Psilocybin in the Bronze Age

Rebecca Lochlann author photoRelevant History welcomes back historical fiction and fantasy author Rebecca Lochlann, who is busy completing her eight-book series, “The Child of the Erinyes,” several of which have won various awards. The series centers around a small corps of protagonists who begin their lives in the Bronze Age Mediterranean, draw the attention of the Immortals (mostly Athene), and end up traveling through time. Right now she’s deeply immersed in the early medieval world as she edits book #6, Falcon Blue. For more information about her and her books, visit her web site, subscribe to her newsletter, and follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

*****

The people living on Crete in the first three books of “The Child of the Erinyes” were big believers in omens, prophecies, signs, and portents from the gods. My imagining of Bronze Age Crete had hundreds of priestesses and priests, all of whom devoted themselves to pleasing the Immortals and drawing good fortune down upon their societies. Animals were routinely sacrificed, for it was believed that the scent of blood and burned fat delighted the gods. Crete’s High Priestess, Themiste, who also held the impressive titles of “Most Holy Minos,” “Moon-Being,” “Keeper of the Prophecies,” and “oracle,” enjoyed a closer relationship to these deities than anyone else, and hence, more power. She used many methods of communing with them—serpent venom, poppy juice, poisonous laurel leaves, smoke emanating from fissures in the earth, and, perhaps most commonly, the sacred mushroom, known in the story as cara.

Psilocybin, Victorian style
Phrygian Cap[Image “Bust Attis CdM” by Jastrow, public domain.]Which brings me to the most recent segment of the series, The Sixth Labyrinth, set in the Highlands of Victorian Scotland—another place where folklore and belief in “things unseen” remained strong until recent times. I’ve merged several key elements from the earlier story into this tale—one of the most important is the use of the sacred mushroom to achieve vision and expand clarity. It wasn’t at all hard to do, as the genus called Psilocybe semilanceata grows in abundance throughout the United Kingdom, and has been used for its hallucinatory effects since prehistoric times. Psilocybe semilanceata, for those who don’t know, is a wild mushroom with psychedelic qualities. Happily for my purpose, this particular fungus, sometimes called Witch’s Cap or Liberty Cap, is one of the most potent of all the psilocybin mushrooms, and I’ve read that the title Liberty Cap comes from the Greek Phrygian hat, or cap, which I thought a nice, unexpected coincidence, as one of my ensemble originally hails from Phrygia.

Dreams and Bedlam
Psilocybe semilanceata[Image “Psilocybe semilanceata” by Alan Rockefeller, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0]Most of The Sixth Labyrinth protagonists retain no memories of their past lives other than brief images, echoes of voices, and snippets of dreams. These tantalizing, often disturbing impressions at times make them feel as though they’re going insane—a terrifying prospect in the era of Bedlam and other notorious asylums. Once they find each other, their piecemeal recollections grow more insistent, compelling several of them to set forth on a journey of enlightenment. Using the magical mushroom from ancient times, they release their fears, open their minds, and let in that which reality deems impossible. Each insight dredged from the subconscious changes the trajectory of their lives, and Earth’s history, just as it did in the Bronze Age.

In The Sixth Labyrinth, the oracle Themiste returns as midwife and healer, Eleanor Graeme. She knows much of plant lore and the healing arts; she even has knowledge of then-modern science, thanks to a brother who studied medicine and psychiatry. She’s familiar with the properties of Psilocybe semilanceata, and collects as much as she can find every autumn, when it ripens in the fields. She dries it, stores it in jars, and has been known to use it from time to time. Eleanor is instrumental in helping to heal the damaged, fragmented memories of this small band of reincarnated souls.

Another pivotal character readers of the series might recognize from the Bronze Age is the Phrygian warrior, Selene. Life in The Sixth Labyrinth does not treat Selene kindly, yet she still manages to find, protect, and aid those she has always loved. The daughter of a wise woman near Cape Wrath, she comes to the group already cognizant of what can be achieved through the mushroom’s use. In fact she walks a very long way to find her comrades from the past, having used the mushroom to help her in her search.

One character has no need of a hallucinatory mushroom, or any other device. Because of a curse placed on him in the Bronze Age, he is doomed to retain memories of each and every one of his past lives. While it might be tempting to assume having knowledge gives him an advantage, that isn’t necessarily the case.

Communing with higher powers
Different people have different reactions to psilocybin. Getting clear memories of our past lives might be asking a lot. But as stated at HowStuffWorks, “There can be a changed perception of one’s place in the universe and a feeling of communing with a higher power.” The supernatural link between my protagonists and Goddess Athene strengthens this ability.

