The Real-Life Myles Standish’s Influence on “The Courtship of Lord Blackhurst”

As my previous two posts on John Alden and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow have indicated, my most recent tale, “The Courtship of Lord Blackhurst” was inspired by Longfellow’s narrative poem, “The Courtship of Myles Standish.” Other than the knowledge of Standish being a part of the original Plymouth colonists, what else do we know of the man? In truth, not as much as one might think. As it was with John Alden, we know Standish’s “history” after his arrival at Plymouth Rock, but much before that time is mere speculation. 

For example, many list his birthdate as occurring 1584, while others think it more likely to be closer to 1587. His place of birth is also greatly debated. Nathaniel Morton, writing in his book New England’s Memorial (1669) states that Standish hailed from Lancashire, England. Morton tells us Standish owned a book about the former head of the Rivington Grammar School in Lancashire, and he cites the town of Duxbury that Standish and John Alden founded as a reference to Duxbury Hall in Lancashire. Others believe him to be from the Isle of Man state that “in his probate will that were “surreptitiously detained” from him (including lands on the Isle of Man itself); these lands all belonged at one time to Thomas Standish, of the branch of the Standish family from the Isle of Man. In September 2006, Jeremy D. Bangs supplied a scholarly review of the evidence and controversy in “Myles Standish, Born Where?”, Mayflower Quarterly 72:133-159.” [Mayflower History]

Standish was an heir to a fairly sizeable estate in Lancashire, but his lands were lost during the English Civil War, and neither he nor his son Alexander were ever able to legally regain control of the estate.

Likewise, we know little of his service to Queen Elizabeth’s army. Unsubstantiated reports claim he was a lieutenant in the Queen’s arm. Scholars believe he served for a time in Holland where he became acquainted with John Robinson and the Pilgrims who lived near Leiden. He was hired to be the Pilgrims’ military captain. His role in the settlement was to be coordinate the Pilgrims’ defense against outside threats from, say, the French, the Spanish, or the Dutch, as well as the “Indians” (Native American) tribes. 

A scene from The Courtship of Miles Standish, showing Standish looking upon Alden and Mullins during the bridal procession ~ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Courtship_of_Miles_Standish#/media/
File:Courtship_of_Miles_Standish_a_Plymouth_Pilgrim.jpg

We know he was married when he traveled with the Pilgrims. His wife Rose traveled with him to the New World. As they had no children, they likely married before the Mayflower set sail, but we do not know the date or even Rose’s last name. The lady died during the first winter at Plymouth. According to the tale Longfellow set about, Standish set his eyes on Priscilla Mullins, an orphan (Her parents and brother also died during that first winter.) and one of the wealthier Pilgrims because she held the shares of her family in the expedition. Moreover, she was the only female who was not married among those who, initially, traveled with the Pilgrims. Priscilla, however, chose John Alden over Standish. Standish, later, courted and married a woman named Barbara (again, no last name), who arrived at Plymouth on the ship Anne in the year 1623. 

As part of his duties to the Pilgrims, he explored the area and assisted in developing the site chosen for the settlement. In his role as military captain, Standish oversaw the building of the fort designed to protect the colonists. He led trading expeditions and designed the group’s response to the Indian tribes in the region. “He led the party that went in pursuit of the alleged killers of Squanto (who was later discovered to be safe). He led the revenge attacks on the Indians in the Massachusetts Bay after they were caught in a conspiracy planning to attack and destroy the Plymouth and Wessagussett colonies; several Indians were killed or executed, for which Standish received some criticism, even from his friends, for being too heavy-handed.” [Mayflower History] At times Standish was criticized for his ruthlessness and for his quick temper. However, he was also praised for his defense of the colony and for his tender concern for those who took ill during that first disastrous winter. 

In the mid 1630s, Standish and John Alden founded the town of Duxbury, where they lived out the remainder of their days. Standish and Barbara had eight children: Charles (died young), Alexander, John, Myles, Lora, Josias, and Charles. He died a painful death from most consider to be kidney stones on 3 October 1656.

Also See: 

American Ancestors 

Britannica

Study.com

To Read The Courtship of Miles Standish, go HERE

Introducing The Courtship of Lord Blackhurst

What happens when a lady falls in love,  not with her betrothed, but rather with his cousin?

Since her birth, Miss Priscilla Keenan has been promised to the Marquess of Blackhurst. The problem is: She has never laid eyes upon the man. So, when Blackhurst sends his cousin to York to assist Priscilla in readying Blackhurst’s home estate for the marquess’s return from his service in India, it is only natural for Priscilla to ask Mr. Alden something of the marquess’s disposition. Yet, those conversations lead Cilla onto a different path, one where she presents her heart to the wrong gentleman. How can she and Alden find happiness together when the world means to keep them apart? Inspired by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “The Courtship of Miles Standish,” this tale wants for nothing, especially not a happy ending, but that happy ending is not what the reader anticipates.

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EXCERPT:

They remained silent for several minutes before she asked, “Would you tell me something of your life in India? I feel I could better understand Lord Blackhurst if I viewed him through the eyes of someone who holds a similar point of reference as does he.” 

He shifted uncomfortably, and Cilla instantly regretted her request. “I would not know where to begin.” 

She shrugged. “Where did you live in India? I know only generalities of the place. When did you two first know a conflict? I have heard many of the locals do not appreciate the efforts of the British East India Company. Is that true? If so, it must have been daunting, attempting to assist those who do not wish your advantage.”

Mr. Alden grimaced at something she said, but he did not reprimand her. “Admittedly, the give-and-take between the two sides sometimes fell out of balance,” he explained in obvious general terms. She would have preferred something more detailed, but she would accept what he was willing to share. 

“Then arms are employed?” she asked.

“Aye.” He sighed heavily. “A man would not wish a woman to stand witness to such atrocities as one finds in war, whether on the Continent, the American front, or in India.” 

“Yet, the devastation must change a man,” she argued. “Surely, Blackhurst is not the same carefree youth of which Mr. Sterling and many in the village speak. What should I know so I will not be afraid of what, I pray, are his rare bouts of temper or depression?”

He presented her a weak grin. “I can tell you with all certainty that in those early days of conflict in India, Lord Blackhurst began to think seriously upon your eventual marriage. Although you were still very young in ’09 when we in service to the British East India Company were called into that first battle, Blackhurst, then the Earl of Hurst, took solace in knowing he possessed a future.”

Cilla felt tears rushing to her eyes. “Truly?”

He nodded sharply, as if a bit embarrassed at what he had confessed. “Absolutely. Blackhurst wants you to know happiness in your joining.” 

“I shall cherish your promise.” Swallowing the emotions rushing to her chest, she asked, “Where was that first conflict?”

“You are a persistent one,” he said with a sad smile and another sigh. She observed how he ordered his thoughts before he spoke. “We were in an important port city on the southwest coast of India,” he recited. “At the time, there was a local objection to the occupation of the city of Quilon by the East India Company. Troops of the Indian kingdom of Travancore attacked a local garrison situated near Cantonment Maiden.”

He paused as if the memory was still very new. “Quilon is very important to trade and shipping,” he explained, “which was the reason for the British being in the area. Vlu Thampi Dalawa, the Travancore Prime Minister, brought more than twenty thousand Nair troops and nearly two dozen pieces of artillery against us. Thankfully, Colonel Chambers had three battalions of native sepoys, Indian infantrymen, available, along with one regiment of British troops. We were outnumbered nearly four to one.” He grimaced as he heard his own words. “With God’s good fortune, we prevailed by destroying fifteen of their eighteen artillery pieces, but the loss of men was many, nearing fifteen hundred when one considers both sides.” 

“How long?” Cilla spoke barely above a whisper, as she attempted to comprehend what he described. She knew he had spared her the most horrific details; yet, what little he had shared was enough for her imagination to run wild. 

“The battle itself?” She nodded her agreement. “Thankfully, we prevailed in a matter of six hours, but that first taste of hostilities was enough for me. Men should not exact such devastation upon each other.” 

“However, that was not the only conflict you knew?” she questioned. 

He shook his head sadly. “I spent eleven years walking a narrow line between the interests of The Company and the various factions operating within India. Often we were caught between one empire and another.” 

Cilla had dozens of other questions she wished to ask, but she knew there would be other days to ask them. She did not like the idea of bringing Mr. Alden pain. 

“Tell me something I should know of Lord Blackhurst’s nature,” she requested. 

Mr. Alden studiously avoided looking in Cilla’s direction as he spoke. “Despite what you may think of his lordship’s first letter to you, many consider the marquess equally skilled with both his pen and his weapons. I have known Blackhurst to place himself straight at the head of his troops, calling upon each captain, by name, to order forward the ensigns to win the day, declaring, ‘If you wish a thing to be well done, you must do it yourself; you must not leave it to others!’”

