The Scandalous Lady of Coburg

Catherine Curzon author photoRelevant History welcomes Catherine Curzon, a royal historian who blogs on all matters 18th century. Her work has been featured by publications including BBC History Extra, All About History, History of Royals, Explore History and Jane Austen’s Regency World. She has performed at venues including the Royal Pavilion, Brighton, Lichfield Guildhall and Dr Johnson’s House. Catherine holds a Master’s degree in Film and when not dodging the furies of the guillotine, she lives in Yorkshire atop a ludicrously steep hill. Life in the Georgian Court is a privileged peek into the glamorous, tragic and iconic courts of the Georgian world. To learn more about her and her books, visit her blog, and follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, and Instagram.

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There is nothing, for me, as thrilling as 18th century scandals. In the royal courts nothing was done by halves, from love to death to all the rich threads of drama that bind the legendary names of continental royalty together. Someone who knew all about drama was Princess Juliane of Saxe-Coburg, who was to become known as Grand Duchess Anna Feodorovna, wife of Grand Duke Constantine Pavlovich, a marriage that was destined to be anything but happy.

Juliane was born to Franz Frederick Anton, Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld and his wife, Countess Augusta Caroline Reuss of Ebersdorf. With illustrious family connections throughout Europe, Juliane’s parents were determined that their daughter would continue to increase their dynastic influence and began searching for a husband for the girl, known for her beauty and her musical acumen. As they cast their eye over the royal houses of Europe, Empress Catherine II of Russia was likewise looking for a match for her grandson, Grand Duke Constantine. She was searching for a very particular sort of girl and dispatched General Andrei Budberg to compile a shortlist, the matter of marrying the second in line to the Russian empire a very serious one indeed.

The road to marriage
Taken ill whilst passing through Coburg, Budberg immediately added Juliane and her sisters, Sophie and Antoinette, to the list of likely candidates, much to the delight of their parents. However, not everybody shared their enthusiasm. For some there was disappointment that their own daughters had not been chosen whilst for others, the concept of a German princess marrying a Russian Duke was unthinkable, the young women viewed almost as lambs to the imperial slaughter.

Princess Juliane Henriette Ulrike painted by Vigee-LebrunThe three girls traveled to Russia with Countess Augusta and found themselves welcomed by Catherine, whilst Constantine was somewhat cooler in his reception. Far from keen on the idea of marriage to anybody, he eventually took his grandmother’s advice and agreed to marry Juliane, the 14 year old girl taking the name Anna Feodorovna in preparation for her new life. Baptised in a Russian Orthodox ceremony, the young Princess married the Duke on 26th February 1796, securing the strength of the Saxe-Coburg dynasty.

Although the marriage may have been politically astute, it was utterly miserable. Bad-tempered and disinterested in his wife, Constantine grew resentful of the young lady’s popularity at court, and he exercised a tight control over his bride. She was confined to her rooms, denied friends other than Elizabeth Alexeievna, and rarely appeared at court. Desperately unhappy, when Juliane fell ill in 1799, she seized the chance for escape with both hands.

Juliana traveled to Coburg, ostensibly for medical care, and initially intended to remain there but she found her family utterly unsupportive. Horrified at the damage a marital breakdown might do to the reputation and influence of the family, they pressured the Grand Duchess to return to her unhappy life in Russia. Once again she was confined to her rooms, utterly in the control of her husband and almost immediately, her health declined again.

Escape
By 1801 it became apparent that Juliane was in desperate need of a change of air and her mother finally consented to a trip back to Coburg. This time Juliane flatly refused to leave her native land and began divorce proceedings against Constantine. With the divorce hampered by legal and constitutional considerations, Juliane found unexpected support from the royal houses of Europe, their sympathies gained by the conduct of Constantine and his intransigent family. Trapped in a web of legality, the unhappy Grand Duchess indulged in extra-marital affairs and in 1808 gave birth to a son, Eduard Edgar Schmidt-Löwe. Four years later she had a daughter, Louise Hilda Agnes d’Aubert with Rodolphe Abraham de Schiferli, a Swiss surgeon.