*****

The Sixth Labyrinth book coverA big thanks to Rebecca Lochlann. Book #1 of her series, The Year-God’s Daughter, is currently free in multiple ebook formats. She’ll give away an ebook copy (winner’s choice of format) of book #5, The Sixth Labyrinth, to two 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.

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The Napoleonic Embezzlement Scandal That Never Was

Jacqueline Reiter author photoRelevant History welcomes Jacqueline Reiter, who has a PhD in late 18th-century political history from the University of Cambridge. A professional librarian, she lives in Cambridge with her husband and two children. Her first book, The Late Lord: the life of John Pitt, 2nd Earl of Chatham, was published by Pen & Sword Books in January 2017. For more information about her and her books, visit her blog, and follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

*****

A concern for efficiency
During the Napoleonic Wars, concern that British government departments were riddled with corruption gave rise to a series of political commissions investigating the way those departments were run. The British Army was growing rapidly in size, and anxiety over the rise in military expenditure led to the establishment of the Commissioners of Military Inquiry in 1805. In February 1810, they published their Twelfth Report.

Twelfth ReportAt first, the report did not cause much excitement. The government, headed by prime minister Spencer Perceval, was distracted by more pressing things. The House of Commons was inquiring into the failure of the previous year’s Walcheren expedition. The expedition had not even come close to achieving its objectives, and more than a quarter of the 40,000 participating troops had come down with ‘Walcheren fever’ (mostly malaria, combined with typhoid and dysentery). The expedition’s commander, Lord Chatham, was a member of the cabinet as Master-General of the Ordnance. The day the 12th Report of the Commissioners of Military Inquiry was released (27 February), Chatham appeared before the Walcheren inquiry a second time to be grilled on his role in the disaster.

It took some weeks, therefore, for anyone to notice that the 12th Report contained political dynamite.

‘An omission of duty’
The report drew attention to some serious irregularities in the behaviour of the Treasurer of the Ordnance, Joseph Hunt. The position of Treasurer was one of great trust, since the Ordnance had enormous public funds at its disposal, funds which were meant to be devoted to the department’s vital task of keeping the army and navy stocked with muskets, cannons and gunpowder.

Ordnance crest(Image: Ordnance shield, Wikimedia Commons) The Commissioners discovered that Hunt had been making money from the interest on the Ordnance funds in the Bank of England. Worse, he had been withdrawing drafts of money made out to recognised Ordnance suppliers and stealing the cash.[1] As a result, Hunt had managed to cream off a total of £93,296.

It appeared to be an open-shut case. Hunt resigned and promptly disappeared, popping up a few weeks later in Lisbon, where he had apparently been forced to make an unexpected journey for the benefit of his health.[2] Less than a fortnight after the end of the Walcheren inquiry, oppositionist John Calcraft moved a direct censure on Chatham and the Board under his command.

The censure was nevertheless thrown out by 54 votes to 36. Hunt was expelled from the Commons, in which he had a seat as an MP, and the £100,000 deficiency was made good from a surplus elsewhere.

A damp squib…
Surprisingly, nothing more was done. The opposition had apparently missed a sterling chance to strike a blow against government corruption. Yet nobody questioned whether or not the Master-General of the Ordnance was personally implicated in Hunt’s embezzlement. Calcraft specifically ruled it out: ‘He did not mean to impute the slightest blame to Lord Chatham, who, he believed, knew nothing whatever of the transaction.’[3]

Partly this may have been because there was no value in flogging a dead horse. Chatham, by April 1810, had been out of office a month: the Walcheren inquiry destroyed his public career and forced his resignation from the Ordnance. Attacking him directly could do little damage.

Partly, also, the opposition had probably been distracted by the Walcheren inquiry since the beginning of the year, and had little energy left for an Ordnance assault. Opposition member George Tierney, for example, thought the Walcheren inquiry had made the Commons reluctant to launch potentially involving inquiries into other things.[4]

…and a historical mystery
How far was Chatham involved in Hunt’s activities? He and Hunt were old connections, and Chatham had made Hunt his private secretary when he had been First Lord of the Admiralty in the 1790s, elevated him to the post of Commissioner of Victualling, and made him a Director of Greenwich Hospital.[5] On the other hand, the structure of the Board of Ordnance (the duties of the Board and the Master-General’s activities did not always overlap) might have protected Chatham from knowing what his Treasurer was doing.

