Friday, July 19, 2013

A Georgian Marriage Gone Bad

One of the reasons I like setting love stories in the past is that the stakes were so high. When couples married two hundred years ago, it was for life. I was recently reading about the Georgian/regency novelist, Matthew "Monk" Lewis (a brief mention of Lewis and his most famous work, the lurid and bestselling The Monk, can be found in this earlier post on gothic horrors). The story of his parents' disastrous marriage is almost as colorful as Lewis's fiction.

Matthew Lewis (not the actor who played Neville Longbottom, but the father of the author of the same name) married Frances "Fanny" Maria Sewell in 1773, when both were twenty-three. Lewis had already earned a master's degree from Oxford and was the Chief Clerk in the War Office; in just two years, he would be the Deputy-Secretary at War. His family was wealthy, as was hers. Both owned neighboring estates in England as well as substantial property in Jamaica. The couple had four children together, of which the novelist, Matthew Gregory Lewis, was the eldest and heir. The senior Matthew Lewis seems to have been dedicated and hard-working; Maria, on the other hand, was admired, artistic, and injudicious.

The lurid plot of Matthew Gregory Lewis's The Monk manages to outdo the drama of his family life. ("A Monk with a Beguine," 1591, by Dutch painter Cornelis van Haarlem.)

By 1781, when little Matthew was only six, his parents' marriage wasn't going well, owing to their mismatched temperaments--and to his mother's interest in a music master named Samuel Harrison. After sleeping apart for some time, the couple decided to separate, with Lewis agreeing to generous terms that gave his wife the use of one of his houses, full custody of the children (legally, they were his to take away), and six hundred pounds a year. Before the separation was finalized, however, Lewis returned from a visit to the Duke of Dorset to discover Fanny had been flagrantly carrying on in his house with Harrison the music master, sending him into a "phrenzy."

Fanny Lewis fled. She began changing addresses and using a false name, Mrs. Langley, to avoid her husband. He was able to track her down, however, and came to confront her on July 3, 1782--which, inconveniently for Fanny, happened to be the same day she was giving birth to an illegitimate child by the music master.

Lewis sought a separation--not a private one, but a judicial separation of the sort obtained as a precursor to divorce. On February 27, 1783, Lewis was awarded his separation on the grounds of adultery. Divorces, however, were as complicated and expensive to obtain as they were rare. Lewis petitioned Parliament, and his counsel presented the facts of Fanny's adultery, but the House of Lords refused to grant the divorce.

And here's the part that's most surprising to me as a citizen of the twenty-first century: Lewis supported Fanny until his death in 1812. Why did he agree to such generous terms? Probably because it was the thing to do. A husband was expected to "keep" his wife, which meant everything from seeing that she didn't go hungry to paying her gambling debts. It was one of the fundamental expectations underlying marriage--just as wives had a duty to have sex with their husbands whether they liked it or not, husbands had a duty to support their wives financially whether they liked it or not. And since marriage was a sacrament, adultery and even separation couldn't completely erase that expectation.

Though it's slightly off-topic, I'll close with an anecdote from James Boswell's 1791 Life of Samuel Johnson that provides a little more insight into the Georgian view of marriage as immutable and permanent, no matter how messy: 
I repeated to him an argument of a lady of my acquaintance, who maintained, that her husband's having been guilty of numberless infidelities, released her from conjugal obligations, because they were reciprocal. Johnson: "This is miserable stuff, Sir. To the contract of marriage, besides the man and wife, there is a third party -- Society; and, if it be considered as a vow -- GOD: and, therefore, it cannot be dissolved by their consent alone.

Samuel Johnson was no fan of divorce. (Painting by Joshua Reynolds.)
Laws are not made for particular cases, but for men in general. A woman may be unhappy with her husband; but she cannot be freed from him without the approbation of the civil and ecclesiastical power. A man may be unhappy, because he is not so rich as another; but he is not to seize upon another's property with his own hand." Boswell: "But, Sir, this lady does not want that the contract should be dissolved; she only argues that she may indulge herself in gallantries with equal freedom as her husband does, provided she takes care not to introduce a spurious issue into his family. You know, Sir, what Macrobius has told us of Julia."*  Johnson: "This lady of yours, Sir, I think, is very fit for a brothel."
*Boswell's reference to "what Macrobius has told us of Julia" concerns a report that Augustus Caesar's daughter supposedly indulged in adultery only if she was pregnant with her husband's child: "To certain persons who knew of her infidelities and were expressing surprise at her children’s likeness to her husband Agrippa, since she was so free with her favors, she said: "Passengers are never allowed on board until the hold is full."

