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Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Abraham Lincoln: Little-known Facets of his Life


    Abraham Lincoln has fascinated me since I was a child. A few years ago, I went on a marathon of reading Lincoln biographies and those of his military and political contemporaries. I learned a lot of interesting facts about the man, outside of his presidency.

Abraham Lincoln on February 9, 1864. 
(Library of Congress; public domain via Wikimedia Commons.)

           It’s common knowledge that Lincoln was a lawyer but, prior to that, he had a number of other jobs. In April 1832, at age twenty-three, he signed up for a 30-day enlistment in the Illinois Militia. The men in his company elected him captain and he ended up re-enlisting. He served a total of 51 days.

      After this, he returned to New Salem, Illinois and resumed his first campaign for the elected office of representative in the Illinois State Legislature. Although he did well in New Salem, he was defeated in the rest of the district and lost the election.

Image via Pinterest

     He entered into a partnership with his friend William F. Berry in January 1833 to purchase a small saloon which they called Berry and Lincoln.  Berry was an alcoholic, and the enterprise did not go well. Lincoln sold his share to Berry in April 1833. Lincoln was left deep in debt and didn’t get that debt paid off until he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.

     But May 1833, Lincoln received an appointment as Postmaster of New Salem and continued in this position until the post office was relocated to a different city three years later. During his tenure, he supplemented his income with a variety of jobs including helping farmers with their harvests, splitting rails, clerking in a store, and surveying land for the county. It was also during this period that he began seriously studying the law. He earned his law license in September 1836 and was admitted to the Illinois bar in March 1837 at age twenty-eight. Practicing law became Lincoln’s lifelong career, but his early experiences helped him relate to people from all walks of life. The New Salem State Historic Site preserves the village where he lived before moving to Springfield, Illinois.

     While in New Salem, Lincoln earned a reputation for being an elite wrestler eventually winning the county wrestling championship. According to Carl Sandburg’s biography of Lincoln, the future president once challenged an entire crowd of onlookers after dispatching an opponent in a match. There were no takers.  Lincoln was defeated only once in approximately 300 matches. His record earned him recognition in the National Wrestling Hall of Fame.

Lincoln's Patent Sketches, Wikimedia Commons

     Lincoln was also a tinkerer and inventor. As a young man, he was aboard a steamboat that ran aground on low shoals. He had to help unload the cargo to free it. Subsequently, he developed a design to keep vessels afloat in shallow waters by attaching empty metal air chambers to their sides and later modified it to use four balloons, collapsed accordion-like, attached to the four “corners” of the craft.  If the boat encountered shallow waters, the balloons would be filled with enough air to raise the hull higher than the shoals or sandbar and keep the vessel afloat. For his invention, Lincoln was granted Patent No. 6,469 in 1849. He is the only president to hold a patent.

     According to accounts of his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, and many other contemporaries, Lincoln was an avid cat-lover. He had two cats while he was in the White House, Tabby and Dixie, and he would also bring in strays. There are some reports that he fed Tabby and Dixie on the dining table, a practice his wife did not approve of.

Lincoln family: From left to right: Mary Todd Lincoln, Robert Lincoln, Tad Lincoln, Abraham Lincoln

By Currier & Ives [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Lincoln and his wife had a great interest in psychic phenomena. During his first term, their son, Willie, died of a typhoid-like disease and the Lincolns were overcome with grief. Mrs. Lincoln convinced her husband to hold séances at the White House to communicate with Willie and another son who had died prior to his presidency. It is believed that Abraham attended at least two of the séances, but didn’t find them gratifying.

      As a theatre-lover, Lincoln was a fan of actor John Wilkes Booth. Before going to Ford’s Theatre in the evening to see Our American Cousin on April 14, 1865, Lincoln signed legislation creating the U.S. Secret Service. The original mission of the law enforcement agency was to combat widespread currency counterfeiting.

     The president was guarded around-the-clock by one member of a four-man security unit. A new bodyguard, John Parker, was assigned to protect the president at the theatre but he went missing. No one knows for sure where Parker was, but he had a reputation for being unreliable, including drinking and frequenting a “house of ill repute” while on duty, according to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois.

Shooting of U.S. President Abraham Lincoln

.Library of Congress / Reuters

That evening, John Wilkes Booth assassinated the president. Lincoln died the next day. According to the report of Ward Hill Lamon, one of the president’s friends, Lincoln had dreamt of his assassination.

     It was not until 1901, after Garfield and McKinley were killed, that the Secret Service was assigned to protect the president.

   Ann Markim



Monday, July 26, 2021

Last of the Anglo-Normans - the loss of The White Ship


On November 25th, 1120, The White Ship was wrecked in a storm and sank in the English Channel. This terrible accident claimed over 300 lives and turned the course of English medieval history, since one of the victims was William 'the Atheling', seventeen years old and the only legitimate son of King Henry I of England and his queen Matilda, who had died two years before.

