Search This Blog

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Orrery

An orrery is a mechanical model of the solar system.

Although orreries date from the time of the Greeks, British clock makers George Graham and Thomas Tompion built the first modern orrery in 1704. The Fourth Earl of Orrery commissioned a copy of the original instrument for his own use, thereby lending his name to the device.

An orrery is essentially a clock. When set in motion, the orrery shows the relative periods of the sun, the earth and its moon, and the planets in relation to each other. They are not usually built to scale, and may not contain all the planets and their satellites. A grand orrery contains all the planets known at the time of its construction. One method of dating a grand orrery is to note the planets and moons the instrument contains.

The devices were popular in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. King George II owned an orrery (1750 copy of his orrery at left), as did Thomas Jefferson (Jefferson's orrery here). John Winthrop taught astronomy at Harvard using an orrery (picture at right) that instrument maker Benjamin Martin built in London in 1767.

An orrery figures in my Regency comedy romance, Gifts Gone Astray (Buy Link here). Since the latest planet discovered by 1817, the time of the story, was Uranus (then called George's Star after George III), my fictional grand orrery has Uranus as the last planet. In the upper left of the cover of Gifts Gone Astray (click on the image to enlarge it), you can see part of the orrery.

Thank you all,

Pictures from Wikipedia.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Guest Elizabeth Chadwick: Medieval Pregnancy and Childbirth

Linda Banche here. My guest today is Elizabeth Chadwick and her medieval historical novel, Lady of the English, set in 12th century England.

Leave a comment with your email address for a chance to win the copy of Lady of the English which Sourcebooks has generously provided. Elizabeth will select the winner. Check the comments to see who won, and how to contact me to claim your book. If I cannot contact the winner within a week of selection, I will award the book to an alternate. Note, Sourcebooks can mail to USA and Canada addresses only.

And the winner Elizabeth selected is catslady! Congratulations, catslady, and thanks to all for coming over.

Welcome, Elizabeth!

Elizabeth Chadwick:

Thank you ladies for inviting me onto your blog to write a guest post!

I thought I'd talk a little bit about pregnancy and childbirth in the period of Lady Of The English.

Lady Of The English is about two Medieval women, Empress Matilda, daughter of King Henry I of England and Adeliza of Louvain, Matilda's stepmother, who was a couple of years younger than Matilda herself. In political terms, it's the story of Matilda's struggle to gain the English crown after it is usurped by her cousin Stephen, and how Adeliza helped her in this endeavour, while treading a difficult path of her own due love and loyalty. In the emotional sense, it's about how these women coped with their lives in very difficult circumstances - some of their own making. It’s also about how they dealt with the physical hardships that were the lot of women in the 12th century, not least bearing children.

Today in Western society we have contraception as a matter of course. We have access to excellent healthcare both preconception and throughout pregnancy, childbirth and afterwards. We have drugs to control the pain and medical intervention on hand should there be an emergency. But in the 12th century it was a very different state of affairs. Contraception, although known, was haphazard and frowned upon by the church. Sexual intercourse was supposed to take place for the purpose of procreation, and to indulge without that expectation was to commit a sin. I'm sure people did have sex for fun, and followed contraceptive practices. I'm sure it was a rule that was treated with differing levels of gravity depending on a person's attitudes, but nevertheless it did exist. One suggested contraceptive trick was for the woman to tie the testicles of a weasel round her neck. Other than keeping her partner away, I can't see this it would have been very effective! Putting lettuce leaves under the man’s pillow would also seem to be a dubious way of preventing pregnancy. However, coitus interruptus and pieces of moss soaked in vinegar and appropriately inserted may have had more success.

For the aristocracy, producing numerous children seems to have been the approved norm. Women married young and by their mid-teens were usually embarked upon a breeding program. The age of their husbands was more variable. Adeliza of Louvain was perhaps seventeen or eighteen when she married Henry I. He was well into his fifties and she was his second wife. He had two legitimate children from his first marriage, and at least twenty bastards born of various other women. Adeliza and Henry had no children during their fifteen year marriage. Empress Matilda had been married to the Emperor of Germany who was about eleven years older than her. She may have had one child with him, but it died soon after birth. When her husband died, she returned to Normandy where her father married her to Geoffrey of Anjou who at the time of their marriage was only fourteen years old to Matilda's twenty six. It was going to be five years before they had any children, although some of this time was spent in separation from each other. The marriage doesn't appear to have been a happy one.

