Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Wool, Women and WWII

by Davina Blake

English women recruited to the Auxiliary Territorial Service (the ATS) in World War II found themselves the proud possessors of a mountain of kit mostly made from wool: two itchy khaki uniforms, four pairs of lisle stockings, three pairs of khaki lock-knit knickers (ouch!), two pairs of striped men's pyjamas, eight starched collars, including the studs to attach them, and a greatcoat meant for a man.

Iris Bryce, a new recruit, said, "The shoes were so heavy I clonked along feeling like Frankenstein."

During the height of the War, in 1943, an astonishing 10,325,000 battle dress jackets and trousers were produced by Britain's wool and textile industry. (Figures from British War Production 1939 - 45).

The uniforms extended right through to the underwear. Iris found the boned corsets so unforgiving and unflattering that she sent them home to her Gran, but was told that this was illegal as all the kit belonged to the King's Uniform, and she was not allowed to give it away.

For some poorer women, the uniform was a relief. Clothes rationing for civilians had been introduced in 1941, and in 1942 the government set maximum prices. The Board of Trade permitted only a few styles, made only from specified cloths, the ones that were not being used for battledress. Stockings were only available made in lisle or wool, as silk was needed for parachutes. Women painted their legs with potassium permanganate to give a somewhat streaky tan. A black eyebrow pencil was used to give the impression of a seam. By saving on stockings, the clothing coupons were reserved for more essential purchases, such as shoes and coats.

Some women from slum conditions found the single bed, provided by the army barracks, luxurious after sharing with siblings or other family members, and the uniform helped to instil a sense of equality amongst women from many different backgrounds.

Austerity continued at home. "Mother was very good at sewing," says Joan Ball. "If sheets became thin in the middle she cut them in half and stitched the sides together to make them last a bit longer." Joan had several cousins, and her mother made all their dresses, charging 2/6d (15p) for them. 

When Joan joined the ATS, she was sent to Pontefract training base for six weeks. She says: "Every morning we had kit parade where everything had to be laid out on our beds, bedding folded so that every blanket was the same, jacket buttons and shoes polished. We then had to stand to attention at the foot of the bed, not daring to move. After inspection we assembled on the parade ground and marched up and down until the Sergeant Major was satisfied with our performance."

Joan was billeted in the Queen Elizabeth Barracks, Chilworth, where the dining room catered for a thousand girls. Joan says, "The food was generally plain and rather stodgy. We had scrambled egg, which arrived on huge trays and was made from dried egg, for breakfast."

Talking of Queen Elizabeth Barracks, The Queen also served with the ATS - with the Number 1 'Beaufront' Company, Here she can be seen can be seen with an Austin K2 ambulance. I wonder if she found the army issue corset unmanageable too!

Knitting for Britain

Homes were mostly unheated in the winter as coal was needed for essential factories and industries. Most women were expected to knit - for themselves, for their families and for their fighting husbands. Bales of wool were supplied in regulation colours and the WRVS would wind the wool into skeins and issue it to women. Buses and trams were full of women knitting - not to knit was seen as unpatriotic. The Red Cross gave out patterns for sweaters, balaclavas, socks, mufflers, fingerless mitts (which allowed soldiers to keep their hands warm while shooting), and toe covers (for injured soldiers with legs in casts).

Corsets and Camouflage - Kate Adie
The Daily Mail
Vintage and One of a Kind Magazine


Find out more about my WWII novel Past Encounters on my website www.davinablake.com
Davina Blake also writes as Deborah Swift.

Simon de Montfort and the Fight for Parliament, 1263 to 1265

by Katherine Ashe

It was a document known as The Provisions of Oxford, not the Magna Carta, that brought modern elective government into existence. It was the Provisions that created Parliament, and gave Parliament power over the Crown.

The Provisions were composed by the barons and clergymen of England, meeting in committees at Oxford in 1258. Simon de Montfort, the Earl of Leicester, was a leading member of the committees. But as soon as this work of proposed monumental reform was completed in draft, the lords abandoned their weeks of effort and rode off into the night. Led by the instigator of the Oxford meeting, the Earl of Gloucester Richard de Clare, they went in pursuit of King Henry III’s dangerous half-brothers of Lusignan, fearing the brothers would flee abroad and raise an army against them.

Of all the lords, it was only Montfort who remained behind. As England’s chief military strategist he probably understood that whether the Lusignan escaped or not, invasion from abroad was likely. The principals expressed in the Provisions were an offense to every king’s free exercise of power, and challenged the Pope who had a claim on England’s Crown as security for a debt King Henry owed the Vatican, but which the lords refused to pay.

At Oxford, Montfort and the clergymen saw to it that the Provisions were properly copied from erasable wax tablets and published to the new sheriffs who helpfully had been appointed by the King from the Oxford meeting’s lists.

The pursuing lords camped in the yard of Winchester Castle, holding the Lusignan brothers besieged during the time this essential work was being carried out at Oxford. Then suddenly the besiegers succumbed to poison. Virtually every major lord of England fell desperately ill and many died. Those who survived required years to recover. It was left to Simon de Montfort and the clerics at Oxford to actually put the Provisions into effect, creating the first Parliament.

Over his own seal, and with the assumed authority of the new Council called for by the Provisions (which did not yet actually exist), Montfort single-handedly called for the election of four knights from each shire to represent the people of England. It was he who summoned the first Parliament to convene, who replaced the royal bailiffs and castellans and set England on a footing to repel the expected invasion from abroad.

The first Parliament commenced on October 18th, 1258 in Westminster Hall. King Henry and his heir Prince Edward were virtual prisoners of the government Montfort had brought into being, and they were forced to swear allegiance to the new order. But while Prince Edward for a time entertained an interest in hearing regularly from the people’s elected representatives, Henry would use covert means to undermine and suppress this abominable expression of democracy.

With the new institution of Parliament an achieved success, the next issue on the Crown’s agenda was the completion of a treaty with France. As ambassador to France for King Henry, the Earl Montfort had negotiated the treaty and he attended the royal party to Paris.

Henry now claimed his goal in life was to lead a crusade to Palestine – a project he knew was close to King Louis’ heart. This is the king we know as Saint Louis. As an article of the treaty, Louis was granting Henry funds for an army for his crusade.
Simon learned the army being raised was not to embark for the East, but for England. As Henry lingered in France, Parliament was due to reconvene. The army would give Henry the means to squash it. As the King’s foremost general, Simon was well known in the office of the Duke of Brabant where mercenary armies were hired and assembled. It was no difficulty for him to order the soldiers so far assembled to meet him – and to lead them himself to England for Parliament’s defense. This was, beyond any doubt, a clear act of treason against his king.

Yet was it? Henry had sworn loyalty to his subjects’ new government. Simon saw his move as forcing the King to stand by his oath. But when, many weeks later, King Henry finally arrived in England protesting innocence and love of the Parliament, Simon was arrested and taken to the Tower of London, charged with high treason. From there his friend King Louis, knowing Henry had intended to misuse the army granted for crusade, rescued Simon and had the trial transferred to Paris.

It was 1263 before the trial came to a close. King Henry withdrew his charges, realizing that Louis was fully aware of his treachery and breach of the treaty. Henry was forced to let Montfort go, rather than make his treaty null and void.

During his stay in Paris pending trial, Simon was frequently approached by clerics and the young English lords whose fathers had succumbed to the Lusignan’s poison at Winchester. Between 1259 and 1263 King Henry undermined and finally succeeded in suppressing the Parliament. And he returned to his abusive former ways. Englishmen of every rank prayed for Montfort to come and lead them to restore the government of the Provisions.

There was more to these prayers than the hope of resuscitating Parliament. The theologian Joachim de Flor, in the late 12th century, posited three Ages of Man: the Era of the Father, in which tribal society prevailed; the Era of the Son which saw the rise of kingship, nations and the Church; and the Era of the Holy Ghost in which nations, kingship and the Church would dissolve into a single World Order, governed by the vote of the common man inspired to wisdom by the Holy Spirit. Joachim specified the year 1260 as the commencement of this New Age.

The creation of Parliament was seen as the first act of this new era. And Simon de Montfort was its champion. He was hailed in England as the Angel of the Apocalypse, or perhaps even the Risen Christ.

