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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Regency Astronomer Caroline Herschel

Caroline Herschel (1750-1848) was a German/British astronomer and the sister of Sir William Herschel, telescope maker and discoverer of Uranus.

She was born in Hanover, Germany, the principality George I ruled before Parliament declared him king of England. One of six children, she contracted typhus when she was ten. The disease stunted her growth and she never grew taller than four foot three. Her father, although he encouraged all his children to improve themselves, advised her she would never marry. She became her parents' unpaid house servant until her father died and her older brother, William, invited her to live with him in England.

George II had united the crowns of England and Hanover, so Caroline and William were also English citizens. William had emigrated to Britain to pursue a musical career, but his astronomy hobby soon overshadowed his interest in music. He built many large and powerful telescopes and his fame grew. In 1782 he became King's Astronomer. George III awarded him a pension and William quit his job as chorus director to spend all his time on astronomy.

At first, William employed Caroline as an unpaid housekeeper, but soon he trained her in mathematics and used her as an assistant in his telescope-making. Eventually, Caroline became his apprentice in astronomy. In 1787 George III granted her an annual salary of 50 pounds per year for her work as William's assistant.

Comet hunting was a popular pastime in the late eighteenth century and Caroline spent her evenings observing the sky through her brother’s telescopes. Between 1786 and 1797, she discovered eight comets. One was a co-discovery, and one, comet Encke, a rediscovery. Six of them bear her name. A list of her comets are here. She also made an independent discovery of M110 (NGC 205), the second companion of the Andromeda galaxy.

Besides discovering comets, she reorganized the data and corrected the discrepancies in the difficult-to-use, two-volume star catalog of John Flamsteed (1646-1719), the first Astronomer Royal, and also added new observations. The Royal Society published this Catalogue of Stars in 1798.

She and William continued their astronomical observations until his death in 1822. She then returned to Hanover to live with her brother, Dietrich, and cataloged all her and William's work.

This publication earned her honorary membership in the Royal Irish Academy and the Royal Astronomical Society. In 1828, the Royal Astronomical Society awarded her their Gold Medal, which no other woman would receive until 1996. Prussia also honored her achievements with the Gold Medal for Science in 1846. She died at the age of 98, one of the world's eminent astronomers.

I named Caroline, the astronomer-heroine of Lady of the Stars, my Regency time travel, for Caroline Herschel.

Thank you all,

Friday, July 23, 2010

Samson and Delilah

I've been wanting to get this off my chest for nearly two decades:
This is not a love story!

Let's recap:
Samson is made public enemy #1 after killing 1000 soldiers with the jawbone of an ass.
Delilah is a whore paid for her services, and Samson is one of her regulars.
No romance, just a business transaction.
She is paid by the authorities to find the secret of his strength, so she asks him. Four times.
He lies. Three times.
All three times Delilah tries to limit his power with the lie he told her. The Philistines attacked him, and all three times they were dispatched.
Samson should have been thinking with a different organ, instead he tells Delilah the secret of his strength.
Writers refer to this as being TSTL: Too Stupid to Live.
The fourth time she asks he tells her the truth. His hair is cut off and his strength is gone.
The Philistines, blind him, put him in chains and throw him in prison.
No mention of Delilah is made after this.
Is this how a woman in love acts?
He was mistreated in prison, but his hair started to grow back.
He was strapped to two pillars so the public could mock him.
When he prayed, his strength was restored and he collapsed the roof on those within the building. There was never any word from Delilah, nor did he ask about her.
He died with his enemies.

I told this story to my son for one reason: To encourage thinking with the right organ.
Our conversation was pretty funny, but the moral is clear.
A woman who attempts to have you murdered is not a nice girl, move on.

If I were to submit this story to an editor, it would be rejected immediately.
No sexual tension. It was already going on.
The hero is not heroic. Depending on your point of view, Samson could be a resistance fighter or a terrorist. The Philistines were oppressing the Israelites, so Samson's heroism can be debated. He murdered and he burned crops, and he left his first wife at the wedding after she told guests the answer to a puzzle he asked them.
He is not sympathetic at all and niether is the heroine.
There is no happily ever after.
There is no villain, unless you count lack of judgement.

