Gout, Gangrene, and other Gross (and Royal!) Ways to Die

Throughout history, it might have been good to be King, but that didn’t necessarily spare you from suffering the maladies of the day. As part of my research in historical fiction, I’ve encountered illnesses in my principal historical figures which were messy, malodorous, and often impossible to work around. But if these illnesses made my life difficult as a historical fiction KHVIIIauthor, imagine how challenging they made life for the monarch in question—or, much more so, for their servants and retainers.

Below I share just a few of these crown culprits:


Known for centuries (somewhat incorrectly) as the “disease of kings”, gout is a particularly painful type of arthritis caused by a buildup of uric acid crystals in the joints. This buildup results in inflammation, usually in the feet (though it can also appear in elbows, fingers, etc.), and can be mind-bogglingly painful. Flare-ups can last for several days, during which time the slightest touch of a bedsheet against your big toe can make you want to chop off someone’s head. Considering that King Henry VIII, one of history’s most famous figures, suffered this disease, which can be caused/made worse by the consumption of alcohol, shellfish and organ meats, no wonder beheading was his execution style of choice.

Other famous figures who suffered from gout: Charles V, Queen Anne of England, Louis XIV of France, Leonardo Da Vinci, Benjamin Franklin, and Sir Isaac Newton.


victoriaHemophilia is a blood disorder characterized by the inability to properly form blood clots. As a result, any small cut or internal hemorrhaging after even a minor bruise can be fatal. The disorder became known as the royal disease after several of Queen Victoria’s descendants were diagnosed with hemophilia. One of Queen Victoria’s sons, Leopold, died from a cerebral hemorrhage after a fall; and, while the Queen’s daughters, Anne and Beatrice, did not show evidence of the blood disorder themselves, they carried the disease into many of the royal families of Europe.

Through Queen Victoria’s descendents, other royal victims of this disease included: Alexei Nikolaevich-Tsarevich of Russia, Prince Friedrich of Hesse and by Rhine, Prince Waldemar of Prussia, Lord Leopold Mountbatten, Prince Heinrich of Prussia, and Prince Alfonso of Spain.


When blood can’t flow freely throughout the body, your cells don’t receive the oxygen and nutrients they need to survive. As a result, those cells and the body tissue they make up can die. This process of healthy live tissue sickening and dying is known as gangrene, and it’s a condition that was a real problem for even the royal classes.bourbon-2 Usually the result of an injury that becomes infected, gangrene can also accompany other damaging conditions just to make them even more uncomfortable. King Louis XVIII of France, for example, suffered not only from gout (there it is again!) and obesity, but also both wet and dry gangrene. That’s right. Gangrene is so nasty that it has sub-categories of misery.

Other famous monarchs who suffered from gangrene include: King Herod, King Tut, and Louis XIV. Considering that the infection turns healthy tissue into a “liquid viscous mass”, it’s not a good way to go.

These are just a few lowlights of the illnesses that beset the royal houses. Other all-too-common ailments included: hemorrhoids, stomach infections, severe tooth decay, syphilis, kidney disease, liver disease, malaria, leprosy (though this is somewhat disputed) or other skin maladies like severe eczema, depression, and mental illness. And that’s not even including the physical trials faced by children born into royal families whose passion for pure bloodlines resulted in inbreeding. (Note: it’s not just the Europeans who dealt with inbreeding. According to recent scientific testing, King Tut’s parents were likely brother and sister, resulting in the young king suffering clubfoot and other genetic disorders.)

So it would seem that all the riches and power in the world couldn’t guarantee a monarch a healthy body and spirit. For that, they needed to pray they didn’t inherit something unsavory from their parents, exercise regularly, try not to get injured in battle… and lay off the lampreys (yes, Henry I of England apparently died of eating too many of these jawless, sucker-mouthed fish. Gross.)






The Book Most Likely…

With the recent development of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series as a cable show on the Starz network, the subject of influential time travel and historical books has intrigued me, taking me back to the stories that helped shape my own love for historical fiction.

The two titles that instantly come to mind were written for “adult” readers, but back in the (cough) years of my youth, we didn’t have the wealth of YA-targeted historical fiction that we have today. Still, I discovered both of these books in my late teens and early twenties, and they had a profound effect on me as I began writing my first tale of historical romance (which I never submitted for publication, and trust me, that’s a good thing.)

