MORE to BROWSE - Pages that might be of Interest

Monday 24 April 2017

Memoirs from the Tower of London

my guest today - Elizabeth St. John

“All the time she dwelt in the Tower, if any were sick she made (the prisoners) broths and restoratives with her own hands, visited and took care of them, and provided them all necessaries; if any were afflicted she comforted them, so that they felt not the inconvenience of a prison who were in that place.”
Memoirs of the Life of Colonel Hutchinson
Lucy Hutchinson, 1620-1681
(Recounting the life of her mother, Lucy St.John)
Gazing from the parlor window of the Queen’s House within the walls of the Tower of London, I could see the chapel of St. Peter, the iconic White Tower…and the executioner’s block. Knowing that I shared this view with my ancestress, Lucy St.John, who occupied this house four hundred years earlier, made me shiver with awe.

The Queen’s House from the River Thames,
with the White Tower in the background.
Lucy St.John lived in the Tower of London for thirteen years from 1617 to 1630; not as a prisoner, but as Mistress of the Tower. I stumbled upon the quoted biographical fragment from Lucy Hutchinson’s notebook in Nottingham Castle, and I knew I must find out more about her mother. The Memoirs give tantalizing glimpses of Lucy St.John’s life, and further research on the position of Lieutenant of the Tower, Lucy’s husband, Sir Allen Apsley, revealed much more.

When I decided that Lucy would be the subject of my novel, The Lady of the Tower, I contacted Her Majesty’s Royal Palaces (HRP) and asked if I could possibly visit some of the private locations within the Tower. The Queen’s House is the family home of the Governor, just as it was for Lucy when she moved there in 1617. They readily gave their permission and kindly offered a Yeoman Warder as a guide.

I was excited to arrive early one winter’s morning, before the crowds, and walk along the old quay by Traitor’s Gate. Peeking over the massive stone walls were the gabled roofs of Lucy’s home – a curious juxtaposition of domesticity and fortress. I used that view and sensation to set the opening scene of my novel, for I could only imagine Lucy’s trepidation upon entering the Tower, and seeing her future home.

The Queen’s House, Tower of London
As I met my Beefeater, we quickly found a common love of history, and together we entered the Queen’s House.  What I didn’t anticipate was the visceral reaction of walking through Lucy’s rooms, standing in her kitchen, looking through her parlor window – just as she had done. The emotional response to treading in her footsteps inspired so much of my work within The Lady of the Tower, and so many small details found their way into my writing.

The house was used for administrative offices too, and as I explored the warren of rooms (the plans to which, alas, are missing), I came across a small corridor. Just a few feet from Lucy’s front hall, great blocks of stone took over from the domesticity of plaster, and in another pace or two, I was standing within the twelfth century Bell Tower. The ambiance was mournful, and it was not at all difficult to think of Thomas More, John Fisher, and the young Princess Elizabeth imprisoned in this bleak chamber. Their view from the narrow slit windows was the same as Lucy’s from her parlor – the execution block.

View from The Queen’s House toward 
the execution block, and the Chapel 
of St. Peter ad Vincula.
My inspiration from the Tower continued as I walked outside. Lucy was a great herbalist, and her medicinals no doubt eased the lives of many of the prisoners she nursed. In another part of the memoirs, her daughter refers to Lucy’s generosity with her hen-house – she allowed Sir Walter Raleigh to make free use of it to conduct his alchemy experiments when he was under her care and lodging in the Bloody Tower. Needless to say, this took me in another whole research direction.

The Victorians built over Lucy’s garden, but it is still easy to see the old levels of where her gardens were, and how she would access them from her home. She grew up in country houses where it would have been her responsibility to learn simple herbal cures and recipes, and I had a wonderful time researching recipes and including those within my novel. I was even more fortunate that another family member, her great-niece Johanna, collated a vast collection of remedies in a book that is now in the Wellcome Library in London. I liberally borrowed from those recipes to give examples within The Lady of the Tower.

