Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Kitty McKenzie's Land re-release

After a bit of a delay, I've managed to get the sequel to my novel, Kitty McKenzie, re-released.
Titled, Kitty McKenzie's Land, the story continues of Kitty's new life in Australia after leaving England to follow the man she loves. But not all goes to plan.

This story was previously published in 2006, so it's been a while since it's original 15 minutes of fame. I'm hoping this time around, the story reaches new audiences and readers enjoy the two books about Kitty and her extraordinary life.


Kitty McKenzie's path has taken her from the slums of York to the inhospitable bush of colonial Australia. Yet, when she believes her dreams will never be attained, she is shown that sometimes life can be even better than what you wish for.

Kitty McKenzie is gifted land in the far north of New South Wales. Life at the northern property is full of hardships as she learns how to become a successful landowner.

However, Kitty’s strength of will and belief in herself gives her the courage most women of her time never realize they have. A decided thorn in her side is the arrogant and patronizing Miles Grayson, owner of the adjourning run. He wants her gone so he can have her land, but he wants her even more.

Available 0.99c as an ebook in several formats.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

‘Perdita’ - Fashion icon.

Mary Robinson - portrait by Hoppner

Mary Robinson would never have been seen out and about looking anything but at her most elegant, although her style, at least in her early years, was less flamboyant than most. On her first visit to Ranelagh she wore a simple Quaker gown which ensured that she was noticed. It was of light brown lustring with close round cuffs. She left her auburn curls unpowdered, upon which she pinned a plain round cap and white chip hat, without any ornament.

Later, when she became famous as mistress to the Prince of Wales, she set tongues wagging by entertaining lavishly, and sending female hearts beating with envy. Every new gown she wore, the very latest Paris had to offer, was imitated and emulated to the smallest degree. And ever the actress, she loved to drive about Hyde Park in her new blue and silver phaeton, drawn by milk white ponies, playing to the crowds. Sometimes she would be very simply attired wearing a straw hat tied at the back of her head in the style of a paysanne, at others painted, powdered, patched and rouged to perfection as any fashionable leader of the ton should be.

Charles James Fox and Mary

A courtesan, demi-rep, or member of the Cyprian corps, as they were sometimes known, was expected to dress at the height of fashion, own at least two carriages, and live in the most fashionable part of town. In the eighteenth century they were rather looked upon as celebrities. But this hedonistic lifestyle required high finance, supplied by a man of considerable wealth in return for her exclusive attention.

Unfortunately, Mary Robinson never did succeed in finding a man rich enough to afford her, and as a consequence of her love of spending she quickly fell into debt. Not that her concerns over lack of money ever taught her prudence. She considered her high living standards as necessary for her status. The £5,000 that she managed to squeeze out of the young Prince George after their brief affair ended, helped a little. She believed this allowance to be well deserved as she had given up her career on the stage for him. And of course credit was easily available in anticipation of more from the Prince once he came of age.

Money sometimes came her way if her husband had a win at cards at Brooks’s. And famous artists such as Hoppner, Sir Joshua Reynolds and George Romney would paint portraits of her without charging a fee as they could sell print copies to the masses because of her beauty and status as a fashion icon.

Banistre Tarleton - portrait by Reynolds

A new love came into her life and Mary and Tarleton were very much the celebrity couple. Banistre Tarleton, a hero of the American War of Independence, with his famously cropped hair, looked exceedingly handsome in his hussar uniform of blue jacket, waistcoat and leather boots that fitted as tight as silk stockings. Mary was proclaimed as a fashion icon by Lady’s Magazine, who even named a hat after her. ‘The Perdita’, as it became known, was a chip hat with a bow tied under the chin and pink ribbons puffed around the crown. It proved to be immensely popular.

On her return from France in January 1782, Mary wore one of her Paris gowns of white satin with purple breast-bows for the opera. Her head-dress was a cap composed of white and purple feathers entwined with flowers and festooned with diamond pins. According to the Herald she looked supremely beautiful, so lovely that the audience lingered to watch as she stayed to select a box to rent following the performance. Later, her decoration of the box caused a flurry of gossip in the newssheets as she upholstered the chairs in pink satin, and lined the walls with mirrors.

