Thursday, February 23, 2017

A Tale of Two Iscas


by Alison Morton

Whenever I visit a town I’m drawn to the museum, especially (and sometimes exclusively) to see if there is any Roman stuff. This is what a ‘Roman nut’ usually does. Woe betide anybody coming in between me and tesserae, Samian ware or a nice bit of Roman concrete. Last year in Exeter was a special treat because it was the second of the twin Iscas, the other one I’d never seen.

The Romans established a large castrum (fortified camp) named Isca around AD 55 at the southwest end of the Fosse Way as the base for the 5,000-man Legio II Augusta (Second Augustan Legion) originally led by Vespasian, later Roman emperor. Twenty years later they moved to Caerleon in Wales, which was also confusingly known as Isca. To distinguish the two, the Romans referred to Exeter as Isca Dumnoniorum after the name of the local tribe and Caerleon as Isca Augusta.

I’d visited Caerleon decades ago as a student when I’d been working on the archaeological dig at Usk, and more recently when I was at a writing conference. But I’d never visited its twin, Exeter.

Exeter – Isca Dumnoniorum
The name is a Latinisation of a Brythonic name describing flowing water (Uisc), in reference to the River Exe. Like many early settlements Exeter began as a place of  dry land by a navigable river; in Exeter’s case on a ridge ending in a spur overlooking the Exe. The bonuses were a fertile hinterland, a river full of fish and access to a large protected estuary and the open sea. Although there have been no major prehistoric finds, these advantages suggest the site was occupied early. Coins have been discovered from Hellenistic kingdoms, suggesting the existence of a settlement trading with the Mediterranean as early as 250 BC.

Isca Dumnoniorum Castrum

In mid first century Exeter, a civilian community (vicus or canabae) inhabited by local tribespeople and soldiers' ‘unofficial’ families, grew round the Roman camp, mostly to the northeast.

When Legio II Augusta left around AD 75 to go north to fight tribes in Wales, the camp grounds were converted for civilian purposes; its very large legionary bathhouse was demolished to make way for a forum, basilica and a smaller-scale bathhouse.

In the late 2nd century AD, the ditch and rampart defences around the old fortress were replaced by a bank and wall enclosing a much larger area, around 92 acres. The course of the Roman wall was used for Exeter's subsequent city walls; the stones are a mixture of Roman and medieval. About 70% of this wall remains, and most of its route can be traced on foot.

The settlement served as the tribal capital (civitas) of the Dumnonii and Isca Dumnoniorum seems to have been most prosperous in the first half of the 4th century: more than a thousand Roman coins have been found around the city and there is evidence for copper and bronze working, a stock-yard, and markets for the livestock, crops, and pottery produced in the surrounding area.

Trade with the Mediterranean continued bringing luxuries like wine and fine pottery. In the 3rd century AD new stone wall and gatehouses were built. Rich people lived in townhouses with costly mosaic floors; other areas of housing fell into disuse or were converted into farmyards.

Display of pottery and glassware, Exeter Museum

In the museum, the Roman military presence is testified by hooks from legionary helmets, knives, armour hinges, armour tie hooks, armour buckles and hinged fittings, belt buckles, legionary apron fittings, strap ends, tent pegs, and horse harness fittings. These are all small things of life then, but precious to us now for the story they tell. But beside those, the cases display a rich variety of military and civilian basins, strigils, pots, jars, cooking implements, even glassware. And of course, tiles, mosaics, plaster and stone remnants alongside domestic rings, brooches, weaving weights, board games, keys and styli. And, of course, silver coins. As in any other part of the Roman Empire, the pickings show a rich diversity and sheer numbers of objects that even humble people possessed.

Display of military clips, ties and buckles, Exeter museum

In 410 AD the last Roman soldiers left Britain to defend Rome against attacks by hostile tribes. By then Isca’s suburbs were being abandoned; there are few remains from this time. Dates of coins discovered so far suggest a rapid decline: virtually none have been discovered with dates after AD 380. By around 500, the basilica had fallen down and Isca Dumnoniorum’s busy urban life was over.

Circling back to AD 75, when the Legio II Augusta soldiers strapped on their marching boots and filed out of the castrum gate, I wonder what the effect was on the Devonian Isca. The heavy military presence was lifted; the drinking, rowdiness, the casual brutality, the gambling, testosterone, the whoring and the unwanted pregnancies.  Many unofficial wives upped sticks and with their children followed the soldiers to their new home.  However, the economic effect must have been significant for the the innkeepers, brothels, tailors, weavers, leather and knife suppliers, laundries and local food suppliers and grain merchants.

Caerleon – Isca Augusta (Isca Silurum)
The Brythonic name Isca referred to the River Usk  which literally means ‘river of flowing water’ (tautology alert!). The suffix Augusta, an honorific title taken from the legion stationed there for 200 years, appears in the Ravenna Cosmography, a list of place-names covering the world from India to Ireland compiled by an anonymous cleric in Ravenna around ad 700. It’s also referred to as Isca Silurum to differentiate it from Isca Dumnoniorum and because it lay in the territory of the Silures tribe. However, there is no evidence that this form was used during the Roman period. Caerleon, the name we know today, is derived from the Welsh for "fortress of the legion".

Isca Augusta was founded by Governor Sextus Julius Frontinus during the final campaigns against the native tribes of western Britain, notably the Silures in South Wales who had resisted the Romans’ advance for over a generation.
It became the headquarters of the Legio II Augusta, a large fortress base on the typical rectangular castrum pattern and built initially with an earth bank and timber palisade. It remained their headquarters until at least 300 AD.

