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Saturday, 31 January 2015

More from Melinda de Ross - Vlad Dracul to the fore in 'Mirage Beyond Flames'

Melinda has written a book featuring heavily the legend of Vlad Dracul, or rather, Vlad Tepes, known as the Impaler, a national hero in Romania for his defence of the country against Hungary.  His habits of impaling criminals ensured his notoriety, but those who were pure in heart had, it was said, nothing to fear from him.  A story is told in which a merchant was robbed, and he took his woes to the Impaler, who recovered the man's money and secretly added more coins.  He asked the merchant to count them. 
"There is more here than I lost," said the merchant.
"Because you have told me that, you may keep it," said The Impaler.  "Had you not told me, I should have impaled you beside the robber."
A rather pointed lesson in avoiding fraud, but I suspect Romania was a very peaceful place under his reign.... Over to Melinda! 

 Gerard Leon and Linda Coriola fight for the same cause. The attractive, noble, dedicated French doctor and the beautiful, sensitive Italian sculptress both donate their time and money to Hope – a clinic for children’s cancer research and treatment.
From the moment they meet, even the air between them crackles with intense attraction. But her past makes it difficult for Gerard to understand her scars and battle with her demons.
In search of a cure for cancer and armed with an innovative treatment themselves, they leave for Transylvania, that enigmatic land hidden in the heart of the Carpathians.
There they get lost and have a bizarre  experience in the Hoia-Baciu forest, nicknamed The Romanian Bermuda Triangle due to all the inexplicable paranormal phenomena happening in its depths.
But no one believes them, because they don’t have any proof of said experience. Or do they?...
*Mirage Beyond Flames is the sister-story of Dante’s Amulet.

