Walk the Streets of Eighteenth Century London and See the Setting of the Southwark Saga!

Ever wish you could wander around 18th century London? Now you can, just about, thanks to this incredible interactive map at Locating London’s Past. You can even use the map to search the real locations that appear in the Southwark Saga! Yes, this map is from almost 100 years later, but most of it’s still there. Bookmark it and get ready to use this a lot, because this will be an invaluable resource to historians, authors, and readers of historical fiction alike. Ever wonder about The Strand or Half Moon Street? Now you can find them! 

In case you’re curious about some of the places names in the Southwark Saga, here’s a little list to get you started (note: I’ve highlighted the place names to make searching easier):

Love Lane: There are several Love Lanes in London and Southwark at this time, but Jane lives in a little flat on the one south of the river at the west end of Maid Lane (not to be confused with Maiden Lane, below). Maggie’s shop would have been there, too, and I imagined The Rose & Crown being across the street, perhaps where the Peacock Brewhouse was. (Heh heh)

On the other side of Maid Lane is Bear Gardenwhere the prize fights are held in Virtue’s Lady, and one of Meg Henshawe’s very favorite places. 

Fleet Street: Now, The Cheshire Cheese was (and is!) a real pub, but it is not on this map. You can search Fleet Street, however, and follow it all the way east to Newgate, and beyond that is Friday Street in Cheapside. This is where Harry’s girlfriend, Mary, lives, and the lads even pay her a visit there in Virtue’s Lady. Incidentally, this is also where the Cheapside Hoard was found. (Click here for a peek at what was in it!)

Charing Cross is where Claude Duval left Sally to fend for herself in 1668, and Bedford Street in Covent Garden is where Tyburn begins (adjacent to the infamous Maiden Lane). 

Mark and Nick grew up in a house on St James Square between Pall Mall and Piccadilly. Tyburn itself is on the map, just about, on the far left hand side at the end of Tiburn Road (follow Oxford Street west). If you zoom in, you can see the creepy little illustration of the gallows. 

How cool is that? 

PS – Don’t miss amazing street names such as Dead Man’s Place, Clink Street, and Vinegar Yard. This is way too much fun. Enjoy! 

PPS – If you fancy a paperback copy of either (or both!), I’m giving away one of each via Goodreads this month. You can even enter through the widgets in the sidebars! 😉 

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Plague and Tulips: Gambling in a Time of Pestilence. Guest Post by J.G. Harlond

The Viceroy, from a 1637 catalog. One
bulb cost between 3,000 and 4,150 florins.

The first recorded economic bubble, ‘tulipomania’, occurred in the Dutch United Provinces between 1635 and 1637. The 1630s were a period of intense political and religious intrigue, when Pope Urban VIII appeared to be supporting Spain’s attempt to reclaim her lost territories in the Netherlands, but was actually conspiring to limit the size and power of the Habsburg Empire, to which Spain belonged; when France was playing both sides against the middle to undermine Spain’s power in Europe; and ordinary men and women everywhere were dying of the plague. 

Set during this epoch, my novel The Chosen Man features the charismatic, wicked but likable Ludovico da Portovenere, a charming Genoese rogue known to everyone as Ludo, and shows how it can take just one man with the right connections to create financial mayhem and ruin the lives of humble men and women. Acting on behalf of the Spanish monarch and Vatican cardinals, Ludo encourages and facilitates the futures market and outrageous sales of tulip bulbs in Holland. However, while I may have tinkered with fact in this area, the very real presence of the plague in the United Provinces at the time must have played a critical part in what actually happened.

The conspiracy theory behind what Ludo does in the novel has never been proved, and I should point out that Ludo is a fictional character, but the tulip bubble is documented history. Contemporary reports and records of sales transactions demonstrate the outrageous escalating prices paid up to 1637, when the bubble burst. The question is why did otherwise sober, thrifty Dutchmen, and many women, engage in what was basically gambling – with flowers that for most of the year could not even be seen? The answer lies in the combination of factors, but the very present threat of the plague, I think, was the final impetus. Death was literally on their doorsteps. 