The camp interior was fitted out with the usual array of military buildings: a headquarters building, legate's residence, tribunes' houses, hospital, large bath house, workshops, barrack blocks, granaries and, unusually, a large amphitheatre.

The excavated amphitheatre

Britannia was one of the most heavily militarised provinces due to its frontier status and hostile neighbours. Isca Augusta is uniquely important for the study of the conquest, pacification and colonisation of the island. It was one of only three permanent legionary fortresses in later Roman Britain and, unlike the other sites at Chester and York, its archaeological remains are relatively undisturbed beneath fields and the town of Caerleon.

Excavations continue and one of the most exciting discoveries is a complex of very large monumental buildings outside the fortress between the River Usk and the amphitheatre. This new area of the canabae (settlement of traders, families and discharged soldiers) was previously completely unknown.

And in August 2011 it was announced that remains of a Roman harbour had been discovered in Caerleon.  I have a little secret about that. Walking by the fortress wall in the fine rain a month before, loving and absorbing everything, I bumped into a fellow walker. We chatted and he obviously caught on that I was a ‘Roman nut’.  He told me he was a member of the University of Cardiff faculty involved in digging the site. Poor man! I bombarded him with questions.

Mosaic and pottery finds, Roman National Legion Museum

But as he was speaking to another enthusiast, he told me they were developing excavations as there had been indications there was much more to find. There always is, of course, but his was a humdinger. He revealed that remains of a Roman harbour had been found in a meadow by the river.. All very hush-hush, so please not to speak about it. I almost jumped up and down, but did manage to keep my dignity. You can look through the gallery of pictures for more images of what Roman Caerleon might have looked like.

Most of the sites I have been to are ruins, but there is memory in those stones. Touching walls, walking on mosaics, breathing the air of the place and sometimes seeing the same view they saw.

Prysg Field Barracks

The walls of Prysg Field Barracks at Caerleon, the only Roman legionary barracks visible in Europe are gone, but the foundations are still there showing their outline.  The amphitheatre – the largest ever uncovered in Britain and once romantically (and mistakenly) said to have been the site of Arthur’s Round Table of Camelot – is grassed over. The timber grandstand which would have seated some 6,000 shouting, cursing and cheering legionaries and townspeople is no more.  These and the legionaries’ swimming pool, the make you wonder who the people were who trod the same pathways, swam in the pool, placed bets, got drunk, made assignations. The light grey sky, the misty rain, the waves and slopes of the landscapes, your hand touching the stone and concrete in a place where so many people had lived and worked two thousand years ago give you something that no book or picture or film can give you.

Sources:
Bidwell, Paul T. (1980). Roman Exeter: Fortress and Town. Exeter City Council.
Hoskins, W. G. (2004). Two Thousand Years in Exeter (Revised and updated ed.)
National Roman Legion Museum, Caerleon
University of Cardiff, Dr Peter Guest
BBCwww.bbc.com/news/uk-wales-14628286 [Accessed 20/2/2017]

For more on Caerleon discoveries see youtu.be/nwx00pe2HH8 [Accessed 20/2/2017]

