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Friday, December 25, 2009

Good King Wenceslas

Wenceslas I, Duke of Bohemia (907-935)
His father died when Wenceslas was 13, leaving him to be raised by his mother and grandmother. Like many families, there was conflict on how to raise the children.

The father and grandmother were Christian while the mother, Drahmira, was pagan.The mother was furious for the interference his grandmother caused in raising Wenceslas as a Christian, so angry she plotted to have the grandmother strangled.

Wenceslas gained the throne when he was 18 and had his mother exiled. This did not stop his brother from making an attempt on his life. While on his way to church, Wenceslas was murdered by his younger brother and two friends.

The people never forgot the kind noble, and though he is referred to as a king, the title is a tribute to his character, not his actual rank.

Legends have sprung about the duke:
One claims a huge army of knights sleep within the mountains waiting to be called into battle at Wenceslas' command.
A legend in Prague says the statue of King Wenceslaus will come to life and slay the enemies of the Czechs in thier darkest hour.

In a ballad, his kindness lives on.

Good King Wenceslas looked out
On the feast of StephenWhen the snow lay round about
Deep and crisp and evenBrightly shone the moon that night
Though the frost was cruel
When a poor man came in sightGath'ring winter fuel.

"Hither, page, and stand by me
If thou know'st it, tellingYonder peasant, who is he?
Where and what his dwelling?"
"Sire, he lives a good league hence
Underneath the mountain
Right against the forest fence
By Saint Agnes' fountain."

"Bring me flesh and bring me wine
Bring me pine logs hither
Thou and I will see him dine
When we bear him thither.
"Page and monarch forth they went
Forth they went together
Through the rude wind's wild lament
And the bitter weather

"Sire, the night is darker now
And the wind blows stronger
Fails my heart, I know not how,I can go no longer."
"Mark my footsteps, my good page
Tread thou in them boldly
Thou shalt find the winter's rage
Freeze thy blood less coldly."

In his master's steps he trod
Where the snow lay dinted
Heat was in the very sod
Which the Saint had printed
Therefore, Christian men, be sure
Wealth or rank possessing
Ye who now will bless the poor
Shall yourselves find blessing

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


A Regency Christmas story wouldn't be complete without the hero and heroine celebrating their love with a kiss under the mistletoe. Long a symbol of fertility, mistletoe, with its glossy green leaves and white berries, has become a Christmas symbol of love and marriage.

Mistletoe is an evergreen, a spot of life in the brown, dormant landscape of a northern winter. At this low point of the year, Regency people decorated their houses with mistletoe, along with other seasonal greens such as Christmas rose (Hellebore), evergreen boughs, holly, ivy, hawthorn, laurel, rosemary, and bay, as a reminder that spring would return.

In England, mistletoe, which is a parasite, grows most often on apple trees, but also on blackthorn, hawthorn, lime, poplar, rowan and willow. Although its range extends from Devon to Yorkshire, the plant grows mainly to the south and west, and is particularly abundant around London.

Some of the myths surrounding mistletoe originated with the Druids, who deemed the plant a sexual symbol--the juice from the white berries resembles semen--and, by extension, an aphrodisiac. As part of their winter solstice ceremonies, they cut mistletoe from oak trees, providing a link to the later holiday of Christmas.

The origin of kissing under the mistletoe may derive from the Norse legend of the death of the sun god, Balder, killed by a sprig of mistletoe hurled by his enemy Loki. When Balder's mother, Frigga, the goddess of love, cried over her son, her tears resurrected him. In gratitude, she kissed everyone who came under the mistletoe.

A lesser known legend declares mistletoe the plant of peace. Enemies meeting under the mistletoe had to embrace and declare a truce until the next day. This goodwill and embrace may also be the source of the kiss under the mistletoe.

Regency people used mistletoe in the form of a kissing bough--a simple arrangement of mistletoe decorated with ribbons and hung over a doorway or entrance. The gentleman would kiss his lady and then pluck a white berry and present it to her, perhaps as a symbol of the child he could give her. When all the berries were gone, that sprig of mistletoe could no longer be used to steal kisses, although many people disregarded the berries' absence.

Now, for my latest news. The Wild Rose Press has just contracted my Regency Christmas novella, Mistletoe Everywhere, which incorporates the myth of enemies, in this case, the hero and heroine, declaring a truce under the mistletoe. Short blurb: A man who sees mistletoe everywhere is mad--or in love. More info here.

My Christmas present. Thank you, Wild Rose Press.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all.


