History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

31 October 2011


Your Regency characters might not be able to go trick-or-treating, but the next day they could go souling. All Saints' Day survived the birth of the Anglican church and was still a tradition in many rural locations. The day was dedicated to commemorating the dead.

Many households would prepare soul cakes to hand out (the gifting of food was good for the soul, and traditionally the eating of them was supposed to help the soul they were dedicated to out of purgatory, and even though the concept of purgatory had been rejected, the tradition survived). They would also have apples, hot drinks, and small coins to distribute.

The roving participants (mostly children) would go door to door in the village singing their souling song and partaking of the day's bounty .Some households may have chosen to bake cakes to be distributed to the poor (the local workhouse for example) rather than hosting visitors.

I love putting little details like this into my books. One of my favorite sources is The English Year by Steve Roud. I highly recommended it to anyone writing English-set historicals. 

28 October 2011

George Washington's Riotous Spirits

Riotous spirits – and George Washington? Relax, I’m talking about how George Washington used his era’s relaxed attitudes toward alcohol to advance his career.

Back in the eighteenth century, fresh water wasn’t always clean. In fact, it was often muddy, slimy – or worse. Drinking alcoholic beverages was healthier. Alcohol cured the sick and strengthened the weak. Women in labor received a shot or two to relieve their discomfort. Social occasions – such as christenings, weddings, funerals, trials, even craftsmen’s work – were lubricated by the delicious spirits.

People drank their way through the day. John Adams started his day with hard cider, Patrick Henry smuggled wine and served home brew to guests while governor of Virginia, and Samuel Adams managed his father’s brewery. Frankly, most didn’t care what anyone else thought of how much they consumed. Social drinking was simply a necessity of life – especially when it came to elections.

In Colonial America, elections were held where the voters could be found. Thus, the polling places were next to the neighborhood tavern and every ambitious politician courted votes in the taproom. Young George Washington was no different. Legend says he handed out free beers to win his first election to Virginia’s House of Burgesses.

Virginia chose different libations as it grew from a colony to a state. Madeira wine, imported in English ships, was popular for the great wine punches. Colonists distilled their own rum from molasses but ruefully understood good Caribbean rum’s higher quality. Cider and beer were easily brewed locally and became the principal drinks during the Revolution, when imports dried up.

After the Revolution, Virginians needed to reconsider their drinks, since they couldn’t obtain cheap booze from other English colonies any more. George Washington needed to find new sources of income, to make up for what he’d lost during the Revolution. With a new plantation manager’s help, he established a distillery and produced rye whiskey, America’s original signature whiskey.

Rye whiskey was so important to the United States’ citizens that Northerners rose up in arms over it, in the Whiskey Rebellion. American rye whiskey, as distinct from its Canadian brethren, must include at least 51 percent rye. It’s a different whiskey than bourbon and often described as edgier. George Washington and his friends drank it neat. Humphrey Bogart’s generation enjoyed manhattans made with rye, a more dynamic drink than the same cocktail made with bourbon.

Washington’s rye whiskey was so fine, that he soon had the largest distillery in the nation, turning out 10,000 gallons a year. It also produced peach and apple brandy, to provide the General more income than any other part of his plantation.

Today, Mount Vernon is once again distilling rye whiskey to provide riotous spirits for Virginia’s citizens. It’s based on George Washington’s original recipe – or mash bill – and created using traditional ingredients and techniques. The first year’s production sold out in one day.

I think the General would be proud – and would want to join the parties where it’s featured.

What historical drink would you like to taste? Have you ever read a historical scene where the drinks surprised you?

Labels: , , ,

26 October 2011

Music: the Food of Love?

If music be the food of love, play on,
Give me excess of it; that surfeiting,
the appetite may sicken, and so die.

~ Duke Orsino, Twelfth Night, I, i. 1-2

Hint: in the Elizabethan era, "die" was also a euphemistic synonynm for orgasm. But sometimes a banana was just a banana. And die just meant die.

When it comes to a little background music, do you adore it to the point of ecstasy -- or is all that cacophony killing you? Inspiration? Or distraction?

Much of the writing we hoydens do, and read, is the food of love, whether fiction or nonfiction as it relates to the lives of our characters. And each of us has our process as we work, or chill and enjoy a pleasure read.

