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Monday, April 24, 2023

Brewsters - The Medieval Women who made Ale.


Brewsters – The Medieval Women who made Ale.



“Brewster” used to mean a female brewer of ale. In the early 1300s brewsters were common. As water was rarely safe to drink, ale, created by a barley or oat mash, boiling water, yeast and herbs, was a staple. Everyone, men, women and children, drank it. Larger medieval houses made their own, so in 1333 Elizabeth de Burgh, Lady Clare, brewed 8 quarters each week, around 60 gallons of ale. Since a household of 5 might drink 1 ¼ gallons a day, this output needed to be ongoing, especially as ale soured quickly, within a few days. The plus side was that once made, ale was quickly ready to drink, within a day.

Brewing of ale was done at home, using everyday tools – a large tub, a brush, a ladle, forks. Women did it in tandem with other household tasks. Any excess a brewster might sell to her neighbours. Locals would be alerted that ale was available by the sign of a branch or bush pinned over the household door. Neighbour sold to neighbour and customers brought their own pails to collect the fresh ale. Another way womenfolk were employed were as Tipplers, who carried the freshly brewed ale in vessels on their backs to various household clients. Overall it was a small-scale business, with modest profits. Married women, widows and unmarried spinsters all brewed and it was a means of independence. In 1379, in Howden, 9 single women supported themselves by brewing. In Norwich, women of the chief families all brewed ale and sold it to their friends.

Barley water could be made by boiling a small quantity of fresh barley in a volume of water and then the liquid strained off. Herbs used in the ale included briar, rosemary, coltsfoot and balm. Water from different wells produced different flavours of ale. “Dredge”, a mix of oats and barley, was in as common use in the production of ale as it was of bread.

Ale was sweeter in taste than beer, since the hops in beer preserve the drink for longer but also make it more bitter.  Modern beers in the “Gruit” style, where hops are not used and herbs are used as flavouring, give an idea what such ales tasted like. An ale called “Mycria”, flavoured with sweet gale, used to be produced by Hanlons in Devon.

Hops, introduced from Europe, was used to brew beer. Beer lasts longer than ale and so can be transported greater distances and made in larger batches. After the Black Death, beer began to be drunk and produced in England as well as ale, though female brewers were gradually pushed out of the trade by men, who had greater access to capital. The Brewers’ Guild was closed to women. The laws favoured men over women in brewing, although women often had more practical experience. Brewsters began to be seen as sinful, wanton and unclean. In 1413 brewster Christine Colmere in Canterbury lost her trade when Simon Daniel falsely told her neighbours that she was leprous.

See “Ale, Beer and Brewsters In England” by Judith Bennett for more details.


For myself, I am sorry the more bitter beer took over from ale, and sorry that women were thrust out of a business where they had thrived for many years. One day, I may write a story where a brewster is my heroine, but in the meantime, if you are interested in learning a bit about medieval feasts, medieval sweets, cooks and menus, please see my novel “The Master Cook and the Maiden” and my novella, “Amice and the Mercenary.” Both are published by Prairie Rose Publications and both are free to read with Kindle Unlimited.

The Master Cook and the Maiden.

Amice and the Mercenary

Lindsay Townsend 

Wednesday, April 12, 2023

Dance Scenes in Historically-Set Movies – April – Shakespeare in Love #prairierosepubs #moviedancescenes

Join me here for a year of movie trivia fun as I post dance scenes from movies set in historical time periods. I will give a brief summary of the movie’s plot and an equally brief set-up to the scene.

Each month on the second Wednesday, I will post a movie clip and link back to previous movie scene articles here on the blog.

 This is the criteria by which I'm choosing movie scenes:

  • In a non-musical movie, the dance scene is important to the storyline and not just visual and auditory filler.
  • In a musical drama, the characters in the dance scene don’t sing to each other.
  • In a musical drama, the dance scene is important to the storyline and not just visual and auditory filler.
  • The historical cut-off is 1960, because that date works for me. ;-)

Side note:  The article “Classic Literature is Not Necessarily Historical Fiction” on the BookRiot website offers an interesting explanation on what constitutes historical fiction and where various historical date lines are drawn.