Raleigh, of course, was also a great gardener. I couldn’t resist some interactions between him and Lucy involving some “Virginia Potatoes” as they were known. That is the joy of writing historical fiction – we can have these flights of fancy, as long as they are based in a foundation of solid research.

Sir Walter Raleigh
Attributed to William Segar
Lucy’s husband is buried within the chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula, and as I explored the chapel, and saw the stone commemorating Anne Boleyn’s burial, so many emotions flooded my thoughts. Although the Tower is a world tourist attraction, and millions of people walk through its environs every year, I feel such a personal connection, knowing that my family lived and worked within its walls. A small votive to Sir Thomas Moore is still kept burning in the Yeoman’s private chapel, and that was an important detail for me to include in my book.

In Lucy’s time, the Liberty of the Tower housed over a thousand families, all of which came under her husband’s jurisdiction. It really was its own small city, for it lay outside of the laws of the City of London (which caused some friction on many occasions). I like to think of Lucy ministering to the residents as well as the prisoners, walking not just only in the areas where her aristocratic prisoners were lodged, but among the houses and gardens of the residents who all helped this important institution run smoothly.

The Tower of London played a crucial role in inspiring my first novel, which has become a best-seller in both the US and the UK. One of the most exciting achievements was the day Her Majesty’s Royal Palaces asked if they could stock The Lady of the Tower in the Tower’s gift shop, and we are now on the third re-order. In her own special way, Lucy has returned to the Tower.  

Buy on
Amazon UK
Amazon US
Amazon CA

Find Elizabeth on Facebook        or her Website

Elizabeth will be giving an Author Talk at the 
Swindon Festival of Literature at Lydiard 
on 4th May 2017 at 7:30 pm. 

Elizabeth St.John was brought up in England and lives in California. She has tracked down family papers and residences from Nottingham Castle, Lydiard Park, to Castle Fonmon and The Tower of London to inspire her writing. Although her ancestors sold a few mansions and country homes along the way (it's hard to keep a good castle going these days), Elizabeth’s family still occupy them - in the form of portraits, memoirs, and gardens that carry their imprint.

The Lady of the Tower, Elizabeth’s first novel, a Discovered Diamond and a B.R.A.G. Medallion winner, is on sale on Amazon, and at the Tower of London. She is currently finishing up a sequel, which takes her family into opposing sides in the English Civil War

Monday 17 April 2017

A Mission Impossible

with Wendy Percival

 I must begin by thanking Helen for inviting me on to her blog [HH my pleasure Wendy!] and allowing me to tell you about my current Mission Impossible which I’m hoping may not be so very impossible if I can persuade you to help. But before I explain what I’m rambling on about, let me introduce myself.

Ever since I came across an Australian death certificate, dated 1868, in the proverbial “box of documents in the attic”, I’ve been fascinated by family history and the secrets it holds. I’m clearly not alone, judging by the millions of viewers who watch TV’s Who Do You Think You Are.

As the programme regularly demonstrates, we invariably know little about our family history and that concept was the inspiration behind my first Esme Quentin genealogy mystery, Blood-Tied, where Esme discovers her sister has a secret past. In her search for the truth, Esme unleashes more than she bargains for and is caught up in a terrifying ordeal.
Fortunately, for we lesser mortals, family history research isn’t usually so dangerous! Though it can throw up some surprising, poignant and sometimes shocking stories, as you’ll see if you read my blog Family History Secrets where I share what I’ve uncovered during research into my own family’s history.

These investigations give me plenty of “plotting fodder” and it was the discovery that my husband’s ancestor had been transported to Australia in the early 1800s which set me on a trail to find out more. What I learned about the brutal penal policy of 19th century England was harrowing and gave me the idea for the second Esme mystery, The Indelible Stain, which I set on the North Devon coast. Esme finds a woman’s body at the foot of a cliff and must delve into the mystery of a convict girl who was transported to New South Wales for her crime in 1837 to uncover the truth behind the woman’s untimely death.

My new “short reads” eBook, Death of a Cuckoo, was inspired by reading about a Victorian refuge for “fallen women” here in Devon. The records left by this organisation meant I could dip in for background information to develop my initial idea.