My final word, Samson and Delilah is not a romance. A morality tale, yes. A warning against arrogance and bad choices, yes. A blue print for dating? Not so much.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Today's Guest Katharine Ashe: Sex in History

Today we welcome guest blogger Katharine Ashe, who talks about a subject near and dear to the hearts of romance authors--and everyone else--sex. Katharine will give away one copy of her debut Regency historical, SWEPT AWAY BY A KISS. Leave a comment for a chance to win. Check back here to see who that lucky person is.

The winner is yadkny. yadkny, please contact Katharine at to collect your prize.

Did people in the past treat sex the same way we do?

I am a romance novelist. In my secret identity I am a professor of European history. (I like to think of myself as having a secret identity. It makes me feel like Superman.) Recently I taught a course on sex in the Middle Ages. My students studied chastity, virginity, marriage, adultery, prostitution, masculinity, femininity, and the medieval theology of procreation.

During that semester at a party I met a psychiatrist. Her specialty was therapy for college students. Interesting, I thought. Body image is so important to young people, and in class we’d discussed medieval ideas of the body relating to sex. I mentioned this to my new acquaintance. She cocked her head and replied, "But they didn’t have much sex back then, did they?"I kid you not.

I hear so many fallacies about history I’m mostly inured to them by now. But this one brought me up short. How on earth did she think we got here if people in the past didn’t have much sex? Nonplused, I was! But when I shared the story with my students, they were incensed. They waxed eloquent:

"Chaucer’s Wife of Bath Tale is as bawdy as it gets."

"The fact that numerous medieval guides to women's health directly addressed sexual intercourse means that, yes, they did have ‘much sex back then’."

"The ‘pop-culture’ romanticism of the Middle Ages does not accurately portray real people, rather caricatures."

Ah ha, I thought. Perhaps we are getting to the crux of the matter. And then,

"History suffers from the fatal flaw that it appears to be a universal language. Everyone experiences history, learns history, has history touch their lives in some way - whether they study it in a formal sense or not. For this reason, history suffers."

Hm… Everybody thinks they know history even when they don’t?

If so, maybe they have good reason to misunderstand the past. People in previous eras often did not see the world as we do, particularly in the realm of sexuality. What once defined a man’s masculinity, for instance, does not necessarily define it now. To support this assertion, I offer here three randomly chosen examples drawn from societies typically included in the history of that behemoth called (cue Cecil B. DeMille movie music and Charlton Heston voiceover) WESTERN CIVILIZATION. In other words, examples from our cultural predecessors.

· In ancient Athens it did not make a man appear less virile to have youthful male lovers. It made him more so.

· King Philip of France sought to ruin the wealthy Templar order. Before Philip’s inquisitorial court, Templar knights vehemently denied charges of blasphemy (like spitting upon the cross). Most, however, readily confessed to another accusation: their superiors said they could have carnal relations with each another in order to remain chaste with women. Very few knights admitted to actually doing so, and those under torture. But the suggestion that they were allowed to didn’t seem like a big deal. Despite all, their valor upon the battlefield went unquestioned.

And to bring us somewhat closer to the present,

· A slender gentleman with an elegant leg and Brutus-cut locks, pinching snuff between his thumb and forefinger, would be laughed out of any Hooters in America today. But in 1818 London, that same fellow could make the ladies swoon.

A Regency gentleman’s sense of masculinity was not threatened by crossing his legs, and he did not require biceps like a stevedore to be appealing to women. So— No, of course— Notions of masculinity, femininity, sex, and the kitchen sink were not the same "back then" as they are today. Not by any means.


Humans are…human, and frankly always have been. Medieval people had sex. Like us, they had lots of it. They also danced, sang, ate, fought, and prayed. Like us. Likewise, gentlemen in the Regency read, drank, lied, loved, cried, played sports, and rescued helpless victims. Like men still do today.

And they also had sex. Lots of it.

What is the funniest, most unusual or shocking account of historical sex you’ve heard or read? One randomly chosen commenter today will win a signed copy of my debut historical romance, SWEPT AWAY BY A KISS, in which my indisputably masculine Regency hero does not once cross his legs, but does however at one point buff his fingernails against the lapel of his exquisitely tailored coat.