Alyssa EverettAlyssa Everett's upcoming regency romance, A Tryst With Trouble, will be released on September 23. It will join her current release, Lord of Secrets, and her debut regency, Ruined by Rumor. Alyssa hopes you'll visit her website and follow her on Twitter and Facebook, where she promises not to spam you.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Prepare for MORE GLORY!

Like every other history lover/geek/nerd in the movie-watching world, I was pretty excited when, in 2006, the movie 300 exploded onto the big screen. Fans of the comic book series had an edge over those of us who had not experienced King Leonidas on the page, but I’m not sure that made a big difference to the non-purist crowd. For me, it coined the term “hot men in leather underpants” and is the only movie I’ve paid to see twice in the theatre in recent memory.

Now, the film that spawned catch phrases like “THIS IS SPARTA!” and “Let us fight in the shade” as well as a host of work out videos and Halloween spray-on abs has a sequel. Yes, 300: Rise of an Empire is due in movie venues in 2014.

…and I’m not sure how I feel about this.

Because the king dies in the end of the first film. You know this going in if you know your history. All the warriors we drooled over loved died, so…let’s take a look at the synopsis for the sequel, shall we?

“After its victory over Leonidas' 300, the Persian Army under the command of Xerxes marches north towards the major Greek city-states. The Democratic city of Athens, first on the path of Xerxes' army, bases its strength on its fleet, led by admiral Themistocles. Themistocles is forced to an unwilling alliance with the traditional rival of Athens, oligarchic Sparta whose might lies with its superior infantry troops. But Xerxes still reigns supreme in numbers over sea and land.” (IMDB, written by Garganuan Media)

So we have a new hero, and it’s presumably going to be a sea-based tale? Lena Heady and Rodrigo Santoro reprise their roles as Queen Gorga and Xerxes, respectively. I’m not recognizing a lot of other names in the cast, but that might be because they’re more a foreign group than American. It boasts the same action-animated style as its predecessor, and the abs and leather undies are still prevalent.

It’s interesting to note that this is not the first film ever made regarding Themistocles. He was a noted Athenian politician and general, one of the first not born to the aristocracy. During the first Persian invasion, he was one of ten Athenian generals who fought and led men at the battle of Marathon. The second Persian invasion culminated in two notable battles: Artemisium and Salamis. A lot of politicking and alliance building went on behind the scenes to try to do two things: unify the Greek city-states against the Persians, and lure some of the Greek allies from Xerxes’ side. One more battle forces Xerxes to give up and return home, finally defeated. Ironically enough, Themistocles ends up ostracized after some internal struggles following the war, and seeks refuge in Persia, working for their government.

So, given all that…will you go see this movie? I’m still not sure.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Getting Close to Release Day!

Happy middle of July everyone. Can you believe the year is already half over? I can't, nor can I believe my latest Carina release, Hero's Redemption will be out in a little over two weeks. To celebrate, I'm posting an excerpt today. I hope you enjoy it and consider checking out Devon and Cathleen's story. 
Have a great July everyone!

Devon, Lord Malton, tossed in bed, the throbbing pain in his thigh pulling him from the oblivion of drunkenness into a semi-sleep that clung to him like tar.

"No," he moaned. The ghostlike images of old comrades and dead enemies drifted through his mind. Distant cannon fire rolled in the air, growing louder as light began to creep in along the edges of the sharpening visions. "No."

In a flash the world turned bright, the afternoon sun reflecting off the stone walls of Hougoumont Manor's courtyard. Around him, British soldiers and trapped French soldiers fought, the metallic ring of sabers carrying over the shouts of dying men and the screams of frightened horses.

"Cochon anglais!" A French soldier charged at Devon and he swung around to face him. "Je te tuerai."
They locked swords, the Frenchman's wild eyes meeting Devon's across the blade.

"Maintenant--au diable!" Devon shoved the Frenchman back. The burly soldier staggered slightly but desperation gave him strength and he hurled himself forward.

Devon was stepping back to parry when his boot rolled on the arm of a dead man and he fell, landing hard in the mud. The Frenchman lunged again. Devon swung his sword, deflecting the blow but the Frenchman's blade slid down the length of Devon's, impaling his thigh.

"Bloody hell." Devon dug the heel of his boot into the man's chest and kicked hard. A searing pain nearly blinded him as the man's blade tore free.

The Frenchman pulled himself to his feet and advanced. Devon rose up on one knee, lifting his sword to defend himself when suddenly the flash of a red coat cut across his vision. Captain Selton stood between them, his sword clanging against the Frenchman's.

"Get back to the safety of the manor," the young officer called, swinging to repel the enemy's blade.

