I’d love for all the followers here on WordPress to come subscribe to the blog there so you can continue to keep us with the book reviews, podcast episodes, and my own ramblings about historical fiction.
Over at the new website, you will find incredible pages packed with EVERYTHING for historical readers and authors – a bookshop, book awards, editorial reviews, writer research resources, author services, and even a cute little gift shop with unique gifts for readers and writers, alike. Plus, this blog.
Just one more week and when you click on http://www.histficchickie.com you will end up at the new website. I appreciate all the support here on WordPress but the time has come to expand and offer MORE to fans of historical fiction. Everything you loved about this place is still there, plus more. Come check it out!
There are moments when, as a reader, you know the second a book impacts you. And when that impact comes at the very beginning, well, you know you are about to take an exquisite journey. I have felt this many times throughout the years and when it happens, the books become dear to me, and a must-have for my own personal library. This is one of those times.
Reading the blurb, one might think this is just another retelling of the infamous story of Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII, but I am here to say that this book transcends anything I have read to date on this popular subject. When you read lines such as: “…The king’s eyes fly open and his eyeballs swivel from side to side, his disintegrating ego peering as if through the slits in a mummer’s mask.” or “Henry and I are the most powerful couple in all of England and yet, in the face of death, we are powerless,” you are compelled to soak in every last detail. And last, I have to share this… “It is a dead sort of day, the type of day where the sky is white, and there is not even the hint of a breeze. Clouds muffle the horizon and I want to push them away, thrust back the oppression and the fear, and revel for one more day beneath blue skies, feel the wind on my cheeks, the scent of Hever in the air. Instead I am here, in my palatial prison, with no future, no next week to look forward to, perhaps not even a tomorrow.”
Oh, there are so many many more for you to enjoy on this heavenly journey of words. This is just a small sampling.
The immense beauty of Judith Arnopp’s selection of words and phrases is a lesson on how to write a historical novel. She takes what we already know of Anne and Henry to another level, a rare personal glimpse into their personalities, their fears, their hopes, and their love that turned England upside-down in terms of religion. In this book, Anne draws a reader’s sympathy, as she is portrayed as a young naïve girl thrust down a path that ultimately brings her ruin. The delicate way the author shows Anne’s love for her family home, Hever Castle, and the simplicities of that ‘other life’, the life before Henry, fleshes out her character and makes her tremendously relatable; as does the bond she shares with her brother, George, that is taken completely out of context by those wishing to destroy her.
The Kiss of the Concubine is now among my ‘go-to’ books that I will read again and again. Even this review does not do it justice. Simply put… get this book. It is stunning. A must-read!!
In conjunction with The Historical Fiction Club on Facebook, I welcome to the blog, Jim Metzner, during his author takeover on Monday, June 7th. If you would like to join the takeover, please join the club here: The Historical Fiction Club
Jim studied acting at Yale Drama School and enjoyed a brief career working as a singer-songwriter in London, opening for TRex, Free, and Pink Floyd! He has been producing sound-rich audio programs since 1977, including Pulse of the Planet, which has been on the air since 1988 and is now heard widely as a podcast.
For many years, Jim produced features and commentaries for All Things Considered, Marketplace, Weekend Edition, and other public radio programs. He has recorded all over the world and received major grants from the National Science Foundation, NASA, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Grammy Foundation. Stories about his work have appeared in Audio Magazine, The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Christian Science Monitor, National Geographic, The Today Show, and the CBS Evening News. His forty-year archive of sounds is now reposited in the Library of Congress in Washington, DC.
A bee-keeper and avid fly-fisherman, Jim resides in New York’s Hudson River Valley with his wife Eileen.
“This is a rollicking, thought-provoking, rollercoaster of a novel. It’s time traveling on steroids, but it asks big questions. Bravo!” – Ken Burns, filmmaker
“A rich, complex tale of supernatural heroism. The novel folds ancient traditional wisdom into the seams of its story with the author’s well-honed narrative skills, delivering the tastes and flavors of its mingling times and cultures with ease and aplomb. One ends up feeling not like an onlooker, but an active participant in the events. The book, from this perspective, is hard to put down. It’s a page-turner, but an intelligent one; one that asks more questions than it answers and left, for one, this reader hoping for a sequel.” – Lee Van Laer, Senior Editor, Parabola Magazine
“The tribe’s descent from late prehistoric mound builders connects the Natchez people to one of North America’s most intriguing puzzles. Archaeologists know how the earthworks were built, but excavations cannot reveal what these monuments meant to the native people who built them. With Sacred Mounds, Metzner embraces the mystery to weave a story across time and cultural boundaries.” – Jim Barnett, author of The Natchez Indians: A History to 1735
“Awesome! Jim Metzner has imbued a page-turner of a book with esoteric truth half-revealed behind a somewhat violent drama. There are keys to a meaningful life hidden behind the carnage. A great read. Can’t wait for the movie!” – Lillian Firestone, author, The Forgotten Language of Children
Welcome to Barbara Greig, the author of “Discovery” on her blog tour stop today at The Hist Fic Chickie. Today we are featuring a book excerpt, along with a bio about Barbara and her social links; as well as, her link to buy the book! Thanks for stopping by today, Barbara, and to all the followers, enjoy the excerpt:
Ch 10 Extract from DISCOVERY (Greig)
A medley of sounds and smells assaulted Gabriel’s senses as he entered the longhouse, his eyes taking some time to adjust to the dark smoky interior. He followed Matwau’s mother closely as she made her way towards the central hearth, skirting around the other occupants they passed as they slowly progressed. He was aware of, rather than saw, separate living spaces on either side of the fires where the activity of living had recommenced after the excitement of the afternoon.
