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Saturday, February 27, 2010

Historical Recipe of the Week!

Robert May, born in 1590, published his one and only cook book at the age of 70. It covered all the decades of his life, drawing on the changing styles of cookery in the 17th century and encompassing new culinary fashions, including those of the Restoration Court and at the tables of the rich.

Many dishes were cooked in pastry cases to protect the contents from the heat of the hearth or oven. These cases were not for eating. But as kitchens improved and cooks became more inventive the pastry cases were adapted to become not merely decorative but also to be edible.

Sweet dishes were also cooked in pastry to protect the delicate custard or cheese-based fillings from the fire. As a change from yet more pastry, here is a non-pastry based dessert.

Rose Cream

1 pint double cream
3 tablespoons rose water
2 tablespoons caster sugar
5 leaves of gelatine

Soak the gelatine in water for 5 minutes until it turns into a jelly. Put the jelly into a linen bag and squeeze it out. Place the rose water in a bowl set in a pan of hot water and add the gelatine, which will dissolve. Gently heat a quarter of the cream in a pan with the sugar, stirring to dissolve. When it has, add to the gelatine and rose water liquid. Stir until completely incorporated, remove from the heat and add the remaining cream. Pour into a wetted mould and chill until set.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Laws regulating hackney carriages

Since the reign of Queen Anne (1702-1714) there have apparently been 37 Acts of Parliament regulating hackney carriages which are still supposedly in force for taxis today.

1. It is illegal to hail a cab whilst it is in motion. You should wait at the "place appointed." The taxi rank should also provide a water trough for the horses to have a drink.

2.The cab driver is supposed to ask you if you have any "notifiable diseases such as smallpox or the plague." As carrying sufferers is illegal, he should refuse any who look infected because if you die on the journey he will be committing the offence of carrying a corpse.

3. The law requiring a taxi to carry a bale of straw on top to feed the horse was only repealed in 1976, as was the requirement to have a nosebag of oats on the side of the cab. The stricture to have "sufficient foodstuffs for the horse" was in modern times interpreted as having enough diesel or petrol.

4. A cabby who drives too slowly could be convicted of "loitering" and one who drove too fast of "furious driving." It is expressly forbidden for a driver to make "insulting gestures."

5. Because it was illegal to leave a hackney carriage unattended on the highway, the driver was permitted to urinate in public provided that he was by the rear wheel of the vehicle with his right hand place upon it.

With thanks to "The Strange Laws of Old England" by Nigel Cawthorne.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Academic Crush of the Week!

It's that time again and this week the academic crush is an oldie but a goodie - the archaeological treasure that is the Time Team! From Phil Harding's questionably stained hat to Mick's woolly jumpers, what's not to love? There are those purists who say that Time Team has debased the academic discipline of archaeology with their three day timescale and their made-for-TV historical soundbites but Time Team have made archaeology accessible and fun for millions of people and surely that can only be a Good Thing.

But there is a problem. Where is Time Team? The series has been a staple of the Sunday teatime schedule for as many years as I can remember, brightening up those dark winter evenings as nothing else can. So this year when January started and Time Team failed to materialise I was like an addict without my fix. Where has Time Team gone? Any news will be very gratefully received.

Monday, February 22, 2010

How to Protect against Witches

Above the back door of my house I have a horseshoe fixed to the wall. I knew that this was a good luck symbol but until very recently I had no idea that it was also a throwback to our ancestors' desire to protect their property against witches, ghosts, fairies and demons. Apertures such as windows and doors symbolised ways of entry and therefore the place where a house was vulnerable to bad spirits, so offerings would often be placed near doorways or under the front step.

Other impressive charms to ward off witches include the basket found behind the hearth of a house that contained a candlestick, a goblet, two shoes and various very dead chickens. Witches were also believed to attack a house via the hearth and chimney so witch bottles were often found in these places. We found a witch bottle in our 17th century cottage in Somerset. It was buried inside the inglenook fireplace and contained a dark sludgy liquid that was probably a mixture of urine and blood. Apparently witch bottles could also contain hair, nails and any other body part or fluid that you felt might help bring you individual protection against evil spirits!

