Friday, May 25, 2018

Garden Guide for English Historical Authors: Spring

by Margaret Porter

Tulips and primula

'Planting and gardening addes much to the Health and Content of Man.'  Moses Cook, 1676

'My Garden, like my Life, seems to me every Year to want Correction and require attention.'  Alexander Pope, 1736

This is the fourth and last seasonal gardening guide, with information taken from 17th and 18th century sources in my personal library. I took the photographs either in historic gardens in England or in my own 21st century gardens, in which I grow heritage plants. The previous three entries are:  
Garden Guide for English Historical Authors: Summer and Garden Guide for English Historical Authors: Autumn, and Garden Guide for English Historical Authors: Winter.

With the advent of spring, garden tasks multiplied, in the past as they do nowadays. Seedlings and young plants established on hotbeds had to be planted out in prepared sites where they could thrive, grow and bear. The onset of warmer weather meant that pleasure gardens would serve areas for display of flowers and fruit, enjoyment, and relaxation, hence the need to continuing the tidying begun in winter's waning days. Printed garden guides provided explicit instructions to the professional as well as the common gardener.

Bluebells in springtime


'First sturdy March with brows full sternly bend,
And armed strongly, rode upon a Ram,
The same which over Hellespontus swam:
Yet in his hand a spade he also hent,
And in a bag all sorts of seeds ysame,
And fild her wombe with fruifull hope of nourishment'
                           Edward Spenser, The Faerie Queene

In the kitchen garden. Ensure that cucumber and melon hot beds are properly warm, with lively but moderate heat. Sow seeds of both throughout the month. Make new hot beds for moving transplants. Transplant cabbage and lettuce plants, and plant cauliflowers in rich ground. Sow broccoli, cabbage, savoy, spinach, onions, leeks, radish, carrots, beans, peas, turnips, celery, parsnips, tomato or love-apple, asparagus, chervil, coriander, parsley, basil, and other pot and medicinal herbs. Plant cuttings of rosemary and rue. Dress existing asparagus and artichoke beds, forking or lightly digging, then raking. Plant potato beds and Jerusalem artichokes. Shake the nut trees to loosen pollen from the catkins; this will fertilise the flowers. 

In the fruit garden. Prune fig trees, cut out branches overtopping the wall. Plant fruit trees of all kinds on walls, as espaliers, or as standards. Train young apricots, peach and nectarines planted against a wall. Prune and train apples, pears, plums, and cherries. Prune raspberries of deadwood and thin live shoots. Prune vines. 

In the flower garden. Sow tender annuals in hot beds. Add fresh earth to potted plants. Guard auriculas in pots from too much wind, cold, and frost. Support heavy hyacinth flowers to prevent toppling. Plant ranunculus and anemones. Plant biennial and perennial flower seeds. Transplant perennial plants. Prune shrubs. Plant additional  shrubs and evergreens. Lay turf for new grass walks, clean gravel walks of weeds and litter.

Garden produce: Winter spinach, some cabbages and savoys, broccoli, red and chard beets, parsnips, carrots, potatoes, Jerusalem artichokes, endive, all sorts of salad herbs. 

From the hot beds: Cucumbers, peas, kidney beans, purslane. In warm borders: mint, tarragon, tansy, sage, parsley, marigolds, burnet, sorrel, hyssop, winter savory, rosemary, other pot herbs.

Persian iris
Plants in flower: Various sorts of crocus, double snowdrop, several sorts of narcissus, Persian iris, spring cyclamen, several sorts of daffodils, early turnips, crown imperials, hyacinths, violets, hepaticas, wall-flowers, alyssum, primroses, dog's tooth violet, hearts ease or pansies, wood anemones, hellebores.

Crown imperial


Hearts ease


Tree and shrubs in flower: Apricot, almond, daphne mezereon, cherry plum, spurge laurel, laurustinus, cornelian cherry, honeysuckle.

Medicinal plants to gather: Elder buds, nettle tops, liverwort, primrose, violet, watercress.

Greenhouse plants in flower: Ilex-leaved lantana, Spanish Jasmine, Aleppo cyclamens, geraniums of several sorts, cotyledon, African marigold, Canary campanula, coffee tree, purple lotus, gladiolus.


