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Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Starvation Winter in the Klondike

     The Klondike Gold Rush began in 1896 with the discovery of gold along Rabbit Creek in the Klondike Valley. George Washington Carmack, nicknamed Lying George by his acquaintances, announced the strike in August at a saloon in Forty Mile, a town on the border of the Alaska and Yukon territories. Word spread quickly among the miners and settlers in the area, and soon many people deserted the major Yukon River communities of Circle City and Forty Mile to stake claims upstream. Rabbit Creek was soon renamed Bonanza Creek. A new town, Dawson, sprang up at the confluence of the Yukon and Klondike rivers in the Yukon Territory.  

     News of the Klondike strike was slow to reach the outside world. In July 1897, ships loaded with Klondike gold and rich miners arrived in Seattle and San Francisco. This triggered the northward stampede. More than 1000 people beat the hoards of stampeders and reached Dawson before winter. Many were disappointed to learn that most of the promising sites had already been claimed by residents of the area. 

Panning for Gold (Vancouver Public Library)

     The last steamship of the season unloaded its cargo at Dawson on September 30, 1897. The Northwest Mounted Police soon determined there would not be enough food for everyone during the upcoming winter. Inspector Charles Constantine posted a notice that read: "I, having carefully looked over the present distressing situation regarding the supply of food for the winter, find that the stock on hand is not sufficient to meet the wants of the people and can see but one way out of the difficulty, and that is an immediate move down-river, of all those who are now unsupplied, to Fort Yukon, where there is a large stock of provisions."

      Several hundred people heeded the warning and left for Fort Yukon, Alaska by the end of October.  But more kept coming. The Canadian government was reluctant to accept responsibility for the tens of thousands of stampeders in the Skagway and Dyea area, poised to cross the border via the White Pass and Chilkoot Trails. This led the Mounties to require that each person carry nearly a ton of designated supplies.

Chilkoot Pass (National Park Service)

     Those who were progressing along the routes as winter set in began to hear tales of harsh conditions in Dawson, including rumors of starvation. Many of them camped at smaller communities along the trails. But for people who stayed in Dawson the winter months were difficult. Even the Northwest Mounted Police at Fort Cudahy, who had some stockpiles available and could pay the escalating prices for provisions, were forced to reduce their basic flour ration. In Dawson itself, there were no eggs.  Miners and trappers who had been living in the North knew what to expect and had accumulated adequate supplies to survive the winter. But most of the large population of stampeders, who had rushed to Dawson in the late summer and fall of 1897, were not prepared for the ferocious cold and living in a gold-based economy with no gold – and little money.

Dawson City during the Gold Rush

     As the days grew short, the temperatures plummeted and food supplies dwindled. Dawson slowed nearly to a standstill. Hotels were full. Many residents spent the majority of each day in bed, conserving their energy and heat. Men without homes or sleeping rooms took shelter wherever they could find it. One such refuge was Bill McPhee’s Pioneer Saloon, packed with unfortunate souls who slept on benches and tables.

     Both of the trading companies that serviced Dawson tried to control steeply rising prices, but a black market sprang up. Flour, the most basic staple, was in such limited supply that a rancid 50-pound sack could command a payment of anywhere from $35 to $100. Tinned vegetables had gone off the market early in the season, and shriveled potatoes sold for a dollar a pound.

Bowery Street in Dawson, 1898 (Canadian Archive)

     By the time spring break-up of the Yukon came and the steamer Mae West delivered a load of provisions on June 8, saloons had been serving what amounted to whiskey-flavored water for quite some time. Everyone celebrated the arrival of food and spirits – and the end of the winter.

      In my novel, The Claim, I have included the “Starvation Winter” as the backdrop for several scenes. Here is a brief excerpt:

     Erik stared at the lifeless town. After the arduous journey over frozen snow, along treacherous rivers of ice, jagged with bergs of all sizes jutting from the surfaces, he had been looking forward to the hustle and bustle of Dawson.

     No people could be seen on the eerily quiet streets. Many windows were shuttered. Except for the acrid smoke wafting above the chimneys, the place resembled a frigid ghost town. 

     “Vad happened?” Filip’s breath froze as he spoke.

     “Don’t know.” Erik’s scarf muffled his words.

     He and Filip pulled the sled up the icy deserted street. The restaurants were closed. The hotels were full. The opera house was a burned-out shell.

     “Let’s go over to Fort Herchmer,” Erik said.

     They proceeded at a snail’s pace to avoid searing their lungs with the bitterly cold air. The ravens squawked at them as they passed.

     When they stepped inside the NWMP offices, they took a few minutes to soak in the warmth.

     “If you’re wanting food, we can’t help you,” the officer greeted them.

     Erik unwrapped his scarf. “We brought our own. But what’s going on here?”

     The bearded man’s expression softened. “Too many people, too few provisions.”

     Now that the warmth had begun penetrating Erik’s mittens, he removed them. Filip was already blowing on his hands. 

     Sergeant Ibsen came through the side door. “Stryker?”

     “Good to see you again.” Erik shook his outstretched hand.

     “That’s Bentnor,” Ibsen gestured toward his cohort. Erik nodded to him.