Monday, December 21, 2009

Christmas Quiz

How much do you know about Christmas? I thought I knew quite a bit, but I found this fun quiz by Rachel Rager, ( and I just had to pass it along. I hope you enjoy it!

1. Two hundred years before the birth of Christ, the s used mistletoe to celebrate the coming of winter. What did they believe it did?
A. It had healing powers.
B. It warded off evil spirits.
C. It helped the winter to be less sever.

2. Where did the tradition of kissing under the mistletoe begin?
A. The red of the berries symbolizes love.
B. The Scandinavians associated mistletoe with their of love, Frigga.
C. Eating the berries gives the euphoric feeling of being in love.

3. Poinsettias are native to what country?
A. England.
B. Mexico.
C. Italy.

4. In the 1800's, the poinsettia was believed to be symbolic of what?
A. The star of Bethlehem.
B. The mother, Mary.
C. The birth of Jesus Christ.

5. From what country did the Christmas tree originate?
A. France.
B. England.
C. Germany.

6. Where was St. Nicolas, the first Santa Clause, born?
A. Italy.
B. Turkey.
C. Belgium.

7. What is the original belief behind the Yule Log?
A. It is believed to burn away the last year's evil.
B. It is believed to warm the Christ child when he comes.
C. It is believed to welcome all to its warmth and beauty.

8. What were the first Christmas tree decorations?
A. Candles.
B. Cookies and candies.
C. Flowers and fruit.

Some of those were pretty tricky, huh? I toyed with the idea of not posting the answers for a few days to encourage you to come back, but decided since that would have annoyed me, it would probably annoy you, too. So, I'll play fair and give you the answers. Here they are:

1. A
2. B
3. B
4. A
5. C
6. B
7. A
8. C

How’d you do? Hope this was fun for you! Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Illuminated Book of Hours

During the Middle Ages, devotional books were known by many names: psalters, breviaries, and prayer books. They contained various texts, such as a Calendar (of Christian Feast Days), excerpts from the four Gospels, Psalms, Office for the Dead, and Hours of the Cross. Initially used by monks and nuns, heavier volumes were later condensed for the laity, and gradually became popular with medieval women.
The heavily illuminated books, known as Book of Hours, sometimes had jeweled covers and were personalized for the owner, such as inserting the owner’s name in a prayer. Plainer books, however, with little or no decoration, were carried by commoners, and sometimes even by servants.
Ofttimes husbands gave a richly illuminated Book of Hours to his wife on their wedding day.
Today, these lavish images give us an important record of life in the 14th and 15th centuries, as the pictures show clothing styles, leisure activities, and the cycle of life in the monthly Calendar scenes.
Today, numerous examples of these decorated manuscripts can be found in museums, libraries, and in private collections. To immerse yourself in the beauty of the Middle Ages, go to Wikimedia Commons and type in Book of Hours to view some of these beautiful images.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Saint Nicholas

Saint Nicholas lived in what is now southern Turkey between 260 and 280 AD. two sources corroborate his appointment as the bishop of Myra.

Though stories begin to change over time, often to make it more interesting to tell, accounts are consistent on many points. He is listed on the original Greek list of attendees at the Council of Nicae as well as five other lists.

I have no problem believing he was a real person.
He is noted for his great compassion and service to those in need. One of his symbols is three gold balls, representative of dowries he supplied for poor girls who had none.

He supported those wrongly accused of crimes as many historical documents support. For these reasons he became the patron saint of children, the oppressed and sailors.

He was a man who lived the love of God by caring for those around him. There are several accounts of Saint Nicholas rescuing children from abusive situations. He is rumored to fill children's shoes with treats and food. over time, the children would put hay and carrots in their shoes for Nicholas donkey.

The tradition spread across Europe as nuns took on the tradition of filing the children's shoes.The legends of Saint Nicholas spread to the New world with the colonists, though there are some differences between Saint Nick and Santa Claus, the essential spirit of giving remain.

The ancient sources cited to substantiate this information are Michael the Archimandrite, Sinaitic and Ethiopian manuscripts, Gratianus' Decretum, Theodore the Lector, Andrew of Crete, Eustratios of Constantinople, AD 583; Passionarium Romanum, 650 AD; and Praxis de tributo.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Regency Places

When I started to write Regencies, I looked at maps to familiarize myself with the places where my characters lived. Even a cursory examination revealed that many English place names were duplicated in the United States, especially in the areas the English settled.

The English were the first Europeans to arrive in the northeastern United States, where I live, and they named the area New England after the home country. As they built cities and towns, they named them after the places they had left behind.