Mary Robinson- portrait by Romney

Mary became famous for her gold clocked stockings and a cataract muff. This was also French with long-hairs that hung down like a waterfall. And then there were her gold-clocked stockings for which she was dubbed ‘Lark-heeled Perdita’. She caused a sensation by wearing the Chemise de la Reine to the opera. This was a simple muslin gown adapted from that worn by Marie-Antoinette. It had three-quarter length puffed sleeves and frills around the neck. Falling simply and gracefully it clung deliciously to the figure without hindrance of hoops or pads. It soon became all the rage among aristocratic ladies, not just with the Cyprian Corps, including Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire. It did, however, result in some criticism from the press, as it made it much more difficult to judge a lady’s status by her appearance.

Despite the fact that Mary considered herself to be intellectually superior to most courtesans, and infinitely more sensitive, she was considered to be very much the leader of the Cyprian corps. But no one, not courtesan nor aristocrat could rival her beauty or style. Her life might have been considered utterly scandalous, but in her prime she remained very much the centre of attention.

The story of Mary Robinson, also known as Perdita

Available from Amazon

Or on special offer from Sainsburys 

Friday, July 11, 2014

Could the daughter of Downton Abbey cope?

Imagine the daughters of Downton Abbey losing their home, their parents, their wealth, their status, their friends.
This is what happens to the characters in my historical novel, Kitty McKenzie.
Kitty has lost everything, and as the eldest daughter, she has to now provide and care for her younger siblings, a task she has no experience or knowledge of how to do. From a life of privilege she is faced with all kinds of adversities to overcome.
How will she manage to cope with these new challenges when the only decisions she used to make was what dress she needed to wear and what book to read after dinner?
How was she to create a home for them all, and an income?
She never realised that buried deep inside her was an inner strength that would come to the fore and allow her to manage, even prosper, in an alien world of the working class.

Could Mary or Edith from Downton Abbey have coped so well? I'd like to think they would.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014


It's always nice to see an older book being released. It gives me the sense of renewal and that hopefully my book just might reach a new audience and give readers some hours of enjoyment.

The very first book I wrote, To Gain What's Lost, has been re-released under my new pen name of Annemarie Brear. It's available in ebook, paperback and now large print.

I loved writing this book. At the time (1997) I had no idea about the art of writing, I simply just let it pour out of me and got it down on paper. The story was huge, enormous. It took me two years to finish it and was obviously in need of serious editing. Eventually it was cut down in word length, edited, chopped, re-written and finally allowed out into the world a few years later.

Now, it's been given another chance to shine. I do hope you like it.

She thinks her life has changed for the better, her dark secrets hidden, but little does she know… The daughter of a wealthy landowner in Yorkshire, England in 1864, Anna Thornton leads a privileged life. But she is not content. She wants her life to mean something and longs to be accepted for the free-thinking, independent woman she is. When the dashing, adventurer Matt Cowan sweeps her off her feet, she thinks she has finally met her soul mate. However, he’s not the man he seems to be. After he sails for South America, leaving her behind in England, Anna discovers she’s preg¬nant. Heartbroken she flees her family home, determined to keep her child’s illegitimacy a secret. He has a few dark secrets of his own… 
Brenton O’Mara is a strong, independent man who wants to make his own way without relying on his father’s wealth. He comes to Anna’s new home looking for work and convinces the reluctant woman to hire him. But Anna's wary of men, of love, and treats him as nothing more than the penniless laborer she believes him to be. Then, just when Anna seems to feel she is getting on with her new life, and Brenton believes he has a chance with her, the past rears up to confront them. 

Can Brenton and Anna learn to trust each other, or will they let yesterday destroy tomorrow?

So you can grab a copy in the normal online places.
ebook, at:
Amazon Kindle
and large print at Amazon.UK

Friday, May 9, 2014

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Historical Belles and Beaus: Historical Romance ~ Reluctance, by Jen Black

Historical Belles and Beaus: Historical Romance ~ Reluctance, by Jen Black: Frances Bowes, Lady Rathmere, is the heroine of RELUCTANCE.  Married young, nine years a widow, now in her mid-twenties, she lives happ...

Historical Romance ~ Reluctance, by Jen Black

Frances Bowes, Lady Rathmere, is the heroine of RELUCTANCE. 

Married young, nine years a widow, now in her mid-twenties, she lives happily in full control of her fortune and sees no reason to endure marriage again.

Jack Slade, Marquess of Streatham, is the hero. Wracked with guilt over his wife’s death in childbirth, he flees London for his run-down estate in the north swearing celibacy for the rest of his life though still only in his mid-twenties. He believes he cannot allow his progeny to kill another innocent woman.
Frances, Jack and Charles Devenish were childhood playmates. Charles and Jack have maintained the friendship at school and in London, but Frances and the other local residents have not seen Jack since he was eleven years old.

