Truth Stranger Than Fiction, a Guest Post from Jennifer Petkus

This post originally appeared on Austen Authors, but I thought it worthy and wanted to share it with others. If you do not know Jennifer Petkus’s works, check them out. 

Truth is stranger than fiction, they say, which I’ve never believed. After all, liars—or fiction authors—are unconstrained by the impossible. We can make up anything we want and get away with it (especially science fiction authors). In the real world, however, there are limits that liars—or authors—must adhere to should they want a story to seem believable.

While researching and planning the book I’m writing, I wondered how far I could stretch the believable and worried that I’d gone too far, but recently I discovered that what I’d imagined was still a pale imitation of what another liar had imagined.

I’ve just read The Land That Never Was by David Sinclair about the exploits of General “Sir” Gregor McGregor, Cazique of Poyais. This self-titled potentate perpetrated a massive and puzzling fraud a little after the time of Jane Austen (beginning in 1822) that led to the deaths of hundreds and bankrupted thousands, and yet he was never convicted of any crime and was actually exonerated both by a French court and even by the people he swindled.

(Although MacGregor perpetrated his most outrageous con after Jane Austen’s death, it’s possible she would have know of his much inflated exploits during the Napoleonic Wars, or his later efforts on behalf of Venezuelan independence. Her survivors probably would have heard of the wonderful investment opportunities in Poyais, especially when consols, a government bond issued by the Bank of England, dropped from a five percent return to four percent.)

McGregor’s scheme coincided with the South American bubble, when various countries in South America were attempting independence from Spain. Investors were hoping to make good with these new governments, but successful independence movements were either too few or took too long to come to fruition. McGregor, however, claimed to be the leader or Cazique of Poyais, a country on the Bay of Honduras along the Mosquito Shore, and he offered investors and potential settlers an inviting opportunity. Poyais, he said, had never been a Spanish territory and in fact its earliest foreign settlement had been by the British. Moreover, the citizens of Poyais greatly admired the British and hoped to attract British money and settlers.

McGregor also claimed that the capital of Poyais, St. Joseph, was in every respect a model European community with an already established infrastructure of roads, mining, farming and even bureaucracy. It only needed British expertise to prosper further. Of course most British subjects had never heard of Poyais, so it’s hard to imagine why someone would pull up stakes and move to a country in a region of the world notable for hot, humid weather and malaria. (Incidentally the Mosquito Shore or Coast was named not for the insect but for the indigenous Miskito people.)

By coincidence, however, about this time a very popular guidebook—Sketch of the Mosquito Shore, Including the Territory of Poyais—purportedly written by Captain Thomas Strangeways, appeared in Edinburgh and London, extolling the virtues of the country, from its moderate climate and the good harbor to its fertile soil and even its opera house.

This alone might not have convinced hard-headed Scots to leave their homeland, but there were other reasons McGregor’s pitch was attractive. McGregor was, after all, a general in the republican army of Venezuela (true); a hero of the Peninsular Campaign (false; he was there but managed to avoid most fighting); had established a Republic of Florida (by capturing for a short time the lightly defended Amelia Island); and he was head of the Clan Gregor (false, he was not and had no right to call himself a baronet).

MacGregor also was a genius at creating the trappings of a functioning country. He even created an embassy of sorts for Poyais at the home of a gullible and wealthy backer. MacGregor rewarded his dupes with fake military honors like the Order of the Green Cross. He also registered his spurious deed to Poyaisan territory at the High Court of Chancery and issued elaborate land grants and stock certificates and was fond of penning grandiloquent proclamations.

MacGregor’s pitch also had a resonance at a time when all things Scottish were en vogue, thanks to Sir Walter Scott’s tireless efforts to promote the visit of George IV to Scotland. It also helped that Rob Roy was an ancestor. And in another outrageous display of hubris, MacGregor said he hoped his promised land of Poyais would erase the stain of the disastrous Darien Scheme at the end of the seventeenth century, when Scottish investors tried to create a colony in Panama.

Thus it was that most of the settlers to Poyais were Scots. MacGregor sold these settler land grants to Poyaisan territory and equipped two ships to take settlers there with all the necessary tools, supplies and food to support them while building their new homes. Of course not everyone who went planned to settle. Some hoped to work in the Poyaisan bureaucracy or in even in the Poyaisan theater world. After all, they expected to find a fully developed European city.

What settlers to Poyais hoped to find upon their arrival

What they found upon arrival, however, was nothing: no city, no friendly natives, just two men who lived nearby indulging in the British indulgence of going native (somewhat difficult to do admittedly because of the lack of natives). Unfortunately the ships that landed the settlers departed without them for various reasons. Some tried to build homes but disease, bad water and ruined supplies finally led to the survivors being taken to Belize. Fortunately additional ships carrying settlers to Poyais were turned back.

