Tuesday, 8 June 2010

So we know about the plague and how it affected millions of people across Europe, but today we will be looking at how the great historical figures dealt with the disease. When sickness kills people in their thousands, it can’t help but have some effect. So, we have already mentioned the Royalty and doctors, but how did some of history’s most famous people react to the plague?

As is evident but the mass exodus of anyone with money, not many people stuck around to witness the decay, but a few notables suffered terribly.

William Shakespeare was a particularly sad case, losing many family members to the plague, including his baby sisters Margaret and Joan, another younger sister, Anne, and his brother Edmund. He also lost his only son, Hamnet Shakespeare, when the boy was just eleven years old.

Scientist Sir Isaac Newton, who featured in The Dresskeeper, was in Cambridge lecturing at the university, but it wasn’t long before the effects of the disease reached him there. When the plague hit Cambridge, Newton promptly left for Lincolnshire. This wasn’t a bad thing, though, because he credited 1665-66 as the "prime age of [his] invention".

Sir Christopher Wren (famous architect, among many other things, who featured heavily in The Dresskeeper) was travelling around Europe at the time and escaped the worst of the disease. When the plague hit London in 1665, he was in Paris, absorbing the French architecture.

The Black Death of 1348 saw the death of a young royal. Joan (sometimes known as Joanna) of England was the favourite daughter of King Edward III. She was betrothed to marry King Pedro of Castille, the son of Alfonso XI and Maria of Portugal, and set off from England, no expense spared on her transportation. She travelled through France to get to her new home, and was apparently looking forward to her marriage when she was struck down by the plague. In the 1340s, the disease had yet to reach England, but was virulent in France. The poor teenage princess never made it to the alter and died alone in Bayonne.

That’s it for this time, but before I go, I just want to send a quick hello to all those people who have reviewed The Dresskeeper for Goodreads and Amazon, and for all your kind comments. I hope you like The Plaguemaker just as much.

All the best,


Monday, 31 May 2010

The Great Plague, Science and Medicine

"Bring out your dead!"

The death cart was an unfortunate necessity for dealing with the sheer number of people who had fallen victim to this terrible disease. In the 1600s, the death cart was as common as the rubbish truck that drives past your house every week. Sadly (a bit like our own bin men in snow at Christmas time), it took a while for them to be collected. Before that, dead bodies were just thrown out into the street and left rotting in the middle of the road. Nowadays we can’t imagine doing this, can we? Then the doctors of the times said the bodies should be left in the houses, instead of in the street, where anyone walking past could catch the disease. Then the death cart was established. It would pass by with the call ‘Bring out your dead’ and the poor relatives would bring out the bodies of their loved ones and place them on the cart.

What else did we English do to cope with the plague? What medicine was used at the time, and how exactly did people think the plague was being passed from human to human?

As we mentioned before, the first action was to keep sick people locked inside their houses, but loads more initiatives were formed to fight the disease.

The Privy Council (close advisors of the King) recommended closing all of the public areas where people would be close contact with each other and could catch the plague, such as market places. The crowded streets of London needed to be cleared. Next, it was decided to kill all the dogs and cats of London, because it was suspected these were disease carriers. However, this slaughter actually did more harm than good, because it was actually the rats that mostly carried the plague, and with all the dogs and cats gone, the rats were now free to roam about and spread the disease even further.

Knowledge of science and medicine was not as developed as now, but there were many theories. The Miasma theory of disease was put forward by the brightest minds of the time, and it stated that disease was spread by bad smells. Given the fact that the streets were overflowing with sewage and rubbish, the theory wasn’t that ridiculous. It made sense. At the time, no one knew about the bacteria and viruses that were causing the infection. So one way to deal with the plague at the time was to wear sweet smelling flowers and carry handkerchiefs to prevent inhaling bad smells.

In 1665, a book was written by the Royal College of Physicians. It had a very long title: Royal College of Physicians of London. Certain necessary directions as well for the cure of the plague, as for preventing the infection :with many easie medicines of small charge, very profitable to His Majesties subjects. London: Printed by John Bill and Christopher Barker, 1665.

It’s a really interesting read if you want to learn more about how the great minds of the time approached the plague. (Just remember that during the time, s and f were interchangable. (In case you don't understand words like Majefties, Lordfhips and moft requifite)).
The directions in the book included the following:
~ six or four doctors at least, who may apply themselves to cure the infected. Each would have their own team to help.
~ persons and goods that came from foreign lands would be in isolation for forty days to prevent further diseases.
~ slaughterhouses should also be closed because they are 'offensive' (smell-wise ... no vegetarianism here!)
~ A house known to be infected must be watched in order to make sure no one escapes and wanders the streets.
~ fires could be burned to purify the air
~ the nosegays or handkerchiefs that people carried must be held "a little in their mouths as they go in the streets" and anointed with oil for their noses.
Whether or not any of these measures were in any way successful is doubtful. Remember that all of the qualified doctors left London, which left the unqualified volunteers to do the job for them.

