Search This Blog

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

Joust in Time by Jenna Jaxon


Knights on horseback racing full tilt toward each other with lances fixed may be the most iconic image most of us have of the Medieval period, and for good reason.  Jousting was one of the most popular and dramatic entertainments people of all classes could enjoy at a time when life was uncertain.


Jousts were usually part of a tournament, held by royalty usually during the summer months of the year.  They were major events where knights were pitted against each other for honor, for glory, and for prize money.  They may had had their roots in Roman games at the Coliseum.


On the opening day of a tournament, which may have lasted from 3 to 5 days, there was a formal procession out to the lists (the barriers that defined the field of combat).  This procession could be quite elaborate.  In my medieval romance Time Enough to Love, the knights and their ladies are dressed in costumes as members of King Arthur’s Round Table and it was a great honor to be chosen to ride. I modeled this procession after an actual procession in which 25 ladies on horseback rode beside their knights who walked to the lists (at least a couple of miles) in full armor while tethered to the ladies by silver chains.  King Edward III, at whose court the major action of the first half of the book takes place, had in fact given a grand tournament in 1344, which gave me the idea for one in my book.

Once on the field, the spectators were seated in a grandstand called a berfrois, built a story above the lists. Knights were assigned to brightly colored tents called pavilions, where they rested, waited, and donned their armor, with assistance from their squire, in preparation for the joust.  As a side note, the armor typically worn weighed about 60 pounds, but was so well-articulated that the combatants had much more mobility than we would believe.




The horses used by knights were a special breed, called destriers, who could manage the great weight of knight and armor and still maneuver on the field.  The horses were draped with a cloth called a comparison that covered them from nose to tail, designed in the knight’s colors and emblazoned with his heraldic design.

Of course, as with any contact sport, the potential for injury and death in jousting was great. The most famous death occurred when King Henry II of France was killed when a lance broke on his helmet and a wooden splinter pierced his eye and brain.  Oddly enough, the almost exact same thing happened in January 2011 when a jousting re-enactor was killed when a lance splintered on his helmet and a large piece of it pierced his eye and brain. 

With such a rich heritage of jousting, is it any wonder that I incorporated a joust and as many details of it as possible into Time Enough to Love?  You’ll find the procession—which becomes a serious conflict in the first part of the book—the joust itself, and a stunning injury that threatens the happiness of the hero and heroine.

If you love the color and pageantry of the Middle Ages, you’ll love Time Enough to Love.

Wednesday, April 6, 2022

Hard Day's Knight by Jenna Jaxon

 

My medieval novel, Time Enough to Love, is the story of knights in the service of King Edward III of England.  Knights are perhaps the iconic image most readers have of the period. The men didn’t, however, spring fully ready at birth for this way of life.  There were years of training and hard work that went into becoming a knight.


After the fall of the Roman Empire, old Roman families became rulers of their own land holds, usually a castle and a certain amount of land. These lords depended on the strength of their retainers, arms-bearing men who swore fealty them and lived within their households.  This is the beginning of the knightly social class who became defined as warriors on horseback.

In return for their service, the lord would usually give the knight a small parcel of land or fief, with authority over the peasants who worked the land. This authority led to the knight’s elevation into the ranks of the nobility.

Training to be a knight began actually at birth.  Male children who were not destined for Holy Orders, began learning at his parents’ home what is expected of a knight, good manners, and the code of chivalry. Most knights came from noble families as the training and equipping of a knight was expensive, but any free man could become a knight. At age seven, the young boy would be taken to a different castle and serve the liege lord as first a page and then by about age fourteen a squire.

Pages were considered boys while squires were young men who had arrived at puberty. Growing up in the service of the lord, these young men learned everything about becoming a knight from religion to manners to practical experience. At age fourteen they rose in rank to squire and tended to the knight directly.   They gained experience hawking and hunting by both watching and practicing these skills.  They were also taught to use knightly weapons such as the sword and the lance.

Usually at age twenty-one, although sometimes earlier, the squire, after learning how to comport


himself in both combat and chivalry, underwent the ceremony of Knighthood, and was knighted by having a sword tapped on either shoulder, and bidden, “Arise, Sir Knight.”

Knights as the warrior class adopted a set of idealized behaviors known as chivalry to be followed both on and off the battlefield.  These behaviors included being a ferocious fighter, a devout Christian concerned with the well-being of the weak and helpless, a charmer who loved to dance and flirt with ladies, and a man who would allow no stain on his honor.


Although there was no standard of chivalry to which the knight was held, there did arise, in literature, a standard of sorts where the treatment of noble women were concerned.  A knight was expected to honor and serve his lady, whoever he might choose her to be.  She could be the lady of the castle where he received his training or a lady who he esteemed from afar but never met or a lady he was destined to marry.  Whatever their relationship, the knight was bound to do whatever the lady bid him do. Many stories of King Arthur and the Round Table, especially those with Lancelot as the central figure, illustrate this idea of devotion to the lady.