Green Darknessgreendark
Anya Seton

While I have long been a fan of Elizabethan England, and am the proud owner of stacks of research books on the subject, I can point to a single book that spawned my fascination with Elizabethan fiction—and it’s an old one! Anya Seton’s Green Darkness.

Who would have thought a chance book found in my mother’s overflowing bookshelves would end up meaning so much to me? But this story of time travel(!) and mysticism(!) in Elizabethan England(!) was the perfect combination of romance and adventure, and completely immersed me into another time and place.


A Knight In Shining ArmorA-Knight-in-Shining-Armor
Jude Devereaux

Another story that I can hold up as extremely influential in my love of romance, history and time travel is the Jude Devereaux classic, A Knight in Shining Armor. Once again, the combination of time travel(!), Elizabethan England(!) and a completely swoon-worthy romance(!) absolutely transported me, and I found myself creating stories of my own . . . stories which eventually led me to become a published author.

Admittedly, I have yet to pen a time-travel book, but every time I find myself back in the world of the Maids of Honor, I feel like pieces of every romance and historical fiction book I’ve ever read weave their way into the narrative. There’s grand romance, mysticism, spies, political intrigue, over-the-top celebrations and feasts, combat, code-breaking, and royal plots aplenty. All the things I love as a reader.

Not every book is going to hit all readers the same way—what can send one reader swooning can leave another reader cold—so your mileage may vary on the books listed above. But think about what books made a difference to YOU—whether as a reader or a writer. Can you imagine your life without them?

Beating the Heat in Elizabethan England

English merchant (left), noble, and a lady-in-waiting for Elizabeth IThe title is a bit of a misdirection, but it seemed indelicate to call too much attention to a post about how much Elizabethans, well, stunk. But there’s nothing like a steamy summer in Ohio to turn my mind to how our heavily-dressed Tudor counterparts must have suffered through the long and occasionally hot and humid summers of the mid 16th century!

First, I have to clear the air, as it were: Elizabethans were not an unhygienic people. A wonderful book by Alison Sims, “The Tudor Housewife” sets this record straight. Given the limited technology of the period, Elizabethans did the best they could—washing their faces and hands, particularly before and after meals, and bathing as often as it was expedient to do so. Given that a proper bath (which involved dunking oneself in water) required a large wooden tub lined with linens, and water heated from the fire, this did not happen very frequently.

For many peasants, bathing was only possible a few times a year. In fact, one of the reasons why June was considered an excellent time for marriages, is that it happened to coincide with the time where many villagers regardless of station had recently bathed. In between baths, Elizabethans took care to keep their shifts (the long smock worn next to the body) as clean as possible, changing it as often as their circumstances allowed. To the shock of no one, living in the countryside allowed for cleaner living standards than in the heart of the city, but this was less due to an individual’s bathing preferences and more to do with the overwhelming problem of sewage. Without running water, Elizabethans had very little recourse other than to dump bodily and household refuse into the streets. Add to that the heat and humidity of a long summer, and thousands of people crammed together in poor housing conditions, and you can see how living in Elizabethan London might not be terribly enjoyable for the average man or woman.

However, the nobility and royal houses took bathing very seriously. They had endured several generations of dealing with the Plague, and had come to realize that squalid, dirty conditions seemed to contribute to the spread of sickness and disease. In addition to such luxuries as the permanent, plumbed-in bathrooms of Henry VIII at Hampton Court and Whitehall, fine ladies could expect to have at their disposal scented toilet soap and washing water, which included sage, marjoram, chamomile, rosemary and orange peel as potential ingredients. Elizabethans also were interested, at least to some extent, in dental hygiene. While toothpaste was still centuries away from being created, the proper Elizabethan used tools like herbal rubs of rosemary and sage, mouthwash made of vinegar, wine and alum, and minty sweets to clean teeth and freshen breath.

On the subject of scents, there is divided information. Elizabeth was a tremendous fan of pomanders and perfumes, and the assumption has always been that this is because such scents were needed to mask body odors. Sims disagrees, suggesting that perfumes were simply another luxury of the rich. I would counter that, based on my research.  Given the vast array of recipes that existed for various perfumes and scented washing waters, as well as the number and layers of clothes that Elizabethans wore—often without frequent washing of the material—AND the very real problem of a lack of sanitation (and all of its attendant smells), I believe that scents performed a very vital function in addition to their luxury. They helped everyone get through the day with a bit more cheer! In fact, the use of nosegays was quite popular during this time. Nosegays were small items that users held up to their noses while walking through a crowd—such as a tiny bouquet of flowers, a sachet containing dried flowers or herbs, an orange studded with cloves, a sprig of herbs, or the like.