Eventually, the couple got back together, and Matilda bore their first son, the future Henry II in spring 1133. Producing a son would have been a feather in Geoffrey’s cap, not just because male heirs were valued, but because it was believed that if the male seed was the strongest, then a boy child would result. If the female seed was dominant, the baby would be a girl. So a boy child was even more a reflection on a man's virility.

Aristocratic women and those from wealthier families would retire into confinement in the later stages of pregnancy. This meant that for perhaps the last month they would be shut away from the world in a special room that had been prepared for them to give birth. Perhaps it was a bit like going back into the womb! At the best it was an enclosed and secure women's enclave where the expectant mother could rest and relax with companions and attendants. At worst it must have felt claustrophobic and perhaps like a prison. Peasant women didn't have a choice and just got on with their daily lives.

After the baby was born, the new mother would continue to remain in her chamber for another 40 days before emerging for her churching ceremony, for which she would receive gifts and have lovely new clothes to wear. The churching ceremony welcomed a woman back into society and gave thanks for the safe delivery. It made her ‘clean’ again, and able to resume all the duties of a wife. In the aristocracy this meant handing the baby over to a wet nurse and getting back into the breeding programme.

Empress Matilda bore Henry II in March 1133. By September of the same year she was pregnant again with her second son, Geoffrey, who almost cost Matilda her life. We don't know what happened but following the birth she was so seriously ill, that she made provision for her own funeral. She wanted to be buried at the Abbey of Bec. Her father wanted her to be buried in Rouen Cathedral and there was something of an altercation between father and daughter - so at least even in extremity Matilda still had the strength to argue! In the event, she survived her ordeal, but that must have been down to her strong constitution. Medical interventions for women struggling in labour, or suffering complications after the delivery, were few, rudimentary, and steeped in superstition. The Trotula, a compendium of women's medicine written in the 11th century, advises a woman having difficulty giving birth to take a warm herbal bath, and that her ‘sides, belly, hips, and vagina be anointed with oil of violets or rose oil.’ She was also to be rubbed vigorously and given a drink made with sugar vinegar and pomegranate juice. She was to be encouraged to sneeze and to be led at a slow pace through the house. If none of this worked, other remedies included drinking the milk of another woman, eating butter or cheese into which special words had been carved, or having a snakeskin tied around the loins. But basically, if you didn’t push the baby out on your own, you’d shot it. If you succeeded, you then had to hope you didn't suffer severe bleeding, a retained placenta, or develop a fever.

Despite her ordeal, Matilda, on returning to a husband became pregnant again and gave birth to a third son, William in 1136 (How virile that must have made Geoffrey of Anjou feel!). After that, there were no more children. One suspects that with three sons in the bag, this might well be a conscious decision on the part of the parents.

Adeliza of Louvain was barren throughout her fifteen years of marriage to Henry I, and this despite the fact that he was still merrily siring bastards on other women. We can only speculate on the reasons he and Adeliza were not fertile with each other.

After he died, she married again to William D’Albini, a royal steward, and immediately became pregnant. She married him in 1138, and when they parted 10 years later she had borne him at least six children - perhaps seven, risking herself year upon year in pregnancy and childbirth. I suspect that her inability to have children with Henry I probably put Adeliza in the mindset of those in the population who thought that sexual intercourse should be open to the possibility of conception every time it happened, and that quickening with a child was a gift from God and to be welcomed. It must have taken a toll on her health though. She would have been about thirty five when she bore her first child. She entered a nunnery in 1148 and died in 1151, when her oldest son would only have been about twelve, and her youngest perhaps three or four. William D’Albini did not remarry although he survived her by twenty five years.

All in all, previous centuries were fraught times for women. Men went to battle, and so did their wives and mistresses. Even today outside of societies with access to good medical care, women and their babies continue to be at high risk during the birth process. Having borne two healthy sons myself and having had the choice of when and where and how, I have enormous respect and admiration for my sisters and I am so glad I did not have to go through what they did!