Is music part of yours, and how does it feed your creative appetite? Do you listen to music as you work? Does it have to be from the era in which your story is set in order for you to feel immersed in your narrative as you craft it, or do you have favorite symphonies, tracks, or Broadway and film scores that get your juices going, even if they're from a different time period? At one point, while I was simultaneously slogging away at three survival jobs while I was writing my first five novels (and this was in the pre iPod days), I had the cassette of the soundtrack of The Last of the Mohicans blasting in my ear during my walk to the subway every day, and I wasn't even in front of the computer at the time. But it served as my daily dose of artistic inspiration and sufficed until I was able to get back to work on my writing career.

Are you a Rodgers & Hammerstein type, and your hills are alive with the sound of music? Or, like Simon & Garfunkel, do you prefer the sound of silence while you work?

22 October 2011

Lolita Fashion

Lolita fashion is a fashion subculture originating in the 1970's in Japan and is based on Victorian-era clothing as well as costumes from the Rococo period. The style has expanded greatly. There are Gothic Lolitas, Sweet Lolitas, Punk, Classical-Aristocrat Lolitas etc., but what I find most interesting is the decidedly historical flare to the outfits AND and that the Lolita look began primarily as one of modesty.

That's right, modesty.

The whole looks seems to have little to do with the literary Lolita theme revolving around a middle-age man falling in love with a 12 year old girl.

Or does it?

The original Lolita fashion silhouette is of a knee length skirt or dress with a 'cupcake' shape assisted by petticoats, but has expanded into various different types of garments including corsets and floor lengths skirts. Blouses, knee high socks or stockings and headdresses are also worn. Lolita fashion has evolved into several different sub styles and has a subculture that is present in many parts of the world, but the look is decidedly young, in my opinion, and also classically historical (orginally).

As per "Wikipedia":

In the context of fashion, the term 'Lollita' does not relate to sex. The usage of the word may also be considered wasei-eigo or and derives from the female given name, 'Lollita'.

The fashion movement is based on a strong reaction by the wearers against the exposure of the body and skin in today's society, specifically in regard to young women. Adherents fight the current fashion with modesty presenting themselves as "cute" or "elegant" rather than "sexy". One follower of the Gothic Lolita fashion explained:

We certainly do not do this for the attention of men. Frequently, female sexuality is portrayed in a way that is palatable and accessible to men, and anything outside of that is intimidating. Something so unabashedly female is ultimately kind of scary—in fact, I consider it to be pretty confrontational. Dressing this way takes a certain kind of ownership of one’s own sexuality that wearing expected or regular things just does not. It doesn’t take a lot of moxie to put on a pencil skirt and flats. It’s not, as some commentators have suggested, some sort of appeal to men’s expectation that women should be childlike....or to emulate little girls, despite the name Lolita."

What do you think? Do you like the look? Have you seen Lolita fashion stateside in the big cities?

Labels: ,

19 October 2011

The Magic of Masquerades

It's autumn - rose gold light, pumpkin spice lattes, cuddly sweaters (well, maybe not yet in the San Francisco Bay Area, where we're having some of our warmest weather of the year). And Halloween is just around the corner. It was always one of my favorite holidays growing up, not for the candy but for the magic of masquerading as someone else (inevitably a favorite historical or fictional character) for the day.

Thinking about Halloween made me think about masquerade balls. I've always loved them in books. Costumes allow characters to highlight their personalities or to masquerade as someone quite different. And masks allow for all manner of intrigue, romantic or otherwise. My mind tens to run to suspense when it comes to intrigue. My idea for my book The Mask of Night began with the image of a masked man floating, stabbed to death, in a fountain, and my masked heroine reaching into the water to examine the body.

Masked balls were a frequent form of entertainment at the Congress of Vienna. In a city filled with dukes, princes, kings, and emperors, where rules of protocol and precedence hung over most public events, masquerades provided unexpected freedom. Not to mention an opportunity for sexual and diplomatic intrigue. A masquerade at the Hofburg Palace marked the start of the Congress. At another masked ball at the Hofburg on 30 October, 1814, a masked figure slipped Prince Metternich a note from his political and romantic rival, Tsar Alexander, concerning Wilhelmine of Sagan, a woman they both pursued.