Wednesday, March 2, 2022

Origins of St. Patrick’s Day by Jenna Jaxon

I seem to be writing about holidays all this year so far, but I love everything Irish, so I can’t resist talking about St. Patrick’s Day!


St. Patrick was a citizen of Roman Britain, born  on March 17, 387, who was kidnapped and brought to Ireland at about the age of 14-15 as a slave to work as a shepherd. After several years in captivity, Patrick escaped and fled back to Britain and was reunited with his family. He became a Christian and entered the priesthood. He was ordained a bishop and sent back to Ireland to preach the Gospel in a land of Druids and pagans. In this he was very successful, converting thousands in Ireland and establishing churches across the land. He wrote an autobiography called The Confessions in which he wrote of his life and his love for God. His only other writing is a Letter to Coroticus, a “denunciation of British mistreatment of Irish Christians.”

Patrick was a humble, gentle man who preached and ministered to the Irish for forty years, at last dying in Saul on March 17, 461. He is buried in Down Cathedral, Downpatrick where, in 1990, a grave marker was erected for him.

After his death, legends of Patrick’s miracles arose. First of these was that he drove all the snakes out of


Ireland and into the sea. Another is that he converted many people by explaining the concept of the Holy Trinity (three persons in one God) using the three leaves of the shamrock (three lobes on one stalk). He also claimed to have raised men from the dead (33 to be exact).

Beginning around the 7th century, Catholics in Ireland began venerating St. Patrick, although he was never formally canonized by the Catholic Church. In the 1630 the Feast of St. Patrick was added to the Catholic breviary or book of prayers. And by the end of the 17th century, Irish Catholics were celebrating the Feast of St. Patrick on March 17 by wearing crosses, ribbons, or shamrocks to honor him and his teachings of Christianity.


A small celebration of the day was first held in Boston, Massachusette in 1737. The first major celebration of St. Patrick’s Day, however, occurred in America, in New York in 1762 when Irish soldiers in the British Army marched in a parade on March 17, playing instruments and wearing their regimental colors proudly.

The color of St. Patrick, now traditionally green, was originally blue. It changed because the color blue became associated with English rule over Ireland and the color green became associated with rebellion, one symbol of which was the shamrock.

Today’s celebrations include huge parades in New York, Chicago, and Savannah. Chicago goes so far as


to dye their river green for the day. 



Traditionally, in Ireland, Irish bacon, cabbage, and potatoes are served. When thousands of Irish came to America in the 1850, they found the bacon in America to be very different from their native bacon. But they found the corned beef sold in delicatessens to be a cheap and delicious substitute, so today the meal for St. Patrick’s Day is Corned Beef and Cabbage with potatoes. I serve it (or at least eat it) every St. Patrick’s Day!



May the luck of the Irish be with you this March 17!

 

Sources:

Catholic Online. “St. Patrick.” N.d.

History.com. “History of St. Patrick’s Day.” March 16, 2021.

History Extra. “A brief history of St. Patrick’s Day.”

O’Raifeartaigh, Tarlach. “St. Patrick: bishop and patron saint of Ireland.” Brittanica. N.d.

Wednesday, February 2, 2022

Victorian Valentines by Jenna Jaxon

As with many things, the Victorians gave us most of the traditions we use in our celebration of Valentine’s Day. The most prevalent tradition, sending and receiving Valentine’s cards, can be laid at the doorstep of a member of the British postal system, Rowland Hill, who came up with the idea that letters or cards should be charged by their weight rather than by the distance they traveled. Thus the penny post was born and mailing letters and cards suddenly became affordable for all classes.

 


The first penny stamp was created in 1840 and with it the tradition of sending Valentine cards was born. By 1841 more than 400,000 Valentine cards were sent in England; by 1870 the number had grown to 1.2 million.

Victorian Valentine’s Day cards were originally full sheets of paper, decorated with pictures and messages, then folded and sealed with wax in order to mail them. (Remember, envelopes did not come into practical use until 1845 when they could be mass produced.) Victorians could purchase ready-made cards or they could create their own.

 


The DIY Valentine cards were made with different materials that could be purchased at the stationer’s:  paper, bits of mirror, seashells, lace, silk or foil appliques, ribbons, seeds, and paste jewels, as well as ready made sentiments like “Be Mine” or “True Love.” Ladies and gents would take the materials home, assemble the cards, and send them out to arrive on Valentine’s Day, February 14. They grew to be more and more elaborate as the century progressed.

Here are some pictures of Victorian Valentines:

 


 





I hope you have a very Happy Valentine’s Day!