“You seem tired. Is there something wrong?” Linda asked, feeling her cheeks grow warm, afraid he could read her reactions to his presence.
Gerard sighed, dragging his fingers through his hair.
“I don’t know if you could put it quite like that, but we do have an unpredictable situation. Looks like I have to take some time off as soon as possible and leave for Romania.”
“Romania? Dracula’s land?” she exclaimed, shocked. “What the hell do you want to go there for?”
He laughed indulgently, indicating the mountain of papers spread on his desk.
“Well, I have a friend—actually he was a good friend of my father’s—who lives there now. He’s a doctor too. In the past years, he collaborated with another Romanian doctor and they devised a treatment made from a plant called hellebore. It seems to give good results in certain types of cancer. True, the results differ from case to case and the treatment is not effective on every patient, or in every form of the disease. Like the snake venom treatment, the best results are obtained in incipient stages, if the treatments can be applied locally. Especially in the beginnings of skin cancer.”
“And he wants you to go there to share the treatment formula with you?” she asked.
“Yes. In exchange, I prepared copies of all my notes, observations and research to share with him.”
Linda approached the desk, intrigued, and inspected the scattered papers.
“Chemical formulas, observations, reports…Here is all your work related to the serum made from snake venom?”
“Just about anything that could be put on paper.”
“And do you trust this person?”
She continued studying the notes on the desk, while he sat back in his chair, studying her.
She directed her gaze to him.
“You could make a fortune with this thing. Why give it for free to that guy?”
He gave her a long look, appearing offended by her implication.
“I’m not interested in money and fame, Linda. I became a doctor because the most important thing to me is healing, bringing comfort to my patients, not profiting from their tragedy,” he said, his expression intense and earnest. “Those who do that aren’t true descendants of Hippocrates, they’re just crooks. All my work is measured in the number of people I help, not in stacks of money.”
Something glowed warmly into her entire being. All at once, she felt her heart was lighter, ready to fly toward the nameless fulfillment that she longed for.
“You are a noble man,” she said truthfully, with a trace of admiration. “I respect that very much.”
“I’m a man like any other,” he replied, reclining in his chair. “I have flaws and qualities, nothing special compared to others. Still, I like to think I have a better sense of humor than most,” he added, smiling. “Please, sit down. I feel uncomfortable sitting while you stand. Do you want something to drink?”
“No, thanks.”
She sat in the chair facing his desk.
After a few moments of silence he asked, “Dracula’s land?”
She started laughing, and so did he. When their laughter subsided she said, “That’s all I’ve heard about Romania.”
“That’s about all the rest of the world has heard too. In fact, Jean-Paul tells me it’s a very beautiful country, with extraordinary landscapes and an admirable history. There are numerous predictions and speculations that there, in the heart of the Carpathians, is the physical projection of Shambala—the spiritual center of the Earth. You know, the more or less mythical land of the initiates who hold the balance of the world.”
“Really?” she asked, wide-eyed.
“Yes. I told you, it’s an interesting country, extremely controversial. It intrigued me ever since I listened to Jean’s stories. Speaking of history, do you know how all this Dracula story started?”
“I have no idea. You realize that an intelligent person doesn’t believe in vampires and other such nonsense. But I suppose in every legend there’s a grain of truth.”
Gerard smiled, linking his hands on his desk.
“Actually, there was once in Romania a ruler called Vlad Tepes—which means Vlad the Impaler. He was called so because he literally impaled all thieves, criminals and all those who broke the law, as well as his enemies. They say people were afraid of him to such an extent that, when he put a golden cup on the edge of a fountain, nobody dared to take it. When it was gone, they all knew he was no longer ruling.”
Linda shuddered.
“So much cruelty! I think that man was a monster!”
“Granted, those punishing methods weren’t too gentle, but we have to take into consideration that in those times, around fifteenth century, cruelty wasn’t unusual. Not only at royal courts, but worldwide. Besides, the most horribly punished were the Ottomans—a people who, from the beginnings of history, tried to subjugate the entirety of Europe and beyond, having a personal ambition to conquer Romania.”
“Hmm, what an odd thing. I didn’t know all of this, but it didn’t even occur to me to read about it,” she confessed meditatively. “So, all these atrocious torture methods have created the image of Bram Stocker’s vampire monster?”
“This, along with other bits and pieces of elements gathered from here and there, or invented. For example, Vlad’s father, called Vlad Dracul—which means The Devil—was part of the Dragon’s Order. Their symbol was a creature resembling a dragon from Oriental Mythology, with claws and fangs. This kind of distorted legends created false myths, which mystify history. In reality, Romanians consider Vlad Tepes one of their country’s best rulers and a character they can be proud of. If it weren’t for him and a few other Romanian rulers, all European states would be Turkish colonies now.”
“Talking with you is really fascinating! I always learn new things,” she remarked, impressed by all his knowledge.
He returned her smile and the fatigue shadows on his face seemed to dissipate slowly.
“I could tell you a lot more interesting things tonight, at dinner.”

And there's a link to the book HERE

Monday, 19 January 2015

The Illuminations to celebrate Napoleon’s surrender in 1814

 I have seen several bloggers and writers who have made the assumption that ‘illuminations’ referred to fireworks, but this is not actually the case.  The earliest reference to illuminations and fireworks that I could find was in 1717, in a letter from Fox, reported in the newspaper, viz:

Yesterday being the Prince’s Birth-Day, the Arch-Bishop of Canterbury, the Lord Chancellor, the Nobility and Gentry, with the Foreign Ambassadors in town, went to St James’s, to congratulate his Royal Highness; and in the Cities of Westminster and London, there was Bon-fires, Fireworks and Illuminations in an extraordinary manner in the Evening.

So what were Illuminations? As far as I can ascertain, it became custom some time probably in the late seventeenth century to celebrate nationally important events – and presumably local ones, in each town – by displaying a candle or lantern in as many windows of a house as might be afforded by the householder, showing it all lit up as a sign of approval.  As time went on, and probably in the same spirit in which one today might trace the competition in a suburban street by the increase in the level of decoration of lace curtains as one walks down the street, illuminations became in many cases more than just candles or lanterns in windows.  Houses ‘festooned’ must have had whole rows of lamps strung up outside, coloured glass doing its bit to add to the display, and by 1814 ‘transparencies’ are described, which appear to have been painted glass with wording or pictures thus painted, and lit from behind.  The Gas Company surpassed all other illuminations with their display, though it is worth noting that even gas lighting left pools of darkness, and the uncertain lighting in the shadows left by the illuminations give a sinister setting in my novel 'The Hasty Betrothal' for skulduggery to be planned. 

