Search This Blog

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Thomas Jefferson: Innovator-in-Chief

      Although Abraham Lincoln is the only president to hold a patent, he is not the only one credited with inventions and improvements on existing devices. One of the most prolific tinkerers among our Commanders-in-Chief was Thomas Jefferson. 

Thomas Jefferson - National Gallery

      Jefferson’s innovations cover a broad spectrum of ingenuity. According to Neely Tucker at the Library of Congress, “Throughout his life, Jefferson possessed an insatiable curiosity about technology and a compulsion to figure out how things work and to make them work better.

Revolving Book Stand -

     One of Jefferson’s original inventions, the revolving book stand, consisted of five adjustable book stands on a turntable. The stand could be folded down to make a cube. When in use, it swiveled so any of the books could face the reader, and multiple open books could be viewed at the same time, thereby making comparison and cross-referencing more convenient. For the user, it was the 1810 version of having multiple computer files open while working on a project.

Wheel Cipher - Wikicommons

     While serving as George Washington’s Secretary of State, Jefferson invented the wheel cipher to provide an easy way to create and decipher encoded messages. It is made up of 36 wooden disks on a spindle. Each disk is inscribed with letters of the alphabet in a different order.  By arranging the disks in different patterns, one could create a "key" and inscribe messages under a set code. 

Jefferson's Drawing of Macaroni Machine and Instructions -
Library of Congress 

     Although frequently credited with inventing the macaroni extruder, many credible sources believe that Jefferson had acquired a macaroni mold from Italy while he was serving as ambassador to France. This document in his own handwriting indicates not only his interest in how the machine worked, but his reference to the best macaroni in Italy being made with Semola flour suggests he might also have been an eighteenth century “foodie.”

Re-creation of Spherical Sundial -
Monticello Classroom

     Sundials had been around for centuries, but Jefferson devised one in the shape of a sphere for his home at Monticello. The globe was made of slate and marked with lines. A semicircular bar attached at its axis cast a shadow that aligned with a line etched on the globe that indicated the time.

Polygraph -

     One of his most famous innovations is an early version of a copying machine, the polygraph. Jefferson’s device incorporated his improvements to an earlier letter-copying device invented by John Hawkins and Charles Peale. Jefferson’s polygraph was basically one pen attached to another pen that moved in tandem with the first pen. He used it extensively to write letters with his polygraph and at the same time create an identical copy.     

Jefferson's Diagram for Plow and Re-creation -

     As the owner of extensive crop fields, Jefferson had a keen interest in improving the technology of farming. After extensive study of European plows, he designed the “mouldboard of least resistance” to move with as little effort as possible. The mouldboard is the part of the plow that turns and lifts the soil. He applied his mastery of mathematics to the design process so the plow could be pulled through the soil with the least expenditure of force, and had the mouldboard made with cast iron so it would be stronger than wood.

     Thomas Jefferson never personally held a patent, but he was the first commissioner and inspector of patents in the United States. This kept him current on new inventions and allowed him to incorporate good ideas and the latest technology into his daily life.


Ann Markim


Monday, August 23, 2021

Fleeting Fashions: clothing fads of the Middles Ages

For many centuries in the Middle Ages, the basics of fashion for men and women remained the same - a gown for women and a long or short robe or tunic for men. Fashions for sleeves, hats and shoes could be more fleeting or even extreme and it's those I'm looking at today, particularly in Britain.

The sleeveless tunic, based on a knight's surcoat, was a popular clothing choice for medieval men. Then in the middle of the 13th century there was a brief fashion which added wide sleeves to the tunic and sometimes a hood, turning it into a garment called a gardecorps. This was intended to replace the surcoat and cloak, combining both into a single item, however it never really caught on. Still with sleeves and male fashion, the bag-sleeve for men, a wide, baggy sleeve snug at the wrist and shoulder, was popular for about twenty years around 1400, but again never really caught on.

For medieval women, hair and headdresses tended to be 'the thing'. Between 1130-50 there was a fashion for noble women to wear their hair long in plaits and for them to sheath these plaits in silk, usually white with red circular stripes. These sheaths were called fouriaux. However it was with headdresses that medieval noble-women especially indulged and which set the medieval clerics scolding about excess and vanity. A brief fashion, lasting roughly thirty years, was the heart-shaped head-dress, a headgear designed with two 'horns' on either side of the woman's head. Sometimes these headdresses became even wider, which caused a cleric of the time to remark: "She is hornyd like a kowe... for syn." At Ludlow, within the church of St Laurence, there is a misericord carved with a woman portrayed as a scold - and wearing a horned headdress. Women in later years wore the steeple headdress or hennin, a tall cone arrayed with long, flowing veils, although this tended to be a European than British fashion. This was also railed against by clerics, particularly in France.