By the time they halted, after a good twenty paces, Gabriel could see that the central aisle was about three paces wide. He turned slightly and looked over his shoulder, past Matwau. The line of fires behind him was about the same length as that in front of him. Shafts of sunlight pooled onto the beaten earth; the skin coverings drawn back from the ventilation holes to maximise the light. Due to her status, Matwau’s mother occupied the chamber nearest the central hearth. She lifted the hide covering, which would afford them some privacy, and invited Matwau and Gabriel to sit.
Bringing them bowls of thick corn soup, flavoured with fish, the old woman fussed over the two young men with as much care as any devoted mother. They ate heartily, enjoying the novelty of warm food after weeks of being on the move. She watched them avidly for some time, before addressing Gabriel. Leaning over, she prodded his chest with one of her thin fingers and then tapped her own chest. “Sheauga.”
Matwau answered for him. “Gabriel.”
She repeated the name several times, rolling the unfamiliar syllables around her mouth. Speaking her thoughts, she asked, “What does it mean?”
Her son was about to explain that the white man did not use names as they did, when a figure silently slipped into the chamber. Gabriel did not notice, as he had turned his attention to the small loaves of bread Sheauga had placed between them. Freshly baked, the bread appeared to contain a mixture of dried fruit and nuts. He took a loaf, pulled it apart, and was about to take a bite. A voice, soft and musical, cut through his concentration. “Man Unknown.”
Oheo chuckled as the white man’s head jerked up. The piece of bread in his hand forgotten, he bit down on his own tongue and then tried, unsuccessfully, not to wince. Her grandmother’s eyes flashed, a warning even Oheo dared not ignore. She steadied her merriment and appraised the young white man. He appeared to be of a similar age to her uncle, who had miraculously returned after being missing for as long as she could remember. She had missed the clamour of the men’s arrival as she had been bathing in the river following her time in the menstrual hut. Her sister, Aarushi, had sought her out, full of the news, and had urged her to make haste. It was such an unusual occurrence for a new man to be taken into her family unit, even more so as he was to take her grandmother’s husband’s place, that Oheo rushed her ablutions and ran to the longhouse, leaving Aarushi struggling to catch up.
Oheo was disappointed. She had expected the white man to be more fascinating. The man eating her grandmother’s soup bore no resemblance to the white men of her imagination. Iroquois traders, who had travelled further east, had returned with tales of men with eyes the colour of the summer sky, yet the man before her returned her scrutiny with eyes as black as her own. There was also no evidence of the corn-coloured hair as his, under the bear grease, appeared as dark as that of any Mohawk brave. Her disenchantment made her sharp.
“Do not be too comfortable, Man Unknown.”
Gabriel failed to understand but there was no mistaking the hostility of her tone. He turned to Matwau for clarification, who spoke more slowly. “Before the tribe adopts you, you need to prove your valour to the women.”
Gabriel raised an eyebrow, a gesture which did not go unnoticed by Oheo. This white man who was not a white man, for even his skin was darker than she expected, was far too confident, in her opinion. She fixed him with a haughty stare. “You have to endure the trial if you are to be worthy of the Mohawk.”
Book Title: Discovery
Author: Barbara Greig
Publication Date: 28th June 2020
Publisher: Matador (imprint of Troubador Publishing Ltd)
Discovery: An epic tale of love, loss and courage When Elizabeth Gharsia’s headstrong nephew, Gabriel, joins Samuel Champlain’s 1608 expedition to establish a settlement at Quebec, he soon becomes embroiled in a complicated tribal conflict. As months turn into years, Gabriel appears lost to his family.
Meanwhile at home in France the death of her father, Luis, adds to Elizabeth’s anguish. Devastated by her loss, she struggles to make sense of his final words. Could her mother’s journals, found hidden among Luis’s possessions, provide the key to the mystery?
The arrival of Pedro Torres disrupts Elizabeth’s world even further. Rescued from starvation on the streets of Marseille by her brother, Pedro is a victim of the brutal expulsion of his people from Spain. Initially antagonistic, will Elizabeth come to appreciate Pedro’s qualities and to understand the complexity of her family?
Barbara Greig was born in Sunderland and lived in Roker until her family moved to Teesdale. An avid reader, she also discovered the joy of history at an early age. A last-minute change of heart, in the sixth form, caused her to alter her university application form. Instead of English, Barbara read Modern and Ancient History at Sheffield University. It was a decision she never regretted.
Barbara worked for twenty years in sixth form colleges, teaching History and Classical Civilisation. Eventually, although enjoying a role in management, she found there was less time for teaching and historical study. A change of focus was required. With her children having flown the nest, she was able to pursue her love of writing and story-telling. She has a passion for hiking, and dancing, the perfect antidotes to long hours of historical research and writing, as well as for travel and, wherever possible, she walks in the footsteps of her characters.
Discovery is Barbara’s second novel. Her debut novel Secret Lives was published in 2016 (Sacristy Press).
I am welcoming H. D. Coulter to the blog today on her blog tour for “Saving Grace”! Scroll down for details, for a book excerpt, and my review!
Book Title:Saving Grace: Deception. Obsession. Redemption.