NEXT TIME: Important Victims of the Plague

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

The Great Plague of 1665

Yet another plague, but of course, that’s what The Plaguemaker is all about! The Great Plague was, surprisingly, not as bad as the Black Death of 1347, but it still managed to kill 100,000 people in London. It was also equally gruesome, and given the swift evacuation of the wealthy from the cities again, the poor were once again left to deal with the consequences of the illness and decay.

King Charles promptly left for his estate in the countryside, the higher classes followed suit. Even the doctors left London in fear of contracting the disease. Ironically, the medical profession felt they were qualified to write books and articles on the plague, even though they weren’t witnessing it first hand, and much of their anecdotal evidence was hearsay from servants or friends.

Unfortunately, the 17th century saw the plague hit the UK more than once. The number of plague deaths went up and down in waves. Over 30,000 people were killed in 1603, but the next year it went down to 896. In 1609, over 4,000 people died, but in 1610, it went down to 1,800. Over 41,000 people died in 1625, and over 10,000 in 1636.

And what happened to those who were unfortunate to contract the plague? If you thought compassion and assistance would come your way, you’d be wrong. Once the plague was known to have entered your home, the house and its inhabitants would immediately in lockdown. The incubation period for an entire family was around four to six days, so if one member of your family contracted the illness, and you were promptly banged up with them, it was extremely likely you would contract the plague within a short space of time. Worse still, the whole of London would also know that your house was infected because a large red cross would be painted across the door, with the words 'Lord have mercy on us' added for effect. There was no hiding from the vile disease.

The plague of 1665 was made worse because London was experiencing a very hot summer. And with no real sewage or disposal system, rubbish would be left all over the streets for the rats to get their teeth into. Rats brought the fleas and spread the disease, but the disease ridden fleas were also clinging on to other animals such as dogs and cats. This lack of hygiene is thought to be the major reason behind the surge of infected people during this time.

So was there anyone left to tend to the sick? As all the medical professionals had fled the city, volunteers came forward to aid the sick. Local women became nurses, but only in the sense that they checked up on people who were known to have had the plague and, if the patients could afford it, buy them food.

Obviously, people were desperate to leave London. But the only way to leave the city during the plague was to get a certificate of health. Naturally, with so many people after this vital document, a number of people began to sell forgeries. Even if you managed to get yourself out of London, life in the country was no picnic either, because of the threat of illness to country residents. So those people who were able to make it out of London were treated to a systematic regime of scraping, heating, soaking, airing, and pressing ‘flat’ to ‘eliminate "pestilential matter".'

The most reliable source of the time, Samuel Pepys, wrote many diary entries, including: "This day, much against my Will, I did in Drury-lane see two or three houses marked with a red cross upon the doors, and "Lord have mercy upon us" writ there - which was a sad sight to me, being the first of that kind that to my remembrance I ever saw." (June 17th 1665);
"To the office to finish my letters, and then home to bed - being troubled at the sickness, and my head filled also with other business enough, and perticularly how to put my things and estate in order, in case it should please God to call me away - which God dispose of to his own glory." (June 10th 1665);
"But now, how few people I see, and those walking like people that have taken leave of the world.... I to the Exchange, and I think there was not 50 people upon it and but few more like to be, as they told me, Sir G Smith and others. Thus I think to take Adieu today of London streets ...." (August 28th 1665).

NEXT TIME: The Great Plague, Science and Medicine

Thursday, 13 May 2010

The Black Death

There were two major plague epidemics in this country – the Great Plague of the 1600s, and The Black Death of the 1300s. Today we will be looking at the latter.

The less than cheery title is more than apt for this dreadful happening. So what is the Black Death? A horrible illness, similar in symptoms to those I described in my last blog post, the Black Death is thought to have originated in Egypt. There
was also a major epidemic in China, which spread throughout Asia, Europe and then to Britain. The Black Plague in Europe began around 1347 and killed over a quarter of the population. One year later it had reached England.

One of the theories of how the plague spread points to the Mongol Empire. Rulers, who had been in battles across Asia and Europe, would settle in various places across the continents for trade. Italian merchants would come for silks and spices, which had a very high value in Europe. However, the traders brought with them Asian black rats, which were carrying the fleas which had been infected by the plague. The rats made their way into the traders’ supplies. By the time the supplies had arrived back in Italy, half the supply ships’ crews had already died or were dying of the plague. It did not take long for the disease to spread throughout Europe.