Princess Juliane Henriette Ulrike painted by WinterhalterThough Constantine’s family constantly pursued a reconciliation between the estranged couple, Juliane utterly refused to even countenance it, the memory of her unhappy years in Russia too keen. Instead she made a life and home of her own in Switzerland, her house on the Aare River becoming a beacon of art and music. She and Rodolphe maintained a lifelong friendship, though their daughter was adopted by a French family in order to protect Juliane’s already somewhat tarnished reputation.

Nearly two decades after she fled to Coburg, Emperor Alexander I finally dissolved the marriage of Juliane and Constantine, allowing the Grand Duke to remarry. This small victory was followed by years of unhappiness as Juliane’s life was beset by tragedy. One after the other she was plunged into mourning for her parents and siblings, her illegitimate daughter and Rodolphe, her devoted friend and former lover. Juliane never quite recovered from these losses and lived on in quiet solitude, throwing herself into charitable works. Loved and respected by those who knew her, the princess passed away peacefully at home at the age of seventy-nine. She lived a life beset by scandal and unhappiness yet one cannot underestimate the strength it took to leave the powerful Russian court and strike out alone, resisting all efforts to force her back to the life she hated.

*****

Life in the Georgian Court book coverA big thanks to Catherine Curzon. She’ll give away a copy of Life in the Georgian Court 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 worldwide, and the winner may choose hardcover or ebook for the format.

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An English Rose

S.K. Rizzolo author photoRelevant History welcomes historical mystery author S. K. Rizzolo, who earned an MA in literature before becoming a high school English teacher and author. Her Regency mystery series features a trio of crime-solving friends: a Bow Street Runner, an unconventional lady, and a melancholic barrister. On a Desert Shore is the fourth title in the series following The Rose in the Wheel, Blood for Blood, and Die I Will Not. Rizzolo lives in Los Angeles. To learn more about her and her books, visit her web page, and follow her on Facebook, Goodreads, and Google+.

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Readers of Georgette Heyer’s Regency novels are familiar with her references to skin care products such as Denmark Lotion or Olympian Dew. A young lady’s fair and blooming complexion could be almost as critical to her success as her dowry and social position. Then, as now, those with unsightly spots sought to avoid embarrassment. But the ideal of complexion went much deeper than that. It was, in fact, tied to anxieties about Britain’s Empire, notions of proper Englishness, and the desire to maintain boundaries of class and race.

In my novel On a Desert Shore, Marina Garrod receives every advantage of the privileged young lady. Rumored to be the heiress to vast wealth, she debuts in Society with the hope of making an eligible alliance. But to bigoted eyes, there’s a problem. All her father’s money cannot make her into a genuine “English Rose” (pink cheeks and red lips with pale skin)—for Marina is the daughter of a Jamaican planter and his slave-housekeeper. My novel is about Marina’s plight in the England of 1813, a time when attitudes toward race were hardening, in part because of growing fears of cultural and racial contamination./p>

A Rose By Any Other Complexion…
Marina’s experience as a mixed-race heiress in Georgian England was not unique. In his dissertation Children of Uncertain Fortune: Mixed Race Migration from the West Indies to Britain, 1750-1820, Dan Livesay estimates that, by the end of the 18th century, as many as a quarter of rich Jamaicans with children of color sent them home to England to live in a free society. On the whole these children were the lucky ones who had escaped the astoundingly brutal and oppressive sugar island. Still, families sometimes challenged the inheritances of their mixed-race kin, and the position of these young people would have been equivocal at best. It’s difficult to imagine how they might have felt. While Britain had halted its participation in the slave trade in 1807, slavery itself endured for several more decades in the colonies. Apologists for the institution like Marina’s father failed to justify a practice that was increasingly seen, according to the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, as “blotched all over with one leprosy of evil.” Here Coleridge refers to the arguments of West India merchants and slave owners, calling them “cosmetics” designed to conceal a horrible reality.