Series:The Ropewalk series, Book 2
Author: H D Coulter
Publication Date: 11th May 2021
Publisher: Independently Published
Page Length: 330 Pages
Genre: Historical Fiction
Beacon Hill, Boston. 1832.
“You are innocent. You are loved. You are mine.”
After surviving the brutal attack and barely escaping death at Lancaster Castle, Beatrice Mason attempts to build a new life with her husband Joshua across the Atlantic in Beacon Hill. But, as Beatrice struggles to cope with the pregnancy and vivid nightmares, she questions whether she is worthy of redemption.
Determined to put the past behind her after the birth of her daughter Grace, Bea embraces her newfound roles of motherhood and being a wife. Nevertheless, when she meets Sarah Bateman, their friendship draws Bea towards the underground railroad and the hidden abolitionist movement, despite the dangerous secrets it poses. Whilst concealed in the shadows, Captain Victor Hanley returns, obsessed with revenge and the desire to lay claim to what is his, exposes deceptions and doubts as he threatens their newly established happiness.
Now, Beatrice must find the strength to fight once more and save Grace, even if it costs her life.
Hayley was born and raised in the lake district and across Cumbria. From a young age, Hayley loved learning about history, visiting castles and discovering local stories from the past. Hayley and her partner lived in Ulverston for three years and spent her weekends walking along the Ropewalk and down by the old harbour. She became inspired by the spirit of the area and stories that had taken place along the historic streets.
As a teacher, Hayley had loved the art of storytelling by studying drama and theatre. The power of the written word, how it can transport the reader to another world or even another time in history. But it wasn’t until living in Ulverston did she discover a story worth telling. From that point, the characters became alive and she fell in love with the story.
The following day, Beth collected the new emerald dress from Miss Julie’s and Sarah helped Bea prepare for the gala. There were so many questions she still had after her experience of the meeting house, but now was not the time. Instead, Bea was more concerned with convincing a group of social-climbers that she was as much one of them as it was possible to be.
“May I come in?” Beth peered around the door.
“Of course, come and sit next to me, and help calm my nerves.” Bea reached out a hand for Beth to take. “I wish we could have secured a place for you to come too. I do not know what I am going to say to these people…”
“You’ll have Joshua there; I am sure he will look after you.”
“We saw it before at the May Day dance, men go off in one corner to talk about work and politics, whilst the women gossip in another.”
She feigned a moustache with one of her curls and pretended to take a puff of a cigar. The three women burst out laughing.
On the other side of the room, Grace stirred from her sleep at the sudden commotion in the room. Instinctively Bea rose from her seat but felt the pressure from Sarah’s hands on her head.
“I’ll get her. You stay and make ready.” Sarah turned her head towards Beth. “Do you mind finishing?”
“It would be my pleasure, like the old days.”
Beth waited for Sarah to exit the room with a now-grumpy Grace in her hands. “I am sure you’ll be fine – you have had time to accustom yourself to things here now, and you are in a better place… in your head. You have a stunning gown which I’m sure Joshua will approve of. Besides: it is just one night, if you find yourself in a huddle of gossipy wives, well – allow them to talk, and simply nod your head like so…” Beth lifted her nose up high and pulled a familiar face, causing Bea to burst out laughing, followed by Beth.
“I have missed that, laughing. It has been like living in a fog, clouding every thought or action. But recently it seems to have been dissipating, finding I can smile once more. Enjoy the small things; laughing and playing with Grace.”
“There, done! I haven’t done your hair since the last dance we had in Ulverston, the night you made Joshua fall in love with you.” Beth gave Bea a wink in the mirror.
“I think we both knew there was something there. But so much has happened since. I wonder sometimes if I am the same woman as I was then.”
“A year ago you were still a girl in many ways. Now you are a woman and have lived through so much more. It would make sense you have changed, how could you not? Now you are stronger; you are a wife, a mother and living in a new world.”
Bea shook her hands, as if ridding herself of a wave of emotions. “You are right, I am just being silly.”
“Bea, are you ready?” Joshua shouted from downstairs.
Beth finished pinning the last braid into the sweeping bun and loose curls. “Yes, all done.” She declared, sealing the hair with a kiss.
Bea stood up, smoothed down her dress and looked at herself in the free-standing mirror. She failed to recognise the woman staring back at her, in a glowing green dress that shone in the candlelight, setting off her warm skin and auburn hair. It gave a curve to her body and an elegance to her frame. “I look like one of them.”
“You look as beautiful as you always do – now go down to your husband.” Beth pushed Bea towards the open door.
Bea could see him standing handsomely at the bottom of the stairs, gazing upwards. He seemed not to have changed since the last dance. How elated she had felt seeing him again there, the daring touch of his hand upon hers – and now they were going together to a gala halfway across the world as husband and wife. Standing at the top of the stairs, she saw his expression change to a delighted smile at the sight of her. One hand on the skirt and the other on the banister. She glided down the stairs towards him. In one move, he grabbed hold of her and pressed her against his body.
“You look radiant. I am a lucky man to be presenting you as my wife this evening,” he whispered into her ear. Something changed in him. Suddenly, they were how they used to be. His mouth met hers as though it were their first kiss all over again, pulling her tight against him, and they both felt a sense of yearning stirring between them that hadn’t been there for a very long while.
Bea skimmed her lips against his. “Do you remember the ball in Ulverston?”
“The night I fell in love with you? How could I forget?” He stole another quick kiss.
