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Category: Research

Posts in which we talk about research

As most of you know, I love writing pets into my books. I’ve mostly stuck to dogs, but I think my current book is going to need a cavy. I know you’ve likely all seen the Elizabethan painting of the child with the guinea pig because it really makes the rounds, but there are quite a few from the 18th and 19th century as well, proving cavies didn’t disappear. In fact, they appear to have quickly broken the class barrier and become a popular pet for the middle class as well. We know they were kept in Spain, Germany, France, the Netherlands, and England (so they were likely widespread across most of Europe).

This painting of a door-to-door salesman from 1789 depicts a man selling guinea pigs in England.

Morland, 1789, “Selling Guinea Pigs.”

And this charming miniature shows a boy with is pet guinea pig.

English School, Boy with Guinea Pig. c. 1800

Have any of you ever had a guinea pig, or do you have one now? I find their little chirps and grunts infinitely charming and entertaining.

I’ve been kind of obsessed with the history of free Africans in Europe ever since discovering the Chevalier de Saint-Georges. Imagine my delight when I found my favorite fencing master lurking in an amazing poster designed for schools (shared with permission of the artist). There’s something for author I know here. Something wonderful and inspirational. Pick any one of these people and do a little research. Their stories are so worth telling. And they give you absolute free rein to include similar characters in your own work.

Want a little more? Check out Abram Petrovich Gannibal. He was the great-grandfather of Puskin, a Russian general, and the godson of Peter the Great. So there’s a black, European nobleman for you.

Want a little more? How about Sara Forbes Bonetta, Queen Victoria’s black goddaughter.

Want something a little meatier? I also discovered that Black London by Gretchen Gerzina is FREE to download. This is the book that inspired the movie Belle (somewhat loosely inspired, but still!). It’s an absolutely perfect book to read for Black History Month.

Documentation! At long last. Every time I give a workshop about historical clothing, I get asked “what did they do when they had their periods”. And to date I’ve always had to say, I’ve never seen any documentation before the 1850s (rags and belts). But that there’s LOTS of theories out there, ranging from “they bleed onto their clothes” to “clouts” and “pessaries”. Well, today twitter has come through again. The lovely Sarah MaClean linked me to an amazing bit of research by Dr. Sara Read (I must now have all her books!!!) where Dr. Read goes into all kinds of depth about records of menstruation. I highly recommend everyone just read the whole thing themselves, cause it’s amazing, but for those who are uninclined, I’m going to hit some of the highlights of “Thy righteousness is but a menstrual clout: sanitary practices and prejudice in early modern England” here.

Dr. Read quotes from everything from Greek Mythology to the Bible to the poetry of the Earl of Rochester. She also covers Galen and my own personal favorite source, Aristotle’s Masterpiece. The best part, however, in my opinion are two smaller bits from the eighteenth century. Firstly, where physician Malcolm Flemyng is quoted as saying “some women have no symptoms to alert them to the start of a period, so that they ‘they scarce have warning enough to provide for decency.’” Which implies that women are doing SOMETHING (most other info indicates “clouts”). At least women of the middle class and upper class, because later there’s an amazing firsthand account from a trial where a working class woman makes it very clear that she’s freely bleeding onto her clothes, with the addition of an apron worn behind between her shift and petticoat to try and keep up appearances:

“In what might prove to be the only account of her menstrual practices by a woman in this period, the normality of bleeding into one’s shift is corroborated. In a notorious case in 1733, Sarah Malcolm was arrested for the murders of three women, one of whom had her neck slashed, the others having been strangled. Malcolm’s employer, John Kerrel, confronted her about the murders and testified:

‘The next Thing I took Notice of was a Bundle lying on the Ground; I asked her what it was, she said it was her Gown. And what’s in it says I. Why Linen, says she, that is not proper for Men to see; and so I did not offer to open it.’

A search of Kerrel’s house revealed that the handle of the “Close-stool” door was covered in blood, and the room itself contained some dirty linen and a silver tankard. Malcolm claimed that the tankard was her own, inherited from her mother, and that it and the door handle had blood on them because she had cut her finger “and as for the Linen, she said, it was not Blood upon it, but a Disorder.”

That this blood was menstrual was borne out by the testimony of a fellow prisoner, Roger Johnson, who claimed to have had orders to search Malcolm. He says that Malcolm asked him not to examine her: ‘she desir’d me to forbear searching under her Coats, because she was not in a Condition; and, to prove that she was menstruating, Malcolm “shew’d me her Shift, upon which I desisted.’

In an extremely important and unusual account of menstruation through a woman’s voice, Malcolm argues in her own defence: ‘Modesty might’ compel a Woman to conceal her own Secrets if Necessity did not oblige her to the contrary; and ’tis Necessity that obliges me to say, that what has been taken for the Blood of the murdered Person is nothing but the free Gift of Nature.