By Katharine Ashe

A Secret Identity
When pirates storm Lord Steven Ashford’s ship upon the high seas, it brings him closer than ever to the nefarious criminal he seeks to ruin. Only one seductive detail threatens his victory: the scandalous beauty imprisoned with him, Lady Valerie Monroe. Temptation has never been so intoxicating or so forbidden, for Steven is disguised as a French priest. If they make it off the ship alive, to protect her from his enemies, he must never see her again…

An Undeniable Love
Back in England, and under the ton’s scrutiny for a reckless past she hasn’t escaped, Valerie dreams of the breathtaking "man of the cloth" with whom she shared her greatest adventure. Then he reappears in society under his true identity, Viscount Ashford, but despite the danger their consuming passion cannot be denied. Now standing in the way of their desire are Valerie’s wounded heart, Steven’s lone destiny, and a villain that will stop at nothing to crush them both.

BIO – Katharine Ashe

Katharine Ashe lives in the wonderfully warm Southeast with her husband, son, two dogs, and a garden she likes to call romantic rather than unkempt. A professor of European history, she has made her home in California, Italy, France, and the northern US. RT Book Reviews awarded her debut historical romance, SWEPT AWAY BY A KISS, a "Top Pick!" review. Please visit her at

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

He Called It Macaroni

Yankee Doodle went to town,
A-Riding on a pony;
Stuck a feather in his cap,
And called it macaroni.

Macaroni? He named his feather after pasta?

I'm American, and I've sung this song all my life. But I never understood what Yankee Doodle's feather had to do with spaghetti.

The verse sounds odd to our ears, but made perfect sense to English people in the mid 1700's, when the song was written.

At that time, a "Yankee", from the Dutch Jan Kees, or John Cheese (see definition here), was an inhabitant of New England, a pejorative name bestowed by the urbane New York Dutch on their rustic, Puritan Connecticut neighbors, and by extension, to all Americans.

The word "doodle" first appeared in the seventeenth century, from the German word for "simpleton" or "fool".

From my last post, "macaroni" was an extreme of English male dress, circa 1760. The style's most salient characteristic, a large, ungainly wig, caused "macaroni" to become a synonym for foppishness. Put the two words together, and "Yankee Doodle" was a derisive term for a backwoods American fool so unsophisticated he thought decorating his cap with a feather was the height of fashion.

Historians generally credit Doctor Richard Shuckburgh, a British Army surgeon, with creating the song sometime during the French and Indian War (1754-1763). The date is in dispute, given in various places as 1755, 1756 or 1758.

The New York State archeologist, Paul Huey, believes he has narrowed the date to June, 1758. At that time, a large British force had mustered at Fort Crailo near Albany, New York, to prepare for the attack on Fort Ticonderoga. The ragged, ill-equipped and ill-trained New England militiamen who joined the expedition provided a stark contrast to the well-dressed, well-drilled British soldiers. Dr. Shuckburgh wrote the first set of lyrics mocking these ragtag troops. The tune apparently comes from the nursery rhyme Lucy Locket.

Something about the song resonated in colonial America, and Yankee Doodle took on a life of its own. Many sets of lyrics exist. If you’re curious about all the verses (and there are a lot of them), you'll find a list here:

Everyone sang Yankee Doodle. British soldiers often sang it as a marching song. The American colonists sang it, too, but with different lyrics.

As the tension between England and America escalated, the Americans took up the ditty, complete with feather and macaroni, as a badge of honor. By the time of the Battle of Concord and Lexington (1775), the Americans had claimed the song as their own.

Yankee Doodle lives on to this day.

Archibald MacNeal Willard's most famous painting, The Spirit of '76 (c. 1875), (picture above) is popularly called Yankee Doodle.

Yankee Doodle Dandy, a version of Yankee Doodle, is the tune to a famous song-and-dance sequence in the 1942 James Cagney film of the same name.

And last, but not least, Yankee Doodle is the state song of Connecticut. I'm from Connecticut (yup, a real Connecticut Yankee), and I didn't know that.

The Fourth of July is Independence Day in the United States. On that Yankee Doodle-est of days, here's one Yankee Doodle saying "Happy Fourth of July" to all my fellow Yankee Doodles.

Thank you all,

Monday, July 12, 2010

Guest Kathryne Kennedy: Historical Magic

Linda Banche here. Today I welcome Kathryne Kennedy and her magical Georgian historical romance, The Fire Lord's Lover. Romance is already magical, but it becomes even more so when Kathryne adds her magic to the mix.