All classes craved fashion, as can be seen by the various sumptuary laws passed in 1363 and 1463 which tried to stop 'lower' classes dressing in furs and certain fabrics and aping their 'betters'. Such acts made no difference as people loved to dress up.

Men's vanity was often shown in shoes. Piked shoes - shoes with points - were popular with men in the Middle Ages, although the length of the points varied through the years. The truly exaggerated points were a short fashion. The idea that men wore the long points with chains attached to their knees to stop them tripping up may simply have been a mistake or a later urban myth. However, such cramped shoes did cause medieval people to have real problems with their feet, similar to those found in women of the 1950s who wore pinching, pointed-toed stilettos. An archaeologist working in Ipswich found evidence in a medieval cemetery of people with painful feet as a result of their shoes.

Alfwen leaned over the outdoor table to look into the shallow, white-glazed bowl filled with clean water. As a mirror it worked well and her reflection stared back.

She was a girl again, her feminity no longer in doubt. She was disquieted to discover that she felt more vulnerable as a woman than she had as a spit-boy, or perhaps that unwelcome feeling was simply because she had become more visible.

“Pretty as apple-blossom.” Swein’s reflection filled the bowl. Still gazing into the water, she tried to pat his arm and missed.

“You dress up very fine, yourself,” she told him, wondering for an instant if he also felt vulnerable, then dismissed that idea as foolish. “The long robe suits you.” It moved like a supple wave as he walked and showed glimpses of his shapely long legs. His legs entwine nicely with mine at night as well. Remembering, Alfwen prayed that the widow who was lately aiding them would not ask after her sudden flush of colour.

“I feel like a dressed and stuffed goose, or a peacock at a banquet,” Swein was meanwhile complaining. He turned to Mistress Glover, who had remained in the house doorway until now. “Must I wear this?”

“You must,” came the crisp response, echoed, it seemed, by the shouts of wherry men on the Thames, and masons and builders on the narrow streets—everywhere in London there were new palaces or dwellings going up or being added to. “It is part of the show of rank. As a master cook you should already understand this.”


Everyone, it seems, suffers for fashion, no matter how short-lived that fashion may be!

Lindsay Townsend

Friday, August 13, 2021

Women of Bruce – Part 5 — Sisters of Robert Bruce: A Tale of Two Isabels.

Women of Bruce – Part 5 —

Sisters of Robert Bruce: A Tale of Two Isabels.

When you really get deep into genealogy you run into a stumbling block of reused names.  I have 37 Robert Bruces in my family tree.  Nearly as many Patrick Dunbars and Hugh, William and James Montgomeries.  I understand that men want sons to carry on their names for immortality.  Only, sometimes it isn’t just the men’s names, which provoke the need to be careful in charting your ancestors—it can be the women, too!  Take the name Margaret—I have over 1000 of those.  Elizabeth?  Oh, yeah!  1333 in my tree (and counting!).  And Isabel/Isabella/Isabelle/Isobel?—406 and many belonging to the Bruce family.  Both of Robert Bruce’s grandmothers were named Isabel—Isabel de Clare and Margaret Isabel FitzAlan Stewart.  His paternal great-grandmothers were Isabelle of Huntington and Isabel Marshall, countess of Glouster, Hertford, Cornwall and Poitou.  Robert married his first wife—Isabel of Mar.  He was crowned by Isabella Macduff, a cousin.  But to really confuse matters he had two sisters by the same first name!

 Yes, this tales of two ladies named Isabel is a study in frustration and chaos.  Once more, we are forced to wade through incorrect information, details—or lack thereof— about two different women historians so casually dismissed, or merged into one.  They are not the same female!  Genealogists have confused, mixed up, or blended the two Isabels until they are a blur, and we are left scratching our heads as to why they simply don’t recognize these ladies are two entirely different sisters of Robert Bruce.

Isabella Kilconquhar Randolph

Through his parent’s marriage, Robert Bruce had seven sisters, with only five living to adulthood—Isabel, Maud, Christian, Mary, and Margaret.  However, often overlooked—he also had an older half-sister from his mother’s first marriage.  While she wasn’t a Bruce by name, she was still his sister, and she gave birth to one of the fiercest warrior heroes Scotland has ever known—Thomas Randolph, 1st earl of Moray.


