Categories
Blog

The Gossip’s Choice, an interview with Sara Read #midwifery #17thCentury

Welcome to Sara Read, whose new book The Gossip’s Choice is out next week. As a fellow enthusiast for the Seventeenth Century, I was particularly keen to Gossip SR Beeston Photointerview her and discover more about her new novel.

The Blurb:

“Call The Midwife for the 17th Century”

Lucie Smith is a respected midwife who is married to Jasper, the town apothecary. They live happily together at the shop with the sign of the Three Doves. But sixteen-sixty-five proves a troublesome year for the couple. Lucie is called to a birth at the local Manor House and Jasper objects to her involvement with their former opponents in the English Civil Wars. Their only-surviving son Simon flees plague-ridden London for his country hometown, only to argue with his father. Lucie also has to manage her husband’s fury at the news of their loyal housemaid’s unplanned pregnancy and its repercussions. The year draws to a close with the first-ever accusation of malpractice against Lucie, which could see her lose her midwifery licence, or even face ex-communication…

What made you want to write a novel, and what was the most difficult moment in the process?

This novel grew out of my day job which is as an academic who researches aspects seventeenth-century women’s lives. I have wanted to write a historical fiction based on the lives of women I have read about over the years but it took me a long time and a few false starts to get it done. On my laptop there are several abandoned versions of the opening chapters going back a decade. Funnily enough, I found that it was not until the title The Gossips’ Choice came to me that the story would come. So the hardest part was getting started. Once I had the title it came together very speedily.

Who is your favourite minor character in the book and why?

This is such a good question, it really made me think about the novel in a different way. The answer has to be Ned the apothecary’s apprentice. He is nineteen and gets into a rowdy crowd of fellow apprentices. He has a lot to put up with since he gets teased when he has to carry the heavy birthing chair around town for his mistress, Lucie Smith. But he still finds ways around the discipline of his puritanical master and sneaks to the tavern in the evening when the rest of the household has gone to bed.

Tell me about an object or place that is important in the novel, and what it signifies.

The novel has a very strong sense of place in that it is all set in and around the Three Doves which is the name of the apothecary shop in which Lucie and her family live. Lucie has lived there all her married life and all the episodes and events which happen in the course of the novel, see her safely back at the Three Doves.  The shop is marked by a hanging sign of the Three Doves which is illustrated on the reverse of the cover of the novel, and Lucie gets a notion that the tatty and worn sign should be revamped as a surprise for her husband as they approach the 30th anniversary of their marriage. The name is taken from an historical apothecary shop in Bucklersbury Street in sixteenth-century London.

What fascinates you about 17th Century midwifery, and can you share some of your sources that helped in the creation of The Gossip’s Choice?

Gossip stool 2I first encountered a seventeenth-century midwife as an undergraduate on a module all about seventeenth-century women’s writing. Jane Sharp is the first named Englishwoman to have written and published a midwifery textbook, The Midwives Book (1671) and although she takes lot of her material from other printed sources, such as Nicholas Culpeper’s books, you can still hear her own voice loud and clear. The ideas about best practice and the recipes for remedies used in the novel are largely taken from Jane Sharp’s book. The second main source was the case notes of a midwife called Sarah Stone who published a set of around forty cases in 1737. Each case is the story of a difficult birth in which she was typically called in to help after others had failed. These cases provided me with a base for a good number of the birth tales in the novel.

Gossip seems to play a part in the novel. What form does this take? If you could have a good old gossip with anyone from the 17th Century, who would it be?

A gossip was a woman who supported another in labour. This female support circle was a major part of the birth experience of women at this time and it was reciprocal, so you would act as a gossip for a friend who would then be a gossip for you in your hour of need. Lucie Smith is the gossips’ choice because she is the midwife of best repute for miles around. However, when events take a dark turn she finds herself the topic on everyone’s lips and is the gossips’ choice for all the wrong reasons. If I could have a good old gossip with anyone from the seventeenth century I would love to do so with a woman called Mary Trye. Trye published a book in 1675 called Medicatrix, or the Female Physician in which she launches into an angry and spirited defence of her late father. This woman knew a lot of gossip, had connections to friends in high places, and was also incredibly witty. You could not want to get on the wrong side of her, but I bet she would be excellent company for a gossipy afternoon!