Chatham painted by Hoppner(Image: John Pitt, 2nd Earl of Chatham, studio of John Hoppner, 1799, courtesy of the Commando Forces Officers’ Mess, Royal Marines Barracks, Plymouth) Chatham, of course, denied involvement. ‘I am extremely shocked at ye Report about Hunt,’ he wrote when the report first became public, ‘but I am not yet apprized to what extent it [the defalcation] goes.’[6] Perceval took Chatham’s protestations of innocence at face value, but others were unconvinced. ‘Mr Hunt declared…that not a shilling had ever been taken by him on his own acc[oun]t – from whence it is imagined that L[or]d Chatham is not free from the matter,’ one political commentator gossiped.[7] To many, it seemed impossible that the Master-General of the Ordnance should be ignorant of the activities of his own Treasurer.

The truth will never be known, and there is no evidence to link Chatham to Hunt’s activities. The opposition’s reluctance to involve him in the investigation suggests they had no evidence either. It is highly unlikely that Chatham was implicated in Hunt’s activities, but even if he was innocent, it was probably lucky for him in the long run that Walcheren focused so much away from the Board of Ordnance.

References
[1] Gareth Cole, Arming the Royal Navy, 1793-1815 (Routledge, 2012), p. 28.
[2] Parliamentary Debates XVI, pp. 733-4.
[3] Parliamentary Debates XVI, pp. 637-8.
[4] Lord Boringdon to Lady Morley, 7 February 1810, British Library Add MSS 48227 f. 200.
[5] Morning Chronicle, 30 January 1810; St James’s Chronicle, 3 April 1790.
[6] Chatham to Spencer Perceval, 23 January 1810, Cambridge University Add.8713/VII/B/9.
[7] Lord Boringdon to Lady Morley, 27 January [1810], British Library Add MSS 48227 f. 175.

*****

The Late Lord book coverA big thanks to Jacqueline Reiter.

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What the Heck was Teapot Dome, Anyway?

Anne Louise Bannon author photoRelevant History welcomes back Anne Louise Bannon, a historical mystery author and journalist whose journalistic work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Wines and Vines, and in newspapers across the country. She created the Oddball Grape wine blog with her husband, Michael Holland. She also writes the romantic fiction serial White House Rhapsody, book one of which is out now. Her novels include the Freddie and Kathy mystery series, set in the 1920s, the Operation Quickline series, and Tyger, Tyger. She and her husband live in Southern California with an assortment of critters. The Last Witnesses officially launches on 28 April, with pre-orders available now. For more information about her and her books, visit her web site, subscribe to her newsletter, and follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Goodreads.

*****

One of the fun things about writing a mystery set in the 1920s is that there was so much going on, including a raft of scandalous behavior within the administration of President Warren G. Harding. But while we may have heard of Teapot Dome, how many of us actually remember what it was?

Yet, in my most recent novel, The Last Witnesses, which is set in October 1925, much of this was headline news. And since some of the action is tangentially connected to the scandal, my characters do spend some time talking about it. The story still makes sense even if you don’t know about Teapot Dome, but just to bring folks up to date, here it is.

Harding’s administration was possibly the most corrupt of any in American history. His pick to head the Veteran’s Bureau got caught selling medical supplies intended for the military to outside vendors. Harding’s attorney general spent most of the ‘20s under investigation. And that was far from all.

However, the big one, the one everyone associates the most with Harding and the 1920s was Teapot Dome, an oil field in eastern Wyoming, almost directly north of Casper. Back in the early part of the Twentieth Century, the U.S. Navy got the bright idea that it might be a good thing to not drill on certain oil fields on federal land and keep that oil in reserve in case of an emergency. The problem was a whole bunch of oil magnates at the time were salivating all over the place to go drill on the Naval Reserves.

Even then, you couldn’t just go drilling without paying the owners for the oil. So, the oil magnates would pay for leases that would allow them the mineral rights on a given land and then drill. In the case of Teapot Dome, the U.S. Government owned the land, with the Navy in control, and the Navy was not going to let it happen.

But in 1921, Warren Harding gets sworn in as president and appoints his poker buddy Albert Fall as Secretary of the Interior. Shortly after that, Fall talks the Navy into giving the Department of the Interior control over the Reserves at Teapot Dome and by spring of 1922, neighbors are noticing that drilling is going on where it’s not supposed to be. The local senator, John B. Kendrick, initiates an investigation, and over the course of several years, it comes out that oilmen Harry Sinclair and Edward Doheny had bribed Fall with massive amounts of money, including a $100,000 “loan” from Doheny, well over $1 million in today’s dollars.