Both women shared the same mother—Marjorie, countess of Carrick, in her own right. (I have written about the dashing Marjorie in my previous articles).  They had different fathers.   Both men went off to join the 9th Crusade, raised by Lord Edward, duke of Gascony.  And both became close friends.  The first Isabel—Isabel Kilconquhar Randolph—was the daughter by Adam de Kilconquhar.  Occasionally, you see her referred to as Isabel Martha Kilconquhar, or Isabelle of Carrick, some mistakenly call her Isabel Bruce, and sadly, maddeningly, some do their best to ignore this daughter all together.  She has a wonderful heritage, so she should be recognized as existing and not bundled into a generic “Isabel Bruce” label.

 Marjorie Carrick married very young to Adam, son of Donnchaidh de Kilconquhar.  Evidence shows that Adam hailed from Fife and from the ancient Clan of MacDuff.  His grandfather was Adam, son of Duncan, earl of Fife.  Adam’s mother was an unnamed woman from Clan Comyn (I think through process of elimination that she was likely Johanna Comyn, daughter of Richard Comyn and Eve Amabilia Galloway).  He had a half-brother, William Comyn, who took his mother’s surname and was named in a papal appointment as the bishop of Brechin in January 1296 (2/156/3 Theiner, no. 350 and.  2/147/23 Theiner, no. 262).  Ancient and impeccable lineage, but then the man who received Marjorie in marriage would have to be worthy of a woman who came from blood royal.  Adam appears to have enjoyed the favor of the Scottish king,  Alexander III, so small wonder he won her hand.  In wedding Marjorie, Adam became the 3rd earl of Carrick, jure uxoris.  Documents of the period show him using the title of earl of Carrick.  Still, the title was little more than an honor, for while Marjorie was the heiress of Niall, 2nd earl of Carrick, her father had set the real power within the clan to follow his nephew, Lachlan.  We don’t know if Adam chafed at being earl in name only for he didn’t stay on the scene long.  Shortly after wedding Marjorie, he joined the Crusade, leaving his young bride at home at Turnberry Castle, either pregnant or with her newborn daughter, Isabella.   Within a year, Marjorie was a widow, due to Adam dying of a wound contracted in a battle in the Holy Lands.


(Tree showing the Randolph, Bruce and Kilconquhar Lines)

 Adam charged his close comrade—the handsome lord of Annandale, Robert Bruce—to carry the tides of his demise back to his lady wife.  It is legend how he did just that, and as he made to leave, Marjorie had her men-at-arms capture Annandale and keep him hostage until he agreed to become her second husband.  Obviously, the lady was tired of men deciding her fate.  King Alexander III was upset they had dared wed without his grace and permission.  In punishment, he seized Turnberry Castle.  Since Alexander did not fine Annandale or seize his property, it clearly demonstrated the king laid blame solely at Marjorie’s feet.  Most likely, Marjorie turned on her charm and soothed the king’s ruffled feathers, because he turned the castle back to the Bruces a short time later, and just fined Marjorie one hundred pounds for daring the umbrage.

The marriage was a happy one, and within the year, Marjorie gave birth to another daughter—which she promptly named Isabel!  So, she now had two small daughters by the same first name.  Why would Marjorie name both daughters Isabel?  Well, to honor her mother is one possibility—Margaret Isabel FitzAlan Stewart, countess of Carrick, daughter of Walter Stewart, 3rd  High Steward of Scotland and Bethóc nic Gille Chris of Angus.  Or since she named her first daughter after her mother, she was naming her second daughter after the mother of her husband—Isabel de Clare.  Whatever the motivation we now have two daughters with the same name.

Since Adam was gone, barely a ghost in people’s memory, and the two little girls were not that far apart in age, I wonder how muddled their lives became as they reached marriageable age.  Oh, you are Isabel Bruce? No, I am the other Isabel—not a Bruce.  I am unsure if not being a Bruce hurt Isabel Kilconquhar’s chances at making the best marriage possible.  Still, she didn’t do too badly.  She married Sir Thomas Randolph, Chamberlain of Scotland (whose father was Thomas of Strathnith, and who had also been a Chamberlain of Scotland).  Thomas’ mother was Juliana Kilconquhar of Moray.  Since her parentage is sketchy at best, it’s not hard to assume this she might be aunt or cousin of Isabel?

Her marriage to Sir Thomas saw her wed to a very powerful man.   As the Great Chamberlain, he had jurisdiction for judging of all crimes committed within the burgh, and of the crimes of forestalling (an antiquated term for a merchant buying his way into a market.  In effect, Thomas was Justice-General over the burghs, and held Chamberlain-ayrs every year for that purpose; the form whereof is set down in Iter Camerarii.   He was a supreme judge and his decrees could not be questioned by any inferior judicator. His sentences were to be put into execution by the Baillies of the burghs. He also settled the prices of provisions within burghs, and the fees of the workmen in the Mint.  Thomas Randolph was a man of extraordinary parts, and served both Alexander II and Alexander III.  He also aided Robert Bruce “The Competitor” in his legal bit to be made king of the Scots.  Thomas held great favor with Alexander III, who made him lord great chamberlain of Scotland in 1269, an office which of he enjoyed till the 18th Aug. 1277.  He also worked as the king’s personal attorney on many matters.  Also, the man loved to sue anyone and everyone.  The Scottish court documents show Thomas bringing lawsuits against dozens of lords and ladies over matters of estates, properties and inheritance not fulfilled.

