Error note

Louis the 18th of the previous post  should be Louis 13th of France – The Roman numerals got me. I can’t see the difference in pattern at all which is a bit of a surprise and probably shouldn’t be – He Who Is Occasionally Obeyed had to make the change in the end.  Thank you to those who noted my error with kindness and thank you to those who skimmed over it thinking she’s having one of “those” moments.  I do rely on my readers spotting glaring spelling mistakes and I am very grateful.


Halifax venue in May update

the history jarThis post is for all of you lovely folk who come to my classes in Halifax – so if you’re reading this on the other side of the world, my apologies.  As you will probably be aware, having been made homeless due to a change in ownership of our usual venue, I was fortunate to be able to book the Learning Studio in the Piece Hall for the March and April day schools but struggled to find a venue for May.

This has now been remedied with a slight amendment in date.  The course will now run on:

  Wednesday 22nd May 2019  10.00am-3.30 pm

 The Calderdale Industrial Museum

The Calderdale Industrial Museum can be found on Square Road, Halifax, HX1 1QG.

The last course of the season is set in the seventeenth century and particularly topical to the West Riding.

Thomas Fairfax- A Yorkshireman’s Civil War


thomas fairfaxWe will explore Fairfax’s role in the Bishops’ War and the Fairfax position in the escalating dispute between King and Parliament before following his progress from Seacroft Moor to Adwalton.


We will chart Fairfax’s swift progression through the first and second civil wars from local politics to the national scene. From there we will move on to the trial of the king, regicide and the establishment of a republic. We will consider his role at Colchester and Burford.


We will explore Fairfax’s relationship with his wife Anne the key political figures of the period and also Fairfax’s literary contributions.

The course can be booked by clicking on the “Day Schools Halifax” page or by contacting me.

New Year’s day

janusAnd a very happy new year to you all.  Of course in Scotland before 1600 that would have been 25th March – legally speaking.  In England the law wasn’t changed until 1750 when the New Style Calendar Act changed the legal new year and accepted the Gregorian Calendar. The act passed into law in 1751 meaning that 1751 had only 282 days running from 25th March to 31st December. This didn’t mean people didn’t celebrate January 1st it simply meant that the law deemed the new year to begin in March. Its the reason some official documents don’t seem to be able to make their mind up between January and March what the year actually was and provide both option Old Style and New Style.

Pope Gregory XIII had introduced his modified calendar with leap year in 1582.  It was adopted by Catholic countries whilst the Protestant countries continued with the Julian Calendar – that eleven day differential must have made things lively for merchants.  And of course historians!

Meanwhile if you were feeling very festive you could celebrate christmas all over again Old Style on the 5th of January.  As time passes the difference between the  dates on the Julian and the Gregorian calendar will continue to grow making the eleven days more redundant than ever.

The image is from a medieval manuscript depicting the Roman god Janus looking to both the past and the future.

drummers drumming and pipers piping

VIuwyMU.jpgPercussion has been used on the battle field for a very long time not only to control the marching pace of soldiers but also to pass commands and create fear in the opposing army. Apparently the  Europeans learned about drums as a military technique during the Crusades when Saladin used military bands. The crusaders found them somewhat off-putting and recorded as much in their chronicles.  The Ottomans are known to have continued the tradition.  Kettle drums found their way to Spain which was part of the Ottoman empire until the fifteenth century.

A look at the accounts reveals that Edward I and Edward III had drummers on their payrolls.  Not only did they use their drummers on the battle field but they used the drum to indicate that they were about to arrive – fanfare like.

The tabor was a medieval drum which is derived from the French word tambour.  It could be played one handed.  It’s modern equivalent is the snare drum.  By the eighteenth century the fife had entered the equation although we do still tend to think of the underage drummer boy. Ultimately the drum would be replaced by the bugle for passing commands. It should be added that the Saracens had used a form of bugle to signal the start of battle.  It was noted by chroniclers in 1191. However, the drum and ‘to follow the drum’ had become synonymous with the army.  Regimental drums were almost as important as their colours.

Meanwhile it turns out that bagpipes have long been classified as a weapon of war. Essentially in the aftermath of the 1745 Jacobite Rebellion James Reid declared that he had never borne arms for Bonnie Prince Charlie – he’d only played the bagpipes. At  which point the court sitting in York constituted the bagpipes a weapon of war and hanged Reid. The law was finally revoked in 1996 in a dispute over whether it was lawful to play the pipes on common land or not.