Let us take Amsterdam in 1635 as an example. It’s a busy, thriving city with a huge population for the epoch. The Dutch have wrested their independence from Spain and are currently engaged in the Thirty Years War in Flanders to keep it. The general ethos is what we now call the ‘work ethic’; frippery and ostentation are frowned upon. So what can people who by their very thrift have acquired surplus income spend their money on? Something that is not an adornment or a visible luxury, but is defined as a ‘connoisseur item’ and coveted; something that is guaranteed to double, triple its value in the space of a year, a month, a week . . . Tulip bulbs. Money must not lie idle.

But does this really explain why people are willing, desperate even to spend their savings and then raise cash or exchange their worldly goods for flowers? Not altogether. I think the bell they hear each evening and the cry ‘Bring out your dead’ is probably the final motivating factor. Many if not most of the people engaged in this futures market are Protestants and Calvinists: they must work hard and be seen to work hard to earn their passage to heaven and be counted among the ‘elect’ – but they could be dead tomorrow. Their future is as shaky as the anticipated profits in tulip transactions – so what is there to lose? And if in the process of buying and selling on little brown bulbs they make even more money, their families will be provided for in the future.

 An industrious author of the time, Munting, wrote over a thousand pages on ‘tulipomania’. In one pamphlet he recorded the items and their value which were traded for a single Viceroy bulb (see illustration above left). As you read, bear in mind the family of a shoemaker or baker lived on between 250 and 350 guilders a year. 

The Semper augustus, the most
expensive tulip sold.


Item                         Value (florins)
Two lasts of wheat          448
Four lasts of rye             558
Four fat oxen                  480
Eight fat swine                240
Twelve fat sheep            120
Two hogsheads of wine   70
Four casks of beer          32
Two tons of butter          192
A complete bed              100
A suit of clothes               80
A silver drinking cup        60
Total                            2,500

At its height, in the early spring of 1637, a Dutch merchant paid 6,650 guilders for a dozen tulip bulbs. The merchant wasn’t simply a rich man buying expensive the bulbs to plant and enjoy for their colour, he intended to sell on and make a profit – as his fellow Dutchmen had been doing for the past two years. Records document instances of farmers giving up their farms to acquire bulbs and men exchanging their homes for a just one single rare bulb. Artisans pawned or sold their tools to ‘invest’ in tulips. Between 1635 and 1637 everyone, it seemed, was trading in tulips. There were also connoisseurs, mostly belonging to the professional class, who spent huge sums on what they considered an object of art. All these people, merchants, artisans and lawyers, fell prey to this collective madness – why?

As I say, there is no single answer, but the socio-economic and climate conditions of the epoch were perfect for ‘tulip mania’. Having lived in the province of Holland I can fully appreciate why, once tulips had been introduced into northern Europe at the turn of the 17th century, they became so popular. Tulips bring colour and a promise of spring at the end of long, dark, tedious winters. The 1600s were during a mini-ice-age: no wonder people wanted something to brighten their homes and gardens. This was also the period known as the Dutch ‘golden age’. The Protestant ethic of hard work and the egalitarian nature of the Independent Provinces meant many people now had a disposable income. It was a period of house-building and home-improvements; people were buying musical instruments and investing in works of art. But the plague was everywhere: death was quite literally round the corner. Dutch frugality and diligence had led to wealth, but many obviously feared they might not have the time to enjoy it and took to the excitement and risks in gambling. 

