Sunday, January 27, 2008

Putting the History into the Historical #1

In the course of the recent discussion on what does or doesn't constitute plagiarism when writing fiction, and how, why and when authors should document their sources, it became obvious there is a lot of confusion about the kind of research that goes into a historical romance and how this research is incorporated into the individual story. I thought it might be a good idea to clear up some of this confusion, and for this reason I started a series of talks about research on my podcast. The first episode of "Putting the History into the Historical" is now online and deals with historical London as a setting in fiction. I list all the general works on London I own (this includes a happy, squealing dive into my new 19th-century guide book), as well as more specific works on the Holland House circle and Albany, which I used for THE LILY BRAND and BETRAYAL respectively.

Here are a few of the online sources I mention in the podcast:

Greenwood's Map of London (1827)

Images of 19th-century London

More info about Albany with many pictures (that's where I found the picture of the Rope Walk above).

And finally, here's a picture of Holland House from Princess Marie Liechtenstein's HOLLAND HOUSE:


  1. Sandra, I have no idea what a podcast is. I don't even have a pod. Is this because I'm the only real human left, and you are all Pod People from INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS?

    Anyway, what I wanted to ask is: Do you know a good source for info about Coke of Norfolk's "shearings" at Holkham?

    I subscribe to the online Regency Library and various online/Regency info sites.

    Candace Hern's website has lots of useful stuff, as does Tara Maginnes's THE COSTUMER'S MANIFESTO site:

    Francis Grose's 1811 DICTIONARY OF THE VULGAR TONGUE and Eric Partridge's DICTIONARY OF SLANG AND UNCONVENTIONAL ENGLISH for slang and, er, unconventional English.

    Dover Publications has a series of Empire and Regency paper dolls and coloring books that are well researched and accurate. There's even a set of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE paper dolls. Lady Catherine de Bourgh in her unmentionables. Woot!

    They also have an illustrated 1807 children's book on crafts and trades.

    Henry Blyth has some well researched books on Regency and Victorian sports and gambling and rakes, including biographies of the Duke of Queensberry, William Crockford, founder of the gambling club that bears his name, and Lady Caroline Lamb. Useful side information about when various parts of London became, or ceased to be, fashionable, and what life was like at Eton during the Regency (poor, nasty, and extremely brutish).

  2. Podcasts are like audio broadcasts on the radio, except that they're accessible via the internet. I'm not sure if some podcasts include pictures too.

    There's a little bit about Coke's shearings in chapter 10 of Ernle, Lord. English Farming Past and Present. It's from Soil and Heath's online library. I don't know anything about the reliability of this source.

    Francis Grose's 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue is available online from Project Gutenberg.

  3. Another interesting resource is The Proceedings of the Old Bailey, London 1674 to 1834. As described by the British Academy Portal, "The Old Bailey Proceedings Online Project provides the text of cases heard at the Old Bailey between 1674 and 1834, including background information on the social and historical context." That background infromation includes short articles, such as this one, on policing in London before the Bobbies.

    The National Library of Scotland's digital library includes a variety of resources, including "thousands of zoomable maps of Scotland for the period 1560-1928," "early news stories and ballads that informed and entertained Scots between 1650 and 1910 [... in] around 1,800 broadsides" and "44 volumes of rare official documents recording disease prevention and public health in India in the 19th and 20th centuries."

  4. I don't even have a pod. Is this because I'm the only real human left, and you are all Pod People from INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS?

    Oh duh, now the secret is out, and it's all my fault! They will never let me back onto Mars! *sniff*

    Laura has already explained what a podcast is, and yes, by now there are also video podcasts. (Not quite sure whether they're still called podcasts, though.)

    As to Coke of Norfolk's shearings -- I have to admit I've never heard of them or of the good Coke before, so off I went to Wikipedia to learn something new. Afterwards I did a search on Google Books, but found only two sources which mention the shearings, and one of them is snippet view only. The other is the British Farmer's Magazine of 1851. I hope this helps!

  5. It's interesting/odd that no one has apparently heard of Coke of Norfolk. When Catherine Drinker Bowen, the noted biographer, went to England to research The Lion and the Throne: The Life and Times of Sir Edward Coke, she found that most librarians and archivists took it for granted that she meant Coke of Norfolk and had neaver heard of the Lord Chief Justice. Of course, that was half a century ago.

    Coke and his shearings are often mentioned in Regencies in which one of the characters is interested in agricultural reform (usually in the context of restoring a ruined estate to prosperity). I think if I ever write a Regency, either Coke or Robert Owen will come in somewhere.

  6. Sandra--never mind. I just remembered that I am a Mole, and not a real person at all. Kiss and make up?

  7. Coke and his shearings are often mentioned in Regencies in which one of the characters is interested in agricultural reform

    Really? I can't remember that I've ever come across him or his shearings. Hey, perhaps I should include them in my next British History course (aka From the Ice Age to 1971 in Nine Weeks)! :)

    Uhm, what's in the picture?

