The Million Dollar American Princesses

Historical mystery author Clara McKenna describes the lot of America’s richest Gilded-Age heiress, Consuelo Vanderbilt, who traded her large dowry for an English title.


Clara McKenna author photoRelevant History welcomes Clara McKenna, who writes the new historical cozy Stella & Lyndy Mysteries series about an unlikely couple who mix love, murder, and horseracing in Edwardian England. She is a member of Sisters in Crime and the founding member of Sleuths in Time, a cooperative group of historical mystery writers who encourage and promote each other’s work. With an incurable case of wanderlust, she travels every chance she gets, England being a favorite destination. When she can’t get to England, she happily writes about it from her home in Iowa. To learn more about her and her books, vist her web site, and follow her on Facebook, Instagram, and Goodreads.


Consider how lucky you would be if a hundred years ago your grandfather immigrated to America with nothing more than a few pennies in his pocket, worked hard, invested well—and now you are heir to one of the largest fortunes in the country. In America of today, every opportunity for “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” would be at your fingertips.

Not so for the nouveaux-riches of America during the Victorian and Edwardian eras. For decades, New York City was the epicenter of American high society, and New York’s society was controlled by a select few of ruling establishment, with Mrs. Caroline Astor at the helm. Thus, despite a family’s fortune, it was the opinion of these “Knickerbocker” families that mattered.

If Mrs. Astor spoke to you, your family might be allowed to enjoy the opera at the New York Academy of Music from the comfort of a box. If Mrs. Astor snubbed you, you’d find yourself quite lonely during promenades in the park. As Gail MacColl and Carol McD. Wallace write in To Marry an English Lord: Tales of Wealth and Marriage, Sex and Snobbery (2012), “…the crucial question was whether or not Mrs. Astor ‘knew’ you. Had she spoken to you at a tea party…had she invited you to her annual ball? If not, you’d best leave town or sit at home in the dark lest anyone know of your shame.”

So, what was an American heiress to do if her family was considered unworthy of a call from Mrs. Caroline Astor? She and her family applied the same “can do” spirit and entrepreneurial know-how they used to acquire their vast wealth and devised a way around these social constraints. For over forty years, starting just after the Civil War, hundreds of daughters of America’s most-wealthy found their way across the Atlantic to England and into the parlors and ballrooms of some of Britain’s most influential and powerful aristocratic families.

With large crumbling country estates, decreasing revenues, and pressures to maintain a lifestyle no longer fiscally possibly, a money-strapped British aristocracy in desperate need of an infusion of funds welcomed these women in a way that hadn’t happened in New York. To satisfy both the nobles’ need for cash and the Americans’ need to solidify their social standing back home, over a hundred “Million Dollar Princesses”—daughters of bankers, industrialists and railroad barons, including a Colgate, Fish, Goelet, Gould, Jerome, Vanderbilt and Whitney—exchanged dollars for titles, by marrying into the highest levels of British society.

Cartoon by Charles Dana Gibson spoofing the Consuelo Vanderbilt/Duke of Marlborough weddingSome did so willingly; some were not given a choice. America’s richest heiress, Consuelo Vanderbilt, was a spectacular example of the latter. In love with another man, she was bullied relentlessly by her mother until she agreed to marry the Duke of Marlborough. Consuelo was thought to have been heard weeping beneath her wedding veil during the ceremony. She divorced the Duke in 1920.

How ever they landed into the British aristocracy, these American women left Lady Nancy, Viscountess Astor, the first woman to serve in Parliamentan indelible mark. Nancy Langhorne Astor, of Virginia, became the first woman to sit as a Member of Parliament. Jennie Jerome Spencer-Churchill, of New York, is best known as Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s mother. Francis Work Burke Roche of Ohio’s great-great-grandson, Prince William, will one day sit on the throne of England. So as even as Downton Abbey, the highly acclaimed television series, was inspired by these pioneering, unforgettable American women, so should we all be.


Murder At Morrington Hall book coverA big thanks to Clara McKenna! She will give away one hardback copy of Murder at Morrington Hall to a reader who contributes a comment on my blog. I’ll choose the winner from among those who comment by Friday at 6 p.m. ET. Delivery is available in the U.S. only.


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Killer Debt Nominated for Daphne du Maurier Award

180214KillerDebtEbookCover200x300I’m delighted to announce that Killer Debt, book #4 of my Michael Stoddard American Revolution Mystery series, has been nominated for the prestigious Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense. To grab a nomination, Killer Debt had to be a better read than several dozen competing books in the historical crime fiction category and receive well over 80 out of a possible 88 points on the judges’ scorecards.

The lady who phoned me to convey the good news was one of the judges who’d read Killer Debt. She said it was the best mystery she’d read in years. She loved what I’d done with the history, with making a redcoat the hero and building so many layers of complexity into his life. She also loved the facts that although it’s a mid-series book, I made it high-stakes and essentially standalone. “You have a new fan!” she proclaimed.

The Daphne Award gives a shout-out to my book’s editor. Without his piercing insight for the past 15 or so years, my books would be “almost there.” And the nomination process gives equal weight to all entries, regardless of the publishing route. If you aren’t traditionally published, the award provides wonderful industry validation for your work.

Thank you, folks, for the support you’ve provided all these years!

When Soldiers and Pacifists Worked on the Same Team

Under what conditions would the Quakers, renowned pacifists, team up with an army? Historical non-fiction author Nancy Haines describes what happened in Verdun, France 100 years ago.