“It felt like an unreachable dream – that one day you would be my husband, standing here, holding me. I hope you know how much I love you.” He leaned in and kissed her again. She felt his fingers press into her back, urging their bodies into one. His hands travelled over her. One slid downwards while the other went north. Her skin became hot and flushed under the dress as a new yearning surged inside of her. Reluctantly, he paused.
“I love you too, more that you’ll ever know – and now I almost don’t want to go to the gala.”
Bea felt her cheeks become hotter at his implication. She pulled herself away from his grip.
“We had better say goodnight to Grace.” She lead the way into the sitting room, and with a disappointed sigh, he followed behind her.
They had positioned themselves on a chair, Grace leaning in as Sarah hummed one of her tunes, rocking her back and forth.
Bea quietly crept up and crouched down beside them. “Sweet dreams my darling, I will see you soon.” Grace, on hearing her mama’s voice, turned and smiled at Bea, but her eyes widened in awe at the sight of the magnificent green dress.
“She will be fine. You go and enjoy yourselves. I will keep her in with me tonight.”
“If she needs a feed, bring her in.” Sarah smiled, seeing Bea’s anxiety at leaving her child for the first time.
“Sarah and Beth will take good care of her.” Joshua leaned in a little closer, placed a kiss on his hand, and gently laid it upon Grace’s head. “Good night, my sweetheart.”
Bea could hear Grace moaning as she walked towards Beth, holding out Bea’s cloak.
“If we need you, I will send word to you.” Beth replied, reading Bea’s face, and the question written all over it.
“Now – you go and dance the night away.”
Joshua smiled at Beth as he grabbed hold of Bea’s hand, drawing her towards the carriage waiting outside.
The house was lavish, a real spectacle of Mr Goldstein’s wealth and power within the community, sitting proudly on the northern side of Beacon Hill. Carriages waited their turn to deposit strings of guests in front of the two front pillars, made up of the crème de la crème of the city money-makers, amongst them all, a former Ropemaker’s daughter. But tonight, Bea was not just her Da’s daughter; she was the wife of a successful business manager; she reminded herself. She noticed Joshua tilting his head at certain men as they passed by in the hallway. He strolled into the principal room as though he had always belonged there, tall and proud, comfortable in his own birth-class once more.
“Don’t look so nervous,” he whispered into her ear, “you belong here too.”
Bea nodded. Her throat had become dry and her hands were sweaty as she noticed some women staring at the new arrival in their midst.
Joshua felt her body tense against his and guided her towards the refreshment table. “This should help.” He handed her a glass of champagne and took one for himself.
The bubbles popped in her mouth and caused a fizzy sensation on her tongue. She couldn’t help but giggle. “That’s better.” He lent forward and gave her a kiss on the cheek.
She smiled. As the champagne disappeared, so did the fear.
“Shall we dance, Mrs Mason?”
“I think we shall, Mr Mason.”
Joshua guided her onto the dance floor as the music began. It was a quadrille. Joshua beamed at her, seeing how much of her old self had returned. Then they both remembered: they still didn’t know the steps confidently to a quadrille! A laugh slipped out from Bea, and she tried to cover it with a dainty cough. They watched the other couples do their steps first, and with their turn, in the middle, Joshua took her hand and leaned in close so that no one else could hear: “I love you.”
A passionate happiness surged through her body, and for the first time since their courting days, she wished they were alone. Instead, she waited for their next turn and whispered the same sentiment. She stared at him with wonder. How did she deserve such a man?
“Are you alright?” Joshua whispered, observing a wave of emotions flashing across Bea’s expressions.
“More than, this is wonderful.” She smiled up at him as he placed his arm around her waist, pulling her closer.
“Come with me.” He took her hand in his and weaved them away through the crowd, issuing small nods to anyone he knew.
“Where are we going?” He replied with only a mischievous glance. One of the side doors to the now-empty hall stood ajar, and he pulled her through quickly.
“What- I don’t think they’ll allow us to be in here.” Her eyes darting around the room, making sure they were alone.
It had a musky smell, with a fire crackling in the stuffy air, and worn leather books lining the walls. He let go of her hand and closed the door behind them. Then, in a single movement, he pressed her back against the door and kissed her. It was deep and passionate, reawakening the earlier sensation in her body at the foot of the stairs. She wanted to give in to the moment, to allow all the past inhibitions and trauma behind.
“I’m perfectly happy.” She stroked the side of his face, staring into his sea-blue eyes.
There was a moment of relief and joy reflected in his expression. “I know.”
I received an ARC copy of Saving Grace from the author for an honest review.
Having not read the first installment of this series, which I think is a must for this story, I, at first, felt a little off with the backstory of Bea and all that happened to her in Ropewalk. First and foremost, I do think it is necessary to read Ropewalk first.
That being said, the author does a good job of leading you into the lives of Bea and her husband as they embark on a new life in Boston, away from the former tragedies they left behind in England… or at least, they think. I felt for a long time this was more a story of a husband and wife trying to reconnect after tragedy instead of a story about the little girl, Grace, who lends her name to the title. There was a lot of back and forth, a struggle of reaching out, and of hesitation, between the couple for a long time into the story.
Where I felt the story really really blossomed was the introduction of Sarah’s backstory. I truly wished there was a book all on its own for her voice, and the words leapt from the page with passion and emotion. Her story was necessary to Bea’s story in the end, though, and drew them together in a mutual understanding; all with the goal of saving Grace, literally and figuratively.