     “Guess there won’t be much of a market for my spirits, then.” He sighed. “We would have been better off staying home.”

     Ibsen grinned. “On the contrary. There’s plenty of gold. You’ll be able to command a premium price.”

     Bentnor fed a shovelful of coal into the burner.

     “We need to find two people.” Erik said. “Sam McGee was working at Jimmy Kerry’s saloon last I knew.”

     Ibsen rubbed his chin. “Don’t think I know him.” He looked to the other officer, who was shaking his head. “If he’s not there, try Bill McPhee’s. There are a lot of men staying there.”

     “The other is a…” Erik was almost thankful for the warmth rising in his neck. “A showgirl.” He couldn’t bring himself to call Miss Garrick’s friend a “whore,” even though she was. “Last fall she was at the Little Paris.” 

     People came from all walks of life to seek their fortunes in the Klondike. Those who did not strike gold had to find other ways to support themselves, return home, or move on. In 1899, word reached Dawson that gold had been discovered in Nome, Alaska. More than 8000 people left Dawson that summer to chase new dreams of easy riches.

Ann Markim


 Amazon print or digital

Monday, April 26, 2021

Carols and Capering. Medieval Dance by Lindsay Townsend

Four husbands into her career, Chaucer's Wife of Bath was still young and a lively soul, 'yong and ful of ragerie,/Stibourn and strong, and joly as a pie [magpie]./How koulde I daunce to a harpe smale,/And singe, ywis, as any nightingale,/Whan I had dronke a draughte of sweete wyn!' So how would she have danced? 

 Dancing in circles has gone on for who knows how long, and the medieval carol - a circular dance and the songs that went with it - was popular with everybody but the church. The songs, involving a leader who sang the verse, music from harp, pipe and tabor or the vielle (a predecessor to the violin) and the dancers providing the chorus, could get distinctly rowdy, and clerics could impose sanctions against those who moved in an unseemly fashion or sang colourful lyrics in churchyards. The lyrics from early carols are hard to come by, but one popular carol from the thirteenth century, Angelus ad virginem, whose English version begins 'Gabriel fram Heven-king/Sent to the maide swete', has a bouncy tune ideal both for accompaniment with pipe and tabor and for the circular carol-dance. The music can be heard here, and possible steps have been suggested here

Many dances thought of as medieval - such as the basse danse, branle and pavane - really belong to the Renaissance, when the first collections of dance music were made, but we can trace some formal dances like the saltarello, with its triple time and extravagant hop, back to the thirteenth-century. 

If a solo dancer or tumbler took part in social dancing, there could be some seriously gymnastic capering. The sight of women dancing on their hands may have led to an emphasis on modesty in later instruction books such as Guglielmo Ebreo's fifteenth century Art of Dance, but in earlier times things were more freewheeling, as can be seen by this image. of a woman 'dancing' on knife points.

Early 14th-century picture of a jongleresse balancing on swords. British Library, MS Royal 10 E iv, f. 58. Sourced online, copyright unidentified.

 A poem from the Benediktbeuren Manuscript of c.1230 ('Obmittamus studia') has a young student longing to abandon his lessons and go down into the street to watch the maidens dancing, 'white limbs moving/Light in wantonness,' as Helen Waddell translated it. Now that would have appealed to Chaucer.

I touch on medieval carol dancing in my novel, "Sir Conrad and the Christmas Treasure," as can be read from this excerpt:

Conrad stamped his boots again, for good measure, and looked about for a mulled wine seller in the bustling press of traders gathered by the church. A cup for him and Maggie would do nicely, and he would tempt his wife to dance a carol with one of the great circling groups capering slowly
over the green. 
It had snowed again, never truly stopped, and the mud tracks and cart skids on the common were
blanketed in fresh white, sparkling in the torches that people were beginning to light. It was not yet dark, but traders had set them and small fires near to their stalls, to draw folk. A scent of roasting chestnuts and pork made his stomach growl and he bought a fistful of peeled chestnuts for Maggie, with
a tiny twist of salt.
There! He spotted her white furry mittens first, darting like geese as she expressed a point to David. Next, he saw the bundles of parchment rolled up in a battered quiver tied about her narrow waist, a different way of carrying her drawings, for sure, but one that kept her hands free. He
smiled at her and she sped forward, her hood down to show her pretty face, one mitten already off and her bare fingers reaching out to him.

Happy capering!

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Two Songs for Opposite Moods by Kaye Spencer #prairierosepubs #feelgoodsongs #sadsongs

We all know songs that lift us up, take us to cherished places in our memories, or remind us of the not-so-happy experiences and events in our lives. We can pinpoint a moment in time and practically relive the emotion we felt when we hear certain songs.

In my musical-memory world, I have an imaginary line on a song spectrum. This opposite ends of this line are capped by two specific and never-changing songs. On any given day, and according to my frame of mind and mood, other songs fall somewhere along that invisible, fluid song line and between the end-cap songs.