Here is an extract from The Chosen Man that illustrates the situation in Amsterdam in 1636. Encouraged by the wicked Ludo da Portovenere, Elsa vander Woude, a wealthy widow, has become involved in tulip trading. The scene takes place in her salon:

***
Admirael van der Eijck, 1637
Sold for 1045 florins

 . . . the unspoken promises she believed had urged her into buying and selling on a scale she could never have imagined. Just this week she had speculated on a whole bed of bizarden tulips owned by a Haarlem florist. And her enthusiasm, her physical drive had impelled Paul Henning into the speculator’s market, too. He was already trading on the bulbs just in the ground and not to be lifted until after they bloomed in March, April or May. It was gambling, of course, and that had held him back at first, but he was as much a part of the new tulip trade as she was now, and making an excellent living. Good Paul Henning with a proper bank account; a fine, safe account in one of the new Amsterdam banks.  (. . . ) And here he was mixing as an equal in his late employer’s salon with his wife and other gentlemen and their wives, all enjoying fruit punch and sweet wine, and celebrating a good year’s trading. Such changes! Such good changes bringing benefit to all. Elsa turned her back to the window and sought out her late husband’s loyal clerk. 

Paul Henning was not mingling as she imagined, he was standing at the far side of the room observing what was going on around him, a very serious look on his face. Stopping for a polite word here and there, Elsa crossed the room to stand beside him. “Henning, my dear, why so glum?”

“Glum? No, not glum, Me’vrouw.”

“Then what are you thinking? Dark thoughts I fear, but I cannot see why.”

“Forgive me. I feel a little out of place here. I was not raised to mix with the rich.”

“Neither you, nor many here (. . .) Tulips are a great leveller Henning. Don’t feel ill at ease (. . .) You’re going to be a rich man Henning. It’s so much easier now we don’t actually have to have the bulbs in our hands to sell them. Do you know, last week I sold a whole bed of tulips—the ones I bought near Haarlem last spring for—well, for an awful lot more than I paid, and they were already in the ground. The whole transaction took two pieces of paper. It wouldn’t surprise me if that same bed of flowers doesn’t get passed on at a tremendous profit four, five times before spring!”

“That’s what worries me, Me’vrouw. To be honest, it is exactly that which worries me. If you—we—are buying and selling without seeing the product—well, anyone can cheat us. Tell us they’ve got a bed of purple on white and when they’re lifted they’re just plain red or yellow. And buying bulbs and off-sets according to goldsmiths’ weights doesn’t seem to make much sense either. Since when was a big winter potato any better quality than a small, floury summer root? Something here is not right, Me’vrouw.”

“Oh, you Doubting Thomas! You Jonah!” Bending her head to the concerned man Elsa whispered, “Does it matter? I mean we’ve got some lovely flowers already, we know they are safe and right; what harm can a little speculating do?”

Paul Henning did not reply. Then quietly he said, “Me’vrouw, I was raised to understand that the respectable working man worked hard to keep his place. What I fear is not that I will fail to get rich, but that I will lose what little I have. Security is all. If you will forgive me saying, it was your late husband’s motto, was it not?”

Elsa did not reply; she was not listening. Paul Henning smiled cautiously and Elsa vander Woude went on spinning an elaborate future for his family.

Above the hum of voices and laughter there was the distant clanging of the plague bell and the terribly familiar call, “Bring out your dead.”

“Death is also a great leveller,” Paul Henning murmured.

***


Both Elsa and Paul Henning will suffer when the bubble bursts although they are involved in tulip trading for very different reasons: Elsa because she wants to believe in Ludo; and Henning because he has a family and no other income. Each has a very different outlook on life, but ultimately they are both victims.

The initial idea for the main plot in The Chosen Man came to me while watching a documentary about the fall of Lehman Brothers. There are clear parallels also to the mortgage scandals in Britain and the USA of recent years; how people had been encouraged to borrow well above their means believing the market would only ever be buoyant; and how, in some cases, it took just one man to set in motion a dramatic financial collapse. Obviously, we are not threatened by the plague but in many ways life today is just as precarious: car crashes, plane crashes, heart-attacks . . . People rarely learn from history – but . . . Carpe Diem.

