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Tuesday, September 28, 2021

An Old Church - The Anglo-Saxon Church at Bradford on Avon

The small church in Bradford on Avon is one of the few Anglo Saxon churches to have survived and is one of the most complete. That it has done so is something of a miracle or an accident, seeing that it has been used as a church, a school and a cottage.  The Victorian historian Canon Jones recognized the building as a church and it was restored in the 1870s. It is now used as a place of worship from time to ime.

The church is dedicated to Saint Laurence, one of the very early Christian martyrs. Churches to this former deacon of Rome are often a sign of ant earlier Christian community in the area. Whether or not that is the case, the medieval historian William of Malmesbury records that the church here existed in the 1120s. 

William thought that it dated back to the time of the 8th century and that it  was built by St Aldhelm.  Aldhelm, of the royal house of Wessex,  was the bishop of Sherborne and, after his death in 709, his body was known to have been brought to Bradford on Avon, maybe for burial in his church. That is possible, though the present building, from its architectural style, looks to be from the 10th century, which would fit a tradition that the church was intended to house to remains of King Edward the Martyr, the older brother of King Ethelred, who was murdered in 978, though Edward ended up buried in Shaftesbury Abbey.

The building is very tall for its size and decorated with arcades, similar in style to those seen  above on Bosham church as represented on the Bayeux Tapestry. It has few windows and these are small, while the doorways are tall and narrow.  In Anglo-Saxon times the interior would have been lit by candles. This sounds plain but there is evidence of decoration around the doorways and in the plinth running around the walls. It’s probable that the now whitewashed walls were painted, and in bright colors. This would have given the church an impression of a jewel,  a very suitable spot for the resting place of a martyr king.  Other decoration includes two stone angels, discovered in the east wall of the nave, and a stone bowl, which is now used as a font.

The church is important to show how the Anglo-Saxons viewed religious buildings as enclosed yet airy sacred spaces, a great contrast with the larger Anglo-Norman churches that came later. It reminds me of a sacred version of an Anglo-Saxon great hall, an intimate and companionable space for worship. 

You can read about Anglo-Saxon and early Norman society in my novels, "The Snow Bri
de" and

In my novels "Sir Conrad and the Christmas Treasure" and "Dark Maiden" I

show the vital role the church played in village life.

Lindsay Townsend 

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

What’s in a (Danish) Name?

When I give programs about The Legacy or The Claim, I frequently receive questions about why so many Danes have last names ending in ‘–sen’ even though most of my Danish characters do not. I posted this blog several years ago, but I’m reposting it today because it answers these questions. I hope you’ll enjoy it.

    Have you ever wondered why so many Danish surnames end in “sen?” Unless you have Danish ancestors, probably not. But the reason lies in a naming tradition that is not exclusive to Denmark.

    In the very-olden days, when the population was small and no official records were kept, most people had only one name such as Hans or Jens. As the population grew, many people were given the same names. To distinguish between the many who were named Hans, they added a descriptor such as Hans the baker as opposed the Hans the crook. These descriptors applied only to the individual, not to that person’s family.

     Surnames were initially used only by nobility and wealthy land owners, and they were usually based on where they lived, what they did for a living, a personal characteristic, or a parent’s (usually the father’s) name. This last option, known as Patronymics, became popular especially in the rural areas, which encompassed much of Denmark.

     The way Patronymic surnames work is to combine a person’s fathers’ first name and the word for son, sen, or the word for daughter, datter. So if you are a girl, your name is Inga, and your father’s first name is Jens, your full name would be Inga Jensdatter. If you are male, your name is Erik, and your father’s first name is Thor, your full name would be Erik Thorsen. Up until the mid 1800’s, patronymics were the most common type of surnames.

     As the population continued to grow, this naming scheme became problematic. Only one generation had the same the same surname, which made determination of familial lines in government records impossible. In 1828, a decree was issued, declaring that all families should have a permanent surname. However, especially in rural areas, it took many years to abolish the custom of patronymic surnames.

     In the 1850’s, people living in cities began taking permanent surnames that were not patronymics. Elsewhere, it was common for families to adopt a patronymic as a permanent surname.

     In 1904. a law was passed to allow people to change their patronymic family name to a more individual name. However, names ending in “sen’ are still predominant in Denmark.

     I am half-Danish. My mother’s family history inspired THE LEGACY. Neither of her grandfathers had a patronymic surname, but my married surname is Knudsen (Son of Knud). When I began writing, I knew I was going to choose a pen name that was easier to spell and easier to pronounce. My name is frequently misspelled as Knudson, Knutson, Knutsen, Kuntson, and so on. And then there is the dilemma, do you or don’t you pronounce the ‘K’? We do. Most people don’t. Why would they? Probably the most common English word beginning with ‘kn’ is ‘know.’ In Denmark, the ‘K’ is pronounced, but the ‘d’ is silent.

    When it came to choosing my pseudonym, I wanted something family-related, easy to spell, and easy to pronounce. I also wanted something that would reflect the women in my family. So I chose ‘Ann,’ the first 3 letters of my mother’s first name, ‘Mar,’ the first 3 letters of my first name, and ‘Kim,’ the first 3 letters of my daughter’s first name. All together it is Ann Markim. 

Do you know the derivation and meaning of your name? 

What kind of problems, if any, does your name cause you?

Ann Markim




Buy Links: Paperback at Amazon                   Amazon print or digital

Amazon Kindle 

Monday, September 13, 2021


While driving one day, a song came on the radio. The lyrics were about how good it is to know love still remains, that some things never change. That’s certainly true for romance readers. We believe—we know, in spite of everything, love still remains.

That’s why I write and read romance. Love is always there, in the story, and at the end. You know the bad guy will get his come-uppance and the good guy will get the girl. (I do write westerns, after all.)

