Category Archives: history

Whisky, Chessmen and Bonnie Prince Charlie

In May this year we booked a holiday. To explore the scenery, landscape and, of course, the history of the Outer Hebrides. It was not intended as a Jacobite tour, but from the very start we kept bumping into Charlie! I knew some of his story, of course, because I researched much of it while writing my Highland Trilogy. Two of the books actually mention Bonnie Prince Charlie.

In the footsteps of Bonnie Prince Charlie (Almost)

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Normans in Sicily : the Golden Age

I left my previous blog on the Normans in Sicily in 1108, at the point where Roger II became Count of Sicily, aged 9. He was an astonishing character and began to rule for himself when only 16. He expanded his rule through conquest and, in 1130, became King of Sicily. This is how John Julius Norwich describes Roger’s Sicily by the 1140s:

Cover of Kingdom-Sun-1130-1194-Normans-SicilySicily, first of all, has grown steadily richer; and as her prosperity has increased, so too has her political stability. In contrast to the endemic confusion of the Italian peninsula, the island has become a paragon of just and enlightened government, peaceable and law-abiding, an amalgam of races and languages which seems to give strength rather than weakness; and, as its reputation grows, more and more churchmen and administrators, scholars and merchants and unashamed adventurers are drawn across the sea from England, France and Italy to settle in what must have seemed to many of them a veritable Eldorado, a Kingdom in the sun.

Sadly, the Kingdom in the sun lasted only until 1194. But it has left wonders behind.

The Normans’ Greek Admiral of Sicily

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Sicily and the Normans

green Sicily en route Palermo © Joanna Maitland

© Joanna Maitland 2022

Sicily was a surprise to me when I visited last month. It’s amazingly green and lush. Not at all what I expected.

My mental image of Sicily was derived from watching the arid backdrop to the Montalbano TV series. Wrong 😉

I snapped this picture from our moving bus. It shows the road through the mountainous interior as we travelled from the airport at Catania in the east of the island to Palermo on the north coast.

Green Sicily with citrus trees

© Joanna Maitland 2022

And there was more. Lush citrus groves as shown left. Plus lots of olive trees and vineyards.

I arrived just at the beginning of the hot season. There wasn’t a spot of rain during the 10 days I was there and it was hot. So I can understand how the dry and dusty backdrop to Montalbano comes about.

History of Sicily?

Too complicated to describe in detail here. Except that, since Sicily was strategically important in the Mediterranean, all sorts of peoples strove to control it. It was colonised by, among others, the Phoenicians (also known as Carthaginians) and the Greeks. The two groups were rivals there from the 8th century BC.

Temple E (5th c. BC) at Selinunte

Temple E at Selinunte, built 460-450 BC, rebuilt 1950s © Joanna Maitland 2022

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Foodie ramblings: gardening? anyone for beetroot?

Following Joanna’s wonderful blog on pheasants the other week, another food-related post. About gardening. Sort of.Well, more a ramble, really, but there is some (vaguely) writerly stuff at the end. Promise.

Confession time

Gardening? I am “NotAGardener”. There,  I have said it.

NotAGardeners” will know how inadequate they feel when they see a well tended veg patch, straight lines of leeks standing to attention, beans and peas running riot over a network of canes. Lettuces, cabbages, potatoes – to say nothing of herbaceous borders bursting with colour, flowers waiting to be picked to adorn the dining table. It would be (naturally) groaning under the weight of food I have grown, harvested and prepared with my own fair hands.

Gardening? Nah

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Conveniences: Shampoo, Toothpaste, Electric Light?

If you found yourself translated back to a previous era, what modern conveniences would you miss? It’s a question I often think about when I turn on a light, for example, or when I read a book or watch a TV documentary about how things were, way back then.1900 House book cover, a story with few conveniences

I am reminded of the Channel 4 documentary, The 1900 House, the first of several such re-enactments. The whole family had signed up for the project, but they met problems and lack of conveniences that none of them had expected.

Shampoo?

One of the most contentious problems was the lack of shampoo which hadn’t then been invented. Continue reading

Regency food and characters

fabulous hotel foodRegency food is really interesting and characters’ preferences tell us a lot about them. Their preferences for drink do too, as I tried to show in my earlier blog about what characters (Regency and modern) drank.