Matilda, daughter of Henry I, knows that there are those who will not accept her as England’s queen when her father dies. But the men who support her rival Stephen do not know the iron will that drives her.

Adeliza, Henry’s widowed queen and Matilda’s stepmother, is now married to a warrior who fights to keep Matilda off the throne. But Adeliza, born with a strength that can sustain her through heartrending pain, knows that the crown belongs to a woman this time.

In the anarchy, in a world where a man’s word is law, how can Adeliza obey her husband while supporting Matilda?
How long can Matilda fight for the throne that she has struggled so bitterly to win?

About the Author
Elizabeth Chadwick is the author of 17 historical novels, including The Greatest Knight, The Scarlet Lion, A Place Beyond Courage, For the King's Favor, Shadows and Strongholds, The Winter Mantle, The Falcons of Montabard, and To Defy a King, six of which have been shortlisted for the Romantic Novelists' Awards. visit her at her website at

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Guest Beth Trissel: The French Revolution

Linda Banche here. Today my guest is fellow Wild Rose Press author, Beth Trissel. Beth's newest story is Into the Lion’s Heart, a novella set in England during the French Revolution and the first story in The Wild Rose Press's Love Letters series. Here she talks about the French Revolution.

Welcome Beth!

Beth Trissel:

My fascination with the past and those who have gone before us is the ongoing inspiration behind my work. With my first English historical romance, Into the Lion’s Heart, I more deeply explored my British heritage. Set in 1789 England, the story opens with the hero, Captain Dalton Evans (fought in the American Revolution) journeying to Dover to meet the ship carrying a distant cousin, Mademoiselle Sophia Devereux, who’s fleeing the French Revolution. My research into the explosion across the English Channel in 1789 made me aware of how many French émigrés fled the country in waves the initial year of the revolution. Many were aristocrats, including the king’s own brothers, along with members of the clergy, and some of the more well-to-do commoners. Most all of the aristocrats who did not flee while they still could were guillotined during the subsequent reign of terror. I chose to set Into the Lion’s Heart during that first year while there’s a great deal erupting in France but before it gets utterly grim.

Among key events in 1789 that caused émigrés to flee France: July 17, the beginning of the Great Fear, the peasantry revolt against feudalism and a number of urban disturbances and revolts. Insurrection and the spirit of popular sovereignty spread throughout France. In rural areas, many went beyond this: some burned title-deeds and no small number of châteaux.

And then there’s the Women's March on Versailles, one of the earliest and most significant events of the French Revolution. The march began among women in the marketplaces of Paris who, on the morning of 5 October 1789, were near rioting over the high price and scarcity of bread. Their demonstrations quickly became intertwined with the activities of revolutionaries who were seeking liberal political reforms and a constitutional monarchy for France. The market women and their various allies grew into a mob of thousands and, encouraged by revolutionary agitators, they ransacked the city armory for weapons and marched to the royal palace at Versailles. The crowd besieged the palace and in a violent confrontation successfully pressed their demands upon King Louis XVI. The next day, the crowd compelled the king, his family, and the entire French Assembly to return with them to Paris.”

King Louis XV1 and his queen Marie Antoinette never successfully escaped Paris and were later imprisoned and beheaded. From Women’s History: Reportedly planned by Marie Antoinette, the escape of the royal couple from Paris was stopped at Varennes on October 21, 1791. Imprisoned with the king, Marie Antoinette continued to plot. She hoped for foreign intervention to end the revolution and free the royal family. She urged her brother, the Holy Roman Emperor Leopold II, to intervene, and supported a declaration of war against Austria in April, 1792, which she hoped would result in the defeat of France. But it didn’t.

Blurb for INTO THE LION’S HEART: As the French Revolution rages, the English nobility offer sanctuary to many a refugee. Captain Dalton Evans arrives in Dover to meet a distant cousin, expecting to see a spoiled aristocrat. Instead, he's conquered by the simplicity of his new charge. And his best friend Thomas Archer isn't immune to her artless charm, either.