All this Simon most probably considered heretical. He certainly was not flattered by it. His intention, once free of the trial, was to return to Palestine and assist in its Christian kingdom’s revival after the invasions by the Khoresines and the political disorders that followed the Khoresines’ withdrawal.

But almost immediately after King Henry vacated his charges, a group of young English lords pled with Simon on behalf of his cousin Peter de Montfort, who was leading a force against King Henry’s royalists in England’s western shires. A much larger force was massing at Oxford, the lordlings said. Simon agreed to go to observe what was happening. At the meeting he was so moved by the numbers of determined young warrior lords that he agreed to be their leader.

In a few months, in the spring and summer of 1263, Simon conquered England, held the King, the Queen and Prince Edward his prisoners and reinstated Parliament.

Simon de Montfort, the Earl of Leicester, was a brilliant general and a man who genuinely thought a means was necessary to control kings who were incompetent. He did not believe in replacing legitimate kings, but in harnessing them to serve the will of the people. So he did not kill King Henry and accept the Crown of England for himself, not even when it was twice offered to him by his Parliaments. He was not really an advocate of democracy, but saw himself as a royalist protecting the royal line from its own self-inflicted disasters.

Nor was he a politician deft at manipulating the lesser powers that surrounded him. Jealousies arose, and complaints when he used the abundant funds of royal rents to fortify the castle that had been his home but which he had returned to the Crown at Oxford in 1258. It was to be a stronghold, should one be needed against a royalist resurgence. Surrounding walls and towers were built after the manner of crusader castles in Palestine: castles that could be held by just a few defenders indefinitely against siege. Kenilworth would withstand attack for eighteen months in 1265-66, surrendering only when its defenders were tricked into a false amnesty.

Simon rightly understood the risks inherent in England’s new form of government. It was an offense to every untrammeled Crown in Europe, and to the papal advocacy of Thomas Aquinas’s theology. Joachim’s books describing a coming democratic age had been burned and his teachings banned by a series of Popes. The theology of Aquinas was now embraced -- and that described the Lord’s Creation as an immutable hierarchy: the Pope, then kings held precedence – with complete freedom of action – over all the rest of Creation.

Montfort used the funds that flowed into his government for England’s sustained military alert, instead of giving the customary monetary gifts to his followers. Soon dissatisfaction gathered into conspiracy.

With aid from among Montfort’s own staff, King Henry and Prince Edward escaped and formed a royalist army to reconquer England. The Queen, who had been sent for her own safety to France, raised a force abroad: 20,000 mercenaries and a fleet to transport them across the Channel from Flanders. Simon summoned the people of England to defend their coasts, and the royalist fleet turned back, unable to land. King Henry marched on London, Simon’s headquarters. But the Londoners brought Simon’s army within their walls and defied their King.

King Louis had offered to arbitrate a peace; now Henry and Montfort accepted his offer. But on the way to the arbitration, in January of 1264, Simon’s horse fell in a frozen creek. Simon’s hip and leg were crushed and he could not attend the meeting. Without him, Cardinal Guy Folques, King Louis’ confessor and an ardent advocate of Aquinas’s hierarchies, dominated the meeting. The Provisions and its Parliament were declared heretical. The most Louis could achieve for his friend was amnesty. But the Marchers lords, on the borders of Wales and always Montfort’s enemies, observed no amnesty. They attacked and seized Montfort holdings. The Earl sent his sons Henry and Guy to counter them. War had resumed.

The Earl’s son Simon, following the King’s army’s movements, was defeated at Northampton and taken prisoner. The Earl, traveling in a specially constructed armored vehicle since his leg was not yet healed, went to London to see what forces could be raised there to defend the Parliament. The Londoners proved to be violent against civilians but highly unreliable as an army. When Simon left for Northampton to rescue his son, they sacked and burnt the Jewry to the ground.

Rather than remain trapped in London by the necessity of keeping the townsmen from committing further destruction, Montfort took them with him as he marched against the city of Rochester which guarded the road from the southern ports to the capital. King Henry again was intending to bring his troops from abroad.

In a brilliant use of the London boatmen’s knowledge of currents, Montfort launched a flotilla of the Londoners against Rochester’s water gate, on the River Medway. Led by a blazing fire ship that came to lodge firmly in the gate’s flammable timbers, the Londoners quickly took the gate. Slaughtering the gate’s guards who leapt from their flaming tower, they poured into the city, killing, raping, stealing everything including the cathedral’s candlesticks, and making the cathedral’s bell ringer an archery target.

Hours after the Londoners’ landing, when Simon took the landward gates and entered the city, he was appalled by the horrors he found. He commanded his knights to seize anyone caught raping, stealing or killing civilians.

The next day, in the city’s square at the foot of the castle, which still held out for King Henry, he ordered the Londoner prisoners beheaded as, unarmed, he knelt, penitent and well within bowshot of the castle’s roof. The defenders watched with fascination, and they did not draw an arrow at the Earl.

For days Simon remained in his tent outside Rochester. He sent repeated pleas to King Henry begging peace and offering substantial reparations. The very foundation of his belief in his cause seems to have been shattered. What would a government be, led by the vote of such monsters as the London commoners showed themselves? But King Henry, sensing weakness, refused peace and continued his tour of the southern ports, seeking a means of bringing in his army from Flanders.

All recourse gone, with a few young lords, Welsh and woodland archers and the remaining 3,000 Londoners and other common volunteers, Simon followed King Henry’s army. His archers, free roving and not particularly under his command, harassed the royal progress on the roads between each port.

Henry was finding that Montfort’s supporters in the ports had taken all vessels out to sea. He moved on, hoping to find some loyal captain who would carry word to Flanders that would bring his mercenary troops.

The march between Romney and Hove passed inland, particularly exposed to the archers who were picking off the King’s men and plundering his supply wagons. Roger Leybourne suggested that Henry halve the risky journey with a stop at the little castle of Lewes where the monastery at Lewes was large enough to entertain the lords with meals and lodging for the night.

Henry accepted. His knights made camp in front of Saint Pancras monastery, filling the deep and narrow valley. Their horses were stationed ahead for the morning’s departure, thus obstructing any quick movement forward, while the supply wagons were drawn up in a dense camp at the rear as they arrived. King Henry effectively was being trapped by his own massive entourage.

While the King and his friends drank Saint Pancras’s wines and feasted, Simon led his small force to the nearby village of Fletching. He sent the Bishops of London and Worchester to make one last plea with King Henry for peace, but they were refused and mocked.

After knighting twenty of his youthful followers, the Earl had his entire little army confessed and given the Last Rights for, undoubtedly, facing the King’s enormous, highly experienced forces, they all were going to die.

Then, while still in darkness, Simon ranged his young and novice knights on the edge of the high downs where the land sloped steeply down to the valley of Lewes. At dawn, astride an inconspicuous horse – and not in his well-known armored cart – he gave the order to attack. His young knights in three groups rode down upon the sleeping camp, while the Londoners walked towards the castle tower where Prince Edward and a force of mercenaries were lodged.

Edward, seeing the Londoners, whom he hated for their insults to his mother, took off with his men after the commoners. The Londoners fled back up the slope and scattered across the downs. Pursuing them, Edward absented himself from the main battle for the whole day. His Lusignan uncles spent their time on the high downs, attacking the fully enclosed, armored cart which actually held not the Earl, but two of their own spies. Meanwhile, in the valley, Simon’s young and new-made knights and archers destroyed King Henry’s army as they wallowed, entangled in their own tents.

Montfort won a total victory. It was thought a miracle. Saints were seen fighting in support of the youths who vanquished England’s barony.

Simon reinstated the Parliament but held the principal lords, the King and Prince Edward his prisoners. For England’s security he refused to let them be ransomed.

At one meeting of Parliament, then another, the youths who actually had captured the baronial prisoners lodged complaint – the lords’ ransoms were rightfully theirs, earned legitimately in battle. Increasingly, as the government of Parliament appeared to be succeeding, the Earl’s own followers became angry about the withheld funds. The very success of the movement made the argument that the monies were being used for the land’s security seem less and less viable -- especially as a substantial amount of the funds was being used to fortify Simon’s former home, Kenilworth, where his family again was living.