  8. It's interesting/odd that no one has apparently heard of Coke of Norfolk. [...] Coke and his shearings are often mentioned in Regencies in which one of the characters is interested in agricultural reform (usually in the context of restoring a ruined estate to prosperity).

    [Laura jumps up and down in her seat, waving her hand wildly in the air] I knew! I knew!

    [Laura sits down again and decides she must refrain from behaving like a 5-year-old] I think the first time I learned about Coke of Norfolk was due to another of Louise Allen's novels, One Night With a Rake (and yes, there was a lot about agriculture, but the rake wasn't a horticultural implement). Some important scenes are set at Holkham:

    'What is Coke's Clippings?'
    [...] 'It is the name given to the gatherings that Mr Coke holds every year at Holkham during the shearing. You know he inherited the estate from a relative when he was a young man? No? Well, he knew nothing about agriculture, but he saw that so much needed to be done if only he knew how to go about it. So he began asking knowledgeable men to visit him at the shearings, and gradually it grew and grew into one of the great events in the countryside. [...] People come from all over the world - America, Russia even. He holds open house for many guests and feeds all who come. [...] It is a social event as well, with country people, yeomen, tradesmen as well as the aristocrats and landowners all meeting and excchanging ideas [...].'

    There's a bit more about Coke and his clippings here and here and, if you scroll down a bit, here.

    Allen, Louise. One Night With a Rake. Richmond, Surrey: Harlequin Mills & Boon, 2003.

  9. Well, I knew about Coke - except that I have always heard him called 'Coke of Holkham'. Holkham Hall is an important house, if one is interested in architectual history. Back in my day, the Agrarian Revolution was one topic that was taught as part of the A Level history syllabus.

    But I suppose what Tal is saying is that Americans haven't heard of him, but we Brits have.

  10. I suppose what Tal is saying is that Americans haven't heard of him, but we Brits have

    Sandra's German, though, so she doesn't fit into either category.

  11. I'm a misfit.

    But I know all about the slug-onna-twig that makes your warts disappear. Does that redeem me? *hopeful puppy look*

  12. Oh, right. Well, I confess that I don't know all that much about agricultural practices in 18thC Continental Europe, so perhaps I should shut up.
    But in general, the advances in agriculture were such an important practical aspect of the whole Enlightenment mind-set that I think anyone writing about that period should look into them. Everything from the principle of crop-rotation to the controlled breeding of livestock, giving rise to so many of the types and breeds that are still familiar to us today.

  13. I can't remember any Regency that actually had a scene set at Holkham; but attendance has been mentioned in several. I think some of Marion Chesney's books have heroes studying agricultural reform.

    BTW, I finally found out what the big deal was about the Corn Laws. The reason the working class had to pay so much for bread was the housing provided for them didn't have ovens.

    My idea for a novel set at a shearing would include all the ladies getting together and telling the gentlemen what's what in terms of housing for laborers and other domestic matters--like telling them to either provide Dutch ovens or build in wall ovens!

    I thought it would be a good setting for a romance. I visualize a hero falling in love with the heroine as he watches his Shire colt slobber all over her riding habit as she holds him while he's being shod....

    It would be a great setting for a story in which a rake falls in love with a ho.

    Sandra, that picture is clearly of me in my star-nosed mole incarnation: a close-up of my snout as I breathe under water.


  14. Sandra, the wart thing doesn't do it for me, as I always use the hex method. To redeem yourself, you have to explain the pickle on the Christmas tree.

  15. you have to explain the pickle on the Christmas tree

    Ha! That pickle again (Mom or Dad hides a pickle in the Christmas tree and whoever finds said pickle on Christmas Day gets a special present)! The Weihnachtsgurke is definitely not a German custom whatever else rumours might indicate on the other side of the world. Back in my days as a folklore student, I wrote a paper on the history of the Christmas tree and read all the major studies on the subject, but I've never ever come across any mentioning of the pickle custom. Apples, Springerle, other kinds of cookies, stars made of straw, flitter gold, glass ornaments, wooden ornaments, tin ornaments -- yes. But no pickle. Sorry about that.

    The slug-onna-thorn, btw, is a traditional English charm to get rid of warts: ten years ago I saw a display in the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford (on this page you can find a picture of said exhibit). That's how I learnt the word "slug".

  16. More about the pickle ornament than you ever wanted to know:

    I dug and dug and while there are a zillion stories out there it seems that the one I'm about to share with you is the most likely the real thing.

    It seems that the tradition is an American one, though of German descent. A man who was born in Bavaria in 1842 came with his family to the United States. Here he fought in the American Civil War (1861-1865). He was captured and sent to prison in Andersonville, Georgia. The name I got for this unfortunate soul is Johannes Lower. In poor health and starving, he begged a guard for a pickle he had. The guard took pity on him and gave him the pickle.

    According to lore, the pickle -- by the grace of God -- gave Johannes the mental and physical strength to live on. Once he was reunited with his family he began a tradition of hiding a pickle on the Christmas tree. The first person who found the pickle on Christmas morning would be blessed with a year of good fortune.