In my novel, TEXAS ROSE, published by Prairie Rose Publications, the good guy isn’t really a good guy—at least not to begin with. But there’s nothing like the love of a good woman to show him the light. And if she leads him on a merry chase along the way, so much the better. He should have to work to have her, don’t you think?

Let me introduce you to Jaret and Isabel from TEXAS ROSE.

Texas, 1847. Jaret Walker is a loner, a gun for hire with a heart of ice. He’s never had anyone to call his own, and he likes it that way. But when a promise made to a friend leads him on a ride through the desert and to remote Two Roses Ranch where he meets Isabel Bennett, the woman he’s supposed to protect, all he can think of is making her his. She’s the kind of woman a rough-riding cowboy like him can never have. But her hot gaze tempts him like no other woman has before…

The moment Isabel Bennett lays eyes on Jaret Walker, she remembers the dreams she’s denied for so long. She’s sworn never to marry. It’s the only way to protect her ranch. But when Walker rides into her life, she decides to let herself taste what she’s giving up—a passion that burns through her with each kiss—and a desire that won’t be denied…

Now I don’t know about you, but I’m a sucker for a good “meet” – that moment when the hero and heroine see or meet each other for the first time. That first glance that you and I know starts them down the path to happily-ever-after. Here’s the scene where Jaret Walker and Isabel Bennett first encounter one another:


Rising again, Isabel pushed the curtain aside to take a closer look at the stranger. He was tall, sitting easily in the saddle of an equally leggy buckskin horse. He’d been on the trail for a while, judging by the dust on his clothes and the sheen of sweat on the animal’s coat.

The sun sharpened the angles of the man’s face, making his high cheekbones and square jaw look as if they’d been carved of granite. A long mustache framed his upper lip, setting off his sharp, straight nose.

The muscles in his arms shifted beneath his black shirt as he brought the horse to a stop. His sleeves were turned back to combat the rising heat, and tanned skin showed below the roll of fabric. Then he tipped back his hat with one finger and turned toward the window where she stood.

“Oh, my,” she whispered. Even from this distance she could see his eyes were the icy blue of a winter lake, and his hair was the color of the sable fur her mother had loved, dark brown and luxurious. It brushed the collar of his shirt and she was embarrassed to find she wanted to run her fingers through it. Unfamiliar warmth that had nothing to do with the sun washed over her.

Straightening with a jerk, she stepped away from the window and smoothed her skirts. Her hands were shaking. Who was this man? How could he affect her with only a look? She shook her head to try and break the spell he’d cast over her. Whoever he was, he was a guest on her ranch. She should be welcoming him, not ogling from behind a window curtain. Hoping her upset didn’t somehow show, she followed her uncle outside to greet him.

Jaret Walker set up a stir among the ranch hands when he rode his dun-colored mare into the yard. The horse’s dark mane lifted with each step as he guided her toward the house. Without moving more than his eyes, he counted a dozen. There should be ten more working close to the house and another thirty or so out with the herds, if his friend’s information was accurate.

He ignored the urge to turn back to the east and ride hard to get far away from this remote spot on the Texas desert. Being among people made him itchy. Give him the wide open prairie and his horse for company, and he’d ask for nothing more. But he was here because of a promise, and he always kept his word.

One of the ranch hands stepped out of the shadows, directly into his path. Jaret stopped his horse with a slight tug on the reins. Though he was taller than most men and broad enough to intimidate people just by being, this man looked to be nearly his equal. When he reached up to grab the bridle to hold the horse in place, Jaret moved the animal out of reach with a touch of one heel.

“Afternoon.” He nodded in the general direction of the other hands who’d stopped what they were doing to size him up. “I have business with Nick Bennett. Would he be around?”

“Perhaps I can be of assistance?” A short, rather round man separated from the shade of the porch. “I am his uncle, Don Enrique Antonio Ferdinand de la Rosa.” The man puffed up with importance and lost his balance, staggering into the porch railing. “I run the estate in his absence.”

Estate? The man had a pretty high opinion of this plot of dirt in the Texas desert. While it looked like decent grazing land with the only water he’d seen for hours, it was still only dirt. True, someone had put a lot of caring into the place. The dusty wagon road leading to the house had been lined with smooth-cut fence rails that were placed with precision for nearly a quarter of a mile. And the fence was nothing compared to the house.

It looked like it had started life as a small, stone and mud shotgun house, with a door at each end of the hallway to let the breeze through. But the structure had been added to over the years. The two-story extension in front of him was part wood, part native rock, and sported large glass windows and lace curtains.

There was a stone building off to the right of the main house and the dozen or so structures spread out on both sides were probably the homes of the ranch hands and their families. Each building was painted a different color, bright splotches on the dry brown land offering plenty of places to hide, and lots of eyes to see you, too. He turned away from the layout of the homestead. It wasn’t his problem at the moment. The man watching him from the porch steps was.

“Jaret Walker.” He touched the brim of his hat but didn’t bother to take it off. “No offense, Mr. de la Rosa, but my business is with Nick Bennett.”

“My nephew is not here, nor, sadly, is he expected to return. You’ll have to take your business up with me.”

“Any business on this ranch will be handled by me, Uncle.”

Though Jaret couldn’t see who was standing in the shadow of the doorway, it was definitely a woman who spoke. Her warm, rich voice carried the authority of one accustomed to being in charge.

“Welcome, Mr. Walker. Won’t you come inside? I want to hear how you know my brother.”

Jaret pulled the dusty hat from his head automatically as she stepped into view. She was a sight worth a three-day ride. Eyes the color of obsidian sparkled in the sunlight. Her long black hair was tied back with a silk scarf and looked as rich and soft as the fabric that bound it.