Rather than 12 pipers it seems appropriate to finish 2018 with reference to the 2500 pipers from Britain and the Commonwealth nations who served in the trenches during World War One.  These men received an extra penny a day to be the first over the top into no man’s land.  They were unarmed aside from their pipes. Half of them were killed as they strode into the mud, slaughter and machine gun fire.

The Flowers of the Forest was written as a lament after the Battle of Flodden in 1513.  Its words remain appropriate to these brave men:

The Flowers of the Forest, that foucht aye the foremost,
The prime o’ our land are cauld in the clay.

We’ll hae nae mair lilting, at the yowe-milking,
Women and bairns are dowie and wae.
Sighing and moaning, on ilka green loaning,
The Flowers of the forest are all wede away.


Blades, James. Percussion Instruments and their history.

Nine ladies dancing

nine-ladies-hero.jpgThis post is somewhat out of my usual time zone.  The nine ladies I have in mind can be found on Stanton Moor in Derbyshire.  They are somewhere between three thousand  and four thousand years old. This Bronze Age site is part of a larger complex of cairns and stones which spreads across the moor above Birchover.

The Nine Ladies Stone Circle and their King Stone aren’t built on the scale of Stonehenge – coming up to knee level and a handy picnic perch- which can come as a bit of a surprise to those of us more used to stone circles such as Long Meg and her Daughters in Cumbria.  Essentially according to legend the ladies were dancing to the sound of fiddle music on a Sunday.  They and their fiddler were turned to stone in punishment.  The King Stone returns to life once a year and continues to play his fiddle.

There are several petrification legends associated with standing stones.  The Rollright Stones  in Oxfordshire began life as a king and his knights; three standing stones at Moelfre  ended up that way for working on a Sunday.  Long Meg and the stone circle at Little Salkeld were apparently a coven of witches who were turned to stone to name but three.  Being turned to stone for one reason or another is a common legend associated with many other stone circles in the United Kingdom.  Many of them involve singing and dancing followed by Divine punishment.

It has been suggested that the folklore is a social memory of earlier times when there was singing and dancing involved with stone circles.  It has also been suggested that the legends sprang up when the Church became more assertive in the British Isles, particularly at the point where protestantism was involved in the sixteenth century.  However, it has also been stated that since there is very little reference in sixteenth and seventeenth century sermons to dancers being petrified that the stories may very well have been in situ since medieval times.

Hutton, Ronald. The Pagan Religions of the Ancient British Isles: Their Nature and Legacy. Oxford, UK: B. Blackwell, 1991

maids a milking

300px-Johannes_Vermeer_-_Het_melkmeisje_-_Google_Art_ProjectI always think of Tess of the D’Urbevilles  when it comes to the maids milking – but where am I going with this post? Well, I was actually wondering how wealthy the farmer might be if he required eight milkmaids.  The advert below  from Pamela Horn’s article about the Dorset dairy system suggests that one milk maid could milk sixteen cows.


“Wanted, A Man and his Wife, to manage a Dairy of Sixteen Cows; a good Character indis- pensable. Applyto Mr. Bascombe,Tatton Farm, Upway, Dorchester.”


Advertisement in DorsetCountyChronicle,
6 December 1860.


In the sixteenth century approximately 70% of the population in England were part of the agricultural labour force.  Women did work as day labourers but generally they would have been amongst the poorest in society.  The majority of women worked as servants, often in the households of extended family, or as housewives within their own homes.

Further reading reveals that a diary maid in the seventeenth century would have responsibility for up to twenty cows and would be helped in the milking by another servant. Therefore to require eight milkmaids a farmer would have owned a herd of one hundred and sixty or so cattle.  Dairy maid responsibility included butter and cheese making as well as the milking – unless of course it was the farmer’s wife who not only did the diary work but looked after the hens, baked and did all those other things required of a pre-industrial housewife.

Of course I could have gone with Marie Antoinette’s model farm at Versailles where she dressed up as a diary maid or even the milk maids who didn’t catch small pox on account of them having had cow pox. And of course, it gives me a chance to add the Milkmaid by Vehmeer into the equation!

Horn, Pamela, The Dorset Dairy System

Kussmaul, Ann. Servants in Husbandry in Early Modern England.

