Paris – April 1622 Part Two

Paris -April 1622 – PART TWO
The words glittered maliciously inside Wat’s head. Eyes shut; he put hands to his ears and groaned.
“Listen, my boychild of a gillyflower. Your ears belong to me now and I want to know everything they hear. Withhold nothing from me. I am the judge of what’s important and what’s not. Little words lead to more than you can ever imagine.”
‘Damn you to hell and back for all eternity,’ Wat muttered and then started as a gentle voice rebuked him.
He opened his eyes.
The large, wet, bunched figure on the opposite side of the table spoke again.
‘I said, “Beware such heartfelt curses, they are apt to rebound.”’
Very little face showed beneath the pulled down beaver hat, very little body under the fine leather overcoat.
Wat sat still, every muscle tense, the pasty a lump in his stomach. The other man did not move either but for a wink of firelight inside his shadowed eyes.
‘Here’s a long way from the days and nights we shared so recently in Cambridge.’
‘Rats, lice, and Scotsmen: you find them the whole world over.’ Wat relaxed. Both anger and laughter sat close by. ‘What the hell are you doing here, Jamie?’

Weave a Garland of my Vows

Decided to post bite size snippets of Work in Progress in order to sharpen the brain box.

Paris, April 1622…PART ONE

The Caberet des Lanternes folded around Wat Montagu as he sat, filthy and damp, his spirits somewhere down there with the mud on the soles of his boots. Neither fire nor fragrant steam rising from the beef and marrow bone pasty set below his nose could raise any joy inside his bitten tiredness.

The serving girl passed him again, giving a faint and puzzled smile this time. Wat set to spooning crumbling pastry and spiced meat into his mouth. His mood moved slowly to ankle height until the echo of a voice crept to overlay the rumbling and laughter of a room full of people.

“Walter, darling brat, I want information. And I want you to get it for me. Bury that soft poet’s heart of yours and come back a man. Without the pox, if you can manage it.”

The Smell of the Middle Ages – originally published at Trivium Publishing LLC

The Smell of the Middle Ages

By Jacquelyn Hodson

What did the Medieval world smell like? Was it as disgustingly ripe as we have sometimes been lead to believe? Research indicates that the answer would appear to be…not quite. Life may have been less hygienic and more fetid than our modern sanitised world, but not irredeemably so.

Early Herbal Manuscripts

Medieval man possessed a deep knowledge of and a great appreciation for the fragrances of the natural world. Herbs, flowers and perfumes formed a large part of every day existence and were inextricably linked with magic and medicine. The oldest surviving English herbal manuscript is the Saxon Leech Book of Bald written about AD 900-950. Its wisdom formed the foundation of every succeeding English medical treatise.

illustration of rosemary

To read the Leech Book is to find vapour and herb baths prescribed for all manner of ailments. It shows how common it was to ‘smoke’ the sick (animal as well as human) with fragrant woods and plants. Scented garlands decorated homes and bodies. Every herb, every tree and every flower had its own special quality.

‘How can a man die who has sage in his garden?’

Rosemary is meant to have been introduced into England by Queen Philippa who received a plant as a gift from her mother the Countess of Hainault. Philippa carried a sprig of rosemary with her at all times.

But of all the scents – rose must be the one most associated with the Middle Ages.

The Rose

Trade routes- opened for the first time since the beginning of the Dark Ages – were threatened once more in the 11th century when Seljuk Turks conquered Palestine and closed off free access with the Levant. But not for long. An alliance of European Princes, with eyes on commerce as much as religion, decided to retake Jerusalem. The First Crusade was born.

When the Crusaders returned home, they brought with them perfumes beyond imagination, practises hitherto unknown. And rosewater.

Bowls of rosewater were soon standing on every noble trestle table for guests to wash their hands after meals – donner à laver. And nice little flirtations often arose during the manus manum lavat where you washed the hands of your dinner companion. The Empress Matilda received a silver peacock encrusted with pearls and gems from France to donner her laver. Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy owned a statue of a child that peed rosewater. Rose petals floated in the bath every good host was wont to offer to his newly arrived guests.