'And the buds and blossomes breathing forth pretious and pleasant Oders, rejoyce and delight the inward and outward senses.' Ralph Austen, A Treatise of Fruit Trees, 1653

'In Aprill about St George his day, you shall set abroad your citron and orange trees, as also such other trees as you had kept within house from St Martin's Day.' Richard Surflet, 1600

In the kitchen garden. Many vegetables sown in prior month may still be sown for successive crops. Transplant lettuce where there stand close. Thin radishes. Sow spinach. Plant early kidney beans in dry weather. Sow gourds and pumpkins. Sow broccoli for a winter crop. Sow borage, bugloss, clary sage, thyme, sweet marjoram, savory, burnet, sorrel, and hyssop. Continue to sow pot herbs. Also nasturtium and marigolds. Cuttings and slips of new growth from herbs can be planted, especially lavender and rosemary.

In the fruit garden. Continue planting fruit trees as required. With fumigating bellows, destroy insects that breed in this season and damage trees, pick off curled leaves. Protect blossoms and young fruit of trees from frost by covering with evergreen branches or mats, until fruits are as large as the end of a man's finger, or larger.

In the flower garden. Make a hot bed to receive annual seedlings planted the prior months. Continue sowing of tender annuals. Sow seeds of hardy annuals and other flowers in borders and elsewhere: convolvulus major and minor, Tangier and sweet-scented pea, nasturtiums, lupines, larkspur, poppy, hawkweed, candytuft, dwarf lychnis, nigella, stock, dwarf and large sunflower, lavatera, oriental mallow. Sow some in patches in in the borders. Water frequently in dry weather. Sow pinks, carnations, and polyanthus. Take especial care of hyacinths, tulips, ranunculus and anemone flowers now blooming--guard from heavy winds and rains by screening with mats. Plant tuberoses in hot beds or inside the hothouse. Place pots of auriculas on shelves of the auricula stage. Stake such flowering plants as require support.

18thC Sweet-scented pea

Garden produce: Turnip shoots, spinach, radishes, asparagus, pot-marjoram, late celery and endive, chervil, young onions, leeks, scallions, borage, sage, rosemary, young carrots sown in autumn. From the hot-beds: cucumbers, peas, kidney beans, purslane, early cabbages.

Fritillary & daffodils
Plants in flower: Anemones, ranunculus, polyanthus, auriculas, tulips, crown imperials, hepaticas, hyacinths, narcissus, daffodils, jonquils, violets, muscaria, snowdrop, flag iris, cyclamen, Double white violet, anemone, double daisies, fritillaria, Persian lily, lungwort, lily of the valley, hearts ease, periwinkle.

Trees and shrubs in flower: White and purple and blue lilac, Persian lilac, laburnum, peach, pear, cherries of all sorts, plum, almond, hawthorn, Italian honeysuckles, Yellow jasmine, coronilla, dogwood, horse chestnut, spirea, azaleas.




'There is no flower can be more glorious than the Poppy.' John Worlidge, 1677


In the kitchen garden. Melon beds and cucumber frames require especial care--early plants in frames will now show fruit. Maintain sufficient warms in the beds while fruit is setting. Admit fresh air to the plants each day by propping the glass. Shade the plants from the sun on the brightest days. Plant out the gourds and pumpkins sown in April. Plant out the tomato or love-apple plants sown earlier. Cut asparagus for the table. Transplant lettuce. Plant more beans and peas for later crops. Continue to sow pot herbs and propagate medicinal plants from slips and cuttings.

In the fruit garden. Train new shoots of wall trees. Thin apricots, peaches, and nectarines where the tree is too heavily laden with fruit. Water new-planted trees. Clear vines of all useless shoots. Train all shoots that have fruit upon them. Uncover fig branches in warm weather to prevent mold. continue to repair espalier frames. Transplant fruit trees. Look carefully after bullfinches, at this season they do great mischief to fruit trees by packing off blossom buds and can destroy all garden fruit in two or three days.

Parrot tulip
In the flower garden. When tulips cease flowering, cut away the seed pod from the top of the stalk and allow the leaves to wither. In dry weather transplant autumn flowering bulbs, and separate off-sets from the main bulb. Plant out tender and less hardy plants from hot beds into the ground. Transplant the perennial flowering plants that were sown in March. Mow grass walks and lawn, and keep gravel walks tidy. Continue to support tall flowering plants.