The light yellow dress she wore made her skin glow like sun-warmed honey. Its puffed sleeves accented her straight shoulders and made her waist seem small enough for his hands to span. She was taller than the man she called uncle and well formed, with enough curves in all the right places to get a man’s attention. She met his stare with a look of confidence and more than a little arrogance, to his thinking.

She was going to give him trouble.

I’m glad TEXAS ROSE has a home here at Prairie Rose Publications. Now it’s your turn. Of all the books you’ve read, which “meet” is your favorite?

Friday, September 10, 2021

Wyntoun's War or the "Rough Wooing" of my 19th Great-Grandmother

I’m taking a small break this month from the Bruce sisters.  I promise to finish up next month with Maud, Margaret and Mary de Brus.  Due to two new roofs and other demanding needs, I just wasn't able to devote the time I need for the remaining trio.  Instead, I will speak of some Bruce relations, for they are of the blood, cousins.  But, more importantly, this tale is about love, romance, and a lovers dash to Edinburgh Castle—that may or may not have been a kidnapping—and the man and woman who were my 19th great-grandparents.

Wyntoun's War 
or the Rough Wooing of my 19th Great-Grandmother.

At the start of 1343, Lady Margaret de Seton was suddenly thrust into the role of heiress to her father, Lord Alexander de Seton, governor of Berwick Castle.  The Setons were longtime supporters of Clan Bruce, and even married into it.  Alexander was the brother of Sir Christopher Seton, who wed Christian de Brus (sister to Robert the Bruce).  You might recall from my previous article about this Bruce sister that Christopher was Christian’s second husband, and he gave his life defending the Bruce women when they were trying to flee the English in 1306.  Over the decades, the Setons were recognized for their loyalty and rewarded by Bruce, and they continued to support his son David II at the cost of their lives.

Margaret de Seton, born around 1330, was Alexander’s last child and only daughter.  She became heiress to her father’s vast wealth at a young age, and not a position she had anticipated inheriting.  She had four valiant warriors for older brothers—Alexander, John, William and Thomas.  If one fell, another would assume the titles and lands rightfully his.  Some historians dismissively list her as Alexander Seton’s granddaughter, and instead, put her as the daughter of her brother, Alexander.  A couple try to fix her as daughter of John, another brother, (likely because she became heiress after John’s death).  These careless mix-ups really cause snarls, which few show interest in fixing.  Both Alexandersfather and son—were at Berwick Castle at the time of the siege of 1332-3, so for starters, they tend to blur the two Alexanders into one person, which they are not.  The father outlived the son by over a decade.  Margaret clearly was the daughter of Alexander the elder and Christian le Chenyne (granddaughter of Isabella Macduff, countess of Buchan—the woman who crowned Bruce king).  However, the confusion doesn’t end there.  Her mother’s name was Christian, and her uncle Christopher married Christian de Brus, thus many are now listing Christopher and Bruce’s sister as her parents, which they are not.  Christopher died in 1306, long before Margaret came along.

In the late summer of 1332, Alexander—the father—was governor of Berwick Castle, when a siege was laid.  His defense of the fortress cost him three of his sons. Margaret’s brothers died valiantly in the continued struggle against Edward Balliol and Edward III.  Alexander, was killed in the Battle of Kinghorn, where the son of John Balliol was trying to land in Scotland so he might claim the Scottish crown for himself.  William also died in the same fight, drowned in repulsing the landing.  A third brother, Thomas, was captured.  Seton called for a truce, which was granted, but only on condition that he surrender if not relieved by the Scots before the 11th of July.  They were relieved by riders, men under Sir William Keith, Sir Alexander Gray and Sir William Prenderguest. Only Edward III of England said the riders came from the English side of the border, not Scottish, so the castle was not “relieved from Scotland” and thus he proceeded to execute Thomas and ten other men held prisoner.  Alexander and his wife were forced to watch as Thomas was hanged, drawn and quartered before the gates of the town.  Keith took command of the town from Alexander (small wonder), and negotiated a second truce which held—an unconditional surrender to the English, but it allowed all the Scots to leave unharmed.

Around the mid-1340s tragedy again strikes the Setons.  Twice.  First, Sir Alexander dies around 1343, and the title goes to the remaining son, Sir John.  Only, three years later, John dies at the Battle of Neville’s Cross in Durham, England.  And dies without issue.  Some list him as marrying a Margaret Ruthven and having a son, Alexander, but that is likely an echo of the mess they have created with Seaton and his son, who died at the Battle of Kinghorn.  I believe this to be false, because had there been a son, that child would’ve inherited the estate of his grandfather, not his aunt, Margaret.  For Margaret to become heiress it clearly means John didn’t have a child for the estate to go to, and as John’s younger sister, Margaret was next in line.

So, there in a space of less than three years, she loses her father, and his final son, John, dies in battle.  A lot of heartache facing a young woman.  With the passing of her father and brother, she is suddenly a very rich heiress—and target of greedy young men everywhere.

As you might assume, Sir Alexander was popular in the hearts of the people of East Lothian, in his never failing support around the Bruce family.  He had sacrificed a brother and three sons in protecting Bruce’s rule and his legacy, and finally the fourth son had died in the same service.  The prominence of the Seton family had risen, along with that of the Stewarts and Bruces.  Thus, the people of East Lothian felt a protectiveness toward young Margaret.  Only, others hoped to latch onto her wealth and the power of her name, so the young woman was nearly crushed in the stampede of suitors for her hand.

Into the middle of this story rides one dashing and handsome Baron Alan de Wyntoun, son of Alan de Wynton and Margaret Murray (de Moray).   This new Margaret really complicates matters in trying to keep things reasonably straight, because she is the granddaughter of Christian de Brus.  Yeah, Excedrin headache 113, and it only gets worse!  She was also the granddaughter of Thomas Randolph, 1st earl of Moray—Bruce’s nephew.  I know you are really hating all these tangled lines, but I needed to demonstrate why a small knight, a vassal of Sir Alexander Seton, would take it upon himself to swoop in and abduct Margaret.  I am assuming, though the Wyntouns, who took vows of homage and fealty to the mighty Setons, they felt they had as much right to status and position through their close lineage to the Bruces and the Randolphs.