The Bath

People of the Middle Ages are known to have bathed more often than any of their descendants up to the 19th century. It was common for hosts and guests to share the experience.

medieval footbath

Portable wooden tubs lined and padded with cloth and cushions are much associated with this period but it was not unknown for royal bathrooms to contain the type of bath we know today, cased in, set on a tiled floor and with bath mats surrounding it.

King John only bathed once every three weeks but he may have followed a similar regime to Edward IV whose household accounts show that his barbour was paid 2 loaves and a pitcher of wine every Saturday night ‘if it please the Kinge, to cleanse his head, legges or feet, and for his shaving…

One of the practises hitherto unknown that the Crusaders brought back with them from the Middle East concerned public bath houses. The Stews. Under Richard II there were 18 stews in the Southwark region of London alone. Young boys were often seen running through the streets shouting out that the water was now hot. The baths were open for business.

Hand and Hair Washing

To prove that hygiene was an important part of Medieval life, there were several curtasye books available to those who wished to improve their manners. Such things as cleaning your teeth with the tablecloth and spitting at the dinner table were frowned upon. Likewise blowing your nose into your hand and NOT wiping it on your clothes afterwards. Nails should always be clean. And hands, face and teeth must be washed every single morning.

Hand washing a person of highest rank was often a ritualistic affair concerning two bowls – one empty, one full of scented water – two servants and a towel. The bowl containing the warm water was placed on a sideboard covered by the empty bowl. On the arrival of the noble personage, the lid was lifted by one servant and handed to the other (known as the ewer) along with the full bowl. Said ewer – with a towel suspended from one arm – then had to kneel holding both bowls as the noble dandled his hands over the empty one. The warm water was poured, the noble washed and then had his clean hands dried by the first servant.

Records from the 13th century show that hair washing was often accomplished by means of a large, shallow bowl set on a mat on the floor. The user would strip to their waist, hang their head over the bowl and then soap and rinse away to their heart’s content.

Before the advent of alcohol based toilet waters in the 14th century, our clean and well-mannered Medieval man or woman could have finished their ablutions with a dusting of powder on the face and/or the body. These were made from rice powder, ground orris root or ground calamus root and mixed with various ground spices and herbs including cloves, dried rose petals and lavender.

Sweete Cloth

Not only bodies were kept pleasant. Clothes and linens too were regularly sweetened. Edward IV was particularly fond of the violet smell of orris root. His linen was regularly boiled in water into which several roots tied with string were dangled.

Lavender, woodruff and many other herbs were often scattered amongst stored clothes but the favourite scent came from dried roses. And the very best roses to use were those from Provence. Would it be fanciful to imagine Eleanor of Aquitaine importing these flowers from her homeland to lay amidst her velvets and silks?

Homes

Castles and manor houses often smelled damp and musty. To counteract this, herbs and rushes were strewn across the floors. Lavender and thyme; meadowsweet and marjoram; germander and hyssop were all popular and if the house owner was wealthy enough – the stems and leaves of the Sweet Flag (Acorus calamus) which grew only in the Fenlands of Norfolk and Cambridge and the low-lying countries of Europe.

The floors of the court of King Stephen was regularly spread with rushes and flowers so that his knights need not sit on bare flags. And Thomas à Becket ordered his hall floors covered each day with May blossom in spring and sweet scented rushes in summer.

Churches

Churches too benefited from the fragrant strewing habit but all too often churchmen bent a malevolent eye on personal perfuming. Which could be construed as hypocritical when we consider that Roman worship was, and still is, a multi-sensory encounter. Eyes fed on the brilliant icons, ears were soothed by the cadences of the Latin liturgy, tongues tasted wine and wafer. Then, maybe, hands stroked the velvet or coarse wool of clothing before straying to finger those herbs and rushes spread about the wooden pews. And then the scent of rosemary or meadowsweet or violet would rise to mingle with the omnipresent odour of incense.

Medieval Lawns or Flowery Meads

Today’s lawns are manicured and tamed into submission with not a daisy or an inch of clover to mar the pristine green. But in the Middle Ages, a lawn was more a meadow…a ‘flowery mead,’ bursting with fragrant wild flowers and herbs and grasses.