For the first Parliament of the year 1265, not only four knights elected by the common men of each shire, but also representatives of the cities, towns and merchant guilds were summoned to attend. The Ordinances, a program that would extend to the common man the rights won by the Provisions for the lords, was to be presented. Radical in the extreme, the Ordinances were at the very core of Parliament’s democratic movement.

But the lords thoroughly objected to extending rights to commoners. Only five, including Montfort and Richard de Clare’s heir Gilbert, attended the Parliament. The meeting, heavily weighted with representatives of the commonality, was expected to make the principal of equal rights for commoners the law of the land.

It is a tragedy in history that this Parliament miscarried badly. Gilbert de Clare had taken major lords his prisoners at Lewes. He not only demanded that the lords’ ransoms and collected rents be paid to him, but he accused Simon and his sons of appropriating the money for themselves. Henry de Montfort, Simon’s eldest son, and usually a pacifist, launched himself at Gilbert, beating him to the floor. The Parliament broke into mayhem and had to be adjourned.

Gilbert, staggering away, challenged the Montfort brothers to a tourney a outrance at the upcoming fair at Dunstable. A tourney a outrance was armed combat to the death with no limit as to time or location – it was no sport, but cross-country battle.
At Dunstable Gilbert gathered a substantial army of royalists, including England’s foremost barons and their knights. The Montfort brothers brought their own army of defenders of the family name. The Earl, leading the force of mercenaries that had been King Henry’s and now was his, disbursed the two armies, but Gilbert retreated to his home shires with an intact and numerous force.

Disorder in the shires, the revolt of the common people against the royalists’ abuses, had continued for three years. Parliament, under Montfort’s leadership, had instituted the Guardians of the Peace, a force able to impose martial law all across the shires. By 1265 the Guardians had achieved much of their purpose. Disputes that had been solved out-of-hand by murder and mayhem were being referred to the courts.

But the courts were overloaded to the point of crippling. The King’s Council, chosen by the Parliament, decided that the cure was for King Henry himself to go on a tour of the country, complete with Court, legal staff, Chancery, Treasury, Royal Household and all the clerks, courtiers and servants that implied, to restore the proper functioning of justice in each shire.
Simon opposed the plan. With Clare in possession of an army in the west, and armed forces abroad still ready to invade whenever possible, this tour was dangerous in the extreme. The bishops on the Council thought otherwise. In their view, nothing would prove the rightness of the Parliament than demonstrating that it was a viable form of government, able to bring peace and good order to the land. God had provided the victory at Lewes, God would defend the Parliament and the royal tour from mishap.

Reason would have it that at this point Simon de Montfort should have left England to its own unfounded optimism and gone to Palestine. But he was under excommunication by the Pope (none other than Louis’ old confessor Guy Folques who had opposed the arbitration of 1264.) His safety, his life and the future of his sons depended upon the success of Parliament.

He was allowed by the Council only a small force of fewer than two-hundred of his friends and Leicester knights for the King’s immediate security. Knowing the army Clare was massing, and seeing this appalling situation, the Welsh Prince Llewellyn leant him a hundred archers.

But now the Lusignan brothers were bringing in the mercenary army from abroad to join Gilbert de Clare. Clare lured the royal entourage to Hereford for talks of reconciliation. Hereford was in the west, across the Severn River, far from the principal shires of England and the concentration of Montfort’s supporters. Then Clare broke off talks and held Hereford at siege. And Prince Edward escaped to lead Clare’s combined forces.

The Earl wrote to his son Simon to raise an army of the Provisions’ partisans and come to Hereford at once to lift the siege. But young Simon failed to perceive the emergency. He dawdled at Winchester, holding court instead of marching to Bristol as his father ordered, and commandeering the merchant fleet there to cross the flooded Severn River. Clare had destroyed all the Severn boats, bridges and fording places, obstructing Montfort’s ready access to his supporters.

Waiting in vain for his son to arrive with relieving forces, eventually Simon managed to escape from Hereford with a much reduced assembly: the King, his Treasury, the few knights and the hundred archers. Along obscure mountain paths used only by shepherds, Simon led his little royal march to Bristol, where he himself had arranged for the fleet to cross and meet him. But from the heights overlooking the Severn he saw his ships met by Gilbert’s vessels, burnt and sunk. He retreated quickly to Hereford again.

Young Simon was sent urgent messages, ordering him to build boats to bring his army across the river. Simon Fils gradually moved to Kenilworth to have the master builder there build boats and transports.

July past at Hereford but Simon received no word from his son. On August 2nd, with food scarce, he managed to break out again from Hereford by night with only his friends, his Leicester knights, his Welsh archers and the King. He would travel at quickest speed to reach the safety of Kenilworth. Flooding on the Severn had receded and he was able to ford the river at Kempsey, near Worcester. At Kempsey his company spent the daylight hours of August 3rd in hiding. Worcester was Edward’s headquarters.

On August 2nd, young Simon, at Kenilworth, at last had completed outfitting his army, including boats, and transports for the boats that he did not know were unneeded. To celebrate his achievement, he gave a party for all his young captains. He held the celebration in the bathing house in Kenilworth’s village; such bathing houses often doubled as brothels. The party was drunken and quite naked when Prince Edward arrived with his soldiers. The Prince was very fond of his Montfort cousins. He did not put them to the sword but laughingly stole their clothes, their armaments, their flags, their horses and all their wagons of supply.

While young Simon spent August 3rd attempting to re-equip his army, that night his father began the last part of his journey to safety at Kenilworth. Marching at speed, the distance should have been achieved before dawn. But, lost and wandering on shepherd paths in the darkness, it was full morning when Simon and his following reached Evesham, still twenty miles from Kenilworth. Twenty very exposed miles, with Edward’s army somewhere nearby.

King Henry, decrepit for his years, complained incessantly. He shouted that this traveling was killing him. He had to rest. With deep misgivings, Simon relented. There was a monastery in Evesham and the monks he knew were strong supporters of his cause. He agreed to pause for breakfast at Evesham Abbey.

The decision was, perhaps, no more fatal than if he had proceeded. Edward led a true army, many times the size of the small guard Simon commanded. But Evesham, held in a deep bend of the River Avon, was a perilous place to pause.

The lookout on the abbey’s tower hurried to the dining hall to report advancing forces bearing young Simon’s flags. Celebration rang out in the hall. The relief forces were come at last.

Simon went to the tower’s roof. He was nearsighted but his squire Peter reported to him all that could be seen. The advancing army split in three, one moving towards the bridge to the south, over which the Earl had just come. One moving into place to the east of the village, and one moving northward towards Green Hill, bordering Evesham to the north. Before the northward moving troops were lost from sight behind the hill, the flags of young Simon’s army were lowered and Edward’s raised in their place.
A scout the Earl had sent out rode in with confirmation. It was indeed Edward’s, Gilbert’s and the Lusignan brothers’ armies that was surrounding Evesham. It appeared that young Simon’s army had been met and vanquished.

Simon commanded his followers to leave him and save themselves: to escape by the bridge before Clare’s forces succeeded in closing it off. Although they knew they were facing almost certain death, no one left. Bending to their loyalty, Simon had the Last Rights given to them all. King Henry was outfitted from helm to foot in borrowed armor and Simon led his followers up Green Hill to meet Edward.

At the ridge of the hill, with the Lusignan brothers and Marcher lords beside him, Edward had his troops form an unbroken line. The Prince called for Simon to surrender. Simon continued moving forward. The Marcher lords, led by Roger Mortimer, broke ranks, galloping down upon the little force opposing them with the King in their midst. King Henry was injured in the thigh but rescued from the battlefield. The Welsh archers released flights of arrows, then fled towards the river, where they were slaughtered. Fragments of their bones were turned up in the fields for centuries.

The Earl Simon de Montfort, his sons Henry and Guy and their few knights fought for three hours. Henry’s horse was killed. Edward, his friend since childhood, tried to send him another, but failed. Repeatedly the Prince cried out, calling halt to the slaughter. Ignored, he left the battlefield.