Mute swans swimming

richard the lionheartThe swans are a swimming because most of us haven’t been allowed to tuck into one since 1482 when a law was passed saying that only some landowners could keep and eat swans.  They all had to be marked by nicks in their beaks. The Queen  and the Worshipful Company of  Dyers  and also Vintners own mute swans –  if they’re unmarked and in open water in England and Wales.  So if you caught and ate an unmarked swan until 1994 you were  technically committing treason. Since then they have been protected by the 1981 act which protects wildlife from the predation of the culinary adventurous.


In 1189, Richard I, gave the worshipful companies joint ownership along with the Crown of unclaimed swans – though given my understanding of Richard I, I would guess that there was a hefty fee for the privilege.  According to legend he brought the swans home with him from Cyprus following the third crusade. Other sources mention the Romans – who get everywhere.   However if we want to see documentary evidence of the mute swan in royal hands then we have to wait for the reign of Edward I who mentions them in his wardrobe accounts.  There’s a cook book dating from the reign of Richard II which detail how to cook one.

The one thing that is clear is that mute swans were much prized and apparently prone to being stolen from their rightful owners in medieval times – there’s even a mention of a swanherd or ‘swonhirde’ if  you prefer spelling 1282 style. And quite frankly I’m going to stop on that delightful thought.

The Thetford Hoard – how many gold rings?

gold rings.jpgNot five gold rings but twenty-two of them!   The hoard was unearthed in 1979 to reveal a large collection of late Roman jewellery and silver table ware.  There were also 22 silver spoons.  The hoard was carefully buried for safe keeping or during time of trouble.  For whatever reason, the owner was unable to return to retrieve his or her possessions. It is even uncertain as to what kind of person might have owned such a valuable collection.  It has been suggested that they belonged to a jeweller or were destined to be some kind of religious offering.  It is impossible to add to the context of the hoard as by the time the hoard was registered by the metal detectorist who found it – building work had taken place making the Thetford Hoard one of life’s little mysteries.

Gerrard, James. The Ruin of Roman Britain: An Archeological Perspective

Ogden, Jack.  Ancient Jewellery


Blackbirding, debt bondage, serfdom and slavery

170px-Official_medallion_of_the_British_Anti-Slavery_Society_(1795).jpgI’m not sure if I would be terribly pleased if someone gave me four calling or holly birds for Christmas.  Unfortunately I can think of something historic to do with black birds or more specifically the deeply repugnant act of “black birding.”  Some nineteenth century Australian settlers dealt with labour  shortages by ‘blackbirding’ Southsea Islanders.  Islanders were transported from their homes to Australia from the 1860s onwards.  Many of the labourers were tricked into boarding the ships  or did not realise the terms and conditions of their employment- at best they could be described as bonded labourers at worst they were slaves who had simply been rounded up by ships’ crews and kidnapped at gunpoint.  Blackbirding was made illegal in 1872 following an episode where more than 60 people were killed during a black birding raid. The idea of tricking people or simply rounding them up and taking them away from their homes is not a new one and sadly not an extinct one.

Reeve_and_Serfs.jpgWhen William the Conqueror arrived in 1066 there were a class of Saxons who were slaves, it’s thought about 10% of the population – they had come into slavery by different methods including being sold into slavery as children, being bale to pay a debt or for a crime.  Some of the slaves had been born slaves, a reminder that many the Norse peoples who  settled in Britain had grown wealthy on the back of slavery.  Slaves had no value in terms of weir-gold but they did have value as property.  Slave owners were  legally responsible for the actions of the men, women and children that they owned.

The Normans did away with slavery but serfdom – the bottom of the feudal hierarchy- essentially meant that  people who were serfs could not leave the manors on which they were born, could be bought and sold by their lords of the manor and were required to work for the lord of the manor.  Serfdom was effectively a form of debt bondage- services in repayment for an obligation created by their lord’s care of them.  The Black Death with arrived in 1349 helped to speed the demise of serfdom on account of the resulting labour shortage.

The transportation of slaves from Africa began in the sixteenth century as work forces were required in the Americas.  Essentially, at various times and locations, the Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch and English arrived along with their bugs and lurgies which killed off local populations meaning that there was no one close at hand to force into servitude.  The first shipments of slaves went directly from Africa to the Caribbean and by the early seventeenth century the English had started to forcibly move large numbers of people to North America to work on the sugar plantations.  This led to the development of the so-called triangular trade which saw Liverpool and Bristol flourish – The trans Atlantic or middle passage  of the triangular trade with boats laden with men, women and children destined for slavery was not one of British History’s finest moments.  It has been estimated that mortality rates were about 50% before vessels became larger and greater care taken of the “cargo.”