So victims of the plague were dropping dead everywhere. The disease was fast-moving and ruthless, and could spread around an entire town within weeks. Death became so commonplace that people of the Middle Ages thought that the world was going through an apocalypse. Of course, poor sanitation and a lack of scientific and medical knowledge certainly didn’t help matters.

From large towns to small villages, people prayed fervently to God but their prayers went unanswered. And for those struck down, even their religion held little comfort. Not all the sick could be given religious last rights because there simply were not enough clergymen to deal with the rapidly dying population. Worse still, some men of the church simply refused to provide these blessings for fear of catching the plague themselves.

When God wouldn’t answer their prayers, a group of people decided to go to extreme measures to make God listen. They were the Flagellants. They would gather around in towns and beat themselves to atone for their sins. This group had been in existence before this time, but their extreme nature, and the fact that the traditional church was not helping out as much as people would have liked during this terrible time, meant that more and more people joined them.

A famous Italian writer, Giovanni Boccaccio, wrote his book The Decameron during the time of the plague. This tells us a lot about how the plague spread and affected people. He said: “The years of the beatific incarnation of the Son of God had reached the tale of one thousand three hundred and forty eight when in the that deadly pestilence, which, whether disseminated by the influence of the celestial bodies, or sent upon us mortals by God in His just wrath by way of retribution for our iniquities [sins] had had its origin some years before in the East.” (page 26 of the link)

“The evil went yet further for not merely by speech or association with the sick was the malady communicated to the healthy with consequent peril of common death; but any that touched the cloth of the sick or aught else that had been touched or used by them seemed thereby to contract the disease.” (27)

“Many died daily or nightly in the public streets; of many others, who died at home, the departure was hardly observed by their neighbours until the stench of their putrefying bodies carried the tidings; and what with their corpses and the corpses of others who died on every hand the whole place was a sepulchre” (31-32)

All in all, a grim time, and what’s worst, it wasn’t the last the people of England, and in particular London, had seen of the plague.


And finally
Here is an interview I did last week at The Sweet Bookshelf

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Moving on from the Dresskeeper...

Hello readers and welcome back to my blog.

Sorry it’s been so long since I last wrote, but I have been working hard on my new book The Plaguemaker. It is a ghost story based on The Great Plague of 1665. As I mentioned a few months ago, the book sees our protagonist Blessie haunted by a girl who died during the plague because her father is building over one of the many plague pits that were dug in London.

This blog will now be looking at the plague. I have finished writing all of the history that I can about The Dresskeeper and I need to keep this fresh to keep you readers happy. So now, without further ado, let’s talk about the Bubonic Plague. It’s not pretty.

The Bubonic Plague was a horrible disease that was caused, according to the Centre for Disease Control, by fleas that had been infected by bacteria called Yersinia Pestis. The fleas got the bacteria from the rats that were carrying the disease in their bloodstream. So, not surprisingly, rats also had a major part to play in the whole affair too.

Once a person was infected, it took between two to six days to become ill. The early symptoms included fever, chills, headache, exhaustion, vomiting, stomach pain, bloody diarrhoea, and of course the swollen glands, or ‘bubo’ that would appear in the armpit, neck or groin.

It became worse when the bacteria multiplied in the bloodstream and caused a septicaemic plague, which would add delirium and a rapid heart rate to the symptoms. Once it spread to the lungs, the person become infected with a pneumonic plague. This would lead to breathing difficulties and the coughing up of blood. And eventually death.

The Great Plague of 1665 killed around 100,000 people in the capital alone. However, a really bad case of the plague happened not in London but in Derbyshire, in a town called Eyam, all because of a box of laundry. A traveller had brought a box of clothes to the small town, a box that just happened to be filled with infected fleas. About 80% of the population died. This could have spread all over Derbyshire, if it wasn’t for William Mompesson, who said it was important to wait for the plague to run its course in the town and that people needed to stay put and not venture into the countryside. His wife was one of the victims of the plague. This is in great contrast to King Charles II who promptly left London to escape the plague, along with many of London’s wealthy, and its doctors.

The Great Plague was not the worst case to hit this country. The Black Death of 1348-1350 killed over a quarter of the population; 1.5 million out of 4 million people of Medieval England died. Around 20 million people across Europe fell victim to this horrible disease. There was mass hysteria, a breakdown of social order, and people thought it was some kind of apocalypse. For those who were still able to walk the streets it was difficult not to walk past a dead body. Mass death had become normal and to those affected, it seemed as if the end of the world was near.