On the feel-good, makes-my-toes-tap-and-my-heart-happy part of the song spectrum are songs like these—

  • Great White Horse
  • My Rifle, My Pony, and Me
  • Beat It
  • Dream On
  • Don’t Worry, Be Happy
  • (I’ve Had) The Time of My Life
  • Girls Just Wanna Have Fun
  • Oh, Pretty Woman
  • I’m Still Standing
  • Bus Stop
  • Holding Out for a Hero
  • Take My Breath Away
  • Home in the Meadow
  • Goodbye Earl
  • There’s a Kind of Hush

These are song examples that live on the other end where ‘Yes, in fact, I did eat the entire five-pound box of Russell Stover assorted chocolates while binge-listening on YouTube and using up a box of tissues’—

  • One Promise too Late
  • Fernando
  • My Woman, My Woman, My Wife
  • Alone
  • It Must Have Been Love
  • White Christmas
  • My Heart Will Go On
  • Give My Love to Rose
  • Careless Whisper
  • How Do I Live?
  • It’s Only Make Believe
  • The Dance
  • Yesterday
  • Yesterday, when I was Young
  • For the Good Times

The two songs that keep the rest of the songs from slipping off the ends of my make believe song line are from different musical genres, but both songs reach me at deeply emotional places.

One song elicits memories of a particularly happy time in my life—like that one perfect summer—and the other song delivers me to a bittersweet, love-that-was-doomed-from-the-start and didn't end happily time in my life.

I’ll start with the melancholy song.

Who Wants to Live Forever?


This song is a 1986 power ballad by the rock group Queen. It was written by the group’s lead guitarist Brian May for the soundtrack to the movie Highlander. Legend has it that it took him only 20 minutes to write the song (in the back seat of a car) after he watched the 20-minute initial cut of the scene in the Highlander movie where immortal Connor MacLeod’s non-immortal wife dies.

For me, there isn’t a sadder, more hopeless, existential-crisis song.

Highlander movie clip with the song. If the clip doesn't show on your device, here is the url:


Here’s my toe-tapping, face-smiling, earworm-worthy happy song. 

Dance Little Jean by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band

This song was released as a single in October 1983, and it reached Number 9 on Billboard Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart. According to Wikipedia,  Longtime member of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band Jimmy Ibbotson...

...wrote the song hoping the charm and romance of the story would convince his ex-wife that they should get back together. Little Jean was named for his real life daughter who would always dance when he played guitar. When he played it for his ex-wife for the first time, Little Jean danced, but his ex-wife's response was not what he had hoped for. She told him he would be able to afford child support now, because that song would be a hit.

Alrighty then…

Despite that story, it’s still a feel-good song that appeals to the romantic in me. It makes makes me warm and fuzzy and glad all over when I hear it.

If the video doesn't show on your device, here is the url:

Do you have opposite-mood songs or a song that picks you up or brings on the melancholy memories?  I’d love to hear what they are.

Until next time,
Kaye Spencer

Writing through history one romance upon a time

Stay in contact with Kaye—


Monday, April 12, 2021



William Chapman Ralston, Tycoon

One of the first men to build a major financial empire in the Far West, Ralston was born in Ohio in 1826. In 1854, he immigrated to the booming town of San Francisco, a once sleepy Spanish missionary village that had become the center of the California Gold Rush five years earlier. There he became a partner in a steamship company, and 10 years later he used his profits to organize the Bank of California.

The Bank Established by William Ralston

Ralston’s bank quickly became one of the most important financial institutions in the West. Starved for capital, western businessmen were happy to deal with a reliable bank in their own region instead of the New York and Boston banks. Ralston committed his own funds as well as those of the bank to a wide array of western businesses. Many were unexciting but essential enterprises like water companies. Ralston also had an adventurous side, though, and used his money to support lavish hotels and theaters in San Francisco as well as the hugely profitable Comstock Lode silver mine in Nevada.

William Ralston's "Summer Home" In Belmont, CA Where His Wife And Children Lived Year Round

The always-treacherous world of mining, however, eventually proved to be Ralston’s undoing. Having made millions in the Comstock Lode, Ralston gambled on several silver mines that proved busts. News of the failed mining investments sparked a run on the bank, forcing the bank to close its doors on August 26, 1875.

The next day, a somber board of directors asked for and received Ralston’s resignation as bank president. A few hours later, after Ralston had gone for his usual morning swim in San Francisco Bay, his body was discovered. Whether Ralston had accidentally drowned or deliberately killed himself remains a mystery.

In Recent Culture

Ralston was portrayed by Ronald W. Reagan in a 1965 episode of Death Valley Days, "Raid on the San Francisco Mint." The episode dramatizes an 1869 event in which Ralston gets the head of the mint drunk in order to persuade him to authorize an exchange of bullion for coins. Vaughn Taylor was cast as financier and adventurer Asbury Harpending.

*Images from PeoplePill and Wikipedia

THE WILDINGS: A Family (Boxed Set only 99 cents)

Prairie Rose Publications



THE WILDINGS is a wonderful collection of western romance stories that follow the Wilding family through generations of love and loss, joy and sorrow, and wins and losses in life. Get lost in this exciting boxed set of full-length books and novellas that trace the adventures of the descendants of the Wilding family. From the lawless old west days of the early 1900’s in ruthless Hazard, Wyoming, through the generations forward, the action, romance, and suspense is nonstop.