By some miracle, MacGregor largely avoided fault for the failed expeditions to Poyais. One survivor even went so far as to write a book exonerating MacGregor. What MacGregor couldn’t escape, however, was a growing mistrust of South American speculations. He did try to revive his scheme in France by selling land rights to a French company that would then resell them, but that landed him in jail. Not because he was selling land in a country that didn’t exist, however, but because of irregularities in the transactions. And he was later exonerated.

Over decades he kept trying to reinvent the scheme but he knew the game was up when he faced competition from other speculators also trying to sell stock in fictional Poyaisan land. He eventually ended up back in Venezuela where he was awarded a pension for one of the very few actual military exploits he’d accomplished.

In this case, the truth of MacGregor’s fiction is far more daring than what I envisioned for my own book. Even though I had the liberty of concocting in my fiction anything I could imagine, I was still far more timid than what someone else concocted in real life. Then again, what he concocted was a fiction as well, all of which goes back to my suspicion that the old aphorism truth is stranger than fiction is a lie in and of itself.

One of the things that I enjoy about writing historical fiction is that past ages are imbued with an inherent magical realism. With so much of the world yet to be discovered, you could claim just about anything to be true and get away with it. Which makes one wonder what future ages will think of our mistaken beliefs. And the story of Gregor MacGregor also shows how resilient mistaken beliefs can be. According to David Sinclair, the author of the The Land That Never Was, the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography in its entry for MacGregor still makes no mention of MacGregor’s fraud nor does it question the validity of his knighthood. (Sinclair’s book was published in 2003 and the last edition of the ODNB was published in 2004, so it’s possible that error was corrected. Access to the ODNB requires a subscription, but is available through most UK libraries, so if anyone would care to check for me?)

61gaooT+TnL._UX250_.jpg Meet Jennifer Petkus: Jennifer Petkus divides her time creating websites for the dead, writing Jane Austen-themed mysteries, woodworking, aikido and building model starships. She has few credentials, having failed to graduate from the University of Texas with a journalism degree, but did manage to find employment at the Colorado Springs Sun newspaper as a cop reporter, copy editor and night city editor before the paper died in 1986. She lives in fear of getting a phone call from her dead Japanese mother. Her husband is the night editor at The Denver Post. Her best friend is a cop. She watched Neil Armstrong walk on the Moon live.

51JSUSe7vQL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg Jane Actually, or Jane Austen’s Book Tour

With the invention of the AfterNet, death isn’t quite the end to a literary career it once was, and Jane Austen, the grande dame of English literature, is poised for a comeback with the publication of Sanditon, the book she was writing upon her death in 1817. But how does a disembodied author sign autographs and appear on talk shows? With the aid of Mary Crawford, a struggling acting student who plays the role of the Regency author who wrote Pride and Prejudice and Emma and Sense and Sensibility. But Austen discovers her second chance at a literary career also gives her a second chance at happiness and possibly even … love.

51e1IHOdkWL.jpg My Particular Friend 

Miss Charlotte House will not admit impediments to marriage, not even when those impediments include scandal, blackmail and a duel to the death. With the help of her particular friend Miss Jane Woodsen, she deduces all that happens in Bath—both good and ill—and together they ensure that true love’s course runs smooth, even though both friends have suffered tragedies that prevent their own happiness. These six affairs, set in Bath, England, during the Napoleonic War, are inspired by the creations of both Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Jane Austen.


Posted in British history, British Navy, business, commerce, Scotland | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Age of Consent to Marry in the Regency Period

18th and 19th Century: Gretna Green - The Place for Elopements 18thcand19thc.blogspot. com

18th and 19th Century: Gretna Green – The Place for Elopements

During the Regency, despite what some authors may include within the story line, the age of consent for females was twenty-one, not twenty-five as some would lead the reader to believe. Although I do not know from where the idea of the female having a guardian until age 25, what I assume is happening is the author (and many times the reader) is confusing the idea of a female’s guardianship with the age of majority. The confusion likely comes from fathers or another person setting up a trust for a female. The trust would provide the woman a “fortune” at age 25 or when she married (if she married with the approval of the man named as guardian of her money.)  

If the woman did not have her guardian’s approval (and was less that age 21) and chose to marry, she just would not receive the money.  So age of consent was not the issue as much as age of majority. In most places it was 21. In the Danish West Indies it was 25. 

If an underage lady eloped to Gretna Green without her guardian’s consent, can the guardian have the marriage declared illegal and annulled? The answer is “No.” One could marry in Scotland at 14 without permission, so as long as the girl was 14, the marriage could not be annulled.

English males and females considered a journey to Gretna Green when permission was withheld because Scottish Law meant they required only a witness, not even a priest, and as long as they were fourteen or over then English Law accepted a marriage that was witnessed in Scotland. For the aristocratic class, there were fewer mad escapes to Scotland than the Regency romance genre would lead the reader to believe. The “Smithy” was just the first building one came across over the Scottish border, and that is how the Smithy became the place the deed was done (or generally not done), but when English Law first changed there were some ten different people all over Gretna who set themselves up to offer to be a witness to couples crossing the border.  