NEXT WEEK: More on the Black Death of the 1300s.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

The carriage passes what looks like Westminster Palace (minus Big Ben) and eventually turns into a narrow street

I used this quote before when I did my post on London Bridge. Today we will look at Westminster Palace. Or as you know it – The Houses of Parliament.

The Palace of Westminster began as a church, and was built in the eighth century - dedicated to St Peter. The name West Minster came from the phrase meaning west monastery. In the tenth century, after being converted into an abbey, it was adopted as a royal church. It was then that the idea of having a Palace of Westminster was born.

The Palace of Westminster was inherited by William the Conqueror after the great battles of 1066. In 1097, his son William II began to use Westminster Hall to hold grand banquets and it was becoming known as the “ceremonial centre of the Kingdom”. At this time the capital of England was actually Winchester, as this was where the Royals spent most of their time.

Over the next century, Westminster was gradually becoming the centre of the country. This was especially so under the rule of Henry II’s son, King John, when the Exchequer moved to Westminster.

It took 400 years, but finally, in 1512, the Palace of Westminster to become the permanent home of Parliament.

The Clock Tower
that we call Big Ben, on the other hand, wasn’t completed until 1859, but this wasn’t the first of its kind. In fact, during Amelia’s time England was up to its second clock, which was built in 1367 but by 1707 it had fallen into disrepair and was replaced with a sundial. After a fire in 1834, which burnt down most of the Palace of Westminster, building work began on a new palace.

Like all political centres, there have been some great historic moments in the Palace of Westminster. Let’s look at our favourite period – the 1600s:

In 1605 Guy Fawkes and 12 others tried to blow up the House of Lords in the infamous Gunpowder Plot. They were prosecuted in 1606.

In 1649, King Charles I was sentenced to death after the Civil Wars between the Royalists and the Parliamentarians. In 1653, Oliver Cromwell was instated as the Lord Protector, and England became a Republic. After his death in 1658, he was succeeded by his son, Richard. However the people of England called for Charles II to come back and England had a monarchy again in 1660. In autumn of that year, it was ordered that Cromwell and two others be exhumed (i.e. have their bodies dug up after death), and executed for regicide (or murder of royalty). On the 30th January 1661 (twelve years after the death of Charles I), they were hanged and then decapitated. Their heads were put on display on poles above Westminster Hall.

In 1688, seven bishops were tried because they objected to the Declaration of Indulgence, which stated that people did not have to declare their oath to the church in public and were free to worship as they wished in the privacy of their own homes. It was the first step towards religious freedom, but the objection from the bishops resulted in a trial for seditious libel. They were found not guilty.

Monday, 15 March 2010

‘Once we are at St James’s Square, Mama shall send Jones for the doctor at once. Try not to worry, darling Amelia.’

When writing this book I thought that it would be important to use places that had some historical significance during the time, and that included all the roads. Today let’s talk about the origins of St James’s Square.

St James’s Square may now be filled with embassies, company head offices and office blocks, but during Amelia’s time, the Square was the home to some of the most exclusive houses that money could buy. This was the intention from the beginning.

Building work began in 1662 after King Charles II extended a lease to Henry Jermyn, 1st Earl of St Albans, who had already developed the nearby St James Street. When the lease extension was granted, he believed that it was important that the area should be “built for the conveniency of the Nobility and Gentry who were to attend upon his Majestie's Person, and in Parliament; and for the better Ornament of the Place, Directed by his Officers, not only the said Buildings, but the form and Manner also”*. What this meant that St James’s Square was only meant to be built for the people who absolutely had to be in the area for business purposes. Therefore the only people who could live there would be from the highest classes.

He added: “ye beauty of this great Towne and ye convenience of your Court are defective in point of houses fitt for ye dwellings of Noble men and other Persons of quality, and that your Majesty hath thought fitt for some Remedy hereof to appoint [that the] Place in St. James Field should be built in great and good houses”*. In short, the richest folk would be and should be the only people that live in this exclusive part of London. By the 1720s seven earls and seven dukes lived in St James’s Square.

This is a rather interesting request from someone who had a gambling problem and was rumoured to marry the widow of King Charles I, Henrietta Maria, not long after the death of the King.

*From: 'St. James's Square: General', Survey of London: volumes 29 and 30: St James Westminster, Part 1 (1960), pp. 56-76. URL: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=40545 Date accessed: 15 March 2010.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

“Oh, my dear, my darling Elizabeth has the smallpox.”

The Dresskeeper tries to highlight some of the problems people faced during the 17th century, and disease was an issue than affected everyone – rich or poor.