Fall might have gotten away with his little scheme—after all, he did have the legal right to lease the land to Doheny and Sinclair, even if he wasn’t supposed to. What did him in was that folks noticed he was living more than a little above his pay grade. He was eventually convicted of taking bribes, but Doheny got off pretty much scot-free and Sinclair served six months for jury tampering.

Harding had the good luck to die in August, 1923, just as this was all starting to go public, and may not have known what Fall was up to, or some of the other nefarious goings on in his administration. Some of those ended up in the book. Like I noted, it’s one of the reasons I find the 1920s such a fun one for murder mysteries.

*****

The Last Witnesses book coverA big thanks to Anne Louise Bannon. She’ll give away a paperback or ebook copy (winner’s choice) of The Last Witnesses 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 for the paperback is available after 28 April and in the U.S. only.

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Co-Partners in Grace: the Rise and Fall of the Puritan Marriage Manual

MJ Logue author photoRelevant History welcomes M J Logue, a trained archivist and literature graduate who lived in York overlooking the Ouse for five years, studying in the archives of York Minster by day and cleaning the school by night. Her interest in the seventeenth century began when she lived next door to a ruined manor on the edge of the Peak National Park, as a result of which she wrote her first novel aged fifteen. She now lives with her husband, son and five cats in West Cornwall. To learn more about her and her books, visit her web site, and follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and Wattpad.

*****

Oh, so and so is such a bore, they say. So dour, so chaste, so—well, joyless. So puritanical.

Gentle reader, I am here to tell you that they’re wrong.

Believe it or not, our Puritan ancestors were considerably more enlightened on the matter of love and marriage than we think. The “conduct manual”—a book, or a sermon, written for young people just starting out on their married life together—was incredibly popular, offering practical and spiritual advice to couples, and printed commercially with remarkable success throughout the seventeenth century.

A Little Commonwealth
Read Thomas Gataker, Bachelor of Divinity and Parson of Rotherhithe, writing in his pamphlet “Marriage Duties Briefely Couched Together”[1] on the matter of marital love:

And this point thus observed may first serve to shew what is one main cause of much neglect of duty in many families, in children towards parents, in Servants toward Master and Mistress; because the governors are not careful of mutual duties betwixt themselves, of concord and agreement the one with the other, of love and fidelity the one to the other, of respectful and regardful carriage the one towards the other.

Or, as he is at pains to point out:

For as in a clock or a watch, if the spring be faulty, the wheels cannot go, or if they move not either other, the hammer cannot strike: so here, where duty faileth between man and wife it causeth a neglect of all other good duties in the family that dependeth upon them.

Gataker was writing advice to young married couples in 1620. He’s advocating love and respect and fidelity—not as a wifely duty, but as a mutual duty.

It’s a really interesting read, actually. It’s absolutely not what you would imagine. It does emphasise, as you would imagine for a seventeenth-century text, the patriarchal nature of the family and the wife’s necessary subjection, but the (idealised, but incredibly progressive) view of family life as a little commonwealth in which husband and wife have rights and responsibilities one towards another, but in which love and fidelity are key.

The first cause of writing is a motherly affection
And it would be wrong to assume that all these cheaply-printed, widely-available little booklets were written by men to instruct and direct their womenfolk, think again. The early modern period saw an explosion of such work, written by women, for women, even before the birth of the novel and the female novelist; mostly domestic and devout advice manuals like Dorothy Leigh’s “A Mother’s Blessing”[2]. Read the early American Puritan poet Anne Bradstreet, writing on her husband’s absence on public employment[3]:

My head, my heart, mine Eyes, my life, nay more,
My joy, my Magazine of earthly store,
If two be one, as surely thou and I,
How stayest thou there, whilst I at Ipswich lye?

Or Thomas Fairfax, Parliamentarian commander of the English Civil War and amateur (and not very good) poet, on the ideal relationship between a man and a woman[4]. He was happily married for something like thirty years to a very feisty lady and knew of what he spoke:

All Creaturs else on Earth that are
Whether they Peace affect or Warre
Males ther Females ne’re opress
By the Lyon safe lyes the Lyoness
The Beares ther Mates noe harme procure
Wtii Wolfe the shee Woolfe lines secure
And of the Bull the Earth wc^ teeres
The tender Heyfer has noe feares
But men then these more brutish are
Who w’l’ ther wiues Contend & jarre

Domestic peace, rather than passion, is the goal of the ideal marriage, to the seventeenth century Puritan—quoting the immortal Sir Thomas again:

…wanton Lust the Mother
Of toyinge Vanity a Bowre
Enimy of Peace the Fount wher Pride doe swime
Th’ Incendeary of Strife of Passions Magazen

A Mutual Duty
So does that mean that the Puritans didn’t hold with carnal pleasure?

