Sunday, 25 March 2012

The Coming of the Castle Builders

Before the Normans came to England, there were few castles to be found in that country, and those that existed had been mainly constructed by Norman advisors of Edward the Confessor.

The invaders brought the idea of their fortress style buildings with them and a grand example of the Norman castle can be seen today at Chepstow, on the Monmouthshire border. Though now a ruin, its weathered stones speak of an age of fortitude, few comforts and great danger.

Chepstow sits high above the banks of the river Wye in southeast Wales. Construction began at Chepstow in 1067, less than a year after William the Conqueror was crowned King of England. The Conqueror’s castle builder was his loyal Norman lord, William FitzOsbern. FitzOsbern's fortresses were the vehicles from which the new king consolidated control of his newly conquered lands. Chepstow Castle became the key launching point for expeditions into Wales, expeditions that eventually subdued the rebellious population. I discuss FitzOsbern’s castle building prowess in Conquering Passion. He assists the hero, Ram de Montbryce, in the construction of Ellesmere Castle.

Chepstow's Great Hall, begun in 1067, is the oldest surviving stone castle in Britain. Because of this, the site has a special significance to British history. At other castles built during the Conqueror's reign, original Norman structures have long since disappeared, but at Chepstow it's still possible to see and touch the remains of FitzOsbern's first great building project in Wales.

The Normans weren't the first to recognize the strategic position of Chepstow. The arch above the main doorway to the hall is made from brick brought from a Roman fort that once stood nearby. The hall was always the heart of the castle, and originally stood alone. Over the years, the castle was enlarged by a series of builders. Today, the castle takes the shape of a long rectangle perched high above the river Wye.

Inside the hall, powerful men mapped out strategy with other Welsh "Marcher Lords," planning invasions to wrest control of Wales from groups of powerful princes still holding most of the country. My readers will remember Rhodri ap Owain, the Prince of Powwydd, from Conquering Passion. A new series is coming soon based on Rhodri’s life and family. The first two books, Defiant Passion and Falling, will be available digitally in about two weeks.

Besides William FitzOsbern, Earl of Hereford, Chepstow's other famous lords include William Marshal, earl of Pembroke, and Roger Bigod, earl of Norfolk. Depending on your perspective, these are some of the most important (or hated) men of Norman-Welsh history.

The Great Hall and dramatic cliff-side at Chepstow are the castle's two most interesting features. The rest of the castle is a typical Norman structure—a large gatehouse with high curtain walls connecting a series of tall towers. Because Chepstow was built in stages along the river Wye, the castle is constructed in a long, terraced fashion.

Chepstow's strategic position allowed defenders to supply the castle via the river during times of battle and siege, while defending it against attack.

At the end of the 12th century, Chepstow passed by marriage to William Marshal, a formidable soldier of fortune, and Earl of Pembroke. With considerable experience in military architecture in France, he set about bringing Fitz Osbern's castle up to date. He rebuilt the east curtain wall, with two round towers projecting outwards, in order to protect this vulnerable side. Arrow-slits in the towers were designed to give covering fire to the ground in front of the curtain, and this was one of the earliest examples of the new defensive mode which was to become characteristic of the medieval castle.

Before 1245, the sons of William Marshal greatly enlarged Chepstow's defences and improved the internal accommodation. They added a new lower bailey, with an impressive twin-towered gatehouse. At the upper end of the castle, a strongly defended barbican was constructed at this time. Marshal's sons also made additions to the Great Tower, or keep.

Between 1270-1300 Roger Bigod III, one of the greatest magnates of his day, built a splendid new hall block on the north side of the lower bailey. The range included a large, vaulted cellar, elaborate service rooms, a kitchen, domestic accommodation and, of course, the hall itself. There is also a latrine set spectacularly high over the river cliff, across the bailey, away from the noise of the hall and the kitchen smells.

Marten's Tower
Bigod built a huge new tower on the south-east corner. This was to provide a suite of accommodation worthy of a nobleman of high rank. It became known later as Marten's Tower, so named after a 17th century political prisoner incarcerated there for 20 years.
Still only .99 cents

Monday, 19 March 2012


Though St. Patrick's Day has passed, I'd like to share this information with you because fostering was a very common practice  in medieval Ireland. In Ireland today, as elsewhere, fostering finds its place in society as a much altered carry-over from the past. Nowadays, it arises for a negative reason: the inability of biological parents to cope, for whatever reason.

Fostering in the past was the antithesis of this. It was a form of child-rearing chosen and upheld for positive reasons, moulded by culture. Fostering was the acceptance of the responsibilities of rearing and educating a child in accordance with certain regulations. The child was indeed the focus in this process, but the realm of fostering expanded beyond that of childhood. It was a lifelong contract. Intimate bonds created through fostering carried immediate and long term consequences. Fostering helped to mould the medieval child, and its enduring character long out-lived the medieval period.