She knew Mr. Alden meant for her to know pride in the man to whom she was betrothed; yet, something in Cilla wondered why a man—a leader upon the battle field—who would never consider leaving the safety of his men to the care of others—would not make, at least, a few gestures to secure her care and to win her affection. Mr. Alden said otherwise, and she was grateful for the man’s thoughtfulness and his reassurances; even so, she knew disappointment in Lord Blackhurst, essentially, ignoring her.

Lost in their individual thoughts, it was several moments before either of them realized it had started to rain. Immediately, they were on their feet and grabbing their belongings. Snatching up the blanket and basket, he caught her by the hand. “It appears, Miss Keenan, we are in for another soaking!”

He hustled her toward the cart, but Cilla had other ideas. “We are likely to know some protection in the denser parts of the woods, than in a slow-moving cart, where we are certain to be drenched.” 

The gentleman nodded his agreement, dumped the basket into the back of the cart and took off at a steady pace. Never releasing her hand, they set off together on an exhilarating scamper for dry ground. Cilla caught up her skirt to make it easier to follow along beside him. 

Leading the way, he darted around trees and bushes until they stood in a circle of elms, standing so close together, that even sunlight did not penetrate the magical enclosure. It was as if they had stepped into a fairy realm, one she had often dreamed of as a child. There was a thick carpet of leaves at their feet, and everything was turning green with the spring. Branches of the various trees intertwined, as if they were holding hands. 

“This is lovely,” she said in awe. 

Outside their enclosure the rain pounded against the tree tops, but, within, they remained relatively dry. 

“This place is truly amazing,” he said softly. He grinned at her sheepishly. “I imagine you could turn this moment into a melody.” 

She knew embarrassment marked her cheeks, but she nodded quickly. “It is rare that some strand of a melody does not circulate in my head, but you are correct, sir. The rain. The occasional bit of thunder. The closeness of the trees. They all mix with the words from Lord Blackhurst’s previous letter. I can hear the notes as they align to form the essence of the tune.” 

“You have a gift, Miss Keenan. A unique gift that must be cherished. Would you do me the honor of humming it for me? I would love to hear it,” he encouraged. 

Still self-conscious from her admittance, she closed her eyes and permitted the notes to form in her mind. Soon she hummed the tune, seeing the notes as they danced in the air. Her voice had completely filled their little bit of heaven when she felt his arm slip about her waist and the heat of his breath upon her cheek. 

“Waltz with me,” he whispered into her ear. 

She swayed with him for several seconds, before she allowed him to lead her into the dance form, a dance she had only observed upon a few occasions and had never performed previously, not even with a dance instructor. However, Cilla trusted the gentleman not to permit her to stumble. His hand on her back had just enough pressure to turn her in a tight circle, while edging her closer still to the warmth of his body. As her voice carried the tune, her body hummed also, set in motion by the gentleman holding her so closely. 

Suddenly, she realized they no longer moved, and her song had ceased to exist. Cilla opened her eyes to look up into his now familiar features. Her lips were so dry, she licked them, belatedly realizing a fire flickered in his gaze as he looked down upon her. She swallowed hard, her heart flipping over in her chest. Priscilla had never felt such a deep connection to anyone before. Time stood still, and she was afraid to breathe, fearing doing so would destroy the moment they shared. 

Instinctively, she leaned into him, irresistibly drawn to him. 

Then without preamble, Mr. Alden jerked himself stiffly upright, turning stone-faced in the blink of an eye. Abruptly, he stepped back and offered her a proper bow. “Thank you, Miss Keenan.” 

Cilla blinked several times, attempting to make sense of what had just passed between them. Had she imagined the possibility the gentleman had thought to kiss her? Would she have permitted him to do so? Cilla had never been kissed and had wished him to kiss her with all her heart, but she reminded herself, such would never occur, for she was betrothed to the gentleman’s best friend. Mr. Alden held honor at the core of his being, and, even if she wished upon the luckiest of stars to know him better, her wish would not be granted. 

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John Alden’s Influence on the Release of “The Courtship of Lord Blackhurst” + a Giveaway

My story, “The Courtship of Lord Blackhurst,” is heavily influenced by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “The Courtship of Miles Standish.” Many of the characters names, for example, derive from the poem. However, in Longfellow’s narrative, John Alden speaks to Priscilla Mullins because his friend, Miles Standish, wishes to marry Priscilla. In the Longfellow poem, Standish simply wishes to marry Priscilla because his wife, Ruth, has died, and, obviously, at the Plymouth Colony, few English women were available. Yet, it is John Alden who loves Priscilla, and, astutely, she loves John in return. 

I did not want my story to follow Longfellow’s tale too closely, just to be influenced by it. Why? You may ask. The reason this tale has captured my attention all over again is John Alden, the Assistant Governor of Plymouth Colony, is my 10th Great Grandfather on my maternal side through Alden’s daughter Rebecca. 

Public Domain ~ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Alden#/media/File:Priscilla_and_John_Alden_(70453)

Alden was born in approximately 1599, most likely in Harwich, Essex, England. Although there are several other possibilities for his heritage, the Aldens of Harwick were related by marriage to the Mayflower‘s master Christopher Jones. Alden would have been about 21 years of age when he hired to be the cooper (barrel-maker) for the voyage. Once those aboard the Mayflower reached America, Alden chose to remain rather than to return to England. Priscilla Mullins, the woman he eventually married was from Dorking, Surrey, England. Her parents, William and Alice Mullins, and her brother Joseph, all died during their first winter at Plymouth. 

As members of the original voyage, both Alden and Priscilla held shares in the company financing the establishment of Plymouth Colony. Priscilla’s shares were many due to the deaths of her family members. John Alden was elected an assistant to the Colony’s governor in 1631. “He was one of the men who purchased the joint-stock company from its English shareholders in 1626, and was involved in the company’s trading on the Kennebec River. [In 1626, the colony’s financial backers in London, known as the Merchant Adventurers, disbanded. This left the colonists in a quandary as to how to settle their significant debts to those who had funded the effort. Eight of the Plymouth colonists, including John Alden, agreed to collectively assume, or undertake, the debt in exchange for a monopoly on the fur trade from the colony. These men who averted financial ruin for the colony became known as the ‘Undertakers.’ The fact Alden was among them is indicative of his growing stature in the colony.] John Alden, along with Myles Standish and several other Plymouth Colonists, founded the town of Duxbury to the north of Plymouth. Evidence suggests the men began constructing their houses as early as 1629.

http://mayflowerhistory.com/alden

About 1653, he, along with his son Captain Jonathan Alden,built the Alden House, which is still standing and is maintained by the Alden Kindred of America. By the 1660s, John and Priscilla Alden had a growing family of ten children [Elizabeth, John, Joseph, Priscilla, Jonathan, Sarah, Ruth, Mary, Rebecca, and David].  Combined with his numerous public service duties (which were mostly unpaid positions) he was left in fairly low means.  He petitioned and received from the Plymouth Court various land grants, which he distributed to his children throughout the 1670s.  He died in 1687 at the age of 89, one of the last surviving Mayflower passengers.” (Mayflower History)

SOURCES AND BIBLIOGRAPHY

John Alden 

The Courtship of Lord Blackhurst

Book Blurb:

What happens when a lady falls in love,  not with her betrothed, but rather with his cousin?but rather with his cousin?

Miss Priscilla Keenan has been promised to the Marquess of Blackhurst since her birth. The problem is: She has never laid eyes upon the man. So, when Blackhurst sends his cousin to York to assist Priscilla in readying Blackhurst’s home estate for the marquess’s return from his service in India, it is only natural for Priscilla to ask Mr. Alden something of the marquess’s disposition. Yet, those conversations lead Cilla onto a different path, one where she presents her heart to the wrong gentleman. How can she and Alden find happiness together when the world means to keep them apart? Inspired by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “The Courtship of Miles Standish,” this tale wants for nothing, especially not a happy ending, which it has, but that ending is not what the reader anticipates.

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EXCERPT:

Spring, 1821, Yorkshire

Cilla knocked on the door to her father’s study. “You sent for me, Papa?” She knew quite well what the subject of today’s meeting was to be, for she had observed the marquess’s mark on the express delivered a half hour removed to her father on a silver salver. Ironically, she had been raised with a strong sense of independence, but, today, she was to be maneuvered into accepting a man she had never met—to be the pawn in a chess match where everyone would win, but her.

“Come in, Priscilla. I have additional news from Lord Blackhurst.”