What I loved about the story? Everything about Sarah and her struggles. What I didn’t love about the story? I felt a little disconnected to Bea for a long time into the book, but I soon discovered the reasons for her disconnect from those around her and the author skilfully has the reader feeling the same detachment. If that was what she was going for, then bravo!
I give this book four stars and look forward to catching up in reading Ropewalk and finding out what happens next in the third book.
Since doing research for my own novel “Blood and Ink”, I have had many people ask me about different aspects in the novel, as to whether or not some of the events actually happened or not. Of course, as I have stated before, I am a fiction writer not a historian; but it is interesting as a writer to take things from the real life and apply them to an imaginary encounter in a novel.
One of the events in my novel is where Shakespeare and his family went to Coventry for a county fair and to see the players perform a “miracle or mystery” play on the stage. Did they really do this and what was Shakespeare’s knowledge of the old drama of the day?
So this post is about the knowledge he had and an excerpt from my novel of a day when he might have visited Coventry.
What were “miracle and mystery” plays? Craig’s The Complete Works of Shakespeare reads “The miracle play, also widely current in England, shows a different variety of religious drama, although mystery plays and miracle plays shade off gradually into each other and are not different in origin. Miracle plays, as distinguished from mystery plays, are those which tell the stories of the lives and miracles of saints and martyrs. English records are preserved in considerable numbers of plays on St. Katherine, St. Laurence, St. Nicholas, and other saints; but the texts of only two or three have been preserved, and they are not representative. To know what when on dramatically in honor of the saints one must study the plays preserved in French. One finds there a variety of saints’ plays as well as the great Miracle de Notre Dame.
There are also the great group of dramatized allegories of varying lengths, known as the morality plays. A number of them, such as The Castle of Perseverance, Mankind, and Everyman, are still in existence. Moralities were less offensive to the taste of the Reformation than were the mystery and miracle plays so that they had a better chance to survive.”
Shakespeare knew these plays in their old forms, we know this because of his references, along with a bit of ridicule, to various episodes and characters in them. Herod and Termagant, both characters in mystery plays, appear together in Hamlet. Shakespeare compares Falstaff to the Mannington ox which is a reference to the Mannington fair and possible the morals. Falstaff remarks in contempt about Justice Shallow. Both references in I Henry IV of “that reverend vice, that grey iniquity, that father ruffian, that vanity in years” and “that old white-bearded Satan” recalls knowledge of the morality plays. When Falstaff refers to the flea on Bardolph’s nose as a black soul burning in hell-fire, he may have been referring to the play of the Last Judgment.
Craig’s book also says: “Shakespeare had opportunity to see the old plays, for the Corpus Christi play was performed annually in Coventry, only fourteen miles from Stratford, until he was sixteen years old. It is no extravagant guess that he joined the throng of those who attended the play at the chief city in Warwickshire. In some places in England the Corpus Christi plays continued to be performed until after the beginning of the seventeenth century in spite of the fact that such plays were obviously “blasted with antiquity.” Shakespeare was a child of his time and therefore looked with amusement, if not contempt, on these old-fashioned folk practices.”
Which brings me to my own interpretation of his family’s visit to Coventry. An excerpt from my novel brings the flavor of the day as the Shakespeare family travels on the road toward Coventry for a Mayday fair.
Excerpt from “Blood and Ink” –
The townspeople of Stratford welcomed the drizzly days of May. The ice covering the banks of the Avon melted and laughter came again to the waters beneath Clopton Bridge. William watched the children splashing and playing, jumping from the Roman stone wall holding the bridge in an arch. The wagon he sat upon clacked across the cobblestones, rocking his family from side to side. They were one short on their journey to Coventry this spring, and he looked to the spot where his sister, Anne, would have sat. Little Anne did not make it through the harsh winter and he missed the dimples in her face.
Gilbert nudged William from his dreaming. “I heard Mother say this would be the last year for our trip to Coventry.”
William shrugged his shoulders. “’Tis the same as last year.”
Gilbert scooted closer and lowered his voice. “Nay, ’tis not the same. Father said the council in Coventry has banned the mystery plays. They see it as an old influence of Catholic Mary. You know, watch the plays and scare the common folk to confession.”
“Well, if ’tis banned, then why do we go?”
Gilbert looked to their father whose back was to them as he rallied the horses to Coventry with a click of his tongue. “Father still clings to it, know you this?”
William frowned and pulled his coat closer around his shoulders, still feeling a chill in his bones. Gooseflesh raised on his forearms as he thought of his father’s descent, the meeting with Edmund Campion and the testament he saw his father tuck above a rafter in his workshop three years ago. So much had changed since that talk with his father. Foremost, the capture of Campion. William remembered seeing his father stagger in late from a tavern, his cheeks pale and ashy, but not from too much ale. John slumped in a chair, hanging his head over his hands. Mary and William gathered near to him, sitting on the hearth and urging him to speak. When the words came out, what a tale he relayed.
The lower lid of John’s eyes reddened. “Walsingham arrested Campion, and many others. Edward sent word that his sources at the Tower reported for the past month they subjected Campion to thumbscrews and the clenching jaws of the Scavenger’s Daughter before throwing him into a pit below the White Tower. There is more. Campion crumbled and delivered names to his torturers. After his confession, they dragged him to Tyburn where they burned his innards and quartered him into four parts. His head now sits as food for the ravens atop the ramparts of London Bridge. Edward fears for us all, for the Queen’s wrath will descend upon Warwickshire, headed up by that sinister man, Walsingham. We must learn to suspect strangers in our midst.”