This is the opening of the four-column description of the illuminations of the 11th, 12th and 13th of April 1814:

And this is an excerpt from my book now probably to be titled ‘The Hasty Betrothal’, in which the heroine enjoys the illuminations.

As it happened, Edward was also taking Letty and Beth to see the illuminations; he chose to take them to Somerset House, where the decorations were quite sumptuous, and some took the part of lit inscriptions, with the Latin tag along the front,
Europa Instaurata, Auspice Britanniae;
Tyrannide subversa, Vindice Liberatis.
“I may have little Latin, but even I can puzzle that out,” said Beth.  “Europe restored, under the protection of Britain, tyranny overthrown, the vindication of liberty.”
“Near enough,” said Edward.  “Europe set up under the protection of Britain, Tyranny overthrown, the champion freed, as I make it.”
“I like the pictures better,” said Beth, pointing to another building that displayed an illuminated painted transparency caricature of Bonaparte, tumbling from the mount of Republicanism into the arms of a demon.  “Why does it say ‘To Hell-bay’?”
“No idea,” said Edward, “unless it’s a forced pun on the name of the island he is to be exiled to, Elba.”
“It’s not a good pun if so,” said Beth, disapprovingly. “But an amusing idea to have him tumble from hubris.”
They wandered the streets, exclaiming at the ingenuity of some of the illuminations, expressions of loyalty to the King and Regent, as well as praising Wellington, expressions of support to the House of Bourbon, and a myriad of coloured lamps as well as transparencies.
Edward was insistent that the ladies should repair with him to Fleet Street.
“The Knight’s Gas Company have a most ingenious display,” he told them.
Beth gasped as she saw what the gas company had managed, a tree made of laurel leaves and festooned with blossoms made with gas lights, and throwing all other illuminations into the shade with the unparalleled brightness of the burning gas.
“Magnificent!” breathed Beth.
“Thought you’d like that,” said Edward.  “One day, all London’s streets will be illumined with gas lighting, and it will be a much safer place to be.”
“Indeed, yes!” said Beth.  “Why, I am sometimes afraid at night of turning my foot betwixt door and carriage, without having to stop to consider the possibility of footpads taking advantage of the confusion as people seek their carriages outside a house where a ball has been held, for once outside the pool of the lights at the entrance, the darkness appears the more Stygian by contrast.  I cannot help wondering whether one of the reasons to continue a ball until dawn is to permit safer passage home for the guests, once the crepuscular gloom as the sun rises has given way to morning.”
“I wouldn’t say you were wrong at that,” said Edward.  “Worth braving the cold of the evening?”
“Eminently so,” said Beth…

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Guest Post: Countess Bathory – Between legend and fact

My guest post today is from the lovely Melinda De Ross, a new author.  Whilst her romance is in a contemporary setting, she has needed to get under the skin of the Renaissance character, Madame Erzebet Bathory. She has been kind enough to share that research for my blog page! 

Handing over to Melinda and a bit about her story first!  


In the legendary Transylvania, a castle belonging to Countess Erzsébet Báthory is discovered. Cameraman Hunter Cole and broadcast journalist Serena Scott arrive to make a documentary about the discovery, and the sinister Hungarian noblewoman, known as the most prolific female serial killer in history. 

The two Americans could cope with roughing it in a fifteenth-century castle, with no modern amenities. They can even cope with each other, despite their initial mutual dislike for one another, which gradually turns into a smoldering attraction. 