Follow the saga of the Wilding family from the early days that begin with a haunted house, a trunk, and a date with destiny in Harmonica Joe’s Reluctant Bride. Can Joe and Lola’s unlikely romance last? Next, the dangers of World War 1 in For Love of Banjo, and a Prohibition-era kidnapping with Fly Away Heart will have you on the edge of your seat. Hollow Heart is a post WWII short story with a surprise twist, and The Beast of Hazard will touch you with its romance between a veterinarian and a beautiful circus performer facing danger. In Unexpected Blessings, a couple overcomes a seemingly insurmountable problem, and in Home For the Heart, a determined young woman must find a way into a confirmed bachelor’s heart. A conversation at a wedding spoils everything in It’s Only Make Believe, and in I Dream of You, a recurring dream, a kiss, and deadly secrets could unlock not only love but a very dangerous outcome for everyone. Three Christmas novellas, A Husband for Christmas, When Love Comes Knocking, and A Christmas Visitor are also included to round out the series and bring it to a very satisfying conclusion.


This wonderful collection will keep you entertained with richly-woven stories filled with real-life excitement, danger, and love from the heart of romance author Sarah J. McNeal. THE WILDINGS will enthrall you and keep you turning pages as you follow the multi-faceted characters and the stories of their lives! Don’t miss it!


Sarah J. McNeal

Author of Heartwarming Stories




Amazon Author's Page

19th Century Bling ~ Watch Chains & Fobs

My maternal grandmother, Grace, was a bit of a pack rat. We discovered this when, at her insistence, the family began cleaning out her home and readying it to sell.

After three days of sorting, my sister, mother and I sat down to go through her jewelry boxes. The memories were fun – the bird and flower and dragonfly pins she always wore when teaching because her kindergarten and first grade students loved them. [The articulated owl was my favorite.] We found several cameos. And pearls, of all lengths. Seems GGG-Great Grandmother Grace loved pearls.

In a box marked “Keepsakes” we found hat pins and buttons and old marbles. And a watch fob. The card with it says it belonged to GGG’s father, my Great Grandfather Ole, a Norwegian wheat farmer from North Dakota.

The chain is nothing fancy but there is a bit of bling on it that brought a wonderful surprise. The square gold locket fob hanging from the center held an old photo of my Great Grandmother Julia.

The find got me thinking: what kind of bling would you find on a gentleman’s dressing table in the 1800s?

A fancy button waiting to be sewn back onto a vest. We found a few of those, military coat buttons mostly, carefully pinned to cards identifying the owners.

Cufflinks of gold, perhaps declaring the gentleman's membership in an organization like the Masons.

The most common bit of bling would likely be a pocket watch and chain, that extra little something that showed a man's taste, his position, and sometimes offered a glimpse into his life.

The pocket watch has been around since the 1500s. Originally a status symbol only the very rich could afford, by the 19
th century most anyone who wanted one could buy one.

Attached to the pocket watch would be a chain, one end secured to his clothing, the other to the watch. Most commonly, the chain would hook through a button hole on his vest or coat, leaving the chain to drape across his middle to the pocket containing the watch. The chain was functional--it kept his watch attached to his person should it accidentally slip from the pocket--but it could also be jewelry.

My Great Grandfather's watch chain was made of human hair. I assume the chain was braided by Julia for Ole--perhaps it was a gift for him when they were betrothed. I can imagine him, all spiffed up and looking proud, with that chain and fob adorning his vest.

What is a fob, you ask? Fobs are medallions that would hang from the end of a gentleman’s watch chain. Their purpose was to help pull the watch from their vest pocket.

They could be made of the same material as the chain: gold, silver, hair, etc. Here's a good example - the fob is the small length of braided hair chain hanging by the button finding. Do you see the loop at the end? From there the gentleman could hang almost any bit of bling he wished. The fob could display the family crest or be covered with gold and jewels. It could be a locket, like Great Grandfather Ole's, or perhaps a cameo.

There were Double Albert chains, named for Queen Victoria's husband, with a fob hanging from the center.

The fob wasn't an exclusively male piece of jewelry. Women commonly wore very ornate little fobs such as decorated balls or baskets of flowers or lockets.

In Victorian times, garment clip chains were worn by women on the pocket of a blouse or waist band of a skirt and were worn by men clipped directly on the trouser pocket or vest pocket.

Women also wore their watches on long chains, or slides. The slide was a very long chain with a slide in the middle that could be adjusted to the length that looked best with the lady's garment. The slide itself could be engraved, or decorated with seed pearls or small gemstones.

Or perhaps she preferred to wear a pin.

The possibilities were only limited by the wearer's taste and financial means.


Friday, April 9, 2021

The Women of Bruce -- Part One -- Marjorie Carrick, countess of Carrick


In my last blogs, I covered the valiant ladies of Dunbar Castle.  In my next several I will write about some equally strong females who were forced to endure the hardships of Scotland during the War for IndependenceThe Women of Bruce.  Much has been written about Robert “the Competitor” who was one of thirteen claimants to the Scottish crown in the early 1290s, of Robert, lord of Annandale—his ever hungry, ambitious son—and then Robert, earl of Carrick, who went on to become king of Scotland, first of his name, succeeding where his father and grandfather failed before him.  But what about the women around King Robert—his mother, his sisters, wives, the many mistresses and daughters?  Who were they?  What were their stories?