Leave a comment for a chance to win one of the two copies of The Fire Lord's Lover which Sourcebooks has generously provided. Kathryne will select the winners. Check the comments to see who won, and how to contact me to claim your book. If I cannot contact the winners within a week of their selection, I will award the books to alternates. Note, Sourcebooks can mail to USA and Canada addresses only.

The winners are Stephanie McCarthy and Kelley Heckart (Celtic Chick). Kelley, I've sent you an email. Stephanie, please send me an email at If I do not hear from you by July 20, I will select alternates.

Hello Historical Hussies! Thank you so much for having me as a guest on your blog today. I’m glad to be here.

In my new book, The Fire Lord’s Lover, I’ve created an elven world that exists during an established time period—Georgian and Regency England, which I thought I’d talk about a little bit today on this blog, because you all love historicals so much! As I thought about this, I realized I have to go back in my writing career to the second novel I wrote, which was a straight historical. I spent months researching the Victorian era, and I had a lot of fun writing what would become My Unfair Lady (which was released last year!). However, the entire time I was writing the novel, I kept asking myself, “What if?” What if magic, and not gender, was the basis for inheriting aristocratic titles? What if there were those who might be immune to the magic, being magical creatures themselves? I then had to go farther back into history to create the basis for the creation of my magical world, which was Merlin’s bloodline.

So, I started with my research into the time period before I ventured to add magic to alter it.

For my new series, The Elven Lords, I did the same thing; going farther back into history than the time period I knew I would be writing in. I established the basis for my magical world during the invasion of England by William the Conqueror. Instead of unifying England under one rule, my seven elven lords breeched the barrier between their world and ours and created seven sovereignties based on their own magical strength: Black for Mor'ded who rules fire, Blue for Breden who rules sea and sky, Green for Mi'cal who rules the forests, Gold for Roden who is master of glamour and illusion, Silver for Lan'dor who masters the blade, Brown for Annanor who rules the earth, and Violet for La'laylia who enspells gems.

With the release of book one, The Fire Lord’s Lover, I focused on Elven Lord Mor'ded and his magical powers, giving him a range of them as well:

White fire: cold, harmless, for light.
Blue fire: heals.
Black fire: burns in the mind, most powerful.
Gray fire: neither hot nor cold, an impenetrable wall of flame.
Red fire: burns powerfully, can be used to spy.
Yellow flame: is gently warm.
Orange: much hotter.
Green fire: a link to the undead realm.

My heroes and heroines became half-breeds, inheriting the beauty and magic of the elven lords, but with a human heart as well. So powers not only differed from realm to realm, but from person to person. World building has been a popular topic on this tour, and at the end of my blog tour (which goes until the end of this month!), I will have all the links from my blog tour on my website, if anyone would like to explore further into how I do my world building!

I think it can be more difficult and time-consuming to base a fantasy world in a historical backdrop, due to the amount of research it requires. It’s easier to create an entirely new world and make up the clothing, social mores, etc. But for me, it’s so much more satisfying to delve into the pageantry of historical eras because it’s a world I long to visit myself. Even if I do alter it with magic.

And one final note: the nice thing about adding magic to my world is that I can alter it to suit my modern sensibilities. For example, the elven lords brought bathing to England with them. I still reference that many consider bathing unhealthy, but in The Fire Lord’s Lover, my hero and heroines are clean.

By combining historical fantasy, I have the best of both worlds!

If anyone has any questions or comments, I’d love to respond to them, and I’ll be dropping by all day, so don’t hesitate!

My Magical Best,

Kathryne Kennedy's historical fantasy romances have garnered awards and a growing readership. This exciting new series, set against the lavish backdrops of Georgian and Victorian England so beloved by romance readers, is deliciously dark and exciting.