The Chosen Man published by Penmore Press: http://www.penmorepress.com
It is the first novel in the Ludo da Portovenere trilogy by J.G. Harlond. You can contact J.G. Harlond at jgharlond (at) telefonica.net, and you can visit her website here at www.jgharlond.com

Ye Olde Historical Anachronism: How ‘The’ became ‘Ye’

“Ye” is a peculiar word, isn’t it? It’s used in the titles of pubs, shops, Renaissance festival booths, or any other establishment going for an old world vibe, frequently followed by ‘olde.’ In fact, it’s usually a good way to tell when something is most definitely not olde, with the exception of Nottingham’s Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem, a twelfth century pub that claims to be the oldest drinking establishment in England. So where did it come from, and what does it mean? 

In Early Modern English, ‘the’ was often written as þe. þ was an Old English letter called thorn, which was a single character for the ‘th’ sound. þ and y look so similar in blackletter that they were often mistaken for each other, so when þ fell out of use in favor of th, we ended up with the occasional ‘ye’ replacing ‘the.’  

‘Ye’ has been used in place of ‘the’ to evoke a certain nostalgia since the eighteenth century. (Funnily enough, those places trying to compensate for their newness then would be considered olde to us now. Time, you tricky so-and-so) Ye is used all over the place, and you’ll probably notice it more now. Hopefully knowing that it wasn’t a mysterious Old English word, but just another way to write ‘the’ will make it bug you less. 

Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem. I’ve been here a couple of times. It’s built into the side of a cliff face and is brilliant place to visit for medieval geeks like me. Great pie. Don’t touch the ship in the bottle behind the bar. Apparently anybody who touches it dies shortly thereafter (or this is just something they tell American teenage girls). When I saw it, it was so covered in dust that I couldn’t tell there was a ship in the bottle. It’s better to be safe than sorry. 

Did I touch it? Hell, no. I’m just warning you.

There’s also a pregnancy chair. Didn’t sit in that, either. 

For more about the pub and its history, visit http://triptojerusalem.com/

John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester: Satirist, Poet, and Libertine

John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester. Portrait by Sir Peter Lely.

John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester, was a Restoration courtier, poet, satirist, and libertine. He was lauded by Andrew Marvell and Voltaire, who described him as a man of genius and translated some of his work into French. Entertaining and offending with works such as Signior Dildo and Panegyrick Upon Cundums, his life was no less exciting than his verse. He inherited his title at age eleven, kidnapped his future wife at seventeen, trained one of the period’s most famous actresses, and fell in and out of the King’s favor until his death from syphilis at age thirty-three. A rake and accomplished wit, his actions and works would impress and offend in equal measure for centuries to come, and he even received the compliment of being banned in the Victorian period. 

So who was he? 

Were I (who to my cost already am
One of those strange, prodigious  creatures, man)
A spirit free to choose, for my own share
What case of flesh and blood I pleased to wear,
I’d be a dog, a monkey, or a bear,
Or anything but that vain animal,
Who is so proud of being rational. (1)


John Wilmot was born, appropriately enough, on April Fool’s Day, 1647. His father, Henry, Viscount Wilmot, was a Cavalier hero credited with assisting the future Charles II’s escape to the Continent after the battle of Worcester in 1651. For his service to Charles II, he was created Earl of Rochester in 1652. John inherited the title at the age of eleven with his father’s death in 1658.

As an act of gratitude to his father, Charles II himself sent the young Earl of Rochester on a Grand Tour of France and Italy that would last three years and acquaint the fourteen-year old with a great deal of European writing and thought. He returned at seventeen and formally entered the court on Christmas Day of 1664.

Charles II suggested the relatively impoverished Rochester marry heiress Elizabeth Mallet. Mallet was not opposed: “He was handsome: tall, graceful, well-shaped. His complexion was fair, of a rosy hue; and his good breeding and wit were striking… He was far too attractive for a flirtatious fifteen year-old to reject out of hand. Moreover, he could write the sort of fashionable, amorous, pastoral poetry that delighted (her) girlish heart.” 