Deirdre Coleman asserts that the British public of the day had a “fascination with complexion.” And my research revealed that this was especially true of white Creole women (Creole is an ambiguous term that sometimes meant the Blacks of Jamaica and sometimes a person of any race who had spent a lot of time there). I encountered stories of the white Creole women’s attempts to preserve their complexions so that when they returned to England they could bloom into legitimate English roses. They wore elaborate sunshades and even flayed their skin with the caustic oil of the cashew nut! Often they created what even some contemporaries called an artificial and unhealthy pallor.

Why such rigid standards of beauty? This was a society in which all-powerful white men exploited black women at their own whim and will, a society in which wives were often confronted with the humiliating results of open infidelity—their husbands’ slave children. It was important to the Creole ladies, whose skin could become tanned or weathered in the tropical climate, to maintain strict boundaries through their complexions. In other words, “whiteness” as a marker of status and breeding. But, ironically in this racially mixed society, it might not be possible to determine someone’s precise background just by looking. There might have been little visible difference between a Creole lady and her husband’s mulatta or quadroon concubine.

Performing Gentility
When a woman named Janet Schaw traveled to North America and the West Indies between 1774–76, she wrote in her diary about putting on and off her delicacy “like any piece of dress.” To me, this points to the performative aspect of femininity. A woman can don a mask of beauty and gentility to further her ends or play her role in society. This is precisely what Marina cannot do to her tormenters’ satisfaction. And yet she is not afraid to express her fellow feeling with African slaves or her contempt for slavery. You will have to read the book to find out what happens after her failed London season. In essence, she is shipwrecked “on a desert shore” in an alien land, even though she is half English and has been mostly reared in England. She is no true English rose.

Dido Elizabeth Belle and her cousin Lady Elizabeth MurrayHere’s the famous portrait of Dido Elizabeth Belle and her cousin Lady Elizabeth Murray. Belle was the daughter of an enslaved African woman and Sir John Lindsay, a British naval officer. After Lindsay brought his daughter to England, she lived with the Earl of Mansfield, the Lord Chief Justice, at Kenwood House in Hampstead. Much speculation has arisen in regard to this portrait, whose artist is uncertain. Why does Belle point at her own cheek in a curiously awkward gesture? Perhaps she calls attention to her contrasting complexion in order to suggest that any difference is only “skin deep.”

There’s an unforgettable scene in another novel, an anonymous abolitionist work of 1808 called The Woman of Colour, which introduces Olivia Fairfield, the natural daughter of a West Indian planter and a slave. Like Marina Garrod, Olivia travels to England. In the scene a curious little boy at a tea party compares his hand to Olivia’s, interrogating her about her skin color. Her response: “The same God that made you made me…[as well as my servant Dido, a] poor black woman—the whole world—and every creature in it! A great part of this world is peopled by creatures with skins as black as Dido’s, and as yellow as mine…”

Which leaves us with one of my favorite Shakespearean sonnets, a satiric poem making the point that, after all, what we deem beauty has nothing to do with outward show. After criticizing his beloved for her varied imperfections, including the lack of “roses” in her cheeks, the speaker says: “And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare / As any she belied with false compare.”

*****

On a Desert Shore book coverA big thanks to S. K. Rizzolo. She’ll give away a copy of On a Desert Shore 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 worldwide for an ebook and in the U.S., Canada, and Europe for a hardcover.

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The Winner of Fascinating Rhythm

Warren Bull has won a copy of Fascinating Rhythm by Anne Louise Bannon. Congrats to Warren Bull!

Thanks to Anne Louise Bannon for the discussion on what started the Great Depression for American farmers. Thanks, also, to everyone who visited and commented on Relevant History this week. Watch for another Relevant History post, coming soon.