Huge thanks to Sara for sharing the process of birthing her novel with us!

Dr Sara Read is a lecturer at Loughborough University. She lives in Staffordshire and when not writing or teaching spends much of her time running round after her two-year-old granddaughter. The Gossips’ Choice is her debut novel.
Dr Read has also written many excellent non-fiction books about women in the Early Modern Period – find them all HERE
You can also find her at her website or on Twitter @saralread
Categories
Blog

This Deceitful light by Jemahl Evans #HistFic

61-HYgY6URL._SX300_BO1,204,203,200_Having read The Last Roundhead, I didn’t think Jemahl Evans could produce a better book, but This Deceitful Light is a tour-de-force. His character Blandford ‘Sugar’ Candy sits right up there with Rose Tremain’s Merivel as one of the great creations of a seventeenth century man. Opinionated and rascally, Candy gives us his take on the chaos of the English Civil War. In the process he gives us a realistic portrait of Cromwell and his unfortunate teenage son, the state of the English Theatre, and the battle of Marston Moor.

The story revolves around a murdered actor, and so involves a chase after the perpetrator as well as English Civil War skulduggery. As with the previous book, the footnotes are fascinating but distracting. I found the best way to read this book was to temporarily ignore them, but then go back to the beginning and savour each one. They are well worth reading and emphasize the amount of scholarship and research involved in producing the novel.

Here are a couple of Candy’s opinions to give you a flavour:

Most servants are mercenary sycophants. Keep them happy, pay them well, and they will desert you when a wealthier patron appears — I do not pay mine well.

‘Torture is a peculiarly continental affectation. The Ottomans are masters of the art – as I know to my cost – but it has never much taken hold in England. We have juries and common law – they have despots.’

‘Three hundred dead; ’tis what the newsbooks proclaimed after our victory. I told Mabbot ’twas drivel – there were at least five thousand naked corpses on the field the next day. I would wager more than a thousand were ours.’

This is a true treasure for fans of the seventeenth century or the English Civil War. I have no hesitation in telling you to go and buy it!

This Deceitful Light is due for release on 20th September. You can pre-order it HERE.

Categories
Blog Seventeenth Century Life

Nettle Shirts and Cunning Women – herbal secrets of 17th century England

gentlewomans-manualI have loved researching 17th Century botany and herbs for my novels, The Lady’s Slipper and The Gilded Lily. For both of them I have had to research the botanical beliefs of a society that relied on native plants for a good many things, including medicine, cleaning agents, and home-manufactured goods such as cloth. One of my characters in The Lady’s Slipper is a “cunning woman”, a person skilled in folk medicine. She has no daughters and is looking for someone to whom she can hand down her vast store of knowledge. Remedies were passed down orally, and the plants used were readily and commonly available to a populace which was mostly illiterate. Because little was written about it, evidence of these remedies is most often to be found in kitchen manuals because cooking and medicine were so closely related.

The difference between folk medicine and the “official” medicine was largely that folk medicine used plants that occurred naturally in Britain and had not been brought over from abroad. Official medicine drew on metals, chemical compounds and herbs and spices imported from other countries, such as the Mediterranean or Arabia. Physicians could charge more for their exotic-sounding imports, which by the dint of their strangeness appeared to offer more appeal.

In the 17th century many Folk remedies were “simples”, ie a single species of plants used as a cure or palliative, whereas apothecaries mixed perhaps thirty or more of ingredients for their “treacles”. Venice treacle, given by Thomas Sydenham to Lady Sedley in 1686, contained more than seventy ingredients including: wormwood, orange peel, angelica, nutmeg, horseradish, scurvy grass, white horehound, centaury, camomile, and juniper berries. All infused in 5 pints of sack!

And what was this medicine for? A headache.

antique-herbal-print-elder-fennel-endive-culpeper-1790-e400797bb85ec9d8e148d53ae2034cfcServants probably made do with feverfew leaves, and were probably better off for it. So in one of my books the middle-class Thomas Ibbetson is given a ‘drench’ (Pouring a vast quantity of liquid medicine into the throat) which worsens rather than cures his condition. In the 17th century, the richer you were, the more likely you were to die of the treatment rather than the disease. Mercury and antimony were common remedies, as was copious blood-letting to release stagnant humours.