So what is smallpox? Well, it’s a virus, which according to the World Health Organisation, starts off with symptoms a lot like the flu, but is then followed by a rash and blisters (or pustules). These start on the face and quickly spread everywhere else. Smallpox still is one of the most dangerous and feared diseases in the world, but a few hundred years ago, the disease killed around 30% of those infected. If you didn’t die you would probably end up with scars - almost 80% who survived sported them. And if the scars weren’t enough, you might also be blinded.

In 1967 the World Health Organisation began a programme to eradicate Smallpox completely around the globe and by 1980, they had managed it.

However, during Amelia’s time, and in the case of her poor friend Elizabeth, smallpox was impossible to treat, and there were no vaccinations or preventative medicines. The worst part of it was that a person could be infected for many days and not even realise it. It was easy to see how it spread. That fever could last for around 10 days and by the time the worst of the symptoms would become visible – the pox – that person could have infected so many others. And in a crowded city like London, the virus spread like wildfire.

Finally, in the 1700s, medical professionals began to consider immunization after noticing that a person who had survived smallpox could not be re-infected.

Interestingly, the idea of immunisation was controversial. An article written in 1750 for Gentlemen’s Magazine highlights the arguments against inoculation. For example, it was supposedly against God, as he is the “sovereign of life, and he can preserve us”. A trust in God was considered enough in the fight against the disease. Another argument against immunisation was that giving a child a jab took away their free will in some way, because they were those “who cannot judge for themselves.” And yet another argument was that it was unlawful because “it may bring danger without their knowledge”. In other words, if a person was infected with smallpox for medical purposes, they couldn’t be sure if they carried the disease, and therefore it they might infect others.

Luckily, this article was written by a man named David Some, who was in favour of the jabs. In his view, there were two options – stay out of everyone’s way all the time (obviously impractical) or immunise. He successfully argued immunisation was the safest way to save lives.

Then, in the latter half of the 18th century Edward Jenner noticed that people like milkmaids did not seem to get smallpox - instead they were only infected by the much milder cow pox. He carried out an experiment on an eight-year-old boy named James Phippes. In a gross but necessary act, he took pus out of the pustule from a cowpox sufferer and rubbed it into a cut on the boy’s arm. The boy did not get smallpox.

Unfortunately, not everyone believed in his experiment and the claim that the boy would never get smallpox, so more proof was needed. Jenner continued to try his experiments on other children, which didn’t go down too well with 18th century ‘do-gooders’. Nevertheless, Jenner eventually convinced the powers that be in the benefits of his work, and a vaccine against smallpox was introduced.

Monday, 22 February 2010

Ghost Stories ...

As many of you know, I am currently in the process of writing my second book The Plaguemaker. This one is different from The Dresskeeper in that it is a ghost story. My main character is being haunted by the ghost of a young girl who died during the Plague of 1665, all because her father is unknowingly building on one of London’s many plague pits created at the time. So today, instead of looking at the history behind The Dresskeeper, I thought I would do a post on tales of ghostly happenings in London, all from the 17th century, of course.

This may not be for the faint hearted.

The Volunteer Pub on Baker Street was built over the remains of a 17th century mansion that was inhabited by the fearsome Neville family. Their mansion was burnt down in 1654, ending the “reign of terror” of this ‘mob’ family over the town. Rumour has it that the patriarch, Richard Neville, haunts the original 17th century cellars of this North London pub dressed “in surcoat, breeches and lavish stockings.” The ghost story is a claim to fame of this establishment, where even TV’s ‘Most Haunted’ paid a visit to try and remove this ghost.

The Old Queen’s Head on Essex Road in Islington dates back to the 17th century and is also home to a ghost story or two. One prominent tale involves a woman and a crying girl. Some have heard feet running around while others have witnessed the young girl running up the stairs and slamming doors. She is also often heard weeping. According to The Metro the two women met a very sticky end but I can’t establish what that end was. Feel free to fill me in!

The George pub on The Strand has been linked to a ghost that seems to be from the 17th century. A Cavalier (from the Royalist side of the 17th century civil war) has been wandering the cellar. A funny story dates from the 1970s when the pub was being refurbished. It involves an extremely frightened decorator who came running from the cellar after a man who looked “all ‘istorical like” was staring at him. The landlord gave him a brandy and told him not to worry, because “my wife sees him all the time.”

The Queen’s House in Greenwich was built in 1635. It was commissioned by Anne of Denmark, wife of James I. Apparently it was built for her as an apology after James I swore at her in public because she shot one of his dogs while hunting (as you do!). The Queen’s House ghost was first seen in a photograph taken in 1966 after a retired couple from Canada visited London on holiday. When they returned home and developed their pictures they saw the ghostly figure standing on the bottom of the staircase. Take a look at the picture on the Queen’s house website and you can see a ghostly left hand on the rails.

