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Monday, October 28, 2013

Foxhunting Season


After the fall of the leave to the last frost—that is the traditional foxhunting season, when the fields lie fallow. What we otherwise think of as November to March. However, cub hunting (when young hounds were trained with drag hunts, might begin as early as October, depending on the weather and the keeness of the hunter.
In England, the record of the oldest foxhunt dates back to mid 1600's and the second Duke of Buckingham, who hunted the Bilsdale pack in Yorkshire dales.

Each hunt is composed of a Master—usually the man who owns the hounds. The Master may employ "whipper-ins" to help keep the hounds together. Hunting is informal in the 1700s—anyone can join in to follow the hounds (as in that wonderful scene from the movie, Tom Jones, when the Squire cannot resist the call of the huntsmen's horns). Those horns are actually signals to the other huntsmen and the pack as to where the fox is headed.

The Duke of Bedford's hounds hunted actually stags until 1770's. But by 1780's fox hunting took over in popularity. Enclosure Acts and reduction of forests mean less stag hunting. And hare hunting was generally regarded as more a necessity of country life.

Hunt territories varied widely. The fifth Earl of Berkely hunted an area from Berkley Castle to Berkley Square, stretching 120 miles. Most hounds were kept by rich individuals, and they often invited local farmers to hunt with them, for very often you depended on the locals allowing your hunt access over their farms—there's still no way to predict which way a fox will run.

By 1810, there were only 24 subscription packs—or packs that you could pay to belong to and hunt, as opposed to requiring an invitation from the Master. But this would double, so that by the mid 1800's hunting became a more a matter of 'subscribing' in exchange for the right to hunt with the pack.

The golden age for hunting in Leichesterchire is 1810 - 1830. This starts off with Hugo Meynell, who hunted his foxhounds from Quorn Hall in Leicstershire from 1753 to 1800. His record run was 28 miles in 2 hours 15 minutes.

During this time, there's as many as 300 hunters stabled in Melton Mowbray--with some gentlemen keeping up to 12 hunters. You could hunt 6 days a week with the still famous packs—the Quorn, the Cottesmore, the Belvoir, the Pytchley. Lord Sefton, Master of the Quorn from 1800-02, went through 3 horses a day—which is why you might need a dozen horses.

Ptychey's record run was in 1802, when the pack covered 35 - 40 miles in 4 ¼ hours. With horse medicine being about the same as for people—horses were bled after a long, tiring day. So the life of a hunter could be a short, hard one. In Warwickshire, a hunter might fetch 200 - 500 guineas. But in Leichestershire, a hunter could cost up to 800 guineas.

Wellington's officers took to hunting in their regimental scarlet coats. These started to be called hunting pink (the story goes that this was after the tailor Mr. Pink, but there's no evidence this is true). Each hunt, however, has its own colors—a color of leather boot tops, coat color and collar color and even button design. It's said that Brummell never hunted past the first field, for he hated to get his white-leather boot tops muddied.

Ladies were also found in the field. Mrs. Tuner Farley hunted for 50 years. Lady Salisbury was master of the Hatfield Hunt from 1775 - 1819. She hunted old and blind, in her sky blue habit, with a groom leading her horse and yelling at her to, "Jump, damn you, my lady." From 1788 to 1840, Lord Darlington hunted his own hounds 4 days a week in Yorkshire and Durham, with his 3 daughters and his second wife, all in their scarlet habits.

But between late 1700's to about mid 1800's, when the jumping pommel was invented for the side saddle, ladies were more the exception than the rule, and they were more likely to be advised to "ride to the meet and home again to work up an appetite."

Traditionally, each hunt always has a designated meeting place—a gate, or an inn, or even a house. You meet, the hunt cup is taken—folks drink to stave off the cold. You might meet around 11 and hunt all day—or until it's dark. Bad weather does not stop hunting--wet weather means the scent will be high (so long as it's not pouring). Ice can be dangerous—that's when you get broken necks and legs.

A hunt really is lots of standing around. Galloping to and fro. Trotting from cover to cover, hoping to draw a fox. Some hunts kept tame foxes they could let go if the day's sport proved too slow. Some areas had to curtail their hunting to allow the fox population to come back.

Hunting was always viewed as a sport for everyone, but the reality was that it cost money to keep a pack of hounds and hunt them. However, anyone could take a horse and follow, if the master allowed it, and some followed the hunt in their carriages.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Britain's Top 10 Stately Homes

Do you think you can guess what British Heritage has named as the top 10 Stately Homes in Great Britain?

British Heritage listed them in its booklet of "90 Places You Must See in Britain." How many of them have you been to? How many are on your bucket list? I'm fortunate to have been to six of the ten—including the top two stately homes.
                                                     Blenheim Palace

Let's see if you agree with the list.