Seventeenth century herbalists such as Gerard, Pechy and the Puritan, Culpeper, were immensely influential in their day, and there was much cross-over between the medicinal and the domestic. For example Culpeper recommends the leaves of the Alder tree for burns, but also for attracting fleas. The leaves were strewed on the ground to attract the fleas, and then the whole lot could be swept out and disposed of. Culpeper’s Herbal is one of the few Seventeenth Century books still in print today.  I can also recommend Nicholas Woolley’s book about Culpeper, The Herbalist.

nettle-shirtNapier’s History of Herbal Healing says that nettles were used as a pot herb in the Spring, but also its fibres were used in weaving instead of flax, to make tablecloths, sheets and even shirts! Read this fascinating article about making a medieval nettle smock. It was used medicinally to treat anaemia and as a general tonic, and also to dye the hair as it produced an intense yellow dye. With interest in ‘green’ products today, nettle fibre is growing more common as a yarn for making clothes.

Along with the practical uses of plants was a vast body of mythological lore, both superstitious and religious. Ideas such as that making love under a Rowan Tree was a certain cure for infertility, were common. So the herbs themselves were used in a broad rather than a narrow context, embracing the physical, emotional and spiritual being of the user. Many people believed in the “doctrine of signatures” of Paracelsus. This suggests that each plant bears a physical sign, placed there by God, of what it should be used for. So the small bulbs of celandines should be used for piles, because that’s what they look like. Women with knowledge of these ideas were known as ‘cunning women’, and were consulted for a wide range of cures and for advice in childbirth and in the rutuals of ‘laying out’ after death.

the-ladys-slipper-ladys-slipper-orchidIn The Lady’s Slipper, Alice Ibbetson is an artist fascinated by painting wild-flowers, the lady’s slipper being a rare wildflower with both medicinal and poisonous properties. In The Gilded Lily the plants are used as a beauty aid by Ella Appleby, a serving maid who becomes obsessed with her appearance and the glitter and glamour of Regency London. Many seventeenth century beauty preparations involved common plants. One for a fair complexion is to “take wilde Tansy and lay it to soake in buttermilke.”

A version of this post first appeared on the Hoydens and Firebrands Blog.

the-lady-slipper-2d-final-design-quire-booksEXTRACT from The Lady’s Slipper , featuring Margaret Poulter – the cunning woman.

Margaret Poulter had lied to Alice. She was not exactly lodging at the Anchor. She could not afford to pay for a room. But the landlord turned a blind eye to the fact that she slept in the hayloft above the stables, and tolerated her peculiar comings and goings in exchange for remedies for his children. He had five children, all of whom suffered from one malady or another – mostly coughs and lice, from what Margaret could see.

After Margaret  left Alice in Netherbarrow, she took her time returning to the inn. This was her gathering time, like her mother and her grandmother before her. The world was one big apothecary’s shop to Margaret, and the source of a good living. She was stocking up; for in times of good health and plentiful harvests like these she was often poor and hungry, whereas at times of war or plague, or when harvests were thin, her draughts and remedies were needed. Then Margaret  grew fat and comfortable whilst others suffered famine and disease.

Daylight hours were for scouting along the hedgerows looking for anything useful, and watching out for signs or omens or shifts in the weather. The underlying web on which the world was hung might be moving or shifting. This was her way – to find out how the land lay – and she did this quite literally, through  her senses, sniffing, poking, tasting and fingering with her nut-brown  hands. Wherever she went she collected small observations  in the same way as she collected the ticks that stuck to her skirts.

She paused in her tracks, thinking of Mistress Ibbetson, and the lady’s slipper, for she was keenly aware that she had reached her autumn years and had not been blessed with a daughter whom she might instruct in the craft. She had been secretly keeping watch on Mistress Ibbetson since the last waning quarter-moon; her fame for painting beautiful life-like pictures of flowers had reached even as far as Preston, and Margaret’s sharp ears.