[Photographs - author’s own, one time use allowed for this article]

~~~~~~~~~~

Alison Morton has misspent decades clambering over Roman sites throughout Europe. She holds a MA History, blogs about Romans and writing. Now she writes, cultivates a Roman herb garden and drinks wine in France with her husband of 30 years.

She writes the Roma Nova thriller series featuring modern Praetorian heroines. She blends her deep love of Roman history with six years’ military service and a life of reading crime, adventure and thriller fiction.

All five books have been awarded the BRAG Medallion. SUCCESSIO, AURELIA and INSURRECTIO were selected as Historical Novel Society’s Indie Editor’s Choices.  AURELIA was a finalist in the 2016 HNS Indie Award. The sixth, RETALIO, is due out in April 2017.

Buying links: alison-morton.com/books-2/buying-links/
Blogsite: alison-morton.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/AlisonMortonAuthor/
Twitter: twitter.com/alison_morton





Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Cyneburg: A Child of Wodan Who Became a Saint

By Kim Rendfeld

When she was growing up, Cyneburg might have believed she was a descendant of the god Wodan and expected to marry to strengthen her family’s political alliances. So how did this 7th-century Mercian princess feel when she learned she would wed the son of her father’s enemy and abandon her gods?

The marriage was before 653, which puts Cyneburg’s birth year around 640 or before. We don’t know what her childhood household was like, but judging by Cyneburg’s and her sisters’ names, Queen Cynewise must have had some influence. Cyneburg grew up with her father, King Penda, constantly at war with Northumbria, the union of Deira and Bernicia.

Although the kings of Mercia and Northumbria practiced different religions, the disparate faiths didn’t cause the conflict. Penda likely used his lineage to Wodan as his claim to power, but he was remarkably tolerant. Both Christians and pagans believed deities determined victory in war or success of the harvest – and they wreaked havoc if displeased. Yet Penda did not bother Christian missionaries on his lands. His reasons might have been political; it would be easier to make alliances with Christian rulers against a common foe if he didn’t persecute their holy men.

At the battle of Maserfield in 642, Penda killed Northumbrian King Oswald, then ritually dismembered his foe and displayed his head and arms as trophies. To the Mercians, Penda got rid of an oppressor. In Northumbrian eyes, Oswald was a martyr. (A year later, Oswald’s brother and successor, Oswy, retrieved the remains, which became relics.)

Penda’s attacks on Bernica went on years. It’s easy to imagine Cyneburg seeing Oswy, his children, and his people as oppressors and loathing them.

We don’t know which father suggested two marriages between their children. Cyneburg would marry Oswy’s heir, Alchfrith, and her eldest brother, Peada, would marry Oswy’s daughter. A condition for the marriages was that Cyneburg and Peada accept baptism.

Saint Chad, with Peada and Wulfhere at Lichfield Cathedral
(by Sjwells53, CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL,
via Wikimedia Commons)
We can assume the royal families were trying to make peace. The heaviest burden fell on the daughters: both fathers and husbands expected the women to use their connections to help the men get their way. If the wife gave birth to a healthy son, her position would be that much stronger.
History doesn’t record what Penda and Cyneburg discussed when she was betrothed. Did Cyneburg have doubts about leaving her old gods behind? About her husband? About whether the marriage would stop the wars?

The hoped-for peace was not to be.

In the 655, Oswy killed Penda in the battle of Winwæd and took over Mercia, but he allowed Peada to ascend to the throne. That is, until Peada’s untimely death a year later because of his wife’s betrayal.

Was Cyneburg heartbroken as her father, then her brother, died at the hands of her in-laws? Her husband was not innocent. He had fought alongside his father and was rewarded by being crowned subking of Deira.

The sources conflict on what happens next. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle says Wulfhere, also a convert to Christianity, succeeded his brother and worked with Oswy to donate land to the monastery at Medeshamstead (later Peterborough), which Oswy and Peada had started. Wulfhere did this with the counsel of Cyneburg and sister Cyneswith.

From Encyclopædia Britannica, 1911
(public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Bede tells a different story: Wulfhere was a youth and hid from Oswy. Then with support from noblemen, he wrested Mercia back from Oswy in 658, and Oswy accepted that loss.

Despite this turmoil, Cyneburg appears to be a faithful wife. She and her husband might have had six children (this fact depends on which source you believe). She also seems to have embraced her adopted faith. Like Cyneburg, four of their children were later revered as saints.

Cyneburg and her husband were responsible for building monasteries at Ripon and Stamford. Ripon got off to a rough start. The monks renounced the gift when they learned they had to give up the Celtic practice of Christianity and follow the Roman rule as Alchfrith wanted. The land was then entrusted to Wilfred, a cleric who followed Roman tradition.

The clash over Celtic vs. Roman rule would extend to Alchfrith and his own father in the 660s. Cyneburg was with her husband the 664 Synod of Whitby, where Oswy relented and agreed to the Roman rule. But father and son didn’t stop fighting. This time, they disagreed over who should be bishop. Alchfrith rebelled. And then disappeared.

We don’t know how the widowed Cyneburg reacted. Did she regret, or question, why she had become part of a family that fought each other? In Mercia, her enemies were not close relatives. Did she grieve for her husband? Did she despise Oswy? Or did she accept the tragedy as God’s will?

Her children probably stayed in Oswy’s court, but Cyneburg left. Was that departure yet another loss on top of so many?

She turned to Wulfhere and must have still been important in her homeland. Joined by her sister, Cyneburg became the abbess of Castor (originally Cyneburgecaestre). It was common for widowed queens to retire to abbeys. In her case, the nunnery might have been a refuge, and for Wulfhere, the move ensured that the land was in the hands of an ally.

Castor (By John Salmon, CC BY-SA 2.0,
via Wikimedia Commons)
Perhaps, Cyneburg wielded more power at Castor than in Northumbria. Although she was officially under the authority of a bishop, difficult travel and lack of instant communication meant she controlled the convent’s land and made decisions over the nuns she ruled. This was also a time when Christian kings wanted monks and nuns to pray for them. The act would please God, who would then allow pious kings win battles and stay healthy.

She embraced the religious life, showing compassion to the poor and zealously instructing the women in her care. She tried to influence her brothers – Wulfhere and his successor, Æthelred – to give alms and show mercy.

After her death around 680, her reputation for virtue lived on. The Bewcastle Cross, a stone monument created in the late 7th or early 8th century, has an inscription with her and Alchfrith’s name in rune. In the 10th century, she and two kinswomen were translated to Peterborough—a tribute to her fidelity to Christ.

Sources

The Lives of the Saints by Rev. Alban Butler http://www.bartleby.com/210/3/065.html

“Cyneburg,” New Catholic Encyclopedia http://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/cyneburg-st

Woman Under Monasticism: Chapters on Saint-lore and Convent Life Between A.D. 500 and A.D. 1500 by Lina Eckenstein

"Cyneburg of Mercia (fl. 655)." Dictionary of Women Worldwide: 25,000 Women Through the Ages, edited by Anne Commire and Deborah Klezmer, Gale Virtual Reference Library

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, translated by E.E.C. Gomme

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography:
‘Penda (d. 655)’ by S.E. Kelly
‘Alchfrith (fl. c.655–c.665)’ by Rosemary Cramp
‘Wulfhere (d. 675)’ by S.E. Kelly
‘Osric (d. 729)’ by D.J. Craig

~~~~~~~~~~

Kim Rendfeld has written two novels set in early medieval times and is working on a third.

You can order The Ashes of Heaven's Pillar, about a Saxon peasant who will fight for her children after losing everything else, at AmazonKoboBarnes & Noble, and iTunes. Kim's first novel, The Cross and the Dragon, in which a Frankish noblewoman must contend with a jilted suitor and the fear of losing her husband, is available at Amazon, Kobo, iTunes, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, CreateSpace, and other vendors.

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

Saturday, February 18, 2017

The Unpopular Tudor

by Samantha Wilcoxson

On February 18, 1516, the Tudor court celebrated the birth of Princess Mary. After struggling to give her husband an heir, Katherine of Aragon was thrilled with the healthy baby regardless of her gender. King Henry VIII was pleased to have evidence of their ability to procreate, even if he would never grow comfortable with the idea of this little girl as a future queen. While Mary is at best ignored and at worst villainized in modern discussions of the Tudor era, she was looked upon more favorably during her own lifetime.