Onward to the April movie scene.

It is altogether fitting and proper that I highlight a movie with a Shakespearean theme for April, since William Shakespeare was baptized on April 26 (likely born on April 23), 156, and he died on April 23, 1616.

Name of Movie: Shakespeare in Love

Historical Time Period: c. 1593
Location: London, England
Occasion: Formal dance at Sir Robert de Lessep’s estate
Type of Dance: Renaissance


Shakespeare in Love is a period romantic comedy-drama (1998). The story is a fictional love affair between William Shakespeare and Viola de Lesseps. During this intense, short-lived affair, Shakespeare is inspired to write Romeo and Juliet , which closely mirrors their star-crossed, and doomed-from-the-beginning relationship. This movie is a play-within-a-play.

Dance Scene Set-up

William Shakespeare sneaks into a ball at the de Lesseps estate. During the ball, Viola’s father arranges her betrothal to a nearly bankrupt Lord Wessex. Viola is passingly familiar with who Lord Wessex is, but she has no interest in him as a person, let alone as a husband. She also doesn’t know a marriage pact is being made for her. Viola is enamored with all things theatrical, and she has a secret admiration for William Shakespeare, although they’ve never met.

Don’t look to this movie for historical accuracy. It is Hollywood-generated, not a documentary. This includes this dance scene. Keep in mind that movie dance scenes are created for optimum cinematography and choreography. As such, there is often have a conglomeration of dance movements to achieve those goals. This is the case here.

The purpose of this dance scene is to get Will and Viola together, just as Romeo meets Juliet at the party at her house. Shakespeare and Viola are from different social classes, and they would not have had opportunity to interact any other way than within this dance.

I’m iffy on dances of the Elizabethan era, but I’m fairly confident in saying that this dance is a combination of the Almain, which is a processional dance in which you do some specific movements with your partner and a Volta, which is a ‘toss the ladies” movement. It’s also a ‘mixer dance’ in that people can enter and leave the dance sort of like someone tapping your partner on the shoulder and taking their place as your new partner.

The dance scene…

Sir Robert de Lesseps and Lord Wessex have evidently sealed the deal on the marriage agreement. Will Shakespeare is hanging out with the musicians, just watching the dancing. Viola de Lesseps is in the midst of the dancers.

Will’s disinterested perusal of the dance is suddenly interrupted when he sees Viola from across the crowded room.

 0:29 – Will is instantly awe struck, and he asks one of the musicians who she is. He’s told, “Dream on, Will.”

The camera cuts back to Viola dancing. You’ll notice she has a new dance-partners-in-passing in the Almain.

1:00 – We see the Volta (toss the ladies). Will is on the move. He’s got his eye on Viola as he’s crashed the dance, so to speak.

1:18 – Viola looks directly into Will’s face, and she gasps. She is visibly stunned to see him. “Master Shakespeare,” she breathes.

Viola and Will separate as they move around the dance circle. Viola encounters Lord Wessex again, but her gaze is locked on Will as he dances away from her. She and Lord Wessex exchange a few words in which she flippantly, and naively, disregards his meaning.

1:42 – Will and Viola come together again. They twirl to the side of the circle, where they stop and talk. This is an instance of the the world revolving around them, while they have eyes only for each other. You can see the blurred figures of people in the background.

Viola speaks, but Will is struck speechless, ‘a poet of no words’, she says. Wessex drags Will off the dance floor. Will utters words of admiration for Viola, which prompt Wessex to put a knife to Will’s throat. Viola watches, also too enamored with Will to think of anything but how she feels right then.

Wessex (aka a combination of Paris and Tybalt from Romeo and Juliet), turns back to Viola with an expression that foreshadows the confrontation between Viola and himself that will happen later in the movie.

