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Sunday, August 29, 2010

Harley's at war

In 1901 two very meek looking friends developed a vehicle they dubbed the Harley Davidson motorcycle. Built in the small shed of their Wisconsin home, the first bike looked like a bicycle with a motor attached.

The bikes had already been used by the military in the Pancho Villa expedition, so when the country went to war in 1917, Harley Davidson met the demand. This was the first time they were considered for combat use. 15,000 bikes roared off the assembly line and into battle.

In WW2 the bikes were enlisted into service once more. Military bikes were referred to as WLA, they differed from civilian bikes in only a few ways. The finish was generally a drab olive green or black. Chrome parts were blued or painted white.
Two sets of blackout lights were used to prevent night visibility. Fenders were used to reduce mud clogging the engine. A leather machine gun scabbard attached to the front of the bike, along with leg shields and a durable windshield were added accessories. Looking at these, I was reminded of the armor worn by knights of old. It made me wonder if this is where the nickname "the iron horse" came from.

The bikes weren't used in combat as much as for courier, scouting
and transport work. Allied motorcycles were rarely equipped with sidecars, unlike the Germans who used them frequently. The WLA was called "the liberator" as it was seen ridden by soldiers who were liberating occupied Europe.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Courtesy Titles

I first came across English courtesy titles, not that I knew what they were, when I read Dorothy L. Sayers's Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries. Lord Peter's older brother, Gerald, was the Duke of Denver. All through the books, everyone called Gerald "Denver" and Peter "Wimsey". Their sister, Mary, was Lady Mary. Gerald's son and heir was The Viscount St. George. Why did they all have different names?

Many years later, I discovered what was going on. A courtesy title is a title granted to some of the children of peers. Gerald was born Gerald Wimsey. As the heir to the Duke of Denver, he held the courtesy title of Viscount St. George, one of his father's lesser honors. At that time, Gerald was also a commoner. When he became Duke of Denver, he ascended to the peerage and became known as Gerald Denver. "Lord" for Peter and "Lady" for Mary are also courtesy titles given to the younger sons and the daughters of a duke. All title holders except the peer and his wife are commoners.

There are further wrinkles. The heir of a duke, marquess or earl holds as a courtesy title the highest of his father's lesser titles. (Note, here I use the Victorian "marquess" for the nobleman next lower than a duke. "Marquis" was the title in Regency times. See previous post.) If the heir also has a son during his father's lifetime, the duke's or earl's or marquess's grandson would bear his grandfather's second highest title.

The courtesy title for the younger sons of marquesses is "Lord", the same as for a duke's younger sons. The younger sons of an earl are "(The) Honorable".

"(The) Lady" is a courtesy title granted to the daughters of dukes, marquesses and earls, such as Lady Mary Wimsey. They retain the "Lady" even after they marry. When Lady Mary Wimsey married the policeman, Mr. Charles Parker, her married name became Lady Mary Parker.

For the lower ranks, viscounts and barons, all the children are "(The) Honorable".

The wives of the holders of courtesy titles bear the corresponding female title. For example, if Viscount St. George had a wife (he was unmarried in the Lord Peter books) his wife would be the viscountess.

And to confuse you even further, when Peter married Harriet Vane, Harriet's married name was Lady Peter Wimsey.

These two links explain courtesy titles in more detail:

Correct title usage is confusing and errors abound in Regency romances. Next time, Common Title Errors.

Thank you all,

Monday, August 16, 2010

Regency glasses and eyeware

Spectacles, or eyeglasses as we know them today, have experienced a big transformation since their inception over 800 years ago. The glasses which rest on the nose and ears were invented by an Englishman named Edward Scarlett in 1727. But they weren't considered fashionable by the beau monde, so other devices were used.

During the Regency Era, a very popular item was a "quizzing glass," a single magnifying lens with a handle that the user held up before their eyes improve their vision of a particular object.

About the 1750’s, quizzing glasses became a fashion accessory and were worn like jewelry. Since eyeglasses were unpopular, at least in public, the quizzing glass was a socially acceptable substitute. The quizzing glass was attached to the end of a long ribbon or chain and worn around the neck. A person could then hold up his or her quizzing glass to "quiz," meaning to stare, glance, or look quizzically at people. They were also used to stare at another person through the quizzing glass as a way of setting down or insulting him or her. Reportedly, Beau Brummell used this maneuver to show his disapproval of a person which could be disastrous to that person’s standing in the ton. In the movie The Scarlet Pimpernel, the hero performs this move beautifully with anyone he finds irritating. And the message comes across loud and clear.

Quizzing Glasses were not limited to people with poor eyesight; according to fashion prints, young women of fashion commonly wore them.

Some people used a lorgnette, which has two lenses,
is also hand-held, and was prescribed by an optometrist. (I know, who knew those doctors have been around so long?)
Although Quizzing glasses were the most popular somewhere during the 1800 to about 1830 or so, then, by the 1830s, lorgnettes became a more popular choice for women.

For gentleman of fashion, quizzing glasses continued as a popular accessory until about the early 1900’s after which monocles replaced them. A monocle had a single lens which fit into the eye socket and appeared to be more popular with the men and had a chain or ribbon instead of a handle.

To read more about Quizzing Glasses, or to view an impressive collection,I highly recommend Candice Hern's website. She has lots of other fun collections, too.

Though today's eyeglasses certainly don't to offer the same flair as quizzing glasses and monocles, when I'm reading, it's nice to have my hands free.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Nazi Sex

Do some scenes go too far?

In Schindler's List, the movie opens with the Commandant of a concentration camp in full coitus with a pretty blond. He stops mid-coitus to randomly shoot prisoners who seem to be waiting around for target practice.