With his son Henry killed at his back, Simon fought alone, surrounded until, exhausted, he received deadly thrusts. Mortimer ordered the body stripped and had his henchman Maltraverse cut the limbs, head and genitals from Simon. And Mortimer sent Simon’s head to Maude, his bloody-minded wife.

When the battle was ended, the monks of Evesham came to the field with their carts for the wounded and dead. They found Simon’s truncated torso. As they lifted up the gory remains, from underneath there flowed a new spring. A spring with magical powers to heal the sick and blind.

Pilgrims soon came in great numbers to the miraculous healing spring. Simon de Montfort was recognized by the common man as a saint, if not an angel or the Twice Sacrificed Savior.

King Henry panicked rightly. He proclaimed it a treasonous crime to speak of Simon de Montfort in any but disparaging terms, or to take water from his spring.

This year the wrongs done Simon’s memory are being righted. All England is celebrating the 750th Anniversary of Simon de Montfort and his Parliament. At Evesham, among multiple celebrations, the battle is being recreated on August 8 and 9. I’ll be the speaker at the dinner on August 10.


Katherine Ashe is the author of the Montfort four volume novelized biography:
Evesham Events calendar


Primary sources:
Montfort Archive, Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris. There is preserved, in this boxed archive of original documents, the trial notes and a brief autobiography by Simon written in 1260 in preparation for his trial before King Louis for treason against King Henry. (In the event, the trial was actually heard by Queen Margaret of France.)

Annales Monastici, ed. Luard, H.R., 1864-69:
Vol. I, Annals of Burton
Vol. II, Annals of Winchester and Waverly
Vol. III, Annals of Dunstable
Vol. IV, Annals of Osney; Chronicle of Thomas Wykes; Annals of Worcester

Calendar of Charter Rolls, Vol. I, 1226-1307, Public Record Office. Kraus Reprint, Neldeln/Liechtenstein, 1972. (Note: Kraus reprints are not complete.)

Calendar of the Liberate Rolls, Volumes I and II, Public Record Office, 1916.

Calendar of Patent Rolls, 1232-1272, Henry III. Public Record Office. Kraus Reprint, Nendeln/Liechtenstein, 1971. (Note: Kraus reprints are not complete.)

Chronica Johannis Oxenedes, John of Oxford, ed. H. Ellis, Rolls Series, 1859.

Documents of the Baronial Movement of reform and Rebellion, 1258 – 1267, ed. R. F. Treharne and I. J. Sanders, Oxford, 1973.

Excerpta e Rotulis Finium in Turri Londdinensi Asservatis Henry III, 1216-72, ed. by C. Roberts, Public Record Office. 1835-36.

Exchequer: The History and Antiquities of the Exchequer, Madox, Greenwood, 1769-1969, Volumes I and II.

Gervais of Canterbury, Historical Works of Gervais of Canterbury, ed. W. Stubbs, Vols. I and II, Rolls Series, 1880.

Guisborough, The Chronicle of Walter of Guisborough, ed. H. Rothwell, Camden Society, third series, LXXXIX, 1957.

John of Oxford: Chronica Johannis de Oxenedes, ed., H. Ellis, Rolls Series, 1859.

Laffan, R.G.D. Select Documents of European History, 800-1492, Volume I, Henry Holt and Company, New York.

Matthew Paris’s English History, from the year 1235 to 1273, volumes I to V, translated by the Rev. J. A. Giles, Henry Bohn, London, 1852. Note: Kessinger Publishing’s Rare Reprints are incomplete. www.kessinger.net.

Matthaei Paris, Monachi Albanensis, Historia Major, Juxta Exemplar Londinense 1640, verbatim recusa, ed. Willielmo Wats, STD. Imprensis A. Mearne, T. Dring, B. Tooke, T. Sawbridge & G. Wells, MDCLXXXIV (1684)

Rishanger, William, The Chronicle of William de Rishanger, of the Barons’ War: The Miracles of Simon de Montfort. ed. J.O. Halliwell, Camden Society, 1840. Also known as the Chronicon de Bellis

Royal Letters, Henry III, ed. W.W. Shirley, Rolls Series, 1862.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Giveaway: Owen - Book One of the Tudor Trilogy by Tony Riches

Tony is giving away two Kindle copies of Owen to international winners. You can read about the book HERE. Comment below, leaving your contact information, to enter the drawing. The giveaway ends at midnight PST, August 9.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

The Origins of Democracy in Ireland

by Arthur Russell

During the last years of the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, and after almost four and a half centuries of struggle, the old clan based system in Ireland had been finally broken. With the accession of James Stuart to the dual monarchy of England and Scotland in 1601, thereby becoming James I, the four nations of England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales had been effectively completely brought under a single monarch for the first time in history.

A century later the first Act of Union would constitutionally bind Scotland, and a further century later Ireland would be similarly grafted into the entity which would henceforth be known as the United Kingdom of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. This union of the four nations remained intact until after World War I, when the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921 between the Imperial Government and the elected representatives of the Irish people, who had established a Provisional Government in Dublin after the General Elections of 1918, saw the establishment of Saor Stát na hÉireann (Irish Free State) with dominion status in the British Commonwealth, under the British Crown. A totally independent Irish Republic, which was being sought by the Irish negotiators, was something Britain was unwilling to agree in 1921. The Saor Stát remained until 1949 when the Dáil (Irish Parliament) declared the establishment of the Republic of Ireland, thereby removing itself from the British Commonwealth.

It is interesting to track the birth and development of democratic Republicanism in Ireland from its earliest days in the late 18th century when the dual seismic events of the American War of Independence, closely followed by the French Revolution opened the minds of ordinary people in Europe to the feasibility of establishing representative government based on consent of the governed (of the people, by the people, for the people).

As in America and France, it is necessary to go back further into history to see how Republican ideals gained traction in the minds of ordinary people and gave birth to the modern notion of democracy.

In the aftermath of the Williamite War of the 1690’s, which ended the Stuart monarchy, the Catholic Irish, who had largely supported the Stuart cause, managed to get a reasonably generous settlement from King William III in the Treaty of Limerick which ended hostilities. A popular Irish Protestant poem of the day complained“the conquerers lose, the conquered gainers are”.

The Treaty Stone in Limerick
Provisions of this treaty in 1694 
were ignored by the Protestant
dominated Irish Parliament

Under the Treaty provisions, Catholics were allowed a measure of legal and religious toleration in line with what their co-religionists enjoyed in England, but once the Royal army returned to England the Anglican Church dominated Parliament in Dublin in its wisdom, and dictated by self interest chose to ignore Treaty provisions and passed a series of laws imposing significant restrictions on Catholics who were more than 80% of the island’s population.

These laws were also directed against the sizeable Presbyterian (or Dissenter) population living mainly in Ulster who were targets of the Sacramental Act of 1704 requiring all members of parliament to recognise the authority of the Anglican Church. The infamous legal code was collectively called “The Penal Laws” and was designed to ensure that wealth and political power in Ireland would continue to remain in the hands of the dominant Anglicans who owned or controlled 90% of the land based wealth of Ireland. In effect, the Dublin Parliament, purporting to represent all the people of Ireland, was controlled by less than 20% of its population. The Laws remained on the statute book during the 18th century, and Parliament was always ready to selectively enforce them in response to periods of crisis in International affairs as happened in 1715, 1720 (War of the Spanish Succession), 1745 (War of the Austrian Succession and the Jacobite rebellion in Scotland), 1756-63 (Seven Years War with France).

The Irish Parliament of the 17th century being addressed
by 'Patriot' leader Henry Grattan.
The code was symptomatic of a severe sense of insecurity in the outnumbered but powerful Anglican population, and its unrepresentative nature was subject of criticism from the likes of Dean Jonathan Swift, an Anglican cleric, as well as a small group of politicians within Parliament itself called “The Patriots” under the able leadership of Henry Grattan. These progressive forces had limited success in dismantling some of the more glaring civil and religious injustices contained in the code as time went on, but progress was painfully slow and begrudging. The overall anti Catholic/Dissenter bias remained right through the 18th century and was supported by no less a person than King George III who saw it as his God given duty as head of the Anglican Church to veto granting full civil rights to Catholics everywhere in his realm.