Garden produce: Cabbages, savoys, broccoli, carrots, parsnips, turnips, red beets, salsify, cardoons, spinach, potatoes, artichokes, onions, leeks, garlic, shallots, sage, parsley, sorrel, mint, tansy, tarragon, sallet herbs, mushrooms, endive, celery, chervil. Pot herbs and aromatic plants: winter savory, hyssop, thyme, lavender, rosemary, pot-marjoram, burnet.

In the pleasure garden. Plant out carnations in pots to flower and place in a warm situation. Sow seeds of auricula and polyanthus in pots or tubs of light, rich earth. Add fresh earth to auricula pots. Near the end of month, stir the surface of flower beds, and clear them of weeds and moss. At end of the month transplant Canterbury bells, French honeysuckle, daisies, rose campion, foxgloves, pinks, sweet william, bachelors' buttons, campanulas, thrift, scarlet lychnis, columbines, goldenrods, and other fibrous-rooted plants. On dry frosty nights cover beds of ranunculus, anemones, and tulips to protect from injury. Rake and clean in the wilderness, because the flowers under the trees are beginning to bloom. Edge the grass walks and lawns, and roll them when the ground is soft. Make hot-beds for tender annual flowers.

Lawn roller

Garden produce: Radishes, spinach, cabbage, lettuce, sorrel, mint, winter savory, borage, bugloss, young onions, chives, asparagus, peas, beans, early artichokes, cauliflower, young carrots in protected locations, cucumbers, melons, purslane, kidney beans on hot beds, mushrooms, parsley, coriander, chervil, cresses, mustard, burnet, tarragon, spring herbs for soups.

Lily of the valley
Medicinal plants for gathering: Sorrel, wood sorrel, lily of the valley, pimpernel, watercress, ground ivy, dead nettle, fumitory, columbine, tansy, stonecrop, woodruff, mandrake leaves, dandelion, betony, groundsel, borage, horse tail, cranesbill, burnet, lungwort.

Fruit for gathering: Cherries, strawberries in warm soil, late in the month gooseberries and green currants in warm situations.

In the forcing frame: Apricots, peaches, cherries, strawberries, other early fruits.

Plants in flower: Late tulips, anemones, ranunculus, lupines,  lily of the valley, daisies, thrift, valerian, sage, rosemary, veronica, geraniums, Armenian perennial poppy, peonies, monkshood, stock gillyflowers, wallflowers, Solomon's seal, ladies' mantle, tuberose, lady slipper, Welsh poppy, double white narcissus, harebells, iris, flag-leaved iris, spiderwort, bellflower, double feverfew, ladies' smock, snapdragon.

Trees, shrubs, and vines in flower: Yellow jasmine, lilacs, honeysuckles, whitethorn, Guelder rose, cinnamon rose, monthly rose, damask rose, burnet-leaved rose, Scotch rose, horse chestnut, laburnum, flowering almond, perfumed cherry, Portugal laurel, dwarf medlar, myrtle, double-flowering cherry, viburnum, dogwood, privet, flowering ash, common broom, clematis.

Blush damask rose

Blush burnet rose

Double flowering cherry

Having closed out the seasonal guides to the gardening year, I hope they will prove informative and perhaps useful to my fellow authors, as well as interested historical fiction readers.

Flag iris


Everlasting pea

English Garden History: Summer Guide
English Garden History: Autumn Guide
English Garden History: Winter Guide

Margaret Porter is the award-winning and bestselling author of twelve period novels, whose other publication credits include nonfiction and poetry. A Pledge of Better Times, her highly acclaimed novel of 17th century courtiers Lady Diana de Vere and Charles Beauclerk, 1st Duke of St. Albans, is her latest release, available in trade paperback and ebook. Margaret studied British history in the UK and the US. As historian, her areas of speciality are social, theatrical, and garden history of the 17th and 18th centuries, royal courts, and portraiture. A former actress, she gave up the stage and screen to devote herself to fiction writing, travel, and her rose gardens.