Another superstition I came across when reading up about ways in which to ward off bad spirits was the idea of the "Witch wood." This was wood cut from the rowan tree and it could be nailed on the window sill or above the front door. It's interesting to me that we have a rowan by one gate into our garden and rosemary by the other gate. Rosemary, like the horseshoes, is a way of attracting positive forces and welcoming friends. So it seems we have a very nice combination of protection and positive energy. What is particularly interesting is that whilst the offence of Witchcraft was abolished in England in 1736, these old country traditions and susperstitions have survived. (Amendment: Thanks to Traxy's comment I have now checked my sources and see that The Witchcraft Act was brought in in 1736, not repealed, which makes a great deal more sense!)

Friday, February 19, 2010

Bosworth Located - Does It Matter?

Today the BBC News revealed that the true site of the Battle of Bosworth, 1485, has been discovered and apparently it is about a mile to the south of where it was previously thought to be. But does this really matter? By which I mean of course it matters in a factual, pin-down-the-location sort of way, but in a less tangible sense does it really matter?

I visited Bosworth Field many years ago when I lived in Leicestershire. Except, of course, I didn't, because I was visiting a site that was a mile away from the correct one. Yet for me the experience of being at "Bosworth," the site where one of my heroes, Richard III, had been killed was one of the most powerful emotional and imaginative engagements with history that I had ever had. How many of us have visited battlefields and visualised what must have happened there in all its horror and heroism? How many of us have felt the atmosphere of a site like Bosworth make an unforgettable impression on us? I remember going to Flodden on a glorious summer day with the corn ripening in the fields and a scattering of poppies amongst the wheat and it was incredibly poignant and peaceful. And then there was Culloden, which felt eerie and cold and lonely despite the hordes of visitors sharing the experience with me.

So for me it doesn't really matter whether I was standing in the right place or a mile up the road. The Battle of Bosworth is iconic. I can experience that imaginatively even if I'm in the wrong place because the idea of Bosworth is bigger and more important than simply a site in a field. I'm glad that they have located the true site of the battlefield. Interpretation centres and battlefield trails are a great way to increase our knowledge of a site and give a fascinating insight into an event and a wider period of history. But in the end I don't feel disappointed that Bosworth has moved. For me it is more than a location, and history appeals to me because it is more than dates and places.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Interesting historical name of the week!

Do not read on if you dislike profanity because this is the extravagantly named Bastard Hall in the lovely historical town of Much Wenlock in Shropshire. Bastard Hall is a fabulous 15th century house currently up for sale for half a million pounds. It has oak panelling in the drawing room, plenty of exposed beams, inglenook fireplaces and a 16th century priest's hole.

The original Bastard Hall is thought to date from the 12th century and when it burned down the current house was built on the same spot. The name Bastard Hall derives from Richard le Bastard who owned the house in 1267 and was the attorney to Wenlock Priory. The property later belonged to William Bastard, presumably a descendent of Richard's. Maybe they were more down to earth about their antecedents (or their characters!) in those days because a quick look through our local telephone directory didn't reveal anyone rejoicing in the surname Bastard in 2010. Incidentally, whilst researching the history of Bastard Hall I came across this marvellous website listing unusual place names!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Romantic Ruin for Valentine's Day!

OK, so I'm a day late with my Valentine posting (so many chocolate hearts to munch my way through!) but I think you'll agree that this must be one of the most aptly named places to visit on the 14th February! It's Sweetheart Abbey in Dumfries, Scotland.

Sweetheart Abbey, or Dulce Cor, as the monks referred to it, was founded in 1273 by Lady Devorgilla in memory of her husband John Balliol who had died in 1268. So devoted was she to her late spouse that she carried his embalmed heart around with her in an ivory and silver casket. After her death she was buried in the abbey church with her husband's heart buried beside her. Some might find this gruesome, others an enduring tribute to the power of love!