Nancy Haines author photoRelevant History welcomes Nancy Haines, who worked seventeen years as an engineer, then ran an antiquarian bookstore. After her retirement, she fulfilled a lifelong dream to be an author. She published a nonfiction book, We Answered with Love, about Quaker relief service in France during WWI based on the love letters of two pacifists, and a picture book about spiritual decision making for Quaker children. She is currently researching the lives of the Quakers who were the original European settlers of Hillsborough, North Carolina, where she and her husband now reside, for a nonfiction book (or possibly try her hand at a novel). To learn more about her and her books, visit her web site.


The American Army fights wars, and the Quakers are pacifists. But 100 years ago, at the end of World War I, the Army and the Quakers worked together in France to relieve some of the suffering that had been inflicted on the French citizens. Since 1917, Quakers (a.k.a. Friends) from Britain and America had been working in France, building houses, establishing medical centers for civilians, and doing agricultural work. Now that refugees could return to their villages, Friends would be able to provide vital support in helping to repair buildings, distribute furniture and bedding, supply seeds and farm tools, loan out heavy agricultural equipment, and provide medical services to the French people.

Work in Verdun
Destruction from WWIThe Quakers decided to concentrate their work in Verdun, the region that was hardest hit by the German invasion. As the Allies advanced northwest of Verdun, the Army gave Quaker workers permission to move in to meet the needs of over ten thousand refugees. The fighting had been almost continuous in this area. Only about five percent of the houses were left standing and these were badly damaged. One British worker described the abandoned battlefields:

On all sides can be seen the debris of an army: shells, cartridges, rotting clothes and boots, and rusty food tins by the hundreds. It is these last which give an air of everyday reality to the scene which otherwise (so bare and blasted as it is) might be taken almost for a freak of the imagination or the work of some supernatural power. When one sees a ‘Skipper’ sardine tin amongst all this chaos, then with a jump one is brought to the astounding fact that all this destruction is the work of modern civilisation and that all the resources of civilisation are behind it.

Quaker delivering suppliesWith financial assistance from the French government, the Quakers occupied the former divisional headquarters of the French and American armies. This center included barracks for the workers and barns to store supplies to support the workers, goods to be sold to the villagers, agricultural machinery, stables and breeding barns for livestock, and generators for electricity. The American Army provided trailers and fuel for distributing the supplies and building materials to the villages.

The American Army also gave Friends access to five depots or “dumps” of material and supplies that the Allies had abandoned as they withdrew from the region. Rufus Jones, in his book about the relief work in France, reported that “this material covered many acres at each “dump” and consisted of lumber, bar-iron and steel, farm and road implements of every sort, miles upon miles of barbed wire, and an almost indescribable mélange of all material which might be useful in a modern war.” The French government also allowed Friends to salvage from some of the German abandoned materials, and the national railroads agreed to carry it free of charge.

Restoring community life
The primary task in this region was to help the returning residents become independent so that they would only rely on the government for a limited time. Quakers established canteens in each village to feed the refugees until they were able to provide for themselves, hostels for people who had no other shelter, and schools for young children. The French government provided repatriation money to the residents of the villages, and the American Army supplied some equipment and transported materials. Their support enabled the Quakers to set up cooperative stores selling building materials, furnishings, and other necessities at or under cost, including many of the items they salvaged from the military dumps. When these stores became financially viable, they were turned over to the villagers to operate with the profit remaining in the community.

The French government encouraged French citizens to do the reconstruction work, so the Friends employed refugees at the headquarters and in the building projects, partly for wages and partly in exchange for the services they received. On some properties, farming was no longer viable because of the poor soil, trenches and shell holes, and the possible presence of unexploded bombs. Friends gave these families sheep, goats, pigs, chickens, and rabbits to raise and allowed them to use the barns at the former Army headquarters until their own sheds and corrals were built.

Employing German prisoners
The Allies offered the Friends the labor of German prisoners of war to help sort and load this material. The Friends were not permitted to pay the Germans, but many were willing to work to relieve the boredom. Quakers gave each German helper an opportunity to write a letter to his family and have his photograph taken. With passes provided by the Army, three Quakers undertook the arduous journey to Germany. They visited three hundred families of the prisoners, providing letters and photographs showing that their sons or husbands were in good health (unlike the German families themselves who were often undernourished and suffering). They also brought wages estimated to cover the value of the labor given by the men. Although the prisoners did not return to Germany for many more months, the visit of the Friends offered encouragement to their suffering families and the funds to help alleviate some of their hardships.

Leaving France
By early summer, the work of the Quakers had begun tapering off. They had laid the groundwork for restoring community life in the villages. Homes had been built or restored. Cooperative stores, schools, community centers, and agriculture were being run by French citizens. Finally, by the spring of 1920, the Quakers were able to turn their attention to new projects in Poland and Austria. The Quakers who had toiled in France went home to England and America or on to new postings.


We Answered with Love book coverA big thanks to Nancy Haines! She’ll give away one paperback copy of We Answered with Love to a reader who contributes a comment on my blog. I’ll choose the winner from among those who comment by Friday at 6 p.m. ET. Delivery is available worldwide.


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How to Get Away with Murder in the Victorian Era

What if the ideal weapon to off that disagreeable person in your life was in your corner drugstore—and untraceable back to you? True crime and historical mystery author Kathryn McMaster discloses the surprising history of arsenic’s use and abuse in the 19th century.


Kathryn Mcmaster author photoRelevant History welcomes Kathryn McMaster, a writer, entrepreneur, wife, mother, and organic farmer. She is also a bestselling author of historical murder mysteries set in the Victorian era, and modern true crime cases based on Canadian and American murders committed by young teens and couples. She co-owns the website One Stop Fiction, where readers can download free and discounted 4- and 5-star review books, and authors can showcase their work. She lives on her thirty-acre farm in the beautiful Casentino Valley, Italy where she divides her day between researching, writing, gardening and farm work. To learn more about her and her books, visit her web site, and follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.