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Farming in Kansas in the 1920s

Anne Louise Bannon author photoRelevant History welcomes Anne Louise Bannon, an author and journalist who wrote her first novel at age fifteen. Her journalistic work has appeared in magazines and newspapers across the country. She was a TV critic for over ten years, and created the Odd Ball Grape wine education blog with her husband, Michael Holland. She also writes the romantic fiction serial White House Rhapsody. She is the co-author of Howdunit: Book of Poisons with Serita Stevens, as well as mysteries Fascinating Rhythm, Bring Into Bondage, and Tyger, Tyger. She and her husband live in Southern California with an assortment of critters. To learn more about her and her books, visit her web site, and follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and Pinterest.

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It’s hard to tell the behind-the-scenes story of my latest novel Bring Into Bondage without mentioning the book that came before it, Fascinating Rhythm. The books are set in the 1920s and feature editor Kathy Briscow and her socialite author boyfriend Freddie Little. In Fascinating Rhythm, we find out that Kathy comes from Hays, Kansas, a small farming town pretty much dead center in the country, which in turn becomes the setting for Bring Into Bondage.

I purposely chose a rural town for Kathy’s original home. Right after World War I, the country started urbanizing, and as of the 1920 census, just over half the U.S. population lived in cities for the first time ever. Barely fifty years before, only five percent of the population had. One of the hot tunes from that post-Great War era was “How You Gonna Keep ‘Em Down on the Farm (After They’ve Seen Paree?)” It was not only happening, it was on people’s minds. So it made sense that my feisty office worker came from a rural background.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but it was a far richer background than I thought. Okay, I did know, in a vague, “they said so in history class” kind of way that what we know as The Great Depression actually started for American farmers shortly after the end of World War I. But what caused the farming depression, namely debt, became one of the underlying themes in Bring Into Bondage, which is set on the farm belonging to Kathy’s parents.

There were a lot of different causes, but basically, farmers were caught in a spiral of producing too much, which caused crop prices to fall, then having to produce more to make up for it, causing crop prices to fall still lower. Frederick Lewis Allen, in his short history of the decade, Only Yesterday, partially laid the blame on mechanization. But other sources have also pointed out that the farmers had seen a boom in crop prices during the Great War, when not only did they feed the U.S., they exported crops to war-torn Europe. Once the war was over, so was the need for imported food. Which meant an even larger supply in the U.S. In any case, what caused the larger part of farmers’ problems was that they took out mortgages to either buy more land or to buy the new mechanical equipment.

Farming has never been easy. But in the 1920s, there were no subsidies and no other social safety nets. You relied on your neighbors, as Kathy’s family does, even though the family farm is under attack by mysterious vandals. Freddie mentally refers to Kathy’s family as being dirt poor. There’s a sense of frugality in this family that we don’t recognize today in our abundant, throw-away culture. When Ma Briscow sends the five-word telegram to summon Kathy home, Kathy is upset because Ma uses two words she didn’t need. Telegrams cost five cents per word, and to carelessly spend ten cents when every penny counts means Ma is very upset indeed.

The title of the book comes from the biblical book Nehemiah (5:5), in which some of the Israelites are complaining that they can’t get justice for their children, who have been sold into bondage, because other men have their lands. In short, they have been mortgaged out to the hilt and are now in bondage, themselves. Kind of like farmers in Kansas were in the 1920s.

*****

Fascinating Rhythm book coverA big thanks to Anne Louise Bannon. She’ll give away a copy of Fascinating Rhythm 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 worldwide for an ebook and in the U.S. only for a trade paperback.

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The Winner of An Untimely Frost

Gigi Pandian has won a copy of An Untimely Frost by Penny Richards. Congrats to Gigi Pandian!

Thanks to Penny Richards for insight into Allan Pinkerton, founder of the famous detective agency. Thanks, also, to everyone who visited and commented on Relevant History this week. Watch for another Relevant History post, coming soon.