Emboldened by the blood in his veins, Alan carried off Margaret in what the Scots called a “rough wooing”.  Well, hadn’t Marjorie Carrick snatched Robert Bruce, lord Annandale in this fashion?  And let’s not forget about William le Hardi Douglas, who executed a raid to abscond with his second wife, Eleanor Bagot de Lovayne.  Alan and Margaret grew up hearing these stories around fireside.  Alan was akin to the royal family, and was in fact cousin to the Setons.  I am guessing Alan saw the chance to raise the Wyntouns up to the level they had been heretofore denied by forcing the then seventeen-year-old woman into marriage.  At least, some said forced.

Alan wasn’t the first, nor the last Scotsman, to take this quick route to winning the hand of an heiress.  Only, it was another thing to pull this stunt so closely following Sir John’s death at Neville's Cross, and as they say, poor Alexander barely cold in his grave. 

Since the Wyntouns were close cousins to the Setons, and a cadet branch of her own family, there arose cries of consanguinity—mostly from the disappointed rivals, who still hoped to get their chance of being husband to the valuable heiress if they broke the marriage.  There is scant enough material to make a good judgment call on whether this was a kidnapping or an elopement.  I come down on the side that Margaret was a party to the plan, and was determined to marry whom she wanted before a king stepped in and forced her to wed someone she didn’t care for.  Maybe it’s the romantic in me, but how the event unfolded only reinforced that belief they were in love and wanting to control their own fate.

Inadvertently, the two lovers seemed to set half of East Lothians out for blood, while the others were ready to hold a wedding feast.  A bit of an exaggeration, perhaps, but it was said her abduction caused a war—the Wyntoun’s War.  Still, whether or not this was an actual abduction to force a marriage, or something Margaret actively participated in so she could marry Alan, was hotly debated at the time.  The one telling fact that sticks out in my mind—his uncle, William de Moray, brother to Alan’s mother, took the young couple into Edinburgh Castle.  He was governor there, and granted the lovers protection within the castle walls, barring the angry mob that was following in their wake.

One chronicler. Fordun, proclaimed that 'a hundred ploughs were laid aside in Lothian while the matter was discussed.’  Half favored “the ravisher” and applauded Wyntoun for taking the situation in hand.  Others were armed and ready to bring him in for punishment for daring to steal the daughter of his overlord.  And the jilted suitors likely screamed the loudest!  Citizens of Lothian grew into an angry mob and fell upon the castle, demanding Wyntoun be handed over.  When Wyntoun’s uncle refused, an objection quickly made it all the way to the ear of King David II,  and a call was sent out for Alan to be arrested—cousin or not!

Keep in mind, Alan and Margaret are my 19th great-grandparents, so I am possibly a bit prejudiced.  Be still my heart—for after much arguing and various threats, Margaret was required to perform The Ring or The Sword ceremony.  I wrote about the rite and ritual in A Restless Knight— when Tamlyn marries Julian Challon in the old ways.  Family lore says the couple I based them upon went through this ceremony when they wed, but they haven't been fully documented yet.  So, imagine my thrill at finding proof of yet another set of great-grandparents going through this very same ceremony! One tale says Margaret was blindfolded and made to choose between a sword and a ring, each resting upon a pillow.  She did not get to feel these objects, by the way, but had to touch the pillow upon which they rested to determine Alan's fate.  This was seen as a Trial by Ordeal—God’s hand would decide Alan’s fate through her selection.  Other tales say she made her own choice—knowingly, and had from the start.  Whichever you wish to believe, Margaret picked the ring, and she and Alan were officially wed.  They lived together as man and wife, and had two children*** —a son William and a daughter, Christian.

*** I put the stars here to make note there is extreme conflict on the number of children.  William and Christian are fully recognized and well-documented as Alan and Margaret’s children—their only children.  However, some genealogy sites list the couple as having two other sons—Alexander and Henry. Some list the men as Margaret’s sons, half-brothers to William and Christian, implying they were fathered by another man after Alan left.  However, this doesn’t hold water for me since both of these sons inherited Wyntoun lands and titles, and chose to use the Wyntoun name, not the Seton name and honours.  The conflicts arise because both are shown as born years after Alan’s death.  I sincerely believe the date of Alan’s death is off by a decade, and these two are his legitimate sons, which jives with proof to them inheriting his holdings and electing to use his surname.  Even sites that run by the Seton family recognize both of them as Alan’s.  If you take the stance, as I believe, Alan died ten years later than they record, then these are his legitimate sons.

Alexander de Wyntoun of Seton married Jean Halyburton, daughter of Sir Thomas Halyburton of Dirleton.  The youngest son, Henry de Wyntoun, retained his father's surname and inherited Wrychthouses in Edinburgh.  Henry married Amy Brouna of Coalston, and he went on to be one of the heroes of the Battle of Otterburn, August 19, 1388. 

Margaret’s daughter Christian (though they start up with muddling things again by often calling her Margaret, too), went on to do well, marrying George Dunbar, the 9th earl of Dunbar and March—son of Gelis Isabelle Randolph and John Dunbar, of Derchester & Birkynside, earl of Fife—and grandson of Thomas Randolph, earl of Moray.  They went on to have nine daughters and sons.

