Seventeenth Century History

If you're interested in the seventeenth century setting of The Southwark Saga and would like to know more, here's a little directory of some history posts and articles I've done on subjects relating to the series. If there are any other topics you would be interested in reading about, please let me know on the contact form in the sidebar. Enjoy! 

Contraception in History V: 'Love's Pleasing Paths in Blest Security': Condoms in Restoration London

As you’re reading Tyburn, you might notice that condoms (or “cundums”) are present. “Now, Jess,” you might be thinking to yourself, “I know you’re obsessed with contraception, but were people really using condoms in 1671?”

Yes, reader. Yes, they were...




Five Horrible Ways to Die in Restoration London

Seventeenth-century London was an incredibly dangerous place, and causes of death were mostly mysterious. In his Natural and Political Observations Made Upon the Bills of Mortality, John Graunt offers some of the following explanations: traffic, sciatica, swine-pox, wen, lethargy, fear, sadness, itch, and rather worryingly, “mother.” If the people living in Restoration London were lucky enough to survive childhood, they could be killed by several afflictions that no longer trouble us today. Do you think you could survive Restoration London? Here’s what you’re up against...



Five More Common Ways to Die in Restoration London

Although some people did die of "Itch" (12, to be precise), most deaths were caused by much scarier things. To follow up from yesterday's piece, here are five of the most common (but no less horrible) ways to die in Restoration London...



Guy Fawkes' Day: 400 Years of Fire and Madness

“Remember, remember the fifth of November” is more than just a line from V for Vendetta. Also known as Bonfire Night, Guy Fawkes Day (or Night) is a holiday celebrated every year on the fifth of November in the UK. Bigger and more widely celebrated than Halloween, people get together after dark to drink mulled wine and watch massive displays of fireworks. But what is it, where did it come from, and what did Guy Fawkes do that was so great?



The Price of Beauty in the Seventeenth Century (on Hoydens & Firebrands) 

So many seventeenth-century portraits feature women with smooth, perfectly white complexions. The paint used in the portraits would have been very similar to the makeup used by the women featured, both being comprised chiefly of white lead. By the Restoration, cosmetics were widely available and used across the social spectrum. In a time when freckles were undesirable and so many faces were marred with smallpox scars, demand for complexion correctives was high, and white lead made its first comeback as a cosmetic since the end of the Roman Empire.

Solomon Eccles (On Alison Stuart's Blog)

Westminster Hall was a popular place to shop in Restoration London. It shared its space with the law courts, and the heads of Cromwell and two of his generals were displayed there until the 1680s. Perhaps the most memorable sight there, however, was Solomon Eccles. Eccles, sometimes known as Solomon Eagle, was a composer and a Quaker who began to appear in Westminster Hall as early as 1665. Spurred on by the plague, he urged shoppers (and presumably lawyers) to repent.


Taking Back Tyburn (On The History Vault) 

Tyburn. Once enough to send a shiver down the spine of anyone in London or greater Middlesex, these infamous gallows have at last begun to fade from collective memory. Eight times a year, Tyburn served as the place of execution for the condemned from the courts of Westminster, the Guildhall, Middlesex, and the Old Bailey Sessions. Between 1196 and 1783, an estimated 60,000 people were executed at Tyburn. Murderers, sometimes, and highwaymen, certainly, but for every major criminal executed at Tyburn, there were four more condemned for petty theft.


The Life and Death of Claude Duval

Claude Duval (Du Vall, Duvall, Du Vail) was executed at Tyburn on this day in 1670. Although he is only in my novel, Tyburn, for a very short time, he has a huge effect on my heroine, Sally, a fictional childhood friend of his from Normandy. Most of the details of his appearances in Tyburn are fictional with little bits of truth slipped in. The fact of the matter is, what we know about the historical Claude Duval is mostly limited to stories told after his death. Because so little is known for certain, we have to piece together stories to try to get a picture of the man behind legend. So where do we start? 