Note - Full Catholic Emancipation within the United Kingdom was finally achieved in 1829 by which time the Dublin parliament was subsumed into a UK parliament in London following the Act of Union of 1801.

Catholic repression and reaction

In response to being blocked from any possibility to exercise power or influence, the 18th century witnessed the rise of oath bound movements among the dispossessed and disenfranchised Catholics of Ireland. Agrarian organisations such as The Defenders sought to redress what they saw as obvious injustices and imbalances in the laws of what was once their land. Such agitation had the immediate effect of justifying government restrictions in defending what they considered hard won ruling class rights and privileges against a tide of a by then largely dispossessed, poverty stricken (due to the same Penal Laws) Catholics who seemed to threaten those rights and privileges. This was not helped by the fact that the population of Ireland had quadrupled during the 18th century, most of that increase arising from the Catholics who were a permanent under-class in Irish society. Even some fair minded Government members and supporters considered Catholics inherently unfit to be allowed equal rights, and this was seen as "the rock of religion and indulgence to Catholics". The spirit that drove the 17th century Popish Plot of Titus Oates and the subsequent Glorious Revolution was truly alive and well in Ireland a century later, and the country was a powder-keg with serious potential to explode, sooner rather than later. From where would the spark to cause conflagration come?

American Independence and the Rights of Man

It can be easily imagined what the impact of momentous events in North America and later France had on the unstable and unsustainable socio-political conditions that existed in Ireland. Equally it can be imagined what the attitude of Government would be towards repressed people they ruled over with such fear and disrespect of basic civil rights such as the right to own or inherit property, the right to education, the right to parliamentary representation.

Disaffection was initially obvious among the strong, independently minded Presbyterian population who suffered a loss of 40,000 persons who left Ireland to escape restrictive economic and social conditions to settle in the North American colonies during the 1769-74 period and became serious protagonists on the rebel side in the American War of Independence.

Benjamin Franklin visited Ireland in 1771 and reported strong support from both “courtiers and patriots” for the colonists' case against Imperial impositions.

“I found them disposed to be friends of America, in which I endeavoured to confirm them, with the expectation that our growing weight might in time be thrown into their scale, and by joining our interests with others, a more equitable treatment from this nation (England) might be obtained for them as well as for us”.

The Irish Volunteers 1778

The Irish Volunteers in
College Green Dublin in 1778.

Due to the fact that England was so distracted by serious problems all over its growing Empire and then by developments arising from the French Revolution, the Irish Parliament was forced to rely on its own resources, including those of its Patriot members, to protect Irish territory against potential invasion (particularly France). 1778 saw the formation of well resourced local Volunteer militias led by Lord Charlemont in 1778 in his own district, which was copied all over the country until it numbered an estimated 100,000 men under arms. This force was in reality a private army and was at the disposal of Government but not under Government control. It used its power and influence to win dearly held interests which had long been frustrated by the London government. They won significant self determination for the Dublin Parliament as well as overturning long standing restrictions on Irish trade to the Empire. Some hardwon measures were reversed when international tensions decreased and had the effect of radicalising many liberal minded members who were further influenced by returning Irish soldiers from across the Atlantic. Among these was Lord Edward Fitzgerald, son of the Duke of Leinster, who as a junior British officer witnessed the Cornwallis surrender at Yorktown but was attracted by the Republican ideals that inspired the Declaration of Independence of July 4th 1776, seeing its relevance to his own country.

The Irish Volunteer movement of 1778 was the moment it could be said the gun first entered Irish politics. At the time it was the prospect of force rather than its actual use that won political and economic concessions from an unwilling London parliament. The lessons of 1778 were well observed and would influence subsequent Irish history.

The French Revolution (1789)

The establishment of the Estates General in Paris after the fall of the Bastile in May 1789 was seen as a significant event all over Europe, but especially in Ireland.

Conservative Irish commentators such as Edmund Burke, while critical of Royal excesses and abuses, saw the destruction of many aspects of the “Ancien Regime” in Paris as catastrophic and retrograde. By contrast, Whig clubs in Dublin were excited by what was happening and caused 20,000 copies of Tom Paine's ‘Rights of Man’ to be printed and distributed. The Revolutionary Principles of the French Revolution resonated with Irish Presbyterians, reform minded Anglicans and, most significantly, Catholics, though there was some ambivalence due to the anti-religious nature of the French Revolution as it progressed and the negative attitude of Ireland’s Catholic hierarchy towards the liberal ideas of the Revolution as it progressed.

In July 1790 many Protestants and Dissenters actually marched to celebrate the Fall of the Bastille in Paris rather than the Battle of the Boyne of the previous century.

The United Irishmen (1793)

Many who viewed the emergent independent United States of America as “the promised land” drew inspiration from the ideals articulated in the Declaration of Independence of July 4th 1778. This was further strengthened by the earth shattering events in France in May 1789.

These events provided the backdrop to a new departure in Irish political life. Ulster Presbyterian Dissenters were convinced of the need to make common cause with the majority Catholics if the woes of Ireland were ever to be addressed in a fair and equitable way. This led to the establishment of the United Irishmen organisation in 1791which sought “to replace the name of Catholic, Protestant and Dissenter with the common name of Irishmen”.

The leader of the new movement, Theobald Wolfe Tone, a young Protestant barrister from Dublin, wrote in August 1791 one of the most influental pamphlets in Irish History, called "An Argument on behalf of the Catholics of Ireland", which aimed at allaying Protestant and Presbyterian fears. It was a document that appalled both governments in Dublin and London who in common with all the crowned heads of Europe feared the liberating notions of “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity”.

After France declared war on Austria in 1792, all of Europe was on war footing. This meant that in Britain and Ireland security took precedence over all other issues, even the most worthy or high-minded. In order to mollify Catholic opinion and to help the drive to recruit Catholics into the army to fight the battles that all saw coming, the London government forced an unwilling Irish parliament to endorse a very limited measure granting the vote to Catholics which soon was shown to withhold as much as it granted. Prime Minister William Pitt considered it was not a good time for further reformist experiments. As war clouds gathered, the campaign to qwell radical thought was undertaken. Private armies, including the Volunteer militias, were suppressed as was the newly established United Irishmen which immediately went underground. The most significant outcome of this outlawing of the movement caused it to add an unequivocal separatist objective to its Republican programme:

"To break the connection with England, the never failing source of all our political evils, and to assert the independence of our country.”

In May 1793, Wolfe Tone was arrested and banished from Ireland. With his wife Matilda and their children, he sailed to America, a country he did not find much to his liking despite its Republican system of government.

"The aristocracy of money and achievement in America is still less to my liking than the European aristocracy of birth.

A year later he took a ship to France where he was welcomed by the Revolutionary Government in Paris. During 1796, he persuaded them to organise a 43 ship armada carrying 14,000 French soldiers to make a landing in southern Ireland. This was planned to be a preliminary action to overthrow the Dublin government, replacing it with an independent Republican regime ultimately drawing democratic support from the people.

The invasion failed due to unfavourable weather conditions which prevented a successful landing in Bantry Bay in December 1796. The Government was now well warned of the potential threat of the United Irishmen and their French allies. 1797 and the early months of 1798 saw a concerted campaign to destroy the United Irishmen by arresting the entire leadership and provoking the disorganised rebels to prematurely take to the field. Ireland remembers 1798 as a year of bloodshed and terror in which an estimated 50,000 rebels died in battle and by execution. Thousands more were transported to penal colonies in Australia.

Such was the turbulent birth of Irish Republicanism which though defeated in 1798, and on three further occasions in 1848, 1867 and 1916, survived to see the declaration of 1949.

In today’s Irish Republic, which Theobald Wolfe Tone dreamt of creating, he is acknowledged as the “Father of Irish Republicanism”. Words he wrote as he awaited execution in a Dublin prison after he was arrested, are often quoted:

"To subvert the tyranny of our execrable government, to break the connection with England, the never failing source of all our political evils, and to assert the independence of my country—these were my objects. To unite the whole people of Ireland, to abolish the memory of all past dissentions, and to substitute the common name of Irishman in the place of the denominations of Protestant, Catholic, and Dissenter—these were my means."