After the marriage, Alan changed his name to Seton, and used the title of Lord Seton, jure uxoris (by right of wife).  Even so, rumors held that Margaret’s family tended to make life such a continuing hell for Alan that by his early fifties he took to the cross, joining the Knights Hospitallers and went off on a crusade.  Since the last crusade had ended long before this time, it’s assumed he went to the Holy Lands as a pilgrim.  He is recorded as leaving 400 ducats of gold for safe keeping with a Venetian merchant, Nicholas Zucull, in London as he departed England, but that is the last anyone hears of Alan de Wyntoun de Seton.

In 1363 his son, Lord William Seton authorized Adam Wymondham, a citizen, and Nicholas Nogrebon, a Venetian, to recover the money.  The document states that Alan had died on his way to Mount Sinai, when about to visit the tomb of St. Katherine there.  The date of Lord William seeking to recover the money in 1363 seems to support Alan “vanishing” around 1357.  There is no reason they would wait sixteen years to recover the gold.

Little is mentioned of the remainder of Margaret’s life.  She died around 1360, about four years after the disappearance of her husband.

I am sorry such a pale hangs over the end to their story, both vaguely fading into the mists of history without a definitive end to their lives, or what happened to turn Alan against his family and to leave.  But the romance writer in me loves having a real life set of grandparents who went through The Ring and the Sword ceremony, just like my beloved Tamlyn and Julian.

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

The Quack

The Quack 

C.A. Asbrey

We live in an age where we rarely encounter quackery, or if we do, we've usually sought out the alternatives to modern medicine on purpose. But our ancestors weren't so lucky. They were everywhere in the past. In this post, I'm going to concentrate on the 19th century as that was the birth of modern times, and the beginning of proper registration, and regulation, of medical practitioners.   

The word 'quack' comes from the old Dutch word, ‘quacksalver’. It originally meant someone who uses home remedies and false knowledge with the aim to cure. However, one thing we really do know is that many of the quacks of the past did not care one jot whether or not their products or ministrations worked. The primary aim of the quack was to make money, quickly followed by power over the victims. The motive was one of total exploitation of the public. 

The quack was essentially a form of confidence trickster, one in which astounding claims were made about the efficacy, safety, and effectiveness of their products. If you were fortunate, the cure contained nothing more than sugar water. If you weren't, it could maim and kill.  

In this post, I'm not including those who thought their products and cures were doing good. There were numerous deluded, and experimental, people who thought they were pushing the boundaries of human knowledge, or who truly believed in their products. This post isn't about people who were wrong. It is about those knowingly doing wrong.    

It's easy for us to think of the Victorians as staid, conservative, fixed on tradition, and old-fashioned. That actually couldn't be further from the truth. It was a dynamic period, full of thrusting young people challenging the status quo, and intent on changing the world. In a period when the average age was around twenty-six, as opposed to forty (UK figures) at present, those young people frequently clashed with the older generation who had been brought up in the Georgian and Regency periods. The young wanted change, and they wanted it fast. As Anthony Ashley Cooper, the 7th Earl of Shaftesbury, said to the House of Commons, February 28, 1843, “…a fearful multitude of untutored savages… [boys] with dogs at their heels and other evidence of dissolute habits…[girls who] drive coal-carts, ride astride upon horses, drink, swear, fight, smoke, whistle, and care for nobody…the morals of children are tenfold worse than formerly.”  

And they weren't just looking for social change, they were embracing science and technology. By the end of the Victorian period almost every aspect of life had been impacted by rapid change; religion, family life, food, clothing, hygiene, employment, and even holidays had all changed forever. But it didn't come easily. The old guard had very entrenched ideas, and were not ready to relinquish them easily.  Surgeons who kept bloodied jackets for operations did not like the idea of removing them in the name of hygiene. They were a badge of honour, and the messier they were, the more experienced the surgeon was seen to be. The pace of change actually assisted the quacks. Their cures could be sold as new discoveries, and in a society where science was practically unknown, there were very few who challenged them.  

Dalby's Carminative, Daffy's Elixir and Turlington's Balsam of Life bottles 

It would be a mistake to assume that quack remedies were always sold by itinerant fly-by-night, miscreants. Many were established companies and were amongst the first to use branding to make their products more recognizable. These patent-medicines largely owe their origins to the British Empire, with these remedies being sold in the colonies from the 17th century onwards. From there local versions sprung up, and followed the same pattern of public exploitation. Some existed for well over a century and were very well-known, and they were marketed in increasingly sophisticated ways. Following the revolutionary war, British patent-medicines lost ground to American competition, especially as they were denied access to the market. The exponential growth of quack remedies was helped by the advent of mass marketing. The golden age of quackery had begun, and not just in America. It was mirrored all over the world.

Daffy's Elixir was said to have been invented by a clergyman, Thomas Daffy, in the 16th century. He declared it an elixir salutis (lit. elixir of health) and promoted it as a generic cure-all. Daffy died in 1680, and left the recipe to his daughter, Catherine. He also left it to relatives Anthony and Daniel who were apothecaries in Nottingham. Anthony moved to London in 1680, and began promoting his purging cordial until his death in 1693. The work was clearly profitable as his widow, Elleanor and his daughter, Katherine, kept at the family business right into the 18th century, using newspapers and broadsheets to promote the elixir. It was popular enough to inspire people to copy it, often using alcohol inferior to the quality brandy used in the original recipe. It passed through the hands of various companies, the contents changing as it went. The new owners claimed sole rights, despite it never actually being patented. It was famous enough on both sides of the Atlantic  to be mentioned in many works of literature. It is in Anthony Trollope's Barchester Towers in 1857. It was also in Thomas Pynchon's novel Mason & Dixon. 

In the Charles Dickens book, Oliver Twist, Ch. II, where it is referred to as Daffy, in the sentence: 'Why, it's what I'm obliged to keep a little of in the house, to put into the blessed infants' Daffy, when they ain't well, Mr. Bumble,(the Parish Beadle)' replied Mrs. Mann as she opened a corner cupboard, and took down a bottle and glass. 'It's gin. I'll not deceive you, Mr. B. It's gin.'