Was Madame Poisoned? Jealousy, Intrigue, and Murder in the Court of Louis XIV (On The Seventeenth Century Lady)

When Charles II makes his appearance in Tyburn, he is mourning the loss of his sister, “Minette,” who he had lost “to the intrigues of Court.” In case you’re wondering how one dies from an intrigue, this post is an informal investigation into the four-hundred year old mystery of the death of Henrietta of England, known as “Madame,” comparing the accounts of the primary sources with what we know about poisons today. While the official autopsy report of the time blamed her demise on a perforated ulcer, the evidence is suspicious, to say the least.


The Great Plague of 1665-1666: Wrath of God or a Cosmic Fart? 

The last epidemic of the bubonic plague hit London in 1665, killing at least 100,000 people, or a quarter of the city’s total population. Though it hasn’t really been seen since in Britain, the plague did not come out of nowhere. There had been four other outbreaks between 1560 and 1660, the most recent being in the 1620s. People read the weekly Bills of Mortality to count the deaths...


Legally Obliged to Forgive and Forget: The Act of Oblivion by Historian John Polsom-Jenkins

By early 1660, England and Wales had been in a state of civil war since 1642 and engaged in intermittent related conflicts in Scotland and Ireland since 1638, to say nothing of foreign wars against the Dutch and increased colonial engagements. The success of Parliament against King Charles I had resulted in the traditional structure of England...



Newgate

From 1188 until 1777, Newgate Prison stood on the corner of Newgate Street and Old Bailey in the City of London. Appearing in literature as far back as The Canterbury Tales, Newgate was a real hell on earth that struck terror into the people of London for more than 700 years. 


The King's Evil: Touch Me, Your Majesty

Disease was very common during the Restoration. In spite of the medical advances of the seventeenth century, there was much about the human body and disease in particular that remained mysterious. Magic was still believed to cure any number of ailments, and people often relied on superstition to treat illnesses. Executioners made most of their money by selling off pieces of dead convicts...



Illegitimacy: "Unnatural" Birth in Stuart England

The Restoration is seen as a period of almost legendary promiscuity. In the years following the Merry Monarch’s return, business for actresses and prostitutes was booming, domestic servants were prey for their masters, and many couples cohabited before they married, sometimes for years. Charles II himself had a dozen illegitimate children that he acknowledged, but the recorded rate remained at or below three percent of all births. Was this down to the growing popularity of condoms, dodgy statistics, or something worse?


The Great Fire of London: Casualties and Aftermath

The Great Fire of London began in a bakery on Pudding Lane after midnight on Sunday, September 2nd and incinerated the medieval City of London until it died down the following Wednesday. Reaching an incredible 1700 degrees Celsius, it destroyed at least 13,200 houses, 87 churches, St. Paul’s Cathedral, and most City authority buildings...



A Fortune on Friday Street: Finding the Cheapside Hoard


In 1912, workmen were excavating the cellar of 30-32 Cheapside on the corner of Friday Street when they discovered a fortune in jewelry hidden in a wooden box. Containing more than four hundred pieces of jewelry from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, what became known as the Cheapside Hoard was the find of a lifetime and a historian’s dream come true.


Drinking Coffee in the Seventeenth Century

In The Southwark Saga, the coffee is terrible. Sally regards it with suspicion in Tyburn, and it’s one of the first bad things Jane smells as she arrives in Southwark in Virtue’s Lady. But how bad could it have been?





Cantarella: Potent Poison Made from Insects

As you now know (and probably could have guessed), I’m a big fan of the Borgias. What’s not to like? Every other week, it seemed like somebody was poisoning someone else with something called cantarella. Because I become fixated on odd little details, I had to know what it was, and now it’s part of my database of poisons (yes, I have one of those. You don’t?). 


See the Setting of the Southwark Saga (video)

If the setting of the Southwark Saga feels a little unfamiliar to you (or if you just want more of it!), you can now experience it for yourself. Well, almost! Six students from De Montfort University have made this incredible three minute animation of London before the Great Fire in 1666.