When the story opens, Frances saves a stranger − Jack − from drowning. Discovering him ungrateful, she assumes him an insufferable idiot and forgets him. A week later, conscience pricking, he arrives unannounced at her Cousin Mary’s birthday luncheon in order to apologize for his rudeness.

This charming and thoughtful Regency story is set in the north of England away from the constraints of the ton and society’s expectations. When a handsome soldier arrives in the locality, he manages to destroy any peace of mind Frances had, and almost ruins her cousin Mary’s reputation. When his attentions became unbearable, there seems only one way out of the tangle.

Read RELUCTANCE by Jen Black and return to a very different world.

available here: 

Monday, February 10, 2014

Broken Hero re-release

I'm enjoying re-releasing my old back list into ebook formats on Smashwords.com and Amazon sites.

The latest one I've put online is my World War II novel, Broken Hero.

Audrey Pearson's life changed dramatically when WWII broke out and her large home, Twelve Pines on the East Yorkshire coast, became a convalescence home for wounded soldiers. Her life is no longer lavish with entertainment, beautiful clothes and surrounded by a loving family. Soldiers, physically and mentally wounded now fill her home. The smell of disinfectant replaces her mother's perfume and gone are the friends and acquaintances - instead nurses roam the hallways. 
Captain Jake Harding, a doctor training in psychiatry arrives at Twelve Pines. Audrey immediately finds herself attracted to the Captain, but he is remote towards her. Puzzled by his cold behaviour, Audrey tries to learn more about the handsome Captain. He reveals that he's lost a wife and baby in childbirth and refuses to ever remarry. 
However, despite this, Audrey believes she can change his mind and make him aware he doesn't have to spend his life alone.The ice around Jake's heart begins to melt. For years he has rejected the possibility of finding love again because of the pain it caused him before, but the beautiful Audrey shows him her love and she needs someone to love her in return. 
Could he honestly walk away from her, from the love that could be his? 

Available for Kindle and all other online forms of reading devices.
Amazon USA $1.99
Amazon UK £1.25
Other formats at Smashwords.com $0.99

Friday, January 3, 2014

Smugglers in Northumberland ~ a historical romance

For an ex-duchess, obeying orders proves difficult. But Melanie has little choice. Scarred and cheated out of her widow's entitlement, she accepts a post as housekeeper in remote Gavington House where widowed Lord Jarrow rears his young daughter. He has secrets, and Mel's curiosity will not let her rest until she has discovered what it is that occupies both him and his friend Mangerton. Soon she is embroiled in lying to the Excise men and dealing with gunshot wounds in the middle of the night… amzn.to/ZLEeT1

‘Circumstances change, sir. A new master appeared, with staff of his own.’ In a way, that was true. Her step-son, the new duke, had summoned his lawyer friends and cheated her out of the dower house and everything else to which she had been entitled.
A grim smile touched the corners of Lord Jarrow’s mouth. ‘Well, at least your mistress was prepared to give you good references. These are excellent.’

‘Thank you, sir. I hoped they would serve.’
His eyes narrowed, and Melanie’s stomach clenched in response. Her tone had been a little too pert. Lord, it was so difficult to strike the right balance. Dipping her head, she surveyed her clasped hands and waited to see what direction he would take. Be subservient, she told herself. Think subservience, and you will practice it. If you do well, you will be his housekeeper, and have the security of a roof over your head.

‘Gavington is perhaps not what you expected,’ he said slowly, sitting forward with his forearms on his desk. ‘The house is virtually closed. I keep few staff, only those necessary for the comfort of myself and my daughter. I do not welcome visitors. Now you have seen how isolated we are, do you still wish to be considered for the post?’

‘Of course, sir.’
Jolted, she met his quizzical glance. ‘Why, sir?’

‘It is a simple question, Miss Grey. Why do you, a young and attractive woman, wish to disappear into the countryside when you have had command of a house such as Rockford?’ He looked down at her reference ‘Why, there must have been forty staff there when I visited Middlesex three years ago. Here, we have less than six.’

Dear God, he’d been to Rockford House! Three years ago? She blinked, frantically searching her memory. Had he been a guest at dinner? No, she would have remembered him. But if he’d paid a call on the duke in the estate office at the far end of the west wing, she might never have seen him. That must be what had happened. Thank goodness he showed no sign of remembering her.