Arsenic advertisement for complexionWhen I was at school learning about the Victorian Era of 1837–1901, we were taught about the social impact and impoverishment the Industrial Revolution brought to certain sectors of society when machinery replaced manual labor. What we were not taught was how prevalent arsenic was during this period in the production of household goods, fabric, and even beauty products used by those in the upper echelons of society.

When I started researching certain murder cases for my earlier novels that are set in this era, I stumbled upon this very different social aspect of Victorian living. It was rather fascinating just how common arsenic was and how difficult it was at the time to detect its use as a choice of murder weapon, used more often by women.

With the symptoms of arsenic poisoning often confused with cholera, these types of murders were very difficult to detect, even with an autopsy.

Arsenic was everywhere! It was prevalent in paints using Scheel’s Green for the green pigments. It was found in wallpaper, fly strips, and even impregnated in clothing fabrics and curtains.

Not all pharmacies enforced a poisons book. So, if you bought arsenic, you did not always have to sign for it. In addition, in some factories the arsenic lay in large, uncovered barrels placed in unsecured areas. It was therefore readily accessible to workers and impossible to detect if a teaspoon, a tablespoon, or even a cup of arsenic was missing at the end of the day.

My second book, Blackmail, Sex and Lies, covers the life and times of the infamous socialite Madeleine Smith, accused of poisoning her working-class lover, Pierre Emile L’Angelier with arsenic. The book highlights the accessibility of this poison and how it was a common ingredient in many household products; this casts doubt on her guilt, especially as L’Angelier took arsenic as a health benefit!

Arsenic soap advertisementDuring this time in history it was discovered that by giving horses arsenic in small amounts it gave them stamina which enabled them to endure long distances. People started to dabble and found that in small doses it did the same for them. Arsenic then began to appear as an ingredient in beauty wafers and soaps. Articles in popular magazines such as Blackwoods encouraged women to bathe in it to soften their skin.

With L’Angelier eating arsenic, and Madeleine Smith using it as a beauty wash during the time he conveniently died when a much wealthier suitor arrived on the scene, there is great doubt as to who or what had killed him. Although the coroner was able to count the arsenic grains inside L’Angelier’s stomach, with limited forensic knowledge and a lack of access to more modern science, Madeleine Smith may well have gotten away with murder. In the end, the case was not proven, which meant that for time immemorial, it has been a case of, ‘did she, or didn’t she?’ The answer only Madeleine Smith knew for sure.

Although police had fingerprinting and other presumptive tests for blood evidence etc., forensic science during the Victorian era was still in its infancy. Due to rudimentary police training and the absence of modern forensic science, many arsenic crimes went undetected and unpunished.


Blackmail Sex and Lies book coverA big thanks to Kathryn McMaster! She’ll give away one paperback copy of Blackmail, Sex and Lies to a reader who contributes a comment on my blog. I’ll choose the winner from among those who comment by Friday at 6 p.m. ET. Delivery is available worldwide.


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Britain’s Magical, Mystical Dark Ages

Did some Druids survive the Romans’ attack c. 60-61AD? History is written by the victors, and my blog guest this week, historical fiction author Sharon Bradshaw, challenges certain “facts” people accept about history in the British Isles.


Sharon Bradshaw author photoRelevant History welcomes Sharon Bradshaw, a historical fiction author, storyteller, and poet. Sharon loves reading archaeology books and talked to a lot of monks in the 8th century while writing the Durstan series. A Druid’s Magic is set in the real Middle-Earth we called the Dark Ages. Subscribers to The Storyteller’s Newsletter receive a free short story from her every month. Sharon lives with her family and a large collection of books near Warwick Castle, in the UK. To learn more about her and her books, visit her web site, and follow her on Facebook and Twitter.


I write the Durstan series about a young monk in 794AD on the Hebridean island of Iona. The early Medieval period (500AD–1000AD), which I had been taught at school to call the “Dark Ages,” wasn’t dark at all. It was a rich and magical place where spellcasting and superstition were rife. A pantheon of old gods existed from the Iron Age, and before.

Celtic crossPeople believed in the existence of elves, faeries, and dragons in a way that was not so far removed from J.R.R Tolkien’s Middle-earth. All of this was reflected in Anglo-Saxon and Celtic art, jewelry, and weapons; ancient place names; and a belief in destiny woven through the threads of the Wyrd. The monks themselves were regarded as spellcasters. The letters they wrote were similar to the marks made by a Druid’s runes.


Monasteries and the early Church
I was also taught that everyone converted to Christianity as soon as it arrived in the British Isles. Yet the further I delved into the past, the more it became clear. Christianity had stood for centuries side-by-side with belief in the ancestors’ gods. The Synod of Whitby in 664AD highlighted the depth to which diversity in belief ran at that time. Not only was there a pantheon of gods, all of which was not necessarily followed by every individual, but differences existed within the Church itself. Easter was celebrated on separate dates by Celtic and Roman rival followings, and a monk’s tonsure was cut in a way which depended on whether he followed St. John or St. Peter.

Despite the 4th-century Benedictine rule being recognised by the Iona monastery, Lindisfarne, and others, the rule wasn’t strictly observed until after the Norman Conquest. Until then, an abbot could run a monastery however he chose. Monks married and fathered children, ignoring the vow of chastity, while monks and nuns could live together as they did in Whitby. If that wasn’t enough, the Vikings brought their own gods with them when they raided Lindisfarne in 793AD and later settled in the British Isles.