She swallowed her sigh of resignation as she made herself do as her dear Papa said; yet, she was not pleased with the situation. Until Lord Blackhurst had shocked her by sending word to her father that he was prepared to meet the arrangements between the marquess’s family and hers and marry her, Cilla had only heard mention of the man and his family because one of the marquessate’s many properties marched along with her father’s main estate.

Most assuredly, she had heard more than a few tales of the previous Marquess of Blackhurst. Lord Robert Keyes had been her father’s most loyal chum growing up in this part of Yorkshire, and Lord Edward Keenan had often sung the man’s praises. Since learning of the arrangement between her father and Robert, 10th Marquess of Blackhurst, Cilla had often thought if her prospective groom had been the father, instead of the son, she would have held no qualms about marrying the man. Even if only half of her father’s tales were true, there was much to admire in the former marquess.

His son, however, possessed quite a different reputation. Unbending. Sanctimonious. Harsh. Empty of humor. Being forced to marry a man she could not respect was beyond the pale. “Has his lordship changed his mind about taking a complete stranger to wife?”

Her father looked up from the letter resting upon his desk and frowned. “Do you realize how fortunate you are? You are a mere ‘miss,’ the daughter of a baron. His lordship’s agreement to marry you is a rare opportunity for one of your station. Customarily, a duke or a marquess would court daughters of earls—women who are addressed as ‘Lady So-and-So,’ not ‘Miss Keenan.’ Your marriage to Blackhurst will make you a marchioness, one of the leaders of English society.”

She rarely spoke disrespectfully to her father, who had turned his life upside down to raise his five children properly after the loss of his beloved wife. However, in this matter, Cilla could not agree. “What good will it be to become a marchioness if Lord Blackhurst means to clip my wings? I shall not be allowed my own thoughts on anything more important than the color of a pillow in my favorite drawing room.” She worried if she would be allowed to continue to compose music once she married. She had already sold two pieces to Mr. McFadden in London, and she hoped the fugue she was writing would be the third such piece to know authorship.

“Such nonsense,” her father grumbled. “Blackhurst is not an ogre.”

Her brow crinkled in objection. “In the newsprints, he is depicted as a man with a stick down his trousers and not in the front,” she declared in bold tones.

“Priscilla Rebecca Elizabeth Keenan, I will not tolerate such language in this house! Do you understand me?” her father chastised in sharp tones.

She wished to remind him it was she who oversaw the horse breeding upon the estate and knew something of the nature of stubborn stallions and resistant mares, and she was well aware of what the caricatures meant, but, instead, she bowed her head in submission and said, “Yes, Papa. I beg your forgiveness.” Cilla paused before daring to ask, “When was the last time you laid eyes upon his lordship? Perhaps the man you knew is not the man who has returned to London after years in India.”

Her father’s frown lines deepened in concentration. “Blackhurst was perhaps twelve or thirteen. The last few years of Robert Keyes’s life, the family lived on the property belonging to the late Lady Blackhurst through her marriage settlements. Her ladyship preferred Devon to the wilds of Yorkshire, and Lord Blackhurst adored his wife as much as I did your mother. He allowed her to determine his home seat, but the abbey is Blackhurst’s traditional home.”

“More than seventeen years,” she said triumphantly. “Since reaching his majority and leaving university, the current Lord Blackhurst has spent his years in India. For all we know, he would still be there if his father had not passed. And, might I remind you, that was nearly two years removed. His lordship made no effort to rush home to claim this peerage. We know nothing of the type of man he has become other than the tales found in the newsprints of his years of service to the East India Company, most of which are quite unflattering. I cannot believe you mean to send off your only daughter on the arm of a man who is a complete stranger.”

Turbulent emotions reflected upon his countenance, and Cilla realized he was not as pleased with this arrangement between her family and that of the marquess, as she once thought. Her father sighed heavily. “A contract exists between our families. Would you have me know dishonor? Or ruin? I could not afford a large penalty for breaking the agreement. I have your four brothers to consider.”

“I would have you also consider your only daughter,” she said defiantly.

Giveaway: I have TWO eBook copy of The Courtship of Lord Blackhurst available to those who comment below. The giveaway will end at midnight EST on 23 April 2021. The winners will be announced on Sunday, 25 April, via email. Happy Reading! 

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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s Influence on “The Courtship of Lord Blackhurst” + a Giveaway

According to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: A Maine Historical Society Website, “Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was a commanding figure in the cultural life of nineteenth-century America. Born in Portland, Maine, in 1807, he became a national literary figure by the 1850s, and a world-famous personality by the time of his death in 1882. He was a traveler, a linguist, and a romantic who identified with the great traditions of European literature and thought. At the same time, he was rooted in American life and history, which charged his imagination with untried themes and made him ambitious for success.”

My story, “The Courtship of Lord Blackhurst,” was inspired by Longfellow’s poem “The Courtship of Miles Standish.” I have loved the poem for more years than I care to recall. I spent 40 years teaching English/language arts in public schools of three different states, most of which at the high school level. Therefore, I was often called upon to teach “Evangeline” and, upon occasion, “The Courtship of Miles Standish” in my American Lit classes. Naturally, when Ancestry.com led me to John Alden of the Plymouth Colony fame as my tenth great-grandfather and then directed me to Longfellow as my sixth cousin 5x removed, I was doing my “happy dance.” Longfellow, you see, is also related to John Alden through Alden’s daughter Elizabeth. I am related to Alden through his daughter Rebecca. 

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, one of the “Fireside Poets,” wrote lyrical poems about history, mythology, and legend that were popular and widely translated, making him the most famous American of his day.

The plot of The Courtship of Miles Standish deliberately varies in emotional tone, unlike the steady tragedy of Longfellow’s Evangeline. The Pilgrims grimly battle against disease and Indians, but are also obsessed with an eccentric love triangle, creating a curious mix of drama and comedy. Bumbling, feuding roommates Miles Standish and John Alden vie for the affections of the beautiful Priscilla Mullins, who slyly tweaks the noses of her undiplomatic suitors. The independent-minded woman utters the famous retort, “Why don’t you speak for yourself, John?” The saga has a surprise ending, one full of optimism for the American future.

Most would agree that Longfellow’s poem is fictionalized history. Main characters Miles Standish, John Alden, and Priscilla Mullins are based upon real Mayflower passengers. Longfellow was a descendant of John Alden and Priscilla Mullins through his mother Zilpah Wadsworth and he claimed he was relating oral history. Skeptics dismiss his narrative as a folktale. At minimum, Longfellow used poetic license, condensing several years of events. Scholars have confirmed the cherished place of romantic love in Pilgrim culture and have documented the Indian war described by Longfellow. Miles Standish and John Alden were likely roommates in Plymouth; Priscilla Mullins was the only single woman of marriageable age in the young colony at that time and did in fact marry Alden. Standish’s first wife, Rose Handley, died aboard the Mayflower in January 1621. Two years later, Standish married a woman named Barbara in Plymouth in 1623. The Standish and Alden families both moved from Plymouth to adjacent Duxbury, Massachusetts in the late 1620s, where they lived in close proximity, intermarried, and remained close for several generations.

To Read The Courtship of Miles Standish, go HERE

Introducing The Courtship of Lord Blackhurst

What happens when a lady falls in love,  not with her betrothed, but rather with his cousin?but rather with his cousin?

Miss Priscilla Keenan has been promised to the Marquess of Blackhurst since her birth. The problem is: She has never laid eyes upon the man. So, when Blackhurst sends his cousin to York to assist Priscilla in readying Blackhurst’s home estate for the marquess’s return from his service in India, it is only natural for Priscilla to ask Mr. Alden something of the marquess’s disposition. Yet, those conversations lead Cilla onto a different path, one where she presents her heart to the wrong gentleman. How can she and Alden find happiness together when the world means to keep them apart? Inspired by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “The Courtship of Miles Standish,” this tale wants for nothing, especially not a happy ending, which it has, but that ending is not what the reader anticipates.

Kindle https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09237K1ZY?ref_=pe_3052080_276849420

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EXCERPT:

For more than a week, Cilla had called daily upon the abbey, no longer waiting for either of the Sterlings to assist her. She also no longer wore her better day dresses, for she often assisted the maids, girls from the village she knew either from church or by sight, taking down dusty drapes or rolling up carpets to be beaten. Some items she had chosen to replace, while others only required a thorough cleaning. Each day, she spent time reorganizing her various lists, prioritizing what should be addressed first.