On the contrary, within a loving relationship, it was seen as nothing short of essential to happiness. Gataker again, very tactfully—“…some such private dalliance & behaviour to married persons between themselves as to others might seem dotage”—the key being private dalliance, between themselves. It was a significant part of a relationship, not the basis of one. The marriage manuals are very definite on that matter. Careful thought should be given to the long-term compatibility of a couple considering marriage and that it be based on friendship and liking, a mutual support, rather than being led by strong physical attraction.

The commonsense marriage manual, sadly, seems to have flourished briefly throughout the first half of the seventeenth century and then been replaced at the Restoration by much more hands-on and considerably less moral practical manuals like “The School of Venus”—which, one might argue, more effectively reflected the mood of the times than the considerably less catchy:

A bride-bush, or A wedding sermon compendiously describing the duties of married persons: by performing whereof, marriage shall be to them a great helpe, which now finde it a little hell.

Notes:
[1] Text of “Marriage Duties Briefly Couched Together,” https://faculty.history.wisc.edu/sommerville/367/GatakerMarriage.html
[2] Northon Anthology Of English Literature, https://www.wwnorton.com/college/english/nael/17century/topic_1/leigh.htm
[3] Anne Bradstreet, Collected Poems, https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/100326166
[4] Poems of Thomas Fairfax, https://ia601400.us.archive.org/16/items/poemsofthomasthi00fair/poemsofthomasthi00fair.pdf

*****

The Smoke of Her Burning book coverA big thanks to M J Logue. She’ll give away a paperback copy of The Smoke of Her Burning, prequel to her historical fiction series set in the seventeenth century, to five people who contribute 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 In the Shadow of the Storm

Kevin R. Tipple has won a copy of In the Shadow of the Storm by Anna Belfrage. Congrats to Kevin!

Thanks to Anna Belfrage for a look at the desperation for holy relics (real and otherwise) 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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Holy Bits and Pieces

Anna Belfrage author photoRelevant History welcomes back Anna Belfrage, who, had she been allowed to choose, would have become a time traveler. Instead, she became a financial professional with two absorbing interests: history and writing. Anna has authored the acclaimed time-slip series “The Graham Saga,” winner of multiple awards, including the HNS Indie Award 2015. Her new series, “The King’s Greatest Enemy,” is set in the 1320s and features Adam de Guirande, his wife Kit, and their adventures during Roger Mortimer’s rise to power. The third book, Under the Approaching Dark, will be released April 2017—and yes, Lincoln and its cathedral play a relevant role. To learn more about her and her books, visit her web site and blog, and follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

*****

A bone by any other name is still a bone
No sooner do I enter a museum, but I make for the medieval exhibitions and the myriad of objects that stand testament to how present faith was in the everyday lives of our long-gone ancestors. I am especially fascinated by the reliquaries, beautifully adorned little caskets which were used to house precious relics, usually the odd bit and piece of a long-dead saint.

These relics were venerated throughout the Christian world. Some attributed healing powers to the relics, others believed the crumbling remains of an arm or a skull served to connect the penitent kneeling before it with the glory of Heaven. Initially, dismembering a saint’s remains was frowned upon, but ever-growing demand led to a more pragmatic approach. Fingers, arms, legs, were broken off from the saintly remains and carried off to a new home—in a purpose-built reliquary. The general idea was that the precious relic should be encased in gold and jewels so as to proclaim the glory of eternal life awaiting the original owner of the bones rattling round inside the casket.

In medieval times, any religious institution worth its name had to have a collection of relics. Some went quite wild and crazy in their search, bringing back everything from (yet another) purported head belonging to John the Baptist to splinters from the True Cross to phials of the Holy Blood. Trade in these items was brisk, putting it mildly, and at some point there were several heads belonging to John the Baptist doing the rounds. As to the splinters of the True Cross, should they all have been brought together, they’d have sufficed to build a new ark rather than the more modest contraption on which our Lord suffered and died.

The intrepid relic-trader soon discovered that the hunger for saintly remains was particularly strong in Carolingian Europe and England. The bones of saints were simply not enough to go around, but fortunately the catacombs of Ancient Rome were littered with old skeletons, and soon enough these old pagan bones were making their way due north, complete with whatever provenance was required to sell them as relics.