A book about Robert Elliot: Gretna Green Anvil Priest 1814-1840 describes his stint

as a “marriage priest” in Gretna. “Elliot was born in Northumberland, the son of a farmer. While working for a stagecoach company, he met Ann Graham, the granddaughter of Joseph Paisley. They were married in January 1811 at the village church in Gretna Green, as was considered proper; very few of the local people were married in the irregular way.

“The couple lived with Paisley, and Elliot assisted the old man with his marriage ceremonies. When Paisley died in 1814, Elliot was a natural successor and he continued the marriage trade.

“In 1842 Elliot had his memoirs published. In them he states that he performed between 4,000 and 8,000 ceremonies. He also claims that he was the only priest working in Gretna Green at that time and had been for the last thirty years. However, it had been put beyond doubt that there were at least two other priests at the time. 

Gretna Green and the Runaway Regency Bride | Shannon Donnelly's ...

Gretna Green and the Runaway Regency Bride | Shannon Donnelly’s …

“The majority of Elliot’s history is taken from his memoirs in which he also gives accounts of ‘noteworthy elopements’ but it is likely that the events of some of his stories occurred before he became a Gretna Green Priest. Unfortunately the majority of his registers, and those of Paisley, were lost when Elliot’s handicapped daughter set fire to her bed one night, and burned herself to death together with the registers that were stored on the bed’s canopy.” (Visiting Gretna Green)

“He [Elliot] gives the form of service he used for celebrating marriages – which, though much abbreviated, appears to be taken almost direct from the Marriage Service of the Church of England. He also narrates several stories of runaway marriages – some of them tragic ones. The most dramatic, if I remember aright, told of the shooting of a bridegroom, immediately after the consummation of the marriage, by the father of the bride – infuriated to find that his pursuit had been in vain…. These tragic occurrences, however, would appear to be matters of the far past. Nothing of the kind was ever mentioned by Mr Linton – who succeeded Elliot as Priest – as I was informed by Mrs. Armstrong, his daughter, when I came to examine Gretna Hall Registers; which, together with copies of the marriage certificates, are in her keeping. In these Registers – which date from the year 1825, and some of which are in the handwriting of Robert Elliot appear, among many of less note, the names of a Bourbon Prince of Naples, Duke of Capua; of a Duke Sforza Cesarini, a Lord Drumlanrigh, and a Lady__Villers, a daughter of one of the Earls of Jersey. (The Scot’s Magazine. Volume 4, June-November 1888-1889, Edited by the Rev. W. W. Tulloch, B. D., Perth: S. Cowan & Co., Printers and Publishers, 1889)

The Scottish “priest” asked the couple their purpose in appearing before him and then asked the traditional question of whether the male took the female to be his wife and if the female took the male to be her husband. He also presented them with a marriage certificate and recorded the marriage in his books. Scotland had a civil register years before such a recording appeared in England. One could be married merely by going to this registrar and having him record the marriage. Quite often the man was willing to predate the entry back several months if the woman was pregnant even though it legally did not matter when the child was conceived. All that mattered was whether or not the parents were married when the child was born.

What about marrying by common license?  Did those have to be done at the local parish as well, or could they be done at any church? Also, how common were common licenses?  

Some sources lead us to believe that most aristocratic marriages were done by common license and only the lower classes had the banns read.  Is this true?

The Common license required the name of the parish church in which the wedding would take place. According to the parish registers, many people of the gentry and middling sort, as well as aristocrats married by common license. However, some felt that the ribald remarks and boisterous fun executed by some of the villagers/friends kept them from having the banns called. Most of the special licenses were used by the aristocracy.

Did couples need to receive special approval to marry at a local church, like St James or St. Peter’s? A couple married at their parish church unless they had a special license so they could marry at any place a clergyman would conduct the ceremony, including a drawing room in a great house or even a village green. 

Although it was legal to marry in Scotland at 14 without permission, English children needed permission until they were 21.  However, a child could be married off at age seven in England with parental permission. Supposedly this child had the right to deny the marriage at age 12. Any marriage after age 12 for girls and age 14 for boys was considered valid if done with parental permission. The number of marriages of infants decreased during the age of enlightenment until the 18th century when people started to think age 16 was too young. Also, the trend of the day was towards “nuclear families,” instead of  more communal living with many generations in the same house. Marriage statistics take in all classes of people. A peer of the realm or his wealthy heir could marry at any age, for he had the fortune to provide for his new family, as well as his widowed mother and siblings. A man of lower status had to be established in his profession or job to be able to afford a wife. In such cases, quite often the would-be bride was also working in some way to acquire money for the new home.

The fact that it was legal to marry at fourteen does not mean it was common. There are statistics that say during the early 19th Century the average age for women to marry in the British Isles was mid-twenties. As for the short life expectancy, one must look at how the statistics were developed. For example, many who passed early on did so in the first few years of infancy and childhood. If one had six children, and three passed before the age of one and the other three lived to be fifty, their average life expectancy was only twenty-five. We must remember that numbers can be manipulated to prove whatever we wish. 