Then again. . . some Elizabethan practices regarding scents were just unfortunate. In one entry, I read where it was common practice for an Elizabethan maiden to peel an apple, place a slice in her armpit to absorb the smell and then present it to a potential suitor as a memento. Which . . . seems unappealing, as it were—at least to my modern sensibilities!

Nevertheless, the next time you hit the showers, apply deodorant, or throw your clothes into the washing machine (or, heck, flush a toilet!), send up a cheer for all of the ways we have today to keep fresh and clean! Elizabethans had a far more difficult time beating the heat.



Interview for Katherine Longshore to celebrate Manor of Secrets!

Manor_of_SecretsToday we’re thrilled to be celebrating the release of Katherine Longshore’s newest novel, Manor of Secrets, a novel containing all the sweep and grandeur of Edwardian England.


The year is 1911. And at The Manor, nothing is as it seems . . .

Lady Charlotte Edmonds: Beautiful, wealthy, and sheltered, Charlotte feels suffocated by the strictures of upper-crust society. She longs to see the world beyond The Manor, to seek out high adventure. And most of all, romance.

Janie Seward: Fiery, hardworking, and clever, Janie knows she can be more than just a kitchen maid. But she isn’t sure she possesses the courage — or the means — to break free and follow her passions.

Both Charlotte and Janie are ready for change. As their paths overlap in the gilded hallways and dark corridors of The Manor, rules are broken and secrets are revealed. Secrets that will alter the course of their lives. . . forever.

**Swoon.** And now for the questions!

From: Elizabeth May

While researching for Manor of Secrets, were there any interesting factoids you encountered about the era that you wished you could have included in the book, but weren’t able to?

There are so many, Elizabeth!  Some of the most interesting information I came across was about people actually living at the time.  Rupert Brooke diving naked into an icy pond at midnight.  Lady Diana Manners, with her “corrupt coterie”, playing parlor games that could never in a million years be called PC (one was called “Breaking the News”, where she and her friends acted out a scene in which a mother is told of the death of a child).  Though I do manage to get in an oblique reference to Siegfried Sassoon who spent part of the summer of 1911 playing cricket very near to the fictional Manor.


From: Jessica Spotswood

MANOR OF SECRETS has an upstairs/downstairs element as it follows both Lady Charlotte and kitchen maid Janie. Did you find one setting more fun to explore than the other?

As much as I love the upstairs opulence, I think I enjoyed exploring downstairs more.  As a visitor to some of these historic houses, most of what we see is the upstairs.  People want to live—even for a moment, and just in their imaginations—the life of the lord of the manor.  The upstairs is where the valuables are—the carpets and art and furniture.  It’s beautiful and awe-inspiring.  It’s where the history happened—that is, the history that was written down.  But I’ve always been curious about what happens behind the scenes.  What props up that beautiful façade?  What makes it possible?  And if we’re honest, most of us would have lived downstairs.  We would have worked ten hours a day, six days a week (with a half-day off on Sunday to go to church) in conditions that today would be considered intolerable for wages that were laughable.  Perhaps the upstairs was where the history was written, but I can’t help but feel that downstairs was where the living happened.


From: J. Anderson Coats

Without being too spoilery, what was your favorite scene to write in MANOR OF SECRETS?

There’s a scene early on where Charlotte—the upstairs girl—ventures downstairs and ends up in the kitchen while Janie is preparing hot chilies for an Indian curry.  Charlotte immediately feels out of her depth because she doesn’t know how the kitchen operates, she has no idea what the chili is, and there are boys.  The real tension comes when one of the boys challenges the rest to try the chili—it’s a dare, and a test of Charlotte’s ability to fit in.  It was inspired in part by events and people in my own life—my dad, who could eat a whole jalapeno without blinking, and my husband, who loves Tabasco sauce, but gets the hiccups when he uses too much.


From: Cat Winters

Although MANOR OF SECRETS is your first Edwardian novel, it is your third published novel, which is quite an accomplishment! Congratulations! How do you plan to celebrate the release of this particular book?

