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Author Archives: Rose Lerner

About Rose Lerner

A geek of both the history-and-English and the Star-Trek variety, Rose writes Regency romance with strong heroines and adorable heroes. Her most recent books are Listen to the Moon (book three in her Lively St. Lemeston series, about a very proper valet and a snarky maid-of-all-work who marry to get a plum job) and a novella about an architect and a gaming den hostess in Gambled Away, a gambling-themed anthology with Molly O'Keefe, Joanna Bourne, Jeannie Lin, and Isabel Cooper.

Hello Riskies! It is with great sorrow that I announce that today marks my last Risky post. It’s been wonderful being part of your community for the last two years. Stay in touch! (The best ways to do that are probably to follow me on Twitter or sign up for my newsletter.

Next week is Halloween. I’m pretty excited because the BFF and I are dressing up as our two favorite wrestlers, who are also BFFs!

When I was researching Sussex for my Lively St. Lemeston books, I discovered that traditionally, Halloween in Sussex was a pretty romantic holiday! Or at least, it was a time when young people attempted to divine their romantic future. Here are two divinatory games/rituals that were played on Halloween:

1. Put two nuts in the fire, representing you and your crush. Then say “If he loves me, pop and fly; If he hates me, lie and die.” If the nuts burst or explode, scattering pieces, that’s a good omen for the relationship.

2. Everyone hangs an apple on a string in front of the fire, and then watches to see which fall first. The order in which the apples fall supposedly tells you the order in which the players will marry; the player whose apple falls last will never marry.

What are your Halloween plans?

As part of my recent research dive into All Things Hamilton, I read a book that had been sitting on my shelf for years, that I originally intended to read as research for my Regency spy story A Lily Among Thorns and never got around to: Invisible Ink: Spycraft of the American Revolution by John Nagy.

While the book’s style is occasionally confusing and repetitive, and the book could have used both a more thorough edit AND a thorough copyedit, it’s full of great information and I thought today I’d share a few of my favorite tidbits.

1. In General Clinton’s papers is a codebook using Biblical words and places. For example, “synagogue” meant congress, “Jordan” meant the Susquehanna River, “Sodom” meant Wyoming PA and “Gomorrah” meant Pittsburgh. Not sure what the code authors had against Pennsylvania…

2. John Adams had a lot of trouble deciphering a correspondent’s coded letters and Abigail tactfully tried to help him out at a distance without deflating his ego: “With regard to the cipher of which you complain, I have always been fortunate enough to succeed with it. Take the two Letters for which the figure stands and place one under the other through the whole sentence…”

3. Molly “Mom” Rinker used to bleach flax on top of a high rock. “While performing this chore, she would sit and knit for hours on end, all the while observing British troop movements.” She then shoved her notes into the center of her ball of yarn and “accidentally” dropped it over the side of the rocks, where it would be retrieved by American scouts.

In fact, a number of spies during the Revolution were women (just as there were many black spies; spying is one of the few professions where it’s useful to be underestimated). Another great story involves (in Elias Boudinot’s words) a “little poor looking insignificant old woman” who came asking for permission to leave Philadelphia to buy flour and gave Boudinot a “dirty old needlebook” in which she had hidden a rolled-up scrap of paper accurately informing the rebels that “General Howe was coming out the next morning with 5,000 men, 13 pieces of cannon, baggage wagons, and 11 boats on wagon wheels.”

4. Eliphalet Fitch “contracted with Francisco Miranda, a Spanish official in Jamaica, to supply military stores to the Spanish under the cover of flags of truce for prisoner exchanges. The fact that Colonel John Darling, the governor of Jamaica, and Sir Peter Parker, a British admiral, were quarreling and not speaking to each other allowed Fitch to pretend that he had received permission for his flags of truce from one or the other.” A great story even apart from how whenever I read “Admiral Sir Peter Parker” I imagine Age of Sail Spider-Man.

5. Captain Noah Phelps infiltrated Fort Ticonderoga by “pretend[ing] to be a countryman who wanted a shave from the British fort’s barber”!

Do you have a favorite spy story?