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Crime, Women, and Allan Pinkerton

Penny Richards author photoRelevant History welcomes Penny Richards, published since 1983 with just over forty books to her credit. Mostly contemporary romance, her books have won several industry awards, including a Romantic Times Lifetime Achievement Award, Reader’s Choice award, and a RITA nomination. Several titles have made various bestseller lists. An Untimely Frost, first book of the Lilly Long mystery series for Kensington Publishing, debuted August 2016. Wolf Creek Wife, fifth title in the Wolf Creek series for Harlequin Love Inspired Historicals, is also an August 2016 release. The second Lilly Long mystery, Though This Be Madness, is scheduled for May 2017. To learn more about her and her books, visit her web site, and follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

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My new Lilly Long historical mystery series is about a headstrong, untraditional Shakespearean actress who becomes a Pinkerton operative. Since I’m an old(er) traditional, conventional woman, you can imagine my surprise when, during the course of my research, I found myself on a site about “women’s issues.” Until that moment, I hadn’t thought of Lilly’s driving ambition to help women who’d been victimized by unscrupulous men in those terms. To me, she was just a woman who’d been wronged by a slick, conniving man when her new husband stole her savings and left her high and dry, a woman who, at the age of eleven was hiding nearby when she heard her mother being killed by one of her many lovers.

After thinking on it a while, I realized that’s exactly what I was writing about, intentionally or not. I don’t consider myself a feminist, but I am all about balance and fairness, and anyone with at least a modicum of knowledge about the customs of the past knows that without the fearless females who led the way for a more open-minded treatment, we would not be where we are today.

Lilly is a woman who flaunts convention by seeking out a man’s job during a time when women were denied a voice in much of anything or “protected” by their husbands, (often chosen for them) who often considered them nothing more than second-class citizens or a means to get children.

Allan PinkertonAllan Pinkerton, the man who gives her a chance to make a difference, is the son of Isabella and William Pinkerton. Allan was born in a poor section of Glasgow, Scotland, called the Gorbels, an area known for its high crime and social injustices, so his decision to start his own detective agency makes a lot of sense.

Allan and his women
While researching the first book, I learned some interesting things about Allan’s attitude toward women, their capabilities, and his belief they possessed the intelligence and skill to be useful in his business, something he proved when he hired the first female detective, a young widow named Kate Warne. Kate pled her case by telling him she could “worm out” information in places his male detectives couldn’t. To Allan, whose motto was “the ends justify the means,” the idea was intriguing. He hired her the following day, and in the many years she worked for him, she never disappointed him.

There were others through the years that Allan used in exactly the way Kate had suggested, posing as wives to get close to another woman, infiltrating Baltimore society in hopes of gaining information, acting as spies during the war or just friends who aided and secured care for them.

Then, in late 1876, a somewhat funny debacle occurred within the agency. Allan’s son Robert, George Bangs, and Benjamin Franklin, once the police chief of Philadelphia, decided to band together and refuse to hire any more women, something Allan had ordered after Kate’s death. His reaction to their mutiny was to transfer Mrs. Angela Austin, a pretty actress who worked out of the Chicago office, to Philadelphia to prove that he was still in control and would be until his death. That ended that argument.

I’ve wondered if Allan’s willingness to work with women and to draw on the skills of various actresses was based, at least in part, because of his devotion to his hard-working mother, who, along with eight-year-old Allan, were the sole support of the family when his father died. Or perhaps it had something to do with how he met his entertainer wife, pretty Joan Carfrae, the soprano for the Unitarian Church choir whom he was immediately smitten with when he first saw her.

The Pinkerton code of ethics
Rates varied from $3.00 to $10.00 per day, and at the beginning of each assignment, the agent was given a small journal outlining the client’s problems and ideas about how to go about solving them. No client ever met the detective working his case, and undercover “stings” were often used, which is one of the times women operatives became invaluable. Allan’s feelings about women were further laid out in the agency rules he drafted, called General Principles. These unchanged, guiding principles are still the underpinnings of the agency today, though there have been some additions. Among the early regulations, which included things like not accepting rewards, gifts, investigating union meetings, or working for political parties was the promise to “…never investigate the morals of a woman unless in connection with another crime, nor…handle cases of divorce or of a scandalous nature.” These rules are still in place.