Available on Amazon Kindle: Here
This title was formerly on sale as Victorian Beauty but I decided neither  the title not the cover gave a true flavour of the story, so in the middle of December 2013 I sat down at the computer, linked to Amazon Kindle and changed both things. It was easier than I expected, and I only wish I'd done it sooner!

Uploaded by Jen Black

Monday, December 9, 2013

NEW RELEASE! TAMING A GENTLEMAN SPY - The Spies of Mayfair Series, Book Two

Out in e-book! Print released in February.

Reviews: This book hit all the happy places for me: great characters, a touch of intrigue, family, the royals and even a villainous suitor! Gaele.
Will Sibella forget this man who gave her this sweet kiss? Will she choose the man of her life by listening to her heart or her reason? All these questions will be answered when you read this novel. Ms. Andersen's style of writing kept my interest throughout the whole book. I recommend this novel. 
Nicole Laverdure

BLURB: John Haldane, Earl of Strathairn, is on an urgent mission to find the killer of his fellow spy. Has the treasonous Frenchman, Count Forney, returned to England to wreak havoc? Or has someone new landed on English shores to stir up rebellion in the Midlands? After visiting the young widow of one of his agents, Strathairn strengthens his resolve. A spy should never marry. And most certainly not to Lady Sibella Winborne, with her romantic ideas of love and marriage. Unable to give Sibella up entirely, he has kept her close as a friend. And then weak fool that he is he kissed her... Lady Sibella Winborne has refused several offers of marriage since her first Season years ago -- when she first set eyes on the handsome Earl of Strathairn. Sibella's many siblings always rush to her aid to discourage an ardent suitor, but not this time. Her elder brother, Chaloner, Marquess of Brandreth, has approved Lord Coombe's suit. Sibella yearns to set up her own household. She is known to be the sensible member of the family. But she doesn't feel at all sensible about Lord Strathairn. If only she could forget that kiss...


Linden Hall Yorkshire, 1818

            “I trust we’ll bag a few birds on the moor tomorrow, Chaloner.” John Haldane, the 4th Earl of Strathairn, glanced at the guests enjoying the Hunt Ball in his ballroom. Bright chatter rose in the warm smoky air as decorative ladies mingled with the more soberly dressed gentlemen. “My chef plans a grouse dish flavored with juniper berries for our dinner.”

            “Excellent.” The Marquess of Brandreth raised his glass. “We will be out at the crack of dawn, I daresay.” He took Strathairn’s arm and drew him into a quiet corner. “I don’t wish to strain a friendship I value, John, but I must offer a word of advice.”

            “Oh?” Strathairn eyed him warily. He had liked Chaloner better before his father died. The man seemed to lose his sense of humor after inheriting the title.

            “You are often seen in Sibella’s company. Don’t get too fond of her.”

            Strathairn moved his shoulders in a shrug of anger. He glanced over at Sibella in her white muslin, talking earnestly to Mrs. Bickerstaff. “Your sister is intelligent and good company. I enjoy our conversations. Nothing strange about that.”

            “I struggle to believe it is just that. I may not be privy to the details of the work you perform for the military, but rumors do float about the House of Lords. You must admit that due to those circumstances alone, you would not make her a good husband.”

            Chaloner’s determination put him in mind of a robin with a worm. Useless to argue. With a sigh, Strathairn acknowledged that he only strove to protect his sister from possible hurt. “No need for concern,” he said. “I have no wish to marry your sister, or anyone else for that matter. I do intend to ask Lady Sibella to dance, though. Unless you think my waltzing with her will ruin her reputation.”

            Chaloner huffed out a laugh and rubbed the back of his neck. “Don’t be ridiculous. I don’t enjoy having to say this to you, John, but it befalls me as head of the family. Sib has a love of home and hearth. She looks for a husband who will sit by the fire with her at night. That isn’t you, is it?”

            “She deserves the best, and no, it isn’t me, Chaloner.”

After a fruitful day in the fields shooting grouse, Strathairn and his guests made their way over the lawns to the Hall.

            The gamekeeper, beaters and handlers departed for the stables with the hounds while servants came to take the birds to the kitchen.

            On the terrace, Lady Sibella, in a gown the color of lilacs, sat playing cards and drinking tea with the other women in the late afternoon sun.