References:

5-Minute History. “Valentine’s Day in the Victorian Era.”

Gilbert, Sarah. “Victorian Valentine’s Day cards—in pictures.” The Guardian, February 13, 2014.

Letter Jackets. “The History of Envelopes.” July 14, 2016.

Wednesday, January 5, 2022

Gaming Clubs and Gaming Hells during the Regency Era by Jenna Jaxon

 



Readers of Regency romances will swiftly acknowledge the frequency with which these historical novels have scenes set in gaming clubs or gaming hells. The aristocracy, gentry, and common workers alike enjoyed gambling and did it with some frequency during the period. It has been hypothesized by Author Pitt in his master’s thesis on gambling during the Regency period, that gambling, and wagers in particular, were a means of fighting boredom. So there is little wonder that both gambling clubs and gambling hells were frequented often by people of all walks of life in Regency London.



Gaming clubs were establishments frequented by the aristocracy, exclusive and with strict guidelines for behavior. The most exclusive of the time were The Cocoa Tree, White’s, Brook’s, and Almack’s. They were located in St. James and were considered the poshest of the gaming establishments. These were called “golden hells” and catered to the upper crust. These were in direct contrast to the gaming hells or “copper hells” patronized by the lower classes. The “golden hells” were just as apt to use gambling and outrageous wagers. The wagers were entered into a “betting book” so the participants didn’t forget the terms and amounts wagered. One remarkable wager found on the books states, “April 2nd, 1809. Mr. Howard bets Mr. Osbon Ten guineas that Lord Folkestone does not marry Miss Taylor before this day twelve month."


Gaming hells were for the lower, less genteel clientele. Their likes frequented clubs in a rougher part of London, which admitted people of all walks and stations of life, and both genders in some cases. Ladies were not allowed in the gambling establishments of the wealthy, as they were considered gentlemen’s clubs and off limits to ladies.



The types of games played were split down class lines as well. The aristocratic clubs played card games that required some skill to win, such as Whist (the forerunner of Bridge), piquet, Vignt-et-Un (which we know as 21), and Faro. Gaming in the “copper hells” relied mostly on games of chance, such as Hazard, a dice game that was an early form of Craps which required no skill and lots of luck.


Next month I will follow this post on gambling in general with a specific look at one of the more notorious gambling houses of the later Regency period: Crockford’s.


 

References:

Gaston, Diane. “Gambling in Regency England.” Harlequin EverAfter, Feb. 14, 2011.

Pitt, Arthur. “A Study of Gamblers and Gaming Culture in London, c. 1780-1844: emerging

strategic reasoning in a culture of conspicuous consumption.” M.A. Thesis, August 2012.

Rees, Luke. “Gambling in London’s Most Ruinous Gentlemen’s Clubs.” London’s Historians’

Blog, June 5, 2014.

Regency Reader. “Regency Hot Spots: Hells for Gaming Part One.” September 17, 2009.

Thursday, December 9, 2021

Traditional Victorian Christmas Dishes by Jenna Jaxon

One of my favorite Christmas movies is the 1970 musical Scrooge with Albert Finney. The production values of the film are wonderful—as you watch it you truly feel transported into the Victorian London of Charles Dickens. In one sequence Bob Cratchit is heading home, buying Christmas presents, food and drink for the family’s Christmas celebration the following Christmas Day. 

That journey has always fascinated me and made me think about how and what the Victorians ate at Christmas. Depending on class and location, Christmas food traditions varied quite a bit, although there is also a lot of agreement on what should be eaten
for the holiday feast, generally the most meal extravagant of the year. The centerpiece was usually either a standing rib of beef with Yorkshire pudding in the households of the North, while the roasted goose with sage and onion stuffing graced the tables of the South.

 

Another tradition was to serve a rum punch, apparently a favorite Christmastide ritual for Charles Dickens. The making of the punch was quite a production, and Dickens would explain each step to his guests as they watched the punch being concocted. The drink is made in a large fire-proof punch bowl, where you combine lemon peel and sugar, dark rum and cognac, stir well, then take a spoonful of the mixture and light it on fire and return to the punch bowl to set it alight. Dickens would then lift out fiery lemon peels for the guests to admire. Afterwards, the flames are extinguished by a metal tray placed over the punch bowl. Nutmeg was then grated over the punch and ladled out to the guests. 