1. Blenheim Palace. Home of the Churchill family and Dukes of Marlborough, Blenheim is located in Oxfordshire and was designed by Sir John Vanbrugh between 1705 and 1722. The sweeping parkland surrounding it was designed by Capability Brown. It's the only non-royal, non-ecclesiastical palace in Britain.

2. Chatsworth House. Home of the Cavendish family and the Dukes of Devonshire is situated on hundreds of acres in the lovely Peaks District. The house boasts more than 300 rooms, and it's easy to spend an entire day wandering the beautiful grounds.
                                                    Chatsworth House
3. Broadlands. Home of the Mountbattens and located in Hampshire. During my past several trips to England, Broadlands has been closed to the public, principally owing to restoration. It was high on my list because it had been home of the Georgian Lords Palmerston, the third Viscount later serving as a Victorian prime minister. (He died without issue, and the home passed to his widow's son from her first marriage to Lord Cowper. Many believe that son had been sired by Palmerston.) This sylvan estate is where Queen Elizabeth spent her honeymoon.

4. Tatton Park. Located on 2,000 acres in Cheshire, Tatton Park and Tatton Hall is owned by the National Trust and the Cheshire East Council and host more than 100 events annually.

5. St. Michael's Mount. This may be my favorite site in all of England. Located in Cornwall, the small island can be reached by foot during low tide but is accessible only by boat at high tide. The cone-shaped tidal island dates to prehistoric times, and the St. Aubyn family has owned it since 1659. Views from its windows are truly breathtaking.
                                                    St. Michael's Mount
6. Burghley House. The largest Elizabethan mansion has been home to the Cecil family (the Marquess of Exeter) and is now owned by their family trust. The massive residence is one of England's designated Treasure Houses and also features another Capability Brown landscape. Near Peterborough. Lots of movies have been filmed here, and I highly recommend it.

7. Petworth House. Located in Sussex and featuring grounds designed by Capability Brown, Petworth is most noted for having one of the finest art collections in all of England. It was one of the first stately homes I insisted on visiting because of its association with Georgian playboy, Lord Egremont, who was said to have sired 63 illegitimate children.

8. Plas Newydd. Alas, this is one I've not visited, owing to its location in Wales. (I'm particularly interested in stately homes that can be accessed with the aid of my BritRail passes since I don't drive in the UK.) This has been the family seat of the Marquess of Angelsey and has beautiful views over the Menai Straits to Snowdonia.

9. Castle Howard. Yorkshire home of the Howard family and the Earls of Carlisle. Ahhhh. . . Castle Howard! It's worth watching BBC's most popular miniseries (before Downton Abbey), Brideshead Revisited, just to glimpse what this magnificent baroque mansion might have been like before it became the tourist destination it is today. Some magical scenes in that drama filmed at Castle Howard are as indelibly impressed upon my mind as the faces of my children. Castle Howard really should be higher than number nine.
                                                     Castle Howard
10. Goodwood House. Located in West Sussex, Goodwood has been home to the Dukes of Richmond for 300 years. I shouldn't judge this one since I've not been here, but the fact it has a speedway, racecourse, airport, hotel, and golf course just does not entice. (Though I will admit there is much to admire in the distinctive stately home.) – Cheryl Bolen, whose latest Regent Mysteries, a novella titled The Theft Before Christmas, is now available wherever eBooks are sold.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Pumpkins and Jack O'-Lanterns

What's Halloween without pumpkins?

Ah, pumpkins, those usually orange squash piled high in grocery stores and farm stands this time of year. Large, small, rounded, not-so-round, orange, yellow, white and striped. There are all kinds of pumpkins. Some you can eat, some are for show, but they're all pumpkins, and they all say fall. In the form of jack o'-lanterns, they also say Halloween.

Although pumpkins are native to the Americas, their usage in Halloween traditions originated in Great Britain. Lighted vegetable lanterns have long been part of Britain's harvest festivals. The vegetables most often used were turnips and mangelwurzels, which are relatively small, solid and hard to cut. Columbus introduced to Europe many of the Americas' plants and animals, pumpkins among them. Called pompions in Tudor England, pumpkins made their way to Scotland, Wales and Ireland. Since pumpkins are hollow and easy to carve, they replaced the turnips and mangelwurzels as the vegetable of choice for harvest lanterns.

"Jack o'-lantern" itself is an English term originating in East Anglia in the 1660's, and meant a night watchman or a man who carried a lantern. Later the phrase attached itself to the ignis fatuus, or will-o'-the-wisp, a bobbing sphere of marsh gas ignited by spontaneous combustion. Not until 1837 did its modern usage of "vegetable lantern" arise.