Posted in British history, Gretna Green, Living in the Regency, marriage licenses, real life tales, Regency era | Tagged , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

Overview of the Elizabethan and Restoration Eras

This piece is not meant to be a deep look into the history of the Elizabethan and Restoration eras, but rather an overview of the periods to explain future pieces on the literature of the times. This is a continuation of my look back at my undergraduate degree in English. (Previous pieces in the series are listed at the end of this post.) That being said…

elizabeth1.jpg Although Elizabeth’s reign was a successful one, it was marked with both religious and political dissension. In Ireland and Scotland, Catholic uprisings occurred, and Jesuits carried out a movement of conversion in England. Parliament passed suppressive measures against the Jesuit movement, declaring the action treasonable. Eventually, Edmund Campion, the head of the movement was beheaded. Jesuits fled the country when William of Orange was murdered and a plot to bring Mary to the throne was uncovered. Protestant extremists furnished additional troubles to the government, so that several of their leaders also suffered martyrdom. 

Invincible_Armada.jpg Meanwhile England’s power over the seas increased. Men, such as Hawkins and Drake, sought fame, treasure, and glory of England sailed even into the new world to attack Spanish properties and shipping. Supremacy over the sea lanes aided in the defeat of the Spanish Armada, marking the end of the Spanish rule of the sea. Elizabeth’s last years were spent in forcing the struggle against Spain. She died in 1603, closing a reign that had turned the attention of the English people to trade, colonization, exploration, and a new nationalism. 

From the Accession of James I to the Restoration: 

James-Stuart-NLB.jpg James I came to the throne of England with no greater possession than a tremendous ignorance of the country and people that he would rule. He underestimated both the power of the English Parliament and of the Puritan sect. He refused toleration of the Puritan sect in 1604 while giving encouragement to the Roman Catholics. As a result of this encouragement, Catholics began to multiply and to make themselves heard in the affairs of the kingdom. Therefore, James found it necessary to issue a proclamation banishing priests, and anti-Catholic laws were strictly enforced. The Gunpowder Plot, an attempt to blow up King and Parliament, grew out of these oppressive acts. Even with further attempts to treat the Catholics kindly, James merely succeeded in increasing his unpopularity among the Protestants. Thus, when he died in 1625, the legacy he left to his on, the new king, was a host of differences with his people. 

charles-i-and-henrietta-maria-c-palazzo-pitti-bridgeman-art-library.jpg When Charles I came to the throne, the power behind him was the court favorite George Villiers, the Duke of Buckingham. Without the blessings of Parliament, these two brought England into the European War. Parliament refused to finance Charles’s plans, conflict between Parliament and the King rose. Charles I managed to raise the necessary funds by his own methods. Parliament, therefore, forced Charles in 1628 to assent to the Petition of Right, a clear definition of the rights of British subjects and a limitation of royal prerogative. 

Many rejoiced at the murder of Buckingham in that same year. Charles abandoned his military aspirations and dispensed with Parliament. He placed his own judges into the courts and ruled very much as a despot. 

In religious matters, Puritans suffered greatly. The High Church Archbishop Laud enforced episcopacy and forbade evangelicalism. Puritans escaped by emigrating to America. Catholic offered some approval for the King, however, for Charles had married a Catholic. In 1636, Charles declared himself head of the church in Scotland. The Scots threatened war. Charles was forced to call a Parliament, thus giving the people an opportunity for concerted action. At the same time, the Scots threw in their sympathies with the parliamentary forces in the Civil war that was soon to follow. 

The Parliament, which came to be known as the Long Parliament assembled in 1640. This body decided to assert its power: it ordered the execution of the King’s chief minister, the Earl of Strafford; it put Laud into the Tower; it forbade the King to dissolve Parliaments. In brief, it made the King dependent upon itself. 

Although Parliament knew unity on the question of royal prerogative, dissension remained int terms of religious matters. The Parliamentary majority wished to establish a Puritan State Church; others desired a Presbyterian establishment; still others wanted congregational control of the churches. Encouraged by this split, Charles made an attempt to arrest five leaders of the Commons. Only war would settle the balance of power. 

War began in 1642. It ended with the victory of the parliamentary party (Roundheads) in 1646. Parliament celebrated their victory with the persecution of various other religious sects and by heavily taxing the Cavaliers. Only after the execution of Charles and the establishment of Cromwell to the position of Protector did an ease to the strife occur.