The White Ship was a modern vessel, a sturdy cog owned by Thomas FitzStephen, who was also on board, but the channel crossing from Normandy to England is treacherous, especially in winter. Henry's ship had already left Barfleur, on the north-western coast of France, in daylight, but when Fitzstephen's ship eventually sailed, after being loaded with more casks of wine, it was night. Worse, everyone on the ship was drunk. The ship struck a rock off Barfleur off the coast of north-western France and was wrecked. Only a butcher called Berthold from Rouen, on board to chase up payment, survived because the ramskins he was wearing saved him from exposure. Prince William and many of his friends, all young nobles, were drowned. Chroniclers of the time said that Thomas FitzStephen, knowing that Prince William was lost, allowed himself to drown rather than face King Henry.

At court, none of the barons dare tell the king. A child was finally sent with the terrible news. Henry fainted and afterwards was said never to smile again.

Henry, stricken with grief, also afraid for his crown. His other legitimate child, named Matilda like her mother, was a daughter and in the Middle Ages women were not thought capable of ruling without male help. The traditional role of a queen was as a help-meet of the king and an intermediary for petitioners seeking mercy from the king.

Henry was terrified of the prospect of no obvious male succession to the English crown, won by his father William of Normandy at the battle of 1066 - the more so perhaps because he owed his own title of king to an 'accident' in the New Forest in August 1100 when his older brother, William Rufus, the King of England, was killed by an arrow while out hunting. Accident or assassination? It is still unclear but the younger brother, landless Henry, wasted no time in seizing the royal treasury and securing his position.

The death of William Rufus had favored him but the sinking of The White Ship threw his dynastic aims into turmoil. He attempted to extract promises of loyalty from his barons to his daughter Matilda, but some of the barons favored Henry's favorite nephew Stephen and when King Henry died in 1135, Stephen was crowned king of England in his place.

Matilda and her supporters saw this as a betrayal and both factions fought for their claims over England for over 20 years.

Had William not been traveling on The White Ship all those years ago in 1120, if he had lived and succeeded his father, England would have seen a different line of Kings - Anglo-Normans instead of the later Angevins. No Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, no Richard the Lionheart, no King John - all descended from Matilda's marriage to Geoffrey of Anjou.

In my medieval fiction, I tend not to touch on the royal courts. I mention kings in passing, as being distant from my characters' lives - as in my novels "The Snow Bride" and "A Summer Bewitchment". There is more courtly intrigue in my novellas "Mistress Angel" and "Amice and the Mercenary".

Lindsay Townsend

Thursday, July 15, 2021

New Release — Summer Smoke (Gold Camp Dreams Book 2) by Vella Munn


Nothing means more to Katharine Beechman than her two beloved daughters, Mary and Sally. At ages five and three, they are her world—her reason for being. After her harsh past, she doesn’t need or want a man in her life. She knows better than to trust one. 

As manager of the Eagle Canyon’s Yuba gold mine Daniel Harman’s life is marked by the ultimate responsibility for every miner’s safety. The success—or failure—of the Yuba mine rests solely on Daniel’s shoulders. Determined to be the man everyone depends on, as he has been since his difficult childhood, he refuses to show any weakness. And there’s certainly no room in his heart for a woman, let alone a family.

But he never intended to fall in love with Katharine’s sweet and innocent daughters. He melts every time they laugh or smile. As for their serious, independent mother—she has awakened a need deep in him he has always denied. Can he risk telling her that he recognizes the loneliness in her? A loneliness he understands all too well.

As Katharine and Daniel take a chance on revealing their emotions, the past she has fought so hard to put behind her returns with a vengeance. There’s no escaping the danger in the SUMMER SMOKE...


“He has black lung. Miner’s consumption.”

Her own breath suddenly gone, she pressed a cool wet fist to her forehead. “I was afraid it was something like that. How do you know? You said you weren’t the one to ask.”

He spun toward her. A sense of isolation slipped over her. It was just the two of them, a couple of crazy people looking for a dog that wanted nothing to do with them. Getting to know each other. Maybe learning things about themselves.

“Dr. Piper told me,” he said.

“I shouldn’t be surprised. There isn’t much in the way of secrets here.”

“Like Dwight saying something he shouldn’t have.”

There it was. Another lesson acknowledged. “So you heard.”

“It was impossible not to. I’m sorry.”

“So am I. Like we agree, secrets don’t exist here.”

“Such as accusations of murder.”


Monday, July 12, 2021



90 years ago this year, The Bagnell Dam at Lake of the Ozarks was completed, creating one of the largest recreational lakes in the U.S., boasting a surface area of 55,000 acres,
stretching 92 miles from end to end, and over 1,150 miles of shoreline.

“…built by the Union Electric Light and Power Company of St. Louis (now AmerenUE) between 1929 and 1931. Bagnell Dam, named for the closest town when construction first started, is a 148-foot tall, 2,543 foot-long concrete gravity dam with a 520-foot long spillway, and a 511-foot long power station. The Stone and Webster Engineering Corporation designed and engineered the dam construction on the Osage River at a cost of more than $30 million.  At the time of Bagnell Dam’s construction, the Osage River valley was lush and fertile. Damming of the Osage River caused the river to snake back on itself, submerging the timber and farm land. The project also caused the eventual destruction of Old Linn Creek, then the Camden County seat.” []

Started just before The Great Depression hit, it’s purpose was power – electricity, to be exact. But it also provided jobs. Lots of jobs. For construction, a railroad, a dredge for gravel, a concrete plant, and a sawmill were built. The town of Bagnell, which no longer exists, housed some of the more than 20,000 workers who took part in the massive project. 