Which sort of leads me back to My Mission….

The obvious appeal of  Who Do You Think You Are is the discovery of ancestors’ stories, frequently emotional, which have been unpicked from records, photographs and accounts, and paint a picture of their lives.

Wouldn’t we just love a BBC researcher to investigate our own family history stories! Imagine discovering that our great-grandmother or great-great grandfather had written an account of their life. What a find that would be! It would make an intriguing read.
But it probably never entered their heads to make such a record. And even if it had, they probably thought they were way too “ordinary” for anyone to be interested in their day-to-day existence.

Even you, as future great-grandparents, great-aunts or uncles, or even if you’re none of those, probably think the same. So let me try and convince you that you’re wrong, that your memories are worth recording – whoever you are and whatever age!
The pace of life and society is changing faster than it’s ever done before. Some aspects of our lives as children would be unrecognisable to the youth of today. Knowledge we hold of our parents and grandparents are never going to be accessible to anyone in the future – even those clever genealogists employed by the BBC – unless we make sure they’re recorded now. It’s said that such knowledge is lost within two generations unless someone takes the time to write them down.

Fortunately, this idea is already taking hold and writing personal memoirs is a growing phenomenon. Some have published their accounts online. A fellow family historians I know, Cathy Murray, is one of them. She’s produced two delightful eBooks of her 1950s childhood, called Cabbage and Semolina (as you might guess, school dinners are mentioned in this one!) and Jam for Tea. Both books are a collection of memories and events which she recalls with affection (or trauma!). What’s interesting is that reading them stirs memories of similar incidents in my own childhood.

Another inspiring read is Remember Then, a collection of women’s shared memories from 1939 to 1969 compiled by genealogist Janet Few. The book is divided into chapters covering different topics – the homes in which they lived, the games they played as children, their neighbourhood, school days, celebrations and holidays, for example. Photographs and images of advertisements of the time within the pages create a real historical document!
So, that’s my Mission Impossible – to get you to write down your memories. But, I hear you say, I wouldn’t know where to start. The answer to that is, “Just start”. You’ll be amazed at how things come flooding back once you put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. Ask yourself, what would I like my ancestor to have told me?

Another good place to begin is what you remember of your parents – how they met, where they lived, their jobs, the things that made them laugh, as well as any stories from their own childhood they shared with you.

As children, my sister and I loved to hear about when a World War Two incendiary bomb dropped on my mum’s house, landing in the bedroom where she was asleep! My gran ran upstairs and smothered the flames with a feather mattress and carried my mum downstairs into the back kitchen out of harm’s way.

My dad, on the other hand, was pulled off a wall when he was 7 years old and spent 3 years in hospital after getting TB in his hip. He spoke of coming home from a large ward with high ceilings and feeling claustrophobic at the tiny rooms of the family’s lodge cottage.
When I’ve finished editing my third Esme Quentin novel, due out later this year, I shall be digging around in the boxes of photographs and family archives and write what I remember being told, as well as my own childhood memories. In fact I’ve already made a start. I hope you will too. Your descendants will love you for it!

Further interest:

Wendy's  book links

Amazon UK
Amazon US
Amazon UK
Amazon US

e-book only
Amazon UK
Amazon US
Read the Discovering Diamonds Review HERE

Monday 10 April 2017

It's Fun to be a pirate...

... or is it?

Pirates. Mention ‘pirates’ to adults, even more than children, and eyes begin to twinkle, a smile broadens the face and the clich├ęd ‘Arrr’ erupts from the lips. Given the choice of dressing up as a pirate or a wizard for a fancy dress party the winner, more often than not, is the stereotypical pirate.

Canstock photography © jgroup
The romance of fiction, the novels, TV shows and movies influence our perception of piracy, specifically during the 'Golden Age' of the early 1700s. We have a rose-tinted romantic view of a life On The Account. Say ‘pirate’ and we think Treasure Island, Jack Sparrow, or Captain Hook from Peter Pan, some of us even remember the bumbling but lovable animated character, Captain Pugwash.