Before Cromwell was named Lord Protector in 1653, the Rump Parliament, a body that aroused the nation’s hostilities, was in control. This Rump Parliament censored writings, closed the theatres, stopped church festivals, and tried to enforce morality by law.  In 1653, Cromwell dissolved this Parliament. Shortly afterwards, Cromwell was made Lord Protector for life. Parliament protested the power bestowed upon Cromwell, thus forcing him to the employment of arbitrary methods in order to retain his power. Of religious sects, Cromwell was highly tolerant, and under his protection, many flourished. Unfortunately, there was, during his regime, a great degree of interference with private affairs, and undue concern with public morals interpreted in the light of Puritanism, and as the Puritans had formerly rid England of the monarchy, it was now inspiring a return to the old form of government and the Restoration of 1660.

After Cromwell’s death in 1658, his son Richard reassembled the old Rump. This group immediately passed a resolution for the establishment of a Commonwealth without a single leader. In 1659, Richard Cromwell resigned as Lord Protector. Parliament came into conflict with the army that was settled by the Convention Parliament of 1660. During this election, Royalists were permitted the right to vote, and George Monck, who had put himself into a dictatorial position, had already begun to negotiate with the exiled Charles. Charles issued a Proclamation from Breda that guaranteed a general amnesty and liberty of conscience. The people as a whole had tired of Parliamentary manipulations, and the Convention Parliament officially recalled the King in April of 1660. The Restoration was a logical reaction to an excess of Puritanism and Army rule. 

Previous Posts in the Series: 

Development of English Literature

April 2015 ~ Early History of the English Language

April 2015 ~ Early Political History of England: The West Saxons

April 2015 ~ Life in Early Britain

May 2015 ~ Anglo-Saxon Literature: The Epic Poem, Beowulf

May 2015 ~ Anglo-Saxon Literature ~ Part I Early Epic Poems

May 2015 ~ Anglo-Saxon Literature – Part II: Charms and Riddles

May 2015 ~ Anglo-Saxon Poetry

June 2015 ~ Anglo-Saxon Christian Writings

June 2015 ~ The Anglo-Saxon World: King Alfred, William of Normandy, and the Doomsday Book

June 2015 ~ The Development of the English Language During the Anglo-Norman Period (1066-1350)

July 2015 ~ Political History of England Under the Normans

July 2015 ~ Early Anglo-Norman Literature

July 2015 ~ Anglo-Norman Literature: Part I ~ Introduction to Medieval Verse Romances

July 2015 ~ Anglo-Norman Literature: Part II ~ Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

August 2015 ~ Anglo-Norman Literature: Part III ~ Romantic Verse Beyond “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight”

August 2015 ~ Anglo-Norman Literature: Part IV ~ Ballads

August 2015 ~ Anglo-Norman Literature: Ballads (Part 2)

September 2015 ~ Anglo-Norman Literature: The Pearl Poet

September 2015 ~ History of the Age of Chaucer and Life in England (1350 -1500): An Overview

October 2015 ~ Literature of the Age of Chaucer: Part I

November 2015 ~ Chaucer’s Influence (Part 2): The Canterbury Tales

December 2015 ~ John Gower, Medieval English Poet and Contemporary of William Langland and Geoffrey Chaucer

December 2015 ~ William Caxton, Publisher and Translator

January 2016 ~ A Primer for Books 1-2 of Thomas Malory’s “Le Morte d’Arthur”

January 2016 ~ Sir Thomas Malory, Knight-Prisoner, Author of “Le Morte Darthur,” and Criminal?

March 2016 ~ 14th Century Scottish Writers

March 2016 ~ An Introduction into Anglo-Norman Early Drama

April 2016 ~ Origin of the Drama – Everyman and The Second Shepherd’s Play

May 2016 ~ Overview: Life and Literature in the Era of the Reformation

May 2016 ~ A Brief History of The Reformation 1485 – 1580

June 2016 ~ John Skelton (1460 – 1529), Tudor Poet

June 2016 ~ Sir Thomas Wyatt (c. 1503 – 1542), 16th C English Ambassador and Lyrical Poet

July 2016 ~ Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey ~ Tudor Poet

August 2016 ~ Sir Philip Sidney, Author of the Finest Love Poems in English Before Shakespeare

September 2016 ~ Pre-Elizabethan Drama: Liturgical Drama

September 2016 ~ Robert Southwell, Jesuit Priest and Literary Contemporary of William Shakespeare

October 2016 ~ Pre-Elizabethan Drama: Morality Plays

November 2016 ~ Colorful (But Lesser Known) Contemporaries of William Shakespeare, Part II

December 2016 ~ Thomas More’s Life and Literature and Being a Reformation Martyr

January 2017 ~ Pre-Elizabethan Drama: Folk Plays

January 2017 ~ Pre-Elizabethan Drama: The Interlude

February 2017 Roger Ascham, Serving Four Monarchs


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17th Century Ballad, ‘The Oak and the Ash’ or ‘The North Country Maid’

fe05-210-213.jpg This familiar song can be found in a black-letter copy also in the Roxburgh Collection. Isla Cameron and Louis Killen sang The Oak and the Ash in 1961 on their Prestige album The Waters of Tyne. It has a familiar theme of a country girl seeking fortune and adventure in London, only to realize too late that “home” was a better place for her. The tune was originally a dance and appeared in James Hawkins’ musical transcripts in 1650. 