In Part One – I begin with an amazing woman (and my 21st great-grandmother)—Marjorie Carrick, countess of Carrick, lady of Clan Campbell—and mother of King Robert the Bruce.

Turnberry Castle

Marjorie was born in 1252 at Turnberry Castle, Carrick, Ayrshire in southwest Scotland.  Some fix her birth year at 1259, but that would put the birth of her first child before she was ten-years-old, so I seriously doubt that assertion.  Robert’s mother was the daughter and heiress of Niall Mac Dhonnchad, 2nd earl of Carrick, a line that goes back to Scottish kings, David I and Malcolm I, and beyond to the Pictish kings. Her mother’s side traces a direct line back to the kings of France and Henry I of England. Her father was nearly fifty-years-0ld when he finally accepted that he would sire no male heir to replace him.  Roland, his nephew and foster son, had been raised as his son.  With health fading and wanting matters settled, Niall made the bold move to place the chieftainship and control of the clan on Roland’s shoulders, but then, in old Pictish tradition, created his daughter, Marjorie heiress to Carrick, in her own right, and settled vast estates upon her.

Carrick Coat of Arms

Since she was such a prize as a bride, King Alexander III quickly married Marjorie off  at a young age to Sir Adam of Kilconquhar, a man twenty years older than she.  In  rapid time, she was wed, gave birth to her first child—a daughter Isabel (named after Marjorie's mother, Isabel FitzAlan Stewart), and then she had to stand on the castle wall, holding her daughter,  and wave goodbye to her lord husband of barely two years, as he rode off on the Eighth Crusade raised by Louis IX of France.  Adam, the new Earl Carrick, jure uxoris (by right of his wife), participated in a battle near Acre.  Months later, he died of wounds he received in the engagement.  

Fighting at his side, and there as Kilconquhar closed his eyes, was his good companion, Robert de Brus, 6th lord of Annandale.  Before Adam drew his final breath, he extracted a promise from his friend to journey to Carrick to tell his pretty lady wife of his death, and carry a memento to her.  One has to ponder, those in his final moments, as he stared at the handsome Robert (thirteen years his junior) if he was sending Marjorie a suitable replacement for her husband.

It took a few months for Robert to reach Britain and then travel to Carrick in Ayrshire in south western Scotland.  Carrick was just three days travel beyond his holding in Annandale, so it was no trouble to fulfill his vow.  When he arrived, he discovered Marjorie in the midst of a hunt.  The scene is easy to envision (especially to a romance writer!)Marjorie now in her early 20s, vibrant and independent, used to managing her honours on her own.  And feeling time ticking away.  

Neither a Scottish king nor an English one would leave her alone, a widow, for too long.  Already wed to a man closer to the age of her father than hers, and not wanting to stand about while being treated as a royal pawn in the games of marriage and power, she decided to seize control in her hands.  Robert was handsome, a strong warrior, and came with a good lineage—one to match her own.  He would make a good lord for Carrick—one of her choosing. 

Marjorie entertained Robert lavishly for a month.  At the end of the time, he mounted his horse, intending to return to Annandale—some 80 miles to the east.  To Robert’s surprise—as the story goes—he was but a couple leagues away from Carrick, when suddenly he was surrounded by Countess Marjorie’s mounted knights.  They forcibly escorted him back to Turnberry Castle.  Once there, he was met by Marjorie who informed him, in true Highland fashion, she was kidnapping him—that he would remain her prisoner until he consented to wed with her.  A Highland man kidnapping a bride wasn’t anything new.  Quite a few Scottish marriages began this way—called a Scottish Wooing.   Marjorie was being a truly independent woman, and not about to permit men to govern the path of her life any longer.  There was speculation just how hard she had to work to convince Robert to agree to her proposal.   


Bruce was no mouse of a man.  He had fought in the Crusade, witnessed the harshness of war.  And he was very ambitious, with long-ranging, farseeing plans.  One might guess, he was already contemplating that Kilconquhar’s wife would make him the perfect lady—one that someday might be his queen—and was merely playing hard to get.  The best way to win the heart of this strong-willed lass was to allow Marjorie to believe the idea was hers!   With his holding of Annandale not too far from Carrick, surely, he had heard tales of the beautiful countess, knew her royal heritage, and on the long journey home, figured he would be in an excellent position to claim a perfect bride, suited for his future.  Historians—and non-romantics—have cast doubt on the events, and suggest it was a mutual plot, a ploy to get by the wrath of Alexander III, king of the Scots.  Being her 21st great-granddaughter, and a Medieval romance writer, I firmly come down on the side of Marjorie kidnapping her husband because she was in love—and being very practical!

It was within the king’s right to make matches or marriage, or at least add his seal of approval before the couple was wed.  This authority permitted a king to control his lords and barons, to see no one man became so powerful that he might rival the man sitting on the throne—one much like Robert of Annandale.