It has been suggested that fostering in Roman times was the result of a taboo which forbade the father from seeing his children until they had reached a certain age. What is known for certain is that when Ireland emerges in the historic period (fifth century), fostering is a well established tradition in society.

Appraising the child

In early medieval Ireland the maternal and paternal kin had a say in where the child was placed, thus the kin group as a whole took an active interest in the future of the child. The valued position of children—as heir, succour in life, support in old age—is why the death of a child was particularly tragic.

Seven years was traditionally regarded as the suitable age for the commencement of fostering. A child of that age was generally regarded as having reached the age of learning and reason. There is evidence, however, for fostering commencing at a much earlier stage, through the practice of wet-nursing.

In legal material of the eighth century, reference is made to nursing clothes (‘cradle clothes’) given with the child when proceeding into fostering. There were two sets of clothing given to the nursing-mother, a black tunic and a black mantle, returned on the completion of fostering. The common practice was the giving of the child to a wet-nurse in her own home, who was then nursing two babies simultaneously, if her own child survived.

The clothes worn by children of the free class (both noble and commoner) while in fostering were of specific colours. The children of the free-man grade wore yellow, black and white and clay-coloured. Red, green and brown were the colours of the noble grade. Purple and blue were reserved for royalty. The colour of clothes and the trimmings (brooches and gold and silver ornamentation) were outward marks of distinction.

Types of food were also distinguished according to rank. Porridge was given to all children, but the different flavourings reflected status: salt for the sons of the commoners, butter for the noble grades, and honey for royal children. The ingredients of the porridge itself differed, with a water-based porridge for the commoners, porridge made with new milk for the aristocratic grade, the same for the children of kings, but with extra wheat in it.

The basis for the type of fostering and education a child received was the size of foster-fee (iarrath) paid. A legal maxim of the eighth century reads: ‘the fostering of each son according to his foster-fee’, implying that rank was all-important. The foster-fee was graded, from three cows for the son of a bóaire (strong farmer) to eighteen cows for the son of a king. Fostering of a daughter was a sét (a fixed unit of value) more expensive in each grade.

At the core of fostering was education to prepare the child for his position later in life. A fine of two-thirds of the foster-fee was incurred if the quality of fostering was deficient in any manner, say, through the negligent provision of instruction in a given area. Differences are evident in the type of education provided. There was a strong pastoral flavour to the education of the free-man grade.
Daughters were taught how to use the quern, the kneading trough, the sieve, and the herding of lambs, kids, pigs and calves. Women were in charge of domestic matters, and therefore needed the skills of cookery, tending sheep (which would provide fleece for weaving), and tending animals.

Boys were taught kiln-drying, wood-cutting and also the herding of various animals—all practical skills for the future farmer. We might have expected to find the boys receiving instruction solely from the foster-father, but this was not the case in areas where the woman held sway.

The children of the higher grades, in addition to receiving instruction in agricultural matters, were taught more noble pursuits: board games resembling draughts and chess for foster-sons; sewing, cutting and embroidery for foster-daughters. Skill in handicraft was a mark of distinction in a woman. If there were appropriate facilities, swimming was supposed to be taught. The sons of noble grades were taught horse riding, if the father supplied a horse. There were many practical reasons for learning how to ride.

A number of items are mentioned in legal material as being in the noble child’s possession, including a hurley and a scabbard, reflecting a mixture of play and military training common for most boys. We should not be surprised to find boys playing games of skill and agility of a competitive nature. Games were also important trials of strength. Play things are explained as ‘goodly things which remove the dullness from little boys, that is, hurleys, balls, hoops’.

Cats and dogs are also mentioned as children’s pets. Older children participated in field games and wrestling. In a thirteenth-century poem lamenting the death of several members of his foster-family, the poet fondly remembers games from his childhood, which he played with his foster-brothers. They would play at an imitation of an inauguration or homage ceremony, where a child was placed on a height with those remaining marching around him three times. Piggy-back games were also played.

Parental guidance and responsibility
A peculiarity of fostering was the extra sét it cost for a female child. Commentaries on legal tracts speculate as to why it cost more. Reasons ranged from uncleanliness to the fact that her handiwork was of lesser value than the chores performed by a boy. The most plausible reason given was that her attendants were more numerous. One piece of advice in the early medieval period reads: ‘three darknesses into which women should not go: the darkness of mist, the darkness of night and the darkness of wood’.