Mary's early childhood was charmed. She was beloved by both parents and praised by those visiting her father's court for her beauty and precociousness. Henry may not have wished for Mary to inherit his kingdom, but he understood her value as a potential wife. He was proud of his daughter and ensured that she received an exceptional education.

Henry VIII's Great Matter and Queen Katherine's fall from favor is often offered as a reason for Mary's actions during her reign. However, this reasoning fails to demonstrate a comprehensive understanding of Mary Tudor. Rather than vengeance, she was motivated by her belief that it was her duty to shepherd her people in the faith.

Queen Mary I has become known as Bloody Mary, and one cannot deny that almost 300 Protestants were burned for heresy during her reign. But there is so much more to this devout woman who endured much hardship and heartbreak during her brief life. She is remembered much less positively than her sister, Elizabeth I, who also executed and imprisoned people over disagreements on faith. Others suffered simply because they had not pleased Elizabeth. Their father ruled in much the same way. Why then has Mary become the unpopular Tudor?

Mary may have struggled to have her father recognize her as legitimate once he had set aside her mother, but her more serious issues began on the accession of her brother, Edward VI. Henry's Church of England had, by and large, been Catholicism with Henry at its head rather than the Pope. Those who advised the young Edward had something rather different in mind. Mary held as steadfastly to her faith as one might expect of the daughter of Katherine of Aragon, causing some to call for her arrest. The most bold encouraged Edward to have her executed, whether for treason or heresy made little difference.

Edward VI's Devise for the Succession
The young King Edward refused to go that far. As his once close relationship with his eldest sister disintegrated, he badgered her about the mass being held on her estates and imprisoned some members of her household, but he would not take legal action against Mary herself. The most significant step he took against her was his Devise for the Succession, written when he suspected that he was dying.

Edward had never taken the step of legitimizing either of his half-sisters. Therefore, Mary and Elizabeth were still legally bastards throughout his reign, though still his heirs based upon the Act of Succession made law by their father's Parliament. Had Edward lived longer, he likely would have had this rescinded with the succession altered to fit his own desires, but when he died in July 1553 only his will had been updated.

Bypassing both sisters and his cousin, Frances Grey, who were the next three in line according to the Act of Succession, Edward attempted to leave his crown to Lady Jane Grey, Frances' daughter. Neither Edward nor his council foresaw the popular support that went to Mary instead. There was little love for Queen Jane, for few knew her. However, many remembered the widely celebrated Princess Mary and saw her as the true heir of her father and brother.

Mary quickly and effectively took the throne with little resistance. Once John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, left London to lead Queen Jane's forces, support fell away as if a dam had collapsed. The people would have Mary as their queen, and many of the older generation among them also welcomed the return to traditional faith and worship. The immediate concern upon Mary's accession was not her religion but her marriage plans.

Many betrothals had been proposed over the years, but Mary remained single at age 37. As queen, the bearing of an heir was paramount, but everyone remembered her mother's sad childbearing history. Mary needed to be married quickly but to the proper spouse. In a country that had never before been ruled by a woman, Mary's choice of husband was a scary prospect. Any English subject she chose to marry raised his family up astronomically, but marriage to a foreign prince could be even worse.

Despite much encouragement for her to accept the suit of Edward Courtenay and the York blood flowing through his veins, Mary chose a cousin from her mother's side of the family, Philip of Spain. Philip's father, Charles V, had long been a great supporter of Mary and her mother, and Mary trusted him more than almost any other. When he offered his son, she quickly accepted, but the rest of the country feared that England would become part of the Holy Roman Empire of which Charles was king.

This outcry against Philip became fused with the younger generation's reluctance to accept the old faith. Had Mary better understood her subjects, she may have made a different decision, for she was as dedicated to serving her country as her sister would later be credited for. Her misjudgment was severe, causing Protestant uprisings against Philip and all he stood for.

It was in the name of ensuring her people's salvation and rescuing them from heresy that Mary reinstituted burnings in 1555. In the 16th century, salvation was not a private issue as it is today. Monarchs saw it as their duty to care for their subjects on this earth and to provide them with worship that gave them the hope of heaven. All across Europe, leaders were struggling with what this meant in the face of the Reformation. Mary was determined that reformist heresy would not damn her people to hell, and her hope was that, by punishing a few, she would save the masses.

Burning as a punishment is horrific to the modern mind. To the 16th century mind, it was a foretaste of the fires of hell that encouraged the sufferer to repent and therefore be saved from the eternal fires. Those punished might be saved at the last minute, and those who witnessed would be forced to reconsider their beliefs. Mary believed that she was doing her duty to her people and her God in her attempts to end heresy.

Her contemporaries, by and large, agreed with her. Some became enraged when local authorities in charge of fulfilling Mary's commands used their power to punish rivals rather than heretics, but Mary's actions were widely accepted. Were it not for the biased writing of John Foxe and efforts of her own sister after Mary's death, the Marian burnings would scarcely be a notable historic event. In truth, fewer were executed by Mary than her fellow Tudor monarchs.

The rejection of Catholicism in England has become connected with the negative view of Queen Mary, so that, even today, people remember her more as Bloody Mary than the first Queen Regnant of England. The lack of sympathy with which she is viewed and misunderstandings of her abound, but Elizabeth significantly benefited from her sister's example.

Lesser known than the persecution of heretics and false pregnancies of Mary's reign are her acts of mercy and ability to inspire loyalty of her people. During Wyatt's Rebellion in 1554, an uprising determined to stop Mary's marriage to Philip, Mary refused to leave London and gave a rousing speech to the people of the city, encouraging them to stand by her and oppose the rebels. They did.