The Irish legend of Shifty Jack adds a layer of Halloween evil to the various meanings of jack o'-lantern. Shifty, or Stingy, Jack was an Irish blacksmith who used a cross to trap the Devil up a tree. Jack refused to let him down until the Devil promised not to take him to Hell. Secure in the knowledge he would never burn in Hell, Jack wasted his life in evil. But when he died, God denied him entrance to Heaven. With nowhere else to go, Jack implored the Devil to take him in. The Devil, abiding by his promise, refused, condemning Jack forever to walk the earth. But the Devil gave him a hell-coal to light his way, which Jack secured in a vegetable lantern. Jack's bobbing light as he wanders is a Halloween reminder of the wages of sin.

Pumpkinnapper, my Regency Halloween comedy, incorporates pumpkins, bobbing lights and geese (yes, geese) that go bump in the night into the story. 

Let me tell you a tale of a love triangle: man, woman and goose. Join the fowl frolic as Henry the man and Henry the goose spar over heroine Emily's affections while they try to capture the foul (or is it fowl?) pumpkin thieves.

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

Last night someone tried to steal the widowed Mrs. Emily Metcalfe's pumpkins. She's certain the culprit is her old childhood nemesis and the secret love of her youth, Henry, nicknamed Hank, whom she hasn't seen in ten years.

Henry, Baron Grey, who's never forgotten the girl he loved but couldn't pursue so long ago, decides to catch Emily's would-be thief. Even after she reveals his childhood nickname--the one he would rather forget. And even after her jealous pet goose bites him in an embarrassing place.

Oh, the things a man does for love.


"Emily, even with Henry, formidable as he is--" Hank glared at the goose. The goose glared back "--you need protection. I will send over some footmen to guard the place."

"No. Turnip Cottage belongs to Charlotte's husband. What will the townspeople think, with Lord Grey's servants about my house?"

Her refusal increased his fury. The sight of her hand on that damned goose's head didn't improve his mood, either. He balled his fists as his patience thinned and something else thickened. "I'll find you a guard dog. You must have some protection out here all alone."

"But I have Henry." She patted the goose's head and the bird snuggled into her hand. Again.

Heat flooded Hank, part desire for Emily's touch, and part desire to murder that damned goose, who was where he wanted to be. His insides groaned. "Very well, then, you leave me no choice. I will help you catch the culprits."


He changed his voice to the voice that either melted a woman or earned him a slap in the face. "Who knows, mayhap we would enjoy ourselves as I lie in wait with you." I would love to lie with you.

Her eyes widened. Had she understood the innuendo?

"I cannot stay alone with you, and you know it," she said, her voice severe.

"You are a widow in your own home and no one will see. I will make sure of it."

"No." She marched back into her cottage and slammed the door. Henry smirked and waddled away.

Hank grinned. He would be back, whether she liked it or not.

All reviews are here.

Pumpkinnapper is available at The Wild Rose Press, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, All Romance Ebooks and other places where ebooks are sold.

Thank you all and Happy Halloween.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Silver and gold in the Middle Ages

By guest blogger Joyce DiPastena

When I wrote my first published novel, Loyalty’s Web, I had few resources to help me understand the monetary system of Western Europe in the 12th Century. The internet wasn’t widely available when I wrote my first draft. I thought it made perfect sense that the upper classes, like royalty, would have coffers and coffers filled with gold coins, so I put gold coins into my draft and didn’t look back. Loyalty’s Web was first published in 2007 (years after that draft was actually written) and no one ever called me on the gold coins in the story. 

This year, I have been focused on a rewrite of an even older story of mine called The Lady and the Minstrel. In a new scene that I wrote for the book, I wanted to contrast an English gold coin with a French gold coin in the early 13th Century. This time I had easy access to internet research, so onto the internet I hopped. And what, to my dismay, did I discover? Gold production took a nose dive along with the fall of the Roman Empire! While gold continued to be used in small amounts like jewelry, illuminated manuscripts, and even embroidery thread for the rich, when it came to money, silver ruled the day during the Early and High Middle Ages. (Roughly the 8th-13th Centuries.)

To the right is a gold coin I thought they would have used. Oops! No! Very, very rare! And a later century.

The first significant gold mine in medieval Western Europe wasn’t established until around 1320 in Slovakia. And it took the discovery of additional gold deposits to begin mining enough gold to mint coins in any kind of sizeable numbers.

The first thing I did upon learning this was to go through The Lady and the Minstrel and change all my gold coins to silver ones. I also received the publishing rights back to Loyalty’s Web this summer and am planning to republish it soon. But not before I do a find/replace search to change all the gold coins in that story to silver ones, too!

Shown to the left is an atuthentic silver coin. Yes! This is more like it!

So when you write your medieval novel, don’t make my mistake. Give your characters silver coins from the beginning and keep the gold for fripperies like jewelry and embroidery threads!

Joyce DiPastena is a multi-published, multi-award winning author who specializes in sweet medieval romances spiced with mystery and adventure. Her most recent medieval novella, A Candlelight Courting: A Short Christmas Romance, won a first honorable mention RONE Award by InD’Tale Magazine. Visit her website at and follow more of her medieval research on Medieval Research with Joyce at