    A Web search in German and English turned up only the fact that the pickle ornaments are indeed sold in parts of Germany, ranging from Höxter in North Rhine-Westphalia to Kissing in Bavaria. All of the German articles on the topic debunk the legend (some even refer to the myth article you are reading right now, first written and published in 2003). My efforts to get confirmation of the actual pickle custom from someone in Höxter have so far been fruitless. (Have the people there really kept this custom a secret for all these years?) We still lack any proof that this is truly a German custom, or that the custom is not a fairly recent invention. Has the popularity of the supposedly German legend in America brought it to Germany, or was it really the other way around? It's still a mystery.

    Apparently there is a tradition going back to at least the 1500s of blown-glass ornaments in the shape of fruits and vegetables. And there is another legend, though it may have been made up by the author:

    The Christmas Pickle

    Dedicated to all those who have
    wondered, "Why is there a pickle on our Christmas tree?"

    In this charming tale, you'll join Petra on a royal quest through the beautiful Prussian Kingdom of Vlasika. It's a heartwarming
    journey filled with compassion,
    determination, and courage - a compelling story for all ages.

    Written by Judy Lee Aguiar -- Published by
    Turnapaige & Reed Moore
    5-3/4 x 8-1/2 inches, 145 pages,
    Hardcover, illustrated. ISBN 0-9725231-0-3

    As a Mole, I have a better use for the slug than curing warts--namely, lunch--but just stay away from those rheumatism cures that call for cutting the paws from a living mole--OR ELSE!

    And now that you know the pic is of my snout, we still have to kiss and make up.

    Pucker up!

  17. Laura, a really good book about policing before Sir Robert Peel invented the bobby (or peeler, if you're Irish) is The Maul and the Pear Tree by P.D. James and T.A. Critchley, about the Ratcliffe Highway murders in 1811. They make a convincing case that the man considered the murderer (who supposedly committed suicide in prison before he could be tried) was not only innocent but a murder victim himself.

    The Thurtell-Hunt Murder Case: Dark Mirror to Regency England by Albert Borowitz is a good depiction of criminal investigation (such as it was) outside the capital. The case was a sensation in its day (Thackeray called it "a godsend to journalists")

  18. Last comment was posted prematurely because AOL froze on me. I meant to add that the case was the model for the murder in Dickens's Martin Chuzzlewit.

  19. Talpianna, after I've fished poor moley you out of the water (what are you doing in the water? You're not a fish!), I'll be happy to kiss and make up. *mmmwah*

    Apparently there is a tradition going back to at least the 1500s of blown-glass ornaments in the shape of fruits and vegetables.

    Hmm. Lauscha is traditionally regarded as the place where glass ornaments for Christmastrees have been invented: while the glassworks in Lauscha are first mentioned in 1597, they didn't start creating Christmastree ornaments until the mid-19th century, according to my sources. By that time, ornaments made of Tragant, a kind of resin, had also become popular.

    Up to the 19th century, Christmastree ornaments consisted of paper ornaments, apples, pears, nuts, gingerbread, cookies, and flittergold. From at least the early 18th century onward, the aristocracy decorated the Christmastrees for their children with candles (apparently, each child got his or her own small tree, not necessarily a fir tree, btw). From 1790 onward, candles became popular ornaments among the middle classes as well -- in E.T.A. Hoffmann's "Nu�knacker und Mausek�nig" ("Nutcracker and Miceking") the narrator describes such a tree: "The big fir tree in the middle carried many golden and silver apples, and like buds and blossoms, sugar almonds and colourful candies and all kinds of other beautiful sweets bloomed on all branches. What surely must be praised as the most beautiful thing about this wondertree was that in its dark branches a hundred small lights twinkled like stars. And tree itself, gleaming inside out, invited the children in a friendly manner to pick its blossoms and fruits." (My own, hence awkward translation)

  20. "Flittergold"? Would that be "tinsel"? Although here, tinsel is usually silver.

    I think the production of the glass fruit and veggie ornaments preceded their specifically Christmas use.

    The Nutcracker ballet is a Christmas tradition here--almost as much as Dickens's A Christmas Carol. It's when all the child ballet students (not to be confused with the Child Ballads) get their chance to shine. And the opening scene, with that wonderful tree, is always the most spectacular moment in the performance.

    From a site called "The Mole Tunnel":

    Known primarily by its strange and conspicous 22-tentacled nose, the star-nosed mole is North America's only semi-aquatic mole. No snout in the animal kingdom, not even the elephant's trunk is as mobile, complex or touch sensitive.
    The northmost distributed North American mole, these animals are accomplished swimmers. In fact, Condylura may be seen burrowing through snow and even diving under the ice (and presumably foraging) during winter.


  21. I think the production of the glass fruit and veggie ornaments preceded their specifically Christmas use.

    They did. Sorry, I thought you were referring to Christmasy uses.

    *putting the cute mole back into the water* Sorry again. I've never met an aquatic mole before. *pats mole on the head* We have to kiss and make up again!

  22. *Hmph! She could at least have given me the slug to eat!*

    And you should meet my cousin Arthur, the Pyrenean desman: aquatic and even uglier than I am!