Irish Nationalism – A History of its Roots and Ideology (Sean Cronin)
Theobald Wolfe Tone – (Frank MacDermot)
The 1798 Rebellion – An Illustrated History (Thomas Bartlett, Kevin Dawson, Dáire Keogh)
The 1798 Rebellion – National Museum of Ireland (Michael Kenny)


Arthur Russell is author of the historic novel Morgallion set in early 13th century Ireland during the invasion of Ireland by King Robert Bruce's younger brother, Edward, who is determined to establish the Bruce dynasty as High Kings of Ireland, thereby creating a "Celtic Empire of the West." It follows the story of the young man Cormac who lives through those turbulent days of medieval Irish history.


John Harrison Curtis and His Acoustical Chair

by Geri Walton

Among those interested in the idea of acoustical aids was a man trained as a naval surgeon named John Harrison Curtis. Curtis believed that just as "the telescope is to the eye, acoustical tunnels [will]...be to the ear." He believed that it would not be any more amazing for someone to hear miles away aided by acoustical tunnels than it was for someone to see miles away using a telescope.

Although Curtis did not having any medical qualifications, he decided wanted to be an aurist, which was someone interested in treating and curing disorders of the ears. His interest occurred because of prejudices that deafness could not be cured and because he learned "aurual surgery was neglected by the Profession." Further, he decided the best way to earn a living as an aurist was to open a dispensary. The dispensary he founded was named the "Royal Dispensary for Diseases of the Ear."

After Curtis's dispensary was in place, he established certain rigid techniques when dealing with patients. For instance, he strictly enforced the time he would consult with patients, meeting them only between 11am and 2pm and not 5 minutes before or after. He also always saw his patients in full dress: "His make-up was perfect. His hair was curled; his coat blue, with bright Wellington buttons; a white waistcoat, and black continuation, silk stocking and pumps." Moreover, supposedly, one of the first things Curtis did upon meeting a new patient was to clear out the affected ear using water and an immense syringe.

People felt that Curtis was a miracle worker and his fame spread. His fame was further enhanced by his clever newspaper and journal advertising that was "partly prosaic and partly poetical." Eventually, he attained international celebrity, and people "flocked to the Dispensary in Dean Street for advice and relief." Beside numerous members of the aristocracy that were his patients, there was also the King himself, George IV. Moreover, because Curtis's clientele was primarily wealthy, he supposedly earned upwards of 5000l. per year.

Curtis supplemented his wealth in several ways. First, Curtis wrote several books, including A Treatise on the Physiology and Diseases of the Ear that was published in 1817 and went through numerous editions. He also wrote The Present State of Ophthalmology in 1841 and, during the same year, also introduced a diagnostic tool known as a "cephaloscope." Lastly, Curtis invented various instruments for the deaf. One invention was a telescoping hearing-trumpet that could be carried in a small case and fit in a person's pocket and another was his acoustical chair.

Curtis's high back acoustical chair was about the size of a large library chair. On either side was affixed two sound barrels, and, attached to each barrel was a perforated plate that gathered the sound "into a paraboloid vase from any part of the room." The convex end served to reflect the voice, which was said to be distinct and not too loud. It was also similar to a chair created in 1706 by a M. Duguet, but Curtis's chair was designed so that a person did not have to get too close and the sounds heard by the person sitting in the chair came from the opposite side of where the person was addressed.

As shown in the picture of Curtis's acoustical chair, on the near side of the chair was the barrel for sound, and, attached to the barrel was the conductor. To convey the sound, a tunnel was placed beneath the chair, and within the chair was the tube applied to the ear. To complete the chair and convey sounds, another conductor and mouthpiece were also required for the speaker.

Curtis had big plans for his acoustical chair. He believed that with sufficient tubes his chair could help to convey messages from one Government office to another. He also had the idea to have chairs used "between the various official departments at Whitehall, from the Horse Guards to the Mansion House, &c." But nothing ever came of his ideas, partly because the outlay to fund such a scheme was enormous.

In the end, despite Curtis's fame and creativity, his fortunes declined due to more knowledgeable doctors and formidable competition in the aurist field. However, this did not stop Curtis from spending extravagantly. "He became bankrupt and was characterized in the Gazette as 'John Harrison Curtis, bookseller, Soho Square,'" and then with little left, Curtis retired to the "Isle of Man, broken in fortune, in constitution, and in spirit."

Clarke, James Fernandez, Autobiographical Recollections of the Medical Profession, 1874
The Mechanics' Magazine, Museum, Register, Journal, and Gazette, Vol. 26, 1837
The Mirror of Literature, Amusement and Instruction, 1837
Virdi-Dhesi, J., “Curtis's Cephaloscope: Deafness and Making of Surgical Authority in London, 1816-1845," in the Bulletin of the History of Medicine, Vol. 87, Issue 3, 2013


Geri Walton has long been fascinated by history and the people that create it. Their stories and the reasons why they did what they did encouraged her to receive a degree in History and to create a blog focusing on her favorite time period, the 1700 and 1800s. Her first book, scheduled for publication in 2016, focuses on Princess de Lamballe, friend and confidante to Marie Antoinette.

Friday, July 31, 2015

A Wandering Prince

by Ben Davies

The 18th century western borders of the fledgling United States of America were exciting, dangerous and alive with rumour.

West – always west.

Into the putative Louisiana territory, an almost unimaginable vastness nominally under the rule of the French Empire but in truth as unexplored by Europeans as the surface of the moon. Just as the stories of El Dorado had pushed the Conquistadors deeper and deeper into South America, so strange rumours were enticing the brave of heart into the interior of this terra nova.

There were natives, so people said, natives who spoke Welsh. A priest from Glamorgan had been spared when his would-be killers had heard him praying in a language the savages had understood. The Madoc tribe had, in their possession, fragments of Welsh bibles. Skeletons had been dug out of burial mounds clad in bronze armour engraved with the sigils of the house of Gwynedd.

As if to put a stamp of government approval on the stories, the explorers Lewis and Clarke were handed grave instructions by Thomas Jefferson as they set off to explore the interior:

Take Welsh speakers with you; take tribute for when you encounter the descendants of the Welsh prince who had landed on these shores centuries before the Genovese bauble merchant had done it in 1492.

Madoc is a shadowy figure, elusive and hard to pin down to more than a rumour. The sixteenth illegitimate son of the extraordinarily fecund Owain Ap Gwynedd, he was the only man who could truly be called the King of Wales.

There is evidence of an epic lost poem of his life in the same vein as Robin Hood and Blondel’s song, and that he was a real person was accepted as fact for over 400 years.

The story goes that Madoc, sickened by the fratricidal nature of the royal succession after the death of his father, made two journeys (some sources say three) out onto the Atlantic. Returning from the first journey the prince told of a land decked out in timber, great herds of deer and coastlines choked with fish. His final fleet of ten ships left north Wales in 1170 and disappeared over the horizon.

John Dee
The land Madoc discovered was first identified as the Americas by Elizabeth I’s minister of state and court magician John Dee. In a counter claim to the Spanish and Portuguese hegemony of the new world he wrote, "The Lord Madoc, sonne to Owen Gwynedd, Prince of Gwynedd, led a colonie and inhabited in Terra Florida or thereabouts" in 1170.

The story rolled on in the early years of the fledgling United States, and for the believers the evidence was all around them. With the same arguments that fuelled the myth of Prester John in Africa, many pointed to giant earthworks in the Mississippi area fashioned by who alone knew?

The Kincaid Site in Massac County, Illinois.
Oil on canvas painting by and courtesy of Herb Roe
How, ran the argument, could a savage race with no draught animals, metal tools, written language or knowledge of higher mathematics possibly have created such impressive structures as the 300 foot high Monks Mound (which, taking into account settling of the compacted earth is comparable to the pyramids of Giza). Surely white Christians, those ordained by God to rule the lesser races, must have brought their skills and knowledge to this new Eden.

The Welsh Indians never materialised, but the possibility of their existence pushed the great migration west for many thousands, particularly from Wales, looking for a better life.


Having idly collected snippets on Madoc for the best part of a decade, Ben Davies finally took the plunge into writing historical fiction with this tale of discovery and violence. He is currently working on a trilogy of books on the Norman Conquest.