This standard, along with Pinkerton’s belief in a woman’s competence and usefulness, combined with Lilly’s personal experiences, are what motivated her and a other intrepid females to fight against the injustices, and limitations of the time and help them gain a more equitable position and louder voice in 1900’s society. It is this same sort of bold woman who is forging new paths for women today.

*****

An Untimely Frost book coverA big thanks to Penny Richards. She’ll give away a trade paperback copy of An Untimely Frost 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.S. only.

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The Winner of A Maiden Weeping

Lori Thomas has won a copy of A Maiden Weeping by Jeri Westerson. Congrats to Lori Thomas!

Thanks to Jeri Westerson for setting the record straight about lawlessness in England during the Middle Ages. Thanks, also, to everyone who visited and commented on Relevant History this week. Watch for another Relevant History post, coming soon.

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Lawlessness in the Middle Ages

Jeri Westerson author photoRelevant History welcomes back Los Angeles native and award-winning author Jeri Westerson, who writes the critically acclaimed Crispin Guest Medieval Noir Mysteries, historical novels, paranormal novels, and LGBT mysteries. To-date, her medieval mysteries have garnered twelve industry award nominations, from the Agatha to the Shamus. Jeri is the former president of the SoCal chapter of Mystery Writers of America, former vice president of Sisters in Crime Los Angeles, and frequently guest lectures on medieval history at local colleges and museums. To learn more about her and her books, visit her web site, and follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

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The image is this: Pitchfork and torch wielding peasants; unbridled thievery on the streets; outlaws stalking the woods. Is this your idea of crime in the Middle Ages? For many it is. But how accurate is this?

Writing my medieval mysteries requires researching crime and punishment in that time period. It’s a thick field to winnow. But we are fortunate indeed that many court records of the period survive. The English loved their jurisprudence. In fact, many of the law terms we use today come down to us from medieval times. And it was never a simple case of “off with his head” or throw him in jail for a spot of torture. The law was as formal then as it is now. And terms were spelled out.

Spelling out murder
In the twelfth century, two kinds of murder were identified: Murdrum was a slaying done in secret, where the victim is taken unaware and could not retaliate. The other was simplex homicidium or simple homicide, a killing that was not planned or one that was accidental.

The term was stretched further to a third category: slaying in hot blood—a duel, or protecting the honor of one’s marriage—as “manslaughter.”

It is interesting to note that of the two hundred cases of homicide brought to the infamous Newgate prison in the period 1281-90, a verdict of guilty was returned only 21 percent of the time. Did this mean that the perpetrators were not guilty as charged? In some instances, bribery might get you out of hot water, and, of course, the higher up in rank you were, the better your chances of getting off. That is not to say that being a nobleman was a get-out-of-gaol-free card. Not always. If the crime was particularly heinous you might not be found innocent or even obtain a pardon by the king.

As far as juries were concerned, there seemed to be some argument about getting petty jurors from the neighborhood of the accused or getting them from farther afield. But when it seemed that more convictions were to be had from local jurors who might have known the accused, then that became the preference, truly a jury of your peers.

In the late fourteenth century, juries consisted of petty jurors, twenty-four knights or “other proven and law-worthy men who were not related to the subjects.” Many petty jurors were poor men, serving for payment and essentially shanghaied into the affair by the sheriffs.

There would be no Perry Mason moments at the trial. Witnesses rarely spoke at the trial itself, having given their testimony earlier to the Coroner or his clerks. The accused could challenge certain jurors, charging that they did not want them to sit on their jury.

And what did lawyers do? You had no right to an attorney then, but if you could afford one, he could certainly instruct you on how to argue your innocence, for it was up to you to speak up. Silence was construed as guilt.