            Strathairn mounted the steps, carrying his shotgun over his shoulder, intent on returning it to the gunroom. “I trust you ladies enjoyed your day?”

            “We did, my lord.” Lady Sibella’s sister, Viscountess Bathe, smiled. “Or at least those of us who have not lost our pin money at whist.”

            “I see you had a successful day, my lord.” Lady Sibella eyed his gun with a faint shudder.             “I saw your kill on its way to the kitchens.”

            He smiled. “I hope you’ll enjoy our efforts once served in a tasty sauce.”

            “I expect I shall. It’s contrary of me, isn’t it?” Lady Sibella frowned up at him. “But please don’t suggest that all women are so.”

            He eyed the expectant faces of the other ladies and held up his hands with a laugh. “I wouldn’t be so bold.”

            “Perhaps you would like a cup of tea, Lord Strathairn.” Lady Sibella gestured to the teapot a servant was refilling with hot water. “You must be thirsty after your arduous day.”

            She well knew how much he hated tea, for he’d been forced to drink it at a morning call at their house in Eaton Place. She had naughtily offered to pour it into a potted plant when her mother was distracted by another guest.

            Her playful smile was delicious, and he couldn’t help grinning back. Aware of the sharp-eyes on him from around the table, he shook his head. “I’m afraid I must decline for I’m not fit for company. But, thank you.” He bowed and entered the house leaving them to resume their card game.

            Strathairn cleaned his gun and left it on the rack in the gunroom. He’d enjoyed Lady Sibella’s friendship like no other lady of his acquaintance. Her humor seemed so in tune with his and he often found she understood his thoughts before he expressed them. Damn Chaloner, he was such a stickler for convention.

 My book is set in 1819 during a period of great unrest in England. The result of the unpopular Corn Laws brought people together in St. Peter's Field. A riot ensued. Named for Wellington's Waterloo, the Peterloo Massacre shocked England and the government during . Here's more about it:
St Peter's Field
After the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in the 18th Century, Manchester began expanding at an astonishing rate in the 19th Century as part of a process of unplanned urbanization.  In August 1819 on a cloudless, hot summer’s day, a peaceable crowd of some 60,000 to 80,000 people gathered in St Peter’s Field (an open piece of cleared land alongside Mount Street) to hear orator, Henry Hunt speak and to demand reform of parliamentary representation. What happened next was as unnecessary as it was shocking. Cavalry charged into the crowd with sabres drawn, and in the ensuring confusion, 15 people were killed and between 400 and 700 injured.
In March 1819, Joseph Johnson, John Knight and James Wroe formed the Manchester Patriotic Union Society. All the leading radicals in Manchester joined the organisation. Johnson was appointed secretary and Wroe became treasurer.
The local magistrates were concerned that such a substantial gathering of reformers might end in a riot. The magistrates therefore decided to arrange for a large number of soldiers to be in Manchester on the day of the meeting. This included four squadrons of cavalry of the 15th Hussars (600 men), several hundred infantrymen, the Cheshire Yeomanry Cavalry (400 men), a detachment of the Royal Horse Artillery and two six-pounder guns and the Manchester and Salford Yeomanry (120 men) and all Manchester's special constables (400 men).

Map of the Peterloo Massacre
At about 11.00 a.m. William Hulton, the chairman, and nine other magistrates met at Mr. Buxton's house in Mount Street that overlooked St. Peter's Field. Although there was no trouble, the magistrates became concerned by the growing size of the crowd. Estimations concerning the size of the crowd vary but Hulton came to the conclusion that there were at least 50,000 people in St. Peter's Field at midday. Hulton, therefore, took the decision to send Edward Clayton, the Boroughreeve and the special constables to clear a path through the crowd. The 400 special constables were therefore ordered to form two continuous lines between the hustings where the speeches were to take place, and Mr. Buxton's house where the magistrates were staying.
           Shortly after the meeting began, local magistrates called on the military to arrest well-known radical orator, Henry Hunt who was asked to chair the meeting, and several others on the hustings with him, and to disperse the crowd. Arrested along with Hunt for inciting a riot and imprisoned was Samuel Bamford, who led a group from his native Middleton to St. Peter’s Field.
Bamford emerged as a prominent voice for radical reform.
Hunt became MP for Preston 1830-33.
To understand what happened in Manchester one must look at the period of economic upheaval between 1783 to 1846, when Britain shifted from being a predominantly agricultural and commercial society to being the world’s first industrial nation. Many of the most contentious political issues of the day, corn and currency laws for example, were really questions of whether government policy should be directed towards encouraging this shift, or trying to reverse it.
Original blue plaque replaced in 2007