William found it impossible to care about the death of the Jesuit. His thoughts continued dwelling on pursuing his nagging desire for the stage. A day did not pass without his mind tracing over the peculiar dream he had several years earlier in the forest at Park Hall. Yet, his family needed money and, as the eldest, he had to find work. In between tanning hides for his father’s gloving work, setting traps for hares in Charlecote forest, and packing wool in woven bags, he managed a few chances to walk the boards at Burbage’s tavern. The plays usually brief, always staying to the classic lines of Plautus or Seneca, but just enough to keep his blood stirring.
John Shakespeare hid well the cause of his fall from the rest of the family. The thought made William’s skin crawl, for in his father’s demise he brought them all down. His mother turned into a wafting specter, ashy and non-existent, while his siblings bumped about their lives grasping for semblances of their identities, the way for a family of an ambitious man whose star plummets. William squared his shoulders and jaw, setting down a promise in his mind.
I shall never travel that path. When I marry, my family will never suffer from my ambition.
Within the hour, the cart rallied around Wiltshire Wood where the oak tree girths widen and the whispering tales of thieves in the trees fill the air. They topped the hill overlooking a fresh culled wheat field just south of Coventry, green and lush with new growth, and the lilting music of days long past drifted on the wind. Old Celtic ballads plucked upon lutes and lyres, piping and drumming surged through the gathering crowds, beckoning their pagan past. William stood up in the cart and held his hand over his eyes, shielding the spring sun, and scanned the field for the stage. In the distance, past the maypoles adorned with a rainbow of dyed ribbons, two green banners flapped in the breeze embroidered with the arms of the Earl of Leicester. William’s blood raced. He clasped his hands together and laughed, grabbing hold of Gilbert’s shirt.
“Look there, ’tis Leicester’s Men on the stage. If you look for me, there is where I will be.”
William jumped from the cart and sprinted across the emerald field. As he approached, the sights and sounds of players drowned out all notice of the festival. Richard Burbage, William’s longtime friend, saw him from afar and waved to him.
“Will, come join us!”
William touched his hand to the stage, feeling the knots and the grain as he soaked in the sensation pounding within him. He watched the players as they walked around him. They were all there, the statues of his idolatry: William Knell, Tobias Mills, and John Singer, decked in costume. Tarleton, adorned in white face paint and rosy cheeks, sat on the steps tapping upon a tabor. William nodded to him as he rounded the corner of the stage.
Richard came up to his elbow and nudged him. “What say you, Will, shall you join us for a line or two?”
A knot formed in his stomach as he cut his stare to Richard. “What do you mean? To perform with Leicester’s Men? Surely they would not allow it.”
Richard pulled a mask from his cloak. “Who is to know? ‘Tis a masque we perform today. You know Sidney’s masque The Lady of May?”
William huffed. “Know it? Has not every child in Christendom suckled on his works?”
Richard handed him the mask. “Then put this on and we will keep the secret. Master Wilson owes me a favor. I will have you on his mark, so come with me.”
The groundlings gathered before the stage and roared at the clown Tarleton’s prologue, his comic ambles full of religious slights tame enough to keep his head and wild enough to thrill the audience. The masque came next and William hit his queues with finesse, even falling upon the gestures and attitudes like natural rote. As the last exeunt passed and the final bow before a cheering crowd, William gazed out behind his mask upon the faces and heard his calling. His heart soared. At that moment, his eyes fell upon a golden-haired maiden gazing up at him as Andromeda upon Jason. She tilted her head toward him, giggled and wove away into the crowd.
The May dance began. Hundreds of people gathered at the poles, clapping to the rhythm of the pipes and tabors and watching as maidens attired in white laced corsets and flowing blue skirts circled and braided the ribbons of the maypole, in and out, twisting the colors, as their voices soared breathless in laughter and song. William watched only one girl among the virginal flowers, her hair shimmering like struck gold coins dipped and cooled in water, and flowing down her back to her waist.
So, using a bit of artistic license, I used Shakespeare’s knowledge of the miracle, morality, and mystery plays as food for my own scene in my novel. While these plays, in Shakespeare’s time, affected the population in moral and religious instruction, Craig points out that it also gave them a command of a way of dramatic thinking and a form of literary culture. The plays were so dear to their hearts that they disappeared slowly from the surrounding countryside, from those who still adhered to the old way of thinking. And do we not see the same in our own modern-day theater and film? Culture and drama are still developing and updating, yet many hold on to old ideas, the old miracles, morality and mystery of our day.
To write about men like Shakespeare and Marlowe is to write about ourselves, for in truth, whether 21st century or 17th century, we are still human, influenced by the same wants, needs, and desires. Ambition still rules our hearts, love still moves us, and tragedy shapes our actions. So, to view a slice of their lives, whether in fiction or non-fiction, gives a mirror into our own soul. At least, that is my thoughts… what about yours?
I received this book from Netgalley for an honest review. This is the first time I have read any books by Mercedes Rochelle, but it won’t be the last!! I must say, she has an impeccable talent for providing in-depth research bordering on a non-fiction style, flawlessly with the necessary elements of fiction. The dialogue was natural; she gives you well-rounded characters, fleshing out these historical figures so that you feel as if you are actually standing in the room with them in their time period. One of my favourite Shakespearean plays is Henry V, and I adore the Hollow Crown series, so this book expanded the story of that time period with perfection. I will definitely be adding the rest of this series to my TBR list. I highly recommend this book!!