Completed in August of 1931, The Bagnell Dam is a tourist attraction in an area full of them.

Fun Facts (from Ameren Missouri) 
The Bagnell Dam was the largest - and last - major dam in the U.S. to be built with private investment.

- The Bagnell Dam actually got its name from a railroad man who formed his own town and then named it after himself. William Bagnell platted a town bearing his name on June 30, 1883.

- Bagnell Dam is one-half mile long, rising 148 feet high from bedrock. That’s comparable to a building 12 stories high and seven blocks long. It holds back 600 billion gallons of water.

- Ameren Missouri invested $53 million in upgrades at Bagnell Dam in 2017 and 2018, including 67 post-tensioned anchors and more than 66 million pounds of new concrete to weigh down the dam and secure it into the bedrock. The project created more than 200 construction jobs and an estimated $40 million in spending in the area.

- In a typical year, the Osage Energy Center produces more than 500 million kilowatt hours of electricity - enough to supply the needs of nearly 42,000 average households.

- By using the natural energy of falling water, the Osage Energy Center saves our nation about one million barrels of oil or one million tons of coal each year.

- Missouri’s Lake of the Ozarks is one of the largest man-made lakes in the world, covering 86 square miles in four counties.

- Lake of the Ozarks is a little more than 100 feet deep at its deepest point. The lake level reading is the height of the surface of the lake above sea level. The full pool elevation of the lake is 660 feet above sea level.

Photos of construction Courtesy of The Missouri State Archives
Photo of the completed dam by

Thursday, July 8, 2021

The Women of Bruce — Part 4 — The Sisters of Robert the Bruce — Christian


The Women of Bruce–Part Four 
The Sisters of Robert Bruce

When I first set up my series of articles on the Women of Bruce, I had intended to devote  a single article to Robert the Bruce’s six sisters.  However, as I began writing the blog, I found one sister earned her own individual story.  For Christian de Brus was a woman to draw admiration and respect.  Born about 1273 at Turnberry Castle, she was the third daughter to Robert and Marjorie, and she is likely the most colorful, controversial and tragic Bruce sister.

Like most females of this period in history, little is recorded of her childhood, or her life before she married.  Controversy pops up quickly at this point, as it is now fashionable to try and cast doubt that her first marriage ever took place.  I cannot follow that trend.  Too much evidence says otherwise.  Her first marriage was to Gartnait mac Domhnail, Mormaer and 7th earl of Mar, sheriff of Aberdeenshire.  Gartnait’s father was a longtime supporter of the Bruces; he was ambitious, and blessed with the farseeing vision to back Clan Bruce.  The joining of Mar and Bruce bloods was the perfect balance for future rulers of the country—the Bruces coming from Norman ancestry would see the Lowlanders following them, while the ancient line of Mar would open doors through the old Celtic Scots.  With that dream in mind, Domhnall mac Uilleim, 6th earl of Mar set out to see his line woven into the Bruces through a double marriage.   

In about 1292, he wed his son Gartnait to Christian.  As her bride’s gift from her father, she received the lands of Garioch for her life.  The earls of Mar eventually inherited the feudal lordship of Garioch through her (not a peerage dignity) and were even latterly styled the "earls of Garioch”.  By the Mars inheriting Christian’s holdingher grandson being the first earl of Gariochit’s clear that she did wed him.  That assumption is further backed up by the holding of Kildrummy Castle, seat of the earls of Mar.  In 1305, her brother Robert was in possession of the Mar stronghold.  This would indicate the castle went to Mar’s small son, his heir, after his death, and Robert, as his uncle, was acting as guardian for his nephew, controlling the fortress until the boy came of age to accept responsibility of the earldom.

To further back up my inference is wording in the truce made with Edward in January 1302.  When Robert saw his fighting for Scotland was only opening the door for the return of King John Balliol—which was basically giving all the power to John Comyn earl of Buchan, and to Red Comyn, Robert gave up the struggle.  He made peace with King Edward.  It is specific to note in the pact, which can still be read, is a listing of the return of all lands in England, Scotland and France to Robert, and that his people wouldn’t suffer for taking up arms and following him in rebellion.  Right in the middle of this avowing is reference to the earl of Mar’s son being given over to Robert as his ward.  Why else would this be included in this pact, except Robert was trying to protect his nephew by Christian?