Cecile Beaumont didn't choose to travel across the Channel. And she certainly didn't expect that impersonating her own mistress would introduce her to a most mesmerizing man. Now she must play out the masquerade, or risk life, freedom – and her heart.

Into the Lion’s Heart is available at The Wild Rose Press, Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble, and other online booksellers.

For more on my work please visit my website:

My blog is the happening place:

Monday, September 12, 2011

Guest Leigh Michaels: Historical Wedding Cakes

Linda Banche here. Today I welcome Leigh Michaels and her latest fun-filled Regency historical, The Wedding Affair. Since The Wedding Affair takes place in the context of a wedding, Leigh talks about wedding cakes through the ages.

Leave a comment with your email address for a chance to win one of two SETS of Leigh's books which Sourcebooks has generously provided. Each set contains Mistress' House, Just One Season in London, and The Wedding Affair. That's three books to two lucky people! I've read all three books and I love them. Leigh 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 selection, I will award the books to alternates. Note, Sourcebooks can mail to USA and Canada addresses only.

And the winners Leigh selected are KarenH and Kitchen Witch! Congratulations. I've sent you both emails. Thanks to all for coming.

Welcome Leigh!

Leigh Michaels:

Since The Wedding Affair is (surprise!) sort of about a wedding, I thought it would be appropriate to talk about the bride’s cake and its role in weddings for the last 300 years – since well before the Regency period where this book takes place.

Wedding pastries have been around pretty much forever, in one form or another. In the Roman Empire, a loaf of wheat or barley bread would be baked especially for the wedding, and the groom would eat part of it, then break the rest over the bride’s head to symbolize the dominance he was to have over her in their marriage. The guests would eat the crumbs as a wish for good luck.

Sweet cakes are a fairly recent development. In medieval times, cakes were bread-like with no sweetening, and in France, they were sometimes created from a pile of sweet rolls – rather like the new trend of stacking cupcakes into a tower. Sometimes a bride’s pie was featured – it might be made of fruit or meat, but it always including a hidden ring. The person who found the ring in their portion was thought to be the next to marry. (The tradition of sleeping with a piece of cake underneath one’s pillow, in the hope of dreaming about one’s future spouse, dates as far back as the 1600s.)

For many years the traditional wedding cake in England was a dark, rich fruitcake. That helps to explain the tradition of keeping a slice for the first anniversary, since fruitcake would last that long and still be edible.

But the truly fun story about weddings and cakes is that the many-tiered, tower-like cake that brides and grooms cut today isn’t actually a wedding cake at all. Its proper title is bride’s cake. And not because the groom often gets his own version in chocolate these days, either.

It’s been known as a bride’s cake since shortly after the Great London Fire of 1666, when much of the city burned and Sir Christopher Wren was commissioned to rebuild St. Paul’s Cathedral and dozens of churches which had been lost to the fire. One of them was St. Bride’s, located on Fleet Street in the city of London and featuring a fanciful four-tiered spire, octagonal in shape and reaching more than 225 feet above street level. The shape of this tower is said to have inspired the modern, multi-tiered, grand spectacle of a wedding cake.

In the 1800s a white cake with white icing would have been a statement of wealth, since the highly-refined sugar needed to produce a white pastry was very expensive. And a tiered cake made before the invention of pillars to help support the weight was mostly created for looks -- the upper layers were made of lightweight spun sugar rather than actual cake (which would have been heavy enough to collapse into the bottom layers).

The sugary icings and fondants used to decorate modern cakes weren’t invented until late in the Victorian era, and pillars didn’t appear till after 1900. Wedding toppers – the small figures of bride and groom – became popular only in the 1950s.

Oh, and what I said at the beginning about the book being “sort of” about a wedding?… the three romances in The Wedding Affair are prompted by the wedding, but they aren’t directly connected. In fact, the wedding itself is mostly in the background. It’s what Alfred Hitchcock called “the McGuffin” – the thing which in his case caused the chase or the murder or the thrill ride, and in my case causes the romance. My three heroes and three heroines are much more interested in the affairs they’re having than they are in the wedding!