The peasants are revolting
What you did have was a set of rules and procedures. Certainly there was lawlessness, but there was a citizen’s love of order as well. Were the peasants revolting (no jokes, please)? On occasion, and famously so. Wat Tyler rebelled against the low wages and high taxes imposed on the working man in 1381. It was one of King Richard II’s early challenges in his reign, and he met with Tyler in an open field to discuss the terms. Tyler was subsequently ambushed and the rebellion was brought down, and one is free to speculate whether Richard dealt unfairly with him or was wily as any king should be.

What about those scary woods? It certainly wasn’t wise to travel alone outside the city walls. If you went on a pilgrimage or to a market town, you generally traveled with a group, because it was true that outlaws menaced the forests, and travelers could fall prey to them.

But were cities and villages more lawless than we are now? I would argue against that prognosis. Even with the ultimate punishment of death for many petty crimes, crime did not cease to exist. People were as desperate then as they are now. My novels are set about forty years after the Black Death swept over Europe and took a third of the population. Many depravations followed. Imagine a third of the workforce suddenly missing. A third of farmers; a third of sheepherders and wool traders; a third of craftsmen and other tradesmen; a third of fishermen and apprentices. It took a long time for economic recovery and in the meantime, burglary, robbery, and murder increased. But after a time of economic recovery, these crimes did decrease.

When events happened so long ago, it is human nature to attribute a certain level of uncivilized behavior as compared with those in modern times. But though we might have a difficult time understanding the mores and culture of a bygone era, human nature and the same petty grievances haven’t changed all that much. Which is why a medieval mystery, while set long ago, can resonate with readers today.

For further reading (and I warn you, most of it is pretty dry), try the following:

o The Criminal Trial in Later Medieval England, J. G. Bellamy
o Public Order and Law Enforcement: The Local Administration of Criminal Justice, 1294-1350, Anthony Musson
o Crime and Conflict in English Communities, 1300-1348, Barbara A. Hanawalt
o Crime and Public Order in England in the Later Middle Ages, John Bellamy
o Verdict According to Conscience: Perspectives on the English Criminal Trial Jury, 1200-1800, Thomas Andrew Green

*****

A Maiden Weeping book coverA big thanks to Jeri Westerson. She’ll give away an ebook of A Maiden Weeping 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 worldwide.

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The Winner of The Guardian Stones

Nancy Anderson has won a copy of The Guardian Stones by Eric Reed. Congrats to Nancy Anderson!

Thanks to Eric Reed for a chilling look at the evacuation of British children during WWII. Thanks, also, to everyone who visited and commented on Relevant History this week. Watch for another Relevant History post, coming soon.

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Operation Pied Piper: the Evacuation of British Children

Relevant History welcomes back Mary Reed aka Eric Reed, pseudonym for Mary Reed and Eric Mayer, co-authors of the John, Lord Chamberlain, mystery series set in 6th century Byzantium. Murder in Megara, the eleventh entry, was published in October 2015 by Poisoned Pen Press. The Guardian Stones, a World War Two mystery set in rural Shropshire, England, appeared in January 2016 from the same publisher. To learn more about them and their books, visit their web site and blog, and follow them on Twitter (Mary and Eric.)

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This past month or two the news has been full of reports of evacuations from wild fires or floods, but they pale by comparison to the voluntary evacuation of about twenty percent of British children on the very eve of World War Two. Other evacuations occurred later, but this was the first event of its kind and the largest mass movement of civilians carried out in the UK.

Ministry of Health poster 2Planning for the event had begun in May 1938 as it became increasingly obvious the outbreak of hostilities was inevitable. Hansard, the official record of the proceedings in Parliament, reported work on the task in hand 2 February 1939. During a House of Commons debate on air raid precautions, in response to a question from the MP representing a Tyneside town, the Lord Privy Seal stated plans were then in preparation for evacuating Newcastle-on-Tyne and Gateshead schoolchildren.

Newcastle-on-Tyne being my (Mary) birth city, naturally I was interested how the situation was handled there, and details will serve as an example of arrangements put in hand all over the country.