She might do, Margaret  thought. But these gifts could not be given lightly. No, she must be sure and certain Alice Ibbetson was the one, and judging by the look of her, even if she was, she would need some coaxing, and she would have much to learn.

Pictures from wikipedia unless linked.
Categories
Blog Cabinet of Curiosities

Cabinet of Curio-stories – A 17th century ‘kicking’ lock

 

On the Sherborne Museum website is this gorgeous picture of a seventeenth century lock. In 1654 diarist John Evelyn wrote that sophisticated lock mechanisms were ‘rare contrivances’ and regarded as technological marvels, ‘esteem’d a curiositie even among foraine princes’.

Chest - StrongBox

In the days when there were no banks, a surprising number of strong boxes were made to house the coinage on its way to daily transactions, such as paying wages and taxes, and for other large purchases such as houses, horses or livestock. So demand for the production of locks and chests was surprisingly large.

The best chests of the time were manufactured by the Germans and the Swiss, who were clockmakers as well as locksmiths and had the fine skills needed for intricate work. Most money chests, or coffers, had heavy locking lids, reinforced bottoms and strong handles. High precision was required for locksmithing and it was all done by hand at the bench. The keyhole was almost always positioned in the centre of the lid, well hidden through some cleverly designed camouflage or extra function. The ubstantial key needed to have a stable bit- one that would lock all the pins with a single turn and strong enough to turn all the springs and moving parts. During the seventeenth century, a decorated or ornate cover of polished sheet iron was added. The interior was plain, except for the locking merchanism in the lid. The outside, however, was lavishly decorated to be individual, with coats of arms, insignia, ornamental chasing, etching, or gilding, and sometimes with welded brass detail on the corners or hasps.

Chest - detector lock desktop-1419211260

Whilst looking into locks, I also came across this beauty on the Sotheby’s site – it is a lock for a chamber door:
A rare English brass ‘Cavalier’ detector lock signed by John Wilkes of Birmingham.  Last quarter 17th century, with a fretted steel key, the Cavalier’s leg with ‘Kick’ mechanism to reveal a keyhole, the mechanism incorporating a catch in the form of the cavaliers hat to release the ‘kick’ (currently inactive) and activate a numbered indicator disc, the main plate engraved:
‘If I had ye gift of tongue, I would declare & do no wrong, who they are ye come by stealth to impare my Lady’s Wealth, John Wilkes e Birmingham, Fecit’

It is called a ‘detector’ lock, because the dial on the right side shows if the lock has been opened in the owner’s absence. What I love about it is that is shows the sense of humour of both the person who commissioned it, and the maker. Imagine the fine lady going out and cocking the Cavalier’s hat to lock her jewels in her chamber, and then checking her valuables were safe on her return by checking the dial. After that, a click to release the kick, and the keyhole is revealed behind the calf of the Cavalier, ready for her to slide in the key. A gentle click, and she returns to find her jewels safe on the cushion where she left them.

For a novelist of course, it’s fun to imagine what might happen if she found the dial showing that someone else had been in the room…

For comparison, see a similar lock in the collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum, London, but the V & A lock features the words ‘my Master’s Wealth’ as opposed to ‘my Lady’s Wealth’. Watch the video of how it all works here

In my Cabinet of Curio-stories you might also like:

The Tudor Copperplate Map

Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn Entwined

Miniature Scottish Coffins

Links:

http://www.feelneed.com/17-historical-locks-that-guarded-the-most-mysterious-treasures-in-history/

http://www.historicallocks.com/en/site/h/safes/20-money-chests/sixteenth-and-seventeenth-century-money-chests-and-cash-boxes/

Locked up in the museum

Categories
Blog

My main character – Lady Katherine Fanshawe

This post is part of a game begun by Debra Brown and passed to me by Sue Millard who lives relatively near me in Cumbria in the North of England. The posts are designed for readers to gain an insight into what writers are working on at the moment. Because my book is part of a series and all the books aren’t finished there are some details I don’t want to reveal yet, but here is an inkling of what has been taking up my time since I finished ‘A Divided Inheritance.’

What is the name of your character?Katherine Ferrers

My main character is seventeen-year-old Lady Katherine Fanshawe. She is a real historical person but also she features in a legend about her double life as noble lady and as a notorious highwaywoman. Find out more about the real person and the legend of The Wicked Lady here

When and where is the story set?