So what about you? Did you keep a piece of your wedding cake for a later anniversary? Do you still have a slice in your freezer? Tell us about it – maybe how long you kept it, how many times you moved it from house to house or state to state, and how you celebrated with it!

You’re invited to the wedding of the year!
The Duke of Somervale, whose sister’s wedding is the event of the ton, is fighting off debutantes and desperately needs help from beautiful, stubborn Olivia Reyne. But she is engrossed with problems engulfing her dearest friends and family. The last thing Olivia needs is to be embroiled with a duke whose dark gaze makes her forget herself entirely...

Discover a new side of a beloved author as Leigh Michaels draws you into the glittering, glitzy world of Regency England and an affair you’ll never forget.

About the Author
Leigh Michaels is the author of nearly 100 books, including 80 contemporary novels, more than a dozen non-fiction books and three Regency romances from Sourcebooks Casablanca: The Mistress’ House, Just One Season in London and The Wedding Affair. More than 35 million copies of her romance novels have been published by Harlequin. A 6 time RITA finalist, she has also received two Reviewer's Choice awards from RT Book Reviews, and was the 2003 recipient of the Johnson Brigham Award. Leigh also teaches romance writing on the Internet at Gotham Writers’ Workshop. She lives in Ottumwa, Iowa. For more information, please visit

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Are Contests Worth the Price?

As writers, we’ve all either entered contests or been tempted to. Most contests have an entry fee, and it’s sometimes difficult to justify the expenditure. In addition to the fee, there are shipping expenses, and sometimes, if you final, you have additional expense. More and more contests are going to digital, which makes entering a little easier.
As an author, I’ve been on both sides of the table, judging several contests, and entering them too, throughout my writing career. From the judge’s side, I’ll tell you I’d much rather sit down with a cup of tea and read through entries, than stare at the same monitor I’ve worked at all day. I print out digital entries, because so far I’ve not bought a reader, although I’m looking at tablets.
With earlier manuscripts, my entries didn’t reach the mark. But after many workshops and classes on the craft of writing, I saw a sea-change in the scores.
Now on to the wisdom of entering contests. A writer, unless you’ve won the lottery, should be selective about contests.
First, do a little research to see if this is a legitimate contest or simply a scam. It’s pretty easy to find out. If the contest is sponsored by a legitimate writers’ group, like an RWA chapter or Historical Novel Society, or by a state association like Florida Writers, you know it’s legit.
Next, read the details to see who is judging. Don’t look at the prize money or the award. Except for the most prestigious awards, the prizes aren’t big. The real win, the biggest reward, is that you can use a nice win to catch the eye of an agent or editor. Most admit that contest wins get their attention.
Thirdly, look to see if the contest returns comments, or only scores. If a contest offers feedback, it’s like getting a mini-critique.
An aside, and one worth noting for published and unpublished writers: strangely, there are contests which do not take Advanced Reading Copies. Your professionally-edited book can/must be entered in unpublished, if the release date falls after a certain date. This seems to me a bit unfair to an unpublished author who has to compete with my edited book. I don’t really understand the reasoning for not accepting an ARC.
Google literary awards for your state. I took a chance and entered Florida Book Awards, sponsored by the state Humanities Council and Florida State University. There was a fee, and we had to mail a book to each of the judges, a time-consuming job, but it was worth every minute when I received that Bronze Medallion at the Awards dinner for The Tapestry Shop. Recently, I entered a small local contest. To my surprise, all three finalists’ entries were sent to places like HarperCollins, Medallion, etc. for final judging. Not only that, the contest offered a breakdown of genres, so that my historical wouldn’t be lost in the Mainstream category, or bunched in with SciFi.
To my delight, both my two entries finaled. One went to Medallion, the YA went to HarperCollins for final judging. After reading comments from both editors (one of whom gave me First Place for my historical. I went to work and revised according to their suggestions. No, I didn’t get a contract, but now, in a query letter, I can say “an editor at Medallion gave this story First Place in the final round of judging”. How cool is that? Feedback from an editor, and bragging rights, all for forty-five dollars. This contest, sponsored by a local writers’ group, was opened to non-members, too. So look at local and regional contests. I know, it’s like buying a lottery ticket, but you can’t win without trying.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Pirates...scoundrels or romantic heroes?