Thomas and Isabel had three children—Nicholas, Thomas and Mabel Isabella.  (Another Isabel! LOL).  Mabel Isabella went on to wed Sir Gilbert de Hamilton, who was one of the seven Royal Knights or bodyguards for Robert the Bruce.  It was Hamilton who gave the funeral oration at the burial of King Robert the Bruce at Dunfermline Abbey.

Tower of London

Nicholas, the eldest Randolph son, was captured at the Battle of Dunbar 1296 and taken to be held prisoner in the Tower of London.  King Edward wrote to the sheriff of London concerning the payment of expenses of Scottish prisoners in the Tower, including “…William, earl of Ross, Andrew de Morpenne, John de Mowbray, Nicholas Randolph, the king’s enemies….” recorded by John of Droxford, keeper of wardrobe of King Edward I, 6th November 1297. (Docs., ii, no. 481).  Odd, in September of 1296, his father was sent to France by King John Balliol.  These two references are the last we hear of either man. It is reasonable to assume within months after Longhanks’ letter concerning the payment for his keep that Nicholas died. I haven’t found any written release, and the conditions of the release, so my guess is he died in prison.  Many of the hundreds of Scottish nobility had been returned to Scotland long before this, so it is unusual Nicholas, the son of such an important man, was still being held.

Isabel’s younger son, Thomas, was originally sworn to Edward Longshanks, and after fighting for the English, he was captured in 1306 and brought before her brother, Robert.  Arrogant, and unbowed, he taunted his uncle for engaging in guerrilla warfare instead of standing and fighting in pitched battle.  Failing to take umbrage, Robert persuaded his nephew to change sides again.  Thomas went on to become one of the king's most important and trusted captains, the 1st earl of Moray, regent for Robert’s son David II, and eventually becoming Guardian and Chamberlain of Scotland.  He was a distinguished diplomat, just as formidable an opponent at court as he had been a warrior on the battlefield.

To add to the growing list of Isabels—Isabella’s granddaughter was Agnes Randolph Dunbar, countess of Dunbar, who held the siege of Dunbar Castle.  I wrote about Agnes’ colorful exploits in A Tale of Two Women and One Castle - The Ladies of DunbarPart TwoAgnes Randolph.  However, son Thomas had another daughter, which he naturally named Isabelle.  And, oh, his wife’s name? —Isabel Stewart of Bonkyll.

Isabella Kilconquhar Randolph lived until her early eighties.  She outlived her husband and both sons, dying less than two years before her daughter.  She was laid to rest beside her beloved husband in Melrose Abbey, and next to his father Thomas fitzRanulf of Moray and mother, Juliana Kilconquhar.

Isabel de Brus Magnússon

Queen Isabel de Brus Magnússon’s Coat of Arms

Isabel de Brus Magnússon—the other Isabel was a full sister to Robert Bruce.  She was born less than three years after her older half-sister with which she shared a name.  She was the first child of Marjorie Carrick and Robert de Brus. And though her brother may have been destined to become a king, at the age of twenty-one this Isabel became a queen before him! 


Ever mindful of cementing the House of Bruce into the royalty of Scotland and her allies, Robert Bruce, lord of Annandale, arranged a marriage for his eldest daughter to the king of Norway.  In 1293, Isabel traveled with her father to Bergen where she wed to King Eric Magnússon II of Norway in true royal fashion.


The last surviving son of King Magnús the Lawmender, Erik was given the title of king at age five by his father.  Magnús had intended for his son to co-rule with him, but before this could be arranged King Magnús died. Erick was then crowned sole ruler in the summer of 1280.  A year later, at age thirteen he married twenty-year-old Princess Margaret of Scotland, daughter of King Alexander III.  Tragically, Margaret died two years later giving birth to a daughter also named Margaret, who would go down in history as the Maid of Norway.  After Alexander’s death—leaving no male to follow him— this small child, not even eight-years-old, soon grew to be the center of unparalleled political maneuvering, since she now was the true heir to the Scottish throne.