“And the King grants to Robert the wardship and marriage of the Earl of Mar's son and heir.  And because it is feared the Kingdom of Scotland may be removed out of the hands of the King’s hands which God forbid and handed over to Sir John Balliol…”

Less than three years after Gartnait wed Christian, Gartnait’s sister, Isabel, would marry Christian’s brother, Robert earl of Carrick (with papal dispensation, naturally).  Brother and sister marrying brother and sister, saw Mar blood destined to flow through the child, and future children, that would one day sit on the throne of Scotland.

arms of Mar

Christian gave Gartnait a son, Domhnall Mar, and twin daughters, Elyne de Mar and Margaret de Mar.  Only, their marriage was short-lived, and his death mysteriously unexplained.  Mar was on record as having reconciled with Edward in 1302 and the English king appointed him “warden of Garioch” to enforce Edward’s Peace.  Sometime before 1305, Gartnait vanishes from history and not a word of how or why.  We might infer he died acting as warden in the troubled times.

If Christian despaired that her life was filled with sorrow at losing her husband, she could little foresee what would come at her in the year following.  A little over a year later, in March of 1306, she wed her second husband, Sir Christopher Seton.  A close companion to her brother, Christopher was at his side when Bruce faced Red Comyn at Greyfriars Abbey.  Some report it was he, not Bruce, who struck the fatal blow to Comyn (though other sources credit this deed to Sir James Kirkpatrick, another close ally of Robert).  Legend records Seton saved Robert’s life at the Battle of Methven on 19th June 1306, when the new king fell from his horse.  The battle was a total rout, setting the Scots to fleeing.

Ruins of Kildrummy Castle

Robert had sent his second wife, Elizabeth, his daughter by his first marriage, Marjorie, Isabella Macduff (the cousin who crowned him) and his two sisters—Christian and Mary—to Kildrummy Castle.  The people of Kildrummy were still devoted to Christian.  The stronghold was a formidable one, and clearly Bruce assumed they would be safe there.  Their brother Nigel was in command of the castle.  When a blacksmith betrayed all by setting a grain store afire, Nigel bravely defended the stronghold, knowing all was lost, giving his sisters and kinswomen time to flee.  Nigel lost his life for the valiant effort, along with the entire garrison of the castle.  The women were later captured by William, earl of Ross, and turned over to King Edward as prisoners.

arms of Seton

Christian was sent to solitary confinement at the Gilbertine nunnery at Sixhills in Lincolnshire, England.  She wasn’t the only female prisoner of nobility housed there.  Gwladys ferch Dafydd was the daughter of Dafydd ap Gruffud, the Last Free Prince of Wales.  After executing her father for treason, Edward sent Gwladys–a mere child—to the remote Sixhills Priory.  She died there in 1336, having spent her whole life as a prisoner to three English kings.  While Christian’s fate was grim, it was much kinder than what her sister suffered, and that of Isabella Macduff.  That Christian did not face being held in a cage outside also reinforces the validity of her marriage to Mar.  The Setons were a family rising in prominence, but held little sway in either country at that time; on the other hand, the powerful earls of Mar traced their lineage back to the early kings of Scotland.  Edward could be brutal, cruel; however, he was also mindful of forgiving perceived offenses from nobleswhen it was to his benefit.  He didn’t dare risk harming Christian for fear the Mars might raise their countrymen against him. Her sister, Mary, was married to Sir Neil Campbell, son of Cailean Mór Campbell, coming from the mighty earls of Argyll.  Why that connection didn’t help save Mary from the cage was simple—Neil was one of Bruce’s most trusted lieutenants, and had fought by his side at every point of Bruce’s rebellions.  Thus, she suffered the full force of Edward’s vindictive fury.


Sixhills Abbey, Lincolnshire, England 

The next we learn of Seton’s whereabouts comes in the attack at Loch Doon Castle.  Some try to say he was not at the Battle of Methven, citing his presence at Loch Doon.  However, the castle was a vital fortress for the earls of Carrick, and was one of three strongholds that Robert tried desperately to hang on to in order to keep power.  It is reasonable to assume, Robert sent Seton there just after the Methven defeat.   The castle was built on an island within Loch Doon, and consisted of a formidable eleven-sided curtain wall.  Yet, in spite of Seton’s heroic defence, the castle fell the 14th of August 1306.  It would not be retaken for another eight years.  The castle’s surrender supposedly came by the hand of the Governor, Sir Gilbert FitzRoland de Carrick (son of the illegitimate half-brother to Marjorie Carrick).  The truth that would come out much later: it was Gilbert’s brother-in-law who gave over to the English.   Christopher was hanged, drawn and quartered at Dumfries in accordance with Edward's new hardline policy of giving no quarter to Scottish prisoners. 


Loch Doon Castle ruins
(relocated in 1937 due to raising the level of the loch for a hydroelectric project)

More controversy arises—there is a question that Christian was pregnant with Christopher’s child when she was captured.  Possible?  Perhaps.  As in the question I raised in my last article over concerns that Robert’s queen had been with child there are no records referring to a child taken as prisoner, nor one born in captivity— I see the same circumstances reflected in this child of Seton.  Two different Alexander Setons are listed as her son.  One is cited as born in 1252 (which is two decades before Christian’s own birth!) and another as 1290 (at which time she hadn’t married her first husband!).  Thus, I surmise it reasonably safe to assume she was neither pregnant, nor had a newborn infant at the time of her capture.  Worse, some historians credit her with giving birth to a daughter by Seton before 1306 named Margaret.  I think they are confusing her daughter, Margaret de Mar, by Gartnait with a 'daughter' with Seton.  Possibly, an attempt of those to forge a link for their family lines to Bruce blood? 