“Those Not-so-Wicked Sporting Ladies of the Wicked West”
by Mim Eichmann
A hundred years ago they were known as soiled doves, frail sisters, bawds, painted ladies, scarlet women, fille de joie, molls, courtesans, concubines, sporting woman, denizens, strumpets, adventuresses, working girls, tarts, unfortunates, the demimonde, the tenderloin, shady ladies, jezebels, harridans and harlots, among many other names, and more often than not, were residents of a brothel, red light district, parlor house, seraglio, hog ranch, crib, harem, the Line, whorehouse, bordello, or a bawdy house. Many of these ladies of the night had fallen unintentionally – and many intentionally — into the sporting life as it was typically known, wishing to obscure their true names, origins and back stories, making it virtually impossible to ever reliably unravel their individual and occasionally, lurid histories.
In most western frontier towns where men significantly outnumbered women — a ratio of at least 20 to 1 and typically far greater — prostitutes were considered an essential, though certainly not warmly embraced, necessity by their conservative female counterparts. Decent married women were willing to put up with prostitutes to keep those randy single men away from their own otherwise puritanical daughters until those men managed to firmly affix a wedding ring on their daughters’ hand. All a young girl had was her reputation and, as was well known, if that evaporated even by innuendo, she was most likely ruined for the rest of her life as borne out in literature by Jane Austen, Henry James, Edith Wharton and countless other authors of the day.
Once a woman had crossed over that line, society tended to lump loose women into a single mold. Certainly all of them had to maintain a shrewd edge, but they were quite diverse in terms of temperament, education, worldliness, scientific and entrepreneurial endeavors.
Of these so-called fallen women, it’s interesting to note that the madams, or owners, of many brothels, were wealthy, powerful and quite influential individuals whose brothels became centers of community, arts and culture in western towns. Some of the most powerful madams were serious patronesses of art, music and education, as well as being philanthropists and major real estate moguls.
Being a madam was one of the few actual “careers” afforded a woman in the 19th Century — the earliest prototype we have of a career woman, in fact! Madams (and other wealthy prostitutes) donated money to charities, hospitals, churches, schools, cared for the impoverished and sick, and housed the homeless when no one else could be bothered. They were involved with helping fund many cities’ initial infrastructures of gas, telephone and electric lines as well as owning mining claims, stocks, investing in municipal bonds, even jumping into the fray to keep banks afloat during challenging financial years. There was a huge demand for their money, but the women themselves, as well as their children, were forever shunned by society.
According to June Willson Read’s biography “Frontier Madam: The Life of Dell Burke, Lady of Lusk”, huge financial contributions by Dell Burke, a madam in Lusk, Wyoming, created infrastructures such as railroads, waterworks and electric lines through that part of the state. Several biographers have mentioned Josephine “Chicago Joe” Hensley (or Airey), a madam in Helena, Montana who had a weekly payroll of $1,000 for numerous businesses she owned outside that of her brothel’s, paid hefty taxes on more than $200,000 in real estate holdings, and also contributed huge sums to many charities and political candidates, although she was never allowed to attend any of their meetings or even be introduced to anyone involved in those important enterprises. According to Anne Seagraves’ book “Soiled Doves: Prostitution in the Early West”, “these enterprising women, who played an important role within their communities, were never invited to join or attend a commercial club. They were not accepted by society, and in most cases, were not even protected by the law due to their profession.”
Mattie Silks, a wealthy Denver brothel owner, claimed that she had become a madam simply as a successful business venture and that she had never worked as a prostitute. This claim was quite interestingly never disputed. And Georgia Lee, a Fairbanks, Alaska prostitute, was quietly involved in funding many civic affairs and co-founded the Fairbanks branch of the Humane Society according to “Good Time Girls of the Alaska-Yukon Gold Rush” by Lael Morgan.
Another well known beautiful face who was a particular enigma was Etta Place, who for those of us enamored many years ago with Paul Newman and Robert Redford in “Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid”, was either a high class parlor attraction at Fanny Porter’s infamous house in Hell’s Half Acre in San Antonio, Texas, or she was a sedate schoolteacher in a one-room rural schoolhouse, helping to mastermind many of the infamous duos’ train robberies, something of a Robin Hood operation, according to Michael Rutter’s “Boudoirs to Brothels – the Intimate World of Wild West Women”. A young lady who led an incredibly complex double life, the beautiful Etta Place quite skillfully disappeared without a trace in the early 1900s.
Many prostitutes had exceptional nursing and mid-wife skills, often obtained by necessity, along with vast knowledge of herbs, medicinal concoctions and other healing remedies. Occasionally they were clandestinely called upon to assist a married woman experiencing a difficult childbirth, but that same woman would turn her head the opposite direction afterwards if she encountered the prostitute on the street, refusing to acknowledge an acquaintance. Additionally, women were not allowed any form of birth control (which was often unreliable anyway) and some prostitutes were quietly skilled abortionists, even aiding “respectable women” who wished to end an ill-timed pregnancy. In the years between 1850 and 1870, one historian estimated that one abortion was performed for every five or six live births in America.