Alexander III, king of the Scots

Thus, Alexander was naturally furious the couple wed without his royal permission,  or papal consent—nor Marjorie observing a full year of mourning.  In punishment, he seized Turnberry Castle and her other lands.  However, whether the tale of their torrid romance caught the king’s fancy, or he secretly admired Marjorie’s audacity, she was able to regain possession of her holdings by paying a fineabout one hundred pounds—equal to the marriage pact fee they would've had to pay if they had been granted permission by the king and married with the usual steps. 

Arms of Robert Bruce, 6th lord of Annandale

It was clear theirs was a lovematch.  In the nearly two decades they were married Marjorie bore 12 children, 10 lived to full age.  Less than a year after they were married, Marjorie gave birth to twin girls in early 1272

1.         Isabel de Brus  (She became the queen of Norway)

2.         Maud de Brus (Isabel's twin) (married Aodh O'Beland de Ross who became the earl of Ross and Stratherne in 1323)

3.         Their third daughter, Christian de Brus—often called Christina—came in 1273.  (Her first husband was Gartnait de Mar, earl of Mar (and brother to Isabel Mar, first wife of King Robert).  (Her second husband was Sir Christopher Seton,  executed with her brother Niall in 1306.  The third husband was Andrew, the son of Sir Andrew de Moray, hero of the Battle of Stirling Bridge with William Wallace.)

4.         With the fourth child in 1274, Annandale got his male heir—and one that would create a history, which would live forever—Robert de Brus—who would go on to be king of the Scots. 

5.         Mary de Brus was born 1275  (She married Sir Neil Campbell of Lochow, and then Sir Alexander Fraser of Touchfraser and Cowie)

6.         Late 1276, Edward de Brus came—a man who would be the king of Ireland for a brief time.  

7.         Margaret de Brus was born 1276  (She wed Sir William Carlyle)

8.         Niall de Brus, a third son, followed 1279. (He was taken prisoner at Kildrummie Castlewhile giving the Bruce women the chance to escape the Englishwas hanged, drawn and quartered at Berwick-upon-Tweed in September 1306, along with Christopher Seton, husband to his sister, Christian, and the earl of Atholl.)

9.         Alexander de Brus was born 1282  (He was hanged, drawn and quartered 9th February 1307 at Carlisle, Cumberland, captured with Reginald Crawford, cousin to William Wallace)

10.       Thomas de Brus was born 1284. (He was hanged, drawn and quartered 9th February 1307 with his brother at Carlisle, Cumberland, and Reginald Crawford, cousin to William Wallace)

11.      *** 1286 saw the arrival of Elizabeth de Brus, but she didn’t make it to adulthood 

12.     ***  And finally another daughter named Euphemia de Brus came 1287, but like Elizabeth didn’t live to adulthood either.

*** some family trees show both Elizabeth and Euphemia de Brus being alive, married and having children.  Closer inspection will show these are non-Bruce females who married into de Brus family, so NOT the same females.

Also of note, Marjorie's first daughter, Isabel, by Adam Kilconquhar went on to marry Sir Thomas Randolph, and her son, and Marjorie's grandson, was Thomas Randolph of Moray, the brilliant general that served Marjorie's son so well.

 Sadly, Marjorie never lived to see all the accomplishments her children attained, nor had she been forced to mourn the death of four of her sons killed because of their struggles for independence from England.  She died shy of age forty.  The cause isn’t noted, as history so often does, ignoring women and the important role they played, but one has to wonder if the birth of thirteen children took its toll upon her.  There is another daunting possibility—leprosy.  It had long been rumored that her son, Robert, died of the disease, likely acquired from his father, who was said to have perished of it as well—probably infected while he was on the Crusade.   (There are two different groups saying yes and no on if the king did or didn't have it, mostly based on a casting of his skull made 200 years ago.  The side saying he didn't have it are focusing on the face deforming part of the disease, of which Robert displayed none.  Leprosy can caused other issues that can kill).  Leprosy is spread by close contact with someone infected, and has an incubation period of a year or more, often up to five years.  After that period, it can take its time killing you through various means, such as attacking the respiratory system, making it harder to fight pneumonia.  Some are severely affected within a year or two, but others can take ten, fifteen or twenty years to succumb to the disease in the middle ages.  So, it is not unreasonable to wonder if Marjorie might have contracted the disease from her husband, and simply succumbed to the ravages of something that was incurable in the 1300s.  A recent study of the Bruce’s skull brought medical confirmation that the king did suffer from the dread disease, but it didn't destroy his face.  If you follow that line of thought it lends credence to both his father and possibly his mother dying from it as well.  

Majorie's grave at Holme Cultram Abbey

Marjorie is buried with her beloved Robert in Holme Cultram Abbey Churchyard,  Abbeytown, Allerdale Borough, Cumbria, England.  Another amazing woman who refused to submit to the narrow roles afforded women during this period.

Join me for Part 2 - of the Women of Bruce where I will talk about the amazing lady who crowned Robert king, and how she paid the price for that act.

Turnberry Castle

Deborah writers in the period of Robert the Bruce in her Medieval series the
Dragons of Challon.

