I love the romanticism of the late Victorian era.
Going via horse-drawn carriage to call on friends and leaving a crisp calling card if they’re not at home. Writing letters to far-flung family by candlelight. The notion of being courted – of walks through the park and carriage rides, of every glance and the slightest brush of hands being heightened, of formal dances!
Here at Corsets, Cutlasses & Candlesticks, we talk a lot about history. We’re all a little loopy for it, in case you hadn’t noticed. But would we want to live in the time we write about? The question reminds me of when I was a little kid, and you’d say something like “I love Butterfingers!” and your friend would say, “Then why don’t you marry it?” Just because you love something doesn’t mean it will make a good spouse. Or a good time to be alive. But here are just a few of the reasons I’d love to visit Henry’s court, and a few of the reasons I’m glad I live in the 21st century.
Things I wish I could experience in the Tudor era:
1. Christmas. These people knew how to celebrate–feasts, jousts, masques, dancing, and lots and lots of gifts (mostly for the King).
2. Clothes. The cut of a bodice, the drape of a sleeve, the weight of the skirts. The heaviness of velvet and brocade, the smell of freshly washed linen.
3. Food. But as you know from my Thanksgiving post, I don’t really want to try it all.
4. Life. I’d like to know truly what Hampton Court looked like and smelled like and felt like – without tourists or umbrellas or glass covering the paintings. I have an active imagination, but I know that isn’t the real thing. Just for one night, though, and I would like to know that I could escape if I needed to.
5. People. I’d like to see for myself if Henry as a young man was really as handsome as everyone said. I want to see what my characters really looked like and sounded like. I’d like to ask them what they dream and who they want to be.
Things that make me glad I don’t live in the Tudor era:
2. I like modern amenities. Hot and cold running water, flush toilets, central heating, quick and mostly comfortable travel, electric lights, gel pens. You know, the good stuff.
3. Medicine. I’m glad to live in a time when one fear of plague is not forever hanging over my head. And obstetrics. Without modern medicine, I wouldn’t be here.
4. Hygiene. Yes, people still pee in corners when they’re ridiculously drunk, but it’s generally unacceptable. Plus, baths. For me, and for the people around me.
5. Choice. This is the biggest reason why I am glad I do not live my characters’ lives. I am free to choose my spouse, to make my own decisions about what happens to my body, to be educated, to have a career. I can vote and speak out and make myself heard. I don’t have to believe what I’m told to believe. And for that–for choice–I will be eternally grateful, and I hope I never abuse or waste the privilege.
What entices you most about history? What—out of everything—would you want to experience? And what makes you glad you live in modern times?
In researching an Elizabethan Christmas, I encountered several Elizabethan traditions that still have somewhat of a place in our very modern homes… and some we no longer honor (and we are the poorer for it, in some cases!). They are listed below with updates for what I’ve seen/experienced in these oh-so-modern times…
What we still do…
1. The Holly and the Ivy
Greenery was a cheap decorating accessory — and one that was in plentiful supply! Elizabethans would crop branches and sprigs and use it to decorate their homes. Today, you’ll often find the same “effect” but with a very contemporary twist: pre-lit garlands made of plastic greenery.
2. Twelfth Night
Although we don’t practice all of the customs of Twelfth Night, we do celebrate the arrival of the Three Kings in many holiday traditions–both in song and in feasting. Twelve days after Christmas (or on the Feast of the Epiphany), a “Kings’ cake” is still shared in many households, which is baked with a small trinket (in Elizabethan times, a bean) hidden in the batter. Then the cake is cut and shared. Whoever finds the trinket is pronounced king, and is considered lucky. William Shakespeare’s play of the same name features the revelry and festivities that had become a major part of this event by Elizabethan times.
What we don’t…
1. The Lord of Misrule
Elizabethans were very fond of their entertainment, and The Lord of Misrule — a commoner put in charge of organizing the entertainment and revelry for the Twelve Days of Christmas, will DEFINITELY be finding a home in a future MAIDS OF HONOR book! Can’t wait! For those intrigued by this character, a bit more information from Wikipedia:
While mostly known as a British holiday custom, the appointment of a Lord of Misrule comes from antiquity. In ancient Rome, from the 17th to the 23rd of December, a Lord of Misrule was appointed for the feast of Saturnalia, in the guise of the good god Saturn. During this time the ordinary rules of life were subverted as masters served their slaves, and the offices of state were held by slaves. The Lord of Misrule presided over all of this, and had the power to command anyone to do anything during the holiday period. This holiday seems to be the precursor to the more modern holiday, and it carried over into the Christian era.