“After you have had your midday meal,” she told Audrey, Ellie, and Janie, the three maids hired to assist her, “we will take a survey of the music room.” If it had been Cilla’s choice, once she had viewed the spectacular pianoforte located in the music room, she would have started her survey of that particular room first, for music was what touched her soul. Everything else was secondary in her life. However, it was on the third day before she had recalled the room near the rear of the house.

When she was younger, she would sometimes sneak into the abbey just to have a look around. There were so many wonderful pieces of art and sculptures thereabouts, and Cilla loved simply to curl up on one of the dust-covered chairs and study the artwork, while she made notations of melodies to accompany each piece. The works served as her inspiration. It was perhaps on her third or fourth visit to the abbey that she had discovered the music room. Her hands had itched to play the pianoforte, but she had resisted the urge to do so, knowing someone might hear her and demand to know why she had entered the Blackhurst property without permission. Little did she know, at the time, this would be her future home. She was glad today that she would have a legitimate excuse to view the ornate instrument, perhaps even taking a few moments to play a short composition she had rolling around in her head.

“Shall I bring you a tray, miss?” Janie asked.

Cilla’s eyes remained on the instrument. Distractedly, she responded, “Bring it when you return. I am in no hurry.”

“Yes, miss. Enjoy your time to rest for a few minutes. You’ve worked most diligently,” Audrey added.

Cilla smiled at the girls. “I plan to test out Lord Blackhurst’s pianoforte.”

“You play, miss?”

“My late mother loved music as dearly as she loved my father. She made certain each of her children could play an instrument.” Cilla did not say the words aloud, but she thought, As I pray I will be allowed to do so with my own children. Catching the ache of loneliness seeping into her chest, she shooed the maids from the room so she might explore the space alone.

With the maids’ exit, Cilla made her way about the room, admiring the carved frame of a harp, which had two broken strings, but she strummed the remaining ones, picking out a simple tune. “Even without all its strings, the instrument is excellent, or perhaps it is the room that speaks of perfection,” she murmured. She could imagine herself spending countless hours within. “At least, this is something I can love about the future marriage to which I have been committed.”

She began a more complete examination of the room, which she had belatedly realized had been specifically designed to create a musical experience. The room’s location, near the rear of the house, would prevent the noise of a busy household from interfering with a musical performance. Draperies not only hung at the windows, but also covered one of the walls. Persian rugs of various sizes were scattered about the floor, sometimes layered with rugs made of wool supporting an instrument, while several large plants and upholstered chairs and settees dotted the rim of the room.

One corner held a bookshelf, containing books of various sizes. A floral printed wallpaper covered the wall surrounding the arched entrance, and a fabric-covered folded screen sat opposite the book shelf in another corner.

“Someone certainly knew what they were doing,” she said as she crossed to one of the windows to draw back the drapes to allow light into the space. A smattering of dust filled the air about her, and she batted away the dust motes floating before her eyes. She turned for a second look at the room, now draped in sunlight. “I could spend my days practicing and not be disturbed.”

With a sigh of satisfaction she had yet to know since assuming the task of arranging his lordship’s household, Cilla sat at the instrument and positioned her fingers upon the keys. Although the pianoforte, like the harp, could do with a good tuning, within minutes, she was lost in the music, swaying on the bench, allowing the melody to carry her to another place—a place only she knew. Soon she was switching from a piece by Mozart to one she had been working on for several months—one with which she had yet to know fulfillment.

Over and over again, she played the prelude, changing the phrasing—adding a different chord here and there—dropping a half note she once thought essential.

So engrossed with the process, she failed to hear the faint sound of a footfall behind her. When she finally realized she was no longer alone in the room, it was too late not to gasp, as she spun around to gape at the handsomest man her eyes had ever beheld.

“Oh, botheration!” She clapped a hand over her mouth, as she blushed thoroughly. “You startled me, sir! I did not hear you come in. May I assist you?”

What could only be called an arrogant lift of his eyebrow rose in obvious disapproval. “Perhaps it is I who should assist you,” he said in exacting tones.

GIVEAWAY: I have two eBooks of The Courtship of Lord Blackhurst available to those who comment below. The giveaway ends Friday, 23 April 2021. Winners will be contacted on Sunday, 25 April 2021 via emails. Happy Reading!

Posted in American History, book excerpts, book release, British history, eBooks, Georgian England, Georgian Era, giveaway, historical fiction, Living in the Regency, marriage, publishing, real life tales, Regency era, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Black Monday Tragedy

blackmonday.jpg Black Monday was the Monday after Easter on 13 April 1360, during the Hundred Years’ War (1337 – 1360). The Hundred Years’ War began in 1337; by 1359, King Edward III of England was actively attempting to conquer France. In October, he took a massive force across the English Channel to Calais. The French refused to engage in direct fights and stayed behind protective walls throughout the winter, while Edward pillaged the countryside.  By 13th April he had sacked and burned the suburbs of Paris and was now besieging the town of Chartres.  

At nightfall, a sudden storm came upon Edward’s troops, who were camped outside Chartres. Unfortunately, for Edward, their tents provided little protection. The temperature dropped. Lightning. Freezing rain. High winds. Hailstorms. Many of the soldiers abandoned the encampment. 1000 English soldiers and some 6000 horses were killed by the intense hail storm. Horses also fell to the storm; many stampeded. The casualties were larger than any previous battle. Two of the English commanders met their death. King Edward was on his knees begging for God’s mercy. 

The carnage was described as “a foul day, full of myst and hayle, so that men dyed on horseback [sic].”

From the contemporary French Chronicle of Jean Froissart:

... for an accident befell [Edward III] and all his army, who were then before Chartres, that much humbled him, and bent his courage.

During the time that the French commissioners were passing backwards and forwards from the king to his council, and unable to obtain any favourable answer to their offers, there happened such a storm and violent tempest of thunder and hail, which fell on the English army, that it seemed as if the world was come to an end. The hailstones were so large as to kill men and beasts, and the boldest were frightened.

The king turned himself towards the church of Our Lady at Chartres, and religiously vowed to the Virgin, as he has since confessed, that he would accept of terms of peace. He was at this time lodged in a small village, near Charters, called Bretigny; and there were then committed to writing, certain rules and ordinances for peace, upon which the following articles were drawn out.

800px-Map-_France_at_the_Treaty_of_Bretigny

France after the Treaty of Brétigny – French territory in green, English territory in pink John Richard Green – Taken from History of the English People, Volume 2 Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons ~ Public Domain

Edward rushed to pursue peace with the French and as a direct result of the killer storm, on May 8, 1360, the Treaty of Bretigny was signed. By this treaty Edward agreed to renounce his claim to the throne of France in return for sovereignty over Aquitaine and Calais. The French agreed to pay a handsome ransom for the release of their king John II who was held captive in England.

Fighting resumed nine years later, when the king of France declared war, claiming Edward had not honored the treaty. The last phase of the Hundred Years’ War did not end until 1453.

The legacy was mentioned in Shakespeare:  

“It was not for nothing that my nose fell a- bleeding on Black Monday last, at six o’clock i’ the morning.” —Shakespeare: Merchant of Venice, ii. 5.

Sources: 

Encyclopedia of the Hundred Years War (Google Book) by John A. Wagner

Historic UK 

History ~ Stack Exchange

This Day in History 

Wikipedia 

Posted in British history, Edward III, kings and queens, military | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Regency Era Con Man, Gregor McGregor and “Mr. Darcy’s Bargain”

Gregorio_MacGregor.jpg In writing my Austen-inspired vagary, Mr. Darcy’s Bargain, I researched LOTS of scams of the Regency era. One of the most prolific of those who practiced a scheme to defraud others was a Scot named Gregor McGregor.

Gregor McGregor was a late Georgian era swindler, who profited at the hands of his many investors. He was more than a bit narcissistic, even going so far as presenting himself the title of “Sir” and of Grand Cazique (Prince) of Poyais. So how was McGregor the ultimate pitch man? He persuaded people to invest in a country that did not exist.

According to The Big Picture, McGregor joined the British Royal Navy in 1803. He fought under Simon Bolivar in Florida in 1817. “During the Napoleonic Wars, Spanish control over its South American colonies weakened and the colonists in those countries fought for their independence. Between 1809 (Ecuador) and 1825 (Uruguay), all of the South American countries gained their independence from Portugal and Spain. However, countries need money, and the local tax base was limited. Most of the South American countries had mines that produced gold and silver, so in the early 1820s, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Peru and other countries issued bonds that were backed by their new governments. Local mines issued stocks making promises of large profits to investors. This led to one of three bubbles on the London Stock Exchange in the early half of the 1800s: the Canal Bubble of the 1810s, the South American Bubble of the 1820s, and the Railroad Bubble of the 1840s. In the midst of this investment mania came Gregor McGregor who sold bonds and anything else he could muster in his mythical country of Poyais.”

