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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Regency Halloween

Halloween as we know it today was not really a holiday during the Regency. On October 31, the Celts celebrated Samhain, a harvest festival which contained some elements of a festival of the dead. The Christian religion attempted to neutralize the pagan Samhain by combining it with Christian holy days. November 1 was All Saints' Day, or All Hallows Day, so October 31 became All Hallows' Eve.

By the Regency, All Hallows' Eve was mainly a rural festival, rarely noticed in the cities. Elements of Samhain remained in the customs of guising, lighting bonfires, and carving jack o' lanterns.

On Samhain, the barriers between the real world and the supernatural world thinned, allowing the dead, as well as evil spirits, to walk the earth. People left their doors open to welcome the ghosts of their ancestors inside, while at the same time keeping the evil ones out. An associate custom was guising, in which people dressed as ghouls. By blending in with the demons, they avoided them.

Bonfires were also popular on all Hallows' Eve. The fires lit the way to the afterworld of relatives who had died during the past year. They also scared the specters and goblins away.

Carving jack o' lanterns was another custom. Believing the "head" of a vegetable its most potent part, the Celts carved vegetables into heads with faces to scare away supernatural beings. By Regency times, these lighted vegetables were called jack o' lanterns from the seventeenth century Irish legend of Shifty, or Stingy, Jack. Shifty Jack, so evil neither Heaven or Hell would take him, was doomed forever to wander the earth while carrying a lantern.

The lantern was usually carved from a turnip or mangelwurzel, as pumpkins were largely unknown in Britain at the time.

Since turnips and mangelwurzels are dense, not hollow like pumpkins, carving such a jack o' lantern was a great deal of effort.

The beginnings of many of today's Halloween practices existed in the Regency. If you enjoy Regency and Halloween, you might like Pumpkinnapper, my Regency Halloween comedy.

Pumpkin thieves, a youthful love rekindled, and a jealous goose. Oh my!

Buy link here.

Happy Halloween!

Thank you all,


P.S. The top picture is Snap-Apple Night, painted by Irish artist Daniel Maclise in 1833, of a Halloween party he attended in Blarney, Ireland. From Wikipedia.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Vikings: Erik the Red

Erik the Red was born in 950, his birth name was Erik Thorvaldson.
It is believed he was called Erik the Red due to his red hair. Vikings didn't have sir names, often they were called after personality traits or physical characteristics.

It wasn't unusual for Vikings to settle disputes through fighting.
Murder of a family member would result in a member of the offending family being killed. This was justice.
"Things" were like courts where the Jarls, leaders of clans, would talk about issues and mete out justice for crimes. To determine if a person was telling the truth, they might be required to take a stone from a boiling pot of water. If they were honest, they would not get burned.

The Saga of Erik the Red tells of Erik's father being exiled form Norway because of "some killings." His family settled in Iceland. In the year 982, Erik loaned a shovel to a nieghbor, when the nieghbor refused to return the shovel, Erik stole it back. The two aruged and Erik killed the man.

In another incident, a landslide was accidentally started by Erik's slaves, damaging a farm. The farmer murdered the slaves. Erik in turn, killed the farmer. The thing had him banished from Iceland.

Erik began to travel, he and group of followers discovered a land nearly 500 miles west of Iceland. Erik named it Greenland. It was his belief a desireable name would make people more likely to settle there. Erik is credited with the exploration of Greenland, he spent three years exploring this land according to the Saga. When he returned to Iceland after his banishment period was up, he told stories of Greenland Life was harsh in Iceland and famine struck, many came to Greenland in hopes of a better future.

On a second expedition 14 of the 25 ships landed safely and established a settlement. Erik's colony would eventually die out, but other Norse settlements would survive until the 1400s, when communications ceased for more than a century.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Medieval kitchens were a far cry from our granite countertops and stainless steel appliances. Still, the people celebrated then in the same way we do—with food, wine, and good conversation.
In the kitchen, the cooks roasted meats on a spit over the fire. Common foods were stews and potage, a mixture of grains, with or without vegetables and meat, cooked with water until the mix resembled mush. These soups and stews were cooked in clay or iron pots directly in the flames.
In a castle, like the one to which the heroine of my novel, Jeanne of Clairmonde, traveled with the squire, they would have had a portable oven also, but these were luxuries. Bread and other foods were placed inside the oven, then the cook’s helpers buried the oven in the open fire to bake the contents.
The medieval kitchen, especially in homes of the aristocracy, was located a good distance from the Great Hall, where all the entertaining and eating went on. The danger of fire was ever-present in the Middle Ages, in a peasant hovel as well as an aristocrat’s mansion, because cooking was done over an open flame. Thus, if one could afford it, the food was brought in from another building, preferably through a passageway of wood or stone (to avoid the cooling effect of a brisk wind).
A great collection of 14th century recipes, The Forme of Cury, is downloadable, copyright free, from that most awesome of sites, the Gutenberg Project.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Regency Marriages and Annulments