But when two girls are tortured and killed in Báthory copycat style, the nearby village is shaken to the core. In terror, they wonder who will be next...

the only known portrait of the notorious countess...

Ever since I’ve heard about Erzsébet Báthory, I was fascinated by this sinister character who, even in times when cruelty was far from unusual, still managed to stand out. I did a lot of research on what was fact and what was legend about The Blood Countess, and decided to weave a romance which has as a starting point The Countess and a fictional castle belonging to her. This is what I have gathered from my research.

Erzsébet Báthory (1560-1614) is a known historical figure and was a Hungarian countess, also known as Elizabeth Báthory, The Blood Countess or Countess Dracula. She has been labeled the most prolific serial killer in history, being responsible for the torture and murder of hundreds of young girls. The exact number of her victims is unknown, but is estimated at six hundred and fifty. It is speculated that she kept a diary with the names of all her victims, but if such a document exists, it has never been made public.
She was born on the 7th of August 1560 into a very powerful family of nobility in the Kingdom of Hungary. When she was very young, she learned Latin, German and Greek. When she became a teenager, she already was one of the most educated women of her time. At fifteen she married Ferenc Nádasdy, the son of a baron, in what was a political arrangement within the circles of the aristocracy. Nádasdy's wedding gift to Báthory was his home, Csejte Castle, situated in the Little Carpathians.
In 1578, Nádasdy became the chief commander of several Hungarian troops, leading them to war against the Ottomans. Since then, Erzsébet’s husband was mostly away from home, leaving the management of business affairs and the estates to his wife. That role usually included responsibility for the Hungarian and Slovak people, even providing medical care. For the duration of the Long War, Erzsébet was charged with the defense of her husband's estates, which lay on the route to Vienna. The threat was significant, for the village of Csejte had previously been plundered by the Ottomans.
Báthory and Nádasdy didn’t have any children for the first ten years of their marriage. In 1585, Erzsébet gave birth to a daughter, Anna, who died some time after 1605. After that, she had another two daughters and two sons. There were rumors that she had her first daughter when she was only thirteen and became impregnated by a servant. It is said she was sent away to have the child. Her fiancé—for Nádasdy wasn’t yet her husband— had the boy castrated, then thrown to a pack of dogs.
Between 1602 and 1604, after rumors of Báthory's atrocities had spread throughout the kingdom, Lutheran minister István Magyari made complaints against her, both publicly and at the court in Vienna. The Hungarian authorities took some time to respond to Magyari's complaints. Finally, in 1610, King Mathias II assigned György Thurzó, the Palatine of Hungary, to investigate. Thurzó ordered two notaries to collect evidence in March 1610. In 1610 and 1611, the notaries collected testimonies from more than three hundred witnesses. The trial records include the testimonies of the four defendants—Báthory and three of her servants—as well as thirteen witnesses. Priests, noblemen and commoners were questioned. Witnesses included the castellan and other personnel of Sárvár castle.
According to all testimonies, Báthory's initial victims were the adolescent daughters of local peasants, many of whom were lured to Csejte by offers of well-paid work as maidservants in the castle. Later, she is said to have begun to kill daughters of the lesser gentry, who were sent to her gynaeceum by their parents to learn courtly etiquette. Abductions were said to have occurred as well. The atrocities described most consistently included severe beatings, burning or mutilation of hands, biting the flesh off the faces, arms and other body parts, freezing or starving to death. The collaborators in court also mentioned the use of needles. Some witnesses named relatives who died while at the gynaeceum. Others reported having seen traces of torture on dead bodies, some of which were buried in graveyards, and others in unmarked locations. Two witnesses actually saw The Countess torture and kill young servant girls. According to the testimony of the defendants, Erzsébet Báthory tortured and killed her victims not only at Csejte, but also on her other properties.
If Báthory hadn’t come from such an important family, she would have most certainly been tortured and burned alive. There was no doubt about her guilt, because at the time of her arrest several dead and dying girls were found in the castle. Because of her family’s influence, there was a closed-door trial, where over three hundred witnesses testified. The exact number of her victims remains unknown, but even though the official count based upon evidence of the tortured bodies is around eighty, in a second part of the trial, a newly discovered register was entered as evidence, suggesting there could have been as many as six hundred and fifty victims. Báthory was imprisoned in Čachtice Castle. She was kept bricked in a set of rooms, with only small slits left open for ventilation and the passing through of food. She remained there for four years, until her death. On August 24th 1614, a guard looked through one of the slots and observed Erzsébet Báthory lying dead face-down on the floor. Since there were several plates of food untouched, the actual date of death is unknown. She was buried in the church of Csejte, but due to the villagers' uproar over having ‘The Tigress of Csejte’ buried in their cemetery, her body was moved to her birth home at Ecsed, where it was interred at the Báthory family crypt.