In 1286, she became the child Queen of the Scots, though she had never set foot in Scotland and was never inaugurated.  And just as quickly, she was betrothed to Edward I’s son.  Longshanks wanted her wed immediately to Edward of Caernarvon, for in his vision his son would then rule Scotland as king through her.  The Guardians of Scotland resisted this plan, and after much choreography and negotiating, the nobles set out to collect the wee lass to bring her home—and under their control before Edward decided to fetch her himself.  Edward wasn’t above executing such a power play, and they knew if that occurred the English monarch would never set her free.  Alas, a storm blew her ship off course, and they were forced to land at St. Margaret’s Hope, South Ronaldsay on Orkney.  Odd bit of fate.  The village was named after St. Margaret of Scotland, the wife of King Malcolm III.  We hope the saint took pity on the small child who bore her name, for she died shortly after making it to shore. 


The incident sparked one of the biggest legal battles in Scottish History —The Great Cause.  Seventeen claimants vied to be the next king of Scotland.  Isabel’s grandfather—Robert Bruce, 5th lord of Annandale—was a leading contender.  Even the man who would soon be her husband within a year, as King Erik of Norway had tossed his name into the hat, so the speak, claiming he held the right to rule through his deceased daughter.


Monument to the rules of Norway, including a listing for King Erik, his wife, Princess Margaret of Scotland, and their daughter, Margaret, Maid of Norway- Bergenhus Fortress, Bergen, Norway.

Isabel had arrived in Norway, a well-propertied woman and bringing riches to her marriage, bespeaking she was a woman worthy to be a queen.  Her dowry and trousseau were recorded at the time by Weyland de Striklaw, an English nobleman employed by the king.  Striklaw noted the delivery of the goods for Isabel’s trousseau: precious clothes and furs, 2 golden boiler, 24 silver plate, 4 silver salt cellars and 12 two-handled scyphus (soup bowls) for her new household.  The marriage seemed to agree with her, and she developed a deep love for her new country and the church at Bergen.  Almost four years later her daughter Ingebjørg Eriksdottir was born.  However, the marriage ended abruptly when Eric died 15th of July 1299.


Bergenhas Fortress, Bergen, Norway

Widowed at the age twenty-six, Isabel could have returned home to the Bruces, yet she stayed in Norway, and in spite of the insecurities that came with widowhood, Isabel was in no hurry to remarry.  There were some motions of a marriage in 1300. Not for Isabel, but her infant daughter.  Though Ingebjørg was only three- years-old, Isabel moved ahead with the plan to marry her child to Jón Magnússon, earl of Orkney and Caithness, the betrothal recorded in the Icelandic Annals.  Magnússon, by nature of each earldom, was a subject of both Scotland and Norway. Most believe this was a desperate attempt on Isabel’s part to find a protector for her daughter, and one aligned to the Bruce’s cause and able to affect influence in Norway as well.  Nevertheless, the wedding never took place as Magnússon died soon after the contract was recorded. Perhaps her fears soon proved unfounded for there were no further attempts to find a protector for either herself or her child.  Instead, Isabel settled into life as queen dowager.


As a queen consort scant information remains on Isabel’s life.  On the other hand, as queen dowager her days are better chronicled.  Queen Isabel participated in many official events and ceremonies, and clearly did not lack sway.   Her presence was recorded with the new king—King Haakon (Erik’s brother)—and his wife on many court occasions.  It was documented she was with the royal couple at the inauguration in 1305 of Bishop Arne Sigurdssön, the new bishop of Bergen.  Though her husband has been slanderously nicknamed “priest hater”, Isabel had a good relationship with the clerical powers in Bergen.  She made large donations in 1324 to the local church, and in return she received several houses from the bishop to provide an income for the rest of her life, leaving her independent in a time women rarely had this sort of freedom.


In 1301 a woman arrived at Bergen on a ship from Lübeck, Germany.  Quite bizarrely, she claimed to be the dead Margaret all grown up.  She accused several people of treason for trying to hide the real queen of the Scots.  Her story detailed that she hadn’t died on Orkney, but had been sold into slavery by Tore Haakonsson's wife (also named Ingebjørg), and then sent to Germany where she had married.  The people of Bergen and even some of the clergy vigorously took up her cause, in spite of the fact that the late King Erik had identified his dead daughter's body.  Even more damning—the woman appeared to be about forty-years-old, whereas the real Margaret would have been seventeen had she lived.  After a much followed trial, she was burned at the stake for treason at Nordnes in Bergen in 1301, and her husband was beheaded.   Whether Isabel attended any of the trial isn’t recorded, thought I’m sure she was aware of the proceedings.