Despite what you’ve no doubt read in many historical novels, annulments in Regency England were not easy to obtain.

The old fictitious “we can get our marriage annulled if we don’t consummate it” did not apply in Regency England, nor to my knowledge, at any time in England. Annulments were never easy, quick or painless. Marriages that could be annulled were invalid from the beginning; when either person was already married, when one was under the permitted age, when a minor married by license without proper permission (this included any illegitimate child marrying by license without permission from a guardian appointed by chancery court), or if a person was insane or so feebleminded s/he did not know what she was doing. Then there were annulments granted because of errors in names when people married by banns, because the couple was within prohibited degrees of relationships (i.e. consanguinity), and when one of the couple was impotent (but this have to be proven by a medical examination). A marriage could also be annulled if one party was incapable of sexual intercourse, or absolutely refused to consummate. The absolute refusal was considered the same as impotency, especially that when the person refused to state the reason(s) why.

All questions of validity of marriages were handled by the church courts in England.

Marriages were either valid, void, or voidable. A void marriage is a marriage that never was or had claim to validity. If someone has a spouse living and marries another without obtaining a divorce, the second marriage is void. If a minor married by license without permission, the marriage was void by the Hardwick act. Most void able marriages were marriages between persons within the prohibited decree of affinity and consanguinity. These had to be challenged while the couple was alive. Voidable marriages could not be voided after death of one of the couple.

If a woman’s marriage was annulled, she was reduced from wife to concubine, and her children were illegitimate. Nice, huh? The one time husband was not required to support her or pay her alimony as he had to do if they were separated or had a parliamentary divorce. Despite this, sometimes the wife was the one who instituted the suit in order to be free of the marriage. I asssume the marriage had to be pretty bad to be willing to be reduced to a concubine!

However, if neither sued for annulment, the marriage was valid. Again, consummation was not a requirement.

In my book, the Stranger She Married, the hero hinted that they could have their marriage annulled if she was truly unhappy. The reason for this is because his face was hidden from her and which might have been considered a kind of deception. I found historical precident for it, but I don't know if it really would have worked. Still, since they didn't use it, it didn't really matter. ;-)

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Historical Money

In my previous two posts on Regency money, Regency Money and The Worth of Regency Money, several people said they liked and needed the information. So, this post is a compendium of some historical money links I've discovered in my research. They include, but are not limited to, Regency money.

The best site I've found is Current Value of Old Money, a GREAT collection of links about historic money in various countries, including historic exchange rates.

From the above site, here's the link for historic France:

Here's a link for data from medieval Europe:

Another good link is the Marteau site, which contains information for the eighteenth century for various countries. Here's the Marteau site's A Platform of Research on Economics History, which is included on the Current Value of Old Money site.

From the above page, here's the Marteau Prices and Wages page, which gives historical money information on France, Germany and Austria, Great Britain, Italy, the Dutch Republic, the Ottoman Empire, Spain, and the Spanish Netherlands

From the above page, here's the link for Great Britain, Wages and Prices in 18th Century England. For example, a 1710 English clergyman made about 99 British pounds per year.

Here's a site that converts old German money to modern money (do a google search on "historical german money"):

The Measuring Worth site contains many calculators, as well as historical information, mainly for the USA and Great Britain.

All this data can be pretty dry, but here's an article, Vulgar Economy, from the Jane Austen Centre that gives some idea of the cost of common items in Regency England.

And to end the post on a lighter note, here are some slang expressions for British money. Not all the terms are historical, but the definitions are enlightening.