Find Melinda's book HERE

A horribly fascinating woman, thanks Melinda!  those of you who are familiar with my FanFiction writing might recall a certain Erzebet Cerny at Durmstrang, and now you know why I chose her first name, as I rarely use names without a lot of thought! 

Friday, 19 December 2014

The trades that killed in Jane Austen’s time

The immediate thought of the gentle reader regarding risky professions must necessarily turn to those hard physical tasks and of course soldiering. I do not plan to look at the risks of military service in this post, as they are quite apparent and have been addressed ably elsewhere.  Instead I plan to focus on the obvious, and less obvious risks at work.  I’ll start with jobs employing children and work up.  Most of the jobs below, bar pinners and climbing boys, were of equal risk to adults as to children.

One of the jobs open to children as young as five years old; cave-ins happened, floods that came up too fast for the steam pumps, if there were any, and of course the perennial risk of fire-damp, impure methane gas, seeping from the fossil fuels within the earth.  The greatest risk of this was in coal mines.  There were two ways of dying from fire-damp; by suffocation, or by explosion, as methane in the presence of oxygen is explosive.  Not until the invention of Humphrey Davies’ safety lamp in 1815 was the danger of explosion reduced – always supposing the mine owner invested in the same.  Other gases lurked in mines, like carbon dioxide, and sulphur dioxide, and were equally deadly, though they did not explode.  The crippling effect to young bodies of the children employed pulling trucks of coal or ore in mines possibly killed as many in a more drawn out way as died in pit disasters, as did dust on the lungs.

Weaving factories
So much has been written about the danger of loss of limb or life to the children and women crawling under the ever-moving looms to clean them, and the terrible lung diseases engendered by the ever-present cotton dust in the air that there is no need to re-iterate them in detail here.

Chimney Cleaning
Although a patent chimney cleaning machine was invented by Joseph Glass, most sweeps preferred to use geese thrown down the chimney with their legs tied, or climbing boys sent up.  These boys were indentured servants, essentially slaves, as were some of the factory workers, bound to apprenticeship by parish foundling authorities.  They were at risk of sticking in small flues and dying of thirst and hunger, dying of soot inhalation, being suffocated more suddenly by soot falls, and as it was not uncommon for sweeps to drive pins into their bare feet or light fires under them, the chance of sepsis from wounds must have figured in some deaths.  Add to this Chimney-sweep’s Canker, or cancer of the testicles, and this was one of the more miserable lives to be led.  Campaigns to prevent the use of climbing boys were under way, including the publication The Chimney Sweep’s Friend and Climbing Boys Album, edited by the radical writer and poet James Montgomery, which included stories and pictures to raise awareness. Picture taken from here shows an impoverished mother apprenticing her young son to a sweep.  It took until 1840 to ban the practice, and even them was more seen in the breach than the observance.