As noted above, it was included in the 17th century Roxburgh collection of ballads. There, it’s titled The Northern Lasse’s Lamentation; or, the Unhappy Maid’s Misfortune, and it’s prefaced by a few melancholy lines:

Since she did from her friends depart
No earthly thing can cheer her heart,
But still she doth her case lament
Being always fill’d with discontent,
Resolving to do naught but mourn
Till to the North she doth return.

Mainly Norfolk: English Folk and Other Good Music tells us that “J. Collingwood Bruce and John Stokoe printed a set of the song in their Northumbrian Minstrelsy of 1882, noting how: “Sir Walter Scott, in his novel Rob Roy, makes the narrator of the tale (Francis Osbaldiston) in recounting recollections of his childhood, tell how his Northumbrian nurse (old Mabel) amused him by singing the ditties of her native countrie, and specially names O! the Oak and the Ash and the Bonny Ivy Tree as a Northumbrian ballad.”

“The stately tune started life as a dance tune, found in many places and under many titles but especially in Sir James Hawkin’s Transcripts of Music for the Virginals, and The Dancing Master, of 1650, under the title Goddesses.

“The refrain in all its home-sick nostalgia may be encountered, oddly enough, in the robust and unbuttoned sailors’ song, Home, Dearie Home, or Rosemary Lane.

“The song’s popularity has scarcely waned in the twentieth century; Marianne Faithfull recently recorded The North Country Maid and it might make the top twenty yet.

Others who have released the song are…

The Galliard sang North Country Maid in 1963 on their Monitor album England’s Great Folk Group.

The Watersons sang The North Country Maid in 1966 on their second album, The Watersons. Like all but one tracks from this LP, it was re-released in 1994 on the CD Early Days. The Watersons also sang The North Country Maid in 1965 on their BBC TV documentary video Traveling for a Living; this can be found on YouTube

The Oak and the Ash 

A North Country maid up to London had strayed,

Although with her nature it did not agree,

Which made her repent, and so bitterly lament,

Oh, I wish once again for the North Country.

Chorus: Oh the oak and the ash and the bonnie ivy tree,

They flourish at home in my country.

O fain would I be in the North Country,

Where the lads and lasses are making of hay;

There should I see what is pleasant for me,

A mischief light on them entic’d me away!

Chorus: Oh the oak and the ash and the bonnie ivy tree,

They flourish at home in my country

I like not the court, nor the city resort,

Since there is no fancy for such maids as me;

Their pomp and their pride I can never abide,

Because with my humour it does not agree.

Chorus: Oh the oak and the ash and the bonnie ivy tree,

They flourish at home in my country

How oft have I been in the Westmoreland green,

Where the young men and maidens resort for to play,

Where we with delight, from morning till night,

Could feast and frolic on each holiday.

Chorus: Oh the oak and the ash and the bonnie ivy tree,

They flourish at home in my country

The ewes and their lambs, with the kids and their dams,

To see in the country how finely they play;

The bells they do ring, and the birds they do sing,

And the fields and the gardens are pleasant and gay.

Chorus: Oh the oak and the ash and the bonnie ivy tree,

They flourish at home in my country

At wakes and at fairs, being freed of my cares,

We there with our lovers did use for to dance;

Then hard hap had I, my ill fortune to try,

And so up to London my steps to advance.

Chorus: Oh the oak and the ash and the bonnie ivy tree,

They flourish at home in my country

But still I perceive, I a husband might have,

If I to the city my mind could but frame;

But I’ll have a lad that is North Country bred,

Or else I’ll not marry, in the mind that I am.

Chorus: Oh the oak and the ash and the bonnie ivy tree,

They flourish at home in my country

A maiden I am, and a maid I’ll remain,

Until my own country again I do see,

For here in this place I shall ne’er see the face

Of him that’s allotted my love for to be.

Chorus: Oh the oak and the ash and the bonnie ivy tree,

They flourish at home in my country

Then farewell my daddy, and farewell my mammy,

Until I do see you, I nothing but mourn;

Rememb’ring my brothers, my sisters, and others,

In less than a year I hope to return.

Chorus: Oh the oak and the ash and the bonnie ivy tree,

They flourish at home in my country

Posted in Act of Parliament, ballads, customs and tradiitons, dancing, music | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

How Did Smith Brothers Cough Drops Get Its Name?

7594535_1056019660.jpgWilliam (Trade) and Andrew (Mark) were the sons of James Smith, who moved his family from St. Armand, Quebec, to Poughkeepsie, New York in 1847. A carpenter by trade, Smith meant to open a restaurant, Smith’s Dining Saloon, in his new home. He was also known for his candy making. 