Thank you all,


P.S. The above picture is old Croatian money.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Soap in History

The earliest reference to soap was in the 4th c., when Galen, that great medical researcher, said people should use it to keep impurities from the body. During the middle ages, they knew to cleanse their hands before eating, but they only dipped them in perfumed water, which was better than nothing. I suspect it was to get rid of unsightly dirt rather than to cleanse, but we’ll never know about that.
One of the earliest uses of soap was to prepare wool for weaving. Later, soap began to be an elemental part of bathing, and soap-making guilds became prominent in Italy and Spain. Soap-making was sometimes considered “women’s work”, although as it became a prized commodity the skill became one of craftsmanship, with one soap-maker trying to outdo the next with softening agents.
Gradually, coloring agents and perfumes were added, and soap was sold in both liquid and solid forms. Marseille and Castile soap are made from mostly olive oil, and are considered more pure than those with harsher chemicals.
A soap bar cost about one-third of a dinar (dinero, denier) in the tenth century.
A Persian chemist wrote recipes for making soap, as did other soap-makers. Here is a recipe from a 13th century document:
Take sesame oil, a sprinkle of potash, alkali, and some lime, mix together and boil. Pour into molds and leave to harden.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Interview with Regency Author, Julia Justiss

A very special welcome to my guest, Harlequin Historicals author, Julia Justiss, who has so graciously agreed to to give us a fun and revealing look into the life of a historical author.

Donna: What genre or sub-genre do you write? Why did you choose this genre?

Julia: I write Regency Historicals. I grew up on historical fiction, found Georgette Heyer and traditional Regencies while in college and was hooked. Naturally, when I decided to write my own stories, I stayed with the type of tale that had always fascinated me.

Donna: I have the same fascination! So, tell us about your book, From Waif to Gentleman's Wife.

Julia: Recently disappointed in love, Sir Edward Austin Greaves is happy to accept the challenge of bringing a failing agricultural property back into productivity. But when his carriage is attacked by Luddite agitators on the way to Blenhem Hill, he realizes the situation is more complex than he anticipated. So he’s dismayed and rather suspicious when destitute governess Joanna Merrill, claiming to be looking for her brother, the discharged former estate agent, arrives at midnight and faints on his doorstep.

Simple courtesy requires him to offer her temporary shelter—though the desire he feels when he catches her in his arms is anything but gentlemanly. Something about Joanna’s large dark eyes, slender frame and brave story strike a responsive chord deep within this guarded man. Just how much he risking by allowing Joanna Merrill to remain under his roof?

Donna: Sounds like another winner! When did you start to write and how long did it take you get published for the first time?

Julia: I’ve written since I was in elementary school. Starting with story ideas for Nancy Drew mysteries, I went on to poetry and short stories in high school and college. Then, after reading some Regencies that I felt I could have written better, I took the plunge and wrote my first novel. Children intervened, and it wasn’t until 1994 that I began writing again. My second complete manuscript won the Golden Heart for Regency in 1996 and was bought by Harlequin in 1998.

Donna: A Golden Heart is quite an honor. And well-deserved, I’m sure. Tell us a little about yourself. What is your typical day like?

Julia: Since I have a day job as a part-time high school French teacher, I leave home around 6:15AM for a local coffee shop to get some writing in before I have to be at school at 10:30. I try to put some more time in after I get home around 5:30-6PM. Then dinner, maybe a bit of reading or t.y. and sleep and do it all over again.

Donna: It’s an endless endeavor, isn’t it? Tell me, how do you write? Are you a pantser or a plotter? Is it your characters or your plot that influences you the most?

Julia: I’m definitely a plotter! With my writing time so tightly limited, I need every minute and can’t afford to write a scene I later decide isn’t essential to the story. So I make a pretty detailed synopsis before I begin and use it to keep me on track—although, of course, the story often takes unexpected turns. I may have a roadmap of where I’m going, but it’s always the characters who drive the plot, and sometimes they end up striking off in directions I haven’t anticipated!

Donna: I know exactly what you mean. Those pesky characters just aren’t always obedient, are they? So, veering off a little; you cannot bear to live without what food?

Julia: I’d be lost without chicken, fish, and salad. Chocolate ice cream and oreo cookies are every-once-in-a-while indulgences.

Donna: Yum! So tell us, what’s the most embarrassing thing you’ve ever done?”

