifery was learned by experience only. As midwives were called on to baptize babies in case of impending death, a woman had to have the recommendation of her parish priest in order to begin her training.

In noble households a special lying-in chamber would be prepared months ahead of time. The best bed linens would be used and the floor would be strewn with fresh rushes mixed with sweet herbs. Once the labor began, the door of the chamber was shut and the windows blocked to keep light out. After the birth, mother and child remained in the lying-in chamber for a month.

In addition to the midwife and attendants, the laboring woman would have up to six female relatives or friends with her for comfort and encouragement. Remember, girls during this period were married at 12 or 14, so often the laboring mother was a child herself by our standards. With no type of anesthesia to ease the pains, save oil rubbed on the belly by the midwife, the presence of other women who had gone through the ordeal and lived to tell the tale were probably welcomed by the mother-to-be.

Women in labor often used a birthing chair with a horseshoe-shaped seat, allowing the midwife easy access to her and taking advantage of the slight help gravity provided. According to Melissa Snell, “Birth was usually expected within 20 contractions; if it took longer, everyone in the household might try to help it along by opening cupboards and drawers, unlocking chests, untying knots, or even shooting an arrow into the air. All of these acts were symbolic of opening the womb.” Often charms, such as the gemstone jasper, credited with child-birthing powers, or a cranes’ foot were used to assist in difficult births.

After a successful birth, the umbilical cord would be tied and cut at four fingers’ length.

The child would be washed in warm water, or milk or wine if the house was affluent. Its gums would be rubbed with honey to give the babe an appetite and it would be wrapped in swaddling cloths to make its limbs grow straight. These cloths were changed every three hours.

Despite the pain and suffering of childbirth, it was a natural and expected occurrence. Women, then as well as now, looked forward to the blessed event with both fear and anticipation, hoping for a job well and swiftly done.

“The Medieval Child: Part 2, Entry Into the Medieval World,” by Melissa Snell
“The Midwife at Work,” by Lupita Diaz

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Medieval Love Tokens by Jenna Jaxon

With Valentine’s Day fast approaching, and with me having just celebrated the new covers on my medieval series of novellas, I thought it only apropos for me to do an article on medieval tokens of love. If you thought the medieval courtiers weren’t particularly romantic, think again!
Throughout the Middle Ages people in love exchanged gifts to celebrate their feelings, just as we do today. Some tokens have continued down to our time, while others might seem rather odd to our modern sensibilities.

One love token that is still being given today is jewelry, especially rings. Rings would be given certainly as part of betrothal or wedding celebrations, but could be given on less formal occasions to express affection. Rings could be made of gold or silver and set with precious stones or they could be made of simpler materials, such as bone or glass. Many times these tokens were inscribed with some sentiment from one lover to another.

Another piece of jewelry often exchanged between lovers that isn’t all that unfamiliar to our modern eyes is the brooch. A beautiful, yet
practical gift, the brooch showed off the wealth of the giver (and the depth of their regard as well), while it assisted the receiver in pinning a cloak together or fastening a garment.

An interesting custom for people of less wealthy means was the giving of miniature items that they could not afford. These token would probably have looked like modern day charms and might have included everything they would have seen wealthy couples exchange, such as purses, shoes, chaplets, or jewelry boxes.

When a medieval lady wished to bestow a favor on her knight of choice before a joust, she would give him a token that would mark him as her chosen courtier. Items that were easily detached, such as sleeves or a scarf, or fluttery, such as a handkerchief or ribbon would signal that he was her particular champion.

And a final token that would be considered somewhat different today is a casket, or box, usually carved in an intricate fashion, perhaps with scenes of lovers imprinted all about it. These boxes could hold jewelry, other trinkets, or something more personal, like a lock of a loved one’s hair.

So this Valentine’s Day, don’t say it with flowers, say it with a casket or a sleeve, something a medieval lady or knight would cherish forever.

Friday, February 1, 2019

A Texas Woman

Watching The World Go By

The Wedding Photograph of James Lafayette Lary and Sallie Britton
(Check out that mustache! It was all the rage at the time this photograph was taken. Kissing would've been weird.)

It's interesting to think of how many Westerns I've read over the years, set in the 1880's and 1890's, that I never give much thought to what the characters would've seen if they lived to a healthy old age. Then I think back to actual family members who lived during that time period. For instance, the woman I am named after, Sallie Britton Lary. She's that pretty lady on the right. Aren't old pictures wonderful? You can see where the photographer went in and traced a few details to make the photograph look "better." 

I often wonder if I could write a story based on this woman's life. She was born in 1873, in the golden age of cowboys and train robberies. She married when she was in her twenties - and how many novels take place in the 1890's? Absolutely perfect. 

During this woman's childhood, her family picked up and moved from one side of Texas to another. They traveled by wagon train, and Sallie's family was at the back and fell behind. Which turned out to be a good thing, as the front of the train was attacked by Native Americans. 