[This article is an Editors' Choice, first published on March 22 2016]

Monday, May 21, 2018

Women of the Middle Ages: Wimples, Veils, and Head-rails - Part ll

By Paula Lofting

From the advent of the conversion to Christianity, it is generally accepted that women in Europe were following the convention of covering the whole of the hair. We can take this to be from the 8th-9th centuries on, though earlier than that in Britain, it is easier to find evidence for not covering the hair. The custom had started early on in the Christian religion, and was proposed by St Paul and promulgated by his followers. Loose or uncovered hair was to become associated throughout most of the medieval period with loose morals or prostitution, therefore it would be unlikely that many women would forgo this custom - at least when going out abroad. Poorer women may not have been able to afford the extra cloth to augment their head-gear, however, their caps, which the most observant of the custom wore, could be adapted to cover the whole of their hair by using a square piece of material, big enough to fit their head and then some, with a drawstring sewn within the hem. This would allow them to tie long hair into a bun or coil at the neck which could be stuffed into the cap. So even the poorest of women could enjoy the comforts of not being singled out as loose women.

Previously, we have seen during the pagan era in Europe, that women wore their hair in nets, caps, and scarves, intimating that there was a practical need for keeping the hair contained. However there have been veils worn by followers of certain pagan deities in Rome and Greece, such as Vesta, remember the Vestal Virgins? The veil in pagan times seems to have been associated with virginity and chastity, as well as being to do with female shame and the dominance of men who enforce it. Many Roman women wore the veil, and there is evidence that the veil goes back to 1100 BC. The veil may have also been in use for priestesses performing rituals, so we know that the veiling of women has been around much longer than Judaism and Christianity, but it was Christianity that brought it to Northern Europe.

Virgo Vestalis Maxima
As we saw in Part One, there is little archaeological evidence of veils and wimples being worn even during the conversion era in Anglo-Saxon England. However, there have been found in high status graves, small pairs of dainty pins by the head which indicate they were used to hold a veil in place to a cap. In some of the less wealthy graves, single pins have also been found at the jaws, near the foreheads and under the skulls of 7th century women's skeletons. showing that they may have been used to fasten scarves, hoods or other everyday head-wear.

So, what types of hair coverings did the women of this era wear?

In the top of the late 8thc Genoels-Elderen Diptych, (below) we see the Virgin Mary wearing a short wimple that appears almost to be attached to her tunic, or mantle that she is wearing. She also wears a diadem under her wimple at her forehead, which is a decorative accessory worn to hold her cap in place. Her maidservant next to her is clearly of lower class and appears to wear her uncovered hair pulled back possibly into a bun at the nape, or is cut very short. The Diptych is from the late 8th century, and originates from Flanders and so could be the custom for someone of her status in that area at that time. She might even be a slave.

Genoels-Ederen ivory
Public Domain
Bishop Aldhelm, a West Saxon abbot and bishop, was known to have documented his concerns about women's dress. He disliked the extravagant forms of white or colourful long veils attached to fillets or ribbons. In the image on the lower Diptych panel, the embracing saints look to be wearing the type of long veils that Aldhelm could be talking about. (I wonder what Aldhelm would think about today's dress if he found these distasteful!) However, these long veils could also be interpreted as cloaks, which we have seen in other images as covering the head and fastened just below the breast.

The prudish Aldhelm was not a lover of curled hair at the forehead and temples which was probably all he was allowed to see, but still found this distasteful! However, we know that curling tongs did exist so it might be that veils and wimples were worn back off the forehead at some point in the late 7th-8thc era. Fig 116 in Gale Owen-Crocker's book, Dress in Anglo-Saxon England, page 159, shows a stone engraving of a sculpture of a veiled woman with the curled hair around her face showing.

Public Domain
This figure (left) from the early half of the 9thc  wears a cloak over her head and is fastened at the chest, as described above. One might wonder if this is what Aethelflaed, Lady of the Mercians may have looked like in her everyday wear. Owen-Crocker (2004) describes a late 9thc headdress found in a grave in Winchester as belonging to an extremely wealthy woman. The veil was edged with gold braid; whether the material was linen or silk, we are not informed. There was also a second gold braid which may have been attached to an ornament made with loops of gold decorated ribbon and worn as a band around the head above the brow. The sex of the skeleton was not determined, but the conclusion was that this type of cloth would have been associated with a woman, rather than a man.