Why are people so fascinated by pirates?

As a child, one of my favorite rides at Disneyland was "The Pirates of the Caribbean. I loved Peter Pan, Treasure Island, and any other pirate story I found. Pirates of the Caribbean, the movie, made millions with fans divided between Captain Jack Sparrow and Will, who pretty much turned pirate to save Elizabeth. When my husband and I were in Las Vegas, we went to the (then) new Treasure Island Hotel which used to (maybe still does?) put on a great show outside with a reenactment of the navy battling pirates. When the pirates defeated the navy, everybody cheered.

Really? We cheered when the good guys lost and the bad guys won?

Are we all a bunch of sociopaths?

Nah. I think it goes back to the bad boy allure. Bad boys, and pirates in particular, are non-conformists. They have the courage to buck the system. Pirates wore blousy white shirts instead of those stuffy coats and ugly hats and white powdered wigs that fashionable English and American gentlemen wore in the 1700's. They were totally free to go where ever they pleased and do anything they wanted. And they had the money to do it, thanks to the plunder they took. And in the case of Las Vegas, the pirate captain was hunky and drop-dead gorgeous, which never hurts :-)

We think of pirates as swashbuckling hunks who carried big curved swords, laughed, loved and lived freely. And having an eye patch and a parrot on the shoulder is pretty cool, too, not to mention a certain allure to a map with an X that marks the spot to buried booty--enough to live on like kings.

Maybe we all secretly wish we could steal from the rich, throw social norms out the window, and make our enemies walk the plank. Maybe we wish we could hold a sword to the throat of someone who tries to keep us down.

It's really just a fantasy. Real pirates are nothing like the men in the stories, as I discovered when I researched them for my Regency pirate romance novel, The Guise of a Gentleman.

Though the "Golden Age of Piracy" began in the 1700's, there have been pirates since the beginning of ships and sailing, and there are still pirates today. By the Regency Era, pirates weren't as prevalent as the Golden Age of Piracy, but after the end of the Napoleonic War, a lot of sailors, especially privateers, found themselves out of work. A few of them turned to piracy.

Because most of these pirates preyed upon foreign vessels, the British government sorta turn a blind eye to them. In my story, they formed a pirate ring, but that didn't happen in real life that we know.

Though a pirate's life seemed filled with glamor and adventure, most pirates were, first and foremost, sailors. Much of their daily life involved staying alive against the unforgiving sea. Off-shore reefs, changing sandbars, storms, the threat of fire, other ships, lack of drinkable water, and shortage of food filled constantly threatened their lives. To my knowledge, there was no such thing as walking the plank--that appears to be a myth created by Robert Louis Stevenson. Nor did pirates bury their treasure--they took it to the nearest port and sold it on the black market or they spent it on women and food and drink. Often, though, pirates sacked entire towns when they came ashore, looking for blood and more plunder instead of just a party. There are many stories of torture, rapine, and destruction. They even sank down to the level of slave trading.

Sorta destroys the romantic image, doesn't it?

Pirates enjoyed something navy sailors did not--a voice in decisions and fair treatment. On board a pirate ship, all the sailors got to have a vote in what they did, where they landed, etc. They even voted on who would be captain who had ultimate authority only during battle. The rest of the time, it was share and share alike--the same hard work, the same food, the same living conditions.

In my pirate Regency romance novel, The Guise of a Gentleman the hero, Jared Amesbury, gets orders from the government to pose as a pirate to help discover the head of a pirate ring. Although I showed a lot of what real pirates were like--ruthless, unpredictable, without conscience, blood-thirsty--most of Jared's men are just sailors and some of them even have a heart because Jared had weeded out the worst of the reprobates when he took over as captain. Jared, of course, is super hunky and wonderful and he's also very conflicted. Balancing fantasy with realism is a challenge in every story, but I have to admit, The Guise of a Gentleman was one of the most fun to write.

I think pirates will always capture our imagination and be the stuff of fantasy. So enjoy the fantasy. And "Argh, matey! Don' forgit yer sword!"