Poor Christian even sees historians trying to deny her as mother of the son by Mar.  I suppose since they see it as target of choice to refute the marriage took place, so the next step would be to claim the children from that union aren’t hers.  Mar’s son was also held prisoner by Edward.  The naysayers point to no correspondence between the two during their captivity.  It is not hard to envision a man who commanded women held in cages, also capable of preventing correspondence to and from his prisoners.

Christian went on to live as a hostage to the English for eight years.  She was made prisoner to Edward I, and it would be another king—Edward II—that would finally recognize her brother as the true king of the Scots, and agree to send the Bruce women home in 1314.  Christian returned home to her lands, to children who were nearly grown, and once more she was a widow.

The little over a year after her release her brother, Edward, invaded Ireland, and the following year on the 2nd May 1316 he was crowned king of Ireland.  That same year Marjorie Bruce died, giving birth to her son, who would one day be King Robert II.  Bruce joined his brother in Ireland for a spell, but by 1318, Edward was slain at the Battle of Dun Delgan on 5th October.

Still, life was far from through with this woman of Bruce.  There was talk of another marriage with Sir Andrew Harclay – at the time he was raised from baron of Carlisle to earl– as part of peace talks instigated by Harclay. Nothing came of it.  I would guess Christian would not accept an Englishman for a husband.  It's just as well they didn't wed, because Harclay was arrested after signing the treaty with King Robert.  Edward II had him executed for treason, hanged, drawn and quartered, and his body parts sent to different parts of the country as a warning.

Instead, Christian married a third husband of her choosing—Sir Andrew de Moray.  This man  was the son born posthumously to the late Andrew de Moray, lord of Bothwell, the same warrior, who fought with William Wallace at Stirling Bridge.  Moray, quite possibly, would have been crowned king instead of her brother, had young Andrew not died of wounds received in the decisive battle.  It is reported that Christian gave him two sons: Sir John de Moray and Sir Thomas de Moray

arms of Moray

Peace came to Scotland.  Edward II died, replaced by his son, Edward III.  Then, King Robert died.  Christian was there for the coronation of Robert’s son, David II.  She had lost two husbands and five brothers at the altar of Scotland, and lived through the reign of three English kings.  Even so, Christian was not a lady to sit idle with her spinning and weaving.  The English came northward, yet again, this time Edward III, backing the son of John Balliol in claiming he was the real king of the Scots.

After the Battle of Dupplin in August 1332, Andrew was named Regent of Scotland, protecting Robert’s small son, King David II.  While attacking Roxburgh Castle in 1333, he was captured and held prisoner for nearly two years.  Christian arranged ransom and he was released in 1335.  Upon his return, Parliament appointed him Guardian of Scotland.  He spent five years fighting the English, and repulsing their attempts to return Balliol to the throne. 

Christian was commander of Kildrummy Castle, and while Andrew was away, she found herself besieged later that year by David Strathbogie, a claimant for the title of earl of Atholl — and Edward Balliol’s chief commander in the north.  Strathbogie moved through Scotland with fire and sword, repeating the campaign of Edward I of 1296, in a clear attempt to wipe the freeholder lords off the face of Scotland.  Laying siege to Kildrummy Castle was to be the pinnacle of his campaign.  Only one obstacle lay in his path—Christian de Brus.  The fall of the castle would have been a big setback to the Scots, perhaps to the extent of losing the country.  Possibly, since the castle had been lost to the Bruces in 1306, in true warrior fashion, Christian held the castle in resolute determination.   She refused to surrender, and kept it and its people safe until her husband could march to her aid with an army of over one thousand strong.   Thanks to Christian drawing Strathbogie’s attention to focus on the siege, Andrew was able to attack Strathbogie’ from the rear, and even though outnumbered three to one, he defeated David Strathbogie’ at Culblean 30th November 1335.  Strathbogie stood with his back to a tree, pinned there, finally killed in a last stand, along with a small group of followers, including Walter and Thomas Comyn.  (A side note–Strathbogie was married to the daughter of Hugh de Beaumont and Alice Comyn, niece of the late John Comyn, earl of Buchan – the very pair who were likely responsible for the death of Isabella Macduff, countess of Buchan).

The Culblean Monument

After contracting pneumonia while besieging Edinburgh Castle in the early winter months of 1337, Andrew retired to Avoch Castle in Rossand less than a year later died, making Christian a widow for the third time.  She still retained possession of Kildrummy Castle and so she returned to her home.  King David was generous to his beloved aunt, providing her with an income from a number of sources, and his queen, Joan, was said to visit her at Kildrummy as well.