What happened on Anglesey?
AngleseyMany believe that all the Druids were massacred by the Romans during the Boudican revolt c. 60-61AD. Druids in Gaul had been obliterated earlier, and historians relied for centuries on a sparse account by Tacitus (56–120AD) of what happened on the island of Anglesey. He didn’t write from personal experience, and his work is no longer regarded as impartial. Sadly the Druids didn’t leave behind an alternate version of events for us to read. Nor did they use a form of writing which would have enabled them to do so.

Celtic Ireland
A number of Druids fled from the Romans during the first century AD to seek refuge in Celtic Ireland, which remained free from occupation. They played an important part in its mythology and became counselors to kings and respected prophets. Early Irish law confirms their decline as Christianity spread, but these men were still regarded highly in the 6th century when they taught the Aethelings. It’s possible that they traveled again through the British Isles, in particular after the Romans left in 410.

We know that some of their order joined the Church. Adomnan, Abbot of Iona (628–724AD) and biographer of St. Columba (521–597AD), attributes the saint with many qualities of a shaman: weather magic, miracles, second sight, and angelic apparitions. St. Columba came from a Druidic background in Ireland. Other saints were similarly attributed with these magical qualities, which remained an important part of the belief system in Anglo-Saxon Middle Earth.

The Druid bards
The bards told their stories when there was a feast. Beowulf and fragments in the 10th-century Exeter Book are thought to be examples of earlier tales from the 7th-century mead halls. A warlord who had yet to convert to Christianity would have welcomed the man or woman who could read the stars better than himself and converse with the gods. Even better if there was a tale or two to be told.

Despite no longer being leaders of Celtic society in the early Medieval period, the descendants of the Druid bards kept traditional beliefs alive in their tales of the past, while belief in the gods and goddesses of old survives today. You’ll find it in our long history of storytelling, folklore, and legend.


A Druid's Magic book coverA big thanks to Sharon Bradshaw! She’ll give away one ebook copy of A Druid’s Magic to a reader in the UK who contributes a comment on my blog as well as one ebook copy to a reader in the United States who contributes a comment. I’ll choose the two winners from among those who comment by Tuesday at 6 p.m. ET.


Did you like what you read? Learn about downloads, discounts, and special offers from Relevant History authors and Suzanne Adair. Subscribe to Suzanne’s free newsletter.

Game of Allies: WWII Arctic Convoys to Russia

Charlotte Milne author photoRelevant History welcomes Charlotte Milne, a naval daughter who grew up in the Scottish Borders. She worked for the Scottish National Trust, Makerere University in Uganda, and for an American software house. Although writing ‘stories’ since schooldays, she published her first novel, Dolphin Days, in 2017. Come In From the Cold (summer 2019 release), set in Scotland, tells the story of a WW2 naval officer on Russian convoys, through three generations, solving a seventy-year old murder mystery on the way. Charlotte is a keen genealogist and involved in various community-based organisations. To learn more about her and her books, visit her web site, and follow her on Facebook and Goodreads.


Arms for Russia posterIn World War 2, Roosevelt and Churchill desperately needed to prevent Russia from allying with Germany. If it did so, they knew the western allies would lose the war. In return for Russia’s alliance with the West, Stalin demanded vast amounts of food and arms for his starving and ill-equipped people. Germany and its allies blocked the land routes, so the only way to get supplies to Russia was by sea. The only ports available were within the Arctic Circle—Murmansk and Archangel—with all of Hitler’s sea and air power under orders to prevent them from reaching Russia.

How did Britain and the US get supplies to Russia?
Loch EweMerchant ships gathered in a deep-water anchorage in the west of Scotland called Loch Ewe. Protected by escorts of heavily-armed allied warships, they joined up with other merchant ships in Iceland, and headed, nervously, towards Russia’s only two northern open-water ports.

On the way, the Luftwaffe, based in occupied Norway, would bomb the ships from the air, U-boat submarines lurking beneath the White Sea would attack with torpedoes, and their fast and mighty warships could outgun the Western allies.

We think these days that communication is so simple! Hard to remember that there was no internet, no satellites, and radar was a new technology. Radio silence was kept, to obscure the convoy’s position. Ship to ship communication was by visual signal only.

The weather was a worse enemy. In summer there was 24-hour daylight—enemy aircraft, ships and submarines worked round the clock too. Summer convoys became so dangerous they had to be discontinued. In winter there was 24-hour darkness, the sea froze and the ice sheet grew rapidly from north to south. This meant that convoys had to sail much further south and were then squeezed between the ice and the land mass to the south. Much easier for the Germans to find and attack them.

HMS Sheffield convoyWinter storms were indescribable. The winter water temperature often dropped to minus 2 degrees Celsius, air temperature down to minus 22 degrees Celsius, without taking wind into account. Waves were often 40 to 50 feet high, visibility was nil in driving snow and spray, ships came near the vertical both going up and coming down the waves, they crashed and bounced and wallowed and capsized. Capsizing was one of the greatest dangers due to the weight of ice which accumulated above decks from the water flooding the superstructure of ships. Ice accumulated on guns, turrets and shells; masts, rigging, funnels, pipes and guard rails; on containers, aircraft, tanks and munitions stacked on decks, the decks themselves were like ice rinks, doors sealed themselves, ropes, anchors, fenders became as hard as iron and as immoveable. Clothes were inadequate—no ski jackets or cold weather gear as we know it. Crews had to spend hours on deck, tossed about like dolls, chipping at the ice and throwing it overboard, just so that the ship would not turn turtle. Fuel and oil coagulated in the low temperatures. Unimaginable conditions. Unimaginably brave men.

The convoys drained the British war effort. Every escorting warship was a ship which could have been fighting elsewhere on the warfront. Churchill became extremely unpopular for supplying Russia.