 Accompanying the economic changes was the most sustained and dangerous cycle of revolutionary discontent and working-class protest in British history. This prompted a few political concessions on the part of the governing aristocracy, but more significant was the emergence of governmental machinery designed to maintain law and order, which in turn led unintentionally to the foundation of the modern centralized and bureaucratic state.
The power of the Crown declined significantly. Although George III (until he became incurably mad in 1810) George IV, William IV, Victoria, and her consort Albert, could all influence the course of political intrigue, the monarch’s power to control the policies of the state was severely reduced.
As the scope and scale of government business increased during the long French wars, less and less passed through the monarch’s hands. Except possibly where foreign policy was concerned, the Crown was being reduced to little more than a figurehead of state. Effective power remained in the hands of a territorial aristocracy, whose representatives still dominated both Houses of Parliament. They faced an active and vociferous radical movement, particularly strong in 1792 and in the economically depressed years after the end of the war in 1815, when a period of famine and chronic unemployment came into being, exacerbated by the introduction of the first of the Corn Laws.
Postwar adjustment brought depression, with agrarian disturbances, machine-breaking and revival of popular reform agitation. Two meets at Spa Fields 1816 and an attack on the Prince Regent led to suspension of Habeas Corpus and restrictions on public meetings.
 Historian, Robert Poole has called the Peterloo Massacre in Manchester one of the defining moments of its age. It left an enormous psychological scar on a polity which prided itself on its ability to contain discontents. Yet the aristocracy survived, largely because the middling ranks, terrified by the violence of the French Revolution, rejected any sort of revolutionary radicalism.
The Peterloo Massacre called on the Government in 1819 to pass what is known as the Six Acts which forbade training in arms and drilling, authorized seizure of arms, simplified prosecutions, forbade seditious assemblies, punished blasphemous libels and restricted the press.
Resource: The Cambridge Historical Encyclopedia of Great Britain and Ireland.

 Check my blog for book tours, contests, prizes and excerpts!

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Medieval Christmas Gifts, then and now

During the Middle Ages, Christmas was seen as a sacred time, the time for the three Christ-Masses. Charitable giving to the poor was encouraged on Saint Stephen's day, December 26, which we know as Boxing Day.  On Boxing Day in the middle ages, the poor received money in hollow clay pots with a slit in the top, nicknamed 'piggies'. Unlike modern piggy banks, these clay pots had to be broken to extract the cash.

A page from the Bedford Hours.
What about gift-giving among other classes?

Sacred gifts - of prayer books and so on - were seen as being appropriate for the holy Christmas period. Anne of Burgundy presented the Bedford Hours to Henry VI, her eight-year-old nephew, in 1430. The book is now at the British Library.

Gifts were sometimes given at the New Year. New Year's day, known at the time as the ├ętrenne, a word derived from the Latin strena,  (used to mean both the gifts and the ritual exchange) was the traditional time to do so. Gifts might be food -Christmas was a time of feasting and, for example, it was considered bad luck to refuse a Christmas mince pie given by a host. A Christmas kiss of peace might be given under the green kissing bough of holly and other green-stuff and mistletoe, the plant of peace. Sometimes the 'gift' might be a joke, such as the 'book' given by the illuminators of Les Tres Riches Heures to the Duke de Berry, which turned out to be a block of wood. 

At times the gifts were part of very formal processions and ceremonies. At the courts of Henry Tudor and Richard II the king rose on the day of the New Year and seated himself in his chamber ready to give and receive presents, given and received in strict order or rank. Sometimes the heralds and messengers bringing such gifts could also find themselves rewarded, as happened in the court of Richard II when the carver of the King was given a gold cup by the French King Charles. Kings and Queens could exchange gifts, often of rich jewels, as a public show of respect and affection. Rulers were expected to be generous but at the same time the size and value of gifts were ranged in order of class - kings and queens, their families, nobles, servants, right down to laundresses and cleaning-women. In some years, certain symbols might be used in gifts. In 1422 at the court of Charles VI, small jewels shaped like peacocks were given out to courtiers -  the peacock being one of Charles's badges. 