Real pirates were not nice people. For 21st century entertainment, though, who, apart from a horror-movie buff, is going to sit through a big-screen movie about drunken, stinking-to-high-heaven louts pillaging, torturing and butchering? The small screen TV dramas such as Black Sails depict some of the rougher side of a life at sea in the early 18th century, but the storyline, especially in the first series, had to be buoyed up by (unnecessary in my opinion) explicit sexual scenes to keep the interest and attention. Factually, it was not accurate.

But do we want accuracy for entertainment? Moonlit nights, calm seas, a gentle breeze ruffling through swaying palm trees? That is the image conjured into our minds. Do we care that the Flying Dutchman does not exist, or the Marie Celeste was probably abandoned because her crew thought escaping vapour from the hold full of alcohol was smoke? Frightened, believing the ship was about to blow up, they abandoned ship. In their panicked haste they did not do so wisely. Leaving all sail set the ship took off without them. In a good following wind with a veseel travelling at seven to nine knots, an oarsman in a small rowing boat would not have been able to keep up. It must have been devastating to see your home, your livelihood – your only way of staying alive – disappearing off towards the horizon without you. The poor unfortunates, however, were not exotically abducted by alien space pirates as film and fiction would have us believe. 

Reality has its place, but so does the world of story and pleasurable escapism.

We like handsome heroes and pretty heroines. We enjoy the breath-taking alarm of danger and engrossing adventurous romps. Pirate stories give us the (safe) dangerous excitement we crave. Pirates seek treasure – don’t we all? Maybe we do not go off to dig at X marks the spot with our trusty, by-chance found treasure map, but several million of us do trot off to the local store every week hoping to buy that illusive winning lottery ticket.

Pirates were on a get-rich-quick mission and did not particularly care how they did it, as long as they had silver in their pockets for the taverns and brothels, and could get it as easily as possible. We all know that pirates plundered the loot then buried the heavily laden treasure chests on remote Caribbean islands. Their captured enemies they made to walk the plank at sword point, leading to inevitable death by drowning or fiercesome sharks.

Pirates went about saying things like, ‘Shiver m’timbers,’ and ‘Where be tha’ rum?’ Their ships were all gloriously fast, and the flag fluttering jauntily – yet menacingly – from the masthead was always a pair of crossed bones beneath a leering skull set against a black background. 

Pirates, we know, wore a gold-hooped earring and had gold-capped teeth. They drank rum (a lot of it), had frequent swashbuckling fights with those sharp-bladed lethal cutlasses they carried, lusted after buxom wenches and died nobly on the long drop with a short stop.
Or did they? Sad to say most of that is untrue, it is the stuff of story.

Where does the fact end and the fiction begin? But  does it really matter if the story is good and the adventure ... well, adventurous?