So, while we don’t appoint a Lord of Misrule in today’s holiday season, perhaps we should!
2. Mummer’s Plays with music and dancing
Mummer’s Plays (also known as mumming) are seasonal folk plays performed by troupes of actors known as mummers or guisers. These plays were either performed in the streets, or (more often) in public houses or private homes. The idea was folks traveling and entertaining from house to house in disguise. I can see that my Christmas-set MAIDS book will be including this as well.
We don’t perform Mummer’s Plays in the U.S. to my knowledge, but there are parallels to our traveling carolers. Caroling was also an Elizabethan custom, with folks singing on Christmas Eve and Christmas morning, for the “reward” of money, food or drink. I know we still have commercials featuring caroling neighbors, and there are Christmas pageants aplenty, but… does anyone really carol door-to-door anymore?
3. The Yule Log
Okay, the only yule logs you’re likely to see these days are made of chocolate and sugar. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that!) But the Yule Log of Elizabethan times was an extremely hard log that could last throughout the Twelve Days of Christmas. For added luck, you actually used the remains of the previous year’s Yule Log to light the fire of the current year. That’s one sturdy piece of wood!
The Elizabethans were fond of their ale, and as part of the caroling process, there would also be a traditional sharing of spiced ale. This involved the carolers offering an empty bowl, and the landowner filling the bowl with ale and singing back to the carolers–which is where the lyrics from the song originate:
- “Love and joy come to you,
And to you your wassail too;
And God bless you and send you
a Happy New Year”
We still sing the song, but don’t hand out the bowl for filling… at least, not as often!
And there you go! What are some of your treasured holiday traditions… and do you think they’ll stand the test of time?
Jennifer McGowan’s Maid of Secrets debuts May 7, 2013, from Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. She is currently at work on book 2 in the series, Maid of Deception.
You can visit her online at http://www.jennifermcgowan.com, or via Twitter at @Jenn_McGowan
The holiday season is upon us, and we Corsets, Cutlasses, and Candlesticks authors are answering the following question:
What is the number one item on your main character’s holiday wishlist?
Here are our responses…
Jessica Spotswood (Born Wicked, Star Cursed):
Cate wants Finn Belastra to fall back in love with her. Will she get it? You’ll have to wait for book 3 to find out. (mwahahaha)
J. Anderson Coats (The Wicked and the Just):
Cecily wants to go back home to Coventry, but that ain’t happening. Barring that, she’d like undergarments without any mud on them.
Gwenhwyfar would like all the English to go back home to England, but that also ain’t happening. In that case, she’d like Cecily to fall down the stairs and reeeeeally hurt herself.
Katherine Longshore (Gilt, Tarnished):
Kitty wants someone to love her for who she is, not for what she can do for them.
And Cat? Cat just wants it all.
Laura Golden (Every Day After):
Lizzie is wishing hard for one runaway father to come home for the holidays.
Jennifer McGowan (Maid of Secrets):
Meg wants her freedom from the Queen’s service, so she can return to her acting troupe. Failing that, she’ll settle for finding a murderer… provided the murderer doesn’t find her, first.
She’d ask for a kiss from Rafe but, well… it’s easier to steal that.
Sharon Biggs Waller (A Mad, Wicked Folly):
Vicky would like a a Reeves & Sons charcoal set in a pretty beechwood box, an Aspreys silver dip pen with a bottle of golden iron-gall ink, a small tin of Conté crayons in portrait colors, and a wind-up easel. A new sketchpad with an Italian leather cover would be appreciated, too. Most of all she would welcome a chance to draw her muse without fear of being caught (especially since she prefers him to pose undraped).
Cat Winters (In the Shadow of Blackbirds):
Mary Shelly Black would love to have a book that explains near-death experiences. However, the term “near-death experience” hasn’t even been coined in the early twentieth century, so if anyone could direct her to a 1918 scientist or psychical researcher who has even the smallest nugget of information about the subject, she’d be grateful.
And the response from our brand-new member, Renee Collins, author of Relic, which debuts Fall 2013:
Maggie wants to find out who burned her home. An oracle relic would put the answer in her mind, but only kings and relic barons can afford those, so she’ll settle for a goblin relic. Invisibility could really come in handy when sneaking around the Hacienda looking for clues.
We hope you receive everything on your wishlist this holiday season!
(Christmas tree image courtesy Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division.)
List compiled by Cat Winters, author of In the Shadow of Blackbirds, a World War I-era ghost tale coming April 2, 2013, from Amulet Books/ABRAMS. Visit her online at www.catwinters.com, Twitter, and Facebook.