Examples abound. After New England, the most familiar names are New York, New Hampshire, and New Jersey, named for the British counties of York, Hampshire and Jersey. Manchester and Peterborough are in New Hampshire, and Warwick is in Rhode Island. Massachusetts has Suffolk, Norfolk and Essex counties.

Some names were so popular the settlers reused them. Both Connecticut and Massachusetts have Middlesex counties. The city of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, lies in northern New England, and Portsmouth, Rhode Island, in the south. Connecticut contains the city of Bristol, and Bristol County is part of Massachusetts. The city of Worcester, Massachusetts, lies in Worcester County. There are two Oxfords in Massachusetts, one in Bristol County and one in Worcester County.

Boston, Lincolnshire, lent its name to Boston, Massachusetts. The Charles River, named for King Charles I, separates Boston from Cambridge. About fifteen miles west of Boston is the Town of Lincoln. Travel another fifteen miles west to reach the City of Marlborough. Alas, Marlborough, Massachusetts, has no Duke.

Other English place names in Massachusetts include (in no particular order): Waltham, Sudbury, Bedford, Dover, Shrewsbury, Truro, Gloucester, Chelmsford, Tewksbury (not quite a match, the English town is spelled Tewkesbury), Falmouth, Taunton, Bridgewater and Chelsea.

As far as place names go, I've only scratched the surface. When I look at the maps again, I know I'll find even more.

Thank you all,

Monday, December 7, 2009

Ice in Regency England

(This bog was inadvertantly posted on Saturday instead of today because I'm a cyber dunce! So my apologies to those of you who already read this and posted comments before I realized my error and removed it.)

A question was posed on my historical author loop which prompted a discussion I found interesting. It was about ice.

Was ice used in drinks?

Yes and no. There WAS such a thing as ice. (Take a look at Mother Nature) And ice houses were common in England in the Regency Era and earlier. Many estates had ice ponds where the ice was cut and it placed inside an underground ice house where it would stay frozen even during the summer. In America, ice was covered with sawdust to keep it from melting, but I don’t know if that were true in England. There was an ice house near ter' Tea Shop in London, which is famous for its “ices,” meaning a sweet frozen treat much like our shaved ice or the Italian sorbet. King Charles had an ice house in one of the city parks. The British made lemonade and sherbets as well as ice cream. They sometimes had ice sculptures as decorations for some of their fancier events. But I have found no evidence that they ever had ice IN their drinks.

England was cold during the Regency era, even more so than it is now, since they were in the middle of a mini ice age. It was so cold back then that Thames froze over more than once and they usually had a riotous party on it. During the cold winter months (and I live in Arizona where it really isn’t all that cold, comparatively speaking), I seldom want ice in my drink during the winter, so I doubt very much anyone felt the need to invent it in England during this time.

However, in warmer climates such as Italy, they frequently added ice to beverages. According to many travel writers back to the mid 1700's, Italians put ice in their lemonade, orgeate, sherbet. In Venice, they couldn’t have underground ice houses due to all the water underneath them, of course, so they brought ice in from surrounding areas to keep it from melting. Places like coffee houses and pubs would provide it to the public. Obviously, the rich had their own stash, just like everything else.

So there you have it. Something we take for granted will be in our freezer whenever we want it would have been something of a commodity in Regency England. Of course, that’s true about a lot of things. I’ve often said I’d love to visit, but I’m not sure I’d want to live there. Still, isn't the fantasy of Regency England glorious? That's why I love to read and write it!

Friday, December 4, 2009

The Livestyle of Peasants in Medieval England

While researching this articles, I couldn't help but think of my own childhood, growing up on a farm and in a house where trudging to the outhouse was the norm. I remember how amazed I was when we moved into a house with indoor plumbing, a flush toilet and sinks with faucets instead of a pitcher pump that had to be primed everytime we used it. However, my early life didn't compare the life of peasants in medieval England and their children. What about you?

The lifestyle of peasants in Medieval England was extremely hard and harsh. Many worked as farmers in fields owned by the lords and their lives were controlled by the farming year. Certain jobs had to be done at certain times of the year. Their lives were harsh but there were few rebellions due to a harsh system of law and order.

The peasants were at the bottom of the Feudal System and had to obey their local lord to whom they had sworn an oath of obedience on the Bible. Because they had sworn an oath to their lord, it was taken for granted that they had sworn a similar oath to the duke, earl or baron who owned that lord’s property.

The position of the peasant was made clear by Jean Froissart when he wrote:
It is the custom in England, as with other countries, for the nobility to have great power over the common people, who are serfs. This means that they are bound by law and custom to plough the field of their masters, harvest the corn, gather it into barns, and thresh and winnow the grain; they must also mow and carry home the hay, cut and collect wood, and perform all manner of tasks of this kind.