That poetry is still pretty effective today:

My rifled Love would soon retire,
Dissolving into Aire,
Should I that Nymph cease to admire,
Blest in whose Arms I will expire*
Or at her Feet despair.


Elizabeth understandably was no opposed to the idea of marrying the gorgeous, intelligent, and very witty earl, but her relatives were less keen on the idea. When they refused the match, Rochester handled their refusal with dignity and grace.

Just kidding. He kidnapped her.

According to Pepys’ diary entry for May 26th, 1665:

“Here, upon my telling the story of my Lord Rochester’s running away on Friday night last with Mrs. Mallet, the great beauty and fortune of the North, who had supped at White Hall with Mrs. Stewart, and was going home to her lodgings with her grandfather, my Lord Haly, by coach; and was at Charing Cross seized on by both horse and foot men and forcibly taken from him, and put in a coach with six horses and two women provided to receive her, and carried away. Upon immediate pursuit, my Lord of Rochester (for whom the King had spoken to the lady often, but with no success) was taken at Uxbridge; but the lady is not yet heard of, and the King mighty angry, and the Lord sent to the Tower…”


Rochester spent three weeks in the Tower for this stunt, but his bravado paid off. Two years later, after he distinguished himself in the second Dutch War and was installed a Whitehall as a Gentleman of the Bedchamber, Elizabeth defied her family and eloped with him in January of 1667. 

He was reputed to be among Nell Gwyn’s lovers, and they remained close throughout their lives. His affection for the theater extended to writing plays, scenes, and prologues for the stage, including the delightful sounding Sodom, of the Quintessence of Debauchery, which has never been definitively proven to be his. He trained actress Elizabeth Barry, who later became his mistress, and was one of the most renowned actresses of the period. 

Rochester giving his laurels to a cute monkey

Rochester was a renowned libertine, raising hell with a group of like-minded gentlemen referred to by Marvell as ‘The Merry Gang.” He told Gilbert Burnet that he had once been drunk for five years, and was almost certainly referring to the time he spent with them between 1668 and 1672. Among their numbers were the Earl of Dorset, the Earl of Mulgrave, Sir Charles Sedley, playwrights William Wycherly and George Etherege, and the Duke of Buckingham himself. Like many of his contemporaries, Rochester was bi-sexual, and spent his evenings (and mornings, and days) in the company of both sexes. Though Rochester doubtlessly loved his wife, he benefited from the sexual double standard that allowed men to please themselves as they saw fit while their wives remained, as Elizabeth did, at their homes in the country. His “extravagant frolics” with the libertines led to his banishment from court in 1669.

It was not the last time he was banished from court. He returned shortly thereafter, and was sent away again after Christmas on 1673 when he presented In the Isle of Britain, a satire poking fun at the King during the holiday festivities. He returned to court in February of the next year, only to be exiled again in June of 1675. 

After he fell out of favor again in 1676, he began to impersonate a fictional “Doctor Bendo,” specializing in infertility and gynecological disorders. According to Gilbert Burnet, Rochester personally cured a few patients of infertility. 

He died at age 33, almost certainly of syphilis. Gilbert Burnet reported that Rochester renounced his life of libertinism, but it’s debatable whether or not this actually happened, as his conversion may have been embellished by Burnet to improve his reputation. If it was, it worked. Burnet later became the Bishop of Salisbury. 

His wisdom did his happiness destroy,
Aiming to know that world he should enjoy.
And wit was his vain, frivolous pretense
Of pleasing others at his own expense.
For wits are treated just like common whores:
First they’re enjoyed, and then kicked out of doors.
The pleasure past, a threatening doubt remains
That frights th’ enjoyer with succeeding pains.
Women and men of wit are dangerous tools,
And ever fatal to admiring fools:
Pleasure allures, and when the fops escape,
‘Tis not that they’re beloved, but fortunate,
And therefore what they fear, at heart they hate. (1)


Rochester appears as a peripheral character in Tyburn. Derby and Conley are active members of his band of libertines, and Sally’s friend, Bettie, is half in love with him. I tried to fit his appearances in the book within the timeline of his life, and though you don’t get to see inside his head in this book, you can feel the effects of Derby’s hangover following one of their “extravagant frolics.” I hope you enjoy it. 

