Ruined Castles Tour Part II

WW pic 1Christina here and as Nicola was telling you the other day, we had a lovely day out at the ruins of Goodrich Castle recently. I had never visited before and it was a fascinating place. What was more, it had so much in common with my favourite castle ruin nearby – Raglan. Both were established in the 11th century, both held by the Royalists during the English Civil War, then fell to the Parliamentarians in 1646 and were subsequently destroyed. A sad fate for such lovely places! I hope you will indulge our obsession for castle ruins a second time this week as I continue by telling you a little more about Raglan.

Raglan Castle is about 12WW pic 2 English miles (19.2 km) from Goodrich and built on the same sort of principles with a keep, a courtyard, towers, living quarters, a great hall, a chapel and a moat. However, in its final incarnation, it was almost twice as big, and more of a palace than a castle fortress.

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The Exotic History of the Pineapple

PineappleNicola here.  Today I am celebrating the history of the pineapple as a European sweet treat. The pineapple was one of the fruits that was first brought to Europe by Columbus and it quickly became an item of celebrity and curiosity. Although English horticulturalists tried to cultivate it, it was two hundred years before they were successful. As a result, in the seventeenth century the pineapple was both expensive and sought after, affordable only for royalty and the very rich. In a work of 1640, John Parkinson, Royal Botanist to Charles I, described the pineapple as:

Scaly like an Artichoke at the first view, but more like to a cone of the Pine tree, which we call a pineapple for the forme… being so sweete in smell… tasting… as if Wine, Rosewater and Sugar were mixed together. (Theatrum Botanicum)

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The Elegance of the Cravat

Regency cravatNicola here, and today I’m talking about the cravat. Such an elegant part of a Regency gentleman’s attire. Cravat-wearing fell out of fashion in the late the 20th century when it became a synonymous with the sort of gin-quaffing, yacht-sailing, smooth-talking roles played by actors such as Roger Moore or David Niven. It became a bit of a parody and even a joke. Yet at the recent Edinburgh Festival one author at least was encouraging gentlemen to pick up their cravats again and wear them proudly. Nicholas Parsons said: "I've seen people with beautifully tailored jackets on, with an open shirt… and an awful Adam's apple." The solution, he suggested, is the cravat.

 The Croatian neck cloth

 Cravat-wearing is said to have originated in Croatia in the 170px-Origin_NeckTie early 17th century. Mercenary soldiers fighting in the French army popularised the style, which was known as La Croate, “in the style of the Croats.” The officers had cravats of fine silk, the ordinary soldiers had cravats of poorer quality linen and they varied in size and colour.

 Prior to the 17th century, gentlemen had worn the ruff or something called a band, which was effectively a cravat – a long strip of neck cloth that could be either attached to the shirt or draped over a doublet. The benefit of a neck cloth was threefold. It was easily changeable if it became dirty, it covered up a less than pristine shirt and it provided some comfort between a man and his armour. Cravat Day is still celebrated in Croatia on 18th October.

 Paris Fashions

 The Parisians, always on the look out for a new fashion, were very taken with the style of the cravat, which became known as the “cravate” in French society. They added broad laced edging to the linen and muslin, and on occasion made cravats entirely out of lace. The court even employed a cravat-maker (cravatier) who delivered a few cravats to King Louis XIV on a daily basis so he could choose the one that suited him most. The cult of the cravat quickly spread across Europe.

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Storytelling – Big Oaks from Little Acorns

Nicola at BoscobelNicola here. Today I’m reflecting on the sorts of story ideas that catch our imagination. Last week on my way to the Romantic Novelists’ Association Conference I called in at Boscobel House in Shropshire to do a spot of research. Boscobel is the house where King Charles II hid from the Roundheads after his defeat at the Battle of Worcester in 1651. The story is very famous; hunted by Cromwell’s soldiers in the aftermath of the battle, Charles took refuge in an oak tree in the forest that surrounded Boscobel and he and his officer Captain William Careless (not the most confidence-inspiring name!) slept in the branches whilst the Roundheads scoured the forest around him. Later, cold, wet and in low spirits, Charles was taken to Boscobel House where he took dinner, dried his clothes before the fire and slept in a hiding place in the attic.