And last but not least was the Christmas or Plum pudding. Traditionally, this pudding was begun on the Sunday before the beginning of Advent, called Stir-up Sunday. If the household was to have good luck, the Christmas pudding must be begun on this day and left to ripen until Christmas Day. God’s blessing would only be bestowed on those who started their puddings on this day. For good fortune, the entire household should help with stirring the pudding with a wooden spoon and only clockwise and only East to West to honor the journey of the three kings. Once all the ingredients are assembled—raisins, currants, sultanas, dates, citrus peel, almonds, spices, cake crumb or breadcrumbs, brown sugar, butter, brandy or tum, and stout—the pudding is boiled or steamed for six hours, then removed from the pudding basin and wrapped with foil and a pudding cloth. It is then aged for about two months. On Christmas Day it is boiled for another four hours, then unmolded onto a platter. A ladle of brandy is heated then poured over the pudding and set alight for a dazzling desert.
There are many other traditional foods the Victorians ate at Christmas, but I thought these three would give a good idea of how the Victorian chose to celebrate the Season with fabulous food. 

I sincerely hope everyone has a warm and wonderful holiday season with your own special traditions and food. 

Sources: 

Burns-Booth, Karen. “Stir-Up Sunday, Traditions and My Traditional Victorian Christmas Pudding             Recipe.” Lavender and Lovage: Food and Travel from Home and Abroad, November 24, 2012.

Graham, Colleen. “English Christmas Punch.” The Spruce Eats Newsletter. May 13, 2021. 

Wondrich, David. “Holiday Punch—Plus a Cozy Fire.” Esquire, December 11, 2012.

Friday, December 3, 2021

Traditional Regency Christmas

by Donna Hatch

www.donnahatch.com


There's nothing quite like the glimmer of a Christmas tree, brightly wrapped packages, and a yule log burning in the fire to invoke wonder and excitement. But you may be surprised to know that many Christmas traditions are quite new--at least in England. Many English Christmas customs we think are ancient actually sprang up as early as the Victorian Era.

Regency Christmas traditions varied widely from region to region and even family to family. Generally, the upper classes of Regency England didn't treat Christmas as a special day beyond a church service and the exchange of small, mostly hand-made gifts within the family. Ordinary household items such as pen wipers and fire spills seem to have been common gifts, as well. The middle classes made a bigger event out of Christmas than their so-called "betters." Lucky them!

The reason why Christmas became so understated is largely due to Thomas Cromwell, who served as Chief Minister during the reign of King Henry VIII. Cromwell and his cronies virtually stamped out Christmas celebrations due to their origins—pagan licentious superstitions which often resulted in drunken brawls and even vandalism. Although I seldom approve of the destruction of any holiday, I can’t really blame him for his disapproval of that sort of misbehavior.


Fortunately, the Restoration revived Old Christmas into a new, toned-down version of its former bawdy revelry to one of quiet worship and time together with family. During the Regency, more and more celebratory customs cropped up. I suspect many families had practiced some of those customs all along secretly. Yorkshire is an area that seemed to hold on the most tightly to the Old Christmas traditions and enjoyed them openly when it became acceptable.


While researching English Christmas customs, I found journal entries and letters describing family events at the Big House, many of which I incorporated into my newest novel, Christmas Secrets. I exercised my creative license to have the local tradition include a ball at the Great House, gathering greenery including a mistletoe "kissing ball," the Yule Log, and singing carols, along with other fun aspects of the season on Christmas Eve.

Largely thanks to Queen Victoria's husband bringing his German traditions with him to England, which spread to the United States, Victorian Christmas customs grew into the ‘traditional’ Christmas we all know and love, complete with carolers, a wider variety of gifts and recipients, Yule logs, Christmas puddings, cards, Christmas trees, many of the carols we sing today.

Travel in winter in England during the Regency was extremely hazardous, therefore it was rarely done. By in large, Christmas house parties had to wait until railroads made winter journeys more feasible, which happened after 1840. Of course, I and every other author I have read largely ignore this, although in some of my Christmas stories, I mention people not wishing to travel far due to the weather.


An odd custom that does date back centuries is telling scary ghost stories. This age-old tradition dates so far back that I couldn’t find its true origin. Aside from the traditional Christmas story, A Christmas Carol, I’m happy that telling ghost stories is no longer part of most family Christmas customs. Can you imagine getting a child to bed who is both excited about Santa’s presents and frightened of ghosts? Now that is scary!

In the mood for a little holiday romance? Check out my Christmas novel, Christmas Secrets, which features a ghost, and kiss, and a happily-ever-after.

Sweet Regency Christmas

Christmas Secrets

A stolen Christmas kiss leaves them bewildered and breathless.

A charming rogue-turned-vicar, Will wants to prove he left his rakish days behind him, but an accidental kiss changes all his plans. His secret could bring him together with the girl of his dreams...or divide them forever.

Holly has two Christmas wishes this year; to finally earn her mother's approval by gaining the notice of a handsome earl, and to learn the identity of the stranger who gave her a heart-shattering kiss...even if that stranger is the resident Christmas ghost.

Christmas Secrets is available in both paperback and ebook on Amazon. Better yet, it's FREE on Kindle Unlimited!