The Holy Church was irritated and embarrassed by the trade in false relics; they detracted from the value of the real thing. But in a world where people put a lot of store in owning a saintly hair or knuckle, it was difficult to shut the business down. Plus, of course, churches with relics made a lot of money from pilgrims and were therefore not all that interested in discussing the origins of the mummified hand, foot, jawbone—take your pick—they might be displaying.

No relic, no money
For a church not to have a relic was something of a minor disaster. For a medieval cathedral to lack one was unacceptable—which brings me to a little anecdote featuring Lincoln Cathedral and its lack of relics.

Lincoln CathedralIn 2016, I was fortunate enough to visit Lincoln Cathedral, and I can’t quite recall when last I was so overawed by a building as I was by this glorious, glorious church in golden stone, sitting so proudly atop its hill. The western façade is particularly eye-catching, and on one of the pinnacles that decorate it stands St Hugh of Lincoln.

Long before Hugh was St Hugh, he was just plain Hugh, a bishop determined to administer his bishopric as it best served its people. He improved education, was generous to those in need, thorough in going about his duties and careful in his appointments, ensuring his diocese was as well-run as it could be—and always doing God’s work, even if it caused conflict between him and the king. By far the biggest challenge he undertook was to rebuild his minster. Lincoln Cathedral had been severely damaged by an earthquake in 1185.

Now, to rebuild a church, especially one on such a large and magnificent scale as Lincoln Cathedral, required money. One way to bring in money was to have a top-name relic to bring in pilgrims. Lincoln had none. Christ’s crown of thorns would have been a nice-to-have, but the French already had it (or one of the various crowns of thorns). Christ’s shroud would have been just as big a draw, but Turin was not about to let it go any time soon. Anything belonging to the Virgin would also have fit the bill, but alas, such relics were few and dear.

St Hugh of LincolnOur Hugh was probably beginning to feel a tad despondent when, in 1190, he visited France. More specifically, he was at the abbey of Fécamp in Normandy. This abbey had a fabulous treasure, an arm supposed to have belonged to no less than Mary Magdalen. A fantastic relic, one that would draw huge crowds—but the monks at Fécamp weren’t about to part with their treasure. As a consolation, Hugh was allowed to see the relic up close. It was lifted out of its reliquary, and the cloth covering the remains was folded back. Behold, the remains of a hand and arm that had once touched Christ, held him even!

So overcome was Hugh (or so the story goes) that he tried to break off a piece to take home with him. The horrified monks tried to stop him, but they were no match for the determined Hugh. The arm, however, was, and no matter how he tried, Hugh could not snap off a piece. Which was when he resorted to gnawing on the relic instead, and before he had been pulled away, he had managed to dislodge two precious splinters. At last, Lincoln had a relic, however unorthodoxly acquired!

*****

In the Shadow of the Storm book coverA big thanks to Anna Belfrage. She’ll give away an ebook copy of In the Shadow of the Storm, first book in her “The King’s Greatest Enemy” series, 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 Maria Ines

Doris Eraldi has won a copy of Maria Ines by Anne Schroeder. Congrats to Doris!

Thanks to Anne Schroeder for a look at the problems people encountered during Old California’s transition from Spanish to Mexican control. 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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California’s Turbulent Transition From Spain to Mexico

Anne Schroeder author photoRelevant History welcomes Anne Schroeder, who served as President of Women Writing the West. Her award-winning fiction includes stories of bandits and bold women. She worked her way through college at a truck-stop café near where James Dean died. She lives in Southern Oregon with her husband, dogs and several free-range chickens. To learn more about her and her books, visit her web site, and follow her on Facebook.

*****

The land of dons and doñas comes to an end
Viva la independencia! Viva el Emperor Augustin I!” shouted the residents of Monterey while the Spanish flag was lowered in California’s capitol. A moment later the Mexican flag fluttered in the ocean breezes. The year was 1821. Swift riders were sent up and down California to spread the news.

Mission in CaliforniaIn pastoral ranchos across El Camino Real, the King’s Highway, from Sonoma to San Diego, Spanish ladies put away their black taffeta dresses, high hair combs and mantillas. They loosed their severe braids and adopted brightly-colored skirts and blouses that suited an informality of attitudes that accompanied the fall of influence from the Catholic Church. Padres were banished, some to a Spain they had never seen. Mission tools, food stores and livestock were sold to cover the current governors’ gambling debts. Horses were driven off by the thousands, sold to the U.S. army in Arizona for use in the Plains Wars. The Indians were emancipated, with nowhere to go.