While this dance scene is brief, the ‘meaningful looks’, words spoken haltingly, make it clear to us that Viola and Will have fallen in love at first sight. It’s one of those sigh-worthy romantic scenes for those of us who are hopelessly, hopeful romantics, despite knowing how it turned out for Romeo and Juliet…and Will and Viola.

January Movie Dance Scene: Cat Ballou

February Movie Dance Scene: The King and I - Shall we Dance?

March Movie Dance Scene: Easy Virtue

Until next time,
Kaye Spencer
writing through history one romance upon a time 






Tuesday, April 4, 2023

April Flowers and Showers

 April Flowers and Showers

By C. A. Asbrey

"The sun was warm but the wind was chill. 
You know how it is with an April day. 
When the sun is out and the wind is still, 
You're one month on in the middle of May. 
But if you so much as dare to speak, a cloud come over the sunlit arch, 
And wind comes off a frozen peak, 
And you're two months back in the middle of March." 
Robert Frost, Two Tramps in Mud Time, 1926 

April is the beginning of spring. Even its name reflects the change of season. In Latin aperio means 'I open' referring to the buds and sprigs burgeoning with life in the northern hemisphere at this time of year. As people were historically so dependent on a good crop, it was a time of year that was very important to our ancestors. The spring season is rife with superstitions and folklore.

The birth flower for the month of April is the common daisy, Bellis Perennis. It's commonly thought that the name comes from a corruption of an older name 'Day's Eye' due to the fact that it closed in the evening and opened in the morning. Chaucer was known to call it 'the eye of the day'. In medieval times it was called 'Mary's Rose' or the 'Bone Flower.' In Scotland and the North of England it is also known as gowan. It grows all over the old world, needing little or no care, and has one of the longest blooming seasons in the plant calendar. Ancient daisy decorations on pottery and ornaments have been found in excavations in Crete, Egypt, and all over the Middle East going back at least 4,000 years. The Bellis part of the name is thought to mean pretty, but it could also relate to the Latin for war - bellum. This theory is supported by the medicinal use for the plant in treating injuries. Also known as bruisewort, and occasionally woundwort, it was used for healing wounds and treating bruising. Other medicinal uses suggest that a strong solution had anti-spasmodic properties that helped menstruation, bowel problems, and a decoction of the roots can treat eczema.     

The heads are edible can be scattered over a salad to make it pretty, along with other edible flowers.

Freya Bringing the Daisies

In Norse mythology Freya, goddess of love, beauty and fertility, declared the flower to be sacred. Also linked to Venus, the Roman goddess of love and beauty. It led to simple rituals, still carried out today where the petals are plucked off one-by-one by young women across the whole of Europe repeating "he loves me, he loves me not". Other fortune-telling games relating to the daisy has girls trying to predict the occupation of her future husband as the petals are removed. The verse takes many forms, but one of the oldest was, "Tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor, rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief, doctor, lawyer, merchant, chief."

Daisies in Ophelia's Death Scene

Goethe had a pregnant Margherita plucking a daisy to tell her how Faust felt about her, but he wasn't the only artist to weave the flower into their work. Shakespeare used it in Ophelia's death scene, and in Love’s Labour’s Lost said that ‘daisies… do paint the meadows with delight’. Wordsworth wrote 'To the Daisy', and Keats and Emily Dickinson also mentioned the flower.    

In Celtic legend, when babies died, daisies were said to be sprinkled over the child's grave by the gods to ease the suffering of the parents. The perennial nature of the plant meant it grew everywhere, and certainly on graves. It lead to the euphemism 'pushing up the daisies.' Linked to the spring equinox, the appearance of the daisy showed that the land was fertile, but in the triple deities of the Celts it related to the maiden, not the mother or the crone form, and as such, it was linked to innocence. It was also a sign of resilience, returning after being trampled and surviving throughout the summer. A daisy chain was said to protect a child from being abducted by the fairies.        

A horse that didn't lift its hooves high enough was nicknamed a daisy-cutter, and this term spread also to sports. In 1889 an English newspaper used the term for a low fast ball running along the ground. It wasn't long before that term was used in Baseball for the same thing.  