Fighting for control of a kingdom that is split into seven domains, Elven warlords use their human slaves to breed an endless supply of soldiers for their armies. Dominic Raikes, the half-blood son of the Elven Lord himself is one such warrior. Betrothed to Lady Cassandra, who has been raised in a convent to keep her pure, he little suspects that she's been secretly trained as an assassin to murder his father. Dominic and Cassandra soon discover that each one is not what they seem, but the price of trust may be their very lives, and the destruction of the magical realm each is desperately trying to save…

Kathryne Kennedy is a multipublished, award-winning author of magical romances. She’s lived in Guam, Okinawa, and several states in the U.S., and currently lives in Arizona with her wonderful family—which includes two very tiny Chihuahuas. She welcomes readers to visit her website where she has ongoing contests at:

To Purchase The Fire Lord’s Lover:
Barnes and Noble
Kathryne’s Bookseller Directory

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

A Victorian Dining Room

The Victorian dining room, large and heavily decorated, served as one of the most important rooms in a Victorian house, and reflected the wealth of the owner. Walls were usually bronze, maroon, or black. Gold and olive designs bordered the wainscoting, and massive thicknesses of rich material draped the windows. A sideboard and buffet both held glassware and china. Accessories adding to the elegance of the dining area might be stuffed birds in a cage, fernery, and a folding screen.
A well-dressed table could hold as many as 24 pieces of silver at each place setting. It was not unusual to have eight forks, such as a fish fork, a dinner fork, and an ice cream fork. Knives, each propped on a knife stand, were several, for butter, cheese, game, fruit and other servings a guest might choose. Included in the place setting would be a butter pick and individual game shears.
Two rows of stemware were arranged left to right; a green glass for sauterne, a sherry glass, a red glass for Rhine wine—the display was endless.
To the left of the plate, lying on a napkin, would be a thin, unbuttered slice of bread. In the middle of the table sat a huge centerpiece flanked by bowls of fruit, cake stands, as well as coffee sets, celery vases, and sugar bowls like the glass one above.
A nine-course dinner was not unusual, during which each guest took their time to enjoy each course.
My next post will be about dining room etiquette and manners before, during, and after a meal.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Regency Balls, a vital part of courtship

Anyone who’s read Regency-set novels may have at one point asked the question: “Why does practically every Regency novel contain a ball?”

There’s a very good answer to that question and it isn’t because authors have no imagination. It’s because balls and dancing were a vital part of social life and courtship. Children at a very young age were taught to dance, even young boys who joined the army or navy.

Where were these balls held?

A public ’subscription’ ball, was held anyplace with an assembly room. Guests were admitted only if they possessed a purchased ticket. High ticket prices might keep out the lowest class, but didn’t stop the rich in trade from attending. (Horrors!) Subscription balls were held just about anywhere–the main room of an inn, a large clearing outside, or a rented public house.

Almack’s is an example of a public assembly but the matrons were very particular about who received a voucher to attend. No one was admitted into Almack’s without a voucher.

Gentlemen had to be considered eligible, but the “weeding out” process wasn’t so strict for the gentlemen as it was for the ladies. For a young lady to receive a voucher, one of the patronesses of Almack’s had to approve of her background and character before she was given a coveted voucher.

This picture is of a ballroom in Bath, where Catherine in Northanger Abby meets a dashing stranger who cleverly arranges an introduction.

A private ball was another matter. Most of the great houses had either a ballroom or a large drawing room. People were allowed to attend by invitation only. In Pride and Prejudice, the local matrons convinced Mr. Bingley to host the event and invite all the ‘good’ families because Netherfield house had a ballroom. Throwing a ball took a great deal of money; servants, candles, food and drink all cost a goodly amount, so only someone well off could afford it. Of course, since most Regency romance novels are about the beau monde, a ball is treated as common-place.

In my newest Regency, The Guise of a Gentleman, Elise is shocked to find that the seemingly common man who accosted her only days ago, is now present at a ball hosted by her good friend. Normally, only the very best ton would be present. What was he doing in such an elite gathering?

And most pressing of all, would he ruin her reputation and tell everyone he’d kissed her at their previous encounter?

The Guise of a Gentleman, available at Amazon, and The Wild Rose Press in both paperback and e-book.

Or, you can win a free copy (and you have four chances if you do all four):

1. Leave a comment in this blog, then send me an email at and put “free book” in the subject line

2. Follow my blog, then send me an email at, telling me you’re now following me and put “free book” in the subject line

3. Friend me on Facebook, then send me an email at, telling me you’re now my friend on Face book and put “free book” in the subject line

4. go to my website and then find out what is the name of the hero, then send me an email, telling me the answer to the question and put “free book” in the subject line

Remember, for each thing you do, you have another chance to win. Good Luck!!!