Three new governors were appointed in four years. Complaints about each flew between Mexico City and Monterey. Traditional pride ignited old rivalries, but the conflicts were undertaken with honor and decorum as brother raged against brother, nephew against uncle. Some of the actions, recounted later, seemed almost courtly. General Mariano Vallejo was imprisoned for months during the Bear Flag Revolt, until his wife won his release with daily gifts for his accusers of wine and delicacies from the General’s rancho.

Conflicting Californians clashed, and one was killed by countrymen near Santa Barbara. Widows of the great Spanish dons, interviewed for the Bancroft Project years later, expressed the opinion that civil war seemed inevitable and was only avoided because the Americans took control. Perhaps the Californians turned their energies to a common enemy.

Spanish land grants, conveyed by a handshake and a promise, were set aside by Mexican courts. Spanish dons, unable to provide a written deed, lost their lands to loyal Mexicans, many of whom later lost their own claim in American courts. In canyon and arroyo, greed descended. Gone, the fiestas with their fierce combat between a lassoed grizzly tied to the leg of a wild longhorn bull. The bucolic life of pastoral California had come to an end.

The “Time of the Troubles”
The Indians in both Alta and Baja California suffered greatly. During the Colonial rule, Franciscan monks under the leadership of Padre Junipero Serra had traveled from Spain to set up a chain of Missions to instruct the natives. By decree of the King, they were to produce worthy Spanish subjects. They were to baptize, instruct in music, prayer, teach matters of hygiene and modest dress. They were to teach methods of European farming and stock management that would provide for the gente de razón (people of reason, the Spanish people) living in California as well as the benefactors of the expedition, the Spanish court. Each Mission was supplied with five soldiers who were to protect and administer punishment. Families were encouraged to immigrate and procreate, with families producing over twenty children. Outposts at the edge of the world, the immigrants were cut off from civilization except for a Spanish ship that arrived each year with supplies to be paid for with hides.

Old well in CaliforniaWhen Spain went to war against her European neighbors, Indians were pressed to their limits to provide leather, gold, food and raw materials for Spain. During the first years, padres ministered to the curious Indians who gathered at the edge of the trees and watched the greyrobes offer prayers to a God that was more powerful than their traditional gods. As Indian neophytes, Christians, died of sickness and overwork, the soldados de cuero, leather jacketed Mission guard, rode further into the countryside rounding up replacements with ropes and sticks. The neophytes singed their hair with hot coals and grieved their loss of freedom. Some escaped, only to be rounded up and severely punished by soldiers tasked with strict quotas set by the Spanish king and, later, by the taxes needed to pay salaries of the Mexican administrators. What began as a ten-year plan to train Indians stretched into a fifty-year joint venture that became increasingly difficult for everyone.

The later period from the Mexican era through the first years of the American conquest, became known to the People as the “Time of the Troubles.”

This is the setting of my novel, Maria Ines. Maria is a Salinan Indian girl born under Padre Serra’s cross at Mission San Miguel Arcángel. She witnesses the political intrigue and greed of Spanish, Mexican and Yanqui invaders who plunder California, destroying everything she loves. A refugee in her own land during the Time of the Troubles, Maria Ines struggles to survive while she reclaims her family, her faith, and her ancestral identity.

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Maria Ines book coverA big thanks to Anne Schroeder. She’ll give away an advanced reader copy (ARC) of Maria Ines 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. and Canada.

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How Archival Research Added Texture to My Novel

Mystery Thriller Week 2017 logoThe week of 12–18 February, I’m participating with dozens of crime fiction authors in Mystery Thriller Week (MTW). Click on the logo to the left to check out a full schedule of author interviews, guest posts, and Facebook events during this week. Here’s how the week looks for me:

Monday 13 Feb: I host author Linda Kane for Relevant History.
Tuesday 14 Feb: Catherine Dilts interviews me on her blog.
Tuesday 14 Feb: MTW hosts my guest post about child soldiers.
Thursday 16 Feb: I host a great chat on Facebook with Relevant History veterans Jeri Westerson and I.J. Parker, “Women Historical Mystery Authors Who Write Men Detectives.”
Friday 17 Feb: I host author Jennifer S. Alderson for Relevant History (below).
Saturday 18 Feb: Stephen Bentley interviews me on his blog.

Jennifer Alderson author photoRelevant History welcomes Jennifer S. Alderson, who was born in San Francisco, raised in Seattle, and currently lives in Amsterdam. Her love of travel, art and culture inspired her ongoing series of novels following the adventures of Zelda Richardson around the globe. In Down and Out in Kathmandu, Zelda volunteers in Kathmandu, where she gets entangled with a gang of diamond smugglers. The Lover’s Portrait follows Zelda to Amsterdam, where she discovers a cache of masterpieces missing since World War Two. Her third novel—a mystery centered around Papua New Guinean ‘bis poles’, missionaries and anthropologists—will be released in the summer of 2017. To learn more about her and her books, visit her web site and blog, and follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, Pinterest, and LinkedIn.