In her speech, Mary used words that would later be employed by her sister.
What I am loving subjects, ye know your Queen, to whom, at my coronation, ye promised allegiance and obedience, I was then wedded to the realm, and to the laws of the same, the spousal ring whereof I wear here on my finger, and it never has and never shall be left off.
I cannot tell how naturally a mother loveth her children, for I never had any, but if the subjects may be loved as a mother doth her child, then assure yourselves that I, your sovereign lady and your Queen, do earnestly love and favour you. I cannot but think you love me in return; and thus, bound in concord, we shall be able, I doubt not, to give these rebels a speedy overthrow.
I am neither so desirous of wedding, nor so precisely wedded to my will, that I needs must have a husband. Hitherto I have lived a virgin, and I doubt not, with God's grace, to live still. But if, as my ancestors have done, it might please God that I should leave you a successor to be your governor, I trust you would rejoice thereat; also, I know it would be to your comfort.

The rebellion failed, but Mary found herself tested. She had thus far shown mercy to Lady Jane, despite the usurpation, but her father had been involved in the rebellion. The Duke of Suffolk was beyond saving, but Mary did not concede to sign Jane's death warrant until she was convinced that Philip would not come until known traitors were dealt with. In a eerie replay of Edward of Warwick's execution to clear the way for Mary's mother, Jane went to her death to please the Spanish. To soothe her conscience and demonstrate mercy where she could, Mary forgave 400 rebels who had been sentenced to hanging.

While this one act of mercy saved more men than all those who had died for heresy, it is not acts such as this that Mary is remembered for. Neither is she given credit for demonstrating to her younger sister that a woman could indeed rule. Elizabeth learned from Mary's mistakes and made many of her own, leading to the end of the Tudor dynasty. She ensured her own reputation as Gloriana, in part by blackening the name of the sister who preceded her. Mary may be the unpopular Tudor, but her story is one that inspired her sister to greater glory and might deserve to be more sympathetically remembered today.

Additional Reading
Catholic England under Mary Tudor by Eamon Duffy
Mary Tudor: Princess, Bastard, Queen by Anna Whitelock
The First Queen of England by Linda Porter
Edward VI: The Lost King of England by Chris Skidmore

All images in the public domain through Wikimedia Commons
~~~~~~~~~~

Samantha Wilcoxson is the author of the Plantagenet Embers Trilogy. A incurable bibliophile and sufferer of wanderlust, she lives in Michigan with her husband and three teenagers. You can connect with Samantha on her blog or on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads. Samantha is also a contributor to In Bed with the British, coming from Pen and Sword this summer.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Prehistoric Orkney: The People of the Stones

By Mark Patton

In an earlier blog-post, I examined the evidence for the earliest human settlement of the Orkney Islands, between 4000 and 3700 BC. Using stone axes (since they had no knowledge of metals), these Neolithic settlers rapidly cleared the islands of whatever tree-cover they may once have had, in order to create fields in which they might grow barley and oats, and graze their cattle and sheep. The islands have been almost entirely devoid of woodland ever since, the strong westerly winds, laden with salt, being hostile to any potential regeneration. Across much of prehistoric Europe, wood was an important building material, but on these northerly islands, stone took its place: the sandstone of the Orkneys fractures into flat-faced rectangular blocks, giving these buildings, among the most ancient in the world, a surprisingly modern appearance.

The settlement of Barnhouse, dating to around 3400 BC, is significantly larger than the earlier one at the Knap of Howar, with fifteen houses. Its inhabitants seem to have fished, as well as growing cereal crops, and keeping cattle, sheep and pigs. The finds from the village include several elaborately carved stone balls: quite what significance these had is unclear, but similar artefacts have been found across the Scottish mainland, as well as in Ireland and northern England, showing that the island populations were by no means cut off from what was happening elsewhere.

One of the Neolithic houses at Barnhouse. Photo: Martin McCarthy (licensed under GNU).
Neolithic carved stone balls, Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum, Glasgow Photo: Johnbod (licensed under CCA).


The people who lived at Barnhouse (and doubtless at many similar settlements which either have not survived the ravages of time, or have yet to be discovered) buried their dead in stone-built tombs. A visitor to Orkney will encounter many of these, but I will focus on just two, both of which are located on the small island of Rousay (one of the less-developed islands in modern times, on which more of the prehistoric sites have consequently been preserved).

The tomb of Midhowe is what is termed a "stalled cairn:" an elongated stone chamber, divided into "stalls" by stone slabs, with most stalls containing human remains, in some cases complete skeletons, in other cases disarticulated bones. The remains of at least twenty-five people were found at Midhowe, together with bones of cattle, sheep, and seabirds. "Stalled cairns" are distinctively Scottish, but not uniquely Orcadian (there are many examples across Caithness), although the island tombs are, in some cases, larger and more elaborate than those on the mainland.

The Midhowe chambered cairn. Photo: Lawrence Jones (licensed under CCA).
Plan of the Midhowe chambered cairn, showing the position of burial deposits. Image: Fantoman400 (licensed under CCA).


The tomb of Taversoe Tuick, by contrast, is a "passage grave," or "passage tomb," with a narrow stone passage leading to a larger chamber, covered by a mound. In architectural terms, it represents a variation on a theme more widely distributed along the Atlantic coast of Europe, with examples found in Iberia; western France; the Channel Islands; Wales; Ireland; the Hebrides; Denmark; and Sweden. Taversoe Tuick is unusual, perhaps unique, as a "double-decker" passage grave, with two tombs, one on top of the other, and entered from opposite sides of the mound.

The chambered cairn of Taversoe Tuick. Photo: Colin Smith (licensed under CCA). The entrance shown leads into the lower tomb. 
The passage of the lower tomb at Taversoe Tuick (Photo: Stephen McKay (licensed under CCA). 
The junction between the upper and lower tombs at Taversoe Tuick. Photo: Stephen McKay (licensed under CCA).
Plan of the chambered cairn of Taversoe Tuick. Image: www.aroundrousay.co.uk. 
Neolithic pottery ("Unstan Ware") from Taversoe Tuick. Image: Fantoman400 (licensed under CCA).


Both "stalled cairns" and "passage graves" have been seen as "territorial markers" ("this land is our land, because it was cleared and cultivated by our ancestors, whose bones stand as witness to the fact"), and both are constructed in such a way as to facilitate ongoing "communication" between the living and the dead. This may reflect a belief system in which death was seen, not as a journey from one world to another, but rather as a changed state of being ("the dead remain among us, but, as ancestors, they differ from elders, just as elders differ from adults, and adults differ from children"). This "communication," however, seems to have been a largely private affair, the narrow entrances of the passages, and the small size of the chambers, limiting the number of people who could participate in whatever rituals were conducted within.

Some archaeologists, notably Lord [Colin] Renfrew, have seen, in the structure of these tombs, a reflection of a "segmentary lineage society:" a form of social organisation observed by ethnographers in tribal societies in Africa and elsewhere, in which a tribe is made up of clans; which themselves are made up of major lineages; which in turn are made up of minor lineages; each division defined by descent from a historical or mythical ancestor.

Diagram of a segmentary lineage society (adapted from E.E. Evans-Pritchard).


Such societies may have been widespread in Neolithic Europe, but are, perhaps, more easily imagined in a context such as Orkney, where both the houses and the tombs are built in durable stone, and have been relatively undisturbed by later agricultural and industrial development.