I’ll be taking you back in time to the English Civil Wars, in the mid seventeenth century, a time so turbulent it was known as ‘the world turn’d upside down.’

What should we know about Lady Katherine Fanshawe?

She comes from an illustrious and noble family but when she loses her parents she is forced by her stepfather to marry his lacklustre nephew. This enables her stepfather, Sir Stephen Fanshawe to take control over her land and wealth. She is rebellious, and takes to a secret life of highway robbery to replace her lost fortune.

What is the main conflict she must face?

Whilst disguised as a maid she falls in love with local boy, Ralph Chaplin. Ralph is determined to build a new world in which everyone is equal, where there is no aristocracy, following the ideals of the Digger movement. Ralph hates the nobility and would be horrified to find the girl he thinks of as ‘Kate’ is really Lady Katherine Fanshawe. He would be even more horrified if he knew what she got up to at night!

What is the personal goal of this character?

Kate is courageous and craves adventure and danger, but often does not look before she leaps. She is determined to escape her controlling stepfather, to be free of society’s demands, and to love who she pleases. At the same time she is reluctant to give up the life in which her status gives her privileges and she does not want to give up ordering people about!

When will this book be published?

Actually, this is three books – a series of three novellas, which make up The Highway Trilogy. This is a set of books suitable for adults and young adults of 14+. Each book is about 200 pages. The first book is told from the point of view of Lady Katherine’s feisty maid, Abigail, the second from Ralph Chaplin’s point of view, and the third from Lady Katherine’s (Kate’s) point of view. I thought it would be fun to write some shorter books for young adults in between my bigger books.

Publication date yet to be confirmed. The working title of the first book in the series is ‘Shadow on the Highway’, the next one will be ‘Ghost on the Highway,’ and the third ‘Revenge on the Highway.’

Pictures relating to the books are on my Pinterest Site

Now I need to pass the baton on to these lovely historical fiction writers:

Charlotte Betts

Anita Seymour

Carol Cram

Categories
Blog

Powerful drama of a King’s Execution – The Crimson Ribbon

 

Blurb:

Based on the real figure of the fascinating Elizabeth Poole, The Crimson Ribbon is the mesmerising story of two women’s obsession, superstition and hope.

 May Day 1646. The Civil War is raging and what should be a rare moment of blessing for the town of Ely takes a brutal turn. Ruth Flowers is left with little choice but to flee the household of Oliver Cromwell, the only home she has ever known. On the road to London, Ruth sparks an uneasy alliance with a soldier, the battle-scarred and troubled Joseph. But when she reaches the city, it’s in the Poole household that she finds refuge.

 Lizzie Poole, beautiful and charismatic, enthrals the vulnerable Ruth, who binds herself inextricably to Lizzie’s world. But in these troubled times, Ruth is haunted by fears of her past catching up with her. And as Lizzie’s radical ideas escalate, Ruth finds herself carried to the heart of the country’s conflict, to the trial of a king.

I received this book for review from the Amazon Vine programme because I love the seventeenth century and it looked like my sort of book. I was not disappointed.

The story of Elizabeth Poole and her role as witness to the beheading of a King is brought masterfully to life in this gripping drama. Told through the eyes of Ruth Flowers who is on the run to escape a witch hunt, the book draws the reader gradually into the uneasy, fragile world of desperate people looking for an answer to the bloodshed of the English Civil Wars. Elizabeth Poole herself remains an enigma, shedding layers of shifting truths that make the reader unsure who or what she is. Is Elizabeth a sinner or a saint? Ruth’s devotion to her, though not fully explained, is both her salvation and her downfall.

Although it only uses historical events as a kind of backdrop to the story I found the historical background to be well-researched and atmospheric.  But the strength of this novel is in the portayal of the ever-changing relationship between Ruth and Lizzie, and the writer’s ability to take you fully into the mindset of a nation which can try a King for treason against his own country.

I look forward to more books from this debut novelist, Katherine Clements. For comparison you might like to try ‘As Meat Loves Salt’ by Maria McCann which tells of a similar obsessive relationship between two men, and is one of my favourite reads about this period.