When McGregor returned to London in 1820, he spread the tale of his being made a Prince of Poyais. He told all who would listen how the “made up” 12,500 square miles’ country was located on the Bay of Hondoras and was given to him by a native chief, King Fredric Augustus I of the Mosquito Shore and Nation. In truth, during a night of heavy drink, King Frederic Augustus signed over a piece of land surrounded by uninhabitable jungles and no fertile land, gold or silver mines, etc.

General_Gregor_MacGregor_retouched.jpg So, how did McGregor convince his investors that this land was everything that it was not? McGregor wrote and published a book under the name of Captain Thomas Strangeways. In the book, Sketch of the Mosquito Shore, the fictitious Strangeways describes a land of “milk and honey”: gold mines, fertile land, a country with a democratic government, natives willing to work for a fair day’s pay, a capital called St. Joseph (supposed founded by English settlers in the 1730s), small towns with banks and mercantiles, and a small military force for defense. [The book can be found on Google for a free download.]

“For the rich he offered 2000 bonds at £100 each on October 23, 1822, which resulted in £200,000 in sales. The bonds were offered at 80 and paid 3% interest. For the poor, he offered land for sale at the rate of 3 shillings, 3 pence per acre (later 4 shillings), which was about a day’s wages in 1822, therefore it appeared to be a very attractive investment. He sold places in his military, the right to be shoemaker to the Princess, a jeweler, teacher, clerk or other craftsmen in his non-existent government and country. In fact, he even issued his own currency which the settlers could use once they arrived in Gregor McGregor’s El Dorado.

“The Poyaisian Legation to Britain opened offices in London, and land offices were opened in Glasgow, Stirling and Edinburgh to sell land to his fellow Scots. Gregor McGregor had a group of people who promoted and sold all the land and other Poyaisian goods, sharing the profits with McGregor. By 1823, Gregor McGregor was a multi-millionaire in today’s terms.” (The Big Picture)

BOOK BLURB:

Mr. Darcy’s Bargain: A Pride and Prejudice Vagary

Darcy and Elizabeth are about to learn how “necessity” never makes a fair bargain.

When ELIZABETH BENNET appears on his doorstep some ten months after her refusal of his hand in marriage, FITZWILLIAM DARCY uses the opportunity to “bargain” for her acceptance of a renewal of his proposal in exchange for his assistance in bringing Mr. George Wickham to justice. In Darcy’s absence from Hertfordshire, Wickham has executed a scam to defraud the citizens of Meryton, including her father, of their hard-earned funds. All have invested in Wickham’s Ten Percent Annuity scheme. Her family and friends are in dire circumstances, and more importantly, Mr. Bennet’s heart has taken an ill turn. Elizabeth will risk everything to bring her father to health again and to save her friends from destitution; yet, is she willing to risk her heart? She places her trust in Darcy’s ability to thwart Wickham’s manipulations, but she is not aware that Darcy wishes more than her acquiescence. He desires her love. Neither considers what will happen if he does not succeed in bringing Mr. Wickham before a magistrate. Will his failure bring an end to their “bargain”? Or will true love prevail?

mdbfrontcover4x6

EXCERPT:

As they entered the sinfully luxurious theatre lobby, Darcy could not disguise the smile of satisfaction upon his lips. Elizabeth Bennet was on his arm, clinging to him as if she feared exposure as a fraud. Soon, he thought. As my wife, Elizabeth will know the respect of all.

When he called upon the Gardiner household for the evening’s entertainment, her relations greeted him cordially, but it was Elizabeth who fascinated him. She wore the same gown as she wore at the Netherfield Ball, but somehow she no longer appeared as a fetching girl, but rather a woman in full bloom. His body recognized her in a purely male manner. Mine, it announced. It was all he could do not to flip Elizabeth over his shoulder and carry her off to some place private. As they crossed the lobby, he noted more than one head turned in their direction. He rarely was seen about Town with any lady in his protection, and Darcy knew tongues would be wagging on the morrow. For a change, he was glad of it. Having Elizabeth connected to him was what he desired.

“Darcy!”

He turned to observe the approach of his aunt and uncle. If he had known the Matlocks were in London, he would have chosen a different venue for the evening’s entertainment.

“Your lordship.” He led his party in proper acknowledgements. “Countess. I did not realize you were in London. If so, I would have left my card.”

“Matlock held business with his solicitor,” Darcy’s aunt explained, “and I took advantage of the colonel being at the family Town house to usher me about Bond Street.”

“I am certain my cousin enjoys the additional company,” Darcy said judiciously.

When the conversation began, he nudged Elizabeth closer so she could not bolt. He noted the hitch in her breathing and the quickness of her pulse at the base of her neck, but her chin rose to meet the Matlocks’ close scrutiny. She possessed a sort of vulnerable temerity that fascinated him.

The earl’s eyebrow rose in curiosity. “Perhaps you might make the introductions.”

Darcy noted the stiffness in Elizabeth’s shoulders. “Certainly,” he said while cupping her hand on his arm with his free one. “Your lordship. Countess. Permit me to give you the acquaintance of Miss Elizabeth Bennet and her aunt and uncle, Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner.”

“Miss Bennet?” The countess rolled the name about as if to taste its familiarity. “The colonel spoke of a Miss Bennet who was a visitor at Hunsford Cottage some months removed. Are you one and the same?”

Elizabeth’s voice held her apprehension, but she managed a sensible response. “Yes, your ladyship. I had the pleasure of taking Colonel Fitzwilliam’s acquaintance when he and Mr. Darcy shared the quarter days with Lady Catherine and Miss De Bourgh.”

“I did not know you continued the acquaintance, Darcy,” Lord Matlock remarked in chariness.

“I took Miss Bennet’s acquaintance several months prior to her sojourn with her cousin, Mr. Collins. The lady’s father is a gentleman from Hertfordshire and holds the nearest estate to the one Mr. Bingley means to purchase. At present, I am conducting business with Mr. Gardiner and Mr. Bennet.”

“I see,” Matlock pronounced suspiciously before changing his tone. “We should not keep you from your seats.”

Darcy executed a bow of respect. “Georgiana will join me at Darcy House tomorrow. Please feel free to make Miss Darcy part of your next outing to Bond Street. It would do my sister good to spend more time with our mother’s family. Miss Darcy has excelled at school this term. You will find my sister’s progress exemplary.” More than speaking the truth of his sister’s accomplishments, Darcy meant to draw attention from Elizabeth.

“I will send a note around tomorrow,” the countess announced.

With another bow of respect, Darcy directed his party toward the staircase.

“No mention of our bargain, Mr. Darcy?” Elizabeth inquired softly.

“We agreed to a measure of secrecy for the time being,” he replied in hushed tones. “If I announced our betrothal to Lord and Lady Matlock, every household in London would be abuzz with the news tomorrow. But know that I mean to have you to wife, Elizabeth. If you have not done so previously, it might behoove you to use this time together to acclimate your thoughts to the idea.”

PURCHASE LINKS:

Amazon      Kindle     Kobo     CreateSpace Store  

Resources:

The Big Picture ~ http://ritholtz.com/2013/07/the-fraud-of-the-prince-of-poyais/

The Fraud of the Prince of Poyais on the London Stock Exchange ~

https://www.globalfinancialdata.com/news/Articles/Poyais_article_v2.pdf

Gregor McGregor ~ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gregor_MacGregor

Posted in American History, Austen Authors, blog hop, book excerpts, book release, books, British history, British Navy, eBooks, excerpt, George Wickham, Georgian England, giveaway, historical fiction, history, Jane Austen, Living in the Regency, Pride and Prejudice, Regency personalities, Regency romance, Vagary | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

A Painting Inspired by a Jane Austen Novel? a Guest Post from Eliza Shearer

This post originally appeared on the Austen Authors’ blog on 2 February 2021.

About year ago, on a visit to the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow, I came across a delightful painting that immediately set my imagination flying. 

The 1887 painting, titled Two Strings to Her Bow, shows a cheerful young woman walking with her arms around two supposed suitors, neither of whom seem too pleased with the situation. 

With its coquettish female central figure in an Empire-line muslin dress and the men in breeches, the scene was a lovely depiction of Regency times. More specifically, to me the scene looked straight out of a Jane Austen novel.  

Two Strings to her Bow, by John Pettie, 1887.JPG ~ WikiCommons

A Victorian Throwback

Although Two Strings to Her Bow was painted 70 years after her death, the timing was no coincidence. The artist, John Pettie (1839-1893), was born in Edinburgh and had a successful career in England, which in Victorian times meant keeping an eye on what the market wanted.