* Original text from Pirates Truth and Tales by Helen Hollick

buy the book

A Brief Timeline

1492  Christopher Columbus ‘discovered’ the Caribbean and the Americas
1509  Permanent (European) settlement of Port Royal (Caguay) Jamaica 
1570  Lady Mary Killigrew organising piracy off the Cornish coast
1581  Lady Elizabeth Killigrew involved in piracy off the Cornish coast
1593  Grace O’Malley of Ireland meets with Elizabeth I of England
1651  William Dampier born
1659  Oliver Cromwell dies 
1660  Charles II returns from exile and is restored to the English throne
1665  Henry Morgan raiding in the Spanish Main
         Plague in London
1666  Great Fire of London
1671  Henry Morgan sacks Panama
1674  War with Spain
1675  Henry Morgan made Governor of Jamaica
1676  Daniel (de)Foe born
                Governor Alexander Spotswood born
1677 William of Orange marries Mary, daughter of James II
1679  (circa) Woodes Rogers born 
1680  Edward Teach born
(1680-1690?) Charles Vane born
1682  Jack ‘Calico’ Rackham born 
                Bartholomew Roberts born
1683  Henry Morgan is removed from Port Royal Council for being drunk - October
1685  Charles II dies his brother, James, becomes King 
11th June Monmouth lands at Lyme Bay 
6th July   Monmouth defeated at Sedgemoor
                Judge Jeffries and the Bloody Assizes: hundreds of rebels hanged or sold as slaves
1686  Dampier’s second circumnavigation
1684  Alexandre Oliver Exquemelin's The Buccaneers of America published
                Tortuga now deserted by pirates. The term ‘buccaneer being widely adopted
1687  Dr Hans Sloan and Duke and Duchess of Albemarle arrive in Port Royal
1688  Henry Morgan dies 25th August
                Pirates using Port Royal, Jamaica
5th November William of Orange lands at Torbay; James II flees to France 
1689 War with France 
                Sam Bellamy born 
1690 William defeats James at Battle of the Boyne 1st 
                Howell Davies born
1692 7th June Port Royal devastated by earthquake 
1693  Fictional pirate Jesamiah Acorne born 
                William and Mary College, Virginia founded
1694 Bank of England founded
1695  Death of Queen Mary
1697 End of war with France
1700  Death of Charles II of Spain
  (circa)   Anne Bonny born
1701       War of Spanish Succession declared
               James II dies of a stroke
               Act of Union between England and Scotland ‘British Isles’ formed
1702       William II dies Sister-in-law Anne becomes Queen 
                First daily English newspaper – the Daily Courant
1703 Work begins on Buckingham House (Palace)
1704 English capture Gibraltar
                Battle of Blenheim
1706 Building of the Governor’s Palace in Williamsburg began
1707 Act of Union (Scotland and England to form Great Britain
1708 Planned Jacobite rebellion with a French landing in Scotland – James caught measles
1709  17th February Andrew Selkirk rescued from being marooned
1710 St Paul’s Cathedral completed
                Alexander Spotswood appointed Governor of Virginia
1711 Woodes Rogers Madagascar, at pirate community in almost ended 
1713 War with Spain over, privateers expect full pardons for acts of piracy
1714 Bahamas raided by French and Spanish
                Nassau sacked three times
                Death of Queen Anne, accession of George of Hanover
                End of the War of the Spanish succession
1715 Spanish treasure fleet wrecked 31st July
1717 Piracy in its height in the Bahamas, Caribbean and the East coast of America
                Whydah Galley sinks 
17th November Blackbeard captures the Queen Anne’s Revenge
1718  Woodes Rogers arrives in Nassau 
  May       Blackbeard blockades Charlestown harbour
June         Queen Anne’s Revenge runs aground 
September/October Blackbeard meets other pirates on the beaches of Ocracoke  
November Governor Spotswood sends Lt. Robert Maynard to capture/kill Blackbeard
22nd November Blackbeard killed
1719  War with Spain
                Royal Pardon extended to 1st July
               Robinson Crusoe published by Daniel Defoe
19th June Howell Davies is shot dead
                Anne Bonney and Mary Read become pirates
                Edward Teach’s remaining crew hanged at Williamsburg
                Charles Vane arrested
1720  Gov. Woodes Rogers hangs all pirates who refuse to give up piracy 
February  Battle of Nassau 
18th November Calico Jack Rackham hanged at Port Royal
                South Sea Bubble bursts – financial ruin for many 
                Robert Walpole becomes the first Prime Minister of Great Britain
                First daily newspaper in England
1721  Charles Vane hanged (?)
                Pirate community in Madagascar coming to life again.
                 Bartholomew Roberts of the Royal Fortune killed in battle 
1722  February Bartholomew Roberts dies
1723  Charles Johnson’s A General History of Robberies and Murders of Notorious Pyrates published
1727  Death of George of Hanover (George I) succession of George II 
1732   15th July Woodes Rogers dies

The Fiction

Buy the Book
and the Fact
where most pirates ended up
© Stocksnapper
What do you prefer? The fiction or the fact?