Hinterland- A Tale of the New World is available at Amazon.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

The London Corresponding Society

By Catherine Curzon

It seems, whenever an election rears its head, that discussion of how well Parliament represents the electorate is not far behind. In our twenty-first century world, it is taken as a given that voters in the United Kingdom can go to polls and choose their favoured candidate. Of course, there remains the perennial problem of low voter turnout but one wonders, had they been present during 18th century struggles to secure the vote for working men, whether these unenthusiastic members of the electorate might well think twice before electing not to exercise their democratic right.

London Corresponding Society handbill, 1793
LCS handbill, 1793 
In 1792, the Houses of Parliament were a very different place, and the right to vote was not one afforded to women, nor even to all men. For too long seen as the preserve of an elite monied and educated few, English politics seemed due for a change and it the vanguard of this new political movement were attorney John Frost and radical shoemaker Thomas Hardy.

Frost and Hardy envisioned a world where men of all classes could have their say; where enlightened thought and debate could be enjoyed without limit and where no man, regardless of his trade or birthright, was afraid to make his voice heard.

Frost and Hardy founded the London Corresponding Society on 25th January 1792 and set their subscription rates low, encouraging those with little money to participate. Their focus of winning representation and the vote for all men did nothing to endear the pair to the political and ecclesiastical establishment, but the pair were not to be silenced. The Society's most important aim was to force reform on the British parliament, with a central belief that the working classes and the poor should finally be given a voice. The members of the group loudly and vociferously opposed the government on a number of points and before long, opposition to their aims found itself on the backfoot, as affiliate groups sprang up throughout the land.

The Society welcomed these like-minded groups until, within 18 months, 6000 people had signed a petition in support of the aims of the LCS. This could not be allowed to go unchecked, of course, and the law soon came calling on Frost and Hardy.

London Corresponding Society, alarm's' by James Gillray, 1798
London Corresponding Society, alarm's'
by James Gillray, 1798
During a convention of group leaders in Edinburgh in October 1793, the a number of attendees were arrested and placed on trial for treason. Whilst some were transported as a result, Frost was only imprisoned for six months and the intervention did little to deter the members of the Society, who held up their persecuted leaders as martyrs to a fine cause.

The following year yet more members of the Society were arrested, yet this time none of the charges of treason stuck. By now the Society that had started in a small pub was well known throughout England. Thousands of supporters attended public meetings and members even stoned the carriage of George II at the opening of Parliament.With Parliament and crown looking over the sea to the events of the French Revolution, such aggressive mobs were a step too far; stoned carriages carried echoes of the fall of the Bourbon monarchy and the government abandoned its programme of ineffective arrests and instead invoked the power of legislation.

The result was the Treasonable Practices Act and the Seditious Meetings Act of  1795. Although this did not outright criminalise the Society, it placed considerable restrictions on its actions. If the law was intended to put a stop to the gathering momentum of the Society, it succeeded admirably; more arrests sent a clear warning that the Act would be rigorously enforced and finally, as membership dwindled and infighting broke out, the Society began to fracture.

Corresponding Society Meeting by James Gillray, 1795
Corresponding Society Meeting by James Gillray, 1795

By 1798 small groups were forming away from the main Society and, though it struggled on for some time, the successful passage of the Corresponding Societies Act in 1799 proved the last nail in the coffin. The Act effectively outlawed any further meeting of the LCS and the Society and its affiliated groups faded into history, though their ideals and aims lived on in those who had been members.

The London Corresponding Society 1792-99. Michael T. Davis (ed.). London: Pickering & Chatto, 2002.
Selections From The Papers Of The London Corresponding Society. Mary Thale (ed.) Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008.
Morning Post (London, England), Friday, April 26, 1793.
World (London, England), Friday, April 6, 1792


Glorious Georgian ginbag, gossip and gadabout Catherine Curzon, aka Madame Gilflurt, is the author of A Covent Garden Gilflurt’s Guide to Life. When not setting quill to paper, she can usually be found gadding about the tea shops and gaming rooms of the capital or hosting intimate gatherings at her tottering abode. In addition to her blog and Facebook, Madame G is also quite the charmer on Twitter. Her first book, Life in the Georgian Court, will be published by Pen and Sword Books in 2016. The second, Tales from the 18th Century Old Bailey, will be published by Pen and Sword Books in 2017.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

"Mad Madge" - Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle

By Lauren Gilbert

Portrait of Margaret Cavendish, 
Lady Newcastle, from the frontispiece 
to her 'Poems and Fancies', 1653

I'm currently taking an on-line class and was recently introduced to a fascinating author whose work I had never read. Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle was a prolific writer, and she was also known as "Mad Madge." I had to know more...

Margaret Lucas was born about 1623 at St. John’s Abbey, the youngest of 8 children of Thomas and Elizabeth Lucas, a wealthy family but not titled, according to her autobiography.  The family was of Royalist sympathies.  Her father died when she was 2 years old.  Margaret was educated at home: taught reading and writing, singing and dancing, needlework and music (lute and virginals).  As a child, she showed an interest in writing, composing what she called her “baby books”, 16 in all.   The family seems to have been somewhat aloof from their neighbours, an attitude attributed to their Royalist views. 

In 1640, the Civil War broke out.  At some point, Margaret’s family home was attacked by Parliamentarians and, by some accounts, the family tomb destroyed.  She and her mother fled to Oxford in 1642 when Charles I and his court were living to live with her married sisters.  Margaret became a maid of honour to Queen Henrietta Maria and accompanied her to Paris in 1644.  This was her first real separation from her family.

In Paris, Margaret met William Cavendish, Marquess (later Duke) of Newcastle in the spring of 1645. A recent widower and fellow exiled Royalist who was about 30 years her senior, William apparently found her attractive and cast out lures.  Margaret, however, wanted marriage, even though some felt her status was too low to be worthy of the honour. Besides being an English peer (even though in exile), William was a patron of the arts, while his brother Charles was a scholar. He seems to have appreciated her mind and her talent, sharing her interest in literature.  She became his second wife in December of 1645. During their exile, they lived in Paris, Rotterdam and Antwerp, throughout which time Margaret wrote.  She also acquired a reputation for eccentricity: in addition to her writing, she designed her own clothes, cursed and flirted.  She became known as “Mad Madge” because of her unusual fashions and outrageous behaviour.

During her marriage, Margaret was a prolific author and, most unusually for a woman, published under her own name.  William encouraged her and paid for her publishing.  Her interests were wide-ranging: philosophy, rhetoric, poetry, science fiction, plays.   She also wrote a biography of her husband, and her own autobiography.   In November of 1651, Margaret returned to England and attempted to claim a portion of William’s estate.  While there, she published her first book POEMS AND FANCIES in 1653.  The book caused something of a sensation; praised by some for its originality, it was criticized by others for its shaky grammar and spelling.  Her second book, PHILOSOPHICALL FANCIES, was also published in 1653.  Margaret stayed in England 18 months and returned to Antwerp.

In 1660, William and Margaret returned to England with the Restoration and retired to their estate at Welbeck.  She resumed her writing and also studied philosophy and other subjects.  She published plays in 1662, and her book CCXI SOCIABLE LETTERS was published in 1664.  (This is the book I am currently exploring.)  In the guise of personal letters supposedly written between two women living in the country, she delivered candid, shrewd comments on daily life and personal relationships in a conversational tone.  I have only read a bit of this so far but am really enjoying it.  In her own time, although Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn made fun of her, others admired her and enjoyed her work then as well.

Margaret died suddenly at the age of fifty on December 15, 1673.  She was buried in Westminster Abbey.  William was too ill to attend her funeral.  Proud of her to the end, he died two years later and was buried with her at Westminster Abbey on January 22, 1676.

