Pat here: As I may have said before, one of the fun parts of writing historical novels is the dive down research bunny holes. I’ve just spent a lovely few hours scrounging around in the insane details of British law, how magistrates were appointed and criminals brought to court, when there was essentially no police force in rural environs. And along with that, I followed a side trail into manorial law, an entire blog by itself. Suffice it to say, my hero, as heir to a manorial estate, is a law unto himself. He doesn’t like it much, though. (above photo is manor and accompanying village–not quite the one I imagine as I write but pretty anyway. See the manor way in the background?)
But that’s all readers really want to know about complicated legal procedures—the fun bits that make a story come alive. So instead of boring law books, I’ll waft some perfume your way. Mind you, it’s gonna stink.
In my search for a ghostly perfume to haunt my manor’s halls, I have learned that the Egyptians and Arabs were using perfumes as early as 3000 BC, so the entire world had them soon after. Apparently, the need to cover stenches dates back to the beginning of time.
Of course, most of those “perfumes” would have been used in burning oils for ritual purposes. And as always, wealthy people would have them to show off, wafting expensive scents in their private quarters. I assume, at the time, these weren’t much more than burning incense. The Egyptians knew how to store fragrance in fat but not how to distill it.
Fast forward to the 1300s, where essential oils from citrus and spices were added to alcohol and became known as Hungary Water, since it was made for Queen Elizabeth of Hungary. The original concoction blended lemon, orange blossoms, thyme, and rosemary. Some form of that would still be available in the Regency era, the time period I’m working with, but wafting the scent of Hungary Water doesn't have quite the exotic flavor I need.
Johann Maria Farina of Italy created the first cologne in 1709, one with notes of lemon, orange, tangerine, neroli, and lavender. It’s still in use today, so it was certainly recognizable in the Regency era, but cologne is way too mild to linger on clothing decades later.
So I kept digging. I knew the French loved perfume, which is why I’d settled on fragrance to declare the presence of my deceased French-born viscountess. Once Hungary Water started scenting the courts of Europe, France became a hive of perfume production. Perfumers went to extraordinary lengths to please the court, if only because perfume and cologne became a substitute for daily washing. Just splash some on and you were good for the day, I guess. Distilling was developed by this time, and entire rooms could be scented to cover up the overall stench of sewage, musty medieval halls, and sweaty flesh.
Then the French revolution came along and the sans culottes put an end to such luxuries for a while. But once Napoleon became emperor, he obsessively used Farina’s cologne (think he had a body odor problem?), so the race was on again. He loved cologne so much that he even drank it! Ugh, ptui. But I guess alcohol is alcohol…
The emperor’s wife, Josephine, was the reason the French trended toward the heavier fragrances like patchouli, scents from her youth in Martinique. The leaves of patchouli were used as an insect repellent shipped with silks and cashmere that Napoleon imported from Asia. Every time a woman fluttered her shawl, she fluttered patchouli with it. With perfumers desperate for the latest fragrance, the scent ended up in French perfumes. It caught on, along with exotic Asian spices. I really want to use patchouli for my French viscountess, but it didn’t become popular until 1837. Now I either have to make up a back story for a ghost or find something else. So I kept digging.
What really made French fragrances. . . powerful. . . was musk. Musk comes from the Tibetan musk deer. Since it takes 140 deer to make a kilo of perfume, the deer eventually became endangered. Today, artificial forms are used, but that wasn’t a concern to my Regency era folk. The scent originated in India and traveled to Greece in the 6th century, following the Asian spice trails. No one knows who first thought stinky ammonia poo smell could make a perfume. One can certainly understand it being used in the Middle Ages to drive away demons—the odor is strong and lasts forever.
Musk’s reputation as an aphrodisiac may have been the reason perfumers resisted their natural instinct to dump the stuff down the drain. Whatever the inspiration, French perfumers began playing with distillations, letting the musk glands soak in various liquids before mixing it into their Hungary Water or whatever. And voila, we have the heavy musky flowery fragrances of French perfume that my viscountess might have used.
Except it’s a lot easier to say the scent of patchouli wafted through the room. Musk. . . ugh. So I’m still digging.
Do you have a favorite perfume? I used to wear Opium until I developed an allergy to all fragrances and had to throw out everything, including cleaning products with fragrances. What scent would you like my French viscountess to bathe in? What would haunt you if you smelled it?
Promo reminder: The Prism Effect, the sixth book in my Psychic Solutions Mysteries series is out on the 21st and is available as a pre-order. Romance, mystery, a poltergeist, an animal psychic, and a wedding… what more can you ask?