Isabel’s quiet power likely helped the rise of Weyland de Striklaw—who we already met when the goods for Isabel’s trousseau were unloaded.  After Jón Magnússon’s death left the marriage for her daughter moot, Isabel’s patronage may have been the reason for his rising prominence—and possibly to her benefit.  Striklaw somehow managed to become guardian for the earl’s successor, and gained control of the administration of Orkney and later Caithness.  Little direct evidence can be found for Isabel being responsible with the man’s rise from exiled Englishman to one who controlled two earldoms.  Still, that command over Orkney and Caithness—earlships she had intended for her daughter—could be taken as an indication of Isabel’s discreet political activity after her husband’s death.

There is intimation that she was a mediator in the negotiations between Norway and Scotland, regarding the dispute of ownership of Orkney and Shetland when in 1312 the Treaty of Perth was reaffirmed.  Another is the occasion of her apply to King Haakon for a pardon of a prisoner 1339.

During her sister Christian’s imprisonment by Edward I, the two sisters exchanged letters.  Isabel even sent clothing and other needs to help ease the situation.  Helping her family didn’t stop there.  She sent a large number solders and knights from Caithness, Orkney and Norway to fight for her brother Robert.

Isabel, once again, took a strong hand in arranging a marriage for her daughter.  At this point the tales of two Isabels turns into a tale of two Ingebjørgs.  Isabel’s daughter named Ingebjørg, and her niece also named Ingebjørg, were married to the younger sons of Erik, Duke of Södermanland.  Isabel’s daughter married Valdemar, Duke of Finland, Uppland, and Öland.  Isabel was likely proud of the marriage, but that pride was dashed before too long, leaving her daughter a young window, just as she had been.  The two Swedish princes had long been mistrusted by their elder brother, King Birger, and eventually, in 1317 he had them both arrested at a banquet at Nyköping Castle.  They were held in a dungeon and no one was allowed to see them. Sometime after January 1318, tides of their demise spread throughout the country—rumors fearing they had been starved to death.  Their widows, the Duchesses Ingebjørg, were not meek in their acceptance of the deaths, instead became the leaders of their husbands’ supporters.  Eventually, later that year, they were able to force King Birger into exile, and crowned Magnús, the son of Ingebjørg Håkonsdatter, as king of Sweden.  Then, he succeeded his grandfather, Håkon V, as king of Norway in 1319.  The regency was held by Magnús’ mother and grandmother, and Ingebjørg Eiriksdatter also held a seat on the regency council.

In 1357, Ingebjørg died, naming her mother as one of her heirs, increasing Isabel’s wealth.  Isabel still did not return to Scotland.  There is not a single instance recorded of her returning to her family in the country where she was born.  Instead, she lived in Bergen the remainder of her life.  On 13 April 1358 and at the age of 86, she died in Bergen, Hordaland, Norway.  Isabel finally returned to the soil of her birth, being buried in Paisley, Renfrewshire, Scotland.


Above: the first folio from an Old French version of William of Tyre’s  “Historia rerum in partibus transmarinis gestarum”, which belonged to Isabel Bruce, and the ex libris announcing her ownership is in red ink across the top of the page.

In summarizing, these two daughters of Marjorie Carrick may have shared a name, one common to the family, but they and their lives couldn’t have been more different, each carving out a special niche in history. 

Next month, I will finish up with the remaining Bruce sisters—
Mary, Margaret and Maud.

Then in October I will turn my attention to
the Daughters of Bruce...
first up will be Marjorie Bruce Stewart,
 the daughter of a king and the mother of a king

Deborah writes a Scottish Medieval Historical series the Dragons of Challon
and Contemporary  Paranormal Romance series the Sister of Colford Hall.

Monday, August 9, 2021

I Hear Music

I’m not one of those people who always knew I wanted to write. In fact, my high school creative writing teacher recommended I stick to my first creative talent: music.

I have always made music. I come from a musical family--that's me with my mother and sister just before a performance--so singing in church, on stage for talent contests, and later performing on the flute is so much a part of my life I can’t imagine going without music.

When I write, I hear music. The characters each sing for me. Like the songs of your favorite singers or bands, every story has its own “song,” its own style, melody, rhythm. Some pound at you like classic rock, some drill into your psyche like heavy metal. They might sooth you and carry you along on a lush flowing melody, or scratch at your nerve endings with a driving drumbeat. Sometimes you feel complete, other times you’re left suspended, unfulfilled.

As a writer, I try to listen to the ‘songs’ my characters sing.  Its unconscious, this music I put in my words. It is the highs and lows, the tension and release, the rhythm of conflict and the sweet melody of love. And it is important to the characters and to me.