In total, 104 Allied merchant ships and 18 warships were sunk on the Arctic convoys. 829 merchant mariners and 1,944 navy personnel were killed. Killed by guns, torpedoes, sinking, drowning, fire, hypothermia, inhalation of oil and Russian hospitals.

What happened when ships arrived in Russia?
Both Archangel in the White Sea and Murmansk in the Kola Inlet were very basic fishing ports. Wooden quays, virtually no lifting gear, wooden sheds, no hotels or shops of any kind. The officials were deeply suspicious of the capitalists bringing ships and goods into their country. These ports were so far from central government that orders seldom got to them. There was no infrastructure or telephones, and in winter, they were totally isolated. Murmansk was very close to German airfields in Norway, and many ships were bombed lying alongside. Ships companies were not allowed ashore—there was nothing to go ashore for! They were not allowed to use their own boats, even to visit their own ships. Russian guards were posted at every gangplank, bureaucracy was rampant and corrupt, and few Russians were able to speak English or could read or write.

Goods were mainly unloaded by hand by what appeared to be slave labour—serfs—and seldom found their way to the right destination, food supplies for the starving citizens often lying rotting on the quays. Tanks, guns, crated aircraft, munitions—no-one seemed to know who or where they were destined for, nor did anyone seem to care. Many sailors arrived with terrible injuries after German attacks, but the ‘hospital’ was so basic, with no hygiene, facilities or medications, that many died needlessly in ghastly conditions. Western medical supplies were turned away. Many of the RAF planes which should have been protecting Murmansk and attacking German airfields were grounded, but the spare parts brought on the convoys were not allowed to be delivered and were impounded or stolen along with vast amounts of vital war supplies.

The bureaucracy surrounding every movement of every man and every ship, every container and every item transported was such that sometimes it took weeks or months to offload vital supplies for the Russian front line, trapping the escorts in port. Ships were prevented from refuelling, or taking on water or food supplies, their crews virtually starving, despite bringing hundreds of tons of foodstuffs into the country. Stalin might have been an official ally, but for the Arctic convoys, Russia certainly didn’t behave like one.

The story of the Road to Russia and the sacrifice and bravery of those seamen remained almost unknown under The Official Secrets Act. Until 1999 there was no memorial, and no medal was awarded until 2013.


Come in from the Cold book coverA big thanks to Charlotte Milne! She’ll give away one £5 Amazon gift card to a reader in the UK who contributes a comment on my blog this week as well as one $5 Amazon gift card to a reader in the United States or Canada who contributes a comment. I’ll choose the two winners from among those who comment by Friday at 6 p.m. ET.


Did you like what you read? Learn about downloads, discounts, and special offers from Relevant History authors and Suzanne Adair. Subscribe to Suzanne’s free newsletter.

Skulduggery at the Horse Track: the Trodmore Hunt Scam

Renee Dahlia author photoRenée Dahlia is an unabashed romance reader who loves feisty women and strong, clever men. Her books reflect this, with a side-note of dark humour. Renée has a science degree in physics. When not distracted by the characters fighting for attention in her brain, she works in the horse racing industry doing data analysis and writing magazine articles. When she isn’t reading or writing, Renée wrangles a partner, four children, and volunteers on the local cricket club committee as well as for Romance Writers Australia. To learn more about her and her books, visit her web site, and follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.


In my Victorian-set historical romance, The Heart of a Bluestocking, a horse racing mystery threatens to pull apart the heroine’s family. This mystery is based on a real horse racing scandal that has never been solved. I did take some artistic licence and set my fictional scam in 1888 to suit my story. The real Trodmore Hunt scam occurred in 1898 in England, in the weeks leading up to the August bank holiday. The selection of this date is significant because it was the busiest weekend of racing in England, so the scammers could cover their tracks quietly.

The scam unfolds
Over a two week period leading up to the August bank holiday, the Clerk of the Course at Trodmore Hunt Club wrote to The Sportsman and The Sporting Life newspapers, firstly informing them on the meeting, following it up with early nominations, and later with the printed race cards. The quality of these communications was so precisely like the usual letters from racing clubs that the newspapers didn’t question their validity and published the race meeting details. The Sportsman couldn’t commit a journalist to cover the race day, as they were busy with the nearby Newton Abbot meeting, but noted that if one of the stewards would be obliged to send the result, that would be appreciated.

The Derby Pets the Winner by James PollardEnter “Mr Martin.” He agreed to cover the event for The Sportsman for the fee of one guinea, with full results wired at the end of the meeting. As this day was one of the few public holidays in 1898, it was a huge day for the races, and very busy with bookies. The bookies did a roaring trade on Trodmore, bigger than expected for a minor meeting but not completely unexpected for a holiday. The evening papers published the results from the major meetings held that day but didn’t publish the Trodmore results until the next day.

Side Note: The telegraph first came into use in 1837, and by 1845, the Electric Telegraph Company had formed and the technology was about to take off. Australia became connected to the world in October 1872, and the telegraph across the Pacific was finally completed in 1902 to encircle the whole world. Therefore, by 1898, the idea that race results could be sent quickly to newspapers was old news!

Mr Martin wrote an effusive letter about the success of the meeting. The Trodmore results were published in The Sportsman. Most bookmakers paid out on the results, and Mr Martin walked away with the cash.

How the scam was detected
The other major racing paper, The Sporting Life, didn’t print the results, and a few wily bookies asked them to confirm the odds, refusing to pay out until such time. Mr Martin contacted The Sporting Life as the journalist who had represented The Sportsman at the meeting and agreed to write an article for The Sporting Life. However, he couldn’t send it through until the following afternoon. With the bookies furiously wanting to confirm the results, The Sporting Life decided to copy the results from The Sportsman to save time. The printer, perhaps tired or hungover, erroneously made a typo, putting Reaper as having won at 5/2 when The Sportsman had printed his price at 5/1.