Shortly after Smith’s moving to New York, a journeyman shared the formula for an effective cough candy with the elder Smith. Being an astute businessman, Smith saw an opportunity to expand his calling. He mixed up a batch of the cough drops upon his kitchen stove. He sold them from his dining saloon, and the word soon spread of the effects of the medication among those in the Poughkeepsie area. A newspaper of the time displays an advertisement for the cough drops, saying “all afflicted with hoarseness, coughs, or colds should test its virtues.” 

sb_box_2Soon William and Andrew sold the drops upon the streets of Poughkeepsie. “The Smith Brothers” were often sought out for the “cough candy.” The operation moved from the Smith’s kitchen to the restaurant and later to a loft building. When the elder Smith died in 1866, his sons carried on the business under the name Smith Brothers

When imitators started flooding the market with similar names, the Smith Brothers decided to trademark their product with their own images. The drops were originally sold from large glass bowls place on store counters. Customers put the drops in envelopes to be taken home. The word “Trade” was under William’s picture, and the word “Mark” under Andrew’s. Therefore, the two men were often referred to as “Trade” and “Mark,” rather than by their real names. 

In 1872, Smith Brothers developed one of the first factory-filled packages on the market. They trademarked images of the two men was transferred to the individual packages. Surprisingly, production increased from 5 pounds to 5 tons per day. 

Trade and Mark hold the world record for the number of times their likenesses have been reproduced. 

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Georgian Era Commerce

man-hands-forming-brackets-word-e-commerce-written-them1-630x350Before the later part of the Georgian Period in England few buildings/structures specifically designed for trade and commerce existed. One need only to look at the timber wharfs of the Port of London to understand the haphazard way the people took up the need to greet the large number of ships arriving from around the world. Merchants often had their offices in the ground floors of their abodes. Shops were often no more than the front room of a house with a large window for display purposes. Warehouses were kept in cellars or outbuildings. Markets appeared on streets or upon a square, and businessmen had stalls or wagons or carts from which they conducted transactions. Only custom houses and exchanges were built specifically for business.

According to John Summerson in Georgian London (Yale University Press, 1988), English imports and exports were valued as £13,000,000 in the early 1700s. By the end of Robert Walpole’s reign as Prime Minister in 1745, the value rose to £19,000,000. At the beginning of the Seven Years’ War in 1754, it achieved £20,000,000. The Seven Years’ War brought the commerce of India, Canada, and the West Indies to London’s ports. As the country turned toward the new century in the early 1790s, the value rose again to £34,000,000. By 1800, the value rose again to nearly £61,000,000. 

Only one port authority controlled the Thames coming to London’s doors. “The Legal Quays of England were created by the Act of Frauds (1 Elizabeth I, c. 11), an Act of Parliament enacted in 1559 during the reign of Elizabeth I of England. It established new rules for customs in England in order to boost the Crown’s finances. One of its most important provisions was the establishment of a rule that it was illegal to land or load goods anywhere other than authorised Legal Quays in London and other ports, under the supervision of customs officers.

“The legislation also set out which towns were authorised to act as ports. Although many quays already existed along the Thames shoreline, Paulet, Sackville and Mildmay decreed that ‘all creeks, wharves, quays, loading and discharging places’ in Gravesend, Woolwich, Barking, Greenwich, Deptford, Blackwall, Limehouse, Ratcliff, Wapping, St Katherine’s, Tower Hill, Rotherhithe, Southwark and London Bridge should be ‘no more used as loading or discharging places for merchandise.’ Twenty existing quays with a frontage of 1,419 ft (433 m), all located on the north bank of the Thames between London Bridge and the Tower of London, were designated as Legal Quays.In order of their position between London Bridge and the Tower of London, they were:

Fresh Wharf
Cox’s Quay
Gaunt’s Quay
Hammond’s Quay
Botolph Wharf
Lyon’s Quay
Somer’s Quay
Smart’s Quay
Dice Quay
Ralph’s Quay
Young’s Quay
Wiggin’s Quay
Sable’s Quay
Bear Quay
Porter’s Quay
Custom House Quay
Wool Quay
Galley Quay
Chester Quay
Brewster’s Quay (Wikipedia)

Map of London's Legal Quays (on the north bank) in 1862 Edward Stanford - Location of the quays from Fresh Wharf to Tower Dock Stairs, as indicated in the 1862 Edward Stanford map of London ~ Public Domain

Map of London’s Legal Quays (on the north bank) in 1862
Edward Stanford –
Location of the quays from Fresh Wharf to Tower Dock Stairs, as indicated in the 1862 Edward Stanford map of London ~ Public Domain

“After the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789, Britain remained neutral, watching from the side-lines, but in 1793, when French troops occupied Belgian lands, threatening the Dutch as well as British overland trade via the River Scheldt, war was instigated. British troops were sent onto continental Europe, but were defeated at the battle of Hondschoote in the September of 1793.”  (Historia Nerdicus) This introduction into a war with France brought to the forefront the need to correct the system of legal quays. The City of London in cooperation with a stock company earned the right to build a dock and a canal on the Isle of Dogs in July 1799 by Royal Assent. 