"I'm not going anywhere." Devon stood, gritting his teeth against the pain. He limped forward, determined to fight when the sickening sound of metal slicing flesh drowned out the cannons. Captain Selton wavered a moment then slumped to the ground.

"No!" Devon yelled.

The Frenchman, his sword still lodged in Captain Selton's chest, met Devon's eyes, smug triumph dancing in their watery depths.

"Bastard!" Devon hurled himself at the man, his pain forgotten in a rush of anger. The Frenchman's triumph turned to fear as Devon impaled him, driving him backwards across the courtyard, forcing the sword in deeper and deeper until it drove itself through his body, lodging in a wooden door in the far wall. Devon pulled out the blade and the Frenchman dropped to the ground.

Devon stepped back and his wounded leg buckled. He fell hard against the wall, his palm scraping over the rough stone as he slid down into the mud. When he pressed his hand over the wound, the blood stained his breeches and covered his fingers. Out across the courtyard, heavy clouds of black powder smoke drifted through the fighting men, passing over Captain Selton, who lay with the others, his lifeless eyes watching the sky.

"No," Devon cried in anguish. "No."

"It's all right," a soft female voice carried over the crack of gunfire. "You're safe now."

"I couldn't save him." Devon choked, struggling to breathe through the acrid smoke. "I couldn't help him."

"I know." Gentle hands stroked his hair, his forehead and cheeks, their tenderness easing his tight chest and softening the pain coursing through him. "Sleep now."

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Double, double, toil and trouble…

...Fire burn and brimstone bubble. Witches and witchcraft date back through the ages to when people worshipped the Mother Earth or nature goddess. It was a time before traditional religion when the unexplained was called magical and people with unique talents were special.  The Old Religion which existed since the Stone Age was far from evil. These people were connected with the seasons, the plants, the animals and the planet and sought a balanced life. These special people were seers, knowers, healers, and averters of evil.

Over the centuries the nature goddess was replaced by more traditional religions and practices. The word witch only took on a negative meaning with the coming of Christianity, which taught that all the heathen gods were devils. And by association, anyone who clung to the old ways and the Old Religion was a devil worshipper.

The real roots of witchcraft and magic appear to come from the Celts, a diverse group of Iron Age tribal societies which flourished between about 700 BC and 100 AD in northern Europe.  The Celts were a brilliant and dynamic people, gifted artists, musicians, storytellers, and metalworkers, as well as expert farmers and fierce warriors much feared by the Romans.

They were also a deeply spiritual people and believed in the many gods associated with Mother Earth, the Divine Creator.  By about 350 BC, a priestly class known as the Druids had developed. They became the priests of the Celtic religion as well as teachers, judges, astrologers, healers, midwives and bards.

The religious beliefs and practices of the Celts, their love for the land, and their reverence of trees (the oak in particular) grew into what later became known as Paganism. Blended over several centuries with the beliefs and rituals of other societies, practices such as concocting potions and ointments, casting spells and performing works of magic, all of which (along with many of the nature-based beliefs held by the Celts and other groups) developed and became known as witchcraft in the Medieval Period

There are many types of witches. The witchcraft of the Picts, the early inhabitants of what is now the Scottish Highlands, goes far back and differs from all the other types of witchcraft in Europe. This is Old Scotland and its history and legends are filled with stories of magickal workings, spells and charms. There are charms performed to increase farm production, to ensure a favorable wind for fishermen. Some seamen walked around a large monolith stone seven times to encourage a good trip/catch. Other people created charms such as the woodbine wreath. They would cut down woodbine (a form of honeysuckle) in March during the waxing moon (anytime between new moon and full moon) and twist the boughs into large wreaths. They kept the wreath for a year and a day.  Young children suffering from a fever would be passed through the wreaths three times to be cured. 

Old superstitions have a strong hold on people. There are hints of the ‘old ways’ even today. Some in Scotland carry a lucky penny or ‘peighinn pisich’ that they turn over three times at the first glimpse of a full moon.

There are many cases of Witchcraft throughout Scottish history, demonstrating the zeal of the Protestants and Catholics alike, in their paranoia over possible "servants of the devil." The vast majority of Scottish Witches practiced as Solitaries (alone without a coven), only occasionally coming together for special celebrations.
Witchcraft was first made legally punishable, in Scotland, by an Act passed by the Scottish Parliament, in 1563 during the reign of Mary. Witch hunts swept through Northern Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries and were fed by a mixture of superstition, religious fever, political motivation and general suspicion. No one was safe, not the peasant not the nobleman. Storms, diseases, and misfortunes had to be blamed on something or someone—witches were an easy target.  