Texas Gold was my debut novel. Jake McCain, the hero, didn’t sing much at first. He’s a very self-contained character, very serious, never giving himself permission to just be. When he finally did share that melody that is uniquely his, he was always very conscious of who was close enough to hear. Rachel Hudson, on the other hand, is a woman whose toes are always tapping, who hums when she works, and sang lullabies to her brother when he was a baby. When they finally sang together, it was downright beautiful.

Music always evokes memories for me, and those memories are woven into the tapestry of my stories. I’m so glad my creative writing teacher was wrong, and I didn’t have to choose.

What activities can you absolutely not do without music playing? Does music influence your writing, and how?


Tracy Garrett

Texas Gold, Available from Prairie Rose Publications

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Rediscovering Victorian Cleaning

Rediscovering Victorian Cleaning  

C. A. Asbrey

The Victorians used to say that cleanliness was next to godliness, and that wasn't an easy state to achieve with industrial grime, open fires, and streets full of pooping horses to contend with. Cleaning was a daily process in the 19th century, with a deep clean taking place at least once a year - something we still call the spring clean. In some places, there were other ritual cleans associated with holidays or religious celebrations. In Scotland, the house was cleaned from top to bottom on New Year's Eve, with every speck of dirt being a portent of bad luck for the year ahead.  The Swedish tradition of Dostadning meant that the elderly cleared their house of clutter, and kept it in good order, to relieve their family the burden of clearing out after them. The Germans had Polterabend, a ritual clean to ensure that the newlyweds entered a clean house, in good order, again with every speck of dirt signifying bad luck.

However, normal, everyday methods were not only effective, but they still have a lot to teach us in the 21st century. They are not just cheap and readily available, they are efficacious, and environmentally sound.   

I'm sure that I don't have to tell you that cleaning started at the top of the house. First of all, chimneys were swept. And not only did that mean chimney sweeps sending children into the void, it also often involved servants scrubbing away every possible bit of soot at the bottom too. The less soot there was in your chimney, the less there was to drift out, and dirty-up your carefully cleaned house. Once cleaned, the fireplace and hearth were washed out and brasses polished until they gleamed. And don't think that soot was thrown away. It was organic, and rich with ammonia salts and nitrogenous matter. It was marvellous fertilizer, and used in the garden. Lucky sweeps also got to sell some as many tenements didn't have a garden. Most chimneys were swept four times a year, early in the 19th century, but as people moved away from cooking with solid fuel, it mostly went down to once a year by the turn of the century.  
Curtains and rugs were taken down and cleaned. Tea leaves were squeezed until almost dry and scattered on rugs along with bicarbonate of soda. The rugs were then robustly beaten to knock all the dirt from the weft. The tea leaves carried the dirt away, instead of clouding and falling back onto the carpet. The bicarbonate carried out dirt and killed smells, pests, and eggs. Curtains were laundered, with denatured urine being used to remove grease. Walls and paintwork were cleaned from top to bottom. The standard cleaning material had a smell most older readers will still be familiar with today - carbolic soap. The pungent bar was used for everything from cleaning out chamber pots to laundry. Pets, children, hair - you name it - it was washed with carbolic soap. The pungent odour came from phenol or carbolic acid, and it was sold in long blocks which the householder cut into bars, often with a cheese wire.   

Even wallpaper was cleaned. It was a valuable commodity in the 19th century. People expected it to last for decades, so they looked after it. Bread was rubbed on it, and it was perfect for removing soot and grime. Bread could also be pressed into malleable balls which could be presses into creases and crevices of picture frames and woodwork to remove every bit of dust hiding away in the dark corners, The use of bread also extended to books. They could be cleaned in a similar method to the wallpaper, press into a wodge and mop off the worst, before wiping it over with a slightly damp cloth. It's still an effective way of removing scuffs from walls without removing paint.

Baking soda was used for many things, but amongst the many uses was making glassware and dishes sparkle. Lights were often covered in a mixture of glass and metal. Baking soda brought the glass to light, and vinegar was used to cut through any grease from the fingers. The vinegar also helped to remove dirt from metal, and if necessary the coarseness of salt was added to bring things like brass to a wonderful sheen.   

So, now we've cleaned the chimneys, hearths, walls, paintwork, lighting, and dishes, we can think about the furniture. A weak mixture of water and vinegar was used as a wash to remove the thin film of grime caused by open fires before polishing. If the furniture has been polished for years, any build-up can be removed by a weak solution of turpentine and water. For polishing, it has to be based on beeswax.  You can make your own with a mixture of vinegar, beeswax, and linseed oil. It would be applied with one cloth, but buffed up with another. The polishing cloth had to be clean and ironed, as cloths with creases did not give as good a sheen. If your wood is looking worse for wear, a hot wash of 2 tablespoons gum turpentine and 4 tablespoons boiled linseed oil. The linseed oil will add a sheen to any bare spots.