A 19th century slang term that's gone out of fashion is 'it's daisy'. Meaningless to us, but to Victorian Brits it meant it was superb.     

It it very well might be superb. Modern studies on the plant has found that a strong scientific basis for its reputation for healing wounds. Dried daisy flowers, powdered and extracted in n-butanol, accelerated wound-healing and decreased scarring on skin wounds. A later study found seven new saponins that promote collagen synthesis (constituents that have soap-like attributes and lower surface tension) in daisy flowers. Collagen is the main structural constituent of skin, which would explain how they contribute to  wound healing. One type of saponin in Daisy flowers has also been found to inhibit tumours, so maybe it's time to look at the humble daisy in a new light?  


“That’s my drink,” said Tibby. 

The stranger turned a smug sneer on Tibby. “It can’t be. It’s in my hand.” “It’s mine.” 

Tibby appealed to the barman for help. “He’s got my drink.”

The server rolled his eyes. “Have you seen how busy it is in here? I ain’t got time to watch everyone’s stuff. Look after your own drink.” 

“I’m trying to. Give me that.” Tibby reached up but the taller man held the glass up high, way out of the reach of the tiny man. “You know that’s mine.” 

Tibby jumped and stretched, huffing in his exertion in a game of alcoholic-keep-away much to the amusement of the ring of bullies who sniggered and jeered. “Look at the size of him. He’s a midget.” 

“I am not.” Tibby jumped once more. “Midgets are medically four-foot-ten. I’m five-foot-one.” 

“Five-one,” guffawed a vacant-looking goon. “You is a giant midget.”

 “Please, I’ve had a terrible day. Just let me have a drink in peace. Give me my glass.” 

“Yeah, give ’im his glass, Fred,” scoffed the large one with greasy hair sticking out from under a tatty cap. 

“Sure.” The stranger swilled back the contents before he held out the empty glass. “Here.” 

Tibby pulled back his reaching hand, his bottom lip growing and trembling beneath great blue globes which glistened with tears. “You drank it?” 

The men threw back their heads and guffawed, slapping one another on the backs and seeking support for their helpless mirth at this unexpected reaction. It was beyond anything they’d hoped for. 

“Yeah, get yourself another.” The bully snickered.

Tears streamed down Tibby’s face. “I don’t want another drink. I wanted that one. It was special.” 

Fred leaned forward, leering into Tibby’s face. 

“Well, you can’t have that one. I drank it.” 

“He’s cryin’. Can you believe this?” asked the smallest bully. “A grown man sobbin’ like a baby.” 

“I don’t believe this.” Tibby leaned over the bar, his shoulders heaving with deep sobs. “First of all, I get taken to jail for a crime I didn’t commit. Then I get fired, and to top it off, my wife told me she’s leaving me.” He backhanded away glistening tears as the band of bullies fell quiet. “This has been the worst day of my entire life. I come in here for a quiet drink and now, I meet you. Why do you want to stop me from committing suicide? It’s too cruel.”

 “Suicide?” a small voice murmured from the gaggle of miscreants. “

Yeah.” Tibby turned on the bully, pointing an accusing finger. “He drank my poison. A man can’t even kill himself in peace anymore.” 

Tibby kept right in character and watched Fred grasp his throat. “Poison?” 

“I tried to tell you, but you kept pulling it away from me. I came in here to kill myself, but now you even took that from me.” 

“He’s bluffin’,” cried one of the crowd. 

“Ya think?” demanded another. “How often d’ya see a grown man cry in public?” 

“He ain’t exactly a grown man,” answered his friend. It wasn’t helping though, Fred’s eyes bulged and he doubled over thrusting his fingers down his gullet.

Fred’s friend grabbed Tibby by the lapels and shook him violently. “What kinda poison was it?” The journalist wailed and whimpered as Fred buckled at the knees. “What kind?” 

“Strychnine,” Tibby sniveled. “What have I got left to live for?” 