Types of witches
Kitchen Witch: Practices by home and hearth, mainly dealing with practical sides of the religion, magick, the elements, and the earth.

Ceremonial Witchcraft: Mainly use ceremonial magick in their practices such as Kabbalistic magick or Egyptian magick.

Satanic Witch: This doesn't exist. Why? Contrary to the witch hunts of Europe and America, witches don't believe in Satan.

Celtic Wicca: Believe in the elements, the Ancient Ones, and nature. They are usually healers. They work with plants, stones, flowers, trees, the elemental people, the gnomes, and the fairies.

Eclectic Witch: These witches don’t follow a particular religion or tradition. They study and learn from many different systems and use what works best for them.

British Traditional Witch: A mix of Celtic and Gardenarian beliefs. They train through a degree process and the covens are usually co-ed.

Alexandrian Tradition: They are said to be modified Gardenarian.

Gardenarian Tradition: Follow a structure rooted in ceremony and practice. They aren't as vocal as others and have a fairly foundational set of customs.

Dianic Tradition: A compilation of many different traditions rolled into one. Their prime focus is the Goddess. It is the more feminist side of 'The Craft'.

Pictish Witchcraft: It's originally from Scotland and is a solitary form of The Craft. It is more magickal in nature than it is in religion.

Hereditary Witch: Someone who has been taught the 'Old Religion' through the generations of their family.

Caledonii Tradition: Also known as the Hecatine Tradition, it has its roots in Scotland.

Pow-Wow: Comes from South Central Pennsylvania and is a system based on a 400 year old Elite German magick. They concentrate on simple faith healing.

Solitary Witch: Any witch who practices alone, without a coven.

Strega Witches: Originally from Italy this group is known to be the smallest group in the US. It is said their craft is wise and beautiful.

Last week my second book, The Guardian's Witch, was published. I must tell you I didn't think I could get more excited than I did when my first book, Knight of Runes, was released. Boy was I wrong! It was just as exciting. 
This story is about a reluctant witch. I suppose that's not surprising considering the story takes place in England in 1290, a time when witch hunts were happening. Our heroine does all she can to hide her 'gift' but when the man she loves is accused of treason and she is destined to be given to accuser she has to decide whether to rely on her knight to find a way to save them both or does she trust her magic and risk exposure as a witch. What type of which do you think she is?

Saturday, July 06, 2013

The Battle of Vittoria

My July 29 release, A Dream Defiant, takes place in the immediate aftermath of the Battle of Vittoria during the Peninsular War (i.e. the main British land campaign of the Napoleonic Wars, during which an Anglo-Portuguese force under Wellington's command gradually drove the French from the Iberian Peninsula.

Vittoria took place late in the war, on June 21, 1813. Prior to 1813, while Wellington's forces won practically every battle they fought, they didn't have the numbers to gain a total victory until after 1812, when Napoleon's disastrous invasion of Russia forced him to pull troops from Spain.

The town of Vitoria (note--not a typo. I'm using the modern spelling for the town and the older one used by the British at the time for the battle) is in Basque country in the northeastern part of Spain, which by itself tells you that Wellington's army had almost succeeded in driving the French back to their own borders. In fact, by this point Joseph Bonaparte, Napoleon's older brother whom he'd installed as King of Spain, had abandoned Madrid and was with the French army--with a formidable baggage train of royal riches and treasures looted from Madrid along with the usual money and gear you'd expect an army to be transporting. Its estimated value was one million pounds in 1813 money. While it's difficult to accurately convert currency values from two centuries ago, think $150,000,000 or so. In other words, a lot.

I won't go into details of the battle, though I'd be happy to point anyone who's interested to sources. Suffice it to say it turned into a rout. The French fled the field, in their haste abandoning that baggage train of treasure.

Wellington, of course, would've preferred that his soldiers pursue their defeated enemy. Instead, discipline temporarily collapsed, and they stopped to plunder--along with not a few French soldiers who wanted to claim a few treasures of their own before catching up with their units.

And so not the battle but its aftermath became the springboard of my story. My hero, Elijah Cameron, comes upon one of his men in a lethal struggle with a French soldier for a ruby necklace. Elijah drives the Frenchman away, but it's too late for his friend--who entrusts the necklace to Elijah to give to his widow, Rose Merrifield, so she can use it to return to England and have the life she's always dreamed of--buying an inn in her home village and using her cooking skill to make it a place where all the travelers on the Great North Road will want to linger over their dinners. But once rumors of the treasure get out, Rose isn't safe from men who'd use her and the necklace to their own ends. And the only one she trusts to protect her is Elijah...