Hi everyone! I’m reposting an old History Hoydens post today, about Regency ghosts. When I wrote it, I was working on a book with a ghost character. The book is now under my bed, but who knows what the future will bring? I still think this stuff is fascinating. The block quotes are from The Haunted: a Social History of Ghosts by Owen Davies.

The character I imagined was a murder victim seeking justice (or maybe vengeance…he wasn’t entirely a nice ghost), which has been a popular kind of ghost over the centuries—so popular, in fact, that murder investigations have been opened because of ghost sightings, up through the early part of the eighteenth century. In one case in 1660, a Westmoreland magistrate investigated the death of Robert Parkin because of a report that Robert’s ghost had appeared to a man in the parish church crying “I am murdered I am murdered I am murdered.”

In 1728, a Dorset coroner exhumed a body because of several sightings of the boy’s ghost. In this case the ghost didn’t even speak—its appearance was enough to indicated foul play, despite no previous suspicion about his death. Upon examining the body, the coroner decided he had really been murdered.

Murder victims sometimes haunted their killers: a servant who had killed his master and gotten clean away to Ireland was driven to turn himself in by a headless ghost who appeared to him every night demanding “Wilt thou yet confess?” Sometimes they haunted other acquaintances.

David Garrick in his iconic

David Garrick in his iconic “just caught sight of the Ghost” pose, 1769. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

One of the most upsetting incidents described in the book is this one:

The astrologer and occultist John Heydon (1629-c.1670) recounted how one of his mother’s maids was pulled out of her bed one night by the ghost of a lover named John Stringer, who had recently been murdered by a jealous admirer. Despite three doors leading to her bedroom being locked, the maid ‘had the right side of her haire and headclothes clean shaved or cut away’ by Stringer’s ghost.

That poor woman! Whether you believe in ghosts, or whether you think she imagined the ghost out of guilt and shaved her own hair, it’s an awful story. I hope the “jealous admirer” was prosecuted, and didn’t get to continue stalking and attacking her and her loved ones.

Sometimes ghosts appeared to strangers at the site of their hidden graves. This tied in with another ghost tradition, that souls who didn’t receive Christian burial would walk until their bodies were found and interred in consecrated ground. In 1806, in a town near Manchester, the townsfolk drained a deep pool after a recently missing man’s ghost repeatedly appeared over it at midnight, leading to suspicion he had been murdered. His body was actually found at the bottom, although the evidence indicated he had drowned accidentally. (Not…really sure what this “evidence” would have consisted of at the time. Since writing the original post I’ve read a lot about Elma Sands’s 1800 murder in New York, which also involved the body spending time in water, and there was more or less a complete lack of contemporary forensic knowledge displayed in the autopsy testimony by prominent doctors. So I guess what this really means is that the coroner’s jury ruled for accidental death.)

Francis Grose [in his 1787 A Provincial Glossary, with a Collection of Local Proverbs, and Popular Superstitions] wondered why the ghosts of those murdered did not go straight to the nearest justice of the peace, rather than hang about their burial place frightening passers-by. ‘Ghosts have undoubtedly forms and customs peculiar to themselves,’ he concluded. [Google books link for Grose]

Ghosts historically have not talked much, although apparently they talked more before the Victorian era!

“Brutus and the Ghost of Caesar.” Copperplate engraving by Edward Scriven from a painting by Richard Westall. London, 1802. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Completely silent ghosts became the norm to a much greater extent over the course of the nineteenth century. Generally ghosts who did speak were wrong-righting ghosts. (Although there were exceptions! In 1706 Mr. Shaw, a fellow of St John’s College, Oxford, chatted with the ghost of a dead colleague for two hours before receiving his warning of untimely death.) Murder victims were the most common. (Conflicts over inheritance were also a big one: “Mother’s ghost appeared to me and she says I get the antique dining set!”)

Ebenezer Sibly, eighteenth century writer on astrology and the occult (and huge racist), insisted that only murder victims could speak (and possibly only those who had been killed in “circumstances uncommonly horrid and execrable”), because the traumatizing memory did “more powerfully operate upon the faculties of the apparition, so as to enable it to frame the similitude of a voice, so as to discover the fact, and give some leading clue to detect and punish the wicked perpetrator.”

What’s your favorite ghost story? (Either a famous one, or one that happened to you or someone you know…)

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