Crossing sweeping. 
With the amount of debris from horses, sweeping a path for grand ladies with their delicate shoes and long skirts to cross the street, even assuming they were protected by wearing pattens, was a way of earning a vail, or tip as we should call it now, that was preferred by some boys over begging or stealing.  This might be a safer occupation if the drivers on the road had been likely to be prosecuted for causing death by dangerous driving; but the instance of injury or death to the lower orders was of little moment to many gentlemen drivers, and of no moment at all to the hackney cab drivers and delivery men whose jobs depended on getting their passengers or deliveries made at the best possible time.  Running over a crossing sweeper who failed to get out of the way in time would only occasion any interest to these careless drivers if they had damaged their coach, or paintwork, or upset the horses.  Horses will not, at least, generally trample on a human body if they can avoid it, unless trained to do so; but flailing iron-shod hooves when startled might kill without the horse being a conscious participant. 

Pin Making
Pins were still made in the same way as they had been for hundreds of years, one end ground to a point, and the other either coiled or covered in a blob of solder.  This was a job for children, whose fingers were nimble, working in poorly ventilated areas and breathing in the fumes of the lead solder and flux.  As some of the fluxes used from early times contained phosphorous, this was a problem.  Lead poisoning was probably going to kill them first, however, as abdominal pain, muscle weakness, memory loss, confusion and then kidney and liver failure set in.
Grinders of both pins and needles suffered from Grinder’s asthma too…

Moving on to jobs exclusively adult.

Canal builders
Later, railway builders were subject to similar risks, but at the time, the building of canals was the way rapid transport was being taken across the country.  Though stretches of river were used, where new sections were dug, there was always the risk of sections of canal wall falling in, suffocating or crushing anyone beneath them; and when working near rivers, drowning was a real possibility for a population very few of whom could swim.  Sudden deluges were not entirely unknown either. 

Whether driving the Mailcoach, or a stage coach or a hired hack, or a private coachman, the high perch of a coachman to give him a good view also placed him at risk if anything should overturn the coach; and there was plenty that might.  Though the roads had improved out of all recognition since the introduction of the Toll Roads, there were still plenty of ruts and pot holes; and human error, in taking a corner too fast, also played its part.  The thoughtless driving of rich maniacs with their souped-up sports cars – read, high-perch phaeton and four – added to the danger, as such sporting gentlemen wanted to go faster than hire coaches or a sedate squire’s equipage, and expected other traffic to move to the side of the road for them to pass.  Naturally, the side of the road encountered the most extreme camber, and more ruts from farm carts, and increased the possibility of being overturned into the ditch.  And this without the ‘sport’ of ‘hunting the squirrel’ where feckless brats of the road tried deliberately to put slower traffic into a ditch by catching a wheel with their own, relying on their own speed to avoid any damage.  Wheel clips could happen by accident as well, leading to more or less mayhem caused to both parties.
Naturally, being thrown from a seat so high above the road, a driver risked broken bones or a broken neck.  Sitting for long hours in the cold in winter, earache, a cold in the head  and almost inevitably chilblains were his lot, any one of which might also impair his driving judgement.  There might also be floods and snowdrifts, with their attendant dangers, and lightning to contend with, a higher risk then than now.   Add to this the possibility of highwaymen, admittedly less by the Regency than in the 18th century, but still a possibility…
See also my post on the dangers of travel HERE

The phrase ‘as mad as a hatter’ originates in the particular dangers that beset those men who made men’s hats.  It is the response to prolonged exposure to mercury vapour, used in the process of felting animal furs that were used to make men’s hats [even if the popular ‘beaver’ were an inferior and less water-resistant article made of rabbit].  The shyness and neurological problems, headaches, general pain, irregular heartbeat and the shakes were not enough to kill immediately but as pathologic shyness and depression can be symptoms too, suicide and death through lack of self care cannot be ruled out as causes of death as well as mercury poisoning, and tuberculosis caused by the damp conditions in which they often had to work.

Ormolu gilders
Like hatters, ormolu gilders worked with mercury vapour and few survived past the age of 40. France was first to outlaw its use in 1830.  The original ormolu, popularised in the 18th century, was a means of binding powdered, high-carat gold in a mercury amalgam to bronze.   Silver-gilt was produced in the same way.