These beautiful, wild acres were an integral part of life – used to their full for walking in, dancing on, sitting amongst. And in houses and castles where space and privacy were hard to come by, they were perfect places for lovers to share a moment or two of secluded passion.

He had made
very beautifully
a soft bed out of the flowers.
Anybody who comes by there
knowingly
may smile to himself
for by the upset roses he may see
tandaradei!
where my head lay.

If anyone were to know
how he lay with me
(may God forbid it), I’d feel such shame.
What we did together
may no one ever know
except us two
one small bird excepted
tandaradei!
and it can keep a secret.

Walther von der Vogelweide (c.1170-1230)

Sources:

A History of Scent – Roy Genders

Clean and Decent – Lawrence Wright

© 2002 Jacquelyn Hodson

Too much History for Historical Fiction

What does a writer (unpublished) do when told by someone in the publishing industry that although she (the writer) has an impressive knowledge of history, there is far too much of it going on in her Historical Fiction novel?

And – that her Main Character is not famous enough for anyone to EVER be interested in reading her story?

My main character – Marie de Rohan – helped drive a fundamental change in 17th century European history. Her story can’t be told without this ‘history’ aspect. She was interesting enough for Alexandre Dumas to write about her and for Marcel Proust to mention her in his Remembrance of Things Past. Also – Queen Victoria was on the throne when the last major study of her life happened.

Both comments have utterly floored me for a while now. Are these industry wide thoughts?
Is there no room anymore for the new subject – a Scarlett O’Hara rather than sweetie-pie?
No room for the pure, un-PC historical without pages of velvet bodices and excruciating post- Freudian self-examination?

I don’t – I can’t – believe that this is true. Am I wrong? Do you have any thoughts about marquee names and watered down history? Help, please!

Picking myself off the floor now.
I’m stubborn enough to carry on regardless. Just not sure which way to turn!!

Marie de Rohan

Theme in Storytelling

Mark Barrett has lately been publishing a series of posts about THEME on his site Ditchwalk

He cites Thomas McCormack’s book THE FICTION EDITOR which includes a chapter called Axing Theme.

To quote Mr McCormack – ‘Let’s start calmly: Each appearance of the word ‘theme’ in a literature appreciation textbook should be marked with that yellow crime-scene tape. Samples of the way ‘theme’ is taught should be sent to Atlanta so the Centers for Disease Control can get on it…I seriously pursue this crusade here, albeit in condensed, almost outline, form, because I believe that what’s being done in classrooms stunts, and even kills, the ability and appetite of many of the best students. This deprives our globe of much talent that would otherwise find itself in writing, teaching, reading . . . and editing.’

When Mark Barrett asked Mr McCormack for permission to quote from his book he received this reply – ‘I have no objection to your posting the piece wherever you will — the primary motivation behind my writing that book was not to get rich but to promulgate some helpful things I’d learned in many years of association with storytelling.’

Flannery O’Connor’s take on THEME – “People talk about the theme of a story as if the theme were like a string that a sack of chicken feed is tied with. They think that if you can pick out the theme, the way you pick the right thread in the chicken-feed sack, you can rip the story open and feed the chickens. But this is not the way meaning works in fiction. . . . The meaning of a story has to be embodied in it, has to be made concrete in it. A story is a way to say something that can’t be said any other way, and it takes every word in the story to say what the meaning is.”

You can access Mr McCormack’s full article about Theme and its dire effects here.

 

Hoydens and Firebrands

I’ve been beside myself with delight this week, having been honoured with a guest spot at the fabulous blog Hoydens and Firebrands

Hoydens and Firebrands is home to several great writers of 17th Century Historical Fiction who share their work, research and love for this fascinating century with us.

Our Roaring Ladies are:

Alison Stuart – By the Sword, The King’s Man.

Anita Davisdon – Duking Days Rebellion, Duking Days Revolution.

Kim Murphy – Whispers through Time, Whispers from the Grave.

Mary Sharratt – The Vanishing Point, Daughters of the Witching Hill.

Sandra Gulland – Mistress of the Sun, The Josephine B Trilogy.

My thanks go to all of you for allowing me to share your warm, bright place.

Please visit Hoydens and Firebrands – – Roaring Ladies who Write about the 17th Century.