Dress rehearsals
Staggering logistical problems faced those organising the nation-wide evacuation of children as part of the unfortunately-named Operation Pied Piper.

Just how complex these plans were can be gleaned by perusing “Evacuation of Civilian Population from Newcastle and Gateshead In The Event of Emergency.” The document was sent in mid-August 1939 to local authorities in Newcastle-on-Tyne and Gateshead by the London & North-East Railway, which was to carry out evacuation over the course of two days.

Schoolchildren accompanied by their teachers and helper-volunteers were to leave on the first day, with passengers on the second composed of what were termed special classes, these being predominantly mothers with children too young to attend school. Payment for evacuating trains was agreed between the railway and the Ministry of Transport.

To familiarise all concerned with what they should do and where they should go when the day arrived, a dress rehearsal was held in late August 1939 in the two cities.

The LNER booklet includes a chilling note that “Should hostilities begin before evacuation is completed the pre-arranged plan may require to be modified”. In the event, changes were not necessary but it was a close-run thing. The official order for evacuation to begin was issued in the late morning of 31 August 1939, and the first two days of September saw the removal of children from the two cities to rural areas of Westmoreland, Cumberland, Yorkshire, and Northumberland.

Only just in time: war was declared on 3 September 1939.

Even a glance at the LNER booklet provides a hint of the massive planning and coordination effort between local authority officials, schools, the police, railway personnel, and others needed to get children at risk away from Tyneside.

o District Evacuation Officers were made responsible for arrangements for the evacuation of schools in their specific districts. They were also to serve as liaison between individual railway stations and the schools being evacuated therefrom.
o Coloured armlets would identify the roles of those wearing them. Thus Newcastle-on-Tyne Evacuation Officers would wear blue armlets, and teachers white ones.
o All passengers were to be labeled or ticketed as proof they were permitted to travel on the evacuating trains.
o The railway’s Liaison Officers would have sole charge of entraining and would work with the Evacuation Officers when the official order to evacuate had been issued.
o Medical personnel were to be available at each station in case children become distressed.
o The public and mothers of the children evacuated on the first day were not to be allowed on the platforms during evacuation.

There must have been many tears at parting and in the temporary homes to which evacuees were sent. Their experiences were varied to say the least. Some met nothing but kindness, others were ill-treated, sometimes physically abused. Some who were homesick or unhappy at being sent away from their families absconded in an attempt to rejoin them, though others were reportedly relieved to be living away from their old homes due to bad conditions or neglect there. Indeed, a number of children arrived with less than the minimum of recommended luggage. Not every family could afford to send their children off with spare clothing, a warm coat, or even such basic necessities as a toothbrush and handkerchiefs.

Not all children were sent away
Ministry of Health poster 1Many parents kept their children at home because they did not want to be separated from them. Another factor in their decision was the difficulty and expense of the travel needed for them to visit their evacuated children. Some evacuees were brought back when they fell ill or had accidents and older children who had contributed to the family income returned as they were still needed to do so.

In response to a question put to the Minister of Health on 1 February 1940 concerning how many unaccompanied children had returned to certain cities, the Minister reported a January estimate had noted that of 28,300 children evacuated from Newcastle-on-Tyne, 14,000 were already back in the city. There does not seem to be any comparable figure readily available for Gateshead, from which 10,598 children had been sent away, but in both cities 71 percent of eligible schoolchildren were evacuated.

Birmingham, another major industrial city, sent over 25,000 schoolchildren to safer areas. In The Guardian Stones, published as by Eric Reed, we introduced a handful of trouble-making evacuee children from Birmingham whose behaviour made them not particularly welcomed by the residents of Noddweir, a remote Shropshire village near the Welsh border. The second book in the series is now being written and will take Grace Baxter, one of the main characters in The Guardian Stones, to wartime Newcastle-on-Tyne.

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The Guardian Stones book coverA big thanks to Eric Reed. They’ll give away an ebook copy of The Guardian Stones 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 worldwide.

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