In medieval England, such gift-giving also went on. People gave New Year’s gifts to those above and below them in the social hierarchy. For example, peasants who worked on landed estates brought gifts of farm produce to the local lord during the Twelve Days of Christmas. Custom dictated that the lord respond by inviting them to a Christmas feast. Personal gifts between people of equal status might have taken place but there are few records of such. In the records and for many kings and nobles, gift-giving meant ostentation and display.

Christmas and gift-giving features in several of my books:

'The Snow Bride' is a Winter Solstice and Christmas story, less than £2 or $3 on Amazon. You can read the first three chapters here.

A lighter-hearted read, still concerned with Christmas and gift-giving, is my medieval fantasy, 'A Christmas Sleeping Beauty.' This is half-price at Muse it Up.

'Twelve Kisses' touches on a young newly-married couple in early Tudor times and their first Christmas together. This is also half-price at Muse it Up.

All this didn't start in the Middle Ages, naturally. The Roman mid-winter festival, Saturnalia, had its own range of festivities which feature in my Flavia's Secret.

Lindsay Townsend

Friday, November 15, 2013

A Witch in Medieval England - Lindsay Townsend

Witches, in a series of sketches attributed to
Pieter Breughel (or to Hieronymus Bosch)
(Source: Wikimedia Commons).
One of the difficulties of considering the situation of witches in medieval England is the sources. Most of our information comes from trials in clerical or secular courts, and often these were motivated not by fear of sorcery but by greed, spite and politics. In England some kings feared witches – or found that accusing former mistresses or wives of witchcraft was an easy way to dispose of them, much as later Anne Boleyn was accused of sorcery by her disgruntled husband Henry Tudor.

These events were partly high politics. What of the position of witches in more everyday, village settings?
One clue comes from the folklore surrounding plants. Peonies, rowan and St John’s Wort, for example, were believed to protect households from sorcery, which shows how much witches were feared. At the same time, there were those men and women, known in many part of England as ‘cunning folk,’ or ‘wise men/women,’ who were turned to for help in fortune telling, charming and healing.

In the Middle Ages in England everyone was a bit of a witch because everyone believed in magic, often as a curious blend of pagan, folk and Christian ideas. Peasants would chant the Lord’s Prayer over their penned cattle each night, ending with singing ‘Agios, Agios, Agios’ around them every evening as a piece of protective magic. A mixture of charms and prayers were used to solve all manner of problems, and ranged from curing toothache by appealing to the Lady Moon and then praying, to the Anglo-Saxon prayer-charm ordering the devil of pain to flee 3 times and give way to Christ. 

Rowan, a protection against witches.
Nobles had magic gems and amulets to protect them from evil.  A medieval  ring discovered at the Palace of Eltham, Henry VIII’s childhood home near London, was set with ruby and diamonds and carried an inscription promising the wearer luck. Merchants also had  gems and rings to protect themselves, much as people in modern times might wear a St Christopher to give them luck on a journey.  A burglar would  throw a crushed magnet over hot coals to inspire the household  to leave and let the thief work in peace. Priests would use blessings and  prayers such as the Lord’s Prayer and add a charm or two to effect an exorcism or expel illness.  Even the legends of saints have them using charms and magic to cure ills. When all sickness was seen as the result of evil, then it made sense to use ‘good’ magic to counter it.

If a man had to go to court, he might tuck a spray of mistletoe into his clothes to ensure he was not convicted. If he wished to inflame a woman’s lust, then he could slip some ants’ eggs into her bath. However, there were times when such simple ‘magic’ might not work (believe it or not) and people would seek out a recognised practitioner of magic.

To raise the dead or a demon needed a person skilled in rituals, who knew Latin, Greek, writing, astrology and fumigation and many of these necromancers were ex-priests or clerics. Some could be involved in the dangerous business of assassination by magic. In 1325 the necromancer  John of Nottingham was accused of taking money in return for killing the king by making a wax effigy of  Edward II and sticking pins into it. John was acquitted.

For love magic, however, and to inspire or stop affection, most people turned to their local ‘cunning folk’, especially the local midwife/healer or perhaps a white witch - who would use magic and witchcraft to good ends and within a Christian setting, using prayers as well as charms. These people could be both feared and revered  and were vulnerable to being accused of evil-doing if a person or animal fell sick. 