Now the bookies were really paying attention. Which newspaper was right? And where was Trodmore anyway?

The Sportsman’s editor telegraphed Mr Martin and received no response. The addresses on the original letters were traced through the postal system, and it was quickly discovered that no place called Trodmore existed. The matter was handed over to police, and The Sportsman printed a retraction notice. The scam pulled thousands of pounds from bookies, and the perpetrator was never caught. The person posing as Mr Martin will forever be a mystery, although one theory is that he was a journalist with a strong racing background, as the scam required a solid working knowledge of how newspapers accepted race cards from minor meetings.

The Trodmore Hunt Scam was a simple scam, but for characters who have no knowledge of horse racing, it creates tension as they try to understand racing and the scam and save their families from the consequences. In The Heart of a Bluestocking, there are some alterations to the scam to keep the reader guessing, and most importantly, the characters solve the crime and fall in love.


The Heart of a Bluestocking book coverA big thanks to Renée Dahlia!


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How a Mayor and a Bishop Heroically Saved a Jewish Population During WWII

Chrissie Parker author photoRelevant History welcomes historical fiction author Chrissie Parker, who writes for the Zakynthos Informer and has written for other publications including The Bristolian, The Huffington Post, Ancient Egypt and The Artist Unleashed. Among the Olive Groves won a Historical Fiction Award in 2016. In 2013 her poem “Maisie” was performed at Bath International Literary Festival’s event “100 poems by 100 women.” Chrissie’s love of history and travel is the inspiration for her books. She has completed two Egyptology courses and an Archaeology course with Exeter University. She is currently working on a follow-up to Among the Olive Groves and a co-authored history book about Zakynthos. To learn more about her and her books, visit her web site, and follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, Instagram, and Pinterest.


Germans arriving in ZakynthosWhen mainland Greece was invaded in 1941 during World War II, life for the Greek population was hard. Initially they were under Italian rule, part of the Axis powers. On 9 September 1943, the small Greek island of Zakynthos, situated in the Ionian Sea, fell under German rule. Despite the hardship of war, Zakynthos would leave Greece with a lasting tale of extreme bravery.

Terms of occupation
In December 1943 German Commandant Berenz, who was in charge of the German Guards on Zakynthos, met with the mayor of the island, Loukas Karrer. Berenz demanded a full list of Jewish residents living on Zakynthos, with threats of punishment if the request wasn’t granted. Mayor Karrer tried to explain that Zakynthos’s Jewish residents were peaceful people who meant no harm to anyone, but an angry Berenz insisted and threatened Mayor Karrer, telling him that he had seventy-two hours to present a list of all Jewish island residents to him.

Mayor Karrer and Bishop ChrysostomosMayor Karrer shared his concerns with the island’s bishop, Chrysostomos, who months before had been a prisoner of the Germans and not long released back to the island. The Bishop visited Berenz who confirmed the request. Berenz also told Chrysostomos that the Jewish population was to be arrested. It’s said that in his shock the Bishop responded that the Jewish residents of Zakynthos were “obedient, good subjects of Greece, who were hard-working and peace loving. They were non-dangerous citizens of Zakynthos who were part of his flock.” The two men argued with weapon and staff drawn and in the end required an intervention by a German Captain, Alfredo Litt. Captain Litt explained to Chrysostomos that they had orders, and the Bishop couldn’t refuse them. After much discussion, Litt and Chrysostomos agreed to meet a few days later to discuss the issue further.

Creating a plan
The Bishop left and swiftly met with Mayor Karrer, island priests, and rabbis. The group began to plan how to save the island’s Jewish population. Fake documents of religion and citizenship were created and given to all 275 Jews that called Zakynthos their home, and each of them became Christians. Despite this, the seventy-two hours deadline was still in place, and the mayor had to provide a list of Jewish residents to Berenz. Even though they were now “Christians,” the Jewish population was far from safe. Some fearful families left their homes, escaping to the mountains, hiding out where they could. It is rumoured that some even chose island caves as a safe haven.

Bishop Chrysostomos met with Alfredo Litt again and passed him the list reportedly saying, “Here are your Jews”. On the list were two names written both in German and Greek, “Mayor Loukas Karrer and Bishop Chrysostomos”. No one really knows why, but for some reason, despite threats of violence from Berenz, Litt assured Chrysostomos that there would be an “exception for the Jews of Zakynthos,” and Litt would speak further with Nazi High Command.

Heading to safety
After days of hearing nothing, Bishop Chrysostomos wrote a personal appeal to Hitler begging that he not arrest the Jews of Zakynthos. Litt retaliated furiously, announcing that every Zakynthian Jew would be rounded up. Full of fear, remaining Jewish families, assisted by the resistance, left their homes and belongings and hid across Zakynthos, ending up in farmhouses, monasteries and cellars.

Shortly after, Litt was seen leaving the island and was swiftly replaced by another German officer. A command was issued to deport all Jews living on Zakynthos. The following day, the Mayor and Bishop explained to the new German officer that there were no Jews on Zakynthos. Their own lives were now threatened. That night Mayor Karrer fled Zakynthos by boat, seeking refuge on another island, and wasn’t seen until after Greece was liberated. Bishop Chrysostomos was lucky to keep his life, and it wasn’t long before the allies liberated Greece.

Both courageous men lived through the war and into liberation. It was reported that Alfredo Litt was killed not long after leaving Zakynthos. The entire Jewish population of Zakynthos lived the remainder of the war safely in hiding and went on to normal lives post-war, either moving to Athens or Israel.