(1) A Satyr against Reason and Mankind. You can read the full annotated text of the poem here
(2) James William Johnson. A Profane Wit: The Life of John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester.

*This is in no way a euphemism for orgasm. 

You can read more about syphilis in my post Syphilis: Genius, Madness, and the Sickness of Naples, and more about seventeenth century condoms and Rochester’s verse in praise of them in my post Love’s Pleasing paths in Blest Security: Condoms in Restoration London. 

Virtue’s Lady Bonus Features: History, Setting, and Characters

London , 1543. The view from the south bank. Mark’s house would have been near the bottom right corner.

We are winding down to the end of the alphabet now, and the end of my blog tour for Virtue’s Lady. I have been lucky enough to visit the blogs of some wonderful authors with interviews and guest posts, and for that I’m truly grateful. Just for fun, I’ve made a short list of some of these posts and some of my history posts closely related to the book so you can get the whole picture before (or after!) you read it. Be sure to start with the video at the top of the list — it’s amazing.

Introduction

See the Setting of the Southwark Saga (animated video)
Why the Restoration is a Great Period for Romance: Guest Post for Ute Carbone
Spotlight on Virtue’s Lady on LOVExtra

Characters

Meet Mark Virtue: Working Class Hero
Character Sketch: Mark Virtue on Romance Lives Forever
Character Interview: Mark Virtue on Tami Lund’s Blog (from Tyburn)
Character Interview: Lady Jane on Annette Mardis’ blog
Can Working Class Heroes Work in Romance? Guest Post for Shauna Roberts

Related Historical Posts

Female Fighters in Restoration London: Guest Post for Elizabeth Andrews
Seventeenth Century Marriage: Guest Post for Susan R. Hughes
Guy Fawkes Day: 400 Years of Fire and Madness
A Fortune on Friday Street: Finding the Cheapside Hoard
Drinking Coffee in the Seventeenth Century
Newgate

Author Interviews


Interview with J.J. DiBenedetto
Interview with Christina Tetreault

And of course, the links for Virtue’s Lady are here:

Amazon | Liquid Silver | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | iTunes | ARe | Goodreads

If you enjoy these, a little directory of my history posts is under the above tab, Seventeenth Century History Posts

I hope you all have a great weekend! Thanks for stopping by!

Syphilis: Genius, Madness, and The Sickness of Naples

Syphilis. Woodcut series, 1496. The Virgin Mary
and Christ child bless the afflicted.

I don’t mind telling you that I’ve been looking forward to this post. As you’ve probably noticed by now, I’m very interested in sex and contraception in history, so the history of venereal diseases is kind of where I live. Syphilis is my favorite. 

Okay, so if you were on the fence, now you’ve probably decided that I’m completely mental. How can someone have a favorite venereal disease? Stick with me here! Syphilis helped to shape the modern world through the measures taken to prevent it (such as the development condoms), and the effects it had on the mental health of influential people, both good and bad. No other venereal disease, as far as I’m aware, has ever been accused (with some justification) of creating genius

So let’s take a look. 

History

The first known case of syphilis was documented by Dr. Pintor in 1493 in Rome. He called it the Morbus Gallicus (The French Disease), and assumed that it had been carried to Italy by the French Army. When the French began to notice it, they called it mal de Naples (the sickness of Naples). Emperor Maximilian officially referred to it as malum franciscum in 1495, (1,3) but soon it was known by an altogether simpler name: 

The Pox. 

It was called this because of the noticeable effects the disease had on the skin of the afflicted, leaving lesions and decaying soft tissues that were sometimes mistaken for leprosy. The name syphilis comes from a Greek legend about a peasant Apollo had punished with poor health and lesions all over his body: the peasant’s name was Syphilus, and he could only be cured (rather chillingly) by Mercury. (1)

Syphilis. Durer, 1496.