~~~~~~~~~~

Mark Patton is a published author of historical fiction and non-fiction, whose books may be purchased from Amazon.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

A History of the Cuckold's Horns

By Deborah Swift


What is a cuckold?
Up until the Victorian era, the concept of the cuckold was endemic through English culture. The word 'cuckold' comes from late Old English, from the Old French cucuault. The root of this is from cucu ‘cuckoo’, and refers to the cuckoo's habit of laying its egg in another bird's nest. A cuckold is the husband of an adulterous wife, and in days gone by, a label associated with shame and humiliation. It's implication was that the man could not control his wife, or that he was impotent.

Copy of a painting by Francois Bunel

The Mystery of the Horns
The symbol universally associated with cuckolding was a pair of ram's horns. Strength, power and supremacy, along with procreative vigor have always been associated with horns, which are used when the animal fights its rival in the mating season. In some cultures today, horns are still used symbolically, and powdered rhinoceros horn is still sold in Asia as an aphrodisiac. What we must understand as modern readers is that the horns had connotations of the Devil, that the mention of them was full of sexual innuendo. In a way the horn embodies both the male and female organs by being both hollow and protuberant.

In Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing, Beatrice says 
'There will the Devil meet me, like an old cuckold, with horns on his head.' 
Stag antlers were also an old symbol of cuckolds. Christianity sought to discourage pagan worship of horns and depicted the Devil himself as bestial, and thus horned.

The Contented Cuckold 1673 - British Museum

Charlton Horn Fair 
One of the most popular events in London's season was the Charlton Horn Fair, which lasted for three days, and was a fair with a scurrilous reputation, encouraging rowdy and drunken behaviour. It was so bawdy that the fair had to be moved from its place opposite St Luke's Church, to a place at the other end of the village.

The Legend of King John
So how did it start? Legend has it that King John, having been out hunting on Shooters Hill, was in dire need of refreshment. Finding a miller's cottage nearby, he went to ask for a drink. He found the master of the house away, but his beautiful wife took pity on him (or perhaps was impressed by his fine clothes) and invited him in.

They talked a while, and she gave him food and drink, and the attraction between the King and the miller's wife grew. Just as he was about to kiss her, the door swung open and the miller strode in. Finding his wife in the King's arms, the miller pulled out a dagger and swore he'd kill them both.

Of course the King then told him who he was, and the miller sheathed his dagger and swallowed his fury. The King, mindful of the wrong he had done to the miller, and no doubt grateful for his life, vowed to endow him with him all the land he could see - as far as the bend in the river where the horns were fixed on a pole.

He also gave him permission to hold a fair on 18th October every year - the anniversary of the event. That bend in the river became known as Cuckold's Point, and the fair the Horn Fair. Now whether this is a true story, we can only guess, but perhaps there is a grain of truth there.

The Procession
By tradition, the fair opened with a procession, headed by a man carrying a pair of horns on a pole, and visitors dressed up as the miller, his wife or the King. Much cross-dressing went on, and ribald jokes and lewd behaviour were the order of the day.
'at Horn Fair, a party of humorists of both sexes (query, of either sex) cornuted in all the variety of bull-feather fashion, after perambulating round Cuckold’s Point, startled the little quiet village of Charlton on St. Luke’s Day, shouting their emulation, and blowing voluntaries on rams’ horns, in honour of their patron saint.'
In this 18th century etching from the British Museum below, we can see 'a riotous scene in a country village where a shrewish wife and hen-pecked husband are mocked by their neighbours in procession. The couple ride on one horse, the man facing the tail, preceded by another man on horseback who throws grain from a pannier to the crowd. Further to the right, cuckold's horns in the form of a stag's head, a ram's head and a cow's head are held aloft, the latter attached to a woman's shift, and "rough music" is played on pots and pans. In the background, is a river and a similar procession takes place on the far bank.