The fact is that, towards the end of the 19th century, Austen underwent a bit of a revival. It all kicked off with the publication of A Memoir of Jane Austen in 1869. Written by Austen’s nephew’s James Edward Austen-Leigh’s, the biography presented her as a respectable writer whose work was perfect for Victorian sensibilities. 

(You may remember that, as part of the publicity campaign around A Memoir of Jane Austen, Austen-Leigh also commissioned a portrait of his aunt with a much-softened image, which is the same one that now appears in the 10 pound note today).

The Rise of “Austenolatry”

The reissue of Austen’s novels in the following years drove a renewed interest in Austen. More than the lavishly illustrated collectors’ sets, however, it was the cheap, “popular” editions of the books that made the writer a household name. 

Austen became so popular in the 1880s that some talk about a veritable Austen-mania, or “Austenolatry”. (The backlash in certain circles was to belittle the literary merit of Austen’s novels, and writers like Henry James, Mark Twain and Charlotte Brontë openly criticised her work.)

Given the growing interest in Austen, the subject of Pettie’s painting makes perfect sense. Intriguingly, it is part of a series featuring the same characters in different configurations. I wonder where the rest of the paintings have ended up and the story they tell.

The Girl in the Painting

But back to Two Strings in Her Bow. Who might the young lady be? She certainly looks like the cat who got the cream, confident of her allure and boosted by the clear rivalry of the two men hankering for her affections. Ask for the gentlemen, they couldn’t be more different…

If you ask me, she is no other than Miss Lydia Bennet in one of her flirting sprees, but I am happy to be convinced otherwise! 

What do you think? What Austen character(s) does the painting bring to your mind? And who would be your preferred suitor if you were the woman in the painting?

Posted in art, Austen Authors, British history, Guest Post, Jane Austen | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Mont Blanc Tragedy During World War I

Halifax explosion of 1917The damaged Exposition building in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, after the 1917 explosion.
George Grantham Bain Collection/Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. (Digital file no. LC-DIG-ggbain-25897)

Any historical fiction writer worth her salt spends a great deal of time doing research. I was specifically looking for tunnel fires for a plot line I was envisioning. I found a great deal on the Mont Blanc tunnel fire in March 1999, but that was too modern. However, what caught my eye was a different tragedy with “Mont Blanc,” and I am not speaking of mountain climbing.

This tragedy occurred on 6 December 1917 in Nova Scotia, specifically in the harbor of Halifax. This was pre-atomic days, but the devastation was still quite unbelievable.

Halifax was a bustling port during WWI. Ships carrying troops, supplies and munitions often left the harbor for the European continent. On this particular day, the Norwegian vessel Imo set out for New York City. About the same time, the French freighter Mont Blanc also set out. The Mont Blanc‘s cargo included 5000 pounds of explosives, specifically 2300 tons of picric acid, 200 tons of TNT, 35 tons of high-octane gasoline, and 10 tones of gun cotton. The Mont Blanc was to join a military convoy in the Atlantic.

The tragedy began with a navigation error combined with large crowds gathered along the shore, who gathered to watch what they thought was a mere shipwreck.

The two ships collided about 8:45 A.M. According to History.com, “The Mont Blanc was propelled toward the shore by its collision with the Imo, and the crew rapidly abandoned the ship, attempting without success to alert the harbor of the peril of the burning ship. Spectators gathered along the waterfront to witness the spectacle of the blazing ship, and minutes later it brushed by a harbor pier, setting it ablaze. The Halifax Fire Department responded quickly and was positioning its engine next to the nearest hydrant when the Mont Blanc exploded at 9:05 a.m. in a blinding white flash.” The French ship caught fire after several drums of benzol—a highly combustible motor fuel derived from coke-oven gases—tipped over on the deck, spilling their contents, which ignited, and the vessel drifted into the pier.

The Mont Blanc exploded, sending a giant mushroom cloud over the town. More than 1800 were instantly killed. Thousands more were injured. The entire northern part of the city was destroyed, including 1600 homes. Many people were blinded from the glass and shrapnel that rained down upon Halifax and Dartmouth. Schools, homes, factories, and churches were set ablaze, and many more were flattened by the shock wave.

A large portion of the waterfront was swept away by a 30-foot tidal wave. Initial survivors were drowned and the other ships in the harbor were swept away. Pieces of the Mont Blanc were later discovered as far removed as 3 miles. A tugboat in the harbor ended up on the Dartmouth shore. The shock wave shattered glass windows in Charlottetown some 120 miles away, and the explosion could be heard hundreds of miles away.

The shock wave washed away the settlement of an indigenous tribe called the Mimac.

The man-made explosion was not eclipsed until the devastation of the atomic bomb was finally acknowledged.

“Military and naval personnel worked with civilians in the relief effort. Nearby cities like Truro took in the homeless. Eaton stores donated furniture. The Canadian and British governments donated millions for reconstruction, while the United States organized a relief train filled with supplies, doctors, and nurses, some of whom were on the scene and working before shocked Canadian officials had fully recovered. More than 90 years later, the province of Nova Scotia each year still sends a Christmas tree to the city of Boston, Massachusetts as a token of friendship for the aid Bostonians rendered in December 1917.” (War Museum)

To Learn More…

A Harbour Collision Destroys Halifax

The Great Halifax Explosion

Halifax Explosion

Halifax Explosion

Wartime Tragedies

Posted in history, real life tales, research | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Old Lady Day” ~ No It is Not My Birthday!

Quarter Days are the four dates in each year that align with religious festivals. The days are roughly three months apart and are close to the two solstices and the two equinoxes. In British history, these days were the ones on which servants were hired, school terms started, and rents were due. They have been observed since the Middle Ages. They made certain debts and unresolved law suits did not drag on and on forever.  Accounts and a public reckoning were recorded on quarter days.

The English Quarter Days (also observed in Wales and the Channel Islands) are Lady Day (25 March), Midsummer Day (24 June), Michaelmas (29 September), and Christmas (25 December). Lady Day was set aside in commemoration of the angel Gabriel’s announcement to the Virgin Mary that she would become the mother of Jesus Christ.

You may recall Mr. Bingley arrives at Netherfield Park at Michaelmas in Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, and many assume Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam regularly call at Rosings Park to assist Lady Catherine with her Lady Day accounting.

In England, Lady Day was New Year’s Day from 1155 until 1752, when England adopted the Gregorian calendar (moving from the Julian calendar( making 1 January, rather than 25 March, the beginning of the new year. A vestige of this change remains when it comes to the United Kingdom’s tax year, which starts on 6 April, or what is known as “Old Lady Day,” which takes the original Lady Day of 25 March and adjusts for the 11 “lost days” created by the calendar change, making Tax Day occur on 5 April. The date was moved to 6 April after 1800. Until this change, Lady Day, as mentioned above, was considered the start of the legal year, not the liturgical or historical year, which functioned on a different calendar of sorts.

Year-long contracts between land owners and tenants traditionally began and end on Lady Day. Farming families who were changing farms or setting off to the industrial centers of the late Regency and early Victorian periods would do so on Lady Day.

Theconversation.com explains, “The Julian year was only 11½ minutes longer than a solar year, but by the late 1500s, this had all added up and the Julian calendar was some ten days adrift from the solar calendar. The Roman Catholic church was especially concerned because the celebration of Easter had been gradually getting later than when it had been celebrated by the early church.

And so in October 1582 Pope Gregory XIII instituted a change (to the “Gregorian” calendar) to solve the problem: three leap days were omitted every 400 years by the authority of a papal bull known as ‘Inter Gravissimas’. While Europe adopted the Gregorian calendar, however, England, with its history of conflict with the Roman Catholic church, did not (nor did Russia), and continued with the Julian calendar.

By 1752, when it was 11 days out of alignment with the rest of Europe, England finally accepted that it would have to make a change. The decision was made to drop 11 days from the month of September to catch up, and so September 2 was followed by September 14 that year. To ensure that there was no loss of tax revenues, however, the Treasury extended the 1752 tax year by adding on the 11 days at the end. Consequently, the beginning of the 1753 tax year was moved to April 5.

“In 1800 a further adjustment was made, shifting the start of the tax year forward by one more day to April 6, once again to mitigate for the differences between the Julian and Gregorian calendars. The year 1800 would have been a leap year under the Julian calendar system, but not the Gregorian one, so the Treasury treated 1800 as a leap year for purposes of taxation to get an extra day’s revenue. April 6 has remained the beginning of the tax year ever since, though it was only formalised in 1900. Although some countries, including the US, Canada, France and Germany, have adopted the calendar year as their tax year, the UK and others such as Australia have not.”