The Pond Square Ghost is an interesting story. This ghost is not human, but is in fact, a chicken. On morning in January 1626, Sir Francis Bacon (philosopher, author, scientist, lawyer, among other things) was trying to see if refrigeration was a good way of preserving meat. After buying the chicken from Highgate Hill, he killed and plucked the chicken and filled it up with ice. Bacon was the unlucky one as he caught pneumonia from this experiment and died not long later. Since then, Pond Square has been the sight of numerous visits from a ghostly plucked chicken frantically running about.

Well, that’s it for this week. As you may have noticed three of these ghostly sightings seem to take place in pubs, so it is up to you whether or not you believe these tales of the paranormal, given the amount of alcohol that may or may not have been consumed during the sightings! Either way, it provides a little respite from our serious modern lives, doesn’t it?

All the best,


Monday, 15 February 2010

‘I will never marry you, you nutjob,’ I spit, but it doesn’t have the desired effect.
‘Luckily, I don’t need your permission.’
‘Yes you do.’
He grins. All I need is my friend, a minister at Fleet, to do the honours. And we are on the way there now.’ He leans I again. Once it’s done it can never be undone. That’s the law.’

Oh dear, that sounds grim, doesn’t it. Yet in the 17th century, marriage cost a lot of money, and it was the girl, or her father, who paid. In effect, it was a deal or business transaction, organised by the father and the prospective groom. A young girl who’s father was able to provide a big enough dowry on her behalf would be married – though not necessarily to a man she loved. And worse still, if the groom thought that the payment was not enough then he could change his mind and conduct his ‘business’ elsewhere. The prospective wife, usually a girl of no more than fourteen or fifteen, had little or no say.

Still, the phrase “until death do us part” meant a lot more then. Divorces were difficult to obtain and besides, they were not really necessary. This was not because Londoners in 1685 were better at making marriages stick. Thanks to the high mortality rates, particularly in childbirth, and life expectancy hovering at around 35 to 40, married couples would not stay married for long. Nevertheless, the women at the time managed to encounter many problems during their short married lives.

The society was hierachical and men made the rules and subsequently enjoyed all the rights.
The Norton Anthology of English Literature
tells us that this power was claimed as it related to God and King (both being male) and their respective rule over their kingdoms. A husband’s position of power was obvious from the get-go, reflected in the vow “Love, honour and obey.” Nowadays, we have a choice whether or not to recite this vow, but for the 1685 woman, it was a legally binding agreement. Obey applied to all areas of marriage, including the bedroom, where a woman’s “I do” was an implied consent for the man to do whatever pleased him.

Even worse, women of the time had no right to property, money and or even to her own children. Everything that she owned prior to marriage became the property of her husband. The only way a woman could have some say in how she lived her life would be if she became a widow – as long as her husband’s heirs didn’t throw her onto the street.

As I’ve said, divorce was available, in the form of an annulment, but only the very rich were able to have their marriages annulled, because proving to the church and court that a marriage was not legal in the first place was both expensive and time-consuming. A man’s infidelity was not a reason to divorce, but not surprisingly, a woman’s was. According to The History of Women, a woman found guilty of adultery, or the deliciously named ‘criminal conversation’, would promptly be stripped of her status, money and children, without recourse.

And if that seems unfair, read on. Another way of getting a rid of a woman was to sell her. Click on this link to see an image of woman on a platform with a noose around her neck held by her husband. Although the image is from 200 years later than my story, the ritual began far earlier. The act of selling involved the man paying a toll to sell merchandise in the market, following which he would parade his spouse around and sell her off to the highest bidder. Check out this website
for news clippings, one dating back to 1692, of market sales of women. Supposedly these were carried out by a mutual consent, and it wasn’t until the late 19th century that it became socially unacceptable to sell a woman at market.

Have a great week, thanks for tuning in.


Monday, 8 February 2010

‘You went to boarding school in the country, Amelia. Remember?’
‘Oh yes. The country. Hertfordshire?’
‘Are you deliberately trying my patience? You know full well it was in Chelsea.’
Chelsea is the country? God this places really is hundreds of years behind the times.

Yes, Chelsea was the countryside. London of the 1600s had tens of thousands of people living there, while Chelsea only had a few thousand. With this many people, Chelsea was classified as a village and during Amelia’s time, it was in just as much high demand by the who’s who of rich people as it is now.

According to the British History Online website, the village was inhabited by Earls, Lords, Sirs, Countesses and Dukes. Royalty have also lived in this small region just outside of London, as it provided homes for them that when they were unable to find suitable accommodation in the crowded capital. And it was close enough – by boat – to travel to and from Whitehall.