Women in saga literature are reproached for wandering alone—a woman on her own was suspected of keeping a tryst. Accompaniment was a precaution against abduction, rape, or attempts to lure into sexual union. The protective role of foster-sisters was important. The hazards which could befall a female fosterling would also have placed the foster-father open to the charge of neglect. General ills which could befall foster-children of both sexes, and which foster-parents were warned against, included the safety of the child in the presence of animals, the danger of cliffs, precipices, and lakes, and injuries caused by spikes, spears, sticks and stones.

If the fostering undertaken was one of affection (i.e. where no fee was levied), the foster-father or foster-mother was not liable for crimes committed by the child. The age of the child, the nature of the crime, and the number of offences previously committed, were all taken into consideration when the punishment for a crime was decided. The age of the child in relation to crime is divided in three: to the age of seven, from seven to twelve, and from twelve to seventeen. Punishment took the form of chastisement, fasting, and/or the restitution of goods.

The most common crimes committed by children were assault and theft. In the late medieval Life of Brendan an episode from his youth relates an incident where he beat a girl who wished to play with him. He is severely reproached by his tutor. Excessive violence while playing games involving physical contact was also punishable. The only specifics of a crime committed by a foster-child in legal material is the theft by a child under twelve years of age of a hoop or hurley, resulting in restitution in kind.

The foster-father paid the fines for the crimes committed, until he ‘proclaimed’ his foster-son to his natural father by formally declaring his foster-son’s criminal tendencies, thereby legally shifting the responsibility for certain crimes to the natural father, if the foster-father was not at fault. If a child was habitually criminal and subsequently proclaimed, the means of discipline available to the foster-parents was obviously limited.

According to Brehon law, if a child was blemished in any way while in fostering the foster-father forfeited the fee. If there was a justifiable reason, two-thirds of the fee was forfeited. For noble grades there could not be ‘a blemish if struck, or the shedding of blood, or one that is a bandage wound’. The overall impression is that disciplining a child was extremely difficult, and the best path a foster-parent could take was to proclaim the child.
Children Playing a Variety of Games

This would have been a wise financial step, as the foster-parent was held responsible for paying all the fines incurred by an unproclaimed child. As it stood the foster-father was responsible for the first deliberate offence committed by the child, which could involve a serious crime such as bodily injury or homicide. On a more positive note, the foster-father received one-third of the díre (fine) of the foster-son if he was injured in any way.

There were three times of fostering completion: death, crime and choice.Negligence carried far-reaching consequences if the foster-father did not compensate the family of the child adequately and swiftly for their loss. The ‘vengeance for the foster-child of the family’ was permitted by law.

If the father refused to pay for his son’s crimes once proclaimed, the foster-father kept the unspent part of the foster-fee and returned the child. A fostering contract could be terminated by choice, for example, when a girl married or took the veil. Seventeen was the age of fostering completion for boys and fourteen for girls, if special circumstances had not forced an earlier termination. At seventeen the male foster-child was held totally responsible for his own crimes and had to pay full fine accordingly.

Significance of foster-ties

Through participation in fostering, one not only secured maintenance in later life and the possibility of creating friendly or non-belligerent relations between families, but the child also secured support for itself and its siblings in the future. The medieval world was violent. Recurrent references to killings and to incidents of blindings, drownings, and seizings and many other violent acts, illustrate the need for support in everyday life. Foster-links did not guarantee support or loyalty, but they were one, if not the most binding, of ties, which society had to offer. Fostering, as it functioned in medieval Ireland, was advantageous for the child, the kin and society.

Friday, 16 March 2012

Canada's Titanic - The Empress of Ireland

On its 100th anniversary, the sinking of the Titanic continues to fascinate people around the world. But another shipwreck, almost equal in human tragedy, has slipped from popular memory, even though the vessel helped build modern Canada.

The Empress of Ireland sank in 1914 in the St. Lawrence River after colliding with the Storstad, a Norwegian coal ship. A total of 1012 passengers and crew died, compared with the Titanic’s 1514.

The loss of the Empress of Ireland remains the largest maritime accident in Canadian history.

The Storstad After the Collision
Unlike the Titanic, which went down on its maiden voyage, the Empress of Ireland regularly plied the Atlantic Ocean. Between 1906 and her sinking, the Empress completed 95 round trips, mostly between Liverpool, England, and Halifax or Quebec City. She was one of two Canadian Pacific ships plying the Atlantic between the UK and Canada, bringing thousands of immigrants, most drawn by the prospect of free land on the Prairies.

For years, the remains of the Empress lay on the river bottom off Rimouski, Quebec, where it was picked over by souvenir hunting divers. It was designated a national historic site in 1988, but it wasn’t until 11 years later that the Quebec government tightened regulations to stop souvenir collecting. A small museum dedicated to the Empress now operates in Rimouski for half the year.

The Empress of Ireland played a huge role in forming modern Canada. It’s estimated approximately 500,000 Canadians are descendants of passengers who arrived on the ship. It is Canada’s Titanic.