It is interesting that with all these date changes, the UK government’s fiscal year still does not align. The financial year in the UK runs from 1 April to 31 March, not coinciding with the tax year dates.

Tudors Dynasty http://www.tudorsdynasty.com/about-lady-day-and-other-major-days-guest-post/

Give Us Our Eleven Days https://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryUK/HistoryofBritain/Give-us-our-eleven-days/

 

Posted in British history, Chaucer, Christmas, Church of England, Georgian England, Georgian Era, Living in the UK, real life tales, research, servant life, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on “Old Lady Day” ~ No It is Not My Birthday!

Easter During the Regency

easter-cockney-hunt

The Epping Hunt, or the ‘Cockney Hunt’ was traditionally held on Easter Monday. https://georgianera.wordpress.com/2015/03/31/an-early-19th-century-easter-miscellany/

According to many sources, for many years during the Regency (1811-1820), Parliament did not open its first session of the year until after Easter. But the list of dates, I have included below, contradicts that idea somewhat.

Generally, the new Season for young ladies to make their Come Outs and the doings of the Marriage Mart were closely associated with Easter. We must remember that for England during this period in history, Easter and Lent were still considered a religious celebration, and, although people had gotten away from the stricter celebration of years past, Lent, for example, was more closely observed than we find today. People refrained from eating cakes, pastries, dairy, fats, as well as avoided “meat” on Friday. 

Even when Parliament resumed early, the official London Season did not begin until after Easter Sunday. 

Meeting Dates for Parliament During the Regency ~ During the Regency, Parliament met at least once a year to vote on the military budget and various bills. Gleaning dates from a variety of sources, Parliament was in session during the following times:

  • 1 November 1810 to 24 July 1811
  • 7 January 1812 to 30 July 1812
  • General election: 5 October to 10 November 1812
  • 24 November 1812 to 22 July 1813
  • 4 November 1813 to 30 July 1814
  • 8 November 1814 to 12 July 1815
  • 1 Feb 1816 to 2 July 1816
  • 28 January 1817 to 12 July 1817
  • 27 January 1818 to 10 June 1818
  • General election: 15 June to 25 July 1818
  • 14 January 1819 to 13 July 1819, before the 16 August 1819 Peterloo Massacre
  • 23 November 1819 to 28 February 1820 (special session because of the massacre but ending early because of the death of George III)
  • General election: 6 March to 14 April 1820
  • 21 April to 23 November 1820 (including a special session beginning the third week of August for the trial of Queen Caroline).

Donna Hatch’s Blog tells us, “The day before Lent began was Shrove Tuesday, a day to confess sins to one’s priest (or to get “shriven”). According to Regency researcher and author, Regina Scott, it was also a day they referred to as “pancake Tuesday,” the last opportunity to eat all the foods forbidden during Lent. The custom might have begun as a way to use up any of these foods one had in the house so they wouldn’t spoil. Other cultures used their last day of anything goes to create events such as Mardi Gras and Fat Tuesday.

“In England, a host of games accompanied Pancake Tuesday, including pancake races (flipping a pancake in a frying pan while running) and Street Foot Ball, or Hurling, which is a cross between soccer and American football. You can read more about those games here.”

Easter during the Regency: 

13th April 1800                  

5th April 1801                      

18th April 1802    

10th April 1803    

1st April 1804   

14th April 1805   

6th April 1806     

29th March 1807  

7th April 1808     

2nd April 1809    

22nd April 1810    

14th April 1811    

29th March 1812   

18th April 1813   

10th April 1814    

26th March 1815    

14th April 1816   

6th April 1817   

22nd March 1818 

11th April 1819    

2nd April 1820   

In the  early years of the 19th century, the date of Easter was quite important. Law courts, parliament, schools  — as well as the church calendar all based dates on that of Easter. Generally, the season in Town didn’t start until after Easter.

Even the theatres chose to acknowledge the Holy Season. Oratorios, rather than dramas, could be found, and the theatre district was, generally closed between Palm Sunday and Easter. Easter Monday and Tuesday were government holidays. The 

Maundy Thursday (also known as Holy ThursdayCovenant ThursdayGreat and Holy ThursdaySheer Thursday, and Thursday of Mysteries, among other names) is the Christian holy day falling on the Thursday before Easter. It commemorates the foot washing (Maundy) and Last Supper of Jesus Christ with the Apostles, as described in the canonical gospels. Many theorize that the English name “Maundy Thursday” arose from “maundsor baskets” or “maundy purses” of alms which the king of England distributed to certain poor at Whitehall before attending Mass on that day. During the Regency, the Regent, acting in his father’s, George III’s, stead presented food and tunics to the poor. 

Jane Austen’s World tells us, “In her book, Jane Austen and the Clergy, Irene Collins writes: Clergymen in Jane Austen’s day were not expected to write original sermons every Sunday. “Henry Crawford, assessing Edmund Bertram’s commitments at Thornton Lacey, judged that ‘a sermon at Christmas and Easter ‘would be’ the sum total of the sacrifice.” Mr. Collins produced only two sermons between his ordination at Easter and his visit to Longbourn in November of the same year.- p. 96.

“Jane Austen herself mentions Easter, most notably in Pride and Prejudice:

In this quiet way, the first fortnight of her visit soon passed away. Easter was approaching, and the week preceding it was to bring an addition to the family at Rosings, which in so small a circle must be important. Elizabeth had heard, soon after her arrival, that Mr. Darcy was expected there in the course of a few weeks, and though there were not many of her acquaintance whom she did not prefer, his coming would furnish one comparatively new to look at in their Rosings parties, and she might be amused in seeing how hopeless Miss Bingley’s designs on him were, by his behaviour to his cousin, for whom he was evidently destined by Lady Catherine; who talked of his coming with the greatest satisfaction, spoke of him in terms of the highest admiration, and seemed almost angry to find that he had already been frequently seen by Miss Lucas and herself.

Ellen Moody noted that dating Sense and Sensibility presented a problem. It was revised several times and as a result the chronology remains inconsistent. Towards the book’s end, Easter is mentioned as occurring on March 31. This would have fallen in 1793, when the first draft of the novel was written. But, there is another reference to Easter in early April, which would have placed the novel in 1798 (the most likely), 1801, 1803, and 1809.”

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The Regency Redingote Blog speaks to the superstitions of Easter in 1818, a fact I found absolutely fascinating. “In 1818, Easter Sunday fell on 22 March, the earliest possible date on which Easter could occur, based on the formula laid down by Christian fathers. This was just one day after the vernal equinox, as the first spring full moon coincided with both observances that year. Most people during the Regency, of all Christian sects, were well aware that this was the very earliest date on which Easter could fall. Many of them were also aware that Easter would not occur that early again for another 467 years, since Easter would not fall on 22 March again until the year 2285. [Author’s Note:

For those who might be interested, the very latest possible date for Easter Sunday is 25 April.]

“This very early Easter date created a rare coincidence which some people believed was a strong portent of some serious misfortune which would befall England. This coincidence not only caused Easter Sunday to fall very close to Lady Day, it actually caused Easter to come three days before Lady Day (25 March). (A very ancient tradition held that the Crucifixion took place on 25 March, the same date as Lady Day. Though this specific date is not recorded in scripture, there were many in England who were aware of the supposed date.) A doggerel couplet which was well known during the Regency captures the attitude of many people toward the fell portent of the juxtaposition of Easter and Lady Day:

When my Lord falls in my Lady’s lap,
England, beware of some mishap!

“Though no significantly terrible things took place in Britain in the spring of 1818, quite a number of highly superstitious people believed that this very close Easter Sunday/Lady Day occurrence was directly responsible for the death of Queen Charlotte, on 17 November of 1818. It must be noted that Queen Charlotte celebrated her seventy-fourth birthday, in May of 1818, and she had been in failing health since the unexpected death of her beloved granddaughter, Princess Charlotte, in early November of 1817. Even so, there were some very superstitious people who were convinced this early Easter, in close conjunction with Lady Day, hastened the Queen’s passing.”

Sources and Other Interesting Articles Worth Sharing:

All Things Georgian 

The Historical Royal Palace Blog

Historical Hussies

Jane Austen’s World

Lesley-Anne McLeod, Regency author blog, an article written by Regina Scott

The Regency Redingote

Gaelen Foley

Posted in British history, Church of England, England, George IV, Georgian England, Georgian Era, history, Jane Austen, Living in the Regency, Pride and Prejudice, Regency era, research | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Literary Origins and April Fool’s Day

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April Fools’ Day (alternatively April Fool’s Day, sometimes All Fools’ Day) is celebrated on 1 April every year. 1 April is not a national holiday, but is widely recognized and celebrated in various countries as a day when people play practical jokes and hoaxes on each other called April fools.