Memorial to Karrer and ChrysostomosA lasting memorial to both Mayor Karrer and Bishop Chrysostomos stands on the original site of the Zakynthian Jewish Synagogue, destroyed in the Great Ionian Earthquake of 1953. This important memorial marks the incredible heroism of both men, and the story of their bravery lives on in the hearts and minds of the Zakynthian people.


Among the Olive Groves book coverA big thanks to Chrissie Parker! She’ll give away an electronic copy of Among the Olive Groves to three people who contribute a comment on my blog this week. I’ll choose the winners from among those who comment by Friday at 6 p.m. ET. Delivery is available worldwide, in all electronic versions except PDF.


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Virginia Minor: Forgotten Suffragist

Nicole Evelina author photoRelevant History welcomes Nicole Evelina, a historical fiction, non-fiction, and women’s fiction author whose six books have won more than thirty awards, including three Book of the Year designations. The TV/movie option for her book Madame Presidentess was recently acquired by Fortitude International. Her fiction tells the stories of strong women from history and today, with a focus on biographical historical fiction, while her non-fiction focuses on women’s history, especially sharing the stories of unknown or little-known figures. She is currently working on a biography of Virginia Minor. To learn more about her and her books, visit her web site, and follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, Instagram, and Pinterest.


When we think about the suffrage movement, a handful of “greats” come to mind, the leaders who shaped and changed the movement: Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucy Stone, Carrie Chapman Catt. But each state had their standouts, women without whom state ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment may never have happened.

Virginia MinorIn Missouri, one such leader was Virginia Minor, who worked closely with her husband, Francis, to fight for women’s rights during her forty-year residency in St. Louis. Her involvement in the suffrage movement came in the uncertain years after the Civil War ended, when women like herself, who had tasted the power of political action and influence in supporting the war effort, faced a return to their traditional domestic lives. This unease, coupled with the tragic death of her only child, meant Virginia needed an outlet.

Instead of wasting away, Virginia channeled her rage and pain into fighting for women’s rights in Missouri. On 8 May 1867, she and four other women founded the Woman Suffrage Association of Missouri, the world’s first organization dedicated solely to women’s suffrage. (It pre-dates the National Woman’s Suffrage Association, NWSA, founded by Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and the American Women’s Suffrage Association, founded by Lucy Stone, by two years.) Virginia served as the organization’s first president and spent the next two years petitioning the state legislature in favor of woman suffrage.

The New Departure
In October 1869, the NWSA convention in St. Louis, Virginia first made the argument that would change the suffrage movement and later be dubbed the “New Departure” because it was so different from anything the suffrage movement had seen to date. Citing the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution, ratified only months before, she argued that women already had the right to vote, saying, “I believe the Constitution of the United States gives me every right and privilege to which every other citizen is entitled; for while the Constitution gives the States the right to regulate suffrage, it nowhere gives them power to prevent it.”

The passage of the Fourteenth Amendment in question states:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Virginia’s argument, which would later be taken up by Victoria Woodhull during her presidential campaign, as well as Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony when they addressed Congress, stated that the use of the word “persons,” rather than “males” is what allowed female suffrage. She and her husband printed pamphlets to this effect which were circulated throughout the United States. Susan B. Anthony even reprinted her argument in her newspaper, The Revolution.

Seeking to practice what she preached, Minor put her theory to the test on 15 October 1872, when she tried to register to vote. But the election registrar, Reese Happersett, would not allow it because she was female. In response, Minor, with her husband as her representative (married women could not yet sue in Missouri courts; that right would come in 1889 with the Married Woman’s Act), sued.

On 3 February 1873, arguments were heard in writing at the Old Courthouse in St. Louis without a trial or jury. The trial court ruled against the Minors, so the case was brought before the Missouri Supreme Court, who heard the case and ruled against the Minors.

Not ready to give up, Minor and her husband appealed to the United States Supreme Court, which gave the case the legal name, Minor v Happersett. Francis Minor gave an impassioned argument that denial of suffrage happened all the time, but that because national citizenship superseded state citizenship, women should be allowed to vote under the Fourteenth Amendment, regardless of what their local state laws said. He pointed to history, particularly to the example of the women of New Jersey, who had the right to vote from 1787 to 1807, to shore up his argument.

On 29 March, the Supreme Court refuted the argument, upholding the right of individual states to define who could vote within them, stating in a unanimous decision “that the Constitution of the United States does not confer the right of suffrage upon any one” rather that right belongs to the states. It ignored the fact that although women were citizens under the law, they didn’t have the same rights, and effectively ended the hope of a national judicial decision in women’s favor.

Persevering to the end
Though Minor’s court case failed, it gave great publicity to the cause of women’s suffrage, and Virginia kept fighting for what she believed in. She testified before the United States Senate committee on woman’s suffrage in 1889 and held the position of honorary vice president of the Interstate Woman Suffrage Convention in 1892.

When Virginia died in St. Louis two years later, she was buried at Bellefontaine Cemetery. Because she believed the clergy were against equal rights for women, her funeral was held without any clergy members, a final thumb of her nose at the patriarchy.

In a break with tradition that said a person’s final will and testament should be kept private, Virginia’s will was published in the St. Louis newspapers because it contained two unusual bequests. Virginia left $500 apiece to her two single nieces, with the condition that if they should ever marry, the married niece should surrender her half of the inheritance to the niece who remained single. Another $1,000 was bequeathed to Susan B. Anthony “in gratitude for the many thousands she has expended for woman,” to help ensure the fight for women’s suffrage could continue on beyond Virginia’s lifetime.