Julia: That one’s easy! While on my first trip to France after college, I was trying to tell the landlady of the bed & breakfast I’d just checked into that I was hungry (“J’ai faim.” ) But in my not-so-accurate French, I pronounced the “m” (which is not supposed to be pronounced) so the lady thought I was saying “J’ai femme”—I have a woman. She kept looking at me strangely and saying “quoi?” (what??) When I gave up and said instead that I was looking for a restaurant, she burst out laughing. At that point, I realized what I’d apparently done was tell her I was a . She laughed again each time she saw me for the whole time we stayed at the hotel.

Donna: That’s funny! If it’s any consolation, you probably cheered the landlandy by giving her something to laugh about that day. Do tell us what are you working on now?

Julia: I’m working now on the story of Greville Anders, the brother of e Joanna Merrill from WAIF. Fired from his estate manager’s job, Greville is knocked unconscious and delivered to a press gang by the embezzling employee he was about to turn in. Returning after six months as a common seaman on a Royal Navy man-of-war, he’s billeted at the home of Lord Bronning while he recovers from wounds received in a skirmish with pirates. Her sights set on a London Season and a brilliant match. Bronning’s daughter Amanda is dismayed by her father’s unsuitable house guest, even if he claims to be cousin to a marquess. With her beauty, charm, and amply dowry, Amanda can look as high as she likes for a husband. So why is she finding the totally ineligible Greville so annoyingly appealing?

Donna: I can’t wait! So going back to your newest release, where can we find it?

Julia: WAIF is available at Walmart, Borders, Barnes & Noble, Target and Books-A-Million stores that stock Harlequin series titles, as well as at the on-line bookstores of those companies, and from

Julia: You can find all about WAIF, including character sketches and photos of the Nottingham locale, as well as advice on the writing life, research tidbits and notes on my next release, THE SMUGGLER AND THE SOCIETY BRIDE, at my website,

Donna: Julia, it’s been a pleasure having you today. Thank you for being my guest.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Knights in Shining Armor

Armor and Weapons:

A knight was armed and armored to the teeth. He had so much armor and weapons that he depended on his squire to keep the armor and weapons clean and in good working condition. At first the armor was made of small metal rings called chain mail. A knight wore a linen shirt and a pair of pants as well as heavy woolen pads underneath the metal-ringed tunic. A suit of chain mail could have more than 200,000 rings. However, chain mail was heavy, uncomfortable, and difficult to move in. As time passed, knights covered their bodies with plates of metal. Plates coverd their chests, back, arms, and legs. A bucket-like helmet protected the knight's head and had a hinged metal visor to cover his face. Suits of armor were hot, uncomfortable, and heavy to wear. A suit of armor weighed between forty and sixty pounds. Some knights even protected their horses in armor.

A knights also needed a shield to hold in front of himself during battle. Shields were made of either wood or metal. Knights decorated their shields with their family emblem or crest and the family motto. Oft times these emblems or family crests/mottos were the only way to identity a knight who had been killed in battle.

A knight's weapon was his sword, which weighted approximately thirty-two pounds. It was worn on his left side in a case fastened around his waist. A knife was worn on the knight's right side. Knights used other weapons in combat as well. A lance was a long spear used in joust. Metal axes, battle hammers, and maces were also used to defeat the enemy.

In researching Armor and Weapons, I wondered how many knights died from heat stroke as opposed to mortal wounds during combat? And if he fell off his horse, how did the knight manage to get to his feet wearing all that heavy metal? Obviously, knight's were men of exceptional strength and fortitude.


Tournaments provided a means for knights to practice warfare and build their strength in times of peace. Tournaments were essentially mock battles with audiences. The audience was usually made up of "fair damsels." This was another way in which a knight was expected to act chivalrous. The tournaments had different rules that had to be followed. Knights were judged by umpired that watched for dishonest play. (Sounds like modern day games--like umpires and referees in football and basketball).

Tournaments were usually fought between either two people or two teams. If two people fought a tournament, it was usually by jousting. On horsebacke, two knights would gallop across the playing field toward each other. The men carried long, blunt poles and shields. The objective was to knock the other person out of his saddle.

Team play was conducted with fierce mock combat between two bands of fighters. They fought with wooden or blunted weapons so as to reduce the risk of getting hurt. However, this was often not the case. Many knights did get hurt and even died in what was referred to as 'gaming accidents.'