William Makepeace Thackeray book, Vanity Fair, Chapter XXXVIII A Family In a Small Way, where it is referenced in the sentence ‘..and there found Mrs. Sedley in the act of surreptitiously administering Daffy’s Elixir to the infant.’     

It took various forms throughout its existence. A recipe from 1700 was analysed and it was found to be largely a laxative made with an alcohol base. It had the following ingredients: aniseed, brandy, cochineal, elecampane, fennel seed, jalap, manna, parsley seed, raisin, rhubarb, saffron, senna and Spanish liquorice. Other recipes include Guiuacum wood chips, caraway, Salt of Tartar, and scammony. 

In the 19th century this amazing liquid was said to cure:  The Stone in Babies and Children; Convulsion fits; Consumption and Bad Digestives; Agues; Piles; Surfeits; Fits of the Mother and Vapours from the Spleen; Green Sickness; Children's Distempers, whether the Worms, Rickets, Stones, Convulsions, Gripes, King's Evil, Joint Evil or any other disorder proceeding from Wind or Crudities; Gout and Rheumatism; Stone or Gravel in the Kidnies; Cholic and Griping of the Bowels; the Phthisic (both as cure and preventative provided always that the patient be moderate in drinking, have a care to prevent taking cold and keep a good diet; Dropsy and Scurvy. The frequent use of the medicine to treat Colic, gripes or fret in horses was deplored in early veterinary manuals.    

Turlington's Balsam of Life was one of the earliest medicinal patents in the world (the earliest being for Epsom Salts in 1698). In 1744 Robert Turlington was granted a royal patent, allowing him to pursue anyone who tried to pass their concoctions off as his. Turlington claimed his balsam cured "kidney and bladder stones, cholic, and inward weakness." He soon expanded the list of ailments he could cure to a forty-six page pamphlet. It was hugely popular in Britain and the USA. Turlington also used a very specific shape of bottle to make his cure-all stand out from the crowd. He changed the shape at last four times to confound counterfeiters.    

The market exploded, with over 1,300 proprietary medicines listed in British Parliamentary records in 1830. Almost all would be considered quack medicines by today's standards. Many did nothing at all, but a lot of them contained enough opium or alcohol to alleviate some symptoms for long enough to convince patients that they were actually improving, or to get high enough not to care. The worst played on the addictive qualities of their products to keep people buying.

In the USA the term snake oil was used for many quack remedies. Where British remedies tended to play on scientific advances, or on the the ancient provenance of their medicines, the American counterpart played more on the exoticism of the ingredients and a more fire and brimstone form of sales pitch. More often than not, the sales were made and the salesmen hot-footed it out of town before people found out how useless their purchases were.    

In 1875, the Pacific Medical and Surgical Journal complained:

"If Satan has ever succeeded in compressing a greater amount of concentrated mendacity into one set of human bodies above every other description, it is in the advertising quacks. The coolness and deliberation with which they announce the most glaring falsehoods are really appalling. A recent arrival in San Francisco, whose name might indicate that he had his origin in the Pontine marshes of Europe, announces himself as the "Late examining physician of the Massachusetts Infirmary, Boston." This fellow has the impudence to publish that his charge to physicians in their own cases is $5.00! Another genius in Philadelphia, of the bogus diploma breed, who claims to have founded a new system of practice and who calls himself a "Professor," advertises two elixers of his own make, one of which is for "all male diseases" and the other for "all female diseases"! In the list of preparations which this wretch advertises for sale as the result of his own labors and discoveries, is ozone!"

In 1880 William Ramdam produced a microbe killer which he claimed could "cure all diseases". In fact, it was no more than sulphuric acid and red wine. Such wild claims were made about many of these medicines. A Dr. Sibley claimed that his Reanimating Solar Tincture would "restore life in the event of sudden death." Dr. Solomon claimed that his remedy, Cordial Balm of Gilead, which consisted of brandy and a few herbs, would cure everything from masturbation and venereal disease, to almost any ailment.     

Not all quack medicines were useless. A few did help some ailments, but it was the huge list of alleged cures which knocked them into the quack category. Beecham's Pills became known as an effective aid to digestion, but originally made expansive claims about the broad range of 31 illnesses they could cure. They were discontinued in 1998. Turlington's Balsam of Life was found to be effective at curing skin fissures, blisters, and canker sores. It's still available under the name of Tincture of Benzoin, and is often used by orthopedic surgeons before a cast is applied as it prevents itching.

It's worth noting that the effectiveness of these remedies is purely coincidental, as their use does not match the original claims. Their present use was conveniently discovered after the fact.

In 1909, the British Medical Association published Secret Remedies, What They Cost And What They Contain. It was an attempt to debunk quack remedies. Over 20 chapters, they analysed the contents, claims, and the actual cost of the ingredients, and told the public the cold, hard truth. It did lead to the end of some quack remedies, but not all. It took law and regulation in many countries for them to be banned, and for the con men to be prosecuted.  The law had to step in to protect people seeking help at their lowest points.

The last word goes to William T. Jarvis, wrote in 1992, "Practitioners use unscientific practices and deception on a public who, lacking complex health-care knowledge, must rely upon the trustworthiness of providers. Quackery not only harms people, it undermines the scientific enterprise and should be actively opposed by every scientist."   



In All Innocence

“Nat, take a look at this.” Jake held out a sketch pad.

The dark eyes scanned the parchment before they darted back to his partner. “The whole railway car?”

“Yup. When one of the butlers was sayin’ he was sketchin’ I thought I’d have a look to see if it was any use to us.” He smiled. “I think it is. We can see where people were just before the murder.”