Deborah writes as if she’s been in Medieval Scotland and can magically take you back there to stand amidst the heather and mist of another time. This is breathtakingly beautiful, award caliber writing
— New York Times bestselling author, Lynsay Sand

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Criminals - Quite literally

By C. A. Asbrey There are many literary characters who were inspired by real life characters and events. So many, in fact, that I have had to restrict the topic to historical figures to pare the list down.
One of the most famous has to be Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express. Here Hercule Poirot investigates the killing of the hated Samuel Ratchett, and I won't spoil the ending for those of you, if there's anyone at all, who haven't read it. The key to the mystery is based on the infamous case of the kidnapping of the Lindburg Baby, and the sheer quantity of people damaged by the fallout of the crime. 

Whilst I'm sure you've heard of that one, I aim to provide you with a few more which are less well-known. Lizzie Borden, and the killings in Fall River, have inspired many works of fiction. The Murderer's Maid, by Erika Mailman, features a woman in modern times who uncovers a connection to the famous murder which places her in terrible danger, and is one of the more original takes on the crimes. However, beyond the more modern books, there are some interesting crimes and criminals hidden in many of the books we now consider to be classics.
Charles Dickens work is rich in characters drawn from real-life. One of the most infamous was Fagin. Researchers have found remarkable parallels between Fagin and a man called Issac 'Ikey' Soloman'. He was born around 1878 in Houndsditch, London, and followed his father into a life of crime. And he was very good at it. He was only in his early twenties when he ran his own jewelry shop near Petticoat lane. Considering it was a front for receiving and dealing in stolen goods, he had an advantage on the honest businessmen around him. 

 He was only 21 when he was arrested with an accomplice, Joel Joseph, for stealing a wallet near the houses of Parliament. His Joseph tried to hide the evidence, and it must have been rich pickings as he was found to have £37 stuffed in his shirt. That's the equivalent of £3,169.39 today ($4,396.87). He was sentenced to be transported to Tasmania, but for some unknown reason (and I would not dismiss bribery) he was held on a prison ship in British waters. These were known as hulks, and were reputedly hellish places, but Soloman managed to make his way back to shore and was back in London by 1818. There is no recorded explanation for his release, or for the sentence of transportation not being carried out in full. 

In 1827 he was caught with six watches, 17 shawls, 3½ yards of woolen cloth and 12 pieces of valentia (an expensive faux leather) in his possession. This time he was sentenced to incarceration in Newgate Prison, where his ability to evade justice came to the fore once again. After the trial he was taken to a prison wagon to take him to jail, but unbeknownst to the authorities it was driven by his father-in-law. The carriage took a detour to Petticoat Lane, where the guards were overpowered and Solomon released. They tried to pursue him, but he disappeared through the network of alleys and back courts which made up the poor slums of London.

He left the country, knowing he would soon be captured if he stayed. He sailed for Denmark, and from there, on to New York. But the authorities weren't finished. They arrested his wife, Anne, and she was found guilting of possessing stolen goods. Sentenced to transportation to Tasmania, Solomon's children voluntarily agreed to accompany their mother. And when Soloman found out, he travelled there too, but under the false identity of  'Slowman'. 

The fake identity was useless though, especially in the face of the number of criminal associates who had already been transported there. And they weren't the only people who recognised him. The lieutenant-Governor, Sir George Arthur, did too. There was a complication though. Soloman hadn't committed any crime on Australian soil. Sir George had to send to London for an arrest warrant, but by the time it arrived, habeus corpus combined with poor wording on the warrant to invalidate it.           
A frustrated Lieutenant-Governor had Solomon arrested and sent back to London, despite the fact that Solomon had paid £1,000 bond to get his wife released and had opened a tobacconist shop. In 1830 Solomon stood trial in the Old Bailey, and due to his exploits it was widely covered by the press at the time. He was found guilty of two of the three charges against him, and sentenced to transportation. In 1831 he arrived back in Tasmania.

After only four years in jail he was released on the basis that he lived at least 20 miles away. It was an effort to get people to clear and tame the land for the British Empire n the cheap, but it split up the Solomon family once more. The marriage failed and Ann even spent time in prison after a violent altercation between the pair. After that he lost touch with his children.

Solomon was pardoned in 1840, and a certificate of freedom in 1844, but died in 1850

The Artful Dodger may be based on a child who escaped the poor house named Robert Blincoe, or be an amalgam of characters. There are, however, other theories. Dickens often gave his famous readings in the City of Liverpool. In fact, a Christmas Carol had its world premier in Liverpool and when he did so, he often did the 19th century version of a ridealong with the city police. Liverpool was so full of Irish immigrants it was called the unofficial capital of Ireland, and they were like poor folks all over the world; crushed into slums, in appalling conditions, living a life of grinding hardship.

While there, Dickens was exposed to the poverty and the criminal rookeries, which were easily on a par with the worst London had to offer. It has also been posited by a Liverpool police officer that the dodger could have been Seamus Core of County Mayo, one of the local police's regulars.