Copyright 2012 Shelagh Lewins
with her permission
When people refer to a wimple, they are generally referring to most types of medieval head coverings that cover the whole of the hair. Generally, the consensus seems to be that the wimple, in Old English, wimpel, was a head-covering that might have been designed as a hood-shaped garment that covered the hair and was closed at the chest, in this era, they are not shown in drawings as covering the neck and chin as they do in later periods. Some were short, like the one that the virgin Mary appears to be wearing in the ivory image above, or some were long, and some were long rectangular pieces of material, wrapped over the head with the ends wrapping around the throat and thrown back over the shoulders. They might also be referred to as veils.

The image on the above right is from a lady called Shelagh Lewins who made this reconstruction of a 9thc high status Anglo-Saxon lady wearing a simple snood-like hair covering. Also from the same site is this interpretation of a 9thc lady with a 'wrap around veil' as described above. Underneath her veil, or scarfe, you can see the cap that she has attached her veil to and has an embroidered 'headband' to adorn the cap and probably keep that in place. Medieval women must have been very adept at securing their wimples, when going out, otherwise strong winds, low-lying branches, and perhaps a bit of tomfoolery, would dislodge them quite easily if not secured well.

Copyright 2012 Shelagh Lewins
with her permission
What the pins used to hold the headdress in place may have looked like.

The 'Coppergate' cap was found in the archaeological dig in York. It can be found in the South Yorkshire museum and if you use this link you will see a picture of it: 

Here I have created my own interpretation for use in my re-enactment hobby, and which I wear around the campfire with or without my wimple. Mine has long ties attached to it so I can tie it securely to my head and keep in place. It seems I have slippery hair, which moves my head-gear all over the place throughout the day!
Here, as you can see, it is made of white linen. The cap does not cover all of my hair now, as I have too much hair to wear it all under the cap. The Coppergate cap was found in the 9thc 'Viking' area of York (Jorvik) but quite possibly also worn by the English ladies of the time. Scandinavian women would not have been as bothered about hiding their hair as the Christian Anglian women were, so a cap like this could have easily been worn by them for practical purposes rather than moral or religious reasons.

And here I am with my Coppergate cap underneath my snood-type wimple. If you look carefully, you may just see the on the top of my head, the head of the pin that secures the snood wimple to my cap. Where the 'beard' of the wimple falls at my chest (most handy for catching food that misses your mouth) and just above the York crucifix at my chest, you might just see the penanular brooch that keeps the wimple secure to my clothing, and stops it from flapping up in my face when I bend down!

In my next post, I am going to be looking at the 10th&11th centuries, the late Anglo Saxon era to see how things might have changed or moved on from the 9th century.


Paula Lofting is an author and a member of the re-enactment society Regia Anglorum, where she regularly takes part in the Battle of Hastings. Her first novel, Sons of the Wolf, is set in eleventh-century England and tells the story of Wulfhere, a man torn between family and duty. The sequel, The Wolf Banner is available now. Paula is currently working on the third book in the series, Wolf's Bane

Find Paula on her Blog
on her Amazon Author Page

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Editors Weekly Round-up, May 20, 2018

by the EHFA Editors

Every week, contributors to English Historical Fiction Authors post on various aspects of British history. Enjoy this week's round-up!

by Kim Rendfeld

by Helen Hollick

Saturday, May 19, 2018

“ ‘Baccy for the parson…brandy for the clerk…” What Did Smugglers Smuggle?

by Helen Hollick

image purchased from AdobeStock

The quick and simple answer to the above question is …. Anything that could be carried and easily hidden, then sold at a profit! The reasoning behind smuggling was (is!) to avoid paying  excise duty, but the profits had to be high enough to warrant the risk involved, making a few shillings would not be worthwhile, but a few pounds sterling (or whatever currency!) could tip the balance between legally and illegally importing or exporting an items that were in demand.  In the 17-1800s no smuggler would risk his life for a few kegs of common ale, but for best French brandy? Ah, that was different!

Throughout history, various mercantile goods gained or lost their smuggling value. Thomas Jefferson, in his pre-presidential days as an American ministerial representative in Paris for several years from 1784, smuggled rice out of Italy, hidden in his pockets. This was a crime carrying the death penalty if caught. He was also involved in smuggling hemp from China. To us now, it seems odd – rice? Hemp? Whatever for!

Silkworms, too, were smuggled from the far-east, as was tea. Spices were exotic and expensive: cinnamon, nutmeg, saffron, cloves – tulips – all were smuggled from where they grew in abundance to where they were prized. Leather goods were valued at some points in history, so too was grain when harvests failed and people were at starvation level.