Through those years, tragedy had continually stalked Christian Bruce — brothers, husbands — so many had died.  Now, she was forced to watch her children die one-by-one, outliving all but one son.  Her first born son by Gartnait, who had spent years as a prisoner to both Edward and Edward II, was appointed Guardian of Scotland on 2nd August, 1332, following the death of Thomas Randolph, 1st earl of Moray (Christian's nephew).  The honor was only for a matter of days.  On the 11th of August at Dupplin Moor. Mar led the second division of the Scottish army, while Robert Bruce, lord of Liddesdale (Bruce's illegitimate son) led the first division.  Mar never saw his 38th birthday.  (Odd happenchance — Domhnall's son, Thomas, Mormaer of Mar, 1st earl of Garioch would also die at the same age.)  Domhnall was killed, along with Bruce of Liddesdale, who died leading the first charge.  Lost as well was Christian's grandnephew, son of Randolph—Thomas Randolph, 2nd earl of Moray.  A cousin, Duncan, earl of Fife a lieutenant under Mar (and brother to the woman who crowned Bruce king) barely escaped.  After her son's death, her husband had been appointed Guardian.

Margaret de Mar died in 1338 (the same year Christian had lost Andrew); almost nothing of this daughter is recorded, even the cause of death (Historians have her so muddled with the fictional daughter of Seton).  Margaret’s twin sister, Elyne de Mar, of Rusky and Knapdale died in 1342 at age 44, cause not given.  

At the Battle of Neville's Cross, the 17th  of October 1346, King David II (Bruce’s son) was taken prisoner by the English.  Along with him was Christian’s elder son by Andrew – Sir John de Moray.  Edward III had allowed Andrew to be ransomed—a decision that came back to cost him dearly – so he refused to allow his son to be ransomed.  John died in captivity at age 31 (likely from the Black Death) in September of 1351.  Christian would have relived every breath of every day for those nearly six years, knowing what her son suffered being held a hostage.   If that wasn’t sorrow enough to break anyone’s heart, Edward demanded that John’s younger brother, Thomas, take the place of John after his death.  Christian had to watch as yet another son by Andrew was turned over to be an English hostage.  The next blow to the family came in losing Christian in 1358.  She passed away three years before Thomas.  He died at age 35 — also of the plague, in 1361 — also still a hostage to an English king.   He was Christian’s only child to outlive her, but only by three years.

As the fashion for women in history, little is recorded of Christian’s death.  Her husband, Andrew, had been buried in the chapel at Rossmarkie.  Later, his body was reinterred in Dunfermline Abbey, next to Robert Bruce and Thomas Randolph, earl of Moray. Accordingly,  one might presume it Christian’s resting place as well.   Many of her ancestors and family were buried there—especially her brother, Robert.  Due to the Reformation and destruction of the abbey, many of the royal graves were lost.  It wasn’t until 1817 that Robert’s grave was found again.  Sadly, Christian’s final resting place remains a mystery.

Dunfermline Abbey

Christian Bruce de Mar de Seton de Moray was every bit the warrior her brother was.  In return, her legend has suffered the indifference of a history that little paid her life heed, now works to deny her a husband, denied her children by both Mar and de Moray as not being hers, and then contrarily gave her three sons named Alexander and a daughter by a man who was her husband but for a few fleeting months.  In the end, it has even deprived her of a final resting place, where people could come to pay their respects. Thousands visit Robert’s tomb each year.  How many ask, “Where is the grave of Lady Christian?” Few, if any.  Sadly, I fear Christian Bruce will never get the true homage she deserves, simply because she was a woman of Bruce and not a man.

Deborah writes Scottish Medieval Historical Romances
set in the time of Robert the Bruce in a series, the Dragons of Challon.

coming in August
you will meet other sisters of Robert the Bruce in Part 5 - 
The Tale of Two Isabels

Norman Lord, Saxon Lady by Lynna Banning


England, Late Summer 1067

The Normans have arrived at the Saxon castle of Belven. Faced with the proof that her home and lands have been granted to Norman knight Alain de Chalus, Saxon Lady Edra of Belven knows she must surrender for the good of her people. On his deathbed, Lady Edra’s father startles her by encouraging her to work with the interlopers rather than offer resistance. Has he gone mad? How can he suggest such a thing?

Norman knight Alain de Chalus is proud of his standing as the new lord—but how will he be able to force the Saxons to work with him? The key, he realizes, is Edra—he must win her over, and that will be no easy feat. But time passes and love flares between them—and then the day comes when Alain’s bride, Henriette, arrives unexpectedly.

How can Alain remain faithful to the child-bride he barely knew before he left for war? How can Edra turn her back on the young woman who only wants a friend in this place that is foreign to her? When Edra is kidnapped by a beast of a man, Alain only knows he must save her—no matter what. Can there be a happy ending for this NORMAN LORD, SAXON LADY?


England, Late Summer 1067


Something dark was moving between the field of wheat and the village turnstile. A man. Edra sucked in a breath and stood motionless, watching. In the bailey behind her a motherless baby goat butted her hand and bleated for the soft leather teat she had been using to feed it. Now it leaked whey over her fingers, but she paid no attention. She stepped forward, brushed the kid out of her path and squinted at the dark figure in her field.

When she heard the scream, she hiked up her kirtle and began to run. The woman screamed again, and now Edra saw why. The man had her beneath him, was yanking up her kirtle.