Sallie lived to be 93 years old. That means she lived in an era of Native American wars all the way through watching on television as the first man went to the moon. She saw cattle lands turn to cities, buggies into cars, and planes. The miracle of television never ceased to hold wonder for her. 

Next time you read a novel based in the late 1800's, consider those characters and how the changing world would've impacted them. From horses to convertibles, from gramophones to the silver screen, and two World Wars. 

I hope you don't mind me sharing a piece of family history. Truthfully, my stories can be inspired by what little I know of these people who came before me. 


Sally Britton is the author of several Regency romance novels. Her work can be found at 

Friday, January 4, 2019

The Martha Stewart of the Victorians

Mrs. Beeton, Homemaker Extraordinaire

Image from Wikipedia Commons

The modern homemakers and home managers among us all recognize the name Martha Stewart. You've probably read a recipe by The Pioneer Woman or the Six Sisters. And if you haven't been on Pinterest at least once, I'd be pretty shocked.

Mrs. Isabella Mary Beeton was the woman who fulfilled pretty much all the above roles for the Victorian woman. Her book, Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management, was in just about every home. People in England still know who she is, as her book became something of an icon. And what a book it was! Original copies still appear, occasionally, on auction and they bring in thousands of dollars/British pounds. 

This is the SPINE of the book. It's huge. 
Mrs. Beeton got her start as an authority on household matters at just 21 years old. She wrote articles about domestic duties, recipes, and other household matters. The articles were published in The English Woman's Domestic Magazine. When her tips and tricks were combined in a single volume, there were 2,751 entries to guide her contemporaries through everything from what to feed infants to the proper heat of a stable or coach house. This woman covered everything. And she did it fast. Mrs. Beeton died at the age of 28, from an infection arising after childbirth. 

What kind of advice did she give the people of her time? Recipes, how to legally will your belongings to others, health remedies, and instructions on how to properly open a ball. While a lot of her work is irrelevant to people in modern times, it's still fascinating to read, especially when we picture our favorite literary heroines consulting this huge book in order to prepare a menu to impress their beloved, or find a cure for an illness in their home. 

Here are a few excerpts for your amusement: 

CURE FOR THE TOOTHACHE.--Take a piece of sheet zinc, about the
size of a sixpence, and a piece of silver, say a shilling; place them
together, and hold the defective tooth between them or contiguous to
them; in a few minutes the pain will be gone, as if by magic. The zinc
and silver, acting as a galvanic battery, will produce on the nerves of
the tooth sufficient electricity to establish a current, and
consequently to relieve the pain. Or smoke a pipe of tobacco and

A recipe for something called "Snowballs."

APPLE SNOWBALLS. INGREDIENTS.--2 teacupfuls of rice, apples, moist sugar, cloves. Mode.--Boil the rice in milk until three-parts done; then strain it
off, and pare and core the apples without dividing them. Put a small
quantity of sugar and a clove into each apple, put the rice round them,
and tie each ball separately in a cloth. Boil until the apples are
tender; then take them up, remove the cloths, and serve. Time.--1/2 hour to boil the rice separately; 1/2 to 1 hour with the
apple. Seasonable from August to March.

And visiting friends:

IN PAYING VISITS OF FRIENDSHIP, it will not be so necessary to be
guided by etiquette as in paying visits of ceremony; and if a lady be
pressed by her friend to remove her shawl and bonnet, it can be done if
it will not interfere with her subsequent arrangements. It is, however,
requisite to call at suitable times, and to avoid staying too long, if
your friend is engaged. The courtesies of society should ever be
maintained, even in the domestic circle, and amongst the nearest
friends. During these visits, the manners should be easy and cheerful,
and the subjects of conversation such as may be readily terminated.
Serious discussions or arguments are to be altogether avoided, and there
is much danger and impropriety in expressing opinions of those persons
and characters with whom, perhaps, there is but a slight acquaintance.
It is not advisable, at any time, to take favourite dogs into
another lady's drawing-room, for many persons have an absolute
dislike to such animals; and besides this, there is always a
chance of a breakage of some article occurring, through their
leaping and bounding here and there, sometimes very much to the
fear and annoyance of the hostess. Her children, also, unless
they are particularly well-trained and orderly, and she is on
exceedingly friendly terms with the hostess, should not
accompany a lady in making morning calls. Where a lady, however,
pays her visits in a carriage, the children can be taken in the
vehicle, and remain in it until the visit is over.

So, no dogs in a friend's house and leave your children in the carriage! Reading through some of these entries gave me cause to giggle, cringe, and be very grateful for modern medicine and menus. It's fascinating to see how those before us lived and where they looked for advice before we could Google or ask Alexa or Siri.

If you'd like to learn more about Mrs. Beeton, or read her book for yourself, there are some links below to help you out. :-)

Further Reading: 
Project Gutenburg's Entry: The Book of Household Management by Mrs. Beeton

Sally Britton's Sweet Historical Romances, based in the Regency era, can all be found on her author page on