Skimmington-Triumph, Or the Humours of Horn Fair

When the parade reached the actual fair, this was the scene, according to author Daniel Defoe:
'Charleton, a village famous, or rather infamous for the yearly collected rabble of mad-people, at Horn-Fair; the rudeness of which I cannot but think, is such as ought to be suppressed, and indeed in a civiliz’d well govern’d nation, it may well be said to be unsufferable. The mob indeed at that time take all kinds of liberties, and the women are especially impudent for that day; as if it was a day that justify’d the giving themselves a loose to all manner of indecency and immodesty, without any reproach, or without suffering the censure which such behaviour would deserve at another time.'
Every visitor to the fair wore a pair of horns, or carried one, and horns were tied above the gate, around the fences and over the stalls. Even the gingerbread men for sale had horns. The fair was a great excuse for licentiousness in all forms and this no doubt led to its great popularity.

The cuckold was a common feature of married life in the seventeenth century, and cuckold often used as an insult, the way bastard might be now. Insulting someone could be done by showing them a horned fist gesture, or putting two fingers up behind the head as a sign of  their stupidity. During the English Civil War a song called Cuckolds All In A Row was popular with Cavaliers, who sang it as a chant against the London Roundheads.
‘And when they reach Cuckold’s Point they make a gallant show.
Their wives bid the Musick play Cuckolds All In A Row.’
Cuckold’s Point also features in the play Eastward Ho by Ben Jonson. This scene epitomises the idea of putting up cuckold's horns to let a man know his wife was being unfaithful.
Enter SLITGUT with a pair of ox-horns, discovering Cuckold’s Haven.
SLIT: All hail, fair haven of married men only! for there are none but married men cuckolds. For my part, I presume not to arrive here but in my master’s behalf, a poor butcher of Eastcheap, who sends me to set up, in honor of Saint Luke, these necessary ensigns of his homage. And up I got this morning, thus early, to get up to the top of this famous tree, that is all fruit and no leaves, to advance this crest of my master’s occupation.' 
Censure and Closure of the Horn Fair
In 1873 the fair fell victim to Victorian morality and was closed down. It has been re-incarnated as a family friendly event, with none of its historical connotations, and Cuckold’s Point is now The Canary Wharf Hilton Hotel!

Charlton Horn Fair - Victorian era

I couldn't resist including a cuckolding procession in one of my novels, and you'll find it in The Lady's Slipper. 

Bibliography
London Lore - Steve Roud
Mayhew's London - Peter Quinell
Folklore and Customs of Rural England - Margaret Baker
Shakespeare's Life and World - Folio Society
Strange History
Charlton Champion

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Deborah Swift lives in North Lancashire on the edge of the Lake District, an area made famous by the Romantic Poets such as Wordsworth and Coleridge. In the past she used to work as a set and costume designer for theatre and TV, so enjoys the research aspect of creating historical fiction.

More details of her research and writing process can be found on her blog at www.deborahswift.com or follow her on twitter @swiftstory

Monday, February 13, 2017

A VALENTINE VIGNETTE - The First and Final Love of Lady Jean Gordon

by Linda Fetterly Root
 
The Valentine Heart Rose, T.Kiya, Flicker Commons,
Countesy of  Wikimedia Commons

When we think of the notable love stories in English history and literature, we recognize the names  Elizabeth and Leicester, Nicholas and Alexandra,  Victoria and Albert and more recently , Mrs.Simpson and the Duke of Windsor and the flamboyant Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. If we expand our search to cover the world,  we might add Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda, and even the Reagans. But there are many we have missed. For Valentine’s Day, I offer one of my favorites.



LADY JEAN GORDON: A Twice- Jilted Lady


In 1561, the year after her husband Francois II died, the Queen of Scots was faced with few alternatives other than returning to Scotland, which she had ruled through regents since her birth in 1542. Two factions competed to receive her –the Protestant Lords of the Congregation, headed by her half-brother James Stewart, and the Catholic faction, represented by the Earl of Ross but led by the northern warlord George Gordon, Earl of Huntly. The  Protestants won the honor. Within two years, rebellious  Catholics capitulated to an army  under the leadership of the Queen and her brother. The great highland Earl,  George Gordon, died in his saddle, possibly of a stroke or heart attack. The Queen extended mercy to Gordon’s family: only one of his children was executed, the other sons briefly sent into  exile, and by the spring of 1563, all seemed to have been forgiven. The Gordons were back at court, including the dead earl’s wife and oldest surviving daughter, Jean. At the time, Jean was sixteen and in love with one of her brother George’s best friends, Alexander Ogilvy of Boyne. They had known one another since childhood in the Highlands, but were both a part of Marie Stuart’s retinue. However, the Queen of Scots had other matches in mind for each of them. There are several versions of what happened.

Marie Beaton
copyright English Heritage
 Even now, marriages within the aristocracy are often business transactions. Matters of power and finance were certainly a great part of what pulled Lady Jean and Alexander Ogilvy asunder. The most popular story presumes the queen no different than other sovereigns who wished to reward or protect their favorites. One of Marie Stuart’s closest friends was Lady Marie Beaton, one of her ladies-in-waiting known as The Four Maries. Beaton, as she was called, had been involved in a well-known romance with Elizabeth Tudor's ambassador to Scotland, Thomas Randolph, who was  twenty years her senior. The love affair ended when Randolph was caught  spying and recalled by his angry queen. According to legend, the Queen of Scots was forced to deal with a female attendant whose sullied reputation was in need of rehabilitation. The best solution was to find Beaton a husband. Concurrently, the queen’s loyal Border earl, James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell,  had deep financial problems. He most assuredly did not need the queen’s help in finding a wife. There is evidence he already had two, a  Norwegian heiress and an aristocratic French courtier. What Bothwell lacked was money, and Lady Gordon was one of the richest heiresses in Scotland. The Queen saw a way to solve two problems in one wise move. 