Vinegar or cold tea are perfect for bringing a shine to your windows. The tea is best left for a few days before use. If you have stone floors, try milk. It seems counterintuitive, but really works. Skimmed milk works best, which gives us an indication of what they used the milk for after taking all they could for butter and cream. English Heritage tested this method while cleaning Brodsworth Hall in Yorkshire, and have decided there's no going back to modern cleaners. It does not smell, and leaves a beautiful finish on the floor. The same mixtures used on wooden furniture can be used on wooden floors. For filthy floors, damp tea leaves were dusted  around to lay the dust, then the dust can be gathered without scattering.   

In many places, it was common for the local baker's oven to be used for a whole village until at least the mid 19th century. Cooking a Sunday roast often became a social occasion for men while they waited for the joint to cook. Men were charged with bringing the meat home while the women prepared the rest. But when ovens became commonplace, they needed to be cleaned. Baking soda was smeared all over the oven, and left overnight. It was then cleaned with a carbolic solution. If scouring was required, crushed eggshells were added to the carbolic solution. Bath brick, emery powder, and silver sand could be added. Silver sand and vinegar, or lemon juice, brought up a beautiful shine on copper pots. In poor homes, it wasn't unknown for a random brick to sit on a windowsill to be ground down for scouring material.    
For pest removal, there are a few remedies. Bedbugs were treated with 4 beaten egg whites mixed with mercury. You can see why that one feel out of fashion. Ants were tempted out with strips of quartered cucumber, then thrown on the fire - with ants attached. Cucumber also makes cockroaches drowsy and can be used for them too. A dish containing a mixture of pepper, sugar and cream was laid out to attract the flies away from food. Sticky fly papers containing arsenic soon became popular too. Most treatments for lice depended on suffocation, poisoning, and containment. Many remedies were available. Lard was often used, as was the herbal insecticide stavesacre (Delphinium staphisagria) or mustard. A mixture of spices, lard, and vinegar was also popular. For moths, wipe the inside of drawers of cupboards with ammonia a couple of times a year.

For a blocked drain, put washing soda crystals down and pour boiling water over them. When they stop fizzing, pour more boiling water. Laundry was done using flakes of carbolic soap. Stained clothes would be treated (see below) and the treatment left to take before added. They would then be vigorously agitated with a dolly, and scrubbed on a washboard where necessary. After many rinses, they would go through a mangle to remove excess water. Whites were treated with blue dye to make them appear brighter. People would collect rainwater as soft water uses less soap. A spoonful of borax also softens water, as can a cupful of vinegar in your final rinse.

To Remove Stains     

Ink - use citric acid (do not use a metal spoon) and moisten with water. Pour water as hot as the fabric can bear until the stain dissipates.

Rust - Stretch over a bowl and our water as hot as the fabric can bear until the stain dissipates.

Blood - soak in cold water with either salt, or bicarbonate of soda overnight. Scrub in cold water until stain is gone.

Mildew - soak in buttermilk.

Grease - two grated potatoes in one pint of water. Leave to mix for at least an hour, then apply to the stain. Once dry, wipe with a damp cloth until mixture is removed. For candle stains on carpet, the process will need to be repeated a few times, but the oxalic acid in the potatoes should gradually remove the stains.    

Scorch Marks - two bruised onions are boiled in a half-pint of vinegar and soap flakes. Add two ounces of Fuller's Earth, and mix into a paste. Apply to the marks and leave overnight, then wash.

Tea or Coffee - soak in a solution of methylated spirits for at least an hour, then wash as normal.   

Mould or Mildew on Washing Machine - rub with vinegar. For grouting, scrub with vinegar, then spray weekly with a solution which is one part vinegar to three parts water to prevent recurrence.

Removing Seawater Stains from Leather Shoes -  dissolve a teaspoon of washing soda in two tablespoons of hot milk. 

Removing Water Stains from Polished Furniture - put salt on the stain, dab on methylated spirits and rub hard. Polish immediately with beeswax.

Stained Enamel Pans - Use stewed rhubarb with the leaves still on. DO NOT eat, as the leaves are poisonous.

Tarnished Silver  - line a bowl with tinfoil. Place cutlery of jewellery on top. Scatter a cup of washing soda on top, then add hot water. When it stops fizzing, take out, hand wash and polish. 

To Freshen Tainted Thermos - crush eggshells and fill with vinegar. Leave to stand overnight, then rinse. 
Do you have any old cleaning tips of recipes handed down? Why not share them with us, so others can try them out?      


     “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.”