This was all that appeared on my Shift, and it was the same on my Apron, for I wore the Apron under me next to my Shift …. [A]nd Mr.Johnson who searched me in Newgate has sworn that he found my Linen in the like Condition.

If it is supposed that I kill’d her with my Cloaths on, my Apron indeed might be bloody, but how should the Blood come upon my Shift~ If I did it in my Shift, how should my Apron be bloody, or the back part of my Shift~ And whether I did it dress’d or undress’d, why was not the Neck and Sleeves of my Shift bloody as well as the lower Parts.’”

So there we have it. Basically everyone’s speculations are correct: clouts/rags, free-bleeding, there’s even some evidence in there for sponge tampons if you’re curious. For those of you writing US-set books, there’s also this dissertation shared with me by Emma Barry: Menstrual technology in the United States, 1854 to 1921 by Laura Klosterman Kid.

I know that one of the things we all love is peeresses in the their own right. I’ve been preparing for a workshop on the inheritance of titles in the UK, and I’ve come across a couple of cool and illustrative cases (this one is extra cool because it happens three times!). The Earl of Sutherland is a title in the Peerage of Scotland. It was created circa 1230 for William de Moravia.

The first Countess of Sutherland in her own right was Elizbeth de Moravia, the 10th Countess (younger sister of the 9th Earl). She held the title from 1470-1535. There doesn’t seem to have been any fuss about her inheriting. She married a younger son of the Earl of Huntley and their male descendants went on to hold the title until the 18th Earl died without a male heir.

Elizabeth, 19th Countess of Sutherland

You can read about the case for the 18th Earl’s daughter inheriting on Google Books in Proceedings Relating to the Peerage of Scotland, 1707-1788 (starts on p. 354). Lady Elizabeth was five when some douchebag tried to claim her title by making out that his bastard ancestor was in fact legitimate under Scottish law (he wasn’t). But her guardians were having none of it! There were also two other men who made claims but then threw their weight behind Sir Robert’s claim (anyone should have the title but the girl!).

“On 26th March, a Petition of his Grace John Duke of Atholl, Charles Earl of Elgin and Kincardine, the Honourable James Wemyss of Wemyss, Sir David Dalrymple of Hailes, Baronet, Sir Adam Fergusson of Kilkerran, Baronet, Alexander Boswell of Auchinleck, Esq; and John Makenzie of Delvin, Esq; Guardians to Elizabeth, claiming the title and dignity of Countess of Sutherland, was presented and read …”

At this point, the House of Lords threw up their collective hands and delayed until the next session, telling everyone to get their ducks in a row and prepare for the Select Committee on Privileges. When the Committee finally convened, it requested additional proofs to be printed and lodged at least fourteen days before the hearing. They further ordered that the agents of the claimants (all claimants have a solicitor acting for them) exchange with each other the case they intended to print beforehand so they could answer it.

After almost two years of back and forth, the Committee decided in favor of Lady Elizabeth, the legitimate daughter of the previous earl. So, Elizabeth, 19th Countess of Sutherland (Peerage of Scotland) grew up and married George Granville Leveson-Gower in 1785; he inherited the title of Marquess of Stafford from his father in 1803. He was made Duke of Sutherland in 1833 (Peerage of the United Kingdom).

Their son thus inherited the Earldom of Sutherland from his mother and the Dukedom of Sutherland from his father. The two titles continued united until the death of the fifth duke. The earldom then passed to his niece Elizabeth, who became the 24th Countess of Sutherland in 1921 (the heir apparent is her son).

So there you have it, the THREE suo jure Countesses of Sutherland.




Today’s post is going to be short and sweet (pun intended). I’ve been coming up blank all week about a topic to post about (nothing was grabbing me). So last night I pulled out my copy of Hannah Glasse’s The Art of Cookery, Made Plain and Easy with the intention of finding the strangest, most unfamiliar recipes I could. Instead, I immediately stumbled across apple fritters. APPLE FRITTERS!!! How on earth aren’t our characters living on these?

Apple Fritter Recipe

So now I’m looking for other familiar stuff … and what do I spot but Pain Perdu. FRENCH TOAST!!! Fricken French toast is period. Why aren’t my characters eating this constantly? Also, now I want French toast.

Sure looks like French Toast to me!

Ok, this last one I’m not at all sure about: Flour, powdered sugar, egg whites, butter, cream, and blanched almond flour. It’s not a macaroon, but it’s definitely some kind of almond cookie. Historical cooking sites show me things that seem like shortbread or a drop cookie. They appear to have been around since the Middle Ages, and I’ve never heard of them! So these are now on my list of things to make and taste.

What is a Jumballs?

Any familiar foods you’ve been shocked to discover were period for the characters you were writing or reading about?

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