There's more about Sweetheart Abbey on the Undiscovered Scotland site.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Carved wooden heads and cursed pearls!

As the new season at Ashdown House approaches I'm reminded of all the reasons why I enjoy working there. One of the main ones is that I always learn fascinating historical facts from our visitors. We get such a huge variety of people through the doors; history buffs, people with a connection to the Craven family, people whose ancestors worked at the house, and experts who have come to see the portrait collection or who are knowledgeable about 17th century architecture, or gardens or both or many other things.

Here are three of the most interesting things that I have learned from Ashdown visitors:

1. That the rather idiosyncratic carved wooden heads on which the antlers are mounted were the accepted way to display hunting trophies in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. The science of taxidermy had not progressed to the stage of allowing the preservation of the entire stag's head so the antlers were removed, a wooden stag's head was carved and painted and the antlers were attached to it. Each was done individually, by hand, which probably accounts for the difference in quality, the startled expressions and the lack of a resemblance to a real stag.

2. That the pearls which are worn by Elizabeth of Bohemia and her daughters in many of the portraits were part of a necklace of seven strings that belonged to Elizabeth and had originally been Medici pearls inherited by Mary, Queen of Scots. Elizabeth would pawn the necklace when she was particularly short of money during her exile and then buy it back if she had a special state occasion to attend. On her death she left one strand to each of her daughters. In the nineteenth century there was a long-running dispute between the British Royal family and the house of Hanover over possession of the pearls. The English crown claimed the necklace but only six strands were reassembled. The seventh strand had been given to Elizabeth's daughter Princess Henrietta Maria. She had died only six months after her wedding to Prince Sigismond of Transylvania and was buried in her wedding dress - and the string of pearls. Her descendents declined to open the tomb to retrieve the necklace! The picture shows Elizabeth's eldest daughter, also called Elizabeth, wearing her strand. This Elizabeth was considered one of the greatest beauties of the age and was known as "The Star of the North." She was also a great philosopher. What a girl!

It is also said that the large drop pearl in some of the portraits is "The Bretheren" a famous pearl that brings bad luck to the wearer. Elizabeth of Bohemia was, arguably, a very unlucky Queen but it is easy to attribute this to her poor choice of jewellery with the benefit of hindsight!

3. That in 17th century architecture a huting lodge such as Ashdown was considered a "masculine" building and it therefore required a masculine style of garden. The simple box parterre and stone statuary was considered suitable. There were no flowers or feminine-type adornments! That said, there are those who link William, Earl of Craven and Ashdown house to the Rosicrucian belief system and suggests that the house was an astronomical observatory and the gardens and grounds laid out as they are as part of a wider design in the ancient landscape. Intriguing!

Cross-posted to the Ashdown House Blog.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Book Shelf

On my bookshelf at the moment:

Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel, a big fat riot of a Tudor tapestry with a fascinating anti-hero in Thomas Cromwell. I want to LIVE in this book. Plus I'm learning such a lot as a writer from reading it.

Bought: Destitute Yet Defiant by Sarah Morgan. Now, Sarah is one of my all time favourite authors and this book is superb. It grabbed me from the start and didn't let me go. I'm a total sucker for protector stories and I love this one!

Moon Craving by Lucy Monroe. My order is in for this book! A sexy stay-up-all-night read, according to Romantic Times. I can't wait!

So that's what I'm reading. What are you reading?

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Historical Hot Spot of the Week!

Today's historical hot spot is the Rufus Stone, deep in the heart of the New Forest in Hampshire. I had the pleasure of a week's holiday in the New Forest last month and it was absolutely wonderful; peaceful, relaxing, the perfect place to unwind and read lots of good books. We visited the Rufus Stone on a frosty morning when no one else was about. The forest has a very strong, historic atmosphere, and never more so than when standing on the spot where one of the least likeable of English kings was killed hundreds of years ago.