The Disease

The first stage was a chancre on or near the genitals, followed by rashes and open sores during the second. The afflicted would experience pain with erection, swelling of the lymph glands, splitting headaches, and other pains throughout the body. At this point, the soft tissues of the nose and palate could begin to rot, and the teeth and hair would loosen and fall out. (3) Lesions and tumors could consume the nasal bones and the tissues of the face until the flesh was literally falling from the bones, sometimes even leaving the brain exposed to open air. (1,3)

If this stage was survived, the disease could lie dormant for up to 30 years, but could still be easily transmitted. If one was lucky enough to make it until the third and final stage of syphilis, they could look forward to madness and paralysis. 

It was seen as primarily a male problem, but no one was safe from it. It was often passed to unsuspecting spouses (and any children conceived) during periods of remission. (2) Often asymptomatic, it could go unnoticed for years, and could be passed on without any sexual contact at all; from parents to children, and from wet nurses to infants. It could even be transmitted through kissing or sharing cups. (1)

It was incredibly contagious and impossible to cure, and some historians estimate that as many as a fifth of the population may have been infected at any one time. (1)

Treatment

Syphilis was treated at the second stage with mercury in every form from enemas, ointments, and pills to steam baths or “sweats” in mercury vapor. This treatment was somewhat successful, although it was known even at the time to cause madness. Less common treatments included confining the afflicted to a sweat room to breathe guaiac vapor, “excising the sores and cauterizing the wounds,” and celibacy aided by the placement of nettles in one’s codpiece. (1)

Syphilis. Woodcut Series, 1496.


Where did it come from?

It is generally believed that Columbus had brought the disease back with him from the Americas. It existed in the Americas before Columbus arrived, and the timing certainly was convenient. Some Renaissance thinkers suspected it had something to do with astrology (see right and above left), while others thought it was derived from leprosy. Francis Bacon believed that it was a result of cannibalism. (1)

Outbursts of Genius and Madness

The tertiary stage of syphilis is well known to cause mental issues including creative genius and paranoid madness. Many of history’s greatest personalities had the disease, such as Cesare Borgia, Casanova, John Wilmot, the Earl of Rochester, and Beau Brummell, but so did larger-than-life figures such as Henry VIII, Napoleon Bonaparte, Ivan the Terrible, and maybe even Hitler. The jury’s out on how much influence the disease has on the creative process, but the manic bursts of divine inspiration it is known to have caused certainly must have had some effect on Van Gogh, Toulouse-Lautrec, Gauguin, Keats, Manet, Tolstoy, Guy de Maupassant, and possibly Oscar Wilde. (2)

Was syphilis at least partially responsible for some of history’s greatest works of art? Maybe. Whichever side we choose in that particular debate, we can at least appreciate the prevalence of syphilis led to the development and popularization of condoms, and that’s no small achievement. 

Syphilis is actually a subject that comes up a couple of times in The Southwark Saga. Sally’s (fictional) friend, Bettie, has it in Tyburn, and so does his crush, the very non-fictional Earl of Rochester. In Virtue’s Lady, Lord Lewes, Jane’s betrothed, has it, and has buried multiple wives and children because of it. No wonder she wants to run away! It’s by no means a huge part of either book, but with one in five people in London being afflicted by it at any one point in time, it would be weird not to mention it.

For a really fantastic article on this subject, be sure to read Sarah Dunant’s piece, Syphilis, sex and fear: How the French disease conquered the world in the Guardian. 

You can also read Gabriello Fallopio’s 1564 treatise against syphilis, De Morbo Gallico (translation: About the French disease) online here.

Sources

1. Catharine Arnold, The Sexual History of London. 
2. Deborah Hayden, The Pox: Genius, Madness, and the Mysteries of Syphilis.
3. Liza Picard, Restoration London.