The West India Dock, in the Isle of Dogs, began in 1800. These were cargo-handling docks. The West India Dock was followed by the London Dock at Wapping (1802), the Surrey (Greenland Docks)in 1804, the East India Dock at Blackwall (1805), and finally, the St. Katherine’s Dock (1825). All these structures were controlled by private companies. 

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An English Mystery Play: Abraham and Isaac, the Brome Non-Cycle Play


Harmensz Rembrandt van Rijn (Dutch painter, 1606-1669), “Sacrifice of Isaac” (1635), oil on canvas, Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia.

The sacrifice of Isaac is the basis for six extant Miracle plays. There is also the Coventry cycle of plays, where Isaac submits to his fate. In the Towneley Plays, which are part of the York cycle, Isaac is made to be 30-years-old rather than a child. Some experts say this because Isaac is a “model” for Christ in the story. The Abraham and Isaac story is a perfect example of the same theme being used in several of the plays. The Chester Sacrifice of Isaac closely corresponds with the Brome Non-cycle Play entitled Abraham and Isaac. There is a great similarity in the middle section of both, which leads experts to believe they were based on the same source. 

Early English Drama: an anthology edited by John C. Coldewey [Routledge, 1993] tells us The Brome play of Abraham and Isaac (also known as The Brome “Abraham and Isaac”, The Brome Abraham, and The Sacrifice of Isaac) is a 15th Century play of unknown authorship, written in an East Anglian dialect of Middle English, which dramatizes the story of the binding of Isaac (the story of Akedah). 

The text of the play was lost until the 19th century, when a manuscript was found in a Commonplace Book dating from around 1470–80 at Brome Manor, Suffolk, England – thus, the name of the play. The manuscript itself has been dated at 1454 at the earliest. This manuscript is now housed at Yale University’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. (Chief Pre-Shakespearean Dramas edited by Joseph Quincy Adams, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1924)

While Joseph Quincy Adams reckoned the Brome Abraham “must be dated as early as the fourteenth century,” most other scholars assign various periods of the fifteenth century for the play’s composition.

isaacsacrifice.jpg The Brome Abraham’s relation to the play of the same subject in the cycle of Chester Mystery Plays has attracted attention. A comparison of the texts reveals around 200 lines of striking similarity, in particular during the debates between Abraham and Isaac that are at the hearts of the plays. A. M. Kinghorn judged the Brome play to be a superior reworking of the Chester barbers’ play of Abraham, and accordingly dated the play to late in the fifteenth century. (Mediæval Drama by A. M. Kinghorn, Evans Brothers, London, 1968) However, comparing the two, J. Burke Severs decided that the Chester play was an expansion and reworking of the Brome one.

W. W. Norton publishers tells us, “The story of Abraham and Isaac as told in Genesis xxii is a very spare account of an incident that appealed greatly to the medieval imagination, which was always stimulated by a situation in which an ideal is upheld at the expense of all normal human values. This all-or-nothing attitude may also be seen in Chaucer’s Franklin’s Tale, where Arveragus delivers his wife to an adulterer in order that she should not be guilty of breaking her word, one’s pledged word being, according to him, the most demanding of human contracts. In the story of Abraham and Isaac, it is obedience to God’s command that a father sacrifice his son that must be carried out. The audience is, of course, aware that the awful consequences of upholding the ideal will at the last minute be canceled. Meanwhile, however, the mind luxuriates in a realistic depiction of the people involved in the threatening action. Medieval sentimentality appears in the play at its most intense as Abraham discusses, first with himself and then with his beloved son, the consequences of obeying God, and as Isaac expresses at once his natural desire not to die and his willingness to do so through obedience to his father— whom, indeed, he rebukes for delaying, which only increases the agony of them both. The play, like Everyman, closes with the explanation of a Doctor (a learned man) of the moral the audience should draw from the play; but the play itself not only makes its moral point about the importance of obeying the divine will, but also prefigures the sacrifice in later Biblical history of Jesus, the Lamb of God, for whom there could be no last-minute substitute of the kind that saves Isaac.

“The Brome play of Abraham and Isaac is one of six English mystery plays on this subject that have survived. It is preserved in a single manuscript of the late 15th century (Brome is the name of its 19th-century owner), a miscellany containing items of Middle English verse, legal deeds, accounts, etc. It is not known how the original compiler of the manuscript received a copy of the play. Presumably it was derived from an otherwise lost mystery cycle, and part of it closely resembles the play of Abraham and Isaac in the Chester cycle, though whether the Brome play draws on the Chester play or the Chester play on it is not clear. Nor is it possible to assign a firmer date to it than the first quarter of the 15th century. The present text, based on the manuscript in the Beinecke Library of Yale University, has been modernized. The edition of the play in Norman Davis, Non-Cycle Plays and Fragments (1970), has provided the editor with much help.”

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