According to the New Forest website, it was in this very place (allegedly, but let's not spoil the story by quibbling over location) in 1100AD that William Rufus, son of William the Conqueror, was killed by an arrow whilst on a hunting expedition. No one like William II very much. Apparently he was given the nickname Rufus because he had red hair and a ruddy complexion but he also had a vile temper and treated people very badly. On August 2nd 1100 he was out with a party of nobles in the New Forest hunting deer and wild boar (in the days before boar were eradicated in England through too much hunting!) The New Forest had been designated a royal hunting ground by his father - "New" in the sense that it was a Norman hunting ground as opposed to the older Saxon royal forests.

An arrow shot by Sir Walter Tyrrell, supposedly aimed at a deer, ricocheted off a nearby oak tree and pierced the King's chest, puncturing his lung and killing him. Sir Walter Tyrrell fled, afraid of being tried for murder, but since most people were pleased to see the back of William Rufus, no one pursued him. Rufus's body was put onto a cart belonging to a local charcoal burner named Purkis and was jolted away to Winchester Cathedral for burial. Henry I became king and made a better job of it than his brother had, by most people's reckoning.

This is in fact one of the first conspiracy theories in English history, because it has been suggested that Sir Walter, who was one of the best archers in the country, intended to kill the king all along and had been paid to do so by the ambitious Henry. Accident or murder? You decide.

The original oak tree was destroyed in the nineteenth century by souvenir hunters who kept taking away chunks of the wood. There is a very old oak tree next to the stone which is thought to be a direct descendant of the original. Victorian tourists also graffitied on the stone that was placed to mark the spot where William Rufus had died. The current monument was erected in 1841 and contains that stone inside. It reads:

"Here stood the oak tree, on which an arrow shot by Sir Walter Tyrrell at a stag, glanced and struck King William the Second, surnamed Rufus, on the breast, of which he instantly died, on the second day of August, anno 1100. King William the Second, surnamed Rufus being slain, as before related, was laid in a cart, belonging to one Purkis, and drawn from hence, to Winchester, and buried in the Cathedral Church of that city."

"That the spot where an event so memorable might not hereafter be forgotten, the enclosed stone was set up by John Lord Delaware who had seen the tree growing in this place. This stone having been much mutilated, and the inscriptions on each of its three sides defaced. This more durable memorial with the original inscriptions was erected in the year 1841, by WM Sturges Bourne, Warden."

On another walk in the forest we visited the remains of King John's hunting lodge. Yes, it was just a few humps in the ground, as you can see in the photo, but the imagination of a history lover can do a lot with that! Clearly the unfortunate accident suffered by his ancestor hadn't put another unpopular English king off hunting in the New Forest!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Academic Crush of the Week!

It was a tricky choice for academic crush of the week this week as there are a couple of great history programmes on the BBC at the moment whose presenters were very much in the running. Eventually I decided to go for Dan Snow for his performance in Empire of the Seas: How The Navy Forged the Modern World on BBC 2. Kudos to the BBC for taking a different approach with this programme. There is no denying that the Beeb make wonderful history programmes but some of them are a bit samey. Looking at the history of Britain through the development of the Navy was a new perspective. Not only can Dan handle a boat with impressive skill but he managed to imbue the series with a patriotic fervour that was inspiring without being jingoistic. He didn't gloss over the failures and the losses either. And if some of the claims for the influence of the Royal Navy made me raise my eyebrows a little (I particularly liked the suggestion that the Navy was almost single-handedly responsible for the restoration of King Charles II) I also learned plenty that was new. A series that is well worth catching if it comes your way.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Historical Recipe of the Week

This week's recipe is courtesy of the National Trust. It's a warming winter casserole and it dates from the 14th century. It serves 4, but sadly not 4 peasants because the ingredients would have been too expensive for them to buy. The recipe comes from the cooks of King Richard II who recorded their recipes on a parchment called The Forme of Cury, Cury being Old English for the word cooking.