BROKEN HEART:
Osvaldo batista de Medieros, Creative Commons, via Wikimmedia Commons

Jean’s brother George, the new Earl of Huntly, who had  received his title back but not his lands, was complicit in what followed. The idea of a Beaton-Ogilvy marriage was probably concocted on an excursion in which both Huntly and his friend Ogilvy accompanied the queen. When they returned, Huntly and his mother persuaded Jean to agree. The Huntly properties were restored in a transaction in which everyone won but the bride. It was not a happy union for Jean, who is said to have worn black thereafter in mourning for her lost love.  Bothwell probably was less affected. From his behavior with the ladies, it seems he found marriage less restrictive than most men. It did not matter that his new wife had a long face and 'bulbous eyes' as long as he got his debts paid. He complained to the queen of his wife's cold nature and soon was dallying with the cook. Three months later,  Alexander Ogilvy married Marie Beaton.  

But the marital intrigues do not end there.


Marie Stuart, Queen of Scots
By the late spring of 1567, after a series of events too controversial and complex to be covered in this post, the probably pregnant, widowed Queen of Scots needed Bothwell free so she could marry him herself. Once again, Lady Jean Gordon was set aside.

Whether she minded all that much is debated in the histories. There is some evidence Bothwell continued to visit her at Crichton after he and the Queen of Scots were wed, and sometimes referred to her as his 'true wife.' Reportedly, he was the one who ordered matching miniatures made of him and Jean, shown below. But language in the highly questioned documents called the Casket Letters indicates Bothwell had complained to the Queen before he and Jean divorced that his wife was a frigid bed partner. In any event, the Countess of Bothwell cooperated with her family and the Queen and agreed to a divorce. After what was said to be a  nearly fatal illness, the Countess of Bothwell left the capital and returned to Huntly Castle at Strathbogie.




Strathbogie

The end? No, not yet.


In 1573, nearly six years after her divorce, at a time when Bothwell was in a Danish prison, and the Queen of Scots was detained in England, Lady Jean Gordon married a cousin, Alexander Gordon, Earl of Sutherland. Sutherland was several years her junior and in frail health. In spite of her  young husband's precarious health, Jean managed to give birth to either seven or eight children. When they married, Alexander Gordon was already one of the richest men in the Scottish Highlands, and Jean had always had a reputation for financial acuity. Within two years of their marriage, due to her husband’s ill health, the management of their vast estates and mining enterprises passed to the new Countess of Sutherland. Under her management, the already vast Sutherland fortunes grew. 

Dunrobin Castle, seat of  Highland Clan Sutherland

In 1594, when the earl died, Jean’s oldest son John, 13th Earl of Sutherland, inherited the title, but his mother continued to manage his numerous enterprises. He, too, died young, and Jean continued to manage the Sutherland holdings for her grandson, the 14th Earl of Sutherland, until she retired to a less prominent role  after incurring the wrath of the Scottish kirk. She was accused of harboring Jesuits and boldly had her portrait painted clutching a rosary. Her fourth son, Robert Gordon, the First Baronet of Gordonstoun, became the family historian.  His remarks concerning his mother focus on her entrepreneurship:

"a vertuous and comelie lady, judicious, of excellent memorie, and great understanding above the capacitie of her sex; in this much to be commended that (she) alwise managed her effaris with so grrreattt prudence an foresigh that the enemgies of the familie could never prevail against her. Further, (she) hath by her grat care and diligence brought to a prosperous end many hard and difficult business, or great consequence appertyning to the house of Sutherland.”… 

But enough of her financial expertise and on to the salient question:

Did the Dowager Countess of Sutherland remarry? 


Of course, she did!

Her third husband was a widower named Alexander Ogilvy of Boyne. He only lived ten years after their marriage in 1598.  Little is written about the life they shared, but in the spirit of Saint Valentine’s Day, we  hope for whatever time they salvaged, they were happy.

Wikimedia Commons

AUTHOR’S NOTE:   Jean survived her first love well beyond the union of the Crowns, dying  at Dunrobin Castle in 1629. She is buried at Dornoch, a seaside resort in the Highlands.  She outlived the death of nearly everyone mentioned in this post except her son Robert.  She outlived her rival Marie Stuart by more than forty years and the Queen’s son King James VI and I  by four.

Robert Gordon  apparently inherited his mother’s  business acumen, because, during his distinguished career in service to the Stuarts, he managed to clear his family's Scottish holdings of debt and relieve his mother of penalties imposed by the Protestant Kirk. He held title to lands in France, England, and Scotland, and fused his own Scottish holdings into a new barony, Gordonstoun.  He served as a mediator in the English Civil War and although suspected of being a Catholic like his mother, he died in good graces with the Scottish Church.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Linda Fetterly Root is a retired prosecutor and a historical novelist living in the Morongo Basin of the Southern California High Desert.  She is the author of The First Marie and the Queen of Scots (free today for your Kindle at Amazon.com), The Last Knight and the Queen of Scots, and the novels in The Legacy of the Queen of Scots Series, Unknown Princess, The Last Knight’s Daughter, 1603: The Queen’s Revenge, and In the Shadow of the Gallows.  She has two works in progress, a sequel to Shadow, The Deliverance of the Lamb, and a politically-inspired science fiction novella, 2035:GEN. Visit her author’s page HERE