The day before the tragic sinking, the Empress of Ireland had left Quebec City, bound for Liverpool. Sailing in fog, she was struck near Rimouski by the Storstad, which sliced an enormous gash in the starboard side of her hull. Water rushed in and the ship listed severely, allowing more water to rush in through open portholes. With the ship on its side, some survivors squeezed out of portholes on the opposite side of the ship. But most passengers were trapped inside and drowned. The ship sank in 14 minutes.

According to author Derek Grout in Empress of Ireland, The Story of an Edwardian Liner, those 14 minutes would make few people proud.

“There were no gentlemanly cries of ‘Women and children first!’ In the dark of night it was a free for all and surviving the sinking was a matter of luck at best.”

A board of inquiry would later blame the crew of the Storstad, but Norwegian authorities conducted their own investigation and disputed these findings. A Canadian documentary, The Last Voyage of the Empress, re-enacted the collision and concluded the fog was mostly to blame, but Empress Captain Henry Kendall was not without fault.

A salvage operation shortly after the collision recovered the ship’s mail and 212 bars of silver, worth about $1.1 million today.

Within months of the sinking, World War One was underway, and the thousands of men dying in the trenches every day soon overshadowed the casualties of the Empress of Ireland.

Some believe Canadian Pacific wanted to keep things quiet. With ships on the Atlantic, a railway and hotels spanning Canada, and more ships on the Pacific, it was possible to circumnavigate the globe without leaving the care of CP. The company was reluctant to air details of the sinking.

In 1971, David Brinnin, an American poet, literary critic and travel writer, dismissed the significance of the Empress of Ireland wreck. Brennin wrote that the dead were nothing better than “a lot of middle class Anglo-Saxons and a long roster of Salvation Army officers and executives from one end of Canada to the other.”

So in 1998, when maritime historian David Zeni published his book on the ship, he titled it The Forgotten Empress.

A few small tales have lived on. According to James Croall, writing in the 1978 book Fourteen Minutes, the ship’s cat, a yellow tabby “of doubtful antecedents”, fled down the gangway just as the ship was leaving. A steward ran after him and brought the cat back, but again the animal bolted and was left behind.

Efforts are underway to ensure that when the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Empress of Ireland rolls around in 2014, Canadians will be more aware of this nationally important maritime disaster.

This story struck a small personal chord for me. Many years after this tragedy, I sailed to Canada as an immigrant aboard the CP’s Empress of England. We too left from Liverpool to Quebec City to begin a new life.

It also occurs to me this would be a great background story for a romance novel!

Today I am part of the St. Patricks' Day Blog Hop. Lots of prizes available
One commenter on my blog can win a signed copy of one of my books.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

I'll Need the Luck of the Irish This Week

I am looking forward this week to participating in a special FREE promotion of one of my stories. From March 14th to 18th, Passion in the Blood will be available FREE from Amazon. I've been very pleased with readers' response to my latest release. It has already earned five excellent reviews on Amazon. Here's the link Passion in the Blood.

Dozens of ebooks in all kinds of genres will be available free during this promotion. Click on the badge below to go to the Free Par-Tay website for a complete list.

This week I'll also be involved in the St. Patrick's Day Blog Hop. Lots of prizes available to be won, so watch for the post on March 16th. Click on the icon to the right for more details.

And I'll be submitting my first post to the new collaborative blog, History Ink, on March 14th. Today on History Ink, Abby MacInnis is the featured author. Her latest release is His Fifth Avenue Thief. Please pop over to visit with Abbey.

I'll need the luck of the Irish to keep myself organized this week! Almost forgot. March 17th is the deadline for entering to win a signed copy of A Man of Value on Goodreads.

Friday, 9 March 2012

Featured on Kindle Romance Novels

I'm thrilled to announce my medieval romance, Conquering Passion is scheduled to be featured on the Kindle Romance Novels blog on Friday, March 9th.
Here's the link
Visit their Facebook page:

Monday, 5 March 2012

New Blog featuring Authors of Historical Romance

I am very excited and pleased to be part of a new collaborative blog, History Ink.
13 authors of historical fiction, mostly romance, have banded together to share thoughts about writing historical stories.
Today, March 5th, Eliza Knight, author of many great medieval romances, and famous for her blog, History Undressed, kicks off our venture with a post about the origins of storytelling and fiction writing.
I invite you to stop by. Eliza is giving away a signed copy of her book to one commenter.

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Read An E-Book Week

In support of Read An E-Book Week, my novel A MAN OF VALUE is FREE from March 4th until March 10th 2012 on Smashwords. Here's the link.
Coupon RE100.

Here's a link to interesting information about ebooks.