Casseroled Pigeon with Herbs and Spices

Ingredients: 4 pigeons, 12 large cloves of garlic, 4 teaspoons of chopped fresh thyme, 2 tablespoons of chopped fresh parsley, Salt and freshly milled black pepper, dripping for frying, half a pint of chicken stock, the juice of half a lemon, a large pinch of ground ginger, a pinch of saffron strands, half a teaspoon of ground cinnamon, fresh herbs to garnish.


Go to your dovecote and fetch fresh pigeons. Go to your walled garden to cut fresh herbs. Stuff the pigeons with three garlic cloves, one teaspoon of thyme and half a teaspoon of parsley. Season them with salt and pepper then brown them in fat in a casserole dish. Pour over the stock and add lemon juice, ginger, saffron and cinnamon. Cover with a lid and cook in the centre of a moderate oven (180C, 350F, gas mark 4) for one to one and a half hours. Serve on a slice of wholemeal toast and garnish with fresh herbs. Enjoy!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Loves Me Loves Me Not is Launched!

Yes, today is the day of the paperback launch of Loves Me Loves Me Not! This "big fat gold book" as Katie Fforde called it, is the Romantic Novelists' Association's 50th anniversary anthology and is packed with short love stories to suit all tastes from Regency to chick lit. Described by Good Housekeeping magazine as "an uplifting anthology of love stories from Britain's leading romance writers," Loves Me Loves Me Not is an indulgent treat and I am very honoured to have a story in the collection. There's a copy up for grabs in my website contest too!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

A Passion For History Is Reborn!

You might have noticed that the blog has been taking a break. Or you might not!

A Passion For History is now reborn, with a slightly different focus for a new decade. There will be items of historical and writing interest (I won't say trivia but that's what I really mean), historical recipes -pigeon pie, anyone? - places, people and quotations. There will be some book news from me, links to other historical blogs and my current personal favourite feature, Academic Crush of the Week. Come to think of it, this might be a shortlived feature. Having worked around academics for 15 years, I can say that crush material was thin on the ground. We'll see.

Here's a quick round up of what's been keeping me away from the blog:

I've just sent in book 2 of my new six part series Scandalous Women of the Ton. The first trilogy kicks off in October 2010 with Whisper of Scandal. The current manuscript, One Wicked Sin will be out in November 2010 and Mistress By Midnight will complete the first half of the series in December. The reason One Wicked Sin has distracted me from blogging and much else? Yes, it's the truly startling levels of sensuality contained in this book. It was exhausting though completely in keeping with the plot and characters. Of course. On a more sober note, it also required a lot of research because it is set against a somewhat neglected aspect of British Regency history, the prisoners of war held in England and Scotland during the Napoleonic Wars. I found this subject fascinating and will be blogging about it closer to the time of the book's release.

In other news, I have just received copies of my first book from the MIRA imprint. This is the beautiful Australian version of Unmasked, which, confusingly, has the same cover as the US version of The Confessions of a Duchess. My UK books will be published by MIRA in future and I am very excited about this. Look out of the Brides of Fortune Trilogy coming to the UK from May!

The perennial mystery of what the faceless heroines of Fortunes Folly actually looked like was partially solved a few days ago when I received a lovely copy of the Estonian edition of The Confessions of a Duchess complete with Laura's face. Here it is on the right. I'm looking forward to seeing Alice and Lizzie's faces too in the fullness of time!

And finally - to celebrate the relaunch of the blog, I am offering a prize to one commenter. My Book of the Month is Laurel McKee's sumptuous new historical Countess of Scandal, a big, sweeping story with two fabulous protagonists and a vivid historical background of late 18th century Ireland. I have one copy to give away. All you need to tell me is which aspect of the reborn Passion for History blog you are looking forward to the most! Oh, and don't miss the contest on my website as well! Thanks for dropping in!