The famous Kings Road, now an Oxford Street for the rich and famous, was so exclusive that until 1829 no one could even walk down it unless you had a Royal Pass.

Chelsea was no stranger to problems, however. As we mentioned earlier when we were talking about the plague, those who could afford it left London for the countryside to escape the disease so that the common folk were left to fend for themselves. But those trying to escape the plague would potentially endanger the residents. The British History Online also said that inhabitants would be threatened with punishment if they were to “encourage disease by entertaining strangers.”

There are a number of buildings from the 16th and 17th century and beyond that still survive today.

The Chelsea Physic Garden, founded in 1673, was originally set up “with the purpose of training apprentices in identifying plants”. In fact, this location was chosen because it was close to the riverside, meaning that “a warmer microclimate” allowed the survival of many plants that were not originally found in Britain. Funny that, considering a warm climate is a rare thing in the London I know and love.

The Royal Hospital at Chelsea is also an important building from this time. Before the hospital was built in the 17th Century by Sir Christopher Wren (remember him?), there was no real care for veteran soldiers and it was often up to religious institutions to take care of those who fought in the wars. Furthermore, when King Charles II wanted to build the hospital, Parliament showed no interest in providing funding for this project and money had to come from private sources.

Now known as the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, this area is still home to the rich and famous. But also is home to some of the best schools and universities, the most exclusive shopping areas and some great museums.

Monday, 1 February 2010

Everyone in Europe is flocking here apparently. I look for evidence of it – but everyone looks the same.’

Immigration. A hot topic in this country but it has been going on for so long it would not be surprising to find that every one of us has some trace of non-English blood within us. Even just a little bit from hundreds of years ago.

During this period, the largest wave of immigration into the U.K was from the French. Protestant French to be precise, also known as Huguenots.

In England there has always been a conflict between the Catholic and Protestant church and the ones who got the better treatment was dependent on the religion of the king or queen. During the Tudor times for example, the three children of Henry VIII were of different religions and that had a huge impact on domestic politics. Edward VI was Protestant so continued work of The Reformation. His eldest sister was Mary I, daughter of King Henry’s first wife Catherine of Aragon, was a Catholic and did everything she could to undo all of her brother’s work as well as burning hundreds of Protestants. And finally, Elizabeth I was Protestant although she was interested in finding a middle ground.

Now, back to France. In 1598 the Edict of Nantes was passed by King Henry IV to restore peace in the country. There were conflicts, just like in England, between the two religions which culminated finally in 1572 with a massacre on St Bartholomew’s Day. According to a website titled Online Encyclopedia of Mass Violence, “nearly 3,000 Protestants were slain in Paris in five days, from the night of August 23-24 to August 29, 1572.”* It was during this time that the first wave of French migrants began to move to England.

The Edict of Nantes was created to give more civil rights to French Protestants, for example allowing them to worship in public, except of course in Paris. The King insisted that the country would remain Catholic, and Protestants must abide by Catholic laws. The Edict was not popular and there was a growing resentment between both sides. The King was assassinated by a fanatic Catholic in 1610.

The Edict was revoked in 1685 when King Louis XIV decided to take away all of the rights that were previously awarded to the Huguenots. Once again a wave of French Catholic immigrants entered England, bringing tailors, watchmakers, jewellers and silk weavers. According to the French Protestant Church of London, by the end of the seventeenth century around 50,000 Huguenots were seeking refuge.

* David El Kenz, Massacres during the Wars of Religion, Online Encyclopedia of Mass Violence, [online], published on 3 November 2007, accessed 1 February 2010, URL : http://www.massviolence.org/Massacres-during-the-Wars-of-Religion, ISSN 1961-9898

Monday, 25 January 2010

Sir Christopher Wren

Hang on a minute. Who did she say?

‘Christopher Wren? The guy that built St Paul’s Cathedral?’

Last month I mentioned Sir Christopher Wren briefly when I wrote a blog entry about The Monument to The Great Fire of London. Now we will talk about him in a bit more detail.

Sir Christopher Wren has been immortalised in St Paul’s Cathedral, which was completed in 1710. His eldest son, Christopher Wren Jr., placed an inscription in his crypt that says: “LECTOR, SI MONUMENTUM REQUIRIS, CIRCUMSPICE.” This roughly translates to: “If you seek his memorial, look around you” - a fantastic idea to place inside Wren’s amazing work.

Born on October 20th 1632 into an Anglican family, Wren went from being schooled from home, to studying at Oxford University. Although he began as a student of Latin, he soon began to show talents for maths and the sciences, including anatomy, physics and astronomy. From here he moved into architecture. In 1662 he became one of the founding fathers of The Royal Society, which was dedicated to the sciences, and would also eventually become Surveyor-General of the King’s Works.