Madame Presidentess book coverA big thanks to Nicole Evelina! She’ll give away an electronic copy of Madame Presidentess, historical fiction about Victoria Woodhull (nominated in 1872 as the first woman candidate for the United States presidency and a contemporary of Virginia Minor who likely knew her) to one person who contributes a comment on my blog this week. I’ll choose the winner from among those who comment by Friday at 6 p.m. ET. Delivery is available worldwide.


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The Hidden History of Ireland’s Magdalene Asylums

Emma Rose Millar author photoRelevant History welcomes Emma Rose Millar, who writes historical fiction and children’s picture books. She won the Legend category of the Chaucer Awards for Historical Fiction with Five Guns Blazing in 2014. Her novella The Women Friends: Selina, based on the work of Gustav Klimt and co-written with author Miriam Drori, was published in 2016 by Crooked Cat Books and was shortlisted for the Goethe Award for Late Historical Fiction. Her third novel, Delirium, a Victorian ghost story published by Crooked Cat Books, was shortlisted for the Chanticleer Paranormal Book Awards in 2017. Emma’s historical poems for children are published by The Emma Press. To learn more about her and her books, follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.


Inside Magdalen laundry c1925Worked to the bone, starved, beaten, and abused: this was the fate of some 30,000 women whose care was entrusted to nuns in Ireland’s Magdalene Asylums, also known as Magdalene Laundries. These institutions were set up during the eighteenth-century to house prostitutes—so-called “fallen women”—but quickly became places of unknown cruelty and hardship, where any women and girls as young as nine, branded as “undesirable” by the Church, could be incarcerated. For over two hundred years, unmarried mothers, women deemed “promiscuous,” or those who defied their husbands or fathers could find themselves locked up in one of the asylums. Others had learning difficulties or had been the victims of rape or sexual assault. Some were sent there simply for being “too pretty.” Once there, they were starved, beaten, and forced into backbreaking work in the asylum laundries. Babies were usually taken away from their mothers and offered up for adoption.

Although these institutions were run by the Church, they were also widely supported by the Irish government. In addition to the women and girls being sent there by their families, there were also those who came from psychiatric units and prisons. The government channeled money into the asylums in exchange for housing the women and laundry services, which were provided by the inmates there.

During the twentieth century, rumours circulated about the abuses taking place in Ireland’s Magdalene Asylums, but those survivors who did speak about their experiences there were often shamed or ignored. The public did not believe that institutions run by the Church would allow or endorse such ill treatment of the women and children under their protection. Many survivors would not disclose details of what went on in the laundries, and therefore details are scant.

Gloucester Street Laundry closed in 1996It was not until the discovery of a mass grave at Our Lady of Charity Convent in Dublin that the media became involved and printed articles questioning goings-on at the asylums. One hundred and fifty-five bodies were found in the grave, but only seventy-five death certificates had been issued. The nuns claimed there had been an administrative error, but there was a public outcry, and ultimately the United Nations called for a public enquiry. Suddenly, women began perusing cases for violations against Human Rights and making disclosures about the abuse they had suffered.

Survivors’ stories
Marina Gambold, was placed in a laundry by her local priest. She described being forced to eat off the floor after breaking a cup and getting locked outside in the cold for a minor transgression. She was made to work for ten hours a day and fed bread and dripping.

Mary Smith was placed in the Sundays Well Laundry in Cork after being raped. Nuns there told her they would look after her in case she became pregnant. Once incarcerated, her hair was cut off and she was stripped of her identity. She was forced to work in silence and to sleep in the cold. Mary does not remember how long she spent in the laundry due to the abuse she suffered.

One survivor known only as Bridget recounted being taken by the nuns to see a lady who was dying in agony. Bridget was just sixteen when the nuns said to her, “Do you see this? She has never done anything and she is suffering in agony for your sins.”

Another woman who had survived the same laundry in Cork said she was forced to spend all night in a room with a corpse. She described nuns humiliating girls who had wet the bed by wrapping their wet sheets around them and making them kneel on the dormitory floor with a sign on their back saying. “Dirty, filthy, lazy girl.”

Public outcry and enquiry
Partly due to the outcry which followed the discovery of the mass grave, the last Magdalene Asylum closed its doors in 1996. Of the forty women discovered there, most were elderly or had learning disabilities, nine had no known living relatives; all decided to stay with the nuns.

While religious institutions remained silent, a long public campaign ensued, resulting in the publication of the McAleese report, which detailed the abuse of ten thousand women in Magdalene Asylums between 1922 and 1996. The Irish government finally issued a formal apology in 2013 and set up a fund for survivors.

The Irish prime minister, Enda Kenny, spoke in front of a packed parliament and apologised for what he called “a national shame.”

I on behalf of the state, the government and our citizens deeply regret and apologise unreservedly to all those women for the hurt that was done to them, and for any stigma they suffered, as a result of the time they spent in a Magdalene Laundry. For ninety years Ireland subjected these women, and their experience, to a profound indifference. By any standards it was a cruel and pitiless Ireland, distinctly lacking in mercy. We swapped our public scruples for a solid public apparatus.

Kenny’s speech was followed by a standing ovation for him and the twenty Magdalene survivors who were present in the public gallery.

Many religious groups that ran the asylums refused to contribute to the fund and have turned away researchers looking for more information. Several groups including Justice for Magdalenes and the National Women’s Council of Ireland are still campaigning for a public memorial for survivors and for compensation for children born to inmates of the asylums.


Delirium book coverA big thanks to Emma Rose Millar! She’ll give away a paperback copy of Delirium to someone who contributes a comment on my blog this week. I’ll choose the winner from among those who comment by Friday at 6 p.m. ET. Delivery is available in the U.K. only.


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