Of Cakes and Kings (With Their Heads on or Otherwise) By Author Hannah Methwell

Now I am a somewhat bloody-minded historical novelist. I write about a rather ruffianly troop of Oliver Cromwell's cavalry, all very rough and manly, and they spend a deal of their fictional career engaged in violent mayhem. Which is all very well, but when not smiting the heathen hip and thigh, what would an Ironside officer, circa 1642, do with himself at home? 


Syphilis: Genius, Madness, and the Sickness of Naples

I don’t mind telling you that I’ve been looking forward to this post. As you’ve probably noticed by now, I’m very interested in sex and contraception in history, so the history of venereal diseases is kind of where I live. Syphilis is my favorite. Okay, so if you were on the fence, now you've probably decided that I’m completely mental. How can someone have a favorite venereal disease? Stick with me here! Syphilis helped to shape the modern world through the measures taken to prevent it (such as the development condoms), and the effects it had on the mental health of influential people, both good and bad. No other venereal disease, as far as I’m aware, has ever been accused (with some justification) of creating genius...

Private Domestic Tutors: Sitting Below the Salt in Early Modern England by Historian John Polsom-Jenkins

Tyburn’s hero, Nick Virtue, earns his “dashing” credentials as a highwayman, but his day job, as tutor to the frightful sons of a tight-fisted nobleman, is rather more mundane. The sexy subject of highwaymen is explored in greater depth in the works of historians such as the excellent James Sharpe. Nick’s more boring-sounding occupation is loosely based on my own research in the field of educational history. However, tutors like Nick, living and working in the households of great persons, were privy to some adventures of their own and, in some cases, could give highwaymen a run for their money in the sexiness stakes...


Historical Underwear and the Surprising Thing Used to Clean It (Hint: It Starts with a U)

Okay, so we've had a lot of posts lately that have been on the serious side (fire, plague, syphilis, under-paying jobs), so for a change of pace, I thought I'd write about something a little more fun. Underwear! What's not to like? Everyone knows that the best part of costume dramas in the historically accurate underwear (that can't just be me). Fans of historical anything will already be so familiar with corsets that you might feel like you know your way in and out of one, but what about the rest?



John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester: Satirist, Poet, and Libertine

John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester, was a Restoration courtier, poet, satirist, and libertine. He was lauded by Andrew Marvell and Voltaire, who described him as a man of genius and translated some of his work into French. Entertaining and offending with works such as Signior Dildo and Panegyrick Upon Cundums, his life was no less exciting than his verse. He inherited his title at age eleven, kidnapped his future wife at seventeen, trained one of the period’s most famous actresses, and fell in and out of the King’s favor until his death from syphilis at age thirty-three...


Ye Olde Historical Anachronism: How "The" Became "Ye"

"Ye" is a peculiar word, isn't it? It's used in the titles of pubs, shops, Renaissance festival booths, or any other establishment going for an old world vibe, frequently followed by 'olde.' In fact, it's usually a good way to tell when something is most definitely not olde, with the exception of Nottingham's Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem, a twelfth century pub that claims to be the oldest drinking establishment in England. So where did it come from, and what does it mean? 

Executioner, Death, or the Devil Himself? The Legend of Jack Ketch

Jack Ketch, otherwise known as John Ketch or Richard Jaquet, began his twenty-three year career as London’s leading executioner in 1663. He was not the only executioner dispatching the condemned at Tyburn, but he was the most infamous, earning a reputation for brutality remarkable even for a man in his profession. Even after his death in 1686, his name became slang for any executioner, the devil, and even death itself. Overtime, his reputation took on such epic proportions until that he became a sort of bogeyman. So who was he? 



A Field Guide to Historical Poisons

Have you ever suspected a family member or love rival of poisoning your wine? No? If your doctor is recommending arsenic for a dull complexion or Pennyroyal Tea sounds like something that might be nice with biscuits, check out Part 1 of my Field Guide to Historical Poisons! Protect yourself from toxic wallpaper, ill-advised aphrodisiacs, the Medicis AND the Borgias by arming yourself with knowledge!


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