It's notable that the dodger is described like an adult, even though he was a child. He has had the child knocked out of him by life, and even when he betrays Oliver he still retains sympathetic elements. It's clear this jaded world-view was forced on the child, and is somehow not innate. Some theorise that this was Dickens trying to show how damaging bonded labour was to the poor, and that it robbed children of choice and hope. Dickens wasn't released from his own bonded labour until he was 21, and when they tried to escape from cruel masters they were exposed to criminality and predation. Dodger embodies a part of Dicken's own past, as well as people he met.   

Dickens was not the only one though. Wilkie Collins', The Law and the Lady, features  a woman who is determine to clear her husband from the 'Scotch Verdict'. You may, or may not be aware that Scotland is the only country in the world with three verdicts, as opposed to the guilty/not guilty everyone else has. Scotland also has a not-proven verdict too. 
Madeleine Smith

To explain the not-proven, it's worth stating that Scotland requires higher degrees of corroboration of evidence than many places. It must not only follow through to prove guilt, it must also have a separate line of corroboration too. An example; it doesn't matter if someone confesses. You still have to provide a full chain of evidence which shows they did it too - motive, means, opportunity, and forensics, witnesses, and everything apart from the statement. The country has fewer miscarriages of justice because of this. In criminal law, the case has to be proven beyond all reasonable doubt. In civil law you simply have to prove that someone is guilty on the balance of probability (based on how a reasonable person would think). The not-proven generally meets the civil definition of guilt, but not the criminal. The result means the person can walk away, but they are always tainted by a suspicion of guilt. 

The Law and the Lady was produced in the light of the sensational murder case of Madeleine Smith, who was a Scottish society lady accused of murdering her lover. It remains controversial even to this day, as vital evidence was not put before the jury by the order of the judge, leading to complaints that the upper classes protected one of their own. She was not vindicated though. The verdict of not-proven meant she could walk free, but was dogged with suspicion  for life.     

A probably lesser-known inspiration was that a murderess called Elizabeth Martha Brown was Thomas Hardy's inspiration for the tragic Tess of the D'Urbervilles. She was hanged on 9 August 1856, for murdering her husband with an axe during a violent altercation in which she alleged he took a whip to her. The sixteen year old Hardy was watching the public execution. 
Thomas Hardy

70 years later he wrote that he was ashamed to have been there. Brown was dressed in a black silk dress. Hardy wrote, "I saw—they had put a cloth over the face—how, as the cloth got wet, her features came through it. That was extraordinary." "I remember what a fine figure she showed against the sky as she hung in the misty rain," he wrote elsewhere, "and how the tight black silk gown set off her shape as she wheeled half-round and back."

This list is not definitive by any means, but as I've been influenced by real crime too, I'd be interested in hearing yours.


 “She hasn’t got the combination to the safe,” said the manager. “You can scare her as much as you want. We all know you’re not gonna use that gun on us.” 

Rebecca’s breath halted as she felt a careless arm drape around her shoulder. 

 “I don’t need a gun to hurt someone. Give us the combination.” The manager remained mute and turned his face away. “Your call, sir.” 

He pulled Rebecca around to face him as she gasped in alarm. “Just remember who you’ve got to thank for this, ma’am.” He pointed over at the manager, who refused to meet her eyes. “That man right there.”

“Anything that happens to her is down to you. Not me,” said the manager. 

 Rebecca felt herself dragged from the room by one arm. She was pulled into the office next door and pushed against the wall. The man walked over and pulled down the blind before returning to her. 

Her breath came in ragged pants of fear. “Please, no. Don’t.” 

 He leaned on the wall, a hand on either side of her head, and pressed his face close. “You were gonna hold this place up. Are you some kind of idiot?” 

She blinked in confusion. “Huh?” 

The man pulled down his mask, revealing the face of the fair man who had walked into her office looking for Fernsby. “Don’t lie to me, honey. You had the same idea as we did— look at Meagher’s bank account to see where he gets his money. We’ve watched you march up and down outside this place all day, like you were on sentry duty, while you built up your courage. You even got in the way of us doin’ it. What the hell is goin’ on in your head? How dumb can a woman get?” 

“You? Here?” She couldn’t quite decide whether to stop being scared or not. 

“Yeah. Me.” He indicated with his head. “Now, Nat’s in there, and he needs the combination of the safe. It’s too new and sophisticated for him to crack the combination. You and me need to put on a bit of a show to make sure the manager gives it up.” 

“You’re not robbing the bank?” Jake huffed in irritation. “Try to keep up, Becky. I need you to scream for help so the manager gives Nat the combination to the vault. We want Meagher’s records too.” 
She shook her head. “Me? I can’t scream.” 

“What do you mean you can’t scream? All women can scream.” 

“I can’t. I’m just not made that way.”
He frowned. “Look, Becky. If you won’t scream, I’m gonna have to make you. Let’s do this the easy way, huh?” 

“Please, help! Noooo.” Jake frowned. “You call that screamin’?
That’s useless.” “I told you. I can’t.” Jake flicked up an eyebrow. “Last chance, Becky.” 


“Nope.” A gloved hand reached up to her hat as his eyes glittered with mischief. “Don’t say you weren’t warned, sweetheart.”