Sources include:
Cavendish, Margaret.  Sociable Letters.  James Fitzmaurice, editor.  2004: Broadview Editions, Peterborough, Ontario, Canada

The University of Notthingham on line.  Manuscripts and Special Collections.   "Biography of Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle upon Tyne, c. 1623-1673."  https://www.nottingham.ac.uk/manuscriptsandspecialcollections/collectionsindepth/family/newcastle/biographies/biographyofmargaretcavendish,duchessofnewcastleupontyne%28c1623-1673%29.aspx   

Poetry Foundation.  "Margaret Cavendish (1623-1673).  http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/margaret-cavendish   

Luminarium.org.  "Margaret (Lucas) Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle (1623-1673)." by Ron Cooley et al.  1998.  http://www.luminarium.org/sevenlit/cavendish/cavendishbio.htm  

International Margaret Cavendish Society.  http://internationalmargaretcavendishsociety.org/resources.html   

Project Vox.   "CAVENDISH (1623-1673)  Margaret Cavendish [nee' Lucas], Duchess of Newcastle-upon-Tyne."  http://projectvox.library.duke.edu/pg/?q=node/4  


Lauren lives in Florida with her husband.  Her first published work is Heyerwood: A Novel, and a second book is due out later this year.  Visit her website at http://www.lauren-gilbert.com to find out more. 

Beautiful Cornwall, the Setting for Poldark

by Debra Brown
He [Joshua Poldark] felt he would like one more look at the sea, which was licking at the rocks behind the house. He had no sentimental notions about the sea; he had no regard for its dangers or its beauties. To him it was a close acquaintance whose every virtue and failing, every smile and tantrum he had come to understand.
A great many residents of Cornwall (Kernow) over the milleniums have had such a relationship with the cold swells of the briny deep, for Cornwall is a peninsula resisting the temper of the water and winds of the Celtic Sea and English Channel. Treacherous cliffs are the neighbors of some, but for others there is sloping access to sandy beaches.
They reached the edge of the cliff where they were seventy or eighty feet above the sea. On the left the cliffs slipped down to the inlet of Nampara Cove, then rose again more steeply toward Sawle. Looking east, upon Hendrawna Beach, the sea was very calm; a smoky gray with occasional patches of violet and living, moving green.

The patchwork fields of West Penwith, misty Bodmin Moor, and centuries old villages built around glassy coves paint a pretty picture of the Duchy that once was an independent trading nation with its own royal line.

Even today the people, customs, and place names left over from a Celtic tongue differ from those farther north. Many prefer not to be called English, but Cornish. Indeed, Westminster recently recognized them as a national minority such as the Welsh, Irish, and Scots.
The narrow cobbled street with the streamlet of water bubbling down it, the close-built squat houses with their bown windows and lace curtains....
....A secretive, important little town, clustering in the fold of the hills astride and about its many streams, almost surrounded by running water and linked to the rest of the world by fords, by bridges, and by stepping stones. Miasma and the other fevers were always rife.

The earliest farming seems to have begun in the middle Bronze age; the well-ordered lengthy fields in the fringes of the Cornish uplands date from that time. In the late Bronze Age or early Iron Age, irregular, brick shaped fields were developed. Most have been reorganized and overlain by medieval and later field patterns.

Few Roman remains had been found as far west as Cornwall, and it was thought that they had not settled west of Exeter, but the relatively recent discovery of coins, pottery, and slag led to the uncovering of a fort, marching camp, and various annexes. It is now thought that three Roman forts existed west of Devon.

With the exit of the Romans and the takeover of eastern England by the Saxons and other Germanic tribes, Devon and Cornwall became the British kingdom of Dumnonia. They had strong cultural ties to Wales and Ireland whose missionaries came and developed communities known as Churchtowns. Celtic rites began to blend with Catholic observances.

The country battled with Wessex, the legendary King Arthur being one of the Cornish chieftains, but the warring ultimately resulted in Cornwall being cut off from other Dumonian areas, bringing an end to the kingdom. Cornwall became more subject to Wessex over time with Cornish estates being left to others in the will of Alfred the Great in the 880s.

William the Conqueror, after 1066, gave lands and manors to his barons. In 1337, Cornwall became a Duchy of England to be held by the monarch's eldest son and heir, the first being the Black Prince, the son of Edward III. By the time of Henry VIII, most Cornish autonomy was gone as England became a more centralized state.

The Reformation brought about the closing of Cornish churches. The New Prayer Book and the Bible were printed in English, a language the Cornish did not want, resulting in the Prayer Book Rebellion of 1549.

They enjoyed relative peace, however, in coming centuries, and their tin mines produced well, employing many people. Other common occupations were "wrecking", that is the collecting of remnants from ships that were wrecked on the lengthy coastlines, smuggling, and fishing.

By the 18th century, the time setting of Poldark, Cornwall was incorporated into the Kingdom of Great Britain, and use of the Cornish language was in steep decline. Due to the lack of good roads, transportation of goods continued by means of mules and ponies. Homes were basic, usually consisting of two rooms--one for eating and living and another for sleeping. Children often slept in lofts above their parents.
The room was so full that all the children had to sit on the floor, and the juveniles, those from nine to sixteen, were arranged two by two up the wooden ladder to the bedroom--"just like the animiles in the ark," as Jud benevolently told them.
Sanitation and drainage were poor, resulting in infectious disease. Some families could afford a pig or a share in a cow for the luxury of milk and cream. Hevva cake and the bright yellow saffron cake or bun were common foods. The Cornish pasty, filled with any variety of ingredients, was a convenient meal for miners and their families alike. A phrase which describes in an exaggerated way the drinking habits of the county is "If there be but three houses together two shall be ale houses".

Though the Cornish language became extinct in the 19th century, when little was done to preserve it, it has lived on in place names and with effort is being revived. The economy is now mainly based on tourism. Perhaps you'd like to visit; no other part of England has such a range of dramatic landscapes.

Ross Poldark Blog Tour

“If Jane Austen met Charlotte Bronte and they drank too much port, the Poldark Saga would be their literary love child.” — Poldarkian.com

Captain Ross Poldark rides again in the new Sourcebooks Landmark tie-in editions of Ross Poldark and Demelza, the first two novels in the acclaimed Poldark Saga by Winston Graham, adapted into the inaugural season of the new Masterpiece Classic PBS’s series Poldark, airing June 21 – August 2 on PBS.

In celebration, July 6th through August 3rd, The Ross Poldark Blog Tour will visit thirty popular book blogs specializing in historical, romance and Austenesque fiction. Featuring spotlights, previews, excerpts and book reviews of these two acclaimed historical fiction novels, the tour will also offer readers a chance at a fabulous giveaway contest including copies of the books and a stunning Anglophile-themed prize package.

Win One of Three Fabulous Prizes

In celebration of the re-release of Ross Poldark and Demelza, Sourcebooks Landmark is offering three chances to win copies of the books or a grand prize, an Anglophile-themed gift package. Two lucky winners will each receive one trade paperback copy of Ross Poldark and Demelza, and one grand prize winner will receive a prize package containing the following items:

(2 ) Old Britain Castles Pink Pottery Mugs by Johnson Brothers
(1) Twelve-inch Old Britain Castles Pink Pottery Plater by Johnson
(1) London Telephone Box Tin of Ahmad English Breakfast Tea
(1) Jar of Mrs. Bridges Marmalade
(1) Package of Duchy Originals Organic Oaten Biscuits
(2) Packets of Blue Boy Cornflower Seeds by Renee's Garden Heirloom
(1) Trade Paperback Copy of Ross Poldark & Demelza, by Winston Graham

To enter the giveaway contest simply leave a comment on any or all of the blog stops on the Ross Poldark Blog Tour starting July 06, 2015 through 11:59 pm PT, August 10, 2015. Winners will be drawn at random from all of the entrants and announced on the Buzz at Sourcebooks blog on August 13, 2015. Winners have until August 20, 2015 to claim their prize.

The giveaway contest is open to US residents and the prizes will be shipped to US addresses. Good luck to all!

Blog Tour Schedule


The Prehistoric Landscape, Flying Through Cornwall's Past. http://www.historic-cornwall.org.uk/flyingpast/preland.html

Roman fort found in Cornwall 'rewrites history', BBC News. http://www.bbc.com/news/10372659

Cornwall is far more than just a county - and now it’s official, The Telegraph. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/10786212/Cornwall-is-far-more-than-just-a-county-and-now-its-official.html

History of Cornwall and Its People http://www.jewell.asn.au/family-history/cornwall.htm


All quotes from Poldark by Winston Graham