Costumes at these masked balls followed a variety of themes. At a masquerade Mettternich gave in November at his summer villa (which is the setting for a sequence in my Vienna Waltz), the sovereigns were told to wear black and ladies were asked to dress in regional costume. Peasant dresses swirled on the dance floor, many stitched with enough jewels to feed an entire peasant village for a month. Lady Castlereagh excited comment by wearing her husband's Order of the Garter in her hair. At midnight, many of the guests exchanged masks, adding to the masquerade mischief. And despite the glittering guest list, not all those present were monarchs and aristocrats. Metternich sent Wilhemine of Sagan tickets for her maid Hannchen and Hannchen's daughters and even suggested Hannchen and Wilhelmine could switch masks if they liked.

In January, yet another masked ball at the Hofburg followed a glittering sleigh rideto the Schönbrunn and back. Only Lent put an end to the endless round of masquerades, though not to the romantic and political intrigue.

Do you enjoy masked balls in books, as a reader or a writer? What do they allow that isn't possible in non-masquerade party scenes? Any favorite sequences in books?

Labels: , , , ,

17 October 2011

Hoops, False Rumps, and Other Padding

Most people know what “panniers” are (the wide skirt supports we all think of when we picture Marie Antoinette in her WIDE formal gowns). During the Georgian era in England, they were simply known as “hoops” and they took many forms, from the full, round hoops of the 1730s (very Scarlet O’Hara, though 100+ years earlier) to the wide, but flat hoops of the 1760s (which are collapsible, so the lady could lift them, tuck them under her elbows, step through the doorway, and then let them back down), to the smaller “pocket hoops” of the 1770s. To the left, you can see a pair made of bent willow cane.

What a lot of people aren’t familiar with are the false rumps of the 1780s. These could be stuffed, like a cushion, or they could be made of cork. The use of cork led to some rather amusing cartoons of women being used as shuttlecocks or racing down the Thames balanced on them like tiny boats. To the right is my favorite, The New Rigatta.

In the late 1790s, when gowns go Grecian, there was still a small moon-shaped pad at the “waist” which was there to hold the gown out away from the body and the small of the back and to help keep it from forming to the lady’s posterior. These were used well into the Regency period, up until the 1820s when the high-waist dropped down to the natural waist and petticoats became fuller, obviating the need for them.

Of course then they simply move to the arms, where they are stuffed with down and used to hold out the large, ridiculous sleeves of the late 1820s and 1830s.

10 October 2011

Curricles, with Candice Hern

Many thanks to the History Hoydens for allowing me to guest blog today. I don't have a blog of my own (not sure I want one), but sometimes I just like to talk history with like-minded folks.  So here I am.

I have a thing for carriages. I don't know why.  I assume they were uncomfortable and bone-rattling, no matter how well-sprung.  I would not particularly like to have to rely on one to get around.  And yet, somehow I love them.  I love picturing my characters seated in them, or driving them.  Especially the sporting vehicles.  The sports cars of their day.

A couple of years ago I had the opportunity to visit the Carriage Museum in Maidstone.  Greg and I were the only ones there, with the caretaker at our disposal, patiently answering all my questions.  I was in hog heaven.  I *so* wanted to be able to climb into various carriages, to know what it felt like, to imagine myself in a Regency gown trying gracefully to get in and out without showing too much leg.  As accommodating as the caretaker was, he wouldn't go that far. Believe me, I asked!
I spent most of my time studying a curricle from the late 1790s. That's the one I most wanted to climb aboard, because so many of my heroes have driven one, often with the heroine at his side.

A bit of background before I talk about this specific curricle. 

The curricle, a two-wheeled open-air vehicle with a collapsible hood, was first made in Italy. French carriage-makers improved on the design, and it became extremely popular there in the early 18th century.  It took almost a century for it to catch on in England, where in the last years of the 18th century it began to supplant the four-wheeled phaeton as the sporting vehicle of choice.

There were many reasons for the huge popularity of the curricle.  It was the only two-wheeled carriage at the time that allowed two horses to be driven abreast. Instead of one horse driven between a pair of shafts (which was the usual method for a single-axle carriage), the curricle used a pole attached by springs to a special bar that lay across the saddles on the horses backs.