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Let me make this clear from the start: I love the smell and feel of archival documents, those yellowing bits of paper and crumbling photographs that rustle ever so slightly when extracted from their manila envelopes. There’s something magical about scouring through meters of racks, drawers and file folders until you find an interesting or odd snippet of information recorded long ago which helps a character or story truly come to life.

While working out the storyline for my second novel, The Lover’s Portrait, I realized early on that the restitution of looted artwork and the treatment of Jewish citizens in the 1930s and 1940s, were going to be central to the plot.

To ensure that any potentially controversial aspects of my art mystery were honestly and accurately described, extensive archival research would be essential. What I didn’t expect is that this same research would add much needed texture and depth to my story, infuse it with universal themes and—according to all the reviewers so far—be what sets it apart.

Diving into the unknown to find the unique
I knew one of the main characters was going to be an art dealer being blackmailed by a Nazi general during the Second World War. I just didn’t know exactly why he would be forced to give up his collection. Restitution of art was a topic already very familiar to me, one I’d learned much about during art history and museum studies lectures at the University of Amsterdam. However the details surrounding important events in Dutch history, and the attitudes held in Europe during that period, were not.

It was crucial for the plot that this art dealer character not be Jewish but did need to be considered a ‘dissident’ or threat to the Nazi regime for another reason. I went to the Amsterdam City Archives with an open mind and list of questions.

I’d thought up all sorts of plot twists which involved other groups targeted by Hitler’s troops—Romas, communists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, political dissidents and homosexuals—and decided to see what my adopted hometown’s archives could tell me about how they were affected by the war. The documents I found relating to the treatment of homosexuals were the least known, and therefore most interesting, to me.

Before visiting the archives, I’d read several non-fiction books to better understand this turbulent time in European and Dutch history, and seen no mention of how Dutch men could be arrested, castrated and sent off to work camps in Germany based on the mere suspicion that they were homosexual. Or that lesbians were classified as ‘political dissidents’ in work camps.

That’s when I realized I’d found a ‘winner’ qua topic, one which hadn’t already been exhaustively explored in mainstream literature.

The sensitive nature of the themes discussed in this novel warranted that it be historically accurate, yet it was never my intention to write a historical fiction novel, but an art-infused mystery. When my ‘final draft’ clocked in at 110,000 words, I was afraid it was too long or would only appeal to historical fiction buffs, so I slashed many of the chapters which relied heavily on the obscure details I’d worked so hard to find.

The end result was shorter and less historical, but without all those enticing tidbits of information to fill in the characters’ backgrounds or help explain plot developments, the whole story fell flat. It was as if I’d ripped the soul out of my novel.

Little details make the difference
Despite my misgivings about the length, I added everything back in and even wrote three new chapters taking place in wartime Amsterdam to provide more depth and richness to the story, choosing to edit down the present day sections of the book to compensate. Man, am I glad I did! It’s the research that grabs reviewers’ attention, enhances their enjoyment of the story and characters, and seems to be what distinguishes this novel from others in the ‘amateur sleuth’ category.

My research has also paid off in other ways. I recently found out the Jewish Historical Museum in Amsterdam is adding The Lover’s Portrait to their library’s permanent collection because they are thrilled with their prominent role in the book. The Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam has already added it to their library based on the merits of my research into the complexities surrounding the restitution of looted artwork. And a prominent local LGBT organization, Pink Point, is helping me promote the book here in the city because they believe the storyline to be unique.

Yes, I spent many long hours browsing through often useless documents, pamphlets, flyers and photographs in far-flung physical and digital archives. I didn’t have to. But without all of the little details adding texture, depth and layers of meaning, my book wouldn’t have been the same. And frankly, I enjoyed every second of it!

Fellow authors, do you conduct archival research in order to add texture to your fiction? Readers, do you expect fiction to be well-researched, or are you just as happy to step into a completely fictitious world?

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A big thanks to Jennifer Alderson. Check out her “Name the Character” contest for the opportunity to win an electronic copy of one of her books. Offer ends 21 February 2017.

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The Winner of The Black Madonna

Vanda has won a copy of The Black Madonna by Linda Kane. Congrats to Vanda!

Thanks to Linda Kane for the scoop on a horrific chapter in the history of the Catholic Church. 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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