I stopped watching.
A half hour went by and no hero. I already know the villains, The conflict could have been established with one line of dialogue explaining why Schindler felt compelled to do all he could to help. I was bummed. I love Liam Neeson.
I was told they were trying to establish villainy.
What? Your job is to work people to death while starving them and this fails to establish villainy?
Man, and people say I'm a hard sell.

I believe there are stories strong enough to stand without gratuitous sex.

Inglorious Basterds had a sex scene only thirty seconds long. The point of view character meets another French woman and envisions her as a Nazi sex toy. The scene didn't bother me as the character saw the woman as a traitor. The image was compatible with her point of view.

The Diary of Anne Frank was mandatory in sixth grade. As it stands now, it is an uplifting story about a girls' faith in humanity despite the fear she was forced to live with.
"Despite it all, I believe there is good in every one." The last diary entry is one that has wrenched the hardest hearts and inspired people to believe that love will ultimately triumph.

The diary is now old enough to go into public domain (along with Mien Kampf)
There are those who wish to add more sex to her diary.
Please keep in mind Anne was 12.
She was locked up with two teen-agers, and five adults. Any sex added would have to be affairs her father or another adult had.
Now that all involved are dead, there are some who want the diary to be a tell-all.

The diary has survived this long because of the innocence and faith behind a little girl's words.
As authors, we are told we write to entertain. Sex is part of life and entertaining to the reader.
Anne wasn't trying to entertain.

She was a brave girl who lived each day she was given before the Gestapo found her. Her story needs no "spicing up". This is a story strong enough to survive on its own merit, and has for decades.

When I chose the cover for "Kindertransport" the edelweiss flower is growing from the middle of a swastika. The flower represents pure love. Its growth against a fading swastika represents love overcoming hate.

This is what Anne Frank has taught us.
Please respect her message.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


Titles are everywhere in Regency romances. In these stories, you can't walk down the street without brushing shoulders with the titled nobility, although most titles, especially the highest, are rare.

Just what are titles? All titles are honors granted by the monarch. They originated in the feudal 1100's and 1200's when the monarch granted wealthy people the right or "title" (which the holder could view as a burden or a privilege) to sit in parliament. The degree of the honor depended on the amount of land its holder controlled, with the largest landowners acquiring the highest titles. Title holders comprise the peerage. By the 1300's these titles had become hereditary.

The five titles of the British hereditary peerage are, in descending order of rank and numbers: duke, marquess, earl, viscount, and baron. The French Normans created all the honors except "earl". The highest titles are not necessarily the oldest. The oldest are "earl", dating from Saxon times, and "baron", from 1066.

At the top, below a prince, were Duke and Duchess (created 1337) from the French Duc and Duchesse.

Then come the Marquess and Marchioness(1385) from the French Marquis and Marquise. "Marquess" was not used until Victorian times. In the Regency, the French spelling, "Marquis", was still used, with the English pronunciation (MAR-kwis). The marquis's wife's title was the English marchioness.

Next down the line are Earl and Countess (French Comte and Comtesse). Before the Norman Conquest in 1066, England had one title, the Saxon "earl", created circa 800-1000 AD. The earl was the ruler of a shire. The Normans decided a shire corresponded to a French county, which a comte ruled. They kept the original title, although they renamed shires counties. However, they used the French form for the earl's wife, who became the countess.

Next come Viscount and Viscountess (1440), pronounced VI-count (Old French Visconte and Viscontesse). First recorded in England in 1387, the French title "viscount" replaced the existing Saxon title of "shire-reeve" (sheriff), assistant to the earl. At first non-hereditary and non-noble, the title became part of the peerage in 1440.

At the lowest order of the British peerage are the Baron and Baroness. William the Conqueror introduced "baron" in 1066 to distinguish the men who had pledged their loyalty to him and his Normans and not to the Saxon earls.

One more hereditary title, baronet, occupies the rung beneath baron. A baronet is not a peer, but Regency romances frequently use it. James I of England created it in 1611 as a means of raising money. In novels, you may see "Baronet" abbreviated as "Bart", although the modern abbreviation is "Bt". The title is equivalent to hereditary knighthoods in Europe.

Most peers held multiple titles. They used the highest title, and often bestowed lesser titles as courtesies onto their heirs. Next time, Courtesy Titles.

Thank you all,
Enter My World of Historical Hilarity
Pictured at the top is the ducal coronet

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Update to Palace Secrets (blog below)

I emailed the curator who took us on the palace tour, and received the following email after posting my blog on Palace Secrets and King Henry's Bed: The terra cotta head of a lady is not a representation of Elizabeth I but is believed to be of an eastern monarch, possibly Cleopatra. The roundel probably comes from the Holbein gate which was demolished in 1754.
Thanks, readers. I just wanted to be correct on the facts.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Palace Secrets and King Henry's Bed

On a recent trip to London, I was privileged to join a small group of people who took an archaeological tour through Hampton Court. The tour guide, knowledgeable and friendly, was in charge of protecting and storing artifacts connected with the palace.
He took us through abandoned rooms, royal apartments, and even into an upstairs storage room. Here, he unveiled treasures from the past and allowed us to photograph the items.
He unwrapped a lovely (and rare) terracotta likeness of a queen, and we all snapped pictures. I’m awaiting confirmation as I write this blog, but if memory serves, the carved likeness is of Elizabeth I.

Another rare treasure was a section of the lower part of Henry VIII’s bed, gilded and heavily ornamented. As I snapped the image you see here, I could not help but think of the lovely young girls who may have lain beside him in this bed, later to find themselves in the Tower, awaiting their execution.
Have you ever been to London? If not, what would you like to see there? If so, what was your favorite part of the city?