“Stop!” Edra flew toward them through the tasseled wheat, her throat tight with fear. “Stop!” She threw herself onto the man’s broad back, and when he twisted away, the woman rolled free. It was Egitha, the shoemaker’s wife.

Edra pounded the man’s shoulders with both fists. She would kill him! No matter that he was armored in chain mail, she would grip his throat and strangle the last bit of life out of him. The iron links cut into the skin of her hands.

“My lady!” Egitha’s hoarse voice penetrated her maddened haze, but Edra did not stop her pummeling.

“Egitha, run!” she shouted. “Get help!” She grabbed the wooden pitchfork the older woman had dropped and plunged the sharp prongs into the man’s mail-covered chest. The blow knocked him flat, and she raised the pitchfork to stab him again.


Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Forgotten Female Accessories

Forgotten Female Accessories

C. A. Asbrey

Lifting a Skirt
There have been numerous updates in fashion over the centuries, and arguably, the most rapid rate of change took place in the twentieth century. And those fashions also required the gadgets and gewgaws which were seen as invaluable at the time. Look around your own home and you'll find things your mother and grandmother never had. Go to junk shops and flea markets and you'll see equipment which is barely recognizable to modern eyes.  Most of these articles will be familiar to you, but I very much doubt they are used beyond dressing-up or re-enactments nowadays.

Some of you may have seen these pinchers attached to chains and wondered what they were for. Skirt lifters were a useful way to control long skirts whilst freeing up the hands, as well as remaining suitably modest, and had their heyday from 1836 to the1890s. They could be attached at the waist, and the length pre-arranged, as a way to stop the hems dragging, or causing tripping, when there were puddles, dirty areas, and stairs to negotiate. And the 19th century streets were notorious dirty. In the 1890s, Lady F.W. Harberton got into a cab with a dress with a long train, and attended a function in Piccadilly. Being a lady with a scientific bent, so made an inventory of the rubbish she swept home with her.

2 cigar ends.      
9 cigarette do.
A portion of pork pie.
4 toothpicks.
2 hairpins.
1 stem of a clay pipe.
3 fragments of orange peel.
1 slice of cat’s meat.
Half a sole of a boot.
1 plug of tobacco (chewed).
Straw, mud, scraps of paper, and miscellaneous street refuse, ad.lib.

One incidental aspect to come out of women's need to keep their skirts clean is still with us today. The parish did not clean the streets, leading to entrepreneurs to see an opportunity to make a penny. Cross-sweepers were usually children, and they would choose a defined area to keep scrupulously clean for a small gratuity. Men also found them better for cleanliness too. Victorian traffic was heavy and ruthless. Life was cheap, and poor children were plentiful. Far too many didn't care about these paupers rushing out to remove manure, mud, or any other debris, and injuries were common. It was a very dangerous job, and children were killed and maimed. These crossings were up to nine feet wide, and paved to a higher standard than the rest of the road, and were considered a continuation of the pavement, but pedestrians had no right of way until later. Some were paid for by businesses hopeful of increased footfall, others by the parish in better areas. 

By 1862 they had gathered some kind of legal standing, as established in a court case in which the family of a child tried to sue the owner of a sporty carriage with a 'spirited horse' when it crushed their daughter's leg. The driver stated that it was unreasonable to expect him to slow down every time he saw a child. He initially offered two shillings and sixpence in compensation, but that was rejected by the family and the case proceeded to court. After an appeal, the Queen's bench established that she could not recover damages unless she was on the crossing, thereby establishing the precursor to the pedestrian crossing providing some kind of protection to pedestrians. 

Some of the lifters had teeth, and others had little clamps which was more protective of delicate fabrics. They could also be fitted to a chatelaine, which brings us to another accessory which has fallen out of use. A châtelaine was originally the name for a woman who controlled a large house or castle, and the decorative belt is something which most of you will be familiar with, and carried the tools she would require for her day-to-day activities. A precursor to a tool belt, it's a chain worn around the waist which held numerous useful gadgets and tools. Anything from keys, scissors, thimbles, watches, nail scoops, tweezers, smelling salts, coin purses, pill boxes, and anything else you can think of. Chatelaines are very ancient, with even Roman examples found in graves and archaeological digs. They could be practical and hefty, such as those used by matrons in jails and asylums, or beautiful decorative items, such as the example shown here.

Another item on the chatelaine is another gadget which has fallen out of fashion, except as an aid for disability - the button hook. These button  hooks were vital for putting on the ankle boots of the period, with their small fiddly buttons - especially if you were wearing a corset. Many people who dress in period costume say the rule is always 'boots first', but the average Victorian lady didn't have that luxury, and a fine lady didn't want to spend all day in boots. It's worth mentioning that few women tight-laced, and their movements were not as constrained as urban myths would have us believe. Women did everything in corsets; from heavy domestic work to mountain climbing - and tight-lacing was the preserve of the young, rich fashionistas at society balls and to stand out from their competitors. That said, most women found a button hook useful for getting down to push those stubborn little buttons through the leather. They were also used to lace corsets too.
Fans, apart from the electric versions, have largely fallen out of use as an accessory, but they were required for any special occasion in times past. They were often intricate, beautiful, and very expensive, and served as a conspicuous show of wealth as much as a practical way to remain cool on the warm summer nights, or after the exertion of some vigorous dancing at a ball. They were also very handy for hiding behind while meaningful looks were shot at the object of your desire, or to cut dead a persona non grata by ignoring them completely.   