Although she later denied it, Margaret Mitchell originally claimed that her fictional character of Belle Watling in “Gone with the Wind” was based on a madam in Lexington, Kentucky known as Belle Brezing, who died just after the movie’s 1939 release. Ms. Mitchell’s husband was from Lexington and familiar with Belle Brezing’s checkered history, including the fact that the woman was quite well known as an excellent nurse. In both the book and the movie, Belle Watling indeed claims to be a nurse and donates a rich purse filled with gold coins to the rapidly failing Confederate cause through Melanie Wilkes, the only married woman within the group willing to be seen accepting such a windfall from one of Atlanta’s most notorious madams.
Pearl DeVere, who was the madam of the Old Homestead brothel in Cripple Creek, Colorado, like so many others of the demimonde, wove multiple stories about her early life that makes it impossible to verify any of the tales. Not even a verifiable photograph of the young woman exists. Born in Evansville, Indiana in 1859 as Eliza Martin into what certainly appears to have been a well-to-do family, exactly what led her into the world of prostitution is somewhat mysterious, based on the many different tales that Pearl herself fabricated over her short life. She arrived in Cripple Creek possibly via Denver, around the time of the 1893 repeal of the Silver Act and set herself up quickly in the “trade” in the newly booming mining town. Her sophistication, remarkable intelligence, and appreciation of fine arts and culture helped her build one of the most influential brothels in the country.
So who was Pearl DeVere? Unless you’re from Colorado, have studied the Cripple Creek gold rush or have actually visited Cripple Creek and maybe participated in the annual Pearl DeVere bed race or some other quaint festival, you’ve probably never even heard of this woman. And, as we’ve so often heard in recent years, history is really just “his” story and rarely also “her” story, particularly with respect to “career” women and their contributions to our past.
Mabel Barbee Lee’s memoir, “Cripple Creek Days”, published in 1958, was drawn from her recollections as a very young child having grown up in the region. In the acknowledgements Ms. Lee mentions that one of her neighbor’s names, Molly Letts, was a pseudonym in her book because she had been a former prostitute and even after fifty years had ensued, she refused to let the woman’s reputation be sullied.
Without question, however, at age 11, Mabel’s recollections of Pearl DeVere were firmly stamped on her memory, even though Mabel’s timelines appear to be a little fuzzy on occasion. In mining camps very few women had beautiful stylish clothes or jewelry or immodest displays of wealth, certainly very impressionable items for a pre-teen. Pearl was an excellent dress designer and wore her creations perfectly over her marvelously sculpted physique. At age 31 she was a beautiful girl with red hair, bright flashing eyes and a slender build sporting gorgeous tight-fitting clothes and it was said that she never wore the same outfit twice. She was strong-willed, shrewd, very well read, eloquent, and a very smart businesswoman.
According to Janet Lecompte’s introduction in “Emily: The Diary of a Hard-Worked Woman”, a journal by a 42-year-old Denver divorcee: “In 1890 the average working woman in the United States had started to work at age 15 and was now 22, earning less than $6 a week for a 12-hour day. In Denver, 15% of all women worked in 1890, most of them as domestic help, laundresses, or seamstresses, some making as much as $4-$6 per week.” Unlike out East, there were very few factories or mills. A miner’s wages typically brought a working man $3 per day for a nine-hour day. By contrast, a wealthy man booking a stylish young courtesan’s company at the Old Homestead was shelling out $250 for the evening and had to book well in advance! One can easily see the attraction for a young cultured woman such as Pearl to have built such an empire!
Mabel Barbee Lee goes on to say in her memoir: “Pearl DeVere became my secret sorrow, the heroine of my fondest daydreams, mysterious, fascinating and forbidden.” Even some fifty years afterwards, Mabel vividly recalled hearing a gramophone playing from the Old Homestead’s windows, an expensive toy back in those days, and distinctly remembers the many details of Pearl’s unusual New Orleans’ early jazz style funeral cortege. Accounts of the Old Homestead’s opulent parlor with a telephone, expensive Turkish carpets, chandeliers and the unheard of extravagance of two bathtubs also fill Mabel’s remembrances. These finer houses demanded an almost European-like adherence to order, an essential step towards our country’s slowly working its way towards the civil society we’ve attempted to establish since that time.
Along with so many others of the demimonde, Pearl’s contributions to the economic and political movements of the era were obscured as we’ve followed “his” story through our country’s development. However, such acknowledgement is richly deserved and a sad omission. These enterprising women’s contributions are long forgotten – or in many cases, were never even recognized. But silently, all around us, as our first “career” women, their intriguing legacies live on.
Photos courtesy Charlotte Bumgarner, owner of The Old Homestead Museum, Cripple Creek CO
Pearl DeVere’s grave marker – so many admirers originally placed jewelry around the heart-shaped stone that unfortunately the gifts stained the marble and a fence has now been erected around the tombstone to deflect such well-meaning, but destructive additions. Appropriately, however, a pearl necklace remains.
Lil Lovell – a beautiful prostitute in Denver who may have originally worked at the Old Homestead according to “Brothels, Bordellos, and Bad Girls – Prostitution in Colorado, 1860-1930” written by Jan MacKell Collins.
Mim Eichmann’s debut historical fiction novel “A Sparrow Alone” – a provocative coming-of-age saga of female empowerment during the 1890s Cripple Creek, CO gold rush — was published on April 15, 2020 by Living Springs Publishers of Centennial, CO. Ms. Eichmann is a professional musician, singer/songwriter and choreographer living in Wheaton, Il. Her author website is: www.mimeichmann.com.