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May Traditions Old and New

May blossomNicola here, celebrating the month of May. What does May
mean to you? For me it brings back memories of dancing around a stripy maypole
when I was at primary school. More prosaically it is also the month when I have
to get the car taxed and serviced.  There are also two public holidays in
the UK during May so that means lovely time spent with family and friends, eating, drinking and making merry. Traditionally there is a lot of that sort of celebrating in May!

The month of May probably takes its name from Maia, the
Roman goddess of growth. In the Northern hemisphere at least it is a month traditionally associated with fertility when nature makes a great
show of its fecundity. In Le Morte D’Arthur, Sir Thomas Malory uses the word
“lusty” four times in five lines to describe the month of May and the effect it
has on human behaviour: “Every lusty heart that is any manner a lover, springeth,
burgeoneth, buddeth and flourisheth in lusty deeds.” You get the idea! 

The Irish Gaelic name for the month is Beltane and the
Festival of Beltane, marked by the lighting of
Old picture - 1959 - norway bonfires, takes place today on
May 1st. In Scots Gaelic it is Ceitain, meaning beginning, because
it was the first month of summer in the Celtic calendar. Whilst May can bring a
taste of summer it can also be a chilly month. “Rough winds do shake the
darling buds of May,” as Shakespeare said, and I vividly remember my
grandmother reminding me of the old warning: “Ne’er cast a clout til May be
out,” a piece of advice she followed to the letter with hat, scarf, gloves and
coat on when she went out in May. Here she is in the photo (admittedly this was Norway in May!)

May is traditionally a month associated with merry-making
but one would be foolish to disregard the warnings in the old superstitions.
For example it is unlucky to buy a broom in Cornwall in May for fear of being
accused of witchcraft. Any other time of the year is fine. Also an early dip in
the sea is not recommended: “He who bathes in May will soon be laid in clay.”
We have been warned.  

MaypoleMay Day itself is rife with old traditions. This year it
won’t be possible to go out “maying” at dawn to collect branches of hawthorn,
because the weather has been so cold that they aren’t fully in flower yet. This
custom dates from before the 13th century and was part of the
festival at which the May Queen was crowned and villagers danced around the
maypole. Maypoles were originally cut from wood; the one erected to celebrate
the restoration of King Charles II to the throne in 1660 was 134 feet high and stood
for fifty years. These days the sport of maypole stealing is rife in some
villages in the UK to the point that some of them are fixed with burglar alarms as well
as lightning conductors. 

As a child I used to attend the famous May Fair in the town
of Knutsford in Cheshire and the thing I
Knutsford May Day

remember best is the “sanding of the
streets.” The story goes that in the 11th century King Canute
emptied sand from his shoes after fording the river at Cnut’s Ford and patterns and pictures in coloured sand are still made on the pavements to bring good fortune to the
town. I absolutely adored these as a child. Sadly I couldn't find any photos of the street sanding but there are some wonderful old pictures of the May Day celebrations.

 In the mid-seventeenth century the Puritans uprooted the
maypoles and banned the May celebrations because they encouraged drinking and
licentiousness but they were reinstated after 1660. These days it is more
likely to be health and safety regulations that lead to the festivities being
banned; a few years ago the cheese rolling ceremony at Cooper’s Hill in
Gloucester was cancelled in case people fell down the hill. 

CheesecakeThe connection of May Day and cheese perhaps comes from the
fact that in medieval England the serfs and peasants were granted the right to
the lord’s milk for a week after the Spring Equinox (April 21st) and
so could make more cheese and butter than usual. Many of the traditional foods
celebrating May Day are milk-based puddings especially cheesecakes and in
Ireland, Hasty Pudding, which I believe is also made in the US. 

 Do you celebrate May Day and the coming of summer? What will May bring you and what does the month of May look like where you are? I imagine that in the Southern Hemisphere in
particular May looks and feels very different. Time to keep warm in front of
the fire, perhaps. Wherever you are, a very happy May Day to you!