The Romney Marsh, one of the main wool smuggling areas
 - where the smugglers were known as 'Owlers

image purchased from Shutterstock

Wool, in Medieval times, was important for England and its economy, reflected even today with the presiding officer of the Parliamentary House of Lords traditionally sitting on a seat stuffed with English wool, and known as the ‘Woolsack’. English wool was sought after in Europe. It is estimated that England exported something like 25,000 bales of wool in 1280, rising to a peak of 45,000 per year, then falling in 1355 to 33,000.

Incidentally, the term ‘fleeced’ comes from the wool trade, meaning to be tricked with something that looks a better quality than it really is.

Edward I negotiated an agreement with the wool merchants of a permanent tax duty, although illicit trading did not become illegal until Edward III became king. By 1566 anyone caught smuggling wool would be punished with the left hand being amputated and nailed to a church door as a warning to others. Obviously to little effect, as wool smuggling continued apace, for in 1689, when all trade was banned with France (because of yet another war), something like 500,000 pounds weight of wool was being smuggled every year across the Channel.

Salt: Before refrigeration, salt was essential for preserving food. During the late 1600s, William of Orange needed money. In 1693 he brought some of his Dutch accountants from Holland who advised a higher import duty on salt, although the tax was added to the manufacture, not the sale, which of course equally affected the cost of buying it. George III raised the rate again in 1767 to assist funding the cost of the American War of Independence, all of which led to the smuggling of quality white salt from Ireland to England.

Romper Lowe, from Cheshire, was a salt smuggler. One night, the parish constable was awoken by Lowe’s gang making a noise because their cart, laden with salt, had become stuck in a ditch. Constable Carter did his duty – and sent his servant and a horse to assist in pulling the cart out!

Gold. During the Napoleonic Wars of the early 1800s, Bonaparte paid people to smuggle gold from England into France in order to support the French currency. Very enterprising of him. The method used was to row across the English Channel in what were called ‘Guinea Boats’, although we are not talking small rowing boats here, but huge forty-foot long vessels which could carry a £30,000 value of the gold on each voyage. With twenty-four oars, twelve aside, the Kentish men could cross to France in less than five hours, given the right conditions.

Voluminous gowns - ideal for hiding smuggled goods.
No Revenue Man would be permitted to rummage beneath a lady's skirts
 - no matter how suspicious the 'padding'!

image purchased from Canstock photos

Jewellery was easy to smuggle:  slipped into pockets, sewn into coat linings, or women’s petticoats, or even swallowed to reappear at the smuggler’s convenience. (Excuse the pun!).

Alcohol: In his notebooks, Thomas Hardy mentions his grandfather hiding kegs of brandy under the stairs: ‘The spirits often smelt all over the house...’ Spirits were supplied ‘neat’ – lethal if consumed undiluted in quantity. Dilution would not be done until the brandy, gin, or whatever, reached its point of sale destination. The disadvantage: the water used, especially in London, was often contaminated with sewage, dead rats and other nasty stuff. It wasn’t the booze that caused the stomach aches –  but the added water!
So much gin was smuggled in the 1700s, that it was even used as a household cleaner!

image purchased Adobe Stock

Tobacco was as addictive in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries as it is today. Much of the smuggling was an ingenious ‘scam’ as it would be imported legally into Britain then exported to Europe with a legal ‘drawback’ refund paid on the import duty. The exact same tobacco would then be smuggled back into England, but bulked out by adding ground rose petals, leaves, herbs, straw and dust, then re-packaged and re-sold at a substantial profit. Questionable tactics, but very clever.

image purchased Adobe stock

Lace was an excellent textile to smuggle because it was lightweight and easily hidden.

Blonde Lace was made in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in France. This bobbin lace was crafted from silk, with the ‘blonde’ referring to the natural colour of the thread. Favoured by royalty, it is depicted in a portrait of Princess Charlotte (1796-1817) the daughter of King George IV and Caroline of Brunswick.

Brussels Lace, was admired as a delicate lace made from fine-spun linen thread which, in order to ensure it did not become brittle was spun in a damp and darkened environment, with only a single ray of light permitted. First produced in the fifteenth century, Brussels Lace is listed among presents given in 1543 to Princess Mary Tudor, daughter of Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon. A royal lace indeed!