The following was written in 1395:
"The one thing the peasant had to do in Medieval England was to pay out money in taxes or rent. He had to pay rent for his land to his lord; he had to pay a tax to the church called a tithe. This was a tax on all of the farm produce he had produced in that year. A tithe was 10% of the value of what he had farmed."

This may not seem a lot but it could make or break a peasant’s family. A peasant could pay in cash or in kind – seeds, equipment etc. Either ways, tithes were a deeply unpopular tax. The church collected so much produce from this tax, that it had to be stored in huge tithe barns. Some of these barns can still be seen today. There is a very large one in Maidstone, Kent, which now has a collection of carriages in it.

Peasants also had to work for free on church land. This was highly inconvenient as this time could have been used by the peasant to work on their own land. However, the power of the church was such that no-one dared break this rule as they had been taught from a very early age that God would see their sins and punish them.
The Domesday Book meant that the king knew how much tax you owed and you could not argue with this – hence why it brought ‘doom and gloom’ to people.

After you had paid your taxes, you could keep what was left – which would not be a great deal. If you had to give away seeds for the next growing season, this could be especially hard as you might end up with not having enough to grow let alone to feed yourself.

Peasants lived in cruck houses. These had a wooden frame onto which was plastered wattle and daub. This was a mixture of mud, straw and manure. The straw added insulation to the wall while the manure was considered good for binding the whole mixture together and giving it strength. The mixture was left to dry in the sun and formed what was a strong building material.

Cruck houses were not big but repairs were quite cheap and easy to do. The roofs were thatched. There would be little furniture within the cruck houses and straw would be used for lining the floor. The houses are likely to have been very hot in the summer and very cold in the winter. Windows were just holes in the walls as glass was very expensive. Doors might be covered with a curtain rather than having a door as good wood could be expensive.

At night, any animal a peasant owned would be brought inside for safety. There were a number of reasons for this. First, wild animals roamed the countryside. England still had wolves and bears in the forests and these could easily have taken a pig, cow or chickens. The loss of any animal could be a disaster but the loss of valuable animals such as an ox would be a calamity.

If the livestock was left outside at night they could also have been stolen or simply have wandered off. If they were inside your house, none of these would happen and they were safe. However, they must have made the house even more dirty than it usually would have been as none of these animals would have been house-trained. They would have also brought in fleas and flies etc. increasing the unhygienic nature of the house.

The houses would have had none of the things we accept as normal today – no running water, no toilets, no baths and washing basins. Soap was unheard of and as was shampoo. People would have been covered with dirt, fleas and lice. Beds were simply straw stuffed mattresses and these would have attracted lice, fleas and all types of bugs. Your toilet would have been a bucket which would have been emptied into the nearest river at the start of the day.

Water had a number of purposes for peasants – cooking, washing etc. Unfortunately, the water usually came from the same source. A local river, stream or well provided a village with water but this water source was also used as a way of getting rid of your waste at the start of the day. It was usually the job of a wife to collect water first thing in the morning. Water was collected in wooden buckets. Villages that had access to a well could simply wind up their water from the well itself.
Towns needed a larger water supply. Water could be brought into a town using a series of ditches; lead pipes could also be used. Water in a town would come out of conduit which was similar to a modern day fountain.

Bathing was a rarity even for the rich. A rich person might have a bath just several times a year but to make life easier, several people might use the water before it was got rid of!

It was said that a peasant could expect to be fully bathed just twice in their life; once, when they were born and when they had died! Face and hand washing was more common but knowledge of hygiene was non-existent. No-one knew that germs could be spread by dirty hands.

London had a number of public baths near the River Thames. These were called "stews". Several people at one time would bath in them. However, as people had to take off what clothes they wore, the stews also attracted thieves who would steal what they could when the victims were hardly in a position to run after them!
Regardless of how water was acquired, there was a very real potential that it could be contaminated as toilet waste was continuously thrown into rivers which would make its way into a water source somewhere.

Families would have cooked and slept in the same room. Children would have slept in a loft if the cruck house was big enough.

The lives of peasant children would have been very different to today. They would not have attended school for a start. Very many would have died before they were six months old as disease would have been very common. As soon as was possible, children joined their parents working on the land. They could not do any major physical work but they could clear stones off the land – which might damage farming tools – and they could be used to chase birds away during the time when seeds were sown. Peasant children could only look forward to a life of great hardship.

For all peasants, life was "nasty, brutish and short."