Thank you, Cat!  I’m celebrating this book just a little bit differently.  I love to have treats and readings at my local indie, but for this book, I also came in a costume, custom built by my friend Kristen Held.  As I said above, I would probably have been a servant in 1911, but my fashion preference runs distinctly haute couture.  I love the beautiful lines of Edwardian gowns, and the gorgeous tailoring of them.  Part of my research led me to look into the costumes designed for Downton Abbey, and I simply gushed over the vintage beaded bodices and gauzy chiffons.  I couldn’t quite aspire to the recreations Lady Mary wears, but I enjoyed swathing myself in silk and satin and playing lady of the manor for a day.


From: Jenn McGowan

In your writing career so far, you have traveled from Tudor England to Edwardian England. What has been the biggest challenge or difference in writing the new time period?

For me, the biggest challenge was changing the way I write a story.  My Tudor books are all about people who actually existed, living through events that actually happened.  It’s a huge challenge to integrate a story within this framework, but at least it was something I’m used to.  In MANOR OF SECRETS I had much more freedom—I could invent and delete characters at will, make them fall in and out of love and alter their histories as it suited me.  I love that kind of freedom (sometimes, I rant and rave at history because I wish I could change it and can’t), but it was a challenge to settle on a particular story, when there were so many I could possibly write.


From Susan Hill Long:

Katy, can you tell us what inspired your character, Lady Charlotte? Are there ways in which you connect with her?  

Charlotte is a daydreamer, just like I am.  I pushed that even further to make her more of a Walter Mitty-type character—someone who projects herself into adventurous situations in her imagination, sometimes forgetting that the real world exists.  And I can’t think about Edwardian England without thinking of E.M. Forster’s A Room With a View, so perhaps there is a bit of Lucy Honeychurch in Charlotte, too.


From: Sharon Biggs Waller

I adore your cover.  Can you tell us the story behind it and a little bit about that dress! Also I heard you made the dress for yourself.  How did that go?

I honestly thought I was going to be able to make a dress, but in the end had to call upon my friend Kristen, a former costume designer, and a person who really knows her way around a French seam.  The dress is gorgeous and really added a sense of festivity to the launch party.

The cover is entirely the creation of Scholastic, and I absolutely love it.  I’ll be writing a “Behind the Scenes” post about it during the week of February 17—and divulging all manner of secrets.


From: Laura Golden

Katy, this is your fourth novel, right? Are there any tips you can offer for balancing writing time with social time?

I find I need to set aside time specifically to spend with friends and family.  When I write, I get incredibly focused, and I can stay that way even as I’m driving my kids’ carpool.   I have to make an effort to take a complete break and be absolutely present in the moment, but it’s always worth it.

As far as social media is concerned, I sometimes I have to unplug my Internet entirely, because I am such an eavesdropper on Twitter and use it as a distraction.  So I have to set aside time specifically to spend writing, too.

I wrote MANOR OF SECRETS and BRAZEN (my third Tudor book) at the same time, so I know that having super-tight, sometimes conflicting deadlines can be incredibly stressful.  But I also know that taking a little time off to take a twenty minute power walk or have dinner with family or coffee with a friend can be just the refreshment my tired brain needs.  What I’ve learned from writing four books is that I can take that time and still meet my deadlines and write a good book.  For me, that’s what finding the balance is all about.

A Celebration of Jessica Spotswood’s Brand-New Release, STAR CURSED!

I’m BEYOND thrilled to interview Jessica Spotswood today for her hotly-anticipated sequel, STAR CURSED, which debuts tomorrow, June 18. STAR CURSED is second in The Cahill Witch Chronicles following Jessica’s amazing debut BORN WICKED. We have several questions from our crack CCC team for Jess to answer, but first, a quick synopsis:

Putnam Juvenile, June 18, 2013

Putnam Juvenile, June 18, 2013

With the Brotherhood persecuting witches like never before, a divided Sisterhood desperately needs Cate to come into her Prophesied powers. And after Cate’s friend Sachi is arrested for using magic, a war-thirsty Sister offers to help her find answers—if Cate is willing to endanger everyone she loves.

Cate doesn’t want to be a weapon, and she doesn’t want to involve her friends and Finn in the Sisterhood’s schemes. But when Maura and Tess join the Sisterhood, Maura makes it clear that she’ll do whatever it takes to lead the witches to victory. Even if it means sacrifices. Even if it means overthrowing Cate. Even if it means all-out war.