But this week, I’m blogging about food in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

Sometimes, food in glamorous surroundings, too…

Where Regency food came from…? Meat, fish, game

Mr Darcy and Lizzie Bennet at the danceThere isn’t much detail of food and drink in Pride and Prejudice, but Mrs Bennet does mention preparations being made for dinners to fête Mr Bingley’s return to Netherfield.

“Mrs Nicholls…was going to the butcher’s, she told me, on purpose to order in some meat on Wednesday, and she had got three couple of ducks, just fit to be killed.”

That shows that meat wasn’t instantly available from a butcher’s as it is now. And a hostess knew and accepted that providing meat entailed killing animals. Continue reading

Drink and characters, Regency and modern

Modern Drink (well, modernish)

Vodka Martini drink for James BondDrink can tell us a lot about characters in the books we read. This image shows a martini, with olives.

Remind you of anyone?

For me, it’s James Bond and his famous vodka martini, shaken not stirred.

Bond drinks booze

Bond drinks a lot. He’s never seen to be the worse for wear, though.
Interesting, don’t you think?

In fact, his martini recipe (in Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale) is quite something and not mainly vodka, either: 3 measures of Gordon’s gin, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet, shaken till very cold and served with a long strip of lemon peel (rather than olives). He does say he only ever has one. Just as well, I’d say 😉 That’s most of a man’s weekly alcohol allowance right there in one glass. Continue reading

Silk, Silliness and Sumptuary Laws

Silliness and Sumptuary Laws

Greek temple at Paestum, ItalyTime: 7th century BCE. Place: an ancient city under Greek law. A fanciful tale by Joanna…

A free-born woman, drunk and reeking of wine, leaves the city accompanied by two female slaves. She is wearing a splendid gown with a purple border, and has gold jewellery in her ears and round her neck. Outside the gates, she meets a man wearing a Milesian-style cloak with a gold-studded ring on his finger.

What do you think might be going on in this silly tale of mine?

The answer was inspired by this first written record of sumptuary laws which made me gasp and then chuckle when I first read it.

gavel balance judgement integrityA free-born woman may not be accompanied by more than one female slave, unless she is drunk; she may not leave the city during the night, unless she is planning to commit adultery; she may not wear gold jewellery or a garment with a purple border, unless she is a courtesan; and a husband may not wear a gold-studded ring or a cloak of Milesian fashion unless he is bent upon prostitution or adultery.

In the light of the laws above, you have probably worked out what the man and woman are up to. But I’ve got them sticking to all the laws in the book while they’re at it 😉

Clearly, in those days, any wife would know what her man was planning when he went out wearing his Milesian cloak. Or even just his gold-studded ring. Continue reading

Cinderella and the Birth of a Book…

December sees the publication of my latest Regency romance for Harlequin Mills & Boon. It is also the time of festive fun and pantomimes, so the Cinderella title is very apt, I think.

Cinderella and the Scarred Viscount

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Once upon a time….

Philip James de Loutherbourg, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The story is set in Regency England but its origins are much further afield. Spain in fact. The whole thing starts with the Spanish Armada!

Many Spanish ships from that ill-fated expedition came to grief around the British Isles, and the are many stories of survivors “leaving their mark” on the local population in the form of dark eyed, dark haired children. My heroine, Carenza, has this dark colouring, inherited from her mother.

Of course, she isn’t the first literary character to have such a heritage. The one that springs first to my mind is Jimmy Perez in Ann Cleeves’ Shetland series (not that the lovely Dougie Henshall, who plays Perez in the TV series is dark haired OR dark-eyed).

Then there are The Westray Dons

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In Search of Svengali – Part One

Svengali, silent movie

Wilton Lackaye as Svengali (1905)

Looking for Svengali has been in my mind for a while now. I have a Project. (It’s medium term, no need to think I’m abandoning The Book I Need to Finish, Libertà hivies!)

When I realised that today would be Halloween, I thought  the time had come to share a little of my digging so far. After all, on Halloween the novelist’s imagination lightly turns to thoughts of spookiness. And Svengali is surely one of the most unsettling creations of any novelist.

As it happens, last year I got the Halloween brief too . It took me on a wild ride of serendipity. We went to 1938 New York, by way of my neighbours’ pumpkins and The Golden Bough.

So this year please follow me to the nineteenth century in Paris;  and London; and Australia; well all around the world really. Continue reading