The use of the curricle bar made it essential that the two horses be of exactly the same height and stride. That's why we always hear about men wanting "matched pairs" for their curricles.  It was not purely for aesthetics.  With balanced springs and a matched pair of horses, the result was an easy, buoyant motion – a comfortable carriage.

The sleek design, though, did have aesthetic appeal. The rounded body was enhanced throughout by elegant curves: the dashboard sloping gently outward over the horses, the large C springs in the back, the scooped-out entrances.  Hardly any straight lines to be seen. The earliest models were quite elevated, in the style of the high-perch phaeton. But by the mid-Regency, more moderate elevations became the norm. The curricle seated two, rather snugly, and there was often, but not always, a groom's seat in the rear between the springs, as seen in the print of the Marquis of Anglesey driving his curricle with a tiger seated in the rear.

The expense, and difficulty, of finding horses matched in size and pace and of a quality suited to the curricle made keeping such a carriage only within the means of the wealthy. And so the carriage makers spared no expense in making the curricle as decorative as their clients desired.  Dandies and Corinthians drove curricles in all colors and with all manner or ornament.

Curricles required good driving skills, as they were prone to accidents. Because of the curricle bar, if one horse lost his footing, both horses could be brought down, and the driver sent flying.  That's why curricle races were heavily wagered. At high speeds, there was bound to be an accident.

Back to that curricle at the Maidstone Museum. 

It is decorated with the arms of Sir Robert Kemp, who died in 1761.  However, both the museum caretaker and I agreed that it must have belonged to a later baronet, probably Sir William Robert Kemp, the 9th baronet, who lived until 1804. A curricle of this style was simply not being made in England in the 1760s. Based on everything I've read, I would date it to the 1790s.

You can see from the first photo above that there is no groom's seat in the back. This sometimes required the placement of a quantity of iron in a box on the rear undercarriage to counteract the weigh of the driver, whose seat was slightly in front of the axle. I suspect heavy luggage might have served the same purpose, though it appears in this case that the box you see did indeed hold iron weights. Beneath the leather flap in the back, you can see the edge of the sword case.

Even though it is the worse for wear, being over 200 years old, it is still an elegant-looking vehicle.  Note the padded leather seats, the gadrooned wooden fittings, and the wonderful carriage lamp.  There also seems to be a closed storage area beneath the seat.  I like to think a gentleman would keep a pistol or two there, to be easy at hand if needed.

Since I was not allowed to climb into it, I took a lot of photos and made a lot of notes in order to come to some understanding of what it would have been like to get into it. This is an early curricle, so it is one of the higher versions.

The first thing one would have to do is step into the iron stirrup (one on each side) that sits about 14" off the ground. Entering from the left side, you would place your right foot in the stirrup. Next, you would place your left foot onto the metal plate that sits 12-13" up from the stirrup, and about 10" to the left. Then you'd have to sort of swing your right foot over and up about 6" onto the floor of the carriage. There are lots of things to hold onto while you climbed in, and I have no doubt a fashionable gentleman made a point of alighting with quick ease and grace. I think a woman in long skirts would have had more difficulty, but she, too, must have developed a special grace for entering all sorts of carriages. The lower curricles, like the one shown above with the Marquis of Anglesey, would likely have been more manageable, though the steady hand of a gentlemen would always be helpful.

And it's a pretty tight seat for two, measuring only about 38-40" across. Very cozy for a ride through Hyde Park, don't you think?

07 October 2011

Home Sweet Home

As I write this, the exterior of my house is being power-washed. Streams of water are flushing down the cobwebs from under the eves, washing away insect trails, swooshing away ten years’ accumulation of dust that muddies the pristine blue paint. Yesterday, my housekeeper scrubbed the sinks, vacuumed the carpets, dusted the bookshelves, and generally blew a cleansing air through the place. She does this once a month, and inbetween times I am careful not to stain the kitchen sink with blueberry juice or let grease accumulate around my gas stove burners.

I have an easy life. My mother, however, and my grandmother and my great-grandmother worked like slaves to keep their houses clean. This wasn’t easy on ranches and farms, and even in town there was always cleaning to be done. Each year in the Fall, the cleaning got serious.