In parts of Europe, children and adults tack paper fishes on each other’s back as a trick and shout “April fish!” These late 19th to early 20th Century postcards reflect this tradition. 

Transparent Language tells us, “It is thought that April Fool’s Day is the result of the Ancient Roman festival Hilaria and the Medieval festival known as the Feast of Fools. The Feast of Fools, also known as festum fatuorum,( feast of fools) festum stultorum (feast of the silly or simple), was celebrated during the months of December or January. The Medieval festival,  Feast of Fools, finds its roots within the Roman festival known as Saturnalia. You can learn more about the Saturnalia here. So like the Saturnalia, the Feast of Fool sought to overturn the societal norms of status and class.

” Feast of Fools and the Church ~ In the festival, young people would chose to play a mock pope, archbishop, bishop, or abbot to reign as Lord of Misrule.  Participants of the festival would then “consecrate” him with many ridiculous ceremonies in the nearest main church, giving names such as Archbishop of DoltsAbbot of Unreason, or Pope of Fools.  This consecration ceremony often mocked the performance of the highest offices of the church. While other participants dressed a sundry of masks and disguises, engaged in songs and dances and practiced all manner of revelry within the church building. The Feast of Fools was eventually discontinued and forbidden 1431 for its blasphemous manner.

 “April Fool’s Day and Hilaria ~ The ancient festival known as Hilaria (Latin for cheerful, merry, joyful) was celebrated on the vernal (spring) equinox in honor of the goddess Cybele. The goddess Cybele has a long and extended history from Anatolia to Rome. The Romans celebrated Hilaria, as a feria stativa (a set free day [i.e no work]), on March 25 in honor of Cybele, the mother of the gods. The days of the festival were devoted to general rejoicings and public sacrifices (hence its name), and no one was allowed to show any symptoms of grief or sorrow( unless it was the “Day of Mourning”).

“According to the historian Herodian, there was a procession and a statue of the goddess was carried. Before this statue, the most costly works of art belonging either to wealthy Romans or to the emperors themselves proceeded. All kinds of games and amusements were allowed on this day; masquerades were the most prominent among them, and everyone might, in his disguise, imitate whomsoever he liked, and even magistrates.”

The earliest recorded association between 1 April and foolishness is an ambiguous reference in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales (1392). Many writers suggest that the restoration of 1 January by Pope Gregory XIII as New Year’s Day of the Gregorian Calendar in the 16th century was responsible for the creation of the holiday, sometimes questioned for earlier references.

In Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales (1392), the “Nun’s Priest’s Tale” is set Syn March bigan thritty dayes and two. Modern scholars believe there is a copying error in the extant manuscripts and that Chaucer actually wrote, Syn March was gon. Thus, the passage originally meant 32 days after April, i.e. 2 May, the anniversary of the engagement of King Richard II of England to Anne of Bohemia, which took place in 1381. Readers apparently misunderstood this line to mean “March 32,” i.e. 1 April. In Chaucer’s tale, the vain cock Chauntecleer is tricked by a fox.

In the late 17th Century, Francis Osborne mentions the “impertinent errands, as the Dutch youth do fools on the second of April,” in his Deductions from the History of the Earl of Essex (1659). In 1686, John Aubrey mentions a “Fooles holy day. We observe it on ye first of April. And so it is kept in Germany everywhere” in his Remains of Gentilism and Judaism

Hoaxes.org tells us, “The French term for ‘April Fool’ is ‘poisson d’Avril.’ It translates literally as ‘April Fish.’ The term appears in several late-medieval French poems — first in the work of Pierre Michault (1466) and next in La Livre de la Deablerie (1508), by Eloy d’Amerval. This has led some to suggest, quite reasonably, that these may be early April Fool’s Day references. However, etymologists believe that the phrase ‘poisson d’Avril’ originally referred to a matchmaker, or to someone who delivered messages between two lovers. It was only in the late 17th century that the phrase acquired its modern association with April Fool’s Day. And if we examine these late-medieval poems, we see that this is the case. For example, Michault’s poem describes the advice being given to a page, who is being told how to deliver messages between a lord and lady to further their illicit affair, and how to do this to his own advantage. Michault writes:

Now you should say to the Lord, ah, sir, I know of a fine and pleasing advantage, by which for a doublet I shall bring you together; truthfully, carnal love is a proper desire, and thus there is no danger or peril, but still, I shall be your ‘poisson d’avril’.

“There’s no indication that this has anything to do with April Fool’s Day. Likewise, d’Amerval wrote, “le chief des ruffyens, Houlier, putier, macquereau infame De maint homme et de mainte fame, Poisson d’Apvril.” Loosely translated, this means something like, “chief ruffian, whore-monger, pimp of many a man and many a woman, panderer (April fish).” The way d’Amerval is using the phrase doesn’t suggest any connection with April Fool’s Day.

” Therefore, these early uses of the phrase ‘poisson d’Avril,’ although intriguing, do not appear to be references to April Fool’s Day. [Meanwhile, there is] Verzenderkensdag. In 1561, the Flemish poet Eduard De Dene, who lived in the city of Bruges, published his Testament Rhetoricael. The book consisted of a large collection of poems and songs, and ‘published’ is perhaps not the right word to describe its debut, since it was entirely handwritten. But on page 358, the book included a poem titled “Refereyn vp verzendekens dach / Twelck den eersten April te zyne plach.” This is late-medieval Dutch meaning (approximately) “Refrain on fool’s errand-day / which is the first of April.” The poem described a nobleman who sent his servant back and forth on various absurd errands on April 1st, ostensibly to help prepare for a wedding feast.


De Dene’s Testament Rhetoricael, page 358.
The ‘April Fool’ poem begins on the bottom of the right-hand page. (Detail below)

“There’s no doubt that the poem is about April Fool’s Day. In fact, in Belgium April 1 is still referred to as “Verzenderkensdag”. So this poem is the earliest unambiguous reference to April Fool’s Day that we currently know of. Its existence establishes that the Dutch have been playing pranks on April 1 since at least the mid-sixteenth century. Given that De Dene assumes his readers are familiar with “verzendekens dach,” it’s probable that the custom is much older than the 1560s. But exactly how much older, we don’t know.

Many writers suggest that April Fools Day began because those who celebrated the beginning of the year on 1 January made fun of those who celebrated it on 1 April. Unfortunately, this simple explanation does not take into account of the spread of the holiday in parts of Europe. The Gregorian calendar was not adopted in England until 1752, but a “Fools” day held roots dating back to Medieval times. 

An 1857 ticket to "Washing the Lions" at the Tower of London in London. No such event ever took place.

An 1857 ticket to “Washing the Lions” at the Tower of London in London. No such event ever took place.

There is also no historical evidence, only conjecture as to how the change from the Julian to the Georgian calendar affected this holiday’s origin.

The use of 1 January as New Year’s Day was common in France by the mid-16th century, and this date was adopted officially in 1564 by the Edict of Roussillon.

A study in the 1950s, by folklorists Iona and Peter Opie, found that in the UK, and in countries whose traditions derived from the UK, the joking ceased at midday. A person playing a joke after midday is the “April fool” themselves. But this practice appears to have lapsed in more recent years.

In Scotland, April Fools’ Day is traditionally called Hunt-the-Gowk Day (“gowk” is Scots for a cuckoo or a foolish person), although this name has fallen into disuse. The traditional prank is to ask someone to deliver a sealed message requesting help of some sort. In fact, the message reads “Dinna laugh, dinna smile. Hunt the gowk another mile.” The recipient, upon reading it, will explain he can only help if he first contacts another person, and sends the victim to this person with an identical message, with the same result.

The 1 April tradition in France, Romandy and French-speaking Canada includes poisson d’avril (literally “April’s fish”), attempting to attach a paper fish to the victim’s back without being noticed. This is also widespread in other nations, such as Italy, where the term Pesce d’aprile (literally “April’s fish”) is also used to refer to any jokes done during the day. This custom also exists in certain areas of Belgium, including the province of Antwerp. The Flemish tradition is for children to lock out their parents or teachers, only letting them in if they promise to bring treats the same evening or the next day.

In Poland, prima aprilis (“April 1” in Latin) is a day full of jokes; various hoaxes are prepared by people, media (which sometimes cooperate to make the “information” more credible) and even public institutions. Serious activities are usually avoided. This conviction is so strong that the anti-Turkish alliance with Leopold I signed on 1 April 1683, was backdated to 31 March.

The Official April Fool’s Day FAQ

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