“Strychnine?” “Yeah, that’s why I had with whiskey. It kills the taste.” Tibby paused. “Along with the crushing pain of my pointless existence. I guess your existence has been rendered meaningless, now.” 

“I need a doc,” Fred bellowed, running for the door. 

“A doctor won’t be able to help,” Tibby called after the departing crowd. His tears had dried up and his smile returned with suspicious alacrity. “But get your stomach pumped, just in case.”

The barman wiped the bar with a grubby cloth and eyed Tibby with caution. “I ain’t gonna have no trouble in here.” 

“Hey, if you’d adopted that stance a minute ago, I wouldn’t have been driven to subterfuge.” 

The barman frowned. “There ain’t nowhere around here called Subterfuge. This is the Flying Horse.”

Tibby sighed. “Two more whiskeys, please.” His face lit up at the sight of Jake returning from the latrines. “Ah, you’re back. I just ordered some more drinks.” 

Jake’s brow met, picking up on the undercurrents and sideways glances going on around them. “What’s goin’ on?” 

“Nothing.” Tibby smiled his most innocent smile. “Some bullies took my whiskey but I told them how tough my day had been and they left.” He lifted the shot glass replete with amber liquid. “I ordered us some more. Now, about Callie. I’ve had a few thoughts.”


Sunday, April 2, 2023

Audie Murphy - Whispering Smith - TV Western

 Post by Doris McCraw aka Angela Raines

Photo (c) Doris McCraw

I'm continuing my journey through some of the old, lesser-known, Western TV shows. This month I'm looking at Audie Murphy and his starring role in the TV show "Whispering Smith" a Denver Police Detective in the 1870s or close to that time.

The show ran for one season from 1961 to 1962. However, the show was filmed in 1959 but did not premiere until 1961. One of the stories I read was that Guy Mitchell, Murphy's costar, had broken his shoulder. They delayed production so that scripts could be rewritten to adjust Mitchell's screen time, and even after that you will notice him in a cast. One of the other stars, Sam Buffington, who while looking older was actually only 26 at the time they started filming the series, committed suicide after only sixteen episodes.

A couple of other things of note are: there was a novel, written in 1906 by Frank H Spearman, that was said to be an adaptation of the true life adventures of the Union Pacific railroad detective by the name of James "Whispering" Smith. That novel was the inspiration for four different silent movies and four different "sound" movies. The movie I remember seeing was "Whispering Smith", the 1948 movie with Alan Ladd and Robert Preston. Second: Murphy, in talking about the TV show, called the show, "Dragnet on horseback". And in watching this series you will hear Murphy narrating much like Jack Webb did on the Dragnet series. Third: Only 20 of the 26 episodes aired after the Senate investigated the show as being too violent with Senator John Carroll stating, "Not only bad for children, it's bad for adults."

Guy Mitchell - Left, Audie Murphy - Right
From Wikipedia

As for the stars of the show, Audie Murphy as many may remember was the most decorated American soldier in World War II. He saw combat service for three years, was in nine major campaigns, was wounded three times, and earned 33 awards and decorations for his service. What makes this even more interesting is he had joined at the age of 16 which means by the time he left the service in 1945 he was still under 21 years of age. (I have listened to the audiobook of his memoir, "To Hell and Back", and have seen the film in which he starred as himself. It did more to help me understand World War II that a lot of the other reading I had done.)

Murphy's costar, Guy Mitchell, was known as a singer and this was one of his early roles. Mitchell was also in the service during World War II, having served in the Navy. After serving Mitchell was a singer with the bandleader Carmen Cavallaro. This may explain why you periodically will hear him break out into song in the police station that is part of the show.

The show can be streamed on YouTube or like me you can purchase the series. I confess, I enjoy the show and haven't found it to be as 'violent' as some say. Perhaps I'm a bit more tolerant of the depiction of the West. I would leave it to others to make their own decision.

Links to previous TV show posts:

If anyone is interested you can also read or sign up for my weekly Thoughts and Tips newsletter: Thursday's Thoughts and Tips

Until Next Time: Stay safe, Stay happy, and Stay healthy.