The Restoration: a Brilliant Period for Historical Romance

With so many British historical romances set in the nineteenth century, you would be forgiven for thinking nothing happened in England before the Regency. Although the nineteenth century was a time of progress and those famous balls at Almack’s, I decided to set my new historical series two hundred years earlier in the seventeenth century. 

Charles II in exile

The Southwark Saga begins in 1671, eleven years after the restoration of Charles II. The Restoration is an exciting period to read, write and research. It was a time of change and was characterized by cataclysmic events, such as the English Civil War that saw the execution of Charles I and the exile of his son with a significant part of the Court. The Plague killed more than a quarter of London’s population between 1665 and 1666 and was chronicled in Defoe’s nightmarish Journal of a Plague Year. The last of that was wiped out by the Great Fire of London, which incinerated most of the medieval City of London over a four day period, destroying 13,200 houses and 87 churches including St. Paul’s cathedral, and killing or displacing thousands of people. After the fire, London was rebuilt with a new street plan designed by Christopher Wren, and began to take on the shape it is today, with the new St. Paul’s Cathedral as its crowning glory. 

Solomon Eccles

There were also many larger than life figures who we still remember to this day. Charles II, “The Merry Monarch” had more mistresses than there are days in the week and more than a dozen illegitimate children, and when the Great Fire threatened to consume the entirety of London, he and his brother, the Duke of York, fought the fire themselves. Diarist Samuel Pepys meticulously recorded his daily life in the 1660s, providing an invaluable resource for historians, while John Wilmot, the Earl of Rochester, entertained and enraged with his bawdy verse. Out on the streets, you’ll find Solomon Eccles, a composer who had a religious awakening and spent his days nude with a dish of burning coals on his head, urging passers-by the repent as they did their shopping. 

Nell Gwyn

The Restoration is a wonderful time to set fiction, and particularly romance. With the Civil War behind them, London was in the mood to celebrate. The theaters reopened and women were allowed onstage, providing cheap entertainment to people of any class most nights of the week. The rigid social structure and excessive manners of the nineteenth century had not set in yet, and the social mobility of the time was second to none. Courtesans regularly rose above their stations, such as Nell Gwyn, who rose from being an orange seller of humble birth to become Charles II’s favorite mistress. 

The poor could still marry with little more than a declaration and a witness. Highwaymen haunted the forests and roads around the city, and execution at Tyburn was a real threat to them and anyone caught stealing anything worth more than a shilling. For excitement, color, and danger, you’ll be hard pressed to find a time better for fiction than the seventeenth century. 

Tyburn, the first book of The Southwark Saga, follows Sally Green, a French immigrant and Covent Garden prostitute as she tries to escape her unfortunate circumstances. Hero Nick Virtue, a private domestic tutor turned highwayman, must decide if saving her is worth risking his life.

In Virtue’s Lady, Lady Jane Ramsey attempts to marry out of wealth when she falls for Nick’s brother, Mark, an ex-convict and carpenter who lives in the slum in Southwark. Five years after the fire, Mark is still struggling to adapt his business for a city that no longer wants wooden houses, and the last thing he needs is an earl taking shots at him for ruining his daughter. 

In both books, I hope to show you what the Restoration was like from the ground up. You’ll feel the dirt, smell the river, and taste the terrible, terrible coffee right along with the characters as you are introduced to a new world in historical romance. I invite you to join me in the seventeenth century, and I very much hope you’ll enjoy The Southwark Saga. 

For a directory of my history posts about this period, click on the Seventeenth Century History Posts tab above or click here. This page is a work in progress, but so far I have short articles on infamous highwayman Claude Duval, The Great Fire of London, the Plague, the Cheapside Hoard, condom use, mortality, executions at Tyburn, Newgate prison, illegitimacy, Guy Fawkes, coffee, the lead content in makeup, and a whole lot more. Be sure to check it out! If there are any seventeenth century subjects you would be particularly interested in reading about, please leave your suggestions in the comments below and I will see what I can do. 

Thanks for stopping by!