“It sure is. Look at that. Everyone in their place. I guess the ones playing the game with blindfolds moved about, though.” The cheeks dimpled. “And we can see exactly where that was. This is a real good drawing. Who did it?” He scanned the cabin and smiled at the lean man whose receding chin disappeared into his starched collar. “Ah, yes. The one who spoke up.”

Jake held the pad out at arm’s length and turned the page to look at a few unfinished etchings. “He’s talented. He’s caught your lopsided face real well.”

Nat’s mouth firmed into a line. “My face isn’t lopsided.”

“Yeah, it is. It might look fine from your side, but you should see it from here.” 

Nat turned indignant eyes on the conductor. “Farrow, is my face lopsided?”

The man gave Nat a long, hard stare. “Not lopsided exactly, but one eye’s bigger than the other.” He pointed, staring at the right one. “Well, maybe not bigger. A different shape? It’s got more lines about it. Funny, I never noticed it until you pointed it out. It’s kinda different from one side to the other.”

“No, it’s not.” Nat stabbed a gloved forefinger at the drawing. “I’ve always been told my eyes are my best feature.”

Jake’s guffaw cut through the railway car. “Maybe for their variety?” He glanced between the sketch and his nephew.

“In the drawing, it might be. Not in real life,” said Nat. 

Jake snapped the pad shut and grinned. “I guess the problem ain’t so much that your eyes don’t match some romantic hero, it’s more that they don’t match each other. It don’t matter none. Abi loves you anyway, and the babe seems to take after her ma.”

The partners watched Farrow’s retreating back as he followed the driver and the fireman down the aisle toward the latrines.

“And you’re so perfect?” Nat demanded. “What about those curls? You look like that boy in the advertisement for tar soap; the one in frilly knickerbockers.”

One slim, fair brow arched in retort. “At least they picked him because he was sweet-lookin’. Not because he’s lopsided. That ain’t gonna sell soap.” Jake paused pensively. “Your face might sell some kinda cure, though.”

“I’m not lopsided.” Nat dropped his voice to a hiss. “My description in the wanted posters said I have even features.”

“Good point.” The blue eyes sparkled with humor. “I guess it was such a good description you were recognized everywhere you went, huh? That’s why you’re in jail right now.”

“I can’t talk to you when you’re like this. It’s like trying to order a cat around.”

“You should be more grateful, Nat. I just got you a picture of where everyone was just before the second murder. Whoever it was would have to try to get past Mrs. Hunter and Philpot in the back row.”

“Yup. I have one more thing to find out. Where did Farrow go?” Nat nodded toward the sketch pad in Jake’s hand. “And take those. We don’t want anyone to have pictures of us.”

“So you agree it looks like you?”

“Just take the pad, Jake.” Nat sighed at his uncle’s laughing eyes. “Tell him we need it for evidence.”


Monday, September 6, 2021


I can travel the world without leaving my chair, but nothing beats actually being there—especially if one is a writer. With armchair travel you use two senses, ears and eyes, but when you are physically there, you employ all five senses (and maybe even a little bit of ESP). That can make a huge difference in your perception and description of a setting in your writing.

The azure sea and pristine white beach can dazzle my eyes, but my toes will miss the silky feel of the warm water tickling my feet or the powdery hot sand that makes me quicken my step to a shady spot under a palm tree. In a video or movie I see leaves fluttering or a field of wheat dancing with the wind, but I don’t feel that seductive breeze combing through my hair. Dust boils under the pounding hooves of a horse racing across the stretch of prairie in Monument Valley. The bandana over my mouth and nose helps, but I cannot taste the grit in my mouth or scrub it from my skin and burning eyes. One of the sweetest sounds in nature is water rushing and furling over rocks studding a stream, or the roar of a waterfall with its spray misting my face, the melodic trill of a robin or the screech of a hawk soaring on an air current.

Being there makes such a difference and can add a richness and realism to one’s writing. This is why I am so grateful that I have been able to visit all the locales except one in which I have set my books. Actually being there has helped me feel what it would be like to be cooped up in a hollowed out wolf cave and breathe in that dirt for hours on end, like my heroine, Molly.

(Picture courtesy of Charlie Steel)

In one of my earlier blogs, I wrote about Sam Kelly’s Cave in the Big Muddy area of southern Saskatchewan. Two enlarged wolf caves situated a few yards from the International Boundary were used by cattle rustlers over a hundred years ago. One cave sheltered a couple of outlaws and the second cave hid their horses from view of the N.W.M.P. or marshals from across the border. I read about these wolf caves in a book written by a lady whose family had lived over a century on the same ranch in the Big Muddy. The cave I visited is situated on private land, but it can be accessed through a guided tour.  I was able to stand inside the cave, breathe in the cloying dirt, and used that experience in the third book of my trilogy, Beneath A Desperado Moon. Touring the underground Chinese tunnels in Moose Jaw gave me an even deeper appreciation of the horror of living in those underground tunnels with no whiff of fresh air or blue sky.

However, I took a bit of poetic license and had my caves in the Bearpaw Mountains of Montana, a little more to the west and south of the Cypress Hills, the main setting in my trilogy. I regret I was unable to visit this low range of mountains, a few miles south of Havre, Montana, but I have visited the town and have a “feel” of the area which is initially prairie and similar to the terrain surrounding the Cypress Hills. Further into the Bears Paw backcountry (also spelled as one word), the terrain becomes very rough and hilly, with lots of trees and hiding places for outlaws in the late 1900s.