Wren was commissioned to work on re-building London after the Great Fire in 1666 working on, among others, St Paul’s Cathedral, The Monument to the Great Fire of London, The Royal Observatory in Greenwich, The Royal Hospital at Chelsea and the library at Trinity College, Cambridge.

The Windsor Guildhall is also interesting in that it shows Wren’s wry sense of humour and slightly stubborn nature. While building the Guildhall’s open space (later to house corn markets), Wren’s clients in Windsor were adamant that four pillars be included for safety. Wren tried to convince them that the pillars not needed, but the client’s view prevailed and Wren placed four pillars in the middle. However, to prove that he was right, he left a gap between the roof and the pillars, so that the don’t do anything but look nice. They definitely don’t hold up the roof!

Monday, 18 January 2010

Sir Isaac Newton

Mama and Papa don’t seem to think much of Mr Newton. ‘The man is full of all sorts of nonsense about science.’

Another science post ladies and gentlemen. I have always talked about what an important subject it is and today we will be looking at Sir Isaac Newton.

Today is also a very important day concerning Sir Isaac Newton because the Royal Society have published the manuscripts of his life, by physician and biographer William Stukeley, including the events of that very famous apple that changed the way that we looked at the world. I wanted to put a quote from the manuscripts on here but the Royal Society website is jam packed with so many visitors that I cannot even get onto it. It looks like everyone wants to know the story.

But let us move on and talk about the man himself.

A Cambridge graduate, Isaac Newton is known by most as the one who sat under a tree and discovered gravity just because an apple fell down. There was a lot more to him than that, we seem to know the anecdote and not the science. What he questioned was not just how objects on earth were pulled down to the ground. Instead, what if this had extended to the universe as well? Like the moon, the planets and Earth itself.

What Newton brought to the world of science are things that you have learned about in school. Does the formula F=MA ring a bell? It should. According to Newton there were three laws of motion. We shall put them simply.

1) All objects will stay stationary, or at a constant speed, if extra force is not applied to it

2) The acceleration of an object is dependent on the mass of the object and the amount of force that is being applied to it, and can be calculated with the formula F=MA

3) For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

You will have witnessed the third law in what is properly known as Newton’s cradle. Have you ever seen those five pendulums in a metal frame, where if you swing one ball on one side then the exact same one of the other side will be forced to move as well and they both go back and forth? That is Newton’s third law in action.

Optics was very important as well. It is because of him that we understand how a prism can disperse a beam of white light into a spectrum of different colours.

What you may not know is that Newton was a man of religion as well. He spent a lot of time studying the Bible and credited some of the more amazing aspects of the world to a divine being. Although he was born into an Anglican family he did not share the same views on religion and God as his peers, of course he kept a lot of this a secret.

He became a fellow of the Royal Society in London in 1671 and President in 1703. He was also a Warden of the Royal Mint, where he would investigate counterfeit coins – a crime punishable by being hanged drawn and quartered.

Monday, 11 January 2010

The Beginning of the Metropolitan Police

‘What about the police, didn’t they do anything?’

Elizabeth looks at Jones, who stares at the poo-strewn ground. ‘Police, what on earth are these police of which you speak? I do worry for your health.’

Right. No police 300 years ago. That probably explains the scoundrels then.

It wasn’t until 1829 that the Metropolitan Police Act was passed through Parliament. Before that, law enforcement was carried out by regular citizens who were interested in keeping order in their beloved city. It was the Conservative Home Secretary Robert Peel who decided that an organised police force was required. The Metropolitan Police force first stepped out on duty on the 29th September 1829. And they were not popular.

First of all they were no better than the people that they were trying to police. The first officer employed was dismissed after just four hours on the job because he was so drunk, according to the History of the Metropolitan Police. By 1863 , booze was still a big problem - 215 officers were fired that year because they were drunk whilst on duty.

Secondly, many thought that having a police force was a like having an overbearing government keeping a constant eye on the people of London, and therefore was a threat to civil liberties. Others saw the police as bullies. It was not uncommon for officers to be physically assaulted in the line of duty. In 1833 , one police officer was stabbed to death for trying to break up a political meeting. The jury sided with the defendant with a verdict of ‘justifiable homicide’ - in other words it was okay to kill a police officer. In 19th century London no one wanted a police force, and it wasn’t until organised crime became a problem that people started to see a use for these ‘Bobbies’ (so named for Robert Peel).

It looks like Picky will have to wait a long time to report anything to the police. Good luck to her.