Personal parasols were ubiquitous, but today are the preserve of the garden loungers and beer gardens. In 1850 Punch wrote, "“I have noticed that every lady who enters an omnibus is sure to bring in a parasol with her. She may not carry a bundle, either dead or alive, in the shape of a baby, … she may, by some curious chance, be free from everything in the shape of luggage, a small reticule no bigger than a gentleman’s carpetbag, — but I have never yet seen the phenomenon of a lady invading an omnibus without her being duly armed with a parasol! Now the parasol, Sir, is the most formidable weapon of defence (and offence too) …Why the nuisance obtrudes itself every where; you cannot sit down, but a lady is sure to exclaim, ‘Oh! Please, Sir, take care of my parasol!’ You cannot arrange your legs … without an overgrown umbrella … finding itself between them; and … you cannot turn to the right or to the left, but there is certain to be at either turn the point of a parasol ready to dot your eye. If you are sitting at the end of the seat it is fifty times worse. You are then sitting in a prickly bush of parasols; or, to come nearer the mark, your head seems to be revolving inside a large wheel, of which the ladies’ parasols are the spokes, and your nose the axle.”

Part-beauty accessory, part display of wealth, part weapon of self defence (much like the ubiquitous hat pin which has also declined with hats becoming less fashionable), the parasol was everywhere.  And it changed with the fashions. In the early 1800s the parachute shape was all the rage, in the late 40s the square parasol was the thing to have for just one season. Black lace was required for mourning. There were many things to consider when buying a parasol. Not only did it have to go with the lady's outfit, but the shade it cast on the face was also to be considered. Violet, green, and bright blue cast an unflattering light on the face, with violet being considered the worst, making the face 'corpse-like'. On top of all that, dark colours quickly faded in the sun. It also had to be lightweight so they weren't cumbersome. It's no wonder that plain white was the most popular, especially as it made the face lambent with the diffused sun shining through from behind. 

Parasol covers were also available, giving ladies the opportunity to make their existing parasol more versatile. A good quality parasol could last for life, going through numerous incarnations with changes of fabric, handles, and tips. The best ones were often engraved with the owner's name and address, so they could be returned when mislaid. That was a good thing as they were a considerable investment. It was also a means to encourage an introduction to a handsome stranger which was far more practical than the old trope of the dropped handkerchief.     

We now move to all the pseudo-medical and quasi-scientific lotions, potions and devices; things which have long since been lost to more stringent regulation, better education, and progress. Young women today find it unimaginable to wear a clumsy sanitary belt and hefty towel, let alone the rubber sanitary aprons which kept menstrual blood from soiling the back of skirts when sitting. We find it equally mind-blowing that our great grandmothers used to drop belladonna in their eyes to give a glossy doe-eyed look. The use of arsenic also raises eyebrows to remove hair, and to give a fashionably pale complexion. Lead was used to make the skin pale, and blue veins then painted on to make the look as natural as possible. The use of hairpieces and extensions still goes on today, but we'd laugh at the notion of building them, up to echo the dimensions of the waist to create an overall symmetry. Most of all, we'd recoil in horror at the use of anything containing radium. Especially toothpaste or suppositories!


I'm sure you can think of many others. There are some I disregarded, like the thimble, or the handkerchief, as these are still in use to some degree today, albeit we now use paper instead of linen, and people sew for fun rather than necessity. You will see that I largely ignored the cranky stuff like the dimple-maker, electrical remedies, and breast-flushers as these are covered in other parts of my blog. Marcel waves may well come back into fashion some day, so I've ignored Marcel clips too, but I'd love to hear your take on feminine accessories which have now gone out of fashion.        


     “So, you want to pretend you’re a Pinkerton? As a female?” His eyes darkened. “I’ve questioned one before, although he didn’t know who I was. They’re trained real well on being both sides of interrogations. You don’t want to do this. Not as a woman. He had a real hard time. You’ll have it even harder.” 

     She sat staring ahead once more, her face impassive and stony.

     “You’ve nothing to say?”

     Her eyes flashed. “Beating the hell out of me won’t change anything but my view of you.”

     Nat reached out and entwined a hard fist in her hair and dragged her backward until the chair balanced on the back legs. He brought his face close to hers, his hot breath burning into her cheek.  “Think harder, lady. This isn’t a game. Who are you?”

     Abigail felt the dragging pain at the back of her head as shards of pain lanced across her scalp. He held her, balanced between his painful grip and a clattering fall to the floor but her stubborn nature wouldn’t let her acquiesce.

     “Others will come after you, no matter what you do to me.” She darted her eyes to meet his, unable to move her pinioned head. “I won’t be the last.”