In order to protect the making of English lace, the import of foreign lace was prohibited by Parliament in 1662, with the English version known as ‘English Point’. Unfortunately, it was not the same quality, so smuggled Brussels Lace remained in demand. The import ban was lifted in 1699 but French Brussels Lace continued to be a favourite of Queen Anne.

Valenciennes Lace originated, as the name implies, from Valenciennes in France. The height of its popularity was between 1700 to 1780. Made by hand it was woven in one piece  and was extremely strong. Sadly, there was very little of this beautiful hand-crafted lace being made by the time the 1900s arrived as machine-lace had taken over.

A Lacemaker
image purchased Adobe Stock

What about tea? Portuguese merchants smuggled tea to Europe in the late 1500s, with the fashion for its distinctive taste spreading to England in the 1600s, reportedly introduced by Portuguese-born Catherine of Braganza when she married King Charles II in 1662. It was known in Portugal as chá – often used today in Britain as a slang term.

Tea did not become popularly consumed until the eighteenth century because it was extremely expensive. With the establishment of the East India Company, and black tea grown in India, the Chinese stranglehold was broken and tea became easier and cheaper to harvest, transport, import – and buy.

For the smugglers, tea was one of the top commodities to be prized. It is estimated that three-million pounds in weight of tea, per annum, was being smuggled into England between 1700-1750. No wonder the English are known as a nation of tea-drinkers!

In a series of published news-sheets, the East India Company condemned tea smuggling as detrimental to the economy, and was therefore affecting high unemployment and low wages. Of course, there was no mention of their tumbling profits!

Tea gradually became more widely available as shipping increased in number and efficiency. Eventually, the British Government revoked the import tax, and the smuggling of tea became unprofitable by the end of the 1700s.

Prior to this amendment, however, the unpopular Tea Act of 1773 provoked a certain famous Tea Party in Boston Harbour, Massachusetts… but that tale is for a different article!

Smuggling in Fact and Fiction by Helen Hollick is due to be published by Pen & Sword Press in January 2019

Smuggling In The British Isles by Richard Platt
Smuggling: A History 1700-1970 David Phillipson
Smuggling In Fact and Fiction Helen Hollick (not yet published)

Helen Hollick lives on a thirteen-acre farm in Devon, England. Born in London, she wrote pony stories as a teenager, moved to science-fiction and fantasy, and then discovered historical fiction. Published for over twenty years with her Arthurian Trilogy, and the 1066 era she became a USA Today bestseller with her novel about Queen Emma The Forever Queen (UK title A Hollow Crown.) She also writes the Sea Witch Voyages, pirate-based nautical adventures with a touch of fantasy. She has written a non-fiction about pirates and one about smugglers in fact and fiction which is due to be published in 2018.

Newsletter Subscription:
Twitter: @HelenHollick

Amazon Author Page (Universal Link)

Helen is also the founder of Discovering Diamonds, a review blog for historical fiction, submissions welcome.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Queen Eadburh: Maligned but Not Murderous

By Kim Rendfeld

A woman who was once a murderous queen of the West Saxons winds up begging in the streets of Lombardy. Lovely poetic justice, if only it were true.

Eadburh, daughter of Mercian King Offa and Queen Cynethryth, was a real person. She did marry a king and was widowed. And she might have ended her days in Lombardy, but not begging and for much more mundane reasons than those in a story written by an author currying favor with a political enemy.

Offa (d. 796) was known for his ruthlessness and for the dike bearing his name. Like most aristocrats, he and his wife arranged for their children to marry for political advantage. In 789, Eadburh wed Beorhtric, king of Wessex.

Offa of Mercia from Matthew Paris's tract on St. Alban,
 13th century (Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)
The alliance had a mutual benefit. Beorhtric might have come to power as an outsider taking advantage of a power vacuum when his predecessor died. Marriage to the daughter of a powerful Mercian king solidified his claim. In his part of the bargain, Beorhtric teamed up with Offa to drive rival Ecgberht out of England. Beorhtric also had the dubious honor of having Vikings land on his shore and kill his reeve.

Apparently, Eadburh did wield power and influence. She gave away land in her own name and witnessed charters with her husband and her brother. Even though her marriage to Beorhtric lasted several years, they didn’t have children. Men in this age sometimes tried to repudiate wives who didn’t produce a healthy son. Beorhtric seems to have been a steadfast husband. Or maybe he feared upsetting Eadburh’s parents more than dying without an heir.