My very first historical romance was inspired by a holiday in New Brunswick. While there, we visited a 19th century working pioneer village called Kings Landing, about 20 miles west of Fredericton. I fell in love with the place and used it for the setting of By Love Betrayed. I have so many memories of that “village”, it being my first experience of how cooking meals from hooks suspended over burnings logs in a fireplace can fill a room with the scent of wood smoke that probably lingers, and how bread was baked in a Dutch oven nestled in the ashes and embers. If one happened to visit a certain cabin at mealtime, you were invited to partake with the costumed re-enactors. I had the same pioneer experience at Black Creek Pioneer Village deep in the heart of Toronto.

Visiting the Bay of Fundy in New Brunswick is an experience I’ll never forget. I sat on the boulders and rocks that lined the shore, steno-book in hand, and willed my Muse to provide me with inspiration. As I waited in the chilly wind off the Bay, I watched how quickly the tide moved in. By my feet was a dry, elongated rock that reminded me of the hull of a mast-less ship. Then one drop of water landed on it. And then another, and in an amazing short time, the rock was wet, then submerged. The water kept creeping higher. Being a land-locked prairie gal, I watched in fascination. And then I saw it. A young woman with long, wavy tendrils of blonde hair, bobbing like seaweed in the water. She wasn’t moving and in danger of drowning. Then off in the distance I heard a whistle and the scrape of claws as a dog bounded over the rocks. The jogger whistled again, but the dog kept whining and would not heed his master. Thus, the man had to get him, saw what had captured the dog’s attention, lifted the young woman into his arms and strode off into the sunset. End of vision. No matter how hard I tried, my imagination had strode off with that handsome, dark-haired stranger.

In the middle of the night I had such a vivid dream that I woke up, excited. I had my story, no doubt triggered by senses-overload from all the sights we had explored that day. I shook my husband’s shoulder, eager to tell him, but he told me to go back to sleep. I couldn’t because I knew I’d forget the dream. I had to stay awake—but my notebook was out in the car. I didn’t want to go downstairs and risk waking anyone up, so I lay awake for hours, running the dream over and over in my head until everyone was finally up, and I could get my notebook. I wrote down everything I could remember of the dream. But it had nothing to do with the unconscious lady in the bay!

(Picture from Wikipedia)
Another plus to visiting the Bay of Fundy was not only the amazing “flower pots” at opewHopeHi       Hopewell Cape where opewell Caitethe powerful 5-storey high incoming tides have carved out chunks of the rock. At low tide, one can see how the cliffs have been eroded over the centuries, leaving the beach dotted with vulnerable chiseled rocks, with pines growing at the top, ready to be knocked over by the next surge of the tide. Best get off the beach when the tide starts rushing in. My husband’s brother was stranded overnight on one of the “flower pots” until the tide went out again.

Near the Bay of Fundy is another bay which has a distinct “fishy” smell to the air, so unlike Fundy Bay and the water has a reddish cast to it, probably because of the high iron content. I would never have known that if I hadn’t personally experienced it by being there. We walked along the beach at low tide and saw saltwater draining from tiny shells and various seaweeds, some pod-like clusters like a bunch of grapes, all over the beach. Cape Enrage is well known for the tides flinging huge waves against the cliffs, but the night we went to see it, the bay was calm as a sleeping baby.

After our return home, I related all this to my friend over the telephone. Judith said, “I hope this is an historical!” It wasn’t, but I knew instantly I could convert it to an historical, instead of the contemporary romances I had been writing. Rachel could ride the train instead of driving a white sports car. And several weeks later, to my forehead-slap amazement, I realized that my lady in the bay was the beginning of the story after all. I finished writing the book, but, alas, I no longer have the word processor on which I wrote it. However, I do have the hard copy— but it’s a long, daunting job I’ve avoided in retyping from scratch. That is my some day project because I still love that story and would like to see it published.

In the meantime, I’ll share an excerpt from my latest published book, Josh and Molly’s story, in which I hope I’ve employed all five senses.


Excerpt: Beneath A Desperado Moon: 


            Riding further south into the wooded foothills of a low mountain range, Josh searched the distant rocky bluffs for a familiar landmark. He finally spotted the lone pine in a shadowed fold of the cliffs and aimed his horse in that direction. He let his horse pick his way over the rocks, climbing higher, and wasn’t surprised when a man stepped out from a screen of bushes and aimed his rifle at Josh’s chest.

            “That’s far enough.”

            “You know me, Charlie. I have been here before.”

            “Don’t mean nuthin’. You could be bringin’ the law with ya.”

            “Do you see anyone behind me?” Josh snapped, knowing full well Chase was a long way back, observing through his spy glass. They’d agreed it was safer that way for Josh not to be followed.

            “That don’t mean nuthin’.”

            “Bloody hell, you fool, I am not the only one wanted by the law. He killed three men on the stage this morning and kidnapped a woman. The law will be crawling all over the prairie like ants on an anthill.”

            “She’s sure a spitfire,” Charlie said, smirking.

            Josh’s stomach clenched. Charlie’s words confirmed Josh’s worst fears. At least she was alive. He nudged his horse past the outlook.

            “Hold your horses. I didn’t say you could pass.”

            “Take it up with Rocky. And don’t even think to use that rifle on me. The shot will be heard for miles.” Josh urged the horse around the overlapping jut of rock that shadowed the opening, making the entrance invisible to the casual observer.

            A few more feet brought him around another boulder and into a small sunlit valley lush with grass. A stream meandered through, providing water for animals and humans alike. Several horses and two cows gathered in the shade of huge cottonwoods that had roots nourished by the stream.

            Most of the outlaws preferred living in tents scattered near the entrance or out in the open while some had claimed the few caves that pockmarked the hills.

            Ignoring the curious looks of the men and women in the camp, Josh rode directly to Rocky’s tent, which had one side nearly touching the cliff wall. He didn’t have a full plan of action, just hoped the element of surprise and sheer guts would work in his favor.

            He needn’t have worried. The argument going on inside the tent could drown out a stampede of horses.