Kaufman, Miranda. Black Tudors: The Untold Story

Orr, Brian J. Bones of Empire.

Two turtle doves…or in our case one phoenix, a turtle and Mr Shakespeare.


The turtle dove has been in steep decline during the last century.

The Phoenix and the turtle was written in 1601 to go in an anthology entitled Love’s Martyr.  All the works in the anthology have the theme of the two birds.

Essentially the phoenix is married to the turtle dove. The pair love each other so completely that they grow like one another over the duration of their relationship. But times are changing. The pair die and when they die true love dies along with them – there will be no one as virtuous or in love as them ever again. They have been married but chaste – so they leave no children. They are buried and a variety of other birds come to mourn at the funeral. It is the end of a golden age.

There are lots of different interpretations and arguments which this post has no intention of covering. Suffice it to say each bird is the subject of academic speculation.  It doesn’t help that Love’s Martyr is dedicated to Sir John Salusbury – a fairly obscure personage.  In which case he logically should be the phoenix and his wife Ursula the dove.  In any event there wasn’t a great deal of chastity involved as they had ten children. And let’s not get into the whole who was Shakespeare thing!

The phoenix is often, but not always, seen as straight forward enough – Elizabeth I was linked to the phoenix on more than one occasion.    Most famously in 1575 Elizabeth featured in two portraits by Nicholas Hilliard.  In one she is holding a pelican pendant – pinched from Catholic iconography- Elizabeth is stating that she is the mother of her nation and that like the pelican which wounds itself to feeds its young so she has made a great sacrifice for her people – i.e. her unwed state.  The Phoenix Portrait pictured at the start of this post is a reminder that Elizabeth is unique and that having been consumed by the flames the phoenix arises from the ashes.  This could be a reference to the near disaster of her mother’s fall from favour and the dangers she faced during the reign of Mary I.  It could also reference the idea that the people of England should not fear for the future because a) the phoenix lives for 500 years before going up in smoke and b) just as the phoenix regenerates so the Crown will be reborn.  Unfortunately in 1601 it was clear that Elizabeth wasn’t going to last much longer and there was the small issue of who would succeed her.

Which brings us neatly to the other birds in the poem, the mourners.  One of them, the “bird of the loudest lay,” could very well be James VI of Scotland whilst the crow is often interpreted as being Shakespeare himself.  Essentially its important to have some understanding of bird lore before attempting the allegorical meaning behind the poem.  And many scholars take the view that it really is not the point of the poem to try and decipher the bird code at all.  It could simply be that Shakespeare was effectively whistling very loudly whilst writing about the intangibility of true love and trying to distance himself from the Earl of Essex’s Rebellion.  He must have been very aware of the possibility he would be associated with treason given that on the 7th February 1601 his players performed Richard II (and that didn’t end well for the monarch in question).  Shakespeare was paid forty shillings by some of the earl’s supporters, the Earl rose in rebellion the following day  with 300 supporters and marched on London – the play was some kind of signal- but Londoners didn’t take the hint.  Shakespeare must have spent some time afterwards checking that his head was still on his shoulders.


2nd earl of essexSo – let us get on to the turtle dove who is after all supposed to be the centre of this post.  In Tudor times the turtle dove represented fidelity.  If Elizabeth is the phoenix who then is the dove?  Robert Devereux the 2nd earl of Essex remains a popular choice.  The idea gained popularity in the 1960s with the analysis of William Matchett. Although, quite frankly, how rushing off  to fight the Spanish in 1586 without permission, getting married without Elizabeth’s approval, referencing the queen’s “crooked carcass,” arriving back from Ireland uninvited, unannounced and bursting into the royal bedchamber before finally revolting and getting oneself beheaded could be described as fidelity is another matter entirely.  One view is that the phoenix and the turtle dove have burned out their love for one another.  It is then argued that Shakespeare was not writing a straight forward poem at all. He was doing something very dangerous –  he was writing a pro Essex poem which basically turns the earl into a hero in the aftermath of his failed rising and subsequent execution on 26th February 1601.

And yes – there are many more theories about who the turtle dove might be but I think it’s time to move away from the topic as I could go around ever decreasing circles for some considerable time.

Incidentally Salusbury was knighted for his part in the suppression of Essex’s rebellion whilst his brother  got himself executed in 1586  for supporting Mary Queen of Scots.



Bednarz, J. Shakespeare and the Truth of Love: The Mystery of ‘The Phoenix and Turtle’