After Offa died, his son, Ecgfrith, succeeded him, and Beorhtric and Eadburh supported him. But Ecgfrith’s reign didn’t last even a year. He died, likely not of natural causes.

Eadburh and Beorhtric’s marriage lasted until his death in 802. He didn’t die of old age, either.

13th century image of Beorhtric
(Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

And now we get to the fiction, an account by Asser, who wrote Life of Alfred in 893. The title character was Ecgberht’s grandson. Asser supposedly includes Eadburh’s story to explain why the wives of the Wessex kings weren’t crowned queen like Eadburh was and not take her seat beside him on the throne. More likely this is an attempt to discredit the rival family.

If we are to believe Asser—and I don’t—Eadburh was tyrannical like her father and dominated the relationship (not good in medieval eyes). If her husband liked anyone she didn’t, she would poison the friendship, and if that didn’t work, the poisoning took a literal turn. Poison, the weapon of women and cowards, fits nicely into the narrative.

Eadburh planned to kill a young man she thought was getting too close to her husband. The victim took the poison. So did Beorhtric. Oops.

In reality, Ecgberht is the more probable culprit. He might have invaded Wessex with his followers, and Beorhtric fell in battle. Ecgberht subsequently seized the throne.

According to Asser, Eadburh took treasures and fled. That much is believable. What’s next is a stretch, and that’s being charitable.

Eadburh went to Charlemagne’s court. The emperor, whose fifth wife had died, asked Eadburh if she wanted himself or his son Charles. Eadburh said she preferred the younger man. Charlemagne told her had she chosen the father, she would have gotten the son, but now she could have neither.

This doesn’t pass the laugh test. By medieval standards, Eadburh was not a desirable bride, especially for a royal marriage. Her father and brother were dead, leaving her without the family connections needed to form alliances. Instead, Charlemagne appointed her as an abbess.

Charlemagne by Albrecht Dürer
(public domain,
via Wikimedia Commons)
Using another time-honored technique to discredit women, Asser says that Eadburh was caught fornicating with one of her countrymen and expelled from the convent on Charlemagne’s order. Somehow she made her way to Pavia with a slave and ended her days in shame and misery as a beggar.

She might have spent the rest of her days in Lombardy but not as a punishment or in poverty. A confraternity book written between 825 and 850 shows an “Eadburg” as an abbess of a large Lombard convent. If this Eadburg is the former queen of Wessex, she would be in her 50s to her 70s.

It was common for a widowed queen to retire to a convent, and if the emperor thought her a reliable ally, he might appoint her as the abbess. An abbess was a leader, controlling land and the convent’s other assets, and she usually did not live an ascetic lifestyle.

The real Charlemagne very much believed in the power of prayer, and that extended to winning wars. If he trusted Eadburh to lead her sisters in prayer, it is possible he or his successor, Louis the Pious, might have bestowed the abbey upon her.


"Eadburh" by Janet L. Nelson, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

“Beorhtric” by Heather Edwards, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

Asser’s Life of Alfred

Asser's Life of King Alfred, together with the Annals of Saint Neots erroneously ascribed to Asser
by John Asser, d. 909, edited by William Henry Stevenson

A handsome, but wretched head.” by Lisa Graves, The History Witch

Eadburh, Queen of the West Saxons” by Susan Abernethy, The Freelance History Writer


Kim Rendfeld has written two novels set in 8th century Europe, and her third novel, Queen of the Darkest Hour, will be published August 7. The ebook about how Queen Fastrada must stop a conspiracy before it destroys the kingdom is available for preorder on AmazoniBooksBarnes & Noble, and Kobo.

In The Cross and the Dragon, a Frankish noblewoman must contend with a jilted suitor and the fear of losing her husband (available on Amazon). In The Ashes of Heaven's Pillar, a Saxon peasant will fight for her children after losing everything else (available on Amazon). Her short story “Betrothed to the Red Dragon,” about Guinevere’s decision to marry Arthur, is set in early medieval Britain and available on Amazon.

Connect with Kim at on her website, her blog, Outtakes of a Historical Novelist at, on Facebook at, or follow her on Twitter at @kimrendfeld.