Throughout the Middle Ages good witches were mostly tolerated in England. It wasn’t until 1401 that the first act of parliament against witchcraft was passed. If a person was convicted of witchcraft, it was regarded as a form of heresy and the offender was excommunicated. In 1438, Agnes Hancock was excommunicated by a clerical court when she could not account for the meanings of some of the words she used in her love charms. The church took a dim view of love spells, feeling that they interfered with people’s free choice, but it wasn’t until the late Middle Ages or beyond that women casting such spells were threatened with burning.

If you are interested in learning about an English medieval ‘good’ witch in a fictional setting, please see The Snow Bride and its sequel,  A Summer Bewitchment.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

The Restless Dead in the Middle Ages - Lindsay Townsend

Did people in the Middle Ages believe in ghosts? They certainly believed in restless spirits, which they called revenants, from the Latin meaning ‘to return’. It was believed that the unquiet dead, particularly those who had died by violence or by reason of a grudge, or those who would not give up strong passions and carnal pleasures, would return to haunt the living. These revenants might appear within a graveyard or in a particular area, known to them in life, and terrorize the living.

In Dark Maiden I have a woman who is tormented by a lusty revenant who comes to her bed and tries to lie with her. Yolande, my heroine, learns that in this case the restless dead is the woman's husband. As an exorcist, Yolande takes certain steps to ensure that his widow is no longer plagued. You can find out what she does in the novel.

Here's an excerpt to give you a flavour. Yolande is talking to the villagers in their church. All the things she speaks of were believed or done in the Middle Ages.

“Godith, I have said it already. This is no vampire,” Yolande repeated for the third time.
       “How do you know that?”
       “Because there is no plague, pestilence or disease here. There is a restless soul, a revenant, yes, but one drawn by love and desire, not by hate.” Her lips quivered slightly, the only sign of tension in her. “I will write a letter of absolution and the soul will find his rest.”
       “Does that mean the dreams—”
       “Another matter altogether. I will work on that when I have finished with the revenant.”
       “Yet how can that be, and so simple? A letter?”
       “Being a sacred scribe is not simple,” Geraint put in. He wanted to wag a finger at the noisy goodwife, but confined  himself to folding his arms across his chest. “Can you write, Mistress Reeve?”
        Even in the dim orange flames, he could see Godith blush. “We heard his dogs outside,” she exclaimed, as indignant as a hen pushed off its nest and determined to have her say. “They come because they dread him and how is that good? How can he be good?”
       “Whose dogs?” Yolande stepped forward into the heart of the nave and bore down on Godith. “Was he a huntsman, a forester? I promise I will harm nothing, do no injury to any of your kin, be they living or passed on.”
        She stood tall and slim as a lily, a gentle dark Madonna. The drooping garland of Christmas roses hung from her belt like a perfumed cloud, the candle and brazier flames surrounded her like a halo. “Please, let me help you. Let me help this poor soul to his final, honored rest.”
        “He was a huntsman for our lord. Martin, his name was,” remarked a quiet, weary voice. “He was my husband. He owned the dogs, though they come to me now, and often not only them… We buried him last month by the church gate so he can see our house.”
        A squat ball of a woman pushed through the reluctant villagers, with a son and daughter trailing behind like ducklings. When she looked up at Yolande, Geraint saw the grooved shadows under the woman’s eyes and could not help but notice how her homespun dress bagged on her.
       Martin liked his woman very plump, but she has lost much flesh of late.
       “Perhaps we buried him too close,” she was saying. “He can find us—find me—so easily. Father William said he would rest.”
        Father William knows little of rest himself these days. Geraint disliked the clergy but even he could find a little pity for this less-than-holy father.
       “Daughter, I can give him peace,” Yolande said gently. “He loved you greatly, yes?” And more gently still, “He seeks to remain with you? By day and by night? Does he come as himself, or as shadow?”
       “Shadow. Ah God!” The woman shuddered and fresh tears burst from her. Yolande swiftly drew her aside to the south wall of the nave, talking to her and her children in a low, urgent way. Geraint could tell it by the set of her shoulders and by the way she lifted and stretched out both arms as if to shield the stricken family.
       “She yours?”
        Geraint deigned to glance at the smith, disliking the fellow already, the more so because the fellow was still looming in church. “My lady is her own.”
        “Bitten off more than she can chew here, I wager.”

More details of 'Dark Maiden' here.

Can be ordered from Ellora's Cave here.
Can be ordered from Amazon US here and Amazon UK here.
Can be ordered from Barnes and Noble here

Ellora's Cave (June 13 2013)

Read Chapter One

Lindsay Townsend