Mrs. Caroline Dunwoody was the cleaning expert of the 19th century, and this is what she recommends for Fall Cleaning:

1. Clean and clear out cellar and attic.
2. Wash all blankets and sun the heavy quilts.
3. Clean, mend, and put by furs, thick clothes, winter hats, and

winter bedding.
4. Remove, clean, and store summer slipcovers.
5. Wax the furniture.
6. Clean lamps and shades.
7. Hang carpets outside for a good beating and sun them for a day.
8. Sun and air mattresses and pillows.
9. Turn mattresses.

Fall was also the time for whitewashing the kitchen. Here is one recipe for whitewash: dissolve a pound of potash in a gallon of water, then add a pound of alum. When that dissolves, make a paste by stirring in a little flour until 10 pounds of flour are added. Slake [crumble] a bushel of lime. When cold, incorporate it with the first preparation. (The lime prevents fermentation.)

A cheaper “whitewash” combines 2 quarts of skimmed milk with 2 ounces of fresh lime which you stir until it resembles cream. Then you sprinkle 5 pounds of whiting [calcium carbonate] over the top, mix well, and apply with a paintbrush.

Washing blankets and woolens in the 1800s was real work. First, you put 2 heaping tablespoons of borax and 1 pint of soft soap [probably made at home from lye, lard, and wood ashes] into a large tub of cold water. Let the blankets soak for about 9 hours. Then rub and rinse, but do not wring out – that will ruin them. Hang in the sunshine to dry.

For mildew, rub the article with white vinegar and lemon juice; saturate the stain, then sprinkle salt on the area and scrub. Place in the sun to dry. Mrs. Dunwoody advises that “this may need a few treatments, but it does work; eventually the mildew will come out, but you must be patient.”

You know, I think I’ll buy some stock in corporations that manufacture washing machines . . .

Source: Mrs. Dunwoody’s Excellent Instructions for Homekeeping.

Hollywood and Shakespeare

Has anyone else been watching the edgy trailer for a new movie about Shakespeare? But this time, Hollywood isn't thinking about his private life and romances. Oh no. The movie, Anonymous worries about his qualifications as An Author.

"Was Shakespeare A Fraud?"

Hmm. As an author myself, this topic makes me nervous. As a historian and a reader, I'm totally fascinated. What if William Shakespeare didn't write all the plays that still grip millions of people? What if he was only the front man for a far better writer? Why would that more talented man choose never to claim ownership of such brilliant work?

This movie suggests one answer, based on the era's politics. (Vanessa Redgrave as Elizabeth I? Wow!) Plus, the sets and costumes look awesome, something I'm always a sucker for. I'll definitely be in line to see this movie.

You can watch the trailer here.

Readers, is there an author whose life you'd like to see made into a movie? Authors, can you think of a "story behind the book" that might make a good movie?

Labels: , ,

05 October 2011

Names (the never ending dilemma)

There’s been lots of talk about names on one of my historical discussion boards. Some writers are strongly in favor of using only the most popular and common names. Some take their stand behind unusual, but still historically appropriate names. A tiny faction doesn’t care if the name is period, so long as it’s memorable and evocative.

From what I’ve seen just reading period journals and books over the years, a writer is “safe” choosing any of the common names (John, George, William, Thomas, James, Charles; Margaret, Jane, Alice, Ann), Biblical names (Samuel, David, Emanuel, Gideon; Sarah, Ruth, Judith), and almost anything classical (Alexander, Sampson, Hector, Daniel; Octavia, Helen, Dionysia) or historical (Henry, Richard, Stephen; Eleanor, Elizabeth, Catherine).

I went through the first thousand records on ancestry.uk for people born in 1780 and what follows is the list of names I compiled (* next to names that appeared only once):





What do you as readers or writers think? Do you prefer your romances between a George and a Harriet, or a Magnus and a Zenobia (or a George and a Zenobia)? Or do you not care if authors all use the same ten names over and over and over (I think my Georgianna and Elizabeth Hoyt’s Georgiana are both memorable and discernable).

Free Web Site Counter
Kennedy Western University Online