Monday 3 April 2017

Cornflakes, Cheddar & the fictional King Arthur

by Charles Moberly

Reading Helen’s terrific trilogy Pendragon’s Banner has taken me back to 1972 when I worked on the TV series Arthur of the BritonsMy job was fascinating. I spent the mornings at the centre of things, sharing an office with the Producer, Peter Miller, and three of his team. At lunch-time I drove out in my open top sports car to join the crew in the pub nearest to where they were filming. Oliver Tobias, who played King Arthur, had a Haflinger six-wheel amphibious vehicle which he backed into my Lotus in a pub car park. When I’d assessed the damage he cheerily settled with a wad of notes.

Ah, a wad of notes! The afternoon part of my job was to make myself conspicuous while watching the filming so that actors could approach me to get paid their expenses and stuntmen their fees. I had a float of £2,000 in my briefcase, a huge sum in those days. A glorious summer, open air, paid to lie on the grass, meet interesting and famous people, what a life!

Actors seemed to fall into two categories, those whose real-life personae were the same on-screen and off. Yes, Brian Blessed boomed and roared 45 years ago whatever he was doing, and I suspect he still does. Others were more subdued, assuming a screen personality to suit the role. 

Source Facebook 
So why the Cornflakes & Cheddar? As I’ve said, I paid stuntmen their fees. The episode The Slaves was filmed in Cheddar Gorge. Arthur hurled a sword into the back of a Saxon high up on a ledge. My job was to pay the stuntman Jackie Cooper £84 for falling off the cliff. At the start of the day the Director asked Jackie whether he needed anything. What would he like to cushion his landing? That’s where the Cornflakes came in. ‘Packing cases, lots of them, the sort used to deliver cereals to supermarkets. I want them assembled empty with the air inside three layers deep.’
So Jackie hurled himself off the ledge face down, tumbled in the air and landed sprawled on his back onto the packing cases. He got up unhurt and I paid him the £84.

Arthur of the Britons was revolutionary in that it presented Arthur as he probably was: a guerrilla leader trying to unite the Celts to fight off the invading Saxons. Did I say ‘probably was’? Make that ‘possibly’. Reading not only Helen’s wonderful novels but also her and others’ research confirms that the evidence that Arthur even existed is scant. 
Photo Oliver Tobias official web site

But what the heck! It’s noble, it’s exciting, it’s part of our culture and it has endured. Long may it continue to do so.

Arthur of the Britons TV series

There were 26 30 minute episodes broadcast in 1972 and 1973. Set in post-Roman times the basic story-line is Arthur as a guerilla leader of the Celts, fighting to hold back the encroaching tide of the Saxons, a far more realistic portrayal of this legedary figure than the later Knights in Armour Medieval tales. 

Among the actors, in addition to Oliver Tobias (Arthur) Brian Blessed  (Mark of Cornwall) Jack Watson (Llud) and Michael Gothard (Cai) were a few other unexpected names on the cast list such as  Martin Jarvis, Tom Baker  who a year later in 1974 became famous as the fourth incarnation of Dr Who, and David Prowse who, although you did not see his face in 1977 became one of the most well-known movie characters - Darth Vader. For Arthur of the Britons, he played Col in The Slaves!

You Tube: The Slaves 
(the scene mentioned above is around the 20.58 point just before the fighting starts) 

Read More:  Wikipedia  IMDb

Helen says: Thank you Charles - that brought back a few memories for me too!
I started writing my Arthurian Trilogy back in the 70s, around the time that this series was televised, and it probably helped to influence my certainty that Arthur was post Roman, not a Medieval knight. I had discovered, through reading Mary Stewart's Crystal Cave and Hollow Hills, that Arthur, IF he had existed was more likely to have been a war lord in that post Roman era (5th-6th century), placing him there made much more logical sense.

I also wanted to write a novel that had a more positive side to Gwenhwyfar (Guinevere). I have never had any admiration for the character Lancelot - I can't stand him - so I couldn't figure why she was so attracted to him when she had Arthur as a much better alternative! 

It took me well over 10 years to write what would turn out to be The Kingmaking and Pendragon's Banner. I was accepted for publication by William Heinemann (Random House) a week after my 40th birthday in 1993.

available from  Amazon
The original cover of the first edition

Buy the Book on Amazon