In the highly anticipated sequel to BORN WICKED, the Cahill Witch Chronicles continue Cate, Maura and Tess’s quest to find love, protect family, and explore their magic against all odds in an alternate history of New England.

STAR CURSED releases on June 18. You can read the first chapter here.

Find Jess online: blog | Twitter | Facebook | Cahill Witch Inspiration pinboard

And now, onto the questions!

From Katy: Jessica, if you lived in the world of STAR CURSED, what is one thing you would have done differently from Cate?  And what is one thing you especially admire her for?

Oh yikes. I’m not nearly as self-sacrificing as Cate. How to say this without major spoilers? I admire her for the decision she makes at the end of BORN WICKED to protect the people she loves, but I don’t think I would have made the same choice. Also, there’s a scene early on in SC where a woman is pushed into a bonfire. Cate wants to help but realizes in the nick of time that any magic she does would ultimately be blamed on the hapless woman. I suspect I would have acted first to “save” the woman and ended up getting her in worse trouble.

From Laura: STAR CURSED is the sequel to BORN WICKED. I’ve heard that sequels can be quite challenging to write due to continuity concerns and continuing plot threads. What were the biggest challenges you faced while writing this book?

I won’t lie – writing STAR CURSED was really challenging! I handled continuity concerns by creating a Cahill Witch Chronicles series bible that referenced every detail in the text about every character, setting, and date. It was super-time-consuming but worth it to catch errors about what color the curtains are in Cate’s bedroom or what color a minor character’s eyes are. The plotting was more difficult. The middle book in a trilogy is a tricksy beast – it has to be more everything – more thrilling, more romantic, more twisty-turny, more heartbreaking – lest readers find it a placeholder in which nothing really happens. The stakes have to be higher; the pace has to be faster. I wrote the first draft under a four-month deadline and it didn’t work and I had to throw it out and start over, rewriting 75% of it.  It was the best possible thing for the story – the plot just didn’t make sense and the stakes weren’t high enough – but at the time, I didn’t realize that this was incredibly common; I felt like I’d failed. Now I can’t imagine it unfolding any other way!

From Cat: We often hear about the pressures placed upon an author to create a second novel that lives up to the first book in a series. For you, what was the BEST part of extending your story into a second book?

I love exploring the evolving relationships between the sisters. Things are even more fraught between Cate and Maura in STAR CURSED. Maura is resentful and jealous of Cate: for how things ended with Elena, for being the prophesied sister, and for being in love. Cate is annoyed by the way Maura comes swanning in and tries to take over, and she’s deeply dubious about the ways Maura tries to get power. Tess tries to stay neutral but she doesn’t really succeed – and she’s keeping her own secrets.

From Jillian: Let’s say a couple of your characters are raiding your fridge right now. What are they most likely to eat?  Are they disappointed or excited about what they find?

Cate loves strawberries and would be disappointed that there are some molding away in my fridge. I never eat fresh fruit fast enough! She’d probably munch on an apple. Tess would be disappointed by the dearth of fresh baked goods and horrified by the pre-packaged granola bars; she would no doubt set to work whipping up some scones (yay!). Rilla would be pleased that I’ve got some hot cocoa mix – it’s dark-chocolate mint, which I think would intrigue her.

From Jenn: What has been the biggest happy surprise of your writing career so far? And what are you working on next?

I think getting the book deal in the first place – and it being a deal that let me quit my day job – was the biggest happy surprise. Writing full-time has its challenges, but I am very grateful for them. The best daily surprises, though, are hearing from readers. It means so much when someone takes the time to email me, or tweet at me, or Facebook message me – whatever – to tell me how much she loves Cate and her sisters and Finn. If you’re ever wondering whether you should contact an author to tell them you loved their book – do it! It makes our day. As for what I’m working on now – edits for Cahill Book 3. I’m relieved to report that my editor loved my draft, and they are challenging-inspiring, not challenging-traumatic-and-sob-inducing (like STAR CURSED).

From Sharon: What was it like to return to your characters again? Was it easier to write the sequel knowing your characters so well?

Yes and no. When I stopped trying to force my characters into the plot points in the outline I’d painstakingly created and my editor had approved – yes. But after throwing out most of the first draft, I was full of self-doubt. It taught me that when I get stuck, I need to get quiet and listen to what they want and what they fear. I lost Cate’s voice sometimes and needed to reconnect with it, tell her story and not a story I was trying to impose on her.

Thanks so much for the fab questions, ladies!